America’s Got the #1 Military in the World — and It’s Increasingly Useless

Source: Tom Dispatch vi AlterNet

Author: Tom Englehart

Emphasis Mine

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries. It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet.  So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up. Is the U.S. or isn’t it? Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train — that is, any train — anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline. The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail? Really? And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable.  What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation — bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like — is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble? That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively? I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished.  How improbable is that? And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists? And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure? Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlessly thank  our troops (as would the citizenry) for…well…never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens’ army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. Today, its repetitive presence marks the moment of doubt. Are we really so “exceptional”? Is this country truly “indispensible” to the rest of the planet and if so, in what way exactly? Are those troops genuinely our heroes and if so, just what was it they did that we’re so darn proud of?

Return my amazed parents to their graves, put all of this together, and you have the beginnings of a description of a uniquely great power in decline. It’s a classic vision, but one with a problem.

A God-Like Power to Destroy

Who today recalls the ads from my 1950s childhood for, if I remember correctly, drawing lessons, which always had a tagline that went something like: What’s wrong with this picture? (You were supposed to notice the five-legged cows floating through the clouds.) So what’s wrong with this picture of the obvious signs of decline: the greatest power in history, with hundreds of garrisons scattered across the planet, can’t seem to apply its power effectively no matter where it sends its military or bring countries like Iran or a weakened post-Soviet Russia to heel by a full range of threats, sanctions, and the like, or suppress a modestly armed terror-movement-cum-state in the Middle East?

For one thing, look around and tell me that the United States doesn’t still seem like a unipolar power. I mean, where exactly are its rivals? Since the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, when the first wooden ships mounted with cannons broke out of their European backwater and began to gobble up the globe, there have always been rival great powers — three, four, five, or more. And what of today? The other three candidates of the moment would assumedly be the European Union (EU), Russia, and China.

Economically, the EU is indeed a powerhouse, but in any other way it’s a second-rate conglomeration of states that still slavishly follow the U.S. and an entity threatening to come apart at the seams. Russia looms ever larger in Washington these days, but remains a rickety power in search of greatness in its former imperial borderlands.  It’s a country almost as dependent on its energy industry as Saudi Arabia and nothing like a potential future superpower. As for China, it’s obviously the rising power of the moment and now officially has the number one economy on Planet Earth.  Still, it remains in many ways a poor country whose leaders fear any kind of future economic implosion (which could happen). Like the Russians, like any aspiring great power, it wants to make its weight felt in its neighborhood — at the moment the East and South China Seas. And like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Chinese leadership is indeed upgrading its military. But the urge in both cases is to emerge as a regional power to contend with, not a superpower or a genuine rival of the U.S.

Whatever may be happening to American power, there really are no potential rivals to shoulder the blame. Yet, uniquely unrivaled, the U.S. has proven curiously incapable of translating its unipolar power and a military that, on paper, trumps every other one on the planet into its desires. This was not the normal experience of past reigning great powers. Or put another way, whether or not the U.S. is in decline, the rise-and-fall narrative seems, half-a-millennium later, to have reached some kind of largely uncommented upon and unexamined dead end.

In looking for an explanation, consider a related narrative involving military power. Why, in this new century, does the U.S. seem so incapable of achieving victory or transforming crucial regions into places that can at least be controlled?  Military power is by definition destructive, but in the past such force often cleared the ground for the building of local, regional, or even global structures, however grim or oppressive they might have been. If force always was meant to break things, it sometimes achieved other ends as well. Now, it seems as if breaking is all it can do, or how to explain the fact that, in this century, the planet’s sole superpower has specialized — see Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — in fracturing, not building nations.

Empires may have risen and fallen in those 500 years, but weaponry only rose. Over those centuries in which so many rivals engaged each other, carved out their imperial domains, fought their wars, and sooner or later fell, the destructive power of the weaponry they were wielding only ratcheted up exponentially: from the crossbow to the musket, the cannon, the Colt revolver, the repeating rifle, the Gatling gun, the machine gun, the dreadnaught, modern artillery, the tank, poison gas, the zeppelin, the plane, the bomb, the aircraft carrier, the missile, and at the end of the line, the “victory weapon” of World War II, the nuclear bomb that would turn the rulers of the greatest powers, and later even lesser powers, into the equivalent of gods.

For the first time, representatives of humanity had in their hands the power to destroy anything on the planet in a fashion once imagined possible only by some deity or set of deities. It was now possible to create our own end times. And yet here was the odd thing: the weaponry that brought the power of the gods down to Earth somehow offered no practical power at all to national leaders.  In the post-Hiroshima-Nagasaki world, those nuclear weapons would prove unusable.  Once they were loosed on the planet, there would be no more rises, no more falls. (Today, we know that even a limited nuclear exchange among lesser powers could, thanks to the nuclear-winter effect, devastate the planet.)

Weapons Development in an Era of Limited War

 

 

See:http://www.alternet.org/world/americas-got-1-military-world-its-increasingly-useless?akid=13265.123424.28Eg-D&rd=1&src=newsletter1038796&t=7

Why The GOP Has The First Amendment Upside Down

Source: National Memo

Author: Gene Lyons

Emphasis Mine

One entertaining aspect of recent dramatic Supreme Court rulings was learning that the court’s high-minded intellectuals can be just as thin skinned and spiteful as everybody else. Apparently, Justice Antonin Scalia was a law-school whiz kid about 50 years and 50,000 cocktails ago, and finds it hard to accept that lesser minds are not obliged to agree with him.

For his part, Chief Justice John Roberts turned political prognosticator in his dissent to Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision legitimizing gay marriage. “Stealing this issue from the people,” he wrote, “will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”

Granted, if all you had to go by was the sky-is-falling rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates and their theological allies, you might think that Roberts had a point. But he doesn’t, partly because the Supreme Court ruling won’t bring about dramatic social change at all. It merely affirms social changes that have already happened.

But hold that thought, because political handicappers at the New York Times argue that same-sex unions could be the best thing that ever happened to the GOP. Not because millions of outraged religious conservatives will stampede to the ballot boxes, but because… well, here’s the headline: “As Left Wins Culture Battles, GOP Gains Opportunity to Pivot for 2016.” 

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum believes that the gay marriage fight is over. “Every once in a while,” he told reporter Jonathan Martin, “we bring down the curtain on the politics of a prior era. The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues. And Republicans can say, ‘Whether you’re gay, black, or a recent migrant to our country, we are going to welcome you as a fully cherished member of our coalition.’”

Sure, Republicans could say that. If Republicans were in the habit of dealing with reality, that is.  Frum, a Canadian Jew who became a U.S. citizen in 2007, may be forgiven a bit of wishful thinking. Ever since getting pushed out of the American Enterprise Institute for saying Republicans were foolish not to negotiate with the White House on Obamacare, he’s been trying to persuade Republicans to act more like British Tories.

But that’s not how today’s GOP rolls. On the party’s evangelical right, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was breathing smoke and fire. A Baptist preacher, Huckabee indulged in a bit of ecclesiastical word play, denying that the Supreme Court could do “something only the Supreme Being can do — redefine marriage.” He denounced the ruling as a “blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment,” and vowed to defy it.

In this, Huckabee echoed Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who even before the Supreme Court ruling had vowed that “as a minister of the Gospel, I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies. I completely refuse.”

Isn’t that brave of him?

However, do you really suppose it’s possible that Floyd, Huckabee, and the rest of the hyperventilating GOP candidates fail to understand that all churches have an absolute First Amendment right to their own beliefs and practices? They’re bravely refusing to perform ceremonies that nothing in this nor any imaginable Supreme Court decision would require of them.

If your church refuses to sanctify same-sex marriages (as mine certainly does), that’s its unquestioned right. For that matter, the Catholic Church also refuses to marry previously divorced couples, or even admit them to communion — an absurdity to me, but not a political issue.

Nothing in the Supreme Court ruling changes those things. It’s about marriage as a secular legal institution: two Americans entering into a contract with each other. Period.

That’s why Bloomberg View‘s Jonathan Bernstein is right and Justice Roberts is wrong about same-sex marriage causing long-lasting social resentment. Marriage, he writes, is “a done deal,” and the issue will soon be relegated to “history books alongside questions of whether women should vote or alcohol should be prohibited.”

Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision invalidating miscegenation laws, was accepted almost immediately. Bernstein points out that in states such as Massachusetts and Iowa, where same-sex unions have been legal for years, they’re no longer controversial.  

Because it’s really none of your business, is it, who loves whom? And it has zero effect on you personally. So grow up and get over it.

In time, as Bernstein says, most people will.

In the near term, however, millions of aggrieved GOP voters appear to have gotten the First Amendment upside down. They won’t easily be dissuaded. Feeling besieged by the mainstream culture, they’re encouraged by the Huckabees, Cruzes, and Santorums of the world to believe that they’re being persecuted because they can’t make everybody else march to their drumbeat.

The Republicans’ problem is that to most Americans, that’s the antithesis of religious liberty, and a surefire political loser.

 


 

See: http://www.nationalmemo.com/why-the-gop-has-the-first-amendment-upside-down/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=MM_frequency_six&utm_campaign=Morning%20Memo%20-%202015-07-01&utm_content=A

Obamacare’s Victory Is a Defeat For Fundamentalism

Source:Patheos

Author: Adam Lee

Emphasis Mine

You know it’s been a big week when the Supreme Court once again upholding Obamacare is only the second biggest story to come out of the court. But I wanted to write about this ruling and what it means.

As you may remember, I exulted in 2012 when the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare the first time, rejecting a claim that the law was unconstitutional. It turns out I spoke too soon, because there was another challenge waiting in the wings: King v. Burwell, a right-wing attack which sought to cripple the law rather than strike it down entirely.

Obamacare, like Romneycare in Massachusetts, is a “three-legged stool“: regulations on insurance companies, so they can’t turn people away or drop them for being sick; an individual mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance; and tax credits to help pay for insurance for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Some states have their own exchange websites where people can shop for insurance, but a majority use exchanges set up by the federal government. The King lawsuit focused on an ambiguous and obscure clause which said that the tax credits were available on exchanges “established by the state”, which they used to argue that the credits shouldn’t be available for policies purchased on the federal exchanges (even though the law directs the federal government to set up that exchange in the state’s place if the state declines to).

This was no small matter. Without the credits, Obamacare in these states would have turned into a “death spiral”: poor people drop out, raising the cost of premiums for everyone else, which forces still more people to drop their coverage, which raises premiums still further, and so on. Millions of people would have lost their health insurance. The exchanges could have collapsed entirely. (The hand-picked plaintiff, David King, bragged that he has health insurance through the V.A. and wouldn’t have been affected whatever the outcome.)

With an even minimally rational Congress, a one-line legislative fix could have resolved this. But with a fundamentalist Republican Congress dead-set on destroying Obamacare by any means necessary, there would have been no hope of a fix if the court had ruled badly. Even so, the plaintiffs’ gotcha reading was so absurd and tendentious that few legal scholars took it seriously. But then the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

I remember the gut-churning anxiety I felt when I heard that news last year. At the time, it seemed plausible that there were five conservative justices who would seize on any excuse to rule against a Democratic accomplishment. But the ruling, when it came down on Thursday, was an enormous relief: not just a victory, but a solid 6-3 victory. Roberts and Kennedy joined the court’s liberals to draw the commonsensical conclusion that all the parts of the law work together as a unified whole, and Congress clearly didn’t intend to set up an exchange that was intended to fail. As Roberts cleverly pointed out, even the more conservative justices understood this until it became politically convenient for them not to

In retrospect, this wasn’t a surprising outcome. John Roberts upheld Obamacare when he could have killed it the first time; it seemed unlikely that he was going to destroy it on the second go-round. Even so, conservatives were furious, accusing Roberts of betrayal as if he had an obligation to rule the way they wanted. Most hilarious was libertarian wingnut Wayne Root, who speculated that President Obama was blackmailing him.

The cynicism and callousness of the conservatives who backed the King lawsuit is astonishing. Without even a constitutional principle at stake, they were willing to create nationwide chaos and take away millions of people’s access to desperately needed medical care, all out of spiteful desire to destroy President Obama’s greatest accomplishment. But they lost – again – and apart from some residual issues (like the continued tussling over the expansion of Medicaid and the birth control mandate), there’s now a wide-open path for Obamacare to do what it was always designed to do.

Just to be clear, I had no personal stake in either of these rulings. I have health insurance through my day job, and, being straight, I’ve never had to fight for recognition or legitimacy for my marriage. But the lives and happiness of millions of people were hanging on the outcomes of both. Since the good guys won in both cases, I think any person of conscience would feel vicarious joy and relief.

There’s one more point relevant to this blog, which is that both rulings undermine the power of religious fundamentalism. With marriage equality, that’s obvious, as I discussed previously. With health care, the connection is more subtle, but just as real. It’s no coincidence that some of the fiercest opposition to Obamacare has come from the religious right: they want to shred the social safety net, so that people have no option but to turn to churches when they need help. There’s plenty of research to establish that in societies that are prosperous, peaceful and secure, people see less need for religious consolation; and I don’t doubt the religious right knows this as well. Their defeat has weakened their influence and made us a more just and humane society, and that’s very much worth celebrating.

George Lakoff: Why Pope Francis Killed It on Addressing Climate Change

Source: AlterNet

Author: George Lakoff

Emphasis Mine

Beginning with my book Moral Politics in 1996 (Ch. 12), I have been arguing that environmental issues are moral issues. There I reviewed and critiqued conservative metaphors of nature as a resource, as property, as an adversary to be conquered.

Instead I argued that we needed to conceptualize nature as the giver of all life, as sustainer and provider, as having inherent value, imposing responsibility, and deserving gratitude, love, adoration, and commitment.

I suggested alternative metaphors of nature as mother, as a divine being, as a living organism, as a home, as a victim to be cared for, and a whole with us as parts inseparable from nature and from each other.

Pope Francis in his Encyclical used all of these and then went much further. First, he got all the science right — no small task. I have been writing for some time about role of systemic causation in global warming and the environment. The Pope not only got the ecological system effects right, but he went much, much further linking the environmental effects to effects on those most oppressed on earth by poverty, weather disasters, disease, ocean rise, lack of drinking water, the degradation of agriculture, and the essential aesthetic and spiritual contact with unspoiled nature. And more, he spoke of our moral responsibility toward animals.

He spoke in metaphors that might sound strange coming in a scientific or political speech, but somehow seem entirely natural for the Pope.

The title of the encyclical is “On Care for our Common Home.” This simple phrase establishes the most important frame right from the start. Using the metaphor of the “Earth as Home,” he triggers a frame in which all the people of the world are a family, living in a common home.

This frame carries with it many assumptions: As one family, we should care for each other and take responsibility for each other. A home is something we all depend on, physically and emotionally. A home is something inherently worth maintaining and protecting.

164. “…there has been a growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.”

61. “…our common home is falling into seri­ous disrepair.”

13. “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”

Pope Francis explicitly states what most progressives implicitly believe but rarely say out loud: “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” The “Common Good” frame is about interdependence, shared responsibility and shared benefit.

156. Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and uni­fying principle of social ethics.

157. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.

Critics of Pope Francis have attacked him as having a naïve understanding of the economy, of being anti-technology, or of denying the so-called productive role of self-interest. But he is doing much more, suggesting that business and technology can, and ought to, have moral ends, especially in the face of the looming worldwide disaster of global warming. He is further pointing out, correctly, that the global warming disaster and hugely disastrous other effects were created by the business-technology axis seeking profit above all, without being structured to serve the common good.

129. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

54. The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests.

The Pope of course realizes the challenge. An alternative religion of market fundamentalism has taken hold both in public discourse and in the minds of the public — so much so that it is hard to imagine a change in time to avert disaster.

108. The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable.

Indeed, market fundamentalism has become a kind of alternative religion, with its own idea of what is natural (the primacy of self-interest) and moral (in the conservative version of the Invisible Hand metaphor, if everyone pursues his own profit, the profit of all will be maximized). Pope Francis correctly points out that these metaphors have run wild, “ending up” creating enormous wealth for some, disaster for the many, and the terror of global warming for the earth. In market fundamentalism, there is only “individual responsibility,” no common responsibility for the common good. Without such common responsibility, there will be no way to avert the coming disasters of global warming, which has been created by market fundamentalism and will be perpetuated by it, unless it is checked.

In market fundamentalism, wealth is measure of the good: an overall increase in monetary wealth is a moral triumph. But while the industrialization of China has increased the wealth of China’s capitalists, of American corporate outsourcers to China, and of the Chinese government, the Chinese have suffered an ecological and social devastation, an overwhelming “cost” — a cost beyond the measure of money. Just look at the pollution in Beijing and desertification in western China. Via global warming, they are imposing that cost on the world, just as the industrialization of the West has in the past.

Pope Francis extends his view of morality using the commonplace economic metaphor of “Moral Accounting” in which there are debts, costs, people who owe, people who are owed, and an expectation that debts should be paid. He points out that no one makes it on his own, that pre-existing resources, often taken from others and the labor of others, have made life possible for anyone who is economically well-off. We all have debts. We also all have basic rights, e.g., to human dignity. When market fundamentalism shifts the resources of others and fruits of the labor of others to the wealthy, robbing the poor of their right to dignity, the wealthy incur a debt, a moral debt.

30. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dig­nity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor.

51. A true “ecolog­ical debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial im­balances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.

159. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of jus­tice: “The environment is part of a logic of re­ceptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.”

These are just a few examples of the many metaphors and frames used to powerful effect in this document. They have one thing in common, which they also share with the progressive value system: they are rooted in a worldview based on empathy.

This is Empathy writ large, beyond individual empathy: it is a global empathy for all humanity, all of life –– animals, fish, plants, and Nature, which provides all life. What is absent is the all too common narrow view of religion as about individuals alone, in which THE spiritual issue is whether YOU get into Heaven, and that is a matter of personal responsibility. You are responsible for yourself, not for others, not for all of life and what is life-giving. That narrow view of individual, not social or global responsibility is completely absent from the Pope’s message. The message takes morality to the global level, to an ecological spirituality. It is a message especially appropriate for American democracy, which begins with the idea of union, of citizens caring for one another and taking the responsibility working through their government to provide public resources for all, whether for business or personal life, and with freedom and dignity for all as inalienable rights.

The whole Encyclical is well worth reading. It is a remarkable document and one that needs to be taken to heart not just by the world’s Catholics, but by the world’s full population, now and for many years into the future.

I am an advocate of the separation of church and state. I don’t have a Pope. I have never tended to follow the edicts of a Pope just because he was Pope. And I am not doing so here.

It is vital to bear in mind that this Encyclical is not just a matter of church doctrine. All policy within the political domain is a matter of morality. Every politician who proposes a policy does so on the basis that it is right, not wrong or morally irrelevant. This Encyclical is overtly about politics and the role a global morality needs to play in politics.

I have long argued that global warming is the moral issue of our time. President Obama has said the same. I am thrilled that Pope Francis, spiritual and moral leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, has not just agreed, but has gone so much further, and that he has framed the issue so powerfully, often in language that flows most easily and readily from a Pope, and yet makes so much moral sense, whether you are Catholic or not, religious or not.

Moral questions are not the same as practical questions. But the fate of the earth in the face of global warming is so practical a question that it becomes a moral one. That is the lens through which to read the Pope’s Encyclical.

(N.B.: our planet will survive global warming: our species may not…)

(N.B.: Prof. Lawrence Krauss observes that the Encyclical does not address birth control, and that over population is a root cause of theses issues.)

see: http://chasdarwin.com/2015/06/19/ideology-subsumes-empiricism-in-popes-climate-encyclical/

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

see: http://www.alternet.org/environment/george-lakoff-why-pope-francis-killed-it-addressing-climate-change?akid=13263.123424.hW07xR&rd=1&src=newsletter1038718&t=13

One of the Most Incredible Weeks for the Progressive Movement in Ages

Source: American Prospect, via AlterNet

Author: Robert Kuttner

Emphasis Mine

What an extraordinary week in the political and spiritual life of this nation.

It was a week in which President Obama found the voice that so many of us hoped we discerned in 2008; a week in which two Justices of the Supreme Court resolved that the legitimacy of the institution and their own legacy as jurists was more important than the narrow partisan agenda that Justices Roberts and Kennedy have so often carried out; a week in which liberals could feel good about ourselves and the haters of the right were thrown seriously off balance.

Yet this is one of those inflection points in American politics that could go either way. It could energize the forces of racial justice and racial healing. It could reconstitute the Supreme Court as a body that takes the Constitution seriously. The week’s events could shame, embarrass and divide the political right.

Or the events of the week — the Court upholding the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage; the racist South giving up a cherished symbol of slavery; President Obama explicitly and eloquently embracing the pain of the black experience –– could energize the haters.

Consider Obama first. His eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney was the finest expression of political and moral leadership of his presidency. Obama has spoken this candidly on race only once before as a political leader — when his candidacy was on the line in 2008, in the Reverend Jeremiah Wright affair.

In that speech, Obama managed to thread the needle of candidly explaining the experience and the rhetoric of Reverend Wright’s generation, without either condoning the things Wright had said (“God Damn America”), or quite throwing him under the bus. And in the process, Obama won praise for his skill as a leader and a truth-teller on race, and defused a potentially lethal threat to his candidacy.

For the most part, Obama has been timid about using his rhetorical gifts; timid about fighting for what he believes; reticent about engaging Congress or the nation. The exceptional moment, such as the Charleston eulogy shows what the man is capable of — but allows himself to express only rarely.

It is just possible, now in the last 18 months of his presidency, that Obama, with not much to lose, will embrace the boldness that has eluded him for most his two terms — on race, on gun control, on social justice generally, and on the red-state/blue state divisions that are far more severe now than when he gave the now-famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that established him as a national contender.

There was also one sour note in Obama’s successes of past week. His victory in the fight to pursue a Pacific trade deal was the wrong battle for the wrong goal. Countless progressives wondered where that fighting spirit was when we needed it on so many battles that he and we lost.

There is a direct connection between the racial equality that was, paradoxically, advanced by the Charleston massacre and the economic inequality that has only worsened on Obama’s watch. The more that the One Percent makes off with the lion’s share of America’s productivity, the more the white working class and the downwardly mobile middle class are inclined to scapegoat people of color and immigrants.

(N.B.: Yes!)

How much stronger a hand Obama would have to call America to be its best self on racial healing, if he had been a fighter all along for economic justice; if working class people of all races felt that they had a champion in him. Instead, the biggest economic battle of his second term was on behalf of a corporate wish list.

That said, there is now momentum on the progressive side. There is movement for the symbolism of taking down the Confederate battle flag to give way to substance. If Southern Republican leaders now recognize the pain that such symbols cause, how about the pain of the denial of the right to vote? How about the pain of denial of health coverage under Medicaid so that Republican leaders can score political points against Obama.

The president was eloquent in his eulogy on the subject of grace.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God… As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. [Applause.] He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.

Well, if we as a nation were to stop with the removal of the Confederate flag from official sites, that would be cheap grace indeed. To shift the metaphor from Christian to Jewish, one thinks of the Passover song, Dayenu, which means, “It would have been enough:” If God had led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, that would have been enough; if He had given us the Torah, it would been enough. And so on. But God’s blessings are infinite.

To flip the sentiment, if the Southern elite took down the flag — that would not be enough. And if they restored the right to vote freely, that would not be enough. And if America got serious about police brutality, that would not be enough. And if conservatives stopped trying to overturn affirmative action — that would only be the bare beginning of what we owe the descendants of slavery, segregation and continued acts of racial violence.

Which brings me to the Supreme Court. In the decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Justice Roberts rose to the occasion with true eloquence and discernment. Justice Kennedy, author of the soaring decision on gay marriage, has displayed growth and compassion on a range of issues. Even in dissent, in the gay marriage decision Justice Roberts acknowledged what a momentous shift the acceptance of same-sex marriage was and is.

Justice Scalia was revealed, even more than before, as a petty, vindictive crank. His cheap, personal put-downs of Kennedy and Roberts in dissent can hardly serve to win them over in future decisions.

Here again, if the Court really wants to atone for past sins, Roberts and Kennedy might revisit the absurd decision throwing out key sections of the Voting Rights Act on the premise that racist denial of the right to vote was no longer a problem; and the equally bizarre decision equating money with speech. They have now had time for penitence — to see the real-world consequences of their handiwork and consider just how wrong they were, not just on the Constitution but on how politics actually operates.

Still to come will be a decision on affirmative action, where past signals have suggested that the Roberts Court is ready to overturn it. After Charleston, and the national conversation that the massacre has opened, this would not be the moment to destroy the society’s ability to very partially remediate past oppression.

All in all, a good week for everything decent in America. But only the bare beginnings of the progress we need to make. President Obama needs to keep following that inner light. The new Supreme Court majority needs to continue aiming higher than narrow partisanship. And the rest of us need to broaden the struggle for economic as well as racial justice.

 

Robert Kuttner is the former co-editor of the American Prospect and a senior fellow at Demos. His latest book is “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency.”

See: http://www.alternet.org/culture/one-most-incredible-weeks-progressive-movement-ages?akid=13255.123424.mgnLe2&rd=1&src=newsletter1038583&t=13

Rush Limbaugh’s Anti-Pope Freakout Proves That He Needs a Crash Course In Reading Comprehension

Source: Salon, via AlterNet

Author: Steve Neumann

Emphasis Mine

Shortly before beginning to write this, I read a transcript of a recent Rush Limbaugh show titled “The Pope’s ‘Science Advisor’ Is an Atheist Who Worships the Earth,” which begins:

 

“My friends, not one to let things go, I have dug deep, and I have found out practically everything there is to know about the science advisor to Pope Francis on this encyclical. And the main thing you need to know, the guy’s an atheist.”

Why is that the main thing we need to know? Because atheists are evil, of course, and therefore their judgment can’t be trusted. But then Limbaugh says “the word for it in the story that I found, one of the most credible stories, is a pantheist, which is a variation of atheist.” Really? An a-theist is someone who doesn’t believe in God, but a pan-theist is someone who believes that God is the universe, or that the universe is a manifestation of God. (You know, “pan” means “all” and “theos” means “God,” and all that.) But Limbaugh says that a “pantheist is somebody that believes the earth is a living organism that has the equivalent of a brain and reacts to horrible things done to it by humans,” and that in this view “the earth becomes the deity and there is no God.”

Limbaugh’s deep digging raises more questions than it answers. Does the Pope’s science advisor, Hans Schellnhuber, really believe that the Earth is a living organism like you or me — or God? And if he does, does it matter? Do only atheists believe in anthropogenic global warming? If so, how do you explain someone like Katharine Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian who “believes her religious faith obligates her to spread the word about climate change”? Can we trust her judgment? Limbaugh should really worry more about her because, as member of their tribe, she has the power to change Christian minds. Christians certainly aren’t going to be swayed by an evil atheist pantheist.

A search for Katharine Hayhoe on Limbaugh’s site turned up only one mention of her name. In a 2011 show where he interviews Marc Morano, who runs the climate denier blogClimate Depot, Limbaugh brings up the fact that Hayhoe was slotted to have a chapter in an upcoming book by Newt Gingrich:

“This woman is writing Newt’s chapter on climate change in the new book. She says, ‘It is primarily laypeople like talk show hosts who are perpetuating the idea that there is no scientific consensus.’ Marc Morano, our man in Washington, claims that Newt’s new book has a chapter written by a babe named Hayhoe — no offense, Reverend Jackson — that man-made global warming is happening, caused by man.”

Limbaugh doesn’t try to understand how an Evangelical Christian could believe that “among climate scientists, people who spend their lives researching our world, there’s no debate regarding the reality of climate change and the fact that humans are the primary cause.” He doesn’t even mention the fact that she’s a Christian. It turns out that just mentioning her on his show was enough to discredit her, though; Gingrich subsequently cut her chapter out of his book completely.

But back to Schellnhuber. Does he really believe in her holiness, Mother Gaia? I’m not 100 percent sure, but I doubt that he believes the Earth is literally a god to be worshipped. In a Nature article from 1999, titled “‘Earth system’ analysis and the second Copernican Revolution,” Schellnhuber argues that “sophisticated information-compression techniques including simulation modelling are now ushering in a second ‘Copernican’ revolution” that strives to understand the Earth holistically, hoping to develop concepts for global environmental management from that. A holistic approach is common in medicine, for example: the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease. A holistic approach to understanding the Earth seeks to take into account every relevant factor, too. Doesn’t seem too controversial.

Where people like Limbaugh really blow a gasket is when Schellnhuber writes that “ecosphere science is therefore coming of age, lending respectability to its romantic companion, Gaia theory.” To Limbaugh, this is an admission of allegiance to a pagan religion. But the “ecosphere” is just the biosphere of the earth, with emphasis on the interaction between its living and nonliving components. Gaia theory is a hypothesis formulated by the chemist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, that proposed that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.

The philosopher Michael Ruse notes in 2013 that “as science, Gaia never really made it, but it has provoked important scientific work nonetheless. The world as a whole, its homeostasis or lack of it, is interesting, important, and worthy of investigation,” and that even if Gaia theory hasn’t been accepted by most scientists, he says that “‘Earth Systems Science’ flourishes.” A charitable reading of Schellnhuber would lead us to conclude that he’s not shilling for a new religion. Consider his use of the adjective “romantic” to describe Gaia theory. He’s not taking Gaia theory literally, he’s saying that it’s “suggestive of an idealized view of reality,” as my Oxford dictionary defines “romantic.”

In other words, he’s using it as a metaphor to help him understand the issue. Schellnhuber also says that this “hotly debated ‘geophysiological’ approach to Earth-system analysis argues that the biosphere contributes in an almost cognizant way to self-regulating feedback mechanisms that have kept the Earth’s surface environment stable and habitable for life.” Notice that he uses scare quotes to describe Lovelock’s idea of studying the Earth’s “body.” Schellnhuber also utilizes metaphorical language again when he says that the Earth acts in an almost cognizant manner. That is, almost but not really.

Science thrives on the use of metaphor and analogy, especially when trying to communicate complex ideas and processes. Think of Richard Dawkins’s concept of the “selfish gene,” or pretty much anything written on physics by Brian Greene. In an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” Greene has a cameo appearance where he uses a metaphor to introduce a wacky quantum effect:

“You can think of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle much like the special order menu that you find in certain Chinese restaurants, where you have some dishes in column A and other dishes in column B, and if you order the first dish in column A you can’t order the corresponding dish in column B — that’s sort like the Uncertainty Principle.”

Does Greene really believe that quantum physics is like a Chinese menu? Do I really need to answer that question?

I don’t think these subtleties are lost on people like Limbaugh; I think they believe they’re used as subterfuge by what they consider to be evil, liberal secular fascists to control the world. But that still doesn’t explain people like Katharine Hayhoe, who recently commented on the Pope’s “Laudato Si” encyclical at fellow Evangelical and scientist Francis Collins’s BioLogos website. The title of her post is “Why All Christians Should Heed Pope Francis’ Call to ‘Care for Our Common Home,’” where she writes:

“This is why the Pope’s unprecedented encyclical on climate change matters so much. It makes a moral call for action based on the fundamental premises of the Christian faith – premises so fundamental that we can all, and must all, agree…In this world, there is only really one thing we Christians are called to do: to fearlessly express Christ’s love to others. In the case of climate change, how do we express this love? Through acknowledging the reality of the issue; supporting action to help others who are being harmed now, today, and in the future; and taking our responsibility to care for God’s creation seriously.”

I think it’s clear that the Earth system science that people like Schellnhuber and others engage in makes generous use of metaphors to both understand the issue of global climate change and to communicate that understanding to the rest of us. Whether it’s called “Gaia” or “God’s creation,” it’s a poetic metaphor that has the power to motivate us to make the necessary changes because it shows how much we’re actually invested in it.

Speaking of poetic metaphors, the late poet Denise levertov, a former agnostic who converted to Catholicism in her sixties, combines Schellnhuber’s Gaia and Hayhoe’s Creation in her poem “Tragic Error” from her 1992 book Evening Train:

Surely we were to have been
earth’s mind, mirror, reflective source.
Surely our task
was to have been
to love the earth,
to dress and keep it like Eden’s garden. 

That would have been our dominion:
to be those cells of the earth’s body that could
perceive and imagine, could bring the planet
into the haven it is to be known. 

But as is usual for Limbaugh and others like FoxNews hosts and pundits, the invocation of an atheist who believes in Gaia is meant to instill fear in the GOP base, motivating them to vote against the Democratic Devil.

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/rush-limbaughs-anti-pope-freakout-proves-he-needs-crash-course-reading-comprehension?akid=13253.123424.Drd92x&rd=1&src=newsletter1038524&t=3

Why Ayn Rand Is a Fan Favorite Among Christian Theocrats

Source: talk2action via alternet

Author:James Sanford

Emphasis Mine

Ayn Rand’s followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been a rallying point for both groups. Still, the philosophical disharmony between Christianity and Objectivism (Ayn Rand’s philosophy) has presented problems for anyone seeking to straddle the two worldviews. Just ask Paul Ryan.

Congressman Ryan, a Conservative Catholic, made no bones about his love for Ayn Rand’s signature novel, Atlas Shrugged, when he began his political career. The novel’s portrayal of heroic entrepreneurs fighting an evil government fits perfectly with Ryans’s ideal of conservatism. But a few years ago, the congressman began to feel pushback from traditional Christians who weren’t so keen on Ayn Rand’s theological views. How, it was asked, could Ryan condone an atheist who dismissed religionists as ignorant and deluded? The upshot: Ryan began parsing his words in a hurry.

Judging from recent trends, however, the icy divide over the God issue shows clear signs of melt. Gradual movement toward accommodation is coming not just from Christians wishing to co-opt Ayn Rand’s capitalistic ethic, but from Randians seeking to expand their fan base.

A hint of compromise from the Randian side was evident this fall with the rollout of Atlas Shrugged, Part III, the final film segment of the novel. Whatever the film’s cinematic defects–it has generally been panned by critics–the filmmakers have signaled an interest in reaching beyond the usual circle of devotees, realizing that traditional Christians, a key conservative demographic, are good targets for Rand’s pro-capitalist message. John Aglialoro, the movie’s main producer and a trustee of the pro-Randian Atlas Society, seemed to have their sensitivities in mind in an interview with Bill Frezza of Forbes Magazine awhile back. “Most people have a respect for spirituality, maybe even a yearning,” he stated. “There must be room in Objectivism for charity and benevolence.”

See: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/why-ayn-rand-fan-favorite-among-christian-theocrats?akid=13252.123424.3haMGB&rd=1&src=newsletter1038489&t=5