“President Obama waived a ban on arming terrorists in order to allow weapons to go to the Syrian opposition. Your listeners, US taxpayers, are now paying to give arms to terrorists including Al Qaeda. … This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history. … Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand.”
…an active member of Congress.
Photo: Fibonacci Blue
Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:
Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.
If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:
Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.
Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.
(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)
Matthew Iglesias argues that it’s about time we start taxing churches:
Let’s tax churches! All of them, in a non-discriminatory way that doesn’t consider faith or creed or level of political engagement. There’s simply no good reason to be giving large tax subsidies to the Church of Scientology or the Diocese of San Diego or Temple Rodef Shalom in Virginia or the John Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Zion church around the corner from me. Whichever faith you think is the one true faith, it’s undeniable that the majority of this church-spending is going to support false doctrines. Under the circumstances, tax subsidies for religion are highly inefficient.
That led Dylan Matthews to investigate how much money we’re talking about. To do so, he cites a study done by Ryan T. Cragun, a sociologist at the University of Tampa, and two of his students, Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega, whose research appeared in Free Inquiry, a publication of the Council for Secular Humanism:
When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get “parsonage exemptions” that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).
Cragun et al estimate the total subsidy at $71 billion. That’s almost certainly a lowball, as they didn’t estimate the cost of a number of subsidies, like local income and property tax exemptions, the sales tax exemption, and — most importantly — the charitable deduction for religious given.
The charitable deduction for all groups cost about $39 billion this year, according to the CBO, and given that 32 percent of those donations are to religious groups, getting rid of it just for them would raise about $12.5 billion. Add that in and you get a religious subsidy of about $83.5 billion.
This story is almost too outrageous and infuriating to report:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – The editor of a Saudi Arabian social website has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought, Saudi media reported on Tuesday.
Raif Badawi, who started the “Free Saudi Liberals” website to discuss the role of religion in Saudi Arabia, has been held since June 2012 on charges of cyber crime and disobeying his father – a crime in the conservative kingdom and top U.S. ally.
Badawi’s website included articles that were critical of senior religious figures such as the Grand Mufti, according to Human Rights Watch.
The watchdog said in December that Badawi faced a possible death sentence after a judge cited him for apostasy, but Al-Watan said the judge dropped the apostasy charges.
Apostasy, the act of changing religious affiliation, carries an automatic death sentence in Saudi Arabia, along with other crimes including blasphemy.
Sickening. I wouldn’t expect any condemnation from the U.S. on this, or any of their allies, seeing as how Wahhabist Saudi Arabia is the world’s top exporter of oil.
Nadim Houry — deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch — said in a statement that, “This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue. A man who wanted to discuss religion has already been locked up for a year and now faces 600 lashes and seven years in prison.”
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Pope Francis, while openly answering questions posed to him by journalists on Monday, during a flight back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip to Brazil as Pontiff. The above quote is Francis’ answer to a question regarding his view of homosexual priests in the church.
(photo by Semilla Luiz)
The most popular post of the week — and consequently the most read post during any week long stretch — was my polemic against our president and his plan to arm Syrian rebel groups, entitled Buckle Up America, We’re About To Enter Another War.
Other popular posts included the Latest Conservative Plan To Derail Obamacare The Most Sinister Yet, a funny but important report which found that Only Old People Watch Fox News Anymore, the unfortunate but expected details exposed in Rep. Steve King, Cantaloupe Calves, And The GOP’s White Racial Panic, my defense of centrism in Does “The Center” Still Exist, and finally in response to the inane hoopla surrounding the birth of a baby, I lamented American awe of the British House of Windsor in A Royal Fetishization.
See you all Monday!
See the tiny blue speck? That’s earth. NASA JPL explains the beautiful shot:
In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself). At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.
Earth, which is 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side. An arrow indicates their location in the annotated version. (The two are clearly seen as separate objects in the accompanying narrow angle frame: PIA14949.) The other bright dots nearby are stars.
Now back to the royal baby.
(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
One thing should be very, very clear, “the [Iraqi] government [has] lost any semblance of control over security”:
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, formed earlier this year through a merger of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria and Iraq, said it had stormed Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib jail and another, some 20 km (12 miles) north of capital, after months of preparation.
Monday’s attacks came exactly a year after the leader of al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launched a “Breaking the Walls” campaign that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the group said in a statement.
Sunni Islamist militants have in recent months been regaining momentum in their insurgency against Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, which came to power after the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
The group said it had deployed suicide attackers, rockets, and 12 car bombs, killing 120 Iraqi guards and SWAT forces in the attacks in Taji, north of Baghdad, and Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.
And if you guessed that the released prisoners just punched a one-way ticket to the war in Syria, you’d be right:
Sectarian tensions across the region have been inflamed by the civil war in Syria, which has drawn in Shi’ite and Sunni fighters from Iraq and beyond to fight against each other.
A senior Iraqi security official said security forces were on high alert and had received information that some of the most high-profile al Qaeda operatives who managed to escape were now on their way to Syria.
And the beat goes on.
(photo by The U.S. Army)
Sorry it’s taken until the end of the day on Sunday for your weekly installment of Best Of The Week, but just like Bukowski, “my ambition is handicapped by my laziness”.
Unsurprisingly, most popular post of the week — and in terms of traffic, ever — was my initial reaction to the Zimmerman Trial verdict, Not Guilty, followed by Cato’s Got Jury Duty? Consider This, the rather unkind polemic Liz Cheney Really Is The Worst Thing In The World, and my take on the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history Here’s Why Detroit Failed: Reactions And Analysis.
Some other popular posts were UCLA Study Finds That Sex Addiction Is Not A Disease, The Moral Dilemma Of Abortion, and finally Does Culture Make A Difference For P.T.S.D In Soldiers?.
(photo by D. Shankbone)
During an event put on by Iowa’s Faith and Freedom Coalition on Monday night, three Republican hopefuls tried their darnedest to differentiate between themselves, in the hopes of earning a Senate nomination. But being that all three tow the far-right Republican line, differentiation seemed unlikely. That is until David Young — former Chief of Staff to current U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley — promised the audience that if elected, “he would invite New York Senator Chuck Schumer to lunch so that he could share the good news of Jesus Christ.”
When answering the question about being part of the “brotherhood,” [aka Senate moderates who oppose conservative hardliners] Young said that what really needs to happen in Washington D.C. is a change of hearts and minds. Young said as a Senator, he would invite New York Senator Chuck Schumer to lunch so that he could share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Well, that’s definitely a new approach to bridging the partisan divide. Instead of worrying about convincing opposition Senators to agree with your political principles, just convert them to your religion — the rest will take care of itself.
And Schumer is hardly the only Jew in the Senate, but it makes sense — not really — for Young to set his sights on one of the Jew-iest of Jews, so that the conquest would be even more impressive.
Chait sees this plain backfiring:
Schumer is also a really good negotiator, and Young could walk out of the room having agreed to become a Jew.
(photo by Medill DC)
It was quite a heavy week of reporting here on Left and Center, but we gladly stayed away from writing anything about the Zimmerman Trial, and instead focused on the news. As always, the vast majority of the traffic went to the homepage, which is what I always intended with this blog.
Your favorite posts from this past week were a Massacre In Cairo: One Step Closer To Civil War, my polemic against Republican inaction and indifference titled Conservatives Don’t Give A Damn About Governing, Cato’s timely piece written more than a week past about Why The Farm Bill Mattered, my take on the importance and difficulties in Comprehending Evil, and a rather distressing and callous story out of one of our more tiny states where Iowa’s All-Male Supreme Court Says It’s OK To Fire A Woman If You Really Want To Sleep With Her.
Other notable posts included Koch Brothers To Launch Huge Misinformation Campaign Against Obamacare, my argument of the vital and usually overlooked impact of labeling something as what it is in Edward Snowden And The Difference Between Prosecution And Persecution, some thoughts regarding a really groundbreaking yet controversial college financing plan entitled Everything You Need To Know About Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” College Program, and finally our double dose of wonkish charts: the first showing that the U.S. Is Ranked 28th In Health Care Outcomes, and the second proving Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of Flying, Ever.
A wonderful weekend to you, dear reader. More on Monday.
Televangelist Pat Robertson insisted during his program, “The 700 Club,” that he’s really not anti-gay, and that homosexuals are just confused straight people who may have either been sexually abused as children, or “maybe got some chromosomal damage” (cause Jesus doesn’t mess with chromosomes).
He went on to laud the fact that his show has a large gay audience:
“I am very pleased that we have many, many, many homosexuals watching this program and many of them are looking for love and acceptance and help and I’m glad to report that we have thousands of these people who are saying, ‘yes we want to follow Jesus, we’re not happy with the lifestyle we’re in and we want to have a better way,’ I think it’s wonderful that that’s happening,”
The friendly Southern Baptist minister took some time this week to suggest that Facebook create a “Vomit” button to be used when people post pictures of same-sex couples.
Here’s the video:
And this collection of ridiculously offensive and stupid quotes from Robertson will let you know who you’re dealing with.
(photo by flickr user Daniel Oines)
Fox News commentator and supposed “liberal” Bob Beckel said during the daytime program “The Five” that there should be a moratorium on mosques built in the United States until the government can clear every single Muslim in the country of terror activity.
His comments were provoked by a heavy conversation of the murder of dozens of children and their teacher in north eastern Nigeria by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram:
BECKEL: They are a bunch of thugs, murderers and they go after the Christian schools, they have done this, they burn them down. We don’t do that here, if we burned your mosque here, you would really be upset.
The fact of the matter is, these guys are murderers, they’re terrorists and if this is what the prophet told you to do, then the prophet was wrong. Now, I’ve already gotten enough mail from you all, you don’t like what I say about not letting your students come here.
If it were up to me, I would not have another mosque built in this country until we got it worked out who was not a terrorist.
There’s a fine line between an Islamophobic rant, and a rant against islamist extremism, and Beckel crossed it. To compare American muslims to one of the most vile terror organizations in the world today is like juxtaposing RIRA militants with every-day American catholics. The shoe doesn’t fit just because both groups believe in the same Prophet.
Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Obama administration’s decision to provide arms to Syrian rebels, but according to a new Quinnipiac University national poll, nearly half would be totally fine with using drones and cruise missiles to attack Syrian government targets.
The poll found that 61 percent of Americans say that it is not in the nation’s best interest to be involved in Syria, while only 27 percent say otherwise, and 59 percent think that providing arms to anti-government groups is not such a hot idea.
But 49 percent of respondents, when asked if the U.S. “should or should not use weapons which don’t risk American lives, such as drones and cruise missiles, to attack Syrian government targets”, said it should, while 38 percent stood opposed.
With polling, every single word matters, and the phrasing of the question can go a long way to determining the outcome. It’s true that American lives will be spared if drones are used, but arming Syrian rebels won’t necessarily put American lives in danger either. My guess is that Americans are more worried about rebel groups getting their hands on weapons, than the actual use of them against the Syrian government. Fair enough, I have the same worry. But imagine a scenario where an American drone mishits a target, and kills an exorbitant number of rebel soldiers, or worse, innocent civilians. At that point, we’ll have succeeded in creating another Egypt, where both sides of the coin hate the U.S. and rally behind that sentiment.
(photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
Since the discovery of Neandertals 200 years ago, scientists have been gathering copious amounts of data indicating that our last common ancestor shared a lot more in common with us than previously realized. Recent focus has been directed at figuring out whether or not Neandertals had anything like modern speech and language. According to a new paper in Frontiers in Language Sciences by MPI for Psycholinguistics researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen C. Levinson, they did:
Initially thought to be subhuman brutes incapable of anything but the most primitive of grunts, they were a successful form of humanity inhabiting vast swathes of western Eurasia for several hundreds of thousands of years, during harsh ages and milder interglacial periods. We knew that they were our closest cousins, sharing a common ancestor with us around half a million years ago (probably Homo heidelbergensis), but it was unclear what their cognitive capacities were like, or why modern humans succeeded in replacing them after thousands of years of cohabitation. Recently, due to new palaeoanthropological and archaeological discoveries and the reassessment of older data, but especially to the availability of ancient DNA, we have started to realize that their fate was much more intertwined with ours and that, far from being slow brutes, their cognitive capacities and culture were comparable to ours.
Dediu and Levinson review all these strands of literature and argue that essentially modern language and speech are an ancient feature of our lineage dating back at least to the most recent ancestor we shared with the Neandertals and the Denisovans (another form of humanity known mostly from their genome).
(photo by flickr user Jacob Enos)