Open thread for night owls: ‘There are moments in time when people need to live their convictions’

Open thread for night owls: ‘There are moments in time when people need to live their convictions’

In an interview with the Washington Post, the owner of a rural Virginia restaurant defended her decision to refuse service to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” Wilkinson said. “I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.” […]

“I would have done the same thing again,” she said  “We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”

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Every time someone burps up this vapid cliche, I die a little more inside. https://t.co/gIsu6BzWov

— David Roberts (@drvox) June 24, 2018

BLAST FROM THE PAST

On this date at Daily Kos in 2004—The Cheney Coup:

Whoa, how did I almost miss this?

After the 9-11 attacks, Cheney sent Bush away and took control of the US response to the attacks. He essentially staged a coup, taking over as “commander in chief.” This information was contained in a draft report from the 9-11 Commission.

America was under attack, and somebody had to make a decision. Dick Cheney, huddled in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center under the White House, had just urged the traveling George W. Bush not to return to Washington. The president had left Florida aboard Air Force One at 9:55 a.m. on 9/11 “with no destination at take-off,” as last week’s 9-11 Commission report noted. Nor had Bush given any known instructions on how to respond to the attacks. Now Cheney faced another huge decision on a morning in which every minute seemed monumental. The two airliners had already crashed into the Twin Towers, another into the Pentagon. Combat air patrols were aloft, and a military aide was asking for shoot-down authority, telling Cheney that a fourth plane was “80 miles out” from Washington. Cheney didn’t flinch, the report said. “In about the time it takes a batter to decide to swing,” he gave the order to shoot it down, telling others the president had “signed off on the concept” during a brief phone chat. When the plane was 60 miles out, Cheney was again informed and again he ordered: take it out.

Then Joshua Bolten, after what he described in testimony as “a quiet moment,” spoke up. Bolten, the White House deputy chief of staff, asked the veep to get back in touch with the president to “confirm the engage order.” Bolten was clearly subordinate to Cheney, but “he had not heard any prior conversation on the subject with the president,” the 9/11 report notes. Nor did the real-time notes taken by two others in the room, Cheney’s chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby–who is known for his meticulous record-keeping–or Cheney’s wife, Lynne, reflect that such a phone call between Bush and Cheney occurred or that such a major decision as shooting down a U.S. airliner was discussed. Bush and Cheney later testified the president gave the order. And national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice and a military aide said they remembered a call, but gave few specifics. The report concluded “there is no documentary evidence for this call.”

This is startling information. The vice president ordered the president sent away and took control of the government.

Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at Stitcher.com), and find a live stream there, by searching for “Netroots Radio.”

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My answers as an atheist to apologetics questions from a religious friend

My answers as an atheist to apologetics questions from a religious friend

As I was working on my weekly post last night, a friend pinged me and asked me for a favor. A friend of his is taking an Apologetics class, and needed to interview an atheist as an assignment. 

This intrigued me, as I enjoy conversations with folks who are religious. One of the reasons I do this is that all too often people are told lies about atheists. They’re told that we’re immoral. They’re told that we have no beliefs. In fact, they’re told that it’s impossible to have what they call “objective” beliefs without god. For this reason, Apologetics classes often seem to focus on this idea of objective beliefs and how somehow they’re better than what they call subjective beliefs. 

They are taught that answers need to come from god. I tend to think that even if we say these answers come from “god,” they actually come from us. One way to talk about this is to show how. 

Anyway, I hope you’ll forgive me as I share my answers this week instead of the column I had intended to write. I’m also sharing because it’s interesting to think about and talk about “Why we’re here” and “What’s our purpose.” Too often, I think we shy away from these questions because we’re not taught how to talk about our beliefs and values and where they come from. So please share any of your own answers in the comments. 

Without further ado, here’s the list of questions I was asked, and my responses. 

-—

I am working in a class that is having the students ask worldview questions. I will frame this that I am here to ask about your perspective and dialogue about the big questions. Here are the questions. 

A question about origin: Where did I come from? Where did the origin of life come from?

A question for purpose: Why am I here? (Do I have a purpose? Is there ultimate meaning to life? What is the purpose of life?)

A question concerning morality: How can I know right from wrong? (Is morality objective or subjective?  Can there be be objective standards?)

Questioning destiny: Where am I going? What happens when I die? What happens after death? The question for truth: How do I know any of this is true? What is truth? Is there such thing as known truth?

These are really good questions. I often suggest to people that science and religion are less like two heavyweights battling each other and more like two different studies that focus on different questions. The questions science usually asks are questions about “How?” How do I build a bridge strong enough to carry X number of tons over 500 feet of water? How does the world around us work? What is the sun and how does it work? The questions religion likes to ask are questions about “Why?” Why are we here? What are we doing on this planet? How should we treat each other?

I see this in your questions. This said, here are some thoughts from my experience.  

Where did I come from? Where did the origin of life come from?

I came from my parents. The funny part of the story is that years later, after I went to college, my mom told me that the bed I’d been sleeping in all these years—my bed growing up—was the bed I was conceived in. Too much information, mom. I really didn’t need to know that.

To the best of my knowledge, life started in the sea. It started with very small amoeba-like creatures that contained tiny strands of DNA. DNA is like a recipe for each creature, a code. One of the interesting features of DNA is that radiation can alter it in tiny ways. This can produce variations that allow life to adapt.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine because it takes generations to see different species. In my experience, we have a hard time thinking about very long periods of time. To us, a day or a month can seem long, but what’s 10,000 years in the grand scheme of things?

Why am I here? (Do I have a purpose? Is there ultimate meaning to life? What is the purpose of life?)

It’s hard to speak for anyone but me because I believe each person has to find their own purpose—what matters to them, what’s meaningful.

What I’ve found matters to me is helping other people learn. It’s why I became an engineer and an educator. First, I realized I liked to learn and then I realized I liked helping other people learn. I’ve found that this is my passion and this is what drives me. It’s what I enjoy. It’s also how I feel I can help and give back.

As far as an ultimate meaning, I don’t think I’m big enough to speak to that. To talk about an ultimate meaning to me would be to say that somehow I have the only answer.

I enjoy the search. I like talking to people and finding out what we have in common and how we differ. And when there’s something I can help people with, I share.

How can I know right from wrong? (Is morality objective or subjective? Can there be be objective standards?)

The best explanation I’ve ever seen for where our beliefs comes from looks like the following:

A drawing of Dan Mezick’s results pyramid from the book The Culture Game.

Experiences can be our parents, our family, our culture, books, any type of experience we have. From these, we tend to develop beliefs and ideas about how we think things work. We turn these into values and principles that then tend to influence our actions and results. If we’re smart, we then add these results to our experiences and reflect on how things work to get better beliefs.

This process is what interests me. I guess, because I see it as a process, I see it as subjective. It comes from us and is something we create. One of the things that’s interesting though about this is that there are certain things that tend to be seen as immoral across cultures, like murder, for example. An interesting question could be: What are these certain commonalities? And why do different cultures come to the same conclusions?

Where am I going? What happens when I die? What happens after death?

I plan on being cremated. When one of our cats passed away recently, we took her ashes to the top of a mountain because we thought she might enjoy the view. I’ll probably ask for something similar.

That, and I’d like people to throw a big party instead of a funeral. Everyone hates funerals and I’d rather people had fun at mine.

How do I know any of this is true? What is truth? Is there such thing as known truth?

Scientific truth is that which can be verified through repeatable experience. I know that a car moving at 60 miles an hour will go 30 miles in half an hour because I can verify the distance on my speedometer. We’ve also developed equations that fit with our experience that we’ve verified and trust again and again over time.

As far as some of the other beliefs, I’d refer back to the pyramid. Let’s take a specific belief: Treat other people as you would like to be treated. If I hold this belief and try it out and I experience being treated well in return, then I’m likely to keep this belief. Especially if it’s one held by others in my culture.

When I myself am asked a question, I try to respond truthfully. Does this mean I’m always right? Nah. It means I do my best based on what I know. I try to answer honestly and keep an open mind in case I find something of interest I’d like to learn more about. If I think someone is struggling with something I’ve learned, I try to help them out (this is the educator in me).

David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution: A Distributive Strategy for Democracy (print or ebook). 

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Trump administration shifting resources from drug-smuggling cases to prosecute asylum-seekers

Trump administration shifting resources from drug-smuggling cases to prosecute asylum-seekers

The Trump administration order requiring immigration officials to pursue a “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting refugees and asylum-seekers is not just separating families and creating chaos: USA TODAY reports that it is resulting in staff and resources being diverted from drug-smuggling cases.

That’s right: The Trump administration is pursuing a policy that helps drug smugglers.

The email, sent by the lawyer who runs the office’s major crimes unit, said prosecutors needed to streamline their work on smuggling cases. He said that would mean tight deadlines – sometimes just a few hours to produce reports and recordings – for those that would land in federal court. Going forward, the lawyer, Fred Sheppard, warned, if agents can’t meet that high bar, “the case will be declined.”

USA TODAY reports that are also “signs” prosecutors are shifting cases from federal to state courts in an effort to reduce that workload, a move that will likely result in weaker sentences for those smugglers that are convicted.

It isn’t just federal prosecutions of smugglers that’s being “streamlined” in order to divert resources to refugee arrests. The U.S. military is diverting resources to construct camps on military land capable of housing nearly 150,000 interned migrants on four bases alone, and the new administration budget strips $77 million from the United States Coast Guard, one of the key interdictors of drug smuggling efforts, to help fund the “zero tolerance” effort.

The administration is devoting a great deal of national resources towards prosecuting these families. Drug interdiction is just one of the national priorities that is being carved up in order to support their new efforts.

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New Jersey’s complete Democratic Party takeover points out the cancer within

New Jersey’s complete Democratic Party takeover points out the cancer within

I’ve always said that the Democratic Party establishment and the Republican Party establishment were nothing more than the left and right rails of the same track. And what do we know about tracks? They move in the same direction. Yet the Democratic Party and the Republican Party’s rank-and-file are very different.

The far right has taken over the GOP’s rank-and-file as well as the Republican establishment. On the left, it’s progressives who have been the rank-and-file of the party for some time. This manifestation can be seen in the Democratic Party platform and in the policies the party supports, especially when in the minority. But progressives have never taken over the Democratic Party establishment.

Many Democrats get upset when one airs out some of these issues. They immediately go on the defensive, as if having a healthy dialogue can be anything but positive. One of the problems in this country is that too many people are comfortable with the status quo. Many want the safety of a conflict-free existence, at least in their sphere. The reason we still have all the -ism and phobia (racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia) problems is that while we talk a lot about it superficially, rarely is a dialogue made more than antiseptic.

Well, New Jersey has given us an opportunity to explore the core of the Democratic Party’s Establishment vs. Progressive contrast. It is a pattern that repeats itself over and over at various levels.

This ThinkProgress article should give everyone pause. It’s titled “The Democratic Governor of New Jersey wants a tax hike on millionaires. Democrats are blocking him.” What? That could not possibly be true. While Republican Chris Christie was governor of New Jersey, Democrats attempted a justifiable tax hike on the state’s multimillionaires many times.

When New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on a proposal to hike incomes taxes on the very richest sliver of his state, he would have expected to find easy traction with state lawmakers. They had sent such a tax package to Murphy’s predecessor Chris Christie (R) half a dozen times in the preceding years, seeing it vetoed each time.

But something funny happened on the way to the statehouse. Murphy’s partisan allies flipped, suddenly blanching at the 2-percentage-point hike on income over a million dollars that Murphy says would bring in three quarters of a billion dollars in new revenue.

And statehouse Dems aren’t keeping their newfound disagreement inside the tent. They’re actively collaborating with Christie, one of the Garden State’s most famous unemployed residents, to strategize against Murphy’s budget.

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Immigration officials threatening parents: If you want to see your children, agree to deportation

Immigration officials threatening parents: If you want to see your children, agree to deportation

The Texas Tribune is now reporting that parents who crossed the border with their children are being pressured by government officials to sign voluntary deportation orders in order to be reunited with their children.

A Honduran man who spoke to The Texas Tribune Saturday estimated that 20 to 25 men who have been separated from their children are being housed at the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center, a privately-operated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility for men located 75 miles outside Houston. He said the majority of those detainees had received the same offer of reunification in exchange for voluntary deportation.

[…] “I signed it out of desperation… but the truth is I can’t go back to Honduras; I need help.”

The use of separated, spirited-away children as bargaining chips in their parent’s asylum cases is perilously close to hostage-taking, and perilously close is the most charitable possible interpretation. That effort to deport asylum seekers regardless of the merit of their claims is, again, the transparent intent of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy targeting those refugees.

And while the offer of reunification “at the airport” in exchange for giving up asylum claims is being used to intimidate parents, the threat of what may happen to their children if they do not agree seems not to be an idle one. Would-be asylum seekers are in fact being forcibly deported without their children; other governments are confirming these reports.

The administration has repeatedly lied about nearly every aspect of their “zero tolerance” policy, but we know one thing for certain: The policy was enacted as explicitly racist effort to curb asylum claims from a so-called “invasion” of “rural” non-English speakers from Central and South America. That is the part they said out loud.

And in enforcing it, they are now presenting parents with a cruel and inhumane choice: Give up your legal rights, or we can’t tell you when, or if, you’ll ever see your child again.

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Trumpism is a cult

Trumpism is a cult

Growing up in the ‘80s my mom was always worried about cults. I have no idea why, my guess is she saw something on 60 Minutes, or 20/20 and then was worried I would run off and join a cult. I do recall watching one of the news magazine shows with her as a teenager—it was one in which they described the signs you are in a cult.

Thirty some odd years removed from that memory I could not find that particular episode, or list of how you know you are in a cult. But I did find a more recent version of the list.

1. Opposing critical thinking

2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving

3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture

4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders

5. Dishonoring the family unit

6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)

7. Separation from the Church

I read that list and I see the modern day Republican Party, specifically, die hard Trump supporters. It is clear that they oppose any kind of critical thinking. Take the recent statement by Tucker Carlson of Fox News:

“If you’re looking to understand what’s actually happening in this country, always assume the opposite of whatever they’re telling you on the big news stations.”

In other words, only listen to what we tell you. You do not need to think about it, just believe us, and only us. There is no need for you to take in information from other sources, there is no need to think about what we tell you—other sources are not real. Even the current White House resident does this daily in his Twitter feed.

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Trump again mocks Sen. John McCain, brags that Republicans ‘gutted’ healthcare reform

Trump again mocks Sen. John McCain, brags that Republicans ‘gutted’ healthcare reform

Republican Sen. John McCain continues to remain in Arizona, battling brain cancer. National Republican leader and manifestly unfit president Donald Trump continues to mock and belittle him, this time singling McCain out in a Saturday rally in Nevada for his vote against a Republican bill repealing the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare reform law widely known as “Obamacare.”

“Nobody talked to him. Nobody needed to, and then he walked in: thumbs-down. It’s alright, because we’ve essentially gutted it anyway,” Trump said of ObamaCare at the rally.

Trump was in Nevada to campaign for McCain’s colleague Sen. Dean Heller, who has offered no apparent public comment about his party’s leader continuing to publicly sneer at McCain. Heller has also has long attempted to play both sides of the the healthcare debate hemself, so he may have been even more alarmed at Trump bragging to his Nevada constituents that the law has been “gutted.”

Trump has at this point taken to attacking John McCain on a regular basis, during his public speeches. Daughter Meghan McCain responded to a similar Trump attack on her father last week as “gross.”

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Will Trump’s bald-faced lies and reversal on family separation ‘law’ open the media’s eyes? Finally?

Will Trump’s bald-faced lies and reversal on family separation ‘law’ open the media’s eyes? Finally?

Forcibly separating children from their families—and those words don’t do justice to the harm those actions inflict and the cruelty from which they flow—is the logical result of Donald Trump’s approach to undocumented immigration. Frankly, it’s surprising it took his administration as long as it did to get there. In addition to the racist rhetoric on which his approach centers, it is also drenched in lies. From the moment he announced his White House run by talking about Mexican rapists and drug dealers, his candidacy and now his presidency have relied on spreading lies about undocumented immigrants.

Trump’s lies about crime and the undocumented—not to mention his lies about the prevalence of crime in general in our country—are designed to whip up fear and hatred toward a segment of our population, which he then turns into political gain. What kind of a person does that and is able to not only live with themselves, but revel in it the way Trump seems to? Regarding the lies, it is well-documented that living in an area with higher percentages of undocumented immigrants makes one more safe. Paul Krugman this week discussed parallels between Trump’s lies on this and the old anti-Semitic lie about the Blood Libel in a piece I highly recommend.

As Krugman noted, Trump also mixed in some lies about crime and migrants in Europe with more bigotry about those migrants supposedly changing the culture:

x

= Lie. Crime rates in Germany are at their lowest level in 30 years @politico https://t.co/w5neuIqUj4

— Sam Vinograd (@sam_vinograd) June 18, 2018

The lie about crime is the foundation on which Trump built his family separation policy. It’s how he justified doing something his administration claimed “no one likes” doing. But beyond this lie-soaked justification was Trump’s equally false claim that he had no choice but to separate families because the law required him to do so. He was lying through his teeth.

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Trump demands refugees be expelled ‘immediately’, without ‘Judges or Court Cases’

Trump demands refugees be expelled ‘immediately’, without ‘Judges or Court Cases’

This morning Donald Trump again made the goals of his new policies clear–and again escalated his demands, this time to declare that refugees entering America be sent back ‘immediately’, and without trial.

We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. […]

Sending asylum-seekers fleeing violence back to their home nations without hearings is both unconstitutional and a clear international human rights violation, although there are few remaining Republicans who would be concerned by either. It is also enforcing American complicity in the violence they are fleeing from. It is the most expeditious path towards getting them killed.

Trump, a virulent racist, knows this. The “zero tolerance” policy was from the outset designed to block legitimate refugees from the country. We need not speculate on that: White House chief of staff John Kelly himself explained the flatly racist intent.

They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English, obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. […] But a big name of the game is deterrence.

As Trump’s team pursues policies of open white nationalism, he is becoming more and more impatient with even the pretense of following U.S. laws. That, too, is part of the White House plan. Fascism requires dismantling the laws barring discrimination, expulsion and (in the case of forcibly deporting asylum-seekers back to the people they are fleeing) state-sponsored murder, and there can no longer be any debate over whether Trump, his team, and his Republican enablers are seeking precisely that. He repeats it constantly; his staff openly brags about the laws they have been able to undermine.

His current target is immigrants. As in, all of them.

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International Elections Digest: Italian populists and the far-right form government coalition

International Elections Digest: Italian populists and the far-right form government coalition

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

Italy – government formation

After an inconclusive March election that saw both the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League claim victory, the two populist parties cemented an agreement to form an alliance and now look to bring Italy into uncharted territory. The Five Star Movement dominated southern Italy and emerged as the largest individual party, but the League, which dominated northern Italy, wound up at the head of the largest coalition (along with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia). The center-left Democratic Party, meanwhile, finished far behind both Five Star and the League’s bloc.​

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​Two hiccups nearly cost the two parties the chance to govern and could have led to new elections. At first a deal was held up because Five Star refused to enter into a government with Forza Italia over Berlusconi’s well-deserved reputation for corruption, but once Berlusconi agreed to support the coalition from the outside, an arrangement was reached.

Then, in a dramatic development, Italian President Sergio Mattarella rejected the coalition’s proposed finance minister, Paolo Savona, for his hostility toward the European Union’s common currency, the euro. Mattarella concluded that that the issue of the euro—and whether the country should stop participating in it—had not been part of either party’s electoral campaign and it was therefore inappropriate to green-light a government that might seek to exit the so-called “eurozone” without having properly put the matter before voters. After much back and forth, however, the coalition relented and submitted a new cabinet, paving the way for the government’s formation.

That made this new ruling coalition the first populist government in Western Europe in modern times, and with League leader Matteo Salvini as interior minister, it has already made disturbing moves after only weeks in power. Earlier this month, Salvini refused to allow a ship that had rescued 600 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea to dock in an Italian port. Salvini has long complained that Italy (along with Greece) has been forced to shoulder the burden of the European migration crisis without help from the rest of the continent. New Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (see more on him in our Spain item below) eventually rescued the vessel and allowed it to dock in Spain, but Salvini has vowed to reject more ships going forward.

Salvini’s nationalist campaign has also targeted those already in the country. He has announced plans for a census of the Roma community in Italy, with the intention of deporting any Roma without Italian citizenship. In his words, Italy must “unfortunately” allow Roma with Italian citizenship to stay. While Five Star won significantly more votes that the League, the League has served in government before (under Berlusconi), and Salvini has placed himself in a position to enact many of his top priorities. It remains to be seen how far Italy and Salvini’s anti-immigrant, anti-minority campaign will go before Five Star objects or the rest of Europe gets involved.

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