The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

In this week’s Sift:

  • The Ground Zero Mosque. Mainstream opponents of the mosque rely on a lot of unstated assumptions. Uglier voices go ahead and state them.
  • If Republicans Take the House. Remember the Clinton years? That’s what they’ve got in mind.
  • Disinformation Watch. The Shirley Sherrod incident lowlighted a big week for disinformation, but there was some encouraging pushback.
  • Short Notes. June and climate change were both too hot for the Senate; Jane Austen’s Fight Club; Judge Napolitano says Bush should have been indicted; don’t take your gun to mass; Arizona shows what Tea Party principles are like in practice; Ohio’s giant Chia pet; more bogus trends; my news fantasy; and Top Secret America.

The Ground Zero Mosque

One tactic of polarization is for each side to trumpet the nastiest stuff on the other side — as if this kind of extremism is typical among your opponents, who all think this way when they’re not trying to present a reasonable public image.

And so an offensive YouTube video often gets more attention from its foes than its fans. That happened back in 2003 when MoveOn sponsored a “Bush in 30 Seconds” competition to make and upload your own anti-Bush video. Somebody uploaded an ad comparing Bush to Hitler, which MoveOn decided was offensive and took down — but not before conservatives had grabbed it and prominently displayed it on their own web sites as an example of MoveOn’s liberal extremism. (It’s still being used that way.) So the Bush/Hitler video has probably been viewed far more often by conservatives than by liberals.

I try to keep that example in mind while I sift the news, because my goal is to keep Sift readers well-informed, not just pissed off. So when I run across some example of right-wing hate or ignorance, I try to ask myself: How important is this? Is it an example of an attitude that is widespread and influential, or is it just a few crazies representing no one but themselves?

This long build-up is necessary because the debate over the proposed Cordoba House, a.k.a, the Ground Zero Mosque, has pulled a lot of the nasties out of their holes. The protests range from mainstream Republican leaders like Sarah Palin, who issued this joycean tweet:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate

to the lunatic fringe, who are virulently anti-Muslim. The question is how much attention those harsher voices deserve: Do they have an actual following? And is there a clear division between what they’re saying and what the mainstream voices are saying, or are they fleshing out what Palins and Gingrichs merely hint at?

In this case I’ve decided that the ugly voices do have a sizable following, and that often they are saying explicitly what the mainstream voices only imply.

The main idea behind all the anti-mosque activists — ire against a mosque visible from Ground Zero makes no sense otherwise — is collective guilt. Muslims blew up the World Trade Center in 2001 and now Muslims are building a mosque nearby. We are supposed to think of them as the same people. This ad, put out by the National Republican Trust (no direct connection to the Republican National Committee), makes it clear:

On September 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of three thousand Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero.

Who? They.

This video, whose reasonable-sounding narrator is nobody famous, but whose message has been viewed more than 2 million times, takes it a step further. Muslims — even apparently secularized, Westernized American Muslims — are not just tainted with collective guilt, they are actually rooting for the downfall of the United States:

Those of you who know — personally — who know Muslims close enough to where they can tell you what they really think, you know this is actually quite common: Good citizens in public, not-so-good citizens in private. Interestingly, this dual Muslim nature is advocated in the Koran.

So if you think that Ali (who has lived next door or worked with you for years) is actually a good guy — think again. His religion tells him to be tricky. Secretly he was dancing for joy when the Twin Towers went down.

The second, related idea is that we’re not chasing down a conspiracy of international criminals, we’re at war with Islam itself — all 1.5 billion Muslims. Newt Gingrich, for example, blogged this:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

This only makes sense if you assume several incredible things.

  • The Christendom and Judaism are at war with Islam.
  • The United States plays a role in that war comparable to Saudi Arabia’s; churches and synagogues are “ours” while mosques are “theirs”.
  • Religious intolerance is a valuable tactic in that war, a source of strength.
  • We have handicapped ourselves by swearing off this tactic while our enemy uses it.

I don’t see how else to reach Gingrich’s remarkable conclusion that the United States ought to take Saudi Arabia as its model, basing our behavior on what they do. And it’s not just Newt. If you watch Fox News or read the comments on just about any online article about the Ground Zero mosque, you’ll find many people echoing his point: We ought to be intolerant because the Muslim countries are.

Mayor Bloomberg has the right answer:

I think our young men and women overseas are fighting for exactly this. For the right of people to practice their religion and for government to not pick and choose which religions they support, which religions they don’t.

To which I would add this: We respect religious freedom not as part of some deal with the rest of the world, but because that is the American way. We see it as a source of strength, not weakness, and we’ll do it whether anybody else does or not.

The Founders would be horrified at the idea that we might give up on religious freedom because some other country doesn’t practice it. At the time they were writing that principle into the First Amendment, no other country was practicing it.

Juan Cole gives this example:

Ben Franklin … wrote in his Autobiography concerning a non-denominational place of public preaching he helped found “so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”

I wondered whether there were any English-speaking Christian churches in Hiroshima. Yes, there are.

Ground Zero is just the tip of an iceberg. New mosques are being protested all over the country.

If Republicans Take the House

What can we expect if the Republicans take control of the House? We got some indications this week that they want to do what they did during the Clinton administration: investigate everything until they can find an excuse to impeach the president. Thursday, Michelle Bachman told the GOP Youth Convention: “I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another.”

Impeach Obama. The same day the flagship conservative newspaper, the Washington Times, had not one but two editorials (by Jeffrey Kuhner and Tom Tancredo) demanding President Obama’s impeachment. Each editorial is long on rhetoric, but the specific high crimes and misdemeanors to be prosecuted are hard to decipher.

Tancredo says Obama is “an enemy of our Constitution” who “does not feel constrained by the rule of law”. He objects to the Obama Justice Department giving the “weakest possible defense of the Defense of Marriage Act”, the auto bailout, the off-shore drilling moratorium, “his appointment of judges who want to create law rather than interpret it”, and large deficits — without saying what specific laws these policies might violate.

Obama’s “most egregious and brazen betrayal of our Constitution” is his immigration policy, which Tancredo says violates his constitutional responsibility under Article IV “to protect states from foreign invasion”. So Tancredo’s impeachment case seems to rest on interpreting the “invasion” metaphor literally.

Kuhner accuses Obama of “erecting a socialist dictatorship”.

We are not there – yet. But he is putting America on that dangerous path. He is undermining our constitutional system of checks and balances; subverting democratic procedures and the rule of law; presiding over a corrupt, gangster regime; and assaulting the very pillars of traditional capitalism.

The specific policies Kuhner mentions are mostly acts of Congress like health-care reform (which he claims funds abortions), that could be thrown out by the courts if they are actually unconstitutional. (But they won’t be, so impeachment is necessary.) Comprehensive immigration reform will make 12-20 million new citizens — “shock troops for his socialist takeover”. The administration is not just a “gangster regime” but also a “fledgling thug state”. Kuhner closes with what sounds to me more like a call for assassination than impeachment: “The usurper must fall.”

So far Congressional Republicans have not shown any inclination to resist the wilder ideas that come from the Right. Will they resist this one if they get the power to pursue it? I’m not optimistic. A Republican House will take as an axiom that Obama should be impeached; they’ll search until they can find an excuse.

Repeal everything. High-ranking Republicans have pushed repeal of health care reform and Wall Street reform. They can’t actually do either, of course, without 60 votes in the Senate and enough popularity to intimidate an Obama veto. But what they could do is refuse to fund implementation.

Return to Bush policies. The basic Republican ideas are still to cut rich people’s taxes, let corporations regulate themselves, and stand behind Big Oil.

Will they? The Intrade Prediction Market is giving Republicans a 55% chance of taking the House, which seems high to me. But it all hangs on this bit of framing: If the 2010 elections becomes a referendum on whether or not people are happy, with voting Republican as the way to register unhappiness, the Republicans will win. If it becomes a contest between the Democratic vision of the future and the Republican vision, the Democrats will win.

The reason I think 55% is high is that most voters still do not know who their candidates will be and what positions they will take. So polls are still mostly an am-I-happy-with-things measure. As we get closer to election day, I expect more voters to compare candidates’ visions.

The model here is the Nevada Senate race. A few months ago, when that race was just about Harry Reid and his responsibility for how things are, Nevadans wanted him out. Now that he has an opponent — Tea Party extremist Sharon Angle — he has forged into the lead.

Disinformation Watch

This week had a major disinformation story: the Shirley Sherrod incident. Tuesday, Rachel Maddow did a good job of covering the collapse of the original Obama-official-is-racist spin, and then she did an even better job Wednesday of connecting the dots:

What is the same about the four Fox-News-initiated “scandals”: Van Jones, ACORN, the New Black Panther Party, and Shirley Sherrod? What’s the same about these four stories?

This isn’t about racism, this is not a story about picking on black people. This is a story about political outcomes, the tried and true political strategy of not targeting black people, but targeting white people. white voters, or white would-be voters to feel afraid of black people. To feel afraid of African-American people as if they’re not fellow Americans, but rather a threat to what white people have.

This tactic goes way back. Maddow traces it to George Wallace and the segregationists, but she could walked it back to the early days of the labor movement, when hard-working people who wanted a living wage and a safe workplace were painted as dangerous communist revolutionaries.

You can’t rally your side by standing for inequality, for keeping other people down. If you want to oppose equality, you have to pretend that you’re the ones in danger. That’s what Fox is pitching to whites: telling them over and over again that black people threaten them, and proving that point by making up facts as necessary.

Andrew Breitbart, the well-connected conservative blogger who promoted the doctored Sherrod video (and the doctored ACORN videos before it) has a defense: His dishonest smear wasn’t aimed at Sherrod, it was aimed the NAACP in order to discredit their criticism of racism in the Tea Party.  I’m glad he cleared that up. (And BTW, what he’s saying about the NAACP is also false.)

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum comments on the Right’s unwillingness to police itself:

When Dan Rather succumbed to the forged Bush war record hoax in 2004, CBS forced him into retirement. Breitbart is the conservative Dan Rather, but there will be no discredit, no resignation for him.

Frum blames this on the “closing of the conservative mind” — an unwillingness to face difficult facts. But Digby has another explanation:

this phenomenon is clearly less a matter of narrow-mindedness and ignoring of unwelcome fact than a conscious decision to lie for political ends. The [conservative] rank and file are misinformed because they are being purposefully led astray by the same conservative intelligentsia which owns and operates the right wing media.

The other big current disinformation story is Journolist. Journolist was a private email discussion list with (according to Wikipedia) “400 journalists, academics and others, all with political views ranging from centrist to center-left to leftist.”

The list was set up to be private, but sensationalized excerpts are being released on Tucker Carlson’s conservative blog The Daily Caller by Jonathan Strong. (Latest one here.) On the Right, this is seen as evidence of the great left-wing media conspiracy that they have always known existed.

That story has a few holes. First, this is like Climategate: a large collection of private emails excerpted to make the writers look bad. But unlike Climategate, the full collection is not available to the public. So when Strong mixes quotes with paraphrases (often the quote is only damning in the context of the paraphrase) we can’t check whether the paraphrase is fair.

(This, BTW, is an important point to remember in any scandal story: Can you check the source material, and if not, why not? Who is controlling your access and what is their motive?)

Second, the Daily Caller headlines exaggerate. Salon observes:

Today’s Caller headline — “Liberal Journalists Suggest Government Shut Down Fox News” — is objectively untrue. Simply reading the e-mails quoted in the story show that a non-journalist asked an academic question — whether the FCC had the authority to shut down Fox — and was quickly shot down by the journalists involved in the discussion.

Finally, the Caller’s stories rely on the reader’s imagination to connect the dots. A real expose’ would start with a Journolist comment and show how it led to some particular biased news coverage by the commenter or his/her organization.

Without such dot-connecting, even the cherry-picked excerpts sound like beleaguered liberal academics and opinion journalists (not reporters) trying to catch up to the better-organized conservative spin machine. They only seem sinister if you already know in your gut that biased coverage elected Obama.

Elena Kagan has not been “promoting the injustice of Shariah law” — or wearing a turban.

Lower taxes don’t lead to more revenue, as this simple graph shows. But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defines his own reality:

there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy.

Rachel Maddow shows numerous Republican politicians making this tax-cuts-pay-for-themselves point and numerous conservative economists denying it. It’s exactly what George H. W. Bush called “voodoo economics”.

Only sleight-of-hand allows Republicans to claim that President Obama has “quadrupled the deficit“. They are comparing the current deficit to the 2008 deficit of $459 billion. But the government’s fiscal year begins in October, so the 2009 budget was actually made under President Bush, not Obama. Bush’s last budget projected a $1 trillion deficit, which (due to the recession being worse than expected) had increased to $1.2 trillion by the time Obama took office.

Short Notes

As the Senate gives up on even a very stripped-down climate-change bill, we discover that last month was the hottest June ever recorded.

The fake movie trailer is getting to be an art form of its own, and they don’t get much better than Jane Austen’s Fight Club..

Talk about straying from the reservation: Former judge and frequent Fox News guest Andrew Napolitano recently said on C-SPAN that Bush and Cheney “absolutely should have been indicted. For torturing, for spying, for arresting without warrants.”

Because one body is enough and more blood is not necessary, Louisiana Catholics won’t be taking advantage of their new right to carry concealed weapons during mass.

Harper’s puts its articles behind a subscription wall, so you read the whole thing online, but “Tea party in the Sonora” is incredible. It describes the sad result of the low-tax, low-regulation, and nativist principles (i.e. Tea Party principles) that have guided Arizona’s legislature for several years now.

Here’s the detail that paints the whole picture: Arizona doesn’t own its own state capitol. They did a sale-and-leaseback arrangement in January to raise cash for the current budget.

Now, why didn’t I already know that? Back in September The Daily Show did a great piece about putting the capitol building on the market. “What happens next year?” Jason Jones asks a state senator. “You’re killing me here,” she answers..

Instead of a concrete noise wall, Ohio is constructing the world’s largest Chia pet.

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on Jack Shafer and the ever-increasing number of bogus trends.

To illustrate the point that non-Americans have almost as much to lose from the decay of the American press as we do, I wrote a fake news story in which foreign governments bail out American journalism. “If the American people continue to be so misinformed,” says my fake Swede, “they’re just going to keep screwing up the world.”

More people should be reading/viewing the Washington Post series Top Secret America.

The Weekly Sift appears every Monday afternoon. If you would like to receive it by email, write to WeeklySift at

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  • Dan B.  On July 26, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Doug, you apparently tried to use the Hitler/Bush video as evidence of left-wing extremism, but if anything, it provides better evidence of right-wing extremism.

    As you noted, the video that was briefly posted at MoveOn was the work of a single, lone creator. If I remember right, it was pulled from MoveOn's web site before the right wing had even had much of a chance to complain about it, and it was thoroughly denounced by most liberal leaders.

    Yet without fail, the cries from the right wing all described the video as if it had been sponsored and/or produced by MoveOn. Most likely, they're still talking about it that way.

    There are nearly identical messages being produced today that compare Obama to Hitler, or otherwise paint him as a dangerous, totalitarian, murderous dictator. Some lesser examples appear further down in this week's Sift. Yet the media and political leaders of the right wing haven't been busy denouncing such statements; they've been busy repeating them.

    I shudder to think what it would take for them to unite in condemnation of a right-wing message.

  • Doug Muder  On July 26, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Dan B.,

    I think you're just repeating what I said about the video.

    Your statement “Most likely, they're still talking about it that way” is almost a quote from my article — except I gave a link showing that they are.

    My point was that I want to be careful about the temptation to do what the conservatives did: Grab something extreme that has no following and use it as a typical example of how the other side thinks. In this article, I'm coming a little closer to my boundaries on that issue, so I felt I had to be more explicit about what my boundaries are.

  • Dan B.  On July 27, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    OK, I see your intent now. What threw me off was your use of the term “each side” in the opening sentence — I connected that with the kinds of false equivalence that pervade the media (i.e., “politics is nasty today because each side is guilty of polarizing…”).

    Had you written “a side” or simply identified up front the side you were referring to, I might not have been confused. Regardless, the error was mine, not yours.

  • Anonymous  On July 28, 2010 at 2:07 am


    Mayor “Napoleon” Bloomberg and his backstabbing cronies must have a $tupendou$ rea$on which they can't reveal for wanting a sharia-hugging mosque near Ground Zero!
    But the sharia “cobra” they're toying with can quickly grow its fangs and then say “Smile, you're on Candid Scimitar and will soon be buried in a scimitary, ha ha ha!” – proving that one good backstabbing deserves another!
    God-haters and America-haters may not realize how high the collective temperature has now risen in the hearts of true American patriots – many of whom are now willing to die for America right here in America if they get pushed completely over the line!
    Since the nation's headquarters for treason is the White House, readers can enjoy related material if they Google “Obama Avoids Bible Verses” & “Obama Supports Public Depravity” and also Google “Sandra Bernhard, Larry David, Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman” in addition to Googling “Obama…destined to become a black-slavery avenger.”
    And by all means visit Googleland and type in “Government-Approved Illegals” and “Un-Americans Fight Franklin Graham.”
    I hope Mayor Bloomberg, dressed as Napoleon, will thoroughly enjoy his mosquerade party!
    PS – Since Jane Fonda still loves leftist causes, here's a one-liner I penned during the Vietnam War era that the big Kansas City paper ran: “I'm not Fonda Jane; her Laosy remarks Hanoi me!”
    PPS – Interestingly, many conservative evangelicals have lately given up belief in a “pretribulation rapture” (the 180-year-old, fringe-British-invented, escapist-and-thus-subversive theological aberration behind the rapture bestsellers by Lindsey, LaHaye etc.) and now believe they will be on earth, standing against evil, during at least a portion of Antichrist's diabolical reign. Widely read Google articles like “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” have helped to bring about this “pretrib” mutiny.

    A Kansas Patriot

    [caught the above web bit – Nigel]

  • Doug Muder  On July 28, 2010 at 11:29 am

    I was curious what was up with the “Kansas Patriot” comment, so I Googled its most recognizable phrase: “Candid Scimitar”. I got dozens of more-or-less identical comments posted to blogs that mention the Ground Zero mosque, the earliest from July 10.

    There's always somebody else who claims to have seen this on the web, but it's pretty clear the posts are all from the same person — and not at all tailored to the audience of the blog, as should be obvious from its appearance here.

    If I were looking to defame mosque opponents to Sift readers, I could hardly have composed anything better.

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