“It’s not because [Palin and Bachmann] have breasts, it’s because they are boobs”

I always have a problem with Bill Maher.  I almost always agree with what he says.  And I thought his movie “Religulous” was hilarious.  But I don’t like his “style” as a comedian and he sometimes is unnecessarily “anti” particular individuals.  And his comments on women sometimes (often?) sound sexist.

But, on his HBO show this past Friday, he got it right about sexism.  His “New Rule” was that Republicans have to stop making up “intricate psychological reasons” for why liberals don’t like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.  His (correct) answer was that the reason is because they are “crazy people” and are “not that bright and are full of awful ideas.”  He summarized by saying that “”it’s not because they have breasts, it’s because they are boobs.”

It got better.  He (obviously correctly) stated that it’s not sexist to point out how terrible Palin and Bachmann are, but that it is sexist for the main stream media to plaster their papers and magazines with Palin and Bachmann while providing far less coverage of not so “pretty” people, such as Tim Pawlenty, who have at least some reasonable things to say (if you can ever say that any Republican has anything reasonable to say).  Maher showed six Newsweek covers of Palin and, then, in a great moment for atheists like me, said: “If you want to know where most of this nation’s sexism is really coming from, you don’t have to look any further than the one person who makes the cover of Newsweek more often than Sarah Palin”–and then showed Newsweek covers that have had Jesus on then.

He correctly pointed out that “in America, you’re allowed to justify almost any kind of bigotry, sexism or intolerance if you source it” to “God” or some kind of so-called “holy” book.  I couldn’t agree more.  And, as an example of that, the response by his audience when the Newsweek Jesus covers were shown shows the fear that Americans have of criticizing religion.  The audience, almost surely a vastly liberal audience, was almost silent when the Jesus covers were shown, save for a few nervous laughs.

When people like Palin and Bachmann are harmfully wrong, they deserve to be criticized–if not actually ignored.  The same should go for anyone hiding behind–and espousing– the ignorance of religion.

Here is the clip.

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All Sarah Palin, All the Time

When will the news media get over its fixation on Sarah Palin?  Who really wants to read about the tiniest details of her life?  (Personally, I don’t want to hear about her at all.)

Here’s a recent example. On Saturday, CNN.com had a link on its home page to “Ticker: Palin endures travel mishap.”  And what was the travel mishap?  Well, the headline was “Palin campaigns in Idaho … with a new outfit.”   And the “news” was that Palin had arrived in Boise to support a local candidate, but her luggage did not show up.  So she had to borrow a dress and jacket to wear while she was on stage speaking to a crowd.

Wow, I’m glad to know that!

The Tea Party Movement: Is It Any Different than the Far-Right-Wing Republicans and the Militia Movement?

The recent Tea Pary Conference seems to have gone over well with many people.  After all, it had former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo adding to his already famous rants against illegal immigration by showing that he is also a racist.  The Tea Party attendees cheered when Tancredo said that “people who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.”  In other words, Tancredo was telling the cheering Tea Party’ers that the reason “Barack Hussein Obama” was elected was “mostly because I think that we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.”  Of course, literacy tests were one of the basic forms of discrimination for a long, long time.

With “orators” like Tancredo and Sarah (“Energy. Budget Tax cuts. Lift American spirits.”) Palin, the Tea Party is doing well.  In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 41 percent said they had a positive opinion of the Tea Party movement.  That is higher than the 35% in the same poll who said they had a positive opinion of Democrats and the 28% who said they had a positive opinion of Republicans.

However, I imagine that few of the people who have a positive opinion of the Tea Party’ers have anything other than a vague idea of what the movement is actually about.  The broad idea is probably summed up by a statement made by “Tea Party Patriots” national board member Mark Meckler that “[b]oth parties need to re-dedicate themselves to the principles of our founding fathers and remember that this should be the government of ‘We the People’ and not of special interest groups or pork-laden politics.”  But Meckler’s statement that “[a]lthough we are conservative in political philosophy, we are nonpartisan in approach” is laughable.  Given the low-poll numbers for Republicans, it is certainly in the Tea Party’s interest to try to separate itself from the Republican Party.  But, the Tea Party Patriots are no different, in most respects, than the far right-wing of the Republican Party.  As the editorial in the Nation says, “we should not fool ourselves into seeing this as anything but a right-wing reactionary movement, one whose themes (jingoism, militarism and a cult of victimhood at the hands of sundry nefarious betrayers) are as old as the John Birch Society.”  How is the Tea Party movement any different than the Republicans who want to shut down the federal government by their constant shout of “less taxes,” (while simultaneously during the Bush years increasing spending so the government would be placed in budgetary jeopardy), by their opposition to anything proposed by Obama or Democrats (even if they previously were on record as supporting it), and by their unprecedented use of the filibuster in the Senate.  Those “shut down the federal government” actions are the same as the basic (vague) goals of the Tea Party movement.

The movement claims to be grounded in “distrust of and disgust with America’s main institutions, particularly Wall Street and Washington.”  It probably is.  But so is the militia movement.  The Southern Poverty Law Center is the most-respected source for documenting “hate” groups in the United States.  In an August 2009 publication titled “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias,” the SPLC wrote:

The 1990s saw the rise and fall of the virulently antigovernment “Patriot” movement, made up of paramilitary militias, tax defiers and so-called “sovereign citizens.” Sparked by a combination of anger at the federal government and the deaths of political dissenters at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, the movement took off in the middle of the decade and continued to grow even after 168 people were left dead by the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s federal building — an attack, the deadliest ever by domestic U.S. terrorists, carried out by men steeped in the rhetoric and conspiracy theories of the militias. In the years that followed, a truly remarkable number of criminal plots came out of the movement. But by early this century, the Patriots had largely faded, weakened by systematic prosecutions, aversion to growing violence, and a new, highly conservative president.

They’re back. Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. “Paper terrorism” — the use of property liens and citizens’ “courts” to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. “This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” says one. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president’s country of birth.

Don’t let anyone tell you they support the Tea Party movement without getting them to tell you what—exactly—the party stands for.  And, if they have any idea of what it stands for, ask them how that is any different than the far-right-wing of the Republican Party.  And you might even ask them to tell you how it is different than the militia movement.  Of course, they will tell you that the Tea Party is not calling for violence.  But, especially given the cheering for “Patriot” Tom Tancredo’s racist comments, would it surprise anyone to see the so-far non-violent Tea Party movement become more like the violent militia movement?  Would anyone say that this past summer’s health care “town hall meetings” were not violent?

Scott Brown’s Sexy Pics: A Double Standard

Last night, Republican Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, in an upset that’s been devastating for many Democrats. To be fair, I believe that a lot of the loss can be attributed to Coakley’s lackluster campaign and the disappointments thus far of the Obama Administration.

One interesting aspect of the Scott Brown phenomenon, though, is the fact that he posed nude (with one strategically placed hand) for Cosmopolitan Magazine, in 1982:

Do I think it’s wrong he posed semi-nude? No, I don’t, although maybe it’s an odd choice for someone interested in a political career. But what’s interesting to look at is the coverage around the photos. There hasn’t been much media coverage about the photos, and during the little coverage that does surface, there’s no slut-shaming here.

What if Brown had been a female candidate? Would he have experienced more ridicule, doubts about his intelligence, or attacks at his ability to be a good parent? I say, absolutely.

Women of either political party are held to much more extreme, scrupulous standards about their appearances. Remember when Hillary Clinton ‘showed off’ her ‘cleavage’– and the Washington Post had to devote an entire article about it? Or how about the sheer fact that Sarah Palin had participated in a pageant? She was subject to a wide range of attacks based on her physical appearance– and she sure as hell never posed nude. And then there are Michelle Obama’s arms. She wore a few sleeveless dresses and stirred up a controversy– causing criticisms about how she was not portraying herself as “serious” or “important.”

I don’t think the media should have jumped all over Brown for posing nude in Cosmo 28 years ago. But I do wish that they provided women the same treatment. This Washington Post article features a quote that I think hits the nail on the head:

Men who are naughty are [viewed as] just dudes being dudes. Women who are naughty are unstable and must be stopped.”

Is Sarah Palin’s Newsweek Cover Sexist?

There’s been a lot of buzz about the latest Newsweek cover, which depicts Sarah Palin posing like a beauty queen in running shorts and sneakers. Palin herself has spoken out against the cover, stating:

The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this “news” magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner’s World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness – a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation. The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention – even if out of context.

A lot of people agree with what she’s saying, even if they don’t like her politics. Still, others make the point that she did participate in this photoshoot, even though it wasn’t for this magazine, and she’s made the decision to shape her image this way.

I’m torn. Personally, I want Sarah Palin to go away. But, you know, if wishes were horses… Therefore, given what we have to work with, I don’t agree with Newsweek’s choice to use this photo. (Though from a business perspective I understand why they’d do this). Palin’s right that it’s been taken out of context to make her look silly and trivialized. I’d make the argument that she does a pretty good job herself at looking silly, and doesn’t need the help of mainstream news sources. She’s a politcal figure for better or worse (read: worse), and women in politics don’t need to be trivialized even more than they already are . And no, I don’t think they’d treat a man this way. Palin’s photo makes more sense in the context it was originally taken– highlighting her commitment to running and fitness with a series of photos of her in exercise gear, stretching, etc. Palin isn’t thoughtful or honest about choosing her sexism battles, and she’s never going to fool me into thinking she’s really looking out for women other than herself– and I don’t think this cover is the most atrocious thing in the world, but still, I say: Palin’s a hypocrite, ignorant, and bad for women. But so is this Newsweek cover.

What do you think?