Political MoJo

Official Texas Review: "Creation Science" Should Be Incorporated Into Every Biology Textbook

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Behind closed doors, textbook reviewers appointed by the Texas State Board of Education are pushing to inject creationism into teaching materials that will be adopted statewide in high schools this year, according to new documents obtained by watchdog groups. Records show that the textbook reviewers made ideological objections to material on evolution and climate change in science textbooks from at least seven publishers, including several of the nation's largest publishing houses. Failing to obtain a review panel's top rating can make it harder for publishers to sell their textbooks to school districts, and can even lead the state to reject the books altogether.

"I feel very firmly that 'creation science' based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption."

"Once again, culture warriors in the state board are putting Texas at risk of becoming a national laughingstock on science education," said Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that monitors religious extremists and "far-right issues." TFN and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) obtained the review panel documents in response to a state open-records request.

What's more, because Texas has one of the nation's largest public school systems, publishers tend to tailor their textbooks for that market and then sell the same texts to the rest of America.

Here are five striking examples of comments submitted to publishers by the state review panels urging them to water down scientific teachings.

  • One reviewer directly implored the textbook companies Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Scientific Minds to teach "creation science":

I understand the National Academy of Science's [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that "creation science" based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.

Text neglects to tell students that no transitional fossils have been discovered. The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification. Text should ask students to analyze and compare alternative theories.

  • Another reviewer, Ray Bohlin, told the publisher Pearson/Prentice Hall that climate change isn't real because we "don't really know that the carbon Cycle [sic] has been altered." But even if it was, he continued:

In reality we don't know what climate change will do to species diversity…Question seems to imply that ecosystems will be disrupted which qwe [sic] simply don't know yet.

  • In the same review, Bohlin repeatedly promoted Signature in the Cell, a book written by Stephen Meyer—director of science and culture for the creationist Discovery Institute—without disclosing the fact that he is a fellow there:

There is no discussion of the origin of information bearing [sic] molecules which is absolutely essential in any origin of life scenario. Meyer's Signature in the Cell easily dismisses any RNA first [sic] scenario. The authors need to get caught up.

  • Reviewers examining the Pearson/Prentice Hall textbook also refer to "THE DISCREDITED PEPPERED MOTH SCENARIO" and "the replacement of discredited 'Peppered Moth' misrepresentations." (Starting during the industrial revolution, populations of peppered moths gradually changed color to match tree bark that had been darkened by soot from local industry—camouflage that made them less vulnerable to predators. After the plants closed and the pollution cleared up, the moths eventually returned to their lighter color. The moth example has been upheld as a classic case of evolution in action.)

Few of the textbook reviewers who were critical of the teaching of evolution and climate change possessed any scientific credentials, according to NCSE. Among those who did, several were active in anti-evolution organizations such as the Discovery Institute.

According to the groups, the Texas Education Agency has declined to release documents showing what changes, if any, the publishers have agreed to make in response to these reviews. A public hearing on the books will take place next week in Austin, followed by a final vote to approve or reject them in November.

Don't miss: "14 Wacky 'Facts' Kids Will Learn in Louisiana Voucher Schools"

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Latest GOP Meme: Obama Can't Be Trusted On Syria Because…#Benghazi

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The caskets of US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty

Wednesday marks the 12-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—and the first anniversary of the Benghazi, Libya, terror attack that left four Americans dead, including ambassador Christopher Stevens. It's a tragedy that partisans have exploited ever since, trying to create an explosive Obama scandal ("Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so," as GOP Rep. Steve King described it) that quite frankly just isn't there.

On Tuesday, the Heritage Foundation, one of DC's conservative think tanks, hosted an event marking the anniversary of Benghazi-gate. Allen West—the former congressman and one-term tea party hero who plays fast and loose with facts—delivered the keynote. He discussed the supposed cover-up perpetrated by high-ranking officials (a claim hyped loudly by GOP lawmakers, Fox News, and other right-wing news outlets), as well as the "unintended consequences" of intervening in Libya—as well as Syria. "You cannot talk about Syria unless you talk about what occurred in Libya," West said.

"I find it very hypocritical that at this moment in time the American people are being told that they have a moral obligation to go into Syria because of the chemical gas attacks, yet I never heard the same type of indignation coming from the president, nor this administration, when our national security interests were attacked" in Benghazi, he added toward the end of his address. "If there was a time to commit the United States forces to do something, that would've been the time. I guarantee you, you would've had old retirees like me saying, 'I'll suit up, I'll go.'"

Video: Obama Makes His Case on Syria

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 10:10 PM EDT

In a prime-time speech on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama made a forceful case for a possible strike against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He reiterated the argument that the United States has both a humanitarian obligation to respond to the horrific use of chemical weapons against civilians, and a national security interest in preventing Assad from using such weapons again and signaling to other tyrants that such attacks will not be tolerated. The president tried to deploy both emotion (referring to the dreadful images from the August 21 chemical weapon attack near Damascus) and logic (contending that an assault would lessen the odds of future attacks, limit the possibility that chemical weapons fall into the hands of extremists, and prevent US troops from facing chemical weapons in conflicts down the road). He tried to respond to the main reservations raised by lawmakers and voters. (Should the United States be the world's policeman? No, but no one else can respond to this particular attack now.) The news of the night was that he asked Congress to put off any vote on a resolution authorizing him to launch a limited strike against Syria so that the United States could pursue the deal proposed by Russia that would place Assad's chemical weapons under international control. And Obama announced he was sending Kerry to negotiate with the Russian foreign minister. Still, the speech was aimed at bolstering support on Capitol Hill and within the public for military action against Syria, if diplomacy fails. Obama summed up his case: 

Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

There's no telling whether this speech will win over skeptical citizens and legislators. But with a diplomatic resolution possible—though by no means a given—and a showdown in Congress postponed, perhaps Obama did not have to.

Syrian Opposition: "We Don't Trust the Russians"

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 3:15 PM EDT

President Obama has reportedly thrown his support behind the Russian proposal for the Syrian regime to turn its chemical weapons over to the international community, agreeing to talks at the United Nations Security Council. But at a Tuesday morning press conference, representatives for the Syrian opposition made its position clear: "We don’t trust the Russians."

At the National Press Club in Washington, DC, members of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, the chief political body representing the US-backed rebels, asked for greater monetary and material support from the US, and made the case that the opposition was still capable of overthrowing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But most pointedly, Farah al-Atassi, a Syrian Coalition member and president of the National Syrian Women Association, said that Russia’s close ties to the Assad regime have cost it any credibility in the negotiations. "After two and a half years of manipulating the Syrian revolution, of manipulating the situation on the ground, of aiding the regime with military weapons, with scuds, with money, with intelligence, with all of the support," she said, "we can’t trust them."

On Monday, Russia proposed a plan for Syria to turn its stockpile of chemical weapons over to the international community, after Secretary of State John Kerry said that was a possible option for avoiding a strike. The proposal has quickly gained momentum. The Assad regime embraced the proposal Tuesday morning, and by the afternoon, a bipartisan group of eight senators were drafting a Congressional resolution to give the United Nations time to take control of Syria's chemical weapons. The plan calls for them to be confiscated and ultimately destroyed, and could involve Syria recognizing the international weapons ban.

Russia has been a key supplier of arms and funds to the Assad regime, in addition to providing political cover, previously threatening to veto any plan for intervention at the UN Security Council.

"They’ve become part of the problem. They’re not part of the solution," said al-Atassi. "We will wait, and work according to the Syrian revolution’s interest. That will be our answer."

Fox News Discusses Possibility That Syria War Fulfills Biblical Prophecy

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 2:15 PM EDT

End times buffs have taken a special interest in the possibility of US military strikes in Syria. As I reported last week, popular evangelists and writers like Joel Rosenberg have spent much of the last five years talking up the possibility of a conflict that might fit the one outlined by Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, in which Damascus is reduced to rubble. On Saturday, Rosenberg spoke about the Isaiah prophecy in Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican governor Sam Brownback. On Monday, he appeared on Fox News to elaborate on his views.

Rosenberg wasn't ready to definitively say that an American war in Syria—which is looking less and less likely by the day—would necessarily match the description of the Old Testament. But it was definitely a possibility. "It's impossible for us to know that yet, and I think it's wrong for people who teach Bible prophecy to try to guess, in a sense, to try to say for certain that it's going to happen now," he told host Neil Cavuto. "But you have seven million Syrians are already on the run—two million have left the country; five million are internally displaced. The Jeremiah: 49 prophecy says that people will flee, but there'll still be people in Damascus when the prophecy happens. So the bottom line is we don't know."

"Amazing," said Cavuto, when it was all over. "It's in there. It's worth a read."

Obama and the Syria Deal: Deter, Not Punish

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 1:02 PM EDT
Members of the Free Syrian Army chatting in front of a T-72 tank parked in a secret location close to al-Rami village.

In search of popular and congressional support for a limited and narrow strike on Syria, President Barack Obama has contended that the aim of military action would be to punish Bashar al-Assad's regime for its presumed use of chemical weapons and deter it from the further use of such horrific arms. The possible Russia-brokered deal that has emerged in the face of Obama's threatened attack—Syria submitting its chemical weapons to international control—could prevent a US assault on Syria and yield Obama a diplomatic victory. But he would have to settle for an incomplete win. Assad would presumably not be able to launch another massive chemical weapons attack, but the Syrian dictator would not be truly punished for his military's use of chemical weapons.

Under the no-details-yet arrangement being pursued by Washington, Moscow, and the United Nations, Assad would presumably give up control of his chemical weapons stock. How that happens remains to be seen. Will he hand over these arms to the UN or another international agency for destruction? Will he allow inspectors to monitor and guard his storage facilities? Will he truly honor the agreement and not stash some chemical weapons in a hiding place? But any regimen would certainly make it difficult, if not impossible, for Assad to once again use chemical weapons against his foes. Moreover, Vladimir Putin and Russia would now be on the hook, essentially guarantors that Assad would not again resort to such arms. And given that Russia is Assad's No. 1 sponsor, Assad could not afford to tick off Moscow. So no matter how imperfect the international control system might be, there will be plenty of incentive for Assad to keep his hands off chemical weapons—and for Russia to lean on him. (Of course, in extreme circumstances—say, a situation in which the survival of the regime is at stake—Assad and his Russian pals might rejigger their calculations.) Consequently, a deal would likely achieve what Obama has sought: deterring Assad from further chemical weapons attacks.

Yet the accord in the works has no punitive aspect. Assad will not be held accountable for the August 21 attack near Damascus that killed 1400 civilians, including many children. And he will be able to continue slaughtering others with conventional means. Will other tyrants get the message that using chemical weapons will not be accepted by the international community?

Still, the possible unintended consequences of a punitive strike on Syria remain: civilian casualties, shifting the balance of power in favor of Al Qaeda-connected rebels, and creating more chaos and conflict in Syria and the region. Is punishing Assad worth potentially destabilizing the country further? (A collapse of the Syrian regime could lead to a WMD free-for-all there.) If this deal solidifies—and that's a good-sized if—Obama might have to accept deterrence as the net gain. Afterward, he can focus on the tougher challenge of resolving the Syrian conflict and bringing Assad to justice.

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North Carolina Appoints Obama-hating, Anti-Gay "Ender's Game" Author to PBS Board

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 11:33 AM EDT
Obama-hating sci-fi author Orson Scott Card appointed to North Carolina PBS board

There's been lots of news lately about the state of North Carolina, which in a few short years has gone from being a somewhat moderate southern state to one on the extreme conservative end of the spectrum. The GOP has supermajorities in both houses of the legislature and the state governor is also a Republican, giving the party license to, well, party. The GOP has passed anti-abortion laws tacked on to a motorcycle safety bill; slashed unemployment benefits; instituted a horrific voter suppression mechanism; and tried to ban nipple exposure (with one legislator suggesting women cover them with duct-tape to be in compliance), among other things.

Continuing in that vein this week, the Republican leader of the state senate appointed Orson Scott Card to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina's public television affiliate. Card is a science fiction writer best known for the bestselling Ender's Game. But Card has also become rather famous for being something of an anti-gay Obama-hater.

Card, a Mormon, once served on the board of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. His views on homosexuality have prompted calls for a boycott of the movie version of Ender's Game, opening in October. He's also been in the spotlight recently for comparing President Obama to Hitler and Stalin. In May, he published a 3,000-word "thought experiment" in Greensboro's Rhinoceros Times, in which he envisions a future where Obama enlists mobs of unemployed urban youth to serve as "brown shirts" in his own personal domestic army, and Obama and his wife change the law to allow themselves to run the country forever. He writes:

By the time Michelle has served her two terms, the Constitution will have been amended to allow Presidents to run for reelection forever. Obama will win by 98 percent every time. That's how it works in Nigeria and Zimbabwe; that's how it worked in Hitler's Germany.

Card might seem an odd choice for a seat on a board overseeing 12 public TV stations that broadcast into four states, given how much he hates the media in general. He's been a vocal critic of pretty much every news outlet aside from Fox News. After the 2012 election, he wrote, "So yes, CBS, CNN, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, New York Times, Washington Post, and all the rest of you in the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda: You won. But we know you now. We know just how low you'll go, how compliant you will be with the Beloved Leader." In the Rhinoceros Times he wrote, "It's hard to imagine how American press coverage would be different if Obama were a Hitler- or Stalin-style dictator, except of course that everyone at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the Rhinoceros Times would be in jail. Or dead."

All of this, of course, makes Card a perfect choice for a Republican party that's long had it in for public broadcasting. North Carolina viewers probably won't be seeing shows like Frontline's "Assault on Gay America" or the 2011 American Experience episode on the Stonewall uprising, but Card's appointment could be good news for fans of Dr. Who, reruns of which might be necessary to fill the holes left by all the other PBS offerings Card finds too objectionable to air.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 10, 2013

Tue Sep. 10, 2013 10:18 AM EDT

Spc. Casey Sage, of Keenesburg, Texas, a cavalry scout, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security for dismounted Soldiers during a counter indirect fire patrol near Lalmah Village, Chapahar District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, September 1, 2013. US Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Chad Carlson, 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

MLK Would Have Supported Assad, and Other Tidbits From Dueling Syria Protests in DC

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 9:27 AM EDT

The first thing members of Congress saw when they returned to work on Monday was dueling protests on Capitol Hill between supporters and opponents of a proposed military intervention in Syria. Both sides consisted largely of first- and second-generation Syrian-Americans. But only one faction went so far as to hold up Bashar al-Assad—who stands accused of using chemical weapons to kill 1,400 civilians on top of myriad other atrocities—as an emblem of peace and justice.

I spotted Hassan Mohammed, decked out in a biker glove made from a Syrian flag, a Syrian-flag sweatband, and red Abercrombie & Fitch sweatpants, and waving a six-foot-by-four-foot banner of the Assad. "He's my president, No. 1!" said Mohammed, who has dual citizenship and drove down from New York to express his support. "I voted for him in 2007. I'm going to vote for him again."

But what about his conduct during the civil war? "It's not a civil war yet," Mohammed insisted. And while civilian casualties are unavoidable in this non-civil-war, he's confident that no chemical weapons have been used by the regime—it's simply not practical. "He doesn't have to use it; he can kill the same amount of people with different weapons."

Milad Tabshi, who drove down from Pennsylvania, had a stern expression on his mustachioed face. "The Syrian regime did not commit any atrocities against the Syrian people," he said. "It's Western propaganda. It's nonsense. It's a war provoked, orchestrated by the West aimed to destroy every nation in the Middle East and take its natural resources."

Here are three additional nuggets of wisdom from Assad's defenders...

President Obama should borrow from Assad's example and think of the children:

"American tax $$$ should fund US education not Al Qaeda." Tim Murphy

Despite whatever else you may have heard, Assad is much loved:

Tim Murphy

Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported Assad. (At least he has company.):

Tim Murphy

Why a Small California City Could Be Wall Street's Worst Nightmare [Updated]

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The outcome of the foreclosure crisis—and the fate of many investors who bet on it—may hinge upon a city council vote tonight in a little-known working-class suburb (see update below). The Northern California town of Richmond (population: 105,000) will decide whether it wants to become first city in the country to use eminent domain to rid itself of underwater mortgages. The securities industry has threatened to make life miserable for Richmond and its residents if they move ahead with the plan.

In late July, Richmond sent letters to 32 banks and other mortgage holders, offering to buy 624 underwater mortgages at discounts to the homes' value. None of the offers were accepted. Richmond must now decide whether it will use eminent domain—a power more often used to build roads or shopping malls—to seize the homes, paying a court-determined fair market value.