October 2008 Archives


Phillips, Christopher. Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Passionate Heart (New York: WW Norton, 2007)

Christopher Phillips' Socrates in Love (which follows his Socrates Café and Six Questions of Socrates) is another highly readable--and very enjoyable--romp through philosophy's popularization. Phillips writes about the five types of love, as defined by the Greeks: eros (romantic/sexual), storge (familial), xenia (stranger), philia (communal/friendship), and agape (self-sacrificial/unconditional).

From the African National Congress to the US Army, from Shakespeare to Sun Tzu, Phillips draws from an incredible variety of sources in order to enliven his dialogues. He asks the "big questions" during a blackout in New York City, in a tent at a Billy Graham crusade, in Soweto, and in Hiroshima.

Despite the book's many pluses, though, Phillips goes astray in this passage:

A famous Quran sura stresses that the ink of scholars is more valuable than the blood of martyrs. (p. 193)

Wikiquote observes that the quotation "The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr"

...is found neither in the Quran nor Sunni hadith, but it is found in Shia hadith. It is declared by Sunnis to be a fabricated hadith in "100 Fabricated Ahadith" by Shaikh Abdullah Faisal, and in "52 Weak Ahadith" by Ibrahim B. Syed.

Murad Hoffman's Islam: The Alternative provides this version:

On the Day of Judgement the ink of the scholars and the blood of the religious martyrs will be weighed--and the ink of the scholars will weigh more than the blood of the martyrs. (p. 30)

Hoffman sources it as follows:

Kanz al 'Ummal, Vol. 10, hadiths 28899-28902; Abdulkadir Karahan, Kirk Hadis, Istanbul 1991, Hadith 22, p. 52
I'm not about to weigh the Sunni and Shia hadith against each other, as I think this trail already leads far enough afield. (In the spirit of his "Socrates Café," I suspect that Phillips would approve.)

Phillips' website
Society for Philosophical Inquiry

mandate 2008

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David Sirota's "Mandate '08: Reagan vs. FDR" observes that "John McCain and Barack Obama have made the race's final weeks an ideological proxy war between two presidential icons who still loom larger than them: Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt:"

They both effectively say a vote for McCain is a vote to continue Reagan's trickle-down tax cuts and free-market fundamentalism, and a vote for Obama is a vote to resurrect Roosevelt's regulations and redistributions. And because this choice has been made so clear--because we know what we're voting on--whoever wins will have a huge mandate to implement the ideology he thematically represented.

That's why conservatives are so worried.

They see the cause and effect: As McCain doubles down on the right's economic catechism, Obama is surging. [...] ...if Obama wins, expect more frantic talk from the fringe about how electing a black man billed as an Islamic Karl Marx obviously means our country is more conservative than ever.

According to the "liberal" media, mandates are only for conservatives...no matter how slim (e.g., Bush 2004); liberal landslides carry no corresponding ideological meaning. As noted by Eli at FDL, however, all the Right's hysteria may backfire on them:

By transforming Obama into Karl Marx, the Republicans have transformed his victory into a victory for progressivism. If he wins big, it means scare words like "socialist" and "liberal" have lost their stigma. It means Americans want better healthcare, education, regulation, and infrastructure, and that they would rather "spread the wealth" than consolidate it. It means America is a progressive nation, not a center-right one.

Either that, or America is a center-right nation that no longer believes anything the Republicans say. I could probably live with that too.

worst. joke. ever.

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OK, so that title is a little hyperbolic...but I'm blaming Bethany Jean Clement at Slog for making me laugh by posting this absolutely horrible joke:

Q: What's the difference between Sarah Palin's mouth and her vagina?
A: Only some of the stuff that comes out of her vagina is retarded.

"spread the wealth"

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Obama's "spread the wealth" comment to Joe the plumber has gotten a great deal of attention in the past few weeks, but let's take a look at which way our wealth is actually spread around. This may be surprising for those who haven't read The Great Divide, but here's a graph (h/t: driftglass) showing how the get-government-out-of-my-way red states benefit from taxes paid by blue states:


(Note to red states: why don't you pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps, so we blue states don't have to keep supporting your irresponsibly profligate lifestyles?)

free music

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Holland's Radio 4 is offering free MP3 downloads in celebration of the 120th anniversary of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (h/t: Bruce Hembd). These are the ten symphonies available:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
Brahms: Symphony No. 2
Bruckner: Symphony No. 8
Dvorák: Symphony No. 8
Franck: Symphony in D minor
Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 'Italian'
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 'Organ'
Schubert: Symphony No. 8 'Unfinished'
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

It's great music--and the price is certainly right--but the downloads are only available until 24 November...so get clicking!

who is John Galt?

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In "RIP John Galt," Devilstower writes that "No one person did more to spread Rand's message of unregulated markets, unconstrained free trade, and unlimited power for corporate officers than Alan Greenspan." I read a great deal of Ayn Rand's work--both fiction and non-fiction--a long time ago, and I admit to being initially intrigued by some of it. My interest in Rand--I'm tempted to call it a phase, but that would perhaps be making too much of it--has become greatly attenuated over time, as her ideas don't survive well outside of the theoretical realm. As Devilstower concludes his piece:

There's something in Ayn Rand's works that appeals to everyone at some point in their lives. Everyone wants to identify with the specialness of Dagny Taggart or Howard Roark or John Galt. Everyone feels, at some point in their lives, as if they are the true hub of the universe.

Then rational people grow the hell up and get over it. There's no more substance to Rand's objectivist view than there is in a child fantasizing about being a fairy princess, and even less to admire.

John Galt is dead. We can only hope he stays buried.

I exhumed my copy of Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal to re-read Greenspan's 1960s essays "Antitrust" (pp. 68-71), "Gold and Economic Freedom" (pp. 98-101), and "The Assault on Integrity" (pp. 118-121). I hadn't picked up the book since Greenspan was elected to the Fed in 1987, and some of his remarks were very interesting in retrospect. Amid all his references to non-Randroids as "collectivists" and "statists," Greenspan penned a few howlers:

Left to their own devices, it is alleged, businessmen would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings. Thus, it is argued, the Pure Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the numerous building regulatory agencies are indispensable if the consumer is to be protected from the "greed" of the businessman.

But it is precisely the "greed" of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking, which is the unexcelled protector of the consumer.
("The Assault on Integrity," p. 118)

The concept of putting Wall Street's foxes in charge of the economic henhouse is laughable, but Greenspan wasn't done. His critique of the Fed is eerie in its prescience, although Greenspan didn't learn his own lesson until after the latest crash:

When business in the United States underwent a mild contraction in 1927, the Federal Reserve created more paper reserves in the hope of forestalling any possible bank reserve shortage. [...]

The "Fed" succeeded; it stopped the gold loss, but it nearly destroyed the economies of the world in the process. The excess credit which the Fed pumped into the economy spilled over into the stock market -- triggering a fantastic speculative boom. Belatedly, Federal Reserve officials attempted to sop up the excess reserves and finally succeeded in braking the boom. But it was too late: by 1929 the speculative imbalances had become so overwhelming that the attempt precipitated a sharp retrenching and a consequent demoralizing of business confidence. As a result, the American economy collapsed. [...] The world economies plunged into the Great Depression of the 1930's.
("Gold and Economic Freedom," pp. 99-100)

"Excess credit", "speculative boom"...does any of that sound familiar?

Tying together the ACORN vote-fraud myth from two weeks ago and the CRA myths before that, the Right is attempting to displace the effects of Wall Street's greed onto every liberal in sight. "The GOP's Blame-ACORN Game" in The Nation debunks the Right's claims:

Among ACORN's alleged crimes, perhaps the most serious is that it caused, nearly single-handedly, the world's financial crisis. That's the fantasy. In the reality-based world, it was ACORN that sounded the alarm about the exploitative lending practices that led to the current mortgage meltdown and financial crisis.

If you aren't sick of the slime already, read the whole thing. (If you are sick of it, take heart: In eight days, it will all be over.)

Austin Cline's guest post at Jesus' General, "Socialism for Mavericks: To Each According to His Greed" touches on something I've written about before, but makes a broader critique: "Few of McCain's supporters actually know what socialism is. [...] They also don't care:"

Complaints about "socialism" aren't a serious, substantive criticism of any of Obama's policies. And frankly, I doubt many conservatives know any more about those policies than they do about socialism; instead, they are just an attempt to attack Obama as "the other" - liberal, educated, black, concerned about poverty, concerned about race, etc. Accusing someone of being a socialist is a means by which conservatives can give the impression that they are making a serious criticism while in reality just attacking someone for being too "different."

Alan Greenspan's comments this week about the "once-in-a-century credit tsunami" were of his usual verbosity, with this startling admission:

"...those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief."

Is he trying to say that greed doesn't work? Did Gordon Gekko lie to us? Stop the presses!

The NYT described an exchange between Greenspan and Henry Waxman (D-CA):

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: "I have found a flaw. I don't know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact."

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. "In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working," Mr. Waxman said.

"Absolutely, precisely," Mr. Greenspan replied.

Over at TPM, Dean Baker reminds us of Greenspan's Ayn-Randian views, and concludes with his take on free-market fundamentalists' real desires for reverse socialism:

...the Wall Street hotshots didn't have and don't want a free market. They want to be able to take big risks with other people's money, both their shareholders and the taxpayers.

This is not to say that we would want a real free market in finance. It's not even clear what that would look like. But it is clear that the Wall Street hotshots who brought us this disaster have no interest in a free market. They want to be able to operate with a government security blanket while not being required to contain risk or pay for this insurance. Calling them, or their patron Alan Greenspan, free market ideologues is far too generous.


Lakoff, George. The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain (New York: Viking, 2008)

Almost as a supplement to Drew Westen's The Political Brain, linguist George Lakoff's The Political Mind observes that:

...most of us have inherited a theory of mind dating back at least to the Enlightenment, namely, that reason is conscious, literal, logical, unemotional, disembodied, universal, and functions to serve our interests. This theory of human reason has been shown to be false in every particular, but it persists. (p. 3)

As a corrective, Lakoff proposes "a new, updated Enlightenment [...] ...a deep rationality that can take account of, and advantage of, a mind that is largely unconscious, embodied, emotional, empathetic, metaphorical, and only partly universal." (p. 13)

Lakoff often restates his earlier work, but there are still many intriguing observations in The Political Mind. Here is one such application to our current political situation:

The myth is that the deregulation or privatization of a moral mission of government eliminates government. But it doesn't. Large corporations also govern our lives--often making life-and-death decisions that affect us. Government isn't eliminated. It is just shifted from the public sector, where there is an ethic of protection and public accountability, to the private sector, where there is an ethic of profit and no public accountability. The principle here is the "conservation of government." Deregulation and privatization do not eliminate government; they only make it unaccountable and take away its moral mission.

But conservatives cannot admit this, because it would fly in the face of the idea of "free enterprise." The "free market" doesn't free us from government; it just gives us unaccountable government without a moral mission. (p. 63)

That is as strong a statement as I've seen about the upcoming election's importance. A more thoughtful electorate will benefit us all.

atheists coming out

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Several weeks ago, Brother Richard at Life without Faith mentioned a sociological study (by Dr Tom Arcaro of Elon University) on coming out as an atheist.

Despite the problem of self-selection bias--unavoidable in this instance--I recommend that any atheists who are reading this post click here and spend some time participating in the study.

I look forward to seeing the results...

EFF's new swag

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The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has a very nicely redesigned NSA logo on some of its membership swag:


If you're not already an EFF member, their t-shirts should be an incentive to send them a few bucks for their good work on behalf of us all. (See "Bloggers' Rights" for one such example.)

McCain finally gets all mavericky about "Ridding the Country of Socialism:"


Now that's some refreshing straight talk, you betcha!


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Garrett Lisi explains his "beautiful theory of everything" in this TED talk (h/t: S at Explicitus Est Liber), where each subatomic particle is assigned to a root in the 248-dimensional E8 mathematical structure.

The first remark after his talk was "I probably understood 2% of that, but I still absolutely loved it." I have to concur, but I still wonder: Would getting a tattoo of E8 be an exceptionally geeky thing to do?

(Click to watch a gorgeous video clip of the E8 rotating.)

It's like looking into a kaleidoscope of particle physics, a mandala that represents the universe.

It gives my brain goosebumps.

Wikipedia has pages on Garrett Lisi, his exceptionally simple theory of everything, and E8

Lisi's original paper (PDF)

PhysOrg.com "Mathematicians solve E8 structure"

Jon Meacham's Newsweek article "It's Not Easy Bein' Blue" (billed on the cover as "America the Conservative") is a sloppily-argued mess. Meacham admits that "The terms we use in discussing politics and culture can be elusive and elastic" and that "the lines are blurry, the terms squishy," but still pronounces America "a nation that is more instinctively conservative than it is liberal."

Paul Krugman notes that, on the occasion of Bush's 2004 victory, "there was a vast chorus from the commentariat, proclaiming the death of liberalism; America, everyone said, was a conservative nation." Paul Waldman observes at HuffPo that:

"when Republicans win, we're told that Democrats need to move to the center, because the country is too conservative for them. When Democrats win, on the other hand, we're told that... Democrats need to move to the center."

One doubts that even a more dramatic result this year will cause a different reaction, despite that fact that the American public's policy preferences are "firmly in the progressive camp:"

On foreign policy, on economic policy, on social policy, on just about everything, it's the progressive position that is more popular. The median voter in 2008 is pro-choice, supports civil unions for gay Americans (a position that seemed insanely radical only a decade ago), rejects the Bush foreign policy, supported the recent increase in the minimum wage, wants strong environmental protections, favors reasonable restrictions on gun sales, thinks the wealthy and corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes, and wants the government to guarantee universal health coverage. Does that sound conservative to you?

Meacham does note in his piece that:

The American relationship with government is so fraught with hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance that it is difficult to discuss with any degree of rationality. Many dislike the state, except when the state is helping them; many hate paying taxes, except they expect the government to be able to fulfill the obligations (war, infrastructure, emergency relief, the rescue of investment banks) they think it should fulfill.

In other words, Americans have 'champagne tastes on a beer budget,' and want conservative taxation to pay for liberal results. Meacham quotes Christopher Buckley as saying, "President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren't going to get us out of this pit we've dug for ourselves."

Buckley and Meacham both overlook the fact that the traditional right-politics of the past few decades--and their borrow-and-waste fiscal policies--are the primary reason we're in such trouble. Once again, it's liberals (who Meacham mocks as "libertine," "motherly and soft," and looking for "radical change") who are tasked with cleaning things up once the GOP's elephantine rampage has finally ended.

Here's a great campaign ad parody (h/t: Jesus' General):

I heard that Christ-the-commie couldn't afford to buy his dad's carpentry business because Caesar's taxes were too high.

Just like their endorsement of Bush in 2004, al-Qaeda (and, by, extension, a certain washed-up old terrorist) has endorsed John McCain for president (h/t: gordo at appletree):

"Al-Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election," said a commentary posted Monday on the extremist Web site al-Hesbah, which is closely linked to the terrorist group. It said the Arizona Republican would continue the "failing march of his predecessor," President Bush.


(One wonders: did Palin pick up a stylish little black burqa during her $150K Saks and Neiman Marcus shopping spree?)

still undecided?

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David Sedaris has an analogy for any undecided voters out there:

I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. "Can I interest you in the chicken?" she asks. "Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?"

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I mean, really, what's to be confused about?

"why I blog"

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Although I've posted some criticisms of him, Andrew Sullivan is probably my favorite conservative author: his blog is a staple in my RSS reader, and I've read--and enjoyed--all but one of his books (two, if you count his doctoral thesis). In "Why I Blog" at The Atlantic, Sullivan pens the best essay about blogging I've ever read. Sullivan writes about the conversational "writing out loud" tone of his blog, and delights in the medium's sheer addictiveness:

Blogging--even to an audience of a few hundred in the early days--was intoxicatingly free in comparison. Like taking a narcotic.

It was obvious from the start that it was revolutionary.

Sullivan likens this to Montaigne and the birth of the essay form, and sees blogging as akin to fostering a thoughtfully provocative atmosphere at a dinner party:

The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete. The wise panic that can paralyze a writer--the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated--is not available to a blogger. You can't have blogger's block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts.

In that spirit, I'd like to offer a toast to impulsiveness; to rough drafts that may never see revision; to molding the soft clay of one's thoughts into a solid shape; to writing one's ideas and opinions in plain view of the entire world; to waiting anxiously for the audience's reaction to a shared epiphany.

Thanks, Mr Sullivan--may I call you Andrew?--for this essay...and for being a blogger par excellence.


Westen, Drew. The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007)

Drew Westen's The Political Brain looks at, as the subtitle states, the role of emotion in politics:

The central thesis of this book is that the vision of the mind that has captured the imagination of philosophers, cognitive scientists, economists, and political scientists since the eighteenth century--a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions--bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work. (p. ix, Introduction)

Westen also provides a warning of sorts for political junkies such as myself, writing that "Perhaps nowhere are emotion-driven cognitive distortions more obvious--and more potentially dangerous--than in political affairs." (p. 100) We should be wary of both exaggerating our own rationality and of denigrating "low-information voters" for their poor grasp of the facts. Westen notes that--in some respects--they are making a rational choice:

Political scientist (and sometimes-consultant) Samuel Popkin has argued that this tendency to play "follow the leader" is a sensible strategy for most voters, who have their own lives to lead and don't have the time or interest to study all the affairs of state. Accepting uncontested elite opinions represents a form of what Popkin calls "low-information rationality." If no one on either side of the aisle is contesting an issue at the top of the information chain, why would most voters, who have far less direct knowledge, contest it at the bottom? (p. 190)

Although Westen admits to being quite partisan ("I'm about as 'pro-Democratic' as they come," p. 186), he nonetheless reserves his toughest criticisms for his own party:

...the left has no brand, no counterbrand, no master narrative, no counternarrative. It has no shared terms or "talking points" for its leaders to repeat until they are part of our political lexicon. Instead, every Democrat who runs for office, every Democrat who offers commentary on television or radio, every Democrat who even talks with friends at the water cooler, has to reinvent what it means to be a Democrat, using his or her own words and concepts, as if the party had no history.

If this is how Coke marketed itself, we would all be drinking Pepsi. (p. 169)

Westen's observations are particularly strong in suggesting what Carter should have said to Reagan's appeal to "states' rights" racism in 1980 (pp. 162-3), what Gore should have said to Bush's no-gun-control argument in 2000 (pp. 200-1), a "Flag-Hiding Amendment" demand to stop sweeping the bodies of our military casualties under the media carpet (p. 262), Gore's response to the "integrity" slurs (pp. 313-5), Kerry's response to torture at Abu Ghraib (pp. 327-9), Kerry on "flip-flopping" (p. 342), and a response to AUMF (pp. 354-5) that gave cover to Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Westen's "networks" and "associations" are a strong complement to Lakoff's "frames" and "metaphors," and The Political Brain is a very worthwhile book. All praise aside, though, I do have two quibbles with Westen's book. The first is this passage:

"...what Karl Marx called 'false consciousness'..." (p. 122)

Marx does not appear to have used that phrase, which is correctly attributed to Friedrich Engels in his 14 July 1893 letter to Franz Mehring)

The second is this assertion:

"The presidential oath of office ends with the words, 'so help me God.'" (p. 388)

No, it doesn't; the oath from Article II, Section I of the Constitution contains no reference to a deity.

Westen has posted the book's endnotes online (PDF), a move which would have made more sense if they had taken up more than 54 pages; in a book that already exceeds 450 pages, would that extra paper really make much difference? (Don't get me wrong, though: I love having notes online, as they can be kept up-to-date--and utilized by researchers--much more easily.)

Driftglass provides my Quote of the Day (h/t: Larry Hamelin at Barefoot Bum) about conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan:

Because he is still very much a True Believer, Sully is not capable of looking Conservatism square in eye and seeing that Dubya and McSame are not its aberrations, but its apotheosis. He has shaken off some of the lesser, uglier doctrinal teachings of his faith, but still clings fiercely to the abstract, rapturous purity of its core dogma and will probably never be able to wrap his head around the fact that Ayn Rand's little wingnut terrarium is not a heroic creed, but a moral spider hole for misanthropes, rich degenerates and rich degenerate-wannabes.

W = M

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This anti-McCain ad from SEIU is the best one I've seen in this election season:


"Block the Vote" by Robert Kennedy Jr and Greg Palast (from the latest issue of Rolling Stone) paints a discouraging picture of the upcoming election:

In state after state, Republican operatives -- the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics -- are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats. If this year's race is as close as the past two elections, the GOP's nationwide campaign could be large enough to determine the presidency in November.

The authors finger HAVA (Help America Vote Act) as the GOP's enabling legislation:

In practice, many of the "reforms" created by HAVA have actually made it harder for citizens to cast a ballot and have their vote counted. In case after case, Republican election officials at the local and state level have used the rules to give GOP candidates an edge on Election Day by creating new barriers to registration, purging legitimate names from voter rolls, challenging voters at the polls and discarding valid ballots.

Their conclusion?

Come November, the most crucial demographic may prove to be Americans who have been denied the right to vote. If Democrats are to win the 2008 election, they must not simply beat John McCain at the polls -- they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering.

Joe for Congress!

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MediaMatters quotes from this WSJ article, pointing out that the company Joe the Plumber dreams of acquiring "reported sales this year of $100,000," which is far less than what Joe claimed when speaking to Obama earlier this week.

On sales of that volume, a firm that size could expect to earn about a 6% profit, or $6,000, after salaries and costs are taken out, according to Lee Smither, managing director of FMI Corp., a Raleigh, N.C., management-consulting firm for construction contractors.

The average income of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in 2006 was $48,002, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With income and profits, Mr. Wurzelbacher would be nowhere close to the threshold of $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples for Sen. Obama's proposed tax increase. To reach that level, Mr. Smither said, a mom-and-pop plumbing company like Newell would have to clear $5 million in annual sales.

The WSJ continues:

...if Mr. Wurzelbacher earns the wages of a typical Ohio plumber, $40,600, and holds a $90,000 mortgage, he would see a tax cut under Sen. Obama's plan of more than $1,000, compared with no tax reduction under Sen. McCain's. If he succeeds in buying the plumbing business where he works, he could see even more tax benefits, including Sen. Obama's proposed elimination of capital-gains taxes for small-business investment, a 50% tax credit to purchase health insurance for employees and a $3,000 tax credit for every new hire over the next two years.

Despite Joe's problems with mathematics and honesty (and paying his taxes), he has fans who are trying to draft him into running for Congress with the slogan "PLUNGE THE CRAP OUT OF WASHINGTON." Of course, Faux News is leading the charge; just like McCain, Joe supports both their populist posturing and their plutocratic policies.

Gitmo expansion?

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The Guardian reports on new estimates of Cuba's oil reserves:

...there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba's share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba's reserves on par with those of the US and into the world's top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba's state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet.

H/t: Atrios at Eschaton, who makes this pertinent (and impertinent) remark:

We'd better invade them before they attack Israel.

[typo fixed]

debating Ayers

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The Ayers exchange during the final presidential debate was less combative than I had hoped it would be, but that is a tribute to Obama's demeanor. McCain opened with a standard attack: "Sen. Obama chooses to associate with a guy who in 2001 said that he wished he had have bombed more, and he had a long association with him." Those words are a reference to the NYT article "No Regrets for a Love of Explosives," (which was published on 11 September 2001), although I suspect many people haven't read past the first sentence:

''I don't regret setting bombs,'' Bill Ayers said. ''I feel we didn't do enough.''

Ayers responded by noting that "This is not a question of being misunderstood or "taken out of context," but of deliberate distortion:"

I said I had a thousand regrets, but no regrets for opposing the war with every ounce of my strength. I told her that in light of the indiscriminate murder of millions of Vietnamese, we showed remarkable restraint, and that while we tried to sound a piercing alarm in those years, in fact we didn't do enough to stop the war.

Here's what Ayers wrote in April of this year:

I'm often quoted saying that I have "no regrets." This is not true. For anyone paying attention--and I try to stay wide-awake to the world around me all/ways--life brings misgivings, doubts, uncertainty, loss, regret. I'm sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Viet Nam, and I say "no, I don't regret anything I did to try to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government." Sometimes I add, "I don't think I did enough." This is then elided: he has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings.

The illegal, murderous, imperial war against Viet Nam was a catastrophe for the Vietnamese, a disaster for Americans, and a world tragedy. Many of us understood this, and many tried to stop the war. Those of us who tried recognize that our efforts were inadequate: the war dragged on for a decade, thousands were slaughtered every week, and we couldn't stop it. In the end the U.S. military was defeated and the war ended, but we surely didn't do enough.

However his words are parsed, whether one believes in apologies and atonement, the caricatures of Bill Ayers are of no illuminative value.

For the fourth and final time this election season, here's my (rather belated) post-debate analysis. Ben Smith published Obama's accidentally leaked talking points at Politico, but there was little of importance--or even of interest--in them except for the reminder of McCain's promise to "whip [Obama's] you-know-what" during the debate. That didn't happen, because--despite Bob Schieffer's excellent moderation--that dynamic a performance is beyond McCain's capabilities.

He said that the American people are "hurting and angry," but his continual grimacing and eye-rolling indicated an even greater degree of pain and anger on his part. McCain complained about Obama's eloquence (saying "I admire so much Sen. Obama's eloquence" when discussing offshore drilling, and "Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama" when talking about the health-of-the-mother exception to abortion restrictions), but doing so had the effect of highlighting his own debating shortcomings.

McCain repeated so many debunked talking points (such as Obama's "much higher taxes" and his "present" votes) from the previous debates that I sometimes wondered if CNN was playing a blooper reel. McCain also trotted out business taxes:

"The fact is that businesses in America today are paying the second highest tax rate of anywhere in the world. Our tax rate for business in America is 35 percent. Ireland, it's 11 percent." (see my comments on the first debate here)

and the Adler Planetarium:

"Sen. Obama has asked for nearly $1 billion in pork-barrel earmark projects, including $3 million for an overhead projector in a planetarium in his hometown." (see my comments here and the FactCheck rebuttal here)

(Perhaps McCain should receive an "environmentalist of the year" award for recycling all that garbage...)

He flung plenty of new mud as well, as when he asserted that "The catalyst for this housing crisis was the Fannie and Freddie Mae that caused subprime lending situation," but he was wrong. My short answer is here; but Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture provides a longer response from a much more informed vantage point:

For the non-partisan, non hacks amongst you, for the policy makers and academics and economists who are truly interested in how this came to pass, and what we can do to fix it, the bottom line remains: The CRA was irrelevant to the current crisis, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were mere cogs in a very complex financial machine, with many moving parts.

But the primary cause of the mess? Not even close . . .

Parroting another right-wing talking point, McCain also claimed that ACORN is "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." That claim was widely anticipated, and was something that I rebutted (pre-butted?) before the debate.

McCain remarked to Obama that "I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago," and that was the best line of the evening for either candidate; I'm sure his speechwriters were glad that he didn't mangle it. (Obama had an ad up yesterday morning juxtaposing McCain's claim with his Bush-friendly voting record.)

Trying to deflect culpability for his own campaign's lack of civility, McCain complained about these remarks made by John Lewis:

Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy.

McCain whined that "John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale" and praised his rallies as "legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions," asserting that Lewis' remarks were "outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate."

No, the comments were designed to quell the violent rhetoric of your audiences--unless shouts of "kill him" are the height of dialogue that the GOP can now muster. During the debate, McCain commented: "I hope that Sen. Obama will repudiate those remarks, perhaps not having read even the first sentence of the Obama campaign's statement:

Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies.

Obama's retort to McCain that "I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply" was spot-on, and forced McCain back to discussing the campaigns themselves rather than comments made by others...at least until he brought up Bill Ayers. [My comments on the Ayers exchange are here; this post is long enough already...]

By the time Bob Schieffer wrapped things up, we had heard a great deal about "Joe the plumber." Here's a little more information to help round out his fifteen minutes of fame:

Obama's original talk (nearly 6 minutes long!) with Joe Wurzelbacher is here. In this CBS post-debate interview, Joe parroted McCain's "speaks eloquently" meme, claimed "I'm middle class, I can't have my taxes raised any more," and then admitted that he wouldn't fall into the $250K+ tax bracket anyway...which would mean his taxes would not increase.

As noted by Martin Eisenstadt (h/t: Crooks & Liars), Joe may have a deeper connection with McCain than merely being a registered Republican:

Turns out that Joe Wurzelbacher from the Toledo event is a close relative of Robert Wurzelbacher of Milford, Ohio. Who's Robert Wurzelbacher? Only Charles Keating's son-in-law and the former senior vice president of American Continental, the parent company of the infamous Lincoln Savings and Loan. The now retired elder Wurzelbacher is also a major contributor to Republican causes giving well over $10,000 in the last few years.

The ads from both camps will get increasingly negative in the remaining weeks, more accusations will fly, and the poll numbers may predict anything from an Obama landslide to a tortoise-and-hare finish for McCain. Try to not get discouraged by any of that, though: democracy is not a spectator sport, and this election is too important to sit out.

CNN has the transcript

FactCheck has--of course--done some fact-checking

McCain's lie counter
now stands at 156, up from 52 a month ago.


Amid the tough rhetoric of this election, we should all remember to laugh with our friends from across the aisle. There are far worse ways to spend a half-hour than by watching these 4 video clips of McCain and Obama at tonight's Al Smith dinner (h/t: FDL):

McCain, Part 1

McCain, Part 2

Obama, Part 1

Obama, Part 2

debate photos

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Here are three photos from last night's debate. The first is PunditKitchen's take on their pre-debate greeting:


The next two are from "Wrong-Way" McCain's inability to navigate his way around the table at the end of the debate without appearing to cough up a hairball:



(Either that, or McCain has some deeply repressed urges...)

I'll have some real commentary later today.

In response to conservatives' inevitable election-year accusations of "voter fraud" directed at the voter-registration efforts of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), Brad Friedman writes at The Guardian:

The only actual crime here is that Acorn managed to register some 1.3m low-income (read: Democratic-leaning) voters over the past two years. The rest is, pretty much, just made up.

But in the bloody and desperate trenches of the Republican war on democracy, that's more than enough to kick in a last minute surge of lies that may - with the help of a compliant and lazy corporate US media - wreak enough havoc, scare enough voters, confuse enough people and plant enough seeds to call an Obama victory into doubt on November 4.

Cernig amplifies this point at Crooks & Liars:

ACORN provides a convenient excuse for diehard Republicans who cannot understand why the country can't stand them and is moving en masse away from their failed ideology, while at the same time providing an excuse for legal challenges to vote results.

ACORN released a rebuttal and observed that "these charges are outrageous, libelous, and often politically motivated:"

ACORN will not be intimidated, we will not be provoked, and in this important moment in history we will not allow anyone to distract us from these vital efforts to empower our constituencies and our communities to speak for themselves.

Andrew Burmon writes about the Right's voter fraud hysteria, and his interviewee (Barnard poli-sci professor Lorraine Minnite) has some choice words about "[t]he fact is that ACORN has been smeared by the Republican Party:"

I am struck by the ferocity of the attack on ACORN. I am not privy to the campaign strategy of the Republican Party, but I have to assume that it is the result of a coordinated disinformation campaign aimed not only at undermining ACORN's work, but also as a part of a far broader effort to corrode public confidence in the electoral process.

Minnite, also a Senior Fellow at Demos, authored the study "An Analysis of Voter Fraud in the United States" (h/t: Election Protection) and notes that "the disfranchisement of voters through antiquated voting systems, errors, mismanagement of registration bases, and intimidation or harassment is a far bigger problem today than traditional forms of election fraud." Among other cases, Minnite examined the Florida fiasco of 2000 and observed:

No number of allegations of voter fraud in 2000, let alone substantiated cases of such fraud in that election, came close to rivaling the number of eligible voters who wanted to vote but were unable to do so. This fact is due to a combination of deliberate actions on the part of partisan election officials and gross administrative error or incompetence (and that's in just one state).

Voter fraud is largely a figment of the Right's imagination, but for some reason it gets plenty of media attention while the real problem of voter suppression (which benefits the GOP) is largely unreported...it must be the "liberal media" at work again!

ThinkProgress details the Right's "Nutty Attacks on ACORN" and explains "The Truth About Voter Fraud"

MediaMatters dissects the latest WSJ smear job.

The latest issue of The Nation contains a 24-page supplement called "Steal Back Your Vote" about various GOP dirty tricks. Beware!

Washington Monthly's Steve Benen calls the fraud allegations "a fairly transparent con job"

a very important PSA

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This PSA video about talking to your parents is the most important thing I've seen in a long time (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values):

Visit Partnership for a McCain-Free White House to learn more, and be on the lookout if your parents exhibit these warning signs:

1. Prefacing every sentence with "Lemme give you a little straight talk."
2. Arguing that it's crucially important for a president to be erratic and unstable.
3. Referring to the past 8 years of American history as "The Golden Age."
4. Saying things like, "Sarah Palin is a reasonable choice as VP."
5. Having trouble making eye contact.
6. Wandering and pacing aimlessly.
7. Disparaging Spain for no apparent reason.
8. Delusionally believing all people they meet are "[their] friends"--even though most people are kinda creeped out by them.
9. Being unable to accurately count the number of homes they own, cars they drive, or years the United States should remain in Iraq.
10. Putting a McCain-Palin yard sign in the front lawn.

Good luck!

too shrill for me

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The Big Picture hammers Republicans/conservatives in terms that even I consider too harsh. In the midst of a primer on the housing crisis, the piece rails against "the false argument brewing amongst those on the right who blame the 1977 CRA or the 1938 Fannie Mae for the current housing and credit problem. I have zero patience for this nonsense, and am unafraid to call people on it:"

Those who continue to blame the CRA, Fannie Mae, etc. reveal their fundamental misunderstanding of how credit operates in general, what the financing process was like from 2002-07, and how this situation came to pass. Or worse, they understand it, and choose to lie about it anyway for partisan political purposes.

You either understand these simple facts, or you don't. If you cannot comprehend this, you are a low functioning moron. If you understand it, but spit out nonsense anyway, you are a liar.

And those are the only people blaming the CRA or Fannie/Freddie for the credit/housing crisis -- idiots and liars . . .

Sorry, but that's too shrill for me. Although there's plenty of mendacity on the Right, there are also many intelligent and well-intentioned people who simply aren't yet aware of that information. I appreciate the author's frustration, but calling them "idiots and liars" isn't helpful--despite the satisfaction inherent in doing so.

The Jed Report purports to list 39 "Republicans and conservatives" (h/t: Andy at Towleroad) who are "jumping ship, pointing fingers, or otherwise abandoning the McCain campaign." Somehow, though, several people are counted twice (Bill Kristol, Michelle Malkin, Ed Rollins) which brings the total down to 36.

Some of my favorite conservatives didn't even make the list: Andrew Sullivan has been an Obamacon for quite some time, and Christopher Hitchens wrote this yesterday:

It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them. [...] One only wishes that the election could be over now and a proper and dignified verdict rendered, so as to spare democracy and civility the degradation to which they look like being subjected in the remaining days of a low, dishonest campaign.


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Tracy Lea Carnes, a Christian Republican from the South, writes at HuffPo about being fed up with the right-wing email rumors:

I get forwarded email all the time. "Obama is in league with terrorists" or "Obama the Muslim" or my personal favorite, "Oprah is a Monster, let's fall on our knees and pray for her." [...]

I used to just keep my mouth shut when I received such email. "Bless their naive hearts," I would say for their lack of informed wisdom and go on about my day...[b]ut today I just snapped and I began answering those emails with actual facts to debunk the myths they were propagating. I simply hate ignorance. If you're going to make me believe Obama is actually a Muslim, then please, back up the claim by showing me an actual picture of his Senate swearing in ceremony with his hand upon a Koran for pity's sake! Use Photoshop if you have to!

I am a Southerner who likes tangible facts. I don't take things at face value. I dig deep, I examine Senate voting records and review stances on the issues. I pride myself in being an informed and enlightened voter. [...]

So, thank you extreme right wing for sending out this preposterous propaganda and having it forwarded to me by default. My curiosity for truth has made me like and admire Obama even more.

I snapped sometime in the Bush administration's early days, and it's comforting to see fact-based conservatives endorse Obama as the best choice in this election.

First, congratulations to economist Paul Krugman (also a NYT columnist, blogger, and author of--among other books--The Conscience of a Liberal) for winning a Nobel Prize "for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity."

Arun Gupta's "How to Wreck the Economy" from Indypendent (h/t: AlterNet) is a great primer on the meltdown. Gupta explains the acronyms MBS, CDO, CDS, and SIV while illuminating "the biggest financial crime in world history." It's a good read.

The NYT graphic from "How This Bear Market Compares" does an excellent job putting the market in historical context (h/t: The Big Picture). I only wish the designer would have included the percentage drops, bear-market duration, and time-to-recovery along with the graph.

The unhinged utterances at McCain's rallies of late (calling Obama "a terrorist," yelling "treason," "bomb Obama," and even "kill him") troubles me, especially given the far right's penchant for violence based on ideological differences. McCain, to his credit, has begun trying to defuse his crowds' anger; see the examples here from McCain rallies yesterday. I just hope it's not a case of too little, too late.

The specter of sixties-era assassinations still haunts this nation's memory, and a return to that sort of turmoil would be indescribably devastating.

McCain's campaign is now targeting Michelle Obama, despite past assurances that spouses "should not be an issue in this campaign:"

The attack? Bernardine Dohrn, Ayers' wife and fellow former Weatherman, went to work in 1984 for the major Chicago-based national law firm of Sidley & Austin, and three years later, Michelle joined the mega-firm as well.

That's the entire attack. We wish we were joking. But we aren't.

I'm going to have to pull my thesaurus off the shelf, because I'm running out of synonyms for "pathetic," "appalling," and "despicable."


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is promoting a worldwide day of civil-liberties awareness called "Freedom not Fear." It's a worthy idea, but I wonder if the EFF knows that today is also National Coming Out Day--a holiday in its own right, and one with a 20-year history.


Whatever you celebrate today, may your freedom be joyous!

Thomas Frank's op-ed in the WSJ, "The GOP Peddles Economic Snake Oil," opens with puzzlement over what's going on in the center ring of the GOP's big tent:

OK, let me get this straight: The central axiom of conservative Republicanism is that government is inherently corrupt and can't do anything right.

Over many years of ascendancy, conservative Republicans have filled government agencies with conservative Republicans and proceeded to enact the conservative Republican policy wish list -- tax cuts, deregulation, privatization, outsourcing federal work, and so on.

And as a consequence of these policies our conservative Republican government has bungled most of the big tasks that have fallen to it. The rescue and recovery of the Gulf Coast was a disaster. The reconstruction of Iraq was a disaster. The regulatory agencies became so dumb they didn't even see the disasters they were set up to prevent. And each disaster was attributable to the conservative philosophy of government.

Yet now we are supposed to vote for more conservative Republicans because we learned from the last bunch of conservative Republicans that government just doesn't work.

Frank's latest book (The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule) keeps getting closer to the top of my to-be-read stack...

I saw this nifty logo a few days ago:


Ever since then, I've been wondering: is it too early to order a bumpersticker? (I know it won't be accurate until 20 January, but it would be fun to have one ready for action on the morning after Election Day...)

No on Prop 8

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No on 8, the group leading the fight against California's Proposition 8--an anti-marriage ballot initiative--is being outspent by the usual culprits (Catholic groups, American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and the Mormons--here and here), and they need our help.


There is less than a month left in which to turn public opinion back against Proposition 8, which would effectively divorce thousands of California's same-sex married couples, but we can take strength from these words:

"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." (Martin Luther King Jr, "Where Do We Go from Here?" 16 August 1967)[* see note below]

We can help nudge that arc toward justice by saying "no" to second-class citizenships for LGBT Californians. (And let's not forget that Arizona and Florida have battles of their own to win...)

Freedom to Marry
Marriage Equality

The "arc of the moral universe" quote from King is actually a paraphrase of these words from Theodore Parker in 1853:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

See here for more details.


Lewis Lapham opens the latest issue of his Quarterly (Ways of Learning) with one of my favorite quotes:

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled by a fire to be kindled." (Plutarch)

This rather less poetic translation was the closest I could find:

"The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting -- no more -- and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth." ("On Listening," from Robin Waterfield's 1992 translation in Plutarch: Essays, p. 50)

As always, I come away from each issue of LQ with a list of essays and books that I either haven't yet read or am inspired to re-read; this issue is no exception. My list this time includes Frederick Douglass (Life and Times of Frederick Douglass), Helen Keller (The Story of My Life), and Seneca (Letter LXXXVIII, Letters from a Stoic, pp. 151-4)

So many books...

McCain's supporters are rehashing some old rumors about Obama and Kenyan PM Raila Odinga, as in this scurrilous YouTube video. Without any expertise in Kenyan politics, I found a few problems with this video's claims about Obama:


"In 2006, as a member of the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama campaigned for Raila Odinga in Kenya...

at taxpayer expense."

FACT: Obama visited Kenya (as well as South Africa and Chad) in August and September 2006, but he did not support Odinga:

"Obama has remained neutral in Kenyan politics, and did not support Odinga during his trip" (Source: Politifact)
"Obama's perceived support for Odinga may have arisen from a speech he gave to university students in Nairobi during his 2006 visit. Obama spoke out against corruption in President Kibaki's government. Because Odinga is Kibaki's main political rival, Obama's criticism was misconstrued to mean that he had endorsed Odinga." (Source: PBS)


"Why did Barack Obama...

use his elected office and taxpayer dollars...

to support a man...

like Raila Odinga?"

FACT: As noted above, Obama did not support Odinga. When the violence erupted more than a year later (after the election results were announced on 30 December 2007), Obama phoned Odinga--with State Department approval--to say this:

"Obviously he believes that the votes were not tallied properly. But what I urged was that all the leaders there, regardless of their position on the election, tell their supporters to stand down, to desist with the violence and resolve it in a peaceful way in accordance with Kenyan law." (Source: MediaMatters)
"Obama appealed for a negotiated settlement in a radio address broadcast in Kenya and has reached out to the major players." (Source: Chicago Sun-Times)

Obama has addressed these smears before. Swift-Boat author Jerome Corsi (who appears in the video, and whose anti-Obama book was thoroughly debunked in "Unfit for Publication") got in trouble with Kenyan authorities during a recent book publicity trip there, but that hardly makes his old accusations newsworthy again.

McCain's supporters are apparently getting desperate, given the depths to which they're descending to manufacture these allegations.

Gary Kamiya notes at Salon that "The GOP goes back to its ugly roots" as they trot out one smear after another, desperately flinging mud at Obama in the hopes that something--anything--will stick long enough to cause a McCain bump in the polls. We've already seen and heard plenty about Rev Jeremiah Wright and real-estate developer Tony Rezko, but the GOP's latest field of schemes seems to center around Bill Ayers; there's not much "palling around" between Ayers and Obama, but there's plenty of appalling. (Ari Berman provides more details on Obama's flimsy ties to Bill Ayers over at The Nation, an article from April that is--sadly--relevant once again, as the McCain lashes out in desperation.)

Over at TNR, Jonathan Chait reminds us that "McCain Forgets How Many Glass Houses He Lives In." McCain conveniently omits his own past associations with Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy (wiretapping, burglary, and conspiracy) and his father-in-law Jim Hensley (bootlegging and conspiracy).

Palin doesn't have much room to talk, considering her links to the Alaska Independence Party and the John Birchers. (See here and here for details.)

Four more weeks, and it will all be over.

Chicago's Adler Planetarium has issued a statement (PDF) about McCain's "overhead projector" remark last night (h/t: Josh Marshall at TPM). Here is part of it:

The Adler's Zeiss Mark VI projector - not an overhead projector - is the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential planetarium experience. The Adler's projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium projector in the Adler's 78 years of operation.

Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Senator McCain's statements about the Adler Planetarium's request for federal support do not accurately reflect the museum's legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama.

McCain asked the debate audience, "My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?"

Yes, Johnny Maverick, we do...although I don't really expect you or your creationist buddies to understand why. You may prefer to ignore the larger implications of astronomy, but it's essential to modern science education.

Any student who doesn't spend some time in a planetarium is being deprived of the awe and wonder that they can no longer experience in their own backyard; if it doesn't happen in a planetarium, it may not happen at all.

debate 3 of 4

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I thought last night's Obama/McCain debate was somewhat lackluster; neither candidate had the fire I was hoping for after seeing their ads get more aggressive over the past week or so. Several times, I expected Obama to really pounce on McCain, but he kept holding back. At first, I was disappointed...but Obama is displaying a calm and controlled demeanor--I would call it "presidential"--that shows him to be more concerned with winning the election than merely winning the debate. (Also, he has to avoid anger lest the racists tar him with the "angry black man" brush.)

McCain's answer to the evening's last question ("What don't you know and how will you learn it?") was superior to Obama's, but it was far too little and far too late. I also noted a few things from the transcript:

19 times: how often McCain referred to the audience as "my friends"
0 times: how often McCain mentioned "the middle class"

Based on McCain's tax policies, I have a pretty good idea who his friends are (his donor base, the K Street lobbyists running his campaign, and people like his running mate Sarah Palin who believe that an income of $230K makes them middle class), but I'm not one of them. The rest of us aren't your friends, so stop pretending as if we are! (Jeffrey Feldman wrote an excellent analysis of McCain's three repeated phrases: "my friends," "my hero," and "I know how to..." I recommend it highly.)

Obama did make one slip that probably had his running mate seeing red:

Now, the final point I'll make on this whole issue of government intrusion and mandates -- it is absolutely true that I think it is important for government to crack down on insurance companies that are cheating their customers, that don't give you the fine print, so you end up thinking that you're paying for something and, when you finally get sick and you need it, you're not getting it.

And the reason that it's a problem to go shopping state by state, you know what insurance companies will do? They will find a state -- maybe Arizona, maybe another state -- where there are no requirements for you to get cancer screenings, where there are no requirements for you to have to get pre-existing conditions, and they will all set up shop there.

That's how in banking it works. Everybody goes to Delaware, because they've got very -- pretty loose laws when it comes to things like credit cards. [emphasis added]

And in that situation, what happens is, is that the protections you have, the consumer protections that you need, you're not going to have available to you.

Biden's phone has probably been ringing off the hook ever since.

CNN's transcript is here
FactCheck has a summary of errors here

Tim Dickinson's Rolling Stone article "Make-Believe Maverick" dishes the dirt on the GOP's favorite hot-headed flip-flopper, and doesn't shy away from McCain's unsavory association with the crooked Charles Keating:

To finance his campaign, McCain dipped into the Hensley family fortune. He secured an endorsement from his mentor, Sen. Tower, who tapped his vast donor network in Texas to give McCain a much-needed boost. And he began an unethical relationship with a high-flying and corrupt financier that would come to characterize his cozy dealings with major donors and lobbyists over the years.

Charlie Keating, the banker and anti-pornography crusader, would ultimately be convicted on 73 counts of fraud and racketeering for his role in the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s. That crisis, much like today's subprime-mortgage meltdown, resulted from misbegotten banking deregulation, and ultimately left taxpayers to pick up a tab of more than $124 billion. Keating, who raised more than $100,000 for McCain's race, lavished the first-term congressman with the kind of political favors that would make Jack Abramoff blush. McCain and his family took at least nine free trips at Keating's expense, and vacationed nearly every year at the mogul's estate in the Bahamas. There they would spend the days yachting and snorkeling and attending extravagant parties in a world McCain referred to as "Charlie Keating's Shangri-La." Keating also invited Cindy McCain and her father to invest in a real estate venture for which he promised a 26 percent return on investment. They plunked down more than $350,000.

Remember that close association between McCain and Keating, because McCain supporters are trying to make it less significant than the tangential-at-best tie between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers. Palin claimed that Obama is "palling around with terrorists" based on this NYT article, but apparently her reading comprehension isn't all that it should be:

...the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called "somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8."

Despite Palin's best attempts, all the gosh-golly-gee-whillickers-you-betcha winking folksy bullshit in the world can't turn McCain's sow's-ear campaign into a silk purse. He's BFFs with too many lobbyists (Rick Davis, for example) and has too long a history of supporting the same failed policies of mindless tax-cutting and deregulation that caused much of the mess in which we now find ourselves.

The façade covering his enraged and erratic incompetence has cracked and fallen apart, and all the GOP's friends in the media can't put the pieces together again.

According to the NYT article "Pressured to Take More Risk, Fannie Reached Tipping Point," Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd was bullied by Angelo Mozilo (of Countrywide Financial infamy) to purchase more risky loans or Mozilo would take his paper elsewhere: "if you don't take these loans, you'll find you can lose much more."

Investors were also pressuring Mr. Mudd to take greater risks.

On one occasion, a hedge fund manager telephoned a senior Fannie executive to complain that the company was not taking enough gambles in chasing profits.

"Are you stupid or blind?" the investor roared, according to someone who heard the call, but requested anonymity. "Your job is to make me money!"

In response, "Fannie began buying huge numbers of riskier loans:"

In one meeting, according to two people present, Mr. Mudd told employees to "get aggressive on risk-taking, or get out of the company."

Far from simply being the fault of previous CEOs (Johnson and Raines) and Congress, there's plenty of blame to go around. Look especially to the tendency of greed and general short-sightedness to bypass higher decision-making processes.

Obama's campaign has finally taken the gloves off by launching a website called Keating Economics that focuses on McCain's involvement in the Keating Five scandal:


Remember that the youngest tier of the electorate was barely out of diapers when the Keating Five scandal broke, and likely has no idea what it was all about--at least until now.

The 13-minute documentary, "Keating Economics: John McCain and the Making of a Financial Crisis," isn't bad, although the audio track sometimes drops out during the ethics investigation into McCain's shenanigans. (It's a little slow-paced, too.) I'd like to see 30-second and 60-second versions for TV spots, where they could do the most good.

Here's their primer:

The current economic crisis demands that we understand John McCain's attitudes about economic oversight and corporate influence in federal regulation. Nothing illustrates the danger of his approach more clearly than his central role in the savings and loan scandal of the late '80s and early '90s.

John McCain was accused of improperly aiding his political patron, Charles Keating, chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. The bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee launched investigations and formally reprimanded Senator McCain for his role in the scandal -- the first such Senator to receive a major party nomination for president.

At the heart of the scandal was Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which took advantage of deregulation in the 1980s to make risky investments with its depositors' money. McCain intervened on behalf of Charles Keating with federal regulators tasked with preventing banking fraud, and championed legislation to delay regulation of the savings and loan industry -- actions that allowed Keating to continue his fraud at an incredible cost to taxpayers.

When the savings and loan industry collapsed, Keating's failed company put taxpayers on the hook for $3.4 billion and more than 20,000 Americans lost their savings. John McCain was reprimanded by the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, but the ultimate cost of the crisis to American taxpayers reached more than $120 billion.

The Keating scandal is eerily similar to today's credit crisis, where a lack of regulation and cozy relationships between the financial industry and Congress has allowed banks to make risky loans and profit by bending the rules. And in both cases, John McCain's judgment and values have placed him on the wrong side of history.

Charles Keating
Keating Five
JohnMcCainRecord.com bullet-points other issues (the economy, education, health care, Iraq, taxes, etc.)


Marsalis, Wynton. Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (New York: Random House, 2008)

I've read each of Wynton Marsalis' previous books, and have been looking forward to Moving to Higher Ground since it was announced several years ago; it was not a disappointment. Marsalis begins with this declaration of purpose, as bold a statement as any:

In this book I hope to deliver the positive message of America's greatest music: how great musicians demonstrate a mutual respect and trust on the bandstand that can alter your outlook on the world and enrich every aspect of your life--from individual creativity and personal relationships to the way you conduct business and understand what it means to be a global citizen in the most modern sense. [...] I'd like to demystify listening to jazz and show you how the underlying ideas of this music can change your life. (p. xv, Introduction)

Chapter six, Lessons from the Masters, was the highlight of the book for me. Marsalis discusses thirteen of jazz's most accomplished musicians, and relates some tales of their attitudes and artistry that are liberally leavened with humor and humility. This one, about Marsalis' first encounter with fellow trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, is revealing:

I first met Dizzy when I was about fifteen years old at a club called Rosie's on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans. My dad said, "This is my son. He plays trumpet." Dizzy was standing near the dressing room doorway. He handed me his horn and said, "Play me something, man." He had a real small mouthpiece. I wasn't used to playing that--poooot. He didn't know what to say with my daddy standing there, so he said, "Yeaaah"--really drawn out, as I the length of it could help ease the awkwardness of the moment. And then he leaned down close to me and said, "Practice, motherfucker." (p. 136)

Far from being discouraged by such admonishment, Marsalis emphasizes the deep compassion in jazz musicians' interactions with each other:

For all of that hard, profane talk, there was an unusual type of gentleness in the way they treated one another. Always a hug upon greeting and--from even the most venerated musicians--sometimes a kiss on the cheek. A natural ease with those teetering on the edge of sanity. A way of admonishing but not alienating those who might have drug problems. Always the feeling that things in our country, in our culture, in our souls, in the world, would get better. And beyond that, the feeling that this mysterious music would someday help people see how things fit together: segregation and integration, men and women, the political process, even the stock market. (p. 5)

Whatever one's opinion of Marsalis' neoclassicism or his seemingly reactionary tendencies--he loathes much modern urban music--his vantage point gives him much to say about jazz. In Moving to Higher Ground he says it powerfully, and well. If I had but a single passage to summarize this book, I would choose this one:

It [jazz] is an endless road of discovery leading to more maturity and acceptance of personal responsibility, a greater respect for cultures around the world, an invigorating playfulness, an excitement about change, and an appetite for the unpredictable. It gives you a historical perspective, a spiritual acceptance of necessary opposites, an undying optimism born of the blues--and a pile of good listening. (pp. 10-11)

Amazon's interview with Marsalis is here

Chapter one is online here

[typo fixed]

Sara Robinson does a far more thorough rebuttal of the Right's blame-the-Community-Reinvestment-Act spin than the one I cobbled together a few days ago; I highly recommend it. (The Federal Reserve's information on the CRA is here.)

Robert Kuttner's article "The Bubble Economy" from American Prospect last year largely avoids partisan rancor while still identifying deregulation as the culprit.

The NYT article "The Reckoning" looks at the SEC's 2004 loosening of capital requirements for the brokerage units of large investment banks. (Hmmm...deregulation again?)

For a lighter take on things, the stick-figure slideshow "The Subprime Primer" is a foul-mouthed free-for-all that--unfortunately--isn't nearly as funny as it was earlier this year.


Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition (New York: Doubleday, 1995)

In honor of Banned Books Week this year (9/27-10/4), I've read Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. (Last year, I read a selection of Beat books; this year, I'm so far behind on my reading that I only had time for a single volume.)

If there truly are people who need no introduction, then Anne Frank is one of them. The words of her diary have outlived her by decades, and I suspect will do so for centuries--if not millennia--to come. After tackling other Holocaust books over the past few years, I felt it was finally time to read Anne Frank's book in full. I settled on the Definitive Edition, which is nearly a third longer than the 1947 original, and restores passages that Anne's father Otto--the only Annex resident to survive the Holocaust--edited out as unflattering or excessively personal.

It seems voyeuristic at times to become so engrossed in the innermost thoughts of a teenage girl who suffered such a gruesome fate in the months following her family's extradition to the Nazi death camps, but the value of Ms Frank's diary is inestimable. She began her diary (which she called "Kitty") on 12 June 1942, moved to the Annex on 5 July 1942, and was captured by the Nazis over two years later on 4 August 1944. One of her first entries begins:

Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I've never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. (p. 6, 20 June 1942)

One can scarcely see a trace of trepidation in her diary, which is written in a confident and assured tone despite both her age and the horrific situation in which she found herself. It is humbling to read of her continual devotion to learning

I must do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that's what I want! I know can write. A few of my stories are good, my descriptions of the Secret Annex are humorous, much of my diary is vivid and alive, but...it remains to be seen whether I really have talent. (p. 250, 5 April 1944)

You've known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer. We'll have to wait and see if these grand illusions (or delusions!) will ever come true, but up to now I've had no lack of topics. In any case, after the war I'd like to publish a book called The Secret Annex. It remains to be seen whether I'll succeed, but my diary can serve as the basis. (pp. 295-6, 11 May 1944)

despite the knowledge of the fate that hung oppressively over their heads:

Today I have nothing but dismal and depressing news to report. Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork, the big camp in Drenthe to which they're sending all the Jews. [...] If it's that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they're being gassed. Perhaps that's the quickest way to die. (p. 54, 9 October 1942)

After considering all of her words--haunting and harrowing by turns--I keep coming back to this observation:

It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. (p. 333, 15 July 1944)

Youth can sometimes express the wisdom of the ages.

Bernstein, Leonard. The Joy of Music (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959)

I had expected, based on the title, that Leonard Bernstein's 1959 classic The Joy of Music would discuss some confluence of, well, joy and music. There's plenty of music in this book, but surprisingly little joy. Bernstein, well-known for his ecstatic exuberance on the podium, should have had many insights to share on the subject of joyous music-making, but the book delivers something else entirely.

Ever the teacher, Bernstein begins this book with a selection of Socratic-style dialogues to open the reader's mind about music. The second (much larger) section consists of seven television scripts, which will be rough going for non-musicians due to the number of musical examples provided. (Readers with either strong sight-reading skills or access to the works being discussed will fare much better, of course.)


The second of these scripts, discussing jazz, suffers less than the others by virtue of having an audio recording available. Although Bernstein's narration on this disc is often dated and somewhat stilted, listening to his words is still preferable to reading them--at least in the examples printed here.

The Joy of Music is a book worth reading--especially for Bernstein fans--but go into it with the right expectations to avoid disappointment.

Here are a few fact-checks of Palin's performance last night:

Palin: "we also have John McCain to thank for bringing in a bipartisan effort people to the table so that we can start putting politics aside, even putting a campaign aside, and just do what's right to fix this economic problem that we are in."

Fact: In no way did McCain "put his campaign aside." (See ThinkProgress here and here.)

Palin: "Barack Obama and Senator Biden also voted for the largest tax increases in U.S. history."

Fact: I'm not sure what she's referring to, unless it's the expiration of Bush's temporary 2001 and 2003 tax cuts--which were sold to the public on the condition that they expire in 2010. As FactCheck noted in an article about McCain's similar (and similarly false) accusation during primary season:

"By the measure most economists prefer, McCain is wrong in his claim that Sens. Clinton and Obama want to implement "the single largest tax increase since the Second World War;" it would be the fifth largest. At a more basic level, it's misleading to tag Clinton and Obama for something that was scheduled during the Bush administration - the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which by law will occur at the end of 2010"

Palin: "the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives"

Fact: If Palin thinks that her family is in the middle class, she's been hanging around the McCains for too long. As the AP noted, "The Palins' assets seem enviable: a half-million-dollar home on a lake with a float-plane at the dock, two vacation retreats, commercial-fishing rights worth an estimated $50,000 or more and an income last year of at least $230,000. That compares to a median income of $64,333 for Alaskans and $50,740 for Americans in 2007, according to the Census Bureau."
(An income of $230K puts the Palins within the top 2½% of American households.)

Palin: "Barack Obama still can't admit the surge works."

Fact: Actually, Obama said just that more than a month ago to Faux News:

"I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated...I've already said it's succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

Palin: "I had a good conversation with him [Dr. Henry Kissinger] recently. And he shared with me his passion for diplomacy."

Like he shared it with Cambodia, Chile, and East Timor? I wouldn't meet Kissinger without handcuffs, leg irons, extradition papers, and a jet ready to take him to The Hague--but Palin apparently has a double standard for meeting with war criminals. (Republicans are OK; foreign heads of state are unacceptable...)


"...there's a time, too, when Americans are going to say, 'Enough is enough with your ticket,' on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game. There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration.

But for a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that's where you're going. Positive change is coming, though. Reform of government is coming. We'll learn from the past mistakes in this administration and other administrations."

Huh? She's going to "learn from past mistakes" without "looking backwards"....that's quite a trick. Later on, she tried again with "Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again," but repeating a talking point doesn't make it true.

Palin: "Oh, yeah, it's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider."

No, it's obvious that you don't know what you're talking about...but one-third of the country will still applaud your spurious accusations, misstatements, and question-dodging. Politico noted this morning:

...she got out alive, though there were white-knuckle moments along the way: questions that were answered with painfully obvious talking points that betrayed scant knowledge of the issue at hand and sometimes little relevance to the question that had been asked. [...]

On at least 10 occasions, Palin gave answers that were nonspecific, completely generic, pivoted away from the question at hand, or simply ignored it: on global warming, an Iraq exit strategy, Iran and Pakistan, Iranian diplomacy, Israel-Palestine (and a follow-up), the nuclear trigger, interventionism, Cheney's vice presidency and her own greatest weakness.

Palin called McCain a "maverick" four times and twice referred to his campaign as a "team of mavericks." (That makes as little sense as talking about "symphony of soloists," but let's leave that contradiction aside for a moment.) The incessant reference to John (90%) McCain as a "maverick" is a myth that has needed to be deflated for a long time; by the time Palin bragged that McCain has "taken shots left and right," I was about to start taking shots...the kind in short (or not-so-short) glasses. Thankfully, Biden had also had enough:

BIDEN: I'll be very brief. Can I respond to that?

Look, the maverick -- let's talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.

He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.

He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against -- he voted including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.

He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.

He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table.

Can we send -- can we get Mom's MRI? Can we send Mary back to school next semester? We can't -- we can't make it. How are we going to heat the -- heat the house this winter?

He voted against even providing for what they call LIHEAP, for assistance to people, with oil prices going through the roof in the winter.

So maverick he is not on the important, critical issues that affect people at that kitchen table.

That was the highlight of the debate for me; the low point was when moderator Gwen Ifill failed to follow up on her question about same-sex couples. When Biden and Palin each expressed a lack of support for marriage equality--although both claim to support civil unions--Ifill just let it drop: "Wonderful. You agree. On that note, let's move to foreign policy." In doing so, she overlooked a major difference between the campaigns: the Obama ticket supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and would end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the "Defense" of Marriage Act.

As a side note, Palin was wildly inconsistent in her pronunciation of "nuclear," sometimes getting it right and sometimes using Bushspeak ("nuke-ulur"). Offhand, I'd estimate her ratio at about 1:1, which leads me to suspect that she was unaware of the correct pronunciation until fairly recently. (I'm guessing about five weeks or so...)

Palin proved that she could regurgitate a string of talking points until her 90 seconds were up, but she had little of substance to say...and a folksy delivery only goes so far. (Among the talking points that she refused to relinquish in the face of the facts were "Obama will raise your taxes," "Obama voted against funding the troops," and "Obama will sit down with dictators." Her incessant repetitions of them became increasingly nauseating as the evening wore on.)

Ron Chusid has an excellent analysis at Liberal Values, with this observation:

At one point Palin said, "I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C." Does she mean bring the reality of the metamphetamine capital of Alaska to Washington, D.C.? The idea that "reality from Wasilla Main Street" is any substitute for actual knowledge of the issues contributed to Palin's defeat in the debate.

I don't want to see Palin in another campaign debate.

For any office.


CNN's transcript of the debate is here

FactCheck's analysis is here

Andrew Sullivan posted this photo, from Austin TX:


Welcome to the reality-based community!

This mock slideshow (h/t: Brendan Kiley at Slog) of Biden's preparation for tonight's VP debate made me laugh, so I'm sharing it with you.


NASA at 50

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Today is the 50th anniversary of NASA's inception (h/t: GeekDad); there are videos, interactive features, and a nice gallery of images.


(I recommend NASA's Image of the Day to all fellow space geeks who need a regular fix of awe and wonder...)


Alkyer, Frank. The Miles Davis Reader: Interviews and Features from Downbeat Magazine (New York: Hal Leonard, 2007)

After reading Bill Kirchner's A Miles Davis Reader, I felt the need for more Miles, and the next book on deck was Frank Alkyer's The Miles Davis Reader. The book's three sections (news, features, and reviews) weigh in at about 30, 150, and 170 pages, respectively; each is arranged chronologically. I would have preferred to see the sections merged and all of the material presented on a single timeline, as I didn't notice any compelling reason for the divisions.

There is some overlap with Kirchner's book, which also features several Downbeat pieces, but it is not excessive given the breadth and depth of both volumes. Among all the albums and anecdotes, this exchange with interviewer Gregg Hall struck me as the most revealing:

G.H.: Well, you know that everybody that's somebody today came through that Miles Davis school.

M.D.: I wonder why they always call it the "Miles Davis school."

G.H.: Because you're the teacher, and that's where it's all coming from.

M.D.: I just bring out in people what's in them.

(p. 99, "Miles: Today's Most Influential Contemporary Musician," 18 July 1974)

Miles, not a man known for either understatement or humility, was (just before his 1975-1980 "retirement") suddenly unafraid to explicitly deflect credit for his band's achievements from himself back to his bandmates, honoring their contributions while still maintaining his position as the leader. Alkyer draws many illuminating examples from Downbeat's archives, making this book both an interesting read on its own and a fine companion to Kirchner's book.

The video "Burning Down The House: What Caused Our Economic Crisis?" attempts to blame Wall Street's failures on the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, but the facts are not in agreement with the thesis that the 31-year-old CRA caused the Bush-era housing crisis:

"Contrary to the accusation that the CRA is responsible for the current crisis, experts have said that approximately 80 percent of high-priced subprime loans were offered by financial institutions that are not subject to the CRA. Moreover, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco earlier this year said the CRA has actually increased the volume of responsible lending to low- and moderate-income households" ("Media conservatives baselessly blame Community Reinvestment Act for foreclosure spike," MediaMatters, 30 September 2008)

"CRA didn't bring about the reckless lending at the heart of the crisis. Just as sub-prime lending was exploding, CRA was losing force and relevance. And the worst offenders, the independent mortgage companies, were never subject to CRA -- or any federal regulator. Law didn't make them lend. The profit motive did"
(Robert Gordon, "Did Liberals Cause the Sub-Prime Crisis?" American Prospect, 7 April 2008)

"The CRA was at its strongest in the 1990s, under the Clinton administration, a period when subprime loans performed quite well. It was only after the Bush administration cut back on CRA enforcement that problems arose, a timing issue which should stop those blaming the law dead in their tracks."
(Aaron Pressman, "Community Reinvestment Act had nothing to do with subprime crisis," BusinessWeek, 29 September 2008)

The video's breathlessly paranoid style

...And Political Speech Is Still Free!

At Least Until January...

does nothing to bolster its credibility, and neither does its claim that

Everything In This Video Is Fact

especially when it recycles the Franklin Raines myth:

...And You'll Never Guess?

Who Barack Obama

Gets Advice From...

On Housing Issues...

Meet Franklin Raines...

Oops! I guess they didn't read this AP article, which mentions:

"Frank Raines has never advised Senator Obama about anything -- ever."

Deregulation is a far more plausible culprit for the current crisis, as admitted in this Barron's article:

Wow, we've made quite a mess of things here on Wall Street...[b]ut here's a news flash for you, D.C.: We could not have done it without you. We may be drunks, but you were our enablers: Your legislative, executive, and administrative decisions made possible all that we did. Our recklessness would not have reached its soaring heights but for your governmental incompetence. [...]

1999: The Financial Services Modernization Act repealed Glass-Steagall, a law that had separated the commercial-banking industry from Wall Street, and the two industries, plus insurance, came together again. Banks became bigger, clumsier, and hard to manage. Apparently, risk-management became all but impossible, even as banks had greater access to larger pools of capital.

2000: The Commodities Futures Modernization Act defined financial commodities such as "interest rates, currency prices, and stock indexes" as "excluded commodities." They could trade off the futures exchanges, with minimal oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission, nor the Federal Reserve, nor any state insurance regulators had the ability to supervise or regulate the writing of credit-default swaps by hedge funds, investment banks or insurance companies.
(Barry Ritholtz, "Uncle Sam the Enabler," Barron's, 29 September 2008)

The closing claim of this hyper-partisan hackwork video, that McCain's continuation of Bush's failed policies should somehow be classified as "change," is so ridiculous that it practically rebuts itself.

I knew it was time to dive back into the troll-heavy waters of my local newspaper letters-to-the-editor page when I read this gem:

Obama's constitutional writings are troubling

In Barack Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope," we get a view of the senator that the McCain camp has ignored.

Obama calls the Constitution "stodgy traditions of a distant past." He says the idea that the original intention of the Constitution can and must be followed if we would have a safe republic is a "myth." He states that "fidelity to these rules will not guarantee a just society."

Also rejected, Obama claims, is "the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology." Really? What about the Bill of Rights, the protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and freedom of worship?

Obama regards the Constitution as "a conversation to be had" with "all citizens" to "test their ideas against an external reality." Whose reality? Whose final decision?

[name and address redacted]

I responded with this:

misinterpretations of Obama's writings are troubling

A recent letter misinterpreted Senator Obama's view of the Constitution, and twisted his words to make them appear to mean the opposite of what he wrote. Whether done accidentally or deliberately, the letter imputed a relativistic view to Obama that contradicts his actual words. These misrepresentations need to be corrected.

In the third chapter of The Audacity of Hope, Obama expresses a sensible middle ground between a myth-based strict constructionism and a foundationless relativism. Far from believing the Constitution to be "the stodgy traditions of a distant past," Obama clearly repudiates that view, calling it:

the freedom of the relativist, the rule breaker, the teenager who has discovered his parents are imperfect and has learned to play one off of the other--the freedom of the apostate.

And yet, ultimately, such apostasy leaves me unsatisfied as well.

I can't do justice to all of Obama's constitutional views here, so I encourage anyone who wants to know what he really thinks about the Constitution to read The Audacity of Hope. The incessant false rumors about Obama--claiming that he's a Muslim, a socialist, the Anti-Christ, a foreign-born Kenyan citizen who won't recite the Pledge and snubs our soldiers overseas--discredit those who create and spread them, and debase our political discourse.

Can we stick to the facts, please?

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