January 2009 Archives

amazon.com

Roussopoulos, Dimitrios. Faith in Faithlessness: An Anthology of Atheism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2008)

If your home library needs another book of atheist quotes (after Jack Huberman's The Quotable Atheist, Joan Konner's The Atheist Bible, and Christopher Hitchens' The Portable Atheist) then this is the one to get. Like Hitchens' book--and unlike the other two--this volume contains mostly lengthy excerpts rather than focusing on aphorisms.

There is quite a bit of overlap between Faith in Faithlessness and The Portable Atheist, but mostly in essays that are worth rereading (Spinoza's "Theologico-Political Treatise," Shelley's "Refutation of Deism," George Eliot's "Evangelical Teaching," Goldman's "Philosophy of Atheism," Marx's "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right," and Van Doren's "Why I Am an Unbeliever" are all common to both volumes, along with contemporary pieces such as Dennett's "Thank Goodness" and Dawkins' "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God"). For example, this passage from Anatole France's "Miracle"

Happening to be at Lourdes, in August, I paid a visit to the grotto where innumerable crutches were hung up in token of a cure. My companion pointed to these trophies of the sick-room and hospital ward, and whispered in my ear:
One wooden leg would be more to the point.

(p. 93)

reminded me on this reading of the question posed by the website Why Won't God Heal Amputees? (Of course, verifiable proof of the efficacy of prayer--in an instance where there is no rational explanation--has been rather...lacking.)

The inclusion of other great works--such as Gore Vidal's brilliant "Monotheism and Its Discontents"--make this book more a necessity than a nicety for the well-read atheist. (If you're on the fence, consider this: Faith in Faithlessness is from Black Rose Books, an independent publisher that needs all the support we can provide.)

In the wake of Rush Limbaugh's "I hope he fails" comments (full transcript here) about Obama, David Neiwert writes about "Conservatives' Profoundest Fear." Neiwert draws a distinction between GOP's current fears and those of liberals eight years ago; his conclusion is right on the money:

Most liberals, by way of contrast, believed George W. Bush would fail, and many predicted it; but it's hard to find any of them, particularly leading Democrats, who were out there saying that they hoped he -- and by extension, the nation -- would fail after 9/11 because his policies were "fascist." They opposed these policies in principle. Anyone who openly hoped for our military failure in Iraq, for instance, was in a tiny minority; but there were millions of us who opposed the war because we believed it was not only wrongheaded but doomed to fail. And we were proved right.

Rush and his ilk aren't worried that liberalism may fail in cleaning up conservatism's failures--they're worried that it will succeed:

In fact, all this shouting is just cover for Republicans' greatest and deepest fear: That Obama in fact will succeed. That progressive "socialism" (as they call it) actually will make people's lives better, heal the economy, and get the nation back on its feet. That the nation's working people will finally get a clear view of which side is on their side. That the public will finally see that not only is Conservatism an abject failure, it's a fraud.

In the end, they are such deeply invested ideologues that they would rather see the nation fail than see that reality reach fruition. [emphases added]

Thankfully, Neiwert's remarks only apply in full to a small--and steadily shrinking--pool of hardcore wingnuts. Only diehard Rushbots could listen to remarks like this

what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?

without noticing the huge fallacy contained therein: that Rush is blaming liberalism for the failures of conservatism, which has had its hands on the wheel for the past 40 years. Our nearness to the precipice is due to conservatism's ideological refusal to shift out of reverse. We liberals are trying to stop the dittoheads from driving us over a cliff, but Rush's followers are fighting us every inch of the way back to where we were when they demanded a turn in the driver's seat. There may be rough road ahead, but at least we're headed forward once again.

Obama's inaugural promise to "restore science to its rightful place" was apparently a widely appreciated remark. The NYT's Dennis Overbye writes in "Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy' that "you could feel a dark cloud lifting like a sigh from the shoulders of the scientific community in this country." Overbye takes the common complaint about science ("Science teaches facts, not values") and proves it false:

Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth. That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view.

[...]

It is no coincidence that these are the same qualities that make for democracy and that they arose as a collective behavior about the same time that parliamentary democracies were appearing. If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.

It's refreshing to see such a solid celebration of science after seeing it hidden under a bushel for the past eight years. More, please!

Sara Robinson's AlterNet piece on right-wing claims of "moral clarity" observes that "conservatives live in a world of paranoia, xenophobia and seething aggression that most progressives can't even fathom:"

And their entire moral universe has been twisted to serve their externalized fears; to take that will to project their own demons onto someone else and then destroy them and elevate it as the highest possible moral good.

It's a definition of "morality" that renders the rule of law meaningless but readily justifies genocide and torture as moral acts of self-preservation.

Robinson references Peter Scoblic's US vs. Them, noting that "Throughout the book, Scoblic traces the roots of this recurring phrase - 'moral clarity' -- and discusses the very specific and narrowly defined meaning it has to conservatives. [...] If you've ever marveled at the depths of conservative moral self-righteousness, now you know the deep well from which it springs." Fortunately, criticizing conservatism's brand of morality does not nullify the entire concept. Robinson writes of the need to "challenge this horrific definition of "moral clarity" and overwrite it with one of our own:"

The next time a conservative starts talking about "moral clarity," let's not just stand there scratching our fuzzy liberal heads. It's not a joke, and not a piece of idle cant. Their use of the phrase to is a fundamental challenge to our entire view of society and government and to everything we value.

We need to call them out on this murderous and hateful "morality" and challenge them to reconcile it with the values of Enlightenment humanism. The conservatives have cherished this belief for nearly 60 years, but it has no place in the 21st century. It should have died when the Berlin Wall fell. Now that we understand what they're really saying, let's show some true "moral clarity" and bury this toxic idea for good.

A moral compass that's welded into place may still appear to be functioning if its owner stands motionless; it will not, however, be of much utility in real-world situations.

stimulating facts

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MediaMatters debunks the "myths and falsehoods" of the GOP's talking points about Obama's stimulus package, and there are two points to note here: that Obama watered down the bill to appease the Republicans who didn't vote for it anyway, and the fact that Republicans had a 2-to-1 advantage in cable news airtime to spread their misinformation campaign. Digby asks:

Can someone explain to me why I'm seeing Republican after Republican on television advising Americans on the right way to run the economy? Is there any reason why we should listen to them sanctimoniously lecturing us on "what's worked in the past" and telling us that the only way to cure the problems they themselves created are to do more of the same?

The more conservatives complain about Obama's stimulus package, the more important it is for us to remember just how successful FDR's New Deal--Obama's model for the current legislation--really was. In the face of claims that the New Deal "prolonged the Great Depression," David Sirota provided the numbers and graphs to prove that "the pre-WWII New Deal era from 1933-1940 - even including the much-hyped recession of 1937-38 - saw the single biggest drop in the unemployment rate in American history:"

These are the hard and fast numbers conservatives would like us all to forget with their claim that history proves massive spending packages like the New Deal will supposedly harm our economy. Indeed, as the numbers show, we'll be very fortunate if Congress and President Obama delivers as robust an agenda as the New Deal delivered kind of job success that Roosevelt delivered in the pre-WWII New Deal era.

When I heard the conservative caterwauling over every line item from planting grass to funding the arts (a mere $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts) in the stimulus package, I was reminded of the first 1:30 of this West Wing clip, where speechwriter Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) makes the connection between today's NEA and FDR's WPA:

bye-bye, Bill

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I sometimes wonder if I'm too harsh in my criticisms of conservative politicians and pundits--and their ideology--until I look at the Bush legacy, remember the slurs and slanders that have emanated from their side of the aisle for the past few decades, and realize the immense amount of time that we liberals must spend merely countering the Right's various misinformation campaigns.

It's time to put them on the defensive, as they have so much to answer for. For example, Bill Kristol's last column for the NYT is an astoundingly ass-backwards attempt at ignoring conservatism's failures. Right from the opening lines, Kristol demonstrates his ability to get things half right:

All good things must come to an end. Jan. 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era.

That was a sloppy attempt to call the conservative era a "good thing," and it won't work. We know better.

Conservatives have been right more often than not -- and more often than liberals -- about most of the important issues of the day...

Sure, conservatives were right...except for economics, taxation, deregulation, responding to Katrina, invading Iraq, torture, demonizing dissent, politicizing science, commingling church and state, anti-gay bigotry, abstinence-only sex education, anti-intellectualism...

If Reagan's policies had failed, or if he hadn't been politically successful, the conservative ascendancy would have been nipped in the bud.

This should not be posed as a hypothetical, as Reagan's policies did fail--although it took two additional decades to reach the catastrophic end point of Bushism. Kristol's claim that "a revived liberalism" must now "pick up that mantle" of conservatism is beyond nonsensical. Maybe delusional fits better.

When Kristol asks, "Can Obama reshape liberalism to be, as it was under F.D.R., a fighting faith, unapologetically patriotic and strong in the defense of liberty?" he is pandering to the strong-and-wrong mindset that has driven our country into the ditch and is now complaining about having to pay for a tow truck. When he writes of "new conservative alternatives" waiting in the wings, should Obama fail, I really hope that he means something better than SarahPAC and the insipid claims that "the Republican Party is at the threshold of an historic renaissance." A new Dark Ages is more like it.

Ron Chusid deconstructs Kristol's piece here, observing that "Conservatism has deteriorated into an authoritarian and theological movement which will ignore all facts, including basic science, when the facts conflict with their ideology."

For a demonstration of these tendencies, check out Emmett Tyrrell's piece about Kristol's departure at ClownHall, where he opined:

Kristol is a Republican. The Times is Obamist. [...] ...Kristol's conservative views could endanger the health of some of the newspaper's neurotic liberal readers. [...] Kristol's conservatism is usually sound, solidly reasoned and often amusing.

Kudos to the NYT for not renewing Kristol's contract. They can do better.

arrogant atheists?

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Valerie (The Dark Side) Tarico wrote a great post on "Atheist Arrogance" at Ex-Christian.net:

Atheists are arrogant. Who hasn't heard it?

Arrogance is just one of their repellent qualities, of course. They are also ungenerous, cold, lonely, untrustworthy, amoral, and aggressive. You shouldn't leave them around children. [...] But the most common accusation hurled against atheists is that they are insufferably arrogant.

Tarico went on to wonder "why frank talk from atheists so consistently triggers accusations of arrogance," given that

The unflinching tones adopted by the Four Horsemen [Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens] are not more harsh or critical than what we accept routinely in academic debate or civic life. It is the subject matter that is the issue. I would argue that atheist talk about religion seems particularly harsh because it violates unspoken norms about how we should approach religion in our relationships and conversations.

I was instantly reminded of Richard Dawkins:

I am not in favor of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued any mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in out otherwise secular societies. [...] What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniquely privileged respect? [...] It is in the light of the unparalleled presumption of respect for religion that I make my own disclaimer for this book. I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than I would handle anything else.

(The God Delusion, pp. 49-50)

To segue from theists' emotional reactions back to the subject of actual arrogance, Austin Cline noted earlier this month--with no small amount of humor--that, for theists, "believing in a higher power that created in you in its image and whose Will you know very well is a great way to avoid being arrogant:"

...it's supremely ironic to witness such unfounded arrogance being used to accuse atheists of arrogance. It does not seem that either of these people knows the least little thing about atheism or atheists, but that doesn't prevent them form pontificating about atheism and atheists -- judging atheists in a manner which, coincidentally, allows them to feel smug and superior. That, by the way, is a nice definition of arrogance.

Tarico concluded by discussing the "velvet arrogance" of her outgrown Christianity, noting with amazement:

...that we, among all humans knew for sure what was real; that we knew what the Bible writers actually meant; that our instincts, hunches and emotions were the voice of God; that we were designated messengers for the power that created the galaxies and DNA code -- and that He just happened to have an oh-so-human psyche, like ours. What other hubris could compare, really?

Indeed.

voter fraud

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Do you remember all the conservative scaremongering about widespread voter fraud last fall? The fears that Obama was about to steal the election? McCain's wild accusations that ACORN's voter-registration drives were possibly "perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country" and "destroying the fabric of democracy?"

It should come as no surprise that, once again, it was all bullshit.

As Ken Silverstein noted at Harper's, Hamilton County Special Prosecutor Michael O'Neill has completed an investigation and published a report. Can you guess what he found?

One person improperly cast a single ballot; he turned himself in because he felt guilty.

I fully expect the same GOP scare tactics to get a great deal of media attention as the 2010 midterms approach. [Note to the "liberal" media: can you please not fall for it next time?]

saddlebacking

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Columnist Dan Savage announced the results of his contest to define the term "saddlebacking," (named after Rick Warren's fundie church in Orange Country CA) much as he did with "santorum" a few years ago. Anyway, here's the definition:

Saddlebacking: sad•dle•back•ing \'sa-dəl-'ba-kiŋ\ vb [fr. Saddleback Church] (2009): the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities

After attending the Purity Ball, Heather and Bill saddlebacked all night because she's saving herself for marriage.

This AlterNet article looks at some tentative efforts by Democrats toward establishing accountability for the Bush torture regime, including prosecution. Anonymous Liberal asks, "Is it realistic to expect the Obama DOJ to prosecute these folks?" and observes that:

As much as I'd like to see that, it would instantly generate a partisan firestorm. Fair or not, Republicans would portray the prosecutions as a vindictive partisan witch hunt against True Patriots... [...] The most likely end result would be acquittals that would be spun by Republicans (and a pliant media) as vindication of everything the Bush administration did.

[...]

War crimes prosecutions would serve no useful purpose if they result in acquittals which are then spun by the Republicans and the media as vindication for the conduct itself. The goal here should not be maximal punishment, but maximal deterrence.

Last week's WaPo/ABC poll looked at Americans' views on torture, and was most notable for the way this question

Q. Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?

was broken down by party affiliation. The pro-torture contingent looks like this:

Democrats 28%
Independents 43%
Republicans 55%

Although 40% of Americans are willing to overlook these crimes and "move on" to other issues, Cenk Uygur agrees with the rest of us--that a scandal of this magnitude should not be ignored. He takes on the "see no evil" defense, writing that "we're told that in the political context it makes sense:"

I think the exact opposite is true. I think it is even more important that we hold our elected leaders to an even higher standard than the average citizen. They are entrusted with enforcing the laws. If they are the ones who break them, society is in much larger trouble.

This comment by Andrew Sullivan is worth quoting at length:

The men who ordered a man tied to a chair, doused in water, and chilled to hypothermia so intense he had to be rushed to emergency medical care, the men who presided over at least two dozen and at most a hundred prisoners tortured to death, the men who ordered an American servicewoman to smear fake menstrual blood over a Muslim's face in order to win a war against Jihadism, the men who ordered innocents stripped naked, sexually abused, terrified by dogs, or cast into darkness with no possibility of a future, and did all this in the name of the Constitution of the United States, the men who gave the signal in wartime that there were no limits to what could be done to prisoners of war and reaped a whirlwind of abuse and torture that will haunt American servicemembers for decades: these men will earn the judgment of history. It will be brutal.

We will need some formal and comprehensive record of all that happened, and the Congress will surely begin to move on that (and they should not exempt their own members from scrutiny either). And as specific allegations of torture emerge, the Justice Department will have no option but to prosecute. To ignore such charges is itself a dereliction of constitutional duty. [emphases added]

If we turn a blind eye to these abuses, the task may fall to others. John Dean speculates about foreign prosecution of Bush torture, writing that "any effort to protect Bush officials from legal responsibility for war crimes, in the long run, will not work," because "other countries are very likely to take action if the United States fails to do so." Dean interview author Philippe (Torture Team) Sands, who observes

More than 140 countries may potentially exercise jurisdiction over former members of the Bush Administration for violations of the 1984 Torture Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including the standards reflected in their Common Article 3. Whether they do so, and how they might do so, turns on a range of factors, including their domestic procedural rules.

This WaPo article about the Gitmo case files illustrates a SNAFU of the highest order:

President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

[...]

There have been indications from within and outside the government for some time...that evidence and other materials on the Guantanamo prisoners were in disarray, even though most of the detainees have been held for years.

[...]

In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."

He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly asks us to "put this in an even larger context" and to "consider just how big a mess Bush has left for Obama here:

The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who've been in U.S. custody for several years.

Mcjoan at DailyKos focuses on the observation that "the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority" and concludes:

Detention and interrogation (read, "torture") were a higher priority than figuring out which cases actually merited prosecution. In other words, locking them up and torturing them was more important than determining if they were actually guilty and prosecuting them for their crimes.

Heckuva job, Bushie.

Former NSA analyst Russell Tice was the focus of two Wired News pieces (here and here) by Kim Zetter. Tice revealed last week that "the National Security Agency spied on individual U.S. journalists, entire U.S. news agencies as well as 'tens of thousands' of other Americans:"

Tice wouldn't disclose the names of the specific reporters or media outlets he targeted when he worked as an analyst for the NSA but said in the part of the program he covered, "everyone was collected."

"They sucked in everybody and at some point they may have cherry-picked from what they had, but I wasn't aware of who got cherry-picked out of the big pot," he said.

The purpose, he was told, was to eliminate journalists from possible suspicion so that the NSA could focus on those who merited further surveillance. But Tice said on Wednesday that the data on journalists was collected round-the-clock, year-round, suggesting there was never an intent to eliminate anyone from the surveillance.

The more we find out about the Bush warrantless wiretaps, the bigger the scandal becomes. It's long past time for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

24 and torture

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Brigadier General David Irvine wrote at HuffPo last week:

I taught interrogation and the law of war for 18 years to U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine interrogators. The truth is that torture is just as likely to lead to false information or no information, not solid intelligence. History is replete with victims who have refused to talk or lied or died under torture. American torture has killed or addled suspects who might have provided vital intelligence if interrogated humanely.

He's no fan of the Fox series 24, the new season of which reaffirms its position as the most torture-iffic program on television. Irvine writes, "As the 7th season begins, I am joining Human Rights First in asking the producers to stop showing torture so irresponsibly." You can add your voice to his here.

[Note: I had this post queued up and ready to go yesterday afternoon, but never got around to proofreading it.]

Barely 4% of the way through his first 100 days in office, Obama has taken a number of positive steps toward restoring our nation's moral authority: he has banned some of Bush's worst abuses of power (torture, extraordinary rendition, and the use of "black sites"), suspended military trials and started shutting down the Guantanamo prison camp, stayed the Bush "midnight regulations" that were still pending, issued new lobbyist guidelines, stopped the Bushies from hiding presidential records, and begun movig toward our withdrawal from Iraq. (The full list of Obama's executive orders is here.) Additionally, Obama's first weekly address explains the actions he has proposed on the economic front.

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly observes that Obama has also rescinded the infamous global gag rule, and restored funding to the UN Population Fund. At Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway designed this LGBT scorecard based on the civil rights section of the new White House website:

20090123-scorecard.png

He also offers some cautiously optimistic commentary:

I doubt there will be immediate action on any of these items. After all, I can see how a crashing economy and a war in Iraq might be something of a distraction, to say the least. With people losing their jobs, homes, and health care, there's a lot that needs to be done.

But I have to admit that I labor under the possibly mistaken impression that our elected representatives can walk and chew gum. They should be able to squeeze in a few of these promises in due course amongst the other things that need to be done.

On an even more comprehensive note, PolitiFact provides a list of 510 campaign promises along with reports on how many have been kept to date. Obama has a long way to go, but the amount of progress made so far is quite impressive. (I noticed today when perusing my RSS reader that ThinkProgress also saw fit to mark the "100 hours" occasion, noting eight specific areas where Obama has already made a clean break with the failures of Bushism.)

Variants on this have been circulating for years, but here is my updated version:

An old man walked up to the front gate of the White House on Wednesday morning, long after the inaugural crowds had left town. He asked the Marine guard on duty, "I'd like to see President Bush, please."

The Marine replied, "I'm sorry sir, but George Bush no longer resides in the White House. Barack Obama is our President now." The old man nodded and went away.

Thursday, the old man returned and again asked to see President Bush. The Marine reminded him, a little more curtly this time, that Bush is no longer President.

Yesterday morning the old man asked the same Marine once again if he could see President Bush. "Listen, old man," said the guard, "I've told you for three days running that Bush isn't President anymore! What is your problem?"

The old man replied, "Oh, there's no problem -- I just like hearing you say it."

The Marine smiled and said, "I'll see you tomorrow, sir!"

a Memorex moment

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That quartet performance on Tuesday was gorgeous, wasn't it?

Too bad it was recorded:

Mr. Perlman said the recording, which was made Sunday at the Marine Barracks in Washington, was used as a last resort. "It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way," he said Thursday in a telephone interview. "This occasion's got to be perfect. You can't have any slip-ups."

[...]

"I really wanted to do something that was absolutely physically and emotionally and, timing-wise, genuine," Mr. Ma said. "We also knew we couldn't have any technical or instrumental malfunction on that occasion. A broken string was not an option. It was wicked cold."

The article mentions that the Marine band and choruses performed live under the same conditions--without benefit of a backup recording.

amazon.com

Kuttner, Robert. Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008)

I generally tend to like Kuttner's work both at American Prospect and in his books--Everything for Sale comes most quickly to mind--but Obama's Challenge strikes me as having been an election-year rush job. Kuttner deftly draws parallels between Obama and his liberal forebears FDR and JFK, but I was struck by several errors in the text:

After all, as the right keeps shouting from the housetops, Obama really does have the most liberal voting record in the Senate. (p. 13)

No, he doesn't.

It is said, based on laboratory experiments first performed in the 1870s, that if you put a frog in a pot of hot water, he will jump out; but if you turn up the heat very gradually, he will poach to death. (p. 20)

Snopes says bullshit.

If Roosevelt's credo was "The only thing we have to fear it fear itself," Bush's might have been, "The only thing we have to use is fear itself. The continually changing color-coded alerts that frightened Americans on the eve of the 2004 election faded to static orange when they were no longer politically useful. (p. 70)

Actually, the DHS color alert has been downgraded from red (severe) to orange (high) only once, in August 2006.

Some of Kuttner's guesses as to where the economy would be by the time his book reached store shelves did not quite pan out. His reference to "the current bout of stagflation" (p. 114) was the most obvious example. After being in the 4-5% range for the preceding year, the inflation rate dropped enough in 2008 Q4 to spark concerns of a deflationary economy (Kuttner didn't completely miss this possibility; he discusses deflation later, on pp. 185-7).

Later, Kuttner decries "the trillion dollars that we will spend this year on imported oil," (p. 117) but this number appears to be rather inflated. I haven't found any year-end data for 2008, but a widely publicized estimate from BusinessWire put our bill for imported oil at $440 billion.

Kuttner's "transformative" label applies clearly to FDR--particularly in the realm of economics--and the FDR : Hoover :: Obama : Bush parallel is a strong one:

Bush followed by Obama could be one of the greatest contrasts in presidential leadership of all time. (p. 199)

One hopes that we will be fortunate enough to have Obama live up to Kuttner's comparison to the twentieth century's greatest president. Taking the larger view, Kuttner sounds this genuinely optimistic note near the end of the book:

The dramatically increased political engagement in the 2008 campaign, especially among energized young voters who have never before seen this kind of practical idealism close up, will continue into the Obama presidency. If Obama doesn't let them down, they will become an engaged political generation of the sort that we haven't seen in many decades. (p. 197)


amazon.com

Talbott, John. Obamanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-Down Economics (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008)

Former Goldman Sachs investment banker John Talbott provides plenty of quotes from Obama's speeches and policy statements, causing this book to be a rather dry affair. There are so many "Obama will..." sentences that the reader may well be somewhat numbed by the repetition. There is useful information here, though, and the reader's persistence will be rewarded.

As thoroughly as Obama's economic agenda has been explained and accepted, much still depends on the Washington environment outside of his control--both in Congress and on K Street. Talbott mentions this point several times, noting the strength and tenacity of Washington's entrenched interests even in the face of a president with great popular support:

Of all the problems Obama will inherit on day one of his presidency, stopping the special interests will have to be his first priority. (p. 111)

The main problems we face in America today aren't economic or environmental, as great as those problems are. The biggest problem is our having to deal with the character of our politicians in Washington and, mirroring that, the character of Americans everywhere, who must be willing and able to make the hard choices to find the solutions that will overcome the massive challenges before us. (p. 173)

If Obama goes after the special interests, he will be taking on almost all of corporate America, including Wall Street, the healthcare industry, the real estate lobby, and so on, as well as the most powerful political organizations of citizens in the country including our largest labor unions, our teacher unions, the AARP, and the environmental lobby. (p. 200)

Obama's candidacy caused much alarm in certain plutocratic circles; his presidency will, one hopes, continue to do so. If the temple's money-changers are upset, I take that as a sign that Obama is moving in the right direction.

the music

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As much as I appreciated yesterday's oratory, my favorite inaugural moment was perhaps the performance of "Air and Simple Gifts" by a quartet consisting of Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill, and pianist Gabriela Montero. (That instrumentation would have been perfect for Messiaen's "Quatuor pour la fin du temps," but John Williams' reworking of the Shaker song "Simple Gifts" was a far more appropriate piece.)

The clarinet's first statement of the melody (just past the two-minute mark) is simply breathtaking, and the look on Yo-Yo Ma's face is priceless! (In this clip of the performance, CNN's Wolf Blitzer mentions--during the melody, no less--that Obama became president at noon, during the performance.)

The NYT was laudatory about "Air and Simple Gifts," writing that "[b]efitting the occasion, it seemed like music of possibilities, with more to come." The New Yorker was less positive, with Russell Platt opining that Williams has "once more confirmed his place as the best second-rate composer in America." The Washington Post snarked that the music's "four high-powered classical soloists spanned a Benetton range of generational, ethnic and gender bases" and that Williams had "corseted himself in a straitjacket of what he thought he was supposed to be doing" instead of "writ[ing] what he is good at."

It's no "Appalachian Spring," but it's a nice piece...and very appropriate for the occasion.

the speech

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Obama's inaugural speech is now a part of history--as is Rick Warren's invocation, which I found bothersome more for its annoying dullness than its exclusionary evangelism. From reading through the text of Obama's speech after watching it, I note that after his second-sentence nod to Dubya ("I thank President Bush for his service to our nation") it's all about contrasting past failures with present resolve:

Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. [...]

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

...our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed.

After a nicely blunt remark that "We will restore science to its rightful place" and a graceful acknowledgment of non-religious Americans,

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth...

he really hit his stride with this forceful statement of liberal pragmatism:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works...

Another passage at once reaffirmed Franklin's remark about liberty and security while demolishing the Bushevik rationalization for spying and lying:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

In another reference to the Founding era, Obama quoted from Thomas Paine's The American Crisis #1, although he didn't mention Paine's name:

In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

Charles Lemos at MyDD also noted the quote's source, and called The American Crisis "perhaps the second most important piece of political essay writing, because of its immediate impact, in American history:"

It can be said that it saved the Revolution. The only other work of greater importance in the annals of American political essay writing is also from Paine. Common Sense stands apart in the annals of American political essays for the forty-seven page pamphlet published in January 1776 presented the argument for independence from British rule at a time when the question of independence was still undecided.

At Campaign for America's Future, Bill Scher calls Obama's speech "A Liberal Inaugural Address," and observes that:

"Obama starts his presidency on the highest of notes, with stunning approval and public goodwill, on the basis of the liberal vision he continually offered the voters during the campaign, and reiterated with dazzling poetry and sturdy prose today."

Obama's rhetoric may not have been quite as masterful as FDR's or as soaring as JFK's, but it was the right speech for the right time; let us hope that his presidency will be the same.

the oath

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John Roberts' administration of Obama's oath of office was a little rocky, eh? Let's take a look at the Constitutional text

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

and the transcript:

ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
OBAMA: I, Barack...

ROBERTS: ... do solemnly swear...
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ... that I will execute...

ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...

ROBERTS: ... and will to the best of my ability...
OBAMA: ... and will to the best of my ability...

ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.

ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

Roberts' ill-timed pause, Barack's jumping the gun, and the misplaced adverb all combined to make it an awkward moment--although hardly a travesty. The wingnuts have already raised doubts about whether Obama is really the president, but WaPo notes:

Constitutional law experts agree that the flub is insignificant. Yet two previous presidents -- Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur -- repeated the oath privately because of similar issues.

(A video clip is here, and even devotees of Faux News should note that Obama did not conclude by saying "So help me Allah" with his hand on the Qu'ran.) Mark Sherman observes at TPM that Roberts is the first Chief Justice to swear in a President who voted against his confirmation while serving in the Senate.

The American Humanist Association's new ad (press release here and PDF here) highlights Obama's secular humanist upbringing to great effect:

20090121-aha.jpg

44

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No matter how much progress is made during Obama's presidency, it is inevitable that it will also be a disappointment in some ways--as the Rick Warren debacle has already shown. What is already evident, though, is the optimism that the "change" movement is bringing to our political expectations. Strong election turnout was an encouraging sign, as was Obama's openness during the transition process. Remember, though, that the Republican wreckage of the past forty years cannot be cleaned overnight; generations of neglect will require decades--not months or years--of determined effort:

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles."

(Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 4 June 1798)

The restoration of our nation will soon begin, and--like a philharmonic orchestra of 300 million people--each of us has a part to play. One hopes the promise of this transformational moment will not be lost, because it may not appear again in our lifetimes.


For purposes of comparison to Obama's speech, here are selections from two of the twentieth century's greatest speeches:

"...the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, they have tried. But their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves, to our fellow men."

(FDR's 1933 inaugural speech)


"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

(JFK's 1961 inaugural speech)

the end of an error

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Our long national nightmare is finally over as the end of Bush's presidency comes with a lowest-ever approval rating of 22%, quite appropriate for the worst president ever. After Bush's 2000 (s)election by the Supreme Court, he took office under a cloud of lies about the outgoing Clinton administration (check out Salon's piece on "The White House vandalism that wasn't") and is retreating to Texas while a similarly artificial media myth about the cost of Obama's inauguration (see Eric Boehlert's MediaMatters piece) makes headlines.

Sadly, No! has a nice rundown of Bush's infamous flightsuit fantasy and the PR-ready "Mission Accomplished" banner, while ThinkProgress lists "The 43 Appointees Who Made Bush the Worst President Ever." The SF Chronicle hits the low-lights in "A disastrous eight years," as does the Economist piece "The frat boy ships out." For more overviews, check out "Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House" (Vanity Fair) and "EPIC FAIL" (Progressive Blog Digest).

Scott Horton's Harper's piece "An Epitaph for the Bush Years" wonders "What is the message to be carved over this massive cesspool of a failed presidency?"

I turn to Augustine, the early church father whose writings represent the first effort by a Christian theologian to come to grips with the duties of civil governance. "If it does not do justice," he writes in the City of God, "what is the government but a great criminal enterprise?" That fits the Bush Administration perfectly, for it shows its key failing and it serves as admonishment to the government that follows him. [emphasis added]

This morning, I turned the last page on my "George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown" calendar to read this gem:

"I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'What did he say?'"

The countdown clock has now ticked down to zero...and there was much rejoicing:

20090120-bushslastday.jpg

Paul Krugman and Glenn Greenwald agree on the necessity of investigating and prosecuting the torturing Bushies. (After all, torture is still a war crime.) Krugman takes issue with Obma's recent assertion "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards" and concludes:

...while it's probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he's going to swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." That's not a conditional oath to be honored only when it's convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that's not a decision he has the right to make.

Greenwald provides plenty of prosecutory ammunition en route to his conclusion:

The Bush administration authorized, ordered and practiced torture. The U.S., under Ronald Reagan, legally obligated itself to investigate and prosecute any acts of torture committed by Americans (which includes authorization of torture by high level officials and also includes, under Article 3 of the Convention, acts of "rendering" detainees to countries likely to torture, as the Bush administration unquestionably did).

[...]

International treaties which the U.S. signs and ratifies aren't cute little left-wing platitudes for tying the hands of America. They're binding law according to the explicit mandates of Article VI of our Constitution. Thus, there simply is no way to (a) argue against investigations and prosecutions for Bush officials and simultaneously (b) claim with a straight face to believe in the rule of law, that no one is above the law, and that the U.S. should adhere to the same rules and values it attempts to impose on the rest of the world.


Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson (you know, the gay one) gave the invocation at Obama's pre-inaugural "We Are One" concert in DC last night. The concert was broadcast (for free) on HBO, but--for some reason--Robinson's invocation was trimmed from the beginning of the ceremonies.

A video of Robinson's invocation--shot from the audience--is here, and a transcript is here. The Union Leader (h/t: Steve Benen at Washington Monthly) writes that Robinson's inclusive invocation was a deliberate response to the "aggressively Christian" previous invocations:

"All I could think about when I read them was, 'My goodness, what does a Jew think hearing this? What does a Muslim think? What does a Sikh or a Hindu think?' Having been not included, as a gay man, in so many instances, the last thing I want to do is exclude any American from this."

Michael Jensen writes at After Elton that HBO is blaming the Presidential Inauguration Committee for the omission, although how that explains the absence of screen credit for the DC Gay Men's Chorus remains unclear.

Does anyone think that Rick Warren's invocation tomorrow will be similarly excised from history?

Yeah, I thought not.

Dubya has declared today "National Sanctity of Human Life Day," and I have some juxtapositions to offer between Bush's words and the consequences of his policies:

20090118-feces.jpg
"our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being"

20090118-floor.jpg
"heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us."

20090118-blood.jpg
"we must never abandon our fundamental morals"

20090118-dead.jpg
"we aspire to build a society in which every [person] is welcome in life and protected in law"

Two days and 12 hours left...


update (10:32am):
Over at Atheist Revolution, vjack takes a rationalist look at Bush's hypocrisy regarding his 'pro-life" policies, and expresses hope that his administration's high crimes will be met with justice.

Speaking of Peanuts, the NYT piece "Listening to Schroeder" (h/t: Russell Platt at The New Yorker) looks at the pint-sized pianist and notes that "musicologists and art curators have learned that there was much more than a punch line to Charles Schulz's invocation of Beethoven's music:"

"If you don't read music and you can't identify the music in the strips, then you lose out on some of the meaning," said William Meredith, the director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed "Peanuts" strips.

When Schroeder pounded on his piano, his eyes clenched in a trance, the notes floating above his head were no random ink spots dropped into the key of G. Schulz carefully chose each snatch of music he drew and transcribed the notes from the score. More than an illustration, the music was a soundtrack to the strip, introducing the characters' state of emotion, prompting one of them to ask a question or punctuating an interaction.

"The music is a character in the strip as much as the people are, because the music sets the tone," Mr. Meredith said. To understand what gave Schroeder chills, he said, you have to listen to the musical passage. "When you actually hear the symphony, the whole thing feels completely different."

If I were in San Jose, I would so be at the Schulz Museum's exhibit.


update (1/18 @ 11:05pm):
I didn't feel quite right writing about an artist without showing some of his work, so--from the slideshow accompanying the article--here's Schroeder working out in preparation to play Beethoven's notoriously difficult Piano Sonata #29, The Hammerklavier:


20090118-hammerklavier.jpg

Joel Stein at the LA Times has written an op-ed that is, to put it bluntly, as close to being complete bullshit as anything I've ever seen. "Nut allergies -- a Yuppie invention" may just qualify as the dumbest assertion I've read in years, along with the subtitle's claim that "Some kids really do have food allergies. But most just have bad reactions to their parents' mass hysteria."

"Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special."

How exactly do all those trips to pediatricians, allergists, and pharmacies satisfy parents' need for an "special" life? That's a very peculiar type of "mass hysteria."

"Yes, a tiny number of kids have severe peanut allergies that cause anaphylactic shock..."

Allergies can be severe without causing anaphylactic shock. Other allergic symptoms--eczema, rashes, hives, vomiting, breathing problems--are serious enough by themselves.

"genes don't mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007. And genes certainly don't cause 25% of parents to believe that their kids have food allergies, when 4% do. Yuppiedom does." [...] "peanut allergies are only an issue in rich, lefty communities"

This issue doesn't have anything to do with liberals or yuppies, you dolt. Have you ever considered that other causes are possible--such as antibiotic use, early exposure to allergens, and other factors? (Environmental issues may be involved, which should have occurred to you after mentioning places as diverse as Ecuador, Guatemala, Britain, and Israel.)

"British kids were 10 times more likely to have peanut allergies than Israelis. That's probably because Israeli kids have other things to be afraid of."

Hmmm...so if Osama bin Laden obtained a nuclear bomb, then fewer American kids would have allergic reactions? It's an interesting hypothesis, and one that makes me glad you're not an epidemiologist. Or a pediatrician. Or a newspaper columnist. (Oops.)

"Parents may think they are doing their kids a favor by testing them and being hyper-vigilant about monitoring what they eat, but it's not cool to freak kids out."

It's also not cool to send a kid into the school cafeteria without the knowledge that sharing a friend's PB&J sandwich may cause wheezing, gasping for air, and a trip to the nurse's office...or an ambulance ride to the ER.

Mr Stein did write one unimpeachable sentence in his piece:

"opinion columnists believe in saying something outrageous to get attention."

At that, he succeeded; I'm outraged. (I'm also beginning to suspect that newspapers are in such bad economic shape because they'll apparently hire anyone who can bang out a few hundred words on a subject, regardless of accuracy.)

I've been memed!

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Ron Britton at Bay of Fundie tagged me with a meme, and I decided to play along. Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people.
5. Inform the tagees and the person who tagged you.

I'm not accustomed to writing about myself, but here goes:

1). I used to be a big-L Libertarian, after having read way too much Ayn Rand and way too little of everything else. Thankfully, I outgrew that phase before I became too much of an insufferable snot. As usually happens as people grow older, I'm now (much) more liberal than I used to be, and deeply skeptical about grand ideologies that don't map well to reality.

2). Many years ago, I helped a few friends move a car that had been parked in a place it wasn't supposed to be. We dragged it halfway up onto the sidewalk and left it wedged (with an inch or two to spare at each bumper) between two parking meters. I suspect that the driver has since paid much closer attention to "no parking" signs.

3). Although I'm an atheist/rationalist/humanist/freethinker who is *really* low on woo, the idea of reincarnation still resonates with me. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was always one of my favorite books--even before I understood the Buddhist parallels--and the Indigo Girls song "Galileo" gives me goosebumps. Every time. (This is actually rather common for me--some music has worn deep groves in my psyche.)

Speaking of woo, The Dancing Wu Li Masters and The Tao of Physics really made me head spin when I started getting interested in physics. Then, thanks to higher-quality scientific writers (John Gribbin, Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan), I found out that real physics is even more fascinating.

4). The late jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson led me into a deep appreciation of jazz, and turned me into a junkie--for the hard-bop era in particular. I used to play trumpet, and--when I get the chance, which is almost never these days--I'll put on some Miles Davis, stick in the Harmon mute, and play along. (I never had the fingers or the chops to handle charts like Maynard's "Give It One.")

5). I'm not a confrontational person, but I once intervened when a stadium rent-a-cop was roughing up an acquaintance of mine. When I stepped between them to break it up, the Barney-Fife-with-a-Napoleon-complex threatened to rip my arm off and shove it down my throat. I responded that if he tried it, I'd rip off his little dick and shove it up his ass.

It was all downhill from there.

6). Puns, riddles, and wordplay fascinate me, and I'm forever dropping them into conversations in hope of garnering a chuckle (or a groan). Here are two of my most recent ones:

Q: What do you call the feeling of longing when an avid video gamer is away from the gaming console?
A: Wiithdrawl

Q: What was the largest injection-molded plastic model airplane ever built?
A: The Sprue Goose

Thank you very much, I'll be here all week. Try your waitress, and don't forget to tip the veal!

In order to share the misery fun, I've tagged the next six victims participants:

Leslie Hawes (Leslie's Blog)
Dale McGowan (Parenting Beyond Belief)
Valerie D'Orazio (Occasional Superheroine)
S (Explicitus Est Liber)
Buffy (Gaytheist Agenda)
Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist)

outtakes

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If you liked yesterday's video clip, here are some "behind the scenes" outtakes:

Behind the Scenes 1
Behind the Scenes 2
Behind the Scenes 3

f***ing awesome

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This condom advertisement is one of the best ads I've ever seen:

The mashup of Google Maps and donations made to California's Prop H8 has really twisted some people's knickers. One of Andrew Sullivan's commenters whined about being publicly exposed as a bigot to his employees:

There is no call for conversation, dialogue, discussion, debate. Just an implied threat: support stuff like this and have your name posted in the town square for all to see.

This is all about publicly shaming, through the posting of names, folks who supported objectionable public policy.

Sullivan's response:

Cry me a river. You can only shame people if they feel ashamed. And, frankly, if you have chosen to strip civil rights from some of your employees, why should you be able to protect yourself from the consequences? Your employees weren't protected from the consequences of your decision. You helped force them into legal divorce - and you're the victim here?

torturous

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[Note: This post may appear somewhat disjointed, as I am responding to a series of comments made about this previous post without reproducing the comments themselves (at the request of the commenter). As this blog is a research and writing project, I refuse to spend time on an exchange of this nature without making that work accessible.]

Fox News is certainly no "Anti Christ," but has earned the "faux" nickname due to their persistent conservative bias. Fox is far more biased than any other network...so much so that it's difficult to keep up with the sheer volume of their spin-jobs and misrepresentations, which (by coincidence?) always favor GOP talking points. (See the FAIR study "The Most Biased Name in News" or my two pieces discussing other studies of Fox's media misinformation campaigns here and here.)

Even in the face of Bushism, I have never called conservatives "inherently evil" and would not do so. My use of Bushevik to describe the Bush dead-enders is meant to denote their authoritarian leanings, reliance on propaganda, and disdain for dissent.

I will note yet again that Obama does not advocate socialism. The conservative Human Events asked some actual socialists about Obama, and here are some of their responses:

Greg Pason, National Secretary of the Socialist Party USA: "Barack Obama's programs are not socialist."

F.N. Brill, National Secretary of the World Socialist Party (US): "Obama is as much a socialist as the Pope is an atheist."

David Schaich, Socialist Party Campaign Clearinghouse Coordinator: "The idea that Barack Obama is socialist, or quasi-socialist, or semi-socialist, or socialist-light, or anything of the sort, is far-right nonsense."

On the issue of torture, I have three objections--pragmatic, legal, and moral. The first merely points out that--aside from making some people feel good about taking "action"--torture is not effective for its alleged purpose of obtaining information. Some of the torture methods used are so horrific that the victims will say anything to make it stop (e.g., waterboarding, which isn't "swallowing a little too much water," but rather drowning someone as completely as possible without actually killing him). The US Army Intelligence and Interrogation Handbook recognizes the non-Hollywood reality of torture:

Use of torture and other illegal methods is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear. Revelation of use of torture by US personnel will being discredit upon the US and its armed forces while undermining domestic and international support for the war effort. It also may place US and allied personnel in enemy hands at a greater risk of abuse by their captors. (p. 9-10)

An article in today's Washington Post observes that, because of torture, at least one Gitmo detainee will not face trial:

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.

Legally, Bush's torture is also on shaky ground. In commenting on 18 USC 2340 (the US definition of torture), the DOJ mentioned its national and international legal context:

Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms. This universal repudiation of torture is reflected in our criminal law, for example, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A; international agreements, exemplified by the United Nations Convention Against Torture (the "CAT") ; customary international law ; centuries of Anglo-American law ; and the longstanding policy of the United States...

(Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch have additional information.)

My moral objection to torture is a simple rule of thumb: I wouldn't want someone who is accused of terrorism (and, once again, we are talking about alleged crimes, not proven ones) to be treated any worse than I would want my mother (substitute the loved one of your choice) treated were she to be similarly accused. (This applies equally well to such concepts as being innocent until proven guilty, the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, habeas corpus, and the right to a jury trial--which are the foundations of our justice system.)

In the aftermath of World War II, we tried a Japanese officer for the offense of waterboarding--and he received a 15-year sentence. How far we have fallen that we no longer recognize torture for what it is--a barbaric practice that should never permitted, let alone commanded. Torture isn't something "we gotta do in order to protect our freedom"--it's something we must never do, in order to protect our humanity.

As far as your attempt to equate torture with abortion, you might have a point if the government were forcing abortions upon unwilling women; absent that, the parallel is nonexistent. Also, your scare quotes around the word rights in the phrase reproductive rights suggest to me that you may believe it to be simply a euphemism for abortion. Some people may use it as such, but I do not; the area of reproductive rights covers a broad constellation of privacy rights that manifest themselves in the area of reproduction, going back to the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision, (FindLaw and Wikipedia) which eliminated state prohibition of contraceptives. Wikipedia has a decent summary of reproductive rights here,

Reproductive rights may include some or all of the following rights: the right to legal or safe abortion, the right to control one's reproductive functions, the right to access quality reproductive healthcare, and the right to education and access in order to make reproductive choices free from coercion, discrimination, and violence. Reproductive rights may also be understood to include education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, and freedom from coerced sterilization and contraception, protection from gender-based practices such as female genital cutting (FGC) and male genital mutilation (MGM).

and the UN Population Fund defines reproductive rights this way:

• Reproductive health as a component of overall health, throughout the life cycle, for both men and women
• Reproductive decision-making, including voluntary choice in marriage, family formation and determination of the number, timing and spacing of one's children and the right to have access to the information and means needed to exercise voluntary choice
• Equality and equity for men and women, to enable individuals to make free and informed choices in all spheres of life, free from discrimination based on gender
• Sexual and reproductive security, including freedom from sexual violence and coercion, and the right to privacy.

You are free, of course, to decry any of these individual rights--but we part company over the propriety of government's intrusion into private matters and use of force to compel women to limit their choices to those that others find acceptable.

Where do I find the time to write my "rantings"? I don't waste time watching Fox, for starters.

Less snarkily, I believe in the importance of education, both formal and self-directed; the Socratic recognition of how much I don't know continually motivates me to learn more. Being a passive consumer of and believer in the status quo mythology is an intellectually stunting prospect, analogous to those who prefer to remain in Plato's Cave.

If you feel my writings on Bush are "tiresome," imagine my relief at not being faced with the continuation of his miserable failures for another term. There are many more subjects about which I would rather write, as will gradually become evident as the wreckage of his legacy is cleared away.

In news that's all over the blogosphere tonight, Windy City Times (PDF is here) is reporting that Obama supported same-sex marriage during his 1996 run for the Illinois state senate:

"I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." (A scanned image of the questionnaire signed by Obama is here.)

Whether for religious or political reasons, I'm disappointed at how his position has regressed to a separate-but-unequal "civil union" stance.

One of my infamous-in-his-anonymity coworkers asked me this:

"What do you think of your boy Obama smoking in the White House?"

My first response was to observe that only Obama's late parents (and other relatives) had the right to refer to him as a "boy," as that is a word with racist overtones when applied to an African-American adult; my second was that I thought Obama had quit smoking.

As it turns out, he may still be struggling with tobacco. The LA Times has a transcript of a December MSNBC interview in which Obama has this exchange with Tom Brokaw:

MR. BROKAW: Finally, Mr. President-elect, the White House is a no-smoking zone, and when you were asked about this recently by Barbara Walters, I read it very carefully, you ducked.

Have you stopped smoking?

PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: You know, I have, but what I said was that, you know, there are times where I've fallen off the wagon. Well...

MR. BROKAW: Well, wait a minute.

PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: ...what can I tell...

MR. BROKAW: Then that means you haven't stopped.

PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, the--fair enough. What I would say is, is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier, and I think that you will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.

After finding this, a third response struck me: amazement. Is a month-old interview question about such a relatively trivial matter really the sort of thing that gets Republicans all worked up? Are we going to spend the entire Obama administration hearing rumors of contraband smokes in the Oval Office?

Where was this level of attention and concern for minutiae during the past eight years, when something other than blind loyalty might have prevented some major catastrophes?

Bush legacy project

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The "Bush legacy project" revealed by The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes

...there's an ongoing Bush legacy project that's been meeting in the White House, really, with senior advisers, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes has been involved, current senior Bush administration advisers and they are looking at how to sort of roll out the President's legacy.

is now in full swing. The White House's whitewash efforts include a page on "The Bush Record" that links to "Highlights of Accomplishments and Results" (16MB PDF) and "100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record" (300KB PDF, an expanded version of the final section of the previous document). Alexander Dresner writes at HuffPo about these documents:

To understand the full measure of this document as a reminder of President Bush's failures, I encourage you to visit the White House website and take a look. Above all, this document shows that though President Bush may be eager to get an early start in shaping his legacy, his attempts to do so have, so far, been marred by the same level of incompetence that has come to define his Administration these past eight years.

Over at Daily Kos, occams hatchet observes snarkily that attempts to rehabilitate Bush's record are as inane as claims that the 0-16 Detroit Lions actually had a perfect season en route to the Super Bowl.

Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson--the first out gay priest ordained by a mainstream denomination--will be delivering an invocation at an inaugural concert on Sunday at the first event attended by Obama. (Its location at the Lincoln Memorial is a nice touch.)

It doesn't make up for the selection of Rick Warren, but it's something...and I don't think there's any doubt that the LGBT outcry over Warren and Prop H8 made this happen.

links:
Human Rights Campaign announcement
NYT article

amazon.com

Griffin, Farah Jasmine & Salim Washington. Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2008)

In Clawing at the Limits of Cool, Griffin and Washington have chosen a different tactic than most music writers: rather than writing about a particular person or style or record label--although each of those books has its place--they examine the unequalled collaboration of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. There are some wonderful bits of music trivia in this book, such as this passage:

On that recording ["Straight, No Chaser" from Milestones], Red Garland's solo pays tribute to Miles's earlier efforts on the F blues. He replays Miles's entire solo from "Now's the Time" at the end of his own improvisation, voicing the trumpeter's lines in block chords. (p. 65)

There is the occasional rhetorical overstatement, however, as when the authors overlook Dizzy in this passage:

Miles is the first jazz star to enter the ranks of those who are consistently recognized by a single name the way that contemporary stars, especially pop stars, are occasionally honored: Madonna, Janet, Tupac, even Wynton. Pops, Lady, Prez, Sassy, Fatha, Hawk, Duke, and Count are all honorifics. (p. 223)

Ryan Williams' review at PopMatters identifies a more serious issue:

Though Griffin and Washington's close reading of the recorded output of the Davis/Coltrane bands is often nuanced and insightful, there's not really a great deal of room for them to add much of significance to the already-rich critical discourse on the music of Davis and Coltrane. Instead, the greatest strength of their book comes in their perceptive analysis of the cultural meanings of the public images projected by both musicians. [...] Miles Davis and John Coltrane not only created great music, but also taught the world how to listen.

Considering that facet of their collaboration reminds us why their every note is still listened to, both rapturously and cerebrally, decades later. Clawing at the Limits of Cool is a good read, but probably not for the general reader. (The publisher's page has more information, as well as an excerpt from the book.)

torturer-in-chief

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During an interview on Faux News--where else?--today, Bush admitted to ordering the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Crooks and Liars provides a video clip wherein Bush states:

My view is the ["enhanced interrogation"] techniques were necessary and are necessary...I firmly reject the word "torture."

That's the difference between the Busheviks and the rest of us: they reject the word torture, while we reject torture itself. ThinkProgress notes that Bush signed off on the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

I'm in the Oval Office and I am told that we have captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the professionals believe he has information necessary to secure the country. So I ask what tools are available for us to find information from him and they gave me a list of tools...

Bush renewed his claim that KSM "gave us information," but the facts are--once again--opposed to Bush's opinions. David Rose reported in Vanity Fair last month:

As for K.S.M. himself, who (as Jane Mayer writes) was waterboarded, reportedly hung for hours on end from his wrists, beaten, and subjected to other agonies for weeks, Bush said he provided "many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans." K.S.M. was certainly knowledgeable. It would be surprising if he gave up nothing of value. But according to a former senior C.I.A. official, who read all the interrogation reports on K.S.M., "90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit." A former Pentagon analyst adds: "K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were." [emphasis added]

Speaking of torture, Fox's right-wing series 24 returns to the air tonight. Perhaps there's a chance of Bush making a guest appearance or two?


update (10:51pm):
Speaking--yet again--of torture, today is the seventh anniversary of Bush's extralegal imprisonments at Guantanamo. I urge everyone to visit the ACLU's "Close Gitmo" website and sign the open letter to president-elect Obama:

I was deeply moved by your recent affirmation that you will close the Guantánamo detention facilities and shut down the military commissions, which have been a stain on America here, at home and abroad.

Nothing would make me prouder than to see you act on your first day in office to restore America's moral leadership in the world.

With one stroke of your pen, you can close Guantánamo Bay prison, shut down military commissions, and ban torture.

The Bush administration created a prison camp at Guantánamo - a place where they claimed the law didn't apply. They detained hundreds of men without charge or trial, authorized torture, and prosecuted some prisoners in military commissions that violate our Constitution and international law.

We can't let the system of injustice George W. Bush put in place stand - not for a single day.

I want you to know that I will support your leadership on this vitally important issue in every possible way. And I will stand by you every step of the way to resist those calling for you to "go slow" or "wait for the right time" to act in defense of American freedom.

Part of Matt Taibbi's parting shot at the Bush administration has been posted over at Rolling Stone, the cover story "Bush Apologizes: The Farewell Interview We Wish He'd Give."

20090108-bushapologizes.jpg

I would have bought RS just for Taibbi's piece even if it hadn't been followed by Paul Krugman's article giving advice to the incoming Obama administration. Here's a taste of the whiny, self-pitying Dubya that Taibbi delivers:

I was here when my dad was president. Those old guys like Dick managed to do all the work back then without fucking absolutely everything up. I figured Dick would do the paperwork, and I would kiss the occasional baby and throw out the first ball at Camden Yards once a year. Instead, I'm, like, up to my eyes in bodies here. Dick was this quiet accountant type in my dad's administration, but for me he's been a cross between Ted Bundy and Rommel. Thanks to him, I can't even take a walk on the Liberty University quad without people throwing shit at me. (p. 41)

Salon's "W. and the Damage Done" mentions some of the wreckage that Dubya and his cronies are leaving behind: the economy, infrastructure, Iraq, human rights, Hurricane Katrina, health care, and climate--but let's go back to Taibbi's closing:

I do have one more thing to say.

What's that?

I'm sorry?

You're sorry? For what?

[Sighs.] I, uh...you know, I remember back in 1989, I was thinking about buying a couple of Sizzler franchises in Lubbock.

You should have done it.

And I told my dad what I was thinking, and you know what he said?

No. What?

He said, "Good idea, son. It's hard to fuck up steak."

We get it. Your father was a dick. So what? Buy a puppy or something. That's what everyone else does.

Yeah. [A single tear rolls down his cheek.] I guess I fucked up, huh?

Big-time. Can we have the world back now?

Sure, I guess. I really am sorry.

Gotta run. Later.

[Whimpering.] I'm sorry. I'm sorry. (p. 43)

Bush could spend the rest of his life apologizing, and it still wouldn't be enough.

Only 10 days and 2 hours left.

A ClimateProgress post on "Anti-Science Syndrome" is a welcome humorous respite from the normally levity-free discussions of climate change:

Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS)

In this post I'm going to present the general diagnosis for "anti-science syndrome" (ASS). Like most syndromes, ASS is a collection of symptoms that individually may not be serious, but taken together can be quite dangerous -- at least it can be dangerous to the health and well-being of humanity if enough people actually believe the victims. [...]

If you suspect someone of ASS, look for the repeated use of the following phrases:

• Medieval Warm Period
• Hockey Stick
• Michael Mann
• The climate is always changing
• Alarmist
• Hoax
• Temperature rises precede rises in carbon dioxide
• Pacific Decadal Oscillation
• Water vapor
• Sunspots
• Cosmic rays
• Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark
• Ice Age was predicted in the 1970s
• Global cooling

[...]

When someone repeats virtually all of those phrases, along with multiple references to Al Gore, they are wholly a victim of ASS -- in scientific circles they are referred to as ASS-wholes.

I recognize those symptoms, and have dealt with my share of ASS victims.


update (11:55pm):
Look...here's one now, although his ignorance takes him far afield from Al Gore and alarmism. He begins by criticizing another commenter whose response to this letter paralleled mine:

Only liberals are allowed to express their ideas

[...] Obviously, he is a left-wing liberal because they believe the right to free speech is for them alone and any views contrary to theirs should be silenced.

That is the reason only liberals, and even radicals, are welcomed to express their ideas at universities while conservatives are not, and when given the opportunity, they are shouted down and vilified.

This is why liberals want to curtail conservative radio talk programs by way of the so called "fairness doctrine."

He no doubt considers the self-anointed global warming scientist, Al Gore, as a real authority, despite the fact that his only claim to fame is his "science fiction" documentary on the subject which included among his fantasy predictions that ocean levels will rise by two feet, something that even global warming alarmist do not claim.

[name and address redacted]

On second thought, maybe he's less an ASS victim than an example of fractal wrongness. It's not easy to achieve an error-to-sentence ratio greater than 1, but this writer did it--I counted more than 5 errors in 4 sentences:

1). Liberals believe in free speech for everyone; check out the ACLU for examples.

2). The "liberal/radical academia" myth has as little factual support as as the "liberal media" one.

3). Although the (accurately named) Fairness Doctrine would help to level the tilted-toward-conservatism media playing field, I haven't seen any liberals eager to reinstate it.

4). An Inconvenient Truth is a documentary, not science fiction.

5). Two feet isn't a fantasy, it's a best-case scenario; current estimates put the rise at up to two meters by century's end.

(Note that the closer you look, the more the complaint falls apart: Gore considering himself a scientist, his only "claim to fame" is his film, etc...)

What an ASS.

Speaking of right-wing inaccuracies, FactCheck's debunking of (yet another) GOP hoax email
is a good read--particularly if you're regularly on the receiving end of this sort of ideologically slanted screed. Here's a snippet:

Some unreported stats about the 2008 election

Professor Joseph Olson of Hemline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the 2008 Presidential election:

-Number of States won by: Democrats: 20; Republicans: 30

-Square miles of land won by: Democrats: 580,000; Republicans: 2,427,000

-Population of counties won by: Democrats: 127 million; Republicans: 143 million

-Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by: Democrats: 13.2; Republicans: 2.1

As is to be expected, Professor Olson didn't write the email--and all of the "interesting facts" are false. As FactCheck notes, this email is actually a retread of a 2000 Bush/Gore piece--and it was no more accurate eight years ago:

A new version went around for a time after the 2004 election, and whoever wrote the 2008 version of the e-mail didn't even bother to make up new "stats," but simply substituted the words "Democrats" and "Republicans" where the names "Gore" and "Bush" had appeared.

I'm sure it'll be circulating throughout the red states' dial-up lines for at least the next four years.

I would ordinarily be ignoring Ann Coulter and her latest ravings right about now--in agreement with The Rude Pundit--but Coulter responded to Media Matters' criticism (which I mentioned here) of her latest book; Media Matters rebutted her claims here.

Coulter wrote, in part, "I'll let readers decide who's right."

Just as in her previous book, I'd be willing to bet that it isn't her.

20090108-outliers.jpg

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success (New York: Little, Brown, 2008)

Malcolm (Tipping Point, Blink) Gladwell tells the stories of many exceptionally successful people, the "outliers" of his title, in an engaging fashion. On the nature-vs-nurture questions, Gladwell is firmly in the nurture camp--with a strong social and cultural emphasis. He turns up many interesting examples: hockey stars' tendency to be born in the early months of the year, Southerners' emphasis on "honor" that leads to a violence-filled culture, the Korean deference to authority (Hofstede's "Power Distance Index," or PDI) that led to airliner crashes--even aspects of his own Jamaican heritage. As he summarizes near the end of the book, "Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course:"

It is not the brightest who succeed. [...] Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities--and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. (p. 267)

Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky--but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all. (p. 285)

Amid all the tales, I found the "10,000 hour rule" to be most interesting:

"The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert--in anything," writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. [...] "It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery." (p. 40, referring to the work of K. Anders Ericsson, an excerpt from which is here)

This dovetails with something I remembered about Wynton Marsalis:

"Once I got to eighth grade, I was practicing my horn at least four hours, sometimes six, every day. My father told me, if you want to be good and separate yourself from other musicians you have to be willing to do what they don't want to do. A lot might practice one or so hours, but almost none four or five." (Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life, p. 128)

As much as circumstances may align in one's favor, those ten thousand hours are still hard work--and cannot be avoided. Gladwell has been criticized for his methodology (see Dalton Conley in American Prospect, Isaac Chotiner at TNR,
and David Wallace-Wells at Washington Monthly) but this book is nonetheless informative as well as enjoyable.

links:
Malcolm Gladwell (website, Wikipedia)
Geoff Colvin's article "What It Takes to Be Great"
Colvin's book Talent Is Overrated

I have to retract some of the positive comments I made about Rick Warren's AIDS-prevention efforts in Africa. Max Blumenthal writes about "Rick Warren's Africa Problem" at The Daily Beast (h/t: Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin) and observes that "an investigation into Warren's involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education:"

More disturbingly, Warren's allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent's most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. [...] Warren's man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. [...] Ssempa's stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.

At Makerere University in Kampala:

Ssempa stormed on to campus...grabbed a box of free condoms, and set them ablaze. "I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!" Ssempa shouted as he prayed over the burning box.

Abstinence-only education is a proven failure, but this anti-gay (and anti-sex) ideology isn't value-neutral--by promulgating misinformation, people's lives are being endangered:

By 2005, billboards promoting condom use disappeared from the streets of Kampala, replaced by billboards promoting virginity...educational material in Uganda's secondary schools falsely claiming condoms had microscopic pores that could be penetrated by the HIV virus and noted the sudden nationwide shortage of condoms due to new restrictions imposed by on condom imports. [...] Due at least in part to the chronic condom shortage, HIV infections were on the rise again. The disease rate had spiked to 6.5 percent among rural men, and 8.8 percent among women--a rise of nearly two points in the case of women.

Will the rest of Warren's allegedly laudable programs be revealed to have similar hidden downsides, or are his AIDS efforts an aberration?

The WSJ's "Funny Business in Minnesota" advances several claims of irregularities in the Franken/Coleman contest, which are soundly answered in Nate Silver's fisking at 538. Silver notes that the WSJ editorial "has several basic facts wrong, makes several other assertions based on flimsy or nonexistent evidence, and generally has little understanding of the process that has taken place to date." Especially nice was his response to the Journal's claim that Coleman will "be at a disadvantage given that courts are understandably reluctant to overrule a certified outcome:"

He'll be at a disadvantage because fewer people voted for him.

Priscilla notes at NewsHounds that Bill O'Reilly has cited the evidence-free WSJ article, noting an important WSJ/FNC commonality:

The Republicans desperately, I mean desperately, want Republican Norm Coleman to maintain his senate seat. So much so that two Murdoch media outlets, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal (along with the usual rightwing, big, fat media mouthpieces), are promoting the meme that the Minnesota Board of Canvassers acted inappropriately during the recount of votes. [...]

The article in the WSJ did not produce any evidence of this so called cheating other than what Norm Coleman's team is saying. Neither O'Reilly nor the WSJ mentioned that the canvassing board is politically bi-partisan. But poor Bill-o is needs the propaganda to convince his viewers and himself that, if Franken is eventually seated (and it looks likely), that it was done dishonestly; and as such, Franken's title of senator is tainted.

Here's some terrorism you probably won't hear on talk shows or see on the evening news--because of who is being targeted. An anti-gay terrorist has threatened Seattle-area gay bars with a ricin attack (h/t: FreeState at DU):

Eleven gay bars in Seattle were sent letters Tuesday threatening ricin attacks -- in what some are describing as a hate crime.

The anonymous letters say, "I have in my possession approximately 67 grams of ricin with which I will indiscriminately target at least five of your clients. ... I expect them to die painfully while in hospital."

A 12th letter was sent to the alternative weekly The Stranger, according to its Web site.

That letter says the paper should be "prepared to announce the deaths of approximately 55 individuals."

(See here and here for other examples of domestic terrorism.)

Bush's legacy

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American Prospect examines Bush's legacy at the federal level, and effectively concludes that there's not enough lipstick to cover his plutocratic piggishness. It's all here--fake statistics, junk science, cronyism, privatization, commingling church and state, corporatism--the whole sad legacy of Bushism.

At The Guardian, Cliff Schecter writes about "George Bush's Legacy of Failure" and points out its silver lining:

There is really only one arguable legacy of Bush's White House tenure that is a step forward for the US and all mankind. It's called President Obama.

...Ann Coulter is responsible for yet another error-ridden anti-liberal screed.

It will probably be a best-seller anyway.

Sigh.

Iraqi illegality?

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Bruce Ackerman co-wrote this piece at AlterNet, pointing out that Iraq War II has been illegal since the beginning of the year:

The Bush administration's infatuation with presidential power has finally pushed the country over a constitutional precipice. As of New Year's Day, ongoing combat in Iraq is illegal under US law. In authorizing an invasion in 2002, Congress did not give President Bush a blank check. It explicitly limited the use of force to two purposes: to "defend the national security of the US from the threat posed by Iraq" and "enforce all relevant UN Security Council resolutions."

Five years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the government of Iraq no longer poses a threat. Our continuing intervention has been based on the second clause of Congress' grant of war-making power. Coalition troops have been acting under a series of Security Council resolutions authorizing the continuing occupation of Iraq. But this year, Bush allowed the UN mandate to expire on December 31 without requesting a renewal. At precisely one second after midnight, Congress' authorization of the war expired along with this mandate.

Although the immediate withdrawal of our troops may seem to be the clean-slate option for an incoming administration alleged by some to be radical, Ackerman suggests that "President Obama should submit the Bush-Maliki agreement to Congress on January 20 and urge its speedy approval:"

This request is likely to win broad bipartisan support. Rapid congressional ratification will not only fill the legal vacuum threatening the constitutional integrity of our military operations in Iraq. Together with the closing of Guantanamo, it will show that Obama is serious about reining in the worst presidentialist abuses of the Bush years.

This WaPo article is flat-out hilarious:

To some staunch conservatives watching President Bush relinquish the reins of power to President-elect Barack Obama, a few too many ardent liberals are now crashing the gates.

Waaaaaahh!

That's what happens when you lose elections.

Conservatives fear that some of these Obama transition advisers are too far left on the political spectrum and are a sign of radical policies to come.

Of course, conservatives are filled with fear; the real problem for them is that the rest of us are no longer scared of their bogeymen.

"It is disturbing," said Roger Clegg, a conservative opponent of Lee's appointment who is now watching the Obama advisers at the Justice Department. "The transition team as described to me was made up of nothing but people on the far left.

Obama's Justice Department should scare the Bushies--not because it will be "on the far left," but because of the possibility that it will live up to its name. After all the war crimes (habeas corpus violations, military tribunals, extraordinary rendition, torture, and murder) and domestic high crimes (warrantless wiretaps, Patriot Act violations of the Bill of Rights, and who-knows-what-else hidden within Cheney's sulfurous cloud of secrecy) , the Busheviks must answer for much...preferably under oath.

There's plenty of sarcasm from Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, and Chris Bowers at OpenLeft gets in a good shot:

Really? There are some "staunch" conservatives who think Obama might be too much of a liberal? What was the Washington Post's first clue? Was it when McCain called Obama a terrorist and a socialist? Was it the vicious, rabid anti-Obama crowds at McCain rallies? Are the continuing claims that Obama isn't an American citizen, and is instead some form of Islamofascist Manchurian candidate, a clue that "some staunch conservatives" don't like Obama?

Josh Marshall at TPM nails it:

Republicans now accusing Obama of palling around with Democrats.

[fixed typos]

Barry Ritholtz asks "Who Are the Most Influential Liberal Thinkers?"

I would eagerly second many of the suggestions already made in the comments:

Eric Alterman
Noam Chomsky
Glenn Greenwald
Naomi Klein
Robert Kuttner
Lewis Lapham
Rachel Maddow
Bill Moyers
Robert Reich
Tom Tomorrow
Howard Zinn

as well as contribute these:

Bob Altemeyer
Eric Foner
Todd Gitlin
William Greider
Sam Harris
George Lakoff
Michael Lind
Juliet Schor
Gore Vidal


update (1/4 @ 10:01pm):
Lest anyone accuse me of ignoring theists...I omitted a group of religious thinkers from this list, a problem which I will now rectify:

Forrest Church
Michael Lerner
John Shelby Spong
Jim Wallis

Matt Mayer writes about the Rove-Bush reading contest at ClownHall, and I feel compelled to try my hand at some snarky fisking.

I voted for President Bush twice.

Why would you admit to such poor judgment in public? Is it one of your twelve steps?

Like most conservatives, I wouldn't vote for an idiot.

I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt on this, but you admitted to doing so just one sentence ago.

I put my family's future where my vote was and moved from Colorado to Washington, D.C. in March 2004 to work for President Bush as a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Oh...I think we have a better explanation now.

I am an unrepentant bookphile. I collect books. Read them insatiably. Consider the really good ones friends. I think one of the most important things one can do is read good books. History is packed with lots of lessons we too often forget, so reading serves to remind us of those lessons.

Now I'm baffled. Unless all you've been reading are Regnery screeds and the scribblings of Faux News pundits, how has all that insatiable reading not disabused you of conservatism?

I am stunned that President Bush has the time to read so many books.

I find Rove's claim stunning as well--although Dubya supporters' eagerness to swallow Rove's assertions surprises me even more.

Ronald Reagan was not a night owl and his presidency is rated among the greatest; whereas, Bill Clinton was known to engage in endless policy debates into the wee hours of the night and his presidency is rated as mediocre.

Call your editor; it appears that someone pranked you by switching "among the greatest" and "mediocre."

It would have been nice had he learned a few lessons from history about massive federal spending programs...

...or massive federal borrowing programs. Like your idol Reagan, Bush was a master at budget-busing deficits that produced little more than bigger yachts for billionaires and body bags for the families of our servicemembers.

...they rarely work and come loaded with unintended consequences that tend to do more harm than good.

See above.

As Roman philosopher Seneca said, "It is quality, rather than quantity that matters."

That's why 'm so glad that American voters have had enough of mendacious mediocrities like Mayer's former boss.

amazon.com

Stone, Gene. The 12-Step Bush Recovery Program: A Lifesaving Guide to Shaking Off the Horrors of the Last Eight Years, with Practical Advice on Relapse, Remission, and Recounts (New York: Villard, 2008)

Gene Stone, author of The Bush Survival Bible and Duck! The Dick Cheney Survival Bible, has returned with an end-of-the-era book on recovering from the Bush administration. Modeled after AA's twelve-step program--but without any reliance on a "higher power"--Bush Recovery is a series of brief essays by various authors. The three best, in my opinion, are Matthew Yglesias' "The Media" (pp. 37-9), James Gleick's "Science" (pp. 104-6), and Mel White's "Gays and Lesbians" (pp. 113-5).

It's a slim book, but could be a good place to start for those whose New Year's resolutions involve recovering from Bushism. (Bush supporters call our lack of gullibility about his administration "Bush Derangement Syndrome," but we know better.) Although we may not have to watch the mainstream corporate media with quite as much vigilance in the future as we did during the Bush administration, we must prevent his White House tenure from being whitewashed.

An excerpt from the book is available here from the publisher.

Check out this denier's letter to the editor:

Much fiction is behind rising sea levels alarm
It's time to put some facts into one of the global warming fictions. Rising sea levels associated with sea-ice melting seems to one of the obsessions of Al Gore and other alarmists. [...] I ask each of you, whether a Ph.D or an elementary school student, to conduct this simple experiment.

Fill a glass tumbler to about an inch below the top. Add a few ice cubes until the water level is very near the top. After the ice has melted, observe the new water level. It will the same as , or lower than the top of the glass.

Some such laws of nature cannot be dismissed by sensational rhetoric.

[name and address redacted]

Those who call man-made climate change 'fictitious' and its popularizers 'alarmists' should take more care to construct an adequate argument rather than parroting old talk-radio misinformation. This commenter repeated a reworded version of this 1992 claim from infamous infotainer Rush Limbaugh:

"Even if polar ice caps melted, there would be no rise in ocean levels... After all, if you have a glass of water with ice cubes in it, as the ice melts, it simply turns to liquid and the water level in the glass remains the same."
(The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, p. 17)

While this example appears sound at first glance, it fails spectacularly as an analogy. This is because the melting ice which concerns climatologists is on land--not floating in the oceans. The two largest and most obvious examples, the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet, contain tens of millions of cubic kilometers of ice that lies above sea level. As the ice sheets calve and melt, sea levels will rise dramatically--just as the water level in a glass rises when one adds ice cubes to it.

Such laws of physics can be ignored by climate-change deniers, but cannot be dismissed as rhetorical.

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