March 2009 Archives

Apple is offering the first movement of John Cage's composition 4'33" as a free download (h/t: New York magazine). Wikipedia has articles on 4'33" and John Cage; here is a video of the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing the full piece:

Cage's book Silence is highly recommended.

Joseph Tartakovsky's NYT article is not very favorable toward puns:

Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping. The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies.

The article's mention of this headline pun

"Energizer Bunny Arrested! Charged with Battery."

reminded me of an old favorite:

"Midget Psychic Escapes from Prison: Small Medium at Large!"

I disagree with the quotes he provides to disparage puns (Dryden called it the "lowest and most groveling kind of wit." To Ambrose Bierce it was a "form of wit to which wise men stoop and fools aspire."). Puns aren't quite as cognitively rich as sarcasm (see "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence," attributed to Oscar Wilde), but both puns and sarcasm are higher-order forms of humor that require a broader understanding than, for example, slapstick.

Craig Damrauer's illustration from the article is a good example:

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Matt Taibbi's "The Big Takeover" at Rolling Stone looks at AIG in detail and sees the bailouts as being foisted on us by a "group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream:"

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess.

Taibbi describes the bailouts as "rich bankers bailing out rich bankers, using the taxpayers' credit card:"

By early 2009, a whole series of new government operations had been invented to inject cash into the economy, most all of them completely secretive and with names you've never heard of. There is the Term Auction Facility, the Term Securities Lending Facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility and a monster called the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (boasting the chat-room horror-show acronym ABCPMMMFLF). For good measure, there's also something called a Money Market Investor Funding Facility, plus three facilities called Maiden Lane I, II and III to aid bailout recipients like Bear Stearns and AIG.

While the rest of America, and most of Congress, have been bugging out about the $700 billion bailout program called TARP, all of these newly created organisms in the Federal Reserve zoo have quietly been pumping not billions but trillions of dollars into the hands of private companies (at least $3 trillion so far in loans, with as much as $5.7 trillion more in guarantees of private investments). Although this technically isn't taxpayer money, it still affects taxpayers directly, because the activities of the Fed impact the economy as a whole. And this new, secretive activity by the Fed completely eclipses the TARP program in terms of its influence on the economy.

[...]

When one considers the comparatively extensive system of congressional checks and balances that goes into the spending of every dollar in the budget via the normal appropriations process, what's happening in the Fed amounts to something truly revolutionary -- a kind of shadow government with a budget many times the size of the normal federal outlay, administered dictatorially by one man, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke.

That sort of state capitalism is the exact opposite of socialism--not a situation where government owns the corporations, but one where corporations own the government.

When writing about the GOP's vacuous recovery plan, I missed this snark from Gavin M. at Sadly, No!

20090330-underpants.jpg

(Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without a link to Wikipedia's article on the South Park Underpants Gnomes)

...in posting book reviews over the past few months. It's not as if I stopped reading--which will only happen when the first shovelful of dirt hits me in the face--but rather that I was too consumed with the economy, the election, and the incoming administration. I've now completed the missing reviews from last year and posted them in their proper chronological places. Here are the links:

Dan Hind: The Threat to Reason

Stephen Law: The War for Children's Minds

Bill Kirchner: A Miles Davis Reader

Frank Alkyer: The Miles Davis Reader

Drew Westen: The Political Brain

George Lakoff: The Political Mind

Christopher Philips: Socrates in Love

Todd Davis: Kurt Vonnegut's Crusade

Tom Tomorrow: The Future's So Bright I Can't Bear to Look

Victor Hanson & John Heath: Who Killed Homer?

William Irvine: A Guide to the Good Life

Jonathan Haidt: The Happiness Hypothesis

Jacques Berlinerblau: The Secular Bible

An upcoming post--probably within the next day or two--will cover the books I've read this year.

Rush Limbaugh couldn't resist a little anti-gay "humor" while discussing the flooding (h/t: Andy at Towleroad):

I heard some top of the hour news and it made me feel uncomfortable. It's about the flooding in Fargo, North Dakota brought on by the melting snowpack and the icepack. (reading from news item) "As the Red River threatens to overflow, they're filling in the dikes." Isn't there a more appropriate word? Do we have to say, I mean, we don't have any dikes here. The 'dykes' are over there...They're filling in the dikes. Couldn't we change that to 'they're filling in the contingencies' or something?...We really need to change that word.

Imagine the reaction he would have if someone pointed out that the words dike and dyke are homophones.

We don't need to change the word, we need to change the channel.

single-payer

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Here's another example of market failure in American health care, courtesy of the Miami Herald (h/t: tomm2thumbs at DU):

Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You'll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.

This confidential information on some insurers' practices is available on the Web -- if you know where to look.

What's more, you can discover that if you lie to an insurer about your medical history and drug use, you will be rejected because data-mining companies sell information to insurers about your health, including detailed usage of prescription drugs. [...] To make sure that applicants are not lying, insurers hire a data-gathering service -- Medical Information Bureau, Milliman's Intelliscript or Ingenix Medpoint.

Intelliscript and Medpoint do computerized searches of a person's drug use, gleaned from pharmacy benefits managers and other databases. The two companies say they comply with privacy laws. ''Ingenix requires each Medpoint client to obtain the authorization of the individual applicant or insured person,'' said Ingenix spokeswoman Karin Olson.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission accused both companies of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by not offering to provide consumers with information about them.

The time for leeches is over. It's time to stop relying on the profit motive for health care and start moving toward a single-payer solution.

Kevin Mattson's article "A Politics of National Sacrifice" from American Prospect discusses Jimmy Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech (known to conservatives as the "malaise" speech, which I discussed here and here):

You might have heard that the speech was a disaster. That it was all about Jimmy Carter, the "loser" president, shirking his responsibilities. [...] This interpretation is repeated countless times in history textbooks.

But in fact, the speech worked. It prompted an overwhelmingly favorable response. Carter received a whopping 11 percent rise in his poll numbers. The mail that poured into the White House testified that many citizens felt moved by the speech.

Mattson's book "'What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?': Jimmy Carter, America's 'Malaise,' and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country" will be out in June, and may finally give Carter his due for being all-too-right long before we were ready to listen.

The GOP's document "The Republican Road to Recovery" (PDF) has been mocked throughout the blogosphere, both for its lack of substance (see Meg White at BuzzFlash) and its diagrammatic design elements:

20090328-gopmolecule.jpg


Ezra Klein
writes at American Prospect:

It's like someone showed them a flowchart. Once. And only for a few seconds. And refused to explain it. My editor Ann Friedman just walked into the room. "It looks like they're building a budget molecule," she said.

The GOP's buzzword balloons were also skewered here by 538:

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but driftglass has opted for a series of graphic rebuttals based on the report's cover design. This one is my favorite:

20090328-goprecovery.jpg

Matt Taibbi writes about the AIG resignation letter, proposing an interesting thought experiment:

[L]et's just say, Jake, that you're telling the truth, that you don't know anything about this toxic portfolio. If that's the case, then why the fuck does anyone need to retain you at an exorbitant salary to help unwind that very portfolio? If these transactions aren't and never were your expertise, then where the hell is your value here? When I spoke to Christine Pretto, the AIG spokeswoman, and asked about those bonuses, she said that AIG needed to retain people like you in order to take advantage of your "knowledge of these transactions." So if you don't have knowledge of these transactions, what are you being paid for? Your winning attitude?

Anonymous Liberal adds some missing perspective

I'm not a fan of the way Congress has dealt with the AIG bonus controversy, and I know that if I were in Mr. DeSantis's shoes, I'd be pretty pissed off too. But the reality is that even if he didn't personally contribute to the bad investment decisions that brought down AIG, he certainly profited from them, handsomely. And though he may not get to keep his promised compensation for this year, that's what happens when companies fail. It sucks. But it sucks a lot less when you're already a millionaire. There are a lot of victims of this economic downturn, and most of them have gotten a much rawer deal than this guy.

He then notes the focus of conservatives' sympathy in this economic catastrophe:

The fact that the plight of a millionaire executive (one who actually received his promised bonus) elicits such sympathy from the Right, but the plight of blue collar assembly line workers doesn't says a lot about the ideological prism through which many conservatives view the world. They simply identify with DeSantis in a way they don't with many of the other victims of this recession.

There's class warfare going on here, all right--but they're waging it, and they've been winning for decades.

crayons

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There's an awesome crayon post at ColourLovers (h/t: Ainsley Drew at Kottke) that the artistically-minded will want to check out. (There's even a list of all 120 Crayola colors with their Hex and RGB equivalents!) After poking around the Crayola website, I think I need one of these:

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I love the smell of Neon Carrot in the morning; it smells like--Vivid Tangerine!

amazon.com

Morain, Lloyd & Mary. Humanism As the Next Step (Washington, DC: Humanist Press, 2008)

Lloyd & Mary Morain's Humanism As the Next Step is a good introductory book on humanism, but its utility may be somewhat hampered by its brevity. Interested readers may want to check out the individual chapters, or download the entire book in PDF format for perusal. I appreciated the sentiment expressed in this quotation:

Humanism is built on the accumulated knowledge of humanity so the humanist does not have to fear for a faith or be forever on the defensive against advancing truth. It gives therefore an assurance and security not available to those whose philosophy or religion is ever in retreat before the growth of knowledge. (pp. 54-5)

With that sentiment in mind, keep reading about humanism after consuming this appetizer of a book. There are many intellectual feasts to be had, and Humanism As the Next Step may help to whet your appetite.

If you haven't read the already-infamous AIG resignation letter, please do so now; otherwise, you'll be lost when you try to read the hilarious "Dear Wall Street" response at SomethingAwful. The Rude Pundit has a few well-chosen rude words, as well:

You have worked for a corporation that, when all is said and done, will have been responsible for as much harm to the average worker in this nation as those closed steel mills in the places you were raised. You're a glorified gambler. No, fuck that. Gamblers are more honest about what they are than you. You made bets in order for rich fucks to get richer, and you tried to convince yourself that it was a noble pursuit.

You sanctimonious bastard. You want to pat yourself on the back because you took only a dollar in salary? The only fuckers who do that are the ones who can afford to. It's not like it caused you any suffering at all - did your kids have to go to public school? Did you have to give up the summer house in the Hamptons? Seriously, AIG guy, unless you're sucking Teamster cock for quarters to make ends meet, just don't talk in public about your sacrifices.

Curious Expeditions has a spectacular gallery of libraries (h/t: a commenter on Paul Constant's post at Slog) that would yield an incredible amount of exploratory fun. See also "Most Interesting Libraries of the World" and "Most Interesting Bookstores of the World" (h/t: Lisa Gold's "Porn for Book Lovers").

My favorite is still the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), the historical significance of which was explained in Carl Sagan's Cosmos:

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20090327-library2.jpg

Here's President Obama from last night's press conference:

QUESTION: So on AIG, why did you wait -- why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I --

QUESTION: It seems like the action is coming out of New York in the attorney general's office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we're outraged. Why did it take so long?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak. (Laughter.) All right?

links:
NYT transcript of the press conference

FactCheck corrects some errors

James Fallows and Bob Cesca comment on the Right's manufactured TelePrompTer outrage

Glenn Greenwald analyzes "A major difference between conservatives and progressives," and observes that a defining characteristic of the Bush era "was the lock-step uncritical reverence - often bordering on cult-like glorification - which the 'conservative' movement devoted to the 'Commander-in-Chief.'" He notes that progressive and liberals don't exhibit the same herd mentality:

...even though Obama unsurprisingly and understandably remains generally popular with Democrats and liberals alike, there is ample progressive criticism of Obama in a way that is quite healthy and that reflects a meaningful difference between the "conservative movement" and many liberals.

Greenwald sees this as a key difference between our competing political movements:

Blind reverence and uncritical loyalty -- the need to see a political leader as one who embodies infallible truth and transformative justice and can deliver some form of personal or emotional elevation -- breeds ossification, intellectual death, and authoritarian corruption. Anyone who doubts that should look at the state of today's conservative movement to see what the fruits are of that cultish mentality.

Many conservatives typically use the excuse that a national crisis (9/11) is what led to such lock-step and uncritical support for the Leader, but many progressives are retaining their critical faculties despite the economic crisis consuming not just America but the world. There are many legitimate criticisms one might make of liberals but, with some exceptions, replicating the Leader worship and blind reverence that dominated the Bush era doesn't appear to be one of them.

I'm encouraged by the general lack of groupthink to date, although there are still troubling--albeit isolated--instances of sycophancy.

amazon.com

Wolfe, Alan. The Future of Liberalism (New York: Knopf, 2009)

Alan Wolfe's The Future of Liberalism is a whirlwind tour through several hundred years of political philosophy, from Rousseau vs. Kant on human nature and Mill vs. Stephen on liberty and equality to the path leading from Herbert Spencer to Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. The book's title brought to mind statements like "The future of liberalism is the future; the future of conservatism is the past," and Wolfe anticipated this when observing that "liberalism's future is our future." (p. 29) Indeed it is, and he notes early on that "liberalism offers the best guide not only to our own times, but to the future as well. It will be my task in this book to show why:"

It is liberalism's underlying philosophy--its understanding of human nature, its respect for both individualism and equality, its discovery of the social, its passion for justice, its preference for experience over theory, its intellectual openness, its commitment to fairness--that offers us the surest path toward both individual freedom and a collective sense of purpose. We need liberalism if we are to respect the integrity of human beings, design institutions that serve their needs, and enable them to shape their destinies. (p. 4)

In answer to the conservatives who call themselves "classical liberals" in an attempt to enhance their intellectual heritage by co-opting historical liberals, Wolfe writes:

...classical and modern liberalism are not nearly as distinct as those who insist on dividing them maintain. One, in fact, follows, if not logically, then certainly sociologically, from the other. [...] ...the liberal proposition, tested by long experience, is that whatever dependencies result from using public policy to address modern inequalities, the resulting gains in individual mobility, development of physical and mental capacity, and racial and gender equality far outweigh them. This is why Smith, writing in the eighteenth century in opposition to the regulation of business by government, and Keynes, writing in the twentieth century in support of it, were, substantively speaking, both liberals. Their disagreements were over the means by which large numbers of individuals could achieve control over their lives, not over whether they should. (p. 14)

Indeed, the interdependence of modern life renders the state an all-but-indispensable aid to its citizenry:

...states have grown over the past two centuries or so because it is impossible to realize the good life without them. States build roads and provide the infrastructure that makes society function. They insure people against the vagaries of sudden job loss. They have improved the living conditions of the elderly. They provide for the common defense. They make the streets safe. Without them, it would be difficult to have museums, schools, libraries, and concert halls. Government, in a nutshell, is a synonym for civilization. (p. 229)

Wolfe errs in his mention of "Grover Norquist's metaphor of washing the state down the bathroom drain--could finally become reality." (p. 241) Norquist's metaphor was actually more colorful than that, although apparently less memorable than I had expected. In this 2001 interview with Mara Liasson of NPR's "Morning Edition," Norquist insisted:

"I don't want to abolish government, I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

Speaking of drowning, Wolfe observes acidly that "The response to Hurricane Katrina became a test case for the conservative understanding of the role of government, and it was a test that conservatism failed:"

From that failure, we have learned that liberal approaches to governance, however flawed, nonetheless remain preferable to conservative ones that deny the legitimacy of the best management tool available for dealing with the uncertainties of modern life. (pp. 219-20)

He goes on to echo George Lakoff's criticism of the "Bush is incompetent" assessment:

To the degree the administration was incompetent, then, it was not because of errors of omission; on the contrary, the inability of the Bush administration to respond to the disaster was a form of planned incompetence, a direct result of its view of government's proper role in society. (p. 221)

There is much worth reading in Wolfe's book. His efforts--and those of other thoughtful and intellectually-inclined liberals--help to illuminate the way forward by clearly showing the ideas that have gotten us this far. The future of liberalism looks bright indeed.


links:
publisher's page
David Frum's WSJ review
Slate review

Everyone's favorite serial adulterer and disgraced hypocrite Newt Gingrich is at it again, stirring up the wingnut know-nothings in this interview with Dan Gilgoff at USN&WR:

"In the last few years I've decided that we're in a crisis in which the secular state, if allowed, will fundamentally and radically change America against the wishes of most Americans," Gingrich said in a phone interview on Thursday. "You've had such rising hostility to religious belief that I wanted to reach broadly into the country and dramatically raise public awareness of threats to religious liberty."

If you really care about religious liberty, Newt, why aren't you supporting the ACLU? They're doing the work of protecting religious rights as expressed in the First Amendment. (Of course, those who want special privilege to ignore the establishment clause will not consider the ACLU an ally--but that highlights their own hypocrisy.)

Rob Boston gives Gingrich a good flaying, mentioning Newt's ethical problems, his adultery ("Newt's so pro-marriage he's had three of them!"), and concluding that:

In light of all of this, I'm really looking forward to hearing Gingrich, backed by his pals in the Religious Right, sternly lecturing the rest of us on morality and ethics.

Ron Chusid notes at Liberal Values that "You cannot claim to be the party of small government and simultaneously support using the power of the state to impose religious views upon others," but it's Melissa McEwan who really lays into Newt's persecution complex with my Quote of the Day:

We've got a Christian president who's just as Christiany (even if it's a different flavor) as the last guy, who had an almost unanimously Christian administration which relentlessly pandered to conservative Christians, including nominating three openly Christian justices to the Supreme Court (two of whom made it to the bench), an almost entirely Christian Congress who start each session with a prayer, guaranteed freedom of religion, money that says "In God We Trust," a pledge of allegiance that describes us as "one nation under God," television networks who will accept advertising from conservative religious groups but not liberal political groups, schools who are incorporating a religious belief into science classes, gays being denied marriage in order to protect its "sanctity," conscience clauses for pharmacists and healthcare providers, religion-based residential communities being built, Museums of Creationism springing up, laws still on the books that respect Christians' holy day (like in Indiana, where you still can't shop for a car or buy booze on a Sunday), churches not required to pay taxes, Christmas recognized as a national holiday, and on and on and on.

Anyone who looks at the American landscape and sees "threats to religious liberty" is fucking delusional.

Fuck OFF, Gingrich--and take your manufactured martyr complex with you.

FFRF bus slogan

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The UK's Atheist Bus campaign (website and Wikipedia), has a twin in the US-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. The FFRF has already expanded their own publicity campaign into the realm of buses with a "Sleep in on Sundays" campaign, and they're polling for a second campaign (h/t: Buffy at Gaytheist Agenda). Cast your vote for one of these slogans, or write in your own suggestion:

  • Religion Once Ruled the World. It Was Known as the Dark Ages. (Ruth Hurmence Green)
  • The truth shall set you free from religion.
  • Science flies you to the moon, Religion flies you into buildings (Victor Stenger)
  • Hang out with atheists. It's more fun than hanging on a cross. (Just for fun)
  • Religion flies planes into buildings, Science flies humans to the moon
  • 9/11 was a faith-based initiative

The list of submitted suggested slogans is here, many of which seem designed to piss off theists rather than persuade fence-sitters. What do you think of them?

backlash?

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Robert Freeman's AlterNet piece on the possible right-wing backlash to Obama's presidency is facing a "Weimar moment" similar to that of Germany between the World Wars:

The devastating collapse of the economy after eight years of Republican rule has left the leadership, policies, and ideology of the right utterly discredited. But, as was the case with Germany in 1919, Republicans do not intend to allow the new government to succeed. They will do everything they can to undermine it. If they are successful, the U.S. may yet go the way of Weimar Germany.

His analysis hinges on the fact that "Free market doctrine, the secular religion of right-wing America, is in utter, irretrievable shambles:"

Efficient markets. Rational actors. Market equilibrium. Risk and reward. Self interest. These are the essential sacraments on which the entire free market system is founded. They are in tatters. And it isn't that any one of them has been discredited by the glaring, merciless force of events. All of them have been. All of them together. And all of them at the same time.

The ideological and electoral failures go hand-in-hand, although without any admission of culpability:

Contrition for their own abject failure, humility for their destructive hubris, compassion for their crippled country-those have nothing to do with it. All they possess is a blinding, visceral hatred of the left and a masturbatory lust for the return to power.

And what else can they do? Bereft of ideas, bankrupt in ideology, architects of collapse, obstruction is all they have. If Obama is successful, it will not only advertise the full extent of their failure, it will provide a model of liberal governance that would render Republicans irrelevant for decades, much as FDR's success left them out in the political cold for an entire generation. Liberal failure is a matter of life and death for Republicans. [...]

Simply put, the Republicans hate Democrats more than they love America.

I really hope that Freeman is over-reacting, but the Galt-going, tea-partying, Sarah-and-"Joe"-the-"plumber"-supporting wingnuts give me pause.

The WSJ editorial "FDR's Conservative 100 Days" compares the "Obama administration's opening policy sprint" to "FDR's fast start" in 1933, but with a conservative spin--essentially, claiming that FDR "initially tacked right on fiscal issues" before his "agenda later veered left." Raymond Moley, an FDR adviser, is quoted as writing:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the policies which vanquished the bank crisis were thoroughly conservative . . . Those who conceived and executed them were intent upon rallying the confidence, first, of the conservative business and banking leaders of the country and, then, through them, of the public generally."

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly tries to reconcile this rare conservative admission that FDR's New Deal was a success with their favored myth that it was a failure:

So, as far as conservatives are concerned, FDR was both an ineffective liberal who made the crisis worse in the 1930s and an effective conservative who helped address the crisis with conservative ideas. The New Deal failed because it was liberal and it succeeded because it was conservative.

Yes, it's nonsensical--although that's hardly unusual. What I found interesting was this WSJ statement decrying Obama's economic populism:

Limiting corporate jets and CEO salaries may play well to the crowd. But every rational shareholder knows that jets make sense if (and only if) they help increase profits, and that arbitrary pay limits don't protect company assets or owners. Instead, failed managers need to be replaced, at competitive wages, by superior ones.

Those private jets--along with bonuses, golden parachutes, $100 million office remodeling, a $15,000 umbrella stand, or an $8,000 shower curtain--were never about increasing profits. Extravagance of this sort is all about stroking executives' pampered egos and helping them to believe that they're entitled to live extraordinarily well at the expense not just of shareholders, but of the workers who provide their livelihood.

Additionally, the WSJ writes that "fiscal conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, are now wondering what happened to the good old days of Mr. Bush's $400 billion deficits," complaining that Obama's proposed fixes are too expensive. Let's remember that it was fiscal conservatism--not fiscal responsibility, which is something quite different--that got us into this mess. Now that the economy has been driven into the ditch by market fundamentalists, those same conservatives have the gall to complain that tow trucks are expensive.

One can guess what they'll say a few years hence. If Obama's policies work as designed, conservatives will claim that he's really a conservative; if the recession is worse than expected, then he'll be a liberal again.

Or, perhaps, they'll do both.

As the Iraq War II slouches past its sixth anniversary, Driftglass reminds us of a Bush assertion before the invasion that now likely causes great concern for the ex-president and his lawyers:

War crimes will be prosecuted. War criminals will be punished. And it will be no defense to say, "I was just following orders."

(Cf. Pinochet, Augusto)

Neil (one of Atheist Pride Day's organizers) has written two posts on APD (here and here) that explain the need for an APD very well. I've gone from believing that an annual parade might be too much to expect to wondering whether--after a few years of increased visibility and organization--a million-person march on Washington might be an appropriate longer-term possibility.

If there are 40-45 million non-religious Americans--plus who-knows-how-many allies who truly believe in religious freedom--we should be able to motivate at least 2-3% of them to participate in something like that, right?

My quote of the day comes from John Rogers at Kung-Fu Monkey (h/t: Tim F. at Balloon Juice):

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Friendly Atheist and Friendly Humanist have both written about today's Atheist Pride Day, and--although I'm not a Facebook user--I think it's a great idea. (If you're on Facebook, check out the APD event page and do your part in increase atheist visibility!) FH has some good words that I'm going to borrow:

I am an atheist - I do not have a belief in a god. This position, as part of a wider humanist outlook, guides my daily choices, both profound and casual.

I am proud of it, because it is a worldview I have come to through a great deal of questioning and thinking.

I am proud of it because this vein of human thought has a long and noble history, from Socrates through the Enlightenment to modern secular societies.

I am proud of it because my atheism, and the humanism which it is a part of, represent my best self - the best things I do, and the things I strive for but sometimes (often) fail to do, are informed, motivated, and inspired by atheism and humanism.

So, where's the parade? (If everyone could bring a blank sign, that would be great!)

WingNutDaily is all a-twitter about the online version of The Game of Life, which apparently isn't designed to exclude or marginalize gay couples:

20090319-life.jpg

One of WND's editors submitted this whiny comment at the game's website:

[H]ere's a game where children may choose homosexual marriage and child-rearing. [...] Many sections of society accept this as normative, but many also would consider this too mature a theme for children. Others would consider this downright offensive. Is it appropriate to include, for example, lesbianism in this game?"

The game's "theme" is, of course, the same regardless of the players' gender. One wonders why WND believes that same-sex couples are inherently "offensive" or "inappropriate." Buffy at Gaytheist Agenda suggests that "maybe the bigots need to stick to something like the Bible Trivia Board Game:"

That way little Alma or Paxton won't have to be exposed to modern day realities until they're adults, and we won't have to hear them whine about their Bronze-age world being destroyed by the 21st century creeping in.

It just goes to show you that wingnuts can't handle the realities of life...of even Life, for that matter.

SusanG writes at DailyKos that the "going Galt" movement isn't taking root among "rich New Yorkers:"

Believe it or not, people don't dig up roots and flounce out of their home state just because of taxes, any more than they quit their jobs when they creep up to the edge of a higher tax bracket (no matter how many times ignorant reporters find stupid people who think that's how the tax system works).

No matter how hard the tax-cut cult tries to spin it, the truth is people--even rich people!--like to live where there are well-funded public schools and public safety agencies, good roads and hospitals, and quality infrastructure and shared communal spaces.

How typical--they want all the benefits of living in an advanced society, but threaten to head for the restroom when the check arrives at the table.

outrage?

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Here is today's New York Post headline about the AIG bonuses:

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The Rude Pundit has some comments on the whole mess:

Really? Is this really the straw that snapped that fucker's spine? After all this time, after billions of dollars simply tossed into the ether over in Iraq, after paying Dick Cheney's cronies at Halliburton billions in no-bid contracts, after KBR overcharged the US government hundreds of millions for its "services" in Iraq (and after it was given a $70 million bonus while it was under investigation by the Justice Department in 2005), after money wasted hand over fist, bad over good, endlessly, it's this? AIG giving out about a tenth of a percent of its bailout money to top executives is what's gonna finally make Americans go nutzoid? Goddamn, we're adorable.

To put this in perspective: it's like a parent giving you ten bucks and then being pissed that you tossed a penny into a wishing well. "Next time," that angry parent might say, "next time you'll only get $9.99." Lesson learned, eh?

Most of us out here on the left have been in an uproar for, oh, shit, let's say a couple of decades over the criminally large amounts of money corporations have been giving executives, especially when they would do vicious shit like rewarding CEOs after the aforementioned bastards slashed thousands of jobs to help the stock price stay elevated. Now it's Republicans calling for an auto da fe' on AIG's top brass, with Charles Grassley "rhetorically" suggesting suicide and Fox "news" dicks calling for torture or public execution. (It probably doesn't hurt that AIG primarily contributed to Democrats.)

So why the hell not? Let's all shake our collective fists in our grand moment of joined socialist outrage. Who knows when it will come again? Now how about some action that really capitalizes on this anti-capitalist moment?

(And it ought to be pointed out that the New York Post front page is missing a comma.)

paging Dr Freud

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Bush gave his first post-presidential speech yesterday (h/t: Spencer Ackerman at FDL), and talked about writing his memoirs:

He said it will be fun to write and that "it's going to be [about] the 12 toughest decisions" he had to make.

"I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written, at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened," Bush said. [emphasis added]

(That quote was scrubbed from the AP report, but can still be found at NPR.)

A secret report by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) on CIA torture has been leaked; NYRB's Mark (Torture and Truth) Danner has plenty of details, including this Red Cross assessment:

The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Danner observes:

Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions--in which the terms "torture" and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning--couldn't be more significant, or indeed more welcome after years in which the President of the United States relied on the power of his office either to redefine or to obfuscate what are relatively simple words.

In one of the least graphic passages in his exposé, Danner notes:

A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings and "smashings"--though from this basic model one can see the method evolve, from forced sitting to forced standing, for example, and acquire new elements, like immersion in cold water.

One detainee wrote that "I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the 'verge of death and back again:'" When he was tortured by being waterboarded, "a doctor was always present:"

...standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.

Andrew Sullivan also noted the use of doctors (those Hippocratic hypocrites!) who assisted the torturing, adding that:

They need to be stripped of their medical licenses and put on trial. But only alongside the war criminals who gave the orders: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Rice and many others.

Because they were tortured, Danner asserts that "one may doubt that any of the fourteen 'high-value detainees' whose accounts are given in this report will ever be tried and sentenced in an internationally recognized and sanctioned legal proceeding:"

In the case of men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most important and consequential sense in which "torture doesn't work." The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice.

Heckuva job, Bushies...your brutality has obviated our ability to honorably punish the men you called "the worst of the worst" among the al Qaeda terrorists. As Danner summarizes, "In the wake of the ICRC report one can make several definitive statements:"

1. Beginning in the spring of 2002 the United States government began to torture prisoners. This torture, approved by the President of the United States and monitored in its daily unfolding by senior officials, including the nation's highest law enforcement officer, clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.

2. The most senior officers of the US government, President George W. Bush first among them, repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The President lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration's policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.

3. The US Congress, already in possession of a great deal of information about the torture conducted by the administration--which had been covered widely in the press, and had been briefed, at least in part, from the outset to a select few of its members--passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and in so doing attempted to protect those responsible from criminal penalty under the War Crimes Act.

4. Democrats, who could have filibustered the bill, declined to do so--a decision that had much to do with the proximity of the midterm elections, in the run-up to which, they feared, the President and his Republican allies might gain advantage by accusing them of "coddling terrorists." [...]

5. The political damage to the United States' reputation, and to the "soft power" of its constitutional and democratic ideals, has been, though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring. In a war that is essentially an insurgency fought on a worldwide scale--which is to say, a political war, in which the attitudes and allegiances of young Muslims are the critical target of opportunity--the United States' decision to use torture has resulted in an enormous self-administered defeat, undermining liberal sympathizers of the United States and convincing others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us. [emphases added]

That's some mission Bush accomplished: decreasing our moral standing while blurring the line between us and al Qaeda.

I've mentioned the Electronic Frontier Foundation several times before, and the change in administrations does not make their work unnecessary. The EFF's current effort is to "Make Open Government a Reality" in support of "Sunshine Week:"

As part of Sunshine Week, we're posting scores of never-before seen documents on several controversial government initiatives, including the FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse and DCS 3000 surveillance program, and the Department of Homeland Security's Automated Targeting System and ADVISE data-mining project. We're also making all of our FOIA documents more accesssible than ever before with a new search tool that will let anyone conduct keyword searches across all the documents in our collection.

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It's impossible to have an informed citizenry without information, and the EFF is a great ally. Click here to donate and let them know that their work is important!

GOP Galtism

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Ron Chusid at Liberal Values writes about the "going Galt" movement:

Conservatives and libertarians who think that a few point increase in the marginal tax rate is reason to drop out of society as in Atlas Shrugged seem to be out of touch with reality. Many of them also have little understanding of Ayn Rand's views and fail to realize how low an opinion Rand would have of them.

His post quoted from Ed Kilgore's great collection of Rand quotes at Democratic Strategist. Kilgore noted that "it's important to understand that John Galt, Atlas Shrugged, and their creator Ayn Rand represent a remorselessly unified and logical world-view that can't be sliced and diced into bite-sized portions you can take or leave:"

Galt's speech, in particular, which is the supposed inspiration for all this excited Tea Party chatter, was a painstakingly wrought distillation of Rand's all-encompassing philosophy of Objectivism, which few "conservatives" could stomach, much less endorse. And Rand, if she were alive, would be the first to object to promiscuous use of her words and character, especially by political "conservatives," whom she largely despised as life-hating slaves to an imaginary God, or as unprincipled demagogues little better in practice than all the other "collectivists."

True enough, but I would bet that the vast majority of religious-fanatic red-state Republicans have read Rand with as little attention as they read their holy texts. I doubt that they would recognize the words usury or jubilee, and they probably don't realize that the early Christians were proto-communists.

Obama?

Yep, he's still not a socialist.

Billy Wharton, editor of a small-circulation (is there any other?) socialist magazine writes about the "media whirlwind" of misinformed--and misinforming--conservatives that suddenly wanted to talk to him: "We appreciated the newfound attention. But we also cringed as the debate took on the hysterical tone of a farcical McCarthyism." Wharton continues to note that Obama has "been assigned the unenviable task of salvaging a capitalist system intent on devouring itself:"

The question is whether he can do so without addressing the deep inequalities that have become fundamental features of American society. So, President Obama, what I want to know is this: Can you lend legitimacy to a society in which 5 percent of the population controls 85 percent of the wealth? Can you sell a health-care reform package that will only end up enriching a private health insurance industry? Will you continue to favor military spending over infrastructure development and social services?

My guess is that the president will avoid these questions, further confirming that he is not a socialist except, perhaps, in the imaginations of an odd assortment of conservatives.

H/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values, who commented:

I've often mocked the Republicans who call Barack Obama a socialist. Most likely they are simply engaging in the hyperbole commonly seen from the right but at times I have wondered if they even know what socialism really means.

I haven't seen any evidence that they do; in fact, I've seen quite the opposite. As long as most people don't understand what "socialist" means--or what "liberal" means, for that matter--the Right can keep using it as an all-purpose term of derision without any repercussions.

"Obama vs. Marx"

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Alan (The Future of Liberalism) Wolfe writes in "Obama vs. Marx" that, interestingly enough, "one of them isn't a socialist." Conservatives may have trouble telling the difference between them, but Wolfe has a bit more perspective:

It was not so long ago that conservatives were equating liberalism with fascism; today, they have executed a 180-degree swing in order to argue that liberalism is actually synonymous with socialism.

That is true, but only because of the astonishing amount of projection spouted by the conservative punditry in the past few years. Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is the obvious example here, but Ann Coulter's Slander, Bernard Goldberg's Bias, and David Limbaugh's Persecution, also demonstrate their black-is-white way of viewing the world, pretending to be a besieged minority despite controlling most of the government and the media. Wolfe writes about Obama that "it is absurd to view his program as a step toward socialism," and asks that we "consider Obama's stances on the defining issues of our time:"

At most, his administration might nationalize banks temporarily; a socialist would nationalize them for good. He proposes to fix free trade, not abolish it. He does not favor a single-payer health care system, and any proposal he eventually puts forward is going to involve competition in some form. (It is worth noting that arguably the biggest beneficiaries of health care reform will be businesses, many of which struggle to pay their employees' health care costs.) To address global warming, Obama favors cap and trade, a market-oriented solution to our gravest environmental problem. That's right: This alleged socialist has so much faith in capitalism, he is willing to put the future of our planet more or less in the hands of a market.

What these ideas have in common is, first, an attachment to economic freedom that no self-respecting socialist would countenance. In fact, most of Obama's measures are designed to save, not destroy, the instruments of capitalism-- businesses and the markets in which they compete. Should Obama get everything he wants, liberals will have once again--as has happened so often in the United States--gone a long way toward rescuing capitalism from its worst excesses.


[typo fixed]

Matt Blum's "10 Annoying Habits of a Geeky Spouse" at GeekDad is a great list. Here's an abbreviated version of it, with my comments [in square brackets]:

1. Punning [Duh. I love wordplay!]

2. Using "frak," or Klingon, or both, instead of regular swear words [Not so much, although I was once quite entranced with Tolkien's languages. I would totally learn to curse in Elvish--or binary, or hex--if I weren't already having so much fun with English.]

3. Weird or over-the-top ways of celebrating mainstream holidays [There's an abundance of ideas, but not enough implementation time.]

4. Dissecting movies [Yeah, pretty much...in addition to quoting from them.]

5. Wearing obscurely geeky T-shirts to "normal" places [I love the alpha-geek in-jokes that almost no one understands!]

6. Requiring extra room in the house for geeky things [Extra room? More like the whole house: comic books, CDs, too many computers and peripherals, tubs of Legos, lots of books and magazines--including Wired, back when it was indispensable.]

7. Geeky toys and decorations can be hard to explain to kids [Most of my über-geek stuff eventually winds up at the office.]

8. Looking up information while a discussion/argument is still in progress [Dude! I'm the poster child for this. Some days I feel as if I couldn't "remember" anything without the help of Google, Wikipedia, IMDB, and AllMusic.]

9. Needing to watch certain TV shows ASAP to avoid spoilers [Sometimes. Other times I seek out spoilers because I have to know RIGHT NOW!]

10. Geeky projects that take over the house and whole weekends [Life is a geek project. See #6.]

I would extend #10 to discuss the geeky creative sub-cultures (see Make and Craft for all kinds of examples) that are known for abundances of tools and crafting supplies, respectively. I would also include the open-source movement, which exhibits much of the same modding mentality.

I'd call the habits "endearing" rather than "annoying," but I might be biased in favor of geekdom.

Maybe.

Just a little bit.

happy holiday!

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What's that?

You didn't know that today is a holiday?

Well, since it's March 14th, or 3.14, it must be...Pi Day, of course!

links:
Pi Day website
Wikipedia
Congressional proclamation

P.S. Because I can't resist a pun, even a recycled one, here's another look at the best pie chart ever:


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This Periodic Tale of Typefaces (h/t: Kevin Purdy at LifeHacker) is a very nice piece of work:

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I'd love a poster-sized version--hint, hint!

If you're into genre-bending comic spoofs, check out his two-page "Schulz City: That Yellow-Shirted Such-and-Such" (h/t: Andrew Sullivan), which presents Peanuts in the style of Frank Miller's Sin City:

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links:
Marvel Comics does Peanuts
grown-up Calvin & Hobbes (the last one makes me sad)
lots of Peanuts links, including the great Peanuts Watchmen

Alex Knapp at Heretical Ideas looks at the different moralities demonstrated by Watchmen's main characters: Comedian's nihilism, Ozymandias' utilitarianism, Rorschach's existentialism, and Nite Owl's eudaimonia. He writes that the book provides "a truly nuanced, insightful look into serious moral and ethical issues" and "plenty of food for thought:"

Watchmen is one of the richest, multi-layered works of art of the past thirty years. What on the surface appears to be a "deconstruction" of the superhero is really a layered look at ethics and other aspects of philosophy.

I ordinarily shy away from pop philosophy, but Watchmen is a work that warrants such scrutiny. Knapp's analysis is an intriguing one, and whets my appetite for William Irwin's book Watchmen and Philosophy.

Two new ThinkProgress studies (by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira) break the electorate into "a new 5-point scale of political ideology that reflects the primary approaches people ascribe to today:"

Under this schematic, 34 percent of the country self-identifies as 'conservative', 29 percent as 'moderate', 15 percent as 'liberal', 16 percent as 'progressive', and 2 percent as 'libertarian'.

After moderates are asked which approach they lean towards, the overall ideological breakdown of the country divides into fairly neat left and right groupings with 47 percent of Americans identifying as progressive or liberal and 48 percent as conservative or libertarian and the rest unsure.

Labeling aside, Americans lean toward the left in their policy preferences. The ThinkProgress interactive quiz is interesting, as is the scoring. Here is my score, followed by the aggregated results:

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Chris Bowers has some good commentary at OpenLeft, calling the quiz "pretty decent" while recognizing "problems with a few of the questions." With a score of 361, he's more of a bleeding-heart than I am. I wonder what they call the category comes after "extremely progressive," but I'm not going to take the quiz again to find out.

Wingnut warrior Chuck Norris (writing at WingNutDaily, appropriately enough) rather resembles a domestic terrorist in suggesting the need for "a second American Revolution" and wanting to "rekindle the patriotic fires of early America," as if we are under occupation by our own government. He then writes that tomorrow afternoon:

Thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation. [...] My wife Gena and I will be hosting one from our Texas ranch...

Sapphocrat makes this suggestion to Homeland Security:

DHS agents, you've got a bona fide budding domestic terrorist on your hands. Will you kindly protect the rest of us from this whackjob before one of his minions really goes off the deep end and starts taking pot shots from a bell tower? Or worse?

I'm with her on asking a few questions, but then I wondered: Should we follow Bush's example and preemptively lock up Norris for years--without habeas corpus rights, without filing charges, without access to a lawyer--and waterboard him to see what he'll say under duress? After all, that's not torture...right? If it was OK when Bush did it, it must be OK now--unless things have actually changed since the election. (Yeah, that's what I thought...) We're not about to lock up Norris and his fellow nutters, or even go all HUAC/blacklist/McCarthy on them--because because that's not what liberals do. The words civil rights aren't just a bumper-sticker slogan to liberals--they're a reality.

AndrewMc has some comments at Progressive Historians, observing that these militia whackjobs are "talking about the overthrow of the U.S. government. And they're actually helping plot it. And, in many ways, they're encouraging it." During the McCarthy era, he notes, "the tables were turned:"

Back then it was liberals who were supposedly plotting anti-American activities such as the overthrow of the government. Back then it was the conservatives who perpetuated a chokehold on public speech, hauling anyone they deemed "un-American" in front of congressional committees. Squads of anti-free-speech thugs made blacklists and kept a keen eye out for anyone who might be talking about overthrowing the U.S.

What stopped that? Liberalism. In perhaps one of the finest hours in U.S. history Joseph Welch excoriated Joseph McCarthy with a single plea: "At long last sir, have you no sense of decency?"

Here was a triumph of liberalism in favor of the right to free speech--free speech that included the right to speak out against the government. From that time on the media was free to become more liberal, to question, to attack, to bring to light all the ugliness of the American government.

So, Beck, Hannity, Rush, Norris, Coulter, et al.--next time you feel like going off on a rant about how militias are going to rise up and overthrow the U.S. government, and how you think Supreme Court justices and presidential candidiates ought to be poisoned, and about how you plan to help break up the Union because you don't like our current administration. . . .

Thank a liberal for your right to say it.

Yeah, like THAT will ever happen.

new humanism

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British philosopher Roger Scruton decries what he calls "The New Humanism" at American Spectator (h/t: Stephen Law). Scruton exalts "humanists of my parents' kind" whose "noble form of humanism has its roots in the Enlightenment," but doesn't think very highly of what he calls "the new humanism." His ire is particularly directed at the atheist bus campaign, and his inference from its slogan that we see "no ideals higher than pleasure:"

The humanists I knew as a young man would have reacted with disgust at this hedonistic message, and at a philosophy that aims to dispense with God without also aiming to replace Him. [...] Like so many modern ideologies, the new humanism seeks to define itself through what it is against rather than what it is for. It is for nothing, or at any rate for nothing in particular.

One wonders, though, if he has read any of the Humanist Manifestos or even The Council for Secular Humanism's "Secular Humanist Declaration." The Declaration is rather sparse in its mentions of a deity, writing that:

Morality that is not God-based need not be antisocial, subjective, or promiscuous, nor need it lead to the breakdown of moral standards.

and giving a nod to religion's occasional utility even while denying its truth claims:

Religions are pervasive sociological phenomena, and religious myths have long persisted in human history. In spite of the fact that human beings have found religions to be uplifting and a source of solace, we do not find their theological claims to be true.

Law writes in rebuttal to Scruton that "we humanists need to be extremely careful how we phrase things:"

If there's the even slightest chance a comment could be interpreted as promoting unbridled hedonism, etc., you can be sure that's exactly how it will be interpreted!

But is there some truth to the suggestion that new humanists are not "for" anything in particular?

Some truth, perhaps--but very little. The third Humanist Manifesto, "Humanism and Its Aspirations," contains the following six principles:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.

Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

and concludes:

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature's integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

That hardly strikes me as a statement that is "for nothing in particular," although theists like Scruton have certainly spun it that way. Law's question, however, gets to the root of in-group/out-group dynamics--what is the definition of humanism? Who is a humanist? Is someone a humanist because he adheres to the manifestos? Because she calls herself one? With no dogma, no holy text, and no ideological imprimatur, who decides?

If we don't do it, our antagonists certainly will...and their assessments--like Scruton's--will remain inaccurate until we provide a correction.

I've been critical of others for their misunderstanding of the marginal-rate income tax--such as here and here--but in "The Missing $1,000,000 Tax Bracket," Nate Silver discusses a factor that I hadn't considered. He points out "one thing that advocates of more progressive taxation (of which I am one) need to keep in mind:"

...although the top tax rates have been much higher throughout much of the country's history, they also kicked in at much higher thresholds of income than the ones we see today.

Matthew Yglesias' "Mobilizing the Lower Upper Class" also suggests adding additional marginal brackets for those with million- and multimillion-dollar incomes. Income taxes could stand to become more progressive, but I'm not too keen on the idea of "fostering class resentment." If everyone is seen as shouldering a fair share of the burden, maybe we can retire class-based antagonism.

Bush OLC memos

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Ever since a batch of Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos were released last week--see Neil Lewis at NYT, Kurt Opsahl at EFF, and John Dean's "Beyond the Pale" at FindLaw--their scandalous nature should have been competing with the economy for front-page coverage. For some reason, however, the "liberal" media continues to avoid examining either the memos or their implications. Jack Balkin proclaims "The End of the Yoo Doctrine" and summzrizes:

First, the January 2009 OLC memo disowns the claim [...] that the President has the sole power to decide on conditions of detention and interrogation of captured individuals...

Second, the January 2009 OLC memo disowns the statement [...] that FISA should be interpreted as not restraining the President's ability to engage in warrantless domestic surveillance...

These two disowned claims lie at the heart of the Cheney/Addington/Yoo theory of presidential power-- namely, that when the president acts as commander in chief Congress may not restrict in any way his military decisionmaking, including decisions about detention, interrogation, and surveillance.

At AlterNet, Marjorie Cohn writes that the memos "reveal a concerted strategy to cloak the President with power to override the Constitution:"

There are more memos yet to be released. They will invariably implicate Bush officials and lawyers in the commission of torture, illegal surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and other violations of the law.

Meanwhile, John Yoo remains on the faculty of Berkeley Law School and Jay Bybee is a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. These men, who advised Bush on how to create a police state, should be investigated, prosecuted, and disbarred. Yoo should be fired and Bybee impeached.

Scott Horton's "Last Chance to Get the Bushies" sees Yoo as the coalmine canary that may presage legal accountability for Bush's torture regime:

A new Justice Department report could contain a bombshell that would spell fresh legal trouble for top Bush officials. The report may link controversial memos on civil liberties and torture--written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo--directly to the White House, putting Yoo and other Bushies in the crosshairs of criminal prosecution. [...]

Sources at the department who have examined this report state that it echoes some of the harshest criticisms that have appeared in the academic literature, but the report's real bombshell, they say, will be its detailed disclosure of Yoo's dealings with the White House in connection with the preparation of the memos. It is widely suspected that the Yoo memos were requested as after-the-fact legal cover for draconian policies that were already in place ("CYA memos"). If the Justice Department internal probe concludes this is the case, that could have clear consequences for the current debate surrounding the Bush administration's accountability for torture.

Scott Horton writes at Harper's that "John Yoo's Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the President as commander-in-chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink" and quotes MSNBC's Michael Isikoff:

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.

Glenn Greenwald, in a typically excellent analysis, observes with dismay that "the documents released yesterday by the Obama DOJ comprise nothing less than a regime of secret laws under which we were governed." Hyperbole? Hardly. Greenwald underscores that "these weren't just abstract theories:"

They served as the basis for many U.S. government actions. Military actions were, in fact, directed at American citizens on U.S. soil (that's what the NSA program was, as but one example). Both legal residents and American citizens captured on U.S. soil were put in cages for years with no trial or charges of any kind. And, of course, the U.S. instituted a systematic torture regime that led to the brutalization and even deaths of many detainees in our custody. [...]

As but one example, we know that the Bush administration was engaged in certain surveillance activities aimed at U.S. citizens that were so patently illegal and wrong that even the right-wing fanatics in Bush's own Justice Department (such as John Aschroft) threatened to resign immediately if they didn't cease, yet we still, to this day, don't know what those domestic surveillance activities were.

Greenwald also observes that:

...the only reason we know about most of it -- such as the CIA's destruction of 92 interrogations videos, at the direction of the White House, despite the direct relevance of that evidence to numerous pending investigations (that's called "obstruction of justice," a felony) -- is because groups like the ACLU (with whom I consult), EFF, the Center for Constitutional Rights and others have been so tenacious about trying to compel its disclosure and combat it. If our political class had its way, even the bits and pieces we've now seen would continue to be hidden in the dark.

Andrew Sullivan, a conservative who didn't give up his principles in the face of Bushism, summarizes:

Just to recap: the last president believed that he had the inherent power to suspend both the First and the Fourth amendments, he had the power to seize anyone in the US or world, disappear and torture them, and ordered his legal goons to come up with patently absurd legal rationales for all of it. And much of official Washington carried on as normal - and those of us who actually stood up and opposed this were regarded as "hysterics". [...]

What we just lived through was an attack on the Constitution of the United States, conducted by the president and vice-president and an array of apparatchiks.The theory undergirding it renders the entire constitution subject to one man's prerogative. The conservative blogosphere - who resolutely ignored this in deference to their Caesar - now bleats about Obama's alleged threat to the constitution!

They'll keep bleating, no doubt--but less and less intelligibly.

links:
OLC memos at the DOJ
comprehensive list of memos from ProPublica

signage win

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I love seeing counter-demonstrations (such as this one) to the fundie Phelps "GOD HATES FAGS" Clan, and I love clever signs even more (h/t: Brad DeLong):

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Bravo!

AIG

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NYT's primer on the AIG fiasco--perhaps the poster-child for the economic crisis--noted that "the government feels it has no choice: because of A.I.G.'s dubious business practices during the housing bubble it pretty much has the world's financial system by the throat:"

I don't doubt this bit of conventional wisdom; after the calamity that followed the fall of Lehman Brothers, which was far less enmeshed in the global financial system than A.I.G., who would dare allow the world's biggest insurer to fail? Who would want to take that risk?

[...]

...because credit-default swaps were not regulated, and were not even categorized as a traditional insurance product, A.I.G. didn't have to put anything aside for losses. And it didn't.

Time explains "Why the AIG bailout just keeps getting bigger," Barry Ritholtz uses words like "clusterfuck" and "insanity" to describe it, and Robert Scheer notes at TruthDig that:

We've already given AIG a total of $170 billion--an amount that dwarfs the $75 billion allocated to helping those millions of homeowners facing foreclosures. And more will be thrown down the AIG rat hole because President Barack Obama is blindly following the misguided advice of his top economic advisers, who insist that AIG is too big to fail.

Scheer also asks this all-too-relevant question:

If AIG were so important to the American economy, shouldn't government regulators have been looking more closely at its activities?

But oversight conflicts with free-market fundamentalism, under which nothing is more important than profits--however they are obtained. Punishment, as Matt Yglesias observes, is also unlikely:

Thus far, there's been an extraordinary aversion to actually punishing any of the people responsible. It's true that most of them are less rich than they once were, but they're still far richer than most people. And it shouldn't be that wrecking your company and wrecking the world economy is a good way to become richer than most people.

AIG is, as we all know by now, representative of a much larger systemic failure. Media outlets are full of anger misdirected at homeowners and consumers, but Robert Weissman's Wall Street Watch report "Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America" (summarized here at AlterNet) examines how this travesty was enabled by the free-marketeers in Washington:

[O]ver the last decade, Wall Street showered Washington with over $1.7 billion in what are prettily described as "campaign contributions." This money went into the political coffers of everyone from the lowliest member of Congress to the President of the United States. The Money Industry spent another $3.4 billion on lobbyists whose job it was to press for deregulation -- Wall Street's license to steal from every American.

If the full 230-page report is too much to stomach, the executive summary gives an adequate taste:

This report has one overriding message: financial deregulation led directly to the financial meltdown.

It also has two other, top-tier messages. First, the details matter. The report documents a dozen specific deregulatory steps (including failures to regulate and failures to enforce existing regulations) that enabled Wall Street to crash the financial system. Second, Wall Street didn't obtain these regulatory abeyances based on the force of its arguments. At every step, critics warned of the dangers of further deregulation. Their evidence-based claims could not offset the political and economic muscle of Wall Street. The financial sector showered campaign contributions on politicians from both parties, invested heavily in a legion of lobbyists, paid academics and think tanks to justify their preferred policy positions, and cultivated a pliant media -- especially a cheerleading business media complex.

Did you hear about the 9-year-old Brazilian girl who was raped and impregnated by her step-father? When the twin fetuses were aborted to protect the girl's life, here's what the Catholic Church did about it:

The regional archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, pronounced excommunication for the mother for authorising the operation and doctors who carried it out for fear that the slim girl would not survive carrying the foetuses to term. [...] He also said the accused stepfather would not be expelled from the church.

Their history of letting child predators off the hook is truly appalling.

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway writes about seeing this bumper sticker:

"I was Joe the Plumber. Now I'm John Galt."

I attempted to unpack the stupidity involved in those statements, but instead settled on writing an alternate version:

"I was an idiot. Now I'm as asshole, too."

godless politics

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Hemant at Friendly Atheist noted that a fellow member of Atheist|Nexus has posted a National Journal article entitled "The Godless Rise As A Political Force." Paul Starobin, National Journal's reporter, recognizes that "In the past, politicians in Washington and elsewhere could largely ignore the Godless, whatever their numbers:"

But those days are over. Now the Godless are making a crucial transformation toward the status of a my-time-has- come movement with a political and legislative agenda to enact -- and with this shift, a host of contentious national issues is being engaged, with the potential to ignite a new round of culture wars in American society.

Here are a few things that he should consider: we atheists didn't ignite the culture wars, although they have been waged against us. Our motto isn't on the currency, our holy days aren't holidays, and our belief isn't represented in the Pledge of Allegiance. When Starobin writes that "the long-term Godless agenda" is "tantamount to a bid to wrest control of the culture from the religious-minded," he's wrong. We aren't demanding money that reads "in no gods we trust" or a Pledge that claims that we are "one nation under no gods," or even a president that swears the oath written in the Constitution.

Starobin writes more moderately later on, recognizing that we Godless Americans (I prefer god-free, but why quibble?) "want a place at the table:"

They want their voices to be heard not only at the White House and in the halls of Congress but also across the Potomac at the Pentagon, which they view as an especially hard bedrock of conservative religious culture, viscerally hostile to nonbelievers. In short, the Godless want to be viewed no longer as an offbeat and safely marginalized counterculture but as part of the diverse mainstream of American life.

When we get that place at the table, we'd also like a turn at saying a few words before the meal that we helped to provide and prepare. Theists may not be ready to hear what we're going to say, but their time of monopolizing the mealtime conversation is over.

A specter is haunting conservatives--the specter of bullshit. They've forced themselves into an electoral dilemma by slandering a broadly popular president even as their favored "socialist" epithet continues its long march through their partisan outlets and into the mainstream media. For one example, see this NYT interview with Obama:

Q. The first six weeks have given people a glimpse of your spending priorities. Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?

A. You know, let's take a look at the budget - the answer would be no.

Q. Is there anything wrong with saying yes?

A. Let's just take a look at what we've done.

Obama explained his stance on the budget, healthcare, and energy, noting that:

...if you look on the revenue side what we're proposing, what we're looking at is essentially to go back to the tax rates that existed during the 1990s when, as I recall, rich people were doing very well. In fact everybody was doing very well.

The interviewer wouldn't let it go:

Q. Is there one word name for your philosophy? If you're not a socialist, are you a liberal? Are you progressive? One word?

A. No, I'm not going to engage in that.

Obama called back later to expand on his answer:

President Obama: Just one thing I was thinking about as I was getting on the copter. It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question. I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn't under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. It wasn't on my watch. And it wasn't on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement - the prescription drug plan without a source of funding. And so I think it's important just to note when you start hearing folks through these words around that we've actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can't say the same.

[...]

The fact that we've had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk taking has precipitated a crisis. [emphasis added]

David Sirota is dismayed that Obama is "effectively validating the right wing's frame:"

In going out of his way to insist he's for the "free market," the president is signaling that he believes that the "free market" must always be worshiped and publicly glorified, even though this is an historic opportunity to reframe the entire debate on far more pragmatic, less ideological, terms.

I'm not saying he has to go out there and say he's a socialist (which, empirically, he most decidedly isn't) - but I am saying that there's a big political risk in his continuing to act as if the right's artificial economic frame must always be respected. That behavior legitimizes the "free market" metric - it says he believes he should be judged on that metric (ie. how "free market" a given proposal is), instead of being judged on other metrics (ie. how well a proposal works) that are far more important

This piece by dday at Hulabaloo also takes the wider view, noting that that the word socialism is scary "Only in a country where the balance of acceptable discourse has been so tainted and distorted that reasonable social democratic policies are completely forbidden from the conversation:"

The point here is that conservatives have so demonized the concept of the public commons, particularly inside the Beltway, that what is now considered a bold and socialistic policy shift - raising the top marginal tax rates 3-4%, investing in infrastructure with a mix of public and private money, using an individual mandate to keep insurance companies in the health care game, cap and trade - is actually a pre-compromised, market-friendly, neoliberal jumble that fits squarely in the center of the ideological divide. And this is essentially why the Army of Galts screams about socialism, to force the debate further to the right from the center where it is now situated.

Over at Daily Kos, DarkSyde sticks a fork in the "socialist" meme. I don't want to condense his argument, and this post is long enough already...so please check it out for yourself.

Significant works of art are commonly multi-layered; a single hearing of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, a single glance at Picasso's "Guernica," or a single viewing of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner are insufficient to exhaust their complexity and emotional depth. The same can be said of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons/John Higgins graphic novel masterpiece Watchmen.

As noted in the New York Times' new "graphic books" best-seller lists, Watchmen is the #3 hardcover and the #1 softcover. This is an encouraging sign that the movie's publicity is drawing people into bookstores; once they crack open the novel, Watchmen may forever alter the way they look at comics. The book's creative team spent a monumental amount of effort to create a fictional world that reveals itself a little more every time it is read, as I was recently reminded.

I've read Watchmen several times over the past 20 years, and am continually rewarded with new insights into the work. The latest one concerns two peripheral characters (Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis) whose mystery was revealed--perhaps--in this PDF article by James Gifford (h/t: gargoylekitty at Daily Scans, who linked to this Watchmen Wiki article that mentioned the Gifford piece).

It may seem a rather esoteric matter to be considering in the face of a multi-million dollar film, but Watchmen all but demands such analysis and interpretation.

DougJ writes about "Creeping Galtism" at Balloon Juice, and skewers the movement extraordinarily well:

I think there's been too much emphasis on what idiots these people are and not enough on how childish they are. Quitting work because of a slight tax increase isn't akin to anything from any sort of philosophy, not even one as crude and simplistic as Ayn Rand's; it's more akin to a child's decision to take his ball and go home. It's probably worse, though, since when a typical ten year-old gets home, stops crying, and wipes his nose, he doesn't then fantasize about how the world will now suffer from the loss of his inestimable brilliance.

(If the name John Galt doesn't ring any bells for you, he's the protagonist Ayn Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.)

blaming Obama

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I once referred to Faux News as "effluent for the affluent," but that term could be more accurately applied to the Wall Street Journal's execrable editorial content. (FNC prefers the lowbrow approach, desperately seeking the lowest common denominator, while the WSJ cultivates the sort of highbrow image demanded by both plutocrats and wannabes.) The WSJ's hatred for liberalism is still evident in their slanted op-eds, though. For one example see the attempt by Michael Boskin (a former Bush economic adviser) to blame the cratering stock market on "Obama's radicalism:"

It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy...

MediaMatters is on debunking duty, noting that the smear job--from both Boskin and Bloomberg--was picked up by (who else?) Drudge and Fox. Of course, the facts tell a rather different story:

Indeed, the Dow Jones industrial average was on a downward trajectory months before the election. Bloomberg News itself acknowledged in the article that "[t]he Dow entered its most recent bear market on July 2, 2008, when a 167-point decrease gave it a 20 percent loss from its record 14,164.53 on Oct. 9, 2007" but ignored the possibility that the current drop in the Dow was a continuation of the earlier trend:

20090307-dowjones.jpg

(This graph shows a seventeen-month trend. The last four months are post-election, and the last one and one-half are post-inauguration...yet it's now Obama's fault.)

Boskin dredged some more sludge up from the depths by revisiting the myth that "the government's meddling in the housing market to bring home ownership to low-income families...became a prime cause of the current economic and financial disaster."

I don't find that sort of media diet appealing in the slightest.

During last month's debate over the stimulus bill, Representative Steve Austria (R-OH) assailed FDR and Keynesian economics (see here and here):

"When (President Franklin) Roosevelt did this, he put our country into a Great Depression. [...] He tried to borrow and spend, he tried to use the Keynesian approach, and our country ended up in a Great Depression. That's just history."

That's just ludicrous.

Blaming FDR (who took office in 1933) for the Depression (which started in 1929) is utter nonsense, and Austria did make a partial correction. He no longer blamed FDR for causing the Depression, only for exacerbating it: "Roosevelt's attempt to use significant spending to get us out of the Depression did not have the desired effect." This is also untrue, but is an attractive belief to conservatives due to their hatred of FDR and misunderstanding of economics. Jonathan Chait's "Wasting Away in Hooverville" at TNR examines the importance of Amity Shlaes' book The Forgotten Man in conservatives' fantasies about FDR, Keynes, and the Depression:

The conservative movement has invested enormous effort in crafting a political mythology that gratifies its ideological impulses. The lesson they learned from Ronald Reagan is that ideological purity is not only compatible with political success, but is also the best path to political success. They dutifully applied this interpretation to everything that happened since--George H.W. Bush, then Newt Gingrich, and then George W. Bush all failed because they deviated from the true path--and to all that happened before. Nixon failed because he embraced big government. Kennedy succeeded because he was actually a proto-supply-sider.

From such a perspective, Roosevelt casts a long and threatening shadow over the conservative movement. Here was a case of a wildly unpopular conservative Republican, Herbert Hoover, who gave way to an unabashed liberal Democrat who won four presidential elections. Shlaes goes to great pains to explain away this apparent anomaly. In this instance, she does produce an internally coherent argument. It is, alas, wildly ahistorical.

Historical revisionism is nothing new for them, although reprising the ideological rigidity and political timidity that dramatically worsened the first few years of the Depression is a dangerous course given the situation in which we--and the rest of the world--now find ourselves. They've been running around like Henny Penny for 75 years crying that "Socialism is coming," and it's no more true now than it was then:

Though Hoover himself continued to assail the New Deal as calamitous socialism right up to his death in 1964, from 1936 on the party remained in the hands of men who understood that the New Deal had built an enduring base of support and could not be directly assailed.

But now we have come to a time when leading Republicans and conservatives--not just cranks, but the leadership of the party and the movement--once again sound exactly like Herbert Hoover. "Prosperity cannot be restored by raids upon the public Treasury," said President Hoover in 1930. "Our plan is rooted in the philosophy that we cannot borrow and spend our way back to prosperity," said House Minority Leader Boehner in 2009. They have come to this point by preferring theology to history, by wiping Hoover's record from their memories and replacing it with something very close to its opposite.

Let us hope that they fail as ignominiously this time as well.

class warfare?

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The Slate piece "War on the Rich?" by Daniel Gross (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values) looks at the steaming heaps of elephant dung that are the latest GOP talking points, noting that "It's hard to overstate how absurd these claims are." Republicans' wildly incorrect (one might even say fractally wrong) assumptions about the economic effect of marginal tax rates contradict the facts:

[W]e know from recent experience that marginal tax rates of 36 percent and 39 percent aren't wealth killers. I was around in the 1990s, when tax rates were at that level, and when capital gains and dividend taxes were significantly higher than they are today. And I seem to remember that we had a stock market boom, a broad rise in incomes (with the wealthy benefitting handily), and strong economic growth. [...] The Bush years, which had lower marginal rates and capital gains taxes, were a fiasco. In fact, if you tally up the vast destruction of wealth in the late Bush years--caused by foolish hedge funds, investment banks, and other financial services companies, it seems like the wealthy have in fact been waging war on one another.

Gross has some facts for the complaining Randian overclass:

What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!

Can she, or we, really be that stupid?

She certainly can be; I don't know that I've ever seen a group more in need of an Econ 101 refresher course than some of these rabid reactionaries. But no, they're too busy forwarding crap like the swimming-pool analogy and pretending that it represents our economy.

At the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson mocks that insipid Newsweek cover story and writes:

Even as we all turn red, I've still encountered just two avowed democratic socialists in my daily rounds through the nation's capital: Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders . . . and the guy I see in the mirror when I shave.

It's a great piece, but--as usual--the people who most need to read it won't go near it:

Give conservatives credit for their consistency: They attacked Roosevelt as a socialist as they are now attacking Obama, when in fact Obama, like Roosevelt before him, is engaged not in creating socialism but in rebooting a crashed capitalist system. The spending in Obama's stimulus plan isn't a socialist takeover. [...] Take it from a democratic socialist: Laissez-faire American capitalism is about to be supplanted not by socialism but by a more regulated, viable capitalism. And the reason isn't that the woods are full of secret socialists who are only now outing themselves.

Judging by the failures of the great Wall Street investment houses and the worldwide crisis of commercial banks; the collapse of East Asian, German and American exports; the death rattle of the U.S. auto industry; the plunge of stock markets everywhere; the sickening rise in global joblessness; and the growing shakiness of governments in fledgling democracies that opened themselves to the world market -- judging by all these, a more social capitalism is on the horizon because the deregulated capitalism of the past 30 years has blown itself up, taking much of the known world with it.

So, for conservatives searching for the culprits behind this transformation of capitalism: Despite our best efforts, it wasn't Bernie and it wasn't me. It was your own damn system.

This scandal has gotten far too little attention this week, but Scott Horton at Harper's is on the ball:

In a letter to the federal judge overseeing Freedom of Information Act litigation in New York, Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin drops a bombshell. The CIA purposefully destroyed nearly 100 tapes of interrogation sessions involving prisoners in its custody.

He goes on to observe that "Torture is a criminal act, and the tapes most likely captured evidence of crimes:"

There is one inescapable conclusion to draw from the destruction of evidence here: those who destroyed it fully appreciated it could be offered up as evidence of crimes in which they were implicated in a future prosecution.

At FDL, emptywheel asks "Who Watched the Torture Tapes?" and speculates that "we may get the names of other people (I'm curious whether Cheney, David Addington, or John Yoo might be among them) who had viewed the torture tapes."

The ACLU's press release is here.

Friendly Atheist linked to Austin Cline intriguing article entitled "Anti-Lent." Cline suggests that "If Christians do penance for their sins, you can rack up new 'sins' by test driving new material, physical pleasures. This life is the only one we have, so expand your comfort zone by trying new things." Cline's nine suggestions are:

  • Try Out New Signature Cocktails
  • Try a Greasy or Fattening Food
  • Experiment Sexually
  • Try a Dangerous Hobby
  • Experiment with a New Genre of Music
  • Test Your Clothing Comfort Zone
  • Rent Some Low-Brow Movies
  • Play Hooky and Treat Yourself
  • Dump Your Email In-box

Those are solid ideas, and a good starting point for an Anti-Lent celebration. I got to thinking. Instead of focusing on the greasy/fattening/low-brow route of simple hedonism or more thoughtful Epicureanism--not that there's anything wrong with either of them--why not try also some new things with more substance and depth? Here are my suggested additions to Cline's list:

  • Watch a classic movie or read a highly regarded novel; the art that makes the "canon" lists may be far more fulfilling--and less stereotypically "good for you"--than you might expect.
  • Go to a live concert or a play or a poetry reading, visit a gallery, or find another way to encourage the often-neglected local arts scene.
  • Visit a local library and get lost in the stacks for an afternoon; then (weather permitting) get lost in a park finding the perfect place to sit down and read a few chapters.
  • Develop a talent that you've kept hidden (bonus points are awarded for sharing your efforts with others).
  • Help those in need. Make a charitable donation, tutor a child, or give blood.
  • Speak your mind about something important to you. Start a blog or comment on someone else's; write a letter to the editor, or call the office of your Congressperson or Senators. (At the very least, tell a loved one how important they are to you.)

Your comfort zone--and your life--can be bigger and more fulfilling that you realize. (This is good, because the various celestial Santa Clauses are unlikely to provide another one.)

John Cole has some great snark about the reality behind the rhetoric about the top marginal tax rate:

The 2010 proposed rate of 39.60% = socialism.
The 2002-2008 rates of 35.00% = capitalist nirvana.
The 39.6% rate of the 1990's = socialism.
Everything else = down the memory hole.

That Obama fellow sure is soaking the rich, isn't he?

Cole also provides the data, for those with short memories:

20090303-taxrates.jpg

Philip Slater points out at HuffPo that "Money Doesn't Attract 'Talent,' It Merely Attracts Greed:"

Whereas the average ratio of CEO to worker salaries is about 20 to 1 in the rest of the industrial world--and was about that in America only a few decades ago--it has ballooned to 400 to 1 in recent times. Does this mean American corporate and banking executives are not only 20 times smarter than those abroad, but also 20 times smarter than the American executives who ran our economy before 1980?

Not very likely. But they're certainly 20 times greedier.

The past 35 years have seen an upward redistribution of wealth, as workers received a shrinking share of their productivity while working longer hours and paying more to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. Rectifying this injustice through progressive taxation is rewarding the work ethic, not undermining it. For a look at the other side, check out this ABC News article which quotes a whining attorney:

"We are going to try to figure out how to make our income $249,999.00. [...] Why kill yourself working if you're going to give it all away to people who aren't working as hard?"

Plenty of people who are working as hard as (or harder than) this anonymous attorney would be overjoyed to join the highest-paid echelon, but are instead struggling to make one-tenth (or less) of that income. The article also mentions a dentist who complains that:

...by reducing her income from her current $320,000 to under $250,000 by having her dental hygienist work fewer days and byl [sic] treating fewer patients, she would avoid paying higher taxes on the $70,000 that would be subject to increased taxation if Obama's proposal is signed into law.

As the lower tier of the upper class, these professionals aren't representative of the robber-baron mentality, but it must be nice to have the luxury to work less and still be financially comfortable. For more of the whining wealthy spouting Ayn-Randian-super-capitalist claptrap, look no further than this Michelle Malkin screed over at ClownHall. She writes about the pampered elites "going Galt," decrying "redistributionist thieves," and claims that "untold numbers of America's wealth producers are going on strike financially."

If the legions of overpaid and underperforming executives weren't able to rob the rest of us blind on their way out, we should say "Don't let the boardroom door hit you in the ass on the way to the Caymans."

more Watchmen

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The New Yorker's Anthony Lane begins his review of Watchmen with this asinine sentence:

The world of the graphic novel is a curious one. For every masterwork, such as "Persepolis" or "Maus," there seem to be shelves of cod mythology and rainy dystopias, patrolled by rock-jawed heroes and their melon-breasted sidekicks.

Jeet Heer's retort is excellent:

Let's imagine a clueless Anthony Lane who knew nothing about books or movies writing about these mediums. He would compose sentences like this: "The world of the print books is a curious one. For every masterwork, such as 'The Diary of Anne Frank' or 'Speak, Memory,' there seem to be shelves of Harlequin Romances and cheesy Star Trek knock-offs, shoddy paperbacks whose covers display rock-jawed heroes and their melon-breasted lovers."

Or our imaginary dumbbell Lane could also write: "The world of the motion picture is a curious one. For every masterwork, such as 'The Sorrow and the Pity' or 'The Times of Harvey Milk,' there seem to be thousands of superhero adaptations and banal blockbusters, patrolled by rock-jawed heroes accompanied by melon-breasted, plastic surgery enhanced actresses."

Reviewers who aren't familiar with the medium--let alone the work being adapted--have no business writing reviews, regardless of their film expertise. Can't the New Yorker find a more competent critic? For example, Lane notes the use of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in the soundtrack and snarks, "How long did it take the producers to arrive at that imaginative choice?" I guess Lane missed this panel from issue #11 of the graphic novel, which used the song's title in a perfume's marketing campaign:

20090304-nostalgia.jpg

(Tellingly, this excellent guide to Watchmen notes that the song "would fit well thematically on a hypothetical soundtrack.") Lane calls Watchmen "[i]ncoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny," opining that it "marks the final demolition of the comic strip, and it leaves you wondering: where did the comedy go?" While all of those things may be true, it's apparent that he hasn't done enough homework to make that opinion an informed one.

20090303-givemeliberty.jpg

Wolf, Naomi. Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008)

At more than twice the length of The End of America, Give Me Liberty is less a brief broadside against Bush than a substantive motivational guide for the post-Bush era. Wolf reminds us that our Founders set high standards for us: in speaking freely, assembling to redress wrongs, and in the civic participation that is essential to self-government.

In the interest of an empowered citizenry, Wolf shows us how to deliver a speech, write a press release, stage a protest, run a meeting, and file a FOIA request--all of which are highly relevant skills in an era when Blackwater mercenaries are deployed as an end-run around the Posse Comitatus Act.

She excoriates the "fake democracy" that hides protesters in "free speech zones" that more closely resemble cattle pens, noting that the Founders staked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in a revolution against the world's most powerful empire. All that we face today are the Tasers, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets of...the world's most powerful empire. (Maybe she's not so far off base, after all...)

To nitpick for a moment, this passage is incorrect:

Section 4 [of Article II] briefly discusses removal of the president, called "impeachment." (p. 331)

Actually, no. Article II, Section 4 states the following:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Clinton, to cite the obvious example that should slip no one's mind, was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate; he was therefore not removed from office.

The continuing plutocratic elements in Washington have not disappeared, and demonstrate clearly that Wolf's wakeup call is still needed--although perhaps with less urgency than under a third Bush term of Geezer & Gidget. There is much useful information in Give Me Liberty, which patriots of all stripes would be wise to read and absorb.

links:
introduction
excerpt

PopMatters has a spoiler-heavy post about the big change in Watchmen from Alan Moore's book to Zack Snyder's film:

Purists will simply balk out of allegiance, while those new to the film will wonder what all the hubbub is about. In the end [...] Watchmen works because of its underlying themes and symbols.

I really hope that Snyder hasn't fucked it all up.

EJ Dionne writes (at WaPo and TruthDig) about the big economic issues:

The central issue in American politics now is whether the country should reverse a three-decade-long trend of rising inequality in incomes and wealth. Politicians will say lots of things in the coming weeks, but they should be pushed relentlessly to address the bottom-line question: Do they believe that a fairer distribution of capitalism's bounty is essential to repairing a sick economy? Everything else is a subsidiary issue.

[...]

Obama's opponents need to admit that increasing government's share of the economy by less than 2 percentage points is hardly a form of wild-eyed state socialism.

Over at Time, Joe Klein tackles the Right's perennially useful "class warfare" meme:

In truth, class warfare is what the Reagan Era gave us: thirty years of tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of the common weal, thirty years of lax regulations which enabled the bankers to strip-mine the savings of average Americans while reaping huge rewards in Ponzi schemes, like the micro-dividing of mortgage assets that were really debits. Once again, I'm not sure Obama's proposals will work--some will surely be more successful than others, there's a good chance that rather than being too bold, he isn't being bold enough--but I am absolutely certain where the continuation, or augmentation, of Reagan-Bush policies would leave us: even worse off than we are now.

Mark Leibovich at NYT examines the Right's use of the word socialism, to which he gives far too much credence. For example, this is his commentary on CPAC speaker Bay Buchanan:

Ms. Buchanan said that while "socialist" has largely been on hiatus as a put-down in recent years, it was an effective instrument in defeating Bill Clinton's effort to overhaul the country's health-care system in the early 1990s. " 'Socialized medicine' was a great argument for us," she said, noting that the term will surely gain even more of a hold when the Obama administration unveils its own health care proposal, probably sometime this year. [emphasis added]

A great argument? Not really. It was a great slogan, though, despite the fact that the "words mean things" crowd would never admit that its effectiveness depended entirely on the audience not understanding two crucial pieces of information: the actual contents of the proposed legislation, and the actual meaning of socialism.

The more things change...

zing!

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Serve:

I have a friend who is planning to not work overtime this year to stay well below the dangerous benchmark that is 250k. His point was that he might as well take some time off and enjoy and relax rather than work and give every dollar above 250 away. I don't blame his reasoning and the loss is, he spends his money.

Slam:

Obviously the first reaction to this is what a great country America is, where someone can earn a quarter of a million dollars without understanding the concept of a marginal tax rate.

The following was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer (h/t: Americans United):

With the state sinking deeper into a fiscal hole, the Pennsylvania General Assembly bought 220 Bibles and other holy books for legislators as they took the oath of office last month.

And the public paid for them - roughly $13,700 in all.

As Sandhya Bathija writes at AU:

The fact that these legislators are receiving any holy book from the state wrongly entangles government with religion. The Constitution demands that the state remain neutral when it comes to matters of faith. Lawmakers are free to practice their religion on their own time. And they can afford to purchase their own Bibles or other holy books with their own funds.

Let's hope the Pennsylvania General Assembly puts an end to this misguided tradition and maybe even begins a new one: providing copies of the Constitution.

What really annoys me about this whole thing is that it's not as if the Bible is either a). so uncommon a book that legislators won't already have a copy, or b). in any way relevant to good governance.

I'm an atheist, and I have four Bibles at home--in addition to the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, a Qu'ran, various Greek and Hindu myths, etc.

I would much rather have legislators who are conversant with the Declaration, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Trying to legislate from religious texts is a recipe for barbarism.

Vjack at Atheist Revolution discusses stereotypes of atheists. It's an interesting, if contradictory list: we are tarred as being angry and sad, both liberal and militant. (Of course, we're also evil and immoral--or does that even need to be said?) I haven't heard accusations of immorality as much as assertions that we're all moral relativists. (From their Manichaean point of view, that's probably worse...)

Another stereotype that I've personally been accused of is arrogance--which, I must admit, is sometimes true. Considering that there's plenty of arrogance on both sides of most religious discussions, I'm perfectly happy to be arrogant and right rather than arrogant and wrong.

With the debates over Obama's proposed budget starting to fill Washington DC with much hot air and very little illumination, Sara Robinson's AlterNet piece on conservatives' dangerous fiscal ideas is an extremely relevant one:

The conservatives -- that's right, the very same folks who just dragged us along on an eight-year drunken binge during which they borrowed-and-spent us into the deepest financial catastrophe in nearly a century -- are now standing there, faces full of moral rectitude, fingers pointing and shaking in our faces, righteously lecturing the rest of us on the topic of "fiscal responsibility."

[...]

Conservatives believe wholeheartedly in investment and wealth-building when individuals, families, and corporations do it. But their faith in the power of money well-spent -- and the value of accumulated capital -- completely vanishes when it comes to government spending.

ThinkProgress does their usual great job at deflating some "Right-Wing Tax and Budget Myths," which is a reliable antidote to the Right's noisy bloviations from earlier this weekend.

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