July 2009 Archives


Jacoby, Susan. Alger Hiss and the Battle for History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009)

Much like recent conservative efforts to whitewash Reagan's presidency, the Alger Hiss/Whittaker Chambers case has been important in bolstering their Cold War version of history. Susan Jacoby (website, Wikipedia) is somewhat surprised at the case's continued media resilience and political resonance:

It is extraordinary that Hiss's fate continues to generate controversy even though American communism, in both a practical and an intellectual sense, ceased to exist a half-century ago as anything other than a bogeyman for the right and a delusion for the extreme left. (p. 10)

Despite the fact that the battle the Hiss case is now more than sixty years old, the pro-Hiss and anti-Hiss intellectuals seem to hate each other as much as their predecessors did when Joseph Stalin presided in the Kremlin and Joseph McCarthy was waving around his list of covert Communists in the State Department. Many no doubt hate one another personally, but what each side truly hates is the other's version of history. (pp. 194-195)

As she writes later, "For both groups, the guilt or innocence of Alger Hiss remains today what it was in the fifties--a symbolic and real indicator of which side you were, and are, on" (p. 26). Where does Jacoby stand regarding the case itself? She states clearly that "I believe Hiss was guilty of both perjury and spying, but I find evidence of the latter persuasive--very persuasive--rather than conclusive:" (p. 20)

It is not my intention, in this slim volume, to reexamine or reevaluate the actual evidence in the Hiss case; anyone who wishes to do so will be better served by the works of scholars who have, mirabile dictum, devoted years of their lives to poring over documents so endless (and often so dull) that it would be impossible for anyone but a Cold War junkie to read them without going blind or mad. (pp. 28-29)

Jacoby prefers to spare her readers both blindness and madness, telling a lively story and sprinkling the narrative with biographical bons mots such as this:

In 1930, while the Hisses were still living in Boston, Priscilla joined the Morningside Heights branch of the Socialist Party and began to engage in the seditious business of feeding the unemployed at soup kitchens on the Upper West Side. (p. 49)

Part of the case's continued relevance is definitional; the pundits' penchant for misrepresenting every economic position to the left of Friedman or Hayek as socialist or communist obscures what needs to be clarified:

The tendency of nonintellectual Americans to lump socialism and communism together was well established by the end of the First World War, and this conflation infuriated left-wing intellectual of every stripe. (p. 73)

Such imprecision--or deliberate misrepresentation, if you prefer--should concern anyone who cares about the veracity of arguments over political economy, but it is telling that only liberals seem concerned with rhetorical accuracy. (The recent effort by the Right to mischaracterize fascism as a left-wing phenomenon is another example.) That said, it is still possible in the narrower instance of the Hiss/Chambers case for actual espionage--of whatever magnitude--to have occurred without justifying the Red Scare that consumed America then and haunts it still. As Jacoby shows, this history lesson has been properly learned by neither side.


Dorothy Gallagher reviewed the book for the New York Times

Wikipedia has decent articles on both Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, but no separate article on the Case itself

Kai Bird's "The Mystery of Ales" at American Scholar questions the assumption that Hiss and the spy code-named 'Ales' are the same person; Ron Rosenbaum comments on that effort at Slate

Mojoey posted about Republican sex scandals at Deep Thoughts, recommending this list of GOP offenders. I suggested the book The Brotherhood of the Disappearing Pants, and Buffy (of Gaytheist Agenda fame) recommended her wife Sapphocrat's Conservative Babylon ("Exposing the Hypocrisy of the 'Family Values' Crowd, One Right-Winger at a Time") site. I couldn't believe that I never stumbled upon it before; it's a solid piece of work that is now on my list of research resources.

This reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago in the wake of Palin's resignation announcement: a conservative asked me why I had posted several pieces on Palin's scandals. I replied that I did so because they were both current and newsworthy--and I was then chided to "just let it go already" and stop living in the past. When the conversation descended to the subject of GOP sex scandals--not my fault, really!--I was immediately subjected to complaints about (you guessed it!) Bill Clinton's blowjobs. The ability to drop current GOP scandals down the memory hole while still complaining about Democratic ones a full decade later was such a blatant double standard that I was actually stunned into silence for a moment.

If only my esprit de l'escalier would kick in sooner...

After mentioning Beethoven's infamous "Hammerklavier" piano sonata in this post a few months ago, I went to refresh my memory about the piece--and realized that I didn't have a copy in my collection! The 10-disc set of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas by Vladimir Ashkenazy seemed like a good choice for rectifying that problem, but the American edition was nearly $80; I found a Canadian edition at half that price, which was even cheaper at a certain online auction site. One of the great things about classical music, as noted by Ben at Classical Convert, is that it's a very cost-effective musical genre. Where else can one find ten CDs with over ten hours of phenomenal music--no filler tracks or sub-par "alternate" takes--for less than $3 each?

Even outside the realm of box sets, many classical labels price the single discs from their back catalogs very reasonably. Naxos and Arte Nova discs are in the single-digit price range, as are EMI's Encore (formerly Seraphim) and EMI Recommends lines, with Warner Classics' Apex line being slightly more expensive. EMI's Gemini line and Virgin's Veritas series cover the two-disc price point, with the EMI Triples and Deutsche Grammophon Trio series populating the niche just below the larger and more comprehensive box sets.

Does anyone have a favorite classical CD line that I've overlooked?

update (7/26 @ 4:27pm):
HMV and Classic FM have a "Full Works" series--which I've seen advertised in BBC Music, Classic FM, and Gramophone magazines--but the discs are exclusive to HMV and don't seem to be available on this side of the pond.

In the comics section of my home library, the amount of shelf space devoted to anthologies has expanded dramatically over the past few years; it has grown yet again with the third annual "Best American Comics" book (under new editorship each year) and the second "Anthology of Graphic Fiction" collection from Ivan Brunetti. The previous volumes of each series--BAC 2006 (Amazon, review), 2007 (Amazon, review), and Brunetti's Anthology Volume 1 (Amazon, review)--were great reads for this familiar-with-the-industry-but-not-fanatic comics reader, and these volumes live up their predecessors. (I'm not forgetting about McSweeney's #13--Amazon and review--but but rather waiting for a sequel...)

I had intended on reviewing these volumes when they were released last fall, but my reading and blogging were far too consumed with politics for me to give these works the attention they deserved. Thankfully, books are patient and forgiving.


Lynda Barry, ed. The Best American Comics 2008 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

After first reading through Best American Comics 2008, I felt a bit underwhelmed; another reading revised my estimation upward. Highlights of this volume include Chris Ware's New Yorker "Thanksgiving Series" as well as excerpts from Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets, Jason Lutes' Berlin, Seth's George Sprott, and my three favorites: Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese, David Axe/Steve Alexa's War Fix, and "Turtle, Keep It Steady!" by Joseph Lambert.

Lynda Barry discusses DC's refusal to include Batman Year 100 (PDF preview here), a situation that was mentioned in her Introduction:

"Unfortunately, DC refused to grant permission to include it in The Best American Comics 2008 and it was clear that no DC superhero comic could ever be included in the collection."

Paul Pope, writer/artist on Batman: Year 100, stated: "I made formal requests, as did Lynda and a number of other people with some degree of influence." The lack of superheroes doesn't seem to have hurt either the series or this volume, which has attracted considerable critical attention. Matthew Brady's piece at Comics Reporter is the best review of BAC 2008 I've seen, with an evaluation of each piece and plenty of sample panels. There are also reviews at Chicago Reader, PopMatters, and SlashDot, with the metaphor of the day coming from this review:

"Like ordering the beer sampler at your favorite micro-brewery, you'll find here a collection of short, well-crafted, interesting comics and an easy way to figure out whether you might like to see more from these creators without blowing your wallet."


Ivan Brunetti, ed. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories: Volume 2 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008)

The other volume of comics concoctions is Brunetti's second Anthology. It has a nearly 100-page length advantage over BAC 2008, and the slightly larger page size gives it some added heft as well. The contributions by Harvey Kurtzman are excellent, and the pages that follow form a tribute to him--rather like the first volume's paean to Charles Schulz. Kevin Huizenga's homage to Crumb (p. 299, from "The Curse") was also a nice touch of the sort that permeates this volume.

Richard von Busack is "flabbergasted by the range of work" in Anthology 2, that "[t]he selections are kaleidoscopically varied, almost universally risky and created to satisfy a number of impulses." Sean Collins also praises Brunetti's selections and sequencing:

"A sequence of R. Crumb/Harvey Pekar strips about blues and jazz records and record collecting ends up feeling like a complex and at times uncomfortable suite about race, sex, class, art, and modernity. And the sequence of strips that ends the book--Seth, Adrian Tomine, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, David Heatley--ends the book on a high note."

Brunetti is interviewed here and here, with a long interview here:

These books are not like a complete and final representation of everything that's interesting in comics. There are many more new things. I hope someone else will take up the task of doing more anthologies that have a strong singular editorial vision, even if it's a crazy editorial vision. That's what I was throwing in there. It's a very singular viewpoint. They're almost like autobiography. They probably reveal a lot about me, whether I was trying to do that or not.

I'm already looking forward to The Best American Comics 2009, and also hoping that Brunetti changes his mind about not editing a third Anthology.

editing Palin

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What happens when Palin's infamous resignation speech gets the once-over from three Vanity Fair editors? It looks like this:

(h/t: Tengrain at Mock, Paper, Scissors)

I was surprised to see that they kept the "only dead fish go with the flow" line and didn't fully correct the misattributed Douglas MacArthur (actually Oliver Prince Smith) quote, but it's still a great piece--all eleven pages of it.

Exactly 40 years ago at 10:56PM EDT, something amazing happened: NASA fulfilled Kennedy's promise, and delivered the crew of Apollo 11 to the surface of the moon. If you haven't done so already, check out the We Choose the Moon website (h/t: Brad Justus at GeekDad).



(The Boston Globe has a great collection of photos here.)

If you're looking for some levity in the face of this accomplishment, The Onion says it all:

(h/t: Driftglass)


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A fellow bibliophile sent me an Encarta article "What Effect Reading Has on Our Minds," which mentioned Anne Cunningham's paper "What Reading Does for the Mind." Cunningham made some intriguing observations about not just one's amount of reading, but also the age at which one started:

...an early start in reading is important in predicting a lifetime of literacy experience--and this is true regardless of the level of reading comprehension ability that the individual eventually attains. This is a stunning finding because it means that students who get off to a fast start in reading are more likely to read more over the years, and, furthermore, this very act of reading can help children compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability by building their vocabulary and general knowledge. [...] Those who read a lot will enhance their verbal intelligence; that is, reading will make them smarter.

Reading volume was mentioned in her analysis as "a very powerful predictor of vocabulary and knowledge differences," and Cunningham wrote that "Avid readers tend to be different from nonreaders on a wide variety of cognitive skills, behavioral habits, and background variables:"

We found that reading volume made a significant contribution to multiple measures of vocabulary, general knowledge, spelling, and verbal fluency even after reading comprehension ability and nonverbal ability had been partialed out.

Not surprisingly, the opposite combination (high television-watching and low reading volume) was shows to be quite detrimental:

The cognitive anatomy of misinformation appears to be one of too little exposure to print (or reading) and over-reliance on television for information about the world. Although television viewing can have positive associations with knowledge when the viewing is confined to public television, news, and/or documentary material (Hall, Chiarello, & Edmondson, 1996; West & Stanovich, 1991; West et al., 1993), familiarity with the prime time television material that defines mass viewing in North America is most often negatively associated with knowledge acquisition.

The phrase "negatively associated with knowledge acquisition" would be the Faux News slogan if there were anything resembling truth in advertising.


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Andrew Batista Schlesinger's new book The Death of "Why?" is excerpted here at AlterNet. Schlesinger notes that "we are insulating ourselves from more and more opposing viewpoints--through the places we live, the way we vote, and who we turn to for news and information--and finding fewer and fewer catalysts to question our beliefs." She observes how we sort ourselves into "politically monogamous" communities, and asks "If people are living in their ghettos of belief, where is the catalyst to inquire?"

The examples cited by Schlesinger suggest that "it is not that we have lost the capacity to think beyond our frames of reference; it is that we aren't presented with enough opportunities to do so:"

When we bump up against new perspectives and experiences, when we are asked new questions that force us to think more deeply about our assumptions, we can change our minds. We don't have to--but the fact that we can is most important. This type of interaction, these expressions of deliberative democracy, are the antidote to the inward direction of our daily lives. When we create the right environment for people to come together around a shared goal, and the format and the facilitation to help them expose their own biases but move toward an end, we can arrive at consensus. In that consensus, there is power.

A shared goal is an unusual situation for all of us who spend our working lives under what is essentially authoritarian control--and I suspect a common focus would by its very nature generate a bias toward consensus-seeking. The isolation and atomization of consumer capitalism--the world outside of the "deliberative democracy" sessions Schlesinger mentions--leads directly toward the "what's-in-it-for-me" mentality that exacerbates much of our current misery. Schlesinger concludes: "Perhaps the problem is that we ask too little of ourselves in our democracy today:"

If we knew that it was up to us to ask the questions that would determine the quality of our lives, if we were given actual assignments to improve our communities (beyond voting every four years), maybe then we would view differently our responsibilities as citizens. Maybe then we would willingly undertake whatever questioning it took to get to consensus, rather than focusing on finding the perfect posture from which to hold our ideological ground. Maybe, if it were up to us to solve the problems of our whole city or state, we would see those with whom we disagree as necessary partners, would engage rather than avoid.

The Death of "Why?" looks to be an intriguing book, if this excerpt and Schlesinger's FDL book salon are any indication.

Thomas (What's the Matter with Kansas?) Frank writes about "Poor, Persecuted Sarah Palin" in--of all places--the Wall Street Journal. Frank observes that "she is known not for her ideas but as a martyr, a symbol of the culture-war crimes of the left...if political figures stand for ideas, victimization is what Ms. Palin is all about:"

It is her brand, her myth. Ronald Reagan stood tall. John McCain was about service. Barack Obama has hope. Sarah Palin is a collector of grievances. She runs for high office by griping.


This has been Ms. Palin's assigned role ever since she stepped on the national stage last summer. Indeed, she has stuck to it so unswervingly that one suspects it was settled on even before she was picked for the VP slot, that it was imposed on her by a roomful of GOP image consultants: Ms. Palin was to be the candidate on a cross.

In an era of GOP persecution complexes and pretended victimhood, Palin reigns supreme.


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I'm not sure about his reasoning, but John Simpson's mention of my blog in this satire-fest generated my second-highest incoming traffic yesterday:

Okay, let's hear it in the comments section now. No holding back. That includes you, Unrighteous Bubba and Cognitive Dissonant. Tell us about all the kinky things you like to do with tinfoil, Vaseline and vacuum cleaners while watching sick online German porn in your mothers' basements.

Compared to his rants about "liberal Democrat [sic] lefties" and his impressive collection of conservative stereotypes, I found Simpson's invective to be rather unimaginative. Besides, everyone knows that tinfoil is for hats, we hygiene-challenged radical Demoncrats live in vacuum-less slovenliness, and Swedish porn is the best. Also, there's no wireless signal in my Mom's basement--so I had to write this post at Starbucks after bumming $6 from her for my favorite frou-frou frappuccino. I made sure to coddle a dictator, hug a tree, and abort a fetus on the way home from singing "Kumbaya" at the weekly ACLU/ACORN "Hate America" rally at Ivory Tower U, the local hotbed of overeducated and underemployed queer atheist commies.

As it turns out, the secret program that Dick Cheney (illegally) kept hidden from Congress turns out to have been an assassination ring. The Mark Mazzetti/Scott Shane NYT article "CIA Had Plan to Assassinate Qaeda Leaders" notes that although the CIA "never proposed a specific operation to the White House for approval,"

Panetta scuttled the program...shortly after the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center recently informed him of its existence. The next day, June 24, he told Congressional Intelligence Committees that the plan had been hidden from lawmakers, initially at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Seymour Hersh broke the news (see this RawStory article by Muriel Kane) back in March, talking about "an executive assassination ring...in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. ... Congress has no oversight of it." Hersh didn't have enough details yet to make a full case, and I refrained from speculating at the time for fear of buying into a half-baked conspiracy theory. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann gave the Hersh revelation some airtime, as you can see in this clip:

[click here if you don't see Darth Cheney...]

(I had forgotten about the Hersh revelation until Ron Chusid mentioned it at Liberal Values, so at big old h/t to him.) Chusid also noted the reciprocity problem, which is probably one of the reasons the program never got off the ground:

It would be interesting to see the extent of their hit list, as well as the locations they were operating. I can't imagine conservative (or other Americans) tolerating it if a European country was sending operatives into the United States to assassinate suspected enemies.

Paul Krugman's NYT piece "Deficits Saved the World" looks at a "startling conclusion" from Goldman Sachs' Jan Hatzius: "government deficits, mainly the result of automatic stabilizers rather than discretionary policy, are the only thing that has saved us from a second Great Depression." It should be required reading, and not just for the pretty picture:


Here I show the private sector surplus and the public sector deficit, both as functions of GDP; the private sector line is upward-sloping because higher GDP means higher income and more savings, the public-sector line is downward-sloping because higher GDP means higher revenues. In equilibrium the private surplus equals the government deficit (not strictly true for any one country if you add in international capital flows, but think of this as a picture for the world economy). To make the figure cleaner I've shown an initial position of balance in both sectors, but this isn't important.


This says that absent the absorbing role of budget deficits, we would have had a full Great Depression experience. What we're actually having is awful, but not that awful -- and it's all because of the rise in deficits. Deficits, in other words, saved the world.

Keynes to the rescue!

Sarah Palin wrote a WaPo op-ed on cap-and-trade called "The 'Cap-and-Tax' Dead End," where she promises:

"...let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be: I am deeply concerned about President Obama's cap-and-trade energy plan..."

Please, Sarah...tell us what they wrote in the "energy" section of your briefing book! With your powerful intellect, diligent research, and keen insight, I'm sure that a solution to all our energy problems is near at hand. (Alas, I was to meet with disappointment...) Conor Clarke (subbing for Andrew Sullivan) noted that Palin "does not understand cap and trade" and "displays an ignorance for the subject so profound it's almost gutsy:"

The point of cap and trade is to solve a problem of social cost: As an energy consumer, I am imposing a cost on society (pollution) that I do not take into account when I make the original decision to consume.

This happens all the time. My decision to drive creates traffic that imposes a cost on society. A company's decision to fish in the ocean imposes a cost on the world's common stock of fisheries. A banker's decision to take on a huge amount of risk creates danger for the economy as a whole. The problem is that none of these private actors adequately bears the cost of their decisions. So, the usual solution is to increase the price of these decisions -- with congestion charges, or private property rights, or taxes -- so that private consumers take into account social costs.

TreeHugger's Brian Merchant wrote that Palin "completely misses the point," which is using the marketplace to mitigate the climate-change effects from burning fossil fuels. He justifies his rebuttal to Palin by noting that "plenty of people are still interested in hearing what she has to say--and they need to know that this kind of thinking will not increase US energy security in the long run:"

Palin's 'plan' would merely delay the inevitable shift towards a renewable energy economy, and keep the US heading down an emissions-heavy path with the threats of climate change growing, unchecked all the while. We can't afford either.

Palin graciously mentioned in her piece that "Alaska is not the sole source of American energy," and lists coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power as other options. Her dig-and-drill bias is showing, as she omitted the renewable sources of wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal. She's been repeating the story of "a tiny, 2,000-acre corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" every time ANWR comes up, but it's been debunked so many times that I've lost count. (I covered the "2,000 acres" myth here, as did NDRC and PolitiFact.)

MediaMatters fact-checked Palin, and--as usual--she's wrong about any number of things. Despite Palin's claims that cap-and-trade will "kill responsible domestic energy production" and "clobber every American consumer with higher prices," MediaMatters reports that it will decrease energy prices for low-income Americans, create 1.7 million jobs, and its clean-energy standard would save $95 billion. Steve Benen called Palin's op-ed "an impressive feat," noting that:

Palin managed to write an entire piece about energy policy without mentioning the words "global warming," "climate change," "carbon," or "emissions." There's "no denying" the need to address the issue, but there's also no explaining why. (She did, however, manage to work in the phrase "cap-and-tax" four times.)


As a political matter, Palin's op-ed was probably the first in a series of steps to give people the impression that she knows something about public policy. She's about more than poorly-written Facebook messages, poorly-written Twitter messages, and poorly-written speeches -- she's also willing to publish poorly-written newspaper pieces.

Once upon a time, dreck like Palin's would only have seen print in the Moonie Times, but standards at the Post have fallen rather precipitously of late.

When the "Unclassified Report on the President's Surveillance Program"was released on Friday, I knew that many bloggers--myself included--were about to spend a good deal of time researching the latest news in the ongoing drama that was the Bush-era domestic spying imbroglio. Lichtblau and Risen wrote in "US Wiretapping of Limited Value, Officials Report" that Bush's spying program was "of limited value," and that its "effectiveness in fighting terrorism was unclear:"

The report found that the secrecy surrounding the program may have limited its effectiveness. At the C.I.A., it said, so few working-level officers were allowed to know about the program that the agency often did not make full use of the leads the wiretapping generated, and intelligence leads that came from the wiretapping operation were often "vague or without context," the report said.

The findings raise questions about assertions from Mr. Bush and his most senior advisers that the warrantless wiretapping program was essential in stopping terrorist attacks.

Jack Balkin summarized the Bushies' doctored-intelligence mentality in "The IG Report and the Horse That is Already Out of the Barn Door:"

...the Bush Administration used an illegal program that wasn't effective, and when the public found out, it repeatedly used this ineffective program to scare Congress into passing laws that legitimated many of its illegal practices and gave the intelligence agencies greater leeway with less oversight.

Marcy "emptywheel" Wheeler notes "FISA's 15-Day Exemption" at FDL, writing that the Bushies can't even keep their timeline of excuses straight:

Yoo's analysis is not just dead wrong because FISA clearly contemplates its application even during wartime. But it's even worse because during this particular wartime situation, the Administration had already used that 15-day exemption period as it debated what and how to implement its warrantless wiretap program.

The Administration showed, by its actions, that it knew the AUMF didn't trump FISA. But then it proceeded to base its entire wiretap program on that very assumption.

Wheeler also notes the curious use of the passive voice in the report's description of the sign-this-now visit to Ashcroft's hospital room:

According to notes from Ashcroft's FBI security detail, at 6:20 PM that evening Card called the hospital and spoke with an agent in Ashcroft's security detail, advising him that President Bush would be calling shortly to speak with Ashcroft. Ashcroft's wife told the agent that Ashcroft would not accept the call. Ten minutes later, the agent called Ashcroft's Chief of Staff David Ayres at DOJ to request that Ayres speak with Card about the President's intention to call Ashcroft. The agent conveyed to Ayres Mrs. Ashcroft's desire that no calls be made to Ashcroft for another day or two. However, at 6:5 PM, Card and the President called the hospital and, according to the agent's notes, "insisted on speaking [with Attorney General Ashcroft]." According to the agent's notes, Mrs. Ashcroft took the call from Card and the President and was informed that Gonzales and Card were coming to the hospital to see Ashcroft regarding a matter involving national security. [emphasis via emptywheel]

Evidently, they don't want to come right out and say that Bush ordered the visit--which, as the report mentions, took place three weeks before Ashcroft's doctor cleared him to return to the job. That point should also be investigated. Salon's Glenn Greenwald opined that "The new Report on illegal spying is not a real investigation." Greenwald decried the "rampant and blatant...lawlessness that pervaded the Bush administration," and continues that last year's FSA Amendments Act retroactively legalizing that lawlessness "remains the single most compelling evidence of how ludicrously broken and corrupt our political class is on a very bipartisan basis:"

George Bush gets caught red-handed breaking long-standing laws in how he spies on Americans. The "opposition party" which controls the Congress not only blocks any investigations and attempts to impose accountability. Far worse, they proceed to legalize the very criminal programs that were exposed and to vest even greater surveillance powers in the very administration that got caught deliberately breaking the law. [emphasis in original]

Obama deserves criticism for his part in this--conservatives will claim he's wrong because he's a Democrat, but liberals must be the principled ones who recognize crimes and abuses of authority no matter who commits them.

In addition to the report, the NYT's Scott Shane reported in "Cheney Is Linked to Concealment of CIA Project" that CIA Director Leon Panetta dropped a minor bombshell on the Senate and House intelligence committees: "The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney." In "Cheney Ordered Concealment," Washington Monthly's Steve Benen adds this note:

Postscript: As for the recent "debate" about Speaker Pelosi's not-so-scandalous suggestion that the CIA is not always forthcoming with lawmakers, Republicans can send their apologies to Office of the Speaker, H-232, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 20515.

In more positive news, AG Eric Holder hinted that investigations in Bush's torture regime may be forthcoming. Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reported in "Independent's Day" that "Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do:"

While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. "I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president's agenda," he says. "But that can't be a part of my decision."

Glenn Greenwald suggested in "The Holder Trial Balloon: Abu Ghraib redux" that the Holder leak is "a 'trial balloon' to gauge public reaction," and that any investigation "targeting low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy-makers from prosecution" would be worse than no investigation at all:

That's true not only because it would replicate the disgraceful whitewashing of the Abu Ghraib prosecutions. It would do that, but even worse, it would bolster the principal instrument of executive lawlessness -- the Beltway orthodoxy that any time a President can find a low-level DOJ functionary to authorize what he wants to do, then it is, by definition, "legal" and he's immune from prosecution when he does it, no matter how blatantly criminal it is.

In "Reluctantly Looking Backwards," Steve Benen notes the inconsistencies in Bush-protectors circling the wagons around his disastrous legacy:

America's image in the world was undermined by Bush/Cheney scandals. Holding officials responsible for abuses and possible crimes doesn't make the United States look worse; it makes us look better. Mature, credible, transparent democracies don't ignore official wrongdoing for fear of public embarrassment. [...] That some officials even find this basic concept controversial is depressing.

Andrew Sullivan is emblematic of those conservatives who are distressed at Sarah Palin's prominence within the GOP. He calls Palin "a joke of a candidate and a symptom of a political party in the middle of a mental breakdown," and writes that she "helps explain the broader problem with American conservatism right now:"

It is less a movement than an industry. From Fox News to talk radio to conservative publishing houses, it has created an alternate and lucrative media reality that is worth a fortune to those able to exploit it. Alas, these alternative media thrive on paranoia, hatred of liberal elites and growing extremist rhetoric made worse by a hermetically sealed echo chamber of true believers. Anyone criticised by the left or even by the establishment right is a martyr in this world. In America, martyrdom sells. And Palin is a product worth lots of money.

She wants some of it; and she has no actual interest in governing America (even though she'd love the title of president). She referred to giving up her "title" as governor, not her "office". In this, she is the ultimate Republican of this degenerate moment: all culture war, no policy; all identity politics, no engagement with practical answers to difficult public problems; and all hysterical opposition to Barack Obama, no actual alternatives offered.

Tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., Cirque du Sotomayor begins an engagement in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. C-SPAN, as always, supplies the best view for those who like to watch. Nuke some popcorn and get comfy, because the GOP will be trying to turn the hearings into a three-ring spectacle in order to fire up their base and fill their coffers.

Charlie Savage delivers a primer on what to expect from the hearings, and calls her confirmation "virtually guaranteed." Nico Pitney has an old-but-good "All You Need to Know" piece at HuffPo, and Wikipedia fills in the gaps.

update (7/13 @ 11:32am):
MediaMatters lists "Myths and falsehoods surrounding the Sotomayor nomination."

Has anyone else been gifted with the arrival of "25 Mistakes of Obama's First 100 Days" in their Inbox? I received a variant of it a few days ago, and--as is typical of these right-wing lists--there's much more fallacy than fact among its assertions. The version I'm fisking here points to this Facebook user are the originator of the list; there are other versions in circulation, but--as you'll see from this example--answering each claim in every version would require far more time than I'm willing to devote.

The original claims are indented and bolded; my responses (true or false, with an explanation) follow each point. I labeled some claims "false" if I was unable to find any supporting evidence after making a reasonable effort. (I am, as always, open to correction from anyone who can provide proof from either better sources or a more diligent search.)

25 Mistakes of Obama's First 100 Days

I'd be interested in hearing a liberal's side of the argument why these choices are not mistakes but are actually smart moves on Obama's part. Help me understand.

1. Offended the Queen of England

False. Far from being offended, the Queen was "delighted" after her meeting with Obama.

2. Bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia

True. I'd agree that this was a mistake--although Obama's slight bow is rather less bothersome than Bush's kissing and hand-holding.

3. Praised the Marxist Daniel Ortega

False. When asked what he thought about Daniel Ortega's speech at the Summit of the Americas, Obama responded, "It was 50 minutes long. That's what I thought." If that's "praise," someone needs to consult a better dictionary.

4. Kissed Hugo Chavez on the cheek

False. There are photos of Obama and Chavez shaking hands, but I didn't see a kiss. (If one had actually occurred, I would consider it a mistake, but that doesn't seem to be the case.)

5. Endorsed the Socialist Evo Morales of Bolivia

False. The closest thing I could find to an "endorsement" was a report that Obama congratulated Morales on Bolivia's new constitution. Enacted by 61% of the vote, the constitution represents "the most significant advancement of economic, social and cultural rights the country has seen in many decades" according to Amnesty International. That sounds like cause for congratulations to me.

6. Announced we would meet with Iranians with no pre-conditions

True, but not a mistake. As President-Elect, Obama issued this statement:

"Barack Obama supports tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to use the power of American diplomacy to pressure Iran to stop their illicit nuclear program, support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel."

Republicans may not like this change in policy from the previous administration, but ignoring Iran hasn't exactly been a successful strategy. Negotiation may prove to be a mistake, but it isn't yet.

7. Gave away billions to AIG, also without pre-conditions

False. The bailout happened last September, while Bush was in office. Obama spoke out forcefully against AIG bonuses when they came to light this year:

"This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"

(By the way, this "mistake" contradicts #21; the attachment of conditions to government bailout money must be either acceptable or unacceptable--not both.)

8. Expanded the bailouts

True, but not necessarily a mistake. As the global economy continued its catastrophic collapse earlier this year, the Obama administration recognized that more needed to be done to shore up our economy. Arguments can be made about specifics of the various stimulus and bankruptcy packages, but the necessity of doing something is hardly in doubt--except, perhaps, for die-hard market fundamentalists.

9. Insulted everyone who has ever loved a Special Olympian

True, but overstated. Obama did make a gaffe, and called Special Olympics chair Tim Shriver to apologize before it even aired: "He expressed his disappointment and he apologized, in a way that was very moving," said Shriver.

After eight years of Bush's made-up words, malapropisms, and general mangling of the English language, now conservatives are going to complain about a President's poor choice of words? Talk about selective outrage...

10. Doubled our national debt

False. According to the Treasury Department, the total national debt was $10,626,877,048,913.08 when Obama was inaugurated, and stood at $11,152,922,414,388.28 on 29 April (the end of his first 100 days). This makes the "doubled" claim off by a mere 95%. (Bear in mind that the federal government's fiscal year won't begin until 1 October, meaning that most of the federal spending to date continues to be from Bush's final budget.)

11. Announced a termination of the space defense system the day after the North Koreans launched an ICBM.

False. Missile defense expenditures will be $9.3 billion in FY 2010 (see page 3-34 of this DOD budget document).

12. Despite the urgings of his own CIA director and the prior 42 CIA directors, released information on intelligence gathering. Announced major restrictions on interrogation techniques used on enemy combatant prisoners.

False. Prior to Leon Panetta's tenure, there were 20 (not 42) people who served as either Director of Central Intelligence or Director of the CIA. Judging by his "Message from the Director: Interrogation Policy and Contracts," Panetta seems to feel that he can do his job with the "major restrictions" of obeying the law and not torturing detainees--although some of his immediate predecessors may feel differently due to their own compromised positions with respect to various crimes committed on their watch.

13. Accepted without public comment the fact that five of his cabinet members cheated on their taxes and two others withdrew after they couldn't take the heat.

False. Among other examples of his public comments, Obama went on NBC Nightly News and told host Brian Williams, "did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely and I'm willing to take my lumps."

14. Appointed a Homeland Security Chief who quickly identified as "dangers to the nation", groups including veterans of the military, and opponents to abortion on demand, and who ordered that the word terrorism" no longer be used but instead referred to such acts as "man made disasters.

False. The DHS report on 'Rightwing Extremism" that I discussed here has proven to be all too accurate given the number of right-wing extremists who have become domestic terrorists. The report notes the "willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups," but does not single out veterans' groups or abortion opponents as violent extremists.

Far from ordering that the word "terrorism" be avoided, DHS's Janet Napolitano said "I presume there is always a threat from terrorism" in this interview with Der Spiegel. In testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, she said:

"At its core, I believe DHS has a straightforward mission: to protect the American people from threats both foreign and domestic, both natural and manmade - to do all that we can to prevent threats from materializing, respond to them if they do, and recover with resiliency."
15. Circled the globe so he could openly apologize for America's greatness.

False. Assertions repeated ad nauseum on talk radio and Faux News are not the same thing as facts. See "Conservative media smear Obama for purported overseas 'apology tour'" and "Fox hosts revive Fox-manufactured Obama 'apology tour'" for details.

16. Told Mexicans the violence in their country was because of us.......

False. Obama complimented Mexican efforts to combat the drug cartels during a joint press conference in Mexico City:

"I commend Mexico for the successes that have already been achieved. But I will not pretend that this is Mexico's responsibility alone. A demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business. This war is being waged with guns purchased not here, but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border.

So we have responsibilities, as well. We have to do our part. We have to crack down on drug use in our cities and towns. We have to stem the southbound flow of guns and cash."

17. Politicized the census by moving it into the White House from its Department of Commerce origins and announced ACORN [the organization under massive scrutiny amid allegations of election fraud] would manage the process.

False. I love the smell of an ACORN conspiracy theory in the morning; it smells like...bullshit! The Census Department has not been moved (see "Myths and Falsehoods About the 2010 Census and the Obama Administration" for details), and ACORN is not "managing" it. ACORN is merely a "2010 Census Partner" (along with 30,000 other groups) helping to recruit some of the 1.4 million temporary workers needed for the job.

18. Appointed as Attorney General the man who orchestrated the forced removal and expulsion from America to Cuba of a nine-year old whose mother died trying to bring him to a life of freedom in the United States.

False. Then-Deputy AG Eric Holder appears to have had little to do with returning Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba, outside of making statements supporting the Justice Department's actions in the case. (It's nice to see that conservatives have found at least one illegal immigrant who they didn't want to be "forcibly removed and expelled.")

19. Salutes as heroes three Navy SEALS who took down three terrorists who threatened one American life and the next day announces members of the Bush administration will likely stand trial for torturing a terrorist who had played a part in killing 3000 Americans by pouring water up their nose.

True, but not a mistake. Torture, including waterboarding, is a violation of the military code of conduct as well as both national and international law--and has been recognized as such for decades. (In fact, we have previously prosecuted foreign nationals for waterboarding our soldiers during wartime.) To pretend that torture is "OK when we do it" is a reprehensible double standard.

20. Air Force One flew over New York City for a photo op without notifying local authorities causing widespread panic.

Partially true. Obama was "furious" when he heard about this flyover, and said "It was a mistake. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again." (Are conservatives now suggesting that we hold presidents accountable for everything that happens while they're in office?)

[From the comments: I called it "partially true" because, although the flyover did happen, it wasn't an error that Obama himself committed. I wouldn't question its inclusion on a list of "mistakes made by federal government employees," but on this Obama-specific list it struck me as "filler" material trying to strengthen a weak case.]

21. Took over the American Automobile industry and handed over 50% off to the unions [because he said he owed them].

False. "Taking over" an industry requires a great deal more intervention than offering loans--which went to GM and Chrysler, not to the UAW--as Bush did in December 2008 and Obama did in February 2009.

22. Continued his drive for absolute gun control activities, thumbing his nose at the 2nd Amendment.

False. There is no absoluteness or nose-thumbing in Obama's position on gun violence in cities, which reads:

Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.
23. Offered travel and living subsidies in the U.S.to Hamas activists displaced from the Gaza Strip.

False Potentially true. False. The Presidential Determination in question refers to "Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza," not "Hamas activists." [As I mentioned in the comments: There is almost certain to be some overlap between the two groups. I was objecting more to the statement's Obama-supports-terrorists premise than anything else...]

[9/17/2009 @ 1:30pm. I revised this one back to false after more research.] FactCheck notes that the $20M in question "is put to use by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. But in this case, the money would provide humanitarian aid, not migration assistance:"

PRM does bring refugees from some countries to the United States, and also provides for their basic necessities when they first arrive. But a spokesperson for PRM told us that there is no resettlement program for Palestinian refugees. "We don't resettle out of the West Bank and Gaza, full stop," the spokesperson told us.
24. Got more airtime [TV] than Oprah Winfrey and was seldom in Washington tending to the business of State.

Probably true, but not a mistake. Obama is leading the most powerful national on Earth during a period of worldwide crisis: I would expect him to be on TV more than a talk-show host with five hours of airtime per week. (Also, claiming that Obama is "seldom in Washington tending to the business of State" is designed to exclude his extensive diplomatic work overseas, which is necessary given our circumstances.)

25. Announced the closure of enemy combatants detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba but failed to address the issue of 'what' to do with the 200+ prisoners currently held there. Rumors persist that they'll be housed on U.S. soil.

True, but not a mistake. Since they are US prisoners, why shouldn't they be held on US soil until trial? Trying to create an extra-legal penumbra around their captivity has enabled many of the human-rights abuses (e.g., ghost detainees, extraordinary rendition, torture, murder) of the previous administration. Discontinuing Bush's mistakes is, I think, the minimum that should be expected from Obama.

This point leads me to another problem with this email--the implication that Obama's mistakes are being ignored by liberals--that is also demonstrably false. As noted by Glenn Greenwald (and commented upon by me), conservatives fall prey to leader-worship far more than progressives. Liberal criticism of Obama will continue to be plentiful as long as he continues perpetuating the errors (military tribunals, telecom spying immunity, DADT) of previous administrations.

After once again revealing a collection of right-wing claims to be mostly mendacious, I find myself even less inclined than usual to continue playing this game of debunk-the-bullshit. Without evidence, further lists of partisan BS such as this one will probably go directly into my trash--unless I'm feeling particularly snarky. If the people writing these things can't be bothered to do their own fact-checking, why should I do it for them? After all, it's evident that the truth is far less important to them than politics.

Issue #46 of TPM (The Philosophers' Magazine) has a great forum on the 150th anniversary of On Liberty, written by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor. As a cornerstone of liberalism, On Liberty is essential for political scientists--or even just informed citizens--for the light it sheds on liberty and its applications to modernity.

Five of the seven TPM essays can be found here, Jo Ellen Jacobs argues in "The Second Scribe" that Mill and Taylor "argued that the tyranny of the majority was to become the greatest danger of the future:"

It is a future we find ourselves in now - with a majority willing to accept a definition of liberty that equates freedom with the ability to select between the ephemera of farting noises or koi ponds applications for an iPhone or 50 different varieties of breakfast cereal, while we are unconcerned that media has been reduced to the mouthpiece for half a dozen owners whose views seep into every sleepy eye and ear. The implicit orthodoxy is that anyone who questions this definition of freedom seeks a freedom that is unattainable, dangerous or both.

In light of On Liberty's sentiment that "That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time," I'm especially fond of the cover illustration by Felix Bennett:


Policy magazine also has an article about On Liberty, which author Andrew Norton calls "the most-read classic of the liberal canon." Norton writes that it "marks a turning point in liberalism. To the freedoms all liberals support, it adds an ideal of individuality, complete with experiments in living:"

Though On Liberty is not convincing on every point, many of Mill's dilemmas are our dilemmas too. How do we balance individual freedoms against broader social goods? Which social norms are valuable, and which obstacles to freedom and well-being? What rules of debate make it robust enough to discredit ill-founded beliefs, but civil enough that ideas get heard? Like other great political books, On Liberty remains worth reading because it asks questions that still need answers.

I replaced my dog-eared and highlighted student edition with the far nicer Everyman's Library edition, which also includes "Utilitarianism." I'm considering the Cambridge Critical Guide, the Routledge and Yale volumes, and the Continuum Reader's Guide as supplements.

Carl Tashian's protest flag at Make It Equal is a great idea (h/t: Bitch, PhD):

This is an evolving protest flag for equal marriage rights in the United States. The stars on the Jan 1, 2010 flag represent the states that actively perform same-sex marriages. Stars are arranged on the blue field in order of each state's admission into the union.


The Guardian's interview with philosopher AC Grayling (h/t: onegoodmove) demonstrates his talent for aphorisms:

I am putting together a secular bible. My Genesis is when the apple falls on Newton's head.


When I was 14 a chaplain at school gave me a reading list. I read everything and I went back to him with a question: how can you really believe in this stuff?


Christian churches and Muslim groups have no more right to have their say than women's institutes or trades unions. The government has actively encouraged faith-based education, and therefore given a megaphone to religious voices and fundamentalists.

Grayling's books on atheism just moved up several notches on my reading list.

I was contemplating an explanation of my several recent posts about Palin lately--as if their obvious newsworthiness needed any justification--until I saw that conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan had just written a post entitled "The Reason She Matters" that paralleled many of my thoughts about why it's not yet time to "move on:"

I want to explain why I think the Palin drama is actually important. It's not because of her: she's a delusional, narcissistic and disturbed person who would be voted off a reality show in the first rounds. It's because of John McCain, the Republican establishment and the mainstream media. What happened last fall was a warning sign to all of us about how corrupt and cynical the GOP, McCain and the MSM are. They colluded in such a way that this unstable, erratic, know-nothing beauty queen could actually have been president of the United States. What matters is that all those in on this scam be exposed and their way of conducting themselves be reformed until they stop risking the fate of the country and the world on their own vanities and cowardice.

McCain knew full well that Palin was unqualified to be commander-in-chief at this period of time; and he knew there was no way she could ever learn enough to do the job. So his decision to pick her was pure cynicism and irresponsibility. The MSM knew full well that there were very serious questions about this unknown person's background, lies, mental stability, and secrecy - but they were so terrified of being called biased they refused to do the proper vetting.


The reason we need to get to the truth of what happened is that these people nearly took this country off a cliff. They need to be held accountable. They need to be removed from their positions of power. We cannot move on until they are. And John McCain should retire from public life. After that decision, nothing he says can be taken seriously on the national or international stage.

I don't go quite as far as Sullivan--I don't give a shit about McCain, and I'll be happy to ignore Caribou Barbie as soon as she stops lying (and the media stop letting her get away with it).

Since (soon-to-be-ex-) Governor Palin is, according to this information, not as popular with Republican voters as had been hoped, perhaps she'll run in 2012 with some third party--or even create a new one. If she does, I'd like to suggest a name:

The Bullshit Moose Party.

(Apologies to Teddy Roosevelt, of course.)

Sarah Palin's resignation-speech claim of exoneration

Over the past nine months I've been accused of all sorts of frivolous ethics violations... Every one - all 15 of the ethics complaints have been dismissed. We've won!

was false at the time--see here and here for details--and it's gotten less accurate since then. Geoffrey Dunn writes at HuffPo that, according to government watchdog Zane Henning, "Palin's use of the per diem is in direct conflict with Section 39.52.120. (a) of the Alaska Executive Ethics Act:"

Sarah Palin has collected more than the amount established by law by cashing in her per diem checks. Alaska Statute 39.20.050 (Exclusive Compensation) states that the compensation fixed by law for the governor and lieutenant governor is in full for all services rendered by each of them in any official capacity or employment whatsoever during their respective terms of office. Per diem is therefore any added expenses incurred while in travel status, not when living in your own home.


State travel regulations say that per diem can't be claimed when travel is less than 50 miles from a state employee's workplace. The IRS and state finance officer have already determined that the per diem is considered income. The governor's workplace in Anchorage is only a 45-mile commute from her Wasilla home.

Palin's continuing complaints about "frivolous ethics charges" and "frivolous lawsuits" might mean that she treats her ongoing legal problems as frivolities; her "I'm certainly not a quitter" claim makes as little sense as ever--as in this interview with CNN's Drew Griffen:

"Winning" an ethics complaint in wingnut world apparently involves reimbursing funds and paying fines, just like "family values" means adulterous affairs and cruising in men's rooms, and the "rule of law" means torture and warrantless wiretaps. It's an interesting pathology.


The latest issue of Lapham's Quarterly, entitled "Travel," is another stellar compilation; one can easily see why the magazine was rated "Best New Publication" by Utne Reader. In addition to the magazine's contents, the redesigned LQ website now features an archive section, which I have been anxiously waiting.

From The Odyssey to Hannibal crossing the Alps, from Lewis & Clark to On the Road, LQ's "Travel" issue hits most of the expected highlights. I might have included something from Primo Levi's journey home from Auschwitz, Tocqueville's visit to America, or Robert Pirsig's Zen motorcycle ride, but--as usual--I'm glad to meet with the unexpected and unusual. After reading Tennyson's "Ulysses" (pp. 36-37), I exclaimed "I need more poetry!"

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

If money and time were unlimited, I would work my way through the entire "Pocket Poets" series from Everyman's Library, or at the least pick up the Norton Anthology of Poetry and relive my student days. Instead, perhaps it's finally time to crack open that copy of Harold Bloom's The Best Poems of the English Language that's been languishing on a shelf for far too long.

If I had edited this issue, my closing selection would have been from the longest journey humanity has yet undertaken. On today's date in 1990, when the Voyager spacecraft was 3.7 billion miles into its journey, it trained a camera back on Earth to put our planet in perspective one last time before it disappeared from view. The 0.12 of a pixel that represents our home planet can barely be distinguished in this image:


Sagan wrote about this photo in his book Pale Blue Dot (pp. 6-7):

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Although without rhyme or verse, that sentiment is rather poetic as well.

After the general Nixonian "you won't have Palin to kick around any more" pathos of her gubernatorial goodbye address, my first observation is that this passage makes no sense at all:

...it may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: "Sit down and shut up", but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out.

Doing your job is quitting? That's right up there with "Ignorance is Strength" as one of the pillars of conservative anti-intellectualism.

Secondly, she credited General Douglas MacArthur for the quote

"We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction."

which was actually spoken by Major General Oliver Prince Smith in this 1950 Time article (although it sounds like something from Walt Kelly's Pogo).

Then there was this great comment from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers--made before Palin's resignation:

Part of Sarah Palin's irresistible appeal to her fundamentalist base is her ability to look at the camera with utter conviction and declare black to be white.

The ability to lie well is a valuable part of the fundamentalist psychology. My son isn't gay, he just hasn't found the right woman! Those rocks aren't 50 million years old, they just look like it as a test of our faith! My sexless marriage isn't foundering, it is filled with God's spirit! The minister isn't molesting little Maria, they're just very close! It isn't torture, it is being tough on terrorists!

Fundamentalists can recognize a truly audacious and talented liar from miles away. Instead of running the other way, as you might expect, they gather around the powerful liar, for they know that their own lies will be respected and protected by a leader who understands the paramount importance of preserving their whole system of denial.

The wingnuts' entire "system of denial" is predicated on their persecution complex: a "center-right country" under attack from a liberal fifth column, a "Christian nation" in fear of the secular humanist conspiracy, the mighty "gay agenda" (that can't get basic civil liberties protections signed into law), conservative talk radio hosts silenced by "liberal media bias"...the list is long, and Palin's whining about being unwilling unable to do her job is just one more example.

update (7/6 @ 10:32pm):
That "advancing in a different direction" quote made an appearance in a 1952 issue of Two-Fisted Tales, drawn by Harvery Kurtzman (h/t: Jeet Heer):


The 96th Tour de France began today (website, Wikipedia), and it marks Lance Armstrong's return to the race that he dominated from 1999-2005. He finished today's first stage in tenth place...one down, twenty to go! If he wins the Tour this year--a long shot--Armstrong would not only add to his already-record 7 wins, but also become the oldest winner ever at 37.


The Guardian has a full section of Tour goodness, SF Chronicle talks about team dynamics, and Doug Cornelius suggests "Top Ten Reasons That Geeks Should Love the Tour de France" at GeekDad.

With her resignation from Alaska's governorship, Sarah Palin seems to be freeing herself up for a 2012 presidential run. Her rambling and borderline nonsensical speech shed little light on her motivations, and rumors are swirling about the real reason for her resignation. Among the more prominent are her lies about Todd's membership in the secessionist Alaska Independence Party and the possible embezzlement investigations into the supplier of building materials for her home, although there are others.

The latest poll of potential 2012 matchups shows Obama up 7% over Huckabee, 8% over Gingrich and Romney, and 12% over Palin. There is some speculating that she's looking for a different sort of high-profile public position--perhaps something at Faux News.

If she went back into TV, would Rupert Murdoch brand her as the "Queen of Wingnuttia" and place a tiara atop her up-do? I think she'd be unsatisfied with anything less.

Ron Chusid points out at Liberal Values that the Right's scare tactics about "socialized medicine" go back way past the "Harry & Louise" ads in the 1990s. Ronald Reagan was a propaganda pitchman for the Right in this 1961 address (audio only) bankrolled by the AMA as part of Operation Coffee Cup:

As noted by Chusid, Reagan's predictions "didn't come true, just like the predictions from those proclaiming health care reform must inevitably lead to doom are unlikely to come true:"

Despite the claims from the right, Medicare provides health care coverage more economically than private plans. Despite all the scare stories of government taking control of health care, Medicare also tends to intervene in medical decisions far less than many private plans. The scare stories about "socialized medicine" were greatly exaggerated while nobody predicted all the problems under corporate-controlled medicine.

Digby's post at Hullabaloo looks at the history of Medicare and other national healthcare proposals, observing that "right now there is a real chance for the first time in 65 years to enact universal health care, however imperfect the specifics of it may be:"

I'm sure whatever they pass will be inadequate, just as medicare and social security were inadequate when they were originally passed. It seems to be the American way. But if our political and business elites have finally come to the consensus that America should join the first world and create a system that guarantees coverage to everyone, then I think we have to take the leap while we can. History shows that these chances don't come along every day. In fact, they come along about every couple of decades and we very rarely can even take an incremental step. We need to get universal health care on the books.

I have only two words to offer: single payer.

Todd Purdum's piece on Sarah Palin in Vanity Fair, "It Came from Wasilla," has stirred up some controversy on the Right. Purdum called Palin "the sexiest brand in Republican politics" and stated that "Whatever her political future, the emergence of Sarah Palin raises questions that will not soon go away:"

What does it say about the nature of modern American politics that a public official who often seems proud of what she does not know is not only accepted but applauded? What does her prominence say about the importance of having (or lacking) a record of achievement in public life? Why did so many skilled veterans of the Republican Party--long regarded as the more adroit team in presidential politics--keep loyally working for her election even after they privately realized she was casual about the truth and totally unfit for the vice-presidency? Perhaps most painful, how could John McCain, one of the cagiest survivors in contemporary politics [...] ever have picked a person whose utter shortage of qualification for her proposed job all but disqualified him for his?

He nails Palin for her rampant dishonesty ("When she chooses to reveal herself, what she reveals is not always the same thing as the truth"), but the real damage comes from his analysis of the GOP's internecine infighting:

As Palin has piled misstep on top of misstep, the senior members of McCain's campaign team have undergone a painful odyssey of their own. In recent rounds of long conversations, most made it clear that they suffer a kind of survivor's guilt: they can't quite believe that for two frantic months last fall, caught in a Bermuda Triangle of a campaign, they worked their tails off to try to elect as vice president of the United States someone who, by mid-October, they believed for certain was nowhere near ready for the job, and might never be.


They all know that if their candidate--a 72-year-old cancer survivor--had won the presidency, the vice-presidency would be in the hands of a woman who lacked the knowledge, the preparation, the aptitude, and the temperament for the job.

Jonathan Martin at Politico wrote about conservatives' reaction to the article, much of it between pundit Bill Kristol and McCain's campaign manager Steve Schmidt, indicated that the vitriol "suggests the degree to which Palin remains a Rorschach test" for the Right:

Was Palin a fresh talent whose debut was mishandled by self-serving campaign insiders, or an eccentric "diva" who had no business on the national stage? Going forward, does she offer a conservative and charismatic face for a demoralized and star-less party? Or is she a loose cannon who should be consigned to the tabloids where she can reside in perpetuity with other flash-in-the-pan sensations?

Martin continues:

Loyalists to Palin, including Kristol, were outraged at Purdum's piece, believing it to be another example of what they see as elite media contempt for the Wasilla native.

The Vanity Fair article is neither uniformly conservative nor anti-intellectual, which I suspect underlies their complaints about elitism; this fluff piece at Runner's World is probably more to their liking because it lets Palin spout all her talking points without ever being in danger of a pointed follow-up question. (By the way, I give full props to Palin for being a 45-year-old who can run a sub-four-hour marathon--which is about an hour under the average woman's finishing time. I hope that her running schedule isn't so demanding that it interferes with her political ambitions. I'd love to see Palin on the GOP's 2012 ticket!) The RW article focused on running, but there was enough political content to catch some bloggers' attention. Palin discussed falling while running at McCain's ranch and claims, "I made those [Secret Service] guys swear to secrecy:"

And I probably should have gotten a couple stitches. But I was insisting with these guys, "Absolutely not, let's just wash it out." I appreciated how much care they took to help me out. So anyway, I have a little scar on my hand, and I've seen a couple of pictures from the debate or of me waving to someone on the campaign trail with that Band-Aid and I think, nobody else knows about it.

In the thirtieth episode of his "Odd Lies of Sarah Palin" series, Andrew Sullivan reproduces a campaign photo with the bandage prominently displayed on the heel of her (waving to the crowd) hand, along with a caption that noted the injury's cause as "falling while jogging." Sullivan observes that, far from being a secret, "the story was everywhere - a humanizing touch:"

So why did she just make up some strange story about it? The point is not that this is a grave sin. It isn't. Most of her lies aren't (with a few exceptions). They are just a function of someone who makes stories up all the time, who says things that may momentarily impress but that are inconsistent with past statements and with, you know, reality. That's why I'm such a skeptic about everything she does. And why I've come to believe that you need documentation to verify every strange story she tells.

Over at wingnut haven PowerLineBlog--where I doubt that any assertion of Palin's has ever been fact-checked--John Hinderaker and the other GOP GILF-lovers out there practically creamed their jeans over the Palin slideshow from the RW article. Writing that she "brings a unique dimension to our often ugly political scene," Hinderaker continues:

Say what you will about Governor Palin, no one else in politics brightens your day in quite the same way. The interview reflects her generous, good-humored personality, as well.

If I could do a passable imitation of Robin Wright, I'd be yelling "Run, Sarah, run!"

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