Posted by Brad @ 10:07 pm on August 31st 2009

Jenna Bush

Has gotten a job with NBC. As a reporter, no less (granted, for The Today Show, but still).

Greenwald strikes the right tone.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from.

I will let the Meghan McCain jab slide.

Posted by Brad @ 2:48 pm on August 30th 2009

Rendition I Can Get Behind

Portugal takes two of our Gitmo detainees. And promptly does what we apparently can’t—lets them go.

The two [Syrian nationals] “arrived August 28 in Portugal… and they were released,” the Portuguese interior ministry said in a statement on its website. They are “not subject to any charge, they are free people and are living in homes provided by state,” officials said.

Still worth noting, over and over again, when Brownback is talking about Leavenworth not being able to hold them or Dick Cheney is blabbering about “the worst of the worst”, that many if not most of the detainees remaining in U.S. custody, most of whom have been in U.S. custody for five years or more, we can’t even trump up secret charges in military-run kangaroo courts, the evidence of their “terrorist” status is so non-existent. Many if not most of these men, by even the most ardent and most aligned-against them judicial reviews imaginable, would still simply earn the right to be let go (which is precisely why we deny them such reviews).

Like the torture debate, we keep having the debate on the terms of “the worst of the worst”. Like we have to shape detainee policy around the most dangerous and most useful terrorist detainee we have, even if that experience isn’t replicated in 99% of the rest of the cases. Or we have to shape our interrogation policy around the ticking time bomb scenario, despite the fact that such a scenario is a chickenhawk urban legend.

In any case, what does it say about the United States of America that we have to extradite our detainees to foreign countries so they can do the dirty work for us…and the dirty work is releasing them? How fucked up has our political culture become when releasing an innocent man is something the United States cannot be seen engaging in?

Once you understand that, all of the smoke and mirrors debates about detainees becomes rather clear. We have simply decided to create a hazy political and legal structure, overturning centuries of precedent and principle, for the sake of instantiating a superstructure designed so the President or military never has to admit they were wrong, about anything. That’s the bottom line. That is the interest being protected.

Posted by Brad @ 12:03 pm on August 28th 2009

More Political Hackery in Filling Senate Vacancies

Following in the tradition of Joe Biden, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has decided to bypass public service experience, and has chosen to fill the Senate vacancy created by Mel Martinez with…Charlie Crist’s chief adviser and former Chief of Staff George LeMieux.

Gov. Charlie Crist chose trust and loyalty Friday over Washington experience or potential political gain in choosing former chief of staff George LeMieux to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

State Rep. Jennifer Carroll, who was considered for the position, said Crist told her he is choosing LeMieux. LeMieux is Crist’s closest political adviser and the governor’s pick shows he wants someone who thinks like him to hold the Senate seat Crist hopes to win in the November 2010 election.

As LeMieux said after interviewing for the position: “I’m a Charlie Crist Republican.”

Yeah, no kidding.

Clearly, this is one of those things that appears to bother just me, but it really grinds my gears. Being a United States Senator is a pinnacle of public service, making you one of maybe the 250 most influential public servants in America, whose decisions will affect the daily lives of millions of people. But lately, the trend has become for vacancies to be filled by loyal hacks who can just “administer” it for the sake of whoever The Powers That Be decide they want to have run for it later (in this case, Charlie Crist himself, which adds another level of insult to injury). It’s sort of like a CEO appointing his secretary to the Board of Directors.

And it’s not like there weren’t options:

Crist had a final list of nine candidates for the appointment. It included former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, Mike Bilirakis and Lou Frey. Crist also passed on a chance to please party conservatives by picking former Sen. Dan Webster. The governor also could have tried to win points with certain constituents by picking Carroll, a black woman and retired Navy officer, or former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez, who was born in Cuba.

Other candidates considered were University of North Florida president and former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney and Jim Smith, a Tallahassee lobbyist who is a former attorney general and secretary of state.

I’ve written about this before, but this brazen horsetrading of seats is really galling to, the two most egregious examples of which are on opposite sides of the aisle. Joe Biden had the governor of Delaware appoint Joe Biden’s aide to his seat, with the intent of keeping it warm for Joe Biden’s son. Charlie Crist, now, personally appoints his own aide to keep the seat warm for himself. I don’t understand why this sort of thing doesn’t raise more ire.

Look, I’m not so naive that I don’t understand that politics is usually a preeminent concern for politicians. Of course it is. But in these cases, it strikes me that there should at least be a little blowback when it’s so brazenly clear that “the good of the country” wasn’t even a standard worth considering, apparently.

Posted by Brad @ 11:49 am on August 28th 2009

Richardson Cleared

Just because nobody reads retractions, thought this worth entering into the public record.

Federal prosecutors have decided not to pursue a criminal case against Gov. Bill Richardson or other New Mexico officials in a “pay-to-play” inquiry involving high-profile political donors that lasted nearly a year, according to government officials told of the decision.

Mr. Richardson had withdrawn from consideration for Commerce Secretary in the fledgling Obama Cabinet early this year as news of the investigation into whether lucrative contracts had been given to a political donor became more widely known. The governor, a former Democratic presidential candidate and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, had asserted all along that he and his staff acted properly.

Posted by Brad @ 6:17 pm on August 27th 2009

Meanwhile, in Belarus….

MOSCOW – Belarus’s strongman leader has admitted rigging the country’s last presidential election — because, he says, his popularity is so vast that the true margin of victory was unbelievable and had to be lowered.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview published on Thursday that he took 93 per cent of the vote in the country’s 2006 presidential polls, but had the number reduced for “psychological” reasons.

“I gave the order for it to be not 93 per cent, but something around 80, I can’t remember how much. Because when you get over 90, this is not accepted psychologically. But it was the truth,” he told the Russian daily Izvestia.

Official results had Lukashenko winning 83 per cent of the vote in the 2006 election in the ex-Soviet republic, which was condemned as undemocratic by Western election observers.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by Washington for his authoritarian style of rule.

Hey, who can argue with that?

Posted by Brad @ 1:09 pm on August 27th 2009

Sibel Edmonds

Thanks to reader daveg for alerting us to this—I have no idea why it’s not a bigger story—in comments to another post. It really bears its own post.

Sebel Edmonds was an FBI translator who got caught up in the sort of conspiracy rings that paperback political thrillers write about, involving blackmail, sexual affairs, espionage, you name it. She tried to come forward years ago, but was gagged by the Bush White House under the State Secrets rubric.

Once Bush left office, however, and Edmonds continued to get subpoenaed, the Obama White House decided to step out of the way.

The Brad Blog (no relation) has the story. And good lord, what a story.

The BRAD BLOG covered details of some of Edmonds’ startling disclosures made during the deposition, as it happened, in our live blog coverage from August 8th. The deposition included criminal allegations against specifically named members of Congress. Among those named by Edmonds as part of a broad criminal conspiracy: Reps. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Dan Burton (R-IN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Bob Livingston (R-LA), Stephen Solarz (D-NY), Tom Lantos (D-CA), as well as an unnamed, still-serving Congresswoman (D) said to have been secretly videotaped, for blackmail purposes, during a lesbian affair.

High-ranking officials from the Bush Administration named in her testimony, as part of the criminal conspiracy on behalf of agents of the Government of Turkey, include Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Marc Grossman, and others.

During the deposition — which we are still going through ourselves — Edmonds discusses covert “activities” by Turkish entities “that would involve trying to obtain very sensitive, classified, highly classified U.S. intelligence information, weapons technology information, classified Congressional records…recruiting key U.S. individuals with access to highly sensitive information, blackmailing, bribery.”[…]

Edmonds’ on-the-record disclosures also include bombshell details concerning outed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson’s front company, Brewster Jennings. Edmonds alleges the front company had actually been shut down in August of 2001 — three years prior to Bob Novak’s public disclosure of the covert operative’s identity — following a tip-off to a wire-tap target about the true nature of the CIA front company. The cover was blown, Edmonds alleges, by Marc Grossman, who was, at the time, the third highest-ranking official in the U.S. State Department. Prior to that, Grossman served as ambassador to Turkey. He now works “for a Turkish company called Ihals Holding,” according to Edmonds’ testimony.

What. The. Fuck.

Posted by Brad @ 7:12 pm on August 26th 2009

Thought of the Day

From Patton Oswalt of all people.

AVC: You’ve stuck with MySpace as sort of your social-networking site of choice. You’ve also taken some distance from Facebook and sworn off Twitter. Why is that?

PO: I haven’t sworn off Facebook. I’m on Facebook. There’s a fan page on Facebook that I will update, but I’m on there myself under a pseudonym, because there were a lot of people able to private-message me on Facebook, and it was getting really weird. And then with MySpace, I just don’t read messages. I delete everything, and I just post updates every now and then. I don’t know, there’s something about MySpace for someone as OCD as me. MySpace is somehow more welcoming than Facebook. And Twittering, I just… Ugh. I like having radio silence. I think radio silence is an important part of any public figure’s day. We haven’t seen it yet, but there’s going to be a generation that comes up where the new trend will be complete anonymity. It’ll be cool to have never posted anything online, never commented, never opened a webpage or a MySpace, never Twittered. I think everyone in the future is going to be allowed to be obscure for 15 minutes. You’ll have 15 minutes where no one is watching you, and then you’ll be shoved back onto your reality show. I think Andy Warhol got it wrong.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:51 pm on August 26th 2009

There but for the grace of God…

The New Yorker covers the attempts to improve teaching in the New York City public schools. Do not read without having something to hit nearby.

The most difficult aspect of this for me to accept is the evident lockstep support of the teachers in question for incompetent colleagues. As a teacher myself (a good one on most days), nothing makes me angry more quickly than dealing with colleagues who won’t do their jobs. I am relatively fortunate in that there are very few of those sorts of teachers in my building, and those that are are pretty easily identifiable. Then again, we don’t have tenure.

I recognize the importance of basic job protections in a career as sensitive as teaching, but I cannot accept that a decent compromise cannot be found between arbitrary firings and complete inaccountability.

Posted by Rojas @ 3:52 pm on August 26th 2009

Ted Kennedy’s last political act on earth…

…was to write a letter to the Massachusetts State Legislature to request that the procedure for the selection of a replacement Senator be changed.

Robert Kulak points out the following:

The Massachusetts senate selection law itself is only five years old. In 2004, the law was changed from what Kennedy is now recommending to its present status. What’s changed since 2004?

In 2004, Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry was running for president and had he been elected to the presidency, the Massachusetts governor who would have appointed his successor was a Republican. So the law was changed to take away the appointment prerogative from the governor to a more democratic process – a special election.

In 2009, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy’s health prognosis is poor and the current governor is a Democrat. If the Massachusetts governor, after a senate vacancy occurs, immediately appoints a new senator, then Democrats will maintain 60 votes in the U.S. Senate – a position that enables them to unilaterally pass any legislation.

The political epitath for the Kennedy clan must surely be: “Rules were for other people.”

Posted by Rojas @ 2:14 pm on August 26th 2009

The loud bigotry of no expectations

Every now and then, when I’ve had a particularly ineffective day in the classroom and I begin to doubt my aptitude as a teacher, it’s comforting to read stuff like this:

Arguing that math needs to be more “democratic,” he contends that “social responsibility” demands a “total rethink” of British math instruction. He claims students are discouraged by the reality that solutions are either “right or wrong” and proposes that math answers “allow for shades of opinion.”

Read the whole document. Brief summary: America Doomed.

Posted by Brad @ 12:43 pm on August 26th 2009

Remembering Ted Kennedy

Thoughts and remembrances from those closest to him.

Posted by Cameron @ 10:14 am on August 26th 2009

An analysis of Netflix

I’ve been an occasional subscriber to Netflix for about four years now. I tend to subscribe for a month or two and only to tired of movies which prompts a pause of a few months until I’m yearning for more Netflix goodness. I’ve always found Netflix to be responsive to any customer service inquiries I’ve asked and was pleasantly surprised when they added a streaming component to their DVD rental business at no extra cost. Despite my long term relationship with Netflix, I’ve never given any particular thought to their business let alone their culture or management style.

I stumbled across a fascinating presentation released by Netflix itself regarding its culture, expectations and attitudes towards its salaried employees. Even though I don’t know whether this is idle talk or actual practiced policy, I am deeply impressed with some of the ideas discussed in this presentation. I ended up twice flipping through the all 128 slides.

I was originally planning on only selecting a few choice quotes and responding with my accompanying thoughts but as I stepped through the presentation again, I found myself writing down a goodly portion of what is covered in the slide show. This has morphed into a fairly lengthy dissection, so click through to the second page at your own risk (there is a video clip to break the monotony, however).

(more…)

Posted by Rojas @ 10:33 pm on August 25th 2009

Big

The dot at the center of this map represents the Milky Way galaxy. The other dots–roughly 100,000 of them–represent the known galaxies nearest the Milky Way.

Combined, the galaxies in question contain approximately 10 ^ 15 stars.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:55 pm on August 25th 2009

Another reason not to empower the state

It’s not news anymore, really, when the state executes an innocent man. But it’s probably newsworthy when even the state of Texas is more or less forced to admit it did so.

The death penalty really shouldn’t be a party-line issue at this point. Procedural errors have so heinously jacked up the system that irrevocable punishments should be outside the realm of consideration.

As an addendum: I’ll add The Innocence Project to Brad’s ACLU on the list of “damn dirty hippies who nonetheless do vitally important work”.

Posted by Brad @ 6:08 pm on August 25th 2009

Your DADT Story of the Day

Air force combat pilot is accused of raping a man. In the course of the police investigation, pilot is questioned, answers questions honestly to prove that the sex was consensual; provides evidence. Police clear him of all charges, as does an Air Force investigation, finding that the sex was indeed consensual and the plaintiff was an unreliable source.

Air Force promptly discharges pilot for being gay and takes away his pension for 20 years of service for answering police questions honestly.

Posted by Brad @ 5:51 pm on August 25th 2009

The Scott Hinderaker Take

For the record, which I quote only to quote Sully’s response:

Scott Hinderaker believes that democracy fails when it tries to keep its executive branch from violating the rule of law by authorizing the brutal torture and abuse of thousands of prisoners, many innocent. Let that sink in. It is part of the failure of democracy, in Hinderaker’s view, that it doesn’t empower the government to do anything it wants to do in the name of national security.

To put it bluntly, this is the classic fascist critique of liberal democracy. Fascists have always criticized democratic restraints on executive war-power, even when that war power is specifically designed to include citizens and to apply across the territory of the homeland as well as anywhere on the globe. As for the torture techniques previously used by the Gestapo, the Communist Chinese, the Soviet Gulag, and the Vietnamese, Hinderaker believes these were all “reasonably humane.” What was done to John McCain, in Hinderaker’s view, was humane, and certainly not torture; and what McCain was forced to confess was as reliable as the tortured confessions we now see on Iranian television.

Understanding the current right’s embrace of total state power against the individual takes time to absorb. But liberal democracy has no more dangerous enemies than these.

I do not think Andrew’s calling it fascistic is hyperbolic at all. The last time an American political movement openly flirted with out-and-out fascism was the left, in the 1920s, when the Depression had them beginning to think that the whole capitalistic/democratic system might be a failed experiment, and some of those European nations with strong leaders able to guide them through crises on the power of will alone (Mussolini being the most often cited) had it right. But the explicit position of many if not most on the right is that the executive has unitary and imperial authority, literally infinite power in the name of national security, and any attempts to impede or define his responsibilities or abilities is something in the same ballpark as treason. I don’t know what else to call that.

Also for the record:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

Posted by Brad @ 5:42 pm on August 25th 2009

The Scott Horton Take

If you only read one fly-by of the torture report, read this one. He makes seven broad observations, all of which are worth reading. The one that’s not redundant with most of what you’ve already read:

Opposition from within. For years the CIA has said that CIA personnel would be demoralized and the reputation of the agency would be damaged by disclosure of the contents of the report. But the report documents just the opposite. The Inspector General’s review was launched by complaints coming from valued senior employees who felt that the Bush Program (as John Yoo has dubbed it) was wrong. One of them actually expresses his worry that those involved will be hauled before the World Court at some point because of [and that’s redacted!] This makes clear that good employees of the agency opposed the Bush Program, were vocal in their opposition, and focused concern on the program’s illegality. The OLC memos were intended to silence these complaints, but they only accentuated the agency’s morale problems by enmeshing it in obviously illegal and immoral conduct. By contrast, the number of CIA personnel involved in pushing it through and supporting it is tiny—probably not many more than two dozen—though their voices are heard very loudly. It’s interesting that in a stream of appearances by CIA personnel on TV yesterday—Tyler Drumheller, Jack Rice, Bob Baer and others—all said that a criminal investigation was a good idea. The official spokesman of the CIA torture team remains, as for the last seven years, David Ignatius.

One of the many Big Lies surrounding this issue is the fantasy that it’s ivory tower liberals who oppose torture but that it’s the Protectors of America who are forced to get their hands dirty and who “knows what has to be done.”

That is, in a word, bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.

The people who engage in torture tend to either be grunts given a completely slack leash and thrown into a lawless, vindictive environment for which there is no oversight and, at best, ambiguous direction. Or civilian contractors. Or political hacks. Or people sucking up to said political hacks.

The true professionals—the career interrogators, the guys who actually have track records of gleaning valuable intelligence from detainees—are often the guys most opposed to idiotic and wanton prisoner abuse, because it is A. Illegal, B. Immoral, and C. Bad for Business, in the sense that it doesn’t generate meaningful intelligence, and is indeed more often than not utterly counterproductive to that aim.

It’s the armchair America First crowds and the ideological (and idiotical) Jack Bauer wannabe chickenhawks who have created a complete fantasy about what torture means and does. In the case of the Bush Administration, it was literally a handful of guys, Dick Cheney chief among them, who decided by themselves, based on nothing but their own gut feelings, that torture works, and then demanded that the professionals change their tactics to meet their fantasy. This was not professionals doing what had to be done. This was, almost literally, Dick Cheney telling them that he knew best what had to be done, and then leaning on the entire intelligence and military apparatus of the United States to do it his way.

That cannot be stressed enough.

Posted by Brad @ 3:27 pm on August 25th 2009

The Torture Cheer

So, what did we do?

The highlights include: (1) mock executions; (2) threatened rape of family members; (3) threatened murder of children; (4) kicking and beating a detainee with a metal flashlight to death; (5) threatening naked hooded detainees with power drills; (6) blowing cigar smoke in detainees’ faces until they got sick; (7) waterboarding with massive volumes of water far beyond what OLC authorized (to make it “poignant”); (8) stress positions that nearly caused shoulder dislocations; (9) scraping detainees with stiff brushes; (10) choking a detainee with one’s bare hands until they nearly pass out; (11) subjecting detainees to extremely cold temperatures and water dousing; (12) “hard takedowns” (sometimes in diapers); and (13) beating detainees with butts of rifles (followed by kicking them).

And who did we do it to?

the Report notes that many of the detainees who were subjected to this treatment were so treated due to “assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence” — meaning there was no real reason to think they had done anything wrong whatsoever. As has been known for quite some time, many of the people who were tortured by the United States were completely innocent — guilty of absolutely nothing.

And what did it get us?

Cheney’s public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don’t. […P]erhaps the blacked-out lines of the memos specifically claim and document that torture and only torture yielded this information. But what’s released within them does not remotely make that case.

What’s that spell?

We had representatives of the United States of America taking completely innocent men—literally just a nearly random assort of muslim men between the ages of 12 and 60—and beating them to death with flashlights and threatening to murder their children, and we have no idea if it was of absolutely any intelligence use whatsoever. This was authorized by the President, still defended by the former Vice President, has become a de facto plank of one of our two major parties, and has entirely corroded our culture to such an extent that whether it is alright to torture people is considered a polite difference of opinion.

Posted by Brad @ 1:20 pm on August 25th 2009

More Reasoned Debate on Health Care

Michael Steele: “The VA is encouraging veterans to commit suicide”. And thus, the Death Book meme is born.

Some people think this is just craven scare-mongering that would come up in any reflex attempt to stop Obama and the Democrats from doing anything whatsoever. I think there’s more to it than that. There is a straight line between the Terry Schiavo madness and this.

Posted by Brad @ 10:44 am on August 25th 2009

Your Moment of Statistical Zen

Twice in one month!

Posted by Brad @ 7:25 pm on August 24th 2009

Another Stunning Revelation

You know, I’ve often fantasized about Chuck Liddell and Tom DeLay meeting in competition, but not like this.

Not like this.

Posted by Brad @ 7:23 pm on August 24th 2009

…And Moving Forward

Today, President Obama made a very positive step towards re-calibrating our interrogation policies. He’s approved the creation of a special task for to interrogate high value detainees, which will be housed in the FBI. This is almost exactly right.

US President Barack Obama has approved a new elite team to question key terror suspects, the White House has said.

The unit will be housed at the FBI headquarters in Washington and be overseen by the White House.

The announcement came hours before the publication of fuller details of the CIA’s treatment of terrorism suspects.

Also on Monday US media said the justice department was to reopen about a dozen prisoner abuse cases that could lead to prosecution of CIA employees.

The BBC’s Daniel Sandford in Washington says there has been strong concern that interrogation has been carried out by different groups including the CIA, the military and the FBI.

Mr Obama wants to bring the elements together and have a properly regulated way of interrogating suspects, our correspondent says.[…]

Decisions on coercion and the way interrogation is carried out will now be made centrally, he says.

Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton confirmed the new interrogation team would bring “all the different elements under one group” but stressed that the CIA was not leaving the interrogation business altogether.

The new team will be called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group and will be composed of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The group will be housed at the FBI, but will be overseen by the National Security Council, giving the White House direct oversight.

Essentially, as reported, what the White House is doing is picking out actual interrogation experts—be they in the military, CIA, FBI, or whatever—bringing them to a central team overseen by a federal agency that’s actually accountable, and strictly adhering to the Army Field Manual.

My only quibble with this long-overdue overhaul is, as originally conceived, rather than the White House be in charge, the group would have answered to the Attorney General, which would have been much better, though reporting to the National Security Council is certainly defensible.

It’s also nice that the White House and AG’s office more or less directly signaled that it’s going to re-investigate a dozen or so of the worst cases of torture, and Holder may well appoint a special prosecutor. I am less enthusiastic about that, only because I have no faith in the process anymore, for all the reasons Greenwald mentions and then some.

Still, both of these moves, particularly finally bringing interrogation of high value suspects out of the darkness and into the hands of professionals is a big step forward any way you slice it (and by the way, people actually schooled in the art of interrogations tend towards psychology and relationship-building rather than, say, punching people in the nuts, the sort of interrogation most likely to be done by rank amateurs and armchair cowboys).

Posted by Brad @ 7:22 pm on August 24th 2009

Looking Back…

The much-less-redacted version of the 2004 Inspector General’s report on torture was released today (thank you, ACLU, for doing God’s work, or more accurately, the work no political interest will do), and the revelations continue to dogpile, to the exent that I don’t have the time to do a proper roundup. Among the revelations, mock executions, threatening the families and children of detainees with death, and torture to an extent well beyond even the ridiculous non-standards imposed by Yoo et al.

A couple of places to start are at the Washington Independent and Firedoglake. I know you’re not supposed to say such things, but this shit really makes me ashamed to be an American.

Posted by Brad @ 2:25 pm on August 23rd 2009

Another Entitlement Poll Result

Specifically, 49% of respondents to a new Rasumussmen poll say people should be able to opt out of Social Security. 37% disagree.

A majority of people under 50 side with opting out, a plurality of those over 50 are the main disagreers.

Apropos of this, I got a social security statement in the mail this week, cheerfully informing me that 6.2% of my salaried income goes to social security and 12.4% of my self-employed income (which is a lot of my income)(adding 1.5% and 3% for Medicare respectively).

Included with this statement was another mailer, “Social Security and Young Workers”, which less cheerfully explained that Social Security starts paying out more than it takes in in 2014 and is insolvent by 2041. However, in the “Will There Still Be Social Security?” FAQ section, it helpfully informs me that yes, young worker, there will be. Because “Social Security is a compact between generations”, I can rest assured that I’m estimated, as of August 2009, to receive 78 cents on the dollar when I retire, maybe.

Posted by Brad @ 3:46 pm on August 22nd 2009

Question

Lately I’ve been chewing over some movies and getting the old urge to write reviews again, which I haven’t done in a goodly long time. Question: would anybody be interested in that? I don’t mean “I don’t care if you do,” I mean would anybody actually be interested in it?

For some reason I tend to find movie reviews on political or non movie blogs to be ostentatious and self-indulgent and usually not very interesting (which is strange and doesn’t make much sense when you think about it, as really all blogging is ostentatious and self-indulgent). But I’ve also been finding that my usual haunts for movie discussion have gotten stale. The Onion’s AV Club, which is the best pop culture site running for my money, nevertheless gets a little heavy on hipsterism for me (granted that can be part of the fun, but it can wear on you after awhile). Likewise, I’ve long given up browsing fanboy-centric sites, be it Ain’t it Cool News or whathaveyou, as they get long on gossip and spoilers and short on, um, perspective. And my steady old standby, Roger Ebert—one of the best working writers period over the last twenty five years—is still a great read, but has gotten…twitchy, since his surgery. I still enjoy reading him, but I’ve found him harder and harder to relate to, or, less charitably, to figure out where the hell he’s coming from at any given moment.

Anyway, that, coupled with the fact that I no longer haunt message boards or comment threads, has given me something of a hole to fill. So, I was wondering if anybody besides me would care to read about or discuss movies in the privacy of our own blog. Nothing overboard, just every once in awhile. This is not a rhetorical question.

Posted by Brad @ 2:10 pm on August 22nd 2009

Your Poll Number of the Day

Someone at Public Policy Polling has a sense of humor (PDF).

“Do you think the government should stay out of Medicare?”

Yes 39% — 62% of Republicans, 24% of Democrats, 31% of Independents
No 46%
Not Sure 15%

For the record, 44% of Republicans also report that they don’t believe Barack Obama was born in America, compared to 36% who do.

Posted by Brad @ 2:05 pm on August 22nd 2009

The Party Of Nihilists

Your weekend reading.

I’ve written countless “Democrats in Disarray” stories over the years and been critical of the left on numerous issues in the past. This year, the liberal insistence on a marginally relevant public option has been a tactical mistake that has enabled the right’s “government takeover” disinformation jihad. There have been times when Democrats have run demagogic scare campaigns on issues like Social Security and Medicare. There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees’ unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don’t retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party.

It is a very different story among Republicans. To be sure, there are honorable conservatives, trying to do the right thing. There is a legitimate, if wildly improbable, fear that Obama’s plan will start a process that will end with a health-care system entirely controlled by the government. There are conservatives — Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Mike Pence, among many others — who make their arguments based on facts. But they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal. The philosophically supple party that existed as recently as George H.W. Bush’s presidency has been obliterated. The party’s putative intellectuals — people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol — are prosaic tacticians who make precious few substantive arguments but oppose health-care reform mostly because passage would help Barack Obama’s political prospects. In 1993, when the Clintons tried health-care reform, the Republican John Chafee offered a creative (in fact, superior) alternative — which Kristol quashed with his famous “Don’t Help Clinton” fax to the troops. There is no Republican health-care alternative in 2009. The same people who rail against a government takeover of health care tried to enforce a government takeover of Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life decisions. And when Palin floated the “death panel” canard, the number of prominent Republicans who rose up to call her out could be counted on one hand.

A striking example of the prevailing cravenness was Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has authored end-of-life counseling provisions and told the Washington Post that comparing such counseling to euthanasia was nuts — but then quickly retreated when he realized that he had sided with the reality-based community against his Rush Limbaugh-led party. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for President according to most polls, actually created a universal-health-care plan in Massachusetts that looks very much like the proposed Obamacare, but he spends much of his time trying to fudge the similarities and was AWOL on the “death panels.” Why are these men so reluctant to be rational in public?

An argument can be made that this is nothing new. Dwight Eisenhower tiptoed around Joe McCarthy. Obama reminded an audience in Colorado that opponents of Social Security in the 1930s “said that everybody was going to have to wear dog tags and that this was a plot for the government to keep track of everybody … These struggles have always boiled down to a contest between hope and fear.” True enough. There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction — often a powerful faction — of the Republican Party, but they didn’t run it.

Posted by Jack @ 10:10 pm on August 21st 2009

The Coalwood Retroactive Diaries: Rocket Boys and October Sky

Some of you may have seen this movie, based on this book, about a group of boys living in a small West Virginia coal mining town. Inspired by the early days of the space race, particularly the launch of Sputnik, they enthusiastically take up homemade rocketry long before kits and propulsion devises were available at your local hobby store. They carved their own fins, they mixed their own rocket fuel, and poured their own molds. That small mining town, Coalwood, was my dad’s hometown, and he was one of those rocket boys. I grew up hearing misty eyed stories of that place. As a child, and later a young man, I could never quite get my head around how all these old people, now living in Florida, still got together on a regular basis to reminisce about their little slice of nostalgic heaven in West By God Virginia. Coalwood was their Mayberry, they love it to this day.

The book, largely an autobiographical account of author Homer “Sonny” Hickam’s inspirational struggle to break from his predestined path to a dead end job in the mines, is quite good, and largely based on real events. The movie, while not as bad a distortion of the subject matter as Hollywood usually visits upon the source material, takes a few, well Hollywood type liberties. The town was made a lot more dreary and miserable, since that is how company owned coalmining towns are supposed to be, right? The inspiring teacher is hot, apparently a total fabrication. But all in all, fairly well done. So what, right? Well. A movie can change things, at least locally. Coalwood was dead, before that movie. The mines had played out decades ago, and with the company closing up shop, the never large to begin with town shrank to a vestige of its former self. Empty and abandoned buildings, no future, just another dying place. The fatal blow should have come with the flash floods of ought two, when some of the town was virtually washed away, and the rest heavily damaged.

But October Sky and The Rocket Boys had changed the equation. After the movie, the Coalwood remainders, and a substantial portion of the former residents, started a reunion movement. Homer Hickam participated as the main attraction, which pulled in curiosity seekers and fans of the book or movie. The reunion grew, each year a bit more, and now October Sky days at Coalwood is like a county fair, but with a much more eclectic group of participants. My dad and uncle now go regularly, it is apparently quite the homecoming. They are particularly amused by the attendees whose only connection to the town is watching the movie. Upon learning that Uncle Bob was a main character in one of Hickam’s books, a small group of camera toting tourists followed him around for hours, waiting for him to do something rockety, I guess, Coalwood has not been saved by her recent fame, but the final closures have been forestalled, somewhat. Money from donations helped to rebuild and restore part of the flood damaged areas. The annual big event in October includes an economic injection. And to this day, despite the boarded up buildings, closure of nearly every business, including the high school and post office, the town is as picturesque as, well, as Mayberry.

One of the somewhat startling things about this small, nearly abandoned coalmining town, is how many published authors it has now produced. There is Sonny’s Coalwood series, of which Rocket Boys is but the first of three books. Each one, I am assured, departs further and further from actual events, but are still good reads. Mr. Hickam has also penned several non-Coalwood novels.

Another: J.R. Hatmaker’s The Coalwood Misfits, another autobiographical account, but more in the tongue in cheek mode, which contains a quite humorous account of my dad karate chopping into submission several other youths for attempting to abscond with his beloved motor scooter. J.R. has also published half a dozen other novels.

Then there are the scholarly historical works. Like this one by Alex Schust.

And this just published pictorial history, a joint endeavor by J.R. Hatmaker, Jack Likens, and Nondra “Nonnie” Bell.

Now, obviously, some of these books, would never have seen the light of day had October Sky not generated a bubble of interest. But Hatmaker was writing yarns as far back as Homer was, and renewed interest in the Coalwood-Caretta area created an opportunity, into which stepped the willing.

I have had the opportunity to review some of the primary source material for the last book I mentioned. Particularly, newspapers from the WWII era, and accounts of the great Coalwood strike and subsequent military takeover of mine management. Next time in The Coalwood Retroactive Diaries: Face to face with the reality of mid century race relation, aka, “Our Colored Folk.”

Posted by Brad @ 1:42 pm on August 21st 2009

An Instructive Lesson on Opposition to Same Sex Marriage

If you’ve been following the blogosphere debate, Steven Chapman recently challenged anti-gay marriage activists to list, specifically and in measurable terms, what harms they foresee for states that legalize gay marriage. No more innuendo, no more abstractions, but specifically to put their reputations on the line and make concrete, falsifiable predictions for what impact gay marriage will have on a state.

Initially, Chapman got no takers on his “put your money where your mouth is” challenge. But finally, Maggie Gallagher responded:

1. In gay-marriage states, a large minority people committed to traditional notions of marriage will feel afraid to speak up for their views, lest they be punished in some way.

2. Public schools will teach about gay marriage.

3. Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don’t belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated in any way.

4. Religous institutions will face new legal threats (especially soft litigation threats) that will cause some to close, or modify their missions, to avoid clashing with the government’s official views of marriage (which will include the view that opponents are akin to racists for failing to see same-sex couples as married).

5. Support for the idea “the ideal for a child is a married mother and father” will decline.

I find this enormously instructive for a variety of reasons, many of which are hard to articulate.

Connor Clarke makes a first pass:

Oh come on. Is this really the best they can do? First, none of these things are “simple, concrete predictions about measurable social indicators.” But there’s a bigger problem here: None of them — with the exception of #4 (where I think Gallagher is just plain wrong) and this vague, unconvincing business of being “punished” in #1 — are bad things! If this is Gallagher’s “parade of horribles,” then the battle over gay marriage has been won. Every other item on Gallagher’s list amounts to this: As support for gay marriage grows, the public institutions and sentiments that oppose gay marriage will become increasingly marginalized.

To which one might add, Rightfully so.

But that’s a little circular for me.

What strikes me most about Gallagher’s list is that what’s she’s talking about is not the effects on families, the effects on heterosexual couples, the effects on children, the effects on communities. Her “concrete fear” list is entirely predicated on the effects on anti-gay marriage activists.

Pushed into a corner, in her own words, her biggest fears about what happens when gay marriage is legalized has nothing do with with marriage or even gays, it has to do with her (in the “her and her ilk” sense). What’s amazing is this is, if anybody is, the national spokesperson for the anti gay marriage position, and even she can’t come up with anything besides the terrifying prospect that somebody, her opinion on the matter will carry less weight as gay marriage becomes commonplace and accepted. That’s a rather astounding, and blisteringly ego-centric, position.

The biggest fear about legalizing gay marriage, then, is that in so doing it will become popular.

It is all purely ego-centric. Their fears really entirely boil down to not being a part of the mainstream anymore, to hear Gallagher tell it, is a harm in and of itself (and keep in mind, nothing in her list mentions specific oppression, but rather the soft oppression of just not being in the mainstream of public opinion anymore).

The ultimate irony is that what people like Gallagher really fear, what keeps them up at night, is the thought of a day when anti-gay activists are shamed for their beliefs

This is ironic because, if they have their way, they will continue the centuries-old practice of shaming homosexuals instead (and not for their beliefs, but for their very identities). Shame has always been the primary tool in their arsenal. And the thought of that wedge being turned back against them makes them break out into cold sweats.

Hey Maggie et al, I thought shame was a tool of love?

Posted by Brad @ 2:56 pm on August 20th 2009

Your Ex-Bush Official Revelations of the Day

Tom Ridge, first secretary of Homeland Security, has a new book coming out, which includes:

Among the headlines promoted by publisher Thomas Dunne Books: Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was “blindsided” by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.

Man. History will sure not judge the Bush administration kindly.

Pretty much every cynical hunch ever possessed about the Bush administration invariably turns out to be true and then some.

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