THE UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM
Buzzflash gives us one of the funniest and most pointed sections of Al Franken's book: The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus.
It's kind of sad that Al Franken is a better Christian theologian than 90 percent of American evangelicals.
posted by Fred Clark 6:54 PM
TPM INTERVIEWS JOSEPH WILSON
Josh Marshall has posted the first part of his interview with former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson has provoked the wrath of the Bush administration for his inconvenient habit of telling the truth about the war in Iraq -- before, during and after (if you can call it "after" yet).
Here's how the interview starts:
TPM: ... So, setting aside why we're in Iraq, how we got there, whether we should have gone in the first place, where are we now? Where do you see our position right now?
WILSON: Well, I think we're fucked. ...
posted by Fred Clark 6:46 PM
POWER'S BACK ON
Eighteen hours later.
posted by Fred Clark 3:25 PM
"WELCOME TO VIETNAM, MR. PRESIDENT ..."
This, from the Harper's Index, bears repeating:
Number of U.S. trrops who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last two years: 354
Number who died in Vietnam in 1963 and 1964: 324
I tend to think of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq as "Gaza on the Tigris" rather than as the "new Vietnam." The U.S. military did, after all, quickly and impressively conquer the country and capture Baghdad. As with Israel in the West Bank, the question was never whether or not our military was superior -- as Gen. Anthony Zinni put it, "Ohio State beat Slippery Rock 62-0. No s---." The question is rather, once we have taken the country, what do we do with it?
Also as with Israel and the West Bank, we don't seem to have an answer for that question. No exit plan. No tenable road map to peace. Only a long, bloody occupation. Gaza on the Tigris.
Yet people with far more knowledge than I have about the waging and the wages of war do see a parallel with Vietnam. Two days ago, we looked at the argument of Col. Mike Turner, who called America's adventure in Iraq "... the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons."
And today we hear from someone who has more right than anyone to talk about the "lessons of Vietnam" -- former Sen. Max Cleland:
The truth on the ground that the soldiers face in the war is different than the political policy that sent them there. They face increased opposition from a determined enemy. They are surprised by terrorist attacks, village assassinations, increasing casualties and growing anti-American sentiment. They find themselves bogged down in a guerrilla land war, unable to move forward and unable to disengage because there are no allies to turn the war over to.
There is no plan B. There is no exit strategy. Military morale declines. The president's popularity sinks and the American people are increasingly frustrated by the cost of blood and treasure poured into a never-ending war.
Sound familiar? It does to me. ...
Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance.
posted by Fred Clark 3:27 PM
LOST AND FOUND
I have the Kinks' Think Visual on vinyl (now you know approximately when I was in college), which means I can't listen to it these days, but this one's been in my head all week. Something about the sax solo at the end of this song -- you can just about smell the rain-soaked sidewalks stepping outside after a storm ...
So anyway, all you Tarheels stay dry and stay safe.
Waiting for the hurricane
To hit New York City
Somebody said it's hit the bay
This is the nitty gritty
And all the bag ladies
Better put their acts together
We're near the eye of storm
This is really heavy weather
We were lost and found, in the nick of time
While the ship was going down
We were lost and found, just in time
With the hurricane crossing the coastline
This thing is bigger than the both of us
It's gonna put us in our place
We were lost and found, just in time
Now we've got no time to waste
They're putting up the barricades
Because the hurricane is heading up this way
So won't you come in from the cold
And the pouring rain
And the old sea dog says
Shiver me timbers
The sky's gone black
And it's like the dead of winter
We were lost and found, in the pouring rain
When the hurricane swept across the costline
This thing is bigger than the both of us
It's gonna put us in our place
We're gonna say what really matters
When you see that storm stare us in the face
We were lost and found
And we beat the fear
We came through the storm
Now it all seems clear
We were lost and found, standing here
Looking at the new frontier
-- Ray Davies
posted by Fred Clark 3:15 PM
L'AFFAIRE DE FRIEDMAN
I'd intended to post something on New York Times columnist Tom Friedman's foolishness in today's paper, but I see from Atrios that this ridiculous essay has already been picked to the bone across the Web.
So I'll keep this short.
The point of Friedman's column (and he does have one) is found in the final paragraph: "America will not be as effective or legitimate in its effort to rebuild Iraq without French help. Having France working with us in Iraq ... would be so beneficial for both nations and for the Arabs' future ..."
So, since America needs France's help, Friedman hits upon the winsome tactic of charming them into lending sacrificial aid to the U.S. by titling his column "Our War With France" and beginning with a lead paragraph diatribe in which he calls that country "annoying," "jealous" and "our enemy."
Friedman's gracious and compelling invitation is sure to inspire the French cooperation America needs.
One other point: Friedman argues that Europe's proximity to "the Arab-Muslim world" should make them more concerned about America's attempted nation-building in Iraq. He says of the lack of European involvement in the war: "It would be as if America said it did not care what happened in Mexico ..."
Is Friedman actually under the impression that the U.S. does care what happens in Mexico? Since when?
posted by Fred Clark 2:21 PM
HOUSE PASSES CHARITY TAX BREAK
The right hand giveth $5, the far-right hand taketh away $10.
H.R. 7, which I discussed in this post, passed the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 408-to-13.
The lopsidedness of that vote reflects the generally benign nature of this bill -- the main thrust of which is to allow non-itemizing taxpayers to deduct up to $250 a year for charitable contributions.
Mary Dalrymple of the Associated Press explains:
The biggest tax break gives new charity-contribution incentives to taxpayers who can't deduct charitable donations from their taxes because they don't itemize their deductions. Taxpayers using the standard deduction could deduct up to $250 in charitable contributions. The new deduction would be in effect for two years.
(Independent Sector has a more comprehensive overview available here.)
As I said earlier, I like this proposal as a matter of fairness. If the wealthy have the privilege of deducting charitable contributions from their tax liability, wage-earners should have the same privilege.
What I don't like is the claim that this will result in a vast flood of charitable giving. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the majority whip and the bill's chief sponsor, says the new deduction will leverage $50 billion in new charitable contributions over the next decade.
Uh-uh. First, the deduction only lasts for two years. Blunt has gotten so used to sunset provisions Congress has no intention of honoring that he simply pretends they don't exist. But let's pretend along with him that Congress will succeed in extending the bill past the fictive two-year sunset. Blunt's claim -- $50 billion in new giving over ten years, or about $5 billion in new giving each year -- is still optimistic.
Non-itemizers may not yet enjoy a deduction for their charitable giving, but they do already contribute to charity. Whatever they are currently giving would become deductible under H.R. 7, but would not be "new" giving. The deduction may inspire them to give more, and that increase will indeed be new giving -- but because of the already existing charitable habits of these taxpayers, the new giving leveraged by this provision will be less than the revenue lost.
Another point, and not a trivial one, is that non-itemizing taxpayers are not likely to be big donors because they don't have very much money. (Independent Sector claims that itemizers give more than non-itemizers "in every income group," but this seems dubious -- the two categories do not share "every income group." IS also asserts that "Itemizing households give 37 percent more in contributions than nonitemizing households," or, in other words, people with more money give more money than people with less money do. Duh.)
Still, let's give Blunt the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that this new charitable deduction will succeed in generating as much new giving as he believes. Let's assume that this -- along with H.R. 7's other provisions, like the increased cap on corporate donations -- would actually generate the $5 billion a year in new charitable giving that Blunt claims it will.
Blunt and his party still favor the elimination of the estate tax -- which is directly responsible for about $10 billion in charitable giving annually (so says the Brookings Institution). Blunt himself whipped up a 264-163 vote in the House to permanently repeal the estate tax.
Rep. Blunt's GOP wants us to get excited about a proposal that may leverage as much as $5 billion in annual charitable contributions, while they simultaneously push another proposal that will definitely reduce charitable giving by $10 billion a year.
Bottom line: Despite the benefits of H.R. 7, the Republicans are intent on reducing charitable giving by $5 billion a year.
H.R. 7 also includes a grab-bag of other worthy provisions, such as the reauthorization of the federal IDA -- Individual Development Account -- program. I like this program, and many of these other measures. I simply want to see the bill's Republican supporters live up to their own rhetoric and defend the estate tax against the anti-charity class warriors who seek its repeal.
posted by Fred Clark 5:51 AM
STUDY: THERE ARE SIX KINDS OF PEOPLE
Lots of media attention being paid to a trifling study from something called the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service that claims that "the position in which a person goes to sleep provides an important clue about the kind of person they are."
Good fun and all, but come on. The "study" finds six personality types. Six -- that's half as many over-general categories as you'll find in a horoscope. Maybe it's just my Gemini skepticism, but I hardly think that all of humanity can be classed as one of the following:
1. "Tough on the outside but sensitive at heart. They may be shy when they first meet somebody, but soon relax."
2. "Easy going, social people who like being part of the in-crowd, and who are trusting of strangers. However, they may be gullible."
3. "An open nature, but can be suspicious, cynical. They are slow to make up their minds, but once they have taken a decision, they are unlikely ever to change it."
4. "Generally quiet and reserved. They don't like a fuss, but set themselves and others high standards."
5. "Often gregarious and brash people, but can be nervy and thin-skinned underneath, and don't like criticism, or extreme situations."
6. "Make good friends because they are always ready to listen to others, and offer help when needed. They generally don't like to be the centre of attention."
That's it. That's everybody, according to the "scientists" who conducted this study. So if you don't fit neatly into one of the above categories, please contact the SAAS -- they'll want to watch you sleep.
posted by Fred Clark 5:39 AM
THIS BEATS MY PAPIER-MACHE VOLCANO
Apparently Craig Wallace, now a freshman at Utah State University, built a nuclear fusion reactor while still in high school "cobbled together from parts salvaged from junk yards and charity drops."
He had some help from the late physicist Philo T. Farnsworth's plans (which he found on the Internet), and from his dad. The reactor is not useful for producing energy, but it does "emit neutrons, a useful tool for commercial applications and scientific experimentation." (Craig could explain this, I can't.)
Here's the kicker: "Wallace began winning contests -- local, state, national -- culminating in second place in the International Intel Science and Engineering Fair last May in Cleveland."
Second place? Kid builds a nuclear fusion reactor in his back yard and he get's second place. So what did the first-place winner do?
posted by Fred Clark 1:50 PM
WRONG WAR, WRONG TIME, WRONG REASONS
Iraq/Vietnam is the central front in the war on terrorism/Communism.
In a Newsweek web exclusive, Col. Mike Turner criticizes the Bush administration's war in Iraq as "profoundly and viscerally offensive ... This is the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons."
Col. Turner offers an extensive discussion of the ways the war in Iraq parallels the war in Vietnam -- and the ways it shows a failure to learn the lessons of that war:
The other day, the Bush administration warned that U.S. troops in Iraq may have to endure consecutive overseas deployments. If the change takes place, it would mark the first time since the end of the Vietnam War that troops would be required to serve back-to-back one-year tours.
It was yet another in the growing series of comparisons between Vietnam and today’s war in Iraq.
Some of the similarities between the two wars are obvious. The Vietnam War began when senior White House officials used overblown and distorted threat assessments as an excuse to commit U.S. troops to an action they’d already decided upon months before. The operation was a unilateral, conventional, U.S. military operation against a Third World power which, in the final analysis, posed only an indirect and peripheral threat to U.S. vital interests. The operation lacked formal United Nations backing and broad international support, two factors that eventually sapped U.S. will and drained our resources. Mission success was ill-defined, and administration officials, assuming a quick victory, adopted and stubbornly adhered to a tragically simplistic and naive view of the both the military forces required to achieve military victory and the level of societal change necessary to win and sustain the peace.
Adam Nagourney, reporting in The New York Times, notes that this comparison to Vietnam is perceived by many Americans, including "Frank Jessoe, 60, a former Marine who served in Vietnam":
"It's a disaster — it will get worse and worse and we will leave the same way we left Vietnam: with our tail between our legs."
But Nagourney also cites several voices who feel the comparison to Vietnam is overstated:
"You hear a lot of sentiments that this could turn into Vietnam if not handled correctly," said Mark Penn, who was a pollster for Bill Clinton in the White House and is now working for the presidential campaign of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman. "But we're not in the same mood as we were in the '60s. Now, most people are more oriented to terrorism; most people want to win the war on terrorism."
Replace the word "terrorism" in that last sentence with the word "Communism" and you'll see that, indeed, we are in the same mood as we were in the early '60s.
Opposition to Communism was, like opposition to terrorism, both extremely popular and morally unambiguous. If one argued, in 1963, that the war in Vietnam was not the most necessary or prudent step in the war on Communism, this popularity and moral certainty could be used as a club to beat them down. Anyone who opposed the war in Vietnam -- at least early on -- could be accused of being "soft on Communism" and unpatriotic.
The war in Vietnam/Iraq was/is portrayed as the central conflict in the war against Communism/terrorism, yet little evidence supports either claim of centrality.
Still, Nagourney writes, the comparison is "overblown." He notes that the war in Vietnam "was far longer and deadlier: the Iraq war has produced fewer than a hundredth of the combat deaths of Vietnam." He cites historian Allan J. Lichtman of American University:
"The American people are nervous. There are substantial numbers who thought that things are not going well, that this was not planned well. But I don't see that this is front and center yet. It's tragic what is going on, but the casualties are not large enough yet."
Which brings us to these troubling statistics, courtesy of the October Harper's Index:
Number of U.S. trrops who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last two years: 354
Number who died in Vietnam in 1963 and 1964: 324
The path that America chose in the years that followed 1964 was not inevitable. The quagmire of Vietnam might have been avoided at a hundred different turnings. But choices were made, and the 324 dead by the end of 1964 eventually became nearly 58,000 dead by the time America left Vietnam.
Whether or not Iraq will become America's "new Vietnam" likewise depends on a hundred different choices in the months and years to come. We are not there yet, but we can get there from here. And like Col. Turner, I don't like where we're headed.
posted by Fred Clark 5:52 AM
Apparently I'm not the only one who is less-than-fond of flying. Tom writes with "a quote from Conrad to the effect that: when we fly, we fly like beetles, not like birds."
(I actually find this reassuring since, as J.B.S. Haldane noted, God is "inordinately fond of beetles.")
Roberta Taussig eloquently chimes in with her own reservations about the implausibility of human flight:
Though I travel by airplane when it is necessary, I cannot bring myself to believe in heavier than air flight. The airplane, even the small commuter plane I walk out onto the tarmac to board, is really big and made mostly of metal. Air is as insubstantial as, well, itself. I could accept a "flight" of maybe half a mile propelled by a gigantic rubber band, but this multi-hundred-mile suspended-in-air-five-miles-up burning-stuff-and-making-lots-of-noise business is clearly absurd. I'm too self-centered to believe I'm actually going to die, so I can regard each takeoff as a genuine miracle, but in my heart, I know it's not possible.
Yet as much as I dislike flying, and airports, and the inconvenience of a too-short transfer in St. Louis and a too-long layover in Chicago, these were not the most annoying aspects of my recent trip. That occurred just 5 miles from home on I-95. About half a mile south of my exit traffic came to a stop. Not a crawl, but a full-on stop.
I turned on KYW radio and waited for "traffic on the twos" to tell me what was going on. I spent those eight minutes wishing and praying that nobody was seriously injured in some horrible accident. Then I got the news -- I-95 had been shut down for a presidential motorcade.
For the next 20 minutes I sat on the I-95 parking lot, praying that I might stop wishing that someone was seriously injured in a some horrible accident.
(And anyway, despite even the direct intervention of George W. Bush, all that travel was well worth it for the delight and the company of the time in Santa Fe.)
UPDATE: "Tom" above refers to Ron, actually. Who also offers his advice for flying: Three bloody marys before the flight, then one for each hour in the air. "Of course you really can't accomplish much immediately upon landing, and it does put a crimp in your ability to drive away from the airport. But there are drawbacks to every choice."
posted by Fred Clark 5:22 AM
RED STREAK IS INSULTINGLY BAD
If you're 18-35, the Chicago Sun-Times thinks you're a shallow, illiterate fool.
So I had a chance last week at O'Hare to pick up a copy of Red Streak, the Chicago Sun-Times' new tabloid targeting "younger readers."
The Sun-Times is a decent newspaper. Red Streak is neither decent nor a newspaper. It is awful -- a thin, dumbed-down version of an alt-weekly, only without any in-depth articles, distinctive local angles, quality writing, edgy commentary or any of the other reasons people actually read alt-weeklies. The design of the cover -- a blatant copy of many alt-weeklies -- only underscores how meager Red Streak is by comparison.
The issue I picked up had a splashy cover featuring a giant photo of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson from Lost in Translation, with smaller inset photos from Matchstick Men and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. "Get Lost in Fall Movies" the headline proclaimed. What the cover doesn't tell you is that all three movies are reviewed on one page. A total of 14 paragraphs with big pictures and generously spaced type.
These are movie "reviews" written for people who lack the attention span for TV Guide's graded offerings or People's "Picks and Pans." Reviewer Josh Larsen's photo and byline take up about the same amount of real estate as his entire review for "Once Upon a Time in Mexico."
This is, again, from a Sun-Times publication -- the home of Roger Ebert. They've got Roger freaking Ebert but they assume "younger readers" would be more interested in Larsen's bite-sized blurbs. Do they really believe that Ebert is "too old" to speak to readers 18-35?
Here are the grown-up and children's reviews the Sun-Times offers to readers of the Real Paper and of Red Streak, respectively:
Lost in Translation: Larsen, Ebert.
Matchstick Men: Larsen, Ebert.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico: Larsen, Ebert.
Reading these, one suspects that one of the above read the other's work before writing his own.
Also on the front cover of Red Streak is a skybox photo of Hilary Duff, with a 19-word tease for ... a 141-word item on the back cover featuring the same photo of Duff with nearly the same title.
Front: "Teens' new queen." Back: "Teen's newest queen." Note the migration of the apostrophe. That's not the only typo in the paper, and not even the only typo in 60-point type. (Apparently, younger readers don't want their copy edited.) The piece the cover reefers is so insubstantial one wonders why they bother -- like many articles in this rag, if you've read the reefer, you've read the article. And, wow, is that back page ever a waste of space.
The other skybox item on the cover reads "What If God Was One of Us?" with photos of Alanis Morissette, Morgan Freeman and George Burns. It reefers a story about the varied ways in which the Almighty has been portrayed in popular films. The photo of Freeman, from Bruce Almighty, is repeated inside, next to a photo of Burns from Oh God! Alanis Morissette is included because she portrayed God in Kevin Smith's Dogma, but neither of the pictures of her is from that film. They're just pictures of Alanis Morissette portraying Alanis Morissette -- which sort of misses the point of the article (which inexplicably appears on a page headed "News").
The print version of the article begins with a snippet of lyrics from the song "One of Us," attributing these words to "Joan Osborne." That's like crediting Judy Garland for the lyrics to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." (The online version of the article includes the lyrics, but doesn't attribute them to anyone.)
I realize that Chicago is a long way from Philly, and dissing the Hooters may not be as big a deal there, but if you're going to cite lyrics, you should at least figure out who wrote them.
You can look such things up before printing them. That's what editors do. They do this because they care about accuracy, they care about the truth and they care about their readers. The people who throw together Red Streak do not seem to care about any of these things.
posted by Fred Clark 3:54 PM
CALPUNDIT INTERVIEWS PAUL KRUGMAN
This definitely qualifies as a "must-read."
KRUGMAN: Train wreck is a way overused metaphor, but we're headed for some kind of collision, and there are three things that can happen. Just by the arithmetic, you can either have big tax increases, roll back the whole Bush program plus some; or you can sharply cut Medicare and Social Security, because that's where the money is; or the U.S. just tootles along until we actually have a financial crisis where the marginal buyer of U.S. treasury bills, which is actually the Reserve Bank of China, says, we don't trust these guys anymore — and we turn into Argentina. All three of those are clearly impossible, and yet one of them has to happen, so, your choice. Which one?
CALPUNDIT: Well, how about your choice? What's your best guess?
KRUGMAN: I think financial crisis, and then how it falls out is 50-50, either New New Deal or back to McKinley, and I think it's anybody's guess which one of those it is. It's crazy stuff, but think about where I am on this. My take on the numbers is no different from Brad DeLong's, it's no different from CBO's now, and we all look at this and we all see this curve that marches steadily upwards and then heads for the sky after the baby boomers start retiring. ... but the general view is: yes, but this is America, it can't happen, so something will come up. And I'm just willing to say I don't see any noncatastrophic solution to this, I don't see an incremental stepwise resolution. I think something drastic is really going to happen.
Go read the whole thing.
posted by Fred Clark 3:41 PM
INFREQUENT FLYER MILES
Spent the long weekend on a delightful trip to Santa Fe, N.M., to attend a wedding. Actually, the wedding and the time in New Mexico were delightful, the trip itself, consisting of lots of airport time, was less so.
I flew out of BWI in Baltimore because, well, I can't afford to fly out of the airport just up the road here in Philadelphia. Flights out of Baltimore routinely cost $100 - $200 less than flights out of Philly, even after accounting for the tolls on I-95 and the $7/day parking in Baltimore. Usually, this is because I've flown Southwest out of Baltimore, but this time -- the first time I've ever actually flown to the Southwest -- I was on American and it was still $150 cheaper than from Philadelphia.
I'm not a big fan of air travel, which still strikes me as implausible. I recite to myself the usual nostrums about this being safer than driving a car. This helps a little, but mostly serves to make me more nervous about the drive to Baltimore. I-95, statistically speaking, is a far more dangerous place than the cabin of a passenger jet. But none of us wholly accepts this -- think of the difference between the social status of airline pilots and bus drivers.
Air travel always reminds me of Wendell Berry's Remembering, which deserves a place on the short list of Great American Novels.
Berry's protagonist, the one-handed farmer Andy Catlett, acutely observes the absurdity of sitting in "a little room in the air ... depending for life on speed and fire, on the ability of an explosion to sustain itself for three hours and fifty-three minutes."
It is preposterous. And it is most extraordinary that humans should fly. They have done so only recently, and they do so only clumsily, with a ludicrous hooferaw of noise and fire. Human flight, after all, is only a false and pathetic argument against gravity, which has the upper hand and is the greater fact. All will come down. And some will fall.
Not, perhaps, the most encouraging passage to recall before one flies from Baltimore to Albuquerque and back, with stops along the way in Chicago and St. Louis.
In Remembering, Berry also offers this description of airline security, from 1988, years before the TSA was cobbled together:
He passes through the Gate of Universal Suspicion and is reduced to one two-hundred-millionth of his nation, admitted according to the apparent harmlessness of his personal effects. Or it is an even smaller fraction that he is reduced to, for all the world is here, coming and going, parting and greeting, laden with bags and briefcases, milling around piles of baggage, hurrying through the perfect anonymity of their purposes. And none may be trusted, not one. Where one may be dangerous, and none is known, all must be mistrusted. All must submit to the minimization and the diaspora of total strangeness and universal suspicion. The gates of the metal detectors form the crowd momentarily into lines, and send it out again, particled, into the rush of the corridor.
And but so anyway I flew to Santa Fe and back and New Mexico is stunningly beautiful, but also a reminder that Pennsylvania is a lush, green, leafy place and beautiful itself where we've allowed it to be so.
And now I'm home.
posted by Fred Clark 1:54 PM