Friday, September 10, 2010

Things that ring in the night

By Capt. Fogg

If there is any part of "our freedoms" that must be defended more than the right to risk irreparable disaster for profit, the right to sell fraudulent securities, bogus debt reduction plans and to buy election results, it's the right to harass people at all hours of the day and night in their homes, in their cars and at work in the process of fleecing them.

Yes, there are laws regulating telemarketing: no call lists, restrictions on times called, restrictions on robocalls that tie up the line until they're through telling you how evil Nancy Pelosi is or how they can get you out of debt by lending you more money at 400% interest. These laws are scrupulously ignored and lawbreakers are carefully protected by the phone companies who in turn are allowed to buy the privilege of ignoring not only the law, but common decency. Virtually all these calls, including the call that woke me at 3:33 this morning are untraceable. "Hell-O - are you late in your mortgage payments???" I was ready to kill someone, but thanks to an FCC that is owned by the telecommunications industry, I'm not allowed to do what I would be allowed to do if someone in a black ski mask showed up in my bedroom at the same hour. That I don't have a mortgage and am not in debt adds a certain edge to the anger. That I only got 4 hours of sleep hasn't allowed it to dissipate.

I may have to give up my land line. Even in a non-election year, I average about 8 telemarketing calls every day, usually most frequent at 8 O'clock AM, again around dinner time with a late peak at 9 to 10 PM. It rings when I'm in the shower, in the pool, up on a ladder trimming trees or under my car changing the oil. Of course it's nearly twice as bad this year.

My number is registered on that most pathetic of places, the Federal no-call list. I wonder why I bothered to register it. So is my cell phone and yet every loan shark and financial con man sends me text messages and calls me at the most inopportune times, so I have to remain unreachable, which largely defeats the purpose of owning one. Yes, this continues when one is overseas and for some reason, candidates all over the country continue to call me even when I demand to be removed.

Of course, I'm just a crank with no knowledge of how evil Liberals are and no proof that the ever further to the right corporate shills still calling themselves Republicans aren't the cause of our woes. After all, it's just freedom I'm objecting to and the will of the proletariat is that the will of the corporations be the law -- and isn't it typical of loser liberals like me to promote such Communo/Fascist ideas like a right to be left alone by scam hawkers and sleazemongers and political flim flam artists who have a far greater right to use a service I pay for than I do.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Wankers: Palin backs O'Donnell in Delaware

Unsurprisingly, Sarah Palin, wading into the Delaware Senate race, has announced, via Facebook and Hannity, that she supports paranoid Republican theocrat and teabagger Christine O'Donnell, our Craziest Republican of the Day on Wednesday, over the more establishment Republican Mike Castle. (The primary is next Tuesday.)

Fair enough, O'Donnell is just the sort of extremist Palin likes, but I wonder if it was O'Donnell's views on porn and masturbation, views that got her the CRD nod, that pushed Palin over the edge.

By the way, has anyone seen Palin in South Beach? It's hard to believe she doesn't love it there.

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Turmoil in Nigeria

by Peter Henne

I wanted to highlight the excellent (if depressing) piece by John Campbell in Foreign Affairs. Campbell discusses the upcoming January election in Nigeria, which may threaten the country's stability due to a shaky power-sharing agreement between the Muslim North and Christian South. In the past, religio-ethnic tensions have been inflamed by elites' political maneuvering, and--as Campbell points out--there is an unfortunately high chance of this occurring again.

I'd like to add another reason to worry: terrorism. As most will remember, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab--the failed "Christmas Day bomber"--is from Nigeria, indicating some al-Qaeda ties in the country. Of more concern, though, is Boko Haram (also known as the "Nigerian Taliban") a hard-line Islamic militant group that left hundreds dead in an offensive last year. The government disrupted the group's activities, but remaining members launched a raid on a prison in Bauchi yesterday, resulting in the release of numerous Boko Haram members. If violence breaks out again in Nigeria, this group will likely be either causing or exploiting it.

There are some ways the United States can hold off turmoil in the country; Campbell mentions support for civil-society and election assistance. The United States could also tie its official assistance programs with Nigeria to a power-sharing deal among elites, giving them an incentive to cooperate. Or we could try to resolve the environmental and social problems connected to the country's oil production, which would minimize the threat of renewed violence from terrorist groups motivated by oil-related grievances.

Whatever US officials do, they need to act quickly; January is only a few months away.

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Quote of the Day: Colin Powell on the "Ground Zero mosque"

The one-time possible president, on The View:

The terrorists win if we become terrified and... change who we are and what we are.

In other words: build Park51 where it is planned to be built, near but not at Ground Zero, and don't give in to the bigots and haters, including those who say the community center (not, strictly speaking, a mosque) should just be moved uptown a bit but who are really expressing broad anti-Muslim sentiment.

And, I would add, Park51 has nothing to do with the planned Quran burning in Florida. Terry Jones, the pastor of that despicable church, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, spent today trying to connect the two, and trying to dominate the news, suggesting that he would refrain from burning the Quran if Park51 were moved. Park51 is intended to be a peaceful center for Muslims and for outreach to non-Muslims, whereas the Quran burning is intended to be an expression of Christian supremacism, an expression of hatred. In this sense, Park51 is deeply American, while the Quran burning is deeply un-American. Jones is spinning his bigotry as patriotism, and there is indeed a dark side to patriotism, but burning the Quran and expressing this sort of vilification of the Other runs counter, I would argue, to the core ideals that America purports to hold dear.

Thankfully, some major media outlets, including Fox News and the AP, have stated that they will not cover the Quran burning, should it take place on Saturday. Sure, the media have been drooling all over this story, just as I and many other bloggers have, but it's good to know that such bigotry would not be given the sort of attention that Jones so clearly desires.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

May sanity reign supreme

By Carl 

One hopes this stance will continue. President Obama seems pretty firm that no more tax cuts for those who don't need them is a good idea. 

The Clinton tax cuts for the middle class of 1993-1994, and concommitant tax hike on the wealthy created a gross domestic product (economic activity) of 3.8% per year on average. The Bush tax cuts, of which nearly all went to the wealthy, created a GDP of...well, 2.7% from 2001 to 2005 (he did inherit a brief recession) and a -0.002% from 2006 to 2009. This, despite blowing the budget surplus out of the water and creating the single largest deficit in world history (matched and exceeded only by the emergency stimulus package under President Obama).

So you tell me: which makes more sense? Giving a bunch-o-bucks to Paris Hilton to buy heroin, or a smaller sum to the family trying to choose between paying the mortgage or the car loan? Which is going to generate more economic activity?

History suggests that raising taxes on the rich has always, always, been the smarter move. As Harry Truman put it, "If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic." Historically, the largest spikes in economic activity have begun under Democratic presidents. The lone exception in the past 60 years was the Reagan "growth", which as it turns out was a roll of the dice on lower taxes across the board, but in reality was created by the deregulation of banks started under President Jimmy Carter which saw, much like this recent collapse, banks get too big and too greedy for their own good, and created an economic collapse that more than swamped the growth the expansion realized. So much for Reaganomics.

American history is filled with tales of, "if you just put money in the hands of the working and middle classes, things will get better." Give them Social Security, the elderly live longer, more productive lives. Allow them unemployment insurance, recessions become milder and shorter. Give them a tax cut, like Clinton did, and watch the economy soar, despite the fact that Clinton took the reins at a time when the economy was shakily returning from another Republican recession.

Those who take the most from a society have the patriotic duty to give back to that society that provides such strong support. The army and police departments protect them more, because the rich have more to lose. The roads are better in rich neighborhoods, because the rich have the resources to complain and the connections to complain effectively. Fires are fought faster in wealthy communities because firefighters are better paid, better trained and get better equipment. I could go on.

The price of premium service is to pay a premium price. If you have an expensive sports car, you don't put cheap gas in it, at least not if you want it to last. You use premium from a reputable service station. You'll pay more for parts and service, but you're getting better quality of both.

And one pays a premium in taxes because no one gets rich on their own. One takes advantage of government programs, and one reaps the benefits of government research. One gets back much more in return for the extra money one pays.

This isn't brain surgery. The rich should pay more.

 (Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Craziest Republican of the Day: Christine O'Donnell

TPM has the sordid details (read the whole post for even more craziness):

Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell has a robust evangelical outreach program, and she's appealed to these voters in her Republican primary bid in part with her old-fashioned views about sex.

O'Donnell has said, for example, that masturbation is wrong, and that looking at pornography is equivalent to cheating on your spouse. She outlined her views in a November 1998 article titled "The Case for Chastity" for Cultural Dissident.

Abstinence, apparently, isn't good enough. What is needed is the near-complete denial of human sexuality, and human nature, the repression, presumably enforced where possible by repressive theocracy, of every individual's sexual freedom and sexuality generally.

O'Donnell has a pretty face, to be sure, but it's also the face of Christian extremism. Her views aren't just "old-fashioned," they're dangerously ignorant.

I mean, seriously, what's wrong with taking your talents to South Beach now and then? And if it helps to watch some of whatever it is you happen to be into, as long as it's legal, so what?

I'd tell O'Donnell to go fuck herself, but obviously she never would. Right?

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Florida church responds to Petraeus, Koran burning likely still a go

(Updating my post from yesterday.)

"A Florida pastor told CNN on Tuesday that while his congregation still plans to burn Qurans to protest the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the church is 'weighing' its intentions." What exactly does that mean? "We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it," said Pastor and Chief Bigot Terry Jones.

The church is apparently "taking seriously" (CNN's words) General Petraeus's warning, but Jones, refusing to back down, turned it back on Petraeus: "The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them." And it looks like the burning will be a go: "We are burning the book. We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people."

No, but as Petraeus said, the burning could lead directly to more killing. And, what's more, while Jones points to "radical Islam," the Koran is the holy text not just for this small subset of Muslims but for all Muslims. Jones can try to rationalize all he wants. This is hatred pure and simple.

Free expression is a deeply American right, but Americans should be outraged by this deeply anti-American expression of hatred. The rest of the world will certainly be watching, and taking notes.

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A tale of two tax cuts

With Republicans poised to retake control of the House and possibly the Senate, if not likely the latter, it can hardly be said that this is the best of times. And with a Democratic president who has alienated much of his liberal-progressive base, failing to govern up not just to the overly lofty expectations of his most enthusiastic, and enthusiastically deluded, supporters but even to the reasonable expectations of those of us who at least thought that he would stand up for basic liberal principles and advance a solidly liberal reform agenda, it feels even worse.

It is frustrating that Obama has been so inconsistent, consistent only in being overly cautious and overly friendly to a Republican Party that is obstructionist and trying to bring him down, often through a nefarious smear campaign that has sought to destroy him. It is frustrating that he can do the right thing and then the wrong thing, say the right thing and then the wrong thing, in rapid succession. To wit:

Obama has admirably come out against "any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year," as the Times is reporting. Those tax cuts are not just unfair but also deeply irresponsible, not least in a time of fiscal difficulty.

And yet, as Robert Reich notes, Obama will "reportedly will propose two big corporate tax cuts this week," as if to counter his responsibility over the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy with yet more irresponsibility.

On the face of it, it would seem to make perfect political sense. Whatever his personal views, and whatever the views of his fellow Democrats struggling for re-election in November, Obama knows that the Bush tax cuts are deeply unpopular and that he can present himself, and his party, as populist at a time when angry, anti-establishmentarian populism would seem to go a long way. And with the corporate tax cuts, which are too technical to arouse much popular interest, let along outrage, he can present himself, and his party, as pro-business and presumably pro-growth at a time when the economy is struggling, there is widespread distrust of government, and government's ability to turn the economy around (even if it was the stimulus that pulled the country back from the brink and made the current recovery, however fragile, possible), thereby appealing to independents, conservative (Blue Dog) Democrats, and moderate Republicans who aren't comfortable with the direction their party has taken and who would vote Democratic but who have been scared off by the Republican propaganda about how Obama is a socialist.

So, yes, I get it. But do the corporate tax cuts make sense? Are they worth it -- not in political terms but in terms of long-term economic health, as well as in terms of jobs? No, says Reich:

Obama's proposed corporate tax cuts (1) won’t generate more jobs because they don't put any cash in worker’s pockets (as would, for example, exempting the first $20,000 of income from the payroll tax and making up the difference by applying the payroll tax to incomes over $250,000); (2) will subsidize companies to cut even more jobs; and (3) will cost $130 billion -- money that could better be spent helping states and locales avoid laying off thousands of teachers, fire fighters, and police.

Reich is politically savvy, though, and also gets what's going on:

So why is Obama proposing them? To put Republicans in a bind. If they refuse to go along he can justifiably say they have no agenda other than obstruction. After all, the only thing they've been arguing for is lower taxes. On the other hand, if Republicans agree to support these corporate tax cuts, Obama can claim a legislative victory that will help Democrats neutralize their opponents in the upcoming elections.

The proposals also make it harder for Republicans to argue the Bush income tax cuts should be extended for the richest 3 percent of taxpayers because small businesses need it. Obama's corporate tax cuts would appear to do the trick.

The White House probably figures even if Republicans agree to the proposed tax cuts, nothing will come of it. Congress will be in session for only about two weeks between now and the midterm elections so it’s doubtful these proposals would be enacted in any event.

But this cynical exercise could backfire if Republicans call Obama's bluff and demand the corporate tax cuts be put on a fast track and get signed into legislation before the midterms.

More troubling, Obama's whopping proposed corporate tax cuts help legitimize the supply-side dogma that the economy's biggest obstacle to growth is the cost of capital, rather than the plight of ordinary working people.

Reich's analysis, it seems to me, is right on the mark. In a way, this is typical of Obama. He is simultaneously too calculating and too cautious for his own good. Why not just make the populist and economically sensible argument against both the Bush tax cuts and against irresponsible corporate tax cuts generally? Why not stick to the basic liberal principle of fairness, or even to the supposed conservative principle of fiscal responsibility (a principle that many liberals endorse and that many conservatives, including Bush, ignore)? Why not stand with the people at a time of economic crisis, at a time when so many people have lost their jobs and can't put food on their table, instead of sucking up to an oligarchic establishment that hardly needs any help?

It's possible, of course, that Obama actually thinks he's doing the right thing. It's more likely, though, that he's just too political, that he filters everything, with Rahm Emanuel's help, through a political filter that slashes any and all sense of social and economic justice, or even policy consistency. The result is that he just seems weak and opportunistic, whether it's on health-care reform, the Afghan War, immigration, the Park51 community center, or any other issue, including tax cuts.

Which is not to say that Obama shouldn't think politically or make decisions without taking politics, including his own and Democrats' electoral well-being, into consideration, because, of course, the democratic reality is that you can't get anything done if you're never elected or if you get voted out of office. But enough is enough, and it's time, long past time, for this president, who remains fairly popular, to be not a pollster but a leader, to be attuned to what is politically expedient, sure, but more importantly to be willing to do what is right -- and actually to do what is right -- whatever the short-term implications of the moment.

Democrats, and especially the Democratic base, would respond to such leadership, based on those principles they hold dear and that supposedly Obama does too, by closing the enthusiasm gap and boosting their party's fortunes in November, but I suspect that many others would be appreciative as well, finally finding in Obama, still less than two years into his presidency, the voice of hope and bringer of change from whom so much seemed possible when he was elected to the White House.

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Goose-stepping Morons Like Yourself Should Try Reading Books Instead of Burning Them!

By Carl
(Editor's Note: There's more than a little irony that one of the best quotes about intolerance, above, is from a movie with the words "Last Crusade" in its title. Funny how that word has morphed in the past twenty years...)
There is an insignificant gnat of a church in Florida trying to improve its balance sheet by burning the Koran this Saturday on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A total of fifty congregants, and undoubtedly fanatical followers at that.
I will not dignify the church by posting its name or the name of its attention-seeking, money-grubbing pastor. Instead, I want to focus on two things:
1) The repercussions of its actions and
2) The ridiculous publicity the mainstream media gives asshats like this pastor and the moronic coward running the intolerance rally in lower Manhattan this Saturday. As I've written elsewhere, this rally distresses me more than the cultural center ever could, because I'd like to think that Americans aren't chickens. 
The validation given to fringe and radical groups like these two crazies serves a dual purpose: it allows the rest of us to take comfort in our intolerance, because if slime creatures like these can get airtime, then how extreme could our viewpoints be? Mind you, I felt the same way about the Code Pink and 9/11 Truthers, so this is not a matter of disagreeing with the ideologies involved. It's a matter of recognizing the handicapping effect these idiots have on society as a whole. 
Whether it's a purported "Christian" church or a gang of rabbling lefties, the more coverage these groups are given, the more and more our society gets painted as being deeply divided. 
We are divided, no doubt, but you could portray that sentiment simply by airing any rational debate amongst opposing factions. Indeed, it would give a truer picture of just how divided, as we'd be shocked to find that we on the left have some common ground with "them" on the right. 
We love this country, we'd find. People like this congregation or that concrete harpy do not. It comes down to that, because they would sacrifice the good of the nation to the fast buck they can make raising Cain over nothing.
These actions endanger innocent people, whether they be American Muslims trying to drive a cab, American soldiers standing watch in Afghanistan, American embassy personnel in Pakistan, or the average American who went to work on 9/11/01.
That's right: I am drawing a direct line between the hate-mongerers and the deaths in the Trade Center, for if before the attacks, radical Muslims hated us for our freedom, they sure as damned hell aren't going to love us because we turn our backs on those freedoms as they pertain to Muslims. There will be more attacks and more emphasis on attacking Americans in their own homes, workplaces, and houses of worship. 
if a flame so much as licks a Koran on Saturday, there will be repercussions, and I expect they'll be instantaneous. And isn't it wonderful that someone else will suffer for your actions? I mean, that's why we hire an army in the first place, right? So we can act like assholes? Let them sort out the problems for us!
Take no responsibility for yourselves, your actions, or the damage you've done. But that's the right wing way: never complain, never explain. And that the mainstream media is enabling this speaks very badly of our "free" society. But hey, it sells newspapers, right?
So what happens when you're publishing a newspaper and no one is around to read it? Hyperbolic, I know, and engaging in precisely the same kind of behavior that the people I'm decrying are engaged in. Still, the point is made: at some point, there's a diminished return on selling news to the highest bidder and lowest common denominator.  
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Front Page

Which came first -- journalists turning into to a bunch of sideshow barkers because the only thing Americans want is to be entertained or Americans losing any semblance of reality because the once noble profession of journalism has turned into nothing more than a conduit to sell Tide and Toyotas?

Once thought of as the guardians of democracy, equality, fairness, checks and balance (with figures like Cronkite, Murrow, Rice, Pyle, Bourke-White, Pulitzer), the fourth estate has (d)evolved into a bunch of bobble-headed bimbos reading propaganda off a TelePrompTer on Fox News. And if they are not reading someone else's agenda -- you have snake oil salesman like Glenn Beck -- who claim they aren't journalists -- spewing hate and lies under the cover of a misnomer called Fox News.

Journalism has a long and storied tradition in the United States. The first newspaper published in the Colonies was Publick Occurences in 1690. Today there are thousands of outlets for journalists - blogs, the tubes of the internets, radio, ever-struggling print newspapesr and the most influential of them all -- still -- television. One of the primary reasons this country has been able to flourish and develop far and above other societies has been the presence of a strong, accountable and influential press.

For a minute let's just forget coverage of business, sports, humanities, international, education, health, science, arts, and food as part of the generic heading of news. The credibility and quality of content for these particular subjects (as well as many others) has declined dramatically in an age of infinite choice and cannibalized audiences. But none of those topics compare to the absolute trashing and degraded treatment that political and government coverage has taken.

What was once one of the nation's strongest checks on power and corruption in the world's freest democracy, journalism has morphed into a lazy man's sport of quoting polls, hawking books, promoting agendas and handicapping horse races -- races that might even be years in the future.

Turn into any of the punditoria shows for any amount of time and you are sure to be a witness to the Road Map to 2012. It is over two years until the next presidential election -- and already every single journalistpundit has been giving odds and establishing strategies for the people they have deemed most likely to.

No matter how far and fast the economy is collapsing, no matter how many people are out of work, no matter how many bridges collapse, and no matter how many people cannot afford health care - there is never enough time to report about the comings and goings of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and now Joe "the Senator" Miller. Talking about how these guys can (or will) win is fun and exciting. Talking about kids with cancer and people being thrown out of their houses is boring and depressing.

Fun and exciting sell Tide and Toyotas. Boring and depressing make people turn the channel.

I guess if you have to compete with American Idol, The Bachelor, The Real World, Project Runway, Cupcake Wars or a real housewife for those limited and valuable eyeballs -- the only way to get attention is to make journalism more like a combination of The Gong Show and the $1.98 Beauty Show. Quality is no longer job one. Getting Jaye P. Morgan or Rip Taylor to laugh their asses off is.

Sarah Palin and her descamisados are not news -- they are a cult void of ideas and no thought. The Palinistas derive their cohesiveness from hate and subliminal racism. The fact that Palin may be and intellectual zero and one of the stupidest pieces of shit to ever enter this kabuki theater matters little to "news" organizations, Sarah Palin generates ratings. Whether it is her looks, her lunacy or her lack of intelligence -- showing that farbissenah punim on the teevee sells. When something sells it is the media's best interest to keep that hawker in full public view. The Teabaggers are not a true political movement - they are a bunch of people united by their anger and empty rhetoric towards things they simply do not comprehend or realize are important and necessary to their own lives. The fact that they are propped up by a bunch of rich businessmen who do have a vested interest in changing the status quo again does not matter to "news" organizations. What matters is they yell loud enough and have enough offensive signs. And people tune in.

Being both groups are easy generators of eyeballs, the media covers them with the fervor of real news instead of digging for the empty shell of real ideas and political management.

The failure for the press to expose the vacuous nature of Palin and the Teabaggers is only one aspect of political journalism that has harmed American society. Look at all the current candidates who refuse to debate in public (Steve King and Jan Brewer to name two), who refuse to be interviewed by any medium other than Fox News (Rand Paul and Sharron Angel), and will only appear in front of friendly and pre-selected audiences. Some sort of unwritten code in American political journalism has been permanently broken. And the press seems at a loss as to what to do about it.

And how have the "real" journalists handle this new reality - instead of calling out Brewer, Palin and Paul - they cover Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods and call it journalism.  Oh and read press releases from the candidates as if they are facts.

The politicians have beaten the journalists at their own game -- the politicians know it, the public knows it -- only the journalists haven't quite figured it out. Journalists used to be savvy about their strategies and smart about their tactics when they went looking for the story. The victory was uncovering the truth, not selling the most Toyotas. Today people like Palin, Romney, Paul, Rubio, King, Boner, and McConnell have been taught to master anti-journalism skills and make the press work for them. They have been able to stack the deck and play the journalists to their advantage.

With the fourth estate having little teeth, smart politicians (or politicians with smart advisors) have become blatant in their contempt and disregard for the press. They can (and will) lie their asses off knowing there will simply be no accountability anymore. These politicians feel empowered by the timidity of the press. They don't have to debate, they don't have to put themselves through any tough questioning, they don't even have to have any ideas. They just have to act like the Unknown Comic or Gene Gene the Dancing Machine from The Gong Show and they get their 15 minutes over and over and over again.

And the saddest part is that much of the country welcomes, rather than mourns, the loss of something so critical to our progress.

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Where is Europe?

by Peter Henne

I am always amazed at the multiple layers in just about every seemingly-simple news story, as a piece in today's
New York Times demonstrates. A program set up in Afghanistan to woo Taliban foot soldiers away from the militant group is faltering, due to organizational problems and a failure on the part of the international community to provide the promised funding. I have been very interested in this program, and if this falls apart, it would be disastrous for stabilization efforts there.

Several questions arise from the story. Are the difficulties due to disorganization on the part of the Afghan government? Fatigue among the international community? Or is it, as the story mentions, due to the apparent strength of the Taliban? These are all useful points, but one of the most interesting--to me, at least--is the question of what this tells us about US-European relations.

The conference that set up this program included numerous countries, with most major European states
attending, and resulted in grand promises to develop Afghanistan. But many European donors have yet to fulfill their pledges. Of course, the United States could give more--although it appears we have donated a good amount--and countries outside Europe need to step up. But as Europe becomes increasingly integrated politically and takes a more prominent place in the international arena, it should also assume more responsibilities. The relatively sparse contribution so far is just one example of European states' failure to do so (it should be noted, however, that Estonia fulfilled its pledge).

A possible explanation for this was offered by Roger Cohen in the same issue as the above story on Afghanistan, in which he decries President Obama's lack of attention to Europe (Robert Kagan has raised the same point, but I admit I ignored him at the time). Europe is undoubtedly free-riding on US efforts, putting the minimal amount of resources in to please the United States in places like Afghanistan, but hesitant to commit anything more. Any good realist would expect them to do so. But free-riding was attempted all throughout the Cold War, and was headed off by fears of the Soviet threat and the patient efforts of US leaders. In the absence of a major threat, and with European publics less then enthused about international military endeavors, only persistent and intelligent diplomacy will keep Europe engaged in Afghanistan. And as the funding issues show us, the United States can't stabilize Afghanistan on its own.

There is of course the usual foreign policy caveat that it's an election year and the economy is all anyone is thinking about. But Americans expect leadership from their President, and there would be no better example of leadership than President Obama convincing Europe's leaders to shoulder their part of the burden in Afghanistan.

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Koran-burning could endanger U.S. troops, says Petraeus

As you may know, a Florida church is planning to burn copies of the Koran on 9/11. It claims that the burning will be "neither an act of love nor of hate," but it is clearly the latter. Pastor Terry Jones has called Islam "of the devil," "a deceptive religion" and "a violent religion" that is "causing billions of people to go to hell."

This is despicable bigotry, of course, and the consequences could be bloody:

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Monday criticized a Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Quran on September 11, warning the demonstration "could cause significant problems" for American troops overseas.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Gen. David Petraeus said in a statement issued Monday.

I think that's right. Here's a church that no doubt considers itself patriotic, in that right-wing way that is really more nativist jingoism than patriotism, potentially putting American troops in harm's way as a direct result of its anti-Muslim bigotry.

But it isn't just Gainesville's Dove World Outreach Center that's doing it. There is widespread anti-Muslim sentiment on the right, including among mainstream conservatives and throughout the Republican Party, and much of it, I think, adds to the existing anti-American sentiment among America's enemies, providing them with a rallying cry for action and support. More, I think, it reinforces the less intense and often non-violent anti-American sentiment within the Muslim community generally, pushing some towards violence and others towards skepticism of America's intentions at the very least. Anti-Muslim sentiment is undermining efforts of engagement with the Muslim world, weakening America's credibility around the world and threatening what limited advances America has made in building meaningful relationships with Muslim countries and reaching out to Muslims generally.

And yet it continues. There are those, for example, who call Obama a Muslim, implying that there is nothing worse than being a Muslim, that being a Muslim is being anti-American, with Islam and America forever at odds with one another. And there are those, like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, among so many others on the right, attacking the planned Muslim community center near Ground Zero, Park51, implying that being a Muslim is essentially the same as being a terrorist, that the Muslims who would go to Park51 are essentially the same as those Muslims who flew planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11. Why else, in their view, would it be disrespectful to have a Muslim community near Ground Zero?

If they even understand this, conservatives don't seem to care. And why would they? Many of them adhere to a radical right-wing worldview that pits America (and fundamentalist American Christianity) against Islam in a clash of civilizations to the death. Their ideology rests to a great extent on bigotry. And their electoral success relies on feeding the culture of fear and loathing at home, scaring Americans into being terrified of their defined Other (Muslims, gays, socialists, etc.).

But there are consequences. And like a boomerang, the hatred that goes out will come right back, a cycle that keeps feeding on itself, and growing, allowing extremists there and here to ratchet up the attacks.

It must be stopped, but how, with churches burning the Koran, conservatism moving ever further to the right, and the Republican Party descending ever further into madness? There is so much more to America than this right-wing and evangelical Christian bigotry, so much goodness and decency in the American soul, but it is that bigotry that gets the attention, and that gets projected, and perhaps Muslims and others around the world should be excused, short of responding with violence, for thinking that these bigots speak for America.

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Just how crazy is Sharron Angle (9)

So crazy, my friends, that she actually thinks she'd "be a mainstream Senator," or so she told CNN "in a rare one-on-one interview" recently.

Angle is of course anything but "mainstream," but, then again, her crazy right-wing extremism, so common among Republicans and teabaggers alike, is very much the GOP mainstream these days.

So in this case at least, it's all just a matter of perspective, with Angle and her ilk seeing things one way and those of us who live in reality seeing things quite differently.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: "Two Step"

Up late tonight. I just finished watching The Story of a Cheat, the wonderful, marvellous masterpiece -- and instantly one of my favourite films, such a joy to watch -- from 1936 by French director Sacha Guitry, barely known these days but nonetheless a major influence, featured in Criterion's Eclipse #22, a must for any serious cinephile.

Flipping through the channels, I caught a recent Simpsons episode, a surprisingly very good one from Season 21 (with a wonderful Cinema Paradiso-esque kissing montage that includes one of the greatest film couples in recent movie history, Wall-E and Eve), and then landed on a Dave Matthews concert on HDNet (with Tim Reynolds at Radio City Music Hall in '07), which is just wrapping up. I'm generally mixed on Matthews. I admire him a great deal, and yet, aside from a few songs here and there, I just can't get into him, or at least not nearly as much as his incredibly ardent and devoted fans. I have several songs on my iPod, mostly from Everyday, a fine album with his band, but he really is much more impressive live (or in concert on TV) than on his albums. Actually, this is quite amazing. I don't think I've been this engaged with, or impressed by, a concert on TV since Arcade Fire on Austin City Limits.

Anyway, here are Matthews and Reynolds doing "Two Step," the brilliant (and brilliantly performed) last song of the show, originally from the DMB album Crash.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Truth in Comics

By Creature

If it's Sunday, it's Truth in Comics.

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