Saturday, October 02, 2010

Thanks for the syphilis

Another sordid episode from the long, violent, and thoroughly despicable history of U.S. interference in Latin America:

From 1946 to 1948, American public health doctors deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans -- prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers -- with venereal diseases in what was meant as an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin.

American tax dollars, through the National Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture...

The revelations were made public on Friday, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized to the government of Guatemala and the survivors and descendants of those infected. They called the experiments "clearly unethical."

Clearly. Although I'd say that's an understatement.

"Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health," the secretaries said in a statement. "We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices."

Along with what was done at Tuskegee, where the U.S. Public Health Service conducted syphilis "research" on poor blacks for 40 years, this is all pretty appalling.

But what's also appalling is that it took so long for the truth to come out. Which makes you wonder, as Melissa McEwan wonders:

[W]hat secret horrors going on now President Malia Obama and Vice President William Jefferson Mezvinsky will be apologizing for in fifty years. 

The imagination reels.

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California decriminalizes pot possession

Well done, Governator:

Citing the need to reduce spending on prosecution and courts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a measure that makes marijuana possession an infraction, on par with traffic and littering tickets.

The Republican governor's unexpected support for the measure comes one month before voters decide whether to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana in California.

"In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket," wrote Schwarzenegger, who opposes Proposition 19, the marijuana initiative.

The law, which takes effect immediately, reduces possession of up to an ounce of marijuana -- enough for about 30 joints -- from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Already, marijuana possession was the only misdemeanor under California law that didn't allow for jail time.

It's certainly a move in the right direction, though ultimately the answer is to legalize pot, at least in terms of recreational use, as with Prop 19, not just decriminalize it.

There can still be rules around it, of course, just as there are around alcohol use and distribution, but it hardly makes sense to treat possession even as a legal infraction.

Don't get me wrong, I do worry about the extent to which other, harder drugs ought to be decriminalized or legalized, and I constantly go back and forth, drawing the lines at different places, but pot, to me, ought to be treated roughly as alcohol is.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Rick Sanchez calls Jon Stewart a "bigot," makes anti-Semitic remarks, and is fired by CNN

I've always found (now ex-)CNN host Rick Sanchez to be something of a loose cannon, and yet sometimes an admirable one, but he completely lost it yesterday on Pete Dominick's radio show. "I think Jon Stewart's a bigot," he said, and Dominick, who used to work for The Daily Show doing audience warm-up, understandably asked him to explain:

Dominick: How is he a bigot?

Sanchez: I think he looks at the world through, his mom, who was a school teacher, and his dad, who was a physicist or something like that. Great, I'm so happy that he grew up in a suburban middle class New Jersey home with everything you could ever imagine.

Dominick: What group is he bigoted towards?

Sanchez: Everybody else who's not like him. Look at his show, I mean, what does he surround himself with?

Sanchez then changed "bigot" to "prejudicial" and "uninformed." And later in the show, he offered this gem:

I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah.

I love Jon Stewart, but I certainly don't think I need to defend him against these charges. He is obviously not a bigot or prejudicial, and he's extraordinarily well-informed.

You probably don't like him (to put it mildly) if you're Republican and/or conservative, but that's only because he tells it like it is and therefore makes you look bad.

But Sanchez? Was he just upset that Stewart makes fun of him from time to time? Well, he deserved to be made fun of, what with his on-air antics (remember when he had himself tasered?) and foot-in-mouth style. (I rarely ever watched his show, but I did sometimes find his eccentric approach a welcome departure from the usual media nonsense.)

Whatever the case, he obviously just lost it on Dominick's show, perhaps letting his inside voice come out, something a TV personality should be able to control, perhaps venting what had been building up for some time. It makes you wonder if he's either unstable or having problems in his personal or professional life.

Did he really think that attacking Jon Stewart would go unnoticed or that what he said was at all appropriate and that he'd be defended for speaking out like this?

Anyway, CNN has fired him -- and rightly so. It wasn't just his attack on Stewart, after all, it was his attack on CNN and his anti-Semitic remarks about Jews. Now, he may be right, more or less, that Jews are not an oppressed minority, but the sarcasm of his comment was inappropriate and it's just plain wrong that Jews run the media, a standard anti-Semitic accusation.

So he's either got a screw loose or he's a bigot himself -- or both. And that just isn't acceptable -- unless, of course, you work for Fox News, where it's all just par for the course.


You can find a lot more reaction over at Memeorandum.

Update: Transcript at The Wrap.

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John Bolton for president! Wait, that John Bolton?

Yes, crazy neocon John Bolton:

John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tells National Review Online that he is seriously considering a 2012 presidential run. "I am a Goldwater conservative," he says. "I am not a professional politician. I don't anticipate running a typical kind of campaign, if I do make that decision."

In an interview this morning in his Washington office, Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime diplomat, opened up about a potential campaign, discussing his views on foreign policy and domestic affairs. "I just don't think that a Republican can convincingly oppose the president using talking-point platitudes," Bolton tells us. As he looks at his options, Bolton says that he wants to "shape the debate, and hopefully make an impact on the national-security issues."

He wouldn't win, of course, but, whatever his efforts at hyper-gravitas, he'd be an amusing addition to the Republican field (a field that could be as unamusing as Romney, Thune, and Pawlenty).

Remember that he only served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. as a recess appointee. The Senate wasn't going to confirm him and so Bush II put him there on his own.

And why? Well, here's what I wrote about him back in 2005:

[B]y reputable accounts a reprehensible man who has intimidated and harassed subordinates at the State Department (where he is still -- God help us -- Cheney's minion (and formerly Powell's nemesis) as undersecretary of state for arms control... something he doesn't even believe in!), who childishly lashes out in red-faced rage at any and all disagreement from his staff, who seems to lack anything in the way of humility, who rejects the legitimacy of international law, who doesn't seem to grasp the complexity of international relations and the nuanced shades of international diplomacy, who amorally evaded the question of Rwandan genocide during his recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, and who has repeatedly attacked the United Nations, even saying publicly that "if the U.N. Secretariat Building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

For background, I highly recommend Fred Kaplan's articles at Slate from that time on Bolton's nomination: here, here, here, and here

The good thing about a Bolton run is that it would force Republicans to address Bush's foreign and military policies (when they'd rather lie about Obama, though of course Bolton do that, too) and remind voters that the Republican Party foreign policy establishment is controlled by warmongering neocon extremists who are hell-bent on exerting American power in reckless and irresponsible ways.

And hey, maybe he'd joke about nuking Chicago again. So hilarious -- at least to CPAC Insanitarium types.

Anyway, if Bolton wants to position himself as a "Goldwater conservative," there's really only one suitable response. And here it is:

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A further update on Christine O'Donnell's self-aggrandizing dishonesty

(Updating posts from the past two days -- here and here.)

So did O'Donnell lie about her education? Is she responsible for the information in her LinkedIin profile? Her campaign has said no, but she has a long record of dishonesty, including with respect to her education -- as I document in the two posts linked above.

And now there's more, evidence that she has in fact lied repeatedly:

By now you may have heard that the claim that Christine O'Donnell studied at Oxford has now turned up on a second O'Donnell online resume, this one from ZoomInfo.

I've got some more information on what happened from ZoomInfo, and it seems to strongly undercut O'Donnell's claim that her LinkedIn bio making the same Oxford fib was unauthorized or unknown to her.

To back up: This morning, the Democratic National Committee pointed out that O'Donnell is also described in a ZoomInfo entry as having achieved a "certificate" in "Post Modernism in the New Millennium" from the "University of Oxford." The Zoom Info entry was labled, "user verified."

ZoomInfo, which has spent the day looking into this, has sent over a statement detailing what happened with this profile. According to the company, O'Donnell's profile was claimed in 2008 through something called a "double opt-in process."

The company says this process cannot function without "response to a verification e-mail message." ZoomInfo is not releasing that email address, citing privacy. But here's the rub: The company is confirming that they have identified the emailer...

ZoomInfo knows who claimed this profile and verified the information. And in response to my questions, it's not disputing the idea that it was claimed by O'Donnell or someone apparently authorized by her to do so.

(For more, see Sam Stein, HuffPo.) 

One thing we know is true: Christine O'Donnell was a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute in 2002. The rest, as we've closely chronicled, is all a bit fuzzy.

But TPM just spoke with a Claremont official who reviewed O'Donnell's 2002 application file. Ryan Williams, who oversees the Lincoln Fellowship program, told us that O'Donnell lists a certificate from Oxford University on her resume. "She did have a line about Oxford," he said as he looked at her file, which also included an essay and letters of recommendation.

Williams told us the item on O'Donnell's resume reads:

Oxford University, Oxford, UK Certificate awarded Summer 2001

But O'Donnell did not attend Oxford. She received a certificate from a summer seminar program called the Phoenix Institute, which rented space at Oxford.

In other words, she lied about studying at Oxford, just as she's lied about so much else, including studying at Claremont Graduate University. (She studied at neither.)

She's also lied about doing graduate work at Princeton and when she graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson. (She never took a grad course at the former and claimed she graduated from the latter years before she actually did.)

Steve Benen adds: "TPM found instances in which O'Donnell told similar lies on her MySpace page, 2008 campaign website, and 2006 campaign website. She included deceptive information about her education in court filings, and repeated related false claims during recent media interviews."

"In other words," Steve concludes, putting the pieces together, "Christine O'Donnell lied, and then lied about lying. This, coupled with her suspected campaign embezzlement, suspected tax fraud, background in witchcraft, rejection of modern science, hatred of gays, anti-masturbation efforts, and hysterically extreme political worldview, makes her a U.S. Senate candidate who's literally hard to believe."

Except in the current political climate, with the Republican Party and much of American conservatism descending rapidly into madness.

In that respect, she makes a lot of "sense" and is not at all hard to believe.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Linda McMahon

For suggesting that the minimum wage, already low, ought to be lowered:

Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Connecticut, suggested Thursday that the U.S. ought to take a second look at the federal minimum wage.

"The minimum wage now in our country, I think we've set that, so there are a lot of people have benefited from it in our country, but I think we ought to review how much it ought to be, and whether or not we ought to have increases in the minimum wage," McMahon said at a press conference.

After the event, "McMahon admitted she didn't know what the current minimum wage is or if any of her employees at World Wrestling Entertainment are paid it," reported. McMahon was CEO of the WWE before launching her Senate campaign.

In other words, screw the poor and those just barely getting by. The economy is still in terrible shape, but let's just make their lives even more difficult. No matter that McMahon herself is worth millions and doesn't have a fucking clue.

She may be crazy, but she's certainly a Republican, and so her cruelty is right in line with her politics. It hardly distinguishes her from her fellow Republicans.

As her opponent, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, responded:

Linda McMahon laid off ten percent of her workers and takes home $46 million a year so it's no surprise she's thinking about lowering the minimum wage.

Remind me again how Republicans are successfully portraying themselves as populists, as the party of the people, how they're propagandizing voters into believing that they'll do something other than make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful.

It requires astonishing ignorance and denial to buy that bullshit.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

An open letter to Rahm Emanuel

Dear Rahm,

I'm not a Beltway insider, nor a major Democratic player, just a blogger who believed in Obama, and sort of still does, despite everything, and who cares about America's future.

And all I can say is that it's been a genuine displeasure.

For sake of the good people of the City of Chicago, where you hope to be the new boss, here's hoping you don't do to them what you did to Obama's presidency.

And here's hoping that your successor, Peter Rouse, isn't such a disappointment. Not that you've really been a disappointment. I mean, many of us expected you to be what you've been, even if your constant attacks on the president's, and Democrats', liberal-progressive base have been more virulent than expected.

Thanks so much for being such an asshole to us. Perhaps it's not too late for the president to recover, and to be what some of us think he is capable of being, a genuinely transformative president who leads America into a brighter and more just future, a progressive future in which the country lives up to its most noble ideals and principles.

Without much regard,

Michael Stickings

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Enthusiasm gap bridged

By Creature

Not that I wasn't going to vote, but the chance to vote against a jerk like Carl Paladino will make it all the more satisfying.

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An update on Christine O'Donnell's self-aggrandizing dishonesty

(Updating my post from yesterday.)

As TPM's Christina Bellantoni is reporting, a PR firm has released a statement from O'Donnell denying that she lied in her LinkedIn bio:

There have been reports that I have released false information on a LinkedIn profile under my name. This is categorically untrue. I never established a LinkedIn profile, or authorized anyone to do so on my behalf.

That may or may not be true. LinkedIn has removed O'Donnell's profile but stated that taking it down was not "an acknowledgment that the profile was fake." In other words, it may very well not have been fake. O'Donnell may still be lying.

The statement continues:

I have always been clear about my educational background. I completed undergraduate work at Fairleigh Dickenson University. After my undergraduate work, I completed a summer program run by the Phoenix Institute, at the Institute's Oxford University location. The Institute runs programs around the world at various universities, and participants study issues of human dignity. I also completed a Lincoln Fellowship at the Claremont Institute in Claremont, CA. We would encourage LinkedIn to remove this profile. 

Let's take a look at this:

1) O'Donnell did in fact graduate from FDU, but she only receive her BA last year. She had claimed that she had graduated for several years prior to that.

2) O'Donnell was in fact enrolled in a summer seminar program run by the Phoenix Institute. The Institute rented space at Oxford, but it is rather misleading to suggest that it has an "Oxford University location." And her LinkedIn bio stated that she studied at the "University of Oxford." It did not mention the Phoenix Institute.

3) O'Donnell was in fact enrolled in a fellowship program at the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank. Her LinkedIn bio, however, stated that she studied at "Claremont Graduate University," a fairly prestigious graduate school with which the Claremont Institute is not affiliated.

4) She does not mention it in her statement, but in a 2005 lawsuit O'Donnell claimed that she was trying to "take master's degree classes at Princeton." In actual fact, she never took a graduate course at Princeton.

Assuming that she posted (or authorized to be posted) that LinkedIn profile, that's four strikes against her just regarding her educational background. Even if she didn't, though, she still lied about FDU and Princeton and has been misleading about Phoenix/Oxford.

As The Weekly Standard has reported -- yes, The Weekly Standard, hardly a left-wing rag -- there have been other prominent lies as well:

1) "Conservative radio host Dan Gaffney challenged O'Donnell on September 2 for claiming she had won two out of three counties in Delaware when she ran for Senate in 2008. In fact, she didn't win any."

2) "According to her financial disclosure form, O'Donnell only made $5,800 last year. 'I made more than $5,800,' O'Donnell told me [John McCormack] in the September 2 interview, but said she did not have to and would not disclose how much."

3) "As the Delaware News Journal notes, O'Donnell 'has denied that she was ever sued by her mortgage company or that a foreclosure sale date had been set.'" But in fact she was, in 2008.

4) "Even more disturbing, says Gaffney, is O'Donnell's claim in her recent WEEKLY STANDARD interview that her home and campaign office were broken into and vandalized and burglarized in 2008. O'Donnell did not report the alleged burglary and vandalism to the police, but suggested that [GOP rival Mike] Castle supporters may have been the ones who committed the alleged crime. 'If that's true and she didn't call the police, she's not only endangering herself but her neighbors,' says Gaffney. 'She also likes to say there are people hiding in her bushes. It doesn't sound stable when you add it all up.'"

No, it doesn't. Not at all. And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, O'Donnell is playing the victim card. Citing Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as inspirations, she has said that "whenever a strong pioneering woman comes onto the scene there's some backlash."

No, this isn't about her sex, it's about her as an individual. And even conservatives like the ones who run the Standard realize she's crazy: "O'Donnell's finances, honesty, and stability have been called into question in light of her false and strange claims." 

And yet here she is, the Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware, perhaps the ideal candidate for an increasingly extremist party that has lost its mind.

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Punk gone wrong: O'Keefe, Boudreau, CNN, and the state of conservative activism

So James O'Keefe, the idiotic and developmentally stunted right-wing "investigative journalist" behind the whole anti-ACORN scam (you remember, the one with the edited videos pushed by Breitbart), tries to "punk" a CNN correspondent, Abbie Boudreau, by luring her onto a boat and... Well, here's CNN's own account:

A conservative activist known for making undercover videos plotted to embarrass a CNN correspondent by recording a meeting on hidden cameras aboard a floating "palace of pleasure" and making sexually suggestive comments, e-mails and a planning document show.

James O'Keefe, best known for hitting the community organizing group ACORN with an undercover video sting, hoped to get CNN Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and then record the session, those documents show.

The plan apparently was thwarted after Boudreau was warned minutes before it was supposed to happen...

Among the props listed were a "condom jar, dildos, posters and paintings of naked women, fuzzy handcuffs" and a blindfold. 

There's a lot more -- read the whole thing. (The plan fell apart when Izza Santa, an O'Keefe accomplice, told Boudreau not to get on the boat. Yes, even one of his accomplices thought the whole thing was stupid.)

Or don't. It's probably not worth it.

All we really learn from this is that some of these young conservative activists, pumped up and encouraged by Breitbart and others on the right (including Fox News), are juvenile morons with nothing better to do than to try to embarrass others, and to do so by manufacturing situations meant to embarrass, or just by making shit up. (I mean, seriously. Trying to "punk" a reporter by secretly filming her surrounded by sex toys?)

As if we didn't know that already.

Just as we already knew that O'Keefe was an idiot. We now just have extra confirmation.

"James O'Keefe, the future of conservative political activism," writes Steve Benen. I'd say the future is fast becoming the present.


Here, by the way, is Boudreau's account of the failed punking. For more reaction, see Memeorandum.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What we know

By Capt. Fogg

So you're religious? That's a shame because I like to talk about the subject I've been interested in and have studied for at least 50 years -- but not with people of "faith." Scholars, linguists, archaeologists with and without faith are another matter entirely, but mentioning even the most elementary things about the Bible that one would learn on the first day of your first college class usually produces a reaction similar to Bela Lugosi encountering a cross, or a resounding and peremptory NO!

I've given up mentioning obvious facts like the separate and interleaved Genesis stories; one talking about Yahweh and the other, in a different voice, talking about the Elohim. The details differ remarkably. Ask your Sunday School teacher about the 100 days and nights of rain and Noah loading animals 6 by 6 and watch the reaction.

I'm talking about minutia, of course and I'm staying away from the conclusions to be made from them, but the level of ignorance amongst the most faithful is as astounding as the refusal to actually read the approved source documents much less the banned and earlier documents archaeology has provided us. It requires more than most can or will apply to the task -- and takes all the fun out of it, of course.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life took a poll earlier this year and the results didn't surprise me at all. It appears that Americans are a pretty ignorant lot in terms of how much they know about the Bible, the other religions of the world and things related to the status of religious life in the US, the urge to make public displays notwithstanding. Atheists and agnostics seem to know a good deal more than the general run of the faithful, although you're welcome to ignore the question of whether it's knowledge itself that produces doubt in the places certainty likes to dwell. It does seem that the more educated are -- well, more educated about these things.

Jews seem to do best of all in terms of broad spectrum religious knowledge, but that's not too surprising as religious education in that group is a much different sort of thing and educators may be less shy of difficult questions. They're less likely to get their theology solely from the polyester preachers on TV whose continued existence defies claims of divine forces at work in the world.

The most important lack, in my opinion, is that shown by American Protestants and Catholics who know very little about other religions compared Jews and Mormons and Atheists and that's something I can't explain easily. Less than half of us know that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist or that most people in Indonesia are Muslim. A tiny 8% 0f us know that Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) was Jewish and I'm sure most of those were Jewish as well.

Apparently the one fact we're most likely to know, is that teachers in public schools may not lead students in prayer and one of the things we're least likely to know is that it is indeed constitutionally permissible to study the Bible and other texts in a comparative religion course. The answer to that opens a whole new perspective in strategic public anger management, but I won't go there either.

Of course all of us seem to know that Islam is inherently and unavoidably evil and some can supply all sorts of reasons to substantiate it and even more reasons to be angry with you if you don't quite agree with it all, but ask what Ramadan is about and only half can tell you it's an Islamic holiday.

So what does all of this mean? Beats me. I do know that too much speculation about these things is likely to get my neighbors and associates to beat me too. After all, as a people we're quite possessive of what we don't know and have good reasons for not knowing it: and of course we are, as always, number one.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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German reparations and the end of the Great War

Yes, believe it or not, World War I is finally about to come to an end -- even though there's already been a II and neocons are angling for a III. From Britain's Telegraph:

The First World War will officially end on Sunday, 92 years after the guns fell silent, when Germany pays off the last chunk of reparations imposed on it by the Allies.

The final payment of £59.5 million, writes off the crippling debt that was the price for one world war and laid the foundations for another.

Germany was forced to pay the reparations at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as compensation to the war-ravaged nations of Belgium and France and to pay the Allies some of the costs of waging what was then the bloodiest conflict in history, leaving nearly ten million soldiers dead. 

The initial sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, a sum later reduced to 132 billion, £22 billion at the time.

The bill would have been settled much earlier had Adolf Hitler not reneged on reparations during his reign.

Hatred of the settlement agreed at Versailles, which crippled Germany as it tried to shape itself into a democracy following armistice, was of significant importance in propelling the Nazis to power.

"On Sunday the last bill is due and the First World War finally, financially at least, terminates for Germany," said Bild, the country's biggest selling newspaper.

Most of the money goes to private individuals, pension funds and corporations holding debenture bonds as agreed under the Treaty of Versailles, where Germany was made to sign the 'war guilt' clause, accepting blame for the war.

Of course, the enormity of the reparations amount (269 billion gold marks, or about £23.6 -- or almost $400 U.S. in current terms) wasn't fair, and Keynes, a key British official at the Paris Peace Conference, was right to criticize it, correctly predicting that Germany's economy would collapse and that Europe would suffer the serious consequences. He resigned his post as chief representative of the British Treasury, writing to Prime Minister David Lloyd George that the reparations agreement would lead to the "devastation of Europe."

It was unfair not just because it was such an enormous amount but because Germany hardly deserved to take the blame for the war. While the causes of the war were varied and complex -- and too much to get into here -- the other Great Powers certainly deserved their fair shares of the blame, too. This is not to suggest that the blame ought to have been shared equally or that Germany shouldn't have been made to pay reparations, but, clearly, Germany shouldn't have been made to pay that much.

Anyway, it's over. Finally.


Allow me to take this opportunity to post a few poems by one of the greatest of the Great War poets, the Englishman Siegfried Sassoon:


When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
And silence; and the faces of my friends.

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.


When you are standing at your hero’s grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son.

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More on the GOP's foreign policy (or lack thereof)

by Peter Henne

I wanted to highlight an excellent piece Think Progress--a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund--put out yesterday
on the lack of a coherent Republican foreign policy as part of their "Progress Report" series. I have been rather upset with the absence of good sparring partners among the GOP. Republican leaders' reactions to President Obama's Iraq war speech had more to do with politics than honoring our troops, and the new Republican strategy recently released in book form barely mentions foreign policy. So Think Progress' analysis is timely and useful.

They ascribe this situation to divisions among conservatives on foreign policy, specifically the divide between isolationist and more activist strains, with old-time realists being pushed aside. There is something there; see for example some neoconservatives' frustration with Bush's more conciliatory North Korea policy in his second term.

I wonder how much of this, though, is driven by politics pushing beliefs on foreign policy, rather than vice-versa. It is possible that support for a certain foreign policy is driven by attitudes towards its sponsor. Maybe conservatives had no inherent interest in spreading democracy or invading Iraq, but they believed Bush represented their ideals and thus altered their foreign policy preferences to fit those of their elites.
So conservatives--including those now apparently skeptical of international engagements--didn't suddenly change their beliefs when Obama became President. Instead, they were opposed to the man currently in charge, and thus opposed what he advanced.

But this is where the divisions
Think Progress points to come in. Some neoconservatives, as noted, were beyond even Bush in terms of an aggressive foreign policy, and thus Obama's international engagements could never satisfy them. Others on the right were not as committed to a strong foreign policy, and so attack Obama from the other side. This leaves Republicans with a dilemma; it would seem strange to simultaneously attack the President for being too adventurous and not adventurous enough, even though some figures on the Right have done this. And so the GOP stays silent.

I still think the
Think Progress analysis is 90% right, but these other dynamics may be driving current GOP silence on foreign policy as well.

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Christine O'Donnell, self-aggrandizing liar

This isn't part of our ongoing "Just how crazy is Christine O'Donnell?" series, though perhaps one could argue that it's pretty crazy to lie about your education on one of your social networking pages -- given how easy it is these days to check such things. The Post's Greg Sargent has the details:

In another move that will raise further questions about Christine O'Donnell's embellishment of her education record, she claims she studied at the University of Oxford -- but a look at her actual record shows this is at best an exaggeration and at worst an outright falsehood.

O'Donnell's LinkedIn bio page lists "University of Oxford" as one of the schools she attended, claiming she studied "Post Modernism in the New Millennium." But it turns out that was just a course conducted by an institution known as the Phoenix Institute, which merely rented space at Oxford.

What's more, the woman who oversaw Phoenix Institute's summer program at Oxford tells me O'Donnell's claim about studying at Oxford is "misleading."

Misleading is an understatement.

An O'Donnell spokesperson claims that it was "a course at Oxford overseen by the Phoenix Instutute," but according to Chris Fletcher, who ran the Institute's Oxford program, "It wasn't an official course of Oxford University. It wasn't sponsored by Oxford University. We rented the space... It was our curriculum, and we did the grades."

Which means that O'Donnell's claim -- and Sargent quotes the relevant section of her LinkedIn page -- is an utter lie meant to make herself look good. She may once have been in Oxford, in rented space, but she never studied at, was never a student at, Oxford.

Oh, and there's a pattern of lies here:

By itself, O'Donnell's Oxford claim might not matter too much. But the larger context is that O'Donnell has already been nabbed fudging her education record not once, but twice. She claimed for several years to have graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson Unversity, but she actually obtained her bachelor's degree last summer. And in a lawsuit she suggested she was trying for a Master's degree courses at Princeton -- but subsequently acknowledged she hadn't taken a single Princeton graduate course.

Three strikes, Ms. O'Donnell. You're busted.

(Though one wonders what else you've been lying about. These three blatant lies, after all, suggest a life of public and perhaps also private dishonesty, at least when it comes to shameless self-promotion.)

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Quote of the Day

By Creature

"Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them." -- Matt Taibbi on the anti-government, yet government fed, Tea Party hypocrites.

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About those Bush tax cuts...

Yes, they'd be bad, really bad, for the economy if extended. Ezra Klein:

CBO Director Doug Elmendorf testified before the Senate Budget Committee [yesterday] and dropped something of a bombshell. Extending the Bush tax cuts, he said, will "probably reduce income relative to what would otherwise occur in 2020." The reason is simple: Debt.

Elmendorf doesn't deny that tax cuts stimulate the economy. But they don't stimulate it that much, he says, and over the long run, the net economic growth from the tax cuts will be quite small. The net deficit impact won't be.

It's common sense, isn't it? You tax less, you take in less -- and the resulting economic stimulation isn't enough to offset that loss, which, in this case, would be huge.

Which makes you realize, if you hadn't realized it already, that the Republicans don't care about the economy, to the extent they understand it at all, just about making the rich richer and scoring easy political points off the tax issue (because who likes to pay taxes?).

So if you really want to elect Republicans in November, if you really want to give them the keys to the ship of state, be advised that while you may end up with a few extra bucks in your pocket (perhaps at the expense of key government programs that you likely benefit from more than you know), mainly if you're already well-off, the long-term health of the economy, in their recklessly irresponsible hands, will suffer greatly.

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Because sometimes I want to be a cheerleader

By Creature

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Don't know much about religion

The Times has the revelatory news:

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons.

By Zeus!

It's hard to believe that such a self-righteously and hypocritically pious people could be so... so... ignorant. I mean, atheists knowing more about religion than the religious, Jews knowing more than Christians? What is up with that?

Next think you know, we'll find out Americans don't know much about the Constitution.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Of air strikes and political footballs

By Peter Henne

Sometimes I worry I'm too critical of both the government and major opposition figures in Pakistan, so take this with a grain of salt. But many leaders in that country seem willing to stir up either anti-American or religious sentiment (or both) to gain domestic support and distract potential critics.

This includes the government appealing to concerns over "blasphemy" in order to limit internet access. It also, unfortunately, includes attacks on US and NATO conduct in the war in Afghanistan. The most recent incident involves the Pakistani leadership criticizing a NATO air strike on Pakistani soil that killed numerous militants. This comes in the context of increased US drone strikes in Pakistan, partially in response to the Pakistani government's inability (or unwillingness) to deal with militants. The common assumption among observers of this conflict is that Pakistan secretly agreed to such actions but publicly denounces them.

The political logic is clear. The Pakistani government does not want to admit it cannot deal with the militant threat, and is unable to admit it actually benefits from these air strikes. So the government openly opposes these activities, counting on US dependence on both the strikes and Pakistan's tacit consent to prevent tensions with the United States. A similar move could be seen in Pakistani President Zardari's public feud with British leader David Cameron over the latter's critique of Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts, which some saw as an attempt on the part of Zardari to distract attention from government inaction on the country's horrific floods. And, as seen in some of Afghan President Karzai's actions, this rhetoric may gain Pakistan's leadership sympathy from international audiences wary of the admittedly morally-questionable drone program.

The fact that these actions by the Pakistani leadership are politically beneficial is what disturbs me. It would be one thing if this was principled opposition to military actions that could harm civilians, but I doubt it's the case. It is likely just another example of leaders who are less-than-ideal US partners using both their own people's welfare and the lives and efforts of US and allied troops for political gain.

As so often seems to be the case, I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed.

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Stop digging

By Creature

I will vote a straight Democratic ticket come November. Hell, I may even do it enthusiastically. But, the condescension coming from the president and his people towards the left needs to stop. It's one thing to try to motivate, it's another thing to not recognize (or at least acknowledge) why the left is legitimately unhappy.

For more depth, see Michael's post below.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: John Raese


The Republican candidate for Senate from West Virginia is a global warming denier. As he put it in an interview with RealClearPolitics, quoted at Think Progress:

The oceans that surround the world produce 185 billion tons of CO2 per annum. Man per annum only produces six billion tons, so what could possibly be the concern? One volcano puts out more toxic gases-one volcano-than man makes in a whole year. And when you look at this "climate change," and when you look at the regular climate change that we all have in the world, we have warm and we have cooling spells.

I suspect that global warming denying is quite common in coal-rich West Virginia, but of course it's a pretty standard position throughout the Republican Party -- even if, in this case, Raese looks especially stupid. As Think Progress notes, showing him to be a fool and perhaps a liar:

Human activity puts about 29 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, well over 100 times as much as all the volcanoes in the world. The oceans actually vent about 332 billion tons of CO2 per year, but also absorb that much. Human emissions have disrupted the balance of the carbon cycle, leading to rising concentrations of greenhouse pollution in the atmosphere. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 40 percent, and global temperatures are on an inexorable rise, overwhelming any natural cycles.

Not that the facts are stopping him, as he is hitting his opponent, Gov. Joe Manchin, hard on energy and the environment:

Raese said that his campaign will launch a new television ad on Tuesday hitting his opponent-Democratic Governor Joe Manchin-for pushing through the state legislature last year the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act, which compelled West Virginia's utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from alternative energy sources by 2025.

"We call it cap and trade Manchin-style," Raese said. "Do the people of West Virginia trust a governor in the state of West Virginia who has already implemented cap and trade here in West Virginia? They're a little concerned about sending him to Washington right now."

Right, it's just a market-based system, spurring innovation in the private sector, designed to address the most pressing crisis of our time. Why would a Republican ever oppose that?

Obviously, Raese is playing on fear, anger, and ignorance in a state that is worried about the loss of the coal industry. Given the poor state of the electorate, it may just work.

Especially if enough voters buy his utter craziness about volcanos.

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Quote of the Day

By Creature

"Oh, good times. I’m so glad Democrats insist on using gloves with the extra padding while Republicans are adding spikes to their brass knuckles." -- Balloon Juice commenter Zifnab in response to the latest threats of never-ending investigations if the GOP regains control of Congress.

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An open letter to Vice President Joe Biden

Dear Mr. Vice President,

I like you. I really do. I was very happy when your current boss tapped you as his running mate back in '08. I think you've got a good head on your shoulders and that you usually know what you're talking about, even if it doesn't always come out well.

But... seriously. What's with telling the Democratic base, your base, to "stop whining"?

Sure, I get your point -- as inartful as it was.

If you put Democrats up against Republicans, and if Democrats are compared to "the alternative," the choice should be clear, and Democrats, suffering from a lack of enthusiasm, should step up and do what needs to be done to prevent the Republicans from winning big this November.

In a two-party system, you've only got two choices, and often that choice is simply the least bad of the two. Is that what you meant? If so, and it would seem so, that's hardly a ringing endorsement of Democrats, hardly an encouraging message to be sending.

To say that your party is not as bad as the GOP is pretty lame, however true. Do you not set higher standards for your party?

Do you not think Americans need some other reason to get out and vote? Of course, they need to know what voting Republican would mean, or what not voting could lead to, but that's not enough.

And while Democrats need to draw clear distinctions between themselves and their opponents, they also need to present that distinction with substance.

Talk up what you've done and what you plan to do. You won't win everyone over to your side, but at least you'll present your party as something other than not Republican. As extremist as the GOP is, voters want a better reason to vote Democratic.

And, please, stop attacking your own base!

Democrats, including many of the president's most ardent supporters, aren't whining, they're expressing their dissatisfaction with their party. Do you not get that? Do you not understand why so many of them are angry, frustrated, unenthusiastic?

There is a lot to like from you, President Obama, and Congressional Democrats, including health-care reform (even a watered-down package without a public option). But what about the escalation of the Afghan War or the failure to repeal DADT or the continuation of the Bush-Cheney national security state (including invasions of privacy) or the support for Wall Street, for the very institutions that were behind the financial crisis? And so much else.

It is "whining" to hold your administration and the two Democratic majorities in Congress to high standards? Is it too much to think that the president was serious when, as a candidate, he talked about hope, about change we could believe in, when he inspired millions across the country to work with him for a brighter future? Was that all just empty political rhetoric?

Look, I do hope the enthusiasm gap narrows, and I think it will. I wrote recently that, while I understand why enthusiasm is low, Democrats really have to start giving a shit.

Ultimately, after all, it's either them or the Republicans, and that should be enough to motivate them. But you aren't helping by attacking your base, the core Democratic constituency that is disappointed but that, I hope, will put that disappointment aside and vote Democratic regardless.

Show you understand. Surely you do?

Show you care. Surely you do?

And do something to win back the support you must have. Repealing DADT would be a good start. Or how about holding a vote to extend middle-class tax cuts while forcing Republicans to defend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy?

Show how you aren't Republicans, but show also what makes you Democrats.

I'm with you. A lot of us will be with you. But don't dismiss us as a bunch of whiners. You can do better, and we deserve better.

And if you do better, and reach out, you'll be rewarded come November.


Michael Stickings

P.S.: Dear Mr. President -- Stop the condescension. Well it may be irresponsible for Democrats not to vote in November it is completely excusable for them to hold you accountable and to demand that you govern up to the lofty standards you set for yourself. Yes, there is a good deal of "lethargy" out there, and maybe some of us do need to "buck up," but we are understandably disappointed with much that you have done. Instead of blaming us, why don't you try to recover what made us support you in the first place?

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President DeMint

By Creature

Out of control:

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint warned Monday evening that he would block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days of the pre-election session.

Maybe Obama should just name DeMint his chief-of-staff and cut out the middle man.

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Worst Democrat of the Day: Joe Manchin

Another cowardly Democrat sucking up to Republicans:

In Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin's quest to strike a bipartisan chord as he campaigns to fill the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd's seat, he's joining the GOP's call to repeal pieces of health care reform.

Manchin endorsed President Obama's efforts on landmark health care reform and voiced support for the bill before and after its passage in March. Now, just five weeks away from a tougher Senate race than he expected against Republican John Raese, the governor said in an interview with RealClearPolitics that he supports many basic components of the law but volunteered that some of it needs to be repealed.

"I believe in health care reform. I don't believe in the way this bill was passed," Manchin said Sunday afternoon. "Why they overreached, I don't know."

The way it was passed? And how was that? With overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate? With Republicans opposing and obstructing anything and everything despite Obama's many overtures and Democrats' willingness to seek bipartisan cooperation and repeatedly to cave in and make concessions to the point where the final bill ended up looking an awful lot like the anti-Hillarycare Republican plan from the '90s? I mean, it's not like it included even a modest public option, for fuck's sake.

I realize that Gov. Manchin is trying to win a tough race in a fairly conservative state, but wouldn't be nice if these Democrats actually stood up proudly for what they believe in and defended their party's record as the party of the sort of meaningful change America needs?

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Fox News democracy

Politico, reporting on one of its polls: "More people are getting their news about the upcoming election from cable television than any other source, and from Fox News more than any other cable channel."

Is it any wonder the electorate is largely uninformed and uneducated? Is it any wonder ignorance prevails?

Is it any wonder Republicans seem poised to do so well in November?

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Chris Coons and the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach

Guest post by T.W. Wilson

Ed. note: This is the pseudonymous Mr. Wilson's third guest post here at The Reaction. His first two were on Glenn Beck and the right's war on the poor (and Beck's war on Frances Fox Piven). -- MJWS


Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate for Senate running against Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, is currently being vilified by right-wing pundits for a little joke made by friends about his state of mind upon returning from studying abroad in Africa. The joke was in a characterization that he returned as a "bearded Marxist" because he was beginning to see imperfections in America that he had not previously examined. Since the boobs on the right are having a field day calling him a Marxist, it is worth quoting what he actually wrote: 

I spent the spring of my junior year in Africa on the St. Lawrence Kenya Study Program. Going to Kenya was one of the few real decisions I have made; my friends, family, and professors all advised against it, but I went anyway. My friends now joke that something about Kenya, maybe the strange diet, or the tropical sun, changed my personality; Africa to them seems a catalytic converter that takes in clean-shaven, clear-thinking Americans and sends back bearded Marxists. 

The point that others ignore is that I was ready to change. Experiences at Amherst my first two years made me skeptical and uncomfortable with Republicanism, enough so that I wanted to see the Third World for myself to get some perspective on my beliefs. 

When I returned last summer, I traveled all over the East Coast and saw in many ways a different America. Upon arriving at Amherst this fall, I felt like a freshman at an unfamiliar school all over again. Many of the questions raised by my experiences of the last year remain unanswered. I have spent my senior year re-examining my ideas and have returned to loving America, but in the way of one who has realized its faults and failures and still believes in its promise. The greatest value of Amherst for me, then, has been the role it played in allowing me to question, and to think. I had to see the slums of Nairobi before the slums of New York meant anything at all, but without the experiences of Amherst, I never would have seen either. 

Never mind that the usual suspects, including his half-witted opponent, O'Donnell, have been doing their usual schtick of misrepresenting the facts to support their warped worldview. I don't really think that calling someone a Marxist will have much resonance these days – at least not amongst those with functioning brains. In Coons' case, it's simply foolishness because he never called himself a Marxist and friends were just having some fun by the reference.

But increasingly I find the rhetoric from the right so outlandish that it is necessary to "unpack" it in order for it to make any sense at all.

Here's my theory: Since most people haven't a clue what Marxism is or what Marx actually wrote (which is particularly true on the right), a good enough proxy seems to be that Marxism is a term for those who don't love America enough or at least not enough to deny her faults.

No, what is not acceptable is Chris Coons' admission that upon returning home he still loved America but that it was now "in the way of one who has realized its faults and failures."

These days, at least in the eyes of the right, it is not possible to love America without whole-heartedly embracing some vaguely held, though frankly indefensible, idea of perfection.

And where does this idea reside? It resides in a hodgepodge of frequently contradictory impressions about how good things used to be. It lies in embracing an incoherent theory about the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution; in pretending our economy isn't tied to international forces beyond our control; in the idea that massive deregulation will work in everyone's best interests; in denying the historical injustices of racism and sexism; in keeping gays out of the military; in returning to a time when it was not possible for a black man to become president; and in so many other status quo ante fantasy nuggets too numerous to mention. That it consists of no coherent vision is clear, but that is the point -- it's not rational but rather about a feeling that things used to better.

Lest you think I contradict myself, the right has plenty of criticism of America to offer too, but their concerns are focused squarely on the problems created by those who have strayed from the perfection of America's design. For conservatives, fixing America is not about change, it is about restoration. 

What they are ever so vigilant to oppose are the thoughts and actions of those who they believe threaten the very concept of America, its special place in world history, its exceptionalism, the idea of the City on the Hill.

Conservatism has always been about making things the way they once were in some imagined past. Progressivism is about changing things to meet the demands of new challenges, as difficult as this usually is.

Conservatism is mostly about the belief that we can return to a time when we had more control over our circumstances based on the infantile wish that we can go home again, that the world of a perfect imagined past is real. We can't and it isn't, but for some I suppose it's nice to dream.

Its criticism of the current political landscape is of government actions that they believe stand in the way of such a return.

When Coons writes that he was beginning to see America's faults and failures, he likely meant that positive action would be required to right wrongs that make America less than perfect. And this would not be a matter of going back, but of going forward.

It should come as no surprise that the Republican Party is the "Party of No." Perhaps we should also call it the Party of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. The world out there is very frightening and there is no place like home, so let's close our eyes, do nothing, intone the same fervent wish over and over again, and hope that we can simply return to a time and place when everything was fine.

It's simple and bizarre, but if you want to improve your country by working together to tackle the challenges that arise by the inevitability of change, believing that there is no perfect past to which we can return, you may actually be some kind of radical, or perhaps even a Marxist. 

If that is not what right-wing pundits mean when they call Chris Coons a Marxist, I am out of explanations.

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