Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beneath Contempt

QUESTIONER: “What is more important though to American values–being friends with Israel still or knowing there are jailed dissidents and journalists [in Egypt]?” the woman asked.

ANN COULTER: “What do you mean knowing that there are jailed journalists?” Coulter said. “I think there should be more jailed journalists.” This prompted a huge round of applause from the crowd.

Ann Coulter answering a question at the CPAC conference held earlier this year.

Tyler’s hands were bound by a strip of a scarf. A soldier took off Lynsey’s gray Nike shoes, then bound her with the shoelaces. “God, I just don’t want to be raped,” she whispered to Steve.

“You’re the translator!” a slight soldier screamed at Anthony. “You’re the spy!”

A few seconds passed, and another soldier approached, demanding that we lie on our stomachs.

All of us had had close calls over the years. Lynsey was kidnapped in Falluja, Iraq, in 2004; Steve in Afghanistan in 2009. Tyler had more scrapes than he could count, from Chechnya to Sudan, and Anthony was shot in the back in 2002 by a man he believed to be an Israeli soldier. At that moment, though, none of us thought we were going to live. Steve tried to keep eye contact until they pulled the trigger. The rest of us felt the powerlessness of resignation. You feel empty when you know that it’s almost over.

“Shoot them,” a tall soldier said calmly in Arabic.

A colleague next to him shook his head. “You can’t,” he insisted. “They’re Americans.”


A new group seized us, and they were rougher. They blindfolded us, tied our arms and legs and beat us. They then stuffed us into an armored car, where Lynsey was groped. She never screamed but instead pleaded. A soldier covered her mouth, tracing his hands over her body. “Don’t speak,” he warned. Another soldier tried to shove a bayonet into Steve’s rear, laughing as he did it.

A half-hour later, we arrived on what we thought were the outskirts of the other side of Ajdabiya. A man whom soldiers called the sheik questioned us, then began taunting Tyler.

You have a beautiful head,” he told Tyler in a mix of English and Arabic. “I’m going to remove it and put it on mine. I’m going to cut it off.” Tyler, feeling queasy, asked to sit down.

We were finally put in a pickup where a soldier taunted Lynsey.

“You might die tonight,” he told her, as he ran his hand over her face. “Maybe, maybe not.”

Excerpts from a recent New York Times piece detailing the treatment of four reporters who were recently abducted, beaten, sexually assaulted and subsequently released by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Mohamar Khaddaffi.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Krugman on Greenspan's Latest

Apparently, the guy who was minding the ship while our economy had a meltdown (and who actually encouraged ordinary consumers to buy exotic mortgage instruments) has advice for President Obama on how to lead the economy into recovery. And, as you might expect of Alan Greenspan, it's little more than a rehash of current right-wing doggerel (short summary: stop spooking the markets by being such a socialist). Paul Krugman is not impressed:

Greenspan writes in characteristic form: other people may have their models, but he’s the wise oracle who knows the deep mysteries of human behavior, who can discern patterns based on his ineffable knowledge of economic psychology and history.

Sorry, but he doesn’t get to do that any more. 2011 is not 2006.

Greenspan is an ex-Maestro... He’s no longer the Man Who Knows; he’s the man who presided over an economy careening to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — and who saw no evil, heard no evil, refused to do anything about subprime, insisted that derivatives made the financial system more stable, denied not only that there was a national housing bubble but that such a bubble was even possible.

If he wants to redeem himself through hard and serious reflection about how he got it so wrong, fine — and I’d be interested in listening. If he thinks he can still lecture us from his pedestal of wisdom, he’s wasting our time.

Brad DeLong adds his two cents:

Greenspan writes:

What is most notable [about today]... is the unusually low level of corporate illiquid ong-term fixed asset investment.... This contrasts starkly with the robust recovery n the markets for liquid corporate securities.... What, then, accounts for this xceptionally elevated level of illiquidity aversion?... I infer that... the effect can be explained by the shock of vastly greater uncertainties embedded in the competitive, regulatory, and financial environments faced by businesses... deriving from the surge in government activism...

I don't see how this hangs together in any coherent fashion at all.
Private investment is low because aggregate demand is low and so capacity utilization is low--and is not expected to get better anytime soon. Full stop. That is an explanation that is coherent and fits the facts in the way that Greenspan's Randite claim that it must somehow be the fault of the gummint does not.

What's perhaps most irritating about right-wing critiques of Democratic economic policies is that they so often rely upon the "analyst" reading the minds of business owners, with no actual survey data to back up the claims presented. How many times have you heard Right-wing mouthpieces blather on about "regulatory uncertainty" unsettling businesses and the markets? And yet, as DeLong here again shows, when you actually ask business owners why they are acting the way they are, "uncertainty" almost never comes up as an answer.

A decent press corps, of course, might make it more diffcult for disingenuous pundits to get away with this sort of thing, but you'll die of old age waiting for the American media to do anything other than parrot official press releases and the talking points developed by the sophists turning the bog wheel at you typical right-wing "thinktank/propaganda mill"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Squezing Blood from the Middle Class Turnip

The recent events in Wisconsin are, on one level, baffling. Somehow the GOP has convinced voters that the best way to balace state budgets is to squeeze the wages of middle class families, in this case public sector workers, while keeping taxes low for the wealthy. Today, a story on school property taxes in the New York Times sheds more light on this peculiar direction our country has taken. The article focuses on the decidedly upper crust community of Bronxville, New York, and the desire of its residents to maintain high academic standards and good schools, but not have to actually pay for them:

Most family incomes in Bronxville, about 15 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, are in the six and seven figures, ranking the village among the wealthiest enclaves in America. But even an additional $100 to $200 tacked on, in a village where the typical homeowner already pays $43,000 in annual property taxes, has met enough resistance to make town officials think twice.

Some residents argue that the town should be more businesslike, cutting other costs to offset the outlay for smaller classes. Peter P. Pulkkinen is one. A 40-year-old investment banker, he and his wife, Sarah, moved here in 2004 from the Upper East Side and their two oldest children are now in the first and third grades. He wants small classes for them. But rather than raise taxes, he would restrict teacher compensation— particularly their benefits.

So here we have a wealthy investment banker looking to slash middle-income teacher salaries rather than pay a dime more in taxes. Meanwhile, hedge fund maangers still pay taxes on million dollar incomes at a mere 15% rate. Class warfare is not dead in America, my friends. Far from it. It's just that at the moment, it's a very one-sided war.

(EDIT: More on this in an excellent Salon piece by Robert Reich.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Quote for the Day

If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.

-GOP Rep. Peter King

NY Representative Peter King is holding hearings on the "radicalization" of American Muslims, using fabricated statistics to create the impression that American Muslims are on the whole supportive of terrorist violence against US interests. Yet his own past support for IRA terror campaigns against the British, including the above quote explicitly absolving of the IRA of responsibility for civilians killed in IRA terror bombings campaigns drives home the extent to which Republican posturing on the "war on terror" is little more than a hypocritical exercise in bigotry and demagoguery.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Face of the GOP

Don't let anyone tell you that the GOP has abandoned bigotry and racism. Nothing could be further from the truth, as GOP rep. Steve King's scheduled congressional show-trial of Muslim-Americans clearly demonstrates:

Mr. King, a Republican whose district is centered in Nassau County on Long Island, says the hearings will examine the supposed radicalization of American Muslims. Al Qaeda is aggressively recruiting Muslims in this country, he says. He wants to investigate the terror group’s methods and what he claims is the eagerness of many young American Muslims to embrace it.
Notice that the hearing is solely about Muslims. It might be perfectly legitimate for the Homeland Security Committee to investigate violent radicalism in America among a wide variety of groups, but that doesn’t seem to be Mr. King’s real interest.
Instead, he is focusing on one group that appears to have obsessed him since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, resulting in slanders and misstatements that might have earned him a rebuke from his colleagues had they been about any other group. More than 80 percent of the mosques in America are run by extremists, he has said, never citing real evidence. Too many American Muslims are sympathetic to radical Islam, he said.

And don't let anyone tell you the GOP is a proponent and promoter of democracy. Rather, the party's modus operandi involves dis-enfranchising voters who support their opposition. In this the GOP is no different from third-world despots who make outward assurances that their nations are democracies, while jailing opposition leaders and pronouncing their parties illegal:

New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

"Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do," he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack "life experience," and "they just vote their feelings."

New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state - and effectively keep some from voting at all.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Being Sarah Palin Means Never Having to make Sense

Salon reports on Sarah Palin's response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on Westboro Baptist's protests at funerals (tweeted, of course):
Common sense & decency absent as wacko "church" allowed hate msgs spewed@ soldiers' funerals but we can't invoke God's name in public square
I have a feeling that twitter is the best thing that ever happened to Sarah Palin. The medium's restrictions (140 characters) allow Palin to issue pithy little proclamations whose underlying assumptions are so convoluted, inconsistent and absurd that they would never survive a longer, more carefully considered exposition. In the above tweet, for instance, Palin is lamenting that the Supreme Court allows private citizens to voice their religious opinions in public, but bars the government from making religious proclamations.

Of course, you have to actually think through what Palin is saying to realize it. Those glassy eyed zombies that react instantaneously and mechancially to every word their oracle tweets would never get the inherent stupidity of what she's saying.