The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Overdue, postponed, and out of sight.

Yes, I should've gotten to this yesterday, but the week got away from me in preparation for the coming holidays. Sadly, there was no shortage of stories to scare the pants right offa ya. But I thought I'd at least get in a couple of stories before heading for the airport to start my desperately needed vacation.

ITEM! GOP presidential hopefuls evasive, despotic in response to questions on presidential power!

Republican John McCain says that if he is elected president, he would consider himself bound to obey treaties because they are "the law of the land." But Mitt Romney says he would consider himself free to bypass treaties if they "impinge" on his powers as commander in chief.

It gets scarier from there, but at least McCain acquits himself well for a Bush-era Republican. Glenn Greenwald has a worthwhile follow-up in Salon today. It's guaranteed to give you that democracy-at-a-fateful-crossroads feeling.

ITEM! Matt Sandwich: "Caring means sharing!"

If you're like me-- and I know I am-- you were a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. A while back, some of the cast started producing audio accompaniments to current movies called Rifftrax. That was nice and all, but it didn't involve my favorite cast members. I was always a big fan of TV's Frank, though, and recently learned that he's written some comedy sketches named Cartoon Dump! that are available online here and on YouTube.

Just days after discovering Frank Conniff's new gig (which is also a bit hit-or-miss*), I came across the Cinematic Titanic. Joel is back at it, and managed to get several other favorites of mine to help out. They just released their first project, and the trailer is downloadable/viewable here. Hopefully they'll do great things. But it's made my Christmas brighter already.

I'll probably manage to sneak in some posts during the week, but here's wishing everyone a lovely week.

*It suffers from Silverman-Cook Syndrome, which I named after comedians whose fame far, far outstrips their talent-- almost certainly because of their looks. But the culprit on Cartoon Dump is only on two episodes. Still, she's pretty bad. But pretty.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Danger: Death Rates!

It's sorta like the way that BushCo ignored warnings about terrorist threats, hurricanes, nuclear weapons programs, abstinence-only programs, tax cuts, etc. It's also just like the way they keep fucking the majority of Americans.

Until the boom in subprime mortgages turned into a national nightmare this summer, the few people who tried to warn federal banking officials might as well have been talking to themselves.

Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve governor who died in September, warned nearly seven years ago that a fast-growing new breed of lenders was luring many people into risky mortgages they could not afford.

But when Mr. Gramlich privately urged Fed examiners to investigate mortgage lenders affiliated with national banks, he was rebuffed by Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman.

In 2001, a senior Treasury official, Sheila C. Bair, tried to persuade subprime lenders to adopt a code of “best practices” and to let outside monitors verify their compliance. None of the lenders would agree to the monitors, and many rejected the code itself. Even those who did adopt those practices, Ms. Bair recalled recently, soon let them slip.

And leaders of a housing advocacy group in California, meeting with Mr. Greenspan in 2004, warned that deception was increasing and unscrupulous practices were spreading.

John C. Gamboa and Robert L. Gnaizda of the Greenlining Institute implored Mr. Greenspan to use his bully pulpit and press for a voluntary code of conduct.

“He never gave us a good reason, but he didn’t want to do it,” Mr. Gnaizda said last week. “He just wasn’t interested.”

Today, as the mortgage crisis of 2007 worsens and threatens to tip the economy into a recession, many are asking: where was Washington?

Where were they? They wuz stayin' outta my hair by sendin' Messicans back to Aferka, nukin' ragheads, 'n helpin' me hand my shrinkin' salary over to loan sharks 'stead uh the libruls!

Abstinence-Only? I'd like you to meet Just Say No.

I'm not sure when an utter refusal to admit when you've completely botched something became a bedrock belief of the GOP (maybe its roots lie in that Reagan-era exhortation to 'never speak ill of a fellow Republican'), but here we are. My "favorite" example is missile defense, although it hasn't killed anybody yet.

But the ironically named abstinence-only education program, which believes that the best defense against disease is ignorance and religious propaganda, is a 21st-century classic in its own right. It's just a shame that this particular boondoggle is causing emotional and physical suffering to American teens in the name of sanctimonious demagoguery.

The good news: an increasing number of states are abandoning the Republican plan to give even more money to those willing to increase teen pregnancy and encourage the spread of STDs.

The number of states refusing federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education programs jumped sharply in the past year as evidence mounted that the approach is ineffective.

At least 14 states have either notified the federal government that they will no longer be requesting the funds or are not expected to apply, forgoing more than $15 million of the $50 million available, officials said. Virginia was the most recent state to opt out.

Two other states -- Ohio and Washington -- have applied but stipulated they would use the money for comprehensive sex education, effectively making themselves ineligible, federal officials said. While Maryland and the District are planning to continue applying for the money, other states are considering withdrawing as well.

Until this year, only four states had passed up the funding.

"We're concerned about this," said Stan Koutstaal of the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the program. "My greatest concern about states dropping out is that these are valuable services and programs. It's the youths in these states who are missing out."

Missing out on what-- the joys of chlamydia?!? I guess the sad irony of it all is that either way, the Republicans win with one delusional group of followers. They can either claim victory or play martyr to kiss fundamentalist ass, or boast about how they're shrinking government. Which wasn't true in the 1980s, either.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It isn't much, but I'll take it.

People are really going to be amazed at the many ways in which this administration committed crime after crime and screwup after screwup-- all while a quarter of the population cheered them on, the media turned a blind eye, and Lord-only-knows how much irreparable harm was done to the nation and the planet.

How bad is it? It's so bad that this story strikes me as incredible progress. And it's something that had probably never even occurred to any previous administrations.

White House visitor logs are public documents, a federal judge ruled Monday, rejecting a legal strategy that the Bush administration had hoped would get around public records laws.

The ruling is a blow to the Bush administration, which is fighting the release of records showing visits by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and prominent religious conservatives.

The records are created by the Secret Service, which is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. But the Bush administration has ordered the data turned over to the White House, where they are treated as presidential records outside the scope of the public records law.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Trofim Lysenko Named National Science Advisor

Hoo boy. As difficult as it is to believe at this point, the White House has yet again replaced a departing official with someone even more grossly inappropriate for the position. It's that strange inability BushCo and the GOP have these days to do nothing that isn't brutally ironic.

Departing is the shockingly ineffectual Karen Hughes. All right, I take that back. Predictably ineffectual, given that she was nothing more than a beneficiary of the spoils system. Her most notable achievement?

Hughes boosted the number of Arabic speakers representing the U.S. in Arabic media, set up three rapid public relations response centers overseas to monitor and respond to the news, nearly doubled the public diplomacy budget to almost $900 million annually. Despite her efforts, polls have shown no improvement in the world's view of the U.S.

Which definitely earns her a place in the 21st century Republican pantheon of those mystical beings who dedicate themselves to fiscal responsibility and small government by spending vast amounts of cash to expand government programs that achieve nothing.

Already drowning in foreign-relations irony, who would the White House choose to replace her? How about the 'conservative intellectual' best known for making one of the most egregiously stupid predictions of the Information Age?

Of course, the AP article doesn't point that out. Instead, they praise his experience and "familiarity" with the problems he'll face. Salon points out the one thing Glassman is actually known for by the public at large: the book Dow 36,000.

Few people encapsulated the madness of the 1990s stock market bubble better than Glassman, and the appropriateness of such a blithe purveyor of happy talk as the Bush administration's chief spinmeister for foreign policy seems both absurd and utterly unsurprising.

Blogging at The Atlantic, Matthew Iglesias remarks that initially he couldn't believe the news: "Obviously, the same George W. Bush who thinks public diplomacy is just about salesmanship wouldn't give the job to one of the least credible salespeople on the planet."

Brad DeLong, after documenting how Glassman strove mightily to pretend that his book had never predicted that the Dow would jump immediately to 36,000, calls him a "mendacious wacko of the right" and says "It would be an elementary point to say that somebody who cannot tell the truth about his own book shouldn't be held out as the public face of American diplomacy by any administration."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Objective Press

An article on Raw Story relates a Public Radio interview with John Boehner finds him trashing Congressional Democrats for their underhanded tactics:

On Tuesday afternoon, House Minority Leader John Boehner lashed out at the Democrats who control Congress, accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of using strong-arm, partisan tactics to force through legislation without attempting to negotiate with GOP lawmakers. Of course, as Boehner himself acknowledged, the Democratic strategy has virtually mirrored Republican tactics when they controlled the House.

NPR host Robert Siegel asked the Ohio lawmaker about his pledge earlier this year that Republicans would work with Democrats in addressing issues important to the country: "What evidence of that has there been so far, since you've been leader?"

"Well, unfortunately, Robert, there hasn't been any," Boehner confided, although he insisted the unfriendly atmosphere in Washington was not the GOP's fault. "I was hopeful that Speaker Pelosi wouldn't make some of the mistakes that the Republican majority made by overreaching and going it alone. But what we've seen all year is an effort to overreach, to only consider what the Democrat majority wants to do."

While the inability of a hacky ideologue like Boehner to demonstrate any degree of intellectual honesty renders the entire piece useless, Siegel sorta tried to turn it into something resembling journalism.

Siegel tried to clarify that Pelosi's behavior "reminds you of what Republican behavior was" when they controlled Congress before the 2006 elections.

"Well, some of it -- it sure does," Boehner said with a laugh.

See? Objective, hard-hitting journalism. Except for its complete failure to resemble reality. By which I mean the actions Boehner's party is taking every day:

Mr. McConnell and his fellow Republicans are playing such tight defense, blocking nearly every bill proposed by the slim Democratic majority that they are increasingly able to dictate what they want, much to the dismay of the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and frustrated Democrats in the House.

In fact, the Senate Republicans are so accustomed to blocking measures that when the Democrats finally agreed last week to their demands on a bill to repair the alternative minimum tax, the Republicans still objected, briefly blocking the version of the bill that they wanted before scrambling to approve it later.

Kevin Drum, like myself, is pretty steamed:

It's hard to say anything about this other than the obvious: the Democrats have a very slim majority; the rules of the Senate work against them; and the Republican Party, even as it prepares to shuffle into what may well be a decade of irrelevance, continues to display a genuinely remarkable ancien régime ability to stick together and insist that nothing is wrong until its collective face turns blue. Even the fact that the entire country may well turn blue next November as a result doesn't dissuade them.

What bugs me about this is not the fact that the modern Republican Party doesn't really care about actual governance. This is hardly news. At this point, it's an exhausted organization so bereft of ideas that it really doesn't have much choice except to follow a policy of obstruction to its logical, nihilistic conclusion.

But why does the media have to play along? It's nice that the Times ran this story, but it would be nicer if the media simply reported what was happening on a regular basis. I'm not asking for special treatment, just headlines that tell us what's really going on. If Republicans have adopted a strategy of simply blocking every piece of legislation that makes it to the floor of the Senate — and everyone agrees that they have — then we should be regularly seeing headlines that say "Republicans Block ______. " There's nothing partisan about this, it's just a description of what's happening.

Bizarroworld Dispatch: Huddled Masses Edition!

An overwhelming majority of Americans know better than to believe the White House's claims that the invasion of Iraq was all about spreading democracy. Most five year-olds would understand that arbitrarily bombing the shit out of a country, killing tens of thousands of civilians, and building permanent fortresses on their turf isn't an appropriate way to say "I only want what's best for you."

But the idea that we can promote democracy by highlighting people's productivity and happiness in a dignified and open society is pretty sweet. We should try and do that sometime. My innate talent for business tells me the export market's pretty much saturated when it comes to repressive autocrats trying to do away with the latter three.

This week, [American] unions are debating how to deal with China's not-really-a-union union movement; some kind of wary, conditional proto-recognition may be in the works. The other anti-union mega-nation is our own United States, a fact that increasingly poses a problem for workers everywhere as U.S.-based transnationals try to bring their union-busting practices to their far-flung facilities. At the moment, says [International Trade Union Conference head Guy Ryder], anti-union U.S. consultants are advising Chinese companies how to get around a mild Chinese labor-rights law that takes effect Jan. 1.

And why is American Progress always so eager to blame America first? Don't they appreciate the fact that America produces the best damn robber barons in the world? And we always will!

Bizarroworld Dispatch: Free Market Edition!

Drug companies particularly favor one argument when they're trying to defend their prices (or their price discrimination). You could call it the 'appeal to capitalism.' You know the routine: "We only charge what we need to fund research. You don't want us to abandon research on new, pioneering medication, do you?"

And yeah, that sounds reasonable. Aside from the fact that profits are actually soaring in addition to the hundreds of millions they're putting into marketing instead of research. But the point still stands, right? It's all about the innovation, and the virtuous work of curing previously untreatable diseases.

Only it isn't. Ezra Klein takes note of a couple of articles highlighting pharmaceutical companies' focus on the quick buck.

From the WSJ: As acting head of chemistry at [Pfizer's now-shuttered] Ann Arbor labs, Dr. Sliskovic earned far above the $112,000 a year paid to the average chemist of his experience level. Dr. Sliskovic says he will receive severance pay for between 18 months and two years. With two children in college and another in high school, he says, two years is the longest he could afford to forgo a paycheck.

Dr. Sliskovic has already repainted the family kitchen and living room. Now he is festooning the house and yard with holiday lights. Worried about their financial future, his wife, Cindy, took a second part-time job at the barn where they keep their horses. The irony that the drug her husband helped discover will bring in nearly $13 billion for Pfizer this year hasn't been lost on her. As a staff scientist, Dr. Sliskovic earned no bonus or royalties for his work on Lipitor.

He was one of 2,100 workers of the research facility to get the axe. The WSJ suggests that there simply may not be new discoveries to be made. One investigative journalist begs to differ. (It's tough to excerpt these meaty articles, but they're highly recommended reading.)

[T]he pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have been showered significant government support in the form of direct public investment, tax credits, reduced regulatory burdens and a laissez-faire government attitude toward the industry charging exorbitantly high prices in the largest market in the world, and the government’s auditors recognized something beyond the industry’s traditional lament – “R&D is growing more costly; it now costs (fill in the blank: first it was $500 million; then $800 million; now $1.2 billion) to develop a new drug” – was called for. It has become painfully apparent that throwing more money at the industry in the form of higher prices isn’t going to solve it lackluster performance in coming up with new and innovative therapeutics.

In today's installment: The financial incentives formed by the stock market force R&D decision-makers to focus most of their attention on developing blockbuster drugs for proven mass markets. Minor aches and pains, allergies, depression, cholesterol management, acid indigestion – the rewards for a successful new entry in one of these categories, whether or not it represents a significant new advance over previous therapies, are measured in the billions of dollars in sales.

However, the cost of developing new drugs in these categories is high and major contributor to growing R&D costs since showing superiority to placebo for these products often requires clinical trials that enroll thousands if not tens of thousands of patients. Why? Since the drug itself has marginal utility, consumers, regulators and the companies themselves require larger trials to allay concerns that the new, unproven product may be less safe than readily available, proven alternatives. The additional expense of the larger trials inevitably inflates research costs and deflects scientific talent from investigating fields where the risk of failure is far greater.

Should I even bother to point out that the champions of the free market are the ones who are rigging the game-- and doing so in favor of companies who are actively subverting their own stated goals? Probably not.

The People's Choice

I almost feel guilty posting this, since Edwards is my candidate of choice among the current field. And because I'm not fond of citing poll results-- especially with so much time remaining before the actual primary voting starts happening. But it's nice to see not only as an Edwards booster, but as someone thoroughly tired of the press drooling over the Clinton/Obama thing (and how easy it is to dash off a story about her shoes or his racial identity).

Anyway, CNN released a poll yesterday that has Edwards doing well in hypothetical matchups with the Republican front-runners. Really well. In fact, he beats pretty much every GOP hopeful by a wider margin than Clinton or Obama. And is the only one who bests McCain.

Interesting stuff, although not too much can be read into it at this point. Also worth noting? Edwards is the most progressive candidate in the poll.

Sideshow Huckabee

The GOP race for the nomination is an odd one. Mitt Romney can't seem to do anything right, and neither can Rudy. It's interesting to see them fall victim to the very religious extremism their party has put so much effort into cultivating. (Although I actually thought more people of Pat Robertson's 'stature' would get behind Giuliani as the best bet.)

Then there's Huckabee's recent promotion to official media darling. It's pretty silly, given that he has vacillated as much as any of the candidates when it comes to convenient position changes on rather basic issues-- such as the age of the earth. In fact, the one thing Huckabee seems to do well is brush aside questions with a chuckle and clever-enough-for-the-MSM zinger.

Like Mitt Romney's speech, in which he hoped to take his particular faith off the table and demonstrate his fundamentalist bona fides at the same time, Huckabee's game plan is apparently to.... well, like all the candidates, he's adopted Bush's strategy of talking liberal, aw-shucksing his way out of actually committing to anything, and all the while keep giving a sly wink to fundamentalists. For him at least, it's working.

And as it happens, there's a nice article in Mother Jones about Huckabee's religious shell game.

During a question-and-answer session with students at fundamentalist Liberty University last month, he asserted that his rise in the polls has an explanation that is "beyond human" and is due to the power of his supporters' prayers. Afterward, he backtracked slightly, adding, "I'm saying that when people pray, things happen.... I'm not saying that God wants me to be elected." (At a victory rally held after Huckabee won a 1993 special election for lieutenant governor, Huckabee told his supporters that he had only won because God had intervened, according to the Texarkana Gazette.)

With Huckabee walking this fine line, his campaign has declined to make available sermons that Huckabee delivered during his preaching days. . . .

Huckabee has indeed mixed religion with policy previously. In 1997, when he was governor, he answered a question about capital punishment during a call-in show:

Interestingly enough, if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, "This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency."
I seem to remember something he said about the people executing the sentence, though. And it doesn't say much for the argument that the death sentence is never given to the wrong guy. Still, snappy one-liner.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mondays with the Krug

I always wondered why the most religious people I know also tend to be the most rapacious capitalists, and I have no idea why observation struck me as a sensible way to begin this post, because... well, I guess it's because of the way they're becoming so inextricably combined in this century through the decades-long effort of the GOP to make them that way. And the rather blatant manner in which they are coming together to resemble the opposite of what they profess to be.

I'm speaking, of course, about the sub-prime mortgage market, the inaction of anyone to take meaningful action, and the slow-motion train wreck of watching another corporate bailout in the making.

As Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard bankruptcy expert, puts it, “The administration’s subprime mortgage plan is the bank lobby’s dream.” Given the Bush record, that should come as no surprise.

There are, in fact, three distinct concerns associated with the rising tide of foreclosures in America.

One is financial stability: as banks and other institutions take huge losses on their mortgage-related investments, the financial system as a whole is getting wobbly.

Another is human suffering: hundreds of thousands, and probably millions, of American families will lose their homes.

Finally, there’s injustice: the subprime boom involved predatory lending — high-interest loans foisted on borrowers who qualified for lower rates — on an epic scale. The Wall Street Journal found that more than 55 percent of subprime loans made at the height of the housing bubble “went to people with credit scores high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms.”

And in a declining housing market, these victims are stuck, unable to refinance.

So there are three problems. But Mr. Paulson’s plan — or, to use its official name, the Hope Now Alliance plan — is entirely focused on reducing investor losses. Any minor relief it might provide to troubled borrowers is clearly incidental. And it is does nothing for the victims of predatory lending.

And I really don't think it's far-fetched to suggest that a meltdown would culminate with the American public footing the bill for massive corporate mismanagement-- after being victims of corporate crimes. It wouldn't be first time, and it wouldn't even be the first time a Bush was involved. But it would be a classic example of what wingers pretend is 'the liberal way': let the mugger keep the victim's wallet, and order the muggee to pay for his rehabilitation program as well.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sermon on the Mic, Part II

Romney's speech was actually dumber than I realized when writing the previous post, and who better to remind me of that than the MSM?

As Media Matters observes:

A December 6 Associated Press article by reporter Glen Johnson uncritically reported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's complaint that a "religious test" to become president was "prohibited in the Constitution," without noting that Romney himself has repeatedly stated that Americans want a person of faith to lead them.

The AP report -- which previewed Romney's then-upcoming December 6 "Faith in America" speech, in which Romney discussed how, in his words, his "own faith would inform his Presidency if he were elected" -- stated that "Romney, confronting voters' skepticism about his Mormon faith, declared Thursday that as president he would 'serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause,' and said calls for him to explain and justify his religious beliefs go against the profound wishes of the nation's founders."

Not only is this contrary to Romney's entire "zealous like you" campaign, but it reminded me that it was just ten days ago(!) that Romney was reported as saying a Muslim wouldn't merit a cabinet post. In short, his speech contradicts not only the meaning of democracy, but his own statements. But we wouldn't want the press to point out that an individual seeking the highest office in the nation is a habitual liar.

Sermon on the Mic

About sixteen tons of virtual ink have been spilled already on Romney's "religion speech." And it's not as though I'll be making any extraordinary contributions to the dialogue, but sometimes it just feels nice to vent.

The obvious parallel is with Kennedy's 1960 speech about his Catholicism. Strange as it is to think that many Americans were suspicious of him because of his religion, his response was to point out that holding public office to him meant serving the public-- not pushing an ideological agenda. Mitt Romney did almost exactly the opposite. Intentionally.

That's pretty breathtaking, considering that the beliefs he was trying so hard to sell were those America's founders wanted so much to escape. For example:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

It's almost poignant to see how hard Romney and his group of writers, marketers, and focus groups tried so hard to make Bartlett's book. But that entire passage is meaningless, in addition to its glaring similarity to actual famous quotations. But Romney didn't build his career on sincerity:

"Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world."

This from the guy who runs as a different person for each office, but always in a completely studied, pre-fab sort of way. But two especially troubling aspects of the speech were touched upon by Sarah Posner:

[His speech] was, at its core, as anti-Enlightenment as Rod Parsley's most recent book, Culturally Incorrect, which pointed to the Enlightenment as the root of all of our current problems. Romney posited that Americans believe that "liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government" and belittled the grand but empty cathedrals of Europe, suggesting, with as much robotic sarcasm as he could muster, that Europeans are perhaps "too enlightened" to venture inside. While Romney was asking Americans to have an enlightened response to the variety of religions in our country (or, or more specifically, asking biblical literalists to forgive his religion's deviation from their brand of literalism), he was simultaneously mocking the very basis for the constitutional republic: a government by and for the people. Not by God, and not for God, either.

That said, the fact that Romney felt compelled to defend his religion tells us a lot about whether Americans -- or at least the Americans in his target audience -- really do believe, as he suggested, that anyone who prays to the Almighty is A-OK. Mike Huckabee hasn't been asked to explain why he has embraced the endorsement of Tim LaHaye, who thinks non-Christians have been making a 2,000 year-old terrible mistake for which they'll pay at Armageddon. Why the Book of Mormon is considered weird but Left Behind isn't says a lot about what the issue here really is.

First, the reactionary sentiment. Mitt Romney's speech was antithetical to our system of government. And it's the way every last GOP candidate talks. As one conservative friend likes to say about that trend, "he's just saying that to get votes-- he doesn't really believe it." As if being a practiced and confident liar is an improvement. It's interesting to see someone point out the anti-Enlightenment feelings of the political right. Particularly because so many academic postmodernists do the exact same thing. Truth as a totally subjective phenomenon, disregard for science and logic, and a dismissal of humanist liberalism-- these are things common to the Republican party and postmodernists today. I suppose it's a good thing the GOP detests higher education so much, because they share a whole lot more than they think.

Second, there's the dramatic fashion in which Romney and far too many other Americans just keep missing the point. And it's the one thing his speech had in common with Kennedy's.

He was recalling the early days of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, on the brink of the Revolutionary War, when the early Americans from various faiths were gathered together. They wanted to pray, Romney said, but they did not know whose prayer to use.

"Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot," Romney said, reading off the teleprompter. "And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God, they founded this great nation."

This only serves to highlight the Enlightenment views that motivated the Founding Fathers-- namely that people should be judged by their integrity, actions, and ideas rather than their professed religion or a hereditary title. That's what makes a nation democratic. John F. Kennedy recognized it in 1960, but at the close of 2007 Mitt Romney and the Republican party have taken exactly the wrong lesson from our own nation's history.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Can Such Things Be?

I think I've used that title before, but it sure fits the news this week. And Ambrose Bierce is still the man.

ITEM! Politicians recognize severity of mortgage market, propose swift action!

It looks as though President Bush and several of the leading presidential candidates are finally getting serious about helping people who are being hit by the collapse of the housing bubble. The proposal to freeze the interest rate on adjustable rate mortgages at their teaser rates is far more serious than anything previously placed on the table. (. . .)

The obvious question that should be asked is whether the plan is helping the people who we want to help. The answer here is mixed. It is helping the people who took out adjustable rate mortgages that have not yet reset; a group that includes speculators and wealthy homeowners. (Of course, many homebuyers are defaulting even before the reset, suggesting that they are having problems even paying the teaser rates.) The freeze does not help people who took out fixed rate mortgages or homeowners whose mortgages have already reset.

ITEM! White House: If it looks, smells, and acts like Iraq, it must be... Iran!

What you need to know about the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: George W. Bush was first told in August or September that "fresh intelligence" suggested that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

Yes, that was before Bush said that he took "the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously," and that the best way to prevent "World War III" would be to prevent the Iranians from obtaining the "knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

It was before Condoleezza Rice said Iran is "pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material."

It was before Dick Cheney said that the United States should "reach for any tool that's available" -- including the "possible use of military force" -- to "discourage the Iranians from enriching uranium and producing nuclear weapons."

It was before Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the United States should "have no illusions about the nature of [the Iranian] regime or its leaders -- about their designs for their nuclear program, their willingness to live up to their rhetoric, their intentions for Iraq, or their ambitions in the Gulf."

It was before Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said of the Iranians: "We are convinced that they are developing nuclear weapons."

ITEM! Time Magazine: "He actually said a foolish consistency is pretty shrewd."

First, Sen. Russ Feingold submitted a letter to Time protesting the false statements in Klein's article. But Time refused to publish it. Sen. Feingold's spokesman said that the letter "was submitted to TIME very shortly after Klein's column ran but the letters department was about as responsive as the column was accurate.". . .

Second, Rep. Rush Holt -- before he published his response in The Huffington Post detailing Klein's false claims -- asked that he be given the opportunity to respond to Klein's false column directly on Time's Swampland, where Klein was in the process of making all sorts of statements compounding his errors. But Time also denied Rep. Holt the opportunity to bring his response to the attention of Time's readers. . .

Third, at least 100 individuals wrote letters to Time's editors protesting Klein's article and responding to its claims. I know this because that's how many people (at least) cc'd me on their letters, forwarded them to me, and/or copied their Letters to the Editor in the Comment section here. Managing Editor Rick Stengel's voice mail and email box overflowed with responses.

Nonetheless, Time -- while publishing 15 separate letters on a whole array of topics in its print edition this week -- did not see fit to publish a single letter about the Klein falsehoods. . .

Finally, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post and CNN -- who dives head-first into every right-wing blog controversy -- has been completely mute about the Klein/Time scandal, even though it was one of the central focuses of blogs for more than a full week and relates directly to the media criticism issues he is ostensibly assigned to cover. Worse, Kurtz has now been asked about this matter by multiple readers in two consecutive weekly Monday chats he hosts at the Post, but has refused to take a single question about it.

I'm scared. You?