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In other news, stupidity continues to abound

[ 0 ] April 28, 2009 |

Because having a second child has produced an unanticipated multiplier effect on the amount of time required to complete a variety of non-blogging-related tasks, I missed this spot of weirdness when it was first discussed at David Kaiser’s History Unfolding. Apparently, an e-mail falsely attributed to Kaiser has been circulating since November:

The fraudulent email attributing an article that compares President Obama to Adolf Hitler to me is still circulating by the thousands in emails around the nation, and during the last 24 hours I have gotten three phone calls about it, including one from a conservative Buffalo radio talk show host who wanted to get me on the air to discuss it. To those new visitors (and there seem to be many every day) who have reached this spot because of it, let me say at once that I did not write it, do not agree with it, and would appreciate you hitting “reply all” to the email that you received and letting everyone know this.

As Kaiser points out, Snopes has an entry on the subject, from which we learn that one of the original sources for the e-mail seems to have been an Atlas Shrugs post (which was itself quoting an evidently much ballyhooed comment deposited at another wingnut blog a few days after the election. The author of the comment claims to be a professional historian who has written “15 books in six languages”; by way of comparison, I have recorded an array of musical albums that have been released by several major labels. I also own a mansion and a yacht.)

In any event, the essay is about as sophisticated as you’d expect from something that receives Pam Geller’s enthusiastic assent — a stream of observations about the slow, painful decline of America, duct-taped together with assertions in the key of Glenn Beck to the effect that Barack Obama is the apotheosis of liberal fascism. It’s also an outstanding example of the convergence of the Barnum Effect and Godwin’s Law, a mating that allows any public figure to be recast as a Hitlerian proptotype, provided that the criteria are drawn broadly enough. It’s hard to fathom how the essay wound up being attributed to Kaiser — or to Tim Wood, another historian who apparently also receives undeserved credit for these non-thoughts — but I suppose any minute now I’ll be receiving a thoughtful, forwarded e-mail commentary written by a law professor from, say, the University of Tennessee.


The Old Days

[ 0 ] April 23, 2009 |

Ed Rollins, in the midst of excusing torture, revives the Everything-Was-So-Confusing defense of the previous regime:

Things aren’t as simple as they were in the old days, when, for the most part, countries had conflicts with each other and they went to war wearing different-colored uniforms so you knew who your enemy was and where they might be found.

Ed Rollins, the poor fellow, seems to have confused history with Stratego. Otherwise, I’m not sure how to explain how he might offer such an amnesiated account of these so-called “old days.” Last I recall, for example, the belligerents in World War II spent a considerable amount of time in 1939-40 dumping bombs on rival civilians because this tack was regarded as somehow more expedient than mobilizing armies in different colored uniforms to exterminate each other along trench lines. Meantime, the United States was at least confused enough about the location of its enemies that it chose to round up 120,000 ordinary people living along the West Coast and deprive them of due process for several years. Somewhat later on, Truman, Eisenhower and their congressional peers were sufficiently baffled by the whereabouts of their cold war adversaries that they presided over civil service loyalty programs, hysterical House and Senate investigations, and administrative purges that continue to embarrass decent people who take the time to recall them. And that’s to say nothing of what was done beyond the borders of the US, where officials occasionally sought to resolve political ambiguities in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and Africa by counseling, condoning and administering programs — all of which were intended to discover enemies who may or may not have actually existed — that were the filial ancestors of what Rollins describes as a policy of “making it up as we went along.”

None of this is fresh news, of course, even to someone like Rollins, who is evidently capable of making willfully silly arguments about the simplicity of the past. The point is that historically complex conditions often produce disastrous policies for which people need to be held accountable. Rollins would prefer that Bybee, Yoo, Cheney, Bush and the rest of them be excused from suffering legal and career troubles because they’re not “evil men” (a metaphysical argument that has nothing to do with whether they broke the law). But he’d also prefer, I think, that we not learn any more about the programs they designed and endorse — perhaps so that some future Ed Rollins can look back and declare with a straight face that Americans once lived in a “simple” era when Americans knew who the enemies were, and tortured the shit out of them.

Gingrich the historian

[ 0 ] April 20, 2009 |

I realize that it’s factually true that Newt Gingrich has a doctorate in history and that this peculiar fact illuminates, in a weird way, many of the deeply silly ideas dispensed from the gumball machine that people generally mistake for an actual human head. But we should always remember that Gingrich is an “historian” in the same sense that someone who last played golf in 1978 is a “golfer.” Or, to rephrase slightly, Gingrich is an historian in the same sense that someone who lost his PGA tour card in 1978 is still a golfer. I usually read that Gingrich was denied tenure; the alternate version (which I think is technically correct) is that he never actually applied for it because he’d have been turned down anyway. Regardless, Gingrich’s history credentials — to the degree that anyone, anywhere takes them seriously — provide a great case study in the inflation of cultural capital.

And when we take the time to actually read Newt Gingrich’s dissertation, we’re reminded of what a terrible historian he actually was — unless, of course, one believes that it’s perfectly acceptable to write a history of education in the Congo based entirely on Belgian sources. In which case:

Gingrich argues that the Belgians prepared Congolese women for the challenges of modernity, by which he presumably means that learning to wash the dishes of wealthy white women with water from a faucet was a useful 20th century skill to have in place of, say, being able to critically reason or understand what the natural rights imply about subservience and racism.

The silver lining here for the historical profession is that Gingrich did not degrade it further by publishing anything during the eight years he spent as a faculty member at West Georgia.

Oh, the things you’ll learn at Power Line…

[ 0 ] April 18, 2009 |

The latest entry to the site’s Hall of Fame:

There is something funny going on here, if not exactly where Cooper, Maddow and Sullivan find it. Cooper is widely reputed to be homosexual. Maddow and Sullivan are of course public homosexuals. It is funny in an ironic sort of way that these folks choose to disparage the tea party protestors [sic] from somewhere inside the homosexual subculture. Why not just call the protestors [sic] girly boys and let everyone in on the joke? Or would that spoil the fun?

Um. I really don’t even know how to answer that question. Given that Scott Johnson seems to assume that the gays invented all things kinky — like french-style kissing or the female orgasm — it’s probably not worth pointing out that his ineptitude with the spell checker is rivaled only by his apparent inability to use the intertubes to find stuff out. Johnson admits that he’d “never heard of” teabagging until last week, and I suppose that’s not surprising — though I suppose it’s funny in an ironic sort of way that he and his colleagues spent several years nuzzling the presidential beanbag.

I’d recommend the poor fellow take a gander at Urban Dictionary, but it seems the relevant entry has been taken over by people arguing over the Dumbest Protest Ever.

Sarah Palin Crash-and-Burn Watch

[ 0 ] April 15, 2009 |

I’m starting to think my governor might actually be mentally ill:

Gov. Sarah Palin surprised lawmakers Tuesday by forwarding the names of three appointees to the single open state Senate seat. Two of them, Tim Grussendorf and Joe Nelson, have already been rejected by the Senate Democrats.

Palin said the third, Alan Wilson, is a “successful small businessman and active in the community.” He is a former president of the Alaska State Home Building Association and is currently president of Alaska Renovators, a Juneau remodeling company. Wilson only became a Democrat on March 4. He was previously registered nonpartisan, and Juneau Democratic Party officials are opposing him, as they did Nelson and Grussendorf.

Palin appears to have ditched the weird legal theories on which she was relying a few weeks back, when she argued that a 22-year-old legal memo provided sufficient basis to nullify a state law governing the selection of replacement legislators. Now, however, she’s apparently discovered a new way to read the law and — rather than submitting a single name (customarily selected from a list provided by local party officials) — she’s decided to submit a list of her own, indicating that among other things she doesn’t understand the meaning of simple parts of speech like “a,” “the,” or “another.” Tellingly, Palin’s misogynist and homophobic attorney general nominee believes the senate Democrats should stop arguing about whether the governor’s actions are “legal or illegal” and just accept someone to fill the seat.

Meantime, Palin seems wedded to the belief that the state’s capital city deserves unqualified, inexperienced representation in the upper house of the legislature. Tim Grussendorf, like Alan Wilson, had recently changed his party affiliation to qualify for the senate nomination; Wilson’s primary qualification appears to be that his wife sold her some shoes when John McCain decided to end the presidential race two months early she was named as McCain’s running mate. Joe Nelson’s party credentials were reputed to be similarly thin (though I’ll outsource the details there, since Nelson happens to be an administrator at a certain fine public university that has yet to grant me tenure.)

Some of this is rooted in Palin’s widely-known disregard for Juneau — a city she doesn’t believe should be the state’s capital to begin with — and some is surely part of the fallout from the Troopergate investigation (along with earlier conflicts with the legislature over line-item budget cuts). The rest of it is simply a function of Sarah Palin being a uniquely awful executive.

Fleischer wants you to stop being a freeloader

[ 0 ] April 14, 2009 |

I see that one of those guys who used to earn a living lying for the Bush administration has revived the ancient Republican complaint that the nation’s top earners provide a greater percentage of tax revenue than everyone else. Though he offers the predictable suggestion that the tax code has prodiced a kind of ersatz Marxism, he’s kind enough to lard the argument with allusions to ponzi schemes, Bernard Madoff and the like.

Leave aside the obvious qualifier that former employees of the Bush administration — which projected, among other things, Madovian annual returns on the Iraq War while arguing that we could improve Social Security by anchoring its benefits to the stock market — are uniquely unsuited to the task of identifying and offering solutions to policy problems. At the bottom of it all, Fleischer’s argument is based on the nonsensical suggestion that because wealthy people are collectively paying a larger share of federal tax revenue, the tax code is somehow grossly unfair to the rich and dangerous to the economy as a whole. If Fleischer’s column provided the only data available on the subject, you might be forgiven for assuming that wealthy Americans had seen their individual incomes decline over the past few years and that the only means of avoiding the mass Galtification of the upper ten percent would be to start taxing the poor.

Fortunately, we have other sources of data from the CBO, from whom we might learn (.pdf) that since 1979, the share of overall federal income tax paid by the wealthiest decile has indeed risen from 48 to 72 percent. But that’s a meaningless figure in this discussion, since it doesn’t reflect anything about individual income and doesn’t reflect the broad array of tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans have enjoyed in recent years. I’d venture a wild guess that the experience of being rich is shaped not in the least by the fact that one’s class happens to be paying a larger share of federal income revenue; as an ideological device, however, Fleischer’s shocking revelations are useful if you’re the sort of person looking to justify additional tax cuts for upper-income earners.

One way to test Fleischer’s objections would be to ask ourselves how those top earners are in fact doing. By his account, they should be doing pretty badly, if they’re being hammered by such a grossly disproportionate tax code. From the same CBO, however, we also learn (.pdf) that the threshold separating the top ten percent from the rest of the nation has risen during that period from roughly $65,000 to just under $100,000 — a 50 percent increase that corresponds to the radical income growth among the wealthiest Americans over the past 30 years. Moreover, that growth in category income minimums hasn’t been matched by similar rising thresholds in the lower quintiles. During that same period, by comparison, the threshold dividing the first and second quintiles has risen from $16,900 to $18,900 (a 12 percent change). To evoke an image made famous by Fleischer’s old boss, it’s like someone decided to make the pie higher — but then got distracted after taking care of the top quintile. Meantime, as this chart (.pdf) from the Economic Policy Institute points out, the wealthiest 5 percent saw its share of national income grow from 15 to 21 percent between 1970-2004, a figure that helps explain the very piece of data that has Fleischer so upset in the first place.

I suppose I could have saved myself a lot of time here by just remembering that nobody gives a fuck what Ari Fleischer thinks. But now I’ve got lots more CBO data to use during the last week of my US survey — and if there’s anything guaranteed to plump up those student evaluations, it’s CBO data.

I’m available for stock tips as well

[ 0 ] April 9, 2009 |

In what surely must rank as one of the most ingenious draft-day choices since the ascent of Sam Bowie to the NBA, I actually paid several dollars for the pitching services of a guy who used to be Carl Pavano.

If only I’d been able to harness such foresight in 2002-2003 to clarify the rationale for an invasion of Iraq, I’d still be earning pleasant returns from, say, a regular column in The Washington Post, where I could talk about all sorts of other shit with an equivalent depth of comprehension.

…Supplement [SL]; Neyer: “Yes, I picked the Indians to win the Central. And yes, when I picked the Indians, I knew they were relying on Pavano to win a dozen or so games this season. No, I don’t bet real money on my predictions.”

Great moments in ACORN hysteria

[ 0 ] April 7, 2009 |

This is really funny:

ACORN is “gate busting” Tea Parties nationwide. These far-left goons are attending them and mispresenting their allegiance. They are getting petitions signed, misrepresenting them as opposition to the Obama agenda. They explain something different than that written on the petition. More fraud, and lies from Obama Acorn people. Please be careful when signing your name to anything at these Tea Parties. We are still not sure what these whackjobs are using the names for, these people are known for violent criminal acts,bullying tactics, fraud and harrassment (just to name a few). Groups like ACORN and CODEPINK are nothing but Anti-American criminal organizations. BEWARE.
I just stocked up on Pepper spray at JUST IN CASE

That post, gurgled through the wingnut alimentary canal (i.e., esophagus, stomach, small/large intestine) will now come to rest in the great porcelain bowl from which the right feeds itself each election cycle.

Come 2010, in addition to the usual laughables — ACORN committed vote fraud! ACORN brought down the global economy! ACORN is making the ghost of John Locke cry! — Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin will be able to remind their readers of the time that Barack Obama supplied homeless people with cartons of cigarettes as rewards for disrupting the most awesomest grassroots rebellion since the Third Servile War.

Sarah Palin is a terrible governor, part 458

[ 0 ] April 4, 2009 |

Steven Taylor:

[Calling for Sen. Begich’s resignation because the Bush administration employed shitty prosecutors] reinforces the notion that she isn’t a statesman or a leader, but rather focused very specifically on partisan success to the exclusion of reasonable behavior. She isn’t concerned about the dubious nature of such a move, the cost of a special election, nor the temporary denial of her state of a Senator. No, she is worried that a corrupt member of her party, who lucked out of seven convictions it would seem, should have an opportunity to return to office. Or, if we assume that Stevens wouldn’t run, she wants to give a member of her party a shot at winning back the seat.

The only logic to support such a position is partisan logic, and while I fully understand that there is a very real role for party competition for office and in party behavior in office, there does come a time when the focus should be governing.

I’d agree with this, with the proviso that Palin’s “partisanship” is not oriented toward the success of her party so much as the advancement of her own political fortunes. This is why Palin not only refrained from endorsing Stevens but went so far as to call for his resignation when a jury convicted him on corruption charges a week before the November election; for quite sensible reasons, Stevens was a pariah among Republicans outside Alaska, and in the interest of preserving her fake maverick credentials, Palin sought as much distance as possible between herself and a renowned crook whom half the state (to its national embarrassment) was willing to return to the Senate. With the DoJ’s decision to drop the charges against Stevens, Palin — who is up for re-election next year and will likely have to deal with a few primary challengers — has apparently realized that her re-election chances would be served better if she could expunge the whole not-sucking-up-to-Uncle-Ted thing.

Meantime, Palin is engaged in a less nationally-visible effort to deny a state senate appointment to a highly popular and competent state house member — Juneau Democrat Beth Kerttula — who happened to voice the uncontroversial view last August that Palin was “not ready” to be Vice President. When state Sen. Kim Elton resigned last month to take a job with the US Department of the Interior, Palin was obligated by state law to name a registered Democrat to replace him; the local party organization forwarded Kerttula’s name to Palin as its sole recommendation — a decision that was reasonable, given Kerttula’s surpassing qualifications for the job and given the near-certainty that she’ll win the seat outright next year during the fall elections. Palin, however, opted instead to nominate a conservative legislative aide, Tim Grussendorf, who had actually switched his party affiliation to qualify for the job. Palin wasn’t required by law to accept the local party’s recommendation; by the same token, the senate Democrats weren’t required to accept her choice. And so yesterday, the senate Democrats rejected Grussendorf by a majority vote in closed session.

Palin, however, is now insisting that an obscure, 22-year-old legal memo requires legislators to follow a completely different process than the one laid out by the relevant statute, and she’s rejecting the senate democrats’ rejection — a decision that not even her party colleagues in the legislature agree with. It’s an unbelievably petty dispute, for which the governor deserves the blame. While the legislature is trying to get access to federal stimulus funds that the governor stupidly rejected, Sarah Palin seems determined to provoke a court battle to defend her ongoing, grudge-driven administrative style.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 48

[ 0 ] April 3, 2009 |

One of few humans to become less coherent with the acquisition of language, the anthropological marvel known as “Camille Paglia” has spent most of the past six decades being paid by Salon to complain, in a carousel of mixed and incompatible metaphors, about the cruelty of a universe that would preside over the fellating of Bill Clinton — a crime against humanity for which his wife (and vaginas more broadly) are presumed to bear responsibility. When not overheard blaming the Clenis for 9/11 and the death of Vince Foster, Paglia can be found blaming feminists for nearly everything else — including the Virginia Tech massacre (no, really) — while heralding the rise of Sarah Palin as some sort of divine revelation, a Jungian archetype of the sort that fuels Paglia’s unreadable, self-parodying academic work. No, really:

Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.

Paglia — an over-employed, anthropomorphized prank upon the English language — turned 62 today.

7. Defeat of any politician who cannot fend off bear attacks.

[ 0 ] April 2, 2009 |

“A Tea Party Manifesto” reads better if you imagine it being delivered in the voice of Dwight Schrute.

1. A moratorium on bailouts, whether for Wall Street bankers, General Motors, or the irresponsible guy down the street who “bought” too much house. “Failures must be allowed to fail.”

2. Repeal of all “Stimulus” spending for the years 2011 and beyond.

3. Repeal of all “Stimulus” pet projects in 2009-2010 with no stimulative effect.

4. Defeat of the Obama 2010 budget, with a new budget set at 2008 levels plus inflation. We’ve already spent too much money that we don’t have.

5. Defeat of any politician who voted for the February “Stimulus” bill.

6. Complete selloff and shutdown of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and an immediate ban on campaign contributions from both, as well as any other firm in Federal receivership.

The best part is when the poor fellow insists that each of these is a “clear, achievable goal.”

The long march through the institutions

[ 0 ] March 30, 2009 |

It’s hard to imagine anything sillier that Andrew Breitbart’s evidently sincere belief that the conservative movement should commence its war against the Obama administration by defeating liberal trolls and defending Hugh Hewitt from people who would call him a douchebag. But then again, I’ve so far managed to avoid reading — despite Scott’s occasional work on the subject — so perhaps this is the sort of garden-variety insanity I should expect from someone who thinks meth addicts killed Matthew Shepard for drug money.

…UPDATE [BY SL]: I dunno if that’s the real Breitbart in comments, but if so he’s just re-linking the same self-serving, implausible, uncorroborated after-the-fact retractions he used last time. As touching as Brietbart’s faith in these muderers may be, these very convenient retractions have not, in fact, become any more credible with the passage of time. See the still-definitive response from Roger Ailes.

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