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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 22

[ 0 ] July 20, 2007 |

Billionaire Scion Thomas Friedman — pictured here lofting his invisible credibility into the air — turns 108 Friedman Units today.

Known mostly for his oracular declarations on the high wisdom of free trade, Friedman has also cultivated his inner thug, whose obscene bellowing he occasionally insists his readers hear. Friedman has, for example, observed in The Lexus and the Olive Tree that

[t]he hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

All of which may be true enough; that Friedman celebrates this state of affairs, however, makes him not only factually accurate but morally reprehensible. In a typical stream of billingsgate unleashed during the 1999 Kosovo war, Friedman — the self-appointed organ-grinder for globalization — openly declared his indifference to international law, advocating collective punishment of the Serbian people in language that recalled the worst atrocities of the second world war:

Let’s at least have a real air war…. It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road, and war-related factory has to be targeted. Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set back your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.

In yet another flight of aggro fancy, Friedman urged President Clinton in 1998 to bomb Iraq “over and over and over again,” atomizing a “different power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights will go off or who’s in charge.” On this last count, at least, Friedman eventually got his wish.

The next six months may or may not prove to be a decisive period for the American war in Iraq, but we may be assured of one simple, gleaming fact: in six months, Thomas Friedman will still be a wanker of colossal and undeserved repute.

A Bad Precedent

[ 0 ] July 19, 2007 |

Reading the article excerpts referenced by d. below, is it just me or isn’t the first story Goldfarb discusses — about some soldiers making fun of a woman horribly disfigured by an IED — highly reminiscent of a famous fabricated Stephen Glass anecdote? It’s only referenced obliquely in Shattered Glass, but Glass made up an incident where some young Republicans at a convention who picked up an overweight young woman at a bar, had her partially disrobe, and then cruelly humiliated her. It was a more clever fabrication that the stuff in “Hack Heaven,” because it’s at least imaginable that someone would do such a thing. The story in the new anonymous New Republic article is similar; not facially inconceivable (most people who aren’t conventionally attractive, especially women, will be no strangers to some kind of casual cruelty), and yet there’s something about the details that has a faint whiff of bullshit about it. It’s all just a little too After School Special-y. I’m not saying that it’s made up — and as d. points out it passes the Michael Yon credulity threshold — but I have to admit being pretty dubious about it.

…just FYI, an Iraq War veteran emailed me and said that (s)he felt that the first two stories were at least plausible (the first only if the woman is a contractor), but the third — the maniac Bradley driver — is implausible on its face. Again, I have no idea if the stories are made up or embellished.

To the Batmobile!

[ 0 ] July 19, 2007 |

This post from Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb is going to keep a lot of wingnuts busy over the next few days. Goldfarb raises some admittedly reasonable doubts about a New Republic article, pseudonymously-authored by a US serviceman, that describes some pretty horrific conduct by his fellow soldiers.

What’s certain, of course, is that most of the frothy reaction to this call to arms will come from people who at other points have minimized the significance of the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Baghram; doubted the occurrence of massacres at Haditha and elsewhere; and stupidly questioned the veracity of perfectly valid survey instruments used to estimate excess Iraqi deaths since the start of the war. What’s more, these are folks who generally reaffirm anything Michael Yon has to report — baked children and all — while assuming that every dispatch coming across the AP wires has been ghost-written by Jamil Hussein and that every Reuters photo has been through several rounds of Photoshop. They’ve accepted every home-brewed argument set forth by the Kagan family to the effect that the surge is working; they’ve cheered the pardoning of convicted criminals like Scooter Libby; and they’ve written breathlessly about every domestic “terror plot” as if they were not, in fact, holding a warm sack of shit. And they’ve accomplished all of this with Cheeto dust wafting in the air, as if sprayed from an aerosol can.

Excuse me for just a moment, then, if I find their quest for The Truth just a wee bit fatuous.

Here’s the link to TNR. You gotta have a subscription, though….

"Say, that sounds like a larf"

[ 0 ] July 19, 2007 |

Like many Americans, I’m sure, I’ve cycled over the past seven years through the range of uncharitable conclusions about The Decider. “He’s an idiot,” I’ve said once or twice. “He’s a religious maniac,” I’ve observed to friends and strangers. “He’s incompetent,” I’ve grumbled, half asleep and to no one in particular.

Today we learn that nope, at long last, he’s none of these things at all. He’s just a dick.

“I support the initial intent of the program,” Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post after a factory tour and a discussion on health care with small-business owners in Landover. “My concern is that when you expand eligibility . . . you’re really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government.”

The 10-year-old program, which is set to expire on Sept. 30, costs the federal government $5 billion a year and helps provide health coverage to 6.6 million low-income children whose families do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance on their own.

About 3.3 million additional children would be covered under the proposal developed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), among others. It would provide the program $60 billion over five years, compared with $30 billion under Bush’s proposal. And it would rely on a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes, to $1 a pack, which Bush opposes.

Predictably, hilzoy cuts to the chase and notes that Bush’s opposition to the program is about as well grounded as my dog’s fear of the vacuum cleaner.

In the report hilzoy cites, we learn a little more about what the Congressional Budget Office concludes about the abominable suggestion that health insurance be extended to children who don’t have a sufficient sense of personal responsibility to go out and find it for themselves:

* CBO finds that by 2012, some 4.1 million children who otherwise would be uninsured would have health care coverage under the bill.

* CBO estimates that 2.7 million of these children would be eligible for the program under the current eligibility criteria that states have set. Another 800,000 children are SCHIP children who are projected to lose their coverage and become uninsured, because states will have insufficient federal funding to sustain their existing SCHIP programs.

* This means CBO estimates that 3.5 million of the 4.1 million children who would obtain coverage rather than be uninsured — or 85 percent of them — are children with incomes below the current eligibility limits that states have set.

* Only 15 percent of these 4.1 million children would be made eligible as a result of their state broadening the SCHIP eligibility criteria, and in any event, these are children who would be uninsured if their state did not take such action.

* CBO also finds that under the bill, a total of 6.2 million more children would be covered through SCHIP and Medicaid by 2012 — the 4.1 million children just mentioned, who would otherwise be uninsured, and 2.1 million additional children, who otherwise would have some form of private coverage. In other words, only about one third (34 percent) of the children gaining SCHIP or Medicaid coverage under the bill would otherwise have private coverage.

Like I said: the man is a dick.

"Authenticity": Still Meaningless

[ 0 ] July 19, 2007 |

J. beat me to it, but Marc Ambinder is obviously dead wrong to say that “John Edwards’s haircut was a valid story to cover.” The idea that only poor people, or more relevantly to a presidential campaign people who pretend to be poor, can advocate policies that help the poor is transparently illogical, and as J. says artificially skews politics to the right. (Was FDR more conservative than Reagan? According to the logic of Ambinder’s argument, this is a fair assumption.) This is all premised on the completely useless and always tautological concept of “authenticity;” as we can see from his post, these kind of personality critiques can always be spun so as to apply to Democrats but not Republicans even when they’re engaged in objectively similar behavior. Ambinder also ignores that this smear isn’t just about poverty hypocrisy but also about feminizing the Democratic candidate. But perhaps the most remarkable argument in Ambinder’s failed defense of political discourse as dimwitted junior-high-school gossip is this:

There is a difference in the political reality: fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn’t like John Edwards.

Fairly or unfairly
? Granting that Ambinder isn’t quite endorsing it, I’m amazed that anyone can see the question of whether or not reporters should use their reporting not to inform readers but to irresponsibly indulge their petty superficial prejudices about the individual candidates as a fairly debatable proposition. This open press corps contempt for Gore defined campaign 2000, and personally I think there are a lot of dead soldiers and Iraqis who think that what a president will actually do in office is more important that his or her suits and haircuts. Apparently, if the Democrats nominate Edwards we can look forward to another year of this kind of abominable conduct by the nation’s political reporters, and hey, it doesn’t matter to most of them if Antonin Scalia becomes the median vote on the Supreme Court.

Where Poverty & Reproductive Health Collide

[ 0 ] July 19, 2007 |

Jumping off of my last post, here’s an example of the collision between reproductive health and poverty, its potentially farreaching effects, and how the Republicans are trying to use poverty as a tool for trimming reproductive rights.

From a SIECUS news alert:

Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) has introduced an amendment to the House Labor and Health and Human Services appropriations bill that is intended to specifically block Planned Parenthood health centers from receiving federal family planning funding. No other health provider is targeted by the amendment. The vote is scheduled for today, and could take place at any time!

Each year, more than five million women receive comprehensive family planning services at approximately 4,500 family planning clinics funded by Title X. Title X patients are predominantly poor and uninsured; two-thirds have incomes at or below the federal poverty level.

Title X is the Federal government’s only funding stream for reproductive health services for the poor. Title X funds the provision of general gynecological care and contraceptive services for poor women. Title X funds may not be used to provide abortions. And – yes – planned parenthood receives Title X funding, as do many other clinics.

Pence’s amendment is plain-old vindictive. It’s fueled by legislation like the law recently signed in Missouri (from that cross-shaped podium no less) that bars Planned Parenthood from teaching comprehensive sex ed. It’s planned parenthood – and poor women – as the strawman for abortion rights politics. And it’s plain old disgusting.

The vote could happen today. call your representative and tell them to vote no on the Pence amendment. Reach your Congressperson by calling the Congressional Switchboard at 202-225-3121.

Women’s Issues

[ 0 ] July 19, 2007 |

There’s a mini-debate going on over at Tapped about whether it was kosher for Edwards to send his wife to the big conversation about abortion in D.C. the other day. Steven White has this to say:

TO BE FAIR. In response to Sam’s comment about how Edwards “didn’t even show up” at the Planned Parenthood event yesterday, it’s worth remembering that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton kind of… work down the street. Edwards, alternately, no longer works in DC and was traveling through poor rural regions discussing poverty, which is also a somewhat important issue not entirely unrelated to women’s reproductive health.

Fair point. And Steven’s right to point out that poverty is “not entirely unrelated” to women’s reproductive health. It’s probably more powerfully tied to women’s health than any of the candidates would acknowledge. That said, I can’t help cringe a bit at the sending of Elizabeth Edwards in John’s stead. Not because of anything personal to Mrs. Edwards. It’s because I think it emphasizes the separating of abortion from all the other issues related to women’s and reproductive health — the very thing that Steven praises Edwards for potentially undoing. To me, Edwards’ decision to send his wife makes me feel like he thinks abortion is just a ladies’ problem. (In fairness, she spoke about tying reproductive health to poverty and healthcare. But why can’t he say it?).

It doesn’t help either that though generally very savvy on reproductive rights issues discussed at the Planned Parenthood forum, she ultimately danced around his support for abortion rights in a way that left me scratching my head.


[ 0 ] July 18, 2007 |

Jonah Goldberg, 18 July 2007:

Democracy — by which I primarily mean a liberal order marked by the rule of law and political accountability of government officials — is morally preferable to tyranny and it is always worth some measure of our effort to advance it wherever tyranny reigns. That doesn’t mean we should deliver liberalism at gunpoint around the globe. But even if it is a matter of rhetoric and soft diplomacy, we should always be on the side of freedom. Necessary compromises with reality are forgivable, even advisable, but that shouldn’t change our conviction. Charges of hypocrisy as we deal with the Musharrafs of the world is [sic] a small price to pay for championing liberty. I thought this was the sort of stuff Reaganites believed.

Jonah Goldberg, 18 July 1979:

Necessary compromises with reality are forgivable, even advisable, but that shouldn’t change our conviction. Charges of hypocrisy as we deal with the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan is a small price to pay for championing liberty.

Jonah Goldberg, 18 July 1984:

Necessary compromises with reality are forgivable, even advisable, but that shouldn’t change our conviction. Charges of hypocrisy as we deal with Saddam Hussein is a small price to pay for championing liberty.

“Charges of hypocrisy,” if recent history is any help, are the least of our worries when it comes to “dealing with Musharraf.”


[ 0 ] July 18, 2007 |


If it looked like this all the time — instead of, say, seven percent of the time — you’d all be living here, too. Which would be cool, of course, because then I could mooch your beer.

Of more immediate relevance, the fact that we’re enjoying decent weather on my wife’s birthday briefly caused me to rethink, for about five minutes, my state of Disbelief.

It also gave me an unusual rush of positive feelings toward my adopted home state, until I remembered that Alaska is still a clown show. (Pictured below: Ted Stevens and Don Young.)

Sometimes, It’s Just Not Feminist

[ 0 ] July 18, 2007 |

I’ve wanted to post on this ever since a friend alerted me to it yesterday. Jennifer Pozner beat me to the punch today. But it’s good enough to share.

Hilarious stuff. The best part – bar none – is the interview with one pole dance lesson participant who says she knows her feminism, and in the next breath says that pole dancing is way better than “classical feminism,” which fought for all sorts of frivolous things like voting rights for women.

Sometimes I’m just shocked at what people say when they know the cameras are rolling.

Runner-up for funniest late-night TV moment of late goes to John Oliver of the Daily Show, who makes it clear why the English as the “official and only” US language thing is a crock.

But I Thought He Was a Broad Constructionist!

[ 0 ] July 18, 2007 |

Deep Thoughts, by Rudy Giuliani.

A Very, Very , Very Lightweight Bout

[ 0 ] July 18, 2007 |

In fights like this, there are no winners. Well, except for connoisseurs of inadvertent comedy….

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