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Showing posts from March, 2010

Drill, baby, drill!

Told of President Obama's decision to greatly expand offshore drilling, my wife this morning sighed and said: "He has a whole bunch of Republican in him."

Republicans surely won't agree. And it's important to remember that he told us he would do this two years ago:
Obama said Friday that he would be willing to compromise on his position against offshore oil drilling if it were part of a more overarching strategy to lower energy costs.

"My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama told The Palm Beach Post early into a two-day swing through Florida.The problem, from my perspective,is that he's doing this before there's a comprehensive energy policy in place. It's an offering in hopes of getting one. From the NYT today:
The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for compre…

Can Republicans criticize anything without invoking the Soviet Union?

At The Corner, Sen. Lamar Alexander criticizes a new law that cuts private banks out as middlemen in the student loan process. He's wrong on a lot of the particulars, but the conclusion of his argument is really perplexing:

“It changes the kind of country we live in more than it changes American education,” Alexander concludes. “The American system of higher education has become the best in the world because of choice and competition. Unlike K-12, we give money to students and let them choose among schools, having the choice of private lenders or government lenders. That’s been the case for 20 years. Having no choice, and the government running it all, looks more like a Soviet-style, European, and even Asian higher-education model where the government manages everything. In most of those countries, they’ve been falling over themselves to reject their state-controlled authoritarian universities, which are much worse than ours, and move toward the American model which emphasizes choi…

For all you Obama-hating deficit hawks out there

Via Paul Krugman, a graphical representation of how the two Bush tax cuts, the Iraq War and the new health reform law impact the federal budget:

Stuff like this is why it's so hard for me not to think of the Tea Partiers as, essentially, sore losers.

The 'Christian militia' and sedition

My knee jerked a little bit this morning when I read in the New York Times that members of the Hutaree "Christian militia" are being charged, among other offenses, with sedition. My reading of American history is that sedition charges -- usually "seditious libel" charges -- have been brought here mainly in cases where the government sought to punish dissent rather than any real attempt to bring down the government.

Still, if you define "sedition" as the "stirring up of rebellion against the government in power," then the Hutaree -- if you believe the federal government's allegations -- seem to fit it. In the charge of "seditious conspiracy," the government says the Hutaree

did knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to levy war against the United States, to oppose by force the authority of the Government of the United States, and to prevent, hinder, and delay …

Netflix Queue: Yojimbo/A Fistful Of Dollars

I guess I knew that Sergio Leone copied Akira Kurosawa, but still it's striking to see these movies back-to-back.And it's even more striking when you think about the career of Clint Eastwood: You mean to say that the foremost icon of late 20th century American manhood -- his squints, his three-day beard, his laconic style leavened with the occasional wisecrack, the jaw stroking and so much more that made Clint Clint -- got his entire shtick from a Japanese guy?

It's like finding out that Dodge muscle cars were based on Toyotas. Really AWESOME Toyotas that you never knew existed.

About that "Christian Militia"


Nine members of the Christian militia group Hutaree have been indicted on multiple charges involving an alleged plot to attack police, including seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. Attorney in Michigan announced this morning.

The Hutaree members allegedly "planned to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack the law enforcement officers who gather in Michigan for the funeral."

The indictment continues: "According to the plan, the Hutaree would attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession with Improvised Explosive Devices with Explosively Formed Projectiles, which, according to the indictment, constitute weapons of mass destruction."
Just a reminder: Until yesterday, these guys could presumptively walk onto an American plane anywhere in the world with relative ease. A benign medical student from Pakistan? Not so much.

About the Philly guy who threatened Eric Cantor

Looks like the Philly man who threatened Eric Cantor doesn't discriminate on the basis of party:
According to the federal complaint against him, Norman Leboon of Philadelphia has admitted making some 2,000 videos that contained threats. A sampling of his "work" reveals rambling incoherent videos that mix pseudo-religious incantations with random warnings and threats. In one video he addresses President Obama, Vice President Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid by name and says, "Your punishment is coming, the swine, it will be severe, and you will beg for mercy to your god, it will be severe, you will know god's swine, god has warned you." (Some conservatives are already chortling over the fact that Leboon contributed to Obama's 2008 campaign, though it's not clear what that's supposed to signify.)Beyond that, though, there's a pretty clear difference -- to me, at least -- in the threats against Democratic and Republican lawmakers, in that I ha…

Norman Podhoretz and other people who don't deserve to be taken seriously

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed defending Sarah Palin as much smarter than she seems, Norman Podhoretz can't resist getting a little dig at President Obama:
What she does know—and in this respect, she does resemble Reagan—is that the United States has been a force for good in the world, which is more than Barack Obama, whose IQ is no doubt higher than hers, has yet to learn.What crap.

Podhoretz, of course, is talking about the same Barack Obama who stood in Europe and bragged about how America had saved that continent from the Nazi menace and then guaranteed security there for decades afterward to the present day. The same Barack Obama who stood before a Muslim audience at Cairo University and said, "the United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known." I'm not aware of an opportunity that the president has missed -- when given -- to talk about all the good things America has done in the world.

Podhoretz surely knows this --…

Bag O' Books: Eating Animals

How to respond to Jonathan Safran Foer's latest book, Eating Animals? Let us examine the choices:

* BOREDOM: This might be your initial response. After all, the last decade has seen the rise of a new -- or maybe renewed -- literary subgenre concerned with the ethics and sustainability of how we eat. Eric Schlosser got the ball rolling with 2001's Fast Food Nation; the intervening decade has brought us Matthew Scully's Dominion and David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, among other contributions. Mark Bittman once advised us How To Cook Everything, but more recently has decided that Food Matters -- and that maybe we shouldn't be eating so much meat.
The masterpiece of this movement, of course, is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which took its readers on a tour of 21st century "factory farming," with steps along the way for moral contemplation of meat eating, hunting and Whole Foods shopping. Pollan's tome -- and a couple of spinoff…

Bag O' Books: "Bomb Power"

It is difficult not to stand in awe -- and a little envy -- of Garry Wills. His casual brilliance has made him one of the more prolific writers and thinkers of the age, and his thinking has been supple enough to carry him from an early alliance with William F. Buckley to an esoteric ideology that still seems to call itself "conservatism" while finding itself most comfortable on the pages of the lefty New York Review of Books. He's the kind of guy who appears capable of tossing off a 250-page book between lunch and dinner, while the rest of us are struggling to compose coherent blog posts in a comparable amount of time.

His new book, Bomb Power, reads a little bit like that -- a 250-page blog post. Wills makes the case that the advent of the Atomic Age also ushered in an era of presidential overreach: that Harry Truman used the prerogatives of the bomb to assert unconstitutional powers (in warmaking, foreign policy and even domestic policy) and to shield his efforts from …

Newt Gingrich, health reform, the Civil Rights movement and partisan rancor

I thought this was interesting framing by Newt Gingrich in this morning's Washington Post:

But former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama and the Democrats will regret their decision to push for comprehensive reform. Calling the bill "the most radical social experiment . . . in modern times," Gingrich said: "They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" with the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.As writer Dan Balz notes in the next paragraph, "no one doubts that Johnson was right to push for those civil rights measures." No one does now of course -- at least not openly, if they wish to participate in mainstream politics -- but the reason the civil rights legislation was so devastating for the Democratic Party over time was that there were plenty of people who did think it was wrong for Johnson to push for those measures.
What does this have to do with the health re…

Bag O' Books: 'Revolutionary Road'

Try as I might -- and I've tried -- I just can't get into John Updike. I know that he was one of the literary masters of the second half of the 20th century. It's just that he's so boring. Other readers, readers I like and respect, disagree with me, so I give a run at an Updike novel now and again. A few weeks ago I tried my hand at Rabbit, Run, and I didn't make it nearly as far as I should've. The pace was glacial, the dense layers of description and internal monologue acting more as an obstacle than as illumination. I couldn't go on.

For whatever reason, though, I thought I'd at least kick the tires of postwar middle-class ennui with Richard Yates' 1962 novel Revolutionary Road. Turns out I made a good choice: Yates turns out -- in this book at least -- to be closer in spirit to the wit of Philip Roth than to Updike. There's entertainment going on here, though it's the kind that'll make you wince every few pages.

Like a lot of people m…

Andrew McCarthy is either a liar or a fool

"I believe many of the attorneys who volunteered their services to al Qaeda were, in fact, pro-Qaeda or, at the very least, pro-Islamist."
Andy McCarthy, National Review's The CornerAndy McCarthy is either a liar or a fool.

If attorneys who represent terror suspects in American courts are "pro-Qaeda," that means they were glad to see the Twin Towers come down, glad to see the Pentagon burning, glad to see a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole and glad to see the carnage and death dealt at America's African embassies in the 1990s.

If attorneys who represent terror suspects in American courts are merely "pro-Islamist," that means that they desire to see sharia law imposed on Americans and a caliphate established to rule the entire Islamic world -- which, eventually would be the entire world.

And under either scenario, the folks who want to see these things happen are embedded in the most elite precincts of the American legal system! But there is, of …

Netflix Queue: "Let The Right One In"

How to explain? It's like Harold & Maude, only if both characters appeared to be 12 years old and Maude was actually a vampire. And if it had the icy surroundings and slowly building sense of dread as in The Shining. With Scott Farkus from A Christmas Story making an appearance as Harold's tormenter. Oh yeah, and it's all in Swedish -- with all the awkward touches of pre-adolescent sexuality that might imply.

Does that describe it? It's the best I can do.

Michael Smerconish is wrong about Fred Phelps

I really don't want to be in the position of continually defending professional homophobe Fred Phelps. He's an evil man with an evil belief system who has brought added grief to hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people by picketing funerals with his "God Hates Fags" message.

But I believe that the First Amendment give Fred Phelps the right express those views -- no matter how odious, no matter how provocative the time and place of his expression. Michael Smerconish, writing in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, disagrees.

By picketing Lance Cpl. Snyder's funeral, didn't Westboro Baptist infringe upon family members' First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion? Which on March 10, 2006, took the form of a burial service at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Md.

And because the Westboro demonstrators weren't protesting on a street corner or in a public park, it could also follow that they infringed upon the Snyders' right to …

Netflix Queue: 'The Emperor and the Assassin'

Every nation has its own creation myth, something that illuminates our understanding of how a country sees itself, and the emergence of China as an economic superpower in the last couple of decades has prompted some cinematic consideration of how it came into being. Notable among these movies in recent years was Jet Li's Hero, which featured some wonderfully staged action scenes -- it was a Jet Li movie, after all -- but was also troubling to Western and democratic sensibilities with its seemingly pro-totalitarian bent.

Hero, though, was preceded a few years by 1998's The Emperor and the Assassin, and one hopes that this version of China's creation myth doesn't really show us how that country's citizens and artists think of themselves -- because it is super twisted.

Long story short: Li Xuejian plays Zheng Ying, the King of Qin who in 221 BC united all of China's disparate kingdoms under one empire. He's the Chinese George Washington, only if George Washing…

A little quiet, please? (What I gained from shutting off Twitter and Facebook for a few days.)

This afternoon was a rainy Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, and thanks to the good graces of my wife I got to spend it in my favorite way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon anywhere: By myself in a coffee shop, with a good book in hand and frequent pauses to stare out the window.

The glory of it all was enhanced by a rash decision, made earlier this week in a fit of pique about something or other: I'd deactivated my Twitter and Facebook accounts. The decision alarmed a few of my friends, some of whom immediately contacted my wife through her Facebook account to ensure that I was OK. I was. I am.

But it has been an adjustment. Somewhere in the last couple of years, I've become accustomed to sharing any short, stray thought that crossed my mind with hundreds of friends and acquaintances. In the last few days, I've caught myself ready to share some joke about my 18-month-old son's activities -- only to catch and remind myself that, no, that's not something that…

Netflix Queue: 'Tyson'

The popular image of Mike Tyson has long been that he's a dumb, savagely abusive brute who treats women -- in particular -- like crap. James Toback's documentary, Tyson, is supposed to correct the record a bit and it does: Now we know that Mike Tyson is somewhat self-aware that he's a savagely abusive brute who treats women like crap.

That's not what Toback is necessarily aiming for in this 2008 documentary. After all, we're treated to many, many images of Tyson staring pensively at the ocean while he tells his rags-to-riches story of a youngster who went from being the first coming of Omar Little -- robbing drug houses -- to the world's youngest heavyweight boxing champion to a convicted rapist to Holyfield ear-chewer and finally to a washed-up boxer and family man. We're also treated to private home video footage of him play-boxing with one of his young children. This is supposed to make us think that Tyson's not quite the brute we've perceived h…