Tuesday, July 29, 2008
By David Swanson
Last Friday one of two things indisputably happened. Either a dozen senior Congress members and several well-known expert witnesses went certifiably and collectively insane, or charges of the most extreme executive abuses of power ever heard in the history of this nation were backed up by overwhelming evidence during a six-hour hearing of the House Judiciary Committee focused on the possible need to impeach the President and the Vice President. Either way, a nation with a public communications system worthy of a democracy would have learned the news.
What we actually have in this country is a news media conglomerate that functions as a part of the executive branch of the federal government. Call it the United States Department of Media. But "branch" is not the right word, since the executive branch is all that remains of our government (aside from whatever Dick Cheney is). The legislative and judicial branches have been eliminated. Or, rather, they are constantly and effectively being shut out of the government, in no small part by the Media Department. But "department," too, is not the right word if one imagines any degree of independent decision making. None of the so-called departments and agencies in the executive government are any longer empowered to make significant decisions independent of the president (and whatever Dick Cheney is). And the Media Department is no exception.
One project of the U.S. Department of Media is the Cover Nothing Network (CNN) on which associate deputy undersecretaries of Media Campbell Brown and Erica Hill reported on Friday that there is not enough time for impeachment and that if the Democrats led the way to impeachment voters would punish them, and that therefore the hearing was a waste of money that could have been better spent publicizing the president kissing babies. I'm not making any of this up. Here's video:
Finally, a sensible way to measure poverty.
By Tim Harford
Seebohm Rowntree was the son of wealthy Quaker businessman Joseph Rowntree but was acutely aware of the poverty that surrounded him in late-Victorian York, England. In 1899 he set himself the task of defining a "poverty line" by working out how much it would cost to supply basic food, housing, and clothes. Anyone who couldn't afford to buy those basics—including a helping of pease pudding with bacon on Sunday—was below the poverty line.
The idea of a poverty line has stayed with us, but the candidates have multiplied. The World Bank has two poverty lines: $1 a day and $2 a day (strictly, those are 1985 dollars adjusted for inflation). In the United States, the poverty line is $29.58 a day for a single adult under the age of 65. All these are absolute income standards, just as Rowntree's was.
Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, takes a different approach: It defines the poverty line as 60 percent of each nation's median income. (The median income is the income of the person in the middle of the income distribution.) This has an unfortunate consequence: Poverty is permanent. If everyone in Europe woke up tomorrow to find themselves twice as rich, European poverty rates would not budge. That is indefensible. Such "poverty" lines measure inequality, not poverty, and they do so clumsily.
On the other hand, absolute standards of poverty are creepy, reliant as they are on expert definitions of a nutritionally balanced diet. (Rowntree was a Victorian philanthropist, so we're willing to make allowances.) The U.S. definition dates back to early 1963 and the efforts of a Social Security Administration researcher called Mollie Orshansky. Lacking decent statistics, she based her poverty line on government nutritional advice. It was a decent estimate given the limited resources of the time, yet the threshold has changed only to take account of inflation.
So, the U.S. definition of poverty is stuck in the 1960s. Had Seebohm Rowntree been working for the U.S. government, perhaps it would now have a poverty standard that was based on the price of pease pudding and that assumed that electricity and indoor plumbing were luxuries. This cannot be right.
As author of my own political humor site, I thought Id compile a list of my favorite political humor sites as a reference for others. If you like funny, side-splitting political humor from every range on the ideological spectrum, then rest assured youll love these sites:
Political Humor Sites: My Favorites
Scrappleface (www.scrappleface.com): Pure political humor at its best, this site is a compilation of fairly unbalanced news stories written by Scott Ott. With a daily array of wildly original and funny news stories, the genius of Scrappleface is compounded by the fact that its a one-man operation Quite simply one of the best political humor sites youll ever see. Highly recommended.
The Onion (www.theonion.com): The ten-thousand-pound gorilla of political humor sites is The Onion, an almost endless treasure trove of fun and hilarity. Its fake news stories are legendary, and if you havent yet seen The Onion in at least one form of media, then youve been living in a cave. Check it out.
JibJab (www.jibjab.com): Home to the world famous Flash cartoons This Land is Your Land and I Wish I Were in DC that reached cult status during the 2004 presidential election. A fun site to visit for political humor.
Ironic Times (www.ironictimes.com): An awesome political humor site cut from the same mold as Scrappleface and The Onion. In fact, its the only other site I can find that approaches the same level of hilarity. Everything on this site is funny!
Todays Best Political Cartoons (cagle.msnbc.com): Each day, Daryl Cagle provides a fresh update of the best professionally penned political cartoons. If you love political cartoons, this site is one-stop shopping for all your needs.
Doonesbury (www.doonesbury.com): The classic cartoon of the same name brandishes its trademark brand of political humor from a site filled with archives and brilliant Flash content. After all these years, its still one of the best sources for political humor.
Slick Times (www.slick.com): Its similar to Scrappleface, The Onion, and Ironic Times, but not yet reaching elite status. Slick Times resembles a real newspaper, but its content is a whole lot funnier. Make sure you check out How a Bill Becomes a Law by Coach John Madden.
Cracked News (crackednews.com): Constructed in the template of an alternative news source similar to the Slick Times. Theres some funny stuff here thats worth checking out.
Bartcop (www.bartcop.com): A no-holds barred political humor site with a liberal slant to it, Bartcop has been entertaining liberals for over a decade. One warning though: due to language, some content may not be appropriate for children.
The Capitol Steps (www.capsteps.com): Fresh political humor content drawn from the stage and musical act of this talented group of former congressional staffers. My personal recommendation is to go see their act in person. You wont be disappointed
John Edwards was fighting for his political future yesterday as America's mainstream media began reporting a colourful scandal involving his alleged mistress, a disputed "secret love child", and an altercation at a Beverly Hills hotel in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The married former Democratic presidential candidate, who is among leading contenders to be Barack Obama's running mate, saw his private life given more attention than he would like when Fox News claimed to have "independently verified" details of last week's National Enquirer story headlined: "John Edwards caught with mistress and love child." Reporters from the supermarket tabloid had confronted Mr Edwards at 2.40am on Tuesday in the corridors of the Beverly Hilton, as he was leaving the bedroom of Rielle Hunter, a divorcee whom he was rumoured to have made pregnant last year.
Amid scenes more suited to a Benny Hill sketch than the corridors of a luxury hotel, two journalists and a photographer chased Mr Edwards – whose wife Elizabeth is battling incurable cancer – around the building for several minutes. He eventually went to ground in the men's lavatory for a quarter of an hour, before being escorted from the premises by security staff.
The incident was reported in lurid detail by The Enquirer, and followed up in dozens of America's influential political blogs and news websites, which claimed that Mr Edwards and Ms Hunter were filmed entering the hotel room at 9.30pm.
A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .
Oh, wait a minute. That's not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a "W."
|Warner Bros. Pictures|
There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.
And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.
"The Dark Knight," then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year's "300," "The Dark Knight" is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.
- John McCain, criticizing Barack Obama for making a speech in a foreign country, Link
"A month ago, McCain traveled to Canada and gave a speech at the Economic Club of Toronto. Apparently, John McCain doesn't remember that. Because today he's criticizing Obama for giving a campaign speech in another country."
- Josh Orton, asking a fairly obvious question that McCain can't answer, Link
By Joe Conason
"The surge worked."
So insistently do the media's mainstream and conservative commentators repeat the Iraq success meme -- echoing the mantra of George W. Bush and John McCain -- that to probe its premises and assumptions is not permitted. To question the success of last year's troop escalation supposedly implies a negative assessment of the performance of American soldiers and Marines and may even imperil their morale, creating a frame that stifles dissent. But now McCain himself has inadvertently reopened real debate on the subject by claiming that strategies and tactics used to quell the Sunni insurgency long before the surge troops arrived in Iraq should nevertheless be attributed to the surge. Indeed, the surge is so brilliant and so powerful, according to McCain, that it makes things happen in the past as well as in the present and the future.
That must be what passes for "maverick" thinking, although there are certainly other names for it. For those of us who remain tethered to reality, however, the success of the surge must be measured in a context that accounts for many other factors -- as must the simple assertion that we are winning the war in Iraq as a result of the escalation.