Tuesday, October 13, 2009
By Michael Moore
We're on the descent from 20,000 feet in the air when the flight attendant leans over the elderly woman next to me and taps me on the shoulder.
"I'm listening to Lady Gaga," I say as I remove just one of the ear buds. I know not this Lady Gaga, but her performance last week on SNL was fascinating.
"The pilots would like to see you in the cockpit when we land," she says with a southern drawl.
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No. They have something to show you." (The last time an employee of an airline wanted to show me something it was her written reprimand for eating an in-flight meal without paying for it. "Yes," she said, "we have to pay for our own meals on board now.")
The plane landed and I stepped into the cockpit. "Read this," the first officer said. He handed me a letter from the airline to him. It was headlined "LETTER OF CONCERN." It seems this poor fellow had taken three sick days in the past year. The letter was a warning not to take another one -- or else.
"Great," I said. "Just what I want -- you coming to work sick, flying me up in the air and asking to borrow the barf bag from my seatback pocket."
He then showed me his pay stub. He took home $405 this week. My life was completely and totally in his hands for the past hour and he's paid less than the kid who delivers my pizza.
I told the guys that I have a whole section in my new movie about how pilots are treated (using pilots as only one example of how people's wages have been slashed and the middle class decimated). In the movie I interview a pilot for a major airline who made $17,000 last year. For four months he was eligible -- and received -- food stamps. Another pilot in the film has a second job as a dog walker.
"I have a second job!," the two pilots said in unison. One is a substitute teacher. The other works in a coffee shop. You know, maybe it's just me, but the two occupations whose workers shouldn't be humpin' a second job are brain surgeons and airline pilots. Call me crazy.
But why let facts get in the way? Just as these hawks insisted that Iraq was "the central front in the war on terror" when the central front was Afghanistan, so they insist that Afghanistan is the central front now that it has migrated to Pakistan. When the day comes for them to anoint Pakistan as the central front, it will be proof positive that Al Qaeda has consolidated its hold on Somalia and Yemen.
To appreciate this crowd's spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It's not just that he echoed the Bush administration's constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda's attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war "easily." Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would "probably get along" in post-Saddam Iraq because there was "not a history of clashes" between them.
What's more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.
Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could "in the long term" somehow "muddle through" in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to "muddle through" there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the "remarkable success" of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony "truce" ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb's up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn't even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.
Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew.
She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.
Prof Van Wolde, 54, who will present a thesis on the subject at Radboud University in The Netherlands where she studies, said she had re-analysed the original Hebrew text and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.
She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".
The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"
According to Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the Earth out of nothing.
Prof Van Wolde, who once worked with the Italian academic and novelist Umberto Eco, said her new analysis showed that the beginning of the Bible was not the beginning of time, but the beginning of a narration.
She said: "It meant to say that God did create humans and animals, but not the Earth itself."
She writes in her thesis that the new translation fits in with ancient texts.
According to them there used to be an enormous body of water in which monsters were living, covered in darkness, she said.
She said technically "bara" does mean "create" but added: "Something was wrong with the verb.
"God was the subject (God created), followed by two or more objects. Why did God not create just one thing or animal, but always more?"
She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground.
"There was already water," she said.
NO SERIOUS person thinks that Afghanistan - remote, impoverished, barely qualifying as a nation-state - seriously matters to the United States. Yet with the war in its ninth year, the passions raised by the debate over how to proceed there are serious indeed. Afghanistan elicits such passions because people understand that in rendering his decision on Afghanistan, President Obama will declare himself on several much larger issues. In this sense, Afghanistan is a classic proxy war, with the main protagonists here in the United States.
The question of the moment, framed by the prowar camp, goes like this: Will the president approve the Afghanistan strategy proposed by his handpicked commander General Stanley McChrystal? Or will he reject that plan and accept defeat, thereby inviting the recurrence of 9/11 on an even larger scale? Yet within this camp the appeal of the McChrystal plan lies less in its intrinsic merits, which are exceedingly dubious, than in its implications.
If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:
■ Anoint counterinsurgency - protracted campaigns of armed nation-building - as the new American way of war.
■ Embrace George W. Bush's concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label "global war on terror'').
■ Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.
Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose - despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq - is to preserve the status quo.
Hawks understand this. That's why they are intent on framing the debate so narrowly - it's either give McChrystal what he wants or accept abject defeat. It's also why they insist that Obama needs to decide immediately.
Yet people in the antiwar camp also understand the stakes. Obama ran for the presidency promising change. The doves sense correctly that Obama's decision on Afghanistan may well determine how much - if any - substantive change is in the offing.
If the president assents to McChrystal's request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths - costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.
By Blue Texan
Jebby is a little miffed that people keep holding W. responsible for totally wrecking the country.
Asked about House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer blaming the former President Bush for the nation's fiscal outlook, Jeb Bush said:
"I was on the plane yesterday coming up to Washington and I heard someone complain that their child's acne was because of George Bush. Of course last week the Olympics didn't come to Chicago, that was my brother's fault. And at some point people are going to have to put on their big-boy pants and assume responsibility for the great challenges and opportunities our country has "
Act like a Bush, Democrats. Man up, take responsibility!
President Bush on Friday put responsibility squarely on the CIA for his erroneous claim that Iraq tried to acquire nuclear material from Africa, prompting the director of intelligence to publicly accept full blame for the miscue.
"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," Bush told reporters in Uganda.
Don't blame others for stuff that happens on your watch.
Nobody organized this country or the international community to fight the terrorist threat that was upon us until 9/11. We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaida.
Quit making schoolboy "the dog ate my homework" excuses.
"When I took office, our economy was beginning a recession," Bush said in a speech at a Mississippi high school. "Then our economy was hit by terrorists. Then our economy was hit by corporate scandals."
You're in charge. Put on your big-boy pants, you Democrat pansies.
I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived," he [Bush] said.
Because if anyone knows how to cowboy up and assume responsibility, it's a Bush.
by Bill Maher
New Rule: Everyone deserves equal rights. That's why they're called "equal" and "rights." Tomorrow night President Obama will speak before a gay rights group, and on Sunday there will be a massive gay rally in Washington, or as I call it, the Million Mo March. Which makes this weekend the perfect time for Obama to announce he's repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and committing to a full-throated endorsement of gay marriage. One, because it's the right thing to do and two, because it will throw the conservative base into such a frenzied, pants-shitting panic that they'll drop all that BS about death panels and socialism and let us all get some actual work done.
But of course that's not going to happen. I can tell you what the president is going to tell his audience tomorrow: How much he supports them. How much he agrees with them. And how he wishes he was President so he could help them out. But here's the thing about being president. There isn't a lot you can do without either Congress, Oprah or Goldman Sachs behind you. But there is one thing the president can do with the stroke of a pen: He can let gays serve openly in the military. It's called an executive order. Harry Truman wrote one in 1948 for blacks in the military, and that was that.
"Don't ask, don't tell" has always been bad policy that was made out of a bullshit political compromise. You know, like you're doing now with health care. It never made sense to begin with: "Here in the Army we're all about honor. And trusting the man next to you. Now lie to my face about your sexuality, Johnson, or I'll report you behind your back." But forget all the good arguments for repeal, like because it was promised to us in the campaign or because it gets lonely on a submarine. Do it because it'll make Rush Limbaugh explode like a bag full of meat dropped from a helicopter. Do it because it'll make Sarah Palin go rogue in her pants.
The executives who run big, ailing news organizationsin particular Tom Curley of AP and News Corp.'s Rupert Murdochcomplain every chance they get that search enginesin particular Googleare stealing from them, because Google links to their stories but doesn't pay the AP or News Corp. to do so. The way the news bosses see it, that is theft, plain and simple. They say Google is making tons of money by shamelessly lifting their content, and it's driving newspapers out of business.
At a meeting of media executives going on this week in Beijing, Murdoch and Curley gave impassioned speeches, saying they're mad as hell and they aren't going to take it anymore. They warn that aggregators like Google had better start paying up, or else.
"We content creators have been too slow to react to the free exploitation of news by third parties without input or permission," Curley told the audience.
"The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content," Murdoch said. "But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creatorsthe people in this hallwho will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph."
Of course, that's not even close to true. Curley and Murdoch's macho outrage is calculated to be quotable, but it is fake.
Here's why: go to Google News, or type a newsy topic like "Obama wins Nobel" into Google's search box. What do you get? Headlines and very brief teasers linking to news stories from news sites. If you click on them, you are taken to that news site, where you can read the story, which is surrounded by that site's ads. What, exactly, did Google steal in this scenario? If you don't click on the link, you don't see the story. If you do click on the link, you see the story on the originator's Web site.
Instead of stealing, I would call this something else: a free service that drives lots of readers to news Web sites that wouldn't get nearly as much traffic, if any at all, if Google didn't link to their sites for free. That may not be as pithy as crying "thief!" But it has the advantage of being true.
Murdoch and Curley know this. How do we know they know? Because if they really thought Google was stealing from them, and if they really wanted Google to stop driving all those readers to their Web sites at no charge, they would simply stop Google from linking to their news stories.
Google doesn't force Web sites to be included in its search listings. The people who run any site can remove it from Google's results with a few keystrokes. All they have to do is go to the Web site's robot.txt file and type this:
Poof, the site becomes invisible to Google. Their stories will no longer show up in Google searches. It will be as if they don't exist.
It's not like this is some big secret. Google even has a page on its Web site explaining step by step how to do it. Yet neither AP nor News Corp. has taken this simple step to stop the marauding Google pirates from pillaging their cargo. Why? Because they know that their traffic would dry up overnight. They'd rather blame someone else for their failure to compete in a changing marketplace. They happily take all the customers Google sends them for free, and then accuse Google of theft. Classy.
by Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute
Thursday is a fateful day for the world, as the US, other members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany meet in Geneva with Iran in a bid to resolve outstanding issues. Although Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had earlier attempted to put the nuclear issue off the bargaining table, this rhetorical flourish was a mere opening gambit and nuclear issues will certainly dominate the talks. As Henry Kissinger pointed out, these talks are just beginning and there are highly unlikely to be any breakthroughs for a very long time. Diplomacy is a marathon, not a sprint.
But on this occasion, I thought I'd take the opportunity to list some things that people tend to think they know about Iran, but for which the evidence is shaky.
Belief: Iran is aggressive and has threatened to attack Israel, its neighbors or the US
Reality: Iran has not launched an aggressive war in modern history (unlike the US or Israel), and its leaders have a doctrine of "no first strike." This is true of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as of Revolutionary Guards commanders.
Belief: Iran is a militarized society bristling with dangerous weapons and a growing threat to world peace.
Reality: Iran's military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.
Belief: Iran has threatened to attack Israel militarily and to "wipe it off the map."
Reality: No Iranian leader in the executive has threatened an aggressive act of war on Israel, since this would contradict the doctrine of 'no first strike' to which the country has adhered. The Iranian president has explicitly said that Iran is not a threat to any country, including Israel.
Belief: But didn't President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to 'wipe Israel off the map?'
Reality: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did quote Ayatollah Khomeini to the effect that "this Occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" (in rezhim-e eshghalgar-i Qods bayad as safheh-e ruzgar mahv shavad). This was not a pledge to roll tanks and invade or to launch missiles, however. It is the expression of a hope that the regime will collapse, just as the Soviet Union did. It is not a threat to kill anyone at all.
Belief: But aren't Iranians Holocaust deniers?
Actuality: Some are, some aren't. Former president Mohammad Khatami has castigated Ahmadinejad for questioning the full extent of the Holocaust, which he called "the crime of Nazism." Many educated Iranians in the regime are perfectly aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. In any case, despite what propagandists imply, neither Holocaust denial (as wicked as that is) nor calling Israel names is the same thing as pledging to attack it militarily.