Friday, November 28, 2008

Big shoes to fill

Reducing costs 1 word at a time

by Garrison Keillor

I have bad news. Amid the worldwide economic meltdown we are experiencing these days, I have taken a hard look at revenue from this column and find that I am earning but a tiny fraction of the $6.5 million I had projected for 2008, which leaves me no choice but to impose aggressive cost reductions, including a 75 percent reduction in writing time and the elimination of editing. I apologize for the inconvenience. And I thank you for your patience.,0,1001796.column

US intelligence 'kept files on Tony Blair's private life', claims ex-US navy operator

US intelligence officials kept a file on former prime minister Tony Blair's "private life", a former US navy communications operator claimed today.

David Murfee Faulk, who worked at a listening post in Fort Gordon, Georgia, told he saw the file on Blair in 2006.

But he refused to provide details of what the file, held in an intelligence database called Anchory, contained, other than to say it was a file on his "private life" and included information of a personal nature.

Faulk also said he heard "pillow talk" phone calls of Iraq's first interim president, Ghazi al-Yawer, another key US ally, when he worked as a US Army Arab linguist assigned to a US National Security Agency (NSA) facility at Fort Gordon, Georgia, between 2003 and 2007.

While not illegal to collect information on foreign leaders, the US and the UK have pledged "not to collect on each other", several former US intelligence officials told ABC.

The NSA works closely and shares data with its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

"If it is true that we maintained a file on Blair, it would represent a huge breach of the agreement we have with the Brits," one former CIA official said.

Norquist: ‘The Economy’s In The Present State’ Because Democrats Took Control Of Congress In 2006

On CNBC this morning, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist claimed that the current financial crisis facing America is rooted in the fact that Democrats took control of the House and Senate in 2006. "The economy's in the present state because when the Democrats took the House and Senate in 2006, you knew that those tax increases were going to come in 2010," said Norquist.

According to Norquist, the stock market collapsed because "we're in the middle of responding" to tax increases that haven't actually happened yet:

NORQUIST: Well, the economy's in the present state because when the Democrats took the House and Senate in 2006, you knew that those tax increases were going to come in 2010. The stock market began to collapse as soon as you recognized that those old tax rates were coming back. So, we're in the middle of responding to those tax increases.

David Sirota, who was on the CNBC show as well, notes that Norquist's absurd argument was laughed at and immediately rejected by the host and the other guests on the show. The Financial Times' Chrystia Freeland pointed out that "the stock market is collapsing because the U.S. and global financial system is in crisis." Watch it:

Though economists might disagree over what the exact causes of the financial crisis are, Norquist's assertion is laughable. Indeed, if he wants to find a real culprit, he should look at the Bush administration's utter failure to supervise our mortgage, lending and financial markets properly while also ignoring the ailing U.S. housing market.

The new Cicero

Charlotte HigginsIn the run-up to the US presidential election, the online magazine Slate ran a series of dictionary definitions of "Obamaisms". One ran thus: "Barocrates (buh-ROH-cruh-teez) n. An obscure Greek philosopher who pioneered a method of teaching in which sensitive topics are first posed as questions then evaded."

There were other digs at Barack Obama that alluded to ancient Greece and Rome. When he accepted the Democratic party nomination, he did so before a stagey backdrop of doric columns. Republicans said this betrayed delusions of grandeur: this was a temple out of which Obama would emerge like a self-styled Greek god. (Steve Bell also discerned a Romanness in the image, and drew Obama for this paper as a toga-ed emperor.) In fact, the resonance of those pillars was much more complicated than the Republicans would have it. They recalled the White House, which itself summoned up visual echoes of the Roman republic, on whose constitution that of the US is based. They recalled the Lincoln Memorial, before which Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream" speech. They recalled the building on which the Lincoln Memorial is based - the Parthenon. By drawing us symbolically to Athens, we were located at the very birthplace of democracy.

Here's the thing: to understand the next four years of American politics, you are going to need to understand something of the politics of ancient Greece and Rome.

There have been many controversial aspects to this presidential election, but one thing is uncontroversial: that Obama's skill as an orator has been one of the most important factors - perhaps the most important factor - in his victory. The sheer numbers of people who have heard him speak live set him apart from his rivals - and, indeed, recall the politics of ancient Athens, where the public speech given to ordinary voters was the motor of politics, and where the art of rhetoric matured alongside democracy.

Obama has bucked the trend of recent presidents - not excluding Bill Clinton - for dumbing down speeches. Elvin T Lim's book The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W Bush, submits presidential oratory to statistical analysis. He concludes that 100 years ago speeches were pitched at college reading level. Now they are at 8th grade. Obama's speeches, by contrast, flatter their audience. His best speeches are adroit literary creations, rich, like those doric columns, with allusion, his turn of phrase consciously evoking lines by Lincoln and King, by Woody Guthrie and Sam Cooke. Though he has speechwriters, he does much of the work himself. (Jon Favreau, the 27-year-old who heads Obama's speechwriting team, has said that his job is like being "Ted Williams's batting coach.") James Wood, professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard, has already performed a close-reading exercise on the victory speech for the New Yorker. Can you imagine the same being done of a George Bush speech?

Sound bites you won't hear in 2008

Truth to Power: Turkey Sucks

By Matthew Yglesias


Ever noticed that your favorite dishes from your traditional family Thanksgiving are all sides? And that that one time you had Thanksgiving dinner outside your traditional family gathering the best dishes there were sides? And how when your friends organized a fauxsgiving festival the week before Thanksgiving the best dishes were sides? That's because turkey doesn't taste good. Not that it has to be terrible. But at best, you come out with a neutral flavored bit of protein that's not so dry as to have a repugnant texture and therefore becomes a decent vehicle for gravy. But note that you could have just bought a very unimpressive Safeway Select Artisan Baguette and accomplished the same thing for way less money in way less time.

Everyone knows this to be true, but for some reason nobody wants to say it. The other day, I was flipping through my How to Cook Everything (thanks Ezra!) looking for duck advice and found Bittman's introduction to "the basics of turkey"

I know of no one who prefers turkey to other birds, but you can't buck tradition, and the Thanksgiving feast is among the few national holidays that transcend all divisions (or at least most divisions: vegetarians have a hard time with it).

This is crap. In a day and age when Michael Pollan can urge the United States to buck the farm-and-beef lobby and radically revise national agriculture policy surely a cookbook author and recognized food expert can urge the discerning cookbook reader to buck the turkey lobby and cook something that tastes good for his (or her) family. Keep the parts of Thanksgiving that people like — the cranberry sauce, the stuffing, the yams — and for a main course cook something good. Multiple chickens! A goose! Spencer's bacon-wrapped pork!

But instead of doing this, I see all manner of foodies wracking their brains for ways to make turkey taste good. By which they mean "tolerable."

Judge Finds That CNN Engaged in 'Widespread and Egregious Misconduct, Demonstrating a Flagrant and General Disregard' for Employee Rights

Orders immediate reinstatement of 110 workers
The Honorable Arthur J. Amchan, an Administrative Law Judge of the National Labor Relations Board, issued a decision detailing how CNN America, Inc. ("CNN") violated the federally protected rights of more than 250 employees at the network's bureaus in Washington, D.C. and New York, N.Y. The Judge found that CNN committed substantial violations of the National Labor Relations Act when it terminated a subcontracting relationship with Team Video Services ("TVS") -- whose employees were represented by NABET-CWA, Local 31 and Local 11 (collectively "NABET-CWA"). CNN also was found to have discriminated against TVS employees who sought to continue their employment at CNN's bureaus.
The Judge found that CNN discriminated against the TVS employees in a blatant attempt to avoid having to recognize and bargain with the employees' collective bargaining representatives. This decision is the culmination of more than five years of struggle by workers and their unions to vindicate their rights at the D.C. and N.Y. CNN Bureaus.

Plant an organic garden on the White House Lawn

The Tax History Conservatives Want Us to Forget

David Sirota

David Sirota


Grover Norquist is regularly billed as one of the leading intellectual lights of the conservative movement - and I think you will agree that the arguments he made in a debate with me over taxes this morning on CNBC highlight not merely the shocking intellectual bankruptcy of the movement he leads, but just how out of touch Republicans in Washington really are.

The debate revolved around President-elect Obama's potential plans to put off raising taxes on the very wealthy. Norquist begins the debate with the claim - I kid you not - that "the economy is in the present state because when the Democrats took the House and Senate in 2006 you knew those tax increases were going to come in 2010." He insisted that, "The stock market began to collapse as soon as you recognize that those old tax rates were coming back." Yes, because under "those old tax rates" - ie. Clinton-era tax rates - the economy was so much worse than it is today.

As you'll see, the CNBC reporters start laughing at Norquist, having trouble taking him seriously. And I must say, I really wasn't sure he was being serious - but, of course, he was. I went on to make the point that I've often made in the past - the point that conservatives simply want everyone to forget: Namely, that President Clinton faced down a recession in 1993 by raising taxes on the wealthy in order to finance an economic stimulus package, and the economy subsequently boomed.

That simple, undeniable bit of history undermines the entire structure of conservatives claim that raising taxes on the super-rich will hurt the economy. And as you'll see from Norquist's response, they simply cannot deal with that truth. Indeed, Norquist actually goes all the way back to the 1920s as his example that raising taxes on the wealthy impedes economic growth - somehow ignoring the history from 15 years ago. He then goes on to claim with a straight face that Franklin Roosevelt created the Great Depression (this, along with the "center-right nation" propaganda, seems to be the right's new talking point).

The question now is whether the Obama administration buys into Norquist's fact-free nonsense, or whether it musters the same courage President Clinton mustered in prudently raising taxes on the super-rich to responsibly finance an economic stimulus package. Sure, temporary deficits are acceptable right now - there's no arguing that. But doing what's necessary to minimize those deficits is also important.

In terms of policy, if, as Congressional Quarterly reports, Obama wants to enforce budget discipline on a necessarily large economic stimulus package, it will require generating additional revenue from the wealthy. In terms of raw politics, if Clinton's 43 percent of the vote gave him enough political capital to come into office during an economic downturn and do that, I'd say Obama and his 53 percent gives him enough political capital to do the same today. And I would argue that if Obama backs off his promise to raise taxes on the wealthy, he will effectively validate the false conservative frame that claims tax increases on the wealthy endangers an economy.


Bush pardons for crimes he has committed

On the latest pardon list were:

_Richard Micheal Culpepper of Mahomet, Ill., who was convicted of making false statements to the federal government.

_Brenda Jean Dolenz-Helmer of Fort Worth, Texas, for reporting or helping cover up a crime.

_Andrew Foster Harley of Falls Church, Va. Harley was convicted of wrongful use and distribution of marijuana and cocaine.

_Carey C. Hice Sr. of Travelers Rest, S.C., who was convicted of income tax evasion.

_Geneva Yvonne Hogg of Jacksonville, Fla., convicted of bank embezzlement.

_William Hoyle McCright Jr. of Midland, Texas, who was sentenced for making false entries, books, reports or statements to a bank.

_Paul Julian McCurdy of Sulphur, Okla., who was sentenced for misapplication of bank funds.

_Ronald Alan Mohrhoff of Los Angeles, who was convicted for unlawful use of a telephone in a narcotics felony.

_Daniel Figh Pue III of Conroe, Texas, convicted of illegal treatment, storage and disposal of a hazardous waste without a permit.

_Orion Lynn Vick of White Hall, Ark., who was convicted of aiding and abetting the theft of government property.

The Daily Show's Best Sarah Palin Moments

Guns N' Roses: Why Chinese Democracy's Fine Print Is Way More Fun Than the Record

Amuse your delusion


We can all agree that Sunday's eons-delayed, punchline-defying, free–Dr. Pepper–triggering release of Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy marks the death of something — some combination of the music industry, "the album" as a unit of cultural import, old-guard rock stardom, irony, sincerity, free-market capitalism, hip-hop, the spread offense and neoconservatism. Regardless, I feel comfortable stating that it's the last record I will ever buy just to read the liner notes. Holy shit. Do pop into Best Buy this week and have a gander.

Fourteen studios in four cities. Twenty-two assistant engineers. Eight folks under the heading "Additional Pro Tools." Six more under "Logic." The phrase "initial production" recurring. Eleven musicians get their own personal thank-you lists; deranged mastermind Axl Rose's require nearly three columns of tiny-ass type. (Notable names: Mickey Rourke, Donatella Versace, Izzy Stradlin.) And these are just full-album credits. All 14 songs get their own personal bibliography: "There Was a Time" has six guitarists (five is more common) and five orchestral arrangers (Rose is cited as both); "Madagascar" boasts not just French horns but synth French horns, plus clips from two Martin Luther King Jr. speeches and dialogue from Mississippi Burning, Cool Hand Luke, Braveheart, Casualties of War and Seven. Full lyric sheet, too: Within the first minute of histrionic piano ballad "This I Love," Rose rhymes why, goodbye, I, eyes, wise, try, inside, deny, die, mine, inside, why, goodbye, inside, light, bright, night and deny. I look forward to re-reading these liners in Best Music Writing 2009; you will greatly prefer them, at least initially, to Chinese Democracy itself. For what has really died here is the word "overproduced." It will no longer suffice. So dense, so suffocating, so paranoid-android synthetic, so ludicrously engorged is Rose's magnum opus that you will have absolutely no problem believing it took dozens of people millions of dollars and nearly two decades to complete it. This is the mythical burrito microwaved by God, which is so hot, God himself cannot eat it. Upon first, second, third, quite possibly 10th listen, it's a deeply unpleasant experience. You'll warm to it. Maybe.

The 20 Stupidest GI Joe Vehicles Ever


So awhile back I wrote about how the military was taking inspiration from dinosaurs and psychotropic drugs (probably) when designing the next generation of military vehicles. I managed to sneak in a good joke about Voltron before the whole thing degenerated into the sort of shoddy list-based nonsense that passes for comedy around here. Seriously, some days we're just running around playing grab-ass here.

Shortly after the article went live it occurred to me that I had omitted to mention the absolute pinnacle of military vehicle insanity: The GI Joe universe. And so, as we wrap up the 7th and most boring year yet of the War on Terror, I'd like to take you back to a world where wars were cooler, and way stupider…

The 20 Stupidest GI Joe Vehicles Ever

All photos courtesy of


You're going to see this a lot in the next couple minutes: a whole bunch of guys hanging off the back of nearly every god damned vehicle. I don't know why – nowhere in the Joe canon does it specify why they've taken their design cues from a Central American public transit system.


Famously no-one ever actually gets shot in the GI Joe universe, which is why they have such curious ideas about how to armor vehicles. We're approaching Pope-Mobile territory with all this glass.


A multi-cultural group of friends are out for an adventure and learn what matters more: the size of your tank, or the size of your heart.

Waning days