Wednesday, January 7, 2009

GOP gone MAD


There wouldn't have been Gaza rockets without blockade


Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy, reckons that a ceasefire in Gaza could be negotiated very soon, provided that the tunnels from Egypt that provide the territory with, among other things, smuggled weapons, are closed off. It's a shame that he did not express his ambitions in another way. Perhaps a ceasefire could be negotiated very soon if legitimate channels for the import of all goods except arms into Gaza were opened up.

Such a suggestion, however, might be seen as critical of Israel's own perceived position as a reluctant aggressor and defensive state. The international community has completely accepted Israel's justification for its attack on Gaza, so much so that all of its spokespeople are careful not to refer to any Israeli action that can be viewed as provocative, such as its suffocating 18-month long blockade on that tiny, overpopulated strip of land.

Supporters of Israel's action are fond of reiterating Israel's narrow justification for its action. Who else would put up with regular rocket attacks from a neighbor, it asks? No one suggests that they would be happy to. It is accepted that Israel has the right to defend itself, and so it should be. Yet few would acquiesce without protest to a two-year blockade by a neighbor either, though no Western leader ever seems seriously to ask that highly pertinent question.

On the contrary, Blair implies that in order to obtain a ceasefire, Gaza's Hamas leadership must prove itself willing to comply proactively with the blockade against it, as well as refraining from actually firing weapons.

Yet Hamas does not only import arms through Egypt's tunnels. It also imports everything from livestock to medical supplies -- about 90 percent of all goods entering the area.

Politically Hamas is popular not only because of its refusal to abandon armed struggle and accept the state of Israel, but also because it organizes social support more efficiently than other groups. Even during the siege it has found some ways to mitigate the effects of Israeli policy on Gazans. The blockade is viewed by many as "collective punishment," because it exists to discomfort ordinary citizens and thereby undermine the ability of Hamas to govern. The idea of the blockade was to turn Palestinians away from the group that it had democratically elected.

Bricks made from hemp for houses

The Sunshine Patriots

The GOP's champions of this war had a hard time finding their own way to the battlefield

by Tom Robbins

George W. Bush
Age 58
Born New Haven, Connecticut, July 6, 1946

Military service Texas Air National Guard 1968–1973 (Removed from flight status in 1972 for failing to take annual flight physical. Honorably discharged in 1973.)

Quote "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."

Dick Cheney
Vice President
Age 63
Born Lincoln, Nebraska, January 30, 1941

Military service None

Reason Four student deferments and one deferment for married men with children.

Quote "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service."

Bill Frist
Senator, Tennessee; Majority leader
Age 52
Born Nashville, Tennessee, February 22, 1952

Military service None

Reason Student deferment (Princeton 1974).

Quote "We must stay the course, keep true to our principles, have faith in our armed forces, and know that history, in the end, will be on our side."

Dennis Hastert
Representative, Illinois; Speaker of the House
Age 62
Born Aurora, Illinois, January 2, 1942

Military service None

Reason Rejected from advanced ROTC at Wheaton College for bad shoulder stemming from sports injury. A college wrestler and coach, Hastert is in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Quote [Responding to ex-P.O.W. Senator John McCain's "Where's the sacrifice?" criticism of Bush's plan for wartime tax cuts.] "If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda [hospitals]. There's the sacrifice in this country."

Karl Rove
Senior White House Adviser
Age 53
Born Denver, Colorado, December 25, 1950

Military service None

Reason Student deferment (University of Utah; George Mason University—no degree).

Quote "We're fighting a different kind of war, and no negotiation can bring it to victory."

John Ashcroft
Attorney General
Age 62
Born Chicago, Illinois, May 9, 1942

Military service None

Reason Six student deferments and one occupational deferment (teaching law at Southwest Missouri State).

Quote "I would have served if asked."

Paul Wolfowitz
Deputy Secretary of Defense
Age 60
Born Brooklyn, New York, December 22, 1943

Military service None

Reason Student deferments (Cornell University 1965; University of Chicago 1972).

Quote "I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq."

What to Expect from an Intelligent President

by Katheen Reardon

Kathleen ReardonBrace yourself. It's going get rocky soon. We are about to have a very bright man as our president. And we've been away from that territory for a very long time.

Barack Obama is what social scientists describe as "cognitively complex." He can accommodate within his views and values what others see as contradictions. He inhabits an abstract rather than concrete world. For the cognitively complex among us, the gray area is broad.

That's why he doesn't rush to a microphone to explain actions that generate controversy. He operates on this rule: "They won't remember you got it to them late so much as that you got it to them wrong."

He is more considered than cautious. If he were cautious, he wouldn't have invited Rick Warren to do the inauguration prayer. That decision likely came from a lengthy sorting out of the pros and cons. The same could be said of some of his cabinet appointments. He may have discredited experience during the election, but he has high regard for it now.

For a man intent on change, he relies heavily on the way he has made decisions for many years. He lines up the ducks. He looks past the obvious. He prioritizes. He contradicts in one sense in order to be consistent in another. That doesn't preclude change, it merely means the President-elect's avenue to it will not be newly paved.

He takes time to identify options likely to succeed in the long run or ones that serve his higher order goals. By necessity, therefore, some people are going to be disappointed early on in his presidency.

Even those people willing and able to entertain complexity on a host of issues are often unwilling and unable to do so regarding their passions. In other words, as Frank Rich has implied, Barack Obama may overestimate at times his ability to bridge differences, especially among people passionate about particular causes. They are likely to be very impatient if their issues are among the ones President Obama puts on the back burner.

As delighted as so many of us are to have Barack Obama's presidency right around the corner, we'll need to keep in mind the type of thinker he is. He may have begun his race for the presidency with the single concept of hope, but he will begin his presidency with considerably greater complexity. He may have captured us with his heart, but he will lead us largely with his mind.

Hunter S. Thompson Motivational Posters


Obama's Justice nominees signal end of Bush terror tactics

Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen will take charge of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON — In filling four senior Justice Department positions Monday, President-elect Barack Obama signaled that he intends to roll back Bush administration counterterrorism policies authorizing harsh interrogation techniques, warrantless spying and indefinite detentions of terrorism suspects.

Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen will take charge of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Barack Obama. (Courtesy of Indiana University/MCT)The most startling shift was Obama's pick of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to take charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, the unit that's churned out the legal opinions that provided a foundation for expanding President George W. Bush's national security powers.

Johnsen, who spent five years in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration and served as its acting chief, has publicly assailed "Bush's corruption of our American ideals." Upon the release last spring of a secret Office of Legal Counsel memo that backed tactics approaching torture for interrogations of terrorism suspects, she excoriated the unit's lawyers for encouraging "horrific acts" and for advising Bush "that in fighting the war on terror, he is not bound by the laws Congress has enacted."

"One of the refreshing things about Dawn Johnsen's appointment is that she's almost a 180-degree shift from John Yoo and David Addington and (Vice President) Dick Cheney," said Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe, referring to the main legal architects of the administration's approval of harsh interrogation tactics.

The End of the Financial World as We Know It

AMERICANS enter the New Year in a strange new role: financial lunatics. We've been viewed by the wider world with mistrust and suspicion on other matters, but on the subject of money even our harshest critics have been inclined to believe that we knew what we were doing. They watched our investment bankers and emulated them: for a long time now half the planet's college graduates seemed to want nothing more out of life than a job on Wall Street.

This is one reason the collapse of our financial system has inspired not merely a national but a global crisis of confidence. Good God, the world seems to be saying, if they don't know what they are doing with money, who does?

Incredibly, intelligent people the world over remain willing to lend us money and even listen to our advice; they appear not to have realized the full extent of our madness. We have at least a brief chance to cure ourselves. But first we need to ask: of what?

To that end consider the strange story of Harry Markopolos. Mr. Markopolos is the former investment officer with Rampart Investment Management in Boston who, for nine years, tried to explain to the Securities and Exchange Commission that Bernard L. Madoff couldn't be anything other than a fraud. Mr. Madoff's investment performance, given his stated strategy, was not merely improbable but mathematically impossible. And so, Mr. Markopolos reasoned, Bernard Madoff must be doing something other than what he said he was doing.

In his devastatingly persuasive 17-page letter to the S.E.C., Mr. Markopolos saw two possible scenarios. In the "Unlikely" scenario: Mr. Madoff, who acted as a broker as well as an investor, was "front-running" his brokerage customers. A customer might submit an order to Madoff Securities to buy shares in I.B.M. at a certain price, for example, and Madoff Securities instantly would buy I.B.M. shares for its own portfolio ahead of the customer order. If I.B.M.'s shares rose, Mr. Madoff kept them; if they fell he fobbed them off onto the poor customer.

In the "Highly Likely" scenario, wrote Mr. Markopolos, "Madoff Securities is the world's largest Ponzi Scheme." Which, as we now know, it was.

Harry Markopolos sent his report to the S.E.C. on Nov. 7, 2005 — more than three years before Mr. Madoff was finally exposed — but he had been trying to explain the fraud to them since 1999. He had no direct financial interest in exposing Mr. Madoff — he wasn't an unhappy investor or a disgruntled employee. There was no way to short shares in Madoff Securities, and so Mr. Markopolos could not have made money directly from Mr. Madoff's failure. To judge from his letter, Harry Markopolos anticipated mainly downsides for himself: he declined to put his name on it for fear of what might happen to him and his family if anyone found out he had written it. And yet the S.E.C.'s cursory investigation of Mr. Madoff pronounced him free of fraud.


Changing Tack, RIAA Ditches MediaSentry

In another sign of the music industry's recently announced retreat from a five-year-old antipiracy strategy, the Recording Industry Association of America has dumped the company it used to help it gather evidence for mass lawsuits it filed against people it claimed were illegally uploading copyrighted music.

The RIAA long used a company called MediaSentry to troll the Internet in search of people who uploaded large amounts of music. The information that MediaSentry collected became an integral part of the RIAA's aggressive litigation campaign. Since 2003, the RIAA -- a trade organization representing Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, Sony Corp.'s Sony BMG Music Entertainment, EMI Group Ltd. and Warner Music Group Corp. -- has sued around 35,000 people for what it says are illegal music uploads.

Now the RIAA will be rid of a company that became a frequent target of civil-rights advocates and others who complained that the RIAA's legal tactics were excessive. MediaSentry is a unit of closely held, Belcamp, Md.-based SafeNet Inc.

Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who maintains the Recording Industry vs. the People blog and who has represented more than a dozen clients fighting the RIAA, said he considered the decision to drop MediaSentry a "victory" for his clients. MediaSentry representatives "have been invading the privacy of people. They've been doing very sloppy work," he said.

Mr. Beckerman cites MediaSentry's practice of looking for available songs in people's file-sharing folders, downloading them, and using those downloads in court as evidence of copyright violations. He says MediaSentry couldn't prove defendants had shared their files with anyone other than MediaSentry investigators.

Defendants in Music-Industry Lawsuit Ask for Trial to Be Broadcast Online

The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Wired Campus

A Harvard Law professor representing some students sued by the recording industry for illegally downloading music has filed a motion to broadcast online the proceedings of two cases being heard by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

The professor, Charles R. Nesson, argues in the motion that to stream the court proceedings over the Internet — or as the students put it in their request, "admit the Internet into the courtroom" — would help the public understand the legal issues at play in the industry's lawsuits against thousands of computer users, many of whom are college students.

The plaintiff, the Recording Industry Association of America, which announced last month that it would stop bringing new cases against students in favor of working with Internet Service Providers to take action against repeat offenders, has described its lawsuits as an educational effort focused on illuminating the consequences of illegally sharing music — something Mr. Nesson takes a jab at in the motion.

"Surely education is the purpose of the Digital Deterrence Act of 1999, the constitutionality of which we are challenging," the motion reads. "How can RIAA object? Yet they do, fear of sunlight shone upon them."

Head held high

Sympathy For the W?

In the end, a new portrait of Bush as tired, misunderstood, ruined

You have to go deep. You have to scrape and dig and plow, hunt and dive and sigh and even then it might take so long and cost so much invaluable energy and ultimately prove to be so damn near impossible, you will wonder if it's even worth it and why the hell I am even trying because, well, sweet Jesus knows he doesn't deserve it in the first place.

But if you're so inclined, if the temperature of your temperament is just so, if that fourth glass of $10 recession-defying wine is making you feel unusually generous, maybe, just maybe you can muster a bit of sympathy for George W. Bush.

Possible? Insane? Blasphemous? Damn straight.

It's already happening. I've read a number of pieces and a few strange, sepia-toned articles of late (like this one) that, while certainly not daring to paint Bush with any sort of gushing, rose-colored, wasn't-he-an-unrecognized-genius brush of overt kindness, still attempt to give him a far larger dose of humanity and pathos than which might sit well with your very soul.

It's certainly not uncommon, this soft-focus retrospective thing. Every president gets it right about now -- the benefit-of-the-doubt overview, the look back in wistful pondering before the battered chief steps away for good and history gets hold of the whole package and makes it into various flavors of reconstituted mincemeat.

Writers of such pieces invariably comment on how tired and old the president now looks, how exhausted and beaten down, how eight years in office under that kind of constant pressure absolutely destroys your health, your marriage, your skin, your hair color, and by the way what about that legacy?

But with Bush -- the worst-regarded, least popular, most ethically offensive president most of us will ever know -- things are just little bit different. His is that most peculiar and disquieting of exit portraits, a slumpy little guy initially thought to be a middling and relatively harmless puppet, suddenly thrust into history's limelight by the most dire of events, who then squandered every drop of global goodwill and violated most every international law and whored away the very soul of the nation with far more dazzling, efficient success than anyone could have ever imagined.

The upshot is as painful as it is undeniable: Dubya is, whether we like it or not, one of the most extraordinary and influential presidents of all time. Imagine.

Skaters Jump In as Foreclosures Drain the Pool

On a recent morning, a 27-year-old skateboarder who goes by the name Josh Peacock peered into a swimming pool in Fresno, Calif., emptied by his own hands — and the foreclosure crisis — and flashed a smile as wide as a half-pipe.
"We have more pools than we know what to do with," said Mr. Peacock, who lives in Fresno, the Central Valley city where thousands of homes, many with pools behind them, are in foreclosure. "I can't even keep track of them all anymore."

Cookie Monster eats World Trade towers in 1976

Cookie Monster devours a pair of buildings that resemble the Twin Towers. From the cover of the October 1976 issue of Sesame Street magazine.