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Archive for April 25th, 2012

The Friedman View

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10 of Thomas Friedman’s Dumbest “Big Ideas”

You know the world is flat — and hot and crowded — but that’s just the tip of Friedman’s iceberg of hackery.

 

In conferring the honor of “Wanker of the Decade” on New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, blogger Duncan Black observed that “truly great wankers possess a kind of glib narcissism, the belief that everything is about them while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility for anything.” The sorry “state of the world is what it is,” Black continued, “in large part because people in positions of great power think this absurd buffoon of man is a Very Serious Person.”

Most readers are presumably familiar with the most prominent theories to have emerged from the brain of Thomas Friedman over the course of his career. To name a few here:

  1. The world is flat.
  2. Countries that have McDonald’s do not go to war with each other—except when they do, in which case it is preferable if the outcome of the conflict indicates that Serbs “wanted to stand in line for burgers, much more than they wanted to stand in line for Kosovo.”
  3. By pure coincidence, the 2011 Arab uprisings were caused by some of Friedman’s own favorite topics: Barack Obama, Google Earth, Israel, the Beijing Olympics, and Salam Fayyad. (See blogger Sarah Carr’s response, in which she notes the additional revolutionary impetus provided by the 2008 Cheese-Rolling Competition near Gloucester, England.)

While conducting research for my book about Thomas Friedman, I had the pleasure of reading 17 years’ worth of biweekly dispatches from the three-time Pulitzer recipient. For the benefit of those who may lead more fulfilling lives, I’ve composed a brief list of lesser-known Friedmanian insights and policy prescriptions.

1. The Clinton administration should have dedicated itself to illegally manufacturing Iraqi currency.

In 1996 Friedman advised the following approach to Iraq: “Print dinars. The U.S. should flood Iraq with counterfeit Iraqi dinars. It would wreak havoc. Because the U.S. has blocked the sale of money-printing presses, ink and paper to Iraq, Washington can already print better Iraqi money than Baghdad can.”

Seven years later, the economic war plan was abandoned in favor of the more physical doctrine “Suck. On. This.”

2. The Cali cartel would have been a valuable partner in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

According to Friedman’s 2001 analysis, the merits of Colombian drug cartels included that “they understand that when we say we want someone ‘dead or alive’ we mean ‘dead or dead.’”

Geographical complications were resolved as follows: “The Cali cartel doesn’t operate in Afghanistan. But the Russian mafia sure does, as do various Afghan factions, drug rings and Pakistani secret agents.”

3.Thanks to NAFTA, Mexico has improved its selection of baby names.

During a 2010 visit to Mexico City, Friedman reported that, despite attempts by anti-NAFTA Mexicans to thwart progress by remaining poor, a promising trend had been detected by economist Luis de la Calle.

Without mentioning de la Calle’s former position as Trade and NAFTA Minister at Mexico’s embassy in D.C., Friedman cited the results of his study of the top 50 Mexican baby names of 2008: “The most popular for girls, he said, included ‘Elizabeth, Evelyn, Abigail, Karen, Marilyn and Jaqueline, and for boys Alexander, Jonathan, Kevin, Christian and Bryan.’” In case anyone had failed to grasp the magnitude of societal advancement, Friedman summarized: “Not only Juans.”

4. If the U.S. lowers its profile in the Arab world, the Arabs will realize that their children are being outperformed academically by the children of their maids.

In the midst of his Iraq war cheerleading campaign in 2004, it occurred to Friedman that “[t]he other way for us to promote reform is to get out of the way so people in the Middle East can see clearly that many of their maids’ children—from India, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines—are excelling at math, science and engineering.”

As it turned out, the inverse relationship between a U.S. presence in the region and Arab admiration for the scholastic exploits of the offspring of their domestic servants found corroboration in Islam itself: “Only when the Arabs focus on how their maids’ children are doing in the world, not what the Americans are doing in their region, will they revisit one of the most famous sayings of the Prophet Muhammad: ‘Seek knowledge, even unto China. That is the duty for every Muslim.’”

5. Saudi Arabia suffers from an excess of democracy.

In the same 2003 column in which he confessed to having “a soft spot for the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah,” Friedman explained: “The problem with Saudi Arabia is not that it has too little democracy. It’s that it has too much.”

The homeland of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers received the additional benediction in 2007: “Of course, we must protect the Saudis.” This was approximately four years after the homeland of 0 of the 9/11 hijackers was told to suck on things.

6. Massacres of Muslims are a sign of freedom.

In his response to the 2002 government-incited slaughter of over 2,000 Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat, Friedman determined that the fact that “[t]he rioting didn’t spread anywhere” indicated India was worthy of the subtitle “Where Freedom Reigns.” Continuing impunity for those behind the massacre suggests this may be the case.

As for Friedman’s deceivingly platitudinous postulate according to which Indian Muslims “are, on the whole, integrated into India’s democracy because it is a democracy,” the evidence he supplied—“There are no Indian Muslims in Guantánamo Bay”—raised the possible need for a reconsideration of the democratic credentials of places like Britain and the U.S.

7. The fall of the Soviet Union was propitious for Russian wardrobes.

In a 1995 column that began with a recounting of the story of how Russia’s salvation from communism had prompted the neighbor of a Moscow journalist to cease repetitive singing of Ace of Base songs while drunkenly beating his wife, Friedman noted additional perks to life in the transformed city: “New shops mushroom every day and people now dress in a rainbow of colors, instead of different shades of cement. I ate fajitas at a new chain of Moscow-Mex restaurants, where the menu said: ‘We worship our customers like the ancient Aztecs worshiped their gods.’ (Is that capitalism, or what?)”

8. Jeffrey Sachs is African.

Reporting from Accra in 2001, Friedman informed readers: “Africans themselves will tell you that their problem with globalization is not that they are getting too much of it, but too little.” Aside from the director of Ghana’s Institute for Economic Affairs, the Africans quoted in the column consisted of an Indian trade economist and Harvard’s resident neoliberal shock therapist.

No Africans were meanwhile quoted in Friedman’s 2009 memo datelined Chief’s Island, Botswana, in which he pondered the future of Africa while on safari. Charles Darwin and Dorothy of Kansas merited mentions, however, as did a leopard in a tree—the protagonist of a 121-word description of the demise of an antelope.

9. Karl Marx knew the world was flat.

See The World Is Flat, pp. 233-4.

10. In addition to being part of a neocon strategy and anti-liberal, the Iraq war was the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched. It had nothinga little bit and everything to do with oil.

 

 

© 2012, agentleman.

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April 25th, 2012 at 9:32 am

The Church And State As One…

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Church & State Magazine / By Rob Boston

Right-Wing Religion’s War on America

Many in America’s Catholic leadership and on the evangelical right claim there’s a war on religion. In fact, they are waging a war on individual liberties.

From a posh residence in the heart of New York City that has been described as a “mini-mansion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan is perhaps the most visible representative of an American church empire of 60 million adherents and vast financial holdings.

Dolan and his fellow clergy move easily through the corridors of political power, courted by big-city mayors, governors and even presidents. In the halls of Congress, they are treated with a deference no secular lobbyist can match.

From humble origins in America, the church has risen to lofty heights marked by affluence, political influence and social respect. Yet, according to church officials, they are being increasingly persecuted, and their rights are under sustained attack.

The refrain has become commonplace: There is a “war on religion.” Faith is under assault. The administration of President Barack Obama has unleashed a bombardment on religion unlike anything ever seen.

The average American would be hard-pressed to see evidence of this “war.” Millions of people meet regularly in houses of worship. What’s more, those institutions are tax exempt. Many denominations participate in taxpayer-funded social service programs. Their clergy regularly speak out on the issues of the day. In the political arena, religious leaders are treated with great respect.

Furthermore, religious organizations often get special breaks that aren’t accorded to their secular counterparts. Houses of worship aren’t required to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status; they receive it automatically as soon as they form. Religious entities are routinely exempted from employment laws, anti-discrimination measures and even routine health and safety inspections.

Unlike secular lobbies, religious groups that work with legislators on Capitol Hill don’t have to register with the federal government and are free from the stringent reporting requirements imposed on any group that seeks to influence legislation.

Religion in America would seem to be thriving in this “hands-off” atmosphere, as evidenced by church attendance rates, which in the United States tend to be higher than any other Western nation. So where springs this “war on religion” talk?

Twin dynamics, mutually related and interdependent, are likely at work. On one hand, some religious groups are upping their demands for even more exemptions from general laws. When these are not always extended, leaders of these groups scream about hostility toward religion and say they are being discriminated against. This catches the attention of right-wing political leaders, who toss gasoline on the rhetorical fires.

A textbook example of this occurred during the recent flap over coverage of contraceptives under the new health care reform. The law seeks to ensure a baseline of coverage for all Americans, and birth control is included. Insurance firms that contract with companies must make it available with no co-pays.

Houses of worship are exempt from this requirement. But religiously affiliated organizations, such as church-run hospitals, colleges and social service agencies, are dealt with differently. The insurance companies that serve them must make contraceptives available to the employees of these entities, but the religious agencies don’t have to pay for them directly.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) attacked this policy and insisted that it violates the church’s right of conscience. Furthermore, the hierarchy insisted that all private employers should also have the right to deny any medical coverage that conflicts with their beliefs – no matter what the religious views of their employees.

The issue quickly became mired in partisan politics. Claims of a “war on religion” expand on long-held Religious Right seasonal claims of an alleged “war on Christmas.” The assertions of yuletide hostility paid great dividends to the Religious Right. They boosted groups’ fund-raising efforts and motivated some activists to get involved in politics.

Religious Right leaders and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy are hoping for a similar payoff through their claims of a war on religion.

With the economy improving, Republicans may be on the verge of losing a powerful piece of ammunition to use against Obama. The party’s Religious Right faction is eager to push social issues to the front and center as a way of mobilizing the base.

Many political leaders are happy to parrot this line. For the time being, they’ve latched on to the birth control issue as their leading example of this alleged war.

To hear these right-wing politicians tell it, asking a religiously affiliated institution that is heavily subsidized with taxpayer funds to allow an insurance company to provide birth control to those who want it is a great violation of “religious liberty.”

In mid February, House members went so far as to hold a hearing on the matter before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, stacking it with a bevy of religious leaders who oppose the rule on contraceptives. Among them was Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who heads up a new Catholic lobbying effort on this and other social issues.

Americans United submitted testimony to the committee, but Republicans on the panel denied the Democrats’ request to hear testimony from Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown Law School who supports the contraceptive mandate, thus leaving the panel stacked with religious figures – mostly men – who are hostile to contraceptives. (See “No Fluke,” April 2012 Church & State.)

The idea was to create the impression that the religious community – and by extension the American public – is up in arms over the regulation. In fact, the religious figures who spoke at the event were from ultra-conservative traditions that represent just one segment of religion in America. Many religious leaders and denominations support access to contraceptives, and several polls have shown support for the Obama administration’s position hovering at around 65 percent. (Polls also show that many American Catholics disagree with the church hierarchy on this issue.)

This isn’t surprising in a country where use of contraceptives is widespread. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of women who engage in sexual activity will use at least one artificial form of birth control at some point in their lives.

Contraceptives are also often prescribed for medical reasons, such as shrinking ovarian cysts or relieving menstrual pain. Americans respect religious liberty, but most believe it can be maintained while safeguarding access to needed medications.

Most Americans, in fact, understand the need to balance rights. Religious organizations have the right to believe and preach what they want, but their ability to rely on government to help them spread these views is necessarily limited.

In addition, valid social goals can override an overly broad definition of religious liberty. In some states, fundamentalist Christian parents have been ordered by courts to take their children to doctors. The theory is that a child’s right to live free of sickness and disease outweighs the parents’ religious liberty concerns.

In addition, religious liberty has not traditionally been construed as license to trample on the rights of others.

“People who cry moral indignation about government-mandated contraception coverage appear unwilling to concede that the exercise of their deeply held convictions might infringe on the rights of millions of people who are burdened by unplanned pregnancy or want to reduce abortion or would like to see their tax dollars committed to a different purpose,” wrote Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and administrator at Harvard College, on a Time magazine blog recently.

The courts have long recognized this need to balance rights. In the late 19th century, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down plural marriage, which was then practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon practice, the court held, was disruptive to society and had no roots in Western tradition; thus it could be banned.

In the modern era, the court devised a test whereby government could restrict religious liberty if it could demonstrate a “compelling state interest” and that it had employed the “least restrictive means” to meets its goals.

That standard was tightened even further in 1990, when the Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case known as Employment Division v. Smith. The decision, written by arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, held that government has no obligation to exempt religious entities from “neutral” laws that are “generally applicable.”

Since then, many religious groups have turned to the political process to win exemptions from the law. Generally speaking, they’ve been very successful. In a ground-breaking 2006 New York Times series, the newspaper chronicled the various exemptions from the law granted to religious organizations covering areas like immigration, land use, employment regulations, safety inspections and others.

The Times reported that since 1989, “more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation….” The paper noted that other breaks “have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.”

But religious groups, like any other special interest, don’t get everything they want. On occasions when they’ve failed, some religious organizations have been quick to complain that discrimination or a hostility toward religion did them in. In fact, political leaders might have simply concluded that certain demands of religious groups are not in the best interests of larger society.

Is there any evidence that Obama is stingier with exemptions than past administrations or that the president has it in for religious groups? Not really.

Under Obama, the “faith-based” initiative, an idea that goes back to the days of George W. Bush, has continued to flourish. Obama even stepped back from a vow he made while campaigning in 2008 to require religious groups that receive support from the taxpayer to drop discriminatory hiring policies.

Mother Jones magazine reported in February that if Obama is hostile to religion, he has an odd way of showing it.

“But all the outrage about religious freedom has overshadowed a basic truth about the Obama administration: When it comes to religious organizations and their treatment by the federal government, the Obama administration has been extremely generous,” reported Stephanie Mencimer for the magazine. “Religious groups have benefited handsomely from Obama’s stimulus package, budgets, and other policies. Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from.”

Obama’s Justice Department hasn’t always pleased religious conservatives, but it has hardly been hostile to faith. The department sided with the state of Arizona in defending at the Supreme Court a private school tax-credit scheme that overwhelmingly benefits religious schools, going so far as to assist with oral arguments before the justices. When a federal court struck down the National Day of Prayer as a church-state violation in 2010, the administration criticized the ruling and quickly filed an appeal.

“If Obama is ‘warring’ against religion, he’s doing it with a popgun and a rubber knife,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Washington Times recently. “On core religious freedom issues, they have been moderate, to a fault…. It’s not much of a war.”

Other observers note that in a nation where the government’s regulatory touch over religiously affiliated institutions is exceedingly light, it’s hard to take claims of a war on religion seriously.

“People who claim the government is hostile to religion are either insincere or uninformed,” said Steven K. Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University. “Religious entities enjoy a host of benefits and advantages that their non-religous counterparts lack.

Green, who was legal director at Americans United during the 1990’s, added, “At the same time, many religious entities that enjoy exemptions from neutral regulations receive subsidies from the government for their operations. Rather than there being a ‘war on religion,’ the government surrendered its regulatory forces a long time ago.”

 

© 2012, agentleman.

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April 25th, 2012 at 8:51 am

Let The Metamorphosis Begin!

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Romney’s Etch A Sketch Campaign Begins By Jonathan Chait

 

Two constituencies that President Obama is holding onto about as strongly now as he did four years ago are voters under 30 and Latinos. In what is probably not a coincidence, these two constituencies are the targets for the first two major Mitt Romney Etch A Sketch pivots of the general election. After having repeatedly denounced any need for the federal government to subsidize tuition costs during the primary, Romney has now endorsed Obama’s call for extending lower rates for federally-subsidized loans. Romney says he supports the measures “in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.” Apparently, he has been informed of the poor job market since wrapping up the nomination, when he was still advising graduates concerned about debt to acquire a high-paying job.

On immigration, Romney is making the turn a little more slowly, as you’d expect, given the sensitivities involved in holding together his base. Romney has deputized Marco Rubio to craft “his” own version of the Dream Act, a somewhat more restrictive version of the reform that Republicans in Congress killed and which Romney opposed in the primary, when he positioned himself on the party’s right on immigration. Romney is “studying” Rubio’s bill.

Can all this really work? It is certainly remarkable how little ridicule or scrutiny Romney has attracted in his rather brazen reversals. In legal theory there exists something called a “libel-proof plaintiff,” which is a figure of such low repute that he cannot claim any monetary damages for his reputation being smeared, on the premise that his reputation is tainted beyond repair. This seems to be the point Romney has reached on the question of consistency. The entire political world regards him as a pure creature of convenience. His supporters have simply calculated that Romney has boxed himself in to the point where he could not afford to betray them.

This position carries a great deal of costs, which Romney has borne through several election contests. Yet it does seem to have benefits, which Romney is currently enjoying. When your reputation for principled constituency has reached this low a point, you have nothing to lose. You can reverse yourself on pretty much anything as long as your allies are willing to accept it.

On the other hand, there are real limits to what you can accomplish by molding yourself to the preferred issue profile of whatever electorate you happen to be courting at the moment. Romney’s old statements and positions are still out there. Democrats can run ads depicting Romney scolding college students for wanting lower tuition or praising Arizona’s immigration laws. Romney isn’t going to rebut those attacks by insisting he’s completely abandoned those positions. He can simply emphasize his new positions, and create a kind of he said/she said debate, where he runs ads touting his new positions and Democrats run ads highlighting his old ones.

But the problem remains that young voters and Latinos who are leaning Democratic right now are doing so because they have developed an attachment to the party. These attachments dictate how a voter processes information and which candidates they believe. Over the last few election cycles, Democrats have completely given up on the idea of gun control, and have tried to persuade pro-gun voters to trust them. It’s had a limited effect because those voters have grown accustomed over the years to identifying with the Republican Party.

Perhaps this explains why Romney isn’t actually trying to get anybody to trust him, but to support his candidacy in purely transactional terms:

I think young voters in this country have to vote for me if they’re really thinking of what’s in the best interest of the country and what’s in their personal best interest.

You may not believe Mitt Romney, you may not like Mitt Romney, but Mitt Romney is offering to match Obama’s tuition deal and throw in the promise of a better economy. Romney thinks you should take the deal before he changes his mind.

 

© 2012, agentleman.

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April 25th, 2012 at 5:36 am

Anonymous

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Status Update

By Anonymous

This might enlighten a few people about who we truly are and our roots…

1. Anonymous is an idea, the people who fly under our banner form the collective

2. The idea is that there are no repercussions when you have no identity

3. Regardless of what the Pualtards and newfags say, we came from 4chan

4. Anonymous is not here to save you

5. Anything can become a joke, in fact, everything is a fucking joke

6. Not all of us are the leet haxxors of your dreams

7. You are not important, we are not important

8. Regardless of how Anon’s public face changes, we will remain who we are

9. We are known as the Internet Hate Machine for good reason

10. We will not bend to please anyone

11. If it’s not for the lulz, it’s not worth doing

Now, if you encounter hate speech, know that it is a part of our culture, nothing we say should be taken at face value, or for the definition society gave it. Think this over, if this isn’t enticing to you, thanks for fucking up our world with your nonsense.

 

♥ your friendly neighborhood Anon

© 2012, agentleman.

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Written by agentleman

April 25th, 2012 at 5:05 am

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