Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just Saying...

The Big Picture (via Sullivan):

If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.

Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion


data courtesy of Bianco Research


That is $686 billion less than the cost of the credit crisis thus far.

The only single American event in history that even comes close to matching the cost of the credit crisis is World War II: Original Cost: $288 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $3.6 trillion

God finally hears Ann Coulter

Definitely Old Testament.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Torture Symposium / Los Desaparecidos Exhibit

Here's the announcement for the symposium, "On Torture," based from my book, On Torture. The symposium is next Tuesday, November 18th at George Washington University. All are invited to attend.

The following day will be the opening of the exhibit, Los Desaparecidos, at the Art Museum of the Americas on the National Mall here in DC. Some of the artists will be there as well as some of the speakers (including myself) from the symposium.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


No Torture, Obama

Via Andrew Sullivan, note this, especially the portion also highlighted by Sullivan:

As a candidate, Mr. Obama said the CIA's interrogation program should adhere to the same rules that apply to the military, which would prohibit the use of techniques such as waterboarding. He has also said the program should be investigated.

Yet he more recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.

The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.

No. Let's hope this is a case of misrepresentation of Obama's views by the "current government official" or that it's an instance of the highly improbable side of the spectrum for a transition team "keeping all options open." If not, Obama's already wrong on one of the worst parts of recent US history. It would also be a sign either that he hasn't thought clearly about the issue of torture or that he's being advised by the wrong people.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Dear Leader Dead?


Update: If I had serious readership here, I'd see if I could get people to photoshop Kim in all sorts of suspicious places, complete with BBC-like conspiratorial arrows pointing out the discrepancies. You know, Kim winning a hot dog eating contest, Kim drinking manhattans with Heidi Klum, Kim taking surfing lessons in Waikiki, etc.

The Power "Family" of the Religious Right

A fascinating and disturbing interview in Guernica with religion journalist Jeff Sharlett.
One of the most interesting things about anti-intellectualism in American life is that it’s a very intellectual project. Real anti-intellectualism, the Family kind, you know, “Jesus plus nothing,” the systematic stripping away of history, of theology, of any kind of influence—that’s an intellectual project. Not for nothing does Doug Coe express some admiration for Pol Pot. In year zero, he did the same thing. Pol Pot had all the intellectuals killed. You only do that if you have an idea. That’s an extreme form of ideology that says: I can purify things.

There are two great traditions that have been written about before, which are American rationalism and American sentimentalism. What you see in the Family’s expression of power is that these are not two opposite poles, but the head and heart, the realpolitik of world power. The sentimental narrative, which is anti-intellectual—is absolutely interwoven with the rationalist Family agenda.

Closing Guantanamo

I had really hoped to see this come as immediately as it apparently has.
President-elect Obama's advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to ship dozens, if not hundreds, of imprisoned terrorism suspects to the United States to face criminal trials, a plan that would make good on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but could require creation of a controversial new system of justice.

During his campaign, Obama described Guantanamo as a "sad chapter in American history" and has said generally that the U.S. legal system is equipped to handle the detainees. But he has offered few details on what he planned to do once the facility is closed.

Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.

A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Coronation in Bhutan

Photo: REUTERS/Royal Government of Bhutan/Handout
As one of my favorite countries crowned a new president, another favorite country, Bhutan, crowned its new king. Photos at the great photography blog, The Big Picture.

Omaha Obama

It used to be amusing to rib Nebraska because it was not really clear what one was ribbing. Now we'll have to rib "Nebraska-minus-Omaha." More efficient, probably, just to make fun of Oklahoma. Or Arkansas. Or Texas. Fewer syllables.

Obama and Citizen Politics

Peter Levine:

I think the most important question about presidential candidates is not what kind of people they seem to be or what they promise to do if elected, but rather how they view the relationship between individuals and the government. Their characters are hard to assess from afar and will change in office; their policy proposals will also shift. But poor presidents always have vague, incoherent, or downright bad ideas about how citizens and the government should relate. Great presidents are elected with compelling new visions of this relationship, and they make those visions real...

Barack Obama launched his campaign by addressing citizens' relationship with government and he never stopped talking about it. It even came up in his 30-minute TV ad. I thought this theme was under-reported, even though it is always the most important question about a presidential candidate, and Obama has a distinctive view.

Obama's core idea is that citizens are at the center of politics. Not private individuals, not the government, not politicians, but people working together in public, on public matters. Campaigning in New Hampshire in 2006, he said, "There's a wonderful saying by Justice Louis Brandeis once, that the most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen. ... All of us have a stake in this government, all of us have responsibilities, all of us have to step up to the plate."

Obama broke away from the helping model that still guided Hilary Clinton and from the privatism that was the main theme of modern conservatism. On the campaign trail, he modeled his new conception in two important ways--by making his campaign maximally participatory (pushing power out to the network) and by lowering the partisan temperature a notch. He is a Democrat and he was willing to debate and compete with Republicans. But he never seemed to relish this difference. The reason is that citizens are both liberal and conservative, and they need to work together to solve any serious problems. Competition is appropriate in a campaign, but campaigning is a role for politicians, and they are not the heart of politics.

Japanese Convenience

At Happy Lawson, a kid-friendly store that overlooks Yokohama Harbor, you can buy fresh sushi and carbon offsets, pay income tax and change diapers, book airplane tickets and sip vodka coolers. There's hot soup, cold beer, fresh bread, clean toilets, french fries, earwax remover, spotless floors, and a broadband-empowered machine that will order home appliances, book concert tickets and sign you up for driver's ed.

No Big Gulp, no Slurpee, no mini-pizzas sweating grease under a hot light, but you can drop off luggage for the bullet train and park a stroller beside the bar that abuts the toddler play area. "For mothers to maybe have a sip of alcohol while children play is, I think, welcome," said Kazuo Kimera, a spokesman for Lawson Inc., which has about 8,600 convenience stores across Japan...

"We have standardized the size of the store to 100 square meters and 2,500 products," said Tetsu Kaieda, managing director of the Japan Franchise Association. "We don't need anything more or anything less to sell convenience."

I would like to purchase some convenience, but it is inconvenient to have to raise the money to do so.

Friday, November 07, 2008

We're All Mutts

Ezra Klein:
Obama just gave his first press conference, flanked by his economic advisers. Most of it was exactly what you've heard before -- economic crisis, deliberate haste, stimulus bill, putting politics aside. Then came a question about the family's new puppy. Deadpan, he replied, in full Obama voice, with phrasing precisely like his other answers, "we have, uh, two criteria for picking out a puppy." The first criteria is that the pup be hypoallergenic, as one of the little Obama's is allergic. The other is that they want a shelter dog, "a mutt," said Obama, "like me."

Passion Fruit

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Black and Brilliant

Last night, the champagne, wine and Jubilation Ale having washed in waves across the 15 or so people at my place who were following the election returns, I admit I had a moment of petulance when McCain gave his concession speech. I was unable to articulate why at the time. But I think this gets at it:
I confess a certain impatience, on this poignant day, with all the earnest talk about how America achieved something remarkable yesterday by electing our first African-American president, as if the choice has been about race all along. I do not mean to diminish an historic first, like electing a Catholic in 1960; I, too, choked-up when John Lewis spoke. But relief today is not about Americans choosing an obviously black man over a white man, which proves we can come to terms with our past. It is about our choosing an obviously brilliant, reciprocal man over a thick, cynical one--a man who articulates a coherent vision of global commonwealth over someone advancing vague, military patriotism--which proves we can come to terms with our future.
Obviously, as the election of the first black president, the occasion is momentous and the implications for American society run deep. For the first time in quite a long time, I really do feel proud about my country. And the reaction of the entire rest of the world is thrilling. But we shouldn't forget that we've elected a brilliant, intellectually agile, and obviously politically talented person, not just a black man. There's something amiss in making this exclusively an election about race, whichever your political brand. He is certainly the best presidential candidate fielded in my lifetime. Regardless of his blackness or whiteness or whatever, we would have been a truly sorry country to pass that up.

Just Smiling...

I don't know what to say today. Atrios expresses my sentiments exactly.

Barack Hussein Obama. Wow. A progressive, genuinely democratic, pragmatic, intelligent thinker with a background and perspective that reflects the fundamental reality of the variegated American soul.

Just smiling today.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Ideologues and the Philosophical Pragmatist

Daniel Larison, one of the remaining thoughtful conservatives, along with Andrew Sullivan, still misses the point, I think.
Everyone who is voting Obama to punish the GOP thinks that there is some small chance that the GOP might change its ways. The diversity of views among Obamacons reflects how many different future directions are expected, guaranteeing that many will be disappointed, but it also reflects how badly the GOP has failed on multiple fronts that it is simultaneously losing so many prominent and obscure Catholic pro-lifers, libertarians, foreign policy realists, moderates and small-government conservatives, among others, to a Democratic nominee who genuinely is the most liberal of any they have had since 1972. Under normal circumstances, a vote for Obama ought to be unthinkable for almost all of the people on the right who have endorsed him, but the GOP has failed so badly that it has made the unthinkable mundane and ordinary. It’s reaching a point where the report of another Obamacon endorsement is no more remarkable than when the leaves start falling in autumn. Far more important in the aftermath than coming up with new and amusing ways to mock the Obama endorsers is an effort to understand and remedy the profound failures that made this phenomenon possible before a major realignment does occur.
Yes, it's true that the Republican party is a mess. It is rife with corruption, demagoguery, and anti-intellectualism. It has led disastrous foreign and domestic policies over the past eight years. It has been the main supporter of one of the great moral stains on the history of the US - the exceptionalist institutionalization of torture. A viable GOP clearly has serious reflection to undertake. The promotion of Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate for 2012 is one key apparent direction of this reflection, which further demonstrates how utterly clueless the party has become.

But Larison misses the point. I would think that if you're a conservative, you would be less concerned about the GOP and more concerned about the state of conservatism as a fruitful political approach. The thoughtful conservatives still tie conservatism to the party, even while some of them seek to extract themselves from the party's grip. A party-less ideology has a tough road to follow for political saliency. But it's probably time to let that rotten GOP go, given the amount of damage it has done to itself, to the country, and to other countries. This is because conservative ideology has been captured by the GOP, turned dramatically to the right, and transformed into a religion of the GOP. Fidelity to the party has become the sole ideology. This is partially why you see Obamacons so harshly lambasted by their fellow GOPers. But that party-ideology has been losing any intellectual heft it ever had. It is now almost totally reactionary and based on membership and loyalty to the club. This makes it difficult to recruit new members other than the Sarah Palins of the world.

I think this kind of discussion about bolstering one side or the other of the ideological divide nonetheless misses something very important about Barack Obama, which both parties ought to understand better. It's uncontroversial to say that US political life is dualistic and polarized. Demagogues constantly prey on this polarization by reinforcing it. Thus, most of the pundit class can't see past the possibility of either a conservative-Republican ideology in power or a liberal ideology in power. For these people and their dualistic framework, an Obama victory is necessarily an ideological shift to the left. What neither the right nor many on the left get, however, is that Obama is not an ideologue. He's a pragmatist.

I don't mean "pragmatist" in the crass political sense of going with the socio-political flow or drastically diluting one's policy programs in order to get something-anything done or leverage support for some other attractive policy. I mean "pragmatist" in the philosophical sense, the form of philosophical critique that had its first generation in Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey and has been renewed with vigor over the past thirty years. These three thinkers were probably the three greatest philosophers to come out of the US., with deep roots in the longer lineage of American thought through Thoreau and Emerson, Jefferson and Madison and Franklin, and back to Jonathan Edwards, though naturalized and Darwinized by Peirce and Dewey in particular.

To put it simply, Obama seems to me an experimentalist problem-solver of a pragmatic stripe.

A pragmatist thinks in terms of problems and tools and experiments for solving them. A problem arises, which is such precisely because we don't have the conceptual or normative tools at hand to solve it. The pragmatist looks around for explanations, interpretations, analyses, arguments, and new understandings to try help us resolve the problem. If it's political, or a matter of policy, or a matter of ethics or legal interpretation, the pragmatist understands that we start from an irreducible pluralism of values that are crucial to even understanding the problem, let alone resolving it. In a pluralistic country such as the US, policy and political disputes are often disputes involving complex, competing values and ideas. They are problems of intelligent cooperation.

Ideological commitment of the sort that drives the US political system is problematic here - it may provide us with some useful interpretive tools, but it more than likely frames and constricts our understanding of the nature of the problem and the range of possible solutions a priori, prior to investigating the problem. This suggests that the truth of the matter comes prior to testing ideas and policies. The ideologist ends up, by default, resolving problems from a partial and usually self-interested perspective. Pragmatists think this has it all backwards.

The pragmatist seeks to suspend prior ideological commitments and focus rather on generating ongoing dialogue, attempting to build a community of public discussion, in order to gain the fullest possible view of the problem as well as in order to eventually engage the most democratic means for resolving it.

Proposed solutions are tested over and over against real, multi-faceted experience rather than against their fidelity to ideological commitments. Sometimes, we will hit upon policy solutions that work well enough given the constellation of interests. But we'll eventually, more than likely, need to revisit them at some point as new circumstances generate new issues to resolve. There are two crucial components to this process: 1) an assumption of the fallibility of any one view or idea combined with a pluralism of values entails a fuller, epistemologically robust, understanding of the nature of a given policy problem; and 2) the experimental, adaptive process through which problem-solutions are sought just is the creation and sustaining of intelligent democratic community.

Read these five articles on Obama:
Each one of these pieces - as well as many of Obama's most eloquent speeches - shows Obama the philosophical pragmatist at work: as a thinker, a problem-solver, a man with a complex understanding of his own diverse experience and competing values, and a commitment to genuine democratic discussion.

What does this mean for Obama the president? I'd like to hope that the office doesn't convert Obama into yet another pragmatist of the crass, non-philosophical version I mentioned above. I'm not worried about him being an ideologue. Despite the right's best efforts to paint him as such, there's little evidence that he's that sort of person. He's going to make a lot of people unhappy on both the left and the right when he doesn't follow the rules of prior ideological commitments. That unhappiness will unwittingly reflect something profoundly wrong with the older and hopefully dying form of polarized ideological politics in the US. But, unlike how many pundits put it, the problem is less "polarization" than it is the epistemological backwardness of ideology-driven politics.

But can Obama function as a genuine philosophical pragmatist? I think so. Given the serious nature of the problems he'll be dealing with as president - from the wars to climate change to poverty and economic collapse to education and healthcare - we really do need someone who's not blinkered by prior ideological commitments and hackneyed policy ideas and tools. We need a philosophical pragmatist with a rich understanding of the complex diversity of the US and the world, a morally reflective person who's willing to listen, to experiment, to involve and engage, and to lead when it is time to lead. Everything in his background says this is precisely who Obama is.

Vote Obama.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

November Gaffe


'I Would Make A Bad President,' Obama Says In Huge Campaign Blunder

TALLAHASSEE, FL—In a campaign gaffe that could potentially jeopardize Sen. Barack Obama's White House bid, the Democratic presidential nominee told nearly 8,000 supporters Tuesday that, if elected, he would be a terrible president.

The blunder, captured by all major media outlets and broadcast live on CNN, occurred when the typically polished Obama fielded a question about his health care policy. Obama answered by saying he would give small business owners a tax credit to help them provide health care for their employees, and then added, "Now, I'm not completely certain that my plan would work because, overall, I think I would make a bad president."

More at The Onion....

Meanwhile, the McCain camp's November Surprise:

You may have noticed that the AP is reporting that Barack Obama's aunt (who he does not seem to have a relationship with) was denied asylum in the US four years ago and is now living illegally in Boston. Convenient timing, ain't it?

The real story, though, is down in the third paragraph of the AP story ...

Information about the deportation case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one of them a federal law enforcement official. The information they made available is known to officials in the federal government, but the AP could not establish whether anyone at a political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been involved in its release.

That's about as transparent a red flag as an outfit like the AP is usually willing to give. And there you have it. Quite likely working in concert with the McCain campaign, a Bush administration official is leaking details on an immigration case to try to help McCain three days before the election. It's shades of Bush I's riffling through Bill Clinton's passport files just before the 1992 election in a desperate last minute gambit as they were swirling down the drain.