Really great, succinct New Yorker piece about torture and the Abu Ghraib investigations. I think this is very sharp–it articulates a couple of important points; one, that the Abu Ghraib reports were not a fluke and, as indicatrors of much larger problems with American policy, should have been a moment for serious reflection and reform; secondly, that torture is really under-examined (surprisingly so, I think) along the dimensions of morality, humanity, and what we as a country feel we can tolerate.

Yet it became almost immediately apparent—and has been confirmed repeatedly in the years since, most recently with President Obama’s decision to release four Bush Administration memorandums seeking to establish a legal justification for the use of torture—that the Abu Ghraib photographs showed not individuals run amok but American policy in action. (From those memos, we now know that Bush Administration lawyers had a technical term for what Charles Graner called bashing a man against a wall. The term is “walling.”)

The natural first reaction on seeing the photographs of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners in Saddam Hussein’s old dungeons was to ask: Why are we doing such things to them? With time, however, Americans have come increasingly to understand that it is equally appropriate to ask: Why are we doing such things to ourselves? Why dismantle the laws that have made our country worth fighting and dying for against states that torture? Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has said that we must torture because it is effective. That is, at best, a false argument: a crime is not absolved just because it works. (After all, terrorism can be effective.) President Obama, in his press conference last week, cut through the noise to the essence of the issue. Torture, he said, “corrodes the character of a country.”

Here’s the full article if you’re interested.


The Twits

4 May 2009



If your appetite for The Electric Table is as insatiable as Hillary’s apparent appetite for braaaaiins, you’re in luck! Sell your soul and satisfy your inner stalker by following us on Twitter!

Click here for A-Money’s Twitto!

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Click here for Pickle Surprise!

Happy Monday,

– A-$

Infrastructure improvements? Out of my cold, dead hands.

Infrastructure improvements? Out of my cold, dead hands!

Aristotle’s fundamental political binary categorizes governments as either true or perverted, a means of characterization that, however simplistic, still holds water in examining modern political moments. Among his criteria for true government is the requirement for the ruling body to “govern with a view to the common interest.” A ruler in such a state is concerned only with advancing the condition of his subjects.

Perversion of government by trivial individualized issues is, unfortunately, all too common within our federal government. The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, while producing a tangible change in attitude towards the manipulation of government for personal ends, failed to eliminate the sort of self-interest that drove O’Connor to throw the 2000 election to Bush on the basis of political passion and a selfish desire to retire.

The recent political grandstanding by Republican governors Jindal of Louisiana, Sanford of South Carolina and Palin of Alaska serves as a potent example of personal ambitions and aspirations getting in the way of the public good. President Obama’s recent economic recovery and reinvestment package was designed to cushion the blow of the current economic calamity on the middle class while jump-starting the nation’s productivity and financial stability. Governors Jindal, Sanford and Palin, all hoping to capture the Republican Presidential nomination, have all publicly refused to accept important portions of the stimulus funds for their states. Though the governors cite a perceived advent of “big government,” “tax-and-spend liberalism” and “socialism” for their refusal of these vital funds, politicians, pundits and laymen alike realize the personal reasons behind the refusal of this money.

Governor Jindal, for example, appeared on national television mocking stimulus funding for disaster readiness barely four years after the deplorable federal response to Hurricane Katrina. The governors, pandering to their political base in order to secure their place at the top of the 2012 ticket, are ignoring the urgent needs of their constituents in order to advance their own careers. 

Aristotle’s characterization of such perversions? Tyranny.

Take that, teabaggers.

– A-$

The RNC’s 2009 Membership Survey is a wonder to behold. The same people who have bemoaned and blasted the “liberal media elite” for its skewed perspective and unbalanced coverage continue to prove themselves incapable of neutral discourse and totally shut off to new ideas.

In the email accompanying the survey, Michael Steele instructs members to “be honest and candid in your answers–there’s no need to sugar-coat your responses after our Party’s performances in the last two elections.” But what followed was a poorly constructed, unabashedly biased questionnaire that will simply spoon-feed the RNC whatever it wants to hear.

The first few questions were promising. Although they contained responses with which I disagreed, and left out a few important ones, they all came with an “other” box so that we could diplomatically democratically First-Amendmently write in our own answers.

Things quickly disintegrated into questions like the following:

5. Should Republicans unite to block new federal government bureaucracy and red tape that will crush future economic growth?
Yes, No, Undecided.

Should Republicans unite against battle droid technology and the Separatist forces of evil that will crush the Galactic Empire…FOREVER!? Yes or no will suffice.

I can’t see many less-informed Republicans voting Yes, I should like to see more red tape crush future economic growth. What kind of useful data is gathered from this question? Are there really more pro-economy-crushing liberals than conservatives?

9. Should we resist Barack Obama’s proposal to spend billions of federal taxpayer dollars to pay “volunteers” who perform his chosen tasks?

Expanding and institutionalizing public service does not amount to the creation of an army of Obama-minions performing his “chosen tasks.” What about a real conversation about the future of public service in this country? From those who might fear that public service may in fact become a billion-dollar operation to carry out Barack Obama’s personal agenda, what about a call for greater oversight?

11. Should bureaucrats in Washington, DC be in charge of making your health care choices instead of you and your doctor?
Once again, this question sidesteps the substance of the issue. It’s almost insulting to the reader. In addition, the GOP has repeatedly tried to interfere with health care provider’s right to provide complete and accurate information to patients about reproductive services and other issues.

Other questions are phrased just as ludicrously. One refers to the “so-called ‘fairness doctrine. Another accuses Obama of trying to “gut the USA PATRIOT Act and other important laws that promote the safety and security of all Americans,” never mind that the PATRIOT Act was the biggest intrusion of government into the rights and lives of citizens in recent history, and I didn’t know anyone was still defending it. The survey names names, making villains out of Democrats instead, once again, of providing real information or gathering real feedback on the issues.

The language of the survey is childish, mocking, and hateful, and it interferes with the exchange of real information. A membership survey is not in itself the problem, but it provides good insight into the problems we run into discussing government policy.

I heard an interesting/excellent lecture the other day on public policy and the media. Among other things, the speaker brought up the obvious transition from “traditional” media to new media (Huff Post, Drudge, blogs). New media is much less centrist than traditional media, and we also decide based on personal preference which online media sources we will be exposed to. So we increasingly run into “selective exposure bias,” in which we seek out news sources that confirm our pre-existing political beliefs. And as a result we become, unsurprisingly, even more partisan.

Reading that survey was fairly alarming but, in light of the above ideas, somewhat eye-opening. We’re less and less exposed to perspectives and information and might challenge our own. There’s really no issue right now that isn’t highly polarized, so much that conversation isn’t about the exchange of ideas so much as fiercely defending one’s pre-existing beliefs. Scary.

This was wordy like no other. Thanks for hanging in there.



Rush would sure like to cut her taxes...

Rush would sure like to cut her taxes...

Between former Senator Larry “Toe-Tap” Craig, sitting Senator David “Pay-For-Play” Vitter  and former Congressman Mark “I Always Use Lotion And The Hand” Foley, the Republicans rendered their “family values” mantra entirely hypocritical years ago.

But this week, the GOP took the full leap, going from the Grand Old Puritans to, well, the party of pervs with a series of gaffes that would make Biden proud.

Exhibit A? Joe the Unlicensed, Tax-Evading Plumber. Shocking, I know. Who would have thought he was capable of saying something stupid?


That’s right, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher proclaimed himself “horny” to a crowd of wealthy Republican donors that look more like attendees at an Augustus Gloop Impersonator Convention. Thus, Wurzelbacher’s proclamation is both stupid and innacurate.

You think the freakazoids would have cut this imbecile loose after Joe the Plumber proved to be neither named Joe nor actually a licensed plumber!

The GOP's latest strategy

The GOP's latest strategy

But, apparently, one more sexual deviant just isn’t enough for the GOP. Chairman Michael Steele, surely as a thinly-veiled ploy to garner support from “urban-suburban hip-hop settings,” urged Democrats this weekend to – and I quote – “strap it on.

Joey and Mikey may have rendered comedy obsolete in one fell swoop, for even a team of writers couldn’t come up with material as good as this. Just ask Jay Leno.

But the implications of the GOP’s newfound “sexual healing” are far less funny. While Conservatives are dropping innuendo faster than Jim Cramer’s ratings, they still adhere to their primordial sexual policies. One cannot invoke sex toys one day and rebuke abortion the next. These characters don’t want to seriously discuss policy; they’re content with dropping dirty words and then squealing like a pack of third-graders.

The GOP needs to stop acting like children and start offering informed policies that provide an epistemological answer to the problems of our nation. Talking maturely and honestly about sex would be a great first step.

Or, we Democrats could just “strap it on” and win another election. 

Your move, M.C. Steele.

– A-$

Snark aside, here is something that has always eluded me about politics: how Republicans have managed to run as the party of tax cuts.

(This is prompted by a note in my inbox, courtesy of Michael Steele and the GOP newsletter, which is good for lols and keeping up with what the other side is doing. Anyway, it accuses Obama of egregious tax hikes, and I’m confused.)

I understand the philosophical dispute between big government and small government, federal spending vs. putting money back in the pockets of the people, mmmmhmm. I do. And I love me some New Deal, but I understand that there are you know, plumbers and people named Joe out there who would rather see tax breaks than an expansion of government programs.


What I just really, really, really don’t get is how the GOP maneuvered this one. I picture a round-table discussion where these things are divvied up. The Republicans say, “We want ‘Lincoln’s Party'” and the Democrats grit their teeth and think about how the parties have really flipped 180 degrees since then, but, Fine.

Then the Republicans say, “We also want ‘Party of Tax Cuts!'” Somebody on the Democratic side scratches his head and protests that Democrats advocate tax cuts for 95% of the country, as opposed to, say, the wealthiest 5%. Everybody nods uncomfortably–Yeah, I don’t know. I think maybe we’re the party of tax cuts...

This is where I get lost. What happens? Is there a fistfight? Who’s in? I imagine Condie and Karl Rove, and then when I picture Dennis Kucinich, bless his heart, trying to duke it out with either of them, I sort of understand how we got here. “Here” being an administration that cuts taxes for 95% of the country and has to defend itself against “the party of low taxes.” Am I just “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”-ing?


Send in the clowns…

11 March 2009

Brevi is no more.

I'll help you, Brevi!

I'll help you, Brevi!

Perhaps I jumped the gun with the celebrity nickname hybrid. But the verdict is in: the Palin-Johnston (Shotgun) marriage hasn’t happened, and the couple has reportedly split up. As if we didn’t see it coming.

Normally, I’d include bits and pieces of the article in my post, followed by my usual snarky observations. But for Comedy’s sake, I have to reproduce the entire story. There are just too many LOLS!

From HuffPost:

“Gov. Sarah Palin’s office on Wednesday refused to comment on a report that Palin’s daughter Bristol Palin had broken off her engagement with fiancé Levi Johnston.

According to Star magazine, 18-year-old Bristol Palin and Johnston are no longer together:

Now’s Levi’s sister, Mercede is telling all exclusively to Star and the picture she paints of life in Wasilla, Alaska is not a pretty one. Bristol, 18, has virtually cut Levi out of the life of their two-month-old son Tripp.”Levi tries to visit Tripp every single day, but Bristol makes it nearly impossible. She tells him he can’t take the baby to our house because she doesn’t want him around ‘white trash’!” Bristol won’t even allow him to watch the baby for a few hours — unless he’s babysitting!

Mercede also told Star: “Bristol’s just crazy. That’s the nicest way I can put it. She and Levi actually broke up a while ago!”

“That’s not state business,” Abbey Bulawa, an aide to Gov. Palin, told the Huffington Post. “We don’t comment on the governor’s children.”

In an interview last month with FOX’s Greta Van Susteren, Bristol said Levi is “a hands-on dad” who sees his son every day. She also said they planned to get married once they were done with school.

Palin’s son Tripp was born on December 29, 2008.

A breakup would be additionally unfortunate for Levi as he has “Bristol” tattooed on his ring finger.”

You’re welcome.

– A-$


"I'm mad as hell, but, for some reason, my trillions in taxpayers' bailout dollars doesn't phase me"

"I'm mad as hell, but it's nothing my trillions in taxpayer bailout dollars won't fix!"

On this morning’s NYT Op-Ed page, Gail Collins  examines all of the shit going on in today’s apocalyptic world, mainly so that we don’t have to. Rick “Ass” Santelli, of course, manages to weasel his way into her analysis.

“Earlier efforts by the White House to come to the aid of the hopelessly indebted homeowners sparked the now world-famous unfairness explosion by the CNBC reporter Rick Santelli. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” howled Santelli, in one really impressive display of righteous wrath and misplaced modifiers.”

Collins’ greatest beef with Santelli is the fact that he “got a ton of publicity for his tirade, a reward that was pretty unfair in and of itself.” My greatest beef with Collins is that she neglects the elephant in the room. 

Santelli’s pseudo-populist rant is a smokescreen, plain and simple. The very notion of a retired stockbroker ranting about inequity in one of the halls of the sort of unbridled capitalism that initiated this clusterfuck is enough to get Zeus throwing down some thunderbolts. The financial sector  that profited by baiting these homeowners into unsustainable mortgages torpedoed the economy and has received trillions in life-support from the taxpayer. Why can’t the victims of this mess receive temporary assistance while their tormentors are walking away with the farm?

As if this isn’t enough, the housing recovery package will only help the fat cats! The plan will not price toxic housing assets to market, relieving the world’s Santellis of further financial disaster. The real tragedy is that Santelli doesn’t understand the issue well enough to realize that the fix he demonizes will actually save him in the end. 

Something is rotten on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

– A-$

It’s all about reaction, people.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele (apologies to Jon Stewart)

RNC Chairman Michael Steele (apologies to Jon Stewart)

Apparently, when one teaches an old dog new tricks, the dog repeats said tricks ad nauseum. After the Dems gave us Hillary, the Republicans gave us Caribou Barbie. After Jesus Himself gave us Barack Obama (full disclosure: I am a Jew), the Republicans gave us Michael Steele.  

The problem is that whilst a character like  Steele may “be da man,” he is essentially an awkward copycat. Steele and Palin (hereafter known as “Peele”) are the Leno to the Democrats’ Carson or, if you will, the Cialis to the Democrats’ Viagra. The Nation’s Ari Melber explains this quite beautifully:

“Obama’s comfort with that culture, and endorsements from its leaders, has earned him generational credibility. When Obama channeled Jay-Z on the campaign trail to brush the “dirt” of petty attacks off his shoulders, young people knew exactly what he meant. Older television pundits did not get the reference. Some even conceded their confusion while blasting the gesture as “contemptuous,” (as theWashington Post reported at the time). Obama invoked hip-hop deftly and accurately. He played on the theme that being tough does not mean you respond to every attack. Just as Jay-Z confidently brushes away his enemies, and hip-hop culture scolds the “haters” who pillory successful people, Obama signaled that his political approach–transcending trench warfare and pessimistic snark–was cool, current and strong.

Now contrast that to Steele’s gimmicky foray into dusty LPs. Here is his debut in the New York Times after assuming the chairmanship: ” ‘It’s going to be an honor to spar with [Obama],’ he said, before throwing down the gauntlet to Mr. Obama with a quotation from… a rap song by Kool Moe Dee: ‘How ya like me now?’ ”

First of all, what is he talking about? How does the president like a former lieutenant governor now that he’s become chairman of the opposition party? It doesn’t even make sense. Second, the album is twenty-two years old, so this reference does not exactly resonate with young people.

The spectacle got more awkward when Steele offered Bobby Jindal some “slum love” for doing a “friggin’ awesome job” as governor of Louisiana, in an ABC radio interview. As the Wonkette blog pointed out, this mess of a shoutout was actually coaxed out of Steele, based on his proclivity for questionable slang. All this heavy-handed hip-hop may make him “da man” for fellow travelers like Rep. Bachman. To young people, Steele just looks like he’s fronting.”

The real joke is that the Republicans honestly think that this song-and-dance will work! While I applaud their idealism purely in the spirit of LOLs, following this absurd path during the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression does nothing but harm our country. It’s tempting to cheer on the Limbaughs, Bachmans and Steeles of the world, but continued detachment from the issues at hand is a frightening prospect. With both parties focused on constructing sound solutions for the crisis at hand, we can always stand to strengthen our nation.

Remember, Obama doesn’t need these kind of hilarious antics to get re-elected in ’12. His ability to “transcend trench warfare and pessimistic snark” ensures victory on principle rather than by contrast. An elevated dialogue would just further showcase his incredible abilities.

Besides, he can always leave the snark to me.

– A-$

The Dragnet

3 March 2009


I can haz ur First Amendment rights?

I can haz ur First Amendment rights?

The morning roundup, for your reading pleasure:

Lastly, we’d like to welcome our newest blogger, the Nandinator. She will contribute wit and/or witticisms, obscure pop-culture references, Stewart-Colbert ’12 campaign updates and an undying love for Ann Coulter.

– A-$