Glenn Beck

“What I feel like saying is, sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies, and I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy. But that’s the way I feel and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.” Glenn Beck, interviewing Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, in 2008.

With the exception of Anne Coulter, I think most rational people today accept that McCarthyism was a bad thing. So we are waiting for the correct label for this kind of behavior by Glenn Beck, if it’s not simply McCarthyism. Well, it is McCarthyism. And it is as ugly and contemptible as we always thought McCarthyism was. And as it was in the era of Joe McCarthy, the majority (probably) of respectable conservatives are standing by silently because they are terrified of taking on these assholes.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone like James Dobson or Billy Graham or Ted Haggard posted an editorial saying that while he is a God-fearing Christian and principled conservative, he won’t stand for this kind of bullying or baiting or personal attack and he urges all citizens to show some respect for each other? And while he’s at it, he might mention that every night he prays for Obama to be safe, and for his children to be blessed with a father, and for his wife to feel deeply the richness of a good family life.


This is not trivial. As a Christian, the fact that the most prominent “leaders” of the church in the United States will never in a million years say anything like that is a theological and philosophical problem that I can’t solve.

Was there a race issue involved with Joe Wilson, calling Obama a liar?

Do we even need the race issue to recognize stunningly bad manners? Do we need a box of kleenex to deal with the fact that his election campaign fund-raising went up after the incident?

How long before a scary new political party is formed in the U.S.? Wait– is there a need for a radical, far-right, extremist party? Can’t the Republicans fit the bill?

The Toronto Police recently discovered some strange pipes and wires in the back of a van. The owner, apparently, told them that he had an alternative fuel system installed in the vehicle.

In the mistaken belief that you can’t be too careful (I believe that you can, in fact, be too careful), they cordoned off about 1.6 kilometers around the vehicle, barred people from their homes and businesses, and called in the bomb squad.

They then announced the bomb squad had defused the bomb by the early evening.

The owner of vehicle was charged with violation of his probation and possession of a bomb. Six hours later, they announced that it was, indeed, an alternative fuel system, and the charges would be dropped but the owner was not released.

The next day, the owner was released and the police announced he would not be charged.

My question is this: what did they “defuse”?

Politics of Personal Destruction

Firstly, context. It’s a repeat of the Bill Clinton years. While Democrats and liberals generally– but not always– respect the outcome of elections– the hard conservative right does not. They do not accept that part of the democratic process is that you respect the outcome of elections. They do not accept that it is good for democracy that all parties respect the outcome of elections. They do not accept that anyone other than themselves has a right to govern.

So they attack unscrupulously. When the media takes note of their deceits and distortions, they accuse the media of bias. They imagine what they would do if they were “the media”, and what they do in fact do over at Fox News, and then accuse the media of doing it.

So when a couple of “investigative journalists” (you have to laugh for a long time at the thought– do these propagandists actually “investigate” anything?) find a couple of gullible Acorn employees and entrap them into seeming to approve of a bordello, oh the ecstatic joy in the humorless enclaves of the bigots and corporatists and godly! All this to preserve those handsome Bush tax cuts to the rich.

How do the rich do it? How do they always seem to be able to muster enough of these idiots to cause a ruckus?

I put quotation marks around “investigative Journalists” because real journalists follow stories and report what they find regardless of how it plays into the agenda of any particular interest group. These people were only seeking stories damaging to Obama. If they had found a story damaging to the Republicans, would they have presented it? Well, you won’t find what you aren’t looking for.

We are fortunate that the right wing retains it’s inexhaustible reserve of hubris– it appears that they were, in fact, evicted and the police were called at at least one location after they mentioned the idea of using 13-year-olds as prostitutes– and they denied it by claiming that, in fact, they were still there for a few minutes. If they had offered this information immediately, they might have established more credibility.

You will undoubtedly hear some conservatives who, while finding these activities distasteful, will immediately claim that liberals do it too. Maybe. Maybe somewhat. I really don’t believe that the so-called “liberal” media indulges in this kind of crap in the same way, with the same hysterical passion as conservatives.

Does any respectable conservative really believe that Fox News does anything like “journalism”?

Yes, indeedy, everyone is biased to some extent, but not everyone is stupid or brutally one-sided.

Without a doubt, it would be possible for a couple of liberals to attend a few “Christian” churches, or bible camps, or workshops, or whatever, and come away with equally controversial material. So what? There is fringe material in every movement, and I’ll bet there is a lot more fringe to the rightwing fringe than there is to the left.

How scary is Peter, Paul, & Mary compared to Timothy McVeigh?

In the 1980’s, if liberals pointed out that America was not entirely sin-less when it came to 3rd World exploitation, conservatives accused liberals of practicing “moral equivalence”: just because America does a few things that the Soviet do doesn’t mean they are the same. True.

In the same way, just because Michael Moore is rude to Charlton Heston, doesn’t mean that liberals are the same as conservatives.

Canada vs U.S.

It appears that most of the opposition to proposals for national health care reform in the U.S. stem from the belief that government can not do anything right.

Let’s let corporations decide, instead, when I should see a doctor, and how much I should pay.

As a Canadian, let me extend my sympathy. You poor Americans. You are so proud of your flag and your nation and your constitution– but so embarrassed by the idiots you elect to office every two years that you can’t trust them to run an insurance program. You call yourself the greatest country in the world but the citizens of this country appear to be the dumbest voters on the planet.

You see, we Canadians are very lucky. We actually elect reasonably good governments and then give them the power to execute their policies and then we enjoy the benefits— like universal health care coverage. Oh, of course it’s not perfect. You can always find a few Canadians out there who envy you Americans your vastly over-priced system that treats you quickly and then bankrupts you.

But how good is the Canadian system? Not a single politician in Canada will run on a platform of dismantling it. How simple is that? If there were any number of Canadians who were dissatisfied and wanted to move to the U.S. model, surely we’d have a member of parliament or two who would dare to campaign on privatizing health care. But even our conservative parties pledge to leave health care alone, or even to improve it.

That’s not the only thing our government does that strikes most Canadians as reasonably good. Your Social Security is a mess because Republicans won’t cooperate with reforming it and Democrats are terrified of being accused of raising taxes. Our Canadian government simply adjusted the rates of contributions a few years ago. Most Canadians probably barely noticed. But the result is that the Canadian Pension Plan is actuarially sound and all Canadians can count on receiving full benefits when they retire.

Oh and our banks. Did you know that our banks were the only banks in the developed world that did not need a single penny of bail-out funds? Not one cent. Once again, we happened to choose a government (the Liberals) who decided that the credit default swaps, sub-prime mortgages, and derivatives, were too risky. Our banks pleaded to be allowed to make the big money, like their U.S. competitors. The Liberals, under Jean Chretien, said “no”. Our government also wouldn’t let the banks merge so they could take on the big U.S. banks. Crazy, eh?

Do you Americans ever get sick of your two year election cycles? It seemed to take Obama forever to finally get to the inauguration. Well, we might have an election this fall. If it is called soon, the campaigns will start almost immediately and end six weeks later. Yes, six weeks! Isn’t that a gas! Done. Over. And much cheaper too.

No doubt our government could do better. We haven’t done very well in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We didn’t get sucked into Iraq, but we are stuck in Afghanistan. Our top executives, like yours, get paid too much. The taxpayers bought the Skydome for the Blue Jays but the perception is that no major league sports team will get a tax-payer funded stadium ever again. (That’s why the Expos are gone, probably, and why the NHL doesn’t want to see any U.S. teams moving to Canada. Probably.)

But it’s a nice country. You should come visit sometimes. Our Conservative party would be roughly comparable to your Democrats. Obama probably would have gotten about 75% of the votes up here. Our liberals would probably find Obama a tad too “moderate” for our tastes.

You guys did invent the Internet– good for you!  Yes, your government invented it. And yes, Al Gore took the initiative, in Congress, to fund the proposal.

I personally thank God regularly that we don’t have anything like the Republican Party up here.

Bring your can-do spirit, your generosity, and your exuberance. But don’t bring your guns.

Add to the Gallery of Unknown Heroes

Raghuram Rajan

There was a telling moment in 2005, at a conference held to honor Greenspan’s tenure at the Fed. One brave attendee, Raghuram Rajan (of the University of Chicago, surprisingly), presented a paper warning that the financial system was taking on potentially dangerous levels of risk. He was mocked by almost all present — including, by the way, Larry Summers, who dismissed his warnings as “misguided.”

NY Times September 7, 2009, Paul Krugman

Too many of us know the names of Alan Greenspan, Kenneth Lay, Lawrence Summers (above), and George Bush, and the others who led us into this mess.

I just want there to be a page on the internet that acknowledges the heroic Raghuram Rajan who saw it coming and warned everyone, and to whom nobody listened.

Raghuram Rajan, I honor you on this page, and link you to my other heroes, Gehard Schmidt, Bethany MacLean, Brooksley Born and others, who withstood the calumny of a foolish world to speak the truth with conviction.

You were right.

Aside from watching Germans vote Hitler into power, or noting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been running on now for more than 60 years, is there anything more depressing than watching critics urge congress to solve the health care crisis by deregulating even more and relying on competition and free enterprise?

If they do to the health industry what this philosophy did to the financial industry…

Another hero of the financial frauds: Brooksley Born.

To Kill a Stereotype

Ebert’s Review of “To Kill a Mockingbird“.

I usually find Roger Ebert overly generous in his appraisals of new films, so I have to tip my hat to him for his brave review of “To Kill a Mockingbird”– he gives it a very modest (for him) 2.5 stars out of 4.0, after noting that it is rated as the 29th greatest film of all time by the users of the IMBD.

I’ve always liked the film, but I’ve always been conscious of the fact that I liked the film more than I admired it. I totally respected the liberal sentiment behind it. I just didn’t respect the contrived plot developments, the squeamishly overwrought emotions (of the scenes with Boo Radley at the end, for example), or the generally weak performance of Mary Badham as “Scout”.

Aside from being way too old for the part (a problem with the book is that her perceptions and actions seem beyond her age as given) her big scenes look as if they were hacked together from short snippets of adequacy, rather than from a single decent shot. This is especially evident in the scene with Walter and the molasses. But she is affected and deliberate in all of her scenes. I’ve always suspected that she did great at the auditions but once filming started– too late to try someone else–didn’t live up to expectations. I cannot believe that a director was happy with her performance.

You really can’t blame TKAMB for the “white savior” syndrome: it practically invented it. But you can blame the weak characterizations of the black characters, especially Calpurnia, on the source material and the movie.


Incidentally– here’s a piece of heresy for you: “To Kill a Mockingbird” really is kind of a mediocre book, and Harper Lee never wrote another novel in her life (I don’t count the sequel as a genuine second book) because she didn’t have it in her. She knew that if she did sit down and write a completely new book that her inadequacies as a writer would be laid naked. So she never did.

This is complex because I do like the book. It is indeed likeable, and the era, and the setting are intriguing. But it’s actually quite contrived and psychologically trivial. There’s no depth to most of the major characters.

Similar contemporary film: “Blind Side”.

Hollywood does scads of deplorable remakes of films that were perfectly fine the first time out (“The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” being the latest travesty). Why not wise up– “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a film that should be remade.

Firstly, the contrived plot twists should be improved upon– can’t there be a better way for the kids to realize that Boo Radley is a human being than to have him save their lives?– and, secondly, the tone could be changed so that, as Ebert observes, the blacks in the film don’t serve as props for the virtue of Atticus Finch. (Calpurnia could be shown to have an actual personality and life, for example.)

I didn’t know this– Jimmy Stewart apparently turned down the role because he thought the story was “too liberal”. How about that.

What is the least respected profession in the United States? Right. And who is the most admired fictional character? That’s right– Atticus Finch, a lawyer.

Best things about the film? Gregory Peck’s Hollywoodized dream dad. Scouts funky haircut. Elmer Bernstein’s exquisite theme. The lovely opening credits, with the cigar box full of collected items that breathe nostalgia. A skinny misfit named “Dill” standing in for the real Truman Capote.

Worst, most unconvincing moment in the film? Scout cozily sitting on the porch swing snuggling up to the Boogey Man himself, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his debut), shortly after he saved her life from the evil Mr. Euell.

This scene reeks of the adult picturing it as it ought to have been. But Scout does not behave like a child who probably would not even have fully comprehended what happened, even with Atticus’ explanations, and certainly would not have warmed up to a creepy adult male neighbor that quickly, no matter how marvelous, as an adult, we think he really is.

In the remake, have Boo disappear as quickly as he appeared. Leave us with Scout’s face, wondering.


The Toronto Terror Plot

This is from the Globe & Mail, September 3, 2009:

During subsequent meetings over Chinese-food buffets and in coffee shops, Mr. Elsohemy says he helped the two key conspirators work out the finer points of spectacular plan. He claimed to know people who operated a chemical plant, and suggested he could get bomb ingredients.

It was Mr. Elsohemy who told police the targets of the alleged plot were the Canadian Security Intelligence Service headquarters in Toronto, the Toronto Stock Exchange, and a unspecified military base along Highway 401. He jotted down alleged remarks the conspirators made about the bombings they hoped would force Canadian troops from Afghanistan.

Through all this, the agent was trying to leverage the confidences into something concrete. According to sources close to the case, he asked his RCMP handlers for as much as $15-million to put himself and his immediate family into hiding, before settling on a package worth closer to $4-million.

It’s not clear who or what he was afraid of, precisely. But a car for his brothers, dentist bills for his wife, and a place for his parents were all under negotiation – a remarkable turnaround for a family occasionally mired in bankruptcy proceedings.

What do we have here? A police informant with a spectacularly obvious desire for big money. The informant advises the alleged plotters as to where and how to get bomb materials, and then proceeds to actually procure the bomb materials for them. He even helps to unload (the fake materials, from the RCMP) for them.

This is rather like a police woman enticing a man into her apartment for sex, undressing, rubbing up against him, taking his wallet out of his pants pocket, and then arresting him for soliciting for the purposes of prostitution. It’s called “entrapment”.

The alleged plotters might have been guilty of something– but I was astonished when one of them pled guilty, without an opportunity to put Mr. Elsohemy on the stand. I can only conclude he didn’t get good legal advice. Equally likely, he didn’t have the money for good legal advice. Maybe he just isn’t very smart, which would be consistent with the earlier reports on this case that talked about a ragtag, disorganized group of blowhards conducting a paint-ball tournament up north.

Maybe he was intimidated and frightened by the bully tactics of the police and prosecution.

Either way, a guilty plea is a dream come true for the RCMP which can now trumpet this conviction as “proof” that there really, really, really was a terror plot and Dudley Dooright saved the day.

If the RCMP had taken a similar approach to some domestic right wing survivalist groups, I have no doubt they might have obtained the same results.   Young men of all cultures are highly susceptible to the macho excitement of potential violence.