2008 - %3, December

Don't Let the Door Hit You Etc.

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 8:53 PM EST

DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ETC....What's the right going away present for a guy who's a serious contender for worst president in history? I can think of a few, but alas, they're beyond my meager powers to provide. So instead, how about sending us an entry in our "Goodbye, George W. Bush" video contest? Just put your 30-second (or so), PG-13 video on YouTube labeled "Mother Jones Goodbye Bush Video" and send us the link at:

mojobushvideo@gmail.com

All styles of entries are welcome, from simply talking at the camera to fancier stuff. There will be prizes, of course. So rip, riff, and rant away. And tell your friends! The more entries the merrier.

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The RNC Needs to Earn Its Ghetto Pass

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 7:02 PM EST

Would we think the whole Barack the Magic Negro brouhaha was racist if it had been an SNL production?

With all (sincere) respect to my colleague Jonathan Stein, and all the other stalwart liberals who've taken umbrage, I'm not convinced this is about racism so much as it's about chickens coming home to roost. Had the RNC/conservatives not spent the last two generations neck deep in undeniable, activist racism, they could tell a SNL-type joke now and then and get the rest of us to laugh along. We laugh at the racial parodies, and even blackface (an SNL staple) of Stewart, Colbert, Mad TV, et al, because they've proved their racial good will—if only by routinely holding the Left's (minorities included) foibles up to vicious mockery when mockery is due. In other words: Liberals have a ghetto pass. Conservatives do not.

Off the top of my head, I can think of bits every bit as harsh as the magic Negro thing:

Must See: Russian Professor Explains the Future Demise of the United States

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 6:08 PM EST

igor_panarin.jpg Over at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes note of an increasingly popular scholar in Russia named Igor Panarin who has been predicting the demise of the United States for years. Apparently the Kremlin is a huge fan and is putting him on state television as regularly as possible. Here are some of this thoughts on the old U.S. of A.:

Gaza: Insisting on Peace Now Means No Peace Later?

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 4:33 PM EST

Just listened in on a Council on Foreign Relations briefing-by-phone that addressed the situation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli air forces are bombing the region and systematically destroying symbols of Hamas' power as a response to months of rocket launches into Israeli territory by Hamas and its allies. Hundreds of Palestinians are dead in what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is calling "all out war."

On the conference call, one point was made repeatedly. The Israeli public broadly supports the air strikes and will continue to do so until Hamas' ability or willingness to rain rockets into Israel is extinguished. If the Americans, specifically the Obama team, insists that the Israelis stop short, it has problematic consequences for the prospects of long-term peace. Here's why. The Americans (and just about everybody else) say they want a two-state solution, which gives the Palestinians an independent state consisting of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But giving the Palestinians full control over the West Bank would mean that Hamas would have a more strategically located launching pad for rocket attacks. Major population centers (particularly Jerusalem) would be within reach. If the Americans stop the Israelis from achieving their objectives in Gaza, the Israelis will believe they will be stopped from protecting themselves from similar but more deadly attacks launched from the West Bank. As a result, the possibility of Israel allowing the Palestinians to make the West Bank part of an independent Palestinian state slims significantly.

The speakers on the call also suggested that the Israelis don't want to make to make a mess that the new American president will have to deal with, but that because internal Israeli politics are at play here (Barak needs to appear tough because he is seeking the prime ministership), it isn't clear how long the attacks will last or how far Israel will go in fulfilling its objectives.

2008's Best Photographs

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 4:19 PM EST

They're up at Boston.com and they are spectacular. Check out parts one, two (the first photo at that link is amazing), and three. You can find all of Mother Jones' photojournalism here.

*Quote of the Day - 12.29.08

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 3:46 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine:

It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines.

That is her conclusion in a review essay published in The New York Review of Books. Click the link to learn what it's based on.

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Bailout Bonanza

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 3:44 PM EST

In these days of economic turmoil many Americans are worried about staying employed and keeping up with mortgage payments, but one group of former government officials is struggling just to keep pace with an influx of new business opportunities. This "tight-knit" cadre, reports the New York Times, are veterans of the savings and loan bailout of the 1990s who helped to set up and run the Resolution Trust Corporation. These officials have since moved on to the private sector as "private lawyers, investors and lobbyists" and are currently seeking ways to cash in on the economic crisis. According to the Times:

With $700 billion in bailout money up for grabs, and billions of dollars worth of bad debt or failed bank assets most likely headed for sale or auction, these former officials are helping their clients get a piece of the bailout money or the chance to buy, at fire-sale prices, some of the bank assets taken over by the federal government.

Unions

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 2:38 PM EST

UNIONS....Ezra Klein on unions:

The last great leap forward for unions was during World War II, and the last great expansion of the American middle class followed in its aftermath. In contrast, the most recent expansions — which have largely occurred in the absence of unions — have benefited America's rich.

Yep. And if there's one thing you definitely can't blame our current economic crisis on, it's spiraling middle class wages. In fact, there's a pretty good case to be made that stronger middle class wage growth would have reduced the motivation to borrow so heavily, which is a big contributing factor to the depth of the recesson we're facing now. (It also might have kept a little more money out of the hands of idiot Wall Street bankers, which would have been no bad thing either.)

Unions are hardly a panacea for middle class wage growth, but they can help. I'm pretty open to the idea that Mickey Kaus has been writing about lately, namely that mushrooming work rules are a specific problem for American-style unionization, and I'd be happy to see good-faith efforts to address reform in that area. Unfortunately, good faith is in very short supply in the anti-union camp. Conservatives flatly oppose anything that gives labor any additional bargaining power, full stop, and that doesn't leave much room for compromise. So unions it is. Especially in the service sector, they're pretty much the only idea on the table for seriously addressing low-end wage growth, and that means I'm for 'em.

Gaza

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 1:53 PM EST

GAZA....Richard Boudreaux of the LA Times writes that Israel's goals in the Gaza Strip are vanishingly limited:

Instead of boasting that they would "destroy" the enemy, as they did in the case of Lebanon, Israeli leaders set the more modest aim of "improving the security" of terrorized Israeli communities.

...."The army doesn't even have the pretense of neutralizing Hamas' ability to launch rockets. We have tried that before and failed," said Alon Ben-David, military correspondent for Israel's Channel 10 television.

"This operation," he explained, "is directed at Hamas' motivation to fire rockets at Israel rather than its actual ability to do so."

....And it remains to be seen whether Israeli leaders have prepared adequately for the complications that may lie ahead if their army launches a ground campaign against Hamas' 15,000-man paramilitary force, which has drawn its own lessons from Hezbollah's success in the Lebanon war.

If the point of the Gaza offensive is truly just to hit Hamas hard enough that they basically give up, then it strikes me as possibly even more poorly thought out than the Lebanon war. But on the larger issue of what the U.S. response should be, I'm keenly aware of Jonathan Zasloff's point in this post:

All those who insist that the United States should "solve" the problem should explain how. And if they can't do that, then maybe they should take some quiet time.

I doubt very much that the Israeli offensive will do them any good in the long term. But it's also not clear to me exactly what the way forward is at this point. So, for the most part, I'll stay quiet. Needless to say, plenty of other people won't, so I'm sure my voice won't be missed.

Paging Meg Ryan

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 1:08 PM EST

PAGING MEG RYAN....Something I've long suspected has finally been Proven By Science: romantic comedies are bad for you:

According to a few enterprising social scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, romantic comedies can raise unrealistic romantic expectations among fans and may therefore set them up for personal failure and a lifetime of disappointment.

....After sifting through 200 of the top-grossing romantic comedies to come out of the Big Six Hollywood studios between 1995 and 2005, [Bjarne] Holmes and his colleagues found some interesting common denominators: In the movies, new relationships are portrayed both as exciting, as most tend to be, and offering the intimacy that usually takes years to develop in real life. Past transgressions are easily forgiven. (You cheated on me with the mailman? Big deal! I still love you; let's live happily ever after!) And finally, older, more committed relationships are frequently portrayed in a negative light, with couples bickering and backbiting. More often than not, married couples are depicted as long-suffering.

Sounds right, though I'll confess that Holmes's research methodology strikes me as absurdly thin, even by the usual standards of these things. In academic-speak, he says:

Using 294 undergraduate students, an exploratory study found an association between preference for/like of romance-oriented media and two relationship-as-destiny-oriented beliefs, belief in predestined soul mates (β = .27, p < .001) and that "mind reading is expected in relationships" (β = .21, p < .001).

In English, this means that people who liked romantic comedies also tended to idealize romance. Shocking, isn't it? Still, here's the good news: Holmes and his colleagues at the Family and Personal Relationships Lab have a continuing online project dedicated to this subject and you can participate! Just click here.