What famous books haven't you read?  That's too easy a question.  Tons of 'em.  But what famous (or, in a pinch, reasonably well known) books have you given the old college try but just couldn't get past the first hundred pages or so?  I can think of five big ones off the top of my head:

Ulysses
Moby-Dick
Bleak House
The Brothers Karamazov (twice!)
Foucault's Pendulum

I'm not sure what sets these books apart.  It's not that I'm allergic to long books.  I plowed through War and Peace, Les Miserables, and Infinite Jest just fine.  I've read plenty of other Dickens (though I'm not really much of a fan) and nearly everything by Dostoyevsky except the Brothers K.  Ulysses is famously difficult, so no surprise there, but I'm not sure why I gave up on Moby-Dick.  Probably the middle third did me in.  Just wasn't interested enough in whales.  And frankly, I don't even remember Foucault's Pendulum, let alone why I gave up on it.  And I suppose I ought to throw the Bible onto this list too, since I've often thought I should read the whole thing but then given up pretty quickly for fairly obvious reasons.  How about you?

Video: David Corn on Sotomayor

Watch David Corn, MoJo's DC Bureau Chief, dish on the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, torture, and prosecuting Bush, below:

Over AAA's 107-year history, it has earned the goodwill of millions of drivers but also the acrimony of growing numbers of environmentalists. In recent years, prominent environmental groups have taken the club to task opposing funding for bike lanes and public transit, bashing the Clean Air Act, and pushing for ever more and bigger highways. So when the Oregon and Idaho chapter of AAA debuted a new bicycle roadside assistance program last week, many people were puzzled. Could the group formerly known as the American Automobile Association finally be going green?

"People wrongly assume that AAA only cares about cars," says Marie Dodds, the chapter's director of government and public affairs. "But for example, this year in the 2009 state legislature, we supported the transportation package, which had elements of mass transit, peds, and bicycles. We realized that whether it's because of the economy, the environment, or wanting to improve your fitness, bicycles are becoming a more popular option to get around. So basically we're just staying with the times."

Or with the competition. The chapter's home city, Portland, Oregon, is also HQ for the rival upstart, Better World Club, which launched in 2002 as "the nation's only environmentally-friendly auto club." Better World offers a carbon offset service (now also an option at the Oregon AAA), eco-travel services, discounts on hybrid car rental, and what was, until last week, the nation's only bicycle roadside assistance program. "We are nothing like AAA or other auto clubs," says the BWC's website, which links to a raft of stories on the AAA's lobbying record. "We have the same reliable roadside assistance, but we have a unique policy agenda."

Dodds of AAA says the club's environmental record has improved since the early '90s, when it opposed a law that allowed cities to use highway funds for public transit and bike paths. "That's something that happened 16 years ago," she says. Still, she has no qualms about the club's membership in the American Highway Users Alliance, a group that BWC opposes. "The reality is that the US is, for the most part, a car-based nation," she says. The Alliance's 2008 year-end report brags that it opposed "Smart Growth" development, the use of the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming, and an amendment to a global warming bill by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that would have "included unprecedented anti-mobility provisions, increased fuel costs, and diverted funds from highways."

Are those efforts at odds with AAA's work in Oregon? Consider this: if you're on your bike alongside a busy freeway and you get sideswiped by a car, who's going to pick up the mangled two-wheeler while you're in the hospital? As the club's website says, "Wherever you drive, in the U.S. or Canada, 24 hours a day, AAA will help."

UPDATE: Talk about identity crisis. . .Treehugger reports that AAA is also planning to launch an "eco icon" in its tour book that will denote "green" hotels.

Video: Goldman Sachs' Coup

Many are lauding Goldman Sachs' willingness to take risks. But is this really a good thing? And why do they have so much power over Beltway policy decisions?

Watch Matt Taibbi, contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and Michael Lux, co-director of Progressive Strategies, discuss below:

In a long piece in this week's New York Times Magazine, Peter Singer explains why American politicians' fear of "rationing" health care is ridiculous: health care is a scarce resource, and like all scarce resources, it's already rationed:

[T]he U.S. system also results in people going without life-saving treatment...  American patients, even if they are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, often cannot afford the copayments for drugs. That’s rationing too, by ability to pay.

[...]

[E]ven in emergency rooms, people without health insurance may receive less health care than those with insurance. Joseph Doyle, a professor of economics at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., studied the records of people in Wisconsin who were injured in severe automobile accidents and had no choice but to go to the hospital. He estimated that those who had no health insurance received 20 percent less care and had a death rate 37 percent higher than those with health insurance. This difference held up even when those without health insurance were compared with those without automobile insurance, and with those on Medicaid — groups with whom they share some characteristics that might affect treatment. The lack of insurance seems to be what caused the greater number of deaths.

If we're already rationing, shouldn't we try to figure out how to do it in the fairest, most effective way possible? Singer suggests that could mean creating a system of "Medicare for All" (a plan many liberals support) that only pays for the most cost-effective treatments (as opposed to Medicare's current setup, which pays for many of the treatments doctors choose without regard to their cost-effectiveness). Those who could afford it would be able to get private insurance, too, or pay out-of-pocket, if they wanted a procedure or medicine that had proven less cost-effective.

Of course, something like Singer's suggestion is very unlikely to be adopted: instead, we're apparently getting a system that expands health insurance coverage but does little to reduce costs. That's mostly because it's against the interests of the health care industry (and the members of Congress it bought and paid for) to actually ration care effectively. But just because it's against the industry's interest to ration care effectively doesn't mean it's not in your interest, or the country's.

Demographics guru Ruy Teixeira says that the era of the culture wars is drawing to a close.  Why?  Demographics, of course:

First, Millennials — the generation with birth years 1978 to 2000 — support gay marriage, take race and gender equality as givens, are tolerant of religious and family diversity, have an open and positive attitude toward immigration, and generally display little interest in fighting over the divisive social issues of the past.

....Second, the culturally conservative white working class has been declining rapidly as a proportion of the electorate for years.

....Other demographic trends that will undermine the culture warriors include the growth of culturally progressive groups such as single women, and college-educated women and professionals, as well as increasing religious diversity. Unaffiliated or secular voters are hugely progressive on cultural issues and it is they — not white evangelical Protestants  —who are the fastest-growing “religious” group in the United States.

Over at the Democratic Strategist, somebody named "staff" predicts a positive feedback loop that will soon turn culture war issues into a political backwater:

The point here isn't, or isn't just, that the American population is becoming more progressive on cultural issues. It's that as cultural issues lose political punch, the incentives for conservatives to focus on them decline, further reducing the politicization of culture.

Teixeira himself says that while this may eventually be the case, it could take a while before the culture warriors calm down: "Indeed, reaction to their current desperate plight may lead them to intensify their efforts in some states, especially where demographic change has been slow or where local right-wing culture war institutions retain strength." I think that's right.  Barack Obama has been remarkably successful at marginalizing culture war issues so far, but it's not clear to me that he can keep this up forever.  It's going to be a rough road before we get to Teixeira's promised land. Fasten your seat belts.

Chart of the Day

Via Conor Clarke, this chart shows the effective federal tax rate paid by the rich over the past 15 years.  The basic story is simple: As their incomes have gotten ever higher, their tax rates have gotten ever lower.  So if tax rates on the rich are raised to help pay for healthcare reform, as some Democrats are proposing, it would just return us to the rates of the early 90s, not some hellish confiscatory dystopia.  Bruce Bartlett says that if this happens, Republicans have only themselves to blame:

For many years, I have urged conservatives to think about ways of raising new net revenue for the government. My fear has always been that sooner or later, pressure to raise taxes will become overwhelming. If there wasn't a conservative option available, then the default policy would be to sharply raise tax rates on the wealthy. Now it looks as if that day has arrived.

....In the end, higher tax rates on the rich are inevitable if only because of expiration of the Bush tax cuts next year. Since that would just return rates to where they were in the 1990s when growth was robust, any claim that this will destroy the economy should be taken with many grains of salt.

Still, it would be better to pay for health reform some other way. But if Republicans refuse to propose any alternative, insisting instead that taxes should never be raised for any reason, they pretty much guarantee that Democrats will raise the top rate. If that happens, Republicans will bear some responsibility as well.

Yep.  If I were designing a system from scratch I'd probably finance it differently too.  But Republicans have been so successful at demonizing taxes over the years that there aren't very many practical alternatives open any more.  Returning top marginal rates to the level they were at in the 90s is one of the few left.

Robert Baer writes in Time about the CIA program that's been kept secret from Congress for the past eight years.  It was, as well all know by now, an "assassination squad":

Like many of these stories, there's less to it than meets the eye. The unit conducted no assassinations or grabs. A former CIA officer involved in the program told me that no targets were picked, no weapons issued and no one sent overseas to carry out anything. "It was little more than a PowerPoint presentation," he said. "Why would we tell Congress?"

That's a good question, especially since the program was an open secret. On Oct. 28, 2001, the Washington Post ran an article with the title "CIA Weighs 'Targeted Killing' Missions." And in 2006, New York Times reporter James Risen wrote a book in which he revealed the program's secret code name, Box Top. Moreover, it is well known that on Nov. 3, 2002, the CIA launched a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone over Yemen, killing an al-Qaeda member involved in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. And who knows how many "targeted killings" there have been in Afghanistan and Iraq?

As Baer goes on to point out, assassination is a no-no: "In the CIA, that was the closest thing we had to the Ten Commandments."  But what about assassination during wartime?  A plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein in 1995 would have been illegal, but the same plot in March 2003 would surely have been OK.  In fact, we tried pretty hard to do exactly that during the "shock and awe" bombing phase that kicked off the war.

But as usual, the "war on terror" is in a gray area all its own.  Is it a real war?  Is a guy with a sniper rifle different from an Air Force specialist guiding a Predator drone?  Is the CIA under the same restrictions it would be under during peacetime?  What are the rules?

If the news reports are right about this program, it deserves a full-scale investigation by Congress.  Everybody knows we're trying to kill al-Qaeda operatives one way or another, so it's not as if we'd be revealing any dark secrets of national security.  And if the whole thing really was just a "PowerPoint presentation," it might exonerate the CIA and remove the cloud currently surrounding them.  What's the argument against doing this?

Our D.C. bureau Legal Affairs reporter Stephanie Mencimer is reporting live from inside the Sotomayor confirmation hearings this week. You can watch day four using our video and live blog here, or follow Stephanie's and David Corn's coverage on Twitter. If you missed Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, check out the wrap-ups: Pride and Prejudice, Where Did Sotomayor's Empathy Go?, and Sotomayor Slips Up

Stories on health, energy, the environment, and other Blue Marble-appropriate topics from our other blogs you might have missed.

I Love Sonia: GOP tells Sonia Sotomayor she has some "splainin" to do.