Memories light the corner of my mind

I was reading this piece Digby wrote about today’s anniversary of the Kent State shootings, and I had a sudden flashback of the alcoholic judge I used to date.

I honestly don’t know if it was the grandiosity typical of the advanced alcoholic, or simply hardwired into his psyche, but he was the biggest liar I’ve ever met. He was so prolific, so over the top, he reminded me of the Michael Keaton character in “The Dream Team”. (In a scene where they’re driving past the World Trade Center, Keaton points to it and says, “See that? I designed them.”)

He was forever name-dropping, but it simply doesn’t work with me. I’ve known lots of interesting, creative people (some of them famous) and it’s just not such a big deal. (The only time I’ve ever been starstruck was just a few weeks ago, when I found out someone I know hung out with Laura Nyro for a year. “Really?” I said, and started pressing for details.)

Some of the whoppers the judge told me:
* The FBI hounded him because of his high-profile anti-war activities.
* He was an Olympic lacrosse coach.
* He played keyboards with Al Kooper.
* He was a semiotics genius who’d invented the smile button. (And apparently thought that was something to brag about!)
* His marriage broke up when he caught his wife in bed with her girlfriend. (They split up because she gave him an ultimatum about his drinking.)
* He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who helped evacuate the Saigon embassy. When I challenged him, saying the Marines evacuated it, he gave me a knowing smile and said he’d been on assignment with the CIA – but he couldn’t tell me about it.
* Oh and by the way, he’d recently been diagnosed with leukemia and wasn’t it ironic that he’d found true love with me, only to have it snatched away by a cruel fate?

The real kicker, though, was when he told me he was best friends with one of the guys killed at Kent State, and was even supposed to be there that day. “I thought you went to Michigan State,” I said.

“Yes, but I was supposed to be there that day,” he said.

Whatever. When I broke things off with him, people started cautiously approaching me. “You’re not dating him anymore, right?” Nope, I told them. Then the stories came, and I was floored. I couldn’t believe I’d been involved with someone so very duplicitous. (It was not the last time I was to wonder.) Turned out he was one of those people who sort of appropriated stories he heard from other people and passed them off as his own, and I was in shock. Devastated, really. (My shrink told me not to beat myself up. “You only went out with him for a few months,” he said. “It’s not as if you married him.”)

I did get over him eventually, and cautiously moved on to less obvious liars. But now I realize that I just like storytellers – like me. They may not have been writers in the literal sense, but they wove such glittering tall tales for me, and for a long time, I loved to listen. So I’m not mad anymore, just amused.

Oh dear

I loved how many people were insisting this man was set up for raping a hotel maid. I’m sure this one’s a setup, too:

A 25-year-old Belgian sex worker has accused former French finance minister and head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn of gang rape, saying that he and three other men forcibly restrained and sodomized her in a room at Washington, DC’s tony W hotel. U.K. news daily The Telegraph reports that the alleged incident took place in December of 2010. It has come to light as part of an ongoing investigation of Strauss-Kahn by French authorities, who have charged him with “aggravated pimping in an organized gang.”

The young woman, who called Strauss-Kahn “a nasty piece of work,” was a prostitute based out of Lille, France and is known to the court as “Marie-Anne S.” The “violent scene” she described to prosecutors, however, took place here in the U.S., where earlier this week, a judge denied DSK’s plea of diplomatic immunity in a civil suit filed against him regarding an alleged assault on a hotel maid in New York City. Criminal charges were dismissed against the diplomat in that investigation last year amid questions about the accuser’s credibility.

The Jefferson Lies

You may have seen David Barton on Jon Stewart the other night, plugging his new book, “The Jefferson Lies.” Barton is a right-wing fundie who’s rewritten history to make Thomas Jefferson a religious man who never wanted religion out of public life. (You may also know him as a “professor” at the famous Beck University.) Fred Clark, famous for calling out the charlatans in his faith, has a bone to pick with how the mainstream media depicts David Barton:

Who is David Barton?” CNN’s Dan Gilgoff asks.

And then Gilgoff refuses to answer his own question.

Instead, Gilgoff retreats into a wretched, flaccid display of false-equivalence, view-from-nowhere, opinions-on-the-shape-of-earth-differ non-journalism.

“Barton’s work has drawn many critics,” Gilgoff writes, in lieu of actual journalism.

That’s a remarkable sentence. It’s like saying, “Bernie Madoff’s investment skills have drawn many critics.” Or, “Ty Cobb’s sportsmanship has drawn many critics.” Or, “Leroy Jenkins’ teamwork has drawn many critics.”

Who is David Barton? David Barton is a man who says things that are not true.

David Barton makes stuff up. He surgically alters quotations deliberately in order to deceive others.

David Barton says things that are not true. He is not merely “controversial.” He is not merely “a lightning rod for critics.” His many, many false assertions are not merely “disputed” or “questioned” or “challenged.”

David Barton says things that are not true. After being repeatedly, publicly corrected, he repeats those very same untrue statements. This is what he does. This is how he makes his living.

David Barton has not attracted “critics.” David Barton says things that are not true, and those Gilgoff mislabels as his “critics” are simply those many, many people who have pointed out the many, many untrue things that David Barton has said. His false statements are obvious. His false statements are extravagant. His false statements are hard to miss.

David Barton says things that are not true. That is the primary, pre-eminent, pervasive fact about David Barton.

To say anything else about David Barton without also saying that is to be inaccurate, misleading and dishonest.

But Paul Harvey, a real history professor, says of course it won’t matter:

I don’t question the necessity of pointing out Barton’s history of outright falsehoods, explaining the fallacies of his presentism (as in using a 1765 sermon or a 1792 congressional vote to show that the original intent of the founders was to oppose bailout and stimulus plans), and introducing to non-experts the abundant evidence calling his historical worldview of the Christian Founders into question. Yet while these kinds of refutations are necessary, they are not sufficient. That’s because Barton’s project is not fundamentally an historical one.

That’s why historians’ takedown of his ahistorical approach ultimately won’t matter that much. Nor will historians’ explanations of his presentism, and his obvious and unapologetic ideological agenda (albeit considerably muted for his appearance on The Daily Show). While all the historians’ refutations are good and necessary, ultimately they won’t matter for the audience which exists in his alternate intellectual universe, one described in much greater detail in my colleague Randall Stephens’ forthcoming book The Anointed: Evangelical Experts in a Secular Age…

After all the refutations and belittling of pedigree, Barton still appears in a New York Times “puff piece,” argues with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, and fields calls from congressmen and presidential candidates. In short, if this were a basketball game between Barton and professional historians, in some ways it’s already a rout, with Barton far ahead and the scrubs in to play out the garbage time.

Some of that is because of the skill of Barton and his organization WallBuilders at ideological entrepreneurialism. Barton’s intent is not to produce “scholarship,” but to influence public policy. He simply is playing a different game than worrying about scholarly credibility, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. His game is to inundate public policy makers (including local and state education boards as well as Congress) with ideas packaged as products that will move policy.

And once again, our librul media is outplayed.

Reverend Howard Finster………

This weekend is the Finster Festival in Summerville, GA. The festival celebrates the life and folk art of Howard Finster, “The Man of Visions.” He was not only a folk artist, but, a preacher of the Word.

He built on his property a “Paradise Garden” of murals and sculptures from all kinds of junk that he could find. He also was famous for painting album covers for REM, Talking Heads and also a painting of an Absolut Vodka Bottle for an ad.

In my young adult life. no springtime would be complete without visiting Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in Pennville in northwest Georgia. One could take hours exploring the grounds. A real treasure.

I am sure most will miss this event. So, here is an article about the gardens and the restoration project. Also, if you want to look around here is a tour.



So Elizabeth Edwards knew about her husband’s affair and wanted him to stay in the campaign anyway. Sort of puts a dent in her halo, huh?

Another former aide, John Davis, testified that Edwards scheduled a conference call in late 2007 to announce his withdrawal from the campaign, but his wife canceled the call even though she knew of the affair. Edwards ultimately dropped out of the race weeks later.

Davis said Edwards scheduled the call after a fight with his late wife, Elizabeth, in late 2007. But soon after, Elizabeth Edwards called a staff member to cancel the call, Davis said. Other witnesses have testified that John Edwards told Elizabeth Edwards about his infidelity in 2006.

The Grand Bargain is coming

The signs are everywhere, and it doesn’t much matter which party wins, now that Nancy Pelosi’s drinking the Kool-Aid: They’re going after Social Security and Medicare in the lame duck session. They’ll do it with what sound like “reasonable” adjustments like chaining payments to the Consumer Price Index, claiming it more accurately reflects the cost of living. (It doesn’t. For one thing, it doesn’t include the cost of heat. Grandma ice pops!) Economist Dean Baker says of course it’s not supposed to be more accurate, and calls the proposed switch a very big deal:

First of all, when all the inside Washington types agree on something, it is a good idea to hang on to your pocket books. Remember, these are the folks who thought it was great that everyone was becoming a homeowner in the middle of a housing bubble and that Alan Greenspan was the greatest central banker of all-time. In other words, inside Washington types are a group of people that mindlessly repeat the conventional wisdom and are largely incapable of original thought.

At the most simple level, the switch to a chained CPI is a way to reduce the annual COLA in Social Security by roughly 0.3 percentage points. That may sound trivial, but it is important to remember that this sum adds up over time. After ten years, this lower annual cost-of-living adjustment would imply a reduction in benefits of roughly 3 percent, after 20 years the reduction would be 6 percent, and after 30 years close to 9 percent. So this is real money.

This plan to lower the COLA raises two obvious questions. First would the new measure actually be more accurate, and second is a cut in Social Security benefits good policy?

There are some complex philosophical issues raised by a cost-of-living index but at the most basic level, the question is to what extent Social Security beneficiaries substitute between items to offset price increases. The proponents of switching to a chained index for the COLA are arguing based on research that examines the consumption patterns of the population as a whole.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has done research indicating that the Social Security population has qualitatively different consumption patterns than the rest of the population. This research suggests that a consumer pirce index based on the consumption patterns of the elderly would show a higher rate of inflation.

The BLS research would imply that someone who is concerned about the accuracy of the Social Security COLA might want a higher annual cost-of-living adjustment, not a lower one. Of course the BLS research is not conclusive, since BLS did not directly monitor the actual purchasing patterns of the elderly, examining the specific items they buy and the outlets where they shop.

However, BLS could do this and construct a full elderly CPI. This would cost in the neighborhood of $10-20 million. While that may seem expensive, this index is being used to determine a COLA for $700 billion in annual spending. If the full elderly index turned out to show the same rate of inflation as the overall CPI, then there would be no need to continue to do it. However, if the rates differ, then we would continue to maintain the elderly CPI, if the interest is accuracy.

This is a simple way to distinguish between people who want an accurate COLA and people who just want to cut benefits. Those who want an accurate COLA advocate having BLS construct a full elderly CPI. People who just want to switch the indexation to a chained CPI simply want to cut benefits.
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U.S. health care costs more, delivers less

by Odd Man Out
I’m shocked by this story. You would think our drugs would be more effective, they cost so much more than the same drugs in civilized countries:

A study of 13 industrialized countries released Thursday showed Japan spends the least on health care, while the United States spends the most without providing superior care for the money.

The United States spent nearly $8,000 per person in 2009 on health care services, more than Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden or Switzerland.

Japan spent the least — $2,878 per capita in 2008 — according to the report by The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that promotes improved health care in the United States.

US health care spending amounted to more than 17 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, while Japan’s was under nine percent of GDP.

“Japan operates a fee-for-service system, while offering unrestricted access to specialists and hospitals and a large supply of MRI and CT scanners,” said the report.

“Rather than containing costs by restricting access, Japan instead sets health care prices to keep total health spending within a budget allotted by the government.”

In contrast, the US system is beleaguered by higher prices, more readily accessible technology and widespread obesity.

The United States had among the highest rates of potentially preventable deaths due to asthma and diabetes-linked amputations, and showed average rates of in-hospital deaths from heart attack and stroke, it said.

Common prescription drugs cost one third more in the United States compared to Canada and Germany, and were more than double that paid for the same drugs in Australia, Britain, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Torture maestro Yoo escapes justice

It’s not a surprise but it’s a disgrace, especially when you look at the reasoning used by the court who threw out a lawsuit against the man who articulated Dubyas’s torture policies. Via Common Dreams:

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stopped short of endorsing Yoo’s conduct as a lawyer in the Justice Department, where he wrote memos approving most of the practices allegedly used against plaintiff Jose Padilla in a Navy brig – sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation, and extremes of temperature, light and darkness.

Padilla also said his interrogators threatened to kill him, and he claimed Yoo had personally authorized his treatment.

At least some of Padilla’s treatment may well constitute torture under current standards, the appeals court said. But when Yoo worked for the department in 2001-03, the three-judge panel said, courts had not yet decided that those practices were torture, or that so-called enemy combatants like Padilla had the same constitutional rights as other inmates.

Right. It’s torture now, but it wasn’t then.

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