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Current Events

Recommended Reading

Alex Pareene, who's become one of my favorite online pundit-persons this year, provides a few pointers on how to argue with right-wing relatives who think Obama's a Socialist mole and how Christianity is close to perishing because people say "Season's Greetings." This may come in handy at some dinners this evening.

Today's Political Follow-Up

A couple of Ron Paul followers have written to take exception with my statement that Dr. Paul has not disavowed the racist (and otherwise stupid) remarks in his old newsletters. They say he has…and they may be right, especially considering the last 24 hours or thereabouts. So let me amend what I said…

He has not disavowed them convincingly. I don't think most voters will buy that you put out a newsletter under your name for years and that you cashed big checks from its success and that there were unsigned writings in it that seemed to be from you…but you never read the thing or corrected in print assumptions that you'd written some of the things from which you'd want to distance yourself if you were ever, say, running for president. There are also things he's inarguably said or written that correspond closely to the in-print stuff he later said wasn't by him.

Ron Paul seems like a nice man when he speaks these days…and even folks who would never vote for him admire his consistency. That seems especially admirable in comparison to the flip-floppers at the other podiums in the G.O.P. debates, as does his refusal to speak in lockstep with them on some issues. So the narrative on Paul has become "man of principles, even if they're wrong" and he hasn't really gotten a lot of tough questions or scrutiny. You can do that before there are polls showing you with a chance of winning your party's presidential nomination. But now that he's turned from colorful contender to a guy with a shot at it, all this stuff that's been lying around for years is suddenly headline news again. Frankly, I'd like to hear him respond to more serious questioning on the ramifications of rolling back many aspects of government including many that come under the heading of "Social Safety Net." I actually agree with some of his goals in theory but would like to know more about how he thinks things would work. I get the feeling he doesn't have a lot of answers in this area.

Today's Political Comment

Since Ron Paul is now hovering near the top of several polls, it's time for reporters and his detractors to dig up some new way to characterize him. (I do not, by the way, presume that reporters and detractors are the same thing.) The current bit of possible humiliation is that newsletters he published in the past contained a lot of racist drivel, some of which he might have written, none of which he disavowed.

Is this stuff relevant today? If you're looking for reasons to not vote for Ron Paul, sure. People looking for reasons to not vote for Barack Obama sure made a lot out of his past associations with Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright, inflating those relationships way past any bounds of reality. But I'm always a little suspicious when you have to dig into a candidate's past to argue he's not fit for public office. I'd rather see the case made with facts from, say, the current century.

Ron Paul is not going to be his party's nominee anyway. Hardcore Republicans by and large are not going to get behind a guy who's so committed to State's Rights. They want the federal government to stop any state from legalizing drugs, sanctioning Gay Marriage and/or making abortion more accessible. They also don't want a president who would err on the side of not going to war if there seems to be anything resembling a reason. Newt Gingrich understands this which is why he said he'd make John Bolton his Secretary of State. That's code for "And I'll never miss an opportunity to bomb other countries." Newt is losing steam but not because of that. I think the main reason he's going down in the polls is because Republicans are seeing how happy a Gingrich nomination would make Barney Frank.

Recommended Reading

As Ezra Klein reports, we now have The Least Popular Congress in History. It has an approval rating of 11%. To put that in perspective, nagging psoriasis has an approval rating of 12%.

Recommended Reading

What's going to happen with North Korea now that Kim Jong-il is taking the Permanent Dirt Nap? Fred Kaplan summarizes what we know…which isn't an awful lot.

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It's great to hear the War in Iraq is over. It would be even greater if that was entirely true. As Justin Elliott explains, we haven't completely gotten out…but then, when do we ever get completely out of anywhere?

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Adam Serwer explains this National Defense Authorization Act that our leaders, including Obama, seem to think is fine but which horrifies those who care about civil liberties. Hope he's right that it's not as bad as some are saying. Wish I trusted Barack Obama more in this area. It's one of the key topics on which he's let his supporters down.

Recommended Reading

Glenn Greenwald offers up another piece about how Christopher Hitchens was a stubborn cheerleader for the Iraq War in ways not to be admired. More interestingly, Greenwald writes about how when a public figure dies, his friends and apologists figure they have a free pass to sell their desired "spin" on him and that it would be churlish for anyone to contradict them.

Recommended Reading

The late writer Christopher Hitchens took pride in dancing on fresh graves. Often when someone revered died, there was Hitch with the outrageous, "too soon" screed about how the deceased was a phony, unworthy of all the tears and lionizing. So it's a nice tribute to him to see Alex Pareene writing that kind of piece about Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Pareene summarizes a lot of what I was referring to yesterday when I wrote about Hitchens being frequently full of Bandini.

Pareene has also recently penned a series of articles for the annual Hack List from Salon. Each year, they pick the 30 worst pundits and seers in the political-themed media and explain why they stink. I would rate some higher, some lower and would add in a few who aren't there…but I can't find much to disagree with in their list.

Highly Recommended Reading

As the Iraq War comes to a bangless, whimpering end, Fred Kaplan asks two important questions: Was it worth it? And did we in any sense win? I'd say no on both counts and my sense is that even most folks who'd say yes today are spinning furiously to be able to say that and perhaps even to convince themselves. Still, as Fred acknowledges, history may change the answers depending on what becomes of that nation.

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David Weigel writes a nice send-off piece on Barney Frank. I hope and trust Mr. Frank will still be around somewhere bringing his sense of humor 'n' sanity to the public discourse.

Recommended Reading

Republicans like to hurl the insult of "RINO" (Republican in Name Only) at each other. You can get called that in some quarters because you feel that not everyone who wasn't born in America has to be waterboarded. Joe Scarborough, who has had that name hung on him many times has devised a quiz that, of course, proves exactly what he wants it to prove.

Recommended Reading

I like the way Christopher Hitchens puts words together but often find that his eloquence is masking a deep misunderstanding of of whatever it is he thinks he's writing about. This piece, however, strikes me as pretty much on-target on the topic of "gaffes." I don't, by the way, think Romney has it won but I do think it's his to lose.

Recommended Reading

Matthew Yglesias explains what we're learning now about what was done with our money in 2008. Basically, the Fed did everything in its power to help big banks get bigger and to not suffer when they took risks that didn't pay off. Wish someone would do that for me. Then again, if I could afford a staff of lobbyists to secure that kind of thing for me, I wouldn't need it.

Recommended Reading

Kevin Drum explains The Conan Doctrine. It derives from the barbarian, not from the talk show host, though the talk show host probably feels the same way.