Rock On, Claire McCaskill

From HuffPo:
Sen. Claire McCaskill has delivered a sharp threat to the wallets of corporate executives who took large compensation packages even as their companies accepted government bailout funds. Things, she warned, are going to change.

"I've been mad for a while," said the Missouri Democrat. "When we passed the initial half of the TARP money, [there were] rumors about bonuses, the fact that too many of these guys were holding onto the jobs even though they were running these companies into the ground. Reality didn't seem to be the order of the day."

So McCaskill took to the Senate floor on Friday to put an end to the surrealism. In a bill that came to the surprise of reporters, her colleagues, and the White House alike -- there was no coordination with the Obama administration, she said -- the Missouri Democrat called for compensation for employees of bailout recipients to be capped at $400,000 a year. [Emphasis mine]

"They don't get it," McCaskill said on the floor. "These people are idiots. You can't use taxpayer money to pay out $18-billion in bonuses... What planet are these people on?"


An Atheist's Response To Sully And His Religious Ilk

Flying Spaghetti Monsters, Ctd

A reader writes:

Your philosophy student reader's email did a wonderful job of finding three ways to say the same simple point: Christianity is more than an infatuation with God as Deity. I think most atheists understand and accept this and a moment's time exploring the writings of even the spittle-flecked atheist agitators shows that they understand that life still presents significant questions, both moral and existential, that religions claim to answer.

Your previous reader letter raised a similar point concerning the seeming lack of positive propositions from atheist thinkers, but the philosophy student goes a step further and insinuates that perhaps "real atheism" is close to impossible unless one can otherwise justify all of one's existential beliefs without God.

Both of these readers, I think, conflate atheism with too much else. Atheism is a simple proposition: Sufficient, convincing evidence for existence of the Supreme Being(s) is lacking and claims that rely on the existence of God for their validity are therefore false. Atheism is not the idea that morality does not and cannot exist, it is simply the idea that God does not exist. To use your previous reader's metaphor: Atheists claim we all actually live in the same country, but that our country is not God's country even though most people believe that's where they live.

And indeed, were atheists ever to "win" their argument, people would have to decide how to guide their conduct in the world without taking it for granted that certain things were deemed impermissible by the highest Authority in existence. These aren't easy questions to answer and, to my mind, the naked fact that God does or does not exist, does little to help us with their answers. There are reasons to follow certain moral principles that are founded on more than God's directives and lessons and stories that constitute so much of religious teachings bear this out. Atheist thought does, in fact, grapple with these issues as well... but it's somewhat difficult getting religious people to devote lots of time to atheist study.

Your two previous reader letters started by implying that atheists haven't yet earned a place in the discussion and finished by insinuating that it might be impossible for atheists to have anything to say once they get there. The problem is that they seem to expect to find people who identify themselves as "Atheist Philosophers" when in fact they should be looking for thinkers who happen not to believe in God. It may surprise them to learn, despite the Dawkins and Harrises of the world, that many atheists wake up in the morning without deciding how they can disprove God's existence today. Many people who don't believe in God have spent alot of time thinking about how to life a satisfying and proper life.

To put it another way: Just as religion is not an infatuation with God, atheism is not an infatuation with Nothing. The long and significant history of non-theistic philosophy and moral theory is full of the very positive arguments and metaphysical justifications your readers say they want. May I suggest a little Hume to start? Some Bentham or John Stuart Mill? Nietzsche (but always with a grain of salt). Ayn Rand - but only as a case study in how non-theistic theories can still be dogmatic.
I love this response; too many religious poeple think we atheists are rabid. We are not; we are simply not believers. Relax, Sully.

Friday Cartoon Fun: Stimulus Edition

Friday Cartoon Depression


Don't Blame The Teachers!

James Rogers, chancellor of Nevada state's University, refuses to blame educators; he blames us--the public, parents, taxpayers.


Root Canal

If it's not one thing, it's another. I have lived through cancer, spinal cord injuries, suicides, custody battles, negative performance reviews (all unfair, of course), and chemotherapy. In the next week or so, I will be getting a root canal. In the meantime, my tooth, or rather, my face hurts (it's killing you, I know). Vicodin at work is a bad idea. Ibuprofen at work is ok, but too weak.

I'll post again when I need the Vicodin. That should be funny.

Update: I took the Vicodin. Feel fine....

Obama Talks To Arab TV

I find this astonishingly cool; our President talks to Arab TV, and mentions his Muslim connection. America seems like we are on the verge of becoming a bit more worldly!
PRESIDENT OBAMA:Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.

AL ARABIYA:The largest one.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith – and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers – regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions. And I think that what you will see over the next several years is that I'm not going to agree with everything that some Muslim leader may say, or what's on a television station in the Arab world - but I think that what you'll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity. I want to make sure that I'm speaking to them, as well.


Sunday Cartoon Fun: 007 Edition

There Will Be Trials

Sully said there would be Obama; and so it was. He now is saying there will be war crimes trials. Just sit tight. I happen to agree with Sully's hope. Though, it's just hope.
Parsing Obama

The executive orders are so far very subtle but very smart. Scott Horton's analysis is the most telling. Some will be disappointed that Obama is not about to condemn the out-going war crimes of Bush, Cheney et al. in ringing terms. But the election did that. And as the era of the dark side recedes a little, my sense of the looming reality is as follows. The men who ordered a man tied to a chair, doused in water, and chilled to hypothermia so intense he had to be rushed to emergency medical care, the men who presided over at least two dozen and at most a hundred prisoners tortured to death, the men who ordered an American servicewoman to smear fake menstrual blood over a Muslim's face in order to win a war against Jihadism, the men who ordered innocents stripped naked, sexually abused, terrified by dogs, or cast into darkness with no possibility of a future, and did all this in the name of the Constitution of the United States, the men who gave the signal in wartime that there were no limits to what could be done to prisoners of war and reaped a whirlwind of abuse and torture that will haunt American servicemembers for decades: these men will earn the judgment of history. It will be brutal.

We will need some formal and comprehensive record of all that happened, and the Congress will surely begin to move on that (and they should not exempt their own members from scrutiny either). And as specific allegations of torture emerge, the Justice Department will have no option but to prosecute. To ignore such charges is itself a dereliction of constitutional duty.

In the last two weeks, two very important things have happened that make that especially hard to avoid. The Bush administration's chief prosecutor at Gitmo, Susan Crawford, has herself conceded that torture did indeed take place in that camp, and specifically against Qahtani, the prisoner whose torture was personally monitored by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and whose torture log is in the public domain. An attorney general presented with clear evidence of torture engaged in by public officials has no choice but to prosecute - or to make a mockery of his office. It is absurd to ignore the men who have primary responsibility for the crime.

The second big thing is that the perpetrators of war crimes are no longer in power. I predict that as fear of administrative reprisal ebbs, more and more whistle-blowers will come forward with evidence of what was done under Bush and Cheney, in defiance of domestic and international law. That Bush and Cheney got hacks to write absurd legal memos saying that, in Bush's own words, "whatever we wanted to do" was legal will mean nothing. Yoo and Bybee are the kind of useful, amoral sycophants and apparatchiks that always emerge and flourish in lawless states eager to put up a facade of legalism to defend their power-grabs.

I do not believe in a witch-hunt in the CIA, whose many hard-working officers deserve support not censure. I do believe in holding responsible those high elected officials who broke the law and violated the Constitution in authorizing war crimes. It should take as much time as needed for a thorough accounting; it should be meticulously fair; it should be geared solely to ensure that the rule of law is no longer in question; and that only those truly responsible at the top of the chain of command are held liable. But if we do not hold these men to account, the precedent they set is alarming.

They have, after all, argued that the executive branch can do anything to anyone to defend the nation's security as defined and measured by that executive branch itself. They have argued that that power is permanent and not restricted to a discrete length of time. They have declared the Constitution to be entirely subject to the executive's will, checked only by a four year "moment of accountability". And they are unrepentant - even boastful of their actions. We cannot leave that precedent in place. Why? I know no better popular expression of the case than that made by Robert Bolt in this imagined conversation between Thomas More and the John Yoo of his day, William Roper:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Yes, I give prisoners of war, even the demons of al Qaeda, the benefit of the law. For my own safety's sake. And ours'.

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Best Of Luck Edition


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