Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 19th, 2010

A cool tool for learners

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If you’re learning a language, flash cards are the norm, but they’re useful for learning almost anything. Take a look at this Cool Tool.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 3:46 pm

More on Israel’s problematic approach to its problems

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Andrew Sullivan:

Goldblog interviews Peter Beinart in two parts (one, two). Peter:

I’m not asking Israel to be Utopian. I’m not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state. What I am asking is that Israel not do things that foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, because if it is does that it will become—and I’m quoting Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak here—an "apartheid state."

And foreclosing the possibility of a Palestinian state is exactly what the current Israeli coalition wants to do.

You ask what has changed. First, year after year of settlement growth at triple the rate of the Israeli population (including this year, since in practice, Netanyahu’s "partial freeze" has led to no slowdown of building, and in any case he has said it will not be renewed after September).

The more the settlements expand, the more settlers–including fanatical settlers–take over parts of the Israeli bureaucracy and become integral to the Israeli army and rabbinate, all of which makes the prospect of removing them without outright civil war more remote. These people have already murdered an Israeli Prime Minister, and they routinely use violence against Israeli troops and Israeli leftists, not to mention Palestinians.

Their young "hilltop youth" are so extreme that they actually scare the settler old guard. "When will the state of Israel wake up and realize that it is facing a real threat from an enemy within," those words are not from a dove, they are Ben Dror Yemeni, the hawkish editor of Maariv last year. And it’s not just the growth and increased radicalization of the settlers, it’s the emergence of a political coalition determined to protect them and make a Palestinian state impossible.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Didn’t Sen. Grassley (R-IA) used to be honest?

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I definitely have memories of his being honest, but that’s from many years ago. I guess people change. From the Center for American Progress in an email:

President Bush’s massive tax cuts for the rich included a provision that that repealed the estate tax in 2010.

Though the tax is slated to spring back to the 2001 rate in 2011, the House passed a bill late last year to re-establish the tax at the reduced 2009 level.

Under this rate, estates worth less than $3.5 million pay no taxes at all, while larger estates pay 45 percent of anything above that threshold.

As a bill to reinstate the tax is negotiated in the Senate, some senators have been pushing to cut this tax on multi-millionaires even lower to 35 percent, while raising the exemption to $5 million.

Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) has signed onto the plan, thus coming out in support of what could be an enormous tax break for his own family.

Grassley’s net worth is between $2.1 and $5.2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, so his entire estate could be exempted under a $5 million exemption.

Moreover, Grassley’s proposed tax cut would affect few families other than his own.

If the 2009 rate were made permanent, 99.8 percent of estates would owe no tax at all.

If these levels were made permanent, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out that "[o]nly three percent of taxes owed" would be from estates that are, like Grassley’s, worth less than $5 million.

The vast majority of current estate tax revenue comes from the "extremely wealthy," with 62.5 percent of revenue coming from estates worth more than $20 million.

Beyond this, the cut would cost $60 to $80 billion in lost revenue, which would have to be offset with spending cuts or other tax increases.

As the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo has noted, it’s a huge waste to spend $60-80 billion in order to help the wealthiest 0.2 percent of households while we have soaring deficits and high unemployment.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:43 am

More on the Peter Beinart piece in the NY Review of Books

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Andrew Sullivan:

The prime minister of Israel has repeatedly compared the establishment of a Palestinian state to the Holocaust. His foreign minister, and protégé, has flirted with advocating the physical expulsion of Israeli Arabs. The spiritual leader of his government’s fourth-largest party has called for politicians who advocate ceding territory to the Palestinians to be struck dead. West Bank settlements are growing at triple the rate of the Israeli population, and according to a recent Tel Aviv University poll, 80 percent of religious Jewish Israeli high schoolers would refuse orders to dismantle them. One-third of Jewish Israelis favor pardoning Yigal Amir, the man who murdered Yitzhak Rabin.

I was raised to love Israel, and I will teach my children to love it. But we don’t get to choose what is true. And if you love Israel not only because it is a Jewish state but also because it is a liberal democratic Jewish state, a state that strives to embody the best in the Jewish ethical tradition, there is only one decent response to these truths: fury. If you’re not angry, you’re either not paying attention or you don’t care.  — Peter Beinart.

He goes on to counter Chait’s criticisms of his NYRB piece one by one. Read it all. It’s a devastating expose of Chait’s own indifference to the changing realities in Israel, and of his anti-anti-Israel position. What I found particularly depressing about Chait’s response was the failure to respond to the specific facts Peter has laid out. Instead we have a condescending psychoanalysis of Peter that is built on a previous piece and that seeks to explain Beinart’s evolution is being about Beinart, not Israel or reality. Why does that non-argument sound familiar? It’s about as relevant as where Peter’s essay was published (although it is interesting that a former editor of TNR could never have such an essay printed in its pages).

I await Chait’s future engagement with the facts on the ground. If only he were as tough on Israel’s right as he is on America’s.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:32 am

The Bart Simpsons of Congress

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Steve Benen:

The House was all set last week to approve the America COMPETES Act, a jobs bill with a specific focus on boosting investing in science, research, and training programs. It was scuttled by a deliberately absurd Republican motion related to pornography, which Dems were afraid to vote against because they knew it’d be used in attack ads.

The little stunt — eerily reminiscent of a farcical scene from "The Simpsons" 15 years ago — delayed consideration of the bipartisan bill, which is due to come back to the House floor today. (Under a suspension of the rules, the GOP won’t be able to use a motion to recommit, but the bill will need a two-thirds majority to pass.)

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein explains in his latest column that last week’s antics, orchestrated by the House Republican leadership, were a sad display. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were "visibly exultant" when the America COMPETES Act was needlessly delayed, which only reinforces our worst fears about their abilities as lawmakers.

John Boehner used to be a serious legislator. Eric Cantor is smart and a justifiably rising star in the GOP firmament. But they are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious. Instead of encouraging a constructive relationship with the serious and fair-minded legislators on the Democratic side, they are adding to the traction of their take-no-prisoners counterparts. What a shame.

Ornstein has a higher opinion of Boehner’s and Cantor’s abilities than I do — I simply cannot recall a time when Boehner was a "serious legislator" — but the larger point is an important one. The leaders of the House Republican caucus, including a man who may be Speaker of the House in January, are at their most comfortable acting like children. They’ve grown to love gimmicks and stunts, and approach the substance of policymaking with all the seriousness of a kid who enjoys the popping sound of bubble-wrap a little too much.

And if Republicans excel in the midterms, Boehner and Cantor will perceive it as a reward for their antics, which only encourage them to be more ridiculous.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:27 am

Beauty-contest qualifications

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I’ve been mulling over this peculiar comment that I got on this post on how Rima Fakih won Miss USA and promptly sent the Right into hysterics. Here’s the comment in its entirety:

If that bomb in Times Square didn’t fizzle last week, do you think she would have won the pageant?
If hundreds were killed, would you use the word ‘paranoia’?
If mommies and daddies didn’t come home from work, would you still laugh at anything using the word ‘Terrorist’ in its title?

I want to focus on the "thinking" that goes into believing that a terrorist attack by a Pakistani immigrant would disqualify a Lebanese immigrant woman from a beauty contest.

Since Lebanon is distant from Pakistan—and since Miss Fakih has resided in the US since she was 7 years old—it’s VERY unclear to me why the two are connected in any way. I suppose it’s because she’s a Muslim, but al Qaeda is Sunni and she’s Shi’a and the two sects are at daggers drawn.

Still, assuming that the religion is the reason, I’m wondering about contests held when the IRA was actively into terrorism, setting off bombs not only in Belfast but across England. Suppose that the Miss USA winner was Irish—and Catholic, like the IRA. Would she be thought an inappropriate winner?

Somehow I don’t think so. Like ignoring the terrorist attack on the mosque, the situation reveals a huge ugly amount of religious bigotry in our country. And bigots are bigots because their thought processes don’t work very well.

And I still HIGHLY recommend the hilarious comedy Terrorists, available as Netflix Watch Instantly. One thing I particularly like about the movie is the progression of security-theater as the police chief gradually realizes his opportunity to enhance his position and privileges.

It’s also funny how literally no one listens to what the "terrorist" says—instead, they seem to supply from their own internal fears and beliefs what they think he must have said, from the stoner store clerk (who clearly hears the guy say that he wants to party) to the guy running the souvenir shop at the giant stool (who hears the guy say he wants to climb up on top of the stool and have a party), everyone is playing out the drama in their own head.

It’s not a movie that punches you with the jokes—most will slip by if you’re not paying attention. But it’s a very funny movie, and it’s based on the silly aspects of how the US has responded to terrorism: security theater.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:25 am

Strange silence regarding the latest terrorist attack on American soil

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Matt Yglesias notes the strange silence from the mainstream media, including the hysterical Right (aka Fox), who generally wet themselves when a terrorist attack occurs even without an explosion, rushing forward with unsolicited advice about not giving suspects a Miranda warning (because terrorist suspects are ipso facto guilty), etc. Yglesias:

Apparently there was a terrorist attack on American soil earlier this week. What’s more, though fortunately nobody was killed in the attack, unlike in the much-hyped Underpants Bomber or Times Square plots, the perpetrator actually managed to build a working bomb. But somehow this attack, despite its greater technical sophistication, hasn’t obtained nearly the same level of media attention. And I just can’t figure out why:

FBI officials in Jacksonville, Fla., say they have found the remnants of a pipe bomb used in a possible hate crime at a mosque during evening prayers.

Along with local police, the FBI launched an investigation after an explosion shook the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida at 9:35 p.m. Monday, when approximately 60 people were inside praying. No one was injured.

It’s a huge mystery to me what could possibly account for the difference.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

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