US Government

Danish cartoon display at NYU campus

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

I received a “call to action” e-mail in my NYU mailbox to protest an intellectual discussion sponsored by the Objectivist Club at NYU on the Danish cartoons and the free speech issues surrounding it. I couldn’t believe people would go so off the Politically Correct deep-end as to want to protest that. So I wrote the head of the Islamic society an e-mail.

Dear Maheen,

I don’t really like the Objectivist Club, as (in my opinion, and they may consider _this_ hate speech) it is a bunch of Ayn Rand sycophants who think that the whole world would be better if governments just gave in to business interests in the name of “Free Markets” and economic neoliberalism. So don’t think I’m defending this meeting from their point of view.

And I agree with you that the Danish cartoons are racist, and in bad taste.

But guess what, no one is posting these cartoons on your front door. It is clear to me the Objectivist club is displaying them in order to discuss them and to discuss the free speech issues surrounding them, not in order to engage in racism. Your protest of this display is a form of censorship. In fact, here is a description of the event from their website:

“Why the eruption of violence and the issuance of death threats make completely irrelevant the question of whether the cartoons are in bad taste. Why the idea that freedom of the press must be ‘coupled with press responsibility’ means that free speech is not a right, but a fleeting permission. Why every Western newspaper and media outlet should have immediately re-published or shown the cartoons in solidarity with the cartoonists. Why the cowardly and appeasing response of many Western governments–including our own–will only invite further aggression. Other panelists will present their own views.”

If I held a philosopher club meeting about Mein Kampf, I would hope that people could understand that one could read that book without being a Nazi, or supporting Hitler’s racism, etc. The same rule applies here. This was a form of speech made by some cartoonist. It’s speech you don’t like — and if the cartoonist published it in your face, you would call it hate speech, and that’s fine, and you could be angry with him. But if a group of students and professors want to discuss the cartoons in a private room in Kimmel Center, not in a meeting forced upon the public, but in a meeting OPEN to the public, then that is fine.

Your protesting this display is also your right, but when it comes to justifications, you are ultimately protesting what? An intellectual analysis of images you abhor. You are not protesting racism, no matter how much you convince yourself that you are.

Free speech is _not_ absolute. I agree with that. The Supreme Court has shown that time and time again there is an interest in regulating some forms of speech (i.e. do a Google search on “Supreme Court” and “fighing words”). But in this case, free speech does trump your own hatred of these images, for sure. No public interest is served by not allowing this meeting to take place. In fact, censoring it is so irrational (as it _is_ a contribution to the marketplace of ideas envisioned by the US Constitution), that _it_, the protest, should be abhored.

I suggest you seriously consider not protesting this meeting, and withdrawing your “call to action”. It could ultimately damage your credibility, and be seen as a purely “politically correct” move, so common in colleges these days.

Sincerely,
A left-wing armchair activist,
Andrew Montalenti

The State of the Union: about as good as our most ignorant citizen

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

As someone who has [nearly] made it through college with financial aid programs, work-study, spending my own personal savings from high school, school loans, and funnelling summer job money into my education, I am appalled by the two-facedness of President Bush on the issues of competetiveness and education.

President Bush was handed not only his riches but also his presidency by a political dynasty and a largely unrecognized system of political nepotism. Other Americans have worked hard in the face of adversity, and are still given a raw deal with low wages, incomplete health coverage, and an uncertain future.

If we want to remain competitive, we have to preserve the American spirit that encourages rugged individualism, but we must also recognize that it is only when people break free of the shackles of ignorance that they can excel and contribute to our society.

In my view, the government’s primary domestic goal should be ensuring there be affordable (ideally free) education to all of its citizens so that they can be lifted out of the shackles of ignorance and thrust forward into upward economic mobility. This President treats education like an afterthought, first spearheading a bad program (No Child Left Behind) and then underfunding it. President Bush would seem to prefer if all schools were private like the ones he attended, accessible only to those fortunate to be born into rich households.

When will the $400 billion dollars we fruitlessly spend on “defense” (about 6 times more than China spends, they’re #2) start to be the target of cuts, instead of our precious few social programs and our public education system, which are so desperately in need of preservation and expansion?

Two must-reads

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

One, and this has been floating around the blogosphere I think, but it is essential:

Human Development Trends 2005 at GapMinder.com.

The second is Harold Pinter’s starkly anti-Amerkn Nobel Acceptance Speech, which you can read at the Guardian.

Gas prices and fuel efficient cars

Monday, November 14th, 2005

Why are cars in the United States still so damn fuel inefficient? On /. right now, an argument is going on over whether this might be because gas is so damn cheap in the USA. We see the gas prices fly up to over $2.50, and we get scared. But in Europe, gas prices have been over $6 US/gallon for awhile.

However, in Europe cars are much more fuel efficient (out of necessity). They are also more beautiful and more fun to drive, but that’s beside the point. The main thing is that they are much, much more fuel efficient.

So how can we get that here? Well, one way is to use the European model, because we know it works, and start taxing gasoline more. But I think that’s actually a bit unfair, because it punishes even those who make better purchasing decisions, such as Prius drivers.

I think that we should institute a graduated tax on cars based on their fuel efficiency ratings. Oh, you get below 15 mpg? That’s too bad–now you have to pay for a lot of gas, and your car will cost 20% more. Oh, but you really like your GMC Yukon 4WD? Well, be prepared to cough up an extra few thousand dollars for it, then. We’ll take the money and use it to research alternative fuel sources.

Meanwhile, those cars that are really fuel efficient should get some major price breaks. This already happens sometimes with the Prius. But I think the discounts should be much greater and that America should really open up the market for fuel efficient cars.

We’ve been living in this dream world where the environmental externalities and consequences of our guzzling of cheap oil has absolutely no impact on our lives. It does have an impact, and Americans just don’t see it. They need to be encouraged to buy fuel efficient cars by making the inefficient ones expensive and the efficient ones cheap. That’s really so obvious and easy, I don’t see why it hasn’t happened yet.

(Well, I do see why, but I just wish we weren’t so damn beholden to oil companies.)

Fog of War: A Truly Thoughtful Movie

Friday, November 11th, 2005

I only just tonight got to watch Fog of War, a documentary which interviews Robert S. McNamara and draws from his past experiences lessons about the nature of foreign policy and wars.

One of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking movies I’ve seen about a person who advised presidents who had the power to wipe out entire countries with a single military order, and who years later realized that nuclear warfare and human fallibility can only mean something horrible for this society of ours.

You must see this movie; after you do, you’ll also see why I’m not so quick to buy the line about the necessity of Hiroshima/Nagasaki.

Tom the Dancing Bug Cartoon on Bush

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005

Saw this cartoon in the Village Voice today. Sorry for the bad photo, but you should be able to read it. It’s worth it.

Lobbying Against America

Monday, October 3rd, 2005

Lou Dobbs has a great article about lobbying and campaign finance reform. I guess someone’s still talking about what I consider to be the number one political issue of the day.

Check it out.

The Cost of This War

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

I was at Cost of War today, a great site if you want to get depressed.

Even just zooming in on Nassau County, New York, $2 billion of our local community’s money has gone to this fruitless war. What’s amazing is when they tell you that same amount could have been spent to send 95,000 kids from Nassau County to college. That’s good. Instead of an educated workforce, a less ignorant society, and a more empowered populous, we got a toppled statue, a middle east that hates us, more terrorists with their crosshairs on us, and higher gas prices.

Did I mention I hate this President almost as much as I hated him in 2000, when I yelled, “I’ll be saying, ‘I told ya so!'”

Shame on Us

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

In the second-to-last Real Time with Bill Maher, the talking head from the American Enterprise Institute pointed out how disappointed he was that the Economist ran a cover which implied that the United States should be ashamed of itself for the Katrina disaster. He said the left wing loves to “Blame Us First”, but he doesn’t buy into that; he’s still proud to be an American.

You’re not ashamed? I think I might understand why he thinks that way. For example, if you’re walking by a cliff, and see some poor guy slip and almost fall of the cliff, and now he’s there hanging off the edge, you would be compelled to go help that person. So you run over to him, put your hand out, and he grabs your hand, and you try with all your might to pull him up. But you just can’t do it, and so eventually you lose your grip and he falls anyway.

One might ask the question, should you be ashamed of the way you acted?

You might feel regretful, you might feel sorry, but you definitely shouldn’t be ashamed of yourself. You did what you could to save him, but he couldn’t be saved. You still did the right thing, it just wasn’t good enough.

Except now imagine that instead of rushing out to grab this guy, you just pulled up a chair, sat down, scratched your chin, and said, “You know, you probably shouldn’t have been walking so close to the edge.”

And as that guy is screaming there for help, you just sit there, emotionless, and debate the should-have’s and could-have’s, instead of getting up saving him.

And he falls to his death.

That’s what the US Government did, and, more particularly, that’s what the right wing that supports it did. And it’s shameful. It’s very, very shameful.

It’s not that people died. It’s that people died and we sat back and told them, “You had it coming to you. Tough shit.”

Land of the Free. Home of the Brave.

Recall the President

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

Liberal Doomsayer pointed out Maher’s last concluding remarks as particularly “poetic”. I’ll have to watch them when I get home, but for now I appeased myself by reading the transcript, which follows:

And finally, New Rule: America must recall the president. That’s what this country needs. A good, old-fashioned, California-style recall election! Complete with Gary Coleman, porno actresses and action film stars. And just like Schwarzenegger’s predecessor here in California, George Bush is now so unpopular, he must defend his jog against…Russell Crowe. Because at this point, I want a leader who will throw a phone at somebody. In fact, let’s have only phone throwers. Naomi Campbell can be the vice-president!

Now, I kid, but seriously, Mr. President, this job can’t be fun for you anymore. There’s no more money to spend. You used up all of that. You can’t start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

Yeah, listen to your mom. The cupboard’s bare, the credit card’s maxed out, and no one is speaking to you: mission accomplished! Now it’s time to do what you’ve always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service. And the oil company. And the baseball team. It’s time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or spaceman?!

Now, I know what you’re saying. You’re saying that there’s so many other things that you, as president, could involve yourself in…Please don’t. I know, I know, there’s a lot left to do. There’s a war with Venezuela, and eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote. But, sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You’ve performed so poorly I’m surprised you haven’t given yourself a medal. You’re a catastrophe that walks like a man.

Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we’ve lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two Trade Centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans…Maybe you’re just not lucky!

I’m not saying you don’t love this country. I’m just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. So, yes, God does speak to you, and what he’s saying is, “Take a hint.”

I particularly like “eliminating the sales tax on yachts.” Oh Bill, sometimes you’re just so damn spot on.