2008/12/31

To defend some bad guys

For 95 months, the New York Daily News considered G.W. Bush to be their Dear Leader, their glamorous Churchillian hero who dared to do things that annoyed "the liberals," but now, in his 96th month, as he's going out the door, Bush is now all of the sudden being compared unfavorably with Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin. And yes, I and Digby both made a lot of serious criticisms of Palin during the campaign, but as Digby points out:

(And frankly, the demonization of Palin after their deification of Bush struck me from the beginning as nothing more than class and gender snobbery. There really is no substantial difference between them except that Palin actually had more government experience than Bush did. She was his natural successor.) [emphasis in original]

It's crass and crude for the Daily News to all of the sudden discover Bush is an idiot. Where were these guys during the years when such an epiphany would actually have been of some use to the rest of us? Heck, just a few months ago, a few weeks before the 2008 election took place, would have been nice.

Alberto Gonzales blames John Yoo for the torture memos.

John Yoo, the then-Justice official who had been assigned to draft the memos, had strong feelings and no one could have pressured him to write the memos a certain way, Mr. Gonzales said.

and

Gonzo appeared genuinely unable to grapple with why he might be unpopular. "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he asked.

Well, let me put it this way. Gonzales was Yoo's boss. To accept Yoo's torture memos was to make the deliberate and conscious decision to toss the Geneva Conventions over the side and to embrace what "Darth" Cheney calls "The Dark Side." Sorry, but Yoo was a functionary. He was a guy who was doing what he was instructed to do. Gonzales could have said "No" and could have informed the public what their government was up to.

But yes, I have to mention The Guardian's list of the 19 Worst Americans of 2008 (They're British, so they can single out Americans like that). The Washington Monthly lists lots of awful people The Guardian forgot.

2008/12/20

Trustworthiness

Digby reprints Peggy Noonan's November 2000 evaluation of G.W. Bush and what an allegedly wonderful, rugged, he-man of an honest and sincere guy he was. Noonan got a lot right, but ho-o-o-o-boy! Did she get a lot wrong! These paragraphs were especially off-base:

Mr. Bush is at odds with the spirit of the past eight years in another way. He appears to be wholly uninterested in lying, has no gift for it, thinks it's wrong.
---------
...half the foreign and defense policy establishment fears, legitimately, that the Big Terrible Thing is coming, whether in India-Pakistan, or in Asia or in lower Manhattan.

When it comes, if it comes, the credibility--the trustworthiness--of the American president will be key to our national survival.

Well fortunately, Bush's utter lack of trustworthiness did not cost America its "national survival," but it certainly made it necessary for the President-elect to pledge a sharp break with the "past eight years" that came after Bill Clinton's two terms. From President-elect Obama's interview with Time Magazine on December 17th:

(When asked how the American people would know by the mid-term election of 2010 that he had been successful in restoring American credibility) "On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively?"

The total lack of honesty, fundamental human decency and reliability is now coming around to bite various "Bushies" in the rear end. It seems that in January 2004, the then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales defended the pre-war statements of the then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice concerning uranium from Niger and:

The information the Oversight Committee has received casts serious doubt on the veracity of the representations that Mr. Gonzales made on behalf of Dr. Rice.

D'oh! What was very clear from the fabled "16 words" that Ambassador Joseph Wilson discredited was that, at the very minimum, the Bush Administration had failed to perform "due diligence." From a Free Republic summary of the evidence concerning Niger uranium:

A White House spokesman said yesterday, "We have acknowledged that some documents detailing a transaction between Iraq and Niger were forged and we no longer give them credence."

Problem: Had there been a "transaction between Iraq and Niger" to move 400 tons of uranium ore (It takes about 100 tons of ore to get enough refined uranium to make a bomb) from Niger, proper due diligence would have required that the Bush Administration should have detailed how Niger intended to move the uranium ore to Iraq.

Niger has no railroad lines from their uranium mines to the sea, so it would have had to have moved the ore via trucks. Driving from the border of Niger through Nigeria to the city of Lagos or through Benin to Porto-Novo is about 400 miles. Let's say each truck could carry two tons of ore each. That means they'd have to assemble a convoy of 200 trucks. They'd have to add in vehicles to act as advance scouts and a dozen or so light, armed vehicles to provide security. Presuming good roads, the convoy could make the journey in a day, moving the uranium onto a ship would probably take longer, depending on how ships there are loaded.

Chances are zilch that this could have been done secretly. Nigeria or Benin would have had an opinion on the matter and would have demanded to know exactly what the convoy was carrying. Every intel agency in the area would be aware of such a large convoy and every naval power in the world would be aware of the movement of the ore onto a ship, which would have been tracked all the way to its destination. It's simply not credible to say that such a movement could have been made in such a way that the US would not have been aware of it.

Can President Bush credibly claim that due diligence was performed? Did Peggy Noonan judge Bush's honesty correctly? I think we can safely say that Noonan's character-judging abilities are completely worthless.

2008/12/16

Revisionism watch

A WaPo piece describes how President Bush has recently begun to display his "sensitive side." Funny though, the "burrowing" of Bush Administration people (transforming political appointees into career civil servants as appointees are expected to vacate their jobs when a new administration takes over, but it's difficult to fire a civil servant) proceeds full speed ahead.

Has Bush shown much compassion and sensitivity over the years he's been in office? Well, in late January 2003, a Methodist Bishop tried to get an audience with Bush to discuss the upcoming Iraq War, saying that it "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ." The Bishop was refused and their face-to-face conversation never took place. In August 2005, Cindy Sheehan wanted Bush to take time out from his vacation and talk with her about her son's death and what, if anything, he was doing to see to it that more sons and daughters and husbands and fathers didn't die needlessly in Iraq. She too, was refused an audience.

Also, a report from the Senate Armed Services Committee makes it quite clear that Bush is directly linked to detainee abuse by his having stated that "...the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections." The entirely predictable result was that:

Many of those deaths caused by abusive treatment have been formally characterized as "homicides" by autopsies performed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see these chilling compilations of autopsy findings on detainees in U.S. custody, obtained by the ACLU, which reads like a classic and compelling exhibit in a war crimes trial).

For Bush to suddenly start claiming to have been a "compassionate conservative" (a term that many liberals dismiss as being a contradiction in terms) is like Calvin of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes suddenly deciding on December 24th that he'd better start being a good boy or Santa won't bring him any presents.

And hey! Bush is now claiming that he never said that the Taliban had been eliminated! Erm, uh, yeah, and the "Mission Accomplished" banner had been spontaneously put up by the sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln and was not a project directed by Karl Rove's people.

And oh yeah! General Eric Shinseki didn't really contend at the time that Rumsfeld's plan for the occupation of Iraq was fatally flawed!

Sigh! Yeah, unfortunately, we're going to hear a lot more of this kind of revisionism over the next few months.

2008/12/12

A reason to write a nice letter

The blog County Fair within the website Media Matters has been busily documenting the wretched, sorry spectacle over the last few weeks of the traditional media panting, slavering, grasping and lusting to write the next "Whitewater" story or to kick off the next "Monica Lewinsky" scandal. America apparently has a bunch of middle-school-age adolescents in charge of much of the traditional media.

The good news is that we saw some pushback on MSNBC Live on 11 December.

...anchor Tamron Hall forcefully challenged Republican strategist and TheHill.com blogger Doug Heye's characterization of President-elect Barack Obama as a "good friend" of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D).

Now obviously, if Obama and Blagojevich were "good friends," it would be entirely appropriate for the strategist's/blogger's report to go unchallenged. It would be entirely appropriate for the MSNBC person to smile and say "Thank you for appearing with us" and to then go on to the next topic. But because Ms. Hall found Mr. Heye's description to be off the mark, she DID HER JOB as a newsperson and challenged him.

This is the kind of thing that active and alert citizens should notice and encourage. Any time that a traditional media outlet goes beyond merely ignoring a bad story and instead challenges the spreader of lies, we should let the station know that their action is noted and appreciated.

Write to:

MSNBC
Mr. Phil Griffin,
Senior Vice President, News
NBC Television Network
30 Rockefeller Plz
New York, NY 10112
phil.griffin@nbc.com

Steve Capus,
President, NBC News
steve.capus@nbc.com

MSNBC
letters@msnbc.com
MSNBC/Microsoft-NBC
30 Rockefeller Plz
3rd Fl
New York, NY 10112
(212) 664-4444

You can only send an email to Mr. Capus, but Mr. Griffin will take both emails and paper letters and MSNBC as a whole will take emails, paper letters and phone calls.

How should we as citizens deal with the notion, sincerely held by many people, that the best way to deal with a silly, trivial media obsessed with gossip and personalities, is to ignore them? As Republicans have ceaselessly pointed out since 9-11, we live in a dangerous world. As the writer, lawyer and activist Mike Hersh points out, President Clinton's anti-terrorist efforts ran into continual Republican roadblocks.

President Clinton also ordered a "terrorism threat assessment of every federal facility in the country," which had "already begun" when, in February 1995, the Clinton Administration introduced a counter-terrorism bill in the Senate (S. 390) and the House of Representatives (H.R. 896). Note: this was before the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Oklahoma City bombing on April 19 that year.

--------

Unfortunately, Republicans sabotaged Clinton's efforts to keep us safe. If in force before April 19, 1995 federal officials might have detected and prevented the Murrah Building plot.

Why didn't people notice and complain about this obstuctionism? Well, a silly, trivia-obsessed media is a dangerous distraction that allows i
mportant work to be put aside in favor of hysterical scandal-mongering and baseless impeachments. It's very much in our self-interest as American citizens to nip this ridiculous stuff in the bud and to stop it before it gets too far.

What is the extent of the current problem? Eric Boehlert points out that;

As much as I hate coming to the defense of "conservative pundits," they're hardly the only ones making the "tainted" claim, despite the fact Obama was "exonerated" on the tapes. It's pretty much the entire Beltway press corps that's been playing up that angle.

Crooks & Liars observes that "taint" seems to be the "Word of the Day." Two Democratic politicians, both from Illinois and one is supposedly "tainted" by the scandals of the other. But gee, it's funny that George W. Bush and Tom DeLay were two Republican politicians from Texas and somehow, for some strange, amazing, inexplicable reason, Bush was never "tainted" by the scandals of DeLay. Funny how that works!

2008/12/09

Whitewashing history

Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times: "In a sweeping defense of his record, President Bush asserted Friday that his administration is leaving the Middle East a 'freer, more hopeful and more promising place' than when he took office.

When Bilbassy-Charters asked if he'd had any second thoughts, Bush replied: "I'm sure there will be. I mean, there's been some disappointments."
Q. "Like what?"
Bush: "Well, like, Abu Ghraib was a terrible disappointment. And admittedly, I wasn't there on the site, but I was the Commander-in-Chief of a military where these disgraceful acts took place that sent the absolute wrong image about America and our military.

If Bush is merely saying that Abu Ghraib was sending a message to the world that was inconvenient to the US, that "Dang, it's too bad word got out about this," then it's hard to disagree with his statement. If Bush is trying to claim that Abu Ghraib somehow didn't represent his administration, that this was a "rogue operation" of some sort, 'fraid not.

On March 11, 2008, House democrats (sic) failed to garner enough votes to override President Bush’s veto of a bill that would have made it illegal for the CIA to use brutal "interrogation" techniques to extract information from suspected terrorists. The vote was 225 to 188, missing the two-thirds majority needed by 51 votes.

Yes, the vote was a clear majority, good for those 225 Congresspeople, but 188 of them showed themselves to be as morally bankrupt as their President demonstrated himself to be. No, Abu Ghraib may not represent America as a whole, but it most certainly represents a substantial group of Americans.

Does Abu Ghraib represent the US military?

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said he found the Pentagon report “very troubling” would hold hearings on how the SERE training methods “migrated” into Iraq and Guantanamo as the basis for interrogation. “They were put to a purpose that was never intended,” he said. [emphasis added]

Unfortunately again, the answer is that while Abu Ghraib does not represent the whole of the US military, substantial sections are so corrupted that again, the term "morally bankrupt" is appropriate.
----------
Q. "But some say, sir, that the removal of Saddam Hussein has bolstered Iran and make emergent as a regional superpower."
Bush: "I disagree completely with that. I think the emergence of a democratic and stable Iraq on Iran's border is in the -- will help more likely keep the peace vis-à-vis Iran in the Middle East. . . . "

Erm, Iran has been greatly strengthened by the US invasion of Iraq, says the Jerusalem Post.

And from the Asia Times:

In short, Bush had from the first facilitated the very event he warned would be a disastrous consequence of a US withdrawal from Iraq: the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed militia. And while Bush contrasts the promise of democracy in Iraq with the tyranny in Iran, there is now substantially more personal freedom in Iran than in southern Iraq.

Not sure if calling Iran a "regional superpower" is entirely appropriate, but calling Iraq an emerging "democratic and stable" country is, well, it's a nice idea, says Americans, but "61 per cent of respondents think Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy."

Bush's attempt to whitewash history is running headlong into the reality of the situation.

2008/12/06

Juan Cole argues with President Bush

President Bush gave a speech on US-Mideast policy at the Sabas Forum on 5 December, Juan Cole then argued with much of what he said in that speech. In doing so, Cole reviewed and again called attention to many aspects of Bush's policies and explanations for those policies that have irked and annoyed liberals, lefties and progressives over the years.

Primarily, Bush annoys progressives by giving his listeners an entirely one-sided and very highly selective view on causes and events. He doesn't just speak as if wearing blinders, he speaks as if he were observing these things through a straw. As Cole observes, when speaking of various Middle Eastern "bad guys,"

A popular Shiite anti-Shah, anti-imperialist movement is no different from a small hyper-Sunni terrorist group?

According to Cole, Bush seeks to present the entire Islamic world as an:

undifferentiated terrain of seething irrational hostility

And I'm sorry, but Bush just plain flat-out lies in this paragraph:

"When Saddam’s regime fell, we refused to take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place."

Cole reviews the well-documented history of the Bush Administration's clear intention of installing Ahmed Chalabi as the Iraqi "friendly strongman" and continues with how the US tried again with Ayad Allawi. Both attempts failed because of Iraqi opposition. Neither attempt was unsuccessful because the US decided that such a thing would violate American ideals of democracy.

Even if we were to assume that Bush was being entirely honest and sincere in his desire to see democracy spread across major portions of the world, we'd still have a major problem with the way that Bush has chosen to go about it. The methods one chooses are important. Back during my college days, one of my professors got very excitable about the errors that people were making in interpreting a subject. Someone pointed out later that the professor had to realize that "He's not cutting down a forest, he's irrigating a desert." By the same logic, Bush and the neoconservatives around him seem to think that creating conditions for a democracy simply means getting rid of the local dictators. In reality, getting a democracy up and running means:

You need institutions like a well-trained legal and judicial establishment that can lay the groundwork for a rule of law. You need vital, independent unions and chambers of commerce. You need security. You need lots of things besides the Marines.

According to Cole, Saddam Hussein's Baath Party is the "bad guy" of today, but Bush's speech erases the history of how the Baath Party got into power back in the 1950s and 1960s with the enthusiastic backing of the US. Yes, it's entirely possible that "The Establishment" of the US regrets doing that and is now determined to right those old wrongs, but when their spokesperson ignores the history of US complicity in Mideast violence, there's no reason for anyone to have confidence that any new policies are being planned.

It's of course impossible to blame just Bush and his people for all this. Democrats haven't really tried to present an alternative view. I think that situation has changed a bit from years ago and the Democratic Party is more ideologically progressive than it was when Bush took office. The incoming presidency of Barack Obama is, I believe, a big improvement over Bush's presidency, but it's nowhere near enough for a lot of impatient critics, among whom I count lots of my buddies in the anti-war movement. The traditional media hasn't been presenting alternative views either, but again, the rise of the netroots with a more leftist perspective has ameliorated that problem somewhat. We're still not "there" and the press corps appears to still be unhealthily obsessed with Hillary Clinton and trivia in general, but I think we're making progress.

2008/11/30

WaPo editorial misinforms

Re: "Road Map in Iraq" Nov 30

This piece appears to be designed to appeal to what political writers call the "low-information voter." First of all, it is true that President-Elect Obama has not "acknowledged its [the "Surges"] success in greatly reducing violence around Iraq." Yes, the "Surge," a temporary increase in the number of US troops in Iraq, was an element in the quieting of Iraq over the last two years, but as several Democratic Presidential candidates pointed out at the time, the increase in troops was only one of the many factors that produced that success. The stand-down of Muqtada al-Sadr and the anti-al Qaeda-in-Iraq "Anbar Awakening" were also very crucial elements without which the "Surge" would have gotten nowhere.

Yes, the "new democratic system" has indeed gained a footing in Iraq, but the editorial goes to great lengths to avoid pointing out that the happy situation owes far less to American leadership than it does to tough bargaining by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The statement "The Bush administration worked patiently and tirelessly to negotiate the new agreement" is flat-out false. President Bush's original idea was to make a "conditions-based" as opposed to a "calendar-based" withdrawal, in other words, for American troops to remain in Iraq essentially forever. Bush gave way under pressure from Iraq's Prime Minister.

It's not at all clear that Iraq stood up to pressure from Iran. It's hard to believe that Iran opposed an American timetable for withdrawal.

Has President Bush won a victory in Iraq or an equivalent thereof? I would argue that no he hasn't, as by my understanding, victory in Bush's eyes meant a permanent American presence and an American monopoly on oil drilling in Iraq. This definition of victory is not just that of the American left wing, but of much of the world, including the great majority of Iraqis. The idea that America invaded Iraq simply to leave behind a better, more democratic system is certainly consistent with Bush's rhetoric, but not at all consistent with his actions.

Can we blame Bush's failure to secure a permanent American presence in Iraq on mere "mismanagement"? That strikes me as even more simplistic and reality-avoiding than the idea that Bush aimed merely for a stable and democratic Iraq. The main problem with pursuing a counter-insurgency strategy as opposed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's idea of an American "light footprint" was always that a counter-insurgency strategy meant getting a serious number of "boots on the ground" in Iraq.

The only way to have done that was to have had a draft. Yes, Bush has never let the word "draft" escape his lips and has never explicitly advocated that Americans sign up for the Army in large numbers, but neither has anybody else on the Republican/conservative side of the political aisle. The entire subject has simply been a "don't go there" for the American right wing as a whole.
This editorial reminds me of how my brother-in-law described Secretary of State Colin Powell's dramatic UN presentation of February 2003: "Impressive, if you didn't know anything about the subject before watching him. If you were reasonably informed beforehand, not impressive at all."

2008/11/24

Bizarre anti-Obama arguments

I had my letter published in my local newspaper and went to the letters page online to see if there had been any comments concerning it. Nope, but I was struck that there was a commenter who was obviously a conservative and/or a Republican who was very unhappy about Obama's failure to deliver "change."

Posted by bpphilly 11:03 AM, 11/24/2008
Tango: Rahm Emanuel, Eric Holder, Tom Daschle, Gregory Craig and soon enough Hillary Clinton. Early on this admin reaks of the Clinton White House, and seems to offer no real "change" other than nameplates on the offices. So what again where you saying? Read a real news outlet? How's this:> Get a clue. But typical of most libs you're too busy attacking and hating the right to even notice how wrong you are.

After a liberal questioned what bpphilly meant by this he responded:

Tango: you really are a dipsh*t...Obama promised Hope and CHANGE. His admin is now full of Washington insiders...exactly what you cite is wrong with Bush's White House.

Except that nobody ever complained that Bush's government was "full of Washington insiders," we complained that Bush and his people were criminals, not that they were merely "insiders." So I responded:

Oh good grief! "Change" means Obama shouldn't have anyone in his cabinet who has any Washington DC experience? Aw dude...lemme explain something to you, I'll type slowly so you can get it, "change" means "different from the Bush Administration"!!!! OK? As long as Obama's people have a "D" after their name and not an "R," they're "change."

to which bpphilly gave a disgusted reply:

You're right...typical "do as I say, not as I do" Dems. Whodda thunk?

But Obama never ran an "anti-insider" campaign! He ran an "anti-George W. Bush" campaign. The most effective attack line of the campaign was that John McCain was planning to run "a third Bush term" The line, an entirely accurate one in my humble opinion, came from a February campaign event where a reporter asked McCain whether he “would be in effect carrying out a third Bush term.” McCain replied with warm compliments towards the President, which indicated that he'd do just that. The North Carolina Democratic Party offered the following in October:

John McCain offers nothing more than a third Bush term. On Iraq, he says that he wants to stay in Iraq for the next 100 years. On tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, he has flip-flopped and now sides with President Bush. He's the candidate of Washington lobbyists and represents the status quo.
When it comes to the economy, health care, and creating a responsible, effective exit strategy for Iraq, McCain proposes no new ideas. 

Note that these are all highly specific references to G.W. Bush/Republican Party policies. In no sense is this a general attack on "Washington" or "Babylon on the Potomac" or "pointy-headed bureaucrats" or any other Republican term of disapproval. It's impossible to read these Democratic Party attacks as meaning that former Clinton Administration people would not be welcome in an Obama Administration.

Our press corps is, of course, never satisfied. Back in 1993, the then-Political Director Rahm Emanuel and the now-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was and is considered unsatisfactory. First because in 1993 he was "inexperienced" and now in 2008 because he's a "Washington insider." There's simply no possible way to ever satisfy some people.

In a recent National Review column, the editor there says:

And that's change you can believe in from the Democrats? Establishing the Obama administration as the voice [of the] pro-abortion [rights] Left?

Well, first of all, Obama has always been pro-abortion rights (or pro-choice) and second, yes. For a Democratic administration to favor choice IS a change from the current administration. No one ever said Obama would be different from other Democrats. Obama never claimed that he'd strike out on a course that would distinguish him not only from the current Republican administration, but from all Democrats as well.

Strangely, many people who consider themselves to be liberals have a similar complaint, that pragmatism should outweigh ideology. This is a rather strange complaint as no one can determine a person's competence unless one has some idea as to what they're trying to accomplish. Corpwatch does a report called "Casualties of Katrina" that examines the struggle that the citizens of New Orleans have had in reconstructing their lives after the disastrous 2005 hurricane. Corpwatch presents no evidence that their struggles have been made more difficult deliberately, but it does present a picture of a highly uneven recovery that's not easily explained. For instance: "...there has been a boom in the casinos of Biloxi, Mississippi, yet the local shrimping community has failed to recover."

Let's presume that these problems are due to simple factors like incompetence. We can then say that the people in charge of the reconstruction are unsuited for their jobs. But if the inconsistent nature of the recovery is deliberate, then the people in charge are splendidly competent and are doing precisely what they're supposed to be doing. It's simply impossible to determine someone's "competence" in a vacuum of purposes and intentions.

To complain that Obama's appointees are "ideological" is a rather bizarre complaint. Of course they're ideological. The thing that makes them new and good and praiseworthy is that they're ideological Democrats and not ideological Republicans.

2008/11/19

Review of NR piece on Missile Defense

The Weekly Standard did a piece urging President-Elect Obama not to cancel the Missile Defense project, a project that has cost the US, since the Bush Administration took office, about $60 billion.

Question: How well does the program work at shooting down missiles? "...missile defense assets have scored successes on 35 of 43 hit-to-kill intercepts, or 81.39 percent of the time." Sounds impressive, no? Well, no actually. Back during 2002, the Center for Defense Information recommended a series of steps to ensure that Missile Defense was being constructed to specifications so that it would operate in an effective manner.

In 2004, the Missile Defense Agency clamped down on any ability by scientists to ensure that the MDA designs worked as they were supposed to work. Keep in mind that the Bush Administration is working on an approach that's considerably more complicated than what it inherited from the Clinton Administration.

Is it possible that the MDA pursued its work effectively despite the lack of outside scientific oversight? Not if the Iraq War is anything to go by. It was reported in 2006 that in Iraq, not just millions, but billions of dollars were "burned" through "waste, fraud and war profiteering."

Unfortunately, the extremely high likelihood is that the MDA's impressively high hit-to-kill ratio given above is a complete fraud.

The Weekly Standard piece devotes a considerable number of paragraphs to how much consensus there is over Missile Defense, over how many nations agree to deploy it. The "elephant in the room" in this case is the enormous amount of money that's available to the defense contractors of any nation that gets cut in on the action. If these private businesses are able to get in on a scheme that awards them an enormous amount of money without any effective oversight from the US, that's a pretty good motivation for them to push their government to cooperate. It was pointed out in December 2002 that: "There has, in fact, been little to no assurance that this initial missile defense will be effective," but that "...opposition in Congress remains weak." The reason given is that "large special interest contractors" were driving the process.

Also, the NR piece brings up very scary specters of rogue third-world nations developing nuclear weapons. Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry says:

Given that we are concerned about the missile threat, we must also examine other ways of dealing with it. Throughout the Cold War we faced a much greater nuclear missile threat without a national missile defense. During that period our national security depended upon the effectiveness of our deterrence forces, which are still overwhelmingly powerful. We need to examine the extent to which we are willing to continue to make our national security dependent on deterrence. Is deterrence somehow ineffective against the Third World nations looming as future threats? If so, why, and what can be done to make it more effective?

Proponents of Missile Defense declared back in 1983 that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), the foundational building block for the doctrine of deterrence, was dead. I wasn't convinced of that back in 1983 and I'm not convinced now. Deterrence was built upon the fact, not that the Russians Communists were either Russians or Communists, but that they were human. With the exception of modern-day suicide bombers operating in Iraq and Japanese Kamikaze pilots back in the Pacific during World War II and a few others, people (aw heck, let's just say organisms) generally seek to survive. A nation fires a missile, that missile tends to be pretty easy to track back to where it came from. A single person or small group such as the 9-11 hijackers may be willing to commit suicide, but that tells us very little about how whole nations behave.

Is diplomacy dead? Have the past eight years proven that one cannot make bearable deals with "evildoers"? I actually think the past eight years have proven that President George W. Bush is incompetent at diplomacy, not that diplomacy itself is somehow lacking in effectiveness. Case in point is peace between Palestine and Israel. Bush said back in January 2008 that "...both sides are getting down to the business of negotiating." In early November 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was assuring the world that "Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Has Not Failed," even though "The talks have made little tangible progress."

I was convinced back in the 1980s that Missile Defense was a classic boondoggle, designed far more to take money away from taxpayers and to award it to private contractors, than it was to anything else. The NR piece gives me no reason to change that opinion.

2008/11/17

WaPo frets over allegations of liberal bias

The problem with Deborah Howell's latest attempt to reassure conservatives concerning that ol' boogeyman "Liberal Bias" is that she doesn't appear to understand what journalism is all about. Is the problem she identifies, that conservatives are under-represented in the newsroom, a general across-the-board problem in the news media? Hardly. The Sunday talk shows for November 16th, shortly after a Democratic landslide sweep of the Presidency, the House & the Senate were devoted to..."how does the GOP recover; how does it map out a new future?"

Uh, pardon me, but who gives a rat's $#@?!?!? Why are the troubles of the Republican Party even remotely interesting to a national audience that just rejected the GOP wholesale? Why can't the Sunday talk shows cover, y'know, the upcoming Obama Administration, their personnel choices, their policy preferences, etc.?

Looking at Howell's report on the alleged "bias" shown by the WaPo, she cites a front-page piece on

"Troopergate" -- the allegation that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin fired her state's public safety commissioner because he wouldn't dismiss her ex- brother-in-law from his state trooper's job.

But unlike Whitewater, a story that the traditional media covered obsessively throughout most of the Clinton Presidency, "Troopergate" is actually a legitimate story concerning Governor Palin's abuse of power, a story that was extremely relevant considering that she was applying for a job that would have placed her a 72-year-old's heartbeat away from the US Presidency. It's difficult to understand why anyone would object to this story as an example of mere "bias" without looking at the story itself, how accurate the story was and how relevant it was to the national conversation as a whole. Howell's column makes no attempt to evaluate any of this. Howell simply cites the story as an example of the paper's "Liberal Bias."

The question is, should the WaPo be applying some sort of quota system, so many conservative writers to so many liberal writers or should they simply try to report the facts and try to report on important, relevant stories as they come up? The subsite "County Fair" at Media Matters says:

To [Howell's column], our response is simple: Who's stopping conservatives from being hired in newsrooms? Honestly. If Newsbusters can document how scores of qualified College Republican grads were passed over by local newspapers to poorly paying jobs to cover local zoning commission jobs simply because the applicants were conservative, we'd love to hear about it.

The "problem" in getting conservatives to apply for newsroom jobs is identical to the "problem" in getting them to apply for college professorships. Both of these are poorly-paid jobs that take a lot of work. Yes, ideological motivations are important to both jobs. If one has a liberal worldview, that view will come out in the lectures that one gives or in the articles that one writes. Of course, as America's media as a whole is largely controlled by just six companies, it's not clear why the owners of these six companies can't exert effective ideological control by simply making a few phone calls to their people in the field.

I would suggest that the focus of the Sunday talk shows on the future of the Republican Party is the problem and that the focus of the Washington Post on writing liberal articles is a sign of health. The talk shows appear to be concerned with what the owners of the six media-owning companies want, whereas the WaPo writers are concerned with what actually matters to their readership.

2008/11/14

Moral responsbility for innocent Guantanamo prisoners

Dick Morris and Alan Colmes on Guantanamo and what to do with innocet prisoners there:

ALAN COLMES: ...you know, the whole idea that what this president has done -- enemy combatants, that he can declare anybody an enemy combatant -- people not having rights to an attorney --
MORRIS: Let's --
COLMES: -- locking people away without an opportunity for redress.
MORRIS: Well, let me --
COLMES: That's radical.
MORRIS: ...Enemy combatants. As we point out in Fleeced, there have been 225 people released from Guantánamo, and 50 of them -- 50 of them -- have taken the battlefield and fought against American soldiers. And we know, because we've killed them or wounded them, and we have their proof -- the DNA -- that we had them under lock and key.
And now Obama's going to close Gitmo, and all of those people are gonna be back in the field, fighting against us.

First off, I very highly doubt that 50 former prisoners have gone back to the battlefield to fight against Americans and please note that closing Gitmo does not automatically equal letting prisoners go. Prisoners who can be proven guilty will obviously be kept in custody, but let's say Morris is right. What to do about people who are unjustly incarcerated? 1) The US can keep them indefinitely, but that's morally indefensible. 2) The US can execute them, but that's even more grotesquely immoral. 3) The US can remove their motivation to go back to the battlefield and fight Americans.

Carrying out option number 3 would mean punishing those who are responsible for allowing the moral abomination of Guantanamo to exist in the first place. By excusing and sweeping Guantanamo and other, assorted atrocities under the rug, the US demonstrates that the lives of Muslims and our own moral culpability are of no concern to us. By punishing the perpetrators, the US demonstrates that Guantanamo really does represent an abhorrent and condemned chapter in our history.

The relevant campaign statement from our President-Elect is:

If you were a Muslim overseas listening to Rudy Giuliani say "they are coming here to try to kill you," which is the tenor of many of the speeches that are delivered by Republicans, you would get an impression that they are not interested in talking and resolving issues peacefully. Now, what we need to do [to reach Muslims] is we need to close Guantanamo. We need to restore habeas corpus. We need to send a strong signal that we are going to talk directly to not just our friends but also to our enemies.

Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Democratic debate Dec 13, 2007 
 

Note that President-Elect Obama suggests going well beyond mere statements. He suggests taking concrete actions to assure Muslims that yes, Americans really do regret ever opening up Guantanamo.

Camille Paglia and the new face of the Republican Party

Camille Paglia produces an amazingly incoherent essay, with "facts" she appears to have pulled straight out of her butt:

But John McCain ...was... a candidate of personal honor ...

Uh, really? I thought his campaign was the absolute pits and about as "honorable" as a road race from the 1979 movie "Mad Max."

In the closing weeks of the election, however, I became increasingly disturbed by the mainstream media's avoidance of forthright dealing with several controversies that had been dogging Obama -- even as every flimsy rumor about Sarah Palin was being trumpeted as if it were engraved in stone on Mount Sinai. For example, I had thought for many months that the flap over Obama's birth certificate was a tempest in a teapot. But simple questions about the certificate were never resolved to my satisfaction. Thanks to their own blathering, fanatical overkill, of course, the right-wing challenges to the birth certificate never gained traction.

Obama's birth certificate was produced and a scan of it was featured on Daily Kos. There simply are no serious outstanding questions to be asked about it. Every possible objection has been voiced and answered. That's why "right-wing challenges...never gained traction." Paglia then extends her charge to cover the Ayers controversy.

As Media Matters points out:

The lack of media attention to the [G. Gordon] Liddy-McCain relationship is one of the clearest double standards in recent political history. McCain and the news media have devoted an extraordinary amount of attention to Barack Obama's ties to Bill Ayers, yet until last night, McCain hadn't been asked a single question* about his ties to Liddy, a convicted felon who has instructed his listeners on how best to shoot law-enforcement agents. [emphasis added]

How Paglia can claim that the traditional media "avoided" the Ayers question is a mystery to me.

How dare [Alaska Governor Sarah] Palin not embrace abortion as the ultimate civilized ideal of modern culture?

Who in the heck does?!?!? Abortion is an unfortunate necessity because unintended events happen and because abortion/carrying the child to term and giving birth to it is a yes/no, up/down choice. As the decision has to be made promptly, one specific person has to have the clear, unequivocal authority to make the final decision. There are those who would give that decision to someone other than the mother-to-be. Pro-choicers don't agree with those people. It's not a matter of a wonderful versus a horrible decision, it's a matter of who gets to make the call.

How tacky that she speaks in a vivacious regional accent indistinguishable from that of Western Canada!

Who in the heck ever complained about that? This sounds like those complaints that "liberals didn't like (the younger) George Bush because he spoke with a Texas accent." Excuse me, but Molly Ivins came from the same region and we loved her. Jim Hightower is also from Texas and he's reasonably popular as well. In no case did I ever see any examples of any liberals uttering any sort of quote that even vaguely attacked Bush for being from Texas. I'm not saying that no liberals have ever attacked either Bush or Palin for their regional accents, but I'd need to see some attributed quotes before I'm prepared to take anyone's word for it that any such prejudice has ever existed.

Liberal Democrats are going to wake up from their sadomasochistic, anti-Palin orgy with a very big hangover.

Again, this just causes me to go "Whu-u-u-uh?!?!?" Remember that Republicans have been equally rough on Palin, partly because her failure to answer simple questions embarrasses them and because they're (quite rightly) terrified that she'll be seen as representing the Republican Party.

Paglia claims that Palin is a naturally smart person. Sure, I'll agree with that, but the problem is not that she isn't smart. What she revealed in September was not that she wasn't smart enough to understand what the "Bush Doctrine" was, but that she just never cared enough about foreign policy issues to keep current on the disputes that were then taking place. Anyone even minimally paying attention (It was pointed out that both her running mate McCain and his opposite number Obama were able to answer the "Bush Doctrine" question immediately & correctly) should have been able to name a doctrine that's a foundation of Bush's foreign policy. By claiming that John Edwards was equally unprepared to be a Vice-Presidential running mate, Paglia shows that she's completely ignoring the question of how much Palin actually knows and cares about policy details.

Is Palin a "popular phenomenon"? Well, with the hard-core right wing she is, and that's why we on the left love the idea that Palin represents and is seen as the face of the Republican Party! Believe me, our support for her is entirely malicious.

2008/11/09

WaPo Ombudsman & campaign coverage

Deborah Howell, the Ombudsman for the Washington Post, feels really, really awful about the paper's election coverage. Why does she feel awful about it? She feels that the WaPo tilted its coverage to favor Barack Obama and to make John McCain look bad. She backs up her assertion essentially by bean-counting:

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces (58) about McCain than there were about Obama (32), and Obama got the editorial board's endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain.

Problem: Obama and McCain did not run similar campaigns! Comparing the two campaigns is an apples & oranges exercise. The demagoguery of McCain's Vice-Presidential running mate, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, was so extreme that the death threats made to Obama reached levels to where the Secret Service had to make the Obamas aware of them.

The Secret Service warned the Obama family in mid October that they had seen a dramatic increase in the number of threats against the Democratic candidate, coinciding with Mrs Palin's attacks.

Is it really fair or appropriate to do a bean-count to see how "biased" or "tilted" the WaPo's election coverage was without taking into account that the rhetoric coming from just one side was so demagogic, that it sounded so much like it was coming from a lynch mob, that the Secret Service was alarmed at the number of death threats that Palin's rhetoric was provoking?

And I'm sorry, but I really have to stick up for Palin here:

Irate John McCain aides, who blame Mrs Palin for losing the election, claim Mrs Palin took it upon herself to question Mr Obama's patriotism, before the line of attack had been cleared by Mr McCain.

Sorry, wrong answer!!! A presidential candidate is responsible for his campaign. Period! No ifs, ands or buts about it! That's why candidates say "I'm [so-and-so] and I approve this message" at the end of all of their campaign commercials. Palin has zero responsibility for her words, whether she decided to say them on her own or not. The campaign gives her the script that she speaks from, either on paper or via a teleprompter. Her job is to read the words given to her. She refuses to do the job, she gets fired (The campaign may be hopelessly incompetent, but they're still legally responsible). Absolutely no one is ever, under any circumstances, going to allow a partner in his or her campaign to just run off by herself and do her own thing. Ain't gonna happen.

McCain himself had to "dial it back" when a woman told him at a "Town Hall Meeting" that she was worried because she was convinced that Obama was an Arab. McCain snatched the microphone away from her and said that Obama was "a decent man" (And no, saying that Obama's "a decent man" doesn't really constitute an objection to the claim that he's an Arab). The inflammatory accusations were pulled back a bit.

Another problem with Howell's evaluation as to how well the WaPo did is how the paper did on "horse-race" stories versus "issues" stories:

The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories.
----
There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues.

My feeling on "horse-race" stories is that well, any idiot can read a poll and there are at least half-a-dozen polling firms out there that do reasonably reliable work. Interpreting a poll to see what will happen next? That's far more a matter of art than science. Anyone who tells fortunes using palm reading, tarot cards or tea leaves is perfectly capable of (and probably has just as good a record at) making reasonably reliable guesses based on polling data.

What would I prefer the WaPo spend its time & resources on? That's easy. According to Bill Hamilton, assistant managing editor for politics, the paper is in the business of providing what they "were uniquely able to provide our audiences both in Washington and on the Web." Now, let's see, what can a large, well-funded, well-connected institution provide that, say, a blogger can't? Or what can it provide more easily than a lone blogger can? How about "broad stories on energy or science policy, [or] ... religion issues"?

In other words, the WaPo would serve the public interest much better by chucking at least three-quarters of the "horse-race" stories and concentrating more on "broad stories" on issues. I'm interested in seeing the WaPo concentrate on doing what it's good at. Let the bloggers and small papers do the "horse-race" stuff. The WaPo should concentrate on "issues" stories where they take a serious look at the issue, at each candidate's plan for dealing with the issue and for how well their plan is likely to work. Based on looking at a few Palin talks, I'd guess the McCain campaign wouldn't come off looking very good.

2008/11/05

Election reactions

Ah, the sweet smell of success! Victory has been attained, but it's not a military-type victory, attained with the blood of our enemies, the wailing of foreign widows and the crying of the children of other lands. No, the election of Barack Obama by 63 million to 56 million was obtained peacefully, with persuasion, with good arguments, and yes, with an economic situation that was the direct result of Republican rule over this land since 1981 (CEPR counts Clinton as a "Republican-lite" for the purposes of this study). Certainly, the Mideast, with the exception of Israel & the Kurdish NorthEastern part of Iraq, has been hungry for change and so welcomes the American regime-shuffling.

And yes, I know it's mean, but I really had to guffaw at the National Review Online guy who bitterly complained that:

Just watched Wonder Boy's speech. Hmph. "Callused hands?" When did he ever have callused hands?

Ri-i-i-ight! Like, anybody at the NRO knows about "callused hands" from anything but storybooks and the occasional field servant that they dealt with in their youth. He then blames "the swooning complicity of the media," but it's quite clear that the traditional media was firmly on the side of McCain throughout the election campaign.

Media Matters also compared coverage of Obama's association with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers to coverage of McCain's association with G. Gordon Liddy, whom Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman has described as McCain's "own Bill Ayers."
----
Moreover, while these same media outlets mentioned Obama's ties to Ayers 311 times in 2008 through Election Day, they produced only five reports mentioning McCain's connections to Liddy, whom McCain has praised and repeatedly associated with in public and in campaign settings.

And our NRO guy then has asks a question:

Sour? You bet I'm sour. Where was conservatism in this election?

Hmm, okay. but we have to ask, what exactly does he mean by "conservatism"?

Where was restraint in government? Where was national sovereignty? Where was liberty? Where was self-support?

I heartily agree that government has been completely unrestrained under Bush. What with warrantless wiretapping, detaining prisoners without evidence of wrongdoing in defiance of habeas corpus (or the Geneva Conventions, as applicable), voter suppression through the widespread use of "vote caging," (that is, "sending 'Do Not Forward' letters to minority voters that, if returned, could be used to challenge them as nonresidents"), vote purging (famously seen in Florida before the 2000 election) and the firing of US Attorneys who weren't sufficiently pursuing bogus "voter fraud" allegations (as opposed to "vote fraud," which is when vote suppression is done by the government).

Problem: Where was the NRO during all of this lack of "restraint in government"? Seems to me that conservatives of all stripes and varieties spent the early part of this century praising Dear Leader Bush and bashing the liberals who tried to object. Or did the bulldozing of Dixie Chicks' CDs strike people as an action where the right wing showed respect for political dissent? And remember:

The "K Street Project"—the most successful shakedown operation since the first Gilded Age—was the brainchild of Representative Tom DeLay and Grover Norquist...

I don't remember any conservative objections to that, either. Granted, the "K Street Project" was shut down shortly before the Democrats took over Congress, but let's not confuse a preemptive, defensive reaction to an action based on principle.

Quite frankly, Obama's choice of Rahm Emmanuel for Chief of Staff fills me with joy, as no, he's not as liberal as I'd prefer (He backed NAFTA and wants to privatize the border), but he "doesn't do 'bipartisan'," which I find completely cool at this point.

A piece on PhillyIMC makes an interesting charge, that as the left of 1993 didn't put up much of a fight to control Bill Clinton's "Third Way," "Republican-lite" tendencies, that the left of 2009 will be equally useless at guiding and directing an Obama Administration. I dunno. Seems to me that the left of today is much more together, more energetic, more connected than it was in 1993. President Reagan garnered genuine support from the American people and the elder Bush, who inherited a lot of that good feeling, was less of an overt criminal than the younger Bush is. When the press corps of 1993 launched its all-out assault on Clinton with idiotic crap like "Whitewater," the press being crazy and out of control was a new thing and progressives weren't sure how to handle such a thing. Nowadays, we're fully aware of it and know how to deal with it. That's not to say the netroots are as powerful as the traditional media is, but I think they're far more able to take on the combination of the right-wing noise machine and the traditional press then they were before.

Finally, I agree that there's a danger that Obama will become the new Dear Leader who can do no wrong and who will be defended from our side of the aisle whether he deserves it or not, but I think this blogger makes some very good points:

But I genuinely expect that those who have made the restoration of our Constitutional framework and preservation of core liberties a top priority over the last eight years will continue to pursue those goals with equal vigor, regardless of the change of party control. And few things are more important in that effort than having a Supreme Court majority that at least minimally safeguards those principles. It's hard to overstate the importance of last night's election outcome in ensuring a reasonably favorable Court majority and, even more so, in averting what would have been a real disaster for our basic rights and system of government had John McCain been able to replace those three Justices with GOP-approved nominees. By itself, maintaining the Court more or less as is won't reverse any of the Constitutional erosions of the last eight years, but it is an absolute prerequisite to doing so.

I think all the work we put into making sure that McCain did not succeed Bush was well worth it.

2008/10/30

After the election?

I have to agree that this is about the dumbest idea I've heard all week:

Last, I believe this [that Obama will pursue a centrist strategy] is likely because Obama understands that to succeed, he must make peace with John McCain just as he has done with Hillary Clinton. When this historic election concludes, I expect the two to sit down, without precondition, and negotiate an agenda of reform.

The problem here, is that if Republicans had any serious ideas for how to run the country better, they would already have been talking about those ideas. Instead, Karl Rove's "big idea" is for them to have started attacking Barack Obama's relationship with Palestinian-American Professor Rashid Kahlidi last spring instead of waiting until the week before the election. To attack Professor Kahlidi is racist to the core as:

[Kahlidi] is a distinguished scholar, and the only objectionable thing about him from a rightwing point of view is that he is a Palestinian. There are about 9 million Palestinians in the world (a million or so are Israeli citizens; 3.7 million are stateless and without rights under Israeli control in the West Bank and Gaza; and 4 million are refugees or exiled in the diaspora; there are about 200,000 Palestinian-Americans, and several million Arab-Americans, many living in swing vote states). Khalidi was not, as the schlock rightwing press charges, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. He was an adviser at the Madrid peace talks, but would that not have been, like, a good thing?

John McCain has attacked Professor Kahlidi as a "neo-Nazi" and of course, Matt "the GOP-friendly Internetist" Drudge has splashed the story onto his home page, and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been pushing the story as only a Vice-Presidential candidate can. The Obama campaign's very appropriate answer is that the whole controversy is:

...another recycled, manufactured controversy from the McCain campaign to distract voters' attention from John McCain's lockstep support for George Bush's economic policies.

And this was a good one:

At an event Wednesday in Raleigh, North Carolina, Obama said McCain has spent the last few days calling him "every name in the book."
"I don't know what's next. By the end of the week, he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten. I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich," Obama said.

Governor Palin then went on for a few paragraphs about achieving "energy independence" from Mideast oil, but didn't once mention alternative energy. Simply drilling for more oil runs into the "Peak Oil" problem (A few decades ago, the US had already pumped more than half the oil it will ever pump and the rest of the world is now at or very near that same stage). Nuclear energy has a lot of advantages, but storing the nuclear waste is a problem that hasn't been solved yet.

...the DOE acknowledges much progress in addressing the waste problems of the industry, and successful remediation of some contaminated sites, yet also major uncertainties and sometimes complications and setbacks in handling the issue properly, cost effectively, and in the projected time frame.

So, while "energy independence" is most certainly a valuable and worthwhile thing to do, it's far from clear that the McCain-Palin campaign has any seriously meaningful ideas for actually achieving such a thing.

How about in other areas? How's the War on Terror going? Well...er...not so hot, actually. It's really cool for:

...defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game

but, as for the rest of America, it's

a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point.

Sorry, but the idea that Obama and McCain can sit down after the election and talk productively with each other about the future direction of this country is, well, a pretty stupid one. I simply can't see McCain having anything serious to propose.

2008/10/18

The frustrations of figuring out the traditional media

The New York Times does a front-page, somewhat lengthy (16 kilobytes) story on Cindy McCain that's all about her as a person. The reporters go to rather absurd lengths, one of them "...trolled Facebook and found adolescent classmates of Bridget McCain's and -- at least in one case -- sent an email..." that asked some rather rude and invasive questions along with dredging up 15-year old matters and wondering whether the McCains' marriage was one of true love or was instead a convenient business-sort of alliance. This wasn't attractive when the NY Times did it to the Clintons (David Broder defended a 2006 article of theirs and was called, quite justifiably, a "panty-sniffer") and it's no more attractive when they do it to a political conservative.

There simply don't appear to be any standards left. It seems that every aspect of a politicians life is now fair game and it's not at all clear that the public has gained anything useful from all this.

Ah, but wait! Are there any subjects that are off-limits? Any questions that the traditional media will not ask? Strangely enough, yes. In late August, the Religion Blog in the Dallas Morning News noted that "The presidential candidates have answered more religious questions than a seminary student," but although Governor Sarah Palin was clearly a Christian, it wasn't at all clear what "flavor" of Christianity she subscribed to. The blog finally concluded she might be a "Charismatic" Christian. One thing that's clear, religion is a subject near and dear to her heart:

Palin, her husband Todd, and their growing family attended Wasilla Assembly of God until 2002, when they moved to Wasilla Bible Church. Palin also has worshipped at other churches, including the Church on the Rock in Wasilla. In Juneau, the state capital, she has gone to Juneau Christian Center.
Of these four churches, two--Wasilla Assembly of God and Juneau Christian Center--are members of the Assemblies of God. Founded in 1914, the Assemblies of God is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country. Pentecostalism--which takes its name from the day of Pentecost when, according to the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles--is a movement that began in 1901 and is best known for its emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, including speaking in tongues. The other two churches are freestanding congregations. The Church on the Rock is "charismatic," a term usually applied to more recent forms of Pentecostalism, while Wasilla Bible, the Palins' present church, is neither Pentecostal nor charismatic.

These branches of Christianity are quite clearly not meant to be ones that their adherents take casually or that they attend on an on-and-off basis. The Catholic Knight defends Palin's religion as a perfectly ordinary one:

What we have here is very typical of mainstream Evangelical doctrine. It is very Protestant. There is nothing on the fringe or radical about it. This is what most Evangelicals believe. The same goes for most Pentecostals. The difference between them is mainly in detail and practice.

There was apparently a backlash around the beginning of September:

Time’s Mark Halperin went so far as to publish a graphic suggesting that “Anti-Republican, liberal media bias” contributed to a “feeding frenzy” in which the press becomes a shark pursuing a saintly Sarah Palin.

It was noted at the beginning of October that:

We've noted before how the campaign press seems reluctant to ask pointed questions about Palin's religious beliefs. Specifically, if she believes that Christ will come again in her lifetime as part of the End Times theology her former church preached, and how that End Times belief might guide her decision-making as vice president.
The Real News Network just posted an informative video about Palin's fundamentalist faith and asks why the press isn't posing direct questions about it. 

So Palin's religion appears to be one matter that the media considers more-or-less off-limits, though of course the other three candidates remain completely fair game for that subject.

Another subject appears to be the whopping double standard of the Barack Obama-William Ayers relationship and the far deeper, far closer relationship of John McCain with G. Gordon Liddy. Liberal blogs were talking about that relationship as far back as May of this year. It took a late-night comedian, David Letterman, to finally ask McCain about what was clearly a blatantly obvious double standard. Funny thing, no one appears to have taken Letterman's questioning as permission to start questioning that relationship themselves.

Unfortunately, after Letterman broke the media's embargo on questioning McCain's relationship with Liddy, reporters quickly pretended it never happened -- or, if they did mention it, downplayed the significance of the relationship.
-----
But the worst was MSNBC. This morning, the cable channel played a clip of McCain on Letterman -- but not the Liddy exchange. Then, immediately after the clip, MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall referenced the McCain attacks on Ayers. At no point did Hall mention Liddy.

So is the media taking a "no holds barred," "scorched earth" policy and asking all sorts of rude and inconvenient questions? Well, yes and no. There are quite a few areas where they step very gingerly and other areas where they've disgraced themselves with their boldness.

2008/10/07

Detailed examination of Biden-Palin debate

This really struck me early in the debate, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin said:

"Now, Barack Obama, of course, he's pretty much only voted along his party lines. In fact, 96 percent of his votes have been solely along party lines..."

Well, okay, but remember that Palin's running mate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has voted with G. W. Bush 95% of the time. Also, as a fellow member of the incumbent party, he and Palin are pretty much guaranteed to give us four more years of pretty much the same policies.

Palin: "...we need also to not get ourselves in debt." This chart demonstrates that the national debt went steadily downwards under all of the Presidents from Truman to Carter, underwent dramatic increases under Presidents Ronald Reagan, the elder George Bush and the younger George Bush and in between the Bushes, it fell under Clinton. Again, to vote for McCain-Palin is to vote for four more years of the same. Looking at the rhetoric McCain used in his debate with Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), he came up with a few minor savings, but he failed to specify any big-ticket items he'd eliminate. By specifying that he'd eliminate the Iraq War as a spending item, Obama did far more to establish his deficit-fighting credentials than McCain did.

As the McCain campaign has touted Palin as an energy expert, let's look at her comments in that area:

"Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper."

Of course, Palin also says:

"Now, as for John McCain's adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he is known for though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform."

But let's go with the idea that Palin is a believer in small, limited government. Okay, but then she talks about her desire to do something about America's energy supplies. Her initial set of talking points are about causing greedy oil companies grief and of denying them tax breaks. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) agrees that Palin imposed a windfall-profits tax in Alaska, but points out that the McCain-Palin team will ask oil companies to pay even less in taxes, according to McCain's already-published tax plan. Here's more from Palin:

"When we talk about energy, we have to consider the need to do all that we can to allow this nation to become energy independent.
"It's a nonsensical position that we are in when we have domestic supplies of energy all over this great land. And East Coast politicians who don't allow energy-producing states like Alaska to produce these, to tap into them, and instead we're relying on foreign countries to produce for us.
"We're circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign countries, some who do not like America -- they certainly don't have our best interests at heart -- instead of those dollars circulating here, creating tens of thousands of jobs and allowing domestic supplies of energy to be tapped into and start flowing into these very, very hungry markets.
"Energy independence is the key to this nation's future, to our economic future, and to our national security."

What's the likelihood that America can become energy independent? Well, there's a concept here called "Peak Oil" that Palin doesn't appear to be familiar with. Essentially, there's only so much of the stuff. The US extracted half of all the oil that we'll ever extract back in the 1970s. The rest of the world is at or near that same point. It is simply impossible for the US to ever become energy independent by drilling for more oil.

Palin later mentioned "hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of clean, green natural gas," but natural gas is not exactly environmentally-friendly. Like oil, natural gas is a fossil fuel. Like oil, the burning of it produces a great deal of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Natural gas is "the cleanest of the fossil fuels," so Palin is not entirely wrong in her description of it. Using more natural gas can certainly be part of the solution to America's energy needs, but only part.

Can the US build more nuclear power plants? Well, yes, but no one has ever figured out how to dispose of nuclear waste, material that's no longer radioactive enough to heat water, but that's still too toxic to keep around humans.

What's left? Alternative energy! Defined as:

solar energy, wind power, geothermal, biofuel, biodiesel, hydrogen

basically:

every form of renewable energy

Now, the conservative website Human Events claims:

...no matter how fast we pursue every form of alternative energy known, our economy will remain largely oil-based for decades.

And I believe that's a true statement, but it's also a true statement that we're never going to get to energy independence by simply drilling for more oil and by digging up natural gas. The McCain-Palin path is a guaranteed dead-end. The alternative energy path may take quite awhile to produce real results, but progress in this area won't happen by the US sitting on its collective duff. As the world's leader in technology, the US is uniquely positioned to make real progress in this area. And obviously, alternative energy solves the problem of depending on foreign countries. One hardly needs a commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia if one is getting sufficient quantities of electricity from wind power.

I noticed that this assertion of Palin's was not disputed after Biden shot it down:

"But when you talk about Barack's plan to tax increase affecting only those making $250,000 a year or more, you're forgetting millions of small businesses that are going to fit into that category. So they're going to be the ones paying higher taxes thus resulting in fewer jobs being created and less productivity."

And Biden's answer:

"...95 percent of the small businesses in America, their owners make less than $250,000 a year. They would not get one single solitary penny increase in taxes, those small businesses."

So yeah, some small businesses would get extra taxes, but obviously not "millions." It's difficult to categorize Palin's statement as anything but a flat-out lie.

And Biden's right. Palin's statement: "We have got to win in Iraq," is not a plan. It's not at all clear what "win" means in the context of Iraq. One of the major problems of fighting a guerrilla war is in identifying who exactly the enemy is. "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is clearly part of the problem, but only part. The Sunni insurgency, the backbone of which was Saddam Hussein's army, dismissed and left on their own by J. Paul “we really didn’t see the insurgency coming” Bremer, is now the backbone of the "Awakening Councils" and we'll see what happens now that the Shiites have assumed command of them. The Shiites (Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is a Shiite) have essentially been biding their time, waiting for the US to leave. Juan Cole says:

My best guess is that Iraqis will go on fighting their three wars, for control of Basra among Shiite militiamen; for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunnis and Shiites; and for control of Kirkuk among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. They will fight these wars to a conclusion or a stalemate. It is only the battle for Baghdad that has been fought at a lower intensity because of the American surge in any case, and I would be surprised if it does not start back up as US troops leave.

Nothing in Iraq was truly solved by the US invasion of 2003. A vacuum was opened up and various groups are simply waiting for the US to leave so they can continue their own power struggles. Iraq is and was not Eastern Europe of the 1950s through the 1980s. There is/was no movement "yearning to breathe free." The US invasion was not greeted with flowers. It was entirely correct to describe Saddam Hussein as an evil dictator. He was certainly that. But Hussein's regime was not communism and he ruled the same territory that his predecessor did. Palin's statement "we're getting closer and closer to victory" is simply nonsensical.

I can certainly understand Palin's frustration here:

"No, in fact, when we talk about the Bush administration, there's a time, too, when Americans are going to say, 'Enough is enough with your ticket,' on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game.
"There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration."

But properly putting blame where it belongs is an essential part of moving forward. And I'm really not sure we can describe many things as mere "blunders" when we don't know the full background story behind them. The Bush Administration is, and has been, an extraordinarily secretive group. Remember, the firing of the US Attorneys starting in 2006 was pieced together mostly by the blogs. We owe absolutely nothing to most of the traditional media (McClatchey Newspapers being a big exception, they made many positive contributions) for uncovering that. I do agree with this statement of Palin's:

People aren't looking for more of the same. They are looking for change.

I and most of the people who watched their debate, however, did not agree that the McCain-Palin team constitutes a change. John McCain and Sarah Palin are offering "more of the same." It's been charged that a first term of McCain equals a third term of Bush. I and most of the country agree with that.

2008/10/01

The bail-out plan

Starting with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-month September 2008, the US economy started showing signs of distress. Looked like all of the bragging about the successes of Bush's economic stewardship weren't true after all. The trouble with the housing bubble actually started back during the Clinton Administration and with Alan Greenspan's habit of talking in vague, indecipherable mumbles.

Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan deserves much of the blame. He was grossly negligent in allowing both the stock and housing bubbles to grow unchecked. He decided to just let the bubbles run their course, expecting to pick up the pieces after they burst.

Further explanation from Dean Baker of CEPR:

Everyone should understand that we are in this mess for two reasons. First the financial regulators, both in the Bush administration and more importantly at the Fed, were completely asleep for most of the decade. As the housing bubble grew to ever more dangerous proportions, and lenders adopted increasingly questionable lending practices, the regulators did nothing.
The other reason we are in this mess is that the Wall Street banks got themselves hugely leveraged in real estate and other assets. In many cases they had no appreciation of the value of the underlying assets. They also apparently did not understand the complex financial derivatives that they had themselves created.

As Paul Krugman of the NY Times explains, the current problems stem directly from the housing bubble's collapse:

The new system was supposed to do a better job of spreading and reducing risk. But in the aftermath of the housing bust and the resulting mortgage crisis, it seems apparent that risk wasn’t so much reduced as hidden: all too many investors had no idea how exposed they were.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as though Bush was very educated about how the economy worked before he entered the Oval Office. During a talk on the 23rd, he sure didn't talk as though his economic knowledge was very wide or deep.

"Well, my first instinct wasn't to lay out a huge government plan. My first instinct was to let the market work until I realized, upon being briefed by the experts, of how significant this problem became.
"And so I decided to act and act boldly. It turns out that there's a lot of interlinks throughout the financial system. [emphases added]

The full talk is at the link, but I read that and I'm like "Wow! Did this guy not know that the economy was very highly 'interlinked'?!?!?!" And when someone doesn't know much about the economy, is it really a good idea to "act boldly"?!?!? Really?!?!

Actually, the final bail-out plan that was voted on appears to have been a pretty good one. Krugman did not like Treasury Secretary Paulson's initial plan. Baker also didn't like it:

The bailout is about taking money from the school teachers and cab drivers and giving it to incredibly rich Wall Street bankers, who are so incompetent that they drove their banks into the ground.

But Krugman approved the re-worked plan that was voted on upon the 29th:

Maybe we can let Wall Street implode and Main Street would escape largely unscathed. But that’s not a chance we want to take. So the grown-up thing is to do something to rescue the financial system.

Why didn't the bill pass?

Mr. Paulson never offered a convincing explanation of how his plan was supposed to work

And let's also consider the Bush Administrations record in handling huge amounts of cash. These guys have a well-documented record of flushing billions and billions down the toilet.

Many people also noticed Section 8 of the bail-out plan:

Sec. 8. Review.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency. [emphases added]

This section simply made any trust in the administration absolutely impossible and made it necessary for Democrats to extensively re-work the proposal. That wasn't enough to save the plan, though.

The Republicans tried claiming that they couldn't vote for the bill because Speaker Pelosi was mean to them. A claim they later backed off on. Other conservatives came up with similarly unconvincing reasons as to why the crisis occurred in the first place. As the blogger emptywheel says:

It's bad enough Bush fucked up the economy so badly. Now his party wants to use his own failure to beat Democrats over the head for their plans to fix the broken economy.

Personally, my answer is that first, we have to remove Republicans from power. Getting Blue Dog Democrats out would be a good thing too. But there are simply no good solutions possible with the current crew in office.