2008/09/27

Debate initial reaction

Liveblogging of the debate begins with FireDogLake, Daily Kos and Think Progress.
John McCain appears to want to keep all the old wars going AND to begin new ones! He thought the US should keep at it in Iraq. He thought that troops should be increased in Afghanistan. He was for defending Georgia against Russia, even though Georgia clearly started the fight (Obama unfortunately agreed with McCain even though he probably knows better). He even appeared to want to have Ukraine join NATO! The US is very heavily overstretched as it is. Exactly where does McCain expect to get the troops to do all this? Obviously, if the US population was willing to put up with a draft in any form, we would have seen that awhile ago.
McCain tried and tried to make the case that the "surge" in Iraq was a success and that the drop in violence owed nothing to factors that the US didn't control, but for anyone familiar with the arguments, that just didn't wash. Especially telling on that score was McCain's description of "clear, hold and build," a strategy that was tried many times, unsuccessfully, long before General Petraeus assumed command of US forces in Iraq.
McCain mentioned the former Bush policy of refusing to meet with bad international actors. Gives good summary of the idea, saying we don't wish to reward bad actors by legitimizing them (via publicly meeting them). Barack Obama correctly points out though, that the policy was a complete failure. Bush has begun to change it and even denounced John Bolton, who was very fond of that policy.
McCain's economic proposals sound a lot like Ronald Reagan's, and we all know how that "great deficit hawk" thing worked out! Deficits shot through the roof!

2008/09/23

The economics education of our president

Y'know, is it just me, or does it sound as though President Bush, after seven and a half years on the job, is just now getting some idea as to how the economy works?

The president finally took his first two questions about the exploding financial crisis on Saturday, in a joint appearance with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe: "I know -- look, I'm sure there are some of my friends out there saying, I thought this guy was a market guy; what happened to him?
"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. The system had grown to a point where a lot of people were dependent upon each other, and that the collapse of one part of the system wouldn't just affect a part of the financial markets; it would affect the average citizen -- and how. Well, it affect their capacity to borrow money to buy a house or to finance a college loan. It affect the ability of a small business to get credit. . . .
"I asked Hank Paulson -- who, by the way, in my judgment, is doing a fabulous job; he's got a lot of credibility and he's working, and his team are working hard, as are the people at the Fed and the SEC -- I said, what's it going to take to make sure Main Street doesn't get affected by the policies of Wall Street? And this is what they came up with, and this is big ticket, because it's a big problem. . . .
"And I believe this is going to work. We had the considered judgment of a lot of capable people. It's not only just here in Washington, but our people were listening to a lot of other voices. And we took our time to come up with a strategy and a plan that would address the problem. . . .
"And, you know, I know a lot of people here in Washington, Mr. President, saying, well, who to blame? Now is not the time to play the blame game. There's plenty of time to analyze the situation. But from our perspective, it's time to solve the problem, and that's what we did."

Of course, "play[ing] the blame game" would hurt Bush's corporate buddies and all his rich friends wouldn't like him anymore if he did that. But for Bush to just now be discovering that there are "interlinks" and that "the collapse of one part of the system wouldn't just affect a part of the financial markets; it would affect the average citizen" caused me to do a real double-take. Did this fellow really come into the Oval Office with that shaky a grasp as to how the economy works? Has his knowledge really been that shallow the whole time?

2008/09/13

Pro-life beliefs

Tom Englehardt examines the massacre at Azizabad, Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai cites the work of

Ahmad Nader Nadery, commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, similarly reported that one of the group's researchers had "found that 88 people had been killed, including 20 women." The U.N. mission in Afghanistan then dispatched its own investigative team from Herat to interview survivors. Its investigation "found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men." (The 60 children were reportedly "3 months old to 16 years old, all killed as they slept.")

The American military strongly disagreed, at first citing a casualty count of

...exactly 30 Taliban "militants"... ("Insurgents engaged the soldiers from multiple points within the compound using small-arms and RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fire. The joint forces responded with small-arms fire and an air strike killing 30 militants.")

Later, the American military was pushed into agreeing that yes, indeed, some civilians did indeed perish. The story contains a very chilling description of the way that American forces view real-time information and air power:

That night, a combined party of U.S. Special Forces and Afghan army troops attacked the village. They claimed they were "ambushed" and came under "intense fire." What we know is that they called in repeated air strikes.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway explained:

"You know, air power is the premiere asymmetric advantage that we hold over both the Taliban and, for that matter, the al Qaeda in Iraq… And when we find that you're up against hardened people in a hardened type of compound, before we throw our Marines or soldiers against that, we're going to take advantage of our asymmetric advantage… You don't always know what's in that compound, unfortunately. And sometimes we think there's been overt efforts on the part of the Taliban, in particular, to surround themselves with civilians so as to, at a minimum, reap an IO [information operations] advantage if civilians are killed."

It's just very difficult to believe that the Special Forces really had on-the-ground, real-time, close-up human observers to inform the aircraft that their target was a memorial service. Tactical, close-in air support is of course, vitally important and needed if US troops are to win engagements. But it's really not clear that there was any "hardened compound" involved or that there even was any return fire. The NY Times piece cited in the story refers to "eight bomb-damaged houses," but the only mention of any "compound" is:

In the compound next to his, he said, four entire families, including those of his two brothers, were killed.

In other words, not a "hardened" compound at all, certainly nothing resembling a military bunker. There's no talk in the piece about captured weapons. And as to the "fire" reportedly received from the village:

The villagers and the relatives of some of the people killed in the raid insisted that none of them were Taliban and that there were no Taliban present in the village.

and

The villagers say they oppose the Taliban and would not let them in the village.

The real question is then, were the Special Forces anywhere near the village to begin with? Were they observing from a distance, through scopes, or were they even that close? Did they simply hear or did their devices detect a large gathering? This is an inherent problem with airpower and guerrilla wars. Airpower is necessarily a very blunt and clumsy instrument to use against an enemy that slips around barely detectable, mostly unobserved and in the shadows. As stated earlier, close-up air support is vitally important while conducting tactical operations, but planes flying around and bombing targets without any human observers on the ground to confirm that the planes are indeed striking legitimate military targets do counterinsurgency forces far more harm than good.

Problem is, how on Earth can we reconcile military tactics that President Bush has approved with his allegedly "pro-life" stance? In his desire to be seen as a defender of the sanctity of life, he insisted back in 2001 that stem cells could used for medical research, but only under very strict conditions. He also made it clear during the 2000 campaign that he really didn't like abortions and wanted to reduce their incidence. He also favored, in July 2008, a sort-of conscience clause for hospitals that would allow employees to refuse to provide contraceptive services.

Can a human being really be that "Ahh, who gives a $%#@!" when it comes to casualties from an air strike, yet tenderly concerned and solicitous when it comes to decisions involving the unborn? It's not like the Afghan villagers of Azizabad were guilty of anything. Killing them was like killing the drivers and passengers in other cars when one is driving drunk. They were simply slaughtered at a distance. Their "guilt" was not an issue at all as there is no apparent evidence they were even in the vicinity of a legitimate military target.

As Christy Hardin Smith of FDL makes clear, women must have control over their bodies and their reproductive functions if they're to be full human beings and citizens.

Why tell you something so personal? Especially when it is no one's business but ours?

Because it is no one's business but ours how we made the decision, what medical issues were at stake, and what choices we made together. Which is the point of choice. No one but the people involved in the individual circumstances can truly know why the decision is made -- to terminate, to keep, to risk. [emphasis in original]

As Bush himself says about the Bristol Palin pregnancy:

President Bush "believes that this is a private family matter," says White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The talking points circulated at the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., are in remarkable concurrence: "This is a very personal matter for the family," a suggested script distributed to delegates and leaked to the press says.

Well...exactly! That's precisely what pro-choicers have been saying all these many years! How a woman, how a family, deals with a problem pregnancy or with an unwanted pregnancy is their business and should be their choice.

Anti-abortion activists promote a policy of official meddling — yes, by government bureaucrats — into the private lives of millions of American women, and the lives of their husbands and boyfriends.

"Pro-lifers" are nothing of the kind. They're people who want to deny choice and to force people to do things that people really don't want to do.

2008/09/08

Number of Sarah Palin items

"...a local Wasilla woman's view of Palin the politician"

•"Hockey mom": true for a few years
•"PTA mom": true years ago when her first-born was in elementary school, not since
•"NRA supporter": absolutely true
•social conservative: mixed. Opposes gay marriage, BUT vetoed a bill that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships (said she did this because it was unconsitutional).
•pro-creationism: mixed. Supports it, BUT did nothing as Governor to promote it.
•"Pro-life": mixed. Knowingly gave birth to a Down's syndrome baby BUT declined to call a special legislative session on some pro-life legislation
•"Experienced": Some high schools have more students than Wasilla has residents. Many cities have more residents than the state of Alaska. No legislative experience other than City Council. Little hands-on supervisory or managerial experience; needed help of a city administrator to run town of about 5,000.
•political maverick: not at all
•gutsy: absolutely!
•open & transparent: ??? Good at keeping secrets. Not good at explaining actions.
•has a developed philosophy of public policy: no
•"a Greenie": no. Turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big box stores and disconnected parking lots. Is pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR.
•fiscal conservative: not by my definition!
•pro-infrastructure: No. Promoted a sports complex and park in a city without a sewage treatment plant or storm drainage system. Built streets to early 20th century standards.
•pro-tax relief: Lowered taxes for businesses, increased tax burden on residents
•pro-small government: No. Oversaw greatest expansion of city government in Wasilla's history.
•pro-labor/pro-union. No. Just because her husband works union doesn't make her pro-labor. I have seen nothing to support any claim that she is pro-labor/pro-union.

Membership in an heretical church.

Palin's dedication to the Wasilla church is indicated by a Saturday, September 7, 2008, McClatchy news service story detailing possibly improper use of state travel funds by Palin for a trip she made to Wasilla, Alaska to attend, on June 8, 2008, both a Wasilla Assembly of God "Masters Commission" graduation ceremony and also a multi-church Wasilla area event known as "One Lord Sunday."
--------------
The Wasilla Assembly of God church is deeply involved with both Third Wave activities and theology.
-------------
The Third Wave is a revival of the theology of the Latter Rain tent revivals of the 1950s and 1960s led by William Branham and others. It is based on the idea that in the end times there will be an outpouring of supernatural powers on a group of Christians that will take authority over the existing church and the world. The believing Christians of the world will be reorganized under the Fivefold Ministry and the church restructured under the authority of Prophets and Apostles and others anointed by God. The young generation will form "Joel's Army" to rise up and battle evil and retake the earth for God. While segments of this belief system have been a part of Pentecostalism and charismatic beliefs for decades, the excesses of this movement were declared a heresy in 1949 by the General Council of the Assemblies of God, and again condemned through Resolution 16 in 2000.

A close look at Palin's pregnant daughter Bristol and what exactly the liberal objections to her pregnancy are.

Of course, there is no shame attached to choosing to have a baby when you're young. Nor is there any shame for choosing not to.

McCain, like Bush, wants to eliminate our opportunity to have that choice. But that's not all. Despite all evidence that it doesn't work, McCain, in lockstep with Bush and Palin, wants to continue the ludicrous notion of funding sex education that doesn't educate, but only preaches [i.e., "abstinence only"]. [emphasis in original]

Obama gets in a good one:

Keith Olbermann: “He fights pork barrel spending,” said this new McCain/Palin ad, “she stopped the ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’” ...

Barack Obama: They’re not telling the truth. You know, I mean, it’s — I think we’ve all gotten accustomed to being able to spin things in politics. But when you’ve got somebody who was for a project being presented as being against it, then that, you know, stretches the bounds of spin into new areas.


And do we REALLY want someone of McCain's temperament to be our Commander-in-Chief, with his finger next to "The Red Button"? Sounds like an awfully dangerous proposition! But even given McCain's explosive personality, do we REALLY want the 2008 presidential election to be about personalities? Does that truly serve the interests of the American people?

2008/09/02

The lowdown on Palin

Now that we've had a few days to analyze and digest the Alaska's Governor Sarah "Maverick Mom" Palin, the left blogosphere has reached a few conclusions. First thing to keep in mind is that she's a likable and popular figure up in Alaska, even to serious, hardcore liberals. So, personal attacks are pretty much out of the question. They're sure to backfire. The above blogger has recommended emphasizing how heartless she is in wanting polar bears to drown just so that she doesn't have to recognize the reality of global warming.
John McCain's "base," the traditional media, is also highly supportive of her.
One of the better takedowns of one of the sillier right-wing talking points is that, no, even though Alaska is host to a Star Wars/ABM/Missile Defense station, Palin as Governor has nothing to do with that. She doesn't receive briefings on it and makes no decisions concerning it. It's a federal facility and she's a state official. The facility does NOT give her "Commander-in-Chief experience."
Fortunately, her reputation as a reformer and as anti-wasteful spending are both completely shot.
Surprise of the day, Richard Cohen has written a good piece on Palin (Cohen has taken a considerable amount of grief from the netroots for many years).
For me and lots and lots of liberals personally, I'm really offended by her anti-science views, both concerning evolution and sexuality and her position as a book-burner but as those are issues that inflame liberals more than they do others, it's best to speak of those with those that one knows are in agreement.
Very, very dangerously, the serious, hard-core right-wing religious "Christianist" folks absolutely LOVE Palin. They think she's just wunnerful.
BTW, Oh, and is it really fair to compare Palin to Dan Quayle? Actually no, as that's pretty unfair to Quayle.

2008/09/01

AP's talking points on their "Ron Fournier problem"

Heh. Let's take these items in reverse order. Ron Fournier is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press. He discussed a position in the McCain presidential campaign while not at AP. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but he has also written pieces that read as though they came directly from the desk of Karl Rove. Here's a comment to a "talking points memo" from AP:

I was one of those who said this anti-Fournier thing was ridiculous. But after those talking points, I'm far more sympathetic to the anti-Fournier position than I was. They're quite misleading--especially the Rove email & the interviewing with McCain one. They make it sound like Fournier got a casual "hey, want to join the operation?" and turned it down. But clearly had a number of high-level meetings. You don't do those kinds of sitdowns unless it's a genuine possibility. Again, there's nothing wrong with that (he didn't take the job), but the fact that AP is being so deliberately misleading in how they characterize the McCain/Fournier interaction--either they're being lied to by Fournier or they're carrying water for him. Neither is acceptable.

Posted By: jackalope | September 01, 2008 at 02:37 PM

Here are the talking points "jackalope" is referrig to:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chiefs, RVPs, APME:

As many of you know, some political groups and left-leaning blogs have aligned to organize a newspaper letter-writing campaign against AP Washington Bureau Chief Ron Fournier. The campaign started this weekend with an email writing push aimed at Kathleen Carroll and Mike Oreskes, but has now moved on to urge newspaper readers to write their local editors. Below you will find some talking points to help guide you as this issue plays out. Please feel free to use them in talking with editors and readers and forward to other AP staff you think might find them useful. In addition, later this week, Corporate Communications will go live with a robust new Elections page on ap.org that will provide some real estate to deal with these issues. It will highlight our Elections Team, include an archive of Ron's political analyses as well as those of other AP journalists and also have a FAQ that expands on the talking points below. This will be in addition to the elections and vote count background we normally post on the site.

Ellen Hale
Corporate Communications

AP Elections Coverage Talking Points

For Internal use only by Bureau Chiefs, RVPs, APMC By way of background, the campaign started after Ron wrote an analysis piece about Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden for a running mate. The original headline on the piece, which was labeled an analysis, read:

Biden pick shows lack of confidence. The analysis was similar in perspective, tone and content to what other journalists for major news organizations were writing or saying. Some of the same blogs now are also picking up the drumbeat of dissatisfaction with AP that some members have been voicing with the roll-out of Member choice, encouraging readers to write letters against AP in general. In doing so they grossly misrepresent AP in many areas, including how much AP content is contributed by members. For the record, member content comprises less than two percent of AP national and international content -- the slice that is found on Yahoo, Google and other portals.

This small fraction usually involved a scoop which is credited to the member paper. On the AP State Wire, which is not distributed beyond members, about 45 percent of stories come from members.

AP has what arguably are the strict ethics and news values policies in the industry. They are closely monitored and adhered to. These guidelines lay out in great detail that AP reporters and editors must avoid any political activity, whether they cover politics or not. AP journalists may not perform any kind of work for politicians and may not donate money to political organizations or campaigns, or any other organizations that take political positions. They must avoid any activity or behavior that constitutes a conflict of interest. You can refer anyone to The Associated Press Statement of New Values and Principles at http://www.ap.org/newsvalues/index.html.

In addition, it may be important to remind members that The Associated Press has a long and continuing legacy of aggressively but fairly reporting on how government and politicians serve the people who elect them, regardless of political affiliation. AP fought to win the identities of those held at Guantanamo Bay detention center, for example, and Ron Fournier's own coverage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was extremely critical of the GOP Bush Administration.

To help you deal with questions that may arise as a result of the ongoing issues, here is some background and also what we've publicly said. You can use these in public responses to queries --Ron Fournier started in political reporting in Little Rock, Ark., covering Bill Clinton, who was governor at the time. He covered Clinton's presidential campaign and moved to Washington in 1993, where he spent 13 years covering politics and the White House. He has a strong reputation among his peers for honesty and even-handedness. In 2000, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz described Fournier as one of the "most dogged shoe-leather scribes around," but one who "avoids the spotlight himself." Fournier was AP's chief political writer when he left in 2006 to edit Hotsoup.com, a site that was founded by a bipartisan group of prominent political strategists. He returned to AP the following year as online political editor, charged with developing new approaches to AP's online political and election coverage and to lead new coverage on accountability and governing. He was named acting bureau chief in May and bureau chief on Aug. 1.

--The dual rule of AP Washington Bureau Chief and political writer has long roots in AP history, as well as that of other Washington bureaus. Walter Mears, who won a Pulitzer for his 1976 presidential coverage, served in both capacities from 1977 to 1984. As bureau chief he continued to write news copy, usually analytical pieces. Likewise, other leading news organizations have often had their bureau chiefs serve in both capacities.

--The blogs and political organizations have made much of an email from Ron to Karl Rove that surfaced soon after Ron was named acting bureau chief, and which involved the death of Pat Tillman. The email exchange between Ron and Rove occurred in 2004, while Ron was a correspondent for AP -- long before he was named bureau chief. Ron has widely publicly said that the tone of the email was unfortunate, but that the contact with Rove was in the pursuit of a story. Ron has written both columns and articles that are critical of Rove. Here's what Ron said publicly about the email: "I was an AP political reporter at the time of the 2004 e-mail exchange, and was interacting with a source, a top aide to the president, in the course of following an important and compelling story. I regret the breezy nature of the correspondence." [emphasis mine]

--Blogs also have made much of Ron's discussions with the McCain campaign regarding a position in it. These discussions occurred before Ron returned to AP. he also was considered for employment by Politico.com, the blog. Here's what AP said about it, and what we continue to say in response to queries: "It is not uncommon for journalists to be approached by political campaigns, elected officials and government agencies about possible job opportunities. Ron Fournier was approached by the McCain campaign and turned them down, months before he rejoined AP in March of 2007." (Paul Colford, Corporate Communications) The McCain campaign has made it clear that Ron was not interested in the position and that they never had any idea of his political leanings.

--It also has been claimed that Ron has a conflict of interest because he is listed as a possible speaker for a speakers' agency. When Ron left AP, in 2006 to edit a Web site, he was briefly listed with an agency as part of a speaker's tour to publicize a book he had written. This is routine practice for anyone who has written a book. He has not been involved with any speaking agency since before he returned to AP.The listings are outdated, and were to have been taken down by the agency but were not.

And here's one of the blog pieces that criticized Fournier in the first place:

The AP has a Ron Fournier problem

by Eric Boehlert
You never know what nuggets congressional investigators will uncover when they set off on official inquiries.
Last week, we learned that while investigators for the House Oversight Committee were looking into the 2004 death of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former NFL player whose story was promoted by the White House before it was revealed that he had been killed by friendly fire, they discovered that top political aide Karl Rove had exchanged emails with the Associated Press' Ron Fournier on the day the news of Tillman's death broke.
In one email, Rove asked, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this?" Fournier responded: "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight."
That sign-off, which seemed to indicate an allegiance between the two men, raised hackles all over the Internet. That kind of correspondence ("Keep up the fight") between a reporter and a partisan White House aide during a campaign year lands way outside the boundaries of acceptable newsroom practices.
But Fournier, now the wire service's D.C. bureau chief, shrugged off the embarrassing revelation, conceding only: "I regret the breezy nature of the correspondence."
Of course, Fournier wasn't simply being breezy. "Have a great weekend" -- that's "breezy."
Instead, Fournier was declaring sides. That was the implication of Fournier's note: "Karl, you might think the media are liberal, but you can trust me. And give me access and return my emails. Because I'm on your side."
The Fournier revelation came as no surprise to anyone who has read his recent campaign work, which has routinely been caustic and dismissive of Democratic contenders. In two "Analysis" pieces and a column, Fournier questioned whether John Edwards was a "phony," announced the Clintons suffered from "utter self-absorption," and claimed that Barack Obama was "bordering on arrogance." That's the right of a pundit. But at the same time, Fournier avoided raising any doubts about Sen. John McCain, and in fact rushed to his aid in print during the senator's time of campaign need.

Boehlert's piece continues...

Notice that Boehlert provides detail on Fournier's correspondence with Karl Rove that AP's talking points don't shed much light on. AP pretty much just repeats what they said earlier. The AP talking points came out on August 26th. Boehlert's piece was on July 22nd. So it's not as though AP didn't have time to investigate and explain why Fournier was corresponding with Rove in such a friendly manner. The (Minneapolis) StarTribune "yells" at bloggers for a paragraph and then:

...these letter writers raise a legitimate point. Fournier was in discussions about joining the McCain campaign and was pretty cozy with Karl Rove while he was still in the White House. So when he wrote in a news analysis that that the selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate showed a lack of "self-confidence," I wonder who was doing the analysis: the AP bureau chief or the man romanced by the McCain campaign?
If he were writing for the opinion page, no problem. As the head of the AP’s most important bureau -- directing reporters and determining coverage - it’s troubling.

On September 1st, Fournier declared that "Analysis: [Gov. Sarah] Palin's age, inexperience rival Obama's," an evaluation that the gay conservative Andrew Sullivan strongly disagrees with

I don't think experience is irrelevant as an issue for Obama...
------
But yes, I think Obama is in a simply different league than Palin in terms of seriousness as a candidate, and record on the issues, especially foreign policy.
-----
But pointing out her obvious cluelessness about foreign policy, her anti-neocon views when she actually had any, is totally legit and completely of a piece with my arguments for Obama.

In other words, yes, AP very much still has a "Ron Fournier problem."