2009/12/29

On writing political blog posts

How does one best think about the process of getting one's words and thoughts across to an audience? When I compose my letters to the newspaper editor (Usually on political subjects) for inclusion on the letters page, I often think of myself as a citizen writing to a politician.

What does a politician care about? Getting re-elected.

What does the politician do to achieve that? Deliver the right results to people who care about the issues (No point in expending effort and energy getting, say, the Darfur situation under control if nobody particularly cares about it).

How does a politician know that a citizen cares about an issue? If the citizen demonstrates a knowledge of the subject, if the citizen has a command of the facts concerning the issue and can identify the groups or persons involved with the issue.

Good spelling and accurate identifications are important. If you refer to Planned Parenthood as an anti-abortionist group or refer to Senator Joe Lieberman as the Republican Senator from Vermont (He's an independent from Connecticut), your politicians' assistants will go ahead and take some statistics from your letter, where you're writing from, your age and gender, party you normally vote for, etc. But your letter will then get tossed into the recycling bin and you'll go into a category that says "These people don't really care enough about the subject that there's any real concern about delivering on this issue."

For writing a non-fiction, political piece for the public, I sometimes like to think of myself as a speaker in a carnival sideshow tent. Potential readers are strolling down the carnival fairway, checking out the signs on each tent, wondering whether they wish to allocate a few minutes of their day to going into the tent and hearing what the speaker there has to say.

Each tent has a sign that tells people strolling down the fairway, i.e., your potential readers, the title of your piece and normally your name. More expansive websites will also offer the writer a short space in which to describe
what their piece is all about. A few people wander in and take their seats on the benches provided. The writer comes out onto the small stage and delivers his or her piece. The first few sentences are critical. If the writer just sort of rambles and makes vague, unsupported statements or makes wild, hyperbolic accusations or goes off into a description of something that's kind of beside the point that the audience came into the tent for, well, people will leave. They'll go back out onto the fairway, i.e., they'll click the "back" arrow on their browser, and they'll stroll on to read something else.

Traditionally, newspaper pieces are very deliberately written with short attention spans in mind. What provoked the writer to write about the subject is clear from the title and the first few sentences. They'll try and front-load all of the important information in the piece so that the average reader only needs to get the first few paragraphs in order to get the basic who, what, where and when of the things that are being discussed. More concerned readers can keeping reading for the "why" aspect and for related, relevant information. Sneaky newspaper writers will "hide" information back there so that only a few readers get it, but so that the paper can claim "we covered that."

My own personal preference is for the writing style termed "radical clarity," where the writer delivers a piece and it's not necessarily clear why the writer felt provoked to write it in the first place. The event that provoked the writer of the piece can be presented after the writer fills in the context so that the reader fully understands just why the event energized the writer to write the piece.

The essential point is that there's no one way to write the first few sentences. If one is using a traditional news template, one must begin with the essential, bare-bones facts. If one is doing a "radical clarity" piece, one begins with a detailed description that brings the reader fully up to speed before the writer fills them in on the who, what, where and when of the provocative event. There are, of course, numerous other styles that call for still more approaches.

The essential take-away though, is that one must give one's opening a good deal of thought. "Okay, the audience was just out on the fairway, strolling along and enjoying the sun. They came into my sideshow tent because I promised them a worthwhile show. The show can be amusing or entertaining or thought-provoking or what have you. But the pressure is on and they'll get up and walk out if my first few sentences don't get their attention."

After their attention is attained of course, comes the further hard part of rewarding the audience for sticking around by delivering worthwhile information, amusement, etc.

2009/12/15

So what's Corsi up to TODAY?

Jerome Corsi claims on WorldNetDaily that President Obama's e-e-evil-l-l plan for world domination, or at least domination of the US, a country that he became president of about a year ago, has three critical elements that Obama's organization of e-e-evil-l-l-l henchmen (ACORN) is following:
  1. Register as many Democratic voters as possible, legal or otherwise, and help them vote, multiple times if possible;

  2. Overwhelm the system with fraudulent registrations using multiple entries of the same name, names of deceased and names selected at random from the phone book; and

  3. Make the system difficult to police by lobbying for minimal identification standards required of voters arriving at polling stations to vote.
'Course, there are a couple of problems with all three items. The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School has been examining cases of "Voter Fraud" (Voting multiple times, fraudulent registrations, etc) and finds that the problem is hugely overstated. The State of Indiana attempted in 2007 to pass a law requiring tougher identification standards (See point #3 above), was challenged and was completely unable to provide (PDF) a single example (Out of an estimated 400 million votes cast since 2000) of a case of Voter Fraud that could have been prevented via tighter ID requirements.

But anyway, aside from Corsi attempting to use an elephant gun on a mosquito, Corsi is very, very, deeply concerned that Obama is attempting to destroy capitalism. If he were, this would certainly come as news to Timothy Geithner, the head of the US Treasury who was the CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs from 1999 to 2001 under Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers. Geithner just recently acted to renew the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program until late next year, so it's pretty difficult to figure out how this substantiates the charge that the Obama Administration is trying to destroy capitalism. Corsi then devotes the last seven paragraphs of his piece attacking George Soros and his "inexplicable" hatred for George W. Bush, but how anybody could disagree that Bush and his people stomped all over the Constitution with muddy, hobnailed boots is the part that I find utterly and completely inexplicable.

One question that Corsi raises is how much did the de-regulation of the financial sector have to do with the "Great Recession" that's just now ending? Not a whole lot, the economist Dean Baker claims. He mostly blames the housing bubble and lots of miscellaneous acts of irresponsibility. Yes, the 1930s law Glass-Steagall was canceled on Clinton's watch and no, it was not a good decision. So yes, blame for America's economic mess is, to at least some extent, a bipartisan one.

2009/12/11

How well is the traditional media doing its job?

A fellow named Perry Bacon of the WaPo answered a whole series of reader questions. Bacon felt that, yes, "...most Americans can follow Tiger, the Salahis, health care and Afghanistan..." without skimping on comprehension or losing track of any particular subject. Is that true? Wel-l-l-l, the "public option" is, to progressives, an absolute necessity for the health care plan that's been debated for the last several months to truly succeed. The WaPo's own Ezra Klein pointed out that, despite the fact that the "public option" concept is, "fairly simple, and undeniably prominent," most Americans (66%) don't feel they could confidently describe what the phrase actually means.

My own memory of discussing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (The "stimulus bill") in the online comment sections of my local paper was that my fellow citizens didn't have a very clear idea as to what constituted a true economic stimulus. A frequent complaint was that the bill, passed in early February, constituted "spending" and not "stimulus." Note: spending IS stimulus and even the WaPo columnist David Broder concluded that the stimulus bill was successfully doing exactly what it was supposed to do.

While I don't think anyone could argue that America's supermarket tabloids and various TV channels devoted to gossip and Hollywood news do not do a perfectly adequate job of covering subjects like the romantic difficulties of Tiger Woods and the party-crashers the Salahis, I find it very highly questionable that America's traditional media sources are doing even a barely adequate job of covering their primary beat, serious stories like health care and Afghanistan.

The challenge has been put forward:

I dare the Post to conduct a scientific poll of its readers, asking them a basic question about health care reform: According to the Congressional Budget Office, would health care reform that includes a government-run public insurance option increase the deficit or reduce it?

Obviously, if the readers of the WaPo were as well-informed as the paper claims they are, such a question would a simple no-brainer. Readers would be able to answer it without even thinking twice. Remember, progressives consider the public option to be a necessary component to a successful nationwide health care plan, so this crucial bit of data should be something that citizens have at their fingertips.

In FAIR's November issue (This crucial media watchdog group is running a fundraising drive right now, so if one clicks on the link, one will get a fundraising message above the analysis piece), FAIR looks at how well America's news consumers are being served by their for-profit, free-enterprise media. The answer? Not very. FAIR cites a study that found that having a college education made a significant difference in the US and Britain in terms of citizens being conversant with their issues of the day, but in Denmark and Finland, both of which spend heavily on public media, the gap between those that are highly educated and those with knowledge of the issues disappears.

Citizens in Denmark and Finland with just a high-school education are just as well-informed on the issues as are those with a college education. FAIR recognizes that a straightforward government-funded media would not be a practical alternative to our current free-enterprise model, so that piece and others explore different methods in which our media might be made more responsive to the information needs of US citizens. The need for a change is urgent. Traditional media in the US is fast becoming irrelevant to serious, real-life problems.

2009/12/05

Demonstration against War in Afghanistan on December 2nd

A blogger reports that he was pleasantly surprised at one aspect of President Obama's announcement that he was preparing to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. That aspect was what the President didn't say. The President made no attempt to follow the example of the last President. Nowhere in Obama's speech was there any reference to trying to help the Afghan people. He presented the escalation of the war there as something that was in the strategic interests of the US. It was not presented as an attempt to help out any particular groups in that country, but as something that would benefit people here at home. Of course, it falls apart on that basis as well, but this is a modest bit of progress in the right direction.

Reacting to President Obama's announcement, local anti-war activists made it clear that they weren't pleased about it. Brandywine Peace Community had arranged for a demonstration to take place soon after the announcement was made. The group Philly Against War issued a press release once the exact date was known. The announced demonstration was moved from the City Hall plaza to the sidewalk facing it as there was a Christmas celebration taking place at the projected time. About 100 of us gathered and as the photos show, we made a splash! Oh, and a local activist has compiled a whole set of resources for further research on the War in Afghanistan.

2009/12/01

President's upcoming speech on Afghanistan

Reading the Inky's Afghanistan reporter's take on the issue of President Obama's speech on troop escalation there, one particular phrase jumped out at me "If the United States pulls out of Afghanistan precipitously, without ensuring the security of the population..." [emphasis added]. What Rubin ignores is the option of gradual disengagement.

This reminds me of people who defend George W. Bush's reaction to being told that the 9-11 attacks were underway and that Americans were burning and falling out of the World Trade Center towers at that very moment. "Well, you don't expect the President to jump up, look wildly about and then to run screaming out of the room, do you?" No, I expect our President to give the schoolchildren a quick, calm "Seeya" and to walk calmly out of the classroom, giving quiet instructions and then getting to a command post as quickly as possible.

No, there's no need for a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Rubin doesn't credit opponents of escalation with wanting a gradual, phased disengagement. It was also quite notable that a particular name was completely missing from the article, that of the former American Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.

Eikenberry is a former general and has extensive experience in Afghanistan. I don't expect a local newspaper to insist that their reporter pay attention to all kinds of different aspects to the story, but couldn't someone else have been assigned to provide us with the former ambassador's point of view and then placed that view alongside that of General Stanley McChrystal (as presented by Rubin)? Why are we limited to just McChrystal's point of view?

The projected plans for US forces in Afghanistan are also very hard to take seriously, "...more troops would make it possible to funnel more economic aid to troubled regions and intensify training of Afghan security forces," "The new troops would even improve the chances for a negotiated peace between Afghan leaders and top Taliban leaders...," "This could stabilize the situation sufficiently to pour in development funds and offer substitutes for poppy-growing...." These all sound like very good and positive developments, but they also sound like wishful thinking, like strategies that might work IF there were a real national commitment from the US and IF the US's whole population were engaged in the effort.

Instead, as Tom Engelhardt from TomDispatch.com points out:


7. Our all-volunteer military has for years now shouldered the burden of our two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if we were capable of sending 40,000-80,000 more troops to Afghanistan, they would without question be servicepeople on their second, third, fourth, or even fifth tours of duty. A military, even the best in the world, wears down under this sort of stress and pressure.

Unlike during World War II, when pilots would perform so many missions and then go home, the US is sending troops back to the front time and again because there simply are no people in the pipeline to replace them. After the fall of Baghdad but before the guerrilla war in Iraq got going (May to July 2003), President Bush tried to get volunteers to go to Iraq, not even to fight, but to do administrative work. Virtually no one took him up on his request. US civilians in Iraq were pretty much limited to the "Green Zone" by September because they had completely failed to establish any real presence in Iraq as a whole.

What have been the effects of US efforts in Afghanistan so far?

3. Despite billions of dollars of American money poured into training the Afghan security forces, the army is notoriously understrength and largely ineffective; the police forces are riddled with corruption and held in contempt by most of the populace.

And we can't even count the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a solid friend and ally. After President Ahmadinejad of Iran "won" a highly questionable electoral victory, Karzai was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate him.

Bob Herbert of the NY Times points out that:

More soldiers committed suicide this year than in any year for which we have complete records. But the military is now able to meet its recruitment goals because the young men and women who are signing up can’t find jobs in civilian life. The United States is broken — school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding — yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each.

The US is simply in no shape to conduct an imperial war halfway across the world. It's time to start the drawdown and leave that country to those who live there.

2009/11/29

Movie review - Across the Universe

I'm pleased to say that I've had the enjoyable experience of watching "Across the Universe," a movie in which, as with that foul, disgusting piece of excrement "Forrest Gump," each character is there to represent the typical experiences of many millions of people during the 1960s ("Gump" continues on well into the 1970s whereas "Across" includes a British citizen and scenes from England).

The primary difference is that "Across the Universe" views people as making rational, intelligent choices. It treats people during that tumultuous era as young grown-ups who grapple the best they can with the situation they've got and who certainly run into their share of bad experiences. Is the whole experience ultimately helpful or hurtful? Depends really on how you view the Sixties. There's no question that "The Sixties" is shorthand for all sorts of emotional reactions, both good and bad.

"Forrest Gump," ultimately views people as dupes who are simply too stupid and easily influenced to be considered adult, rational human beings. The writer there takes so many liberties with basic human nature (A policeman is able to cut off the microphone for Gump when he arbitrarily deems Gump's speech offensive and no one is able to restore the sound until after Gump delivers a simplistic and insulting speech to the crowd, people take up jogging en masse when Gump starts running and somehow he never needs to stop for food or rest or a shower or even a change of clothes for what appears to be several weeks, etc., etc.), that it's difficult to see the characters in "Gump" as anything better than cardboard cut-out caricatures.

"Across" delivers full, rich characters making choices and living with the consequences. There are no easy answers. Prudence never gets to express her love, Jude goes back to England to find his former lover married and pregnant, Max goes to war and ends up badly wounded, but the choices are never simple black and white ones, straight good or bad. They're simply the choices that people made at the time. There's much joy to be had along the way and many of the choices turn out to be very positive ones.

"Across the Universe" is a worthy capsule history of the Sixties.

2009/11/16

Open letter to a columnist

Re: "Enough Afghan debate" by David Broder WaPo Nov 15

In going over the various options for Afghanistan, David Broder claims that President Obama has "stretched the internal debate to the breaking point." What? What is Broder talking about? What exactly is threatening to "break?" America has a bunch of crazy warmongers who want action NOW and the majority of the population that sees no point in staying any longer and feels that we should leave Afghanistan to those who live there.

"Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision -- whether or not it is right." This is a completely insane idea, that we need to approach life and death decisions in any sort of hurry or that there's any urgency to the decision. The Taliban are native to Afghanistan and represent a substantial portion of the population there. Al Qaeda is neither here nor there in this debate as the Taliban are angry with al Qaeda, blaming al Qaeda for the Taliban's loss of power in the first place.

Broder claims US allies are "waiting impatiently." Sorry to hear that, but there's still no obvious reason as to why the US needs to rush pell-mell into a decision. After the many, many years that the US has had troops in Afghanistan without any clear strategy or direction, one would think that our allies could cool their jets a bit and help US official figure out just what we can reasonably hope to accomplish there.

Broder has no effective answer to Karl Eikenberry's very sensible and obviously-accurate objection to delving deeper into Afghanistan, that Hamid Karzai is "too weak and corrupt to govern the country effectively." Broder doesn't even try to come up with any real answer to the objection of progressives, that General McChrystal can't suggest any way to really end the war in Afghanistan other than by simply leaving.

As the "dithering" talking point was clearly taken directly from the poisoned pen of Karl Rove, Broder should at least credit his source for his article and admit that the "dead-enders" of the failed neoconservative movement are the people behind this column.

A good leader is not someone who simply stays the course because that's the course he's on. A truly good leader is someone who takes a thoughtful approach to problems and who thinks "Do we really need to do it this way?" I am 100% in favor of Obama's more careful, thoughtful approach and urge that Broder's advice be rejected entirely.

2009/11/10

The House health care bill and reproductive choice

Huzzah! The House of Representative passed a reasonably decent health care bill. Now it's on to the Senate, where simply avoiding a filibuster is the major problem.

Major problem with the House's bill, though. Women and their reproductive choice got "thrown under the bus" so that the Democrats could get the bill passed. As Jane Hamsher explains (And yes, her language is a bit raw in this piece, but her anger is clearly justified), NARAL and Planned Parenthood were informed on July 1st that Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his merry band of anti-abortionists wanted the health care bill to explicitly exclude coverage for reproductive choice. When the day came that the House could either pass the health care bill with the poison pill of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment or watch several months worth of work go down the drain, NARAL and PP had nothing in the works, nothing had been planned or positioned in advance, no money had been saved up, no lobbying had been done.

Well, will PP and NARAL at least "score the bill", i.e., will they make voting for the bill as it's currently written an offense sufficient to cause a Congressperson to be "downgraded" and denied reelection help?

Wel-l-l-l, er, um, no.

Is it a good idea for Democrats to toss aside the female, single, childless demographic?

No actually, that would be utterly suicidal. That would guarantee that Democrats would lose the 2010 midterms and that Obama would be a one-term President.

As to the plan of using all 60 Senators in the Democratic caucus to overcome a filibuster... Nuh-uh. Ain't gonna happen. The choices are stark. The Democrats can use the reconciliation process to get around the inevitable filibuster, or they can compromise the bill so much that it won't be worth passing. It'll be the Stupak problem all over again.

America can get a good health care bill, but we're coming down to the crunch time where we learn whether or not it will be a bill worth passing.

2009/10/24

How seriously can we take media objections to the Fox News vs The White House "war"?

Charles Krauthammer complains that the President's Chief Of Staff "Rahm Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a live pollster. Now he's put a horse's head in Roger Ailes' bed." In other words, the White House is not only at war with Fox News, but it's a particularly nasty and vicious war.

What exactly is the White House accusation against Fox News? Krauthammer says:

Meaning? If Fox runs a story critical of the administration -- from exposing White House czar Van Jones as a loony 9/11 "truther" to exhaustively examining the mathematical chicanery and hidden loopholes in proposed health care legislation -- the other news organizations should think twice before following the lead.

That is, Fox is just doing "tough" but completely honest and aboveboard, "fair and balanced" reporting. Is that true? Erm, not exactly.

Fox's "news" staff regularly conflates commentary and news reporting. The network's "news" reporting is full of smears, falsehoods, deceptive editing, and GOP talking points. Just Thursday morning, the Fox & Friends crew parroted a House Republican press release and repeated its claim that the stimulus impact is "6 million jobs shy of what the administration promised us" since the administration stated "that 3.5 million jobs would be created. And, in fact, the United States has lost 2.7 million since the stimulus plan." However, the administration estimated 3.5 millions jobs created or saved by 2011. It's so much easier to read GOP talking points than actually do journalism!

Krauthammer talks about Fox being banned from a Treasury Department press pool and how the news media bravely and heroically stood up to the thuggish Obama Administration and forced them to include Fox. Mediaite tosses a bit of cold water on that thesis, noting among other things that: "As yet, none of the other network bureau chiefs has gone on record to corroborate Fox’s reporting."

Anyway, Krauthammer then gets all noble and Constitutional on us:

There's nothing illegal about such search-and-destroy tactics. Nor unconstitutional. But our politics are defined not just by limits of legality or constitutionality. We have norms, Madisonian norms.

Slight problem with that. Where was all of this teary-eyed nobility back during the Iraq War, specifically in early April 2003 when the Palestine Hotel was shot at by an American tank?


An American tank fired on the Palestine Hotel early Tuesday, where foreign journalists have been covering the war from balconies and the roof.
Less than a mile away, a reporter for Al-Jazeera television was killed when U.S.-led forces bombed his office. Nearby, coalition artillery battered the Baghdad office of Abu Dhabi television, trapping more than 25 reporters who phoned for help from the basement.
----
More than 50 news cameras were set up on [the Palestine] hotel balconies when the tank fired, according to Associated Press photographer Jerome Delay. "How can they spot someone with binoculars and not [see] cameras?" he asked.

And from the British reporter Robert Fisk:


The next assault, on Reuters, came just before midday when an Abrams tank on the Jamhuriya Bridge suddenly pointed its gun barrel towards the Palestine Hotel where more than 200 foreign journalists are staying to cover the war from the Iraqi side. Sky Television's David Chater noticed the barrel moving. The French television channel France 3 had a crew in a neighboring room and videotaped the tank on the bridge. The tape shows a bubble of fire emerging from the barrel, the sound of a detonation and then pieces of paintwork falling past the camera as it vibrates with the impact.

General Buford Blount of the US 3rd Infantry Division claimed that there had been rocket fire from the Palestine Hotel, but no one who was in the hotel or in the area heard or saw any such thing.


The WaPo's Ruth Marcus asked what she clearly considered a rhetorical question comparing the Obama Administration with its predecessor: "Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC."


'Fraid to say, the Bush Administration did far worse than just to pull a hissy fit, military weaponry was used against reporters who were just doing their jobs. Was there any sort of outcry from the same people who are now crying and bleating and fussing over the Obama Administration now "beating up" Fox News? (Sound of wind blowing through the grass, crickets chirping).

2009/10/21

Disregarding the War on Drugs

WaPo columnist Kathleen Parker puts out a column about the recent decision by the Obama Administration to legalize state-run pot dispensaries, places where people who need the marijuana for medical purposes get to consume it in a non-partying, non-secretive, or back alley-type setting. A blogger calls the decision "one of those rare instances of unadulterated good news from Washington." Both writers feel that the War on Drugs started by President Nixon and continued up to the present day is a complete flop. The section of the public that agrees that the War on Drugs should be consigned to the dustbin of history is still in the minority (44% to the 54% that wish to continue battling on), but it's a large and growing minority.

A right-wing writer featured on Sadly, No! feels that it's awful for the Obama Administration to stop enforcing a law, that the law should be changed, rather than just ignored. He's correct in principle, but he ignores the fact that President Bush

...quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Seems as if the principle of not ignoring a law is one that applies exclusively to Democratic presidents, or IOKIYAR (It's OKay If You're A Republican). The absolutely huge difference between the Bush and Obama approaches to disregarding the law is that Bush did so secretly. The article linked to above was published in 2006, meaning it took from January 2001 to April 2006 for the public to discover that signing statements were being used in an unprecedented fashion. There's nothing wrong with putting out signing statements and just about every president has done so, but never before was a signing statement used to justify disregarding a law or a portion of a bill passed by Congress and signed by the President.

President Obama, on the other hand, very clearly and openly announced that he would take a more or less "state's rights" position and allow specific state laws to override a specific type of federal law. This is more along the lines of a "command decision" or in the case of civilians, an "executive decision." This is where a supervisor openly announces to anyone within hearing or to anyone who reads the memo that "I know I'm disregarding instructions, but I'm going to do it anyway."

Ex obiter dicta (A more or less related point): I've long felt that the "command decision" was the way to handle the "ticking time bomb" scenario where the protagonist has to decide between torturing a suspect or allowing a bomb to go off. Sure, okay, fine, make the call, but a command decision is not a "get out of jail free" card. If the protagonist is wrong and the suspect doesn't know anything, the protagonist should go to prison for having violated the human rights of the suspect. The moral error right-wingers make is in saying that torturing suspects should be a completely cost-free exercise, one where a wrong call should have consequences only for the suspect and never for the protagonist. The protagonist should be absolutely, positively 100% certain beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt that torturing the suspect is the one and only way to get the desired information in time. If he or she is wrong, there should be meaningful consequences so that the decision is never taken lightly or casually.

2009/10/14

The GWOT and social progress

It's difficult to add much to this post on Charles Krauthammer's Weekly Standard piece on why President Obama is allegedly hastening America's decline, but I'll make a few extra comments anyway.

Krauthammer feels that "decline is a choice" and that America can remain the world's top dog if it wants to. I'm not so sure about that because the problem with the US remaining dominant is more than just the single nation of China. It's that before World War II and the following decolonization, the non-Western world was easily dominated by the advanced weaponry and advanced way of organizing their armies that the rest of the world simply couldn't match. We saw in Iraq, however, that Third World people are now able to do so. Nir Rosen authored a series in Asia Times back in 2005 that examined the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation. He shows us not just a stubborn and determined group of fighters, but a canny and sophisticated group that made good use of whatever technology they could get their hands on. The easy domination over other nations that Western powers enjoyed from around 1500 to roughly 1950 is over.

No, I disagree with his statement that "Decline--or continued ascendancy--is in our hands."

The current foreign policy of the United States is an exercise in contraction. It begins with the demolition of the moral foundation of American dominance.

Is it the statements made by President Obama that are demolishing the "moral foundation of American dominance" or is it actions like the tortures that took place at Abu Ghraib? Keep in mind that these tortures were justified by low-level functionaries like Judge Jay Bybee and John Yoo, they weren't simply the rogue actions of some out-of-control people indulging their own twisted desires. These were people who were carrying out official US policy.

Obama didn't just say "America's been bad," he instead went over many actions that the world already knew about and that it clearly and loudly disapproved of and he agreed "Yeah, these actions are wrong."

What happens if the US is no longer dominant?

But that leads to the question: How does this new world govern itself? How is the international system to function?

I would suggest that perhaps the rest of the world probably doesn't need a world sheriff or a daddy figure or an administrator. I would further suggest that liberals refuse to view US power and dominance as inherently good things not because the US is fundamentally bad but because all nations are fundamentally bad. In other words, liberals view competing international powers in much the same way our Founding Fathers viewed competing domestic political interest groups back in the day.

The UN may not be up to snuff today, but that hardly means that the liberal experiment in world government is a failure. Clearly, the countries of the world won't be able to get rid of armies and weapons tomorrow, but Europe is doing a pretty good job melding all their different countries into one framework. It is not the United States of Europe and may never be, but it's grossly premature to say that the experiment will never succeed.

Demonstrators are shot in the streets of Tehran seeking nothing but freedom, but our president holds his tongue...

Krauthammer ignores the very sound and sensible reason that Obama "holds his tongue" and refuses to interfere. It's because the Iranian opposition has asked America to keep its distance. The last thing Iranian supporters of a democratic Iran want is the US throwing its weight around, trying to "liberate" them. Partly because the Iranian opposition may (quite reasonably) fear that the US may seek to do so for the exclusive purpose of liberating Iran's oil fields, but mostly because Iranians consider democratization to be an internal affair that outsiders cannot effectively steer. It's not that the US specifically can't effectively usher Iran towards democracy, it's that no outsider can do so. Iran's opposition figures that democracy has to be something Iranians gain in their own way, on their own timetable.

Krauthammer seem quite upset that "there is no more 'Global War on Terror.'" Well, that's right. Maybe because the GWOT was a complete, total and unqualified failure. First of all, the GWOT has been extraordinarily expensive to parts of the Mideast:

As of April 2009, in the Occupied Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan Territories post-invasion non-violent excess deaths total 0.3 million, 1.0 million and 3.2 million, respectively; post-invasion violent deaths total about 10,000, 1.3 million and 2-4 million...

The same piece estimated US deaths from terrorism (Including the 3,000 killed on 9-11) at about 10,000. Bit of a disproportionate response, I would think. The GWOT has also been very expensive as far as civil liberties are concerned, with citizen protections against overly-intrusive surveillance being especially hard-hit. And what did America get for it's money, time and effort? The chart here only goes to 2006, but it's rather obvious that the GWOT was having the exact opposite of its intended effect. Deaths and injuries due to terrorism steadily increased.

A recent piece in the Boston Globe shows that continuing along the course advocated by those who would like continued war in Afghanistan could very easily end up having the same corrosive effect on social progress in the US that the Korean War had under Harry Truman and that the Vietnam war had under Lyndon Johnson.

Krauthammer follows with a "parade of horribles" where it's rather difficult to see just what the US has lost that's of any value. My concern with these examples is not that Krauthammer is being at all untruthful, but that in all cases he's only telling part of the story, that he's only giving us a very partial and limited view of what's actually going on with these issues.

So when Krauthammer reaches the preliminary conclusion that:

The express agenda of the New Liberalism is a vast expansion of social services--massive intervention and expenditures in energy, health care, and education--that will necessarily, as in Europe, take away from defense spending.

My response to that is "And your problem with this is...?"

2009/10/08

Views on the Afghanistan occupation

The leaders of Code Pink say that they have ascertained the views of Afghan women concerning continued US occupation of that country and the women there say they would prefer that US troops stay until an Afghan army is trained and armed and ready to provide them with security.

Mark Weisbrot of CEPR only mentions Afghan popular opinion by noting that "Five years ago, 70 percent of eligible voters participated in the Afghan presidential election. This year it was down to 38 percent." Even if Afghanis wanted US troops to remain, five years of occupation have seen a serious deterioration of the security situation.

Concerning the primary reason for being in Afghanistan, i.e., US troops are acting as a bulwark against al Qaeda, we might wish to keep in mind that "...Taliban elements have free reign in many areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, yet the administration is contending that there are only an estimated 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan."

How's the Afghan drug trade doing? Wel-l-l-l... "...the 13 provinces reckoned by Afghan and foreign observers to be largely under insurgent control, where poppy cultivation often extends to the outskirts of the government-controlled administrative centers and opium is sold in bazaars within a stone's throw of the governor's compound."

But the government is legitimate, right? Wel-l-l-l... Nasrine Gross says: "I have just returned from Kabul. And I am shocked how little the extent of fraud in the presidential elections is understood outside Afghanistan."

As much as I sympathize with Afghan civilians who want US troops to remain in their country, our troops need to leave Afghanistan yesterday!

2009/10/04

The "a few bad apples" defense

A local columnist summarizes the current rap against ACORN:

...consider the ACORN videos, in which a fake pimp and prostitute seek help from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now to set up a brothel, commit tax fraud, and engage in sex trafficking of underage illegal immigrants. ACORN employees at five offices seemed happy to help.

He goes on to say racism is a bogus defense that an ACORN board member used. From what I've seen of the case, I agree with the columnist that racism appears to be completely irrelevant to the launching of the sting operation. For me the question is: Just how much of a problem did the sting operation uncover? ACORN's CEO, Bertha Lewis, said:

Well, when you run an organization, what you need to do is to make sure that everyone knows your standards and everyone is trained to understand how to do intake. I think, in the end, most of these employees just felt like, well, I have to talk to whoever comes in here. However, that cannot trump common sense and also it cannot trump someone going to their supervisor and saying this is unusual, what do I do? So, in any case, though it's indefensible, that's why I terminated everyone. And I am making sure not to take this lightly. My board was outraged, and I think I owe it to the other employees that did the right thing. It's just a handful of folks out of hundreds and hundreds of employees.

The use of "It's just a handful of folks..." raises immediate red flags because we heard that for the Roman Catholic priests who were engaged in pedophilia. Father John Geoghan was identified as a child rapist by the alternative newspaper The Boston Phoenix in March 2001 (The Boston Globe followed up in January 2002 shortly before Geoghan was convicted, whereupon the case came to the attention of the public at large). A major aspect of the case from the very beginning was that Father Geoghan's activities were so extensive that it was suspected immediately that his activities had to have been known of by his superiors. He was "suspected of fondling, assaulting, and raping hundreds of children over three decades." And, "parents had complained to Geoghan’s superiors about his behavior with children as far back as 1973."

During the investigation and trial, Fitzpatrick, among other victims, charged that top Church authorities at the Diocese of Fall River had known about Porter’s behavior all along. ... Cardinal Law infamously blasted reporters for focusing on what he termed “the faults of a few”: “We deplore that.... By all means we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.” ... At the time Law made these remarks, Geoghan had already been placed on temporary “sick leave” at least once, according to the Official Catholic Directory. This leave of absence, as alleged in court records, followed a complaint of abuse against Geoghan by one mother of an alleged victim from Jamaica Plain.

Since then, pedophile priests have shown up in Ireland - In April 2002, the Irish government began its own investigation and issued its report in October 2005 and in Italy - The Meter Association, founded by Italian Father Fortunato Di Noto announced the existence of "A hundred online pedophile communities" in September 2009 and said they'd be dismantled and prosecuted.

Defenders of pedophile priests certainly tried to claim that the problem was limited to "a few bad apples," and while it's certainly true that it's wrong to physically attack priests "As if all priests are pedophiles. As if all priests are perverted. As if all priests are immoral, or corrupt, or just bad" (emphases in original), it was clear from the very start that the problem was an institutional one, that it wasn't just a couple of rogue individuals.

Torture at the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib was also allegedly limited to "a few bad apples," but the US made a very poor case for that owing to the lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq in the first place and again, the problem didn't trace back to just a few rogue individuals. The historical roots of the practice of torture with American assistance traced back to the Shah of Iran and his agency SAVAK. The Red Cross had found serious problems with US treatment of and policy towards Iraqi detainees as early as March 2003, the month that the US invaded Iraq. By March 2006, the website Salon had collated a list of government and private investigative reports.

It was also confirmed in May 2009 that the Bush Administration had a few low-level employees write out some torture-justifying memos, memos that opined on the authority of the President to order the lawless abuse of helpless prisoners at will. As the blogger Christy Hardin Smith put it:



The ACLU has put together a video of these words of tortured logic being read aloud. Watch it.
The words you are hearing were written by and for the US government. As guidance for governmental agencies acting in all of our names.

So, again, we're not dealing with just a couple of rogue individuals, we're dealing with an institution that went seriously off the tracks.

Back to ACORN, do we have any evidence that we're dealing with a deep, systemic problem? Any indication that ACORN is a corrupt institution? Well, the NPR story that quotes the ACORN CEO came out on September 21st and the quote from a local columnist came out today, October 4th. As one can see, there are no new developments in the case. There is no evidence that any of the employees who agreed to help the fake pimp and prostitute brought their case up to any higher levels. There's no evidence that any money actually changed hands or that any organizational favors were actually granted. As Anonymous Liberal points out, it's entirely understandable for people, faced with a completely unexpected situation to improvise as best they can and importantly, in as non-confrontational a mode as they can. This does not, of course, excuse the people who agreed to help the fake prospective clients, but it does make their actions more understandable.

No, I think the ACORN case is one where the idea of "a few bad apples" does indeed apply.

2009/09/15

Teabagger demonstration

I just saw a reference to this video. It shows us a fellow who carried a big pro-health care reform sign through the Washington DC right-wing teabagger demonstration on Saturday. The fellow had a police escort and, naturally, as the crowd they were travelling through got more and more hostile, the escort was increased to several more police officers.
This bothers me because I can very easily see the shoe being on the other foot. I can very easily see an anti-abortionist carrying a doll dressed up as a bloody, dead fetus through a crowd of pro-choice people, a pro-military adventurism guy carrying an American flag through a crowd of anti-war people, etc.
I think for the guy to carry a pro-health care reform sign through a crowd that was clearly hostile to his message was cool, but I find it very disturbing that he received official sanction to do so, that he received police protection for doing that.
Oh, and just how big was the Glenn Beck/Fox News-inspired crowd to begin with? No, it was nowhere near the Michelle Malkin-reported two million (That would have been a larger crowd than was at the Obama inaugural). Many commenters here talked about on the crowd size and the commenters include many people who have been to many protests and other events over many years and they very credibly assert that the crowd was 30,000 to 50,000, but the left blogosphere as a whole has settled on the figure of 70,000, which they substantiate in a reasonable fashion. So yes, the October 2002 anti-Iraq War demonstration was a good deal larger at 100,000.

2009/09/06

Very disturbing to see Van Jones retire under pressure

Van Jones has resigned as Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality, he claims that "opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me." Glenn Beck, who has very fortunately lost 57 advertisers due to his hysterical on-camera campaigns that have begun to enter very dangerous territory by using "analysis" that the fascists of mid-century Europe would have been comfortable with, has been the primary reason that Van Jones was under attack.

Thankfully, the Obama Administration does not appear to be giving way on the President's televised speech to schoolchildren scheduled for the first day of school, despite screeching and hollering by the right wing over it.

Then there was Michael Savage, the third most listened to radio host in America, who put it this way: "Hitler had the Hitler Youth, and Obama would like to have the Obama Youth."

Seems one of the "problems" that has caused the Obama Administration to pull back on defending Van Jones is that he also signed a "911Truth" statement.

Jones recently issued two apologies. One was for calling Republicans "assholes." The other was for signing a statement in 2004 supporting a call for further investigation of 911, which suggested that the Government might have had a role in the 911 attack. The original document can be found here, with Van Jones the 46th signatory (and this writer [Rob Kall of OpEd News] was the 47th.) Ironically, one of the most vocal "birthers, who question the validity of Obama's birth certificate, Phillip J. Berg, was also a signatory of the same statement, 8th on the list.

As there are significant numbers of American citizens who feel that there are numerous unanswered questions concerning 9/11 (A above-cited poll puts the percentage at 40%), this placed the Obama Administration in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" type of situation. On the one hand, they appear to be surrendering to a TV personality who really seems to have gone off the deep end, on the other hand, throwing a staffer under the bus at a time when people are questioning Obama's commitment to really pushing for a health care bill that will serve something other than wealthy financial interests makes the timing very poor.


Update: Jane Hamsher's view - The proprietress of the progressive website FireDogLake.com weighs in on the Van Jones case with a piece that urges liberals, progressives and leftists and their associated watchdog institutions to remain at an arm's distance from Democratic administrations.
Being too close to the Obama Administration has penned in those who need to maintain a skeptical view.
Oh, and she cites a poll that says that those members of the Democratic Party who believe 9/11 was an inside job constitute about 30% of the party as of 2007. Yes, Van Jones is in a minority, but it's a pretty big chunk of the party's base. The statement that Van Jones signed.

2009/08/29

Senator Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy

I was in Massachusetts from about 1965 to 1991, after which I joined the Navy. I guess the time when I was most aware of Senator Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (D-MA, lived from February 22, 1932 to August 25, 2009) was when I was in the cab going to my Navy "A School" (Training following boot camp in my "rate" or speciality) from the Meridian, MS airport.

A fellow Seaman from a deep South state thought he'd amuse his new buddies by telling tales about how awful that Senator from Massachusetts was. I politely informed him that I was from Massachusetts. He continued to disrespect Senator Kennedy. I informed him again that Kennedy was MY Senator and that I really didn't appreciate people disrespecting him.

He switched to Senator Kerry. I again reminded him that I was from Massachusetts and REALLY didn't appreciate it when people disrespected my Senators. Obviously, he was used to people freely & cheerfully disrespecting these two for his entire life. Finally I could see the gears in his head grinding and enlightenment dawning and he switched the subject to women. Never saw the guy again.

On Friday, a Daily News columnist brought up Mary Jo Kopechne and Chappaquiddick and insists that we remember "that sad footnote" amid our celebrations of Kennedy's life. A buddy of mine agrees that, yes, Kennedy was a "
flawed human being" and that Chappaquiddick was indeed a good reason to not to vote for Kennedy for President in 1980. However,

Kennedy remade himself from that troubled time, and rededicated himself under his second marriage to a new life. I honor the Senator who repented and returned.

No, Kennedy never specifically referred to Kopechne, but I don't consider it a stretch to think that part of the time and energy he devoted to public service was indeed a reaction to her death and to the role he played in it. As a side note, the people who held up signs telling O.J. Simpson "We forgive you" during his 1995 low-speed chase showed that they had no idea what forgiveness truly means. Forgiveness is something one gives in return for repentance. Simpson had not repented, so he had done nothing to earn forgiveness. Forgiveness isn't free, it isn't something one just hands out.

As my buddy points out, members of the Bush Administration have done far less to warrant forgiveness than Kennedy has done through the many, many bills he has gotten through the Senate that have improved the lives of American citizens. If Kennedy never formally repented, he at least devoted the remainder of his life to good works.

Was his desire to do good genuine? Apparently so,

[Kennedy:] "There was a lot of resistance to No Child Left Behind - on that point, even. Unbelievable. But it was put in, and it got funded, and . . . I met the parents today and saw the direct results. I met the mothers out there, and I saw what a difference that's going to make. That's enough for me today, I'll tell you."

His voice changes on those five words: I met the parents today. His identification with them is nearly a physical thing. You can see their images in his eyes. You can hear their voices in the way that his changes.

The piece makes the point that Kennedy was excited by the good that the NCLB bill did in the real world, to real people. The left blogosphere is as one in insisting that Kennedy had no use for simply passing bills just to get legislation passed with his name on it. He was in it to make a difference in people's lives.

Has the left "politicized" Kennedy's death? That is, has Kennedy's death been used inappropriately to boost support for health care reform along lines that progressives would like to see? Perhaps, but the left was accused of politicizing the deaths of Senator Paul Wellstone (D-WI) and of Coretta Scott King and yet, Republicans never had to take any grief for politicizing the death of 40th President Ronald Reagan, when the speakers at his funeral came entirely from one party. Those speakers didn't include a single Democrat, as though Reagan represented only Republicans.

Some right-wingers are reacting with hysterical, bile-filled rants. Interestingly, one of them is a prominent editor at the Drudge Report, a website that many, many people in our press corps cite as their go-to source. Eric Stanger, a director at ABC Radio and Premiere Radio Networks has made similarly unhinged and hateful comments. Somehow, I'm guessing that many anti-Kennedy talking points will make their way into the nations' political discourse.

Frankly, the best idea I've heard so far is not to name the whole health care bill after Kennedy, but just the public option portion of it!


List of newspaper obituaries of Ted Kennedy.
Summary of legislative accomplishments.
People at Daily Kos and Media Matters post their thoughts on Kennedy.
President Obama's eulogy.

2009/08/18

Inky piece on health care today

In a front-page piece today:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that government insurance was "not the essential element" of an overhaul, and that a Senate proposal to create nonprofit cooperatives could be an alternative way of creating new competition for insurance companies to drive down costs.

Erm, sorry, but no.

From a piece in FireDogLake:
  1. "The cooperatives' potential to reduce overall premiums is limited because (1) they lack sufficient leverage as a result of their limited market share; (2) the cooperatives have not been able to produce administrative cost savings for insurers; or (3) their state laws and regulations already restrict to differing degrees the amount insurers can vary the premiums charged different groups purchasing the same health plan."
  2. "There's a lot of GOP leadership in that above list [that oppose co-ops], but even more importantly, two out of the three Republican Senators negotiating themselves oppose co-ops. Senator Grassley is opposed and Senator Enzi is really opposed. "
Not only are co-ops a complete non-answer, neither Republicans nor conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats will use them as a basis for negotiations.

2009/08/16

Obama is losing me on health care

Okay, so first the former Republican Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, goes onto her Facebook page (Signing up to Facebook is free, but link not available to non-Facebook members) on 7 August and delivers a completely insane rant about "Death Panels" (PolitiFact examines the charge and finds it to be completely without merit). Something to do with bureaucrats sitting at desks deciding on the basis of spreadsheet projections or somesuch whether a loved relative, whether a new-born child or a great-grandparent, should live or die. This talking point is actually not brand new. It actually goes back a few months. Okay, fine.

Then Palin doubles down on that obviously dishonest and thoroughly inaccurate point. In the meantime, other Republican spokespeople, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly join her. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) made a very similar point about how the health care bill would set a "ceiling" (Set of maximum benefits) on health care when, actually, the bill would set a "floor" (Set of minimum benefits). He claimed that the bill would "lead" to rationing, ignoring the fact that private insurance already enforces rationing. The complete and utter hypocrisy Republicans bring to the health care issue is just astounding. Again, fine, okay. All this is to be expected. No biggie.

Then Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decides that Palin's "death panel" nonsense is serious and opines that

"There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life," Grassley said. "And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don't have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

Of course, getting counseling for how to handle end-of-life decisions should be done as far in advance as possible. Is that always practical? Is that something that people are prepared to discuss years before it's necessary? Not in all cases, obviously. There's absolutely zero evidence that anybody has ever been plotting to "pull the plug on grandma." That's nothing more than zany, unhinged scare talk.

But okay, fine. Grassley's a Republican and everyone knows that Republicans hate the American citizen and that the Finance Committee is dominated by Blue Dog Democrats who don't like the American citizen much better.

...it was a rebellion by the largely rural "blue dog" Democrats on Waxman's committee that held up the bill. Their complaint: The bill was too expensive and there wasn't enough money in it for their districts. And so they held things up, long enough to prevent a vote before the start of the August recess, wrecking President Obama's timetable.

The real problem started with Obama's reaction to Grassley's lunatic statement. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that

the White House remained committed to working with Republicans to get health care reform passed.

to which the blogger Digby replied:

It's an unusual strategy. I've rarely found it to be very effective to try to negotiate in good faith with lunatic demagogues, but maybe it can work.

I certainly hope so, because if it doesn't somebody is going to have a reputation for being a weak little chump. And it isn't going to be Grassley.

Unfortunately, it appears that Palin's insane demagoguery might be having an effect. Or, more likely, people who were never serious about health care reform in the first place are complaining that their arms are being twisted. Very unfortunately, it's now looking like the Obama Administration will drop the Public Option entirely. Sorry, but a public option is absolutely necessary. I completely agree that Single Payer would be better, but there's simply no way that a health plan without at least the Public Option will work.

2009/08/12

More on health care disruptions

Lou Dobbs makes a complete idiot out of himself by saying about Howard Dean that:

"I thought we had gotten rid of this left-wing pest for a while," Dobbs said of the former Vermont governor. "But I guess he is just resurgent.... He's a bloodsucking leftist. I mean, you gotta put a stake through his heart to stop this guy."

Dobbs sorta, kinda, not really walked his statement back a wee bit. What strikes me is that Howard Dean is not at all any sort of failure. He's not some fringe figure that never accomplished anything. Dean was the author of the "50 State Strategy," the idea of "Let's contest EVERY seat everywhere." This was a strategy that put Democrats firmly into the driver's seat.

Dobbs' ranting and raving has caused a great loss of credibility for the media critic Howard Kurtz. Dobbs and Kurtz both receive paychecks from CNN. When Dobbs makes insane statements, Kurtz's silence is deafening.

The Inky today did a front-page piece about the birthers/teabaggers/anti-health care people who are screaming and yelling and disrupting town hall events across the country.

The piece does indeed bring up the astroturf organizations Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, in the story's eighth paragraph and stating that they have organized "some" of the protests. The evidence is that they've been the driving force behind ALL of the protests. No other coherent reason is given for the over-the-top opposition to health care in the piece.

Amazingly, a Blue Dog Democrat (Blue Dogs are frequently given the positive "purr-word" designation of "moderate" or "centrist" and it's usually an undeserved accolade) talked some common sense on the subject:

“When people say, oh, we don’t want the government programs I ask how many of you are on Medicare, how many of you are veterans. When the hands go up I say, I don’t know if y’all know this but those are both government-run programs,” Cuellar said.

A few conservatives have whined and moaned and groaned "Wa-a-ah, sob, sniffle, the bill is much too long to read!!! Obama is trying to put one over on us!!1!!" Wel-l-l-l, a single individual somehow didn't seem to have any trouble going through the entire bill and finding all sorts of "awful" things in it. He gives a very detailed list of all the "problems."

Oh, and BTW, not all faith-based political movements are conservative. A group of progressive Christians says:

5PM EDT Wednesday, August 19th, the faith community is hosting a national call in and audio webcast on health care reform and President Barack Obama has accepted the faith community’s invitation to join the call.

2009/08/03

What is the purpose of the CforC program?

An especially hilarious set of sentences concerning the successful "Cash for Clunkers" program, courtesy of the NY Times:

...dealers must destroy the old engines of cars being turned in before the government will reimburse them for the $3,500 or $4,500 discount...

The Times’s Katharine Q. Seelye has captured the “laborious and potentially dangerous” car-crushing process on video.

Furthermore, some critics have noted that the requirement to demolish old engines could reduce their availability at junkyards, which could prevent people who cannot afford any kind of new car, rebate or not, from fixing up old vehicles. That has bolstered criticism from the right that the program was intended for “limousine liberals.” [emphases added]

Sigh! Okay, what is the purpose of the program?!?!? Clearly, one purpose of the program is to act as an economic stimulus, encouraging people to go out and buy new autos. Cool! Wonderful! That's exactly the sort of thing that America needs right now. But the other purpose is to get polluting old cars off the road. It's to exchange the old polluting cars for cleaner-burning ones that don't pollute as much.

Obviously, if old engines are simply re-sold, that would defeat the secondary purpose of the program. Dunno why the authors of the piece didn't make this clear as opposed to just regurgitating Republican propaganda on the program.

Commenters in the Inky on the program bring up a good point, that the CforC program rewards past bad behavior.

Posted by Bobphxville 02:21 PM, 08/01/2009
I agree with rbpeeple. I have two old cars that I am limping by with - a Cavalier and a Prism. Both with over 100k miles. Because I made smart choices years ago, and by purchasing cars with decent gas mileage (which lessened the negative impact on the environment over the past 10 years) - I can get NOTHING by this program. This program benefits those that made stupid choices, bought gas guzzlers, and hurt the environment during the past 10 years. I am waiting for one of these government programs to help me - while I am trying to pay $5000 a month for 10 months to a college (Bucknell) that decides that I make too much money to get a penny of finacial aid.

I can't disagree with this, Bobphxville makes a valid point. Ya just can't please everyone. To allow responsible citizens to get the same deal that those who made foolish choices did would again, defeat the purpose of the program.

2009/07/22

Governor Jindals' health care proposal

The Republican Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, proposed the following for a national health-care policy:

Insurance reform. Congress should establish simple guidelines to make policies more portable, with more coverage for pre-existing conditions. Reinsurance, high-risk pools, and other mechanisms can reduce the dangers of adverse risk selection and the incentive to avoid covering the sick. Individuals should also be able to keep insurance as they change jobs or states.

Problem: The failure to provide "more coverage for pre-existing conditions" is not, as the computer guys say, a bug, but a feature of private, for-profit health insurance. It's an inherent, built-in tendency that no "guidelines" will ever eliminate from the picture. It is in the financial interests of these companies to not pay claims. Nothing will ever "fix" that as asking them to ignore that fact is to ask private, capitalist companies to disregard their very nature.

Consumer choice guided by transparency. We need a system where individuals choose an integrated plan that adopts the best disease-management practices, as opposed to fragmented care.

If it were in the financial interest of private, for-profit companies to provide such transparency, they've had decades to provide it. If there is no such transparency currently being provided, there's very probably a good (financial) reason why not. It's very highly likely that even if such transparency is mandated, companies will find ways around it, thereby making phone-book size regulations inevitable. BTW, the Blue Dog Democrats are no better on the issue than Republicans are. Again, their reasons are mostly financial.

Aligned consumer interests. Consumers should be financially invested in better health decisions through health-savings accounts, lower premiums and reduced cost sharing.

Lower costs are precisely what's being offered by the Democrats.

A new study from the Commonwealth Fund finds that the public option could save the country $265 billion. The same study found that Grassley's favored approach--allowing insurance companies to maintain their near-monopoly status--would cost the country $32 billion.

In short, Jindal is offering absolutely nothing that even begins to address the problems caused by overreliance on private, for-profit health care insurance. What are his critiques of the Democratic approach?

Second, the Democrats disingenuously argue their reforms will not diminish the quality of our health care even as government involvement in the delivery of that health care increases massively. For all of us who have seen the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to hurricanes, this contention is laughable on its face.

Keep in mind that in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Presidency, the Senate and the House were all in Republican hands. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared a State of Emergency on Friday, 26 August. President Bush was fully and properly informed by the Governor on Saturday, 27 August that Federal assistance was required. The hurricane struck late on the night of Sunday, 28 August.

8PM CDT [Monday 29 Aug]— GOV. BLANCO AGAIN REQUESTS ASSISTANCE FROM BUSH: “Mr. President, we need your help. We need everything you’ve got.” [Newsweek]
LATE PM — BUSH GOES TO BED WITHOUT ACTING ON BLANCO’S REQUESTS [Newsweek]

New Orleans was not submerged because "government" was inherently incapable of action. It was submerged because the government was in the hands of people who didn't believe they were responsible for assisting their fellow citizens in a crisis.

Far better examples for Jindal to use to look at how the government would handle health care would be to look at institutions like the VA Hospitals (I stayed in two VA Hospitals in 2000 and was satisfied with their services) and the Post Office (The number of letters that I didn't receive despite their being properly addressed, I can count on one hand).

Republican Representative Michele Bachmann agrees with Jindal's first point, that

If a so-called public option is part of health-care reform, the Lewin Group study estimates over 100 million Americans may leave private plans for government-run health care.

See above, where I explain that private, for-profit companies will inherently and by definition, always seek to pay out as few claims as they can possibly get away with. A government plan will not have that incentive. Note Bachmann's reasoning as to why a government plan will be less expensive:

...because the taxpayer-subsidized plan will be 30 to 40 percent cheaper.

Not because the government can make it cheaper, as Jindal claims it will unfairly do, but it will just be inherently cheaper as the government pays their senior people far less than executives at private companies make and the government doesn't have to pay for advertising or any other type of competition with other providers.

In short, Jindal makes an extremely unconvincing case for maintaining private, for-profit health insurance. I recommend "single-payer" and believe that "public option" would be a reasonably satisfactory substitute, at least for now.

2009/07/20

MyBO has health care canvassing materials

I just went on to the MyBO site to congratulate our President. He pretty much knew that Republicans were not on his side in the health care debate, but it also looks like he realizes that the Blue Dog Democrats are not on his side either. From a healthcare roundtable at Children’s National Medical Center:
Now, there are some in this town who are content to perpetuate the status quo, are in fact fighting reform on behalf of powerful special interests. There are others who recognize the problem, but believe — or perhaps, hope — that we can put off the hard work of insurance reform for another day, another year, another decade.
Just the other day, one Republican senator said — and I’m quoting him now — “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Think about that. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses, and breaking America’s economy.
And we can’t afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care. Not this time. Not now. There are too many lives and livelihoods at stake. There are too many families who will be crushed if insurance premiums continue to rise three times as fast as wages. There are too many businesses that will be forced to shed workers, scale back benefits, or drop coverage unless we get spiraling health care costs under control.
The MyBO site has a walking campaign option and a calling campaign option. As I’ve never really liked calling (I can do it in a group, but have zero desire to do it by myself), I chose the walking option.

2009/07/17

Stimulus funds

Kind of amusing to read Eric Cantor's (House Minority Whip R-VA) criticisms of the stimulus bill.

"….A stimulus bill should have an immediate economic impact and create real, long-term jobs, and this stimulus bill has clearly not created jobs or fixed our economy."

Okay, and what "shovel ready" projects did the Republican Party offer back when the stimulus bill was being debated? They didn't. They offered tax cuts. What do tax cuts do? Well, President Bush gave America $1.3 trillion in tax cuts in 2001 and the recession continued until early 2003.

CNN even feels obliged to do a bit of due diligence and points out that:

"Last week, House Minority Leader John Boehner found himself in the DNC's sights: Democrats released a tough Web video blasting him for saying the stimulus hadn't delivered for his state.
" 'In fact, millions in recovery act funds have been committed to dozens of projects creating jobs for people right here in Ohio,' the narrator said in the DNC video. '…Now John Boehner is using baseless attacks to mislead the public about the success of the Recovery Act.' "

Which leaves Cantor with a score of zero out of two. Later,


"Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring called the stimulus a 'bad deal' and a 'misguided …pork-barrel bill.' "

Okay, what does a "pork-barrel" bill do? That's right, it calls for spending money. Something that's ordinarily bad, but in times of recession, is a very good thing.

Again, Cantor scores a zero.

2009/07/16

The hearings on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court

Something very puzzling about the hearings concerning the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Republican questioners and of course, following along like puppy dogs, great chunks of the traditional media, seem to be very deeply interested in a statement that Judge Sotomayor made outside the courtroom eight years ago. Supreme Court nomination hearings normally concern what the nominee has said in their legal decisions, not on their outside speeches. The press corps felt obliged to an absolute rock-bottom bare minimum of due diligence and to state:

White House aides said the comment was being taken out of context, and predicted it wouldn't put the nomination off course.

But they've determinedly avoided going any further. The public has been left in the dark as to what the complete context of her "wise Latina" remark was. For the record:

When Sotomayor asserted, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she was specifically discussing the importance of judicial diversity in determining race and sex discrimination cases.

What she was not doing was making a general, sweeping statement about how a "wise Latina" would make better decisions in all cases.

It's also been noted that WaPo reporter Chris Cillizza has been writing "Winners and Losers" lists for the hearings, but gee, wow, amazingly enough (See "following along like puppy dogs" comment above) all of his "Losers" so far seem to consist entirely of Democrats. It's also been noted that Fox News saw fit to allocate 55 minutes on July 15th covering the remarks of two Republican Senators, but the remarks of six Democratic Senators warranted only 30 minutes of coverage.

Not that the larger political picture has been bad for Democrats. A Latino group decided to make Rush Limbaugh the issue and to pit his statements against those of Republican Congresspeople representing heavily Latino districts in Florida. In a Daily Kos Weekly State of the Nation Poll for July 6th thru the 9th (Daily Kos is what Bill O'Reilly calls a "far left...Web site, a vicious enterprise" so readers should keep that in mind and should apply the proper skepticism) the Latino regard for Republican Congresspeople is 5% favorable to 80% unfavorable, so Republicans can pretty much write off the Latino vote for the next few election cycles at least.

The blogger Christy Hardin Smith of firedoglake.com has been liveblogging the hearings, summarizing and paraphrasing what the participants say as opposed to doing a straight transcript. Her first entry is here. Another firedoglake blogger, Marcy Wheeler or "Emptywheel," tag-teams on the liveblogging and contributed a piece looking specifically at Sotomayor's answers on two important Supreme Court cases, Youngstown (Concerning Presidential powers versus those of Congress) and Korematsu ("Yeah, it's okay to put 100,000 Japanese-Americans behind barbed wire for the duration of World War II").

I'm troubled because rather than framing the question in terms, first and foremost, of Youngstown and a congressional limit on executive power, or of a warrant, she framed in in the same terms Yoo used to "authorize" it--with a very expansive view of what constitutes a "reasonable" search. It makes me worried that Sotyomayor would suggest that wiretapping a group like al-Haramain might be considered reasonable, even in spite of the restrictions that clearly limit doing so in FISA.
That said, when pressed (and Feingold did have to press her) she did ultimately agree that Youngstown would govern such cases.
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Now, Charlie Savage analyzed what I assume to be the same 2003 speech Feingold mentioned and concluded (with some reservations) that Sotomayor's statements--arguing for a particularized suspicion of illegality--auger well for her approach to civil liberties. I still have a somewhat queasy stomach about her immediate invocation of unreasonable search in this context. Others--including Kagro X, who actually has one of those fancy JD things and good judgment to boot, aren't so worried. Hopefully, I'm just being paranoid.
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I was very heartened by Sotomayor's response to Feingold's question about Korematsu and not judging from fear.

So Sotomayor gets a qualified approval on two important cases.

Absolutely marvelous photo of Senators Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl as Graham questions Sotomayor (Completely irrelevant, but from the same site, Presidents Obama and Bush as they pitched the first ball in July 2009 and April 2009, respectively).


Democrats.Senate.Gov is also providing live feeds and video highlights to the hearings.

2009/07/14

Limbaugh vs Sotomayor

Rush Limbaugh reacts to an ad run by a Latino group

"Now, the Democrats want to make this all about Sotomayor versus me. We have a spot, a new ad run by a liberal Latina organization called 'Presente Action.'
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"So Russ Feingold, a couple of words that Sonia Sotomayor said taken out of context. You mean like Macaca? George Allen saying Macaca? We heard about that for weeks and months as the Washington Post and the Democrats sought to destroy Allen."

Well, yes, liberals did indeed run George Allen's words against him because George Allen "also had confederate flags and hangman's nooses in his office." Allen was deeply and seriously racist and fully deserved to be denied office for that reason. Judge Sonia Sotomayor made her "wise Latina" comment once and if one looks at the whole speech, it's quite clear that she was trying to make a very specific, limited point.

But what I thought was really hilarious was what the ad says about how the Republican Party relates to Limbaugh

"That's Republican leader Rush Limbaugh calling Judge Sotomayor a racist and a bigot. It's insulting to all Latinos and Americans. We asked Republican Congressman Adam Putnam if he would denounce Limbaugh's words. He refused to reply. Let's put a stop to the hate. Call Congressman Putnam today at 863-534-353 and tell him to condemn this language."

This puts a lot of Republicans into a very difficult position. They can either denounce a man that many dittoheads consider to be a hero or they can maintain credibility with the rest of America's citizens.