2010/01/29

Political information and how to judge it

Due to the letter I had posted in the letters column of the Inky, a right-winger I had been communicating with plus two other right-wingers all sent me emails to comment on what I was saying. The conversation in all three cases got around to the housing bubble that had burst on George W. Bush's watch, and so in all three cases, I referred them to Paul Krugmans' reprinting of a graph showing that, no, the housing bubble didn't just arise from Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/the Community Reinvestment Act/etc., but was instead a broad-based bubble. One responded by asserting that one of the measurements Krugman was using to measure "Commercial Real Estate," was actually a measurement that often included Housing prices. I went to the link and showed him "Nope, the specific measurement Krugman uses covers precisely and only what is traditionally thought of as 'Commercial Real Estate.' " Another one told interesting, but irrelevant and beside-the-point stories concerning his family and their experience trying to buy a house during the bubble years. Ultimately, none of them were able to show that Krugman's point was in any way invalid.

The interesting point was that all three of them came down to the same bottom line. Krugman wasn't credible because he was a partisan. Krugman wrote articles with a very specific viewpoint, therefore, he couldn't be trusted. One of them accused Krugman of being a liar, but didn't provide any examples, so I didn't bother trying to follow that up.

A short time later, I ran across a piece by a head man of "The Village" (Lefty blogger term for the traditional media press corps), David Broder. Now Broder has been known far and wide for many years as a man of the center, as a moderate, as an objective journalist. Presumably, all three of the right-wingers I was exchanging emails with would have identified Broder as a columnist whose word could be trusted.

In this piece, Broder got very, very angry. He stomped his feet and got all red in the face and accused several Congresspeople:

As President Obama delivered his first formal State of the Union address, the reigning journalistic cliche described the "angry, frustrated electorate" he confronts. If you want to know where this anger should really be directed, look at the Tuesday Senate roll call and focus on the 22 Democrats, 23 Republicans and one independent who combined to scuttle what one sponsor has called "the last, best hope" to avert a catastrophe.

Broder was angry because the Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NM) had come up with a useless, silly gimmick of a plan (Yes, President Obama endorsed the plan and commended it in his State of the Union speech) to freeze spending in a few categories. Note that the blame here is bi- or non-partisan. Both Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame. Would the plan have averted catastrophe? Nonsense. But note Broder's paragraph previous to this:

Of course, this being the 21st-century Senate, it meant defeat because of a failure to command the 60-vote supermajority the opposition now always requires.

The "need" for a 60-vote supermajority has nothing to do with this being the 21st Century and absolutely everything to do with Republicans putting their party above their country and obstructing absolutely everything. Isn't this obstructionism just a tad, just a smidgen more important than some silly gimmick of a plan? Not according to Broder, but then Broder has to maintain his "centrist" and "moderate" credentials. You see, Republican obstructionism cannot be blamed on both parties. Broder can't float above the conflict and blame both sides, so he can't blame the party that's truly causing gridlock in the Senate and slowing down The People's Business.

What are the consequences of this "centrist" approach? Unfortunately, the public ends up being very poorly informed. Only 32% are aware "that the Senate passed its version of the legislation without a single Republican vote" despite the fact that the public as a whole is very interested in the debate. Again, it's very important to remember that this information blackout is due to the fact that this is a partisan fact. Only one side is to blame. There's simply no way to blame both sides.

So my approach to information is not to say "Who says it?" but to ask "What is the quality of the information?" After all, if Sean Hannity says "The sky is blue and the clouds are white," what are ya gonna say? "Why no, that can't be true, Hannity's a liar"? You'd look like an idiot.

2010/01/20

Special election in Massachusetts lost

Well, Al Franken was sworn in as the Democrats' 60th Senator on the 7th of July 2009 and a bit less than 200 days later, on the 19th of January 2010, Democrats lost the special election held in Massachusetts in which the late Senator Ted Kennedy was replaced. As the fake-news comedian Jon Stewart put it, "the Democrats won't be able to pass health care reform with an 18-vote majority," a majority that George W. Bush NEVER had and remember, he could do whatever the %#@ he wanted to do!!!

Is this all bad news? Hmm, not necessarily. The Senate could give up the pipedream of getting things through with a filibuster-proof majority and could concentrate on using tactics like reconciliation and possibly modifying the filibuster rule (It's not in the Constitution, so it won't require a Constitutional amendment to remove or modify it) so that it would be a great deal tougher for the minority party to stop up progress and toss all sorts of obstacles in the way. It means that Democrats would no longer have the excuse of having to cater to minority Senators from small states like Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). There's strong evidence that spending time and attention on these fringe players and specifically, that re-working the health care bill to meet their demands has crucially deflated the morale of the Democratic Party's progressive voter base.

Progressive bloggers in general didn't feel appreciated and most certainly weren't listened to. As the late Molly Ivins put it, quoting an old Texas saying "Ya dance with the one who brung ya." Obama and his people didn't spend any time "dancing" with progressives, they were too busy chasing "centrist" (Read: "fringe" i.e., off to the right of where the party's base voters are) votes to see to it that progressive voters felt that the Democratic Party was concerned about their priorities.

What do liberals/progressives have to show for our roughly 200 days of a filibuster-proof majority? Damn little. There's very little that we can put up on the wall to say "See? We accomplished that with our filibuster-proof majority!" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) admitted a few days ago that trying to get Senator Snowe to vote for the health care bill was a complete waste of time. Yeah, it would have been great to have had a least one Republican vote so that Democrats could claim a "bipartisan" victory, but

"As I look back it was a waste of time dealing with [Snowe]," Reid is quoted as saying

The House health care bill was voted out of its various committees right before the August recess and got their combined bill out by early November, but the final Senate committee didn't get its bill out until October and the Senate didn't get their combined bill out until late December. So the Senate was very significantly slower than the House and it made a great many more compromises, compromises which might significantly affect how well the final bill might work in practice. As progressives have pointed out, the public option, which was jettisoned to get Senator Lieberman's vote, is not just a "nice to have" feature, it's absolutely critical if the health care bill is to work.

"Our priority on the public option, the emphasis was not on 'public' - the emphasis was on 'option,' on something 'other than,'" [Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)] said. "The president said from the start, 'I believe that the public option is the best way to keep the insurance companies honest and increase competition. If you have a better idea, put it on the table ... So we will see what they have on the table."
Critics such as Dr. Quentin Young, of Physicians for a National Health Program, see a public insurance plan as having been sacrificed for conservative Democratic votes. "We are very dissatisfied with the way the end of stage negotiations are going," he said. "It seems to use from the very first day the administration has made concessions to the conservative wing who dominates the Senate."

Solution? Dump the provisions that the Senate's rogue, fringe (allegedly "centrist") Senators insisted on, restore the public option and dump the anti-abortion provisions. Make this bill something progressives can be proud of and ignore the beltway press when it squeals "You're not being bipartisan!" Just tell the press corps "No, we're not being bipartisan, we're seeing to the needs of the American people. That means we have to toss this idiotic bipartisanship fetish out the window and concentrate on producing good policy."

2010/01/18

Rush Limbaugh: "The White House is politicizing 9-11!"

Rush Limbaugh claimed on his radio show that the White House, by calling for the date of September 11th to be observed as a day of service to the community, was "politicizing 9-11." Erm, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said:

With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. And at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H." – meaning Saddam Hussein – "at same time. Not only UBL" – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden.

People in Washington DC first started hearing about the four hijacked aircraft at around 8:30am on the morning of September 11th. Apparently, Rumsfeld first became aware of Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37am. Rumsfeld was fitfully in and out of touch with the chain of command starting at around 10:00am (He had gone outside to view the crash scene). "Rumsfeld later claims that he only started to gain a situational awareness of what was happening after arriving at the NMCC" at 10:30am. The military was put on high alert at around 10:45am. At 1:02pm, Rumsfeld "tells Bush, 'This is not a criminal action. This is war.'"

So let's keep in mind when Limbaugh tells his listeners that President Obama is "politicizing 9-11," that it was politicized by a high-ranking member of the Bush Administration long before the fires were out and before President Bush had even made it back to Washington DC upon that date. The Bush Administration suggested to the public so many times, both directly and indirectly, that the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, had something to do with 9-11 that:

In his prime-time press conference last week, which focused almost solely on Iraq, President Bush mentioned Sept. 11 eight times. He referred to Saddam Hussein many more times than that, often in the same breath with Sept. 11.
Bush never pinned blame for the attacks directly on the Iraqi president. Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks.

So strongly was the case made that Saddam Hussein and 9-11 were linked that two years later, 70% of the American public was convinced there was some sort of link.

Finally, former Vice President Cheney said in July 2009 that:

"I do not believe and have never seen any evidence to confirm that [Hussein] was involved in 9/11. We had that reporting for a while, [but] eventually it turned out not to be true," Cheney conceded.

So to say that the Obama Administration is "politicizing 9-11" is sorta like saying that a porn star is "sexing up" an adult movie or that an actor who plays a warrior is making a war movie violent. It's kind of a ludicrous charge. Personally, I think the idea of making September 11th into a day of community service is an absolutely wonderful idea.

2010/01/11

Right-wing media

Wow! Tucker Carlson has found a real winner for a "humor" columnist.

For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I'll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I'm sorry, that wasn't my intention. I didn't choose wisdom. It chose me.

Hmm, full of ourselves much? This might be forgivable if he hadn't promptly said:

...or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow.

Huh. Real humorous [/snark]. So wonderfully wise. Rachel Maddow has short hair of course, so as far as this "wise" person is concerned, that makes her a man.

So then, our "wise" and oh-so-charming "comedian" compares an automatic traffic-ticket issuer to, get this, rape. Yeah, he does. He speaks of computer/camera combinations that log the fact that an automobile was caught speeding or running a red light. The combination then automatically issues and mails tickets to the registered owner of the car. In one-quarter of all cases, the registered owner was not driving the car.

Of course, in these cases, the registered owner can ask the person who was driving to pay the fine as the exact date and time and location are logged onto the automatically made-out ticket citation. Yeah, I can certainly see this as a problem for registered owners who are themselves responsible drivers, but really, if the registered owner is not responsible for the behavior of the people who borrow his or her car, then who is? If you're someone who allows irresponsible people to drive your car, shouldn't you pay some sort of penalty for that? I mean, obviously, if your car was stolen or borrowed without your permission, then you can go to court and fight the ticket. Sorry, but I just don't see what the problem with this is.

Yet, our "comedian" compares these systems to "Legalized rape." Now, I realize that someone trying to be funny isn't always going to tell jokes that are in good taste and that he's trying to be irreverent, but really.

And speaking of Rachel Maddow, NewsBusters did a short piece about her exchange with David Corn of The Nation magazine. She thought "Climategate" was a complete crock. That's not terribly surprising as Mother Jones did a piece back on November 30th showing that "Climategate" was utter nonsense. Of course, NewsBusters fails to provide the slightest evidence that the issue is still a "live" one.

2010/01/10

Bicycles and hauling trash, recyclables and delivering packages

Back during my youth I read a book, which I believe is the same one advertised here, "Bicycles in War" (1974, Hawthorn Books). The book demonstrated that bicycles, while they're not as dramatic as gasoline-powered vehicles, nor can they carry as heavy a load as quickly, are nevertheless very highly useful items that can serve a great many important purposes. The most interesting use to which they were put in the book was to carry items down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to Vietnamese forces battling American troops in that country. It wasn't possible for Vietnamese porters to ride the bicycles with such heavy loads on them, so they simply pushed the bicycles down the trail. It may very well be that the bicycle trailers shown here, had they been in use then, might have solved their problem and might have made pushing the bicycles unnecessary.

As I continued to use bicycles for transportation as well as for pleasure riding right up until the age of 40, I was especially interested to see this piece in Daily Kos. Seems that the group Pedal People has been hauling trash to the landfill for the town of Northampton, Massachusetts since 2002 and in that time, they've hauled an estimated 341,000 cubic feet of trash. Yes, it snows a lot that far up North and yes, the group hauls through just about any sort of weather. They can continue to haul trash during the winter.

I did ten years in the Navy (PN3(Ret) USN, 1991-2001), but I've always had a romantic attachment to the old wooden ships that got around by using wind power. The only pictures of metal ships I have on my walls are the ships that I actually served on. All the rest of them are wooden sailing ships. For that matter, my photo albums contain pictures of all the bicycles I've ridden. Not sure I have all of my cars documented. Bicycles have the same advantage that the wooden ships did, they get around by means much more natural than by burning fossil fuels. As a result, not only do the bicyclists used by Pedal People carry trash quietly, they do so without creating pollution.

Obviously, they haul loads more slowly than metal trucks do, but hey, once the trash leaves your curb, why do you as the customer care how long it takes for the bicyclist to reach the landfill? And if it takes a whole battalion of bicycle riders to haul trash and deliver packages as opposed to a few drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles, why should a customer care? The US is suffering from unemployment and underemployment right now. We could use a job for people that not only gives them some spending money but that helps to keep them in better physical shape.

And yes, Philadelphia has a bicycle-hauling service, The Pedal Co-Op.

2010/01/07

The WaPo continues its downhill slide

Now this I have to say that this is just absolutely amazing. The basic story is pretty simple. The Washington Post produced an article in collaboration with the group called The Fiscal Times. It seems that The Fiscal Times is run by Peter G. Peterson, who is a billionaire investment banker with very decided viewpoints on economics and politics. The organizations he has founded and funded have "long advocated reducing the deficit through entitlement cuts and have called for the creation of [an 18-member task force to see to reducing entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security]. The article produced by the WaPo-Fiscal Times collaboration was a single-source piece that didn't make any use of any source that didn't agree that "entitlement reform and balanced budgets" were good and desirable things. This, despite the fact that 40 progressive organizations take strong issue with the Peterson group.

What's really sad, though, was this paragraph:

“We wouldn’t put anything in the paper that we didn’t believe was independent journalism,” said Marcus W. Brauchli, executive editor of The Post. “We had complete editorial control. Our editors conceived of the story. We asked if The Fiscal Times was interested in producing the story. We edited the story.”

So let's get this straight. The WaPo, in collaboration with a front group that advocates the things "entitlement reform and balanced budgets," that billionaire Pete Peterson has advocated for years, produces a single-source piece (The piece quotes the Concord Coalition, another front group of Peterson's) that copies and pastes rhetoric that Peterson has been putting out for years through his various front groups, and they admit editing it?!?!?!

What exactly did the WaPo editors do?!?!? Did they just run the piece through a spellcheck? Did they fuss over the grammar? Obviously, they completely ignored the fact that the piece was single-sourced and concentrated wholly on Pete Peterson's viewpoints. The editors completely ignored the fact that there were 40 progressive organizations, every single one of which would have been happy to have provided a contrasting, critical viewpoint on the viewpoint presented.

How could any self-respecting editor take credit for such an awful piece o' crud?!?!?!