2010/08/30

People I have very little use for

Sometimes, there are so many awful people in the world, ya just can' write just one piece on them.
David Broder commends Senator John McCain (R-AZ) for winning a fifth term as Senator. This sentence of Broder's was especially disturbing:

Nor was I bothered by the doctrinal compromises the senator made in order to convince Arizona voters that he was, in fact, a conservative.
This brings to mind the declaration of Thomas Paine in 1776:

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Broder had said earlier in the piece:

Now that John McCain has taken care of his political business in Arizona, it is time for him to return to Washington and the responsibilities he bears...
No, it isn't. You see, to my mind, a "leader" who only leads when the grubby business of getting re-elected has been safely taken care of isn't a leader at all, but a mercenary and an opportunist. A true leader doesn't wait until "political business" is all taken care of, a true leader acts anyway and shrugs his shoulders at the possible consequences.

Broder indicts the traditional press corps far more than he realizes here:

McCain is one of the few names that does not draw instant contempt from the voters.
Gee, that wouldn't have anything to do with the mad man-love that the traditional media press corps showed for McCain during the 2008 election, would it? Could it be that McCain doesn't really deserve adulation, but because the media insisted on painting him in such a flattering colors, that he gets it anyway?

Broder finishes up with:

In Arizona, he successfully steered the GOP away from an experiment in extremism.
Erm, no he didn't. McCain unreservedly backed the "Show me your papers" law that promised to secure Arizona's Southern border by authorizing their police to stop all brown people on sight. Fortunately, and no thanks whatsoever to McCain, the law has not been implemented yet. My experience is that with people who actually have principles, true principle is an all-the-time thing. True principle is not something that someone occasionally or every now and then upholds, it's something that someone upholds all the time and under all circumstances. I'm not saying that the "summer soldier and the sunshine patriot" don't have their uses or that they're always worthless, just that they don't deserve to be lionized as heroes. McCain is a survivor, nothing more. He deserves nothing in the way of respect and Broder deserves far less for handing out unwarranted praise.

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David Paterson, Governor of New York, has attempted to find a possible compromise on the Burlington Coat factory that some New York City Muslms want to turn into a community center and that will include a prayer room. 60% of the American public opposes building it, at least where it will be located. Folks are calling it the "Ground Zero Mosque" even though it's two blocks and a corner away from Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center that was attacked on 11 September 2001 and where nearly 2,700 lives were lost. Problem: Paterson has suggested moving the site of the community center. Not only would this constitute surrendering to bigotry, but the people there chose that site for a reason, i.e., there's a community in the vicinity that will use it. If we look at the comments from Sister Toldjah, various right-wing commenters on Free Republic and a piece from Front Page Magazine, it's pretty clear there's not much appetite on the right wing for compromise. So why is Paterson willing to surrender the principle at stake? Why is he willing to give in to opponents, especially when it's far from clear how far is far enough and how close is too close? I've seen plenty of vague, general statements on the community center being "too close," but nothing saying "At least three blocks" or anything specific of that nature. Also, as a 9/11 Widow puts it, "politicians are using the issue for political gain." She states several good reasons to fight the bigotry and build the center. Why does Paterson want to start haggling over distance when the issue is very clearly a lot larger than that?

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Alan Simpson, the Co-Chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Known by progressives as the "Cat Food Commission" because it's been pretty obvious to progressives that all of the membes would like to see Social Security recipiets living on nothing better than cat food) made a real howler of a statement:

Yes, I've made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know 'em too. It's the same with any system in America. We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow with 310 million tits!
A very serious problem was that the statement was reported on August 25th. By the 26th "The White House accepted Alan Simpson’s apology regarding the sexist, demeaning comments..." which, along with Simpson's status on the Cat Food Commission, indicates that portraying Social Security recipients as baby calves greedily sucking away at a government program to the point where they endanger the "milk cows" health is perfectly acceptable. As Jane Hamsher of FDL points out, Simpson is hardly some "rogue operator" who just makes crazy statements which then indicate that he, personally, is crazy. No, Simpson's crazy statements are extremely important because in one instance "he had just come from the closed door meeting and was clearly saying what everyone in the room was thinking but wouldn’t say publicly."

The extremely good question here is that the Cat Food Commission is trying to solve the not-very-urgent problem of the deficit, but it's far from clear that attacking Social Security has anything to do with the deficit, so why are they making so much noise about Social Security? James Galbraith's piece (PDF) on Social Security shows that Social Security and Medicare “solvency” is not part of the Commission’s mandate to begin with and that as a transfer program, Social Security is irrelevant to deficit economics in any event.

Yeah, Simpson needs to be fired, but far more importantly, the entire Cat Food Commission needs to be dissolved, immediately!

2010/08/23

Gays in the Navy

[I wrote a comment on a FireDogLake piece about my experience with gays in the Navy and got the following reply:

This is another comment, rich in personal history, which would make a wonderful standalone diary at The Seminal. Please consider sharing your experience there — I think people have a hard time understanding the historical inanity of this debate: there have always been gays in the military and people have never cared more than right now, it seems.]

Back when I was in "A" School (School you take between Boot Camp and the fleet), I was joking around with a few buddies. "Yes sir, I knew that I shouldn't have pushed that button and blown up that city, but I just didn't care. I just couldn't summon up the emotional energy to really give a damn, so yeah, sorry, I pushed that button."

That, to me, summed up my attitude towards gays while I was in the Navy. I served as a Personnelman and got up to the rank of 3rd Class (PN3, equivalent to an Army Corporal) from May 1991 until January 2001. When I was overseas from November 1996 to November 1998, my ship had 400 people on it. So we all knew each other, some of course better than others, depending on how closely we worked together.

There was a fellow that I sorta, kinda had my suspicions about. He seemed to be a little awkward socially and we talked about fitting in with the group. He once complained that "I wish people would invite me to go out on liberty with them." We had to use a buddy system where when we hit liberty ports, we had to have at least one other person from the ship with us, which meant that sometimes a shipmate had to wait on the Quarterdeck until one or more other people wanted to go out on liberty and then the whole group could take off together. I cheerfully explained to him that no one was ever going to think of inviting him to be their liberty buddy, he had to wait on the Quarterdeck and invite himself to join a person or a group that was going off into town. I had to explain that being socially popular involved some measure of just jumping in and joining the group.

His chain of command decided to send him back to the States to learn some more stuff about how to do his job. We talked about how the Navy would pay for his TAD (Temporary Additional Duty) and we went through a pantomime about how he would take money from one purse, then from another purse, he'd add everything up and then he'd get paid for the whole thing upon completion of the whole evolution. Well, a few days after he'd taken off for the States, I heard that he'd gotten busted for being gay. I thought back about how we had related to each other and what I'd heard about him and thought "O-o-o-oh yeah-h-h! Yeah, that would explain why..." and various small things I hadn't noticed at the time occurred to me and now they made sense.

I didn't have any strong opinions either way about gays. To a sailor, a shipmate is more than just a mere co-worker. A shipmate is someone you live with as well as work with. You clean up your workspaces and berthings together, you perform fire drills together where get all suited up and you pretend to fight fires, you eat meals together where you just see an empty spot, sit down and start chattering with whoever's sitting there. But the off-duty habits of my shipmates just didn't concern me much. As I said in the first paragraph here, I just didn't care. It didn't make any big difference to me that one of my shipmates turned out to be gay. It made a big difference to the ship that we now had one less qualified sailor who had previously done a satisfactory job. Y'know, he may not have done a super-brilliant job, but he certainly wasn't known for doing a poor job and so much in the Navy just requires being steady, being reliable, getting jobs completed and reports filed on schedule and within parameters.

One time, on an earlier ship, we were about to leave on a voyage and a low-ranking sailor cleaned off a pipe down in the engine room. He came back a short while later and the pipe was covered with oil again. He recognized that this was not a good sign and reported that to his supervisor. Turned out the voyage had to be postponed for a day so that the pipe could be replaced. It had worn away so badly that it was now so thin that oil was just plain leaking through the pipe itself. If our sailor had not been observant and had not reported the problem..brr...I hate to think of what could have happened out there on the open sea. The point is, the ship was saved from a potential catastrophe by a shipmate who just plain did his job. He paid attention to detail. He did his job in a manner where he was aware and alert and that made all the difference in the world.

One time, I had a shipmate fill out an ID Card application with incorrect information. He thought he was being clever and was finding a way around a problem. We had to have a series of discussions, my supervisor was brought into it, the problem was fixed, the shipmate was scolded and we got on with our day, but that wasted an hour that wouldn't have been wasted if he had just done his job correctly the first time. Several years earlier, I applied for another job within the Navy. The fellow who was advising me on how to apply neglected to fill me in on all of the necessary details. I think maybe he considered it a learning experience for me, but the result was that my application was a mess and the Bureau of Naval Personnel had to get back to me several times and tell me that yet another piece of the application was missing.

In the military, attention to detail is very, very important. People need to know what they're doing, they need to keep their minds on their jobs. And y'know? We all need to get along with each other. The male sailors need to be aware of how they're dealing with the female sailors so that our language never crosses over from the "yellow" into the "red." White sailors have to be aware of how they're talking with black sailors so as to make sure that language never gets offensive. It's perfectly okay to suggest that an African-American sailor is doing a lousy job, but it's not okay to suggest he's doing a lousy job because he's African-American. We can joke around and have a good time, but we have to pay attention to our language.

Do we ask questions of our shipmates about their off-duty sexual habits? No, of course not. That kind of question could very easily be construed as a "red zone" sexual harassment-type of question. When we were in our home port and left the ship and went off into town, where we went and who we saw was our concern. I guess the really bottom-line concern of mine as a sailor was, "Is my shipmate doing a satisfactory job?" If he or she was doing their job and paying attention to detail and the instruction manuals were being followed, why is it going to concern me that he might be sleeping with another he or she with a she?

If I had been asked to make a list of my top ten concerns, the sexuality of my shipmates would either have not made the list at all, or I would have listed at least eight or nine concerns prior to that. As I said, I just didn't care.

2010/08/18

The Cordoba House/Park51/Ground Zero mosque proposal

In response Sachio Ko-yin's call for dialogue.

I was extremely pleased to see the editorial in the Inky today. Unfortunately, it was followed (As of 12:30pm) by 81 comments, most of them blindingly stupid and bigoted. According to a few of the comments, the mosque, to be located inside a recreational center located two blocks away from the border of the 9-11 Ground Zero, is opposed by 60% of the population. That explains why the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has taken the incorrect position on the subject and probably why the President has taken such a wishy-washy stance himself.

In the case of the proposed Cordoba House, or as the blog Daily Kos refers to it "The Burlington Coat Factory Mosque" (The site is currently occupied by a coat factory), we would be well-advised to remember the views of James Madison:

“In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Federalist no. 55, February 13, 1788

The CATO piece on Madison and his musings on mob rule continued:

But Madison did not share the naïve faith so common today that the people can do no wrong. He knew that majority rule, like all unconstrained political power, posed its own dangers for individual freedom.
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In pure democracies, such as ancient Athens, individuals quickly discovered common interests, formed factions, and oppressed their fellow citizens.

No, I don't regard the polls as being the appropriate final word on guiding Americans on how to consider the proposed mosque. I respect the people who oppose the mosque, but I strongly support New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who took a very strong and uncompromising stance in favor of allowing the mosque to be built.

"The proposed mosque is to be built only two blocks away from Ground Zero!!!1! That's insenstive to the families of the 9-11 victims!11#!1!!" [paraphrased from numerous comments]

The History Eraser Button blog has a series of photos showing what the neighborhood around Ground Zero looks like. I'm sorry, but a 13-story building (It's going to be shaped like a regular rectangular box, it won't have towers from which muezzin can call out the adhan) two blocks away is not going to even stand out, much less will it be a hulking, looming presence. The same blog includes a map of where the photographed places are along with a number of positive and negative comments.

I wrote a letter in response to a column by Charles Krauthammer:

I have a problem with Charles Krauthammer's comparison of 9-11 and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor ("...the idea of putting [up a Japanese cultural center] at Pearl Harbor would be offensive"), as the nation of Japan took ownership of the attack on Pearl Harbor right away, just as the nation of Germany took ownership of the horrors of Treblinka as soon as they was revealed to the world at large. Islam as a whole has not taken ownership of 9-11 for very good reason. 9-11 was launched by a group of Muslims, but these Muslims constituted a very, very tiny fraction of a single percentage point of the world's nearly one & a half billion Muslims. To say that the US can't permit any mosques within an undefined distance away from Ground Zero (The proposed cultural center, which will include a mosque, will be two blocks away, this is obviously not considered good enough by Krauthammer and his fellow critics) is to claim veto power over, well, who knows how far they want their veto power to extend?

I understand Krauthammer's descriptions of Disney's proposed Civil War tourist attractions as being sacrilegious because they were designed to directly overlook and to directly comment upon the sites they were next to. The Cordoba House has no such intention. Two blocks may seem very close to people who have never been to Manhattan, but having been to Manhattan many times, I can testify that two blocks in that section of New York City is pretty much "out of sight, out of mind." Besides which, the building will be designed as a standard rectangular box, more or less indistinguishable from all of the surrounding buildings.

As Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) put it, the Cordoba House will be built by "moderate Muslims," not by jihadists, despite Krauthammer's attempt to lump in Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf with every other Muslim group of "bad guys." Krauthammer gives us a very slanted and partial picture of Rauf by quoting only one statement of his, one that is less than fanatically opposed to the very existence of Hamas. It's very easy for a Westerner, halfway around the world from the Middle East, to take a strictly black and white, ideological view of Hamas. It's asking a bit much of a man connected to the Middle East as Rauf is, to do the same.

I found it very distressing that many of the commenters to the Inky's editorial today seem oblivious to the initial point I made in my letter here and insist on conflating all Muslims with the 9-11 hijackers. It's precisely this refusal to draw distinctions between the 9-11 hijackers and the nearly one and a half billion Muslim people that convinces me that the 60% of the public is wrong and that the 40% is correct.

Update: Karl Rove proves that progressives are absolutely correct to accuse conservatives of bigotry by comparing Muslims peacefully practicing their religion to Nazis harassing Jews.

How do politicians best combat this wave of feeling? The solution is thousands of years old. Stand up! Take a forthright and uncompromising stand as Mayor Bloomberg has and be firm! There's even a term for that. It's called leadership.

Further update:

Howard Dean "From the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party"


Sez: "move the mosque." *Sigh!* Well, Dean was once a standardbearer we could count on.
Today, former Reagan Solicitor General Ted Olson -- whose wife, Barbara Olson, was killed on 9/11 -- said he saw no reason for Park51 to move. And Peter Beinart, expediting his ongoing transformation from TNR Seriousness Guardian into shrill liberal blogger, today called on Democrats to -- as he put it -- "Grow a Pair" by standing up to this increasingly toxic campaign.
It's very important to understand the Park51 issue as a national security issue. This is a guerrilla war/"hearts & minds" issue that the US can win, but only if we respect our Muslim brothers and sisters. If we treat them like suspect outsiders, the consequences will not be good ones.

Video of person walking from Ground Zero to Park51.

Howard Dean responds.

2010/08/08

Round-up on various stories

My piece on what the next Congress might look like.

A piece by a Muslim man about the recent Time Magazine cover (Featuring an Afghan woman with her nose cut off and suggesting that American occupation will solve that problem) and how Muslim women have generally fared under Western occupations (Hint: Not well).

Right-wingers are very upset at how reality has such a strong liberal bias that right-wing pieces are not popular on the social networking site Digg. This lengthy piece goes into how right-wingers have tried to "game" the system as to how Digg rates articles.

Christine Romer is leaving the Obama Administration due to her not having any influence on the President's economic policies. She'll be missed as she called for good things to happen.

President Obama is in deep political trouble because Snooki disapproves of him! Augh! Screech! No, no, no!!! Erm, wait a minute! Wha?!?! Who is Snooki? Oh, she's a person from the reality show "Jersey Shore." Um, er, okay.

What will the next Congress look like?

If, as many fear, the Republicans manage to take over one or both house of Congress? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicates that he's been entirely happy with his strategy to block or at least delay, pretty much everything the Obama Administration has tried to do since January 2009. WaPo columnist David Broder reports that the following remark of McConnell's leaves him skeptical:

McConnell ascribed much of the distress both Packer and I had recorded to the natural impatience of new members. The Senate, he said, "takes a bit of getting used to." But if they stick it out, these newcomers will learn to love the old rules, he said, and abandon their foolish impulse to change them.

No, it's wildly unprecedented to force the Senate to get just about every bill through on the basis of a supermajority of 60 to 40 in order to get around the filibuster. Broder holds out hope:

Much as I differed with McConnell's defense of the status-quo Senate, I have to agree with several of the other points he made at the breakfast. He is right when he says that the Senate tends to be at its best when the party ratios are relatively close -- say 55 to 45 -- rather than as lopsided as they have been during Obama's first two years.

Sorry, but this strikes me as utterly starry-eyed in its' sweet, childish naiveté. What are McConnell's legislative plans?

"What I hope we are going to have after November is more balance, more balance, which would give us the opportunity to do things together that simply were missing when you have this kind of disparity," McConnell said. "But, I'm not going to be very interested in doing things left of center. It is going to have to be center right. I think the president is a flexible man. I'm hoping he will become a born-again moderate."

In other words, yeah sure, we'll work with Democrats, as long as that means doing everything our way.

The Republican Party as a whole has a number of serious issues with the Constitution. They want to "review" the 14th Amendment, calling it the "Anchor Baby" Amendment, they want to throw out the Affordable Care Act based on the theory that Congress cannot exercise any control over the economy, individual Republican Senators want to repeal Social Security and the Federal highway system and naturally, many Tea Party Republicans want to repeal the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the income tax. Sharron Angle, who's running to replace Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), is a Christian Reconstructionist, a pretty far-out philosophy for someone who's neck and neck with Reid in the polls. Rand Paul, running for Senator in Kentucky, wants to relieve those poor, poor abused business owners from having to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act because, y'know, it just costs so much money to comply with it.

In contrast to what Republicans think Americans want, Americans don't really care about how big government is, they want a government that effectively solves problems and that sees to the needs of its citizens. Conservatives generally know what percentage of the GDP is being spent by the government. Progressives tend not to know because they don't regard the number as particularly relevant to anything. For a progressive, the concern is "Does the government have enough money to get the job done?" Whether it's using 20% of the GDP or 21% or 21.75% of the GDP is a completely meaningless consideration.

Sorry, but the one and only way for the next Congress to be a productive one, i.e., to do what American citizens want it to do, is for the Democrats to retain their majorities in both chambers and to reform the Senates' filibuster rule (Which is not in the Constitution) so that the Senate can get stuff done.

2010/08/06

Two columnists and their recommended solutions

Two very refreshing pieces today say a lot about all this bipartisan-y wunnerful goodness of being "above the fray" and "objective" and all that nonsense. A WaPo columnist asks another WaPo columnist, David Broder, about Broder's column on the dysfunctionality of the Senate. Sargent agrees with Broder that the Senate is dysfunctional. Broder quotes a Republican Senator to that effect:

"climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans' care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world's greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing."

Okay, and Sargent notes that Broder blames:

Many forces -- from the money chase, to the party realignments, to the intrusiveness of 24-hour media -- have weakened the institutional bonds of that Senate. But it is the absence of the ethic embodied and enforced by its leaders that is most crippling.

But isn't there a more comprehensive, unified explanation? Could it be that Republicans have very consciously and deliberately adopted an explicit strategy:

...designed to deny Obama bipartisan cooperation solely to prevent Dems from winning major victories, and to grind the Senate to a halt to make Dems look like ineffective leaders.

It's certainly looked that way to me and many, many progressives from the very beginning of the 2008 Senate. Yet Broder refuses to leave his "above it all" bipartisan-y perch from which he looks down upon the unseemly fight in the Senate and tsk-tsks about the unseemingly-ness of it all. Broder never focuses blame on a specific party for the problem. He keeps it all very vague and very general. An interested citizen has absolutely no idea from Broder's piece if there are any fixes to the problems that he identifies.

Paul Krugman, on the other hand, examines the deficit reduction plan produced by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and tells readers why, exactly and in detail, Ryan's plan is wildly impractical and will never work. Krugman's point is quite clear: Never look to Republicans for wisdom on fiscal matters. Unlike Broder's column, Krugman's column gives interested citizens useful and practical guidance as to who they should listen to and/or vote for when it comes to fiscal policy.

Is Krugman wrong? Are Republicans making useful and serious contributions? Should citizens listen to the other side of the aisle? Republicans and other right-wingers and conservatives are certainly free to make these arguments, but Krugman does citizens a real service by starting off with a clear, factually argued foundation from which to examine the question. He doesn't just give us a vague, fuzzy picture from which all we do is throw up our hands and to declare that it's all hopeless.

These two columnists, Broder and Krugman, both examine political problems, but only one gives readers a clear idea of what to do about those problems.

Update: Digby fills us in on the other tricks that Ryan uses to appear to be a serious intellectual. Also, the lawyer/blogger Glenn Greenwald attacks the "muddled moderation" of the Obama Administration in their choice of the colorless, cautious careerist Elena Kagan as the new Supreme Court Justice (She was just recently approved for the position). Kagan doesn't move the Court very far to the right, but she unquestionably does move it a bit to the political right.