Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Iran

Protesters against the theo-fascist junta in Iran are subjected to brutality like this every day. It is horrific. Discretion advised.

I think time is on the side of the protesters. Keep them in your prayers.

The Buy/Rent Conundrum

Since I have been in the mortgage business since 1997 and have sold mortgages since 2001, and have owned several properties in my lifetime, I'm in a pretty good position to speak to this issue, interestingly analyzed by Megan McCardle at The Atlantic today. Megan's view is a bit weak, but essentially she does make the point that investing in a house is not particularly a good choice. To buy a house, one needs to consider it as a home, not a place to park for a few years, make a killing, and pocket or reinvest some tax free capital gains (i.e., up to $500,000 for a married couple).

If one were to put all the different factors in that go into owning a primary residence -- the large downpayment, the tax-deductible interest expense and property taxes, maintenance/upkeep/replacements, inflation, and external economic influences such as schools, political events, and acts of God -- I'm sure that one could make an argument either way for the benefits or liabilities of home ownership. Sod all that stuff, though. If one buys a house and stays there for a long time, one has put down some roots in a community and enjoyed the benefits of that community.

Lisa and I have lived in the same neighborhood (two different homes) for over nine years now. We joined and have worked out at the local YMCA since Max was a baby, shop at the local markets, eat at the local restaurants, send our kids to the school right across the street, play in the local parks, trick or treat at our neighbors's houses, attend movies at the local mall, and are members at the closest synagogue to our house. We know so many people in our little community, and enjoy their goodwill and hospitality (and they ours) often enough to make it very difficult for us to move at any time in the next 30 years. We love it. So even though we've currently lost more than $100,000 in equity on our current home, we know that's a relatively small price to pay for being in one place.

When I was single after college, I moved practically every year, and even though I never accumulated much stuff to haul around, it was a pain in the ass every time. I had absolutely nothing to show for it after all those years except a lot of mismatched furniture (since donated or trashed) and a lot of stories about this or that party.

There is also a lot to be said for being able to have a home that is to our specifications. Lisa and I built the house we now live in. It wasn't perfectly to our needs, but as close as we could get given our budget and the limitations of the property. Megan mentions the benefits of blackout curtains; we have them in every bedroom in the house. We also have enough hot water (most of the time) and light from outside to make our house cheery. But, the downside is that we pay for anything that breaks down. It's a trade-off; and it's very worth it because we don't like to move around anymore.

Given the current state of mortgage rates, it's almost insane to rent if you can afford to buy. But be sure that you want to stay put for 5-10 years or longer. Otherwise, it's a losing bet.

More GOP Hypocrisy

TPM reports today that former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is saying that the Nigerian terrorism suspect should not be tried in civilian court.

But, under the Bush administration, shoe bomber Richard Reid was captured with the same explosive material, and used the same modus operandus, and also failed in his attempt. He was tried and convicted in civilian court and is now serving serious time.

Uh, so what makes the Nigerian guy different? Oh, yeah -- with Republicans far out of power, they are going to seize on this story and try to paint the President as weak on homeland security and a Muslim sympathizer. WTF? Is there absolutely nothing that Republicans will not do? Will they continue to find new depths of idiocy? One can only hope that there is just one -- ONE -- sane mind in that party that will find his way to the front and return some civility and reality-based commentary to their side of the dialogue.

Idiots!

The Reason Why Federal Social Programs Exist

This Sullivan reader relates his recession story.

"Before this year I never gave much thought to social programs, frankly, I neither needed or qualified for them. However, when the time came that I needed assistance, the government was there to help."

I have believed all my adult life that programs like Social Security, Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, and others exist as the safety net for those who are in need. This man would not have been able to support his family and get himself back on his feet without them. I acknowledge that the system does create dependency for those who lack the education or skill set to earn a decent living. Without these programs, however, the neediest members of our society would be helpless and hopeless. Our hard work to provide for our own, notwithstanding, we should not begrudge the government spending our tax dollars to help those less fortunate than we are.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Orly Pushes the Free-Speech Envelope

TPM reports on a blog post by birther movement leader Orly Taitz where she seems to be advocating that American citizens start up armed militias to protest the actions of "this Kenyan, Indonesian communist usurper."

Uh... pretty soon, Orly might be awakened by a knock on her door by men in black suits, accompanied by rifle-wielding federal officers. Or, they might just bust down the door.

Lucky for her the Supreme Court's pretty clear on the protection of speech that seems to advocate a violent overthrow of the government. As Justice Brandeis wrote in 1927 Whitney v. California:

"Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. To justify suppression of free speech there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the evil to be prevented is a serious one. ... even advocacy of [law] violation however reprehensible morally, is not a justification for denying free speech where the advocacy falls short of incitement and there is nothing to indicate that the advocacy would be immediately acted upon.”

Anyone who thinks Orly's words carry that much weight as to constitute a clear and present (imminent) danger is giving this moron too much power.

Mending the Filibuster

Bruce Bartlett proposes a change to the filibuster, which has crippled the Senate for years and years. Rather than getting rid of it, which would be an extremely thorny move (think tyranny of the majority), change it to make it harder for those who want to impose the filibuster to continue it. This shifts the burden away from those who want to end the filibuster to come up with the needed 60 votes for cloture.

I like this because it takes away tyranny of the minority, which has been the case with the Senate (and the California Assembly) for what seems like decades.

I, Terrorist

Chris Hedges' new TruthDig piece is pretty inflammatory stuff, pretty one-sided... and pretty much right on the money. The United States government has the authority to arrest, detain, and hold without charge or trial any person, including American citizens, and subject them to unbelievably cruel treatment, including physical and psychological torture.

"The extreme sensory deprivation used on [terrorism suspect Syed Fahad] Hashmi is a form of psychological torture, far more effective in breaking and disorienting detainees. It is torture as science. In Germany, the Gestapo broke bones while its successor, the communist East German Stasi, broke souls. We are like the Stasi. We have refined the art of psychological disintegration and drag bewildered suspects into secretive courts when they no longer have the mental and psychological capability to defend themselves."

It is not inconceivable that the laws currently enabling the government to round up Muslim men and women and put them away to rot in solitary confinement until they are vegetables could someday be used to round up opinionated peopole of any stripe, including environmental activists, anti-globalization activists, and journalists.

If I were somehow to scoop an interview with Osama bin Laden, you can bet I'd be on a list of suspected terrorists.

Autumn of the Republic?

Miller-McCune freelance journalist Kirk Nielsen writes a review of three books that suggest that America is slipping into an abyss that could include dictatorial mindsets, aided and abetted by corporations, the internet, and "greedy oligarchs." Nielsen carefully stays a good distance away from endorsing any of these books, but certainly leans toward the idea. Here's my favorite graph:

In sum, [Thom Hartmann's] Threshold [Crisis of Western Civilization] is 262 pages of scientific and historical anecdote suggesting that unregulated markets, undemocratic behavior and unecological practices lead to catastrophe. If you haven't already read a good overview of topsoil depletion, the marine fisheries crisis, rain forest destruction, the democratic behavior of red deer, the 1888 Supreme Court decision that defined corporations as "persons," the $15 million that 30,000 corporate lobbyists spend weekly when Congress is in session, President Eisenhower's premonition of a military-industrial complex with "unwarranted influence," the 2004 computerized voting machines controversy, the $1 trillion in tax dollars the U.S. government spent on war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not on infrastructure and schools, and the subprime loan/toxic securities debacle — you can find one in Threshold. Hartmann's common-sense remedies include "recovering a culture of democracy," "balancing the power of men and women," "reuniting with nature," "creating an economy modeled on biology" and "influencing people by helping them rather than bombing them." His book offers few specifics on how these ends might be accomplished in the real world.

I'm not a doom-and-gloomer, but I see the point of the three authors -- that our willingness to be spoon-fed opinion, to fail to ask questions, and to flock only to websites that reflects our (spoon-fed) opinions, will make things worse, not better.

History is Written by the Victors

The Republicans are all too aware of this reality. Here, we see Mary Matalin doing her best:

I was there. We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation’s history. And President Bush dealt with it. And within a year of his presidency at this comparable time, unemployment was at 5 percent. And we were creating jobs.

Well in reality the recession started in mid-2001, so Clinton set up the conditions for that recession (actually, it was just cyclical, as all recessions and expansions are). Bush cut taxes after 9/11 and unemployment continued to rise until levelling off mid-2002. But his job creation was anemic compared to that under Clinton.

Arguing that the tax cuts ended the recession is completely disingenuous. First of all, the tax cuts alone did not solve the problem. On top of that, deregulation of the banking and finance industries, plus massive outsourcing of jobs overseas, gave companies the conditions it needed to post record profits. But during that time, real wages dropped, personal debt grew at a record pace, and government debt climbed to over $10 trillion. The ensuing economic collapse, brought about by cyclical patterns (there was only so much we could do buying and selling each other's homes), was passed onto Obama, who has now had to raise the debt ceiling to keep the economy from tanking even further.

Matalin is a disgusting person, always has been. That she continues to be asked serious questions just shows how deeply divorced from reality the mainstream media are.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You are So Busted!

There's really nothing else one can say after seeing Glenn Greenwald completely eviscerates the editor and writers of Reason magazine. Money quote:
So just five months ago, the very same Matt Welch -- who yesterday accused Obama of telling a "lie" all because he cited a CBO "report" as authoritative -- himself praised the "expert feedback" of the "nonpartisan" CBO to warn that Obama's health care plan would increase deficits. How does a magazine editor justify to himself such a flagrantly dishonest and inconsistent record as this?

Also in the same Greenwald piece was a nod to Ezra Klein's flip-flop on the health-care plan. Klein had in June predicted that the final health care bill would contain some form of a public option, suggesting that as a mark of victory for liberals. Greenwald points out that, now that the bill passed by the Senate today has no public option and the final bill will not survive if the House tries to insist on a public option, liberals are suddenly pointing out that this is the single greatest legislative achievement since the Civil Rights Act or even the New Deal. He asks, "What accounts for that reversal?"

Oh, that Glenn! Always looking for lies, inconsistencies, and fallacious arguments. I'll tell you what accounts for that reversal: truth. Even without a government-managed health care option for Americans, this bill marks the establishment of health coverage for 30 million more Americans. It's a remarkable achievement, fully-funded, money-saving, and a win for insurance companies (hello? 30 million more customers? Won't that offset having to cover people with pre-existing conditions and eliminating coverage caps?). The only ones who might be upset about this bill is doctors, as this bill does not contemplate tort reform. Perhaps that will come separately, we hope.

One Saver at a Time

I'm on record strongly advocating that people need to save more. When I heard yesterday that personal savings had held steady October to November against rising personal income, it made me smile.

Now comes this post from Sullivan running a reader's email, updating Andrew as to his financial condition. Andrew has for months been running emails from readers who are dealing with the recession. It was the last paragraph that really got to me:
We live in interesting times, and I know my generation will come out of it with a very different perspective on savings, spending, and investment than did the graduates of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

I'm already seeing this with my mortgage customers, who in general have more savings than I ever did when I was younger. It's a testament to people living within their means.

Recognizing One's Limitations

Usually, I read Bob Cesca's blog for its sense of humor and for its righteous anger toward the lack of progressivism in modern Washington politics. Now Cesca realizes where the progressive movement stands vis-a-vis the ideological center and warns his fellow libs to chill out and learn to work slowly.
Until we have real electoral leverage, we're more expendable than the ideological center. However, if, slowly but surely, we get incrementally progressive-ish legislation, the ideological balance in America will begin to move in our direction and we gain more leverage.

Now he's thinking like a centrist, which is essential. You can fight all you want for "progressive-ish" laws to be passed, but if you act like an angry liberal, you lose.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Liberal Reagan?

A Sullivan reader posits what's holding Obama back from having the confidence of the nation the way Reagan did:
Obama's philosophy could be called "pragmatism," but the problem is that while pragmatism might reorient how things get done in Washington, it won't reorient the country's political philosophy because it won't connect with the public.

I reject the reader's analysis in total. For one thing, throughout his campaign Obama had clear messages as to why things weren't working. But the reasons he gave were frequently not necessarily what the public wanted to hear. Still, enough people had had it with the policies of Bush/Cheney and were frightened enough by the idea of Clinton (or worse, McCain/Palin) that he was seen as the most practical solution to our problems. And so far, everything Obama has delivered on has, in many ways, followed his philosophy and his vision, even down to the rancorous partisanship we are seeing on both sides of the aisle.

For another, having a "simple hook" as a way of explaining his policies might endear him to voters, but I don't want Obama to be endearing -- I want him to govern effectively. I hope he speaks to me like an adult, pushes me to increase my understanding of the issues (and really, what better time is there than in the age of the internet to do just that?), and explains enough of the complexity of what we are facing to help me swallow the bitter pills I know we'll confront now and in the future. I'm pretty sure most Americans feel the same way.

Finally, while I don't have the time to go back and read the transcript of every speech or every answer to every question in the presidential debates, I'm reasonably sure that I won't find anything there where he suggested that government solves economic problems better than the market. Obama is a capitalist: his appointment of Geithner and his retention of Bernanke were dead giveaways on that. I'm sure Obama would agree that, during this economic crisis, it's not a matter of government being a better solution than the free market; government is and was, unfortunately, the ONLY viable solution. When major U.S. corporations are being "nationalized," it's not because, as Jim Manzi wrote, we are "sacrificing some economic vitality for public control." It's because we are in frickin' crisis mode. If we wanted to avoid a global meltdown and a real depression, the government printing presses had to be working three shifts to put a boatload of money into the economy. What corporation can do that? The major corporations that have benefited from government intervention are all solidly on the road to recovery (Citigroup being the main exception). They couldn't have righted themselves unaided, and allowing them to fail was simply not an option. Bush knew that, Paulson knew it, Bernanke knew it, and so do Obama and Geithner. Those who didn't get it will probably go to their graves believing we're now a socialist country, and that simply points to partisanship and bitterness than solid governance.

In the end, Obama's job is to balance, as effectively as possible, the needs of American citizens to feel secure against the needs of American business to innovate and grow. We're not out of the woods yet, but with home prices increasing (and personal savings holding steady against increased personal spending!), many signs point to the fact that Obama's messages are getting across.

Neoconservatism's Dark Hidden Agenda

Via Christopher Hitchens in 1990's Harpers.

Essentially, the neoconservatives were afraid of the looming end of the Cold War. A man named Bruce Weinrod of the Heritage Foundation, put it this way:
The first thing [G.H.W. Bush] ought to do is call Margaret Thatcher and try to talk some sense into her. She was recently quoted as saying the Cold War is over. That really is a problem if you have somebody who is tough-minded saying that. She may not understand that, at least with the American public, you have to create a sense of some urgency about what we are doing; otherwise, the course resistance is followed and funding shifts to social programs [Italics added].
He added:
The Soviets have stated that one of their major objectives is to remove what they call the 'enemy image.' Unless something comes up that forces them to act in an overt way, making it clear that they have not changed, it is going to be a very difficult challenge to maintain our military expenditures.
Heh. We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia. Mr. Orwell, you knew far too much far too soon. Thanks for your contributions to the world of the sane.

Palin Has a "Banned List"



Non-governor and non-author Sarah Palin created a "banned list" of four members of the media who were not allowed to attend a book signing event in her hometown of Wasilla, AK. The list includes Shannyn Moore, a local radio host and vocal Palin critic and an honoree on my Link Love list.




What a select bunch! How can I get on that list? Should I threaten her kids by asking them a question? Be seen in public with Levi Johnston? Host a Going Rogue burning party?




Quote of the Day II

"Folks on the right, and frankly I'm one of them in terms of voting record, have to yield to the world as it is and not necessarily how they wish it would be." Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), on the need for the Republican Party to "yield to reality" rather than insist on conservative purity.

Also in the linked story is a reminder that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has been working hard to tie the RNC to the tea-baggers.

Democrats aren't saying all that much, but they are giving the GOP just enough rope to hang itself with. If the GOP insists on ideological conformity and fields primary candidates to challenge established incumbents with records of working across the aisle, it will be their complete undoing. "The world as it is" is a world that requires the input of many voices in order to govern.

Quote of the Day

"The higher [Republicans] get on the fumes of tea-party revolt instead of crafting actual policies to address actual problems, the worse it will get for them. Sure, they may win a few seats and galvanize their base next fall. But for what? A protest is not a party and a cable propaganda outlet is not a government." Andrew Sullivan, once again.

Yes We Can, and Yes We Have

President Obama campaigned on the idea that we were who we were waiting for. He sowed seeds of hope across racial, ethnic, gender, economic and generational boundaries. He took on the culture of class warfare that Rovian politics had perfected, long since put into motion by Nixon 40 years earlier. And, largely, he has fulfilled those promises.

In less than one year in office, he has ended torture, even it means that Gitmo stays open as he deals with the enormously difficult task of closing it; he has unwound the unitary executive, with its claims of near-dictatorial powers over American citizens (and over anyone in the world); initiated the legal steps needed to investigate, prosecute, and convict Bush administration war criminals; started the process to try Khalid Sheik Mohammen in US Court, which will reveal how horribly sadistic the Bush/Cheney regime has been, and how badly it undermined our efforts against Islamist jihadism. Additionally, he has increased military pressure against al Qaeda in Pakistan, even though it comes at a troubling cost to civilians; he has made it clear that we will leave Afghanistan with guns blazing -- a surge, lots of new troops, and strategic shifts. And Iraq has nailed down elections in March, even though that situation there remains tenuous in the extreme.

Obama has bailed out banks and come in $200 billion under budget; overseen the turnaround of the economy from tailspin to stabilization, with the prospect of job growth in 2010. The stock market is robust and at levels no one would have predicted last year. Interest rates remain at historic lows and home ownership is on the rise (and prices inching upward). Obama has ushered in new infrastructure programs and has done more to move the country into the modern era around alternative energies than what might have come out of Copenhagen this past month. He is this close to universal health insurance, with a promised deficit reduction! No president in the past 60 years has managed this (not even the centrist Clinton). The acceptance of gay civil unions and marriages is slowly growing across the country. The war on drugs is unravelling, as more and more states understand its futility; California has more pot available than Amsterdam!

Relations with the Russians have improved to the point where substantial gains can be made to halt nuclear weapons proliferation. Israel is moving, however reluctantly, to a two-state solution. Iran is crumbling more and more every day, thanks to growing paralysis in the regime, and its growing fear of its own people due to the ongoing revolution. And, finally, Obama has helped improve global opinion of the U.S. since his speech in Cairo and his Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo (all the while enduring withering criticism from both right and left). And he has done this with a minimum of the rancorous partisan bickering that so characterized the Bush White House and his minions in the GOP-led Congress, and without the support of the mainstream media that regularly create headlines suggesting the country is disintegrating and that Stalinism is imminent. His pragmatism, his sincerity, and his insistence that deals be made to consider the views of the large part of our country that did not vote for him have combined to create meaningful progress toward the kind of country we can all be proud of and at peace with. Lingering doubts remain on both sides, but any president undertaking the kinds of changes Obama has begun this year had to anticipate this. Aside from a few missteps along the way, his entire administration has been on point from the start.

I am gladly "in the tank" with this president. I remain very optimistic that he will continue to succeed, and that the partisan attempts to derail his accomplishments will fall flat so long as the accomplishments produce real results. I will continue to hold him accountable to ensure that future threats to our Constitutional democracy are eliminated, and that previous crimes committed in the prosecution of the war are fully investigated and brought to justice in an impartial manner.

I know hope today.

Those on both sides of the spectrum who believe he has either destroyed the country or not gone far enough to implement the progressive agenda are missing the point. Sullivan said it best:

Change of this magnitude is extremely hard. That it is also frustrating, inadequate, compromised, flawed, and beset with bribes and trade-offs does not, in my mind, undermine it. Obama told us it would be like this - and it is. And those who backed him last year would do better, to my mind, if they appreciated the difficulty of this task and the diligence and civility that Obama has displayed in executing it.

Yes, we have. And yes, we still are the ones we've been waiting for - if we still care enough to swallow purism and pride and show up for the less emotionally satisfying grind of real, practical, incremental reform.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pelosi Rocks, Reid Rolls (Over)

This piece in TruthDig ought to make my parents hopping mad. Columnist and frequent Olbermann guest Gene Robinson notes that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can get shit done the way no one else can. He gives props to the GOP leadership as well for presenting such a monolithic front against anything and everything Democratic, although he wonders if they're not doing more harm to themselves than good. Also worthy of some praise are the fence-sitting blue dogs and independents, who held the health-care bill hostage till they got what they wanted. Most of them are probably safe come the next election. Lieberman, though? Shark bait. Toss him overboard.

That said, who does Robinsons say can't get it done? Harry Reid:
Granted, he’s in a nearly impossible position, needing a three-fifths majority to get anything done, but he has made a bad situation worse. He announced that the Senate bill would include a public option, but didn’t have the votes. He got everyone excited about the Medicare buy-in idea for a few days, until it got shot down. And his remarks comparing the health care debate to the epic battle over slavery were a grotesque embarrassment.

But his choicest bit of wisdom is reserved for our President:
The White House hasn’t managed to drive a deep enough wedge between, on the one hand, the Senate Republicans, who aren’t going to vote for reform under any circumstances, and, on the other hand, the Democratic caucus. The waverers and the opportunists have been allowed to take control.

Robinson seems to be saying here that Obama needs to stop trying to be so post-partisan and push legislators to one side or the other. Putting through legislation that a Blue Dog could not oppose is one way for Obama to sow just a bit more discord in that chamber such that his agenda gets stronger support.

One thing that could do, however, is push the Ben Nelsons, Mary Landrieus, and Byron Dorgans of the Senate right into the arms of a salivating GOP. Switching parties at this point wouldn't hurt Nelson in Nebraska, one of the reddest states in the country, and Louisiana and North Dakota would probably blink minimally. Losing even one of those three to the Republicans changes the balance of power immensely. This is why the White House is eager to push Reid to make deals with the Blue Dogs. You legislate with the Congress you have, not the one you wish you had.

Rumsfeld sure did have it right, didn't he?

Funny Poll of the Day

From World Net Daily. What makes this poll funny is not the things that the readers of this ultra-right wing website would like to give President Obama for Christmas, it's the fact that they have had only 5,300 responses. Seems the fringe is as impotent in numbers as they are in substantive things to say. Hilarious!

RedState/UYR See Eye to Eye

Uh, Yeah Right discovers that it agrees with RedState founder Erick Erickson (and it's not that the "k" in Erick is lame, even though it is lame). It's that the "conversion" of Blue Dog Dem Parker Griffith of Alabama to the Republican Party is no big deal to Obama.

That is a huge blow to Barack Obama. Griffith was an extremely endangered Democrat.

We should now hope him [sic] be an extremely endangered Republican in a primary. We will not fix the GOP's problems if we keep allowing people who are not one of us to suddenly switch the letter next to their name and magically become one of us.


For once I agree. Griffith voted against the stimulus package, health care reform, the energy bill, equal pay for women, the 2010 budget resolution and financial regulatory reform. He said at a town hall in August that he would not vote for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as Speaker of the House again because of her "divisive and polarizing" image. He also told constituents at the time that only Blue Dog Democrats could prevent the health care bill from moving forward in the House.

Erickson understands that the key to future Republican success is their ideological purity, their religious consistency, their racial perfection, and their regional provincialism. White southern Christianists with no tolerance for the opinions of others within their ranks.

Oh, wait...

Sullivan's Wisdom

The neoconservative's whole reason for being is to fight, according to a Sullivan reader. Sully elaborates:
[T]his is why I find Obama a perfectly acceptable pragmatic trimmer to the center-left. His concessions to the conservative era are profound; but he seeks to move on and forward. Conservatives, sadly, want to go back - to the techniques that Gingrich pioneered and Rove finessed. They don't seem to realize that this is what led them into the incoherent wilderness they now angrily occupy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In Support of Cecil

Asheville, NC, picturesque mountain community that it is, swore in a Unitarian "post-theist" as a city councilmember. He did not swear an oath to God during the ceremony, but made a solemn affirmation.

Of course, this has outraged religious groups, who point to an obscure clause in the state's constitution that prohibits anyone from holding office who denies "the being of Almight God." Well, forget the fact that the U.S. Constitution bars any religious test for anyone seeking to serve public office, trumping anything in the state's constitution. This is just good ol' country conflict.

If you're a fan of sticking it to the religious conservatives (like I am), send an email to Mr. Bothwell in support of his office. I'll post his email address as soon as I get it.

Reduced to Absurdity

What the right now is, courtesy of Confederate Yankee:
Robert Byrd has been around a very long time, and his many decades of service have made West Virginia a wonderful state in which to manufacture methamphetamine or frame the locals for murder. But it's time for Senator to do the right thing, and expire. It isn't too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do. Without his frail, Gollum-like body being wheeled into the Senate's chambers to cast the deciding vote, the Senate cannot curse our children and grandchildren with crushing debt and rationed, substandard healthcare.

Hat tip: Sullivan

Medical Lobby Backs Obama

The American Medical Association, the largest physician's lobby in the country, has officially endorsed the Senate's health care reform package. Forget that they are doing this after the public option had been removed; they were backing the plan when the public option was in, too.

Will there be a competing physician's lobby to fill the void created when all the AMA members who opposed this legislation bolt? (sound of crickets) That's right; I didn't think so.

Ezra Klein says that if you go back and look at what Obama campaigned on with regard to health-care reform, the bill that passed the Senate was "very close" to that earlier plan.

What has happened is that Obama, like Reagan before him with his tax cuts, is going to do something no other president before him had been able to do. And this is very deep, very complicated legislation. That it has taken this long and raised this much of a ruckus is not unexpected. It is also not surprising that the liberal left does not like this bill; the radical right in the early 1980s didn't like Reagan's tax cuts either, thinking they didn't go far enough.

The GOP's All-in Gamble

Piggybacking on Ross Douthat's NY Times column today, Sullivan notes the GOP's inability to bring anything to the table on health care reform:

[Ross's piece] seems a pretty fair assessment to me although it doesn't absolve the GOP of abdicating all responsibility this year to place country before party. By that, I mean constructively engaging the process to improve the result rather than total oppositionism and partisanship. But that is also a function of the past many years as the GOP put Rovianism before any coherent governing philosophy and culture war before any real attempt to innovate policy or better understand government.
Right on. From 1993 to 2006, the GOP had ample opportunity to show America that they cared about helping uninsured Americans find affordable (or any) health insurance. No. Instead, they defeated Clinton's health-care package and then spent the rest of the time cuting taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, deregulating the financial sector to the point of basically legalizing fraud and theft, trying to privatize Social Security so that the financial sector could get their greedy hands on the Soc Sec trust fund, and granting no-bid, multi-billion dollar contracts to Halliburton/KBR to usurp Iraqi oil supplies (epic fail there).

Don't paint me fiscally liberal; I'm down the middle all the way here. I hate paying income taxes and would love to pay less of them. But supply-side and trickle down do not work. Tax cuts for the wealthy don't make them put more money into the economy; the deregulation allowed them to move their money offshore and hoard it. Job creation was an afterthought. An example: under George W. Bush, with low taxes at the top end and for corporations cut to the quick, only 3 million jobs were created in his eight years (since the recession began we've lost over 7 million jobs in this country, wiping out any gains under Bush). Conversely, with higher taxes under Clinton, 23.1 million jobs were created. Lower taxes just don't solve all our problems.

Bruce Bartlett has it right: we need to raise revenue in this country and we need to do it in a big way. A Value Added Tax, while not progressive, would generate tons of money for this economy, and give the federal government ways to invest and keep businesses churning so that we can add jobs. The trouble is, liberals don't like it because it's regressive (i.e., because lower-income individuals use a greater share of their incomes for consumption, they pay a greater share of the VAT). And the conservatives are too weak and partisan to suggest anything that Obama can use to jump-start the economy in a successful way.

So basically what we have is a major political party that has gamble its entire existence on derailing Barack Obama. Smart move, I guess; they really have nothing to offer. But smarter people need to take the reins of the GOP before they gamble themselves into oblivion. And a single-party system is not good for America.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Last Minutes with Oden

Moving documentary short from phospictures shown on Vimeo. A person's last minutes with a beloved pet. Very touching.

Last Minutes with ODEN from phos pictures on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When China Will Rule the World

OK, provocative title, but in a thoroughly fascinating must-read interview with truthdig's Robert Scheer, renowned journalist Martin Jacques, author When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, argues that China will have a much larger influence on the world within the next 40 years.

This quote (I'm sure there will be more, I just haven't finished the interview yet) really hit me:

I think the idea that the West has a monopoly of all things that are good and wise, and everyone else is still sort of in a form of barbarianism, and as they develop they’ll become like the West—I think this is a very hubristic way of thinking. I think every culture, or most cultures in the world, have their own bit of genius, their own bit of wisdom. Values like accountability, representivity, tolerance are not Western values alone. Most cultures have, in some way, embodied them. And there’s no doubt at all that there’s some fine values in the Chinese tradition. What one has to distinguish, I think, is between—it’s dangerous to compare a developing country with a developed country. And this is constantly—we insist that the developing world is like the developed world, that we measure them by the same standards of human rights, of democracy, and so on. But in fact they’re in very different situations, very different circumstances to us. I mean, when we went through our industrial revolutions—the United States, the European countries—we weren’t democratic. We didn’t have universal suffrage. So why do we insist that they have the same standards as we do now when we didn’t have them at their level of development? So we need to be historical rather than ahistorical about it.
This idea runs 180 degrees away from the concept of American exceptionalism (the credo of the far right and neoconservative movements). It's almost revolutionary.

Likewise, Jacques discusses how China will influence the world economically. Here's a brief exchange with Scheer (my italics):

Scheer: Let’s talk economically, then, and concluding this: Are they a threat economically? Will they take jobs from Americans? Will they take our oil?

Jacques: Of course there are going to be conflicts of interest, but I think it’s important to see two things in this context. First of all, that the rise of China has been hugely beneficial for the global economy, just like the rise of America after 1870 was very beneficial for the global economy. Of course some groups have lost out, in the United States and elsewhere, but if you look at the global picture, most countries, most people have benefited from the rise of China and will continue to; likewise with the rise of India. And the second point is, when I say “the end of the Western world” and so on, and “the rise of China,” we’re not talking about the demise of the West, the end of the West; we’re just talking about the end of a world shaped so much as in the past.

Scheer: “The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order.” We can’t conclude this without you telling me why I shouldn’t be afraid of … I was afraid of it when George Bush, the father, was talking about a new global order. Why shouldn’t I be afraid of China’s new global order?

Jacques: Well, it’s going to happen, and I think … the point I wanted to make is that, as we move into this era, 50 years down the line—I know about these things because I’m British, and my life has been framed by British decline. And Britain has lost huge status compared with 1945. But Britain is hugely richer. We Brits are, to a person, much richer than we were in 1945. So Americans will continue to get richer and richer in this new world. It’s not that they’re going to suffer in that sense; it’s just that America will lose power and status in the world.

Scheer: But the worldwide pie will expand?

Jacques: Of course it will.

Scheer: So it’s not coming out of our hide.

Jacques: Well, there are other factors that will affect this, like climate change—but treat that as an exogenous factor.

Ni hao, my brother!

As If On Cue...

...a right-wing nutjob says what no one else on the right has said in public. Illinois Republican, 27-year-old Aaron Schock (apt name, that), tells Chris Matthews, "I don't believe that we should limit waterboarding - or, quite frankly, any other alternative torture technique - if it means saving Americans' lives."

I nearly wrote that he had balls for saying this, but since the right's position on torture is about as cowardly as can be, it doesn't take balls to admit it. It just confirms the stupidity of the right, and those who elect these fools.

Since ending torture and promising to close Gitmo, not to mention the reaching out to the Muslim world with his Cairo speech and refocusing our war efforts in Afghanistan, Obama has done more to protect American lives than the Bush/Cheney war crimes regime ever did. Gone are "wanted, dead or alive" and "bring it on." Gone are extraordinary rendition and the ongoing horrors of Guantanamo. Gone are the lawyers providing legal cover for the commission of felonious acts by the president, vice president, defense secretary, and military chiefs of staff. In its place is quiet determination, actions taken within the framework of our Constitution, and with the full cooperation and inclusion of Congress. We are no longer on the "dark side." And we are safer.

None of this means that there aren't people out there who want to kill us because of what Obama's been doing. That threat, unfortunately, will never end. What Obama is doing however, is making such acts less acceptable in the Muslim world. And if it takes getting a little tougher with Israel on settlements, so be it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Betrayed by Lieberman

The Dish profiles an article about Lieberman's recent dalliance with the tea-party brigade.

The article quotes one man who had originally thought Lieberman was one of them because of his opposition to the Obama health insurance reform plan, but then was shown Lieberman's true colors when Lieberman praised the Democratic bill. "He's just up here for himself," the man said.

Pray tell, find me one politician in Washington who is not up there for him/herself! In his fantastic book, What's the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank describes the mass delusion from which conservatives suffer -- that they vote time and again for people who speak platitudes to them about their signature issues, but then get absolutely nothing done about them once they're elected (and never will).

A Too-Complex Life

The Daily Dish has been covering the tenure of Joe Arpaio, Sherriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. For those who don't know him, his Wiki page is here.

Today, the Dish has run a series of letters from current and former county residents relating stories about how Joe, as corrupt and morally repugnant he is, gets reelected time and time again because of how he enforces the laws and how people perceive his ability to deter crime.

A particularly telling passage, for me, is this:
There are some people who are focused only on ends. It's not about what Joe Arpaio does. It's why he does it. And to these people, a man who won't stop at degradation and home invasion to keep illegal immigrants out of the country is a patriot, and nothing less.


And this:
Sheriff Joe's whole shtick is about how tough he is on crime. And my parents don't really care about the particulars of how that happens. To them, stories of immigrants skirting the law or committing crimes are tragedies that must be stopped. And just how Palin's supporters rally behind her more as people point out her mistakes and shortcomings, people like my parents rally around Joe the more it seems he's being ganged-up on.


I, along with practically every other blogger I read, have relentlessly condemned the Bush regime's torture policies and have called Obama to account for allowing some of what Bush implemented to continue (like Bagram and certain rendition policies). But, over and over again, I have read letters, heard comments, and had discussions with people who simply don't give a shit what is done to safeguard their way of life.

I could point to ignorance (I have), to fear (that too), to racism (which encompasses fear and ignorance), and to ideological/religious absolutism (my favorite targets) as the primary culprits for why people in America have so totally abandoned their love of freedom that they would even forego their own Constitutional rights if it meant that a terrorist attack would be averted. Well, I hate to break it to them, but Ben Franklin was right: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." (In my search for that quote, I also came across this gem from Gen. Douglas MacArthur: "There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."

After all the analysis is done, however, in the end I think it comes down to one essential truth: for too many people, life has become too complex. There are too many grey areas that make it increasingly difficult to make a black-and-white decision. So, if oil prices are too high, the "Drill baby, drill!" If Iran has a nuclear program, then it's "Attack!" If the government wants to expand health care, then it's "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!". If a Muslim is in our custody, he must know something, so torture him till he talks.

We don't want to have to consider the implications of our actions when delaying even a brief moment might mean an interruption to our way of life. This is why Bush told us, right after 9/11 and once the massive airline disruption ended, to go shopping and live our lives normally. Granted there is some therapeutic value to doing just that, but in that single but profound act of denial that something is fundamentally wrong if Muslims want so badly to kill innocent American civilians, I think we set a dangerous pathology on course to cause massive, collective delusion. I think America as a country is suffering from PTSD! But the more we try to deny our malady by ignoring the means to get to the ends, the more polarized our country becomes.

And it isn't as simple as the left wants to "Blame America First" and the right is always "America, right or wrong." I think we all recognize that the issue is complicated and that there are numerous layers of realities, all of which require some attention. The difference, I believe, is that some charged ahead with eyes wide open, and some did so with them clamped shut, screaming and slashing with all their might in a vain attempt to take out as many of them before they got to us. We all know which side led the way for the past eight years; how safe do you truly feel?

There just is no turning back to when things were easier and simpler.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Willful Ignorance

I've written about this before, but can't find the post. Conor Friedersdorf covers it nicely here. Money quote:

[T]he problem with Ms. Palin's op-ed[s] wasn't bombast or contrarianism. It was a dearth of qualifications to write the piece, and a lack of persuasive reasoning within it. What plagues public discourse in America is an audience that mostly wants its beliefs reinforced. That is a far bigger problem than bombast -- if Fox News stayed bombastic but departed from what now passes for conservative orthodoxy its audience would flee. It is downright strange to cast contrarianism or ideological disloyalty as grave problems, given the ongoing trend toward cocooning.
Andy Warhol, if he had foreseen the advent of the internet and the information age, would also have predicted that in the future everyone would be an expert on world affairs. This is why Conor's correct: we already have the solutions to our problems, and we want to hear Rush articulate them in ways we cannot, and we want Sarah to go on TV and thumb her nose at anyone on the "serious" side of political debate. It really, really is that simple for them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Where's the Beef?

Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi, who is a great voice from the left, pens a piece called "Obama's Big Sellout." Here's his intro:


Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.

Then he got elected.

None of this intro is untrue, except perhaps the degree of hyperbole. Obama never promised to "soak the rich," and it's ironic that this progressive writer uses a right-wing talking point to make his argument. What Obama promised was a modest tax increase on the wealthiest Americans and corporations making over $250,000 a year. That increase raised their marginal tax rate by 3%. Therefore, an individual making $250,000 would pay an additional $7,500 a year in taxes, or $625 per month. In California, someone making $250,000 is in no way considered rich, but this amount of increase is not all that burdensome. And just because he ripped NAFTA during the campaign, he never promised to dismantle it. In fact, he's on record as being very pro-globalization. Further, he has not shied away from his stance that the financial community has had it too good during the Bush years, even doing a little collective scolding as late as this morning.

What Barack Obama is not is a liberal. Liberals, according to the definition attached to them by Republicans since time immemorial, tax and spend like there's no tomorrow, and believe government is the solution to all problems. After more than eight years of financial deregulation and political blindness, which resulted in the Great Recession (which began more than a year before Obama ever took office), Bush was forced to rally Hank Paulsen and Ben Bernanke and spend hundreds of billions of dollars and bail out the big banks.

Part of that bailout was symbolic, of course. The media (and some members of Congress) had done such a great job calling into question every financial decision made by the financial sector that basically nothing they did was good. Forget the fact that many people who were smart investors made a killing during those years; it was all bullshit because those who couldn't catch a ride didn't get their due. Well, to some degree, that's capitalism for ya. It's all about opportunity and risk.

So along comes Obama, and Bush hands him a suitcase containing notes for a trillion dollars that'll have to be paid back to the taxpayers. On top of that, we're bleeding jobs, losing home equity every day, and pushing back our retirements further and further. Revenue generation is definitely an issue. And the perception is that Wall Street, who got billions in bailout money, is using that money to hand out fat bonuses to their top performers. Time for a reality check there, and it's well-deserved. If there's one thing a rich person should not do when suffering is everywhere, it's flaunt his wealth. So the president takes the step to put curbs on any company receiving TARP money in compensating top executives.

But what really bothers Taibbi is that Obama peopled his transition team and his advisory board with men who had deep ties to Wall Street. I suppose then, he should have done the Dave thing and hired some local CPA who has a shingle out in a DC suburb and who drives a Subaru to balance the budget and come up with the plan to administer TARP, the Home Affordable Refinance Program, Cash for Clunkers, etc. That way, there's no appearance of conflict.

But during the process, Obama runs into very stiff opposition from members of his own party. And Obama tailors his proposals a little in order to make deals with these politicians. This, in Taibbi's view, is the big sell-out.

Well, as Matthew Yglesias so wisely points out --

The implicit theory of political change here, that pivotal members of congress undermine reform proposals because of “the White House’s refusal to push for real reform” is just wrong. That’s not how things work. The fact of the matter is that Matt Taibbi is more liberal than I am, and I am more liberal than Larry Summers is, but Larry Summers is more liberal than Ben Nelson is. Replacing Summers with me, or with Taibbi, doesn’t change the fact that the only bills that pass the Senate are the bills that Ben Nelson votes for.
It's disgusting that single members of Congress wield this kind of influence, but as Patrick Appel over at The Daily Dish notes, it is just part of the process of politics in America.

It is impossible to separate wealthy or powerful groups from the centers of government. And trying to do so can make a country less stable. Opposition movement must enlist opposing powerful elements in order to achieve success, which means one group of powerful individuals is replaced with another.

...

This is not to say that we should always capitulate to powerful interests, but that these interests will always have a say in government and that our system of lobbying is an alternative to much less desirable arrangements. Pretending that if Obama were more liberal that the government would suddenly have to tools to oppose these interests is wishful thinking. These problems are systemic and not attributable to any individual.

The length of my post attests to the fact that these problems are highly complicated. I wish Joe Lieberman would lose his Senate seniority and his wife tossed out of her positions on certain health-related non-profits because of her ties to insurance and pharmaceutical interests. Sadly the only way to neutralize Lieberman would be for Connecticut voters to recall him or vote him out in 2012. Another way is to cut a deal with him or Ben Nelson and lobby Olympia Snowe very hard to get the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. This is the way it's done now. A Senate health-care bill with no public option will kill the House public option, but Snowe might just be persuaded if there are the trigger mechanisms built into the bill as she wanted. Finally, Obama has another 3-7 years to go in his presidency. There is more time to craft better legislation.

In the final analysis, Obama has sold out to no one -- not to the left, not to the right, not to business, not to the international community. He has not held onto deep dark secrets about his associations, and he has not been deterred from where he thinks the country needs to go. He is making alliances as need be, and he is compromising when he needs to do so. Want health care reform? See if you can get past the insurance monolith without paying the toll.

"Inherently Barbaric"

A couple of years ago, I was a contributing writer, along with my friend Byron Fry, to a blog called American Liar. I posted a piece there about the death penalty and the futility of the lethal injection method as somehow a humane way to kill someone. I am now and will always be solidly against the death penalty as a way of administering justice. We live in far too racist and far too politically charged a society for a government to undertake the execution of prisoners without it looking tainted in some way. Either the victim's survivors are looking for revenge, or the chief law enforcement officer(s) want to look strong on crime so that it will help them politically. Further, the death penalty is handed out far more often to non-whites than to whites, and it's not just because there are more non-whites committing crimes.

So for me to read today's NY Times editorial calling the death penalty "inherently barbaric" was something of a validation for me. Money quote:
Earlier this year, New Mexico repealed its death penalty, joining 14 other states — and the District of Columbia — that do not allow it. That is the way to eliminate the inevitable problems with executions.

In other words, ending capital punishment is the only way to deal with its problems. If you ever saw the movie War Games, the supercomputer Joshua was engaged in a game called Global Thermonuclear War, and finally realized at the end that "the only winning move is not to play."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm Slowly Being Proven Right

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who had earlier dismissed any discussion of the Uganda anti-gay bill by saying he had too much on his mind, has finally released a statement condemning it, following Pastor Rick Warren.

Sort of proves me right that our elected officials are taking their cues from religious clerics. I'm sure the senate and house resolutions are not far behind. The official White House condemnation came yesterday, but, oddly enough, not of their own volition, but instead as a response to a question from gay publication The Advocate.

I'm a Cyborg


According to Dilbert creator Scott Adams, because I keep my cellphone with me all the time and my Bluetooth device in my ear, I'm technically a cyborg with an exobrain.

Above: photograph my me with my son, Max, right, in the recording studio, working on his first-ever composition, "Right Outside My Window," which can be heard here. The song has been entered into the 2010 PTA Reflections competition. Don't know if we'll win, but it was a blast to watch my son's creativity in action. My younger son, Elijah, is in the corner at the bottom left.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theocracy Watch

The Ugandan government is undertaking policy discussions about gays in their country, basically outlawing homosexuality and making being gay a crime punishable by death. Andrew Sullivan calls this potential law "almost genocidal." In the post to which I linked, there is a quote from Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn, where he comes out in opposition to Uganda's stance, on the grounds that it undoes the work Uganda has done over the years to curb the spread of HIV in their country.

Coburn's opposition follows the public opposition of the policy by pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA. Some of the people sponsoring this legislation in Uganda are proteges of Warren, or have at best cited Warren as an influence in the way they see the world. Warren, wisely and to his credit, came out against this policy today, calling it "extreme, unjust, and un-Christian towards homosexuals."

I titled my post "Theocracy Watch" for a specific reason: while I welcome Warren's and Coburn's public statements about this horrible development in Africa, which could lead to more such statements by American Christianists in the public and private sectors and actually save lives in Africa, I am watching to see how these initial statements will lead to more from Christianist elected officials and/or media personalities. With Warren taking the lead here, an abundance of condemnations of Uganda's anti-gay law, plus House and Senate resolutions following suit, would look to me like American elected officials taking their cues from a religious cleric. Given that the Obama administration has already come out against Uganda's laws, one could argue that Obama is actually taking the lead here. But no Republican said a peep until Warren spoke up.

In what way does such a supposed cascade of morality led by a cleric not resemble the way things are run in theocracies like Iran?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Awful News for Sarah

According to Matt Continetti's pro-Palin spin over at the WSJ, 47 percent of Republicans think she's up to the job for president. Well, let's see: if only 21% of Americans currently identify as Republicans, that makes for 10% of all Americans who think she's up to the job.

Let's speculate and say that among self-identified Democrats, only 5% think she's up to the job, and 40% of independents think so. According to the same WaPo/ABC News Poll, 35% of people identify as Democrats, and 38% as independents.

Math?
Republicans: 21% X 47% = 9.87
Democrats: 35% X 5% = 1.75
Independents: 38% X 40% = 15.2
Total: 26.82% of Americans thinks she's up to the job of president

I say let her run. Let her pull the Republicans farther to the right and lead them into yet another crushing defeat at the hands of Progressive America. It's exactly what America needs right now.

In a related aside, GOP senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina hopes that Palin will support her over her GOP primary opponent, Chuck DeVore, telling reporters, "I share Sarah Palin's values."

Palin is now the archetypal Republican. File that in the dictionary under "madness."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Palling Around with Nixonites

The always-irrepressible Christopher Hitchens serves up raw red meat for the anti-Palin masses. Money quote:
At least Richard Nixon had the ill fortune to look like what he was: a haunted scoundrel and repressed psychopath. Whereas the usefulness of Sarah Palin to the right-wing party managers is that she combines a certain knowingness with a feigned innocence and a still-palpable blush of sex. But she should take care to read her Alexander Pope: That bloom will soon enough fade, and it will fade really quickly if she uses it to prostitute herself to the Nixonites on one day and then to cock-tease the rabble on the next.

She may be a contemptible beast of a Republican, but she is their leader. She is fair game for any type of character attack to which she might be susceptible. Another skewering of her book and her multiple ethics violations is summarized here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Someone Get This Guy a Woman

Normally I love Cornell West, Harvard professor and frequent guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. He's funny, a great character, and very sharp. But this quote from his recent memoir just gives me the dry heaves. My favorite piece of it:
Does such a woman exist for me? Only God knows and I eagerly await this divine unfolding. Like Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship in Emily Brontë’s remarkable novel Wuthering Heights or Franz Schubert’s tempestuous piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D.960) I will not let life or death stand in the way of this sublime and funky love that I crave!

Maybe if I'd heard him speak these words I'd laugh, but on the page they seem so phony, so full of affect. Like when my older brother, at the ripe old age of 21, would order single-blended scotch served in a brandy snifter. Thirty years ago and it's still freakin' hilarious!

Render unto Caesar...

My friend, Pastor George Hooper, Lakewood High class of 1981, would approve of Andrew Sullivan's response to Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert, whose understanding of the teachings of Jesus could stand a little refresher.

It really bothers me that some elected US officials, who swear an oath to defend the Constitution, take to (mis)quoting the bible as a way to direct legislation. If one is going to follow great written words, how about Shakespeare:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

War on the Cheap

A minor scuffle between the White House and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (part of the American Axis of Evil which also included Feith, Wolfowitz, Addington, Cheney and Bush) over requests for additional troops in Afghanistan during Rumsfeld's tenure. Rumsfeld asserts that he was "not aware of a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006," and then tries to hang a "disservice to the truth" banner around Obama's neck.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen testified before a House committee Wednesday that Gen. David McKiernan, who led U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 2008 to this year, had asked for more troops but was turned down because those troops "were pushed to Iraq. That was the priority of [then] President [George W. Bush]."

It has been shown and documented many times over the years that Rumsfeld ran the Pentagon like a corporation on an austerity plan. He tried to automate and leverage technology to avoid a reliance of manpower and troops on the ground. On top of that, we all know that he had no plan to secure the peace in Iraq once Saddam was toppled, and we all see what a mess he left behind in Afghanistan. All shit for Obama to clean up now.

But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had the line of the day when responding to a reporter's question about Rumsfeld's comments. Paraphrasing earlier comments by Rumsfeld during the Iraq War, Gibbs responded, "You go to war with the Defense Secretary you have."

Video here.

My Point, Exactly

Uh, Yeah Right blogged yesterday about Afghanistan now being Obama's war. I believe that Obama has made the right decision in escalating because it returns the conflict in Afghanistan to its original goal: destroying Al Qaeda, and hopefully killing Osama bin Laden (and Zawahiri). First and foremost, this is about protecting and furthering American interests, which do not include nation-building in what Andrew Sullivan calls a "lunar landscape run by a kleptocracy."

A Sullivan reader and Andrew himself echo my sentiments. First the reader:
It is foolish on so many levels to make an open-ended commitment, so Obama—unusual in my view—has made the right call: escalate, hopefully inflict substantial casualties on the Taliban and AQ, possibly snag OBL in the process, and then get out on our terms rather than departing in a fashion that looks, to the Muslim world, like retreat.
My italics. Now Sully:
By giving the military a chance to inflict maximal damage on the Taliban and the CIA lee-way to do the same to al Qaeda within Pakistan, Obama means to achieve maximal weakening of foes before a strategic withdrawal.

Any withdrawal will be met with Romney-Palin-style accusations of weakness, treason, irresolution. But a withdrawal after a big surge is less likely to be successfully targeted in that manner. And after ten years, will Americans really want to keep 100,000 troops in a lunar landscape run by a kleptocracy because that's where al Qaeda used to hang out? The more I think about this, the smarter it is - both militarily and politically.

But that tends to happen with Obama decisions, doesn't it?
And, of course, the corporate media will prove itself wholly incapable of grasping this kind of nuance, and they will fall all over themselves looking for (mostly) Republican politicians and pundits who will let any amount of vitriol spill from their mouths to make for good TV or print.

Case in point, Forbes' Michael Rubin:

Iraq’s surge succeeded because Bush convinced Iraqis that he would not subvert his commitment to victory to politics. Bush’s actions showed insurgents had misjudged the U.S. and that Bin Laden was wrong: The U.S. was no paper tiger. Iraqis, no more attracted to al-Qaida’s extreme vision than ordinary Afghans are to the Taliban, believed America to be strong. Rather than make accommodations to the terrorists, Iraqis could fight them. The Sunni tribesmen believed that the U.S. would guard their back, and let neither al-Qaida nor Iranian proxies run roughshod over them. For Iraqis and Afghans, it is an easy decision to ally with militarily superior forces led by a commander-in-chief with a clear and demonstrable will to victory.

Obama is not Bush.
Oh, Michael, such revisionist claptrap. After eight years of Bush, Cheney and Rove, absolutely everything done in Iraq and Afghanistan was done for political (and economic) reasons over victory.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama's War


Afghanistan is now Obama's war. His speech Tuesday night at West Point solidified that point. Gone were the bullshit neocon platitudes about spreading freedom and democracy, protecting human rights, or making Afghanistan better for Afghans. Clearly, Obama is implying that Afghans don't want what we have to offer them. But we're stuck in that shithole thanks to Bush and Cheney, and it's Obama's job to figure out a way to get us out with a minimum of political damage, a modicum of billions, and a maximum of military success.

As Obama bluntly put it: "Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda." Once upon a time, this was Bush's goal too after 9/11. After leaping into that abyss in 2001, however, Bush suddenly realized that he couldn't get bin Laden and al Qaeda without help from the poppy-enriched warlords and tribal leaders, and he then got waylaid into Iraq by the neocon triumvirate of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove (helped along by Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Rupert Murdoch). But after having Osama cornered and failing to get him, he was made to realize that Osama was more valuable politically if he were at large. And so they trumped up the bullshit story that Osama and Saddam were gay lovers playing tummy sticks and plotting to drop nukes and nerve gas at 30 Rock. Entering from stage far right: endless war in Iraq.

Well, Obama campaigned on the promise that he'd put Afghanistan back on the front burner while phasing out of Iraq (sounded like such a good plan, in fact, that Bush began implementing it for him). The Democratic election machine never made a peep about this plan other than to say it was the right thing to do. Now that Congressional Dems are expressing reservations about it while the GOP leadership is suggesting that Obama is following McChrystal's lead (as a way to steal credit from Obama in case of a positive outcome or to portray him as weak if the strategy doesn't work), Obama finds himself riding point with very shaky backup. So be it. Whatever the outcome, going after al Qaeda is and has always been the right thing to do. Lay waste to Afghanistan in the process, throw CIA operatives into Pakistan by the truckload to disrupt Qaeda from the other side and protect its nukes from falling into the wrong hands, and after the border mountain ranges look like a huge gravel pit, get out and let the warlords parcel out the land to whomever will pay enough for it.

So if you're ambivalent or even against Obama's plan, get this: Afghans don't want democracy, don't want freedom, and don't want us there anymore than we want to be there. I'm guessing that the last several weeks of Obama's meetings with his war council was not about finalizing the amount of troops to be sent, it was convincing enough people in leadership that there is just no good way to end this conflict and we'd better leave very little behind that could become a problem for us after we're gone. We need to remember that Obama has never portrayed himself as some sort of idealistic godfather of hope. Hope is, well, sometimes just hope. When reality ridicules hope, pragmatism works. And Obama is nothing if not pragmatic. I will not be at all shocked if he bows out in 2012 if his Afghanistan plan fails (like LBJ did in '68). The risks here are very high; what will win this war (again, for us) is focusing on what got us in there in the first place. Not the fear of another terrorist attack, but in exacting justice, punishment, and enough of a warning that no one else had better fuck with us again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Second Only to Aaron Burr

In an extremely solid piece of writing, James Fallows at The Atlantic praises George W. Bush for his actions since leaving office. What actions are those? you ask. Essentially, fully cooperating with the Obama transition and "maintaining a dignified distance from public controversies and let[ting] the new team have its chance." As Bush said last March, Obama "deserves my silence." Not that this forgives anything Bush did while occupying the White House, but at least he has done what other former presidents have done after leaving office.

Fallows is far less kind to Dick Cheney:
The former vice president, Dick Cheney, has brought dishonor to himself, his office, and his country. I am not aware of a case of a former president or vice president behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama's decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting vice president at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.

Fallows goes on to point out that Cheney was an outgoing pol under three former presidents -- Gerald Ford and both Bushes -- and he was the previous two times very cooperative, open, not bitter, and aware of the "continuing national interest." Why Fallows seems surprised by this current display of divisiveness, though, is beyond me.

In today's red-state/blue-state divide, there is no such thing as gentlemanly politics. With Rovian Republicanism and Fox News's acting as the media wing of the GOP, the campaign never ends. Every 24-hour news cycle brings a new opportunity for the Republican Party (most notably from Cheney and his daughter, Liz, not to mention Sarah Palin) to showcase itself as the angry opposition, excoriating President Obama for everything, from his bowing to a foreign head of state, to his "dithering" on his Afghanistan war plan, to his economic policies, to how much leg his wife shows in public. The talking heads and wackos at Fox -- Hannity, Bill-O, Hume, Van Susteren, Beck -- and radio-based wingnuts like Rush continually invite Republican strategists, pundits and politicians to assess where the party stands now and what it needs to do to topple the Democrats and the Obama administration. Every off-year election, even down to the lowly NY-23, carries such great importance because it is all seen as a barometer for where the country is headed in years to come. As a political blogger, it gives me something extra to do when I'm not absorbed in work, but it's no wonder that more than half this country doesn't give a shit about politics.

What the Republicans utterly fail to understand, however, is that the pettiness that shows up in their commentary, their scattershot approach to their criticism of Obama, their lack of leadership, and their excessive religiosity, all point to how useless they have become as a viable alternative to the Democratic Party.

More on Cheney as an unpatriotic, "bitter and afraid" man here and here. Accusing President Obama of giving "aid and comfort" to our enemies just before he is to address the nation about Afghanistan, in front of cadets at West Point, just disgusts me, and finally eliminates the need for me to have any meaningful debate with anyone who supports the GOP. The correct term for them is a "rump party."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Asshole Democrat Watch

Evan Bayh of Indiana is about as much of a Democrat and Joe Lieberman. He is by far one of the most corrupted public officials ever to serve in office (and he just hasn't been caught yet).

Check out this profile from Glenn Greenwald. My favorite part:
He is a loyal servant to the insurance and health care industries over his own constituents -- as his wife sits on the Boards of numerous health care giants, who, right when Bayh became a Senator, began paying her millions of dollars in cash and stock. And this Sermonizer of Personal Responsibility is the ultimate by-product of nepotism, following faithfully and effortlessly in the footsteps of his Daddy-Senator, whose seat he now occupies. The fact that he's a Democrat -- and was Obama's close-second choice for Vice President -- just underscores how bipartisan these afflictions are.

The rot just permeates the place. And there is no one -- not even our current president -- who aspires to join Congress or occupy the White House who isn't smeared to some degree in the excrement of corporate favor.

Republican Myopia?

Bob Cesca helps us understand why the whole news explosion about the party-crashing couple at the White House state dinner last week is much ado about nothing, and perfectly illustrative of the short-sightedness of those who hate Obama (and, in my opinion, America):
Remember when the Bush administration allowed a male prostitute from a fake newspaper into the White House press room in order to ask the president softball questions? Or when a guy managed to hurl not one, but two shoes at President Bush's melon during a so-called "secured" event, and the Secret Service did nothing to protect the president when the shoes began to fly?

Well, I remember them (my links above). And while I definitely understand the tendency of the media (and those so-called national security experts) to wax all worried-like about this breach of security, I am definitely seeing the hypocrisy on the right that this is somehow indicative of Obama's lack of national security cojones.

And, I might add -- where were the Republicans who were so keen on national security when they allowed a fake president to occupy the White House for eight years? Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Teabaggers Will Ignore...

..., but even McCain's economic adviser is saying that the stimulus package is working:
[T]he stimulus is doing what it was supposed to do — it is contributing to ending the recession. In my view, without the stimulus, G.D.P. would still be negative and unemployment would be firmly over 11 percent. And there are a little over 1.1 million more jobs out there as of October than would have been out there without the stimulus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"We saw through her quickly"

Sarah Palin has a problem with women, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted in early November. This Sullivan reader explains why:

"Sarah Palin is the peppy cheerleader in high school all the boys thought was so sweet but the girls knew was really a vicious shrew. She's the new girl in the office who wears tight shirts and three-inch heels, is super-friendly to her male superiors, ignores the other women, and gets promoted sooner than her more capable and hard working peers. She's the outgoing PTA mom all of the other women are scared to cross because they will find themselves put on the worst committees. Only a woman knows how to give another woman a sweet smile and at the same time cut her down to size with an artfully crafted 'compliment' without male observers having a clue about what just happened. It's like a dog whistle."

Right after she was first announced as McCain's VP pick, I found myself in a men's wear store owned by a very dear family friend, an old-world Italian widower. Both he and his manager, an older gay man, were both Republican, and were both completely enamored of Sarah Palin. In fact, the owner went into his office and retrieved a color print of Palin in her leather skirt and said "Whoa, boy, would you look at that?"

Well, let's face it -- she looks pretty hot in that picture, although it looks like something shot about 20 years ago. But it was clear to me then that she was going to pull in the horny man vote. But as soon as I heard that the McCain strategy in picking Palin was to attract disaffected Hillary supporters, I knew that women would not like her because she was a manipulative symbol in every possible way, from her decision to carry a Down's Syndrome baby to term, to her being a working mother of five, to her being a regular gal from the Alaskan frontier. FAIL!

Ignoramus Quote of the Day

I think it's fundamentally harmful and it shows in my mind that this is a guy, a
president, who would bow, for example, who doesn't fully understand or have the
same perception of the U.S. role in the world that I think most Americans have.
Dick Cheney, on President Obama's greeting the Japanese emperor with a customary bow.

First of all, I think Cheney calling the president "a guy, a president" instead of "THE President" who "doesn't fully understand" the role of a US president is fundamentally harmful and it shows in MY mind what a tool Cheney really is. U.S. Presidents should, of course, not disrespect the office of the presidency (e.g., don't fucking torture people, and don't cede your responsibilities to cowardly chicken-hawks like the former veep), but there is no harm done in having our elected leader use a customary greeting that respects another leader's cultural traditions.

Second: let's see now...did George W. Bush ever greet a foreign dignitary in a way that was not traditionally American?


Oh, yeah...he did. Better wipe that oil off your lip, George!

It Looks Easy, but...

This chart illustrates the number of forces arrayed against the Taliban, which, at an estimated 10,000 strong, is giving the US and NATO forces some significant pushback. When one person wearing a suicide bomb belt, or a bomb planted under a wrecked car, can take out dozens of soldiers and their equipment in seconds, one can appreciate that conventional forces are no match.

I can understand why Obama has taken a long time with his war council to find a workable solution in Afghanistan. What doesn't work, however, is saying that "victory" is our only option. In this case, there will be no victory. As soon as we leave that country, the cockroaches will re-emerge and take over. If our elected officials truly believe we can turn that barren, poppy-infested, god-forsaken hellhole into a shining example of democracy, then there isn't a politician alive who isn't totally insane.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Denialism

Sullivan featured an interesting episode of bloggingheads today about Michael Specter's concept of denialism. The idea of that irrational thinking hinders scientific thinking, harms the planet and threatens our lives. This is especially true of American's distrust of science.



However, I think a case can be made that denialism informs much of our political thinking, on both sides of the aisle. There are plenty of Americans who could not be dissuaded from the belief that the Republican Party had designs to dismantle the Constitution and replace it with some Christianist version of sharia law. However, I never really saw that sense of denialism in a collective sense among Democrats. The spectrum of progressivism is pretty broad, so it follows that a guy like Dennis Kucinich had a place in the same tent as someone like, say, a former Republican like Arlen Specter.



In the GOP, denialism -- that is to say, the collective denial of factual reality -- is a virulent cancer that not only threatens to destroy the party as it elevates into leadership vacuous non-thinkers like Sarah Palin (whose reality is limited to that which is within immediate grasp and is subject to change at any moment depending on what serves her best), but also threatens to unravel civil political discourse and any semblance of the ethnic or cultural diversity that truly defines the greatness of America.



Now, the GOP has a proposed resolution, called "Proposed RNC Resolution on Reagan's Unity Principle for Support of Candidates," that looks like a laundry list of with-us-or-against-us middle finger statements.



(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill; (well, one out of four is pretty good for them, and the stimulus bill was begun by Bush)

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare; (Obama-style? From one side of their mouth they extol the virtues of Medicare, which, although more efficient than private health insurance, was responsible for 50% of the government waste in 2008; while on the other side of their mouth, they parrot words passed to them on crib sheets by industry lobbyists currently injecting compaign money right up their sanctimonious rectums);

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation; (cap and trade isn't a perfect solution to energy reform, but it certainly has more forward thinking than "drill baby, drill")

(4) We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check; (this is the Republican party speaking in tongues -- they have never supported workers' rights)

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants; (so do most Americans, progressives, conservatives, and Republicans alike; nothing revolutionary here)

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges; (while they also support endless war and endless access to their natural resources and endless torture and endless warrantless eavesdropping and endless profits for their war-mongering cronies)

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat; (duh! Except their only solution is more war and aggression)

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act; (translated: we hate fags and will always hate them)

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; (read: no death panels for Grandma and no free wombs for women!) and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; (assault rifles in every bassinett!)



My italics, of course. The point is, these planks in the Republican platform are being used as a litmus test for anyone who wants to call themselves Republican. If anyone opposes more than two of them, they don't belong. No debate there, by the way. They're all for ideological purity, per Reagan. Then again, Reagan supported diplomacy and abhorred torture.