Saturday, October 23, 2010

Iraq: The True Picture

The New York Times has analyzed materials obtained from Wikileaks with respect to the Bush war of derangement in Iraq.

It is not pretty. An example: 
In another case, in February 2007, an Apache helicopter shot and killed two Iraqi men believed to have been firing mortars, even though they made surrendering motions, because, according to a military lawyer cited in the report, “they cannot surrender to aircraft, and are still valid targets.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

File This Under D for "Duh!"

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) The problem with right wingers is, they stress over problems that were problems fifteen years ago. Clinton "lost" the launch codes? Who cares? His best protection was not to have to launch them in the first place, to be a statesman and not a goddam faux cowboy.
2) Juan Williams can now strip off his mask of civil liberalism,  and be the right-leaning hater he clearly is.
3) Sadly. But it ain't over yet!
4) We begin to understand why Obama cancelled the Bush initiative to go back to the moon. Why keep pumping money into R&D when some private company is merely going to use the information to exploit the resources anyway? We do that in medicine, and yet our healthcare costs keep staggering skyward! That said, I'd buy a piece of the rock.
5) Shorter Eric Cantor: "I know you are, but what am I?"
6) President Obama met with Apple CEO Steve Jobs yesterday. I wonder if Jobs presented him with a new MacBook Air? Obama admits to being a PeeC kinda guy. Another reason I supported Hillary.
7) In the Connecticut Senate race, Linda McMahon had budgeted $50 million, and has spent $40 million already, with less than two weeks to go. She may have to go back to killing off her wrestlers on November 3.
8) There's an irony in this story: Verizon turned down the iPhone initially because the Apple iTunes interface would detract from its fledgling proprietary V-Cast music service. V-Cast is withered away, and Verizon is in talks to bring the iPhone to Verizon (and now has the iPad). AT&T has stolen millions of potential Verizon customers (yours truly included) with the iPhone, despite the superiority of Verizon's networks.
9) Another argument for single payer healthcare in America: fewer terror attacks.
10) Finally, BOOBIES! and how to fix them after mastectomies.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

...But I Did Stay At A Holiday Inn Express!

[Christine] O’Donnell once told voters that her “No. 1” qualification for the Senate is an eight-day course she took at a conservative think tank in 2002.
Let me say that again: Oh brother!
Keep in mind that she's actually one of the more educated Teabaggers, having graduated from the first college she attended (Sarah Palin needed five shots at it).
OK, into the meat of the article.
[O'Donnell's] fellow Tea Party patriots—Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the guy at the rally in the tricorn hat—also refer to the Constitution as if it were a holy instruction manual that was lost, but now, thanks to them, is found. And yet the reverberations go further back than Beck. The last time America elected a new Democratic president, in 1992, the Republican Party’s then-dominant insurgent group used identical language to describe the altogether different document that defined their cause and divided them from the heretics in charge: the Bible. The echoes of the religious right in O’Donnell’s speech—the Christian framework, the resurrection narrative, the “us vs. them” motif, the fixation on “values”—aren’t coincidental.

From a legal perspective, there’s a case to be made that O’Donnell’s argument is inaccurate. The Constitution is a relentlessly secular document that never once mentions God or Jesus. And nothing in recent jurisprudence suggests that the past few decades of governing have been any less constitutional than the decades that preceded them. But the Tea Party’s language isn’t legal, and neither is its logic. It’s moral: right vs. wrong. What O’Donnell & Co. are really talking about is culture war.

The argument, therefore, is not about the Constitution per se. The Constitution, as George Bush put it, is "just a goddamned piece of paper" to these morons, a means to an end that would substantially and perhaps permanently alter this nation into a Taliban-ish theocracy.

Or not. The cynic in me says that the second tyrant-con artists like Beck and Palin took over, the libertinism of the ensuing nation would be rather...well, Sodom and Gommorah would have nothing on us.

The Constitution is a piece of art as well as a bundle of laws. The original "original intent" was to make the document a living testament to change, a way to acknowledge that monarchies are slow to respond to the will of the people, even a monarchy that allowed as much freedom as 18th Century England did (Magna Carta and all that stuff). It was an admission that a democratic form of governance will most certainly require flexibility, the people being fickle and capricious.


Even the Founders couldn't forsee how radically the nation could change. I wonder what their objections would be to the country now? Women voting? Free blacks voting? Technology? Multinational corporations? Densely populated cities the size of entire states?

Would they get angry at, as Bill Vaughn puts it, citizens of America who would cross an ocean to fight for democracy, but not cross the street to vote (h/t Dogg, who really should restart his blog)? Would they get angrier still at the lack of decency in public discourse, how the Teabaggers are smearing a President not for his policy but for his skin color?

Well, maybe not that last one. It was not unheard in those days for a political figure to be slandered.

Or would they marvel at how out of date their very progressive, very forward-leaning document has become?

The Second Amendment...if they saw the crime statistics in densely populated areas, and how infinitely more frequent guns are used to deprive fellow citizens of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," would they insist on going back and striking that amendment?

Or the Fourth and Fifth Amendments...would they go back and insert a right to privacy, since today a man in one room, often a government official, can spy on a man way across the country with a remote camera (keeping in mind this would also make abortion de facto constitutional, and Roe v Wade would be unnecessary)?

Would they clarify that a government has the right to raise funds in any way it sees fit, or would they more closely define taxes to exclude income and to be a fairer system across the board?

Would they see that the divisions that threatened the nation from the get-go, South v. North, rural v. urban, are tearing at its fabric now, and want to insert a new convenant, perhaps realizing that a mechanism that allows the smallest states to have near-equal say in legislation made sense when the country was thirteen states and 4 million people, but not at fifty states and 330 million.
One thing is for certain, they'd be mortified that such low-class mongerers of hate as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have not been weeded out of the political process.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Liberal Mandate

Y'know how we liberals are whining about Congress?

In terms of legislative successes, the current session of Congress is "at least on a par with the 89th Congress" of 1965-66, said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

But, he added, Republicans have done all they could to discredit Congress, and Democrats have failed to sell their agenda. Moreover, it will take years to fully feel the effects of the health-care law and financial regulation.

"A world dominated by bickering and epithet-throwing and bomb-tossing in Washington obscures accomplishments," Ornstein said.

That Congress passed LBJ's Medicare and Medicaid, the cornerstones of the too-short Great Society programs, and the Civil Rights Act that Rand Paul wants to repeal. It also allowed the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and probably singel-handedly brought down LBJ's presidency. It also lost 48 seats in the House and four in the Senate. A similar result this time around would mean both houses of Congress would turn Republican.

We can't let that happen.

Here's what the 111th Congress has accomplished.

In addition to healthcare reform, Wall Street accountability and the various bailout programs, and despite Republican obstructionism, we have:

Making college loans more affordable.

The Cash for Clunkers program to help the auto industry.

New consumer protections for credit-card users.

Making it easier for women to challenge pay discrimination.

Increasing federal regulation of tobacco products.

Cracking down on waste in Pentagon weapons acquisition.

Making attacks based on sexual orientation a federal hate crime.

Giving businesses tax incentives to hire unemployed workers.

Tax credits for first-time homeowners.

Here's what we need to do, what everyone who believes in the future of this country needs to do. It doesn't matter if you live in a red state or the bluest of blue, do this. If we can steal a few seats back from the withdrawing tide, it will have been worth it.

We each of us needs to vote. We need to persuade five friends to vote. We need to read them this blogpost, send them a link, and convince them that voting for Democrats is the only thing that will save this country. And we need to make sure they vote for the Democrat.

It's not going to be hard to do that. The spectre of the Carl Paladinos and the Christine O'Donnells of the nation should be enough to tip the scales. Here's the follow up. Here's the real deal.

We need to get in the face of those Democrats who win, and do it endlessly, daily if necessary, and remind them that we saved their bacon, we saved their jobs, and if they don't vote a progressive, liberal agenda, we will make sure next time not to vote for them. Don't threaten to run against them (altho I might). Don't threaten to get all rowdy with them. Use the one tool they cannot offset: your vote. Your vote is the most important tool in a progressive agenda.

And if they get afraid of being "liberal", just copy this for them, which I have proudly placed at the top of my blog:

"Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things...every one! So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, 'Liberal,' as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won't work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor."

Do this, and the 112th session of Congress might end up being even more productive, and certainly more progressive.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Unnecessary Question

Thanks for pointing it out, tho, Captain Obvious.

Communications Breakdown

No one can question Barack Obama's ability to deliver a soaring and inspiring speech. The man is in a rhetorical class that includes Mario Cuomo and perhaps Ronald Reagan. The imagery of the "Yes, We Can" theme that he campaigned with was spectacular, lifting the hopes and dreams of people across the nation and delivering to the President votes that didn't exist in 2004 for John Kerry, who might be the diametric opposite of Obama in speechifying.
But, at the end of the day, if someone is going to talk me down off a ledge, I'd rather it was the Big Dog, President Bill Clinton.  The Man of Hope can tell me how sick I am and prescribe medicine. The Man FROM Hope could heal the sick.
I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Democrats are slightly more likely to think positively about a candidate that Bill Clinton campaigns for, as opposed to one of the countless lucky ones who are getting Barack Obama to wave with them onstage these days, whether they like it or not. Obama is about to head out on a multistate stump tour; Clinton has been at it virtually nonstop all fall.

Clinton really scores among independents, while Obama scores a net minus 27, meaning 12% say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate campaigning with the current president but 39% say his endorsement would send them voting in the other direction.

Although few Republicans indicated they'd be likely to do the ballot bidding of either Democrat, the negative "I'm voting in the other direction" is much higher for Obama (71%) than for Clinton (46%). Gallup speculates that Obama campaigning for Democrats in one area would also likely boost Republican turnout in automatic antipathy.

A lot of this is perception, of hindsight and perspective. As a friend of mine often said, "I don't miss much of the Clinton years, except the peace and prosperity."

I think the "physician v. healer" metaphor sums up the difference in a nutshell. Obama has an innate ability to perceive the heart of a question and give you a fifteen minute lecture on the history, effects and solutions to the problem under consideration. He can dissect and lecture on practically any topic, and even understand the nuances for different audiences. He sees the battlefield well, in other words, and can draw up a brilliant strategy that takes into account all the factors involved, weighing each one judiciously before pronouncing a solution.

Bill Clinton could see the problem through our eyes, and could understand what we were going through. While his answers may not have been as detailed and comprehensive as Obama's, he spoke the solutions through us, not to us. We felt like he was standing with us, not in front of us, guiding us along the path, not coazing and urging us.

Contrast the two inaugural speeches each gave upon entering the office for the first time. Here's part of Clinton's:

The American people have summoned the change we celebrate today. You have raised your voices in an unmistakable chorus. You have cast your votes in historic numbers. And you have changed the face of Congress, the Presidency, and the political process itself. Yes, you, my fellow Americans, have forced the spring. Now we must do the work the season demands. To that work I now turn with all the authority of my office. I ask the Congress to join with me. But no President, no Congress, no Government can undertake this mission alone.

My fellow Americans, you, too, must play your part in our renewal. I challenge a new generation of young Americans to a season of service: to act on your idealism by helping troubled children, keeping company with those in need, reconnecting our torn communities. There is so much to be done; enough, indeed, for millions of others who are still young in spirit to give of themselves in service, too. In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful truth: We need each other, and we must care for one another.

Now, a similar theme from Obama:

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land, a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

Obama speaks of statistics and in the negative. Clinton speaks of promise, of true hope. Both lecture people, particularly the young votes, but Obama comes off as a little condescending and analytical, while Clinton comes off with an invitation. Obama speaks to our intellect. Clinton speaks viscerally, evocatively.

Look around you. Look at the political dialogue and dynamic of the nation. Which do you think is going to resonate better with a frightened people?

It's interesting, I had not noted the similarity in the country's predicament between the two eras before. Obama of course inherited a far worse position than Clinton had, to be sure. That may have coloured his thinking a little.

None of this is meant to suggest that Obama's vision is less than Clinton's or that Clinton, as great a President as he was, is better or worse than Obama. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but I know that if I was running for office, I'd want Bill Clinton introducing me over Obama six days of the week and twice on Sundays.

An Early Halloween Present To My Readers

Monday, October 18, 2010

Income Inequality

This says it better than anything I can write.

In a recent working paper based on census data for the 100 most populous counties in the United States, Adam Seth Levine (a postdoctoral researcher in political science at Vanderbilt University), Oege Dijk (an economics Ph.D. student at the European University Institute) and I found that the counties where income inequality grew fastest also showed the biggest increases in symptoms of financial distress.

For example, even after controlling for other factors, these counties had the largest increases in bankruptcy filings.

Divorce rates are another reliable indicator of financial distress, as marriage counselors report that a high proportion of couples they see are experiencing significant financial problems. The counties with the biggest increases in inequality also reported the largest increases in divorce rates.

Another footprint of financial distress is long commute times, because families who are short on cash often try to make ends meet by moving to where housing is cheaper — in many cases, farther from work. The counties where long commute times had grown the most were again those with the largest increases in inequality.

The middle-class squeeze has also reduced voters’ willingness to support even basic public services. Rich and poor alike endure crumbling roads, weak bridges, an unreliable rail system, and cargo containers that enter our ports without scrutiny. And many Americans live in the shadow of poorly maintained dams that could collapse at any moment.

Filed Under "So Maybe It's Not Just Me"....

It turns out that some animals are Republicans. Except the labor union monkeys. Those guys are OK.

A Fine Line

There's a disturbing incident that occured over the weekend in Alaska. In case you missed it, Joe Miller, Sarah Palin's handpicked candidate for the Senate seat currently held by Lisa Murkowski (R), held a campaign event in which he was answering questions from the audience, a "town hall" as it were. As the meeting wound down, Miller began to make his way to the exit, surrounded by private security, when Tony Hopfinger attempted to confront Miller to ask him at least one question. Hopfinger was detained, physically manhandled and handcuffed by Miller's security detail. Once the police arrived, he was released. 
Many different characterisations have been and will be made over the confrontation: was he harassing Miller? Was Miller deliberately evading his questions? Clearly the know, the folks with actual authority to detain someone...felt he was not a threat to Miller, so it seems likely Miller's thugs acted irresponsibly.
The thing I want to focus on is, when is a reporter, a reporter?
See. Hopfinger works for the Alaska Dispatch. The Dispatch bills itself as an "online news magazine." They do take their journalism seriously, I should point out. The former CFO of US News and World Report owns a majority share, there is a staff of ten journalists in addition to Hopfinger and his wife, Amanda Coyne, and a three person ad sales team. 
It also has no other presence than its on-line incarnation. 
Yet, Joe Miller insists on pinning the blame for the incident on Hopfinger, whom he calls "an irrational blogger" (emphasis mine).
Now, Hopfinger was a reporter with Newsweek. That alone seems to make him a legitimate reporter. Two years ago, he started the Alaska Dispatch. As noted above, he's expanded his staff to include at least two people who have participated in Pulitzer Prize winning stories. Further, Miller knew Hopfinger was a reporter, because it is the Dispatch that is sponsoring tonight's debate with Miller, Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Scott McAdams (who must be wondering if he'll have to do a striptease on stage tonight to get any attention from the public).
I'm a blogger. I do absolutely no work on my stories other than read other people's work and digest it and put my judgement to it. If I had the time and the resources, I would probably do some of the legwork. It would make my mentor, Bill Burrows, proud of me, and likely make up for the gentleman C I eked out by barely beating the rest of the class to a story on campus.
Thank God for touchtyping classes, huh?
Tony Hopfinger is a reporter.
Here's the bit that bothers me, tho. When does a reporter become a blogger and vice-versa? I mean, take Andrew Breitbart (and I'm proud that I haven't added "out back and kick the ever living crap out of him," but I digress...). He's a blogger, to be sure, but he has investigated and researched stories.
And gotten them woefully wrong. Does this make him a reporter, albeit a terrible one, or a blogger with major delusions?
Or Matt "The Eggman" Drudge? Most of his "articles" seem to be retreads of FOX News items and GOP talking points memoranda. Reporter? Columnist? Blogger?
Now, having that opinion firmly in your head...along with whatever ugly images I've placed there...take a hypothetical case of a left-leaning writer who investigates stories, seeks out both sides of a story, writes what he finds out...but gets it wrong.
As tempting as it is to smear the Breitbarts (and Drudges and Kathleen Parkers of the world), the simple fact about journalism is that it has gone from a crystal clear "Woodward and Bernstein" byline to what is effectively citizen journalism writ large.
That concerns me. The rules I learned in school (and no, my degree is not Journo but I took more than a few classes) about fact-checking and insistence on support for a story, and a laser-like focus on the facts, have gone by the book in a day and age of Google and desktop publishing.
Tony Hopfinger is a reporter, and probably a good one. Glenn Beck is a pundit, and a really good one, if you measure the number of opinions he can influence even as he misleads and deliberately ofuscates facts. So those are the extremes and we can easily identify those. 
It's the mushy middles, the Chris Matthews and Chuck Todds and Matt Taibbis and the Ben Smiths of the world that worry me.
(ed. note: For the record, I consider Taibbi to be a reporter, first and foremost, but he has a definite slant to his stories, and so I include him on this list for that)