Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Panic Defense

Richard Clarke has a Washington Post op-ed piece, which you can read if you want, debunking the Bush Administration typical defense about how they did what they did in the aftermath of 9/11 due to the advanced state of terror which was induced by that event. Notably, he doesn't say they weren't freaked out, he merely says they should not have been surprised because he had been warning them that something like that was going to happen.

When I was in the Navy, sometimes bad things would happen at sea. Once in a while a "really bad thing" would happen. When it did, everyone looked to the Captain. What you do not want, in circumstances like that, is to see the captain freaking out completely, flinging his hat on the deck, stomping on it and screaming, "Oh shit, we're all going to die."

What surprises me about the Bush Administration's "panic defense" of saying that they did all of these bad things because they were frightened out of their wits is not the ineffectiveness of the defense, but that they would make it at all. When I react badly, I usually try to kind of play it down; I just never brag about it. Even my cat, when she makes a jump for the railing and misses, tries to pretend that it didn't happen. The Bush people actually brag about how witlessly terrorized they were by that event, so much so that the non-functionality of their brains lasted for years.

We now know that, worst president or not, Bush was certainly the most gutless president in the history of this nation; and the one with the most cowardly staff ever.

In the Navy we didn't elect our Captains. Perhaps it's a good thing we didn't or we might have wound up electing some asshat from Yale who, in an emergency, would be flinging his hat on the deck and screaming, "Oh shit, we're all going to die."

Marching for Marriage

In Semantic Nonsense I provided my views on just how opposed I am to this whole issue of denying marriage to a class of people based on whom they wish to marry.

I do, however, think that some supporters of gay marriage are serving their cause poorly with all of this marching and civil protest right now. It is not that I don’t support their cause, I just think that they should wait until they could march in favor of something instead of marching against the California majority vote. I don’t think you persuade people by protesting what they did, and recent polling suggests that they are driving more voters away from their cause than they are drawing to it.

Gay marriage supporters dropped the ball on Proposition 8, assuming that it would fail because polling on the issue before Prop 8 was introduced indicated that a small majority of people in California did favor gay marriage. They didn’t get out to support their cause until it after they had lost their momentum and Prop 8 proponents had already stolen the advantage from them with a massive and massively dishonest advertising campaign, and they then were floundering and never quite found a message that would resonate with voters.

Some demonstration simply reminds the public of the issue, and when it has that flavor I am all in favor of it. Some expresses disappointment with the outcome, protest against the result. If the protest were against a court ruling that would be one thing, but this decision was a vote of the majority of fellow citizens. Marching in protest of how unfairly they have been treated by the those voters, and blocking the City Clerk’s office in protest of a popular vote are messages that are unlikely to resonate with large numbers of California voters.

It would, in my opinion, be far better to regroup and come back with a positive message to get behind, rather than this endless chant of negativity. I, for one, would like to California be one of the states that recognizes the right of all of its citizens to marry the person of their choice.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Seal Beach Update

Our courts go from strength to strength on this issue. They have now ruled that, while we may not use recordings of barking dogs to clear the seals from the beach, we may use actual dogs. I think I need to reflect on this a bit, but my initial reaction is decidedly mixed.

I am, for one thing, unclear on how the use of actual dogs would be that much less expensive than recordings. You don't have to feed recording devices, or clean up the poop that they would leave on the beach. The other issue is that it would seem to me that the application would require dogs which were rather aggressive and probably somewhat nasty. I wonder how many children would want to use a beach which was populated with or guarded by that kind of dogs.

Again, I do not believe we have heard the last of this ongoing issue.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sexist Lawyers?

This excerpt from a NYT article struck me so forcefully that I simply must pass it on to you,

Judge Guido Calabresi, a former dean of Yale Law School who taught Ms. Sotomayor there and now sits with her on the Second Circuit, said complaints that she had been unduly caustic had no basis. For a time, Judge Calabresi said, he kept track of the questions posed by Judge Sotomayor and other members of the 12-member court. “Her behavior was identical,” he said.

“Some lawyers just don’t like to be questioned by a woman,” Judge Calabresi added. “It was sexist, plain and simple.”

It comes from Glenn Greenwald today. Always worthwhile himself.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Palacial Embassies

One more quick hit tonite, about our embarrassing embassy building spree. Bush built a $740 million embassy in Baghdad, the biggest ever, and that was after cost overruns. Obama is going for a $736 million affair in Pakistan, and that is to start. This is just getting ridiculous.

Bits & Pieces

Countdown with Keith Olbermann probably spends more time than anybody condemning torture, especially waterboarding. It also spends more time then everybody else combined showing pictures of it, not only showing it but repeating the video images of it again and again in sort of a disgusting endless loop of horror. Enough already.

Job Creation/Destruction
The stimulus bill has "created or saved" 150,000 jobs in the 100 days since it was passed, according to President Obama. That accomplishment is somewhat dwarfed by the 2,160,000 jobs that businesses have shed in that same 100 days. Further action may be needed.

Speaking of which, the media always presents the jobless rate in a wierd and distorted way. "Jobless claims dropped 13000 last week to 623,000"
is a typical report, leading one to believe that it is reporting weekly losses rather than monthly losses.

Supreme Pick
Obama's Supreme Court pick is driving the right wing completely nuts and causing them to make utterly ridiculous charges. If for no other reason, that makes her a wonderful choice.

Lying is a Defense?
Roland Burris is claiming that his statements on the tape released yesterday do not show him to be a "pay to play" participant because he never actually raised any money for the Illinois governor; that his promises to do so in return for being named to Obama's vacated seat were lies and that he never intended to keep those promises. He should keep his Senate seat because he is a liar. Well, actually...

Seals 23, City of San Diego 22
A court has now ruled that the city's plan to play recordings of barking dogs to drive the seals off of the beach cannot go forward. Oddly, the reason for the ruling is that the plan is ridulously expensive in light of the city's $23 million budget defecit. The city may proceed with removing the seals, they just may not spend $700,000 on playing recordings of barking dogs to do it.

Removing the seals puts the city somewhat at odds with a federal law that prohibits disturbing seals in any manner whatever, but in compliance with a state court ruling that it must remove the freaking seals. I don't think the final chapter in this book has yet been written

Taxing & Servicing
Why is there all this endless discussion about the level of taxation, but never any discussion about the level of services provided. Taxes are too high, we complain, but never a word about services are too high or too low. Those things are related, you know.

Tolerating Tests
We're again making bold statements about how we "will not tolerate this provocative nuclear behavior" from North Korea. Hard to tell if they are making idiots out of us or we are making idiots out of ourselves, because we most certainly will tolerate it. What else are we going to do? We really should just sort of ignore them to the greatest possible degree but, no, we have to make threats that we cannot carry out. Reality is there is nothing we can do about their stupid nuclear test.

Job Description
Obama, in his "national security speech" said that "the most important part of my job is to keep the nation safe." He needs to read the constitution, because there is nothing in the president's job description about keeping anybody safe.

What is in his job description is to "uphold and defend the constitution of the United States." That is the only part that the founding fathers thought was so important that they wrote it into his oath of office.

Volcanic Update
If there is such a thing as a boring volcano, Kilauea would be it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Incoherent Decision

Understanding Californians is difficult sometimes, impossible at other times, even if you live here. Understanding California court decisions, well...

The California Supreme Court upheld our right to amend our state constitution. Cool, I get that. It said we can do so with a mere 50% (+1) of the popular vote. That seems a little bit like a stupid law to me but okay, it's the law, I get that too. So Prop 8 passed and gays cannot marry in the most progressive state in our nation. That sucks, but it's how people voted.

The California Supreme Court also said that gays who got married before Prop 8 passed were still okay; that their marriages were still valid. I applaud that, but it would only make sense if Prop 8 were written to the effect that gays cannot get married. Prop 8, however, is written to say that gays cannot be married; that the state of marriage cannot exist for them.

Prop 8, which the people of California stupidly passed, reads "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

So the California Supreme Court ruling is utterly incoherent.

Not only are the 18,000 marriages preceding passage of Prop 8 invalid on the basis of that wording, but any gay couple getting married in a truly progressive state such as, say, Iowa and moving to California would be specifically not recognized as married here. How chaotic is that?

Obama's Judicial Pick

Okay, I have weighed it carefully in my mind overnight after reading dozens of posts and articles by both sides. I watched Hardball and Countdown but, sorry, not Rachel Maddow. I have listened to clips from Limbaugh, but not listened to his show itself; even my thirst for knowledge does not go that far.

I finally am ready to provide you with my opinion. I know you have been breathlessly awaiting this: Damifino.

I step on my thing often enough when I'm talking about things that I think I know something about, and I know nothing about law at the appeals court level. Some columnists whose opinions I respect, Glen Greenwald and Jonathan Turley, support her. The latter says that her rulings "show very little depth", but doesn't seem to think that is a particularly bad thing, implying that she is not an "activist judge." That's okay with me.

I think diversity on our Supreme Court cannot but help it, so I like her for that reason. She seems to be sort of pissing off the right wing of the Republicans, and I like her for that too. And there's the default position that, "Obama picked her, so let's go with that."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Health Insurance Reform

Let me recommend Bill Moyers to you. Washington is still discussing revisons to the health insurance industry and calling it "health care reform." It is as close to being the latter as I am to being Magic Johnson.

The canard about “most Americans are happy with the health coverage that they presently have, and they don’t want to lose it” is thoroughly debunked in that discussion. Dr. David Himmelstein responds to that question,

Well, people are satisfied many times with their doctor and with the hospitals they go to. And most Americans aren't sick and don't actually have experience of their health insurance. But when you get sick, and actually have to use your insurance, that's when people find out the dark side of the policies they have. Huge co-payments, huge deductibles.

Of all the plans that are being presented, by Obama, Congress and others, none represent anything even close to universal health care for this nation. What they consist of is making sure that every citizen of this nation is required to pay money into the health insurance system. How close is that to the “universal health care” that the proponents use to describe them? Not even close.

Illinois State Senator Obama,

"I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care plan. We may not get there immediately, because first we've got to take back the White House, and we've got to take back the Senate, and we've got to take back the House."

Now that all of that has happened, President Obama,

"If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense. That's the kind of system you have in most industrialized countries around the world. The only problem is that we're not starting from scratch. (…) We don't want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we are trying to completely reinvent 1/6th of the economy."

An economy which has pretty thoroughly failed and is probably in serious need of reinvention. But that is a different discussion.

Just who would be disrupted? Doctors and hospitals would not be disrupted; they would just go on seeing and treating patients. A reduced paperwork load would hardly be a disruption. Patients would not be disrupted; they would see whatever doctor they want and go to whatever clinic or hospital they want. Insurance company profits would certainly be disrupted, and the legislators who receive massive campaign contributions from those companies would be disrupted.

What is disruptive is the cost of our current system, even for people with health insurance. According to Health Commentary two recent studies have shown that “health care costs, for both insured and uninsured, were pushing increasing numbers of American families to bankruptcy.”

Obama promises to reduce the cost of insurance coverage, but the cost of coverage is not the problem. In the “for profit model” of health insurance, the industry makes its profit not by providing health care to its subscribers when they need it, but by denying that care, and they enhance that profit by heaping as much cost as they can get away with onto the subscriber in the form of deductibles, copays and “uninsured costs.”

And those costs place strain on family finances, strain that in cases of severe or chronic illness, or worst of all in the event of catastrophic illness, leads to bankruptcy.

…nearly half (46%) met at least one of the four criteria for “major medical bankruptcy.” The criteria include illness or injury as a direct cause of insolvency, uncovered medical bills exceeding $1,000, two weeks of work lost to illness or injury, or a history of mortgaging the home to pay medical bills. (…) Surprisingly, most of those who eventually slid into medical insolvency were initially insured. More than 75 percent had coverage prior to their illness or injury.

How, precisely, is universal health insurance coverage going to change the rate of “major medical bankruptcy” in this nation when most of those bankruptcies, 75% of them, are happening to people who are covered by health insurance?

Critics of single payer systems cite waiting times for non-emergency procedures, but in how many countries who have that system does an entire family lose their home, their savings and everything of value due to a catastrophic illness of one family member?

The studies released last week estimate that 57 million Americans, 75% of whom are insured, are straining to pay medical bills.

How is making sure that every single American is required to pay money into the health insurance industry going to alleviate the suffering of almost 43 million Americans who are “straining to pay medical bills,” and presently have health insurance?

Leadership does not consist of deciding that something is too difficult and deciding to do what is easier. Obama has espoused single payer health care when he did not have to actually fight for it. Now that he is in a position to actually make it happen he says that it would be a good thing but is impossible, and refuses even to allow it as a candidate in the discussion.

I voted for Barack Obama because he promised he would be the leader we needed. Supporting the status quo is not leadership.

Wired for War

I was watching a talk on Cspan2 by the author of Wired For War on Monday afternoon, held at West Point. Many authors are lousy speakers, it seems to me, but this guy was pretty good, and was excellent in the Q&A period after the talk.

One officer in the audience asked an interesting question, saying that years ago he had asked about putting guns on pilotless drones and was told no, doing that would not be ethical. Now we are putting not only guns but Hellfire missiles on them. When, he wanted to know, did arming the pilotless drones become ethical? The answer was very short: “9/11.” The speaker said that prior to that date the military would not discuss the use of robotic warfare, but that since that date they cannot get enough of it.

That answer rather disturbed me. Why would we let that event reshape our ethics in such a fundamental way? Obviously we have done, in many ways and most of them disasterous, and this is just another example.

The follow up part of that answer was that it has to do with sheer volume. Since we have an all-volunteer force, the author pointed out, the size of our deployed force is necessarily limited. Since one person can control multiple robotic weapons, the use of them permits greater amount of fighting to be done with fewer forces.

That disturbed me even further. It suggests that we are allowing necessity to outweigh ethics. “Yes, it’s wrong, but we need to do it. So we’re going to proceed and redefine what is ethical to suit what we are doing.” That is not that action of a righteous or moral nation. It is a step down a road whose destination is chaos. A more ethical response to the limitation of forces would be to scale back the mission; to do less fighting.

Another noteworthy thing that the speaker said came during the answer to a question from one of the cadets. It was a quote, which the author said came from a Special Forces major. Note the source, a man from a service more highly trained than almost any other in the art and practice of sudden death. “Anything which makes killing easier,” this major said, “is not a good thing.” Food for thought.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rembering the Fallen

Memorial DayNot picnics or hotdogs, hamburgers or parades; but a moment of silence at 3:00pm in memory of those who have given their lives that we may live free.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

State of the Nation

After several days of media conversation on the President’s “national security” speech, the consensus seems to be that it was a fine speech with a minor flaw or two; that his positions are overall noble and admirable and that one or two of them could, perhaps, use a bit of “fine tuning.”

I just cannot get on board with that. This was a speech which contained within it an announcement to imprison a class of people indefinitely without recourse to the rule of law; which, further, declared the intent to distort our legal framework to provide that despotic process with a masquerade of propriety. This was not a fine speech with a minor flaw; with that content, regardless of any other, this was a bad speech.

As a friend once said to me, illustrating a different point but applicable here, “You cannot be a little bit pregnant.” We either are a nation of laws, or we are not. This nation was founded to escape the rule of man, was founded as a nation to be ruled by law.

Here we have a president, advertising himself as a “constitutional scholar,” addressing the nation and prating about the “rule of law” even as he is describing how he intends to abrogate that rule of law and violate his oath to uphold our constitution.

We also have a Supreme Court, our arbiter of justice and constitutionality, whose members openly state that their retirement dates will be determined by which political party will have the power to replace them.

Additionally we have a legislature whose members knowingly and routinely vote against national interests in the cause of assuring their own reelection to office and a voting public which reelects those legislators at a 95% rate.

We have a national media which regards all of the above as natural and unremarkable and condemns none of it.

This is the nation in whose armed forces, Navy, I once served with pride. I volunteered to put on that uniform. I do not think I would do so today, and I am deeply saddened by that.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

California Governance

Okay, I take back what I said about how California governments do not engage in buffoonery. See also this. San Diego has 20+ miles of beach, and the seals have taken over this 30-yard stretch, causing the city government to go just batshit insane. This has been an ongoing battle between animal rights activists and the City for several years.

Undercover Work

Plotter:    I'm just really pissed off and mad.
FBI Guy: Who are you mad at?
Plotter:    I don't know, I'm just mad.
FBI Guy: Are you mad at the Jews?
Plotter:    Yeah, I'm really pissed of at the Jews.
FBI Guy: Are you mad about Afghanistan?
Plotter:    Yeah, that too. I hate about Afghanistan.
FBI Guy: What do you want to do about it?
Plotter:    I don't know, man, can't do nothing.
FBI Guy: Well, there must be something you could do.
Plotter:    Nope ain't nuntin. Gimme another beer.
FBI Guy: You could bomb something.
Plotter:    I ain't got no airplane, man.
FBI Guy: No, I mean plant a bomb and blow up something.
Plotter:    Well, who the f--k would I blow up?
FBI Guy: Who are you mad at?
Plotter:    I forgot. Gimme another beer.
FBI Guy: You're mad at Jews and about Afghanistan.
Plotter:    So I'm going to blow up Afghanistan?
FBI Guy: No, dipwad, blow up some Jews.
Plotter:    Hmmm. Okay, but I don't know any Jews.
FBI Guy: I can find you some Jews, don't worry.
Plotter:    So, how do I blow them up, then?
FBI Guy: Don't worry, I can get you a bomb.
Plotter:    Can you get me an airplane, too?
FBI Guy: Not that kind of *!#!$^&*# bomb!
Plotter:    Okay, calm down man, have a beer.

Headline: FBI Informant Penetrates Terrorist Plot.

California goverment is dysfunctional in many ways, I admit that. But we don't allow the FBI to come onto our turf to play cowboys and indians with out-of-work drug addicts, and then give them pretend bombs so that we can charge them with "employing weapons of mass destruction." That New York crap is just plain buffoonery.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Strange Silence

Those who know me well are doubtless puzzled by the lack of a post regarding the President's speech. I am still sorting out my reaction to it. He is an eloquent and inspiring speaker, and part of his speech made me too angry upset to post at the moment. I need to calm down first.

Meddling Abroad

Our Vice President spoke in Lebanon on Thursday. No, Joe Biden, not the one that was advocating torture at the same time in Washington. I realize that having two Vice Presidents is confusing. Speak to the mainstream and cable media about that; I know who I am speaking about. I am referring to the one who actually is Vice President.

What this one said was not actually anything to cheer about;

"I do not come here to back any political party or any particular person. The shape and composition of Lebanon's government is for the Lebanese people to decide, to state the obvious."

I'm glad he understands that, but the clarity of his understanding was cast into just a little bit of doubt as he went on to say that the United States,

"...will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates."

Hezbollah, which is poised to take over leadership of Lebanon's government after the June 8 election, said that Biden's visit was indicative of the United States' meddling in the affairs of Lebanon.

I have no idea how they could think any such thing. Biden said very clearly that he did "not come here to back any political party" etc. Clearly, he came to Lebanon two weeks before their elections and talked about the amount of aid that Lebanon might receive in the future for the specific purpose of not meddling in their affairs. Joe Biden has always been known for great clarity of purpose.

Besides, just last month Hillary Clinton was in Lebanon calling for "free and fair elections" which would be "free of outside interference." Of course, she was referring to Iran and Syria, but no doubt she meant us as well.

Difficult being a superpower, and being so chronically misunderstood.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lifetime Offices

Democracies do not elect people to office for life. Except our media seems to appoint some people into that mode, such as "President-For-Life" Bill Clinton and, now, "Vice-President-For-Life" Dick Cheney. All day the cable and mainstream media has been referring to "Vice President Cheney" or "the Vice President." The practice is hugely ignorant, deeply disrespectful to the present holders of those offices, and betrays the shabby state of today's media.

I am also amazed at the equality of the coverage afforded to today's two speeches, given that one was made by the President of the nation and the other by, as Chris Matthews so eloquently put it, "the troll under the bridge biting the ankles of the kids walking across the bridge."

Prelude to the Speech

I have not yet heard President Obama's speech. I will read it in due course, but I chose not to listen to it because this is the one subject on which he invariably spouts lengthy hypocrisy and nonsense. I prefer to listen to him speak when he is, as is more frequently the case, providing inspiration and leadership.

The following, quoted as if it is profound and important, is a case in point,

"We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people."

Well, the second part is so obvious as to not really need saying; he is reassuring the babies among us with that which, admittedly, he needs to do. I am not one of them, which is why I did not need to listen to his speech; not quaking in fear and not in need of Daddy's reassurance.

The first part is sheer idiocy, bordering on Bushism. Our "national security" is not "endangered" by any single person, even if he is walking around with a nuclear bomb in his pocket. The United States of America survived King George twice, (my history's a little shaky there; survived Britain twice), survived Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Mussolini, and Yamamoto, all of them with massive armies, navies and (except King George) air forces. We are going to survive, are not even endangered by, one guy armed with an AK-47.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

American Diplomacy

President Obama gives Iran a deadline of one year to stop doing something which Iran says it is not doing, which the entire world agrees it is not doing, which our intelligence agency consensus agrees it is not doing, which the IAEA says it is not doing, and Iran test fires its newest long range missle.

Only Israel, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama think that Iran is building a nuclear bomb so, after the three of them meet, Obama makes threats to Iran about their nuclear bomb and Iran replies by test firing its new missile and bragging about its range.

Diplomacy in the form of, "My dick is bigger than your dick."

And there is this from Anthony Cordesman of the Washington Post, writing in the American Record in an op-ed piece about how we should stay (and expend money) in Iraq,

It's all too easy to forget that the U.S. "won" in Vietnam. Americans left having defeated the Viet Cong, having forced North Vietnam to halt its offensives -- and having gotten a Nobel Prize for the settlement. The Americans created something approaching a functioning democracy, a reasonable level of development, and Vietnamese forces that seemed able to defend both without our support.

Would somebody please tell me what this raving mainiac is talking about? Does he honest-to-God not remember American forces running for their lives from what was then called Saigon as the NVA entered the city, the scenes of South Vietnamese mobbing the gates of the embassy as helicopters lifted off from the roof?

Is this where we have arrived? Our president speaks of nuclear threats that the rest of the world denies exist, a scene from prior years which led to disaster, and we ignore the implications of that because he is a Democrat and is not making open threats of war. A writer of a national newspaper writes revisionist drivel about a war lost years ago.

Do elections not matter after all?

Propositions Defeated

All of California's propositions went down to defeat, and by rather large margins, with the exception of one that denies raises to legislators when California is operating in the red. The voters booted the ball back to the idiots we voted for, saying the we're not going to fix this financial train wreck for you. We elected you to do it, now get back to work.

I don't think our governor did his cause much good by pounding his fist on the podium and making all those threats, including the one about selling off Del Mar, which contains one of America's favorite horse racing venues. Californians don't scare all that easily. We deal with horrific wildfires almost every year, and we've lived with the San Andreas for more than a century. A sawed off body builder turned actor turned governor just doesn't look all that frightening. Trying to scare us just pisses us off.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fast Forwarding Olbermann

I watch Keith Olbermann most nights, but now that there is a liberal I the White House I’ve learned that I have to record him for later viewing so that I can fast forward through his nonsense. The dragons have all been slain, so now he's taking on windmills and making the elderly Don look sane. His steed is old and broken down, his lance is broken, and the windmills are the ones on miniature golf courses.

Last night, for instance, he was in high dudgeon about biblical quotations on military memos in the Bush White House, wondering if this was an attempt at beginnings of an “American Theocracy.” Give me a break. Was this practice reprehensible? Probably so. Was it worth eleven minutes of brow- knitting gasbaggery and two visiting pundits at the beginning of a cable news show? Oh, good Lord. Fast forward.

Fast forward past his nightly and idiotic “Hannity Challenge” of “It has now been fifteen days since…” High school games are fun for the high school boys who draw their lines on the playground. To adults who have to stand by and watch them, they are boring.

His “worst person” thing is usually okay, except that one has to either put up with or fast forward through his nightly hate fest with Bill O’Reilly. If Fox News or Bill O’Reilly simply stated the time of day, Olbermann would somehow turn that into some horrific “worst person” moment for his show.

His final segment was six minutes of clowning and ranting on something about Michael Steele and gay marriage in his new, almost always painful “WTF Moment.” I admit that it is awkward for the Republicans when one of their politicians takes an inartful statement of an opponent and goes off on some expanded distortion and misrepresentation of what they said in an effort to discredit them. It makes the Republican party look bad, to a degree, but mostly it makes them look like blithering idiots. Keith, heads up, it makes you look like a blithering idiot too.

With all that fast forwarding that a sensible person needs to do, Countdown with Keith Olbermann is becoming a rather short “news” show.

Monday, May 18, 2009

This is Leadership

Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly has an excellent discussion on the impact of President Obama's speech at Notre Dame on Saturday. You should read it. He points out that leadership does not mean avoiding those who disagree with you, nor does it means demonizing them; it means going to them and speaking with them respectfully, using kind words. President Obama makes a regular practice of this, and Notre Dame was a beautiful example of it. Steve quotes Fr. Jenkins,

"Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him."

For me, the most powerful thing said by the President was,

Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen. (...) And this doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us.
It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness.

Enhanced Cash Removal

If you are really strapped for money, can't get a job, no one will lend to you, are at your wit's end and do not want to break the law, here is a legal way for you to get some money. It is safe, fast and, trust me, it is 100% legal. There are no laws against it in any state.

Go to a bank with a gun and perform some "enhanced cash removal."

Please note that I am not advocating that anyone actually do this. My point is that, regardless of terminology, bank robbery is illegal. If you get away with the money ("It produced useful information.") it is still illegal. If you spend the money on useful things ("It saved lives.") it is still illegal.

Whole Lotta Shakin

Well, actually only a little bit. Molly, however, is firmly of the opinion that houses are not supposed to move at all, an opinion which I share actually, and was looking at me like I was supposed to make it stop, and do that right now! She was relieved when it did stop after just a couple of seconds, crediting me somewhat more than I deserve. I am the one who makes food appear in the food dish every day, though, and I open windows for her viewing enjoyment, so I must be the causation agent of all things.

My wife and I, then, are looking at each other with the question that need not be spoken. "Was that a small one nearby, or a big one farther away?" (Like in Los Angeles.) Turns out it was a medium one in between, 4.7 a bit south of L.A. with no reports of major damage. There was a decidedly lateral shaking component to the motion that we felt, though, which is a little unusual and not particularly pleasant.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Over-securitization

I’ve had a US Bank credit card for years. I have been able to log on to the Internet and view the activity and pay the bill for several of those years, and appreciate the convenience. A month ago US Bank sent me through a series of steps, requiring that I select a set of questions and answers, a picture with a matching phrase, and enter a new password with a very rigid set of parameters, all to provide “security.” I had no idea what I was doing, none of the questions were anything I’m likely to remember (I have no idea what street my father lived on when he was twelve years old), and I suspected that at some point I was going to lose the ability to access my credit card account online. I wrote everything down, neatly defeating the entire purpose of security measures, and of course I misplaced the piece of paper on which I wrote all that nonsense.

It didn’t take long, I am now locked out of my account access.

The new security is really cool. Due to the rigid parameters for passwords required by the new systems, different for each secure site I use, I have no hope of remembering any of my passwords, so I now have a piece of paper taped to my monitor listing all of my usernames and passwords.

Good work, security people.

Horizons of Faith

Courtney Martin writes at The American Prospect a piece subtitled, “The religious right's era of unquestioning Christianity is over.” Two things, perhaps three if her own experience is counted, seem to form the basis of that assumption for her, one being that the number of people who claim no particular religious affiliation has grown to 16% of the people surveyed, an all-time high.

She doesn’t cite the number of people who claim to be evangelicals, which would seem to me to be a necessary part of her thesis; claiming that their “era is over.” If that number has also climbed to an all-time high then she has quite a problem. She doesn’t cite the number of any other religious claims or affiliations. The only fact she cites is that one little item, the number of unaffiliated in a single survey, and that leaves her “study” rather seriously incomplete.

She goes on to say that,

It wasn't divine intervention that ousted George W. Bush from office. It was millions of Americans -- some Christians, some Jews, some Muslims, some confused -- who wanted an ethical, not necessarily a religious, president.

Well, actually, it was term limits. Bush had served two terms and was not running for a third. He probably would not have done so if he could and was hugely unpopular, but that was for reasons that had little to do with his born-again Christianity and, to repeat, he was ousted by term limits and not by her supposed religious revolution.

Barack Obama made significant gains among Hispanic Catholics, Hispanic Protestants, and other minority Catholics and Protestants.

Well perhaps so, but what does that have to do with the religious right? And one should note that he made those gains in no small part by worshipping at the altar of Rick Warren, and by making all of the right moves to placate the religious right. He knew that without a portion of their vote he could not win, and he paraded his religiosity in a manner sufficiently pious to gain it.

As a teacher, it is rather appalling that she would base such sweeping conclusions on a sample consisting of her parents, herself, and one piece of statistical data. I sincerely hope that she is giving her students a better foundation in scientific method than that.

As to the era of the religious right being “over,” I can only say that I see news and cable televisions which are still filled with a plethora of Christianist advocates who rather than seeking to expand the horizon of their own faith and knowledge, seek to shrink the horizon of the faith and knowledge of those who listen to them.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Who Cares About Earth?

space adventureWho cares what's happening in Washington? Who cares what's happening in Afghanistan, or Iraq? Look at that. These guys are performing miracles on the Hubble Telescope. This is the kind of thing that this nation should be focused upon.

Why the UCMJ?

In the arguments against the military tribunals, a great many are saying that our regular courts "or the Uniform Code of Military Justice" should be used to try the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. (I refuse to use the euphemism "detainees.") The UCMJ is the set of laws under which our armed forces operate, and other than saying it is more legitimate than the bogus MCA, which I do not dispute, no one has offered any rationale for its use in trying these prisoners.

These prisoners are, supposedly, accused of acts of mass murder against American citizens. How, precisely, does the UCMJ enter the picture here, other than the fact that they were captured by our military personnel? If they were captured on the battlefield, then they are Prisoners of War, the Geneva Conventions apply, and we cannot try them in any court for anything. If they were picked up based on a suspicion of criminal activity, then how does it matter who picked them up? It was an arrest and it should not matter who arrested them. If they are not members of our military, then what factor makes them subject to the laws under which our military operates?

I certainly have no legal training, but why is the UCMJ even in the picture?

Friday, May 15, 2009

And Another Question

Glenn Greenwald asks, "Bush critics vehemently objected to the idea of commissions generally. Will they continue to do so now that Obama supports them?"

See previous post. You bet I will. If nothing else they constitute, in and of themselves and no matter how they are structured, prior judgement. They say that the person being tried is guilty. If he were not already determined to be guilty, he would not be being tried by this commission. Only those we have judged to be guilty are tried here, the rest receive justice.

Big Questions Arise

Now I am beginning to see a part of Obama who is just another man wielding power, little if any different that those who have preceded him. Major questions are arising as to his intentions of actually changing the way this nations employs its footprint in the world, or the way the government does so at home.

“What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?” I have listened to all of your Orwellian rhetoric, Mr. Obama, about “denying them the space in which to make their plans” and “driving them out and making sure they never return.” That is nonsense fully worthy of the man who preceded you in the office you now hold. Plans are made in the minds of men, not in the wilds of Afghanistan, and grandiose oaths of “never return” cannot be carried out. Your statements of purpose are smoke and mirrors and our soldiers are dying with no military mission or objective having been stated by their President. So, “What in the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?”

“When are we leaving Irag?” You promised the exit of “one brigade per month until we are gone.” President Bush removed two brigades; so far you have not even announced a date for the removal of one single brigade, let alone actually removed any. You are, at this point, five brigades in arrears on your promise and have made no move toward keeping it. And instead of “until we are gone” we are now hearing from you that 30,000 to 50,000 will remain for some indefinite period. So, “When are we leaving Irag?”

“When will you take charge of the military?” You promised that as President you would make the policies and decisions, but now you clearly are allowing the military to make the decisions for you, even down to the decisions as to what documents and photos to be released. You promised to end DADT, and now that is pushed off to the indefinite future because (presumably, the military leadership has persuaded you that) you have more important things to do. Meanwhile, men and women are living lies and losing careers, and our military is losing valuable and needed service people. So, “When will you take charge of the military?”

“When will you clean up the DOJ?” The Ted Stevens case is reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct, but the DOJ steadfastly refuses to review the case of Don Siegelman of Alabama. So a federal politician who almost certainly was corrupt goes free while a state governor who was the target of a politically motivated and corrupt federal prosecution goes to jail because your DOJ will not investigate any member of the Bush Administration no matter how obvious and visible the degree of corruption. Other than a faint beginning of an investigation into the selective firing of prosecutors for political purposes, where are the DOJ investigations of anything at all that occurred under the Bush Administration? So “When will you clean up DOJ?”

“When is Guantanamo closing? Is it really doing so?” Since the grand announcement we have heard nothing more; no progress reports, no reports of any steps being taken toward that end. All we have heard is that it is turning out to be a more difficult task than anticipated. Seventeen Chinese prisoners, found innocent by a court and ordered released, have not been released; by you. Today we learn, as has been rumored earlier, that the military tribunal system is being revived to try an unspecified number of the prisoners there. As senator and as candidate for the office you now hold you decried those tribunals as illegal, and claimed that terrorists could be, were entitled to be, tried under our own system of justice. Now you have become Bushian in your logic that what kind of justice one gets depends upon who one is. Can that Bushian principle and those tribunals coexist with American law on American soil? So, “When is Guantanamo closing?”

And, of course, "What the living hell are we doing in Pakistan?," a question so abstruse and with so many facets of diplomatic political and military dimensions that I don't even know quite how to ask it.

Is that what you are Mr. Obama? All statements of intent and high rhetoric, as your opponents have declared you to be? Someone who throws $7 to the working class and $1000 to the financial sector and claims to be a man of the people? Someone who claims "health care reform" by making sure that every person in the nation is compelled to pay in to the health insurance industry? Someone who makes promises and declares intentions and thinks that we will not care if you do not follow through on them?

That is the biggest question of all, and only time will answer it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Countdown on Name-Calling

Olbermann doesn't usually do comedy all that well, imho, but his "WTF" segment last night has me laughing out loud. It starts off a little slow, but stay with it. Parts of it are really a hoot.


More on Marriage

From the Washington Post, yesterday,

About 1.7 million babies were born to unmarried women in 2007, a 26 percent rise from 1.4 million in 2002 and more than double the number in 1980, according to the new report. Unmarried women accounted for 39.7 percent of all U.S. births in 2007 -- up from 34 percent in 2002 and more than double the percentage in 1980.

Which makes all of the Christianist (as opposed to Christian) blather about gay marriage destroying "real" marriage, and marriage being for the purpose of having and raising children, seem just sort of silly, doesn't it?

Peregrine Adventure

imageI’m working away at the computer when there is a tremendous thud in the living room, so I go in to see what happened. Molly is in the hallway, freaked out and peering into the living room in abject terror, and it turns out a Peregrine was being chased by a couple of Crows and had hit the window at full speed. The Peregrine was on the ground on its back, not moving, and the Crows were picking at it.

I decided that was not something I wanted happening in my front yard and went downstairs, intending to remove the dead bird; not happy at all, because I really like Peregrines. The Crows left, of course, when I arrived and the Peregrine, though motionless, was blinking. Oh crap, it’s not dead, but it’s not moving either. I have no earthly idea what to do about that. So I put a basket over the poor creature to keep the dratted Crows away from it and kept an eye on the situation, checking every five minutes or so while I started dinner.

For half an hour or so the Peregrine remained motionless, and I feared the worst. But then Molly, who had also been checking out the window, became very excited, looking over her shoulder at me and meowing excitedly. I looked out the window and, sure enough, there was movement.
I went down and removed the basket. Peregrine is in a very awkward position, wings half spread, and just stares at me a moment then, happily, flies off.

I enjoyed the happy ending, but Molly kept looking out the window for some time, wondering where her entertainment (lunch?) went.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Useless Photos

President Obama has changed his mind, probably not because Dick Cheney told him to though, and is going to appeal the court ruling to release dozens more "Abu Garahib" type prisoner abuse photos, based on the concept that doing so would jeopardize national security. I'm with him on this, and further assert that they serve no earthly constructive purpose. They should stay buried, and I think national security is a reasonable grounds for doing so. It is senseless to be releasing photos which will do nothing but inflame the emotions of the entire Arab world.

We need transparency; we don't need just plain nonsense.

Update: Friday, 9:30am
I'm going to have to reverse my stand on this. When Obama comes out with six different reasons for his decisions, and all of them are bullshit, then I have to decide he is in error. He is hiding something. There is something in these photos that somebody doesn't want known.

Anytime someone gives multiple reasons for an action, I know he is covering something up, even if one or more of the reasons appear valid. When all of the reasons smell like something a dog left on my lawn...

American Values

I am not concerned with Miss California’s views on gay marriage. She signed a contract in which she stated that no nude, topless or “racy” type pictures had been taken of her. She lied. She signed an agreement that as reigning Miss California, in the event that she won, she would not engage in partisan political activity. She has broken that agreement. She has failed to show for her agreed-upon engagements in behalf of the organization since winning the title.

Donald Trump decreed that she did nothing wrong, and keeps her crown.

Miss California and Donald Trump are demonstrating the great American values and traditions of lying to get what you want, and keeping agreements only to the extent that it suits your personal purpose for you to do so. Personal gain trumps honesty and integrity. Pun intended.

She will doubtless continue her stalwart Christian works.

Post modified to reflect commenter's excellent point.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Torture Non-Debate

We are no longer actually debating the issue. We are now just arguing over whether or not it works. Jonathan Turley, says on Countdown that not only does the law specifically deny the use of that argument as a defense, but that making that argument is an open admission of guilt and can be used against you by the prosecution. The discussion is one of Olbermann's better ones, and is worth watching. Turley comes on 3:40 into the clip. It's kind of cool that he uses precisely the same bank-robbing analogy that I have used in earlier posts.

We have, however, defined torture down such that nobody is going to be convicted of it. The rest of the world knows that what we did is torture but we, to our eternal shame, define it otherwise.

Competence Required

Not yet four full months in office, and President Obama has done yet one more thing that his predecessor never did. A war is going poorly and he has fired the general in charge of that war. Wow, how encouraging is that?

Gen. David McKiernan has been removed from command after just eleven months and, which seems notable to me if to no one else, immediately after an air strike that kills more than 100 noncombatants. (We are, of course, claiming not to have done the deed but nobody with half a brain is believing us.) In the past administration failed generals were promoted to Chief of Staff and/or given medals. In this administration they are fired.

His replacement, General McChrystal, has a background in Special Forces. I don’t place much significance on the issue of him being “buddies” with David Petreaus; he could hardly be holding a command in Iraq and not be well acquainted with that theatre’s overall commander. The first part, speaking without ground force military expertise, seems encouraging to me. Special Forces are known for the “surgical strike” type of combat, and it seems to me that a commander of that background will lighten our footprint and be less inclined to call in large airstrikes.

There is the disturbing claim in his background that, one day after signing off on a Silver Star for Pat Tillman having been killed by “withering enemy fire,” General McChrystal sent a memo saying that Tillman’s death was suspicious, indicating that he may have known that the death may have been due to friendly fire instead. That has never been cleared up and is a bit disturbing in such a high-level commander.

There is also a faintly disturbing note in McKiernan’s removal. About two months ago US Gen. John Craddock, overall NATO commander, ordered that all persons involved in drug trafficking, whether or not Taliban-related, anyone connected in anyway to Opium smuggling or growing could be fired upon. McKiernan objected publicly to this order, said that it was contrary to International Law, and said that he would not follow it; ordered his men not to follow it as well. Craddock has since walked backwards from the order, but there are a few voices murmuring that McKiernan was removed for bucking NATO command.

I’m inclined to discount the doubt-casters and think that Obama has taken a step in a better direction in what remains, at best, a doubtful war.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Irony Abounds

Cal Fire is now saying that the Santa Barbara fire was evidently caused by a spark from a power tool being used to clear brush, and that the brush clearing was part of a program mandated by the county to reduce fire danger. It makes you feel for the people who were out on the trail doing something that was supposed to make the city more safe.

"He Made Me Do It"

The US Army is embroiled in yet another “did not, did too” argument with the officials of another nation over who caused civilian deaths in a firefight. This time it is in Afghanistan and the body count seems to be well over 100 although that, of course, is in dispute.

The Army is maintaining that not that many were killed, that all of the people killed were Taliban fighters, and that if any of the dead were civilians then the Taliban killed them. As a backup justification, the Army claims that if the US did kill any civilians then it was the Taliban’s fault because they were using the civilians as human shields.

I have searched the Avalon Project for any laws against firing upon civilians who are being used as human shields, and as far as I can tell it is not covered by any of the conventions and is perfectly legal. That doesn’t, in my opinion, justify doing it at all, let alone in a counterinsurgency where we are supposed to be winning the support of the local population. Just my opinion.

If it does justify it, then take responsibility. It was not the insurgents who made the decision to fire, it was our forces that opened fire. If that was justifiable, then justify it; go ahead and state that our ends are more important than their lives. That was the decision that was made when the order was given to open fire. Man up and admit it.

I am not comfortable with that decision, but I am not in harm’s way. I am not in the firefight faced with the decision. It may be the right decision and if it is, then make it and defend it. If it is the wrong decision then do not make it. But do not take the coward’s way out after the fact by making the decision and then blaming the outcome of that decision on somebody else.

Afghanistan officials are unhappy because the people being sent to investigate the killings are from the same organization that did the killings. That seems to me like a fairly reasonable objection.

We have heard all of this before. The Army claims, basically, that it wasn’t even at the scene of the killings and was as innocent as a newborn babe. It turns out later that the Army was lying through its teeth. The Army promises never to lie again and, the next time civilians are killed, lies through its teeth again. Perhaps it is telling the truth this time but, having been told so many self-serving lies by the Army, I am not prepared to believe them at this point.

While the investigation is still ongoing Obama’s National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, says the outcome of the investigation doesn’t matter; that we are going to continue making that kind of airstrike because they are in our best interest. “We do not want to be fighting with one hand tied behind our back,” he says.

It all sounds a lot like what we have been doing for the past eight years.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Irrelevant Outcomes

And still the torture debate goes on. It will go until there is consensus that we did it, that it was bad, and that we will never do it again. The subject will then be put to rest until we do it again because somebody scared us.
torture nonsenseHere we have a man adamantly insisting that “there are only two questions that matter; was it illegal, and did it obtain information which saved lives.” Even those who are intent on pursuing investigation and prosecution, as this man claims he is, continue to ask that meaningless second question. We do not need to know the answer to that question. It is irrelevant to the investigation of whether our government sanctioned a program of torture.

You can watch the segment if you want, but it was something of a waste of time. Just two pontifical blockheads mutually proving to themselves that the torture program obtained no useful information which is proof only inside their own heads, we knew anyway, and is irrelevant to the discussion.

The laws and international treaties do not say that torture is illegal only when it fails to elicit information, they do not say that it is illegal only for lack of results. The act itself is illegal regardless of its outcome.

Is bank robbery illegal only if the teller refuses to hand over the money?

An illegal act is illegal because of the act itself; the result of that act is irrelevant to the illegality of the act. Intent and outcome may be used to mitigate punishment once the person is found guilty of the act, but they are not used in determining whether or not the act was committed. It is the commission of the act which is the crime.

And then, of course, Republicans are braying like a herd of jackasses about how Nancy Pelosi knew that the torture was being committed and she is, gasp, a Democrat. Sigh.

That someone else knew you were doing it does not make it legal.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Santa Barbara Fire

Still bad, 10% contained and still spreading. Weather is improving, but forecast is for at least one more night of unfavorable winds. News is really difficult to obtain. The California Fire Dept has a perimeter map that is more than 36 hours outdated and does not show active fire fronts. The City and County has evacuation maps only. News, local and network, focuses on details and provides no overview of where it is actually burning and where it is progressing. Frustrating.

Visible satellite image shows significantly less smoke than earlier today, but still blowing briskly offshore, which is not good. Offshore wind will carry the fire toward downtown.

Stand And Deliver

In the sixteenth century, highway robbers would step out from behind a tree, point a gun and demand of their victims, “Stand and deliver.”

Steve Hynd at Newshoggers comments on the relationship between the Democratic Party and organized labor, specifically regarding the former’s seeming inability to deliver on the labor reform bill pending before Congress right now. Read the post, which is mostly a quotation from another source. Steve’s comment, however is significant, as is the very title of the piece,

“If you’re not going to deliver now, when are you going to deliver?”

Think about the concept involved in that question; that labor feels an entitlement, or at least a reasonable expectation, to have something “delivered” to them. While I am pro-union, the sense of “my special interest is righteous, and the side that we control won, so when do I get mine?" is just a little bit offensive to me.

To say that because Democrats won, then a different special interest group should be controlling the agenda does not sit well with me. It isn't a question of which special interest is in control; the problem is that the system is so corrupt that special interests of any stripe can control it.

Update: Friday, 10:45am
Steve Hynd pointed out the error of my introductory remark in his comment. I was actually not going for the robbery thing, merely for the “delivery” part, so my choice of simile was a poor one. Oh well.

After a brief exchange of emails, Steve has rather softened my distrust of advocacy, pointing out that it is a vital aspect of democracy. So while I still dislike the idea of “delivering” to one’s supporters, there is an underlying aspect of “delivering” on one’s promises that I can certainly get behind.

The Democratic Party has been saying that it wanted to implement certain principles but was prevented from doing so by circumstances outside of its control. It is now in control of those circumstances, so why is it not implementing those principles?

On that question Steve Hynd and I are in complete harmony.

Shrinking Newspapers, Part 2

I posted last week about the policy of newspapers, faced with declining readership, responding by cutting costs and reducing what it offers to remaining readership.

Our paper changed the weekly television magazine to a less expensive format and the result was a flood of reader complaints. Nobody liked the new format and no few of the complaints threatened cancellations. The newspaper's response was to drop the television magazine altogether. Needless to say, there were many complaints about that, so they then discontinued weekly television listings on Sundays and now provide daily listings in the daily paper, and only for prime time.

That is what our paper was doing before it was recently sold to a holding company. It has deteriorated to the point that the Sunday paper is about the size of the daily Chronicle, and I can read it (Sunday edition) in about 15 minutes. The Sunday “Home” section is a single page of content.

Three days after the sale to the holding company was consummated, the Union-Tribune announced the end of the employment of 192 long-term employees, including news staff. A spokesman admitted that it will mean less coverage of local events.

The SODDIT Defense

When I was a kid my sister used to goad my brother and me into fighting and then stood by as some sort of Little Miss Bluebell, smiling innocently, when he and I got into trouble for fighting. Her hands were palms forward at shoulder level, and her halo all nicely polished as the parent was asking how the fight started.

For quite a long time we have been dodging any responsibility for civilian causalities in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in part by re-labeling those casualities as “collateral damage,” and in part by blaming the insurgents for using them as “human shields.” Of course when the insurgents went behind these “human shields” we could have, maybe, withheld firing upon them? Evidently not. Withholding fire in such circumstances was not done when we defeated Hitler, you know.

That was a different time and a different war; a different kind of war. This is a counterinsurgency, where we are supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the population. You do not do that by killing them and labeling the bodies “collateral damage.”

Then we added the American way out, we pay money to the survivors.

Now we have the “SODDIT” defense. “Some Other Dude Did It.” We actually blame the enemy for the deaths that the Afghan civilians are angry at us for inflicting. Robert Gates, who heretofore has been rather decent about standing up and accepting responsibility, is now claiming that the Taliban throws hand grenades into houses and kills civilians, and then calls airstrikes down on those houses so it will look like we caused the deaths.

I don’t imagine that the Taliban are any kind of military geniuses but, aside from the question of how the Taliban is calling in American airstrikes, just how stupid are they? That purported plan is so full of potential blowback that only a complete moron would employ it. Even if they are employing it, for us to make that claim in the form of supposition, without displaying absolute proof that it is factual, is sheer idiocy.

And then Gates goes on the say that civilian deaths are down 40% while American military deaths are up 75%. News flash Mr. Gates. The Afghan people don’t care about American military deaths, and they don’t want civilian deaths to drop incrementally.

They want us to stop killing Afghan civilians; just stop.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Secular Nation

President Obama is issuing to a simple proclamation regarding National Day of Prayer, and not holding and ceremonies at the White House or attending any in celebration of the date, which was initiated by Congress in 1952. Robert Gibbs said that the president is "simply reverting back to pre-Bush administration practice."

I thoroughly support that concept, and wish he would also apply it to war.

Update: Thursday, 9:45am
You might consider a prayer for the City of Santa Barbara and for those who live and work there. For the second year in a row, that jewel by the sea is being subjected to devastating, heartbreaking fires.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Party Switch = Betrayal

The controversy revolving around Arlen Specter’s switch of party alignment is that he is not voting as a “loyal Democrat” since he made the switch. Actually, I rather consider that faintly praiseworthy, and to some degree a mitigation of the betrayal that his switch of parties in mid-term constituted to begin with.

At no time during all of the media bloviation of his party change, or of his voting record since the change, have I heard any mention of the will of the people who elected him to serve a six-year term as a Republican Senator. He has betrayed those people and no one, not one person in politics or in the media has even spoken the phrase, “will of the people.”

That is because our national governance is not about the will of the people today. The governance of this nation is conducted by an elite governing class who are concerned about their own well being and the preservation and enhancement of their own power.

Specter changed party alignment blatantly to preserve his own personal position of power. The Democratic Party, Obama included, welcomed his corrupt change of loyalty and his betrayal of the people who voted for him with open arms because it increased their own ability to wield power. There were no principles involved here, no concern for the governed underclass; it was all an exercise in the manipulation of power within government.

What would Democrats be saying if one of their own had become a Republican? The question practically answers itself, and yet they welcome Specter as if he had done something noble and praiseworthy. President Obama promised to campaign for him against party members of long standing and loyal support, against party members who worked hard to help propel this historic candidate into office, casting them aside in favor of a Benedict Arnold who can enhance the power of the President’s party.

And so the “transformative President” is revealed as a manipulator and power broker. Is this the man who promised to change the way politics is done? Admittedly change does not occur in a day, but you do not change a corrupt process by embracing the corruption.

The “will of the people” indeed; democracy continues to die in America.

Card Check

David Schuster, subbing for Kieth Olbermann on Countdown last night, made the usual liberal claim about the EFCA bill that it "helps workers form unions." It does nothing of the sort. Workers don't form unions today. What this bill does is help organized labor, existing labor unions, extend their representation to new workplaces.

In itself, I do not consider that a bad thing; far from it, I would like to see that happen in a major way. But EFCA does that in a fashion that allows organized unions to bully workers into accepting that representation when the workers might not want it, or might want a different union to represent them rather than the one which is making the effort.

Labor law needs change; it just doesn't need this particular change.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Posting Impetus

I was concerned after last year's election that, with a Democrat in the White House, and one who is a constitutional scholar to boot, that I might be hard pressed to find things to write about. I was confident that Congress would remain reasonably good fodder, but...

Seems that hasn't been an issue. I made 65 posts this April, compared to 37 in April of last year. I don't think I want to delve any further into that.

Shrinking Newspapers

I read Attywood (of the Philadelphia Daily) frequently; why I do that is irrelevant to this post. He frequently decries the impending death of his media, and more or less acknowledges that it has a component that is self imposed. Then he says something like this in his post today,

It's called a printred [sic] newspaper, and every year fewer and fewer people are buying it, because they prefer the free-flowing ways of the World Wide Web.

Perhaps; and perhaps fewer people are buying it because it is an increasingly crappy product. I can read my entire Sunday, repeat Sunday, paper in twenty five minutes. Most of that is spent on the sports section. Most of the front page is unedited AP articles I read online two days ago. The editorials are ones I read in the NY Times three or four days ago.

The few articles written locally are so poorly crafted that after three or four paragraphs I still do not know what the article is about. The good writers have all been retired or fired because their salaries were too high.

The newspaper has the idea that when a reader has been lost (s)he is lost forever. There is never a thought of what they can do to get that reader back or increase readership; like publishing more features, or better ones; producing a better, enhanced product. The response instead is to cut costs, eliminate features, which creates a lesser product and drives more readers away in an ever declining death spiral.

Our paper changed the weekly television magazine to a less expensive format and the result was a flood of reader complaints. Nobody liked the new format and no few of the complaints threatened cancellations. The newspaper's response was to drop the television magazine altogether. Needless to say, there were many complaints about that, so they then discontinued weekly television listings on Sundays and now provide daily listings in the daily paper, and only for prime time.

"If you don't like our way, we'll quit doing it." Awesome business model.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

"Why" Doesn't Matter

Glenn Greenwald has rather outdone himself today. In a must read post, he describes the moral superiority of this nation over that of a barbaric nation such as the UAE. An excerpt, but you really must go read the whole thing,

Had Issa -- who ordered these torture sessions recorded -- only looked to the U.S. for civilized and moral leadership on such matters, he almost certainly could have avoided this trouble (...) Only monsters and barbarians fail to destroy their own torture tapes.

What strikes me, however, is how many of the comments are people justifying our use of torture based on its usefulness in "obtaining information" or "keeping us safe." Most of them decry the comparison with Sheik Issa because he was torturing someone merely for disagreeing with the regime, while we do it for noble reasons such as defending freedom.

In a recent poll, among people who attend church at least once weekly, 52% said that the use of torture was at least "sometimes justified" based on the need to defend this nation from terrorists. Yes, the word "torture" was used in the poll; they were approving the use, specifically, of torture.

This kind of moral relativism utterly baffles me. If I rob a bank, is anyone going to accept that as a moral and legal act merely because I claimed that I had no money and needed to feed my family? Of course they are not. They are going to tell me that I should have obtained money in some other manner, in a manner that was moral and legal. And indeed I should have done so. If I was unable to and resorted to bank robbery as a last and desperate resort that would still not make it legal or moral.

I might claim to myself that the act was rendered legal and moral by my need to obtain money for what I considered to be justifiable and unselfish reasons. The law would regard those arguments as empty self-justification and throw me in jail for bank robbery.

To me, that is what the people who argue in favor of torture (or who argue that "enhanced interrogation" is not torture) are engaged in; the moral cowardice of self justification. Their position is one of fearfulness, and the sense that their own safety trumps the need for moral behavior and compliance with laws.

Update: Sunday, 10:50am
With reference to more than a few comments in that same thread that the UAE torture was "worse" that what we did because we were at least doing it for better reasons. Nonsense. The crime is the act itself. The reason is relevant only to the extent that it shows intent to commit the act.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Cable TV Professional

I am in agreement with those who are of the opinion that Congress holding hearings on the fairness of the college football championship system is inane, a waste of time that would be far better spent on matters that actually affect the nation, and reflect poorly on Congress and even more poorly on the Representatives conducting the hearings. The fact that the media is paying attention to these hearings reflects equal discredit on the media, amplified by the fact that they are covering them inaccurately.

bcs communist
Rachel Maddow’s segment Friday night, mercifully brief, is done in her usual giggling and sarcastic manner and, as is usual with her, reflects a shallow and biased interpretation of the event. After saying that “Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas found evidence of Communism today in college football’s Bowl Championship Series,” she plays a clip which includes Mr. Barton saying, “It’s like Communism, you can’t fix it.”

In the first place his statement, even as presented in her clip, does not consist of him “finding evidence of” anything. He said that the two things had one trait in common; neither of them could be fixed.

In any case, she had edited the clip. What he actually said was, “It’s like Communism, and I don’t mean this directly, but it's like Comminism, you can’t fix it.”

Ms. Maddow goes into a state of high dudgeon when right-wing politicians or media take segments of a quote out of context, edit film clips so as to change the meaning, or slant the meaning of a quotation in a warped and illogical fashion, but apparently it is quite permissible for her to do any of those things herself. She did all three in this segment.

Just to cap it off, after describing through one of her giggling fits how the witness did not know whether or not he was supposed to respond, she pronounces, “No sir, you are not supposed to respond to that. You leave that to us professionals here on cable tv.”

Us, giggle, giggle, professionals. Right.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Where's My Car?

No, it didn't get stolen or anything, I just forgot where I parked it while I was in the grocery store. I finally found it and was sort of vaguely hoping that nobody noticed me doing the "Duh, where's my car?" thing. As I was putting my groceries in the car I watched two other people, both much younger than me, doing the "Duh, where's my car?" thing and I felt a little better.

The grocery store did have Haagen-Das five-ingredient ginger ice cream. Let me tell you; this is what they give you when you die and go to heaven.

Buffalo Springfield Question

Lyrics from a Buffalo Springfield song, years ago (emphasis mine):

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear

There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down.

Something strange is happening with what is becoming “Obama’s War.” He kept referring to it as the “good war” but the longer he talks about it the less sense it makes. How did the local warlords of Afganistan and the Taliban become part of the global war on terror? How did drug eradication become part of that misguided global war? How did the war expand into Pakistan without congressional action?

In a bigger sense, how did the President who promised to take this nation in a new direction become another “war president” so fast? Every press conference involves rhetoric about needing to expend our treasure and the blood of our patriots overseas in the pursuit of keeping us safe from some vague global “existential threat” which is armed with nothing bigger than man-carried rocket grenades.

Here is a President and State Department who speaks of open hands and diplomacy, of restoring sanity to our approach in positioning ourselves in the community of nations, except with Pakistan. That unhappy nation we still regard as a client state of some sort; one which we can insult, bully, give orders to and even drop bombs on.

From guest posting by Brian Cloughley at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment on April 30, and I urge you to read the whole thing,

Hillary Clinton “expressed bewilderment that one of the world's largest armies appeared unable to confront dozens of militants.”

First of all there are not “dozens” of militants : there are many thousands, most if not all encouraged into insurrection as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2002. Senior officers in Pakistan are extremely angry concerning the accusation that the army is “not doing enough” and it is a fact that since 2002 the army and the para-military Frontier Corps have suffered over 1800 killed and three times that number wounded in battles with insurgents, which is hardly an indication that there has not been action against them.

There is an understandable lack of sympathy for the US throughout Pakistan, stemming in part from the belief that the US does not care about Pakistan army or civilian casualties.

He ends with a word of caution to our politicians,

All the noisy and insulting public pronouncements by Clinton and others might make good headlines in western newspapers, but they are entirely counter-productive as regards the citizens of Pakistan, who see America as a preaching bully rather than a helper in this time of deep crisis.

In that post and in others, knowledgeable people point out that, in insisting that the Pakistani Army take action against the insurgents in the northwest areas, we are asking them to fight their own people. This nation went through a civil war; we should know just what we are asking them to do, and we should recognize that any action needs to be taken with care and consideration. It seems to me we are speaking, at best, with a seriously callous disregard for the nature their problem.

Additionally, we are not talking to Pakistan about the need for them to go kill Osama bin Laden, we are insisting that they defeat the Taliban. One more time on that question; how did the Taliban become the issue? I have never heard anywhere that that group or, more correctly, any one of the groups which we lump under than name, has expressed ambitions of global hegemony or aims at harming America. They just want us the hell out of their territory.

The Obama Administration is declaiming, with all of the fervor that its predecessor did over WMD’s in Iraq, that the Taliban poses an “existential threat” to Pakistan. In so doing it poses an “existential threat” to the world if it seizes control of the nuclear weapons which Pakistan possesses. The American media has leaped upon that “existential threat” much as it did the Iraqi WMD threat in 2002-2003.

The world media is much less concerned about the possibility that a few thousand Taliban armed with nothing larger than RPG’s will invade all of Pakistan and defeat a 550,000-man army armed with tanks, artillery and airplanes. Juan Cole of Informed Comment supports that position as, I should add, do I.

The Pakistani Taliban amount to a few thousand fighters who lack tanks, armored vehicles, and an air force.

The Pakistani military is the world's sixth largest, with 550,000 active duty troops and is well equipped and well-trained. It in the past has acquitted itself well against India, a country ten times Pakistan's size population-wise. It is the backbone of the country, and has excellent command and control, never having suffered an internal mutiny of any significance.

So what is being alleged? That some rural Pushtun tribesmen turned Taliban are about to sweep into Islamabad and overthrow the government of Pakistan? Frankly ridiculous.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, for many months we have been hearing how the troops were stretched very thin and were sort of hanging on by their fingernails and in need of immediate reinforcement. News of 20,000 new troops being sent made sense in view of that, but now we hear that the war is being expanded into new areas to eradicate poppy fields to cut off the money source for the Taliban. Interestingly, 20,000 troops are being used in that new effort.

Oh Lord, the Taliban again, who have never done anything to us other than fight back when we’ve invaded their lands. Anyway, I’ve never been to the War College, but how does that make any sense? You have forces that are overextended, your supply line is uncertain, and when you get new troops you do not reinforce the overextended troops, you do not secure your supply line, you use those troops to expand the war into new areas.

Obama promised to restore our standing with the Islamic world; he made an address on an Islamic television network pursuant to than end, and a speech before the Turkish Parliament. I believe that his promise was sincere and that he wants to carry it out, but the world will ultimately judge this nation by our actions, not by his words. Fine words create a good first impression, but they unwind quickly when they are not backed up by actions that are compatible.

I am not alone in not being able to see where this is going, and when the people of the world see a war being fought by a nation which cannot explain why it is fighting it…