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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Conservative v Authoritarian Block

Recent 5-4 decisions of the Supreme Court have resurrected the common analysis in the terms of liberal v conservative division in the court. I've just been reading Curran vs. Catholic University: A Study of Authority and Freedom of Conflict by Larry Witham and it struck me that what we have on the court is less a conservative block than a religious one. All of the five justices voting with the so-called conservative majority are Catholic: Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Roberts. I suppose one could argue that I'm being anti-Catholic in suggested that their Catholic background may influence their decisions more than any conservative tendencies, but since I'm basically anti all religions, I don't think that criticism is warranted.

The Catholic Church is an authoritarian and autocratic institution. By its very nature it tries to suppress contrarian, read heretical, views. The Curran case is a classic example, and Curran lost his bid to teach what he believed to be correct at a Catholic institution. Suppression of freedom of belief and obedience to authority are fundamentals of the Catholic Church as numerous encyclicals and anti-modernist pronouncements have confirmed. The 2nd Vatican Council was a brief anomaly that subsequent popes have begun to reverse.

I would suggest that the Courts 5 man Catholic majority is influenced more by this Catholic subservience to authority and adherence to orthodox than any so-called conservative principles.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Yorker and Experience

The brouhaha over the New Yorker cover showing the Obamas as Muslim terrorists provided another example of the parochial elitism of Washington reporters. In discussing the New Yorker cover, several remarks have been made by pundits hinting that only Manhattanites might get the humor. I live in a small town in the Midwest, read the New Yorker regularly, and got the humor immediately. It was clear the commentators didn’t. I see no need to dumb down an intelligent magazine just because some folks don’t get it. As it happens, the cover will make absolutely no difference in the way anyone votes or regards either McCain or Obama.

I continue to be struck by how little discussion is given over to “experience.” McCain, apparently because of his age, military service, and length of service in the Senate, is somehow considered to be more “experienced” than Obama. Nothing could be further from the truth. General Clark was exactly right in his comments about McCain’s experience. Being a Navy “flyboy”, totally divorced from the ground experience and then being locked in a POW camp, as horrible as that must have been, does not provide any kind of administrative experience whatsoever. I would go further and suggest that the longer the term of service in the Senate, the less qualified one because to be president. The Senate is basically a “men’s” club – with a few exceptions, obviously, – that separates the members from the real world. They have everything handed to them on a silver platter and have no need to deal with the kinds of issues faced by the average American, ever, even after retirement as they move to a cushy job with a lobbyist in the private sector. This was a problem especially obvious in Joe Biden and others who have been Senators for a long time.

Visiting a war zone may have symbolic value, certainly nice when running for office and avoiding doing the job one was elected to do, but it provides no experience at all. George Romney was right when he talked about “brainwashing.” Anyone visiting a combat zone is going to get a very narrow view of what is happening. Soldiers on the ground don’t even have the broad perspective needed to make crucial decisions.

I would like to see the candidates engage in a discussion about management, how they would staff the White House, the role of the VP, what criteria they would use in selecting top administrative officers, how they might inculcate their culture into the bureaucracy. These questions would tell us much more about them than platitudes about experience.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Charities and IRS 990 Forms

Having been inundated with calls from health, veterans and other organizations seeking money, I decided to do a little research (librarians love doing that) to see just how worthy these organizations might be. is a great free (you can pay for additional information) that has the 990 forms for every 503(c)3 (charitable organization) in the country. These forms contain a wealth of information including the officers names, compensation and how much is spent on program services and fund raising. The information I've found on every telemarketing request for money we've received is nothing short of scandalous. More than 95% of the funds raised goes to fund-raising and officer compensation. I am beginning to suspect that telemarketing groups are creating charities just to fund themselves. I recommend this to everyone. It's easy and just takes a few minutes.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Russert and His Hagiographic Treatment by the Press

Shamelessly stolen from a post to Slate:

"The treatment of Russert’s demise, in its own peculiar fashion, speaks more eloquently about the state of American journalism and the milieu of which he was a part than it does about Russert. No doubt there is shock over the abruptness and unexpectedness of his death, for it is a troubling reminder to the social elite that success, celebrity and immense amounts of money do not bestow immortality, or even, necessarily, a long life.

In the end, after all, Russert was a celebrity, little more than that. Was he an important or insightful journalist? Or a serious political thinker? There is no evidence to support such claims. In spite of his lengthy tenure as anchor of a major news program (he was the longest-serving moderator of “Meet the Press”), it is not possible to link Russert’s name to a significant journalistic work or even an instance of acute political analysis. On the contrary. He was a typical representative of what passes for journalism in the United States’ corporate-controlled media: conformist and philistine in his views, a purveyor of received wisdom who had no doubts whatever about the values and legitimacy of the political establishment.

One has only to consider certain of the events that occurred “on his watch”: the Clinton impeachment, the stolen 2000 election, September 11, the Iraq war and its aftermath. None of these events evoked from Russert a critical examination of the claims of the state and its representatives.

In each case, Russert’s essential role was to bolster the establishment and lull the population to sleep. His role in the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, an episode that did a great deal for his career, was particularly filthy. In the first days of the crisis, Russert breathlessly asserted that if the allegations about Clinton’s sexual impropriety were true, the president would have to resign. “Whether it will come to that,” Russert continued, “I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s right or fair to be in the speculation game. But I do not underestimate anything happening at this point. The next 48 to 72 hours are critical.” The population largely rejected the media campaign.

As the WSWS wrote in 2000, in a survey of television personnel: “Russert was one of those who claimed to be taking the moral high ground, castigating Clinton’s behavior, while spreading the salacious gossip put out by the right wing. (Typical Russert sound-bite: ‘There are lots of suggestions coming out of people close to Ken Starr that perhaps the Secret Service ‘facilitated’ [i.e., pimped] for President Clinton. Remember that code word—it was used by state troopers in Little Rock.... Was the Secret Service—was a Secret Service agent—an accomplice in trying to cover up a relationship with Monica Lewinsky?’ The fact that this story, and dozens like it, attributed to ‘unnamed sources,’ proved to be false, never stopped Russert and his media cohorts.)”

It is pathetic to hear eulogists praise, as a moment of unsurpassed inspiration and an indication of his uncanny ability to summarize complicated events in a popular manner, Russert’s holding up of a white board with the word “Florida” written three times on election night 2000. This on the very night when FOX News was rigging the election outcome.

The notion that Russert asked the “tough questions” of those he interviewed, advanced by a host of former colleagues on a tribute broadcast this Sunday in place of “Meet the Press,” is absurd.

During the run-up to the war, Russert, along with the rest of the media, provided a platform for Vice President Dick Cheney and others to present their lying claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction without seriously calling any of them into question.

On March 16, 2003, only days before the US-led invasion of Iraq, Russert virtually handed his program over to Cheney, providing the latter with a propaganda opportunity in front of a large national audience, much of it skeptical about the administration’s claims. Russert’s particular role here was to politely raise certain doubts and allow Cheney to allay them.

For example, Russert asked Cheney: “What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?” The vice president replied, “Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Russert responded: “And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?”

Cheney: “I disagree, yes. And you’ll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. ... And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.” That matter being settled, Russert was on to the next question.

In Bill Moyers’ documentary, Buying the War, Russert claims that he didn’t raise sufficient doubts about what Cheney and others were telling him because critics and skeptics weren’t contacting him. He tells Moyers: “To this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.”

Millions were protesting in the streets, United Nations inspectors, the International Atomic Energy Agency, various foreign governments, not to mention the World Socialist Web Site and other left-wing publications, were refuting the Bush government’s claims, but none of this was accessible to Russert. In this, he’s probably being honest. Attuned to what the powerful thought and considering left-wing opinion to be illegitimate, Russert only had ears for Cheney and his fellow conspirators.

In any event, Russert learned nothing from the Iraq war. His program continued to provide a platform for the powerful and the cruel. In July 2006, in the immediate aftermath of the Israeli massacre in the southern village of Qana, in which dozens of women and children perished, he played host on “Meet the Press” to Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, who proceeded in a predictably cold-blooded fashion to blame the atrocity on Hezbollah.

It is revealing, in its own way, that Russert’s celebrity credentials were burnished with a bestseller about his father, “Big Russ.” It is worth recalling that William Shirer—the old CBS hand who worked with Edward R. Murrow in the 1930s and 1940s—established his reputation with Berlin Diary, his account of Germany in the first years of the Nazi regime. He later went on to write (after he had been witch-hunted out of the broadcast media) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Other reporters from that era, such as Eric Sevareid, left behind memoirs that contained interesting social commentary.

Russert’s Big Russ, on the other hand, was nothing but a saccharine account of an America were “traditional” values were honored, where “men were men,” etc. In other words, a fictionalized America, conceived in the mind of a conformist. The book is part of a marketable genre, which includes Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, a self-deluding slap-on-the-back account of life in post-war America. It was fitting, in its own way, that Brokaw broke the news of Russert’s death.

Russert was born in Buffalo, New York in 1950, at the height of the Cold War and the anti-communist hysteria in the US, and grew up in an Irish Catholic, working-class family. In his various comments and writings there was not a hint of protest or rebellion against the upbringing. Russert had nothing but praise for the Jesuits and “the nuns.” He intended to become a lawyer or teacher in Buffalo, and had not political and media history intervened, Russert would most likely have become one more figure in and around the corrupt Democratic Party machinery in Erie County.

According to Maria Shriver, former colleague of Russert at NBC and presently wife of the governor of California, Russert had “faith in God, faith in country, faith in family.” There is no particular reason to doubt it.

If one wants to get some picture of life in the Buffalo area in the early 1950s, it is worth turning to Joyce Carol Oates’ You Must Remember This. In one of the key early scenes, the father of the lead character, the owner of a furniture store, is hauled in by police on charges of “suspected subversion” and “promulgating of Communist propaganda,” and interrogated for hours, for pointing out in an argument with a customer that the USSR and China “constituted a significantly larger land mass, in toto, than did the United States.”

There were however, others from similar backgrounds, particularly from Russert’s generation, who developed quite differently. Their formative experiences were the Vietnam War, the urban rebellions of the 1960s and the Watergate crisis, and they came to reject the hypocrisy, social conservatism and anti-communism of the church and state. There was never any indication in Russert’s public persona that he drew any critical conclusions from these experiences.

In 1976, after graduating from university and law school, Russert worked on the senatorial campaign of Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who made his name by attacking the poor and blaming them for their own poverty, and served as Moynihan’s chief of staff for five years. Russert then worked for Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, before leaving politics and going to work for NBC in 1984. One of his initial accomplishments was arranging for Pope Paul II’s first interview on American television.

Russert became a household name during the period of the severe decline of the American media, when ignorance, superficiality and cynicism became the hallmarks of all that passed for news and analysis. It is worth noting that in its original format “Meet the Press” had a single guest and a panel of questioners. It went through various permutations, until “Under Russert,” as one commentator notes, “the show was expanded to one hour, and became less of a televised press conference and more focused on Russert, with longer interviews and Russert hosting panels of experts.”

He became immensely wealthy in the process, like many of his media colleagues. Russert’s 6,220-square-foot vacation home on Nantucket Island, for instance, was valued at $7.2 million in 2008. When reminded of his humble beginnings and eventual success, Russert would apparently exclaim, “What a great country!” No—what bad times!

The media, especially NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, has devoted hours to coverage of Russert’s death. Why? What is being mourned? Human beings, even famous ones, die every day. There are individuals who have made significant contributions in the arts, sciences and even journalism whose deaths go largely unnoticed.

In the case of Russert, it would not be possible for his eulogists to produce a single one of his broadcasts that would evoke a significant emotional, let alone intellectual response—where one would watch and appreciate his insight. There is no “moment” remotely comparable to Murrow’s denunciation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy or Walter Cronkite’s criticism of the Vietnam War on CBS. There is not even a narration of an honest television documentary into some troubling aspect of the American social reality. There is next to nothing."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hillary, Loss, and experience

We continue to hear that Hillary voters will not vote for Obama in the fall. The primaries were like voting between two oranges; the general election will be voting between an apple and an orange. Those who can't stand any flavor of orange will vote for the apple. Those who like oranges but prefer some flavors will still vote for the orange. Hillary lost because Obama managed his campaign much better and tailored it to winning the most delegates. Everyone knew the rules before the game. Hillary's advisers (Mark Penn, in particular) chose top focus on just a few large states. It was a losing strategy. Her top campaign staff was hugely overpaid, wasting all of the donations. They also failed to take note of the impact of the web. The fact is she ran a 1992 campaign and that didn't cut it.

I continue to be puzzled by the "experience" comments, e.g., McCain has more experience, or Hillary has more experience. I think everyone is confusing experience with seniority. I believe the Senate provides the wrong kind of experience to be president and the more one serves there the worse president one might be (how's that for a silly generalization). The Senate is a clubby institution that isolates its members from the real world. It requires absolutely no administrative experience whatsoever. They have a great health plan, private clubs, their own tunnels and offices that completely remove them from the exigencies of life. That provides precisely the wrong kind of experience, so let's stop this nonsense about how much more experience McCain or Clinton might have.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hillary v Barack Policy Difference

We have been told over and over that there are virtually no policy differences between the two Democratic contenders. This may indeed be true for the fashionable issues like abortion and health care (some minor differences). I see truly major distinctions in three key areas that I think are more important: energy, Iran, and Iraq.

1. On energy, Hillary has failed to produce a rational energy policy and even suggested a gas tax holiday during the summer like McCain. (link) That she would supposedly replace the tax revenue lost to the highway trust fund with a windfall tax on the oil companies shows either ignorance or that she was merely pandering to the crowd. In a time a shortages in supply the absolute worst thing you can do is artificially lower the price. It increases consumption and makes the problem much, much worse down the road. Every economist thought it was a bad idea and that she even suggested it shows a woeful disregard for a very serious problem we face.

2. Her comments on "obliterating" Iran if they should attack Israel reminds me of the neocons. (link) I cannot believe she said this and it shows a recklessness that truly frightens me.

3. Hillary voted and continues to vote support for the war in Iraq. Barack -- and I realize he was not in the Senate at the time -- has not pursued the same level of support that she has.

Her stands on these issues, I believe, make her much closer to McCain on serious policy issues, than Obama. I wonder if that's why so many of her supporters claim they will vote for McCain if she fails to get the nomination.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Democracy and the DNC

I watched the whole DNC Rules committee marathon May 31st (thanks C-SPAN) and while it was very interesting to listen and watch the posturing, it was clear that the outcome was a forgone conclusion. The media had reported the likely outcome over a week ago and so we know that the deal was really struck behind closed doors in negotiations sometime back. That's disappointing. Clearly, if this charade shows us anything it's the need for a national primary and stop this silly jockeying for position by the states.

Bill: It's Everybody Else's Fault.

Political Forums - -

OK. I was a Bill Clinton supporter while he was president until he embarrassed the country with the Monica Lewinsky nonsense. It's pretty funny when I keep hearing what a great president he was; his last 2.5 years were consumed with impeachment, disbarment, and obsession with saving his presidency - not running the country. But since then we've also learned the downsides of the repeal of the Glass Seagall Act and his support for deregulation of the banking industry which led to banking abuses and ultimately the mortgage crisis, and NAFTA, which I basically supported but has certainly had its negative side, both issues promoted by Bill Clinton. This constant refrain that we have to vote for Hillary because Bill was such a great president is myopic and represents nostalgia for a time that never really existed. And his constant refrain that she is the victim and subject to vilification by just about everyone (except perhaps the Republicans)just doesn't make sense. If her campaign has been destroyed by such negatives how in the world does that make her the stronger candidate in November?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Glenn Greenwald on the press

The Politico's John Harris admits now what he denied last year - Glenn Greenwald -

Excellent piece. To understand why Greenwald is so right, all one has to do is read through the comments attached to his article. Most have nothing to do with the content; most are more interested in calling names than discussing issues; many are barely literate, most show a distinct ignorance of what Greenwald said. The press is a reflection of us: lazy, ignorant and simplistic. We get what we deserve.

There are many really good books out there, including Greenwald's, that provide some very interesting and relevant context to help understand today's dysfunctional Washington. Just to mention a few: Nixonland by Perlstein, Clinton in Exile by Felsenthal, The Strong Man: and John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate by Rosen plus many, many more.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Let's get rid of the vitriol.

The level of vitriol just never ceases to amaze me. The fact remains this has become a battle of isms: sexism v racism v ageism. Both Obama and Clinton benefit from belonging to their respective "'ism." Only John McCain suffers; I doubt anyone will vote for him because he is old. Can't we honor others' positions without assuming that because they take a position it's because they are sexist or racist? Can't I prefer Clinton because I appreciate her supporter for liberal causes over the years and her many accomplishments and not because I'm afraid of Obama's race? Can't I prefer Obama because of his extraordinary management skills in running a flawless campaign and his ability to charge people of all ages, races and sex with a new excitement without being labeled a misogynist? Can't I prefer McCain for his former independence and service to this country without being considered both racist and sexist? The fact is that there are numerous questions that should be asked of all the candidates that would help define their positions and it would be useful if the media helped us by asking them. In the meantime, why can't we, as democrats (small "d) start asking them ourselves instead of wallowing in Wright, Hagee, RFK and other really unimportant side-issues? I, for one, would like to ask the following, just as a sample:

1. The federal government is a huge bureaucracy that may have become unmanageable. How do you propose to bring competence and efficiency to such an entity?

2. Any organization that gets a federal grant is required to be audited. Why can't we expect the same of the Pentagon and the defense budget?

3. How could the web be used to streamline and improve interaction between government and its citizens?

4. What should be the role of the United Nations and what should be the level of support for the UN by the US?

5. Do you have a plan for paying down the federal debt?

6. Do you have a plan to reform the tax system and who would you put in place to implement such changes?

7. Would you call yourself a Keynesian? or what economic theory guides your thinking?

8. The government has used secrecy to avoid embarrassment. Do you have a plan for opening up how government works and becomes accountable?

Just a sample. Let's bring some civility and rationality and discussion of philosophy and issues back to the debate.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Hillary has been making a strong case recently that the press and country have been increasingly misogynistic and that has hurt her candidacy. This, much like her strategy to paint Barack as too inexperienced to deal with national security threats, is not a good strategy for her. For her to say that the anti-women vote and positions are stronger than the anti-black means logically that she would be less likely to win in the general election than more likely, an argument the reverse of what she would like the super-delegates to adopt.

Similarly, when she argues that she is the stronger national security candidate than Barack, she redefines the election battle in terms of national security, and McCain would love that, beating her easily on that issue.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What we DO know about Obama

From a letter to Salon:

Plus a few more things we know about him that you have omitted. Such as:

1. The level of professionalism and ethics in his campaign is pretty much unprecedented. I heard this straight from the mouth of a former Clinton era foreign ambassador I drove around for an entire day. He also pointed out to me that other campaigns he had been associated with had much more internal conflict internal/external drama. Plus I've read example after example of this strength of professionalism and ethics; not to mention witnessing it in action as the campaign came here to our area and I became a volunteer.

2. His financial management and leadership skills in running this campaign have shown him to be a uniting, effective, and fiscally responsible leader. He has spent .75 on the dollar raised compared to 1.25 on the dollar for Clinton. His campaign staff, whom I have met personally on a local level, are warm, committed, and demonstrate a consistent ethos that shows remarkable problem-solving ability. When mistakes are made or a crisis arises, there is no conflict or finger-pointing, just calm, effective problem-solving skills exhibited. The campaign staff seem to me to have absorbed some essential elements of what an Obama administration would look like--professional, focused, committed, positive, calm, and remarkably effective at accomplishing goals. The harmony in the staff is also very apparent.

3. His career history has been consistently focused on improving the lives of those in need and dedicated to the concept that "we are our brother's/sister's keeper"

4. He has shown tremendous political skill in taking the lead in this primary season over a candidate that was once considered inevitable.

5. He has won the hearts and minds of not only large swaths of the electorate but colleagues in Washington who know him and have worked with him.

Furthermore, what is the deal with belittling and minimizing the import of campaign rhetoric? We demand it from candidates but then say we should ignore it if it is coming from the candidate we do not support. Unless a candidate has clearly shown consistent pandering indicating they never really mean what they say, then rhetoric is important and says a great deal about a candidate. This country is in great need of an inspirational leader who can help heal us after this dark time in our country's history.

Like I read somewhere, if we don't change course drastically in the direction Obama is trying to take us, historians are likely to look back on slow years of American decline and say, "What the h- were they thinking?"
-- unschooler

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Mother as Paradigm

My mother, now approaching 86, is a militant feminist, who despite Bill's rather untoward behavior with Monica, his disbarment, his pandering to the financial industry, and behavior that got us Republican control of the White House, claims to be a staunch Democrat who would rather die than be called a Republican. Yet, she insists that if Hillary does not get the nomination, she will vote for McCain despite my rational explanations of his traditionally conservative votes. That being said, I suspect that there is a core of voters like my mother who see something very conservative in Hillary and that appeals to them (aside from the obvious gender bias.) Something that even Ann Coulter could see. That being said, I think that Hillary is indeed a neocon (I hate to use the word conservative out of respect for true conservatism that values individual liberty, governmental prudence, and fiscal responsibility.) Given Hillary's penchant for gas tax relief and Iranian obliteration, I suspect she is neither a conservative nor a liberal but a neocon in drag. I have no idea what this means for the election this fall, but I suspect that unrelenting predictions from the pundits who seem to completely ignore every other issue in the world except the unceasing campaign, will be worth spittle.

American, Cutting Back, Plans $15 Bag Fee - New York Times

American, Cutting Back, Plans $15 Bag Fee - New York Times

I fail to understand the surprise evinced by many people. Higher oil prices and its concomitant impact on the airline industry in particular has been predicted for years. Dr. Alex Kuhlman, an airline pilot holding a PhD in economics spoke two years ago and wrote an article in Airways magazine in 2006 predicting dire consequences of increased consumption on fuel prices. The failure of Congress and the Bush and Clinton administrations to develop a rational energy policy that would build a public transportation infrastructure, coupled with the rampant over-building of the suburbs will come back to haunt us. It's probably already too late to do anything. The bag and meal charges are just temporary band-aids for a very sick industry.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Definition of a News Anchor

Definition of a News Anchor: "Well-coiffed slug with a microphone." * How true.

I am soooo tired of the pundits and anchors - especially the pompous asses on CNN desperately trying to fill air time (I guess the disasters in China and Myanmar weren't enough) and not making a distinction between a primary and the general election. Somehow they translate a win by one candidate or another in a primary as somehow meaning the candidate will have dire times in the general election because they have somehow lost a particular set of voters. What a crock. There's a huge difference in determining preference between two Democrats and then assuming that difference will translate in a difference between a Democrat and a Republican. For heaven's sake people.

*From Free Fall by Kyle Mills (a fun novel set in the world of politics.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mortgage mess

The big problem with the mortgage mess is that Americans, at the behest of brokers and middle men, no longer see homes as a place to live, but as an investment, the profit from which needs to be realized as soon as possible. If houses were thought of as a place to reside for the long term, we would not be in this mess.

Michigan and Florida

To imply, as has been done by the media over and over again, that Michigan and Florida voters will somehow desert the Democratic party simply because their delegates might or might not be seated at the convention is a huge insult to our intelligence. We are certainly bright enough to understand the dynamics of the DNC's penalties and to suggest that we confuse a primary battle with a general election is ridiculous and demeaning. It's something the news media keeps harping on. Stop it. We're not that dumb.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


OK, I admit, I'm a political junkie - or used to be. After retirement you have more time to really follow campaigns, read the news, and listen to more comment. The campaigns started off really interesting, the debates were lively, and the issues were becoming more defined. Now things have bogged down into who can sling the most mud, let's discover who might have known whom years ago. The commentators now are simply regurgitating and repeating each other with little light on anything. Congress, in the meantime, seems to wallow in trivialities while we have no strategy for Iraq other than to hang around and hope for the best; oil production seems to have peaked and is probably sliding backwards (link) ; the country has no plan to deal with health care, loss of jobs overseas, or a crumbling infrastructure, and corruption in the Pentagon seems the norm rather than the exception (their budget is too complicated to audit so no one even knows how the money is being spent), the Democrats can't even figure out how to count votes, the government has socialized the financial world by bailing out only the big guys, and on and on.

I'm at the point where maybe it's time to just say F**K it all and forget about even voting; just mind my own business.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Charlie and George: Some Help with Questions

I guess Charlie and George had trouble thinking of questions for Barack and Obama at the debate last Tuesday. I put my brain to work for about 5 minutes and came up with the following. Feel free to borrow any you wish.

Questions I’d like to see asked of the candidates (instead of ones about lapel pins, etc.)

- There has been a lot of criticism of President Carter’s visit to the Mideast. What is you position on ex-presidents embarking on their own peace missions?
- We all know that infrastructure degradation is a problem in the United States. We also know that the debt is ballooning, how can we afford to build infrastructure, pay for health care, and pay down the debt without raising taxes?
-- Eminent domain has been used by some cities to increase land availability for development. Do you approve of the decision in the New London case, and what is your position on eminent domain to increase land availability for developers?
-What should be the role of the federal government, if any, in addressing the problems of cult religious groups such as the fundamentalist polygamy groups in Texas and Utah?
-All the candidates have made a lot of promises; just how realistic are those promises and do you have a “plan B.”
-You’ve been on the campaign trail for months now. What would you change to make the process more fair or at least less physically demanding, if anything?
The media makes a lot of money from campaign ads. Shouldn’t they be required to offer free time to candidates on an equal level to level the playing field?
-Senator Clinton: Your husband has earned a rightful place as an ex-president to travel the world and comment on issues. What steps would you take to insure that when he speaks to foreign governments, his comments are known to NOT reflect the position of your government. For example: on free trade where you have said you disagree with your husband.
-What explains the huge inmate population in this country? What can be done to reduce the recidivism rates? And what strategies would you adopt to integrate former inmates into society as productive citizens.
-Under what circumstances might you use nuclear weapons?
-How would you structure your state department and defense department, i.e. with those supporting diplomacy as a solution or a military option?
-What should be the role of the U.S. military is protecting oil supplies, e.g. in Nigeria.
-Can the US reduce the debt without raising taxes?
-Can the Internet be used by government to become more efficient and to increase communications between government and the people?
-It appears that auditing the Pentagon is beyond anyone's capabilities, yet every business is expected to have an audit. What can you do as president to assure us that money is being spent honestly and wisely?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What a Mess: Clinton v Obama

I saw this coming two months ago. Totally predictable. The math is against both of them because of the way the Democrats apportion delegates: proportionally. It's very, very difficult for either of two strong candidates to get a majority. My prediction is that they will both continue to batter each other until the convention which will deadlock, neither side wishing to concede. The convention will be forced to go to a third person: Al Gore. In fact, I've seen several reports that the DNC has already talked to Gore at a meeting on April 15th to develop a so-called "Denver Plan" that will have Gore as the presidential nominee, the person with the highest delegate count as VP and the other given a high post in the Gore administration. I have to admit such a strategy would completely flummox the Republicans. I have no idea what would happen to all the money collected or how the campaign would be financed, but the Democrats are in a pickle as Clinton and Obama continue to wear each other down. Just read some of the posts to sites to realize how divided the Clinton and Obama camps have become. It's truly appalling and I am terribly afraid if something radical is not done, we'll have 4 years of a Bush clone.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Clinical death of mainstream media

Excellent letter posted on (Link)

"Last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might not have offered new insights into the political plans of the two contenders, but it enabled the audience to make a first-hand diagnosis of the shocking state of public discourse in the United States.

The two moderators, Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous, spent the first 46 minutes of the debate discussing topics such as flag pins, the candidates’ choice of churches, and their attitudes about gun control. These issues are, at best, only peripheral to the staggering mountain of problems facing this nation. At worst, they reflect how much this country, and the mainstream media, have adjusted to the rightwing and proto-fascist fearmongering that dominated the last eight years.

It is hard to imagine any other democratic nation where a contender for the highest office is being asked, not by some thirdrate journalists but by prominent anchors, whether or not he is a patriot. And all of this because he is not wearing a flag pin! Instead of accepting as evidence for his patriotism the fact that Obama, who had to answer this question, subjects himself to the grinding two-year process of campaigning, the moderators resorted to an embarrassing line of questioning that invoked the atmosphere of twentieth-century totalitarian politics: “You are not flying the swastika outside your window!” or “Where’s your picture of Stalin?” A similar gusto for manufactured scandals was visible in the questions about Obama’s pastor, Mr. Wright. Obama has answered these questions before, he did so again in a way that seemed integer. Yet, the overarching point is: Why does it matter so much? George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice never listened to Wright, I assume, but they still lied, started a war, and approved the torturing of detainees.

The moderators’ and ABC’s performance made no secret about their contempt for democracy. Several times, Gibson announced that they would cut away to a commercial break. Why do they need a commercial break during a debate that features two persons who might run this nation as president? Are they afraid that people don’t have the attention span? To see how the moderators and the candidates struggled to finish questions and answers before commercial breaks was symbolic of how a capitalist media system has hijacked American politics: The timing of questions and answers, the presentation of arguments is not important per se but, rather, has to fit into a representational grid established by the corporate structure of the medium.

This contempt for democracy shapes how Stephanopolous and Gibson understand their roles as journalists. While they donned the mantle of relentless investigative journalists by pursuing the above mentioned trivia questions they also revealed a painful level of disregard for civil democratic structures. When Charlie Gibson asked whether the candidates would ignore the generals’ advice when it came to leaving Iraq, it was Clinton who had to remind Gibson that the US is not run by a military junta but by a civilian leadership that has the last word about when and how to use military force! No surprise, then, that there was not a single question about what the candidates would do about the Patriot Act or whether they would investigate possible war crimes by the current president, who admitted that he approved of “harsh interrogation methods,” a.k.a. torture. But, wait, how could Obama and Clinton know about this--Charlie, George, and their colleagues have yet to make a story about that. It will have to wait, though, because first we need to know about these missing flag pins!"

How to enjoy flying, seriously.

I like flying and even airports aren't too bad if you follow these suggestions:

-Get to the airport at least 3 hours early. Rushing is stressful and can ruin everything.
-Be courteous with everyone, you'd be amazed at how being pleasant bring a pleasant return. TSA folks can be very nice if you are nice to them.
-Know the rules of what is and is not allowed.
-Bring an Ipod loaded with audiobooks ( is great) and music. Bring a battery extender and extra batteries. If you prefer reading (I like both) tear out magazine articles and throw them away as you read them. Your bags then get lighter.
-Bring noise-canceling headphones (they make a huge difference.)
--Wear loafers to make shoes on and off easy (both at security and on the plane).
-Wear loose fitting and stain resistant clothes.
-Visit the bathroom and excrete everything possible just before boarding.
-Keep a flexible schedule.
Always get a window seat - the views can be quite pretty and no one will climb over you.
-Have patience and think about all the money you are saving.
-If you can't follow these simple suggestions, take the train.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Failure of the Main Stream Media

Glenn Greenwald -

Our "black Monday" for oil | Salon News

Our "black Monday" for oil | Salon News

The fact remains that the United States government has ignored these obvious facts for decades. John Anderson, who ran for president many years ago, was laughed at and ridiculed for proposing a very modest 50 cent per gallon tax on oil that would be used to build public transportation infrastructure and to help drive down demand. Our current leaders -- including all the candidates this year -- fail to even talk about energy policy.

What we really need is a $4.00 to $5.00 per gallon tax that would be used to fund a Manhattan Project-sized research initiative into alternatives and to build public transportation. Building enormous homes for single people in the suburbs should be taxed into oblivion, and truly essential services like food production and delivery subsidized. We will never do it however, because we remain greedy and myopic, and because we erroneously believe that we can overcome everything by shooting. Well, if Iraq is an example, we're in for a very long and dark cold spell.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

James Dobson Admits to Being an Islamic Terrorist

(AP) James Dobson today admitted he was a covert operative for the government of Iran and dedicated to the overthrow of the United States. He made the admission after being water boarded. He had agreed to subject himself to this interrogation technique to show how harmless it was, but ended up surprising everyone by admitting his real nefarious objective. He was immediately arrested and sent to Guantanamo where he awaits trial in the year 2031.

The Great Clinton Years

As Hillary tries to return us to the yesteryears of the 90's:

Let's see, the great Clinton years: failed health insurance try, impeachment, embarrassment, disbarment, lying, travelgate, NAFTA, a tax cut to the super-rich that dwarfs anything Bush has done, a second term that virtually guaranteed a Republican takeover of Congress.

Actually, I'd be a lot more favorably inclined toward Hillary if she had divorced Bill and been running by herself. The idea of him hanging around in the White House with nothing to do - or worse - making things for himself to do frightens me. He's a loose cannon and albatross around her neck. And frankly Chelsea, if she is really representing the campaign, will have to answer the question about how Bill's actions in the White House affected her family's relationship. She cannot just say it's none of our business because we have to know how those two will interact.

I heard one pundit -- not that we should pay any attention to them -- suggest that Hillary knows she cannot win this year, wants the race to go to the convention, wants Obama to lose to McCain so she can run in 2012. Personally, I think the only hope for a Democratic win this fall is if the convention deadlocks (which it probably will) and then turns to a compromise candidate in the wings: Gore. A Gore/Obama ticket would be unbeatable. (BTW, I am a huge Obama supporter and hope I am wrong and he wins both the convention and the election, but I just don't see that happening, unless the mess is sorted out early.)

Spray bottles

We have sent people to the moon, created marvelous little electronic devices and all sorts of other goodies, but we can't seem to create a spray bottle that doesn't leave at least an inch of product in the bottom of the container. Now if I were a conspiratorialist....

Real Lessons of Bear Stearns

1. If you are big enough, you will not be allowed to fail, no matter what you do. The stockholders may have taken a hit (more about that later), but the bond holders were bailed out.

2. Just imagine if you were savvy enough to purchase Bear Stearns at $2, and just maybe guessed!? that JP Morgan might come back with a higher offer, and you bought a million shares at $2 and then 5 days later saw it rise to $10. You would have made a hell of a lot of money. Now we all know those folks know and talk to each other..... The fact is some people made a killing.

3. The Fed is not bailing out the economy; it's bailing out its friends in the guise of bailing out the economy. There's a big difference.

4. Capitalism requires that risk takers get hurt on occasion to keep things honest, i.e., the so-called moral hazard. The Fed is removing that risk from the system. In the meantime, the dollar has tanked and the only real benefit is that the interest on our debt is lower - that makes the administration numbers look better. And again, these folks are all friends and bailing out each other.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Liberalism as Pragmatists. Nader a Leninist?

Eric Alterman's new book, Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, provides a welcome review of what it means to be a liberal and discusses the evolution of how Americans view liberalism. (In his view the last true liberal was FDR.) Nixon bragged about being a liberal, and George Bush believes in big government but just not paying for it. Under Clinton the size of government fell by 1%; under George W Bush, it has grown by 3%. Liberals believe in individual freedom, but know they need government in order to protect those freedoms from societal forces; so they have become pragmatists. The charges against liberals actually fit the media conservatives better than the liberals, he argues, but the conservatives have set the agenda.

Alterman said some interesting things about Ralph Nader during an interview with Leonard Lopate on WNYC. When asked if Nader was a liberal, Alterman replied Nader is a Leninist who believes that things have to get better before they will get worse and therefore really wanted Bush to win because he knew things would be bad and that was the only way to get the country back on track.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Finally someone says something sensible about Jeremiah Wright and Patriotism

From Salon

Russert, Nigger, and Race

No comment is necessary. Taken from Salon's Gregg Greenwald. The entire post is here.

UPDATE II: Instapunk's far-from-uncommon thoughts on race illustrate another significant point. What explains the media's Obama/Wright fixation while virtually ignoring McCain's embrace of people like Rod Parsley and John Hagee is the assumption that the controversial behavior of any one black person is easily attributed to black people generally, while white political leaders aren't held accountable for the views of others solely by virtue of shared race. That dynamic is what explains this -- Tim Russert interviewing Barack Obama, January 22, 2006:

MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Belafonte went to Venezuela, as you well know, some time ago and met with the Hugo Chavez, leader of that country, and said some things that obviously were noted in this country and around the world. Let's listen, and come back and talk about it. . . . Is it appropriate to call the President of the United States "the greatest terrorist in the world"?

Barack Obama has nothing to do with Harry Belafonte and yet, out of the blue, Tim Russert demanded that he opine on Belafonte's statements -- just as Russert demanded that Obama renounce Louis Farrakhan's. Here, to my knowledge, is the only other time Russert ever asked anyone about the statements of Harry Belafonte -- Tim Russert interviewing Colin Powell, May 4, 2003:

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned criticism of Castro. In fact, some artists and writers from the United States of America, led by Harry Belafonte, said that the United States has been guilty of harassment of Cuba, and this is a pretext for invasion.

By stark contrast, there is never any assumption that John McCain shares the radical and vehemently "anti-American" views of his "spiritual guide" Rod Parsley or John Hagee, whose endorsements he sought and with whom he has shared a stage and lavishly praised. What accounts for that extreme disparity in media treatment? (That Obama has a closer relationship to Wright than McCain does with Parsley/Hagee is a separate issue, for the reason explained in the first paragraph here). Instapunk's observations shed significant light on the reasons for that disparity.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Prominent Republican Attorney Endorses Obama

The following is the text of Republican Doug Kmiec's endorsement:
"Today I endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States. I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence and genuine good will. I take him at his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides and to return United States to that company of nations committed to human rights. I do not know if his earlier life experience is sufficient for the challenges of the presidency that lie ahead. I doubt we know this about any of the men or women we might select. It likely depends upon the serendipity of the events that cannot be foreseen. I do have confidence that the Senator will cast his net widely in search of men and women of diverse, open-minded views and of superior intellectual qualities to assist him in the wide range of responsibilities that he must superintend.

This endorsement may be of little note or consequence, except perhaps that it comes from an unlikely source: namely, a former constitutional legal counsel to two Republican presidents. The endorsement will likely supply no strategic advantage equivalent to that represented by the very helpful accolades the Senator has received from many of high stature and accomplishment, including most recently, from Governor Bill Richardson. Nevertheless, it is important to be said publicly in a public forum in order that it be understood. It is not arrived at without careful thought and some difficulty.

As a Republican, I strongly wish to preserve traditional marriage not as a suspicion or denigration of my homosexual friends, but as recognition of the significance of the procreative family as a building block of society. As a Republican, and as a Catholic, I believe life begins at conception, and it is important for every life to be given sustenance and encouragement. As a Republican, I strongly believe that the Supreme Court of the United States must be fully dedicated to the rule of law, and to the employ of a consistent method of interpretation that keeps the Court within its limited judicial role. As a Republican, I believe problems are best resolved closest to their source and that we should never arrogate to a higher level of government that which can be more effectively and efficiently resolved below. As a Republican, and the constitutional lawyer, I believe religious freedom does not mean religious separation or mindless exclusion from the public square.

In various ways, Senator Barack Obama and I may disagree on aspects of these important fundamentals, but I am convinced based upon his public pronouncements and his personal writing that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of view, and as best as it is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them.

No doubt some of my friends will see this as a matter of party or intellectual treachery. I regret that and I respect their disagreement. But they will readily agree that as Republicans, we are first Americans. As Americans, we must voice our concerns for the well-being of our nation without partisanship when decisions that have been made endanger the body politic. Our president has involved our nation in a military engagement without sufficient justification or clear objective. In so doing, he has incurred both tragic loss of life and extraordinary debt jeopardizing the economy and the well-being of the average American citizen. In pursuit of these fatally flawed purposes, the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment. Today, I do no more than raise the defense of that important office anew, but as private citizen.

9/11 and the radical Islamic ideology that it represents is a continuing threat to our safety and the next president must have the honesty to recognize that it, as author Paul Berman has written, "draws on totalitarian inspirations from 20th-century Europe and with its double roots, religious and modern, perversely intertwined. . . .wields a lot more power, intellectually speaking, then naïve observers might suppose." Senator Obama needs to address this extremist movement with the same clarity and honesty with which he has addressed the topic of race in America. Effective criticism of the incumbent for diverting us from this task is a good start, but it is incomplete without a forthright outline of a commitment to undertake, with international partners, the formation of a world-wide entity that will track, detain, prosecute, convict, punish, and thereby, stem radical Islam's threat to civil order. I await Senator Obama's more extended thinking upon this vital subject, as he accepts the nomination of his party and engages Senator McCain in the general campaign discussion to come."

Posted Sunday, March 23, 2008 9:18 AM by Doug Kmiec on Slate

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Dream Ticket - You Heard it Here First

I have despaired more and more recently watching Hillary and Barack (whom I admire greatly) snipe away at each other. Hillary cannot win the delegate or popular count even if she wins overwhelmingly in PA and some other primaries yet to be held. That means the nomination is in the hands of the Super Delegates. If they don't decide things decisively in June after Puerto Rico, I predict the convention will deadlock and go to multiple ballots. Barack will argue he has the most votes and most delegates; Hillary will argue that Barack can't get elected (and that may be largely true if race continues to be an issue and the Clinton camp seems determined to continue to make it one.)

The only solution if the Democrats really want to guarantee victory in the fall is if they settle on a compromise candidate: Imagine a Gore/Obama ticket. Unbeatable.

Friday, March 21, 2008

FOX Lies!! Barack Obama Pastor Wright

YouTube - FOX Lies!! Barack Obama Pastor Wright

So what else is new. Fox et al lie. Here's Wright's whole sermon in which he made the supposedly infamous remarks. He was actually quoting someone else, Ambassador Peck, a "white" guy no less. Wright's whole congregation is rallying to his defense.

Personally, I'm tired of Romney's religion, Obama's religion, etc. Let's go with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and dump all of them. It's time to start thinking rationally.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What would post-Saddam Iraq have looked like without a coalition presence? - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

What would post-Saddam Iraq have looked like without a coalition presence? - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

While I disagree with Hitchens regarding the manner of US involvement, his analysis that we are still in the throes of a war that began in 1914 makes some sense. If we could just have a continuity of policy that wasn't always so short-term and solipsistic and used means other than military, perhaps we might have made more progress in 1953.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Republics, Democrats and Family Values

The following is a post to Slate regarding another post discussing Democrat's immorality:

"Your post would make somebody think that all democrats are pretty bad people. I thought I'd help you track down some from the republican party, just to disabuse you of the thought that you are a member of the party of purity.

Look up Ted Klaudt. He is now serving time for raping his two underage foster daughters.

He was a republican member of the South Dakota House of Representatives until 2006.

Just the most recent example of people from the party of family values....

Scum? You want to talk about really disgusting excuses for a human being? Take a look around you at the republican convention. See if you recognize any of these people.....

Republican anti-abortion activist Howard Scott Heldreth is a convicted child Rapist in Florida.

Republican County Commissioner David Swartz pleaded guilty to molesting two girls under the age of 11 and was sentenced to 8 years
in prison.

Republican judge Mark Pazuhanich pleaded no contest to fondling a 10-year old girl and was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Republican anti-abortion activist Nicholas Morency pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography on his computer and offering a bounty to anybody who murders an abortion doctor.

Republican legislator Edison Misla Aldarondo was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted rape of a juvenile.

Republican Mayor Philip Giordano is serving a 37-year sentence in federal prison for sexually abusing 8- and 10-year old girls.

Republican campaign consultant Tom Shortridge was sentenced to three years probation for taking nude photographs of a 15-year old girl.

Republican racist pedophile and United States Senator Strom Thurmond had sex with a 15-year old black girl which produced a child.

Republican pastor Mike Hintz, whom George W. Bush commended during the 2004 presidential campaign, surrendered to police after admitting to a sexual affair with a juvenile.

Republican legislator Peter Dibble pleaded no contest to having an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl.

Republican activist Lawrence E. King, Jr. organized child sex parties at the White House during the 1980s.

Republican lobbyist Craig J. Spence organized child sex parties at the White House during the 1980s.

Republican Congressman Donald "Buz" Lukens was found guilty of having sex with a minor and sentenced to one month in jail.

Republican fundraiser Richard A. Delgaudio was found guilty of child porn charges.

Republican activist Mark A. Grethen convicted on six counts of sex crimes involving children.

Republican activist Randal David Ankeney pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault on a child.

Republican Congressman Dan Crane had sex with a minor working as a congressional page.

Republican activist and Christian Coalition leader Beverly Russell admitted to an incestuous relationship with his step daughter.

Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had sex with a 16 year old when he was 28.

Republican congressman and anti-gay activist Robert Bauman was charged with having sex with a 16-year-old boy he picked up at a
gay bar.

Republican Committee Chairman Jeffrey Patti was arrested for distributing a video clip of a 5-year-old girl being raped.

Republican activist Marty Glickman (a.k.a. "Republican Marty"), was taken into custody by Florida police on four counts of unlawful sexual activity with a juvenile and one count of
delivering the drug LSD.

Republican legislative aide Howard L. Brooks was charged with molesting a 12-year old boy and possession of child pornography.

Republican Senate candidate John Hathaway was accused of having sex with his 12-year old baby sitter and withdrew his candidacy after the allegations were reported in the media.

Republican preacher Stephen White, who demanded a return to traditional values, was arrested after allegedly offering $20 to a
14-year-old boy for permission to perform oral sex on him.

Republican talk show host Jon Matthews pleaded guilty to exposing his genitals to an 11 year old girl.

Republican anti-gay activist Earl "Butch" Kimmerling was sentenced to 40 years in prison for molesting an 8-year old girl after he attempted to stop a gay couple from adopting her.

Republican Party leader Paul Ingram pleaded guilty to six counts of raping his daughters and served 14 years in federal prison.

Republican election board official Kevin Coan was sentenced to two years probation for soliciting sex over the internet from a 14-year old girl.

Republican politician Andrew Buhr was charged with two counts of first degree sodomy with a 13-year old boy.

Republican politician Keith Westmoreland was arrested on seven felony counts of lewd and lascivious exhibition to minors under 16 (i.e. exposing himself to children).

Republican anti-abortion activist John Allen Burt was charged with sexual misconduct involving a 15-year old girl.

Republican County Councilman Keola Childs pleaded guilty to molesting a child.

Republican activist John Butler was charged with criminal sexual assault on a teenage girl.

Republican candidate Richard Gardner admitted to molesting his two daughters.

Republican Councilman and former Marine Jack W. Gardner was convicted of molesting a 13-year old girl.

Republican County Commissioner Merrill Robert Barter pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual contact and assault on a teenage boy.

Republican City Councilman Fred C. Smeltzer, Jr. pleaded no contest to raping a 15 year-old girl and served 6-months in prison.

Republican activist Parker J. Bena pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography on his home computer and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and fined $18,000.

Republican parole board officer and former Colorado state representative, Larry Jack Schwarz, was fired after child pornography was found in his possession.

Republican strategist and Citadel Military College graduate Robin Vanderwall was convicted in Virginia on five counts of
soliciting sex from boys and girls over the internet.

Republican city councilman Mark Harris, who is described as a "good military man" and "church goer," was convicted of repeatedly having sex with an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to
12 years in prison.

Republican businessman Jon Grunseth withdrew his candidacy for Minnesota governor after allegations surfaced that he went
swimming in the nude with four underage girls, including his daughter.

Republican director of the "Young Republican Federation" Nicholas Elizondo molested his 6-year old daughter and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Republican benefactor of conservative Christian groups, Richard A. Dasen Sr., was charged with rape for allegedly paying a 15-year old girl for sex. Dasen, 62, who is married with grown children and several grandchildren, has allegedly told police that over the past decade he paid more than $1 million to have sex with a large number of young women."

The original post has links to citations.

More campaign observations

Just some observations:

1. Regarding the Samantha Power "monster" remark. Obama should not have accepted her resignation. Aside from the fact that she had asked the reporter not to report the remark, it was clearly her opinion, if hyperbolic, and all of us should be entitled to express our opinions -- that's what free speech is about, Obama could have distanced himself, but encouraged Power to stay. By all accounts she is a shining light in the human rights movement and author of some seminal books on the subject. The same is true for Geraldine Ferraro's silly remark, The fact that she said the same thing about Jesse Jackson in 1988 tells you a lot about Ferraro, not Clinton.

2. I am tired of the "experience" nonsense. Even when Clinton talks about her "experience" in helping to negotiate peace in Ireland -- a claim since denigrated by others who were there -- she has been careful to say, "under the direction of her husband," which sounds like she is building a resume for Secretary of State, not president. If you want an example of experience, just look at James Buchanan, considered, "Mr. Government" at the time, and he turned out to be one of the worst presidents. Not to mention all the experience Cheney and Rumsfeld had -- look where that got us. It seems to me a president should be chosen for his ability to lead and bring people together, not for his/her ability to micro-manage. And speaking of micro-managing, Clinton needs to manage her campaign a lot better. Either that or find out where all the money is going. If you want an example of a president with little or no experience look at Bill Clinton. The Obama campaign is a mirror of Bill's first campaign.

3. I am very worried that Clinton is enclosing herself in a box. Her campaign ads suggesting Obama is not qualified to be Commander in Chief -- but John McCain is -- is like writing McCain's TV ads for him, and it makes a mockery of her silly suggestion that Obama could be a good VP. The VP is supposed to be able to take over from day one. I also fear that in any contest where national security is the dominant topic, McCain will crush Clinton. The Democrats will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

A Ferraro flashback - Ben Smith's Blog -

A Ferraro flashback - Ben Smith's Blog -

The Clinton campaign is beginning to sound like a bad record.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hillary in a box

Despite the vague (perhaps not so vague) hints by the Clinton campaign that the American public might get a chance to vote for a Clinton/Obama ticket, she has effectively shut Obama out as a running mate. The red phone ads (ironically, the baby in the video, which was taken years ago, is now grown up and an Obama supporter) that suggest Obama is not up to the task of being commander -in-chief, make it almost impossible for her to pick Obama as a running mate unless she backs off from the ads.

A further irony is that the more she defines herself as the national security candidate the more likely she is to be crushed by John McCain should she become the nominee.

I was disappointed that Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell, was forced to resign from the Obama campaign for the "monster" remark. Obama should have said that he values opinions from all the spectra and that Power is a dedicated human rights advocate, a professor at Yale, and that while her remarks did not perhaps reflect his, she was certainly entitled to them. We need more free speech, not less. The Goolspee NAFTA remark falls in a different category, because he was apparently speaking for the candidate about an issue that concerns many of us.

Another irony, in a year filled with them, is Clinton's antipathy toward NAFTA, viewed as one of the crowning jewels of her husband's term in office. Both candidates are being disingenuous. NAFTA has provided a net surplus of jobs in the US since it was enacted and has immeasureably helped workers in other countries. It has hurt US manufacturing jobs, but you win some and lose some. Clinton and Obama need to be more honest about that. McCain admits he knows nothing about economics so he's irrelevant.

Classic Quote

Ari Fleischer on not finding WMD:

"I think the burden is on those people who didn't think he [Saddam Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are?


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Rambling discouragement

This blog is going to ramble more than usual. I remember going to buy a car several years ago and after getting most of the paperwork done, we had to sit down with the financial guy who tried to sell us an extended warranty on the car. His technique was to tell us all the things that were bad about the car; all the things we could expect to go wrong with it. I should have said, "if you don't think this is a good car, then I won't buy it." But, of course, I didn't and after some uncomfortable arguing we got out of there without the extended warranty.

That's a little the way I'm beginning to feel about the Democratic primary. We started with a lot of enthusiasm, with a bunch of great candidates, and now we are deluged with all the things that are wrong with both Hillary and Obama. Each will be a disaster we are being told. The problem the Democrats face is that people may actually start to believe them and, unlike me, decide that the car is so flawed they need to shop around for something different.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What are you politically? Take the test.

Official Website of the Libertarian National Committee

Take the test and see where your political leanings lie. This site also has one of the best descriptions of the terms liberal, conservative, etc.

Daydream Believers

Question of the Day: Who was both the youngest and oldest Secretary of Defense? (answer below)

Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power by Fred Kaplan is a fascinating book regarding the false assumptions made by Bush et al in going into Iraq. One of the great ironies of the fall of the Soviet Union is that it made the United States less strong rather than more, according to Kaplan, and this is something that was completely missed by the administrations following 1991. Because the world was no longer divided into two spheres of influence, which dominated the political landscape, countries were now free to basically ignore the wishes of the United States and go their own way. It was impossible, politically and militarily, to field a large enough imperial army to dominate. It was thus imperative that we develop alliances and coalitions to achieve our goals. This both Clinton and the Bushes failed to do. This made our influence much weaker.

The prevailing theory was that we could fight the same battles we had prepared for under the old Soviet threat. But we failed to allow for rebuilding what had been destroyed.

Donald Rumsfeld: 32 under Gerald Ford and 68 under George W Bush.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Now things will get messy

I know the pundits will laugh themselves silly, but then again they laughed at my prediction I made over a year ago that McCain would be the nominee. With Hillary's win in Texas and Ohio, the super delegates will be much less likely to commit to Obama and risk pissing off Bill to whom many of them owe their allegiance. Hillary and Barack will trash each other over the summer, much to the delight of McCain et al, and they will go to the convention with no clear leader in delegates but lots of negatives about each other. The convention will deadlock on at least the first ballot with neither side willing to concede and guess who will come riding to the rescue: the man who has run the most subtle campaign for the last 4 years - Al Gore. He beat Bush once and has turned himself into the statesman for environmentalism. He will be acceptable to everyone and a Gore/Obama tkt will look unbeatable. He will also have the advantage of forcing the McCain campaign to completely change tactics.

Plausible? I think it's very likely.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Relevant quote from George Carlin


The closest I can get to that [anger] is to say that, at some point there leading into the '90s, I divorced myself from any stake in the human adventure or the American adventure. That sounds kind of pompous so let me just break that down. What I decided was that I didn't give a fuck about what happens on this planet to these people. I mean, I see the nice things in people, I see the good things, but I also see what a depraved, sick species we are, the only species that kills its own for personal gain.

I'll go back to square one on this: We squandered a lot of gifts. Human beings were given a lot of great gifts. We were given the ability to reason, this extra-large brain, walking erect, having binocular vision and the opposable thumb, and all of these things, and we had such promise, but we squandered it on goods and superstition. We gave ourselves over to the high priests and the traders, and they are the ones we allow to control us. I think that's a huge mistake and it's disappointing to me. Now, the corollary is, America was given great gifts, this ideal form of government, this most improved form of self-government that has ever come along up until that time, and we squandered it. And once again, on the same two things: gizmos and toys and gadgets -- goods, property, possessions -- and also this country is far too religious for its own good.

So at some point, I drifted away from feeling any allegiance. Abraham Maslow the psychologist once said, "The fully realized man does not identify with the local group." Boy, when I read that, I said, that's me. I don't identify with city, state, government, religion, association, county, organization or species, even. And what I realized was that this feeling of alienation from all that gave me a kind of emotional detachment that was very valuable artistically. To be able to look at things and not give a fuck. To not have a rooting interest in the outcome. I don't really care what happens in this country. I'll be honest with you. I don't give a fuck what happens. I don't give a fuck what happens to this earth, because it's all temporal and it's all bullshit."

The full interview is at:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kissinger and Power

Henry Kissinger and the American Century by Jeremy Suri

Kissinger has been dissected by numerous authors and Jeremy Suri, in Kissinger… does not attempt to compete with them. He takes a look at Kissinger’s foreign policy influence (considerable) and from where his ideas have sprung. As a Jewish refugee from Germany, Kissinger was influenced very heavily by .. Kramer, who believed that power was the only way to peace. Kissinger was to become the embodiment of that belief and he had the influence to bend numerous administrations to his way of thinking. Having seen the failure of the Weimar Republic, Kissinger set about preventing its failures. Vietnam had less to do with Vietnam than it did preserving the French empire. He was afraid that the loss of Vietnam would undermine and destabilize France and thus Europe. His was a very Eurocentric policy.

Indeed, that influence is still apparent. Using his Kissinger Associates consulting firm, he has as clients, many global companies including Coca Cola as well as a variety of companies. He fails to see the inherent conflict of interest in consulting for countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States. That he should fail to see the problem reflects his enormous hubris and self-confidence. I suspect his true motivation is to promote his own self-interest, but that’s merely speculation. He continues to fly between countries, visiting with top leaders, telling each what the leaders of the other have to say and think; useful perhaps, but fraught with danger nevertheless.

One of Suri’s themes is to discover how well-intentioned men wind up creating such bad ends. He suggests three reasons: a lack of humility, power becomes trap; failure to reassess one’s assumptions; and the centralization of power. It would be fascinating to have a conversation with the current crop of candidates about how they might avoid the same pitfalls.

More really good books

There are just sooo many good books out there, not to mention magazines and newspapers. Anyway, here are two that I heartily recommend:

Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish by G. Bruce Knecht
This book reads like an adventure story. Knecht recounts the true story of an Australian Fisheries patrol boat chase of a pirate fishing vessel that had been taking Patagonian toothfish (commercially known as Chilean Sea Bass - how the name change occurred is also part of this story) illegally off Heard Island. The chase went on for weeks through incredibly bad weather and under the most difficult legal conditions. The ship was finally boarded with the help of the South African Navy and then sailed to Australia where the crew was put on trial. I won't spoil the ending for you by revealing the outcome.

Unfortunately, the ultimate message is not optimistic. Short of a worldwide effort to stop illegal fishing in order to prevent the total destruction of a species, I doubt that anything can be done (although the example of porpoise-safe tuna fishing might be one way.) I had difficulty putting this book down.

Another very different book is The Offering : A generation offered their lives to America in Vietnam -- One soldiers Story by Tom Cathart. Carhart is also the author of West Point Warriors: Profiles of Duty, Honor, and Country in Battle, also excellent.

Carhart, a West Point graduate writes of his year in Vietnam. It's the most realistic and honest portrayal I have read -- and I've read a lot of literature out of Vietnam. I recommend it most highly.

Mine Water Poses Danger of a Toxic Gusher - New York Times

Mine Water Poses Danger of a Toxic Gusher - New York Times

This is a perfect example of lack of leadership at the top. It seems to me the president should sit the directors of the agencies involved in a room and not let them leave until they have worked out a satisfactory solution to the problem.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rational v Emotional

As a committed rationalist, I was fascinated by John Dickerson's discussion of emotionality (although the link to fascism was more than tenuous) v rationality in his analysis of why Obama is leading the field. (link) If you are going to suggest that we need to pick out candidates less on emotional grounds than rational, you need to define your criteria. What standards are you going to use to make the rational decision. Let's face it, there are only a few to go on and they will depend on what you want in a leader, then you can decide whether experience is important in making a judgment. There are only three kinds of measures for a president with regard to experience: legislative, executive, judicial. Obama has little experience on all three and that's why representative Watson had trouble coming up with something. I would argue all of these are irrelevant. A fourth measure is less tangible and relates more to the emotional/charismatic side of the debate, and that's the ability to create consensus and majorities from disparate groups, e.g., the Congress. That's where Obama shines. It was more than apparent in his work in the Illinois legislature (I live in Illinois) and his current Senate colleagues have noted it as well. This skill often requires the sublimation of one's own desire for recognition in an effort to reach a higher goal. This is where the vision and the charisma are so important. That's what Obama has tapped in to. Hillary has the same policies but lacks the ability to bring people together (not to mention her particular albatross: Bill.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Habeas Corpus, Terrorism and Lincoln

Habeas Corpus is a long-standing constitutional and common law principle that requires the entity holding a prisoner to produce that prisoner and to show demonstrate a charge against the individual. It prevents autocratic governments from holding prisoners in secret for as long as they wish. A complaint made against the Bush administration is that they have violated hits principle. They respond that during a time a war the government is granted extraordinary powers in order to protect itself and its citizens. Bush representatives have cited Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus as a precedent. Habeas corpus has been denied to the prisoner at Guantanamo as well as for those secreted away to prisons abroad in other countries.

The problem with this argument is that Lincoln acted transparently in his actions, seeking and getting approval of Congress for this momentous step. I would argue it was still a mistake; nevertheless, he did seek congressional approval.

The other argument is that we are in a special war, a battle against terrorism. No explanations of what constitutes victory has been delineated, and in fact, the war seemingly has no end. In addition, the administration argues that secrecy is necessary and we just need to trust them. The Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves. This is precisely what they feared: an autocratic power unchecked by oversight.

If we look at the level of violence, we need only to calculate the number of murders annually in this country: around 150,000. That amount of violence greatly exceeds the numbers who died in terrorist attacks against us. Yet no one would propose suspending habeas corpus for criminals.

Democracy is always best served in the bright sunlight of openness. Habeas Corpus helps us do that and prevents the accumulation of power by the few.

Additional Information

Monday, February 18, 2008

Open letter to Hillary's campaign

Some suggestion that might help the campaign:

1. Lose Bill. He is a drag and it makes it look like he's running the show. You do much better on your own. You will also have to address the issue of what role he would play in a Hillary Clinton White House. The best thing you could have done would have been to divorce him from a campaign standpoint (not from a human one and I admire your willingness to stick by him.)

2. You MUST release your taxes. Obama has and your refusal to do so until after the nomination makes it look like you have a great deal to hide. Transparency is really important.

3. There is little difference between you and Obama on policy issues -- except perhaps Iraq where frankly you remind me a little of Margaret Thatcher -- the country is looking for the vision thing and you need to stop denigrating that. Show us your own vision for the future.

4. Emphasize how you will get things done. It's not enough to make proposals. We need now to hear how you will mobilize both parties to reach compromises to accomplish your goals. We all know compromise will be essential.

5. Stop changing your message and focus all the time. To hear you moving your message as your campaign loses steam hurts your image. Geez, and don;t use the change word anymore. Obama beat you to it.

6. And let's not overemphasize the experience. Obama has more legislative experience and a stronger record working with the other party to get things done. LBJ and Nixon were elected to office with tons of experience and we know where that got us.

Just some thoughts.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Open letter to George Soros re the Housing Mess

Dear Mr. Soros:

It seems to me -- perhaps naively -- that given the rise in foreclosures and the failure of the subprime mortgage market, that an opportunity exists to do a lot of good, make a profit, and save people's homes at the same time. If I had the money, I would buy up as many home as possible at foreclosure sales, then renegotiate the sale to those who live in the homes at a fixed mortgage rate. Since the price would be lower (yet still higher than the purchase price at the foreclosure sale, thus assuring a profit), but the interest rate fixed (even 6% would benefit both the mortgage holder and the house owners) the mortgage payments would be lower, assuring that people would not have to leave their homes and the market would be stabilized.

Obviously, this would take a lot of capital, but the returns would be substantial and the human and economic benefits rather extraordinary. The banks holding the original mortgages might suffer, but they are the ones who got us in this mess in the first place.

Just a thought. You have obviously shown a great deal of compassion for people and have resources that might be able to make a dent in what is obviously a huge problem.

Sincerely yours,

Eric Welch

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament by Randall Balmer is a really excellent book that restores the evangelical community's historical social liberalism to its rightful place.

Balmer is an historian and evangelical who decries the distortion of the movement's roots and its hijacking by a small group of cynical (that's got to be the only word for it) group of people anxious to improve their own political power and standing. The issue of abortion was not even on the right's radar screen until several years after Roe v Wade. As Balmer points out, abortion is barely mentioned in the Bible appearing -- and even then only very loosely -- in Psalms, Deuteronomy and Luke. Divorce had been the evil of choice until around 1979, but with the election of Ronald Reagan, darling of the right, they couldn't very well pick on divorce. (of course, Reagan had supported pro-abortion bills earlier in his political career.)

It remains ironic -- and a symbol of their political callousness -- they the number one issue for the religious right is tax cuts. Tax cuts, for heaven's sake. Balmer has every reason to be dismayed.

A list of his concerns posted on Amazon:

"Other issues championed by the Religious Right strike Balmer as equally disingenuous and/or misguided:

"Prayer in schools -- Jesus criticized those who made prayer into a spectator sport - "go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father."

"Creationism -- Until the intelligent design creationists "can devise experiments consistent with the scientific method to test their claims, they should stop parading as scientists." 140. "Intelligent design is religion, not science and the proper venue for the propagation of faith is the home or the church, not the university." 138.

"Home schooling -- "For much of the twentieth century, evangelicals found comfort within their subculture as a place of refuge from the outside world, which they came increasingly to regard as both corrupt and corrupting. The homeschool movement and the impulse to send children to religious schools merely represent an extension of that fortress mentality." 107.

"Anti-environmentalism - "for decades, evangelicals have neglected the environment because it seemed to them unimportant in their grander scheme of biblical interpretation." 145. Now groups such as the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship which is a coalition of Religious Right leaders aiming to counteract the environmental movement, with support from James Dobson, Charles Colson among other high profile of the Religious Right, simply "echo the pro-business and antiregulatory sentiments of political conservatives." 154.

"Torture - unconscionable silence. [Who Would Jesus Torture?]

"Perhaps most disturbing of all is how "Leaders of the Religious Right [Dobson and others] have expressed their disdain for toleration and for pluralism itself." 90. "Their ideology, laced as it is with the rhetoric of militarism, represents a betrayal of the faith. The shameless pursuit of affluence and power and political influence has led the Religious Right into shady alliances and has brought dishonor to the gospel." 189. "

An excellent read.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cloned Bananas

There is a movement afoot to label foods - particularly meat - that result from cloning. This results, in part, from a non-scientific phobia that replaces evidence and logic with irrational fear. I suspect most of those people insisting that cloned foods are dangerous would never suspect that the world's most favorite fruit (actually a berry that grows as an herb), the banana, is cloned. It cannot reproduce on its own and has no seeds.

The variety we now eat is the Cavendish, which is immune to the devastating fungal blight that destroyed the Gros Michel, an earlier variety with seeds and a much softer flesh. Each Cavendish is its genetic twin, tastes exactly the same, ripens in exactly seven days, and is very predictable.

The Cavendish was exported to Asia where it became quite popular, but now the same fungus that wiped out the Gros Michel - that is a slight variant of the Central American fungus - is devastating the Cavendish plants. So far it has yet to jump hemispheres - only a matter of time -- and unless plant geneticists can splice in a gene that makes the banana resistant, the banana may no longer exist in a decade.

These interesting little gems are from a fascinating book entitled Banana: The Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel.

Iran Encounter Grimly Echoes ’02 War Game - New York Times

Iran Encounter Grimly Echoes ’02 War Game - New York Times

There are two very important lessons in this piece that appear to have been ignored by our government and military to our great peril.

1. Low-tech attacks, cheap and easy, can often easily beat high-tech expensive defenses; and most disturbingly,
2. Notice that the military command changed the rules after they lost so the Blue Team could win. Rather than learn from the important lesson and adjust to face its implications, they changed the rules! That's a recipe for disaster!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Tax cuts

I am sitting here listening to the Republicans debate which of them is better at tax cuts and how we can bring in so much more money if we would just cut taxes even more. The question I would ask is then why not cut the taxes to zero. Then the government would bring in huge amounts of money. The logic is lost on me somewhere.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Snow, Audible, Cold Reading

Now why would someone who generally hates cold weather and snow become so intrigued by books and videos about mountaineering? I was fooling around with my IPODs (have one of each generation being an addict to electronic devices) that plays video and just for laughs downloaded The Discovery Channel's Everest series from iTunes and watched it on my little iPod. Clarity and resolution are astonishing.

That got me back into Jon Krakauer's Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains.
It's outstanding. I had already read Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, both excellent. So here I am blowing snow off my long (800 ft) lane, knocking back drifts, trying to keep my glasses free of snow, enjoying Audible's Eiger Dreams, read quite credibly by the author. Bizarre scene, but very enjoyable. I'm also listening to the Boys of Everest; also outstanding.

I am more than a little surprised that no one has forced the climbers to clean up after themselves, What a mess on the Everest summit; and apparently, according to Krakauer, it's difficult to find clean snow to melt on Mt. McKinley there is so much excrement from previous climbers. Time to send some cleanup expeditions.