Friday, October 30, 2009

Hallows' Eve Approaches

It's that time of year again:

funny pictures of cats with captions

Image credit: I Can Has Cheeseburger

I'll be one of those lame neighbors, though I have a good excuse. The candy will be out on the porch, as usual.

Under The Rug No Longer

Caption: From left, President Barack Obama, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel V. Wright and Army Brig. Gen. Michael S. Repass salute as a team of soldiers carry the remains of Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin during a dignified transfer ceremony on Dover Air Force Base, Del., Oct. 29, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by Jason Minto

Image credit: Jason Minto/U.S. Army

One thing that I would never have thought of criticizing Barack Obama for is this:

President Obama before dawn this morning paid tribute to the 18 U.S. military personnel killed in Afghanistan Monday, making a surprise trip to Dover Air Force Base as their bodies returned home to the United States.

The solemn visit - Obama's first such experience since taking office and lifting the ban on photographing the war dead - comes as he's wrestling with a decision to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama Makes Surprise Overnight Visit To Dover To Honor Troops Killed In Afghanistan

For eight years now, we've been hiding this part of the cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush Administration tried to hide the rows of caskets from us, as though they were some sort of distraction. They never asked Americans to give up anything to pursue those wars, other than the lives of the ones who died or lost their loved ones.

As you might imagine, bringing these losses to light doesn't sit too well with the people who started those wars, and then failed to win them:

Cheney, on Fox News Radio's John Gibson Show yesterday [Oct. 29]:

I think that what President Bush used to do is do it without the cameras. And I don't understand sort of showing up with the White House Press Pool with photographers and asking family members if you can take pictures. That's really hard for me to get my head around...It was a surprising way for the president to choose to do this.

It's not clear exactly what Cheney is referring to when she says, "Bush used to do it without the cameras."
[A]s CBS's Mark Knoller reported yesterday, Obama was the first president to visit arriving dead at Dover during the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq -- meaning that when it came to taking trips to Dover like Obama did yesterday morning, Bush never used to "do it" at all.

Liz Cheney Suggests Obama Honored Fallen Soldiers For The Publicity

Like her father, Liz Cheney isn't shy about using weasel words like "I think that". She didn't check whether what she said was actually true before she said it, which might be excusable if she hadn't anticipated the question. I suspect that she's not going to retract this assertion, however. Let's see if I'm wrong on that one.

Even if I were in favor of these wars (at one time I was in favor of the war in Afghanistan) I would still think that hiding the bodies of returning military personnel in this way does more to dishonor them than publishing a few pictures. Among Americans, the human cost of these wars is paid almost exclusively by the military and their families. Sweeping the losses they experience in wars under the rug does nothing to honor their sacrifice. We should openly acknowledge and appreciate those sacrifices. As Blue Texan reminds us, past conservative Presidents weren't shy about visiting the returning dead.

That some conservatives seem to think otherwise, and that there are folks in the press corps in DC who take such assertions seriously, shows how starkly isolated these folks are from the rest of us.

UPDATE: Added the links in the second to last paragraph, which discuss many of the human costs of these wars we're fighting.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The House Officially Sells Out

All the discussion over the last few days about whether the Democrats had the votes in the House to pass a public option worth passing has been ended. The answer is that it did not:

Rep Lynne Woolsey (D-CA)--co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus--said, emphatically, that when she and other liberal leaders meet with the President tonight, she wants to hear him say "that he supports a strong public option and he will take that over to the Senate." As for whether she can support the bill in the House with a somewhat weakened public option, Woolsey told me she needs to learn more.

"We're looking at what they've put in the bill to make up for it not being Medicare-plus-five, to see if it covers...our same goals," she said.

Democrats Optimistic, Progressives Coming To Terms, On Health Care Bill

"Medicare plus five" refers to the compensation for medical services that would be permissible by the public option. This particular compensation rate is tied to the rates that Medicare pays, and can't be more than five percent above those rates. That's a good price for most medical services. What the House bill will have instead are negotiated rates, in which the agency paying the bills negotiates the rates with the providers.

The "negotiated rates", by the estimate of just about anyone honest and knowledgeable in this area, are basically a way to make the government health insurance pay the same rates as private health insurance. Thus, they will do little to control the price of health insurance, and will be higher than they ought to be. Officially, the problem here has been that in rural areas, Medicare doesn't pay high enough rates for some medical care. This may or may not be true, but it's certain that not using Medicare rates isn't the best answer. If Medicare rates are wrong in rural areas, they can be adjusted. This would have been the sensible and straightforward way to deal with the issue. What happened instead? Something that benefits the health insurance industry. Go figure. It's also quite clearly going to cost the government more, as The Hill points out:

The negotiated rates plan is estimated to cost about $85 billion more than the Medicare-based reimbursements. To cut the number of uninsured without surpassing the $900 billion limit set by Obama, the bill will expand eligibility for the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor. The bill will also include an income surtax on the wealthy to pay much of the cost of the plan.

Pelosi Chooses Healthcare Bill With Public Option Favored By Centrists

Anyone who didn't think that the "moderates"' idea of fiscal conservatism was a smoke screen should be feeling ashamed of himself right now.

There are no doubt other problems with the bill, that will probably come to light over time. Jane Hamsher discusses one today:

[T]hanks to Representatives Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton, there will be no generic versions of [biologic] drugs [that treat breast cancer and rheumatism]. At least not for 12 years, if the House health care bill announced today passes. And because of an “evergreening” clause that grants drug companies a continued monopoly if they make slight changes to the drug (like creating a once-a-day dose where the original product was three times per day), they will never become generics. Instead of the Waxman-Deal amendment that granted much more reasonable terms to biologic patent holders, Speaker Pelosi chose the Eshoo-Barton amendment. And we could all be paying for that choice for the rest of our lives.

House Health Care Bill: A Death Sentence For My Fellow Breast Cancer Survivors

I can't wait for the excuses on that one.

Steve Benen explains the political bottom line:

House progressives put up a good fight. Indeed, it was their diligence on this specific provision that helped keep the public option alive when much of the establishment thought it was dead. But it became apparent this week that the votes weren't there for a robust public option, so House liberals are doing the right thing -- fight like hell, for as long as possible, and then go with the best bill you can pass.

Settling For Good Enough

Personally, I think a better bill might end up being none at all. That's about what this group of Democrats deserves - it's the perfect capstone to a year of failing to do the things that they needed to get done. The reason it might be better to have no bill is that this bill, as it currently stands, will require that all Americans buy health insurance. If the Congress and the President stick us with a requirement to purchase lousy health insurance, they will suffer for it in the voting booth. In fact, 2010 is shaping up to be a small disaster for Democrats. If they fail to provide a worthwhile bill, that could become a large disaster.

The plain fact is that the Democrats as a group don't want to offend the groups that want to keep the American medical system in the screwed up state it's in right now - the large medical care corporations, the drug companies, and the insurance industry. Yet they have campaigned for years on the promise that once they had a commanding majority, they would pass health care reform. It should have been obvious to any adult who has looked at the state of our health care system that these two goals were incompatible, and yet Democrats continued to act as though they weren't. In the end, when it came time to put up or shut up, they didn't do either. As I predicted months ago, they'll pass a piece of crap bill that they will loudly trumpet as health care reform, which will fix somewhere between little and nothing.

Still, there have been heroes in this fight, and it wouldn't be right not to acknowledge them. One of them, Rep. Raul Grijalva, who has been one of the few representatives who have been actively campaigning for a real public option, hasn't given up yet:

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)--co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus--was not in attendance at today's health care bill unveiling. But his office sends over the following quote, suggesting that he plans to continue his push for a strong public option, even though the base House bill doesn't go as far as he'd like.

"I am not rolling over. I will insist on a Medicare-plus-five amendment on the Floor so that the full Caucus can vote on it. We are hopeful that the Rules Committee will allow this amendment, which has tremendous public support, to be voted on for the record."

Grijalva has been leading the charge in the House for a robust public option, suggesting that progressives might defect from the final bill if the plan isn't tied to Medicare reimbursement rates. We'll keep an eye out for his next move.

Grijalva Continues Push For Robust Public Option

It gives me some hope that there are at least a few honest politicians like Grijalva left in Congress. Unfortunately, like Grijalva's hopes for a viable public option, my hopes that he can be joined soon by more such representatives seems far, far away right now.

There still is a chance, though. If you haven't written or phoned your congressmen yet explaining how you feel about health care reform, then you have only yourself to blame. There are sample letters here and many other places to use as a basis. There are also numerous online petitions that can provide some of the words. In the end, though, if your Representative and Senators don't hear from you, it's hard to expect them to carry out your wishes in Congress.

If I were writing my representative right now, what I'd be saying is that I want him to support any amendment that strengthens the public option on the floor of the House, particularly those that expand the coverage to anyone who is willing to pay for it, and those that make tie compensation rates for medical services to those of Medicare. I'd probably add that there's no excuse for not using Medicare rates - if they're really unfair, then Medicare rates should be fixed.

As I wrote previously, they need to know that we're watching, and we won't forgive failure. This is life and death stuff, and if they continue to fail at fixing it Democrats should pay for that failure with decreased power, or even minority status. Power is the only thing they really care about. They need to know it's in danger if they don't do what they said they would when we elected them.

Hmmm, think I know what I'll be doing next.

UPDATE: Added links to articles and an article quote about the relative cost of negotiated vs. Medicare plus five compensation rates, and to Jane Hamsher's article about breast cancer drugs.

F*ck The F*cking Yankees, Pt. 1

Caption: Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Pedro Martinez facing a Yankee batter in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series.

Image credit: Photo of MLB/Fox Sports broadcast by Cujo359

It was too much to hope that the Phillies could get out of Yankee Stadium with a 2-0 lead in the World Series. This was another good game, with excellent pitching by Phillies starter Pedro Martinez and Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, and by Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. Rivera pitched the last two innings to preserve the win.

The Series now goes to Philadelphia, with Game 3 starting on Saturday, at 5:00 PM Pacific.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Good Start

Caption: Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee waits for a sign from his catcher in the ninth inning of the first game of the 2009 World Series.

Image credit: Photo of MLB/Fox Sports broadcast by Cujo359

By a score of 6-1, the Philadelphia Phillies won the first game of the World Series.

With past Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee facing each other on a cold, misty evening, this looked to be a pitching duel, which it turned out to be at first. Sabathia was good, but unfortunately for him and the Yankees, Lee was awesome. Lee shut out the Yankees over eight innings. He allowed one run in the Yankees' ninth inning. Sabathia shut out all the Phillies not named Chase Utley over seven innings. Utley, however, hit two solo home runs. These were all the runs the Phillies needed.

Lee pitched a complete game, and until the last couple of innings, his pitches were either at the bottom of the strike zone or on the corners. He made only a few pitches into the heart of the strike zone, and on those rare occasions the Yankees hitters weren't able to connect.

The Yankees bullpen, which relative to the Phillies' was probably their biggest advantage, didn't pitch like it this evening. They let four runs score in the ninth inning, basically putting the game out of reach.

Game 2 is tomorrow at 4:30 PDT.

Dogmas Ancient And New

Yes, I haven't gone anywhere - not yet, anyway. Meanwhile, there's nothing I like better than someone taking an axe to some bit of dogma or another, and here are a couple of examples that I found lying around the Internet yesterday.

First, via PZ Myers (AKA "P-Zed"), here's the latest version of Mr. Deity. In this episode, he and son Jessie are trying to figure out the whole Trinity thing, which I have to say is one of the more confusing bits of religious nonsense out there. Going from memory, they get both its meaning and its origins largely right, and yes, that's what makes it so confusing:

Don't believe me? Here's what the Catholic church has to say on the issue via the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion — the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another.

Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." In this Trinity of Persons the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system.

The Dogma Of The Trinity

I don't think I could write something that confusing without the aid of psychotropic drugs.

Meanwhile, Ian Welsh takes on another dogma, this time from politics and faux economics:

Free market [fundamentalism] in the US has done a great deal of damage by claiming the only ethic that matters is greed. The free market is not self regulating, the invisible hand does not always work to the benefit of society as a whole (as Adam Smith well knew), greed is not always good, and free markets naturally tend towards unfree markets in which the choice for consumers is to take what is offered or go without. (If you don’t believe me, take one of the “contracts” given to you by a big firm, and cross out the parts you disagree with, and write in your own wording. “Negotiate” with them. Let me know how it works out.)

Free markets are grand things. Every once in a while they even exist.

Consumers Can’t Choose Not to Do Business

The only place that truly free markets exist are in basic economics textbooks and in the fevered imaginations of libertarians. Everyone else realizes that what Ian wrote is true - that there really is no such thing in real life. Anyone who has taken basic economics is aware of the thought experiment economists use to explain how markets behave when everyone involved has free will and knowledge of the products. There are widget makers everywhere, and widget sellers and consumers on every street corner (they were pin makers, sellers, and buyers in Smith's day, of course). Some markets, such as farmers markets and other bazaars might approach this ideal to some degree, but in most cases there is only the faintest resemblance. The question is whether to try to (some would say "artificially") make those markets freer, regulate them so people are not taken advantage of, or have the government take them over. All those approaches have their hazards, of course, and what might work best probably depends on things like how much choice consumers have in entering those markets.

The local hobby shop has far more interest in treating its customers right than the local television cable company has, even though both are not strictly required to survive or make a living. I don't have to have either an RC race car or Comedy Central, but if I don't want to buy that model car at one hobby shop, I usually have alternatives. In the case of cable television, there's only one provider, and the alternatives are expensive and similarly complicated to deliver. The local health insurance companies have even less motivation than the cable company, largely because, for most of us, their product is required. This is the nature of real markets, and as far as I'm concerned, anyone who argues that all these markets would be better off if everyone in them was free to do as he likes is either a moron or a fool, and quite probably both. The only exceptions to that rule are the folks who have made an excellent living from plying this nonsense on radio, television, and in print.

Watch, read, and learn.

UPDATE: Speaking of dogmatic foolishness, there's this quote from Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

Bob strongly supports promoting access to affordable healthcare. He believes that expanding and improving health care coverage lies in market based principles, not mandating a nationalized system that restricts choices, limits options and diminishes quality.

Governors (And Candidates) Span Spectrum On Public Option Opt-Out

This statement is tripe on any number of levels, but perhaps the most basic fallacy is that "market principles" is just a feel-good term that doesn't really mean anything. There are no "market principles" in a market where everyone needs the product, and where that product must, almost of necessity, be available from only a small number of sources. Why the press doesn't ask politicians which market principles they're referring to, and don't let them get away with more nonsense, is an interesting question. As Ian discussed, the insurance market is anything but a free one, at least for consumers. To make things worse, in many cases the insurance is paid for by the patients' employers, who have their own motivations when buying insurance.

Unfortunately, American politicians are allowed to get away with bullshit like this, because journalists are often as badly educated as the public they're writing for.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Photo

Here's a picture I took this week at dusk on the BPA trail:

Image credit: Cujo359

Click to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Non-Surprise Of The Day

Here's a big surprise, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

Multiple sources tell TPMDC that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is very close to rounding up 60 members in support of a public option with an opt out clause, and are continuing to push skeptical members. But they also say that the White House is pushing back against the idea, in a bid to retain the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

"They're skeptical of opt out and are generally deferential to the Snowe strategy that involves the trigger," said one source close to negotiations between the Senate and the White House. "they're certainly not calming moderates' concerns on opt out."

This new development, which casts the White House as an opponent of all but the most watered down form of public option, is likely to yield backlash from progressives, especially those in the House who have been pushing for a more maximal version of reform.

Sources: White House Pushing Back Against Senate Public Option Opt Out Compromise

At least, it would be a big surprise if you weren't paying attention.

Petition Regarding Anti-Muslim Witch Hunt

People For the American Way (PFAW) are gathering signatures in an online petition. This is what the petition says:

Dear Congressional Leaders,

Reps. John Shadegg (R-AZ), Paul Broun (R-GA), Sue Myrick (R-NC) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) recently requested an investigation into Muslim congressional interns based on ridiculous accusations against the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest civil rights organization for American Muslims. It's despicable to make congressional interns targets of suspicion simply because of their religion or ethnicity. Further, the "evidence" these members cite comes from a book published by World Net Daily, which is perhaps one of the least credible media organizations in the country and routinely caters to the paranoid fantasies of some of America's most fringe elements.

This type of fear-mongering smacks of McCarthyism. I urge you to use your influence as a leader in your chamber and your party to stop any investigation which would further alienate and intimidate interns based on nothing but their religious beliefs or ethnic heritage.

PFAW: Tell congressional leadership to stand up to anti-Muslim fear-mongering

I wrote about this last week. To me, this episode has all the hallmarks of a witch hunt. It's important that Americans explain to their "leaders" that we don't want this kind of thing happening again in our country. If we don't, it probably will. Fear-mongering bigots never seem to tire of whipping up this sort of thing.

So, please, sign the petition.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bizarre Play Of The Day

Now, this is funny:

PZ Myers, a University of Minnesota professor, provides the color commentary:

It's disgraceful. During some football game, our mascot, Goldy the Gopher, mocked a player on the opposing team who thought it was appropriate to ostentatiously kneel down and publicly pray.

Now Goldy wasn't the disgrace (I have a new-found respect for our goofy guy in a costume), nor was the young lady who came out and gave him a fist-bump afterwards. Hooray for them! The guy making a show of his piety…yeah, he's a disgrace, but he's not on the UM team. No, the real disgrace is our craven PR flacks.

Minnesota spokesman Dan Wolter says the stunt was "plainly a mistake" and the mascot didn't intend to offend anyone or trivialize religion.

I call shenanigans. He was too trying to trivialize a religious ritual (although, admittedly, he wasn't trivializing it quite as much as the clueless goon who thinks the almighty ruler of the universe will help him win a game), and we like him for it. I think it ought to be a Minnesota tradition to point and laugh loudly at any player who thinks he gets holy credit with a deity for catching a ball.

Shame On The University Of Minnesota

Here's what's not hilarious, though. The team they're playing against is my alma mater, Penn State. Jeebus H. Crispies, do we grow 'em unsophisticated back in Penn's Woods.

In case you missed it, here's my view on this subject:

For the sake of argument, let's suppose that there are such things as gods.

Let's further suppose that there is one god.

Then lets suppose that this god is an entity with a personality - the sort of personality that leads him to prefer one group of humans out of all the others, help them escape from another group of people, and then help them slaughter all of their neighbors so they can have a place all their own.

It seems to me that with billions of galaxies in the universe, all of which have billions of solar systems, that this god just might be pretty busy. What do you suppose a busy, somewhat wrathful god would do for people who are always wasting his time with requests for stuff they could do on their own? [whiny voice] "Please help us get out of Egypt. Please watch over our friends and relatives, because we don't have time. Please don't let our planet burn up, because we don't want to stop emitting greenhouse gases."

Don't you think that, with perhaps millions of intelligent species to deal with, such a god might not decide that this planet needs a makeover?

Of all the suppositions I made in that argument, the one in the last paragraph is by far the least implausible.

Another God-Bothering Imbecile

I know at least a few Christians who are smart enough to know this, too.

So, just for the record, I don't resent Goldie's behavior. I certainly don't mind it if some UM professors find it funny. I'm offended that there are players on this Penn State football team who seem to feel the need to flaunt their religion in front of a stadium full of people and a television audience. I'm offended that, not long after I finished bragging on how well PSU is doing at the things that mattered, they seem to be trying to make us all look like fucking goobers.

It was hard to find an article that mentioned the game itself, the first page of responses to my query "Penn State University of Minnesota football score" were all about how the UM mascot had to apologize for the incident.

I suspect I'll be waiting for a long time for those two showboaters to apologize, won't I?

By the way, Penn State got the laugh that counted. They won, by a score of 20 - 0. So I guess that means our god can beat up their god, doesn't it?

In Which I Do The Washington State Democrats' Work For Them

Caption: Snow enough to build a snow bear (and puppy). This is an example of the local issues I usually cover.

Image credit: Cujo359

Today, I received another of those "send us money" letters from my local Democrats. What makes it interesting, in that bad sort of way that such letters are often interesting at this time in the election cycle, is this little bit:

From: "Dwight Pelz, Washington State Democrats"
To: Me
Subject: Re: The lies she tells...
Date: Oct 22, 2009 12:32 PM

There are 12 days left in this election, and Susan Hutchison will say anything to win.

In fact, she keeps lying to the voters in an attempt to hide her true beliefs and her right-wing ideology.
"I am non-partisan." The TRUTH - Hutchison has given over $15,000 to right-wing Republican candidates and causes including George W. Bush, Dino Rossi, and Mike Huckbee. There are no records of her contributing to any Democratic candidate.

On a women's right to choose - "I will uphold the law of the land" (Seattle Times 9/23/09). The TRUTH - Hutchison is on the Board of the Stewardship Foundation, a right-wing fundamentalist group that has given $425,000 to anti-choice causes since 2005. These include "crisis pregnancy centers" in Virginia and Pierce County, WA, and $105,000 to Americans United for Life, America's "oldest national pro-life organization." These organizations are trying to dismantle Roe vs. Wade.

Needless to say it goes on. This particular bit is interesting, because I'd never heard of this organization, and because there was no actual proof offered, even of the specific claim of $425k going to anti-abortion causes. The Internet provides all sorts of opportunities, via the technology of hypertext, for displaying one's proof. Yet there were no links provided in the letter that back up what the Washington State (WA) Democrats claim. I spent some time trying to do their work for them, and here's what I found.

It appears that Hutchison is a part of the Stewardship Foundation (TSF), which, its website says, was founded by David Weyerhauser to help Christian charities become more efficient:

Dave’s philosophy of giving was established early on (partly informed by his father’s disinclination to support capital projects), giving almost exclusively to organizations’ general operations. Concerned that some organizations might stray from their stated mission and goals, Dave followed his father’s encouragement, supporting operating costs rather than bricks and mortar. Part of Dave’s giving also related to his understanding of the Biblical principle of anonymity. He never allowed his name to be attached to a building or program in his lifetime, conducting philanthropy in a quiet and unassuming way.

The Stewardship Foundation: Our Founder

As an aside, I'll just say that this is one bit of true biblical wisdom - charity that's done anonymously, with no hope of any reward, is true charity. Of course, this also makes chasing down what the Stewardship Foundation is actually about a bit harder. As the man said, organizations don't always stick to their charters.

Speaking of which, TSF is listed as an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 501.c.(3) organization, which is a non-profit organization that does not try to influence politics. The website mentions many charitable causes that TSF supports, but if it were really about influencing politics, it would not be able to say so. As we'll see, it has sometimes had an effect on politics in the past.

Here's a screenshot of Hutchison from the board of directors page:

Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359

So this much is true, Hutchison is on the board of directors for this organization.

I haven't found any ties with the anti-choice movement, but here's a tie to the Discovery Institute, thanks to The Seattle Times:

Discovery Institute funders, including the Maclellan Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn., have open religious agendas. Another donor, the Stewardship Foundation of Tacoma, says it "provides resources to Christ-centered organizations whose mission is to share their faith in Jesus Christ." Its founder, the late David Weyerhaeuser, was also interested in science, [DI director Stephen] Meyer said.

Seattle's Discovery Institute Scrambling To Rebound After Intelligent-Design Ruling

The American Prospect adds:

And then there's Stephen C. Meyer, a Cambridge history and philosophy of science Ph.D. and anti-abortion Christian. Meyer has been described as “the person who brought ID to DI” by historian Edward Larson (who was a fellow at the Discovery Institute prior to its anti-evolutionist awakening). Seeking to institutionalize the ID movement, Meyer turned to timber-industry magnate C. Davis Weyerhaeuser, who was until his death a major funder of Christian evangelism in the United States through his Stewardship Foundation. According to Larson, Weyerhaeuser provided key “seed money” to establish the Discovery Institute's ID program.

Inferior Design

Both articles appear to be based on Meyer's claims, but I'll take that as some sign of a relationship. This report on the DI claims the amount the Stewardship Foundation gave the Discovery Institute was in the vicinity of a million dollars.

A website called Public Eye identified "The Stewardship Foundation (Washington)" as having given $75,000 to Focus On The Family (FOF), a group of right-wing nutjobs whose purpose in life is to associate their particular fears and superstitions with healthy family life. They gave FOF this money back in 1990-1992. There is another Stewardship Foundation in Washington, but that one was founded afterward.

One of the reasons I mention this other Stewardship Foundation is that there are quite a few organizations with that or a similar name. That's another thing to keep in mind when checking out this story. There's a Stewardship Foundation in Milwaukee that seems to be very active, also.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington (state) reports that Dave Weyerhauser personally gave money to the Citizens Alliance of Washington (CAW), an anti-gay initiative effort:

The largest individual contribution to WPAC was $20,000 from C. Davis Weyerhaeuser, a retired member of the wealthy timber industry family. The family operates the Stewardship Foundation, a charitable organization which donates to conservative Christian organizations.

The Religious Right in Washington

The mention of the TSF is the reason this article came up on my search, but it wasn't the organization that made that contribution. This donation was made back in 1994, which is prior to Hutchison's involvement on the board of directors (according to TSF's history (PDF), directors serve for a maximum of nine one-year terms).

In summary, there seems little direct evidence that the WA Democrats' claim that the Stewardship Foundation is anti-abortion. It might be, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that it is, but I see no evidence of it. One of the basic areas of interest it identifies is:

Children at Risk: Outreach and support of vulnerable children, protecting them from abuse and unfair treatment. Solutions and best practices which enable children to develop into the people God created them to be.

The Stewardship Foundation: Guidelines & Themes

Anti-abortion proponents do think of fetuses, no matter how immature, as children. But that gets into the dangerous realm of trying to interpret so-called "dog whistles", phrases that mean something to a particular group but seem innocuous to the rest of us. For all we really know, they could be referring to children of poor people who need vaccines, education, or shelter. In contrast to TSF's funding of the Discovery Institute, which is ostensibly an educational institute, funding anti-abortion causes could be viewed as a violation of its IRS tax-exempt status.

On the specific charge that TSF gave money to an anti-abortion group in Virginia, there would seem to be an even stronger case against believing this. TSF's Guidelines and Themes page also says this:

Domestically, grants are made to agencies that have a national impact except for local agencies serving the citizens of Tacoma, Pierce County, and the Puget Sound Region.

The Stewardship Foundation: Guidelines & Themes

I don't see how an anti-abortion "counseling" center, or whatever that place is supposed to be, is a thing that would "have a national impact". So, such a contribution would appear to violate their charter.

If the WA Democrats have a case to make here, I think it needs to make it. Just making accusations like this is not acceptable political rhetoric, at least not to me. It's another thing best left to the opposition. This is the age of the Internet. If they've done research to back up this claim, they can put a link to it in a funding letter. It's clearly more than a few hours of searching the Internet can turn up. If they don't have any such evidence, then they should shut up and stick to the facts.

[UPDATE: A scan of the WA Democrats' press releases and news articles turned up no articles on this subject.]

I'll just add that if you're tempted to make some criticism of what I've failed to locate here, then I suggest you check the local issues keyword of this blog. Most of what you'll find has to do with the Mariners (our local Major League Baseball team), pictures of things, and the occasional relationship local issues have to things I do cover. I don't typically do local issues. I'm in the position of being a typical voter here, just trying to sort out fact from nonsense in a short time. I have often cautioned people to be very skeptical of claims like this made just prior to an election. They are often hard to check out, and frequently turn out not to be true. That gives the WA Democrats extra reason to back up what they say with some proof. If they don't like what they're reading here, they need to do a better job of justifying their claims.

UPDATE: Besides the note about having checked the WA Democrats' home page for information, I also corrected the title of this article. Earlier, it had incorrectly identified the King County Democrats as the source of this letter.

UPDATE 2: A query of the FEC contributions query site confirms that Hutchison only gave to Republican candidates in quantities large enough to show up. Specifically, she supported George W. Bush, Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Mike Huckabee, Doug Roulstone, and George Nethercutt.

The grand total of that query was $8,250, not the $15,000 claimed by the WA Democrats' e-mail. It's possible, of course, that the rest is in smaller amounts, or is just not recorded as being from Susan Hutchison for some reason. As a sanity check, I put my own name in the query box, and it came up with no contributions. Over the years, I'd say I've given about a third to a half what Hutchison has given to Republicans to Democrats or independent candidates. I've just never given a large amount to any one candidate.

The records, in short, are a bit hard to query sometimes.

To repeat my query, just type "Hutchison" in the first box, "Susan" in the second, and then choose "Washington" from the list of states.

I replied to the e-mail, incidentally. Pelz, or someone in his office, replied but provided no new information. My guess is that they don't get the problem here. The response on the matter of campaign contributions was that they were a matter of public record. The public record appears to come up $6,750 $4,750 short of the WA Democrats' claim.

UPDATE 3: Oops, there were three "grand totals" on the FEC query. Added together, they represent $10,250. That makes the WA Democrats' claim off by $4,750.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Phillies Win Again

Image credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images - reduced to half size by Cujo359

For the first time in their hundred-plus year history, the Philadelphia Phillies have won the National League championship for the second year in a row, and will be going to the World Series. At the moment, it looks like they'll be facing the New York Yankees. The last time they did that was in 1950. It didn't go very well.

Let's hope this time is different.

Despite the score, it wasn't an easy win. Starting pitcher Cole Hamels ran out of gas in the fifth innning, and J.A. Happ and Chan Ho Park both had problems in relief. The Dodgers' pitching just had a worse time of it, and that was the reason for the score. The Phillies have what may be the most powerful lineup in baseball this year, and it doesn't take much going wrong for the score to look lopsided. First baseman (and NLCS Most Valuable Player) Ryan Howard has been hot lately, batting .355 in the post-season.

Hey, maybe I'll finally get to see them on TV.

The Day In Health Care

It's been an interesting couple of days for health care reform, and this is where I think we are at the moment:

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to get the best public option she thinks she can pass. At least, that's what Talking Points Memo is reporting:

It has been an epic tug of war, and at times, the pro-public option side seemed on the verge of being yanked into the mud.

But in recent weeks, as the health insurance industry further disgraced itself by rolling out the big anti-reform guns, and liberal leaders in both the House and Senate made it clear that they view the public option as an essential component of reform--one that serves voters' interests, and saves money--even if the White House isn't willing to put its full weight behind the measure.

It's in that context that Pelosi is running thiis public option endgame.

At last count, she's still eight votes shy of the crucial 218 she needs to pass a robust public option plan, though key players seem to think she has momentum on her side. If she can't whip up those last eight votes she'll likely have to revert and move ahead with a more modest public option--one that negotiates rather than dictates reimbursement rates. That would disappoint reformers and progressives in her caucus. But she (and they) will be able to say she pulled out all the stops.

Speaker Pelosi Throws Down The Gauntlet For The Public Option--Will She Succeed?

I've expressed some pessimism about Rep. Pelosi's abilities in the past. I've expressed rather a lot of it, in fact. At the moment, though, she does seem to be the most progressive of the Democratic leaders on this issue. At the moment, she's the only one who is openly championing a realistic public option.

Let's contrast with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to see why.

Senator Reid has apparently spent the last few days holed up with Senators Baucus, Dodd, and Snowe, not to mention White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The result so far? We'll get back to you:

With Senate Democratic leaders in intense talks over how to craft a final reform bill, the lukewarm view of the public option by many in the caucus is but one of a slew of differences Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must try to iron out if he is to win a filibuster-proof 60 votes.

Aside from the public option, lawmakers are worried about the expansion of Medicaid coverage. The proposed expansion would add billions to already strapped state budgets and it has sent governors into a panic. Reid has carved out a five-year exclusion for his home state and other Senators, including moderate Mary Landrieu, D-La., who opposes the public option, are demanding the same treatment, which in the end will increase the cost of the bill by billions of dollars.

Concern Over Details Complicates Health Effort In Senate

It appears that some Senators, like "Jello" Jay Rockefeller, are starting to say that an "opt out" option for states might be a thing they could support. Opt out sounds to me like a way for regressive states to screw their populations, but apparently giving the country even this much help is beyond the people who inhabit our Congress.

As usual, Reid is talking about 60 votes as if he doesn't have sixty Democratic Senators. You'd think there was no such thing as party loyalty on key votes.

You'd think that, at least, if you didn't know that this is, in all likelihood, exactly what the President wants, as Scarecrow points out at FireDogLake. First, he asks why Harry Reid isn't doing very well at leading the Senate on health care reform:

The question many health reform advocates have been asking about the public option debate is “what’s the problem”??? Why isn’t the President demanding it, pushing it, selling it? Well, maybe he doesn’t want it.

Why, given strong Congressional majorities in favor of a public option, continuing strong polling support across the country, and overwhelming support from Democratic voters, is Harry Reid treating the matter as though it were a close call?

To be sure, getting 60 votes for cloture is a challenge, but that is not the same as needing 60 votes for a public option, no matter how many times the media equates the two. Only 5 or 6 Senate Democrats are even opposed in concept. Yet not one of these holdouts has publically declared that he/she would join a filibuster to keep a public option from getting a simple majority-rule vote. Sen. Harkin correctly asks, why should these five be empowered to force over fifty to give in?

Why the White House Probably Doesn’t Want a Public Option

A good question. As you may have noticed, it occured to me, also. Scarecrow then goes beyond what I've achieved, and answers that question:

The Beltway conventional wisdom, steeped in cynicism, is that the White House is being disingenuous when it repeatedly says the President supports a public option. WH officials claim Obama believes it is “the best way” to provide an affordable choice and reduce costs. But then why is he not working to get it adopted in the Senate, and explicitly directing his OFA troops to help that effort? Why has he ducked every opportunity to make even the logical argument that the burden is on detractors to show there’s a better measure? No one has seriously attempted such a case.

In House and Senate leadership efforts to merge their respective bills, it’s curious that no one has noticed that House Speaker Pelosi does not seem to need the White House to tell her how to merge three House bills while improving them. But apparently, Harry Reid is not capable — or cannot be trusted — to merge two Senate bills without having Rahm Emanuel, Peter Orszag and Kathleen Sebelius present every meeting.

There’s nothing wrong with the Senate consulting with the White House about what they’re willing to push and pay for. But the White House told reporters that all the key decisions would be made by Harry Reid. So why are these senior White House people, including the man who sees himself as the center of the universe, there if not to tell Harry Reid what he can and cannot decide.

Why the White House Probably Doesn’t Want a Public Option

That is something that I've mentioned before. I find that I'm in the unaccustomed position of believing in conventional wisdom. By what he's done and what he's said, it's clear that Obama doesn't want a public option. He doesn't want anything that will drive insurers and other big medical lobbies to jump to the Republican side of the fence:

Why should we not also believe that the White House has a deal to shield insurers from competition by preventing the creation of a public option in exchange for the insurers agreeing to reforms on guaranteed issue and limited community ratings (with the flexibility Baucus provided) and to support this framework with tv ads? (Read Ignagni’s WaPo op-ed today; while defending the PwC study, she says they made a deal, but Baucus broke it; she didn’t say the deal’s off.)

The White House isn’t taking up most of the chairs in Harry’s Reid’s meetings just to watch him make decisions on his own. They’re there to make sure Harry Reid doesn’t undo the White House deals and wander off the reservation.

This President has filled the White House with people who have no inclination to pose any major challenge to the economic power of America’s dominant financial industries (GM being an exception). We’ve already seen this in their dealings with Wall Street investment banks and their too-big-to-fail is too-big-to-challenge approach to financial regulation. We’re seeing it now with efforts to shield the major health and insurance industries from any fundamental challenge.

Sure, there are changes being offered, new regulations being proposed, and more people will be insured than before. But there is no framework being laid for a new structure for how health care is delivered and paid for in America. That is the pattern of this White House, and there is little basis to expect otherwise.

Why the White House Probably Doesn’t Want a Public Option

It's well worth reading the rest of Scarecrow's article, and following the links. The proof of what the White House wants is in their actions, not their words. Not that I take much comfort in the President's recent words on the subject. Even they lack any real conviction. If he really wanted a public option, he'd have said he wouldn't sign a bill that didn't have one. He hasn't.

It's not the first time that President Obama has tried to pin the blame for his own pandering to special interests on the Senate. It won't be the last, I'm sure. It won't be the last, because there are still lots of folks who are willing to swallow this nonsense. When they finally figure out what's happening, I have some informative reading for them to consider.

Now, where's my grindstone?

Are You Kidding Me?

Image credit: Cujo359

Sometimes, you just have to ask yourself "What the fuck?":

On Oct. 6, the Senate passed an amendment that would guarantee rape victims employed by defense contractors a chance to take their case to court. The 30 Republicans who voted against it have been vilified. (See, for example, But the Department of Defense -- and, by extension, the White House -- also opposed the amendment. Why?
The department argued that it and its subcontractors "may not be in a position to know about such things," i.e., whether contractors employ the mandatory arbitration clauses. "Enforcement would be problematic," the note read, because contractors may not be privy to what's in their subcontractors' contracts.

Why Did The DoD, And The White House, Oppose The Franken Rape Amendment?

There's a whole lot of U.S. law that is difficult to enforce. Let's start with drug laws, which are filling our prisons with people who, for the most part, are less dangerous than the people they're replacing. We let record companies sue people who have no money for downloading music when, in some cases, they didn't know anything about it. We don't seem to have a problem with that at the congressional or presidential level.

I agree with the DoD's objection that this is really something that should be put into law for all employers in America, but it hasn't yet, and given how thoroughly bought and paid for Congress is right now, I'd say it will be a long time before that happens. Meantime, the employees of DoD contractors are often working in places where there is either little in the way of a court system, or where the actions of DoD personnel are subject to status of forces agreements (SOFAs). As ABC reported back in 2007:

Legal experts say [rape victim Jamie Lee] Jones' alleged assailants will likely never face a judge and jury, due to an enormous loophole that has effectively left contractors in Iraq beyond the reach of United States law.

"It's very troubling," said Dean John Hutson of the Franklin Pierce Law Center. "The way the law presently stands, I would say that they don't have, at least in the criminal system, the opportunity for justice."

Congressman [Ted] Poe [R-TX] says neither the departments of State nor Justice will give him answers on the status of the Jones investigation.

Asked what reasons the departments gave for the apparent slowness of the probes, Poe sounded frustrated.

"There are several, I think, their excuses, why the perpetrators haven't been prosecuted," Poe told ABC News. "But I think it is the responsibility of our government, the Justice Department and the State Department, when crimes occur against American citizens overseas in Iraq, contractors that are paid by the American public, that we pursue the criminal cases as best as we possibly can and that people are prosecuted."

Since no criminal charges have been filed, the only other option, according to Hutson, is the civil system, which is the approach that Jones is trying now. But Jones' former employer doesn't want this case to see the inside of a civil courtroom.

Victim: Gang-Rape Cover-Up by U.S., Halliburton/KBR

According to that same report, after State Department agents rescued Ms. Jones from the container she was held in, an Army doctor confirmed that she had been raped. The rape kit "disappeared" after it was given to KBR security people.

This isn't just some case of a crime victim getting added revenge through the civil courts. Suing KBR and its officials may be the only way she gets any justice at all. KBR was complicit in this woman's treatment after her rape. It deserves to be sued.

So why is there such an objection to this provision? Having to do things that ordinary companies don't have to is part of federal contracting, particularly at DoD. There are auditing requirements, including time card audits to make sure that employees are charging to the projects they should be. Does anyone worry about how enforceable that requirement is? Of course not. DoD enforces it the best it can.

Compared to that enforcing a ban like this should be easy. Just ask the folks who run the corporation to swear that they haven't required their employees to sign such a thing. Have them make all their subcontractors sign up to that, too. If they have any doubts about what their employees signed over the years, just have them all sign documents stating that they don't have to take such cases to arbitration. If it turns out the managers who sign those affidavits are lying, they can go keep the drug users company in jail.

Congress had no problem creating such a ban when ACORN employees were caught trying to aid a young man and woman who were pretending to be a prostitute and her pimp.

Oh, and hey, Congress, when you're through counting your campaign funds, could we have that law applied to the rest of our corporations, too?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interesting Questions

Last week, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams asked this about conservative radio personalities on his blog, and then answered his own question:

Talk show hosts have no legal or ethical obligation to do anything but entertain. And judging by their successes, [Rush] Limbaugh and [Glen] Beck are brilliant at their jobs. I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.

You could make a case that the things Limbaugh and Beck say influences the gullible masses in ways that are not helpful to society. But that's probably true of every pundit, left or right. It's a price of free speech.

Do you think that Limbaugh and Beck have the same views in private as they spray into the entertainmentsphere?


From the rest of his article, it's clear that Adams thinks the answer is "no", or at least, it would be no if they were speaking honestly.

Here's how conservative columnist, and former Bush speechwriter David Frum answered the question:

That question is easy: Yes of course Limbaugh and Beck express the same views in private as in public. Consistent hypocrisy demands exorbitant levels of imagination, energy, and cynicism. Much less exhausting over time simply to bring your private views into alignment with what you are paid to say in public.

Do Limbaugh and Beck Believe What They Say?

I find this answer a bit cynical, which probably explains something about the difference between progressive bloggers and conservative pundits. Still, I suspect he's mostly right. It's hard to believe that anyone who is smart enough to get where Limbaugh has gotten, or even someone like Bill O'Reilly (more on him in a moment), would believe all the nonsense they say week in and week out. Still, Stanislavski had a pretty good handle on how to be convincing, and that involves being at least somewhat convinced yourself. There's something in each of those guys that really is a right wing bigot, but how much is an open question.

Frum then upped the stakes, though, by asking this question, and then providing his own answers:

Let me put the thought experiment slightly differently however. Suppose an agent arrived in the offices of Limbaugh/Beck/Hannity/O’Reilly etc. with an offer. “I can guarantee you a deal that will pay you twice as much - bring you twice as much fame - and extend your career twice as long - if you’d say the exact opposite of what you are saying now.” Which of them would sign?

My nominations: O’Reilly accepts for sure. Beck likewise almost certainly says yes. Limbaugh would want to think it over, but would ultimately say no. Mark Levin: certainly not. Sean Hannity would need the offer explained a few times. Ann Coulter - that one puzzles me - but probably no. Roger Ailes? Do you even need to ask?

Do Limbaugh and Beck Believe What They Say?

Steve Benen answered this way:

I like this game -- and I laughed out loud at the Hannity analysis -- though I'm not sure about the conclusions. I agree that O'Reilly would gladly accept the offer. I'm less sure that Beck would take it; he seems more motivated by the voices in his head than financial rewards. I think Levin and Hannity would reject the offer, but I think the smart money is on Coulter accepting it. (Sometimes I think Coulter is actually a secret liberal doing some kind of performance art now, so the leap would be a short one.) Ailes, of course, wouldn't hesitate.

Thought Experiment Of The Day

I agree with both about O'Reilly, and I agree with Benen about Beck. The other folks I'm not so sure about. The problem is that they almost certainly know that being a lefty commentator isn't going to be profitable - Air America is a classic example of how that goes. With the possible exception of Beck and Hannity, they're all smart enough to realize that. In a way, they've all done this so long it's hard to see any of them changing. I doubt they would, but I think most would be tempted if they thought the offer was real.

What do you think?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why I Hate To Fly

If they ever need a visual aid for the phrase "wishful thinking", they can use this cartoon:

Image credit: xkcd

Having to restrain myself from pointing out things like this is one more reason that flying is more stressful than it was ten years ago.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Photo

One more picture of the Mercer Slough. This one is of part of the boardwalk that runs through much of the park. It's necessary because there are times of year in Washington where the ground never has a chance to dry out, and the slough is by definition a wetland.

Image credit: Cujo359

This photo was taken in early September. Click on the picture to enlarge.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Muslim Supervillians On Rampage!

Salem Witch Hunt Caption: Artist's conception of the Salem Witch Trials.

Image credit: Knowledge News

It's been a while since we had a good witch hunt in our nation's capital. It's not for want of trying on some peoples' parts, though:

Republican members of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus said the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have tried to plant “spies” within key national-security committees in order to shape legislative policy.

Reps. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), citing the book Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that’s Conspiring to Islamize America, called for the House sergeant at arms to investigate whether CAIR had been successful in placing interns on key panels. The lawmakers are specifically focused on the House Homeland Security Committee, Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee.

House Republicans accuse Muslim group of trying to plant spies

If the name of Trent Franks sounds familiar, that's because a couple of months ago I was praising his honesty. At the time, I mentioned that this acclaim probably wouldn't last long, and so here we are.

It's hard to find words for the contempt I feel for this sort of thing. There's nothing here but fear-mongering and bigotry, as Glenn Greenwald explains:

CAIR is a non-profit organization of American citizens who are Muslim and their "mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding." They stand accused of plotting to influence members of Congress and trying to help interns obtain positions in Congress in order to advance their political agenda. That's consistent with what virtually every political advocacy group in the nation does; it's normally called activism and democracy. But because, in this case, it's a group of Muslims who are doing this, these House Republicans are depicting it as some sort of nefarious espionage plot against the U.S. that demands a criminal investigation.

GOP House Members Call For Investigation Of Muslim Political Activity

[link from original]

CAIR had the temerity try to make it easier for Muslim-Americans to work as interns in Congressional offices. These are high school or college students who work in the congressional offices for a time, doing really high-level stuff like making copies and running things from one place to another. Along the way, they get to learn a little bit about how DC politics work. If they aren't totally turned off by that knowledge, it's possible they'll use it later, either in public service or in other fields.

Of course, a witch hunt wouldn't be a witch hunt without a ridiculously wide net, so suspicion will range further afield. Suhail Khan, a former staffer for President George W. Bush who experienced suspicion from his coworkers after 9/11, had this to say in an interview with Talking Points Memo:

Suhail Khan has seen this happen before. He was working as a senior political appointee for the Bush White House through Sept. 11, 2001, until this past January.

The same crowd of what he calls "professional bigots" -- people, he says, like Frank Gaffney and Dave Gaubatz -- have launched campaigns against specific Muslims working in the government, accusing them of terrorist sympathies.

The only thing different about the call by four House Republicans this week for authorities to investigate alleged "infiltration" of the Hill by Muslim interns, Khan told TPMmuckraker today, is that "they're not going after individuals by name."

Muslim Ex-Bush Official: 'Intern Spy' Hunt Threatens Careers Of Good Americans

Non-specific allegations have the advantage of being unnecessary to prove. All that's really necessary is to make the initial allegation, and then let the hyper-aggressive dimwits who are inclined to believe them find "suspicious" individuals to harass. It's worked in the past.

TPM's interview with Kahn concludes this way:

But he holds a charitable view of the lawmakers who have launched the "intern spy" campaign.

"Some perfectly well-meaning members -- Myrick, Shadegg, Broun, and Franks, who I've met and are good people -- have been really duped by this Gaubatz character."

Muslim Ex-Bush Official: 'Intern Spy' Hunt Threatens Careers Of Good Americans

I'll just quote from my article about Trent Franks:

Now, this guy is a dyed in the wool Republican. He went on to rant about how Obama was making America safe for abortion on demand and wasn't keeping it safe from jihadis.

Looking Stuff Up: Even Republicans Can Do It

That little snippet of conversation, which was almost at the end of this video, gave me the sinking feeling we'd be hearing from Rep. Franks again in less agreeable circumstances. I don't know if Franks really is a bigot, or he just senses that this is a subject he can use to exploit the fears of people who are. Whichever is the case, what he's doing now is despicable. He's more than lost his attaboy points.

Glenn Greenwald found this bit about Rep. Myrick:

Here's what Rep. Sue Myrick said in 2003 about the internal Terrorist threat:

In remarks about domestic security threats, Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte said, "Look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country". . .

Myrick’s comments came during a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation last week about what she called Americans’ lack of readiness to deal with future terrorist attacks. During a question-and-answer session, she spoke about danger within the country.

"You know, and this can be misconstrued, but honest to goodness (husband) Ed and I for years, for 20 years, have been saying, 'You know, look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country.' Every little town you go into, you know?" . . .

GOP House Members Call For Investigation Of Muslim Political Activity

Neither Franks nor Myrick sound like nice folks to me. They sound like bigots. Who in his right mind would worry about what people who are barely making a living can do while they're running a convenience store? Just what is it that the gentlelady from North Carolina imagines that they're accomplishing from there?

As an atheist, I take a pretty neutral view of religions. They're all a mixture of superstition and wisdom, with the emphasis usually on the former. Christianity and Islam are no exception. You could probably argue that having a majority of America belong to one of the more fanatical sects of Islam would be worse than our current situation, but I think that is true of some of the more fanatical sects of Christianity, as well. It makes little difference to me whether or not the majority of the country feels OK about consuming pork, or whether they use pews or prayer rugs when they're beseeching their gods to help them win a football game.So I have extra reason to wonder at the inanity of this.

Realizing that fearing American Muslims is foolish doesn't require such an insight, though. Not only are Muslims less numerous than Christians, Jews, and non-believers, but they haven't been in a position to affect much of anything that has happened in America. At this point, some raving lunatic would doubtless mention 9/11 as something they "affected". Of course, this person would have to be a lunatic, because not only were the 9/11 hijackers not Americans, their actual effect on us was small relative to catastrophes that have happened since. Did they lose the war in Afghanistan by getting us distracted in Iraq? Did they lose Iraq by not sending enough troops and not planning for the aftermath? Is it their fault that 45,000 of us are dying each year for lack of proper medical care?

Are these congresspeople, and the paranoid moron they drew inspiration from, seriously trying to tell us that a few Muslim teenagers who spend their days getting coffee for congressmen, and Suhail Khan from his powerful position in the basement of the White House could have made us do all that, and simultaneously make us ship our manufacturing base to China, allow a bunch of well-heeled crooks to loot what was left of our country, and then hire them to regulate what they hadn't looted? What sort of supervillian mental powers are these people supposed to have?

Muslims didn't fuck up this country. For the most part, Christians did.

Normally, I'd be reluctant to write another "me too" post about an issue that most progressives don't need to think very long about before they're revolted. This should be a no-brainer. The problem is, it's not. I don't see conservative politicians and pundits lining up to denounce this fantasy. If anything, the opposite is happening.

American influence in the world is waning, partly thanks to the stupid actions of the last three decades, but mostly due to things beyond our control. China, Europe, and India, probably in that order, will surpass us in their influence on world affairs. To make things worse, our economy is not going to get better for some time, thanks to the egregiously stupid decisions of the current Administration and the previous one. Whether it makes sense to or not, there will be a search for people to blame. If history is any guide, the people who are blamed won't be the ones who actually caused the problem. They'll be the 21st Century equivalent of the 1930s German Jews - people who haven't the power to stand up for themselves, and are just numerous enough to spend some time rounding up and persecuting. If we don't make it clear that this is unacceptable now, it's only going to get worse.

Montana Maven On Why We Fight

Caption: Rosa Parks, someone who mattered.

Image credit: Ebony Magazine/Wikimedia

Quote of the day from Montana Maven, regarding health care reform:

Looking backwards, change does seem slow for the cause of justice. But if Mother Jones or Eugene Debs or Sojourner Truth or Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King or Dr. Margaret Flowers had only looked backward and minded their “Ps” and “Qs” and waited for the promised land, women would still be wearing corsets and African Americans would still be at the back of the bus. Somebody should have told Jesus to sit down and shut up. “You know Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will eventually fall. So go eat some figs. You know we can’t get rid of these guys. We don’t have the 60 votes.”

No, without people who are impatient for change and who see justice as their sole guiding light who cannot sit down and shut up, there is no justice. These people cannot “circle the wagons” or “get in line” or all those other weasel phrases that are the bleats of a patriarchal sociopathic system that is in its death throes. Management speak, weasel words and cliches are like the bleats of the dumbass dinosaurs as they sink into the tar pits. Close your ears to them and fly high.

Throwing The Game

How much more needs to be said? Human progress never happens because people are willing to settle for what they have. It's a result of the people who aren't satisfied, the ones who want something better. That's true whether we're talking about science, technology, or human rights.

I added those links, by the way. Each leads to a biography on a website that either was inspired by the examples of that person, or a site that tries to inspire others based on that person's example. The link for Dr. Margaret Flowers leads to an interview she did with Ed Shultz, shortly after she was arrested for "disrupting" a Senate round table discussion on health care that didn't include any patient advocates. What those links should show is that these are people who mattered. The clowns who tell you to be happy where you are won't matter, at least, not in a way that will inspire anyone.

The next time someone says you should be happy with the slow rate of change, and be thankful for what you have, tell them that maybe if they feel that way, why don't they just be happy with what they were born with, and give the rest to us. If you want a multimedia exhibit for the phrase "pathetic rationalization", record the response.

Now, That's A Screensaver

Saw this over at Pharyngula yesterday.

The best way to play this is by hitting the HD button (do that after hitting the play button), and then running it in full screen. It looks like the world's best screensaver. Note that if you have a slow cable or DSL connection, this might take a while to load.

If you're on dialup, you're probably not going to enjoy it no matter what you do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Greenspan Comprehends The Obvious

Image credit: Afferent Input.

Apparently, it's never too late for an old "free market" economist to learn new tricks. Today, Bloomberg quotes former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as saying:

U.S. regulators should consider breaking up large financial institutions considered “too big to fail,” former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said.
“If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big,” Greenspan said today. “In 1911 we broke up Standard Oil -- so what happened? The individual parts became more valuable than the whole. Maybe that’s what we need to do.”

Greenspan Says U.S. Should Consider Breaking Up Large Banks

This isn't the first time that Greenspan has proposed an action regarding the banks that he probably would not have implemented as the chairman of the Fed, and his successor definitely will not. It also wouldn't be the first time that the Obama Administration ignored that advice and pressed on doing something stupid instead.

Ian Welsh wrote yesterday about just how stupid the government's actions are proving to be:

While I can’t say I predicted record bonuses this year, I and many others did predict that the bailouts wouldn’t get lending going again, because it was better for banks to keep the money on hand for buyouts and leveraged games, and many of them truly are massively impaired.

In other words, that the bailouts wouldn’t do what they were sold as doing—increase lending, was predicted. Repeatedly.

Not much we can do when the people in charge don’t listen to those with track records, and deliberately hire those whose track records suck.

Perhaps Record Bonuses And No New Lending Is What Obama Wanted

Maybe the title of Ian's article really is Obama's wish, but you really have to wonder what's going on in his head. His choice of economic advisors has been as abysmal as his choice of foreign policy advisors, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton.

Heck, when it comes to major economic trends, I have a better track record than these guys do. I was right once. In that article, by the way, I referred to myself as an "idiot savant economist" (with emphasis on idiot I suspect). Actually, I was right twice, if you count my musings here. Clearly, I'm not someone who should be advising a President, or anyone else for that matter, about the economy. Yet I could see looming problems these guys seemingly missed. There are far better people Obama could have surrounded himself with in this area. Yet, he has chosen to surround himself with the people who advise him to do the things his major contributors will like. Go figure.

If there's a ray of hope in all this, it's that Greenspan, at least, was able to overcome his prejudices about economics to reach this conclusion:

The former Fed chairman said while “just really arbitrarily breaking down organizations into various different sizes” goes against his philosophical leanings, something must be done to solve the too-big-to-fail issue.

“If you don’t neutralize that, you’re going to get a moribund group of obsolescent institutions which will be a big drain on the savings of the society,” he said.

“Failure is an integral part, a necessary part of a market system,” he said. “If you start focusing on those who should be shrinking, it undermines growing standards of living and can even bring them down.”

Greenspan Says U.S. Should Consider Breaking Up Large Banks

Which is certainly true. Businesses that are too badly run, or can't produce what their customers want, should fail. Otherwise, there's little point in having a free market.

This makes me wonder what Ben Bernanke will be writing twenty years from now about what we should have been doing. I hope he'll be writing how he finally considered the words of his predecessor, got off the phone with Goldman Sachs, and figured out what a pickle we're in. Unfortunately, Greenspan's example is instructive - he's only come out with these pronouncements after he didn't have to risk his job making them.

Let's just say I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Added the link to "what a pickle". It's an article by Ian Welsh that neatly summarizes where we are, and aren't, regarding economic recovery.