Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards, Number XXI

This article is post-dated so that it will be the lead article until March 1, 2010. Until then, new content is below.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Captain's Log, Jan. 31, 1808

Met with Admiral Hunter today to discuss the coming voyage. The goal is the same as last time, to seek out stupidity and ignorance, and suppress it with knowledge and thought. Unfortunately, there was a personnel issue.

As in, we seem not to have very many.

"What do you plan to do?", the Admiral asked. What did I plan to do?

"Fortunately, we've chosen Napoleonic times as our metaphor again, so I'll start by cruising the Blogroll Sea for new recruits."

"Ah, great idea! I knew I picked you for a reason. Now, how do you plan to find the enemy?"

"That never seems to be a problem. I can sit in my living room, and stupidity will find me."

"You don't get cable. How will you find Le Faux Nouvelle?"

"While I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the pirate metaphor, it might be helpful there. At least, if there were such a thing as cable television."

"Don't get carried away. Speaking of which, Captain, ..."

"Wait, I thought it was Commander last time."

"It was. Congratulations. Destroy my dock this time, though, and you'll spend the next cruise as a bosun."

Suitably briefed, I left the Admiral to attend to other matters.

Captain's Log: Feb 1, 1808

The new crew seems eager. The Blogroll Sea contains many treasures.

Maneuvers near the dock have been a bit of a problem. The new crew seems a bit unfamiliar with the procedure. Which, come to think of it, the old crew wasn't too good with, either. Why can't we choose a time period when ships have power?

Captain's Log: Feb. 24, 1808

Finally managed to secure ourselves to the dock again yesterday. After a brief respite, the Admiral came aboard and we set sail.

Image credit: Painting by Hofarts

No contact with the enemy today. The new crew is already bored. I suppose you can only play tag with a wharf for so long before it starts to get old. The crew got into a discussion about categories of political philosophies. There are many possible ones, of course, and in some instances people with widely divergent philosophies can agree on things. Ensign Lex, of U.S.S. Electric Worry, clearly feels kinship with more than one:

[I]’m a libertarian and so have adopted the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as my personal motto: “Don’t believe them, don’t fear them, don’t ask anything of them.” Them is you, the “look at me, I’m John mother fucking Galt” types. And it extends to all your political allies and lapdogs on the left and the right.

My friends, my family, my neighbors, the poor and the working class, with them i’ll share freely and happily…just like Jesus taught me. That’s the socialist part.

Next stop: Finlandskii Vokzal.

That sounds like a "progressive" to me, but then we progressives are always looking for new recruits, aren't we?

The mention of Jesus prompted Ensign Mary of U.S.S. Pacific Views to point out that religious beliefs are sometimes an excuse to screw people, not a reason to help them:

Recently the Atlantic published an article by Hanna Rosin about the role the prosperity gospel had in creating the financial crisis. In the piece she wrote that evangelical churches serving Latino and other minority communities have based their theology on the prosperity gospel.
Rosin shows that this underlying belief tied directly to the number of subprime loans that were made to communities under the Bush policy that tied the Ownership Society to the Faith-based Initiatives.

Revisiting Bush's Ownership Society

Christianity isn't the only religion that inspires this sort of behavior, as reluctant recruit Lieutenant Orac of U.S.S. Respectful Insolence noted. Apparently, believers in pseudo-scientific nonsense feel the need to spread it into disaster areas:

What the heck is that supposed to mean, "reestablishing communication," "reconnecting the nervous system"? It's faith healing, and faith healing doesn't do much good for broken bones, crushed spleens, fractured skulls, and severed spinal cords. Actually, it doesn't do much good for anything that can't be improved with a placebo. Yet, this is what Scientologists are bringing to the suffering masses in Haiti. As one of the real doctors snorted, "I didn't know touching could heal gangrene."

Bringing Woo to Disaster

Which just made me wonder yet again why expressions of atheism cause so much consternation to some people. Captain John Pieret, U.S.S. Thoughts In A Haystack had an answer to that one, or at least he'd read an answer he didn't give much credence:

It seems that religion fulfills for adults the role that Dungeons & Dragons fulfills for 8 year olds, like his son: it provides "enchantment."

Science and reason, you see, suffers from "the dullness, the flatness, the aridity of the evolutionary picture of how the world works," while religion caters to "our intuitive sense that something else, something more, lies behind and somehow all around the façade of ordinary material reality."

Dungeon Master God

Yes, I'm not buying that one, either. Admiral Hunter adds "What kind of moron do you have to be to think the explanation for something like this isn't fascinating?"

Captain's Log, Feb. 25, 1808

Once again, we see no sign of the enemy. A question came up as to what we should do if we found them. Ensign James Ala, of U.S.S. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Oscar, suggests that simply imprisoning them without trial can open a whole can of worms. He tells us a tale of a President caught in a bind thanks to such actions in a dark version of our future:

That legal limbo was incredibly effective. For almost eight years many detainees rotted in prison, with absolutely no legal recourse to speak of. Bush was able to run out the legal clock, and hand over Gitmo, as is, with no warranty, to Barack Obama. Candidate Obama thought he had the solution to the clunker he was given; President Obama soon discovered that there was no such easy solution.

The major problem for the new President was that some of the detainees were honest-to-goodness bad guys. They were men whose whole reason for being was to harm the government of the United States of America, and its citizens. They could not just be set loose to cause grave harm. Thanks to Bush and Cheney, they could not be tried either. No self-respecting court in the land would hear the case. Unlike John Yoo, real lawyers know what constitutes torture; they know what constituted a perversion of justice. They would have no choice to dismiss the charges, with extreme prejudice. They would have no choice but to release the detainees due to governmental misconduct.

Caught Between Scylla and Charybdis

The difference between, as he puts it, prudence and pragmatism is sometimes not a choice at all. Often, they are the same thing, as I observed about another practice in that dark future:

There is nothing about torture as an interrogation technique that makes it worth using. It will elicit whatever information the victim thinks the torturers want to hear. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it appears to have elicited nothing useful. The likelihood that what the victim says is factual is far lower than that it is not. The Bush Administration used torture to justify the Iraq invasion. It was recently revealed that at least one time when the terrorism alert level was raised, it was due to erroneous information obtained through torture.

Torture is unethical. Like most unethical practices, there's good reason for it to be unethical, besides the obvious. Unethical practices are generally stupid practices, at least in the long term, and torture is no exception. Its most frequent use in the last few decades has been to obtain false confessions or statements from enemy soldiers or civilians.

Another Sign Of The Fall

So, illegal imprisonment, torture, and cable piracy are out. I'm not sure what kind of pirates we're turning out to be, but living with that contradiction seems easier than other courses we could steer.

Captain's Log, Feb. 26, 1808

With a skeleton crew, we're concerned that we might run out of stories. To make matters worse, the rum rations are running low again. Before complete boredom can set in, we decided to make use of our pirate credentials and waylay a passing ship. She turned out to be the U.S.S. Pharyngula. PZ Myers, her captain, didn't seem overly impressed with our gravitas.

"You're the funniest bunch of pirates I've ever seen", he shouted at us.
Image credit: Composite by Cujo359

"What do you mean?"

"Well aside from the fact that your captain is a drunken Saint Bernard who's wearing a bunch of flintlock pistols, you don't seem to have the threatening behaviors down."

"Well, tell us a story, or we'll ... um, do something really nasty."

"Like, he'll try to dock his ship with you", the Admiral added helpfully. "Oh, and he's not drunk. He has rabies."

Not liking the sound of this, Captain PZ told us a cautionary tale about how it's not a good idea to let fools have the last word when it comes to education:

Stupid mothers are a problem. Craven administrators are a bigger problem. But when you've got a curriculum set by odious ideologues like Terri Leo, who would ban an author's name wholesale because she read a title like Ethical Marxism (no, she hasn't actually read the book, of course), you're in a whole wide new world of pain, in which your local school has become a temple to ignorance.

Stop Sitting There Reading This And Growl At Someone With Power

Take it from me, though. If you're going to growl, don't drool at the same time. People are far less likely to point firearms in your direction.

Speaking of which, Captain Pieret explained that you definitely don't want to leave science education up to the folks at the Discovery Institute. For starters, they don't seem to understand what "falsifiable" means:

On the further understanding that falsifiability is a necessary criteria for something to be science but not, in and of itself, sufficient to make a proposition scientific, falsifiability (or as it is generally called today to avoid confusion, "testability") is, at the least, a good first approximation of whether something is scientific or not.

Falsehoods About Science

Admiral Hunter said you don't want to leave education up to producers of science television shows, either:

All programs seem to suffer from the following three failings, no matter what channel they're on:

1. Everything's presented as a crisis. If they can't hype up the past crises (ZOMG, teh Permian Extinction!!1!11!), they hype future crises (ZOMG, 250 million years from now WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!11!1!! maybe). Even minor stuff is overblown - in the program I just watched, the future erosion of the Rockies into nothing more than hills was presented as some terrible possible future tragedy, rather than the inevitable consequence of pedestrian forces of erosion. Sorry, folks. All mountains are gonna die. Well-known geological fact. Geez.

The Failings of Popular Science Programming

The Admiral also had a list of suggested new books. While we were reading them, our quarry slipped away. Ah, well, I never liked calamari all that much.

Captain's Log, Feb. 27, 1808

We catch sight of the Charlatan Médecine, a prosperous looking man-o-war. Some of the crew have encountered her before, and offered warnings. "She's a bad one", notes impressed crewman Lt. Orac, "she'll suck the metals right out of ya, and won't lose a moment's sleep":

Imagine if you will, that a pharmaceutical company examined a chemical used for industrial purposes. Imagine further that the chemical this pharmaceutical company decided to look at originated as an industrial chelator designed to separate heavy metals from polluted soil and mining drainage. Imagine still further that that pharmaceutical company wanted to use that chemical as a treatment for autism, a chelator to be given to children. Finally, imagine that the drug company was giving this chemical to children without anything resembling any sort of competent preclincal testing or toxicology testing. Then suppose that, in order to avoid having to obtain FDA approval, the pharmaceutical company rebranded its chelating agent as a "supplement," using the DSHEA of 1994 to bypass any need for extensive clinical trial testing for safety and efficacy in order to be able to market this chemical directly to consumers. What do you think the reaction would be of the crew at Age of Autism and other anti-vaccine blogs?

I think I know. They'd scream bloody murder. That's what they'd do. And they'd be absolutely right.

Pumping autistic children full of an industrial chelator

"Aye," added Lt. Cmdr. PalMD of U.S.S. White Coat Underground, she carries at least a company of homeopaths, too. They're good at invading poor island nations:"

Tragedy can bring out the best and the worst in humanity. The Haitian earthquake has seen an outpouring money (the most needed type of aid) and other emergency aid. A few days ago I pondered what sort of quackery would emerge to fill a need that doesn't exist.

Homeopaths responded, of course, and while clean water is always needed, clean water that comes with a fairy tale is not.

Bad Touching

"Careful of her", Captain Pieret adds, "she's full to the gunwales with lawyers":

Dr. Steven Novella and Orac have noted that the doyen of the anti-vaccination movement, Barbara Loe Fisher (aka Barbara Loe Arthur), has brought a libel suit against Dr. Paul Offit, reporter Amy Wallace, and Wired Magazine, over the article "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All." Unfortunately for Fisher (and fortunately for those publicly supporting science against pseudoscience) the laws of libel in the US are not as easy to use as a weapon to silence criticism as those in Britain, which made the British Chiropractic Association's suit against Simon Singh so dangerous.

Some Laws Are Less Asses Than Others

Image credit: Painting by Michael Come. Found it here.

Despite the warnings, we engage her. Owing to the sickliness of her below decks crew, she proves an easier prize than we'd imagined.

It's nice to know that sometimes the legal system works to the benefit of the general population.

Captain's Log, Feb. 28, 1808

Our prize has slowed our progress, but we will be in port in another day. Meanwhile, Captain Pieret never seems to run out of tales of the foolishness of religious nuts who think they're scientists:

Ah, there's a new entry in creationism.

We've had regular ol' Biblical literalism ("God told us so"); creation "science" ("God told us so and let's see if we can mangle science to fit what we think God said"); and Intelligent Design ("God told us so and let's see if we can mangle science to fit what we think God said without saying God told us so").

Now we have Intelligent Construction[.]

Intelligent Construction 

"When there's no requirement to validate your story, the sky's the limit, I suppose", one of the crew ventured.

"You're not kidding", the Captain responded, which launched him into another tale:

[David] Klinghoffer quotes The Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah ben Bezalel Lowe) thusly:

Man stands upright, straight, like a pillar that is upright, which is not the case with any other being, as none of them stand up straight but rather all walk hunched over. And this is an indication of the [exalted] level of man, for man is king over the lower plane of existence, and all serve him....This is called the "image of God."

Maybe it's just me but it seems a little hard for an incorporeal being who is everywhere to have posture ... where exactly are his feet and how are they below his head, if he is everywhere? Oh, wait a minute! That "image of God" business is one of those thingies that theists use that sometimes we're supposed to take as metaphors, except when we're supposed to take them literally.


He has many such tales, but the foolish seem to provide constant inspiration.

Captain's Log, Feb. 29, 1808

Image credit: Alan Foxx

Thanks to this being a leap year, we reach home by the end of the month. After several attempts, we decide to not risk sailing to the wharf.

What with it being so warm, it's not such a bad day for a swim.

Afterword: Sincere apologies to all the writers who contributed to this effort for being so late with this. I think I've now set the record for tardiness.

Team Canada Takes The Gold

Caption: In the third period of the gold medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Team Canada is about to shoot at the Team USA's goal again. Team Canada eventually won in overtime, 3-2.

Image credit: Screenshot of NBC broadcast by Cujo359

It was fun to see hockey again. I get to do it about once every two or three years now. This was quite a game, and both the Canadian and American teams should be proud of their efforts.

Congratulations to Team Canada.

Sunday Photo(s)

From last summer, here are a couple of panoramas of Montezuma Well, in northern Arizona. The first is a wide shot of the place:
Image credit: Cujo359

Montezuma Well is an oasis in the northern Arizona desert. In the summer, it's a welcome piece of temperate real estate, particularly the portion near the outflow of the spring. The indigenous people of the area liked it, too. It is the site of many ruins of old stone dwellings:
Image credit: Cujo359

Some of those dwellings were a challenge to get to. Here's a look at some that were built along the wall of the well:
Image credit: Cujo359

These are somewhat visible in the first panorama, a little to the left of center. Here's a picture of the "back" of the well, where the spring flows out into the surrounding desert:
Image credit: Cujo359

Like I said, it's an oasis.

As always, click on the pictures to see a larger version. Have a good Sunday.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bad Political Shakespearean Theatre

I've largely ignored the whole health care summit thing. It struck me as likely to be bad political theatre, something I'm subjected to far more than my mental health can withstand already. The people who will be most affected by the decisions the government makes aren't there. What I didn't realize was that there was an additional dimension to that lack of inclusiveness, but Taylor Marsh pointed it out today:

I’m sick to death of seeing MEN, MEN, only MEN. Too many men pontificating about health care, way too few women. Women pay more for heathcare and get screwed more often than men. Epic fail. Optics suck. Both parties are pathetic in this regard. Tweeted here, after Twitter choked.

Liveblogging: Obama, Dems and Republicans, The Summit

So I guess you could say it's been bad political Shakespearean theatre.

UPDATE: That USA Today article included this quote, which pretty succinctly expresses my attitude about this thing:

"It's a Kabuki dance," Robert Schmuhl, a political scientist at Notre Dame and author of Statecraft and Stagecraft, says of the summit. "Throughout the day, participants talked past each other to such an extent that the 'summit' was closer to a molehill of familiar stump speeches."

At Summit, Parties Disagree On What's Next For Health Bill

This is what most political "discussions" and debates sound like these days. Anyone who tries to have a conversation is drowned in irrelevance.

UPDATE 2 (Feb. 27): Taylor has summarized the reactions of people on her mailing list to the summit. (My response is one of them.) It's amazing how often the phrase "political theatre" appears there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


While I've been writing, I've been listening to music, and this album's been on quite a bit. It's Magic, by Bruce Springsteen, and I don't think I'd ever really listened to it before.

Magic was released a couple of years ago. For those not familiar with him, Springsteen is one of the premier poets in rock. This album is one of his best efforts, I think. It certainly stands up well with Born To Run and Born In The USA. Magic is different from those albums in tone, though it resembles their style. In contrast with the youthful theme of Born To Run in particular, it's clearly written by someone who has lived long enough to think of soldiers who go to war in Iraq as kids, as he does in "Last To Die". "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" captures perfectly what it's like to find yourself a man alone in middle age. Like "She's The One" for young men, it captures that feeling as well as anything. "Gypsy Biker" is a great tune - I'm surprised it didn't get much air play.

The album's definitely worth a listen. It's available for download, of course, and you can also buy it in that outmoded format if you prefer. You can listen to short clips of the songs at the album's website.

Climate Change Update

Image credit: Cujo359

This is the cherry tree I photographed a week ago. As you can see, it's in full bloom, at least a week ahead of the earliest I can remember seeing these blossoms. Over at Two Ton Green Blog, Suzanne reports that the daffodils are up as early as she's ever seen them, and she used to live in California.

As anyone who has been watching the Winter Olympics is probably aware, this has been one of the warmest winters ever in this part of the world:

The Pacific Northwest Canadian city[,] which will host the games from today through February 28, 2010[,] just experienced its warmest January since record keeping began in 1937. Temperatures averaged 44.8 degrees Fahrenheit (7.1 degrees Celsius), considerably warmer than the average of 37.9 degrees Fahrenheit (3.3 degrees Celsius). Average February temperatures for Winter Olympic host cities are typically below freezing.

Vancouver 2010 to Be Warmest Winter Olympics Yet

It's just as unusually warm on this side of the border:

SEATTLE -- It's the worst-kept surprise party in Seattle -- the city officially set a record for the warmest January on record.

The average temperature was 46.97 degrees -- toppling the record of 46.56 degrees set in 2006, and a full six degrees above the normal average of 40.9 degrees. In fact, it's even warmer than a typical March! (which has an average temperature of 46.2 degrees.)

January Was Warmest On Record In Seattle

It's looking to be one of the warmer Februaries, too.

Last month, various Fox "News" personalities suggested that Al Gore and all those climate scientists don't know what they're talking about because it was snowing back East. That would certainly imply that those Fox "News" clowns don't know what they're talking about either.

The same "logic" certainly applies.

Afterword: Yes, I keep harping on this. Rank stupidity deserves to be called out, particularly when it endangers those of us who aren't too stupid to listen to the people who study these things, instead of ridiculing them for telling us things we don't want to hear.

What's Up With Health Care

So, you've probably been wondering, what's going on with health care? I think I can describe what's happening with a paragraph.

The President and the people who matter, none of whom are the liberals or progressives who object to it, got together and decided that since there was a big defeat recently that might have had something to do with health care, they should pass the bill that the voters didn't like. There was more polling this week that suggests that the key provisions of the "compromise" bill, which is mostly the Senate bill with minor changes [two links], are things that voters will punish Democrats for at the polls this year.

Meanwhile, the usual crowd of frothmouths is saying that the new bill is a wonderful piece of legislation worthy of our undying support. No doubt these same fools will be lambasting voters (and blaming progressives) come November when they turn out Democratic congressmen in large numbers. They'll blame everyone but themselves for their foolishness, as will the Democratic politicians they are trying to impress.

Well, that's two paragraphs, but you get the idea. As you can see, there's not much to write about, at least not much that hasn't been written already.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

This is another picture of Panther Lake. I took this on Wednesday. This is the north end of the lake, looking east. There's a trail that goes all the way around the lake. This panorama was taken a little way down the trail from the previous ones.
Image credit: Cujo359

This lovely lady is Simone Simons, of the symphonic metal band Epica. I saw them last Sunday.
Image credit: Cujo359

If you're wondering what symphonic metal might sound like, its instrumentals are a cross between the old hair metal bands of the '80s with some symphonic elements. The description probably doesn't help much, but then that's been the case with most bands that have tried to meld rock and classical music. Simons has a wonderful voice. If you check the Wikipedia entry on Epica I linked to, you'll note that one of the band credits is "rhythm guitar, grunts, sceams", which is a pretty accurate description of some of the accompanying vocals. It's an interesting sound, and fun to listen to. I'm not sure I'd want to make a steady diet of it, though.

As you can see, some of the visuals were very nice.

If you want to see more of Epica, there are more of my pictures at Dana Hunter's blog.

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a nice Sunday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Robert Reich wrote this over at his new blog today:

I heard about Evan Bayh’s decision to leave Congress because he felt it was becoming too partisan. The real problem isn’t partisanship. Bold views and strong positions are fine. Democratic debate and deliberation can be enhanced by them.

The problem is the intransigence and belligerence that has taken over Congress and much of the rest of the public — a profound distrust of people “on the other side,” an unwillingness to compromise, a bitterness and anger disproportionate to issues being discussed.

Anger makes good television, but it’s fake and it teaches Americans the wrong lessons. Anger also can win elections (Senate Republicans haven’t given Obama any votes because they’ve been eyeing the 2010 midterms since he took office, hoping for a rerun of 1994), but partisan anger is just as fake, and it undermines the capacity of our democracy to do the public’s business.

A Thought on Evan Bayh and Partisan America

I believe that Reich is referring to the anger that we see on the news shows and in speeches by politicians, as well as the political tactics of the last few years. In that case, I think he's right.

But there is definitely real anger out here in America. It's not the exclusive province of either the right, the left, or the folks in between. It's rooted in what's been happening in the last couple of decades - the diminished prospects, followed by a troubled economy, wars we aren't winning and probably shouldn't be in, and growing anxiety about how we can get by. Those are things most of us feel out here, it's just how we think they can be remedied that separates us.

The problem is that there are no solutions coming out of that fake anger Reich is writing about. Reich is correct - there's nothing wrong with partisanship, as long as it's honest support for differing ideas about how to shape our society. The current debates, unfortunately, are about as genuine as professional wrestling. Democrats have spent most of the last three years trying to convince us that they're powerless to do anything about how the government works, even though they've been in charge of at least one branch of it during that time. Republicans seem to have given up making even the flimsiest pretense of actually wanting to work on the issues. Our government is dysfunctional because the the leadership of both parties like it that way, at least compared to the alternative of trying to make things work.

The longer that situation continues, the more the rest of America will look like what it sees on its news shows.

To All The Climate Change Deniers

Image credit: Cujo359

See this cherry tree? I took this photo today. There are blossoms already. This thing will probably be in full bloom before March arrives. When I first moved to this area eighteen years ago, this was happening in mid-March, not mid-February.

This has been one of the mildest, if not the mildest, winters I've experienced in the Northwest. It followed one of the hottest summers. It might be cold on the East Coast at the moment, but it's warm out here, and has been for some time.

So, the next time you want to call people who are warning you that the world is warming up stupid, or shrill, just because it happens to be cold and snowy where you are at the moment, I suggest you think about the cherry blossoms. Out here. Then contemplate what "average" means.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No One Talks About Tautology Club

No one talks about Tautology Club, and can you blame them?

XKCD comic 703

Only In America

Waterboarding in the Middle Ages, which is where it should have remained.

Only in America, or more specifically, the dark version of America we've been living in the last few years, can a former Vice President go on TV and confess to having ordered criminal acts with no possibility of consequences, as Dick Cheney admitted in an interview with Johnathan Karl Sunday:

KARL: ... waterboarding, clearly, what was your...

CHENEY: I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques that...

KARL: And you opposed the administration's actions of doing away with waterboarding?


Transcript: "This Week" Feb. 14, 2010 (pg. 3)

Both Andrew Sullivan and Scott Horton make a convincing case that Cheney confessed to a war crime on national TV. But, as Glenn Greenwald observes, it's highly unlikely Cheney will ever have to pay for his crimes:

In general, people who commit felonies avoid publicly confessing to having done so, and they especially avoid mocking the authorities who fail to act. One thing Dick Cheney is not is stupid, and yet he's doing exactly that. Indeed, he's gradually escalated his boasting about having done so throughout the year. Why? Because he knows there will never be any repercussions, that he will never be prosecuted no matter how blatantly he admits to these serious crimes. He's taunting the Obama administration and the DOJ: not only will I not hide or apologize, but I will proudly tout and defend my role in these crimes, because I know you will do absolutely nothing about it, even though the Attorney General and the President themselves said that the act to which I'm confessing is a felony. Does anyone doubt that Cheney's assessment is right? And isn't that, rather obviously, a monumental indictment of most everything?

Dick Cheney's Taunting

Of course, if they give time off for chutzpah, Cheney has nothing to worry about. Even I can figure out that President Van Pelt isn't going to prosecute Cheney if he can avoid it. That would be like looking backward or something. I suppose at this point the only thing stopping Cheney from confessing any further is how quickly he gets bored by the same conversation.

Despite the extraordinary event of having a former Vice President confessing to multiple felonies on national TV, the biggest crime news is the continuing obsessive coverage of Amy Bishop, the apparently deranged woman who shot six of the people who rejected her professorship at the University of Alabama. Cheney's interview didn't even rate a mention on Talking Points Memo, a site that generally prides itself in dredging up any GOP-related scandals. It's pretty clear our "news" organizations aren't too interested in reliving the past, either.

Just makes you proud, doesn't it?

Haiti Relief Continues

Caption: GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (Feb. 2, 2010) The amphibious dock-landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) takes on humanitarian supplies at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay is a logistical hub providing support for Operation Unified Response, a humanitarian assistance mission following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist John K. Hamilton/Released)

Image credit: U.S. Navy

An old friend e-mailed me yesterday. Among other things, she said her daughter's ship, the U.S.S. Ashland, is about to deploy to Haiti to continue with relief efforts. It's been a month since the quake hit, but the relief efforts are continuing. Ashland's sister ship, the U.S.S. Gunston Hall, left the area last week:

The Whidbey Island-class dock-landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) departed the waters near Carrefour, Haiti, Feb. 12 after providing humanitarian assistance to the Haitian people as part of Operation Unified Response, following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Caribbean island Jan. 12.

Gunston Hall arrived off of the Killick Haitian Coast Guard Base Jan. 18. The crew, particularly the ship's hospital corpsmen, along with the embarked international Africa Partnership Station (APS) West staff, linked up with U.S. Coast Guard units and other U.S. Navy units already in the area and assisted with stabilizing conditions at the base and providing medical assistance to those in need. They were eventually joined by members of Joint Task Force (JTF) Bravo's medical element, deployed from Honduras, and members of the navies of Mexico and Colombia.

Gunston Hall Completes Mission in Haiti

Both ships are dock landing ships, which carry both helicopters and amphibious craft. Ashland is part of the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group (NAS ARG), which is carrying the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU). In a country with as little infrastructure as Haiti has, these are valuable assets, because they can deliver large amounts of relief supplies quickly. They also have large hospitals for dealing with battlefield casualties, so they can provide medical services:

An amphibious ready group traditionally deploys with robust medical capabilities, and the NAS ARG/24 MEU is no exception. The medical personnel and facilities aboard the three ARG ships will join the medical efforts already in place in the region to provide vital medical treatment to those in need in Haiti.

Nassau Amphibious Ready Group, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Bound for Haiti (PDF)

Altogether, these units include more than 4,000 sailors and marines. They are part of an even larger fleet that is currently supporting Haitian relief efforts.

They, and many other military and civilian organizations from around the world are continuing the work of providing shelter and helping to rebuild Haiti's infrastructure. The latter effort will take many months, and could prove the costliest natural disaster on record, as Reuters reports today:

The cost of rebuilding impoverished Haiti after last month's catastrophic earthquake could reach nearly $14 billion, making it proportionately the most destructive natural disaster in modern times, economists at the Inter-American Development Bank said on Tuesday.

Their study, which takes into account the magnitude of the January 12 disaster, the number of fatalities and Haiti's population and per capita GDP, raises previous damage estimates from the quake to between $8 billion and $14 billion.
The IADB study said the Haitian government had reported 230,000 dead as of February 10.

"While the results are subject to many caveats, the study confirms that the Haitian earthquake is likely to be the most destructive natural disaster in modern times, when viewed in relation to the size of the Haiti's population and its economy," the IADB economists said.

Haiti reconstruction cost may near $14 billion: IADB

Just to put that 230,000 in perspective, the city I live in has a population of 85,000. That's almost three full Federal Ways, or more people than live in Tacoma.

If you want to help, there are still Haitian relief fund at The Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (link to their donations page) is still working there, as this report from their site mentions:

Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, president of Médecins Sans Frontières-France, who recently returned from a field visit to Haiti, analyses the situation there one month after the disaster. At present, areas of concern include the vacuum caused by the withdrawal of some of the international medical teams who rushed to scene after the earthquake, the ongoing lack of shelter, and the slow pace of aid distribution.

One month after the earthquake, what is the situation in Haiti?

The extent of the destruction that I observed in the field is very unusual. This disaster leaves a profound impression even on those with prior experience in natural disasters, even after seeing the images over and over. In some places, families are living in the rubble of neighborhoods that have been completely destroyed. In other areas, the buildings still standing seem to be very unstable and dangerous. According to the United Nations, approximately 500,000 displaced persons have moved to more than 300 resettlement sites in the capital, but this is just part of the problem. We are talking about a capital city of 2.5 million people where almost no one is sleeping under a roof at this point.

Haiti: "We are not out of the emergency phase yet"

[Italics from original]

With much of Haiti's principal city in ruins, and millions homeless, it's clear that this work is going to continue for a long time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On Comments

I spend a lot of time commenting at other blogs, perhaps too much. It seems like the thing to do somehow, at least if I have anything to say. As readers have probably noticed, I usually respond to comments here, once again assuming I can think of anything to write. These are my own personal preferences, of course, and I'm not trying to insist anyone else follow them.

On the other hand, I've been asked recently by someone to engage in some sort of debate about things I've written here. My response was, and is, that if anyone has a problem with something I've written here, there's a comments section. That's what it's there for. It's not just there to say nice things to me or wish me a nice day (although I appreciate the gesture). It's one way of correcting error. Hopefully I'll catch an error before a reader does, but occasionally you do. No one needs to ask permission to do that.

If you feel something I've written is wrong, but it's mostly a feeling, tell me why you feel that way. What experience or reading leads you to that belief?

Being able to discuss an article is one of the big advantages of hypertext. I try to make as much use of that ability as possible.

There are four rules I apply to comments here:

First, please avoid really long comments that repeat something written elsewhere. A link and a summary will do fine, thank you. Be creative.

Second, it's best to be substantive, particularly if you disagree with something I've written. Just calling names and leaving it at that won't work here. For an excellent example of how to do this, although not of how to follow the first rule, read the comments here. Personally, I think this person is a crank, but he made substantive points, and someone reading that article might be interested, so he stays.

Third, don't pretend to be someone you're not.

Finally, spam is not permitted here. There are many forms of spam, but one that's shown up here recently is in the form of a basically meaningless comment followed by a link to a commercial website, say something about credit. Such links will be deleted, and if they persist, the commenter will be reported to Blogger.

A Brief Review Of The Rules

Any violation of these rules will result in removal of a comment. Short of that, though, just about anything is permissible. In all the time I've been blogging here, I don't think I've removed more than a dozen comments. Most of them were spam.

I have a somewhat deserved reputation for being harsh toward people who make comments I consider to be stupid. The reality, I think, is that I'm harsh towards criticisms that display both stupidity and arrogance. The latter, I think, is one of the leading causes of the former, and my instinct is usually to beat that arrogance back to more manageable proportions. One thing you won't develop in my presence is an overly large ego. So, if you're going to insult someone, either directly or by condescending comments, you'd better have some good reasons. I can't recall having ever treated a civil comment badly, regardless of how foolish I thought it was, and certainly try to do the opposite.

If you don't have anything to say or don't want to discuss something, that's fine. But there's no reason anyone needs to ask permission to post a comment disagreeing with something I've written.

Good Bayh And Good Riddance

Talking Points Memo has lots of details, but it appears that the Senator from Wellpoint, Evan Bayh, will be leaving to spend more time with some lobbying firm or another:

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) just officially announced his retirement from the Senate, with a clear message: He doesn't like Congress.

"For some time I've had a growing conviction that Congress is not working as it should," said Bayh. As a prime example, he referred to the recent filibustering of legislation to create a bipartisan fiscal commission. What particularly bothered Bayh was that it was defeated by Senators who had previously been co-sponsors of the measure itself, but then blocked it for what he described as political reasons.

"To put it in words I think most people can understand, I love working for the people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives," said Bayh. "But I do not love Congress."

Bayh: 'I Do Not Love Congress'

Much as I dislike his politics, Bayh has a point. The Senate has been the world's most dysfunctional body lately, thanks to nonsense largely, but not entirely, contributed by Republicans. It seems odd that someone with Bayh's conservative politics would be pointing this out, and making of point of not telling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he was leaving before he told President Obama. Clearly, progressives aren't the only ones dissatisfied with Reid's leadership.

Still more oddly, it was Bayh who pointed out that it would be possible to add a public option to the Senate health care "reform" bill during reconciliation. Yet he was, in general, a fierce opponent of any real health care reform.

Of course, Bayh has never been troubled by the naked conflict of interest his wife's employment on the board of directors of Wellpoint, a leading health care insurance corporation, represents. His opposition to many real health care reform proposals could easily be explained by this financial incentive alone.

Bayh waited until a few days before the filing deadline for the 2010 primary to make this announcement. It almost seems as though he's trying to make it easier for a Republican to win his seat. So whatever good Bayh may be trying to accomplish by criticizing the deadlock in the Senate, it's overshadowed by his fecklessness in not giving his own political party more time to organize a primary.

UPDATE: This quote from Josh Marshall seems to put Bayh's decision in perspective:

Saying Washington is broken and getting a few shout-outs from the Broder gang is almost de rigueur for middle of the road senators, especially Democrats, when they retire. And it's hard to disagree with the judgment in general. Watching what's happened over the last year it's hard not to believe that something is fundamentally off-kilter in our national government -- just not, I think, what Bayh thinks it is. I think the most generous read of Bayh's decision is simply that he was bored. He just said that his decision was in part because he was "an executive at heart," which is probably a very honest explanation. He just preferred being governor. And that's fine. It's another way of saying he was bored.


Bayh had visions of running for President, and did so in 2008, but he had absolutely no success. My guess is that he felt frustrated, and decided that some executive role somewhere would be more to his liking.

I just hope he finds one that won't involve national office.

UPDATE 2: It turns out that there is one Democratic candidate who has been gathering signatures for a primary run:

Indiana Democrats appear to be on a course to name a candidate for Evan Bayh's Senate seat, given the high unlikelihood that another candidate could successfully file the necessary ballot petitions with the state this week in order to enter the primary. But, there is in fact at least one other candidate besides Bayh who was already seeking to get on the ballot.

So, how is Tamyra d'Ippolito, a cafe owner in Bloomington, doing with collecting the 500 petition signatures in each of the state's nine House districts (a requirement that Bayh's campaign had already fulfilled, according to Democratic sources and published media reports)? The deadline to complete the filing process is this week.

Another Dem Already In Race For Bayh's Seat -- But Doesn't Have The Needed Signatures Yet

I don't know much about this woman, other than that the Indiana Democratic Party doesn't seem to want her in the race. To me, that's some good evidence that she'd be more progressive than whoever the IDP's picked candidate will be. In a diary at FireDogLake, t0dd explains:

We need a real Democrat like this in the Senate. If she can somehow gather enough signatures by tomorrow, another worthless blue dog like Bayh won’t be the candidate. You do not need to be in contact with the campaign to get signatures. Just print this form [(PDF)], get signatures of registered voters on it, and get it turned in to your county clerk’s office by noon tomorrow.

Tamyra d’Ippolito: a last minute push to replace Evan Bayh with a real Democrat

Anyone who lives in Indiana and is interested in gathering signatures is encouraged to do so. Having a choice is good. "Tomorrow", incidentally, is Tuesday, February 16.

UPDATE 3: Nate Silver makes the point that, while his voting record was very conservative, Bayh's voting record was moderate given what state he was from. Not quite the way he put it, but that's the gist, I think.

I'm rather skeptical of this sort of ranking. Purely in terms of what he's done for the average American, Bayh is little different from the average Republican (a conclusion that appears to be supported by the graphic in Nate's article). Like GOP claims that whoever they're facing at the moment is the Congress's number one liberal, this strikes me as a claim with little substance. It's nice that we got something out of Bayh that we might not have had he been a typical Republican, but we sure didn't get anything useful, near as I can tell.

Terrorism's Effect On America

Caption: America confronts terrorism

Over at Tom's Dispatch, Tom Englehardt writes what I've been feeling about terrorism and its effect on the United States:

Fear has a way of re-ordering human worlds. That only a relatively small number of determined fanatics with extraordinarily limited access to American soil keep Fear Inc. afloat should, by now, be obvious. What the fear machine produces is the dark underside of the charming Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue,” in which Manhattan looms vast as the rest of the planet fades into near nothingness.

When you see the world “from 9th Avenue,” or from an all-al-Qaeda-all-the-time “news” channel, you see it phantasmagorically. It’s out of all realistic shape and proportion, which means you naturally make stupid decisions. You become incapable of sorting out what matters and what doesn’t, what’s primary and what’s secondary. You become, in short, manipulable.

This is our situation today.

Hold Onto Your Underwear: This Is Not a National Emergency

Make no mistake - the terrorists have won. They persuaded Americans to throw away their freedoms and their values with hardly any fight at all. Nothing the current President has done has changed that one bit.

We're stuck in our own Dark Age, where torture and violating our Constitution are OK in the hope that we will be infinitesimally safer from a small group of religious fanatics half a world away. I hope it's a short one, but I'm afraid correcting this will take more. It will probably take enough time for the fearful and stupid among us to die out and be replaced by reasonable people who are somewhat used to the idea that we live in a universe full of dangers, and that the best way to avoid them is to keep our heads.

I doubt I'll live to see that day.

Englehardt's essay is worth reading in its entirety. It puts the last ten years in perspective as well as any I've read.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Photo

From a walk I took there last June, here's a panorama of Lake Washington from the University of Washington's Arboretum. It's a view of Union Bay, with Laurelhurst in the background, looking east. Off in the distance, the Cascade Mountains are just barely visible.
Image credit: Cujo359

Just the thing for what is probably a dreary day. Click on the picture to enlarge.

Happy Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day again. In some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, including mine, it's beginning to look like Spring, which makes it a day when hope springs eternal:
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Enjoy your Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How Can We Miss You ...

How can we miss you when you won't go away?
Image credit: Bob Collins/Minnesota Public Radio

The Obama Administration resembles the Bush Administration more every day, and yet there are people in America who, it appears, miss having an inarticulate thug as the leader of their country:

A little more than a year has passed since the Bush administration limped into the history books. The legacies of the Bush era include two wars, financial collapse, Guantanamo Bay, a nationwide housing market disaster and economic dysfunction. But memories are short – so let the revisionism begin, via an advertising billboard.

Next to a highway outside Minneapolis, a billboard appeared (pictured, above) with the familiar smiling features of America's 43rd president, and the headline: "Miss me yet?" Time passed without anyone owning up to funding the billboard's appearance, and the mystery deepened. For obvious reasons, many people thought it was a joke.

Missing George Bush Yet?

Just as there were people in the former U.S.S.R. who were nostalgic for Josef Stalin, who may have managed to murder more of his people than Hitler did, there are people who long for the "good old days" here of bombing or invading any small country that pissed us off, and when it really was OK to hate people who were different from you.

Someone is conducting an online poll in which roughly 25 percent of the respondents say they miss Bush and his "certainty". (NOTE: It will be open for another day or so.)

Don't worry, folks, those days will be here again soon enough. The economic collapse your hero and his enablers engendered will be here for a generation thanks to Obama's cluelessness, and we'll probably be ruled by a string of tinpots until enough Americans learn to pay attention to what's important.

I don't miss George W. Bush, largely because his work endures.

(h/t P.Z. Myers)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Just In: 55 Percent Of America Is Smarter Than David Broder

Washington Post columnist David Broder clearly knows less about what makes a satisfactory leader than half of America. Glenn Greenwald supplies the background:

Today, Broder pens a gushing love letter to Sarah Palin -- decreeing that we must "Take Sarah Palin seriously," admiring her "pitch-perfect recital of the populist message," and warning that she will be difficult to stop as a major political force -- on the very same day that his own newspaper published a poll reporting that Palin's "political standing has deteriorated significantly"; that "fifty-five percent of Americans have unfavorable views of her, while the percentage holding favorable views has dipped to 37, a new low in Post-ABC polling"; that "there is a growing sense that the former Alaska governor is not qualified to serve as president, with more than seven in 10 Americans now saying she is unqualified, up from 60 percent in a November survey"; that "even among Republicans, a majority now say Palin lacks the qualifications necessary for the White House"; and even that "Palin has lost ground among conservative Republicans," as "forty-five percent of conservatives now consider her as qualified for the presidency, down sharply from 66 percent who said so last fall." Could Man of the Regular Folk David Broder possibly be any more out of touch with the Regular Folk?

Today In The "Liberal Media"

[links and bold emphasis from original]

I think David Broder is out of touch with many things, including regular folk who happen to be conservative. The idea that Sarah Palin is an ignorant, arrogant, and feckless politician is one that even the people who are likely to agree with her politics clearly understand. She has no demonstrable talents save for the ability to look photogenic and to schmooze people she needs. Even her verbal abilities make George W. Bush look erudite in comparison.

As Greenwald implies, the myth that the news in this country has a liberal slant is so clearly belied by the support of people like Broder for this woman that in a rational society it would have died two Novembers ago. The press in this country clearly works for the people who run it, not for us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Boy Who Cried Reductio Ad Hitlerium

Image credit: Arrr!.

Much has been made already of Leon Wieseltier's ridiculous implication in this month's The New Republic that one-time TNR editor and now Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan is anti-semitic. If you want to spend an hour or so reading a thorough refutation of this, go to Glenn Greenwald's article on the subject, and then follow the links. There's really not much to add to all that, other than to point out the obvious.

Of course, pointing out the obvious is what I do. Greenwald brushes up against it here:

What's most striking about this attack is how inconsequential it is. It was once the case, not all that long ago, that an accusation of "anti-semitism" was the nuclear weapon of political debates, rendering most politicians and pundits (especially non-Jewish ones) petrified of being so accused. A 4,300-word prosecution brief published by The New Republic, accusing a major political writer of being a Jew-hater, would have been taken quite seriously, generated all sorts of drama, introspection and debate, and seriously tarnished the reputation of the accused.

No longer. Neoconservatives have so abused and cynically exploited the "anti-semitism" charge for rank political gain -- to bully those who would dare criticize Israeli actions or question U.S. policy towards Israel -- that it has lost its impact.

TNR's ugly and reckless anti-semitism games
There are several purposes to labeling someone's position, as Wieseltier has done to Sullivan's. One is, as Greenwald observes, intimidating people into not touching a subject. That is definitely a feature of this particular debate. It has long been a feature of debates about our policy toward Israel, the Palestine, and the Middle East in general. Most any hint of criticism for Israel's behavior is routinely met with such charges, as is almost any suggestion that a more balanced policy would be preferable. Glenn has covered this well, as have others.

Another purpose is, depending on the circumstance, to either label a person's idea with some undesirable trait or with an undesirable person or movement. The latter is often referred to humorously as reductio ad hitlerium, roughly translated as "reducing to Hitler". It gets that name due to the fact that one of the classic examples of this strategy is to associate an idea with something that Hitler did or supported. The fact is, of course, that Hitler did and said many things, some of which are done and said by most societies. He had an industrial policy, for instance. That doesn't automatically make having an industrial policy a bad thing for a government to do. The real strategy here is to change the subject from the merits of the idea being discussed, to either the motivations of the person or persons whose idea it is, or to instill unreasoning apprehension about the idea. It's a cheap point, and lots of people try to make it.

Perhaps the most infamous example of this sort of "reasoning", of late, was Fox News personality Glenn Beck's tirade in which he announced that he had decided that President Obama and the Democrats were not socialists after all, as he and many other conservative pundits have charged, but fascists. Who honestly thinks that these two concepts of a society are so similar that it takes months of observation to tell whether someone advocates one, the other, or neither?

This is why I resist such labeling. Accusing someone of being a racist, a sexist, a socialist, a fascist, or an anti-semite is a cheap and dishonest way to win an argument. If done successfully, it neatly obviates the need for the person making the charge to justify his own ideas.

There is also another danger, which the Greenwald quote illustrates. Continually making specious allegations of anti-semitism, racism, or what have you inevitably cheapens the impact of the label. The boy who cried wolf is a story that everyone should keep in mind. Certainly, anyone with any sense will no longer believe Leon Wieseltier the next time he cries "anti-semite". There really are anti-semites, racists, and sexists out there, and recklessly labeling anyone and everyone with such terms will inevitably make us less inclined to pay attention the next time someone does it.

Afterword: I'll also note, in passing, that Wieseltier's first bit of "evidence" that Sullivan is an anti-semitic:

“Trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to readers of The New Republic is not easy.” On June 2, 1944, W.H. Auden penned that sentence in a letter to Ursula Niebuhr. On January 26, 2010, Andrew Sullivan posted it as the “quote for the day” on his blog. Displaced and unglossed quotations are always in some way mordant, and bristle smugly with implications. Let us see what this one implies.

Something Much Darker
is nothing of the sort. As Sullivan observed, Auden's quote was a lament that many of TNR's readers at the time were people whose outlook is more secular than religious. This, I suspect, is probably still true. Though I'm an atheist, I agree with Auden. None other than well known secularist Richard Dawkins explained why in his book The God Delusion:

Rivers of Medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the 'mystery' of the Trinity, and in suppressing such heresies as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance or essence) of God. What on Earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for more than a century, Emperor Constantine order that all copies of Arius' book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs, such has been the way of theology.

The God Delusion - pg. 33
[This is my transcription of the page. It can't be cut and pasted electronically.]

As this hilarious Mr. Deity episode demonstrates, it's a concept that makes no sense to anyone who is trained to think logically.

Clearly, positing anti-semitism is no more necessary to explain Sullivan's sense of the irony of this quote than belief in Catholicism is necessary to explain mine. Both Catholics and secularists can find humor in it, though doubtless for different reasons. Sullivan's response to that particular point was that he was poking fun at the unusually large number of Jews on the TNR staff, of course. That just further supports the idea that there are many possible reasons for finding such a quote humorous, and anti-semitism isn't necessary to explain most of them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Quote of the day honors go to Glenn Greenwald, for putting the current political environment in perspective in one sentence:

The only thing more absurd than the Democrats' pretending to be the Populist Party of the People is the Republican Party's doing so.

Wall Street owners angry with their purchase

It's not an unusual observation, but Greenwald backs it up with an interesting narrative. Worth a read, I think, if for no other reason than it confirms what a lot of us are thinking these days.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Photo

This is one big honkin' log:
Image credit: Cujo359

In fact, to get enough resolution, I had to stitch together a panorama of this one. That's a full-sized flat car it's sitting on.

It's part of a The Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, Washington. There are a number of railroad cars and locomotives there, which run from the late 19th Century through the 1970s. Here's a shot of some of the cars and locomotives that are waiting to be restored:
Image credit: Cujo359

If you're ever out there to check out the falls, you might want to spend an hour or two looking them over.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Letters, I Keep Getting Letters

I received one of those e-mails that I love to get from the Washington Democrats today. It's as though no request is too crazy. Today, they want me to sign a petition demanding that Democrats pass a health care reform bill no matter what. It featured this video of Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01), explaining how the House plans on doing this:

You'll note that while he says they'll start with the Senate bill there's no mention of the public option, the individual mandate, or of enforcement of the insurance regulations. That won't happen. I sent them this reply:

I'm a afraid that I cannot sign this petition.

The Senate bill is unacceptable. It has no public option, but demands that we buy insurance that is insufficient to keep those who buy it out of financial jeopardy if they're sick or injured. But this is not the worst thing.

The worst is that there is no provision for enforcing the insurance regulations. There has been no talk of addressing this deficiency in anything I've read on the subject. As long as this is true, I and other Americans will be required by the IRS to buy insurance or pay a penalty, but the insurance companies will be under no real obligation to live up to the terms of their policies, paltry as they will be.

This is completely unacceptable. It should be unacceptable to any sane person, and yet the House is trying to fob this off as a good thing.

That's why I won't sign this petition. I'm not going to lend my name to an obvious farce. Fix it and get back to me.

I'm guessing I'll get a reply with a link to another Krugman blog post in it. And you wondered why I've been smacking him down lately, haven't you?

It's gotten to the point where even the good people, like Inslee, are putting their names to this piece of crap, just to get it out of the way.

Health Care Reform: A Nice Gesture

Image credit: Kristian D.

There is a bit of news on health care today, which is that, by my count, 116 U.S. Representatives, most of whom are part of the House Progressive Caucus, have signed a letter (PDF) to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking him to consider including a public option in the so-called "sidecar reconciliation" bill that would resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills:

In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today, 120 House Democrats say the Senate should seize that opportunity and include a public option.

"This letter states loud and clear that the public option is gaining momentum and is alive and well in the eyes of the American public,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who organized the show of support along with Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine). "Our job now is to convince Washington what the American people already know—that a public option is essential to challenging the insurance companies and ensuring the choice and competition we need to drive prices down."

120 House Democrats demand public option

The language of the letter is pretty clearly a request, not a demand. There is no "or else" clause, as in "or else, there will be no health care bill, because we're not voting for it." As such, it is something that Reid will, I would guess, ignore. He's in electoral trouble, and is probably looking for an exit strategy at the moment. Open Secrets puts Reid's net worth at between $2.8M and $6.3M, that's probably not enough to live on, especially given that that kind of range indicates he's invested in some volatile holdings. Some of it is bound to be his house or houses. In short, he'll need a job, and the most logical job is the sort that Tom Daschle had, lobbying for the kinds of folks who can pay big money for lobbyists. That means folks like drug companies and insurance companies.

Reid isn't going to take a dump in his lunch bucket to help the little people. While we would be better off without him in the Senate, he's certainly going to try to cash in on his position while he can, and that means he'll be screwing the rest of us.

So, while I appreciate the gesture, without a firm statement that progressive representatives will walk away, it is probably futile.

I look forward to being proved wrong. Go ahead, Congress. Do it.

UPDATE: After having checked Reid's latest financial disclosure (PDF, and you might have to go through this page to get it), I'll amend my estimate. He might conceivably be able to live off what he owns, although I doubt he will. He has some fairly substantial investments in various municipal bonds. The interest from all of those might provide enough money. His real estate holdings, the biggest of which appear to be his Las Vegas home, is somewhere between a third and a half of his portfolio.

Part of the uncertainty in the value of Reid's portfolio is due to the way the forms are designed, rather than to the volatility of the value of those assets. The person filling out the form just checks a box that has the range of values closest to that holding. It stands to reason that Reid's actual worth is somewhere in between the two extremes Open Secrets mentions, but there's no way to tell from this form.

Put it this way, I could live on what Harry Reid owns just fine, but I probably don't live like Reid does, either.