Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gore Vidal - America is becoming a dictatorship

Gore Vidal has fought through WW II, written hit movies and written great books. He also grew up with John F. Kennedy and traveled in those social circles. He's got the background to know America. So he says:
"Last year he famously switched allegiance from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during the Democratic nomination process for president. Now, he reveals, he regrets his change of heart. How's Obama doing? "Dreadfully. I was hopeful. He was the most intelligent person we've had in that position for a long time. But he's inexperienced. He has a total inability to understand military matters. He's acting as if Afghanistan is the magic talisman: solve that and you solve terrorism." America should leave Afghanistan, he says. "We've failed in every other aspect of our effort of conquering the Middle East or whatever you want to call it." The "War on Terror" was "made up", Vidal says. "The whole thing was PR, just like ‘weapons of mass destruction'. It has wrecked the airline business, which my father founded in the 1930s. He'd be cutting his wrists. Now when you fly you're both scared to death and bored to death, a most disagreeable combination."

His voice strengthens. "One thing I have hated all my life are LIARS [he says that with bristling anger] and I live in a nation of them. It was not always the case. I don't demand honour, that can be lies too. I don't say there was a golden age, but there was an age of general intelligence. We had a watchdog, the media." The media is too supine? "Would that it was. They're busy preparing us for an Iranian war." He retains some optimism about Obama "because he doesn't lie. We know the fool from Arizona [as he calls John McCain] is a liar. We never got the real story of how McCain crashed his plane [in 1967 near Hanoi, North Vietnam] and was held captive."

Vidal originally became pro-Obama because he grew up in "a black city" (meaning Washington), as well as being impressed by Obama's intelligence. "But he believes the generals. Even Bush knew the way to win a general was to give him another star. Obama believes the Republican Party is a party when in fact it's a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred - religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative' you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They're not, they're fascists."

Another notable Obama mis-step has been on healthcare reform. "He f***ed it up. I don't know how because the country wanted it. We'll never see it happen." As for his wider vision: "Maybe he doesn't have one, not to imply he is a fraud. He loves quoting Lincoln and there's a great Lincoln quote from a letter he wrote to one of his generals in the South after the Civil War. ‘I am President of the United States. I have full overall power and never forget it, because I will exercise it'. That's what Obama needs - a bit of Lincoln's chill." Has he met Obama? "No," he says quietly, "I've had my time with presidents." Vidal raises his fingers to signify a gun and mutters: "Bang bang." He is referring to the possibility of Obama being assassinated. "Just a mysterious lone gunman lurking in the shadows of the capital," he says in a wry, dreamy way.

Vidal now believes, as he did originally, Clinton would be the better president. "Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the generals. History has proven when the girls get involved, they're good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to."The Republicans will win the next election, Vidal believes; though for him there is little difference between the parties. "Remember the coup d'etat of 2000 when the Supreme Court fixed the selection, not election, of the stupidest man in the country, Mr Bush."

Vidal says forcefully that he wished he'd never moved back to the US to live in Hollywood, from his clifftop home in Ravello, Italy, in 2000. His partner of 53 years, Howard Austen, who died in 2003, collated a lifetime's-span of pictures of Vidal, for a new book out this autumn, Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare (an oddly clunky title). The cover shows what a beautiful young man Vidal was, although his stare is as hawkish as it is today.

He observes presidential office-holders balefully. "The only one I knew well was Kennedy, but he didn't impress me as a good president. It's like asking, ‘What do I think of my brother?' It's complicated. I'd known him all my life and I liked him to the end, but he wrecked his chances with the Bay of Pigs and Suez crises, and because everyone was so keen to elect Bobby once Jack had gone, lies started to be told about him - that he was the greatest and the King of Camelot."

Today religious mania has infected the political bloodstream and America has become corrosively isolationist, he says. "Ask an American what they know about Sweden and they'd say ‘They live well but they're all alcoholics'. In fact a Scandinavian system could have benefited us many times over." Instead, America has "no intellectual class" and is "rotting away at a funereal pace. We'll have a military dictatorship fairly soon, on the basis that nobody else can hold everything together. Obama would have been better off focusing on educating the American people. His problem is being over-educated. He doesn't realise how dim-witted and ignorant his audience is. Benjamin Franklin said that the system would fail because of the corruption of the people and that happened under Bush."

Vidal adds menacingly: "Don't ever make the mistake with people like me thinking we are looking for heroes. There aren't any and if there were, they would be killed immediately. I'm never surprised by bad behaviour. I expect it."

Cynical? Or just able to see what is really happening quite clearly?

Let's hope he's missed something important. I wouldn't bet he is missing that much.

Several of today's political reports.

  • Following Palin's speech in China recently her speakers bureau is find that she is hard to sell. It seems that $100,000 per speech is a bit too high to get someone who might or might not show up and even if she does, is a blithering idiot who "can't even describe what she reads." Unsurprising, really.

  • RNC Chairman Michael Steele claims to seriously doubt that Obama is facing racism or that Obama has received 400% more death threats that Bush did. NO surprise, really. Steele has his current job as an African-American public face for a conservative party that would be channeling the KKK if it weren't such a bad brand at the voting booth these days. It's natural that since Steele is employed to pretend the Republican conservatives are not racist that he would refuse to admit that Obama is being threatened by racists.

  • Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is now famous for standing up in Congress and stating that "...the Republican health care plan is 'don’t get sick,' and if you do get sick, 'die quickly.' " He is, of course, basing this statement on the recent study that shows that 44,789 Americans die each year as a direct result of not having health insurance that allows them to get timely access to health care. The Republicans hit the roof in their normal unconstrained manner and demanded an apology. So Grayson did apologize.
    I would like to apologize,” he said. “I would like to apologize to the dead.
    Then further along in his speech, Grayson apologized one last time
    "I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner,” he said.
    We need more Democrats defending the health care reform. Grayson is completely right and his reply to the right-wing Party of NO! is the correct response.

Georgia is to blame for the Gerogia War; Russia set it up to happen.

MOSCOW — After a lengthy inquiry, investigators commissioned by the European Union are expected to conclude that Georgia ignited last year’s war with Russia by attacking separatists in South Ossetia, rejecting the Georgian government’s explanation that the attack was defensive, according to an official familiar with the investigators’ work.

But the report is expected to balance this conclusion with an equally weighty one: If Georgia fired the first shot, Russia created and exploited the conditions that led to war, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report had not yet been made public.

In the years preceding the conflict, Russia encouraged separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories in Georgia, training their military forces and distributing Russian passports.
This New York Times Article explains what happened to set of the Georgia War.

It's an interesting article, but it does not address the admittedly parochial American issue of whether the Bush administration failed to adequately restrain Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The position of the Dollar as the World Reserve Currency is in real doubt

World Bank President Bob Zoellick is no anti-globalism Casandra, so when he says the greatest danger to the continuation of the Dollar as the world's reserve currency is those central bankers and Congresspersons who should be defending it, it's time to look at the issue carefully. Here is an article about what Zoellick said,
The international economic system will evolve with our cooperation or without it. Currently the biggest threat to the dollar is not those who seek alternatives but the U.S. policies that are pushing them in that direction.
and this is from the Wall Street Journal article:
Mr. Zoellick said central banks around the world fell down as regulators -- and that the Treasury, which is more accountable to Congress, should be given the authority to regulate big financial institutions, not the Fed.

"It will be difficult to vest the independent and powerful technocrats at the Federal Reserve with more authority," he said. "My reading of recent crisis management is that the Treasury Department needed greater authority to pull together a bevy of different regulators. Moreover, the Treasury is an executive department, and therefore Congress and the public can more directly oversee how it uses any added authority."

Mr. Zoellick, among other positions in the U.S. government, served in various posts in the Treasury from 1985 to 1993.

"Central banks failed to address risks building in the new economy," Mr. Zoellick said. "They seemingly mastered product price inflation in the 1980s, but most decided that asset price bubbles were difficult to identify and to restrain with monetary policy. They argued that damage to the 'real economy' of jobs, production, savings, and consumption could be contained once bubbles burst, through aggressive easing of interest rates. They turned out to be wrong."
The idea that somehow the solution to America's economic problems can be solved by piling more and more power onto the (bank-controlled) Federal Reserve is reaching the level of pure silliness. The Fed already has too much power and too little accountability for the good of the American economy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mayor gives Glenn Beck key to city; Council demands to change the locks

The mayor of Mount Vernon, WA gave hometown boy Glenn Beck the key to the city. The city council and a lot of residents disagreed. TPM offers pictures.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Those crazy right-wingers cannot be convinced they are wrong merely by facts

Lane Wallace reports on a study by a group of researchers from Northwestern University, UNC Chapel HIll, SUNY Buffalo and Millsaps College into the problem of Motivated Reasoning. How often have we liberals complained that the right-wing knows the outcome they want and tailor the collection of facts and analysis to achieve the outcome desired before they started? This seems to be the explanation.
How is it that people can cling to an opinion or view of a person, event, issue of the world, despite being presented with clear or mounting data that contradicts that position? The easy answer, of course, is simply that people are irrational. But a closer look at some of the particular ways and reasons we're irrational offers some interesting food for thought.

In a recently published study, a group of researchers from Northwestern University, UNC Chapel HIll, SUNY Buffalo and Millsaps College found that people often employ an approach the researchers called "motivated reasoning" when sorting through new information or arguments, especially on controversial issues. Motivated reasoning is, as UCLA public policy professor Mark Kleiman put it, the equivalent of policy-driven data, instead of data-driven policy.

In other words, if people start with a particular opinion or view on a subject, any counter-evidence can create "cognitive dissonance"--discomfort caused by the presence of two irreconcilable ideas in the mind at once. One way of resolving the dissonance would be to change or alter the originally held opinion. But the researchers found that many people instead choose to change the conflicting evidence--selectively seeking out information or arguments that support their position while arguing around or ignoring any opposing evidence, even if that means using questionable or contorted logic.

That's not a news flash to anyone who's paid attention to any recent national debate--although the researchers pointed out that this finding, itself, runs counter to the idea that the reason people continue to hold positions counter to all evidence is because of misinformation or lack of access to the correct data. Even when presented with compelling, factual data from sources they trusted, many of the subjects still found ways to dismiss it. But the most interesting (or disturbing) aspect of the Northwestern study was the finding that providing additional counter-evidence, facts, or arguments actually intensified this reaction. Additional countering data, it seems, increases the cognitive dissonance, and therefore the need for subjects to alleviate that discomfort by retreating into more rigidly selective hearing and entrenched positions.

Needless to say, these findings do not bode well for anyone with hopes of changing anyone else's mind with facts or rational discussion, especially on "hot button" issues. But why do we cling so fiercely to positions when they don't even involve us directly? Why do we care who got to the North Pole first? Or whether a particular bill has provision X versus provision Y in it? Why don't we care more about simply finding out the truth--especially in cases where one "right" answer actually exists?

Part of the reason, according to Kleiman, is "the brute fact that people identify their opinions with themselves; to admit having been wrong is to have lost the argument, and (as Vince Lombardi said), every time you lose, you die a little." And, he adds, "there is no more destructive force in human affairs--not greed, not hatred--than the desire to have been right."

So, what do we do about that? If overcoming "the desire to have been right" is half as challenging as overcoming hate or greed, the outlook doesn't seem promising. But Kleiman, who specializes in crime control policy and alternative solutions to very sticky problems (his latest book is "When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment"), thinks all is not lost. He points to the philosopher Karl Popper, who, he says, believed fiercely in the discipline and teaching of critical thinking, because "it allows us to offer up our opinions as a sacrifice, so that they die in our stead."

A liberal education, Kleiman says, "ought, above all, to be an education in non-attachment to one's current opinions. I would define a true intellectual as one who cares terribly about being right, and not at all about having been right." Easy to say, very hard to achieve. For all sorts of reasons. But it's worth thinking about. Even if it came at the cost of sacrificing or altering our most dearly-held opinions ... the truth might set us free.
Mark Kleiman describes what a liberal education should do to counter the logical problems caused by motivated reasoning. How do we deal with evangelical religious and ideological political institutions that exist to teach their students to practice motivated reasoning? Because that's exactly what Regent University, Liberty University, the Discovery Institute, the Heritage Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the CATO Institute and other cults all do.

Have Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachman gotten a census worker murdered?

The death of Bill Sparkman in Eastern Kentucky has been national news for a week or so, but the authorities have been quite sparing on the details. But now the CBS and the Associated Press have published some of the details that the authorities were holding back.
A man who said he was among those who found the body told tells the Associated Press that Sparkman was naked, bound at the hands and feet with duct tape and gagged - details that have not yet been confirmed by authorities.

Jerry Weaver of Ohio told the Associated Press he was visiting a cemetery in rural Kentucky with family members on Sept. 12 when he, his wife and daughter saw the body.

"The only thing he had on was a pair of socks," Weaver said. "And they had duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something.

"He was murdered," Weaver said. "There's no doubt."

Weaver said the body was about 50 yards from a 2003 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck.

Two people briefed on the investigation said various details of Weaver's account matched the details of the crime scene, though both people said they were not informed who found the body. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Authorities have said a preliminary cause of death was asphyxiation, pending a full medical examination. According to a Kentucky State Police statement, the body was hanging from a tree with a rope around the neck, yet it was in contact with the ground.

"And they even had duct tape around his neck," Weaver said. "And they had like his identification tag on his neck. They had it duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder."

Both of the people briefed on the investigation confirmed that Sparkman's Census Bureau ID was found taped to his head and shoulder area. Weaver said he couldn't tell if the tag was a Census ID because he didn't get close enough to read it. He could see writing on Sparkman's chest, but could not read that it said "fed."
With both hands and feet duct tapped this was clearly murder. The fact that the body was naked and the federal ID was duct taped to the body is a clear statement of why. Is there an alternative explanation?
Although anti-government sentiment was one possibility in the death, some in law enforcement also cited the prevalence of drug activity in the area - including meth labs and marijuana fields - although they had no reason to believe there was a link to Sparkman's death.
Why would drug dealers display the body they way these killers did? Especially with the census taker ID taped to the naked body? That just attracts police. Having Sparkman simply disappear would have been much more reasonable for drug dealers protecting their operation. This was designed to attract the media.

Then consider this.
A retired state trooper who worked with Sparkman at Johnson Elementary School, some 30 miles from where the body was found, said he warned Sparkman that some people in the rural area are hostile.

"I said, 'Bill you be careful when you go over to eastern Kentucky to do your census work. Some of the people over there may not understand that you're just collecting statistics,'" friend Gilbert Acciardo told CBS News.
Both Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachman have been encouraging people to refuse to cooperate with the Census because it is "an intrusive government program" by an authoritarian federal government. Of course, I doubt that either has told anyone directly on the record to kill census takers the way Glenn Beck told his viewer to kill Dr. Tillman because he provided late term (legal) abortions. But there are crazies out there just looking for excuses and targets to kill. Those two certainly have been stoking the fires under the crazies.

There is no difference between what Bachman and Beck have been saying and yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. They did not target him specifically but they got Bill Sparkman killed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

MA governor appoints Paul Kirk as interim Senator; GOP throws tantrum in media

The Massachusetts legislature passed a bill authorizing the governor to appoint an interim Senator to fill the seat which became vacant when Sen. Ted Kennedy died. The election to fill the seat permanently will still occur in the Spring of 2010. The GOP immediately brought suit saying that since the legislature did not declare that the interim appointment was an emergency appointment with a two-thirds vote, then the MA governor was required to wait 90 days to make the appointment.

State Court Judge Tom Connolly disagreed and threw out the GOP lawsuit as being without basis. This was Judge Connolly's argument:
Lawmakers passed a law this week giving Patrick the power to appoint an interim replacement for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy until a special election can be held Jan. 19. Laws usually take 90 days to go into effect, but Patrick signed an emergency letter which made it effective immediately.

In a court filing, Assistant Attorney General Peter Sacks countered that the Supreme Judicial Court in a 1975 ruling had made it clear that a governor does not need legislative approval to invoke an emergency. He also said that the judiciary does not have the constitutional authority to directly block a governor's executive appointment.

On Thursday, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, a Democrat, said the emergency letter is "very clearly available to the governor under the Constitution. I don't know how you suggest this is something novel. It's not."

Former Republican governor Mitt Romney used the emergency provision 14 times, Galvin added, including to increase the boating speed limit in Charlton and to change the office of town moderator in Milton.
"the Party
[The GOP] does not cite any case law in support of its argument."
So the precedent is that the Governor has the power to declare the law an emergency on his own and previous governors have frequently used that power. There is no case law that establishes that the governor does NOT have the power to make the immediate appointment. If there were then the GOP would have cited it in their lawsuit.

It looks to me as though the GOP was bringing a frivolous lawsuit hoping to get it heard by a lawless conservative judge who does what he wants instead of what the law requires. Now that Judge Connolly has done what the law and precedent required, the GOP is going to complain loudly in the media for a while. They were just playing for more time to kill health care reform.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's wrong with America? Ask Jon Taplin.

Reagan and the neoconservatives managed to convince their followers that the only thing the government knew how to do well was fight wars. All the rest--building the Interstate Highway System, running Social Security and Medicare--the government must be incompetent. But it is the financing of the National Security State that prevents us from providing a world class universal health care and K-College education system. Nothing else. And until the Democrats are willing to provide a counter-narrative to Glenn Beck's vision of what's wrong with America--one aimed at the working class and not Wall Street--the social contagion of the interregnum's morbid symptoms will continue to spread.
This is the conclusion that Jon Taplin has come to. It's very interesting how he gets there.

I had identified the problem of the culture clash myself, but I had not put the rest of it all together they way he has. His book should be very interesting.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Joe Wilson was sandbagged by the Republicans per SNL

This has to be the most rational explanation. Surely Joe Wilson is not some crazy cracker from South Carolina or anything.

CNN calls FOX news Liars

Here is the tape.

What went wrong with macro economics and financial economics

I have previously written about Paul Krugman's article in the NY Magazine about how the economics profession got a real black eye out of the current Recession-and-almost-Depression. Here's some more writings on the same subject: They all tell pretty much the same story. Financial economists and Macro economists essentially overlooked the warnings that the economy was coming off its rails.

The articles are all quite good, and each takes a mildly different look at the issues so reading them all helps in understanding what has been happening to us. My earlier blog can be found at The US economy is surprisingly dysfunctional. . It contains links to other writings, as do many of the articles in the list above.

One important point to remember, though. Even though the economists got some important points wrong, the politicians have been consistently much worse and should not be trusted.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Anti-government teabaggers complain about lack of government public transportation

This is funny. The protesters want the government services and they want them to work right. They just refuse to plan for or pay for it.
Protesters who attended Saturday’s Tea Party rally in Washington found a new reason to be upset: Apparently they are unhappy with the level of service provided by the subway system.

Rep. Kevin Brady called for a government investigation into whether the government-run subway system adequately prepared for this weekend’s rally to protest government spending and government services.


The Texas Republican on Wednesday released a letter he sent to Washington’s Metro system complaining that the taxpayer-funded subway system was unable to properly transport protesters to the rally to protest government spending and expansion.

“These individuals came all the way from Southeast Texas to protest the excessive spending and growing government intrusion by the 111th Congress and the new Obama administration,” Brady wrote. “These participants, whose tax dollars were used to create and maintain this public transit system, were frustrated and disappointed that our nation’s capital did not make a great effort to simply provide a basic level of transit for them.”

A spokesman for Brady says that “there weren’t enough cars and there weren’t enough trains.”
Steve Benen points out
Apparently, Brady heard complaints from some of his constituents who traveled to D.C. to protest "big government." They were disappointed to discover, however, that the government had done more to satisfy their public-transportation expectations, and now want other government officials to address the problem.

In some instances, Brady said constituents relied on private enterprise -- taxi cabs -- rather than the (ahem) public option. The conservative lawmaker described this as a bad thing. Local officials, Brady said, should have made "a great effort to simply provide a basic level of transit" to the public.

Read that sentence again and replace "transit" with "health care coverage."
Is it any wonder that the Bush administration, which was administered to suit the demands of conservatives like these teabaggers, failed utterly to function even adequately? It's irrationalism in action.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sen. Baucus sets new record for political incompetence

Sen. Baucus is presenting his committee's health care bill proposal today. He has negotiated for months, delaying the entire health care process to the point that Republicans think they can kill what last summer seemed inevitable to pass, and what has Sen. Baucus achieved?

He has failed to get a single Republican to support it and lost one Democrat. And the most moderate Republican in the Senate, on whom Baucus was setting great store, rejected the resulting proposal primarily because the funding was too conservative and was unlikely to be successful!

It is truly amazing that such a long term experienced Senator, one who is intelligent and well-thought of, should fail to understand that what he was trying to do was politically impossible and that the Republican Party was playing him. Baucus has simply been insulated in the 100 rich man's club (the US Senate) for much too long to understand the political reality of the health cared debate.

I hope the damage Baucus has caused and permitted can be repaired. That's more likely than repairing Baucus' reputation as an effective politician who works for the good of the American public.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The people behind the teabaggers have appeared!

Here are the wealthy supporting the teabag demonstrators.

Here's some more of the same:

And more:

Thinking about thinking - not just for human beings now

The ability of humans to think about what they are thinking about (Metacognition)has long been considered by many as a uniquely human behavior. Maybe not. Maybe it's just easier to test for in humans because humans can talk about what they are thinking about, while similar tests in animals require observing the animal behavior and inferring what they are thinking about. This from Live Science at Yahoo News:
Some animals are more thoughtful than others, according to a comparative psychologist who says evidence is mounting that dolphins, macaque monkeys and other animals share our ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind.

J. David Smith of the University at Buffalo notes that humans are capable of metacognition, or thinking about thinking. "Humans can feel uncertainty. They know when they do not know or remember, and they respond well to uncertainty by deferring response and seeking information," Smith writes in the September issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

And accumulating research, he says, suggests metacognition is not unique to humans.

"The idea is that some minds have a cognitive executive that can look in on the human's or the animal's thoughts and problem-solving and look at how its going and see if there are ways to guide it or if behavior needs to pause while more information is obtained," Smith told LiveScience.
So what, you say?

Metacognition is a critical part of what it means to be conscious. If we can understand metacognition, then we are further down the road to understanding what consciousness is.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ted Kennedy on the Bush/Cheney lies that led us to invade Iraq

Teddy Kennedy's memoir has come out today, and talking Points Memo has just published what Kennedy wrote about the way the Bush/Cheney administration lied America into invading Iraq for American domestic political purposes. America has lost all the lives and treasure, and Iraq has been devastated to advance the political fortunes of the American conservatives.

Here is Kennedy on the lack of justification for the war:
My views on war drew upon the teachings of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. A distillation of their philosophies has yielded six principles that guide the determination of a "just" war, and these principles were my guiding arguments:

• A war must have a just cause, confronting a danger that is beyond question;
• It must be declared by a legitimate authority acting on behalf of the people;
• It must be driven by the right intention, not ulterior, self-interested motives;
• It must be a last resort;
• It must be proportional, so that the harm inflicted does not outweigh the good achieved; and
• It must have a reasonable chance of success.

There was no just cause for the invasion of Iraq, I declared time and again. Iraq posed no threat that justified immediate, preemptive war, and there was no convincing pattern of relationships between Saddam and Al Qaeda. The "legitimate authority," the Congress, indeed approved authorization for the use of force in Iraq in October 2002, but it acted in haste and under pressure from the White House, which intentionally politicized the vote by scheduling it before midterm elections. By contrast, in 1991, the administration of the first President Bush timed the vote on the use of military force against Iraq to occur after midterm elections, in order to de-politicize the decision.

As for "motives," those stated by the Bush administration itself were unacceptable on their face. "The Bush administration says we must take preemptive action against Iraq," I pointed out from the Senate floor in October 2002. "But what the administration is really calling for is preventive war, which flies in the face of international rules of acceptable behavior." I was far blunter less than two years later, when the loss of life among our young troops and the devastation to Iraqi society had grown grotesque. The war, I charged on the Senate floor in July 2004, was "a fraud, cooked up in Texas" to advance the president's political standing.
Besides being a fraud, the War in Iraq caused the Bush/Cheney administration to take the resources away from Afghanistan where they were actually needed. The result is that America did nothing to improve Afghanistan at a time when the population was a lot more prepared to accept what we had to offer. Because of the Bush/Cheney blindness and self-centered conservative, the Taliban has been reconstructed and now threatens the nuclear-capable Pakistan and al Qaeda is becoming a new and more dangerous entity world wide.

In every way the Bush/Cheney administration failed to provide for American security and failed to adequately protect the American people.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The top movie pie fight

Is there any movie pie fight better than this one? If so, I don't remember seeing it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What's wrong with South Carolina?

South Carolina has a real history as the home of resistance to the federal government. Currently it houses Governor Mark Sanford and House Representative Joe Wilson. Politico has this interesting article.
Just under nine months into the president's term, the state has emerged as a beachhead for the president's most aggressive conservative critics, a secure launching point for some of the harshest attacks on the administration’s policy initiatives.


The state has a long history of stridency in national politics, having produced legendary opposition figures from Vice President John C. Calhoun, who helped pave the way for the Civil War, to the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, who filibustered historic civil rights legislation. By comparison, DeMint, Sanford and Wilson are a tame bunch.

"South Carolina is a state that's always loved having characters for politicians," said Bruce Haynes, a political consultant who served as an aide to Campbell. "There's been no shortage of South Carolina politicians over the past 50 years who have said some interesting and outrageous things. And they tend to be reelected by large margins."
Is it something in the water?

This is hilarious.

How far wrong can Newt Gingrich be? Newt Gingrich Accidentally Names Porn Exec 'Entrepreneur Of The Year'.

An excellent example of Gingrich's normal inability to get things right.

Here's why we elected Obama.

Consider this speech by Obama..

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The US economy is surprisingly dysfunctional.

Several reasons why America is in an economic crisis.

First, is an excellent article by Anna Burger in Huffington post that describes how the US Chamber of Commerce has orchestrated the uncompetitive structure of large corporations and the way top executives control their corporations even when the shareholders object. Here's a sample
To find the "whodunnit" of our current economic crisis, look no further than the corporate boardroom.

Far from serving as checks-and-balances, today's corporate directors are under thumbs of the CEOs who selected them. With unquestioned power and ever increasing arrogance, CEOs can take unnecessary risks, hide details of bad investments, and pay out excessive bonuses to themselves and top executives regardless of their job performance.

That's how subprime mortgages and credit default swaps were hatched. That's how Bank of America's Ken Lewis kept details of Merrill Lynch's poor health and plans of multi-billion dollar bonuses from shareholders. That's how the initial nine banks that got TARP money could pay out $32.6 billion in bonuses last year despite getting a $175 billion dollar bailout from taxpayers.
Then, also in the Huffington Post is an article by Ryan Grim that shows how the Economics profession is dominated by the Federal Reserve.

The Fed belongs to the banks, and all three work in close coordination to make sure that everyone is speaking on the same sheet of music as they propagandize about the economy.

Then there is Paul Krugman's article in the Sunday New York Times describing just how badly the Economics profession got its recommendations in the run up to the 2008 collapse of the American (and then the world) banking system which nearly threw the world into Great Depression II. (I blogged about Krugman's article last Saturday.)

Then there is the fiction that the economy is somehow self-sufficient and self-regulating. It's not. Power structures determine where and how economic transactions occur, but since power cannot be measured in dollars it gets forgotten when we talk about economics. There was a reason why the discipline used to be called Political-economics before Economics itself became a branch of statistics.

Consider how big business organizations are structured. America's economy is largely controlled by large businesses and those businesses act largely at the behest of wealthy conservative oligarchs. Here is how it works.

Big businesses are controlled by the self-defensive conservative wealthy elite whose main purpose is to protect their social position and the wealth that assures they keep that position. The businesses themselves are controlled by the Iron Law of Oligarchy. To a large extent all the resources are controlled by the top managers, and those top managers determine what their employees do professionally.

Robert Michels explained the iron law of oligarchy. The control and wealth of the corporate organizations are centralized in a few individuals at the very top. The recent extreme pay checks to CEO's is the way the conservative wealthy have manipulated the owners and top managers of large business organizations, especially the centralized media corporations.The media are important, because objections to the way the overall system is organized has to be communicated to the masses if it is going to be changed for the benefit of the rest of us. With control of the big media the oligarchs are able to get out the propaganda that justifies the existing system that works to their benefit and objections to that system are not spread widely.

If there were social justice, the CEO's would only be paid what they are worth - which is not the multimillion dollar pay checks they have increasingly been getting, especially over the last three decades. Those paychecks are designed to align the desires and actions of the top managers of the MSM with the wealthy conservative oligarchs.

This is just a sample of the dysfunctional structure of the American economy, and the super-wealthy like it this way. Since they control the TV networks, the large newspaper chains and the most influential elements of the rest of the media, the rest of us don't hear much about just how dysfunctional the economy and society really is.

Just a few ideas for your consideration.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The health care bill is saveable according to Jonathon Cohn.

The very knowledgeable Jonathon Cohn has hope for the health care bill.
...the greatest risk with reconciliation is that the process produces a weak bill, an incomplete one, or, in the very worst case, a counter-productive one--not that it fails to produce any bill at all. The Democratic Party isn’t necessarily the bravest. (If it was, it’d have passed reform already.) But it’s also not the dumbest. Failing to pass a bill when they have the numbers would be politically suicidal, just like it was in the 1990s. Having committed themselves to passing legislation, they now must follow through. They knew that before August. Knock on wood, they still know it today.
This is an alternative to the possibility of passing a "bipartisan" bill the gets approval by Maine's Sen. Olympia Snowe, still the preferred route by The White House and Sen. Harry Reid.

But Jonathon points out that either case passed a bill. Neither is a sure thing, but the net evaluation he presents is that we get health care reform that can be improved in the future as its flaws become more apparent.

That's good news for America.

Abdul Khan describes how he started the Pakistani nuclear program

This is a report by an interview on Pakistani TV conducted with Dr. Abdul Khan who is the father of the Pakistani nuclear program.

It was started because of the Indian nuclear weapons test and because Pakistan was especially concerned about their security after East Pakistan revolted in 1971 and became Bangladesh. It was sped up because Pakistan was supporting the military activities of the Americans in Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet takeover.Khan also discusses the relationship between Pakistan and both North Korea and Iran. He would not discuss nuclear technology transfer to either of those countries, however.

The existence of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program is a major reason why the American military is currently in Afghanistan.

Dr. Khan's interview is quite illuminating. It's only about 10 pages.

McChrystal's plan for Afghanistan is now available to the public

If you want to read General McChrystal's plan, here it is in pdf format. It is dated August 10 and signed by both U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and by commander of U.S. forces Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It is a combined Civil-Military plan.

Want to bet that the Bush administration under Cheney and Rumsfeld would never had presented a plan that covered both the military AND the Civilian aspects of the war?

Politico has a discussion of the plan here.

I'll read it and discuss it later.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The best argument yet that we should support the public option.

It has long been clear that private and for profit health insurers cannot and will not provide quality reliable health insurance for everyone. The best and lowest cost solution is the single payer government financed system actual delivery of health care in the hands of a mixture of private and public institutions.

That's been off the table because the Obama administration compromised before even starting the health care debate. Jeff Neffinger explains why that was the wrong strategy.

This is the best rational for single payer I have seen yet.

What if America got the equivalent of the Mass health plan?

Here is a description of what has happened since Massachusetts has implemented their universal health care plan. It's a mixed bag, mostly better and nothing really bad.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Nobody could have predicted .... Macroeconomics in the ashes of the Recession of 2008

The Macroeconomics profession had essentially concluded by the end of the century that they knew enough so that another Great Depression was now impossible. Not that if it started economists and policymakers could head it off, but that it was impossible for it to even start. That conclusion was based on the assumption that the price valuations set my markets were perfect, given the available information at the time along with a great deal of very complex mathematical models and a lot of high-level statistics.

The assumptions that financial markets provide perfect prices and that people are perfectly rational were the same assumptions made by the Classical Economists before the Great Depression. It became the new assumption when Keynesian explanations of Depressions being caused by a lack of adequate demand were rejected in a flurry of new mathematical models and a flash of computer monitors. Unfortunately the models were essentially based on what Krugman calls ketchup economics.

Ketchup economics means the "...because a two-quart bottle of ketchup costs twice as much as a one-quart bottle, finance theorists declare that the price of ketchup must be right." It ignores the underlying factors that establish the true value. So if you compare home prices at a given point of time and the price of two comparable homes is roughly the same, then the price is right. There is no consideration of whether the income of the homeowners can support the mortgage required to meet that price. Those fancy mathematical models threw out answers that just don't match up with reality in the long run.

Financial markets, unfortunately, are well known to be based on short term considerations and to not consider long term factors.

The economic and financial experiences world wide of the last two years has left economies world wide in much worse shape than previously and also it has left the profession of Macroeconomics strongly questioning where they went wrong. Bankers are beginning to speak publicly about the need to put human beings back into the lending decisions and not depend on the mathematical models.

Paul Krugman has presented a fascinating overview of the questions the Macroeconomic profession are now grappling with The generally accepted new assumption goes back to Keynes' conclusion that recessions, even the depression, are caused by lack of adequate demand. But the beauty of the neo-classical models holds a powerful attraction. The recognition of what went wrong is not yet there.

Go read Krugman's article. It is lengthy, but written in language a layman with some understanding of Macroeconomics can handle.

OK. I want to quote Krugman on why the government has to be spending so much right now.
During a normal recession, the Fed responds by buying Treasury bills — short-term government debt — from banks. This drives interest rates on government debt down; investors seeking a higher rate of return move into other assets, driving other interest rates down as well; and normally these lower interest rates eventually lead to an economic bounceback. The Fed dealt with the recession that began in 1990 by driving short-term interest rates from 9 percent down to 3 percent. It dealt with the recession that began in 2001 by driving rates from 6.5 percent to 1 percent. And it tried to deal with the current recession by driving rates down from 5.25 percent to zero.

But zero, it turned out, isn’t low enough to end this recession. And the Fed can’t push rates below zero, since at near-zero rates investors simply hoard cash rather than lending it out. So by late 2008, with interest rates basically at what macroeconomists call the “zero lower bound” even as the recession continued to deepen, conventional monetary policy had lost all traction.

Now what? This is the second time America has been up against the zero lower bound, the previous occasion being the Great Depression. And it was precisely the observation that there’s a lower bound to interest rates that led Keynes to advocate higher government spending: when monetary policy is ineffective and the private sector can’t be persuaded to spend more, the public sector must take its place in supporting the economy. Fiscal stimulus is the Keynesian answer to the kind of depression-type economic situation we’re currently in.
This observation was at the core of Krugman's book "Depression Economics." It also explains why attempting to balance the federal budget anytime soon is likely to cause a second economic downturn.

At the end of his article Krugman lays out where he thinks the profession has to go next, with his reasons for thinking so. anyone interested in macroeconomics or in investing needs to read this article carefully.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Al Franken gives a real good explanation of why and how to change the medical system

Al Franken meets with tea party people and talks turkey with them.

This is the best short explanation I have seen and better that most of what I have read.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Have the GOP leadership gone stark raving mad?

Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida Jim Greer has responded to President Obama's proposal to broadcast a live address on education to schools that choose to air it with a hysterical tirade that makes it sound like Greer is horribly frightened.This is a surprise since as Eric Kleefeld notes, Greer is "seen as one of the more sensible, mainstream Republicans, as he is a long-time ally of moderate Gov. Charlie Crist." What's happened to make mainstream GOP leaders react like scalded cats to the most innocuous actions from President Barack Obama?

Thomas B. Edsal points out that the GOP seems to have two groups looking towards the future. They are 'Ideologues who are inciting the base with wild rhetoric and banking on a "great American awakening" that will sweep conservatives back into power. On the other: Strategists, who see the party's growing intolerance as a prescription for minority status.'

Jim Greer should be aware of this split. It looks like he thinks the votes will be with the ideologues, so he is playing his cards to be one of them.

Greer's hysterical statement proves once again that Republicans, especially the leadership, are all about personal self-interest rather that working for the long term good of the organizations they belong to - in this case the Republican Party.

Bartiromo demonstrates how conservatives fail to contribute to the healthcare discussion

CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo demonstrates the combination of partisanship and ignorance that ideological conservatives have brought to the discussion of the American health care system.

Here's how Steve Benen describes her ignorance:
She thinks a public option would undermine quality care, but she doesn't know why. She thinks Medicare somehow offers sub-standard care, but she doesn't know why. She thinks 44 year olds who like Medicare should sign up for it, unaware of eligibility restrictions. She thinks Weiner should choose to opt into Medicare, while simultaneously arguing argument against giving American consumers the choice of a public option.
This is not thought. It is pure reflexive obstructionism.

The absence of an organized American health care system fails a sizable percentage of the American public by not letting them get the health care they need. It has damaged the American economy and made it less competitive in international trade. And it has done all of this while costing a great deal more per person than does the next most expensive national health care system in the industrialized world. And what do the American ideological conservatives offer to improve the American health care system?

A combination of "head in the sand" refusal to even address the problems of the overall system and reflexive obstructionism trying to prevent others from working on the problem. That's what. Nothing else. The conservative ideology is even more bankrupt than is the American health care system.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Democrats need a single healthcare reform narrative now

What we learned in August is something we've long known but keep forgetting: The most important difference between America's Democratic left and Republican right is that the left has ideas and the right has discipline. Obama and progressive supporters of health care were outmaneuvered in August -- not because the right had any better idea for solving the health care mess but because the rights' attack on the Democrats' idea was far more disciplined than was the Democrats' ability to sell it.


Whatever discipline Obama had mustered during the campaign somehow disappeared. This is just the latest chapter of a long saga. Over the last twenty years, as progressives have gushed new ideas, the right has became ever more organized and mobilized in resistance -- capable of executing increasingly consistent and focused attacks, moving in ever more perfect lockstep, imposing an exact discipline often extending even to the phrases and words used repeatedly by Hate Radio, Fox News, and the oped pages of The Wall Street Journal ("death tax," "weapons of mass destruction," "government takeover of health care.") I saw it in 1993 and 1994 as the Clinton healthcare plan -- as creatively and wildly convuluted as any policy proposal before or since -- was defeated both by a Democratic majority in congress incapable of coming together around any single bill and a Republican right dedicated to Clinton's destruction. Newt Gingrich's subsequent "contract with America" recaptured Congress for the Republicans not because it contained a single new idea but because Republicans unflinchingly rallied around it while Democrats flailed.

You want to know why the left has ideas and the right has discipline? Because people who like ideas and dislike authority tend to identify with the Democratic left, while people who feel threatened by new ideas and more comfortable in a disciplined and ordered world tend to identify with the Republican right.
Robert Reich explains what we should learn from the experience of August. Go read the rest.