Is This Heaven? No, It’s Vermont.

On Thursday night’s show, Saint Rachel Maddow made the point that President Obama has offered to allow states to opt out of his health care law early, if they can come up with a plan that meets the standards set by that law.

So far, none, including all those noisy Republican governors, has taken him up on that offer.

But Vermont is trying.

From Vermont Public Radio yesterday:

After a full day and evening of debate, the Vermont House gave preliminary approval to health care reform legislation that’s designed to put the state on the path toward a single payer system.

The vote on the measure was 89 to 47.

According to the AP, the governor is leading the charge:

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who made single-payer health care a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign last year, also praised the legislation. He said it would make Vermont “the first state in the country to make the first substantive step to deliver a health care system where health care will be a right and not a privilege, where health care will follow the individual, not be a requirement of the employer, and where we’ll have an affordable system that contains costs.”

Chairman of the Vermont House Health Care Committee, Mark Larson, said this:

At this point we have nowhere to turn because we have a system that is too fragmented and too complex where there are many cooks but no one is really in charge of dinner.

The legislation is expected to pass the senate, possibly with some modifications, and liberals-progressives everywhere should celebrate this groundbreaking experiment.

Here is just one doctor’s view of the Vermont plan, but listen to her carefully and explain to me where she has it wrong, in terms of a civilized society:

Dr. Rachel Nardin, a neurologist at Cambridge Health Alliance, is one of them. She said the current health care system, even with the reforms in Massachusetts, is so demoralizing, she would strongly consider leaving Massachusetts for Vermont if that state had a single-payer system.

Practicing medicine in our current system is wretched,” Dr. Nardin said in an interview. “Instead of caring for people, we’re fighting with insurers to get what we need for our patients — it’s depressing. For the chance to just care for patients, and not have these fights, sure I’d move.”

Dr. Nardin, who is also co-chair of Massachusetts Physicians for a National Health Program, said she recently cared for an uninsured woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder also known as ALS. “Because she had no insurance, I couldn’t get her a hospital bed, or a wheelchair, I couldn’t get her the most effective medication, I couldn’t get her anything that would maintain her dignity,” Dr. Nardin said. “It is so unnecessarily cruel.” (Ultimately, the patient received help from a private charity.)

The beauty of single payer,” Dr. Nardin said, “is that people have insurance from cradle to grave and when you get sick, you can worry about being sick and how to get better, you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay for care.”

Perhaps it is more important that private insurers make a profit than it is that people maintain their dignity and live free from anxiety about going broke if they get sick.

Or perhaps in the years to come, Vermonters will demonstrate to the rest of America that there is a better way.

Remarks And Asides

Mitch McConnell, who at one time resisted the Tea Party temptation, has now succumbed and is apparently willing to drink a sweat Slurpee straight from Jim DeMint’s booty crack—with a short straw, mind you.

McConnell attacked Chuck Schumer today for accurately describing non-compromising Republicans as “extremists.”  McConnell said that Democrats are the real extremists.  Okay. I agree. Given the state of the budget discussions, congressional Democrats are extremely poor negotiators.  One might even say that if throwing in the towel were an Olympic sport, Democrats would be the Michael Phelps of surrender.

So far, they have managed to give Republicans more than half their budget cuts and have received next to nothing in return.  There must have been some sort of special election I missed.  When did the GOP grab control of the entire government again?

__________________________

Donald Trump, God’s gift to atheists everywhere, says that the reason President Obama won’t produce yet another valid birth certificate is that he may be hiding his Muslimism.

I am embracing this issue,” he told MSNBC, “I’m proud of the issue…somebody has to embrace it.” 

Thank you, Jesus.

Trump, by the way, has finally produced a valid birth certificate of his own, which proves once and for all he was not a creation of the Democratic National Committee’s Avatar Division. Let’s face it, that division has its hands full, what with creating and animating Michele Bachmann.

And technicians are still fine-tuning the latest version of Newt Gingrich, a project began long go.  The investment in the Gingrich-bot has paid off handsomely over the years and Democratic programmers are promising even more useful Gingrich quotes as time goes by.

___________________________

Speaking of Gingrich, I missed it last week when he criticized House Republicans for not being aggressive enough in the budget negotiations. On blabbing Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, he said Congressional Republicans should demand that President Obama give up his health reform law in exchange for Republicans agreeing to raise the debt ceiling.

I hate to admit it, but given the Democrats’ skill at negotiating, that might not be a bad strategy. If the GOP lawmakers try something like that, expect Democrats to counter-offer with a proposal to repeal those parts of the law already in effect and delay implementation of the rest until 3014.

___________________________

An Indiana Republican state legislator said the following in a debate over a jobs highly restrictive abortion bill he introduced, to which an amendment was proposed to make an exception for victims of rape or incest:

…someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they’ve been raped or there’s incest…

To that outrageous pap, Democrat Rep. Linda Lawson, a former sex crimes investigator for the Indiana police, replied:

Women don’t make this up! My Goodness! This is the state of Indiana!

Yes, unfortunately, Ms. Lawson, it is.

Driving Drunk Good For Small Businesses

“These DUI laws are not doing our small businesses in our state any good.  At all. They’re destroying them.” 

Rep. Alan Hale, Montana State House Republican

 

If you listen to the following 40-second clip, you will hear a pro-business argument very similar to other Republican pro-business arguments advanced every day in our nation’s capital, many of them just as ridiculous:

Obama’s Real Waterloo?

Much anger has been directed toward TARP—colloquially known as the bank bailout—and some of it is totally justified. 

In yesterday’s New York Times, Neil Barofsky, on his last day as special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, wrote that the program,

failed to meet some of its most important goals.

Those goals, he argues, involved “protecting home values and preserving homeownership.”  He wrote:

These Main Street-oriented goals were not, as the Treasury Department is now suggesting, mere window dressing that needed only to be taken “into account.” Rather, they were a central part of the compromise with reluctant members of Congress to cast a vote that in many cases proved to be political suicide.

The act’s emphasis on preserving homeownership was particularly vital to passage. Congress was told that TARP would be used to purchase up to $700 billion of mortgages, and, to obtain the necessary votes, Treasury promised that it would modify those mortgages to assist struggling homeowners. Indeed, the act expressly directs the department to do just that.

Obviously, judging by the condition of the economy—significantly hamstrung by the home mortgage nightmare—not much was done in terms of purchasing mortgages and helping homeowners.  Instead,

Treasury’s plan for TARP shifted from the purchase of mortgages to the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation’s largest financial institutions, a shift that came with the express promise that it would restore lending.

Naturally, the promise to restore lending wasn’t backed up with an “effective policy or effort to compel the extension of credit“:

There were no strings attached: no requirement or even incentive to increase lending to home buyers, and against our strong recommendation, not even a request that banks report how they used TARP funds.

Despite a feeble and mostly failed attempt in 2009 to help distressed homeowners, “foreclosures continue to mount, with 8 million to 13 million filings forecast over the program’s lifetime.”  And according to Barofsky, Tim Geithner and Treasury have no plans to change things.

On top of all that, Barofsky makes the sad claim that it appears the too-big-to-fail banks—who “no matter how reckless” “reasonably assume” taxpayers will bail them out again—are still too big to fail, the Treasury Department failing to “support real efforts at reform,” including efforts “to simplify or shrink the most complex financial institutions.”

As Barofsky notes,

The biggest banks are 20 percent larger than they were before the crisis and control a larger part of our economy than ever.

That statement is supported by the Wall Street Journal, which reported that all of the gains leading to record-setting fourth-quarter corporate profits were “in the financial sector“:

After rising like the Phoenix, the financial industry now accounts for about 30% of all operating profits. That’s an amazing share given that the sector accounts for less than 10% of the value added in the economy.

Here’s the dramatic swing, from the Journal article:

Look at that chart and remember the Journal‘s point:

That’s an amazing share given that the sector accounts for less than 10% of the value added in the economy.”  Less than 10%.

TARP was necessary to avoid a complete collapse of the financial system, Barofsky says, but its most lasting legacy may be that,

Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals — whether born of incompetence, timidity in the face of a crisis or a mindset too closely aligned with the banks it was supposed to rein in — may have so damaged the credibility of the government as a whole that future policy makers may be politically unable to take the necessary steps to save the system the next time a crisis arises.

If so, this may be Obama’s Waterloo.

Tea Party Hangover?

Good news for a change: It appears the Tea Party is losing face among those most susceptible to the right-wing’s bulldozing down the government.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, the Tea Party’s favorability is trending down generally, but,

The tea party movement’s unfavorable rating rose 15 points since October among lower-income Americans, compared to only five points among those making more than $50,000. Roughly half of all American households have incomes under $50,000, and half make more than that.

The numbers for all:

    Tea Party            

Favorable 32%    Unfavorable: 47% 

Republican Party         

        Favorable: 44%    Unfavorable: 48%         

Democratic Party       

Favorable: 46%     Unfavorable: 48%

“This is the first time that a CNN poll has shown the tea party’s unfavorable ratings as high as those of the two major parties,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “It looks like the rise in the movement’s unfavorable rating has come mostly among people who make less than $50,000.”

Maybe the alarm has finally gone off.  Thank you, Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Rick Snyder,  Gov. Rick Scott, Gov. Chris Christie, and those steely Republicans in the U. S. House of Representatives.

Gray-Blind

As I listened to Pat Buchanan and others talk this morning about Obama’s Libyan speech, I thought how comforting it must be to live in a Manichean world, a world in which all the decisions are easy ones, a world in which uncertainty and doubt are enemies, reservation and restraint weaknesses. 

That’s the world of conservatives like Buchanan.

He told us this morning that he was initially against intervention in Libya.  But now that we have gone in we have to go in all the way and get Qaddafi.  There’s no other possible solution. There’s no middle ground. Qaddafi’s a snake who will come back to bite us later, if we don’t get him now. He must go and we—America’s war-weary men and women—have to be the ones who take him out.

Pat Buchanan—whose combat experience is limited to punching a policeman over a traffic ticket while the young conservative was in college—confidently said it would take two weeks—two weeks—and it would be over.  Then we can get the Saudi’s to fund the aftermath—whatever that is—and get the Egyptians to supply troops and on and on. 

Just like that, Pat says. 

George W. Bush famously said, “I don’t do nuance.”  Indeed. You see, as with all those who are gray-blind, their eyes will not permit them to see the nuances involved in dealing with the different players in the world and the various events that challenge us both to act and to refrain from acting, all in America’s interests. 

In Libya, wisdom seemed to indicate that we act, in Obama’s words, “to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger,” but an Iraq-like invasion “is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

In other words, Libya is a unique situation. We can and will do our part, but not the whole part. “Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” said the President.

Why is that so hard to understand?

The Obama Anti-Doctrine

“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries.  The United States of America is different.”

Barack Obama, Address to the Nation on Libya

Because I resent the often-superficial analyses that networks typically present after major presidential speeches, I here present a relatively lengthy review of President Obama’s outstanding speech on Libya, which couldn’t have been clearer on all of the outstanding issues, despite Republican criticisms to the contrary.  I hope interested and thoughtful readers will endure this analysis.

The first bit of clarity:

In just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no-fly zone with our allies and partners. 

That process took a mere 31 days, said the President, compared to the more than a year it took to protect civilians in Bosnia during the 1990s. And, he said,

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. 

The clarity, though, in Obama’s speech was not just in what the U.S. and its international partners have accomplished or in America’s embrace of people suffering under oppression, but in how future potential interventions will be managed in matters that involve limited U.S. interests intersecting with humanitarian concerns. 

It is in the expression of how Obama views these potential interventions which constitutes what I will call the Obama anti-Doctrine.

I call it anti-doctrine because typically one thinks of a doctrine as a dogmatic set of beliefs that apply in all reference frames. Obama’s willingness to project American power, however, is not so rigid that it applies in every conceivable situation, thus it can be fairly described as an anti-doctrine, which has the following three legs:

1. International cooperation

2. Limited engagement

3. Pragmatic use of American power

Obama expressed all three legs of this anti-doctrine in this one paragraph from tonight’s speech:

It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs.  And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action.  But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.  In this particular country —Libya — at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale.  We had a unique ability to stop that violence:  an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves.  We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

1. International cooperation: “an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves

2. Limited engagement:  “We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground. “

3. Pragmatic use of American power: “America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs.  And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action.”

There you have it.  As much as it may vex those who demand a one-size-fits-all foreign policy, Obama announced a set of principles that are flexible enough to both allow action in Libya and restraint in Yemen and other places. In short, a brilliant formulation of the practical rules that should govern the use of American power in gray situations that don’t directly involve our vital, black-and-white national interests, situations that materialize all too frequently these days.

Obama expressed in full his vision of the difference between our vital national interests and interests that don’t directly affect our national survival:

As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe.  And no decision weighs on me more than when to deploy our men and women in uniform.  I’ve made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests.  That’s why we’re going after al Qaeda wherever they seek a foothold.  That is why we continue to fight in Afghanistan, even as we have ended our combat mission in Iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops from that country. 

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are.  Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security — responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce.  These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us.  They’re problems worth solving.  And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

In such cases, we should not be afraid to act — but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.  As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action.  Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves.  Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all. 

As I listened to Republican criticisms of the speech (and some Democrats’), I was struck by the fact that many of them either didn’t pay attention to it or didn’t read it or only determined to hear what they wanted to hear. Many of them wonder what the end game is; they wonder about the fate of Qaddafi.  But Obama addressed that issue:

We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supplies of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Qaddafi leaves power.  It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Qaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power.  But it should be clear to those around Qaddafi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on Qaddafi’s side.  With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be.

The burden is on the Libyan people, not the American people.  What could be clearer than that?

Finally, President Obama—try for just one second to imagine Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or most of the other GOP putative candidates for president giving this speech—tried to set this Libyan conflict in a regional context:

Yes, this change will make the world more complicated for a time.  Progress will be uneven, and change will come differently to different countries.  There are places, like Egypt, where this change will inspire us and raise our hopes.  And then there will be places, like Iran, where change is fiercely suppressed.  The dark forces of civil conflict and sectarian war will have to be averted, and difficult political and economic concerns will have to be addressed. 

The United States will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change.  Only the people of the region can do that. But we can make a difference. 

A difference, indeed.

Murderous American Soldiers: Reason To Quit?

WARNING: The following post contains a disturbing photograph.

Syndicated columnist Dan Thomasson wrote in Sunday’s Joplin Globe that it is time to get out of Afghanistan. 

He makes the point that historically speaking the mission is hopeless. He touches on the cost. He mentions that, until the unwise Iraq invasion, early in the Afghanistan war there was a narrow window to get bin Laden and accomplish a “limited engagement there.”  But the time has long passed.

Notwithstanding those legitimate points, Thomasson’s biggest reason to get out seems to be the indisputable fact that the war is not popular with the American people.  He cited that fact twice.

Now, if the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan is strategically important and crucial to our national defense, then it follows that it shouldn’t matter much what the American people think, nor should cost play a major role in deciding to continue.  A leader leads on such matters. 

So, I don’t think the fact that the war has grown unpopular or that our finances are hurting should have an effect on our leaders’ decision to continue the war policy, if it can be demonstrated that the war is vital to our interests.

The question, as always, is how strategically necessary is the war and can we accomplish our goals there?

I submit that a Rolling Stone article published yesterday tells us more about why we may need to get out of Afghanistan than any poll or balance sheet.  The article, “The Kill Team,” featured this subtitle:

How U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan murdered innocent civilians and mutilated their corpses – and how their officers failed to stop them.

You can read the horrific details for yourself and look at the disgusting pictures, but the article begins with introducing us to the unbelievable story of American infantrymen in Kandahar Province discussing among themselves “the notion of killing an Afghan civilian,” essentially for the hell of it:

The poppy plants were still low to the ground at that time of year. The two soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes, saw a young farmer who was working by himself among the spiky shoots. Off in the distance, a few other soldiers stood sentry. But the farmer was the only Afghan in sight. With no one around to witness, the timing was right. And just like that, they picked him for execution.

That young farmer was a 15-year-old kid.  Cpl. Morlock admitted the boy was “not a threat.” The boy, Gul Mudin, followed the soldiers’ instructions. Then,

The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun.

Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head.

The top officer present, Capt. Patrick Mitchell, didn’t buy the soldiers’ story that the boy was about to attack them with a grenade, but instead of offering to help the kid, “whom he believed might still be alive,” he instead ordered another soldier to make sure he was dead.  He fired two more shots into his body.

A “local elder,” working in the poppy field, witnessed the murder and immediately accused Morlock and Holmes. They ignored him.  It turned out the elder was the father of the murdered boy.

After every battlefield death, the story continues, there is a routine Army procedure involving stripping the corpse and checking for tatoos that might identify him.  They “scanned his iris and fingerprints.”  The horror continues:

Then, in a break with protocol, the soldiers began taking photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. Holding a cigarette rakishly in one hand, Holmes posed for the camera with Mudin’s bloody and half-naked corpse, grabbing the boy’s head by the hair as if it were a trophy deer. Morlock made sure to get a similar memento.

No one seemed more pleased by the kill than Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the platoon’s popular and hard-charging squad leader. “It was like another day at the office for him,” one soldier recalls. Gibbs started “messing around with the kid,” moving his arms and mouth and “acting like the kid was talking.” Then, using a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears, he reportedly sliced off the dead boy’s pinky finger and gave it to Holmes, as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.

According to his fellow soldiers, Holmes took to carrying the finger with him in a zip-lock bag. “He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,” one of his friends would later report. “He was proud of his finger.”

Failing to be punished for that killing, “the platoon went on a shooting spree over the next four months that claimed the lives of at least three more innocent civilians.”

The story doesn’t end there, including the sad fact that it appears “senior Army leadership” was aware of “the questionable nature of the killings,” but you get the idea.

I recommend you read the rest of the article on an empty stomach.

Something is wrong people.  Something is very wrong.  Is it any wonder that we seem to be making more enemies than friends in Afghanistan-Pakistan? 

Given that, how can we continue?

“Hogs Stink,” But GOP Lawmakers Say, So What?

Over a year ago, a Joplin Globe editorial expressed this misguided opinion on Missouri’s very liberal campaign finance system:

We continue to support unlimited individual contributions to political parties and candidates.

In that editorial, the paper indicated that,

the public and we, the media, should carefully monitor any politician’s position and watch for changes in such positions based on financial incentives. If there is reasonable evidence to suggest vote “buying” in any form, it should be made public.

While I think it is scandalous that our state allows politicians to receive unlimited campaign donations—Missouri voters approved limits in 1994, which Republican legislators overturned in 2008—I do believe it is essential that journalists hold politicians accountable for a connection between legislation they advance and support and campaign donations they receive.

On Sunday, the Globe did that on the issue of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.  Some people estimate there are around 450 CAFOs in our state, while the EPA lists “large” CAFOs in Missouri at 214.  These operations house mostly chickens, turkeys, and hogs, and as Ken Midkiff, chairman of the Missouri Clean Water Campaign points out,

Hogs stink…and 100,000…hogs stink a lot.

Two Missouri Republicans are pushing a bill that would restrict the rights of small farmers and others who seek compensation in state courts for damages—from reduced property value because of the overwhelming smell and contaminated wells and ponds, for instance, as well as a diminution in their quality of life—caused by the CAFOs. 

As to what motivates those two GOP lawmakers to essentially restrict the rights of those who happen to live near a CAFO, the Globe writes:

both legislators represent districts in northwest Missouri where hog CAFOs are operated by Smithfield Foods or its subsidiary, Premium Standard Farms. They also have received thousands of dollars each in campaign contributions from Smithfield Foods in advance of the 2010 elections, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Midkiff writes of the corporative motive of the two legislators, Rep. Casey Guernsey and Sen. Brad Lager, this way:

…Lager and Guernsey insist that their bills are going to help farmers. This is patent nonsense. Their bills have been introduced and are being pushed as a return on investment by PSF/Smithfield.

It’s exactly that expectation of a “return on investment” that troubles those of us who, unlike the Globe, think that waving unlimited amounts of money in front of politicians—of both parties—can produce no other expectation.

It’s The Economy, Stupid Social Conservatives!

Haley Barbour, the fundraising-fiend and putative GOP candidate for president, on Saturday gently urged social conservatives not to ruin his chances of becoming president by all that God and abortion and gay talk.

Barbour, who speaks both formal and colloquial Redneck (if you can’t tell the difference, then you’re part of what’s wrong with America), was speaking at religious zealot and congressman Steve King’s Conservative Principles PAC Conference, and said:

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is economic growth and job creation for our people.

In other words, it’s the economy, stupid.  Keep a lid on all that baby-killin’-Jesus-wasn’t-a-queer talk!  Because, he drawled,

We need to make sure that our children and grandchildren inherit the same country we inherited.

The “same country“?  Uh-oh.  This heavy-set Southern boss man from Yazoo City obviously believes that that exotic Negro from Chicago—via either Kenya or Hawaii—has come on the scene to change our way of life.

And if Republicans out there want to stop him, according to Barbour, they need to ease up on the social issues and hammer the economic ones.

Of course, Michele Bachmann, who also spoke at the event, was having none of that stuff:

Social conservatism is fiscal conservatism.

And Steve King himself had a correction for Barbour and others:

We need to work on the economic issues, yes we do. But if we let our society deconstruct, to the point where it’s Godless and faithless and valueless, and it’s every man and woman for himself, collecting the spoils from someone else’s labor, we’re just simply pitted against each other. We’re not a unified people anymore. It destroys us as a nation. I want to see a nation that is solidly bound together from a social construct.

It’s unclear how emphasizing abortion and homosexuality and evangelical religion will end in a “solidly bound together” nation, but I’m all for the social conservatives making their philosophy clear to the country.  Unlike the last election, they need to make Americans aware next time that they plan to do more than ruin the economy again. They intend on establishing what may look like a Christian caliphate, even as they drag us forward into the 18th century.

Barbour, who above all is a political guy—he worked for Ronald Reagan as his political director, worked as a lobbyist, served as chairman of the RNC, and is now the chairman of Republican Governors Association—understands that in a national presidential election, emphasizing the issues that automatically divide Americans is not a winning strategy because independent voters tend not to give a Mississippi catfish about those things, which is part of what makes them independent.

Of course, for Barbour’s strategy to succeed, the economy must continue to limp along.  And Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to make sure that happens. 

As Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told us not long ago, his first job is to make sure Obama has no second term.  So, shut up! all you social conservatives and let him do his job.

“That Tiny Central Self Which No One Sees In This Life”

“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

Today’s Joplin Globe carried a headline that made me cringe:

The lede, from the version of the story on the website of the Nevada Daily Mail:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that Dennis Henry, 51, of Wheatland, formerly the postmaster of Nevada, Mo., pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to his role in a sex-trafficking conspiracy in which a young, mentally deficient woman was coerced into being a sex slave for several years while she was tortured in a trailer home located in a wooded area in Lebanon, Mo.

This story, in all its dreadful detail, involves someone I know.  In fact, the last time I saw Dennis was when I had lunch with him in Nevada. I had met with him many times as part of my job as a union advocate.

And I liked him. 

In fact, he was one of the “good guys” I had to deal with, a man who seemed to care about his employees and who seemed to want to do the right thing.

Dennis admitted to the world that he did some appalling and horrifying things with a girl he knew to beneglected,” who appeared to be “developmentally delayed for someone her age,” and who “did not know how to think for herself.”  Here’s more:

By pleading guilty today, Henry admitted that he engaged in sex with the victim, who is identified in court documents as “FV” (female victim), and participated in torture sessions with FV that would last for hours. According to Henry, FV was subject to the most extreme forms of torture he had ever seen. Henry saw pictures of FV’s vagina sewn shut, which he was told was a form of punishment. Punishment also included locking FV in a cage. Henry never asked FV if she needed help and never offered to assist her in any way.

The story continues:

In 2006, Henry helped transport FV to California for a sexually explicit pornographic photo shoot. The sex toys, machines and devices filled the trunk and backseat of the car, with Henry, FV and another person crowded into the front seat. Henry drove most of the way from Missouri to California, where they stayed in a dirty motel room that was located in front of an alley filled with trash, needles and drug paraphernalia.

According to Henry, FV became scared when they arrived in California. When she saw the crank phone that was used to administer electric shocks, she withdrew and “melted.” Henry found FV crying in a room. FV told him she hated the crank phone and was worried she would not be able to take the pain. Henry provided approximately $1,400 for this trip to California. At a later date, he provided another $500 for a return trip, which he did not join.

Henry also admitted that he visited the woman at a Lebanon strip club where she was forced to work.

Those details are the ones suitable for inclusion in a blog associated with a reputable newspaper.

Now, as I said, I liked Dennis.  I wouldn’t have imagined in a thousand lifetimes that he was capable of doing the things he has admitted to doing.  In fact, while these things were still allegations, I held out hope that somehow they weren’t true, that they had the wrong guy.

But they didn’t.  He was involved.  He said so. 

Now what?  How do you process such information?  How do you make sense of the reality of these events, which contradict what you thought you knew someone to be? 

I suppose the biggest shocker is that I couldn’t detect the apparently underlying humanity of Dennis Henry, who while I was formulating my personality assessment of him as a “good guy,” was doing horrible things to a mentally-deficient young woman. Yes, that’s a shocker. 

What other things about other people have I missed?  About myself?

C. S. Lewis, in a Christian context, talked about “the little mark on the soul” that each of our actions leave on “that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure—or enjoy—forever.”  Even if you’re not a believer in a soul or in a world to come, you can’t ignore the force behind the idea that our actions, big or small, do help define who we are.  Lewis:

One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at. But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both.

I don’t know if that is true.  But I do know that a man who can seem so reasonable and decent in one context and in another can do the things that Dennis did, is a man whose humanity is in question.  As with all forms of cruelty, there seems to be nothingness where compassion should be.  I don’t know if Dennis struggled with any native impulses of decency while he was indulging his obvious sexual perversion, but I’d like to think he did.

Somehow, that would make this all easier to understand, but I can’t explain how.

In any case, as I sometimes do in times like these, I turn to an old friend again, C. S. Lewis, to try to aid my understanding of such realities, even if I have parted ways with what I once believed about God, most of which I adopted under his influence.  Here is his view of the old “hate the sin but not the sinner” doctrine from his Christian perspective:

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself.

However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the thing was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.

Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery.  We ought to hate them.  Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid.  But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.

How The Tea Party Is Changing America?

“Contact with any nuts could be fatal.”

—Sign on the door of the house of a 6-year-old girl with a food allergy

It appears to me that if you want to see the Tea Party mentality in action, look no further than this, courtesy of Reuters:

ORLANDO, Florida — Some public school parents in Edgewater, Florida, want a first-grade girl with life-threatening peanut allergies removed from the classroom and home-schooled, rather than deal with special rules to protect her health, a school official said.

If you examine this story, it is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the spirit of the movement that has come to dominate right-wing politics, even if this story doesn’t directly have anything to do with the Tea Party per se.

Parents—some even putting placards in the hands of their own kids—are protesting the fact that their children are asked to sacrifice—washing their hands twice a day, for instance—so this little girl can attend school without fear of an allergic reaction, possibly including death.

Parents said they feel their children are being stripped of their classroom rights,” Reuters reported.

Rather than use the opportunity to teach their children the value of looking out for others, these people are teaching their children to look out for themselves, the essence of much Tea Party thinking.  The little girl apparently hasn’t been to school for days now, and who could blame her?

But the worst thing I saw, and the thing that reminded me of Tea Party protests, were a couple of placards visible on a video report on the Today show.

The first is this one:

You can see that the sign on the left—held by a child, for God’s sake—says:

School Board approved Clorox wipes for our kid’s faces. WE SAY NO!

Wow! What an outrage!  Except that a school spokesman said the wipes are used to clean desks, not faces.  Oh.  But that’s okay.  Just like at Tea Party protests, facts just get in the way of a good placard.

And there’s this sign:

The sign on the right appears to say this:

Who’s paying for all of (these) special measures?

Yeah, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Never mind that the worst that could happen is that kids would get in the habit of washing their hands a couple of times a day and would learn the value of living in a civilization where we take care of one another.  But, heck, that doesn’t compare with the miniscule cost involved, does it?

Nope.  Not to these people, the real nuts in this story.

________________

Here is the Today report:

Ideology Trumps Innovation

Yesterday, McClatchy published an amazing story by James Rosen that began:

WASHINGTON — The good doctor was frustrated.

Dr. David Cull, a prominent vascular surgeon in Greenville, S.C., had invented a small valve system that could spare 300,000 dialysis patients across the country enormous suffering — and save American taxpayers billions of dollars in Medicare costs.

The source of Dr. Cull’s frustration it turns out was my favorite Tea Party Senator, Jim DeMint, who,

refused to write a letter supporting the surgeon’s application for a federal grant under the landmark health care bill that President Barack Obama signed into law a year ago this week.

So deep is DeMint’s commitment to killing Socialized Privatized Medicine—the Affordable Care Act—that he is willing to allow fellow citizens to suffer and potential savings to evaporate just to make his point. Now that, my friends, is fanaticism.

Rosen’s reported Dr. Cull’s reaction:

To Cull, who’s about to start clinical trials with 12 human subjects for his Hemoaccess Valve System, DeMint’s stance on his fledgling device — and on health care more broadly — is pennywise but pound-foolish.

“It’s a good sound bite on Fox News, but he’s looking at it so simplistically,” Cull said. “He’s completely ignoring the huge (possible) savings.”

Simplistic? Jim DeMint?

In any case, the McClatchy story mentions an interesting facet of the Affordable Care Act that I have overlooked:

Nationwide, physicians and biomedical firms have obtained $1 billion in grants for projects ranging from biomarkers to detect concussions for a Florida group to a new drug to prevent chemotherapy-induced vomiting in cancer patients being developed by a California company.

These grants, like the one Dr. Cull sought and eventually obtained despite Jim DeMint, may lead to better and less costly treatments, and thus are an investment worth making.  McClatchy:

The grant Cull got from the federal government supplements money from private investors.

“This is money that, in my view, was very well spent,” he said of the grant. “If our valve doesn’t work, the government will have lost $250,000. If it does work, they will have saved a gazillion dollars.”

Yes, but alleviating suffering and saving a gazillion dollars is not as important as making sure health care is Obama’s Waterloo, is it?

Remarks And Asides

Dear God,

Please talk Donald Trump into running for president. I take back everything I’ve ever said about Your Party, about Michele Bachmann, about Sarah Palin, even about Anson Burlingame.  Just please let him run and let the GOP pick him as its nominee.  Pretty please?

Prayerfully,

Duane

________________________

Everybody’s making a big deal out of Newt Gingrich’s egregious flip-flop on what to do in Libya. First he can’t wait to go in, then when Obama goes in, he says he shouldn’t have gone in.  If a man can’t make up his mind about which woman with whom he wants to live happily ever after, why should anyone think he can make up his mind about which dictator we should bomb?

________________________

A new Pew poll shows that “nearly half (47%) of registered voters say they would like to see Barack Obama reelected, while 37% say they would prefer to see a Republican candidate win the 2012 election.”  The overview of the Pew survey, though, says,

In part, Obama is benefitting from the fact that the GOP has yet to coalesce behind a candidate.

All the more reason, God, to get Donald Trump to run.  Please?

________________________

Speaking of Republican candidates for president, Herman Cain, famous for broiling Whoppers for Burger King (actually, he’s somewhat famous for running Godfather’s Pizza), attended a rally of home-schoolers yesterday in Des Moines. 

Along with other candidates present, he, of course, trashed the public school system, obligatory behavior for anyone wanting to be the GOP nominee.  But Cain, an African-American Tea Party favorite from the South, said something I found interesting. He reportedly denounced all government involvement in education and then said this:

That’s all we want is for government to get out of the way so we can educate ourselves and our children the old-fashioned way.

The “old-fashioned way“?  Hmm.  Was he talking about the real old-fashioned way, back when there were no schools, no books, and no teachers?  That far back?

Or was the 65-year-old Herman Cain, who admits to a working-class pedigree, talking about the old-fashioned days in the 1950s when he would have spent his formative years in Georgia public schools?  

The old-fashioned way in those days in the South was to segregate-then-educate kids like Herman Cain, and despite the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, some parts of Georgia did not even begin to integrate the schools until 1970.

According to Professor Michael Gagnon,

In defiance of Brown v. Board of Education, The Georgia School Board required public school teachers to sign a pledge that they would not teach in integrated schools in 1955 or they would lose their teaching license.

Is that the old-fashioned way the GOP candidate for president pines for?

________________________

Finally, James O’Keefe, the scoundrel whose creative video edits have killed ACORN and wounded NPR, while simultaneously giving Sean Hannity a Viagra-like boner, is in debt.  In fact, he claims he’s in debt up to $50,000.  Fifty G’s.  He has sent out a fund-raising email to supporters, saying he had to finance much of his wonderful work on the credit card:

We made a lot of sacrifices—personally and financially —because we fight for what we believe in.

It’s not clear to me how he can both claim he has sacrificed financially and yet beg others to pay his bills, but in any case, I am setting up the James O’Keefe Relief Fund here at The Erstwhile Conservative.  Just send in your donations and I will be sure he gets the money. No amount is too small.

Trust me at least as much as you trust him.

Lewis Black Slams Donald Trump

No one deserves the following more than Donald Trump, America’s most despicable money-man:

Sneaky Christians

From a Mother Jones story I learned that creationists have been busy in places other than Missouri:

In the first three months of 2011, nine creationism-related bills have been introduced in seven states—that’s more than in any year in recent memory…

The offenders, other than my own state, are Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma (who could have guessed?), and New Mexico.

A local co-sponsor of the bill in the Missouri House is Charlie Davis from Webb City.  That God-fearin’ lawmaker should be proud.  Mr. Davis boasts that he serves as deacon and treasurer of his Baptist church and that his three children are home-schooled, so his interest in what Missouri school children are taught in Missouri schools is purely academic it appears.

Now, the title of HB 195 sounds harmless enough:

Academic Freedom to Teach Scientific Evidence Regarding
Evolution

Or, even better is this, found in the text version of the bill:

AN ACT

To amend chapter 170, RSMo, by adding thereto one new section relating to teacher academic freedom to teach scientific evidence regarding evolution.

That would be great, wouldn’t it? To give teachers the ability to teach evolution?  I’m for that.

Except here is the official summary, which serves as an example of how these sneaky Christians intend on subverting the Constitution:

This bill requires the State Board of Education, other public
elementary and secondary school governing authorities, and school administrative entities to create school environments that encourage students to explore scientific questions and to assist teachers in finding effective ways to present controversial scientific material.  These entities must not prohibit teachers from helping students understand the scientific strengths and weaknesses of theories of biological or chemical evolution, and the provisions of the bill must not be construed as promoting any doctrine or discriminating for or against any beliefs.

Now, you may have noticed the phrase, “strengths and weaknesses of theories of biological or chemical evolution.”  The meaning of that phrase leaves enough room to float Noah’s Ark right into the classroom and dock it there.  

And the clause, “the provisions of the bill must not be construed as promoting any doctrine or discriminating for or against any beliefs,” would surely be used to attack those ungodly scientists and their “belief” in naturalism.

From the actual text of the bill, we find this:

This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. Scientific information includes physical evidence and logical inferences based upon evidence.

Again, many Christians consider the scientific attachment to methodological naturalism as a sort of religious doctrine, a kind of fanatical faith in the measurable, quantifiable universe.  So, it wouldn’t be long before some zealous Christian teacher brought in Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, and began teaching in earnest Intelligent Design, either in the name of challenging the assumptions of most scientists or as a way of introducing “logical inferences” of a different kind.

Fortunately, this nonsense is not likely to go anywhere again this year (a similar bill was introduced last year), since it hasn’t even been scheduled for a hearing. But it does show that the religious zealots aren’t going away anytime soon, as more and more of them seek seats in legislatures all over the country.

Someday, it could get serious. In the mean time, y’all are free to visit here:

Monday Morning Presidents

“Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States.”

                        —Barack Obama, Letter to the Congress regarding the commencement of operations in Libya

 

Each political party is split over Libya.  War does that.

Democrats, some with legitimate concerns about executive branch overreach, are coming down on each side. Dennis Kucinich has even suggested impeachment, although he dialed that back on Monday night. 

Republicans are both for and against the President’s actions, some taking both positions at the same time.  Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana is even worried about the cost of the Libyan action, the years and years and billions upon billions of dollars spent in Iraq-Afghanistan apparently having escaped his notice.

Movement conservatives, as usual, are hysterical, albeit in disparate ways.  Newt Gingrich, when Obama hadn’t acted, wanted him to act. When Obama did act, Gingrich changed his mind. Sort of. 

Frank Gaffney, who has obviously lost command of his faculties, wrote the following on Big Peace, a site created by the morally-defective Andrew Breitbart:

What I find particularly concerning is the prospect that what we might call the Qaddafi Precedent will be used in the not-to-distant future to justify and threaten the use of U.S. military forces against an American ally: Israel.

I will spare you the details of this Beckian conspiracy, but suffice it to say that the whole Libyan thing is a pretext for “raining down cruise missiles on Israeli targets in the West Bank.”

Joe Scarborough, whose rantings this morning were not a substitute for a coherent position, said this morning that Obama handled the crisis perfectly last week but this week he “stumbled into an African civil war.” 

Scarborough, like others, played the “double-standard” card, asking why we aren’t in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and on and on.  Never mind that the Arab League or the United Nations or Europe aren’t interested in going into those places and thus we would have to do it alone, something Scarborough claims, speaking out of the other side of his mouth, we cannot do.

Or Scarborough and others ask why we didn’t go into Rwanda or Sudan or, again, on and on.  Never mind that Barack Obama was not president during those times and thus is not responsible for our failure to act at the time.  In any case, does the fact that we failed to do something we maybe should have done in our history obligate us to keep on not doing it? Huh?

Pat Buchanan claimed, and received much agreement among Morning Joe panelists, that Obama’s actions, including bombing Kaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia military compound in Tripoli, went beyond the U.N. resolution authorizing the Libyan assault.  Except that all one has to do is read that resolution and see how wrong Buchanan and others are about that. 

While the Security Council excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory,” it does authorize “all necessary measures” to “protect civilians.”  Before going on television and spouting such nonsense, these people should at least read the damn document.

I heard some say that since Obama claimed Kaddafi “must go,” if we fail to get him to go, the mission is a failure. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t understand the difference between the President’s desire and the objective of the actual mission.  Nowhere in Obama’s direct statements about the mission does he say the point is to remove or kill Kaddafi.

I confess that the more I listen to Obama’s critics, both left and right, the more I am convinced his actions were wise—under the circumstances.  This is one of those times when there is an intersection between our national interests—regional stability including oil price stability during these tenuous economic times—and our concern for humanitarian interests.  And in his letter to Congress, Obama made both of those points:

U.S. military forces commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya.

And,

Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States.

Sure, we have interests in the Middle East, most of which revolve around our dependence on oil and thus our dependence on relatively stable and predictable oil prices.  There’s not a damn thing wrong with the United States protecting its interests, economic or otherwise. 

What galls some on both sides of the ideological divide is that we are also making the argument that our actions are based on humanitarian considerations. They claim we are being hypocritical. No. We’re not.  As the Obama quotes above make clear, we are acting for both reasons.  And we are acting in concert with Britain and Europe and the Arab world.  For a change.

As Ed Rendell pointed out this morning, what would these critics of the Libyan intervention be saying today if instead of acting, we would have stood by and watched the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of civilians at the hands of a man who vowed to show no mercy to them?  Many of the same critics would ask why we let that happen, when all we had to do was institute a no-fly zone. 

Clearly, Mr. Obama’s worst critics, as usual, want to have it both ways. He dithered. He stumbled. He waited on the French. Yet, he acted too swiftly. He violated the Constitution. He should have waited on a vote of the Congress.

Except that the time had run out. It was either act or likely thousands would have died.  As I have said previously, I could understand the motive to both act and not act.  But now that I have heard the Monday morning presidents talk, it appears to me that Mr. Obama—so long as he remains true to his statements about the limited nature of our actions—has done the right thing.

And now that the immediate mission seems to have succeeded, the President needs to clarify what our mission is going forward. There is still a messy civil war going on in Libya and certainly we have taken sides.  Just how much more we will do on behalf of the rebels is the great uncertainty at this point.

It remains for Mr. Obama to explain what comes next, if anything.

A Party Of Cranks

Last week, Scientific American reported  on the Republican attempt to bar the EPA from “regulating carbon dioxide emissions to mitigate climate change.” The story carried this headline:

House Repubs Vote That Earth Is Not Warming

It appears that California Congressman Henry Waxman,

had proposed an amendment calling on Congress to at least acknowledge that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” just as abundant scientific evidence confirms.

Waxman’s amendment, which didn’t contain a cause for global warming, just an acknowledgement of it, failed, thus the headline.

But here’s how the SciAm story began:

Congress has finally acted on global warming—by denying it exists. It’s in the grand lawmaking tradition of the Indiana state legislature’s 1897 attempt to redefine the value of pi.

Now, I hadn’t heard of what is known as the Indiana Pi Bill.  It involved a physician named Edwin Goodwin, a crank mathematical hobbyist, who believed he had succeeded in squaring the proverbial circle. 

He convinced his state congressman to introduce his achievement as a bill in the Indiana General Assembly in 1897, ” an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost.”

Even though the Indianapolis Sentinel felt it necessary to report that the bill was “not intended to be a hoax,” the House passed the bill by a close vote: 67-0.

It just so happened that a Professor Waldo from Purdue was in the Statehouse “lobbying for the University’s budget appropriation.” The professor’s account of what happened revealed his “surprise when he discovered that he was in the midst of a debate upon a piece of mathematical legislation.” Professor Waldo continued:

An ex-teacher from the eastern part of the state was saying: “The case is perfectly simple.  If we pass this bill which establishes a new and correct value of pi, the author offers our state without cost the use of his discovery and its free publication in our school textbooks, while everyone else must pay him a royalty.”  The roll was then called and the bill passed its third and final reading in the lower house.  A member then showed the writer a copy of the bill just passed and asked him if he would like an introduction to the learned doctor, its author.  He declined the courtesy with thanks remarking that he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.

The good news in all this is that the bill did not pass the Indiana Senate, thanks to “coaching” by Professor Waldo, who, along with “leading newspapers of Chicago and the East,” managed to convince the Senators that “the Indiana State Legislature had laid itself open to ridicule by the action already taken on the bill.”

That’s the good news about a legislative attempt to, as Scientific American put it, “redefine the value of pi.”

The bad news is that Republicans, feeling no embarrassment over their vote to deny the science behind global warming, are in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives for at least another 21 months.

A Democratic member of the science-denying committee, Ed Markey, an Eastern liberal from Massachusetts, had what likely won’t be the last laugh over Republican legislative battiness:

I rise in opposition to a bill that repeals the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet. However, I won’t rise physically, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating.

Palin In God’s Country

No doubt, after tonight’s dinner with Sarah Palin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will learn things he didn’t know he didn’t know. 

The fractional and former governor of Alaska, who just left India with a speaking fee safely tucked away, is spending time in the Holy Land, presumably so she can get closer to that famous Republican Kingmaker, God.

Or maybe she is trying to once again convince the fleeceable that she is running for President, which, of course, she isn’t.

In any case, in New Delhi on Saturday, she broke with her own expressed understanding of protocol and attacked President Obama for “dithering on Libya.”  “Dithering” has been a favorite criticism of Obama offered by righties like Palin, who present themselves as, well, I’ll just let CNN tells ya:

On Libya she said “It would have been different.” Remarking that the U.S. has a tradition of not criticizing the president’s foreign policy while on “foreign soil,” she continued, “Certainly, there would have been more decisiveness, more commitment to those that are freedom fighters, that they know that America is on their side.”

“There would have been more decisiveness, less dithering,” Palin stated.

Yes, we need to let those freedom fighters know that America is “on their side,” and I suppose it would be dithering if we sought to find out if those freedom fighters were also on “our side.”  But why let little details like that get in the way of another Obama-slam-a?

CNN, still holding out the possibility that Ms. Palin is presidentially ambitious, made this idiotic statement in its article:

Palin’s trip is expected to help her bolster her foreign policy credentials.

Just how a trip to make a paid speech in India, or chatting with fellow right-wingers in Israeli, is supposed to help bolster her credentials is not explained, but what is also unexplained is the fascination with this gold-digging goddess of the gullible.

She could make a thousand trips and take a thousand speaking fees and she will never—ever—be qualified to be president.

Joplin Globe Focuses On Right-To-Freeload

The Joplin Globe, undoubtedly because it doesn’t have the resources to assign a reporter full-time to the goings-on in Jefferson City, doesn’t often feature stories on what is happening in state government.  But Sunday’s edition was an exception.

A front-page story by Susan Redden brought readers up to date on the right-to-freeload legislation percolating in the Missouri legislature.

I doubt too many locals knew that Bill White, Joplin representative in the Missouri House, is sponsoring his own right-to-freeload bill. From Redden’s article:

White said current Missouri laws are seen by those involved in economic development as the reason some manufacturers choose neighboring states such as Kansas or Oklahoma.

White’s bill specifies that no worker, to be hired or to keep a job, will be required to join a union or pay union dues. White said his bill “is a freedom-of-association issue.”

“Why should someone have to join a union and pay dues to be able to work? I don’t think that’s what this country’s about,” he said.

“Only 11.9 percent of the work force is union. I don’t think they can make the case that the other 88 percent can’t have a good job, or do a good job.”

I’ve dealt with this nonsense before, but I find it amazing that White, a former attorney who is married to a doctor, fails to bring to his argument any examples of businesses that did not locate in Missouri, or businesses that relocated to other states, because of our state’s anti-freeloading statutes.  Not one example.

Joplin’s representative in the Missouri Senate, business-owner Ron Richard, also favors the right-to-freeload legislation, although he concedes it’s not going to pass.  Here’s his reasoning, such as it is, for supporting efforts to further weaken labor unions in Missouri:

“I’ve always been told (right-to-work) makes the state more attractive, particularly to manufacturers,” he said.

I’ve always been told“? How about a little evidence, Mr. Richard? What can you provide us to support your view? One would think before you simply accept such claims you would ask for some examples of businesses that made decisions based on the right-to-freeload status of the various states and then share those examples with the rest of us, your constituents.

As Michael Kelsay, writing in the Globe‘s Sunday Forum, said,

Employers uniformly report that right-to-work is not an important factor in their location decision. In 2009, Area Development magazine’s annual survey of small manufacturers found that right-to-work was ranked 14th as a factor in location decisions; in 2010, right-to-work had fallen to 20th as a factor in location decisions. Over the past several years, right-to-work has never ranked in the 10 of the most important factors that influence manufacturers’ location decisions. Those factors that are consistently ranked in the top 10 of importance are factors such as highway accessibility, availability of skilled labor, state and local tax incentives, tax exemptions and construction costs.

And Kelsay provided the most succinct description possible of the right-to-freeload bills pending in Missouri:

The legislation will lower wages and benefits and will have no impact on job growth.

______________________

Finally, again in the paper’s Forum section, a frequent commenter on this blog, William Gerald Malan, wrote a nice piece on what our Missouri legislators are proposing in regards to tax policy (eliminating the corporate franchise tax at a cost of $85 million, while simultaneously modifying tax credits in ways that hurt the poor), and whether Missouri will continue to receive extended federal unemployment benefit funds (thousands of Missourians will be eligible for the benefits beginning next month, but three Republicans are delaying passage in the Senate).

Gerry ends his column:

Missourians need help now.

Indeed.

Time Will Tell

“We don’t know what the outcome will be.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

I remain agnostic about the wisdom of the United States—even with the United Nation’s resolution and international, including Arab, cooperation—intervening in Libya. 

At this time, there is no way of knowing whether what we are doing is the right thing to do.  In fact, we may not know for many, many years whether it was wise or foolish of President Obama to join in—lead, really—the international military operation against Gaddafi, and anyone who says they do know is not telling the truth.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen said on CNN this morning:

How this ends from the political standpoint, I just can’t say.

Of course not.  And here’s why:

…on a per capita basis, no country sent more young fighters into Iraq to kill Americans than Libya — and almost all of them came from eastern Libya, the center of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion that the United States and others now have vowed to protect, according to internal al Qaeda documents uncovered by U.S. intelligence.

That troubling bit of information was advanced in an article by David Wood, a seasoned journalist who has covered “military issues, foreign affairs, and combat operations” for Time and the Los Angeles Times, among others. 

Here is the title of his piece:

Anti-American Extremists Among Libyan Rebels U.S. Has Vowed To Protect

Wood references the Sinjar documents, a collection of al Qaeda computer data captured by Americans in 2007 in a predawn raid near Sinjar, Iraq, six miles from the Syrian border. The documents included background information on around 750 foreign fighters, who migrated to Iraq to kill American soldiers, many of those fighters coming from among the very people we are now pledging to protect. Wood wrote:

Almost one in five foreign fighters arriving in Iraq came from eastern Libya, from the towns of Surt, Misurata and Darnah.

On a per capita basis, that’s more than twice as many than came from any other Arabic-speaking country, amounting to what the counter terrorism center called a Libyan “surge” of young men eager to kill Americans.

Wood also notes:

Eastern Libya has been described by U.S. diplomats as a breeding ground for Islamist extremism. In diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, the region’s young men were said to have “nothing to lose” by resorting to violence. Sermons in the local mosques are “laced with phraseology urging worshippers to support jihad,” one diplomat reported.

As Wood is careful to point out,

extremist elements make up only a portion of the resistance to Gaddafi and have been present in every popular uprising in the region stretching from the Iranian revolution to the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

So it would be inaccurate to say that it necessarily follows from the continued destabilization of Libya that some kind of anti-Western coalition is waiting to replace Gaddafi. But it would be equally inaccurate to say a Western-style democracy will emerge.

The truth is that especially in that part of the world, no one knows what effect our action or inaction today will have on events tomorrow.  After all, it was just five years ago—five years ago—that the Bush administration normalized diplomatic relations with Libya and rescinded Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress at the time:

We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya’s continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 1, 2001.

Who could have predicted all the events that have happened in North Africa and around the Middle East since Rice’s announcement to Congress in May of 2006?

Not one pundit or politician, that’s who. The same number who can’t predict future events today.

Obama’s action is risky and only time will tell if it was worth the risk, but unlike the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this time there will be no ground invasion of Libya and thus no occupation.  However, if there ever were to come such an invasion and occupation, then the future following that decision becomes quite foreseeable.

Indeed, we can see it in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Will The Joplin Globe Endorse Claire McCaskill?

I found it not all that surprising that the Joplin Globe‘s editorial today mentioned the “Aire Claire episode,” a reference to Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s billing the government for 89 charter flights taken in a private plane partially owned by her family. 

Although McCaskill quickly acknowledged the appearance of impropriety and repaid the money (in reality only one flight to a Democratic Party event appears to violate Senate ethics rules), our local paper found it necessary to call attention to it, in case the local readers hadn’t yet heard of it. McCaskill is up for reelection next year, after all.

While it was mighty nice of our paper to keep the locals informed, it’s too bad the Globe didn’t believe it necessary to call attention to now-Senator Roy Blunt’s past association with convicted felon and lobbyist Jack Abramoff or recently convicted money-launderer Tom DeLay (Blunt reportedly contributed $10,000 to help defray DeLay’s legal bills) or Blunt’s slimy attempt to sneak through tobacco legislation favorable to Philip Morris while dating (and later wedding) a Philip Morris lobbyist. 

I suppose, though, all of that is not really as big a deal as what Ms. McCaskill did.  Because notwithstanding all his non-mentioned faults, the Globe endorsed Blunt last October, saying it was doing so because of Blunt’s “depth of experience” and because of his ability to “work for real bipartisan communication.”

The question I would ask is this: Now that McCaskill has the experience of being our senator, and now that she has shown the ability to work with Republicans, will the Joplin Globe endorse her next year?  In 2006, the paper endorsed her opponent, Republican Senator Jim Talent*, saying:

He clearly possesses the experience, the intellect and the political savvy to get things done in the Senate, and has demonstrated an ability to work with those on the other side of the aisle.

Oops! There it is again: experience and ability to work across the aisle. Same reason the paper endorsed Blunt! 

Guess that means next year McCaskill, despite “Aire Claire,” can count on a nod from the Globe.

__________________________

* As part of the paper’s 2006 endorsement of Talent, someone wrote this laughable line:

Furthermore, Talent wants to make permanent the tax cuts that have spurred the nation’s economic recovery and job creation.

I take it back. It would be laughable, if it weren’t so sad.

God And Donald Trump

When I have doubts about God, I think of Donald Trump.

I wonder just how there can be a God, an all-powerful being who loves us and cares for us, who would unleash upon us such an obnoxious, loathsome stream of diarrhea as the potential GOP candidate for president most certainly is.   

I mean, if God loves us, why is there a Donald Trump?

According to some of my conservative Christian friends, God is busy sending earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes and cancer and AIDS as punishment for our sins, so does that explain why there is a Trump?

Or, if not, why does God put up with him? Or with our fawning media, who treat him like he is some kind of ethereal being?  Mika Brzezinski, of Morning Joe, practically pees on herself, so excitedly grateful is she for being in the presence of The Donald, who appears too often on that show. 

But back to God. Just what Being worthy of worship could tolerate for long a creature who said this on Good Morning America:

Part of the beauty of me, is that I’m very rich.

The Republican Party, the Party of God, deserves this arrogant and ignorant bastard in its primary. 

Here, in case you didn’t see it, is his latest excursion into narcissistic nonsense, including the stupidity about Obama’s youth:


 

 

 
 
 

 

Libya: It’s Harder Than You Think

It appears that Qaddafi is well on his way to repelling the rebel assault in Libya.

This morning on Morning Joe I heard lefty Nicholas Kristof say the following about the Obama Administration’s position:

Question: What is now holding back the United States from acting in a forceful way, in a way that shows leadership, maybe even out front, but with the support of others?

Kristof: Part of the problem is that we have stalled too long.  I mean a no-fly zone would have been, I think, quite effective three weeks ago, I think, probably would have been very effective. At this point, when… Qaddafi has been able to move all of his artillery right next to Benghazi, there’ much less that we an actually do.  And so now the administration is talking about going way beyond and actually attacking tanks and having a “no-move” zone in eastern Libya, which actually makes me kind of nervous.

Question: Was there an opportunity missed here? What happened?

Kristof: Absolutely. Absolutely.  They were so nervous about a no-fly zone that they missed that opportunity. There was a real window here, when we could have moved in with, I think, minimal costs and peeled off the Libyan military from Qaddafi, but that window at this point has pretty much closed.

A bona fide lefty who thinks Obama should have acted sooner and that the “costs” would have been “minimal.”  Hmm. I’m not sure why he thinks that.

Now, let’s turn to the Right.   National Review was initially opposed to direct intervention in Libya, and wrote of the so-called no-fly zone strategy:

If we are serious about limiting his ability to massacre his countrymen, the no-fly zone would have to become a no machine-gun zone, too — in other words an honest-to-goodness military intervention to affect events directly on the ground. Deploying our air power while Qaddafi continued to kill with impunity would make us look more ineffectual rather than less. For now (perhaps this will change if Qaddafi begins to consolidate his position on the strength of his air force), the no-fly zone seems a classic case of looking for lost keys under the streetlight; it’s the handiest way for us to intervene, not the most effective.

That was written on February 28.  Yesterday, the same editors wrote this:

Qaddafi is a murderer of Americans with whom we still have a score to settle. If he survives after we and our allies sought his ouster (even if ineffectually), he will be even more unpredictable; he would be foolish not to restart his WMD programs as insurance against foreign intervention against his regime in the future.

Uh-oh. The Right talking about WMDs again? I suppose you know what is coming next:

All this means that we should want the rebellion against Qaddafi to survive. We initially opposed a no-fly zone, but circumstances have changed. We should establish both a no-fly zone and a no-drive zone in the approach to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi to prevent Qaddafi’s armored vehicles from entering the city.

Make no mistake about this: That “no-drive zone” means war. And just how long would it be before that strategy would mean American troops on the ground in Libya?  Well, National Review’s conservative editors think of everything, don’t they? Try this:

We are not talking of a military operation comparable to taking and occupying Baghdad in 2003. If we check Qaddafi’s offensive, then we can consider other options. Perhaps we will only want to do what’s necessary to maintain the rebels’ enclave so they can fight another day; perhaps we will want to undertake decapitation strikes against the regime in Tripoli; perhaps we’ll want to use the threat of such strikes to try to bargain Qaddafi out of the country.

Or perhaps we will get ourselves involved in a mess that we can’t get out of. 

Even if we stopped Qaddafi’s advance into eastern Libya, namely Benghazi, then what?  Help the rebels overthrow him? We know next to nothing about the motives of the rebels. We don’t know they would be better or worse than Qaddafi himself.  We don’t know that if they were to overthrow him that they would establish a Madisonian democracy or call up Glenn Beck for instructions on how to establish a caliphate.

Besides all that, there is evidence that tribal loyalties were much misunderstood in the West and that the rebel strength was vastly overrated.  This point is made very well in an article by Vivienne Walt at Time, who quoted Mustafa Fetouri, of the Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli, as saying,

The West’s interpretation was very, very stupid. They just gambled on the wrong thing, and made a huge, stupid mistake.

The Time article continued:

One crucial error by Western leaders, says Fetouri, has been to downplay Libya’s complex web of tribal loyalties, which has helped to keep Gaddafi in power for more than four decades — an impressive achievement, given several assassination attempts and years of Libya being an international pariah under stiff economic sanctions. Some tribal alliances date back decades to the bloody rebellions against the Italian colonial forces before World War II, and even some tribal leaders who hold grudges against Gaddafi, for having failed to deliver services or cutting them out of certain privileges, rushed to his defense once the antigovernment demonstrations in Benghazi became an armed rebellion. For those people, says Fetouri, “they will die for Gaddafi, because he belongs to their tribe.”

And because the rebels adopted the same flag used by the much-despised monarch that Qaddafi overthrew in his 1969 coup, it became much easier for him to enlist volunteers, as Time put it, “to fight to hold Libya together.”

It turns out, as G. K. Chesterton told us long ago, that it matters what flag one flies.  Time:

That flag, says Fetouri, “represents the misery my country lived through as puppets of the West.” He cites one of his relatives — no fan of Gaddafi — who traveled 400 miles (640 km) to join the government forces against the rebels; he had driven from the Bani Walid area, the heartland of the Warfalli tribe southeast of Tripoli, which has long been the bedrock of Gaddafi’s support. Fetouri, who says he himself had been tempted to join the antigovernment protests before they morphed into an armed rebellion, asked his relative why he was “fighting for Gaddafi.” He said the man told him “it was about Libya the country, not Gaddafi.”

Thus, we are likely watching Qaddafi retake the territory he has lost, unless the West does something. 

I confess, I’m torn here.  Like a majority of the American people, part of me thinks we should not get involved. Mind our own business.  We’ve invaded two countries over there, enough is enough.

But part of me also believes that if we could help the rebels without a long-term commitment, we should.  We should be on the side of so-called freedom fighters, particularly since the Arab world is asking us to. What that involves militarily, I don’t know.  But I do know it should not involve putting one American on the ground to possibly die in someone else’s civil war.  Not now, not this war.

Some good folks are urging President Obama to act now.  They seem to know better than he does what is involved both in terms of his personal legacy as president and in terms of America’s larger legacy.  The New Republic writes that Bill Clinton “waited tragically too long” to intervene in Bosnia in the mid-1990s:

When Slobodan Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb allies launched their war of “ethnic cleansing,” while “the West”—which is always to say, first and foremost, the United States—wrung its hands, many tens of thousands of innocent people were murdered and raped before President Bill Clinton finally found the resolve to mix air power and diplomacy to bring the genocidal violence to a halt.

Therefore:

Qaddafi is the kind of neighborhood bully that Slobodan  Milosevic was. And he must be met by the same kind of principled power. For America to do less than that now—less than the minimum that the Libyan rebels and the Arab neighbors are requesting—would be to shrink into global vacillation and ultimately irrelevance. If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?

It’s a lot easier to write that kind of stuff than it is to have to actually make a real decision, no doubt.  As for me, I can live with whatever limited intervention the President decides to undertake, or I can live with his decision not to intervene. But I won’t measure his presidency by this decision one way or the other.  It’s just not that simple.

And I don’t think that America’s global reputation hangs in the balance over what to do about Libya.  It’s not that simple, either.

What is simple to understand, though, is that being president these days is an especially tough job.  And I remain confident that the right man for these times is holding that job.

“There Is No Crisis”

E. J. Dionne, one of the top liberal columnists in the country, has joined the small but growing chorus of folks who refuse to accept that America is fiscally “broke” and that we’re in a time-to-panic crisis.

As I have said repeatedly, we’re not bankrupt and we shouldn’t be making decisions in panic mode.  And I believe this point needs to be hammered in the heads of the American people.

Dionne wrote on Monday:

We’re not broke. Yes, nearly all levels of government face fiscal problems because of the economic downturn. But there is no crisis. There are many different paths open to fixing public budgets. And we will come up with wiser and more sustainable solutions if we approach fiscal problems calmly, realizing that we’re still a very rich country and that the wealthiest among us are doing exceptionally well.

He continued:

We have an 8.9 percent unemployment rate, yet further measures to spur job creation are off the table. We’re broke, you see. We have a $15 trillion economy, yet we pretend to be an impoverished nation with no room for public investments in our future or efforts to ease the pain of a deep recession on those Americans who didn’t profit from it or cause it in the first place.

Dionne references a speech given by Senator Al Franken last December, when the fight over the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy was dominating the news.  And what a speech it was. I don’t know how I missed it, but I did. I recommend all go watch it.

Here are some highlights:

According to the Economic Policy Institute, during the past 20 years, 56 percent of all income growth went to the top one percent of households.  Even more unbelievable-a third of all income growth went to just the top tenth of one percent. 

When you adjust for inflation, the median household income actually declined over the last decade.  During those years, while the  rich were getting richer, the rest of working America was struggling to keep up.   We’ve been growing apart.  And the American people know this.  And now, working Americans are forced to listen to the Republicans as they demand “Everyone needs to share the pain.  We’re all in this together.” 

The IRS published a study analyzing the tax returns of the wealthiest 400 Americans.  Together, in 2007, they brought in nearly $138 billion dollars.  Want to take a guess at what their average effective tax rate was?  Just over 16 and a half percent.   Is that really sharing the pain?  Are they really sharing in the pain just like everybody else?  

He pointed out that,

Bill Clinton inherited the largest deficit in history from George H. W. Bush and then handed George W. Bush the largest surplus in history.  And George W. Bush nearly doubled the national debt.  He also handed Barack Obama the largest deficit in history.

And part of the way Bill Clinton handed over the largest surplus in history (as well as 22.7 million new jobs) to Bush was through the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, which set the marginal rates that the Bush tax cuts repealed.  Not one Republican voted for that responsible tax policy, and Franken quoted some prominent Republicans at the time:

Newt Gingrich.  Remember him?  On August 5, 1993, he said, “I believe this will lead to a recession next year.  This is the Democrat machine’s recession, and each one of them will be held personally accountable.”

Senator Phil Gramm.  Remember him?  He said, “The Clinton plan is a one-way ticket to recession.  This plan does not reduce the deficit…but it raises IT and it puts people out of work.”

Governor-elect John Kasich said, “This plan will not work.  If it was to work then I’d have to become a Democrat.” Congratulations, Ohio, on electing a Democratic governor. 

When you hear Republicans (and some Democrats, too) talk about sharing the pain of fiscal responsibility, ask yourself just why they aren’t talking about the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, one of the most successful pieces of legislation in the past 40 years, one that turned deficits into surpluses while the economy was creating  millions upon  millions of jobs.

Ask yourself why anyone who claims to be serious about our so-called fiscal crisis refuses to acknowledge that not that long ago we had a tax policy that corresponded with our spending, and that Republican economic philosophy destroyed that delicate balance.

The answers won’t surprise, of course.  That Republican economic philosophy, which failed most of the country, does have a small, but powerful, collection of beneficiaries.

And I can confidently say that nearly everyone reading this today is not among them.

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