About Big Blue

Founder and editor of The Left Anchor.

David Vitter: Economic Terrorist

That’s no hyperbole. Louisiana Senator David Vitter has stated that his desire to re-import drugs from Canada isn’t meant to help lower the cost Americans pay for their prescriptions, but rather to implode the Canadian system in order to force them to adopt the free market — and pathetically inadequate — system we have in America.  Via TPM:

The central Louisiana newspaper The Town Talk reports that Vitter was asked at a town hall meeting about the fact that he opposes government health care, but supports re-importing prescription drugs from, as a constituent said, “countries that have socialized medicine.” Vitter has campaigned in the past on re-importing drugs from Canada.

“My ultimate goal,” Vitter explained, “is to use that (re-importation) to cause that (pricing) system to collapse.”

Nothing like a senator attempting to force his free market dogma onto a government which he has no authority over.  What a proud day for his constituents, who probably believe that each country has a right to govern their own affairs.  Is it okay to just go ahead and call this guy and nutcase and an asshole?  I hope so, because that’s what I just did.

Is The Public Option Dead? (No.)

The question everywhere today seems to be whether Barack Obama is backing away from the public option. The main piece of evidence in support of this theory is HHS Secretary Sebelius’ statement on Meet the Press over the weekend that the public option is “not essential.” I basically agree with Ezra on this point. I’ve heard similarly fence-straddling statements out of various administration officials for pretty much the entire time this issue has been discussed.

I like Howard Dean’s take on this (starts around 3:00 mark, but the whole, interview is good). He should really be a major face in this campaign (and it’s a shame he doesn’t have a presence in this administration):

It makes sense, seems completely do-able, and it’s pretty easy to defend the public option provision on budgetary grounds. Get it out of the Senate and into conference, which is what Obama has been telling leaders all along — “just get me to the table” — put the public option back in, and pass it under reconciliation in the Senate. A little messy, but it gets us where we need to go.

As for concerns that there might not be even 50 votes for the public option in the Senate? I’m aware that there were at last count fewer than 50 committed votes, but it’s easy to not support the public option in theory, quite another to be one of those responsible for killing the bill once it hits the floor out of conference.

Frankly, I think this bill without a public option is better than no bill at all (I wouldn’t want to see progressives kill it, even though they’re right about the usefulness of the public option), but I see no reason to believe that it’s not possible to get this bill (public option included) to the president’s desk. And Obama gained more than enough trust from me during his campaign (and on the balance has kept it during his tenure so far) that I will allow him the opportunity to play this out without me screaming “betrayal” at the top of my lungs. Which is really all I have to say on this subject until something comes out of conference.

An Open Letter To “White America”

This is not a white country.  It was not founded to be a white country, nor a Christian country.  The founding fathers were a mix of Christians and non-Christians (second more detailed source).  Most notably, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin were all well outside mainstream Christian thinking during their day.  Jefferson went so far as the create his own version of the Bible in which he removed all of Jesus’ miracles. James Madison was quoted as saying, “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

<snip>

“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.

This country was established on the principles and values of the Enlightenment, which were most often at odds with the beliefs of Christianity during their time.

This is not now, nor has it ever been a Christian country.  White culture is not synonymous with American culture, and the simple fact that you don’t like to be called racists doesn’t make your racism any less real.  Seriously, a very sizeable chunk of the GOP base refuses to belief that our president was born in this country, despite a total lack of evidence to suggest otherwise versus a birth certificate, newspaper announcement, and the word of the current Governor of his state that he was in fact born there.  Guess what?  That’s racism at worst, blind, hateful partisanism at best.  You have no reason to hold on to your lunatic ravings other than your pre-existing hatred for our current president.

As for the tea-bagger town hall protests, while the individual citizens showing up to drown out the basic necessity of reasoned discussion between Congressional leaders and their consituents — how anti-Democratic can you get? — do represent some segment of “real Americans,” so too do the overwhelming majorities of participants who are simply looking to be informed on the details of the health care plan, and the reasons their representatives are supporting it.  Despite what some on the Right like to claim, shutting down townhall meetings is not in the least democratic, and in fact, is a tactic dating back to the earliest Communist uprisings in Russia.  Just so you know the company you’re in.

The only thing I’m learning from all this is that this movement is hysterical, and wildly misinformed to the point of being unconcerned with the objective reality most of us reside in.

The Division Among Us: A Scene from a Navel Gazing Media

The beer meeting between the President, VP, Officer Crowley, and Prof. Gates could not have gone more badly.  Simply look at the beer list:

POTUS: Bud Light
VPOTUS: Bucklers
Gates: Sam Adams Light
Crowley: Blue Moon

A complete division among the particpants.  What can we divine from this?  I think it’s pretty obvious that the divisions between the races are as large as ever, as well as the fact that even Vice President Joe Biden has become convinced that Barack Obama is on the verge of tyranny.  It’s all written right there.  In the beers.  And Bud Light?  Reeks of elitism.  So effete.

Should Marijuana Be Legal?

The short answer for this is, yes.  Most definitely.  We’re talking about a substance which has been experimented with by at least a majority of Americans.  And yet, we have no way to regulate its production, ensure its safety — was it grown in toxic soil, or sprayed with toxic pesticides?  And ensure that any disputes over transactions involving marijuana have no legal recourse, forcing such disputes to be settled through criminal means.

The New York Times has a discussion on this very subject online today featuring the opinions of:

Some highlights:

First from Roger Roffman:

Will more people use marijuana and become dependent if marijuana is decriminalized? Probably not. A number of U.S. studies tell us decriminalization would not likely have an effect on the rates of marijuana use by adults or adolescents.

What if marijuana is legalized? No one can say for certain. Using one country’s reform example to estimate what would happen in another is very risky. How countries differ (cultural, social, political, economic) makes a big difference.

However, the Dutch “coffee shops” example might give us a little insight. The de facto legalization policy in the Netherlands did not, in itself, affect rates of marijuana use among adults or young people. But rates of use among young people increased when the number of coffee shops increased and the age of legal access was 16. Then these rates declined when the numbers of coffee shops was reduced and the age of legal access became 18.

<snip>

However, our debates need more honesty. Those favoring liberalizing marijuana policy ought to stop inferring that marijuana is harmless; it is not. Those who believe possession should remain a crime need to acknowledge that most adult occasional users are not harmed, and should be prepared to defend with data the belief that criminalizing possession is the best way to avoid harm.

From Wayne Hall:

What effect would marijuana legalization have on dependence?

<snip>

If we mean replacing imprisonment with a fine as the penalty for using marijuana then legalization would have little effect on dependence. Evaluations of this policy in 11 U.S. states in the 1970s and 1980s found little or no effect on rates of use among adolescents and adults.

And finally, some words from Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief:

Perhaps the biggest objection to legalization is the “message” it would send to our kids. Bulletin: Our children have never had greater access to marijuana; it’s easier for them to score pot than a six-pack of Coors. No system of regulated legalization would be complete without rigorous enforcement of criminal laws banning the furnishing of any drug to a minor.

Let’s make policy that helps, not handcuffs, those who suffer ill effects of marijuana or other drugs, a policy that crushes the illegal market — the cause of so much violence and harm to users and non-users alike.

Open Letter To David Gregory, NBC, and all American Journalists

Documents requested in the Mark Sanford debacle have revealed this correspondence between Meet the Press host David Gregory and Sanford’s staff:

Look, you guys have a lot of pitches.. I get it and I know this is a tough situation… Let me say just this is a place to have a wider conversation with some context about not just the personal but also the future for him and the party… This situation only exacerbates the issue of how the GOP recovers when another national leader suffers a setback like this. So coming on Meet the Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to… and then move on. You can see you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it.

Is this what Mr. Gregory considers journalism?  The American people deserve an apology for this display of utter brown-nosing, pandering, and overt bias on Mr. Gregory’s part.  This is an insult to Tim Russert, and in the context of this weekend’s loss of the great Walter Cronkite, an insult to all those who once considered news to be about getting to the truth, not currying favor with the powerful.

NBC, Meet the Press, and David Gregory should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.  The American people deserve better.

Where is our apology, Mr. Gregory?

UPDATE: Mr. Gregory was kind enough to respond to my email, clarifying his remarks:

Thanks for the email. I wasn’t promising a friendly forum. I was offering a fair forum to discuss his problems. I meant my forum allows him to have the time to discuss the situation in a fullsome way, to say what he wants and move on. I appreciate your sensitivity on this. It’s a fair question to ask. I have never pulled punches in an interview.

Thanks.

David.
David Gregory
Moderator, Meet the Press
NBC News

So take from that what you will.

A Modest Proposal Redux

The economy is tumbling.  Americans are suffering.  Nearly 50 million of us don’t have health care.  College education provides little in terms of job opportunity while mounting the average American with massive debt.  After much deliberation, I’ve devised a modest proposal to set right again the ship that is our nation.

Have you ever seen that movie “Logan’s Run”?  I’m not suggesting we kill anyone over the age of thirty, but let’s be honest, do we really need more than 70 years on this planet?  We could rein in health care costs, open new jobs, and provide much needed organs for those of us who have more years ahead.

Sure, maybe we could raise taxes by two percentage points on those who make millions of dollars, but politically, that’s a climb uphill — those uber-wealthy Americans obviously deserve every penny they earn, which is why we should target our efforts at a demographic no one cares about.

If you have a mother, grandmother, or other elderly relative who you are looking to dispose of, then please, donate their bodies (living or dead) to the U.S. government.  Not only can we teach future doctor’s with them, but we can then take their most valuable organs and use those funds to plug the hole in our national budget.

In short, we simply must cease to give way to the political obstructions that prevent us from using our own citizens remains for the benefit of our national economy.

If we’re so willing to send our young and brightest talent to die on foreign battlefields, then what is the hold up of taking the assets of those who’ve yet to sacrifice to their nation’s military?

So I say to you, America, now is the time to sell off our geriatric division in order to pay for those programs we need now.  Health care, education, and the environment.

Repeat with me: Yes We Can!

The 10 Most Influential Columnists in America

Mediaite ranks the top ten most influential columnists in America. Can’t say I’m happy to see Michelle Malkin and Maureen Dowd ranked so high, but I do find it interesting that many of these journalists are left of center even if some — Thomas Friedman — are total idiots:

1. Paul Krugman

2. Thomas Friedman

3. Maureen Dowd

4. Michelle Malkin

5. Christopher Hitchens

6. Malcolm Gladwell

7. Charles Krauthammer

8. Mark Bitman

9. Ariana Huffington

10. Glenn Greenwald

CIA Director Leon Panetta Admits Agency Misled Congress

Hmm.  I’m thinking this is going to make some waves.  Huffington Post has the story:

CIA Director Leon Panetta told lawmakers in a recent briefing that the intelligence agency he heads misled Congress on “significant actions” for a “number of years,” a group of Democrats revealed on Wednesday.

In a letter written to Panetta on June 26 by seven Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, the CIA chief is urged to “publicly correct” an earlier statement he made in which he insisted that it was not agency policy to mislead Congress.

As the letter details, Panetta apparently acknowledged in an earlier briefing that this statement was not, in fact, true.

Not that this comes as a surprise or anything.  I love — in the most horrible sense of the word — the final sentence: this statement was not, in fact, true.  But I guess publishing the word horse shit might come across as less than objective.

Fox and Friends Co-Host Steps in it Big Time

From a diary at Kos. There are simply no words needed to describe this video in which Brian Kilmeade offers his theory that Swedish people have lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease because of their “pure genes,” and that we here in America “keep marrying other species and other ethnics.”

You know you’ve gone off the deep end when the obligatory cute, conservative, blonde co-host looks at you like you’re crazy. I mean, good lord, that woman’s job is to be the craziest one of the bunch. She took over for E.D. Hill following the “terrorist fist jab” debacle. So, Ms. Carlson can be pretty damn crazy without crossing the line. Kilmeade didn’t just cross that line, he jumped over the damn ocean.

Schumer Guarantees Public Option in Senate Plan, but with Caveat

From a diary over at Daily Kos.  Includes video.  It’s great to hear, but Sen. Schumer leaves a little too much wiggle room qualifying his statement with “some form of it.”  Well, there are some forms of the public option that I’d frankly rather not see.  It needs to be a national plan.  It needs to be big.  Some proposals have been floated around to break the plan up into several regionally based public options.  This would, of course, dilute the power such programs would have to drive down costs in the private sector.  They just wouldn’t be big enough to take on the multi-billion dollar private firms that right now — according to the AMA – have basically exercise a monopoly (and a growing one at that) on the care we give (bolding mine):

“The remarkable reduction in the number of competing health plans is troubling for doctors and patients, as competition drives innovation and efficiency in the health care system,” said AMA Board Member J. James Rohack, M.D. “Most alarmingly, in the combined HMO and PPO markets, 95 percent of metropolitan areas have few competing health insurers.”

In addition, the study found that in 95 percent of markets, a single insurer had a market share of 30 percent or greater, and in 56 percent of the markets, a single insurer had a market share of 50 percent or greater.

<snip>

“Patients do not appear to be benefiting from the consolidation of health insurance markets,” said Dr. Rohack. “Health insurers are posting historically high profit margins, yet patient health insurance premiums continue to rise without an expansion of benefits.”

The AMA findings must be viewed in the context of the unprecedented consolidation of the health insurance market, Rohack said. Between 1995 and 2005, there were more than 400 mergers involving health insurers and managed care organizations, according to a researcher of merger and acquisition trends in the health care industry.

Which is just to remind you the monster we’re up against.  While I’m heartened to hear Schumer come out and say there will definitely be a public option the “in some form” disclaimer makes me worry that these insurance companies may very well succeed in making such a public option weak enough that it poses no real threat to their market dominance, which if that were the case, means the entire plan would fail in its quest to finally contain health care costs.

The ramifications of such failure would set back the progressive agenda for decades.  If we fail at this, it will be a long time before America is ready to again allow government to take on the largest and most urgent problems facing us — and in health care, the environment, and the economy, private industry has made it clear that they have no intention of tackling those problems on their own.

What can I say?  I think capitalism is a great system, but if you don’t harness its power and turn some of it toward the public good, then the animal of industry will trample over anyone not lucky enough to be riding in the saddle.

UPDATE: I guess I should note the enormous progress that’s been made in the last few years.  We’re no longer worried whether Congress will tackle health reform, we’re worried about how strong they’ll make those reforms.  It’s, of course, a legitimate concern, but as the Bard says, “the times they are a-changin’.”

CBO Scores HELP Bill

When the CBO scored a very incomplete health care proposal and concluded that it would cost a trillion dollars over 10 years and leave more than 30 million Americans uninsured, the Right jumped on it as proof positive that the Adminstration’s plan was wasteful spending that would fail to address the root problem.

Now, the CBO has scored the HELP bill (which contains a public insurance option and pay-or-play mandates for employers), and concluded that it will cost $600 billion over ten years and cover 97% of Americans, which is exactly in line with that for which the Obama adminstration was looking. 

Two weeks ago, the CBO was one of  the most important voices in the health care debate.  Anyone care to guess whether the Republicans will still tout their findings now that the bill includes a public option and a pay-or-play mandate, which both greatly reduce the cost of the program?  Somehow I doubt it.

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Graham: Sanford Can Stay if he Reconciles with Wife

Hi, fellow critters.  It’s been quite a while.  As a native South Carolinian, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to talk about the scandal surrounding our “governor,” Mark Sanford.  The first thing that should be addressed is the fact that even before news of his affair with an Argentian broke, Sanford was a terribly ineffective governor.  He has few allies in his own party, and his veteos have been overturned a staggering 198 times since he took office (note: that figure is likely higher now, as the post linked to above was written nearly four months ago).

I’m not of the opinion that his affair with Ms. Chapur has any relevance to his effectiveness as governor.  But going AWOL for five days while leaving absolutely no one in charge, and tacking on a trip to Argentina at the tax payer’s expense merely so he could visit his “soul mate,” amounts to gross negligence and a total dereliction of duty.  I don’t think anyone needs to be convinced of that, and truthfully, that’s not what this post is about.

What I’d like to address is the statement Lindsey Graham made on Meet the Press last weekend:

If Mark can reconcile with Jenny, and that’s not going to be easy, that he can finish his last eighteen months.

I’ll note firstly that there’s wiggle room in this statement as to whether Graham is referring to his personal opinion of what Sanford must do in order for Graham to support Sanford remaining South Carolina’s governor, or whether he’s referring to what the people of South Carolina will require for them to see him as a legitimate governor.  But living here as long as I have, I’d suspect Graham meant the former.  But what does Sanford’s ability to hold his marriage together have to do with his abilities as governor?  Nothing.

It’s interesting to me that Graham had nothing to say about the total abdication of authority Sanford engaged in when he left the country without telling anyone where he was going, and the lack of admonishment over the governor’s misuse of tax payer funds.  I believe this speaks volumes to the bizarre moral reckoning of the modern Republican party.  Failing your public is acceptable, but failing your wife is not?  The Right’s continued obsession with sex and infidelity, especially in light of our current economic woes, reflects their misplaced priorities.  South Carolina has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation (standing at 12.1 percent as of May), the governor is one of the least effective in the nation, a point made clear by the staggering number of times his own party has overturned his vetoes, and yet, Graham’s concern — a concern which he projects onto the whole of the South Carolina population — is whether his marriage is stable.  A poll conducted by Survey USA; however, indicates that South Carolinians overwhelmingly believe the governor should resign (60-34).

Is Sen. Graham really so out of touch with his own constituents?

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Are Democrats Going to Drop the Ball on Economic Stimulus?

Only a few weeks ago, I was excited at the opportunity the economic stimulus package presented to the Democrats.  While I think we’d all rather the economy was doing better than it is, there is also no denying that situations such as this are where radical changes can be achieved.  And yet, as we approach inauguration day, the rumors swirling about the stimulus package indicate a timid, too-little approach centered largely around tax cuts.  Sen. Tom Harkin emerged from stimulus talks yesterday with many of the same concerns:

“There’s only one thing we’ve got to do in this stimulus, and that’s create jobs,” Harkin told me. “I’m a little concerned by the way Mr. Summers and others are going on this … it still looks a little more to me like trickle-down.”

Likening Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan to the failed supply-side excesses of the Reagan and Bush years is a bit of a Cassandra moment. But Harkin didn’t back down. “What I’m hearing from Mr. Summers is that they’ve got a different approach — tax breaks, and this and that,” he said. Harkin warned that, much like the outcome of George Bush’s $600 stimulus package last year, recipients of quick tax cuts “are going to be salting it away, not spending it.”

When I asked if he felt his concerns were heard during the meeting, he looked to the floor and slowly shook his head. It was almost forlorn.

The sad truth is that economics was perhaps the single greatest question mark in Barack Obama’s political philosophy.  He’s always had concrete ideas on foreign policy, he’s drafted a respectable health care reform outline, but beyond his call for middle class tax cuts during the campaign, his views on how best to handle this economic collapse have been murky.  That he was far more willing than John McCain to use government spending to deal with our current woes was obvious, and it was one of the many reasons he was the better candidate, and why he will make the better president.  But now we’ve entered the “how” phase of economic stimulus.  How will we spend government resources, and how much are we willing to spend?  According to Paul Krugman, the answers so far seem to be: on tax cuts, and not enough:

Continue reading

Chaos & Abroad: Israel vs. Gaza

Now let me take a moment to address the current crisis in Israel, which just sent ground troops into Gaza during the last twenty-four hours. I’m I the only one that thinks three days of air bombing and a ground invasion is no way to reduce the terrorist threat coming from the region? That’s the problem with militaristic thinking. It demands aggressive responses that are often times disproportional to the original offense, and serve to inflate the ranks of the very militant organizations Israel is attempting to subdue. I don’t disagree that Israel must respond to rocket launches which injure and kill dozens if not hundreds of Israelis a year, but to so in such a way as to engender further hostility from the very population they’re attempting to forge a stable, respectful relationship with seems counter productive.

But then, how exactly do you deal with faceless attackers who can easily disappear among the Palestinian population? I suppose the simple truth of the matter is that Israel needs to pursue negotiations and solutions for the low-level problems. I remember when Hamas came to power through open elections, many observers believed they won not due to their hostile rhetoric against Israel, but due to their ability to provide basic municipal services to the Palestinian people — trash pick-up, water service, medical care, etc. Thankfully, this ties in to our president-elect’s philosophy regarding foreign policy. A policy known as “dignity promotion,” which in layman’s terms means that when a population feels satisfied with their lives, they are less likely to join militant groups. My favorite political magazine, The American Prospect, did a feature on Obama’s foreign policy team last spring, and if you haven’t read it yet already, now is the time to take a look. Here’s a brief excerpt…

Obama is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we’ve heard from a serious presidential contender in decades. It cuts to the heart of traditional Democratic timidity. “It’s time to reject the counsel that says the American people would rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right,” Obama said in a January speech. “It’s time to say that we are the party that is going to be strong and right.” (The Democrat who counseled that Americans wanted someone strong and wrong, not weak and right? That was Bill Clinton in 2002.)

Most of the members of Obama’s foreign-policy team expressed frustration that they had taken a well-considered and seemingly anodyne position on Iraq and suffered for it. Obama had something similar happen to him in the spring and summer of 2007. He was attacked from the left and the right for saying three things that should not have been controversial: that if he had actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan but no cooperation from the Pakistani government, he would take out the jihadists; that he wouldn’t use nuclear weapons on terrorist training camps; and that he would be willing to meet with leaders of rogue states in his first year as president. “No one [of Obama's critics] had thought through the policy because that was the quote-unquote naïve and weak position, so they said it was a bad position to take,” recalls Ben Rhodes, the adviser who writes Obama’s foreign-policy speeches. “And it was a seminal moment, because Obama himself said, ‘No, I’m right about this!’”

This is why, Obama’s advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise — because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. “It’s about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe,” Gration says. “Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I’m concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years.”

To summarize: if given a choice between chaos and stability, human beings will choose stability almost every time, regardless of who brings it. That’s why humans will live under the thumb of brutish sorts such as Saddam Hussein (and many others). This is an idea as old as Hobbes and Locke (see their work on the “state of nature”), and frankly is the seed from which all civilization springs. Further, in times of especially dangerous crisis, when faced with chaos and destruction — and when Israel is bombing residential areas in the Gaza strip (justified or not), a chaotic, uncertain world is certainly where the Palestinians find themselves — humans will turn to militant, authoritarian regimes, especially if that regime can point to an ethnic or economic class as a scapegoat. I hate to pick such an obvious example, but think of Hitler’s rise to power much of which he obtained by vilifying the German Jewish population. This same idea plays out in the Republicans’ “Southern Strategy” as began under Nixon which is literally little more than race-baiting in nice clothes.

But back to Iran, while Iran may never possess Germany’s power (economically or militaristic), simply finding a villain to rage against can, in-and-of itself, unite a nation. It can even incite a nation to do terrible things in a vain attempt. Things which have little if any chance of helping a nation achieve its long term goals. A government willing to strike back, enforce strict laws, vilify its enemies and create scapegoats puts itself in a position that largely limits their ability to negotiate agreements with that party of which they’ve spent months if not years creating a monstrous caricature. It may win points in the short-term, but it does nothing to secure future stability. If anything, it serves to only heighten the tension between two nations.

So, if I had to sum up this series of events in one phrase, it word would be “cluster fuck.”

UPDATE: For those who wish to take action, you can sign J Street’s petition calling for a ceasefire here. Or you can download one of their flyers to post around your town or campus. In the meantime, I strongly recommend you make J Street one of your daily blogs. Smart, insightful, and at odds with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy thus far. These guys are true thinkers for the 21st century.

Defense Spending: Reagan/Bush I vs. Clinton vs. Bush II

My blogging arch nemesis, The New Conservative, used a previous post from my homebase concerning America’s readiness to see military reform focused not on spending more, but on spending better as an excuse to hammer Clinton for failing at the very same task. And while I’m not going to disagree that Clinton could have done more to reform the military, it’s inarguable that Clinton did, in fact, significantly reign in military spending. Here are the relevant numbers:

  • $453 billion – the average annual defense budget for the nine years before Clinton took office.
  • $377 billion – the average annual defense budget during Clinton’s time in office, a 16.7% decrease.
  • $496 billion – the average annual defense budget during Bush’s time in office, a whopping 31% increase not even including the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are largely funded through supplementals not included in the official defense budget.

These numbers are in GDP adjusted dollars to make the comparisons as fair as possible. The raw data for these calculations is available here. If anyone finds trouble with my math, please let me know.

Now, we all know that cutting defense spending is second only to cutting Social Security on the political no-no list. The military industrial complex employs several hundred thousand employees. It frequently helps to prop up the economy. And they are represented by some of the best lobbyists in the business.

But couldn’t we get those same economic results by investing in technology we all know we need? Like a new transportation infrastructure — high speed rail in certain areas, new roads and bridges, a new high-bandwidth internet that reaches deep into even the most rural communities. Why not spend on that? Our military will never be able to protect us from economic threats. And frankly, a bloated military still mired in Cold War thinking is ill-equipped to protect us from terrorist threats. But if we give our citizens access to the best technology, if we invest in green technologies, we could create jobs that don’t require us to build unnecessary implements of death. We could scale back our overseas campaigns, engendering good will. And we can knee-cap the terrorists’ agenda by bringing genuine humanitarian aid and progress to those parts of the world most susceptible to terrorist recruitment. Our foreign policy should be based on stability, preferably in democratic systems, as well as the economic and educational development of the poor and powerless countries strewn throughout the Middle East and Eurasia.

I don’t see why this needs to be a partisan issue. I think both sides should be able to agree that spending just under a half trillion dollars on defense (more if we include Iraq and Afghanistan) is too much by any standard. And of course, the more we spend on military equipment, the more persuaded we are to put it to use, which only escalates the cycle.

Polls and Party ID

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This year some of the biggest noise around conservative blogs regards the belief that pollsters are oversampling Democratic voters and weighting Democrats too heavily in their calculations. This is a flip from the last presidential election in which it was liberal blogs claiming that Republicans were being weighted too heavily in polls. Polls are weighted on a variety of factors to reflect as near as is possible the demographic characteristics of the American electorate, and many pollsters include party ID as part of that equation. I had never given the issue much thought until the last couple of weeks, as I heard more and more from conservative sites about the “flawed polling” that was painting a far too optimistic picture of Barack Obama’s support. It turns out that much of this had already been put in perspective during the 2004 race by Mystery Pollster:

Party Identification is one of the longest tracked and closely examined questions in political polling. “Generally speaking, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or what,” has probably been asked on more surveys over more years more
consistently than any other question.

The most important thing to remember is that Party ID is an attitude, not a demographic. People can change their views of political parties. They cannot change their age, gender, race, years of education and locale (unless they’ve moved).

<snip>

[R]ecent studies have shown evidence of significant short-term change in Party ID. The 2000 Annenberg National Election Study (NAES), like the 2004 study now underway, was a daily tracking survey that ultimately included more than 58,000 interviews over the course of the year, roughly 5000 interviews per month. NAES observed that the percentage of the electorate identified as Independent “was not stable over time.” In a chart on page 61 of Capturing Campaign Dynamics, Daniel Romer and his colleagues showed the percentage of Independents falling steadily from roughly 31% to 27% during the conventions, then spiking 8 points to 35% just after the Democratic convention in early September, then falling off again steadily back to roughly 28% on election day, then plummeting sharply to below 25% a few days later. No surprise that they concluded:

Surveys that are weighted by party identification may be operating under some misconceptions about party identification. Party identification may not be as stable as once thought and could be considered an indicator of the respondents’ attitudes toward candidates at a given moment of the campaign. (p. 61)

There is another good reason to be weary of automatically weighting survey results by Party ID. Most of the national polls ask Party ID toward the end of the survey. Campaign pollsters can tell you that Party ID can vary with the content of the questions that precede it.

Though I had never considered the issue before, this does make intuitive sense. I’ve always considered the number of self-proclaimed independents to be far higher than actual voting habits would suggest. It only makes sense that this would extend to party ID generally. Now, what weighting by party ID does do is make polls more stable over time. Not surprisingly, if you consistently weight your polls, for example, as 35% Democrat, 35% Republican, and 30% Independent, you won’t see massive shifts in opinion, because those self-identifying as Democrats are likely to hold the same opinion as did the self-identifying Democrats in previous polls. If their opinion has shift markedly, they will simply not identify as Democrats anymore. Same goes for Republicans and Independents.

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NY Times Profiles Obama Smearer Andy Martin

Oh, Jesus. This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. We’re all familiar with those anti-Obama emails floating around. You know, the ones that say he’s a Muslim with secret plans to turn us over to those filthy Arabs and what not. Well, the New York Times did a profile of the man behind the email on Sunday, and it’s just brilliant. Comedy genius. His name is Andy Martin, and here is a portrait of the man so many grandmothers have been taking seriously:

An examination of legal documents and election filings, along with interviews with his acquaintances, revealed Mr. Martin, 62, to be a man with a history of scintillating if not always factual claims. He has left a trail of animosity — some of it provoked by anti-Jewish comments — among political leaders, lawyers and judges in three states over more than 30 years.

He is a law school graduate, but his admission to the Illinois bar was blocked in the 1970s after a psychiatric finding of “moderately severe character defect manifested by well-documented ideation with a paranoid flavor and a grandiose
character.”

This man was actually prevented from becoming a lawyer because psychiatrists deemed him paranoid and possessing a “moderately severe character defect.” But it even gets better:

Though he is not a lawyer, Mr. Martin went on to become a prodigious filer of lawsuits

Bwahahahaha! This guy was actually featured on 48 Hours in 1993 for a program called “See You in Court; Civil War, Anthony Martin Clogs Legal System with Frivolous Lawsuits.” You can’t make that stuff up. The dude single handedly caused an entire hour of network television to be devoted to how he alone was clogging up the legal system. Why did 48 Hours call him “Anthony Martin” instead of Andy Martin, you might ask? Because for some untold reason he sometimes goes by Anthony Martin-Trigona (I’m betting that’s somehow related to the hundreds of law suits he’s filed).

In addition to his legal hobbies, Andy Martin has also found the time to run for public office… under both party banners… and in three states.

He prepared to run as a Democrat for Congress in Connecticut, where paperwork for one of his campaign committees listed as one purpose “to exterminate Jew power.”

If only you could see your racist grandmother’s face as she finds this out. I’m thinking she may not be too happy with the quality of the person who’s been peddling her such lies. But my absolute favorite part of this story is this, the picture and caption that accompanied the article:

Andymartin

How did this conversation go?

New York Times Reporter: Mr. Martin, we’re running an article that says you’re a nut-job.

Andy Martin: Do you need a recent photo?

CQ Politics: McCain’s Pants Are On Fire

That over-heated, radically liberal magazine, Congressional Quarterly, has published a piece taking John McCain to task for his campaign’s claims that Barack Obama and William Ayers ran a “radical education foundation” together. McCain made the claim in a 90 second web ad that went live last week. Here’s what CQ’s Politifact squad found:

[Though he did help to secure the initial grant money for the foundation and acted as an outside adviser,] Ayers “was never on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge,” and he “never made a decision programmatically or had a vote,” [Executive Director] Ken Rolling said.

What’s that? Ayers — who so obviously started this group to indoctrinate children in his crazy views — never sat on the board or even had a vote? I wonder why the McCain campaign hasn’t managed to get that part of the story right… but no matter. Certainly if Ayers was involved in its creation, it must have been stocked with long haired hippie freaks who were acting as his proxies and doing their best to implement his dream of using an obscure Chicago based charity to tip the balance of power in the United States and install a secret shadow government, right?

[T]here was a long list of individuals involved with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge whose positions provided them far more authority over its direction than Ayers’ advisory role gave him.

Let’s look at a few, starting with the funder. Annenberg was a lifelong Republican and former ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Richard Nixon. His widow, Leonore, has endorsed McCain. Kurtz might just as plausibly have accused Obama and the foundation of “translating Annenberg’s conservatism into practice.”

Among the other board members who served with Obama were: Stanley Ikenberry, former president of the University of Illinois; Arnold Weber, former president of Northwestern University and assistant secretary of labor in the Nixon administration; Scott Smith, then publisher of the Chicago Tribune; venture capitalist Edward Bottum; John McCarter, president of the Field Museum; Patricia Albjerg Graham, former dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Journalism, and a host of other mainstream folks.

Okay, fine. But what about that WSJ article by Stanley Kurtz McCain cited? You know, the one that detailed how the foundation teamed with radical outside partners like ACORN and forced the schools to work with them instead of just funding the schools directly? (This is my favorite part.)

Rollings said the foundation tried to fund the schools directly, but doing so proved to be a “bureaucratic nightmare.” But any external group that received money had to have
created a program in partnership with a network of public schools.

And though ACORN is considered a liberal organization, the vast majority of the foundation’s external partners were not remotely controversial. Here are a few examples: the Chicago Symphony, the University of Chicago, Loyola University, Northwestern University, the Chicago
Children’s Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

See?! Right there! The Chicago Symphony! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, children and cellos are just one slippery slope away from brown-shirts and jackboots! This is serious business people! America needs to know the truth!!

ACORN Explained

If you’re thinking something smells fishy about all the conservative hoopla over ACORN’s voter registration efforts, you’re right.  How does voter registration fraud transform into voter fraud, you might ask.  Well basically, ACORN would need to be aware of every fraudulent form that’s been submitted, the names and polling places of those false identities, and they would then have to have a network of thousands of voters nationwide whom they could readily (yet covertly) communicate this information to, so that those voters would show up to cast their fraudulent vote on election day.  Given the possible prison time anyone who actually attempted to cast a fraudulent vote would face, it seems unlikely that they could find thousands upon thousands of voters to help in this effort in the first place, much less communicate the relevant information to them.  Thus far, no one has found any evidence that ACORN possesses any of these capabilities or any plans to execute such massive voter fraud.

There are also even more nuts and bolts facts that need to be understood to fully grasp how insane the furor that’s erupted over ACORN truly is:


ACORN flags and turns in three kinds of cards, those that it can verify, those that are incomplete, and those that it flags as problematic.
It turns those in labeled in a special way and are very conservative in terms of what it flags as problematic. It has stacks of
problematic cover sheets. [...]

The Lake County Board knew about the questionable registrations today because ACORN flagged them for the board. For example, the Jimmy John’s card is one that a caller had flagged and labeled as problematic. ACORN can get that caller to talk to the press.

According to Regina Harris, the Director of Registrations for Lake County,  (Indiana) this claim checks out. “It’s certainly true. They did have three batches separated.” she told me this morning. “There was a pile they knew were good, there was some they said had missing info — like no voter ID number or a missing birthday — and another batch they called ‘suspicious.’ “

Why would ACORN submit registration forms it had deemed “suspicious”? Because under most state laws, voter registration organizations are required to turn in all the forms they receive. In a phone conversation today, ACORN press coordinator Charles Jackson confirmed that this is the case in Indiana.

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Post Vice Presidential Debate Analysis

Well, Sarah Palin managed to not drown in tonight’s debate, but I’d say it was a pretty clear victory for Biden. The first thirty minutes or so I thought both candidates were turning in sub-par performances, but then Biden really hit his rhythm and after that it wasn’t close. Biden sounded like someone talking about issues from a knowledgeable perspective, while Palin nearly always spoke in broad generalities and was clearly sticking to a limited set of talking points. It was kind of like they were giving a book report and Biden had actually read it while Palin had scanned Spark Notes for fifteen minutes beforehand. And maybe it’s just me, but I thought she leaned too heavily on that folksy charm business. I think when she said “doggonnit,” she jumped the shark and became a parody of herself.

I was watching this on CNN and their instant audience reaction graph consistently demonstrated that Biden was greatly outmatching Palin with independents. At the end of the day, that’s all this is about: who’s reaching independents. If CNN’s audience sample was at all accurate, Biden won independents in a route.

Now, in my opinion, there were two factors that contributed to Palin managing to get out of this debate alive. The first is that the expectations were so low for her in the first place. It was very low bar she had to reach. The second is the fact that the debate had no follow-up questions. So basically, she got away with broad answers that lacked much in the way of specifics, because no one could say, “but specifically, Gov. Palin…” If you watch her interview with Katie Couric, the real train wreck answers were the ones where Katie pressed for specifics in her follow-up questions. Without those two conditions, Palin’s performance tonight would have been judged a complete disaster.

It’s kinda sad that she can turn in a “good” performance simply by not having a total melt down.

There were two key moments in tonight’s debate, and they both belonged to Joe Biden. The first was this gem where Biden called b.s. on Palin’s claim that the Democratic ticket shouldn’t be looking backward at the Bush administration when criticizing McCain. This is a near-perfect example of the rhetorical device of repetition:

And the second was this emotional response as Biden talks about the tragedy that befell his family right around the time he was first elected to the Senate, and Palin’s tone-deaf response:

I hate to be so callous about it, but Biden opened up and revealed this very deep pain he experienced — not in telling the story of his wife and daughter’s death, which is well known, but in getting a bit choked up as he did so — and then Palin completely failed to offer even the mildest sympathy to him. It was almost as if she didn’t know what he was talking about. It made her look a bit cold.

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Clinton on Obama: Soft vs. Hard Power (The Future of Foreign Policy)

UPDATE: This post is getting close to being on the Rec List at Daily Kos.  If you like what you read, you could help spread the message by going here and recommending it.

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Here’s something that stands out to me as being remarkably telling and fantastically uplifting about what we can expect to see from an Obama administration. Bill Clinton gave Barack Obama a moving introduction today at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. In particular, he told of a meeting he and Sen. Obama had just a few weeks ago — on September 11th, in fact — at his offices in Harlem. The key quote:

He recalled Obama’s first question: “What is the matter with the way America is organized to exercise our soft power?”—by which he meant the capacity to deal with disease, poverty and conflict via nonmilitary and aid-oriented means. To Clinton, this was a sign of Obama’s extraordinary intelligence and preparedness for the presidency, which he compared favorably with his own readiness as a candidate in 1992.

Now, there are two types of power considered in diplomacy and foreign relations: soft power and hard power. As you might imagine, hard power describes militaristic and coercive means to achieve national goals. Soft power is country’s ability to affect change through non-military means by those listed in the quoted passage above, as well as through a nation’s cultural influence on the world at large, and a its ability to lead by positive moral example.

After eight years of an administration which has relied almost entirely on hard power to achieve its ends, a policy which has largely failed the American public at a time when foreign threats are rightly a key concern, and the destabilization of governments in the Middle East and Eurasia threaten to allow extremist groups to gain further influence among largely impoverished and oppressed populations, it is time that we re-evaluated our reliance on these types of tactics.

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Soylent Green Is People: The Banking Crisis (A Long Way Down)

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Grin and bear it, folks. This is a long one.

I’ve had trouble writing about politics the last couple of weeks. It is certainly not for lack of exciting (read: terrifying) things happening both at home and abroad, but there are, in fact, so many things happening so rapidly that just keeping on top of the news is a nearly impossible task, forget writing about it. I almost feel like I’m being covered in an avalanche.

What’s worse than the recent slow down, though, is that over the next two weeks, production may further decrease (let’s call this a “blog recession”) as LSAT time is approaching and I’ll be devoting more and more of my time to preparing to take the test which will hopefully allow me to avoid entering the economy for another three years when job prospects are better. I did not spend $40,000 on a education that only seems to qualify me to be a glorified file clerk at $24,000/yr (well, I did, but I didn’t mean to).

The way I figure it is that in another three years, the economy will have recovered to the point that my then seven years of post high school education will actually be worth something, or, it will have crumbled into such disarray that we’ll be looking at some post-apocalyptic wasteland where hyper-intelligent gorillas reign supreme and humans are hunted for their soft supple skins and marbled cuts of meat which glisten with the fat created by the ingestion of thousands of McDonald’s hamburgers. Which makes me wonder: anyone want to take odds how long it would take McDonald’s to start selling Soylent Green burgers in such an environment? I can already see the signs: “Over 99 Billion Humans Served… to Vicious, Soulless Apes.” They’ll barely even have to change their signage, and won’t have to change their ethics at all.

Okay, I’ve gotten off-track. Here’s what I wanted to get to: I have nowhere near the kind of time it would take to delineate the recent developments in the continuing financial disaster created by the once highly esteemed “free market,” that is now being solved through the nationalization (though they don’t want to call it that) of many of the world’s largest financial institutions. The hairy details follow below…

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New Obama Ads: “Need Education” and “Plan for Change”

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The Obama team has a new ad up in which Lily Ledbetter, who pursued discriminatory pay against women all the way to the Supreme Court, offers some blunt criticism of McCain’s positions on equal pay. For reasons I don’t understand, there’s been some fretting in the blogosphere that Obama’s media strategy is not as effective as it should be. Ezra Klein in particular jumps out in my mind as someone who has found himself disappointed with Obama’s television spots. I gotta say, I completely disagree with this. I believe Obama’s spots are far more effective than those of the last two Democratic nominees, and stand head and shoulders above McCain’s spots; spots which still fail to focus in on one specific weakness and instead opts for the kitchen sink approach. The problem with McCain’s kitchen sink approach is that in a medium such as television, where repetition is key to infiltrating the public consciousness with your message, firing bird shot at your candidate pretty well means that none of your messages will end up sticking with the American citizen over any real length of time.

This is why Obama’s consistent comparison of McCain to Bush (which certainly grows tedious to those who follow the campaign 24/7, I’ll admit) has irrefutably connected the two men in the public’s mind.

The [NY Times/CBS] poll suggested the urgency of McCain’s task: The percentage of Americans who disapprove of the way Bush is conducting his job, 68 percent, is as high as it has been for any sitting president in the history of polling by The New York Times, of which the International Herald Tribune is the global edition. And 81 percent said the country was heading in the wrong direction.

The poll found that 46 percent of respondents thought McCain would continue Bush’s policies, while 22 percent said he would be more conservative than Bush.

<snip>

Nearly two-thirds said they would be concerned if McCain, 72, could not finish his term and Palin had to take over, a figure that cut across party lines.

In addition, 75 percent said they thought McCain had picked Palin to help him win the election, rather than because they thought she was well-qualified to be president. By contrast, 31 percent said they thought that Obama had picked Biden to help him win the election, while 57 percent said it was because they thought he was well-qualified for the job.

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An Open Letter to John McCain (An Obituary)

Dear Sen. McCain,

Thank you so much for your frank honesty as of late. It’s interesting that the limitless ambition, which has set you on a path of never ending falsehoods in its way makes you the most honest politician of the last century.

Even the media doesn’t believe you, and is more and more willing to say so. I’m not sure that one man has ever been so honest without actually attempting to be.

Every day I see you on television, I hear the same message: “I’m John McCain, and I’ll say anything you want to hear to get elected. I even nominated this dingbat to please you wacked-out ‘feminist’ types. Sure, she doesn’t know the first thing about foreign policy, energy, economics, or well… pretty much anything, but she does bring certain qualities to my ticket. She’s a woman…. okay, I guess that’s only one quality, but you gotta admit, it’s an important one. I mean, that’s all you dames really wanted right? Some pretty face on the ticket?”

Well, yes, Johnny Boy, I do agree it’s important. It’s important in that it tells us just how little you value your own nation. How does a man go from sacrificing his own freedom from the horrors of Vietnam to sacrificing his own integrity in order to place himself in the highest office in the land, especially at a time when his party’s ideology — deregulation, tax cuts, war upon war — is so at odds with the solutions this country needs?

There has long been an expression of liars whose pants catch fire. Well, Mr. McCain, I’m frankly surprised that you haven’t spontaneously combusted over the last month. Forget the pants; I’d be less than surprised if you burst into flames next week during the first debate.

And yet, just as a Viking who is set out to sea aboard a flaming vessel following his death, if would fit you to go out in much the same way. Just as the Vikings, you have proven yourself a plunderer without morals or ethics, and whatever there was of the “Maverick McCain” (if such a man ever existed), he has long since died. It’s time we sent his memory out into the distant waters to be forgotten, to be consumed by the flames of his own ambition.

Good luck in your next life, Senator. I can only hope your sins do not follow your through that black corridor you have created for yourself.

Sincerely,
Big Blue

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