Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New propaganda for the Left's anti-war agenda

The Washington Post is reporting that senior White House official and former marine corps captain, Matthew Hoh, resigned in protest over the war in Afghanistan. The liberals seem to be just eating it up, too. It's headline news over at the Huffington Post. Look for it tonight all over MSNBC tonight. Speaking of which, this ties in nicely to what Arianna Huffington called for a few weeks back when she suggested Vice President Joe Biden resign in protest over the war in Afghanistan.

For months now, ever since drawing down in Iraq seemed a real and inevitable possibility via President Obama, the left (and some on the right) have been employing the same rhetoric and tactics to pressure the government into ending our involvement in the conflict there. They, in fact we, were correct in opposing the war in Iraq. But not so in Afghanistan.

I supported this war under the Bush administration, though I felt that the administration grossly mishandled it. Bush & Co. took our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan so as to push their Neocon geopolitical agenda in Iraq and the situation in Afghanistan slowly deteriorated from neglect. (see retired Gen. Paul Eaton's spot-on assessment)

 Nonetheless, now that we actually have a president who is giving Afghanistan (and Pakistan) the attention it desperately needs, many on the left are doing their level best to stop and reverse our involvement there. In the past few years I felt this time might very well come. In spite of their often repeated claims over the years that they weren't merely a bunch of ant-war defeatists as those on the right had characterized them, many who opposed the war in Iraq did not oppose it merely for the lack of justification for it, nor the imperialism that it smacked of, but rather simply because it was a war.

When it comes down to it, many on the left clearly do not want the United States to involve itself in any war, at any time, for any reason. And if they get their way, we are doomed.

In closing, I respect Mr. Hoh's decision, it was his to make. I wish more government officials like him would have had the courage to have resigned over the travesty that was the war in Iraq. However, I think Mr. Hoh is wrong about the war in Afghanistan. Grim though it is, it is also a war of necessity. We cannot afford to lose even more ground there. Pakistan can't afford that. The region can't afford it. 

My comment at the Daily Beast.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No right to privacy for nudie?

I saw this story last week but didn't get a chance to write anything about it.

A Springfield, Virginia man is being charged with indecent exposure for being naked in his own home. Apparently a woman was walking her young son to school and crossed the 'offender's' yard, and saw him naked through a window as he was making morning coffee in his own kitchen. She complained and the cops came and arrested the man.

My first thought was how ridiculous it was for the cops to actually arrest and then charge someone for nudity in his own home. What is this, Victorian England? My next thought was how incredibly selfish (and prudish) this woman must be to believe her rights to not be offended supersede the privacy rights of someone else minding their own business in their own home. I then wondered why this dame wasn't being charged with trespassing... More on that later. No doubt this story would be vastly different if the watcher was a man and the watchee had been a woman.

Of course, I realize that there could be extenuating circumstances. But from what has been available in the reporting I've seen it looks open and shut to me. The guy was in his own home and has a presumed right to privacy. He was not in a public place. The video footage from local news coverage showed the view from outside the home, in the dark of night. There would have been nothing unreasonable in someone being naked in that room with the window & doors uncovered as they were.

The woman and her son were technically trespassing on his property and, again, were not in a public place. Whether intentional or not, she looked through his window and would have seen only a glimpse of the man unless she stopped to gawk. As far as I'm concerned, by trespassing and looking toward the open window of a private residence she forfeit any legitimate claims she might have to seeing something offensive in a more public setting. It's not enough to say, 'I can see you from outside the house' as the responsibility then falls back on them, 'Well, why were you looking through my windows into my house?'.

To me the solutions is quite simple, don't trespass on someone's property and don't look in their windows. If you do, then don't complain about what you see. Problem solved.

Now I'm not sure what the law is there in Virginia, but I know what the law shouldn't be. There should not be a burden placed on individuals that at no time will their actions from within the reasonable privacy of their own home cause any offense to those outside their home. The emphasis on reasonable here is quite intentional. In other words, you can't legally masturbate to passers-by on the street through an open bay window in a well-lit room and claim 'I didn't know anyone could see me'. However, you can certainly make coffee in your kitchen in the nude with an open curtain and legitimately claim that no offense was intended when someone happened to look while passing by.

Ultimately the burden of proof should be placed on the 'offended' party to prove that the 'offender' was aware that his or her actions was offensive and/or publicly viewable. In summation, they are going to have to prove intent here, and from what I've seen that is doing to be very difficult to do.

In closing, there were a few things about this incident that I found quite interesting. First, the police are apparently claiming that the man wanted to be seen naked. My response: How the hell do they know? Is there a history of this? Has there been other complaints about the man or the property? Did the man in some way draw attention to himself so he would be seen? Sorry, but just being naked in itself doesn't qualify. Outside of one of these being the case I don't see how one can make such an accusation.

The cops claim there may have been another incident involving the accused and so they're asking people to come forward. I find it quite convenient to imply that there have been other incidents and then seeking evidence which might support this. Whatever happened to cops reaching conclusions based on actual evidence rather than reaching conclusions based on hypothetical evidence?

It appears to me that the cops really want a case here and so, as often happens, they threw out an accusatory statement for which there is probably no proof, only convenient assumption. Part of this may be that losing a case like this would be rather embarrassing for local law enforcement. Of course, winning such a case should be rather embarrassing as well. In any event, I finally figured out why the cops didn't charge the woman with trespassing (or at least drop the case given those circumstances) and why they are actually seeking prosecution: the 'victim' here is the wife of a cop.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

When cable news becomes government propaganda

The propaganda of Fox News is legendary among reasonable people these days, count me as one of them. In fact, recently White House officials Anita Dunn, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel have been making the rounds on the cable shows criticizing Fox News. While I agree with their characterizations overall, I also believe they're making a major mistake in pointing this out. For one, it reduces the prestige of the White House as it looks petty and whining. Secondly, it gives Fox News a publicity they don't deserve. Thirdly, it plays directly into the narrative that Fox, and particularly wingnuts like Beck and Limbaugh have been trying to create—the liberal 'establishment' is out to use the government to persecute conservatives.

There is something else I find negative about the White House coming out against Fox News, it looks like hypocrisy. Sure Fox News provides “a viewpoint” rather than reporting the news, but if one were to be honest they'd have to admit that they are not the only ones. In particular, MSNBC pushes a viewpoint, an ideology, a partisan agenda. But yet the White House doesn't call them out on this. That's where the hypocrisy comes in.

Here is an excellent op-ed at Newsweek about the obvious bias of Fox news and how it has lead to a rampant partisan/ideological bias in the rest of cable news.

Now I admit that I watch MSNBC with regularity. I certainly lean more left than right and, frankly, I enjoy some of the wit and style presented by the likes of Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Having said that, the bias on the network is obvious. Less so than Fox (at least MSNBC begins its day with several hours of an articulate, former Republican congressman serving as its conservative voice), but obvious none the less.

Frankly, I am becoming increasingly cynical about MSNBC. Part of this is because it is cable news with all the sensationalist, hashed and re-hashed, commercialized faux coverage that comes with mainstream media. And much of the programming is pundits and political hacks who offer mere talking-points. But then there is something else that bothers me about it—it often smacks of propaganda.

I must say that I appreciated news media via MSNBC taking on the right-wing establishment over the past several years. Speaking truth to power is what the media is supposed to do, afterall. But now that the establishment is left-wing, or at least Democratic, it just doesn't feel right anymore. To me, news organizations should not be apologists for those in power. And unfortunately, that is just what MSNBC has largely been doing.

I've also found the quality of MSNBC has been suffering, as well. Chris Matthews rarely plays 'hardball' anymore. He used to refuse BS to go unchallenged. Not so much anymore. All too often he tends to stroke egos and sways with the wind from day to day. It's hard to tell really what he does and does not support. He also talks over his guests chronically when it is completely unwarranted. If in the end it is all about him and what he thinks then he should just stop having guests at all.

Ed Shultz, who follows Chris, is so thoroughly leftist in his ideology that it borders on the absurd. It's guys like him that remind me that I am definitely not a “liberal”... I should say that I do appreciate his populist bent, particularly toward the middle-class in this country. But he is delusional in his belief that the majority of this country wants the far-left-of-center policies that he does.

Ditto for Keith Olbermann who has become increasingly acidic in his description of the issues and the “opposition”. He comes across more and more as having an over-inflated value of himself. And his total lack of presenting opposing viewpoints on his show renders his program just about worthless when it comes to genuinely informing the public. This may be because he doesn't want to give them a platform, but that is an unacceptable excuse in journalism. It makes him appear more as a coward who is too afraid to face opposition directly. His rival, Bill-O is a belligerent blow-hard and a moron, but at least the goon bothers to go toe-to-toe with those he opposes. Keith could do much better, at least he's intelligent, articulate and has no apparent need for raising his voice.

Conversely, Rachel Maddow, lovable geek, is also highly ideological and partisan but she goes out of her way to book guests with opposing views. And not just some right-wing pundit, by the way, she actually gives interviews with the very persons she or her coverage has been critical of.  Furthermore, I have generally found her to be very fair in her statements and characterizations. She doesn't just pull opinion out of the air and makes it a point to retract her (infrequent) mistakes. While some of her depictions can come off as guilt by association, there is nothing unreasonable in pointing out that a former politician is now a lobbyist for a corporation that stands to make a great deal of profit if a certain piece of legislation is passed or shot down. Quite the contrary, its a service to the public, no matter how much these special-interests think they have a legal and ethical right to hide. So, kudos to her for that.

Getting back to the main issue at hand. In regards to MSNBC I have found myself slowly over time moving down the same path I did with Fox News several years ago. I used to watch Fox daily. In fact, I was awakened to the events of 9/11 by coverage on Fox News. The ultimate pinhead, Bill O'Reilly had already pissed me off for years. And I despised the smirking, know-nothing weasel, Sean Hannity. But I was a news junkie and I appreciated the 24/7 coverage and listening to views that I often disagreed with. Having some moderate to conservative stances on some issues, I could even find myself in agreement with some of the opinions there.

After the war in Iraq and the disgustingly jingoist nature that Fox took on, I watched it less and less. There was and is nothing fair or balanced about Fox News, and this was made especially unacceptable when considering that Fox became such a right-wing propaganda machine at a time when the party and ideology that ruled our government was also right-wing.

Now MSNBC seems to embarking down a very similar path. It's a real shame.

Having said all of this, before anyone gets the idea that the two are moral equivalents, they are definitely not. I've lost a lot of faith in MSNBC and increasingly turn elsewhere for TV news coverage, but I have seen far more criticism of the Obama administration from MSNBC than I ever saw the Bush administration receive from Fox News.

MSNBC, like Fox News, may be highly ideological, but their ideology is often to the left of the current administration and they let it show. There is obviously no Reaganesque “11th Commandment” among leftists. That, too, shows an integrity the right doesn't have.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Leftists and disinformation

I was extremely disappointed to see Rachel Maddow, on her MSNBC program, seemingly approve of the latest unscrupulous hoax by the so-called “Yes men”.

The "Yes men" are a bunch of anarchist thugs who deceive the media and thereby the public into believing that they (through websites, interviews, or public speeches) represent large organizations, corporations or even individuals. They make highly controversial (and not always untrue) statements, for instance publicly admitting guilt on behalf of a corporation (ex. Dow Chemical) for contributing to an industrial disaster (the Bhopal gas leak). In this case they claimed Dow Chemical would liquidate Union Carbide (the company originally responsible for the disaster back in 1984) in order to clean up the site of the disaster. This declaration on the BBC had within a few hours caused Dow Chemical's stock to shrink by $2 billion before the company could announce that the person making the claim did not represent their company in any way, shape or form.

They also claimed to represent the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development when announcing that the department had decided not to raze much of the undamaged public housing in New Orleans after Hurrican Katrina, contrary to what the government had actually told local residents.

Nevermind the money they cost corporations with their near slanderous hoaxes, nevermind the reputations they ruin (whether deserved or not), when they make these claims they often get the hopes up of people involved in tragedies. The people living in New Orleans who had been told by the government that their undamaged public housing was going to be torn down were very distressed about this. So when these "Yes Men" took it upon themselves to claim that the government had changed its mind, naturally it got these poor folks' hopes up, but all in vain. Probably the best news they had heard since before the hurricane but then only to find out soon afterward that the whole thing was a hoax, their homes are still going to be torn down.

The same for the unfortunate souls in Bhopal, India who quickly heard the news, via International coverage, that Dow Chemical was finally going to clean the disaster site and care for their desperate medical needs. So imagine how these poor people felt upon learning that the whole thing was nothing but a disgustingly cruel hoax.

And these shameless pricks don't even have the decency to own up to the misery they bring to the tragic lives of innocent people. To them they rationalize that it's all for a good cause and the damage of their lies can't compare to the damage that corporate or government action (or inaction) has caused.

One doesn't have to feel any sympathy for the corporations or governments who are essentially 'punked' for their wrongs, but one should definitely feel sympathy for people who are sold a false hope for a fucking activist publicity stunt.

So, as Rachel's show points out, the latest hoax was on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when the "Yes Men" claimed that the organization would be changing its position on climate-change. Welcome news to environmentalists everywhere, but of course, it wasn't true. So why do it? Apparently it's supposed to force the organization into having to publicly declare an unpopular stance opposing climate-change legislation and the science behind anthropogenic climate-change.

Now I know there are anti-consumerist/anti-corporation types who are apologists for these guys and their so-called "identity correction" tactics, and I would expect as much from a reporter with Mother Jones magazine, but I honestly didn't expect Rachel Maddow to be as approving as her coverage portrayed. Of course, like most liberals she doesn't like the Chamber of Commerce (good reason not to) and so such a level of deliberate deception is apparently welcomed.

I have to admit that I really don't get the appeal of all this. I would think it would be obvious to anyone who values honesty and an informed populace as to just how inherently wrong this is, regardless the good intentions. Some obviously see it as a necessary means to an end. I doubt they would agree, however, if the shoe were on the other foot. I can imagine the self-righteous indignation among many of these liberal apologists if some conservative activists got together to concoct a hoax that they represented PETA or Greenpeace and declare in press conferences or for the BBC or NPR that they have engaged in illegal terrorist activities in the past and that they have decided they no longer want to use such tactics or otherwise advance anarchism.

Regardless whose side you're on, regardless how noble you believe your cause is, it is wholly dishonest to make outrageous, misleading statements whilst claiming that you represent a person, organization, corporation or government when in fact you do not. More than just dishonest, those who engage in this or condone it are setting all of us down a dangerous path.

Quite seriously, all this is going to have drastic consequences for the information age. It is difficult enough to get at the truth these days, both in spite of and because of our 24/7 mainstream media coverage and technologies which make creating, altering and disseminating information cheap and simple, but now as we engage in the world and encounter spokesmen who seemingly have the credentials, the letterhead, the business cards, the podium, the room full of reporters, they cannot be trusted  at all. We have to doubt anything and everything they are telling us.

In making these activist statements, as if they actually achieve anything other than appealing to juvenile and/or anarchistic sensibilities, we are being thrust into a brave new chaotic world of disinformation. Do we really want to usher in an era where anyone who cares at all about truth and reality will have to go to increasingly extreme lengths to verify the identity of people who make such important claims? Do we really want to suspend  reasonable discussions and debates; freeze the reporting of what someone has to say so that we can instead waste more of our time running background checks on everyone? File away legitimate news sources in the same category as wikipedia? Is all this worth it?

To me this isn't progress at all. It's a step closer to chaos. Of course, anarchists are all about chaos which explains why they appreciate this group so much. But those who are not anarchists yet still defend what the "Yes Men" are doing should beware that these tactics can and no doubt inevitably will bite you and your interests in the ass, too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coverage that just won't quit

I am not going to say anything about this "Balloon boy" scam, hoax, farce, whatever you want to call it, other than to add myself to the growing list of those who are disgusted at the media circus surrounding it.

Everytime something outrageous happens, from O.J. to JonBenet, Elian & Anna Nicole, Michael Jackson, Princess Di, a polygamist ranch in Texas, a Governor on the Appalachian trail, a Congressman in an airport john—the media thinks it must show 24/7 coverage of tragic or absurd events, basically the same 60 seconds of clips hashed and rehashed on an endless loop (paused for commercial breaks). The saddest thing of all is that much of the country tunes-in, rotting their brains with this useless, trivial information & baseless speculation. If we didn't keep watching they wouldn't keep showing this garbage because advertisers base their contracts on ratings...

To those interested in learning about what happened in the real world today (other than the mainstream media's continued airing of the new hit reality TV show 'The Hennes') I suggest you watch our tax dollars and private contributions being put to good use for a change on: The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

For a little news, some comic relief, and some surprisingly accurate satire on the disgrace that has become our media and political system: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

For highly informative interviews and no commercials: The Charlie Rose Show

Monday, October 19, 2009

Real Time with Bill Maher season finale wrap-up

This weekend was the season finale of Real Time with Bill Maher. It was a good show, guests including Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, political commentator Chris Matthews, activist/actor Alec Baldwin, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and comedian Garry Shandling.

The topics covered included much of the big hot-button issues of today and those over the summer. Here is my take on some of the comments and topics:

Congressman Alan Grayson is to liberals what Congressman Joe Wilson is to conservatives. I thought his stunt in the halls of Congress was sensational theatrics, as was the Republican reaction to it and calls for him to apologize. But I must say I do like his style. For a first-term congressman he is showing a great deal of testicular fortitude. I think he seems refreshingly honest, too. While he obviously appears to left-wingers, he seems eager to tell people what he really thinks rather than what he thinks would be safe enough to get him re-elected. We could use a lot more of that quality among  politicians these days.

I'm glad Congressman Grayson is unflinchingly taking the Republicans to task on healthcare, I think they need to have their lies and stonewalling ways shoved right back in their face, but I definitely disagree with his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan.

My favorite line from the congressman was about President Obama when he said, sarcastically, “he turns the other cheek, like any good Muslim would do.”

Speaking of Afghanistan, Bill Maher was again repeatedly making the case that we just need to pack up our stuff and come home. He showed his inconsistency again (I realize that he has explained in the past that it's okay when he changes his mind, just not politicians) when he argued for dealing with al Qaeda by using helicopters and drones and missiles and the like. I found this especially ironic as this contradicts statements he made after 9/11—statements in fact that lead to his show, Politically Incorrect, being canceled from ABC—“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly.”

Now that we have troops there and we're seeing the human cost, conveniently Maher and others are arguing that we should just go back to lobbing missiles at the enemy. Keep our safe distance. Well, Bill Maher was correct after 9/11 when he chastised the Clinton administration for not properly addressing the clear threat from al Qaeda, relying on cruise missiles to destroy tents rather than sending in the troops to destroy much of the organization itself and deny them safe haven in the future.

Over and over and over again, liberals are showing a lack of spine, an ignorance of history and an indifference to facts. They were correct in arguing that the Iraq war was an unnecessary war of choice. But they are dead wrong in characterizing the war in Afghanistan the same way. It was a justified war; a war of necessity.

I think any reasonable person would agree that it is as critical today that al Qaeda be denied safe haven as it was prior to 2001. We removed the Taliban and denied al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan, but they are now operating freely in Pakistan, as well as likely in  in both Yemen and Somalia. If we surrender Afghanistan to the Taliban, as a lack of adequate coalition training and combat forces would provide, al Qaeda will have in addition to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, their home turf back in Afghanistan. This would be a major step backward, not forward.

Cruise missiles and helicopter gunships didn't and couldn't stop al Qaeda from planning and carrying out terrorist attacks prior to 9/11, it wouldn't stop them today. To me it is absolutely senseless when people like Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Arianna Huffington, Max Clelland, and several current members of congress argue for maintaining the status quo there or even drawing down forces in Afghanistan.

Frankly, it infuriates me to no end to see so many liberals living up to the right-wing characterization as being “defeatists” who just want to “cut and run”. I spent a lot of time defending these people when they, rightly, criticized the war in Iraq. Now it appears that their perspective truly was/is one in which the United States should simply not be involved in any wars, for any reason, period.

Moving on, Bill made a point that should be reiterated over and over again, "the Taliban is no more oppressive than the Saudi Arabian government". A bit of an exaggeration, to be sure, but Saudi Arabia is in the same league as the Taliban in its intolerance and brutality. Let us not forget that they still have government sanctioned beheadings in the Saudi Kingdom, including the beheading of homosexuals. Let us also not forget that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. It seems the most fundamental difference here is that the Saudis are rich and have lots of oil. That, to me, seems no justification to turn a blind eye to their human rights violations and their secret funding of terrorists.

On the show they did bring up the “war tax” again. I was well in favor of the concept a few years back, but, of course, it went nowhere. I've thought that folks should put their money where their mouth is. If you really want to support the troops, how about paying for their efforts instead of taking some tax cut designed to get Republicans re-elected?

Bill continued with his paranoia about vaccinations. Funny how he can deride those who question whether our government had any involvement in 9/11 as just being a bunch of loons, while he's being quite reasonable to not trust the government when it comes to vaccinations. Not sure, also, how he reconciles this with his obvious desire to have the government run all of healthcare...

Bill says he just wants debate on the use of vaccines. Ok. Fair enough. But then that's what those who oppose the consensus on climate-change and evolution want, too, Bill. But you still think they're batshit crazy, right? Well, a lot of folks think it's a bit batshit to refuse vaccinations on the grounds that they cause more sickness than they prevent. For the record I never get them, and I think they are overused as well.

“Don't ask; Don't tell” came up on the show. Everyone seemed very supportive of lifting the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military. Chris Matthews was dead on, in my opinion, saying that, "this instant gratification crap isn't going to work. It's easy to take it up the Hill and get beaten... it's easy to loose that fight. Do you want to lose it? You can lose it tomorrow morning. You want to win it? You gotta do it the right way."

Chris also suggested again, as he did last week on his own program, that people who feel strongly about this issue (or any other) need to write their representatives, type it out on a business letter and mail it the old fashioned way. He insists that it really does make an impression and he's absolutely right. More people should heed his advice and understand the reality that actually taking the time to write your congressman does a hell of a lot more than applauding on some show.

Garry Shandling gave support for gay-equality, saying, “we should rid ourselves of 'don't ask; don't tell”. He added that we'll "have to change other phrases, like 'I got your back'". He also said, "I have no trouble with anybody who is in  love with anybody—if they're different. Two women can have a child, as far as I'm concerned." Adding one hilarious exception, "As long as they're not both Jewish. The idea of two Jewish mothers..."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New conflict along Af-Pak border

The Pakistan government is finally turning up the heat on the Taliban and al-Qaeda along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

This is just what the region has been needing. Supposedly this time they are going to employ a more effective strategy, not just clearing but actually holding the areas they clear. This worked well in Iraq and needs to be a focus for Afghanistan, as well.

This isn't the first time the Pakistan government has tried to do something with this lawless area along the Afghan border. They have failed their previous attempts and always end up cutting deals with the Taliban and affiliated groups. Let's hope this time they are far more effective militarily than they have been in the past and this time they don't make any deals with these extremist groups. We definitely can't afford another loss in the region.

Article at the Washington Post

Marriage bigotry of all stripes lives on

For those folks who believe that anti-miscegenation attitudes are a thing of the past, you're wrong [replaced broken link].

As has been pointed out countless times before, anti-miscegenation attitudes and laws once prevented interracial couples from marrying in this country, and today the same sort of prejudice is preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

Of course, many who oppose same-sex marriage completely reject this. When pressed they don't really want to talk about anti-miscegenation laws and attitudes at all. To them that is as ancient as slavery and totally incomparable to anti-same-sex marriage. Of course, the reality is that it isn't so ancient. While many states had removed their anti-miscegenation laws, there were still many states left who had such laws on the books. And they enforced them. One such state was Virginia.

In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned such laws as unconstitutional because of a case involving an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, who though married in Washington, D.C., had set up residence in the Commonwealth of Virginia. (a post I made about the anniversary of Loving vs. Virginia)

Virginia law did not allow the marriage or cohabitation of interracial couples. I would hope to most of us this is a bizarrely primitive prohibition. But, as someone like myself living in a conservative town in the mid-west can attest, this sort of attitude continues today. I see it in my neighbors, even my own family.

A Hammond, Louisiana couple, Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, have learned first hand that even today, in the 21st century, some 42 years after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws nationwide, interracial couples can still be denied marriage in some quarters of this country. Fortunately for them, they were able to get married by someone else. They did end up leaving state but certainly didn't have to.

Not only are laws banning same-sex marriages unfairly prejudiced &; unconstitutional just as anti-miscegenation laws were in the past, but the bigotry of such beliefs continue to this day.

Both interracial heterosexual couples and homosexual couples in general share a great deal of commonality here. The bigots don't want to recognize that, because most of them know how backward it is to hold anti-racial beliefs. Either they don't want to admit it, or they just don't want to think of themselves being as backward and bigoted as their racist counterparts. But it is a reality they cannot escape.

It took a great long time, a lot of effort, and many, many incremental steps for interracial couples to win equality under the law in this country. Obviously some are still having to deal with isolated legal incidents like this one. Same-sex couples will have to endure the same. We've won a few states. There is a growing consensus. But there is much, much work ahead of us. And frankly, the forces against us are much more organized, much more indignant, and much more persistent than the anti-miscegenation crowd was.

It may be a decade before same-sex couples win national equality on this issue. But it will be generations before coots like this will stop denying us marriage. I think it is important for us to put that in perspective as we demand instant results on equality. We have to be realistic about what lies ahead. And we have to make sure that bigots who deny us are not allowed to continue their claim that anti-racial bigotry is ancient history and that somehow theirs is a legitimate concern when it comes to same-sex marriage...

One thing we could all do right now is call for Keith Bardwell, Justice of the Peace for Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana to be removed from his official duties.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ayn Rand and greed, populist again?

I was watching the Daily Show the other day and Jon Stewart had Jennifer Burns on the program. They were discussing her new book—'Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right'—which is obviously about conservative novelist, anti-altruist & free-market heroine Ayn Rand.

You see, now that conservatives are in the wilderness, so-to-speak, and Democrats are in charge of the government, Ayn Rand is suddenly popular again. Her theories about free-markets, limited government, the importance of greed, etc. are all making a comeback.

On the show Rand's atheism came up, which rarely does when conservatives discuss her. Conveniently, for many conservatives one's lack of religious convictions are only relevant when discussing liberal ideologues.

Other details about Ayn Rand that tend to be left out by otherwise preachy conservatives include her sexual affair with a man 26 years her junior. I read about this in a Time magazine article last week which discussed Mrs. Burns' book as well as Anne Heller's. 

Apparently this affair went on with regularity while she was married, mind you. Now she had her husband's permission, as did her young lover so it wasn't really infidelity but it was still certainly adultery. Do I really care? No, but conservatives normally do. Just, again, not when it is one of their own. That's what makes this relevant and interesting, to me.

Read this fascinating article for more on Ayn Rand, these two books, class warfare, right-wing populism, and the distorted conservative narrative that is becoming popular once again.

Taking on the 'middle way' in Afghanistan part 2

Last weekend Fareed Zakaria interviewed two members of the Council on Foreign Relations on his CNN program called GPS. They discussed the war in Afghanistan and whether we should escalate the situation there. One of his guests was President Richard Haass, the other a Senior Fellow by the name of Stephen Biddle. While Fareed is also a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he neglected to mention this to his audience. Incidentally, he also clearly agrees with Richard Haass.

While I thought that Mr. Biddle made a very good case, I kept thinking that much was being left out, much was not be addressed, and frankly, often times it felt like Mr. Zakaria was sort of setting the program up for Mr. Haass... So often I found myself thinking of retorts to what Mr. Haass had to say and feeling disappointed that much of it wasn't addressed.

For what it's worth, I decided to provide my own responses to what Mr. Haass had to say:

“…I don't believe that those who are advocating greater force levels have made a persuasive case. They've not shown, first, that Afghanistan real estate is essential to the effort against terror. If al Qaeda is denied Afghanistan, as they largely are right now, they simply take up residence in other countries and mount their efforts from there.

So, it's not obvious to me that this is vital to the United States as part of our counter-terror effort.

Terrorists don't need to take up sanctuary in Afghanistan in order to destabilize Pakistan. After all, they've already taken up sanctuary in Pakistan itself. That's the real issue here.” ~Richard Haass

Quite the contrary, I’d say those in favor of a greater force level in Afghanistan have made a compelling case. Gen. McChrystal, who is in charge of combat operations in Afghanistan and is often credited as being the best when it comes to counter-insurgency, seems quite clear that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. To the point that the Taliban is not only making a resurgence but there is a genuine risk now of the central government there being toppled.

It would undoubtedly be a very serious setback to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda if the Taliban, who had permitted al-Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan prior to and after 9/11, were to return to power. This is, afterall, why we went to war in Afghanistan in the first place—to remove the Taliban from power and destroy al-Qaeda. Mr. Haass would likely agree that the war in Afghanistan was a necessity in 2001. I fail to see how keeping the Taliban from returning to power and al-Qaeda from regaining a safe haven in Afghanistan wouldn’t still be a necessity today.

Mr. Haass is correct in stating that currently al-Qaeda is largely denied safe haven in Afghanistan. The goal here, in regards to Afghanistan at least, should be to keep denying them safe haven there.

~“Well, there's something bizarre or even preposterous about this entire argument [Stephen Biddle’s argument: ‘The main purpose … of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a contributor to a difficult problem of instability in Pakistan.], then, because we have a situation where we are contemplating doing a lot more in Afghanistan, so that Pakistan is not destabilized. Yet, it's either the inability or the unwillingness of the Pakistani government to crack down on groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan itself.

That's a big part of the problem. So, there's a disconnect in the argument for the strategy.

Can I add one other thing, Fareed? I also think it's important -- we've got to broaden this beyond simply military tools.

Why do we assume that, even if the Taliban were to come back into Afghanistan, that the Taliban of 2009 and '10 would necessarily be exactly what they were a decade ago? Maybe they would think twice this time before allowing al Qaeda to take up shop. Or maybe this time, we could use dollars and other incentives in order to get at least some of the Taliban to act differently.” ~ Richard Haass

First of all I don’t think anyone would disagree that we need to broaden the situations both in Afghanistan and Pakistan beyond mere military solutions. That’s a given. In fact, that’s been part of our problem over the past several years. Fortunately, we finally have a president putting forth a foreign policy that is giving Afghanistan its due diligence. Now if only we can get the American public to give him and Gen. McChrystal time to put their ideas into action and measure results. Eight months is certainly not enough time.

I find it naïve, however, this notion that if the Taliban were to come back to power they would be a kinder, gentler version and less likely to allow al-Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan. One would certainly be highly uninformed of Pashtun culture to come to the conclusion that either money or threats or past defeats would convince the extremely devout Islamist fanatics which make up the Taliban to disregard their deeply held, pre-Islamic customs on hospitality, among other things. (This is the same kind of thinking that would have led the biblical Lot to offer his daughters to be raped in order to spare his guests—the angels—the same fate by a violent mob in Sodom, as depicted in the Old Testament Genesis 19:6)

I think if you take a serious look at the culture in Afghanistan you would find that the locals cannot be bribed like they could in, say, Iraq. And even if we could, how long shall we bribe them? What happens when the money runs out, as it inevitably does? This just sounds like the same sort of solutions that created the Taliban when we armed the Mujahideen to defeat the Soviets and then ultimately left them with lots of weapons, no money, no government, and no infrastructure. The U.S. is great at throwing money at situations but it rarely solves actual problems, in part because we rarely continue to follow through.

~“[the war in Afghanistan] it's clearly a war of choice. The interests at stake are less than vital in Afghanistan, and I think there's something of a consensus here. It's not central to the global struggle against terrorism. Where we may disagree is on how central it is to Pakistan.

But you put your finger on it exactly. Getting involved in Afghanistan because of Pakistan is, at best, second-best. It's an indirect strategy. It would make much more sense to be more involved in Pakistan directly.” ~ Richard Haass

I think our interests in keeping al-Qaeda from having a safe haven in Afghanistan is every bit as vital as they were in 2001. I can’t imagine why someone would conclude otherwise. I’d add, too, that it is very important in regards to the situation in Pakistan.

Defeating al-Qaeda in Pakistan will be very difficult for many reasons—among them geography, local animosity toward the Pakistan government and particularly the United States, the fact that Pakistan is a sovereign nation that isn’t likely to stand for a great deal of U.S. military action in its borders, and the fact that the government there hasn’t been particularly proactive about dealing with the Taliban nor al-Qaeda—but this would only be compounded if the Taliban, al-Qaeda or any insurgent groups were able to bolster forces on the Afghanistan side. We have to remember that Pakistan and Afghanistan share a very porous border.

Again, we should be more involved with the Pakistan government and taking a more active role in countering the Taliban/al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan, I don’t think anyone is denying this, and we are doing so, but we can’t do this as a replacement for ensuring al-Qaeda does not gain a safe haven in Afghanistan again. In other words, Afghanistan is an addition to the serious problem situation in Pakistan, and vice versa, it is not independent of, or unrelated to it. We cannot ignore one, in order to give more attention to the other. It’s cliché to say, I know, but we really have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

~“Second of all, as this conversation makes clear, we have alternatives. We have options. What makes a war of choice, at the end of the day, a war of choice is the fact that you have options other than emphasizing going to war or, in this case, increasing the size of U.S. combat forces.

This is a classic war of choice.

And I'd simply point out that after President Obama used the phrase "war of necessity" about a month ago, unless I am mistaken, I've not heard him use it again. And I think that's consistent with the fact that the administration is rethinking its policy. Because if this were a war of necessity, there'd be no argument about what General McChrystal wants, and we'd put in 40,000 troops now. And we'd put in another 40,000, if that's what it took.

We are clearly not going to do this. And I would say that's an implicit recognition that Afghanistan, whatever it is, is a war of choice, is not a war of necessity, and the United States has real foreign policy options.” ~ Richard Haass

First of all I’d like to put this “war of choice” narrative to rest. If one assumes that denying al-Qaeda a safe haven in Pakistan (or, really, anywhere), is a vital United States interest, which I would strongly argue that it is, then the war in Afghanistan is clearly a war of necessity.

Second, there are other ‘options’ we can choose, yes, but I would certainly argue that we do not have viable alternatives to keeping al-Qaeda from re-forming in Afghanistan. We need to make some strategy adjustments, we need to focus more on Pakistan than we have been, give more aid to Pakistan, put more emphasis on training Afghan security forces, put more effort on rebuilding in Afghanistan—all of which we are doing, by the way— and deal with the incredibly complex political situations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we also need to ensure that al-Qaeda does not gain a safe haven in Afghanistan again. To do this Afghanistan must not be a hospitable place for al-Qaeda, which would require that the government not be friendly to it and that there is adequate security to keep them from reforming there.

To accomplish all of this Gen. McChrystal (and others) believe he needs at least 40,000 more combat forces and I agree. This is why I don’t believe there is a valid argument against giving the General what he says he needs. I think the resistance to this is misguided at best.

~“One of the reasons I don't like the shorthand word "surge" is, the centerpiece of what turned things around to some extent in Iraq was never the absolute number of U.S. forces. It was what they did. And even more, it was their partnering with the Sunni tribes.

I think that has real consequences for Afghanistan. It suggests that what we need is not so much more U.S. troops, which inevitably will provoke a nationalist reaction, as Steve just suggested.

What we really want to do is get the Afghans to bear a larger part of the burden. And that means accelerating the building up of the central police and army forces and, even more, accelerating the building up of regional forces, so-called warlords, or what have you. There are some pilot projects along those lines. I would really make that work.

And there's one other reason, Fareed, the United States does not want to pour more forces into Iraq, besides the human one. We've got an entire foreign policy chessboard to think about.

My hunch is, we're going to have to keep tens of thousands of forces in Iraq much longer than people now expect. We want to keep some forces in reserve to deal with the Iranian scenario.

We have to think about North Korea. We've also got to allow our military to rest.

I simply don't believe, given the actual and potential challenges that are going to come the way of the United States militarily over the next couple of years, that we have the luxury of allowing such a high percentage of our forces to be in Afghanistan. Again, the interests simply don't warrant it.” ~ Richard Haass

I would say that what turned things around in Iraq was a combination of several factors, and among them was partnering with Sunni tribes, which we need to do much more of but in gaining their support it certainly helps to convince them that they’re about to lose and that we are on the winning team. Changes in strategy are critical, for instance, actually holding and building areas that we clearer, and increasing our combat forces to adequate levels will allow us to achieve this clear, hold and build strategy. Which, of course, brings us down to square one here. Painful as it is, we need more combat troops in Afghanistan and we need them as soon as possible.

Clearly we must focus more on building up local police and military in Afghanistan, this cannot be overstated, but again, one cannot build up such forces if they’re being killed off or recruited nearly as fast as they are being trained and armed. And I think that is some of what we’ve been seeing.

I also think there is another angle to this. If you want to get locals to put real effort into rebuilding and securing their communities, their nation, it’s critical that they have a sense of national pride. The Afghan people are a very proud people, but they are not proud of their government. I don’t think you see a strong desire to build their nation up and protect what is build because of a lack of involvement in governing and a lack of substantive results.

As for the overall troop levels of the United States and making efforts to keep more in reserve. It’s something to give serious thought to, but frankly it sounds a bit disinegenuous for folks who oppose military action in Iran and North Korea to be using this as an excuse for why we should not send more troops to Afghanistan. I don’t know what Richard Haass has planned, but I’m certainly not anticipating or advocating military involvement in Iran and North Korea. And I also wouldn’t recommend determining our combat forces around what might happen in Iran or North Korea.

~“Well, they [“the bad guys”] may, in fact, think that [“they’re going to win”]. That's one of the reasons that we need to accelerate our training-up of the Afghans, both in Kabul and beyond.

Let me just make it clear, Fareed. I'm not sitting here arguing the United States should abandon Afghanistan. And to the best of my knowledge, no one in the room with President Obama is advocating that, either.

The real choice is whether we increase the American investment or essentially keep it roughly the same size or slightly lower, and more importantly, change the mix of it. And that's what I'm advocating, that we change the mix, we change the orientation, put less of an emphasis on increasing U.S. force levels in Afghanistan, but increase our training, increase our working with the warlords, do more in Pakistan itself, and use other means to try to persuade the Taliban to gradually stop opposing us.

I don't think you'll get a quick turnaround. I think you can get a gradual improvement in the situation that way. And it's an improvement that's commensurate with our interests, which again, are not vital.

It doesn't make sense, when you're designing a national strategy for the United States, to invest more in the way of money or lives or our military might in one area where the stakes essentially don't warrant it. We have to be careful not to distort our foreign policy. And too great of an investment in Afghanistan, I fear, at this time, coming on the heels of Iraq, which itself was a distortion, would simply compound it.

The United States has vast interests around the world. And the idea that, for a decade or two decades, the preponderance of what we do in the world would be about two countries called Iraq and Afghanistan, that is stunning in a world of China, Russia, what's going on in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

It would be hard to design a foreign policy that was more distorted, more of a mismatch between our interests and our capacities." ~ Richard Haass

China, Russia? I’m unaware of what sort of crisis is looming that will require military involvement with those countries. Even if so, I can’t imagine what having 40,000 or even 140,000 troops in Afghanistan would do to make war with those countries any less of an absolute catastrophe. And I’m puzzled about what in Latin America is going to require tens of thousands of troops that we can’t possibly spare in Afghanistan. As for Africa. I think Yemen and Somalia could likely become serious problems in the foreseeable future, but then we have serious problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan right now that we cannot put off for what might happen elsewhere.

Leaving even Afghanistan to the wolves as we come home, recharge and head into Yemen, for instance, will lead us to have to deal with al-Qaeda in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan too. We cannot afford that.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but, again, I think Gen. McChrystal and others are arguing, and I agree from what I’ve read of this, that we cannot successfully build up the local Afghan forces without increased combat troop deployment. If we are going to convince the insurgency and some of those working with them but who are not necessarily beholden to them, we have to strike a serious enough blow that is convincing that they are, in fact, on the losing side. Training locals, though it is essential, frankly isn’t intimidating. It takes an overwhelming force, consecutive losses to convince folks who will be the victor and who will be the loser.

Between the choice of status quo or advancing to a degree that is necessary to secure Afghanistan, I think the choice is obvious. The status quo is deteriorating. We were victorious in our early efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Unfortunately the Bush administration took our efforts away from Afghanistan to concentrate on Iraq and we’ve taken some serious losses because of it. But we have a chance now to try to correct this. But it won’t be easy.

Scaling down is not the solution. We are going to have to make up for lost time and also be smarter about how we advance in Afghanistan. And we have to take Pakistan much more seriously than we did under the Bush administration. I think the Obama administration is well aware of this.

In closing I thought I should point out that in the aired version, I noticed on Fareed's program that before the commercial breaks he repeatedly played previews of comments by Richard Haass, whom he clearly agrees with, and none by Stephen Biddle. He also made a point to clarify for the audience that Richard Haass had not claimed that the first Gulf War was a war of choice, rather, that the second one was. I certainly agree, but I found it interested that Mr. Zakaria brought this up, almost as if to convince the audience that he's not some anti-war peacenik. Given what he now describes the war in Afghanistan and suggests what we do there, he might as well be.

I also noted that in closing the show Fareed was praising the Council on Foreign Relations for being able to provide two viewpoints, that of Mr. Haass and Mr. Biddle, without acknowledging the fact that he himself, as moderator, was also a member of the same organization.

While I have watched Mr. Zakaria's program regularly since it first aired, I've been most disappointed in his recent suggestions about Afghanistan, but also in his apparent involvement in what seems to me a sort of organized propaganda effort put forth by the Council on Foreign Relations to convince the public about what our next course of action should be in foreign policy. I think the American public should know just how influential this unelected group has become.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hate-crime justified as gay-panic by guy with anti-gay biblical tattoo

First saw this on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Last Friday night a New York City gay man was attacked and beaten nearly to death by two men. The incident was fortunately caught on surveillance camera. Both suspects have been arrested, one Daniel Aleman and one Daniel Rodriquez. A friend of Rodriquez (picture below) claims that the beating wasn't a hate crime. He claims the victim wasn't beaten because he was a homosexual but rather because he had made a pass at the attackers. He claims this had happened in the past as he lived in the same neighborhood as the victim. Isn't it odd how this is the standard excuse?

Aside from it being disgusting and most definitely inadequate to justify a vicious beating with such a pathetic excuse as 'he was hitting on us' (A.K.A. 'gay panic'), one should consider that the source for this claim is this goon:
That's right, Marcel Gelmi here has Leviticus 18:22 tattooed on his arm: "One shall not lie with a male as one does with a woman. It is an abomination." Here is a video of him being interviewed by Eyewitness News reporter Josh Einiger. A person must have some very serious issues (obsessions) to have anti-gay biblical quotes tattooed on his arm for the world to see. Overcompensation much?

By the way, this bigot, Marcel Gelmi, might want to turn just a few pages from Lev. 18:22 and look for the many other commandments that he clearly has chosen to ignore. For instance, the most obvious: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD." - Lev. 19:28.

He should give more thought to his wardrobe also: "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." - Lev. 19:19

And his hair-do is completely unacceptable, so sayeth the Lord: "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard" - Lev. 19:27

You know, personally I don't care about all this minutiae. I'm okay with thugs like Marcel Gelmi getting whatever kind of tattoo they want and wearing clothes and hairstyles however they see fit, but I do believe people should be held accountable to follow the beliefs that they proclaim should be held by others. If you can't live up to your own standards, then you damn sure shouldn't be preaching to others.

I'd like to make a suggestion, also. Marcel here might want to consult with these friends of his whom he has choosen to defend, explaining to them that Leviticus is rather clear about things like: "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." - Lev. 19:18

Now, one could easily imagine this bigot might claim that homosexuals do not qualify as one of his 'people' because we are so 'different', or foreign or subhuman or whatever, and therefore beating us down is perfectly acceptable, biblical even. Ah, but Leviticus has something to say about this, too: "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." - Lev. 19:33-34

He might also want to consult with his friend who not only beat a man nearly to death, but stole his wallet afterwards, spending his last $10 on drinks according to news reports. As it turns out, Leviticus also commands: "Do not steal. 'Do not lie. 'Do not deceive one another." - Lev. 19:11

Not clear enough? How about this one: "Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him." - Lev. 19:13 and this one: "Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD." - Lev. 19:16

Interestingly enough, the two gay-bashing Daniels here have been violating all kinds of strict Old Testament biblical codes, the kind that their preachy friend, Marcel Gelmi has tattooed (or should) to his body. I'm not sure what Marcel would think of all this, I'm sure he'd manage to invent some convenient excuse. If so then this would just make him a hypocritical bigot, hiding behind his religion like a coward to mask his own prejudices and insecurities. Probably not the reputation he was going for.

My final suggestion to Marcel is that he start minding his own business more often, learn to 'love thy neighbor', follow the golden rule, and all that other do-good Christian stuff. They're good tenets to live by. Now if he'd like to do something a bit more dramatic to show his devotion to "the Lord", he could inscribe some of the above Levitical codes on other parts of his body and work out a way to start following them. Oh, and hold his friends to follow those too, just as he apparently holds everyone to follow Lev. 18:22.

One final thought. It is an irony of ironies that the House of Representatives just passed Hate Crimes legislation protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation last week. Obviously it can't come soon enough.

If I see more of this garbage from the Daily Beast...

I will not be getting my news from them anymore.

First, a little back story. As I recall, the first time I heard about the Daily Beast was soon after it's online debut. Tina Brown was on Joe Scarborough's morning program discussing the site and I was instantly interested. I checked it out immediately and was quite impressed from the beginning.

The idea of an aggregated news website wasn't a new concept, of course, but I thought the Daily Beast was an excellent attempt at it. The best I'd seen. I liked that they offered a lot of different viewpoints. I could catch up easily on much of the latest goings on, skipping what didn't interest me and getting either a cursory or in-depth perspective on the news event in question. Sure, it focused on a lot of sensationalized garbage that the mainstream media tends to obsess over, but most subjects were important, many of the articles were good, and a majority of the comments from bloggers seemed intelligent. It became, for me, a nearly daily source of news. I also enjoyed expressing my opinion there from time to time, as well.

Over time—especially over the last 6 months—I've noticed more and more superficial drivel there. It's been most disappointing, this increasing focus on celebrity news, fashion, and cooking (don't get me wrong, I enjoy cooking but don't consider it newsworthy). To me, just like I'd noticed with Time magazine, there was an elitist bent that seemed to increasingly permeate the site, depicting a world completely alien from common, working class people, and drowning out far more life-altering news events. More and more I found that less and less of the top 7 articles on the main page were worth reading.

I've continued returning to the Daily Beast hoping that somehow, some way things would improve. But, I think this latest article has been, for me, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It was bad enough when I read an article several months ago in Time magazine about mobile-phone applications that help adulterers carry out their despicable cheating with greater secrecy, but now, I'm discovering via the Daily Beast that there are hotels & restaurants that will help facilitate adulterous relationships!

Now, the fact that some (non-brothel) businesses were more than willing to aid spouses who cheat disgusted me to no end, but I was just as disgusted discovering that they are getting publicity for their 'services' via a fairly mainstream source of news aggregation. And the article didn't read like: can you believe that hotels and even restaurants are training their staff to ensure their client's adulterous relationships are kept discreet? What is marriage and fidelity coming to? Rather, it read like the latest article in what businesses are doing to be more environmentally friendly, and how you can find and support them!

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't expect a church-lady sermon, but a glamorization of adultery or businesses that aid adulterers is, to me, despicable and completely unacceptable. Just a little shock that some businesses have become this amoral would be nice. But, just like the personal's site AshleyMadison.com, this seems to be just another sign of the times in the age of anything goes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Countering some conservative health-care spin

I just had to take Christopher Caldwell to task for his article this week in TIME magazine:

Cherish is not too strong a word for how American feel about what they get out of their health-care plans, however much they grouse about access and cost.” ~ Christopher Caldwell

Newsflash: if medical costs are not contained {EDIT: the CBO estimates only a $41 billion savings over 10 years through slashing malpractice law-suits, i.e. Tort Reform} then a good portion of those folks who so “cherish” their current health care plans now, will not have any health care plan at all within 10 years.

It would, sadly, be a bit late for those folks to then complain to the Republicans who kept telling them how great their insurance was and insisting that their insurance companies be protected at all costs. If only they had the sense and the foresight today to tell bought and paid for lobbyists and shills for insurance companies like Sen. Grassley, Sen. Kyl, Sen. Baucus and Mr. Caldwell here to stop protecting the greedy and start tending to the needy.

As for those people who currently do not have health insurance because their employer doesn’t offer it or they cannot afford the premiums or they cannot get a plan due to pre-existing conditions “cherish” is not too strong a word to describe how they would feel about having an option, any option, to get some (affordable) health care.

“Democratic reform efforts once focused on building a European-style single-payer Utopia.” ~ Christopher Caldwell

Nice usage of a loaded term there—Utopia. He must mean the “Hillarycare” of the early 90’s? Liberals may dream of single-payer, but moderates like myself, including moderate Democrats, do not. In fact, I think the majority of folks who want genuine reform are pleased with the idea of not-for-profit, consumer-owned cooperatives. This, of course, excludes most Republicans in and out of Congress who have twisted even Co-ops into “socialized medicine”, complete with “death panels”, “mandated abortions” and free “sex-changes” for illegal immigrants…

One thing though is certain. This so-called “free-market” insurance industry monstrosity that people like Mr. Caldwell seek to protect is a current dystopia for much of the American populace.

“They now focus on enlisting Republicans, if only a few, to share responsibility for a plan that Democrats, if they were sufficiently contemptuous of public sentiment, would have the votes to pass on their own.” ~ Christopher Caldwell

Wrong again… Public sentiment strongly supports legitimate health-care reform, including either a public option or cooperatives. And the currently proposed health-care reform changes are equally supported and opposed (see also Rasmussen Poll).

“The centerpiece of the current effort is the individual mandate […] modeled on systems of no-fault auto insurance that states began to enact in the 1970’s. Back then there was a moral hazard. If someone with insurance dinged your bumper, you could collect. If he didn’t have insurance, you were out of luck, unless you wanted to chase him through the courts. So states made it mandatory to insure your own car.” ~ Christopher Caldwell

Yeah, made sense, too, don’t you think? Or was that socialist too? Perhaps it was too sacrilegious for our marvelous, laissez-faire church of the “free market”?

It is a subject worth bringing up, however. Personally I didn’t support Hillary Clinton’s plan during the campaign of individual mandates and I still don’t. To me, if you make health-care affordable (which absolutely NO Republican plan will accomplish, and it is doubtful any current Democratic plan will accomplish either) then people will buy it. Yes, even the all-too-invincible young. It is a myth that young people don’t want insurance.

“The President sees parallels with health care. If you have insurance and get sick, insurance pays. If you don’t, your emergency-room bills get passed on to others in the form of higher premiums.” ~ Christopher Caldwell

Yes, and higher Medicaid costs. This is a fact. It may be an inconvenient fact for Mr. Caldwell, but it is a fact nonetheless.

“So as liberals see it, conservatives ought to like the individual mandate. It relies on personal responsibility rather than government handouts. It is tough on freeloaders, charging up to $1,900 in fines for not buying in.” ~ Christopher Caldwell

Seriously? Yes. Ideologically speaking it really makes no sense why conservatives don’t support this as they always claim to despise hidden taxes and emergency-room-as-general-health-care is effectively a hidden “tax”. It also doesn’t make sense as conservatives typically want to mandate personal responsibility and punish shirking responsibility or “freeloading” by any means they can. This could, potentially, also give insurance companies millions of new clients, and making more money off of the working poor is the standard Republican business model…

So, yes, it is on the surface stunning that Mr. Caldwell and his ilk wouldn’t support it. But then the only reason folks like him do not is because this individual mandate is part of the public option which they refuse to accept. These conservatives know that many of these new potential clients for insurance companies are more likely to sign on to the government plan, not the private one. So it wouldn’t quite be the cash-cow that insurance companies could really sink their teeth into.

Again, for the record, I don’t support this individual mandate, 1) it’s unnecessary if we actually bring the cost of health-care down, 2) because frankly I do find it too draconian, 3) the people that will be hit the most with this are middle-class folks who really can’t afford and shouldn’t be expected to shell-out for expensive insurance or pay these fines as a cheaper alternative. And no, the government subsidies suggested to help people buy this insurance doesn’t address this problem because it will cost too much in government funds and won’t be adequate to cover the burden of people living paycheck to paycheck.

“Is it fair to call a requirement that we all buy insurance a tax?” ~ Christopher Caldwell

That depends on whether it is fair to call no-fault auto-insurance a tax…

“A larger question is whether it is constitutional for the Federal Government to order citizens to engage in private business transactions. It’s hard to say. Few governments have had the effrontery to try it.” ~ Christopher Caldwell

What was that he was saying about the requirement to buy no-fault auto insurance earlier? Oh, but that’s just (all) state governments so that doesn’t really count, right? It is fascinating how conservatives can contort themselves to find unconstitutionality in federal laws that would, in their opinion, be perfectly legal, constitutional, fair, just, moral and righteous before the eyes of God at the state level.

“A person who flat-out refuses to insure his car can be deprived of the right to drive it. What do you do with someone who flat-out refuses to insure his body?” ~ Christopher Caldwell

(I’d still like to know if Mr. Caldwell thinks it is fair for laws all across our country to demand those who own/drive cars take out insurance on those vehicles…) Apparently Sen. Max Baucus thinks some fines would suffice. What would Mr. Caldwell suggest? Oh, right, do nothing. Just continue to pass emergency-room health-care onto the larger health-care system.

“So what does it mean to promise, as the President does, that illegal immigrants won’t participate in our new health-care system?” ~ Christopher Caldwell

It means just that. The bills proposed currently forbid government-run health-care for undocumented persons. They also forbid illegal immigrants from buying into government-run health-care. In fact, amendments which codify this were added to those bills to appease Republicans. And despise these efforts to appease them (which I support) I see they are still claiming that health-care reform will consist of free health-care for illegal immigrants.

I also note that disingenuous folks like Mr. Caldwell neglect to remind the public that illegal immigrants can and do buy private insurance all the time. Now why don’t they throw hissy fits about that?

And I have another newsflash for Mr. Caldwell, under current federal law, individuals regardless of citizenship CANNOT be deprived of emergency treatment. That’s the law as it stands right now. It has been that way since Reagan if I’m not mistaken. This will not change with a new health-care system. In other words, Mr. Caldwell’s implication that illegal immigrants will have access to medical treatment under any new health-care system is a red-herring.

“The Baucus plan would pay for [coverage of the indigent] by taxing top-end insurance plans. Since many of these plans were won by hard union bargaining, the tax will hit Joe Lunchpail as hard as Gordon Gekko.” ~Christopher Caldwell

Actually, no, it would hit some of these Joe Lunchpails much harder than it would the Gordon Gekkos! These executive types can easily afford shelling-out substantially higher taxes or insurance premiums or gas hikes. Folks who work real jobs and get paid even prevailing wages generally can’t. I find it revealing that Mr. Caldwell would suggest such an equation here. It is conservative-minded elitists like him who have a genuine disconnect between their own lives and those of middle-class folks who are just getting by.

He is correct though, that the tax increases proposed for so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans will hurt a lot of middle-class folks who have modest jobs but high-premium insurance plans through their generous employer. Unlike Mr. Caldwell, however, I have no qualms about Wall Street execs paying significantly more for their top-of-the-line insurance plans because they can easily, easily afford it. But I find it unacceptable that the Baucus plan will also be sticking it to middle-class folks who happen to have higher-end plans.

{EDIT: see LA Times article on insignificant savings in Tort Reform and my comment at The Daily Beast}

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel win feeds cult of personality?

When I first heard about it, I seriously thought it was a joke. I didn't even realize Nobel prizes were being given out at the moment. Nope, sure enough, President Barack Obama receives a Nobel Peace prize! So my next question was: why? Apparently it was for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." My next though was: right-wing nuts will have a field day with this one!

Sure enough, the hate America crowd is back at it again. They are all in a dither that Barack Obama won a Nobel just as they were elated that our nation lost a bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

What it really comes down to with them—outside of, as always, scoring political points and increasing ratings—is they are jealous. Their presidents tend to be despised by the world, and for good reason. The Democrats tend to have presidents who are beloved by it. Certainly in Barack Obama's case, this is obvious. And though they deny it, this really just eats them up. They can't stand it. Which is why they will say things like losing the Olympic bid meant "the ego has landed" and that "the world rejected Obama". This is what they want to be the case (in spite of their obvious scorn for the rest of the world); they want the world to be more supportive of them, their ideas, their party, their presidents, and thus they will point to any dip in polls, any election defeat, any loss of any kind as proof the country or even the world hates the Democrats, too. It's actually quite pathetic.

I must say, I'm interested to see how they reconcile the Olympic-loss-as-world-rejection-of-Obama with the Nobel-win-proves-world's-cult-of-personality-of-Obama. One can't honestly have it both ways, but then right-wingers, partisan hacks do live in a such an alternate reality.

At least Sen. John McCain, again, managed to muster some integrity in his reaction to President Obama winning Nobel award. Why couldn't he have been more like this during the campaign? I still wouldn't have voted for him, but I could have had more respect for the man.

Ultimately, I had to agree with Peter Beinart's take on this. I don't believe Barack Obama should have won this prize. Certainly not now. There are many circumstantial reasons, like the fact that he doesn't actually need the money for any projects, at least not nearly as much as what many others could put that money to use for. The man has been president for less than a year and yet he's already being hailed the world over as some sort of Messiah.

I think there is a more fundamental reason, however. Though I know this sort of thing has happened before, I don't believe the Nobel prize should be awarded preemptively. I think the committee has discredited themselves in instances where they have done so. My take is, you don't have to cure world-hunger to deserve one, but you at least need to save a great many lives from starvation first. Barack Obama as President of the United States has made many efforts to change domestic and the world's political climate, to foster peace and reconciliation, but he hasn't actually achieved any great successes on these fronts. Not that I've seen anyway.

Now this isn't to say he won't, it certainly isn't to say he hasn't tried, only that all this remains to be seen. Objectively, it truly remains to be seen. It's probably going to take years before we have any idea whether his efforts made any substantive improvements to world peace. I think perhaps the end of his first term, beginning of his second, end of his second would have been better times to visit this subject. It also likely wouldn't have stirred nearly as much controversy as a case would probably be easy to make at that time what his accomplishments have actually been.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Taking on the so-called 'middle-way' in Afghanistan

I read an article recently about the war in Afghanistan and what the U.S. should do next. There is, unfortunately, a growing movement to either draw our forces out completely or basically stay the course. {EDIT: And, as I've recently discovered, a major propaganda effort by the Council on Foreign Relations via the mainstream media.}

I've been wanting to write about what I think should be done in regards to the war in Afghanistan. This article in Time magazine written by Council on Foreign Relations President Emeritus Leslie H. Gelb, seemed to me a good way to get things started.

“But there is a real and strong middle option: to put ourselves and friendly Afghans in a position to manage future terrorist threats in that country without a major U.S. combat role. We can accomplish this by doing what we actually know how to do: arm, train, divide the enemy, contain and deter." ~ Leslie H. Gelb
Speaking of phony choices, I’ve noticed this false choice being made among the punditry on the cable news shows. We’re given a “choice” between A) surging a larger number of U.S. troops, up to 40K, to simply keep the peace indefinitely or B) training an Afghan army to defend itself and stabilize the country. This imagined “choice” is nothing more than a disingenuous ploy to characterize a surge as nothing more than throwing more combat troops at the situation. In reality, whether we send 10K more troops as Mr. Gelb and others suggest or we send 40K more troops, an increase in training Afghans to manage, rebuild and combat insurgency is going to take place. This is what is taking place now. This is what will take place then. Of all the uncertainties surrounding what we’re going to do, this much is certain.

The REAL difference between the two primary options being debated is A) creating the conditions in which training and rebuilding in the nation can actually take place or B) continuing the training we’ve been doing under conditions too hostile to actually accomplish anything substantive.

Mr. Gelb suggests that we, somehow, do “what we actually know how to do: arm, train, divide the enemy, contain and deter.” Surely he doesn’t necessarily mean in this order…

The fact is, you can’t accomplish much training and certainly no sustainable rebuilding in a nation which is completely unstable. You damn sure can’t do any containing through mere training alone. There has to be some semblance of order, stability, or else you run the risk of everything you create being destroyed; everyone you train being killed.

As many analysts and members of congress have been pointing out lately, without a significant increase in security forces there will not be the breathing space required to train Afghanis to do more of their own heavy lifting. This, unfortunately, is a reality that people like Leslie Gelb, conservative columnist George Will, former Senator Max Cleland, Vice President Joe Biden and many left-leaning Democratic politicians seem to completely ignore.

Speaking of which. Just the other day I watched Hardball with Chris Matthews. Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland was on the program and the two of them seemed to have it all worked out that since al-Qaeda is mostly based in Pakistan now we should just attack them there. Now I don’t necessarily disagree, although this is far easier than it sounds considering that Pakistan is a sovereign nation, it is (loosely) an ally, the populace there tend to despise and distrust us, and the country does have nuclear weapons. But we certainly can't do this in spite of the situation in Afghanistan.

My thoughts upon hearing this exchange was: haven’t we done this before? Isn’t this why we went into Afghanistan in the first place? Wasn’t the goal to destroy al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power because they were harboring al-Qaeda?

While we did remove the Taliban and dealt a serious blow to al-Qaeda, terrorists like bin Laden escaped to Pakistan and the terrorist organization survives to this day. So now the solution is to leave the place destabilized and defenseless just as the Taliban is operating next door and has already gained control over significant parts of Afghanistan? Talk about whack a mole…

Peter Bergen asked in his article in TIME magazine this week, “If a pared-down counterterrorism strategy works no better the second time around, will we have to invade Afghanistan all over again in the event of a spectacular Taliban comeback?”

This is exactly what came to my mind as I was listening to Max Cleland suggesting that we should basically chase al-Qaeda around the globe, never bothering to leave these countries more stable, more secure and less likely to become a haven for al-Qaeda again.

What will we do when we have no security apparatus in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda simply moves from Pakistan back to Afghanistan to avoid our attacks on them there? Do we go back into Afghanistan? Do we just keep chasing them back and forth? Do we think this will make the region more stable? Make us more friends in the region? I’ve heard of ping-pong diplomacy, but I think this is a radically dangerous new take on it. All I can say is thank goodness these people are not deciding U.S. foreign policy.

“Counterinsurgency strategy requires clearing and holding territory, which cannot be done without transforming a corruption-riddled, anarchic and poverty-stricken state into a functioning market democracy. That goal is totally beyond American interests and capabilities and promises only endless war. Nor does the all-out approach help us in Pakistan, whose leaders continue to nurture long-standing alliances with the Taliban as a counterweight to India, Islamabad’s real worry.” ~ Leslie H. Gelb
And your plan would do what to address the crisis in Pakistan, Mr. Gelb? Zip-o. Frankly, it’s a red-herring for Mr. Gelb to bring up Pakistan in the context of this surge. The situation in Pakistan is an extremely complicated and serious one. It is also outside the realm of the discussion on a surge for Afghanistan. We must address the situation in Pakistan regardless whether there is a surge or no surge.

As for whether or not surges are successful, the last time I checked, the surge as well as some intelligent application of ‘clear and hold’ tactics actually improved the situation in Iraq substantially.

I opposed that surge in Iraq at the time, by the way, in part because I opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. To me it has been a travesty and I could not justify adding more wrong to something that was wrong from the beginning. But I also opposed it because the situation in Iraq seemed completely hopeless, while the numbers of troops that were going to be part of this “surge” seemed, based on what I’d read, to be wholly inadequate to contain the chaos that existed. Thus, I opposed it. I was wrong. The surge, among changing some of our tactics in Iraq, like working more with the locals, it has been successful. (What will happen to Iraq once we inevitably pull the bulk of our troops out of Iraq, remains to be seen)

Today I believe that a surge and similar change of tactics in Afghanistan could also be successful. As a matter of fact, through all the debate two years ago about the surge in Iraq (and long before), I kept asking myself and anyone who would listen: Why aren’t we doing more in Afghanistan? Afterall, that was the war of necessity. That was truly the central front on the war against al-Qaeda. And it still is.

It's unfortunate that a lot of people seem to have lost sight of this. In fact, a lot of folks on the left who had opposed the war in Iraq used to claim the same thing—that the war in Afghanistan had been justified and necessary. But ever since Iraq has become more stable—and a situation which seems to be on its way to being resolved, at least in terms of troops coming home—leftists (and newly discovered anti-war activists like conservative columnist George Will) seem to have had a change of heart. Now all of the sudden the war in Afghanistan is a hopeless debacle, and if we just pack our stuff and go home all will be well.

I'd be the first to admit, I've been saying it for years, that the war in Afghanistan has been ignored ever since we entered Iraq. The Bush administration neglected the situation there, which has contributed to the destabilized situation that we have today. But that is no reason to give up today, now that we have a president who is actually given the theater the serious attention it deserves. It is no reason to believe that Afghanistan is the hopeless, unresolvable situation that some anti-war leftists would like for us to believe.

I don't want to be too harsh here, Mr. Gelb did bring up some good points, and I think he’s correct about some things, like focusing on forging a more elite Afghan army, one that is both capable and willing to fight the insurgency, as well as working with warlords and tribal leaders to keep the Taliban at bay. But none of this can be achieved without creating a more stable and secure Afghanistan in the immediate future. To do this, Gen. McChrystal seems to think he needs about 40,000 more soldiers. If so, I hope the Obama Administration gives him what he needs. At critical times President Bush didn’t in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which is why both theaters turned into the debacles that they did.

I would suggest that those who think status quo (with more trainers) or drawing-down in Afghanistan should consider some history. Lobbing missiles at laboratories and training camps didn’t keep al-Qaeda in-check during the Clinton Administration. Using a much smaller occupation force than military experts like Gen. Shinseki recommended to the Congress didn’t create a stable or even tolerable situation in Iraq. Keeping a “light footprint” in Afghanistan over the past 8 years clearly hasn’t worked either. There is absolutely no reason to believe that simply staying the course—continuing with a small, overwhelmed fighting force in Afghanistan and training police and military in a chaotic war zone, is going to bring better results in the past.

Yes, al-Qaeda and similar groups are operating in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries. Yes, we have to do something about this in the foreseeable future. But we cannot, we must not allow Afghanistan to go back to being a haven for al-Qaeda. Even setting aside our moral obligation to help rebuild a nation that we destroyed out of necessity (and a nation we declined to rebuild in the 1980’s after we helped them defeat the Soviet occupation), we have an imperative responsibility to ensure that al-Qaeda is contained, forced to operate under extreme duress, and denied the safety of a home base to plan, train, and launch terrorist attacks from.

Fleeing Afghanistan will not accomplish this. Scaling down or even maintaining the status quo in Afghanistan, this as the Taliban continues to gain strength and ultimately gains control over the entire country, will not accomplish this. This is the real deal. As Rajiv Chandrasekaran recently stated at the Washington Post, "If more forces are not forthcoming to mount counterinsurgency operations in those parts of the province, [...] the overall U.S. effort to stabilize Kandahar -- and by extension, the rest of Afghanistan -- will fail. "

President Obama was absolutely correct when he stated, “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

The war in Afghanistan is not blood for oil, it’s not some neoconservative adventurism. It should not be dismissed as such. It should not be compared to Iraq. The same arguments used against the Iraq war, too, should not be made against Afghanistan. They are two completely different wars fought for two completely different reasons. More folks on the left really need to come to terms with that.

I sincerely hope that more people start coming to their senses and stop buying the arguments being made by people like Mr. Gelb. I'd recommend they read more articles like this, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

{EDIT: I posted a comment on The Daily Beast regarding a similar argument posited by Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, at the Washington Post.}

{EDIT: Fareed Zakaria, who serves on the board for the Council On Foreign Relations, repeated the same sort of rhetoric Sunday on his CNN program as his cronies, Richard Haass and Leslie Gelb, have. This is turning out to be a real propaganda effort by the Council On Foreign Relations. Which, frankly, I find a bit alarming. It makes me think of a sort of left-wing version of the neoconservative Project For the New American Century and their efforts to bombard the media, and use their political influences to effect policy as they did, particularly in the run up to the war in Iraq. I will give credit to Stephen Biddle from the Council on Foreign Relations to making a good case for ensuring the security in Afghanistan on Mr. Zakaria's program.}