Archive for January, 2009

Troubling Appointments

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

First we were told that the economic crisis was too important not to permit Timothy Geithner to assume the helm at Treasury, despite his “careless”, “avoidable”, and “unintentional” errors that required him to pay $34,023 in back taxes and $8,679 in interest.

The recent news that Tom Daschle failed to pay $128,000 in income taxes, despite having earned a couple million after leaving the Senate, is the perfect coda (one must hope) to Obama’s troubling appointments.

One day after President Obama was sworn in, he established new ethics guidelines for lobbyists, who may not

seek or accept employment with any executive agency that I lobbied within the two years before the date of my appointment

One day after Obama signed the new guidelines, a waiver was ordered for William Lynn, the top lobbyist for a small, obsure company called Raytheon. Lynn will be the Deputy Secretary of Defense. To be fair, news reports suggest that, among the names offered by the transition team, Lynn was strongly preferred by holdover Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Another waiver was required for William Corr, a former lobbyist for the anti-smoking group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Corr was nominated for Deputy of Health and Human Services.

To Obama’s loyal fans, he receives all the credit in the world for cleaning up Washington with ethics reform. Does it dawn on them that ethics reform is diluted by waivers such as those extended to Lynn and Corr?

A Breath of Fresh Chair

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Michael Steele, former Lt. Governor of Maryland, was elected today as the first African American Chairman of the Republican National Committee. I like Michael Steele. He obviously found a way to connect as a moderate in a very blue state. And I can take solace that Chip Saltzman did not get the job. See An Insult to Neanderthals?

Steele’s election to chair helps move the Republican center of power a little bit away from the South and Southwest. Like some of the other candidates for chair, Steele brings experience as a state committee chair, albeit in a very blue state. Steele does not strike me as a little bit crazy in the way that, say, Terry McAuliffe and Howard Dean did. Steele seems much more in the mold of current DNC Chairman Tim Kaine. He may be just the right person to bring home a message. Plus, at 6 feet 4 inches, I think he takes Obama in the post.

As Joe Biden might say,

In short, Steele is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. And he’s fresh. He’s new. He’s smart. He’s insightful.

Measure Outputs Not Inputs

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

In today’s Washington Post, the editorial page includes An Education Stimulus? It describes some benefits that education is slated to receive under President Obama’s stimulus plan. Many of these are sure to drive conservatives a little bit crazy.

  • …it seems that much of the billions of dollars of new federal spending is aimed at continuing programs and policies that largely have failed to improve student achievement.
  • The plan … proposes to more than double the current budget of the Education Department, with $150 billion of new federal spending over two years.
  • States facing budget shortfalls would be able to tap into $79 billion to avoid layoffs and other education cuts.
  • For the first time, the federal government would play a significant role in the repair and construction of schools.

And then I read this

Nonetheless, Congress will not be getting its money’s worth unless it insists on real reforms in what students are expected to learn and how teachers are compensated. Instead of offering extra money to states for doing what they should be doing under current law, why not put in place tough new national standards and demand that states meet them to get money?

Except for the concept of national standards, this reminds me of No Child Left Behind, a bi-partisan piece of legislation that liberals progressives bashed Bush with over and over. NCLB left it to states to develop their own standards; the reason for this is the 10th Amendment.

Interestingly, FairTest.org’s Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has this to say about NCLB

Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.

Now, unless I’m reading things totally wrong, the Post is proposing something that is at odds with the FairTest.org. I’m with the Post on this one. What the Joint Statement is saying, in so many words, is

Don’t Measure Outputs. Measure Inputs (or Intentions or Changes) Instead

This is a classical problem with trying to develop performance goals for non-profit entities such as governments. One reason why these non-profit entities gravitate toward an “unbalanced scorecard” (i.e., unbalanced in the sense that it is dominated by inputs) is that obtaining the measures for inputs is frequently much easier than obtaining the measures for outputs. Who wants to do all that testing?

Here’s what we know. If the stimulus plan floods big education with twice as much money, and if inputs only are measured, you can be sure that the winners will be teachers and bureaucrats, and the losers, unfortunately, will be our children.

No Diplomats Required

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

President Obama is trying to make nice with Muslims, according to the Washington Post article of January 27th Obama Voices Hope for Mideast Peace in Talk With Al-Arabiya TV

President Obama expressed optimism yesterday about the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but he said a peace accord will take time and require new thinking about the problems of the Middle East as a whole.

Oh, sure, solving an intractable problem is easy; it just takes some time and a new thinking. It has been suggested that the Bush administration has set back peace between Israel and Palestine because the administration disengaged after Hamas seized power in Gaza. Actually, disengagement is a strategy and, no question about it, this was new thinking. The fact that it did not work simply ranks it among the best (and worst) strategies to date. No strategy has come close to working. So, now, we have the venerable George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke going to the Middle East. These are good men, no question. But you could say that they had their shot. Maybe they are better for having tried and failed. Best of luck to them.

Later in the article

“All too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved,” Obama told al-Arabiya. “So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.”

I think I know what Obama means.

  • We didn’t have all the factors when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
  • We didn’t know all the factors when Iraq kicked out nuclear inspectors, then claimed to have destroyed their nuclear weapons, but offered no documentary evidence.
  • We didn’t know all the factors surrounding Iran’s supply of explosively-formed projectiles to insurgents in Iraq.
  • We didn’t know all the factors surrounding Iran’s and Syria’s use of Hamas as a proxy.
  • We didn’t know all the factors regarding Iran’s nuclear ambition.
  • We didn’t have all the factors surrounding the Iran Holocaust Conference.
  • We didn’t have all the factors surrounding the Syrian reactor site that Israel took out.
  • We didn’t know all the factors pertaining to the Pakistanis that opened fire in Mumbai. It was, according to Deepak Chopra, the fault of the United States.
  • We don’t know all the factors surrounding the execution of Daniel Pearl or why it was filmed and placed on Arab websites.

How obvious! Hey, you Liberals Progressives, listen up, these Middle East regimes are not complex, and their intentions are not nuanced. Try reading the Hamas Covenant of 1988. It doesn’t take a diplomat to get their drift.

Later in the article

But in tone, his comments were a stark departure from those of former president George W. Bush, who often described the Middle East conflict in terms that drew criticism from Palestinians.

By contrast, Obama went out of his way to say that if America is “ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.”

Did Obama really say “based on mutual respect”? Did he really “go out of his way”? Tell me he didn’t! I mean, there is nothing wrong with respect, but this quote cedes a straw man argument to Muslims, doesn’t it? Recently, columnist Charles Krauthammer had this to say

…over the last 20 years, the United States has been engaged in exactly five military engagements in the world, two in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, all of them liberating Islamic peoples.

We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.

Indeed, the United States has done more, much more, than any other country to liberate Muslims from tyranny and help improve educational prospects for young Muslim girls.

I remember back to 9/11. People, including President Bush, repeated over and over that Islam was a religion of peace and that the hijackers had perverted the religion. The problem was, the people repeating this were nearly all Christian and rarely Muslim. It would have been nice to hear Muslim’s disavow the actions of the hijackers in something other than muted tones, and in large numbers, too.

So Counterintuitive As To Be An Absurdity

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

I was shocked, I tell you, shocked when I read Richard Cohen’s opinion piece in today’s Washington PostTorture? Prosecute Us, Too. I have taken Richard Cohen to task here before. See Cohen Head. But, to give credit where credit is due, I found Cohen’s piece today to be one of the most thoughtful pieces I have read in a long time. What makes this piece so thoughtful? The realization that there is context to the actions taken by the United States over the past 8 years. Notice that I said “actions” and “United States”. Not “torture” and “Bush”.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So goes an aphorism that needs to be applied to the current debate over whether those who authorized and used torture should be prosecuted. In the very different country called Sept. 11, 2001, the answer would be a resounding no.

So begins the piece. And then

Back then, a Post poll gave George W. Bush an approval rating of 92 percent, which meant that almost no one thought he was on the wrong course. At the same time, questions about the viability of torture were very much in the air. Alan Dershowitz was suggesting the creation of torture warrants — permission from a court to, in effect, break some bones.

Dershowitz, mind you, was not in favor of torture but argued that if torture was going to be done, it was best that it be done legally. In a similar vein, the thoughtful Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter mulled the legality, the morality and the efficacy of torture. In the end, Alter ruled it out — although not sodium pentothal (truth serum) or offshoring terrorism suspects “to our less squeamish allies.” In fact, the government was already sending suspects abroad to be interrogated.

Alter’s essay created quite a stir — and to his considerable surprise, a lot of whispered support from liberals. Around the same time, historian Jay Winik wrote about the usefulness of torture, how Philippine agents in 1995 got a certain Abdul Hakim Murad to reveal a plot to blow up 11 American airliners over the Pacific and send yet another plane, this one loaded with nerve gas, into CIA headquarters in Langley. After being beaten nearly to death, Murad was finally broken by the hollow threat to turn him over to Israel’s Mossad.

The Philippine example was widely mentioned at the time, even by those who opposed the use of torture. The conventional wisdom that torture never works — so counterintuitive as to be an absurdity — was not yet doctrine. Neither for that matter was the belief that the coming war in Iraq was a moral and practical absurdity. Congress overwhelmingly voted for war and the American people overwhelmingly supported it.

Please read the remainder of the article. It is worthwhile. Jonathan Alter, no neocon, is quoted by Cohen. I think that Cohen overstates the extent to which Alter “ruled it out”. Here is the beginning of the cited Newsweek article from November 5, 2001.

In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to… torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history. Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren’t talking at all.

Couldn’t we at least subject them to psychological torture, like tapes of dying rabbits or high-decibel rap? (The military has done that in Panama and elsewhere.) How about truth serum, administered with a mandatory IV? Or deportation to Saudi Arabia, land of beheadings? (As the frustrated FBI has been threatening.) Some people still argue that we needn’t rethink any of our old assumptions about law enforcement, but they’re hopelessly “Sept. 10”–living in a country that no longer exists.

One sign of how much things have changed is the reaction to the antiterrorism bill, which cleared the Senate last week by a vote of 98-1. While the ACLU felt obliged to quibble with a provision or two, the opposition was tepid, even from staunch civil libertarians. That great quote from the late Chief Justice Robert Jackson–“The Constitution is not a suicide pact”–is getting a good workout lately.

Alter seems very hesitant to conduct what he calls physical torture, though it is unclear whether he would classify something like waterboarding as physical torture. Later, Alter writes

Short of physical torture, there’s always sodium pentothal (“truth serum”). The FBI is eager to try it, and deserves the chance. Unfortunately, truth serum, first used on spies in World War II, makes suspects gabby but not necessarily truthful. The same goes for even the harshest torture. When the subject breaks, he often lies. Prisoners “have only one objective–to end the pain,” says retired Col. Kenneth Allard, who was trained in interrogation. “It’s a huge limitation.”

Some torture clearly works. Jordan broke the most notorious terrorist of the 1980s, Abu Nidal, by threatening his family. Philippine police reportedly helped crack the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (plus a plot to crash 11 U.S. airliners and kill the pope) by convincing a suspect that they were about to turn him over to the Israelis. Then there’s painful Islamic justice, which has the added benefit of greater acceptance among Muslims.

We can’t legalize physical torture; it’s contrary to American values. But even as we continue to speak out against human-rights abuses around the world, we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation. And we’ll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that’s hypocritical. Nobody said this was going to be pretty.

I had to reread some of that.

  • Some torture clearly works.
  • …we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation.
  • …we’ll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that’s hypocritical. [emphasis added]

Alter (and Cohen today) cited the work by Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz is another person that probably won’t be hunting with Dick Cheney any time soon. Dershowitz is not exactly in favor of torture, but he is pragmatic enough to argue in favor of torture warrants

[The] ticking bomb scenario had long been a staple of legal and political philosophers who love to debate hypothetical cases that test the limit of absolute principles, such as the universal prohibition against the use of torture which has long been codified by international treaties. The ticking bomb case has also been debated, though not as a hypothetical case, in Israel, whose security services long claimed the authority to employ “moderate physical pressure” in order to secure real time intelligence from captured terrorists believed to know about impending terrorist acts. The moderate physical pressure employed by Israel was tougher than it sounds, but not nearly as tough as the brutal methods used by the French in interrogating suspected terrorists during the Algerian uprisings. The Israeli security service would take a suspected terrorist, tie him to a chair in an uncomfortable position for long periods of time with loud music blaring in the background, and then place a smelly sack over his head and shake him violently. Many tongues were loosened by this process and several terrorist acts prevented, without any suspects being seriously injured.

Torture, it turns out, can sometimes produce truthful information. The Israeli experience suggested that information obtained as a result of torture should never be believed, unless it can be independently confirmed, but such information can sometimes be self-proving, as when the subject leads law enforcement to the actual location of the bomb.

Nonetheless, the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed all use of even moderate, non-lethal physical pressure. It responded to the ticking bomb scenario by saying that if a security agent thought it was necessary to use physical pressure in order to prevent many deaths, he could take his chances, be prosecuted, and try to raise a defense of “necessity”. In my book Shouting Fire, I wrote critically of this decision on the ground that it places security officials in an impossible dilemma. It would be better if any such official could seek an advanced ruling from a judge, as to whether physical pressure is warranted under the specific circumstances, in order to avoid being subject to an after the fact risk of imprisonment. Thus was born the proposal for a torture warrant.

The remainder of Dershowitz’s paper is recommended reading.

As we begin 2009, and as new administration comes to power, it seems easy to take a high rhetorical road against anything that might hint of torture and for anything that might sound like prosecution of those responsible. This seems a very poor response to the realities of times immediately after 9/11 and the choices we made.

Mo Gitmo

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I found the article When Gitmo Was Relatively Good in this past Sunday’s Washington Post to be about as fair and balanced as one could expect at the end of Obama’s first week in office. It recounts the efforts of Joint Task Force 160 and Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert to stand up Gitmo in a matter of days shortly after September 11, 2001.

It speaks of the decision, against administration wishes, to bring in representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It quotes the head of the detention unit as saying “The Geneva Conventions don’t officially apply, but they do apply.”  Huh? The article cites that kind of ambiguity in several places.

The article speaks of Navy Lt. Abuhena M. Saifulisalam, a Bangladeshi American imam and Muslim chaplain. It speaks of hunger strikes and suggests that perhaps Lehnert may have promised detainees speedy trials in exchange for food intake. It may be that Lehnert had no real business offering that quid pro quo, but we don’t know what he was told and the article does not state.

The article indicates Lehnert was relieved of his Guantanamo duty by Donald Rumsfeld in order to create a Guantanamo that focused on interrogations. This is the Guantanamo that “appalled the world”.

For all the talk about the Geneva Conventions requirements, the article lists two that could not obviously be implemented (although I am not sure why this is so obvious):

  • The right to musical instruments.
  • The right to work for payment.

And there is this Top Myths About the Closing of Guantanamo from Think Progress that attempts to dispel a number of “myths” about Guantanamo. Never mind that some of these myths are stated in the form of suggestion, such as

MYTH #5 — WE SHOULD JUST HOUSE THE DETAINEES AT ALCATRAZ

What kind of muckraking moron writes this as a myth? Oh, I notice that Think Progress is part of the Center for American Progress. That explains it. Here is another myth

MYTH #1 — GUANTANAMO IS A GREAT PLACE TO BE

And here is the case that dispels the myth

Conservatives often try to argue that life at Guantanamo is just fine. Reacting to Obama’s executive order, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that detainees there receive “more comforts than a lot of Americans get.” In December, Vice President Cheney argued that Guantanamo “has been very well run.” Neither of these claims are true. The Washington Post recently revealed that the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to prosecute detainees concluded that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured by the U.S. military at Guantanamo. The detention center was so poorly run that Obama administration officials are now finding out that Bush officials never kept comprehensive case files on many detainees.

Well, I suspect that Guantanamo is not a happy place to be. Nor should it be. One complaint is that Bush officials did not keep comprehensive files on many detainees. What is meant by “Bush officials”? Political appointees are responsible for Gitmo? Or is this just a muckraker’s way of saying “the armed forces”? Are at least some files kept on all detainees? What does “comprehensive” mean? What does “many” mean?

And another complaint is that “the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to prosecute detainees concluded that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured by the U.S. military”. Well, as I have written before, the official found that the techniques “were all authorized”, “persistent”, and were “clearly coercive”. The problem was that the authorized techniques were applied over and over again and so were coercive. But isn’t that the point of interrogation?

Security Check Point

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

If you have young children, like I do, and if you are planning air travel any time soon, you might want to consider a Playmobil Security Check Point. As I write this, Amazon shows “Only 1 left in stock–order soon”.

Security Check Point

Security Check Point

The product reviews on Amazon are hilarious.

A reviewer with the screen name loosenut had this to say

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillence society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighborhood Surveillence System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu-Gharib Interogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

And this from another reviewer

My family was planning a vacation to Europe, so I purchased this item to teach my twins about what to expect at the airport and hopefully, alleviate some of their anxiety. We also downloaded the actual TSA security checklist from the American Airlines website and then proceeded with our demonstration. Well, first we had to round up a Barbie and a few Bratz dolls to play the other family members, so that cost us a few extra bucks at the Dollar General and it is aggravating that the manufacturer did not make this product “family-friendly.” Of course, since the playmobil Dad could not remove his shoes or other clothing items, unlike the Barbie, the playmobil security agent became suspicious and after waving her wand wildy a few dozen times, called her supervisor to wisk the Dad into a special body-cavity search room, (which incidentally led to quite an embarasing and interesting discussion with my twin daughters about personal hygiene and a slight adjustment to the rules we had them memorize about touching by strangers). . . .

This from a TSA agent (?)

I will never need to buy toothpaste again thanks to Playmobil. Not realizing this was a toy I purchased it to prepare for my interview as a TSA agent. Needless to say I aced it and have been happily viewing xrays of carry-on luggage and shoes ever since. As noted above, the free toothpaste is just icing on the cake – never expected a free lifetime supply, but who’s complaining. This is a “must-have” for any aspiring TSA agent out there.

And

When I bought this toy, I was looking forward to placing my minority-action figure through the metal detector, and then running the little script I prepared: “Excuse me sir, but you have been ‘randomnly’ selected for additional scans. Please let us take a sample from your shoe while the computer analyzes findings for any radioactive or biohazardous material”.

It’s too bad that they never came out with the “Pat-Down” edition, where fat guards are groping women for weapons, and turning customers away who refuse the degrading method of search.

My only suggestion is that if this is based on the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, please don’t forget to include the bums who torment you for spare change. Thanks!

I had to laugh at the creative comments. But if you look at the customer reviews and comments here, there is frequently a theme of an authoritarian overreaction to the terrorist threat. Terms like “police state” and “high-surveillence society” and “infringing on the civil liberties of its citizens in the name of safety and security”. Some of these comments date from 2005 (for example, the comment that invokes Abu-Gharib). Many are much newer. It is as if the commenters never heard of Madrid, London, or these

  • December 2001, Richard Reid: British citizen attempted to ignite shoe bomb on flight from Paris to Miami.
  • May 2002, Jose Padilla: American citizen accused of seeking radioactive-laced “dirty bomb” to use in an attack against Amrica. Padilla was convicted of conspiracy in August, 2007.
  • September 2002, Lackawanna Six: American citizens of Yemeni origin convicted of supporting Al Qaeda after attending jihadist camp in Pakistan. Five of six were from Lackawanna, N.Y.
  • May 2003, Iyman Faris: American citizen charged with plotting to use blowtorches to collapse the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • June 2003, Virginia Jihad Network: Eleven men from Alexandria, Va., trained for jihad against American soldiers, convicted of violating the Neutrality Act, conspiracy.
  • August 2004, Dhiren Barot: Indian-born leader of terror cell plotted bombings on financial centers (see additional images).
  • August 2004, James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj: Sought to plant bomb at New York’s Penn Station during the Republican National Convention.
  • August 2004, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain: Plotted to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat on American soil.
  • June 2005, Father and son Umer Hayat and Hamid Hayat: Son convicted of attending terrorist training camp in Pakistan; father convicted of customs violation.
  • August 2005, Kevin James, Levar Haley Washington, Gregory Vernon Patterson and Hammad Riaz Samana: Los Angeles homegrown terrorists who plotted to attack National Guard, LAX, two synagogues and Israeli consulate.
  • December 2005, Michael Reynolds: Plotted to blow up natural gas refinery in Wyoming, the Transcontinental Pipeline, and a refinery in New Jersey. Reynolds was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
  • February 2006, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi and Zand Wassim Mazloum: Accused of providing material support to terrorists, making bombs for use in Iraq.
  • April 2006, Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee: Cased and videotaped the Capitol and World Bank for a terrorist organization.
  • June 2006, Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augstine: Accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower.
  • July 2006, Assem Hammoud: Accused of plotting to bomb New York City train tunnels.
  • August 2006, Liquid Explosives Plot: Thwarted plot to explode ten airliners over the United States.
  • March 2007, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Mastermind of Sept. 11 and author of numerous plots confessed in court in March 2007 to planning to destroy skyscrapers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Mohammedalso plotted to assassinate Pope John Paul II and former President Bill Clinton.
  • May 2007, Fort Dix Plot: Six men accused of plotting to attack Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey. The plan included attacking and killing soldiers using assault rifles and grenades.
  • June 2007, JFK Plot: Four men are accused of plotting to blow up fuel arteries that run through residential neighborhoods at JFK Airport in New York.
  • September 2007, German authorities disrupt a terrorist cell that was planning attacks on military installations and facilities used by Americans in Germany. The Germans arrested three suspected members of the Islamic Jihad Union, a group that has links to Al Qaeda and supports Al Qaeda’s global jihadist agenda.

I am concerned about the collective memory of some in this country.

Looking at Amazon now, I see “Currently Unavailable” and “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” I guess some liberal has stepped up to protect our children.

Broke Caw

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

To Tom Brokaw, the election of Barack Obama was like a little blue pill. On the day of the inauguration, on MSNBC, Brokaw ejaculates

I just want to say one thing. Eh, having been in the South in the sixties and Los Angeles and Watts and northern urban areas, umm, uh, when we were evolving as a country. I’m thinking of all the bigots and the rednecks and all the people that I met along the way, and I’m saying to them, “Take this.”

Does Brokaw blame rednecks and biggots because there was no African American president in the sixties, while “we were evolving as a country”? Does Brokaw blame rednecks and biggots because Jesse Jackson was not elected president years ago? Come on, Jesse Jackson as POTUS would be a joke, right? Does Brokaw recall that Republicans would have rallied behind Colin Powell back in 2000? Unfortunately, Powell chose not to run. But he could have easily been the first African American  POTUS. It was his for the taking.

And does Brokaw really think that Obama would still have won without substantial redneck vote? What about those rednecks in PA’s 12th Congressional District that returned that d-bag Jack Murtha after he referred to Pennsylvania voters as racists and rednecks. Didn’t Barack win Pennsylvania and Virginia, for example? What demographic actually switched from leaning Republican to leaning Democrat? It was the working class. The Reagan Democrats. Independents. A large portion of these folks would be viewed as rednecks and biggots by the cognoscenti. It seems as though Brokaw has insulted a large Obama voting block. Shame on him.

Maybe Brokaw’s comments were made for consumption by the morons that lap up the MSNBC drivel. Opps. Now there I go, insulting a large Obama voting block. Shame on me.

Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw

We Wrote The Bill

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Ok, now it’s time to sober up some from the euphoria from earlier this week. Let’s think about math.

1 billion is 1000 million.

As I write this, the current price tag of the stimulus is $825 billion and the news quotes Pelosi as saying that they are not done yet. It may go higher. But let’s use the $825 billion figure for our analysis.

Here are some of the provisions of the plan (which is still being drafted):

1. The House Democrats’ bill will cost each and every household $6,700 additional debt, paid for by our children and grandchildren.

2. The total cost of this one piece of legislation is almost as much as the annual discretionary budget for the entire federal government.

3. President-elect Obama has said that his proposed stimulus legislation will create or save three million jobs. This means that this legislation will spend about $275,000 per job. The average household income in the U.S. is $50,000 a year.

4. The House Democrats’ bill provides enough spending – $825 billion – to give every man, woman, and child in America $2,700.

5. $825 billion is enough to give every person living in poverty in the U.S. $22,000.

6. Although the House Democrats’ proposal has been billed as a transportation and infrastructure investment package, in actuality only $30 billion of the bill – or three percent – is for road and highway spending. A recent study from the Congressional Budget Office said that only 25 percent of infrastructure dollars can be spent in the first year, making the one year total less than $7 billion for infrastructure.

7. In 1993, the unemployment rate was virtually the same as the rate today (around seven percent). Yet, then-President Clinton’s proposed stimulus legislation ONLY contained $16 billion in spending.

8. Here are just a few of the programs and projects that have been included in the House Democrats’ proposal:

  • $650 million for digital TV coupons.
  • $6 billion for colleges/universities – many which have billion dollar endowments.
  • $166 billion in direct aid to states – many of which have failed to budget wisely.
  • $50 million in funding for the National Endowment of the Arts.
  • $44 million for repairs to U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters.
  • $200 million for the National Mall, including grass planting.
  • $400 million for “National Treasures.”

The plan is comprehensive in the sense that no Democratic Holy Grail goes unfilled (with money). Funding for that have lost their health insurance. Funding for states that have failed to plan for the crisis. Tax credits for first time home buyers. Infrastructure, energy, and science.

Apparently, Republicans thought that the post-partisan Obama would include them in deliberations over the new stimulus bill. Of course, there is a little thing called the Democratic congress standing in the way. In today’s Washington Post, there is this

Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of “petty grievances,” President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support.

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president’s pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $850 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

The GOP’s shrunken numbers, particularly in the Senate, will make it difficult for Republicans to stop the stimulus bill, but the growing GOP doubts mean that Obama’s first major initiative could be passed on a largely party-line vote — little different from the past 16 years of partisan sniping in the Clinton and Bush eras.

“Yes, we wrote the bill. Yes, we won the election,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters yesterday, saying Republicans were not being realistic in their expectations.

Whipping the Republicans

Whipping the Republicans

I remember during the debates, Mr. Obama took Mr. McCain to task for suggesting hearings to determine what went wrong with the economy. I recall Mr. Obama saying something to the effect that “We know what went wrong and we know how to fix it.” Time will tell. It does not seem like the $825 billion stimulus is going to create or protect as many jobs as it might.

I don’t know why people think that, simply because Barack Obama is elected, Democrats like Reid, Pelosi, Frank, Waters, and Waxman are going to suddenly become post-partisan politicians that suddenly put their country first. It looks like they are up to their old tricks, spreading money around to their favorite causes. Hey, if some jobs get saved, great!

Rush, Reich, and Retch

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

I’m not particularly a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. There are a number of conservative commentators and radio personalities that I prefer. But Rush has been in the news today with the headline of “I hope he fails”, referring to President Obama.

Here, more or less verbatim, is the transcript of what Limbaugh said

I got a request here from a major American print publication. “Dear Rush: For the Obama immaculate Inauguration we are asking a handful of very prominent politicians, statesmen, scholars, businessmen, commentators, and economists to write 400 words on their hope for the Obama presidency. We would love to include you. If you could send us 400 words on your hope for the Obama presidency, we need it by Monday night, that would be ideal.” Now, we’re caught in this trap again. The premise is, what is your “hope”. My hope, and please understand me when I say this…I disagree fervently with the people on our side of the aisle who have caved and who say, “Well, I hope he succeeds. We’ve got to give him a chance.” Why? They didn’t give Bush a chance in 2000. Before he was inaugurated the search and destroy mission had begun. I’m not talking about search and destroy, but I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year and a half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed. If I wanted Obama to succeed, I’d be happy the Republicanshave laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. Look, what he’s talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don’t want this to work. So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, “Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words. I hope he fails.’ …

As I said above, I never quite got Rush. I understand he has many fans and that they find him entertaining. But in Rush’s defense, he is hostile toward the government takeover of, as he says,

…the banking business…the mortgage industry…the automobile business…[and]…health care

I remember having discussions with many colleagues who were fans of Obama, and I would say that they were uniformly against the bailouts that have been established so far. Conservatives tended to rail against the bailouts on principle. The liberals tended to rail against the bailouts because they viewed them as rewarding evil businessmen. Nobody actually saw the employees, America’s prestige, or our security. So, in this regard, Limbaugh does not seem too far outside the mainstream. Or maybe the continued deterioration of the economy has changed some people’s minds?

While CNN.com was happy to pound on Limbaugh, I do not recall seeing any stories on Robert Reich. You will recall Robert Reich from the Clinton era, when he served as Clinton’s Labor Secretary. According to the Wikipedia article

In 2008, Time Magazine named [Reich] one of the Ten Most Successful Cabinet Members of the century, and the Wall Street Journal placed him among America’s Top Ten Business Thinkers.

Quite the accolades, no? No wonder that Obama asked Reich to be a member of his economic transition advisor board. But Reich has stepped on his crank, but you’d never know it. Consider Obama economic adviser voices controversial concerns about construction stimulus outlays from the Phoenix Business Journal

Arizona’s beleaguered construction industry and Valley cities have been lining up in droves for a piece of what could be a $1 trillion economic stimulus package from the new administration. Contractors, construction firms and cities including Scottsdale, Phoenix and Mesa want to see the federal plan fund construction projects for water, airports, roads and other public works.

But one of President Barack Obama’s economic advisers has voiced some controversial concerns about federal outlays for construction and other public works and infrastructure projects.

Economist and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich worries about too much of the Obama stimulus going to white males in the construction sector.

“If there aren’t enough skilled professionals to do the jobs involving new technologies, the stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most — women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed — will be shut out,” Reich said on his economic blog.

In Arizona, Obama’s New Deal-style stimulus could fund improvements and expansion at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Deer Valley Airport, and water infrastructure in Scottsdale, Phoenix and other cities.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wonder where on earth white males dominate the construction industry? Maybe Finland?

In terms of large American cities, I don’t think that Phoenix cracks the top 10 in terms of “whiteness”. Phoenix is no Cincinnati, Boston, Portland, or Seattle. Maybe white males dominate construction jobs in Altoona, Dubuque, and Eau Claire. Maybe even in Cracker Country.

But seriously, what should concern us more? An entertainer entertaining, or a presidential advisor suggesting that stimulus funds for construction jobs should go to women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed? I understand what Reich is trying to say. He does not want the stimulus to increase wages in sectors where there are limited skilled professionals. But maybe a better way to say it is to simply suggest expanding training programs so as to expand the potential recipient pool of the construction stimulus funds. Reich does hint at this in his blog here (see the January 8 entry). But I don’t think we need to be mentioning, specifically, women, minorities, the poor, and the long-term unemployed. It sounds too much like liberal business as usual. Is that post-partisanship in action?