Thursday, May 28, 2009

Keyboard Cat

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kudlow and Dick Cheney

Larry Kudlow rifled through his closet for his favorite 1970's tie to wear while interviewing his friend from the Nixon administration.  Just like old times...

I've seen more of Dick Cheney the past three weeks than for all of the eight years that he was ruining our econonmy and re-writing our Constitution.  The man was busy.  I suppose he has more time now to re-cap the clusterfuck with his old buddies.

Shorter version: 

Cheney: "You know, Larry, we pretty much squeezed as many nickels out of the working people of this country as we possibly could-- what with the war contracting and fear-mongering and Medicare Part D and farm subsidies-- and yeah it's a shame that we couldn't get more TARP money, but, well, we just plain ran out of time.  Oh and when the whole thing implodes... not only will my family be all be safe and financially sound... but the best part is we can blame it all on the black guy."

Kudlow: "Genius, Mr. Vice-President, pure genius."

Empathy, Ethnicity and the Courts

How can someone who said the following be allowed on the Supreme Court?

Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.


But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."


When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.

Who said this?    Answer: Sam Alito at his confirmation hearing.

(h/t Glenn Greenwald)

"Racialism" and life experience affect our judgements whether we want to believe it or not.  The Court has 7 white males, one black male, one white woman... none of whom had as much judicial experience at Judge Sotomayor before attaining the Supreme Court.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gavin Floyd and the struggling Southsiders

Alright, a little inside baseball stuff (literally).  Trying to forget the embarrassing 20-1 loss from two nights ago and last night Gavin Floyd pitched a gem with a wicked curve ball that found the zone and confounded righties and lefties alike. He got first-pitch strikes on most batters... for a change.

This has been a tough year for my White Sox which is made even worse by the fact that I bleed black and white.  Even with Jay Cutler getting fitted for a Bears uniform, I'm not ready to give up on the baseball season just yet.

Kenny Williams is trying to get another starter to replace either Bartolo Colon, who is a complete disappointment, or Clayton Richard, who is not quite ready for prime time.  Jake Peavey, the NL Cy Young winner from last year, wants to stay in San Diego and is exercising his no-trade clause despite the Padres 100-loss season last year.

Danks, Buehrle and Floyd are secure in the Sox rotation although Floyd has struggled.  Last night, Gavin pitched a no-hitter into the 5th inning with excellent command of all four of his pitches.  Let's hope this is the beginning of a trend.  Look at this curve ball:

Hard to believe his ERA is 7.74.  The Sox are last or second to last in the three major categories: pitching, hitting and fielding.  My rational self says this is just a bad baseball team... but unbelievably they are still in the hunt and seem to be improving.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cheney can't stop lying (UPDATE)

Today, both President Obama and former Vice-President Cheney came out with dueling addresses about national security, the CIA and torture.

Dick Cheney quotes Obama's current Director National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair as saying, "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country."

Wow, sounds like I have to re-evaluate my understanding of torture, no?  maybe the Constitution has become a quaint document that is no longer relevant to our safety.  

But wait, the rest of Blair's April quote: "“The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.  The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security." (emphasis mine)

And in January Blair said, "I believe strongly that torture is not moral, legal or effective."

Dick Cheney's lie of omission is outrageous and borderline treasonous.  He really needs to be indicted on something, anything.

McClatchy has a more exhaustive run-down of the lies, half-truths and omissions throughout Cheney's short speech.  (Here.)  

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stephen Baldwin brings the stupid

"When you're dealing with serious pro-lifers, there's no grey matter here..."  Okay, I know what he meant, but it's hilarious from a freudian standpoint.  

And speaking of no grey matter... Steve Doocey doesn't disappoint either. Doocey misrepresents the latest Gallup poll on abortion, saying that "There are more that say 'abortion bad' than the alternative."  According to the poll: while the the number who identify as "pro-life" has increased from 44% to 51%, there are still 76% who feel that abortion should be allowed in certain circumstances.  Seventy-six percent !!  

Using moron language like "abortion bad" fits the show.  Yes, abortion is a sub-optimal outcome--nobody would disagree-- but let's be careful about the interpretation of the data.

The video is great:

Health Care: GOP and Mark Levin are Both Wrong

Today on Meet the Press David Gregory was interviewing Gov Tim Kaine (D-VA) and the RNC Chairman Michael Steele about a broad range of topics. Health care is one of the most important issues facing America today and was presented just long enough for the summary of the opposing views. My summary follows: (here's the entire transcript):

Tim Kaine: 46 million at any given time do not have access to health care and that needs to be fixed. We need to figure out a way to pay for it. and also give people a choice between public and private plans.

Michael Steele: We have to look at tort reform and we have to make sure that pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are at the table. (My addition: "huh?")

This is really the basic message that points out the priorities regarding health care and the place of the federal government. Conservatives, as embodied by the Republican party, do not even understand the problem. Their short view of the priorities shows that they really do not get it.

First of all, health care is a de facto right in the USA. Even the staunchest conservative (and I'll talk about him below) can write chapters on health care, but never do they even intimate that health care should be withheld based on some one's immediate ability to pay. It's not a question of mushy feelings of compassion or empathy, it's always about economics, i.e., the allocation of scarce resources and the conservatives do not want to make tough choices.

Hypothetical case (that plays out is some version every minute): Lydia is a 25 y/o waitress who has 2 kids and no health insurance. She has acute onset of left lower quadrant pain at 2 pm on a Saturday and her last menstrual period was six weeks ago. She has delayed seeking birth control because of the cost and waits to see if the current pain will subside on its own. At 8 pm she begins to feel dizzy and lightheaded and her friend from work encourages to leave work and go to the hospital. Lydia instead goes home to "sleep it off." The pain increases and she calls an ambulance at midnight and her neighbor come over to watch the kids.

At the hospital, the emergency protocols are triggered and she is seen immediately. A blood count shows she is acutely anemic and a stat ultrasound show a belly full of blood with the presumed diagnosis of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. The gynecologic surgeon is called at 1:30 am, an operating room team is assembled, surgery is performed and she goes home two days later and back to work in 10 days.

The emergency physician, gynecologist, radiologist and anesthesiologist are never paid. Hospitals are required as a provision of getting federal Medicare money to provide emergency services. The hospital passes this requirement onto physicians by requiring emergency coverage for uninsured patients in order for the doctor to keep his or her hospital privileges. In practice, hospitals will often pay for such coverage with funds from other services, but not always.

Practical view: Nobody should die from a treatable illness. Provision should be made to pay for this care, and more importantly, provision should be made to prevent the need for the acute care of a life-threatening illness.

Current Republican platform: The system works the way it is and they give a long list of things that they will not do. They want to make sure that the doctors are not sued if they commit malpractice, which completely misses the point of the issue. Malpractice insurance premiums have not gone up significantly in recent years and tort reform has not been shown to improve quality or increase access for the indigent. GOP is off on a tangent here. I may dislike trial attorneys as much as the next guy, but the evidence shows that the costs of the current tort system is not the main driver of health care costs. If lawsuits were limiting access to care in particular situations, then federal risk pools could be set up to pay out for damages in extreme no-fault situations such as cerebral palsy or neurosurgical procedures. This has been done with vaccines with great success; but I hear no conservative thinkers presenting a case for another such federal program.

Libertarian conservative view (although I've never heard it actually voiced): Lydia is going to die. Nobody can be compelled to provide labor and expertise without compensation and since she has no ability to pay for the care, she will die.

Is this the optimal solution? Nobody would argue that it is. The provision of care to uninsured patients is a form of endenture. I would at least understand the conservative view on health care if they were consistent and said, you know on that fateful night the woman would die. She has no insurance and no means to pay for it, so I'm sorry, but nobody is available to treat her. In fact, even if a gynecologist is empathic enough to be willing to perform the operation, he would still need to assemble a team to also work for free and pay for the nursing care, pharmaceuticals, etc. Conservatives don't face that reality; instead they try to ignore the real circumstances.

Currently, at the urging of a conservative friend, I am reading the #1 bestseller, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (1), by radio personality and lawyer, Mark Levin. The book does not merit a more lengthy review, but I will point out now that he never mentions a solutions to the health care problem, the foremost economic and social problem of our day, in his entire book. In his chapter titled On the Welfare State, Levin goes on about all the problems inherent in the economics of health care and the federal bureaucracies involved. He mentions the supposed deficiencies of the British system, as well as the US' Medicare and Medicaid plans, but he fails to solve the fundamental problem with the current US model.

History tells us that Medicare and Medicaid were instituted in 1965 to fill a need, but regardless of why these programs are here, we are stuck and we have to deal with them. If Edmund Burke, a true conservative, were alive today he would admonish pundits like Levin and political parties to act pragmatically instead of expounding theoretically. Without these programs, countless elderly, poor and disabled would have been without health care over the past 40 years and they are not going to go away so we may as well try to figure out a solution. The GOP, with all their complaining about Obama's so-called "socialism", were the architects of Medicare Part D which is the largest social program of my lifetime, dwarfing the original Medicare program and estimated to cost three-quarters of a trillion dollars over the next decade. Small government conservatism? Not.

Mark Levin, who for his part has been critical of both Republicans and Democrats, offers no concrete solution to access. He takes issue with the number of uninsured, and while he does not dispute the total of 47 million, he implies that this overstates the problem. Levin says that of the 47 million, "9.5 million are not United states citizens." So? They still require health care. Even with the best immigration enforcement conceivable some illegals will find their way here. Perhaps Lydia is a migrant worker here on visa, or even an illegal alien. Do we let her die? What's your solution, Dr. Levin?

He continues, "Another 17 million lived in households with incomes exceeding $50,000 a year and could, presumably, purchase their own health care coverage." Presumably? Sure, Lydia could very well be a waitress at Lawry's of Chicago dragging down six-figures, but she still has failed to secure insurance. Do the ER physicians withhold care until she can secure a home equity loan?

Levin goes on, "Eighteen million of the 46.6 million uninsured are between the ages of 18 and 34, most of whom are in good health and not necessarily in need of health-care coverage or chose not to purchase it" (italics mine). Most of whom are healthy? How do we decide who will necessarily need coverage this week and will they be able to buy a good health insurance on their way to the hospital? Was Lydia on the schedule to purchase a health insurance policy this week or next? Maybe the ambulance drivers can moonlight as insurance salesmen. Seriously, this is just more ivory tower bullshit from someone with no practical experience in economics or health care.

He continues: "Moreover, only 30% of the nonelderly population who became uninsured in a given year remained uninsured for more than 12 months. Almost 50% regained their health insurance within four months." Which means that 50% to 70% of these apparently healthy people are playing Russian roulette at any given time. But it's not a gamble with their own health necessarily or even their own money; instead it's Russian roulette with the scarce resources of the health care delivery system, the precious time of the trained professionals who are compelled to work for free and the other people's money who are insured and whose premiums subsidize the uninsured when they get sick.

Levin's prescription is that workers, instead of having payroll deductions, should be allowed to make the financial decisions for themselves. The market place should be allowed to work to lower the costs of insurance and health care. He says, "Perhaps they could find less expensive alternatives, invest the taxes deducted from their income to improve their overall financial situation... Most individuals know best how to use their money which they earned from their own labor. And most individuals are not self-destructive (p. 111)." Perhaps?

Really, Dr. Levin, you had me at perhaps. Are you sure you're not a comedian? What evidence does Dr. Levin have for any of these claims? My observations see 18 year-olds who do not use contraception, 22 year-olds who drive drunk, 35 year-olds who beat their spouses, 53 year-olds who smoke and drink to excess, 61 year-olds who fail to treat their hypertension or get mammograms. And don't even get me started on other economic time-bombs that we all ignored, like sub-prime mortgages and outrageous household debt. Even if "most individuals are not self-destructive", which is debatable, many are at least negligent... but when they get sick these people will still exercise their de facto right to health care when it is absolutely needed. That's the real world, Dr. Levin.

Humans have two innate tendencies: they look out for their immediate self-interest, and they fear the unknown of death. A healthy nonelderly adult will often buy a boat or go on vacation if they have the money in their pocket, or they will eschew school or work for other fun things, because that is in their immediate self-interest. They often don't desire to buy an expensive health insurance policy that is perceived as unnecessary at the time. But when they have an "event", such as Lydia had, the second universal innate tendency kicks in and they run to the health care system to pull their cookies out of the fire. Is Levin true to his libertarian view? If he were he would candidly state that the hospital and doctors should be allowed, nee required, to say, "no, you did not know how to allocate your funds, you have failed to provide a source of payment for the scarce resources for which you are asking, therefore, you are going to die." Nope, Levin says no such thing. Instead, he says nothing.

Well, he does quote Edmund Burke (one of my favorite 18th century conservatives): "What is the use of discussing man's abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always devise to call upon the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor of metaphysics." Burke thought that merely recognizing "abstract" rights was silly, rather he pursued a practical solution that involved charity on a society-wide scale, not mandated by law, but voluntary (2). If Levin is advocating this scenario, then I would expect a chapter requesting that physicians, lab techs, ultrasound techs, nurses, hospital administrators, drug companies, building maintenance engineers, housekeepers, nurse's aides, etc, continue to provide their products and labor for free to the increasing number of uninsured. Or, Levin should come out and say that the Lydias of the world will die at the curb of the hospital building.

Burke, for his part, was truthfully practical and did state unequivocally that participants in society had an Aristotelian moral imperative to voluntarily give back the fruits of their labor and he advocated a pragmatic system of charity giving. There is no evidence that our current society is willing or able to provide the largess necessary for the current mandate. Do today's conservatives recognize the gaping need? While charity programs are available, they are woefully inadequate to provide for the increasing numbers of needy and elderly. Guys like Levin want it both ways: they don't want to lower themselves to ask doctors and other skilled workers to provide charity that they themselves are unwilling to do, yet they will not level with us about the consequences of withholding life-saving care.

Michael Steele says to do nothing, and Mark Levin says to let the free market sort it out. The fact is that while these two yahoos twiddle their thumbs, the health care system is not going to allow Lydia to die because to do so would abrogate their human moral contract and so we go on with the burden being borne disproportionately by one segment of society and the moral hazard is never addressed. The problem is that the Lydias are crippling the system because her expensive surgery could have been avoided with a few dollars worth of contraceptive counseling and/or medication, but there is no organized system in place. Lydias fall through the cracks. Multiply this lack of preventive care by all the untreated hypertensives and diabetics whose arteries are being destroyed daily, the breast cancers growing without mammogram surveillance and the asymptomatic women who do not get Pap smears due to lack of insurance. They will all be consuming health care at some point, only by then it will cost more and have less optimal results.

Ignoring the problem of access and cost worked okay when there was fat in the system that could be boiled off, but now hospitals' budgets are tighter, doctors' reimbursement is lower and overhead costs are higher, and the numbers of under-insured and uninsured is growing. It cannot be ignored any more.

Insurance is based on the size and diversity of the risk pool. Currently, private insurers have the perfect situation: they cherry-pick the healthiest and wealthiest of the risk pool for their products, leaving the poor and infirm to be on the public plans. No wonder Medicare and Medicaid are in tough financial straits. In fact, since they provide care for the sickest, oldest, and least compliant patients on the tightest budget, it's really a testament to the efficiency of these federal and state systems that they are functioning at all.

Medicare actually works quite well with relatively low administrative costs, certainly no worse than private insurance for comparable patient populations. In addition, Medicare pays 100% of the educational expense for all residents in training. If the Medicare risk pool included healthy nonelderly people in addition to the current pool of elderly and sick, the system would work even better. In short, it would be immediately solvent and sustainable. Private insurers, for their part, offer no value to the product of health care: no training, no valuable guidelines, no new information; same doctors, same CT scanners, same hospitals; but insurers do skim 12% or so in profit. Private insurance does nothing but act as a middle-man, collecting premiums and paying out (or denying) claims. A federal utility can do that just as well, and without extracting a large profit.

Guys like Steele and Levin appeal to the majority of citizens who love simple answers to complicated problems. But health care is one of the most complicated issues we face in regard to our economic stability. As Levin pointed out, we spend 17% of our GDP on health care, while other industrialized nations get by on half that expense. The US' employer based health insurance model is a huge drag on the economy where employers are reluctant to hire workers due to the burgeoning cost of insurance. Companies are reluctant to build plants here because of this cost. The Detroit-based auto industry has been decimated largely because of the cost of retiree health care. Sure, the younger, non-union Honda and Toyota US workers are willing to work at age 30 without the promise of health care when they are 60 because, referring to my previous premise, this is consistent with their immediate self-interest. When they are 55 or 60 years-old, after working 30 years at a laborious job, how will they pay for health care? Answer: they will either still be working full-time (doubtful) or they will not have insurance (possible)... or they will be on some public plan (most probable). I would argue that a large number will be on some public plan. Sure, they could be allowed to make decisions now about providing health care for themselves later, but how many will actually do it? It only takes a small percentage of Lydias to bring the system down.

Levin cites a Gallup poll that shows that 57% of Americans are satisfied with their health care coverage, and Levin concludes that we should not change the private insurance system. The problem with Levin's interpretation is that 33% of the participants in the poll had Medicare or Medicaid! And since the poll did not differentiate between privately insured people and those in public plans, no such conclusion can be drawn. In fact, a large five nation study shows that US patients are the least satisfied of similar industrialized nations.

Elections recently have been a referendum on the dissatisfatction with the Republican leadership on a whole host of issues, but health care reform is near the top in polls that ask a reason for a person's vote. My thesis is that polls show that Republicans as a group are less worried about health care reform because these numbers are skewed with over-65 voters who are more likely to identify as Republican. They are satisfied with their health care because they have Medicare!

In conclusion, the US health care system suffers from poor access, increasingly high costs, and it is not sustainable in its current form. Without a solution, the structure will start to fragment as employers are increasingly burdened with costs and hospitals and physicians are forced to deal with an increasing number of the uninsured and lower reimbursement from the poorly insured. Market forces can be implemented to control costs, but the bottom line is that the risk pool needs to include everybody: the healthy as well as the sick. All citizens should be required to have insurance and cover premiums based on their ability to pay. Disengage insurance from employers; my boss doesn't pay for my auto insurance, why should he pay for my health insurance? Private policies should be required to cover the same things as Medicare and Medicaid and follow the same standards of allowable services.

The least imperfect solution was Hillarycare as presented last year. Obama's is next best, but his lack of a mandate for health insurance is a weakness. Neither Levin nor the GOP offer a solution that has any meat or merit.

(1) Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, Mark Levin, 2009.

(2) Edmund Burke, Volume II (biography), by F. P. Lock, p.318-9

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Michael Monsoor and duty

Tonight I watched the Mike Huckabee show only because the White Sox had played a day-game which found me surfing for a few minutes.  The first segment was about Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, the Navy Seal and posthumous Medal of Honor recipient, who instinctively fell on a grenade in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006 in order to save his fellow soldiers.

Monsoor's sister was interviewed and gave a poignant biography of a young man who dedicated his life to the service of family and nation.  He was a loving brother, son and uncle who never hesitated to do the right thing, volunteering for military service and attaining additional training in the special forces.

Lt Commander Seth Stone summarized the details of the fateful day.  Just days before he was to come home after a long deployment, Monsoor's unit came under attack and the highly trained Seal was hit with a live hand grenade tossed by insurgents in the midst of a fire fight.  Instead of running for cover, which was still an option, he covered the live ordnance to shield his comrades standing a few feet away.  The platoon mates, who had wives and children at home, were saved by the heroic act of Michael Monsoor.

I am a 48 year old man who has had a wonderful life.  Michael Monsoor was 25 years old when he died.  I try to remember what I thought 20 years ago; what my world view was; my goals; my feelings of what the future would bring.  I remember that I trusted the system... the status quo, and I imagine that Michael Monsoor did likewise. Maybe not so much naively, but I remember that I respected older wiser adults who counseled me to work hard and trust that rewards will come based on merit.  I trusted that my work would not be in vain, and it has not been.

Now I am the older, supposedly wiser, adult.  When I see stories like Michael Monsoor's I cannot help but feel that my responsibility is to ensure that trust for the system, our system, is not misplaced.  Michael Monsoor, and countless other heroes, bought into this nation's mission, a mission that my tax money has suppported and a mission to which my acquiescence is implied.  Michael Monsoor is not here today largely because of the status quo to which I am a party.  And it breaks my heart.

Lt. Commander Stone said something that truly overwhelmed me.  He said that Petty Officer Monsoor, like all Navy Seals, was trained to care for his brothers.  He was trained to care for his brothers.  And he was merely acting in accordance with his training.

How many of us can say that we have been trained to care for others?  How much of what we do is consistent with any modicum of such training.  I have sat by to watch my nation elect and support leaders who have not exhibited anything close to the notion of caring.

If we cared for Michael Monsoor as much as he cared for us, would we have blindly entered a war that was as unjustified and as unnecessary as the war in Iraq?  Would we have sat by to watch as that war was waged so imprudently?  I have no idea about the political views Michael Monsoor or his family, and I am certainly not trying to co-opt his death to elevate my soapbox.  My hunch is that his sister supports the war since she was so gracious to Mr. Huckabee who has been a staunch supporter of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and I can respect Ms. Monsoor's stance regardless.

I remember the Tehran, Iran US embassy attack in 1979 and remember the rage and know that my 18 year old self would have run-- not walked-- to the nearest military recruitment office if a war had broken out over that greivous action.  At that time the sense of duty to my tribe likely would have overwhelmed my latent wisdom about the situation and my future could have been much different.  I was fortunate. The wise men of my nation decided not to wage war in 1979 and the situation resolved peacefully when I was was ready to act violently.  I joke that Jimmy Carter saved my life, but it's not a joke... his wisdom saved the lives of countless people-- men, women and children-- who would have needlessly died had a justified shooting war broken out.

I wonder where the wise men are now?

I do not cast blame on anyone else in this travesty, and the loss of any man is indeed a travesty.  I am supposedly one of my tribe's wise men now, but for all my ersatz wisdom I did not learn the lesson that Officer Monsoor, who acted instinctively based on his training, had learned even before his 25th birthday.  From the account of his life, there is no doubt that Petty Officer Monsoor would repeat his self-less act of caring for his teammates again and again if faced with that choice again. 

The nagging issue I continue to have is that I did not care for Michael Monsoor like he cared for his platoon.  The war that took his life was waged on my watch.  Unlike the young Navy Seal, I have not been trained to care for my brother.  And I let Michael Monsoor down.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Somebody Explain Cavuto to Me

Neil Cavuto on Fox News tonight admonished Nancy Pelosi to heed the example of former boxing champ Joe Frazier regarding the fleeting of glory (video is here because Fox is too lame to make it embeddable), apparently because her career is over.  R-i-i-i-ght. This is just one more example of the right wing projecting those feelings which they doubtless have about themselves onto the current power structure, and while such instances are myriad and this is not necessarily the best example of projection, it does illustrate the point.

Cavuto tells us that Pelosi is about get a knockout punch over her allegations that the CIA misled her over the occurrences of torture of US prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.  CIA director Leon Panetta has come out to defend the agency and Republican leaders are guffawing in fake reproach that a Speaker of the House would be so bold and careless as to accuse the CIA of lying.  Obama, for his part, has been silent on Pelosi's bombshell.

But is it a bombshell?  The CIA has always been in the business of misleading the public, the elected officials, our enemies, our allies... heck they probably go about misleading each other in the CIA breakroom just for giggles.  Nobody really knows what the CIA briefed the Congress about, and nobody could certainly know their intent, but the possibility that they would mislead the Speaker about torture is not too far a reach, especially when we consider that Iraq had no yellow cake, no aluminum tubes, no mobile biological weapons labs, no "stockpiles" of chemical weapons, and no association with al Qaeda.  Somebody was misled in 2002... Mr. Cavuto, who exactly is being misled now?

In 2002, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was not the Speaker of the House; she was the minority ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee at the time of the alleged briefings of interrogation techniques.  The Republicans were in control of both houses of Congress and the White House at the time, so when the GOP calls for the account of "who knew what and when did they know it", their comrades will be front and center on the dais.

The irony here is that the left has been calling for investigations and truth commissions for years in order to look into the 100 detainee deaths in US custody, the accusations of waterboarding and other organized torture techniques used on-- not only nationless enemy combatants-- but also captive Iraq nationals and sovereign Iraqi government officials, which is a clear violation of international war crimes treaties to which the US is legal signatory.  

So now with Dick Cheney blabbity blabbing about how proud he is of the US torture regime and his brothers in Congress and Fox News calling Nancy Pelosi out on her supposed knowledge of the crimes, this is a locomotive heading out of control.  The President has tried to sweep this under the carpet to save the nation from the heartache and embarassment of allegations of wrongdoing and the subsequent recrimination, but Cavuto and the Republicans seem to be begging for a fight.

This will not end well for the already staggering GOP.  Any truth commission would put, not Pelosi, but House Intelligence Chairman at the time Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), GOP Senate leaders at the time, former Secy of Defense Rumsfeld, NSA Condi Rice, VP Cheney and, of course, George W. Bush on the record as well.  Just telling Nancy Pelosi that you are committing crimes does not absolve you of any wrongdoing.

I find it odd that while the Republican party is flailing about trying to decide who would make a better spokesmodel, Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber or Rush Limbaugh, the only thing the leadership can come up with is to pick a fight over torture:  is it right? (no), is it legal? (no), is it useful? (no), did the Democrats do it? (no!)  Did the Republicans order it?  HEY! wait a minute! You tricked us!... but we told Nancy Pelosi we were doing it!!  

If that were a valid defense, Blago would surely have used it by now.

Here's the deal: torture is a crime and is not okay and now the can of whoopass has been opened... inexplicably by the criminals themselves.  Who ever would have thought that!?  Whether it's arrogance or ignorance, the demise of the GOP is taking on a truly heavyweight tone... and we appear to be nearing the final round.   

Look out, Neil, last November was the standing-8, the knockout punch is coming your way.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jesse Ventura: "Give me an hour with Chickenhawk Cheney..."

...and a waterboard, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.

From Larry King:

[JESSE] VENTURA:  I don't watch much TV. This year's reading, I covered Bush's life. I covered Guantanamo and a few other subjects.

And I'm very disturbed about it.

I'm bothered over Guantanamo because it seems we've created our own Hanoi Hilton. We can live with that?  I have a problem.

I will criticize President Obama on this level; it's a good thing I'm not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.

KING: You were a Navy SEAL.

VENTURA: That's right. I was water boarded, so I know -- at SERE School, Survival Escape Resistance Evasion. It was a required school you had to go to prior to going into the combat zone, which in my era was Vietnam. All of us had to go there. We were all, in essence -- every one of us was waterboarded. It is torture.

KING: What was it like?

VENTURA:  It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way, you give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.

I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.

If you read one thing today (and every day)  read Glenn Greenwald.

(I had no idea Cheney had anything to with the Tate murders.  Who knew.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Inflation? NO! It's DEflation, dude.

I love The Cunning Realist, but he seems to be falling into this worry troll mode about the inflation that doesn't exist.  My thesis is that this is a function of 40- and 50-somethings who remember the harrowing inflation of the 1970's and are still looking around every corner for it to reappear. 

"For now and many years into the future, you'll spend part of every day working for people who sit in front of computer screens in Manhattan trading paper.  And what you're allowed to keep will be inflated away for the same cause."

I understand the sentiment, but the time for such angst was 5, 10, 15 years ago... and I would argue that there was no way we (collectively) could accept the dangers then and certainly no way we would have done anything about it.  Heck, we voted an imbecile MBA into the WH (twice), so that tells you how concerned we all were.  Actually, everything done since September 7th has (finally) been in the right direction and more quickly in the proper direction now since Nov and January.  Better late than never, but that's how such an interconnected behemothic economic system with all the inefficiencies and corruption rolls.

The fact is that there is no significant inflation no matter what the venerable TCR says, and when there is it will just be evidence that the economic growth that we have longed for is occurring.  As for making money in Manhattan in front of computer screens, that inefficiency is being addressed with the decrease in available credit and leverage.  Not to say that some new inefficiency will not crop up, because it certainly will, and there will be barracudas out there ready to take advantage.

Can this whole thing still collapse under it's own weight?  Sure, but it's much less likely than just a few moths ago. We are light years away from the precipice into which we were staring in September, so let's all count our blessings for a minute.  It is a bit disheartening that we had gotten so far along towards Armageddon, but the real danger is the NEXT Black Swan event, and we can not know what it is anyway or whether we will avoid it, so why worry?

Whining now about inflation, as TCR does, when we have rampant deflation is silly.    Sure the dollar will lose valuefrom its current lofty position versus most assets, and people who have saved will seem poorer, but prices are also stable or declining so the pain is mitigated.  That's how deflation works.  When inflation starts to tick up again it will just be a sign of the long-hoped-for economic growth, but TCR will be there charting gas and egg prices, god bless him. 

The next test is when to slow the Keynesian spending and quantitative easing: too fast and you shut down the economic growth, too slow and you can get punishing inflation.  But that is the price we all pay to live in this huge interconnected economy, so why wet your pants over it?  If you don't like it, buy 10 acres in Northern AZ and live sustainably... I'm not being funny, it's probably not that hard to go native, grow some food, raise some chickens, use solar power, get off the grid.  Certainly no harder than all the years of useless edjumacation, paying 4 months labor per year in taxes... and now worrying if Bernanke is going to land this thing in one piece.

I love TCR, but he's such an old worry wort sometimes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Terrified": Condi Rice admits the terrorists won

In answer to a 4th grader's question, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice harangues about the legality of the actions of the Bush administration.  In addition to the difficulty she has explaining this to a child, I was struck by by the use of the word "terrified", as in "we were terrified of another attack..."

This corroborates completely my thesis on the Bush admininistration's reactions to the 9-11 attacks and the destructive consequences to our well-being.  According to Webster, "terrified" is defined as "filled with terror", and also defined as "panicky" and "thrown into an intense state of fear or desperation." 

Emergency responders teach and train endlessly to avoid panic in the face of danger because such emotion blocks the essential thought processes needed to react successfully.

The inference is that Rice is now admitting that the president allowed his administration to panic and act out of desperation.  She did not say they were "concerned", no, they were "terrified."  Her explanation now that she is out of the bubble of the Bush White House media handlers is the most plausible explanation I have heard to date... and frankly was obvious at the time:  Bush and Cheney panicked.

Her statement in fact gives rationale explanation to the actions taken after 9-11: the flailing about looking for bogeymen, the blaming of uninvolved nations, the abrogation of habeus corpus... panic.  All these actions, in the longer term, weakened our naiton and any moral authority we may have had in the world.  Somewhere Osama was smiling because these are the reactions that a terrorist desires but usually does not expect in such quantity.

Osama bin Laden knew that he could not destroy the United States with a few airplanes, al Qaeda was not a direct existential threat to the US; but he could terrorize us, and his hope was that we would panic and act out of desperation.  We did, and these reactions indeed did more harm to the US than Osama could ever dream of.

And now, Condi Rice has admitted it.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Cheney's no hypocrite

With the expediency that permeates politics I have to say that Dick Cheney's recent campaign to purify the Republican party is a bit refreshing.  We've seen Senator Arlen Specter jump to the Democratic party when it appeared his personal power base was in jeopardy in the next election.  My favorite hypocrisy is Jane Harman becoming incensed that her civil liberties were abridged after she had voted for legislation that formally abridged the Constitutional rights of every US citizen.

Bring on Dick Cheney.  You can call him whichever derogatory name you want, but "hypocrite" is  not one of them.  He gets on national TV and says, sure I ordered torture and I'd do it again, not necesarily because it was the right thing to do or that it worked or even that it was legal, but merely because I wanted to.  Only 21% of voters describe themselves as Republican and Cheney has hung out for nearly 8 years with an approval rating in the teens, so this guy is not in the business of being popular.  

Recently he said:
You know, when you add all those things up, the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy.  I for one am not prepared to do that, and I think most of us aren't. Most Republicans have a pretty good idea of values, and aren't eager to have someone come along and say, 'Well, the only way you can win is if you start to act more like a Democrat.'
Maybe it's me, but I find it somewhat refreshing to have a politician not willing to bend to the wind of polls and such quaint popular cultural institutions as the Constitution, Geneva Conventions and basic moral decency.   Nope, basic moral decency is for wimps, and I'd be greatly  disappointed if I found out that Cheney had softened... kinda like if I found out Ted Nugent started volunteering at the no-kill animal shelter or Ozzie Guillen stopped swearing.

To be blunt, my worldview as it has been formulated would be torn asunder.  Cheney is Cheney and will always be Cheney.  He is the one constant in national government that connects some of the greatest life-defeating schemes of the last 50 years: the School of the Americas in the 1970's where we trained thugs in Central America to torture innocent nuns and children, Nixon ordering a break-in and then paying off witnesses, the US selling weapons to Iran in the 1980's, arming Saddam Hussein with biological weapons, giving Stinger missiles to the Taliban, enabling Saudi, Sudanese and various other despots against their own people in exchange for oil, the dismantling of our Bill of Rights, rounding up and torturing un-tried brown people, and the subsequent false case for war in Iraq.  The one remaining person who was present in every White House, at the table of each one of these decisions, if not the verbal proponent certainly the reticent observer of the process, was one man: Dick Cheney.

For Cheney to now come out of the cold and show remorse or compassion, for him to call for his party to change into something resembling a republican institution, would be hypocritical.  He has stood on the side of blind authoritarianism, wielding power not for his own personal gain nor even the benefit of the nation, but simply and merely to wield power.  Cheney is a mutated limbic system, containing just enough social conformity to be able to don a suit and tie for the purpose of getting elected, but in reality a lizard seeking to chaotically devour.  For him to change would be against the nature of the beast.  And we all should know where beasts belong.

The tangible discrepancy in this drama is the fact that supposedly well-informed adults have voted this guy into national office, not once but twice.  With all the information available, the press, the internet, the history books... for anyone to admit ignorance of the destitute crimes of Dick Cheney challenges credulity.  Cheneys exist, sure, that's not too incongruous; but he was ELECTED to run this country by coherent, walking, talking people.  That's like calling Chris Brown up and asking him if he'd like to date your daughter, then giving him the keys to the car as well.  The word "sheeple" comes to mind.

No, Dick Cheney exists and will never change. The GOP needs now to determine where to go from here, and whether they will become a reasonable loyal opposition and do the heavy lifting contingent on national leadership or whether they will follow Cheney off the cliff to oblivion.  

Monday, May 04, 2009

Video Joke from Clement Freud

Is it funnier because it's Sigmeund Freud's grandson?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Olbermann: Cheney, the Official US Worry Troll

Cheney gets a take down from Olbermann with the recent Special Comment.  In talking to conservative friends I have come to detect a unique venom that Olbermann elicits.  For some reason folks who have backed Bush and Cheney *hate* Keith Olbermann, having a know-it-all smart-ass sportscaster ream a former Vice-President a new asshole on national television.  How can that be?  How can some guy who used to voice overs for football bloopers be so uncomproising in his digust for Mr. Cheney, even calling him un-American?

I'll tell you the secret:  it's because Olbermann is right and Cheney is wrong.

Olbermann embodies the paramount objective of a liberal arts education: someone who can understand areas as broad-ranging as politics, economics, science, the Constitution, popular culture and sports, and then use this knowledge in an inspiring way to engender change in our daily lives.  Somewhere Plato is smiling.

But I realize that this is can make some a bit uneasy, and I admit that it does seem weird.  But, I challenge anyone to find one inconsistency, inaccuracy or untruth in Olbermann's recent Special Comment about Dick Cheney.  Just one.  

These are opinions, sure, and Olbermann epitomizes the liberal elite with his mocking tone and use of words such as "anew" and "desist", and I can fully understand how this can drive people crazy, but the problem with Olbermann's critics is that they have no real argument with the substance of his diatribe only the idea that the authority of the previous administration could have such a vocal critic as all.   Or, as President  "Give 'em hell" Harry Truman famously said, "I don't give them hell, I tell the truth and they think it's hell."

On with the video, and the challenge stands.