Cutting Through The Crap

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fed Up


I've been asked by conservative acquaintances what I think about the Tim Geithner thing: failure to pay taxes. My good friend says, "You can't have different strike zones for different teams." I like that expression, and think he's right. A frequent commenter thinks the fact that he was confirmed shows a double standard, claiming that if he were a Republican, it never would have happened. There was, she says, virtual silence. To that I say, "I disagree."

There's no excusing his failure to pay taxes; he says it was an innocent mistake, and perhaps it was. But it also seems he was told several times he owed money and only paid up when his nomination was imminent. That's pretty bad. I wouldn't try to justify it. What I have said is that it also seems that Mr. Geithner has particular skills and background (including expertise about China, which owns most of our money) that make him a good choice, or so it's said. He got votes from some Republicans, as a matter of fact.

I have no idea if he's the best or if there was no one else who could do the job he needs to do. Seems unlikely. On the other hand, if Barack Obama, knowing about this issue, still wanted him as Fed head, and if such lights as Orrin Hatch support it, then I'm willing to think he should get his man.

What I reject entirely is the double standard claim. First of all, the whole thing was all over all the media, including (and especially) that liberal bastion The New York Times. It was aired on all stations, and in the Senate hearings. Second, it's hardly the case that Democrats have gotten off easily in the past. Anyone remember Zoe Baird? Kimba Wood? Bill Clinton?

So, yes, I think it's inexusible. It speaks poorly for Timothy Geithner and, to some extent, for Barack Obama, and, most certainly for people in power, too many of whom seem to have these sorts of problems (see Tom Daschle.) People who get treated with special entitlements seem to think they are specially entitled. The thread runs strong through all parties. Who gets nailed and who doesn't is simply a matter of which party has what power, and over whose ox the knife is drawn at the moment. It's not a matter of Democrat vs Republican, or media silence, or double standard; and, in fact, I find the claims of unfairness a little amusing, particularly when it comes from the right. There was no more blatant steamrolling of the opposition than during the Gingrich era, and during the first six years of the Bush era. And what happened to David Vitter and Larry Craig? Out of office?

So let's just admit it: at the national level, the default assumption is that politicians are less than clean; and what one considers an outrage depends entirely on one's party affiliation and the status of that party's power at the moment. And it will change as quickly as the wind, when the power shifts. It were ever thus.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Speechless


It's come to this.


[Update: Oops. As Nancy B pointed out in a comment below, the article is from eight years ago. My bad. Saw it on another site. And Nancy was always smarter than me. But it DID happen. So I'll leave it up. Funny, it did sort of ring a bell as I was reading it.... ]

Hopeless?


I must say I agree with John McCain on this, to the extent that it's an accurate account. My idea of bipartisanship, when it comes to big issues, is to sit down with people from all sides and try to hash things out. Now it may be perfectly justifiable to begin with a plan as a starting point, as a way of focusing the discussions. And, for practical purposes, I think that's what happens in the Senate: the bill will get amended, abridged, mashed and hashed, as it should. But when I fantasize about being President, the scenario is more like the inference I draw from McCain's comments: it's about much more than visiting the opposition. I'd begin at a round table and go from there.

It's said that in the perfect negotiation, both sides end up thinking they got screwed. (I never understood why it couldn't be that they both feel they got a good deal, but maybe compromise precludes that, by definition.) I infer there are lots of items in the rescue plan that are indeed pet projects that have no business there, and like politicians of any party, the ones in power make an effort to steamroll the others. God knows that's what happened when Bush and the Republicans had it all. I'd have hoped the Democrats could be better than that (because I would, if I were there!)

I think it's time -- and maybe this negates everything I said above -- for President Obama to go before the people again. State clearly why he thinks spending is better than tax cuts, and elaborate on what kind of spending. Make the case that tax cuts have been tried, and have failed. And while he's at it, demand a more pared-down and focused list of spending projects. Make both sides squirm a little, but state that the point of compromise isn't exactly in the middle, because what's being demanded by some is more of what got us here in the first place.

He's committed, of course, to some tax cuts, because that's what he campaigned on. It's one of his positions with which I've disagreed: I think giving people a few hundred bucks doesn't do nearly as much as investing in job creation. Spending several billions to give millions of people a little money seems less impactful than spending the same to build things: lots more downstream effects. But I admit I don't know.

I blame the process more than I blame Obama. So far, anyway. It's just not possible to get everyone on the same page -- especially, as we've seen, House Republicans -- even if by "same page" all that's meant is willingness to give something. Anything. But I'm getting an increasing sense of pissing away opportunity, and of impending doom.

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Crazy House


I may have wondered out loud before: how is it that certain things which have nothing to do with politics nevertheless divide on party lines? Anthropogenic climate change, existence of. Evolution, belief in. The latest is simply beyond comprehension. Despite a unanimous vote in the Senate, House Republicans, almost to a man/woman, voted down a bill to delay conversion to digital TV. Evidently, millions of homes aren't yet ready. So what's the problem with delay? And why is it that only Republicans are against it? And, at that, only House Republicans!

Oh, they had a couple of reasons that seemed not to bother any Senators, but I'm thinking they figure the less the public sees of them, the more they can get away with shit. Or maybe it's a "personal responsibility" thing. Yeah, that's it. They have higher morals than those poor bastards who haven't been able to get ready. Not to mention a hell of a lot more time on their hands.

I wonder what sort of reëlection campaign would center around bragging that they voted against rescuing the economy and helped people lose their television shows.

And I wonder -- because I literally cannot figure it out -- how House Republicans can say and do the things they say and do.

I've said this before, too: we are well and truly screwed.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wish I'd Said This


An excellent thought at The Washington Monthly. Some things are so obvious that you'd think they don't need saying. Except, as long as there are people like Coulter and Hannity out there, they do.

Liberal Media



I've always thought the idea that the media are excessively "liberal" was mostly foolish. Lazy and stupid, credulous and superficial? Definitely. Especially television. In newspapers it's still possible to find in-depth coverage of complicated and unsexy issues. Which is why our coffee table is overflowing with the residua of the three papers to which we subscribe. The New York Times, despite occasional misfires, remains a bastion of broad and deep and thorough coverage.

I also subscribe to the famous Colbert quote that "reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Anyhow, in the above context I find this graphic interesting:

These were the days leading up to the votes on the stimulus bill. And lookie there: who has the most balanced appearances?

Not that any of it was useful. I'd have much preferred to hear real discussions of the pros and cons of tax cuts and infrastructure spending, by people who actually study those things. What we heard was congresspeople -- by far mostly Republicans -- spouting the usual party tropes with no real elucidation.

Meanwhile, I sense a trend. For some reason the television "news" media seem to think now is the time to show their lack of bias, and to do so by giving preference to the right wing. It's taking that old idea that "balance" requires giving equal time to opposite opinions, even if one is demonstrably wrong, and carrying it over the cliff.

That's the liberal media for ya. Rant on, Bill. It's working.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Thoughts


Being brief, here: my laptop hard-drive crashed, with the potential for ruining my marriage as it takes with it a couple of years' worth of photos. I'd been meaning to get the latest OS and set up automatic backup... So, as I fight for online time, I may have to yield gracefully.

Meanwhile, this: first, I really wish the Obama recovery plan included MORE infrastructure spending and LESS tax cuts. Why? Because tax cuts don't work and spending does. Or is it the other way around? Anyway, the amount going to individuals hardly seems enough to affect much change. What did you do with your previous "stimulus" check? If tax cuts were the panacea the Republicans keep claiming they are, why are we where we are? It needs to be said loudly. In this, bipartisan ship means the R's can join in and share the glory, or they can dig in and share the balcony.

Second: Lots of Republicans are suddenly likening Obama to Reagan. But wait a minute: did they hear the part of his inaugural where he said something about the question not being whether government is too big or small, but whether it works? So I'd like to hear an overt repudiation of the slow disaster Reagan began when he said government isn't the solution, it's the problem. Since then, Republicans have done their best to prove him correct, by screwing up every governmental action they took. Obama hinted at it. Now he should say it: government isn't the problem, BAD government is the problem. And we've had just about enough of it. Put Reagan and Bush where they belong, quoting the Republican diety one more time: in the dustbin of history. 

Deliberate


Those inclined to agree with the opinion of Bush's speechwriter that Obama is "the most dangerous" man to occupy the Oval Office might find this article of interest. The executive order eliminating torture was, it turns out, unsurprisingly, the result of careful deliberation and extensive consultation with the CIA. Not a problem, they said.

So, it would seem we have a president who is making decisions based on careful analysis and consultation with people who know things. As opposed to those who, for example, like the idea of torture because it makes them feel like tough guys with hards on. Y'know: Cheney, Wolfie, Rummy, O'Reilly. That sort of thing.

If the guys who actually do the interrogations aren't disturbed by being unable to torture, neither am I.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Plane Facts


So President Obama got Citigroup to cancel its order for a 50 million dollar corporate jet. It's good symbolism, I guess; but I'm much more outraged at this sort of stuff, as mentioned in Bob Herbert's latest column:

John C. Hope III, the chairman of the Whitney National Bank in New Orleans, in an address to Wall Street fat cats gathered at the Palm Beach Ritz-Carlton, said:

“Make more loans? We’re not going to change our business model or our credit policies to accommodate the needs of the public sector as they see it to have us make more loans.”

How’s that for arrogance and contempt for the public interest? Mr. Hope’s bank received $300 million in taxpayer bailout money.

The same article quoted Walter M. Pressey, president of Boston Private Wealth Management, which Mr. McIntire described as a healthy bank with a mostly affluent clientele. It received $154 million in taxpayer money.

“With that capital in hand,” said Mr. Pressey, “not only do we feel comfortable that we can ride out the recession, but we also feel that we’ll be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves once this recession is sorted out.”


That, to me, is the problem with the bailout funds as handled by the previous administration: give it to the big guys and (at best) assume they'll do the right thing, or (at worst) laugh with them all the way to the, well, the banks.

So now, in righteous fury, the Republicans are demanding accountability. Where were they a few months ago? When the money comes from a Republican administration, anything goes. From a Democratic one -- one that, it's obvious, is enormously more committed to carefulness and openness -- they demand, DEMAND I tell you, controls.

The ability of politicians -- and I exclude none but one -- without the tiniest twinge of embarrassment to flip 180º under a different administration or when going from majority to minority or back is a wonder to behold. Check irony at the door, leave consistency back home, turn principle to pudding the moment you walk the halls of power.

At the risk of being proved wrong catastrophically, I continue to see in Obama someone who is entirely different, just as the people who voted for him were hoping. He really does think the way we do politics can be changed. To me, that's not in question. What is in question is whether he's right. Until Boehner goes flaccid, until Limbaugh's in limbo, I'd say the answer is no.

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Bipartheid


Here's something else that's been rattling around for several days, as we hear from Johns Boehner and McCain that the stimulus plan is "unacceptable:" among other things, the election was about Republican policies of the last eight years. Tax cuts and deregulation at home, "f*uck you" as policy abroad. It was also about a desire for bipartisanship. But let's be real: Republicans lost, because their ideas have failed. The burden of bipartisanship, therefore, falls more on them than on Barack Obama. The meeting ground is not in the exact middle. More like 365/538 of the way to the left.

To a greater extent than we've seen in what feels like eons, President Obama (I miss being able to say PEBO, because I liked its sound) has invited the opposition into the discussion, and has altered policy to accommodate them. But enough is enough.

Now, as I've said many times, I'm no economist. I have no idea where the balance point is between tax cuts and government spending (and it's my impression no one else really does, either.) There's some sense in the idea that putting money in people's hands is the more immediate way to inject money into the economy; on the other hand, it's hard to see how the benefit to the individual of several hundred bucks in the pocket outweighs the detriment to the government of the millions-multiplied lost revenue.

In a world that exists only in my imagination, the Democrats would have come up with a greatly more simple and direct plan: this much goes to the states, with controls, to be spent on infrastructure projects; this much goes to extending such benefits as unemployment and health care; this much goes to education; this much to tax relief. Period. Not countless pet projects, not opening the door to pettifoggery.

And in that same world, Barack Obama would now be turning to the people, addressing the nation: make the case for his priorities, and why they are better than the alternatives. Remind them that it's the policies of the past that got us here, point out that, like that definition of insanity (continuing to do the same thing, and expecting a different result), the Republicans are simply demanding more of the same. Invite people to get on the phone, on their keyboards, lick their stamps, calling on their Congressfolk to get on board. Put down the marker: we believe this is the best plan, and here's why. It's time to act. Those who support it can share the credit for its success. We've gone as far as we think we can go to make the opponents happy.

If they can't sign on, so be it. They can take the electoral consequences when the economy turns around and they're on record as having said "NO." And if it doesn't, well, they can say "I told you so" as we sink below the tides.

That's the way it works.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Change We Can Believe In



Barack Obama has wisdom, depth of understanding, clarity, that belies his "inexperience." He's so far beyond what we've seen that many simply won't be able to get their heads around it. Won't trust him. Even in this, where the planet depends on it, hope he fails. But to me, this antithesis to reflexive bravado and narrow-minded thinking that has characterized the last eight years, is clearly the better approach. It's one that at least has a chance of success, despite how far in the opposite direction we've been taken of late.

And as I've been saying innumerable times, success, in the final analysis, means getting the majority in the Muslim world to reject the hatred and destructiveness of al Queda and the like; and that requires regaining our former stature in the world. This sounds like a start.

[The sound on the video is not great. A transcript of the interview is here.]

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A Season For All Men


I saw this snippet from "A Man For All Seasons" in a post by Andrew Sullivan. In a few well-written phrases, it explains the whole Gitmo issue:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

And there it is: the reason to follow the law even for our enemies is because those same laws apply to us (and what's so ironic is that it's conservatives, one would think, who so distrust government, who'd be the first to want to restrain the executive). Anyone who thinks there aren't more Cheneys and Bushes and Roves and Gonzales' and Feiths out there is smoking some bad sh*t. You could be next; I could be next; any of us could be next.

Probably me, though, if anyone is reading this blog.

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Check, Please


This is about one of those surgical papers that makes me scratch my head. Or shake it, or press on it from both sides. Can it really be true? If so, why?

It reminds me of another one, a few years back, that touted using a laser in performing a mastectomy. Since we started doing it, the authors said without evident embarrassment, our transfusion rate decreased from four units per case to two, and our hospital stays went from nine to five days. Wow. At the time I'd done several outpatient mastectomies (at the patients' request, may I add); rarely did any of my patients need or want to stay in the hospital longer than a day or two; and I never even ordered blood for the operation, much less used it. Who the hell were those guys, and what the hell kind of surgeons were they?

It's with that in mind that I mention a recent and much talked-about report which shows an impressive and universal (throughout the study hospitals) lessening of surgical deaths and complications by the use of a simple checklist before and after the operation. I certainly don't disapprove of such checklists; variations thereon are more or less universal in American operating rooms nowadays. Where I come up a little short, understanding/explanation-wise, is here: first, the "major complication" rate before the study was 11%, and death rate was 1.5%. With the checklist, they diminished to 7% and .8%. Still pretty high, if you ask me: if I'd had numbers like the pre-study ones in my practice, I'd have been kicked off staff. Summarily. With the post-study ones, I might be on probation. Second, the checklist is so rudimentary that I'm at a loss to understand why it works. And, like some, I question whether it's even true. But there it is.

Without doubt, taking care to eliminate wrong operation or wrong-sided surgery is essential (even though the incidence is very low.) Counting sponges and instruments at the end of a case is routine, and has been approximately forever. (The second link indicates that compliance before the study was only 34%; even more remarkably, during the study it was only 57%! Once again: who are these people?) Similarly, if the anesthesia personnel aren't making sure they have what they need ahead of time, and if the surgeon hasn't thought about whether s/he needs blood available or antibiotics administered, there's something wrong. But there's nothing wrong with checking to be sure.

In the first link, one can watch (not-particularly-gripping) video. It provides some clues. Part of the routine is to introduce the members of the team to one another, which hardly seems protective of anything, per se, but suggests a group of people not used to working together. And the surgeon mentions that the operation, a routine hernia, will probably be under an hour. Probably? How about fifteen or twenty minutes? Both of those factors suggest a training program, where there's typically no continuity of personnel, and where operations take longer than "normal." Each of those contributes to increased complication rates. As does the fact that in teaching settings there are usually two or three extraneous people scrubbed in, peering into the hole, scratching their asses, etc.

You'd think that in taking a right turn from my usual targets, I'd have some sort of wisdom to impart at this point (although, one might ask, why start now?); I really don't. I applaud all attempts to improve the quality of health-care delivery; it's just that this particular approach puzzles me. Comparably, it's as if all a pilot were required to do before take-off is to make sure the crew knew each other, confirmed the destination and that the doors were shut.

If that makes a difference, we're in bigger trouble than I thought.

Or maybe I'm missing something.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Danger Man


In college, at the apex of the Cold War, I spent a summer in the Soviet Union on an intensive Russian language study course. We had a little free time to wander around on our own, during which I met and spoke to many random Russians. Most were quite interested in talking to an American, but very hesitant to be seen doing so, especially anywhere near our hotel. In Leningrad I stopped to watch a young man working on a painting, very much against the grain of "Soviet Realism." He spoke candidly about the restrictions on artists, wishing he could be in America. Unlike everyone else I'd met, he not only accompanied me back to the hotel, but came to my room, where he continued to express his frustrations as an artist. Then he came with me to the train station, where my group was to commence a ride back to Moscow.

Once on the train, I looked out the window in time to see my new friend being escorted away forcefully, a policeman on each arm.

The Bush surveillance program, we are now told, was vastly more far-reaching than we knew: virtually every communication of every American citizen was subject to scrutiny. Especially journalists. Like the Soviet Union, but higher tech. Is that what we want? Is it necessary for our safety? Are we willing to have every email, every google search, every blog post screened by our government? Yes, or no.



From Marc Thiessen, chief speechwriter for George Bush:


"...The CIA program he is effectively shutting down is the reason why America has not been attacked again after 9/11. He has removed the tool that is singularly responsible for stopping al-Qaeda from flying planes into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, Heathrow Airport, and London’s Canary Warf, and blowing up apartment buildings in Chicago, among other plots. It’s not even the end of inauguration week, and Obama is already proving to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office.
"

Strong stuff. Probably a mere whiff of what's to come. The above commentary begins by referring to an article in the WaPo, and to a paragraph within that says:

"With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the "war on terror," as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless...While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing U.S. laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office."

Strong stuff. The entire article is worth reading, because, unsurprisingly, there's lots more there than the parts over which the speechwriter chose to go ballistic. But the two pieces are good center-points for any discussion (assuming there can be discussion, as opposed to polemics) on the subject of surveillance, rights, and torture. I disagree with most of the former one, and at least part of the latter.

Both paragraphs mischaracterize what happened, as I understand it: Barack Obama neither suspended surveillance activity, nor declared an end to the "war on terror." He did, however, change the rules in favor of legality. Had he re-named the struggle we are in with those who wish us harm, that'd have been okay with me, too. "War on Terror" was always a misnomer at best, and at worst a means of justification for tossing centuries of law out the window.

I've said forever that intelligence-gathering, as opposed to invading Iraq, is central to keeping us safe. So has Barack Obama. In no way is he ending that. He is, however, saying it can be done within the law, and that there are reasons to do so.

I'd love to know the truth: are the so-called plots that have been uncovered (some of which are laughably lame) the result of surveillance that could have only been done without warrants? Have we in fact gotten accurate information from prisoners as a result of torture? If so, is it the case that the information could not have been otherwise obtained?

Contrary to the frothing of the speechwriter crazy guy, it seems President Obama actually plans to investigate exactly those sorts of questions. Are there techniques not covered in the Army Field Manual that have a place in our armamentarium? If so, under what circumstances. To the alarm of some, he actually wants to know the facts.

Somewhere along the line, between here and being forcibly taken out of train stations, we have some serious discussions to hold, and choices to make.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why I Worry




Here's part of an email forwarded to me by a conservative friend:

....And now we are being told by many so-called Conservatives that we need to wish (perhaps even pray) for Obama's success as our 44th president. Watching the hoards of uneducated Democrats and Liberals at the pre-immaculate inauguration festivities reminds me of the ease it is to take cattle to slaughter... They are all so stupid and so happy as they are lead down the "chute" to a comfy warm building... We will see a million+ "happy" (but freezing) cows at the "mall" tomorrow. I don't think they will show the tens of thousands lined up at the frozen "porta potties". .... Does one have to support Obama and company to be a patriot? (I don't think so. But I also know a Civil War II will be needed to explain it to the Secular/Progressive/Liberals).

Here's a "Malkin Award" candidate from Andrew Sullivan's blog:

"When the rule of men conflicts with the commands of God, the Bible leaves no doubt about where we should stand. That's why I do not hesitate today in calling on godly Americans to pray that Barack Hussein Obama fail in his efforts to change our country from one anchored on self-governance and constitutional republicanism to one based on the raw and unlimited power of the central state. It would be folly to pray for his success in such an evil campaign. I want Obama to fail because his agenda is 100 percent at odds with God's," - Joseph Farah, WorldNetDaily.

And from the Platonic Ideal of right-wing hatred, Rush Limbaugh:

"... I hope he fails... See, here's the point. Everybody thinks it's outrageous to say... Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don't care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: 'Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.' Somebody's gotta say it."

(Amusing, isn't it, at one level: for the past eight years, right wingers have claimed "patriotism" and "love of country" exclusively as their own. Evidently, when their hated liberals show the same, they're like a kid without his security blanket. And liberalism got us here? Really? Tax cuts and unregulated markets? Cut back on the percocet, Rush.)

This is the level of discourse I see from much of the right, even in many of the comments on this blog. And I edited the more offensive of it.

I can understand why some people have issues with, for example, the bailout funds and the enormous spending Obama is proposing. Some think it's too little, some too much. Contra the opinions of the great majority of economists from all ends of the spectrum, some believe it's altogether unnecessary (which strikes me as like those who deny man's role in climate change, or evolution.) People disagree over Iraq. It's possible to argue those points of view in a way that adds value to the discourse. But, as we see here, it's possible to argue in such a way as to add only invective and polarization.

To pray that Obama fails is to pray that our country fails. Two wars, crashing economy, environment at risk, schools failing, inadequate health care for tens of millions; how can anyone argue otherwise? As clear as he's made it that he claims no authorship of any good ideas from anywhere, as much as he's reaching out to all people, failure won't be President Obama's: it'll be ours.

Some people, it appears to me, are simply unable to grasp the idea of leadership that includes everyone, so ingrained has hyperpartisanship become. These so-called patriots literally can't conceive of any other way, and even when it stares them in the face, they have no basis on which to respond other than blind rage; common purpose isn't now nor ever has been in their lexicon. Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Savage, O'Reilly, Boehner, Kristol, Hewitt, and those that revere them: In their hate-filled narrowness, they literally have not the means even to recognize what they are doing, any more than a bug knows its mortality. It's not in their DNA.

If in times like these, of all times, some people are still unable to rise above crotch-level thinking, reflexively deriding entire groups because they know no other way; if people can't see, now as rarely before, that it really WILL take a sense of shared destiny, then when? No one can expect, facing such horrendous issues, to have his/her ideas fully realized in national policy. No group can demand 100% of its agenda be accepted. Everyone will need to give, and give up something. The answers lie not at either of the far ends of the spectrum.

So far, the evidence suggests that Barack Obama might well be up to the tasks that face us. The unanswered question is, are we? And, how many people like those above will it take to drag us all down?

Exactly


"...What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply... "

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Inauguration


Joseph Lowery is a cool dude.

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What Happens....


...when you bend over backwards to defend the indefensible.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

It Is Who He Is


For those who assumed Barack Obama's talk of reaching out was empty rhetoric, among many other examples there's this.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Decider


Another of George Bush's "legacy project" themes, in response to the fact that he leaves office as one of the most unpopular presidents, ever: "When you make tough decisions," he says, "you're gonna get criticized."

No, sir. Incorrect, sir. It's when you make WRONG DECISIONS!!!! ARRRGGGGHHH!!!! Get a frickin' CLUE!!!!

Is there a term for someone so free of the need for introspection, so unable to process facts that shine ill upon him? Narcissist seems too genial, egotist a collossal understatement. Seriously. The man has a defect in his thought processes. His meninges are armor-plated, rejecting any flow into his central nervous system of doubt, reflection, or self-correction. He's impervious to fact, unable to conceive of ever being wrong. There's gotta be a word for it.

As one who beat himself up if a bandage didn't look perfect, much less if a patient had even the tiniest surgical complication, it's literally beyond my understanding.

Miracle on the Hudson



A highly experienced pilot and crew put to use all of their training. A fleet of boats shows up within minutes. Not a single person was lost, many barely got their feet wet. It's a truly amazing coming together of capable and dedicated people and events. Not to mention a plane that evidently floats better than it flies.

Inevitably, people on the scene and people watching and opining are calling it a miracle, and thanking God.

Right.

Know what I'd call a miracle? How about if God hadn't tossed a bunch of geese into the engines in the first place?

Just asking.

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Pressing Limits


It's taken a few days for my neurons to reconnect. Listening (to the extent that I could stand it) to George Bush's final press conference did physical damage to my cerebrum, and it's only now that I can begin to process it. His ability to ignore reality, completely to discount failure, to imply that the perceptions of most of the country and world are are the result of not understanding, is beyond my ability to describe. There are too many examples to catalog, and I simply don't have the stomach for it.

His take on his response to Katrina was a microcosm of the whole debacle. Criticism, from his point of view, was centered around his flyover in Air Force One. How hypocritical of us, he said. After all, had he landed to have a look, we'd have criticized his disruption of the rescue effort. Nice try, Mr Bush.

No, the point is that for the first three days of the disaster, beginning with cutting birthday cake at his ranch as the waters rose, he remained completely disengaged. The flyover, days late, was simply a symbol of his evident lack of concern; or, at minimum, his misunderstanding of the severity. Outraged, he continued: people falsely said the federal response was slow. Tell that to the 30,000 people removed from rooftops, he cried. Tell that to the brave (ah ha, the old "criticize me, you dishonor the troops" trope, wheeled out yet again) "chopper drivers" (see, he was in the Air Force Reserves and, when he wasn't absent from his assigned base, he learned some lingo). Really? Thirty thousand? Maybe that's accurate (I can't find it anywhere, but I'm a little lazy nowadays). If it is, it's damn certain that most were hauled away in boats by local rescuers. The chopper drivers, I'm guessing, were either police or National Guard, neither of which were there because of the federal response. In fact, some US Military pilots were disciplined for veering from their chaotic and ever-changing orders to perform rescues.

George Bush, it seems, is virtually the only person happy with his government's response to Katrina. Facts, reviews, first-hand accounts: I spit on them, he says. We did a heck of a job. Anyone who says different is wrong. End of discussion.

The whole conference was along those lines: revisionism, denialism, and galactic indifference. Biggest mistakes? Same two he finally got around to a couple of years ago: the Mission Accomplished banner, and a couple of sentences he uttered. The rest? Disappointments. WMD, the "tone" in Washington. Disappointments. As if he had nothing to do with it, as if it was someone else's fault, and he, the remote (but compassionate) observer, could only sigh.

Neurons... axons... dendrites... must... reconnect....

The final despicable f#ck you to the press and the country: through the entire forty-seven smarmy and reality-impoverished minutes he willfully refused to call on Helen Thomas*, a widely respected journalist, in her waning years, who's had the guts to ask tough questions of every president since JFK. The simple and undeniable truth: he's a self-absorbed and completely unaccountable -- and I say this after a careful review of the facts and with the respect he's due -- jerk. (Originally I used another word that ends in "k." I guess I'm just too honorable.)

* Here's some insight into Helen Thomas:






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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Contortions


I was heartened to hear Eric Holder, Attorney General nominee, answer succinctly when asked by Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, if water-boarding is torture. Citing its use by the Khmer Rouge and in the Inquisition, referring to the Geneva Conventions, and recounting that the US prosecuted people who did it during the Vietnam War, he said very clearly, "yes, it is." Asked if the leader of another country could be seen as having the right to waterboard US citizens, he said very clearly, "no."

He is, of course, a damned liberal. So it may be more persuasive to some (assuming "some" are in fact persuadable) that a member of George Bush's own administration has stated unequivocally that we have tortured people.

My most prolific commenter says he's "for" torture. Okay, I admire the clarity. The problem is that Bush has always said the US "doesn't torture." How can that be? Simple: he just undefined the word. The stuff we've been doing (and I say "we" because it's been done in our name, in our democracy) isn't torture because George Bush says it isn't. Why didn't I think of that? There are so many things...

I never had a "complication" from my operations. Just enhanced outcomes.

The thing is, if George Bush -- or anyone else -- thinks torture is justified in some situations, the right thing is to say so, like a man, like, well, my commenter. Make the case. Cite examples. Debate it, in Congress. Counter the arguments of experts, one after the other, who say it not only doesn't work but produces false and unreliable information. (The typical use, historically, has been to get people to confess to crimes they DIDN'T COMMIT. The inquisition. The Hanoi Hilton. For that, it works. Just ask John McCain.)

Were my family in jeopardy from the so-called "ticking time-bomb," and were there evidence that I could force a guy to spill the beans under torture, I'd be inclined to do whatever it took. Thing is, there's never been a real "ticking time-bomb" scenario except on TV. And there are plenty of examples of lies being told to interrogators under those circumstances.

Maybe it's reasonable to have the debate. What's not reasonable, and is totally unacceptable in a democracy, is the cynical behavior of the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush axis of dweebil and their shameless Humpty Dumpty leadership.

How that man can get up there tonight and argue he's been a success is an outrage. That some buy it is why I remain unsure that even someone who really aims to be straight and mindful and inclusive can succeed. There are just too many enablers of the opposite in this country.

Thoughtful. Frightening.



Hmm. Well, the video worked when I first embedded it. Now it isn't. But it's here.

As an appropriate followup to the previous post, wait a minute or so, while Charlie ends a prior session. Then watch this interview with David Sanger, NYT Washington Bureau Chief and author of a new book on the issues Obama inherits from Bush. (And I hear my constant critics: "yeah, yeah, New York Times, blah, blah." Listen to the guy. See if what he says is credible, factual. (And it's not just about China.)

The first part of his interview, which is longer and therefore, for the benefit of those with ADHD, I didn't embed, is here. Equally enlightening, equally dismaying.

For all but the habitual and most incorrigible enablers, the disaster of Bush -- and most particularly his war -- is obvious, and chilling. The only thing not yet obvious is whether it's reversible.

Crash Test Dummies


If you're a passenger in my car, and if I'm drunk and speeding, hands off the wheel, and if I've removed the seat belts and disabled the air bags, as long as we haven't crashed yet is it credible for me to argue that I've kept you safe?

The one theme that seems to prevail in the face of George Bush's astronomically huge failures is that he's "kept us safe." Well, okay, in the above sense. But I think a couple of things need to be kept in mind. First, those efforts that actually may be playing a role in preventing another attack are ones that any president would be doing, without question: namely, gathering intelligence. (The difference being, of course, that most would have done it legally.) I absolutely understand the need to keep an eye on certain people. Wiretaps don't bother me. But (even though it's clearly open to abuse no matter what) I don't see a reason why the law can't be followed, or updated where necessary. And I'm not at all persuaded that torture (not to mention renditions, suspending American law, Guantanamo) has been or is a useful tool. The only people who support it besides Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, are knee-jerk (and non-militarily-experienced) pundits of the Limbaugh/Kristol variety, who think 24 is a documentary. There seems nearly unanimous agreement among actual intelligence operatives that torture produces unreliable information. False information. Not to mention the degradation of our image around the world. It's part of the tough-guy swagger that right-wingers, nearly all of whom found ways to avoid signing up for the military, like to imagine for themselves.

Beyond those things that we'd all have done, there's nothing one can point to as a positive for safety in Bush's policies. Clearly creating more potential terrorists than it has eliminated, Iraq has been a debacle, no matter how it finally turns out. With George Bush seeing himself as Samson, no Delilah was needed. Having shifted power to Iran, having ignored Afganistan/Pakistan and the real al Queda, there's no argument but that we are at increased risk. Likewise, the bankrupting of our country and depleting of our military has left us nearly paralyzed.

Approaching eight years after 9/11 we're teetering on the brink of collapse in ways for which Osama bin Laden couldn't have hoped in his wildest prayers. (If he did, he's the most brilliant villain in history.) What has brought us to this point? Three airplanes, or the presidential policies since then?

I'll give Bush credit for taking certain obvious steps in response to 9/11, ones that had he not taken he'd have been guilty of presidential malpractice. But to see the Iraq misadventure and its offshoot illegalities as anything but a disastrous over-reach (to put it kindly) and to claim that it in any way deserves credit for the lack of further attacks on our soil (ignoring, of course, the fact that it's led the the death and disabling of tens of thousands more Americans than occurred on 9/11) is, at best, to claim something plainly unprovable, and, at worst, willfully to look away from the direction to which the facts point.Link
And answer me this: if Bush is to be credited with the lack of attacks since September Eleven, why is he not to be blamed for the attack itself, nine months into his presidency, when he'd been told explicitly by the out-going administration that al Queda was a grave threat, and ignoring it? How does that work? All credit for the one thing, no blame for the other? Or this, to those who absolve Bush of any responsibility for 9/11: how far into the Obama administration's tenure would an attack be marked on Bush's side of the ledger?

[An interesting datum in regard to the above, according to Ron Suskind whom I recently saw on TV: He says it's known by Bush and Cheney, based on gathered intelligence, that al Queda has "called off" attacks on the U.S. for now, until they're able to deliver a greater blow (presumably with some form of WMD) than was 9/11. So in claiming to have kept us safe, George Bush is saying something he knows to be untrue (surprise). Rather than having been deterred, al Queda is simply waiting, preparing for something bigger than before. Great. One can only wonder how much less vulnerable we'd be, had we not pissed away opportunity in Iraq.]

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bag. Cat. Out.


Thanks to Margaret WV for pointing me to this:
[Originally, I had just provided a link, which was working. I now find it takes one to Salon but not to the cartoon, leaving, I assume, readers wondering what the heck I had in mind. So above is the actual cartoon to which I referred. It's from Salon.com, and I hope I'm not breaching some sort of rule. I tried. I really did.]

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Just A Thought...


[It's possible I've seen this idea somewhere else: The Onion, perhaps? But I couldn't find it. If I'm unoriginal, so what else is new?...]

Maybe George Bush has a grand plan, after all. "History will judge me," he is fond of saying. Do you suppose his real purpose has been to prevent that from happening, by ENDING history? Just asking.

A Commission ForThe Commissioner


I understand the reluctance. In the same interview to which I referred in my previous post, Barack Obama declined to commit to investigating crimes of the Bush administration; in fact, he made it pretty clear he's more interested in addressing the future, by focusing on the problems at hand. So saying, he implied there'd be no investigations. I'm of two minds. Or rather, I think it should be done, but neither Obama (or people in the executive branch) nor Congress ought to be the ones to do it.

Frank Rich's latest column is a good starting point. In it, among other important things, he refers to "...an as-yet-unpublished 513-page federal history of this nation-building fiasco. The document was assembled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction — led by a Bush appointee, no less. It pinpoints, among other transgressions, a governmental Ponzi scheme concocted to bamboozle Americans into believing they were accruing steady dividends on their investment in a “new” Iraq.

The report quotes no less an authority than Colin Powell on how the scam worked. Back in 2003, Powell said, the Defense Department just “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.’ ” Those of us who questioned these astonishing numbers were dismissed as fools, much like those who begged in vain to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to challenge Madoff’s math.

What’s most remarkable about the Times article, however, is how little stir it caused. When, in 1971, The Times got its hands on the Pentagon Papers, the internal federal history of the Vietnam disaster, the revelations caused a national uproar. But after eight years of battering by Bush, the nation has been rendered half-catatonic. The Iraq Pentagon Papers sank with barely a trace."

There's a lot more, of course. And it may well be that, in a form of mental self-preservation, people have just tuned out. I, for example, willfully force myself not to think of the money I've lost in the last year; in large part, it's because in confronting it I'm forced to admit what an idiot I was. Greedy, trusting, failing to take my own advice. But that's the point: if we allow ourselves the indulgence of simply moving on from Bush and letting him rewrite history however he wants (and, boy, is he trying!) we risk allowing it all to happen again sometime. And it's not just Iraq deceptions, and torture: in nearly every corner of government there are examples of egregious malfeasance.

When 80% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track; when a majority of historians think Bush is among the worst presidents ever, I feel safe in arguing that it's not just me. And it's far more than parlor games. If we recover, it'll be because of a phenomenal effort by lots of people, and at enormous cost, now, and for generations. By all measures, it behooves us to have a full accounting. Knowing everything (everything that hasn't been destroyed, that is) is much more important than prosecuting Bush et his als. (Although if I didn't think it'd further fracture the country and make the nearly-impossible fully-impossible, I'd like to see it.)

The hard core on the left speak of a commission as a cop-out. And so it might be. But if it's true that the transgressions need sunlight (it is), and if it's true that a drawn-out congressional investigation, or one in the Justice Department, would degenerate into an unholy partisan debacle with preposturing on both sides (it would), then some sort of independent commission, peopled with respected investigators, properly authorized, and created to be non-partisan, would seem to be the best -- probably the only -- way to bring everything to light. Who knows? Maybe they'd even show Bush wasn't as bad as I think. One way or the other, with so much wreckage in his wake as he marches madly out of town tooting his trumpet in convulsive contortions, George Bush's breaches* must brought clearly to light, even if at the outset it's clear that prosecution is off the table.

We have to know. It mustn't happen again.

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*And need I say: it includes this sort of shit as well.

[Note: I write some of these posts and schedule their publishing in advance. I see that Eugene Robinson's column of 1/13 says much of the above, particularly at the end. For the record, I wrote this one a few days ago. And I have planned one on the news conference, too, even though I probably have nothing unique to say.]

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hillary On The Hill


Watching Hillary Clinton testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today I had many thoughts. First, I was reminded of how impressive she'd been to me until the presidential campaign. My wife and I attended a shindig for a local senator a couple of years ago, at which Hillary spoke. Very compelling. That Hillary is once again on display: serious, smart, broadly and deeply knowledgeable, capable. I think she'll be an excellent Sec/State, and it speaks enormously well of her and of Barack Obama that she was his choice.

Her plate is very full, almost impossibly so. And it makes even more clear what a tragic blunder was the invasion of Iraq: so many resources, so much attention, such a huge amount of money diverted from the demands of a crumbling and dangerous world. To those who think getting rid of Saddam was a worthy goal (as an isolated idea, ignoring all else, who can say it wasn't?), I'd ask this: given that he was in a box, with no-fly zones, inspectors, and UN sanctions (and no WMD!), has it been worth the cost in terms of weakening our ability to address the long list of other security and humanitarian (which is a security issue) and energy (which is a security issue) problems around the world? For indeed, it's clear that we are severely weakened, at a time when our strengths and abilities are sorely needed.

One thing that came out in the hearing surprised me (well, lots more than one -- including the degree to which even Republicans seemed relieved by the evident new approaches of the incoming administration in so many areas): at the end of the Clinton administration a position was established (no jokes about "positions"), creating what sounds like a COO for the State Department. Never filled! Clearly the Secretary of State -- the CEO of the department -- doesn't have the time to address all management issues therein. That there evidently hasn't been someone to fill that role, even though it was created, is very surprising (except that I suppose it isn't, given the Bushian disinclination for competent management and useful government spending); Hillary has already selected someone for the job.

Always impressive to me, Senator Lugar asked about "loose nukes" and related matters, and his joy was uncontained as he listened to her response; another important area given short shrift by Bush, evidently, and the promise of renewed focus was a relief to him.

It's impossible to observe the proceedings (still going on as I type) without being overwhelmed (as if I weren't already) by the enormity of the problems in the world, nearly all of which are bigger now than eight years ago. But -- to the extent that there's any reason for hope at all, a matter about which I'm not at all sure -- it's tremendously reassuring to consider that Barack Obama has selected people of substance and depth to address them. Compared to Condi Rice as she came to the White House, a middling "expert" on the Soviet Union and a decent pianist, Hillary Clinton has a wealth of background and impressively detailed knowledge to bring immediately to bear. Having come to dislike her intensely for her approach to the recent campaign, I'm easily able now to set it all aside and see her as a smart and competent and knowledgeable person, more than ready to be Secretary of State.

South America, Central America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, Europe: an endless list of needs any one of which would take the full time of anyone; and our recent approaches to all of which seem recognized as inadequate by Senators from both sides of the aisle. No less worried than I've been, I find myself at least relieved that we will be getting an administration of realists, of broader and deeper thinkers, of people with capabilities and commitments not seen in the last eight years. Given the stakes, it's simply incomprehensible that anyone could wish for their failure. And yet...

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(Stuffed) Shirts and Skins


Still clinging to belief and hope, I watch Obama interviews whenever they happen. I liked what I heard recently, about the need for everyone to be prepared to sacrifice. Everyone, he said, will need to have "skin in the game." (Whole transcript here.) Aside from being an evocative term, it's clearly the truth. The only question is, will enough people buy into it?

For years, the implicit and explicit claim from the White House has been that we can get everything we want with no pain from anyone. Except, well, yeah, a few soldiers. But they signed up for it, right? Deficits? Who cares? Regulations? Not even. Compromise? Are you kidding? Scorched earth, most literally, and figuratively. And I'm only talking about our politicians. The rest of us? Bumper stickers and credit cards.

It's still my impression that the idea of people getting together and thinking only about what's best for the country, to get us out of crisis and to set us on a path toward success, is largely a pipe-dream. For too long -- especially since the Newtonian days -- politicians have been narrowly about self and party; power for its own sake. And, since they've been voted into office, the fault lies, ultimately, in ourselves.

There's clearly a theme, in the blogosphere, anyway, and among some of the usual purveyors of puerile 'publican pollution, that to cooperate with Obama is to betray party. Unable to see beyond their own self-interest, there are plenty who think that way. Is it, like denial of global warming and of evolution, the willful rejection of what is known? If so, to what end? Or is it based on a careful consideration of the data and coming to the conclusion that nothing is wrong? If so, based on what evidence? I think, rather, that it's the result of a mindset so deeply embedded and constantly reinforced -- namely that we're always right (and good, and god-sided) and they're always wrong (and bad, and devil-dealers) -- that it no longer occurs to people that there are any common interests or attributes at all. Or that there are things that we must do, together, to save ourselves.

And in case anyone wonders, I don't exclude either party or interest group. I do, however, happen to believe that ultra-obstructionism and demonization have been brought to unseen levels by certain members of the Republican party, and by the right-wing noise machine of which there simply is no counterpart on the left. And since it's primarily the policies which they favor -- tax cuts as solution to every problem, deregulation in all matters, war as our highest calling, American exceptionalism as the central theme of foreign policy -- that have gotten us into the critical condition in which we find ourselves, I tend to think the point at which we must aim to meet is somewhere to the left of the middle.

There's blame aplenty. I can't think of many people in Congress on either side of the aisle that impress me very much. For that matter, I can't deny that I've been less than charitable toward George Bush. But there was a time when I was willing to give him a chance. As poor as his performance had been before 9/11, and as clear as it was that he regarded the tragedy as an opportunity to rescue his presidency, I was more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as he responded to the attack. Much was at stake (although not as much as now.) I agreed with going into Afganistan (and was pleased that they used the plan developed under the Clinton administration.) The difference is obvious: my subsequent disgust with Bush is based on a long record. Those who continue to wish ill toward Barack Obama (do they still believe he's a Muslim terrorist Stalinist America-hater? Did they ever?), even before he's in office, can only be doing so based on the jerks of their knees. Because, clearly, to wish him ill is to wish for even worse calamity for our country, from which we likely won't recover. All for the sake of some perverted sense of self satisfaction, even as we go under together.

Maybe it's like the pain of failed romance. Burned by love, it's hard to try again, to expose oneself, to set oneself up for another disappointment, for more hurt. As rightfully distrustful of government as we've become, as inured to the venality of many politicians, really to allow oneself a measure of belief and hope is to take a leap, braver and requiring more vulnerability than many are willing or able to do. How could it be possible, after all, that we have a president who actually means what he says, who claims no "ownership" of good ideas, who really does want to govern based on what's best for the common good, engaging everyone? Jilted publicly and painfully, too many times, hopes left bleeding in the gutter, it's hard to believe this could be different. But what's not hard to believe is that if it isn't different, we're screwed. Royally, irredeemably, existentially screwed.

So it boils down to this: can our politicians set aside decades of wrong-headed and self-centered thinking and be willing to work for real solutions, no matter who gets the credit? And if they aren't, can the rest of us -- even people like some who comment here with vitriol (and people who post here with vitriol) -- call, email, write, agitate to demand that they do?

Skin in the game.

Because if there's anything I like, it's skin.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Just Because


Let's take a break from polemics. Here's something pretty cool: Bono discussing Frank Sinatra. You can even hear him read his essay himself; it's at this link.

I enjoyed it.

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Mad Scientists


Finally, they feel free to speak out. That they haven't, heretofore, and are now, speaks volumes. Nor is it limited to the FDA: science (facts of all kinds), to George Bush, has been something to be avoided. Redacted. Distorted. Be it climate science, reproductive science, public health, environmental, geological or political science (although that last one might be an oxymoron), we've been through eight years of ignorance, in both senses of the word, the latter one being the act of ignoring.

It's not as if science is all there is. But as a method of evaluating reality it's the best we have: self-correcting, open to questions, orderly, fact-based. There are those who like to point to the past errors of science; but it's the very fact that once-held scientific conclusions are subjected to constant scrutiny and updated and corrected, that confirms its power. Contrary to the contrarians.

Even the most steadfast deniers don't really reject science. (Ben Stein, by the way, is a despicable prick. Smug. And most colossally wrong whenever he opens his mouth; especially on the economy.) How many creationists and young-earthers refuse to fly on airplanes? Won't use GPS, or computers, or the internet? Refuse antibiotics or chemotherapy? How many deny the ability to calculate and predict radiation decay and conclude nuclear reactors are impossible? Refuse radiation treatments? Such self-selection of facts is, of course, anathema to actual science; and it's been the defining modus operandi of the current (still??? My god, it's like waiting for a bus when you're late to work) administration.

So it's refreshing that some scientists are (belatedly) speaking out. It suggests they believe they'll have, in the new White House, a sympathetic -- and intelligent and curious and thoughtful -- ear. Which, by all indications, they will.

Praise the lord!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Idiots, The Whole Lot Of 'Em



Boy, who coulda seen this coming? The Fed hasn't been using the TARP funds as required. And Congress didn't build in enough oversight. I'm shocked. Shocked.

Can Congress really have trusted the Bush administration to do it right? Did they assume the Fed would act competently and responsibly, now, all of a sudden, for the first time? And do we chalk this up to which of the choices, when it comes to understanding George Bush: 1) incompetence, 2) inattentiveness, 3) blind ideology, 4) wanton disregard of the public interest in favor of cronies, or 5) the usual combination of all of the above?

Bush has behaved like this for eight years. We can blame him -- and it's no surprise that I do, partial to facts as I am -- but it's even more infuriating that once again, when the chips are down (WAY WAY WAYdown), Congress once again goes all hypo-pituitary and lets him get away with it.

I really believe Barack Obama wants to change these things; that he's committed to finding things that are most likely to work and to make an effort toward efficient implementation. I believe he wants to find consensus in Congress (ironically, it's that willingness that might work against him: already we hear more resistance from congressional Democrats than they ever showed toward Bush); but given past performance of Congress no matter who's in charge -- their functional inability to transcend self-aggrandizement and gotcha games -- and given the enormity of the tasks at hand, if he actually succeeds it will surpass the parting of the Red Sea as the greatest act of overcoming inertia and the laws of nature in the history of mankind.

Not that the Red Sea ever got parted.

[As if to prove my point, here's further proof of what seems obvious bull-headedness and needless obscurity. Why not just wait a couple of weeks and give the money to the Obama team? As I said: idiots, the whole lot of them.]

[[Happily, the person in charge of TARP oversight of the funds is an impressive woman.]]

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Friday, January 9, 2009

On Your Face


So I'm driving home the other day behind a car with the above stuck on its bumper, and I'm all like, WTF? What lesson are we to learn from this?

The need to poster one's religion on the backside of one's car has never been something out which I could figure. In whatever iteration, it lies somewhere on the spectrum between smug and insecure; which, when you think about it, are probably both pretty close together at the left end of that long line that runs between inadequate and exemplary. But this one seems to be broadcasting simultaneously on several channels, canceling each other out. Like on a road trip, picking up a new FM even as the one falling into the distance remains audible.

What it mostly screams is "Somehow I sort of think this religious stuff makes me suspect, so, just in case you can't tell how manly I am, I'm saying it. How is it working? Do these clothes make me look fat?" On another level, it says "All you guys out there that make me feel inadequate? Well, how about this, you scary monuments to masculinity: I believe in Jesus. So there!"

But it's all of a holier-than-thou piece, which says the exact opposite of what you'd think the truly religious would be saying. It says, "Look at me! Oh, and Jesus? If you happen to be in the car behind me, check it out: I'm holy. Because without this stuff, maybe you wouldn't know. But oh yeah, you know everything, huh? So maybe you see what I do with the rest of my time. This makes up for it, right? Right??"

Reason I'm bringing it up: I watched the BCS finale last night, and there was Tim Tebow, wearing his religion under his eyeballs:

(If you can't read 'em, they say "John 3:16.)

I just don't get it. (First of all, John 3:16 -- said to be the whole gospel in a nutshell -- contains a lie and something unprovable. Not that that's not the whole deal in a nutshell, all right; but God didn't "give" his only begotten son. He loaned him, and took him back. Neither of them sacrificed a damn thing, right? They knew he wasn't going to die. So it's all a guilt trip, probably the most successful of all time, even more than when your mother pointed out the starving kids in China; it sure has enriched the Church over the eons. [Bernie's a piker]... Second, the life everlasting thing: the existential essence. True? Who knows?) Tim Tebow seems, indeed, an exemplary kid. I take nothing away from him. Fairly good quarterback, excellent human being. Far better than me, and I mean that sincerely. But why the broadcast? What would Jesus say?

Well, inveterate searcher and purveyor of knowledge that I am, I may have found the answer. His girlfriend:





As an unapologetic admirer of the female form, I can relate. I can even hear him hollering "Thank you, Jesus," and meaning it like crazy.

And if that's not enough, here's another view:


No doubt about it. He is risen.

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Where It Is


Just a thought: in this economy, as millions are losing their jobs and millions more are taking pay cuts or working reduced hours, those who continue to retain large incomes are, by comparison, even more flush (not to mention fortunate) than a year ago. Money is scarce, prices are down. Bargains are out there, for them as has.

So. One could argue (and, by golly, I am) that getting rid of the bushian tax cuts for the wealthy makes even more sense now, urgently. De facto, the rich are even richer than they were. How much feeding at the trough of ill fortune do they need?

As he promised, Barack Obama is playing it down the middle, trying to get broad consensus even at the expense of some supporters. He still plans significant tax cuts to most people, an idea my warmth for which is luke, depending on the final details. (In that, it would appear, I'm not alone.) But he's also, evidently, planning to hold off on re-establishing pre-disaster tax rates for those making over 250K. To me, the only argument in his favor is gaining a few Republican votes. I don't discount that; and Obama's commitment to reaching out is something that drew me to him (even as most detractors failed to see it, or willfully ignored it.) Still, the deficit handed to him by Bush is already 1.2 trillion -- a number that would scare the shit out of me, except that it's beyond comprehension. And that's BEFORE any Obama plan.

There are indications that Obama will be looking at Social Security and Medicare as areas for savings. It's ballsy. And, as I've said many times, necessary. Probably doomed, too. Yet, given future projections, it's the responsible thing to do, and will likely alarm the left more than the right (until, perhaps, it comes down to indexing benefits for the wealthy! Also the right thing.)

But there's an obvious need for balance. The unneeded and overly generous tax cuts of Bush are a large part of why we're where we are. There's only so far one ought to go to gain favor with those whose ideas torpedoed the boat in the first place, and then threw an anchor to those in the water. People who continue to make a quarter million bucks a year are doing very well indeed: better than ever. (Might that have been the whole point?) Take away a little of it (and, really, it IS comparatively little), and they'll STILL be way better off than they were. And most assuredly better than everyone else. (Okay, yeah, like the rest of us lots of them must have lost money in the market. But having a big income makes it a hell of a lot easier to take. I was never at the 250K mark, but I was working during the last three recessions and the pay check eased a lot of worry.)

Hey, Rush? Sean? Bill? Mitch? Newt? Patriots of the first order?

Money. Mouth.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Idle Thoughts


Off the top of my head -- and from where else does most of this stuff come? -- I find the idea of Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General puzzling. I say this as a physician, and as a medical school classmate of a recent Surgeon General. One thing the two have in common is that I contacted (or tried to) each of them seeking endorsement blurbs for my book. Dave kindly and thoughtfully demurred. In seeking out Sanjay, I discovered there are at least two Dr Sanjay Guptas, a fact which I could have shared with a few internet bloggers and saved them some embarrassment. But I digress.

I think Sanjay Gupta and I are approximately equally qualified to be Surgeon General, other than the fact that I'm more experienced. We are both surgeons. Let's assume he's as good at his branch, neurosurgery, as I was at mine, even if he has many fewer years under his belt than I. Certainly, he's much more well-known; but really, it's only a matter of degree in a field that otherwise is pretty comparable: we each participate in media as a way of imparting knowledge and opinion in the field of medicine. Other than the fact that his is TV and mine is the blogosphere (I'm referring, of course, to my other blog), it's of a piece. I don't claim his level of fame, obviously, nor of influence. But there was a time when my writing was getting a bit of mainstream notice, having been mentioned in the New York Times, the LA Times, the Chicago Sun Times (what is it about "times?") and, egad, even Foxnewsdotcom. So what's the difference, curriculum vitally?

As far as I can tell, the Surgeon General has two roles. One, which would seem potentially quite important and demanding, is the as highest official in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Theoretically, this would require knowledge of public health issues and policy, and some management experience. On the other hand, the PHSCC is not to be confused with the Public Health Service, a much bigger deal, under which the PHSCC serves. The critical letter in PHSCC is the first "C." The outfit is, formally, like a branch of the military: they wear uniforms like Navy people, and the Surgeon General is ranked as a three-star admiral. They all run around doing stuff, but they aren't the ones actually setting public health policy.

Unlike Sanjay G, I was in the military, which gives me leg up. In fact, "Surgeon" was part of my official title. "Flight Surgeon." Part of my duty was, in fact, as public health officer for the bases on which I served. Fortunately, someone else took care of it -- the veterinarian, as I recall -- but it was on my list of things to do. So there's two legs up.

I'm guessing there are lifers who actually run the show. So the Surgeon General is more about the other role, namely being a public face on health care issues. Some have made a name for themselves in that regard. Luther Terry, most positively, got the labels on the cigarettes. C. Everett Koop helps people who've fallen and can't get up. Joycelyn Elders tried to help people who did get it up.

Clearly S. Goop has little to bring to the table policy-wise, but he could be seen as a skillful conveyor of information to the public. That's what I assume is behind the idea: a weapon in the arsenal to be used to sell Obama's health care plans to the public. If the PHSCC is like other bureaucracies that seem to run on no matter who's at the top, I suppose it makes some sort of sense.

But he should have chosen me.

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