Thursday, March 31, 2011

Not Good, Part Two

Rumor has it that the president authorized covert action in Libya well before he pledged that there'd be no troops on the ground. Okay, maybe they're CIA: not, literally, troops. But it's not good.

What's not good is, first, that, at best, Obama is playing footsie with the truth. Second, much as I'm not one to repeat clich├ęs till the cows come home, it's a slippery slope. Contrary to what I, optimistically, suggested the other day, it's looking less good for the "rebels," whoever the hell they are. (How ironic, if we're helping al Queda.) Will it be possible, if/when it becomes clear they can't defeat Qaddifi's troops, simply to say, we're outta here? Won't we have to kick it up several notches? On the ground?

Too many things have been said back from which it's hard to walk: Khaddafy must go; no troops on the ground; we can't stand idly by as people are killed...

What's needed there is a combined Arab army, sweeping into Libya to save the day and unseat Gadaffi. It can't be about us. But that'll never happen. So, what's next? I guess all we can do is wait and see. Meanwhile, I get the feeling that Sec Gates isn't all that happy about it.


Gotta give Rand Paul credit. Even though he was evidently trying to be funny in a Stephen Colbert sort of way, it was gutsy, given the obvious discomfort of his audience.

Bagged, Tagged

Any moment now, I expect an answer to the question I posed to a frequent visitor: what do teabaggers believe, and why? While she composes her answer and we await the result, here are some data that might be helpful, both to her and to those of us anxious to learn. It's a survey done by some researchers just around the corner, at U Dub:

Are Tea Party Conservatives different from other Conservatives?

We sought to investigate this question in response to critiques leveled by conservatives such as David Brooks, David Frum, and most recently George Will and Michael Medved. Each, it seems, question the strategies, if not always the philosophy, of groups affiliated with the Right, including the Tea Party. More to the point, these commentators suggest that the Tea Party, as a whole, holds opinions at variance with more mainstream conservatives, opinions that may hurt the Republican party in the next election cycle. Others on the Right, such as Peggy Noonan and Juan Williams, view the Tea Party as a net positive. Noonan sees the movement is a “critique” of the Republican party; Williams sees it as a reflection of mainstream concerns of Americans. Which view is closer to the truth? The data suggest that differences abound....

....6% of non-Tea Party conservatives believe the president is destroying the country versus the 71% of Tea Party conservatives who believe this to be true.(click here for full results.)...

...When asked about President Obama’s religious orientation, 27% of Tea Party conservatives believe that Obama is a practicing Muslim compared to 16% of non- Tea Party conservatives, both relatively low; nevertheless, an 11-point difference. More conservative type believe the president a practicing Christian, 27% of Tea Party conservatives versus 46% of non-Tea Party conservatives, but the gap here is even larger: 19%. When it comes to President Obama’s national origin, 40% of Tea Party conservatives believe that Obama was born in the U.S. compared to 55% of non-Tea Party conservatives. Additionally, 26% of Tea Party conservatives believe that President Obama does not have a birth certificate, while 17% of non-Tea Party conservatives believe this to be the case. (click here for full results.) ...

... We also found that conservatives were more likely to view President Obama as alien if they believed themselves to be interviewed by someone white than a non-white interviewer. (click here for the results.)

All of the above support the claims made by Brooks, Frum, Will, and Medved that Tea Party conservatives are out of step with more mainstream conservatives. Moreover, these findings at the mass level validate what we’ve found at the elite level in an ongoing content analysis of the Tea Party. In short, the data suggest that there is an emerging split among conservatives. If this is true, how will this affect Republicans come 2012?

To think teabaggers are not typical of the true Republican party would be reassuring, were it the case that they didn't have the influence they have on who gets nominated and elected, and what legislation moves forward in the current disaster known as the House of Representatives. What the survey doesn't seem to address is the numbers and influence of teabaggers, numbers be damned, among self-described Republicans who vote. Because whatever they choose to say to pollsters, the fact is that the Republican party, as evidenced by its representation in Congress, is composed of the extreme, and the extremely stupid, the vindictive, the hidebound, the fact-averse, the destructive.

So, in case the unthinkable happens -- namely, that my commenter fails to address the question I asked her -- we have data that tells us who the teabaggers are and what they believe. (The why isn't addressed: maybe academics simply couldn't stomach the horror of finding out.)

It's not anything even the most casual observer wouldn't have already known; and it's depressing as hell.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Guy Who Gave Us Sarah...

[The above, from 2009, is not fake.]

How is it that John McCain is considered credible on anything? Here's his latest:

Asked about Moammar Gadhafi:

"This is a man with American blood on his hands who has committed acts of terror in the past. And our policy, the United States policy, as articulated by the President of the United States, is that he should go -- he should not stay in power."

And asked siding with Libyan rebels with unknown agendas:

"[I]t does take time -- it did during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan -- but we were able to provide them with some weapons and wherewithal to cause the Russians to leave Afghanistan. So we can do it."

On the first point, McCain has an odd memory of recent events. As Justin Elliott explained, Republicans weren't at all concerned about the American blood on Gadhafi's hands -- the Bush administration removed Libya from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism and engaged in direct talks with Gadhafi. More to the point, John McCain personally visited with Gadhafi in August 2009 to discuss delivery of American military equipment to the Libyan dictator.

Maybe this has slipped the senator's mind?

As for the second point, it's true that we provided aid to Afghan rebels that fought the Soviets, and it's also true that Russia gave up and left Afghanistan, but is this really the example McCain wants to use? Those rebels, after all, were the mujahedeen, which included a guy named Osama bin Laden.

He could have been our president. Simply amazing. Even more amazing: he's the favorite guest on every Sunday morning talk show, as if he actually has credibility.

Stupid politicians and lazy journalists. What a deadly combination.

Newtonian Motion*

The difference between Newt Gingrich, on the one hand, and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann on the other, is that the former claims the mantle of intellectual seriousness, while the latter proudly reject it. That the two ladies poll much higher among teabaggers says a lot; but it's also interesting that, other than their self-described positions along the line between stupid and crazy, there's no actual difference among them. Here's Newt's latest:
"I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9," Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

Let's not dwell on the contradictions of an atheist future dominated by a religious group, okay? (Although I'd love it, as I wait for an answer to a recent question, if someone might outline how we get, in America, from where we are to living under Sharia law. Please be specific, but feel free to take as many steps as you'd like.) Let's, instead, wonder what he means by the struggle over the nature of America. Who's fighting, and over what? Given the venue, one must assume he's not talking about credit default swaps.

And since Obama hasn't done anything fundamentally to change America other than reversing the course of economic collapse while maintaining all its political and financial institutions intact, I'm assuming it's about the gays. After all, the number of Americans who claim to be religious keeps going up, while the number who believe in evolution continues to fall. So it can't be about secularism? WTF is he talking about?

What did it once mean to be an American? Holding slaves? Disallowing woman's suffrage? There was a time when it meant illegal booze and lack of interstate highways. Before that, there was polio. And smallpox. Sweatshops. Child labor (ready for a comeback if Rs have their way). So, yeah, it seems to me lots of people already don't know what it once meant to be American.

Among the wonderful things about being American is that it can change as the times change; that such change is assumed in and facilitated by our founding documents. And, to the extent that it does change, it's because that's what Americans want -- not what autocratic leaders want. And that the change -- a civil war here and there notwithstanding -- generally happens without much in the way of bloodshed. Let's repeat: CHANGE, ASSUMED IN AND FACILITATED BY OUR FOUNDING DOCUMENTS!

So, if poor addled and adulterated Newt finds it uncomfortable that America is slowly rejecting religious-based discrimination against a class of people based on their sexual preferences, well, I'd have to say it's he who doesn't understand what it means to be American. Whatever else it is, America is NOT stagnant.

However, to the extent that it is becoming -- or that all three of the aforementioned pathetophiles would like to see it as -- a theocracy, stagnation is exactly what the future holds.

Newt Gingrich, in my view, is by far the most egregious of that terrible trio (which is not to say he's any less dangerous: in that, they rub equally along the bottom of the tub.) He tries to hide his dishonesty, his stupidity, his pandering to the lowest of the low, in the folds of his professorial vestments. The other two: they wave it like a battle-flag heading over the hill.

[Some might question why I'm suddenly writing so much about Newt who, as I see it, has as much chance of becoming our next president as I do; maybe less. Fair question. He's always intrigonnoyed me with his self-important faux intelligence, pretending to the intellectual high ground while scudding along the lowest of the lowlands. And, as the Republican party steadily and purposefully divests itself of all pretense of thoughtful discourse, overtly eschewing any connection to academe and rationality, it's been highly amusing to see Newt, the once-considered brainy, flop around like a goldfish out of tank, struggling for oxygen where there is none, trying to learn to breathe in an environment that has rejected the kind of respiration on which he (deceptively) built his political persona. Fun, huh?]


*The reader no doubt knows the British usage of the term "motion," yes?

[Update: looks like I'm not the only one who questions a Newt presidency.]

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trump Card

In yet another example of right-wingers' disregard for their people, the intermittently rich man with a monster ego but no self-awareness has gone full birther on us. (Far be it from me to mention certain problems with his own papers.) This, though, is almost too perfect to be believed:

Moreover, Trump’s argument isn’t even internally coherent. First he questions why no doctors or nurses in Hawaii remember Obama’s birth, noting “this is the president of the United States!” (It’s unclear if Trump believes Obama was born the president):

TRUMP: Hey look, you have no doctors that remember. You have no nurses — this is the president of the United States! — that remember. That ad that was placed in the Houston paper — that was placed in the paper days after he was born. So he could have come into the country.

But just moments later, Trump doubts the governor of Hawaii Neil Abercrombie’s recollection of Obama’s birth, noting it was over 50 years ago. Abercrombie has said, “I knew his mom and dad. I was here when he was born.” Trump called for the governor to be “be investigated” for lying about the memory:

TRUMP: You know what I get a kick out of? The governor of Hawaii says, oh I remember when Obama was born. I doubt it! I think this guy should be investigated. He remembers when Obama was born? Give me a break! He’s just trying to do something for his party.

But thanks, Don, for yet another byte of proof of the deeply unserious arguments presented by those on the right who'd be our leaders. Naturally, it's considered thoughtful and persuasive by teabaggers everywhere.

What a sad, sad lot.


At one point in the above interview, Secretaries Gates and Clinton describe how unprecedented the situation in the Mideast and Northern Africa is: in the space of a couple of months, revolutionary activity is taking place in several countries, each with unique and challenging political ties and complications. Navigating such tumult is something no administration has ever had to do (my words, not theirs). Whether one thinks they've done it well or not, I'd say the uniqueness of the demand is undeniable.

For that reason, I'm backtracking some on my recent post about Libya. I'm still uneasy, but whereas it's too soon to know how it'll work out, it's clear there was much thought put into it. Serious questions remain: cost, goals, outcome; but RWS™ claims of dithering aside -- not to mention their switching positions as soon as Obama took one -- the fact that a coalition and consensus were formed and that the burden of enforcement is not entirely upon the US (anathema to the likes of Bill Kristol) indicates significant and powerful -- and impressive -- diplomacy. If it's true that a no-fly zone in Libya raises the question of why not in Bahrain and elsewhere, it's also true that it's impossible to enunciate a perfect policy with guaranteed outcome for any country at this point, and that the administration is picking its way through minefields with every move. That so far there's no obvious blowback suggests they're doing as well as anyone possibly could. And, dare I say it, a hell of a lot better than a hothead like McPOW and his cartoonish VP would have. Not only that, in contrast to my expressed fears, it might even be successful.

Having collected the code for the above video from a right-wing site self-described as "dedicated to hoping Obama fails," and looking at some of the titles there, I'm sure there'll be no convincing the RWS™. But whatever the outcome, I'm persuaded they're giving the region the sort of deep and layered consideration that we'd all hope for (except, y'know, the Foxobeckified teabaggers...); so far, I'm impressed with the jobs being done by Gates and Clinton, and grateful that we elected a president smart enough to have appointed them.

P.S: I wrote the above before Obama's speech last night. There was nothing unexpected in it, and I doubt it was convincing to doubters or satisfactory to those expecting a clear explication. I'd call it a fair summary of what's been done, if not necessarily a complete enumeration of all the reasons behind it. But maybe it was. Who knows? I did feel a certain discordance when he said that America doesn't stand by when people are slaughtered. We most certainly have. Maybe it would have felt different had he said it won't happen when new instances arise during his presidency. Or something.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Koch Suckers

Never let reality get in the way of a crowd-pleasing right-wing talking point.

Says David Koch:
His father was a hard core economic socialist in Kenya... So he had sort of antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life. It just shows you what a person with a silver tongue can achieve."

-- Conservative activist David Koch, in an interview with the Weekly Standard, on President Obama.

Forget the fact that our president met his father, like, once. What about the concept that he's anti-business, anti-capitalist, anti-free enterprise? At what point does evidence begin to mean anything to these people?

If anything, President Obama could be criticized for being too PRO-business; and, by golly, that's exactly what the left wing says. Corporate profits are at all-time highs, their taxes are at all-time lows. Bonuses are being passed out on Wall Street like jelly beans in the Reagan White House. This is anti-capitalism? Really?

For Mr. Koch to say such a thing shows in what low regard he holds teabaggers: he believes -- because it's true, of course -- that tossing around phallacious (he's a prick, after all) phrases inflames them and suckers them into voting for the people who'll allow him his excesses while screwing those same credulous (but incoherently pissed) voters. You'd think he could come up with something that has at least some connection to reality. But why bother, when he has such a gullible substrate, to whom dishonesty sticks like uncarina to socks? Absent facts on their side, it kind of makes you wonder what's really behind the vitriol doesn't it?

I recently got a typical RW comment, which I didn't publish, both to save the writer from grammatico/spelling-bee embarrassment, and because it was nothing but a personal attack on me, not even bothering to mention the substance of the post, let alone address it. I've yet to receive a coherent argument showing where I'm wrong about this stuff, where I'm falsifying or distorting -- the way people on the right do as their starting point.

So. Anyone out there want to make a case, based on actual evidence, that Obama is, in fact, anti-capitalist and/or anti-free enterprise? (Pointing to the occasional puny regulation aimed at a modicum of minimalist consumer-protection won't cut it, unless you can show where it's strangled our currently fourishing business class, and how it differs significantly in style or substance from those produced by virtually every president -- even Rs -- since FDR.) Having responded to many comments here with similar requests and receiving nothing, not ever, I'm not holding my breath. (Even ignored was a simple question, after a declaration that teabaggers are just people who believe strongly: what, exactly, do they believe? And based on what data?)

The hatred toward Obama remains astonishing, given the fact that it seems grounded in nothing he has or hasn't done; not, at least, on the actuality of it. Lies about it -- death panels, government takeovers, Naziism -- sure. But reality?

Show me.

Friday, March 25, 2011


It's been a favorite Foxobeckian theme ever since Obama's election: that he "apologizes" for America, that he went on an "apology tour." About a month ago, there was a very detailed article about it, with full context of the statements and events over which the RWS™ panties are abunched.

All you need to know about American politics at the present time you can deduce by reading the article in full, and then the first several comments. Prepare to be dumfounded.

Along similar lines, there's this article, in which a lonely blogger attends a meeting of small business owners discussing the benefits of the ACA. No other reporter attended.

... It isn't like it was held in an inconvenient location. I didn't expect television cameras, but I did expect some coverage by either the print or radio press...

...They will report on people who scream about "death panels" and "government takeover of healthcare" -- both rated "lies of the year" by PolitiFact for 2009 and 2010, respectively -- but they don't report on the very real benefits of the legislation.

No wonder the law isn't more popular.

If the traditional media had sent a reporter to the Marriott this morning, they could have reported on the benefits to small business, like the tax credit that allows Merrill Gobetz, the operations manager of Bistro Kids to insure her chefs, and how access to healthcare has made her employees healthier, less stressed and more productive....

... A lot of small businesses jumped at the chance to offer their employees health coverage as soon as they could afford to, thanks to the tax credit. Low income individuals who aren't offered health coverage benefit as well, because the ACA increased funding to subsidize community health centers, where low-income people can receive care either free or at a reduced rate...

So, there you have it: For teabaggers, facts, when presented, are bugs on a windshield. And when they run counter to the preferred media narrative, they're not even presented at all. (And, speaking of death panels, the ACA and R attempts to undo it, I wonder if this will ever get mainstream attention?)

It's really quite amazing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Dreams

Not generally one to share my dreams, I'll mention this because it was pretty good.

I dreamed of some place or other where there'd been a tsunami of sorts, a wave that had risen up very locally, in the shape of a camel's hump. In the aftermath, the locals referred to it as "the dromedary inconvenience."

Turns out I have a better way with words when I'm unconscious than when I'm awake.

The Newt Who Would Be King

The serial adulterer, two weeks ago:

Exercise a no-fly zone this evening. Communicate to the Libyan military that Gadhafi is gone, and that the sooner they switched sides the more likely they were to survive. Provide help to the rebels to replace him. I mean, the idea that we're confused about a man who has been an anti-American dictator since 1969 just tells you how inept this administration is. They were very quick to jump on Mubarak, who was their ally for 30 years, and they're confused about getting rid of Gadhafi. This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with.

The serial adulterer, one day ago:

I think that two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lot. I think that the problems we have in Pakistan, Egypt — go around the region. We could get engaged by this standard in all sorts of places. I would not have intervened.

To use one of Newt's favorite words, it's simply stunning. The man hasn't had a consistent, moral, or useful thought, ever.

[Addendum: Many times I've expressed amazement at the brazenness of such hypocrisy, and wondered how it can possibly be. Here's an explanation that rings true:

.... Do they think no one is going to catch them? Or do they not really care because they don't think the public really cares?

I think it used to be the former, but has lately become mostly the latter. Back in the day, I remember a lot of people saying that it was getting harder for politicians to shade their positions — either over time or for different audiences — because everything was now on video and the internet made it so easy to catch inconsistencies. But that's turned out not to really be true. Unless you're in the middle of a high-profile political campaign, it turns out you just need to be really brazen about your flip-flops. Sure, sites like ThinkProgress or Politifact with catch you, and the first few times that happens maybe you're a little worried about what's going to happen. But then it dawns on you:nothing is going to happen. Your base doesn't read ThinkProgress. The media doesn't really care and is happy to accept whatever obvious nonsense you offer up in explanation. The morning chat shows will continue to book you. It just doesn't matter.]

[Update: having just seen this, I'm starting to think in Newt's case it's an early form of dementia. He simply says whatever comes into his little adulterer's brain at the moment and has no recollection of what he said previously. He's Guy Pearce in "Mememto.]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Different View

Here's a pretty interesting take on Obama's foreign policy of late. The writer is more nuanced than I was.

... Obama is the near textbook embodiment of complex policies that meet the needs of reality and the moment, rather than what the body politic and the commentariat so often pine for, which is abundant simplicity and tidy slogans.

"There’s just no quick way to define it," the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons told Politico, in eager search of an Obama Doctrine, in of course the arena of foreign affairs. "... So he knows what you do in Egypt isn’t the same as what you do in Libya and that isn’t the same as what you do in Bahrain."

That's not only refreshing (to me at least), it also mirrors the profoundly complex pragmatism of the foreign policy designs of FDR, who was, however, extraordinarily fortunate not to have 24/7, sensationalist news operations and talk, talk, talk radio and the blogosphere second-questioning his every thought, hounding his every move, and demanding the unwavering articulation of an explicit FDR Doctrine....

... Obama's UnDoctrine is a universe away from the uniform simplicity of Wilsonian or Bushian idealism, which is better left to German philosophers than foreign policies. Idealism is a word closely aligned with ideology, and for good reason: It is a straitjacketing term that, once out of the bag and affixed to its proponent, too often coerces that proponent into grossly ill-advised actions for consistency's sake.

Obama's critics and Republican opponents are naturally all too delighted to confuse his internationalist pragmatism with an absence of principles, when in reality these -- pragmatism and principles -- are no antithesis. It would be a happy world indeed if the constant application of idealism always achieved the principled objectives pursued, yet history indicates its near abject failure in nearly every instance ..., whereas our hyperpragmatic presidents, from Washington to Lincoln to FDR, achieved nearly all of their principled goals...

This is a time, I guess, when I need to remind myself what I've said about Obama from the very beginning: he's no far-left liberal. He's a pragmatist whose instincts are progressive. That is, in fact, exactly what I liked about him, and, in most things, still do. In this Libya excursion, I hope to hell his approach will be proven right. (It does seem they got this part right.)

Grand Plan

Although it's pretty apparent there are a lot of stupid people on the right side of the congressional aisle, I doubt their concerted efforts to undermine economic recovery are the result of not knowing what they're doing. I think it's pretty obvious: they're hanging their 2012 electoral hopes on a flagging economy and will do everything they can to see that it happens. If ever there were an example of politicians choosing their own interests over those of their country, this is it. Read this comprehensive report, and see if you can come to any other conclusion:

The Recovery Act Lowered The Unemployment Rate And Increased The Number Of People With Full-Time Jobs By Millions. According to the CBO:

CBO estimates that ARRA's policies had the following effects in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2010:

  • They raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product by between 1.1 percent and 3.5 percent,
  • Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.9 percentage points,
  • Increased the number of people employed by between 1.3 million and 3.5 million, and
  • Increased the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs by 1.8 million to 5.0 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise. (Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers).

[Congressional Budget Office, 2/23/11]

  • All 176 Republicans In The House And 38 Republicans In The Senate Voted Against The American Recovery And Reinvestment Act. [H.R. 1, Vote #70, 2/13/09; H.R. 1, Vote #64, 2/13/09]

The Affordable Care Act "Could Increase The Number Of Jobs In The United States By About 250,000 To 400,000 Per Year." According to the Center for American Progress: "In the analysis that follows, we combine these two studies to show that health care reform could increase the number of jobs in the United States by about 250,000 to 400,000 per year over the coming decade." [Center for American Progress,1/8/10]

  • No Republicans In The House Or Senate Voted For The Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act. [H.R. 3590, Vote #165, 3/21/2010; H.R. 3590, Vote #396,12/24/09]

The Jobs For Main Street Act Could "Create More Than One Million Jobs."According to Rep. Ray Oberstar (D-MN) via National Journal: "We have the opportunity to build on the foundation set by the Recovery Act in H.R. 2847, the Jobs for Main Street Act. This bill, which won approval in the House on December 16, 2009, would invest another $37.3 billion in our nation's highways and transit systems, and create more than one million jobs." [National Journal, 1/4/10]

  • 166 Republicans In The House And 29 Republicans In The Senate Voted Against The Jobs For Main Street Act. In its final form, this act is known as the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act. [H.R. 2847, Vote #90, 3/4/10; H.R. 2847, Vote #55, 3/17/10]

The report, which thoroughly enumerates Republican efforts to destroy job growth, concludes with this:

Rove Op-Ed: "Democrats Are Being Held Accountable For [The Economy's] Poor Performance." From a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Republican Strategist Karl Rove: "Instead, they [the Democrats] will be killed at the polls. This election's top issue is the economy, and the Democrats are being held accountable for its poor performance. After all, the party controls the White House and Congress and passed all the spending and stimulus measures it could dream up." [Wall Street Journal, 10/7/10, emphasis added]

I guess it's reassuring at some level to know elected Rs aren't simply blithering idiots: they have a well-organized plan. It's just that it happens to be to destroy America so they can run against Obama.

Implicit in the plan is the belief that Americans are too dumb to notice what they're doing, and will blame Obama for the calamities the Republicans engineer. Politically, they're detestable; but in that belief congressional Rs are most certainly on very solid ground.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Worries

When a nuclear device is detonated, it gives rise to raja-tama predominant vibrations of the Absolute Cosmic Fire element. Discordant subtle sounds accompany these frequencies. These subtle sounds have a subtle harmful effect on the mind and intellect of the people in the vicinity of the nuclear attack. It can range from depression, to negative thoughts, to fogging up of the intellect.

When the ritual of Agnihotra is performed, it gives rise to sattva predominant vibrations of the Absolute Cosmic Fire element. The fire created from Agnihotra disintegrates the raja-tama particles and therefore purifies the environment at a spiritual level. It also creates a subtle protective sheath around the person performing the ritual. This sheath is highly sensitive to anything related to the Absolute Cosmic Fire element and from the subtle dimension this sheath looks reddish.

The raja-tama predominant Absolute Cosmic Fire particles (emanating from a nuclear device detonating) strike in a very harsh and callous manner. The protective sheath intuitively knows in advance when they are coming near it and as a reflex action it sends the Absolute Cosmic Fire frequencies from within it towards the raja-tama predominant particles with tremendous force. This destroys the raja-tama predominant Absolute Cosmic Fire particles which give rise to the sound frequencies. As a result, the destructive Absolute Cosmic Fire from the detonated nuclear device loses its power.

It's even better, vis a vis current events, or so one would infer:

3.1 What decides the effectiveness of the Agnihotra ritual during a nuclear holocaust?

It is important to keep in mind that the protection levels that are being discussed are in a nuclear holocaust environment. Therefore, the benefit that the ritual of Agnihotra can provide, is severely restricted compared to a peace-time scenario.

Clearly, this is much more scientific, than mere prayer, which, under the circumstances, seems like sort of a hail-Mary.

[Here's the link, which I followed from Pharyngula.]

Not Good

The more I think, hear, and see, the less I like the fact that we're involved in Libya. I do hope Qaddafi goes down; I hope a semblance of democracy rises from the ashes. But I'm disturbed and worried about our role.

First, as usual, it's an undeclared war. I didn't like it when Bush did it, and I don't like it now. The fact that it seems unconstitutional, but has become par for the course, is hardly a small issue. There are few Rs complaining about that part, of course, so at least they're consistent in ignoring their so-called love of small government and The Constitution. (Yes, there's the War Powers Act. I'd defer to experts about its comportment with law. It seems pretty dyscomportly with limited executive powers.) The complaints, from such proven wizards as McPOW and the former half-term governor is that Obama should have acted even more quickly, ie even more unilaterally and less constitutionally. Or, as the military expert ex-JAGo argues, we should be totally in charge of everything. Teabaggers, predictably, make no sense at all: they don't support Obama's handling of the war but they support the war. And their hero is even worse.

I'm not sure why we're doing it. Is it just for humanitarian reasons, for "not standing idly by?" If so, why not Rwanda and about a dozen other places? Is it for some sort of message to others who'd rise up for democracy elsewhere in the Mideast? If so, what's the message? That we'll fight for you everywhere? Or is it, as usual, oil? Might there be unintended consequences?

The more I learn, the less I know. Bahrain faces uprising; the Saudis are helping to put it down. Both are Sunnis. Iran is Shia; so, I gather, are many of the "revolutionaries" in Bahrain. Does Iran win in this? Where do we stand there: we have a huge navy base in Bahrain. We support uprising in Libya but not Bahrain?

Having said our goal is to see Khaddafi (let's use all the spellings, shall we?) go, and given that the "rebels," whoever the hell they are, are totally outmatched militarily (at least in terms of weaponry) and seem to be losing, and given that a no-fly zone is unlikely (so they say) to be determinative in and of itself, isn't it likely that we're going to be forced to increase our involvement? Air strikes alone seem to have done the trick in Bosnia, but it seems much less evenly matched in this instance.

The bottom line (or, among the many lines running across the bottom) is that whatever we do, and have done since time immemorial, in the Mideast we get caught up in complications too many to apprehend. It seems some sort of match has been lit there, and forces beyond our control are at work. What happens -- even as there will be more bloodshed -- must happen in its own way there; or so my poor and unfilled brain is telling me. I think there's only one sensible approach, given that we can't control events there and never have, and this is it: get the hell off oil. GET THE HELL OFF OIL. And do what we can, non-militarily, to pressure governments to allow their people freedom.

Which also means this: those who still think we can drill our way out of energy dependence, who think limiting and disincentivizing fossil fuel use is some liberal plot against whatever the hell it's against, are killing us. Because even if we find enough oil within our borders and along our shores to stop importing it, the effect is to keep needing it. Which means we're still enabling the producers, wherever they are; and sooner or later we'll be fighting for the last drops, as we are now.

Meanwhile, I find myself in agreement with those who question the legality of this war, and who demand to know much more precisely what our interest is there. Humanitarianism is a reason; a good enough one or not is a worthy subject of debate. But it was never held, at least not in public. I'd like to know what else is going on.

(Concerned as I am, I'm still inclined to trust Obama in most things, and I'd argue enthusiastically that we're so much better off than if McCain had won, or if Bush were still in charge, that analogy escapes me. In maintaining the vestiges of trust, I'm not alone.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Scoping The Problem

This is emblematic of a large part of the problem with health care costs, and why it'll be next to impossible to do anything about it.

In roughly the third iteration of my surgical career I've been assisting on cancer operations around once a week. As always it's fun to be in the OR, and a little sad to know I'll never again be standing on the operator's side of the table, nor be anyone's surgeon any more. More than that, though, there's a certain frustration in seeing things that are unnecessarily costly while knowing that even though I'm right, it'll never change.

A while back I helped with a sigmoid colectomy, for colon cancer. Of all the locations in the colon, it's cancers of the sigmoid portion that are the easiest to remove: it's as if the anatomy there was specifically designed for the surgeon. Which is nice, because it's also the most common location for colon cancers to occur. No question I'd have done the operation open, with an incision starting below the belly-button and extending downward; it's the least painful location for any abdominal incision. I'd have taken about forty-five minutes to do the operation, and, most likely, the patient would have been discharged, comfortable and happy on the second or third post op day. (If anyone wants to read a detailed ten-part description of how it's done, written for the lay reader, s/he can start here, and get to each subsequent installment by clicking on "newer post" at the bottom of each, below the comments.)

The operation I assisted was done laparoscopically. It took three hours (operating rooms charge by the minute, not including equipment and set-up charges), and the number of very expensive and non-reusable components was in double digits. After being mobilized using a scope and various costly instruments, the colon was then, in order to complete the removal and prepare the reattachment, partially pulled out through a two-and-a-half inch incision above the umbilicus. In that location it'll be at least as painful as the one I'd have made, despite being a couple of inches smaller. I'm certain the patient will be in the hospital longer than mine would. (In addition, he was asthmatic; two extra hours of inhaling gases is not entirely benign. But any patient would be in that long.)

Finally, there's this: the hookup between the two ends of bowel is high up from the rectum, made with a (very cleverly engineered and cool) circular stapler. For anatomic reasons -- namely, the corkscrew-like nature of the upper rectum and lower sigmoid -- passing the stapler that high is difficult and -- so the surgeon said -- requires using the smallest diameter device. That makes eventual narrowing of the hooked up area much more likely than if a larger diameter stapler had been used. I stapled bowel many times in similar situations, but only when it was low enough in the pelvis that hand-sewing was very difficult or impossible. I always used the largest device, so narrowing was rare; when it happened I could dilate it permanently and painlessly, in my office, using only my finger, with no risk to the patient. Not to mention free of charge. If it occurs in this patient, it'll require colonoscopy, a special ballon, at the cost of several grand, and will occur outside the pelvis where perforation is possible.

All totaled, the operation in question cost, I'm guessing, around ten thousand dollars more than mine would have, not counting the possible future occurrence and treatment of stenosis (narrowing), with no advantage in terms of pain or length of hospitalization. Doing it open would not have been seriously entertained by the surgeon, a young guy (who is, I must add, an excellent surgeon, extremely well-liked by his patients, very good at what he does, exceptionally knowledgeable) who was trained to do it this way. And patients have been even better-trained to want laparoscopic surgery as if it's magical as fairy dust.

Were there ever to be "effectiveness research," I'm certain (if my way were compared to his, which it won't be because hardly anyone does it like I did any more) it'd be obvious that whereas each approach is safe and effective, there's a huge cost differential with no benefit to show for it. You'd think it reasonable, therefore, that payors would be disinclined to keep paying for the operation to be done laparoscopically. But what, then, do you imagine would be the public response?? And how about from the RWS™??!!?? (Unless, of course, if it were under a Republican president)

Much of what we do in health care is consumer-driven -- more than most would acknowledge. People blame doctors for running up charges for more profit, but that's not at all what's going on here. The surgical fee for colon resection is the same whether you do it one way or another. Nor do docs cash in on the equipment they use in ORs. People think they want laparoscopy ("non-invasive," "minimally invasive," "bloodless," are, bluntly, deliberately dishonest terms), just like they used think they wanted lasers. The money to be made is with the suppliers (and, as long as they are paid based on charges instead of globally, with hospitals*) and they spend big bucks convincing people to want their products, and convincing doctors that if they don't adopt the next big thing, patients will go elsewhere. Which is, in fact, true.

As I've written on Surgeonsblog, I love laparoscopic surgery, in the right circumstances. It's fun, and I've done a lot of it. There are several abdominal operations (NOT including gallbladder removal, by the way) that are best done laparoscopically: fundoplication, bariatric surgery, total colectomy (probably), adrenalectomy (maybe), splenectomy (under certain circumstances)...

Realistically, though, like pointing out the disastrous consequences of teabagger policies, this particular argument is me paddling toward a tsunami.

*It's a pretty interesting subject: time was, hospitals counted on the use of surgical disposables for profit. Because of changes in Medicare reimbursement rules, they no longer could charge processing fees for cleaning and re-sterilizing reusable instruments, or for laundering surgical drapes; but they could charge for the use-once and throw-away (and nearly always non-biodegradable) stuff, and charge a "reasonable" marked-up price. There became, in other words, a perverse (and presumably unintended) disincentive regarding cost-containment. To the extent that hospitals are starting to be reimbursed with global fees (ie, they get x-thousand dollars to care for a colon-resection patient), the opposite has become true. The most efficient surgeon is, theoretically, the most desirable one. Yet so-called "economic credentialling" is almost never done; and when it is, there's generally nothing in it for the surgeon. Meaning people like me, who saved payors thousands of dollars per case, while still getting excellent results, got neither recognition nor monetary reward. Further, on the rare occasions when it does happen (one insurer collected data, identified those of us who were the most cost-effective, and sent us checks!) the other docs scream bloody murder and have all sorts of reasons why their costs are justified. (That insurer stopped after one cycle.) There could be benefit if hospitals were to give more operating time to the more effective surgeons, which, no doubt, would also cause screaming and the gnashing of teeth.

In health care, it's really not hard to identify problems; it's just that it's next to impossible to fix them. And -- dare I repeat myself -- the first serious attempt by a president to give it a shot has been demagogued by the RWS™ as death panels, killing grandma, communism, terrorism, paraphimosis, and Sharia law.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sun Rises In West

Dan Quayle, the last voice of rationality in the Republican Party????

In a Fox Business Network interview, Former Vice President Dan Quayle defended President Obama from Republican criticism that he plays too much golf when there are so many troubles around the world. Said Quayle: "I'm glad he's out playing golf. I happen to be a golfer. I think presidents deserve down time. And believe me, he is in constant communication with what's going on... I mean, what do you want him to do, stay in his house and be on the phone with the ambassador to Japan all the time?"

Dan Quayle. Knock me down and call me a potatoe.

If I were a facty sort of guy, I might also point out the silliness (is that what it is?) of complaining about the occasional game of golf (or the latest: spending a few minutes on NCAA brackets -- at what point does it become ridiculous farce?) after the previous president set all-time records for vacating the White House. But, since that's, you know, factual, why bother?

The serial adulterer and living breathing definition of assholery, meanwhile, finds no amount of political debauchery too distasteful. Fully prepared, evidently, to base his presidential hopes on the evils of bracketology, Newt's going all in on this latest meme of meanness. I don't doubt there are plenty of wingers all too willing to buy in; but for a guy who, by dint of being Speaker (before ending his career in disgrace) might actually have observed people governing, it couldn't be more cynical and low-minded.

Tell 'im, Dano.

Friday, March 18, 2011

No Fly

It's hard to think about our imminent enforcing of a no-fly zone without thinking about Iraq and Afghanistan. There are differences, of course, not the least of which is that in those wars we began with full intention of using full force. Years later, the results of it all remain unclear, and Iraq is heading down a pretty undemocratic path.

It's nice that we got a resolution from the Security Council and that, prior, the Arab League endorsed the idea. How nice it would be if they did the job themselves.

But here we are again, about to embark on an undeclared war (so far anyway) with only the Executive Branch involved. (One of the remaining -- but likely not for long -- thoughtful Republicans rightly says it requires a declaration of war.) And there are many questions on the table, evidently not to be debated beforehand. Here are but a few of them:

If the no-fly-no-drive zone fails to protect Benghazi from Qaddafi, are we then obliged to intervene on the ground? What the UN Resolution seems to require is protection of civilians. But if the methods authorized fail to do so, do we then just give up and give Qaddafi not just a victory against his own people but also against the West?

On the other hand, what are the US's obligations if the protection of Benghazi is successful? Are we required to provide food or arms to the rebels? And if the UN Resolution passes, hasn't the US essentially told the rebels to fight on? Having done that, do we not have a moral obligation to support them in an open-ended civil war?

How much is this estimated to cost? What programs are being cut in order to afford this?

It seems to me that this new war ignores every single lesson of the recent past. There is no clear goal. There is no exit plan. The American public opposes it. However tarted-up the coalition is, in the end, we all know that this will become a US responsibility. And we do know that if we break it, we own it, do we not?

If we are prepared to do this in Libya, why not in Congo, where the casualties and brutality have been immensely greater? Or Zimbabwe?

Qaddafi is brutal and crazy, of that there's no doubt. The people rose up bravely, seemingly with freedom in mind. What's not to like? Other than the usual uncertainties of any uprising about ultimate outcome. And the idea that we'll now be at war in three Muslim countries simultaneously. Instinctively, I want the rebels to succeed, and it's hard to watch the slaughter without feeling like doing something.

Nevertheless, the extent to which I find my instincts on the same side as the neocons is discomfiting. As is the fact that, so far, the actions about to be taken seem a little too Bushian for my taste. I've said many times here, and I still believe, that you can't defeat terrorism with wars. Is this different, though? It's not about terrorists; it's about people risking everything for freedom.

I wish I had the information -- and the tools -- to think it through. Emotionally, part of me says the rebels need help. Intellectually, though, it's deja-vu; gives me a bad feeling. Like this guy. And I'd love to ask those hawkish Rs how they intend to pay for it. Maybe by eliminating the nuclear regulatory commission?

Even more, I'd like to see any and all intervention carried out by Arab states. God knows they have the money. (Competence? Another matter. They could ask Israel to guide them...)

[Addendum: Libya announces a cease-fire. Maybe people in the administration knew what they were doing...]

[Second addendum: never mind.]

Behind The Curtain

Here's a couple of short items that allow a clear glimpse into the mind of the teabagger wing of the Republican party (all of them, in other words, pretty much):

Given a choice between cutting subsidies to agribusinesses and food stamps, guess which they choose:

...the farm lobby and members of Congress representing rural states wield mighty power in Washington. So it's little surprise to see Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee urging Budget Chairman Paul Ryan not to make substantial cuts to federal farm programs.

But this time there's a twist: Lest those Republicans appear profligate, they have proposed one area for cuts--food stamps:

The only program the letter offers as a possible area for belt-tightening is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. The panel said it might not continue the boost in monthly benefits for SNAP participants when they expire Nov. 1, 2013. SNAP, which accounts for nearly three-quarters of the Agriculture Department's budget, got an across-the-board increase in monthly benefits under the 2009 stimulus (PL 111-5).

And then, this: in their attack on union workers, anyone care to guess if Wisconsin Rs distorted the facts? Anyone hear the claim about bus drivers making $160K? Think it could be bogus?

Mick Rusch, a spokesman for Metro Transit for the city of Madison, tells me: “It’s not fair to point to public employees as being overpaid based on this situation.”

Here are the details, as provided by Rusch. The driver, John Nelson, was able to earn $160,000 in 2009 not because of his annual salary, but because he worked a huge amount of overtime hours. He was able to do this because of previous rules, negotiated by Teamsters local 695, that allowed drivers with most seniority — and the highest salaries — to rack up large amounts of overtime. As a result, in 2009, Nelson worked 1,896 hours of straight time, but he was also able to add on a whopping 2,012 hours of overtime. This, not the exorbitant salary public employees supposedly enjoy, is what accounts for his huge haul that year.

Is Nelson overpaid? Starting bus drivers in Madison earn $17 per hour. Nelson has been working as a driver for 36 years, and his salary in 2009 was up to $26 per hour. There are other ways a bus driver can rack up more money, such as working at night or on vacation days, but all in all, his baseline salary has not gone up much. When working overtime he earns roughly $39 per hour. All this, after working this job for nearly four decades.

But wait, it gets better. It turns out that pointing to Nelson as an example of what’s wrong with public employee unions is thoroughly bogus in another way. According to Rusch, the city of Madison went to the bus drivers union last year and said the rules allowing the highest-paid bus drivers to snap up the most overtime had become a major problem. Turns out the union agreed, and renegotiated a deal to limit overtime in a way that has left Metro Transit happy. And guess what: That deal was negotiated through collective bargaining.

“They agreed with us that it was a problem,” Rusch said of the union. “They sat down with us and worked with us through collective bargaining to fix the problem.”

Resolved equitably, through collective bargaining. You know, that thing away with which they just did.

Oh, and guess where those WI legislators are heading, after all their hard work:
State Republicans are planning to hold a big fundraiser at the offices of a major lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Supporters are asked to give at least $1,000 to the state Republican Party's federal account to attend the event at the BGR Group's offices in D.C. The cost is $2,500 to sponsor and $5,000 to host the fundraiser.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Problem Solved

Eye Ball

For my countless readers who disbelieve evolution but whose curiosity and desire for truth allows them to go where the facts take them, I offer this.

Fact-deniers love to point to the human eye as proof of intelligent design: such a thing could never have evolved. So here's a discussion about a recent scientific paper on the subject of eye-evolution. It's fascinating, detailed, and complex. It requires a certain level of reading comprehension and is not easy as pie. It also demands the ability to question one's neediness. Which explains why such thought is never part of the creationist discussion, or, when it is, is completely misunderstood. A sampling:

About 600 million years ago, or a little more, there was a population of small wormlike creatures that were the forebears of all modern bilaterian animals. They were small, soft-bodied, and simple, not much more than a jellyfish in structure, and they lived by crawling sluglike over the soft muck of the sea bottom. We have no fossils of them, and no direct picture of their form, but we know a surprising amount about them because we can infer the nature of their genes.

These animals would have been the predecessors of flies and squid, cats and starfish, and what we can do is look at the genes that these diverse modern animals have, and those that are held in common we all inherited together from that distant ancestor. So we know that flies and cats both have hearts that are initiated in early development by the same genes, nkx2.5 and tinman, and infer that our common ancestor had a heart induced by those genes…and that it was only a simple muscular tube. We know that modern animals all have a body plan demarcated by expression of Hox genes, containing muscles expressing myoD, so it's reasonable to deduce that our last common ancestor had a muscular and longitudinally patterned body. And all of us have anterior eyes demarcated by early expression of pax6, as did our ancient many-times-great grandparent worm.


There's another thing we know about these ancient ancestors: they had two kinds of eyes. ciliary and rhabomeric. Your eyes contain ciliary photoreceptors; they have a particular cellular structure, and they use a recognizable form of opsin. A squid has a distinctly different kind of photoreceptor, called rhabdomeric, with a different cell structure and a different form of opsin. We humans also have some rhabdomeric receptors tucked away in our retinas, while invertebrates have ciliary receptors as well, so we know the common ancestor had both.

Now this ancestral population eventually split into two great tribes, the protostomes, which includes squid and flies, and the deuterostomes, which includes cats and starfish. It should be an obvious indication of the general state of that ancestor that it represents all that those four diverse animals have in common. It also tells us that while that ancestor had eyes, they were almost certainly very simple, and could have been nothing more than a patch of light-sensitive cells, or perhaps even single cells, as we see in some larval eyes ....

I find it fascinating and thrilling. Contemplating this amazing process is exhilarating and, yes, spiritually rewarding. What an amazing planet we live on, how singular and powerful the forces at work. It makes our lives all the more valuable, our surroundings all the more wonderful to behold. For a nice diversion from nuclear holocaust and general disintegration of political thought, I recommend taking the time to read it. Just for the hell of it.

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