Sunday, June 27, 2010

Back just to rag on Kelly

We all thought that the spill in Gulf is so big we would be talking about it for the next three months or more. But it turns out that even blaming Obama for not fixing the spill can get a little old. I guess maybe we are relieved to find out we are messing up in Afghanistan, giving a whole new way to blame Obama. Hence Jack Kelly's latest column "The Problem is Obama". Actually, the title seems like a cheap shot, although the body of the column is relatively balanced. Kelly takes a cheap shot or too about Obama's ego and how Obama is not Lincoln or Roosevelt, although I have to say that Obama did not say, as a candidate, that he wanted to be a wartime President. I will also say that anyone who gets elected President would not be human if they did not have a fairly large ego.

Yes, what's done is done, but I think it is still somewhat fair to say that the other party had eight years to do something, and did not. George W Bush not only did not get Osama bin Laden (remember him?), but chose to invade Iraq after having invaded in Afghanistan in 2003 (by the way, I am still not hearing bin Laden's name in the media). The Soviets were not able to "pacify" the Afghans in the 80's, when they were able to concentrate on it exclusively. Personally I think the Soviets had problems in how they expected the Afghans to become good Communists. However, we have had problems in the past trying to make the Vietnamese into a good democrats and republicans. Now we may be having the same problem in Afghanistan. Maybe we get the United Nations to give Afghanistan a special status, and have the local regions be give a large scale local autonomy and sovereignty. Honestly, I don't know, except to say I am loath to lay blame entirely on Obama. But you would hope that this smart guy will do better with this in the future.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Is our children learning?

With Jack Kelly, you always have to wonder what hidden Republican agenda he is shilling for (and personally I wonder if he understands what he is saying). Today he is saying public workers need to take a pay cut, at least somewhat carefully, I note. He never mentions police, firefighters and paramedics by title, he really only looks at teachers. One of the few quotes he references states “"We are paying much, much more money to deliver government services that (with few exceptions) are not performing any better””. I assume the “few exceptions” are the people you call when you are most frightened.

But the hidden part of the agenda Jack is advancing is revealed a few paragraphs later: “Students in charter, private and parochial schools outperform public school students by most measures, despite spending much less per pupil. (Public schools do have to educate more high-cost, special-needs children, though.)”. I need to say that charter, private and parochial schools almost always do not have teachers unions. So even though the comment in parenthesis is an act of charity, the intent of the paragraph becomes clear. If we can’t eliminate the AFT and AFSCME, then let’s start outsourcing the government functions. Period.

After that snow fall in February, I am not going to say that government is doing an absolutely great job. Of course, maybe its not the government workers that need to be replaced (seemingly we don’t want a real Mayor). But the thing that really grabbed me when I read Kelly’s column was that we were at this place in 2001. The same sort of testing results that Kelly references in his column were brought up then, about eight and half years ago. The result was “No Child Left Behind”. The thing is, Bush had all those years to fix local education, and in fact some boards of education in inner cities and rural areas were squeezed, as well as some teacher’s unions. Some schools were closed, people were told to do more with no more money. And yet, Kelly is now raising the same sorts of testing results, now we are telling teachers to do more with less. If Bush and the Republicans, having control of both houses of Congress, couldn't fix the problem, what could be done now with even less money? I think that Kelly’s paragraph I quoted above tells the whole story. In a Kelly fantasy future, after outsourcing education of cities and rural areas to private concerns, education testing results will not improve because of those durn special needs kids (not saying anything about the wealth of the families in those areas). We are still not looking at real solutions to our education problems, at least not in Jack Kelly columns...

On another note, do all the guys named Tony in England have brown wavy hair? Tony Hayward, Tony Blair … they even kind of look alike.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hungry? (tastes like chicken)

I have something of a strained relationship with food right now (I don’t even want to get into my relationship with exercise). I like to eat, and these days it is showing. That is something I have dealt with in the past, and I am hoping to deal with it now too. But that’s only a tip of an iceberg. It turns out that we all have a problem with food, almost all of us have a problem with cars and energy usage and an ever increasing number of us have a problem with the internet/electronic media. All those problems have a common origin, too. It is technology, or really, science. Behind that, there is the excess many of us are prone to.

Our mutual problem with food has to do with what is presented to us. For a long time a big worry was getting enough calories to eat. Of course, that was largely pre-twentieth century for a great majority of Americans. There is still, certainly, hunger in America, but now there is also an obesity epidemic. Right here I will pause and say you should watch the documentary “Food, Inc”. A great deal of what I am saying is based on that, and the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan (who also appears in Food, Inc). You may be aware that a great deal of our beef comes from factory farms (really, all of it unless you try very hard). You may be aware that cattle on factory farms are fed corn these days, a food they are not evolutionarily set up to digest (they can digest grass), so they are given antibiotics to prevent infections. That is part of the problem, by the way, with super bugs that resist ordinary antibiotics. You may be aware that corn is grown now, along with soybeans, year after year with large subsidies on giant farms to the exclusion of other crops, and with large dosages of petroleum based fertilizer. I could go on, but at some point the question should arise, why would you buy a pound of hamburger at the Iggle, or eat a McDonald’s hamburger?

The answer, of course, is because they taste good. Corporations have gotten good at making food taste good, with fat and salt and high fructose corn syrup. They’ve gotten good at marketing it, they gotten good at making the unhealthy things the easiest to put on the table, or even just eat on the go. Corporations have learned to turn on our taste receptors, so we want to keep eating.

And yes, there is self discipline involved, but man, it has gotten hard to resist. As Shakespeare should have said, “Eaten not wisely but too well”. This is my personal trial, but also our political trial. The USDA is complicit in this problem, as is Congress. We need to say or do something.

There was an article (which I still have not taken the time to read) last weekend or the weekend before in the NYTimes about how all this information we are taking in is zapping our attention spans. There is also the problem of America’s love affair with cars, and our apparent belief that is we can travel at 70 or 80 miles per hour on the highway to from place to place, one of our fundamental rights is being violated and we are living in a fascist state. Plus we need to drive there in a virtual tank. Many of us also like to live in bigger and bigger houses, with more and more toys. We like larger and larger multi-story foyers with huge chandeliers with a dozen or more light bulbs incredibly hard to heat) in McManisons with a dozen or more bedrooms. We basically entered a new phase of excess during the Bush administration, and are still sitting there. Not that we weren’t (like all humans) an excessive people before, we’ve just kicked it up a notch.

A fair amount of this is driven by technology and science. The corporations develop new crops and find new ways to do things with corn through research, cars and SUV’s have gotten faster without sacrificing fuel efficiency through technology, and technology of course drive the internet.

Technology and science may help save us. Solar and wind power, biofuels and hybrid technology, they will advance as the technology is advanced. But that technology is not the most popular with people who have money. And the technology that would help us with our food issues is either low tech or perhaps even retro (read the Omnivore’s Dilemma). What we need is a dose of uncommon sense, for people to pay attention and realize what is happening around them. They need to pay attention to excess. Not just in politics but in society (which, at the end of the day, is actually political too). This is why I keep thinking about being vegetarian.

I would eat meat if it had been fed what it is evolutionarily predisposed to eat. I am afraid I am an omnivore, I don’t accept the animal rights thing, although I would not want to allow an animal to be caused unnecessary pain any more than I would want to allow a person to be tortured. But grass fed beef, free range-ish chicken, wild caught fish, etc, all are probably healthy in moderation and fine with me to eat. Of course, you have only the packager’s word on what your food ate, even if you go to a farm. But that is true when your doctor tells you something, or your mechanic tells you what they fixed. We’re used to that by now.

On the other hand, the East End Food Coop has frozen goat meat for sale, from an organic farm. Goat? Seriously? Goat? I would have no idea what to do with it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Criticism of Obama from the left

I have been trying to say, in comments on other blogs and in general, that legitimate criticism of Obama is perfectly reasonable and in fact important. Glenn Greenwald at Salon seems like the answer to my statement (I should H/T Spork in the Drawer, although I have been reading Salon for a while). He has been issuing damning critiques of Obama for continuing Bush era policies and refusing to address the past Bush misdeeds and on Monday (June 7th) of the press for going to a Biden "Beach Party" (complete with Super Soaker squirt guns). It's very tough to defend Obama against Greenwald's attacks. I mean, although neither Obama nor anyone else has ever said it, I believe Obama is charting a moderate (or dare I say conservative) approach towards governing precisely because as the first African American President he doesn't think he can do anything too extreme. Maybe so, but by now everyone else is crying out for Obama to try to do more.

We have the two examples of Democratic Presidents in the last forty years to look at, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Carter ended up not well respected even while in office, in part because his administration (and the Fed) was unable to adequately address the economic problems of the time. Clinton lost his majority in Congress through an unsuccessful bid at health care reform, and there after followed center right policies.

So far Obama seems to be combining the worst of these two examples. I have read press accounts that now say the stimulus was too small (and relied too much on tax cuts), and I say the health care reform Obama did manage to pass is essentially the least that could be done that might still have an impact. Obama has deferred to both Wall Street and BP in terms of actual operations, which would be reasonable except that Obama seems to want to say he is in charge. Meanwhile, conservatives can still claim Obama's agenda is radical, that he has wrecked America's health care and the economy and is in bed with/trying to nationalize our nations corporations, and the Press only halfheartedly protests (Jon Stewart does, but only for laughs).

But Greenwald's criticisms of Obama are something else, biting but largely unanswered by the administration. The thing is, hard core Obama supporters will read them and wonder why these things are happening. Which could spell trouble in two years.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Kelly's failure of logic

Just so we understand, Jack Kelly wants to make something of the job offer by the White House made to Joe Sestak. I suspect Kelly will bring this up again later, during the campaign, when Kelly is shilling for Toomey. But Kelly's logic is at best confusing, at worst deliberately misleading. He wants to say that Sestak did not intend or want for this job offer to get out in Februrary. Kelly also suggests that Sestak realized he had made a gaffe, and shut up about it until after the primary was over. Finally Kelly suggests that the White House joined Sestak in a cover up. Kelly's contention is that when Sestak spoke in February he was talking about a real position like Secretary of the Navy.

Maybe that's so, but logic doesn't really support that idea. Sestak was not considered likely to win back in February, not to say whenever the job offer might have been made. What I have read is that the White House did want to reward Arlen Specter for having first voting with Democrats and then switching to the Democratic party. But they also wanted Sestak to stay in the House, where he was helping out the democrats there. So they wanted to offer him a prestigious position that would allow him to stay in the House, but something that might allow him to run for a higher office in the future (maybe in six years if Arlen finally decided he was tired of it).

Now as I said, Kelly wants to say that Sestak was talking about a real paying job in February, not an unpaid (but theoretically politically valuable) position. The White House denied that it was a paid job in February (as I understand it), but Kelly says why not reveal that it was, if it was, in February, to help Specter? I don't know, I give up, why not? Perhaps because Sestak and the White House are telling the truth, or perhaps because Sestak was right in February but decided (along with the White House) not to get involved in a felony investigation or at least in having Republicans call for such an investigation.

As I said, I fully expect Kelly to bring this up again. The thing is, unless, first there is something to what Kelly thinks (that someone is lying about something) and second, that someone will come forward and tell all, then all Kelly will be doing is speculating (blowing hot air). Which is no surprise.

Along a different line, Meet the Press was preempted this morning by tennis or golf (I was up too late to see if it been on earlier, and didn't look at MSNBC or where ever to find it elsewhere), so I watch ABC's Sunday show ("This Week"). The round table discussion included Liz Cheney, who lived up to her patrimony (so to speak). Among the outrageous things I recall her saying was to state that the Obama administration had signed off on the BP drilling rig, and therefore owns the disaster. She and George Will whined loudly (in an embarrassing display) about Bush and Cheney (the father) being blamed once again when it wasn't their fault. Cheney also accused Obama of saying there is a moral equivalency between the Holocaust and what has happened to the Palestinians. Now, I don't know exactly what Obama has said, but I think it might be prudent to consider that the Arabs who surround Israel are a lot more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to the Jews. Cheney apparently wants the Arabs to see her point of view, which in the real world means she wants Israel to stay in a permanent state of war. This would be disastrous for the United States, which will need Arabian oil for some time to come (even while the American public will want to see Israel continue to exist). Apparently Poltifact is fact checking at least some of what is said on "This Week", so maybe we will get some of the real story (maybe).