Saturday, March 26, 2011

We need real wars, fought by real warriors ...

I swear I had not seen Jack Kelly's column today when I wrote my last post yesterday. I had been thinking about that post for a week or so, after hearing about Helene Cooper's article in the NYTimes about the role Rice, Power and Hillary Clinton in persuading Obama to take action in Libya. But it is ironic that some of the facets of this intervention I thought Obama could be praised for are ones that irritate Kelly.

Apparently Kelly wants wars to conducted as serious business, with only the most serious of commitments. I guess he wants to see proper troop deployments, ground forces commanded by American officers marching into Tripoli (as I believe American Marines did a couple of hundred years ago). I have to say I think the subtext of kelly's column is saying that while liberals might have complained about George Bush's unilateral approach in Iraq in 2003, our actions in Libya show the downside to a multilateral approach (or say I think Kelly is saying).

Except that Iraq is not going particularly well, even eight years later. The government is still shaky, and it remains to be seen whether we can ever leave. One thing that might be keeping us there is the possibility Iran might try to move in if we did leave.

Kelly is annoyed that Obama has not stated unambiguously that Qaddafi must be removed. But I point again back to our actions in Iraq. While one could say that the goals for combat operations were pretty clear (capture the country), our over all goals in Iraq suffered from the lies told be the administration, such as about weapons of mass destruction. I think that ultimately Obama will emerge from this Libyan action more popular abroad and at home.

Kelly seems upset that the group contributing to the no fly zone in Libya is made up of volunteer nations. Except that in the real world that is the way things should work, and that generally seems to be both be and have been the case. George Bush did call the allies for his invasion and occupation of Iraq the "coalition of the willing". Of course, after it became clear that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and also had nothing to do with 9/11, our allies became less willing quite quickly. It is possible that this time around, our allies will appreciate that Obama is not stretching the truth the way his predecessor did. Of course, events in Libya will follow their own course, but at least our allies are not likely to complain about how Obama mislead them.

On the other hand, Mark Bittman has a food manifesto in the editorial section well worth reasoning.

Obama and Libya

It is interesting watching the media address Obama's handling of the Libya situation. Obama's stated reason for getting the UN resolution that established the "no fly" zone was to prevent a massacre of Libyan citizens, although Obama has also said quite plainly that he would like to see Qaddafi go. The genesis of the desire to prevent a humanitarian disaster was rooted in the Clinton administration's experience in Rwanda. To which I say, fair enough. I have heard pundits kind of smirk and wonder how many people would be killed if Qaddafi crushed this rebellion. In response, I wonder how many people have to die before we decide we should do something.

The other interesting thing is that (again) pundits are eagerly expressing their doubt that the US can a) turn over leadership of this operation to some other country's general and b) that the US will not have the overwhelmingly largest number of fighters and bombers in the operation, and that the US will not send troops to Libya. It is certainly true that while other countries could send a few fighters and/or soldiers to Libya or anywhere else in the world, probably only the US can send major invasion forces and aircraft anywhere, with an almost certain guarantee of being able to win any fight. But we are also the only country who could provide the logistical support for a UN operation made up of troops and/or aircraft from other countries. In other words, when our pundits (and Republicans) ask why the US always has to be the country providing 99% of the troops, this could be our chance to show we don't.

The story in the NYTimes was that Susan Rice and Samantha Power (who has written on genocide) first convinced Hillary Clinton and then the three of them convinced President Obama to work toward the UN resolution and subsequent "no fly" zone and bombing. Rice and Secretary Clinton were both fairly close to the Rwanda situation, which likely left a bad taste in their mouths. This was a chance to rework the limited interventions tried during the Clinton years, to find a formula that produces results without getting Americans killed.

Personally I find myself persuaded by the notion of America as the refueling tanker provider, making it possible for French and English fighters and bombers to operate over Libya. Will this limited intervention succeed in toppling Qaddafi, and if so, will we like his replacements? Those are more complicated questions, but I don't think acceptable answers would be more likely if we committed more American soldiers and/or pilots (see Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

signs of wind ....

Last Friday I wandered over to the Waterworks, had a salad at the the Giant Eagle salad bar (which I suspect is the cause of the stomach flu I had Saturday) and noticed something new (to me) at the (relatively) new Eat N Park at the Waterworks: a wind turbine. The thing was spinning up a storm while I sat eating and watching it. It is one of those vertical turbines that is much safer for bats and birds (I believe). This is the sort of thing that could be installed on houses, apartment buildings and commercial building with relative ease. However the debate is now about whether to have nuclear power (which I suspect will involve corporate subsidies), not whether to help people install wind turbines.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kelly today: bland yet also silly

I have to say that Jack Kelly's column today is actually relatively reasonable. He basically says that for Democrats to successfully recall three Republican state senators, much less the eight they are hoping for, will be very difficult. Apparently it is pretty rare when more than one legislator has been recalled in the US. Fair enough.

Kelly also tells us that (self described) conservatives outnumber (self described) liberals in Wisconsin. As far as I can see that is essentially true. But what Kelly doesn't mention is that (self described) moderates and what ever other category out number both liberals and conservatives. So obviously in a recall it will matter most what the moderates do. Kelly thinks that the passions of February will have faded by June, and he may be right. A good ad campaign from the unions might make the difference, but that is hoping that political operatives in Wisconsin will luck into an Obama effect that Democrats were unable to create last November.

Of course, at the end of his column, Kelly himself over reaches, suggesting that Wisconsin's vote signals the coming end of public sector unions, and perhaps the end of the Democratic party and liberalism as a whole. I suspect Republicans/conservatives will be more careful than that, although the loose cannon Tea Party might try to push things.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Only the "right" opinions ...

Today Jack Kelly is upset that NPR and PBS still exist. I suspect that he and other conservatives have long held this desire, but the latest impetus is James O'Keefe's lstest (edited) "sting" operation. We are shocked to find that when NPR fund raising executives think they are in private, they have opinions!!! In this case, the objectionable opinions are about the Tea Party and Republican voters.

Kelly once again betrays what I think can only be seen as Tea Party influenced view of the world with this statement: "NPR listeners and CPB viewers are mostly upper-middle-class people who can afford to pay for their mass media of choice." Once again rich liberals are stealing the public's money to get the elitist entertainment fix. What should we think about Republicans/conservatives demanding tax cuts (almost always and almost totally) for wealthy business owners, which I (in a Jack Kelly fashion) will suggest are mostly Republicans/conservatives. What should we think about Republicans/conservatives demanding cuts in funding for the poor in heating assistance, education and other areas, and forcing public employees such as teachers to take pay cuts and taking away their right to collective bargaining? What should we think about Republicans/conservatives demanding that oil companies continue to receive billions in subsidies, even while the price of gas goes through the roof? Apparently Republicans/conservatives don't believe in shared sacrifice.

Kelly wants us to believe that a) NPR employees are diehard liberals (not to say communists) and b) that NPR employees let their private opinions influence their public reporting. Now, I think it is reasonable to say that an organization that is funded even partially by the government should not have a political agenda, but I would say that NPR and PBS meet that criteria. I will say that NPR and PBS do run stories about the poor and disenfranchised sometimes. Do those stories, in and of themselves, indicate a political agenda? I would say not, and I will say that private sector news outlets are unlikely to run such stories, for fear of upsetting advertisers and/or corporate owners. Now I won't say that the Wall Street Journal (particularly editorial board), National Review and Fox News are the same as a partially funded government operation, but I will point out that at least Fox News claims to be "Fair and Balanced". Glenn Beck? Bill O'Reilly? Oh, they're "entertainment". Maybe you can't make an equivalency here, but I have to say O'Keefe seems to indicate that when the tables are reversed (so to speak), Republicans/conservatives have no trouble connecting dots. Given politicians like Michele Bachmann and Peter King, I can see why Republicans/conservatives would want to eliminate even unbiased reporting like the sort that I believe NPR/PBS provides.

One final thought, Kelly slips in at the end of his column a shot at Obama in complaining that the deficit in 2007 was much smaller than our current deficits. I would point out that Republicans/conservatives also were in charge of regulating financial companies, which I think they failed spectacularly at. Obama's first fiscal year had the stimulus (which was a third tax cuts, although for the wrong (poor) people). Trying to fix the mess the Republicans/conservatives caused has made the economy worse. That Republicans/conservatives have shown a huge lack of patriotism and accused Obama of being a Kenyan, a Muslim and a communist, encouraging American business not to hire employees and/or outsourcing jobs. Of course, Kelly doesn't even care about jobs (like a typical Tea Partier/Republican/conservative).

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Observations ... gas prices ...

To get out of the Jack Kelly rut I am in, I thought I would look at some other issues that Instead of responding to someone else's writing, I want to comment on the world around (mostly).

So last time I looked, the Shell station on the corner was at $3.55 per gallon for regular. It has gone up, what, twenty cents or more in the last week or so. Since Libya had only a small percentage of the world oil market (although it apparently may have huge reserves), it seem unlikely that actual supply shortages account for the rise in Like 2008, speculation seems to be the cause of this increase.

I have long advocated European levels of taxation on gas. I believe that a system could have been set up to transfer maybe five or six hundred dollars back (from the gas tax revenues) to people whose income is below the US median (or some other number designed to keep from punishing the poor) as part of a tax refund. Thus, the higher price at the pump would have made people think twice about unnecessary driving, but the poor would not have suffered. However, if the price continues to rise on its own, we may soon reach European gas prices without having their taxes.

When I had suggested taxes at European levels, some conservatives have suggested they would be delighted to see that, hoping it would undo Obama and other Democrats in 2012. Now we say those prices, but we can be sure that the Republicans will blame Obama anyway.

One thing I find interesting is that US car companies had decided to start offering more fuel efficient cars about when Obama was elected. I guess they thought that Obama and the new Democratic majority would mandate stringent new fuel standards. In fact, most car companies have models sold in Europe which get better still mileage, which might be offered in the US as a last resort (although it does not look like this will happen). But I am fascinated by the new Ford Fiesta and the Chevy Cruze Eco, not to mention the Fusion hybrid (and of course the foreigners like the new Honda Insight). The non hybrids that eke out high mileage on the highway don't do nearly so well in the city, where many of us do a lot of our driving. I will say that obviously the people who live in the ex-urbs do quite a lot of highway driving, but except for the few who choose hybrids, I can't see ex-urb dwellers driving Cruzes or Fiestas. They are more SUV types.

Meanwhile, the cheap Cruze and fiesta may well be the choice for less wealthy urban residents, which is unfortunate, since they will get less than optimal mileage. By contrast, the relatively cheap Honda Insight would be a great choice for a city car, since it gets almost as good of mileage in the city as it gets on the highway. Pity the American hybrid sedans, the Volt and the Fusion, while getting good mileage, are expensive and big.

There is alternatives to car travel worth considering. We don't and won't have high speed for some time to come, and even if we do get, it will be designed like airports, with stations far from neighborhoods. But for day to day travel, if we choose to live in the city, where apartments are much more energy efficient. Often, we can walk to stores or work (I am that lucky). Or we can take public transportation (light rail or more often buses), or ride a bike. On that score there are some interesting alternatives. I like electric bikes mostly because there is a good chance you can arrive at your destination less sweaty. Bikes with lithium batteries have come down in price in the last three or four years (the time frame I have been looking at them). The lithium batteries are lighter (which is nice but not that important), hold a bigger charge and thus have a longer range, and do not need to be recharged immediately after use. This last point makes the bike more than just a commuter (to be recharged at work, and then immediately after returning home). Instead, the bike can also be used to visit friends or for light shopping trips. That's why I really like any bike I buy to have a rear rack, that you hang various types of panniers from. Walmart offers three models of bikes from Currie Technologies that would meet the needs of commuters as well as those who might stop at a store or a friends some time. I believe the two higher levels of models at Walmart are last year's models, and will not last forever. Meanwhile, Currie has a new model: the Skyline for eight hundred. I hope it has provisions for a rear rack. This is the cheapest price for an electric bike with a lithium battery I have seen from a manufacturer.

Well, those were my thoughts.

Kelly pushes stereotypes

All Presidents are interesting, I guess. I mean, when things happen, the President reacts or doesn't, and sometimes (perhaps often) the actions of the President (whether reactive or proactive) can have dramatic effects across the country. I think no other single job title consistently has this effect.

That said, I have to say that Jack Kelly's column today is somewhat appropriate, in examining aspects of President Obama's character, specifically his seeming willingness to accommodate republican ideas when considering policy. Of course Obama is a first in at least one respect as President, so I think it is safe to say that his actions would get a special scrutiny. Certainly I remember Pittsburghers were posting to blogs claiming Obama was going to create a secret police force and round up Republicans, and/or claiming that Obama is a socialist and/or a Muslim. Now, I still maintain my private theory that some of the actions Obama takes, he does with at least partially the intention of defying the assumptions made by those Pittsburghers and around half of the rest of the country. But while you might expect he would get praise for, say, the amount of tax cuts he put into the stimulus bill, instead that component of the stimulus is ignored by Republicans/conservatives, and Obama is blamed because the stimulus did not have that big an effect (as also predicted by liberal economists like Paul Krugman). Essentially the accommodations that Obama makes for Republicans (often before a policy is formally proposed) have been reinterpreted, with conservatives crowing that Obama is disappointing his supporters, or weak, or something.

Jack Kelly spends his whole column on that today. In doing so, he pushes some stereotypes that quite frankly I find offensive. Don't get me wrong, some of what he says about Obama I agree with, but some seems to be right out of the Palin/Tea Party playbook. His third paragraph starts with a grammatically bizarre sentence and then has a huge stereotype that is obviously false: "The desire among whites to rid themselves of racial guilt crossed party and ideological lines, but was felt most strongly by white liberals. White liberals could relate to Barack Obama because -- as a product of elite private schools and Ivy League colleges -- he was much like them." Ok, first, does no one edit Kelly's work? Is this writing something the Post Gazette would want to represent them to the country? And second, to be a white liberal, you have to be the product of an "elite" private school and an Ivy League college? Sorry, Bill Peduto, Pat Dowd, or anyone who didn't go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth or Cornell, you can't call yourself a liberal. This sort of bigotry based on education is straight out of the Tea Party's own version of a Declaration of Independence, which stated among other things, (from possibly faulty memory) that they would not be controlled by the educated elites. It reminds of nothing so much as Richard Nixon's railing against the "East Coast intellectual elite".

I won't spend much more (of your) time on this, except to note a few more whoppers. Near the end, Kelly starts to summarize Obama's misdeed, noting that he reneged on a promise to close Guantanamo (true) and on a promise not to raise taxed on the middle class (hunh?). What tax? Without listing a specific, and without noting the taxes lowered for everyone in the stimulus, this sounds like a made up attack, again straight out of the Palin/Bachman/Tea Party playbook.

Then in the next two sentences Kelly gives what is maybe the biggest whopper of them all: "He has even reneged on his implicit promise to be a racial healer. His administration has been the most racially polarizing since Woodrow Wilson's." I won't even dignify that with a comment.

Kelly finishes talking about how the media deceived us about Obama's brilliance (according to Kelly), finishing with "It's time now for them to show us the little man behind the curtain.". Totally silly, and demanding the media explain Obama to his satisfaction is just insulting to Kelly's readers.