Friday, July 20, 2012

The Aurora shooting

The shooting at the Batman Dark Knight Rising is absolutely terrible, and of course I am as horrified as everybody else (I would hope that would be the word everybody would use).

I gather the shooter's name is James Holmes, and he was a PhD student in neuroscience. I also gather some enterprising journalists have made internet connections and made (mistaken) declarations about how Holmes is a radical or a conservative. Others have decried this as jumping the ... (ahem) ... gun. And they would be right, in my opinion.

I expect there will be some interesting pathology here. I mean, a PhD candidate, there is something weird going on here. Might be political, although it could just as easily be an apolitical pathology.

But I think there is one early comment of a political nature that could be made. If Mr Holmes had only had a lever action rifle (think the Winchester rifles you see in westerns) and revolver pistols, the death toll might have been lower. But the NRA has to allow Americans to buy files that fire 30 shots - one pull of the trigger for each shot, and for that matter pistols that can shoot perhaps seventeen shots, again one shot per pull of the trigger, and reloaded in no more than a couple of seconds. I think we have to admit that one of the arguments underpinning the NRA's defense of having these highly lethal weapons available to the public is that somehow we are supposed to be able to overthrow the government. We are supposed to kill the cops and soldiers who I thought we called heroes, in particular for doing things most of us only watch on TV and in the movies.

What's somewhat alarming is that there are apparently (at least possibly) members of the Tea Party who believe that such actions are necessary, at least as long as Obama is in office. If Obama is re-elected, I suspect some of these people might turn violent. And thanks to the NRA, they will be so much more lethal. Like James Holmes was. Just targeting the police.


What would have happened if, in July of 2008, Michelle Obama had said, about Barack Obama's birth certificate that "We've given all you people need to know"? The incredible outcry that would have followed ...

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The Daily Show just had a snippet from some morning show where Ann Romney said "We've given you people all you need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our lives" apparently about the tax returns.


"you people"?

"all you need to know"?

I think Ann Romney has just given us all we need to know about the Romney's attitude towards us, the little people.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

once again, tilting at windmills ... er publicly financed elections

If you look back to close to when I started writing this blog (January 10, 2007), you will see the enthusiasm I felt for the city council campaign of Pat Dowd. A secondary school history teacher with a PhD, he said (what I thought) were all the right things. Somewhere along the way I remember expressing caveats (what I think of as usual caveats) of the sort that all politicians break your heart at some point. I should mention Barack Obama as practically the perfect example of this.

Pat Dowd of course is now on city council, has taken some strange positions but surely is no worse than the rest of city council and probably better than many. My point in referencing him is to point out the risk of choosing to support a candidate or a specific cause, particularly a candidate. Reading Glenn Greenwald on Salon dot com is enough to convince one Obama should be impeached, but I am still convinced that the Republicans are a worse alternative for the nation as a whole, that they would do nothing for the unemployed and in fact make things worse. But make no mistake, President Obama has had American citizens killed without due process, and (for me, perhaps more serious) had civilians killed in the Middle East; there is no reason to think he won't do more of that unless stopped. Plus Obama has not shown a strong enough willingness to oppose Republicans in Congress. Maybe doing so would not accomplish any more than what has been accomplished and achieving a symbolic victory would not put one more person to work.

So supporting Pat Dowd was not an unambiguous good (no surprise) and supporting Barack Obama is only just barely justifiable. But I still think supporting Len Bodack (who? look it up) and/or Mitt Romney would have been at least slightly worse, barring unforeseen yada yada.

What about supporting specific causes or legislation. Not quite as risky, since legislation can't change its mind once it passed, but the "law of unintended consequences" (not a real law) often rears its head. Student loans and tax credits have probably contributed heavily to the huge rise in higher education tuition, for example. A (larger) Keynesian sort of stimulus could jump start the economy and revitalize our infrastructure, but there is always the danger that the huge bump in debt might take a long time to grow our way out of, placing a huge burden on grand kids.

It is in this spirit that I refer you to this article from Drew Westen. Westen is the author of the Politcal Brain which I found compelling, despite its partisan leanings (OK, I have those same leanings, but I hope I redeem myself somewhat by mentioning those leanings). The New York Times article is an interesting proposal for publicly financed elections.

It is hard to see how we could get to publicly financed elections. But what is our alternative? Our politicians have become specialists in raising money, specifically from the wealthy. Even more important than the (diminishing) differences between the parties is the influence of the ultra rich.

We already have a system for publicly funded Presidential elections. The problem is that it is optional if the candidates can raise more. D'oh!

Check out the article, see what you think.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jack Kelly today on Afghanistan

There are three points worth talking about in Jack Kelly's column today. Today's column is a rejection of the concept of nation building, with the usual complaints about Obama and his policies along the way.

The first point to mention is that while Kelly does not say it explicitly, he implies that Afghan soldiers are attacking US and/or NATO soldiers because they hate Obama. Kelly says ""Green on blue" attacks were virtually unheard of before October 2009. During the entire war in Iraq, there were only three such incidents." "Virtually" strikes me as possibly a weasel word, and Iraq had a whole insurgency against US soldiers.

What's interesting is that one could make a case that Obama's reliance on drone attacks might be affecting the views of Afghan soldiers. Attacks using drones on civilians to get to (suspected) terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and probably others gets back to people across the Middle East. But Jack Kelly doesn't mention drones. Could it be that the Tea Party (and thus Jack Kelly) approves of the use drones, even if civilians get killed?

The second point I think worth talking about is Kelly's general indictment of nation building. The obvious question is, if you bomb the heck out of a country when you invade them and you want them to be a democracy when you are done, what's the alternative? Kelly calls it expensive. But isn't it more expensive to fail in nation building.

By the way, it should be pointed out that the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Japan was nation building. I think if you say that nation building in Europe and Japan was a failure, you better have a pretty strong, unshakeable argument. Still, I would not surprised if Tea Party mouthpiece Jack Kelly made that suggestion.

The third point I want to look at is Kelly's final point that Ronald Reagan had aided the mujahideen "freedom fighters" without engaging in nation building in Afghanistan. To suggest a comparison to our current situation is ludicrous and basically insulting. It was the Soviets who were the invaders in the 1980's, and until they left, the US could not engage in nation building in Afghanistan. And by the way, who was more responsible for aid to the mujahideen, Ronald Reagan or Congress who controls the purse strings? This is the question raised by "Charlie Wilson's War". Interestingly, the movie also suggests Wilson wanted to engage in nation building in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. But although Wilson had secured perhaps 500 million for the Afghan resistance plus 500 million more from the Saudi's, according to the movie he couldn't get a few millions or even hundreds of thousands for roads, schools and hospitals later.

The final thing to say is that whether you blame Ronald Reagan or Charlie Wilson for our not helping the Afghans out after the Soviets left, there is a direct link from the victorious mujahideen to the Taliban, and from the Taliban/mujahideen to al Qada and 9/11. How expensive is nation building?

Romney and Bain ...

I am not sure I am supposed to do this, but I want to comment on a post on Two Political Junkies. The post is about the recent discovery that Mitt Romney was listed as Bain Capital's CEO and drew a paycheck for some years (perhaps four) after he said he left to run the Olympics.

Actually, part if the 2PJ post was about how Fox News did not cover the SEC statements, rather they were talking about how the campaigns sparred.

The Obama Campaign (in the person of Stephanie Cutler) promptly declared that Romney had lied, and possibly committed a felony. Unfortunately, no less an organization than Factcheck dot org disputes the Obama campaign charge.

Factcheck does not say that Romney was not in fact the titular (heh heh) head of Bain, nor do they say that Romney did not get a paycheck. However, Factcheck states this is not fraud, let alone a felony. I tend to believe them, which means the Obama campaign erred in trying to go for the simplistic charge.

Meanwhile, it may be true that Romney committed no felony in remaining the (non-functional) CEO of Bain, or even has any responsibility for Bain's activities after he left to run the Olympics. However, I am not sure that is the end of it.

OK, Romney broke no laws. While a case can be made that Romney was less than truthful with all of us about the entirety his relationship with Bain, it may will be that one has to say that Romney was not making the decisions that led to outsourcing or driving companies into bankruptcy and depriving workers of their retirements.

But here's the thing: the case Romney and the Republicans are making is that Obama has not done enough for unemployment. Anybody else would be better as long as they are willing to work harder than Obama on unemployment.

But what it turns out that Romney's commitment to fighting unemployment is not that strong? How would we know? Well, suppose Romney was not working at Rain anymore, but because he was still technically the CEO, he could step in and prevent Bain from outsourcing American jobs. How strong can we say Romney's commitment is to American jobs, if he didn't raise a finger to save jobs Bain was eliminating, when Romney still had the ability to?

Admittedly, that is a more complicated argument to make than "Romney committed a felony". But it is maybe more important. Romney wants to criticize Obama on jobs, yet Romney had the ability to save jobs Bain was killing during the time romney was running the Olympics, and he didn't. How hard will work for ordinary Americans as President?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Kelly goes round the bend

In today’s column, Jack Kelly has finally declared his vision of what the world (really just America) actually looks like. If you ask me, Kelly modeled it after what liberals (and to a small extent Democrats) accused George W Bush of, Emperor Dubya the first who supposedly wanted a permanent Republican majority, and (in the weird nightmares of some liberals) to stay in power indefinitely. Actually Dubya ended up kind of like Slick Willie (hey, we should be non-partisan in our insulting nicknames, yeah?), his term ended with a reversal that was more a whimper than a bang. His somewhat hysterical descriptions aside, Barack Obama’s term as Presidency will end either later this year or in four years, and if history is any guide, likely a Republican will take over the White House (if it is in four years it probably won’t be Mitt Romney). And our giant cultural juggernaut with be pushed along by inertia in a continuingly negative direction of income inequality and diminished benefits for the poor and elderly, whether or when our economy recovers.

But to the matter at hand, Jack Kelly’s dog whistle column today. More like a dog foghorn. Before I even address the insanity therin, I want to reference this unrelated column from last someone else, last September. This column is another dog whistle, essentially saying that no attempt should be made to register the poor, since all they do is vote in politicians who get them more benefits. If you buy that, you will buy all of today’s Jack Kelly column.

The thing is, the world is not that black and white. Barack Obama has done some things that appear to be designed to perhaps appeal to or at least assuage the concerns of independents (assuming true conservatives are essentially a lost cause). Some pundits would put the too small stimulus in that category (although part of that is also the fault of Congress), and perhaps the increased program of arrests of medical marijuana shops in California and the war on whistleblowers. Or perhaps there is something more going on with Obama, where he is actually more extreme than even Bush was, on marijuana, whistleblowers and the assassinations Jack Kelly mentions.

Which brings me back to the world not being black and white. There are reasons like the ones listed above to criticize Barack Obama, and more. Obama’s and Obama’s administration‘s connections to Wall Street, and the fact that Wall Street has not suffered much since the meltdown and in fact has prospered (those who merged, and probably even those who were merged) is a great concern. The use of drones to kill terrorists that ends up killing civilians (who if they are male adults are promptly dubbed also terrorists, and if women or children, they simply aren’t acknowledged) is another great concern.

But as I have said there is only one of the concerns I listed that Jack Kelly also lists as a concern. The assassinations are serious, but Kelly’s and apparently all Republicans don’t seem to care about Wall Street, drones, whistle blowers or medical marijuana. Instead Jack Kelly trots out a bunch of in this early paragraph: “King Barack I treats the public treasury as his piggy bank, enforces only the laws he likes and asserts the power, without oversight from Congress or the courts, to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. His attorney general dodges lawful subpoenas while protecting and promoting vote fraud.”

Kelly claims both the judiciary and the press (except presumably for News Corp and he rest of the right wing noise machine) are in the bag for Democrats. I guess its fortunate that an election is coming up, but I fear what might happen if Obama is re-elected. Jack Kelly might call for the assassination of Barack Obama.

Meanwhile the Republicans are going after different issues than the ones I listed. Some of then, such as debt, are real issues. I personally think the debt is something that we can’t afford to deal with until after we reverse the recession. I think Bill Clinton showed extraordinary wisdom when he suggested that the deficit/debt should be addressed when thinks are good, not in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression. But then the rest of their issues, that the Obama administration is spending money on unemployment, food stamps and Medicaid because of the massive up-tick in unemployment. And universal health care has not destroyed the governments of all other industrial democracies, or are Republicans saying that Greece, Ireland, China and Russia are dictatorships (well, China and Russia … never mind)? And this business of not obeying the laws of Congress, well, Bush’s attitude toward FISA and signing statements make that issue a lot more complex (except the Republicans I have talked to refuse to acknowledge Bush’s actions).

Are Republican and independents getting good information from their leaders and the right wing noise machine? Admittedly on the other side I wouldn’t know some things if I hadn’t stumbled on to Glenn Greenwald, but there is Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job” and apparently Ezera Klein is not too bad. But a lot of the media is obsessed with being fair and finding two equal sides for every story, and there is a smaller group that does actually worship Obama (much like conservatives accuse). So the left doesn’t always have the best sources either, but at least they are there for people to find. As far as I know the right has no equivalent, only people like Bill O’Reilly, the late Andrew Breitbart, Matthew Vadum and Jack Kelly.

That’s the state of political debate today, and Jack Kelly’s contribution.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Jack Kelly Foreign Policy, and other fantasies ...

The first thing to say about today's Jack Kelly column “Dangerous naivete: Obama's policies allow radicals to rise in the Middle East” is that he wants you to change your view of Barack Obama depending what type of politics we are talking about. The Barack Obama who is masterminding the voter fraud to steal is an evil genius, while today's Barack Obama is a naive moron stupidly encouraging our enemies. Kelly starts with this "Since 2009, the percentages of Middle Easterners who have a favorable opinion of America, and of President Obama, have declined by 40 percent and 37 percent, respectively, according to Pew's annual poll." (Pew has an annual poll of Middle Easterners?). Kelly goes on to say that the "Arab Spring" has produced new breeding grounds for terrorists.

Personally I think that Middle Easterners see an America that in many ways is the same as America was under George Bush. We are killing civilians and we are still supporting the puppet governments of Iraq and Afghanistan that we cobbled together after we allowed better alternatives to be literally killed off. They don't like us because they see what we doing. Obama has turned out not only to not reach out to the Middle East, he is making thing worse. Of course they’re ticked off.

But Jack Kelly sees Barack Obama as a wide eyed innocent, blundering through the world thinking everyone who says they are our friend are actually our friends. Kelly sort of conveniently forgets the assassination program he mentioned Friday in an online column.

The thing is, Kelly’s world view apparently includes the idea that we can control the governments of other countries. Kelly talks about Carter’s naiveté concerning Khomeini and Obama’s naiveté concerning Eqypt’s President-elect Mohammad Morsi. It’s true that we were essentially able to install the Shah of Iran and various governments of South Vietnam in the past, but look how well that turned out for us in the long run. Kelly apparently thinks (or wants us to think) we still should be able to do this, or at least wants to blame Barack Obama for not doing it.

Mind you, Jack Kelly is not talking about installing democracy in the Middle East. In fact, our goals have never been about installing democracy in the Middle East, unless you were taken in by George W Bush’s claims about Iraq, made some time after we had actually invaded and hadn’t found anything (much) in the way of WMD’s and found that rather than Iraq already being involved with al Qaeda, our invasion had brought them in. Dubya decided that the real (third) reason we had invaded Iraq was to bring democracy to Iraq, which would then be an example to the rest of the Middle East. By the way, how well did that work out.

I mention all that because of Kelly’s line in his column – “The utter failure to date of his outreach efforts hasn't shaken Mr. Obama's confidence that the force of his personality will convert Islamists into democrats.”. Mr Kelly shows that selective memory, What he accuses Obama of is pretty close to what Dubya was supposed to be trying.

As I mentioned, Kelly’s world view apparently includes the notion that we can control who runs countries, at least in Middle East. Kelly suggests that Syria’s Assad and Libya’s Qaddafi (when he was alive), while brutal and supporters of terrorism, are/were “secular dictators who accepted limits ignored by ardent jihadists.” Is Jack Kelly really suggesting that we control Assad?

I remember the Star Trek episode where a history professor from earth established a form of Nazism on some underdeveloped planet. I suppose in some debating society venue there are arguments to be made for fascism as an efficient form of government, or Bashar al-Assad as a lesser evil. But surely we have learned from Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak that our dictators do no better and in the end probably worse for countries, plus often end up creating lots of ill will towards us in a country we think is important to us (see Iranian government)(you don’t think Saddam was one of ours? See the Reagan and first Bush adminitrations).

By the way< Jack Kelly trots out the line about the Nazi’s “mentoring” the Muslim Brotherhood. I have read in other places that it occurred, but I don’t believe there is any current influence. But it is a powerful image for Jack Kelly, especially with Israel being right there (a little gratuitous, n’est pas?).

So isn’t Jack Kelly showing us his own naiveté about the Middle East? Take a country like Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan or most others (including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait). Over the years that they have been ruled by kings or dictators, what has been their experience with democracy? How many democratic traditions have they built up? Well, OK, you say, what political traditions do they have … none, except being told what to do. At best the dictator was unable to totally suppress Islam. Which means that when democracy is thrust on an Eqypt or (to some extent) an Iraq, Islam is their only cultural tradition which can be linked to politics. Politicians able to show some links to Islam have a built in advantage.

But does all this mean we should advocate (or subvert, or whatever), as Kelly says, for “secular dictators”? That strikes me as unsustainable in the long run, and since we never know when the dictatorships will unravel, there is no way to help prepare for transition to some other government. Democracy (as we are finding ourselves – Citizens United) is not necessarily stable or sustainable, but still surely it is worth the effort.

Will the Muslim Brotherhood cause Egypt to run amok, causing problems in the region? Honestly I don’t know, all I can say is that in the last twenty five years, the region has had some problems from both Iran (theocracy) and Iraq (secular dictatorship). The region doesn’t have enough experience with democracy, but Kelly’s preferred secular dictatorships really haven’t done any better than the religious dictatorships. Jack Kelly’s assessment of Barack Obama as naïve suffers from its own form of naiveté.