Friday, September 25, 2009

Confusion? What confusion?

A standard meme in the MSM is that Americans are confused over the health care debate. Another is that support for the public option has weakened. Uhm, no. A CBS News/NYTimes poll asked,

Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan--something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and over get--that would compete with private health insurance plans?

Those in favor: 65%
Opposed 26%

And, those figures have not changed much since July, and even in June (when the "debate" was just getting underway), were not all that different.

So, maybe the confusion is over why the media is saying that support for a public option has weakened, and over why "Medicare for all" is not on the table.

Oh, and maybe people are also wondering why the MSM is not reporting the feelings of the American people.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When they talk about sportsmanship

and about how you play the game being the most important thing, this is what they mean.

America unsafe!

Incredible but true department: There's a shortage of bullets in the go0d, old, US of A! How can Congress be wasting time on small issues like healthcare and climate change when there aren't enough bullets to put in our guns? Where's their sense of priorities?

Years ago, my brother suggested that we control the size of the magazines in guns: no law-abiding citizen needs more than 4 bullets. And the comedian Chris Rock has a great routine about how we should make the cost of bullets prohibitive.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What does "lose" mean?

General McChrystal is warning that without more troops, we could lose the war in Afghanistan.

Many acute observers have observed that no one seems to know what victory in Afghanistan would look like, but has anyone defined defeat in that war? Clearly, the present NATO forces--even much reduced forces--can prevent the Taliban from establishing a regime in Kabul. Indeed, western forces can deny the enemy control over any of Afghanistan's major cities. What, then, would it take for the Taliban to win and for us to lose?

The most likely outcome in Afghanistan is probably no "outcome" at all--that is, a prolonged standoff. Frustrating (and potentially expensive) as that might be, it might not be a bad result. If history is a guide, the wave of Muslim fundamentalism will crest (indeed, may already have crested) and then recede. Then will the extremism of al Qaeda and its ilk weaken and its natural opposition, moderate Islam, regain authority. If the west exercises sagacity, and is able to edge Afghans along toward a government that has some relationship with its people beyond treating them as cattle and victims, those developments might lead, in the long run, to a return to the kind of nation that Afghanistan was before the convulsions of the past thirty years.

Culture shift?

From today's NYT:
“There is so much talk of primarying Chuck Grassley now,” a well-known conservative, Bill Salier, said on an Iowa radio show. The senator’s seniority means “absolutely bupkis if what you do with that power is work with Max Baucus to try to advance socialized medicine.”
Bupkis? Bupkis from an Iowa conservative? Why do I think that Mr. Salier doesn't know that bupkis is Yiddish for nothing?

Or maybe this is 21st Century America. After all, you can get a bagel (though not a good bagel) in all corners of the country.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I love Joe Biden

Yeah, he's often a loose canon, but I love Joe Biden, because he always speaks from the heart and with less calculation than any politician I've seen in a long time. Here's his take on the GOPhers strategy for 2010, as he related it to a fundraiser in Arizona:
It's not that Republicans are bad guys. This is just the bet they've made. They're going to put their chips on movement in the 35 seats in the House that have been traditionally Republican districts and trying to take them back.

If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do. This is their one shot. If they don't break the back of our effort in this upcoming election, you're going to see the things we said we're for happen.
OK, troops, you have your marching orders.

(By the way, I love that he uses the President's first name. He's done it before so I don't think the White House has been all over him to always say "the President." It's great to see the person in the Oval Office be humanized, even just a little bit.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Random thought

I was in the "natural food" section of our local supermarket, where I noticed a lot of "gluten-free" foods.

What I need--and what I think would sell better--would be a line of "glutton-free" foods.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The answer to our question is 7. Seven Republicans crossed over to vote for the resolution rebuking Joe Wilson (R-CSA) for heckling President Obama last week. They included Bob Inglis, a fellow South Carolinian, Joseph Cao of Louisiana and Walter Jones of North Carolina.

What's more surprising is the list of Democrats who voted no, which included Bill Delahunt (MA), Dennis Kucinich (OH) and Jim McDermott (WA), pillars of liberalism. And five Democrats, including my own Barney Frank and Elliot Engel of New York voted present. Obviously, the division over the resolution was more complicated in the House than it appeared in the media.


House Democrats will introduce a "resolution of disapproval," citing Joe Wilson (R-CSA) for calling President Obama a liar during the President's speech last week. (Such a resolution would be less serious than formal censure.)

Astoundingly--at least I think it will astound anyone who has read at all about the history of the House and Senate--this has become a partisan issue. Wilson has said he won't apologize to the House, in the well of the House, as is traditional when a member transgresses the customs of the body. Apparently, the Republican leadership thinks it can win points by approving of his boorishness.

Then again, why should we be surprised?

It will be interesting to see if any Republicans break ranks on this one, taking the decorum of the body to be more important than partisanship.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Who are we for?

There's no problem telling what we're against in Afghanistan, but what are we for? There was a long time when we might have said the Afghan government, perhaps more as an expression of a developing Afghan polity than the specific regime, so it might have been better to express it as support for the constitution. But that time has passed. So, what is there left for us to support? I don't see it. If you can think of something, please let me know.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Public be damned

Dahlia Lithwick on the argument about limits on corporate political speech before the Supreme Court yesterday.

Am I the only one who thinks that the right-wing justices want to reverse the 2008 election?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cat blogging

My friend the Lighthousekeeper, reminds me that we haven't done cat blogging for a long time. So, here's Miah with Feather, her favorite toy.

(c) Jonathan J. Margolis, 2009, all rights reservcd.

The moral imperative

In his speech tonight, will the President change the terms of the debate by making the case that healthcare is a moral issue, not an economic one?

Now you tell us

Sheryl Gay Stolberg in today's NYT:
While the month of August clearly knocked the White House back on its heels, as Congressional town hall-style meeting exposed Americans' unease with an overhaul, the uproar does not seem to have greatly altered public opinion or substantially weakened Democrats' resolve.
Funny, that's not what we've been hearing for the last month.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

More socialism!

Some pretty subversive stuff:
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Abraham Lincoln


From President' Obama's speech to schoolchildren this morning:
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Subversive, right?

The President's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that the Right's attack on the speech was part of "the silly season." Mild ridicule isn't going to work with these people and, more important, it isn't going to work with the mainstream media, which follows the false grail of "balance," and acts as conduits and enablers for Fox and its allies.

It's time for Mr. Obama and his people to take on the dissemblers on the Right, to call them out for the liars and hypocrites that they are, and to drive a wedge between the wingnuts and the "respectable" members of the Republican Party for whom politics is only about power and not at all about what is good for the country.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Afghan mess

In 2001, when the vast majority of Americans supported a war in Afghanistan, I had my doubts. Unlike most US citizens, I knew a little of Afghan history--not enough to speak with any authority, but enough to know that Afghanistan had been a graveyard of armies and the end of many colonial ambitions. Aside from the Soviet failure in the 1980's, I had read of the First Afghan War, in which a British army occupied Kabul but was forced to retreat to India; only about forty men made it back to a British garrison. I was, therefore, gratified when the Taliban regime collapsed with hardly a push from western forces, to seeming jubilation among most Afghans. From what I saw early on, Hamid Karzai seemed like an inspired choice to lead the nation; in this view I was undoubtedly influenced by his having living in the US for some years and having a number of siblings--one of whom had an Afghan restaurant that I had visited several times--also in the US. And word of other members of the Afghan intelligentsia and political class returning from the west seemed to open a window of hope.

Last year, I agreed with Barack Obama when he argued that Iraq was a war of choice and Afghanistan a war of necessity. Afghanistan, after all, was where al Qaeda had based in 2001, and its agents were still centered close to the Afghan-Pakistan border.

But things had changed by then, and they have changed more since, and the changes have not been good.

Indeed, just now we are faced with what, to us liberals, is an almost unimaginable situation: from present indications, the unnecessary, imperialistic war in Iraq is likely to have a better outcome than the justified conflict in Afghanistan.

What happened? Principally, we lost the battle of time. As is widely known, due to Bush's bungling and incompetence, we let bin Laden and his minions escape from a trap at Tora Bora, to escape to Pakistan. The US was then unwilling or unable to get the Pakistanis to round up the remnants of al Qaeda before they could reorganize, and remnants of their Taliban allies were allowed to obtain safe haven across the virtually invisible border. To the apparent surprise of American officials--and those in the Afghan government, apparently--the Taliban did not accept their defeat or even marginalization, but started a new struggle to return to power. For a long time, American and Afghan officials compounded their errors by all but ignoring the new insurgency.

The Taliban could not have revived their threat had the Afghan government showed minimal competence. It would have helped had the Bush administration kept its focus on Afghanistan and supplied copious amounts of development aid and attention to the development of an effective civil society. None of that happened, of course. Hundreds of billions of dollars went to Iraq and relatively little to Afghanistan. The early promise of 2001-02 faded. The Afghan regime failed to develop into an effective government; instead it descended into factionalism (not surprising given the country's intense tribalism) and corruption. Karzai, whom I had described as a treasure, turned out to be weak in developing a modern system and, although he may not be personally corrupt, increasingly tolerant of corruption among those around him.

So we have come to the point where the Taliban are resurgent and the US-backed government in Kabul an ineffective representative of tribal factions who are mainly motivated by profit and personal advantage. The last straw was the presidential election, in which rampant corruption overshadowed all else; although Karzai was expected to lead the first round, the wholesale vote stealing has robbed him of any legitimacy among those who do not support him (and probably among many who do). (A vision of what might have been came in some of the lower-ranked candidates--members of the political and educational elite--who stood for real reform and whose candidacies were motivated by patriotism rather than individual interest.)

Where to go from here? Tom Friedman says that General McChrystal's new plan for Afghanistan
involves additional troops to create something that does not now exist there — a reasonably noncorrupt Afghan state that will serve its people and partner with America in keeping Afghanistan free of drug lords, warlords, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. His plan calls for clearing areas of Taliban control, holding those areas and then building effective local, district and provincial governments — along with a bigger army, real courts, police and public services.
If Friedman is right, the general is calling for the United States to replace the Afghan government in a substantial portion of the country--the portion in which the Taliban is strongest. Perhaps that would work, but it sounds like old-fashioned colonialism to me, and it didn't work in Afghanistan even when colonialism was in fashion. (Friedman does not subscribe to McChrystal's plan; he properly notes that it is such a substantial change in direction that it deserves a thorough debate.)

On the other side of the Times editorial page, Nicholas Kristoff describes "The Afghanistan (sic) Abyss." He relates the concerns of a group of American security and intelligence professionals with experience in Afghanistan (one the former CIA station chief in Kabul) who believe that we are heading for disaster. As these experts say, in a statement,
Our policy makers do not understand that the very presence of our forces in the Pashtun areas is the problem. The more troops we put in, the greater the opposition. We do not mitigate the opposition by increasing troop levels, but rather we increase the opposition and prove to the Pashtuns that the Taliban are correct.
Kristoff's sources have much the better of the argument. Their logic not only accords with normal human experience, but particularly with Afghan experience.

Kristoff suggests not a precipitous withdrawal, but a lighter footprint: "[T]raining the Afghan forces and helping them hold major cities, and ensuring that Al Qaeda does not regroup. We must also invest more in education and agriculture development, for that is a way over time to peel Pashtuns away from the Taliban."

Such a change in policy would encounter ferocious resistance from the American right, even though George Will has said that we should simply withdraw from Afghanistan. The Republicans would undoubtedly smell blood in a chance to paint Obama as a wimp. It would require real political courage for the President to choose a course that would give the GOPhers such an opportunity.

Let's take a moment to think about what would happen if the US were to pull back in Afghanistan. We can keep the Taliban from controlling Kabul and the other major cities. We can give the Afghans a chance to build their own nation, free from Islamic radicalism. (Afghans traditionally followed moderate forms of their religion.) Our commitment, at a much lower level than it is now, would have to be long, and the eventual outcome highly uncertain; there is a high probability that the Afghans cannot, and perhaps do not want, what we consider an effective civil society.

On the other hand, what if we were to win in Afghanistan--whatever "winning" means? Would we eliminate the threat from al Qaeda that led us into the country to being with? No. Bin Laden and his cohorts have ong since moved on, and their movement has metastasized. In other words, we cannot achieve our original war aim. Is there, then, another goal that justifies a massive further investment of our blood and treasure? If you see one, let me know, because I don't.

(I'm going to stop here, even though I have hardly mentioned the threat and problem of Pakistan, which poses a much greater danger, and perhaps a greater challenge, than Afghanistan.)

Like a bad movie

You-Can't-Make-This-Stuff-Up Dept.

From Kevin Drum: "When the fire chief of Jericho, Arkansas, finally got fed up and went to court a few days ago to challenge his second traffic ticket in as many days, the town's entire 7-man police force showed up for the hearing. And then shot him."

The AP story that was the basis for Drum's post has this delicious quote: "You can't even get them to answer a call because normally they're writing tickets." What makes the statement even better is that it does not come from some disgruntled civilian, but from the chief investigator of the county sheriff's department.

You'll be glad to know that the town's entire police force has been fired and the local judge has resigned. But they're still looking for the receipts from all tickets that were written.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Follow me!

We've added a Follower gadget. Just go down to the bottom of the page and hit the Follower button!

What are we doing?

The Times reports on blatant fraud in the Afghan election--a district where no one voted, but almost 24,000 votes were delivered (literally) for Hamid Karzai. CBS says that the Taliban is taking a significant part of American reconstruction aid, through an office that they run in Kabul itself.

So, why are we in Afghanistan? Allegedly, to prevent the Taliban, who pose no threat to the US and have never posed a threat to the US, from taking over the country. Because the Taliban are allies and protectors of al Qaeda. But with Somalia still lacking any semblance of government, and Yemen in danger of falling apart completely, and Pakistan sheltering the terrorist network's leadership, how important is Afghanistan? More to the point, how much longer can we ask our servicemen and women to risk death and disfigurement on behalf of a regime that can't or won't see beyond the hand held out for a bribe?

Why not maintain just enough troops and planes in Afghanistan to keep the Taliban from a complete victory while we wait to see if the Afghans can build some semblance of a state?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Hard to believe

World War II started 70 years ago today, when Germany invaded Poland.

How much things have changed since then, and how little.

Blowing his own horn

A group of very nice letters about Ted Kennedy in today's Times, one of them by a person very close to my heart.


Today is the first day of meteorological fall.