Friday, September 30, 2011

The media is the...

The Justice Department's Inspector General, which first reported the story of the alleged $16 muffin (see earlier post) has now blinked and admitted that the hotel where the muffins were served, along with coffee, tea, other pastries and fruit, was right that the cost was a bit under $15 per person, and included rental of the rooms where the conference in question was held.

The correction was picked up by Bloomberg, but how many outlets will give the debunking the same prominence that they gave the original (wrong) story?  

Journalism has never been perfect, and will never be, but it hurts when a theme--or as the media types have taken to calling it, a meme--leads to erroneous stories being given great prominence, while as usual the truth never catches the lie.  (Remember the McDonald's hot coffee case a few years ago?)

Last night Scott Pelley, on CBS, had a pretty good interview with David Barger, the CEO of Jet Blue.  In the course of it, Barger opined that we need to get the deficit down.  Shocking, I know.  Pelley then mentioned that Rebuplicans insist on all cuts and Democrats want cuts and tax increases, to which, Barger said that he thought "a combination" was acceptable.  Pelley then came back with a remark along the lines of "but neither side will compromise."

WAIT A DAMN MINUTE.  Rebuplicans insist on NO tax increases (except maybe on working people by not extending the payroll-tax cut).  Democrats say SOME cuts and SOME tax increases--notably, they have not taken a hard line on what percentage of any deficit reduction should come from one side or the other.  So, one party is not willing to compromise, while the other is.  Why is it so hard for news outlets to say that?

(As regular readers will note, this page does not believe that compromise is a good in and of itself.  We have often opposed compromises and expect to do so again.  But accuracy in reporting does seem to be pretty much an unmixed good.)

Friday, September 23, 2011


Presumably you've heard of the report from the Justice Department's Inspector General about excessive spending for food, travel and entertainment.  If not you certainly will; in these times when government austerity is all the rage, the Rebuplicans are sure to trumpet this as another scandalous example of Democratic excess.

One of the items that has garnered the most attention is the IG's allegation that the Department paid $16 apiece for muffins at the Capital Hilton, in DC.  My first reaction:  I want the recipe!

Whoa.  Maybe the report is wrong.  Hilton International says that the inspectors mis-read its invoices, and AP says that the report--while allocating $4,200 for the muffins--also noted 15 gallons of "complimentary" coffee, 30 gallons of "complimentary" ice tea (should it be "ice tea" or "iced tea?") and 200 pieces of "free" fruit.  Your Eco 101 professor will tell you that there's nothing "complimentary" or "free" in a case like this.  

More significantly, according to the AP the cost per-person for the conference in question was $14.74, exactly 2 cents over what the Department allowed.  

I don't know if Hilton is telling the truth, or if the AP report is accurate, although my own experience with events suggests that paying less than $15 per person at a decent hotel is one hell of a bargain.  In any event, this is a reminder that it's always a good idea to look behind the headlines.  


It's a tough time to be part of the legal profession.  The killing of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia shames us all, and shames a system that could allow the state to kill him.  

The idea that a man could be denied a re-trial or at least a reprieve after seven (of nine) witnesses recant their testimony, and in the absence of physical evidence tying him to the crime, shows a system that exalts the wrong values.  

Yes, I know, the legal system needs finality--that's why we have statutes of limitations.  And the system is just that--a means of making decisions.  Perfection in the results is not guaranteed.  But a mechanism that does not permit credible claims of actual innocence in a murder case to be litigated before a man is killed cannot be called a justice system.  Indeed, it is an injustice system.

We should be better than that.

The wheels of justice grind slowly

Court rules that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is not liable for the attack on the World Trade Center.

The 1993 attack.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fire the job creators!

Suggest that corporations should pay for the benefits they get from doing business in the US, or that the rich should contribute more for the common good, and Rebuplicans will scream that those are the "job creators" and that charging them more will choke off employment.  (Some of us call this the "bribe the rich" theory of economics.)

Well, if those are really are the job creators, they ought to be shown the door.  Face it, the "job creators" are incompetent.  Have you looked at the employment--or unemployment--figures?  What jobs have those people created with their cushy tax rates and special provisions?  Damn few.

If the "job creators" won't do their jobs, fire 'em.  That's the American way!

Tell it like it is.

The release of two Americans snared by Iran while hiking in Iraq is good news, but why has the media accepted the tale that the money paid to free them was "bail?"  It was nothing of the kind.  The two men were ransomed, pure and simple, and those to give Americans the news should say so. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So this is what it has come to

At this week's Rebuplican debate, Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul (R.Tx) whether a previously-healthy 30-year-old man who chose not to buy health insurance, but who goes into a coma, should be left to die in a hospital emergency room.  After Paul opined that government should not be involved, that "that's what freedom is about, taking your own risks," the audience erupted in cheers and laughter. 

So this is what the GOP has come to.  The crowd at last week's debate cheered mention of the 234 people that Rick Perry has put to death in Texas--never mind that in at least a few of those cases there was serious doubt about guilt, in some about the mental capacity of the condemned and in others still grave doubt of the competence of defense counsel.

I can't help but contrast this new, mean party with the Republicans of the past.  I've written before about Capt. Tom Philip, of the USS Oregon, who cautioned his men at the Battle of Santiago, "Don't cheer, boys, the poor devils are dying."  

I don't  know whether Capt. Philip was  a Republican, although I have read that he was a serious Christian and the nation was overwhelmingly aligned with the GOP in 1898.  Even if the Captain was apolitical, it seems to me that the call to his men, who had just helped decimate the Spanish fleet, embodies part of a conservative but essentially decent spirit that is associated with traditional Republicanism.  And, of course, there was Lincoln, one of the first members of the party, "Let us go forward, now, to bind up the wounds..."

Since the GOP became the party of big business and, later, of nativism, there has always been a strain of inhumanity.  Think of the use of troops to break the railway strike of 1894, the Homestead Massacre and other incidents.  And, let's be honest, those on the left have also been willing, on occasion, to celebrate violence and even death.  There was the Haymarket Bombing, the bombing of the Los Angeles Times, and even Woody Guthrie's banjo, which was inscribed, "This machine kills   fascists."  

Still, it's unsettling to think that the kingmakers of one of our major parties may wear such callousness about their fellow humans as a badge of pride. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

3-Way Deal

Tim, T-Paw, Pawlenty has endorsed Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination.  Romney, in turn, has endorsed Orrin Hatch (R.UT) for re-election.  We understand that cash and future consideration are also involved in the 3-way deal.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where did it go?

Ten years after, it is hard to recall the unity that pervaded the nation--and most of the world--following 9/11.  I remember seeing firefighters in Budapest lined up to honor their colleagues in New York, and to recognize their courage and sacrifice.  In those days it was common to hear that we were all New Yorkers.

Tonight on NBC News, there was a piece in which people were asked how 9/11 had changed their lives.  If you had asked me, in the days following the attack, how the world would change, I should never, ever have said that ten years on we would be beset with partisanship that focuses on trivial issues, or that the national interest would be a minor factor in our leaders' decisions when compared with narrow political advantage.  

After 9/11, one of the mottoes we heard, over and over, was "Never forget."  And yet most of us have forgotten the most important lesson of that awful day.  

Where do we get people like this?

This weekend, the nation is stopping to remember 9/11, those who lost their lives and those who tried to save others on that day.

In the latter category are then-Lt. Heather Penney and Col. Marc Sasseville.  They were the pilots of the two F-16 fighters scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base to intercept Flight 93.  As everyone knows, before the fighters could do that, the passengers and flight crew of that doomed plane fought back against the hijackers and stopped the plan to crash into the Capitol, at the cost of their own lives.  

What few people knew until now is that those two Air Force fighters that were sent to intercept the doomed flight had no ammunition.  No bullets.  No rockets.  No way to bring the airliner down.  Except to crash into the plane.  And that's what they planned to do.  As Penney told The Washington Post, "We wouldn't be shooting it down.  We'd be ramming the aircraft.  I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot."

Where do we get people like this?  People not only willing to chance death in the service of our nation, but who will volunteer to die in its defense.  I mean to take nothing away from the people on Fight 93, but the choice they were given was to die in a horrible crash orchestrated by the hijackers and fighting back, almost certainly at the cost of their lives.  Lt. Penney and Col. Sasseville were engaged in something even more brave:  a willful and willing act of self-sacrifice.

We do not pay our service members enough for that kind of courage.  But they don't do it for the money.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Best HST story ever?

From Maureen Dowd in Wednesday's NYT, writing about an incident witnessed by her brother, Martin, when he was a Senate page:
As a page in 1952, Martin watched on the Capitol steps as my dad, a police detective in charge of Senate security, greeted Harry Truman as "Mr. President."  
"Mike," Truman chided him.  "Call me Harry like you always did." 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tonight's Speech

Here is the message I sent the President tonight:

As I watched your speech tonight, I asked myself, "Where has this President been for the past two and one-half years?" 

Tonight, you were the President we thought we elected in 2008.

Thank you, but don't stop now.  Keep it up, Mr. President!  Don't look at the polls, don't look at the pundits.  Look at the people for whom you spoke tonight--the unemployed, the dispossessed, the millions who have taken it on the chin for decades.  Speak for them, Mr. President, right up to Election Day, and after.  Be our President, not our campaigner in chief.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Truth, distilled.

I heard this comment on the BBC's coverage of Libya.  Unfortunately, I was driving at the time and did not catch the name of the man who said it:

"Democracy is like oxygen.  When you have it, you don't enjoy it."

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

'Nuff said

What the President forgot

Back in the 00's, we liberals chortled at supporters of the Bush administration who derided members of the reality-based community.  And we might well still laugh at those on the Right who believe in faith-based answers to problems susceptible to solutions based on actual knowledge.

President Obama is certainly a member of the reality-based community.  As a general rule, that is a good thing in a President.  But Mr. Obama seems to have forgotten that one function of a leader is to change reality.

I had a professor in law school who said, "If you don't like the facts, change the facts."  He did not mean that we should falsify, but that when the situation was still evolving, we should try to influence the course of events in our client's favor.   In many instances, president's can do that, through appointments (including recess appointments), executive orders, the issuance of regulations and simple presidential leadership.  

The president can change the terms of debate.  That is, he (or she) can change perceptions of reality--which in many instances is to change reality itself.  He (or she) can speak to Congress or directly to the people.  If s/he makes an effective case, the voters will tell members of Congress what to do.  And the members ignore such a message at peril to their careers.  

One of the requisites for effective leadership is measured boldness--an appreciation of what the public will accept that proves superior to that of others--in Congress or the punditocracy.  Think of FDR's 50,000 airplanes and the New Deal or JFK's promise that America would reach the moon in 10 years.  No serious person thought that such goals were possible before the presidents expressed them.   Indeed, serious people said that FDR and JFK  were crazy.  And they were right--while FDR said that the United States would produce 50,000 aircraft in  four years, we produced more than that number in 1944 alone.  Kennedy's 10-year time span turned out to be just over eight.  Those were instances of leaders who changed reality.   

To this point, Mr. Obama's leadership has lacked boldness.  He has had a good grasp of what can be achieved--let's not forget health-insurance reform and the Dodd-Frank Act (among other measures) were given little chance.  But many of us have the nagging feeling that the President's grasp has exceeded his reach.  

This week, Mr. Obama will have a chance to show more boldness and more effective leadership in the way that he attacks the problem that threatens a new economic crisis.  It's an opportunity he has to grasp, not just for his presidency, but for the good of the nation.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Obama blinks again

Yesterday, the President formally requested to address a joint session of Congress on September 7th.  Apparently because that would conflict with a televised debate of Rebuplican nonentities, a/k/a the GOP presidential candidates, Speaker Boehner refused.  As far as I can tell, it is unprecedented for Congress to refuse a presidential request for a joint session.  And it's not as if there's nothing important to talk about.

As you have probably heard by now, the President blinked and agreed to talk to Congress on September 8th.  Instead of competing with the Rebuplican debate, he will be opposite the opening night of NFL football.  Just guessing, but the reception he gets from the GOPhers might be rougher than some NFL defensive lines present.  

I think the President made a mistake--not that the timing is a major issue.  Still, if Mr. Obama had asked me, I would have suggested that he go ahead and make his speech on September 7th, and if Congress does not want him in the Capitol that night, he should do it from the Mall out front.  Set up a stage, and lights, and invite the voters.  He's going to be talking over the heads of Congress and to the American people anyway, why not do it openly?