Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Tale Of Two Videos

I would agree that teaching the kids to sing about the president is taking things a little far, but, overdubbed ominous background music notwithstanding, I don't see some terrible "socialist conspiracy" at work here or anything like that (here).

And by the way, here are the song lyrics.

Song 1:
Mm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said that all must lend a hand
To make this country strong again
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said we must be fair today
Equal work means equal pay
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said that we must take a stand
To make sure everyone gets a chance
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said red, yellow, black or white
All are equal in his sight
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

Mmm, mmm, mm
Barack Hussein Obama

Song 2:
Hello, Mr. President we honor you today!
For all your great accomplishments, we all doth say "hooray!"

Hooray, Mr. President! You're number one!
The first black American to lead this great nation!

Hooray, Mr. President we honor your great plans
To make this country's economy number one again!

Hooray Mr. President, we're really proud of you!
And we stand for all Americans under the great Red, White, and Blue!

So continue ---- Mr. President we know you'll do the trick
So here's a hearty hip-hooray ----

Hip, hip hooray!
Hip, hip hooray!
Hip, hip hooray!
I would argue that this, however, is a wholly other matter (and I didn't see this covered in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, New York Times, or anywhere else).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Stuff

As promised, here's Rachel Maddow's report on ACORN from last night, including an interview with Jeremy Scahill, who "blew the whistle" on Blackwater/Xe (everyone should watch this, and I do mean everybody)...

...and to paraphrase Atrios, "insert crappy '80s music video here" (hat tip to Robert Drake at WXPN in these parts).

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (9/25/09)

As reported in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, here is how Philadelphia-area members of Congress were recorded on major roll-call votes last week.


Joe Wilson reprimand. Voting 240-179, the House expressed "disapproval" of Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's Sept. 9 speech to Congress. The South Carolina Republican shouted "You lie" when the president said his health-care proposals would not benefit illegal immigrants. Wilson apologized to the White House chief of staff, and Obama accepted the apology. Wilson has refused to apologize to the full House for his act. The disapproval measure (HR 744) was the mildest punishment the House could give to Wilson.

A yes vote was to reprimand Wilson.

Voting yes: John Adler (D., N.J.), Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), and Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.)

Voting no: Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).

Not voting: Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).
All that pinhead had to do was apologize on the House floor in front of his colleagues, and there would have been no need for this resolution. But of course, that was asking waay too much of this member of the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” (as noted here, and the party line vote tells you all you need to know about how much the “loyal opposition” truly respects President Obama).

And by the way, this was an interesting vote for Joe Sestak to miss (a cynical person would think that Sestak missed this because Obama has endorsed “Democrat” Arlen Specter for re-election...a cynical person, that is...).

Student loans. Voting 253-171, the House passed a bill (HR 3221) that would shift federally backed student loans to direct lending by the Department of Education, excluding the private-sector lenders that now dominate the government program. The bill would save $87 billion over 10 years by ending the private lenders' taxpayer subsidies, guarantees and bailouts. The bill awaits Senate action.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Adler, Andrews, Brady, Fattah, Holden, Murphy, Schwartz, and Sestak.

Voting no: Castle, Dent, Gerlach, LoBiondo, Pitts, and Smith
As noted here…

(HR 3221) would use savings from ending (the Federal Family Education Loan program) to boost spending on Pell Grants by $40 billion (yes, you read that right -- 40 BILLION DOLLARS) and significantly expand the low-interest Perkins Loan program so that financially needy students can avoid taking out high-cost private student loans.

So how exactly would the bill's passage (supposedly) harm students?

According to the (Consumer Bankers Association), if the legislation is enacted and student loans are made entirely through the U.S. Department of Education's Direct Loan (DL) program, "students and parents would no longer have a choice of lenders, a right they've had since 1965."

A group of financial aid directors -- who appropriately call themselves "the Friday the 13th Group" -- made the same point in a letter they sent to lawmakers in April opposing President Obama's proposal. "By eliminating the FFEL program, we essentially remove the ability for borrowers to choose a lender," the group wrote. "This inherent freedom has been available for more than 40 years." ("Inherent freedom? Are you kidding me?" a financial aid administrator who supports the continuation of FFEL but is critical of the group's approach wrote recently on a listserv for aid officers. "Now freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion - those are inherent freedoms.")
And as noted here, this legislation is a result of “months of scandals involving kickback schemes and conflicts of interest among lenders and college officials” dating back about two years, some of which involved a certain House Minority Leader, who once said the following to the CBA: “Know that I have all of you in my two trusted hands."

With that in mind, is it any wonder why this was another nonsensical party-line Repug vote?

ACORN funding ban. Voting 345-75, the House barred the community-advocacy group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) from receiving funding in HR 3221 (above). This followed release of an undercover videotape in which ACORN workers are seen urging illegal activity. ACORN then fired some of those employees.

A yes vote backed the Republican motion.

Voting yes: Adler, Andrews, Castle, Dent, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Murphy, Pitts, Schwartz, Sestak, and Smith.

Voting no: Brady and Fattah.
I realize that Democrats from the largely white suburbs really don’t have any idea of what ACORN actually does (some of which I noted and linked to here), but still, this was a dumb vote for them (with Will Bunch making some good points on this subject here).

(Rachel Maddow did a report on ACORN last night, by the way – I’ll try to embed it later.)


ACORN dispute. The Senate voted, 83-7, to disqualify ACORN from receiving grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development's fiscal 2010 budget (HR 3288). ACORN has received HUD funds for advising the poor on matters such as obtaining mortgages and combating housing discrimination.

A yes vote was to adopt the amendment.

Voting yes: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Ted Kaufman (D., Del.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), and Arlen Specter (D., Pa.).

Voting no: Bob Casey Jr. (D., Pa.).
As I noted in the ACORN post last week, I thought Bob Casey stood tall on this vote…

Guns on Amtrak. Voting 68-30, the Senate required Amtrak to allow passengers to stow handguns in checked luggage or lose its $1.6 billion federal subsidy. The vote, which occurred during debate on HR 3288 (above), gives Amtrak six months to comply.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Casey.

Voting no: Carper, Kaufman, Lautenberg, Menendez and Specter.
…and he absolutely groveled in obedience to his NRA masters on this vote.

It’s difficult for me to summon the words to express the utterly mind-numbing idiocy at work here.

As Thomas C. Carper of Amtrak said here (not to be confused with the individual who provided this pathetic moment today)…

…airlines and railroads currently have different abilities to screen for weapons. He said that unlike airlines, Amtrak did not already have a uniform system in place for screening and added that Amtrak’s baggage cars are more easily accessible.

“As a result of these significant differences with the airline industry, Amtrak would need a significant amount of time and funding to properly address this congressional mandate,” wrote Mr. Carper...
Even the wording of this horrible piece of legislation reflects a staggering ignorance of the subject matter.

Here’s a news flash for the geniuses who voted for this (which should be the first veto by President Obama, assuming it’s not snuck into other legislation somewhere):

There is no such thing as “checked luggage” on an Amtrak train!

Do you know what would happen if the train attendants and ticket-takers checked every piece of luggage the way you would as if you were boarding a plane (which should happen now that this stupid law has been passed)? No damn train would ever leave the station on time again!

And good luck trying to enforce something like this as we approach the holidays, by the way (how long will it be before some nut gets all worked up over a real or imagined slight and decide to go reaching inside his or her bag for their "piece"?).

Mark my words: if the Republican Party decides to act like responsible opposition again in time for 2010 (a huge “if”) and the Dems lose seats in Congress, it won’t be because of fallout from health care reform, cap-and-trade legislation or the Employee Free Choice Act (assuming any of this stuff ever sees the light of day).

It will be because of votes exactly like this.

This week, the House took up extended unemployment benefits, while the Senate debated fiscal 2010 appropriations bills.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday Stuff

"Hello Dalai," indeed - kudos to Memphis Mayor Myron Lowery for this...

...Michael Moore plugs "Capitalism: A Love Story" with K.O. (I'll check it out one day for sure)...

..."Worst Persons" (Sean Inanity should try shutting his mouth, which he never will of course, because the water spigot in California he's yapping about was already TURNED ON IN JUNE; Chuck Norris advocates desecrating the American flag - nice; but "Lonesome Rhodes" Beck gets the nod again for speaking out in favor of a tax on slaves...truly, the rubber room beckons for this clown)...

...and I don't know what to make of this, but here it is anyway (looks like they got that dancin' "Six Flags" ad guy to stand still and sit down in the living room, or something).

Fortress America, Coming To A Country Near You

This story tells us the following…

Victor Ashe (the resigning U.S. ambassador to Poland, appointed under Bushco) is calling on U.S. authorities to reassess policies put in place after 9/11, which require equally tight security standards in both hot spots and places deemed much safer. He said there should not be a "one size fits all" approach.

"The type of embassy you might build in Pakistan has a different set of security needs – which in that case would be substantial – than an embassy you might build in Reykjavik, Iceland, or in Warsaw, Poland," Ashe told The Associated Press.

Ashe made his argument in a newsletter sent out to more than 7,000 people this week – unusually outspoken statements for a diplomat still in office. He said they were "personal observations which reflect only my own views."

"The cost to the taxpayers if these standards are implemented worldwide will be huge," Ashe wrote. "The design of many of these buildings quite often creates a fortress-like atmosphere and the impression given to host nations can be less than friendly; not the warm, welcoming impression we should offer as Americans."

The situation in Britain's capital is a good example.

Its U.S. Embassy will be moved from the leafy, upmarket Mayfair district of central London to a safer building in a less prestigious neighborhood south of the River Thames. The move, announced in 2008, is part of American efforts to improve the safety of its staff.

It would have cost more than $600 million to renovate and upgrade the embassy's current concrete and glass building in Grosvenor Square, and even then it would not have met security standards without obstructing traffic in surrounding streets.

Residents living near the embassy will be happy to see it go. They have complained in the past about the temporary concrete blast barriers and other security measures introduced around the building after the 9/11 attacks.
I think Ashe deserves some credit for highlighting some of what is going on at our embassies, in our name and on our dime (and by the way, there’s some real tawdry stuff out there concerning Ashe and a certain 43rd President of the United States, as noted here).

However, given the fact that rockets were fired near both the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan and in Iraq (noted here), I’m not sure that enhanced security is unwarranted (but not in the United Kingdom, Iceland or Poland, of course)

And speaking of our embassy in Kabul, this letter from the Project on Government Oversight to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notes the Kabul rocket attack, as well as the following…

(POGO) initiated an investigation after nearly one-tenth of the U.S./ex-pat 6 guards individually contacted us to express concerns about and provide evidence of a pattern of blatant, longstanding violations of the security contract, and of a pervasive breakdown in the chain of command and guard force discipline and morale. This environment has resulted in chronic turnover by U.S./ex-pat guards. According to the State Department, "nearly 90% of the incumbent US/Expats left within the first six months of contract performance."7 According to POGO sources, the U.S./ex-pat guard turnover may be as high as 100 percent annually. This untenable turnover prevents the guard force from developing team cohesion, and requires constant training for new replacement recruits. The guards have come to POGO because they say they believe strongly in the mission, but are concerned that many good guards are quitting out of frustration or being fired for refusing to participate in the misconduct, and that those responsible for the misconduct are not being held accountable.
And for more information on the “misconduct” in question, this CBS News story tells us of James Gordon, former Director of Operations for ArmorGroup (the firm contracted to provide security for the embassy), who told of the following…

Gordon reports a wide range of shocking conditions: storing of illegal weapons, a guard force that is severely understaffed and overworked, guards and supervisors frequenting brothels on duty. There are even allegations that some guards moonlighted in human trafficking (audio). According to the State Department, Afghanistan is known as a center of trafficking of women and girls for sex.

Gordon says one recruit was overheard discussing his contacts in the human trafficking business in Afghanistan. He allegedly wanted to purchase a girl for $20,000 and believed he could begin earning profits on her within a month. Gordon says the recruit was terminated and the incident reported to the State Department and ArmorGuard senior management. But he says the issue of human trafficking, and possible guard involvement in it, was never fully investigated. He calls the company's attempt to look into it, "pathetic."

ArmorGroup's financial records show its operating profits were falling as it was trying to cut corners on the U.S. Embassy security contract in Kabul. AmeriGuard's financial statement for 2007 reports: "Operating profits before head office costs fell to $16.8 million (from $20.3 million)" due in part to "the losses on the U.S. Embassy contract in Kabul."

On September 6th, 2007, Gordon notified a State Department official, whose employees work at the Embassy, about the strain on guard staffing.

"If one person gets sick or slips on a banana peel, the whole thing falls apart like a cheap suit," Gordon emailed. The State Department's reply: "Lock up the banana supply."
Cute (by the way, the CBS story makes references to ArmorGroup, ArmorGuard and AmeriGuard, but I couldn’t find out how they’re related to one another…I know that Armor Group was once Armor Holdings based on this, but that’s the only relationship I could define).

Also, a link at the bottom of the Source Watch page on ArmorGroup takes you to the blog Media Infidel, which has pictures of some of the antics at Kabul.

And believe it or not, there’s more (from the POGO letter)…

Guards have come to POGO with allegations and photographic evidence that some supervisors and guards are engaging in near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates. Witnesses report that the highest levels of (ArmorGuard) management in Kabul are aware of and have personally observed—or even engaged in—these activities, but have done nothing to stop them. Indeed, management has condoned this misconduct, declining to take disciplinary action against those responsible and allowing two of the worst offending supervisors to resign and allegedly move on to work on other U.S. contracts. The lewd and deviant behavior of approximately 30 supervisors and guards has resulted in complete distrust of leadership and a breakdown of the chain of command, compromising security.

Numerous emails, photographs, and videos portray a Lord of the Flies environment. One email from a current guard describes scenes in which guards and supervisors are "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity…." (Attachment 2) Photograph after photograph shows guards—including supervisors—at parties in various stages of nudity, sometimes fondling each other. These parties take place just a few yards from the housing of other supervisors.
Again, all in our name, people (though the following should be noted, from here)…

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department will review its use of private contractors at overseas embassies after a scandal over sexual hazing by security guards at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, an official said on Monday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked both the State Department and USAID, the government's foreign assistance arm, to take an "across the board" look at how contractors are used and prepare to do more of the jobs themselves, department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

"She has made it a priority to build up the capacities of both agencies to, when appropriate, take on tasks that are now being outsourced," Kelly told a news briefing, adding that the review would be part of a larger, four-year assessment of diplomatic strategies and operations.
(It should also be noted, though, that ArmorGuard's contract was renewed in June...peachy.)

And based on this story, it appears that the plans to expand our U.S. embassy in Pakistan are not going over well there either.

I realize that this is a consequence of the “permanent war” mentality of Bushco, but again, I believe Ashe is right. It’s silly to prepare for the same threat in a friendly nation as we would in a place where we have troops on the ground (to say nothing of cost-inefficient).

And though I honestly believe President Obama when we claims that he wants to use diplomacy to prevent the type of hostilities that his predecessor would send troops into first without consideration of any other means of problem solving, I think the “one size fits all” mentality of embassy preparedness is nonetheless part of the vision (or lack thereof) that has allowed the following to occur (noted by Tom Engelhardt of Mother Jones here)…

What kind of a world do we inhabit when, with an official unemployment rate of 9.7% and an underemployment rate of 16.8%, the American taxpayer is financing the building of a three-story, exceedingly permanent-looking $17 million troop barracks at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan? This, in turn, is part of a taxpayer-funded $220 million upgrade of the base that includes new "water treatment plants, headquarters buildings, fuel farms, and power generating plants." And what about the U.S. air base built at Balad, north of Baghdad, that now has 15 bus routes, two fire stations, two water treatment plants, two sewage treatment plants, two power plants, a water bottling plant, and the requisite set of fast-food outlets, PXes, and so on, as well as air traffic levels sometimes compared to those at Chicago's O'Hare International?

What kind of American world are we living in when a plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq involves the removal of more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment? Or in which the possibility of withdrawal leads the Pentagon to issue nearly billion-dollar contracts (new ones!) to increase the number of private security contractors in that country?

What do you make of a world in which the U.S. has robot assassins in the skies over its war zones, 24/7, and the "pilots" who control them from thousands of miles away are ready on a moment's notice to launch missiles — "Hellfire" missiles at that — into Pashtun peasant villages in the wild, mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan? What does it mean when American pilots can be at war "in" Afghanistan, 9 to 5, by remote control, while their bodies remain at a base outside Las Vegas and then can head home past a sign that warns them to drive carefully because this is "the most dangerous part of your day"?
And as we learn from here, the military-industrial complex is definitely a growth industry amidst the ashes of the economic ruin from which we are trying to rebuild, so it’s highly unlikely that these circumstances will change anytime soon.

God Bless America.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday Stuff

All that's missing here is that awful six-letter word that starts with an "n" and ends with an "er," and people, I'm telling you that it's going to come out of somebody's mouth one day, and we'll see what happens next (in that vein, Pap draws a line, which might as well be a "third rail," between the "War Between The States" and our present circumstance)...

...and on a wholly other note, HAPPY 60TH BIRTHDAY, BRUUUUUUCE!!

Compounding The “Mass Mess” By Dumping Dukakis

(I also posted here; also, posting is iffy for the rest of the week.)

This NPR story tells us the following…

The Massachusetts legislature has passed legislation to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim successor to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

The legislation, which Patrick requested, means the governor could name a replacement to Kennedy as soon as Thursday.
I don’t know how else to say it, so I’ll just spit it out, as they say.

I think all of this is pretty damn pathetic, people. And in no way am I trying to demean the memory of Sen. Kennedy by saying so.

Yes, I want to see a Dem replace Kennedy when all is said and done, but if the Repugs had engaged in these types of shenanigans, I’d be screaming my head off.

For those who aren’t aware of the whole story, Sen. Kennedy pushed for a change in the law back in 2004 in which the governor of Massachusetts would no longer be able to appoint a successor to that state’s U.S. Senate seat (the hope was that then-Repug governor Mitt Romney would not be allowed to appoint another Repug to John Kerry’s seat, in the event that he knocked off Dubya that year). The successor would be named based on a special election, which actually is preferable. And the law was changed.

Well, as we know, Kerry lost, so the whole issue became moot.

However, with Kennedy well aware that his time was growing short, he wanted to ensure a Democratic replacement for his seat, and with Dem Deval Patrick currently in charge, he pushed for a change back to allow for the gubernatorial appointment, which, by all appearances, will pass.

Now the compromise here is that the individual named by appointment will only be able to serve for about four months until the special election winner takes over, which I suppose is fair.

As we know, however, what is driving all of this is the Senate quest for the illusive 60 votes to form a filibuster-proof majority to pass health care reform (with the Massachusetts Dem replacement and the ailing Sen. Robert Byrd hopefully on hand to make this happen).

And this is why individuals like Repug Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine are being treated like Lucy holding the proverbial football in the “Peanuts” comic strip (here, and we all know how that always turns out, by the way). It is assumed, for some reason, that Snowe will be the “Plan B” to ensure the 60th vote in the event that one of the Nelson twins or either of the two Senators from Wal-Mart, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, go all “weak in the knees” at the last minute.

This leads me to my second point of disgust.

Assuming the party I basically represent had enough of a collective spine (a huge assumption, I know), they would announce to all who have ears to hear that they’re going to use reconciliation to hammer home health care reform, and for that, all they need is 51 votes instead of 60.

And for anyone who complains, I offer three words: “elections have consequences.”

But as long as the Dems have the means to name a “placeholder” of sorts for Kennedy’s seat, I can think of no reason why that person would NOT be former governor Michael Dukakis; as noted here…

Dukakis doesn't mince words in talking about health care reform. “The market doesn't work when it comes to health care,” he declares. “It never has and it never will.” He calls for government-regulated universal health care—something, he says, that was initially advocated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.
I don’t know much about Paul Kirk (the other person who seems to be getting consideration for Kennedy’s seat; the New York Times reports here that he seems to have the inside track), but I’m sure he’s a good candidate. However, his main “claim to fame” is that he seems to be a family friend.

But again, I’m sure the Dems are just sooo scared about the Repugs conjuring up ads with Dukakis riding around in the tank like Snoopy, worrying about whether or not the conservative echo chamber will be resurrecting images of Willie Horton, Boston Harbor pollution, and anything else they can dredge up from the Lee Atwater archives, all noted here (you know they will, but so what?).

So to sum up, I have to say that I don’t approve of this arrangement (and as I said, the whole damn thing wouldn’t matter if the Dems decided to “grow a pair” and concentrate on the 51 instead of the 60).

But as long as this situation has presented itself, why not give the prize to somebody looking for a little payback?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Stuff

Yep, lots to think about here (found this at

...and I thought this was an interessting "Countdown" segment on Obama trying to restart peace talks in the Middle East (4 percent, huh? Welcome to a new day)...

...and I'm kind of in the mood for some brainless fun also - no particular reason...

...and RIP Art Ferrante (God, what hideous '70s fashion!).

Tuesday Mashup (9/22/09)

(And I also posted here.)

  • It seems as if that one-man GOP idea factory, Baby Newton Leroy Gingrich, is at it again (here)…

    Add another feather in the veritable bird's nest that is Gingrich Inc. The former speaker of the house, and all-around conservative idea-smith, has launched a news website for Hispanic Americans, the rapidly growing segment of swing voters. It's called The Americano, and it is the bilingual brainchild of Sylvia Garcia, a longtime employee of Gingrich Communications, the former speaker's consulting business. "The idea came during the election," Garcia says. "There really isn't any media that is covering conservative values for Hispanics. Everything you see is very one-sided."

    And so, conservative-minded Hispanics will find an opinion piece about how voter identification efforts are damaging the GOP brand among Latinos, a "History of U.S. Elections as Seen By Hispanics," and a piece about how the embattled non-profit ACORN was caught in a sting that involved a false claim about 14 El Salvadoran prostitutes.
    I wonder if he’ll link to this item from his new site, in which he said the following…

    The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. … We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."
    Nah, that would make him too much of a pendejo, I suppose.

  • This Reuters news story tells us the following…

    UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will chair a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council next month on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said on Tuesday.

    The meeting will take place on Sept. 24 during the annual summit of the U.N. General Assembly. The heads of state of the other 14 Security Council members will be invited to participate, Rice said in a statement.

    "The session will be focused on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament broadly and not on any specific countries," she said. "Over the next several weeks, we will work closely with members of the Security Council to prepare for this important meeting," Rice added.

    Obama has vowed to take new steps to reduce U.S. stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in Moscow in July to reduce their Cold War arsenals of deployed nuclear warheads by around a third from current levels to 1,500-1,675 each.
    And of course, since we’re talking about the U.N., you can count on the right-wing echo chambers to communicate portents of doom (here, in the person of Claudia Rosett – when it comes to Democrats, the glass is always half-empty for these people; I have to admit that this New York Times column by Clyde Haberman today was amusing, however).

    Anyway, here is Rosett...

    President Obama plans to make history Thursday by chairing a special, summit-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council. This will be the first time an American president has done so, and only the fifth time in the United Nations' 64-year history that such a heads-of-state meeting has been convened in that chamber. The focus will be on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The pressure will be strong for Obama to emerge with some sort of substantive outcome that can be hailed as a success.

    Beware. In the matter of making history, there are some things worth doing, such as breaking the racial barrier to the White House or ending the Cold War. And then there are other instances, in which, if something has never been done before, there may be good reasons for not doing it now.

    In the case of chairing the Security Council, there are plenty of reasons a president should not do it, ever. It demeans the U.S. presidency, and there's a big risk it will bind Obama far too intimately to bargains for which America is likely to pay dearly and reap mainly trouble.
    This is perfectly consistent for Rosett, who trashed the U.N. Human Rights Council here (yes, there are bad actors in that group, but our “strategy” of isolation and finger-pointing worked so beautifully for Bushco, didn’t it?), demeaned the 2007 World Toilet Summit here (yes, there is one, and it’s actually a big deal for poor nations trying to develop proper sanitation), and also trashed Speaker Nancy Pelosi for visiting Syria here (even though Pancake Joe Pitts did the same thing, without a word of rebuke from Rosett or anyone else…except yours truly, of course).

    Meanwhile, I thought this was a pretty clear-headed analysis, including the following…

    Obama's task today is at once easier and more daunting than Bush's. The new president sails into New York on a wave of global goodwill. Proclaiming an "era of engagement," he has returned the United States to a multilateral path, through steps both symbolic and concrete. He has vowed to rededicate the United States to the international rule of law, engineered U.S. entry into the UN Human Rights Council, reenergized U.S. leadership on climate change, proposed reforms to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and declared his intent to submit for Senate ratification long-languishing treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    Obama does not need to woo his UN audience. As the anti-Bush, he will have them at hello. Bush, after all, was an instinctive unilateralist who approached his annual New York trip with the enthusiasm of a root canal patient. Obama actually believes in multilateralism-and thus may have more to lose if it fails. He arrives in New York with massive global worries, including a sharp economic downturn, a fraying nuclear nonproliferation regime, and a shaky state-building mission in Afghanistan. His job is to persuade his rapt global audience that recent improvement in U.S.-UN relations cannot be taken for granted-and that multilateralism must deliver results that advance U.S. and global security.
    And by the way, Obama’s predecessor did more to “demean the U.S. presidency” in his term in office than Obama could ever do with the same amount of time, even if he actually tried.

  • I know I got into this also yesterday in the post related to N. Gregory Mankiw, but former Missouri Repug governor Matt Blunt propagandized as follows in the Murdoch Street Journal today (here)…

    I took office in January 2005 at a time when runaway lawsuits were driving up the cost of doing business in my state and forcing doctors and other business owners to close their doors. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform keeps a list of states ranked according to their legal environment. At the time, Missouri ranked among the 10 worst.

    We put a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages and created rules to prevent baseless cases from getting off of the ground. Previously, personal injury lawyers could file cases if they got a written affidavit from any qualified health-care provider claiming that there was negligence. We tightened that by requiring that the affidavit come from an active professional practicing substantially the same specialty as the defendant.

    We also took another common-sense step. Doctors often express empathy to a suffering patient regardless of fault. Saying you are "sorry" for someone's plight is a testament of good character, and should not be used against you in court. But tort lawyers were claiming that such statements were an admission of guilt. We stopped that abuse.

    Tort reform works. Missouri's medical malpractice claims are now at a 30-year low. Average payouts are about $50,000 below the 2005 average. Malpractice insurers are also turning a profit for the fifth year in a row—allowing other insurers to compete for business in Missouri. This will drive down costs, which will save government programs money as well as improve the system for patients. It will also leave doctors with more resources to invest in better care.

    Since 2005, Missouri has moved up to 31st on the Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform's list.

    Because we passed tort reform, cut taxes and controlled state spending, Missouri's economy is now in better shape than it would have been. During the four years I was in office, about 70,000 net new jobs were created in my state.
    And in addition to “tort reform,” Blunt and the Missouri congressional Repugs instituted the following (according to this article - and I'd like to try and verify that 70,000 number, but since Blunt didn't do his sourcing properly, I have no intention of doing his work for him)…

    Along with the Republican leadership in the General Assembly, Blunt trimmed state spending in order to keep the budget balanced without raising taxes. Particularly controversial were provisions eliminating parts of the state's social entitlement programs. The cuts were criticized by editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.[8][9][10] After some minor changes to the Governor's original requests the final version was passed.[11] Many Missourians who had previously depended on Medicaid were no longer eligible for benefits. Approximately 177,000 Missourians had their health benefits cut off due to these legislative actions.[12]
    Also, as noted here…

    …critics say the ($350 K cap) hurts the needy and elderly who are declining to file medical malpractice suits because the lower cap on damages means that even if they win, most of the money will go to attorneys.
    And as noted here, that cap limit isn’t adjusted for inflation (and the number of doctors is increasing no matter what area of medicine you’re talking about, or where, by the way).

    And the Inky tells us the following here (about Missouri in particular)…

    "From my perspective, that was one of the best things ever to happen in the state of Missouri," said Kansas City ophthalmologist John Hagen, an outspoken supporter of tort reform. "It not only enabled us to retain physicians but to recruit new ones."

    Since the 2005 changes, malpractice premiums at Hagen's practice have fallen 24 percent. (Kansas City neurosurgeon Steve) Reintjes said his have declined 30 percent.

    But overall health-care costs in Missouri are still going up. The same is true in states that have enacted even more stringent tort reforms, such as Texas. This suggests a tort system run amok is, at best, only a small contributor to the nation's health costs.
    And besides, as Wikipedia tells us, if Blunt was supposedly so successful in Missouri, how come he ended up serving only one term?

  • Update: And once more, this feigned outrage is hilarious coming from the political party that gave seniors higher copays for Medicare Advantage (even though providers have been compensated well enough) as well as the infamous Medicare Part D "donut hole."

  • Finally, I have to communicate something which is truly shocking, my fellow prisoners.

    See, I used that Internet thingie to travel to the blog of J.D. Mullane of the Bucks County Courier Times (here), and the following message appeared:

    What, J.D.? No more attempts at equivalency between alleged Obama misdeeds at the VA (the transgressions in question were committed by a Bush appointee) and whether or not health care reform will be successful (here)?

    No more wisecracks about using stimulus funding to repair the Sellersville Armory, including replacing windows and doors with energy efficient options, as well as safety cameras on I-95 (though I suppose part of that story is certainly “local” - here)?

    And best (?) of all, no more “Angel of Death” columns about health care reform (here)?

    I have to admit that I’m a bit nonplussed here. I’m having a very hard time believing that Mullane will actually confine himself to matters related to Bucks County, PA (about which he is fairly astute, actually) and not find the impulse to propagandize on national issues in a matter like that in which he claimed here once that “(George W.) Bush’s words weren’t Lincolnesque, but his presence made up for it” during the 2004 presidential campaign.

    I give him two weeks.
  • Monday, September 21, 2009

    Monday Stuff

    Roy Blunt was merely being bizarre until he made the reference to Washington "playing the ball where the monkey throws it"...

    But of course, Blunt didn't mean to imply a connection between a simian and Number 43, did he? NAAAWWWWW.

    How about the current president, then? Hmmmmm...

    And the only thing "funnier" than the Franken joke is the possibility that Blunt could actually join him in the Senate by winning the seat of retiring fellow Missouri Repug Kit Bond. Now THAT is a regular laff riot!!...

    Update 9/23/09: Good!

    ...and I guess that just gives me an excuse to put up this video again, which I dedicate to Blunt.

    Monday Mashup (9/21/09)

    (And I also posted here.)

  • The last thing in the world I intend to do here is somehow exonerate the personal conduct of former Dem presidential candidate John Edwards which led to the ruination of his career in public life, but I do want to point out that it says something about the New York Times that, while he was a presidential candidate, he couldn’t buy Page One coverage, but he was granted it yesterday here over the matter dubbed as “Rielle Time” by Bill Maher.

  • Update 9/27/09" If more stuff like this comes out, then I'll have to start doing those pushups all over again.

  • Also, for those who think this site is “All President Obama All The Time,” allow me to point out the following from Paul Krugman’s column today (here)…

    I was startled last week when Mr. Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg News, questioned the case for limiting financial-sector pay: “Why is it,” he asked, “that we’re going to cap executive compensation for Wall Street bankers but not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or N.F.L. football players?”

    That’s an astonishing remark — and not just because the National Football League does, in fact, have pay caps. Tech firms don’t crash the whole world’s operating system when they go bankrupt; quarterbacks who make too many risky passes don’t have to be rescued with hundred-billion-dollar bailouts. Banking is a special case — and the president is surely smart enough to know that.

    All I can think is that this was another example of something we’ve seen before: Mr. Obama’s visceral reluctance to engage in anything that resembles populist rhetoric. And that’s something he needs to get over.
    Uh, yeah, I would say so also.

  • Also, in the Times yesterday, former Bushco economic adviser N. Gregory Mankiw told us the following yesterday about health care…

    Despite all the talk about waste and abuse in our health system (which no doubt exists to some degree), the main driver of increasing health care costs is advances in medical technology. The medical profession is always figuring out new ways to prolong and enhance life, and that is a good thing, but those new technologies do not come cheap. For each new treatment, we have to figure out if it is worth the price, and who is going to get it.
    As Atul Gawande of The New Yorker tells us here (where he took a visit to Texas for the June article)…

    One night, I went to dinner with six McAllen (TX) doctors. All were what you would call bread-and-butter physicians: busy, full-time, private-practice doctors who work from seven in the morning to seven at night and sometimes later, their waiting rooms teeming and their desks stacked with medical charts to review.

    Some were dubious when I told them that McAllen was the country’s most expensive place for health care. I gave them the spending data from Medicare. In 1992, in the McAllen market, the average cost per Medicare enrollee was $4,891, almost exactly the national average. But since then, year after year, McAllen’s health costs have grown faster than any other market in the country, ultimately soaring by more than ten thousand dollars per person.

    “Maybe the service is better here,” the cardiologist suggested. People can be seen faster and get their tests more readily, he said.

    Others were skeptical. “I don’t think that explains the costs he’s talking about,” the general surgeon said.

    “It’s malpractice,” a family physician who had practiced here for thirty-three years said.

    “McAllen is legal hell,” the cardiologist agreed. Doctors order unnecessary tests just to protect themselves, he said. Everyone thought the lawyers here were worse than elsewhere.

    That explanation puzzled me. Several years ago, Texas passed a tough malpractice law that capped pain-and-suffering awards at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Didn’t lawsuits go down?

    “Practically to zero,” the cardiologist admitted.

    “Come on,” the general surgeon finally said. “We all know these arguments are bullshit. There is overutilization here, pure and simple.” Doctors, he said, were racking up charges with extra tests, services, and procedures.

    The surgeon came to McAllen in the mid-nineties, and since then, he said, “the way to practice medicine has changed completely. Before, it was about how to do a good job. Now it is about ‘How much will you benefit?’”

    Everyone agreed that something fundamental had changed since the days when health-care costs in McAllen were the same as those in El Paso and elsewhere. Yes, they had more technology. “But young doctors don’t think anymore,” the family physician said.

    Americans like to believe that, with most things, more is better. But research suggests that where medicine is concerned it may actually be worse. For example, Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic dominates the scene, has fantastically high levels of technological capability and quality, but its Medicare spending is in the lowest fifteen per cent of the country—$6,688 per enrollee in 2006, which is eight thousand dollars less than the figure for McAllen. Two economists working at Dartmouth, Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, found that the more money Medicare spent per person in a given state the lower that state’s quality ranking tended to be. In fact, the four states with the highest levels of spending—Louisiana, Texas, California, and Florida—were near the bottom of the national rankings on the quality of patient care.
    And as noted here, “stim” funds were included for what is called “comparative effectiveness research,” which is basically learning how to provide the best care at the best cost (leading of course to the typical right wing nuttery, as noted here).

    However, as the Times tells us here… the science reporter Ronald Winslow recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, “just 11 percent of more than 2,700 recommendations approved by cardiologists for treating heart patients are supported by high-quality scientific testing, according to new research.”

    That circumstance alone justifies spending billions more than we traditionally have on operations research for an industry that now absorbs $2.5 trillion or close to 17 percent of our gross domestic product. Why anyone would oppose that kind of research challenges one’s imagination.
    Mankiw continues…

    The push for universal coverage is based on the appealing premise that everyone should have access to the best health care possible whenever they need it. That soft-hearted aspiration, however, runs into the hardheaded reality that state-of-the-art health care is increasingly expensive. At some point, someone in the system has to say there are some things we will not pay for. The big question is, who? The government? Insurance companies? Or consumers themselves? And should the answer necessarily be the same for everyone?

    Inequality in economic resources is a natural but not altogether attractive feature of a free society. As health care becomes an ever larger share of the economy, we will have no choice but to struggle with the questions of how far we should allow such inequality to extend and what restrictions on our liberty we should endure in the name of fairness.
    Try reading the following from here and see if you become as disgusted with Mankiw’s ignorant pontifications on this subject as I am at this moment…

    Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year — one every 12 minutes — in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, Harvard Medical School researchers found in an analysis released on Thursday.

    “We’re losing more Americans every day because of inaction … than drunk driving and homicide combined,” Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said in an interview with Reuters.

    Overall, researchers said American adults age 64 and younger who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage.
    There is plenty of “inequality” in our system right now, Mankiw. Just ask the nearly 45,000 people per year who have endured “restrictions on (their) liberty,” to put it mildly.

    And the “public option” is hardly a “soft-hearted aspiration.”

    Please do us a favor and stick to wrong-headed economic “analysis,” as opposed to wrong-headed health care “analysis,” OK Mankiw?

  • And finally, Matt Bai told us the following in the Times Magazine yesterday (here)…

    Why didn’t lawmakers anticipate that “cash for clunkers” would run out of money almost immediately? Why were desperate dealers forced to float rebate checks while waiting for the government to pay the promised money? And if Washington has this much trouble administering what is essentially a $3 billion coupon for car buyers, how do we expect it to handle a nearly $1 trillion overhaul of health care?
    (From Malkin/Beck/Drudge’s lips to Bai’s ears, apparently - he considers "Cash for Clunkers" a "managerial fiasco" because it was successful - ???)…

    And then, a paragraph later, Bai blames conservatives for coming up with at least one of the talking points that he just parroted so effortlessly – hey, if you don’t think they’re legit, then DON’T SPREAD THEM AROUND, OK???!!

    And get a load of this…

    a lot of Washington Democrats embraced the idea that a liberal rebirth was under way, taking as their mandate the expansion of government rather than the rethinking of it.
    Do any of these “lot of Washington Democrats” have names, by any chance?

    Obama himself has lobbied for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending to stimulate economic growth, but apart from submitting a modest list of programs he wouldn’t mind cutting (which drew howls of protest inside his own party), he has been reluctant to acknowledge the blatant bureaucratic failures of an earlier era: crumbling housing projects, misguided farm aid, highways plowed thoughtlessly through neighborhoods. Democrats have been resolute in rejecting the tired conservative mantra of limited government, but they’ve shown less interest in confronting the lingering image of liberal activism as invasive and chronically mismanaged.
    And Democrats are the only ones who support highway funding and pass bloated farm bills…please (propagating more talking points that he disingenuously blames on Repugs).

    Oh, and by the way, speaking of Democrats showing “less interest in confronting the lingering image of liberal activism as invasive and chronically mismanaged,” which president signed welfare reform legislation again?

    Try to think real hard, OK?
  • Sunday, September 20, 2009