Monday, August 31, 2009

The Reich-Wing's Unwritten Constitution

Despite a pretended insistence on a strict interpretation of the Constitution, certain Republicans harbor a myth that change is unconstitutional or, at the very least, against the American tradition. IMO, that's why some loosely-bound people have taken shots at Progressive leaders, going all the way back to Theodore Roosevelt. Policies and legislation should be debated on their merits. Instead, this shibboleth is promulgated that change itself is un-American.

I think this mythology is dangerous in an armed society.

Exhibit No. 1 is this carefully rehearsed exchange.

This is bigger than just John Voight.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Torture Game

Anyone can play!
The Star-Spangled Banner has already been sung.
You have the rest of the weekend, right?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Kennedy Healthcare Reform Bill Explained

for the Politically Illiterate

Call it whatever you want to:
  • Public Health Insurance
  • Government-Run Insurance
  • Obamacare?
  • Socialized Medicine
Whatever. It's time we had it.
'Nuff said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lt. William "Rusty" Calley: One of Our Own War Criminals

The Lieutenant is not exonerated, but he is contrite.
But, because contrition itself is rare, it should be noteworthy.

On 16 March 1968, U.S. soldiers gunned down hundreds of civilians in the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai. The Army at first denied, then downplayed the event, saying most of the dead were Vietcong. But in November 1969, journalist Seymour Hersh revealed what really happened and Calley was court martialed and convicted of murder.

The My Lai Massacre was one of the darkest moments in the Vietnam War. 2nd Lt. William “Rusty” Calley had ordered his platoon to kill everyone in the South Vietnamese hamlets of My Lai and My Khe. Initially 26 American soldiers were charged, but only Calley was convicted. He admitted on the witness stand that he personally executed civilians and received a life sentence for the murders of 22 people.

Calley always claimed that he was acting on direct orders from his company commander, and many Americans believed that he was scapegoated for the massacre. His sentence was later reduced by President Richard Nixon and he served three years under house arrest.

Despite many invitations from national news media, Calley had never before spoken publicly about it until last Wednesday, when he was invited to speak before the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus (GA).

His remarks would not have been on my radar, except that blogger Dick McMichael was in attendance and narrated it on his Dick's World site.

McMichael says that Lt. Calley made only a brief statement, but agreed to take questions from the audience. At one point with his voice breaking, Lt. Calley said,
There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai ... I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.
During the Q&A, McMichael asked Lt. Calley for his reaction to the notion that a soldier does not have to obey an unlawful order, that in fact, to obey an unlawful order is to be unlawful yourself.

The ex soldier replied,
I believe that is true. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them - foolishly, I guess.
I should add (as I recall), beginning when the U.S. Military command first questioned Lt. Calley, he has never denied his part in the massacre.

I post Lieutenant Calley's statement as an object lesson in integrity; there are a number of them to be extracted.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who Let Abdel Baset al Megrahi Go?

And why does this mass-murdering terrorist get off to go 'Scot-Free'?

Abdel Baset al Megrahi is a former Libyan intelligence officer.
On 31 January 2001, he was convicted, by a panel of Scottish Judges sitting in a special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, of 270 counts of murder for his part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 1988. Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment. Suffering from terminal prostate cancer, with less than three months to live, he was allowed to walk yesterday.

He returned as a hero to Tripoli to an enthusiastic crowd waving Scottish flags(lower right).

Who, then, are the Scots who let this mass killer walk?

They are Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, and Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice minister.

On 18-August, Salmond pre-endorsed MacAskill's decision, promising the Justice minister would
... take a decision shortly in the interests of justice ... I’m absolutely confident that if there’s one person in Scotland I trust to take the right decision for the right reasons it’s Kenny MacAskill .... The most important thing for all of that the person taking that decision will do so on the basis of evidence he’s received and advice he’s received.
Announcing the release, Justice Secretary MacAskill said the country’s justice system was based on both judgement and compassion. In a 20-minute statement explaining his decision, Mr MacAskill claimed releasing Megrahi was an expression of unique Scottish “values":
In Scotland we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people.

The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.
That's crap.

Let me explain myself.

In my book of justice, (as I have said), in an open and democratic society,
  • There is no place for the death penalty.
  • Absent the death penalty, there is no place for mercy and compassion for political assassins. Before last week, I thought that was self-evidently obvious for convicted terrorists.
If there was any question about Megrahi's guilt or innocence, that should have and could have been resolved by pursuing processes of appeal as provided by Scottish law. Instead, government by men intervened when these two stooges squandered their 15 minutes of fame.

In the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie and all 259 passengers and crew members were killed. Megrahi's original sentence was only 27 years. That's one year for every ten people he killed. When he walked, he had served eight years? One year for every 33 he killed?

Terrorists and political assassins should be sentenced to rot to death in prison. And that's what Abdel Baset al Megrahi was doing when he was released.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Happy (40th) Anniversary!

To My Trophy Wife!

Congratulations to us for our non-stop mariner & marital Companionship of four decades! At the risk of appearing too self-absorbed, I just have to take a little time out for a acknowledgment of time passing...

We have sailed together on many boats and waters. But the seas have always seemed tranquil because our love has always proved to be unquestionably sea-worthy...I'm not sure about those final lines: I'm not aware of the temperature falling. And every day, the cool morning dew completely evaporates between the time Ballou and I retrieve the papers and you greet us at the door with your first smile and your perfectly uncombed hair.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Health Insurance Industry: A Growing Parasite on the National Economy

Health insurance industry employment outpaces health providers and all-industry growth rates.

Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute think tank comments,
Economist Paul Krugman and many others have suggested that the health insurance industry has a lot to do with the excessive cost of U.S. health care. As Krugman describes the industry, an important part of its business model is collecting premiums while denying deserving claims and seeking out reasons to exclude patients from coverage they need. It takes a lot of extra employees to do this socially questionable work, and the industry's employment has grown like a weed over the past 10 years.

From August 1997 to August 2007, employment in the health insurance industry grew an astounding 52%, from 293,000 to 444,000.1 During the same period, employment among physicians, nurses, and others who provide health services or work to support them grew half as fast, by 26%, from 10,387,000 to 13,042,000. Employment in the economy as a whole grew even more slowly, by only 12% over the same 10-year period (see figure). The ratio of health insurance industry employees to health service providers grew from 28 insurance employees per 1,000 provider employers, to 34 per 1,000.
Is this not another dot which needs to be connected?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thom Hartmann: A Modest Proposal

In 1729, Jonathan Swift anonymously published A Modest Proposal
For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.
This was a satirical essay suggesting the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies.

Today, 280 years later, Thom Hartmann publishes a modest proposal which is not at all satirical.

Dear President Obama,

I understand you’re thinking of dumping your “public option” because of all the demagoguery by Sarah Palin and Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich and their crowd on right-wing radio and Fox. Fine. Good idea, in fact.

Instead, let’s make it simple. Please let us buy into Medicare.

It would be so easy. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with this so-called “public option” that’s a whole new program from the ground up. Medicare already exists. It works. Some people will like it, others won’t – just like the Post Office versus FedEx analogy you’re so comfortable with.

Just pass a simple bill – it could probably be just a few lines, like when Medicare was expanded to include disabled people – that says that any American citizen can buy into the program at a rate to be set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which reflects the actual cost for us to buy into it.

So it’s revenue neutral!

To make it available to people of low income, raise the rates slightly for all currently non-eligible people (like me - under 65) to cover the cost of below-200%-of-poverty people. Revenue neutral again.

Most of us will do damn near anything to get out from under the thumbs of the multi-millionaire CEOs who are running our current insurance programs.

Sign me up!

This lets you blow up all the rumors about death panels and grandma and everything else: everybody knows what Medicare is. Those who scorn it can go with Blue Cross. Those who like it can buy into it. Simplicity itself.

Of course, we’d like a few fixes, like letting Medicare negotiate drug prices and filling some of the holes Republicans and AARP and the big insurance lobbyists have drilled into Medicare so people have to buy “supplemental” insurance, but that can wait for the second round. Let’s get this done first.

Simple stuff. Medicare for anybody who wants it. Private health insurance for those who don’t. Easy message. Even Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley can understand it. Sarah Palin can buy into it, or ignore it. No death panels, no granny plugs, nothing. Just a few sentences.

Replace the “you must be disabled or 65” with “here’s what it’ll cost if you want to buy in, and here’s the sliding scale of subsidies we’ll give you if you’re poor, paid for by everybody else who’s buying in.” (You could roll back the Reagan tax cuts and make it all free, but that’s another rant.)

We elected you because we expected you to have the courage of your convictions. Here’s how. Not the “single payer Medicare for all” that many of us would prefer, but a simple, “Medicare for anybody who wants to buy in.”


Thom Hartmann

This is Thom's best shot. Now it's our turn to support this modest proposal with our own letters to the President. Our man in the White House needs our help!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Moral Matrix: Beyond "Left" & "Right"

Political ideas are often expressed using the right-left model. That separation originally referred to the seating (if indeed they ever took their seats) of the chamber members in the French Parliament after the 1789 Revolution.

Think about that for a moment: how adequate is that old cask in containing the new wines of the 21st century?

Stephane Dubois is a Frenchman living in the United States. (A latter-day Alexis de Tocqueville?) Dubois has devised a Moral Matrix to address this problem. Instead of a single left-right dimension, the Matrix has two dimensions that combine to create four quadrants which locate political Systems,
and the Ideologies which support them.

It's possible to put too fine a point on some of these ideological distinctions as well as their locations. Some delineations are really superficial. The size of each "system" and "ideology" obviously reflects a need to attain symmetry graphically and not to represent their comparative popularity.

Which brings me to Dubois' Moral Matrix Test. Dubois has unscientifically collected 556,409 responses internationally. The various national results are interesting if not instructive.

In the
United States:

It would have been of greater interest for this site to have mapped out responses from several of our dis-United States, which had significantly-sized samples. Maybe next year. For now, visitors at this site have to be satisfied with a country-by-country comparison.

Since cycling through this Moral Matrix site is cumbersome and slow, I have selected some national political cultures to display simultaneously. In light of the current American socialism-adverse obsession, I have decided to sequence these in an appropriate order. Some readers might be surprised.

Our neighbors to the north:

Here's Sweden:

Here's China

Here is Germany:

Here are the Israelis:

Here are the Aussies:

The European Union:

The United Kingdom:

Contrast Taiwan's score with China's:

Highest on the socialism scale is France:
Of interest is that Canada's socialism index is closest to the USA's. Also, Taiwan's political culture rates vastly higher on the socialism scale than does China's.

Closer to home, closer where American political parties are located on Moral Matrix' cultural Map:

Even closer to home, here is where I placed on my national political map when I took the Moral Matrix Test:
Frankly, I was surprised. For one thing, I never considered voting for Ford! And I voted for John Kerry, pinching my nose with my fingers, only because the MSM had disqualified Howard Dean!

Moral Matrix stipulates that there is wide disagreement about what constitutes "capitalism". That said, Capital Republicanism is described
as a moderate form of Conservatism; Capital Republicans are in favor of a Capitalist market economy and a strong moral order (abortion-control, tradional family values, strong military, etc.
Capital Democratism is described as
...a form of Moderate Liberalism; Capital Democrats are in favor of a Capitalist market economy and a looser moral order , e.g., legalized abortion, acceptance of alternative lifestyles, environmental issues, gun-control, etc.
I expected to land among the Social Democrats:
...a moderate form of Socialism; The Social Democratic current came into being by a break within the Socialist movement in the early 20th century. One reformist group of Socialists rejected the idea of a Socialist revolution, and instead tried to achieve the Socialist ideals through Democratic means.

Social Democrats are in favor of a highly regulated Capitalist market economy, but with a strong and large government.

Social Democracy is often considered the most commonly embraced political ideology in the world.
As opposed to Social Republicanism:
a moderate form of Authoritarianism.

Republicanism describes what is more commonly called a representative democracy; it restricts the term "democracy" to refer only to direct democracy.

For these reason, the primary difference between the Social Democracy and Social Republicanism is that latter's attachment to preserve existing class structures and delineations.
All I can say is that everything hinges on how the questions in a poll are phrased. I venture to guess that most of my readers will surprise themselves if they take this short survey: I'm betting they will land in my neighborhood.

Readers are invited to take the test and record their results in the comments below. Alternatively, if they make a copy of their map and mail it to me, I'll present it right here!

has emailed
this in.
I can't say
I'm that
at the mark
he leaves!

Woodstock Nation - Happy 40th!!

In the summer of '69, there were three days of peace and music.

We couldn't make it there, but others were there for us.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Not Everyone Deserves a 2nd Chance

That's Squeaky Fromme on the left and Leslie Van Houten on the right.
In 1969, both were members of the Charley Manson gang.

Under the influence of Manson at the age of 20, Van Houten invaded the home of Rosemary LaBianca on the night of August 10, 1969 and fatally stabbed her 16 times. Van Houten was sentenced to death on March 29, 1971. Retried a couple of times and finally sentenced to life imprisonment.

Squeaky Fromme never killed anyone. On the morning of September 5, 1975, Fromme tried to shoot President Gerald Ford with a .45 cal automatic but her gun did not have a round in the firing chamber. She was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Today, after three decades behind bars, Squeaky Fromme walked.

Leslie Van Houten, also 60, remains in prison. I am not writing this column about Van Houton. For detailed treatment of her circumstances, I recommend John Waters, Leslie Van Houten: A Friendship.

In Squeaky Fromme's case, her release is a miscarriage of justice.

In a democracy, political killings are distinguished from common murders. That’s why many of them are called assassinations. The killing of a political leader, a witness in a court trial, writer or a journalist is a blow against the nation itself and its constitution. It is intended to silence the victim, to deny society of his/her further contribution in words or deeds. Such anti-democratic atrocities deserve paramount attention from all of us and all of our institutions. They should be punished to the fullest extent permitted under law, short of capital punishment.

And that applies to attempted/unsuccessful assassinations.

To liberate Squeaky Fromme today, when fools are allowed to carry side arms to raucous town meetings and confront political leaders is insane. The message will not go unnoticed in the twilight shadows and swamplands of America.

Tea-Baggers and Town-Hallers In My 'Hood!

Actually, Tea-Drinkers and Town-Howlers!

While I've been preoccupied
and off the streets,
my friends and neighbors
have taken to the streets.

Stuff has happened. I've been preoccupied with a family emergency. My 1995 Infinity J-30 suddenly proved not to live up its name. 14 years and 99,000 is not my idea of infinity. I'm trying to convene a death panel, but Trophy Wife wants to keep Jay around on life-support for another six months. Ballou, my Trophy Doberwoman has trashed the the back seats, rendering Jay unsaleable.
But this week, Jay has been diagnosed as being undependable. For me, Jay has been a beautiful British racing green companion - up until yesterday. But today, she is a clunker waiting to clunk. Cash for Clunkers, is what I say: you get zippo for a clunk.

But things meanwhile, things are happening!

I recognize the people in these shots, and they're beautiful!

I'm told the local crowd in favor of single-payer healthcare outnumbered the shills for for-profits, 8-1!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How Liberalism Created Neo-Conservativism

Book Review or Bait 'n Switch?

This book shows the growth of a political movement through the eyes of one of its important players.Wattenberg examines the Neo-Con agenda and finds much to admire, despite the bad reputation they have been laboring under.
I guess I'll make this...

. . . A bait 'n switch!

Besides, I can't really review what I haven't read or preview what I will never read...
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Ben Wattenberg

Jon Stewart's 'blurb' is enough to kill off this tome.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Corporate Sponsorship of Astro-Turf Healthcare Protests

Today, Michelle Malkin is casting herself as whining,
We’ve endured a week’s worth of Democrat demagoguery about how opponents of Obamacare are nothing but corporate shills for evil health care corporations...
She should prepare herself to endure more of the truth...
...because health insurance corporation spokesmen, in taking due pains to show up at town meetings with their "home-made" signs,

are neglecting to shuck their uniforms.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gog and Magog

Suspending My Disbelief!

I don't involve myself in fringe politics or conspiracy theories. You won't find me discussing the pros and cons of troofers, birthers, deathers, Holocaust deniers, UFO abductees, Atlantean Conspiracy theorists, and the like. So I'm not altogether feeling good about introducing this evening's column by saying I don't effing believe half of what follows. I've seen the words in Google headlines for the last week maybe, but never bit on reading anything beneath the headlines until I saw the always level-headed Juan Cole devoting a few column inches to it. Looking around further, I have finally decided I have to suspend my disbelief, and at least air this for the hysterical historical record.

Gog et Magog concerns a brief event alleged to have occurred leading up to Bush and Cheney's illegal invasion of Iraq. It seems that with less than a month before his invasion, in February 2003, George Bush phoned up French President Jacques Chirac in a last ditch effort to get the French to join the "Coalition of the Willing". In itself, that's not news to any one.

What's new and news, to me any how, was Bush's argument. According to an interview Chirac gave French journalist Jean-Claude Maurice and included Maurice's Si Vous le Répétez, Je Démentirai published only this year, Bush argued that
Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins...
My Biblical literacy is less than most of my readers, or I would have recognized this reference from The Book of Revelations. Chirac, the story goes, did not give a thought about complying with Bush and joing in with the invasion. Instead he was stunned as to "how someone so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs" could be the head of a modern state. Apparently Chirac's Bibilical scholarship was challenged too, for he had his staff consult Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, who analyzed Bush's weird appeal.

In addition to the New Testament passage, Dr. Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel. Jehovah vows to smite them savagely, to “turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws,” and slaughter them ruthlessly.

Dr. Romer recounted Bush’s strange behavior in Lausanne University’s review, Allez Savoir in 2007. A French-language Swiss newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, printed a sarcastic account titled: “When President George W. Bush Saw the Prophesies of the Bible Coming to Pass.” France’s La Liberte likewise spoofed it under the headline “A Small Scoop on Bush, Chirac, God, Gog and Magog.”

But the story has largely been hidden by the ever-discrete MSM, presumably as part of their code of silence which preserves professional secrets among statesmen. After all, Si Vous le Répétez, Je Démentirai translates as "if you repeat it, I will deny it."

In these pages, I have been accused of being afflicted with Bush Derangement. I'm not sure what exactly that means. Certainly it can be said that, in attributing responsibility for all of the calamities which have afflicted upon my once great country in this young 21st Century, I have never given George Bush the benefit of doubt.

But the thought that Bush was motivated to invade Iraq because he was stricken with a couple of Biblical passages, strains even my credulity. I guess you could say that, like Andrew Sullivan, I am left agog.