Monday, October 29, 2007

Sounds like they don't want a trial that might spill the beans.

The State Department has promised immunity for Blackwater employees involved in last month's shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.

This brings up two troubling questions at the outset:

1. Other than diplomatic immunity (and it has never been suggested that Blackwater Employees are diplomats) the State Department has no authority to grant immunity against prosecution in a U.S. court. That is the prerogative of the Justice Department. This could be the first real test of the new Attorney General, to see whether Mukasey points this fact out to the State Department and then how he proceeds from there;

2. The FBI is not yet done investigating, so the quickness of the State Department to grant immunity not only continues and expands on the unilateralism that has been a hallmark of George W. Bush's administration, but also suggests that they are hiding something and fear that a trial might bring it out into the open. What are they hiding?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More than a fund source.

I recently received a call (in fact, several, based on the phone numbers of calls I had missed but which showed up on my caller ID so they really wanted to get hold of me) from an outfit which had evidently been hired by one of the leading Democratic campaigns (I will decline at this point to identify the campaign, other than to say it is one of the candidates presently ahead of Bill Richardson, who I support and who is presently running fourth). They got right to the quick of things and asked if I wanted to donate money to that campaign.

I told them I support Bill Richardson, so they thanked me and presumably will call again if their candidate ends up being the nominee.

Now, forget for a moment the fact that I'm not in any position to donate money, since I have kids who will be starting college in a few years, or that I am making two mortgage payments (my daughter and son in law rent from me and pay part, but not all, of what I would need to offset that mortgage payment). To be honest, whether I was in a position to donate money or not, I give what used to be considered much more useful than money.

I give time, effort and energy. I have taken the time to be elected as a precinct committeeman, and I work hard for the candidates who I work for. I also stay in with them until the end, whether that is a good end or a bad end. Several years ago I agreed to support a candidate who was running for Congress. It turned out that he was running his campaign pretty much alone out of the back room of his house; his (homemade) campaign literature listed 'campaign accomplishments' in lieu of any real accomplishments and talked about where he had gone to visit-- and in the end he got 1.8% of the vote to finish last in a field of unknowns in our oversized congressional district (the largest city in the district is about 50,000 people and it covers an area the size of the state of Illinois.) But I worked my tail off for him anyway, put in the time and the miles, and on the day of the primary although he didn't win, he did get votes in our county that I'm sure he (not having been here) would not have gotten, and at least in my precinct he did get more votes than the person who actually won the primary district-wide. So if I don't have money to give, I believe I have a lot to give that is not money.

However, by not asking whether I would be willing to volunteer first, I believe that the campaign of that candidate is missing a step (even though in my case, my answer would be identical, that I am committed to working for Governor Richardson.)

Paul Tsongas once said while running for President in 1992 but scraping by for funds, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." And in fact, that year I felt inspired to give $20 to Tsongas, and later it turned out that many of his contributions were embezzled by a campaign worker. That disillusioned me on giving any campaign donations at all for a long time, at least a decade (well, I worked hard for that twenty bucks, and I gave it to Paul Tsongas so he could get his message out, not to buy some crook a Mercedes.)

Nobody wants to be thought of as nothing more than a source of free cash, and that is the message I got from the call. Further, if they asked if the people they contacted wanted to volunteer first, they could still ask for cash later in the call (either, 'Great! Thank you for agreeing to volunteer! Would you like to also make a donation today?' or, 'I'm sorry you're too busy, would you be able to show your support with a monetary donation instead?') Doing it that way would get you a local volunteer list, still give you a chance to ask everyone who isn't otherwise committed for money, and make people feel like you want them to do more than just write a check to your campaign.

I am also volunteering for another candidate who is running for another office. Recently I asked about whether that candidate had some literature available for an event I was working at. When I called, the phone representative answered that they didn't have any literature yet, or really any well developed campaign, because at this point in the campaign, they were focusing on raising money. Well, I'm glad they are raising money, but was it really worth missing a chance to get your name and information out to hundreds or even thousands of potential voters? The whole point of a campaign organization is that you can have some people raising money while other people are out there organizing, canvassing and talking to voters-- it is possible to do both at the same time.

One guy I will mention that I worked for (and for that matter gave a few dollars to) is Paul Babbitt, in 2004. He raised $2 million, and never really got his message out (but at the end of the campaign, there were boxes and boxes of unopened Babbitt literature). So he got thumped by 22 points. He could just as easily have done that with no money, and frankly if the focus had been on getting him out there more, Rick Renzi's misleading attack ads might not have been as effective.

Republicans have for a long time held a significant edge in fundraising (they after all have a lot more wealthy donors, who can simply write a check for the max, and then go get the same from all of their friends.) One of their problems during the past few years is that Democrats have become more effective at raising funds, and the GOP was so addicted to simply getting a bigger megaphone by spending more on ads than Democrats that they didn't know as well how to campaign when they were behind in the cash totals. Now, that can be a good thing for Democrats, but only if we make sure we don't fall into the same trap as Republicans did. We can't disconnect with our own base and volunteer network simply for the blind pursuit of funds.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Genarlow Wilson released from prison. Finally.

A few months ago, I put up a post on the case of Genarlow Wilson, a Georgia man who was sentenced to ten years in prison because when he was seventeen he had consensual sex with a fifteen year old girl who went to the same high school he did. He would also have had to register as a sex offender upon being released from prison.

Aside from questions about whether this prosecution ever would have happened had Wilson not been black or if it were the girl who was two years older instead of himself, there was a question about whether the laws originally intended to protect minors from child molesters went too far in the case. There were also those who simply hate the idea of teen (or other premarital) sex and wanted to punish Wilson to the nth degree to make him an example for other high school students.

Well, today the Georgia Supreme Court ordered Wilson released unconditionally, ruling that ten years for teenage sex was 'cruel and unusual punishment.'

I agree. It shouldn't have taken this long, but at least someone in Georgia had a lick of sense.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is Rudy really a simpleton, or is he just talking like one?

GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani is claiming that he can end illegal immigration in three years.

OK. So that means he can probably end global warming in four years, and probably end hunger, disease and poverty. Heck, he can probably get us out of Iraq in-- oh, never mind-- like the rest of the leading GOP candidates he has no plans for getting the U.S. out of Iraq, ever.

He suggests he can do it by an enforcement only mechanism, of walling off the whole border and beefing up the border patrol. He says if people show up at the border they will see the wall and turn around. The exact quote is,

"If you do this for two or three years, you'll change behavior... If people come to the border and figure they can't get in, they'll stop."

Yeah. I guess he figures that no one will have the ingenuity to come in via shipping container (like thousands of Chinese do every year) or by boat like the Cubans and Hatians, or by getting on a cheap flight to Canada first (or does he plan to wall off that border too?) or sneaking in hidden among the crates in the trailer of one of those many thousands of Mexican trucks that the Bush administration has generously allowed to operate all over the U.S. What a simplistic moron Rudy is if he actually believes that.

He says he can do it 'like he brought down the crime rate in New York.'

Uh, note to Rudy: While he was mayor of New York, the crime rate dropped sharply NATIONALLY. That was after the Clinton crime bill was passed in 1993 that put 100,000 cops on the streets, and was roundly criticized by Republicans (remember, 'midnight basketball?') and which was passed despite their fighting it tooth and nail. Well, guess what? It worked. It worked in New York. It also worked in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Washington, Detroit, and all over the country. So maybe if Rudy wants to 'end illegal immigration' like he 'ended crime' in New York, what he means is that he plans to find a way to take credit if someone else figures out a way to bring it down.

Or, maybe that isn't it either. We know that Rudy likes to hire criminals, as I've blogged on before featuring his hiring of mob associate Bernard Kerik, cocaine dealer Thomas Ravenel and child molester Alan Placa. So that seems to be his crime plan, just hire them all. From which we can surmise that it may be that his plan for getting rid of illegal immigrants is to give them all government jobs, or working for his campaign.

Rudy is spewing simplistic rhetoric, and either he knows it, or he is himself too simple to be President. I suspect it is the former.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Does anyone notice a contrast between the evacuees we see today and those from two years ago?

It's always tough for people facing evacuations. Everything they have may be gone, and they can only wait and hope and pray. And then wait some more.

And the evacuations now under way in southern California are no different. I hope that the people affected are able to return home soon, and that those who in fact have lost their homes are able to begin rebuiliding very quickly.

Nevertheless, it does give me cause to ponder, especially when I see stories about the thousands now packed into Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Not that I am suggesting that they shouldn't get the attention they now are getting, with rock-and-roll bands providing free entertainment, gourmet foods being served on buffet lines and even massage therapists providing 'stress-release' service for evacuees. And I think that all of this is wonderful. I am glad that they are getting all this service.

However it is hard not to compare the way these people are getting along with the complete lack of attention and deplorable conditions that reigned in the New Orleans Superdome, and later at the Houston Astrodome, two years ago after Katrina. Former first lady Barbara Bush (and the mother of the current President) even visited the Astrodome and said of the Katrina evacuees who were then occupying stadium seats there

Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.

She said this, and then giggled.

Well, now we know where George W. Bush gets his ideas about 'compassionate conservatism' from.

I wonder if the reason why the Katrina evacuees were treated so much worse is that unlike the evacuees in Southern California, they were mostly poor, black and while some owned homes they weren't even close in value to the million dollar houses that are now exploding in flames all over Southern California.

As I said at the outset, the purpose of this post is not to question any of the attention being given to the current evacuees. I certainly feel lucky not to be in any of their shoes today. And the response of government officials at all levels in the current situation has been very good. But it is to question whether a person's economic status and possibly race is directly related to how high a priority they are when it comes to helping them in their time of need.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

James Watson is not only a bigot, but he is a fraud who stole his biggest moment from the woman who deserved it.

Likely we all know by now that Nobel Laureate James Watson, who was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in biology for his 1953 paper published jointly with Francis Crick on the structure of DNA, once again stuck his foot in his mouth by saying that blacks were genetically inferior and less intelligent.

And this is hardly the first time that Watson has made such idiotic and prejudiced statements, among others suggesting that if there is a gene for homosexuality that women found to have a fetus with the gene should be 'allowed to have an abortion' (from which one can also infer that he feels that other women should not be allowed to have one) or suggesting that the idea of the 'Latin lover' is genetically based and that people of Hispanic descent have genetically based superior sexual prowess. In a British documentary, Watson suggested that there was a genetic basis for stupidity and it should be treated medically.

Well, I have one question for James Watson: Is dishonestly of the most horrifyingly immense proportion a genetic disease, or did he learn it from someone else? The discovery of the helical structure of DNA is rightly regarded as one of the two or three biggest scientific achievements ever. Only Mr. Watson is wrongly credited with it. Let me introduce you to the real genius behind the research, and one who has been stripped of the recognition which she so richly deserves and cast into historical obscurity by the betrayal of one of her closest colleagues, which in turn was paired with James Watson's basic dishonesty to change the face of scientific history, and perpetrate a great fraud:

The photo you see here is of Rosalind Franklin. It was Franklin, a trained chemist, who while working for Dr. Maurice Wilkins at King's College, took numerous x-ray photos of the DNA structure, and in particular one now known as 'photo 51', which clearly showed the structure and which she was quite close to figuring out on her own. According to an article written by Dr. Lynne Osman Elkin, a professor of biological sciences at California State University, Hayward,

NOVA: How close did Franklin actually come to deciphering the structure of DNA?

Elkin: She was very close. She had all the parameters of the helical backbone. She was the one who figured out that there were two forms of DNA, which made solving the whole structure possible. She had figured out that backbone of the A form is antiparallel. It wouldn't have been very long before she figured out that the B form backbone was antiparallel as well.

Only she couldn't have guessed the evil designs that lurked within her very lab. Her trusted partner and mentor, Maurice Wilkins, secretly and without her knowledge took photo 51 and showed it to James Watson. Wilkins then described in detail to Watson over dinner how research at the college was progressing and what he and Franklin were thinking.

Watson himself described the exact sequence of the betrayal, in his book, The Double Helix, where he writes,

Walking down the passage...[Wilkins] revealed that...he had quietly been duplicating some of Rosy's and Gosling's [Rosalind's assistant] X-ray work...Then the even more important cat was let out of the bag: Since the middle of the summer Rosy had had evidence for a new three-dimensional form of DNA...When I asked what the pattern was like, Maurice [Wilkins] went into an adjacent room to pick up a print of the new form they called the "B" structure. The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race. The pattern was unbelievably simpler than those obtained previously...and Maurice told me he was now quite convinced she [Rosalind Franklin] was correct.

Wilkins got his thirty pieces of silver, sharing in the recognition by the Nobel committee with Watson and Crick. Franklin, who actually deserves to be credited with discovering the structure of DNA more than any of the other three, had died by then, and in fact it is quite likely that the price for her research was indeed her life-- she got ovarian cancer likely after exposure to the large number of x-rays her research entailed.

James Watson for his part, has acted the part of a man who actually knows he is guilty, that everything he has is based upon stolen research. He has missed few opportunities since then to attack Franklin's reputation and alternately described her using everything from 'frumpy and uncommunicative' to 'very intelligent' but off the track (which is utterly false-- Aaron Klug discovered a March 17, 1953 draft by Franklin written concurrently with Watson and Crick's paper which makes it clear that she was still able, despite the betrayal to figure it out at the same time as Watson and Crick-- and let Watson's own words quoted above about his meeting with Wilkins contradict his later denials.)

I first learned about Rosalind Franklin from a college biology instructor who had actually met James Watson. My biology instructor called him, 'a lech,' apparently having reason to believe that he was too horny for his own good. But having delved deeper into this, my own belief is that not only should James Watson refrain from making any more of the bigotted statements that he seems to be so famous for, but he should count his blessings that few have publically pointed at him as being a first magnitude fraud and thief.

In a just world, schoolkids would learn who the real discoverer of the structure of DNA was: Rosalind Franklin. But the world is rarely just.

Empty Words

A few months ago during the Michael Vick imbroglio, basketball player Stephon Marbury defended dogfighting as 'a sport.' I took Marbury to task for his choice of words, and wrote,

Well, I suppose that you can call anything a 'sport,' no matter how barbaric it is, even dwarf-tossing or Russian roulette.

And I suppose you could refer to a Volkswagen as a Rolls Royce, but at the end of the day it remains a Volkswagen.

Marbury's comments were however a tiny transgression compared to what we have heard from both the Bush administration and from wordsmiths on talk radio and elsewhere on the far right.

I don't have to, but I will remind you of the unfunded mandate that has resulted in schools encouraging underachieving students to drop out for fear of the budgetary consequences of that child remaining in class, that is called, 'no child left behind,' and of the legislation that increases the amount of pollutants in our air called, the 'clear skies act' or in the water that is called the 'clean water act,' or of the clear-cutting bill called, 'the healthy forests act.'

We've seen 'support the troops' become a buzzword for 'support the President's foreign policy,' even while the same administration works feverishly to cut funding for the VA and denies disability claims for thousands of vets wounded in Iraq, who come home with life-altering injuries.

And recently we've seen that the right likes to refer to the U.S. healthcare system as 'the best in the world.' But that is simply not true. People in other industrialized countries such as Canada live longer than we do, have lower infant mortality and in fact, as I wrote about recently, avail themselves of our so-called 'superior' system in vanishingly small numbers, while many, many times as many Americans have bought prescription drugs from Canadian sources, despite the best efforts of our government to prevent it. Of course Americans can't use Canada's healthcare system because they bar us from it. In fact, our healthcare system is worse than those in Europe or Canada, plus it is much more expensive in terms of our GDP, but those on the right continue to delude themselves that they can call a turkey an eagle.

And today, the house will certainly vote not to override the President's veto on SCHIP. All along, they've been questioning the income limits. But here is the dirty little secret: the income limits are the same as they are in the current authorization of the program. And for that matter, the number bandied about ($83,000 for a family of four) is not the federal limit on income, that is the maximum that a state can request be eligible for the program but the President has to approve the request. Other wise the eligibility cap remains where it is at the Federal level, about fifteen thousand dollars less than that. But you won't hear that on right wing radio, they'd much rather smear a twelve year old whose family, despite what they make, will soon lose their home because of medical bills.

But I suppose all this wordsmithing works well for conservatives who don't want to spend a dime on anything.

Words are cheap.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Our ancestors were-- party animals.

I found this story very interesting:

early humans threw clambakes.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In one of the earliest hints of "modern" living, humans 164,000 years ago put on primitive makeup and hit the seashore for steaming mussels, new archaeological finds show.

Call it a beach party for early man.

But it's a beach party thrown by people who weren't supposed to be advanced enough for this type of behavior. What was found in a cave in South Africa may change how scientists believe Homo sapiens marched into modernity.

Sounds like they will have to rewrite the books on this stuff.

I bet that pretty soon, they will find a sample of early writing, and it will say,

"Heya, Fred, how's Pebbles?" and the next line will be,

"A regular one, Barn. Don't forget bowling tonight, right?"

Yabba, Dabba, Doo.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Verizon gets cought pitching cookies out of the jar.

A story out today about a major cell phone provider is pretty disturbing. The story indicates that Verizon gave tens of thousands of private and personal records to various governmental agencies without a court order.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Verizon Communications says it has provided federal, state and local law enforcement agencies tens of thousands of communication and business records relating to customers based on emergency requests without a court order or administrative subpoena.

In an October 12 letter to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, a senior Verizon official says that from 2005 through this September there were 63,700 such requests, and of those, 720 came from federal authorities.

Verizon defends this decision by citing the case of a pedophile who was caught as a result.

That seems a thin defense. I'm not arguing that these records don't contain information that could be useful in stopping criminals, but by circumventing the established rule of law (as expressed in a court order or warrant) they are violating the right to privacy that a phone customer should expect. We all know that we could legally be subject to surveillance if there is a court order, but to obtain one there has to be some evidence that we are engaged in illegal or dangerous activity. That fact serves as a balance against unchecked state authority.

I've heard people say that they don't care because they are doing nothing wrong. But in so doing they completely miss the point. It's not a matter of whether there is a reason to conduct surveillance or not, but a matter of whether the civil authorities follow a procedure, one which is broad enough to allow them to catch the guilty but has safeguards to protect the innocent aganst the broad intrusion of federal and state (not to use too fine a word) spying. If they do not have to follow procedure, that's where we all could potentially stand in jeopardy.

I'm not surprised frankly that if a cellular company engaged in this kind of practice, it would be Verizon.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Congressional resolution on the Armenian genocide

The Bush administration is worried about the reaction that a congressional committee resolution that states a simple fact-- that the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1917 was a 'genocide,' will cause in Turkey.

The Turks of course claim that these events, which happened before nearly anyone alive today was born, were simply a matter of inter-ethnic fighting.

First, let's dispense with that fiction. The Ottomans, who felt threatened by Christian Armenians because they were well aware that the colonial powers, France and England, planned to divide up the spoils of their empire if the side Turkey was on lost World War I (which they eventually did) wanted to get rid of their non-muslim population from an area in the eastern part of the empire. So following the orders of the so-called 'three Pashas' (leaders in the Ottoman government) Turkish troops and irregulars embarked on a campaign to systematically eradicate the Armenian population. Mehmet Talat Pasha, who held the position of Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, is known to have issued the order,

"Kill every Armenian man, woman, and child without concern".

On the orders of Mehmet Talat Pasha and others, Armenians were simply butchered by armed soldiers in their villages, the villages themselves were burned to the ground and those who managed to flee were pursued and mercilessly slaughtered when caught. Some were temporarily spared and let go in remote regions of the desert to die a slow death of starvation. Thousands of others avoided the soldiers but had to flee across the border into Russia where some survived but others froze to death, starved to death or were killed by local gangs of marauders-- not surprising at that, as the Christian Armenians have always been about as 'welcome' among their various Muslim neighbors as a cat in the dog pound. In fact, in many ways the Armenian genocide provided a blueprint for Hitler's Holocaust against those he considered undesirable-- primarily Jews, a generation later.

It is also true that while the Ottoman empire was carved up and shrunk down to its Turkish core (plus a third of Kurdistan-- more on that further down) and the British and the French demanded that the Turks pay some reparations, the one act of war that the Turks were never held accountable for was the Armenian genocide. It turned out that the Turkish concern about the Christian British and French colonialists was misplaced-- they did indeed divide the Ottoman empire, but in creating territories (which eventually became nations) like Iraq, Syria and Jordan, they just drew lines on a map, thinking in terms of plunder, not people. The peoples of these lands were artificially divided by lines drawn in London or Paris and often forced into new political entities which made no sense historically, culturally, or ethnically (much of our present problem in Iraq springs from this fact.)

Of course the powers that won WWI did not consider genocide to be very serious to begin with. Britain and France were guilty in their long colonial past of everything from the slave trade to plundering and carrying out extreme acts of brutality against indigenous peoples all over the world. For that matter, the United States was only a generation removed from Wounded Knee and would not have wanted to have its past history involving the Nez Perce or Cherokee, for example, scrutinized very closely. So the world simply forgot.

But now, ninety years too late, but still better than never, a committee of the United States Congress has forwarded to a floor vote a simple, non-binding resolution which contains no specific actions or recommendation for action. It simply acknowledges that the Armenian genocide was in fact a genocide-- and by any modern definition it meets the definition of one.

The Bush administration has questioned the timing of this resolution. They are worried that Turkey may invade northern Iraq to fight against Kurdish rebels operating from the region. To date Kurdistan has been the one area of Iraq that has been relatively peaceful so the administration is worried that a war going on in Kurdistan would complicate their already-unattainable goal of to winning a 'victory' in Iraq.

But to question the timing is ridiculous. For years they've had a rubber stamp Congress and one that would never have considered such a resolution. A Congress with the fortitude to do so was seated only nine months ago. And this is one of the first nonbinding resolutions they've taken up (and seriously, hasn't Turkey been threatening to invade Iraq for at least the past three years? The same argument would have been made at any time since January if the resolution was put forward).

Now, I don't mean to claim that Democrats are blameless when it comes to plowing under the Armenian genocide. After all, our party has controlled Congress before, and never passed such a resolution. However, we haven't since 1994, and even back then the issue hadn't reached such a stage of consciousness. Further, while I would argue that in general Republicans have been worse about showing moral clarity on human rights issues (except of course when the perpetrators were communists), Democrats have failed as well-- Jimmy Carter, for all his well-earned reputation as a champion of human rights, does have one huge blot on that record-- as President he supported Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge maintaining a seat in the United Nations and did not speak out or oppose Pol Pot, who was the biggest genocidal murderer of that day. And Bill Clinton did not speak out about, let alone take action to oppose the biggest genocide to have occurred on his watch, that in Rwanda.

Nevertheless, Carter and Clinton at least deserve credit for being willing to speak up against erstwhile allies like the Shah of Iran and some of the Latin American dictatorships for human rights abuses. Republicans' stands on human rights can best be related by a letter I wrote once to Jon Kyl (in 1988 or 1989 when I lived in Phoenix and he was my congressman.) I was concerned about reports that the government in Sudan (then technically a U.S. ally) was involved in the slave trade, supporting the kidnapping of African men, women and children who were then sold as slaves in Saudi Arabia and other countries. Kyl 'got back to me' with a response, and it was exactly word for word the lie that the Reagan era state department was perpetrating that the Sudanese government was doing everything they could to stop the slave trade. Of course everyone knew that wasn't true, they were hip deep in it (as they are today). But then today they are both failing to stop the slave trade and today's biggest genocide-- in Darfur, and the Bush administration again does as little as they can get away with.

Which leads us back to the Turkish situation involving the Kurds. It is true that the Turks feel threatened by Kurdish rebels, operating from what has become a free and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. However, Kurdistan itself is effectively a nation that has been divided up into three parts, Turkish, Iraqi and Iranian. When the colonialists drew their lines on the map, they separated the Iraqi and Turkish Kurds from each other, so that families and whole communities were torn asunder. And instead of allowing open travel and passage across that border, the Turks have elected to prevent it. And so they face a restless Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey, with a military resistance that has bases in Iraq. However, perhaps instead of invading Iraq, perhaps the Turks should consider establishing a separate autonomous region in southeastern Turkey, which could then peacefully remain in Turkey but have an open border with the Iraqi Kurdish region. In fact, this might also serve U.S. interests as well since the logical third piece of the equation would be for Iran to do the same thing with their third of Kurdistan, and they would certainly feel pressure to do so. But instead, Turkey has brutally suppressed any Kurdish aspirations for greater autonomy, and so they have certainly bought themselves more trouble.

But that is no reason why our Congress shouldn't take the time to state facts. And the Armenian genocide is a historical fact.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why I will vote Democratic for President regardless

Rarely do I get spurred to write something by a comment by an anonymous commenter, but I will respond to one I got on my last post, in which I questioned whether Hillary Clinton (who is presently leading in the polls) by taking a hawkish position on both Iraq and Iran was in tune with the majority of the voters.

In the post I wrote,

"As a partisan Democrat I will support the nominee no matter who it is,"

to which the commenter responded,

Would you support Newt Gingrich if he switched parties and ran under a Democratic banner? Would you have supported George Wallace because he was a Democrat? Would you support Charles Manson if he ran for office as a Democrat?

Of course not.

But let's limit the discussion to reality here. Newt Gingrich would never get a Democratic nomination because his views are so diametrically opposed to what almost all Democrats stand for. George Wallace (I assume 'anonymous' means the old Wallace, the segregationist) tried to get a nomination and failed, and that was when there were still some Democrats who agreed with segregation in the party. And that was decades ago. Charles Manson? Where did that come from?

Of the candidates who are running for the nomination, Hillary Clinton is probably my last choice, for reasons I described in the last post. However, let me say why I said what I did.

To begin with, look at the obvious. While I discussed the potential opening for a third party candidate her positions could create, history shows us that the next President will in the end almost certainly be a Democrat or a Republican. If I think that Hillary is too hawkish, how would having any of the leading Republicans, all of whom sound just like George W. Bush on Iraq in pledging to remain and fight it out, be better? In fact, it would be worse. Not only has Hillary at least talked about withdrawing some troops from Iraq and been critical at times of the war, but if Congress were to pass a bill like they did this year (and which she voted for) detailing withdrawal plans, she might sign it. She might not either, but I will take 'might' over the certainty that a President Giuliani, Thompson, McCain or Romney would veto it.

There are certainly those who claim that she is a 'Republican lite,' and at times I've agreed with them. But then we've had six years of a real Republican, and look where that has taken us. Besides, many people said the same about Al Gore in 2000, and many progressives either stayed home, did not cast a vote for President, or voted for Ralph Nader. And then it turned out later that Gore in reality was a progressive, but like many politicians he ran to the center in order to get elected. Who knew? Those who had read his first book, 'Earth in the Balance.' And Hillary's earlier books do show a progressive mindset, especially in terms of community and social structures, education and issues affecting women and kids. Her new healthcare proposals, while not as far reaching as the first set she offered in 1993, are certainly an improvement over what we have now. It could be that she could be a pleasant surprise, and certainly in some areas at least she would be.

There are those who would be attracted to an anti-war third party candidacy, as I mentioned in the last post. However, if we assume for the moment that it was a Bloomberg/Hagel ticket, keep in mind that Bloomberg is certainly not a guy who either understands or is likely to support anything that would involve making life easier for ordinary people, and Chuck Hagel, while he has done a fabulous job of speaking out in favor of leaving Iraq, has been a standard issue conservative Republican for most of his career in the Senate.

Further, even if it were a progressive anti-war ticket that ran on a third party platform what we have seen is that unlike in a parliamentary system, where a group of parties form a governing coalition, and a vote for a particular small party may strengthen that party and move the needle of the coalition closer to the positions of that party, in the American two-party system, third parties exert a negative influence, often electing the party that least agrees with them by siphoning votes from the candidate who more closely matches their position. We saw that in the 2000 Presidential race, and in fact a dirty little secret about Democrats' control of the present Senate is that our margin was made possible by a Libertarian candidate in Montana siphoning 10,000 mostly fiscally conservative (and likely Republican) votes in a race that John Tester won by 2000 votes.

Beyond that, I haven't always been such a partisan Democrat as I am today. During the Clinton era, I even flirted with voting for Republicans. However, the excesses of George W. Bush helped me realize why I am a Democrat, and I haven't voted for a Republican in almost a decade. For that matter, when I did vote for Republicans I almost always lived to regret that vote (if you live in Arizona, you will understand what I mean when I tell you that the last Republican I voted for was Calamity Jane-- and believe me, it didn't take long before I regretted it.)

It may be that voting for Hillary Clinton is like settling for Meat Loaf when you wanted a steak. But that's better than a soup line, which is about the equivalent of what the GOP is offering.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Does Hillary understand that this is a nation sick of war?

Yesterday at a campaign event in North Hampton, Iowa, Hillary Clinton had a testy exchange with an anti-war member of the crowd.

Referring to her recent vote in the Senate supporting the Bush administration in its attempts to get us into a military confrontation with Iran, as well as her 2002 vote in favor of going to war in Iraq and her continued refusal to admit being wrong about that vote, the attendee, Randall Rolph asked,

"Why should I support your candidacy, if it appears that you haven't learned from your past mistakes?"

Sen. Clinton's response was particularly concerning to me as a Democratic voter:

After defending the vote, Clinton finished by saying about the question, "somebody obviously sent it to you."

Rolph responded, "I take exception. This is my own research. Nobody sent it to me. I am offended that you would suggest that."

"Let me finish," Clinton answered, "I apologize. I just have been asked the very same question in three other places."

OK, I'm glad she realized right away that she had stepped over the line in making the accusation and apologized. But on a larger level, she just doesn't seem to get it.

There is a reason why she has been asked the question frequently. It's the same reason why Democrats, especially anti-war Democrats did very well in elections last year. The reason is that most people are sick and tired of the Iraq war, most people are sick and tired of the apparently reflexive reaction by the Bush administration and its supporters in Congress (which has included, unfortunately, Hillary Clinton) to take a hardline hawkish view towards everyone who disagrees with us, and most people are sick of the administration's unwillingness to consider alternative courses of action.

Further, in poll after poll after poll we have seen that most Americans want the U.S. out of Iraq, on a timetable if not immediately. Clinton may well be able to win the Democratic nomination, largely because those of us who want the U.S. out of Iraq are split between Obama, Edwards, Richardson, Biden and Kucinich, but to be honest, while I support Richardson myself (among other reasons, because he is the highest candidate in the polls who has promised to get every American all the way out of Iraq and is also the most qualified to be able to deliver on that promise), if it were a two person battle between Clinton and any of the above, I would support any of the above for the nomination. So she is lucky that the majority of the Democratic party is split so many different ways, but still is likely the last choice of most Democrats, and specifically so for one and one reason only-- Iraq.

But Iraq will be the central issue in next year's election, just as it was in last year's. And it is not only most Democrats who want us out of Iraq, but most voters. And that is where Hillary is definitely on the wrong side of things.

She may be gambling that in a race against a Republican, who certainly will sound like, if not embrace, George W. Bush on Iraq, saying we have to stay there until the cows come home, she can afford to take a hawkish stance and win the votes of liberals by talking about health care, education, etc.

But if so then it is not a wise gamble. I've blogged before about the dangers of the frontloaded primary system, in which we will have the nominees for November chosen by just forty-eight hours after the Super Bowl.

One huge problem with this is that it presents an enormous window of opportunity for a well-funded independent or third party candidate to jump in during the late spring or early or even mid summer, especially if the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees have just spent all spring attacking each other until most people don't want either of them. And in fact, this is not a theoretical scenario-- current NY mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who would not need to raise a dime, has dropped hints about running, possibly with Chuck Hagel, a retiring Republican Senator from Nebraska who is a Vietnam veteran and has come out strongly in favor of withdrawing from Iraq.

Such a scenario could result in a hawkish Hillary Clinton being in a very difficult position. Strong war hawks would likely continue to support the Republican nominee-- she might be lucky to pull off a handful but not enough to make much difference. On the other hand, Bloomberg or some other third party candidate would have the advantage of being able to triangulate an Iraq stance that favored getting out of Iraq-- hence agreeing with 2/3 of the electorate on the number one issue of the campaign while Hillary and the Republican were left to fight over the other one third.

As a partisan Democrat I will support the nominee no matter who it is, but I have to admit that I have a lot of reservations about whether Hillary Clinton either understands just how angry and frustrated most Americans are about Iraq, or frankly gives a hoot. Her response to Mr. Rolph's very appropriate question, ranging from flippant to arrogant, makes me thinks that she does not.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The 'flood' is a trickle.

Conservatives love to berate the Canadian health care system, ignoring such inconvenient but documented facts as the fact that Canadians live longer than we do. They claim that if Canadians are in good health, it is likely because of the flood of Canadians pouring across the border to get elective procedures in the United States that they can't get in Canada.

How much of a flood is this?

Well, I ran across an answer while perusing shrimplate's blog earlier today. In his post he cites Kate Steadman's health care blog in which she links to a study done in 2002 of how widely Canadians availed themselves of the opportunity to cross what is still an open border and have their health care needs taken care of here in the good ol' U.S. of A. The study concentrated on border areas of Quebec, but there is no reason to suppose that Canadians in Quebec love their health care any more than Canadians in other parts of the dominion.

The results are eye-popping-- for what they show isn't happening.

A 2002 Health Affairs paper examined hospitals near the border, as well as national surveys to tease out how many Canadians actually visit the U.S. to receive elective procedures.

In terms of hospitals along the border offering advanced treatments or special diagnostic technology (i.e. CT scans and MRIs), about 640 Canadians were seen, along with 270 for procedures like cataract surgery. They compare this to about 375,000 and 44,000 similar procedures in the region of Quebec alone during the same period. If you divide the total number of Canadians seeking those treatments in the US, divided by the number in Quebec alone that's about 0.09%. Not even a tenth of a percent.

Steadman goes on to cite data from 1996:

But the most striking stats come from the Canadian National Population Health Survey (NPHS). From the article:

Only 90 of 18,000 respondents to the 1996 Canadian NPHS indicated that they had received care in the United States during the previous twelve months, and only twenty had indicated that they had gone to the United States expressly for the purpose of getting that care.

Only 20 of 18,000 sought care in the United States.
(apparently less than those who were treated in the U.S. without seeking it, such as those involved in accidents or experiencing a medical emergency while visiting the U.S.)

Now, 1/10 of one percent is after all, one in a thousand. This is indeed a flood. I mean, I bet you could probably find one person in a thousand who given a choice would prefer driving a Yugo to a Cadillac. Or perhaps one person in a thousand who believes that the Apollo landings were all filmed on a stage in Hollywood, or maybe one person in a thousand who believes that Britney Spears is a good role model. Now, I don't mean to suggest that one person in a thousand is unimportant, but this hardly constitutes the 'flood' that the right would have you believe it is.

Steadman also gives us some context involving a poll of Americans who buy prescription drugs:

polling data from 2003 (approximately a year after the Health Affairs article) indicates that 8% answered YES to the following question:

"Have you ever bought prescription drugs from Canada or other countries outside the United States in order to pay a lower price?"

If 8% of the 18,000 Canadians polled in NPHS had expressly sought care in the United States, that would be 1,440. Not 20, as the survey showed.

In other words, we have 72 times the number of Canadians seeking care in the US going to Canada (or at least calling there) to get prescriptions.

Maybe that explains why pharmaceutical companies found it necessary to (successfully unfortunately) lobby Congress and the President to find ways to prevent Americans from buying the same drugs from the same factories from Canadian sources that they buy at twice the price in America. Note that the concerns of Canadians about not being able to come into the U.S. without a passport if/when we ever close the border because they will be inconvenienced in seeking American medical care haven't even come up in the debate. That is because it is such a vanishingly small number of Canadians who even come to the U.S. for elective procedures.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Leading from a weak hand.

One of the hallmarks of George W. Bush has been his stubborn refusal to change course no matter what, even when he is clearly way off track. We have seen it over the years in everything from his legislative agenda to his steadfast and unswerving determination to invade and then remain in Iraq, no matter what it has cost us.

It has even occasionally won him political victories, such as in the continuing funding of the Iraq war over this past summer (after all, arguing with Bush about this is a little like playing a highway game of chicken with a blind man.) But such victories have been pyrrhic. The cost to his presidency, his party and the nation have far outweighed the dubious benefits of whatever he believes he has gained.

And so we see now with the SCHIPS program, which President Bush promises to veto. He certainly will veto it, and claim that he is therefore standing for 'fiscal responsibility.' Of course vetoing a five year, $35 billion expansion of the program that covers medical costs for poor and uninsured children is dwarfed by the half trillion dollars he has already poured down a real rathole in Iraq, not to mention the nearly $200 billion in new Iraq spending he is seeking.

In fact, it is a good thing that the college aid bill that I wrote the last post on passed at about the same time as the SCHIPS fight was gearing up. The President, while expressing reservations, signed it. And the reason is clear-- he had a choice of either standing against the SCHIPS bill OR the college bill, but he did not have the political capital left, even within his own party, to be able to make a veto stand on both. So he quietly signed the college aid bill even though it is certainly a bill which would never have either been passed nor signed during the past six years of Republican control over the House.

That is however why I am optimistic that regardless of what this President thinks, sooner or later he will lose on Iraq and have to bring the troops home. His party would not support him on two vetoes, and the one he chose was arguably the more politically damaging of the two-- despite attempts to falsely spin it as an attack on the elderly (though most elderly are smart enough to remember which party it was that actually did try to privatize Social Security two years ago) there is no question that Republicans will have to answer why they were unwilling to increase the tax on a cigar anywhere upward from a nickel in order to pay for kids health care. Certainly not a question they will want to have to answer.

Iraq funding will certainly come up as well next year. And as the election draws closer it will be harder and harder for wavering war supporters to stick with their Hawkish President. And sooner or later they may well abandon him when it matters most. His unwillingness to bend dooms many in his own party.

Well, when it happens I will just heat up some popcorn and enjoy the show.
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