Saturday, October 16, 2010

The rise of Kazakhstan

If you're looking for something to read over the weekend, check out:

-- Der Spiegel: "Nazarbayev Dictates a Bright Future for Kazakhstan," by Erich Follath and Christian Neef.

It's a fascinating look at an up-and-coming authoritarian country with huge reserves of natural resources:

Kazakhstan has oil, coal and uranium -- and a capital full of stunning architecture. President Nursultan Nazarbayev hopes his country can become the region's leading economy, but his heavy-handed cult of personality is not universally welcomed. Others worry about China's growing influence.

It's a part of the world that we don't think nearly enough about but that we need to understand with great urgency. (Even if there's an awful lot that's truly awful about this country in particular. Including Borat.)

Here are a few photos from Der Spiegel's gallery:

"Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev is everywhere in the country. He has been able to greatly improve the country's economy and has built a shiny new capital city, but many complain of the strong hand with which he rules Kazakhstan. Opposition isn't tolerated and when he steps down, most assume that one of his relatives will step up."

"Now, [Astana, Kazakhstan's new capital city] boasts a large collection of ultra-modern buildings and is the epicenter of Nazarbayev's cult of personality. This tower is dedicated to the country's president -- opposition leaders have vacated Astana for fear of persecution."

"The Ministry of Oil and Gas resembles a kind of triumphal archway. The country has high hopes for its reserves of fossil fuels. Nazarbayev calls Kazakhstan an 'Asian Snow Leopard,' a reference to the Asian Tiger economies further east."

Through the archway of this statist monstrosity, you can see Khan Shatyr, the world's largest tent, opened earlier this year, cult of personality in full swing, to celebrate Nazarbayev's 70th birthday.

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Glenn Beck, Nazi re-enactment apologist

You know that whole thing about Ohio Republican House candidate Rich Iott dressing up as a Nazi for some silly (and on some level rather nefarious) WWII re-enactment? (The Atlantic's Joshua Green weighed in on it here and here, our own Mustang Bobby here.)

Well, it seems that Glenn Beck, who's more than happy to equate progressivism with fascism, is a-okay with it:

On his radio show [earlier this week], Glenn Beck addressed the recent controversy around House Republican candidate Rich Iott, who reportedly dresses up in Nazi clothing for World War II re-enactments...

Beck was incredulous that this could be a campaign issue, arguing that Iott's dressing up as a Nazi was comparable to dressing up like Darth Vader or playing cowboys and Indians. Really?


Beck's defense is even more nonsensical when you consider his history of seeing Nazis and socialists everywhere on the left. He sees these fictional connections -- can you imagine how much hay Beck would make of a progressive who chose to play dress up in this fashion? For goodness sake he spun an entire story out of an ornament that had Mao on it that the White House was unaware of.

Darth Vader is fictional, as is much of the romanticism around "cowboys and Indians." The Nazis were very real, like the unit that Iott and his group apparently play as. Nobody is arguing about Iott's right to engage in this activity, but as a candidate for public office the decision to portray one of the worst forces the world has ever faced - for recreation - is going to arouse scrutiny no matter how Beck tries to dismiss it.

It's hardly surprising that Beck is a hypocrite on this, or that he's essentially an apologist for dressing up as a Nazi and getting the history totally wrong.

After all, for all that he talks up freedom -- "freedom" for him and those like him -- it seems he'd be far more comfortable with Nazism than with liberal democracy, given his opposition to progressivism and his view that America would be better off if only the clock could be rolled back to some utopian past of authoritarian bliss.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

WTF, Harry Reid?

Sharron Angle is a Democrat's dream come true. Even for an embattled and deeply unpopular Democrat like Harry Reid, she should be easily sent packing. Unlike fellow crazy Christine O'Donnell, she doesn't have the good looks and snappy one-liners that play so well in America's superficial political culture. (We've written about her craziness again and again -- click here and scroll down.) And so it takes a massive implosion to look bad in juxtaposition, and that is precisely what happened to Reid last night:

Why Harry Reid agreed to have a debate with Sharron Angle is a bit of a mystery to me. If your campaign is based on portraying your opponent as loony, then why give that opponent a chance to look reasonable? Lyndon Johnson never debated Barry Goldwater. Then again, I'm no political strategist. And neither, I've come to see, is Harry Reid. So let's focus on what matters now: that a debate was held in Nevada last night between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle. And its upshot was -- sorry, folks -- that Angle improved her chances.

I'm not suggesting that Sharron Angle, having been granted the opportunity to look reasonable, looked reasonable. On the contrary, she was very much herself -- smiling maniacally in her crimson suit and hurling out bizarre fictions. But she looked reasonable enough. Lies about policy don't really hurt you in a debate, especially when they're voiced with conviction. What hurts you is looking evasive and squishy. Sharron Angle provided the lies. Harry Reid provided the squish. 

That's right, the Senate majority leader, an experienced politician who should know better, lost a debate that he didn't need to have to one of the archetypes of 2010 Republican insanity. 

Oh sure, it wasn't entirely Reid's fault. A political culture in which lies play well is a sick political culture, one that rewards extremism-with-conviction over wishy-washy reasonableness. And, too, as Kevin Drum put it, "Angle may have benefited from galactically low expectations."

But still. You have to be something of a loser to lose to Angle, and, let's be honest about this, Reid has the stink of loserdom on him.

Read T.A. Frank's piece in full for some analysis of the details of the debate. And read also Jon Ralston's post-debate take at the Las Vegas Sun. As usual, he gets it right:

Sharron Angle won The Big Debate.

Angle won because she looked relatively credible, appearing not to be the Wicked Witch of the West (Christine O’Donnell is the good witch of the Tea Party) and scoring many more rhetorical points. And she won because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looked as if he could barely stay on a linear argument, abruptly switching gears and failing to effectively parry or thrust.

Whether the debate affects the outcome -- I believe very few Nevadans are undecided -- it also perfectly encapsulated the race: An aging senator who has mastered the inside political game but fundamentally does not seem to care about his public role (and is terrible at it) versus an ever-smiling political climber who can deliver message points but sometimes changes her message or denies a previous one even existed.

Ugh. I've never expected Reid to run away with the race, not with anti-incumbent populist rage all the rage at the moment, but, again, he should have no problem beating such an overwhelmingly unqualified and extremist opponent.

It's embarrassing, and, with Democrats fighting for their political lives, hardly what the party needs from one of its leaders.

For more, see Steve M. and Steve Benen.

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Isaac and Ishmael

By R.K. Barry

Just after 9/11, the producers of the The West Wing realized that, as a show all about politics, they couldn't very well ignore recent events. At the same time, they couldn't really make 9/11 an integral part of the show as the The West Wing didn't track current events but rather had its own story line about an imagined White House. The compromise was to have senior White House staff find themselves in a "lock-down" with a group of high school students during what turns out to be a not serious security breach. The episode was called Isaac and Ishmael.

For the episode, White House staff engage the students about a number of issues including the causes of terrorism and how to address it. In what I thought at the time was an extremely interesting exchange, the character of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Witford, asks the students what the American equivalent of Islamic terrorists would be. After some discussion, it is agreed that the Klu Klux Klan would fit the bill.

The point he was making was clear: sometimes extremists do awful things in the name of a twisted view of their own religion. But adherents to the same religion don't always believe all the same things (thank God). The KKK is ostensibly Christian, which you can tell by the crosses they like to burn, but very few decent church-going Americans would identify with them. Maybe we should start calling the KKK "Christian extremists" just in case the fact that not all Christians are extremists should need some clarification.

Watching Bill O'Reilly's recent appearance on The View reminded me of this West Wing episode. O'Reilly kept saying that the reason we shouldn't build a community centre within blocks of ground zero is because the terrorists who attacked America were Islamic. I know logic is not O'Reilly's strong suit, but he really should work on that and parhaps watch a few old episodes of the West Wing.

Another thing that bothered me greatly about what O'Reilly had to say is his blaring claim that 70% of Americans don't want the Islamic community centre there. I don't know, maybe that number is true, but what if it is? I have said this before and I will say it again, what if we did a poll of white southerners in the 1960s about whether or not schools and colleges in the south should be integrated? What do you suppose those numbers would look like?

For those who fell asleep during this part of their own education, America is a liberal democracy or constitutional democracy, not a direct democracy. We have a constitution that sets limits on what we can and can't do by a simple show of hands. I've always thought that was pretty sensible. For a bunch a people who talk a big game about adhering to the Constitution, O'Reilly and his bunch really have no idea what that would mean.

School's out.

(Cross-posted from Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Fox is Republican? That's crazy!

By Capt. Fogg

Well, there you have it. There is no center any more and objective reality is defined as a manifestation of insanity. Bill O'Reilly says people who think Fox News supports the Republican Party are "crazy left-wing loons" because although the corporate owners are all Republicans, save those who are Saudi Royalists; because Fox stages rallies for the Tea Party, publicizes and and funds them along with Republican think tank and propaganda groups; Because Fox gives million dollar contributions to Republican candidates and nothing at all to others; because virtually all important employees there are lifelong Republicans, because much of the editorial staff have worked for Republican presidents and even such lefties as Karl Rove can and will be publicly browbeaten into supporting promising to support any and all Republican candidates including Christine O'Donnell -- only a loony would think they're Republicans. No, that's not the gutter, that's right down the center. No, that's not Thule, Greenland, that's Paris. That's fair and balanced. Crazy as a Fox.

It's only another word for "you're in my way" in O'Reilly speak. So in response to President Clinton's mention that Fox's rhetoric was whipping Republicans into a "white heat," Balanced Bill replied with.

What he's trying to do is demonize Fox as carrying the water for Republicans. That's a theme Democrats have been using for months.

Months? You sure are right on top of things, Mr. O'Reilly. And of course if Democrats use it, it can't be true, because they're not fair and balanced like you: they guy whose obviously not a Republican. Demonize? Are Republicans horned and forked tongued demons then? Is that why you don't admit to it?

You're the guy that invented a story about Saginaw Michigan banning red and green because they were God-hating liberals at war with Christmas. That was five years longer ago than "months."

Mr. O'Reilly, you've excused every Republican action from starting a war under false pretenses, to torture, to warrantless spying, to libertine and deviant sexual excesses, and called everyone who ever disagreed with your hyperbole a pin head, an idiot, and insane. You're a Republican, you support Republicans exclusively, and your network will punish anyone who deviates from utter devotion to any Republican candidate no matter how grotesquely unqualified. Why are you afraid to admit it?

You lie, sir. You lie a lot. You're a radically extreme extremist with a total disregard for truth and Fox pays you a fortune to balance your farcical contradictions and concocted stories on your nose like a trained circus seal. You reported, the world has decided. You lie.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Linda McMahon, WWE, and violence against women

Guest post by R.K. Barry

Jackson Katz had a very important piece at The Huffington Post recently about Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon. Katz wrote:

[U]ntil Linda McMahon decided to run as a Republican for the United States Senate, she was one-half of one of the most culturally destructive, and blatantly misogynistic business partnerships in the history of popular entertainment. Under Linda and her husband Vince McMahon's leadership, the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) has featured some of the most brutal, violent and hateful depictions of women in all of media culture over the past twenty years. 

He discussed the fact that all of this has received scant attention from the media. He pointed out that McMahon has amazingly pitched much of her Senate campaign to women.

I have always found professional wresting the most idiotic of spectacles, whether in the old days of Haystacks Calhoun and Andre the Giant or more recently with its fully scripted narratives that only the slack-jawed, or those too young to know any better, could find entertaining. 

Having worked for several years for an advocacy group that focused on educating the public about violence against women, I have a particular sensitivity to the issue. But I am at a loss to know how anyone viewing the video that Katz posts, showing women degraded by the WWE for the purposes of entertainment, could support Linda McMahon, who made millions off this kind of dreck.

The video is about ten minutes long and speaks for itself. (See below.)

As civilized as we like to think we are, in so much of our culture it is still simply the case that women exist for the entertainment of men. And it seems that this is okay for too many people.

If it were not okay, Linda McMahon would never have been considered a serious contender for high public office. In a fully civilized world, she and her business-partner husband would have been booted off the public stage a long time ago.

This is hard to watch but worth sitting through. It's one of those things. If a person watches this and still thinks that Linda McMahon is a suitable candidate for the United States Senate, not much more can be said.

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John Raese, ignorant twit

The West Virginia Republican, running against Gov. Joe Manchin for Senate, is a global warming denialist, an arrogant rich prick who inherited his fortune (and thinks he's virtuous for having done so), and an ignorant twit who, white as white can be, can't (and can't be bothered to) pronounce correctly the "ethnic" names of some of America's most distinguished non-white public figures. Think Progress:

[A]s the Charleston Daily Mail reports, this does not appear to be an isolated incident:

Last month, he struggled over U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's name.

"Was it Sarah Manor, Sarah Manorgan, Sarah Morgan?" he was quoted as saying by a monthly publication based in Shepherdstown.

In an appearance several weeks ago in St. Mary's, Raese called U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu by at least two different Asian-sounding last names.

Raese's failure to remember a name that even vaguely resembles that of a recently confirmed Supreme Court justice calls into question whether Raese has paid attention to the kind of issues he would face as a senator. 

Actually, it calls a lot more than that into question.

It's ignorant, of course, but the disrespect, disregard, and disdain is evident here, and, while he has gotten non-"ethnic" names wrong as well, it's hardly surprising that he blatantly mangles the "ethnic" ones.

I know the word "bigotry" gets thrown around too much these days, but there is a sort of bigotry behind this. It's not just ignorance.

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So you don't think the Tea Party is racist?

This billboard, below, appears on I-70 in Grand Junction, Colorado. The Daily Sentinel reports:

A Grand Junction billboard depicting President Barack Obama as a terrorist, a gangster, a Mexican bandit and a gay man is getting national attention.

The billboard, erected along the I-70 Business Loop between 28 1/2 and 29 roads sometime Monday, depicts the four "Obamas" sitting around a table with playing cards showing only sixes bunched in groups of three.

Also on the table is a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a liberty bell, a toy soldier and a statue of Justice holding a balance.

Beneath the Obama caricatures are numerous rats, some of which are labeled as the IRS, trial lawyers, the EPA and the Fed. Sitting above all that is a line, "Vote DemocRAT. Join the game," which is positioned between two vultures, one of which is labeled the U.N. and the other with the name Soros, a reference to George Soros, a major national Democratic financial supporter.

It's not known who paid for the billboard, but the "artist" is a local guy named Paul Snover, a "constitutionalist libertarian," teabagger, and 9/12er. It's pretty clear what the billboard is all about, and it's being criticized by both sides:

Mesa County Democratic Party Chairwoman Martelle Daniels called the billboard racist and homophobic, while her GOP counterpart, Mesa County Republican Party Chairman Chuck Pabst, called it "juvenile."

"It's beyond disrespectful," Daniels said. "You would like to think that we all would show respect for our commander-in-chief, but this is just beyond that. It's racist, it’s homophobic, and it's really cowardly."

Like Daniels, Pabst said he doesn’t like it because it doesn't help further intelligent dialogue about the president or his policies.

"That kind of political positioning and statements, I think, are in bad taste," Pabst said. "It's reprehensible and disrespectful, and that's not what any honorable person would put forth. To ridicule somebody in this manner is juvenile." 

But of course it's just what you'd expect from the Tea Party and, whatever Pabst's sensible protests, from today's GOP, which is now pretty much aligned with Tea Party positions and priorities, however ugly they may be.

And this billboard just puts all that ugliness together in one place: Obama as black, Obama as Mexican, Obama as gay. It's a one-stop display of right-wing bigotry.

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Picking Up The Gauntlet

By Carl
I've been challenged to come up with areas where I disagree with President Barack Obama. It seems that my blog posts mocking the moronic right wing of this country have been taken to mean I'm a buttboy for the current administration. I'm not.
First, in my defense, so much anger has been wrongly directed at the President. Much of what people are whining about-- higher taxes, job loss, a struggling economy-- are either patent bullshit or misinterpreted. Also, in my defense, so many other have jumped on the Bash Barack bandwagon that I haven't felt a need to point out the obvious flaws in his programs and policies. Third, where I have disagreed with him, in areas like environmental policy, bank bailouts, and energy programs, I've posted about those programs, and incidentally criticized the President within.
None of this should imply that I do not support Barack Obama as President. I do. I think he was dealt a shitty hand by an administration and political party that doesn't give a crap about the nation apart from how it can be raped by itself and its corporate overlords. Further, I think this cancer has infested Obama's own party to the extent that not only patriotism has gone by the wayside, but even party loyalty, the one thing a political party should at bottom expect, has been devoured.
I'm looking at you, Ben Nelson...Blanche Lincoln. 
Obama is regularly and hyperbolically accused of being far left wing, of having a leftist agenda, of leading the country into socialism.
Bollocks. If anything, Obama has been right-centrist in governing. He has consistently sided with corporate interests over populist fervor.
Would a socialist bail out mulitnational banking corporations, the very heart of the capitalist system? And if he did, would he expect a return on that investment?
Wouldn't a socialist have nationalized AIG, the insurance company that is (or was) a linchpin to the entire frikkin' American economy, to ensure it never failed again? Instead, Obama bailed that out, too, and practically handed it a blank check of government guarantees, something any insurance company would have wet dreams over. Imagine, a company that deals in risk being absolutely risk-free! 
Would a socialist allow the heatlhcare reform system to genuflect to anti-baby factions that demanded that ghost pro-choice "measures" be stricken before dialogue could even begin? Or to allow the very problem with our private insurance plan, the greedy and rapacious HMOs, a seat at the table of reform?
Would YOU eat dinner with cannibals?
Here's some of the areas I've disagreed with Obama, vehemently:
1) The TARP program should have been focused on bailing out homeowners. Period. Take the $350 billion, cut it by two-thirds and give troubled homeowners a break in terms of paying down their mortgages. At the very least, this buys the economy a little time to swallow the inevitable foreclosures, allows consumers to actual spend a little more money, and gives us all time to wean ourselves over the enslavement we've subjected ourselves to, in the form of easy credit and rampant "shoved down our throats" consumerism.
Indeed, Cash For Clunkers, that amazingly successful program, is all the proof you need to see that Americans want to buy stuff, but there's deep uncertainty about jobs and the future. So another third of that TARP money could have gone to public works programs, shovel-ready infrastructure improvements that would have employed people at all levels. Yes, some of that has occured and thank god, or else employment numbers really would have hit Great Depression levels, instead of settling in at levels seen only during Republican administrations. We needed more. We'll get some more, but there's a problem, that I'll get into in a moment.  
Some banks would have need bailing out, to be sure, but it's idiotic that we gave money to banks that not only could have paid us back at any time, but eventually paid us back ahead of schedule. Clearly, those banks did not need that help! The S&P 500 is still overvalued, so there's still fat in the stock market. We could have let other investment banks go, we could have eevn let some of the money center banks go as well. really can't blame Obama for this: Bush and Hank Paulson had already pushed the bank bailouts front and center. It would have been next to impossible to avoid the final step. And in Obama's defense, TARP has been wildly successful thus far: something on the order of a ten percent default rate. Given the size of the fund and the deep troubles in the economy, this is a victory.
But my plan would have been more successful, less expensive, and more important, would have helped the people who really needed it. Now, those folks will never get help because Republicans have successfully branded the Bush bailout as "Obama's failure." It would be toxic to go back and ask for more money.
So fuck you, Rick Santelli and the Teabaggers you rode in on! I hope you all get foreclosed.
2) Taxes, but also Jobs: In addition to the above outline, a jobs program should have been front and center on Obama's agenda when he took office. Even if it meant reviving the Civlian Conservation Corps and paying people to pick up trash along the roadside, it would have helped. Right now, the private sector has added a net of one million jobs in 2010. It took Bush SIX YEARS to reach that level of hiring.
People are underemployed and the underlying truth is, people have stagnated in jobs and salary for thirty years, all sacrificed at the altar of tax cuts for the rich and the retarded (sorry, Trig) idea that somehow making the rich richer helps the middle class.
It doesn't. It might help the abject poor, but it does nothing, nada, zilch, zero, for the wage earners of this nation. A true jobs program would demand the rich start putting money back into the economy and stop hoarding it.
You know what the rich have done with all that tax "relief"? Stuck it in a mattress. Literally. That's not my opinion, that's what Moody's discovered. They haven't pumped it back into their businesses, hiring workers. They haven't spent it on their mansions and yachts, employing tens of thousands of Americans (but plenty of undocumented workers). They've stuffed it into investments that likely are off-shore, meaning that China is getting that money too. These assholes are raping our country twice, once on the tax bill and once by profiting from foreign exchange and debt financing, and I don't know about you, but if someone wants sex from me, it's going to cost them.
Ass, gas, or grass, no one rides for free! Soak the rich? OH! HELL! YEA! Because god knows, they soak us at the drop of a zipper.
3) War: Iraq should have ended in 2009. Afghanistan should have been the focus immediately, and we should have been out of both already. Period. You can make the case, and I have, that we broke them so we should fix them, but you know what? We can't fix the unfixable. We can put it on its feet, brush its coat off and get it back on the road, and then move the hell out of the way.
By the way, these assholes who are whining about deficits and national debt and tax cuts...where the fuck were you when Bush was spending us into the poorhouse and wasn't even honest enough to budget for it? Ten trillion in national debt doesn't appear overnight when the total of the budget deficit in 2009 was "only" $1.1 trillion! Bush took office famously with a budget surplus and a national debt of just over $3 TRILLION!
4) Energy policy: I was intrigued to see a form of this floated a few weeks back, but my energy plan is simple. To wean America off fossil fuels, offer a bounty of one billion dollars (or maybe now, since that's stopped being real money after the Bush bailout, ten billion) to the company that can come up with a renewable energy source that is as BTU-efficient as fossil fuels and that doesn't degrade over long transmission distances. But...there's a catch to that ten billion dollars. That technology immediately becomes licensed to the Federal government. The company can sell the energy or the technology but in order to maintain the grid at uniform levels, there has to be an accountability. The government, unlike its other R&D arm, the Defense Department, gets to clamp down on how the technology evolves, scientifically AND economically. The deregulation of the utlility industry was supposed to lower our electricity, phone, and gas rates. It has not. I would reinstitute the profit limitations on energy: you can charge whatever you want, but you can only earn a set percentage. This means, you have to reinvest in the infrastructure, and is a powerful incentive to maintain cheap rates.
5) Economic Stimulus: I've said or referred to this in at least two places already, but here we go again. Economic stimulus in America has always, ALWAYS, come from the bottom up. Give money to the people who have needs, and they will spend it. Give money to those who don't have needs, and they'll sock it away. Yes, both grow the economy, but giving it to people who spend grows it far faster. 
The national debt will take centuries to pay down to manageable levels, I'm afraid, barring of course a war of conquest that sees us taking over China and India, then exploiting their resources by slavery. 
But we can balance the budget, and in the next few years. We can start. And we can expand social programs to protect those who have been harmed badly by the corporatocratic Republican party.
Give every family in the country $5,000. Let's assume 100 million families, and we're talking about  $500 billion. Compared to the bank bailout, that's small. But here's the kicker: Of that $500 billion, much if not most of it would be spent, and it would be spent in such a way that it would immediately impact every industry in America, from travel to electronics to banking to education.  
Let's assume then a 25% average tax rate (including payroll taxes), so the government would see at least $125 billion back within a year. A small downpayment on the economic recovery to come. $375 billion is infused into the economy, and that now starts to grow the way money in the economy grows: an investment here, a few jobs there, and next thing you know, that $375 billion is back at $500 billion and the government gets another piece of that.
And we're all better off for it.
6) Healthcare reform: I have no problem with private healthcare as a concept. Japan has it, and has 100% coverage, at lower rates than we do, and has 3,000 insurance companies competing for policyholders. The catch?
Japan puts a lid on profits and rate increases.
My preference would have been single-payer national healthcare, of the sort they have in England and the rest of the civilized world. I realize that may be more than this nation can swallow, but there it is. You want socialism? That's as close to socialism as you're going to find on this planet, comrade, and it's one stinking sector of a few countries who have been around a lot longer than our upstart nation, and oh by the way, they've debated this and found our system wanting.
They're the smart ones. We ought to be taking lessons.
I realize this has gone to greater lengths than I imagined it would, so I'm going to close it here. To say that I am in total agreement with Obama because I defend him is ludicrous and inane. Clearly, he's just another right wing corporatist tool to me.
But he's a damn sight better than the other guys.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Christine O'Donnell uses debate against Chris Coons to portray herself as supremely unqualified for U.S. Senate

I watched a bit of the Coons-O'Donnell debate last night on CNN, but I just couldn't be bothered to pay much attention to it. O'Donnell is way behind in the polls, the debate was only televised nationally because O'Donnell is a Tea Party celebrity and media sensation, and, well, it was just plain embarrassing. Coons is a smart, thoughtful man who answered the questions with confidence and a firm grasp of the issues, while O'Donnell is an extremist fool who is in way over her head and who revealed herself to be pretty much what we already knew she was, a woman who is supremely unqualified for any office, let alone the U.S. Senate.

Asked by Wolf Blitzer -- during a part of the debate I was watching -- whether she believes evolution to be a myth, as she has said publicly, she dodged the question, calling her views "irrelevant." That's just sheer cowardice. Of course her ignorant theocratic views are relevant. Blitzer pressed her again and again on this, but she repeatedly refused to answer the question. Instead of defending herself or laying out sensible policy proposals, she resorted to right-wing soundbites and preferred, predictably enough, to attack Coons, calling him a Marxist at every opportunity, seeking to discredit him simply by calling him names. Coons did once write an article about his study-abroad year in Kenya that referred to "bearded Marxists," but of course O'Donnell and others on the right have grossly misrepresented what he wrote, and, as he said during the debate, it was a "joke." (That whooshing sound you hear is the truth going right over O'Donnell's head.)

Anyway, Coons should win this race easily and last night's debate just confirmed that O'Donnell is a moron.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The end of the Chile mine rescue

As I write, the last miner, #33, the foreman, Luis Urzua, is being loaded into the capsule. What an amazing, amazing rescue this has been. (I wrote about it extensively last night.) There are any number of reasons to be cynical -- the careful stage-management, the political side of it all, the upcoming commercialization of the miners' ordeal -- but at the heart of this is an inspirational story of the triumph of the human spirit, of the courage of the miners and the heroism of everyone who worked so hard to get them out, an international effort that has justly become an international sensation.

And, yes, perhaps we only pay attention to such stories when they are so sensational, and perhaps we tend to overlook the suffering of those who aren't on television, of those who aren't granted special media attention, those suffering in foreign lands as well as those suffering close to home. And so we pay such close attention to the plight of these miners and celebrate their rescue even as we ignore, say, the suffering of the homeless in our otherwise wealthy cities.

Even so, we should take nothing away from what has happened in Chile. It is simply incredible.

And there's nothing wrong with feeling good about this wonderful accomplishment. There is so much badness and ugliness in the world. Sometimes we need goodness to prevail. It has done so today.


After over 22 and a half hours, the rescue is about to end. The siren just went off. The capsule is near the surface. There are still a few rescue workers to be brought up, but this is the last of the miners.

And here he is. The rescue is over.

Chileans deserve to wave their flag, to sing their anthem, and to rejoice. And, in a way, we are all Chileans, if just for a day.

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Understanding Turkey's foreign policy

A few days ago, I returned from a trip to Turkey, sponsored by the Rumi Forum. The trip included visits to four cities in Turkey and meetings with community, business and political groups. As someone who studies Turkey, the trip was an incredible opportunity to learn first-hand about a country I already admire. I have discussed my thoughts on domestic issues in Turkey. I also gained greater insight into the country's foreign policy. 

Throughout the 20th century, Turkish politics was marked by the secular nationalist image instilled in the country by Ataturk's dramatic post-Ottoman reforms. The primary goal of the country's foreign policy was to maintain its security and territorial integrity. This led to a hard stance on minority issues such as the Kurds, hesitation to address the Armenian issue, and tensions with Greece over Cyprus. It also contributed to Turkey's US ties; fearful of the Soviet threat, Turkey allied itself with America and joined NATO. It also established close ties with Israel.

Turkey's foreign policy has changed markedly since the rise of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a conservative party with Islamist roots. Opposition to Israeli policies has increased, as has hesitation to support US military actions in Iraq. At the same time, Turkey has reached out more to regional states such as Syria and Iran, made some progress on the Armenia and Kurdish issues, and intensified its efforts to join the European Union. These changes have led to a flurry of speculation, including some decrying Turkey's Islamic or Eastern shift, and others claiming its international relations can be explained by economic interests.

Neither approach is completely accurate. Turkey's relations with Israel and the United States are more strained than they were throughout the Cold War, but they do not represent a complete break. And claims of an Islamic shift in Turkish foreign policy are contradicted by the AKP's great efforts to join the EU. Instead, the two can be seen as part of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's "Zero-problems" approach to international relations, which involves management of all regional and international issues. This includes regional tensions such as Turkish-Syrian relations and Iran's nuclear program.

At the same time, it would be inaccurate to claim economics or material interests alone are driving these changes. Turkish people I met with did discuss the monetary gains from the AKP's policies, but they also discussed their support for the government in terms of its new approach to democracy, and Turkey's historical and cultural ties to surrounding states. Beyond this, there is the fact that something changed with the AKP; something about this party led to a different approach to foreign policy. The potential economic benefits from trade with Syria and EU membership, and the stability to be gained from resolving the Iran issue were present before the AKP came to power. That is, in order to explain Turkey's current foreign policy, one cannot point solely to these international factors, which for the most part remained constant.

Instead, I would argue, it is something about the AKP that led to these changes. Again, it is not a story of an Islamist party coming to power. Instead, we have a conservative party with a broad base. Their supporters include business interests, religiously-minded voters, and minority groups. And the AKP's leaders have a distinct belief in the important role Turkey should play in international politics, which includes economic, security and religious issues. Religion is important to AKP members and supporters, but as a public value, not an Iranian-style theocracy.

When formulating foreign policy, then, Turkish leaders likely weigh these various interests and concerns. Economic gains must be balanced against security, domestic stability and religious values. At times these point in the same direction; Turkish-Syrian ties satisfy Muslim identification among voters, help Turkish businesses, ease regional tensions, raise Turkey's international profile, and alleviate domestic unrest through economic growth. At other times, these pressures may be counteracting each other, such as in the case of Israel or relations with the United States over Iraq; the increased prestige and domestic support gained through Turkish actions on these issues accompany tensions with allies and possible regional instability.

The answer, as always, is more complicated than most let on. Turkey is not becoming an Islamist or anti-Western state, but it is also not only acting on material incentives. Instead, its domestic politics, the makeup of its governing party, and the current state of the international system have combined to create a unique and dynamic foreign policy.

The important question, then, is what does this mean for the United States? Turkey still values its ties with the United States, and there is a great potential for the United States to work closely with Turkey on issues of common concern, such as regional stability, counterterrorism and trade. But America will have to accept some disagreements over the means through which these goals are achieved, just as it does with other allies like Britain and France.

Turkey's changing foreign policy is not a harbinger of a new multipolar world. It is, however, the first chance for the Obama Administration to act on its vision of a "multi-partner" world, which Secretary of State Clinton has laid out. The manner in which the Administration deals with Turkey, then, will have a great impact on its legacy and the US position in the 21st century international system. 

(Previously posted at The Huffington Post.)

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New signs of the same old thing

By Capt. Fogg

I believe it was the Architect Frank Lloyd Wright who once griped that Florida, being the lowest part of the United States, everything loose had slid down into it, but whether he did or didn't, there are many unsavory things down here in America's bilges. Not that we're all that unique. One can turn over rocks anywhere and find the same sort of things that turn up in the Sunshine state, but here they're more likely not to bother hiding.

So I'm leaving the local car parts store yesterday, coming up empty handed in my search for a transmission shift cable bushing and right next door in the seedy strip mall containing a barbecue joint where the ancient, blackened smoker sits in the parking lot and a pawn shop in front of which a weathered 1950's pickup truck has been moldering since I moved here 9 years ago.

These times are good for the pawn shops and I happen to be a fan of History Channel's Pawn Stars featuring a shop in Las Vegas operated by some funny characters and stuffed with real treasures, so I decided to have a peek. I'd been there before. It was about 6 months after President Obama took office and the two men seated inside in front of a large screen TV where Fox News was raging away were declaring that that damned Commie in the White house had had 6 months to fix the economy and had failed miserably. Little has changed, except for the worse. Same two men, same TV, same dark, gloomy, mildewed interior filled with the seedy detritus of sad lives and one hell of a lot of guns. Same suspicious glower. All that was new was a sign saying "I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." underneath which was the name Barack Hussein Obama - "from his book Audacity of Hope."

There's been a rash of newspaper comments about such things appearing in stores all over town and of course, that quote is gross misinterpretation of what the book really said.* Other stores have offended customers with entirely fictitious quotes by the First Lady. The real quote of course showed his promise of support for American citizens if such things as the internment of Japanese-American citizens should happen again.

I have to admit that the sheer firepower displayed there made me decide to vote with my feet and not shoot my mouth off and I simply left. But of course, to the devotees of the Obamahate religion, such heresy as any bit of truth I might have offered would not have been well received or credited. What's the use? No newspaper editorials debunking this disgusting garbage are effective, since newspapers are "Liberal" as we all know. The religious symbols of Obamahate are becoming as widespread as those chrome fish and other religious declarations scrawled on Mom's dump truck. It's not new, it's just a new sign in the old pawn shop.

Of course they can't find enough real criticism, even though there is plenty. That would require more in terms of intelligence and education than they possess -- nor can they simply say what they really mean, thanks to what they call "political correctness" which to me, is a cynical name for common decency: decency, at least as it relates to the cult of nativist and racist bigotry, being a Liberal affectation rather than a virtue. So they make up stories about the president. Easier than discussing the likelihood that TARP 'spending' will prove to be a net gain or whether financing a war on the prospect that a disproved scheme will generate sufficient revenue. Call him a Kenyan tribesman, a somehow Communist Muslim fanatic. Call his wife a gorilla. Safer than using the N word and revealing what you really are.

*They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction."

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Carl Paladino -- New York can do a lot better

Guest post by R.K. Barry

I'm not sure if New York Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino has officially changed his name to "Tea Party Favourite Carl Paladino," but I rarely see his name mentioned without being described in this way. 

In any case, they can have him. Paladino is crazy and slimy and bigoted and all kinds of other disgusting stuff, but he's also really stupid, which is a good thing for his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo.

Following his gay-bashing rant at an event over the weekend, pundits of all stripes have been trying to understand what makes Carl tick. They want to know how someone in his position could say, "I don't want [our children] to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option." They want to know how someone so clueless could have had this much political success. Even inquiring Republicans want to know.

Let's face it, in this campaign season all you have to do is blather a few platitudes about Washington insiders and then some nonsense about runaway government spending, wrap yourself up in the flag, and, lo and behold, you are the Republican nominee in too many states to mention.

But the reason I know Paladino is clueless is that Fox News told me so, or at least Bill O'Reilly on Fox News told me so. Yes, in an interview with right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, O'Reilly said the following: "The bottom line on this is, I think everybody but you in the world agrees this isn't going to help the guy. He wants to win the election. He needs independents to come over."

Yes, he does. He needs independents to come over if he hopes to win a general election and you mostly don't do that in New York State by being a crazy social conservative. I know New York. I was raised in the southern part of the state, educated in the northern part, and have lived in the Buffalo media market for thirty years. These days, gay-bashing is just not going to be that helpful with independents, nor is pandering to those who embrace all those other issues that make social conservatism what it is. I'm not saying that New York can't be pretty conservative, only that it's not Jim Demint's South Carolina.

So here's the thing: some recent research has indicated that of those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement, 57% identify as part of the religious right. That's a pretty big number, and a number that would suggest that pandering to the Tea Party requires more than a nod to secular libertarian economics.
When a guy like Paladino sticks to his script (which is rare) and talks about fiscal conservatism, he has a chance with independent voters. But every time he feels the need to pander to his Tea Party base, to the extent that this base is far more socially conservative than is frequently advertised, he runs the risk of pushing away a lot of independents. Hell, even Bill O'Reilly gets that.

In the short term, the Tea Party movement itself is in an internal battle between fiscal and social conservatives that hasn't quite shaken itself out yet, but will.

In the end, coalitions always fall apart and the Tea Party is no different; Paladino's ramblings speak volumes about the difficulty of keeping this coalition together. Significantly, independent voters are watching, without perhaps even knowing what they are watching.

Every time a slug like Paladino says something like "there is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual," the universe of independent voters available to him contracts just a little bit and the myth that the Tea Party is mostly about fiscal responsibility melts away ever so slightly.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the Tea Party movement over time. It may be that the old Christian Coalition will absorb it. The fact is that social conservatives, Christian Coalition types, are always in it for the long haul; they have better organizational structures and they may just outlast fiscal conservatives once the economy improves. We'll see.

For the time being, the hardest act in politics for a conservative candidate in a place like New York State is to keep the two sides of the Tea Party coalition – the social and fiscal conservative sides - in proper balance so as not to push away much-needed independent voters, while also giving enough red meat to the true believers to keep them happy.

That would take a lot more skill and discipline than someone like Carl Paladino could ever hope to have. That would take Clintonian levels of ability, albeit from the other side of the playing field.

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Federal judge orders halt to DADT -- so what will Obama do?

As you may have heard, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips yesterday ordered that the U.S. military stop enforcing its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The case was brought by Log Cabin Republicans. Yes, a group of Republicans, a small group in a party that for the most part is anti-gay, actually looks better on this issue than President Obama, who continues to be a disappointment on gay rights (to put it mildly).

Obama's DOJ will likely appeal the ruling, and so this doesn't mean the end of DADT, but it's a major step in the right direction, if also an embarrassing one for the president. As Andrew Sullivan writes:

So once again, we will have the political prospect of the Obama administration simultaneously legally defending the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell in court, while politically saying they oppose both. There is a case for such a position, and Obama's insistence on orderly executive defenses of laws passed by Congress is constitutionally sound. But in the arc of history and morality it is an increasingly perverse and bizarre one. It could also mean disaster for gay servicemembers.

Here's the thing. We have no guarantee that the Senate will pass legislative repeal of DADT in this session; and there's every chance that a radically Christianist GOP will win majorities in one or both Houses and definitely be able to sustain a filibuster against repeal in the next session if necessary. This is not because even most Republican voters back DADT; it is because it is a party hijacked by religious fundamentalists who cannot conceive of openly gay people serving their country. Look at the party of Paladino and DeMint and Palin. You think they will support anything that could remotely be deemed pro-gay?

In the long run, this will hurt the GOP - and watching the Log Cabin Republicans fight this battle is heartening. But in the short run, it could very well mean that this awful policy, opposed by 75 percent of the country, that imposes intolerable burdens on servicemembers risking their lives for us... could be in place for the indefinite future. And Obama will be the commander-in-chief enforcing it.

Yes, the GOP is the main party to blame. But no, this does not excuse the extra-cautious, gays-are-radioactive mindset of the Obama administration. This ruling therefore represents a chance for the president. He has the executive authority simply to issue a stop-loss order to end the firing of gay troops until further notice. If the Senate does not pass legislative repeal this session, he should use it.

Will he? It seems unlikely, given what we've seen from him so far. But there's still hope, I suppose, that on this issue, as on others where he has been "extra-cautious" (and Bush-like), Obama will live up to the promise of his presidency.

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Pot calling the kettle Negro president

By Carl 

Well, well, well, Jonah Goldberg  really doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut, does he? 

Even though the incident made headlines for no discernible journalistic reason, it was noteworthy as a succinct example of Obama's arrogance problem. Rather than make a self-deprecating joke, he opted instead to make a self-inflating one, as if to say that the title mattered less than the man. 

First, the joke was actually funny: he was standing at the podium giving a speech as President of the United States, the most recognizable office in the world.

Whomever holds that office is automatically inducted into that pantheon of recognition not because of who he is... underachieving President Bush was the absolute walking truth of that... but because he holds the office.

Rather than stop the speech he made a joke about the event, passed over it, and continued the speech.

According to Fudgie the Whale, this is somehow indicative of Obama's "Outsized Ego." Interesting. By stating the obvious truth, Obama = President, which is why everyone was there in the first place, this indicates a weakness of character.

Had it been Bush, it would be in Fudgie's head no doubt that this was Bush being a real man, that he was firmly in control of the situation. A self-deprecating joke would have had the PNAC crowd scratching their heads, wondering if it was time for Seven Days In May.

Fudgie? The only outsized ego here is yours. Your projection of your insecurity, no doubt related in large part to your undersize penis, is telling. That you somehow could make a federal case out of a passing impromptu and unscripted joke is, well, paranoia at its finest. Your dual delusions of both grandeur (that anyone in the world beyond your Mommy gives a rat's ass about your opinions) and persecution ("Scary black man with stereotypically honking big penis is shoving things down my throat!") are both disturbing and comforting.

Your mom felt empowered by exploiting two young women into a futile distraction of the Greatest. President. In. History. You seem determined in some squick-producing Oedipal rage to topple his successor (I notice you have this tendency to ignore the intervening Presidency...something you share in common with many of your psychotic state) to one-up your mommy.

Sad. Truly.

I could write a book about your narcissistic tendency to view the world as a playground that only you are entitled to enjoy, and your paranoia about sharing it with people who differ from you and your "peers".

I use the term loosely. The only reason you folks are lumped together is so the rest of us don't have to work too hard keeping track of you. Kinda like why we keep sheep and cattle in herds. The collective bleatings and mooings give us comfort, knowing you're secure and safely locked away in a pen.

When the world outside that fence intrudes, it's Katie bar the door for you folks. Rather than accept the world as it is, you attempt to edit it to your liking. Obama makes a joke? It's not a sign of self-confidence or wit, no, it's a character flaw, a trait that he must wrangle under control!

I am often reminded of the Republican party mantra: never complain, never explain. Republicans are the ultimate disciples of Frederick Winslow Taylor: there can be only one way to optimally perform a task or behave in a given situation and anything else is inefficient. This obsession with efficiency concerns me in society -- it's what free markets are all about -- but for you, Jonah?

Considering how hard mommy had to work to teach you to tie your shoelaces (I was going to be even more Freudian, but...), I think it's the safest place for you. It makes you... predictable.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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