Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Republican debate last night in Florida

After reading parts of the transcript for the debate last night, I now wish I had actually watched it. It sounds like it was a lot of fun, with fireworks galore and colorful personalities from left to right (or, rather in their case, from libertarian to fascist). Compared to the Democrats, there are actual ideological and policy differences among the candidates. While the Democrats are splitting hairs about whether every person is covered under so-and-so's health care plan or the precise day in which most of the U.S. troops would pull out of Iraq, you can find Republicans virtually miles apart on every issue.

This is not to say I'd ever vote for any of those loonies, but the fact that they are completely crazy must have made it all the more enjoyable to watch. You've got Ron Paul as this throw-back libertarian being hit over the head by John McCain. McCain called Paul's position on Iraq "isolationist" and indicated that American isolationism led to WWII. While Paul might be best described as "isolationist", having a particular stance on Iraq does not make one so. Moreover, saying that isolationism caused WWII is a bit extreme (hmm, I don't suppose that the rise of fascists, like Rudy Giuliani, had anything to do with it). Nonetheless, Paul is a bit out there, but he's got great entertainment value.

Then, you've got McCain and Romney tussling over waterboarding. Romney goes for the slimiest approach possible (i.e. the Bush approach) and pretends that it plays into the hands of the terrorists to define torture and, thus, cannot say whether waterboarding is torture but can say that he would never condone torture. What a loser. Maybe he should try reading any of the articles written by former generals, colonels, etc., intelligence officers, POWs, and WWII vets on this issue. But then, when you're a Mitt Romney, there's no way that the military officers could know a thing or two, is there?

On the other hand, Romney gets credit for putting the Confederate flag into its place, at least somewhat into its place. A stronger rebuke would be better -- you know, something grounded in history that shows exactly why all the pro-Confederate flag people are wrong. But still, just for taking the stand he did in front of an audience that almost certainly included many closet racists took some courage.

Then, you've got Rudy Giuliani being pestered by scandals. Would you expect any different from someone who was once the mayor of New York? That is the land of Tammany Hall.

And finally, you've got Mike Huckabee who was grilled (ha! yeah right, "gently probed" is a better description) about the issue of capital punishment, being a Christian, and, of course, the "what would Jesus do" issue. See, Mike, when you go around claiming the whole "I'm the best Christian up here" thing going on, people are going to start pointing out the inconsistencies between Christianity and the popular stances on issue (e.g. capital punishment, abortion, etc.). His response "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office" was cute for the audience but, for anyone with a brain, should have required the retort: "So, does that mean you're stupid or that you're deliberately doing the opposite of what Jesus would do?" I mean, let's face it: No one, Democrat or Republican, is really a Christian on the issues. They use Christianity to support their arguments ONLY when it's convenient. When it's not, they drop their pretend Christianity and, only once in a blue moon, does someone actually call them on it to their face.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Social Security and other problems

Since the 2004 elections, Social Security has been a recurring pop-up in politics. It's considered the "third rail", as politicians who touch it are always electrocuted. In fact, the beginning of Bush's plunge and the resuscitation of the Congressional Democrats was Bush's foray into "fixing" Social Security and the Democratic resistance to the plan. The Washington Post recently ran an editorial praising Obama and, to some degree, Edwards for having the courage to suggest fixes to Social Security while criticizing Hillary Clinton's "dodge" on answering the question about it. And, of course, Fred Thompson has recently had the courage to also suggest a fix to Social Security. I should note that none of their fixes completely fix the problem.

What is most interesting about the debate on this issue is that, relatively speaking, the problem with Social Security is minor and easily fixed, compared with the two other looming disasters facing this country: Medicare/Medicaid (perhaps also including health care as a whole) and global warming. The Medicare/Medicaid/general health care issue is vast in its complexity and virtually impossible to get a political handle on. It touches more than just money -- it touches life and death. It asks for a value on our health and, presumably, on our lives. Social Security is a mere shadow of the third rail that Medicare/Medicaid are. Medicare/Medicaid WILL bankrupt the government, whereas the money flow problem with SS will eventually cause SS payouts to be 70% of what they should be. Ironically, 70% of what the SS payments should be will actually be higher, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than what SS payments are today. In other words, this is not nearly the same fiscal problem.

Global warming, like the health care problems in this country, is vast in its complexity and is tremendously unpredictable in its effects. Moreover, the "fix" for global warming is nearly impossible unless we're willing to back off on our economic growth and ask developing countries to essentially become stagnant. It also requires the cooperation of everyone on the planet, which at least SS and Medicare/Medicaid do not require. Of course, the suggested "fix" by those not serious about the problem (e.g. George Bush) is alternative technologies. Yeah, sounds great, but when is that going to happen? Because we're looking at increasingly disastrous effects of global warming over the next 10 years -- the next 100 will be too late.

Which brings me back to SS. When you consider these other issues, you realize that SS is quite trivial by comparison. There are three ways to "fix" the problem, all of which should be used. First, the Obama and Edwards idea: Raise the cap on SS taxes. Well, duh. SS taxes (and Medicare/Medicaid taxes as well -- i.e. payroll taxes) are regressive. They are responsible, in part, for the fact that Warren Buffett pays less in taxes, as a % of his income, than his secretaries do. However, I would favor decreasing the payroll tax % while increasing the cap to help reduce the regressiveness of the tax.

Second, the age limit needs to be raised for when someone can start taking SS payments. The age limit was set at a time when people didn't live long after retirement. Now, for some reason, people think that the government, via current workers, should be financing you for the last third of your life. Sorry, but mathematically that just doesn't work out and is absurd anyway. No one should be guaranteed an early retirement. The age limit should be set based on the average American lifespan -- i.e. figure out how many more years someone will live rather than how many years they have already lived.

Third, cut the rate of increase in SS payments. This one is a little trickier. The increase in SS payments is based on wage growth -- not inflation, which is lower. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, when incoming money will not cover outgoing SS money, people will be receiving 70% of what they should be getting, which will still be higher than people are getting today, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Nonetheless, those who suggest tying the increase to inflation are wrong for a simple reason that I was reading about the other day. The elderly, because their money is spent on different things, face a different -- and higher -- rate of inflation than the rest of us. Instead, a tiered system will need to be put in place, whereby those in the lower income brackets get SS payments that increase based on wage growth and those in the higher brackets get increases based on inflation. Of course, this would be on a scale as you move from lower to higher, but it would help prevent the lower incomes from falling into poverty in their later years.

These three suggestions will never be adopted because they hit all three potential fixes, thereby arousing hatred on all sides of the issue. The only way this could ever pass Congress is if a bipartison commission came up with it and Congress had to vote in an up-or-down manner (like the BRAC proposals) on the proposed "fix" to SS. To bring this article full circle, the Post called Clinton's answer to the question about SS a "dodge" because she proposed a bipartisan commission to deal with the issue. Hmph. Sounds politically more realistic than coming up with a proposal that tackles only one aspect of the problem (like Obama, Edwards, and Thompson) while ignoring the others.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I've been reading for a while now about staph infections that are resistant to most antibiotics. This is, of course, what scientists and health professionals have been predicting and worried about for years. An article appearing today reports on two other articles in JAMA dealing with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In one of the articles, the researchers concluded that antibiotic-resistant staph kills more people than AIDS in this country every year. That should be sobering news.

However, will anything be done about this problem? Due to the very nature of public health, this must be handled at the federal level, but the likelihood of that happening is nil. It would require stopping the profligate use of antibiotics in animal feed and it would require Republicans to be willing to acknowledge that the federal government has uses beyond conquering other countries and enriching their already-rich friends.

Also, it would require Repubs to actually believe scientists. For some reason, Republicans have decided that they know the natural world better than scientists and that "science" is some sort of leftist pursuit, full of alarmists and malcontents. This, of course, is why Republicans have scoffed at global warming, first asserting that it didn't exist, then asserting that humans didn't cause it, then asserting that it wouldn't be that bad, and finally asserting that there is nothing we can do about it. What amazes me is their ability to hold all four of those positions simultaneously. They also don't care for the Big Bang Theory and the age of the universe, which is why a Bush appointee at NASA worked so hard to scrub references to the universe being billions of years old from various PR stuff. The Republicans have worked hard to discredit EPA scientists as well, with Christine Todd Whitman leading the way after 9/11 insisting that the air around the WTC was perfectly safe (it was anything but). They've also tried to bring down the FDA to the level of politics. And, finally, you have the embarrassing belief among Repubs that intelligent design should be taught alongside or in place of evolution in the classroom. Among other Repubs, they just want creationism pure and simple.

It is, of course, no surprise to me or to anyone with a brain that so many scientists (particularly, those of a biological persuasion) have turned sharply left in their politics. Scientists realize that, if empirical evidence cannot convince someone, there is little left to do but vote against the person. And, of course, apologize to their international colleagues for Bush.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Interesting Poll and a Prediction

An interesting poll of Virginians recently came out in the Post. It's interesting for a variety of reasons. If you're following Virginia politics and thinking about the upcoming 2007 state legislative elections or the 2008 U.S. Senate race for the open seat vacated by John Warner, well, it provides a little insight there. More interesting than that, though, are the findings regarding the presidential race.

Virginia has been a very "red" state since 1968 (last voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in 1964). In recent years, however, there has been a slight shift, albeit at the gubernatorial level, as Democrats have held onto the governor's mansion since 2001. In this most recent poll, 52% of people wanted the next president to be a Democrat (compared to 41% for a Republican). As most people should point out, the "generic" Democrat vs. Republican is not a good indicator of how people will actually vote. In fact, one of the main arguments put forth by Karl Rove and others is that, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she will not win the general election simply because her negatives are too high. So, the argument goes that Hillary Clinton couldn't possibly win a state like Virginia, regardless of the "generic" contest. Rudy Giuliani has recently made the argument that he is the only Republican candidate who can beat Clinton (clearly, his argument rests on different premises from Rove's as it assumes an all-powerful Clinton).

HOWEVER, further down in the poll, they ask people who they would DEFINITELY NOT VOTE for in the general election. Giuliani actually manages to score 1 point higher (i.e. worse) than Clinton. 45% of polled Virginians would not vote for Giuliani vs. 44% of Virginians who would not vote for Clinton (obviously, this within the margin of error). This should not be comforting news to those Republicans who have been counting on Clinton's negatives to carry the day for them. In fact, the top three candidates in terms of voters that would NOT vote for them are, in order: Romney (53%), Thompson (48%), and Giuliani. Coincidentally, these are also the top three Republicans (according to national polls) vying for the Republican nomination. With such high "negatives" in a state like Virginia, it makes you wonder how any of these guys could possibly win the general election.

Nonetheless, here's my prediction for something occurring in 13 months: The election will be very close, decided by less than 3 points. You may wonder how I could say this after making a case for a blowout, but I do not underestimate the power of each side to throw the usual labels at the other, causing voters to pigeonhole them and then split, in their usual fashion, right down the middle. Clinton will be painted as a liberal, though as any liberal will tell you, she's far from a liberal, and thus her numbers will be dragged down. A couple of grandmas in Ohio could make the difference in the election simply because they like Clinton's hair or have a thing for bald liars like Giuliani.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Few Political Thoughts for the Day

1. Despite being out there in some ways, I have tremendous respect for Ron Paul just for saying some of the things he says and saying them unabashedly. He was absolutely right that some of our actions in the Middle East contributed to the anger directed at us by various radical Muslims, including al-Qaeda, which led to the 9/11 attacks. This does not mitigate the responsibility of al-Qaeda or even render us responsible for 9/11. It's simply an acknowledgement that our actions around the world can and do piss people off, particularly when some of our actions are anything but morally upright themselves. And sometimes that anger comes back and hits us. To say this, though, and take the inevitable hits from Hizzoner "the Bald Liar" Giuliani was courageous.

2. If Hillary Clinton's health care plan for guaranteeing health insurance for every American is "socialized medicine", as many of the Republican presidential candidates have termed it, then what is Britain's or France's health care system? I ask because anyone with half a brain could plainly see that Clinton's plan is nothing, not even remotely, like the European model. The Clinton health care system would not be government-owned or -operated and the health insurance would not be governmental insurance. Better yet, to Mr. Romney, how is her plan qualitatively different from the one you enacted in Massachusetts?

3. Um, does anyone else think that all involved in the "situation" regarding the Congressional resolution that what happened in 1915 between the Ottoman Empire and the Armenians was genocide are just a little crazy? I mean, first, what the heck is our House of Reps doing even worrying about genocides that occurred nearly 100 years ago by a now-defunct empire? Second, the response by Turkey is just as absurd. They're trying to use this meaningless resolution to drum up nationalistic, anti-American feelings and to find an excuse to threaten and potentially attack the Kurds in northern Iraq. Finally, from an Armenian survivor: '"I don't like Turkey -- they are animals there," reported Perouz Kalousdian, 97.'

Yeah, I think it's pretty clear that they have all lost their marbles. Maybe we should just leave categorizations regarding historical events to . . . well, historians.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Jena 6

If you've been following the Jena 6 case at all, you probably have developed a point of view about the whole situation. Or, if you've tried to follow it a little closer as I've been trying to do, you'd probably find that it just becomes more and more confusing as you delve into it. I was going to post my thoughts about what happened before, but the facts of the case became less clear the more I read articles. Different people reported different things, leaving me wondering if anyone really knew what was going on.

However, I have found a great summary article that puts to rest some of the myths and distortions about the case, but I can't really say "all" because I doubt we know them all yet. Needless to say, the article paints a picture rather in the middle between those who see this as the start of the 21st century civil rights movement (e.g. Al Sharpton) and those who think racism and discrimination don't exist anywhere in this country, let alone Jena.

What I think is truly unfortunate is that this case is what has galvanized much of the civil rights people across the country. If this case really is the start of the 21st century civil rights movement, then it is a sad day for that movement. Were the Jena 6 overcharged? Probably. Are they innocent? No. In fact, they beat a kid unconscious -- hardly what some are calling "just a schoolyard fight". And the one still in jail has a prior criminal record including battery. Should the noose incident have been reported to the police? Yes, but the federal authorities wouldn't have done anything because they don't pursue hate crimes against juveniles. Should those responsible for the nooses have faced harsher punishments? Yes, but they faced expulsion at first, but the school board overruled the principal. However, contrary to popular belief, they were not suspended for three days -- rather, they went to an "alternative" school for one month before facing an in-school suspension for two weeks. Moreover, was there even a relationship between the noose incident and the beating? According to the U.S. attorney, no.

Without going into even more detail, I find the case to be the usual mixture of things, with some discrimination involved, but hardly the kind of case you would want to make the poster case for the civil rights movement. What I find particularly irritating, though, is the repeated muddling of the truth by various columnists and radio people around the country who make wrong and spurious claims (e.g. connecting the nooses with the fight). As I said, it's a sad time for the civil rights movement when a case that requires lies and distortions to be compelling becomes their rallying point.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I knew Bush believed in his tax cuts, but to this extent?

As I just posted before, Bush mistakenly believes things about his tax cuts, and of course, we all know that Republican ideology essentially centers around tax cuts to the point that we all pay negative taxes. However, I was unaware of how effective these tax cuts were in terms of corporate malfeasance and Osama bin Laden, but this is a quote from Bush from yesterday:

"We dealt with a recession, a terrorist attack and corporate scandals. And we did it by cutting taxes."

LOL! The best part is that I know the Kool-Aid drinking Republicans will now actually believe this. Soon, Fox News will start accusing those who want to raise taxes of trying to instigate terrorist attacks and corporate scandals. Ah, to be a Republican and live in a fantasy world . . .