Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Grand Old Hypocrisy

There is a lot of Republican hypocrisy to be had in response to the failed Christmas Day terror bombing of an inbound flight to Detroit.

Many Republicans have been criticizing President Obama for trying the suspect in Federal Court. These are the same Republicans (Dick Cheney and Tom Ridge namely) who not only advocated for the Federal prosecution of so-called "shoe bomber" Richard Reed in 2001, but boasted about the conviction after the fact. Here is Cheney's hypocrisy from Politico:

As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war.

Republicans are even complaining about the timeliness of Obama's response to this event even though President Bush took the same amount of time and received no objections from these same figures. Watch what happens when an MSNBC anchor calls out Rep. Mike Conway (R-TX) on this hypocrisy (h/t TPM):

Lord he was born a ramblin' man!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Report Casts Serious Doubts on Military Success in Afghanistan

NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel was just on the Rachel Maddow Show this evening discussing a report that he was exclusively provided. The report is on the war in Afghanistan and was prepared for military leaders by an independent research group.

The findings were in stark contrast to some of the optimism that has been expressed by those who feel that President Obama's troop escalation will prove adequate for stabilizing the country. Here is the segment:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

As Rachel Maddow expressed on her show's Twitter feed, if this represents the view of the Department of Defense, then the military is fighting a war that they know they cannot win.

This is cross posted here.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Earlier today I posted an exchange between Spencer Ackerman and Pat Buchanan on MSNBC's "Morning Joe". The point that I wanted to make was that after incidents like the failed terrorist bombing of the Northwest flight on Christmas, we often see the reactionaries come out of the woodwork.

Like Buchanan they argue for torture as well as for racial profiling and preemptive military strikes against whichever country the suspect(s) is/are from. It is a disconcerting pattern that always takes us two steps backward in meaningful discussions on how to handle these threats to the country.

One important point that receives little to no discussion within the corporate media is the cause and effect cycle that has been repeated time and time again in these incidents. Glenn Greenwald highlights this point in this post today. Here is an excerpt:

In the wake of the latest failed terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines, one can smell the excitement in the air -- that all-too-familiar, giddy, bipartisan climate that emerges in American media discourse whenever there's a new country we get to learn about so that we can explain why we're morally and strategically justified in bombing it some more. "Yemen" is suddenly on every Serious Person's lips. We spent the last month centrally involved to some secret degree in waging air attacks on that country -- including some that resulted in numerous civilian deaths -- but everyone now knows that this isn't enough and it's time to Get Really Serious and Do More.

For all the endless, exciting talk about the latest Terrorist attack, one issue is, as usual, conspicuously absent: motive. Why would a young Nigerian from a wealthy, well-connected family want to blow himself up on one of our airplanes along with 300 innocent people, and why would Saudi and Yemeni extremists want to enable him to do so?


Despite that taboo, evidence always ends up emerging on this question. As numerous reports have indicated, the Al Qaeda group in the Arabian Peninsula has said that this attempted attack is in "retaliation" for the multiple, recent missile attacks on Yemen in which numerous innocent Muslim civilians were killed, as well as for the U.S.'s multi-faceted support for the not-exactly-democratic Yemeni government. That is similar to reports that Nidal Hasan was motivated to attack Fort Hood because "he was upset at the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan."


As always, the most confounding aspect of the reaction to the latest attempted terrorist episode is the professed confusion and self-righteous innocence that is universally expressed. Whether justified or not, we are constantly delivering death to the Muslim world. We do not see it very much, but they certainly do. Again, independent of justification, what do we think is going to happen if we continuously invade, occupy and bomb Muslim countries and arm and enable others to do so? Isn't it obvious that our five-front actions are going to cause at least some Muslims -- subjected to constant images of American troops in their world and dead Muslim civilians at our hands, even if unintended -- to want to return the violence? Just look at the bloodthirsty sentiments unleashed among Americans even from a failed Terrorist attempt. What sentiments do we think we're unleashing from a decade-long (and continuing and increasing) multi-front "war" in the Muslim war?

In a media world full of pundits who immediately label terror suspects as the epitome of evil, a deeper discussion of causation is often missed. This is the same thing that happened after 9/11 and after countless other attempts at acts of terrorism. Isn't it slightly obvious that the bombing and occupation of Muslim countries could spawn the kind of backlash that would motivate someone to retaliate against the country that is doing the bombing? It would be nice to see these points inserted into the mainstream discussions after incidents like these.

Old Debates Resurface in Lieu of Foiled Terror Attack

After the foiled terrorist attack on a Christmas Day inbound flight to Detroit, familiar conversations are popping up on the news networks and on blogs. There are renewed debates on racial profiling and people like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have floated the idea of preemptive action against Yemen.

Spencer Ackerman was on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning debating Pat Buchanan who advanced many of the same arguments that we see made after an incident like this:

Buchanan's calls for torture and for trading judicial procedure for shadowy, behind-the-scenes tactics really seems crazy when you consider events of the last decade. It sure doesn't take long for figures like Buchanan to forget what we have learned when a situation allows for a reactionary response.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bill Cunningham Makes 'Most Outrageous Comments of 2009" List, 3 Times

The end of the year usually brings about many "Best of" and "Worst of" lists that attempt to summarize various points of interest from the previous year. Media Matters for America is no exception to creating such a list as the liberally-slanted non-profit has compiled the most "Outrageous" comments from Conservative commentators in 2009.

Many of the usual suspects are on the list, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck even had the dubious honor of being dubbed 2009's "Misinformer of the Year" for calling the President a racist and comparing modern day America to the rise of Nazi Germany. You can watch the special video that Media Matters created for Beck at the bottom of this post.

In the mix with all of these nationally known Conservative voices is a man who resonates in a special way with the city of Cincinnati and who had three of his comments make the "Most Outrageous" list that was compiled by Media Matters.

Bill Cunningham has always been known for stirring up controversy on his Monday-Friday talk show and there have been a few instances when he has gained some national attention for his antics. Remember when Cunningham warmed up the crowd at a local event before John McCain took the stage in 2008 during the campaign season? Or how about the times when Cunningham has gone on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News to give voice to one crazy theory after another?

It should come as no surprise that Cunningham would land on such a list.

Here are the three comments that Media Matters considers among the "Most Outrageous" of 2009.

1. Cunningham on the Poor: "They're poor because they lack values, ethics, and morals."

On the January 4 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Cincinnati-based radio host Bill Cunningham continued his attacks on the poor, stating: "[P]oor people were not and are not poor because they lack money. They're poor because they lack values, ethics, and morals." Cunningham added: "All that the mid-'60s and '70s did to the black community was to pay black fathers money on condition that they not be involved in the lives of their children and that black mothers were told that if you married, it would have a painful consequence. If, on the other hand, you acted irresponsibly by producing children out of wedlock, you would have a positive consequence, because government would fund bad behavior."

2. Cunningham on Section 8 housing: "I like keeping all those degenerates in one location so we can keep an eye on them"; residents "sit around and fornicate, defecate"

3. Bill Cunningham claims stimulus "give[s] ACORN up to $4.2 trillion" and contains "$350 million to hand out condoms and birth control pills so the poor can fornicate like rabbits"

and here is the video that Media Matters put together for Glenn Beck's "Misinformer of the Year" award:

You should check out some of the other items that made the Media Matters list and also feel free to post your favorite "outrageous" quotes in the comments section. What moments stick out in your mind from the past year either from national figures or on a local level from figures in Cincinnati?

This is cross posted here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Promise of the Digital Age

Matt Yglesias makes some good points on the shifting of power between the political press and politicians in this post:

Bandwidth used to be very thin. If you wanted to communicate to voters, you had to get the attention of one of a very small number of national television newscasts or one or two local newspapers. Now there’s much more bandwidth you can take advantage of. At the same time, budgets have declined. Consequently, campaign coverage now consists largely of reporting what candidates or their representatives said or even just putting two proxies on television and listening to them talk.


This is the promise and the peril of digital media. People can communicate much more directly with their constituents, the media elite have much less power, consumers are much better-informed about the things they want to look up, but there’s less of an authoritative common culture that can force the national conversation down avenues deemed important.

The first part is nothing new. Beltway journalists and major news networks have acted as stenographers to power long before the digital age, but I certainly agree that these negative reporting practices can be magnified by the increase in available outlets. Objectivity is not CNN allowing Newt Gingrich to argue over health care reform with James Carville for a five-minute segment. Journalism should examine the arguments made by each side, point out areas that are not true, and inform the citizenry.

Sarah Palin's comments about "death panels" were largely circulated and embraced by the political right over the summer. It is not enough to simply report that "Sarah Palin has gone on record saying that health care reform will create death panels if passed." That tells us nothing except what Sarah Palin says. You have to give credit to those on reputable Internet blogging sites that broke down the fact that Palin was wrongly characterizing voluntary end-of-life counseling as "panels" that would be putting citizens to death.

This is the promise of the digital age. Responsible blogging and independent media outlets have a real chance to expand their footprint online to try and steer us back to responsible and investigative journalism. This expanded bandwidth that Yglesias references is also the peril of the digital age. The poor tendencies of the corporate media have been so pervasive, that they can easily carry over into digital mediums and percolate through the population that much faster.

The important part about the Internet is that truth and reality have a fighting chance. Organizations like Talking Points Memo are being used as sources of information for some (like Rachel Maddow) in reporting important stories. This is a big step forward in one sense, but as we all know, it is an uphill battle. The tea-party movement demonstrates this perfectly. You have a movement that had a lot of their facts wrong, whipped into a fervor by a "News" organization, and resonating with a lot of very angry people to create an odd "grasstroturf" movement.

The Internet does hold quite a bit of promise (that must be protected), but truth and reality still face a challenge in a culture that has been ingrained into the talking head mindset.

Why Lindsey Graham Can't Afford to Have Health Care Reform in South Carolina

It's because of the unemployment numbers and the blacks!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nader and Klein Blast Obama

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and journalist Naomi Klein both had articles yesterday that blasted President Obama for not pushing hard for change on various issues.

I respect both of these figures and I think that their criticisms are worth reading in full. In the meantime, here are a couple of snippets from each.

Ralph Nader:

Given all the burgeoning crises in the United States and the world, the only global military and economic superpower (albeit in serious deficit straits) needs a transforming leader, when, at best, it has a transactional leader in the White House.

I say "at best," because President Obama displays an uncanny inability to deal. He is not even anywhere near Lyndon Baines Johnson in that regard. This lack is due more to his personality than to his character.

His is a concessionary demeanor, an aversion to conflict and to taking on entrenched power, a devotee of harmony ideology not because he doesn't believe in necessary re-directions, but because he does not project the strength of his beliefs and willingness to draw the line-here and no further-as did Ronald Reagan or FDR.

In the shark tank known as the federal Washington, D.C. Obama's personality projects weakness as someone who does not take a stand and fight, as someone inclined to rely on his rhetoric to explain his withdrawals, retreats and reversals.

Naomi Klein:

Contrary to countless reports, the debacle in Copenhagen was not everyone's fault. It did not happen because human beings are incapable of agreeing, or are inherently self-destructive. Nor was it all was China's fault, or the fault of the hapless UN.

There's plenty of blame to go around, but there was one country that possessed unique power to change the game. It didn't use it. If Barack Obama had come to Copenhagen with a transformative and inspiring commitment to getting the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, all the other major emitters would have stepped up. The EU, Japan, China and India had all indicated that they were willing to increase their levels of commitment, but only if the U.S. took the lead. Instead of leading, Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him.


Imagine if these three huge economic engines -- the banks, the auto companies, the stimulus bill -- had been harnessed to a common green vision. If that had happened, demand for a complementary energy bill would have been part of a coherent transformative agenda.

Whether the bill had passed or not, by the time Copenhagen had rolled around, the U.S. would already have been well on its way to dramatically cutting emissions, poised to inspire, rather than disappoint, the rest of the world.

There are very few U.S. Presidents who have squandered as many once-in-a-generation opportunities as Barack Obama. More than anyone else, the Copenhagen failure belongs to him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Senate Health Care Bill Clears Hurdle, Progressive Opposition Grows

Early this morning the Senate voted to end the period of filibuster on the health care legislation by a vote of 60-40. Not surprisingly, the vote broke down along party lines with all the Senators who caucus with Democrats voting to end the filibuster. This is a big step in moving this legislation forward as Democrats and the White House are pressing for a final vote before Christmas.

It is no secret that this legislation has devolved into a complete mess. Republicans are still against any kind of reform, Moderate Democrats have worked to strip the bill of the public option and Medicare buy-in, and Progressive activists are now split on whether to support or kill the Senate version of the bill.

While there is still some good discussion on the pros and cons of the legislation there are some revealing moments that show just how ugly this debate has become. Take this item from last night when the ailing Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) was wheeled into the Chamber to vote at 1am. Byrd's presence was not necessarily required for his vote to count, but the Republicans insisted that he travel to the Chamber to cast his vote in person.

Before Byrd arrived for the vote, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) took to the Senate floor and indicated that Americans "pray that someone can't make the vote tonight". Watch:

Ezra Klein reacts to this incident:

The Senate hasn't just lost a bit of its collegiality. It's become heartlessly ferocious -- a place where the death of an honored friend presents an opportunity to kill his legislation, and in which the infirmity of an ailing colleague is seen as a potential path to procedural victory.

While Republicans continue to oppose any type of health care reform, Progressives are also divided after Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) successful attempt to strip out the Medicare buy-in and the public option from the Senate legislation. Howard Dean has been very vocal in his calls to "kill the bill" and other progressives are also also advocating that health care talks turn to reconciliation in order to save robust reforms to the system.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake has been working very hard on the issue of reform for many months now and has compiled a "Top 10" list of reasons why progressives should oppose the Senate Bill. Here they are:

Top 10 Reasons to Kill Senate Health Care Bill

1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not.
2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.
3. Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can’t afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.
4. Massive restriction on a woman’s right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.
5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.
6. Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won’t see any benefits — like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — until 2014 when the program begins.
7. Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.
8. Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.
9. No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.
10. The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year — meaning in 10 years, your family’s insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Greenwald on Creeping Corporatism

Not surprisingly, Glenn Greenwald has a good take on the latest rift that is dividing progressives over the Senate health care reform legislation:

There are many reasons for the progressive division on the health care bill. There are differences over the narrow question of health care policy, with some believing the bill does more harm than good just on that ground alone. Some of it has to do with broader questions of political power: if progressives always announce that they are willing to accept whatever miniscule benefits are tossed at them (on the ground that it's better than nothing) and unfailingly support Democratic initiatives (on the ground that the GOP is worse), then they will (and should) always be ignored when it comes time to negotiate; nobody takes seriously the demands of those who announce they'll go along with whatever the final outcome is. But the most significant underlying division identified by Kilgore is the divergent views over the rapidly growing corporatism that defines our political system.


The health care bill is one of the most flagrant advancements of this corporatism yet, as it bizarrely forces millions of people to buy extremely inadequate products from the private health insurance industry -- regardless of whether they want it or, worse, whether they can afford it (even with some subsidies). In other words, it uses the power of government, the force of law, to give the greatest gift imaginable to this industry -- tens of millions of coerced customers, many of whom will be truly burdened by having to turn their money over to these corporations -- and is thus a truly extreme advancement of this corporatist model. It's undeniably true that the bill will also do some genuine good, as it will help many people who can't get coverage now to get it (though it will also severely burden many people with compelled, uncontrolled premiums and will potentially weaken coverage for millions as well). If one judges the bill purely from the narrow perspective of coverage, a rational and reasonable (though by no means conclusive) case can be made in its favor. But if one finds this creeping corporatism to be a truly disturbing and nefarious trend, then the bill will seem far less benign.


Even if one grants the arguments made by proponents of the health care bill about increased coverage, what the bill does is reinforces and bolsters a radically corrupt and flawed insurance model and and an even more corrupt and destructive model of "governing." It is a major step forward for the corporatist model, even a new innovation in propping it up. How one weighs those benefits and costs -- both in the health care debate and with regard to many of Obama's other policies -- depends largely upon how devoted one is to undermining and weakening this corporatist framework (as opposed to exploiting it for political gain and some policy aims).

It is important to remember that the public option was the compromise down from a single-payer system. Despite this, there are many good-hearted progressives who continue to accept compromise after compromise on this legislation. Even after Sen. Lieberman's episode this week successfully removed the public option and the Medicare buy-in, there are some who continue to defend the Obama Administration and call for passage of this bill. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs even called Howard Dean "irrational" the other day for opposing the Senate's bill.

These continued "compromises" have led to the weakening of health care legislation. Who will these co-called "compromises" benefit? Just like always, the answer is the corporate interests. Greenwald is right to comment on how corporatist the government has shown itself to be, but one must wonder where the line be drawn with some of these progressives?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

TIME Encourages us to 'Thank' Ben Bernanke

Photo courtesy of here.

I understand that TIME picks their "Person of the Year" partly based on who has had the most impact, but look at this subheading from TIME's accompanying article (emphasis mine):

The story of the year was a weak economy that could have been much, much weaker. Thank the man who runs the Federal Reserve, our mild-mannered economic overlord

Thank him? David Sirota sums up my feelings nicely:

Ben Bernanke fell down on the regulatory job in the lead up to the Wall Street meltdown. He acknowledged this in front of Congress. He then tried to clean up his mess by handing his banker friends trillions of our taxpayer dollars. The result of his regulatory failures and then massive bailouts has been a destructive recession, 10 percent unemployment and debt as far as the eye can see.

Sorry, but Bernanke won't be getting a Christmas card from me this year.

Lieberman Torpedoes Health Care Legislation, Progressives Split on the Way Forward

Under the threats from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and at the insistence of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the Senate has dropped the Medicare buy-in provision from the health care legislation.

Lieberman's reversal on his support for such a buy-in has been all over the blogosphere and has cast a shadow on whether he has been acting in good faith or if he is simply trying to stick it to liberals.

It so happens that the New York Times put up an interesting piece that included this (emphasis mine):

Mr. Lieberman had supported the Medicare buy-in proposal in the past — both as the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2000 and in more recent discussions about the health care system. In an interview this year, he reiterated his support for the concept.

But in the interview, Mr. Lieberman said that he grew apprehensive when a formal proposal began to take shape. He said he worried that the program would lead to financial trouble and contribute to the instability of the existing Medicare program.

And he said he was particularly troubled by the overly enthusiastic reaction to the proposal by some liberals, including Representative Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, who champions a fully government-run health care system.

“Congressman Weiner made a comment that Medicare-buy in is better than a public option, it’s the beginning of a road to single-payer,” Mr. Lieberman said. “Jacob Hacker, who’s a Yale professor who is actually the man who created the public option, said, ‘This is a dream. This is better than a public option. This is a giant step.’”

So by Lieberman's own admission, he opposed (at least in part) this piece of the health care legislation because liberals were enthusiastic about it. Did Lieberman not think that liberals would be enthusiastic about such a proposal when he supported it just three months ago? It is ludicrous to think that Lieberman is objecting to this on principled grounds. It is much more likely that his love affair with the insurance industry combined with his vehement disgust toward liberals, has led him to take pause.

The White House, which is more concerned with passing any version of health care legislation regardless of the strength of the public option, naturally urged the Senate Dems to capitulate in order to move the process forward. All of these developments have made the prospect of robust health care reform a bad joke and progressives are expressing their rage not only at Lieberman, but at Emanuel as well. Check out this new ad by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:

With these recent developments, progressives are split on their support for this bill. Howard Dean has come out and voiced his support for killing the Senate version of the bill and going back to the House for reconciliation. Others, like Chris Bowers at OpenLeft, are questioning if progressive support for "killing the bill" will actually backfire and end up helping the Senate legislation pass.

What Lieberman has done with placing himself in a pivotal opposing position on this piece of legislation, is force the hand of the White House to give in to his demands in order to move this process forward. It matters not to the White House how robust the reforms are in this legislation, as long as some kind of reforms get to the President's desk.

There is much talk among progressives over who is going to suffer politically for watering down this legislation in the midterm and 2012 elections. While political consequences have their place in these discussions it should not obscure the fact that the real suffering is going to take place with the ordinary citizen who will continue to get denied health care coverage by their insurance company, who will continue to see premiums rise, and who will continue to incur debt in the absence of affordable coverage. There is something wrong when thousands of people regularly show up for free health care clinics in the so-called "greatest country on Earth" because it is their only affordable option.

Shame on this incessant capitulation to the status quo.

This piece is also posted here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Story (and Debate) Over Cap and Trade

Annie Leonard over at the "Story of Stuff" project has helped produce an interesting video on Cap and Trade:

This very issue and some of the ideas that are talked about in the video above, were debated on this morning's Democracy Now! newscast between Frank Ackerman and Larry Lohmann. You can read and watch the debate in full here, but here is a snippet:

FRANK ACKERMAN: I’m not exactly for it. I don’t think either Hansen or Krugman got it right. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly not the only thing that we need. There’s undoubtedly a role for having a price on carbon, which can be done either through a tax or through cap and trade.

The big mistake in this debate, I think, is to pretend that a price on carbon is all that we need. Any time a price incentive like this has worked, it has needed many, many other things to be working with it. The image of a level playing field that economists sometimes suggest is exactly wrong. We need to be doing everything we can to tilt the playing field in the direction we want it to go.


LARRY LOHMANN: What we need is massive reinvestment away from fossil fuels, putting subsidies—instead of putting subsidies into fossil fuels, putting them into renewable energy. We need to overcome our addiction to fossil fuels in industrialized societies.

And the problem with cap and trade is, is that it stands in the way of doing that, in many ways. It’s a way of providing pollution rights to some of the worst polluters, so that they can delay the kind of structural change that’s necessary.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lieberman Reverses Self On Medicare Buy-in, Insurance Stocks Soar

In case you were looking for something to make your stomach turn at the start of your week, I want to point to the recent comments made by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

Over the weekend, Lieberman told Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that he would vote against any health care legislation that would include the Medicare buy-in compromise and that would contain a public option.

This is interesting consider that Lieberman supported a Medicare buy-in in 2000:

He said during the interview that the fastest growing group of
uninsured are those 55 to 65. For that reason, the ticket proposes
an expansion of Medicare to allow those and older to buy into the
public program. There would still be a buy-in price but it would be
less than buying private insurance, he said.

and from an interview with the Connecticut Post in September of this year:

Lieberman added that he supports mandating that no one can be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and that everyone be required to have health insurance.

As to how 47 million uninsured will afford coverage, Lieberman said only 12 million don't have insurance because they cannot afford it.

By allowing citizens who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid to buy in for a rate below the private market, the government can extend coverage to more of those who are currently uninsured, he said.

Why the sudden change? Ezra Klein has some ideas:

Incoherence is no crime, of course. But it is telling. Lieberman could have simply opposed the public option because it implied too much government involvement in the marketplace. Instead, he opposed it based on things that wouldn't happen, or weren't happening, and never softened his position as those statements were successively exposed as fraudulent. That, again, suggests something more fundamental than a policy argument.

Or take Lieberman's procedural decisions. The Medicare buy-in compromise was developed by the so-called "Team of Ten": the five liberals and five moderates that Harry Reid asked to meet and develop a path forward. Lieberman was asked to join the original group. He skipped the meetings, eventually being replaced by Tom Carper. That puts his opposition in a different category than Nelson and Snowe, both of whom dug deep into the process, working on issues and in groups and signaling clearly what they could and could not support.


If you had attempted to forecast Lieberman's behavior based on his past positions, you would have failed. His support for Medicare buy-in, and for various other health-care bills, would quickly have misled you. If you had attempted to forecast his behavior based on the attitudes of his constituents, you would also have failed. They support the public option and oppose health-care reform, while Lieberman professes to believe the opposite. But if you had attempted to forecast Lieberman's positions based on his ongoing grudge match with the liberals who defeated him in the 2006 primary, you'd have nailed it perfectly. He has, at every point, taken aim at the policies that liberals support, even when they are policies that Lieberman himself has supported.

Lieberman's obstructionism certainly points more toward his seemingly insatiable appetite for sticking it to liberals rather than a principled objection to the current legislation. How does the White House respond? By telling Sen. Reid to compromise with Lieberman:

The White House is encouraging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to cut a deal with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which would mean eliminating the proposed Medicare expansion in the health reform bill, according to an official close to the negotiations.

But Reid is described as so frustrated with Lieberman that he is not ready to sacrifice a key element of the health care bill, and first wants to see the Congressional Budget Office cost analysis of the Medicare buy-in. The analysis is expected early this week.

The White House is denying the report but as Jane Hamsher observes:

It’s quite convenient that what Joe Lieberman is demanding — no public option, no Medicare buy-in — happens to look just like the Senate Finance Committee bill that the White House wrote with Baucus...Joe gets his way by giving Obama what he wanted anyway. Sweet.

Wall Street thinks it is sweet too:

Wells Fargo Securities analyst Matthew Perry said Lieberman’s comments are good news for managed-care stocks as anything that delays health-care reform is a positive for the group.

“Every time the reform seems less likely that it will happen, the entire group trades higher,” said Perry, who has advised his clients to buy shares of Wellcare Health Plans Inc. (WCG), recently up 1.3% to $36.74, and Humana Inc. (HUM), up 1% to $42.26.

Among the other recent gainers in the sector, Aetna rose 2.7% to $32.65, Cigna Corp. (CI) added 2.3% to $36.41 and Well Point Inc. (WLP) gained 2.7% to $58.07. Meanwhile, UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) added 1.6% to $30.99.

Video of Lieberman supporting a Medicare buy-in just three months ago:

Obama Dismisses King, Justifies War

Like many over the past week, I have read the words delivered by President Obama as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. I was interested to see how he was going to address the apparent conflict of his being awarded a peace prize while presiding over and escalating war. How Obama chose to address this contradiction was both troubling and very telling about how both he and this Administration view the role of war.

The President chose to address this contradiction early on in his speech:

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I.... the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty three other countries – including Norway – in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

As Obama continued, he spoke about the idea of a "just war" that has been circulated by various philosophers throughout time and his belief that wars of this nature are necessary to bring about peace. Obama admits that the requirements for fighting a so-called "just war" have often been ignored throughout history, but expressed his view that World War II was such a war that fell under this label.

Using this foundation as a premise and in acknowledging anti-war words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Obama then makes the declaration that: "the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace." He labels this as a "truth" and while he admits that war produces human tragedy, he paints the efforts of the United States as noble with an end goal of providing security and freedom to the world.

This tale, that the United States is a benign power whose mission is to merely protect its citizens and sow the seeds of freedom, is the same tale that has been told for Centuries. It is the same tale that has been used to drum up Patriotic support for all military conflicts and that leads citizens of the United States to believe that we have been fighting in Iraq to preserve our very freedoms.

President Obama's embrace of an ideology of "just war" not only continues the narrative that has been spoken by many of his predecessors, but ignores other realities that need to be taken into consideration. Obama was quick to label World War II as a war that was needed in order to quell the rise of Fascist Germany, but failed to address actions such as the bombing of Dresden and the release of two atomic bombs on the civilian populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Were these actions of a country involved in a "just war" or is it possible that violence will always beget violence? What about the actions of the United States in Iraq, Gaza, Latin America, Vietnam, etc?

It is not only the selective telling of historical events that speaks volumes about this President's view on war and peace, but in his dismissal of the ideas of a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King. Obama says that while King's ideas have had great impact, he cannot rely on his ideas alone and that we must strive for peace while understanding that there will be war. It is disingenuous for President Obama to quote Dr. King while completely ignoring the warnings which King outlined in his own Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

So man's proneness to engage in war is still a fact. But wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminated even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good.


I venture to suggest to all of you and all who hear and may eventually read these words, that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately a subject for study and for serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, by no means excluding the relations between nations. It is, after all, nation-states which make war, which have produced the weapons which threaten the survival of mankind, and which are both genocidal and suicidal in character.


So we must fix our vision not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race which no one can win to a positive contest to harness man's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a "peace race". If we have the will and determination to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.

These are the ideas that are being rejected by the current President of the United States while we are expected to embrace the mantra that creating war will lead to a peaceful future. Is it not clear that this idea has become, as Dr. King mentions, "obsolete"? In what way is war "just" for the civilians who have been (and will be) killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

President Obama's contradictory acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize as well as his contradictory speech have made it clear that it is high time for a re-emergence of the anti-war movement to harness the ideas that King set forth in his 1964 speech. This President and his Administration have made it clear that they view more death and destruction as a viable means to an end and if they are not willing to accept peaceful solutions, then it is necessary for the people to voice this agenda.

This piece is cross posted here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Diggin' for Gold

I have posted many items about Glenn Beck's crazy antics, but how about one that highlights a conflict of interest?

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Free Health Care Clinic in Kansas City Draws Thousands

A two-day free health care clinic this week in Kansas City attracted an estimated 2,300 and once again underscored the fact that the health care system in the United States, is broken.

Uninsured people poured into Bartle Hall seeking the care that they are unable to afford due to varying circumstances. Some were surprised at how "normal" the people were who showed up for the clinic. Take the reaction of Casey Lyons at "The Pitch":

I expected to find the proverbial huddled masses at the free health care clinic that's been going on for the last two days at Bartle Hall. I was sure there'd be down-on-their luck homeless people. The wretchedly sick, decomposing-on-their-feet folks with wild hair and wild eyes who materialized out of the gutters to get their boils or teeth checked.

I was very and large, the people who waited for free health care look just like everyone else.

As Congress continues to debate health care reform legislation and weaken the impact that this legislation will have in fixing some of the root problems, let's hope that images and stories from events like these will be taken into consideration.

Blogger Eve Gittleson at Firedoglake went down to this event and shot some riveting video of people who were in line to receive care at this event. Some had not been to the doctor in years and some are unable to afford necessary medication:

As the Republicans continue to voice opposition to any type of proposed reforms and as Democrats continue to weaken the legislation to the benefit of the health care industry and insurance companies, one has to wonder who is looking out for these people?

This piece is also posted here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Continued Breath of Fresh Air

Last night Rachel Maddow showed everyone, yet again, how the media should behave.

This time, Rachel interviewed Richard Cohn of the International Healing Foundation. Cohn says that he is an ex-homosexual who is now working to help council other gay members of society out of their feelings and into heterosexuality.

Maddow was her usual polite self, letting the guest make his points, but used preparation, facts, and uncomfortably probing questions to destroy Mr. Cohn. This is precisely how the media should operate. Journalists should ask tough questions without worrying weather the guest likes them, call the guest on blatant lies and use facts to challenge the guest when they simply make things up.

Here is Maddow's full interview of Cohn. It is a thing of beauty and it is an understatement to say that we need more of this in order to move society forward.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Breaking: Senate Democrats Reach a Compromise on Health Care Bill

Reports are surfacing that Senate Democrats have reached a compromise on the Health Care legislation. From Talking Points Memo:

An aide briefed on the negotiations among the gang of 10 offers up the rundown of the most important aspects of the public option compromise being sent to CBO.

If this trade-off carries the day, the opt out public option is gone.

In its place will be many of the alternatives we've been hearing about, including a Medicare expansion and a triggered, federally-based public option.


As with the process Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid undertook in merging the Senate Finance Committee and Senate HELP Committee bills, CBO will evaluate a menu of options, some of them interchangeable, so there's no certainty that this list won't change in the coming days. However, a senior leadership aide says that all of the options sent to CBO include the (triggered) public plan. Reid and other senators declined to offer specifics earlier tonight, as part of an agreement with CBO not to publicly discuss the policy options on the table while actuaries analyze competing ideas.

Now it's a question of what the CBO says, and then: will Joe Lieberman object to the trigger. This trigger seems awfully hard to pull. But he's said he'd object to any kind of government insurance option--even triggered--in the past.

Real details are still emerging on what this compromise exactly entails, but I don't have a good feeling about what this is going to mean for meaningful reforms to our health care system.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Running Around in Circles

Chris Hedges has a provocative new piece up over at Truthdig entitled "Liberals are Useless". In it he argues that, well, liberals are useless:

They talk about peace and do nothing to challenge our permanent war economy. They claim to support the working class, and vote for candidates that glibly defend the North American Free Trade Agreement. They insist they believe in welfare, the right to organize, universal health care and a host of other socially progressive causes, and will not risk stepping out of the mainstream to fight for them. The only talent they seem to possess is the ability to write abject, cloying letters to Barack Obama—as if he reads them—asking the president to come back to his “true” self. This sterile moral posturing, which is not only useless but humiliating, has made America’s liberal class an object of public derision.

Yikes! While I disagree with labeling all liberals as "useless" Hedges does make some very good and bold points in his article. There are often some very troubling perceptions that are held by the public when it comes to Democratic candidates for office. President Obama is only the most recent example of a candidate who got a large percentage of liberal support and who has not turned out to be all that he was cracked up to be. I agree with Hedges when he says: "So here we are again, begging Obama to be Obama. He is Obama. Obama is not the problem. We are." People bought into the brand that the Democrats tried to sell, even despite the signs that Obama was not the progressive that he was being made out to be. Now, here we find ourselves with the country operating in the same old fashion, escalating war, bailing out Wall Street, and expanding executive state secrets powers beyond what the Bush Administration tried to do.

Liberals and Progressives as a whole need a lot of help in holding Obama's feet to the fire. The anti-war movement has gone dormant and the face of opposition to the current Administration is defined by groups of people who think that Obama is a communist and support politicians like Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin. Talk about an uphill battle.

BlueTexan over at Firedoglake had a different take on Hedges' article:

The notion that voting for Ralph Nader or an even more ridiculous figure like Cynthia McKinney is an effective strategy to move the country in a more progressive direction was thoroughly discredited by the 2000 election.


Does Hedges really believe the country would look no different today if the Supreme Court hadn’t appointed Bush in 2000? Because I think he’s wrong.


Just don’t tell me that a vote for Nader in ‘08, which was a vote for Palin, was the way to get a more progressive country.

Let's forget for a moment that Blue Texan skipped over much of what Hedges said in his article. The 2000 election, which Blue Texan claims would have put this country on a different path, was conceded to by the Democrats. Al Gore, who won the popular vote, did not stand up and fight for a fair recount of the votes despite encouragement from some of the more progressive members of his party. The fact that the election was so close was not an indication of how badly Ralph Nader screwed up the Democrat's chances, but an indication of how the Democrats did not resonate strong enough with the people.

Have we learned nothing? While there are minor improvements from what Gore was proposing over Bush and to what Obama was proposing over McCain, we still end up with the same government that is closely aligned with corporate interests, that wages brutal war, and defends the status quo. Blue Texan says that a vote for Nader in '08 was a vote for Palin. Is it really necessary to explain that in a Democracy citizens should vote not for the "least worst" but for the candidate that they feel is the best in the race? This is the same argument that was advanced in 2000 and if progressives are going to continue to line up behind Democrats then this is going to be a steep uphill battle.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stenographer Alert!

I have often embraced Bill Moyers' assessment of our corporate media as "stenographers to power". I think this is a more accurate description rather than labeling the media as inherently liberal or conservative.

Here is a perfect example from Pam Benson over at CNN. In the story that you can find at that link, she reports that the White House has authorized an expansion of the CIA Predator Drone program. Benson sources the information to an anonymous "U.S. Official" and then states:

The U.S. official took exception to reports that hundreds of civilians have been killed in the Predator attacks.

The official said the strikes are "extremely precise" against terrorist targets and that only a "small fraction" of those killed have been civilians.

Last May, CIA director Leon Panetta would not discuss the specifics of the air strikes, but he did say they were "very effective" and resulted in few civilian deaths.

The quote above is how the story ends. What public good is served to the reader of this story by simply repeating what an anonymous "U.S. Official" says? Are these statements true or is this Official just trumpeting this government program because it is part of his/her job? We will never know because the source remains anonymous (it is never mentioned why) and Benson just acts as a stenographer and writes down what she was told. This type of story is a prime example of how the corporate media often gets it wrong.

A better, more critical story, would have also mentioned some more details about the controversial use of these predator drones. Perhaps it would have been relevant to mention the report that came out of the Pakistani paper The News last April that found that 687 Pakistani civilians have been killed in these drone strikes since 2006.

This Foreign Policy study counters the reports in the Pakistani paper yet still finds that about one-third of those killed in drone strikes are likely civilians.

I would think that this information would be relevant to an article about the White House expanding this drone program and to shed greater truth on the topic.

Instead, what we get from CNN's Pam Benson is a quick story that cites one anonymous "U.S. Official" who (while offering no evidence) claims that these reports are not accurate. Perfect if your idea journalism is simply writing down what Government officials tell you without looking into the validity of their claims.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Peter Bronson Implies that Hanukkah is Inferior to Christmas

In case you missed it, former Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson has started a new blog. You may remember Bronson for posting a fake picture of Al Franken in a diaper on his (Enquirer) blog and pretending that the photo was real. This was despite the fact that the photo had been debunked years before by many other sources, including his own paper.

When my fellow writer, Jason Haap, at the Cincinnati Beacon called him on it (gaining national exposure), Bronson first tried to justify it and then deleted the entire post from the web shortly before losing his job at the Enquirer.

Bronson resurfacing on his own website means that he is no longer is bound by any constraints and is now free to spout his Conservative views to his heart's content.

Take this piece from just the other day in which Bronson expresses anger over "the most despicable 'holiday' ad this far". What commercial you may ask? This one:

Can you guess why Bronson awards this commercial the most despicable yet? (Hint: it is not because the commercial is super annoying) Here is why:

The American Family Association threatened a boycott over the ad, and the Gap people apparently got the message. The AFA announced:

“Gap’s Vice-President of Corporate Communications, Bill Chandler, informed the AFA via email that Old Navy’s new commercial “has a very strong Christmas theme.” … ”We firmly believe that Gap is responding to an enormous amount of pressure from the AFA network. It looks like Gap has finally decided that a recession is a bad time to take a principled stand on secularism and alienate a huge percentage of their customer base. We’re happy that they’re apparently keeping Christ and Christmas in the Christmas season.”

Liberals in the press had seizures defending GAP and ripping AFA for its boycott threat. I guess there is no insult to Christians that is too tacky for “tolerant” liberals to support.

That's right, Bronson thinks that this ad is "insulting" to Christians because it mentions Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Solstice and that it is evidence of how PC our culture has become. In case you missed it, the ad didn't insult Christmas or neglect to mention Christmas, it just mentioned other celebrations that take place during the holiday season.

Bronson again:

Christmas is a holy day. Christians respect Hanukkah and even Kwanzaa. (Solstice? Please.) So is it really too much to ask for a little respect in return, even from the retailers who exploit Christmas to make their biggest profits?

It is unclear in Bronson's post how he feels that the holiday of "Christmas" and "Christians" in general were insulted (aside from over-commercialization). Since Christmas was mentioned in the commercial, one can only assume that he is angry that other holidays were included. Bronson claims that "Christians" respect other holidays (except for the one that he thinks is really nuts), but if he views that Christmas was insulted simply by mere mention of other holidays in the commercial, then one would have right mind to question whether he really does "respect" these other holidays.

Well, it's a good thing that we don't have to guess any longer. One reader that commented on Bronson's post pointed out that there are multiple holidays that are celebrated during that time of year and it looks like GAP was just trying to appeal to their young, hip and diverse audience. Here was Bronson's response (emphasis mine):

Hannukah is a pretty minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, Kwanzaa was just made up and solstice is strictly from the outskirts of Green Town. Equating those with Christmas denigrates the meaning. I guess that was already done long ago by the commercialization of Christmas, but it doesn’t help to accelerate it in the name of more commercialization. I think you’re right that the younger generation is more PC. And it’s a pity.

That's right, equating other holidays, like Hanukkah, with Christmas "denigrates" the meaning of Christmas. So the way that Christmas is insulted in the GAP ad according to Peter Bronson, is because the other holidays are merely mentioned in the same breath as Christmas. Doesn't sound very respectful to me. Seems like the problem is not with the so-called "PC culture", but with Bronson's view that inferior holiday celebrations somehow cheapen the holiday that he celebrates.

This piece is also posted here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Around the Horn: Reaction to President Obama's Escalation Speech

Here are some reactions from around the blogosphere to last night's Presidential address where President Obama announced that he would be escalating the war in Afghanistan:

Richard at Hyscience

"Stupid, immoral, worthless, self-absorbed non-strategy for his own political gratification." Yep, that about sums it all up perfectly.

And to think that America actually elected this Marxist and a Congress just like him. Is this the "change we had waited for"?

Jarrett Rush of the Dallas Morning News blog:

...he will be sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan on an accelerated timetable he will be doing it from West Point with, no doubt, troops as the backdrop. Does that bother anyone else, because it doesn't sit right with me.

The idea has felt weird since I heard about it, but I didn't want to knee-jerk and criticize the president just because he and I don't see eye to eye on much. But after considering it more, a policy decision like this needs to be announced from the White House with just the president. He's sending thousands of troops into harms way and using them as props on a stage is bad form.

Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner:

A successful strategy must empower the Afghan people against their oppressors. This means providing assistance directed “against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos” in order to “permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist” without which “there can be no political stability and no assured peace.” Success pivoted on whether the locals felt self-empowered and secure. Its value lay “not so much in its direct economic effects, which are difficult to calculate with any degree of accuracy, as in its psychological political by-products.” These statements, originally from 1947 by George C. Marshall and George Kennan, are timeless and just as applicable today to Afghanistan.

desmoinsdem at Bleeding Heartland:

Raise your hand if you believe that a surge in Afghanistan is going to stabilize that country and allow us to bring our troops home sooner. I doubt escalating our involvement will solve any problems in the region or make us safer. In particular, it won't address various security issues related to Pakistan.

After seeing how Obama kept a bunch of Republicans on at the Pentagon and then heeded their advice on Afghanistan, I have become more convinced that he would not have voted against the original resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq if he had been in the Senate at that time. He has not bucked the beltway conventional wisdom on any security issue.

Kevin Beck at Transmillennial:

War begets war. Always. Every time. No exceptions.

Escalating the war in hope of ending the war seems like a rational policy only if you believe violence can result in peace. Perhaps a greater presence can bring some stability, but when generating the habit energy of warfare only increases the possibility of more violence.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama's Escalation Speech Sings the Same Old Tune

President Obama gave his much anticipated speech this evening in front of a large crowd in West Point New York.

As was leaked ahead of time, Obama announced that he would be sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan over the next several months, escalating the conflict and with an end goal in bringing the War to an end.

Obama began his speech by telling the American public that the United States did not choose this war, but that the conflict started on 9/11/01 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists. Obama recounted how the country was united in the decision to launch attacks against Afghanistan but blamed the invasion of Iraq, which Obama has often called "a war of choice", for taking the necessary resources and attention away from the War in Afghanistan.

The President outlined that he would be sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to the region with the continued goals to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat" Al Qaeda, but also to create a "civilian surge" and build a partnership with Pakistan. He stated that the military will work toward training Afghan forces so that when the time comes for withdrawal (beginning in 18 months), they will be ready to take over providing security for their country.

Obama denounced critics who have said that Afghanistan is another Vietnam as well as those who do not wish to see any kind of time-table set for an end to the fighting. Obama claimed that those who claim that Afghanistan is another Vietnam have a "false reading of history" since the United States now has considerable allies and is not facing an uprising from the general population of Afghanistan.

In other words, the President's speech tonight played like a bad sequel to the speech that President Bush gave in December of 2007 prior to his decision to escalate the troop levels in Iraq. Many of the same themes were covered and even the timetable for withdrawal of forces is not set in stone.

There were a couple of passages in Obama's speech that struck me as I was watching and that I would like to highlight in this posting. Here is the first:

We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

Obama does an interesting word dance around the topic of the "border regions in Pakistan", almost to the point where one tends to ignore the fact that these border regions are actually IN Pakistan. Obama mainly focuses on pressuring the Pakistani Government to continue to do more to fight Al Qaeda in their country and glosses over the U.S. role by using certain code words like the emphasis that Pakistan and the U.S. "share a common enemy".

What must not be lost in this conversation is that the CIA has been fighting a covert war inside the Pakistan border for quite some time now including launching drone attacks that have been known to kill innocent civilians. From a TIME Magazine piece back in June:

The White House routinely dodges questions on the subject, and neither the CIA nor the State Department would talk about the program on the record. But officials familiar with the CIA's operations say at least nine of the top 20 high-value al-Qaeda targets identified last fall have been killed by drone strikes, along with dozens of lesser figures. Many bases and safe houses have been destroyed. On the other hand, Pakistani officials say the majority of strikes have either missed their targets or, worse, killed innocent civilians.


But in the long term, the Pakistani frontier can be safe only when the tribes are more favorably disposed toward the U.S. and the Pakistani government than toward the militants. The U.S. hopes that can be achieved by supplementing the drones with development aid, much of it earmarked for the tribal areas. But can that money start working its magic before the resentments roused by the drone campaign metastasize into an irreversible jihad? On that question of timing may hinge the success or failure of a modern war fought in an ancient environment.

The second part of Obama's speech that I want to highlight is this passage:

In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and -- although it was marred by fraud -- that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and constitution.

The contradictory nature of this statement is so clear that it barely need mention. In short, the Taliban tried to prevent an election, the election happened but lots of fraud was involved, but since the election produced a government and didn't violate the laws of Afghanistan all is well.

One need only to recount that since the election was marred by fraud, a runoff election was planned and it was only after Hamid Karzai's opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the runoff (citing additional fraud) that Karzai was declared the winner by default. Even though the Obama Administration has accepted Karzai as a legitimate leader, it doesn't rule out the very complicated political situation that still exists in Afghanistan.

Obama also stated:

And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world -- one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.

How this statement can even be squared with reality is beyond me. It is no secret that U.S. drone attacks over the past year have killed a large number of civilians. An escalation in U.S. and allied forces and an increase in fighting in the region is all but assured to create more civilian deaths. What happens when "those who kill innocents" are the ones claiming to be "standing up for peace"? It makes you scratch your head almost as much as when a President wins a Nobel Peace Prize while escalating his country's participation in a War.

The final part of Obama's speech that I wanted to touch on was where he stated that he would begin to bring troops home in 18 months:

And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

My first inclination was to ask what exactly it means that "our troops will begin to come home". Luckily, Chris Bowers at Open Left followed up on this point:

I just had a chance to talk with three senior Obama administration officials. In regards to President Obama's statement that "after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," I asked for clarification on how many troops would be coming home in eighteen months, and at what rate would they be coming home.

The answers made it clear that there is no actual timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan:

* There is no defined rate for, or number of troops involved in, the 2011 withdrawal.

* They will be "taking conditions on the ground into account" in determining the withdrawal.

* The withdrawal is "a goal."

That is not a timeline. At best, it is a message to the Karzai government that the Obama administration doesn't want to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. However, there was plenty of room open in the response that they could stay there indefinitely, given the vagaries of the timeline.

Does this sound familiar to you? Open-ended commitments that could change depending on how things go on the ground all while sending more troops and money and spilling more and more blood? Sounds much like the last eight years to me and to emphasize that point (h/t Glenn Greenwald) I am going to end this post with several quotes. I wonder if you can tell me which quotes came from President Obama's speech on Afghanistan and which came from President Bush's escalation speech on Iraq from 2007.

1. "A successful strategy [...] goes beyond military operations. Ordinary [...] citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the [...] government to the benchmarks it has announced."

2. "I have made it clear to the [...] leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the [...] government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the [...] people. Now is the time to act."

3. "This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over....going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We'll support...leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable."

4. "Our troops will have a well-defined mission: To help...clear and secure neighborhoods, to help...protect the local population, and to help ensure that the...forces left behind are capable of providing the security..."

5. "They'll increase our ability to train forces, and to partner with them so that more...can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer ensure that they can succeed over the long haul."

This piece is cross posted here.