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May 2, 2012
Obama Is No George Bush.

We got a demo yesterday of how wrong all of the “Obama=Bush” bullshitters are and always have been. 

The agreement he went to Kabul to sign helps cement the plan and timetable that has been in operation since the so-called “surge” in Afghanistan that Obama initiated in late 2009. It’s easy to criticize that plan, but it has the very important features of being a plan with a timetable for ending our occupation of Afghanistan requested by the Afghan government. Last night, the President referred to the ongoing phased reduction in forces that will be complete by 2014 as the end to our “time of war.”

That is a highly significant choice of words. Consider what Bush did with the political and legal leverage of the idea that we were “at war” for 7 years. The war in Iraq was rationalized with an edifice of lies, but at the base of that structure was a truth: we were “at war” with a vaguely defined enemy under a vague Congressional authorization for the use of military force. Bush’s failure to take out bin Laden in battle at Tora Bora was entangled with his strategic goal of launching a war in Iraq. Whether one believes that the failure was merely a consequence of a strategic error influenced by the contingencies of prepping for Iraq and a loss of focus or (as I do) that allowing bin Laden and many others to escape into Pakistan was an intentional choice, it is matter of fact that the consequence of that blunder was the loss of any notional path to a decisive victory in Afghanistan. It became a contest for hearts and minds against an enemy whose leadership was safe from our military: a war that could never be called “over” no matter what we did. Having a war which never can be won or lost and which never calls for intensification is useful to an unscrupulous politician, particularly one who wants to start another war and to justify an attack on domestic civil liberties. Bush used the ongoing and going-nowhere war in Afghanistan politically and legally to justify the invasion of Iraq and the advancement of an authoritarian revolution in US law and public policy. The latter is clear in the rationalizations of torture and the legal arguments over the Guantanamo Bay prison, but it extends to the so-called Patriot Act, “homeland security” projects, and even the uses of the “unitary executive” theory in widespread areas of domestic governance. Agencies like NASA and EPA found themselves with political overseers silencing their scientific work on the pretense that as Commander in Chief in wartime, the President had no limit to his power over the Federal government. The highly flexible authorizations given Bush for both wars were used to expand executive power and weaken the controls on politicization of government functions. The wars without end also provided cover for insane fiscal and economic policies that led to the 2008 collapse and the current political gridlock over the budget: artificially low interest rates, deficits, spending tilted towards military rather then domestic needs. 

Obama has followed through on the withdrawal from Iraq that was negotiated in late 2008 as he was campaigning on scheduled withdrawal and McCain was still rejecting the whole idea. He has negotiated a similar plan for Afghanistan despite resistance from the Right and he has cemented that plan with a long-term agreement for strategic cooperation that is predicated on ending our combat deployment by 2014. Force reductions have started and will continue. He has described this in a major address to the nation as an end to our time of war. Could anyone believe that Bush would have EVER given up the productive tool of a Forever War? John McCain made it clear in 2008 that he wouldn’t. Much of the GOP has been agitating for war with Iran, a project that Obama shows no signs of adopting. You can call this a cynical declaration of victory to cover a retreat but even if it is, how is it a bad thing? Is there anything to be gained for anyone for the USA to frankly declare Afghanistan a lost cause as a premise for withdrawal instead? I think not. Should we pull out as fast as possible and tell the people of Afghanistan that they are on their own in holding the Taliban at bay while they figure out how to govern their country sanely? I think we tried that once, and it was bad for them and for us. 

I think that Obama’s choice of words is important, and that it raises the profile of the real stakes of the election. Those who have argued that it does not matter if Romney wins because Obama has not reversed the damage done by Bush using the excuse of war need to review their estimations. Do anyone really believe Romney would stick to Obama’s plan to give up the excuse of war by 2014? One need only look at the way he has pandered to the Far Right for the past 4+ years and adopted Loyal Bushie neocons for foreign policy advice to change that belief. There will be no end to war with Romney. We have a timetable for an end with Obama. It matters. 

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October 16, 2011
Put your money where your mind is!

Tomorrow, 2011-10-17,  is the day for "Op Cash Back," a  demonstration against the big corporate banks in the form of mass closing of accounts, moving instead to the use of credit unions. As a CU member since my mother opened an account for me as a teenager in suburban St. Louis in the early 80’s, I am a lifelong member and advocate for credit unions. I don’t work for any CU, but I have had CU membership accounts continuously across 3 CU’s for almost 30 years in St. Louis and here in Michigan and have 2 curently open. In addition, my wife has accounts at two different CU’s. We are very much a CU household, and I’ve been evangelizing them for as long as I’ve been babbling online. The recent Occupy Wall Street movement has spawned Op Cash Back as a simple, peaceful, concrete, and rational form of direct action against the big corporate banks, and I think it is a fantastic idea. I do not have any deposit accounts with any corporate banks but I said in my last post, I will be closing out a Citibank “Sears” MasterCard tomorrow that has been mostly idle for years, because I can no longer rationalize keeping it and being even a trivial Citi customer in the face of their ever-worsening bad behavior that has progressed to physical maltreatment of depositors via corrupt misuse of the NYPD. 

The big corporate banks have gotten so fat and corrupt that their economies of scale can’t protect them in the market any more. They are not in the classical banking business any more, they are in the business of holding retail deposit money hostage. The useful economic  function of pooling the savings of the masses as a capital basis for making consumer and business loans is no longer their core business, now they mostly use deposit accounts as a tool for charging fees, raising capital from equity and bond markets supplemented by occasional government bailouts and Fed sweetheart deals. 

Compared to credit unions, corporate banks pay less or no interest on deposits, charge more and higher fees, and have higher interest rates on loans. In business terms, they pay their suppliers less (or even nothing) and charge their customers more. They do that to maximize cash flow out of their businesses to two places: a tall pyramid of management and equity shareholders. In comparison, CU’s have very flat and lean management structures and their equity shares are held as one share per member, represented by a nominal (typically $25) share account for each member. CU’s are not charities. They also are not leftist fantasy co-ops that rely on politically and morally enlightened members and managers all sacrificing for the common good. They are very real hard-headed capitalist businesses that run the same basic interest arbitrage business model that has been the basis of sound and stable banks for most of the last millennium. In comparison, the giant corporate banks are the modern analog to the Templars: holding small depositors’ money hostage on the premise of safekeeping and using their holdings to leverage the corruption and ultimately the bankruptcy of governments. 

The big corporate banks’ influence over our government is the hardest political and economic problem we have in the USA. It will not be entirely fixed by shifting 10% or even 50% of their retail deposits to credit unions. However, making a significant shift can be the start of a change in the way people think about their own economic lives. About 40% of all Americans who have deposit accounts of some sort have credit union accounts. Shift that to 55% and the economics are barely noticeable, but the politics change significantly. Corporate banks maintain what good will they have left politically by being familiar, by being the place people put their money. If most people put their money somewhere else, the politicians will eventually start counting the votes. 

(This is a variation of something first posted as a comment at:

September 30, 2011
The bullshit meme of defecting white liberals.

Originally a comment at Karoli’s "Odd Time Signatures" blog:

Both sides are partly wrong here. Since I am unable to let anyone be wrong on the Internet unanswered, I must provide my 2¢: 
For one thing, as much as I believe that MHP is one of sharpest academic political thinkers in the country today, I think she overstated the movement away from Obama in the past 3 years. Obama may have polled at 61% among whites in early 2009, but he only got 43% of whites in the actual election in 2008. So yes: he’s lost 28% from his peak white cheerleader support, but 2/3 of that loss is (probably) people who voted against him when it counted. Over 3/4 of Obama’s white supporters in the 2008 election are still with him. His white liberal defectors are a fringe group as small as the Tea Party or smaller. They are not representative of white people as a whole or of Obama’s 2008 supporters as a whole or of his white 2008 supporters or of any other significant definable slice I can think of.  So MHP is somewhat overstating her case, because while it is true that about half of the white people who said “YAY OBAMA!” in 2009 do not say that now, almost a third of them had been cheering Grumpy McNasty a few months earlier. Maybe they are racist, but maybe they’re just airheads.  Airheads are the blind spot of smart people and even more so of academics, so it is understandable that MHP would miss that explanation. 

On the other side, Lyons’ errors are rather more nauseating. I am sure there are black writers somewhere drawing with words something that might be called a “photo negative of KKK racial thought" but anyone who slaps that slur on anything MHP has written is only demonstrating that they are unfamiliar with actual KKK racial thought as it has been expressed for over a century. When MHP talks about white people as sub-human and advocates genocide, Lyons might have a point. Until then, see Cheney’s advice to Leahy. The Bachmann comparison is also ridiculous. Michele Bachmann asserts her fantasies as fact and references them to support bad policy. MHP may be cherry-picking facts to support a stretched analysis, but she has actual facts on her side.

All that said, there definitely *is* a vocal faction of white progressives who have been focusing recently on their disaffection with Obama.  As with almost anything in the US, this is only a mostly “white” trend because white people are still a majority overall and a plurality in almost any faction. Standing in solidarity with the disaffected white progressives are such prominently white people as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. Oops. However,  it would be wrong not to note that the Moore/Maher flavor of racism is absolutely real: some of the white progressives who supported Obama in 2008 did so in part because they looked at his skin and extrapolated from it in fundamentally racist ways, without actually reading what he had written or listening to what he had said. Supporting him then because you expected him to “be Black” and abandoning him now because he has demonstrated that he is in fact the centrist/Kumbayahist of his 2004 convention  speech is deeply racist, even if you want to think that expecting “better” of him for bogus racially-linked reasons isn’t racist. IT IS! Oh, and FWIW: I also wish he were not such a Kumbayahist, but he is and in hindsight it was obvious in 2004 and 2008 that he would be. I hoped for a vertebragenesis that never happened, but thems the breaks. IMHO the fix for the fact that Obama will always do the best that he can get done and that he has telegraphed his eagerness for compromise is not to get a titanium-spined Leftist into the Presidential race (which almost surely won’t happen and would never win) but rather to make sure Obama stays in the White House while we elect a less slimy Congress. Switch 4 nominal Democrats to REAL Democrats (or even better: independents from the Sanders mold) in the Senate,   and most of the disappointments of the past 3 years would have been progressive victories. 

September 15, 2011
Why Ron Paul is evil…

From a discussion started at Political Carnival

I’m not sure what Ron Paul says here in this transcript that bothers so many people.  Seems relatively rational - not that you have to agree with it, but I don’t see anything evil or stupid.

Yes, he is an artist at evading serious questions in ways that make people forget that there was ever a serious question.  He got you…  

The serious question, re-stated: How should a free-market health care system deal with the unavoidable cases where people require care to live for which they cannot pay directly and for which they are not insured? 


Ron Paul tried to evade this question 3 times in the transcript that you quoted before Blitzer stopped calling him on his non-answering schtick. The closest he came to an answer was this:

Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it.

Despite his charming anecdote about his own work at one hospital before Medicaid, the hard evidence tells us that this model was a failure. We have a law prohibiting hospitals from turning away emergency patients because hospitals *WERE* turning away emergency patients because they could not pay. Ron Paul’s proposed  solution was a proven failure decades ago. He is not an idiot and he is a physician, so surely he knows that. He takes advantage of the fact that a lot of people don’t think much about policy and a lot of people don’t bother to even learn objective historical facts, so his vague proposals that are radically different from current policy seem reasonable to them. The fact that we know with absolute certainty based on historical evidence that charity, family, and social connections will not finance unanticipated and uninsured need for care is not particularly relevant because Ron Paul’s supporters don’t bother looking at the actual historical record.  They assume that Ron Paul would not lie to them about verifiable historical facts, but actually he does so on a regular basis.  It seems to be a conscious tactical choice, and it seems to work. It worked on you.  

As a matter of verifiable fact, to this day people are routinely refused non-urgent care because they can’t pay. Anyone can  get care when close enough to death to require emergency care, but people who are not on the verge of death and can’t pay don’t get the care necessary to avoid emergency need. For example: an insulin-dependent diabetic has to pay for his own insulin, but if he ends up in a diabetic coma he can get insulin in an ER whether or not he has a means to pay for it. Of course, someone in a diabetic coma needs to have someone who gets them to an ER in time to get that free insulin. More relevant to the question Ron Paul tried to dodge,  we have a mechanism in place by which the federal government ends up covering much of the costs of otherwise uncompensated health care, with the rest being covered by spreading costs among everyone with insurance. The current system is far from perfect, but the bottom line is that everyone who pays federal taxes or who pays directly or indirectly for  health care in hospitals that participate in federal health programs (i.e. essentially everyone) shares in covering the cost of emergency and essential post-emergency  health care for people without formal insurance. Ron Paul seems to think that we need to change that by reverting to the past system that made it seem necessary to upgrade to  the current imperfect system, but he offers nothing to support the idea that the current system is actually worse than what it replaced. 

FWIW, future replies will be seen at since this is getting to be a bit much for a comment thread… 

May 4, 2011
Daily Kos :: Comments: Congressional Republicans still trying to redefine rape

Posted in response to one of the best DK regulars, Kaili Joy Gray:
 Let’s be clear about what statutory rape means… (0+ / 0-)
See, all those pregnant teens will just brazenly claim they were forced to have sex against their will, when really, they’re tramps who love sex and hate babies.

No, the Gileadites are worried about something more insidious. Statutory rape DOES NOT require the girl to claim she was forced. In fact, it is not always the case that the girl wants the rapist prosecuted and the sex in statutory rape is sometimes nominally consensual. The victim may even have been an eager participant or the initiator of the sex.  Here in Michigan, high school senior boys have been tried and convicted of statutory rape for having sex with freshman girlfriends who made no claims of any sort of coercion and refused to aid the prosecution.

What makes such cases statutory RAPE is that the victim is not a woman but a GIRL and legally incapable of sexual consent as a matter of law because of her age. Some see those laws as a patriarchal hangover, but the modern justification is reasonable: children lack the capacity for some decisions, and so there is an age below which a child cannot legally consent to sex any more than they can enter into binding contracts, vote, drive, or drink.

The point behind carving out non-forcible statutory rape from abortion law is that the Christianist Right really does see those girls as shameless hussies needing punishment, sees the potential child as property of men involved (either the rapist or the girl’s father, subject to negotiation) and sees the men as innocent-ish victims of predatory and immoral girls who didn’t say "No" convincingly. If they had said "No" strongly enough, then it would be forcible rape. If the girl can’t and won’t make a case for forcible rape, the dispute for the serious Christianist is between two victims: her father whose property has been spoiled and the man who spoiled it under the duress of sexual allure (of a child, but let’s ignore that…) Allowing the potential baby to be destroyed outside of that dispute between two men who have both been harmed by a wayward girl just makes it worse by removing a negotiable item of value at the behest of the real criminal…

It is important to keep in mind that waging war on women includes waging war on girls. The Christianist Right isn’t just going to war against lesbians and/or liberal women and/or women who only want to be treated as the equals of men, it opposes as a matter of religious dogma any protection, privilege, or power for anyone lacking a Y chromosome and/or its usual physical manifestations. It may seem unbelievable for people who mostly operate in the sane world, but there really is a significant slice of the US population who believe that women should not even be 2nd-class citizens, they should be chattel. No kidding. Wish I was.

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