Archive for April 2009

More on the Republican Problem

Moderate Republicans like Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine are upset about Arlen Specter’s move to the Democratic Party.  She wrote this in the New York Times on Wednesday:

It is for this reason that we should heed the words of President Ronald Reagan, who urged, “We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus test’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty.” He continued, “As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.””

Said more plainly, lose the social issues, and focus on fiscal restraint.  I still think this approach loses.  How does restraining government spending help each child have an opportunity for a college education, provide us with an energy policy and way forward to free us from oil, or solve our healthcare crisis?  How does tax reduction address the money needed for investment in research for the innovation in the future, not to mention fixing the infrastructure?  And of course how does the torture policies of the Republicans and their suspension of habeas corpus defend individual liberty?  The basic flaw here is that what was good policy in the 19th century does not address the complex world we live in the 21st century.  Small town values are quaint, but don’t deal with the complexities of the world around us.

Nobody wants wasteful spending, but the Republicans are famous for labeling wasteful spending any investment in our future.  It would seem their horizons are limited by the short-term impact and they can do no long term planning or investing.  A prime example is to wonder why in the early 2000s, did they not raise taxes to retire the deficit when everyone was flush?  Their underlying philosophy is that the private sector, once the incentives are right, will solve all problems. They have been tinkering with the health care system for years with this philosophy and it is a mess.  The business model for health insurance companies is counterproductive to providing universal healthcare (insure the healthy, deny claims) and can only be modified by requiring them to take on all comers.  But that would entail regulation and government interference.  So tinkering with the private insurers and placing all your bets on the private sector is going nowhere and most people understand that today.

Take our energy problems, which are in abeyance now in our suppressed economy, but will come back with a vengeance just as we start to recover.  History tells us that our automobile companies cannot plan for the future and are focused on the short-term, high return automobiles that will make them totally unprepared for the eventual high price of oil.  Well actually they are already going under.  It is government’s role to protect all of the people by raising fuel standards and forcing the industries to do some long term planning.  The fact that they have been so successful in the past lobbying Washington to keep that from happening tells you all you need to know about the free market solving these problems.  The free market is made up of very powerful vested interests who do not want to lose their piece of the pie.  If you doubt this ask yourself what just happened in our financial industry.  They made a ton of money and the rest of us are screwed.  Worked okay for them.

Probably the biggest indicator that the Republican philosophy no longer applies is that they have no solutions for our future other than to cut taxes and reduce government.  Reducing the deficit when government is the only thing keeping people employed is madness.  Once again long-term thinking applies (spend now, save later, or during good  times, raising taxes to prepare for rainy days) and they just can’t manage it.  Pundits decry the lack of Republicans stepping to the plate with Republican solutions for the massive problems that face us.  That is because their underlying conservative philosophy offers no solutions.

The way forward is to lose the philosophy altogether.  The important thing is not how a policy complies with our dogma, but does it work.  Sometimes big government is a good thing and sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes taxes are required, and sometimes they are constricting our economy.  Sometimes regulation is essential, and sometimes it chokes innovation.  Sometimes the government must provide services, and sometimes the private sector is better equipped.  The key here is sometimes.  Moderates of either party and Progressives believe in sometimes.   In the conservative dogma, sometimes doesn’t exist and is why we are in the mess we are in today.   There is a reason that this conservative right wing dogma appeals so to the religious nuts.  It is a religion and is therefore uninformed by reality.  It doesn’t require thinking. It is very unlikely that they will ever compromise and see the sometimes.  They certainly haven’t so far.

Republicans, Party Switching, and Primaries

With Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party, one has to wonder what is going on.  Well for one thing with the Republican Party only representing 21% of the population and shrinking, the math for the primary in Pennsylvania was fairly straightforward.  He could not win the primary against a hard-line conservative, but could probably win the general election.  So from this calculation, it was the only choice for a chance to survive.  But this raises all kinds of issues.

First is how Pennsylvania would see this.  From the Democratic point of view, they had a good chance to run a more liberal Democrat to win against a hard-line conservative.  This scenario presented the Democrats with someone more supportive of their agenda. Whoever was going to run for that seat from the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania must feel like he just got his legs cut out from under him.  Is Senator Specter moderate enough to be elected?  I don’t know and this is the chance the Democrats are taking.

The press is making a big deal about getting the 60th vote in the Senate to be filibuster proof, but it is a foolish claim.  Senator Specter will vote as he always does, and that is independently.  Additionally, the Democratic Party has a large spectrum of political beliefs from liberal to conservative.  They usually don’t vote in a block.  It may help, but probably not when it really counts.

Here is the really sad thing.  There is no room for moderate Republicans in the Republican Party.  They have moved to a party of litmus tests for the radical right.  On the other hand, the Democratic Party is really a party of three camps.  You have the very liberal side, which is how the Republicans paint everyone in the Democratic Party and is actually a small minority of it; then you have the moderates who are really progressives, which is the majority of the party; and then you have the conservative Democrats who really can not be distinguished from moderate Republicans a few years ago.  No there aren’t any socialists in there.  The Republican Party is being made irrelevant by their hard-line dogma, which they refuse to examine.  More about that in a moment.

The final issue that is raised by Senator Specter’s defection is what does this say about primary elections?  If the primaries are really a function of the hard left and the hard right, the nation is not getting choices that represent their views.  If hard-line Democrats or hard-line Republicans control the primaries, the choices we all get at election time are no choice at all.  In this environment where the Republican Party is a small and radicalized party, it may be time to rethink open primaries.  California is moving in that direction at the behest of the Republicans here because they feel disenfranchised in a Democrat controlled State legislature.  But they may rue their plan when they find out that the independents will vote most of their radical brethren out of office and instead move much more to the center.  In my small mind I would like to see an open primary and top two run off for the office in November even if it turns out they are both from the same party..

Finally, what do the Republicans have to do to stem what is going to be an ongoing desertion of their party members?  First they have to understand, as well as the press, that the middle is in the Democratic Party and the Republicans are a right fringe party.  If Arlen Specter is center right and he has moved to the Democratic Party, just where do you think the center is?

I listened to Michelle Bernard, a conservative political analyst on MSNBC, tell us that the Republicans need to find their soul: “That doesn’t mean Republicans should give up their belief in limited government or free markets. I don’t think that’s the case at all. But the Republican Party needs to find a way to reach out to many, many people, not just the religious right.” The problem with that prescription is that in order to reach out to more people, their basic belief in limited government and the free market needs major modifications and just dropping the right wing and the religious nuts isn’t going to solve that because it just makes them smaller without solving the root problem.  Limited government and what they mean by free markets is no longer selling in the market place.

First, right now we are having two immediate crises, economic and medical (swine flu).  In both cases the people expect our government to be there to resolve these crises.  How does that fit into limited government?   Republicans want to starve so it will never have the resources to help anyone.  Remember Katrina?  If this argument is going to have any credibility at all in the future, then the Republicans have to stop their knee jerk reaction to government programs and understand that government is part of the solution.  Then looking at what is appropriate to government and what is appropriate to the private sector might have a little more credence.  The swine flu epidemic is a case in point.  They cut funds for the CDC and preparation for just such a disaster.  Now they see a need, but their present ideology doesn’t allow for government planning and funding of the results of that planning.  By hating all things government except the military, thinking the private sector will provide all the solutions, the are emasculating the very solutions people are crying out for and we have found we need to address many of our complex problems that face us in our future.

On the free market thing, who ever said Democrats were against the free market?  What this is code for is little or no regulation or interference in business.  Think about the economic crisis we are in and then consider why no regulation is such a jim dandy idea.  It is out of touch with the reality of what is happening around us and our changing world.  A moderate approach, which may I add many Democrats are proposing, is smart regulations.  If Republicans could get off their “No” soapbox and say that the free market needs some fixing and requires more regulations to make our economy more stable, then we can have an honest debate on what those controls should be.    But they still hold to climate change isn’t happening, regulation of the environment is unnecessary, anything that impacts business is bad, and government is bad at everything.  These beliefs make them irrelevant in today’s world.  And it is forcing moderates to move to the Democratic Party where dissent and real debate are still allowed and real solutions to our problems can be proposed.

So what have is real diversity of both race and ideas in the Democratic party on all issues from health care to stimulus.  The Republicans have become the party of the white southern bigot.  The Republican Party has made themselves irrelevant by their hard-line, no compromise positions and until they change their own ideology to reflect a changing world, they are irrelevant.  The only way they are going to appeal to a wider electorate is take this radical step to reinvent themselves.  I don’t think they can do it because it requires tolerance and they don’t have any.  It’s like giving up religion for them and they are Republican bible thumpers.  Without their dogmatic beliefs, their world would crumble.  Suprise!  It is crumbling.

Trends in News Watching

Okay, I admit it.  I am a news junkie.  Usually while I work in the afternoon I alternate between MSNBC and CNN depending on which one has interesting guests, or is not engaging in banal banter, or is not giving me advice about my health or my money which I don’t have any of.  Fox News I avoid like the plague because it does really represent a very biased point of view and the amount of miss reporting far exceeds the other two.

But in a New York Times article on Monday I find I am fairly out of step. The gist of the article was that with MSNBC tilting left, and Fox right, CNN, who they claim holds the middle, is losing viewership.  What was shocking if we look at the April numbers is that CNN has been fourth. Fox has 668,000 viewers; MSNBC has 300,000; and CNN has 271,000. HLN has 277,000.  Fox has over double the numbers of MSNBC.  So let’s do some critical thinking here.

First, is CNN really in the middle?  They get this label by claiming that they give both sides a fair hearing.  But as pointed out in yesterday’s blog and by Fareed Zakaria and others, we have 1 ½ political parties and the ½ are the Republicans.  So if you give the Flat Earthers the same credence in a debate with Round Earthers, isn’t the debate slanted?  If you are giving the Republican No Machine the same footing with the policies put forward by the Democrats, are you not actually giving more weight than is due to their arguments?  By not being aggressive enough at challenging these Republicans and their ideas and having the two pundit debate, CNN is actually more conservative leaning than middle of the road because they are lending credence to the arguments having equal weight.  Besides, remember where Glenn Beck came from, that Lou Dobbs continues to bash immigrants, and the business interviews are decidedly conservative and the net result is a right leaning news organization.

My point here is that if you are conservative you will watch Fox News, and if you are independent or liberal, you are probably going to watch MSNBC where old thinking is challenge by new thinking from Rachel Maddow, David Schuster, and Keith Olbermann.  Instead of just accepting their guest’s statements, they are well informed and ask penetrating questions.  CNN is really competing with Fox News for viewers.  Now in all fairness, this does not apply to CNN’s international reporting, which I don’t think anyone does a better job.  Lets just hope they continue to hold on to these reporters and journalists because they do a great service for us.

The article implied that one has to pick a bias to gain readership.  Is MSNBC really that left leaning or has the middle shifted which leaves CNN looking conservative?  I will give you that Keith Olbermann does very definitely have a bias, but Rachel and David reflect more what I think the younger nation is thinking.

But there is something else to consider about these numbers.  News junkies are old like me but the majority of our nation is younger and does not watch these shows.  What the 2:1 ratio of Fox watchers to MSNBC watchers tells me is that we have an older generation that is mostly conservative watching these shows.  Old people find change much more difficult to deal with and Fox reassures them that nothing is changing and the old ideas still are viable.  It’s a lie of course, but in the world of making money, it is profitable.  In the world of let the market place decide, if lies, shrillness, conflict and misinformation sell better than truth and rational consideration of reality, then that is what we get.  But some of us still like to use our brains, and MSNBC usually is better at questioning the conventional wisdom so it is my choice, the exception being Chris Mathews.

Making Excuses

I listened to the talk shows on Sunday with one ear while I was trying to figure out a construction plan for a project in the heart of Taliban country in Afghanistan.  So you will excuse me if I was somewhat distracted.  But I think the theme this week, at least for the Republicans was making excuses.

My favorite is on the torture memos.  They have tried “it worked and saved lives” but the reality is that is questionable at best, and as the real picture of what was done to these people emerges, well, it is just not justifiable even if it did work.  So understanding that in today’s light this all looks, oh so sordid, they have come up with “you have to understand the mentality at the time”.   They are going to have a hard time with this one too.

The mentality in those days was total panic by our government and knee jerk reactions that trashed what we stood for, destroyed our place in the world as the defenders of human rights, and may have been the most effective motivation of terrorists to kill many of our brave soldiers.  Don’t take my word for it, this is from our Generals in Iraq.  That is not what we look for in leadership.  We expect a cool head who will calm things down and lead us out of our wilderness while firmly holding on to our values.  We get out whole.  What we got was scared little men (and women) who threw away all the things we stand for in one panic attack.  Oh, it wasn’t just the Republicans.  It was the Democrats who looked at the political winds and refused to stand up to them.  So the lesson to be taken from don’t judge them harshly, look at the circumstances we were in, is to simply to say, “They weren’t bad, just weak”.  Great.  Not exactly the kind of people you ever want at the helm any time soon.

This excuse also makes the argument that we need to investigate what happened all that much more important.  We need to understand how far we fell so that the next time we are having a panic attack, maybe, just maybe, we will stand tall and be the country we thought we were.  Those who think it will be too disruptive for our way forward simply fail to understand that unless we expose the whole sorry mess, we will learn nothing and there will be no movement forward.  It was just a PR disaster and next time we will handle it better, keep it covered up better.  I don’t think so.

The times were extreme, the pressure was immense, and that is what greatness rises from.  But in this crisis there was no greatness that surfaced except for a very few, and it has tarnished our souls as a country and a people. It is amazing to me the number of people who knew about it, objected, but did not resign.  What is that all about, career over conscience?  People broke the law and the law must be enforced.  We keep confusing mitigating factors that should be considered when punishment is decided from a reason to not enforce the law.  If we are a people who believes in justice and the law, we can’t pick and choose which to enforce or there is no justice or rule of law

My favorite though was Peggy Noonan on CNN’s GPS.  Fareed Zakaria pointed out that we now have a one and one-half political parties, the half being the Republicans and that we needed an opposition party. Her excuse for the Republicans is that they have not found solutions yet that rings true with the voter.  They won’t if they hold to what made them Republicans.  As I pointed out in an earlier blog, you can’t just put a new paint job on a clunker and expect it to run better.  With people hurting and looking for help in an economy that continues to degrade, people want government to be there and work.  How does that fit into conservative Republican dogma that government is the problem?  Apparently just saying no is not a viable option for most of us.

But the best was yet to come.  With her voice dripping with reverence, she pined on the good old days when Ronald Reagan saved the country by just focusing on one issue, the economy.  In her little mind President Obama is all over the map with some disjointed idea that he can tackle everything.  It’s amazing how she thinks that the economy is somehow disconnected from health care or education, infrastructure or immigration, energy or environmental policy.  These are not separate issues. They are all one package. We have so many problems that have been ignored that we have no choice but to take them all on.

Ronald Reagan was the beginning of our downfall and he save the economy by running up a huge deficit with military spending.  He also grew government and raised taxes, but the faithful just can’t accept this.  Barack wants to save the economy by running up a huge deficit investing in us.  Oh I see the difference.  One is productive and an investment in our future, and the other is just wasteful spending.  I guess which is wasteful spending is in the eye of the beholder.  Well this beholder sees no comeback for the Republican Party.  More likely the Democratic Party will split in two, Democrats and Independents, and what is left is the fringe loonies, better known today as the Republican base.

Vine/Wine Friday (Sunday Night)

Vine: Okay so it is now Sunday.  It’s like life.  I keep falling further behind, and finally the crowd has lapped me.  Oh well. We had a cold snap two weeks ago and then last week it was 90°.  That got things going.  Now it is cooling down again with highs only around 65°.  Everything is leafing out except the Mourvedre which are always the last to show their little green leaves.  I have detected some damage from the freeze, but primarily in the Viogneir.  I would say about 5%, but the next couple of weeks will be critical as these young leaves are very susceptible to frost damage.  It is remarkable to think that from these little buds will come shoots that grow to 15’ – 20’.

It is absolutely a gorgeous time in the vineyard.  As evidenced by the picture, the grass is beautifully green, red clover heads are everywhere, and the air is crystal clear and fresh.  It is truly a beautiful time.  It is a habit of mine to take a walk with my trusty friend Sophie through the vineyard and just experience, usually with a nice glass of wine in my hand.  When I am old and pretty much worn out, these are days I want to savor in my memory.  My Dad died in the spring in the hill country of Texas and I remember thinking of the sadness of my life without him, and then I saw the beauty of the rebirth of nature all around me and some how it was a great comfort.  We are all part of this great cycle even if we rarely take time to stop and savior it.

This is do nothing time in the vineyard even though I am itching to mow between the rows.  But I must restrain myself to let the clover and grass go to seed and dry out some so I will have a good crop next year.   Luckily I only have some pruning debris which has been raked into piles to pick up and burn, and assuming and I can get a break from my consulting treadmill, I will have that done this week.  Then I just wait and watch.  Even though it drives my vineyard advisor crazy, I will do some early thinning of the shoots.  Remember the rule of two shoots to a spur.  Well the plant can’t remember that rule so it will push out all kinds of jumble.  In the best of all worlds you would wait long past frost season and pick the two best positioned shoots and remove the rest when you are sure they are no longer susceptible to damage or breakage.  But what normally happens to me is that I get some project away from the vineyard and by the time I get back it is a jumbled mess and makes both thinning and pushing the shoots up through the wines a very difficult job.  So about mid-May, I will begin that task.  Other than that, there is not much to report, just very tranquil walks among my rows with a glass of wine and my trusty friend.

Wine:  Last Saturday I went to a venison dinner at the Ward’s.  Mike Ward loves to hunt and I love to eat what he shoots.  In this case it was venison prepared by Christian Masse, my favorite French chef.  He had two versions of venison tenderloin, garlic and pepper and two wonderful sauces.  There were clams and muscles, great cheeses, artichokes, roasted potatoes, fruit, smoked salmon; oh I could go on and on.  But the wine was spectacular.  I may have had too much to drink, which is a lot of wine, but I just could not help myself.  There were three in particular that I want to note.  The first I brought and it was a 2006 Yangarra Cadenzia (Rhone blend Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre).  I had tasted their wines before (Australian) and they produce a very good and reasonably priced wine.  This one was excellent with very little oak letting the Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre display all their wonderful flavors and aromas.  They make wine very much in the style of the Rhone Valley with the complexity and flavor not being drowned out by jammy fruit.  The bottle did not last long.

Number 2 and a wonderful Syrah and that was a 2000 Madroña Reserve Syrah.  Paul Bush, the owner and wine maker has been making some wonderful wines and this one is of the better Syrahs I have had.  It had a flavor that I look for which is hard for me to describe, but a earthly kind of vegetative flavor that many good Syrahs exhibit.  As I noted earlier, I like a Syrah that is big, complex, with a long finish.  This means you have to be careful about too much oak and you can’t let your grapes hang too long (too jammy, too much sugar/alcohol).  But then I tasted my favorite of the night.

It was a 2006 Sonoma Coast Syrah from Lynmar Estate in the Russian River Valley.   Most have tasted their Pinot and Chardonnay and they are excellent.  But this Syrah was just exquisite.   And to my delight it had that wonderful earthly flavor I so love.  Two in one night!  This Syrah (and the Pinot and Chardonnay) was brought by Hugh Chappelle who is the wine maker there and to my great delight took the time to explained to me how that flavor comes about.  It is a special yeast (hope I got this right) that takes longer to act and is therefore a little more risky as you ferment longer.  I had met Hugh at several gatherings, but had never had a chance to really talk with him.  I strongly recommend that if you are out in the Russian River Valley you make Lynmar Estate a stop.  Hugh is a delight to talk with and his passion for his creation comes through.

Okay, I know.  It is tough duty, but somebody has to do it.  Besides, and trust me on this one, I have paid my dues.  Carpe Diem.

On and On

Yes I will get a Vine/Wine Friday up soon.  I am in the middle of another proposal and they are all consuming.  But the news the last couple of days has also been just too rich.  After eight years of the Bush nightmare and the disappointment I felt when at least 51% thought he was doing a great job in 2004, the chickens are coming home to roast.  What is really fun is watching the rats deserting the Republican ship of Bush.  The rats would be the people who voted for those fruit loops and now refuse to accept their responsibility with what has been wrought.  And what is most enjoyable is watching people start to realize what the 49% of us got (actually 51% but the conservatives on the Supreme Court stopped the vote) way back in 2000.  These people were fruitcakes and incompetent morons and now it is out there for all to see.  I am in memo heaven.

First there are the tortured (no pun intended) legal memos using circular and illogical rationalization to justify the unjustifiable.  Then there were more memos that told us they were looking to torture before they had their first prisoner.  Now we are finding out, well some of us have known this for years, that they then went hunting for torture tactics and the professionals in the SERE training told them the stuff they wanted was torture and that it was ineffective because it would illicit anything they wanted to hear, and finally it was not appropriate for intelligence gathering.  But here is the crux of the whole Republican experience:  THEY ONLY LOOK FOR WHAT THEY THINK THEY ALREADY KNOW!

Oh god, I love this.  It is raining crap all around them and they are still in denial.  There were weapons of mass destruction and they would ignore anything but that answer.  So what if we are in a war without end in the armpit of the world?  Okay, maybe there weren’t weapons of mass destruction, but then there was a beachhead for democracy in the Muslim world.  Did you see the protest of Afghan women who don’t think its okay to be owned and raped by their husbands?  Don’t you just love beachheads of democracy?  Oh let’s not forget cutting taxes and low regulation.  Our ship of economic prosperity has run aground on the rocks of reality and what do we hear?  Clinton and the Democrats did this to us!  The Democrats have been the most emasculated bunch of wimps for the last 12 years and could not manage one orchestrated filibuster to the Republican madness and now they are responsible for all this grief?

But the fog is lifting.  John Boehner and Michelle Bachmann have both denied global warming and use the argument that carbon dioxide is natural and could therefore not be harmful.  Okay I will give that John thinks cows fart carbon dioxide, but still the point was made that natural equals good even if it is methane.  Arsenic and mercury are naturally occurring and they are deadly.  On did I mention the plague and malaria?  Those would be God’s gifts to us as other natural phenomenon.  Aren’t you people out there thoroughly embarrassed that you elected these fruitcakes?

So what are the Republicans reduced to?  Well we can’t possibly be civil to world leaders we don’t agree with and need to wag our…, well you know what I mean, at them to prove our manhood.  Conservatives are shocked, shocked, shocked I tell you that the FDA is letting 17-year-olds get the morning after pill without a prescription.  How could government allow this?  Aren’t these the same people who argue that government should stay out of our lives?  They also argue that we are all entitled to a family assault weapon.  Now I can almost see this considering my vineyard gopher problem, but I will just stick with my rocket launcher. The good news is that I may be able to acquire a tactical nuke soon from Pakistan after we have invested billions in those folks to fight the Taliban to no avail.  Aren’t things turning out swimmingly?

So as the sun sets on a Friday night, I have my wine glass firmly clutched in my hand, and the Republican myth dies a slow and agonizing death, I cannot help smiling.  As one of my favorite professors in college used to say about an elegant equation, it is a beautiful thing, but Mother Nature is a bitch and reality sooner or later seeps in and then things get messy.  So Republicans, know what I know:  Life is messy, there are no simple answers, and change is the nature of the beast.  But there is the one thing I know that is a constant and that is good wine.  I have an absolutely exquisite Syrah from the foothills as I write this.  It never lets me down.  You conservative Republicans (are there any other kind any more?) ought to try it.  I know your world is crumbling around you, but you need to chill out.  We will all be better for it, your world crumbling that is.  Carpe Diem.

The Press is Waking Up

Just a short note as I work on Vine/Wine Friday:  The Press is finally being the press and it is a welcome surprise.  The Republicans have been out on one of their talking point drives trying to tamp down the outrage about their sactioned torture.  In the past the press has gladly lent their stage for these conservative talking points, but on the torture issue they are confronting these Republicans with a few facts that don’t quite jive with their story.  A case in point was yesterday’s Nora O’Donnell (MSNBC) interview with Liz Cheney, the daughter of Vice President Cheney.  Liz Cheney was spewing all the misinformation about torture and with the memos and other information we now know about what actually happened, Nora was able to point out most of the out right lies in the talking points or the failures in logic.  Later Lawrence O’Donnell was interviewed and he trashed the rest of the logic including the claims of preventing terrorist attacks.  On that one, the attack was prevented 6 months before we captured the terrorist they purported to have tortured to prevent the attack.  You can see all the interviews on the Daily Kos.

There was another interesting tidbit on the Olbermann show (Countdown MSNBC) when Keith was interviewing Chris Hayes the Washington Editor from the Nation Magazine about whether Nancy Pelosi had, as John Boehner claimed, known about what was going on (which she denied).  Chris said, “I am inclined to believe Speaker Pelosi over John Boehner, but I don’ really care from a partisan standpoint, who sign off on all this.  Let it all be brought to light.  If it were the case that there were Democratic law makers who knew what was happening and gave it the thumps up whether tacit or explicit, we should know about that…” This is the primary difference between Democrats and Republicans.  They are protecting their own at all costs, most Democrats are standing up for a principal that torture is immoral.

So here is a hearty thank you to Nora O’Donnell and we hope the beginning of a new chapter in Press coverage where instead of just letting the pundit spout his talking points, the interviewer is well enough prepared to raise critical questions about them instead of just moving on to the next question, letting the false claims go unchallenged, and lending credibility to them.  I would love to see the same type of interview about the economy or energy.  It truly would be a new day

The Torture Chronicles Continued

President Obama changed course today when he may have realized he was repeating George Bush’s mistake in trying to define when the law will be applied and when it won’t.  He now says that for those who crafted these obviously flawed legal memos to justify torture, he will leave the decision as to whether to investigate and prosecute where it belongs in the Justice Department.  Many of us think he has no choice but to prosecute if we are going to honor our own laws,  treaties, and international law.  Otherwise we have no standing in the world and we cannot expect anyone else in the world to follow the law either.

But this whole argument gets confused within several issues.  First is the legal one, did we violate our own law, international law, and treaties we have signed?  The second one is the moral issue, should we even be involved in this kind of behavior?  And the third one which is closely related to the second, does it work?  If it doesn’t work, the second question becomes more problematic.  We know we have violated the law and if we are a nation of laws, we must enforce them becasue picking and choosing which laws to follow means there are no laws.  In judging people who violated the law, the second and third issues come into play.  There are mitigating circumstances if they broke the law trying to prevent a more heinous crime.  If it is immoral, then was it justified if it worked and saved lives?  This last question is really the crux of the argument Dick Cheney is making on FOX news.  “Sometimes good people have to do bad things for the greater good.”

Now I would be the first one to say once we go down this road to institutionalized torture for Al-Qaeda suspects, we have lost our bearings about who we are and it does more damage than it prevents, both to our own psyche, and to the enhancing of recruitment and motivation for our enemies.  But let’s forget that argument for a minute and just ask the question, is it effective?  Now once again I have an opinion based upon multiple sources that says no.  But what do we really know?  I would argue that we need a full and open investigation to find out what we found out and when; what happened when the CIA took interrogations away from the FBI; and did they actually get anything new or useful that wouldn’t have been found out anyway, and maybe sooner?

Now enter Dick Cheney who is calling for the release of memos he says exist that prove that torture was highly effective and prevented many attacks on the United States. This is interesting on several levels.  First, we have Mr. Secrecy now wanting to release real intelligence findings that could be considered much more damaging than legal memos on the legal basis of torture.  Second, if these memos exist, I don’t think the CIA is going to release them and the reasons are obvious.

Do you remember the justification for attacking Iraq?  The Vice President went intelligence shopping and he cherry picked anything that supported his preconceived view of the threat Saddam Hussein presented, rewarded those who provided him that information, and punished those that did not.  Some of this intelligence came from suspects tortured that later turned out to be false.  That is how we got it so wrong.  There is no question in my mind that once he turned the CIA loose to torture, they fed him what he wanted to hear.  Am I saying they lied to him?  I think they stretched the truth and in some cases, the information they claimed the got, was already known.  In some cases they exaggerated the importance of a detainee, or they got out of him what they wanted to find and Cheney wanted to hear, not necessarily the truth.

But don’t take my word for it.  If those memos are released and unclassified, then government officials who might know what really happened are then free to talk about it.  And based upon what I have read about the competing interrogation teams, there are some interesting things to find out.  In other words if those memos are released, their veracity can then be questioned, and people are free to talk about what really happened.  You can bet your sweet bippy that there are many in the CIA who never want to let those memos meet the light of day.  Because when all the conflicting information really gets out, they are going to look like they were involved in Amateur Hour for torturers and interrogators.  What they really wish right now is that Dick Cheney would just shut up and go away. Much like the intelligence for Iraq, he got fed what he wanted to hear and the truth got lost somewhere.  He is so delusional he could not sort out the difference.

All of this leaves one with the undeniable conclusion that we need to fully investigate what happened, what we really found out, and what is the truth.  What we will find will not be pleasant, but it is necessary to end this sorry period in our history.  The one thing we will find out about Dick Cheney is that as George Lucas told Maureen Dowd, Dick Cheney is no Darth Vader.  Darth Vader was once a good person lead astray.  Dick Cheney is the Emperor, evil and flawed through and through.

Note:  Tonight as I write this, the New York Times released a story that those who authorized torture never looked at its use in the past or its effectiveness.  Why would they, they have all seen “24”.  What bothers me about this is that this is all documented in Jane Mayer’s book, The Dark Side.  Anybody read it?

Form Over Substance

I spent a great deal of time bashing the TV news media for being unable to move away from inconsequential political wrangling and focus on the real issues facing our country.  The trouble is that this approach takes real work.  It is so much easier to have two or three political writers/reporters on a panel and they can rehash old political stances forever.  This added to the fact that most of these pundits live in their own political bubbles makes this discussion even more irrelevant.  One of the current topics about the Republicans is a case in point and it is a focus on form instead of substance.

It is not a news flash that the Republican Party is in decline.  But the discussions you hear are inane.  “They are looking for a new spokesperson, someone who can connect with younger voters.”  Or, “They are trying out issues that might stir up the public and see what sticks to the wall.”  We all saw Newt Gingrich over the weekend (and other Republicans) claim that being civil to Hugo Chavez would be the fall of Western Civilization as they sense our fear and become more bold.  The Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, is trying to get Republicans to connect more with young blacks by using hip-hop.  Sarah Palin’s now ancient connection with the red meat conservatives was seen as the resurrection of the Republican Party.  It is all public relations and has nothing to do with their message.  It is all form over substance.

Recently one of the cable shows had a real live professor of political science on the show who actually spoke the truth, which of course was roundly ignored.  He said something like this:  “We have one and a half political parties in the United States and we all know that the half party is the Republican Party.  Don’t they understand that minorities today that vote primarily Democratic will be the majority by 2030?  They cannot go on being the party of white Southern men and expect to be a force in tomorrow’s politics.”

In a few short sentences he summed up the reality of the Republican Party without laying out their underlying problem:  Their message, the substance of who they are, no longer appeals to people in the twenty first century.  Well I take that back.  There were the tea baggers, that disenfranchised group of irrational souls that just dislikes everything.  But as John Stewart described them, that “mono-colored” demonstration, kind of summed up their lack of appeal to most Americans other than the ones desperately trying to hold on to some non-existent past.  The Republican’s basic message, the substance of what they believe, is being rejected by average Americans because it has not brought us to a safer place.  Yet they are desperately hanging onto that message and it may be their final demise.

Watching John Boehner this weekend was a case in point. Appearing on ABC’s This Week, the Ohio Republican was asked what to describe the GOP plan to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions,  “which every major scientific organization said is contributing to climate change.”

Boehner replied: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know when they do what they do you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”

I could point out that no one has said carbon dioxide is a carcinogen or that cows fart methane, not carbon dioxide, but the point here is the world of denial they are living in to support their fundamental ideas, small government, cut taxes, trickle down economics, and few regulations.  Newt Gingrich’s attempt to portray the handshake with Chavez as some earth shaking event is just more evidence that they really have nothing to add to our dialogue about our way forward.  Denying federal bailout money as your citizens go to the poor house is the ultimate act of irrelevancy of your ideas.  Thank you for the South Carolina student who is suing her governor to failure to responsibly carry out his duties in office when his refusal to take the funds will prevent her from going to college and someday being part of the solution.

The real problem with the Republican Party is that they need a new message, not a new salesman or a new paint job. It is becoming quite obvious that the current crop of Republicans is unable to re-craft their message to recognize the realities of today.  Even though many Democratic policies make many in the middle of the road nervous, until the Republicans become even moderately relevant, there is only one choice.  The world has changed and Republicans have not.  It is the very definition of extinction.  Oh I forgot, they don’t believe in evolution.  My point exactly.

One last thought about the media:  As long as they continue to present Republican ideas with equal weight to the solutions that are being proposed by the Democrats for our future, the discussions will be irrelevant.  Most Americans have already rejected these ideas and now it is time to have a real debate about what is being proposed rather than to giving equal weight to old arguments that no longer have any merit.

Sunday Funnies

As is my habit on Sunday, I try to watch the Sunday news shows to see what the topics of the day are and how the press is covering them.  It was an exercise in futility.  There was Larry Summers on Meet the Press explaining that we would not relieve any constraints on Cuba until we get tit for tat.  The first question you have to ask is why is Larry Summers commenting on Cuba?  Shouldn’t that be Hillary?  Secondly, that is exactly the policy we have followed for the last 50 years that has been such a failure.  Then there was Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard commenting on CNN that this policy was wildly successful because Cuba has never been a threat.  Cuba a threat?  I think if you define success in this manner (much like we have never been attacked again by al-Qaeda in the U.S. after 9/11, therefore everything we have done is the right policy), then you can justify almost anything.  The fact that the Cubans are not free gets left out of the equation.

Then there was the discussion of whether President Obama should have been civil to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  Since Chavez has said some outrageous things about the United States, we should act equally childish and see who can be the bigger diva?  Isn’t that exactly what President Bush did and just gave Chavez ammunition?  Anyone who is an experienced negotiator knows that the first key element to negotiations is to establish mutual respect.  If being civil is a disadvantage, I don’t want to live in the world these people think is appropriate.  Bring on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a model for our way forward.  At least in President Obama’s news conference, he took this whole foolish discussion on and set it straight.

So why can’t our news media see common sense?  Why do they continue to focus on these frivolous issues and arguments?  I think the answer here is that our news media is woefully out of touch with where most of us are now.  They continue to parade the same old tired pundits on the screen locked in the Washington bubble while most of us yearn for some new thinking.  We have witnessed the old approaches fail and we want to try something different.  But our news media continues to give the old arguments and old politicians a forum for throwing out old ideas and protecting the status quo.  What are Dick Armey and Tom Delay doing giving the country advice on the way forward (Meet the Press and Hardball)?  They are the kings of a failed approach. What the hell do they have to say to us about anything?   Well it would appear that the only people interested in what they have to say are the press.  The rest of us are thinking, “Done that, didn’t work, got a new idea?”  At least Gloria Borger on CNN said one common sense thing, “President Obama is trying a new approach to see if it will work.”  What an insight!  The country is in a mess, the old solutions don’t work, and most of us are willing to try a new approach and see if can work.

My point is simply this:  The talking head news media is focusing on political back and forth that most of us have moved on from.  Most Americans are looking for a new approach and our media is focused on yesterday’s arguments.  For instance in the Cuba discussion, what if the U.S. just ignored Cuba.  Forget the carrot and stick.  It just gives these dictators someone to blame for their problems.  Just open up the country to free trade and travel and let events take their own course.  What a novel idea.  But the discussion you get is the old carrot and stick.  Where is the discussion about new ideas?  These are not going to take place as long as we continue to give the same old talking heads and pundits the microphone.  So please stop it.  The job of the press is to challenge these old ideas instead of giving them a podium from which to bore us to death with them and pretend they are somehow stewards of old wisdom.

I guess change is a scary thing for many people.  That in my mind is why the Republicans sound so shrill today and desperately want to establish the old order.  It would also appear that our media can’t stand change either as it would change the whole dynamic of their coverage and discussions.  They would have to bring in some new people with new ideas and do something new.  As evidenced by most of today’s discussions, they are resisting it mightily.

Note:  One exception as always was Fareed Zackaria’s GPS where he was asking real and substantial questions about our way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  There is a real fear that Pakistan could become a failed government.  What he doesn’t give us is politicians with some ideological bent, but thoughtful diplomats (Richard Holbrooke) and knowledgeable journalists who can give us a real sense of the issues and what is possible.  And of course let us not forget Rachel Maddow whose show is breaking new ground for being rational.  It is such a breath of fresh air.