Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Political Digest October 6, 2009

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with every—or any—opinion in the posted article.

47% will pay no federal income tax
And with nothing to lose, will support candidates who want to spend more. Excerpt: NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Most people think they pay too much to Uncle Sam, but for some people it simply is not true. In 2009, roughly 47% of households, or 71 million, will not owe any federal income tax, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Some in that group will even get additional money from the government because they qualify for refundable tax breaks. The ranks of those whose major federal tax burdens net out at zero -- or less -- is on the rise. The center's original 2009 estimate was 38%. That was before enactment in February of the $787 billion economic recovery package, which included a host of new or expanded tax breaks.
The issue doesn't get a lot of attention even as lawmakers debate how to pay for policy initiatives like health reform, whether to extend the Bush tax cuts and how to reduce the deficit.

Polanski controversy shouldn't be controversial
Excerpt: Many of the international community's leading lights are rallying to the "Free Polanski" movement. A petition is circulating with such names as Harvey Weinstein, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen on it. (No surprise that Woody's on board.) The arguments in Polanski's defense range from lawyerly red herrings to intellectual piffle to horrendous affronts to human decency. Whoopi Goldberg (no relation) dismissed the allegations because she was sure whatever Polanski did, it didn't amount to "rape rape." It all boils down to the fact that Polanski is famous and talented and an Olympian artist, living above the world of mortals. Indeed, if he didn't rape that girl — and he did — Polanski would still be considered a pig in most normal communities. This is the man who, after all, started dating Nastassja Kinski when she was only 15 and he was in his 40s. His taste for teenage girls is an established fact. His defenders don't care. They are above and beyond bourgeois notions of morality, even legality. And that's the main reason I am grateful for this controversy. It is a dye marker, "lighting up" a whole archipelago of morally wretched people. With their time, their money and their craft, these very people routinely lecture America about what is right and wrong. It's good to know that at the most fundamental level, they have no idea what they're talking about.

Obama adviser tries to quell urgency
Excerpt: One day after an attack in Afghanistan killed eight American soldiers, President Obama's national security adviser downplayed both the importance of U.S. troop levels and the possibility of a Taliban return to power. National security adviser James L. Jones suggested that Gen. McChrystal's call for more troops must be tempered by diplomatic considerations as the president weighs how to deal with the 8-year-old war. "Well, I think the end is much more complex than just about adding 'X' number of troops. Afghanistan is a country that's quite large and that swallows up a lot of people," the retired Marine general said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Wounded U.S. Soldiers Refused to Leave Taliban Fight
Excerpt: Three wounded soldiers, one U.S. and two Afghan, were carried down the steep incline and quickly placed on the helicopter. Some of the injured refused to be MEDEVACED out of the combat zone and continued to fight despite their wounds, according to soldiers at the base. Soldiers told the MEDEVAC crew that troops were donating blood during the battle, so it could be transfused into wounded comrades. Between the gloom of night and smoke, it was too dark to see much and the roar of the chopper made it almost impossible to hear commands. I was quickly sort of touched by a crew member to get on the flight. I hopped on and even before I was on, the medical team was already working on the wounded. Doctors wore night vision goggles, but still found it difficult to see. One doctor said it was like working by touch. (Do we deserve such men?)

HIGs are Pigs
Excerpt: For some reason, it takes Lori Hinnant five paragraphs to mention the attack happened in Kamdesh. Since everyone is probably going to compare this attack to the Battle at the Waigal district center in Nuristan from last year, it might be helpful to examine the context surrounding the attack. The Kamdesh area, along the Landai Sin Valley, was mostly ignored by U.S. forces until 2006, when the U.S. established a PRT in the area. The area was a HiG stronghold, and according to Richard Strand there were rampant rumors that al Qaeda had begun aggressively infiltrating the area. Strand doesn’t note this, but more recently there are widespread rumors that the various campaigns of the Pakistani Army in the NWFP have pushed militants into the area—more than would exist there otherwise. Strand, one of the very best open sources about Nuristan, has lots more data about the rumors surrounding—much of this post will be pulling from his website, though it’ll be supplemented with material from other sources. (The Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) is the larger of two factions of Afghanistan's Hezbi Islami Party. ~Bob)

A war of necessity turns out not so necessary
Excerpt: "This is not a war of choice," Barack Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 17. "This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people." But that was nearly seven weeks ago. Now it appears that Obama is about to ignore the advice of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whom he installed as commander in Afghanistan in May, after relieving his predecessor ahead of schedule. McChrystal, who came up as a Special Forces officer, is an expert in counterinsurgency. Not surprisingly, in his Aug. 30 report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he recommended a course that seems certain to require a substantial number of additional troops. During the first three weeks of September, Obama held one meeting on the "war of necessity." Then on Sept. 20, Obama appeared on five talk shows to push his health plan. The next day, Bob Woodward published a story in The Washington Post based on a copy of McChrystal's report, which the newspaper later posted in redacted form. Woodward made it clear that McChrystal would request more troops. When questioners pressed him about the war, he said he was rethinking his Afghanistan strategy.

Report Says Iran Has Data to Make a Nuclear Bomb
Hard to know if Israel will suffer first, or if they’ll try for delivery in NYC or DC.

Cooking the books on Global Warming
Excerpt: At the insistence of editors of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions B the data has leaked into the open -- and Yamal's mystery is no more, says the Register: From this we know that the Yamal data set uses just 12 trees from a larger set to produce its dramatic recent trend. Yet many more were cored, and a larger data set (of 34) from the vicinity shows no dramatic recent warming, and warmer temperatures in the middle ages. In all there are 252 cores in the CRU Yamal data set, of which ten were alive in 1990. All 12 cores selected show strong growth since the mid-19th century. The implication is clear: the dozen were cherry-picked, says the Register.

Senate Cap-and-Trade Bill Favors Corporate Interests Over National Interest
Excerpt: The "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act" introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) favors corporate interests over our national interest, says the Free Enterprise Project of the National Center for Public Policy Research. The bill calls for a 20% reduction in emissions, exceeding the 17% target in the House Waxman-Markey legislation passed in May. Boxer-Kerry lacks many important details, including a disclosure of which industries will benefit from free emissions credits. "In the rush to legislate, the Boxer-Kerry bill is silent on key elements, such as how the government will hand out free emissions allowances that are worth billions of dollars. With that amount of money left on the table it opens the door for a behind-the-scenes lobbying fest that will reward well connected companies while looting taxpayers," said Tom Borelli, PhD, director of the Free Enterprise Project. Waxman-Markey awards most of the estimated $777.6 billion of free allowances to industry between 2012-2020. Utilities were the biggest winner in the "House bill lottery," receiving 35% of allowances.

How Urban Planners Caused the Housing Bubble
Excerpt: Between 2000 and the bubble's peak, inflation- adjusted housing prices in California and Florida more than doubled, and since the peak they have fallen by 20 to 30 percent. In contrast, housing prices in Georgia and Texas grew by only about 20 to 25 percent, and they haven't significantly declined. In other words, California and Florida housing bubbled, but Georgia and Texas housing did not. This is hardly because people don't want to live in Georgia and Texas: since 2000, Atlanta, Dallas–Ft. Worth, and Houston have been the nation's fastest-growing urban areas, each growing by more than 120,000 people per year. This suggests that local factors, not national policies, were a necessary condition for the housing bubbles where they took place. The most important factor that distinguishes states like California and Florida from states like Georgia and Texas is the amount of regulation imposed on landowners and developers, and in particular a regulatory system known as growth management.

Michael Moore’s “Capitalism” a Bust at the Box Office
Maybe people are tired of making him rich so he can tell us how he hates rich people, America and most of us.

The Free-Rider” Problem
Excerpt: The trademark of the Administration’s approach to health reform is to point to problems and then propose solutions that do not solve them. For example, in response to the problems of cost, quality and access, Obama Care almost certainly will result in higher spending, lower quality and less access (at least for poor people). The individual mandate fits this pattern. The case for government action is what economists call the “free rider” problem. Left to their own devices, some people will avoid buying health insurance and avoid self-insuring and consume all their income instead. Then if they develop expensive-to-treat conditions, they will throw themselves at the mercy of society as a whole. Since most of us are not indifferent to the suffering of others, we chip in and pay for the treatments. But this rewards the free riders (allowing them to be effectively insured without paying their fair share) and encourages others to become just like them. Now, if you think this is a problem — and even if you think it is a serious problem — the type of mandate being proposed on Capitol Hill does not come even close to solving it.

Subsidized Health Care: a view from the exam room
Excerpt: Upon questioning Sherry S., a pretty 46-year-old seeking wrinkle relief, I learned that four of her immediate family members had been diagnosed with breast or colon cancer before the age of 50. Alarmed, I asked why she had not had the recommended screening mammogram for more than four years. She said that she knew already that her risk for developing breast cancer was likely higher than that of most women. "But I don't have insurance," she replied. A screening mammogram could be obtained for about $90 and was discounted or free at local facilities every October for "Breast Cancer Awareness Month." She smiled when I proposed a deal: if she were to get a screening mammogram within sixty days of her treatment, I would offer a discount on what she paid me for cosmetic services. "I'll think about it," she said, then shelled out over $400 for BotoxTM injections that took me ten minutes to administer.

An economist explains health care spending
“Duh” for anyone who understands economics, but good reading for those who don’t.

The Last to Know
Excerpt: Barack Obama is still sailing along on the certainty that he’s the coolest world leader on Earth. He won an historic election, the media was solidly behind him, adoring crowds greet him wherever he goes, and only a few cranky right-wing commentators and tea partiers dare to rain on his parade. But as Charles Krauthammer and others have revealed, Obama knew of Iran’s perfidy in concealing their nuclear program when he spoke at the United Nations on 24 September. Despite the urging of European allies, he refused to bring up the uncomfortable subject, as it would detract from his speech. The focus of the speech–Obama’s dream for a nuclear free world. He still spun his no-nukes platitudes, knowing full well that one of the most dangerous regimes in the world was inches from deploying a nuclear weapon. France’s President Sarkozy, England’s Prime Minister Brown, Germany’s President Merkel all wanted to use the international forum to expose Iran’s decades of deceit, but Obama postponed until the G-20 summit. Obama’s refusal showed his weakness of character and selfishness of motive. Last week’s presidential sales call on the International Olympic Committee, complete with first lady, cabinet officials, and the other Big O, was also exposed as a failure when it was announced Chicago was the first of the finalist cities to be out of the running for 2016. Obama received the news on his way home. Political pundits assumed that Obama had an agreement in hand before he departed, since a president would certainly not risk the prestige of the office to play door-to-door salesman unless he already had a sure thing. He did not, and the whole trip was basically a slow lap around the Atlantic in Air Force One.

Politics and Prison in Venezuela
Obama’s Friend. Excerpt: Rivas's supporters say the 22-year-old university student is just one of many Venezuelans jailed for challenging a populist government that they contend is increasingly intolerant of dissent. As the Chávez government approaches 11 years in power, many of its most prominent opponents are in exile in foreign countries or under criminal investigation here. But human rights and legal policy groups say that even more worrisome is the growing number of government foes in jail for what they allege are politically motivated reasons. There are more than 40 political prisoners in Venezuela, and 2,000 Chávez opponents are under investigation, the groups and human rights lawyers say.

Obama's Meeting With the Dalai Lama Is Delayed
BO Kowtows to the Creditor. Excerpt: In an attempt to gain favor with China, the United States pressured Tibetan representatives to postpone a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama until after Obama's summit with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, scheduled for next month, according to diplomats, government officials and other sources familiar with the talks. For the first time since 1991, the Tibetan spiritual leader will visit Washington this week and not meet with the president. Since 1991, he has been here 10 times. Most times the meetings have been "drop-in" visits at the White House. The last time he was here, in 2007, however, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to meet with him publicly, at a ceremony at the Capitol in which he awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest civilian award.

Ugly health debate reflects an ugly culture
Excerpt: Anyone who has ever been to a professional football game or gone shopping on the day after Thanksgiving surely can’t be surprised that things have gotten a little ugly as we discuss health care and, by extension, our fundamental relationship with our government. Survivors of an increasingly coarse American society where adults routinely get into fistfights over the athletic exploits of multimillionaire strangers should hardly expect a prep-school debating competition. The man with the vile slogan on his T-shirt or the woman nattering on her cell phone who smashes her sport utility vehicle door into your car inflict their small injuries to civilization only because they’re self-absorbed and ill-mannered.

Deeds: From Patching Fence to Straddling It
Excerpt: Deeds's climb up the ladder of the House of Delegates, the state Senate and a successful Democratic primary run represents the triumph of political malleability over ideology. He has spent a career trimming and finessing positions to win votes in the General Assembly and expand his coalition by building a statewide profile as a somewhat conservative and unpredictable Democrat. By contrast, the career of Robert F. McDonnell has soared on a reputation of steadfast conviction that has especially captivated Republicans and social conservatives. Not surprisingly, their critics view their defining political characteristics as failings: McDonnell's strong compass perceived as permanently stuck on true Right since the publication of his graduate school thesis rendered him a fierce ideologue in the minds of some voters; Deeds dismissed as an opportunist without any compass or proven leadership abilities at all. In an odd twist, each candidate finds himself in the position of having to prove that he has the political quality most associated with his opponent -- in McDonnell's case, that he has some of Deeds's non-ideological flexibility; in Deeds's case, that he has a measure of McDonnell's conviction to lead.

Bill Clinton's Story, With a Few Pages Missing

Excerpt: Clinton's capacity for self-pity has been long established, but Branch was clearly taken aback by the president's moaning and ranting about his enemies, especially the news media. In October 1994, as Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution picked up steam, Clinton was so exhausted and depressed that he was falling asleep in midsentence during his interviews with Branch. His friend was disturbed but still concluded that Clinton was a far nobler figure than the scribes who mocked him.

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