Monday, August 31, 2009

NOLA Blog Power! The Tide Has Risen!

In a lengthy front-page article, Molly Reid of the Times-Picayune covers the NOLA blogosphere and its impact as watchdog and gadfly on local politics. In the article, an anonymous blogger's identity is revealed (by the choice of the blogger himself) in the context of a threatened libel suit by the subjects of this blogger's investigations and postings. That particular story is interesting in and of itself, but the whole piece was a relatively thoughtful and detailed exploration of the impact of the local NOLA blogosphere in the rough and tumble of New Orleans politics and investigative journalism.

I thought Molly Reid did a nice job on the story. And I appreciate the fact that the Times-Picayune gave the story such prominence and space (it was continued over three different pages of the print edition). We NOLA bloggers have always known we were relevant and were making a difference to the civic culture of this community in positive ways; but it's nice to have the City's most prominent print newspaper finally acknowledge that as well.

Good luck to Ashe Dambala. I've followed his blog, American Zombie, and I don't think he has anything to worry about with regard to a libel suit coming from some disgruntled insiders. All he did was expose a web of interesting connections and pose the natural questions that anyone would have about such connections. And the fact that his identity is now out in the open should take the wind out of the sails of these disgruntled insiders. In fact, I hope they do file a libel suit, because then their web of connections will come under even greater scrutiny and will actually force the answers to the questions that Dambala put forth. I welcome anything that would increase such transparency and accountability. And I'm sure Dambala does, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Healthcare Reform, Torture, and Gay Equality: A Prognostication on Obama's Strategic Thinking

Barack Obama's first administration hinges on the outcome of the current Healthcare Reform debate. But this debate will come to an end soon, probably by the end of this calendar year. Whatever the outcome, Barack Obama will be free of the political constraints holding him back from going whole hog in pursuit of other matters such as prosecuting ALL folks up the chain of command to former Vice President Dick Cheney and former President George W. Bush who clearly and illegally authorized a horrific torture regime. Also, Obama will be free to rapidly overturn both the offensive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that discriminates against gay members of the military and the equally offensive Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Obama has always rhetorically committed himself very strongly to ending torture and upholding the rule of law against toturers, as well as to advancing equality for America's GLBT community. And he's always asked for patience. The more I think of it, the more I believe he's holding back on the decisive action he really wants to take on these matters in deference to fighthing the Healthcare reform battles.

If he loses the Healthcare reform battle, what does he stand to lose by advancing a progressive agenda on these other matters that he wouldn't already have lost in the Healthcare reform battle? If he wins the Healthcare reform battle, he can ride a wave of momentum to push forward on these other matters without running the risk of having opposition to these other matters translate into a threat to the Healthcare reform legislation, which would have already been resolved.

What also leads me to have some confidence in this prognostication is that the torturers are themselves sniffing the danger, realize that time is running short, and are thus mounting an all out offensive to try to legitimize their torture policy in the minds of the public so as to solidify their position in the American psyche before Obama turns his full attention to them.

What seems abundantly clear is that the Bush and Cheney cabal clearly devised and implemented a torture policy. In fact, the question of whether what they authorized constitutes torture seems to be clearly settled: what they authorized was, indeed, torture. Now, the architects of this illegal torture policy are reduced effectively to saying "yeah, we tortured, but it worked; so cut us some slack." They have conceded the fact of torture, which makes them explicitly legally culpable; but they are now trying to get the public to absolve them for their illegal actions. In effect, they are making their case with the jury of public opinion, where the public might let them off the hook, so as to try to prevent them from from having to face the jury constituted in a court of law, where they are much more likely to be convicted strictly on legal grounds.

Could my hunch, in the end, be true? Who knows? But one can hope.

Helena Moreno is a Batt Girl?????

The erstwhile Democratic Party wannabee for Louisiana's Federal House of Representatives Congressional District 2 seat, Helena Moreno, appears to be in cahoots with some other local notables in support of Republican Jay Batt and his campaign to once again represent Lakeview and parts of Uptown New Orleans on the New Orleans City Council, filling in for Shelley Midura, who beat him for the spot last go-around.

Thank goodness the good citizens at Anybody But Batt are back at it.

And shame on Helena Moreno. I always did think that she was a Republican wolf in Democratic sheep's clothing, even though I hoped-against-hope and desperately wanted to believe otherwise. And I probably would have voted for Joseph "Resume of a Democrat" Cao over Moreno anyway, even if she had defeated William Jefferson in the Democratic Primary and even though I voted for her over Jefferson in this primary race. But now we know for sure what she is and where her loyalties lie. It's quite telling that before she even knows who the Democratic Party's standard-bearer for this District A City Council seat is going to be, she's out there cavorting as a Batt Girl.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Message to Mary Landrieu on Health Care

Mary Landrieu is repeatedly criticized by Catholics and the Catholic Church for being a "pro-choice" politician. Hell, the Archbishop snubbed her entire family when they were recognized by Loyola University for their public service because of this issue. So, Mary Landrieu faces an uphill challenge with the Catholic Community because she is a pro-choice Democrat.

But on the health care debate, the Democratic position is much more in line with the Catholic position. So here's a rare opportunity for Mary Landrieu both to prove and publicly advance her Catholic credentials and to give herself political cover for supporting the Democratic health care initiatives being put forward in Congress.

[UPDATE: Friday, August 28, 2:46PM - Of course, this presumes that the Catholic voter of Louisiana who pulls out the "Catholic card" on the abortion issue really gives a damn what that very "Catholic card" has to say on the health care issue. And of this, I unfortunately can't be so confident.]

Hypocritical Opposition to Government Health Care

I read the Times-Picayune's article on Sen. Mary Landrieu's health care town hall meeting today. I came across this gem from an opponent to the idea of a government-sponsored health care option:

"I just think we're losing a little bit more of our freedoms every day," Nicholas del Giudice of LaPlace said afterward. He said Landrieu should vote against any health care bill and fight against government intrusion. He is insured by Medicare and a supplemental private policy, del Giudice said. [Emphasis added.]
Of course, this is nothing new. Many folks who directly benefit from a government plan think that this is something good, believe that they're entitled to it, are loathe to give it up for themselves, and yet don't want to share it with others who desperately need it. But I am sick and tired of the hypocrisy it entails. The unmitigated selfishness of it really ticks me off. And in my seething anger at such hypocrisy and selfishness, disguised under a sickening self-righteousness, I came to this conclusion: Anyone who opposes "government intrusion" in health care, should be completely cut off from any government healthcare plan. Including Medicare. I'm unwilling to continuing paying a penny of my taxes to keep selfish folks like Mr. del Giudice healthy, alive, and medicated. Cut the sucker off. In fact, I would hope he would thank me for my position, since I would be restoring a little bit more of his freedoms to him. In fact, anyone who is eligible for Medicare should be asked one question before anything else when they go to apply for the program: Do you support, in principle, the idea of government-run healthcare? If that person answers "No," then they should instantly be turned around, shown the door, and wished the best of luck. As a consolation, they should be given a little card that says: "Congratulations! You've just preserved your freedom!" And so as not to give the impression that the government that is turning them away is uncaring or unfriendly, they should also be given a list of charity health care providers who don't receive any government subsidies at all whom they may turn to in the event that they are unable to afford healthcare for themselves or even to simply secure private health insurance. [And if such people paid into the system, maybe we can even cut them a check in the amount of the "cash-out" value of their investment, interest included, minus the value of whatever benefits they would have already received through the program. I'm sure there are actuarials that could be employed for such a thing. And given what I know about the differences between what Medicare recipients cost the taxpayer for their healthcare versus what they paid into the system, I know we would end up with a fairly substantial net long-term savings to the taxpayer.]

It sounds harsh; but it's no more harsh than the message they are sending to all those millions of people whose "freedoms" leave them uninsured.

And, besides, being cut off from government health care appears to be what these people want.

I say let them have it.

From the Archives: Hurricane Katrina Commentary

What I wrote four years ago today as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans.

My first post-Katrina post from September 1, 2005.

Four years later and we're still battling the demons.

Never forget.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Asinine Rightwing Comment of the Day ...

goes to conservative blogger Melissa Clouthier. Commenting upon Ted Kennedy's death, Ms. Clouthier wrapped up a pitiful, meaningless comment with the following post script:

P.S. Using Ted Kennedy's death to prop up horrible legislation is disgusting. Politicizing death: it's what Democrats do.
I find the irony of this statement breathtaking. This comes from a woman whose own party called a midnight emergency legislative session, a session which even roused President Bush in the wee hours of the morning to be on standby to sign "horrible legislation," to try to run roughshod over States' Rights and the Florida State courts and keep Terri Schiavo alive. Talk about using someone's death to craft horrible legislation! Where was Melissa Clouthier's "disgust" back then? As for "politicizing death" being what Democrats do, I would point not only to the Republicans and the Terriy Schiavo case, but also to the whole Sarah Palin "death panels" absurdity. Now whether or not you believe Sarah Palin's "death panels" fears to be legitimate, it is still patently clear that the movement she sparked is 100% precisely about "politicizing death." I mean, really, if pushing the idea of "death panels" in the context of a debate over health care policy reform is not politicizing "death," I don't know what the hell you would call "politicizing death." And let's also be clear that this is something the Republicans did. And still do. And quite effectively, too. So, I think Ms. Clouthier would do well to reconsider her claim because, when it comes to "politicizing death," Republicans are the grand masters of it. It's what they do.

The Perversity of Our Current Health Care System

Read this gripping story of one family's struggle with the health care system as it currently operates. If this story is, by itself alone, not a clarion call for immediate and substantive reform, I don't know what is.

There are many things I would call "perverse" about what this family has had to go through to keep their daughter alive, but the most perverse is that, in order for this family to get the health care their daughter needs, they are incentivized to live below the poverty level. Read this and marvel at it:

Since SoonerCare is the only insurance that will accept Sophie, we have to meet their financial criteria, which means living at or below the poverty level. I have had to quit wonderful jobs because I made too much money to qualify for SoonerCare. At this point I can only work either part-time, or for a very small salary, because we CANNOT afford to lose Sophie's healthcare coverage. It's the most important thing in our lives. We structure every single financial and professional decision we make around staying eligible for SoonerCare.

And while we'll gladly continue to live at the poverty level in order to provide our daughter with the healthcare that keeps her alive, we SHOULDN'T HAVE TO. We would happily pay outrageous premiums and co-pays, and do whatever else it took to get Sophie covered by regular health insurance. But you know what they all tell us?
She has to go two years with no pulmonary medications and no doctor's visits because of respiratory problems before anyone will accept her. Sophie can't go two DAYS without her medications, let alone two years.
Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Outed Blogger Plans To Sue Google

I'm sure many have heard about the the case of Rosemary Port, whose identity was revealed by Google, which hosted her blog, after a court ordered the company to do so. Rosemary Port apparently said some not very nice things about an acquaintance and model, Liskula Cohen, under the cover of blogger anonymity. Cohen sued to get Google to reveal Port's identity, and the court ordered Google to do so. Now Port wants to sue Google for $15 million for failing to protect her privacy.

What do I think about this whole situation? The following: (1) I think anonymous bloggers lose any claims to privacy protection when they engage in ad hominem attacks. (2) If the object of an anonymous blogger's scorn can "out" the anonymouse blogger, then they have every right to do so. (3) Regardless, Port's suit against Google is baseless. Maybe some legal expert can clarify, but I don't think Google can be held legally liable in an sense simply for complying with a court order. That just makes no sense.

I think Rosemary Port got a little bit of the very same unflattering attention she so readily bestowed upon Liskula Cohen. That Port thinks it's not nice to have her identity revealed in association with nasty behavior should be a lesson to her of how it's not nice to go around calling other people nasty names without being held accountable for it. In fact, I see it as cowardly.

Now, a whistleblower blogger who keeps away from ad hominems and merely probes or exposes facts that can make people uncomfortable and which may elicit some intimidation and threats to their well-being -- that's another story. Such folks may very well deserve the protection of their private identities. But Rosemary Port ain't no whistleblower. She's just a catty and mean-spirited gossip. As such, she gets no privacy claim pass from me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Junot Diaz Coming to New Orleans

Junot Diaz, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is coming to New Orleans. He'll be giving a lecture on Monday, August 31, as part of Tulane University's Reading Project. The lecture starts at 7:00pm (Doors open at 6:15pm) and goes until 8:30pm, and will be held in Tulane's McAlister Auditorium.

I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao two summers ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am excited that Tulane picked a work of Latin American/Latino fiction for its Reading Project selection.

I'm planning to attend and I hope you will, too.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Blogging "Self-Nudge" Success!

With this posting, which makes number 32 for the Month of August, I have fulfilled my Blogging "Self-Nudge" arrangement for this month. By my count, all of my posts in August (minus one, which was a 4th comment for one day, thus going beyond my three-comments-per-day eligibility limit), legitimately apply towards satisfying my obligation.

What this means is that SarahPac, the RNC, and David Vitter's Campaign won't see a dime of my money. They're no worse off for that, I guess; but I'm pleased that I've been able to make the goal. I'll have to go back through this month's postings to confirm this, but I think I only missed two or three days of posting. I've been pretty consistent in trying to get up at least one post per day. And I still have 8 days or so until the end of the month. The posts I make between now and the end of the month are simply lagniappe now, but I plan to keep up the regular pace.

Go Sunstein and Thaler!

Rising Tide IV

Well, the 4th Annual Rising Tide Conference has apparently concluded. I was only able to stay until about 2pm, but that was enough to hear two panels, one special presentation, and the keynote talk from Harry Shearer. Also enough time to enjoy the breakfast and the yummy white beans and shrimp lunch provided by Cafe Reconcile.

Still have to think and process what I did get to hear, but I will post some comments up sometime over the next few days if my thoughts congeal sufficiently.

For those who may be interested in reading an excellent liveblogging transcript of the day, check out Maitri's VatulBlog. I think this year's conference was very well organized and the panels very engaging. I don't have official attendance figures, but my sense is that we had probably 25-30% more attendees this year than last year.

My favorite comment from this year goes to political cartoonist John Slade. Slade, who admitted to having voted for Ray Nagin 7 years ago, in part, because of the appeal of Nagin's reformist claim to "run City Hall like a business," commented that, after having seen how Nagin actually ended up running the city, voters should just walk away from any candidate whose platform rests on their business experience and on claims to clean up government by bringing private sector experience to the table. Slade said something to the effect that business should do what they are good at and create jobs for the young folks in this city and to just shut the hell up when it comes to politics and government, because government and public service are not businesses. And I think Slade is so right on: the business model, with its over-reliance on hierarchy, loyalty, private profit over any notion of the public good that is at odds with private profit, and an utter lack of transparency (and an arrogant dismissiveness towards any citizen who expects and demands such transparency), is just so far removed from any conceptualization of democratic governance so as to render it counterproductive, if not harmful, to democratic governance.

Anyway, if I have more to add later, I will. And if I can find any video or audio of the event, I'll link to it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rising Tide IV

Tomorrow is the convening of Rising Tide IV, which is the fourth annual conference organized by the who's who of the local New Orleans blogger community. I went last year and will be attending again this year. The schedule looks really good and I'm looking forward to attending.

I will, of course, be blogging about the event upon its completion and after I have had the time to digest it a bit. I am sure that some bloggers will be live-blogging the event; but I won't be one of them. I am just not a live-blogger kind of person. I tend to want to dedicate my undivided attention to the conference sessions and panelists themselves; and live-blogging an demands divided attention. So, I'll just enjoy, listen, and learn. It will be a welcome relief from the exhausting demands of the past two days of new graduate student orientation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Catholics and Health Care Reform

Now this I like:

On the eve of Archbishop Gregory Aymond's installation Mass, he has joined with Archbishop Alfred Hughes to release a statement on health care reform. The two men have joined with Catholic bishops across the nation in calling for health care reform that provides access for all with respect for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.
I can get behind my Church and my Church leaders on this point. Click the link above for the full official statement from the US Catholic bishops on health care reform, but I have to say that I particularly like this part of the official statement:
The Lord Jesus, who came to save us from our sins, manifested a great concern for the sick in his public ministry. He also urged us to reach out to the poor and sick in our midst. The Church rightly considers that government has a responsibility to ensure access to basic health care for all.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the bishops explicitly state that they do not propose either a public or a private option, and that they categorically oppose any plan that calls for taxpayer financing of "abortion, euthanasia, or other immoral activities," and they also demand that any plan provide for "conscience protections" for all providers and recipients of any health care reform plan. So, it's not something all liberals will probably agree on. But, for me, I can live with any of these conditions as long as there is affordable healthcare for all -- including legal migrants (which the archbishops also explicitly support). I hope conservative Catholics agree with their Church and its leaders on this as well. And I ask them to join with me in solidarity and support of our bishops. Affordable health care for all!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scalia and his Cafeteria Catholicism

Much byte-ink has been spilled about conservative Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's comment in a dissenting SCOTUS opinion on a case concerning a man convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death, yet who has also produced nearly indisputable evidence subsequent to his conviction that he is innocent. In this comment, reprinted below, Scalia's dissent basically argued from a point of judicial procedure that a convicted man sentenced to death in what was, at the time, a full and fair trial, must still die via capital punishment even if later evidence proves his innocence. Here's what Scalia actually wrote:

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”
Alan Dershowitz skewers Scalia on this position both from a common sense jursiprudential position, as well as on an appeal to Scalia's stated view of the supremacy of his Catholic faith over even his obligations as a Supreme Court justice. The whole Dershowitz piece is a must-read, especially for orthodox Catholics. So, if you are one of my orthodox Catholic readers, click on the link and read the whole thing carefully from start to finish. For now, I'll just share some choice selections from Dershowitz's piece.

With regard to Dershowitz's skewering on the basis of a common-sense jurisprudential position, nothing speaks more clearly than this hypothetical scenario that Dershowitz posits:
Let us be clear precisely what this [Scalia's above-cited comment] means. If a defendant were convicted, after a constitutionally unflawed trial, of murdering his wife, and then came to the Supreme Court with his very much alive wife at his side, and sought a new trial based on newly discovered evidence (namely that his wife was alive), these two justices [Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the other Catholic Supreme Court justice who enjoined this dissent authored by Scalia] would tell him, in effect: “Look, your wife may be alive as a matter of fact, but as a matter of constitutional law, she’s dead, and as for you, Mr. Innocent Defendant, you’re dead, too, since there is no constitutional right not to be executed merely because you’re innocent.”
I think that pretty much about says it all. Scalia's adherence to procedure at the expense of simple common sense and a very basic notion that justice serves to protect the innocent is patently absurd when taken to its logical conclusion as expressed in the hypothetical case Dershowitz presents.

However, the more interesting aspect of Dershowitz's blistering critique of Scalia's position, at least for me, is how Dershowitz hoists Scalia on his own Catholic petard. Here's what I think are the money sections of Dershowitz's piece in this regard:
But whatever the view of the church is on executing the guilty, surely it is among the worst sins, under Catholic teaching, to kill an innocent human being intentionally. Yet that is precisely what Scalia would authorize under his skewed view of the United States Constitution. How could he possibly consider that not immoral under Catholic teachings? If it is immoral to kill an innocent fetus, how could it not be immoral to execute an innocent person?

Ordinarily I would not include a justice's religious views in a criticism of a judicial opinion, but with regard to capital punishment, it is Justice Scalia who has introduced the religious dimension. I am simply trying to hold him to his own published standards.


I invite him to participate in the debate at Harvard Law School, at Georgetown Law School, or anywhere else of his choosing. The stakes are high, because if he loses—if it is clear that his constitutional views permitting the execution of factually innocent defendants are inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church—then, pursuant to his own published writings, he would have no choice but to conform his constitutional views to the teachings of the Catholic Church or to resign from the Supreme Court.
I wonder if Scalia will take Dershowitz up on this challenge. But, more importantly, I wonder what the Vatican itself might have to say about this. Perhaps Scalia's position tolerating the execution of the demonstrably innocent on procedural grounds, especially since he is precisely in a position as a Supreme Court justice to prevent such an immoral execution by the exercise of his judicial authority, might elicit some missive from some pro-life Catholic Bishop to deny Scalia communion, considering him formally cooperating with evil. Now that would be something to see.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Warrantless Blogtapping Program

Issue: John Hawkins's Disingenuousness About Race

I have a running chronicle of John Hawkins's schizophrenia on the subject of race. You'd think that by now, knowing that I am watching him whenever he discusses the subject of race in America, Hawkins would be a bit more circumspect in what he writes. But, you'd be wrong to think this. Once again, I've caught Hawkins being disingenuous on the topic, and particularly regarding his own stated views of the topic. But given that this dude is confused, and his views on the subject a convoluted mess, I guess it's no wonder that he contradicts himself regularly. Let me elaborate ...

In his most recent column, which he links to on his blog site, Hawkins starts off with the following introductory comment:

Although racism certainly exists in this country, it has become blessedly rare and marginalized. Some of the best evidence you can find for that is Barack Obama's election as President. Only in a country as colorblind as America could a black man easily win the Presidency when 75% of the votes were cast by white Americans.
I am amazed that Hawkins would write this. On his own blog in a March 12, 2008 posting, Hawkins put up a piece titled "Of Course Barack Couldn't Win The Democratic Nomination If He Weren't Black." Hawkins has repeatedly thrown out the charge that the only reason Barack Obama won the Democratic Nomination and the General Election was because of his race. And as for the claim that we see the end of racism because Obama won an election when over 75% of the voters were white, Hawkins has been clear that he thinks that the portion of this white voting population who voted for Obama did so out of a sense of "white guilt." In short, Hawkins is being quite disingenuous here when he claims that Obama's election is a sign of the end of racism in our country. Hawkins has never believed that "colorblindness" in America explains Obama's victory. It's quite clear from many of his other blog postings that he thinks exactly the opposite is true.

And the very next paragraph in his piece says the following:
Despite that fact, the cries of racism have become ever louder and more omnipresent since Barack Obama has been elected. Perhaps none of us should be surprised by that fact. After all, the racial grievance industry in this country still has bills to pay, the people who use racism as an excuse to explain their failures still need a scapegoat, and Democrats now have a ready-made excuse for every problem: "The President is black and so the people who don't agree with him must be racists!"
I ask: Does Hawkins not see the irony here? Hawkins himself has been one of the loudest among the "cries of racism" crowd and the "racial grievance industry" in this country. The cries of "racism" and the expressions of "racial grievance" that I have heard have come as much from the rightwing (Glenn Beck, anyone?) as from the left. As far as Hawkins and many others among the "colorblind" rightwing are concerned, they have their own ready-made excuse for every problem. It goes something like this: "The President is black and so the people who agree with him must be racists."

Monday, August 17, 2009

From the Archives

Advice to Young Conservatives Getting Ready for College

The Economic Impact of Legalizing the Undocumented

What many anti-illegal immigrant, but supposedly free-market conservatives don't want you to know:

The overall positive impact for U.S. households of legalizing these workers over ten years would be “1.27 percent of GDP or $180 billion."
And that's not even getting into the intangible benefits to our national security by bringing folks in from the shadows, not to mention the moral standing that comes with treating these hard working people with the dignity they deserve.

Melancon, Penguins, and Climate Change in Louisiana

Not sure how many people noticed or paid attention to the following story, but I found it very newsworthy.

Louisiana's only Democratic congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Democratic Party's best shot at defeating Republican Senator David Vitter, recently went on a very expensive taxpayer funded jaunt to Australia and the South Pole:

Last year, U.S. Rep. Charles Melancon, D-Napoleonville, took part in a trip to study climate change that cost taxpayers more than $150,000 and included a cable car ride through the Australian rain forest, a tour of a penguin breeding ground and a visit to the South Pole.
Asked to comment on the relevance of this trip and to justify such a hefty expense to the taxpayer, all Melancon could come up with was this:
Melancon said in a statement Thursday statement that the trip was important to study climate change and its impact on Louisiana.

"Louisiana is losing a football field of land every half-hour due to coastal erosion and rising sea levels," Melancon said. "Our very survival depends on reversing this trend."
Ummm... I guess there's some relevance to penguins and polar ice caps to the climate change issues that are affecting Louisiana's coastal erosion problems, but I'm pretty sure that one doesn't need to have taxpayers pay for a $150,000 field trip in order for Melancon to "study" the issue and to understand the relationship between the South Pole and Louisiana. I'd bet there are a number of reports, books, and videos that could have done the same thing just as well and for a fraction of the cost. Personally, I would much rather have seen that $150,000 be put towards more immediate coastal restoration projects or shoring up the levee systems surrounding New Orleans even more.

But, here's the kicker ... at least Melancon didn't go scuba diving and snorkling off the Great Barrier Reef like two of the other public officials who went on this junket. Heh. Yeah, that makes it all much better. As long as Melancon didn't do anything that anyone could consider "fun" on this trip, it must be a serious outing and worthy of such enormous expense, right? NOT.

What's my verdict on this Blue Dog Democrat's polar expedition? Epic Fail.

Usain Bolt

This dude is superhuman. As someone who has followed Track & Field sports his whole life, I can tell you that running a legitimate 9.58 in the 100 meter dash is mind-boggling. I remember when sprinters started to break the 10 second barrier with some regularity. I remember vividly the Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson rivalry for the title of world's fastest man, pushing both to do what, at the time, was considered the impossible feat of breaking the 9.9 second barrier in the 100 meter dash. But 9.58 seconds! That's just sick. Any faster and the dude will be flying!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My NOLA "Staycation"

This weekend, while the schedule was still pretty flexible for the family, my B-2/3 and I took a little "staycation." I made a reservation for two nights down at the Hilton-St. Charles. We packed the squirrely girlies off to my sister for Friday night, who handed them off to my parents for Saturday night. Then my B-2/3 and I headed downtown Friday evening for a great weekend in a great city. All weekend long, my B-2/3 and I commented on how great it was that we lived in a cool place where a "staycation" is as good as any "away" vacation one could imagine.

We ate at some great downtown restaurants, lounged about at coffee shops in the area, walked about the French Quarter like tourists, hit the used bookstore circuit in the Quarter, and did a lot of window shopping on Royal Street.

I unplugged from the computer and the internet for those two days (hence no blog postings) and just enjoyed late summer in New Orleans with my lovely wife. This week begins the academic year and soon thereafter the squirrely girlies will begin their usual weekend routines with Dance classes. All this to say that this weekend was the last best chance to have such unencumbered and relaxing fun, and we did not let the chance pass us by.

One of the highlights of the trip was having dinner at Wolfe's in the Warehouse, where we got to meet Mr. Tyrone Howard, a legend in his own right:

Not only is Mr. Howard the world champion napkin folder, but he may also be the best table-side bananas foster preparer in the city. But let me tell you something, New Orleans is the ONLY place where you can meet such friendly, colorful, fascinating, and talented people.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sarah Palin's "Death Panels"

Just for the record, I should note that I have scoured the offending portion (Sec. 1233) of the House Health Reform Bill (H.R. 3200), also known as the "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009." I was looking for any sign of a "death panel." Perhaps if I take a hit of acid or eat some shrooms, I might discover the presence of "death panels" somewhere in my subsequent hallucinations. For the lucid of mind, not only is there no mention of a "death panel" anywhere in this section of the bill, but the irony is that this section seeks to have health care providers give more information to patients to help inform their own decisions about advance care directives. It's helping empower people to make sure their own desires and wishes are respected. It's advancing freedom and liberty, not constraining it! And just about every reputable source within the medical community recognizes this. In fact, if anything, what is clear is precisely the opposite of what Sarah Palin claims. Here's what subsection (hhh)(5)(B) specifically states:

The level of treatment indicated under subparagraph (A)(ii) [subparagraph (A)(ii) reads: "(A) For purposes of this section, the term 'order regarding life sustaining treatment' means, with respect to an individual, an actionable medical order relating to the treatment of that individual that-- (ii) effectively communicates the individual's preferences regarding life sustaining treatment, including an indication of the treatment and care desired by the individual"] may range from an indication for full treatment to an indication to limit some or all or specified interventions.
So, by my reading, it seems pretty darn clear that the bill requires that the individual patient's voluntarily-expressed preferences (as opposed to some bureaucratic "death panel's" mandate) be respected in the provision of particular medical care treatment, AND that such voluntarily-expressed preferences can include "full treatment" among other options.

End result: Sarah Palin is a shameless, bald-faced, demogogic, Chavez-esque, populist liar. But what's new about that?

Well ... let me reconsider ... it's either that or she's hitting the LSD much too hard.

If that's the case, Sarah Palin should get off the LSD and, to quote her own pathetic self, "quit making things up."

UPDATE: Thursday, August 13, 2009, 10:26PM: You know, I really do have an unseemly and obsessive disdain for Sarah Palin. Although I often wonder if it's the true reason, I really think this disdain stems from the cultivated ignorance and crass anti-intellectualism that she not only consciously projects, but actually seems to revel in. It truly disgusts me. But, who knows? Maybe I'm just a crass sexist and not even aware of it. Regardless, it is unseemly and I should try to do better just to let it go.

Sarah Palin's Self-Loathing: The Liar Who Hates Liars.

Sarah Palin, you would do well to take your own advice and "quit making things up".

This from members of her own party:

Palin's posting came one day after Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said that Palin and other critics were not helping the GOP by tossing out false claims. Portions of the Democratic health care bills "are bad enough that we don't need to be making things up," Murkowski said, invoking a phrase that Palin used in her resignation speech, when she asked the news media to "quit making things up."

Murkowski said she was offended at the death panel terminology. "There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill," she said.

Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican who co-sponsored a similar measure in the Senate, said it was "nuts" to claim the bill encourages euthanasia.
What a piece of work. A congenital liar who likes to cop snippy attitudes about congenital liars?!? Why does she loathe herself so? Is she delusional or what? And as her favorables continue to tank, she continues to be the darling of the GOP base? Increible!

Fox News and Health Care Emails to the White House

I'm not going to put up the clip of the FoxNews segment where the supposed "news" reporter harangues the Deputy White House Press secretary over the White House's efforts to disabuse people of myths regarding the health care plan, but you can see the clip here if you are so inclined.

This clip proves to me that FoxNews, as if anybody had any doubts, is NOT a news service, but rather an ideological propaganda outlet masquerading as a news provider. This FoxNews "reporter" did not just seek to get information from the Deputy White House Press Secretary. Rather, it is clear that she brought in a strong ideological agenda. She was out to fight an ideological and partisan battle, not to report news.

Second, I found her criticism to be somewhat schizophrenic. Here she is trying to claim that the right to public free speech is somehow compromised when it is distributed to the most public of sources: government. What is even more ironic is the fact that this FoxNews reporter likely supports the government's ability to intercept private communications secretly and without court approval -- to really put together an "enemies list" that happens beyond the scrutiny of the checks and balances of our democratic system. So, the secret capturing of private communication by people the government itself, and secretly, decides is an "enemy" is somehow acceptable and actually "defends" freedom, while pronouncements intended to be part of a widely-circulated public information campaign against government policy is somehow "chilling" to free speech when this widely-circulated public information campaign is actually presented to the government which is the supposed target of the campaign. These people want to engage in a public whisper campaign against the government and then cowardly want to avoid any kind of accountability for their public "free speech." Maybe they should start wearing masks and bring fake IDs when they attend these town hall meetings on health care so as not to be accountable for their "free speech." It's kind of terroristic, if you ask me. The contradictions of this FoxNews reporter's arguments are astoundingly obvious and make her look not only blatantly partisan, but also insanely stupid.

Third, a news outlet's campaign (a news outlet that laughingly proclaims to be "fair and balanced") to invoke McCarthyite claims that the government is putting together an "enemies list" is breathtaking in its evident insidiousness. And it's abhorrent, too.

The depths to which the rabid, reactionary rightwing has sunk is jawdroppingly stunning. I don't think I have seen anything like it. Ever.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

GM Volt

I have been walking around in amazement at the latest announcement from automobile manufacturer GM (yes, that GM, the one whose financial situation was so horrible it required government intervention and takeover to keep it alive) about the imminent rollout of the GM-Volt. This car runs primarily on electricity and presumably can get up to 40 miles off of a single charge before the fuel-combustion process kicks in. 40 miles of low-intensity city driving! Since my family lives within 5 miles of just about every place we need to get to during the course of the day, it is possible that we would almost never have to use gasoline to drive around the city. And even with the use of gasoline, the car is calculated to get up to 230 miles-per-gallon under the normal usage patterns of the average driver. That's about 9 to 10 times the miles per gallon rate that many vehicles get. Incredible! I have three ancillary thoughts about this:

(1) I would purchase a GM-Volt in a heartbeat; and, as soon as it's on the market, I will. With 10 times the MPG savings, it would more than pay for itself within a very short time.
(2) I wonder why GM, sitting on this gold mine, wouldn't have unveiled this car sooner? Even the simple announcement of this advance in automotive technology would have been enough to bolster GM's standing on Wall Street and would have prevented its financial collapse. It makes me think that the auto industry, in collusion with the oil industry, simply kept this from us.
(3) If it takes a government bailout and takeover to shake the car industry up in such a way, I want to see more of this. Please!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Modern Conservatives and F.A. Hayek

In a recent exchange that I had in the comments section of a posting at a Conservative blog, the subject of F.A. Hayek's classic treatise "The Road to Serfdom" was up for some discussion. Of course, modern conservatives think the world of Hayek and often refer to his arguments as both a defense of conservatism and an attack on modern liberalism as an inevitable path towards totalitarianism.

I have read Hayek and find that I agree with him on some issues (his more libertarian bent), but disagree with him on others (such as his mischaracterization of welfare-state liberals as Marxian socialists). I respect his work as a provocative and thoughtful "conservative" intellectual and scholar, and I believe any modern liberal thinker worth his or her salt needs to be familiar with Hayek's work.

But I feel the need to point out to my modern conservative rivals that Hayek did not consider himself a conservative in the way that term has come to be defined. No. In fact, he considered himself to be a classical liberal. And, in fact, he recoiled from the notion that he should be considered a conservative. The reason for this is that he recognized the reactionary tendencies within conservatism as he understood it and found that conservatism posed as much of a potential threat to freedom and democracy as did the modern liberalism he equated with socialism. I firmly believe that Hayek would reject the fundamentalism and the reactionary character of what has come to define modern conservatism today. In fact, this is what Hayek had to say in the Foreward to The Road to Serfdom, written in 1956, 12 years after the original publication of the book, and included in the 1962 Phoenix Books edition of the text published by the University of Chicago Press, page xi-xii:

But true liberalism is still distinct from conservatism, and there is a danger in the two being confused. Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place. A conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of the government for the protection of privilege. The essence of the liberal position, however, is the denial of all privilege, if privilege is understood in its proper and original meaning of the state granting and protecting the rights to some which are not available on equal terms to others.
Those who would call themselves conservatives in America today, I believe, reflect much of what Hayek finds deplorable, dangerous, and backwards in conservatism. He would see the fanaticism of folks currently benefitting from government-run healthcare through Medicare opposing an expansion of such benefits to others as "defending established privilege" and their disruption of health care town hall meetings as an effort to "lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege." Hayek would see the movement among conservatives to establish a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution as another example of reactionaries seeking to "lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege" as anti-thetical to his arguments and as much a recipe for totalitarianism as left-leaning "socialist" policy would be. He would view the Patriot Act and the powers of the executive to claim the unchecked authority to monitor private phone conversations, for instance, even if this authority were never exercised, as very troublesome and against the entire grain of his argument. I remain firmly convinced that Hayek would not recognize the character of what passes for conservatism in the United States today and that he would think of such Palin/Limbaugh conservatives invoking his name to defend their demagoguery and exclusionary fundamentalism with abject horror.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two Things Obama Should Do Right Now

To fire up and inspire his coalition, to neutralize the frenzied nuttiness of the healthcare Town Hall disrupters, and to discombobulate his opposition by forcing them to have to pick which issue they want to blow their gaskets over:

1. Announce his intention to suspend immediately the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy while Congress fashions legislation to permanently dismantle it.

2. Encourage Eric Holder, his Attorney General, to appoint a special investigator to look into violations of the law regarding torture and to not exempt anyone, no matter how high up the chain of authority in the previous administration the investigation goes, from the consequences.

Quote of the Day

"Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn;--let one being be selected, for whatever cause, as the refuse of his kind--divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistable obligations--malevolence and selfishness." -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, writing in the Athenaeum on November 10, 1832, in review of his wife Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Percy Bysshe Shelley's comment is taken from page 217 of the 2003 Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with an Introduction and Notes by Karen Karbiener.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

10 Books Girls Should Read Before Age 18

In a previous posting, I listed 10 books that I thought boys should read before age 18. But, since I am a daddy to two young girls and no boys, I figured I ought to take a stab at what books I think young girls should read before they turn 18. Before I do, though, I want to make one point and issue one qualifier. First, I am convinced that girls are wired differently than boys and so I think there needs to be a different set of literature that girls ought to read than what I think boys ought to read. That's not to say girls and boys wouldn't benefit from reading every book on both of my lists, but I think there are different books that will speak much more directly to a girl in a way that can maximize her self-confidence and maturity within the gendered world we live in. Second, I am a guy. So my list comes from a male perspective. My wife (and any woman, for that matter) can probably come up with a better and more relevant list, just because they've been there. But what the heck. Maybe a guy's perspective on what would be good for a young girl to read would be helpful to her in another important ways. At the very least, she can see what one guy (me) would advise for her and learn something from it accordingly. Hopefully, my list doesn't reflect too poorly on me! Here goes ...

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - This would be for young women closer to the age of 18. It's a tragic story that drives a woman confined by very intolerant and patriarchal expectations regarding love and sexuality to commit suicide; but it is well-written and can force a young woman to think about the conventions that have confined women in the past and how to deal with whatever conventions that might still exist today.
2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - A group of strong, loving, and accomplished women who can confront sexism head on and who can celebrate independent accomplishment in constrained circumstances.
3. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume - This is for girls on the cusp of adolescence; but it is, I think, a very good primer for a young girl as she relates to what it means to question identity, to navigate friendships, and to approach the physical aspects of female adolescence.
4. Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery - Again a story of a young woman who plows ahead with her dreams and ambitions and succeeds, both professionally and relationally.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - A young girl's relationship with her father and with a society poisoned by racism and discrimination, and lessons for how to deal with marginalization and difference.
6. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - Although a story of tragedy, it is also a story of incredible strength and compassion through the eyes of a young girl dealing with anguish and sadness and suffering.
7. Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset - A great Norwegian epic tale of a woman's life through love and loss. The psychological, emotional, and physical strength of the main character is inspirational.
8. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir - Written by a well-known existentialist philosopher, this is a book for very advanced readers, but it posits a history of women defined as the other in gender relations and power structures. I've only read parts of it, but I think it would be a helpful guide for young women who seek to understand what their gender has meant in terms of power, social structure, and authority, and who want a bit of historical context framing the subject.
9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand - As much as I dislike this book on a whole variety of levels, I have to admit that the main character of Dagny Taggart is a strong, confident, accomplished individual. I personally think this book goes overboard in presenting as a heroine a woman who seems unable to feel or give love, or who does so stingily, and who seems to place career over everything else in life; but I would not deny a young woman the chance to meet Dagny Taggart and make up her own mind about it.
10. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary - What can I say? I have two girls about the same age as the two characters in this story and I find that the simple discussion of sibling rivalry and affection between the sisters is charming. Not a life-altering book, but a sweet story.

I also need to note that the exercise of thinking about books for girls to read before the age of 18 has revealed to me a couple of things. First, this was a hard thing for me to do. Probably because I'm a guy, but also because I had a hard time thinking of literature that would offer something exceptional to young women as young women. But I wonder if it could also be because there just aren't as many classic options available. Second, and probably a by-product of the first comment above, I'm just not as well read on literature by women, about women, or for women. I need to work on that. If I have any female readers, please help me out in the comments!

Conservative Common Sense on Health Care Reform

Andrew Sullivan shares a bit of common sense on the subject:

One final thing: most Americans do not want people dying in the streets.

If you have guaranteed emergency room care for the uninsured at public expense, you have already effectively socialized medicine. It makes no sense not to bring these people into the insurance system, and to offer less expensive, long-term preventive healthcare. To insist that ideology stand in the way of this piece of compassionate common sense is irresponsible.
I, too, have often thought of this truth and have brought this up in a few conversations with my conservative friends. What do we do with those who simply cannot afford adequate health care and have no recourse but to seek expensive last minute care in emergency rooms? Do we just shrug our shoulders and walk away, leaving these folks to just crawl into some corner of their unfortunate realities and die? No. We would never let this happen, simply out of a sense of common human decency. So, we have very sick poor folks lining up in emergency rooms and we agree, as taxpayers, to pay for this. Fiscally, this is madness. Wouldn't it be infinitely better for the poor or indigent, and much more fiscally sound, to bring them into a public system that provides basic preventive health care that both keeps them out of the emergency room AND ensures that they are healthy enough to perhaps work through their poverty and eventually move off of the public health care option to a perhaps more thorough and comprehensive plan?

Andrew Sullivan Digs Up Conservative Hypocrisy on Race

The example: Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe

Sullivan contrasts Inhofe's apologetics in 2002 regarding Trent Lott's comments on Strom Thurmond against Inhofe's 2009 comments on Sonia Sotomayor. It's quite clear that Inhofe can play the race-card game with the best of them. Check it out.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Leonard Pitts Jr. on Race

I just read Leonard Pitts Jr.'s latest syndicated column on the subject of race and how conservatives are appropriating the use of race in ways that they supposedly detest. To capture the sentiment, Pitts starts his column off with an email he received last year. The email was short and utterly ironic. This is what it said:

"You are such a racist nigger."
Incredible, no? Then Pitts, referencing as an example conservative pundit Glenn Beck's recent charge on national television that Barack Obama is a racist, goes on to provide an excellent summation of some of my thinking on the subject, and why I think painting Obama in whiteface, for example, even in reference to Heath Ledger's Joker, is problematic. Pitts explains thus:
Plainly, this newfound concern about "racism" represents an attempt by conservatives to claim and neutralize the language of racial complaint, to do to it what they did to words like "liberal" and "feminist" -- i.e., to render it unusable.

But they are playing with fire in a dynamite warehouse.

What wound in all American life is more raw than race? What is more likely than race to suddenly flare into conflagration? Our most ruinous war was about race. Our greatest social revolution was about race. We have seen a hundred riots and rebellions fueled by race. Race is a major component of our most vexing issues: healthcare, education, the environment, crime. It is our most profound and oldest regret, a tender spot on the American psyche.

Which is why it's often difficult even for thoughtful people to have thoughtful discussions about it. One is at pains to tread carefully, to probe the issues, seek enlightenment and, yes, to dissent -- without blowing up the dynamite warehouse. Then, in walks Glenn Beck carrying a torch.
To be more specific, Pitts's reference to Glenn Beck concerns when Beck called Barack Obama a racist who hates white people on national television and then 75 seconds later said that he wasn't saying that he thought Obama didn't like white people. But the central point Pitts is trying to make is the following:
[Facing the hard truths of race head on] will never happen as long as men like Beck find it profitable to toy with fire in a warehouse full of dynamite. God forbid it takes an explosion for them to get what should be obvious:

There are some things you just don't play with.
Exactly. Read the whole column by Pitts. It's excellent. And when you're done with that, watch this (especially around about the 6 minute mark):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
So You Think You Can Douche
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Friday, August 07, 2009

Teabagger Town Hall Disruptions

There is a difference between passionate debate and intolerant obstructionism.

Under the guise of "free speech," many conservatives (apparently from the "teabagger" movement) seem to be participating in an orchestrated effort to actually prevent and squash speech.

You know what I think? I say, give these folks full reign. Let them in any meeting and let them drown out anyone who opens his or her mouth simply to try to make a point. Let them shout and froth and rage incoherently.

The majority of Americans are smart enough and respectful enough, I believe, to see such tactics as rude and demagogic and, frankly, un-American. I don't even know what these people stand for beyond the spluttering rage of anti-Obama, anti-government hatred. That's probably because they don't know what they stand for either.

But let these nuts rage and splutter. Let them equate Obama to Hitler, and Stalin, and The Joker, and Satan. And then let the rest of sane America judge. These nuts have no idea how they are damaging and overshadowing any principled conservative opposition to the Obama administration and its policies that might exist. If I were a rational, principled conservative, I'd be embarrassed by it all.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

10 Books Boys Should Read Before Age 18

Eric, one of my regular readers, posted a question over at another blog we both frequent that asked the blogger what 10 books he would list as books that all young men should read before they turn 18. I thought it was such a good question that I stole it as something I would like to answer on my blog. So, here it is!

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - This would be for young men closer to the age of 18. Shows the bonds of brotherhood as well as the admirable qualities of a number of young men: the headstrong type, the intellectual, and the sensitive type. Gives a lasting lesson on the virtues of truthfulness, honesty, and empathy (and how difficult they can be to live out).
2. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev - A bit more complex in its lessons and appropriate for maturing older boys, but it shows poignantly both the despair and the longing of young men reaching for adulthood.
3. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis - A lesson for how a young boy with not much to speak of by way of wealth and status, and who seemingly had a rough start in life, could overcome his fears and feelings of inadequacy to find courage and dignity in his life adventures.
4. Boy's Life by Robert McCammon - A murder mystery told from the perspective of a boy coming of age in a small, rural Alabama town. Reminds any boy of those magical days of bicycles, baseball, friendship, and father-son bonding.
5. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein - Lots of heroism, leadership, and sacrifice in the midst of non-stop battlefield action with orcs and Ents and Elves. What boy with a vivid imagination and a taste for fantasy wouldn't like this?
6. Lord of the Flies by William Golding - Classic for helping young boys sort through questions of adolescent immaturity when it comes to friendship, power, and relationship to authority.
7. The Master of Hestviken tetralogy by Sigrid Undset - A great Norweigan epic tale of chivalry, honor, love, and pride -- but tempered with a stoic submissiveness to love - for wife and family.
8. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - Classic teenage boy alienation and angst.
9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling - Pure fun, with lots of magic. For most boys, the centrality of the Tri-Wizard Tournament will be the most appealing aspect of this book in the entire series. But a gripping story, too, that emphasizes fraternal honor, and courage and dignity in death, too, which makes this one a must read for young men.
10. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - Camaraderie and adventurousness in 19th Century heartland America. Taps into the picaresque nature of young boys on the cusp of adolescence.

If I can think of more elaborate reasons for each of these choices, I'll put them in another posting.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Northshore and NOLA

Something that's been grating on me lately. And if the following rant offends you, I can't say that I'm sorry for it.

If you read the Letters to the Editors section of the Times-Picayune, and look only at the letter writer's location, and see that they're writing from any place on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, you can take it to the bank that, 99% of the time, the letter writer will be some conservative shrill bitching and moaning about the general state of affairs in New Orleans and the havoc we communist, terrorist-sympathizing, family-destroying, anti-Christian liberals are wreaking on this country generally.

Sometimes, it makes me wish that the Northshore would just secede from the Greater New Orleans area and have nothing to do with us. Honestly, I think they'd be happier for it. And I'd certainly be willing for New Orleans to cut its losses with them. I think they need the City of New Orleans and its liberal Democratic residents much more than we need them. But, my how they complain to high heaven about us liberal Democrats, we who do nothing but sustain their sorry suburban lives by keeping New Orleans afloat. When they sit down to pen their Hannity-esque screeds, it would behove them to remember that as New Orleans goes, so goes the Northshore and the rest of the State of Louisiana, for that matter.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Angel's Game

I am currently reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon's somewhat disturbing, but elegantly written novel The Angel's Game. I'm only about one-third of the way through it, but I am enjoying it and recommend it. So far, I find the plot somewhat predictable and think that if Zafon is trying to spring a surprise on me in terms of the secret identity of certain characters, he's not doing that great a job. But I also wonder if maybe he's only thinly trying to conceal secret identities so as to divert the reader from a real and unexpected surprise later. We'll see how it progresses; but I am enjoying the book, as disturbed as I am by it.

Conservatives and Race

I've written about this before, but it's worth repeating again in the context of Gatesgate and this new poster making the rounds in the blogosphere that has Obama gussied up like Heath Ledger's joker.

I'll leave the whole Gates incident aside for the moment and speak just a little bit about the Obama-as-Joker poster. At a conservative blog I frequent to keep my pulse on what is riling the conservative blogosphere and punditocracy, I made a passing comment on this Obama-as-Joker poster that has stirred up all kinds of vitriol and animosity towards me. I think I was point-blank called a racist about a half dozen times, and sometimes for nothing more than being a liberal Democrat.

What did I say to get conservatives in such a tizzy? Well, in response to this conservative blogger's efforts to spread the poster out to the far corners of the country to undermine Obama as President, I wrote: "A black man in whiteface. Yeah, that'll do it. Just keep at it folks."

When the other commenters predictably started frothing at the mouth calling me a racist, I felt the need to explain that recognizing that this poster might stir up racial resentments linked to the history of race and the practice of black/white facepainting in an effort to demean another human being might not be the best way for conservatives to go about criticizing Obama. And then this discussion progressed, again, to the meaning of race in America. Of course, I argued, as I usually do, that race has meaning to cultural identity and that there's nothing wrong with that as long as that meaning isn't one that seeks to justify discrimination, oppression, and civil rights violations. But, many conservatives, whether through having become so gun-shy about being labeled racist, simply can't seem to recognize that race has meaning to cultural identity, even when they acknowledge such a thing implicitly. For instance, when conservatives speak about the "black" church and its alignment with conservative values on such social issues as gay marriage and the morality of homosexuality are ascribing some meaning to black identity that is distinct from that of other racial or ethnic communities.

For my part, I am readily willing to acknowledge that there is such a thing as black identity and that there is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, conservatives always pretend towards color-blindness and claim that race has no meaning at all in the public square. I think this is simply absurd. They simply cannot seem to grasp that discrimination in social policy on the basis of race is distinct from a shared racial cultural identity. The former is racism, the latter is simply a cultural identity marker much like gender, language, sexual orientation, regional association (i.e. Southern), religion, etc., are. For instance, as a Catholic, I can travel across the world and feel some kind of solidarity and companionship with other Catholics simply because we share this common identity and all that it means. There is nothing wrong or out of the ordinary in that. And so to suggest that the Obama-as-Joker poster, which paints a black man in whiteface, might have ramifications based on the history of race in this country, is nothing more than acknowledging that race has meaning in this country. But when conservatives can only respond to this suggestion with the claim that anyone who says as much is a racist, then I think it is fair to say that conservatives have become the race-obsessed people hurling charges of racism at the drop of a hat, people that they claim to detest, instead of the color-blind people that they would fashion themselves as being. But maybe I'm missing something myself in this whole subject; so if you have some thoughts on this, please enlighten me.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Commercialization of Education and What It Has Wrought

Honey, honey, honey. We promise you an education, not a job. What you do with that education is your business. Irrespective of whatever job you do or do not get, you paid for knowledge, not an income in your bank account.

On Healthcare Reform

Two things on this subject:

(1) I believe healthcare is a fundamental human right and therefore it is immoral for anyone in the United States to be excluded from an affordable health insurance plan that can provide adequate healthcare to all people resident and working in this country, regardless of immigration status. Because I think healthcare is a fundamental human right, in the absence of an option for affordable healthcare in the free market, the government has an obligation to subsidize or provide for an affordable healthcare option for every single citizen.

(2) The current private market-based healthcare and health insurance system is broken and unsustainable. Health insurance provided through my employer has increased by more than 30% just about every year that I have had it. Needless to say, my income has not kept pace. Insurance companies are designed to avoid payouts if they can. Keeping the current privatized system in place is simply unacceptable, labyrinthine in its approval process, and costly for physicians and hospitals as well as for patients in the time it takes to file claims and fight for insurance company payouts.

Prediction: If there is no healthcare reform legislation passed by the end of this summer, whoever is perceived as being obstructionist will pay a heavy political price.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Teddy Roosevelt and The River of Doubt

I have always been fascinated by Teddy Roosevelt. On the one hand, his abrasive heavy-handedness towards Latin America has always bothered me. But perhaps that is something that comes in hindsight. However, this same stubborn ruggedness has also made Roosevelt into a kind of outdoors icon in American history. He probably would be considered a pretty strong environmentalist were he to be alive today. I also think his embrace of science would have made him a partisan of evolution and also someone who would readily embrace the idea that humans most certainly do have determinative (and harmful) longterm effects on the environment. Of course, we can never know for sure, but I am convinced that Teddy Roosevelt would be on Al Gore's side in the global climate change debates of today.

I am currently reading a wonderful book about Roosevelt's expedition down the Brazilian Amazon's "River of Doubt." The book, titled The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey and written by Candice Millard, is very engaging and illustrative. It reads like an adventure novel and paints quite an admirable picture of Roosevelt, who was ahead of his times in many, many ways. Even though he was a President from the Republican Party, his enigmatic character caused him to shun both the Republicans and the Democrats in 1913 for a run at the Presidency for a third term under a third party banner, the Progressive Party. So, I don't think he can be ideologically pigeonholed that easily. I kinda like the dude. But, regardless, he lived an unusually fascinating life for a U.S. President. And if anyone has an interest in the history of the Brazilian Amazon, I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A Thought on the Situation in Honduras

I have to admit that I'm not too enamored of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Although I sympathize with his policy positions in many respects, I'm not too keen on his demagoguery and neo-populist methods of threats of violent revolution and rabble-rousing. Even still, I am definitely opposed to the military coup that ousted him and I think he should be allowed back into his country to resume his duties as President of the country.

I think of it like this: would we in the United States tolerate the resolution of a similar situation in our country by accepting the legitimacy of a military ouster of a democratically elected President?

The clear answer is "No." Even if a U.S. President commits first-degree murder, we wouldn't send in the armed forces and exile him. We'd have him arrested and tried in a court of law. I'd even go so far as to say that even if our President defies the Legislature (which, by the way, he does regularly through something called the "signing statement") or the Supreme Court (which is not unheard of in the history of this country - i.e. Andrew Jackson and the Marshall Court's Worcester v. Georgia decision of 1832), we wouldn't tolerate the army storming the White House and sending the duly elected President off into exile without any kind of due process.

So, what remains for me is the idea that if we wouldn't tolerate resolution of a dispute between a President, the Legislature, and the Supreme Court by the armed overthrow of a legitimately elected President in our own country, then we shouldn't tolerate it for Honduras, either.

To accept this method of dispute resolution for Honduras, but not for ourselves, is not only hypocritical, but it also sends a very patronizing message to Honduras itself. And that message is: because Honduras is a "backward" place, "backward" solutions are apprpriate. I reject this attitude. If we would like to promote democracy and the rule of law as the ideal, then we should hold our friends to this ideal. To do otherwise merely encourages those who would rather resolve disputes outside of democratic practices and the rule of law.

Finally, I should say that my lack of being enamored of the behavior and tactics of Zelaya makes me very cautious to embrace uncritically the behavior and tactics of his opponents. If one thinks that Honduran politics is rife with demagoguery and disrespect for the rule of law, it would be naive to think that this aspect of Honduran political culture applies only to one side of opposing political factions and not the other. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to find out that the gang currently running the country isn't itself prone to demagoguic, neo-populist behavior. In fact, engineering a coup outside of the rule of law, in and of itself, hints very strongly in that direction.

Blogging "Self-Nudge"

I recently finished reading Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's book Nudge. It concerns what the author's call "libertarian paternalism" and focuses on ways that people can be conditioned towards certain behaviors without compromising their freedom or incurring unwieldy costs. It was a very good, provocative book. I was reading it as part of an online book club that I'm a part of called the "Republicrat Reading Group." We're a small group of mixed political and ideological leanings and we read works of non-fiction on contemporary topics that will hopefully expose us to arguments and perspectives that we wouldn't normally gravitate towards on our own. "Nudge" was our first book and we are now in the process of discussing the book, though the discussion is taking its time, which is perfectly fine.

In any case, the premise of the book has encouraged me to try a little "Nudge" experiment that will hopefully get me blogging more regularly. And I want my readers (all five of you!) to try to help nudge me. Thanks to the helpful suggestions of Thaler & Sunstein, here's what I propose to do.

1. I will average at least one blog posting per day tallied on the last day of each month. In other words, at the end of each month, I need to have made 30 or 31 blog posts for the month (28 or 29 for February). There are no conditions on the posts. They can be as short or as long as I want them to be.
2. Only up to three posts per day count. If I make more than three postings in one day, they are to be considered lagniappe and do not count towards the monthly total. In this way, I cannot wait until the last day of the month and make all the posts then.
3. If, at the end of each month, I do not meet the goal of averaging one posting per day for that month, I will contribute a dollar amount equal to the number of days in that month either to the Republican National Committee, SarahPac, or the David Vitter campaign. If, God forbid, it should come to that, I will post on this blog sometime over the subsequent month whatever receipt of my donation that I receive.
4. If I fail to live up this promise, there is nothing anyone can do about it. But I will lose face with anyone who follows my challenge. And I wouldn't want that to happen.
5. As anyone familiar with's program knows, a blogger can alter posting dates. I promise not to do so. And I encourage anyone to verify this promise by visiting my blog and keeping regular track of my blog postings.
6. Finally, I can end this arrangement at any time by announcing my intention to do so in a blog posting. If I make such an announcement in a particular month, it applies only to subsequent months. In other words, I must meet my obligations for the month in which I announce the end of the arrangement. For example, if I announce my intention to quit the arrangement on September 30, 2009, then I am off the hook for subsequent months starting with October, 2009. But if I announce my intention to quit the arrangement on October 1, 2009, I am bound to uphold the arrangement for the month of October, 2009.

There you have it. As of today, August 1, 2009, I commit to this arrangement. A little blogging "self nudge" so to speak. And this posting counts as the first of the month. I have 30 more to go! Wish me luck and keep me honest!