The Right’s To-Do List and Obama’s Central Thesis

Patrick Ruffini often writes about attempting to get the right back on track. He identifies one problem:

One of the biggest reasons for the Right’s decline in the Bush era is that we had long since completed most of the items on our to-do list. Low marginal tax rates? Check. The Soviet Union gone? Check. Welfare reform? Check.

I wonder how many conservatives agree with him that they have accomplished most of the items on their to-do list. I’ve seen similar arguments in the past from liberals that they had accomplished their major goals. If  it was really the case that both liberals and conservatives felt their goals were achieved there should be far less of a divide between right and left!

One problem which both explains part of the partisan divide and which makes it harder for conservatives to recover is that so many conservatives have totally incorrect views about the goals of liberals. In this post Ruffini claims that Obama’s central thesis is  “that government ownership and central planning can outpace returns in the private market.”

Fortunately it isn’t necesary to go any further than his own comments from many readers who point out that, not only isn’t this Obama’s central thesis, but it isn’t even something he believes. With such rational comments posted I wonder if they are coming from conservative readers who aren’t fooled by such claims from the right or if they are part of Obama’s secret army of blog commenters.

Trolls As A Campaign Tactic

Once again the right wing has found a way to cry that they are victims as Breitbart also applies a common right wing tactic of accusing liberals of doing things which the right has actually done. His paranoid rants include:

Much of Mr. Obama’s vaunted online strategy involved utilizing “Internet trolls” to invade enemy lines under false names and trying to derail discussion. In the real world, that’s called “vandalism.” But in a political movement that embraces “graffiti” as avant-garde art , that’s business as usual. It relishes the ability to destroy other people’s property in pursuit of electoral victory.

Trolls are a fact of life on blogs. I receive multiple comments from right wing hardly means that this is a strategy of any campaign (other than John McCain’s.) Anyone concerned that this will destroy their “property” simply has to use the blog’s moderation functions. Most blogs of any size on either the left or right have found it necessary to do so.

While most trolls are acting on their own, using blog comments was actually a strategy of the McCain campaign which Jonathan Martin wrote about last May:

John McCain’s campaign is using their campaign website to encourage supporters to post supportive comments on political blogs, including the most well-known liberal site in the blogosphere.   And to make things easier, they’re including talking points with which sympathizers can use to get out the McCain message.

“Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here, go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known,” instructs the page.

McCain supporters are asked to send the details of their comment to the campaign, which in turn will verify it and then reward the supporter with “points” (assumedly to accumulate for McCain swag).

Wired wrote about it in June:

It seems that his campaign team is trying to extend that approach online. The McCain campaign in late May launched a new blogger outreach section on its website that encourages supporters to lobby for their candidate across 94 blogs that range in political bent from far left to far right.

The campaign arms the blog-raiders with one of McCain’s speeches on the need to transcend partisan politics to deal with the problems that the nation faces…

David All, a Republican Web 2.0 consultant, and co-founder of Slatecard, an online political action committee, defended the strategy. He calls it “smart” and “unique.”

“He’s got the most comprehensive blogger outreach strategy, and this is just an evolution of that,” he argues.

In recent years every campaign has had supporters who troll other blogs–and they generally do it without pay or official connections to the campaign. In 2008 this was seen predominantly from Ron Paul supporters with Hillary Clinton’s supporters coming in a distant second. Howard Dean had his share of supporters trolling other blogs in 2004 to the point where the campaign found this to be an embarrassment and urged supporters to cut it out. Sarah Palin has her share of rabid internet supporters, but, true to their candidate, they tend to be the least intelligent and many have difficulty even stringing together coherent troll comments. While Obama made extensive use of the internet to organize supporters, his campaign generally seemed to have far less interest in the blogosphere outside of their own campaign blog than most other recent campaigns.

Congratulations to Ann Althouse

Bloggers really can wind up developing long term relationships with commenters. Ann Althouse began exchanging email with a commenter. This exchange went on for over four years. The two finally met in person in January and are now engaged. Best of luck to both of them.

Hardly News: Presidential Candidate Not Backing Their Running Mate

The news media is making a big deal out of John McCain’s unwillingness to commit to supporting Sarah Palin for president in 2012. This is hardly surprising. Even beyond the special circumstances this year in which the vice presidential candidate turned out to be unfit for national office, it is common for presidential candidates to chose candidates they would not support for president. Often that is a consequence of balancing a ticket with someone who appeals to a different segment of the electorate. This was also clearly the case with McCain’s choice of Palin.

We really can’t bash McCain over this. After all, both Al Gore and John Kerry chose running mates who were significantly different from them and wound up endorsing other candidates when Joe Lieberman and John Edwards ran for the nomination in 2004 and 2008.

Cheney Acted To Undermine Mideast Peace and Obama

Few in high political offices have done as much to betray the interests of their country as Dick Cheney has. Cheney’s betrayal even extended to his final days in office as he sought to undermine both the Mideast peace process and then President-Elect Obama. Seymour Hersh reports:

The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”).

Insurance Companies Avoid People With Medical Problems

The Miami Herald shows one of the problems with our health insurance system, especially for those trying to purchase individual coverage who have any medical problems:

Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You’ll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.

This confidential information on some insurers’ practices is available on the Web — if you know where to look.

What’s more, you can discover that if you lie to an insurer about your medical history and drug use, you will be rejected because data-mining companies sell information to insurers about your health, including detailed usage of prescription drugs.

These issues are moving to the forefront as the Obama administration and Congress gear up for discussions about how to reform the healthcare system so that Americans won’t be rejected for insurance.

It’s especially timely because growing numbers are looking for individual health insurance after losing their jobs. On top of that, small businesses, which make up the bulk of South Florida’s economy, are frequently finding health policies too expensive and are dropping coverage, sending even more people shopping for insurance.

The problem is, material available on the Web shows that people who have specific illnesses or use certain drugs can’t buy coverage.

”This is absolutely the standard way of doing business,” said Santiago Leon, a health insurance broker in Miami. Being denied for preexisting conditions is well known, but when a person sees the usually confidential list of automatic denials for himself, “that’s a eureka moment. That shows you how harsh the system is.”

Different insurance companies will vary in their policies, and many states do have an insurance of last resort who will insure those with medical problems–often for an outrageous cost. One example of an insurance company’s underwriting policies can be found here. There is information on finding out what the data-mining companies have on you here.

These policies make it difficult for many people over 40 who are not covered by an employer’s plan to obtain individual coverage. What often happens is that such people’s chronic problems receive insufficient treatment, increasing the costs when they qualify for Medicare at age 65.

Posted in Health Care. Tags: . 2 Comments »

Teaching Both Sides of the Evolution Debate


Christopher Hitchens, in response to the Texas case, has come out in favor of teaching both sides of the debate in an article in Newsweek. Opponents of evolution are not likely to see him as an ally here:

…last week Texas and schoolbooks meant something else altogether when the state Board of Education, in a muddled decision, rejected a state science curriculum that required teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. Instead, the board allowed “all sides” of scientific theories to be taught. The vote was watched as something more than a local or bookish curiosity. Just as the Christian Book Expo is one of the largest events on the nation’s publishing calendar, so the Lone Star State commands such a big share of the American textbook market that many publishers adapt to the standards that it sets, and sell the resulting books to non-Texans as well…

…McLeroy and his allies now say that they ask for evolution to be taught only with all its “strengths and weaknesses.” But in this, they are surely being somewhat disingenuous. When their faction was strong enough to demand an outright ban on the teaching of what they call “Darwinism,” they had such a ban written into law in several states. Since the defeat and discredit of that policy, they have passed through several stages of what I am going to have to call evolution. First, they tried to get “secular humanism” classified as a “religion,” so that it would meet the First Amendment’s disqualification for being taught with taxpayers’ money. (That bright idea was Pat Robertson’s.) Then they came up with the formulation of “creation science,” picking up on anomalies and gaps in evolution and on differences between scientific Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. Next came the ingratiating plea for “equal time”—what could be more American than that?and now we have the rebranded new coinage of “intelligent design” and the fresh complaint that its brave advocates are, so goes the title of a recent self-pitying documentary, simply “expelled” from the discourse.

It’s not just that the overwhelming majority of scientists are now convinced that evolution is inscribed in the fossil record and in the lineaments of molecular biology. It is more that evolutionists will say in advance which evidence, if found, would refute them and force them to reconsider. (“Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer” was, I seem to remember, the response of Prof. J.B.S. Haldane.) Try asking an “intelligent design” advocate to stipulate upfront what would constitute refutation of his world view and you will easily see the difference between the scientific method and the pseudoscientific one.

But that is just my opinion. And I certainly do not want it said that my side denies a hearing to the opposing one. In the spirit of compromise, then, I propose the following. First, let the school debating societies restage the wonderful set-piece real-life dramas of Oxford and Dayton, Tenn. Let time also be set aside, in our increasingly multiethnic and multicultural school system, for children to be taught the huge variety of creation stories, from the Hindu to the Muslim to the Australian Aboriginal. This is always interesting (and it can’t be, can it, that the Texas board holdouts think that only Genesis ought to be so honored?). Second, we can surely demand that the principle of “strengths and weaknesses” will be applied evenly. If any church in Texas receives a tax exemption, or if any religious institution is the beneficiary of any subvention from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we must be assured that it will devote a portion of its time to laying bare the “strengths and weaknesses” of the religious world view, and also to teaching the works of Voltaire, David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. This is America. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a thousand schools of thought contend. We may one day have cause to be grateful to the Texas Board of Education for lighting a candle that cannot be put out.

SciFi Weekend: Imagining Windy; Shooting Ben; Caroline’s Past; and Battlestar Galactica Alternative Endings


Last week Friday night dominated science fiction television with the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica. I’ll have more on that later, but this week Wednesday was the top  night. Life on Mars aired its second from the last episode, Everyone Knows It’s Windy. I wish I knew if this episode was made with knowledge that the show was ending, and was intended to lead towards the end, or if this was just another episode with clues which didn’t really go anywhere. Eariler we had the Aires Project. This episode featured the Aries Toy Company. I doubt this is a coincidence, but what about having a character named Frank Morgan playing a key role? Frank Morgan was also the name of the actor who played the Wizard of Oz. Is Sam over the rainbow?

It now looks like Windy is a figment of Sam’s imagination. That wasn’t much of a surprise. The bigger question is whether everything is a figment of Sam’s imagination, or the product of some type of mind control experiment. (If she was in Sam’s imagination, why didn’t he do more than play checkers with her?) Morgan gave Sam the impression of knowing what is going on but Annie let him know that Morgan had read Sam’s file. When we thought we knew how Morgan knew about Sam and the future he confused the issue by knowing about the fourth Raiders of the Lost Arc movie which Sam didn’t seem to think was in his file. Could this mean Morgan really does know what is happening with Sam? Of course if everything is happening in Sam’s head this wouldn’t really matter. The scene with Sam on the ledge was also similar to a scene in the British version.

The other development is that Sam and Annie are now closer. Unfortunately Sam only has one more episode with her.


Lost is getting back to a regular pattern of having the key characters back in the 1970’s living with the Dharma Initiative before Ben killed them all off. The episodes contain flashbacks which I suspect will concentrate on the period off the island. Others such as Sun are on along journey to join the rest in the past. We learned how Sayeed wound up on the plane and the big shock of the episode was seeing him shoot young Ben. Assuming Daniel Faraday is right, it is not possible to change major events and Ben will live. However, we have seen that Desmond’s future behavior was changed as a consequence of Faraday’s acts. Perhaps this act will have an impact on Ben’s actions, or perhaps it happened all along and was a motivating factor for him.


Back on Fridays, Dollhouse has had two solid episodes in a row which were much better than the first five. The mythology of the show was significantly advanced last week. The number of actives has increased, including the revelation that Mellie was one and seeing a new recruit. I was surprised that they had Mellie return to the Dollhouse considering that Ballard was still searching for the Dollhouse despite being taken off the case.

This week’s episode, Echoes, was the first to reveal more information about Caroline’s past. The puzzling thing is that we saw her get into trouble but hardly enough to be consistent with the desperate situation she was in when “recruited.” I suspect we will see more of this story in the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Dollhouse made Caroline’s situation even worse to force her to join. The dolls regain their memories in next week’s episode and perhaps we will learn more of their back stories.


With Battlestar Galactica over Ron Moore has talked about the show but hasn’t revealed very much. He said a little about one of the mysteries I was wondering about last week regarding Starbuck:

We made a conscious decision to say, “We’re going to leave this opaque.” You can certainly say that she’s an angel or a demon or some other form of life. We know from the show that she died a mortal death, she was brought back to life in some way, and then she fulfilled a certain destiny and guided them all to Earth. What does that mean? And who is she really? It was a conscious creative decision to say, “This is as much as we’re going to tell you, and she’s connected to some greater truth.” The more we try to answer what that greater truth is, the less interesting it becomes, and we just decided to leave it more of a mystery. I am sure that there will be a cadre of people who are angry that they never got a more definitive answer, but we just decided not to do that.

He said a little more about Starbuck in an interview with TV Guide: What exactly is Kara at the end of the series? An angel?
Moore: I think Kara remains an ambiguous figure. Kara lived a mortal life, died and was resurrected to get them to their final destiny. Clearly she was a key player in the events that led to [the fleet’s] finding a home. And, I don’t know if there’s any more to it beyond that. I think you could call her an angel, you could call her a demon, the second coming or the first coming, I guess, chronologically speaking. You can say that she had a certain messiah-like quality, in the classic resurrection story. There’s a lot of different ways you can look at it, but the more we talked about it, the more we realized there was more in the ambiguity and mystery of it than there was in trying to give it more definition in the end. So she is completely different than the hallucination/visions of Baltar and Six?
Moore: Yes, Kara was physically among us. Everybody saw her. She was tactile, she flew a viper, she was around. She was with us. And yet, there was a body that died on the original Earth, and Baltar did the DNA analysis and it was her body, so she was literally brought back from the dead by something — by some higher power or other power, and she came back to serve a function.

Moore also talked about the extended scenes on the upcoming DVD and there has been talk online about alternative endings which had been considered before deciding on the final ending. One alternative had Ellen join up with Cavil after learning that Tigh had inpregnated a Six. Here is another alternative endng:

Battlestar Galactica executive producer Ron Moore has been discussing last week’s series finale with fans on the BSG forum, where he dropped an interesting tidbit about an ending that might have been.

In this version of the story, the Galactica herself ends up on Earth instead of being flown into the sun, and she also manages to show up in our present-day timeline:

“There was a point in the development process where we discussed the idea of the Galactica not being destroyed, but having somehow landed on the surface more or less intact, but unable to ever get into orbit again (the particulars here were never worked out, so don’t ask how she made it down without being torn apart). We talked about them basically abandoning the ship and moving out into the world.

“Cut to the present-day in Central America where there are these enormous mysterious mounds that archeologists have not been able to understand (it may have been South America, I can’t recall the exact location, but these mounds really do exist). Someone is doing a new kind of survey of the mounds with some kind of ground-penetrating radar or something and lo and behold, we see the outlines of the Galactica still buried under the surface.”

Moore said they ultimately didn’t go with the ending because they wouldn’t have been able to reconcile it with the “reality” of the series.

“It was an intriguing idea and we bandied it about for a while, but ultimately rejected it as a little too cute and also felt that it would violate our contemporary reality, in essence ‘branching off’ the BSG story in 2009 into an parallel reality where a battlestar was discovered in Central America. I wanted the end of the show to directly relate to us, not to a world where that event had occurred.”

While this would have avoided the questionable decisions to give up technology and destroy the fleet, I agree with their reasons for not using this ending.

Spain Considering Criminal Cases Against Bush Administration Officials For Torture

If the Obama administration remains reluctant to prosecute crimes committed by the Bush administration, perhaps they will have to be handled like Augusto Pinochet. AP reports:

A Spanish court has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer in the case said Saturday.

Human rights lawyers brought the case before leading anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon, who agreed to send it on to prosecutors to decide whether it had merit, Gonzalo Boye, one of the lawyers who brought the charges, told The Associated Press.

The ex-Bush officials are Gonzales; former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.

Yoo declined to comment. A request for comment left with Feith through his Hudson Institute e-mail address was not immediately returned.

Spanish law allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes under a doctrine of universal justice, though the government has recently said it hopes to limit the scope of the legal process.

Garzon became famous for bringing charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and he and other Spanish judges have agreed to investigate alleged abuses everywhere from Tibet to Argentina’s “dirty war,” El Salvador and Rwanda.

Still, the country’s record in prosecuting such cases has been spotty at best, with only one suspect extradited to Spain so far.

As that last paragraph shows, it remains questionable whether this is anything beyond a symbolic gesture. The article later answers why these particular people were chosen:

The officials are charged with providing a legal cover for interrogation methods like waterboarding against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, which the Spanish human rights lawyers say amounted to torture.

Yoo, for instance, wrote a series of secret memos that claimed the president had the legal authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions.

Prosecuting those who gave legal cover makes sense, but I would still concentrate on those at the top who gave the orders.

Scott Horton has more on this story at Harper’s.

The Washington Post looked at the results of torture  and found that the harsh treatment of Abu Zubaida did not foil any terrorist plots:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Former State Department Lawyer Says Bush Panicked After 9/11, Used Torture

Some former members of the Bush administration are admitting that the Bush administration overreacted to 9/11 by engaging in torture:

A former State Department lawyer responsible for Guantanamo-related cases said Friday that the Bush administration overreacted after 9/11 and set up a system in which torture occurred.

Vijay Padmanabhan is at least the second former Bush administration official to publicly label “enhanced interrogation techniques” as torture. He said the administration was wrong in its entire approach when it sent detainees to the remote Navy base and declared it out of reach of any court.

“I think Guantanamo was one of the worst overreactions of the Bush administration,” Padmanabhan told The Associated Press. He said other overreactions included extraordinary renditions, waterboarding that occurred at secret CIA prisons and “other enhanced interrogation techniques that would constitute torture.”

“The idea that you’re going to be able to hold someone and detain someone where there is not an applicable legal regime governing their detention, rules, treatment, standards, etc. is, I think, foolish,” he said.

He is not the only member of the Bush administration to raise such criticism:

The first Bush administration official to publicly describe these acts as torture, Susan. J. Crawford, is the military official in charge of trying Guantanamo Bay detainees. She said in January that the United States tortured a Saudi detainee in 2002, preventing her from bringing him to trial.

Posted in George Bush, Terrorism. Tags: , . 7 Comments »