Ron Fournier Defends Obama From Reports Of Criticism By Robert Gates

Yesterday I questioned whether all readers would see the memoirs of Robert Gates the same way as Bob Woodward, who has a long-standing anti-Obama bias.  Ron Fournier had the same impression as I had yesterday. While Woodward’s story reports negative comments from Gates about Barack Obama’s skepticism about the war in Afghanistan, Gates also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” If Obama made the right decisions after questioning Gates and showing skepticism towards military recommendations, it sounds like he was doing the right thing. Fournier wrote:

In what Bob Woodward called a “harsh” judgment of President Obama, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates writes of the commander-in-chief adding troops to Afghanistan over the objections of his political team, second-guessing that decision, and never quite trusting his generals. “For him,” Gates writes in his memoir, “it’s all about getting out.”

To that I say, bravo. While excerpts of Gates’s books are being interpreted as embarrassing for Obama, I’m looking forward to reading the memoir in full—and expect to come away more impressed with the president than his Defense chief.

Consider first what the memoir says about Gates himself. Criticism of a sitting president from a former Cabinet member is rare and should be taken with a grain of salt. In a breach of propriety that raises questions about his integrity, the excerpts reveal Gates to be surprisingly petty at times, such as when he complains about spending cuts at the Pentagon and the lack of notice about Obama’s decision to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays serving in the military.

Then remember why Obama was elected in 2008. He reflected the nation’s ambivalence toward war, promising to pull out of Iraq and wean Afghanistan from U.S. dependence. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, waged war on Iraq under false pretenses and with a lack of skepticism toward neoconservatives in his war Cabinet, led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Initially, anyway, he deferred to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his generals. Famously calling himself “The Decider,” Bush rarely revisited a decision, and earned a reputation for stubbornness…

If military commanders were shown disrespect or given obstacles to fighting war, that would be one thing. But if they were questioned and challenged and kept in check, it is another. Isn’t that the president’s job?

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Obama Popularity Improves Along With Successes Of Affordable Care Act

The National Journal led with Barack Obama in their list of biggest political losers of the year, comparing his trajectory to that of George W. Bush. We have a very small sample of presidents serving a second term in recent years, straining the significance of attempts by the media to make such comparisons. Bloomberg has picked up on a trend which most might have missed over a holiday. Obama’s popularity has picked up at the end of the year:

President Barack Obama has picked up five points in public approval since he’s gone away to Hawaii for a year-end family vacation.

The president’s public approval rating was hanging at 39 percent in the days before Christmas, by the Gallup Poll’s average of daily tracking surveys.

Today, in the surveys Dec. 26-28, his approval has risen to 44 percent. His disapproval rating, 54 percent pre-Christmas, is down to 49 percent.

It might also be premature to write Obama off so soon considering another recent Gallup poll which shows Obama leading the list of most admired men for the sixth consecutive year.

None of these polls are conclusive by themselves but should at least make us keep open the possibility that Obama’s popularity could rebound. A messed up web site is hardly as catastrophic as the incompetence shown in Bush’s handling of Katrina.

One factor which might be helping is that the Affordable Care Act is looking far better now than it did a month or two ago. Steve Benen points out over six million people receiving coverage. On top of the groups he looked at, an additional fifteen million are receiving coverage due to now being able to remain on their parents coverage until age 26.

Unfortunately many of the people taking advantage of these benefits probably do not even realize that they are receiving this due to Obamacare. As I discussed a few days ago, Barack Obama might never receive the credit he deserves for the Affordable Care Act as people take for granted the benefits they are now receiving while blaming Obamacare for problems in the medical system which were already present.

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Two Republicans Who Support Health Care Reform

Most Republicans, especially those in Congress, have taken a knee-jerk position to vote against any form of health care reform. Instead they are trying to hinder implementation, and their refusal to consider legislation prevents passing some needed fixes which normally would have been passed for such a major piece of legislation. There are rare exceptions of Republicans who have embraced health care reform. One is in Nevada:

People living in states where the state government has acted to support the Affordable Care Act are generally having better experiences. While this is generally in the blue states, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval:

In a Republican party that’s gone all out against Obamacare, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval went all in.

Sandoval is the only Republican governor whose state is both running its own health insurance exchange this year and expanding its Medicaid program under the health law. He’s arguably doing more to put the Democrats’ signature law into place than any other Republican.

But in fully implementing Obamacare, Sandoval faces a double-edged sword: He’s helping bring health care coverage to a state with the second highest uninsured rate in the country, while he may be hurting his national ambitions because he’s not actively blocking the president’s law.

Political realities in the GOP force him to both criticize Obamacare while doing what is best for his state. As he is not running for office, Colin Powell can be more open, and call for going ever further than the Affordable Care Act. His view is also affected by personal experience:

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said universal health care should be available to all Americans. He was speaking at a charity event for prostate survivors in Seattle.

Powell told the audience that countries in Europe, Canada and South Korea offer universal, single-payer health care and said he often asks why the United States has not implemented the same system.

“Whether it’s Obamacare, or son of Obamacare, I don’t care,” Powell said. “As long as we get it done.”

Powell, a retired four-star general, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and credits his survival to the universal health care provided by the United States military.

Sharing health stories with the audience about his wife, Alma, and a neighbor, Powell said he and his wife have never worried about whether their health care would bankrupt them. He contrasted his experience with his neighbor, Anne, who cannot afford the MRIs to identify tumors in her brain before doctors will operate on her. Powell said she has health insurance, but it does not cover MRI imaging. He said she was out of work and he gave her the funds three weeks ago to receive treatment.

“We are a wealthy enough country,” Powell said, “with the capacity to make sure that every one of our fellow citizens has access to quality health care.”

In other health care news this weekend, check out this report from The Washington Post which gives one example as to why health care costs so much in the United States.

The two drugs have been declared equivalently miraculous. Tested side by side in six major trials, both prevent blindness in a common old-age affliction. Biologically, they are cousins. They’re even made by the same company.

But one holds a clear price advantage.

Avastin costs about $50 per injection.

Lucentis costs about $2,000 per injection.

Doctors choose the more expensive drug more than half a million times every year, a choice that costs the Medicare program, the largest single customer, an extra $1 billion or more annually…

The Medicare Part D plan enacted by George Bush prohibits the government from negotiating for better prices on drugs for the Medicare program. In reading about situations such as this, there is a huge difference between government making rational decisions as to what to cover and what many conservatives would call death panels. (Incidentally, I am not an ophthalmologist and while quoting this news report I am not making a professional judgment that the two are equivalent. Secondly, I take no kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies which might influence which drugs I prescribe, and this should be the case with all physicians.)

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Quote of the Day

“This is a crazy story. For two decades, the secret launch code for America’s nuclear missiles was 0000000000. Even more amazing, George W. Bush forgot it twice.” –Conan O’Brien

In case anyone missed it the launch codes really were a string of zeros in order to reduce any potential delay in launching. I bet Stanley Kubrick would have used this in Doctor Strangelove if he was aware of this fact.

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Do You Really Want More Turkey Pictures For Thanksgiving?

A couple of weeks ago I posted a recent picture of Jenna Coleman of Doctor Who modeling. For Thanksgiving I could post the usual turkey pictures, but wouldn’t you prefer to see more of Jenna? Here are three additional pictures of her modeling, and a picture from the filming of The Day of the Doctor.

Red dress

Jenna Coleman

McQ by Alexander McQueen

Filming Day of the Doctor

And if you really wanted a turkey picture for today:

Happy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah

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Afghanistan Planning To Resume Public Stoning As Punishment For Adultery

Attacking Afghanistan made far more sense than to attack Iraq as George Bush did following the 9/11 attack. * I could see an attack to disrupt al Qaeda and was happy to see bin Laden killed, but questioned if we would see any long-term benefits from installing a government there. This somewhat confirms my skepticism–Afghanistan is now planning to restore the Taliban policy of stoning women for adultery:

Afghanistan is planning to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery 12 years after the Taliban was ousted from power, according to a new draft penal code.

The move has shocked human rights campaigners and will dismay donors who have poured billions of pounds into the country for reconstruction.

It will be viewed as another backwards step at the end of a year that has seen women’s rights undermined, with a slew of legislation and murders of prominent women.

Human Rights Watch called for international donors to withhold funding if the government goes ahead with the plan.

“It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW…

As repulsive as both groups are, stoning is far worse than the forced vaginal probes and restrictions on reproductive rights which are supported by the American Taliban.

(* I would hope that by now the whole Truther line that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration instead of a terrorist act by al Qaeda has been forgotten. In case anyone is still interested in that nonsense, Noam Chomsky has recently joined many others in debunking that conspiracy theory. Chomsky mocked “people around who spend an hour on the Internet and think they know a lot physics.” On the other hand, that is how the Internet works. How many other people on the far right with no knowledge of biology or climate science are coming up with arguments against evolution and global warming?)

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Former Great News Organization CBS Has Become The Conservative BS Network

CBS once was a major news organization. When Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite on Viet Nam, public opinion turned against the war. Dan Rather as White House correspondent contributed to bringing knowledge of the Watergate scandal to the public. Then the network turned to the right. They sought to appease conservatives during the Bush years, dropping the story on Bush’s National Guard years and even considered turning to people such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to form an independent panel to evaluate Dan Rather.

CBS turned into the Conservative BS Network.

We saw this again with their erroneous coverage of Benghazi, which they have finally retracted. The erroneous report on 60 Minutes has been cited by many right wing sources who have been trying to keep Benghazi alive, long after the evidence made it clear there was no scandal there. As former CBS News producer Mary Mapes speculated, “They appear to have done that story to appeal specifically to a politically conservative audience that is obsessed with Benghazi and believes that Benghazi was much more than a tragedy.”

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Liars

Bush Lied–People Died

Obama Lied–People Had To Change To A More Comprehensive Insurance Plan Which Frequently Cost Them Less

(More here and here)

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Rand Paul’s Use Of Misinformation Dates Back To Med School

It is looking like looking back at their behavior in school can provide important insights on Republican leaders. During the last presidential campaign we learned that Mitt Romney was a bully and a homophobe while a student at Cranbrook. Rand Paul, who, like Mitt Romney, regularly makes up facts to support his position, showed that he understood how to use misinformation while in medical school.  National Journal found that Paul even admitted it:

Rand Paul was talking with University of Louisville medical students when one of them tossed him a softball. “The majority of med students here today have a comprehensive exam tomorrow. I’m just wondering if you have any last-minute advice.”

“Actually, I do,” said the ophthalmologist-turned-senator, who stays sharp (and keeps his license) by doing pro bono eye surgeries during congressional breaks. “I never, ever cheated. I don’t condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”

He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. “We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver,” he said. “We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver” and not studying much else.

“So, that’s my advice,” he concluded. “Misinformation works.”

That was a perfect lead-in for an article on the misinformation Rand Paul continues to spread:

“Under Obamacare and the current evolution of things, we have 18,000 diagnostic codes. We’re going to 144,000 diagnostic codes,” Paul told them. It wasn’t the first time he had implied that the number of codes—complete with seemingly absurd categories for injuries from macaws, lampposts, and burning water skis—was exploding as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But fact-checkers across the spectrum, from the conservative website The Blaze to USA Today to the liberal site Think Progress, had thoroughly debunked that notion months earlier. As Paul must know, the new diagnostic codes were approved by the Bush administration and have nothing to do with Obamacare.

Later in the article:

But then, there are the half-truths, cherry-picked factoids, and outright errors that Paul seems steadfastly unwilling to relinquish.

Take health care. Although he’s a doctor, Paul repeatedly misrepresents aspects of the Affordable Care Act. For example, all of those crazy-sounding new billing codes he implies are the spawn of Obamacare were in fact released by the World Health Organization 20 years ago and, as The Blaze reported, approved by the Bush administration in 2008, scheduled for 2011, delayed until 2013, and then delayed again until late 2014, so they’ll finally take effect the same year as most of the ACA.

In discussing the expenses the law will impose on consumers, Paul rarely mentions the subsidies many people will receive, and he sometimes says a single person making $30,000 a year will have to pay $15,000 a year in premiums. The government is going to require somebody to pay 50 percent of their income for health insurance? “It depends on circumstances,” Paul replies. “I can’t tell you where the cutoff is for single without kids. But I think there will be people who are single without kids who don’t get subsidies who will struggle to pay $15,000 for insurance.” PolitiFact labeled that assertion “especially off the mark.” Citing available facts, PolitiFact said such a person would pay at most about $3,000 and could pay far less due to the law’s caps, subsidies, and bare-bones coverage options.

The Louisville med students were worried and curious about Obamacare, which could greatly affect their future. “I will continue to fight to make it less bad, at the very least,” Paul told them. It sounded like he wanted to fix or improve the law. Later, away from those students, asked how he would improve the law, he told National Journal he would try to delay and defund as much of it as possible in hopes of eventually getting rid of it entirely, because “the whole thing is rotten.”

Paul’s logic in justifying the GOP drive to kill Obamacare is dicey, too. He says that while the president won reelection by “a small majority” in 2012, “a majority of the people believe Republicans should be in charge of the House” and therefore don’t want something like the law that was passed solely by Democrats. Obama won last year by nearly 5 million votes. Some people might consider that a small majority. But while Republicans won a majority of House districts, it’s not accurate to say a “majority of the people” wanted a GOP House. Democrats won the House popular vote by more than 1.7 million votes nationwide, the Federal Election Commission reported in July.

On another front, Paul routinely exaggerates the size of the annual federal deficit, pegging it at $1 trillion. In fact, the deficit for fiscal 2013 fell to an estimated $642 billion, heading toward $378 billion in two years, according to a Congressional Budget Office report in May.

Paul, like most Republicans, is also dishonest in blaming the size of the deficit on Obama when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were the biggest spenders in recent years. The current deficit problem is a consequence of George Bush passing on a combination of unfunded expenses and tax cuts to his successor.

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Some Honesty From A Republican

David Frum has often questioned Republican behavior since leaving the Bush White House. I imagine that is due to a combination of factors including the Republicans moving much further towards the extreme right, and as those not working for someone in office have more freedom to tell the truth. His list of Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Political Parties provides some useful insight into how the saner Republicans think. In some cases he is wrong, such as in not believing we can afford to do what the rest of the world with modern economies can in providing affordable health care for all. At least he concedes that Obamacare is not the calamity they claim:

If the United States has remained a constitutional republic despite a government guarantee of health care for people over 65, it will remain a constitutional republic with a government guarantee of health care for people under 65. Obamacare will cost money the country doesn’t have, and that poses a serious fiscal problem. But it’s not as serious a fiscal problem as is posed by the existing programs, Medicare and Medicaid, which cover the people it costs most to cover. It’s not a problem so serious as to justify panic.

Yet panic has gripped the Republican rank-and-file since 2009—and instead of allaying panic, Republican leaders have aggravated and exploited it, to the point where the leaders are compelled to behave in ways they know to be irrational. In his speech to the “Bull Moose” convention of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt declared, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” It’s a great line, but it’s not a mindset that leads to successful legislative outcomes.

He gave arguments other than racism for Republican hatred of Obama:

Barack Obama was never likely to be popular with the Republican base. It’s not just that he’s black. He’s the first president in 76 years with a foreign parent—and unlike Hulda Hoover, Barack Obama Sr. never even naturalized. While Obama is not the first president to hold two degrees from elite universities—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did as well—his Ivy predecessors at least disguised their education with a down-home style of speech. Join this cultural inheritance to liberal politics, and of course you have a formula for conflict. But effective parties make conflict work for them. Hate leads to rage, and rage makes you stupid. Republicans have convinced themselves both that President Obama is a revolutionary radical hell-bent upon destroying America as we know it and that he’s so feckless and weak-willed that he’ll always yield to pressure. It’s that contradictory, angry assessment that has brought the GOP to a place where it must either abjectly surrender or force a national default. Calmer analysis would have achieved better results.

True, the know-nothings of the far right would oppose any educated president who acts like they are educated. They just can’t stand things like facts as they show that right wing policies make no sense. The right wing base also hates America for our freedoms, desiring to replace our liberal heritage with religious their religious beliefs. There are reasons besides being black that Republicans dislike Obama. This does change the fact that racism is endemic in the conservative movement and being black did lead to immediate and unreasonable opposition to Obama. If conservatives were willing to look at Obama’s actual beliefs, they might never agree with him on some social issues, but they would see that he is relatively conservative on many economic issues and is willing to compromise on quite a bit. Of course Obama may hold the view of  an Eisenhower Republican on many issues, but to the far right Eisenhower was suspected of being a Communist.

The other most important confession from Frum is on the role of the right wing noise machine:

The actor Hugh Grant once bitterly characterized his PR team as “the people I pay to lie to me.” Politicians do not always need to tell the truth, but they always need to hear it. Yet hearing the truth has become harder and harder for Republicans. It takes a very unusual spin artist to remember that what he or she is saying isn’t actually true. Non-politicians say what they believe. Politicians sooner or later arrive at the point where they believe what they say. They have become prisoners of their own artificial reality, with no easy access to the larger truths outside. This entombment in their own artificial reality was revealed to the entire TV-watching world in Karl Rove’s Fox News election night outburst against the Ohio 2012 ballot results. It was the same entombment that blinded Republicans to the most likely outcome of their no-compromise stance on Obamacare—and now again today to the most likely outcome of the government shutdown/debt ceiling fight they started.

The false narrative created by the far right is a dangerous threat to democracy due to the need for an informed electorate. It becomes even more dangerous when conservative politicians believe their own lies.

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