Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday Rock Show

Technically, I suppose it's folk, if one uses the term generically. This will also be different because, rather than just one video, I will posting a few, because this performer is that good.

I first heard Ray LaMontagne on NPR's World Cafe a couple years ago. His biography is the stuff of folk music legend, his songs the epitome of introspective balladry without either sentiment or narcissism. He evokes a strange reaction - he seems a combination of Ray Charles and Bob Dylan - and his appearance is wonderfully apropos, all scruffy beard and baggy clothes. Please enjoy the following selections.

First, a political tune set to a video compilation from The Devil Wears Prada, which is an odd juxtaposition. The song is "How Come":



And, my favorite song of his, "Shelter":

If Racism Is Dead, Someone Should Inform The Bigots

The past few weeks have provided some vivid evidence that the enduring stain of racism continues to plague us. There is the incident in Jena, LA, including the arrival and quick departure of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, leaving the situation much more volatile in their wake. Then there was the "surprise" voiced by Bill O'Reilly that patrons of a restaurant in Harlem acted human.

One often reads comments from conservatives that racism is a thing of the past. As someone who spent five years in the unreconstructed, still Old South, I can speak candidly on this issue, apart from the incidents in the recent news. Racism is not only alive and well, it warps the ability of communities to live together, to work together, to deal with issues together. Denying the reality, whether on a local, regional, state, or national level, only complicates the problem because we have to waste so much precious time and energy trying to convince those who wish to deny the obvious that we lose time trying to fix things.

The incident in Jena is complicated. It is not made easier by the fact that real violence against another human being was meted out as a kind of rough justice for the on-going racial harassment of African-Americans. With the arrival of marchers and outsiders, the entire community became embroiled in a national spectacle - and the racial divide within Jena becomes even wider, and the job of reconciliation that much more difficult with the flames fanned by the stunt. This is one instance where I believe the intervention of outsiders was counter-productive.

O'Reilly's comments are despicable, and the entire incident is not helped when the obvious intent and content are hidden behind enablers like Juan Williams.

Every time a racial incident occurs in America, we might have the opportunity to have a serious discussion. Then, we get sidetracked into trying to convince people that racism still exists, that it is part and parcel of the American character, and will not be excised in a generation, by any law, or through either the good will of earnest people, or denying the very existence of the evil among us.

So, once again, we are left with people hurting, literally, physically, and emotionally, people befuddled by a series of events that defy our view of ourselves as having overcome our historic stain. What is lost is an opportunity to deal as adults with the ongoing problem of race. Until we do, we shall continue to have Jenas and comments like O'Reilly's.

Some Conservatives Get It - I Apologize For Tarring Them All With The Unreality Brush

This cover story, which I learned of through a link from fellow local blogger Rockford Rascal, is every bit as scathing and critical of Gen. Petraeus as the MoveOn ad that got the entire political universe all in a lather.

The article, entitled "Sycophant Savior" by Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, is blunt, scathing, and remarkably insightful:
[I]n presenting his recent assessment of the Iraq War and in describing the “way forward,” Petraeus demonstrated that he is a political general of the worst kind—one who indulges in the politics of accommodation that is Washington’s bread and butter but has thereby deferred a far more urgent political imperative, namely, bringing our military policies into harmony with our political purposes.

From the very beginning of the Iraq War, such harmony has been absent. The war’s military and political aspects have been badly out of synch. (In this regard, the hackneyed comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam are tragically apt.) The failure to plan for an occupation, the wildly inflated expectations of Iraq’s rapid transformation into a liberal democracy, Donald Rumsfeld’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the insurgency’s existence until long after it had begun, the deeply flawed kick-down-the-door campaign that ensued once Rumsfeld could no longer deny reality: all of these meant that from the outset, the exertions of U.S. troops, however great, tended to be at odds with our stated political intentions. Our actions were counterproductive.

The Petraeus-Crocker hearings found Petraeus in a position to resolve that problem. Over the previous eight months, a discredited president had effectively abdicated responsibility for managing the war. “I trust David Petraeus” became George W. Bush’s mantra, suggesting an astonishing level of presidential deference. Sometime in early 2007, the task of formulating basic strategy for Iraq had effectively migrated from Washington to Baghdad, passing from the office of the commander in chief to the headquarters of the senior field commander. The president made it clear that he intended to takes his cues from his general. Military judgment would inform, even determine, political decisions.

The general has now made his call, and President Bush has endorsed it: the surge having succeeded (so at least we are assured), it will now be curtailed. The war will continue, albeit on a marginally smaller scale. As events develop, it just might become smaller still. Only time will tell.

Petraeus has chosen a middle course, carefully crafted to cause the least amount of consternation among various Washington constituencies he is eager to accommodate. This is the politics of give and take, of horse trading, of putting lipstick on a pig. Ultimately, it is the politics of avoidance.


Let us assume instead that Petraeus genuinely believes that he has broken the code in Iraq and that things are improving. Let’s assume further that he is correct in that assessment.

What then should he have recommended to the Congress and the president? That is, if the commitment of a modest increment of additional forces —the 30,000 troops comprising the surge, now employed in accordance with sound counterinsurgency doctrine —has begun to turn things around, then what should the senior field commander be asking for next?

A single word suffices to answer that question: more. More time. More money. And above all, more troops.

It is one of the oldest principles of generalship: when you find an opportunity, exploit it. Where you gain success, reinforce it. When you have your opponent at a disadvantage, pile on. In a letter to the soldiers serving under his command, released just prior to the congressional hearings, Petraeus asserted that coalition forces had “achieved tactical momentum and wrestled the initiative from our enemies.” Does that reflect his actual view of the situation? If so, then surely the imperative of the moment is to redouble the current level of effort so as to preserve that initiative and to deny the enemy the slightest chance to adjust, adapt, or reconstitute.

Yet Petraeus has chosen to do just the opposite. Based on two or three months of (ostensibly) positive indicators, he has advised the president to ease the pressure, withdrawing the increment of troops that had (purportedly) enabled the coalition to seize the initiative in the first place.

In other words, the author is saying that the General, in an attempt to square the various political circles whirling around Washington, ended up providing the exact opposite of sound military advice. Which is true. Of course, had Petraeus come to Capitol Hill and said that we needed to "pile on" in the author's term of art, he would have lost his audience. On the other hand, had he come to Capitol Hill and said, "This entire enterprise is, and has been from the beginning, a cluster from beginning to end," he would have lost his sponsor. This is not to claim that Petraeus is a liar. Rather, it is to claim that, placing a soldier in the position of doing a politician's duty - deal with policy rather than the execution of policy - the Bush Administration placed Petraeus in what can only delicately be called an impossible position. He had to weave his way carefully - and the only ammunition war supporters had was to get huffy when an anti-war group seemed to call Petraeus' integrity in to question. Bacevich does what MoveOn did, only with a bit more finesse and a lot more understanding.

The entire phony contretemps over MoveOn, and now Rush Limbaugh, misses the point that is brought home by a conservative magazine doing a pretty good breakdown of Petraeus' performance. We need to be having this discussion now. Right-wingers and war-boosters may believe that by "silencing" MoveOn they have managed to quell the possibility of Americans actually having this discussion. Now that The American Conservative has picked up where MoveOn left off, it seems to me we have an opportunity to continue the discussion.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Doing The Disagreeable

I suppose it was inevitable. Our political culture is like a schoolyard; when one person gets in trouble for something, that person yells, "But what about this person over here who did something similar and gets away with it? It isn't fair!" We are watching that particular spectacle unfold now, as lefty-bloggers are demanding Congressional action in regards to the loathsome Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" comments. By the way, I called Rush loathsome, not his comment.

Having Congress waste valuable time condemning MoveOn is not balanced by having them do the same to Rush Limbaugh. It is all well and good to call Rush out for what spews from his mouth, but I refuse to jump on the bandwagon demanding Congressional action. The whole bit in our Constitution, called The Bill of Rights, especially the first one, which begins, "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. . . " kind of applies here. Personally, I think non-binding resolutions are still laws, and should be considered out-of-bounds. Rush has every right to discharge his intellectual vomit without Congress acting in high dudgeon. Nothing is gained from this, and meanwhile, people continue to die in Iraq. I see this as another distraction. That the lefty blogs are falling for it just shows they are as capable of being wrong as anyone else.

What Is Emergent? Confessions Of A Wrestling Christian

In comments over on this thread at new Blogroll member "Swinging From the Vine", I give my own very limited perspective, which mostly involves admitting my ignorance, on what is known as the Emergent Church. Another proud booster of Emergent, Adam Walker Cleavland, demonstrates mostly by example what Emergent is, but try as I might, I really don't see what makes it so distinctive.

I mentioned in remarks in the above-linked post that it was my impression that Emergent tends to revolve around issues in the Reformed Church community (Presbyterian/UCC/certain Baptist Churches), and being United Methodist, I didn't see the relevance. While I was told that there are indeed Emergent UMs, I am still a bit befuddled, because I really don't know all that much about Emergent.

Should someone know what I'm talking about, and be able to provide a link, or even better, substantive information on Emergent, it would be most welcome. I'm not interested in joining - I'm not a joiner by preference - but I am interested in knowing what all the hubbub is about.

Some Rules (Gasp!)

In recent comments on evolution, Craig seems to work under the assumptions that (a) when I call an idea he expresses, or a conclusion he claims comes from reason, either ignorant or uninformed, I am somehow personally insulting him; (b) I am under some kind of obligation to accord all ideas equal treatment, disparaging none.

As to (a), all I can say is that it should probably go without saying that when I say "This sentence you have written is erroneous" (or words to that effect) it is quite different from writing "You're a dork for thinking that way." The latter is a personal attack, and while some people on the internet do that, I do not, nor would I ever. On the other hand, (as this leads us directly to the second point), I refuse to pretend that, as some doofus once said, "there is no such thing as a bad idea (or a stupid question)" (notice I practiced a personal attack there? you might not know it, but the "doofus" in question was me 21 years ago in a class on political philosophy at Alfred University; my professor schooled me when I said that in the best manner possible by laughing at me).

As a general matter, I am quite willing to listen to pretty much anything anyone wants to bring to the table - I enjoy stories about bigfoot, UFOs, ghosts and ghoulies, even demon possession along with creationism and ID - but when it comes to serious discussions that have a direct impact upon (a) the education of children; (b) the way our country will practice science; (c) true academic and intellectual freedom over and against blind, narrow, ignorant dogmatism, I set fairy tales aside and deal with the the way things are. There is no such thing as bigfoot. Creationism is not science, and Intelligent Design is nothing more than creationism in wool rather than polyester, without brillcream or pomade, all gussied up to be presentable. The problem, of course, is lipstick on this particular pig can't change the fact that it is still a pig.

I am under no obligation to pretend that only a truly open mind would allow for serious consideration of creationism/ID (or for that matter pretty much any other nonsensical idea that the right tosses about that is simply contrary to fact; as the end is listless, I would prefer to deal with them as they come along rather than set up a list a priori) on a level playing field with the theory of evolution. Even if the rest of the world did so, I would refuse to do so, because this isn't a matter that is subject to debate, or argument, or democratic decision making. Science is what it is, and creationism/ID doesn't fall under that heading, no matter how hard one argues the opposite. I realize some people get their feelings hurt by this, but all I can do is smile indulgently at them and direct them to the Creationism Museum in Kentucky, where they can gather with the rest of those who profess this garbage and see diorama of human beings hunting dinosaurs without interference from the rest of us. Please don't try to school me in manners, because at my age, I am unlikely to get any.

So - some rules. If you come here and try to tell me that I have to be polite to you when you spout nonsense, or that your delicate feelings have been bruised by my casual dismissal of said nonsense, all I can say is what I have said before: This is my blog, and I do things my way here. As far as creationism/ID is concerned, I feel no obligation to be polite to an idea that is dangerous intellectually, socially, and (I might add), religiously and theologically. It's crap, it will always be crap, and no amount of perfume will make the stink go away. If you don't like it, the "Exit" button is always a click away.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Link for Craig - Evolution in the Fossil Record

In comments here Craig and I exchange a few words about evolution. I wanted to end the conversation, but as I mentioned some things without offering a link as to where they might be, I thought I would provide that. While I doubt it will do any good - as Craig does not "believe in" evolution, it is doubtful he would accept a scientific discussion of evolution based upon the fossil record interpreted through the lens of said theory - I wanted to make sure my "i"'s were crossed and my "t"'s dotted, as it were.

The link, to an article by Stephen Jay Gould published in Natural History magazine in 1994, discusses the evolution of whales from land mammals. Should Craig's interest be piqued, he can scan through the available archive for articles on all sorts of issues in evolutionary biology.

One of Gould's books, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the History of Nature, was eye opening for me. It discusses the reconstruction of the fossil record contained in the Burgess Shale formation in the Canadian Rockies, and a second reconstruction of that same fossil record that completely changed the way the eco-system recorded in the shale looked, as well as the revamped toxonomical tree that emerged. What was most fascinating for me was the discovery of an entirely extinct eco-system - not just one or two species, but literally hundred, both plant and animal, from which there exists today not a single living example. The beauty and power of life, and its fragility and contingency as well, are all there, and Gould highlights both in a far-ranging discussion on the lessons both scientific and social to be drawn from this example of science doing a pretty good job of correcting its own errors.

I honestly do not wish to "debate" the issue of evolution. It's a bit like debating the theory of relativity, or whether or not the earth revolves around the sun. The kind of ignorance involved that leads someone to ask a question, as Craig did, about the location of the fossil evidence for evolution is truly a marvel (Yes, Marshall, I said "ignorant", and no that's not being judgmental, it is simply a factual determination). As I pointed out in my response, the evidence from the fossil record is plentiful; those who reject evolution reject the evidence as well, precisely because the evidence is interpreted through the lens of evolutionary theory. For some reason, evolution-deniers see this as a problem. Most scientists do not, because that is the way science works.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Note or Two on Rick Perlstein's "Bed-Wetter Nation"

At first, I wasn't going to either discuss or link to Rick Perlstein's piece "Bed-Wetter Nation" because it is being discussed or linked to or highlighted by, among others, digby, Ezra Klein, and even Sadly!No does a shorter piece (including a photo-shop of Michelle Malkin that is quite humorous). My feeling is, this particular piece is getting enough coverage, and I would much prefer to do something else. Yet there is something about this piece that I keep thinking about. Here's how it begins:
Here's a big question that I want to start addressing in upcoming posts: what is conservative rule doing to our nation's soul? How is it rewiring our hearts and minds? What kind of damage are they doing to the American character? And can we ever recover?

So: what is the American character? Hard to say, of course. But I daresay we know it when we see it. Let me put before you an illustrative example: one week in September of 1959, when, much like one week in September of 2007, American soil supported a visit by what many, if not most Americans agreed was the most evil and dangerous man on the planet.

Perlstein then goes on to give, in detail, a contrasting picture of the treatment of Nikita Kruschev by the Eisenhower Administration and the treatment of Mahmoud Ahmedinajad by various right-wing pundits, state legislators in Albany, members of Congress - and the differences could not be more stark. Perlstein asks, in the midst of the comparison:
Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess. (emphasis added)

I think it is important to remember here that the sentence I highlighted in the above quote misses a key factor in the difference between Eisenhower Republicanism and our current crop who use the same name. Our present GOPers are in fact the intellectual descendants (if such a phrase can be used) of the very Birchers who excoriated Ike as a comsymp pinko. For all its insanity, John Birch-think rules our political discourse, and the result is that it resembles less the calm, considered approach of rational people and more the rantings of paranoid schizophrenics who see threats around every bend, threats to be destroyed rather than dealt with rationally.

In his The Farther Shores of Politics: The American Political Fringe Today (New York: Clarion/Simon & Schuster, 1967, 1968), George Thayer delineates five distinctive characteristics of members and sympathizers of the John Birch Society. See if they ring any bells, alarm or otherwise (the list is taken from, with editions, from the above-named book, pp. 175-176):
First of all, their [the Birchers] image of America and the world is wholly conspiratorial. . . .
Second, Birchers refuse to believe in the integrity and patriotism of their fellow Americans. . . .
Third, they reject the political system as a betrayal of truth. . . .
Fourth, they reject even the most minimum programs dealing with the current social, economic, and international problems. . . .
Finally, they advocate, among other things, the use of dirty tactics to change the situation, tactics that are entirely alien to the American political tradition.

Perlstein ends his piece thusly:
How cowardly our conservative Republic of Fear has made us. How we tremble at the mere touch of a challenge. It's conservatives who started it, of course. Here's what they're reading in their own media: a letter from Human Events editor Tom Winter headlined "Are You Ready for a New Dark Ages?":

Dear Fellow Conservative:

Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a Muslim muezzin. Millions of Europeans already do.

And liberals will still tell you that "diversity is our strength" -- while Talibanic enforcers cruise our cities burning books and barber shops... the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn't violate the "separation of church and state" ... and the Hollywood Left gives up gay rights in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.

If you think this can't happen, you haven't been paying attention, as the hilarious and brilliant Mark Steyn -- the most popular conservative columnist in the English-speaking world -- shows to devastating effect in his New York Times bestseller, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It....

This stuff is mind-numbingly hysterical—literally. Such rhetoric is literally calculated to numb the mind, to render any rational calculus impossible, to reduce democratic deliberation on the most subtle and difficult issues of our time to mere grunts and snorts, turning readers' minds to mush. That's what the conservative media is all about.

It is impossible to deal rationally with a paranoid schizophrenic. It is also impossible to deal rationally with those whose political views are the social equivalent thereof. The question, of course, is, what now? The answer, sadly, is beyond my grasp.

A (Linked) Rerun With Some Further Thoughts for ER

Over at ER's place a couple days back, he asked in comments about my seminary experience. As he had asked that after I had left for work, and as I tend to move on in my reading rather than browse comments left the previous evening on threads that seem to have dried up a bit, I missed the invitation.

I got thinking that I had already done some of that, so I checked out my archives, and lo and behold, here it is from June.

I just want to add some additional, clarifying thoughts. The emotional intensity of seminary, at least in my own experience, was heightened by my own exploration, in sessions with a therapist, of my own life, and an emerging brutal honesty about myself and my failings. With that experience came a desire to change the way I related to other people, which included an avoidance of certain passive-aggressive tendencies, preferring open and honest communication to the sullen, simmering rage of suffering in silence. When you opt for openness and honesty on all levels, it sometimes can come across wrong, especially when you're new at it. I think I suffered from this more than a little.

Another point I tried to make, but wasn't explicit, at least to me, is the ever-present dual reality of a close-knit community living in close proximity to one another. In retrospect, I am surprised that there were not more arguments that simply came to blows, if for no other reasons that there was little room for maneuver; everyone knew pretty much everything that went on, and everyone heard every adverse comment another student made. At the same time, I found myself, fairly early, becoming part of a group of second-year students who seemed to embrace me fairly easily. This very real, specific instance of "community" in my life - its acceptance of me, and my embrace of them - is a gift I shall always treasure. Knowing that something like that will never happen again saddens me, but it also makes that time, and those people, and that place, that much more special precisely because of its uniqueness.

A third factor in my own experience is more personal, but nevertheless important. In the course of my seminary life, I had two very serious relationships (one of them with the woman I eventually married), and one or two other flirtations (or more than that, at least in one case), at a time when I was just beginning to feel confident of being in a serious, adult, mature relationship with a woman. The reasons for that are far too personal, and irrelevant anyway. I suppose the kind of heightened emotional state of life in seminary added to the intensity of the feelings of romantic attachments I had (when one's emotions are so highly labile as that, separating it all out can be a near impossibility); it can also cloud one's judgment, making discernment, especially as regards what is in one's best interest in matters of the heart, very difficult. It did in my case, although I ended up extremely fortunate when Lisa Kruse entered Wesley in the autumn semester of 1992.

Anyway, that's all I got for now on that.

Just For Marshall - Some More Glenn Greenwald

In comments on yesterday's post where I cited Glenn Greenwald, Marshall Art noted two things - he only knows Greenwald's work second-hand, through the criticism of right-wingers; he doesn't think it worth his while to actually go and read Glenn's pieces. So, in a metaphor I hope he finds appropriate, I am bringing the mountain to Mohammed, as it were, by quoting at length some of today's Greenwald piece. I do hope that this might make Marshall want to go and read more.

To set the following clip in context, it follows a lengthy excerpt of a discussion on Hardball between Chris Matthews and Patrick Buchanan, the latter hardly a flaming liberal, in which Buchanan lays out a wonderfully real politique case for engagement with Iran over matters of vital mutual interest, rather than the path of continued hostility and the ramping up of the rhetoric leading to some kind of military confrontation. In the wake of President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad's (the other day I called him "Achmed" - what a doozy of a blooper!) visit to the UN and speech at Columbia University (where he wasn't exactly warmly received), it seems highly appropriate that a noted right-winger like Buchanan would cite reasons international diplomacy exist, and their application in re Iran are preferable to war. After this lengthy excerpting, Greenwald writes:
There really is this child-like need in American mainstream political discourse constantly to believe that we are fault-free and that when there is hostility directed at us from other parts of the world, it is always baffling and unjustified and crazy and malicious. And the accompanying cartoon-like belief is that anyone who has hostility towards the U.S. is some demented, crazed, Hitler-like monster.

It really ought not be that difficult to understand that a country which rules the world by military force; invades, bombs and occupies other countries far more than anyone else; overthrows other countries' governments -- including their democratically elected ones -- and openly debates what other governments it should change; and issues endless lectures to the world about the evils of tyranny and nuclear weapons while constantly violating those sermons (and encouraging our allies to do so) with actions, is going to trigger rather intense and substantial hostility around the world, particularly in those regions where we are doing the invading, bombing, occupying and controlling. As George Washington explained quite clearly a couple hundred years ago, that is precisely why it is so ill-advised to engage in that behavior.

The idea that we are the source of all Good in the world and that all anti-American anger is irrational is just the opposite side of the same Manichean coin that holds that the U.S. is the principal source of evil in the world. But while the latter form of irrational moralism is relegated to the fringes (at least in American politics), the former predominates in virtually all political discussions. On an individual level, most people have little difficulty understanding that a refusal to recognize one's own faults is one of the most self-destructive attributes a person can possess. But when it comes to the U.S. collectively, recognizing America's faults -- the actions we take to trigger anti-American animus -- is virtually prohibited.

I also think this particular quote is appropriately contextual regarding Marshall's comments on another thread that he does not accept the idea that the United States has engaged in war crimes.

Finest Hour?

I am currently enjoying Roy Jenkins' biography of Winston Churchill. Having finished his even-more-wonderful biography of William Gladstone, I decided to re-read his book on Churchill for the simple reason that Jenkins is a wonderful, witty, thoughtful author. Just for the record, I also have the first two volumes of the "official" biography, written by Randolph Churchill, the one-volume work of official biographer Martin Gilbert, and the first two of the unfinished trilogy by William Manchester, so my Churchill library is a bit redundant.

I have reached the early stages of Churchill's first premiership, during the awful days of French collapse in the summer of 1940. I have dealt before, back in March to be exact, with the nonsense Charles Krauthammer liked to put out, that George W. Bush was Winston Churchill reincarnated. Anyone interested in why I think that might not be so should read the linked post of six months ago. Having reached this critical juncture of Churchill's, and Britain's, life, I thought it might be pertinent to make some further remarks, especially in regards to the too-often stated idea that we are engaged in a fight for our very national, cultural survival against the barbarian hordes of Islamofascism.

The first thing I might note are the words Churchill addressed to the House of Commons after having been elevated to the office of Prime Minister through complex negotiations with the Labour and Liberal parties. He finished a rather short message, to be understood as a kind of "stand by" message for Parliament, with the now-famous words, "I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." Along with the differences of speaking style between Churchill and Bush, one looks in vain for any call to sacrifice on the part of George W. Bush. The entire administration continues to wage this war/occupation on the social, if not fiscal, cheap, fearing the public reaction to a call for national mobilization, the draft, the harnessing of our industrial output, rationing of foodstuffs, fuel, and other consumer items, and the regulation and control of wages and prices, all overseen by a Select Committee to ensure that none of those involved in government war contracts are engaged in war profiteering. Bush has, in fact, done the opposite of this - including the remarkable feat of cutting taxes at a time the administration insists we are at war (however undeclared that war might be).

At the end of the tense weeks of the early summer, when France capitulated and Churchill moved to neutralize the French Navy, including sinking or seriously damaging those ships at neutral ports and impounding those at British ports (the deaths of around 1300 French sailors at Oran was indeed tragic, but given the circumstances, defensible), Churchill gave another speech to the House, in which he prepared Parliament, and the nation, for the coming onslaught of what even he called "the battle of Britain" (not yet capitalized), which everyone, including Churchill, assumed would include an invasion of southeastern Britain. His magnificent crie de guerre ended with the even more famous insistence that, should Britain survive the coming onslaught of German martial wrath, no matter what else happened in the next thousand years, subsequent generations would call this moment in their national history, their finest hour.

Implicit in this speech, and more explicit in other ones, was the acceptance of the invasion of British soil by the forces of an enemy state, and the call to sacrifice not just comfort but life in the face of such an invasion. In other words, along with giving a spine to the British nation, he told the truth to both Parliament and the people, trusting them to accept the heavy burden they were about to bear.

I just wonder, if we truly engaged in World War IV, as some on the right continue to insist, where is the call to sacrifice? Where is the leveling with the American people over the true nature of the threat and the role we must play in national survival? Where is the legislation and executive power being exercised to do what needs to be done in the face of such an on-going national threat?

Of course, the answer to all these questions is that it is not and will not be forthcoming because (a) we are not engaged in World War IV; (b) the Republicans view sacrifice as something other people should do; (c) the military brass is opposed to a draft even as the military itself is past the breaking point due to the on-going debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. I believe that, perhaps not Bush, but certainly his advisors, are quite aware that the rhetorical nonsense under which we have suffered for the past six years is a bunch of lies hiding the kind of power-grab they have been longing for. This makes their use of right-wing bloggers and journalists even more disingenuous because, while many of the latter are almost too gung-ho for belief, those in positions of actual power and authority are cynical enough to see them as, in Vladimir Lenin's wonderful phrase describing western Social Democratic parties, "useful idiots".

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Our Broken Public Discourse, Part II

I suppose it might be necessary to give some reasons as to why, as someone who advertises oneself as a Christian, I spend so much time discussing our current political scene, with quite a bit of attention on our public discourse.

First, I think I should say that, as a Christian, I am dedicated to the idea that what Jesus taught has relevance for our social life. Part of that dedication is the idea of justice, as Jesus taught it. One of the fundamental requirements of justice is honesty, and in my opinion there is far too little of that particular virtue in our current public discourse. When the United States Senate wastes valuable time and money passing a resolution condemning a newspaper ad by an independent advocacy group - in essence, coming out against free speech - I do believe our entire political system is warped beyond any recognition. This is not to say that gesture politics is something new, or even unwelcome. The difference, in this particular instance, is that the entire episode was contrived outrage, used to draw attention away from the fact that Gen. Petraeus' appearance before Congress had no effect on public opinion whatsoever. It is much better for the Republicans in Congress to howl in rage and stamp their feet over a bit of name calling than it is to face the truth that the policies they have actively supported for five years are out of favor with the American people. Of course, by performing this bit of political theater, they have only further alienated the public (except for die-hard Republicans, the only group to hold Congress' current performance in anything like even middling regard).

It seems to me that part of the demand of a Christian ethic of justice would be to insist that our political class - by whom I mean not just our elected and appointed officials, but their enablers in the national media as well - deal honestly with the many problems we currently face. As long as we have nihilists in charge, however, this cannot be done. Calling them on their dishonesty, their lack of any conviction other than the maintenance of power, their disdain for the American military, for American security, for our domestic tranquility, for the Constitution are part and parcel not only of our patriotic duty, but our Christian duty as well. Justice demands we stand up and demand better. As long as our political class care far more for the maintenance of power rather than the very real lives being destroyed by the actions and inactions they continue to perform (or not perform, as the case may be), the only course open to those who desire a more just, open, and accountable society is to call out the liars, the obfuscators, the nonsense peddlers, and hypocrites for what they are.

In other words, this is something I feel compelled to do. There are no options left for me, and have not been for years. Only when our pundits become as accountable as the officeholders they continue to enable can our public discourse be fixed.

Our Broken Public Discourse, Part I

Glenn Greenwald's column today, highlighting the High Wankerdom of David Brooks, is as good an entry point as any for a discussion of the dishonest, corrupt nature of much of our elite discourse. In the piece, Greenwald highlights two tactics of Brooks, tactics that are not specific to him, but of which he is certainly the High Priest: (a) claim that the views that he has are in fact the views of "most Americans", or even, on occasion, "Americans" when in fact the views he espouses are the exact opposite of the majority of Americans; (b) insist his views are "centrist", beyond the babble and burble and ballyhoo (with apologies to King Crimson) of politics, when in fact they are quite right of center.

The second tactic in particular is a way of shutting down debate on an issue by insisting that such "centrist" views incorporate the best of both "right" and "left", when in fact they are highly dubious assertions from the right, and need to be debated vigorously. Yet, there are few things our pundit class - those gatekeepers of our national political dialogue - detest more than the hoi polloi holding strong political opinions, debating them, sometimes loudly, occasionally profanely, outside the control of our self-appointed referees. It seems odd that these men and women, who must love politics enough to spend their lives and earn their filthy lucre thinking and writing about politics would be surprised and even offended by the strong expression of opinion. Yet, precisely because the field upon which they play seems, to them, to be the main field, the other, lesser fields - coffee shops, the dinner table, and worst of all, blogs - are strange, foreign places of little consequence. I do believe this is why pundits in general, and Brooks in particular, are fact-free in their assertion of what it is "most Americans" (I especially love his heinous description of "Midwest high school graduates" - how condescending can one get?) think - as "most Americans" do not in fact live and work in and around oxygen-deprived Washington, DC, there is little reason to consider what it is they think and feel. The assertion that "most Americans" think and believe something by a member of the blabbing class is True because it comes from a place of deep, honest thought.

Brooks is no more interested in what Americans think than are the members of Congress who continue to act as if the American public had not voted last November to end this horrid war, to be a counter-weight to the President, and to start the difficult work of rebuilding our civil and constitutional infrastructure (as well as our physical infrastructure, we might as well add).

I do believe that, until the current crop of Republicans is replaced - and if this report by David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo is accurate, there may be some hope yet - we are in for much too much nonsense such as last week's condemnation of MoveOn, and today's debate on the Lieberman-Kyl Amendment. Only by showing the overwhelming unpopularity of the Republicans, Bush, and their war through a massive vote of no-confidence (i.e., tossing them out of office en masse) may we be able to move beyond our current situation.

Of course, this doesn't mean our pundits will be any more intellectually honest. It just means there might be a bit more evidence beyond mere poll numbers that can be used to show just how ridiculous and out of touch our punditry is.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Music Monday

I am doing this to show Democracy Lover that I am not a culture-philistine.

One of the first classical CDs I got was a recording of Vivaldi violin concerti transcribed for classical guitar and performed by John Williams (not the composer, but the classical guitarist). Here is the Allegro from Vivaldi's Concerto in E Minor:

As a member of the Musical Heritage Society, I get the chance to receive remastered recordings from analog material. One, called Sons of Bach, includes three concerti arranged by W. A. Mozart, two by C. P. E. Bach, and one by J. C. Bach. I tried to find one of these, but found, in stead, Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach's Cello Concerto in A Minor:

One of my favorite recent purchases, a two-disc feature on Baroque music from Britain, features various works by William Boyce (I prefer the disc with his eight symphonies myself). All I could find is this clip of organist Bob Smith performing the Larghetto and Allegro from Boyce's Voluntary #4 in G Minor:

As a side note, too many of the clips on YouTube featuring concerti are of young prodigies performing. I, for one, could not be less impressed. Just thought I would toss that out there.

Blown Out of Proportion A Bit

Let's see. Remember all the day care centers that were really satanic recruiting stations, where kids were molested, murdered, and recruited for the armies of Lucifer? Remember all those kidnapped children whose faces appeared on milk cartons? Or, how about the rumor panics about Satanists looking for sacrificial victims?

All of this turned out to be nonsense. Of course, it goes without saying that children are occasionally victims of sexual exploitation and violence at day care centers; children are occasionally kidnapped and murdered; young people go missing, only to turn up later, slightly decayed, in a ditch by the side of some road. None of these facts, however, are evidence in the kind of massive conspiracies alleged by supposed experts who have been entertaining us with their tales for years. In fact, the allegations of massive cover-ups of various so-called cultic activity tend to blind both the public and officials by creating investigatory dead-ends, wasting precious man-hours and resources as phantom cults and their leaders are chased down, prosecuted, only to be released because all the so-called evidence was so shoddy and very often prosecutorial misconduct was involved (see the McMartin Preschool case in California for details).

With that in mind - i.e., real crimes become blown way out of proportion, creating overreaction on the part of both the public in general, and elected officials in particular - I found this article from yesterday's Washington Post, highlighted by Faith in Public Life, "Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence" by Jerry Markon, very interesting:
Outrage was mounting at the 1999 hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building, where congressmen were learning about human trafficking.

A woman from Nepal testified that September that she had been drugged, abducted and forced to work at a brothel in Bombay. A Christian activist recounted tales of women overseas being beaten with electrical cords and raped. A State Department official said Congress must act -- 50,000 slaves were pouring into the United States every year, she said. Furious about the "tidal wave" of victims, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) vowed to crack down on so-called modern-day slavery.

The next year, Congress passed a law, triggering a little-noticed worldwide war on human trafficking that began at the end of the Clinton administration and is now a top Bush administration priority. As part of the fight, President Bush has blanketed the nation with 42 Justice Department task forces and spent more than $150 million -- all to find and help the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of forced prostitution or labor in the United States.

But the government couldn't find them. Not in this country.

The evidence and testimony presented to Congress pointed to a problem overseas. But in the seven years since the law was passed, human trafficking has not become a major domestic issue, according to the government's figures.

The administration has identified 1,362 victims of human trafficking brought into the United States since 2000, nowhere near the 50,000 a year the government had estimated. In addition, 148 federal cases have been brought nationwide, some by the Justice task forces, which are composed of prosecutors, agents from the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local law enforcement officials in areas thought to be hubs of trafficking.

In the Washington region, there have been about 15 federal cases this decade.

Ronald Weitzer, a criminologist at George Washington University and an expert on sex trafficking, said that trafficking is a hidden crime whose victims often fear coming forward. He said that might account for some of the disparity in the numbers, but only a small amount.

"The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases they've been able to make is so huge that it's got to raise major questions," Weitzer said. "It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion."

Government officials define trafficking as holding someone in a workplace through force, fraud or coercion. Trafficking generally takes two forms: sex or labor. The victims in most prosecutions in the Washington area have been people forced into prostitution. The Department of Health and Human Services "certifies" trafficking victims in the United States after verifying that they were subjected to forced sex or labor. Only non-U.S. citizens brought into this country by traffickers are eligible to be certified, entitling them to receive U.S. government benefits.

Administration officials acknowledge that they have found fewer victims than anticipated. Brent Orrell, an HHS deputy assistant secretary, said that certifications are increasing and that the agency is working hard to "help identify many more victims." He also said: "We still have a long way to go.''

The Bush Administration response to this "discrepancy"?
But Tony Fratto, deputy White House press secretary, said that the issue is "not about the numbers. It's really about the crime and how horrific it is."

I want to be clear that I am not saying human trafficking does not occur here in the United States or abroad. I am not claiming that the victims of these crimes are not subject to degradation, dehumanization, and various threats to health and body. I am saying that we have here another example of earnest outrage at a problem snowballing in to a huge, expensive, wildly out of control effort to deal with a problem that, for the most part doesn't exist, and can be handled without the aid of additional legislation, and with the tools law enforcement on various levels already has.

I also find it hilarious that, at least in this instance, it is supposedly small government Republicans who create a huge law-enforcement bureaucracy, spend millions and millions of tax-payer dollars, huff and puff around the country about moder-day slavery, and have . . . 1300 prosecutions to their credit, when the allegations of trafficking were 50,000 a year. 1300 is seven years, out of an alleged total of 350,00 cases. That is .0037 percent, in case you were wondering, of alleged actual cases as opposed to actual prosecuted cases.

I am highlighting this not to downplay the horrors of human trafficking, but to highlight ways in which we suddenly become gripped by concern over a problem that, for the most part, or completely, doesn't exist. We waste time, energy, resources, all because we become, what? - horrified at the story of a victim of human trafficking? The problem is real, just not an epidemic in the United States. The solution has already been largely in hand, but the additional tools offered by legislation become more of a burden than a help to the real pursuit and prosecution of these crimes. And, of course, those who point out these little salient facts suddenly become accused of being callous to the victims, which we most surely are not.

I shall put my thesis bluntly. The problem is real; the solution is not.

Blinded By Science

Yesterday, I went to the website for the journal Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I was looking for an article I thought I heard on NPR was going to be in the latest edition, on the so-called "Hobbit" skeleton found in Indonesia. I didn't find the article - perhaps my sieve-like mind misheard - but as I perused the website, I got to thinking about the whole creation-evolution "debate", and the actual distance between what it is scientists do, and the kind of numbskullery creationists continue to foist upon the public.

A good example, chosen at random (by me), is the following introduction to a special edition of the magazine in October, 2000, which can be found here:
Immune Cell Networks
Stephen Simpson, Stella M. Hurtley, and Jean Marx

To fight its ancient war on pathogens, the immune system has evolved a rich and diverse army of specialized cells (emphasis mine). They pull together through extraordinary means to prevent viruses, bacteria, and malignant cells from achieving their devastating ends. As a consequence, immunology has developed as a subject embracing the scrutiny not only of subcellular events but also of the intriguing and unexpected workings of a complex cellular system.

This special issue surveys recent developments in four areas of cellular immunology. In the first Review, Ravetch and Lanier (p. 84) discuss the abundant inhibitory receptors used by immune cells. By their sheer number, these receptors testify to the importance of diminishing the activity of lymphocytes once they have completed their task. Indeed, they provide a crucial safeguard against inappropriate immune responses and autoimmunity. In their Viewpoint, Fagarasan and Honjo (p. 89) focus on an unusual subclass of B cells, termed B1 cells, which reside in the peritoneal cavity and may provide a crucial link in the early phase of humoral immune responses. A striking feature of these cells is their ability to produce antibodies independently of T cell help. This property, along with distinct modes of migration and activation, could be key to the unusual niche that these lymphocytes occupy.

The dendritic cell (DC) is a strategic intermediary between pathogen and lymphocyte and as such continues to enjoy much attention from immunologists. In their Review, Lanzavecchia and Sallusto (p. 92) outline the remarkable dynamics of the relationship between the DC and the T cell and discuss the role that DCs play in guiding effector and memory T cell responses.

Pathogens are most frequently encountered at surfaces, such as the skin and the mucosal linings of the lung and gut. Because of the DCs they contain, these tissues also act as interfaces between the outside world of the pathogen and the cells of the systemic immune system. In a Viewpoint, Hayday and Viney (p. 97) develop this "information relay" paradigm. They suggest that many immune cells at mucosal surfaces play a dual role, offering local protection against pathogens while impeding overt reactivity to common harmless antigens.

A critical issue in all areas of cellular immunology is deciphering how the signals initiated by the cell-to-cell contacts that regulate immune responses are conveyed into a cell's interior. An excellent example of how this can be achieved is reported by Seddon et al. (p. 127), who examine the role of the signaling protein P56lck in the survival and expansion of T cells.

Finally, two News stories by Michael Hagmann focus on technical advances that are promoting our understanding of cellular and other aspects of immunology. The first (p. 80) describes how computer modeling is helping to identify the antigen fragments that stimulate strong immune response and might thus be suitable candidates for vaccine development. A second story (p. 82) focuses on the use of microarray technology to identify the gene changes involved in normal immune cell activities and in diseases, including blood cell cancers.

Although steady progress is being made in characterizing the key molecular players of the immune system, the extraordinary cellular network that these components make up remains mysterious, and there is much left to explore.

The following is an abstract of one of the featured articles in this special edition:
T-Independent Immune Response: New Aspects of B Cell Biology

Sidonia Fagarasan, Tasuku Honjo*

Recent results emphasize the roles of T-independent antibody response in humoral defenses, for which B1 cells and marginal zone B cells are mostly responsible. We discuss how these cells are activated, migrate, and differentiate into antibody-producing cells in various lymphoid tissues. Based on recent findings in each of these areas of B cell biology, we propose a possible mechanism for peripheral tolerance of autoreactive B cells at target organs.

Department of Medical Chemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Kyoto University, Yoshida, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan.

I am highlighting this because it seems to me that what scientists actually do, as opposed to what "creation scientists" or "intelligent design" advocates claim science does, is pretty mundane, highly specialized, and technically complicated. What the latter do is obfuscatory, unintelligible, and contradictory to the very nature of the scientific enterprise. I believe the technical, somewhat obscure, nature of technical scientific literature is part of the problem we have in this country; it is remote from the way the bulk of Americans tend to carry on their professional lives, and it seems unduly confusing. Just because it is so, however, does not excuse the on-going war on science by the anti-science crowd. Should we toss the bath water of evolution over the side, we will most definitely lose the baby of actual social benefit from real scientific research based upon the idea (highlighted by me in the above introductory passage) that evolution is a real process. "Creationists" and "intelligent design" advocates can offer us nothing in response, or as a counter to the very real benefits of doing real science.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Christian Persecution

I don't write on Christian persecution. It is a touchy subject, because Christians have been the fomentors of so much persecution, be it ethnic/racial, religious, or otherwise throughout history. I do believe that we have much to atone for on this front, so silence would be preferable to some kind of statement about the persecution of Christians. Sometimes I think karma works well - what goes around comes around, and all that.

Fellow blogger, conservative Wisconsinite (?; my computer recognized it, so it must be the proper term), and new father Neon Prime Time asks, as the last of a series of questions:
It's hot out, I think I'm hallucinating. I once thought that I could Live in a country ...

6.) where I could practice Christianity without being ridiculed

First of all, I do not believe that being a Christian in America leads to ridicule. For the most part, most Americans are respectful (sometimes overly so) of religious differences, preferring to live and let live to confronting such differences with some kind of demand or account. Even so, there is a certain amount of anti-Christian animus in our public sphere, and much of it, I feel I have to admit, is richly deserved. This hardly counts as "persecution", however, considering the realities around the world. In the past couple years there have been reports of churches burned in Pakistan and Indonesia (two officially Muslim nations, the latter the third most populous country on the planet, and the largest Muslim nation in the world), and several reported incidents of religiously-motivated murder, rape, and forced conversion. Of course, Israel also has a certain unofficial anti-Christian animus, which always makes me sigh when I think of how much fundamentalist Christians boost Israel in this country, only to be treated with impolite disdain by Israeli officials once they go there. If you don't believe me, just check out what these same folks have to say about what happens when they try to do "mission work" in Israel. . .

What might be a Christian response to the reality of persecution of our co-religionists in other countries? First, I do believe that we should remember them in our prayers. Second, I do believe that we should protest loudly, especially when officialdom turns a blind eye to such outrages. Third, I believe we should be thankful that there are still witnesses (the meaning of the word "martyr") to the faith out there. I do believe that Jesus let his followers know that they would be despised, persecuted, even killed, for their faith. I also believe that Paul reassured various communities who were undergoing persecution (in Rome in particular) that their present troubles were as nothing to the coming kingdom of God. The reality of persecution, and the hope inherent in the faith in the crucified and risen Jesus is the basis for, among other things, the continued fight of liberation theology against the twin terrors of official oppression and hierarchical demands for silence, especially embodied in the current Pontiff, whose history includes running Leonardo Boff out of the Church.

I really don't have much more to say about this. I believe that working through various official and NGO channels (especially Amnesty International, although I don't provide monetary support for the latter for their continued refusal, during the 1980's, to call for the release of Nelson Mandela) plus the ever-present opportunity of prayer is about all we can do.

It's Stuff Like This That Makes Me Cry

Via digby, complete with the original video, here are the lyrics to a "revised" "God Bless America" as presented by a Church of God choir at the so-called Values Voter forum last week, which none of the top-tier Republican candidates attended:
Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back
On everything that made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sin and heal our land

The courts ruled prayer out of our schools
In June of ‘62
Told the children “you are your own God now
So you can make the rules”
O say can you see what that choice
Has cost us to this day
America, one nation under God, has gone astray

Why should God bless America?
Shes’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

In ‘73 the Courts said we
Could take the unborn lives
The choice is yours don’t worry now
It’s not a wrong, it’s your right

But just because they made it law
Does not change God’s command
The most that we can hope for is
God’s mercy on our land

Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

(Reading from 2nd Chronicles 7:14) If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land

God have mercy on America forgive her sins and heal our land

On the one hand, I agree with the sentiment in the last line. On the other hand, the "song" is full of nonsense, the most awful of which is that it ignores our present sin of illegal war, extra-Constitutional governance, torture, a warped, broken political culture.

America is now, and has always been, an officially secular country, which by a paradox of history, allows it to be the most fertile ground for religious belief in the world. People are free to be religious in any way they wish, including rejecting it all together. God's blessing for this country is that we are free from the tyranny of the Eternally Blessed and Gifted with the Word of God leading us, silencing dissent, and persecuting the heretic and infidel. Give me an atheist who trusts the Constitution, and I would vote for him or her rather than someone who says that Jesus is his favorite political philosopher.

Why is it that those who are most visible as "Christians" in our public sphere tend to be politically offensive?

Ideology or Lack-of-Compassion Conservatism? The S-CHIP Issue

On comments over here at Marshall Art's place, Marshall says:
I have been reading a bit about the S-CHIPS program (if I have the acronym correct). Now I'm wondering if YOU understand what's going on. Your admonishments regarding Bush's plan to veto the Congress version is misleading.

I find it lucky (I was going to use the word "fortuitous", but Mark, another of Marshall's commenters, would probably call me an effete elitist snob again) that I came across this review of the President's Saturday radio address, which dwelt on the issue (with a tip of the hat to Talking Points Memo). While I have linked to it, I thought it important to quote it in full here, in case any summary of my own might be misconstrued:
In today’s press conference, President Bush repeated a number of incorrect or misleading statements the Administration has made in recent months regarding congressional efforts to strengthen children’s health coverage through the SCHIP program.

The most significant of these is, as the President said today: “I want . . . the Congress to be focused on making sure poor children get the health insurance they were promised. Instead, Congress has made a decision to expand [SCHIP] eligibility up to $80,000.”

The President’s statement has been directly contradicted by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), a key member of the bipartisan group that is currently negotiating the congressional agreement to strengthen SCHIP. Senator Grassley told the Des Moines Register that the President was incorrect to claim that the emerging agreement would include coverage up to that income level. (CongressDaily quotes Senator Grassley as stating that the President’s “understanding of our bill is wrong, and I would urge the president to reconsider his veto message based upon the bill we might pass, not something that some staffer has told him wrongly about our bill.”)

Moreover, the overwhelming majority of children who would gain health coverage under the emerging agreement are precisely the low-income children the President says he wants to focus on. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the SCHIP bill passed by the Senate last month — which the emerging agreement will closely resemble — found that at least 85 percent of the otherwise-uninsured children who would gain coverage under the bill have incomes below states’ current SCHIP eligibility limits. (For more information on the CBO analysis, see the Center report "CBO Estimates Show Large Gains in Children's Health Coverage Under Senate SCHIP Bill".

The emerging agreement will also be effectively targeted on uninsured children. CBO found that two-thirds of those who would gain SCHIP coverage under the Senate SCHIP bill would otherwise be uninsured. That makes the congressional approach considerably more efficient than the Administration’s 2006 proposal to provide tax breaks for the purchase of private health insurance. Less than one-quarter of the benefits of those tax breaks would go to people who would otherwise be uninsured, according to an analysis by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber.

The President’s statement that Congress should “focus on making sure poor children get the health insurance they were promised” is particularly ironic given that on August 31, the Administration announced that it would completely eliminate federal Medicaid matching funds for Medicaid outreach and enrollment activities undertaken by school personnel, even though this is widely recognized as one of the best ways to reach poor children who are eligible for publicly funded coverage but are unenrolled and uninsured. (See: "Congressional Action is Needed to Prevent the Administration From Eviscerating Efforts to Enroll Uninsured Low-Income Children in Health Coverage Through the Schools".

The President also claimed today that the emerging congressional SCHIP agreement is “an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American.” This, too, is incorrect. Most SCHIP beneficiaries receive coverage through private managed care plans that contract with their state, not through government doctors. The American Medical Association and the trade associations for the private insurance companies and the drug companies — hardly supporters of “government-run” health care — support expanding SCHIP to cover more uninsured low-income children. (See: "The Administration’s Dubious Claims about the Emerging Children’s Health Insurance Legislation: Myth and Reality".

The argument seems to be that the President (a) insists his position isn't one of practical politics as much as it is ideology; (b) by putting it this way he offers up erroneous (note I didn't say bogus) information to defend a position that is, based on his own repeated statements, indefensible; (c) in this particular instance of actual, productive bi-partisanship (unlike the horrid anti-immigration legislation that died a quick death), the President is playing as destructive a role as can be imagined.

So, while I might not have been aware of the details of the SCHIP debate on this level (it's always nice to stumble across a piece of confirmatory information just as one' judgment is called in to question), I do believe that this kind of refutes the President's insistence that he only wants to focus on poor kids.

Virtual Tin Cup

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