Saturday, January 31, 2009

The new RNC chair

Michael Steele, one of the few African-American Republicans elected to public office, was today elected as the RNC Chairman.  He's from Maryland - a Blue state - and was apparently seen as a moderate.  But here's what he had to say to CNN earlier this month:
“I'm proud to say I'm a conservative, have been, always will be... So this notion that I’m a moderate is slightly overblown, and quite frankly a lie.”

So… being a moderate, like most of America (national exit polls for the 2008 POTUS election suggest 44% are moderate, 34% conservative and 22% liberal), is a slur to a Republican? No wonder the GOP is a regional party. Looks like Steele will continue that Grand Old Procession to Southern-party status.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The economic stimulus package

The ESP presented today apparently had some interesting inclusions:
1. The infamous $200 million for family planning, which has been taken out.
2. $650 million for digital TV converter-box coupons!!
3. $400 million for NASA climate change research.
[Washington Times link - yes, I know, WT, but still...]

#2 - are you freakin' kidding me?  On second thoughts, folks probably don't want to spend money on these boxes right now, with the economy in the toilet.  So what do they do - not watch TV?  The House today defeated a motion (actually, it didn't get the 2/3-rds majority required) delaying the transition to digital TV - Republicans opposed the delay.  Either Democrats strip the $650 million earmark and Republicans help pass the delay-bill; or the opposite happens.  Republicans can't oppose both; Democrats can't have both.
#3 - this could be a conflict of interest, but I suppose it could put some scientists back to work, and keep others (maybe including me?!) employed.  Still, I can understand Republicans not voting for the bill, alleging that Democrats are simply trying to advance a partisan agenda (though it is rather unfortunate that Republicans and idiots like Michael Crichton have politicized climate change research.)  Some of these inclusions need to be stripped from the bill.

Overall, though, the ESP has good spending - infrastructure, energy, digitizing hospital health records; hopefully this money will be spent soon.  As just reported on CNN/AC360, the non-partisan CBO says 64% of the spending will be over the next eighteen months.  Timothy Noah writes in that FDR's plan in the 1930s put 4 million people back to work in just two months - that's what Obama's plan has to live up to.

Update: On #1, Katha Pollitt writes in The Nation that birth control is health care, and if other health care provisions remain in the ESP, so should money allotted to Medicaid-provided contraception.  I might agree with that.
But she also goes on to quote a report in the NYT that according to the CBO, spending $550 million over ten years would save $200 million over five years.  She also states that birth control is an economic activity, and so should be helped (looking at what is being helped - wooden arrows from Oregon!? - this might even be a valid point!)  Two things.  Spend $550 million over ten years to save $200 million over five?  The Government saves more by not spending the $550 million in the first place!  Second, do birth rates go down (the point of contraception) in a Depression because the Government provides addition contraceptive aids?  As Pollitt herself writes, the answer is - because "People. Have. No. Money."  Then why should the Government provide extra funds for what will happen naturally?  Finally, wouldn't people having kids actually lead to greater economic activity than birth control?  So the government should really be subsidizing maternal and child care!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bill Kristol's last op-ed in the NYT (?)

Apparently, this is Bill Kristol's last column in the NYT.  Maybe since the President is not a Republican, the Gray Lady doesn't need a token Conservative any more?
Kristol expounds on his usual "Conservatism is better and more successful than Liberalism" trope.  Apparently, we are now at the end of an era of Conservatism, sayeth Kristol, but whether Liberalism will succeed depends on how President Obama performs.  Like Reagan to the "new" Conservatism in the '80s...

Two things.  I prefer the Libertarian, old Barry Goldwater-style Conservatism that said "you don't have to be straight to be in the Army, you just have to shoot straight!"  The one that said keep your Church out of my State.  The one that said keep the Government out of the private lives of the citizenry.  Not the "Government will decide whether Terry Schiavo lives or dies, whether two consenting adults can have sex, whether two loving adults can be married, whether a woman/girl can have an abortion, whether evolution is a fact"-type Christian Conservatism of Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Bush and (apparently) Kristol.

Second, Kristol says "Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world."  Well, the last eight years have seen that stubbornly sticking to tax cuts even in the face of two expensive wars doesn't do anybody any good.  The recent Wall Street crash - aided by Phil "nation of whiners" Gramm and DLC-er President Clinton, among others - has shown that The Market, unfettered, leads to excess and disaster.  And does Kristol really believe l'affaire Terry Schiavo, teaching "intelligent" design in science class, and denying aid to agencies in overpopulated, poor countries which don't have a puritanical streak just because they disseminate information about abortion or provide such services, is Good Government?  And I haven't even touched upon the Iraq War, pushed through by Chicken-Hawk Conservatives Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

Goodbye, Kristol.  You will not be missed.  [Actually, sometimes that can also be said for the rest of the Iraq War-cheerleading, Vicki Iseman-touting NYT.  Oh well.]

Hillary Clinton's replacement in the US Senate

Governor David Paterson (D-NY) this week appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand ("D"-NY) as the replacement for ex-Senator Clinton.  Gillibrand is a Blue Dog Dem - she opposed the bank bailout last year and was actually endorsed by the NRA over her Republican opponent.  But she's also apparently pro-choice, and supports stem-cell research.  On LGBT issues, she was initially only in favor of civil unions and voted against allowing same-sex partners of US citizens/permanent residents the same immigration status as married heterosexual couples, but now apparently supports same-sex marriage. [Wiki]
Fortunately or unfortunately, this left Caroline Kennedy out in the cold.  Though she withdrew earlier in the week citing personal reasons, I think it is likely she figured out the writing on the wall and decided to exit as gracefully as she could.  If Paterson wanted Kennedy, he could have announced her appointment weeks ago.
A point Maureen Dowd makes in her NYT column struck me - Gillibrand's appointment means President Obama's economic stimulus package faces a tougher road in the Senate.  In the House, the package can pass without significant Republican support if required.  However, the Democrats do not have a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate, and in any case, with Democratic Senators like Gillibrand and wackjob "independent Democrat" Lieberman, the Democrats may not vote 100% for the economic stimulus plan.

I wonder if Governor Paterson, in appointing a woman from upstate NY to help himself get elected, has cost President Obama his [Obama's] first big achievement.  Probably not (1), but Paterson hasn't helped Obama, that's for sure.

(1) Some might point to President Obama's executive order closing Gitmo within a year, but (a) Gitmo is still open; and (b) as MSNBC's FirstRead and the NYT (via FR) (among others) point out, will certain "special interrogation techniques" be retained and even written into the Army field manual, even as the President pledges not to torture?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Billy Joel

I do like Billy Joel.

Maybe you will laugh at my naivete; how can anyone like Joel's "contemptible crap"?  That is the view of Ron Rosenbaum, who calls Billy Joel the "worst pop singer ever."  Apparently, people "can't stand [Billy Joel] because of your music; because of your stupid, smug attitude; because of the way you ripped off your betters to produce music that rarely reaches the level even of mediocrity."

Boo, Rosenbaum!  You may not like Billy Joel, preferring Bob Dylan or someone else apparently so-superior to Billy Joel.  Good for you.  But I don't put you down for your musical tastes, do I?  Just because you are from Long Island, a la Billy Joel, doesn't give you the right to criticize Billy like a schoolyard Bully.  If you think Long Island gets a bad rap because of Billy Joel, well, maybe it should produce a Dylan.  Maybe you'd care to try?
[Must admire Rosenbaum's chutzpah - in the article, he accuses Jeff Jarvis of attempting a "snotty put-down" of another writer.]

I like Billy Joel.  I grew up with his music, which might explain why I like it (and why I have very little of Dylan).  Rosenbaum seems to have grown up with Dylan and early Springsteen; little wonder he can't name any other songsters for a comparison to Billy Joel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief! [President Barack Hussein Obama!]

Just watched the Inauguration.  I am really glad President Obama used his full name, even though the usher announced him as Barack H. Obama.
Chief Justice Roberts sped through the first few words of the Oath, which caused Obama to stumble for a bit.  A little levity lightens the occasion!
Obama's speech was sombre, listing the challenges we face, but he also made it clear that America was ready to lead - foreign leaders and entities opposed to freedom and democracy beware!  It wasn't a great speech - not quite his race speech or the DNC-2004 keynote or his speech after the NH primary - but the occasion was momentous in itself, and Obama didn't need to add to it.

The Inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander left me a little underwhelmed... The closing prayer by founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Joseph Lowry, was quite good toward the end - "We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right."  I wish I could find C-Span's HD transmission - watched the Inauguration on CBS-HD, but the voice-over commentary by Katie Couric et al. was annoying (less so than CNN, I must note.)

A historic day, a new beginning.