Friday, September 12, 2008

Is McCain losing it?

I hate to be spending so much time on this crap, but the way the McCain campaign--including McCain himself--is entangling itself in an ever-proliferating web of distortions, deceptions, and blatant lies is becoming genuinely bizarre. These aren't restricted to complex and ambiguous misrepresentations about large issues open to multiple interpretations. Increasingly, they're direct, unmistakable, stupid, and easily disprovable lies.

And what's even more striking is that as these falsehoods and fables get publicly discredited, the McCain campaign refuses to take the hint and modulate their claims to bring them a bit closer to reality. On the contrary, they dig in, continue to repeat these thoroughly debunked false claims almost word-for-word ... and even go on to elaborate and embellish them. For example (from the AP article below):
Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday running mate Sarah Palin has never asked for money for lawmakers' pet projects as Alaska governor when in fact she has sought nearly $200 million in earmarks this year. [....]

When pressed about Palin's record of requesting and accepting such money for Alaska, McCain ignored the record and said: "Not as governor she didn't." [....]
And it's increasingly clear that these kinds of statements are not momentary blunders or careless formulations, but deliberately crafted talking-points.

=> What on earth is going on here?

Whatever one thinks about McCain and his policies, his reputation for integrity (for which I believe there is a real basis over the years) has always been important to him, both personally and politically. Why would he be willing to simply throw it away like this?

Of course, part of the answer is that this strategy may actually work, in the sense of winning the general election. If it does--and if the McCain campaign pays no cost for its contribution to the further debasement of public discourse--that will be bad for all of us.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. McCain uttered the specific falsehood quoted above in a TV interview on The View that included the following:
In arguably his toughest interview yet, co-host Joy Behar asked McCain, "There are ads running from your campaign... Now we know that those two ads are untrue, they are lies. And yet, you at the end of it say you approve these messages. Do you really approve these?"

Barbara Walters then threw in her condemnation, telling McCain: "You, yourself, said the same thing about putting lipstick on a pig..."

Watch McCain try and explain the lies: [HERE]
The other clips included there are also of interest.

P.P.S. Watching Palin's TV interview with Charles Gibson, I noticed something interesting about Palin's response when he pressed her about the falsity of her claim that she "told Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that 'Bridge to Nowhere'" and offered her a chance to come clean. ("So do you want to revise and extend your remarks...?") Palin wasn't honest in her response, but she was also careful not to go on record there with a flat and explicit lie. Instead, she tried to prevaricate and change the subject--as you can see HERE. She completed her twisting and turning with a long statement asserting that there is nothing wrong with a mayor or a governor trying to "plug into the federal budget" for infrastructure funds--which sounds bland enough in principle, but ignores the fact that in this particular case she has been pretending otherwise.

I'm increasingly inclined to suspect that this particular line about allegedly telling "Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that 'Bridge to Nowhere'" was not Palin's own formulation, but was fed to her by the McCain campaign. (The fact that the "Bridge to Nowhere" phrase is widely resented in Alaska, and that Palin herself had described it in the past as insulting and unfair, adds some plausibility to this hypothesis.) Of course, Palin herself is responsible for repeatedly making this claim over the past few weeks, even though she knew it was false. But I find it curious that McCain has been even more careless than Pailin herself about embellishing this fable with additional, easily refuted, falsehoods.

CORRECTION: I was too generous to Palin. The relevant video clip I first saw, which I thought covered the whole discussion of the "Bridge to Nowhere" fable between Palin and Gibson, actually captured only a part of that discussion. In a more complete video clip of that exchange (HERE), I see that Palin did, indeed, flat-out lie: "We killed that earmark. We killed that project."

Let me make it clear, in case anyone thinks there is any ambiguity or uncertainty here: That statement was not just misleading or deceptive. It was a repetition of a straightforward lie, and the fact that this is a lie has already been established beyond question. But rather than hedge about it, as she seemed to be doing later on, Palin started out by (once again) lying through her teeth, without apparent embarrassment, about a matter of clear public record. Can they get away with this stuff?

Associated Press
September 12, 2008 11:50 EST
McCain talks up Palin as a reformer on 'The View'
McCain says Palin is good for the country because of her 'reformer credentials' on 'The View'

Staff, AP News

Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday running mate Sarah Palin has never asked for money for lawmakers' pet projects as Alaska governor when in fact she has sought nearly $200 million in earmarks this year.

McCain made the comments as he appeared on the ABC television show "The View" as part of his effort to woo women to his candidacy.

The Arizona senator said the GOP vice presidential nominee would be good for the country because she would reform government, and specifically cited curbing federal spending for earmarks.

When pressed about Palin's record of requesting and accepting such money for Alaska, McCain ignored the record and said: "Not as governor she didn't."

As questions swirl about whether Palin is qualified to serve, McCain defended her and said he's very happy with his selection of her.

"Se's ignited a spark in America," McCain said, even as he acknowledged that they sometimes have different views.

McCain also used the appearance to defend his TV commercials criticizing his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama. McCain stretches the truth in several of them [JW: about this and this, for example] that have been debunked by fact checkers.

"They're not lies," McCain said.

Source: AP News

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lipstick on a pig

If you haven't already heard about this idiotic and depressing campaign pseudo-scandal, you're lucky. I feel almost absurd mentioning it ... but this transparently cynical ploy by the McCain campaign does have a lot of people in a lather (including some who ought to be smart enough to feel embarrassed).

As Andrew Sullivan correctly nails it:
So it's come to this. The full context of Barack Obama's quote is as follows:

“John McCain says he’s about change, too — except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics. That’s just calling the same thing something different.”

With a laugh, he added: “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change; it’s still going to stink after eight years.”

We are being asked to believe that he called Sarah Palin a pig. If the people making that accusation have half a brain they know it's not true. This is not a question of interpretation. It is a fact. So we now find out again that John McCain is prepared to tell an absolute lie - in public, verifiable, uncontestable.

He does not have the minimal public integrity to be president of the United States.

Game this all you want; distort it all you want; bamboozle the morons at cable news all you want; win however many news cycles you want.

This claim is absurd on its face, like the Palin nomination to begin with. Absurd. And you can now tell who on the right has even a scintilla of intellectual honesty. That's all this episode is about: another tail-spin in the death throes of the Republican party. [....]
Actually, that last point may be overly optimistic. This kind of stuff is certainly despicable and insulting to our intelligence--but it may work, at least in terms of winning the election.

Getting back to reality a moment, HERE here is John McCain in November 2007 describing Hillary Clinton's health-care plan:
It's [...] eerily reminiscent of what they tried back in 1993. I think they've put some lipstick on the pig, but it's still a pig.
Was McCain calling Hillary Clinton a pig? Give me a break!

Who's the real pig in all this? See HERE.

Yours for minimal political sanity,
Jeff Weintraub

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The lost honor of John McCain (Andrew Sullivan)

Well, now it's clear. McCain and his campaign decided that the only way they could win the general election was to run a dishonest, dirty, and cynically unscrupulous campaign. So that's what we're going to get.

On the one hand, shamelessly repeated lies by and about Sarah Palin. (It's bad enough that McCain was irresponsible enough to pick her as a running-mate in the first place.) On the other hand, pervasive lying about Barack Obama--not just systematic misrepresentations of Obama's position on important policy questions (ho-hum, right?), but sleazy character assassination and noisy fake outrage.

Right now, for example, much of the Republican world is in a paroxysm of artificial indignation about the transparently ludicrous charge that Obama called Sarah Palin a pig. And the McCain campaign just released a truly disgusting ad falsely claiming that Obama, as a State Senator in Illinois, sponsored a bill mandating "comprehensive sex education" for kindergartners. This is not even a subtle or sophisticated smear. It's just straight gutter politics.

Back during the Democratic primaries, a number of people wondered how well Obama would be able to hold up once the Republican attack machine opened up on him. But when John McCain unexpectedly won the Republican nomination, promising to run a substantive and "respectful" general election campaign, it looked possible that the Republicans might actually stay out of the gutter this time around. Apparently not. Well, it might work.

Some people I know will accuse me of being naive for saying this, but I feel genuinely disappointed with John McCain for taking this road. And though I would be happy to be proved wrong, I suspect we should face the reality that this is going to be an unadulterated Karl Rove campaign. (I guess McCain figures that if it worked so effectively against him in 2000, it can get him elected this time.) Get ready for a steady two months of sleaze, smear, dishonesty, and noisy distraction.

The one thing that might possibly help to prevent (or at least moderate) this strategy might be for it to be met with strong and pervasive condemnation--and not just from Democrats. I'm not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan, who is also disappointed by McCain, captures the moment well (below).

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub
Andrew Sullivan (The Dish)
September 10, 2008
McCain's Integrity

For me, this surreal moment - like the entire surrealism of the past ten days - is not really about Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or pigs or fish or lipstick. It's about John McCain. The one thing I always thought I knew about him is that he is a decent and honest person. When he knows, as every sane person must, that Obama did not in any conceivable sense mean that Sarah Palin is a pig, what did he do? Did he come out and say so and end this charade? Or did he acquiesce in and thereby enable the mindless Rovianism that is now the core feature of his campaign?

So far, he has let us all down. My guess is he will continue to do so. And that decision, for my part, ends whatever respect I once had for him. On core moral issues, where this man knew what the right thing was, and had to pick between good and evil, he chose evil. When he knew that George W. Bush's war in Iraq was a fiasco and catastrophe, and before Donald Rumsfeld quit, McCain endorsed George W. Bush against his fellow Vietnam vet, John Kerry in 2004. By that decision, McCain lost any credibility that he can ever put country first. He put party first and his own career first ahead of what he knew was best for the country.

And when the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly to condemn and end the torture regime of Bush and Cheney in 2006, McCain again had a clear choice between good and evil, and chose evil.

He capitulated and enshrined torture as the policy of the United States, by allowing the CIA to use techniques as bad as and worse than the torture inflicted on him in Vietnam. He gave the war criminals in the White House retroactive immunity against the prosecution they so richly deserve. The enormity of this moral betrayal, this betrayal of his country's honor, has yet to sink in. But for my part, it now makes much more sense. He is not the man I thought he was.

And when he had the chance to engage in a real and substantive debate against the most talented politician of the next generation in a fall campaign where vital issues are at stake, what did McCain do? He began his general campaign with a series of grotesque, trivial and absurd MTV-style attacks on Obama's virtues and implied disgusting things about his opponent's patriotism.

And then, because he could see he was going to lose, ten days ago, he threw caution to the wind and with no vetting whatsoever, picked a woman who, by her decision to endure her own eight-month pregnancy of a Down Syndrome child in public, that he was going to reignite the culture war as a last stand against Obama. That's all that is happening right now: a massive bump in the enthusiasm of the Christianist base. This is pure Rove.

Yes, McCain made a decision that revealed many appalling things about him. In the end, his final concern is not national security. No one who cares about national security would pick as vice-president someone who knows nothing about it as his replacement. No one who cares about this country's safety would gamble the security of the world on a total unknown because she polled well with the Christianist base. No person who truly believed that the surge was integral to this country's national security would pick as his veep candidate a woman who, so far as we can tell anything, opposed it at the time.

McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States. And that is why it is more important than ever to ensure that Barack Obama is the next president. The alternative is now unthinkable. And McCain - no one else - has proved it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Even Fox News realizes that Palin & McCain are lying about the "Bridge to Nowhere"

At least, Fox newscaster Chris Wallace. is unwilling to be played for a sucker on this one.
WALLACE: During her 1.5, 2 years as Governor, Alaska continued to get more federal money for pork-barrel projects per capita than any state in the country and … she supported the Bridge to Nowhere. And it was only after the federal government dropped it out, killed it, the Congress killed it that she then opposed it. And in fact she still got the money for the approach, the ramp to the Bridge to Nowhere.
That quotation comes from a video clip of Wallace trying to pierce through the fog of propaganda from McCain campaign spokesman. Watch it HERE.

For some further details, see HERE & HERE.

=> This affair is less about earmarks than about lying--and whether a US Presidential campaign can get away scot-free with repeated, blatant, and unambiguous lying like this.

Congressional earmarks--that is, targeted funding for specific projects slipped into larger appropriation bills by House and Senate members--may or may not be the gravest issue facing the republic. But McCain has made his (genuine and principled) opposition to earmarks a centerpiece of his reformist agenda. And the McCain campaign, in its effort to market Palin as a kindred spirit and supposed "fiscal conservative," claims that Palin also has a record of opposing Congressional earmarks. It has vividly and repeatedly presented Governor Palin's rejection of one particularly notorious earmark, the "Bridge to Nowhere" between Ketchikan and Gravina Island, as Exhibit A.

Palin herself made this claim in the speech she gave in Dayton, Ohio (on August 29) when McCain announced that he had picked her to be his running-mate.
I've championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that "Bridge to Nowhere."
Since then she's repeated this claim, almost word-for-word, in her Republican Convention speech and in just about every campaign appearance.

In fact, the whole story is a fraud. As I've already noted, as Mayor of Wasilla Palin was nothing short of an earmark queen, and according to the Wall Street Journal ("Record Contradicts Palin's 'Bridge' Claims"), there is no sign that this has changed since she became Governor.
At a rally today, Sen. McCain again asserted that Sen. Obama has requested nearly a billion in earmarks. In fact, the Illinois senator requested $311 million last year, according to the Associated Press, and none this year. In comparison, Gov. Palin has requested $750 million in her two years as governor -- which the AP says is the largest per-capita request in the nation.
I suppose it's hypothetically possible that at some point, as either Mayor of Wasilla or Governor of Alaska, Palin rejected a federal earmark. But since the McCain campaign has failed to come up with a single concrete example, it seems safe to assume that this never happened.

At all events, the "Bridge to Nowhere" is a completely made-up example. This earmark had already been eliminated by Congress before Palin became Governor. In her campaign for Governor, Palin not only defended this project but attacked the very phrase "Bridge to Nowhere" as insulting and elitist. By then, however, this particular earmark had become a national joke, and the Congressional Republicans were embarrassed enough to kill it--though, in a compromise, the state of Alaska still got the money.

At that point, it's true, Alaska could still have used the money to build that bridge. But once the targeted mandate had been eliminated (by Congress, not by Palin), Palin kept the money and simply spent it on something else. She certainly didn't say "no thanks" to Congress and send back the money.

=> So this is an open-and-shut falsehood. Since the phrase "Bridge to Nowhere" has been unpopular in Alaska, my guess is that this "thanks, but no thanks, on that "Bridge to Nowhere" line was dictated to Palin by the McCain campaign, rather than something she formulated herself. (I could be wrong about that.) McCain himself has not only repeated this lie but added various embellishments ... for example:

“The fact is that Gov. Palin learned that earmarks are bad and she did say, we don’t need our bridge to nowhere, and we will pay for it ourselves if we need it. I mean, that is just a fact.” [WWBT, 9/8/08]

[JW: Actually, it's a fiction.]

“And as governor of Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin said ‘We don’t need a bridge to nowhere and if we do, we’ll build it ourselves.’ That’s the kind of person — leader — we have.” [Press conference in Cedarsburg, WI, 9/5/08]

“Look, we couldn’t get the ‘bridge to nowhere’ out, although we tried. … Yeah, the pork barrel project, $233 million bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it. She, as governor, stood up and said, we don’t need it, and if we need it, we’ll pay for it ourselves.” [Fox News, 8/31/08]

“You know, I tried to stop the $233 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska. She got it done! She stopped it! (Cheers, applause.) You know what she said? She said, we don’t need that money from Washington. If we’re going to need a bridge, we’ll build it ourselves. That’s Governor Sarah Palin!” [Rally in O’Fallon, MO, 8/31/08]

(What Palin actually said was more along the lines of: If we have to build it ourselves, then we'll just keep the money from Washington and deep-six the bridge.)

=> When a major national campaign continues to repeat a blatant falsehood like this, one is tempted to suspect that there must be some sort of complication, factual uncertainly, or interpretive ambiguity involved. There isn't.

I don't want to seem naive, but this is getting ridiculous. This bogus claim is not something arcane, complex, subtle, or ambiguous. It's a straightforward, easily refutable falsehood--the sort that even American political journalists should be able to understand and debunk. The fact that the McCain campaign continues to repeat this transparent falsehood, and even continues to use it as the centerpiece of its (equally bogus) claim that Palin was an anti-earmark reformer, is a little breathtaking.

If they can get away with it, and no one calls them to account ... then even Republicans should recognize that as bad news for the quality of our public discourse (which is not in great shape to start with).

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Wall Street Journal
September 9, 2008
Record Contradicts Palin's 'Bridge' Claims
By Elizabeth Holmes and Laura Meckler

The Bridge to Nowhere argument isn't going much of anywhere.

Despite significant evidence to the contrary, the McCain campaign continues to assert that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the federal government "thanks but no thanks" to the now-famous bridge to an island in her home state.

The McCain campaign released a television advertisement[1] Monday morning titled "Original Mavericks." The narrator of the 30-second spot boasts about the pair: "He fights pork-barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere."

Gov. Palin, who John McCain named as his running mate less than two weeks ago, quickly adopted a stump line bragging about her opposition to the pork-barrel project Sen. McCain routinely decries.
[2] See a video gallery of television ads run by the candidates and outside groups.
But Gov. Palin's claim comes with a serious caveat. She endorsed the multimillion dollar project during her gubernatorial race in 2006. And while she did take part in stopping the project after it became a national scandal, she did not return the federal money. She just allocated it elsewhere.

"We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge," Gov. Palin said in August 2006, according to the local newspaper, "and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative." The bridge would have linked Ketchikan to the airport on Gravina Island. Travelers from Ketchikan (pop. 7,500) now rely on ferries.

A year ago, the governor issued a press release[3] that the money for the project was being "redirected."

"Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," she said. "Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened."

On Monday in Missouri, Gov. Palin put it this way: "I told Congress thanks but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere. If the state wanted to build a bridge we would built it ourselves."

Senior adviser Mark Salter pointed to her role in killing the project while in office and allocating the money elsewhere. When pressed further that it was actually Congress that stopped the earmark, Mr. Salter said: "She stopped it, too. She did her part." Mr. Salter added that he welcomed a fight over earmarks with the Obama campaign.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama used a town-hall style event in Flint, Mich., to attack Gov. Palin over the "Bridge to Nowhere" debate. He accused the vice presidential nominee of lobbying for the bridge and then hiding her initial position when she ran for governor and the project became unpopular.

"You can't just make stuff up. You can't just recreate yourself. The American people aren't stupid," he said. It's like "being for it before you were against it," Sen. Obama said, a reference to a damaging statement John Kerry made in 2004.

Why is this one issue such a big deal? Sen. McCain's anti-earmarks stance has been paramount to his campaign. The Arizona senator has blamed everything from the Minneapolis bridge collapse to Hurricane Katrina on Congress's willingness to stuff bills full of pork barrel spending.

As such, Gov. Palin's image as a "reformer" is part of the storyline the McCain campaign needs to complement the top of its ticket. Her quip about passing on the bridge and "building it ourselves" has been a staple of her stump.

But she's drawn considerable fire as result. Sen. Obama's campaign released an advertisement[4] pointing out her original support of the bridge. And on Monday, an Obama staffer emailed a photo of Gov. Palin holding up a T-shirt that was made shortly after the bridge caught national attention. It reads "NOWHERE ALASKA" and "99901," the zip code of Ketchikan.

The McCain campaign jumped back with spokesman Brian Rogers calling the attacks "hysterical."

"The only people 'lying' about spending are the Obama campaign. The only explanation for their hysterical attacks is that they're afraid that when John McCain and Sarah Palin are in the White House, Barack Obama's nearly $1 billion in earmark spending will stop dead in its tracks," Mr. Rogers said.

At a rally today, Sen. McCain again asserted that Sen. Obama has requested nearly a billion in earmarks. In fact, the Illinois senator requested $311 million last year, according to the Associated Press, and none this year. In comparison, Gov. Palin has requested $750 million in her two years as governor -- which the AP says is the largest per-capita request in the nation.

Amy Chozick contributed to this story.
Write to Elizabeth Holmes at and Laura Meckler at

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Pakistani lawmaker defends honor killings (AP)

Another world-wide war on women update.
A Pakistani lawmaker defended a decision by southwestern tribesmen to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands, telling stunned members of Parliament this week to spare him their outrage.

"These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them," Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Baluchistan province, said Saturday. "Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid."
=> According to Human Rights Watch:
Millions of women throughout the world live in conditions of abject deprivation of, and attacks against, their fundamental human rights for no other reason than that they are women. [....]

Abuses against women are relentless, systematic, and widely tolerated, if not explicitly condoned. Violence and discrimination against women are global social epidemics, notwithstanding the very real progress of the international women's human rights movement in identifying, raising awareness about, and challenging impunity for women's human rights violations. [....]

We reject specific legal, cultural, or religious practices by which women are systematically discriminated against, excluded from political participation and public life, segregated in their daily lives, raped in armed conflict, beaten in their homes, denied equal divorce or inheritance rights, killed for having sex, forced to marry, assaulted for not conforming to gender norms, and sold into forced labor. Arguments that sustain and excuse these human rights abuses - those of cultural norms, "appropriate" rights for women, or western imperialism - barely disguise their true meaning: that women's lives matter less than men's. Cultural relativism, which argues that there are no universal human rights and that rights are culture-specific and culturally determined, is still a formidable and corrosive challenge to women's rights to equality and dignity in all facets of their lives. [....]
All that sounds right to me.

Of course, this is a problem that takes many forms, and recognizing it doesn't automatically tell us the best ways to solve it. Figuring out the best strategies for doing that can involve genuine complexities and ambiguities and pose difficult dilemmas. And it's legitimate to argue that for such strategies to be serious and effective, they may often have to take practical account of the diversity of relevant social and cultural contexts.

But that's not the same as using diversity (or the rhetoric of diversity) to make excuses for oppression and injustice or to generate pseudo-sophisticated moral and intellectual distractions from the real issues. We don't have to go to Baluchistan to find people who do that.

On the other hand, here is the website of the International Campaign Against Honour Killings.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Associated Press
August 31, 2008 - 2:18 AM EST
Pakistani lawmaker defends honor killings

A Pakistani lawmaker defended a decision by southwestern tribesmen to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands, telling stunned members of Parliament this week to spare him their outrage.

"These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them," Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Baluchistan province, said Saturday. "Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid."

The women, three of whom were teenagers, were first shot and then thrown into a ditch.

They were still breathing as their bodies were covered with rocks and mud, according media reports and human rights activists, who said their only "crime" was that they wished to marry men of their own choosing.

Zehri told a packed and flabbergasted Parliament on Friday that Baluch tribal traditions helped stop obscenity and then asked fellow lawmakers not to make a big fuss about it.

Many stood up in protest, saying the executions were "barbaric" and demanding that discussions continue Monday. But a handful said it was an internal matter of the deeply conservative province.

"I was shocked," said lawmaker Nilofar Bakhtiar, who pushed for legislation calling for perpetrators of so-called honor killings to be punished when she served as minister of women's affairs under the last government.

"I feel that we've gone back to the starting point again," she said. "It's really sad for me."

Accounts vary

The incident allegedly occurred one month ago in Baba Kot, a remote village in Jafferabad district, after the women decided to defy tribal elders and arrange marriages in a civil court, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission.

They were said to have been abducted at gunpoint by six men, forced into a vehicle and taken to a remote field, where they were beaten, shot and then buried alive, it said, accusing local authorities of trying to hush up the killings.

One of perpetrators was allegedly related to a top provincial official, it said.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More Palin piffle from the Republicans

Let's start by emphasizing that right-wing Republicans have no monopoly on shameless hypocrisy, breathtaking double standards, cynical dishonesty, unintentionally comic self-parody, and ludicrously absurd talking points delivered with a straight face.

However, one can't avoid being struck by the extent to which the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain's running-mate for Vice President has sent the Republicans and their public-relations talking heads into overdrive in this respect.

John Stewart of the Daily Show put together a great collection of examples HERE. This is something Stewart is often exceptionally good at. I recommend listening to the whole thing (which isn't that long), but here's just one example.

As we know, Palin has been Governor of Alaska for a bit less than 2 years. Before that, from 1996-2002 she was Mayor of Wasilla, a town whose population at the time seems to have been somewhere around 7,000 (most estimates that I've seen range from less than 6,000 when she took office to somewhere between 7,000 & 8,000 today). Karl Rove, in praising her selection, mentioned among her other qualifications that she was "the Mayor of [...] I think, the second-largest city in Alaska, before she ran for Governor." Actually, Alaska's second and third largest cities are Fairbanks and Juno, respectively, and Juneau is more than three times as large as Wasilla, but be that as it may ...

A month ago, as Stewart reminds us, "Tim Kaine, former Mayor of Richmond, population 200,000, former Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia, and now current Virginia Governor was on Barack Obama's Vice-Presidential short-list." Here's what Rove said about Kaine at the time:
He's been a Governor for three years ... he was Mayor of the 105th-largest city in America. And again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it's smaller than Chula Vista, California, Aurora, Colorado, Mesa or Gilbert, Arizona, North Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada--it's not a big town.

So if you were to pick Governor Kaine, it would be an intensely political choice, where it said, You know what, I'm really not first and foremost concerned with, is this person capable of being President of the United States?
Then there's Bill O'Reilly on teenage pregnancy, Dick Morris & others on the "gender card," etc. (Though Stewart adds that, "In Dick Morris's defense, he is a lying sack of shit.")

Well, listen to the whole video clip.

=> Also, in the category of "Who do they think they're kidding?" ... remember the immediate claim that Gov. Palin does so have foreign-policy experience, because Alaska is just across the Bering Strait from Russia ... and she has military experience, too, because she is Commander-in-Chief of the Alaska National Guard? In case you think I might be making those up, see HERE and HERE ... but this is like shooting fish in a barrel.

--Jeff Weintraub

Palin's economics: Federal largesse & petro-state populism

What is Sarah Palin's actual record on economic issues? That will take a while to figure out completely, but some of the main outlines are already becoming clear.

Palin is being touted--and touting herself--as a reformer and a "strong fiscal conservative." Well, she does seem to be a reformer in some respects (especially if you regard levying a hefty windfall tax on oil companies as reform), and she really does seem to have broken with the generalized culture of financial corruption that pervaded the Alaska Republican establishment.

(It would appear that Palin's own temptations toward political corruption involve the use of government office to pursue a petty family vendetta. Those allegations haven't yet been proven, though they're looking increasingly plausible, and the fact that Palin is stonewalling the Legislature's investigation doesn't look good.)

But the "fiscal conservative" bit is entirely bogus.

=> On Palin's record as Mayor of Wasilla from 1996-2002, I ran across the following post by a contributor to the on-line discussion forum of Republican TV pundit Sean Hannity that concisely sums up some facts that have already been established elsewhere:
Hi all, just wanted to share some interesting info on how well Sarah Palin ran her town as Mayor and how fiscally conservative she is. I'd like to discuss some of these revelations and see how it's going to play out against Obama and the election.

-She campaigned in Wasilla as a "fiscal conservative". During her 6 years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by more than 33%.
-During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002).
-Palin reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food.
-She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million.

Can we discuss these items and figure out where the disconnect is? Where is the fiscal responsibitiy and why was she sold as one at the RNC? Thanks.
As I noted a few days ago (in discussing some of Palin's prevarications), Wasilla's indebtedness went up even though Mayor Palin was also an earmark queen who brought in truly impressive per capita levels of federal pork-barrel funding--almost $27 million in federally-funded projects for a town of less than 7,000 people. Well, that's the way politics is conducted in Alaska. But it's hard to take seriously the notion that Palin's record (unlike McCain's) shows any significant or principled opposition to Congressional earmarks.

=> As Governor, according to the small-government fanatics at the Cato Institute, she has no significant record as a tax-cutter, despite taking office at a time when the state is awash in oil revenues--though, admittedly, she has been Governor for less two years. Instead ...

... but let me just quote Cato's tax analyst, so no one thinks this is more sniping from the 'elite liberal media' or what George W. Bush just called "the angry Left":
Palin supported and signed into law a $1.5 billion tax increase on oil companies in the form of higher severance taxes. One rule of thumb is that higher taxes cause less investment. Sure enough, State Tax Notes reported (January 7): “After ACES was passed, ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s most active oil exploration company and one of the top three producers, announced it was canceling plans to build a diesel fuel refinery at the Kuparuk oil field. ConocoPhillips blamed the cancellation on passage of ACES [the new tax].

[JW: Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?]

[....] There are good reasons for an oil-rich state to tax oil production, but a fiscal conservative would usually use any tax increase to reduce taxes elsewhere. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I see no evidence that Palin offered any major tax cuts. She did propose sending $1.2 billion of state oil revenues to individuals and utility companies in the form of monthly payments to reduce energy bills, but that sounds like welfare to me, not tax cuts. [....]
One way that Palin did cut taxes was to enact a one-year fuel-tax holiday. Readers may remember that back during the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton similarly proposed combining a fuel-tax holiday with a windfall-profits tax on oil companies. That proposal was lambasted across the board as a cynical gimmick that would accomplish no useful purpose--one more piece of evidence that Clinton was a despicably cynical pandering politician. McCain, who proposed the fuel-tax holiday in the first place, but without a compensating windfall-profits tax (which would have sent most of the gas-tax money directly to the oil companies, not to consumers), largely got off scot-free.

Well, those proposals may or may not have been good ideas, but at the time no one described them as examples of "fiscal conservatism." Instead, they tended to be described, fairly or unfairly, as irresponsible populist pandering. And now?

=> But all those are details. What's the big picture?

The Economist, which is a pro-market magazine but not a straightfoward propaganda organ of the US Republican Party, makes some obvious points that don't seem to have been mentioned at the Republican Convention or in most of the news coverage about it ("From pork to petrodollars"):

John McCain's decision to anoint Sarah Palin as his running-mate looks eccentric for many reasons. Not the least is economic principle. Thanks in part to Mrs Palin, Alaska’s economy is built on two things that Mr McCain has spent the last few years railing against.

The first is federal spending, especially the little-scrutinised grants known as earmarks. Between 1996 and 2006 per-capita federal spending in Alaska rose from 38% above the national average to 71% above. Scott Goldsmith, an economist, reckons a third of all jobs in the state depend on it. [....]

Mrs Palin has been less single-minded in her pursuit of pork than other Alaskan politicians (which is, admittedly, setting the bar pretty high).

[JW: I'm not sure of their basis for saying that, actually. One of Palin's innovations as Mayor of Wasilla, for example, was to have the town hire a full-time Washington lobbyist--a former chief of staff to indicted GOP Senator Ted Stevens, Alaska's earmark king, who also worked with the convicted super-crook lobbyist Jack Abramoff--charged with garnering earmark funds, and Palin has continued to seek them as Governor. However, the fact that Senator Stevens is under indictment for petty corruption has made it harder for him to deliver.]

But she can take credit for the other pillar of Alaska’s economy: windfall taxes. Last year she championed a tax hike on oil companies which is helping bring in huge sums—more than $10 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June, according to the companies that pay them. Suddenly flush, the state has promised $1,200 to every man, woman and child, ostensibly to cover the high cost of fuel.

That giveaway is just the start. Rather than paying taxes to the state, Alaskans receive cheques from it. In “The Simpsons Movie”, released last year, Homer Simpson is handed $1,000 at the Alaskan border for “allowing the oil companies to ravage the state’s natural beauty”. That is an understatement: this month’s payments from the Alaska permanent fund are expected to be about twice as big. With the fuel surplus, this alone would get a family of four three-fifths of the way towards the federal poverty line in the lower 48 states. And many Alaskans do not pay sales taxes. [....]

In other words, as I put it myself on Thursday (Palin's prevarications):
Alaska, like Saudi Arabia, is a big oil producer with a relatively small population, so Palin essentially levied a windfall profits tax on the oil companies used it to hand out $1,200 to each resident of Alaska. Applied to the US as a whole, an equivalent give-away would amount to some $360 billion. This kind of petro-state populism may or may not be a good idea, but it's the sort of thing that Republicans usually criticize when it's done in places like, say, Venezuela or Russia.
Speaking of low taxes, by the way, income taxes are low in Khaddafi's Libya, too. A government doesn't need to tax individuals when it can rely on fat oil & gas revenues, which it can then use to shower benefits on the populace from above. OK, using the money that way is better than stashing it in the Swiss bank accounts of rulers, their family members, and well-placed officials (which also happens in petro-states, usually on a massive scale). But it's not usually what Republicans have in mind when they talk about "fiscal conservatism." And don't Republicans usually criticize using public money for government handouts? (Perhaps, like the Cato analyst, I'm missing something.)

Frankly, I admire Gov. Palin for shaking down the oil companies--and I suspect that some of her enemies in Alaska politics are people who are upset because they're in the pocket of those oil companies, just like the national Republicans. (It's true that Palin hasn't put the oil executives in jail on trumped-up charges and seized their companies, so as a "reformer" in this area she's still a few steps behind Vladimir Putin. More like, say, Huey Long.) And it's not surprising that sharing part of the loot with Alaska's electorate has helped to make her popular.

But if she really wanted to use this windfall revenue for the public interest (as opposed to building up her own popularity), couldn't she have found other ways to do that? Norway, which has also had a big oil bonanza, is saving part of those funds for a rainy day and using part of it for long-term public investments (infrastructure, education, etc.). Could Alaska have considered doing something similar? Well, why should they? If they need money for infrastructure, they drill for it in Washington.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Republican revolution (recycled)

Tom Toles in the Washington Post:

I confess that the more I think about this year's Republican National Convention, the more bizarre it seems. Just for example ...

Speaker after speaker delivered the message that the Republicans want to run, one more time, against "Washington." In Fred Thompson's version of this line, McCain and Palin are "going to drain that swamp" in Washington. Mitt Romney, pushing himself even further than before into self-parody, boldly called for "change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington." And so on.

They apparently want everyone to forget that there has been a right-wing Republican President for almost 8 years, and right-wing Republicans have controlled Congress for almost all of the past 14 years. Who do they think they're kidding?

Possibly themselves. For most of the speakers repeating this stuff, who included a fair number of long-time Washington insiders like Thompson, this was probably just cynical sloganeering that they didn't take too seriously. (I exclude McCain himself, for whom I'm sure the story is more complicated.) But I suspect that a lot of the delegates, at some level, believed that these "liberal Washington" clichés somehow made sense. And the Republicans clearly hope that they can sell this nonsense to a wider public. Well, maybe they can.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palin's prevarications (& her road to nowhere)

It seems clear that John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential running mate was a last-minute impulse choice, and that when he decided to pick her he didn't know much more about her than the rest of us. Part of the background, it appears, is that McCain was boxed in after the candidates he would have preferred--most prominently Joe Lieberman & Tom Ridge--got vetoed by Republican Party bigwigs who warned that those nominees would have enraged the so-called Republican "base."

The practical implications of McCain's gamble on Pailin will take a while to sort out, since we're all still finding out about Governor Palin. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this choice was an irresponsible piece of political opportunism that raises some legitimate questions about McCain's judgment--and that's true even if Palin turns out to be a net plus for the Republicans in the general election campaign (which strikes me as unlikely, but anything's possible).

=> In the meantime, it's clear that Palin can be a fluent and appealing speechmaker (her convention speech showed that, even though it didn't have much in the way of substantive content) ... and also that, despite her apparently frank and straightforward air, she's pretty careless with the truth.

To take one high-profile example, Palin claims that she "told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’, on that bridge to nowhere.” I was a little surprised that she had the chutzpah to repeat this particular claim in her convention speech, since it has already been established that it can most charitably be described as deceptive. OK, let's be blunt--it's not true. Palin campaigned for Governor as a strong supporter of this earmarked project and abandoned her support for it only after it had become a national laughingstock and Congress had already eliminated the earmark mandating this project ... but she also kept the relevant federal money for other purposes.

=> By the way, this falsehood was repeated in the McCain campaign's statement announcing Palin's selection: "She put a stop to the "bridge to nowhere" that would have cost taxpayers $400 million dollars."

Nobody expects campaign announcements to be models of accuracy and honesty, but the deception here is pretty brazen. As a Reuters article sums up the actual facts of the matter:
During her first speech after being named as McCain's surprise pick as a running mate, Palin said she had told Congress "'thanks but no thanks' on that bridge to nowhere."

In the city Ketchikan, the planned site of the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," political leaders of both parties said the claim was false and a betrayal of their community, because she had supported the bridge and the earmark for it secured by Alaska's Congressional delegation during her run for governor.

The bridge, a span from the city to Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people, secured a $223 million earmark in 2005. The pricey designation raised a furor and critics, including McCain, used the bridge as an example of wasteful federal spending on politicians' pet projects.

When she was running for governor in 2006, Palin said she was insulted by the term "bridge to nowhere," according to Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein, a Democrat, and Mike Elerding, a Republican who was Palin's campaign coordinator in the southeast Alaska city.

"People are learning that she pandered to us by saying, I'm for this' ... and then when she found it was politically advantageous for her nationally, abruptly she starts using the very term that she said was insulting," Weinstein said. [....]

National fury over the bridge caused Congress to remove the earmark designation, but Alaska was still granted an equivalent amount of transportation money to be used at its own discretion.

Last year, Palin announced she was stopping state work on the controversial project, earning her admirers from earmark critics and budget hawks from around the nation. The move also thrust her into the spotlight as a reform-minded newcomer.
So yes, Palin did cancel this bridge project she had previously supported. But the point is that when the did that, it was no longer a federally mandated "earmark". If work on the bridge had been continued, it would have required the state of Alaska to spend the money on the bridge instead of spending it on something else.

So what about that $400 million in taxpayer's money (which McCain, to the fury of Alaska's Congressional delegation, once proposed spending to rebuild infrastructure in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina instead)?
The state, however, never gave back any of the money that was originally earmarked for the Gravina Island bridge, said Weinstein and Elerding.

In fact, the Palin administration has spent "tens of millions of dollars" in federal funds to start building a road on Gravina Island that is supposed to link up to the yet-to-be-built bridge, Weinstein said.
So instead of a "bridge to nowhere", she's building a more modest "road to nowhere".
"She said 'thanks but no thanks,' but they kept the money," said Elerding about her applause line.
=> Someone named Jim on one of the Obama campaign blogs has already posted a useful fact-check of Palin's speech last night that surveys its prevarications, deceptions, misleading formulations, and outright falsehoods: FACT CHECK: Sarah Palin’s Speech I might have formulated a few details slightly differently myself, and the foreign-policy stuff toward the end is weaker than the rest, but overall this assessment strikes me as very fair and accurate, so it's worth checking out.

Some random highlights:
PALIN: “Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America’s energy problems – as if we all didn’t know that already. But the fact that drilling won’t solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all."


PALIN: “Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown.”


[JW: And this despite the fact that she was also an earmark queen who brought in truly impressive per capita levels of federal pork-barrel funding--almost $27 million in federall-funded projects for a town of less than 7,000 people.] [....]

PALIN: “I suspended the state fuel tax, and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress.”


[JW: And yes, she did suspend the state fuel tax, but she had the kind of compensating funds available that the rest of the US doesn't. Alaska, like Saudi Arabia, is a big oil producer with a relatively small population, so Palin essentially levied a windfall profits tax on the oil companies used it to hand out $1,200 to each resident of Alaska. Applied to the US as a whole, an equivalent give-away would amount to some $360 billion. This kind of petro-state populism may or may not be a good idea, but it's the sort of thing that Republicans usually criticize when it's done in places like, say, Venezuela or Russia.]

PALIN: “As Governor, I have a record of being a strong fiscal conservative and have vetoed millions in special projects pushed by legislators.”

REALITY: Palin Increased Taxes on Oil Companies to Pay for $1,200 Giveaway to Every Resident in the State. [....]>

PALIN: “In fact, I told Congress — I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on that bridge to nowhere.”


[JW: And kept the federal funds.]


PALIN: “But we are expected to govern with integrity, and goodwill, and clear convictions…”


PALIN: “Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we’re going to lay more pipelines … build more new-clear plants … create jobs with clean coal … and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources.”


PALIN: “But listening to [Obama] him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.”


Obama Helped Pass The 2007 Ethics Reform Law, Which Curbed The Influence Of Lobbyists [....] In the first week of the 110th Congress, Obama joined with Senator Feingold to introduce a “Gold Standard” ethics package. [....]

Obama Passed Illinois State Gift Ban Act “Heralded As the Most Sweeping Good-Government Legislation in Decades.” [....]

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote of Obama’s bill, “The ethics restrictions would be the most far-reaching since the Watergate-era campaign financial disclosure law. They are the product of months of negotiations among two lawmakers of each party, other state officials and Mike Lawrence. He is an aide to former Sen. Paul Simon, a Democrat, and used to be an aide to Edgar, a Republican.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5/24/98] [....]

Obama And [Republican Senator Richard] Lugar Passed Law Boosting U.S. Efforts To Keep WMDs And Other Dangerous Weapons Out Of The Hands Of Terrorists. [....]

Obama and [Republican Senator Tom] Coburn Passed A Bill Creating A “Google-like” Database For The Public To Search Details About Federal Funding Awards. [....]

Obama Passed A Bill Creating $100 Million Earned Income Tax Credit As A Member Of The Minority Party In The Illinois Senate [JW: There's also THIS.] [....]

And so on. If Palin gets away with this sort of stuff, that will reflect poorly on the health of our political process. (But since that process is not in great shape, it's by no means impossible that she will, indeed, get away with it.)

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

A Mike Huckabee flashback

(Noted by Josh Marshall at TPM.)

HERE is a video clip of Mike Huckabee, running for the Republican presidential nomination, on August 8, 2007. If one listens to Huckabee talk, he sounds sincere.
The first thing we've gotta do as a Republican party is quit being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the corporations that have done exactly what Steve [a disabled former steelworker with a shrunken pension and inadequate health care coverage--JW] talked about, and that is allow workers at the bottom to make money for their companies and then allow a CEO to get a pension, get a wonderful bonus, take a trip to the Riviera and Steve takes a trip to the poorhouse.

Not many Republicans are willing to say it, but we better say it or we‘re not going to win another election for a generation. We‘ve allowed a lot of people in the airline industry—the baggage handlers, the ticket agents, the clerks—to take 40 percent pay cuts. The executives steer the company into bankruptcy, they get a $200 million bonus.

It's based not on capitalism--that's a good thing--but this is sheer unadulterated greed, and that's not what makes a strong economy. And it's gonna ruin not just this country, but it's gonna collapse the Republican party if we don't start standing up and saying you can't have that kind of economy where CEOs make 500 times [the income] of their workers, and call that perfectly acceptable. It's not acceptable. And people like Steve have got to be factored into the equation ... you look at a guy like Steve and you realize, we better run for President and remember him and not just the folks who come to the high-price cocktail parties in Manhattan and Georgetown [....]
Huckabee never did explain in concrete terms how people like Steve should get "factored into the equation," but that question seems to have become moot anyway. Judging from Huckabee's speech at the Republican convention tonight, those people have gotten factored out of the equation again, and what was unacceptable in 2007 seems to have become OK now.
I really tire of hearing how the Democrats care about the working guy as if all Republicans grew up with silk stockings and silver spoons. [....] I'm not a Republican because I grew up rich, but because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me.
And Steve? Tough luck, Steve.

So does it follow, as Huckabee warned, that now the Republicans are "not going to win another election for a generation"? Only if there's justice in the world.

--Jeff Weintraub

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Africa in perspective

(From Chris Blattman, via Lane Kenworthy)

See HERE ... or click on the image below.
People often underestimate quite how large Africa is [....] As you can see, Africa is larger than China, the USA, Western Europe, India, Argentina and the British Isles ... combined!
(And to put that in another perspective, the total GDP of all of the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, if I remember correctly, is about the same as Belgium's.)

--Jeff Weintraub