GOP senators to feds: Leave the Internet alone

12217_large_neutral-bits.pngIt’s this sort of thing that really pisses me off. The intention is exactly right. The Internet should be free of interference. It should continue to be accessible by anyone, empower content and service creators, and foster innovation. Yet excluding all government regulation of the Internet is exactly contrary to achieving that goal.

In fairness, the issue of Net Neutrality is a bit complicated.  Most people don’t know how the Internet works. And this leaves open the opportunity to exploit that lack of understanding through politi-speak gems like this

“There are exceptions of course, but far too often, when you hear someone say, ‘We need regulations to protect the Internet,’ what they’re actually saying is they don’t really trust the entrepreneurs and Internet technologists to create the economic growth and to increase public welfare.”

Net Neutrality regulations don’t stifle entrepreneurs and technologists. Rather, they keep the network available for them. Net Neutrality reigns in big ISPs from exploiting their effective monopolies for increased profit and offering preferential treatment for other large companies who can afford to pay to play. It protects the consumer and the entrepreneur from big business.

In a very real way, keeping the government from regulating the Internet is simply paving the way for a few large private business to regulate it. There’s no way that ends well for small businesses and consumers.

All regulations are restricting someone else’s freedom. That doesn’t make them all bad. Net Neutrality regulations are all about preserving the freedom of the Internet. If you would rather trust AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon, and Comcast to keep your network a free and open egalitarian network… you’re more than a little naive.


Oh, if only I were poor…

Homeless-Family-Pic-2I envy the poor, or at least the far-right’s vision of what it’s like to be poor. You see, in the right-wing unreality bubble poor is no longer an affliction, a condition, or even an unfortunate happenstance—it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s kind of like being gay, but with a crappier wardrobe.

It turns out, the poor are only poor because they are good at hiding their assets in order to qualify for government handouts. It’s easier to play the system than work a real job.

Take the woman in the picture above. She could clearly be a paralegal at a law firm and have those kids in daycare. But instead she lounges outside with them, soaking up the fresh air and the stray dollars of the occasional sap walking by. She pockets all that money under the table, and then shows up at the welfare office once a week to plead her case and collect her stipend for her sloth. How do we know she’s an economic con-artist? If she were truly destitute, would she have luxury items like a stroller and 2 different colors of marker?  I think not.

But alas, I was raised with a work ethic. My parents taught me not to be dependent on anyone, and that hard work and determination could get me anywhere. So, I’ll probably never know the joys of hanging out on sidewalks all day raking in the cash, or of heading to the supermarket to buy T-bones and caviar with my food stamps.

Damn my mom and dad for giving me a conscience. Otherwise, I’d be on easy street—probably not driving on it mind you, but at least sitting on the curb with a clever cardboard sign. That would be the life.

And I’ve probably cursed my kids too. Like me, they grew up in comfortable suburban homes and got sent to good schools. They’ve never wondered where they were going to sleep at night or how they were going to get a meal that day. Hell, a food crisis in my house is running out of cheese sticks. But once they get a taste of the corporate rat race, the poor house is gonna look pretty damned cozy to them.

Woe unto my children, for they will never know the happiness to be found in the lethargic and slothful lifestyles of the destitute, resting comfortably in the hammock of social welfare programs. For they are condemned to work jobs and pay taxes and own homes and send their own kids to college some day. Oh, the humanity.

Fortunately, the Tea Party has a solution. Let’s cut out all these social handouts to the indigent, the working poor, the disabled, and other assorted barnacles on our great society. Let’s motivate folks to move back indoors, polish up their resumes, and fill all those open jobs. Tell that lady in the picture up there to scoop her baby up off the sidewalk and land herself a real man to take care of her.

And those that can’t turn that corner and pull themselves out of poverty by sheer force of will? Fuck ’em. Let ’em starve. Just like it says in the bible. We don’t need ’em anyway, and they’ll serve as an example of what happens if you pick your nose up off that grindstone.

Besides, getting all those people off welfare programs will lower the taxes on us hard working folks and assure my children will never again know tragedies like last Thursday… when we ran out of cheese sticks. Oh, the humanity.


Obama’s Alleged Snub of Israel

Israel SnubThe photo message to the left has been making the rounds on Facebook and other sources. As of this writing, it had over 20k shares and over 130k likes.

It’s the latest right-wing outrage over a seemingly small Obama maneuver. According to Reuters:

(Reuters) – The White House has rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet President Barack Obama in the United States this month, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, after a row erupted between the allies over Iran’s nuclear programme.

An Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu’s aides had asked for a meeting when he visits the United Nations this month, and “the White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president’s schedule will not permit that”.

Netanyahu has met with Obama on all the Israeli leader’s U.S. trips since 2009.

The White House has not confirmed the snub. But even assuming it’s an accurate recounting, I fail to see the rationale for reactions best summed up by the comment appearing on my Facebook news feed saying, “I think it is totally disgraceful!”

Granted, a meeting commits us to nothing, but neither does a refusal to meet mean a complete breakdown of a relationship. This is a standard negotiating tactic. By refusing the meet, the US is asserting its position of power and control in the situation. Basically indicating that Netanyahu needs to soften his stance and take a more conciliatory posture. That hardly seems an untenable position for the US political right-wing who are typically more than a little hawkish in their foreign policy, and often tout that America should assert its position as the global superpower.

The problem here is that Netanyahu clearly wants the US to draw “red lines” with the intent of forcing the US into military action with Iran. He’s been quite open about that, and about his ire that Obama won’t commit to irrevocable terms under which he will bomb Iran. He has also openly taken sides in our election, becoming almost the Israeli wing of the Republican party. This is something our allies rarely do, partly out of respect, but also out of the recognition that they ultimately have to deal with the next President, regardless of how the election comes out. If he wants the respectful attention of our President, and ultimately wants us to do him a significant favor, he’s got a funny way of going about it.

Forgetting this involves Obama for a minute, what is the right advocating for here? That the President is obliged to accept a visit from any foreign head of state on demand? I would think not. The President should meet when there is value to the US in doing so. In this case, Netanyahu wants something the US isn’t prepared to give (commitment to military action in Iran), nor is it clear the Israeli people are prepared for that. Their own defense minister cautions against Netanyahu’s plan. Further, Netanyahu’s reputation with pretty much every world leader is that of a petulant child, prone to tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Moreover, his historical record is that he leaks details of confidential meetings where he doesn’t get his way to the press, spun to his own advantage. Where is the potential upside for the President, or for the country in taking this meeting? Presumably, you want a President who’s tough, and sometimes that means saying no. That clearly doesn’t mean the President is saying they will never meet. They’ve had numerous meetings in the past, and spoke on the phone just last week. We are the most powerful nation on the planet. You earn a meeting, you don’t demand one.

I also wonder if we would even be having this discussion if the Prime Minister of Spain was demanding to be seen? It seems to me that Israel gets treated differently than any other foreign nation. Are they in a precarious geographic situation? Sure. so is South Korea. But in the end, Israel is still a foreign country and how we treat them should be based on what’s in our national interest. We are not obligated to treat them like a teenage child who has moved out of the house, but still needs Daddy to protect them.

And yes, I do recognize Israel’s exulted position among the religious right as the Holy Land and the location of many of the End Times prophecies.  But that is not a basis for making national policy. If their church’s would like to form their own militias and deploy them to the West Bank that’s fine by me. But the US federal government should not be making foreign policy decisions based on bible stories.

In another vein, during the ’08 election, many of the same folks who are apoplectic over snubbing Netanyahu now, were abhorred that Obama said that under the right conditions he’d meet with Iran or other hostile governments. The claim was that even meeting with Ahmadinejad showed weakness and meant we’d give in to them. Why are the rules different now? Why would this meeting not show weakness and a willingness to concede?

And as long as I’m on a roll here, let’s talk about Obama’s “terrible” support for Israel. So far he has provided full financing and technical assistance for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket defense system. In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves. He has increased aid to Israel and given it access to the most advanced military equipment, including the latest fighter aircraft. Obama has given close coordination by intelligence agencies — including the deployment of cyberweapons — to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said last year, “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.”

Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama secured European support for what even Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”

Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements.

In light of all this, it may be fair to say that Obama has an issue with Netanyahu, as does almost anyone who’s ever met him. But it’s pretty hard to claim he doesn’t care about or support Israel.


One of these things is not like the other

GOPvsDemThis week has provided for an interesting micro-study on a key difference between our two political parties.

Harry Reid proclaimed that Mitt Romney did not pay any taxes for years. Meanwhile, Romney released a new ad asserting that Obama was gutting welfare reform. These were not tit-for-tat events. They are relatively unrelated. But the parties’ and pundits respective reactions to each are instructive.

First, a recap of the facts: Reid’s claim is a baseless accusation. The public has no knowledge of whether or not it’s actually true, and little reason to believe Reid actually knows. It’s a distasteful attempt to put a political opponent on the defensive. To make him guilty until he proves himself innocent.  Romney’s claim is different. While it is also intended to put his opponent on the defensive, it is flat-out, demonstrably, unquestionably, factually false.

How were these two events reported? The New York Times is generally considered a left-leaning news source. You might presume they’d defend Reid while hanging Romney out to dry. You’d be wrong.

Compare the opening of a story on Reid:

Senator Harry Reid’s decision this week to hurl a taunting, unsubstantiated accusation at Mitt Romney is hardly out of character for the cantankerous Democratic leader of the Senate, who revels in provocative comments and once called Mr. Romney “kind of a joke.”

To the opening of a story on Romney:

Seven years ago, Mitt Romney joined other governors to urge the federal government to grant “increased waiver authority” to states to experiment with implementation of the federal welfare-to-work program.

But as he runs for president, Mr. Romney and his Republican allies are now accusing President Obama of “gutting” the welfare program by saying it will consider waivers to states.

These are not cherry picked stories, nor is the NYT unique in this regard. The major media outlets and pundits are pulling no punches in calling Reid out on his baseless accusation.  Meanwhile, Romney’s lie is treated as a topic of reasonable debate.

My initial reaction to this was that the “mainstream media” was now so in fear of being labeled as having a liberal bias, they had become afraid to expose even outright falsehoods on the conservative side. And I do think this is at least part of it.  The right’s efforts to play up their victimization by a lefty lamestream media have assuredly had an effect on the way news gets reported.

Yet I think that’s not the whole story. I think a part of the media reaction also relates to how far the parties get from their behavioral norms. The GOP has key figures claiming Obama’s birth certificate was faked, and that there is a Muslim conspiracy brewing in the State department. In the greater scheme of outrageous claims, “Obama guts welfare reform” barely nudges the needle. On the Democratic side, unsubstantiated claims of filing perfectly legal tax returns that play the IRS for every penny are treated as scandalous.

There’s a lesson here. Both sides may “play the game”, but not to the same degree. It’s kind of like claiming the USA and Tunisia were both playing Olympic basketball the other night. While technically true, they weren’t playing in the same league.

Still, I know many of you out there are completely frustrated with the whole thing. You claim to hate what both sides do, and that’s more than fair. There are no angels in politics.Some of you are determined to check out of the political process by not voting, or you intend to make a statement by voting for a 3rd party candidate.

But the simple reality is this. Come 2013, one of these two parties will take the White House. And one of these two parties will control each of the houses of Congress. With four short months to go until the election, no other party has a remote chance in hell of altering that reality.

One of these things is not like the other. As the Templar Knight told Indiana Jones, “Choose wisely.” And as the band Rush reminds us in their song Freewill, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”


Babbling in the Mirror – Obama Supporter Interviews Future Self

I received a link to a YouTube video today. The video is a mock up of someone from 2008 interviewing their current selves and dealing with all the crushing disappointments of the Obama Administration.

The link came with a request:

“Please, please, somebody tell me where she is wrong. I really want to know!”

I’ll try to suspend my skepticism that anyone circulating this sort of propaganda is truly interested in facts, or even willing to accept them, but I’m up for the challenge anyway.

The video contains a scarcity of actual data, but there are a lot of general claims.  A few are fairly accurate, many are directionally incorrect, and a few are outright false. In the opening, the 2008 woman is going on about the utopia that would surely result from 4 years under Obama.  Granted, there was a lot of optimism from his supporters upon his election, but anyone who believes any President can effect a utopian transformation of the country is delusional. If you think it can be done in the midst of the second largest economic downfall in the last century, you’re just plain nuts.  It’s unfair to compare Obama to some vision of Nirvana. Rather, the accurate comparison is to the alternative, a McCain administration. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what that might have been. Maybe it would be better, maybe worse, but we can be pretty sure, based on the previous 30 years of mostly Republican administrations, that it wouldn’t quite be utopia.

Obama Supporter - Self InterviewThe initial substantive claim is that the 2012 woman’s father died because his asthma medication was outlawed. This is flat out false.  No asthma medications have been outlawed.  Starting this year, CFC based inhalers were banned. Keep in mind that CFC propellants have been banned since the 70s in everything else in an effort to save the ozone layer. Civilization survived. Further, HFA inhalers are available as an alternative. Same medication, same dose, different delivery mechanism.

Next is a general lament about high unemployment. There’s no doubt that unemployment remains unacceptably high. However, looking at the data, private sector employment bottomed out in early 2010 and continues to climb steadily upward.  But public sector employment is plummeting at a rate the private sector in a minimally expanding economy can’t ameliorate. Look at a comparison of Bush’s first term compared to Obama’s. Bush responded to the economic downturn in 2000 with stimulus by expanding government payroll.  Obama responded by slashing government jobs in favor of private sector stimulus. Hmmm…

But Obama had a super-majority! Why didn’t he fix everything? Obama’s super-majority in Congress hinged on one man, Ted Kennedy. A man who had the gall to be suffering terminal brain cancer upon Obama’s election, and who died in August of that first year.  Kennedy made special and heroic returns to the Senate floor to cast votes on the stimulus and on Obamacare, but otherwise was incapacitated. After his death, Scott Brown was elected and the Obama super-majority vanished.

Oh, the executive orders! There’s no specific complaint over any specific executive orders, but the implication is that Obama is issuing them all over the place.  The data from the National Archives would disagree. Obama has issued 129 EOs so far.  Pro-rating that for his entire first term puts him on pace to issue 147 by January.  G.W. Bush averaged 145/term. Clinton averaged 181, Bush Sr. did 165, and Reagan comes in at 190.  So Obama’s on the low end of recent history.

Why didn’t the stimulus fix everything as promised? First, we have to accept the 2008 woman somehow magically knowing about the 2009 stimulus package, but I’m nit-picking. Most stimulus proponents now agree the stimulus package was not up to the task. The enormity of the economic hole was much larger than anticipated and the level of stimulus was insufficient to achieve the desired results.  However, it probably was the largest package that would have been politically do-able.  But even then, did it have a positive effect? There is arguably legitimate debate here, although the consensus is that the stimulus did improve things. But even if it didn’t, there’s no one claiming it did any harm excepting a brief blip in the debt curve.

Next up is the assertion that all of Obama’s investments in green energy have gone bankrupt. One company, Solyndra, went bankrupt.  That’s not quite all.  There’s ample room for debate on whether the government should be subsidizing commercial energy companies, but the fact remains that the vast majority of the loans have not defaulted. Further, the $535M Solyndra debacle is a relative drop in the $34B DOE loan bucket. So minimally, this claim is blowing things out of proportion.

There’s a healthcare mandate, she says with a voice dripping in desperation. Yes there is. And unless we’re content with 30-50 million Americans going without medical care or getting it by indirectly increasing the costs of those of us who do get it, there should be.  Even Mitt Romney (the unwitting father of Obamacare), was recently praising the Israeli heathcare system as being cost effective—apparently unaware that it achieves those results through government controlled universal coverage. If there’s a workable alternative solution, someone should put it on the table.  Otherwise

There’s a middle class tax hike, she says.  No, there isn’t. Taxes are at historic lows.  That is, unless you count the Obamacare individual mandate as a tax increase, in which case they are still at historic lows.  But viewing the mandate as a tax increase is a spurious argument that also requires you to acknowledge the effective tax cut the rest of get for not having to pay for the care of those without insurance through our insurance rates, paycheck deductions, and co-pays.

Obama promised transparency! Yes, he did. And the record so far is abysmal by pretty much any measure. Transparency seems to decrease year after year regardless of who’s in office.  This may be a result of the 24×7 instant news culture we live in.  Be that as it may, this is still our government and we have a right to know what’s going on in there.

There are loads of lobbyists in the Administration. Yes, there are, and Obama promised there wouldn’t be.  This is more than a little disappointing. It may be the reality of modern government. It may be that other administrations have done much the same thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a fundamental campaign promise on which Obama has failed badly.

African American suffer the highest unemployment rates.  Well, yes. But historically that’s always been true. That doesn’t make it a good thing, but it’s hardly a remarkable thing.

Internationally we’ve never been more hated. This is simply pants-on-fire false.

But I thought the Muslim world would follow our lead to democracy? Well, yes and no. The Arab Spring has certainly been a profound and recent movement toward democracy in much of the Muslim world. However, in many cases it has resulted in the democratic election of parties and leaders that are not so very friendly toward the USA. The unfortunate reality of letting people choose is that you may not like their choices.  Nonetheless, to say they followed our path is a little ludicrous. Further, Obama didn’t promise to bring democracy to the world. That was G.W. Bush.

Instead, we’re following Europe’s lead into debt.  Yes and no, but mostly no. First, we aren’t following Europe. We aren’t racking up debt because they are or because we view them as some sort of economic mentor. Second, not all of Europe is debt ridden. Greece, Italy, and Spain are at particular risk. This crises was created because of the European Economic Union, which joins all the countries’ currencies without linking their economies. This is not the situation in the USA. we are not going the way of Europe. We may still get sucked down by them, but that’s not a function of debt, just a reality of global economies.  Yes, the debt in the US is unsustainable. However, current debt levels are not a result of runaway spending. Spending increases are growing slower than at any time since the 50s. Instead, what we have is an unprecedented loss of revenue as a result of tax cuts, high unemployment, and a sluggish economy. Further, the US government is currently considered the most stable financial bet on the planet. At present, the Treasury is able to sell debt at negative yields. That means people are paying the US government to keep their money safe. This is beyond free money.  Yes, we can’t rack up debt forever. When the economy recovers, we absolutely need to pay it down rather than giving ourselves tax cuts like we did in 2001. But there is no evidence that debt is an emergent risk to our economy.

I recognize this has been long, and I’m flattered if you muddled through to the end. If you have any energy left, I strongly encourage you to click through and read the reference material, or dig up your own. But please, dig up facts and not emotional appeals and sound bites. The video is a cute concept, but it is a message largely without substance.