Friday, September 30, 2011

Are we finally winning the war on terror?

Andrew thinks so and makes his case in an excellent post I commend you to read.

While the Bush administration spent 8 years pursing an ideological war of division at home (Americans who disagreed with them were as much the enemy as bin Laden himself) and abroad and squandering billions of dollars like drunken sailors, the Obama administration has gotten serious about taking the fight to the terrorist leaders who have waged war on the West long before the events of September 11, 2001.

Andrew contrasts the approaches of the previous and current administration,
Compare the two presidents. One unleashed a war in Afghanistan he then left to languish, and sparked an unjustified war in Iraq, that became a catastrophe of mass death and chaos. He both maximally antagonized the Arab and Muslim world and didn't even score a major victory against the enemy. In many ways, Bush gave al Qaeda an opening in Iraq where it never had one before, and allowed its key leadership to escape at Tora Bora. The torture program, meanwhile, fouled up our intelligence while destroying our moral standing in the world.

Obama has ended torture and pursued a real war, not an ideological spectacle. He has destroyed almost all of al Qaeda of 9/11 (if Zawahiri is taken out, no one is left), obliterated its ranks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, found and killed bin Laden, in a daring raid pushed relentlessly by the president alone, capturing alongside a trove of intelligence, procured as a consequence of courage and tenacity rather than cowardice and torture.

I know the next election will be about the economy. But what it should also be about is the revelation of the Republicans as fundamentally weak on national security. Caught up in their own ideology, they proved for eight years they'd rather posture and preen than do the intelligent, relentless, ethical intelligence work that is only now leading to victory.

Obama, in other words, is winning the war Bush kept losing. And since Cairo, we have witnessed the real flowering of democratic forces in the Middle East - unseen during the Bush-Cheney years. For all the tireless efforts of the Israelis to cripple US foreign policy against Jihadism, Obama has done the job. If he fails to make this case in the next election, he will, in my judgment, be blowing an important opportunity to reinforce a structural advantage against the GOP on national security.
I have been very critical of Obama's failed leadership on domestic issues, but I think Andrew gets this right. The so-called war on terror is not a war between sovereign state actors but against individuals and their networks that exist outside of governments. To defeat them, you have to relentlessly hunt them down, one by one, and kill them. While Bush and Cheney quixotically tilted at windmills and launching invasions of governments not involved, Obama has focused the power of the DoD and CIA like a laser on the individuals actually leading the terror war against not just the US, but the Western world. This by the way, is how Israel has been defending itself against terror since the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"So many are bigots,..."

I did not watch the debate last night, but a question about DADT posed by Soldier Steven Hill, a soldier serving in Iraq, has generated a lot of heat today. Hill is gay and asked the Republican candidates if they intended to circumvent the repeal of DADT if elected to the presidency. Hill was met by resounding boos from the audience and scorn from Rick Sanatorium. No one, by the way, could be bothered to thank the soldier for his service.

In response to the audience boos and Santorum's "bizarre" answer that repealing DADT somehow gives gay soldiers permission for sexual misconduct that is not enjoyed by straight soldiers, Andrew Sullivan seems to have had an epiphany.
10.18 pm. Santorum claims bizarrely that repealing DADT means permission for sexual activity for gays in the military. This is a lie. The same rules of sexual misconduct apply to gays and straights alike. And a gay service member is booed by this foul crowd. Santorum keeps saying "sex is not an issue." But that's the current policy! This has nothing to do with sex, as Santorum surely knows. And again, the crowd reveals itself as hateful - even when it comes to those serving their country in uniform. This is one core reason why I cannot be a Republican. So many are bigots - and no one - no one - stands up against them. They're a bunch of bullies congratulating themselves on rooting out the queers..[Bold emphasis mine - italics is Andrew]
Andrew makes an important point -- No one inside the GOP will stand up to these bigots. No one on that stage last night could be bothered to thank this soldier for his service, much less to defend the US being the LAST NATO nation to allow gay people to serve openly. Hell, it's hard to find anyone to stand up to the racists in the party -- especially when they comes from the tea party.

How many friends do you have who are self-described Republicans who ever offer anything other than excuses for the bigotry that permeates the Republican party? Better yet, how many self-described Christian Republicans have you ever heard offer anything but excuses for the hatred that is endemic in the GOP?

At some point, if you're not willing to take a stand in opposition to hatred, don't we have the right to assume you share that hatred?

Don Ward: Job Creator

Surprisingly, very few people seem interested in taking on the silly 'job creator' BS being peddled by the GOP. Dana Milbank is an exception.

When Republicans talk about the mythic 'job creator' they confuse income, as in profits after all business expenses are paid, and gross revenues - -which no one pays taxes on.

Like Mibank, I too am a 'job creator' who will never create a single job. While I'm not a C-Corp (Milbank is), I am a partner in a law firm and my income comes from the profits of that law firm. But here is the obvious problem with this job creator BS being peddled by the GOP: After all the firms expenses are paid, rent, postage, supplies, computers/office equipment, etc. and most significantly, after all of the firms employees have been paid, I get my portion of what is left, and this is what my income taxes are based upon. You could reduce my income tax to zero and neither I nor my law firm would hire a single additional employee. Likewise, you could double my income tax (please don't) and my law firm would not lay off a single employee.

Wages for employees is an expense that comes off the top before there is any income. No one, no corporation, small business, no anything pays income taxes on revenues that are used to pay the expenses of the business, including personnel expenses, be they employees or outside contractors -- they never have and no matter what happens -- they never will.

If any business - small or otherwise - chooses to add employees, the cost of these employees come out of their pre-tax revenue and NOT their income. Income is reduced by the cost of employees and therefore not taxed -- ever.

Milbank takes a look at the Nation's job creators and discovers nearly all of them are like he and I,
According to Small Business Administration statistics, based on 2009 Census data, 21.1 million of the 27 million small businesses in the United States are “non-employer firms,” which have no workers other than the owner. Of those, 18.7 million are “sole proprietors,” 950,000 are partnerships and 1.4 million are corporations, like me.

When lawmakers talk about small businesses as the engine of growth, they bring to mind entrepreneurs building start-ups from their garages. But when officials talk about protecting the “job creators” from tax hikes, they are mostly protecting a bunch of doctors, lawyers, freelancers, contractors and the like.
So, next time someone tells you that raising the percentage of the top tax bracket will kill America's job creators, tell them to stop being a douche bag. It's consumers who are the job creators.

Demand, and only demand, creates job. Tax cuts will never create jobs.  

Businesses aren't hiring right now because they don't have the demand for more of what they sell, whether it's goods are services.  No matter how many regulations or taxes exist, if a market exists for more of the goods or services any business sells, they will hire all the necessary people to sell more product, because selling more product directly equates to higher profits.   Anyone who suggests otherwise is either ignorant or intentionally being misleading.

In my business we have added more attorneys the last 2 years.  We did this because we had rising demand for their services, which we sell for a profit.  The amount of taxes we pay on that profit has absolutely nothing to do with the hiring decision -- One has no relation to the other. 

The undeniable value of stimulus

and why do smart Republicans always lie about this?

The New York Stock Exchange infamously crashed in October 1929, seven months after Republican President Herbert Hoover took office. Hoover was the former Secretary of Commerce. In the wake of the crash, banks began to fall like dominoes. There was no FDIC and millions of Americans lost all their savings when their banks failed -- which caused an obvious snowball effect ('I can't pay my employees because I lost all my money in the bank'. 'I can't pay my mortgage b/c I lost all my savings and my job'). My great grandfather who had been a prosperous painter lost his life savings and 3 houses. He never recovered financially and died in 1972 with $500 to his name.

The Hoover administration responded to the bank failures and subsequent recession with austerity -- they did nothing. Hoover believed unemployment payments would be addictive and discourage work. He did agree to deport all Mexicans from the United States on the belief they were taking "American" jobs, and he insisted on balanced budgets. Does all this sound familiar?

Hoover lost reelection in a landslide to FDR who took office in March 1933. FDR immediately began instituting The New Deal. Here is the effect of the New Deal on GDP:

the New Deal Graph
(The Y-Axis is GDP expressed as a percentage increase over the lowest GDP in 1933. Note that in 1929, the GDP is nearly 40% ABOVE the 1933 low, and this was surpassed in 1936)

This graph comes from an article by Paul Abrams written in response to Republican criticisms to Obama's 2009 stimulus program.

Note the downturn in 1936 and 1937. As Abrams explains,
This is as close to a "scientific experiment" as there can be in macroeconomics: from '33 to '36 Roosevelt unleashed the New Deal and what passed at the time as massive spending. The GDP grew every year by double-digits.

Then, in a reversion to his true roots as a fiscal conservative, FDR decided that it was time to slash spending to balance the budget. The economy contracted. Then in '38, realizing the error of his ways, Roosevelt started spending again, and GDP grew every year thereafter.
The next time someone tells you the New Deal was a failure, ask them to explain this graph.

I am as concerned about systemic Federal deficits as anyone, and unlike all these Republican self-described 'fiscal conservatives' my concern didn't start on January 20th, 2009. But now is not the time to back off on Federal spending -- at least now when it comes to building projects. We have neglected our infrastructure for 30 years. With the rest of the world running to US debt to keep their money safe, the US can borrow money at a net rate of zero percent. Now is the time for a trillion dollar construction bill to rebuild highways, airports and to build out a modern high speed rail system to connect regional cities like Saint Louis and Chicago.

Unfortunately for the U.S., Republicans have dug in on opposing anything Obama wants and Obama has abdicated his leadership role for so long now that there is little hope his new found voice can save us from what appears to be the makings of a global depression.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's the end of my youth as I knew it

Yesterday, with no fanfare, REM made the following announcement on their homepage,
To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening. R.E.M.
It is, they insist, an amicable parting, and there is no reason to believe otherwise. REM has always been a very close-knit band. While on the 1995 Monster tour in Europe bassist Mike Mills suffered a ruptured appendix. Mills urged them to get a stand-in bassist to continue the tour but his bandmates refused to leave him behind. They postponed several shows and stayed with Mills in Germany until he was released from the hospital and able to travel.

I became an REM fan in college when they released their second album, Reckoning. The following year they released Fables of the Reconstruction and I was hooked. Of course my youth ended long ago but as long as REM was together recording and touring it didn't seem so far in the past. I'm honestly and little sad. Now, there's only U2 -- which I knew as an alternative college band when I was in college.

You younger folks smirking will understand how this feels when the band that wrote the soundtrack to your college years calls it quits.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned above that Michael Stipe -- as Air Force brat -- attended high school in Collinsville, Illinois while his dad was stationed at Scott (I think Michael's family moved his senior year and he graduated somewhere else). When REM was St Louis in 1995 Michael looked up his best friend from Collinsivlle High who by then had a young son. They were Michael's guest at the Riverport concert that night and Michael gave them a heart-felt shout-out during the show.

What I didn't know was that while Michael was living in Collinsville he was one of the Rocky Horror junkies that used to show up at the Varsity Theater in U-City every Saturday night.

Amazingly, Joe Williams of the StL Post-Dispatch found this video. Do you recognize the kid in drag dressed as Frankenfurter?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Plague upon the house of Texas?

Have you been following the pestilence that has stuck Texas? This summer Texas recorded the hottest summer that any state has ever endured in recorded history.

Coming with all this heat is the worst drought ever recorded in the United States. Above is a US Drought map that illustrates how extreme the drought has been, and there's no end in sight, even has the heat begins to subside. Lakes and rivers have completely dried up.

Has a fundamentalist Christian who spurns science and theories of global warming, looking at this map, how can you reach any other conclusion but that a vengeful God hates Texas and is literally burning Texas off the face of the earth?

God's eternal and unchanging word,
Nahum 1:3-5 (KJV)

3The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

4He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth.

5The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein
If Rick Perry were to be elected president, would God's wrath follow him and engulf the entire country?

P.S. to Georgia -- looks like your next.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer


Marine Dakota Meyer, pictured above having a beer with the President on the patio of the Oval Office, is an American hero of extraordinary courage. Disobeying orders, Marine Juan Rodriguez-Chavez (A Mexican immigrant to the United States) drove a Humvee 5 times through withering Taliban fire with Meyers manning the gun turret, to rescue fellow marines and Afghan soldiers pinned down in a Taliban ambush.

Rodriquez-Chavez and Marine Capt. Ademola Fabayo (An immigrant from Nigeria who thinks of himself as a New Yorker), who manned the gun turret on the fifth rescue attempt, received the Navy Cross for the extraordinary valor they showed that day. Rodriquez-Chavez and Ademola are pictured here the day they received the Navy Cross.

NPR tells the story very well,
Shortly after dawn on a September morning in 2009, American and Afghan troops set out on patrol along a rocky mile-long stretch in eastern Afghanistan. They were heading to a small village for a routine meeting with tribal elders.

Suddenly, everything went wrong.

Cpl. Dakota Meyer and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, who had stayed behind with the vehicles, heard small arms fire in the distance and knew instantly it was an ambush. Rodriguez-Chavez then heard an officer yelling for help on the radio.

"He said, 'I have wounded here. I need to get them out of here. If I don't get [backup] fires, we're all going to die here,' " Rodriguez-Chavez recalled.

So the Marines had to act. Meyer, then age 21, kept asking for permission to help the stranded troops, but the officers said no.

"And then finally, I requested one last time," he said.

Again, the answer was no.

So Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez decided on the spot to disobey orders.

"He looks at me and says, 'Let's do it,' " Meyer said.

That decision was the start of a long day — a six-hour fight to save the trapped men.

Going Back, Again And Again

Rodriguez-Chavez hopped behind the wheel of a Humvee and drove straight into the ambush. Meyer climbed into the vehicle's gun turret and tried to pinpoint the elusive enemy.

But he said it was hard to identify the Taliban. "They look like normal people, and the next thing you know they're shooting at you," Meyer said.

The Taliban fired mortars, and then rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire as the two Marines got closer. There were explosions and ricochets. The Humvee's side mirror was ripped off by the fire. The noise was deafening.

"Imagine one of those real loud firecrackers blowing up next to your ear," Rodriguez-Chavez said.

Yet Meyer kept firing back, with the shell casings from his machine gun spilling into the Humvee.

"It's kind of crazy, because everything slows down. It seems like it was forever and ever," Meyer said. "And it starts running through your head: I'm never going to see my family again."

Finally, they found a group of Afghan soldiers, the first men who'd been cut off. The two Americans piled the Afghans into the Humvee, including some who had been wounded.

As they dropped off the Afghan soldiers in a safe place, the Afghans warned the Americans, "Don't go back, don't go back."

But the two Marines did go back — again and again.

Rodriguez-Chavez already has been awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for valor.

Surrounded By Taliban

Both men thought they were probably going to die that day. They remember having this exchange.

"Hey man, we'll probably get stuck out here," Rodriguez-Chavez said.

"We'll just die with them, because I can tell you right now they're not going to get out of here without us," said Meyer.

They drove back and forth five times, and Meyer in particular took chances, exposing himself repeatedly to enemy fire. At one point, he was hit in the right arm.

On the final run, it got worse. Rodriguez-Chavez heard a report over the radio.

"Like, hey man, you're getting surrounded," he was told.

And they were. Taliban fighters swarmed toward them — firing AK-47s.

Meyer shot at the Taliban, hitting one in the head and others in the body, Rodriguez-Chavez said. "From the front of the Humvee, they were maybe two or three feet," he said.

The Marines drove on to try to rescue the final group of troops. Nothing had been heard from them for hours. Meyer hoped they'd just lost radio contact.

"What I thought was they had probably pushed up in to a house and lost [communications], and they were just waiting on us to get in there," Meyer said.

A Dozen Marines, Two Dozen Afghan Soldiers Saved

It turned out these American troops were dead. But that didn't stop Meyer, who ran to retrieve the bodies. Taliban gunfire kicked up dirt around him.

Eventually they brought the bodies back to base. Meyer helped place his dead comrades on a helicopter.

After six hours, it was over. Meyer kept thinking one thing.

"You feel like a failure. Why isn't that you being carried on that bird? Why are you standing here and they're not?" Meyer said.

Meyer was anything but a failure. His actions, say military officials, saved more than a dozen Marines and two dozen Afghan soldiers.

Meyer was promoted to sergeant before he left the Marines, and is now living in his native Kentucky, where he is a construction worker. Rodriguez-Chavez is now a gunnery sergeant stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he teaches troops how to drive Humvees and trucks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to beat Terrorism? Refuse to be Terrorized

Spencer Ackerman has a great September 11 piece up at Wired's Danger Room.

Trying to pick out a quote that sums up the essay doesn't do it justice so go read the whole thing. It's not especially long.

Spencer begins,
Ten years ago today, 2,996 people were murdered, unleashing a pair of destructive, mutually reinforcing trends. To prove their relevance, terrorists keep trying to attack the United States at home. And the media and politicians react to it with hysteria, running in fear of getting blamed for a successful attack and perpetuating the gigantic, expensive, counterproductive National Security State. As awful as the snuffing of so many souls on 9/11 was, the second trend has often proved more dangerous than the first.

In case you haven’t noticed, hysteria is what the terrorists want. In fact, it’s the only win a decapitated, weakened al-Qaida can get these days. The only hope that these eschatological conspiracy theorists possess for success lies in compelling the U.S. to spend its way into oblivion and pursue ill-conceived wars. That’s how Osama bin Laden transforms from a cave-dwelling psycho into a world-historical figure — not because of what he was, but because of how we reacted to him.

We have spent 6.6 TRILLION DOLLARS -- with a 'T'-- in response to the bombings of September 11th, with no end in sight. This spending is bankrupting the United States which is exactly Osama Bin Laden hoped we would do.

Read Spencer's essay and share it with others. We really need a new, rational, approach.