The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Woops. Seem to have lost my comments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Am I the Only One...

Who doesn't get how the apparent contradiction in this case can be reconciled?

Suspects in court over 'Jazeera bombing' leak - Yahoo! News:

"LONDON (Reuters) - Two men appeared in a British court on Tuesday accused of leaking a secret document which a newspaper said showed that U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to bomb Arabic television station Al Jazeera.

The hearing came a week after the Daily Mirror reported that a British government memo said British Prime Minister Tony Blair had talked Bush out of bombing the broadcaster's headquarters in Qatar in April last year.

The White House has dismissed the report as 'outlandish' and on Monday Blair denied receiving any details of a reported U.S. proposal to bomb Al Jazeera.

Defendant David Keogh, a civil servant who used to work at the Cabinet Office, was charged with making a 'damaging disclosure of a document relating to international relations.'

His co-defendant Leo O'Connor, once a researcher for a former member of parliament, was charged with receiving a document which he knew, or had reason to believe, was protected against disclosure by Britain's Official Secrets Act."

How can it simultaneously be the case that the report is outlandish and Blair claims he never received any reported US proposal to bomb Al Jazeera while at the same time the two men in question are in court for having breach official secrets? Wouldn't a libel claim (something emminently prosecutable in the UK) seem a more reasonable charge? I mean, if the documents in question do show this and they are official secrets then how can they not be true?

Friday, November 25, 2005

I Love This Excuse

Catholic hospitals under fire (Denver Post)

Catholic nonprofit hospitals - including Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives - are increasing income while charging high prices to patients with no health insurance, according to a report by a Latino advocacy group.

The study, based on annual tax returns filed by CHI and six other large Catholic hospital systems, found net income doubled between 2003 and 2004.

At the same time, uninsured patients are being charged up to seven times as much as those covered by federal Medicare, according to the report.

The advocacy group that prepared the report, Calfornia- based Consejo de Latinos Unidos, is urging the Roman Catholic Church to intervene on behalf of the poor and uninsured.

"Rather than defending their congregation, the Catholic Church continues to let their nonprofit Catholic hospitals price-gouge," said K.B. Forbes, the group's executive director.

A spokesperson for the group representing Catholic health care providers said the uncertain nature of the U.S. health care system forces them to have plenty of reserves.

There is so much to be said here but I think this statement at the end really says it all. A Catholic nonprofit organization that has forgotten its mission. A health care system that is broken. And the indifference of us all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

First Mis-step

Obama Calls for Troop Reduction in Iraq:

"CHICAGO - Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday called for a troop reduction in Iraq and criticized the Bush administration for questioning the patriotism of people who have spoken out against the war.

'I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq,' the Illinois Democrat said during a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. 'The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with a shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.'"

I haven't been following Obama's career so far in the Senate enough to know if this is his first mis-step, but I can say that this is pretty lame and weak. Whatever your position, trying to have it both ways only makes you personally look weak and indecisive and like just another politician. All the evidence so far indicates two things. 1) That the insurgency, while currently targeting Shia, is an outgrowth of the US presence. and 2) That the US needs more troops not less in Iraq. Richard Holbrooke was recently on Charlie Rose and noted that if the US had used the same proportion of troops in Iraq as it did in Bosnia and Kosovo, we would have had 600,000 troops at least on the ground, not an armed force smaller than the New York City Police Department.

So either you should take the Murtha route and call for an immediate withdrawal, a principled and not totally unreasonable position, or you should call for a time table and a boost in troop numbers. But there is absolutely no reason to believe that a gradual step down of troops starting now with out evidence that the Iraqis are ready to take over will do anything other than worsen an already terrible situation. The pockets of insurgency will strengthen and spread and chaos becomes more likely, not less.

Is This News?

Vatican Rejects Actively Gay Priests:

"VATICAN CITY - Reiterating its stand against sexually active gays in the priesthood, the Vatican also says in a new document that men with 'transitory' homosexuality must have overcome their sexual tendencies for at least three years before entering the clergy."

What exactly is news about this position? Wouldn't it be odd for them to embrace actively homosexual men but not actively heterosexual men? Doesn't that kind of come with the whole celibacy thing?

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Couple of Things

The Flu Levee

Remember that $250 million Republicans cut from the Army Corps of Engineers request to shore up New Orleans levees? Well last night's supposed attempt to restrain federal spending cut $8 billion from the effort to prevent a flu pandemic from wiping through the U.S.

Wait Till Next Year

There ought to be a law against an elected official setting a target date for a policy at a year after he or she will be out of office.

President Bush's press office issued a statement from Pusan, South Korea, where the president was meeting with leaders of Southeast Asia, praising the action on the budget cuts.

"I applaud the Republican Members of the House who passed a significant savings package that will restrain spending and keep us on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This is so comforting

Capitol Hill Blue: White House keeps dossiers on more than 10,000 'political enemies':

"Spurred by paranoia and aided by the USA Patriot Act, the Bush Administration has compiled dossiers on more than 10,000 Americans it considers political enemies and uses those files to wage war on those who disagree with its policies.

The "enemies list" dates back to Bush's days as governor of Texas and can be accessed by senior administration officials in an instant for use in campaigns to discredit those who speak out against administration policies or acts of the President."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Don't Forget to Ask...

Wednesday the Senate committee votes to confirm Ben Bernanke (disclaimer: my old Macro professor) as Fed Chief.

Latest News and Financial Information from - Bernanke sees Fed mandate for jobs, stable prices :

"At a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee on his nomination as Fed chairman, the White House economic adviser pledged to be independent of politics and expressed confidence in the economy's vigor despite recent hurricanes."

I wonder if anyone bothered to ask him if that included statements about policy choices such as tax cuts, benefit cuts to Social Security, and plans like privatization? Seems to me Greenspan could have used a primer on the Fed Chief's role in that regard.

About that GM Pension Plan...

It pains me to har that GM will have to declare bankruptcy because of its health care obligations.

Consumer Reports Article - MSN Autos: "See Best and worst for a list of the models that have earned the best and worst Predicted Reliability Ratings in various vehicle categories. Following are some of the more notable survey findings:

Of the 31 cars that earned top rating, 29 were Japanese. Of these, 15 were from Toyota and its Lexus division and eight were from Honda. Some redesigned or new Japanese models from Toyota and Honda, however suffered 'first-year blues.' The new Scion tC and the redesigned 2005 Acura RL, Toyota Avalon, and Honda Odyssey earned only average reliability scores, for example.

Of the 48 cars that earned the lowest rating, 22 carry American nameplates, 20 are European, 4 are from Japan (all from Nissan and its Infiniti division), and 2 are from South Korea."

Sorry but it will declare bankruptcy because of mismanagement. But health care is still a crisis.

As a Nation, We are New Orleans in the Face of Katrina - Does Anybody Care?

A 'fiscal hurricane' on the horizon - From USA TODAY

Sadly, it's no laughing matter. To hear Walker, the nation's top auditor, tell it, the United States can be likened to Rome before the fall of the empire. Its financial condition is "worse than advertised," he says. It has a "broken business model." It faces deficits in its budget, its balance of payments, its savings - and its leadership.

Walker's not the only one saying it. As Congress and the White House struggle to trim up to $50 billion from the federal budget over five years - just 3% of the $1.6 trillion in deficits projected for that period - budget experts say the nation soon could face its worst fiscal crisis since at least 1983, when Social Security bordered on bankruptcy.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Can't Say As I Agree

Rodriguez edges Ortiz for AL MVP Award

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez captured his second American League Most Valuable Player Award on Monday, edging out Boston slugger David Ortiz.

Let's see, Rodriguez batted about 20 points higher than Ortiz and also played third while Ortiz is the DH. Other than that Ortiz was infinitely more valuable to the Red Sox. He won 20 game by himself in his last at bat and is a proven cltch hitter. Rodriguez? Well that performance in the playoffs about sums it up.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

If He Didn't Exist, You Would Have to Invent Him

Pat Robertson Warns Pa. Town of Disaster - Yahoo! News:

"VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town Thursday that disaster may strike there because they 'voted God out of your city' by ousting school board members who favored teaching intelligent design.

All eight Dover, Pa., school board members up for re-election were defeated Tuesday after trying to introduce 'intelligent design' - the belief that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

'I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city,' Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's '700 Club.'"

La La Land: Or, How Not to Make Message

Excuse Me, But This is Not How You Play Tit For Tat

Congress's top Republican leaders yesterday demanded an immediate joint House and Senate investigation into the disclosure of classified information to The Washington Post that detailed a web of secret prisons being used to house and interrogate terrorism suspects.
The Post's article, published on Nov. 2, has led to new questions about the treatment of detainees and the CIA's use of "black sites" in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The issue dogged President Bush on his recent trip to Latin America and has created consternation in Eastern Europe.

"If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wrote in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Hastert is obviously Speaker because he just does what he is told. I can't believe he is this stupid. Where is the outrage and demand for investigations of the allegations themselves? If all the GOP can do is get ginned up about the leak and think this is some moral equivalent to the Plame case, they clearly miss the point of both cases.

Frist Worried About Leak, Not Prisons
JONATHAN M. KATZ (AP) Thursday, November 10, 2005; 12:59 PM
WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he is more concerned about the leak of information regarding secret CIA detention centers than activity in the prisons themselves.
Frist told reporters Thursday that while he believed illegal activity should not take place at detention centers, he believes the leak itself poses a greater threat to national security and is "not concerned about what goes on" behind the prison walls.

Lions and Republicans Eat Their Young

LOS ANGELES - The across-the-board collapse of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot propositions came down to this: They were ideas with narrow appeal, further damaged by a flat-footed campaign and an unpopular messenger, the governor himself.

And that's just what his fellow Republicans said.

Kansas Education Board First to Back 'Intelligent Design'
Schools to Teach Doubts About Evolutionary Theory
Peter Slevin Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, November 9, 2005; Page A01

TOPEKA, Kan., Nov. 8 -- The Kansas Board of Education voted Tuesday that students will be expected to study doubts about modern Darwinian theory, a move that defied the nation's scientific establishment even as it gave voice to religious conservatives and others who question the theory of evolution.

By a 6 to 4 vote that supporters cheered as a victory for free speech and opponents denounced as shabby politics and worse science, the board said high school students should be told that aspects of widely accepted evolutionary theory are controversial. Among other points, the standards allege a "lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code."

I think this story speaks for itself. Or it should.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

John Bogle Tells It Straight

A great interview on NPR by Rene Montaigne today about a book that most Americans won't hear much about by the press but which pretty much puts its finger on what has gone wrong in our capitalist system -- written by that great capitalist himself John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Investments.

A financial expert explains what’s wrong in corporate, investment, and mutual fund America, the reasons behind the problems, and what should be done about it.

There is no one better qualified to tell us about the failures of the American financial system and the grotesque abuses that have taken place in recent years than John Bogle, who as founder and former chief executive of the Vanguard mutual funds group has seen firsthand the innermost workings of the financial industry. A zealous advocate for the small investor for more than fifty years, Bogle has championed the restoration of integrity in industry practices. As an astute observer and commentator, he knows that a trustworthy business and financial complex is essential to America’s continuing leadership in the world and to social and economic progress at home.

This book tells not just a story about what went wrong but, more important, the story of why we lost our way and of how we can right our course. Bogle argues for a return to a governance structure in which owners’ capital that has been put at risk is used in their interests rather than in the interests of corporate and financial managers. Given that ownership is now consolidated in the hands of relatively few large mutual and pension funds, the specific reforms Bogle details in this book are essential as well as practical. Every investor, analyst, Wall-Streeter, policy maker, and businessperson should read this deeply informed book.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Keep the Spotlight on Cheney

If you didn't see it, find someone who had the foresight to record it because it was a tour de force of hard-nosed prosecutorial straight talk. The guy is completely untouchable by the Republicans and they will make fools of themselves if they try any of the arguments that they have been floating in this their most desperate week in the past five years, like "it's a technicality" or "the charges are partisan." The Bush-Cheney cabal has been fooling people about their fundamentally corrupt nature for so long that when someone like this (a doorman's son from Brooklyn no less!) comes along and says basically "the VP's chief of staff lied repeatedly to FBI investigators and the grand jury in the course of a national security investigation about the disclosure of the identity of a CIA officer" it totally punctures their balloon.

Rove may yet escape (although he will continue to twist in the wind) but unless Bush can find it within himself to do what he seems incapable of doing - namely clean house from top to bottom and make it clear that Dick Cheney is not the president - he may as well just go back to Crawford now and start planning for McCain's inauguration in January 2009. (Sorry Hillary.)

It's interesting to see the various reactions in the 48 hours since the indictments were announced. I saw a segment on CNN with an editor from the Nation and an editor from the WSJ. Both were incredibly lame. The editor from the Nation couldn't help overreaching: this indictment is all about the war, etc., which it might me eventually but as Fitzgerald himself said, correctly, it's not now.

One thing his press conference should have shown both sides is that in these matters precision in language is very important. What is clear from the indictment itself is that Libby learned about Wilson's status as a CIA employee from a number of sources inside the government, including the sitting VP.

This fact, in itself, raises very serious issues that the Democrats need to focus on like a laser. The fact that Cheney learned of Wilson from Tenet and then passed that information on to Libby is the thread around which whatever else comes will be woven. Every single Democratic elected official should be asking one question, and one question only, right now, and they should be asking it every time a television camera or microphone is close by: What exactly was said among Tenet, Cheney, and Libby when they talked about Valerie Wilson? That's what the public has a right to know and if Dick Cheney is not willing to talk about it (Scooter's reticence is understandable since he is under indictment) then he should resign.

Of course, the WSJ editor was beyond absurd. His argument was two-fold: First, Joe Wilson wasn't truthful either, a charge that keeps being repeated by the right, although I couldn't tell you what the nature of his untruthfulness was, and it clearly wasn't in the context of a criminal investigation. Moreover, so what? You mean someone being untruthful places them and their family at risk of fragging by the forces of the administration? The second argument, which has been adopted, sadly, by the supposedly reasonable right-wingers at the Times, Tierney and Brooks, is that the indictment shows that there was no underlying crime (Tierney) and no underlying conspiracy (Brooks).

These guys either weren't paying attention to Fitzgerald or are simply falling in line with the White House spin machine. Both conclusions are false. As Fitzgerald made clear, he didn't charge under the 1982 Espionage Act because he couldn't figure out the facts because Scooter Libby lied about what happened. That's why the penalties for perjury and obstruction are the same as for the underlying crime; because those crimes prevent the investigators from discovering the truth and confirming whether or not a crime was committed.

Regarding the conspiracy theories, I agree that the usual cast of characters on the left are already overplaying their hands, but again even the facts we know from the indictment show that a number of government officials, including the VP himself, were making it their business to know about Valerie Wilson and the net result of their doing so was that she was outed. This does not reflect well on anyone involved and whether or not a crime was committed we as Americans have the right to expect that the people on our team like Valerie Wilson will not be attacked by other people who are supposedly on our team, especially not by people at the very top like the VP.

From the political rather than criminal perspective, of course, we also have the right to ask whether this kind of behavior was limited to this instance and whether it continues to this day. My guess is that the answers to those questions are no and yes. How far it goes we may never know until someone (including but not limited to Scooter) talks. My intuition is that if we could know what happened we would see a distinct difference between the Bush team and the Cheney team. Bush defers completely to Rove, who appears to relish walking up to and then dancing just on the line between nasty, amoral, hardball politics and criminal activity. Cheney thinks he gets to draw the line itself, and when it comes to his own actions the chalk stays in his pocket.