Monday, March 21, 2011

Last Call

An interesting catfight shaping up between conservative columnist (and token NPR "centrist") David Frum and Sarah Palin.  Frum is apparently pissed that Palin's trip to Israel wasn't booked through the Jewish conservative group that Frum is a board member of, the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The RJC played an especially important role in 2008, the election in which Palin burst onto the national stage — a very unpromising year for the GOP. Barack Obama out-raised John McCain in an election in which many of the party’s usual donors stayed on the sidelines. Yet RJC members continued to fundraise for McCain-Palin, like the last guy to hold the pass, outnumbered and outgunned.

Most Republican presidential aspirants consider the RJC a group whose support is very much worth having. Which is why virtually every major and long-shot Republican candidate except Palin has addressed an RJC meeting: Romney often, Newt Gingrich often, Tim Pawlenty often. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is stopping by the group’s April Las Vegas meeting … just in case.

Obviously the RJC has no monopoly on Israel visitation rights. Mike Huckabee for example has organized his own trips. But Huckabee has been to Israel more than 15 times, he knows the country and its leadership intimately, and hardly requires any introduction from anybody.

But with somebody like Palin making a first visit — dealing with important geopolitical sensitivities — and trying to make a positive impression on American friends of Israel — the design of a trip carries special significance.

Over the months since November 2008, the RJC had repeatedly offered to organize an Israel tour for Palin. They have repeatedly invited Palin to speak at their meetings. As a member of the RJC board, I know that Palin’s team engaged in extended conversations about these invitations. Yet they were abruptly shelved. The RJC organization learned that its invitation would not be accepted the same way everybody else did: by reading the newspaper.

Why? We cannot know for certain. But we do know this: Some members of the RJC board — including me, and one or two others — have publicly said critical things about Palin.

The seeming result: Palin decided the RJC was dead to her.

Which is of course her prerogative.

Frum's pretty bent out of shape here.  Then again, if Palin really is avoiding the RJC because of criticism (and she's pretty thin skinned when it comes to the right) then Frum just pretty much buried his cause under a couple tons of rubble.

So how long will it take to have David Frum expelled from the Happy Conservative Club for daring to go after Palin?  Might get pretty interesting, because Frum is damned right about the RJC being a heavy hitter in GOP contender circles.  Few people are going to go after Frum on this...but few people are going to go after Palin, either.

Popcorn, anyone?

A Confederacy Of Dunces

Every year some poll or news organization gives out the official US Citizenship Test to a bunch of Americans, and every year we collectively look like idiots as this time around some 38% of Americans botched basic civics.

They’re the sort of scores that drive high-school history teachers to drink. When NEWSWEEK recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.
Don’t get us wrong: civic ignorance is nothing new. For as long as they’ve existed, Americans have been misunderstanding checks and balances and misidentifying their senators. And they’ve been lamenting the philistinism of their peers ever since pollsters started publishing these dispiriting surveys back in Harry Truman’s day. (He was a president, by the way.) According to a study by Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, the yearly shifts in civic knowledge since World War II have averaged out to “slightly under 1 percent.”
But the world has changed. And unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings—like us.

As Kitty Smith alluded to earlier today, that makes us more pliable and easier to rule.  An informed populace capable of critical thinking, able to respond with reasoned logic to counter the media monsoon that deluges us daily is not what politicians and especially Republican politicians want.

And of course the Republican answer to "Why are we so stupid?" is because "The elitist educators are making you dumb, let's cut education money!"  Check the rest of Newsweek's article carefully.

It doesn’t help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world, with the top 400 households raking in more money than the bottom 60 percent combined. As Dalton Conley, an NYU sociologist, explains, “it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English.” When surveys focus on well-off, native-born respondents, the U.S. actually holds its own against Europe.

The first sentence of the paragraph is the important one.  It's the last one that undoes it all, however.  "It's the poor and the immigrants who don't speak English who are making us dumb!"  And of course, the poor and foreign-born are "responsible" for the first sentence of the paragraph, too.  "Well that bottom 60% must be those damn brown people."

Never mind that that 60% mark is "everyone who makes less than $40,000 a year" or so.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

Old broken-down ODS meme:  Obama won't bomb Libya cause he's a wuss.

New hotness ODS meme:  Hillary's calling the shots now.  Doug J:

My favorite right-wing angle on Libya is that Hillary Clinton, not Obama, is the one who was tough enough to go toe-to-toe with Gaddafi. National Review (not linking) is running a poll that asks “In your view, who is tougher, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?” and Hillary is winning 98 to 2 among the knuckle draggers who visit that website.

Ahh, the right's two favorites combine like chocolate and peanut butter.  Obama, the effete elitist and Hillary's really A MAN, baby!

Backhanded compliments for Hillary Clinton to hit Obama for the next, oh, forever. Hail Hillary, the conquering hero!

For years, Ms. Clinton has endured abuse from all points on the U.S. political spectrum. Yet in Libya, should the rebellion prevail, she would become properly regarded as nothing short of a diplomatic heroine to the Libyan people.

So shall it be written, so shall it be.

That's Not How The Munchies Work, You Know

A Denver medical marijuana dispensary says it is literally trading a ton of joints for a ton of food.

Urban Cannabis, 2383 S. Downing St., is giving out free pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes to qualified medical marijuana patients who bring in four 8-ounce, canned food items.

They hope to raise 2,000 pounds of food items for Denver's indigent and homeless population. The effort started March 1 and will continue through April 20 or until the 2,000 pound goal has been reached.
So far, the business has collected 330 cans, said Amy DiIullo, sales director for Urban Cannabis.

I have to give then points for creativity and doing some good.  Yay for the dirty stinking hippies!

AT&T Takes Top Spot With Acquisition

It's official.  AT&T has purchased T-Mobile, USA from its parent company, Deutsche Telekom.  For 39 billion dollars, they hope to seal the deal in twelve months, under scrutiny from antitrust enforcement and consumer watchdogs.  If successful, this will make AT&T the largest provider in the nation, and solidify the direction mobile technology will take. 

One concern is that the customers will bear the brunt of this deal, with the lack of competition sure to drive up prices.  Verizon Wireless will hold a strong second, but this is likely a belated death blow for Sprint.  With Sprint essentially out of the running, the market will turn to an either/or scenario that could potentially drive up prices.  AT&T has some of the priciest plans on the market, and T-Mobile has long beat the competition with rate plans and non-contract options.

Right now, there are a lot of unanswered questions.  As this develops, I'll be keeping up on the changes and their impact.  This is a big first step of many, and will not just shape the future for cell phone customers, but how data is transferred to all devices.  This is the beginning of cementing how we will deliver massive data, and brings up technical questions and other concerns such as security and accountability.

More to come.

To The Shores Of Tripoli, Part 6

Josh Marshall goes over the valid concerns of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

So let's review: No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.

And this doesn't even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of 'The West versus lands of Islam' drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.

I can imagine many of the criticisms of the points I've made. And listening to them I think I'd find myself agreeing in general with a lot of it. But it strikes me as a mess, poorly conceived, ginned up by folks with their own weird agendas, carried out at a point well past the point that it was going to accomplish anything. Just all really bad. 

And those are still valid concerns and ones I agree with.  Libya is a huge gray area, frankly.  I don't know what winning consists of, other than the total ouster of Qaddafi.  But what then?  Nobody's asking that question.

What I am saying is that attacking Obama over this is completely counter-productive.  No, saying you're against Libya doesn't make you a Naderite.  But saying "Okay, we're doing this, let's do this right" doesn't make you a Cheneyite, either.

Education Gets Rust Belted

Another state that's having problems with a new Republican governor is Pennsylvania and GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, who has decided he's taking out the state's budget shortfall out on the state's education system.  But not all Republicans are willing to jump off that particular cliff.

The state House Appropriations chairman says he cannot support Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed $27.3 billion general fund budget proposal because of the cuts in education funding.

“I could not support it as it stands now, with the education cuts,” state Rep. William Adolph, R-Delaware, said Tuesday during a break between a series of day-long committee hearings on departmental budgets.
Adolph wasn’t the only committee member apparently having second thoughts about the Republican governor’s budget that is $700 million less than the current one, and which trims $600 million from education funding.

Much of the angst was triggered by State Treasurer Rob McCord’s presentation indicating that should the proposed higher education cuts remain in place, tuition will rise to the point that many parents will not have enough money for their child’s tuition.

Penn State President Graham Spanier, following Corbett’s budget address, said the $180 million cut in his school’s funding could cause increased tuition, layoffs and the closing of regional campuses. The proposed cut in state funding is about a 4 percent cut in Penn State’s overall operating budget.

Cutting more than half a billion from state education and universities certainly makes Corbett look like an uncaring bastard, and that's because he is one.  I can understand making some small cuts to some programs at universities or raising tuition, but slicing up the budget to force the university system to take drastic measures is just silly.  And once again, note that tax increases are simply off the table, every dollar of the budget shortfall has to come from cuts, in this case a near 50% cut in state university funding.

You have to wonder why the GOP hate education and teachers so much.

Searching For Answers In Google Versus China

Google and China are at it again.

Google has accused the Chinese government of disrupting Gmail in the country, making it difficult in the last few weeks for users here to gain access to the company’s popular e-mail service.

Google said that it was not having any technical problems with Google’s main Web site or Gmail service in China.

“There is no issue on our side; we have checked extensively,” Google said in a statement released Sunday. “This is a government blockage, carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”

Analysts who track Web developments say that the Chinese government may be intentionally disrupting access to Google and other Web services as part of a campaign to tighten Internet controls and censor material.

Calls to China’s Foreign Ministry were not returned Sunday. Beijing has long had some of the world’s strictest Internet controls. But after pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in the Middle East in January, the Chinese government seems to have intensified effort to censor Web content and disrupt Web searches related to calls for similar protests in China. 

There's a surprise, China has decided that the lesson from its last tangle with Google is not to stop cracking down on internet freedom, it's to make it look like technical problems instead and to blame Google.  Pretty clever, but it only works once.

Still, this seems to suggest China is very concerned about the wave of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and will do everything it can to stop an uprising in China before it can be allowed to start, including rolling over Google's searches.

Of course, if Google hasn't figured this out by now that their presence in China is completely expendable, it's their own fault.


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