Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fear-mongering at its finest

ThinkRight has a post about a recent Republican ad describing how we will all die horrible deaths if we don't immediately give the President everything he petulantly demands in terms of wiretapping, etc. He follows it with another post listing a press release Senator Kyl discussing the same matter, and ascribing the same horrible eventualities.

It's enough to make you wonder how we've managed to survive the last two weeks.

Both the ad and the press release are misleading or downright false. For example, Kyl's statement:

"So long as a call is routed through a U.S. telecommunications network – which virtually all calls are these days because of changes in technology – U.S. agents now need to obtain a warrant in order to monitor a call between a Taliban chief in Pakistan and an al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan. "

... is simply wrong. There is no limit whatsoever on monitoring of communications between foreign individuals in foreign locations. None. What's more, Kyl either knows this, in which case he is outright lying, or he doesn't, in which case he's incapable of very basic reading comprehension (i.e., he's a moron). Actually, those aren't mutually exclusive.

Warrants are needed when a communication involves a U.S. citizen (or legal permanent resident) who is currently within the U.S. Foreign communications, fair game, doesn't matter where they are routed through. Even if a U.S. citizen within the country is involved, intelligence agencies can still monitor the communications. However, they must then retroactively (within 48 hours if memory serves) apply for a warrant in front of a secret FISA court. These applications are reputedly rarely denied.

No, the real goal of the administration and it's mouthpieces such as Kyl is made open in this statement:

"And Congress must protect the private companies who cooperate with our intelligence agencies to collect the information. Allowing litigation against these companies not only will promote highly damaging leaks about terrorist surveillance programs; it also will ensure that U.S. agents will not receive full cooperation from the telecommunications companies they rely on for access to these calls."

In other words, those Telecom companies who for years let us illegally listen in on your phone calls, read your email, etc., are frantic they might actually be held responsible for their actions, and god forbid we can't be having actual accountability - what kind of bad precedent would that set?

Recall, that "full cooperation" the companies gave so nobly, so patriotically, came to a screeching halt when the bills weren't paid on time. Qu'elle surprise. What Republicans are demanding is amnesty for the telecoms in the truest, purest sense of the term.

Weren't these guys against "amnesty" before they were for it?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Test Anxiety

The NY Times has an intriguing article today about the conflict people have between getting DNA screening to help determine what illnesses they may have a predisposition for and the fear of letting that information get out to their insurance companies.

The sheer fact this is even a concern is a sever condemnation of the way health insurance works in this country.

At issue is the fact people are worried getting a DNA screening through traditional medical channels would make that information part of their public health record, information which insurance companies might then use to deny access to health insurance (or companies might use to turn away job applicants, a different, but related, matter).

As the article makes clear, there are few, if any, examples of this actually occurring. However, given the propensities of the health insurance industry, no one can reasonably deny this is a legitimate concern. For a recent example, I refer the reader to this LA Times story discussing how Health Net canceled a woman's insurance while she was in the middle of costly chemotherapy treatment ... and how policy cancellation was a key component of the company's bonus plan.

Should information from DNA screenings become public, one can hardly blame the insurance companies for using the information to weed out applicants with increased risk of costly conditions. After all, we are a capitalistic society, and that's the way capitalism works - maximum your income and minimize your expenses. In the end, the bottom line for the insurance companies is the health their bottom line, not the health of their policy holders.

Somehow, conservatives see this as being a good thing in the long run ... and if some people, through no fault of their own, but rather as a result of genetic pre-disposition or, worse, simply being poor and unable to afford health insurance end up not being covered ... well, that's ok with them apparently.

A national health-care plan would have a far different set of incentives than a private health insurance company. It would have an incentive in promoting healthy life-styles and preventive medicine. It would not be driven by the notion of making a profit, even at the expense of the patient. It would (at least in theory) not be as tethered to making money for stock-holders and executives, but could instead pump that money back into the system.

Even with a national health care plan, there would be niches for private insurers to fill, to provide faster access to surgery for needed, but not life-threatening, conditions for example, or a higher level of service. Of course, to encourage people to spend more of their hard-earned money on top of what they would pay in taxes for the national plan, these companies would, just maybe, have to actually show they care about their customers.

It's ludicrous that people are, in many instances, refusing to get testing to find possible issues which could be addressed early because they know that information can, and likely will, be used against them. What they don't know might kill them, but what they do know could end up ruining them financially. It's not a decision anyone should have to make.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wisconsin winnings

So Obama continued his February roll with a decisive win in Wisconsin last night (Hawaii too, but Wisconsin was the focus). Clinton responded with a notably ungracious non-concession speech, which the Obama campaign let go for about 15 or 20 minutes before deciding if she wasn't going to be generous neither were they and had Obama start his speech, effectively knocking Clinton off the air.

Yes, folks are getting a bit testy out there now ...

Obama's 17-point margin was about double what was expected based on polling data, and the results showed Obama seriously cutting into or even winning demographics which have been seen as Clinton strongholds:

* He beat Clinton among women, 51-49.
* He beat Clinton among voters with familiy income less than $50 K, 51-49.
* He lost among Catholics, but only by two points, 49-51.

Clinton did retain a big margin in one of her key demographics, winning the vote among those 65 and older 60-39. The race this fall is not going to be decided by voters 65 and older.

I think the Wisconsin result is a precursor of things to come. The state, in many ways, set up for Hillary - it's predominantly white, working class, a stronger union state than most, more conservative than many states that vote Democratic. It's worth recalling the last two presidential elections, the margins were very close ... and it definitely seems like, from the results, the state is declaring whom they would like to see if Dems want to win comfortably there, especially when you realize about 25% of the primary voters were Independents - yet another category Obama smashed Clinton in.

Meanwhile, Obama is crushing the opposition on the money front too, apparently having raised $36 million in January to Clinton's $13.5 million and McCain's $12 million according to the NYTimes.

I tuned in to some post-primary TV analysis for about 20 minutes last night, just long enough to listen to Chris Matthews try to push some panelists to declare the race over. No one was going that far, but with Texas showing as a dead heat it seemed clear some were starting to lean that way. John McCain seems to be in that camp as well, as his victory speech apparently saw him start hammering Obama and omit mention of Clinton.

I'm not willing to go that far yet ... but I'm hoping.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Do it again

There's a lot of discussion in the Democratic camp about what to do with the Michigan and Florida delegates. Clinton and her supporters, unsurprisingly, are arguing they should be seated. Obama supporters point out the DNC rules were violated, both states were told their delegates would not count, and they opted to move their primary dates up anyway ... why reward bad behavior.

Clinton got most of the delegates in both states, and given the constraints one can see why - with no one campaigning in either state name recognition was always going to be the deciding factor, and given how early both primaries were held (which is what led to this issue in the first place) her name recognition was still far higher than Obama's. Further, her name was the only one of the leading candidates to appear on the ballot in Michigan. Of course she won, and of course she now wants those delegates, since without them she's likely to lose.

On the other hand, there is a point that the will of the voters in those states should count too ... after all, it's not the voters who decided to move the dates up. Furthermore, with the Obama camp arguing that super delegates should adhere to the will of the majority of general primary voters, it would be inconsistent to not include the will of those who voted in these two populous states.

Sooooo ... let's have a do-over.

There's time. The Democratic National Convention is not until late August. There is plenty of time to pick a date in, say, late July for both states and schedule primaries for them, primaries which would count. Heck, given the state of the race the two primaries would probably be more influential for being held late in the season rather than early. There would be plenty of time for both campaigns to gear up advertising and re-create whatever ground operations they need there.

No, time isn't an issue. Money is the issue. My guess is it would cost something on the order of $30 million to hold new primaries in both states. So, ask both campaigns to kick in $5 million (or, perhaps, since Obama has more money available at this point, maybe $6.5 million from him, 3.5 million from Clinton), have the DNC contribute $5 million, and the states foot the rest.

If the states aren't willing, then say to hell with them - they knew the penalties, and their votes don't count.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The wheels of justice turn ...

... they just turn at a glacial pace.

The House of Representatives finally got around to issuing contempt citations for Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton for refusing to respond to a summons to testify about their knowledge of the fired U.S. Attorney scandal.

Hey, it only took eight fricking months to finally take this much needed step. Good thing they expedited it.

In response, House Republicans had a sit-in, most of them leaving the chambers for the vote and terming it a "witch hunt". If I were Harriet, I wouldn't put up with being called such names by such people.

There was a nice side-effect of the Republican pouting though - the House adjourned without resolving the FISA issue, meaning the current temporary bill lapses this weekend, despite all our President's foot-stomping over the need to get a new bill or he can't protect us, even as he threatened to veto another temporary extension, or a bill which didn't include telecom immunity, which clearly demonstrates his priorities are, in order:

1. Getting his way.
2. Protecting his telecom friends from the angered reactions of their repeated law-breaking.
3. (At best) Protecting the country. I suspect this is actually well down his list.

I suspect the country will get along just fine without the administration minimally less fettered abilities to spy on U.S. citizens within in the U.S. without benefit of court oversight, and without the telecom companies being pardoned for their misdeeds.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Omentum and other things

Obama continued to roll last night, sweeping three more primaries and taking the delegate lead for the first time over Clinton.

Recent reports in various papers report a Clinton campaign team in increasing turmoil. She replaced her campaign manager two days ago, and the deputy campaign manager resigned yesterday. The Clintons have loaned $5 million of their personal funds to the campaign as Obama continues to pull ahead in the fund raising race at a record clip. Even previously "committed" superdelegates are talking off-the-record of switching their allegiances.

The Clinton campaign seems to be bunkering in with a Rudy Giuliani approach - hoping to take the large state primaries of Texas and Ohio on March 4 to stop the Obama march, which by then is expected to have garnered a full month of uninterrupted victories. Even Clinton campaign staffers are admitting if she doesn't win both, her campaign is likely doomed. We saw how well this approach worked for Rudy9/11.

I have seen some Clinton campaign remarks trying to downplay the effect of the recent String of Obama wins, pointing out how his win in Iowa didn't carry over to New Hampshire, but the circumstances are entirely different. First of all, the win in Virginia last night was especially indicative, as Obama swept every voting demographic, showing strength with constituents outside his "base". Clinton has yet to show anything similar in any primary.

Second, going into New Hampshire only one state had been settled, and there was only one week in between. Going into March 4 Clinton will be facing a full month of losing primaries, along with the associated "Obama on a roll" stories. Unlike in New Hampshire, Obama can be expected now to significantly outspend Clinton on advertising in both of the big states. The Obama wave after Iowa was a small swell. The Obama wave going into next month won't be a tsunami, but it will be a nice 40-footer, and much harder for Clinton to break.

In other news ... the US Senate yesterday decided sure, we're fine with expanding the wiretapping of US citizens, even though we already have the FISA act which allows federal agencies to conduct wiretapping without a warrant if time is of essence, and get the warrant retroactively. Just as an added bonus, they decided to throw in retroactive immunity for all the communications companies which violated the law by allowing the government to tap their systems without warrants.

The House did pass a bill without the immunity clause, and the two bills still need to be reconciled. One hopes the immunity clause dies there, but one shouldn't be holding one's breath.

Finally, the government presented a tortured legal justification for waterboarding yesterday. I'm not sure how to feel about this ... certainly, I don't find the justification at all convincing, but on the other hand if it might one day allow me to legally justify waterboarding the Senators who voted in favor of the wiretapping immunity legislation (particularly the Democratic ones) I could be persuaded to see the usefulness of the technique.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

DNC in a bind, McCain looking fine

The much-anticipated super-Tuesday primaries went off largely without a hitch (except in New Mexico, where weather and lack of ballots apparently were issues), and by now the results have been hashed over and hashed over until they have been turned into just so much ... well ... hash.

On the Republican side, John McCain has now firmly grasped the front-runners mantle, and barring catastrophe will be the Republican nominee, much to the consternation of Rush, Anne and other such screeching screed-mongers. Huckabee did well enough in the south and bible belt to merit serious consideration as a potential VP for McCain, but not well enough to be considered a long-term threat. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is reportedly to have serious discussions today about whether to stay in the race.

I think he drops out ... he's sunk a lot of personal funds into the race, clearly is not gaining traction, and given neither McCain nor Huckabee apparently care for him, he is not likely to have much influence at the Republican convention no matter how many delegates he might have.

Meanwhile, as expected neither Clinton nor Obama landed a decisive blow, although Clinton may have gained a very small edge in delegates awarded last night. Numbers should be out later today (I hope). In general, reports are Clinton won among women, Hispanics and older voters, Obama was favored by the young, men and Blacks.

I do think Clinton needed a "knock-out" more than Obama yesterday, for several reasons:

1. The upcoming slate of states seems to favor Obama more than Clinton.

2. Fund-raising seems to have tilted heavily in Obama's favor over the last month. If the race continues into the late Spring, and Obama continues to hold a significant fund-raising advantage, that's going to be a factor.

3. The more spread-out schedule now helps Obama more, in my opinion. Clinton possesses a name-recognition edge, and with so many states to campaign in at once, it was difficult for Obama to make a strong impression in all of them.

However, now the pace slows down again, and the campaigns will be able to focus their time and energy on specific states again. Generally, trends have shown the more uncommitted voters see of Obama and Clinton, the more they tend toward Obama (New Hampshire being a notable exception).

All-in-all, though, the Democratic race now looks like it will go the full distance ... and it's entirely possible the convention could be reached with, say, Obama ahead, but by a margin close enough that counting the Michigan and Florida delegates would swing things in Clinton's favor ... in which case, the convention might become the ugliest any of us will see in our lifetimes. The DNC has only itself to thank for that possibility.