Category Archives: ethics

The enemy of my enemy is my fellow technocrat

There’s been a recent outbreak of Blogger Warz!! between two of my favorites, Greenwald and Krugman.  It’s good reading, so I won’t bother excerpting (ok maybe a little).  Greenwald wrote an article discussing Obama advisor and current Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, and a recent paper he published regarding preferred methods of government propaganda.  Greenwald:

Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.”  He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government).   This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”  Sunstein’s 2008 paper was flagged by this blogger, and then amplified in an excellent report by Raw Story‘s Daniel Tencer.

Greenwald rightly notes that if it was a Bush Administration official proposing these things, we’d be pissed.  Things start to get hot, however, when later in the article Greenwald makes note of the recently uncovered relationship between “independent health care modeling expert” Jon Gruber and the Obama Administration, namely a $400,000 contract to provide cost estimates on the impacts of various reform proposals.  This is a guy who is an MIT health economist, technical expert and leader in the field.  It’s definitely a good thing that lawmakers are relying on technical experts to help craft new laws that will have sweeping impact on society.  But he has repeatedly failed to disclose his financial ties to the current reform effort, even as he advocates for it (op-eds, NYT, WaPo, etc) and is in turn held out as a technical expert by senators, administration officials, etc, trying to sell their plan.

Krugman leaps to Gruber’s defense (and his own), not because the guy’s actions were particularly defensible, but because the revelations have the potential to be politically damaging in this final hour of healthcare reform.  (These shady things are supposed to come out after the fact, not during!)  He closes with this:

And here’s the thing: by claiming that there’s a huge scandal when nothing worse happened than insufficient care about disclosure, Greenwald and the people at FDL are actually reducing our ability to call foul on real corruption. After all, if everything is a scandal, nothing is a scandal. One of these days, perhaps soon, we’ll have a genuinely corrupt administration again — but when whistleblowers try to call attention to the misdeeds, you can be sure that there will be claims that “even liberals said that Obama did things just as bad or worse.”  The crusade against Gruber is getting really destructive.

As I had hoped, Greenwald responded to Krugman this morning, and pretty much dismantled his argument with the Vulcan logic we’ve come to expect.

For me, this is the nub of the matter.  I couldn’t disagree more with Krugman’s claim here, as he has it exactly backwards.  What will make it impossible to effectively call out wrongdoing by future corrupt administrations (by which Krugman seems to mean:  Republican administrations) is the willingness of some people to tolerate and defend corruption when done by “their side.”  The next time we have what Krugman calls a “genuinely corrupt administration” which, say, secretly pays people they’re holding out as “independent” experts, the administration’s defenders will say:  “how can you possibly object to our doing this when Obama did it, and not only did you fail to object then, but you defended it?”

I don’t expect Krugman will respond further to this, if for no other reason than it will continue to give oxygen to the controversy.  In many ways this dispute epitomizes the burgeoning grudge match on the left between those who are Democratic true believers, and those who are willing to cry foul no matter who is in charge.  I’m sympathetic to both sides (which I previously would not be, had we not just lived through the Bush administration) and am curious what others think about this.  Here’s those links again:

Greenwald argument

Krugman rebuttal

Greenwald rebuttal

UPDATE:

Marcy Wheeler rebuttal, responding to claims from Krugles that she’s a scandal-monger

Un-Frankenbelievable!

This is another pitch for an all Al TV channel:

Anyone who followed Congress under Republican control until 2007 was absolutely puking in their hat when McCain started spouting his righteous indignation. Anyone who watches a little CSPAN every once in a while knows that people get cut off all the time. But the worst and most egregious hypocrisy of the predictable Republican outrage is how they bent and twisted Congressional rules in meaningful and despicable ways when they were in power. I’m not talking about cutting of a minute of bloviating, I’m talking about literally eliminating the committee’s legislative process alltogether on some critical bills. Bypassing committee amendments, votes and debates. Right to the floor! This is what ‘shutting the democrats out of the process’ meant to the Republicans. If the Democrats had the same balls (and disrespect for the Constitution, hatred of democracy, anti-American sentiment, etc) then we wouldn’t even be talking about meaningless amendments to healthcare relating to illegal immigrants, abortion, etc that score political points for the opposition but don’t really provide substantial changes to the legislation.

Process is important, and the Republicans have written the book on gaming the system. I’d recommend John Dean’s “Broken Government” if you want more detail on the tactics they employed…here’s a review that I think is pretty accurate:

In his latest anti-Republican polemic, ex-Nixon White House counsel and Watergate whistle-blower Dean (Conservatives Without Conscience) moves from policy to process, how necessary government functions are corrupted and hobbled by Republican politicians and their ethos of authoritarianism, secrecy, partisanship and dogmatic contempt for the public sphere.

It’s a long indictment. The last Republican Congress, Dean contends, rubber-stamped Bush’s policies, shut Democrats out of the legislative process, neglected pressing issues and made a shambles of government finances. Meanwhile, the Bush administration–the worst presidency ever–has sought to replace constitutional checks and balances with a unitary executive that brooks no congressional interference and undermines civil rights. All of this is enabled by the swelling ranks of fundamentalists on the federal bench and Supreme Court (some of whom, he insists, committed perjury to get confirmed).

For this, McCain gets my nomination for “Hypocrite of the Week”

Blame it on Bubba

The tire iron wielding Bubba isn’t alone in his hatred, ignorance and xenophobia…the folks over at Wall Street feel the same way toward the poor masses. How else could one explain their continued adherence to the notion that the nations poor are to blame for the worst global financial meltdown in 100 years? This quote from the WSJ Op-Ed pages is patently ridiculous to anyone with even a basic understanding of what caused the meltdown:

Fifty percent of the high-risk loans are estimated to be CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) loans, with much of the remainder useful to the GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises) in meeting their affordable-housing goals.

The flood of CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) and affordable-housing loans with loosened underwriting standards, combined with declining mortgage interest rates-to 5% in 2003 from 10% in early 1991-resulted in a massive increase in borrowing capacity and fueled a house price bubble of unprecedented magnitude over the period 1997-2006.

So the government is to blame for the crisis because they made it so much easier for poor people to buy a home…right.

The reality of what happened is pretty well summarized in “Fool’s Gold”…I think this review of the book is spot on. The only way bad mortgages take down the entire financial system is when they are used as the ‘raw material’ for speculation by the investment community, whose insatiable appetite for risk, for betting on just about anything, and unfettered greed will always destroy any sane conventional system of banking. History has shown us this several times…Greenspan’s now infamous ‘shocked disbelief’ is laughable when you consider a historical perspective. Or maybe it was those irresponsible poor people who didn’t read the fine fine fine print on the terms of their sub-prime mortgage, right Wall Street?

WaPo: Your Propaganda Here!

The Washington Post is an honest and neutral observer of current events.

For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to “those powerful few” — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer is detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he feels it’s a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff.”

Clearly the newspapers must be saved!  Whatever will we do without them? 

This is the same paper that recently fired it’s one non-conservative columnist, Dan Froomkin, for no apparent reason, other than doing what journalists are supposed to do, which is to expose the lies and hypocrisy of powerful people.

Maybe the reefer lobby can get a few bites out of this apple before it totally rots away.  Who’s got a spare dollar for some propa-ganja, please?

UPDATE

Apparently it was all a big misunderstanding!

The flier circulated this morning came out of a business division for conferences and events, and the newsroom was unaware of such communication. It went out before it was properly vetted, and this draft does not represent what the company’s vision for these dinners are, which is meant to be an independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers. As written, the newsroom could not participate in an event like this.

We do believe there is an opportunity to have a conferences and events business, and that The Post should be leading these conversations in Washington, big or small, while maintaining journalistic integrity. 

The newsroom will participate where appropriate.

Media whoring at its finest!

This Vast and Worthless Area

Soon after Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy in 1968, he spoke at Kansas University. I encourage you to read the entire speech…required reading..

As I caught up on the ATH tonight, I couldn’t help thinking about RFK’s heart breaking and tragic run for the presidency. Before you read this quote, if you don’t know William Allen White, as I didn’t, please click the link so you’ll get the sarcasm.

I’m glad to come here to the home of the man who publicly wrote: “If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come out of our college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.” And despite all the accusations against me, those words were not written by me, they were written by that notorious seditionist, William Allen White. And I know what great affection this university has for him. He is an honored man today, here on your campus and around the rest of the nation. But when he lived and wrote, he was reviled as an extremist and worse. For he spoke, he spoke as he believed. He did not conceal his concern in comforting words. He did not delude his readers or himself with false hopes and with illusions. This spirit of honest confrontation is what America needs today. It has been missing all too often in the recent years and it is one of the reasons that I run for President of the United States.

For we as a people, we as a people, are strong enough, we are brave enough to be told the truth of where we stand. This country needs honesty and candor in its political life and from the President of the United States. But I don’t want to run for the presidency – I don’t want America to make the critical choice of direction and leadership this year without confronting that truth. I don’t want to win support of votes by hiding the American condition in false hopes or illusions. I want us to find out the promise of the future, what we can accomplish here in the United States, what this country does stand for and what is expected of us in the years ahead. And I also want us to know and examine where we’ve gone wrong. And I want all of us, young and old, to have a chance to build a better country and change the direction of the United States of America.

This morning I spoke about the war in Vietnam, and I will speak briefly about it in a few moments. But there is much more to this critical election year than the war in Vietnam.

It appears today that partisan politics and running the constant campaign is more important than literally everything.

The title of this post also comes from that RFK speech in Kansas (see previous link). In 1824, Daniel Webster opposed expanding the United States further into the Great Plains. Today I think the vast and worthless area is called the Democratic Party.

Oh Bama Where Art Thou?

I’ve been fuming all week and was going to do a bunch of research, but Greenwald’s post yesterday summed it up perfectly, thanks for linking to that…

This Administration cannot sweep the crimes of the previous administration under the rug, we absolutely must attack every policy and action, we must be open with this process to heal our country and to restore our moral standing and credibility in the world. Photos of detainee abuse have already been released. The cat is out of the bag. If we continue to deny what happened we look like cowards, but worse we lose our moral standing in the world. There is no room for nuance and middle ground – torture, transparency, human rights…these are central to democracy around the world and to the core values of our country for generations.

If we are successful in reversing the direction of the W administration, then history books will put the Military Commissions Act alongside the Alien and Sedition Acts…misguided mistakes that we reversed in short order. We cannot adopt one single aspect of these horrible, hateful, and mindless reactions to terrorism – they must rejected completely or they will continue to fester in the hearts and minds of Americans and we will never recover. This nation will forever have the precedent of the Bush administration to allow the ends to justify the means. Our system of checks and balances will be forever broken, and Nixon/Cheney/Rice will be right – if the president does it then it must be OK.

We need a suite of new legislation that rolls back the abuses of the Bush administration, and we need to prosecute any illegal actions. It should be a no brainer. Partially adopting any of these shameful and ineffective debacles of the previous administration like the military commissions is completely unacceptable. Even if these tactics go un-used, without a complete reversal of this country’s direction in this regard the Obama Administration will be part of that disgrace. You can never cede the moral or philosophical high ground on these issues. If we do not prosecute torturers, we betray the many soldiers who had every right to want to exact revenge and take an eye for an eye, but held themselves to the higher standards espoused by their country.

Foul Ball

Thank God the baseball season is finally starting. It was a bad offseason, as usual when there’s nothing to talk about on the field people dwell on the unimportant. One of those ‘stories’ was riddled with hypocrisy and lies, and therefore must be called out here.

This morning, ESPN once again, for like the thousandth time, lied about the financing of the Yankees new park. John Saunders said that the park was financed ‘largely by taxpayers’. Wrong. The new Yankee Stadium was completely privately financed, 100%. For building a new cathedral out of their own pocket, the New York Yankees should be commended, as just about every other club HAS asked for taxpayers’ money. But instead we have had to listen to a bevy of lies all winter long. It is so simply summed up here.

So, the Yankees built the entire Stadium, every brick. The City built a park, a parking lot, and improved one of the subway stops…in other words they invested in infrastructure improvements in the vicinity of the ballpark (and actually, the Yankees chipped in 50% of the cost of those improvements on top of paying for the Stadium). Those are the facts.

Then there was the brewha over the financing package the City gave the Yankees. In essence, they got a cut rate on the bonds. Maybe it was too ‘friendly’. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the New York Yankees will be repaying the City for a long time, with interest, to the net benefit of the New York City taxpayer.

The political bandstanding and bloviating over the financing details are too numerous to count or link to here. When its the Yankees, its easy to create a national headline out of nothing, so its no surprise that a gaggle of politicians found it easy sport to make a big deal out of the bonding package that the Yankees got.

While we’re at it, lets talk Yankees ticket prices, another fun ‘news’ story for ESPN all winter. Much was made about the price of the season tickets behind home plate, and the cost of luxury boxes. Ironically, these arguments are made ‘largely’ by the same people who think a progressive tax structure is Marxist. Of course, I have no basis for that claim, but what the hell, at least I put quotes around it. Point is that there’s a huge gap between the rich and the middle class in this country, so yes there are people who can afford season tickets at $2600 a piece. So this is a reason to hate the Yankees? I’m not following.

Again this morning ESPN pointed to the ‘average’ cost of a ticket in the Stadium, about $75 bucks. Sure the ‘average’ goes up, but it has no bearing to the real issue, which is that the vast majority of seats unchanged or still very reasonable. Bleacher seating has been more than doubled and is $14. Upper deck seats in the $20′s, outfield main $55. So actually they’ve increased the amount of really affordable seats, while improving the amenities in those areas. Yea, what a bunch of jerks the Yankees are.

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why some people think its their job to make people think the NYY organization is evil. The reality is otherwise.

Something Smells Phishy

Last week I was having one of those Frank “The Tank” Ricard moments…we had a nice little saturday planned. Home Depot, Sears. Phish tickets? I don’t know! I don’t know if we’ll have enough time! I had it in the back of my mind that I would have to hit the box office based on the near impossiblity of getting through by phone or online. But we needed to get some drapes for the new bedroom and look at new washers. Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity. I could drop the wife and kids off at nearby Ikea and I could go stand in line for the tickets. My earlier indecision almost ruined it though, because by the time I hauled the family in the car and started out, the gps was telling me the arrival time to Ikea was 9:52 and tickets would go on sale at 10:00. There was no way I was going to make it in time so we agreed that I would be dropped off first. We pull up to the Comcast Center, formerly Great Woods (back in the day before corporate America took over), about 9:56 and I get in the back of a line of about 300 plus. It was a pretty good scene considering the temps were in the 20′s. There was a buzz in the air about the band getting back together and people were sharing stories of past shows. Apparently those with their shit together that arrived at or before 9:00 got a some kind of raffle or lottery ticket, that seemed to ensure them that they would get real tickets. I was behind these folks, so the situation was dicey. Every second or so you would hear, “Buy tickets” as people were trying to get through on cell phones and being prompted by Live Nation’s voice activated system. As time dragged on and the line didn’t seem to move, I was starting to lose hope because I’m thinking that this thing is going to sell out in minutes. But then rumors start in the crowd about a certain allotment of tickets at the box office that the phone and online system can’t touch. Someone says about 2,000 are at the box office. That would only make sense, those who came down and waited in the cold weather would be rewarded. I guess we’ll see. Then suddenly the girl in front of me gets through on the phone. Then a couple more people. Then a couple more. I’m thinking this is statistically impossible based the number of times I’ve tried and failed in the past to get through by phone. The agents on the line say it is ok to pass the phone off to another person and process his or her order. Sweet! Phans start giving their info and then shortly after their look of elation turns to dejection. The computers are crashing and most people are just on hold for fear if they hang up they won’t get through again. Cell phone batteries are dying….hopes are dashed. One girl starts up some small talk with the agent while on hold. Apparently these Live Nation agents take calls from home and process orders on their own computers! They don’t even really know who they are working for, they just use this special access code to log in and secure the tickets. People around me are just in this state of limbo because only partial information has gone through and so they don’t know if the order will be successful. So this fiasco and the fact that my hand would be warmer if I just keep it in my pocket convinces me to give up on the phone. Supply is dwindling as one guy who phones in can only purchase one seat. Folks in line start bitching about Ticketmaster and it’s subsidiary TicketsNow, where you are directed by Ticketmaster after a show is sold out and somehow there a plethora of tickets at four times the cost. I take a stroll up to the front and there is only one window open and the line is crawling. I return to the line and a random guy gives me his lottery ticket because he got through on the phone. Again, sweet! Word reaches the back that the box office is having trouble getting through to Live Nation. I move up and try to find my new spot in line and am not having too much luck so I turn to the event staff. They might as well have replaced the “Event Staff” on the back of their jackets with “Masshole”. “583? That numbah went through the line long ago!” I ask another, ” 583? You ah behind nine twenty fouwah.” “Wha?” I reply. “Back neah the end of the line!” I’m beginning to realize how poorly organized this whole thing is…nothing makes sense. A few minutes later one of the massholes yells, “Sold out! We’re all sold out!” Phans are pissed. Some yell, “Fuck you! This is bullshit!” But most are just disappointed and leave. Probably about 100 or so were turned away, most of whom had a lottery ticket. I get on the phone and call the wife and kids to come pick me up. One by one people clear out…I seem to be the only one waiting for a ride. Eventually it’s just me and the event staff. I start my long trek to the gates looking back occasionally, hoping for a miracle or that Trey would suddenly appear from behind a tree and feel pity for me (maybe the cold was getting to my brain). The snow covered parking lots are like the frozen tundra they spread so far and then just trees beyond that. Quiet and desolate. I’m amazed at how fast the area cleared out and wondered why there weren’t more stragglers. About 20 minutes after the sell out a jeep pulls up along side me and I recognize the event staff guy who told me I was behind 924. He unbuttons his plastic window and tells me they may have found a couple more tickets back at the box office. I jump up and race back to the box office. Jackpot, I get 4 lawn seats! Two hours of waiting and freezing my ass off. The car pulls up quite late. Apparently the gps took them on some circuitous route and allowed enough time for me to be the last one standing. I must say I felt young again. My son rolls down his window, “Daddy, are you done fishing yet?”

Perp walks please

This is a follow up on previous posts about the torture issue. People who care about this country’s values will be anxiously awaiting the actions of Mr. Holder. The quote from Holder in this article makes me really hopeful that he will bring us our ‘day of reckoning’. It also has some great quotes from several generals who’ve come out against the torture hypocrisy. I’ll post this one from Admiral Hutson because it’s too perfect:

Fundamentally, those kinds of techniques are ineffective. If the goal is to gain actionable intelligence, and it is, and if that’s important, and it is, then we have to use the techniques that are most effective. Torture is the technique of choice of the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough.

I also can’t wait to see the creatures that inhabit Office of Legal Counsel dragged out of their lair and shoved into a black and white…