Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Death, Taxes, and Health Care

One of the criticisms of the president's plan to limit deductibility of certain "Cadillac" health care plans (details here) is that the resulting tax breaks to encourage the uninsured to purchase private health insurance would not help those who do not pay income tax. Liberals point out that tax breaks logically only go to those who pay taxes.

I am not well-versed enough to debate the merits of the president's plan, but there is an interesting irony in this criticism. Go back to 2001 when there was a surplus, and the president also proposed tax breaks. Back then there were liberal complaints that not everyone got a tax rebate. And it was conservatives who pointed out that it did not make sense to give an income tax break to someone who didn't pay income taxes.

Not enough to accuse one side or the other of hypocrisy, but it does make for an interesting irony as to what is logical to assume about tax breaks.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Walter, Andrei, and Elian

In my "Iraq, El Salvador, and Refugees" post, I talk about how people tend to use political refugees selectively. You embrace a refugee if you are opposed to their country of origin. Derek Jensen asked in the comment section whether I was referring to the Elian Gonzalez case or something else.

In addition to Elian, there were two famous cases (dating from the 1980s) involving children from what was then the Soviet Union: Andrei Berezhkov and Walter Polovchak. Those individuals were embraced by conservatives, partially as a means of opposing communism.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (1-26-07)

Open Thread Friday. Talk about a topic of your choice in the comment section below.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Women, Children, and Men II

In Tuesday's post, I discussed the need to change the media's methods in dealing with potential sexual assault victims whose identities had already been revealed.

There is one other situation where this is applicable. When a military female is detained as a hostage or prisoner of war, there is one question that is on the minds of most people when she is rescued, released, or escapes. Is that fair?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Speaker, President, and President III

In recent years, the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives has changed his standard announcement for presidential speeches to Congress. I wrote about it here and here. In short, they stopped referring to the vice president as "Mr. President" (he is the president of the Senate).

Last night they messed it up even further. It may have been historic to say "Madam Speaker," but why cut out the vice president entirely?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Women, Children, and Men

Kudos to Sean Flynn for his piece on the Michael Devlin kidnapping case. I have a bit of perspective to add, based in part on my experience as a military prosecutor.

There is an unfortunate and unfair tendency to blame male victims of sexual assault (no evidence of the same in the Devlin case, but Flynn's piece is speaking in the abstract). Even as society has gotten away from blaming female victims, there is still a spoken or unspoken question of "Why didn't he just ________?" in the case of male victims. Needless to say, if it is unfair to blame adult males, it is particularly unfair to blame children.

In defense of the media in this case, the typical model that we use to protect victims is not applicable. The standard media procedure is not to name a suspect without charges and not to name a victim at all. We all can remember the "blue dot" obscuring the identity of the alleged victim in the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith (she was later identified as Patricia Bowman). In the case of a missing child, it is incumbent on responsible media outlets to publicize the name and likeness of the child as much as possible in hopes of finding him/her. Later, if there is an assault alleged, the media do not have the option of keeping the victim's identity secret.

I don't have a solution for all of this, but something obviously needs to be done.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Iraq, El Salvador, and Refugees

I have been thinking about political refugees lately. First, there was this story about Rene Hurtado (nee Gonzolo de Jesus Larin-Lara). He is the former Salvadoran soldier who was sponsored by a local Twin Cities church as part of the "sanctuary" movement. One of many things I remember about Hurtado's case was the bandana he wore around his mouth (think of a cowboy robbing a train) to supposedly conceal his identity.

Then there is the recent case of "Sami," a former interpreter for U.S. forces in Iraq. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings about a program that would allow more refugees like Sami into this country. Rather than a bandana, this refugee appeared behind a screen.

I wonder whether politicians and activists are guilty of using refugees selectively, only when it helps to criticize an administration with which one disagrees. This would include Cuban refugees under the previous administration.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (1-19-07)

It's Open Thread Friday. Put your thoughts in the comment block below. One possible topic is Mahan's comment to this earlier post.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Evolution, Global Warming, and Science

Doug Tice has a guest post over at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Big Question blog. I made a couple of comments on the post, continuing my thoughts on evolution, etc. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Limbaugh, Coulter, and Robertson

Here is an interesting brain teaser. If some conservative commentator says something controversial, we have a predictable pattern:

1. Outrage from the mainstream media,
2. Request from White House press pool for comment from the President, and
3. Fawning coverage of whoever the conservative commentator was criticizing.

Let's use Ann Coulter as an example. A given controversial comment is newsworthy because...why? Is it because anything she says is newsworthy? If so, then where is the reporting of her non-controversial comments, or ideas that help the conservative movement?

What exactly is the justification for reporting a quote from someone only when it is helpful to the liberal cause?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cable, Computer, and Carrier

In this post, I reminisced about the 1980 Star Tribune newspaper strike and asked if the workers would dare strike in this day and age. Online archives of Minnesota news do not go back as far as 1980, except for the Minnesota Daily archives. Disagreements with the campus newspaper that I was forced to pay for aside, this proves to be a good tool to read about local stories.

In an editorial from September 22, 1980, I found this little gem describing one bone of contention during the strike.

Electronic distribution of some or all of the newspapers is said to be the wave of the future and one might admire the Star and Tribune Co.'s determination to be on the cutting edge of such change. Newspaper distribution has long been mired in 18th-century technology. (What mind would have conceived of a computer-assisted information medium distributed door-to-door by 12-year-olds riding bicycles?) Although sending news into the home via a cable or computer is a generation or two away, the company envisions projects such as electronic libraries and computer subscription services to institutions and other newspapers.

Timing is off, but very prescient of the student newspaper, the striking workers, and the Star and Tribune Company, don't you think?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (1-12-07)

What do you think about stuff? Comment section below.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Prayers

Seems the Transportation Security Administration is requiring cultural sensitivity training for its workers. The idea is that we don't want airport security wrongly scrutinizing travelers just for praying.

In light of recent events, anything incomplete or distorted about that idea?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Anonymous, Mohammad, and Outrage

To review, Anonymous #2 wrote a (mostly) thoughtful comment about the U of MN controversy over a visiting professor. I decided that I would post it in its entirety if Anonymous #2 would identify him/herself. Otherwise, I would chop it up and respond to it bit by bit. The offer still stands.

In response to this post, I got an intelligent (if rambling) response from him/her:

But seriously, why do you care who I am? I'm not trying to provoke you (well, maybe just tease you a little bit), but I am intrigued as to why it matters. I mean if I made up a random blog name like Mr.Alice or AttitudesAnonymous would that suit you? Now I'm curious.

Isn't an idea an idea, whatever its source? Forgive the cliche, but "A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet..."

ME: It's my blog. Most newspapers make you give your name when you write letters to the editor. It is kind of chicken on my part to cut your comment into bite-size morsels. But it is just as chicken for you not to give your name. You really should get your own blog, and I don't mean that in a negative way. You should claim your work. Seriously. In addition, I think the discourse is better when people identify themselves on the Internet.

As for images of Mohammed, and such:

In the grand scheme of history, don't you think rage is a relatively common reaction for a believer to have towards perceived heresy? I mean, what would have happened to the South Park producers under the Spanish Inquisition? Or if the episodes had come to light in Salem during the witch trials? If you drew such pictures of Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution?

I personally appreciate that we live in a country that protects freedom of speech, but it has taken centuries to build up to our current tolerance level. I am not convinced our collective tolerance for religious and other insults is entirely natural. We are trained into it.

Furthermore, having the right to say something doesn't mean your audience doesn't have a right to get mad at you for saying/drawing it. Obviously, I don't believe rioting and violence are an appropriate reaction, but the anger is rather predictable, don't you think? I mean, didn't these guys put Rushdie on a hit list for the "Satanic Verses"?

Why hand out free ammunition to the other side? Honest question: do you think "training" extremists to get used to inflamatory speech is a practical option? Will they allow us to thicken the faithful's skin without the extremists' permission? If you repeatedly wave the red flag in front of the bull, does he stop charging?

Of course, people use perceived insults to advance political goals.

ME: Last sentence was really closer to what I was getting at. I was not asking whether outrage over perceived blasphemy was new. I wonder whether the specific outrage over the depiction of Mohammad is new. I suppose we could attribute it to Western ignorance, but I have a hunch that it is not a longstanding taboo -- at least not in modern times.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Newspaper, Television, and New Jobs

Is Nick Coleman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune making a career change?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (1-5-07)

It's Open Thread Friday. Make this blog your own by posting on the topic of your choice in the comments section.

One possible topic is the post by Mahan, which has a take on James Robbins' National Review post.
Unions, Strikes, and Old Media

I was rummaging around in the attic of my memory this morning. Seems that there was a strike against the Minneapolis Star and Tribune (then two newspapers) when I was in 7th grade (about 1980). I remember that the truck drivers honored the picket lines, so if you wanted a paper (I wanted the comics and Ann Landers), you had to go to Portland Avenue in Minneapolis and buy one from the newspaper headquarters. If Dad came home with a newspaper one day, it was rather like Bob Cratchit surprising his Victorian family with a large orange. Each of us would delight in the small section we were about to receive.

The strike also had an effect on my junior high classmates. Rob M. was a delivery boy who made some outrageous sum like $20 per week. In the beginning of the strike, they paid him despite the fact that there were no afternoon papers to deliver. Then he had to suffer without the extra income. One of our social studies assignments was to study current events. Every so often we would partner up with a couple classmates and deliver news, weather, sports, and entertainment to the rest of the class. For example, I covered the death of John Lennon in one of my assignments. One of my classmates, Sara S., was scheduled to deliver a news report during the strike. She got a ride to Downtown Minneapolis, took photos and interviewed the reporters on the picket line. I later challenged her for blatant brown-nosing and she 'fessed up.

There was a fictional strike at the LA Tribune on television's Lou Grant. I remember that Charlie Hume (the late Mason Adams of Smuckers voice-over fame) was assigned to physically paste the articles and pictures into their proper columns.

Anyway, I was just wondering what happens if there is a newspaper strike in the age of the Internet? Would we care? Would they be even more profitable, not paying union salaries and the cost of printing/distribution?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pawlenty, Ford, and Coleman

Nick Coleman's Minneapolis Star Tribune column is particularly bad today. Coleman complains that Governor Pawlenty had a single day of inaugural festivities (scaled back from a week for previous inaugurations). He also complains about the national day of mourning for President Ford. In one column, he manages to trot out a laundry list of complaints about Pawlenty, and even gets in a dig at Ford's pardon of his White House predecessor (haven't heard about the pardon in the past few days, have we?).

The typical Coleman touch is to juxtapose his criticism of the high and mighty with an interview with a lowly victim. In one recent column, we read how Coleman was thwarted in interviewing someone at Roosevelt High School to get their reaction to the closing of a nearby public library. For the Ford/Pawlenty bashing, he had easy access to victims in the street across from the inaugural ceremonies.

Gerald Ford had been dead eight days and was on his second or third funeral yesterday, but it still was necessary that government offices be closed (for the third day in a row). This presented a hardship for people such as Shanna Brinkley, who zeroed out her bus card to bring her 6-week-old baby, Nyasia, to the doctor and was hoping her mother would come pick her up because no bus cards for poor were available, out of respect to a dead president.

"People have things to do," she said with frustration, hugging her baby in a blanket, waiting for her ride across Wabasha Street from Palm Tuesday at the Fitz. "The government ought to do better. This is messed up."Ford shouldn't have pardoned Nixon," a former bus driver named William McMillan said. "If a poor person steals anything, he goes to jail. Nixon stole the White House, but he got pardoned."

I think there is a column to be written about Shanna Brinkley, but not the one Coleman wrote. Federal offices are closed to mourn the loss of a president (what a raw deal for Brinkley that someone died). Are bus cards ONLY available from the federal government? Are they ONLY available on the first day of the month? But for that stinker Ford dying and making Shanna's life difficult, she would have gotten free bus fare on time?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Poland, Yugoslavia, and Romania

Many are celebrating the late President Ford's sense of humor. For example, he sent his press secretary, Ron Nessen, to host Saturday Night Live in 1975. But I am surprised how little attention has been paid to President Ford's tongue-in-cheek op/ed piece immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, "Poland: I Told You So."

Ford began his Washington Post op/ed piece by saying that his mother taught him not to gloat. The former president then took a shot at his former opponent and current friend, Jimmy Carter:

Boasting, like lusting, is best limited to one's heart. So when my friends say, "You know, what you said about Poland not being dominated by the Soviet Union wasn't so stupid after all!" I give them a Sphinx-like smile and accept their (I guess) compliments.

Ford then lays the stage for the debate gaffe that, like anything in a close race, "could have cost him the election." He begins with a recounting of Carter's dig at Ford's foreign policy credentials:

"I might say this in closing . . . as far as foreign policy goes, Mr. Kissinger has been the president of this country. Mr. Ford has shown an absence of leadership and an absence of a grasp of what this country is and what it ought to be."

Now it was my turn to respond. I tried to focus on national defense, where Gov. Carter had made a lot of conflicting proposals to cut the military budget by $15 billion or $9 billion or $5 billon-you name it. Then we went back and forth for a while playing ping-pong with numbers. Soon it was Mr. Frankel's second turn to ask a question, this time of me.

He cited a catalog of apparent Russian gains, including the assertion that "we virtually signed in Helsinki an agreement that the Russians have dominance in Eastern Europe."

Forgetting the quibble that nobody can "virtually sign" anything-the "virtual" qualifier belonged with "dominance"-I made matters a lot worse in my reply by changing "dominance" to "domination," a much tougher word. One could say that the Monroe Doctrine declares U.S. dominance in the Western Hemisphere but certainly not U.S. domination....

The former president was probably surprised by the recent development of e-signatures, which could be characterized as "virtually signed." Here is the how the actual debate played out from that point:

MR. FRANKEL: Mr. President, I'd like to explore a little more deeply our relationship with the Russians. They used to brag back in Khrushchev's day that because of their greater patience and because of our greed for - for business deals that they would sooner or later get the better of us. Is it possible that despite some setbacks in the Middle East, they've proved their point? Our allies in France and Italy are now flirting with Communism. We've recognized the permanent Communist regime in East Germany. We've virtually signed, in Helsinki, an agreement that the Russians have dominance in Eastern Europe. We've bailed out Soviet agriculture with our huge grain sales. We've given them large loans, access to our best technology and if the Senate hadn't interfered with the Jackson Amendment, maybe we - you would've given them even larger loans. Is that what you call a two-way street of traffic in Europe?

MR. FORD: I believe that we have uh - negotiated with the Soviet Union since I've been president from a position of strength. And let me cite several examples. Shortly after I became president in uh - December of 1974, I met with uh - General Secretary Brezhnev in Vladivostok and we agreed to a mutual cap on the ballistic missile launchers at a ceiling of twenty-four hundred - which means that the Soviet Union, if that becomes a permanent agreement, will have to make a reduction in their launchers that they now have or plan to have. I've negotiated at Vladivostok with uh - Mr. Brezhnev a limitation on the MIRVing of their ballistic missiles at a figure of thirteen-twenty, which is the first time that any president has achieved a cap either on launchers or on MIRVs. It seems to me that we can go from there to uh - the uh - grain sales. The grain sales have been a benefit to American agriculture. We have achieved a five and three quarter year uh - sale of a minimum six million metric tons, which means that they have already bought about four million metric tons this year and are bound to buy another two million metric tons to take the grain and corn and wheat that the American farmers have produced in order to uh - have full production. And these grain sales to the Soviet Union have helped us tremendously in meeting the costs of the additional oil and - the oil that we have bought from overseas. If we turn to Helsinki - I'm glad you raised it, Mr. uh - Frankel. In the case of Helsinki, thirty-five nations signed an agreement, including the secretary of state for the Vatican - I can't under any circumstances believe that the - His Holiness, the Pope would agree by signing that agreement that the thirty-five nations have turned over to the Warsaw Pact nations the domination of the - Eastern Europe. It just isn't true. And if Mr. Carter alleges that His Holiness by signing that has done it, he is totally inaccurate. Now, what has been accomplished by the Helsinki agreement? Number one, we have an agreement where they notify us and we notify them of any uh - military maneuvers that are to be be undertaken. They have done it. In both cases where they've done so, there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.

MS. FREDERICK: Governor Carter?

MR. FRANKEL: I'm sorry, I - could I just follow - did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying mo- most of the countries there and in - and making sure with their troops that it's a - that it's a Communist zone, whereas on our side of the line the Italians and the French are still flirting with the possibility of Communism?

Now back to Ford's 1989 op/ed piece:

I blew it. Still seething from Gov. Carter's opening salvo, I said with an asperity not usually in my repertoire: "I don't believe, Mr. Frankel, that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.

"Each of these countries is independent, autonomous; it has its own territorial integrity. And the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, I visited Poland, Yugoslavia and Romania (in 1975) to make certain that the people of those countries understood that the president of the United States and the people of the United States are dedicated to their independence, their autonomy and their freedom."

Demonstrating his forensic acumen, Gov. Carter immediately dropped Romania and Yugoslavia from the lineup and replaced them with "Czech Americans and Hungarian Americans"-seeing more votes there. But it was Poland that people remembered, and still do.

(Let me interject here that Gov. Carter and I, as members of the very exclusive Ex-President's Club, have long ago beaten our campaign swords into plowshares. Nor do I feel the media panel asked me unfair questions; there are no bad questions, only bad answers. I am also trying really hard to forgive the stand-up and fall-down comedians.)

Reading the verbatim record with 20/20 hindsight in the light of recent developments in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe, I come out pretty well as a prophet. But, of course, the key question always comes down to: What happens next?

The ex-president's op/ed then makes some conciliatory statements about how all presidents want to protect freedom. In closing, Ford manages to take a good-natured shot at both Reagan and Carter and talks about his place in history:

Finally, the encouraging changes in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and, most remarkably, in the Baltic republics and other ethnic regions of the Soviet Union make me prouder than ever to have signed the Helsinki accords. I did not symbolize an America abandoning the hopes and aspirations of the captive nations, as many pundits and some former governors charged at the time. Rather, I acted for 200 million Americans by countersigning the Eastern Europeans' own initial and cautious declarations of independence, with formal Soviet concurrence.

Now, 13 years later, they are writing themselves new constitutions, based on fundamental human rights and freedoms. By coincidence, it took the United States the same time, from 1776 to 1789, to solidify its independent destiny as a nation-years that were anything but easy.

From the White House you can see a statue of the great Polish hero Gen. Kosciuszko, who came to help us win our American Revolution. Who knows, some day there may be a statue in Warsaw dedicated to all the American people who stood by Poland. I'd like my name to be among them.

Not bad. Pretty funny for a former president. May he rest in peace.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006, Father Time, and Man of the Year

2006 Man of the Year: Bob Barker

Bob Barker announced his retirement this year. Bob Barker was the man who, in the 1970s, made it cool to wear a military uniform again. Post-Vietnam America hadn't quite jumped on to the "I support the troops" bandwagon at that point.

2006 Father Time: Saddam Hussein

The yearly Father Time award goes to someone with stale ideas and stale methods. The world has passed them by, and they just don't get it. It is NOT the most evil person of a given year. That explains why the Butcher of Baghdad follows in the footsteps of Morley Safer and Nick Coleman.

Despite the setbacks in Iraq, is there any dictator in the world who thinks that the ability to manipulate world opinion and taunt a superpower is unlimited? For those who have no moral obstacle to mass murder and oppression of political opponents and minorities, it has now been emphasized that there are consequences. Saddam had stale ideas and stale methods. He is SwanBlog's Father Time 2006.