Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hating Health Care for Americans: It's the Principle of the Thing

The lead article in this week's National Review prophesizes doom for Republicans in the ’08 elections. The authors point out that voters are leaving the party in droves and do not support it on any of the most critical issues facing the electorate. Combine these facts with vastly superior fundraising by Democrats, and you can’t escape the conclusion that the Democrats will likely gain the Presidency and more House and Senate seats in 2008, and that this will likely translate into the appointment of several new progressive judges on the Supreme Court in the next few years.

I find myself in agreement with the authors. That’s not what makes this article remarkable. Here’s the passage that has people talking this week:

a national health-insurance program that would irrevocably expand government involvement in the economy and American life, and itself make voters less likely to turn toward conservatism in the future.”

Got that? According to the conservative viewpoint, insuring the uninsured in America would not be a bad thing because it wouldn’t work and people wouldn’t like it. On the contrary, the authors forecast that people would like national health insurance. The reason why it would be bad is because it would turn people away from conservative principles.

As progressive journalist and author Paul Krugman points out, conservatives will do anything to stop a re-vitalization of New Deal principles no matter how much progressive policies accomplish.

To be fair to the authors, they do seem to genuinely believe that “Republican policies will help people keep and control their own health care.”

Whom do the authors think controls their own health care in this country? The one-sixth of the population with no insurance at all? The majority of working people who pay into HMOs that ration care and routinely deny treatment?

If this kind of stuff is what passes for deep thought on the conservative side, they really will be out of power for a long time. I won’t miss them.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Ghost of the Kalakala

The ferry boat Kalakala sailed Puget Sound for 32 years. Perhaps 30 million passengers rode the ship during her lifetime in Seattle.

At its debut in 1935, the Kalakala was the largest and fastest ferry on Puget Sound, with a 3000-horsepower diesel engine, the largest ever installed in a boat of its kind. The ship demonstrated the latest aerodynamic principles. She was also outfitted with an interior that would do credit to any luxury ocean liner of its day, with five decks boasting ample room for 2,000 passengers.

Although still a popular attraction at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, by that time the ship had neared the end of its useful life. The Kalakala was auctioned off in 1967 to an Alaska fish packer, who converted the ship to a floating fish processor; then in 1972, grounded her as a cannery on Kodiak Island. By the mid-1980’s, the State of Alaska and subsequently the City of Kodiak had inherited the disused ship from its owners through bankruptcy proceedings.

In 1991, Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis founded the Kalakala Foundation to return the prodigal ship to Seattle, and restore her to new life. In the summer of 1998, the Foundation purchased the vessel from the City of Kodiak, the ship was floated free, and was towed home to Seattle’s waterfront, arriving to welcoming crowds.

This ends the happy part of the story.

The foundation’s efforts to restore the Kalakala did not meet with success. The ship was first moored at a pier on the Seattle waterfront for five months in an effort to attract financial support. The foundation needed $1 million to bring the vessel into dry dock and from $5 million to $12 million to fully restore it. In March 1999 it was moved to the north shore of Lake Union and moored within walking distance of my apartment in Seattle.

There the Kalakala received complaints as an eyesore and as a hazard. The foundation slipped further into debt and the property owner issued an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. In March 2003, the foundation filed bankruptcy, its assets (the Kalakala) valued at less than its liabilities ($1.2 million). In September 2003, after a complicated and disputatious auction, Tumwater entrepreneur Steve Rodrigues purchased the ship for $135,560, planning to make it into a dinner theater.

Because the Kalakala had been evicted from Lake Union, he got the ferry moved to Neah Bay, which is owned by the Makah Indian tribe. That arrangement lasted until the Makah tribe sued to have the ferry removed. Rodrigues had obtained free docking for the ship by promising jobs repairing the vessel to the Makah Indians who owned the dock. The jobs never materialized, and the Makahs were left holding the bag for $20,000 in damages done to their docking facilities when the ship crashed into the dock during a storm.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the State Department of Natural Resources also ordered Kalakala out. In September 2004, Rodrigues had the forlorn vessel towed to a new berth on the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma.

And that’s where I saw her in November of 2007.

Finding the Kalakala was not easy. Moored in the least industrious part of the Port of Tacoma and not visible from any nearby roads, she is tied to a rotted pier behind an abandoned building and a storage lot.

Kalakala is still in restorable condition. For nearly three decades, her various owners have dreamed of bringing her back to her former glory, but it looks like that might be a long time in coming.

Photographs courtesy of C. Tolzmann. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Election 2008 Preview

Hi! The 2008 election is one year from today. I'm expecting good news this time around, so I thought I'd like to see how accurately I can predict the outcome a full year ahead of the vote. Hopefully, these predictions will be as accurate as those I made for 2006.

The Presidential Race

The Nominees: Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. I predict that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. While Romney is currently behind Giuliani in national polls, he's way ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Combine this fact with Giuliani's many scandals and his lack of conservative credentials and a Romney nomination becomes likely.

The Electoral College: 270 Electoral Votes needed to win

All of the Blue states above went Democratic in 2000 and 2004 except for New Hampshire. All of the Toss Up states went Republican in 2004. Since the Republicans are unlikely to carry any of the Blue states, in order to win they must carry nearly all of the Gray states in 2008, and a loss of Ohio or Florida would guarantee defeat.

The Prediction: Hillary Clinton will win the election, and will also become the first Democrat to carry 51% of the vote since 1964. The final tally in the electoral college will be 321 to 217.

The Senate:
Prospects for Democratic gains in the Senate are very bright.
Currently they have a 51-49 majority. I predict that they will gain 5 seats.
This will include:
Colorado, New Hampshire, and Virginia
one of these two: Minnesota, New Mexico
one of these four: Idaho, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon.

The House
The situation in the House is very fluid. When the House changes hands, as it did in 2006, the party on the losing end usually sees a large number of retirements among its incumbents in the next election. Several Republican incumbents in competitive seats have already announced that they will not run in 2008, and more retirements are expected in the next few months. This will create some good opportunities for Democrats. The only bright spot for Republicans is the opportunity to pick up a few of the seats they lost in 2006 in areas that usually vote Republican, such as those lost in Kansas, suburban California and rural Pennsylvania. The Democrats will pick up 8 or 9 seats.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cheer louder, we might drown out the gunfire!

I was reminded this week of some wisdom offered by Bill Maher on his HBO show last year, commenting on the phenomenon of “think tank” literati continuing to offer optimistic appraisals of our disastrous war in Iraq:

“New Rule, in two parts: A) You can't call yourself a think tank if all your ideas are stupid. And B), if you're someone from one of the think tanks that dreamed up the Iraq War, and who predicted that we'd be greeted as liberators, and that we wouldn't need a lot of troops, and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war, that the WMD's would be found, that the looting wasn't problematic, and the mission was accomplished, that the insurgency was in its last throes, that things would get better after the people voted, after the government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got his kids, after we got Zarqawi, and that the whole bloody mess wouldn't turn into a civil have to stop making predictions!”

The reason why this quote came to mind is because of the ecstatic response by conservatives this month to a New York Times article by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack entitled, “A War We Just Might Win,” that suggests that the “Surge” in Iraq is working and the U.S. may be on its way to winning the war.

The article itself is a lot of anecdotal nonsense about how better morale and improved “focus” in American ranks has made the Surge worthwhile because it has been instrumental in helping US forces to improve the readiness of the Iraqi military. This claim by the authors is demonstrably false, as the Washington Post has just reported: the number of Iraqi units capable of operating independent of US forces has actually fallen in 2007. Meanwhile, Americans continue dying in the crossfire of a civil war in a country whose government is increasingly non-functional as it descends further into darkness. And I mean darkness literally; Baghdad’s power grid has reached the point of complete collapse.

What is significant about this article is the disingenuous way the authors pose themselves and also the way in which the piece has been received. First of all, the authors refer to themselves in the article as “analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” Second, the media has chosen to proceed purely on assumption that the two hold left-wing viewpoints, as they are members of the “liberal” Brookings Institution.

The conservative pundit world has responded to the article with a series of virtually identical commentaries, each one declaring smugly, “Things are great in Iraq. See, even the liberals are starting to support it! In your face, anti-war crowd!” Examples here, here and here.

In reality, the authors' backgrounds and their agenda are quite different from what they and those who are praising their work are claiming. The truth is, O’Hanlon and Pollack are flat-out lying about being critics of Bush’s conduct on the war. As author Glenn Greenwald points out:

“The Op-Ed is an exercise in rank deceit from the start. To lavish themselves with credibility -- as though they are war skeptics whom you can trust -- they identify themselves at the beginning "as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq." In reality, they were not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon's strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well. They are among the primary authors and principal deceivers responsible for this disaster. Worse, they announce that "the Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility," as though they have not.”

Think Progress provides details regarding the authors’ relentless cheerleading for the war, as well as the complete lack of skepticism by the press that they might not at any time have been the critics of the endeavor that they claim to have been.

Right-wing “scholars” like O’Hanlon and Pollack and the commentators who support them continue to be treated by the media as if they have some sort of credibility. They don’t. Unfortunately, what they do have is a marketable product in the form of the lies and nonsense they produce, and that product has been the basis for the greatest foreign policy mistake in this country’s history.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Joe and Cate Visit Another Country

Hey everybody, Cate and I hadn't been anywhere to do anything in a while, so we took the train to Vancouver.

Also, I bought a new Volkswagen.

Pictures here.

Vancouver is beautiful and obviously a wonderful place to live. It's sort of a mix of London, Hong Kong, and something out of the year 2150.

The usual gas guzzling traffic you usually see in cities is replaced by lots of hybrid vehicles (even the taxis!) as well as scooters, bikes, and armies of joggers. The newspapers are dominated by articles about climate change.

We spent a lot of time in Chinatown, and took a lot of pictures in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden.

Peace, Joe.