2011 - %3, April

Right-Wing Pundit: Petraeus Is a Slave to Shariah

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 4:12 PM EDT

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Gen. David Petraeus' upcoming job move from Kabul to the CIA: his cult of personality; his overselling of progress in Afghanistan; his escalation of the air war and violent conventional tactics; the idea that intelligence policy might become more militarized, and the military might become spookier. But here's a novel criticism of the golden general from right-wing Islamophobe Frank Gaffney, he of the "ground zero mosque" freakout, the military logo freakout, and the Islamic law freakout: He's a mind slave to Shariah law! ThinkProgress reports on Gaffney's response in a recent Q&A at Liberty University:

Let me just mention several different ways in which this kind of influence operation is being run against those sorts of target sets...I'm sure most of you witnessed General David Petraeus, the much admired military leader, responding to the Quran burning down in Florida by Pastor Terry Jones. Saying that the holy Quran – repeatedly – the holy Quran must not be desecrated, and in other ways, suggesting that what we are doing here is a kind of submission to this program, lest we give offense, which is a blasphemy and a capital crime under Sharia.

Man, is that a high bar for true-blue Americanness. Petraeus must be asking himself: How many Afghan villages does a guy have to flatten to prove he's no fan of Islamic jurisprudence?

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One Step Forward, One Step Back for DADT Repeal

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 3:06 PM EDT
Flickr Commons/A. Blight

At bases around the world, the military has already begun training service members to tolerate gay and lesbian colleagues' displays of affection, and to lay off the "gay bar" jokes...and yet this week, it still barred a standout former Army cadet from rejoining the ranks, because her lesbianism breaks the existing rules. The developments show how current and aspiring LGBT service members can continue to expect uneven treatment until Pentagon leaders dot the i's and cross the t's on a policy change that's already sailed through Congress.

Paying for Medicare

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 2:19 PM EDT

Bill Galston says upper-middle-class baby boomers are being selfish in our refusal to pay more for retirement medical care:

There’s an obvious rejoinder: Haven’t my wife and I already paid into the [Medicare] system for the benefits we’ll receive over the next two or three decades? Answer: Yes, but not enough. A few months ago, Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Renanne of the Urban Institute put out a very useful summary, “Social Security and Medicare Taxes and Benefits Over a Lifetime,” calculated for different retirement cohorts. While I’m no methodologist, their assumptions seem straightforward and plausible. Applying them to our own case suggests that the value of my contributions falls short of the actuarial value of our benefits by at least $100,000. And if my wife and I were younger professionals scheduled to retire in 2030, the gap would be far greater.

So who’s going to make up the difference? Answer: today’s workers, many of whom are already struggling to raise their children, pay the mortgage, and save for college.

Yep. Here are Steuerle and Renanne's estimates for a single male retiring last year. Note that this has all been adjusted for inflation:

Given that current and soon-to-be retirees have gotten such a sweet deal, there are several things you can say about Medicare reform. First, if Medicare benefits are going to be reduced, they should be reduced even for current retirees, not just future retirees. Second, if taxes are going to be raised, they should be raised on everyone under 65. There's no reason that those who are between 55 and 65 should get a free pass. Third, some kind of means testing might be appropriate for Medicare. For a variety of reasons I don't think means testing is a great idea for Social Security (one of the reasons is here), but for Medicare it might make some sense. As Galston says, for a lot of upper-middle-class boomers like him, the main value of Medicare is guaranteed issue. Everyone over 65 needs that because everyone over 65 has preexisting conditions, but as long as that stays intact a pretty fair chunk of retirees could afford to pay premiums that more accurately reflect the actual cost of their coverage. Something like that would have to be phased in, and it would also have to constructed carefully, but it definitely ought to be on the table when we discuss reforming Medicare. Elderly well-off retirees are still well-off, after all, and there's not much reason their healthcare should be subsidized by everyone else if they can afford to pay for it themselves.

In Defense of the Royal Wedding

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 12:48 PM EDT

Alex Massie is tired of people complaining about all the coverage of the royal wedding:

You could be forgiven for thinking that, at best, the show is being put on for elderly wurzels, corn chandlers and backwoodsmen none of whom could be said to be much "in touch" with what modern Britain is supposed to stand for....And yet actually and quietly and gallingly for some, the people are interested in the wedding. A Guardian poll this week, published with some misgivings one likes to think, tries to spin this interest away but is forced to concede that 47% of the British population plan to watch at least some of the television coverage of the wedding on Friday. That is, by any measure, a strikingly large percentage of the population.

....This being so, it's daft to complain about too much coverage. The public is interested in this. To complain about the coverage is, in some sense, to make the case that journalism should only be concerned with matters that are in the public interest. But unless journalism also panders to — that is, serves — the things in which the public is actually interested there will be no "public interest" journalism at all.

Despite the fact that I don't myself care all that much about the royal wedding, I agree. Here's how I look at things: all of us1 have cheesy crap that we happen to enjoy. For me it's Survivor. For you maybe it's romance novels. Or the Academy Awards. Or the CMAs. For other people it's royal gossip.

And really, who cares? The royal wedding is a harmless pastime, there's lots of great fashion to ogle over, there's gossip galore, and it's a fun diversion from whatever dreary stuff is consuming the chattering classes in our nation's capital (or in Great Britain's capital) at the moment. It's not my cup of tea, but the fact that I don't personally like it2 doesn't instantly fill me with snobbish outrage over the fact that other people do.

So: those of you who are filled with snobbish outrage, get off your high horse. It's all just a bit of glamour and spectacle that does no one any harm3. And really, admit it: you're just mad that you didn't get an invite, aren't you?

1Well, maybe you don't. Maybe you're the second coming of Thomas Jefferson. If so, keep it to yourself, OK?

2My sister very decidedly does, however, and so do my cats — and they'll prove it tomorrow. You can't wait, can you?

3Actually, that's not entirely true. The royal tsotchke industry is certainly getting a boost, but the government has declared tomorrow a holiday in Britain, and according to the LA Times, "Every bank holiday costs Britain as much as nearly $10 billion in lost productivity." That "as much as nearly" formulation sounds a bit dodgy to me, but still, I guess the economy will take a minor hit.

Plus, let's just go ahead and concede that Richard Quest is really, really annoying. His constant appearances on my TV have made my life that much poorer. I'll be very happy when he finally goes away.

Our Economic Kabuki Show Continues

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 11:30 AM EDT

Well, it looks like Macroeconomic Advisors was right:

The American economy slowed to a crawl in the first quarter, but economists are hopeful that the setback will be temporary. Total output grew at an annual pace of 1.8 percent from January through March, the Commerce Department said Thursday, after having expanded at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

It's a little hard to know what to say about this aside from the usual: our big problem right now is sluggish growth and high unemployment, but no one seems to care about that anymore. It's all inflation and deficits and the weak dollar. Paul Krugman will undoubtedly write a few blistering columns about this, everyone will shrug because it's just Krugman being Krugman, and then we'll go back to our usual right-wing kabuki show over inflation and deficits and the weak dollar.

And growth will remain lousy and unemployment will stay high and we'll all pretend there was nothing we could have done about it.

Our National Security Farm Team Problem

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 11:02 AM EDT

Yesterday President Obama announced a reshuffling of his national security portfolio, moving Leon Panetta from CIA to Defense, Gen. David Petraeus from Afghanistan to the CIA, Gen. John Allen from Centcom to Afghanistan, and Ryan Crocker from retirement to active duty as ambassador to Kabul. Fred Kaplan says "it's hard to imagine a shrewder set of moves, both politically and substantively." And maybe so. But then there's this:

What's glaringly obvious about this list is that [...] it's a game of musical chairs. No fresh talent has been brought into the circle. And one reason for this is that the bench of fresh major-league talent is remarkably thin.

There are plenty of smart, capable analysts and bureaucrats in the Pentagon's second tier or in the think-tank community—but very few, arguably none, who possess the worldliness, gravitas, intramural hard-headedness, and credibility on Capitol Hill that a president, especially a Democratic president, would like to have in a defense secretary during a time of two wars and ferocious budget fights....In the past few weeks, I've asked a couple dozen veteran observers—officials, analysts, Hill staffers, other reporters—who they think would be a suitable replacement, from either party's roster. Nobody could think of anybody. This in itself is a bit disturbing.

Yes, that is disturbing. If it's true, that is. And it might not be: it's common to think of second stringers as perpetually second stringers until you actually promote one of them. Then all that gravitas you thought was missing is suddenly there. That might be all that's going on here.

Still, this would be an interesting topic to hear from other national security folks about. Is it really true that the bench of big-league talent in the top tier of the national security world is as thin as all that? And if it is, why?

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How Do Americans Really Feel About RyanCare?

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 10:20 AM EDT

How do Americans feel about Paul Ryan’s drastic plan to overhaul Medicare? Both parties have touted separate polls with distinctly contradictory findings. But a closer look at the different surveys seems to suggest that Americans are more likely to support Ryan’s overall budget plan when it’s described in broad strokes—but they’re far less likely to support it when presented with the specific details.

A new Gallup/USA Today poll found that voters were split when asked whether they preferred Obama’s deficit reduction plan—focusing on tax increases for the rich—over the Ryan plan to revamp Medicare and Medicaid. The poll found that 44 percent supported Obama’s plan, while 43 percent backed the Republican alternative. 

But a separate poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found support for the Ryan plan dropped sharply when survey-takers explained the specific outlines of the Republican Medicare proposal. As Kaiser Health News reports, the Kaiser poll "found just 30 percent of seniors supported the idea of restructuring Medicare into a system where seniors are given government subsidies to shop for private coverage. In contrast, 62 percent of seniors said they wanted Medicare to be left alone with the program continuing to guarantee the same benefits to all enrollees."

Democrats are banking that the Ryan plan will be politically toxic for the GOP. But these two polls suggest that won't necessarily be the case: the GOP's plan could still have widespread appeal unless Democrats manage to communicate exactly how the specifics of RyanCare would impact ordinary Americans. The Dems faced the same dilemma when it came to federal health reform: Americans tend to feel positive about many of the specific benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but the Republicans have continued to succeed in making them feel queasy about the law overall. So Democrats shouldn’t simply assume that Americans will recoil at RyanCare at first blush.

VIDEO: White House Correspondents Gone Wild

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

It's often easy to dump on White House reporters. They frequently get attacked for hyping trivial stories or for being both prisoners and promoters of the conventional wisdom. They're routinely assailed for not asking the right questions (as in the questions their critics would like to pose the president and his aides). But it's a tough beat—try squeezing unpackaged news out of the White House—and most of them do work long and hard to penetrate (or explain) the surface story.

An especially difficult task for them occurs during one of my favorite moments of White House journalism: the pre-presidential stand-up. This happens when the president holds a press conference or issues a statement in person. In the moments before the commander in chief takes to the podium, the network correspondents do live intros, talking to their anchors in the studios, and telling the audience what to look for in the coming remarks. These journos are usually standing next to one another—and each speaking loudly. Their reports meld into an aural amalgamation of media analysis. For each of them, the challenge is to keep focus, stare straight into the camera, say something intelligent, and, above all else, not listen to the cacophony he or she is helping to create—and not to be distracted by the other reporters in the room chuckling about this cluster-report.

Here's an example from yesterday's surprise visit by Obama to the White House briefing room to discuss his long-form birth certificates. The four stars of this video are Chuck Todd of NBC News and MSNBC, Wendell Goler of Fox News, Bill Plante of CBS News, and Jake Tapper of ABC News.

 

Manufacturing Outrage

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

According to Bloomberg, Republicans are complaining that town hall protests against the Ryan Medicare plan are basically phony:

U.S. House Republicans pushing to overhaul Medicare dismiss the vocal opposition some have encountered from constituents as orchestrated by political foes.

They’re blaming much of the criticism voiced at town-hall meetings, which sometimes turned raucous, on activists dispatched by MoveOn.org and other Democratic allies, even as some of the lawmakers have taken measures to control the tone of forums. “This is not genuine anger over Medicare; it’s manufactured political anger that’s causing the disturbances,” said Representative Lou Barletta, a freshman Republican from Pennsylvania.

You know what? Barletta is mostly right. But that's not really the problem. After all, a lot of the tea party town hall protests in 2009 were pretty much orchestrated too. Here's the problem: liberals are lousy at pretending that their protests are organic. Ever since the Ryan plan has come out, I've been reading endless tweets and blog posts about how liberals need to create a ruckus at congressional town halls. Or, alternatively, complaining that liberals aren't doing a good enough job of creating a ruckus at congressional town halls. Or wondering when liberals are going to rise up in wrath. Or something.

As a result, even I haven't really taken any of these various ruckuses very seriously. They're just too obviously contrived to be our equivalent of the tea party protests. And my guess is that the press is yawning for the same reason. You can't make protest plans in public for a couple of weeks and then turn around and try to convince reporters that this is all a grass roots effort.

The left has always been pretty good at organizing large-scale marches and protests. But fake grass roots uprisings? Not so good. The right has us beat hollow on that kind of thing.

Tennessee GOP Rep. to Teacher: "Stupidity Can Get You Killed"

| Thu Apr. 28, 2011 9:58 AM EDT

We've done a fair bit of reporting now on the push, in Tennessee and other states, to essentially criminalize certain aspects of the Islamic faith. Two dozen states have now considered proposals to block judges from forcing Islamic Sharia law on God-fearing citizens, but no proposal is more extreme than Tennessee's. As originally written, the bill classified Islamic law as treasonous, and made material support for Islam (a loosely defined phrasing that could have potentially applied to charitable donations to mosques) a felony.

It's since been modified, and its supporters say it doesn't specifically target Islam. Well, except for the parts that do target Islam. Last week, the Tennessean published a few excerpts from a fascinating exchange between Aaron Nuell, a teacher in Murfreesboro, and GOP State Rep. Rick Womick, an avid supporter of the legislation. In an email to Nuell, Womick consistently refers to Muslims as "them," and openly wonders whether Muslims who opposed the legislation are genuinely opposed to terrorism. I contacted Nuell to see if he could send the full correspondence and he obliged. (Read it below the fold.)