It warms the cockles of my heart to know that this blog has attracted a cadre of readers such that a post asking whether I should blog about the Star Wars extended universe prompted a record number of comments. The first three books in the New Jedi Order sequence are on my Kindle. I promise y’all a full and vigorous report. And if anyone wants to lend me the Thrawn trilogy again, I’ll pay for shipping, or even buy them off you.
In February 2008, Eric Burns, who had worked at Fox News since the network launched in 1996 and served as “the closest person Fox had to an ombudsman” as the host of Fox News Watch, “was told he would be terminated within the next two months.” Since his firing, for which he said “he was not given a reason,” Burns has largely avoided discussing his former employer. In a September 2008 blog post about MSNBC’s opinion shows, Burns wrote that “Fox is a topic for another article, and another writer.”
Burns has ended his Fox News silence, writing on the Huffington Post that he used to work for a “right-wing partial-news-but-mostly-opinion network.” In particular, Burns takes aim at Glenn Beck, who he calls “a problem of taste as well as ethics”:
I speak out now because it is the time of year when one is supposed to count blessings. I have several. Among them is that I do not have to face the ethical problem of sharing an employer with Glenn Beck.
Actually, Beck is a problem of taste as well as ethics. He laughs and cries; he pouts and giggles; he makes funny faces and grins like a cartoon character; he makes earnest faces yet insists he is a clown; he cavorts like a victim of St. Vitus’s Dance. His means of communicating are, in other words, so wide-ranging as to suggest derangement as much as versatility.
Comparing Beck to Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and John Birch, Burns asks himself “what I would have done if I worked at Fox now.” Noting that Jane Hall — who had regularly appeared on his Fox Show — recently left the network partially because of Beck, Burns admits that he might not have acted “as admirable as” she did:
I ask myself what I would have done if I worked at Fox now. Would I have quit, as the estimable Jane Hall did? Once a panelist on my program, Hall departed for other reasons as well, but Beck was a particular source of embarrassment to her, even though they never shared a studio, perhaps never even met.
I think…I think the answer to my question does not do me proud. I think, more concerned about income than principle, I would have continued to work at Fox, but spent my spare time searching avidly for other employment. I think I would not have been as admirable as Jane Hall. I think I would not have reacted to Beck with the probity I like to think I possess.
It is interesting that Burns would compare Beck to John Birch, considering that before he joined Fox News, Beck told a spokesman for the John Birch Society that they were “starting to make more and more sense” to him.
Sad news as a marriage equality bill failed in the New York State Senate:
The bill failed, with 24 senators voting for it, but 38 voting against. Thirty-two votes were needed to pass the bill.
The state Assembly approved the bill earlier this year, and voted again Wednesday night, 88-51, to approve it.
A Marist College poll released Wednesday showed 51 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing gay marriage, while 42 percent opposed the measure.
Among other things, this highlights the fallacy, in the American political context, of drawing a sharp distinction between expanding rights through the court system and through democratic methods. If marriage equality were put in place in New York through a judicial ruling, it’s clear that opponents wouldn’t be able to overturn it. The governor supports equality, as does the State Assembly and a majority of the public. But it takes concurrent action by three branches of government to change the status quo, so the status quo will remain in place.
Today, the New York State Senate voted 24-38 to defeat a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which has already passed the Assembly three times and has the strong support of Gov. David Paterson (D). It was the first time in history that marriage equality has been put to a vote in the Senate. The Albany Project notes that all 30 Republicans and eight Democrats voted “no.” The defeat of the bill is particularly disappointing to progressives because sponsors believed they had enough votes to pass it. “We said from the start that we weren’t going to take it up until we had the votes to pass it, and we’re taking it up today,” said one Senate Democratic official. After the vote, bill sponsor Sen. Tom Duane (D) said of all the prior commitments that didn’t materialize: “I feel betrayed, and the community should feel betrayed.” Watch the reading of the vote here:
Had the legislation passed, New York would have become the sixth state to recognize marriage equality. Instead, the New York Times reports that the bill is “effectively dead for the year.” A recent Marist poll found that 51 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing same-sex marriage and just 42 percent oppose it. Watch speeches from today’s debate here.
Statement from Paterson below: Read more
This afternoon, the House Subcommittee on Health held a hearing about the Preventive Task Force’s ‘C’ – grade guidelines advising primary care physicians against recommending mammograms to women under 40 years of age. While the guidelines were the result of comprehensive scientific review of the benefits of mammogram testing for women under 40 and have no bearing on coverage decisions, Republicans have presented the Task Force as a poster child of health care rationing — a one-size-fits all approach to medicine that places the cost of care ahead of patients’ well being.
Today’s testimony by Task Force Chairman Dr. Ned Calonge highlighted the desperation of the Republican attack. President Bush may have left the White House but Congressional Republicans continue to scare women and wage war against science. Some highlights from today’s hearings:
- “Our job is to review scientific evidence, politics play no role in our deliberative processes. Costs were never considered in our considerations. We voted on these recommendations long before the last Presidential election.”
- “For ‘C’ recommendations we recommend that the patient be informed of the potential benefits and harms and then be supported in making his or her informed choice about being tested. The specific C language that we recommend against routine provision was intended for consideration by primary care clinicians.”
- “We expect clinicians to do what they’re trained to do in order to address the needs of the individual patient and his or her best interest.”
As Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) observed, “From the things I’ve heard said about you on the other side of the aisle about you folks at the agency, I was afraid you’d appear with horns, tail, fangs, and in red suit breathing fire. Demanding that we immediately terminate all health benefits for the the unfortunate, weak, sick, and especially with regard to mammogram and pap smears.”
Later in the hearing, Diana B. Petitti, M.D., M.P.H., the Vice Chair, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force ‘underscored’ the apolitical nature of the mammogram recommendations:
When I found out that these recommendations were being released the week of the vote that was the big vote, I was sort of stunned and then also terrified. And I think my being terrified was actually exactly the right reaction.
Gallup as an article up about answers to their open-ended question “in your opinion, what would be the best way to create jobs in the US” that’s headlined “Americans See Protectionism, Tax Cuts as Ways to Create Jobs”.
I’m not sure that’s supported by the data:
If we combine “keep manufacturing in US” and “buy American / raise taxes on imports” that gets us 22 percent. If we combine “lower taxes” and “reduce government regulation” that gets us 21 percent. And if we combine the “stimulus,” “green jobs,” and “infrastructure” ideas that gets us 20 percent. I have no idea what people think “help small business” means so I don’t know whether to classify that as a protectionist measure, a stimulus spending measure, or a small government measure.
In other words, depending on what we think of the small businesses thing, opinion seems pretty evenly divided. I think the evidence is pretty clear that spending-side stimulus is more effective than tax-side stimulus, but I don’t have a problem with the idea of including tax measures in a fiscal expansion package. I don’t think protectionist measures would be very advisable but as I’ve been saying this is what we’re going to get if we can’t use either fiscal or monetary policy to bring unemployment down. Most people don’t seem aware of the existing efforts underway to help small business, including ARC loans and TALF purchase of small business loans but I assume it would be possible to scale this activity up.
Following President Obama’s Afghanistan policy address last night, the media prominently featured political strategists, U.S. lawmakers, foreign policy thinkers, and other domestic pundits to respond to the President’s strategy.
One group of people who has been largely left out of the media’s discourse following the speech has been the Afghans themselves, who will be most directly affected by the surge in troops. However, a handful of media outlets did document the reactions of some of the people in the region. Here are some examples:
– “[Obama] may not be convincing the normal people or the Taliban, but by saying these things in the speech, this gives to the politicians…a free hand now. We are the ones…to win over our people,” said Khalid Pashtun, a member of Parliament from Kandahar.
– “It was a wonderful speech for America…but when it comes to strategy here in Afghanistan there was nothing new which was really disappointing,” said parliamentarian Shukriya Barakzai. “It seems to me that President Obama is very far away from the reality and truth in Afghanistan. His strategy was to pay lip-service, and did not focus on civilians, nation-building, democracy and human rights.”
– “People are starting to view the Americans as occupiers, and in that context more troops would be risky,” said Hanif Shah Hosseini, a parliamentarian from Khost province.
Afghan tribal leaders and government officials:
– “I don’t think we will be able to solve our problems with military force,” said Muhammad Qasim, a tribal elder from Kandahar. “We can solve them by providing jobs and development and by using local leaders to negotiate with the Taliban.”
– “When they increase the troops, the Taliban will respond by increasing their attacks on the foreigners — but that will not only be against the foreigners, it will be against Afghan civilians who live in the same area,” said Bershna Nadery, a woman who works in the Afghan Finance Ministry.
– “Eighteen months is a great opportunity,” said Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, praising Obama’s promise to begin drawing down troops in eighteen months. “Afghans must step up efforts to assume greater responsibility over the security of their country.”
– “I welcome this decision, it’s a good decision. We need a larger number of foreign troops in order to eliminate the terrorists and win the war in Afghanistan,” said Fawad Habib, a student in Kabul.
– “If we get more troops, there will be more bloodshed,” responded shopkeeper Noor Muhammad. “Only Afghans themselves can solve this problem.”
– “Even if they bring the whole of America, they won’t be able to stabilize Afghanistan,” said Esmatullah, a young construction worker in Kabul. “Only Afghans understand our traditions, geography and way of life.”
– “One American soldier costs about $1 million a year,” said Jabar Wafaie, a security guard from Uruzgon Province working in Kabul. “The troops that are already here, they can do well now, if they wanted they could destroy the Taliban. … The additional 30,000 troops is going to be a good opportunity for the Taliban to recruit more.”
Additionally, Al Jazeera English was on the ground in Afghanistan yesterday and interviewed Afghans about their reactions to Obama’s speech. Watch it:
Asked to assess the sentiment amongst Afghans, a senior administration official told ThinkProgress the population is “overwhelmingly against the insurgency and the Taliban.” “What you see in Afghanistan is a desire for commitment and change,” the official added.
Rob Farley and I did a bloggingheads last night with some snap reactions to President Obama’s Afghanistan speech. In one segment, we discussed how, now that Obama has gone in with a troop increase that they favored, conservatives can be expected to go after the president’s announced withdrawal timeline.
Just as you can always count on Noam Chomsky to blame capitalism, you can always count on Sen. John McCain to advocate more war, more troops, and greater commitments. Literally minutes after the president’s speech ended, the Weekly Standard was pushing out McCain’s press release, full of the usual feel-tough, ersatz Churchillism — Success is the real exit strategy! — that sounds nice when delivered on the Senate floor but is, at the end of the day, as intellectually vacuous as it is strategically misguided.
It’s fair enough to note that convincing our Afghan allies that our resolve in helping them build up security and governance is solid, and I think the president’s speech did that. But we should also recognize that the “resolve” argument has two sides. It’s amazing to me that conservatives like McCain still seem unable to grasp that eliciting open-ended military interventions of the very sort that they endlessly advocate is, in fact, one of Al Qaeda’s stated tactic against the United States. In a mocking 2004 message, Osama bin Laden boasted “All that we have to do is to send two mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa’ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies… So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”
It is hugely important that the president has chosen not to play Al Qaeda’s larger game here, and to make clear to the Karzai government that, even though the U.S. is committed to securing their country from the Taliban, they don’t have a “blank check” — they have to do their part, and sooner rather than later. It remains to be seen, of course, exactly when and under what circumstances Obama will close the bank on on Karzai. Marc Lynch is right on in declaring the responsibility of skeptics of the policy to “hold the administration to its pledges to maintaining a clear time horizon and to avoiding the iron logic of serial escalations of a failing enterprise.” There’s no way of really knowing how much was lost in Iraq because of the Bush administration’s incomprehensible refusal use the leverage on the Maliki government that could have been generated by establishing a withdrawal timeline. We have neither the time nor the resources to replay that farce in Afghanistan, and I don’t see any benefit from pretending that we do.
I kind of think Jezebel has been barking up the wrong tree with their series of posts on how women are represented–or underrepresented–in the writing staffs of various television shows. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important that women who want jobs in television be able to get them, but I’m far more interested in the representations of women that writers of either gender produce.
Let’s take the first question, purely of numbers. Women are employed as 28 percent of television writers and 18 percent of film writers. As men’s earnings have risen in those fields, women’s have fallen. Now, that’s not a great thing, for sure. But I write about personnel issues in my day job, and these numbers raise a couple of questions for me. What percentage of total applicants for television jobs were women? What percentage of head writer positions do they hold–and what percentage of women employed in television are lead writers? Are women’s wages falling while men in comparable positions, rather than men in general, see their wages rise? Or are women simply concentrated in the lower ranks of writers where wages are falling, whereas men hold higher-ranked positions where wages are rising quickly, or a few positions where wages are rising dramatically? The answers to any of those questions could point to a genuinely discriminatory work environment, but I’d want to see those answers before I decide that women are being systematically and persistently discriminated against in television employment. If they are, that’s a huge problem, and it needs to be corrected.
But really, what I care about is the results of who’s in the writer’s room. And the list of shows Jezebel presents with the most female writers and the least female writers is fascinating in that regard. Californication, told from the perspective of a philandering man, has a writing staff that’s 66.7 percent female. The Closer, which, for all that I joke about it is an interesting and nuanced portrayal of a woman, has no female writers. The Wire didn’t have female writers either, but that doesn’t make Kima Greggs or Brianna Barksdale any less compelling. For that matter, The Hurt Locker is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen about manhood, and it’s directed by a woman. I feel extraordinarily hesitant to claim that we absolutely have to have female writers on every show about women, or that women necessarily represent or express some unique experience, if only because I think that’s limiting. If women always write better about women’s lives than men do, then how can we ever claim to write powerfully and incisively about the lives of boys and men? I’d hate for representational feminist demands about writing jobs to cut women off from writing opportunities.
Ultimately what I want is a true and unbiased meritocracy. It may be important to get women consistently in the writing rooms of shows like Saturday Night Live to changed ingrained cultures. But once those cultures have shifted, women shouldn’t be there to keep a leash on men, or to push a culture in one direction or another. They should be there because–and only because–they’re the absolute best. I understand representational demands may be a necessary first step. But it would be a damn shame if folks thought that was the end of a multi-faceted effort to make our movies and television more interesting.
Gilles Dorronsoro from the Carnegie Endowment repeats his complaint that US military commanders are deploying their troops to the wrong part of Afghanistan:
The new troops will not stay in southern Afghanistan long enough for the Afghan army to establish control there and build functioning government institutions. And, indeed, the presence of foreign troops fighting on behalf of a corrupt government in Kabul only makes that government more unpopular, which helps the Taliban grow more entrenched, even as they take losses.
Obama’s speech was just a speech. His point about arming Afghan militias and building security from the ground up is where the country is actually headed. But as the Taliban continue to gain on Kabul from several directions — including the north, where new troops would make more of a difference — Obama’s plan will make it harder for the government to survive and likely that the United States will leave Afghanistan looking worse than it does now.
Dorronsoro’s basic idea, as I understand it, is that there are parts of Afghanistan where the Taliban is entrenched and relatively popular. General McChrystal’s view seems to be that these are the places where the Taliban problem is “worst” and we need to send the most troops. But Dorronsoro thinks we should regard those as places where our forces are unwelcome, and instead focus our attention on places that have only come under attack recently and where the local population is hostile to the Taliban. In other words, spend our time and energy protecting people who want protection, rather than trying to “clear” Pashto areas where the Taliban is popular.
This all sounds very plausible to me, but I’m not really seeing the rigorous grounding in Afghan public opinion information that it would seem to require. I would, however, be very interested in hearing military and administration officials take this point on squarely and say why they think it’s wrong.