I have to say that I'm one of those New Yorkers who'd rather see the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed take place someplace other than downtown New York City. I'm not afraid of Al Qaeda attempting any dramatic, Tom Clancy-style jailbreak or some other kind of terror attack to disrupt the trial, but I'm also not looking forward to the security theater of the absurd that would inevitably accompany the trial. I still remember the massive disruptions caused by security for the 2004 Republican National Convention, and I'm certain the people arrested and detained for simply being on the wrong street when the NYPD dropped the net remember them even more clearly. That being said, I am in favor of the trial being held in the United States, at an easily controlled venue like Governor's Island (they can just hold off on building the damn water park out there). The most critical point, for me at least, is that the trial be open and accessible to the press and other observers. Otherwise, they might as well hold the damn thing at Gitmo and send us the occasional Twitter update to let us know how it's going.
One thing I've found curious about various city officials' objections to holding the trial downtown is their continued insistence that the trial will take years:
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly began planning and concluded that it would cost about $215 million for the first year and $200 million in subsequent years to provide security, according to Mr. Browne. The main cost was overtime, not just at the site but all around the city to cope with an anticipated rise in threats.
I'm not at all sure how the trial could take that long. I'm all for due process, hell, that's why I want these guys tried in the States. Do we have so much evidence against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators that we need that long to build our case? Are they figuring in the time his defense will need to prepare their case? If so, does that mean he hasn't yet had access to counsel? That seems unlikely, since the government claims to have already held pre-trial hearings down at Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps the transfer to a civilian court requires him to acquire new counsel, since to this point he has had military representation? Have the conditions at Guantanamo been so heinous that they anticipate prisoners who were held there will have massive grounds for endless appeals? I honestly don't know. Feel free to enlighten me if you do.
Their claim that the trial will take years fascinates me because I've long suspected that conservatives' claim that Guantanamo prisoners are too dangerous to hold in United States supermax prisons isn't based on any rational assessment of Al Qaeda's operational capabilities but rather their certainty that once these prisoners are on American soil, some judge, somewhere, is going to give them access to civilian counsel and then we're going to find out what really went down at Guantanamo. I'm not sure anyone in the government from either party wants to see that happen. At this point, I don't think the Obama administration can back off from holding the trials in the States - the key will be whether or not the trial is open to the public, or at the very least reporters. A former CIA official claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is nearly brain-dead after being waterboarded 183 times in one month. Do you think anyone in the Obama administration wants that shown on TV?
This graph, created a few months ago by National Geographic and reprinted today by Boing Boing has been bending my brain all afternoon (click for full size, better yet, click the link above to go to the original Boing Boing posting):
Now, it's no shock to anyone reading this that the United States is paying approximately sixty percent more per person per year than the next closest country on the graph and enjoying a far worse result, if we define "worse result" as life expectancy. That's how I would define it, but these days I think a fair number of people believe our health care system is a success because it's "not socialist," which is a bit like me deciding I'm a success in life because I'm not Kirk Cameron. There may be some merit to both arguments, but really, we're not using any logical metric for "success" in either case. I also think Americans' willingness to accept more expensive and less effective care is indicative of a deep seated paranoia in our culture - we're willing to pay more to make sure that we're not the one who gets stuck on one of those waiting lists somebody told us that they have some place in Europe. That's a post for another day, though.
No, what struck me the most about that graph is how clearly it demonstrates that we are paying more than any other civilized nation on Earth for health care that we don't even use. If you haven't clicked on the full sized version of the graph, do so now. The density of each line on the graph indicates how many times per year that an average citizen in a given country visits the doctor. Apparently, here in America we see the doctor so infrequently that our annual visits barely make it into the low single digits. What the hell?
Part of this may be our good old fashioned Yankee willingness to "walk it off." Lord knows I'm guilty of that more often than not. (I've always thought of Monty Python's quadruple amputee black night threatening to "bite your legs off" as uniquely American.) Another factor might be the large numbers of uninsured we have here in the US. Thirty million people who can't afford to see the doctor at all are going to skew your averages a bit. But let's face it: the bulk of us aren't going to the doctor because it costs a shitload of money, we know that if the doctor finds something serious we're screwed, and honestly, even in a best-case scenario, dealing with insurance companies is a royal pain in the ass.
Our "greatest healthcare system in the world" has become a white elephant. Thai emperors would bestow white elephants on nobility who had displeased them. Outwardly, bestowing such a gift seemed like a sign of the emperor's favor, but soon the nobility who had been so blessed found themselves going broke trying to take care of the damned thing. They suffered, and the emperor continued to enjoy a reputation for justice and generosity.
Who saddled us with this white elephant, and what the hell did we ever do to them?
(Hat tip to guy in milwaukee at The Crack Den. Stole Monty Python image from here.)
Enough already with the whole idea of corporate personhood. Corporations should be subject to greater regulations than actual citizens because they aren't subject to nearly as many risks as actual citizens. A corporation cannot be arrested. A corporation cannot do hard time. They can be fined, but that usually goes away on appeal. A corporation cannot get cancer from the cheap, lead-infused plastic crap it sells. They just can't. And if you think the way I just described the risks inherent in exercising your right to free expression is heavy-handed, then you weren't in New York City in 2004.
Isn't it all supposed to be about risk and reward in this country? Because, as recent events such as the bank bailout have demonstrated, these organizations take almost no risk. They are, in effect, more "free" than the rest of us.
This is especially true now that there are no regulations on the amount of money they can pour into campaigns. Yes, progressive organizations can also air all the campaign ads they like (except when, you know, they can't) but really, do you see any grass roots organization winning a media buying war against GE or BlueCross? The regulations against unlimited corporate spending weren't there to inflict undue censorship on corporations, they were there to prevent the de facto censorship of everyone else.
As Kind Ed Ra put it: "So, if you're keeping score at home, according to modern conservatives: People= Corporations, zygotes, the brain dead. Not People= Gays, immigrants, anybody else they don't like or who disagrees with them."
The Court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve. It will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process. Americans may be forgiven if they do not feel the Court has advanced the cause of self-government today ... While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.
I'm sitting here wracking my brains trying to figure out when Rudy Giuliani became such a slack bastard. Don't get me wrong - I've considered the man and his policies despicable since his time as mayor of New York City and the intervening years have not mellowed my opinion. Still, there at least seemed to be some fire in his belly, some vigor and drive. Granted, it was drive fueled by naked ambition and raw narcissism but it was drive nonetheless.
This lingering reputation as a hustler and street figher seems to be the main reason why pundits think his decision to abandon his run for governor of New York must be because he's set his sights higher. I'm not convinced. Even before Bernard Kerik's conviction, the rumor here in New York was that Rudy had lost interest in running for governor because he didn't want to deal with the state's wildly dysfunctional legistlature and rapidly deteriorating budget crisis. (That link is to an article in the New York Post, by the way, an outlet that under normal circumstances Giuliani couldrely on for a thorough tongue bath.) Rudy's no fool; he can see what dealing with California's unfolding disaster has done to Arnold Schwarzenegger's political future. But New York City was in pretty tough shape when Giuliani was first elected mayor, and he didn't seem to be cowed by that challenge.
It's possible that years of highly-paid political consulting work and accountability-free media appearances have softened the old boy up - or maybe be was never the pit bull the media makes him out to be. If he were to run for governor of New York he'd most likely be running against Andrew Cuomo, whose brand-name in New York is at least as strong as Giuliani's - and he also enjoys a pugilist's reputation. Giuliani might very well beat Cuomo but it would be a bloodbath. Kirsten Gillibrand is a much softer target. Charles Schumer, and old-school power-broker if there ever was one, is said to be educating her in the ways of the Senate and grooming her as a protege, but she hasn't yet made much of a name for herself in Washington. She's someone he could conceivably beat with name recognition alone.
Maybe Giuliani's always been about hitting the soft target. New York City's crime rate - Giulani's signature issue - was already dropping at the end of David Dinkins' term as mayor, but by that point Dinkins was remarkably unpopular and had a reputation as an ineffectual leader. In other words, he was an easy target for a tough talking media darling.
If he does decide to take on Gillibrand, even that election won't be the cakewalk for Giuliani, despite Fox New's inevitable attempts to tell you otherwise. It's worth remembering that Rudy came in a distant fourth in the 2008 New York presidential primary - pretty unimpressive for the hometown hero! Also, New York City voters recently awarded a third term to Michael Bloomberg even though he trampled the city's popular term limits law. Giuliani's suggestion that his term be extended in the wake of 9/11 was greeted with a resounding, "Um ... no, thanks." He's simply not a popular guy. On the other hand, if does decide to run for Senate, at least I'll have an excuse to revive this graphic:
Still, I'm linking to the debunking above because the author makes some interesting points, especially regarding the idea that war is the ideal economic stimulus. (Really, by that reasoning, with two bloody misadventures going on right now we should be living in a new Gilded Age.) The author quotes an economist who tells him that war, in fact, always causes a recession, as the long conflict becomes a drag on the economy. Slipping on my "I'm-not-an-economist-but-I-play-one-in-my-rich-fantasy-life" hat, I'm not sure I agree with that. The current recession was not caused by our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was caused by the entire financial market losing its collective mind at the same time. Iraq and Afghanistan are simply not large enough conflicts to engulf the entire culture or require enough spending to turn the economy around. (They do, however, tie up enough resources to hamper efforts to end the recession.) The same could be said for the recession following the first invasion of Iraq. There were mild recessions after World War II and the Korean War as industrial production was scaled back in the aftermath of the crisis.
So, taking the conservative mantra that "the New Deal failed and World War II ended the Depression" at face value, and comparing it to the negligible economic "benefits" gained from our recent and current overseas conflicts, we can see that we don't just need a war to turn things around, we need a really, really big war, a global conflict. I sure as hell hope that no one at any think tank in Washington is lobbyingfor that, but I don't put anything past these people anymore.
Still, in light of all this, I think it's worth restating the point that I made here, that a war, in broad terms, is basically a massive government spending program of the type that deficit hawks generally decry. As the administration prepares a jobs bill, there is going to be all manner of huffing and puffing from the deficit hawks about not saddling our children with a huge national debt - pretty much the same blather they blathered during the debate over the stimulus package. Sure, we won't saddle our children with a huge national debt - we'll just saddle them with the smoking ruins of a once proud nation instead. This is a real crisis - don't let any knuckleheaded tea bagger tell you otherwise. We're the most grotesquely wealthy nation in the world and we're having a hunger crisis, for God's sake. By the most narrow measure of unemployment, there are nearly 20,000,000 people out of work.
The best part about approaching a new jobs bill and stimulus package as war spending? There's no actual war! No one has to die. With a massive number of infrastructure projects and a new energy grid to build as well, there doesn't have to be a post-war "recession" for a long time to come, either.
Well, if we've learned nothing else from l'affaire Dobbs it's that CNN is, at least, still capable of embarrassment, unlike certain other cable news networks. John Stewart pretty much single-handedly killed Crossfire and Robert Novak was (eventually) shown the door for his role in burning Valerie Plame's cover and cursing at James Carville on the air. What does this say about CNN? I have no idea. Novak wound up on Fox, Glenn Beck is another CNN veteran who has found his audience on Fox, and I'll wager that Dobbs ends up there as well. CNN is kind of like Fox's farm system now - they watch for the CNN talent who are clearly too batshit to participate in rational discourse, snatch them up and give them multimillion dollar contracts.