Gay Tea Partiers

Frankly, it would take too long to debunk why a regressive flat structure is not in society's best interest but that is one of the points these two gay Tea Partiers are missing. It's rather disconcerting that so many Americans continue to buy into the creed of libertarian style individualism over the collective good as these two young men do. They do, on the other hand, argue quite eloquently why the government should not be in the business of regulating marriage. Still the suggestion that we should abolish the income tax is hard to phantom. That would lead to a most inegalitarian society that would threaten the very existence of American democracy. 

It is also amazing to me that conservatives think the world around them comes cheap. They love to complain about taxes but they don't seem to realize to that taxes also pay for things like electric lighting and roads.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.

In Michigan, at least 38 of the 83 counties have converted some asphalt roads to gravel in recent years. Last year, South Dakota turned at least 100 miles of asphalt road surfaces to gravel. Counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania have begun downgrading asphalt roads to cheaper chip-and-seal road, also known as "poor man's pavement." Some counties in Ohio are simply letting roads erode to gravel.

The moves have angered some residents because of the choking dust and windshield-cracking stones that gravel roads can kick up, not to mention the jarring "washboard" effect of driving on rutted gravel.

But higher taxes for road maintenance are equally unpopular. In June, Stutsman County residents rejected a measure that would have generated more money for roads by increasing property and sales taxes.

"I'd rather my kids drive on a gravel road than stick them with a big tax bill," said Bob Baumann, as he sipped a bottle of Coors Light at the Sportsman's Bar Café and Gas in Spiritwood.

Rebuilding an asphalt road today is particularly expensive because the price of asphalt cement, a petroleum-based material mixed with rocks to make asphalt, has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Gravel becomes a cheaper option once an asphalt road has been neglected for so long that major rehabilitation is necessary.

"A lot of these roads have just deteriorated to the point that they have no other choice than to turn them back to gravel," says Larry Galehouse, director of the National Center for Pavement Preservation at Michigan State University. Still, "we're leaving an awful legacy for future generations."

It was a progressive income tax - the highest tax bracket during the Eisenhower Administration was 91 percent - that built the Interstate Highway System, the largest and most extensive infrastructure ever built, but it is a Reaganite ideology that is undoing the progress we have built so much so that we are forced to turn our asphalt roads back to gravel.

Quick Hits

Some of the other stories and other interesting reads making the rounds today.

Lt. General (ret). James Clapper won Senate approval to become the Director of National Intelligence after Senator John McCain removed his hold on the nomination. Senator McCain placed a hold on the Clapper nomination in order to force the Obama Administration to release a report assessing a controversial spy satellite program. McCain released his hold Tuesday once he got the information he was seeking. The retired three-star Air Force general, whose intelligence career spans two score and six years, will be the fourth Director of National Intelligence in five years. More from the Wall Street Journal.

The Senate sent the nomination of Peter Diamond, one of President Barack Obama's three nominees for the Federal Reserve Board, back to the White House because of objections from at least one lawmaker. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Banking Committee, said last week that Diamond, while a “skilled economist,” may not be qualified to make decisions on monetary policy.

The Senate took no action yesterday on the other two nominees, including San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen for Vice Chairman and Sarah Bloom Raskin for a Governor slot, leaving them to await confirmation after senators return September 13. That means that if Governor Donald Kohn, whose separate term as Vice Chairman ended in June, departs as planned on September 1, the Fed will work with only four of seven Governors for the indefinite future. More from Bloomberg News.

Jonathan Chait of the New Republic looks at the tightening margins for confirming Supreme Court Justices and wonders if Elena Kagan might be President Obama's last nominee to the Court.

The New York Times profiles US District Court Judge of Vaughan Walker who wrote the landmark decision that overturned Proposition 8 in California. The title Conservative Jurist, With Independent Streak pretty much says it all.

In a related story, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown filed briefs asking Chief U.S District Judge Vaughn Walker to lift his stay and allow gays and lesbians to marry while the Perry v Schwarzenegger winds its way through the appeal process. More from CNN.

Michael Cooper in the New York Times writes on the extremes to which state and local governments are going in order to balance budgets. Clayton County, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders. Colorado Springs switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters while Hawaii closed its schools on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation.

The FDIC seized the assets of Ravenswood Bank, a bank in Illinois. Ravenswood Bank is the 109th FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the thirteenth in Illinois. The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $68.1 million. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008 while 140 banks failed in 2009.

David Weigel, now working for Slate, writes in the Washington Post on the five myths of the Tea Party.

Mark Hurd, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was forced to resign today in the wake of a disclosure that he had allegedly falsified documents to conceal a relationship with a former contractor. The HP Board of Directors said in a statement that its standards of business conduct were violated. Hurd's "systematic pattern" of submitting falsified financial reports to hide the relationship convinced the board that "it would be impossible for him to be an effective leader moving forward and that he had to step down," HP general counsel Michael Holston said on a conference call Friday with analysts. Hurd will receive a $12.2 million severance payment.

Editorial of the Day
The editorial board of the New York Times castigates the GOP for their xenophobia and fear-mongering for American votes.

Leading Republicans have gotten chilly toward the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the United States. Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl have been suggesting that the country should take a look at it, re-examine it, think it over, hold hearings. They seem worried that maybe we got something wrong nearly 150 years ago, after fighting the Civil War, freeing enslaved Africans and declaring that they and their descendants were not property or partial persons, but free and full Americans.

As statements of core values go, the 14th Amendment is a keeper. It decreed, belatedly, that citizenship is not a question of race, color, beliefs, wealth, political status or bloodline. It cannot fall prey to political whims or debates over who is worthy to be an American. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” it says, “are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

 

McCain Places a Hold on Gen. James Clapper's Nomination to Head DNI

Senator John McCain has placed a hold on the nomination of Lieutenant General James Clapper to become the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Sen. McCain is awaiting a report, content unspecified, from Gen. Clapper and "until that report is provided Senator McCain will continue to hold his nomination," said McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan, who again declined to describe the nature of the report.

Gen. Clapper was nominated by President Obama in early June to fill the vacancy left by Dennis Blair. The DNI oversees the 16 agencies that make up the US intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

More from The Hill.

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In the End, All We Have Is the Truth

There are those who are arguing that today's publishing of over 91,000 ISAF and US military documents, the largest leak of military documents in history, sheds little new light on the Afghan War. I beg to differ. Not that I expect our government to tell us the whole truth particularly when it comes to sensitive war information but on the other hand I don't expect the government to willfully mislead us either and in at least one instance, the downing of a US military chinook helicopter by the Taliban using surface-to-air missiles, that is the case. And given that we just scratched the surface of a titanic data dump, we are likely to learn more in the upcoming days and weeks of other instances where Western governments have willfully misled the public on the situation in Afghanistan.

The searing and inescapable fact is that today more than half way through 2010, the Taliban is stronger than at any point since they were toppled from power in 2001. We can blame Pakistan for aiding and abetting the Taliban but that relationship is now a two decade long one and not exactly a state secret. That Pakistan's ISI has played a double game should not obscure another searing and inescapable fact: the Taliban's resurgence is primarily a factor of 'blue on white' incidents.

There is a lot of jargon in these reports but color coding military-speak is remarkably straightforward. There are color codes for each of the actors in the Afghan conflict in the leaked reports.

Blue=  friendlies, or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) 
Green =  Afghan National Army or other Afghani forces such as the police
White = Civilians

Thus, in the next few weeks, when you hear of "blue on blue"  that would be friendly on friendly fire, or ISAF coalition forces accidentally shooting at each other. Green on green would be Afghanis accidentally or deliberately shooting at each other while blue on green signifies that ISAF troops accidentally hit the Afghan army or police. Blue on white would be ISAF or US forces shooting at Afghan civilians.

Say what you will about the now cashiered and retired General Stanley McChrystal's disrespect for members of the Obama Administration but one thing he got right was that every civilian death created ten new Taliban insurgents. He called it "Taliban math." His exact quote in the Rolling Stone article was "for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies." Hence, the rules of engagement were tightened on his orders and that did lead to a drop in blue on white fatalities. To loosen the rules of engagement, as some are calling for now, would unnecessarily lead to more civilian deaths and in the end only hasten our inevitable defeat.

The logs released today reveal at least 144 blue on white incidents. From The Guardian:

Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers.

At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely to be an underestimate as many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.

Bloody errors at civilians' expense, as recorded in the logs, include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.

Questionable shootings of civilians by UK troops also figure. The US compilers detail an unusual cluster of four British shootings in Kabul in the space of barely a month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the death of the son of an Afghan general. Of one shooting, they wrote: "Investigation controlled by the British. We are not able to get [sic] complete story."

A second cluster of similar shootings, all involving Royal Marine commandos in Helmand province, took place in a six-month period at the end of 2008, according to the log entries. Asked by the Guardian about these allegations, the Ministry of Defence said: "We have been unable to corroborate these claims in the short time available and it would be inappropriate to speculate on specific cases without further verification of the alleged actions."

Rachel Reid, who investigates civilian casualty incidents in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said: "These files bring to light what's been a consistent trend by US and Nato forces: the concealment of civilian casualties. Despite numerous tactical directives ordering transparent investigations when civilians are killed, there have been incidents I've investigated in recent months where this is still not happening.

The war is likely already lost if the aim was to prevent the Taliban from controlling vast swaths of Afghanistan. Most of the Pashtun areas are now effectively under Taliban control but if we continue to show such a wanton disregard for Afghan civilians then our defeat will come that much sooner and be that much greater. 

There's more...

WikiLeaks Document Drop, The Pentagon Papers of the Afghan War

The website WikiLeaks, a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public, has published over 91,000 leaked ISAF and US military documents that paint a very different scenario from the picture portrayed by the Obama Administration in the Afghan War. In addition, WikiLeaks gave advance access to three news publications in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Here's how it's being reported by the three news outlets given advance access. In the New York Times, the US publication given advance access and the nation's paper of record, the focus is on the Pakistani double game in Afghanistan.

Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.

The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.

Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.

But many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.

While current and former American officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said that the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.

Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult.

The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety.

The White House response has been fast and furious. General James Jones, the White House National Security Adviser, issued a statement that begins: "The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."


More on the White House reaction from Politico.

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