Democracy Soup

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Archive for May 2011

When Leon Panetta goes to defense, he will be first Dem in post since 1997

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Leon Panetta is about to join an exclusive club. The current CIA director and former Congressman is going to switch over to Secretary of Defense.

Being Secretary of Defense is a small club, though Donald Rumsfeld made two appearances on the roster. But Panetta is about to be part of a very small club: Democrats who serve as the Secretary of Defense.

Since Richard Nixon took office in January 1969, the number of Democratic people who have been Secretary of Defense before Panetta is 3.

No Republican president has had a Democratic Secretary of Defense, yet the opposite is definitely not true. In fact since 1969, the number of Republicans in Democratic administrations has been 2, one fewer than the total of the Democratic list.

Panetta joins the list of Harold Brown (Carter), the late Les Aspin (Clinton), and William Perry (Clinton). Republicans William Cohen (Clinton) and Robert Gates (Obama) round out the other list.

Despite the less than stellar track record of Rumsfeld, he was perceived to be qualified in part because he had done the position before. And Republicans are better at acting like they belong.

Ask any liberal where he/she would start on fixing America’s budget woes, and the answer would be “Defense.” But there has not been a Democratic attempt to reconsider Pentagon priorities in 17 years. Les Aspin tried on some level, but his health and perceived incompetence stopped him for doing much, and William Perry tried, but ran into the Gingrich goons.

Of course, President Barack Obama had a chance to create a new era, but chose to keep on W’s defense manager. And no one thinks Panetta will think outside any traditional defense box.

Still, having a Democrat in the chair will be a small step of improvement. Improving the perception of Democratic people in the Department of Defense is necessary if we are to rethink defense priorities in this country.

Picking someone of the opposite party for the Cabinet hasn’t helped relations between the two major parties. George W. Bush picked Norman Y. Mineta for Transportation, and Mineta was pretty quiet at a time when transportation was crucial. President Obama picked Gates and Ray LaHood for Transportation (and nominated Judd Gregg for Commerce), yet got zero props from the GOP or the MSM for such a move.

If Democratic presidents are going to put Republicans in the Cabinet, they need to keep them out of defense. Democrats need a chance to be in charge of what is seen as a very important Cabinet post.


Written by democracysoup

May 27, 2011 at 7:45 am

Absence of rent-free DVR is sample of lack of innovation

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When conservatives talk about how America’s innovation is great, and how small businesses create the jobs, I think of the DVR.

For those who aren’t obsessed with their TV(s), a DVR – digital video recorder – allows you to tape 2 shows at the same time while you aren’t home, allows you to pause live TV, and lets you catch up on a show while it’s on.

Now, if you want a DVR in the United States, you have, well, choices. And choice is what separates Americans from, well, non-Americans.

Your cable company will let you rent a DVR for $14-$18 per month. In homes where people buy furniture and even the TV, you rent the DVR. If you have a DVR, you don’t have to rent a cable box, but if you have a cablecard, you wouldn’t need a cable box.

Cable companies don’t like cablecards because they don’t allow you to use interactive services, a major revenue stream for cable companies.

Now, if you know nothing about modern TV recording, you might remember of a time in the not so distant past where people owned VCRs. You could tape shows for later and play them back, but there were logistical issues, such as buying tapes, jumping around on said tapes to find room, and lazy SOs who would forget to watch a tape so you couldn’t tape over that program until it got watched.

And you could buy a VCR without a rental charge. But TiVo – an understatement to say TiVo is the #1 makers of DVRs – charges you a rental fee in the neighborhood of what the cable companies charge. And you have to buy the machine for several hundred dollars on top of the rental fees.

If you rent a DVR from the cable company, you don’t usually get a choice of DVRs, and if you do, taking advantage of newer technology or increased capacity is almost impossible. The technology in the TiVo is better, but you are paying a much higher cost.

TiVo recently launched a lower price for its new TiVo – $99 – with a catch: a much higher rental fee. Now TiVo had a “lifetime rental fee” – a way to control the costs of the DVR, though you fork out money up front and hope everything works out. Except of course that “lifetime” doesn’t mean “lifetime with the company,” more like “lifetime of the unit.” And these lower-cost units allow for a lifetime rental fee, but this is hidden in the fine print.

Now, a more flamboyant comparison might be to communist Russia, but let’s be honest, Russia wouldn’t have had the TV options of Americans in 2011, and maybe we have too many choices (or too many bad choices anyway).

So you would think that a popular device such as the DVR would be a gold mine for a company to figure out a way to have a DVR without a rental fee. Yet we haven’t seen that happen.

We rely a lot on technology even though we don’t make a lot of it. The Blackberry came from Canada. Seriously. Places such as South Korea and Japan have DVRs that don’t require a rental fee. Those countries are also much more wired than the United States so people can use WiFi in more places. Americans still struggle with the concept of telecommuting.

This isn’t completely the fault of conservatives that we have fallen behind on so many levels. The structures that used to drive American innovation have fallen over the last few decades, but the investment that might have come has drifted elsewhere, from wars and planes to the pockets of already rich people who aren’t doing the innovating.

After all, Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet, but the government is part of why we do have the Internet.

Our hopes for hover cars have long since disappeared. But what is more disturbing is that when innovation does comes down the pike, the new technology is designed more to improve the bottom lines of rich companies than our lives. We get 3D TV, which wouldn’t be compatible for 99.872% of programming, but can’t get a rent-free DVR.

There was an ad a couple of years ago that talked about what would happen if we could call up any movie ever made, and instantaneously get it. This would be a pipe dream. Getting an Adam Sandler movie delivered to my iPhone: not so much.

Yes, corporations are citizens, very powerful citizens, more powerful citizens than we could ever be. And their bottom line is more important than our bottom line.

But when that wasn’t true, innovation was set up to improve the lives of its citizens. Now we get 3D TV where we can’t even agree on one technology for the glasses needed to watch the virtually non-existent programming.

Education and technology are the two crucial factors that will determine which countries will be driving the train 30 years from now. On both fronts, the United States is getting its tail kicked. Our lack of innovation doesn’t help either one of those elements.

And while Democratic politicians aren’t as vigilant on the topics as they should be, they are trying. Republicans are more concerned about stripping down the vehicle of its muffler and exhaust pipe while the proverbial car needs serious engine repair. If you think we’re behind now, if we do nothing, we’ll look back at 2011 and think these were good times. And we still won’t have a rent-free DVR.

Written by democracysoup

May 20, 2011 at 8:02 am

MI Governor Rick Snyder wants to meddle in Benton Harbor, but has no plan to fix the city

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The debate in the emerging “emergency financial manager” syndrome under new Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been about the right to autonomy over failing cities vs. the loss of democracy. But the unasked question is what happens if this works and how will we determine when this doesn’t work.

I will stand up now and declare that perhaps I am too close to Benton Harbor, Michigan to be considered a unbiased expert. I grew up in the area and have written about the area several times over the years. However, because I am as familiar with the city, unlike most outside people, I bring inside knowledge to the debate.

And I will toss Gov. Snyder a bone and assume that Joseph Harris has what it takes to save Benton Harbor. Harris will get manufacturers to settle within the city limits and get the jobs flowing toward the northern banks of the St. Joseph River. Oh, and Harris will improve test scores in the schools, cut down on dropouts, and of course, reduce drug use and dealing in the streets.

Abandoned houses will be bulldozed, grass will be cut, and parks will be rehabilitated.

What? Joseph Harris will do none of these things? Then how will he save Benton Harbor?

Benton Harbor has had the short end of the stick, even in a state such as Michigan, for 2-3 generations. The idea that one person can come in and save this city would be Superman-ish. The problem isn’t that Joseph Harris is brought in to “save” BH; the problem is that the goal isn’t to save BH.

Harris isn’t there to improve the long-term economic growth of the city. He may do some flashy things, and probably screw over the city on a controversial golf course involving a swap for city land. But when Snyder gets tired or bored about being tough, Harris will leave and the city will still need help.

As Stephen Colbert has noted, Harris has talked about combining the police and fire departments. Yes, this is what has been wrong with a city where the official unemployment rate for African-American men in the city has hovered around 40%.

What does Gov. Snyder want Harris to do with Benton Harbor? How much would Harris need to do before Snyder proclaims, “Mission Accomplished”?

Whatever miracles Harris will do won’t take long. Harris said he could be finished with his job in the city as early as next year.

The governor was the grand marshal at the Blossomtime Parade last Saturday. This parade is the harmonious meeting of the mostly white St. Joseph and the mostly black Benton Harbor. Not surprisingly, the governor was met with boos and protesters.

The people of Benton Harbor would like to live in a better city. Even if the people in the surrounding area often make fun of Benton Harbor’s plight, they would like Benton Harbor to be in better shape.

Unfortunately, the two people who don’t want the city to be in better shape are Rick Snyder and Joseph Harris.

Snyder would be considered a genius, both in Michigan and nationally, if he could fix Benton Harbor. Harris could be king of Benton Harbor, well, okay, right now, he is king, but this time, king in a good way.

But Gov. Snyder’s plan to fix Benton Harbor is…. Oh, yeah, there is no plan. And Harris doesn’t have a plan, either.

State officials of both major parties haven’t done a whole lot to help Benton Harbor. National politicians haven’t done a whole lot to help. Benton Harbor has suffered enough over the years to be a pawn in a political chess game. For all the audacity of risking democracy, you better have a serious plan. And Snyder’s plan is as much empty as it is outrageous.

Curing desperate situations requires well-thought out plans that happen over a period. Putting down a “king” into a desperate situation and having him stay less than a year — the people of Benton Harbor, the Twin Cities, and all of Michigan deserve a lot better.

And if this is a ruse to bust unions, as one might suspect from a Midwestern governor, Benton Harbor (nor anyone else) can be “fixed” that way. Hopefully, Snyder and Harris will be judged by what they do in Benton Harbor once the people again have the right to vote.

MSM selectively loves conspiracy theories allows Sarah Palin’s hypocrisy

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Shortly after we learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed, there was the flutter on the MSM that people might think the death of Osama bin Laden is all a conspiracy theory.

The MSM traditionally ignored conspiracy theories, whether they be far-fetched or somewhat possible. The “we didn’t land on the moon” was never taken seriously. The “CIA introduced crack to the United States” had quality research, but was completely ignored.

The top conspiracy theory of the 21st century “9/11 was an inside job” was massively ignored. The “Bush wasn’t concerned about stopping 9/11” was even more ignored, though again, there were some plausible points.

The bin Laden conspiracy theory was the second major conspiracy theory shared by the MSM in a 7-day period. The first was the long-standing “Obama wasn’t born in the United States” conspiracy theory.

Think about this: even in the “9/11 was an inside job” — there were more “proof” than the birthers have had in their cause. As conspiracy theories go, the birthers make the weakest case, yet have been given the most legitimacy by the MSM.

But the MSM have gone beyond ignoring a juicy conspiracy theory involving one of the most secretive personalities in modern politics: Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin has called on President Barack Obama to release the pictures of bin Laden. Yet we are still waiting for Palin to release something that every modern presidential and vice presidential candidates have released, every one except for Sarah Palin.

During the campaign, Sarah Palin managed to get to Election Day without releasing a single page of her medical records. And outside of MSNBC, no one in the MSM raised a peep?

What is she hiding? Why won’t she release the medical records?

Of course, the most logical answer is another conspiracy theory: Sarah Palin is not the mother of Trig.

Others, including yours truly, have written extensively about the many holes in Sarah Palin’s story about the birth of Trig. But the MSM has no interest.

Again, a conspiracy theory with significant evidence isn’t as juicy to the MSM as the weak case made by the birthers. Let’s go back to my reaction to an ad that ran in the Chicago Tribune in late 2008:

Among its many charges is that Obama lost his U.S. citizenship at the age of 4 (we are not making this up) since his mother married an Indonesian citizen. If you are born in the United States, you are a citizen, regardless of where your parents are from, and you don’t have the power at the age of 4 to say otherwise.

Let’s make Sarah Palin a deal: She releases everything having to do with the birth of Trig. She renounces the birthers and everything they stand for.

And in exchange, even if we disagree with her, we’ll take her seriously. If Sarah Palin has been telling the truth about Trig all this time, then she has nothing to hide.

But until Palin does so, she has no business pushing her own conspiracy theories. There is a giant plank in her eye; Palin should leave slivers alone.

Stephen Harper wins majority government in Canada; Jack Layton takes NDP to official opposition status

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While the coverage goes very late, here are the highlights of the 2011 Canadian federal election, via

Stephen Harper became the first Conservative PM to win a majority since Brian Mulroney and only the 3nd conservative with a majority since 1930. Jack Layton became the first NDP leader to finish as high as second, and so the NDP will be the official opposition party. Michael Ignatieff became the first Liberal Party leader to finish as low as third ever. Gilles Duceppe, the longest current standing party leader, won’t be after the Bloc Quebecois fell to about 2 seats.

Kim Campbell was the last party leader to lose the riding as well; Campbell inherited the PM chair as the Progressive Conservatives went down to 2 seats in 1993. Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore in Ontario) and Duceppe (Laurier-Sainte-Marie in Quebec) lost their ridings as well.

Elizabeth May was a party leader who won her seat, the first elected MP from the Green Party, in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding in British Columbia. And the Greens will have about as much vocal power as the Bloc Quebecois.

For more details, click on the rest of the story.