Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame.
The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February — double the 0.8 percent rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2 percent, less than January’s 0.5 percent rise.
Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Most of that increase was due to a sharp rise in vegetable costs, which increased nearly 50 percent. That was the most in almost a year. Meat and dairy products also rose.
I believe that food inflation is in the midst of its greatest run-up (by one measurement of a basket of basic foodstuffs) since 1974. The lead story on Drudge reports on the most recent data.
Under the rubric of QE2, the Federal Reserve Bank is engaged in the venture of increasing the money supply with the goal of moderately increasing inflation. I fear that this venture is misguided and destructive. I believe it will result in inflation exceeding the Fed’s goal, if it has not done so already, and that the Fed will apply the brakes well after the damage has been done, as is its style.
Scott cleverly titles his post, “Let them eat iPads.” I’m not sure I’d draw a line between QE2 and what has happened in food and oil prices, at least not as a primary factor. The effect of QE2 will be to weaken the dollar, which will hike the cost of imports, to be sure, and that may account for a little of the large price jump. If it was the main factor — if the dollar had been weakened to that extent — then prices would be up across the board, especially on imports. At least according to today’s report from the BEA on the trade deficit, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The real source of this problem is America’s continuing refusal to exploit its own energy sources. We remain too dependent on imports for energy while deliberately sidelining at least hundreds of thousands of potential high-paying jobs by refusing to extract our own oil and natural gas. When the unstable countries that produce oil go through political paroxysms, it spooks investors and sends commodity prices soaring on the increased risk to distribution. Those price increases mean higher transportation costs, which impacts all goods and services that require transport to get to consumers. It’s a multiplier factor that we have seen a number of times over the last four decades, and which our political class continues to pretend doesn’t exist.
In the year ahead, expect to see the largest food price increases in the protein group: chicken, beef, and pork, as well as dairy items. One key reason: The price of corn, used as feed by ranchers and farmers, has doubled in the past year. But vegetarians won’t get off easy: Produce and orange juice are rising sharply, as well.
Higher food prices have wide economic ramifications and are being watched closely by the Federal Reserve. From a business standpoint, food producers – from agricultural giants to the corner pizza parlor – must raise prices or watch their profit margins evaporate. Many middle-class households are financially stretched to the limit, so any extra expense for such basics as milk or bread makes their life even tougher. Organizations that help the poor with food, moreover, find they can’t help as many people because their dollar doesn’t go as far.
“The more you have to spend on a loaf of bread and a pound of ground beef, the less you have to spend on everything else,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa. “It’s like a tax increase, although it’s not quite as bad as rising oil prices, since at least the revenues go to US farmers, truckers, and ag-equipment manufacturers.”
The US Department of Agriculture expects the average price of food in 2011 to be 4 percent higher than last year. Some private forecasters say that, by December, prices could be as much as 6 percent higher than in December 2010.
“If food inflation comes in at 6 percent, it would be the most dramatic increase since 1982,” says William Lapp, a consumer foods economist with his own firm, Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. “We had a 10-year period, from 1972 to 1981, when annual food prices rose sharply – including a two-year period when increases averaged 8.7 percent.”
When you factor in crude foodstuff and feedstuff to food costs to producers, food prices rose at the fastest rate since 1974, when the U.S. economy was in the grips of what was known as “stagflation.” Prices were rising rapidly despite little or no growth in the economy.
From the spokesman for the new provisional Libyan government formed in Benghazi to the resistance fighter holed up in her apartment in Tripoli, the message from anti-Qaddafi Libyans to the West—and the United States in particular—is uniform: Help us!
Qaddafi is not Hosni Mubarak. The Libyan forces arrayed against the insurgency, unlike the Egyptian army, will show no restraint. This will be, indeed has already become, a bloody fight to the finish involving mercenaries and soldiers whose loyalty to the Qaddafi family is based on money and brute force.
Saif Qaddafi predicted “rivers of blood,” and we are now seeing them flowing from the streets of Tripoli to Libya’s other key coastal cities.
Yet the White House has offered little but antiseptic words, followed up by nothing meaningful.
However, the spectrum of options—both multilateral and unilateral—is quite broad, ranging from the creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone, to targeted attacks to take out what little remains of the Qaddafi air force, to covert efforts to keep the Qaddafi air force on the ground, to the provision of communication infrastructure to the resistance, to the provision of armaments so that they can fight on an equal footing.
Not only would our actual assistance be of great actual help, but the emotional impact of our intervention could sway many who remain with Qaddafi and bring them over to the side of the resistance.
Far from being brutalized by four decades of domination by a theatrical madman, the Libyan people appear fairly determined not to sink to his level and to be done with him and his horrible kin. They also seem, at the time of writing, to want this achievement to represent their own unaided effort. Admirable as this is, it doesn’t excuse us from responsibility. The wealth that Qaddafi is squandering is the by-product of decades of collusion with foreign contractors. The weapons that he is employing against civilians were not made in Libya; they were sold to him by sophisticated nations. Other kinds of weaponry have been deployed by Qaddafi in the past against civil aviation and to supply a panoply of nihilistic groups as far away as Ireland and the Philippines. This, too, gives us a different kind of stake in the outcome. Even if Qaddafi basked in the unanimous adoration of his people, he would not be entitled to the export of violence. Moreover, his indiscriminate barbarism, and the effect of its subsequent refugee crisis on neighboring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, ipso facto constitutes an intervention in the internal affairs of others and a threat to peace in the region. In arguing that he no longer possesses legal sovereignty over “his” country, and that he should relinquish such power as remains to him, we are almost spoiled for choice as to legal and moral pretexts.
And yet there is a palpable reluctance, especially on the part of the Obama administration, to look these things in the face. Even after decades of enmity with this evil creep, our military and intelligence services turn out not even to have had a contingency plan. So it seems we must improvise. But does one have to go over all the arguments again, as if Rwanda and Bosnia and Kurdistan had never happened? It seems, especially when faced with the adamancy for drift and the resolve to be irresolute of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that one does. Very well, then. Doing nothing is not the absence of a policy; it is, in fact, the adoption of one. “Neutrality” favors the side with the biggest arsenal. “Nonintervention” is a form of interference. If you will the end—and President Barack Obama has finally said that Qaddafi should indeed go—then to that extent you will the means.
Libya is a country with barely 6 million inhabitants. By any computation, however cold and actuarial, the regime of its present dictator cannot possibly last very much longer. As a matter of pure realism, the post-Qaddafi epoch is upon us whether we choose to welcome the fact or not. The immediate task is therefore to limit the amount of damage Qaddafi can do and sharply minimize the number of people he can murder. Whatever the character of the successor system turns out to be, it can hardly be worsened if we show it positive signs of friendship and solidarity. But the pilots of Qaddafi’s own air force, who flew their planes to Malta rather than let themselves be used against civilians, have demonstrated more courage and principle than the entire U.S. Sixth Fleet.
There’s another consequence to our continuing passivity. I am sure I am not alone in feeling rather queasy about being forced to watch the fires in Tripoli and Benghazi as if I were an impotent spectator. Indifference of this kind to the lives of others can have a coarsening effect. It can lower one’s threshold of sympathy. If protracted unduly, it might even become brutalizing.
To help the president nudge the JCS in the ensuing discussion, here are the options he should ask to be put on his desk:
1. Best option: Give the Libyan rebels the aid they need to win. This may be no more than some secure communications gear and a couple of thousand rocket-propelled grenades to deter Qaddafi’s tanks and SUVs. (This may be already happening in some form.) Can we start flying discreet charter flights of stuff into some airports in the east? This needs to be ready to go ASAP — like yesterday.
2. More aggressive, riskier option: It is not in the interests of the United States, or the Libyan people, to see Qaddafi put down the rebels. So if Option 1 doesn’t work, what more do we need to do? I think here we want to think about direct action: Using Special Operations troops to corner and then capture or (if he insists) kill Col. Qaddafi. You do need tactical air on tap for this, both to finish off Qaddafi if he holes up and also to cover the extraction helicopters. This needs to be ready to kick off in 72 hours.
3. Third: And yeah, sure, let’s look at what a no-fly zone would look like. This is my least favorite option, because it is a half measure — which by definition is an act that is enough to get us involved but by itself is not enough to promise to determine the outcome. Still, is there any way to do it quickly and with less risk? I’ve heard things like stating “you fly, you die,” and not conducting extensive air strikes, just popping whoever flies. I am doubtful of this. Sen. Kerry’s simplistic “cratering” of runways is a non-starter — it is very easy to quickly fill in holes. Imposition of an American-led no-fly zone effectively would be a promise to the Libyan people, and it should not be an empty promise that allows Qaddafi to get aircraft in the air even occasionally to bomb rebellious cities. But it might be worthwhile to throw up a no-fly zone if only as a cover for Option 2, because it would have the effect of throwing sand in Qaddafi’s eyes. So the NFZ also needs to be ready to go in 72 hours.
This is what a worst case scenario looks like: Qaddafi is ramping up the use of airpower against the rebels, increasingly confident that NATO and the U.S. won’t intervene. Actually, this is a next-to-worst case scenario: the real horror would be if Qaddafi breaks out the mustard gas. Either way, we have the spectacle of the Obama Administration standing by as freedom fighters are slaughtered from the air–prime fodder for shoot-first John McCain (yet again, and still, the headliner on a Sunday morning talk show–will wonders never cease?), Mitch McConnell and even for John Kerry.
There are several problems with the conventional wisdom. The biggest problem is that we have no idea whether the rebels in Libya are freedom fighters at all. Some are, especially the English-speaking, western-educated young people who are prime targets for visiting journalists. But how relevant are they to the real power struggle? Who are the non-English-speaking tribal elders? Are they democracy loving freedom fighters…or just Qaddafis-in-waiting? It’s a question to be asked not only in Libya, but also in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain. One hopes for the best–especially in Egypt, where there are signs that the Army is allowing at least a partial transition away from autocracy. But who knows, really? Even Iraq’s democracy is looking shaky these days as Nouri al-Maliki seems intent on consolidating his power.
Only a sociopath would have any sympathy for Qaddafi. And we should do what we can to calm the situation down…but I have this growing fear that the tribal/civil war in Libya may be as representative of what’s happening in the Middle East as the exhilarating people-power revolution in Egypt. This is truly a diplomatic conundrum: we can’t continue to support the autocrats in power…but by opposing them, we may be aiding and abetting the birth of a more chaotic, brutal Middle East. Those who express vast confidence about one side or the other–or who want to shoot first, as the inevitable McCain does–shouldn’t inspire much confidence. We should provide what humanitarian help we can; we should try to mediate, if possible…but we should think twice–no, three times–before taking any sort of military action.
Let’s do a quick tally of the Middle East’s nondemocratic leaders.
America’s friend Hosni Mubarak? Gone.
America’s friend Zine El Abidine Ben Ali? Gone.
America’s friend the king of Bahrain? Wobbling.
America’s friend the king of Jordan? Shaken.
On the other side of the ledger:
America’s enemy, the Iranian theocracy? The mullahs unleashed ferocious repression against democratic protesters in the summer of 2009 and kept power.
Hezbollah? It brought down the Lebanese government to forestall a U.N. investigation into the terrorist murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Hamas? Last month it banned male hairdressers in Gaza from cutting women’s hair, the latest zany ordinance from the self-described Islamic movement.
If Gadhafi and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still rule territory in a month’s time, and if Hezbollah and Hamas continue to rely on their armed presence to back up the militant policies they impose, the promises of Middle Eastern democracy will look very hollow. And the incentive structure of the Middle East will acquire a sinister new look.
Gadhafi’s departure from power in other words is not just a requirement of humanity and decency. It’s not only justice to the people of Libya. It is also essential to American credibility and the stability of the Middle East region.
Obama already has said that Gadhafi “must” go. Gadhafi is not cooperating — and to date, the insurgents have lacked the strength to force him.
The United States paid a heavy price for encouraging Iraqis to rebel against Saddam Hussein in 1991, then standing by as the Iraqi leader slaughtered rebels from the air. We still pay that price, for the memory of the slaughter is a crucial element in the distrust that so many ordinary Iraqis felt for the United States after Hussein’s ouster in 2003.
The president must not repeat that mistake. He’s already committed himself. Now the only choice he faces is whether his words will be seen to have meaning — or to lack it.
The argument that we need to intervene in Libya for the sake of protesters elsewhere isn’t remotely credible, not least because no one is proposing that the U.S. make armed intervention against internal crackdowns a standing policy to be applied in all cases. If intervention in Libya were to deter other unfriendly governments from trying to crush protest movements with violence, Washington would have to make these governments believe that it was prepared and willing to do the same thing to them. Pushing unnecessary war with Libya is bad enough, but if it were just the first in a series of unnecessary wars it becomes even more undesirable.
The U.S. can lend assistance to Tunisia and Egypt in coping with refugees from Libya, and it is appropriate to provide humanitarian aid for the civilian population in Libya where it is possible to deliver it, but there is no reason to become more involved than that.
Seeking to appease disgruntled governors, President Obama announced Monday that he supported amending the 2010 health care law to allow states to opt out of its most burdensome requirements three years earlier than currently permitted.
In remarks to the National Governors Association, Mr. Obama said he backed legislation that would enable states to request federal permission to withdraw from the law’s mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017 as long as they could prove that they could find other ways to cover as many people as the original law would and at the same cost. The earlier date is when many of the act’s central provisions take effect, including requirements that most individuals obtain health insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage to workers or pay a penalty.
“I think that’s a reasonable proposal; I support it,” Mr. Obama told the governors, who were gathered in the State Dining Room of the White House.
“It will give you flexibility more quickly while still guaranteeing the American people reform.”
As I wrote in November, there’s no guarantee Republicans governors will embrace this 2014 opt-out waiver plan, which would have to pass through Congress to become law:
Aside from the political implications of endorsing a plan championed by a Democratic leader on health reform – even if he is in cahoots with a Republican from a blue state – some on the right might balk at the Wyden-Brown plan on the grounds that it’s still an expensive expansion of government. The Wyden-Brown plan, after all, does not – as far as I can tell – spend any less money than the ACA without a state opt-out. On the contrary, it may cost more.
The Wyden-Brown plan also does not impact the huge Medicaid expansion called for in the ACA, which Republicans vehemently oppose. It doesn’t eliminate taxes on expensive health insurance plans, or fees levied on medical devices or pharmaceuticals.
Another catch: The Wyden-Brown plan only allows states to opt out if they have a good plan for how to undertake comprehensive health care reform on their own. Most states don’t have such a plan. Massachusetts, which enacted reform in 2007, obviously does, which is why Brown was a logical co-sponsor of the opt-out bill. California, Connecticut and Vermont are three other states that are on their way toward developing health care reform inside their borders. But red states – especially southern states – are among those least equipped to design and implement reform that could accomplish what the ACA attempts to do, as they typically have higher percentages of uninsured residents and looser insurance regulation.
As long as the HHS Secretary, whether it is Kathleen Sebelius or the next occupant of the office, has the final say on granting Obamacare waivers, then there is no real flexibility for states under Obamacare. All 50 of them would still be at the mercy of the whim of the HHS. The only real way to give states true flexibility on health care reform begins with the full repeal of Obamacare.
UPDATE:Politico confirms that Wyden-Brown has nothing to do with offering Obamacare critical states “flexibility” and everything to do with advancing single payer health care:
[A] White House conference call with liberal allies this morning says the Administration is presenting it to Democrats as an opportunity to offer more expansive health care plans than the one Congress passed.
Health care advisers Nancy-Ann DeParle and Stephanie Cutter stressed on the off-record call that the rule change would allow states to implement single-payer health care plans — as Vermont seeks to — and true government-run plans, like Connecticut’s Sustinet.
The source on the call summarizes the officials’ point — which is not one the Administration has sought to make publically — as casting the new “flexibility” language as an opportunity to try more progressive, not less expansive, approaches on the state level.
“They are trying to split the baby here: on one hand tell supporters this is good for their pet issues, versus a message for the general public that the POTUS is responding to what he is hearing and that he is being sensible,” the source emails.
The question is whether this makes Wyden-Brown more or less likely to pass. I’m guessing less likely. The political theory behind Wyden-Brown was that it gave Republicans a constructive way to attack the Affordable Care Act: The waiver program could be sold as a critique of the law — “it’s such a bad bill that states need to write their own policy” — even as it entrenched the country’s basic commitment to universal health-care insurance. You could’ve imagined it being attached to the budget or one of the spending bills as part of a larger bargain.
But now that Obama has admitted it’s not a threat to the Affordable Care Act, a lot of the appeal for Republicans dissipates. Supporting it could even be seen as helping the White House in its efforts to defend the law against repeal. So the idea looks likelier to become a talking point for the administration — see how reasonable we’re being? — than an outlet for Republicans. But perhaps that doesn’t matter: Wyden-Brown hasn’t attracted any Republican co-sponsors beyond Scott Brown, so maybe it never had a chance of playing its intended part anyway.
I suspect this is not as big a deal as it seems. Basically, Obama is calling the bluff of Republicans who insist that they can build a healthcare system that’s as extensive and affordable as PPACA using some combination of tea party-approved “free market” principles. He’s telling them to put their money (or, rather, money from the feds) where their mouths are, which will probably demonstrate fairly conclusively that they can’t do it. It’s possible that a state like Oregon might enact a more liberal plan that meets PPACA standards, but I doubt that Alabama or Tennessee can do it just with HSAs and high-deductible health plans.
Still, we’ll see. This is a chance for conservatives to show that they have a better healthcare answer in the real world, not just as talking points at a tea party rally. Obama is betting they’ll fail, and he’s also betting they’ll tear each other apart arguing over details while they do it. Life is easy when all you have to do is yell “Repeal Obamacare!” but it gets a lot harder when you have to produce an actual plan.
NOT every generation is given the chance to turn the page on the past and write a new chapter in history. Yet today — after 50 years of civil wars that have killed two million people and turned millions more into refugees — this is the opportunity before the people of southern Sudan.
Over the next week, millions of southern Sudanese will vote on whether to remain part of Sudan or to form their own independent nation. This process — and the actions of Sudanese leaders — will help determine whether people who have known so much suffering will move toward peace and prosperity, or slide backward into bloodshed. It will have consequences not only for Sudan, but also for sub-Saharan Africa and the world.
The historic vote is an exercise in self-determination long in the making, and it is a key part of the 2005 peace agreement that ended the civil war in Sudan. Yet just months ago, with preparations behind schedule, it was uncertain whether this referendum would take place at all. It is for this reason that I gathered with leaders from Sudan and around the world in September to make it clear that the international community was united in its belief that this referendum had to take place and that the will of the people of southern Sudan had to be respected, regardless of the outcome.
In an important step forward, leaders from both northern and southern Sudan — backed by more than 40 nations and international organizations — agreed to work together to ensure that the voting would be timely, peaceful, free and credible and would reflect the will of the Sudanese people. The fact that the voting appears to be starting on time is a tribute to those in Sudan who fulfilled their commitments. Most recently, the government of Sudan said that it would be the first to recognize the south if it voted for independence.
Now, the world is watching, united in its determination to make sure that all parties in Sudan live up to their obligations. As the referendum proceeds, voters must be allowed access to polling stations; they must be able to cast their ballots free from intimidation and coercion. All sides should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric or provocative actions that could raise tensions or prevent voters from expressing their will.
Sudanese in the often remote countryside have seen relatively few benefits so far but in the capital, Juba, life has changed dramatically. In 2005 South Sudan’s leaders lived in tents, ate on the ground and had almost no means to communicate with their people or the outside world. Today, Juba is booming. It does not yet match the glitz of Khartoum but it is no longer quite such a backwater. Its airport is still housed in a shack without air-conditioning but some 80 flights take off and land every day now, and a new terminal building is rising by the landing strip.
New restaurants and bars are sprouting up everywhere. Government ministers (many of whom have swapped their uniforms for sharp business suits) like to go to Da Vinci, an Italian eatery on the banks of the Nile. Foreign aid workers prefer Logali House, known for its fast internet access. East Africans gather at Home & Away for Thai food. Ukrainian and Russian pilots can be found at Oasis Camp and Sudanese hipsters, many of them returning from abroad, go to Havana, a bar set up by some of the so-called Cuban Jubans, a group of south Sudanese who went off to see Fidel a few decades ago and are drifting back now.
But residents also report that crime has increased. It is mostly opportunistic and suspicions tends to fall on the growing community of slum-dwellers. Muggings and armed robberies are common and aid agencies impose midnight to sunrise curfews on their expatriate employees. Most embassies and UN sites are heavily guarded with razor wire on top of their high walls. The Warrior private-security company is doing good business. Government security, by comparison, is surprisingly lax. Anyone can wander into the parliament and it probably wouldn’t be that hard to drive on to the airfield.
Still, traffic policemen have been swamping the roads of the capital in the last few weeks. Apparently they are recruits from a new police academy who have graduated but were kept on in Juba to vote in the referendum (since they had registered there). At times two or three of them guard one road turn-off, stopping traffic to allow a single car to pull out. Most roads are still unpaved and turn into terrible bogs when it rains so having a 4×4 is very useful. Traffic can be surprisingly busy. New cars are rolling into town every day, especially expensive ones including Hummers. Drivers are expensive too. Having your own chauffeur will set you back $100 a day. A few years ago, when cars were scarcer, it was $50 a trip no matter how short. Those working in Juba must be hoping the same will happen to prices for private gyms. One place quotes $1,000 a month for membership. There isn’t much choice.
Efforts to secure the referendum have taken a nasty turn for some Arab residents of the south, however. More than 4 million people registered to vote, among them a farmer named Adam Ismail, but Ismail won’t be placing his fingerprint on a paper ballot this week.
A resident of a disputed region called Fokhar on Sudan’s north-south border in Upper Nile state, Ismail and more than 1,000 other Arabs have abandoned their homes and fields and fled to the north after a campaign of intimidation by southern soldiers.
The Arab tribes of Fokhar have long enjoyed good relations with their neighbors from the Dinka tribe, Ismail said, and the locality even includes a few mixed families, but the Arabs have been viewed with hostile suspicion by local commanders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
A campaign of intimidation, including arrests and interrogations, night visits by uniformed gunmen, and the shooting death of one member of the community, escalated last November, after local Arabs began registering to vote. Nearly 10 percent of the community has fled north to White Nile state, abandoning their fields and some livestock.
“They were threatening us to not vote for unity,” Ismail told me by telephone. “It was our right to register, and we all registered—that’s why this is happening.” Ismail’s family, and nearly 250 other families of the Shukriya tribe, are beginning their seventh week in camps north of the border. Their makeshift shelters are taking on signs of permanence. It is a rare and unfortunate turn of the Sudanese wheel—Arabs dispossessed by African gunmen because of their religion and tribe.
Still, there is a danger in celebrating too early. Voters may call for an independent Southern Sudan as they cast their ballots this week, but the means by which the new country would split off is still subject to difficult negotiations and thorny details. There is no agreement over a border, citizenship, the sharing of natural resources, and one contentious border region called Abyei. So while its people are celebrating, Southern Sudan’s leaders are eager to get back to the negotiating table with Khartoum, where a long agenda awaits after the voting finishes. If international attention wanes after the votes are cast, those negotiations could easily take a turn for the worse.
It would be impossible for there not be a “hangover” following the announcement of the results of the ballot, which will not be certified and officially announced until Feb. 6 at the earliest, according to the referendum commission. The voting here in Juba has captured international attention. News crews from around the world have flooded the city, usually a relatively quiet capital with an expatriate community made up mostly of aid workers and frontier businessmen.
There was also a huge diplomatic push to get to this moment. Last fall, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration ramped up its efforts to ensure that the voting was carried off on time. The White House sent its special envoy, Scott Gration, as well as a seasoned Africa hand from the Council on Foreign Relations, Princeton Lyman, to do the diplomatic legwork on the ground. A high-level meeting in New York during the U.N. General Assembly in late September ensured that the international community was acting in lockstep — and around the clock — to help Sudan hold the referendum on time and in peace.
But the spotlight may well lift after the last voters go to polls later this week — at exactly the moment when the politics of secession will become even more fraught. From the moment the results are known, the clock starts ticking on independence talks: The African Union-brokered negotiations between the ruling party in Khartoum and the governing party in the south — now on hold while the voting takes place — have to be completed by the summer. The 2005 north-south peace agreement governing the referendum calls for an “interim period” between the voting and secession, to expire on July 9, 2011. This is also the date the south will declare independence if the referendum passes.
Reports of the violence have thus far failed to dampen the hopeful tone of Sunday’s voting. But serious hurdles await the fledgling state. A new government will need to be formed, and official independence will not be granted until July 9. This gives the north at least six months to disrupt the transition and derail the secession after the international camera crews depart. And it’s anybody’s guess whether Monday’s clashes portend greater conflict.
While President Bashir has earned a reputation as an untrustworthy negotiator, he recently has said repeatedly that he will accept the results of the referendum. In a telephone call on Sunday with reporter Ellen Knickmeyer on behalf of The Daily Beast, Rabie Abdullati Obeid, a senior member of the president’s National Congress Party, reiterated that pledge. “No, no, no, there’s not any possibility of war,” Obeid said, speaking from Khartoum. “Whatever the case, whatever the outcome of the referendum, be it secession or unity, there’s no inclination to war.”
Nonetheless, a contentious issue remains in the fate of the still-contested border state of Abyei. In closed-door meetings, tribal leaders made it clear that their people’s allegiance is with the south, though they are legally barred from participating in the referendum. Their frustration could result in a popular declaration of affiliation with the south at any time, which could in turn provoke an attack. Tribal proxy wars have proved a devastatingly effective tactic for the north in the past, with the town of Abyei entirely destroyed as recently as 2008.
“If the north thinks they could do something and get away with it without dramatic serious implications, they are making the biggest mistake of a lifetime,” Senator Kerry told me before he left Sudan on Sunday afternoon. “I think they know that. I think both sides are committed to avoiding a war. But sometimes things happen on the ground that can spiral out of control.”
Even given the many challenges ahead—and with the balance of the week’s polling activity still to come—one could not help but savor this first day in Southern Sudan’s civic resolve, for it represented the at least temporary triumph of hope over hate. One-time killing fields are being transformed into a fledgling democracy that promises to be an ally of the United States, with English as its official language. This story is far from over, the more so since the world cannot afford to turn the page assuming a happy ending. But it was a day of unique, hard-won, and memorable promise, as Valentino Achak Deng reminded me: “It’s like the people in the United States almost 300 years ago,” he said. “We are determined to be a nation of our own.”
The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church’s teachingthat homosexual sex is immoral.
The professor, Ken Howell of Champaign, said his firing violates his academic freedom. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.
Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.
“Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” he wrote in the e-mail. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”
An unidentified student sent an e-mail to religion department head Robert McKim on May 13, calling Howell’s e-mail “hate speech.” The student claimed to be a friend of the offended student. The writer said in the e-mail that his friend wanted to remain anonymous.
“Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing,” the student wrote. “Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another.”
Howell said he was teaching his students about the Catholic understanding of natural moral law.
“My responsibility on teaching a class on Catholicism is to teach what the Catholic Church teaches,” Howell said in an interview with The News-Gazette in Champaign. “I have always made it very, very clear to my students they are never required to believe what I’m teaching and they’ll never be judged on that.”
The e-mail in question discussed the differences between consequentialist moral thought (the idea that an act’s morality can be determined by its consequences) and morality based in natural law, which depends only on the acts themselves. It’s pretty hard to discuss morality without having this discussion.
The email offered homosexuality and other sexual behaviors that are against church teaching (everything from the use of contraception in marriage to sex with children) as examples of things that a consequentialist might approve of under the right circumstances, whereas a Catholic cannot approve under any circumstances.
Unfortunately, this conversation about the class’s subject matter is verboten. Someone who apparently doesn’t even take the class or understand the subject matter decided to report this academic conversation to the campus gestapo. This is what we call the Dictatorship of Moral Relativism. We live in America, where only Islam receives such deference.
First off, let me say that I am Catholic – hardcore – and that I’ve had a significant amount of instruction on the subject of Catholic Social Teaching, which is why when this story came out, I went to find the emails, which, of course, had been conveniently posted for me on the Interwebs.
I have to say, I’m not buying the kid’s side of the story for a couple of reasons.
One, the Catholic Church does actually believe that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man, and Dr. Ken does a pretty fantastic job of laying out about ten years worth of education on the matter. Like it or not (and I’m guessing, in the general population, you’ll find more people siding with the latter), the Church has some strong feelings about two men or two women doing it, and those strong feelings are not open to interpretation, though I’m sure there are some modern scholars who like to pretend that Catholicism has a liberal American brand that is a fully competing dogma rather than the slips of paper in a Vatican suggestion box they happen to be. Fr. Pfleger comes to mind. At any rate, the Catholic Church is pretty damned clear on this stuff, no pun intended, and Dr. Ken was stating, pretty comprehensively, the party line. Better than a lot of people, I might add. In other words, Dr. Ken wasn’t just making sh*t up for the purposes of pissing off an entire demographic. And, for what it’s worth, the discussion never went into a judgment on thepeople having Teh Gay Sex, just the nature of the act itself, which is frankly unusual when people discuss this stuff. And admirable, because it’s pretty clear he’s trying to discuss this matter in a way that doesn’t disrespect the reader.
Two, I find it hard to believe that, when one signs up for a class on Catholicism, even at a major university, that one won’t expect to be taught the tenets of Catholicism. Call me crazy, but generally, a course on Catholic teaching would probably involve teaching what the Catholic Church believes. I would suspect students might also be required to regurgitate this on a test. I suspect that some students may disagree with the subject matter. But I also suspect that by age 20, you’re more inclined to take sources into consideration and approach the subject from an academic, professional standpoint. Put more concisely, if you take a class on a religion knowing you disagree with the tenets of that religion, perhaps you shouldn’t get your panties in a bunch when the professor outlines those tenets. Professors should not be required to preface every culturally “controversial” statement they make on any subject with “If you cannot handle a viewpoint that differs from yours, please stand in the hallway until I can safely call you and your fragile viewpoint back into the conversation.”
This sounds like a disagreement between this kid and the Catholic Church with Dr. Ken caught in the middle, punished for just being a member. The disagreement is understandable. I mean, I get it. Try rectifying a libertarian viewpoint with a strong Catholic faith, and yeah, I get it. The firing over the disagreement, however, is not. If you don’t like the Catholic faith, take it out on the Catholic faith, not the people teaching about it. You’re not going to like the result of that little game; if it’s true that speaking the realities of a faith are enough to disqualify a professor from academia, then honesty about sex is going to disqualify pretty much every professor of any dogma at any academic institution anywhere in the United States.
Like it or not, the world is not full of people who subscribe to the happy-clappy, Sesame Street, “everyone in the world is friends and nothing you do can ever be judged as objectively wrong” progressive liberal understanding of the universe. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with it, and you’re going to need to be prepared. The whole point of a university is, shockingly, to give people an education: to teach students to think critically about reality and their beliefs, and, more importantly, communicate in the real world where there are, occasionally, ideas and actions that make us uncomfortable. At least, that was the whole point. If you use “people being uncomfortable hearing something they disagree with” as the golden standard for firing professors out of a university, you’ve got a big problem on your hands. The standards of academia and the exchange of ideas that drives them will be pretty much all but lost to a four-year indoctrination program on how to become overly sensitive, easily outraged and how to petition any semblance of authority for the redress of even the most basic of grievances. Not to mention, all sense of critical thinking and rational argument will be erased. That’s cool if you’re, say, in Cuba, but notsomuch in the Western world.
So here’s the gist of it: maybe Catholicism is wrong about homosexual sex (we can hash that puppy out another time), but that doesn’t mean that someone should be fired for teaching an authentic viewpoint. When someone tries to beat an academic institution over the head with idealism, forcing professors to scrub out all the parts that their precious little angles’ ears can’t bear to hear, things get f**ked up. Look at Texas and imagine if this situation were reversed and a “liberal” professor’s head was on the chopping block for teaching the realities of evolution to a student who didn’t like how a fossil record conflicted with his carefully sheltered world view. The effect, and the result, is exactly the same.
I hate to say it, but I think the student was wrong. I read the professor’s email, and I don’t think it is hate speech at all.
It’s stupid speech.
A letter that condemned students, that threatened students if they didn’t agree with his views, that discriminated against a segment of society, or that denied people full participation in the culture for their views or background or private practices…that would be hate speech. This letter, though, is a pedantic and polite explanation of the views of the professor and of the Catholic church and of his interpretation of utilitarianism, and in fact is careful to say that he isn’t condemning any individuals. We can’t endorse using this kind of discussion as an excuse to expel people from academia — we want professors and students to be able to communicate freely with one another, without fear of retaliation. I see no sign that the professor was discussing the matter in a way that disrespects any of his students.
And the student complaining was doing so poorly. The professor’s ideas made him uncomfortable. He disliked what he said. He thought the professor was insensitive.
Those are not good reasons. If a student is never made uncomfortable, that student is not getting an education.
Bad reasons are given, but I still think UI made the right decision in not renewing this guy’s contract. Kenneth Howell is in ignorant fool who mistakes his religious dogma and his personal prejudices for knowledge.
Here’s an example. Keep in mind that this fellow is a professor, supposedly teaching college students something about philosophy. Here he’s trying to explain why homosexuality is wrong.
But the more significant problem has to do with the fact that the consent criterion is not related in any way to the NATURE of the act itself. This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed.
One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the “woman” while the other acts as the “man.” In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don’t want to be too graphic so I won’t go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.
Here’s reality. A penis fits nicely in the hand, and a hand is usually better at stimulating the clitoris than a penis in the vagina, and our anatomy is such that our arms are of the right length to comfortably reach our genitals. Therefore, masturbation is a moral sexual act. We can extend this to point out that a man’s hand can stimulate a clitoris and a woman’s hand can stimulate a penis, and therefore, mutual masturbation, as is being practiced by tens of thousands of teenagers on this Friday night, is also a rightful act. There is no practical difference in anatomy or physiology between mutual masturbation between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple, so these acts are also entirely natural.
This reasoning can be extended to a great many sexual acts: oral and anal sex, frottage of various kinds, fantasy play, sadomasochism, etc. There are more aspects of male and female anatomy in which they are alike than in which they differ, and in fact the only act which can be uniquely performed by a male and female couple is penile-vaginal intercourse. So this one act out of many is all that this professor can point to in order to justify heterosexuality as the only proper interaction, but this requires ignoring the majority of human sexual behaviors. I have to wonder if all Catholic teaching permits in the bedroom is genital-genital contact. How sad for them.
Read the professor’s own account of his dismissal. I hope we hear the university’s side. Before people take their usual culture-war positions, understand that if the facts are as the professor relates them, this is not essentially a question of whether or not one approves of homosexuality. This is about academic and religious freedom. The professor was teaching a course on Catholicism and Catholic morality. The Catholic Church unambiguously teaches that homosexual expression is immoral. You are perfectly free to disagree with that in a university, but that’s what the Church teaches, and the professor is obligated to present that teaching in a course on Catholicism. According to the professor, students in the past have argued against that position in class, always respectfully. This was the first time an aggrieved student went to pieces over it, and demanded that the university take action against the professor — which it did.
Again, we await the university’s side of the story. But if the facts are substantially the same, then we have a case in which a professor cannot even teach his subject in a straightforward, accurate manner, without putting his job at risk. Is this really the kind of scholarly atmosphere we want? Is it conducive to a free exchange of ideas, and actual learning? As Beckwith writes in his blog commentary, imagine the reverse, and that a Catholic student complained to the university that he felt “excluded” by a gay professor’s arguments in favor of the licitness of homosexuality in a class on LGBT Studies. In what conceivable world would the university fire the professor? What kind of university lets a whinypants student dictate the content of a professor’s course?
I well remember sitting in a history course at LSU in which the professor, an avowed secularist, was making fun of the medieval church. One student stood up, yelled at him for “anti-Christian bigotry,” and stomped out. I felt that the professor really had been laying it on thick re: the Church, but he was an excellent professor, and I could put up with his prejudices because I learned so much from him. Besides, we could dispute him in the classroom with no problem. This isn’t exactly the same thing as the University of Illinois case here, because this history prof could have taught his subject matter that day without snarky editorial commentary about medieval Christianity; it’s hard to see how a professor teaches a class on Catholicism while ignoring the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Still, that people are so willing to be grievously offended by thoughts that conflict with their own beliefs, and universities and other institutions are willing to kowtow to the most delicate student sensibilities — provided they are expressed by members of politically approved demographic groups — is dreadful for robust, honest discourse, to say nothing of actual scholarship.
Stories like this make one see the university as an increasingly Orwellian place where “tolerance” means putting up with people who already agree with you. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, their tolerance for religious and academic freedom runs the gamut from A to B.
But the Trojans have to question whether it was worth it now that the NCAA Committee on Infractions has spoken.
USC was placed on four years probation, which includes a two-year football postseason ban; a one-year basketball postseason ban; forfeiture of regular season and postseason wins for three sports that used ineligible athletes and scholarship reductions for football and basketball.
“We acknowledge that violations occurred and we take full responsibility for them,” Todd Dickey, USC’s senior vice president for administration, said in a statement after the sanctions were announced Thursday. “However, we sharply disagree with many of the findings … Further, we feel the penalties imposed are too severe for the violations identified in the report.”
USC plans to appeal the penalties it considers excessive. “We will accept those sanctions we believe to be consistent with penalties imposed upon other NCAA member institutions found guilty of similar rules infractions. We are hopeful that the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee will agree upon our position on appeal, and reduce the penalties,” the statement said.
I was hoping to avoid talking about the conference thing again until something official was announced, but it now seems rather pertinent (and unavoidable.) Unless Notre Dame throws a Hail Mary, it looks like Nebraska will be invited to join the Big Ten on Friday. That means Texas will want out of the Big 12 and the Pac-10 will be waiting with open arms. (Allegedly, they’ve already started by poaching Colorado.) So in addition to being smacked with the only real penalty the NCAA ever dishes out, Lane Kiffin is about to find out that by the time his team becomes bowl eligible again, Texas and Oklahoma will have already taken over the lease at the Rose Bowl. So much for their cute little dynasty.
(Oh, and the newest rumor is that a new Pac-16 will want TWO BCS bids instead of a conference championship game. Which is total bulslhit, right? Let’s just write them a check for a billion dollars and we won’t even have to play the games anymore.)
Formal announcements from the NCAA and USC (including a possible appeal) will come later this week. Meanwhile, Reggie Bush sleeps the sleep of the just.
If you think the bite the NCAA took out of USC on the playing field was painful — forfeited wins, a postseason ban and lost scholarships — check out the fine print. It says no more “non-university” personnel — a.k.a. “celebs” and “hangers-on” — at practice or on game-day sidelines. In LA, where being seen is everything, that’s the really diabolical part.
Being told to hide the 2004-05 national championship banner, white out a few wins in the record book, maybe even give back Reggie Bush’s Heisman trophy — those things might bother alumni, but not the talented kids who made it so glamorous to be around Football U. Yet this guarantees the Trojans will be seeing less and less of them, and possibly for a very long time.
The Trojans’ vaunted recruiting machine took a big hit when Pete Carroll lit out for Seattle and the NFL a step ahead of the law. Now Lane Kiffin, Carroll’s successor and a promising fast-buck artist in his own right, has 30 fewer scholarships to hand out and no way to promise those kids they’ll be on TV much, let alone sniff the postseason for at least two more years.
Trust me, you wouldn’t want to be in the living room when he tries to explain to some 18-year-old kid why he won’t get the chance to low-five Will Ferrell or Snoop Dogg coming up the sideline of the Coliseum after taking it to the house.
Yes, USC will right itself. Eventually, no doubt. The right coach at USC, which may or may not be Kiffin, will win, just like the right coach at Alabama or Ohio State or Florida or Texas will win.
Just know that these sanctions have teeth. A loss of 10 scholarships from the next three recruiting classes will significantly damage overall depth. And, as Tom Luginbill points out, the margin for error in recruiting will become razor thin. A couple of busts and the program could find itself with gaping holes heading into the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
But it’s not just about the loss of 10 scholarships per class, it’s also about the remaining 15. Kiffin will be challenged to convince elite prospects who have no emotional ties to the program to sign. The bowl ban won’t matter that much. Even with the 2011 class, you’re talking about an incoming freshman only missing one postseason (though an appeal would mean the Trojans could play in a bowl after this season but not the next two). No, the recruiting challenge will emerge from USC not being in the national title hunt in the near future. A recruit who signs this February or the next one or the next one probably can’t count on being a member of a national contender.
Now whether Todd McNair lied on his own volition, or whether he was asked to by someone within the USC program is a question that may never be answered. But regardless, USC should fire McNair if he doesn’t resign first. The sanctions included a one-year recruiting ban for McNair.
I’ve also said that Mike Garrett should resign too, and USC needs to completely rebuild its athletic department with competent administrators who understand NCAA rules. While the sanctions were exceedingly harsh, that doesn’t excuse USC for being completely blindsided by them. For several years, USC has acted as if it’s done nothing wrong, and continued business as usual. Better cooperation with the NCAA might have resulted in a lesser penalty, along with better awareness of its own misdeeds. Ultimately, Garrett allowed his own student athletes to be punished for what seems like a shoddy handling of the investigation.
A U.S.-born cleric who has encouraged Muslims to kill American soldiers called for the killing of U.S. civilians in his first video released by a Yemeni offshoot of al-Qaida, providing the most overt link yet between the radical preacher and the terror group.
Dressed in a white Yemeni robe, turban and with a traditional jambiyah dagger tucked into his waistband, Anwar Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video posted Sunday to justify civilian deaths — and encourage them — by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
American civilians are to blame, he said, because “the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war.”
“Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea,” he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the airliner plot because it targeted civilians.
Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and is believed to be hiding in his parents’ native Yemen, has used his personal website to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.
Jihadist forums, such as this one, announced the AQAP (alQaeda in the Arabic Pennisula) release of Awlaki interview, gave download links and voila it’s on JihadTube. Then on to embedding on websites such as this one.
Same ole kill stuff & praise for those doing the attempted/killing. It’s in Arabic but never fear, someone will translate it soon.(Video with English subtitles)
[…]”Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea,” he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the airliner plot because it targeted civilians. Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video to justify civilian deaths — and encourage them — by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
American civilians are to blame, he said, because “the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war.”
He added that the Prophet Muhammad also sent forces into battles that claimed civilian lives.[Trying to smooth things over – Mo ordained it so it’s OK…ed]
The video was produced by the media arm of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, though the exact nature of al-Awlaki’s ties with the group and possible direct role in it are unclear. The U.S. says he is an active participant in the group, though members of his tribe have denied that. [It’s called Taqiyya ― Islamic Principle of Lying for the Sake of Allah]
For its part, al-Qaida appears to be trying to make use of his recruiting power by putting him in its videos. Its media arm said Sunday’s video was its first interview with the cleric.
Awlaki’s the guy who preached to 9/11 plotters and inspired Maj. Nidal Hasan. Now he’s rationalizing the murder of civilians. There’s the usual tired canard about the infidels killing Muslims. Come on. Al-Qaeda and its assorted offshoots have killed thousands more Muslim civilians on purpose than the U.S. has ever killed in accidents of war, or through war-crime incidents engineered by the Taliban, etal. Go to Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ll tell you.
The Obama administration has rightly decided to target Awlaki inside Yemen, authorizing military and intelligence officials to kill the cleric if given the opportunity. But the administration should also declassify and release Awlaki’s emails with the Fort Hood Shooter, as well as any other threads of evidence that have been missed. Those bits of intelligence that are still highly sensitive because they deal with current operations can be redacted.
But the American people deserve to see the evidence that their counterterrorism officials have repeatedly failed to understand.
At least 75 people have died in attacks today in Iraq, the Associated Press reports, making it the nation’s “bloodiest day of the year so far.”
The most carnage occurred at a textile factory in Hillah. After two car bombs were set off and a crowd gathered to help victims, a suicide bomber walked into the scene and set off explosives strapped to his belt. At least 40 people died there and another 135 or so were wounded. Hillah is 60 miles south of Baghdad.
According to the BBC, more than 20 people were also killed “in a series of attacks which included drive by shootings and suicide bombings on police checkpoints and a market.”
From Baghdad, NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports that “the spike in violence is adding to the anxiety in Iraq as the U.S. military prepares to reduce its presence dramatically, and as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a new government in the wake of inconclusive elections back in March.”
There’s little to say about the violence, honestly. We’ve assembled a list of the attacks, and the casualty counts, after the jump. The scope is stunning: A dozen attacks on police and army checkpoints in Baghdad; coordinated car and suicide bombings in Hilla, Suweira and Fallujah; and other brazen attacks against security and political officials.
Iraq’s political class — distracted by the government formation process — hasn’t said much about the violence. Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn’t released an official statement on the violence, and I haven’t seen him (or any other Iraqi officials) quoted in the Iraqi/Arabic press.
Ali al-Dabbagh, Maliki’s spokesman, did say tonight (عربي) that the attacks “have the hallmarks” of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Qaida is trying to … use some gaps created by some political problems,” Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for Baghdad’s security operations center, told Arabiya TV. “There are well-known agendas for the terrorist groups operating in Iraq. Some of these groups are supported regionally and internationally with the aim of influencing the political and democratic process inside Iraq.”
More than two months after the March 7 election, Iraq’s main political factions are still struggling to put together a ruling coalition. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite bloc has tried to squeeze out election front-runner Ayad Allawi – a secular Shiite who was heavily backed by Sunnis – by forging an alliance last week with another religious Shiite coalition. The union, which is just four seats short of a majority in parliament, will likely lead to four more years of a government dominated by Shiites, much like the current one.
Sunni anger at Shiite domination of successive governments was a key reason behind the insurgency that sparked sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007. If Allawi is perceived as not getting his fair share of power, that could in turn outrage the Sunnis who supported him and risk a resurgence of sectarian violence.
The relentless cascade of bombings and shootings – hitting at least 10 cities and towns as the day unfolded – also raised questions about whether Iraqi security forces can protect the country as the U.S. prepares to withdraw half of its remaining 92,000 troops in Iraq over the next four months.
BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a textile factory Monday in a crowd that gathered after two car bombings at the same spot in the worst of a series of attacks that killed at least 84 people across Iraq, the deadliest day this year.
its interesting to compare the murdering competence of these Iraqis against the clown that hit us in Times Square. What Iraq experienced today is about equal to the OKC bombing. I’m not sure America could handle a wave of these. We’ve come to expect some sort of exemption from the world’s violence
“I’m telling you that this works. You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor, they would say I’ll paint your house. I mean, that’s the old days of what people would do to get health care with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system.”
Lowden could very plausibly be representing Nevada in the US Senate a year from now, so it’s worth noting how terrible this would be. Checkups for chickens might work if we were all farmers, but what’s a blogger supposed to do? Maybe I could offer the guy free publicity with a few posts touting his services. A Web designer could build a website for the doctor. But what does the designer do if he needs to see the doctor again? Or what if the doctor needs to run a test that costs money, do you mail a chicken to the lab? It’s frightening that anyone this ignorant of how a modern economy works could be anywhere near political power.
Look, there are all kinds of personal services one can perform and be well-compensated. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but we’re talking about Nevada. Seriously, Yglesias, do I have to think of everything around here?
Perhaps inevitably, as you can see in the picture at the left, a progressive group has now created a special ChickenCare dance remix of senate candidate Sue Lowden’s proposal to bring down health care costs by adopting a barter economy in medical care.
A bit more seriously though, this does put the Nevada senate race into a certain clarifying perspective. The Health Care Reform bill wasn’t Harry Reid’s bill — ideas and strategy from lots of people went into it. And many people had endless criticisms of how he managed the process over the course of 2009 and 2010. At the end of the day, though, it passed. The Senate is where it happened. And Reid was central to the entire thing. That is an historic accomplishment. If his career in politics ends in January, his place in history will be secure.
So on the one side you have Harry Reid, a key architect of comprehensive Health Care Reform, the product of decades of activism, in all its messiness and policy complexity.
And on the other you have Sue Lowden, who thinks bartering livestock and other commodities for health care services from doctors is a way to rein in spiraling health care costs. (If you think that’s an exaggeration, take a minute and watch this video.) There’s no end of comedic possibilities thinking through the logistical and logical difficulties of managing co-pays and long-term care and drug costs in chickens and other barter payment. But step back and give it a serious look and … well, this is this woman’s take on confronting medical inflation. It’s funny and also sad. But as a contrast it’s stark and painful.
It’s not for us to endorse this notion, never mind calculate how much poultry would have to change hands to make a dent in health-care costs. But we do feel obligated to point out that bartering for medical services does actually go on. No less an authority than the American Medical Association’s own newspaper, American Medical News, wrote about it just last year, calling it a “creative way to collect from patients during difficult economic times.”
Kaiser Health News also tipped a hat to bartering last year, reporting that “health care is surpassing auto repair and advertising as the service in most demand, say people who run local barter exchanges.” One doctor in Vermont “swapped Viagra samples for maple syrup.”
Even Lowden’s reference to livestock may not be so far off the mark. As American Medical News reported, an office manager for an orthopedics practice in Wisconsin said one doc bartered surgery for “a full cow’s worth of beef.”
All joking aside, there’s a reason we no longer have a barter economy. It’s tremendously inefficient. Transactions require a “mutual coincidence of wants,” meaning I have to have something you actually want to have in exchange for my heart surgery. Many goods are highly indivisible – can’t trade half a live chicken – making precise pricing difficult.
The DSCC’s new Chickens for Checkups Web site — a name that first appeared below on this blog — will allow people to send Lowden a “personalized message asking for her help in finding a doctor for their 19th century illness,” DSCC spox Deirdre Murphy says. It will include a menu of stuff you can choose to barter for treatment.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Murphy says. “Sue Lowden is completely out of touch with reality if she thinks trading chickens for checkups is smart health care reform.”
There’s little downside in putting up a quick and dirty Website on this kind of stuff, since it doesn’t cost much of anything. Dems want to turn Lowden’s chicken chatter into a symbol of GOP unwillingness to embrace real solutions to people’s problems. There’s a lot of whacky stuff out there, so it’s never easy to predict what can break though into the national conversation, but Dems are hoping this one has viral potential and even a shot at getting cable coverage.
Taking a new hard line that news articles should not turn up on search engines and Web sites without permission, The Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to the rights to use it, and that notifies The A.P. about how the article is used.
Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.
Asked if that stance went further than The A.P. had gone before, he said, “That’s right.”
As the MSM struggles to make money, expect more and more of this. The golden era of blogging and linking and open discussion may be coming to an end. The suits are terrified of it. And their bottom line is not the dissemination of ideas or facts, but the making of money. If they have to lose readers but make money, they’re happy.
Let’s just call it the Fast Track to AP Irrelevance. Without a doubt, the new policy will have a chilling effect on blogs and aggregators who normally link to their content. Unfortunately for the AP, that won’t result in an increase of revenues, but in having the entire online world ignore the AP. The Times itself discovered this dynamic when it put its columnists behind the $50 dollar Firewall of Sanity. Not only did the world fail to beat down their door to regain access to Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, and Bob Herbert, they also discovered that their columnists became all but invisible in the rapidly-growing and influential New Media.
Besides, the AP doesn’t get to determine what “fair use” means; Congress does. It has been a long-accepted practice for commentators to use small excerpts from articles in order to both report the news and to comment on its delivery. This goes back decades, when reviewers excerpted novels and media critics excerpted each other to deliver critiques. Just because the AP doesn’t like copyright law doesn’t mean it doesn’t still applies to them. However, the threat of legal action and the cost to people working on small revenue streams will mean that their threats will mostly be effective.
AP is in a bad place. AP expects its revenue to fall this year and next, after seeing revenue rise 5% last year. They will be eliminating about 10% of payroll costs by the end of the year. But so long they think this kind of retrograde action is innovation, the death spiral will continue.
The AP would rather destroy the link economy. Oh, it probably won’t succeed, just because what it suggests is so impractical and illegal and ultimately undemocratic and unconstitutional. But like a bull in a knowledgeshop, it could do a lot of damage along the way, trying to rewrite the fair use that is the basis of the democratic conversation and rushing its members to even earlier graves by hiding their content from the readers it is meant to serve. Note well that most news organizations depend upon fair use every day when they quote somebody else’s story or comment on somebody else’s content. The AP is dangerous.
But that’s not the reason to replace it (it’s merely a bonus). No, the reason to replace the AP is because is that it is hopelessly, mortally outmoded for the digital age and its ownership structure – I blame its board of newspaper owners more than I blame its management – won’t let it be transformed for our new reality. We need a replacement that will better serve journalism and the public, not to mention the democracy.