Sunday, September 25, 2011

The End of Negotiations:
Why the Afghan War Cannot be Won

On Tuesday, September 20, the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani was scheduled to meet with two commanders of the Taliban at his home in Kabul.  Rabbani was president of Afghanistan from 1992-1996. The Taliban representatives told Rabbani’s household staff that they had a special message for the former president. As one of the Taliban commanders was about to embrace the Chairman of the Peace Council, he detonated a bomb concealed in his turban. The BBC and NPR have both written detailed articles on the assassination.

It is now irrefutably clear that the Taliban will not negotiate an end to the war. Thus my previous hope for a negotiated end to the violence in Afghanistan has proven impossible. There will be no negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Nor can there be a military victory in Afghanistan. Kabul never gained full control of eastern Afghanistan, whose porous border with Pakistan has been the command center of the Taliban militants. Even areas that NATO forces have secured, like northern Afghanistan, are becoming increasingly violent and unstable as we attempt to transfer them to the Afghan government.

This month alone the Taliban have been able to launch an attack against the US Embassy as well as assassinate Peace Council Chairman Rabbani. Both of these attacks took place in Kabul, the center of the US and Afghan security mission.

The US is also publicly stating what has always been one of the biggest obstacles to victory in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s support of the Taliban.

Leave no doubt about it, the Taliban are murderous terrorists who treat women like animals and enforce a medieval and sadistic “justice” by cutting off limbs and other body parts. They are not fit to run a village, let alone a country. But we cannot continue to send our young men and women to fight a war that cannot be won.

Between July 1 and September 25, 132 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan. Many more continue to be wounded, both physically and psychologically, in America’s longest war.

The time has come for an immediate withdrawal of US troops. We vanquished Al Qaeda from Afghanistan long ago, and the Taliban cannot be destroyed militarily and will not leave the battlefield through a negotiated settlement.

We cannot sacrifice any more of our young men and women to a war that cannot be won.

P.S. There is some good news. The American hikers that were imprisoned in Iran for over two years were freed this week. Also, Saudi Arabia is giving women the right to vote.

Originally Posted September 25, 2011
--Jason Beets

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dangerous Conservatism:
How Vaccine Denialism Harms our Children

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is an editorial, not a factcheck. This blog is dedicated to factchecking, but some topics are better addressed on ideological rather than factual grounds.

At the NBC-Politico debate, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum each attacked Rick Perry for issuing an executive order that required all girls entering the 6th grade to receive a vaccine that prevents the Human Papilloma Virus. This executive order allowed parents to opt-out based on religious or philosophical reasons. This decision has been attacked for three reasons, for concerns about the vaccines’ safety, concerns that it might encourage adolescent sexual promiscuity, and concerns that it infringed on parental rights. In this article I will destroy each of these arguments.

Concerns about the safety of the vaccine is ironic; in the past, conservatives have attacked the FDA for having too restrictive standards on safety and not allowing drugs onto the market that are being used in Europe. The FDA has extensively tested these drugs before authorizing their use and continues to monitor them for safety. The following quote comes from a Center for Disease Control webpage about the HPV vaccine.

FDA has licensed the vaccines as safe and effective. Both vaccines were tested in thousands of people around the world. These studies showed no serious side effects. Common, mild side effects included pain where the shot was given, fever, headache, and nausea. As with all vaccines, CDC and FDA continue to monitor the safety of these vaccines very carefully.

The second charge against Perry’s executive order is that it garners a false sense of security in teenagers and thus encourages them to be sexually active. Because, as we all know, the primary factor that determines whether a teen decides to have sex is whether they have been inoculated for HPV.

Meanwhile, back in reality, all honest observers realize that sex is a biological drive which is heavily influenced by the emotional relationship between partners.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the majority of our kids are having sex. A 2002 CDC study found that 58% of 18 year old girls and 54.3% of 18 year old boys had lost their virginity. By age 19 those numbers increase to 70.1% for girls and 65.2% for boys (see table 3). Despite our best wishes (mine included) to the contrary, our children are having sex. Shouldn’t we want them to be safe when they do?

Suppose we had a vaccine for AIDS, a devastating disease that slowly kills its victim in a slow, painful death. If we had such a vaccine, why wouldn’t we give it to our kids? Would it make any sense to deny it to them because it might make sex less dangerous? If this is our way to keep our kids abstinent, why not unleash a super-STD in order to discourage underage sex?  If these scenarios seem bizarre, then why would denying kids access to a vaccine that could prevent cervical cancer be any different?

Some may protest the early age that girls would be given a vaccine to prevent an STD. But from the same study cited above, 5.7% of girls and 7.9% of boys 14 years old have had sex. If we want the treatment to be effective, it must be given before the youngest group to lose their virginity begins to have sex.

This finally brings us to the third argument, which was the one brought up during the debate. Opponents argue that this is a matter of parental rights and that the government shouldn’t tell parents what vaccines their children should have to take. This would create a government so small that it would allow parents to deny their children access to a potentially life-saving medicine. If this vaccine was an opt-in system as Senator Santorum suggested, many parents wouldn’t get around to it. Even worse, when given the choice, parents often make health decisions for their children based on junk science and internet conspiracy theories.

I suppose you have to have an opt-out for parents who oppose the practice on religious grounds, lest they remove their children from public schools entirely. But the parent who sees the potential death of their child as god taking their son or daughter to join him in heaven is doing their child a grave disservice. They may be denying their child a treatment that could prolong their time on earth. By extension it also puts others at risk of catching a previously extinct disease. As ridiculous as this religious stance may seem, I know some who have adopted it.

Now that I have completely lost all of my conservative viewership, I conclude by reaffirming my support for Perry’s big government agenda to save the girls of Texas from a slow death by cervical cancer.

Here is full exchange from the NBC debate on this topic.

HARRIS: Thank you.

Congressman Paul, we've been talking just now about Governor Perry's rhetoric, but let's talk about his record.

Just this morning, your campaign put out a statement accusing him of pushing for bailout money, supporting welfare for illegal immigrants, and trying to forcibly vaccinate 12-year-old girls against sexually transmitted diseases.

He's your home state governor. Is he less conservative than meets the eye?

PAUL: Much more so, yes.

Just take the HPV. Forcing 12-year-old girls to take an inoculation to prevent this sexually transmitted disease, this is not good medicine, I do not believe. I think it's social misfit.

It's not good social policy. And therefore, I think this is very bad to do this. But one of the worst parts about that was the way it was done.

You know, the governorship in Texas traditionally is supposed to be a weak governorship. I didn't even know they could pass laws by writing an executive order. He did it with an executive order, passed it.

The state was furious, and the legislature, overwhelmingly, probably 90 percent -- I don't know exactly -- overwhelmingly repealed this. But I think it's the way it was passed, which was so bad.

I think it's a bad piece of legislation. But I don't like the idea of executive orders. I, as president, will not use the executive order to write laws.

HARRIS: Time. Thank you, Congressman.

Governor Perry, we'll get to you.

But, Congresswoman Bachmann, this is an issue you have also talked about, HPV.

BACHMANN: Well, what I'm very concerned about is the issue of parental rights. I think when it comes to dealing with children, it's the parents who need to make that decision. It is wrong for government, whether it's state or federal government, to impose on parents what they must do to inoculate their children. This is very serious, and I think that it's very important, again, that parents have the right.

Educational reform is another area. That's where I cut my teeth in politics, was being involved in educational reform, because the problem you see is one of framing.

It's the idea, should the federal government control these areas, or should parents and localities control these areas? We have the best results when we have the private sector and when we have the family involved. We have the worst results when the federal government gets involved, and especially by dictate to impose something like an inoculation on an innocent 12-year-old girl.

I would certainly oppose that.

HARRIS: Thank you.

Governor Perry, we've had candidates talking about you. Let's hear from you.

PERRY: I kind of feel like the pinata here at the party, so...

HARRIS: Welcome.

PERRY: But here's the facts of that issue. There was an opt-out in that piece of -- it wasn't legislation. It was an executive order.

I hate cancer. We passed a $3 billion cancer initiative that same legislative session of which we're trying to find over the next 10 years cures to cancers. Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. We wanted to bring that to the attention of these thousands of -- of -- of -- tens of thousands of young people in our state. We allowed for an opt-out.

I don't know what's more strong for parental rights than having that opt-out. There's a long list of diseases that cost our state and cost our country. It was on that list.

Now, did we handle it right? Should we have talked to the legislature first before we did it? Probably so. But at the end of the day, I will always err on the side of saving lives.


HARRIS: Senator Santorum, one final note on this book, "Fed Up." Governor Perry says in his book that it was, quote, "unprincipled" for Republicans to vote in favor of creating the Department of Homeland Security. You were one of those Republicans who voted yes. Respond.

SANTORUM: We created the Department of Homeland Security because there was a complete mess in the internal -- in protecting our country. We had all sorts of agencies that had conflicting authority. We had no information sharing that was going on. This was right after 9/11. We saw the problems created as a result of 9/11. And we put together a plan to try to make sure that there was better coordination.

I want to get back to this Gardasil issue. You know, we have -- Governor Perry's out there and -- and claiming about state's rights and state's rights. How about parental rights being more important than state's rights? How about having, instead of an opt-out, an opt- in?

If you really cared, you could make the case, instead of forcing me, as a parent -- and I have seven children, too, the wide receivers here have -- have -- on the ends here have -- have -- have seven children each -- but I am offended that -- that the government would tell me -- and by an executive order, without even going through the process of letting the people have any kind of input. I would expect this from President Obama; I would not expect this from someone who's calling himself a conservative governor.


Governor Romney, you've been listening to this exchange. Who's got the better end of it?

ROMNEY: You know, I believe in parental rights and parental responsibility for our kids. My guess is that Governor Perry would like to do it a different way second time through. We've each get -- we've each taken a mulligan or two. And -- and my guess is that that's something you'd probably do a little differently the second time. He just said he'd rather do it through legislation second time through.

And I recognize he wanted very badly to provide better health care to his kids and to prevent the spread of cancer. I agree with -- with those who said he went about it in the wrong way, but I think his heart was in the right place.

Right now, we have people who on this stage care very deeply about this country. We love America. America is in crisis. We have some differences between us, but we agree that this president's got to go. This president is a nice guy. He doesn't have a clue how to get this country working again.

Originally Posted September 12, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Factchecking the NBC-Politico Debate

There were enough questionable factual claims in this debate to make your head spin.  I decided to address a few of them.

The Dreaded Job-Killing ObamaCare

BACHMANN: ObamaCare is killing jobs. We know that from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. But I know it first-hand from speaking to people.

If it seems like I’ve checked this claim before, it’s because I have. Michele Bachmann made the same factual error at the CNN Presidential Debate.

If I were in any way a cartoonist, I would depict this falsehood as a T-Rex labeled “ObamaCare” about to step on a group of people labeled “jobs” all of which would be covered by a giant red circle with a slash through it.

The Congressional Budget Office found that people who hold a job just to receive the health benefits that job provides may quit their job if they are able to receive a federal subsidy or a place in an expanded Medicaid.  It in no way incentivizes businesses to offer fewer jobs or fire people. You can find the specific CBO findings in my earlier article.

Michele Bachmann: saving Americans from retiring early or quitting their second job they only have for the health insurance that job offers.

A Government Take-Over of Health Care

BACHMANN: Obamacare took over one-sixth of the economy.

This is a permutation of the “government take-over of health care” myth; health care takes up approximately 1/6th of the economy. Politifact chose “government take-over of health care” as its 2010 Lie of the Year. The phrase brings to mind Britain’s system where the government owns hospitals and doctors are government workers. At the very least it makes it sound like the government will enact a single payer system like Canada’s where the government is the primary provider of insurance. ObamaCare does none of these. It doesn’t even include a public option where citizens could choose to buy a health insurance plan from the government rather than a private company.

Obamacare has three main components. It has an individual mandate, which means that it requires citizens to buy health insurance. It puts regulations on insurance companies, including preventing discrimination against patients based on pre-existing conditions. It also has subsidies to help the poor afford health insurance.

Obamacare largely keeps in place the present health care and health insurance systems. It adds some new regulations and mandates, but nothing close to the take-over of health care our European cousins have chosen.

The Death of Keynesianism?

Between praising Obama for authorizing the mission to kill or capture Bin Laden and for keeping the Guantanamo Bay prison open, Rick Perry emphatically declared the death of Keynesianism. He went so far as to say that government spending will not create one job. Perry’s full quote is posted at the end of this section.
PERRY: he [Obama] has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We will never have to have that experiment on America again.
Government spending hasn’t created one job? That would be a pitiful failure indeed.
The cornerstone of Obama’s Keynesian policy is the stimulus. Three private organizations have estimated that as of the first quarter of 2011, the Stimulus has saved or created around 2.5 million jobs. That number falls within the CBO range of 1.2 to 3.3 million jobs. I have not seen a breakdown of jobs saved vs. jobs created, but with the multiplier effect, it is impossible that none of those 2.5 million jobs were jobs “created.” Moreover, had the stimulus not been passed, those who had their jobs “saved” would be unemployed as well.  The stimulus was 28% tax cuts, but those tax cuts couldn’t have been responsible for all the jobs that were saved or created, some of the spending went to state and local governments that allowed them to put off firing workers.
So no Perry, Keynesianism didn’t create (or save) one job, it created (or saved) 2.5 million jobs.
Here is Perry’s full answer.
PERRY: I was making a comment about a philosophy; I don't think America needs to be in the business of adventurism.

But let me just say something about the president of the United States. And I know he's -- he's taken lots of slings and arrows here today. But one thing that I want to say that he did do that I agree with is that he maintained the -- the chase and -- and we took out a very bad man in the form of bin Laden, and I -- and I tip my hat to him.

I give more props to those Navy SEALs that did the job, but -- and the other thing this president's done, he has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We'll never have to have that experiment on America again.

And I might add that he kept Gitmo open against the will of his base, and I'm glad he did that. America's safer for it.

Reagan’s Huge Deficits

I am going to do something out of the ordinary for this blog. I am going to do a confirmation.
Rick Perry and Ron Paul debated the letter that Ron Paul wrote in 1987 where he resigned his membership in the Republican Party due to Reagan’s policies. The letter is a good read and shows you exactly where Ron Paul is coming from ideologically. The full exchange between Perry and Paul is posted at the bottom of this section.
PAUL: But in the 1980s, we spent too much, we taxed too much, we built up our deficits, and it was a bad scene. Therefore, I support the message of Ronald Reagan. The message was great. But the consequence, we have to be honest with ourselves. It was not all that great. Huge deficits during the 1980s, and that is what my criticism was for, not for Ronald Reagan's message. His message is a great message.
I will specifically be testing his comment that we had, “huge deficits during the 1980s.”

In order to do so, I will be using one of my favorite resources,
I first used that website to factcheck Chris Matthews’ claim that, “Truman had surpluses, Eisenhower didn’t.” Matthews was wrong, Eisenhower and Truman both had surpluses.
I used the data compiled by that site to calculate the average federal deficit as a percentage of GDP for each of the decades since 1900.
Average Federal deficit as a percentage of GDP
The average for 2010-2016 is not for a full decade and includes estimated values from the 2012 budget. Some of the data for years before 1950 were interpolated between actual reported values.  
As you can see, the average deficit as a percentage of GDP in the 1980s is greater than every other decade except the 1940s (see World War 2) and 2010-2016 (see Great Recession).
But wait! Reagan wasn’t responsible for the 1980 or 1981 budgets. How does that change his average? The average for 1982-1989 was 4.19. Ouch. Ron Paul nailed this one!
Here is the full exchange between Rick Perry and Ron Paul over Paul’s letter.
PERRY: Speaking of letters, I was more interested in the one that you wrote to Ronald Reagan back and said I'm going to quit the party because of the things you believe in.
PAUL: Oh, I need an answer on that.
HARRIS: You've got a 30-second rebuttal, Congressman.
PAUL: I strongly supported Ronald Reagan. I was one of four in Texas -- one of four members of Congress that supported Reagan in '76. And I supported him all along, and I supported his -- his -- all his issues and all his programs.
But in the 1980s, we spent too much, we taxed too much, we built up our deficits, and it was a bad scene. Therefore, I support the message of Ronald Reagan. The message was great. But the consequence, we have to be honest with ourselves. It was not all that great. Huge deficits during the 1980s, and that is what my criticism was for, not for Ronald Reagan's message. His message is a great message.
WILLIAMS: Funny thing about the mail. It kind of tends to live on forever.
Here are Politifact’s factchecks on the NBC-Politico debate. Make sure to read the one about Perry’s Social Security Ponzi Scheme comparison.

Originally Posted September 10, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

The NBC-Politico Debate

On Wednesday, September 7, 2011, NBC News and Politico co-hosted the 4th Republican presidential debate. Brian Williams of NBC News and John Harris of Politico co-moderated the debate at the Reagan Presidential Library. It was broadcast on MSNBC. Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul participated in the debate.

Gary Jonson, Buddy Roemer, and Fred Karger were not allowed to participate, likely due to their low poll numbers. Gary Johnson was a former governor of New Mexico whose libertarian positions were displayed at the first Fox News presidential debate. He has not been allowed to participate in any subsequent debate, including the second Fox News debate. Buddy Roemer is the only candidate who has been both a governor and a congressman. He is also the only candidate who has placed a cap ($100) on the size of the donations his campaign will accept and refuses to accept super-pac money. Fred Karger has not held elected office before and is the first openly gay republican presidential candidate. At the very least, the previous governors should have been allowed to participate based on their previous political experience alone.

The debate was well run and included many great questions from the moderators. All of the candidates acted professionally. I especially enjoyed seeing Romney and Perry jockeying to prove who was the better job creator as well as their back and forth on Social Security.

Huntsman, Bachmann, Romney, and Perry each voiced their opposition to health care reform. I find the possibility of the repeal of Obama’s signature achievement that expanded health insurance coverage to millions of Americans to be very a troubling prospect indeed. Bachmann went so far to say that, “If we fail to repeal ObamaCare in 2012 it will be with us forever and it will be socialized medicine.” What does she think Medicare is? Ronald Reagan made a recording for the American Medical Association which opposed the creation of Medicare that was titled, “Ronald Regan speaks out against Socialized Medicine.” Funny how history repeats itself.

During the discussion on immigration, Romney came out against public universities allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rather than the tuition required of those who were raised outside the state. This part of Romney’s position would punish children who had no choice in entering this country illegally. Most of those children grew up here and consider themselves Americans. There should be no reason to deny them their chance to achieve the American dream.

When John Harris set up a question for Rick Perry on global warming, he said that Huntsman had, “a difference of opinion” with Perry on whether humans were responsible for global warming. This is not a difference of opinion, it is a disagreement of fact. I understand that Harris needed to be polite in his question, but the public needs to know that the question of whether humans are the primary drivers of global warming is not a matter of opinion. Jon Huntsman accepts the scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause of global warming. Rick Perry believes that scientists haven’t come to a consensus on the issue. Perry is wrong (Politifact). I will address global warming at length in another post. Huntsman was very brave to tell voters the truth on global warming, a truth that many do not wish to hear.

While there were several questions about national security, the moderators didn’t ask a single question about Afghanistan. The moderators should have gotten everyone’s position on our country’s longest war. Huntsman provided his position anyway. He outlined a plan for a drastically scaled down mission in Afghanistan and proclaimed, “I say we’ve got to bring those troops home.” That’s exactly the kind of voice our country needs in the 2012 presidential race.

Here was Governor Huntsman’s full answer [emphasis added],

WILLIAMS: I want to go back to your comments on 9/11 to ask kind of an obvious follow-up. Do you think we're safer today?
HUNTSMAN: I think we've lost our confidence as a country. I think we have had our innocence shattered. I think, 10 years later, we look at the situation and we say, we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. This is not about nation-building in Afghanistan. This is about nation-building at home.
Our core is broken. We are weak. We have got to strengthen ourselves. I say we've got to bring those troops home.
(APPLAUSE) In Afghanistan -- in Afghanistan, the reality is it is an asymmetrical counterterror effort. We need intelligence. We need special forces. And we need some training on the ground.
But I think one way to commemorate our 10-year anniversary of 9/11, remembering the 3,000-plus people who died in New York and in Pennsylvania and in Washington, is to say it's time for this country to set a goal for ourselves: We're going to get our core fixed. We're going to do some nation-building right here at home.

If you missed it, Ron Paul’s campaign put the entire debate on youtube. Thank you Ron Paul.

I have so much to say that I will likely be writing many more articles on this debate. Up next: The NBC-Politico debate, Factchecking edition!

Originally Posted September 9th, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Somali Famine Relief put at risk by Republican Budget Cuts

Yesterday, September 6th, Lawrence O’Donnell did a masterful rewrite (his term for editorial comment) on the famine in Somalia and our country’s moral duty to respond to it. 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I really have nothing to add to his rewrite; it was a job well done. 
On August 17, Rachel Maddow pointed to another program that would be compromised by planned Republican budget cuts: the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I can’t believe these cuts are part of the Republican deficit reduction plan, cutting aid to starving children and the reducing the budget of the agency working to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists.

Here is what a real deficit reduction plan looks like.

Originally Posted 9/7/11 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bias, Not Malpractice

Many media critics use the term bias as a synonym for journalistic malpractice. I believe this is highly inappropriate. There are many instances of bias within hard news reports that actually advance the quest for truth.  

Two of my favorite opinionated journalists are Andrea Mitchell and Megyn Kelly. Their viewpoint, or bias, allows them to give truly informative interviews. I highlighted Andrea Mitchell’s home run interview with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a previous post. Megyn Kelly’s recent interview with University of Texas Professor Daniel Hamermesh was also highly insightful. Professor Hamermesh supports creating a system of affirmative action for ugly people in the workplace. While it is true that the unattractive are at a disadvantage when looking for jobs and promotions, there are many pitfalls for such a plan. Kelly’s own opposition to the plan allowed her to effectively question him on many of them, including,

Are you comfortable with creating an entirely new class of victim to clog up our court system?

One can have little doubt what Megyn thinks on this issue, and her show is more entertaining and informative as a result.  

Another interview that showed Megyn Kelly’s combative style was her recent takedown of radio host Mike Gallagher for his comment that her maternity leave was, “a racket.” That interview contained this gem:

I want you to know that the United States is the only country in the advanced world that doesn't require paid maternity leave. Now I happen to work for a nice employer that gives me paid maternity leave. But the United States is the only advanced country that doesn't require paid leave. If anything, the United States is in the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave. And what is it about getting pregnant and carrying a baby for nine months that you don't think deserves a few months off so bonding and recovery can take place?

In addition to the interview with Rumsfeld, Andrea Mitchell showed her stripes during a roundtable discussion on Meet the Press.

One other quick point, why do we have a debt ceiling? We're the only major industrial country that does. Let's just get rid of the thing, people are saying. Only Denmark does.

This important fact was one that was largely missing from the debt ceiling debate. It is also clear that Mitchell thinks we ought to get rid of the debt ceiling entirely. This is a biased statement to be sure, but not one that is inappropriate.

This is not to say, however, that there are not instances of bias that are genuine cases of journalistic malpractice. I think of journalistic malpractice and bias as two circles in a Venn diagram. These statements by Megyn Kelly and Andrea Mitchell fall into the bias circle but not the malpractice circle. The circles overlap when a report leaves out information that is critical to understanding the story or when a journalist says something that is false or misleading. The media’s fixation on Sarah Palin’s bus tour, the Casey Anthony trial, and other insignificant public obsessions are malpractice but not bias.

I hope this is the end of the misguided Non sequitur that bias and journalistic malpractice are one and the same.   

P.S. Bias doesn’t have to necessarily cut across party lines. In the United States there is a strong bias towards ignoring or slanting stories that put US foreign policy and our allies in a negative light.

Originally Posted September 4, 2011