Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My break-up with MSNBC

by Libby Sternberg
You’ve probably seen this coming, MSNBC. After all, I’ve not been paying attention to you much lately. My interest in you has waned. I just don’t…care…any longer. And you’ve probably guessed that I’ve started seeing someone else. So I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise when I tell you…it’s over. We’re breaking up. I won’t be seeing you anymore, if I can help it.

No, no, don’t try to protest or woo me back. Don’t ask me to give you a second chance. Don’t even pretend that you’ll try harder, that you’ll give it another go. I know you can’t change what you really are, and as I got to know you better, I realized you’re just not the type I like to hang with. Accept it and move on is the best way. I already have.
To be honest, I started hanging out with you a couple years ago under somewhat false pretenses. It wasn’t so much that I was attracted to you. I had something to prove. Or, at least, to analyze.

Your friends were all dissing my regular pal, FOX News, calling him names (“Faux News” seemed to be the most popular) and ridiculing him so much that I thought, “Am I like that about their best bud, MSNBC? Do I reflexively diss people and policies based solely on hearsay?”

You see, I didn’t think their criticism was based on watching FOX much. Often it sounded as if it came straight from the offices of professional FOX bashers like Media Matters and Talking Points Memo. And I didn’t want to be like that, echoing what my “fellow travelers” said about you. I wanted to get to know you myself.

So I set my kitchen TV to your channel. I flipped you on first thing in the a.m., tuning in to Morning Joe. Throughout the day, whenever I found myself within viewing or listening distance, I’d see you again – everything from Alex Wagner’s noon NOW to Andrea Mitchell to occasional moments of Martin Bashir (I’m sorry, MSNBC, but I couldn’t take much more than a few moments of him at any one time) through Chris Matthews’s Hardball. (Sorry again, but I couldn’t watch the sanctimonious Al Sharpton, the snarling Ed Schultz, or the too-clever-by-half Rachel Maddow regularly—those were bridges too far).

At first, it wasn’t really a hardship. I actually enjoyed the George Burns /Gracie Allen banter of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, and once—I do mean that literally, just once—I actually agreed with Chris Matthews.

But here’s why I just had to stop seeing you—you’ve gotten too mean and nasty. You’re just not nice to be around anymore, MSNBC. You’re cruel, and, yes, I’ll say it, often lacking in the smarts department.

You denigrate good people, smearing them with the worst epithets, when they dare to question or disagree with politicians you like on policy issues. You can’t seem to fathom that folks might have legitimate reasons to disagree. You search for malevolent motivations. A shrink might wonder if this points to deeply buried insecurities on your part, but I won’t go there.

Your hosts regularly shout down contrary voices. Scratch that. Let me get specific. Chris Matthews regularly shouts down contrary voices, hardly letting them get a word in edgewise, often bullying guests to the point that I’ve wondered why anyone with a differing point of view even bothers to go on his show when they know they will be verbally abused.

Oh, I know what you’ll say: all network news and opinion programs get things wrong--facts and/or tone, that is --from time to time. Believe me, as a center-right viewer, I get that. Mainstream media outlets regularly cover policy and political news that slants in one direction, leaving out important information. And to be fair, even my buddy FOX makes mistakes, too. So I’m not dropping you, MSNBC, just because you’re no different than the rest. I’m dropping you precisely because you are so different from the rest, especially from FOX, the network whose success I suspect you wanted to emulate.

You see, you don’t get FOX at all. FOX’s main news programs, particularly its six o’clock show, don’t rely on sarcasm, snark, mean-spirited name-calling, or a dyspeptic view of those not in the conservative ideological camp. Yes, the news shows will often cover stories conservatives are interested in. But they don’t cover them with a sneer or a leer or a moustache-twisting delight when liberals are under fire. They often, in fact, provide useful information not found elsewhere, whether it’s on the actual content (rather than just the politics) of the Affordable Care Act or the intricate details of the Benghazi and Fast and Furious scandals.

Before you say I’m being unfair and point to FOX’s opinion programming being just as biased and outlandish as you are, let me point out the obvious: opinion programming is opinion programming—it’s not news. Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity can do all the “bloviating” they want—they don’t anchor the news, and they especially don’t anchor breaking news, such as election results. No, the level-headed and even-handed Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and others lead the news programming. No reasonable person would ever compare the likes of them to the screeching banshees that make up your roster, MSNBC. I’m sorry for the insult, but I figure you can take it since you dish so much of it out.

So, in the interest of fairness, I gave it a try with you. I really did, MSNBC. I watched for more than a year. I even watched in another room when my husband couldn’t stand to listen to you anymore. But I’m afraid it’s over between us now. And, just so you don’t misunderstand, let me be perfectly clear on this point: It’s not me. It’s you.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Yes, I'm voting for Romney. Here's why.

by Libby Sternberg

Four years ago, I voted for John McCain, more out of fear of what Barack Obama would do than out of enthusiastic support for the Arizona senator. I was more energized by his vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin, which I know will appall a good number of folks on the left and right, who continue to believe Governor Palin was some kind of ultra-conservative nincompoop with not enough knowledge or experience to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

But what I liked about Palin was how sure she was of her principles: small government, muscular foreign policy. And she had executive experience, which was more than any candidate in that race could claim. Being a senator--one among many--isn't the same as having to make decisions for which there is no one else to blame.

The criticisms of Palin now seem silly, though, when we watch the current vice president go from gaffe to gaffe, with no one asking the serious question: is this just his way or is something else going on that should disqualify him for office? I'm posing that question in the most charitable way, not as a snide or snarky criticism.

My 2008 lack of enthusiasm for the Republican nominee was shared by many, obviously. So I turned my attention to the new president, and I will admit it in front of all my conservative pals: I was hopeful. He was America's first African-American president. He had a young, beautiful family. He seemed to bring new promise to the country. Maybe he'd bring us all together.

And what could conservatives offer anyway? The previous president had committed us to two wars (which I'd supported) that were now dragging on with vague results. He'd overspent. And, what really bothered me: he hadn't effectively communicated how important his good proposals were, leaving the messaging field to his many opponents, afflicted with a feverish Bush Derangement Syndrome that dominated news cycles.

I was an education reform advocate at the time, and I liked many aspects of No Child Left Behind. But Bush wasn't good at defending that law to critics within and outside his party, and it made people like me feel as if we were alone fighting that battle, without a leader.

George W. Bush, from what most accounts say, is a very good man. But he didn't seem to realize that when he "turned the other cheek" in the face of criticism, he was passing on a chance to defend his supporters, who needed him to be stalwart and vocal in the face of our mutual adversaries.

So I was ready for a change, any change. And I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama with great excitement, even though I'd voted for the other guy.

But it didn't take long for that excitement to fade into disappointment as reality set in. The reality was this: a young, new United States Senator with little experience at the national level would have to be exceptionally talented or surrounded by an exceptionally talented team to navigate the tricky political currents of Washington, DC. The president quickly demonstrated he was neither that gifted nor surrounded by a particularly gifted group of advisers.

For the first two years of his term, his party controlled Congress. Yet he struggled mightily to find consensus on a health care bill that was so complex and ill-conceived even the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi let slip that they had to "pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." She may have walked back that remark, but it was emblematic of the confusion and lack of leadership Americans, both left and right, were witnessing--the bill was massive and complicated, and the president had had trouble getting it accepted even by his own party members.

At least on the foreign policy side of the equation, I breathed more easily. Well, for a time. You see, as the Middle East erupted, I came to be grateful that Sen. McCain wasn't Commander-in-Chief. Sen. McCain, a brave and loyal military man himself, seemed, to me at least, a bit too swift to suggest American involvement that could lead to boots on the ground. Who knows what he would have done had he been president? I was no different than the rest of America at that point: war weary. I was content to have a noninterventionist president, even if his policies were benignly feckless.

However, they might not have been so "benign" after all, as the September 11--a day that will live in infamy-- attack on the Benghazi consulate seems to indicate.

In April 2004, Condoleezza Rice, then assistant to the president for national security affairs, testified to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States that al Qaeda had been at war with us before we even recognized it as such (emphasis mine):

Long before that day (September 11, 2001), radical, freedom-hating terrorists declared war on America and on the civilized world. The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, the rise of al Qaeda and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the East Africa embassy bombings of 1998, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 -- these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos, and to murder innocent Americans. The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them.

As more details about the Benghazi attack come out, one question stands out amidst the fog of "war": why was the White House so quick to blame the attack on an obscure video when reports suggest the administration was receiving news that it could have been a terrorist attack?

My gratitude that a reflexive interventionist wasn't president has now been replaced with fears that a president unwilling to confront the truth of terrorism was sitting in the Oval Office instead. As Rice pointed out, previous attacks escalated over the years, starting with attacks on our interests abroad, before they culminated in the horror of 9/11. What's next? Will we be ready?

Beyond these big issues of national security and a massive health care overhaul is the litany of disappointments that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, repeats in his campaign message: high unemployment, high dependency on food stamp programs, high deficit, high regulations that stifle business and job growth.

President Obama was hired to tackle the economic problems. He has not done so, nor has he offered anything that isn't "more of the same"for the next four years. I know his team blames "obstructionist Republicans" for lack of meaningful progress, but this stubborn fact remains: his party had control of government for two years, and he didn't even come close to solving the problem during that time. And he's shown a spectacular disinterest in solving the problem of entitlement program spending, despite convening a "National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform" (aka Simpson-Bowles).

But paying attention to Simpson-Bowles, perhaps even trying to enact suggestions from it, would have been a steep hill for the president to climb, pitting him against a large portion of his party, who view entitlement programs as sacrosanct. Changing these programs, even to save them, is viewed with suspicion and derision.

Liberals often portray themselves as the party of compassion, pointing at Republicans as wealth- and greed-lovers who want to give tax cuts to the rich while throwing granny over the cliff to cut Medicare.

It always surprises me how easily some Democrats embrace those images, not realizing that it might say something extremely unflattering about themselves that they swallow the notion that they are more righteous on the issue of poverty and helping the needy than their Republican brethren. They seem to forget that we are not talking about personal compassion when we discuss public policy. They are free to give as much or as little of their time and treasure as they want to charitable organizations to help the poor, and no mean-spirited Scrooge--whatever party he might belong to-- will hold a gun to their heads to stop them.

No, when we discuss compassion in terms of public policy, we're really discussing how much of our neighbors' money are we going to forcibly confiscate to go to programs to help the poor. One can argue that there is no compassion in taking money from others, no matter how wealthy you think they are. One can also argue there's no compassion in ignoring financial issues that will affect future generations and programs for the needy, as well.

Even some Democrats get this, such as William Saletan of Slate, who, although voting for Obama, had this to say about Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick, Paul Ryan (emphasis mine):
Ryan refutes the Democratic Party’s bogus arguments. He knows that our domestic spending trajectory is unsustainable and that liberals who fail to get it under control are leading their constituents over a cliff, just like in Europe. Eventually, you can’t borrow enough money to make good on your promises, and everyone’s screwed. Ryan understands that the longer we ignore the debt crisis and postpone serious budget cuts—the liberal equivalent of denying global warming—the more painful the reckoning will be. There’s nothing compassionate about that kind of irresponsibility.

By choosing budget-cutter Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney demonstrated he understands the importance of addressing our debt crisis. Ryan, seen as a political lightning rod to some, was a bold choice. It took political courage.

I will admit I was not an early Romney supporter. I didn't like the fact that, as governor of Massachusetts, he'd championed a health care bill similar to the president's. I didn't like the fact that he seemed more a pragmatist than a principled man. But I've come to believe he is a principled pragmatist, a problem-solver and, as a Republican governor in the deep blue state of Massachusetts, a good negotiator who had to learn how to work with the other team to get things done.

And, ironically, after four years of the hope-and-change president, Mitt Romney seems to be the one with the hopeful message this year, the "yes, we can" attitude, while the spectacularly tone-deaf team of the president harps on Bain, Big Bird, binders, bayonets, messages with creepy sexual innuendos, and...revenge voting.

Those who know me won't be surprised I'm voting for Mitt Romney. But they might be surprised to learn that I'm now doing it with hope, excitement and enthusiasm, emotions I didn't feel four years ago when I checked off the box for John McCain.

Monday, October 29, 2012

J'accuse: NPR, NYT, CNN and all the rest

by Libby Sternberg

Pity the parent whose child dies as the result of the feckless decisions of a popular leader (popular with the media, that is). He will receive scant attention, let alone interest in the decisions that led to his son’s death.
Such is the case with poor Charles Woods, father of Tyrone, a former Navy SEAL killed in the attack on the Benghazi consulate that took the lives of three others, including that of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, on September 11, a memorable date in recent American history.
Oh, there is the occasional story here and there—sometimes focusing on whether Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney “politicized” the Benghazi attack, sometimes mentioning how the issue follows the president on the campaign trail.

Michael Ramirez cartoon from Investors Business Daily
But where are the investigative reports about what really happened, what the president knew and when he knew it and whether a statement about no one “denying” aid to the besieged is merely a slyly worded way of saying the president did nothing even though he knew of the cries for help.
Except for a few references, the issue has been in the background or media have made excuses for the president. In one presidential debate, the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, rose to the president’s defense to correct what she perceived at that moment to be a false statement by Romney, who declared that the president hadn’t labeled the Benghazi attack as one of “terror” in a Rose Garden statement. Upon reflection, she conceded Romney wasn’t really so off the mark after all. Her epiphany occurred after the debate when mega-millions were no longer watching.
During the final presidential debate, focusing on foreign policy, the moderator, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, hardly pursued the Libya question at all. Romney, perhaps wise to the fact that the media were eager to take the president’s side no matter what he said on the topic, didn’t pursue it either. About the toughest media interrogation has come from a local reporter who pressed the president on the Benghazi attack, getting few straightforward answers and lots of “we’ll get to the bottom of this” spin.
I’ve written before about the media’s disinterest in the president’s defense policies and other stumbles. But now I’m beginning to believe that the media’s reluctance to cover the Benghazi situation with any real zeal makes them accomplices to the wrongdoing. Think about it: a father cries out for answers on why military aid was not sent to help his son—a legitimate question from anyone, but a particularly devastating one from the father of the fallen. The media’s reaction? Shrugs and disinterest.
I recently participated in a reading of T. S. Eliot’s verse play, Murder in the Cathedral, about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. At the end of all the mystical and magical poetry, Eliot uses straightforward prose so that those responsible for the crime can argue their case to the audience. The First Knight declares:

“…there is one thing I should like to say, and I might as well say it at once. It is this: in what we have done, and whatever you may think of it, we have been perfectly disinterested.”

He goes on to declare: 

“We know perfectly well how things will turn out. King Henry—God bless him—will have to say, for reasons of state, that he never meant this to happen; and there is going to be an awful row….”

Ordinarily, when scandal erupts—especially if it involves the loss of life, especially when it involves the possible resurgence of a terrorist group that attacked us on an unprecedented scale more than a decade ago—one can count on “an awful row,” as journalists rush to uncover what really happened, and public opprobrium falls on those responsible. This is no meaningless exercise. It serves a double purpose: uncovering valuable information that allows the public to assess the worthiness of a leader up for re-election and as a warning to future leaders to avoid similar mistakes.
In the Benghazi case, however, the media has accepted the king’s president’s excuses—“he never meant this to happen” –and has been curiously incurious in finding out more. Or, in the words of the Becket murderer: “perfectly disinterested.”

Imagine if George W. Bush were president during the Benghazi debacle. Can any journalist look himself in the mirror and claim truthfully that he would have been equally disinterested in this event had George W. Bush been president? The headlines, in that case, would have written themselves, and reporters would have stumbled over each other to determine what Bush knew and when, and why wasn’t he sharing it with the American public.
In Murder in the Cathedral, the Second Knight goes on to explain his role in the assassination of Becket and why he was justified. At the end of his declaration, he stares at the audience and says:

“…and if there is any guilt whatever in the matter, you must share it with us.”

As far as I’m concerned, that knight is addressing today’s media when it comes to Benghazi—if there is any guilt in the matter, they—the “perfectly disinterested” journalists of 2012—must share it with the administration. They have the resources to determine what really happened. Yet they are perfectly content to look away.
For this, they become actors in the drama, not mere observers. J’accuse.

Media bias: worse than EV-AH

by Libby Sternberg

(This post originally appeared at Hot Air's Green Room on September 28, 2012.)

When my son was deployed in Afghanistan earlier this year (he’s home now), I used to look for news of that country’s goings-on. It was hard to find. Eventually I lit on a site with the grim address that covered both Operation Enduring Freedom (for those who’ve forgotten, that’s the name of the operation in Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom. A left-hand column contains a news-feed about what’s going on in that part of the world.

I’ve not done an empirical study of news articles past and present, but it seems to me that one didn’t have to search as hard for news of Afghanistan and Iraq when George W. Bush was president. Why did these operations cease being as newsworthy once he was followed by Barack Obama? It’s hard not to suspect that once casualties couldn’t be laid at Dubya’s feet, media didn’t find such news … as newsworthy. (Neither, it seems, does the anti-war crowd, which has faded into the background despite the fact that President Obama has continued many policies they opposed.)

The lack of regular Afghanistan coverage isn’t the only thing missing from most news coverage today, while other stories receive attention for days on end (and by “days,” I mean round-the-clock coverage followed by more of the same). Watching the news (MSNBC) recently, I was confronted with the most pressing problem our country faced at this moment, surely shaking the citizenry to its core: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s alleged comments suggesting that 47 percent of folks don’t pay taxes and thus won’t vote for him. Even the president himself was so distracted by this earth-shattering statement that he couldn’t remember the exact number for the national debt when asked about it on an appearance on the David Letterman show.

Meanwhile…the Mideast was in flames, our Afghanistan policy was crumbling, Israel trembled at the possibility of a nuclear Iran, the U.S. Department of Justice was using a left-wing group to spin the news and the unemployment rate was abysmal along with most other financial indicators. Oh, and one more not-so-small thing: the president’s party, as demonstrated during its convention, seemed to be shifting ever leftward toward an anti-Israel, atheistic, aggressively pro-abortion platform.

Yet most in the media greeted those stories with a yawn. Does anyone doubt similar stories would be covered with gleeful alacrity if a Republican were in the White House?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not looking at these stories as bits of “gotcha” politics. They’re news, by any definition of that word. They’re important. They tell us something about the current administration’s approach to policy. Americans should know about them in order to make informed decisions. Even Obama supporters might want to know them to try to push the administration in different directions.

In their defense, the news media’s unrelenting interest in political horse race stories is somewhat understandable during a presidential campaign. But why then did so many of them all but ignore a major political debate within the Democratic party? The very fact that the Democratic platform removed references to God and Jerusalem and making abortion “rare” should have received some discussion prior to its leap to center stage during the Democratic convention. Instead, it was brushed under the rug, especially after a hastily arranged vote to reinsert at least God and Jerusalem references into the document. That vote, too, should have been bigger news when it was clear that the convention chairman overrode the will of the attendees.

Nope, just more of the same “not really a story worth covering” from mainstream journos. Any story that might reflect negatively on the president and his party seems to be falling into the “not really news” category these days, bringing to mind a piece sharply satirizing the media’s slavering attitude toward Barack Obama from several years ago on the satiric site, The Onion: Media Having Trouble Finding Right Angle on Obama Double Homicide.

Conservatives are used to media bias, used to hearing excuses made for “out of context” gaffes by Democrats and the collective gasps of horror at similar stumbles by Republicans. We’re used to the stories of Democratic errors being turned into Mean-Republicans-Point-Out-Democratic Mistakes headlines. But ignoring real news literally blowing up in reporters’ faces seems to me a new low and probably accounts for why fewer and fewer people subscribe to mainstream newspapers or rely on broadcast news.

It’s pretty simple, really: when you cease delivering the product promised—real news—customers go elsewhere.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Libby's Hot Air posts

by Libby Sternberg

Until recently, I regularly posted at Hot Air's Greenroom. But they've changed their format, going to a "conversation" with their home page contributors, so the Greenroom contributors were set adrift! Not to worry. I've collected those posts here. URLs are below. I'll be reposting them individually as time goes by.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Obama ad reminds Republicans to vote, too

 by Libby Sternberg

Is this ad a) an act of desperation, b) good campaign strategy, or c) a public service announcement about the need to vote?    
Narrator: 537, the number of votes that changed the course of American history.
News announcer: Florida is too close to call...
Narrator: The difference between what was and what could have been. So this year if you're thinking that your vote doesn't count, that it won't matter...well, back then there were probably at least 537 people who felt the same way. Make your voice heard. Vote.
The president: I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message.
  The Huffington Post reports that the president's team is running this ad in swing states. The campaign, according to the article, is not worried about voter enthusiasm but decided to run the ad because.... Well, maybe because they're really what the president thinks Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is. Coming on the heels of the "I finally have an agenda" move, this latest message seems like one more desperate attempt to nudge tepid Dem voters, perhaps turned off by the president's negative campaigning but leaning his way, to go ahead and hold their noses but still vote for Obama.

However, this ad is a double-edged sword. Just as it reminds Democrats of the 2000 vote-counting debacle in Florida, it also probably sends a shiver down Republican spines, too, prompting them to get out and cast their votes before ballot-counting nightmares recommence.

So my answer to the question posed at the outset of this piece: This ad is -- a) an act of desperation and c) a public service announcement that will surely jazz up GOP sentiments, as well.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why Susan Rice? Why that narrative?

by Joseph Sternberg

Why was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice sent around to the Sunday talk shows to tell a (false) story?

Susan Rice has no responsibility for the protection of embassies, nor for U.S. policy towards Libya. She was not directly involved in the development of intelligence of events in Libya. But how did the events in Libya affect what she was responsible for at the UN? Why would the White House think that she was the right person to promote the story they were trying to sell?

President Obama has had two foreign affairs priorities. One was to defeat Al Qaeda. The second was to improve relations with the Muslim world, which has taken the form of developing close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Susan Rice is directly involved in the second of these objectives in her role as UN Ambassador.

The U.S. is working as a member of the UN Human Rights Council as its Muslim members seek to produce a statement that restricts speech critical of Islam. The U.S. should not be party to such activities as any such statement would be in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But it is an active participant.
An unstated conclusion following from Rice’s story was that if the video could have been repressed, there wouldn't have been any demonstrations. So sending her out to the Sunday shows would makes sense for Obama as an attempt to advance this second objective, which was a logical outcome of his 2009 speech in Cairo. The offensive video story would also serve to divert attention from the fact that, contrary to what was claimed exhaustively at the Democratic Convention (Al Qaeda has been smashed), Al Qaeda is still a serious problem in the Middle East and North Africa.

Omar Abdel-Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh” serving a life sentence for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing) also played a part in the Cairo Demonstration on Sept. 11. The first demand of President Morsi, upon taking office, was that the U.S. release the Sheikh from prison. I don't know whether they are claiming he was unfairly convicted (in a NY trial—Attorney General Eric Holder, please note). At a minimum they are seeking his release on "humanitarian" grounds. It has been reported that a member of an Egyptian Jihadist group banned from entering the United Sates had been admitted to the White House on this issue. If Obama is reelected, who would like to take bets on whether the Sheikh would be released in furtherance of Obama's second objective?

We don't know what Susan Rice knew about the events in Libya. Since the State Department knew, you would think she would have given them a call before telling her story. So she was either lying or negligent. But we do know that her appearances were authorized by the White House.
Dr. Joseph Sternberg was Scientific Advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 1971-1974

Check out the Green Room

Just a quick note to alert readers to the fact that I blog regularly now at Hot Air's "Green Room." Stop by to read my ramblings words of wisdom.

Libby Sternberg

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

No, Mitt, you're wrong

I understand the assumption behind presidential candidate Mitt Romney's statement that the 47% of the American population that is receiving federal money is likely to vote for the Democratic candidate. Fortunately, that's not necessarily the case. Think of all the retirees, Social Security and Medicare recipients in the Tea Party - for example, in the crowd in Florida cheering on VP candidate Paul Ryan. In other words, Mitt, not everyone can be bought. Not everyone thinks only of his or her immediate interest. So just keep trucking!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ever more confused

by Leslie S. Lebl

Just when I think I'm beginning to understand the themes of President Obama's campaign, a new one comes along that stumps me. This time, it's the refrain that all the fault is due to Congress: that if the members of Congress hadn't been so obstructionist, everything would be okay.

All right, let's assume that's true. But then, if President Obama can't get these guys to do what he wants, and he gets re-elected in November, what are the chances that he'll have an easier time with the next bunch? More than half of Obama's current record was run up while Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress. Does anyone think the Democrats are likely to win back the House, while keeping the Senate? And, presumably, with a greater margin than they enjoyed two years ago? Yup, I bet no one does.

So, by definition, Obama's problems with Congress are not going to decrease. That conclusion confirms the need to replace Obama. If he's re-elected, there's no way, according to his own version of events, that he will be able to produce results.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A little thought experiment

by Leslie S. Lebl

Okay, here's a little experiment to stimulate the imagination:  Imagine, for a moment, that you're back in time, say around 2007.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney's aide Scooter Libby is being sent to jail for something, but darned if you can remember what it was.  Oh, yes - for not remembering correctly something said to him in a meeting several years before that.  Not for the "crime" under investigation:  another individual had long before confessed to that action (identifyingValerie Plame as a CIA employee) and, besides, it was never clear that the identification was actually a crime.

Now, fast forward to today, when the Washington Post runs a headline, "The John Edwards trial: a final public flogging."  I'm racking my brains but can't remember the Post oozing that much sympathy for Libby - can you?  Especially when it's absolutely clear former Presidential contender Edwards committed a crime:  he paid $400 for a haircut when he could have gotten an even better one for $12.95

Seriously, I don't understand campaign finance laws and have no idea whether he has broken the law, but I don't really think his "persecution" can compare with that meted out to Libby.    

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Iran's path to nuclear weapons

by Joseph Sternberg

Have you ever noticed whenever there is a news story based on information from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (AIAE) or some other Intelligence source that reports Iranian progress towards developing nuclear weapons,  the article is invariably ended with a sentence stating that Iran authorities deny that Iran is developing nuclear weapons? Evidently journalistic ethics gives high priority to giving space to authorities who have a dubious record on this subject.

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has repeatedly asserted that the Iranian nation has never sought and will never seek nuclear weapons. He has been Supreme Leader since 1989 and was President from 1981 to 1989, so he should be well informed on what Iran is doing. In 2007 the US published a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that reported that Iran had stopped work on the design of a nuclear warhead. As we have just learned recently, the Intelligence was based on intercepted communications of scientists who were working on the warhead design and were complaining about the decision of the Iranian authorities to put the work on hold. You can't stop doing something that you were never doing. No matter how many times Ayatollah Khamenie says that Iran has never and would never seek to develop nuclear weapons, he is lying.

So why would the Iranians put the nuclear warhead work on hold in 2003, according to the NIE?  By 2002, the Iranians had decided that they must go underground with nuclear facilities  to improve their survivability.There were bad people out there who might decide to bomb them. Building facilities underground for the enrichment of uranium requires large areas that can accommodate thousands of centrifuges and so is an expensive and time-consuming task. There is not much point in having constructed a warhead if you don't have the weapons-grade uranium to put in it.

There was another reason to put the warhead work on hold, besides the fact that it would not be needed for some time. If the work on the warhead was discovered, the Ayatollah Khamenei's campaign to persuade doubters of the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program would collapse, and the countries that were dragging their feet on tough sanctions would have little excuse to do so.

The Iranians are working hard on uranium enrichment. The identity of two underground enrichment sites was disclosed by dissidents, Natanz in 2002 and Fordow in 2007. Thousands of centrifuges are installed at these sites. Once the sites were disclosed, they were subject to inspection by the UN IAEA. The fission isotope in uranium is U-235, which is only 0.72% of natural uranium. Enrichment to 3-5% of U-235 is necessary to fuel standard nuclear power plants. However, Iran's first nuclear power plant at Bushehr has been fueled by the Russians. Iran has a Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) that runs on fuel enriched to about 20% of U-235. In 1993, Argentina provided 255 pounds of fuel elements sufficient for multiple refuelings of the reactor. Iran has been negotiating with various counties for a resupply of fuel for this reactor, which doesn't run continuously. Finally, uranium enriched to over 80 % U-235  is needed for a nuclear weapon. Such enriched uranium has no peaceful purpose.

So what is the enriched inventory reported by the IAEA in Feb. 2012? Between its two known enrichment sites, Iran now has a supply of a supply of 220 pounds of enriched uranium containing 19.75% of U-235. A modern uranium implosion-type nuclear weapon design would require about 33 pounds of uranium enriched to 80-90 %. The step from 20% enrichment to 90 % enrichment is a relatively small one and doesn't require  thousands of centrifuges.The 220 pounds of 20% enriched uranium contains 44 pounds of U-235, more than enough for a nuclear bomb when it is further enriched.  Based on present estimates of the rate at which Iran is enriching uranium at the known facilities, a year's production of 20% enriched uranium would be enough for one or two bombs.

It is clear that Iran is not satisfied with the rate of enrichment obtained with its IR-1 centrifuges.  It has informed the IAEA that it is working on more than four different advanced centrifuge designs. Further, prior to 2009, Iran had publicly announced that it intended to build ten new uranium enrichment facilities, but they didn't say where or when.So Iran may have more enriched uranium than known to the IAEA.

What about the suspended nuclear warhead work? Clearly if this work was resumed, it would be done in underground facilities and Iran would make every effort to keep it secret. The size of such a facility would be much smaller than the facilities required for uranium enrichment and so, presumably, easier to conceal. In 2010 the IAEA informed Iran that they had extensive information about undisclosed activities relevant to critical nuclear weapon design issues being carried out by Iranian military organizations. Iran has refused to discuss these issues and has maintained that the allegations are baseless, and that the information referred to by the IAEA is based on forgeries. It has also refused access to Parchin, a key explosives development military facility.

In congressional testimony this year, the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated his view that Iran has not yet decided to make a nuclear weapon but is only keeping themselves in the position to do so. He did not claim to have any specific information to support his view of the intentions of the Iranian leadership. Perhaps a more accurate statement would have been that there is no evidence (none was cited) that Iran ever gave up its goal of developing nuclear weapons but that the threat of severe sanctions and or military attack provide a strong incentive to keep crucial nuclear warhead work secret. The size of an underground facility needed for warhead development is much smaller than what is needed for uranium enrichment and so is easier to hide. A key problem for Intelligence is to uncover any relevant secret underground facilities.

I am reminded of a story told to me by an old French friend. A Frenchman became concerned that his wife might be seeing another man, so he hired an investigator to follow his wife. A few days later, the investigator reported the bad news. His wife had met a man at a particular hotel and they had entered the hotel and rented a room. The husband demanded to know more. The investigator said he had been able to find out the number of the hotel room and quickly went there. The door had a large keyhole, and he was able to see what was going on in the interior. The two occupants had started to remove their clothes. "And what happened then?" cried the husband. "I don't know," said the investigator, "the light in the room was turned off." "Oh," sighed the husband. "The Incertitude."
Dr. Sternberg served as Scientific Advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe 1971-1974. He is a retired professor of physics, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA

Friday, March 23, 2012

Is the First Amendment Outdated?

by Libby Sternberg

It’s easy to forget, in this freewheeling, anything-goes, tolerance-minded society of ours, that it wasn’t so long ago that Catholics were derided, their beliefs publicly ridiculed, and their leaders mocked.

Oh, wait, that was just yesterday.

Or so it seemed when the contraception debate began. That is, when advocates for the HHS mandate (saying all employers must include free contraception coverage in their insurance plans regardless of their church teachings on the matter) turned the tables on free-conscience supporters by making the debate about bishops and their fellow-traveling Republican men who want to control women’s health. You remember the infamous photo, correct? Yes, this one:

Sorry, wrong picture. That’s a Thomas Nast cartoon from the 1800s suggesting bishops wanted to control American public schools (look closely—the alligators coming to attack the poor schoolchildren are wearing bishops’ miters). Those bishops. Always trying to control something or other.

The photo to which I’m referring, though, went so viral that a short description will probably suffice: about a half dozen men, most in clerical garb, seated glumly at a congressional hearing table, microphones and notes at the ready.

They were there to testify about religious rights, not contraception, but that didn’t matter to the folks who passed the photo around as one more example of the miter-wearing Y chromosome crowd trying to crush women under their heels.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not agree with the Catholic Church’s position on many things, including contraception. But, like Kevin Seamus Hasson, the head of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, I believe the Church has the “right to be wrong.”

Hasson has penned a book with that title on first amendment issues. For Christmas one year, I gave each of my children a copy. It’s a fast read, chock full of valuable history and information.

Hasson’s book title is apt. It’s what the first amendment, with its protections of religious liberty, is really about: the right to a free conscience that makes moral judgments, even if sometimes those judgments are wrong and unpopular. That’s at the nub of the First Amendment, making it a relevant principle to atheists and believers alike—it protects individuals’ right to say, essentially, this is morally repugnant and I will not just “follow orders” and do it.

As I witnessed the contraception argument debated on Facebook and elsewhere, I’ve been amazed at the number of people, however, who seem to think free conscience decisions should be popular in order to be truly valid. Many people seemed to think that the unpopularity of the Church’s contraception stance (as evidenced by the lack of large Catholic families) demonstrates that the Church is wrong on the issue, and because they are wrong, the Church must obey the more popular “right” stance on birth control coverage.

Arguing against this view usually elicited a litany of other Church wrongs, most notably the sex abuse scandals, Church views on sexuality in general, the celibate priesthood, and… Rick Santorum…as if these things confirmed the Church was wrong, too, on contraception.

The Church, of course, is not a democracy, and those who’d like to make it so should focus their efforts on trying to change it in the private sphere. (I suggest a nail, hammer, and some theses—perhaps 95.) Using the government to coerce the Church to change might get you what you want in the short-term but will likely lead to things you don’t want in the long-term, the dilution of free conscience rights overall.

The debate over the Church’s “wrongness,” however, reminded me that everything old is new again. It’s not really a joke that I included the Thomas Nast cartoon above. It represented a commonplace view during its time, that Catholics were so wrong in their views that they needed to be legislated virtually out of existence. They had a different approach to worship (a Mass in Latin—quelle horreur!), celibate leadership (for a peek at views on this, take a look at Rev. Justin D. Fulton’s 1880s masterpiece Why Priests Should Wed, a treasure trove of anti-Catholic propaganda in the guise of “advice” on Catholic principles), a different Bible (the Douay and not the King James) and a foreign Pope, among other things. Anti-Catholic views were as acceptable back then as, say, bashing Mormons is today.

As a long-time school choice and voucher advocate, I’m aware of this history and how it played a distasteful part in a significant public institution in America—the creation of public schools, which were originally designed to blanche threatening “papist” views from new immigrant children’s minds. (That history still touches the voucher debate in the courts, by the way, in a tangential way. A regular legal opponent of school vouchers is the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. At their formation in the 1940s in the wake of court rulings that benefited Catholic institutions, they were known as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, only shortening their name in 1971.)

Here we are, more than a century after the anti-Catholic campaigns of yesteryear, though, and we’re still seeing the same old misunderstandings, and, in a way, the same old arguments. The Church is wrong, the Church is different, and—instead of “the Church is the enemy of America”—the Church is the enemy of women; therefore the State must make the Church into something else by legislating a violation of its principles.

In an increasingly secular society, people forget why it’s important to let the Church be wrong. Freedom of conscience is such a powerful human drive that it leads men to choose death over recanting their beliefs. Early Christians, after all, went to the arena rather than burn incense to pagan gods because they believed they had found a higher truth. Even atheists believe in seeking truth, which is at the foundation of a free conscience.

Hasson writes in his book, “A government that seeks to minimize the consciences of its citizens may well find itself, in a generation or two, in a predicament far worse than having too many principled people claiming too many points of conscience. It may find itself with too few principled people to sustain a society.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is fighting the HHS contraception mandate in court, is promoting rallies on Friday, March 23 for those interested in supporting rights of conscience. Information is here.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her book website is here. She also occasionally blogs at Hot Air.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Yes, There Is a War on Women

by Libby Sternberg

Even though it's been weeks since conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called a reproductive rights activist a "slut" and then apologized, the "war on women" has not subsided.

Good. It's high time that women on the right side of the political aisle joined the battle. And because conservative women's long-simmering outrage was ignited by the left's double standard in the Rush kerfuffle, liberals have been in the uncomfortable position of playing defense. 

Sure, they've turned to an even more aggressive offensive stance (more on that in a bit), but at the outset, they were whipsawed by the reaction of conservative women who, after suffering through years of grotesque, highly misogynistic comments from liberal celebrity pundits, finally had the opportunity to present a litany of these offensive louts' language for all to see, saying, "Yeah, these filth-spewing commentators deserve the world's opprobrium--we're so glad you agree with us at last." Ahem.

(A quick aside: Politics ain't beanbag, and when I, and other women I know, speak of "offensive language," we're not talking about strong metaphors. We're talking about language that diminishes women to their sexual natures alone, language that is a variation on either "forget her ideas, she's one hot fox," or, "she's no more than a c***, so why take her seriously?")

The reaction to conservative women's pushback during L'Affaire Limbaugh has been amusing, to say the least. The standard liberal meme has been resurrected: liberal commentators, regardless of their offenses, aren't equal to Rush because of his huge audience and, oh, yeah, he is the titular head of the Republican Party anyway, you know. (Tell that to the various GOP presidential candidates who won the party's nomination despite harsh criticism from Rush.)

The audience measurement argument puts liberals in the embarrassing position of showcasing "their guys'" low  audience numbers, though. Beyond what Nielsen statistics say about the appeal of liberal ideas on the airwaves, however, the question then becomes: exactly where is the cutoff that gives a commentator a pass in the use of offensive language? Is it 900,001 (Keith Olbermann could draw close to 900,000, after all.) How about 1,000,001? (Bill Maher can draw a million.) Even if liberal fellows don't understand the absurdity of that argument, most women, who've ever walked past a construction site to catcalls and whistles, do.

So, now that the hypocrisy has been exposed in the Rush brouhaha, the left has loaded other missiles in their Outrage Artillery to keep the "War on Women" battle alive to their benefit. They've been firing off shots about how conservative men want to control women's bodies (abortion, contraception, etc.). They are dragging out a list of state bills sponsored by conservatives that seek to either limit access to contraception or force women to undergo "invasive" testing before having abortions.

As to the contraception bills, from my knowledge these are a reaction to the HHS mandate dictating that all health plans must cover contraception and abortifacients, regardless whether the coverage violates the religious beliefs of the employers. So they are attempts, perhaps clumsy and (pardon the pun) ill-conceived, to protect First Amendment rights of free conscience. If the White House made a real accommodation with religious entities concerning these mandates, the reactionary bills would probably disappear in a snap. (And, no, the WH has made no accommodation--the same mandate language HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius advanced prior to announcing accommodations is still in the law.)

On to the ultrasound bills--there's been one in Virginia, but they're popping up elsewhere--proposed laws to force women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds first. I'm not keen on legislating medical practice, but I am sympathetic to the pro-life point of view, even if I don't entirely share it.

Pro-life advocates believe that abortion is murder. And just as activists such as George Clooney can't stand idly by while watching people be massacred in Africa, pro-life champions believe they, too, must do everything in their power to stop what they see as the slaughter of innocents.

I admire George Clooney, even without agreeing with him on all his stances, and would never disparage his well-intentioned efforts. Similarly, I admire pro-life activists, even if I don't agree with all their approaches. Can most liberals say the same?

In fact, the left's barrage of attacks on ultrasound bills has incensed at least one pro-choice supporter, who argues, quite persuasively, that using inflammatory language (such as "rape") to describe pre-abortion ultrasounds is harmful to women. Since the vast majority of abortion providers do these ultrasounds anyway prior to abortions, liberals are unnecessarily alarming women about their invasiveness and diminishing their value.

But that's the real problem with this whole "war on women" the left is using to try to score points against the right. It ignores the reality of women's opinions and lives just to trounce political opponents. It hides behind the skirts of women, in other words, to fire shots at adversaries, seeking to damage them in women's eyes.

The reality is that women are not of one mind on reproductive issues. Gallup polls show women fairly evenly divided on abortion, in fact, with 48 percent identifying themselves as "pro-life" and large majorities supporting some restrictions on abortions that liberals traditionally fight tooth and nail-- things like parental consent laws for abortions for minor girls, for example. Ironically, I'm sure mothers who hold these beliefs would look at liberal opposition as something of a "war" on them.

But you rarely hear of these divided opinions when the High Dudgeon Industry has fired its first shots. In my cynical view, that's because those fueling the battle aren't really all that interested in listening to what women have to say after all...unless it can be used to defeat political opponents.

So, David Axelrod can blithely criticize Rush Limbaugh in one breath, while stammering sophistry about why Bill Maher's one-million-dollar donation to  the president's SuperPac is okay because....well, because it's just too darn silly to even repeat here.

Don't be fooled, sisters. There might be a "war on women" out there, but it's coming as much from the left who want to silence the half of American women who don't agree with liberals on abortion policy. According to their "rules of engagement," these women--pro-lifers or their admirers-- deserve to be called any name in the misogynist's lexicon.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist and a past member of the Vermont Commission on Women.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Middle Class, Beware

by Joseph Sternberg

Federal expenditures have increased during President Obama's administration from a previous level of about 20% up to 25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is an increase of $780 billion dollars a year. How is such an increase going to be paid for? 

Recently, President Obama submitted a budget for 2013 that calls for an increase of government expenditures, not a reduction, with a projected deficit of close to a trillion dollars. It is clear beyond any doubt that Obama is opposed to solving the debt problem by reducing expenditures. So what is the alternative?

Obama seeks to create the belief that if the rich paid their "fair share," there wouldn't be a deficit problem.There is a case to be made that the wealthy are not paying their "fair share." Over a long period of time, with both Republican and Democratic political support, the tax rate schedule has been progressive, calling for the wealthy to pay a larger percentage of their income in income taxes than less wealthy taxpayers. But because of all sorts of provisions and loopholes that have been written into the tax code, tax payments by the wealthy fall well below what is called for by the tax rate schedule. Obama proposes to fix this by imposing a millionaires tax of 30% so that wealthy people pay their "fair share." It is estimated that this would bring in an additional $40 billion dollars a year in revenue. That still leaves $740 billion in increased expenditures.

Obama says his objective is to protect the middle class from an increase in taxes while addressing the deficit problem. He has proposed to decrease the deficit by allowing the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 to expire, claiming that these tax cuts were tax cuts for the wealthy and violated the "fair share" principle. The IRS tax data shows that this claim is false. According to the IRS tax data for 2000 and 2004, the income taxes paid on the total AGI  (Adjusted Gross Income) for all taxpayers fell from 15.26% in 2000 to 12.10% in 2004, a reduction of 21%. At the same time, the percentage of taxes paid on AGI by the top 1% of taxpayers only fell by 15%. So if the Bush tax laws are allowed to expire, the middle class will have their taxes raised more than the top 1% and the bulk of the increase in taxes will be paid by the middle class.

Since the total amount collected in federal income taxes in 2010 was approximately $900 billion dollars, an increase of 21% by canceling the Bush tax cuts would add an estimated $188 billion to federal revenue. Adding together $40 billion and $188 billion still leaves $552 billion in expenditures not covered by tax revenue. For political reasons (not to mention economic reasons) Obama isn't seeking an across the board increase in income tax rates to cover this deficit.

Well there is always a Value Added Tax (VAT)  to be considered. In the European Union the VAT tax produces about 25% of the total tax revenue. Overwhelmingly, the middle class pays for this expenditure tax since the middle class spends a much higher fraction of its income for consumption than the upper 1%. Federal revenue in 2010 was 2.16 trillion dollars. A VAT tax designed to add revenue equal to 25% of this amount would  provide $540 billion dollars covering the remaining deficit of $552 billion.

So the inevitable conclusion is that the increase in expenditures from 20% of GDP to 25% of GDP by Obama  would have to be mostly paid for by the middle class. Trying to conceal this by class warfare in unconscionable.

Joseph Sternberg
Retired Professor of Physics

Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day:
Pro-Women or Poseurs?

by Libby Sternberg

How serendipitous--a week after conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh called reproductive rights activist Sandra Fluke a "slut" for her advocacy for free contraception, we have arrived at... International Women's Day. 

I'm sure all those who steamed with outrage over Rush's offensive remarks will now be hurrying to champion other women's issues--say, their right to drive or hold office in places like Saudi Arabia; oh, or maybe their right not to be stoned for adultery in Iran; or, perhaps, in a desire to "act locally" with their support of women, condemning misogynist remarks from all high-profile individuals whenever they occur.

My guess, however, is that the Outrage Herd has moved on. They achieved their goal with Rush. No, not his apology. Rather, his loss of advertisers.

Because that was really the point, wasn't it? Not so much to protect a woman's right to speak out but to put the kibosh on Rush speaking out on anything.

Yes, that's a cynical view, but it's grounded in history. As Democrat Kirsten Powers has pointed out so well, liberal commentators such as Bill Maher, Ed Schultz, and Keith Olbermann have spewed far worse, far more ugly remarks about conservative women to virtually no reaction from the current "pro-women" crowd.

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has a stomach-churning column on what she has been called over the years by notables and quotables, everything from the relatively mild "Manila whore" to the utterly base comment of a Rolling Stone writer that he likes to imagine her with male testicles in her mouth every time he reads her columns. (I apologize--he used far more colorful language, but there's no polite way of describing his comment.)

And, although this won't be popular with the Sarah Palin-hating crowd, the former Alaskan Governor was the victim of the biggest double standard of them all--her utterances on public policy were mocked relentlessly while her opponent in the 2008 campaign, now Vice President Joe Biden, made gaffe after public gaffe and received the standard "good old boy" reaction: That's just good ole Joe; he's one of us, you know.

Yet the response to these calumnies against women from the Outrage Herd: crickets.

Actually, the reaction is far worse, in my opinion. It's not just silence, it's both implicit and explicit endorsement. After all, if folks like David Axelrod, the president's senior campaign adviser, feel free to condemn Rush Limbaugh in one breath and book an appearance on Bill Maher's show in the next, what does that tell us about his true views on women? Isn't he saying, with a cynical wink, "Uh, I'm with you, ladies, except, you know, when a  misogynist benefits me and my pal here. And anyway, that's just good ole Bill; he's one of us, you know."

Okay, so he's a guy. He doesn't get it. What about women leaders, feminists? Can they muster even a scintilla of anger at these problems on the left? Guess not.

I grew up in an era when, during a grade school debate, the boys in the class argued a woman wasn't qualified to be president. I grew up in a time when some women hid the fact that they could type from their bosses, knowing if they revealed they had that skill, they'd be doing the grunt work in the office and nothing more. I came into adulthood when you could bet money on the fact that a woman was being paid less than a man for the same job. And I worked in some situations where a woman's voice in a strategy meeting wasn't heard until a man repeated what she said.

So, while I'm not a placard-waving feminist--there are many issues on which I disagree with my sisters--I'm keenly aware of women's ongoing struggles.

But I'm not fooled by the current uproar over Rush's remark about Sandra Fluke. If he had said the same thing about a conservative, today's new pro-women warriors would be hiding in the tall grass, chirping softly away.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist. When she lived in Vermont, she served on the Vermont Commission on Women.

And more time too, please!

by Leslie S. Lebl

Let me offer a dissenting view from the conventional wisdom.

I've liked the fact that the Republican party has no clear front-runner in the Presidential race. Yes, I know that no one else agrees with me, but since this blog is a wonderful place for lone voices, let me explain what I mean.

I saw the end of Newt Gingrich's victory speech Tuesday night, after the Georgia primary; he was smart, analytical, funny -- and as long as there's no chance he'll actually win the nomination, he's a great addition to the field. His intellect sets a standard for the others and pushes them to perform better. It's a shame his character is so unsteady, but he does make an important contribution... especially when he's bashing the media for avoiding the real issues in this campaign year.

It's been painful to watch Rick Santorum lose his way in social issues, but there's a segment of the Republican electorate that thinks these issues are important, so by all means, let's talk about them. Better to air them than not, although I think the final consensus will form around the candidate most likely to win, not the most conservative one.

Both of them push Mitt Romney, who needs a push. Let's hope the pressure gets him out of his shell, talking about issues that matter to voters. And since he sames to take his sweet time to open up, let's be glad there's no hurry.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

More, Please -- Information, That Is

by Leslie S. Lebl

Okay, I'm in fantasy-land - but it is an election year, and I'm being bombarded by all kinds of promises and assertions. So I'm dreaming of two things.

The first would be a list, prepared by the Obama administration, a neutral non-partisan think-tank, or in fact just about anybody, of those green energy 'investments' subsidized by the U.S. government that have been successful.

My criteria for success aren't too rigorous: the company in question (1) should not have since gone bankrupt; (2) should not have laid off a large percentage of its employees; (3) should not have made a major investment abroad after receiving the subsidy. And, to make my fantasy complete, I'd like to see the percentage of total expenditures on green technologies that went to these successful companies.

Skeptics, please note I'm not even asking that the companies on the list show substantial sales or a profit. Nor am I restricting the data to certain years; green technologies have been subsidized by Republican as well as Democratic administrations.
The second thing I'd like is data showing whether high European gas prices have stimulated the development of significant alternative energy sources there. Such data would, of course, take into account the extensive state subsidies of various European countries.

I realize it's completely unrealistic to expect to conduct a public debate on alternative energy based on data, but I can dream, can't I?

A retired Foreign Service Officer, Leslie S. Lebl is a writer, consultant and lecturer. In the Foreign Service, Ms. Lebl served as Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels. Prior to that, she was Political Advisor to the Commander of Stabilization Forces (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, first in the American sector in Tuzla and then at SFOR headquarters in Sarajevo. Other assignments included Russia, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, Bolivia, Germany and Poland, as well as a year as diplomat-in-residence at Yale University. She speaks French, German, Russian, Polish and Spanish. She is currently at work on a book about radical Islam and the European Union.