Monday, August 31, 2009
Defending the techniques -- ok, I guess.
And, echoing Scott, can the Sunday morning yakfests find no one who finds torture abhorrent and can argue that violators of law should be punished?
Broadcast just six days after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed a federal prosecutor to examine the abuse of detainees, Mr. Cheney described the use of waterboarding and other coercive methods — including threatening detainees with a gun and a drill — as legal and crucial elements of the counterterrorism war.“I knew about the waterboarding, not specifically in any one particular case, but as a general policy that we had approved,” said Mr. Cheney, who noted that neither a gun nor a drill had actually been used on detainees. “The fact of the matter is the Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years ago.”
Labels: tortured logic
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Later that evening at the burial in Arlington, the letter Kennedy had written to the Pope in recent months was read aloud.
As the single eternal flame at John F. Kennedy’s grave burned just steps away up a grassy slope, and the Capitol dome and the monuments of Washington were illuminated against the night sky, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick stood next to Kennedy’s casket and recited excerpts from the letter, as well as a reply from an unnamed aide to the pope. It was a stunning and powerful moment that closed an extraordinary day of farewell observances.
“I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings,’’ Kennedy’s letter stated. “I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.’’
The Vatican reply came two weeks later: “His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God our merciful Father.’’
The letters lent a deeply personal tone to what was otherwise a full military burial, taking place on a gentle rise in the heights overlooking Washington, under the shelter of two maple trees. The journey from Hyannis Port to Boston to this Virginia hillside ended as a bugler played taps, and Kennedy’s wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, clasped the flag that had draped her husband’s casket. Bells rang, chiming the hour of 8 p.m. At the command of “Ready, Fire!’’ a corps of seven riflemen from the US Army’s Third Infantry, standing nearby, fired three volleys.
McCarrick attributed the idea for reading from the letters to the senator’s widow.
“I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and although I continue treatment the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old, and preparing for the next passage of life,’’ Kennedy said in his letter to the pope, which was delivered by Obama on July 10.
Kennedy listed the ways in which his politics comported with Catholic social teaching, saying: “I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war.’’
Kennedy’s letter only obliquely referred to his support for abortion rights, a position that put him sharply at odds with church teaching; nor did the excerpt from the Vatican reply touch on the issue.
The Vatican response was strikingly pastoral in tone, expressing the pope’s “concern and his spiritual closeness’’ to Kennedy, and bestowing on the senator an apostolic blessing from the pope. That the Vatican responded at all is news - conservative bloggers have for days been claiming that the alleged lack of a response was evidence of the Vatican’s antipathy to Kennedy.
Labels: Catholic Church
Superficially seductive calls to scale down the effort until the recession ends or to take time for further deliberations should be ignored. There has been more than enough debate and the recession will almost certainly be over before the major features of reform kick in several years from now. Those who fear that a trillion-dollar reform will add to the nation’s deficit burden should remember that these changes are intended to be deficit-neutral over the next decade.
Delay would be foolish politically. The Democrats have substantial majorities in the House and the Senate this year. Next year, as the midterm elections approach, it will be even harder for legislators to take controversial stands. After the elections, if history is any guide, the Democratic majorities could be smaller.
Mr. Obama should know from sad experience the pitfalls of seeking bipartisan cooperation from a Republican Party that has sloughed off most of its moderates and is dominated by its right wing. His stimulus package was supported by no Republicans in the House and only three Republicans in the Senate, so-called moderates whose support was won by shrinking the package below the size at which it would have done the most good.Now the same sort of damaging retreat may be happening in the Senate Finance Committee. Three committees in the House and one in the Senate have used their Democratic majorities to approve liberal health reform bills. The only bipartisan negotiations are between a rump group of three Democrats and three Republicans on the Finance Committee who hail from largely rural states with small populations, namely Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming. Somehow this small, unrepresentative group has emerged as the focal point for bipartisan health care reform.
The Democrats are thus well advised to start preparing to use an arcane parliamentary tactic known as “budget reconciliation” that would let them sidestep a Republican filibuster and approve reform proposals by a simple majority.
The approach is risky. Reconciliation bills are primarily intended to deal with budget items that affect the deficit, not with substantive legislation like health care reform. Senators could challenge as “extraneous” any provisions that do not change spending or revenues over the next five years, or would have a budget impact that is “merely incidental” to some broader policy purpose, or would increase the deficit in Year 6 and beyond.
So how much of the proposed health care reforms could plausibly fit into a reconciliation bill? The answer seems to be: quite a lot, though nobody knows for sure.
Knowledgeable analysts from both parties believe that these important elements of reform will probably pass muster because of their budgetary impact: expansion of Medicaid for the poor; subsidies to help low-income people buy insurance; new taxes to pay for the trillion-dollar program; Medicare cuts to help finance the program; mandates on individuals to buy insurance and on employers to offer coverage; and tax credits to help small businesses provide insurance.
Even the public plan so reviled by Republicans could probably qualify, especially if it is given greater power than currently planned to dictate the prices it will pay to hospitals, doctors, drug companies and other providers, thus saving the government lots of money in subsidies.
Greater uncertainty surrounds two other critical elements: new rules requiring insurance companies to accept all applicants and charge them the same premiums without regard to medical condition, and the creation of new exchanges in which people forced to buy their own insurance could find cheaper policies than are currently available.Republicans claim that they want to make medical insurance and care cheaper and give ordinary Americans more choices. But given their drive to kill health reform at any cost, they might well argue that these are programmatic changes whose budgetary impact is “merely incidental.” Democrats would very likely counter that they are so intertwined with other reforms that they are “a necessary term or condition” for other provisions that do affect spending or revenues, which could allow them to be kept in the bill.
Now, who is the Senate Parliamentarian?
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Things I won't be reading today
Newt Gingrich, Christine Todd Whitman, Harold Ford Jr. and others debate how Obama could regain his political footing
Labels: Idiot wind
Friday, August 28, 2009
About the deficit
And finally, Ezra wonders why all these Republicans supported the hugely costly Medicare drug bill and oppose deficit neutral health care reform.
All worth a read, again, if you're even mildly inclined to the wonkish.
"Tying the hands and hooves of our interrogators"
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Elvis is in the building
Jack Nicholson and Paul McCartney (with Nancy Shevell) are in the "Legends Seats" behind the plate, but it's Elvis who just made an amazing play to snag a grounder up the middle 15 feet behind 2nd then make a throw to nail A-Rod at the plate by ten feet. Texas has them a keeper.
And while we're on the subject of the Yankees....yes, the Town Hall nuts are crazyinfuriatingwhackos, but people like this take stoopid to a whole 'nother level.
Delay and pray
The poisonous WaPo editorial pages
Labels: stupid health care tricks
Harold Meyerson remembers.
Ezra Klein explains.
Labels: Ted Kennedy
"No greater champion"
Labels: Ted Kennedy
If you kindly will send me account number or long form birth certificate
Neighbors helping neighbors. I'm sure that's a great comfort to this poor woman and her husband.
Labels: stupid health care tricks
Monday, August 24, 2009
Blue Monday, Etta James & "Cuck Berry" edition
Rationing mental health care
But regardless how we got here, it is encouraging to see that the administration and the leaders of the party are beginning to publicly say that they will push through health care reform through a party line vote if need be. While Obama had to sail the waters of accommodation in order to get the Broder types and other wise men of the Washington media to give him some credit for trying, it had to be clear to him from nearly the beginning that bipartisanship is dead. There was a time when monumental legislation not only could engage bipartisan support, it was a requirement for getting passage of something like the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights era legislation. That was a time when there was still a relatively large faction of moderate Republicans and a similarly large faction of racist southern Democrats. For civil rights legislation to pass, it required the support of the former to overcome the opposition of the latter. Since then the Republicans have been purged of all but a few moderates and the Democrats have been purged of their own embarrassing remnants of Jim Crow Democrats (most of whom merely changed parties).
In recent years, something like Bush's education reform initiatives passed with relatively substantial bipartisan support because Democrats actually support efforts for the government to improve things. On the flip side, Republicans -- in disgrace and with Obama in the White House -- become nihilists, led by liars.
So saith -- and linkith -- Roy:
The sort of thing that's going on now with the right is different in one regard: imputations against Obama of alien ideology -- commie, Nazi, whatever -- aren't coming exclusively from the cheap seats (though there's plenty of that). Representative Michele Bachmann talks about re-education camps. Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich talk about Obama as a euthanasiast. Congressman Paul Braun says Obama's planned expansion of federal volunteer groups like the Peace Corps is "exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did." Republican National Committee leaders tried to get Chairman Steele to escalate his denigration of Democratic policies from "collectivist" to "socialist" -- and he finally got the message. Jeb Bush says he doesn't know whether Obama is a socialist. Senator Jim DeMint says, "we’re about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy." Etc.
This isn't Code Pink -- this is Republican political leadership. They're endorsing the idea that the policies of the duly elected government are not just wrong, but fundamentally illegitimate. That's why I'm disinclined to parse the funding and provenance of the tea parties and health care town halls -- what difference does it make how much FreedomWorks has to do with these eruptions when the leaders of the opposition have already declared Obama, in effect, a foreign agent?
The real danger is not violence but political dementia. The default if not official position of the opposition is that the party in power is literally the enemy of the American way of life. This also soaks up the birther, Obama-is-a-Muslim, and other cults born of a desire to negate the results of the last election. The guys who think Obama was born in Kenya may not get their citizen grand juries credentialed, but they have the comfort of knowing that their comrades don't acknowledge Obama as a real American President, either.
I say, fuck 'em and let the Death Panels sort 'em out.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Man bites dog?
Life expectancy in the United States rose to an all-time high, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. But that's only half the story.
The country is behind about 30 others on this measure.
Though the United States has by far the highest level of health care spending per capita in the world, we have one of the lowest life expectancies among developed nations - lower than Italy, Spain and Cuba and just a smidgeon ahead of Chile, Costa Rica and Slovenia, according to the United Nations. China does almost as well as we do. Japan tops the list at 83 years.
Labels: health care
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Great is the enemy of good
The point is that progressive policy initiatives often begin as narrowly as politically possible, but grow into being much more expansive and effective than their opponents ever wanted. The same is going to be true of health-care reform, if it passes, and particularly if Democrats follow Mark Schmitt's advice and use the reconciliation process in subsequent years to ensure inclusion of some of the more controversial elements of the plan. But none of this can happen if nothing passes -- and make no mistake, Republicans aren't trying to kill end of life counseling. They're not trying to kill the public plan. They're trying to kill reform itself, because they know that even if reform falls far short of liberal expectations today, someday it won't.
I am guessing that's the thinking at the White House as well.
Labels: health care
"Actual" innocence is no defense
“This court has never held,” Justice Scalia wrote, “that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”
The case involves a man on death row -- seven of the "eye witnesses" have since recanted and the main prosecution witness may very well be the murderer.
Labels: death row
Mandates and the public plan
So, in a context where a public plan looks to be dead in the water -- thank you Kent Conrad -- the question is whether progressives should support a regressive tax, the proceeds of which goes to the insurance industry.
If we get the sort of insurance reform that President Obama has proposed, then mandates, or something very much like them, will be necessary at some point. But they will not be necessary from day 1. After all, not everyone is going to rush out to game the insurance system. It will take some period of time before the number of free riders grows enough to be a real problem.
We know that it will be necessary to revisit health care in the not too future in any case. The lack of mandates will help to ensure that this date comes sooner. Then we can talk about measures that will allow us to control costs, like a robust public plan.
But, if we can't get a public plan in this round, why should progressives be pushing for a regressive tax that will go into the pockets of the insurance companies and their overpaid CEOs? Let the insurance companies try to make a living in the market, when they grow up and feel strong enough to compete with a public plan, then we can have mandates.
Labels: stupid health care tricks
Monday, August 17, 2009
Law enforcement against prohibition
Legalization would not create a drug free-for-all. In fact, regulation reins in the mess we already have. If prohibition decreased drug use and drug arrests acted as a deterrent, America would not lead the world in illegal drug use and incarceration for drug crimes.
Drug manufacturing and distribution is too dangerous to remain in the hands of unregulated criminals. Drug distribution needs to be the combined responsibility of doctors, the government, and a legal and regulated free market. This simple step would quickly eliminate the greatest threat of violence: street-corner drug dealing.
We simply urge the federal government to retreat. Let cities and states (and, while we're at it, other countries) decide their own drug policies. Many would continue prohibition, but some would try something new. California and its medical marijuana dispensaries provide a good working example, warts and all, that legalized drug distribution does not cause the sky to fall.
Having fought the war on drugs, we know that ending the drug war is the right thing to do -- for all of us, especially taxpayers. While the financial benefits of drug legalization are not our main concern, they are substantial. In a July referendum, Oakland, Calif., voted to tax drug sales by a 4-to-1 margin. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that ending the drug war would save $44 billion annually, with taxes bringing in an additional $33 billion.
Without the drug war, America's most decimated neighborhoods would have a chance to recover. Working people could sit on stoops, misguided youths wouldn't look up to criminals as role models, our overflowing prisons could hold real criminals, and -- most important to us -- more police officers wouldn't have to die.
Two former Baltimore police officers would know.
The tree of crazy
The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.
So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny. When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. "What's the matter, madam?" he asked. "What can I do for you?" The woman responded with self-righteous fury: "Well, if you don't know I can't help you."
The various elements -- the liberal earnestly confused when rational dialogue won't hold sway; the anti-liberal rage at a world self-evidently out of joint; and, most of all, their mutual incomprehension -- sound as fresh as yesterday's news. (Internment camps for conservatives? That's the latest theory of tea party favorite Michael Savage.)
You can go back even earlier. In 1864, the Democratic Party invented a new word to attempt to scare voters from re-electing Abraham Lincoln and to end Republican Party dominance of Union politics: Miscegenation.
It didn't work in 1864, when Northern voters were more concerned with ending (by winning -- Atlanta had just been burned) the Civil War then they were with fears that newly emancipated Negroes would marry their sisters and daughters. Are we
smarter as wise today when the stakes, though large, are not quite so high?
Labels: right wing extremism
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Piling up the hits
Helmets and concussions
“I’m not wearing it. There’s got to be a way to have a more protective helmet without all that padding. It’s brutal. We’re going to look like a bunch of clowns out there.” — Jeff Francoeur, New York Mets outfielder.
Francoeur offered that assessment after seeing a prototype of the new Rawlings helmet. The company and an independent testing organization say the helmet can withstand a 100-m.p.h. fastball; most other models are compromised in excess of 70 m.p.h.
I can tell you, Francouer doesn't need any help in looking stupid at the plate. But I wonder if even Francoeur feels differently after seeing David Wright motionless on the ground.
Labels: baseball is cruel
Saturday, August 15, 2009
And to think, he almost beat his career to death
Friday, August 14, 2009
The vast rightwing...
Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party’s last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator, the nature of the assertion nonetheless seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality.
But the rumor — which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false — was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists.Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).
It is encouraging that the New York Times recognizes this and is calling bullshit on it. But as long as the Chuck Grassley's of the world are considered Very Serious People, then real reform is doomed.
Going Galt on his customers
Labels: consumer paradise
Thursday, August 13, 2009
"Free" "market" "health" "care"
When Remote Area Medical, the Tennessee-based organization running the event, decided to try its hand at large urban medical services, its principals thought Los Angeles would be a good place to start. But they were far from prepared for the outpouring of need. Set up for eight days of care, the group was already overwhelmed on the first day after allowing 1,500 people through the door, nearly 500 of whom had still not been served by day’s end and had to return in the wee hours Wednesday morning.
The enormous response to the free care was a stark corollary to the hundreds of Americans who have filled town-hall-style meetings throughout the country, angrily expressing their fear of the Obama administration’s proposed changes to the nation’s health care system. The bleachers of patients also reflected the state’s high unemployment, recent reduction in its Medicaid services for the poor and high deductibles and co-payments that have come to define many employer-sponsored insurance programs.
Many of those here said they lacked insurance, but many others said they had coverage but not enough to meet all their needs — or that they could afford. Some said they were well aware of the larger national health care debate, and were eager for changes.
I guess this is what they mean when they say we can't insure those 47 million Americans who currently don't have insurance -- the lines would be too long.
Ms. Garcia’s husband, Jorge, who was laid off from his custodial job last October, arrived from their home — a 90-minute drive away — at 4 p.m. on Tuesday to get the family’s spot in line.But the Garcias’ number never came up, so they slept in their car for a few hours and lined up again early Wednesday morning, awaiting a chance to get root canals and cleanings that Ms. Garcia figured were worth thousands of dollars. They made a friend in the bleachers outside, who gave the family some coffee and hot biscuits for breakfast.
Labels: health care
Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.
Mr. Paul’s style encompassed the twang of country music, the harmonic richness of jazz and, later, the bite of rock ’n’ roll. For all his technological impact, though, he remained a down-home performer whose main goal, he often said, was to make people happy.
And he was still playing every Monday night at Iridium in New York City.
I never pay for it
The ballad of "Dusty" Foggo
The demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had transformed Mr. Foggo from a fringe player into the C.I.A.’s indispensable man. Before the 9/11 attacks, the Frankfurt base was a relatively sleepy resupply center, running one or two flights a month to outlying stations. Within days of the attacks, Mr. Foggo had a budget of $7 million, which quickly tripled.
He managed dozens of employees, directing nearly daily flights of cargo planes loaded with pallets of supplies, including saddles, bridles and horse feed for the mounted tribal forces that the spy agency recruited. Within weeks, he emptied the C.I.A.’s stockpile of AK-47s and ammunition at a Midwest depot.
He was a logical choice for the prison project: aggressive, resourceful, patriotic, ready to dispense a favor; some inside the C.I.A. jokingly compared him to Milo Minderbinder, the fictional character who rose from mess hall officer to the black-market magnate of Joseph Heller’s World War II novel “Catch-22.”
Early in the fight against Al Qaeda, agency officials relied heavily on American allies to help detain people suspected of terrorism in makeshift facilities in countries like Thailand. But by the time two C.I.A. officials met with Mr. Foggo in 2003, that arrangement was under threat, according to people briefed on the situation. In Thailand, for example, local officials were said to be growing uneasy about a black site outside Bangkok code-named Cat’s Eye. (The agency would eventually change the code name for the Thai prison, fearing it would appear racially insensitive.) The C.I.A. wanted its own, more permanent detention centers.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
"I couldn't believe this was happening to me," says Emanuel, who in addition to spending his career opposing euthanasia and working to increase the quality of care for dying patients is the brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "It is incredible how much one's reputation can be besmirched and taken out of context." (See pictures of health care for the uninsured.)
It would only get worse. Within days, the Post article, with selective and misleading quotes from Emanuel's 200 or so published academic papers, went viral. Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann, a fierce opponent of Obama's reform plans, read large portions of it on the House floor. "Watch out if you are disabled!" she warned. Days later, in an online posting, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin attacked Emanuel's "Orwellian thinking," which she suggested would lead to a "downright evil" system that would employ a "death panel" to decide who gets lifesaving health care. By Aug. 10, hysteria had begun to take over in places. Mike Sola, whose son has cerebral palsy, turned up at a Michigan town-hall meeting to shout out concerns about what he regarded as Obama and Emanuel's plans to deny treatment to their family. Later, in an interview on Fox News, Sola held up the Post article. "Every American needs to read this," he declared. (Read "What Health-Care Reform Really Means.")By this point, Emanuel, who has a sister who suffers from cerebral palsy, had arrived in northern Italy, where he planned to spend a week on vacation, hiking in the Dolomites. Instead, he found himself calling the White House, offering to book a plane home to defend his name. "As an academic, what do you have? You have the quality of your work and the integrity with which you do it," he said by phone from the Italian Alps. "If it requires canceling a week's long vacation, what's the big deal?"
It's funny he was in Italy. Because "quality" and "integrity" are foreign words to Betsey McCaughey.
But it is important to note that Time's Michael Scherer is calling bullshit on this.
In her Post article, McCaughey paints the worst possible image of Emanuel, quoting him, for instance, endorsing age discrimination for health-care distribution, without mentioning that he was only addressing extreme cases like organ donation, where there is an absolute scarcity of resources. She quotes him discussing the denial of care for people with dementia without revealing that Emanuel only mentioned dementia in a discussion of theoretical approaches, not an endorsement of a particular policy. She notes that he has criticized medical culture for trying to do everything for a patient, "regardless of the cost or effects on others," without making clear that he was not speaking of lifesaving care but of treatments with little demonstrated value. "No one who has read what I have done for 25 years would come to the conclusions that have been put out there," says Emanuel. "My quotes were just being taken out of context."
Maybe a Bible would have been better?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Where's the outrage?!
Losing the message war?
AJC columnist Jay Bookman noticed that in the latest Investors Business Daily editorial about how the 'death panel' will condemn all handicapped or disabled people to death on some horrid wind-swept mountain, the editors note that ...People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.
Needless to say, Hawking, who is recognized as one of the great theoretical physicists of the 20th and 21st century, was born in the UK and has lived his entire life there.
Labels: stupid health care tricks
Monday, August 10, 2009
We're prepared to compromise
A text message...from Teixeira
Sunday, August 09, 2009
The Sunday funny papers
Matt Bai concurs, but finds refreshing the wit of a man who does indeed find much of what he's dealing with absurd and many of the people around him absurder still.
Obama is hardly the first television-age president to employ a sometimes unsettling wit. John Kennedy remarked in advance of the 1960 campaign that his father had asked him not to buy too many votes because he wasn’t about to pay for a landslide, and presidents have long turned to professional joke writers to humanize them. What makes Obama’s humor more combustible isn’t just its spontaneity but also its distinctly postmodern, Seinfeldian premise. There’s an absurdist quality to the president’s less serious side, a sense that he woke up this morning to find himself occupying this singularly bizarre place in American life and that he has just now become aware that he’s the only sane guy in the room.
This was the impulse he displayed last year when the Democratic candidates were asked in a debate before the Nevada caucuses to disclose their own weaknesses. Obama, answering first, admitted that he inclined toward messiness, while Hillary Clinton and John Edwards self-servingly confessed to caring too gosh-darn much about other people. “If I had gone last, I would have known what the game was,” Obama joked afterward, with mock bewilderment. “I could have said: ‘Well, you know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don’t want to be helped. It’s terrible.’ ” More recently, Obama sounded mystified by plans for a new presidential helicopter. “The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me,” he remarked dryly. “Of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before, you know? Maybe I’ve been deprived and I didn’t know it.” Other presidents mastered the telling of the canned political joke. Obama’s shtick is that he finds such stagecraft, the falsity and pomposity of modern politics, to be as laughable as we do.Such a perspective is entirely new in the White House, born perhaps of the same deconstructionist ethos that gave us “The Simpsons” and The Onion — self-aware acts of ridicule that would have seemed wholly out of place in the age of “All in the Family.” Our more recent presidents, reared in the age after the Great Depression and World War II, have tended to be deeply earnest types, class presidents and conventional insiders, the kind of men who affixed their flag pins to their lapels without a second thought. Parody, on the other hand, is an act of subversion, the province of the kid in the back row who refuses to grant the institution its inherent authority. In such moments of transgression, Obama seems inherently uncomfortable with the garish décor of the imperial presidency. With each self-mocking digression, he registers a small blow against the excessive reverence for the office that made possible, in some measure, the missteps of his predecessor.
Elsewhere in the same paper, Charlie Savage writes that Obama may also have decided that voters expecting him to deliver on his campaign promises are absurder still.
WASHINGTON — President Obama has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass dozens of provisions of bills enacted into law since he took office, provoking mounting criticism by lawmakers from both parties.
President George W. Bush, citing expansive theories about his constitutional powers, set off a national debate in 2006 over the propriety of signing statements — instructions to executive officials about how to interpret and put in place new laws — after he used them to assert that he could authorize officials to bypass laws like a torture ban and oversight provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
In the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama called Mr. Bush’s use of signing statements an “abuse,” and said he would issue them with greater restraint. The Obama administration says the signing statements the president has signed so far, challenging portions of five bills, have been based on mainstream interpretations of the Constitution and echo reservations routinely expressed by presidents of both parties.
Still, since taking office, Mr. Obama has relaxed his criteria for what kinds of signing statements are appropriate. And last month several leading Democrats — including Representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts and David R. Obey of Wisconsin — sent a letter to Mr. Obama complaining about one of his signing statements.
“During the previous administration, all of us were critical of the president’s assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of Congressional statutes he was required to enforce,” they wrote. “We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude.”
However, the story does make clear that it's a a matter of degree. Obama has shown a great deal of restraint when compared to the constitutional abuses of his predecessor, and he's supported by a number of officials from the Clinton adminstration who say that signing statements allow an important bill to go into law despite flaws in its composition. Most importantly, the Obama administration hasn't evoked the "Unitary Executive" theory under which the Bush administration ruled as though the other branches were subservient to the Executive. In other words, I'm not too worried about this alleged abuse of power, though I am gladdened that Congress is pushing its perogatives in ways it tended to avoid the previous eight years.
Still, two central characteristics of Obama's administration seem to be a tendency to be embarrassed by the trappings of the gilded presidency and at the same time protective of its Constitutional power.
UPDATED for syntax.
Labels: Obama administration
Friday, August 07, 2009
Projection? You're soaking in it
Gog and Magog
Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”
This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”
After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn’t comply with Bush’s request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal. Dr. Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel. Jehovah vows to smite them savagely, to “turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws,” and slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament, the mystical book of Revelation envisions Gog and Magog gathering nations for battle, “and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”
I suspect seeing video like this is getting people equally angry and engaged.
Labels: Fuck You 08
As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don't agree. Today, I'm going to step over that line.
The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.
There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress -- I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.
Read the whole thing, as it's important, but he concludes,
Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.
If health reform is to be anyone's Waterloo, let it be theirs.
Labels: held hostage by Republicans
The second coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
The irony of yammering to seniors about the evils of government-financed care is always notable, as is the selfish appeal. In 1965, liberals enacted Medicare, perhaps the most radical social engineering project in American history. Some liberals believe that this was a strategic error, because it shrunk the constituency for truly universal coverage. I love my parents too much to go that far.
Unfortunately, Republican rhetoric hits a nerve with millions of vulnerable seniors who rely on large (and growing) public resources, and who understandably worry that young people will grow weary of paying the bill. They hear vague talk that health reform will cost $1 trillion-a number trumpeted without context or timeframe by most commentators. Seniors understandably fear that this will come from them. At a gut level, conversations about cost-effectiveness--even rhetoric trumpeting prevention-has frightening undertones to anyone beset with a costly chronic illness.
At a deeper level, these talking points go beyond the usual Medicare politics and pander. Seniors comprise right-wing talk-radio's core audience, but the anxiety extends beyond retired ditto-heads. A conspicuous number of scare stories pitched to seniors suggest that the main beneficiaries of health reform will be various frightening others. These listeners have endured dizzying social change, ranging from gay marriage to the rise of immigrants (legal and illegal) as a powerful political and demographic force. This predominantly white group watched an unprecedented youth vote fuel the unlikely ascendance of a black president with an Islamic middle name.
For millions of older people, America suddenly seems very different from the country they once knew. So when President Obama asks seniors to trust him as they trusted many Democrats before him, even his remarkable persuasive powers sometimes fall short.
Labels: held hostage by Republicans
NPR's relationship with Fox News
Labels: Hail the Internets
The bus drivers
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Why look, there's an idling, empty bus
There is a certain irony in an administration denouncing ordinary Americans who get together to express what they believe and to confront authority, when that administration is led by a man who began his career as a community organizer, whose job, as I understand it, is to take ordinary Americans, get them together to express what they believe, and express demands against the authorities.
So it's unbelievably hypocritical. And, of course, as we just heard, this only happens when you have a conservative protest. It is called a mob. If it’s a liberal protest, it is called grassroots expressing themselves.
Remember, just a year ago under the Bush administration, dissent was the highest form of patriotism. And today it is a kind of either organized anger, it's a facsimile of anger, it's unpatriotic, it's whatever.
Look, there is a genuine revolt against the idea of remaking a [health-care] system when over 80 percent of Americans have health insurance. Five of six of those are happy with their health care, and four of five are happy with their health insurance.
You have an administration arrogantly deciding it is going to tear it all up, start all over, and people are surprised that there are protests, and say that it had to be manufactured? Of course it is spontaneous. [If] people go together on a bus, that's entirely legitimate, and it ought to be encouraged.
"If people go together on a bus" to this entirely spontaneous demonstration of American political dissent.
Of course, his other points are just as salient.
- Dissent was encouraged during the Bush administration
- I guess it depends on who you mean by "ordinary Americans"
- Yes, there's "genuine revolt" over the idea of remaking health care in this country
"And they eat your brains"
And this is the point:
[T]hat's exactly what's happening in Congress. Indeed, the very rules of the Senate empower mobilized minorities over majorities even when those majorities are mobilized, too. When the filibuster is employed, it takes 60 percent of the Senate, not 50 percent plus one, to enact legislation.
The rise of the filibuster should give constitutional originalists some pause.... Simply put, that number means that the Senate now runs by minority rule. A more corrosive attack on the first principle of democracy, that of majority rule, is hard to conceive. The increasingly routine use of the filibuster stymies the efficacy of government (in itself a conservative objective) and negates the consequences of elections.
But minority rule is what today's Republicans are all about. Hence we see disruption in the districts and stagnation in the Senate. When and whether the majority will bestir itself to reestablish democracy's first principle is anybody's guess. Abolishing the filibuster would be a good start -- and perhaps a necessary step to enact to big changes like health reform.
Good point. Republicans on the Hill and the Republicans in the base seem to be operating under a bizarre assumption: he who throws the biggest tantrum wins. It's no way for a political system to operate.
"I'm with stupid" seems to be the fashion statement du jour for these people.
They mean, of course, the angry mobs at Palin rallies, but this has been the Right wing playbook for eight long years, if not 40.
The Clintons attack!
Mrs. Clinton was deeply involved in the case, too. She proposed sending various people to Pyongyang — including Mr. Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore — to lobby for the release of the women, before Mr. Clinton emerged as the preferred choice of the North Koreans, people briefed on the talks said.
Another politically connected husband sent on a "junket" by his spouse. What a scandal.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
The rivers bile
But they grow increasingly frightening in their rage.
The birther movement is a natural combination of two political/cultural phenomena. The first is the illegitimate crowd. That is, the Beltway insiders who have played havoc with the last three Democrat presidents, painting them as Outsiders who didn't deserve to be in the White House. Carter was from Billyland and Clinton was white trash with a health care agenda and a penis. Neither of them would be accepted in "polite" Washington society. Obama came into office conscious of that, and has stocked his administration with former Congressional employees who know their way around Capitol Hill. But Obama, himself, was a 1/3-term Senator, a fact that drives batshit insane one or two prominent senators who happen to be in the rolodexes of every network and NPR producer.
The second is the White Minority Victim phenomenon, aka, White Supremacists. The fact that a black man is in the White House is so psychologically disturbing -- at a time when their societal standing -- and income -- have been eroding for years -- it drives them to a rage that makes me wonder what the Secret Service is thinking about these days.
Add to that coordinated, violent attacks on our creeping socialist experiment called universal health care and we've got quite a toxic mix. Can draft riots be far behind?
Labels: white supremacists
Red state economic success
Labels: Idiot wind
Brooks Bros. Riots
Monday, August 03, 2009
Blue Monday, Richard Manuel edition
Labels: The Band
Because Lyle Alzado says so?
Sunday, August 02, 2009
If I told you all that went down it would burn off both your ears
Labels: Jerry Garcia