Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Department of Irony:

Hank Aaron: former Milwaukee Brave, Atlanta Brave, and Milwaukee Brewer; Hall of Famer; holder of the Major League record for career home runs with 755; one of the greatest players of alltime; and according to Politico.com...

-has supported black voter registration drives in the Deep South
-participated in the successful gubernatorial election of Roy Barnes and Zell Miller in Georgia;
-has been involved in the successful campaigns of his brother-in-law for the Georgia legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives;
-appeared shortly before the 2000 Presidential election with Bill Clinton ("the first black President") before 25,000 people at an event at a high school football stadium;
-attended a Georgia fundraiser earlier this year for Senator Clinton's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination (and has contributed to her Senate and presidential campaigns);
-and, although not noted by Politico, publicly criticized at the National Press Club the reluctance of the Major Leagues to promote minorities into management.

Barry Bonds: as of this writing, with 754 career home runs, about to break Aaron's record; once a Pittsburgh Pirate, for many years now a San Francisco Giant; one of the greatest players ever; reputed, though not proven, prolific user of steroids (has not flatly denied use, but claimed he was unaware they were steroids he had been prescribed); and according to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome "is not politicllly involved at all in town. Even before the whole steroid thing happened, he was never really courted politically."

In an ESPN/ABC news poll conducted in April of 2007, baseball fans were asked whether they were rooting for Bonds to break Aarons' record or for him to fall short. The results:
overall: 37% in favor, 52% against, 11% no opinion
blacks: 74% in favor, 18% against, 9% no opinion
whites: 28% in favor, 60% against, 12% no opinion

Go figure.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Republican Media- No. 4

One evening last week, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown named Ann Coulter his "Worst Person in the World." She recently had written "Fox News ought to buy a copy of Monday's Democratic debate on CNN to play over and over during the general election campaign.... because it was so filled with liberal conspiracy theories that would frighten normal Americans." Olbermann asks whether Coulter really meant that the Republican Party should play the tape repeatedly- unless, of course, Fox News really is the "advertising arm of the Republican Party," as he so cogently put it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

There was, I think, a revealing statement made today by Newt Gingrich on GOP News Sunday, hosted by Chris Wallace. The former House Speaker remarked "I think the Republicans have three major choices in Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson (but) I think Senator McCain has taken positions so deeply at odds with his party's base that I don't see how he can get the nomination."

I'll grant you immigration (illegal immigration). But would this be the same John McCain who, according to ontheissues.org, has received a 0% rating by the American Civil Liberties Union (12/02); a 0% rating by the National Abortion Rights Action League (12/03); and an 83% rating by the Christian Coalition (12/03)? And the same John McCain who has been the most ardent and visible Republican supporter in the United States Congress of Gulf War II? Why, yes, it would be.

And would this be the same Rudy Giuliani, who, before his recent conversion of convenience, was supportive of gay rights, gun control, and abortion rights(including partial birth abortion)? And who, according to right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter, opposed welfare reform and the nomination of Bill Clinton? Why, yes, it would be. But it is the same Rudy Giuliani who is running against the estate tax, paid on estates worth over $2,000,000, affecting the wealthiest 2% of Americans. One might be cynical enough to conclude, if Gingrich is correct, that cultural issues (or Iraq) really aren't that important anymore to the movers-and-shakers of the Republican Party.
"There's a skirmish of wit between them. Much ado about nothing."
Mr. William Shakespeare
"Much Ado About Nothing"
Scene 1, Act 1

In the most famous exchange of the recent Democratic debate, held at The Citadel, a questioner asked whether the candidates would "be willing to meet separately, without precondition,during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?"
Senator Obama, before conjuring up (his) memories of Ronald Wilson Reagan and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, responded "I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration- is ridiculous."

Senator Clinton retorted "Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I thik it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes..."
Then the quarrel heated up. Clinton spokesman Phil Singer argued that his client "understands that it is a mistake to commit the power and prestige of America's presidency years ahead of time by making such a blanket commitment." Clinton aide Madeline Albright stated "you can't just show up and have an event." Clinton herself in Iowa's Quad City Times characterized Obama's comment as "irresponsible and frankly naive." Obama responded in the same newspaper "I didn't say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon." And he added that what was "irresponsible and naive" was voting to authorize the Iraq war.

Clinton was right, of course, that the groundwork must be laid before discussions between heads of state, which Obama seems to acknowledge by noting that he wasn't proposing an afternoon tea. Similarly, ABC News reports that in a pre-debate interview with a Miami Herald reporter, the Illinois senator contended that he would meet with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez only "under certain conditions." And Obama was right when he unearthed a Clinton quote from April, "I think it is a terrible mistake for our President to say he will not talk with bad people" and right on target when he referred to the spat as "a fabricated controversy." Clinton herself indirectly acknowledged the context of the debate, when her answer included "but I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration." Right. And whether a Clinton or Obama administration, the President will be open to discussions with any country, with proper preparation, under the right circumstances. Much ado about nothing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Some reflections on comments made by MSNBC (on their bi-weekly Super Tuesday) pertaining to the July 20, 2007 Democratic debate at the Citadel:

Charlie Cook of Cook Political Report said that it's easy to overrate the importance of any of these debates, that one way of viewing a debate is whether it upset the order of the race. It did not, as he pointed out. And as to the importance of the debates: the most searing memory I have of the GOP debates thus far is Senator McCain, more than once, forcefully defending the war in Iraq. He's wrong on the issue, of course, but he appeared confident, committed, and principled. And he has sunk like a rock.

Patrick Buchanan argued that the fellow from Michigan who brandished his rifle and referred to it as his "baby" represented real Americans that Democrats have to appeal to. No, Pat. Democrats have to appeal to gun owners and to those NRA members (not synonymous)for whom gun control is not their primary concern. But most of these would refer to a gun as their "baby," and they will not vote Democratic anyway. For the vast majority of Americans, some other issue such as national security, fear of terrorism, high taxation, immigration/illegal immigration, mediocre education, inadequate health care, or Social Security ranks higher. If registering your weapon, or not being able to obtain one if you're mentally ill (well, in some states), is your primary concern in life, you either should be congratulated for living a blessed, secure and sheltered life- or you're a criminal.

Host for the hour Andrea Mitchell and journalist Eugene Robinson agreed that John Edwards should not have criticized Hillary Clinton's jacket when, toward the end of the debate, each candidate was asked to say something he/she liked and disliked about the candidate to his/her left. They disapproved of a male candidate being negative about the clothing as, Mitchell put it, the only female candidate. But the former North Carolina Senator was obviously merely trying not to take too seriously a question which should not have been taken seriously. (In fact, Joe Biden would term it a "ridiculous exercise.") And Edwards was not asked to comment on anyone else. We may be on the verge of "making history" (as Senator Clinton and her supporters are not shy in emphasizing), but we still must be condescending toward women, treating them differently, more deferentially, than men. Or at least that's the way Andrea Mitchell and some who consider others to be sexist would have it.
Contrasting Styles At Democratic Debate

Despite the nature of last night's Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, there were these moments of substance:

Senator Obama, in an obvious swipe at Senator Clinton: "...but what I also know is that the time for us to ask how we were going to get out of Iraq is before we went in." After the Illinois Senator commented further, followed by applause, did Anderson Cooper question Mrs. Clinton about the remark? "To the question of, did the troops- Are the troops dying in vain, though. Yes or no?" (Generously, we can call that "conflict-averse"; not so generously, more conspiratorily, that Cooper did not want to press Clinton on Obama's big issue, that he is the one Senator on stage who voted against authorizing the war.)

Former Senator Edwards on gay marriage in a response to Reverend Longcrier: "But I personally have been on a journey on this issue. I feel enormous conflict about it. As I think a lot of people know... my wife Elizabeth... actually supports gay marriage. I do not. But this is a very, very difficult issue for me. And I recognize and have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it." John, we know you are thoughtful. And conflicted. And respectful of the opinions of others, especially those of your wife. That, in the minds of many voters, is what separates Democrats from Republicans. Republicans seem so self-assured- or arrogant. The "no apologies" party. The "Daddy Party." Try this, given your views. "I support full partnership benefits for everyone, regardless of sexual preference, how they were born, fully assured of God's love. But I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and do not support legalizing gay marriage."

But John Edwards had what I believe was the best, most meaningful moment of the debate, contrasting himself to Clinton and Obama: "And the question is, do you believe compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don't. I think the people who are powerful in Washington- big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies- they are notgoing to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power. The only way that they are going to give away their power is if we take it away from them."

And you know I can't get through a blog of this sort without criticizing Hillary Clinton. Rob Porter from Irvine, California asked Mrs. Clinton "would you use this word (liberal) to define yourself?" After taking 194 words to describe herself as "a modern progressive," Clinton was asked by Cooper "So you wouldn't use the word "liberal," you'd say progressive?" HRC nodded, to applause.
How about this, Senator? "Yes, I am a liberal. I'm in favor of clean air, clean water, and national parks we all are proud of, despite assaults from special interests. I'm in favor of good wages for all Americans, and distressed at the record high of mortgage foreclosures we've recently seen in our country. I'm in favor of equal opportunity- not necessarily equal outcomes- for everyone, regardless of race, religion, or gender. And I'm in favor of a leader who is strong enough to pursue diplomacy first, to talk with our enemies when necessary so our people are safe and secure, and to resort to war not as a first, but as a last, option. And I'll be that President starting January 21, 2009."
But embracing the word "liberal" requires courage.
A YouTube Debate: Ridiculous

How deep have we become mired in artificial (computer technology once was referred to as "artificial intelligence") superficiality?
Last night's CNN/YouTube Democratic Presidential debate was shallow, inspid, a stunt. Nevertheless, I am pretentious enough to comment on some of the questions and responses (my comments in parentheses).

Zach Kempf in Provo, Utah, before lapsing into his 128-word question: "What's up? I'm running out of tape. I have to hurry." (Are we really interested in Zach's schedule?)

Unidentified (third questioner): "All of you say you'll be able to work with Republicans. Well, here's a test..." (O.K,. I get it- you're the teacher, the one with the knowledge, and we're the uninformed students.)

Unidentified questioner: "Is (sic) African-Americans ever going to get reparations for slavery? I know you all are going to run around this question, dipping and dodging, so let's see how far you all can get." (Wrong. Three candidates were queried- Edwards and Richardson against, Kucinich in favor.)
Mary and Jen: "If you were elected President of the United States, would you allow us to be married to each other?" Good question, and after the response of Dennis Kucinich and before those of Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson, host Anderson Cooper helpfully rephrased the question: "Senator Dodd, you supported the Defense of Marriage Act. What's your position?" An even better question would have been: "Senators Dodd and Biden, you alone among the candidates were in the United States Senate at the time President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Were you right to support a bill which in part defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman?"
Mitch from Philadelphia, before implying in his 116-word question that he's opposed to a pullout from Iraq: "Are we watching the same blankin' war? I certainly wasn't a big fan of the invasion/liberation..." (Please, tell us more about your "blankin" anger.)

Unidentified questioner, mother of an American soldier: "How many more soldiers must die while these political games continue in our government?..." (What exactly are these "political games?" And who is playing them? Are, say, George W. Bush, General Petraeus, and John Murtha "playing games?")

Unidentified questioner: "Dear Presidential candidates, see those flags over my shoulder? They covered the coffins of my grandfather, my father, and my oldest son. Someday, mine will join them..." And how many family members do you have serving in uniform?" (John McCain served; so did Jim Webb. Note to Chris Matthews and others: service in the military does not bind someone to a pro- or anti- war position.)
Another "questioner": "Hey, there, my name's Jackie Broyles. And I'm Dunlap." (went on to ask numerous questions about Al Gore in a Southern accent- Aren't we so impressed with ourselves making fun of Southerners?)

Anderson Cooper: "Senator Obama, are the soldiers dying in vain?" (Anderson, these folks are running for President of the United States. None of them is going to say American soldiers are dying in vain, so I regret that you are being denied participation in the sound bite of the century... True, Senator Gravel stated that the soldiers are dying in vain, but he can afford to be honest, given that he's not going to be nominated for President, Vice-President, or anything else. The former Alaska Senator could form his own political party- and be denied its nomination.)

Sheena Currell: "I'm from (inaudible), South Carolina. Who was your favorite teacher and why? (And what's your favorite color?)

Jered Townsend from Clio, Michigan: "Tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe. (Brandishing a rife) this is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban. Tell me your views on gun control." Joe Biden, pithily: "I'll tell you what, if that is his baby, he needs help." A good moment, which obscures the likelihood that a meaningful answer could have been elicited if the debate sponsors hadn't gone for the cheap and dramatic visual with the outrageous characterization of a weapon (allegedly illegally obtained) as a baby. Rather, the candidates should have been asked their views on registration, straw purchases, and/or other specifics about gun control; or asked how an effective gun control measure, one which is not circumvented as the questioner bragged he had, can be enacted.

And Senator Biden had the best comment of them all, in response to the question from Jason Koop (is this guy related to C. Everett Koop?) of Colorado Springs: "... I would like for each of you to look to the candidate to your left and tell the audience one thing you like and one thing you dislike about that particular candidate. And remember, be honest." (Because as we all know, politicans always are honest when you tell them to be.) "Dennis (Kucinich) and I have been friends for twenty-five years. I think this is a ridiculous exercise." He didn't mean it in regard to the format of the debate itself, but could have.

This is not to say that the questioners are vacuous, thoughtless, or even especially self-indulgent. Other debates have included from the public questions which were on-point, eliciting somewhat revealing answers. The problem is with the YouTube format. Sure, it's possible that this silly superficiality is the wave of the future. But why now? You want a sound system for your car that not only is technologically advanced, but which works. And if your car tires are the latest in technology, but haven't been tested, I don't want to be your passenger.
Crime: The Next Wedge Issue?

This is not good for our side.
Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a frequent guest on The Chris Matthews Show (Sundays, MSNBC) and generally liberal. John McLaughlin is generally (though decreasingly) conservative, once a member of the Nixon Administration and longtime host of The McLaughlin Group, sometimes referred to as a "political food fight" (at least as entertaining, more substantive), taped on Fridays but seen as late as Sunday in some markets.
What do they have in common? Both this past weekend predicted that crime will be a major issue in the next Presidential election. I'm old enough to remember when the 1968 Nixon campaign emphasized "crime in the streets" with its obvious racial overtones. If resurrected in some form now, the overtones would be more subtle. Nevertheless, it sounds like one of those cultural "wedge" issues Republicans frequently drag out to drown out the economic concerns of the American people.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Republican Media- No. 3

On January 20, 2007 CNN analyst Bill Schneider said Republican primary voters "admire Rudy Giuliani's record on terrorism..."

So let's go over the record. On September 11, 2001 Mayor Giuliani rushed to the scene of the second World Trade Center bombing, the first having taken place in 1993. He would have gone to the city's Emergency Command Center, but that was in the World Trade Center, notwithstanding the 1993 attack and the recommendations of his security advisers to move it out of there. (His successor has moved it to Brooklyn, as Giuliani's top security man had advised Rudy.) So Giuliani, the Fire Department brass, and the Police Department brass met briefly at the FDNY command post near the World Trade Center, whereupon Giuliani and his entire 25-member inner circle headed uptown until, one hour after the attack, they finally found a command center. Of course, according to current requirements of the Department of Homeland Security and the mayor's own protocol, a unified command post was necessary. But if one had been quickly established, the Mayor wouldn't have had all that time to walk the streets of lower Manhattan, charming the press, reassuring the public, and making no significant decisions, while Police Commissioner (and former Giuliani bodyguard) Kerik was concerned with little other than keeping the Mayor safe.(Two-time NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly: "I don't know de facto who was in charge.") Admittedly, it would not have been so critical had the police and fire officials been able to communicate with each other, but they couldn't, a failing which apparently had never disturbed the mayor. Giuliani had replaced the Fire Department's radios, which had failed in the 1993 attack. Replaced them in early 2001 with other radios, which were promptly found not to work. So, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters, some firefighters never heard the two orders on the morning of 9/11/01 to evacuate the North Tower- and 121 firefighters died as a result while all police officers safely made their way out. Then when the Mayor appeared before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States, he told Kean, Hamilton, et al. that the firefighters disobeyed the command to leave.
Leadership. That's Rudy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Debating Terrorism In South Carolina

At the Democratic Presidential debate in April, 2007 in South Carolina, moderator Brian Williams asked the candidates "Do you believe there is such a thing as a 'global war on terror'?" Not surprisingly, Hillary Rodham Clinton, always anxious to prove that a woman can be as tough on the "bad guys" as a man, shot up her arm, and Senator Obama followed suit.
John Edwards did not. Later, he would explain "it's been used to justify a whole series of things that are not justifiable, ranging from the war in Iraq, to torture, to violation of the civil liberties of Americans, to illegal spying on Americans."
Of course he's right, and when an Administration spokesman told Mike Allen of Time "'war on terror' is what I think resonates most with the country," the cat was let out of the bag, the political origin of the phrase laid bare. Further, not all "terror" is "terrorism." Merriam-Webster defines "terror" as "a state of intense fear," not unlike my last encounter with a roller coaster, but accusing Six Flags of being a terrorist organization would be a little much.
But I'll dispense with semantics, so as not to be accused of fondness for "nuance," which was not helpful in 2004 to candidate Kerry, though perhaps the "nuances" helped him dominate the incumbent in three consecutive debates.
The real problem with Edwards' charge that Bush's "war on terror" is a "bumper sticker slogan," as he explained to the Council on Foreign Relations, is that it is merely a bumper sticker slogan. Think diversion of soldiers from Afghanistan to Iraq paving the way for a resurgent Al-Qaeda (the global Al-Qaeda, not AQI). Think an anti-satellite weapon successfully tested by the world's largest nation, by its Communist regime, as part of arguably the most rapid expansion of armed forces in the world. Think supporting an immigration policy bringing delight to GOP corporate paymasters while further endangering national security. Think 5% (5%!) of the cargo entering our ports being inspected- and trying to turn port security over to the United Arab Emirates. This Administration is as devoted to a war on terrorism as it is to the concept of open government. (O.K., a little more.) The GOP is vulnerable to a charge that its leadership, and its Stepfords in Congress, have done little to make Americans feel safe. This is a potent political argument, far more so than convincing Americans that this crew has endangered civil liberties- which to most people is an abstract concept. And in a time when the Secretary of Homeland Security can raise the "threat level" arbitrarily (we've been down that road before) to yellow, red, or whatever the political requirement of the time is, beware of the whispering campaign characterizing supporters of Constitutional rights as "effete," out-of-touch, or failing to "support the troops." Moreover, if this country is hit before the next Presidential election with another terrorist attack (and given how terrorist organizations have prospered under this Republican President, they may want another), Democrats cannot allow themselves to be portrayed as the party that embraced "rights" at the expense of "security."
Sure, this assumes that the GOP would present simplistic, narrow-minded, distorted arguments. Uh-oh.

Monday, July 16, 2007

GOP Senators Not Supporting The Troops

On July 7, 2007 I posted a blog arguing that the recent statements by Republic Senators Lugar, Voinovich, and Domenici nearly challenging President Bush's policy in Iraq were vague and offered little indication of their vote on legislation which mught come up this autumn to curtail, or end, the fighting.

We did not have to wait until fall. On July 10, 2007 the U.S. Senate rejected cloture on an Amendment introduced by freshman Senator Jim Webb (D.-Va.) mandating that members of the Armed Forces who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan remain at home for at least as long (generally a year) as they had served before they are redeployed to the Gulf. Members of the National Guard and the Reserves would remain at home a minimum of three years.

Senators Lugar, Voinovich, and Domenici were among the 40 Republic Senators (and Joe Lieberman) who voted against cloture. (No Democrat voted to continue debate, and three Senators did not vote.)

So much for questioning Bush. So much for "supporting the troops."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Republican Media- no. 3

Tom Foreman of CNN's Washington bureau on July 14, 2007 delivered a report on the cost of the Iraq war. However, while estimating the monthly cost as ten billion dollars, Foreman unfortunately commented ".... if you add in Afghanistan and all the other (emphasis mine) international anti-terror efforts."
So when did our war involvement in Iraq become part of "international anti-terror efforts?" The reasons cited by supporters of this policy, pre- and post- invasion, include: toppling Sadam Hussein (accomplished); removing "weapons of mass destruction" (chemical and biological not found); a nuclear weapons program (reported in January 2003 by International Atomic Energy Agency as nonexistent); spreading democracy throughout the Persian Gulf (Nouri al-Maliki, friend of Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, enemy of democratic Israel). The war has only increased terrorism in the Gulf and throughout the world.
Distressingly, this came not from GOP TV (euphemistically referred to as Fox News) but from a legitimate member of the mainstream media who has joined President Bush in the pretense that this war has anything to do with preventing, or fighting, terrorism.
Bushfib- no. 1

Herewith the first installment of Bushfib, wherein note is made of a lie- not a distortion, exaggeration, or misrepresentation but a deliberate falsehood- by Bush 43, GWB.

from the President's speech before the Chamber of Commerce in Cleveland on July 10, 2007:
"The same people that attacked us on September 11th is the crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women, and children, many of whom are Muslims, trying to stop the advance of a system based on liberty."

from the Presidential press conference on July 12, 2007:
"The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th..."

Sure, he stated this unequivocally twice, but it counts as only one lie. Nevertheless, it should not be ignored by the mainstream media because Mr. Bush and his supporters continually conflate the Iraq war with the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. But as Joe Klein of Time points out, the al Qaeda of 9/11/01 is based in Pakistan, whereas the bombings to which the President refer are being carried out by al Qaeda in Mespotamia, named by its now-deceased founder, Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi. Although the latter group admires the philosophy of the al Qaeda of bin Laden and operational director Ayman al-Zawahiri, the two groups operate apart from each other with divergent strategies. And of course, 15 of the 19 hijackers/terrorists/murderers of the September, 2001 attacks were not Iraqis, but Saudis.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Republican Media- no. 2

President Bush, a.k.a. "The Decider," often resorts to his status as "Commander in Chief" in order to suggest a lack of patriotism on the part of his critics. So let's look at the wording of a question by a reporter/anchor of MSNBC.

This from Contessa Brewer of MSNBC during the network's "Super Tuesday" coverage of politics today:
"Are we ever going to have a Commander-in-Chief who is not a white man?"

This from The United States Constitution- Article I- The Executive Branch, Section 2- Civilian Power over Military, Cabinet, Pardon Power, Appropriations:
"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States..."

George W. Bush is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He is not Commander in Chief of the United States.
Victim Politics, Pro-Life Style

In the United States Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortions, the majority opinion was famously rendered by Justice Anthony Kennedy. In the 5-4 decision in Gonzalez v. Carhart, Kennedy emphasized, as The New Republic Legal Affairs Editor Jeffrey Rosen termed it, the "abortion trauma syndrome." Although he conceded "no reliable data to measure the phenomenon," Kennedy wrote "it is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child..."
Justice Ginsburg termed this "an antiabortion shibboleth for which (the Court) concededly has no reliable evidence: women who have abortions come to regret their choices and consequently suffer from severe depression and loss of esteem." The decision, she continued, "deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety (and is) thinking (that) relects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution- ideas that have long since been discredited."
Given that the partial-birth abortion controversy involves not whether an abortion should take place, or even when one may take place, but rather a procedure (intact dilation and evacuation), the emphasis placed on the issue has always struck me as slightly odd. Indeed, Justice Ginsburg noted the Court referred favorably to "Congress' purpose as to differentiate 'abortion and infanticide' not on whether a fetus can survive outside the womb but on where a fetus is anatomically located when a particular medical procedure is performed." Admittedly, a woman opting for this method of termination of pregnancy might find it traumatic, given that insincere (more on this later) pro-life activists and politicians try mightily to convince her that she is committing "murder" and in these instances, in a brutal way.
But the condescension directed by Justice Kennedy toward women has its parallel in another abortion controversy, that of the appropriate punishment when an illegal abortion takes place. Allow me this disgression: In 1982 New Jersey enacted a death penalty statute. The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission noted that although juries returned death penalties in 60 cases, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned 57 of those sentences. Finally, in 1992 the Court for the first time upheld a death penalty: that of Robert O. Marshall, a businessman who hired a man to kill his wife, subsequently murdered in 1984 in a picnic area on the Garden State Parkway. (After a federal appeals court judge decreed that Marshall had not enjoyed competent counsel and deserved a new hearing, the county prosecutor gave up and agreed to life in prison for the defendant.) The New Jersey high court had insisted that a particular defendant had clearly intended not to injure, maim, or debilitate a victim, but rather to kill him/her. So they finally found an eligible culprit- and it was no one who had committed a murder, but rather someone who had contracted for a killing.
So if Roe v. Wade is overturned and a state prohibits abortion, a doctor performing the procedure will be violating the law and committing murder. At the request of the woman who is pregnant. And for a fee. And what is the typical reaction of the pro-life advocate when asked if the woman, as well as the doctor, should then be prosecuted? Well, no, goes the usual response: she is a victim.
Let's go over this again. Declaring the fetus a human life, the state decrees abortion as murder. An individual travels to a professional and requests a baby be murdered. The pro-life community, viewing this murder-for-hire, declares the woman: a "victim." This is condescension fit for Justice Kennedy. It also must call into question the sincerity of much of the anti-abortion rights movement, which is adamant that abortion is killing- but believes the main culprit should not be held accountable.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Republican Media- number 1:
And now, for an occasional feature entitled...... The Republican Media

In his weekly radio address today, President Bush criticized Democrats in Congress for being "behind schedule passing the individual spending bills needed to keep the Federal Government running." However, last year, reported The Washington Post, "Congress sent only two of eleven spending bills- those covering the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security- to President Bush, leaving much of the government operating under what is known as a continuing resolution." In so doing, "the Republicans intend to conclude the 109th Congress this week and leave Democrats stuck with the tab in the form of unfinished spending bills as the days of Republican rule draw to a close on Capitol Hill." President Bush was not exorcised about this irresponsibility and cowardice last year, in fact forgetting to mention it at all. Thus, faced with this context, what was the Associated Press' headline to today's Presidential press conference?
"Bush rips Democratic lawmakers' failures"
While they're at it, why not have Karl Rove write the entire article?
GOP Senators: Still Pro-War

I write this blog with trepidation, and the hope that I am merely pessimistic. But here goes....

First it was Richard Lugar of Indiana. On June 26, 2007 the hawkish ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stated from his chamber's floor "persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term." Later that day, Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, "concerned that we are running out of time," wrote President Bush "...we must begin to develop a comprehensive plan for our country's gradual military disengagement from Iraq." Then, on July 5, 2007 Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico announced at a news conference in Albuquerque "I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."

What do these three statements of Republican Senators have in common? Let's listen in:
Voinovich: "We must not abandon our mission... and I have openly opposed any form of precipitous withdrawal...." Domenici: "I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops." And, according to MSNBC.com, Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher "says the speech does not mean Lugar would switch his vote on the war or embrace Democratic measures setting a deadline for troop withdrawals."

All three statements are rather vague and do little to suggest how either Senator will vote on any substantive measure which might be introduced this autumn to end Gulf War II.
And certainly nothing about redeployment of troops in the region to combat Al-Quaeda, a critical failure considering the Administration's lack of concern with any of the terrorist organization's members outside of Iraq.
We already know from Ron Suskind in The One Percent Doctrine that George W. Bush let Osama bin Laden get out of Tora Bora in late 2001. According to The Left Coaster.com, the CIA official managing the Afghanistan campaign in the wake of the 9/11/01 attacks brought a detailed map to the President and Dick Cheney along with the message that the Pakistan army and pro-U.S. Afghan militias assigned to nail bin Laden were incapable of doing so. The official, Henry A. Crumpton, stated that American forces were required to capture the terrorist, but Bush declined to follow the advice.
Now we learn from Steve Benen of Political Animal of further incompetence of the President in pursuing the "War on Terror." In the first Bush-Kerry debate of 2004, Mr. Bush boasted "We busted the A.Q. Khan network. This was a proliferator out of Pakistan that was selling secrets to places like North Korea and Libya." Bush actually had agreed to a deal in which Khan had "been slapped on the wrist" by Pakistani officials and now is "virtually a free citizen."
So the Administration continues to emphasize the threat that al Qaeda poses in Iraq- and ignores the threat it poses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, probably with the support of A.Q. Khan and his proliferation business.
The Taliban is reportedly making a comeback in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, we are supplying Pakistan with approximately eighty million dollars a month in counter-terrorism aid, and in September, 2006 the Musharraf regime stikes a deal to cede all control in northwestern Pakistan (where bin Laden is believed to have crossed from Afghanistan) with the tribal warlords.
And what is the bold, dynamic leadership coming from the Grand Old Party? As the words of George Voinovich to President Bush ring out: "I have consistently opposed efforts to limit your powers as our Commander-in-Chief." Pathetic.
Thompson: Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Whatever

Former Senator Fred Thompson a former pro-choice lobbyist? Apparently so, according to the Los Angeles Times of 7/6/07. The Times reports that minutes of a 1991 meeting of the board of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assocition indicate verify the involvement of Thompson, assigned by his firm "to urge the administration of President George H.W. Bush to withdraw or relax a rule that barred abortion counseling at clinics that received federal money." Thompson's spokesman has denied the report and John Sununu, the Administration official who would have been lobbied, denied that he spoke to Thompson about it. However, others have stepped forward to express confidence in the report, and it appears that the former Senator's camp is intentionally misrepresenting objective reality.
Which reminds of a recent (7/1/07) posting in which I cast doubt on Fred Thompson's pro-life bonafides and argued that the GOP Presidential race would ultimately pit a cultural conservative (thinking former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney) against a faithful representative (i.e., Thompson) of corporate interests. It now appears that the former Tennessee Senator's pro-life record is even thinner than I had thought. Pro-life, pro-choice, it may not matter much: it's Anything for a Buck Fred.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On Health Care

In an article that appeared on Slate.com on July 1, 2007, Austan Goolsbee, an economic advisor to Barack Obama, argued that Michael Moore's critique of the U.S. health care system was largely accurate but his prescription misguided. Here is the article, entitled Michael Moore and the Beige Bomber, and my rebuttal.

-At the most simplistic level, giving free health care to everyone costs a lot of money. Especially since people tend to use things more frequently when they are free. But people don't consume health care the way they do other goods (such as Pepsi), which Malcolm Gladwell identifies as "the moral hazard myth." They schedule doctor's appointments only when they are ill and go to the hospital only when they need to. Nevertheless, in our market-based system, individuals generally fail to distinguish necessary care from unnecessary care and thus "tend to cut down on mundane-but-important things like hypertension medicine, which leads to far costlier complications," according to Ezra Klein in The American Prospect. Costs escalate as individual patients pursue tests, drugs, and other goods and services which are unnecessary but artificially inexpensive to them because the cost is covered by insurance- and encouraged by their doctors, confident of reimbursement while fearful of lawsuits.

-To get costs down to a comparable level, a single-payer system in the United States would have to seriously cut doctors' pay. However, maintaining a large pool of doctors is becoming harder with the current system. In a study released in June, 2007, the American Medical Association contended that if reductions in Medicare reimbursements planned by Congress are made, up to 77% of physicians would limit the number of new or existing Medicare patients. A system in which doctors could concentrate on the health of their patients and not deal with insurance companies might enhance the desirability of the profession.

-Nor do these countries have the same costs associated with malpractice lawsuits that we do. A single-payer system here would have to also include some truly major rearrangement of the tort system to bring those costs down. Doctors can be indemnified from lawsuits and a panel established to determine validity of complaints, with settlements paid from public funds. And by the way, doesn't the relative paucity of malpractice lawsuits in other western nations suggest an advantage, rather than disadvantage, of their system? Perhaps our doctors and hospitals make more mistakes than in state-sponsored systems.

-You would also need to dramatically slash drug prices.... the problem is that (Canada and the United Kingdom) get cheap drugs only because they are free-riding of the massive profits made in the American market. If our government required medicine here to be sold at no more than the lowest price charged abroad, the drug companies would drive the costs up in the other markets rather than reduce them here. Although Medicare is thus far barred from negotiating drug prices, the latter would be lowered if any large organization- such as the U.S. government- is permitted to bargain down the cost. Klein notes this is done in the Canadian provinces, whose citizens pay 60% less for pharmaceuticals than do we. Currently, many Americans break the law by smuggling drugs across the border from Canada. And reducing prices for American consumers interests me more than maintaining low prices for consumers abroad.

-But the main problem with Moore's policy solution is that a national health system wouldn't fix one of our health care system's main flaws- one that people really hate- the denial of service. It just changes who decides, so that the government makes the call. The government, unlike an insurance company, is at least open to democratic controls. Leaving rationing decisions to insurance companies requires insurance salespeople, billing specialists in doctor's offices, and underwriters and contributes to health administration costs. So the United States, reports the New England Journal of Medicine, spends 345%more per capital on health administration than does Canada. And according to OECD. org, in 2003 health spending as a share of gross domestic product was: in Switzerland and Germany, 11%-12%; in Iceland, Norway, and France, 10.1%-10.5%; in Candada, 9.9%; and in the U.S. A., 15%. And insurance companies still deny, deny, deny.

-In those (nationalized health) systems, cost-effectiveness decisions get made all the time. Care is rationed. That's what happens if you offer something for free- you have to make rules about who is allowed to get it. Except in Germany. And France. And elsewhere. In Germany, the insurers are approximately 300 "sickness funds" (neither fully private or public), which ensure that the burdens of bad health are spread across the populace and everyone receives health care. Meanwhile, citizens anxious for more comprehensive coverage can choose to purchase private insurance, as a small minority do. The French government encourages its citizens to purchase supplementary insurance, as most do. And there are private options for the affluent in most western nations, cutting wait time for medical procedures. Even in Canada, the California Nurses Association cites Physicians for a National Health Program as finding "there are no waits for emergency surgeries, and the median time for non-emergency elective surgery has been dropping as a result of public pressure and increased funding so that it is now equal to or better than in the U.S. in most areas (and) median wait times for elective surgery in Canada is (sic) now three weeks." Moreover, wait times in a market-based system, such as in the U.S., are likely to be artificially low as many individuals never seek diagnosis, and hence are unaware of their need for surgery, because they lack health coverage. Instead, such consumers often use hospital emergency rooms as doctor's office, driving up costs and wasting resources.

The United States pays more than twice as much per capita on health care than most of the industrialized world and still has 46 million people uninsured. Other individuals remain tied to inadequate employment through which they receive their health insurance. Millions are relegated to ill health, or costly operations, because they never pursued the preventive care common in nations with single-payer systems but discouraged in the largely for-profit American system. Yet, reform of the health care system is attacked as "socialized medicine."

We already have socialized medicine in the U.S.A. It is called the Veterans Health Administration, which controls costs better than the private system, serves patients with shorter wait time and higher customer satisfaction, and is generally lauded for providing better care than most of the health care industry. (Walter Reed Army Hospital is not run by the Veterans Administration but by the Defense Department, with many functions outsourced to the private sector in recent years.)

The leading Republican candidate, Fred Thompson, recently wrote "our entire medical industry- which by the way is the best and most complex in the world...." We await further details from the Presidential candidates about their plans for health care. But it is likely that any major Democratic candidate will advocate, and as President would propose, more fundamental changes than any of the major Republican candidates. Meanwhile, the former actor-Senator-actor already has disqualified himself from consideration by anyone seriously concerned about the health of our nation.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fred Thompson, Corporatist

Forget Molly Levinson, Mark Halperin, Chuck Todd, Chris Matthews, and all the other pols. They and others may tell you that the Republican Presidential race likely will come down to two candidates, one "moderate" and one conservative.

The problem, of course, is that none of the four leading GOP contenders is running as a moderate. Yes, Rudy Giuliani is a liberal on cultural issues, such as gay rights, abortion rights, and gun control. But, not surprisingly, he's downplaying his deviance from the Republican base on those issues and instead emphasizing the inheritance tax, which Republicans, famously and disingenously, like to refer to as the "Death Tax." Mitt Romney has been reborn as a pro-life, anti-gay rights activist and John McCain, who now supports Bush's income tax cuts for the wealthy, is arguably the most passionate supporter of the Iraq war in the U.S. Senate. And former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee has expressed nary a moderate view as he has been increasingly, and effectively, promoted as the party's best hope to nominate a staunch conservative.

But what kind of conservative is Fred Thompson? Responding in 1996 to a survey by the Christian Coalition, Thompson checked "opposed" to an amendment to the United States Constituion "protecting the sanctity of human life" and explained "I do not believe abortion should be criminalized." And when asked by the Memphis group Family, Life, America, Responsible Education Under God Inc. (hardly pro-choice) if human life begins at conception, Thompson circled "N/A."

Thompson has spent several years as part of Hollywood, appearing both in films and on television, most notably in "Law and Order." It is hardly suprising, then, that he is comfortable with modern culture, at ease with a society many Republicans are not. On economic matters, however, he is a classic conservative. As a Senator, he voted to terminate Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards, to reauthorize fast track trading authority of the President, to restrict class action lawsuits, in favor of allowing personal retirement accounts and Medicare means-testing, and against allowing reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada. When Thompson recently cut a video ridiculing Michael Moore for traveling to Cuba for the making of his movie "Sicko," Moore responded in part by targeting the Republican's "box upon box of cigars- Montecristos from Havana that you have in your office have contributed to Castro's reported wealth."

Fred Thompson, Corporatist

It's an interesting habit on the part of a hawkish, conservative Republican- doing his small part to bolster the regime of the dreaded Communist dictator. But it's not out of character. Thompson is playing the part of the cultural conservative but is, at base, a corporatist. It's an act commonly played by GOP politicians, as portrayed by Thomas Frank in "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Thompson's appeal to conservatives reflects that of the larger conservative movement, which "depends for its continued dominance and even for its very existence on people never making certain mental connections about the world, connections that until recently were treated as obvious or self-evident everywhere on the planet. For example, the conection between mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore without reservation." The Republican race will not come down to a "moderate" and a conservative, but between two conservatives: one who represents cultural, "social" conservatism and the other, who, despite his image, represents corporate interests.

On a Positive Note, It's What He Believes

During the War of 1812, Master Commandant Oliver Perry wrote to Major General William Henry Harrison " we have met the enemy and they ...