Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Invitation To Ridicule

Republican orthodoxy requires obeisance to the interests of the health insurance industry and the energy industry but there is no litmus test on cultural issues. Many Republicans, such as former New Jersey Governor and Bush 43 EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and former Pennsylvania Governor (though it cost him the V.P. nod last year) support abortion rights. Former McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and former Vice-President Dick Cheney support gay marriage, though each having a close family member who is a lesbian has made it a principle of convenience.And one rarely hears a Repub criticize Hollywood anymore (perhaps in part because one of their own is governor of the largest state), presumably a wise tactic in a country in which the death of a bizarre performer has become the biggest news of the month year decade century millenium. Sure, no Repub publicly supports gun control, but few Democrats do either; and enactment of gun control legislation would be a 50-50 shot in the event of simultaneous attacks upon 40 large American cities by Smith & Wesson-armed Muslim terrorists.

So perhaps we liberals should lay off applying the charge of "hypocrisy" whenever a party which once emphasized "family values" is caught in a sexual escapade. The term "family values" is no longer used (except when ridiculing Repubs) and the GOP has demonstrated little commitment to cutting the rate of abortion, eliminating same-sex marriage, or questioning the American fascination with celebrity. It shouldn't come as a surprise, for as Thomas Frank has noted of the GOP elite and opinion leaders "the needs of business stand like a rock; all else is convenience, opportunism, a bit of bushwah generated by some focus group session and forgotten the instant it is no longer convincing."

Still, some Republicans crave vulnerability, begging to be evaluated on the basis of their adherence to a strict set of moral values. Asked by David Gregory on Sunday's Meet The Press about the Mark Sanford affair, Lindsay Graham, the senior Senator from South Carolina and godchild to one of the Sanford children, made clear his criteria for effective governance:

I think if Mark can reconcile with Jenny, and that's not going to be easy, that he can finish his last 18 months. He's had a good reform agenda. And I do believe that if, if he can reconcile with his family and if he's willing to try, that the people of South Carolina would be willing to give him a second chance. But he's also got to reconcile the legislature. If he can get his family back together, I think he can continue out his term and maybe do some good things next year.

If a state employee in South Carolina, as almost everywhere, were to blow off his/her job for a few days, doesn't let anyone know where he will be, when he will return, or even that he's going to be away, he's in big trouble. Some places, they call that "job abandonment." A chief executive does so, and it's okay as long as he gets squared away with his wife, specifically "reconcile with his family."

The Governor on Monday revealed his own lack of seriousness as a public official when, after first suggesting he considered resignation, he claimed

A long list of close friends have suggested otherwise – that for God to really work in my life I shouldn’t be getting off so lightly. While it would be personally easier to exit stage left, their point has been that my larger sin was the sin of pride.”

Personally, as a supporter of then-President Clinton, I don't give a rodent's rear end what the Governor of South Carolina was doing in Argentina or with whom, and not only because there is plenty of tomfoolery (bad behavior, for those of you under 80) committed by members of both parties. But in good times and bad (and, especially in South Carolina, these are bad times), somebody ought to know where the Governor is and when he'll be back; that is the biggest reason most states have a Lieutenant Governor.

Mark Sanford can decide on his own whether to resign. But for him to suggest that God has asked him to stay on, that the deity is favoring him over Mark Bauer, is more than a little presumptuous and invites charges of hypocrisy. Perhaps God does have a dog in this fight; but if he does, Governor Sanford would have no way of knowing.
Making Immigration Policy The Worst It Can Be

Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.
- Winston Churchill

Democracy is a little like our immigration/illegal immigration system. There are at least three bad ways to go about reform:

- "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" would enable illegal immigrants to gain legal status if certain conditions, such as paying a fine and learning English, were met;

- Amnesty, which, unlike "comprehensive immigration reform," would grant illegal immigrants immediate legal status, but is a term mostly used by immigration hawks to undermine liberalization of immigration policy. For obvious political reasons, no politician (and practically no one else) has the courage to advocate actual amnesty, though it is what comprehensive reform eventually would evolve into;

- Maintaining the status quo, which clearly is not working, given that nothing has had as much effect on stemming the flow of illegal immigrants as the severe recession we're currently undergoing north of the border.

But there is one other option- and it's much worse than all the others. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), mentioned it on the June 28 Fox News Sunday on GOP TV:

We're open to looking at immigration reform. We've tried it in the past. It's very tough. If we get the borders secure and we need -- we can go on from there and hopefully develop a guest worker program that actually works.

That's disturbing- or should be. In an article (apparently no longer available) appearing in the 4/17/06 issue, the editors of The New Republic explain

Indeed, to see the pernicious (and un-American) nature of a guest-worker program, one need only look across the Atlantic at the misery such programs have wrought in Europe. Spurred by extreme labor shortages in the 1950s, a host of European countries--including West Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands--adopted guest-worker programs. Those nations sought temporary immigrants to address their manpower problems, because they believed the labor shortages themselves were temporary and would end once the generation born after World War II entered the workforce. They also hoped that foreign workers would fill low-status jobs while allowing citizens to enjoy better-paying positions.

But the guest-worker programs also reflected European notions of nationhood--attitudes that could not be more different than those of the United States. The guest-worker programs were a way in which these European countries could avoid becoming ethnically plural societies. Of course, those nations became ethnically heterogeneous when the guest workers did not go home. But the workers, while remaining in those European countries, never became of them. Consider Germany, for instance, where more than two million Muslims of Turkish origin--whose families came as guest workers four decades ago--live today. They live in Germany not as Germans, but in a strange sort of nationless limbo--afforded certain benefits of citizenship (such as health care) but denied the privilege of actually being citizens. Which, of course, denies them any incentive to assimilate to their new country. The prospect of such a thing happening in the United States with mexican guest workers is only too real.

At least European nations turned to guest worker programs during "extreme labor shortages." It is, therefore, curious at first glance, troubling thereafter, that McConnell would raise the spectre of a guest worker program at a period of great and growing unemployment and severe labor surplus in the U.S.A. Generally, we should learn from the Europeans and adopt, with modification, what is best in their societies- including health care- and reject what is worst. And the worst is guest worker programs. When the debate over reform of illegal immigration policy gets under way, we need to remember that as inadequate as our current policy is, and as dangerous as the euphemistic "comprehensive immigrative reform" (or dysphemistic "amnesty") would be, there is a far greater danger.

Monday, June 29, 2009

And Now, For The Question Actually Posed

Call it bad blood between Dana Milbank and Nico Pitney, jealous rivalry between traditional media and the blogosphere, a fight between old media and new media, or the male equivalent of a "cat fight." Or call it just good, clean fun between two credible and accomplished journalists. Either way, the dustup between Milbank and Pitney on Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN can now be brought to your living room, bedroom, family room, or office (or anywhere you have a laptop) via the miracle of youtube (video below).

Here is the transcript of the discussion, which, for some odd reason, tangentially included townhall.com's Amanda Carpenter:

KURTZ: A presidential news conference usually proceeds from the AP reporter, to the network correspondents, to the major newspaper writers. But President Obama set off plenty of chatter at this week's presser by giving the second question to a "Huffington Post" blogger. It wasn't just the selection of Nico Pitney -- Obama has called on "The Huffington Post" before -- but the way the president seemed to invite a particular question.


OBAMA: Nico, I know that you and across the Internet we've been seeing a lo of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet.

Do you have a question?

PITNEY: Yes, I did. But I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian.

"Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad..."


KURTZ: All right.

Nico Pitney, you said the White House notified you that you would probably get a question at the news conference. Everyone assumes what we just saw was orchestrated.

PITNEY: No. From beginning to end, there was no planning involved. I was the one who posted that I was going to be soliciting -- that I was soliciting questions from Iranians. I chose the question.

The reason President Obama made that comment is because he was trying to make a point that he was taking a question from an Iranian. And it's interesting that Dana, of all people, wrote this column very negatively. I mean, this is a person, Dana, who, when he had a chance to ask Obama a question, he approached him in the hall during the campaign and asked him not one, but multiple questions about how he looked in a bathing suit.

I mean, that to me is pathetic, and I would -- you couldn't stage manage me into that, Dana.

MILBANK: Well, Nico has some -- evidently, some very interesting things to do.

What I have never done in my life, Howie, is worked in collusion with an administration, whether it's this one or another one. I believe that whether it's Nico Pitney, with "The Huffington Post," or whether it's Carl Cameron, with Fox News, the White House should not be calling somebody the night before saying, we are going to call on you if you ask a question on a particular subject asked in a certain way.

PITNEY: But I was... MILBANK: Nico, the night before, sent out an e-mail to his colleagues -- "Some big news. The White House called earlier this evening and asked if I could ask a question of President Obama at his press conference tomorrow on behalf of an Iranian. I'm about to post a solicitation to the blog Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. It seems fairly like that this will happen, but as they told me, this is not 100 percent."

PITNEY: This is exactly as I described it. I posted an initial solicitation.

MILBANK: At the request of the White House.


MILBANK: No, it says right here in your e-mail that that's what you did.

PITNEY: No, it doesn't. In fact, it's exactly what I wrote...

MILBANK: "I'm about to post a solicitation to the blog Facebook, Twitter," after hearing from the White House.

PITNEY: Facebook, Twitter, exactly. So, my solicitation was merely over e-mail.

When I found out that the White House was going to potentially take this question, I went to a Farsi language social network site, to Twitter using a Farsi message, to Facebook. I tried to -- if I was going to have that opportunity, I was going to canvass as many Iranians as possible.

MILBANK: That's fine.

PITNEY: So it is -- and, you know, for -- this is someone -- Dana's column...

KURTZ: Do you think there's some jealousy involved by maybe the establishment in the fact that you got that very prominent second question?

PITNEY: Oh, I mean, I think it's jealousy. I think it's hypocrisy.

You know, Dana wrote a column, as his colleague at "The Washington Post," Greg Sargent, pointed out, hailing the "Mission Accomplished" banner moment in May, 2003, the day after.


PITNEY: I mean, it's...

MILBANK: Look, there's plenty of fiction here, but I brought some other -- shall we go through the record here, Nico?

PITNEY: Go through what record? MILBANK: Your Web site was complaining about I was not holding the Bush White House to account. I'd like to say that here's a full list of documentation of me holding the Bush White House to account.

PITNEY: Well, I'm not sure where...

MILBANK: Your colleagues at "The Huffington Post."

Let's pose -- can we just pose one question, Nico? If the White House called up Fox News and said, "Major Garrett, we will call on you tomorrow if you ask a question about health care, and you ask it in a certain way?" Would you say that's OK?

PITNEY: They didn't say in a certain way. See, this is dishonest. And it's been dishonesty and errors from the beginning.

Your initial piece on this posted an hour after the press conference, had two errors, which you acknowledged to me an e-mail. You said you had corrected them. It took seven hours.

MILBANK: Is that right, Nico?

PITNEY: And the signal is you are very quick to malign and very slow to correct.

MILBANK: Look, Howie, I can't deal with fiction on this show. I mean...

KURTZ: All right. I'm going to -- you two are going to have to take this outside, because I want to get Amanda Carpenter in.

Does any of this smell like collusion to you?

CARPENTER: Well, I can tell you from -- I hear a number of claims from the right side of the issue on this, and they say that Nico is a person who worked on Democratic campaigns, then went on to go work for the Center for American Progress, where he ran a very partisan blog called "Thing Progress," and then was asked by the White House to ask those questions. So he's not -- I mean, the question was fair.

KURTZ: Well, I don't think he's not denying that you have left of center views.

PITNEY: No. I mean, I think the question is the quality of the question.

CARPENTER: But the concern from the right side of things is...

PITNEY: Jeff Gannon asked softballs. I asked a legitimate question.

CARPENTER: I'm not saying you did anything wrong, but I think the administration calling you beforehand, thinking that you are probably going to ask something sympathetic, escorting you to the front of the press room, to then ask a question in a place where everyone should get a fair crack at the president, is unfair.

PITNEY: I mean, the question, again...

KURTZ: It was a legitimate question. Let's make that clear.

PITNEY: It was a legitimate question. Sure.


PITNEY: It was be a strange conspiracy, considering Obama dodged the question.

KURTZ: Well, there's no guarantee you get an answer.

There is a long, and less than honorable, tradition of presidents trying to manipulate the media, perhaps none more so than Barack Obama's immediate predecessor. And if Pitney were going to be granted a question, obviously it would be about Iran. Nevertheless, he was not told to "ask a question on a particular subject asked in a certain way" (emphasis mine). And as a blogger at crooksandliars.com has explained:

Just to put this into perspective, think about this. Nico Pitney has spent the last two weeks tirelessly developing sources from inside Iran, aggregating every relevant story available on the internet through every available form of the new communication technology and synthesizing one of the most most difficult and important foreign policy stories of the decade.

But Pitney, at the end, made the most relevant point, noting "it was a strange conspiracy, considering Obama dodged the question."

If you hadn't heard the actual question asked by The Huffington Post's Pitney, you would have thought the question was a gimme (Republican chairman Limbaugh: "And here of course is Obama's scripted response."). But Obama did, in fact, wisely dodge the question, stating (responding, to be generous):

Well, look, we didn't have international observers on the ground. We can't say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country. What we know is that a sizeable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It's not an isolated instance, a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.

And so, ultimately, the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States. And that's why I've been very clear: Ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government.

What we can do is to say unequivocally that there are sets of international norms and principles about violence, about dealing with peaceful dissent, that spans cultures, spans borders, and what we've been seeing over the Internet and what we've been seeing in news reports violates those norms and violates those principles.

I think it is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.

Huh? What was that all about? Not the question, for sure, which Obama would have addressed if he- or any President- had safely been able to. Clearly (not a description of the reply, to be sure), it would be hard to imagine a more difficult question for a President to answer. Which is probably why Pitney answered it- and should be praised, alongside whatever Iranian gave him the question.

But more importantly- is Pitney related to this guy? Or this guy?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Setting Aside Principle

At first glance, it almost makes sense.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, in a column entitled "A Tail Wags The Dog on Health Reform," argues on June 28 that "advocates are wrong in elevating the public plan to litmus-test importance." She contends, plausibly, "there is too little focus on making certain that the overall regulator structure (the dog) is strict enough and transparent enough to prevent private insurers from gaming the system...."

Marcus declares she is "ambivalent on the merits of including a public plan in the exchange.... to which those without employer-provided health insurance would go to obtain coverage." But she disingenuously concludes

to work, the public plan has to be able to set prices and, at least at the outset, require providers to participate if they want to remain eligible to accept Medicare patients. Does anyone think that is what's likely to emerge from Congress? If not, is this really where all the energy of those who want to ensure effective reform should be spent?

The implication is that oh, if only, Congress would be reasonable and accept a public plan- but it won't, so darn it, wouldn't it be great if Democrats adopted a different strategy to achieve desired reform?

This alleged ambivalence about a public plan and interest in reform of a system dominated by the health insurance industry would be more credible if we did not learn, in her column of 3/27/09 carried by the Dallas Morning News, that she is opposed to a public plan; to an individual mandate; to cost containment (see "piece #4"); and to anything which would risk offending Repub lawmakers.

As it usually does from neo-liberals, it comes down to this: Democrats would be so unreasonable to cleave to principle (and to a public plan, popular with the public) because it would be antithetical to the principle of post-partisanship. Warning against the reconciliation process, by which Democrats would achieve reform with a mere 51 votes, Marcus concludes in March "wielding the stick would be the end of bipartisanship as we never got a chance to know it."

Per capita spending is greater in this country than in any other affluent nation. With the U.S. economy in recession, there are nearly 50 million Americans uninsured, health care spending is over 17% of gross domestic product, and more Americans are losing their homes every year by foreclosure due to health care costs. And while Repblicans are opposed to any health care reform that doesn't further enrich the insurance industry at the expense of the public, some journalists have become positively feverish over the possiblity that a mythical, unprecedented bipartisanship may not be given the opportunity to block reform of a system disgraceful by the standards of the civilized world.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Article Of The Week

Columnist and Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman may be the foremost advocate in the U.S.A. of single-payer health care and thus is a staunch supporter of the public insurance piece of the Obama health care plan. He writes in "Not Enough Audacity" in The New York Times on July 26

And that’s why the public plan is an important part of reform: it would help keep costs down through a combination of low overhead and bargaining power. That’s not an abstract hypothesis, it’s a conclusion based on solid experience. Currently, Medicare has much lower administrative costs than private insurance companies, while federal health care programs other than Medicare (which isn’t allowed to bargain over drug prices) pay much less for prescription drugs than non-federal buyers. There’s every reason to believe that a public option could achieve similar savings.

But that's not his point. He is concerned that the post-partisan Barack Obama is unaware "reform isn’t worth having if you can only get it on terms so compromised that it’s doomed to fail." Krugman notes that it now appears that the President, obsessed with bipartisanship and the art of the possible, is amenable to a health care bill watered down in the mistaken belief "that half a loaf is always better than none."

Krugman uses the analogy of the stimulus bill passed earlier after inclusion of compromises which won the support of three-3- Republican senators. Bipartisanship, limited as it was, was gained at the cost of enactment of a measure which would have been larger and more likely to forestall a serious recession. Still, it has beenmet with continued antagonism from the GOP, which now would probably prevent passage of a needed, second stimulus bill.

The pursuit of hazy, feel-good partisanship may be sensible, even necessary under other circumstances. Senator Obama himself noted (video below) that passage of a single-payer health care plan required a Democratic President, House of Representatives, and Senate. Now there are a Democratic President, a Democratic House of Representatives, and 59 1/2 Democratic Senators, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D.-Cal.)on June 21 says of that Democratic President "Well to be candid with you, I don’t know that he has the votes right now. I think there’s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus.” And sort-of Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut warns "Let’s get something done instead of having a debate.”

It may be unfair to dump on Joe Lieberman- no, it never is- for an instinct common among the political and, especially, journalistic class. There is an impulse to "get something done," to pass some sort of bill, so that it is a notch in the belt of the congressman or the president. It becomes, as the mainstream media would have it, a "win" rather than a "loss." But as Paul Krugman understands well, "yes, the perfect is the enemy of the good; but so is the not-good-enough-to-work. Health reform has to be done right."

Specter On Health

If there were an Academy Award, an Emmy Award (or any other award issued by pretentious, self-absorbed industries) for opportunism, it would go to Arlen Specter. And then retired.

Even after switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, Specter remained opposed to a public insurance plan as part of health care reform, as he reiterated in early May to anchor David Gregory on NBC's Meet The Press. When pressed for clarification, Pennsylvania's senior senator responded "that's what I said and that's what I meant."

Now, Specter is singing a different tune. Referring to health care as "a right," the Senator stated "Schumer has it right about having a public component." (Schumer's public plan would "be subject to the same regulations and requirements as all other plans.”)

This blogger on dailykos believes Specter is a mere "pawn" in a game of chess masterfully played by President Obama. Yes- and I'm a Saudi sheikh.

This post from dailykos proprietor Marcos Moulitsas gives a better indication of the reason that Specter has decided, at least on this issue, to act a little like a Democrat. He links to this poll from Franklin & Marshall College, which reveals that the senator is hemorrhaging suport, though only (sarcasm alert) among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Although he leads likely challenger U.S. Representative Joe Sestak in a hypothetical matchup, 48% of Democrats polled were undecided.

Chris Bowers of openleft.com reports that Sestak, publicly a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, received a rousing reception when introduced at a recent United States Steelworkers Legislative Conference in Atlantic City, N.J., a common venue for gatherings of groups from eastern Pennsylvania. Specter had been slated as keynote speaker, but the invitation was withdrawn because of the membership's negative reaction. Now, following Specter's 150 (would be a 180, but Schumer's idea is less progressive than Obama's) on health care and his uncertain prospects in a Democratic primary, could the support of the Pennsylvania senator for EFCA be far behind?
Superficial Idea

Anyone remember Babe Dahlgren?

Of course you don't, even if, unfortunately, you are a Yankees fan. Dahlgren is the fellow who replaced baseball legend and Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig at first base in 1939. Still, we can't quite shake Dana Perino, who replaced as President George W. Bush's press secretary the late Tony Snow, certainly not the equal to Gehrig in longevity, but a giant at his position.

Perino posts at The Corner on National Review Online relative to the Governor Sanford affair:

While I am not able to explain, I do think I know the answer to all of this: Elect more women. No woman I know has the time for such trysts, nor do I know any who say the desire one. They’re too busy trying to keep all the plates spinning at home, at work, and at the gym to make sure none fall and break.

She is partially correct- she is "not able to explain," because there is no sensible explanation. In fact, her prescription makes no sense, given that electing someone precisely because she (or he) has little time for the job is counter-intuitive and reflects little concern for the position she (or he) would be assuming.

There is, as you are thinking now, a better, and more global, reason to reject Perino's thinking. As blogger Kate Klonick, inspired by the words of the 37th president, writes (posts?)

That argument strikes me as awfully similar to that made by Richard Nixon, in his recently released tapes. “I don’t do it because I’m for women,” he said to then GOP Chairman George H.W. Bush, about supporting women for election. “But I’m doing it because (a) woman might win some place where a man might not.” Doesn’t seem like the Republican backing of women in office is any less utilitarian now than it was then.

As for Mrs. Perino's remark that she knows of no women who "desire" to have "such trysts," one (rhetorical) question jumps to mind: wasn't the individual with whom the South Carolina governor having a "tryst" a woman?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Really, A Boycott?

(Cliche alert.) In a case of life imitating art, the president of the National Association of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders has called for a boycott of hispanics of the 2010 decennial census. Reverend Miguel Rivera of New Jersey, who promotes the boycott on his daily Spanish radio show broadcast in 11 markets, argues, implausibly, "We are getting nothing at all. ... Why not fix this issue, have legalization for every undocumented immigrant, no more undocumented people in this country, and everybody can be counted and everybody will have a fair share." He declares "Before being counted, we need to be legalized."

Such an action (sarcasm alert) would be sensible were it not counter-intuitive, counter-productive, and illegal (punishable by fine). A common rallying cry for advocates of illegal immigrants is, roughly, "There are 12 million (note: really a lot more, but that's another issue) of us. They can't deport everyone. Therefore, there has to be a comprehensive solution" (read: legalization). Instead, this organization wants to provide statistical evidence that there are fewer hispanics in this country than there are.

The ramifications for funding are just as severe. As Arturo Vargas, head of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational, noted "The communities that these immigrants live in are the ones that most need funds for health clinics, schools, social services,” Vargas said. “We’re going to live with the results of the census for 10 years.”

But there was a parallel, albeit apolitical, situation in "The Invitations," the 134th episode of NBC's Seinfeld sitcom. The hapless George Costanza (Jason Alexander) is engaged to Susan, who holds down what appears to be a mid-level management position at NBC. But George wants to end the engagement, though he doesn't want to confront Susan directly. One of the other characters, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) suggests that George tell his fiancee that he wants a pre-nuptial agreement. Knowing little about a "pre-nup" and not being relieved of his ignorance, the financially bereft Costanza haltingly requests Susan sign the agreement. Financially secure and member of a wealthy family, Susan laughs in his face and predictably agrees to sign the pre-nuptial.

If you're non-hispanic and a conservative Republican, you hear this news and, recalling Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan, think "go ahead, make my day." And if in fact, you smell a rat, you're on to something. It seems that most of the boycott's organizers are conservative and the NALCCL endorsed the Republican nominee for President over Democrat Barack Obama in 2008. In this, as in most cases, it's hard to determine motive, but here some healthy suspicion is unavoidable.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Balanced Policy

It's what we've been hearing the past week from all sorts of sources, in this case from David Gregory on Sunday's Meet The Press:

To NBC's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel:

So much debate about whether President Obama should do more than he's done. He stepped up his rhetoric yesterday, saying these are unjust actions, saying the whole world is watching. What's the critical balance here for this administration?

To Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

You know there's been quite a debate here in the United States and really around the world about what President Obama should do and should say at a moment like this. He has said over the weekend that these are unjust actions, that the whole world is watching, that Iran should not violently crack down on its people. Has he said and done enough, do you think?

Then to former Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee:

Has President Obama responded the way you'd like to see him respond?

Followed immediately by this question posed to former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia:

And yet the president has held back. Is that the right thing to do?

Finally, to the roundtable and the question Gregory asks of Fortune's Nina Easton:

First, Nina, talk about the international leadership test for this president this week over Iran. Is he passing?

The proper focus would be on the policy not of the President but of the U.S. government, a product of the approach taken by two of the three branches. Obama's initial approach, criticized by Senators McCain, Graham, Grassley, columnist Krauthammer, talk-show host Limbaugh; defended by Senators Feinstein, Dodd, Lugar, columnist Will, expert Kissinger is half of the picture; the Congressional response is the other. In a vote of 405 to 1 (two Democrats voting "present"), the House reacted by expressing greater outrage at Tehran, passing the following resolution:

The House of Representatives expresses its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law; condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cell phones; and affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections.

The President's initial response was appropriately cautious and restrained. And when either house of the United States Congress passes a resolution with but one dissenting vote (Ron Paul, in this case), we can be sure that the final statement was no rebuke to the Chief Executive. Sponsored by liberal Democrat Howard Berman of California and conservative Repub Mike Pence of Ohio, it neither dramatically deviated from U.S. policy as enunciated by the President nor reflected a shift in this nation's approach to the election and ensuing arrest. It was merely enough of a shift in tone to manifest, however inadvertently, a "good cop, bad cop" routine- the President holding out an olive branch to Tehran; Congress hinting- without any foolish commitment- of a harsher response to the regime if circumstances clearly warrant.

This was not unlike the interplay between President Ronald Reagan and Congress toward Nicaragua's Sandinista government in the Republican's second term. Then, the President, an enthusiastic supporter of the (Contra) resistance, was taking a hard line toward the (Communist) government with the Democratic-controlled Congress favoring a much more dovish approach toward the government. Ultimately, legislative action reflected both approaches when Congress, spurred by a moderate Democrat (back when the species could be constructive) passed a bill which

provided the $14 million in "humanitarian" aid directly to the "Nicaraguan resistance forces." McCurdy's bill also included the provisions favored by moderates in both House and Senate during the previous debate and promised by President Reagan in letters to both Houses: an economic embargo against Nicaragua, the removal of human rights violators from the contras' ranks, and the resumption of bilateral talks between the United States and Nicaragua. The main distinction between McCurdy's and Reagan's strategy, in the end, was one of emphasis. Both sides agreed on the need to pressure the Sandinistas by supporting the contras, but the Reagan administration preferred victory to negotiations and the moderates preferred negotiations to victory.

President Reagan's vision notwithstanding, the Sandinista government was not violently overthrown. Neither, however, did it survive. Instead, as The New York Times reported at the time, in early 1990 the regime fell in an election, which

removes the raison d'etre of the Nicaraguan rebels, the 11,000-man insurgent army that started eight years ago as a proxy for the Reagan Administration in its efforts to overthrow President Ortega.

The President pushing to the right, Congress pushing to the left: mission acccomplished. (Admittedly, the Sandinista's leader, Daniel Ortega, in late 2006 staged a comback, but in an apparently free election, which itself probably attests to the success of American policy 17 years earlier.)

This obviously is not completely analogous to the present situation in Iran. However, it does highlight the foolishess of focusing only on the President's approach and failing to consider the impact of another branch of government, dissatisfied with the Executive, on the formulation of American foreign policy. Perhaps, in its own way, it is a successful application of the Constituional concept of checks and balances.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Public Option

The Young Turks has an excellent video commentary (below) on the public option for health care reform. Although arguing (unconvincingly, inevitably) against single payer, the video would be worth reviewing even if doing so would not enable you to say, proudly, that you got your argument from someone named Cent Uygur.

Uygur notes that a public option would be advantageous because of lower administrative (marketing and overhead) costs; lack of a profit motive; leverage in negotiations, such as with pharmaceutical companies; and simple, plain choice ("just an option"). He states, accurately, that the GOP's opposition ultimately boils down to "this option is too good." As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seemingly without embarassment or sense of irony, contended in May on Fox News Sunday (emphasis mine):

What he — what he really wants to do is create a government plan, and we all know where that leads. None of the private plans will be able to compete, and you'll soon have a single-payer European-type system.

In that appearance, McConnell also, dishonestly, claimed of the public option "Well, that would mean a government plan that would inevitably put the government between you and your doctor, and there would be no more private insurance."

In the public option, as Uygur points out, government does not come between the patient and the doctor or intrude upon the doctor-patient relationship. It is not a government plan, not part of a government system, but merely public insurance. An individual would be able to get health care and pay a premium (to the government) to do so. That would enable private plans to compete, even with private health care in this nation as inefficient as it is.

Still, the GOP squawks. Uygur appears unsurprised, presumably because he has figured out "the Republican Party is not interested in ideology.... They're not interested in conservative principles. They're interested in the money.....and they get the money from the private insurance companies. The Republican Party has become the long arm of the lobbyists."

This means nothing much has changed. As Jonathan Chait wrote in 2007 about the program launched by then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay and GOP plutocrat Grover Norquist in 1995 following the Republican takeover of the House

It's not just a difference in degree but a difference in kind. Democrats accept the prevailing political culture by which lobbyists would cultivate ties with both sides. They do not expect total loyalty, nor do the grant it. The depredations produced by the K Street Project- government treating lobbyists as full partners, not merely interests with a seat at the table- are unique Republican innovations.

The other party is, admittedly, not incurably altruistic. Still, in most instances the Democrats resistant to a public plan are those relatively comfortable with a disturbingly close relationship with health care lobbyists. That is proving an increasingly difficult obstacle for the mainstream of the Democratic Party- and the mainstream of the American public, supportive of a public option- to overcome.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Health Reform Obstruction

It's summer bipartisanship is rearing its ugly, unprincipled head in Washington.

ABC's The Note reported on June 17 that three former Senate Majority Leaders- South Dakota's Tom Daschle, Kansas' Bob Dole, and Tennessee's Howard Baker- have offered a health plan without a public option. Daschle, the one Democrat of the three, rationalizes- uh, er, explains

While I feel very strongly that consumers should have the choice of a national, Medicare-like plan, my colleagues do not. . . But we were concerned that the ongoing health reform debate is beginning to show signs of fracture on the public plan issue, so in order to advance the process of developing bipartisan legislation and to move it forward, it's time to find consensus here.

We've come too far and gained too much momentum for our efforts to fail over disagreements on one single issue.

To be fair, their plan would "create a Network of State or Regional-Level Health Insurance Exchanges," as this summary from their Bipartisan Policy Center indicates. This is probably as bad an idea as that of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, who favors health care purchasing cooperatives, which Jacob S. Hacker notes

have been hard to establish or extend, and when they have been established, they’ve been under constant siege from doctors and insurers and eventually largely operated as private insurance plans or weak purchasing arrangements. It is hard to see how any sort of decentralized cooperative model could do what a public plan can do.

And attorney Ellen Beth Gill of ellenofthetenth.blogspot.com explains

The cooperative idea is the one where you get together with your neighbors to create a health care plan. Have you gotten together with your neighbors to decide to prune the trees on the block yet? Do you have to beg people to run for president of your homeowner's association like they do where I live? How well do you think the average condo board meeting goes? Do you think the guy that walks his cocker spaniel down the block without picking up after her knows how to set up a health care plan?....

Insurers will take advantage of the lack of insurance expertise in these coops and find new consulting services and products to sell them at high prices. That's if this thing actually goes well. More likely, these coops never get off the ground, or get off the ground, but are controlled by groups you wouldn't want to have control over your health care or access to your health care information. Our friend over at Ill and Uninsured in Illinois tells us where Rep. Conrad likely came up with this notion, health ministries run by religious groups. They are religious organizations of neighbors making moral judgement on each others' lifestyles based on their very public medical records. At best, those groups seem to be little more than the church bake sale for that sick kid down the street, if as IUI points out, he's popular.

Conrad is pushing his idea because he believes that between skeptical Democrats and recalcitrant Republicans, a reform proposal with a public option could not garner 60 votes. It could, and probably would, get 51 votes, the minimum required under the reconciliation process. Conrad is opposed to reconciliation, a tactic embraced by George W. Bush when he used it in 2001 to gain Senate approval of his tax cut for the wealthy- with a Congress controlled by the opposite party. Now, with his party in control (or, rather, having a majority) with 59/60 votes (with/without seating Franken), some Democrats are intimidated by the prospect of passing reform without bipartisanship.

And the reason bipartisanship is preferred to principle? Thomas Frank, in his column in The Wall Street Journal, explained during the debate over the stimulus bill:

For the Beltway commentariat, however, transcending partisanship is the most meaningful of issues, more important, one senses, than the economic problems that trouble those people at town-hall meetings. "Nothing was more central to [Obama's] victory last fall than his claim that he could break the partisan gridlock in Washington," wrote the Washington Post's David Broder a few weeks ago, in an altogether typical expression of media perceptions....

The reason the Washington media think bipartisanship is the top issue, even when economic disaster stomps Americans like Godzilla, is because of the way it reflects their own professional standards. They are themselves technically impartial, and so it's only natural for them to wish for a hazy millennium in which everyone else in Washington is impartial, too.

It is supposed to be high-minded stuff, this longing for a bipartisan golden age. But in some ways it is the most cynical stance possible. It takes no idea seriously, since everything is up for compromise. The role of the political parties is merely to cancel each other out, so that only the glorious centrists remain, triangulating majestically between obnoxious extremes.

As it was with the stimulus, so it now is with health care.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Quote Of The Week

"She seems to have a kind of Nixonian chip on her shoulder the size of a boulder. You know, she-she just can't stop sort of sticking it to people as she goes along."

-Tina Brown, co-founder of thedailybeast.com, on MSNBC's Hardball on 6/16/08, on Sarah Palin's response to David Letterman's apology
Reaction To Palin-Letterman

Evolution? First Amendment? U.S. military women and men? Who would have thought Sarah Palin is an advocate of all three?

The Alaskan Governor's response on June 16 was chock full of non sequiturs:

Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women, like my daughters, who hope men who 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve," the statement read.

"Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's right to free speech -- in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect.

When Governor Palin expressed her support for teaching both evolution and creationism to public school students, the assumption set in that, a firm opponent of abortion rights and skeptic of gay rights, she was a flat-out creationist. Such assumption appears invalid, with Palin now suggesting that men of offensive humor "will soon evolve."

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann rhetorically asked "Governor, how many times do we have to go through this? The first amendment does not apply to stuff people say on television." One would have thought the governor of a state (let alone a former vice-presidential nominee) would realize the First Amendment guarantees only that the federal government (and the state government,via the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment) does not abridge the right to free speech. (And even with that, there are limits.)

Palin also was criticized by Ed Schultz, who in turn was blasted by the conservative Repub website newsbusters.org, which then was condemned by Schultz.

With little sense of irony, Governor Palin uses the term "evolve;" demonstrates little or no concept of the First Amendment; and tries to manipulate the patriotism of the American people by conflating her conflict with a talk-show host with the "U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us." There is little, presumably short of violence or brazen illegality, that she will not do to keep herself in the news. And Mrs. Palin does so by using the symbolism of the American soldier for relatively trivial purposes as a prop in her pursuit of political influence.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It Keeps Coming Back

It's not only myth, it's urban myth; not only urban myth, but literally urban myth. And in the hands, or at the microphones, of demagogues, it doesn't quite die.

And so Rush Limbaugh threw it onto the public airwaves yet again Wednesday:

Those are worthless loans! They were made to people that couldn't pay 'em back and the banks that were forced to make the loans tried to come up with a scheme to make them worth something. So they packaged them as securities or... These are the things that became the toxic assets, essentially. And people did start buying this stuff, figuring that something would happen to it to give it value. But all of this happened because Democrats from Bill Clinton forward, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd demanded -- and ACORN demanded -- that people that could not ever pay a loan back or even qualify for one be given one, essentially be given a house! They were threatened by Janet Reno and others and regulators who tried to stop this were in turn threaten by people like Barney Frank and Chris Dodd.

Let's go over the facts:

-The Community Reinvestment Act, of which Limbaugh speaks, was enacted in 1977. Sub-prime lending increased in 2004, after the Bush Administration began to weaken enforcement of the law.

-The CRA applies only to banks and thrifts regulated by the FDIC. It does not apply to independent mortgage companies, which made at least 50% of the bad loans. Another 30 percent were originated by affiliates of banks or thrifts not subject to routine examination or supervision, and the remainder by banks subject to the CRA. According to the January, 2008 study "The Community Reinvestment Act: A Welcome Anomaly in the Foreclosure Crisis," 84.3% of housing loans in the 15 most populous metropolitan areas were made by banks not subject to the CRA.

-Borrowers with similar profiles are significantly less likely to default with CRA loans than borrowers who have taken out other loans and the default rate on CRA loans is significantly lower than on other subprime loans. Not surprising, because "a typical CRA loan is a 30-year amortizing, fixed-rate mortgage, while non-prime mortgages carry higher rates and fees, prepayment penalties and/or adjustable payments that could double overnight."

-CRA banks were less likely to make a high cost loan than the other lenders in their geographic area. As Janet Yellin, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, has stated, "Most of the loans made by depository institutions examined under the CRA have not been higher-priced loans." And banks subject to the CRA "were substantially more likely to eschew the secondary market and hold high cost and other loans in portfolio."

In retrospect, the mortgage meltdown was spurred largely when

Wall Street investment firms set up special investment units, bought the sub-prime mortgages from the lenders, bundled them into "mortgage-backed securities," and for a fat fee sold them to wealthy investors around the world.... These investors, who bought the collateralized securities, were happy as long as they got paid their higher interest on the bonds or other investments.

A pretty sweet deal for these Wall Street investment loans, issuing loans which carried for them no risk because they were able to sell them off across the globe (not to shortchange the role of the ratings agencies, paid by the same firms whose securities they were rating). This, of course, is something the corporate shills masquerading as talk show hosts won't talk about- it kind of cuts into their meme of the federal government as the root of all evil.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Apology

"I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted. I did not mean offense and I take full responsibility if what I said offended them."

This is a rough approximation of the classic, standard "apology" offered by politicians and celebrities of various sorts. This was not the apology (video below) given by CBS' talk show host David Letterman last night. From tvweek.com, as received from CBS publicity, a transcript of his comments:

"All right, here - I've been thinking about this situation with Governor Palin and her family now for about a week - it was a week ago tonight, and maybe you know about it, maybe you don't know about it. But there was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium. And it was kind of a coarse joke. There's no getting around it, but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18. Yeah. But the joke really, in and of itself, can't be defended. The next day, people are outraged. They're angry at me because they said, 'How could you make a lousy joke like that about the 14-year-old girl who was at the ball game?' And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the Governor and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani...And I really should have made the joke about Rudy..." (audience applauds) "But I didn't, and now people are getting angry and they're saying, 'Well, how can you say something like that about a 14-year-old girl, and does that make you feel good to make those horrible jokes about a kid who's completely innocent, minding her own business,' and, turns out, she was at the ball game. I had no idea she was there. So she's now at the ball game and people think that I made the joke about her. And, but still, I'm wondering, 'Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?' I've never made jokes like this as long as we've been on the air, 30 long years, and you can't really be doing jokes like that. And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself.

"And then I was watching the Jim Lehrer 'Newshour' - this commentator, the columnist Mark Shields, was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl, and I thought, 'Oh, boy, now I'm beginning to understand what the problem is here. It's the perception rather than the intent.' It doesn't make any difference what my intent was, it's the perception. And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it's not a very good joke. And I'm certainly - " (audience applause) "- thank you. Well, my responsibility - I take full blame for that. I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood, it's my fault. That it was misunderstood." (audience applauds)

"Thank you. So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the Governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it and I'll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much." (audience applause)

"All right, here - I've been thinking about this situation with Governor Palin and her family now for about a week - it was a week ago tonight, and maybe you know about it, maybe you don't know about it. But there was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium. And it was kind of a coarse joke. There's no getting around it, but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18. Yeah. But the joke really, in and of itself, can't be defended. The next day, people are outraged. They're angry at me because they said, 'How could you make a lousy joke like that about the 14-year-old girl who was at the ball game?' And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the Governor and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani...And I really should have made the joke about Rudy..." (audience applauds)

"But I didn't, and now people are getting angry and they're saying, 'Well, how can you say something like that about a 14-year-old girl, and does that make you feel good to make those horrible jokes about a kid who's completely innocent, minding her own business,' and, turns out, she was at the ball game. I had no idea she was there. So she's now at the ball game and people think that I made the joke about her. And, but still, I'm wondering, 'Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?' I've never made jokes like this as long as we've been on the air, 30 long years, and you can't really be doing jokes like that. And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself

No one knows, at this point, why the apology was made- if, for instance, CBS demanded Letterman issue a statement of regret, or whether he was threatended with discipline or even reacting to the imminence of a planned demonstration. And no one can know with certainty whether the remarks were sincere. But we do know Letterman conceded

I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood, it's my fault. That it was misunderstood.

The host admitted his reprehensible joke "was beyond flawed" and stated that it the perception was his own fault- no one else's. He noted, earlier in the statement, "it doesn't make any difference what my intent was." And he did not take responsibility- which has become so easy to do- but instead accepted blame.

This apology was thorough and classy.

And what of Governor Palin's response on June 10 to the joke (crude and quite not funny) itself?

Concerning Letterman's comments about my young daughter (and I doubt he'd ever dare make such comments about anyone else's daughter): 'Laughter incited by sexually-perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl....

Perhaps Palin would have been comforted if the comment had been made by a 32-year-old male. Or by an 18-year-old male. Or by a woman. Statements like these are not casually made, and this one was a cheap shot by a classless political animal. Then again, perhaps such is not surprising from someone serving on a ticket with a presidential candidate who himself demonstrated such distaste for anyone of advanced age.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Limbaugh, 6/15/09- Health Care

You got to hand it to Rush Limbaugh. He challenges liberals- and makes rebuttal easy. Rush played a clip from President Obama's speech today to the American Medical Association:

Let me also address a illegitimate concern that's being put forward by those who are claiming that a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single payer system. Now, I'll be honest. There are countries where a single payer system works pretty well.

Limbaugh's response:

Name one.

O.K., this didn't take much research- and we don't have to go far. Take Canada.

This article by clinical psychologist Rhonda Hackett describing herself "as a Canadian living in the United States for the past 17 years" debunks most, maybe all, of the charges voiced against the Canadian health care system. You've heard them all: the system drives taxes up, it's overly bureaucratic, it's much more expensive than what we have in the U.S.A., the government decides who gets serviced when, there are very long waits, Canadians run to the the states for operations, the government runs the hospitals and employs the doctors, there are too few doctors in Canada.

The GOP routinely warns ominously of the "government coming between the patient and their doctor," warning "We cannot allow politicians and special interests to stand between patients and the care they need." Shilling for the insurance industry, Repubs (and a few of their Democratic allies) claim they support a health care system which "protects the important doctor-patient relationship." But Hackett notes

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be.

There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks — unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.

Rush Limbaugh wants a health care system of, by, and for the insurance carriers. But then, at least he can afford it.
Limbaugh, 6/15/09, Social Security

In his rambling (is there any other with him?) rant today against health care reform, Barack Obama, tort reform, and Social Security, Rush Limbaugh claimed

It reminds me of the Soc. Security debate. Democrats said that any reform would mean "less" than what some Americans are receiving now. Well, the dirty little secret is that Social Security cannot pay what is promised already. Social Security is bankrupt, too!

As Warner Wolf would say, "let's go to the videotape." Or in this case, the summary of the 2009 Annual Report of the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees.

In December 2008, 41.6 million people received OASI (Old Age and Survivors Insurance) benefits, 9.3 million received DI (Disability Insurance) benefits, and 45.2 million were covered under Medicare. Three trust funds showed net increases in assets in 2008; HI (Hospital Insurance) Trust Fund assets declined. (SMI is Supplementary Medical Insurance.)

In billions of dollars:

assets at the end of 2007: OASI, 2023.6; DI, 214.9; HI, 326.0; SMI, 42.9

income during 2008: OASI, 695.5; DI, 109.8; HI, 230.8; SMI, 250.0

outgoing during 2008: OASI, 516.2; DI, 109.0; HI, 23.6; SMI, 232.6

net increase in assets: OASI, 179.3; DI, 0.9; HI, -4.7; SMI, 17.4

assets (end of 2008): OASI, 2202.9 DI, 215.8 HI, 321.3 SMI, 60.3

Not only did income in 2008 exceed "outgoing," but total assets of the Social Security trust fund at the end of 2008 stood at $2418.7 billion dollars; aka, 2 trillion, 418 billion, 700 million dollars. This to Rush Limbaugh is bankrupt.

Usually, conservatives sling the term "bankrupt" around in their effort to privatize or destroy (but I repeat myself) the Social Security system. In this case, Rush is wrongly characterizing the health of this incomparably popular government program so as to sow fear about the public option President Obama is proposing as part of health care reform.

Immediately following Limbaugh's statement noted above, he contended "People are going to get less anyway as soon as Social Security starts to go under in ten years or so." Well, no, because revenues are projected even in 2018 (the last year listed in the Trustees' chart) to exceed the amount paid out; and the assets on hand will be sufficient to enable the fund to make full payments for many years out from there.

Usually, conservatives sling the term "bankrupt" around in their effort to privatize or destroy (but I repeat myself) the Social Security system. In this case, Rush is wrongly characterizing the health of this incomparably popular government program so as to sow fear about the public option President Obama is proposing as part of health care reform.

It is inconceivable that Limbaugh believes that Social Security is insolvent, unable to meet its obligations. His statement was not an ambiguity, misrepresentation, distortion,or exaggeration. It was a lie.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jewish Claim To Palestine

In his widely heralded speech in Cairo, Egypt, President Obama declared:

America's strong bonds with Israel are well-known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. And anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust.

Supporters of the President assured critics that this represented admirable even-handednesss, a recognition that Israel, in addition to the Palestinians, have legitimate interests. The Palestinians have been warned that the United States recognizes that both sides must give ground.

Not exactly. Marty Peretz, publisher of The New Republic, notes Obama

chose to understand the Jewish presence in Palestine as a sort of restitution for the Holocaust.... By the time World War II--before the Holocaust, that is--began, there were already more than 500,000 Jews in Palestine. Most of them had arrived as their palpable reply to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, to the approval by the League of Nations of a British mandate for a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1922, to the recommendations of the Peel Commission for a two-state settlement. None of this enters the president's text, not even a hint of it, perhaps because it might muddle the clarity of the equal-claim argument.

This was echoed by Netanyahu in his speech Sunday, in which the Israeli Prime Minister noted

the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.

The right of the Jewish people to a state in the land of Israel does not derive from the catastrophes that have plagued our people.

Of course, there are many people who would question the right of a people to territory based on a narrative from the Bible, the Old Testament in this case. Fortunately, as a Christian, Barack Obama accepts both the New Testament and the Old Testament. Surely a man who as candidate and as President has suggested a devotion to scripture, and has so often referred to it, understands and accepts this history.

Senator Jon Kyl (R.-AZ.) appeared on C-Span's Newsmakers today to slap Europeans in the face. Oh, that wasn't his primary objective but he made clear his attitude toward our allies across the Atlantic. Watch (video below) Senator Kyl, responding to a question about Guantanamo Bay, complain

You know, the fact that some European leader — first of all, they didn’t like the fact that we invaded Iraq and replaced Saddam Hussein either.

There are two ways to view this. Writing on the Center for American Progress (the organization responsible for thinkprogress.org) website, Lawrence Korb, Sean Duggan, Laura Conley (not in response to Kyl) argue

The Bush administration’s decision to take us into a needless war has also made the American people less secure. After six years of fighting in Iraq, we have emboldened new enemies, created a pocket of terrorist activity that did not exist before our invasion, severely limited our ability to provide adequate resources to Afghanistan, the real central front of the war on terror, and undermined the capability and readiness of the military.

True enough. Additionally, however, Kyl's politically correct swipe at Europeans obscures the fact, of which Kyl should have some semblance of awareness, that as of August 16, 2008, 297 Europeans had lost their lives in our nation's war of choice. The number pales in comparison to the number of Americans who have been killed, but the European nations are much smaller than the U.S.A., and did not initiate the war. And that is at least 15 nations which, misguided or otherwise, did not complain about the U.S. invasion, in contrast to Ky's whine about Europe.

Sometimes ignorance is no excuse.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

(Not Carmen) Miranda

Did you hear the one about Obama giving the Miranda warning to dangerous terrorists?

It all started with a report at the Los Angeles Times, used by The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes to write "the Obama Justice Department has quietly ordered FBI agents to read Miranda rights to high value detainees captured and held at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, according a senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee." This was followed by ABC's Jake Tapper, then by Rush Limbaugh on 6/11 noting "Stephen Hayes, at the Weekly Standard on his blog mentioned that terrorist detainees in Afghanistan are being read their Miranda rights. This signals a huge shift once again that fighting terrorism is a criminal enterprise."

It's not only more innocent, but more sensible when one goes back to the original story. Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, the role of the FBI in interviewing terrorism suspects was downgraded, while use of civilian contractors, skilled in coercing false information, expanded. No wonder, then, that reportedly more than 525 detainees were released from the prison camp at Guantanamo by the Bush Administration- and only three convicted. Sure, "it was one of the worst and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against Al Qaeda," as FBI agent Ali Soufa testified last month before Congress, but it had the advantage of reflecting conservative anti-government, pro-outsourcing dogma.

In January, the LA Times Josh Meyer writes, "Obama shut down the CIA's secret 'black site' prisons and forbade the use of coercive interrogation techniques." A greater role for the FBI (and the Justice Department) has been invoked, with use of its "model of "informed" interrogation -- knowing everything about a suspect to get them talking."

A Justice Department spokesman, suggesting that the policy excoriated by the right had been carried over from the Bush Administration, contended "While there have been specific cases in which FBI agents have Mirandized suspects overseas, at both Bagram and in other situations, in order to preserve the quality of evidence obtained, there has been no overall policy change with respect to detainees."

Better interrogations, more evidence, fewer terrorists released, and perhaps President Obama's pledge, "We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security," can be fulfilled. You would expect conservatives like Stephen Hayes and Rush Limbaugh to appreciate that. No, you wouldn't.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Odd Ideas About von Brunn

No kidding: on June 11, 2009 Rush Limbaugh said (video below) about James von Brunn, accused of killing a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.:

....If we want start assigning blame for this beyond this nutcase Jew hater.... They want to claim this guy didn't have the ability to act on his own. He only could act if he was inspired by somebody. Well, who did he hate? He hated both Bushes. He hated neocons. He hated John McCain. He hated Republicans. He hated Jews as well. He believes in an inside job conspiracy of 9/11. This guy is a leftist, if anything. This guy's beliefs, this guy's hate stems from influence that you find on the left, not on the right.

First, von Brunn was no "nutcase." nor, as Chris Cillizza proposed, do we know he "is a guy who is clearly, deeply disturbed." Properly, Chris Matthews has

an objection to that. Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy, OK. He‘s in prison. We can say he did it. Are you saying he was disturbed? Are you saying Lee Harvey Oswald was disturbed? Or are you saying they‘re assassins? This guy was an assassin. Is that, by definition, somebody disturbed or is it somebody who is a zealot, who‘s willing to do anything to get done what they want to get done?

And a leftist? According to Keith Olbermann, on his website von Brunn contended that his character had been shaped by "The Iron Curtain Over America," from which he "learned how Jews had destroyed Europe and were now destroying America." It claimed "General Del Valle recommended that I‘d be given a position with Noontide Press. Noontide publishes right-wing books. Willis Carto (a Holocaust denier from the Liberty Lobby) was its founder." Further, the accused murderer posted on his site "Right-wing websites illuminate the problems that Aryans face. Each day new alarms are sounded, adding more fuel to the raging fire. The right-wing does nothing but talk. No plan of action against the well-known enemy. Exactly the advice Marxists/liberals/Jews want to hear. Even a kid in grade school knows when it‘s time to get his knuckles bloody. And on the conservative Repub website Free Republic, von Brunn defended President Bush against Dan Rather and charged that President Obama's birth certificate was forged and that the media had tried to destroy Sarah Palin.

Then there is David Corn refuting Rush:

I heard his argument, but look at some of the causes that James Von Brunn has associated himself with. One is the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born an American citizen, and therefore he can‘t be president.

He‘s anti-immigration. He‘s for culture purity. He‘s for gun rites (sic). He‘s for defending states‘ rights. He was part of a chat group on Yahoo! called “Support the Confederate Flag.” He wrote a movie script sympathetic to the south in the civil rights. You know, all these issues are far more closely aligned with a conservative movement than to the left.

Cillizza suggests "trying to see this in the left/right split in the political world is a mistake." Funny, though, that during the presidential campaign, Bill Ayers was not viewed as a conservative or a nut- but as a dangerous, unrepentant leftist tied to Barack Obama.

O'Reilly And The Murder

The great liberal blog, crooksandliars.com, holding the host of The O'Reilly Factor partially responsible for the recent murder of the Kansas doctor who performed late term abortions, commented sarcastically

And never mind that Dr. Tiller was made into a national cause celebre, accused of "executing babies" by none other than Bill O'Reilly and the crew of far-right transmitters at Fox News.

No connection there, folks! Move along, move along.

Keith Olbermann, unsurprisingly continuing his anti-O'Reilly campaign, observed

For four years, on at least 28 occasions, that‘s what was said on Fox News Channel. Nazism, al Qaeda, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Stalin, baby killing pedophilia, Tiller the baby killer, again and again and again.

From the objectivity corner, the folks at PolitiFact.com found that going back to 2005, O'Reilly mentioned Dr. Tiller 42 times and on 24 times referred to him as a "baby killer."

And thanks to dailykostv, we have O'Reilly's campaign against Dr. Tiller on video:

If- if- anyone but Scott Roeder is responsible for the murder of Dr. Tiller, it is Bill O'Reilly.

But no one (assuming the accuracy of what we now know, that only one individual took part in the crime) but Scott Roeder is responsible for this offense. Oh, Bill O'Reilly and a portion of the fanatical wing of the pro-life movement contributed to the atmosphere which was a precondition of the murder. But the principal of individual responsibility should hold sway, and no one but the actual assailant should be held accountable for the slaying.

But that doesn't let the Fox News host off the hook. It seemed only reasonable, almost inevitable, as Gabriel Winant wrote on salon.com on May 31, that

When his show airs tomorrow, Bill O'Reilly will most certainly decry the death of Kansas doctor George Tiller, who was killed Sunday while attending church services with his wife. Tiller, O'Reilly will say, was a man who was guilty of barbaric acts, but a civilized society does not resort to lawless murder, even against its worst members. And O'Reilly, we can assume, will genuinely mean this.

Surprise! It didn't happen. After a perfunctory condemnation of the murder, O'Reilly on June 1, with a notable lack of humility or discretion, declared

no back pedaling here. I report honesty. Everything we said about Tiller was true and my analysis was based on those facts. It is clear that the far left is exploiting the death of the doctor. Those vicious individuals want to stifle any criticism of people like Tiller. That and hating Fox News is the real agenda here. If these people were so compassionate, so very compassionate, so concerned for the rights and welfare of others, maybe they might have written something on things about the 60,000 fetuses who will never become American citizens.

Now suppose you have a neighbor whose son tragically died a couple of days earlier of a drug overdose. You go next door, maybe with a homemade cake or one from a mix, to join others in grieving with the family. Another neighbor is there and uses the occasion to decry the epidemic of drug use in America; identify drug addicts as "leeches" on the taxpayers; maintain that addicts are responsible for most serious crime in society; and complain about "lenient" judges without the backbone to do more than slap the wrists of these offenders. You, and everyone else at the family's home, would be aghast and appalled- and perhaps contemplate, as O'Reilly once did for Tiller, "a special place in hell for this guy." Not the right time or place for expression of these resentments (however valid or sincerely held), everyone would agree. And perhaps wonder: is this guy emulating Bill O'Reilly?

(For a perspective on Roeder as a domestic terrorist, check out this from The Young Turks)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Article Of The Week

It really was inevitable. One of the best analyses of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, he the performer of late term abortions, has come from Thomas Frank. Frank is the author of What's The Matter With Kansas, The Wrecking Crew, and other books, and writes a weekly column for The Wall Street Journal. (Think His Holiness writing a column for a journal dedicated to atheism- no exaggeration.)

As fingers are pointed at the extremist wing of the pro-life movement for Tiller's murder, the right-wingers in the media will increasingly blame the left, which they will demonize as part of the liberal media. As Frank better describes it in "Red State Story,"

Public memory is short, however, and it won't be long before this incident, too, has been carved and sanded and fitted neatly into the grand narrative of the culture wars, in which true-believing patriots are eternally disrespected by all-powerful liberals.

Or as he explained about the right in What's The Matter With Kansas,

Nevertheless, the leaders of the backlash..... have chosen to wage cultural battles where victory is impossible....

As culture war, the backlash was born to lose. Its goal is not to win cultural batles but to take offense, consipicuously, vocally, even flamboyantly.

But he makes an even better point when he notes in the WSJ

A larger reason for the shock and surprise -- and this is true for the right generally -- is this: The culture wars are not meant to be taken seriously. Yes, right-wing invective dabbles in nightmare visions of treason and conspiracy and rampant paganism and a homegrown holocaust right here on Main Street, U.S.A. Yes, it ritually denounces liberals as members of a class fundamentally alien to the American way of life. But these are the ingredients of entertainment, not politics.

Culture war makes you feel noble and heroic. It sells books, it drives up the ratings of "The O'Reilly Factor," it brings in millions in direct-mail contributions -- but everybody knows you can't make Hollywood change its ways by walking the streets of Wichita carrying a sign deploring the "culture of death."

According to the unwritten rules of the culture wars, the "base" isn't supposed to act on it when the performers describe a world gone crazy. They're an audience; they're supposed to hiss, applaud, donate, vote and go home.

Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin or Haley Barbour: the words may sound different, but in the end, it's all part of the effort to fortify American plutocracy.
Gamble In Cairo

To Ed Schultz of MSNBC, it's "psycho talk.... more conspiracy theories about Obama being a secret Muslim." To Keith Olbermann of the same network, it's

....Frank Gaffney, nut job. Now celebrating 20 years of undeserved credibility after a brief tenure as an acting assistant secretary of defense. Kind of like winning an honorary Oscar. Writes today in the “Washington Times” that after his speech last week in Cairo, “there‘s mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one of them himself. Mr. Obama referred four times in his speech to the Holy Koran.”

Holy Koran, Batman. The only evidence mounting here is that Mr. Gaffney may be paranoid. Also his beard, I think there‘s something living in it.

It's too easy to criticize Olbermann by noting that ad hominem ("nut job," "his beard, I think there's something living in it") appears to be his modus operandi these days (especially with regard to Bill O'Reilly, but with the latter's comments about Dr. Tiller, he may deserve it). But what about Keith's criticism that neo-conservative Gaffney charged "there's mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one of them himself"? Gaffney really did say that:

With Mr. Obama's unbelievably ballyhooed address in Cairo Thursday to what he calls "the Muslim world" (hereafter known as "the Speech"), there is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself.

Were Frank Gaffney not a conservative, he might be capable of nuance, of making a point and supporting it without overreaching- but alas, he did repeat the commonly ridiculed, and never substantiated, idea that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Until and unless it is, as is unlikely, ever verified, it remains a charge foolishly made, and ought not to be attempted.

Ironically, Gaffney's argument bears some resemblance to that of the Obamaphiles who believe that the Middle East will be instantly transformed now that the U.S. President has expressed sympathy for the grievances and history of oppression endured by the Palestinians. Barack Obama has uniquely communicated with the Muslims of the Middle East, they claim. And Gaffney, too, argues that Obama labored mightily, and successfully, to relate to his audience, doing so in part by using three highly significant phrases:

* "the Holy Koran," which, Gaffney notes, is not used by Muslims, but, as he fails to note, is reminiscent of the Christian reference to "the Holy Bible," and thus an expression of great respect;

* Islam as being "first revealed" on three continents- "revealed," Gaffney maintaining, being a phrase used by Muslims in belief that the Koran is the word of God; and Gaffney failing to note, a word appearing 62 times in the Bible, not including Paul's contention in Galatians 1:12: "For I did not receive it from any man (i.e., the gospel), nor was I taught it, but I recieved it through a revelation of Jesus Christ";

* "as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them) joined in prayer;" "peace be upon them," Gaffney stating, as a phrase Muslims invoke as "a way of blessing deceased holy men;" and "Moses, Jesus and Muhammad" suggesting an equivalence of Muhammad (and Moses, as it were) and Jesus, whom Christians )of whom Obama is one) believe is the Son of God, one in essence with the Father.

Of a piece with Gaffney's claim that Barack Obama may be a Muslim (a possibiity he later brands as possibly "irrelevant") is his silly reference to ACORN, reflecting the right's childish obsession with that community organization. (And Gaffney is blissfully unaware that the Bureau of the Census is legally prohibited from requiring responses as to religious affiliation and thus warns against use of its data on religion.) However, he draws this apt parallel:

During his White House years, William Jefferson Clinton -- someone Judge Sonia Sotomayor might call a "white male" -- was dubbed "America's first black president" by a black admirer. Applying the standard of identity politics and pandering to a special interest that earned Mr. Clinton that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama would have to be considered America's first Muslim president.

Neither Toni Morrison nor anyone else actually believed Bill Clinton was black, just as no one has good cause to believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. But Clinton's ability to identify with, and relate to, black Americans, was strategically advantageous. Perhaps, as President Obama's admirers have suggested, the ability of our current President to demonstrate sympathy toward, and empathy with, Muslims may prove strategically advantageous both in the quest for peace in the Middle East and global security from terrorism. Or perhaps, as Gaffney argues, in "aligning himself" with questionable forces abroad,

the president will greatly intensify the already enormous pressure on peaceful, tolerant American Muslims to submit to such forces - and heighten expectations, here and abroad, that the rest of us will do so as well.

The Natural Rights of Christian Nationalism

He's right, you know. Despite Wheerler's unearned arrogance, @HeidiReports is absolutely correct. Rights given by a god can be tak...