Monday, November 30, 2009

Call Their Bluff

Tuesday, President Obama will lay out his plans for the war in Afghanistan (or rather a 'police action,' war having not been declared.) There is some understandable concern among liberals/progressives- the majority of those who voted for Mr. Obama last November- and Digby suggested one more yesterday. She quotes from an adoring portrait of General David Petraeus in Sunday's Parade magazine, concluding

All I do know is that when I read that glowing article in Parade over my toast and coffee this morning, I could hear millions of Americans saying, "that guy would make a great president." I'd be very surprised if The Man Called Petraeus couldn't hear that too.

But before that, Digby speculates

2012 seems too soon and he's so firmly involved in the war planning that if he were to run against Obama he would have to quit because Obama wasn't following his recommendations.(I wonder if that might be playing into Obama's decision making?)

But it need not play into the President's calculations. After much "dithering" (after all, why consider pros and cons when we can just rush into a war in which American men and women would be killed?), Obama can make a considered, rational decision balancing the perceived advantages to national security of escalation and the cost to the American taxpayer.

Health care reform, according to President Obama, must pay for itself, and as fashioned, will be favorable to the budget. Now, through months of CBO estimates, GOP attacks on health care reform as being financially irresponsible and a budget-buster, and efforts by the Democratic President and the Democratic Congress to prove otherwise, a portion of our attention now turns to Afghanistan. A few Democrats, most notably House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin

have proposed a graduated surtax, beginning in 2011, to pay for the war. Their bill would impose a 1% surtax on people earning less than $150,000. The tax hike would be higher for people earning between $150,000 and $250,000 a year, and double that for people with higher incomes. The bill does not give exact figures for what upper surtax rates would be, but says that they would be high enough to cover the previous year's war costs.

It would exempt veterans of combat since Sept. 11, 2001, their families, and the relatives of those killed in action. The president could delay implementation of the tax for a year if he concluded that the economy was too weak.


Opposition to the idea already has surfaced. California's Jerry Lewis (apparently far more humorous than his namesake), a supporter of the Iraq War- which thus far has cost over $705 billion- has cried

Americans are already being taxed to death. . . . It's time for them to understand that we don't need yet another job-killing tax. We need to better prioritize the resources we have.

Some Republicans- not all- would cry foul. Let them. It is time to "put up or shut up." Republicans ultimately would have two choices- vote in favor of the "job-killing tax" or lay bare their claim that they support military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Let them choose between their holy grail- low income tax rates- or national security (as they see it). President Obama, meanwhile, would be able to claim fiscal responsibility and consistency, given that in April

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, acknowledged that Obama has been critical of Bush's use of similar special legislation to pay for the wars. He said it was needed this time because the money will be required by summer, before Congress is likely to complete its normal appropriations process.

"This will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan," Gibbs said.


If conducting a war in Afghanistan is essential to the west's security- as it might be- it is worth enacting a requirement that it be honestly financed, notwithstanding the provision in the bill enabling the President to delay implementation of the tax for a year. It should not be done on the cheap, and the American people should be treated as adults. Disclosure of the war's cost- unlike that in Iraq (how did that turn out for you?)- should be made to the public, which then would acquire a stake in the military action of our nation. Anything less, and the President and Congress will have determined that the security of the nation and the lives of its combatants are less important than avoiding temporary inconvenience to the American people.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Today's GOP Inadvertently Anti-Reagan

The Republican National Committee has proposed a "Resolution on Reagan's Unity Principle for Support of Candidates" on which it has asked members to comment. These "principles" are the following:

1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill
(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
(4) Workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check
(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat
(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership


The RNC would, if the Resolution is adopted, withhold financial assistance and endorsement from candidates who deviate from three or more of the points.

It is difficult to project from one era to the next. Cap and trade and card check legislation were not proposed during the Reagan era, and the Defense of Marriage Act was not enacted until the Clinton presidency. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan presented challenges of a different sort.

Admittedly, President Reagan had no interest in health care, workers' rights, and stemming gun violence, and was anti-abortion rights. Remember, though, that the RNC's criteria for support is adherence to at leave seven(7) of their ten(10) edicts.

That brings us first to the national debt, deficits, and lower taxes. As this conservative libertarian (forgive the attribution) points out, federal spending as a percentage national income was higher in the last quarter of 1988 than at the end of the Carter Administration. Further, the national debt rose under President Reagan from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. (For a pictorial representation of debt increases from President to President, see this liberal blog for a fine chart.) The budget deficit, 2.7% of gross domestic product during President Carter's last year, was 3.% of gdp by Mr. Reagan's last year. And the legendary tax-cutter from Dixon, Illinois enacted in 1992 what was then the largest tax increase in American history.

We don't know whether Mr. Reagan would have supported "military-recommended troop surges" in Iraq and Afghanistan and agressive containment of Iran and North Korea, presumably in contrast to President Obama's pragmatic approach. But we do know that, like our current president, President Reagan adopted a pragmatic, rather than ideological, approach to foreign policy. Romesh Ratnesar recently explained in Time Magazine (emphasis mine) that

....Reagan's role in bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful end of the Cold War remains exaggerated, manipulated and misunderstood. To many of his conservative admirers, the challenge to Gorbachev in Berlin epitomized the toughness that made Reagan great: by refusing to compromise his core principles, he defeated communism and won the Cold War. But the truth is that Reagan was more adaptable, politically shrewd and open to compromise than either his champions or his critics prefer to admit. He may have called the Soviet Union an "evil empire," but he was not above negotiating with it. While others saw the enmity between the superpowers as immutable, he insisted that change was possible. And though today he is revered by foreign policy hawks, Reagan's greatest successes were achieved not through the use of force but by persuasion, dialogue and diplomacy.

Christian Caryl, in foreignpolicy.com, strikes the same theme, observing

If anything, it was Reagan's willingness, throughout most of his second term, to meet Gorbachev halfway that helped the Soviet leader back away from the use of force -- an achievement that led British journalist Victor Sebestyen to dub Reagan "America's Leading Dove."

Argue if you wish that President Reagan's heart, like that of modern-day Republicans, was with tax cuts for the wealthy and that "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" was more than great theatre. But there is no question that he longed for the "legal immigration and assimilation into American society" for people from other lands and hardly fought "amnesty for illegal immigrants." In a 2006 op-ed in The New York Times, Reagan's Attorney General, Edwin Meese, asserted

President Reagan called this what it was: amnesty. Indeed, look up the term 'amnesty' in Black's Law Dictionary, and you'll find it says, 'the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country.

This probably did not meet the dictionary definition of amnesty. Nevertheless, as Meese argued

Note that this path to citizenship was not automatic. Indeed, the legislation stipulated several conditions: immigrants had to pay application fees, learn to speak English, understand American civics, pass a medical exam and register for military selective service. Those with convictions for a felony or three misdemeanors were ineligible. Sound familiar? These are pretty much the same provisions included in the new Senate proposal and cited by its supporters as proof that they have eschewed amnesty in favor of earned citizenship.

So on immigration, the majority of the Democratic Party, which the GOP slams in its "Resolutions," wants to make the same mistake do the same thing as President Reagan did. This Democratic President, who admires President Reagan, is pursuing a pragmatic course in foreign policy, as did our 40th President; and Democrats, faced with a recession, are unavoidably running up the debt. They may not believe, as Ronald Reagan reportedly did, that "budget deficits don't matter"- but they are being faithful to the Reagan legacy.

In many ways, President Reagan was a conservative, but clearly not the hard-core ideologue the modern Repub Party, which is pretending to be his ideological heir, is. To look at its philosophical forebear, the GOP need look no further back than to the previous president, George W. Bush. A remarkably complete, conservative, failure.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Threat To The Elderly

Health care guru Jonathan Cohn thinks it's just dandy that President Obama likes the recent article on health care costs published in The Atlantic by Ron Brownstein.

Of course he would. Brownstein lauds the bill crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and concludes

The attempt in all these ideas to nudge the medical system away from fee-for-service medicine toward an approach that ties compensation more closely to results captures how much the health care debate has shifted toward cost-control. So far, the rise in health care spending has proven almost invulnerable to every previous attempt to tame it, like the managed care revolution in the 1990s. Even if Obama signs into law a final bill embodying all these reform proposals, many skeptics wonder if they can bend, much less break, the seemingly inexorable increase in health care spending. Reischauer understands that skepticism, but isn't able to entirely suppress a kernel of optimism that this latest reform agenda may prove more effective than its predecessors. "One never knows whether we're turning the corner or if this is just playing the same old game for another inning," he says. "But I sense there's something different out there. I think the medical profession and its leaders have read the handwriting on the wall and are trying to evolve." If so, the ideas the Senate will begin voting on tonight could mark a milestone in that journey.

In addition to the cost-containment provisions in the bill, Brownstein commends proposals of the New America Foundation, including

mechanisms to more quickly diffuse into the private insurance system reforms that show promise in Medicare. Democratic sources say a group of centrist Democrats led by Virginia Senator Mark Warner is trying to devise a package designed to do just that, perhaps by expanding the role of the independent Medicare advisory commission.

The President may like that idea of "an independent Medicare advisory commission." On February 14 The Wall Street Journal reported

The president met with 44 fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats this week and gave a nod to legislation that would set up commissions to deal with long-term deficit strains. The commissions would then present plans to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

"We feel like we've found a partner in the White House," said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D., La.), a Blue Dog co-chairman.


Now, The Hill notes of Democratic Senators Conrad (N.D.), Bayh (Indiana), Feinstein (Ca.), Warner (Va.), and Lieberman (Ct.) and Republican Senators Gregg (N.H.), Voinovich (Ohio), and Sessions (Alabama)

Seven members of the Senate Budget Committee threatened during a Tuesday hearing to withhold their support for critical legislation to raise the debt ceiling if the bill calling for the creation of a bipartisan fiscal reform commission were not attached. Six others had previously made such threats, bringing the total to 13 senators drawing a hard line on the committee legislation.

“You rarely do have the leverage to make a fundamental change,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who said he hasn’t ruled out offering the independent commission legislation as an amendment to the healthcare reform bill.

The panel, which has been championed by Conrad and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H), would be tasked with stemming the unsustainable rise in debt.

Among its chief responsibilities would be closing the gap between tax revenue coming in and the larger cost of paying for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The Government Accountability Office recently reported the gap is on pace to reach an “unsustainable” $63 trillion in 2083.


The panel would also have the power to craft legislation that would change the tax code and set limits on government spending.

The legislation would then be subject to an up-or-down vote; it could not be amended
.

The stakes are extraordinarily high because

If the debt ceiling is not raised above its current $12.1 trillion mark by then, the government will exceed its borrowing limits and will be forced to default on the debt. Economists have warned that the inevitable result would be a lowering of the U.S. credit rating, triggering substantial increases in the interest rates the government is already paying.

Chris Bowers at Open Left explains why Senate leadership must just say 'no:'

Let's review the threat that these five Democrats are making:

They will allow the United States to default on its debt, which will vastly increase the overall amount we have to pay on our debt
UNLESS

Speaker Nancy Pelosi turns over Congressional power on Social Security and Medicare to an unelected commission that will almost certainly propose deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare entitlements. Keep in mind that if deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare pass under a Democratic trifecta, the party would be doomed at the ballot box for years to come.
This is completely insane, and there is no choice but to call this bluff.

Let's see these five Democratic Senators explain to the entire nation why they allowed the country to default on its debt. No matter how safe their seats appear to be, no Senator is going to win reelection after making the entire country default on its debt Their rationale does not matter. Being blamed for making the country default on its debt-especially after all five of these Democrats voted in favor of the Wall Street bailout and are demanding that Social Security and Medicare be cut-will be the effective end of their political careers.


Commissions established to recommend cuts to programs such as Medicare and Social Security are not created to consider whether cuts should be made, but rather to recommend them. If they are enacted, it would not only be a devastating blow to the elderly but virtual political suicide for the Democratic Party. Digby points out (11/25/09, "Bad Bargain")

The lesson is clear. Democrats don't get rewarded for "righteous" bipartisan gestures. They get impeached. And to dream that the American people will somehow reward the president for putting in place mechanisms for lowering the deficit is delusional. People don't even know what the deficit is, they just think it's a symbol of bad governance. Putting us on the road to "entitlement" destruction won't change their opinion if they still see signs of .... bad governance. It has no real meaning to real people. Personally hurting financially and believing that their futures are in jeopardy does have real meaning --- and the Republicans will make sure they know who to blame for it.

This should be clear to the Democrats who are trying to blackmail Speaker of the House Pelosi (in whose chamber the ceiling would be raised first). And it should be clear to Barack Obama, who routinely has demonstrated extraordinary political prescience- and perhaps it is. Certainly, though, the Republicans behind the idea understand the implications.
Offensive Presentation

Fortunately, we no longer ridicule blacks, Hispanics, and other groups traditionally the subjects of discrimination and bigotry in American society.

The key, here, is whether the group is subject to discrimination and bigotry in society because ridiculing a group well established in American culture and economics is politically safer. And so we have MTV imploring us to “Grab your hair gel, wax that Cadillac and get those tattooed biceps ready to fist pump with the best this summer at the Jersey Shore.”

The premiere of the music video network’s newest reality show, Jersey Shore (video of a trailer below), airs December 3. Creating a 'reality show' excuses trash television, and this docudrama apparently will not disappoint those who always have enjoyed stereotypes of Italian-Americans . But an activist from northern New Jersey noted

Usually, if the movie or TV show specifically lets you know a character is Italian, chances are he's a buffoon or a criminal, Who's the dumbest friend on 'Friends'? Joey -- who, you guessed it, is Italian.

And that was nine years ago, a reaction to HBO’s Sopranos, which fostered a negative stereotype of Italian-Americans and of New Jersey, and a positive image of La Cosa Nostra. It was a ratings and financial success, which, obviously, is not only the ‘bottom line’ but the only criterion for media moguls in New York City (where MTV is based) and Hollywood.

“Jersey Shore,” depicting the debauchery of “Guidos” (nearly the Italian-American equivalent of ‘n_ _ _ _ _ _') enjoying a summer in the beach town of Seaside Heights, N.J., may not be as popular, or lucky, as the chic and fashionable Sopranos, a subject of discussion on the many talk shows which enjoyed ratcheting up enthusiasm for the program. The president of the Italian-American organization Unico National (which protested also The Sopranos) has called on MTV to drop plans to air ‘Jersey Shore’ and the president of the National Italian American Foundation has stated

We find this program alarming in that it attempts to make a direct connection between 'guido culture' and Italian-American identity.

Expect it, though, to be popular at least among New Yorkers, one of whom is quoted by the New York Daily News as saying “No, it's not offensive, but I'm not PC. It's funny.” Nothing about New Jersey is ever too funny, or too offensive, for a lot of people from the Big Apple.

MTV got it right in one portion of their promotion, however, when it stated

We understand that this show is not intended for every audience and depicts just one aspect of youth culture.

Presenting a show geared only to the most immature audience, MTV is depicting one aspect of youth culture- one of obnoxious excess- and suggesting it is typical of Italian-Americans, and of New Jersey, youth.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wither The Public Option

Robert Reich describes how the goalposts have been moved on a public option in health care reform. Once envisioned as "robust," it now appears to be feeble.

At first, Reich notes, it was Medicare for all; then a Medicare-like plan for all Americans; then a public option only to individuals not covered by Medicaid or their employer, in which the government would be unable to set its own rates; then a public option which the CBO estimates only six million people will enroll in and which, with little bargaining power, will enroll only the sickest of individuals.

And with Senators Lieberman of Connecticut, Nelson of Nebraska, Landrieu of Louisiana and Lincoln of Arkansas threatening to vote against a bill containing any public option, any government option in final health care legislation will be, if anything, weaker than the weak option included in the House bill.

It's easy to see why. On Monday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D.-RI), who in the HELP Committee helped write the public option, told Keith Olbermann on Countdown:

I also think that there's some room around the details of the public option between opt-in and opt-out and trigger. I, for one, am not particularly concerned about the names. I would like to see the public option as available as possible. And there may be room for a compromise, for instance, with Senator Snowe about a trigger that actually does better in terms of reach for the public option.

Translation for the few viewers who, like Olbermann, did not understand Whitehouse: I'm for whatever we can get away with calling a 'public option.'

The same evening, Senator Sherrod Brown (D.-Ohio) told guest host Lawrence O'Donnell on Rachel Maddow:

My focus is on getting this bill passed. I think that I-I mean, of course, we see these kinds of things, but we need to get it passed. And that doesn't mean continuing to move to the right. I mean, that's what has happened in some ways in this bill. The public option is not the way Sheldon Whitehouse and I wrote it, or wanted to write it back in the HELP Committee in July. It's compromised. It's still solid and still strong.

He was a little more equivocal but nevertheless had said: The bill is compromised but is still "solid and strong." I just don't know why.

And for those who wonder what President Obama is thinking about this, think no more. His home-state Senator, Richard Durbin, likely was characteristically channeling Mr. Obama when he discussed (video below, thanks to Daily Kos TV) with David Gregory on Meet The Press the possibility of a trigger (for a bonus point, we get California Senator Dianne Feinstein's opinion):

There are many variations on the theme. I am committed to public option. I think we’ve put together a good bill. We are open because we want to pass this bill. At the end of the day we want insurance to be more affordable, we want to stop the insurance industry abuses, we want to give American people a choice in this decision.

MR. GREGORY: So the public option is negotiable.

SEN. DURBIN: They don’t have to...

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yeah.

SEN. DURBIN: It has been. Putting in the opt-out was clearly a variation on the theme from the beginning.


Shorter Durbin (and Obama): Public option, trigger, opt-out, it's all the same.

How has it gotten to this, inasmuch as these three male Democrats, and the President, are (such as it inside the Beltway these days) progessives. Short answer: because President Obama knew that, no matter how a bill might be compromised, he could count on the support of all Democrats but the most conservative. The longer answer comes, inadvertently, from Senator Brown in the same interview on Maddow's show when he was speaking about the Democratic holdouts but could have been describing his fellow progressives:

And I think, in the end, these four Democrats-obviously, I don't speak for anybody else, but they don't want to be on the wrong side of history.

It worked for Senator Obama in the presidential election as undecided independents broke for him on Election Day- and it might hold for passage of a weak, but historic, health care bill.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Matthews Does The Unthinkable (2)

When Matthews took on (video below, as in previous post) Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Rhode Island on November 23 over the issue of abortion, he raised two important issues: 1) the criminalization of abortion (previous post) and the role of the Church and the Roman Catholic politician.

Matthews raised the latter issue early in the interview (relevant portion below) on Hardball beginning with video of the first Roman Catholic President, John F. Kennedy remarking at a prayer breakfast in Houston

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will, directly or indirectly, upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That's John F. Kennedy, of course, back in 1960 down in Houston.

The bishop of Providence has been engaged in a series of sharp exchanges these days with U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy over abortion rights. Over the weekend, Congressman Kennedy revealed that Bishop Tobin, Thomas Tobin, had asked him not to receive communion because of his support for abortion rights in Congress.

Bishop Thomas Tobin joins us now.

Your Excellency, what do you make of that quote from Kennedy back in '60; "I believe in an American-in an America where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the pope"?

REV. THOMAS TOBIN, BISHOP OF PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND: Sure. And that's a good reference and a very famous quote, of course.

A little bit of a difference, though. I think what the president, the ex-president, was talking about was the establishment of a national religion. In fact, what we're trying to do is not dictate what the public policy should be in the United States from a purely Catholic doctrinal point of view.

What we're trying to do, most of all, is instill good human values, but also have Catholics who are in political office be faithful to the dictates of the church and the dictates of their conscience and the teachings of the church.

MATTHEWS: I don't see how you read it that way, Your Excellency. "I believe in an America where no public official, no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the church."

I don't know how you read that any other way than the way Senator-or then Senator Kennedy said it-no instruction on public policy from his church. You think he meant something different than what he said?

(CROSSTALK)

TOBIN: I suppose there are different ways of approaching that.

But the point is that any Catholic in public office, his first commitment has to be to his faith, not just for a Catholic, but for a member of any religious community. No commitment is more important than your commitment to your faith, because it involves your relationship with God.

And if your faith somehow interferes with or your job gets in the way of your faith, as I have said on other occasions, you need to quit your job and-and save your soul. Nothing can become more important than your relationship with God.

MATTHEWS: If you were a member of Congress-and I know you're a political junky, from reading about you and talking to my friends about you, Your Excellency-what would be your voting record on abortion? How would you deal with the issue if you got to vote in Congress?

TOBIN: Well, of course, I'm not a member of Congress.

But, if I were, I certainly would never be in a position of supporting any degree of abortion legislation that enables or facilitates or encourages abortion. Keep in mind what we believe about abortion. Every time an abortion takes place, a baby dies. I don't know how people of good conscience, especially people from a Catholic background, could take that position in good conscience.

MATTHEWS: Well, what law would you pass?

TOBIN: Well, I think laws that preserve and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That's what we're talking about here, Your Excellency, the law, not the morality of the issue, but the law. You're-you're coming down on Congressman Kennedy and on other public officials because of the way they're approaching the law. What law would you write if you had the authority to do that on abortion rights?

TOBIN: Sure.

I think I would write laws that pre-I would write laws that preserved and protect human life, to the extent that it's completely possible.

MATTHEWS: Right. That's the value. That's the value you support.

TOBIN: We recognize-right.

MATTHEWS: This isn't about values. This is about behavior.

TOBIN: We...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What law would you pass? Would you outlaw abortion?

TOBIN: I think that was certainly where our nation would want to move, much like it was before that disastrous decision of Roe v. Wade.

I mean, that was a benchmark, as you know, that...

MATTHEWS: So, you would vote to outlaw it. No, I really want to get...

TOBIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: We have to get down to this, because your problem with Congressman Kennedy is his position on the law, what the law should read on abortion.

What should the law be? What should a good Catholic, as you would put it, believe about the law? Should the law outlaw, should it ban abortion? Is that what a good Catholic should do?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Because you're instructing people now how to vote. So, tell Catholics now on television how they should vote as members of Congress.

TOBIN: Sure.

Catholics should vote as members of Congress on laws that preserve and protect human right. I don't know that I'm in a position to comment on specific pieces of legislation, because, as you know, there are hundreds of them and thousands of them.

MATTHEWS: Would you outlaw it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you a broad question. Would you outlaw it?

TOBIN: Absolutely, because abortion is the taking of innocent human life.

MATTHEWS: Right, I know. Right. So that's where your difference is with president-with Congressman Kennedy. He wouldn't outlaw it. Isn't that your difference?

TOBIN: That's a huge difference. And keep in mind that I didn't go after Congressman Kennedy. I didn't single him out. I didn't look for him. I responded to things that he had said when he initiated his first unprovoked attack on the church, and other things he's written since then. So I haven't gone after him. I've responded to things that he has said consistently....


Bishop Tobin got off to a bad start. When Matthews asks him to comment on Kennedy's statement "I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the pope...." Tobin curiously responds "I think what the president, the ex-president, was talking about was the establishment of a national religion." This would have been odd, given that Kennedy's purpose in the speech was to assure the Protestant clergymen in attendance that as President, he would not allow his church to dictate his policy- not that their brand of Christianity should not be the national religion. (They already knew he believed that and reminding them would have been self-defeating.) Credit the host for implying that his guest's interpretation was off-base, rather than dishonest: "I don't know how you read that any other way than the way Senator-or then Senator Kennedy said it-no instruction on public policy from his church. You think he meant something different than what he said?"

Matthews went on to elicit an extraordinary comment from Bishop Tobin: "But the point is that any Catholic in public office, his first commitment has to be to his faith, not just for a Catholic, but for a member of any religious community." That, if it were official church position, would come as a surprise to those of us non-Catholics who voted for John Kerry for president, expecting his priority if elected to be the the overall welfare of the American people.

But Matthews wasn't able to make his critical point until the Bishop repeatedly refused, or was unable, to say what the penalty should be for a woman who has obtained an illegal abortion and he stated, significantly, "Well, again, I think it would depend on the specific piece of legislation that was crafted. And I'm not in a position-I wouldn't even pretend to be in a position to do that." Matthews then explained:

....when you realize you don't really want to punish a woman for having an abortion, under the law, then maybe you should step back from using the law as your tool in enforcing moral authority.

Maybe your moral authority comes from the pulpit and from teaching, and a congressman has a totally different role, which is to write the law. Now, I've asked you three times, your excellency, to tell me what the law should be. And if you can't do it, maybe you shouldn't be involved in telling Congressman Kennedy how to write the law. You say you don't know how to do it. Well, you ought to try before you tell him what he's doing wrong. That's my thinking....

No, let's get to the woman. No, you have no idea, and it's not your area. And yet this is the very area you've transgressed in. You've gone into the area of lawmaking, and condemned the behavior of public officials who have to write public policy.


Game, set, match. Fortunately, Bishop Tobin does not speak for the entire American Roman Catholic Church, which has a legal and ethical right to speak out on public policy. But if a clergyman cannot- or will not- say "what the law should be," he should not be telling a legislator how to write the law, nor to "tell him what he's doing wrong." Bishop Tobin indeed "went into the area of lawmaking" and then when pressed, begged off, claiming "I don't know that I'm in a position to comment on specific pieces of legislation, because, as you know, there are hundreds of them and thousands of them."

Trying to have it both ways is not a means of establishing moral clarity. Even if Chris Matthews had not established that, he would have served a vital public purpose simply simply in exposing sensitive issues and, more courageously, doing so with a clergyman.


Matthews Does The Unthinkable (1)

Chris Matthews made me look foolish, given that I had suggested the possibility that he exhibits a preference for politicos of his own faith. He may do so, but it certainly didn't enter into his extraordinary questioning of a member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy Monday evening.

Spurred by the row between Representative Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.) and the Diocese of Rhode Island over taking communion, Matthews on the Hardball episode of 11/24 aired two revealing segments, one strictly about abortion and one touching on the matter, The latter, which was the last segment of the program, consisted of a discussion with Patrick J. Buchanan and The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson and included the following:

MATTHEWS: We're back with MSNBC political analysts Eugene Robinson and Pat Buchanan for more of the fix. Pat, we had an interesting discussion, I thought, putting it lightly, with Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, because he has gone out and basically, apparently privately advised Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of Ted Kennedy, he shouldn't go to communion. Kennedy put that out publicly. It's really become a church/state fight here.

BUCHANAN: I agree with the bishop. He has a moral responsibility to teach and instruct someone who's doing something morally wrong, which is providing funding for the killing of innocent human beings. You asked him, you know, what should the sanction be? Should you really be telling lawmakers what to do? Certainly they did in the Civil Rights era. They said, look, I don't know how this law is going to be passed, but what is being done is wrong. Amanda Perez was ex-communicated for being against civil-

MATTHEWS: I'm not sure that anybody on the pro-life side-or few of them are willing to say a woman should be put in prison for getting an abortion. The word murder is used frequently.

BUCHANAN: They would go back to the 1950s. You put the abortionist in prison. If you put someone there, not the woman, she's the first victim.

MATTHEWS: How would that stop a person from-

BUCHANAN: It may not stop all of them, Chris. You can't stop all drugs by outlawing them.

ROBINSON: I thought I heard the bishop say go back to pre-Roe v. Wade. We all know-we're talking about the real world here. We all know abortion is not going to become illegal in every state. Women are going to go across state lines.

MATTHEWS: It's not going to be eradicated where it's illegal, either. Let's face it, there's always going to be a med student who flunked out of school who's willing to be an abortion doctor.

ROBINSON: The question you asked I thought was a good question. How do you criminalize it? What is the penalty?

MATTHEWS: Pat, I go back to this. Your hesitance to prescribe a punishment tells me you have a problem with calling this, in effect, legally murder. Is this murder?

BUCHANAN: It is the killing of an-

MATTHEWS: Is it murder?

BUCHANAN: -- innocent unborn. Does it meet the definition of murder?

I think it does.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you punish the woman?

BUCHANAN: If an abortionist does it, she's a participant in it, but I think she's a victim.

MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you. You're hedging, hedging, hedging. Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan. Right now, it's time for "THE ED


Pretty simple. If abortion is outlawed, it will be because legislators and/or judges have determined abortion is killing and, hence, must be prohibited, at which point 'killing' will have become 'murder.' Otherwise, the motive will have been to restrict radically the power of a woman over her own body or to expand radically the power of government to restrict an individual's control over that body. Few could be so cynical as to deny that a passionate belief in abortion as the taking of a human life would not be the primary motive.

The role of the federal or state government, in case of violation of the law, would be clear: punish both the professional who has taken the life and the woman who requested the act be committed. And given the likelihood that, with the risks inherent in conducting a proscribed procedure, the woman will have sought out the professional and paid him to kill her baby, prosecution of the mother who had been pregnant would be ethically unavoidable.

If Matthews had- as he has previously- merely pointed out the (euphemistically speaking) disconnect or the (still generous) hypocrisy of advocating the prohibition of abortion while unwilling to support prosecution of the woman, he would have been performing a public service, one far too few in his profession are willing to do.

But earlier in Tuesday's program, Matthews- proudly Roman Catholic by background and affiliation- discussed (video below) with the Diocese's Bishop Thomas Tobin this extraordinary lack of will. Call it "Nixon going to China" or whatever you will, but virtually no journalist, and certainly no politician, would deign to conduct an interview like this one (worth reading in its totality):

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That's John F. Kennedy, of course, back in 1960 down in Houston.

The bishop of Providence has been engaged in a series of sharp exchanges these days with U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy over abortion rights. Over the weekend, Congressman Kennedy revealed that Bishop Tobin, Thomas Tobin, had asked him not to receive communion because of his support for abortion rights in Congress.
Bishop Thomas Tobin joins us now.

Your Excellency, what do you make of that quote from Kennedy back in '60; "I believe in an American-in an America where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the pope"?

REV. THOMAS TOBIN, BISHOP OF PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND:
Sure. And that's a good reference and a very famous quote, of course.

A little bit of a difference, though. I think what the president, the ex-president, was talking about was the establishment of a national religion. In fact, what we're trying to do is not dictate what the public policy should be in the United States from a purely Catholic doctrinal point of view.

What we're trying to do, most of all, is instill good human values, but also have Catholics who are in political office be faithful to the dictates of the church and the dictates of their conscience and the teachings of the church.

MATTHEWS: I don't see how you read it that way, Your Excellency. "I believe in an America where no public official, no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the church."

I don't know how you read that any other way than the way Senator-or then Senator Kennedy said it-no instruction on public policy from his church. You think he meant something different than what he said?

(CROSSTALK)

TOBIN: I suppose there are different ways of approaching that.

But the point is that any Catholic in public office, his first commitment has to be to his faith, not just for a Catholic, but for a member of any religious community. No commitment is more important than your commitment to your faith, because it involves your relationship with God.

And if your faith somehow interferes with or your job gets in the way of your faith, as I have said on other occasions, you need to quit your job and-and save your soul. Nothing can become more important than your relationship with God.

MATTHEWS: If you were a member of Congress-and I know you're a political junky, from reading about you and talking to my friends about you, Your Excellency-what would be your voting record on abortion? How would you deal with the issue if you got to vote in Congress?

TOBIN: Well, of course, I'm not a member of Congress.
But, if I were, I certainly would never be in a position of supporting any degree of abortion legislation that enables or facilitates or encourages abortion. Keep in mind what we believe about abortion. Every time an abortion takes place, a baby dies. I don't know how people of good conscience, especially people from a Catholic background, could take that position in good conscience.

MATTHEWS: Well, what law would you pass?

TOBIN: Well, I think laws that preserve and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That's what we're talking about here, Your Excellency, the law, not the morality of the issue, but the law. You're-you're coming down on Congressman Kennedy and on other public officials because of the way they're approaching the law. What law would you write if you had the authority to do that on abortion rights?

TOBIN: Sure.
I think I would write laws that pre-I would write laws that preserved and protect human life, to the extent that it's completely possible.

MATTHEWS: Right. That's the value. That's the value you support.

TOBIN: We recognize-right.

MATTHEWS: This isn't about values. This is about behavior.

TOBIN: We...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What law would you pass? Would you outlaw abortion?

TOBIN: I think that was certainly where our nation would want to move, much like it was before that disastrous decision of Roe v. Wade.
I mean, that was a benchmark, as you know, that...
MATTHEWS: So, you would vote to outlaw it. No, I really want to get...

TOBIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: We have to get down to this, because your problem with Congressman Kennedy is his position on the law, what the law should read on abortion.
What should the law be? What should a good Catholic, as you would put it, believe about the law? Should the law outlaw, should it ban abortion? Is that what a good Catholic should do?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Because you're instructing people now how to vote. So, tell Catholics now on television how they should vote as members of Congress.

TOBIN: Sure.
Catholics should vote as members of Congress on laws that preserve and protect human right. I don't know that I'm in a position to comment on specific pieces of legislation, because, as you know, there are hundreds of them and thousands of them.

MATTHEWS: Would you outlaw it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you a broad question. Would you outlaw it?

TOBIN: Absolutely, because abortion is the taking of innocent human life.

MATTHEWS: Right, I know. Right. So that's where your difference is with president-with Congressman Kennedy. He wouldn't outlaw it. Isn't that your difference?

TOBIN: That's a huge difference. And keep in mind that I didn't go after Congressman Kennedy. I didn't single him out. I didn't look for him. I responded to things that he had said when he initiated his first unprovoked attack on the church, and other things he's written since then. So I haven't gone after him. I've responded to things that he has said consistently.

MATTHEWS: You said that we should go back to where we were before Roe v. Wade in '73. So let's go back to that, if that is the prescription you're offering here. If you outlaw abortion at the state level, say at the Rhode Island level, or the Pittsburgh level in Pennsylvania, where you come from, or anything like that, then you make it illegal for a person to go get on abortion. So what does that do, in fact? What's the effect on human life? You want to respect and preserve human life. What is the effect that has if you say a doctor can't perform an abortion? Would you criminalize it? Would you put people in jail? If it's murder, as you see it, would you criminalize it?

TOBIN: Well, the first effect on human life is that we preserve human life.

MATTHEWS: How would it work? How would it work? That's one of the questions I have. How would it work if you outlawed it?

TOBIN: Sure. Well, again, I think it would depend on the specific piece of legislation that was crafted. And I'm not in a position-I wouldn't even pretend to be in a position to do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's what you're doing here. You're saying that Congressman Kennedy has voted wrong. Tell me how he should have voted. Should he vote to outlaw or criminalize abortion? If you say that a doctor can't perform an abortion, then somebody else might do it or they might leave the country to have an abortion or they might do it illegally. Some midwife could do it or somebody who flunked out of med school could do it. Unless you outlaw it, unless you outlaw getting an abortion, I just wonder if you're really preventing it in any way.
I mean, what would be the penalty for a woman getting an abortion in the world you would like to construct here? What would be the penalty for getting an abortion?

TOBIN: I have no idea what the penalty would be, because I'm not-

MATTHEWS: Well, you're talking about-no. But you're telling congress-people how to vote and what laws to pass. What law should be-

TOBIN: What we're trying to do-

MATTHEWS: No, no. Go ahead.

TOBIN: No, what we're trying to do-

MATTHEWS: I think you're intervening. I think you're getting into law here, and you don't like Congressman Kennedy's voting record in Congress. That's what you're really going after, where he stands on the law. A lot of catholics agree or disagree in every poll I've seen about what the law should be. They generally accept the teaching authority of the church, the magistar (ph), your teaching authority, your excellency.

Where the disagreement is where the law should be, what the penalty should be. I've never heard of anybody in the church, in the laity, in the clergy, or in the hierarchy saying a woman should be put in prison for having an abortion. And then I said, wait a minute, if you think it's murder, there's an inconsistency here.

And if there is a hesitancy to punish a woman for having an abortion, maybe that's instructive to you, sir, your excellency, because when you realize you don't really want to punish a woman for having an abortion, under the law, then maybe you should step back from using the law as your tool in enforcing moral authority.

Maybe your moral authority comes from the pulpit and from teaching, and a congressman has a totally different role, which is to write the law. Now, I've asked you three times, your excellency, to tell me what the law should be. And if you can't do it, maybe you shouldn't be involved in telling Congressman Kennedy how to write the law. You say you don't know how to do it. Well, you ought to try before you tell him what he's doing wrong. That's my thinking.

Because when it comes to the law, it's a secular question. It has not to do with the moral-we do a lot of things in this country we don't like, we think are immoral. But the question is, what sanction do you apply to it? And I'm asking you again with respect, because you are here on the show of your own free will, at our request. What should be the penalty for a young woman or a girl, even, to have an abortion? And if there is no penalty for it, are you really outlawing it?

TOBIN: Sure. And it can perhaps be different degrees of penalties, depending on the involvement of the person. There might be some penalty for the woman having the abortion.

MATTHEW: What would be appropriate?

TOBIN: For a doctor performing-

MATTHEWS: No, let's get to the woman. No, you have no idea, and it's not your area. And yet this is the very area you've transgressed in. You've gone into the area of lawmaking, and condemned the behavior of public officials who have to write public policy. And I get back to what John Kennedy said when he was under pressure to explain the separation between church and state, the difference between rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar, which is the law, and rendering to your flock and people like me what is right and wrong.

And I would contest that your problem is you haven't gotten people to obey your moral code through teaching, and you have resorted now to use the law to do your enforcement for you. And the problem with that is you are hesitant, even here, your excellency, to state for me now what the punishment should be under the law for having an abortion, because you know, deep down, if you said one minute in prison, you would be laughed at, because the American people, catholic and non-catholic, do not think it's a criminal act to have an abortion.

They may not like it. They may think it's immoral. But they don't think it's criminal. And yet you are here bringing the force of the law, the authority of the police, and the bench, the law, the judiciary. You want to bring it all to bear, including the Constitution, to enforce your moral beliefs, which are very valid, and I happen to share them. But how do you do it under the law, your excellency? And I'll give you plenty of time to do this. How do you do it under the law?

TOBIN: Thank you. And I appreciate-appreciate the time to try to explain it. I think it's not unusual, and you would understand this, I think, to have the moral law reflected in the laws of a land. We do that all of the time when we say that you may not kill somebody. You may not steal something. You may not beat somebody up. It's not at all unusual to have the moral law reflected in the laws of the land.

Now, exactly how that is played out, that's not the job of the church, much as we're involved in the question of health care. We're trying to establish some very basic principles about health care. We're not involved in the great details of the 2,000 page piece of legislation. And the same approach would be taken perhaps to abortion. We believe that abortion is wrong. It's a matter of the natural law and our legislation often reflects principles of the natural law.

I'm not a legislator. I can't begin to write those laws. My job is to try to promote the truth of the moral law, and to encourage members of my church who freely choose to be catholic to follow the dictates of their faith.

MATTHEWS: I-your excellency, thank you for coming on. I believe you expressed a hesitancy of the clergy to intervene in terms of what sanctions should be. Words like murder and killing are used in the case of abortion, but they do not seem to apply in terms of writing the law, and you've made that very clear. And I would urge you to consider the possibility of error here, because in getting into telling public officials how to set public policy, you're stepping beyond moral teaching, and you're basically assuming an authority, which I don't think is yours. Anyway, thank you very much.

TOBIN: Obviously, we disagree on that point. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: About the authority of the church. And I do believe that Jesus had it right when he said "render under Caesar the things that are Caesar." And as you admitted tonight on four or five occasions, you don't know how to write law. And writing law is very tricky in a secular society, in which you and I live, even with our moral conduct, I hope acceptable to god. Thank you.

TOBIN: Sure. I will reflect on that, if you reflect on the teachings of the church.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir. Very much your excellency. >


In the first half of the exchange, Matthews legitimately questions the role of the American Roman Catholic Church in asserting its will (some would call it lobbying, but it may not legally be so) toward the anti-abortion rights provision in the House health care bill. Leaving that aside, however, the second half of the interview revolves around the disingenuousness of many of the anti-abortion rights view.

Matthews asks Bishop Tobin:

1) If you outlaw abortion at the state level, say at the Rhode Island level, or the Pittsburgh level in Pennsylvania, where you come from, or anything like that, then you make it illegal for a person to go get on abortion. So what does that do, in fact? What's the effect on human life? You want to respect and preserve human life. What is the effect that has if you say a doctor can't perform an abortion? Would you criminalize it? Would you put people in jail? If it's murder, as you see it, would you criminalize it?

2) How would it work? How would it work? That's one of the questions I have. How would it work if you outlawed it?

3) I mean, what would be the penalty for a woman getting an abortion in the world you would like to construct here? What would be the penalty for getting an abortion?
4)What should be the penalty for a young woman or a girl, even, to have an abortion? And if there is no penalty for it, are you really outlawing it?


After asking roughly the same question four different ways, Matthews finally gets an answer when Bishop Tobin responds “Sure. And it can perhaps be different degrees of penalties, depending on the involvement of the person. There might be some penalty for the woman having the abortion.”

Finally, consistency- but wait. When Matthews himself responds “What would be appropriate?” the Bishop states “For a doctor performing….” Matthews, recognizing a dodge and realizing that Bishop Tobin doesn’t want to talk about the woman, interrupts his guest. Bishop Tobin is relieved and the interview soon concludes with the men largely agreeing to disagree.

Give the Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island credit. Eviscerated by his interrogator, he did not raise his voice, walk off the set, or become accusatory. He demonstrated considerable courage allowing himself to be subjected to a line of question anti-abortion rights politicians, let alone clerics, rarely if ever face.

Nevertheless, neither Bishop Tobin nor others of like mind plainly admit that an individual who seeks and arranges a murder should be prosecuted for first degree murder. That may be cowardice- or instead, as reflected in Pat Buchanan's reluctance "to prescribe a punishment," a lingering doubt that abortion is the taking of a life.





Next: the other issue Matthews raised.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Noncommital About Sarah

If Chris Matthews displays a marked preference for Republicans over Democrats- and he does- he still is, at times, the best poltical interviewer on television. The following is from the transcript of Hardball on November 29, 2009 (video) as they were discussing The Quitting Governor:

MATTHEWS: Is she qualified to be president?

BARBOUR: Well, constitutionally, she sure is.

I will tell you, now, Chris, she‘s a lot brighter than she gets credit for. I served as governor with her for several years. I mentioned earlier, when it came to energy policy, she is very well informed, very experienced.

I mean, she was in Alaska and I was in Mississippi, and I would just see her at meetings, but I never had anything but a very positive impression of her. Still do.

MATTHEWS: The latest “Washington”—The latest “Washington Post”/ABC poll has it that 60 percent of the people say that she‘s not qualified to be president.

Are you with the 60 percent or with the 38 percent who say she is?

BARBOUR: Well, I have been in the minority a lot in my life. You know, I was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I mean, if I were polling you, if I were polling you on the phone right now, and I called you up on the phone, Governor, and I managed to get through to your mansion down there on—in Jackson, and I managed to get you on the phone, and I said, you‘re just a regular person. Is this woman qualified to be president or not? And you would have to be one of the people who would respond. Or you could hang up on me.

Are you going to hang up on me, Governor?

(LAUGHTER)

BARBOUR: I‘m not going to hang up on you. I was a Republican in Mississippi in 1968, Chris, so I‘m not unused—unaccustomed to being in the minority. I don‘t know anything that disqualifies her for being president. Do I think she is the best presidential candidate that we might have? Well, let‘s see who all runs. But right now, the good news is I don‘t have to make that decision. What I have to make a decision is how can I best help elect more Republican governors in 2010.

MATTHEWS: So you‘re going to dodge that one, right? You‘re not going to tell me whether she‘s qualified or not tonight on HARDBALL here. We ask questions like this, Governor. That‘s why we like having you on so we can ask you these questions. Is Governor Palin qualified to be president? And I won‘t ask it again. This is the last time.

BARBOUR: And the last time I answer it will be this, I don‘t know of anything that disqualifies her from being president. I think that‘s what I told you a while ago, and you wouldn‘t take that for an answer.

MATTHEWS: Well, I have to take it now.


Haley Barbour, for his own reason(s), doesn't want to be quoted acknowledging Sarah Palin is not qualified for the presidency or conceding that she is qualified. It's highly unlikely that Barbour reads The New Republic, but his strategy seems grounded in a cautionary tale in the article "Running Against Sarah" appearing fourteen months ago. One of the individuals Seyward Darby spoke to was Loren Leman, who had been a State Senator in Alaska but would only narrowly defeat in a primary the mayor of Wasilla. Leman said

she was savvy in creating “gotcha” moments. In a private conversation months before the primary for lieutenant governor, Leman said he told Palin she would be good for the job. (He was considering running for governor and broached the possibility of her running as his second-in-command.) After both Leman and Palin decided to run for the same position, Palin asked him in a public debate if he had ever said she would make a good lieutenant governor. “I’m sure it was all calculated out to get me to admit that I said it or to deny that I said it, which would catch me in a political fib,” Leman said. “She was going to come out of that exchange with a little plus, which she was looking for. She needed credibility.”

There is little chance that Barbour, a highly shrewd politician, was blindsided by any question posed about the qualifications of the former Republican vice-presidential nominee. And so Matthews got it right when he observed on the following day's episode of Hardball:

Smart guy, Haley Barbour. There‘s a reason why he didn‘t say she is qualified. And we are going to find that out someday.



T


Next: Not for the first time, Matthews gets it right- exactly- about abortion.
The Republican Media- No. 24

It's not Fox News, owned by the man who admits he believes Glenn Beck "was right" when he called our Democratic president a "racist." And it's not CNN, which previously employed Beck, nor the three major commercial networks. (For those under age 40: that would be CBS, NBC, and ABC.)

It would be on the informally designated "liberal" network, MSNBC. When Chris Matthews unoficially campaigned on the air for (now victorious) Repub gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie against incumbent Jon Corzine, one could write it off as a pundit, heavy-set himself, sympathetic toward a candidate he thought was being ridiculed by his girth. Or empathy for a Roman Catholic (as Matthews continually reminds us he is) running against a Protestant (Methodist). Or support for a 'Chris' running against a 'non-Chris.'

But now, in the interest of setting aside prejudice (anti-Protestant, anti-anti-Chris, or imagining a guy who gets out of trouble by pulling rank as U.S. Attorney) as a reason for Matthews' extreme subjectivity in covering the race, there appears to be a more normal factor at play.

Media Matters on November 4 recalled another Democrat whom Matthews, more viciously, campaigned against on air. Here is one of the seven examples cited:

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me go to John for an always interesting analysis by John Heilemann. John, Al Gore, he appears to us so irregularly. We notice how he gains weight, loses weight, has a beard. He ought to stick around more frequently so people don't notice these things. He's a big guy. He's back. And he's not really a politician, I wouldn't say. Is he a plus? [6/17/08]

MATTHEWS: Express your -- Mike Allen, express your thoughts more clearly. Three questions. Will he jump in this fall? Will she -- will he be ready to jump if in if there's something going wrong with the Clintons by next November? Or will he hold his fire, lose some weight and go back in 2012? [10/12/07]


Matthews wasn't alone, of course. Back in 2002 Bob Somerby pummeled Howard Kurtz, Maureen Dowd, Katie Couric, then-New Republic editor Peter Beinart, the consistently embarassing Morton Kondracke, and, especially, Frank Rich for an elitist (my word) obsession with attacking Al Gore. Somerby was right then as he is now, continuing (most recently under "a few things sounded quite credible") to criticize the Beltway media for its campaign on behalf of the presidential candidacy of George W. Bush (who otherwise would have lost the election by a sufficient margin to be deprived by the Supreme Court of the office he had not won).

Matthews hasn't completely let up on his Gore hate, as Somerby explained (Part 3) last month upon describing the Hardball host's interview of Taylor Branch (The Clinton Tapes):

It was never clear if Branch understood that he was talking to cable’s prime proponent of the tabloid cynicism of the Clinton/Gore years. No one pushed the garbage like Matthews, especially when the warfare was transferred to Candidate Gore. No one worked harder to destroy your nation’s political culture, in the way Branch described.

Cynically, one could accuse Chris Matthews of anti-Protestant prejudice, given that he also was obsessed with Bill Clinton's foibles and voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 and apparently against him in 2004 when the Democratic nominee was afiliated with another major branch of Christendom.

But that might be inaccurate, and probably would be unfair. The real prejudice is against Democrats not named Carter (for whom Matthews worked decades ago) or Obama. (A few nights ago, arguing that Obama may be too "intellectual," Matthews drew back into the 1950s to equate President Obama with Adlai Stevenson-video below- the Carter years evidently having escaped his recollection.)

Wikipedia (although unsourced) quotes Matthews as saying "I'm more conservative than people think I am." And, it would seem, he feels a need to prove it, on what is the most liberal- or, rather, least GOP-oriented- of the three cable news networks.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Rationing Con

On November 16 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued its controversial guidelines recommending most women wait until age 50 to get a mammogram and then have one only once every two years. It advised additionally that women should not be taught breast self-examination which, it concluded, is of little benefit.

As the mainstream media falls all over itself screaming “government panel, government panel,” there is nary a mention of the nature of the “government panel.” It was first convened by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1984, during the administration of that famous big government socialist, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Since 1998 it has been “sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), is the leading independent panel of private-sector experts in prevention and primary care. The USPSTF conducts rigorous, impartial assessments of the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of a broad range of clinical preventive services, including screening, counseling, and preventive medications.”

The sixteen primary care physicians who currently comprise the task force were appointed during the GW Bush administration, but members nominate themselves or are nominated by professional organizations and colleagues. Though financed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the group is structured to be apolitical.

Unsurprisingly, that hasn't stopped some Republicans. On November 18, a group of GOP congresswomen held a press conference at which one of their number, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, claimed

This is how rationing begins. This is the little toe in the edge of the water.

Two days later, Blackburn had this revealing exchange (video below) with MSNBC's Nancy Snyderman:

BLACKBURN: It is troubling also that another of our colleagues has said many times, we. And that we means bureaucrats deciding what they’re going to allow.

SNYDERMAN: But you’re one of those bureaucrats. You’re my bureaucrat!

BLACKBURN: But I’m not, no. And you see, I don’t think a bureaucrat should be between a patient and a doctor. See, I don’t want to be that bureaucrat.

SNYDERMAN: Excuse me, I think that’s exactly where you are right now
.

You will be forgiven for thinking it hypocritical that only one Republican House member (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida) is among the 79 co-sponsors of legislation proposed by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D.-NY) requiring insurance companies to cover diagnostic mammograms and annual breast cancer screening for women aged 40 and above. Mike Lillis of The Washington Independent quips

The message from the Republicans seems to be: We’re wary of the government recommending fewer tests based on independent research, but it’s OK for private insurance companies, driven by profit motives, to deny access to the same services.

It is an essential part of the GOP narrative that government, and only government, practices "rationing." Republicans appear never to be exorcised about the rationing which insurance companies routinely practice every business day throughout the country, in this case in California:

In late April, Shelly Andrews-Buta was scheduled to undergo treatment for breast cancer that had spread to her brain, threatening her life....

But instead of having doctors working to remove her brain tumors on the day the surgery was scheduled, she sat in a San Francisco hotel room. Why? Because at the last minute, her insurance company, Blue Shield, decided it wasn't going to pay for the treatment her doctors at UCSF Medical Center had recommended.

Without treatment, her doctor told her she in fact would die: tumors had invaded 15 separate areas in her brain.

"I wanted to rapidly get control of these lesions," said UCSF radiation oncologist Dr. Penny Sneed. "I felt there was a great time urgency, and we couldn't wait."

Just two weeks prior to the scheduled date for surgery, Andrews-Buta could still walk. Now she's almost paralyzed and unable to walk without assistance.

Dr. Sneed told her that her best chance of survival lay with a high-tech machine called a "gamma knife."

There's no actual cutting with the knife. Instead, the beams of radiation called gamma rays target a tumor from multiple angles.


It's really a difficult task Republicans have staked out for themselves: convincing the American people that government, not the private sector, rations care. Difficult, but not thankless; insurance companies generously offer their appreciation with huge campaign donations.

Even with the tyranny of the insurance industry, there are questions begging to be raised about pending health care legislation. Unfortunately, the opposition party chooses instead to demagogue the issue in the media while attempting to avoid any discussion in Congress. Forty Republicans in the House of Representatives and not one of them thought health care a worthy enough issue, a sufficiently serious problem, to warrant debate on the floor. (Ohio's George Voinovich missed the vote but had indicated he would vote with his party.) Evidently, not one of them, even those "pro-life," believe there is any problem with the American health care system or that they should waste their time thinking about people like Shelly Andrews-Buta.


A Public Plan, Not Quite As Promised

On Saturday, Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-Ct.) told reporters

This is a kind of 11th hour addition to a debate that's gone on for decades. Nobody's ever talked about a public option before. Not even in the presidential campaign last year.

It would be doing deceit a disservice by suggesting that Senator Lieberman was merely stretching the truth or trying to deceive the media. The idea of the public option is nothing new.

On May 29, 2007, as The New York Times reported, Senator Obama gave in Iowa City, Iowa a speech in which explained that he

would create a public plan for individuals who cannot obtain group coverage through their employers or the existing government programs, like Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Children would be required to have health insurance. Subsidies would be available for those who need help with the cost of coverage.

On February 24, 2008 The Washington Post reported

There is a growing political consensus among Democrats that universal health care can be achieved by subsidizing coverage for low-income people, establishing new purchasing pools to help others buy affordable insurance, and requiring most businesses to offer health plans to their workers or pay a fee. Both the Obama and Clinton proposals contain these elements, as well as the option to buy into a public plan. Their most striking difference is on whether to require everyone to get a policy.

The platform adopted by the Democratic Party (transcript, in PDF) at its 2008 national convention asserted

Families and individuals should have the option of keeping the coverage they have or choosing from a wide array of health insurance plans, including many private health insurance options and a public plan. Coverage should be made affordable for all Americans with subsidies provided through tax credits and other means.

Once Senators Obama and Biden were nominated, they proposed a health care plan (transcript in PDF) which would

create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals purchase new affordable health care options if they are uninsured or want new health insurance. Through the Exchange, any American will have the opportunity to enroll in the new public plan or an approved private plan, and income-based sliding scale tax credits will be provided for people and families who need it.

For a candidate profile compiled by The Washington Post, Mr. Obama wrote

My plan builds on and improves our current insurance system, which most Americans continue to rely upon, and creates a new public health plan for those currently without coverage.

Both Congress and the President, whether considering an opt-out, a trigger, a triggered opt-out, have come a long way since the Obama-Biden plan promised "through the Exchange, any American will have the opportunity to enroll in the new public plan...." It's not as if we weren't warned: in President Obama's health care speech to the joint session of Congress, he assured Americans

Let me be clear. It would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

"Any" American being eligible for a public plan had become "less than 5 percent of Americans" signing on to the public option.

An exasperated Senator Sherrod Brown (D.-Ohio) explained the process to a New York Times reporter:

A large number of people in this country including many, many doctors wanted Medicare for all. That didn’t happen. Then we wanted a strong public option tied to Medicare rates. Then we wanted a public option building the Medicare network. That didn’t happen. Now we are saying public option coming out of the HELP Committee. And now we’re saying public option with the state opt-out. Where was the compromise coming from their side?

One would think, then, that Lieberman andd conservative Democratic senators would be satisfied that a bold candidate, promising a government option to all Americans, and overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature are now reduced to pleading that a vote be held on a health care bill far weaker than they had envisioned. Yet, as Brown understands, with every concession the goal posts keep getting moved, with liberal/moderate Democrats reduced to working to pass legislation they can only hope will improve the nation's health care system merelu at the margin.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Palin With Boss Limbaugh

Amidst the fluff interviews by Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters, Sarah Palin engaged in a fluff radio interview with Rush Limbaugh on November 17, 2009. She hit all the right conservative notes, almost as if she had been coached. In one such instance, Limbaugh asked her

What's our biggest energy challenge as a country? Do you believe at all or some or a lot in the modern-day go-green movement of solar and wind and all of these nefarious things that really don't produce anything yet?

In a rambling (is anything else even legal on the program?), The Quitting Governor alleged

I think there's a lot of snake oil science involved in that and somebody's making a whole lot of money off people's fears that the world is... It's kind of tough to figure out with the shady science right now, what are we supposed to be doing right now with our climate. Are we warming or are we cooling?

The answer to Mrs. Palin’s query came in an Associated Press article dated October 26, 2009 in which reporter Seth Borenstein noted

Since 1998, temperatures have dipped, soared, fallen again and are now rising once more. Records kept by the British meteorological office and satellite data used by climate skeptics still show 1998 as the hottest year. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show 2005 has topped 1998. Published peer-reviewed scientific research generally cites temperatures measured by ground sensors, which are from NOAA, NASA and the British, more than the satellite data.

So the AP set up a blind test in which it

gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time….

Borenstein specifically notes

The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880.... Statisticians say that in sizing up climate change, it's important to look at moving averages of about 10 years. They compare the average of 1999-2008 to the average of 2000-2009. In all data sets, 10-year moving averages have been higher in the last five years than in any previous years.

And the last 10 years, according to NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt

are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record. Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming.

Ironically, the strongest evidence of long-range global warming may have come last year with its La Nina, which typically cools the atmosphere. Though global temperatures dipped in 2008, it was the ninth hottest in the 130 years of NOAA records. Eight of the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2000, and the current El Nino (projected to be stronger next year) will make this year one of the nine hottest.

Clearly, the earth is warming and if enough people are as gullible as Palin apparently believes they are, the earth will continue to warm. We will not be up to the challenge if Palin can lull us into complacency with such as this:

And our greatest challenge with energy is that we're not tapping it to the abundant domestic supplies that God created right underfoot on American soil and under our waters.

To Mrs. Palin, God is the not-all-powerful. Though he “created (energy) right underfoot on American soil and under our waters,” he inexplicably was on vacation when the sun and wind were created. A politician who believes she is worthy of the endorsement of the Almighty might have as much regard for renewable resources as for the value of oil, gas, and coal interests.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prevention No Substitute For Health Care

Representative John Adler, Democrat of New Jersey's third congressional district, has an excuse. He barely eked out a victory in November, 2008, an election in which Democrats unseated several Republicans and no congressional seat switched from Democratic to Republican. Perhaps because he is so vulnerable, he voted against the health care bill in the House and recently argued in The Philadelphia Inquirer

We should also give people incentives to live healthier lives. I am a sponsor of a bill that would reduce premiums for Americans who exhibit healthy behaviors or make efforts to achieve normal blood pressure, normal weight, and low cholesterol.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has expressed a similar view, also has an excuse, coming from a very conservative state and being a Republican officeholder.

But what is Bill Frist's excuse? Tennessean Frist, a thoracic surgeon and specialist in heart and lung transplantation, has served as Senate Majority Leader, and recently appeared (video below) on Bill Maher's show on HBO. Comedian Maher and Republican Frist politely clashed on the value of the H1N1 vaccine but agreed that health care reform should emphasize personal prevention.

Similarly, in a recent guest column in the Manchester (New Hampshire) Union-Leader, Frist wrote

Chronic disease is the No. 1 driver of rising health care
costs, accounting for more than 75 percent of all health care spending. Much of the burden of chronic disease can be prevented or alleviated through sustained behavior change.

And the most important behavior to change is what and how we eat.

Obesity is the root cause of chronic disease, accounting for nearly 10 percent of what the U.S. spends annually on health care.


Actually, Frist does have an excuse, as he suggested upon writing (emphasis mine)

Washington should be looking at wellness solutions like the Vitality progra (full disclosure: I’ve advised Vitality’s board of directors). It’s an outcomes-oriented program that is data-driven, designed to educate and motivate individuals to engage in healthful behavior.

Frist, who is not marching in lockstep with congressional Republicans, may mean well. But while this may be good advice for family and friends, it is at best a diversion from anlysis of the root cause of the failure of the profit-driven health care system.

Aside from avoiding tobacco, three of the leading factors in disease prevention are adequate rest, proper diet, and regular exercise. But for you, what is sufficient sleep? A proper diet? Optimal exercise? Not the same as for me.

No one knows the answers to these questions, including your family doctor (assuming you have one), who likely knows little about diet exercise, or sleep and hasn't had enough time to keep up with the most current research. And no one size fits all: we have been wondrously, and individually, created or made, as reflected in the chapter of the earliest book by the late nutritionist, Carlton Fredericks: the 'u' in menu and the 'i' in diet.

Everyone has heard the story of the 90-year-old woman who has drunk a pint of whiskey daily for decades. It may be apocryphal, but these surely are not: stories of individuals who exercised, ate "properly," slept abundantly, and still suffered a stroke or heart attack or got cancer or diabetes relatively early in life. Exercise, rest, and eat "right," and you'll bolster your odds- but only that.

There is, surely, one way of encouraging the healthy lifestyle that improves one's odds and simultaneously increase revenues, which might cut the national deficit or provide additional revenue for more effective health care programs. That would be imposing an excise tax on products containing above an established percentage of sugar. But are the elite members of society laying responsibility for poor health outcomes in society recommending that? Hardly- not only because it runs counter to the borrow-and-spend mentality, but also because the processed food industry understands the value of campaign contributions.

There is another danger for Democrats (Repubs tend to be immune to this tag) in blaming individual Americans for their health ills and the exorbitant cost of the health care system: being identified as elitists. The average American does not want to be told that it's his or her fault- for the environment, for an inadequate educational system (easier to blame teachers, doncha think?), for increasing poverty in the country, or health care costs far worse than anywhere else and outcomes which fall short.

We on the left don't want to mimic the right, typically reacting impulsively, emotionally, and without adequate reflection. So consider all proposals to improve health care, but be wary of the motives and interests of anyone, especially those who want to divert attention from the forces which have profited so mightily over delivering health care far inferior to that deserved by Americans.


Quote Of The Week

"I don't care if Obama bows down to the powerless Japanese Emperor. I'd really like if he stopped bowing down to Wall Street titans, however."

-blogger Digby on 11/16/09

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

John McCain: Patriot, And Critic Of Workers And The Elderly

While The Quitting Governor is on tour, being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Rush Limbaugh, and anyone else who can help her peddle her book, the other half of the duo from the 2008 presidential campaign is reminding us of the absurdity of the ticket. While serving as grand marshall for a NASCAR race in Arizona, Senator John McCain claimed

It was all about the unions. The unions didn't want to have their very generous contracts renegotiated so we put $80 billion into both General Motors and Chrysler, and anybody believes that Chrysler is going to survive, I'd like to meet them.

(Sarcasn alert.) Way to go Senator, demonstrating your support for American auto workers and American workers in general, as well as your faith in the American economy.

Now, if not previously, hardly pampered, the American auto worker shouldn't need any defending, but, as the congressman representing Bloomfield Hills, Democrat Gary Peters couldn't resist sending McCain a letter in which he invited the latter to the district and added

Because of the sacrifices made by the UAW and other key stakeholders, the American automobile industry is well positioned to emerge from the current economic crisis stronger and more globally competitive than when we entered it.

Auto workers, however, should not feel singled out by the Arizona senator. We recall (video below) the contempt McCain has also for members of the construction and building trades union (AFL-CIO), before whom McCain appeared in April, 2006. In the question-and-answer session, he (in)famously charged

Now, my friends, I'll offer anybody here $50 an hour if you'll go pick lettuce in Yuma this season and pick for the whole season. So -- OK? Sign up. OK.

You sign up. You sign up, and you'll be there for the whole season, the whole season. OK? Not just one day. Because you can't do it, my friend
.

But it's not only American workers John McCain is not terribly fond of. Who can forget his response (video way below) to a question during the general election campaign in 2008, when he misled his audience about the solvency of the Social Security system, whose underlying principle he referred to as "an absolute disgrace?" Not me, apparently.

There are several good things about John McCain, most notably: he's not Sarah Palin. And if Senator McCain soon finds his voice and defends his presidential campaign staff against attacks leveled by the politician he dangerously vaulted to prominence, I expect to be among those lauding him.




False Reality, False Hope

On Friday's episode of " The View ," host Caryn Elaine Johnson , known professionally as Whoopi Goldberg, took exception ...