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Friday, July 31, 2009

The Comforting Violence Of Jack Bauer

by digby

Batocchio has posted another in his series of trenchant essays on the torture issue that is well worth reading if you are still struggling with understanding how we came to this place. Here's just a short excerpt:

Movement conservatives' public support for torture has contradicted even their own cherished mythology. The only constant has been their unyielding conviction in their own righteousness. Consider – they love to invoke WWII, if simplistically and inaccurately, yelling that every new threat is a new Hitler and anything less than belligerence is "appeasement." Yet they ignore that during WWII, we prosecuted the same torture and abuses they've defended under Bush. The Cult of Saint Ronnie still worships the poor policy and cartoonish morality of Reagan denouncing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." (In his recent Reagan book, Will Bunch relates that Reagan himself regretted using the phrase, and later the far right accused Reagan of being Chamberlain for dealing with the Soviets.) Yet the torture program instituted under Bush borrowed directly from the hated Soviets. The key reason given for invading Iraq was that it had WMD and was an imminent threat, but Saddam Hussein was also depicted (fantastically) as the next Hitler and (accurately) as a dictator and torturer. The Hussein regime's victims were invoked more often after the invasion as a way to browbeat Iraq critics. So how is it that what made Hussein evil became good when done by the United States? When Iraqi Muntadar al-Zaidi threw a show at Bush, several far-right conservatives approved of the broken hand and ribs he received in prison. As Roy Edroso quipped, “I always suspected that when they were denouncing Saddam’s torture chambers, they were just angry that they didn’t get to say who got tortured.”

I think that's right. But I have to say that it's purported Christians for whom I've lost the most respect in all this:

The disconnect from professed Christians on the torture "debate" is particularly astounding. Given how central the crucifixion story is to Christianity, and that it depicts Jesus tortured and then executed in one of the most cruel methods ever devised, it's mind-boggling to see anyone claim that supporting torture and Christianity are compatible - or that Jesus would support waterboarding. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus' suffering redeemed him and the world - but it's not the Romans who Christians are supposed to emulate in the story! "Turn the other cheek," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "As you have done to the least of my brethren, so have you done unto me" are hardly pro-torture slogans. But in the hearts and minds of movement conservatives, not even Churchill, Saint Ronnie or Jesus himself can compete with the comforting violence of Jack Bauer.

Read the whole thing. It's great.

Going Too Far

by digby

Howie Sez:

Do you know who pays for the racist campaign against Obama? GEICO, NutriSystems, Proctor & Gamble, and... United Postal Service. Yep, those are the advertisers who pay for the TV time so that deranged sociopath Glenn Beck can get up and spout his divisive hatred and racism. And today the top online civil rights group Color of Change urged its 600,000-plus members to petition companies who advertise on Glenn Beck’s radio and television shows to urge them to cut off their advertising on Beck’s programs. The mobilization comes after Beck called President Obama a “racist” who “has a deep-seated hatred for white people” during an appearance Tuesday on Fox and Friends.

Color of Change has also been urging CNN to fire their own racist shill, Lou Dobbs for his gratuitous birther campaign, which CNN irresponsibly uses to pump up lagging viewership.

“What Beck is doing is race-baiting at its worst, it's dangerous and it's hard to imagine any company wanting their brand associated with it,” said James Rucker of ColorOfChange.org. “Beck has now shown that his extreme views are more appropriate for a street corner than a major media program. He no longer deserves the backing of mainstream advertisers.”

I don't even think they are appropriate for a street corner, but he does have a right to spout them. And likewise, people have a right to withhold their money from those who profit from such views.

Klein and Ailes needs to rein in these asses before they kill the golden gooses. Advertisers do have limits.


by dday

Creating fake grassroots organizations to show presumed local support for typically corporate initiatives is known as astroturfing. Corporate lobbies forging letters from local groups to show that same fake support should be called... I don't know, astroforging?

As U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello was considering how to vote on an important piece of climate change legislation in June, the freshman congressman’s office received at least six letters from two Charlottesville-based minority organizations voicing opposition to the measure.

The letters, as it turns out, were forgeries.

“They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville’s Hispanic community. “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”

The faked letter from Creciendo Juntos was signed by “Marisse K. Acevado, Asst Member Coordinator,” an identity and position at Creciendo Juntos that do not exist.

The person who sent the letter has not been identified, but he or she was employed by a Washington lobbying firm called Bonner & Associates.

Staffers found five forged letters of this type, including one from the local chapter of the NAACP, just in Perriello's correspondence. So you know there are lots more. This seems like the uncovering of a scam that's been going on for years. In fact, this company, Bonner & Associates, has been at this for decades. Ed Markey wants an investigation from his perch in the Global Warming subcommittee.

Obviously the power of lobbyists has grown so much to become completely divorced from the Constitutional dictate of petitioning government for redress of grievances. In addition to writing legislation, owning political campaigns and having politicians jump in and out of their companies, lobby shops more recently have taken to these deceptive techniques of aping grassroots activity. They have funded and supported the teabaggers, and they're now offering training sessions on how to approach Congressional town hall meetings during the August recess.

• Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”

• Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

• Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

They are busing people around the country to different town halls. Sound like the Brooks Brothers riots to you? Members of Congress somehow still think these meetings reflect the considered opinions of constituents. They should look at Tom Perriello's mail.

Comedy Gold

by digby

The New Mouthpiece Theatre is out! And guess what? It's even better than usual. Here's CJR:

“Ménage à Stella Artois” manages to be both glibly insulting and extraordinarily un-funny. Which is, in itself, fairly insulting. Milbank and Cillizza, through a series of (bad) puns that use the colorful names of microbrewed beers to poke fun at people in the news (swine flu victims should drink…Isolation Ale! Ha!), suggest, among many other things, that “the entire Republican Congressional leadership team” should drink Satan Red/Devil’s Brew/Fallen Angel/Evil Eye/Hell Bier (get it? because they’re demonic, I guess?). Oh, and that the Secretary of State should drink ... Mad Bitch.

I'll bet Jon Stewart is kicking himself for letting The Washington Post get that one before he got the chance.

Pensive Jackass

by digby

Has there ever been a slimier, more unctuous piece of work than Mike Pence, a man whose brow is permanently furrowed in an insincere expression of deep regret that he's forced to convey such terrible news about the Democrats' raping of the American body politic? It makes your skin crawl.

WATSON: I’m very clear that we are not talking about anywhere close to a trillion or $800 billion in new taxes…so if you’ve got data from the CBO that suggests that some of the proposals on the table…represent that much in new taxes then that’s significant new information. Where are you getting that?

PENCE: Well I don’t think that’s significant new information I think the estimates we’ve all been working with from the CBO are in the — I’m trying to remember — it’s about the $800 billion range in the estimated cost of new taxes. … That’s really all out there Carlos.

He's just lying. But he does it well. But then his former career prepared him well for it. He was a wingnut radio gasbag.

h/t top bb
Wildly Successful Government Program

by dday

Americans have been conditioned by wingnut rhetoric into believing that government cannot possibly work well. I think that ought to be contradicted by the success of the Cash For Clunkers program, which leveraged $4-5 billion into the economy in seven days, got consumers spending again on big-ticket items, and improved fuel efficiency on 250,000 cars well above expectations (preliminary Congressional reports show a 69% increase in fuel efficiency - most people are trading in SUVs with 100,000 miles or more on them for solid passenger cars). The program is working so well that Congress wants to continue it.

Congress is moving quickly to save the depleted cash-for-clunkers program, as the House passed a $2 billion spending measure Friday afternoon that would keep alive a program that has encouraged American car owners to trade in their old gas guzzlers for more fuel efficient vehicles.

Despite some criticism from Republicans who called the legislation another bailout for another industry, the bill easily passed on a 316-109 bipartisan vote.

Under the fast-track bill, Democratic leaders will use funds from a renewable energy loan guarantee included in the stimulus. The bill would extend the program through Sept. 30, 2010. Democrats have portrayed the run on cash for clunkers cash as a great success for the $1 billion program, which allows car owners to turn in older, less fuel efficient cars for a $4,500 rebate to purchase higher gas mileage vehicles.

These are the same Republican stooges who complained that GM and Chrysler were shutting down too many auto dealers (remember how Obama was marking dealers for closure based on campaign contributions?). Now the government designs a program that massively helps dealers, advances fuel efficiency and through investment gets a lot of economic activity going, and they scream "bailout." But if these were tax credits for rich people, they'd be sound measures to induce economic growth. There's also the fact that this is not even new money, but money already in the stimulus package. They're also whining that the dealers haven't been paid yet, even though the program kicked off a WEEK ago. Apparently they all receive their paychecks instantly for all work they perform.

Sadly, too many people see a government program run out of money and think it failed. No, that means demand was so high that it fulfilled its initial purpose in a matter of days. And I see Claire McCaskill rejecting the idea of "subsidizing auto purchases forever." Apparently "forever"=anything more than one week (UPDATED: she's backtracked from that initial rejection now).

We still have a tough economy, mangled by failed conservative policies. The recession has leveled off into something approaching stagnation. And there is compelling evidence that the stimulus package is responsible for even getting us back to the stagnation point (it could have done more if it were the proper size). But by and large, consumers still aren't spending and a lot of people still have no job. Until businesses start hiring again government needs to drive economic activity, which is why you're seeing second stimulus packages proposed in the form of extending measures from the initial stimulus.

Except lots of those extensions revolve around corporate tax breaks and not things that put money into the economy. Things like Cash for Clunkers. And Democrats ought to tell the story that this successful government program, going deliberately and directly to Main Street, represents our best hope for eventual economic recovery.

The Jello Thickens

by digby

John Amato caught Jay Rockefeller taking an unusual upright position:

Jay is a supporter of the public option and was pissed that the co-op proposal was inserted in the Baucus bill since it was never even talked about during the general election. Isn't it nice that Baucus has killed the public option just to work with Republicans? Conservatives don't even have to win elections to get what they want. That's some deal they have.

Ed: It's not going to work. There's really no successful model out there to support the basis of signing on to a co-op. Would you sign on to a co-op or is that unacceptable?

Rockefeller: That's unacceptable and I can almost prove it. We've been in touch with all the folks that oversee, represent all the co-ops in the country on all subjects and they point out that there are probably less than twenty health co-ops in the country. There are only two that really work that well. One in Puget Sound, one in Minnesota, except for those two, they are all unlicensed. All present health co-ops are all unlicensed, they're unregulated. Nobody knows anything about them, nobody has any control over them and nobody has ever said, which is stunning to me, no government organization or private organization has ever done a study to what effect they might have in terms of bringing down the insurance prices.

They are untested, they are unlicensed, they are unregulated, they are unstudied. Why would we even think about putting them in as a control on this massive insurance industry instead of the public option?

Rockefeller, who has been shut out of the negotiations, is actually a health care wonk who has been working on these issues for years. Conrad, on the other hand, came up with this co-op thing all by himself in a late night bull session with some interns and the janitor apparently. That anyone is taking it seriously as a substitute for the public plan is ludicrous. I would imagine that's why it even has Jay Rockefeller's head exploding.

Now, much of this stuff is kabuki. Who knows what Jay's really trying to accomplish here? But whatever it is, I'm grateful that he's finally stepping into the breach and saying the truth about this half baked co-op concept, even if it's just out of personal pique at not being included in the negotiations. Hey, we take what we can get.

Officer Cuckoo

by digby

Most of you have probably already heard about the police officer in Boston who was suspended for writing an email to a reporter in which he compares Henry Louis Gates to a "jungle monkey" (and then passing it on to his army buddies.)

But have you seen the actual email?

Officer Barrett's original e-mail

This guy is a psycho and the Boston Police are lucky that when his temper went off he just sent an email instead of shooting up the place. It was only a matter of time.

You've noticed, I'm sure, that an awful lot of what he writes sounds like boilerplate radio wingnut. It's always worried me that so many of these military and police fellows, overseas and at home, listen to that crap. 95% of those who do are perfectly capable of separating out the idiocy from the nonsense and they behave like professionals. But there have to be a few who go off the rails, either with PTSD or their own personal demons.

Of course, officers like this fellow will find out who their allies are when called upon to enforce the law against a right winger. It's a one way street.

Update: This just in: the officer insists he isn't a racist. But then racists never think they are, do they? And they get really, really upset when someone say they are.

"I would like to take this opportunity to offer fellow police officers, soldiers and citizens my sincerest apology over the controversial e-mail I authored," Barrett said on CNN. "I am not a racist. I did not intend any racial bigotry, harm or prejudice in my words. I sincerely apologize that these words have been received as such. I truly apologize to all."

Fine. Now he needs to explain the rest of his psychotic utterings.

Update: I shouldn't be flippant about this. PTSD is a serious problem and it's possible this fellow is suffering from it. This in-depth series from the Colorado Gazette outlining the problems of returning Iraq vets is very sobering and the subject should be a top priority for police departments, many of which hire former and reservist military. (Via Gary Farber)

H/t to bat
Eye Off The Ball

by dday

I've heard for seven years that George W. Bush had the chance to capture Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the mountains of Tora Bora, and we pulled out to focus on the invasion of Iraq. John Kerry ran on that point. Barack Obama ran on it. The whole idea was that Iraq was the bad, unnecessary war, and Afghanistan was the good war, and we needed to move our focus back on Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was, to disrupt their safe havens.

Turns out the commander in Afghanistan thinks we have focused too much on Al Qaeda in the war ostensibly designed to dismantle al Qaeda.

U.S. military leaders have concluded that their war effort in Afghanistan has been too focused on hunting Al Qaeda, and have begun to shift Predator drone aircraft to the fight against the Taliban and other militants in order to prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy.

The move, described by government and Defense Department officials, represents a major change in the military's use of one of its most precious intelligence assets. It also illustrates the hard choices that must be made because the drones are in short supply [...]

"We have been overly counter-terrorism-focused and not counter-insurgency-focused," said one U.S. official.

Senior government officials said Bin Laden remained a prime target but that they needed to focus on fighting the Taliban.

"We might still be too focused on Bin Laden," the official said. "We should probably reassess our priorities."

I think the proper response is that we've been counter-terrorism-focused because OUR MISSION HAS ALWAYS BEEN COUNTER-TERRORISM. Or at least it was, until the new Pentagon kewl kids decided you could hug the ones you bomb and make them love you.

Without consultation with the country, the military completely transferred the mission in Afghanistan. They are less concerned with dismantling Al Qaeda and more concerned with a counter-insurgency bank shot. Gen. McChrystal, a real white-whale chaser, described his strategy in the Washington Post today. And surprise, it'll take more personnel.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is preparing a new strategy that calls for major changes in the way U.S. and other NATO troops there operate, a vast increase in the size of Afghan security forces and an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials, according to several people familiar with the contents of an assessment report that outlines his approach to the war.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, appears inclined to request an increase in American troops to implement the new strategy, which aims to use more unconventional methods to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, according to members of an advisory group he convened to work on the assessment. Such a request could receive a chilly reception at the White House, where some members of President Obama's national security team have expressed reluctance about authorizing any more deployments.

Senior military officials said McChrystal is waiting for a recommendation from a team of military planners in Kabul before reaching a final decision on a troop request. Several members of the advisory group, who spoke about the issue of force levels on the condition of anonymity, said that they think more U.S. troops are needed but that it was not clear how large an increase McChrystal would seek.

"There was a very broad consensus on the part of the assessment team that the effort is under-resourced and will require additional resources to get the job done," a senior military official in Kabul said.

This is flat-out mission creep. We entered Afghanistan to deny a staging ground for attacks against America. And now we're there to nation-build. One isn't necessarily unrelated to the other, but we're admittedly nation-building only in the areas where the Taliban isn't already dug in, meaning we are allowing various safe havens and staging grounds. To the extent that we're trying to split the Taliban, counter-insurgency methods have their role; but this sounds really more advanced than that. Spencer writes:

But there's a big difference between that and a counterinsurgency strategy for a nation-building objective, and a still greater one between that and a counterinsurgency strategy for a prophylactic objective. The American people have never approved sending 68,000 troops to suffer for Hamid Karzai, and certainly never approved sending them to keep Pakistan from falling to the Taliban. (Which, by the way, seems like a distinctly unrealistic scenario, especially now that the Pakistani military moved into Swat. The Taliban-led insurgency is a threat to Pakistan. It's not going to rule the country. Westerners have a tendency of predicting the imminent fall of Pakistan every five years or so.)

Perhaps I'm misreading what it is the people around McChrystal are saying, but it seems fair to say that the balance of evidence favors an interpretation that Afghanistan strategy is coming unmoored from the actual objectives of the war, and the actual interests at stake, and the White House is being either deluded or outright dishonest about what's happening. "Our goal is to deal with the terrorist elements that are in that country and are making life for Afghans and potentially life for millions throughout the world more dangerous through their activities," Robert Gibbs said from the White House podium today. That is simply not what's coming from McChrystal's circle.

The White House either has to rein in this effort, or own it. And if they own it, they must explain their deception to the public, and why the policy became hijacked by a clique in the Pentagon who treats anything "unconventional" as prima facie brilliant.

...Understand, I think the whole idea of "dismantling safe havens" is flawed, especially considering that, if you look at recent arrest reports, the last safe haven was in North Carolina. But shifting the mission simply to achieve short-term results is completely unwise.

The Latest

by digby

Jonathan Cohn has a good post on the health reform state of play as of yesterday, which, from everything else I've read, sounds about right. I'm glad to hear that the alleged liberals on the Senate Finance Committee have finally emerged from their comas although I'm not sure that makes them any more effectual. And the dynamics in the House are fairly promising. Waxman got the bill out of committee and the progressives came out swinging to put the leadership on notice that they can't use that as the final word.

Obviously, everything is very, very fluid. And intense.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Newspeak 2.0

by tristero

Here is a trick question: Which one of these statements should you believe to be true?

Headline in New York Times:
Rove Says His Role in Prosecutor Firings Was Small
Headline in Washington Post:
Rove Had Heavier Hand in Prosecutor Firings Than Previously Known
The answer? Both, of course! C'mon folks, stop living in the past! We live in the golden age of non-contradiction (obscure Ayn Rand parody intended). In less sophisticated times, it would be absolutely clear that Rove was bullshitting like a stampeding herd on Ex-Lax. Not any longer, not in the modern era.

We now live in a world where professional white man Lou Dobbs insists he "believes" Obama is a US citizen AND he believes Obama should produce his birth certificate. We now live in a world where professional ding dong Glenn Beck calls Obama a racist (a non-contradiction in itself) AND insists he's not saying Obama doesn't like white people. Got a problem with that? They don't, nor do their bosses, nor do their legions upon legions of supporters.

So now you know how to make sense of the news in the Third Millenium. Rove had a larger role in the attorney general saga than previously known. And his role has been overestimated. An assertion and its refutation co-exist equally in today's America, and both are equally valid.

We are waaaaay beyond Orwell, people.


by digby

Let me first say that Sgt Crowley is an obviously intelligent person who is very confident in front of the cameras and makes a strong impression in a press conference. He will go far if he chooses to pursue a career in public life. He is also an intimidating son of a gun, putting the reporters in their places with a steely look and a stern "hold on, let me finish" that was sort of startling.

But the dizzy, gushy adulation on the part of the gasbags is so over the top I'm feeling embarrassed in that "oh no, I walked in on my grandfather watching a porno" kind of way. Dear God.

Lou Dobbs is drooling and smirking, Chris Matthews is (without success) trying to keep that thrill up his leg under control and Roger Simon literally squealed in delight the second the press conference was over. This is the most manly, macho, guys guy they've had the pleasure to pleasure since Junior Bush insulted reporters on a daily basis, and you can tell they've been missing it big time.

I think it's pretty clear that if Obama wants to get the press back on his side he needs to start pushing them around. These boys just love a man who hurts so good.

*This isn't Crowley's fault, by the way. He was fine. He can't help if if the village people love themselves a man in a uniform --- even (especially) when he's not wearing it.

Symbolic Liberal Triumph

by digby


July 30, 2009

President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients

16 Agents of Change to Receive Top Civilian Honor

WASHINGTON – President Obama today named 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom. America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

This year’s awardees were chosen for their work as agents of change. Among their many accomplishments in fields ranging from sports and art to science and medicine to politics and public policy, these men and women have changed the world for the better. They have blazed trails and broken down barriers. They have discovered new theories, launched new initiatives, and opened minds to new possibilities.

President Obama said, “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.

“Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.”

President Obama will present the awards at a ceremony on Wednesday, August 12.

The following individuals will receive the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Nancy Goodman Brinker

Nancy Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grass roots organization. Brinker established the organization in memory of her sister, who passed away from breast cancer in 1980. Through innovative events like Race for the Cure, the organization has given and invested over $1.3 billion for research, health services and education services since its founding in 1982 and developed a worldwide grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists who are working together to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find cures. Brinker has received several awards for her work, and has also served in government as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary (2001 – 2003), Chief of Protocol of the U.S. (2007 – 2009), and Chair of the President’s Cancer Panel (1990). In May, Nancy Goodman Brinker was named the first-ever World Health Organization's Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control.

Pedro José Greer, Jr.

Dr. Pedro Jose Greer is a physician and the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the Florida International University School of Medicine, where he also serves as Chair of the Department of Humanities, Health and Society. Dr. Greer is the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to over 10,000 homeless patients a year in the city of Miami. He is also the founder and medical director of the St. John Bosco Clinic which provides basic primary medical care to disadvantaged children and adults in the Little Havana community. He has been recognized by Presidents Clinton, Bush, Sr., and Carter for his work with Miami's poor . He is also the recipient of three Papal Medals as well as the prestigious MacArthur "genius grant". He currently has a joint private practice with his father, Pedro Greer, Sr.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is an internationally-recognized theoretical physicist, having overcome a severe physical disability due to motor neuron disease. He is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a post previously held by Isaac Newton in 1669. In addition to his pioneering academic research in mathematics and physics, Hawking has penned three popular science books, including the bestselling A Brief History of Time. Hawking, a British citizen, believes that non-academics should be able to access his work just as physicists are, and has also published a children’s science book with his daughter. His persistence and dedication has unlocked new pathways of discovery and inspired everyday citizens.

Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp, who passed away in May 2009, served as a U.S. Congressman (1971 – 1989), Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (1989 – 1993), and Republican Nominee for Vice President (1996). Prior to entering public service, Kemp was a professional football player (1957 – 1969) and led the Buffalo Bills to American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965. In Congress and as a Cabinet Secretary, Kemp was a self-described “bleeding heart conservative” who worked to encourage development in underserved urban communities. In the years leading up to his death, Kemp continued seeking new solutions, raising public attention about the challenge of poverty, and working across party lines to improve the lives of Americans and others around the world.

Sen. Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward M. Kennedy has served in the United States Senate for forty-six years, and has been one of the greatest lawmakers – and leaders – of our time. From reforming our public schools to strengthening civil rights laws and supporting working Americans, Senator Kennedy has dedicated his career to fighting for equal opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that every American has access to quality and affordable health care, and has succeeded in doing so for countless children, seniors, and Americans with disabilities. He has called health care reform the “cause of his life,” and has championed nearly every health care bill enacted by Congress over the course of the last five decades. Known as the “Lion of the Senate,” Senator Kennedy is widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his commitment to progress and his ability to legislate.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King was an acclaimed professional tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s, and has helped champion gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all areas of public life. King beat Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, then the most viewed tennis match in history. King became one of the first openly lesbian major sports figures in America when she came out in 1981. Following her professional tennis career, King became the first woman commissioner in professional sports when she co-founded and led the World Team Tennis (WTT) League. The U.S. Tennis Association named the National Tennis Center, where the US Open is played, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006.

Rev. Joseph Lowery

Reverend Lowery has been a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s. Rev. Lowery helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks was denied a seat, and later co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Lowery led the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Rev. Lowery is a minister in the United Methodist Church, and has continued to highlight important civil rights issues in the U.S. and worldwide, including apartheid in South Africa, since the 1960s.

Joe Medicine Crow – High Bird

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief, is the author of seminal works in Native American history and culture. He is the last person alive to have received direct oral testimony from a participant in the Battle of the Little Bighorn: his grandfather was a scout for General George Armstrong Custer. A veteran of World War II, Medicine Crow accomplished during the war all of the four tasks required to become a “war chief,” including stealing fifty Nazi SS horses from a German camp. Medicine Crow was the first member of his tribe to attend college, receiving his master’s degree in anthropology in 1939, and continues to lecture at universities and notable institutions like the United Nations. His contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans are matched only by his importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality. Milk, alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a former city supervisor. Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights.

Sandra Day O’Connor

Justice O’Connor was the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court. Nominated by President Reagan in 1981, she served until her retirement in 2006. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, O’Connor served as a state trial and appellate judge in Arizona. She was also as a member of the Arizona state senate, where she became the first woman in the United States ever to lead a state senate as Senate Majority Leader. At a time when women rarely entered the legal profession, O’Connor graduated Stanford Law School third in her class, where she served on the Stanford Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif. Since retiring from the Supreme Court in 2006, O’Connor has served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary, on the Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center, and participated in the Iraq Study Group in 2006, as well as giving numerous lectures on public service. She has received numerous awards for her outstanding achievements and public service.

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier is a groundbreaking actor, becoming the top black movie star in the 1950s and 1960s. Poitier is the first African American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award, receive an award at a top international film festival (Venice Film Festival), and be the top grossing movie star in the United States. Poitier insisted that the film crew on The Lost Man be at least 50 percent African American, and starred in the first mainstream movies portraying “acceptable” interracial marriages and interracial kissing. Poitier began his acting career without any training or experience by auditioning at the American Negro Theatre.

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera is an accomplished and versatile actress, singer, and dancer, who has won Two Tony Awards and received seven more nominations while breaking barriers and inspiring a generation of women to follow in her footsteps. In 2002, she became the first Hispanic recipient of the coveted Kennedy Center Honor. Propelled to stardom by her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story, Rivera went on to star in additional landmark musicals such as Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, and Jerry’s Girls. She recently starred in The Dancer’s Life, an autobiographical musical about her celebrated life in the theatre.

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland (1990 – 1997) and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 – 2002), a post that required her to end her presidency four months early. Robinson served as a prominent member of the Irish Senate prior to her election as President. She continues to bring attention to international issues as Honorary President of Oxfam International, and Chairs the Board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI Alliance). Since 2002 she has been President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, based in New York, which is an organization she founded to make human rights the compass which charts a course for globalization that is fair, just and benefits all.

Janet Davison Rowley

Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., is the Blum Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics at The University of Chicago. She is an American human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers. Rowley is internationally renowned for her studies of chromosome abnormalities in human leukemia and lymphoma, which have led to dramatically improved survival rates for previously incurable cancers and the development of targeted therapies. In 1999 President Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Science--the nation's highest scientific honor.

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu is an Anglican Archbishop emeritus who was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Widely regarded as “South Africa's moral conscience,” he served as the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) from 1978 – 1985, where he led a formidable crusade in support of justice and racial reconciliation in South Africa. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work through SACC in 1984. Tutu was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, and the Chair of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995. He retired as Archbishop in 1996 and is currently Chair of the Elders.

Muhammad Yunus

Dr. Muhammad Yunus is a global leader in anti-poverty efforts, and has pioneered the use of “micro-loans” to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral. Dr. Yunus, an economist by training, founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 in his native Bangladesh to provide small, low-interest loans to the poor to help better their livelihood and communities. Despite its low interest rates and lending to poor individuals, Grameen Bank is sustainable and 98% percent of its loans are repaid – higher than other banking systems. It has spread its successful model throughout the world. Dr. Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.

He made a mistake in not using the medal of freedom to reward war criminals and political hacks, but other than that, it's a truly fine list.

Sshhhh. Don't Tell Anyone

by digby

I hope people realize that part of legislative sausage making (indeed, all deal making) is taking positions -- or allowing others to take positions --- for tactical reasons that may not accurately reflect the outcome you desire. That's not to say that I think that despite what we are seeing that everything will come out ok in the end. Sometimes tactics fail and sometimes what people are saying is exactly what they mean. But it's important to remember that there is a lot of posturing and kabuki involved in legislative negotiations and things are not always as they seem.

If we had a functional press corps that was good at real political analysis instead of regurgitation of tired conventional wisdom, we'd know a lot more about this from reporters who have the sense and the skills to sort through the bullshit. But we don't. What we have instead is a media that runs with the narratives that "feel right" which means that they fall into well worn story lines which may or may not reflect anything that's actually happening --- but which by their very nature affect the course of the debate.

Right now, the entire political press corps is concentrated on two stories --- one about race and one about health care. (As Joan Walsh said, they are actually related, but anyway...) They are seeing Obama as weakened, and are getting very, very excited about that for reasons about which I've previously mused. But the truth is that Obama is weakening not because of health care, which was always going to be very, very difficult and which would necessarily require a huge chunk of political capital. This is simply because as much as everyone was thrilled by the "change" candidacy, as dday points out below, what they really wanted was to change was the occupant of the white house. Most people find serious, fundamental change quite frightening and are, therefore, easily subject to fear mongering, especially when they are already experiencing extreme economic stress over which they have no control.

Our economy is very bad and a good many people are scared to death right now. And their fear is real, even if they don't really understand the reasons for what's happening. I personally know people who are going bankrupt and losing their jobs and I would bet that most of you do too, if you aren't one of those people yourself. This fear is not the result of not pre-digested, focus grouped propaganda for entertainment purposes as is so much of our political discourse. The country is in deep distress. And when that happens, they look to the government, even as they perversely believe that it can't do anything, and they get angry .

Obama's numbers are dipping because of the economy. Any president's would be. Trying to pass health care in this environment is both necessary (you need a certain level of economic insecurity for an employer based system to gain traction) and more difficult(people have been brainwashed to believe that the "deficit" is a catch-all boogeyman.) It's a very tough needle to thread. But he had no choice. And we have no choice but to watch this play out and hope that it results in something we can live with.

So, as we watch this stomach churning process of health care legislation take place --- without any real sense of what's going to come out of it, if anything at all --- all we can do is fulfill our role in the process as concerned citizens and activists and take the politicians at face value, because it's all we have to go on. If we don't, the health care industrial complex and the conservative obstructionists of both parties will have the field all to themselves and any politicians who really are acting in good faith will be left stranded.

But we also have to keep in mind that a good many of these players, for good and ill, are also playing certain roles as part of the negotiating process which is not completely obvious. Until the history is written, we won't know exactly what went down or who did what --- and even then it's highly subject to interpretation. We must play our part and hope that it can help keep the kabuki dance from turning into a gangland beat down. It's frustrating, but it's the way hard fought deals are struck every day. It's not for the faint of heart.

As for winning the larger argument among the citizenry, as dday writes below, and as I've been saying for years (and for which I was especially chastised by all sides during the kumbaaya campaign) liberals gave up the war of the rhetoric a long time ago and contented themselves with playing around the edges of conservatism. Until that changes, liberals will be fighting on their turf and that means that no matter how much institutional power liberals attain, needed change is going to be more difficult than it already is --- which is to say extremely difficult. When people don't know what "change" means beyond a change of occupancy in the white house, the other side can very easily fill in the blanks with tales of terrorists and government boogeymen coming to kill senior citizens. And that makes the nauseating sausage making more revolting --- and obscure -- than ever.

We're Just Different

by digby

Joan Walsh tried to give Chris Matthews a history lesson, but he took it as Marxist propaganda. Yes, he did.

Joan is right about this. I've written about it many times myself. There has to be a reason that the US, of all the industrialized nations, the richest country in the world, is so hostile to social welfare programs. There are a lot of contributing factors, not the least of which is our vaunted individualism. But one of the fundamental reasons America is so resistant to programs that provide for the common good is that there is a long tradition of rejecting any proposal that taxes white people to pay for programs that benefit non-whites.

Joan talked about all this in the context of a question Matthews asked about whether or not the GOP was using race to block Obama's agenda. As Joan, points out, that's fairly obvious. When you have the fatuous gasbag leadership all calling Obama a reverse racist (the new black in conservative circles) and even questioning his American identity, it's pretty clear that they are yanking the racist American id pretty hard.

But it really goes to their essential philosophy which says that the government is taking away "what's yours" and giving it to the undeserving (blacks and browns.) The fact that Obama himself is black only adds to the atmospherics, it doesn't create them. This tribalism is so deeply entrenched in American culture that its racial nature has long since been disguised in less obvious terms such as "liberalism." Obama's race simply makes it impossible for the hard core wingnuts to hide their real intent. (And they are in such deep trouble that they can't afford to be subtle anymore.)

Joan's thesis was correct, but Tweety looked at her as if she'd just said she'd joined the Heaven's Gate cult. But then he is the same guy who had earlier blithely asserted that Obama had racially profiled Sgt Crowley, so his awareness of how racism worksa is obviously limited. But the truth is that he's actually just a typical selfish wealthy person who believes that he's rich because he's morally superior to everyone who isn't as wealthy as he is. (And who obviously then admires those who are even wealthier.) His cohort's desire to kill Obama's agenda is just plain old class solidarity.

But when Matthews and other wealthy people obsess over race in the broader sense, and encourage this nonsense about reverse discrimination out of some absurd self-identification as a white working class dude, they do the work of the ruling class as well by reinforcing the All American racial divide --- and its resultant antipathy toward any kind of social welfare. Tweety and Villagers who pretend to be jess folks on yer TV do the work of conservatives by presenting their elite views in the guise of blue collar attitudes. It's a great scam.

Update: Wow. Joan got under Rush's skin.

Oy vey

by digby

MSNBC is running a "Beer Summit" countdown clock replete with beer mug illustration.

And Ms Whalen, the woman who made the original 911 call, has celebrity attorney Wendy Murphy out there claiming that the "three guys" who behaved badly are getting rewarded while the woman who behaved in exemplary fashion is being snubbed.

Hasn't a shark bitten someone lately? I know there have been giant beaked squid in San Diego. Would that do? Please?

The Real Problem With Obama's Poll Numbers

by dday

My big takeaway today is supposed to be that Barack Obama is fading in selling his health care plan, as eroding poll numbers, both on health care and his job approval rating, threaten legislation in the coming year. As references to "Obamacare" rise, some blame the President for a poor sales job with health care legislation. I fault the President, but for different reasons.

Right now Obama is simply a captive to Congressional process. That process is messy, it's easy to view it as negative, and people are in general reacting to the ups and downs that wound the possibility of passing a bill. The President has no bill to go out and hawk because the Congress is deep into negotiations, so he's selling nothing, a difficult task for anyone. You could say that Obama should have just stepped in and laid down the law, but not only has that proven to fail in the 1993-94 Clinton health care plan, but I don't necessarily want executive dictates to trump Congressional process. I think there's a lot of unnecessary bottlenecks in Congressional process, like the undemocratic filibuster and the seniority system for Committee chairs (particularly in the Senate) and the anti-majoritarian nature of the Senate itself. But in general, we don't elect emperors, and checks and balances are by and large healthy, and I'm OK with Congress performing their task of coming up with legislation and the President performing his task of executing it. Obviously he has some input, but I don't want an executive dominating the process. The paradox of this is that, since people generally believe that a President can just walk in and magically implement his policies, his personal approval is getting dragged down by the slog of health care bills in Congress.

The other wall that Obama is running into has been described for years as the Two Santa Claus theory. For 30 years and more, the American people have been sold on the idea that they can have unlimited services and endlessly low taxes. Somehow the lower taxes generate enough revenue to cover all the services they desire. This was part of a Republican ideological project begun by Reagan aides to basically force Democrats into wearing the black hats, and it has turned into doctrine from then on.

By 1974, Jude Wanniski had had enough. The Democrats got to play Santa Claus when they passed out Social Security and Unemployment checks – both programs of the New Deal – as well as when their "big government" projects like roads, bridges, and highways were built giving a healthy union paycheck to construction workers. They kept raising taxes on businesses and rich people to pay for things, which didn't seem to have much effect at all on working people (wages were steadily going up, in fact), and that made them seem like a party of Robin Hoods, taking from the rich to fund programs for the poor and the working class. Americans loved it. And every time Republicans railed against these programs, they lost elections [...]

Wanniski decided to turn the classical world of economics – which had operated on this simple demand-driven equation for seven thousand years – on its head. In 1974 he invented a new phrase – "supply side economics" – and suggested that the reason economies grew wasn't because people had money and wanted to buy things with it but, instead, because things were available for sale, thus tantalizing people to part with their money. The more things there were, the faster the economy would grow.

At the same time, Arthur Laffer was taking that equation a step further. Not only was supply-side a rational concept, Laffer suggested, but as taxes went down, revenue to the government would go up!

Neither concept made any sense – and time has proven both to be colossal idiocies – but together they offered the Republican Party a way out of the wilderness [...]

Democrats, (Wanniski) said, had been able to be "Santa Clauses" by giving people things from the largesse of the federal government. Republicans could do that, too – spending could actually increase. Plus, Republicans could be double Santa Clauses by cutting people's taxes! For working people it would only be a small token – a few hundred dollars a year on average – but would be heavily marketed. And for the rich it would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. The rich, in turn, would use that money to import or build more stuff to market, thus increasing supply and stimulating the economy. And that growth in the economy would mean that the people still paying taxes would pay more because they were earning more.

There was no way, Wanniski said, that the Democrats could ever win again. They'd have to be anti-Santas by raising taxes, or anti-Santas by cutting spending. Either one would lose them elections.

The most important numbers in these collections of polls this week are this. People generally still want health care reform and they believe the system is broken. But they also believe that Congress should cut the deficit without raising taxes or cutting spending. With the caveat that we're talking about aggregate data and cannot make specific conclusions about individual beliefs on the deficit, taxes, and spending, this is not the result of one poll but pretty much the standard poll result over many decades, particularly when Democrats are in power and the deficit-industrial complex ramps up their rhetoric. Simply put, Republican fantasy projections have given the country an out to refuse to accept the normal choices that must be made to deal with reality.

If you don't have the time or inclination to obsessively pay attention to issues, I don't see why you wouldn't decide that we should just pay down the deficit but get good services like comprehensive health care reform but do it without raising taxes. It's very untroubling and simple, and if I'm working two jobs or busy with other things in my life it sure sounds like a good deal to me.

I agree that the President needs to do better in selling his plans to the public. A speech in prime-time, not a press conference but an actual speech, complete with Ross Perot graphs if necessary, as Nate Silver advocates, sounds like a good idea. But his problem is more about American political ideology than the ins and outs of this bill. America elected a Democrat because they didn't like George Bush. But they didn't elect a liberal ideology, even if they may agree with it on many points, because a liberal ideology wasn't on offer. Nobody in the Democratic Party has pushed back against the Two Santa Claus theory, or offered up a competing theory of their own, in the thirty-plus years since it was invented. Obama spent the first few months, when he had a honeymoon and his approval ratings were high, assuring everyone that 95% of Americans will see a tax cut, that he was pragmatic and will only go with "what works," and so on. And so when you get to an issue like health care, which does have moral overtones, which does speak to the fundamental rights of a society to ensure care for their sick and bleeding, there's no ideological foundation to fall back upon, no belief that America is worth paying for and those who use the commons to a disproportionate degree need to give a little bit to maintain the societal fabric. So we have an overhaul of health reform to expand coverage to everyone who needs it couched in the terms of cost curves and long term budget projections and constrained by the obsessive desire of deficit neutrality. This does not inspire activists and partisans to action. It does not force any thinking from those susceptible to attacks on "government-run health care" from the other side. And it does not break the underlying principles of the Two Santa Claus Theory. Nobody has fought the dominant wisdom, inside the Beltway and even in the country, and stated plainly that conservatives have lied to the country about economic issues for 30-plus years. The epic collapse of the economy under the Bush Administration provided an opportunity that nobody took.

Unless and until we start challenging conservative ideology and not conservative candidates, we will always have trouble making major changes because the public has swallowed a notion of government that makes no logical or coherent sense.

Enzi Invents Unicameral Six-Member Parliament, Names Self Prime Minister

by dday

Steve Benen hit this yesterday, but I just noticed it. Mike Enzi, like most Senators, finds himself very, very important. So much so that he believes the November election leading to 60 Democratic Senators, 258 Democratic House members and a Democratic President sent the message that his word must be law.

With liberal Democrats on and off the Finance Committee already angling to pull the measure to the left when it is combined with a rival passed by the Health Committee, Enzi indicated his support is contingent on Democratic leaders leaving any Finance Committee agreement intact.

“I also need commitments from Sen. [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] and Speaker Pelosi, as well as the administration, that the bipartisan agreements reached in the Finance Committee will survive in a final bill that goes to the president,” Enzi said.

There are six Senators involved in the Baucus caucus in the Senate Finance Committee. Together they represent about 2.8% of the total US population.

Let's add in some additional facts. Five Congressional Committees are working on health care legislation. The legislative process works like this: the bills coming out of the committees in the respective chambers are merged into single bills for a floor vote. Senators and House members have the opportunity to offer amendments. Those amendments are voted up or down, then there are final votes on passage of the bill in the House and the Senate. The bills coming out of the respective chambers go to a conference committee, where they are merged, with the details ironed out, and then returned to each chamber for a final vote.

That's how government works.

Mike Enzi's conception of government is this: Mike Enzi agrees to a compromise with 6% of the total Senate representing 2.8% of the population, and it becomes law.

I will say that his version has speed on its side.

The bill Enzi wants to fast track has a favorable CBO score going for it, reportedly costing under $1 trillion over 10 years and covering 95% of all Americans. But the only way to do that is to cut subsidies to the bone, making coverage unaffordable; or to phase in the program later in the ten-year budget window, maintaining the current broken, crappy system for as long as possible. It also apparently eliminates the successful Children's Health Insurance Program.

And by the way, they can't get it done until after the August recess.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyoming, dropped the bombshell news to CNN and two other reporters in Capitol hallways Wednesday night. They have spent weeks behind closed doors, trying to hammer out an agreement with their Democratic counterparts on the Senate Finance Committee but said too many issues remain unresolved, making it virtually impossible for them to sign on to a deal before the break.

“There are a lot of tough decisions to make and they aren’t going to be made real quickly,” Grassley said late Wednesday when asked whether negotiators should kick their talks over to September.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, had already postponed Senate floor action on health care legislation until the fall, but Democrats had hoped the Senate Finance Committee could finish its work before the summer break. In fact, one senior Democratic source said meeting that deadline was the central thrust of the president’s meeting with Reid and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, last Friday [...]

Enzi, a soft-spoken conservative, was furious about headlines Wednesday morning that suggested he was close to reaching a deal with the Democrats.

“I felt my reputation was in danger,” he said.

In Enzi's world, signing on to a compromise with Democrats would ruin his reputation. So obviously we should just let him set the policy by himself. After all, 189,046 voted for him last year.

The silver lining here is that liberal Democrats in the House are resisting going along with this nonsense. From CongressDaily (sub. req.):

A trumpeted healthcare reform agreement with conservative House Democrats set off a firestorm of criticism from the party's liberal wing Wednesday, pushing back proceedings in a key committee and casting doubt on the strength of the leadership-backed accord.

Leaders and White House officials worked for days to reach an agreement with Blue Dogs, who had been holding up the legislation in the Energy and Commerce Committee because of concerns about cost, burdens on small business and a public insurance option [...]

"There's angst; there's questions; there's some anger," Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said of the meetings with Waxman. "The question is, have we given up too much for the goals that we need?" he said of the agreement. "I don't want to see the insurance companies subsidized by middle-income taxpayers."

The Progressive Caucus called the Waxman/Blue Dog deal "unacceptable" and vowed to defeat such a compromise on the House floor.

Meanwhile, in the best news I've heard in years, Senate Democrats are making threats to Max Baucus' committee chair.

In an apparent warning to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), some liberal Democrats have suggested a secret-ballot vote every two years on whether or not to strip committee chairmen of their gavels [...]

"Every two years the caucus could have a secret ballot on whether a chairman should continue, yes or no," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "If the ‘no’s win, [the chairman’s] out [...]

Some senators suggest privately that Baucus might be more open to persuasion if his chairmanship is subject to regular votes.

Another senior Democratic senator endorsed Harkin’s suggestion but declined to speak on the record for fear of angering Baucus.

"Put me down as a yes, but if you use my name I’ll send a SWAT team after you," said the lawmaker when asked about a biennial referendum on chairmen.

Civil rights legislation in the 1960s didn't move forward until the House Rules Committee chair, a segregationist Southern Democrat, saw his power neutered by an expansion of the committee. Process changes often precede policy changes. Sen. Baucus, take note.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Reductio Ad Absurdum

by dday

Simply put, this is the kind of world that Chris Matthews privileges when he goes on television and says that we have to get "subsidized abortions" out of the health care bill (there's about 100 ways in which that isn't true, which I've described consistently over the last few weeks, but put that aside for a moment):

Nicaragua's total ban on abortion is a violation of human rights and is killing a growing number of women and children, Amnesty International said Monday in launching a campaign to have the measure repealed.

In a report released in Mexico City, the international human rights organization said Nicaragua's law, which went into effect in late 2006, puts the Central American country among the 3% of the world's nations that do not allow abortion under any circumstance.

Citing statistics from the Nicaraguan Health Ministry, the report says 33 women and girls died from pregnancy complications in the first 19 weeks of this year, compared with 20 in the same period last year. It also says the real numbers are probably much higher.

Nicaragua has one of Latin America's highest rates of sexual violence, with the abuse often perpetrated by fathers, uncles or other relatives.

At least 50% of reported rapes are of girls under the age of 18, and most of those who get pregnant are under 15, the report says.

Women and girls who have been impregnated by rapists or whose lives or health is at risk are not allowed to abort.

Lindsay Beyerstein has more.

Matthews would say that he simply doesn't want to sully the health care debate with all that icky abortion talk. Well, it is icky when women and girls die because they cannot access medical care. But that's not a reason to give in to anti-choice demands. Conservatives don't just want to prevent "government-funded abortions" (again, not true, just using their language), they want any plan inside the insurance exchange, including private plans, not to cover abortion services. That's the entire individual market, under this vision of health care reform. And Medicaid is already banned from covering reproductive rights. And Medicare is irrelevant. So we chip, chip, chip away at reproductive choice, preventing insurance from covering it, making it more expensive, less attractive for doctors to perform to people who may not be able to afford it, and essentially more difficult. The extreme version of where Matthews is being led can be found in Nicaragua, where women are dying for no reason.

The Hose Of Authority

by digby

Here's Pat Boone writing for World Net Daily:

The American people have long opposed abortion, same sex "marriage," universal, socialistic health care and a host of other ultraliberal causes; current polls confirm we still do. But the waterboarding began, literally, within the first three days of this new administration. With no instigation from Congress, the freshman president picked up his new hose of authority and, by executive order, overturned the long-standing Reagan-era regulations prohibiting foreign aid going to organizations that finance overseas abortions – and handed international Planned Parenthood, chief provider of abortions worldwide, 200 million taxpayer dollars!

And now, while we're strapped down by the Democrat-controlled Congress, gasping and gulping beneath a flood of strong-arm tactics, the "health reform" bill taking shape outlines a "minimum-benefits package" that will be universal – that is, required of every American's insurance plan, whether provided by a private firm or by the government.

Cunningly, abortion isn't specifically mentioned, but will be decided by a "Health Benefits Advisory Committee," handpicked by the president and his HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who already has a record while governor of Kansas supporting late-term abortions! See how this "taking advantage of a crisis" thing works?

But we're not helpless yet, folks. We're drenched and near-drowned and gasping for breath, but there's a growing coalition of staunch Republican and "blue dog" Democrats in both houses of Congress digging in their heels and saying, "Wait! This is all too much, too fast! We need time to read and digest and consider this torrent of legislation. Mr. President, hold off!"

And that gives us debt-soaked citizens a chance to rise up and gasp and spit and shout: "MR. PRESIDENT, AND YOU, TOO, CONGRESS! YOU WORK FOR US! NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND! WE VOTED YOU IN! AND WE CAN TAKE YOU OUT! STOP THIS WATERBOARDING!!"

That excerpt stands alone, but you really need to read the whole thing --- and World O Crap's deconstruction --- to fully grasp old Pat's POV: The good waterboarding saved the Brooklyn Bridge while the bad waterboarding is universal health care. It's hard to explain because, well, it's insane. You have to read it for yourself.

Lois Romano Won't Be Invited Back On Hardball Again

by dday

Chris Matthews unsurprisingly opened his maw and had Betsy McCaughey spoonfed bullshit into it today, repeating almost word-for-word McCaughey's argument about end-of-life care in the health care bill.

MATTHEWS: Lois, your thoughts about this debate, it's a provision in the Energy and Commerce version of the health care bill, Energy and Commerce Committee. It was put in, this provision by Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, there it stands, it's a provision which allows you to get counseling every five years or so. I wonder what the hell this provision's doing in a bill that's aimed at people who are younger. It's not about Medicare recipients, people over 65. Why are you going to be visited every five years by somebody to talk about how you want to die. I think it's crazy this is in there, but your thoughts.

ROMANO: But it's not in there. I mean basically-

MATTHEWS: It is in there!


MATTHEWS: It's in the bill, it's in the-

ROMANO: It's a benefit! First of all, Chris, Chris. First of all, it's an extension of a 1999 bill that was enacted during the Bush Administration, and it's a self-determination, a patient's rights bill. And all it really says is that Medicare will pay if someone wants to go in and have a consultation. It doesn't say you have to have a consultation.

MATTHEWS: It's not about Medicare, Lois, this is, we already have that in Medicare. This is about people under 65, younger people. This is not about Medicare, we've got it in that coverage, you're saying that. This is about a health care bill to help people in their middle years, in their younger years. Why would you have this conversation with them?

I don't know, Chris, because young people don't have a force field around them, and sometimes they get stricken with terminal illness, and sometimes they get in car accidents, and sometimes they get in situations for end-of-life care comes into play, and they should be allowed to have a consultation about those issues covered by their health care plan.

Also fun: Matthews thinks this bill has nothing to do with Medicare, when major provisions include eliminating Medicare Advantage, the private insurers who charge individuals twice as much as the government and offer worse care to seniors; the IMAC provision to look at reimbursement rates in Medicare, Medicare internal cost savings, Medicaid coverage expansion, and about 20 other things to do with Medicare and Medicaid.

This goes on for about five minutes, with Tweety checking his crib sheet for Betsy McCaughey's lies, and Romano fruitlessly trying to debunk them. He talks about "consultations on a recurring basis" and she yells "It's not mandated!" and he says "Well, what's it doing in there," finally deciding that it was put in by a lobbyist (evil!). The Politico bobblehead chimes in with the kind of "teach the controversy" hands-off refereeing, saying that you see conservatives bringing this up because it "offers political fodder." Yes, I imagine lying about the policy does offer political fodder, especially if people like Chris Matthews swallow those lies whole. At the end he demands, "Why is it in this bill!" Because health care policy should not be included in a health care bill. ("You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!") Romano replies, "Why not?" Matthews: "Because we're talking about it."

Mission accomplished, Betsy McCaughey. The 90s are back!

He did the same thing in the role of abortion policy in the health insurance exchanges, where he stumbled into something he knew absolutely nothing about, decided that offering the same reproductive coverage on a public option as is offered in 90% of all private plans was illegal under the Hyde Amendment, even though the public plan is self-sufficient and doesn't access public funds, and decided that dirty liberals were ruining a good bill by throwing a "lefty wish list" into it and driving good solid moderates like him crazy.

Chris Matthews is a deeply stupid person. He knows absolutely nothing about policy, and picks up scraps from The Weekly Standard and people from the Hudson Institute and cocktail parties and fits it into his dishonest everyman pose. For every day he takes down a Birther there are 20 or 30 instances like this where he actively works to deny progress for America.

If most of our media didn't exist, I'd have to say at this point people would be better informed.

...Rachel Maddow is very deliberately going through the Betsy McCaughey smear right now, calling her out as the head of a medical device company and part of a think tank funded by drugmakers, and said "Welcome to 1993." Two hours earlier this dumbass Chris Matthews bought every word of it.

By the way, I want to take this opportunity to thank Andrew Sullivan, who edited The New Republic in 1993 and 1994 and was most responsible for giving Betsy McCaughey's smears legitimacy, to our collective detriment to this day. Hey, appreciate it, Andrew!

Back In The Saddle

by digby

Brilliant political observers and Village savants, Chris Matthews, Charlie Cook and Chuck Todd say the country has lost confidence in Obama and that the Dems could very well lose the congress next time. It seems to be the fault of the tax 'n spend "redistributionist" liberal hippies and Obama needs to be much more responsive to the Blue Dogs, who hold the key to success if he will only seize it.

Cook says that Obama is already a failure because he didn't do health care in a bipartisan fashion and that not enacting malpractice reform was his biggest mistake.

And Matthews says that Obama was racial profiling when he defended Henry Louis Gates. Later in the show he got very self-righteous about Beck calling Obama a racist. (Self-awareness isn't Tweety's strong suit.)

They've turned. If it weren't for the Republicans acting like circus clowns, it would be even worse.

Update: Matthews also says that provisions that allow people to consult about living wills is a leftist plot (that has something to do with abortion, in his mind) and the right has good reason to object.

Goldilocks Vanity

by digby

Harold Meyerson asks the fundamental question: who cares what Max Baucus and his band of finance committee nobodies thinks? By what measure should they be considered the last word on this?

Three committees have reported out bills plainly to Obama's liking. These committees -- two in the House, one in the Senate, and all controlled by progressive Democrats who support the president's objectives -- have backed mandates on individuals to get insurance and created generous subsidies to make that insurance affordable. They have backed mandates on employers (all but the smallest) to provide insurance or pay into a pool to fund those subsidies. And they have created a public plan, both to compete with private plans and to bring down the cost of health care more generally.


Over at Senate Finance, judging by the reports coming of the committee, a solonic gang of six -- three Democrats, including chairman Max Baucus of Montana, and three Republicans, including ranking member Charles Grassley of Iowa -- are turning out a bill whose resemblance to anything the president has championed is accidental and incidental. To secure Republican support, they oppose a public plan. To secure Republican support, they oppose employer mandates, even on the largest corporations. (And many of America's biggest employers are retailers with a proven record of not providing coverage to their workers: Wal-Mart, our largest, employs 1.4 million Americans, most of whom it does not cover.) The solonic six may end up requiring employers to fund subsidies for employees who need them, but that could create the bureaucratic nightmare to end all bureaucratic nightmares -- 700,000 Wal-Mart employees, say, bringing their tax returns to work so management can investigate ("You sure you reported all your income?") and stall ("Doesn't your spouse work at Home Depot? Why don't they pay the subsidy?") and investigate and stall.

Sounds like a plan to secure universal coverage by the middle of the next century.

The solonic six, in other words, seem on track to produce a plan that falls short of universal coverage, omits the savings that a competitive public plan would create, and might actually make health care harder to get. The only justification for such a bill is that it might win some Republican support. Why that is a goal worth pursuing at the expense of decent reform, however, is not at all apparent.

Well, just ask the Two DavesBoren and Broder and they'll tell you that bipartisanship is always better --- because it just is. It's Goldilocks politics --- one side is too hot, one side is too cold, so lukewarm corporate whores must be juuuuust right. They certainly can't argue that it's better politically, because everyone knows that Republicans will run against this legislation for the next half century at a minimum, and having three or four Senators vote for it won't change that. It wouldn't change if 25 GOP Senators voted for it.

Meyerson says that the Democrats can't bargain with Republicans anymore because they are extremist nutjobs, which is true. But I don't think that's the problem. The real problem is the power of this faux "centrism" that's been adopted by dwindling numbers of both parties who actually seem to be among the dullest and the least creative of a pretty dull and uncreative group. Which isn't surprising. Centrism as currently constructed is nothing more than facile claptrap that says "the middle" is always right andf finding some arbitrary number that means absolutely nothing is somehow the "smart" way to govern. These centrists are actually intellectually lazy people who won't (or can't) judge ideas and policies on the merits, and instead adopt the easy attitude that something between the two poles is always superior. (I realize I'm making the assumption that these "centrists" don't know what they are doing but I actually think they are pretty stupid and subject to flattery from their powerful, wealthy benefactors. They are tools not brains. Think George W. Bush in his compassionate conservative guise.)

The larger problem is that when applied to problems that actually need solving, these moderate positions are completely ineffectual, or actually make things worse. And this attitude is then adopted by the villagers as the sage and wise position because it saves them having to think too deeply about the issues or take a position that might tag them as being one of those awful partisans. Et voila --- conventional wisdom is born.

At best, as Boren's famous quote bears out, it's nothing more than overweening moral vanity. These people think there is virtue in moderation for its own sake and take great pride in being above the usual "partisanship" or passions of hoi polloi. But in the end, it's just another insider power play --- those intellectually overrated "centrists" exert the outsized power they are given in our two party system in service of their massively inflated egos. The status quo is protected, the people are further disillusioned and the ruling class breathe a big sigh of relief.

I do agree with Meyerson about what Obama should do about it: he should ignore them.
But I'll be surprised if he does. Democratic presidents never do. Unsurprisingly, Republican presidents rarely have to.

Following tradition in signing major legislation, Mr. Bush used a different pen for each letter of his name, then handed the pens to Republican Congressional leaders and a few Democrats whose support was critical.

Among them was Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the new chairman of the Finance Committee, whose decision to reach a compromise between his own party's more modest tax cut and Mr. Bush's more ambitious one angered leaders in his own party, including the new majority leader, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. But tonight Mr. Daschle was headed to the White House for a private dinner with Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, while Mr. Baucus said he did the right thing by striking a deal with Mr. Bush.

''Every day it looks like a better and better decision,'' Mr. Baucus said at the White House after the signing ceremony. ''In many respects, I think politically I helped the party. We Democrats would have been in trouble in 2002 just saying no to every one of the president's proposals.''

Update: It looks like Waxman got what he needed in the House --- for this week, at least. Baucus remains the problem. The Democrats should roll over him. I'll be shocked if they do.

Food That Answers To A Higher Power

by tristero

Good for the Jews:
It's a sign of the times when the Orthodox Union starts taking its cues from the Certified Organic crowd. After 2000 years of formalized Jewish dietary law, Israel's top Rabbi has threatened to revoke the kosher status of vegetables deemed excessively sprayed.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, the country's top religious authority, said he would yank veggies' blanket kosher seal of approval over "insane quantities" of insecticides. Although even the man with the plan acknowledged that there is no precedent for decertifying fruits and vegetables, he said that health hazards alone make spraying a religious concern. (Kashrut, the body of law dictating what is and isn't kosher, forbids eating any known poison.) dictating what is and isn't kosher, forbids eating any known poison.)

(For those who don't get the reference in the title, you're SOL. I couldn't find a link on the innertubes. Sixties commercial for Levi's bread, as I recall.)

Bigmouth Strikes Again

by dday

Betsy McCaughey has popped up before this year, claiming that the stimulus package included funding for comparative effectiveness research, which would "have the government essentially dictate treatments." It played into the worst fears, stoked for years by conservatives, of the government running health care and "getting between you and your doctor," unlike the great system we have now, where an insurance company bureaucrat does that. It's the same strategy as trying to get Americans to fear the Canadian health care system, even though the opposite is closer to reality.

It must be fun to be McCaughey, as her entire job appears to be misreading Congressional legislation and writing columns about it. This is what she did in 1994, writing the seminal piece "No Exit" in The New Republic, filled with distortions about the Clinton health care plan, that set the conventional wisdom against it. She's like an inverse I.F. Stone, ferreting out government malfeasance where none exists. The difference, of course, is that McCaughey is funded by powerful interests: she sits on the board of directors of a medical device company, has received stock options from that same company, and is part of a think tank funded by pharmaceuticals. So she's well-compensated for her deliberate misreadings.

The most recent installment, playing out over a number of days, is her contention that the House health care bill "would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner." Once again, she plays into the usual conservative tropes with false attacks about government taking control of your life.

And these claims get the standard fact-check treatment, and reporters try to pin her down, and McCaughey says things like "it doesn't say that in so many words, but it would allow for it to happen in the future," and eventhe President has to go ahead and rebut this in a town hall:

Q I have heard lots of rumors going around about this new plan, and I hope that the people that are going to vote on this is going to read every single page there. I have been told there is a clause in there that everyone that's Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die. This bothers me greatly and I'd like for you to promise me that this is not in this bill.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I guarantee you, first of all, we just don't have enough government workers to send to talk to everybody, to find out how they want to die.

I think that the only thing that may have been proposed in some of the bills -- and I actually think this is a good thing -- is that it makes it easier for people to fill out a living will.

Now, Mary, you may be familiar with the principle behind a living will, but it basically is something that my grandmother -- who, you may have heard, recently passed away -- it gave her some control ahead of time, so that she could say, for example, if she had a terminal illness, did she want extraordinary measures even if, for example, her brain waves were no longer functioning; or did she want just to be left alone. That gives her some decision-making power over the process.

The problem is right now most of us don't give direction to our family members and so when we get really badly sick, sadly enough, nobody is there to make the decisions. And then the doctor, who doesn't know what you might have preferred, they're making decisions, in consultation with your kids or your grandkids, and nobody knows what you would have preferred.

So I think the idea there is to simply make sure that a living will process is easier for people -- it doesn't require you to hire a lawyer or to take up a lot of time. But everything is going to be up to you. And if you don't want to fill out a living will, you don't have to. But it's actually a useful tool I think for a lot of families to make sure that if, heaven forbid, you contract a terminal illness, that you are somebody who is able to control this process in a dignified way that is true to your faith and true to how you think that end-of-life process should proceed.

You don't want somebody else making those decisions for you. So I actually think it's a good idea to have a living will. I'd encourage everybody to get one. I have one. Michelle has one. And we hope we don't have to use it for a long time, but I think it's something that is sensible.

But, Mary, I just want to be clear: Nobody is going to be knocking on your door; nobody is going to be telling you you've got to fill one out. And certainly nobody is going to be forcing you to make a set of decisions on end-of-life care based on some bureaucratic law in Washington.

And that's that! Whew, we dodged a bullet there!

Except House Republicans will continue to pronounce that Obama wants to kill old people. And not just the rank and file, but the Minority Leader. And Democrats still get the cards and letters about how that nice Ms. McCaughey tells them that government agents will descend on their house with some rope and a pillow good enough for suffocatin':

But Representative G. K. Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina, said he heard many expressions of concern from constituents when he answered telephone calls to his office on Tuesday.

“The longer we wait to vote,” Mr. Butterfield said, “the more opportunity our opponents have to put out false messages. Seniors fear they will lose Medicare. They worry they will have to discuss plans for end-of-life care every five years.” [...]

The House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, said, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.”

Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, said, “I have met seniors who think their Medicare will be taken away, which is false.”

Not that some people even know that Medicare is a government program anymore.

So this is the game. McCaughey gets on conservative media, pretends to be an expert about all things health care, and just makes shit up about the bill. This lays a near-impossible trap for anyone who cares about honesty - leave the claims alone and watch them fester, or debunk them and give them even more attention. If you're Politico, and your core mission is to start controversy, you can achieve a two-fer by printing headlines like "Will proposal promote euthanasia? and debunking the story deeper inside the article.

Democrats had this game figured out by 1995.

And yet it persists. Because the bullshit flies so fast that tamping it down is just an impossibility. John Thune yesterday went ahead and claimed that "most Americans" would pay 50 cents of every dollar in taxes under the health care bill. You can blame corporate media for failing to get out in front of the nonsense, but you're not going to get Fred Thompson's radio show, which is where this latest McCaughey smear originated, to value the truth.

The strategy of delay from those who want to kill the health care plan relies on a steady stream of bullshit from all areas of the conservative noise machine. Some of this opposition gets privileged by the media, some of it rebutted. But it's all "out there." And it has a cumulative effect, piece by piece, until the plan no longer seems worth doing (which, if it's the Senate Finance Committee version, might be true). You have politicians literally arguing for speed in the process because they don't want their opponents to have time to mainline more lies into the media bloodstream.

McCaughey won't go away. And no matter how discredited Republicans get, their ability to find outlets for their bullshit will probably only grow. All of it goes back to a central argument about the nature of government, an argument that Democrats all too often don't want to have. If the majority of people had any belief that government could act as a positive force in people's lives, the barrage of lies would not matter nearly so much. If you never make that argument, you leave the field to people like Betsy McCaughey.