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saturday, may 28, 2005

To Your Health
 
Last summer I attended a progressive conference held at NYU and hosted by The Nation and the New Democracy Project. One of the many excellent panel discussions was on health care. Panelists and attendees split into two camps. The first camp favored universal, single-payer health care but believed this goal would have to be reached slowly and incrementally because of the power of anti-human rightie whackjobs in Washington who obstruct reform. The second camp favored universal, single-payer health care but said the hell with being incremental. Let's go for it now.
 
I was in the first camp for several years, but I've moved over to the second camp.
 
I became radicalized about health insurance in the late 1980s, when my employer at the time (Paramount Communications, a rather large company) cranked up the paycheck deduction for employee benefit health insurance so much, and so suddenly, many employees could no longer afford it. I remember the despair of a secretary I befriended; she had a disabled husband and a son with asthma but could no longer afford to pay for health insurance. I had my own problems with Paramount's HMO, which had a very inadequate network of physicians. But at the time, the enormous majority of employed Americans still got first-rate insurance for very little money, and few wanted to believe a crisis was coming. In the years since, most politicians either denied there is a health care problem, or else offered little more than patches and band-aids to fix it. IMO this includes Hillary Clinton's plan, which was more than a band-aid but less than the complete overhaul that we really need--something like a full-body cast.
 
I've long believed that, someday, there'd be a tipping point. Someday, when a big-enough chunk of middle-class Americans began to worry about their own access to health care, then people would listen. We'd be able to get past the noise about waiting lines in Canada and persuade Americans we don't have to put up with this.  
 
My guts are telling me that day is about to dawn. I cannot prove it, and I could be wrong. Conventional wisdom says otherwise, I realize. But the CW has been wrong before.
 
I bring this up because of this article in the New York Times, "Health Leaders Seek Consensus Over Uninsured."   

At a time when Congress has been torn by partisan battles, 24 ideologically disparate leaders representing the health care industry, corporations and unions, and conservative and liberal groups have been meeting secretly for months to seek a consensus on proposals to provide coverage for the growing number of people with no health insurance.

The participants, ranging from the liberal Families USA to the conservative Heritage Foundation and the United States Chamber of Commerce, said they had made progress in trying to overcome the ideological impasse that has stymied action on the problem for eight years.

The group, which first came together last October, has not endorsed any specific plan, but has discussed a range of options, including tax incentives for the purchase of insurance, changes in Medicaid to cover more low-income adults and the creation of insurance purchasing pools at the state level.

If I'd read this story ten years ago, or even five years ago, I might have endorsed this effort. Now it just makes me tired. I'm tired of "solutions" that amount to patches and band-aids and work-arounds that do little more than slow down the hemorrhage, and that only temporarily.

The article continues,

The 24-member group takes a pragmatic approach, members said, looking for incremental steps.

"People are uninsured for different reasons," said Dr. Mary E. Frank, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a participant in the talks. "No one solution will work for everyone. We need different solutions for different groups of the uninsured."

E. Neil Trautwein, assistant vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the consensus group was "not biased in favor of big government solutions," and assumed that health care would continue to be provided through a mix of private insurers and public programs....

... They are not trying to remake the health care system or guarantee insurance for every American through one big program, they said.

In other words, they're just creating more band-aids and wasting everyone's time.

Update: David Broder discovers there's a crisis. Yet in the last paragraph he implies that the system can be overhauled while George Bush is in the White House. Hah. Also, John Podesta's "liberal think tank" recently came out with its own recommendations--"subsidies and cost controls for insurance policies purchased by employers and individuals and an expansion of the federal employees' health care system to enroll outsiders." Bzzzzzzzzz.  Wrong answer, John, but thanks for playing.   

 
4:03 pm | link

What'd I Say
 
The Moonie Times published a UPI report that King Fahd of Saudi Arabia is dead, although the rest of the news media around the globe say he is hospitalzed and gravely ill, possibly with pneumonia, but still alive. In fact, UPI itself, on its own web site, is going with the "hospitalized with pneumonia" story as I keyboard. I assume the story published in the MT is an earlier one that has been retracted. 
 
Weirdly, a number of righties (example) proclaim that the "Fahd is dead" story must be true. It might be true, but considering that the report says he died on Wednesday and Muslim law requires that a deceased person be buried within 24 hours of death, I doubt it. Funerals for princes tend to make a splash. It's possible his sons have the body on ice while they engage in some sort of power struggle, of course. 
 
But note that the Saudi Institute seems to be some sort of Washington-based political advocacy organization dedicated to Bush Regime apologia and whose "board" is an associate professor at the University of Southern Alabama. And the Saudi Institute says they got their information from unnamed sources in Riyadh This is somewhat less than rock solid, in other words. Anyone with any degree of sophistication in the ways of news gathering would be skeptical.
 
Yet Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs (to which I do not link) says "reports are now coming from so many sources that it’s likely to be true." The "so many sources" are not to be found via news google; there's just the early UPI story as picked up by a couple of other news outlets.  
 
I am less than keenly interested in Prince Fahd's health than I am in the pure faith some place in the Moonie Times.  And if it turns out the prince is still alive, don't hold your breath waiting for the righties to acknowledge the story was in error, or that anyone on the Right jumped to conclusions based on undersourced information. Only America-hating liberals do that. 
 
7:47 am | link

friday, may 27, 2005

Who Do You Trust?
 
One way to distinquish between a leftie and a rightie these days is to ask, "Who Do You Trust?"
 
These days the Left has little trust of organizations and instutitions, public or private. This includes the Democrats. Although we may often cheer their victories and support their candidates, we still half expect them to disappoint us. There are a handful of prominent writers and politicos whose opinions we respect. But mostly when journalists or the Democratic Party actually get something exactly right it's a thing of fleeting wonder, like a comet blazing across the sky. Take a good look tonight, because it won't be there tomorrow. 
 
The Right, on the other hand, has a pure, holy faith in The Powers That Be, public and private. They trust the Bush Administration. They trust the Republican Party. They trust the big multinational corporations. They don't like to admit it, but they trust "MainStreamMedia" more than the Left does, or at least they trust the part owned and operated by the VRWC--e.g., Faux Nooz, the Moonie Times, National Review Online.
 
(I've often been struck by rightie assumptions that we lefties put the same trust in "our" leaders and institutions that they put in theirs. That's one reason they have no clue where we're coming from and couldn't get a clue if they paid for it.)
 
Here's an example of pure faith--yesterday Reuters reported that 

The Guantanamo detainee who told an FBI agent in 2002 that U.S. personnel there had flushed a Koran in a toilet retracted his allegation when questioned this month by military investigators, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

"We've gone back to the detainee who allegedly made the allegation and he has said it didn't happen. So the underlying allegation, the detainee himself, within the last two weeks, said that didn't happen," chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told a briefing.

... and, as you can see from Memeorandum, at least 13 rightie bloggers grasped this statement to their bosoms and declared it to be proof that Our Gubmint can do no wrong. And they did so without a moment's reflection on how this detainee might have been "questioned" or even if there was really a retraction. I mean, the Pentagon wouldn't lie to us, right?

As brother leftie Mark Kleiman points out,

... just because Lawrence Di Rita says that the detainee in question has recanted -- without providing his name or the text of what he is supposed to have said, and of course without providing any opportunity for any reporter to interview him -- doesn't mean that the detainee has actually recanted.

Prisoners lie, and flacks lie. It's a wicked world.

Moreover, even if the recantation is for real, a recantation by someone utterly at the mercy of his captors shouldn't be given very much weight. Cranmer recanted. So did Galileo.

Of course. And even if this one allegation could be proved false, there are plenty of other allegations still unanswered. But the faith of the righties is so pure, and so total, that a smile and a nod from the proper authorities are all they need to maintain that faith. The Q'ran was never dissed at Gitmo, much less flushed. All the detainees are guilty, because they're detainees. Detainees are not tortured, and any torture that does take place is an aberration that no right-thinking patriot would want to even hear about.

Even though last week this same Lawrence Di Rita said there were no credible allegations of abuse of the Q'ran, and this week he said that of 13 allegations only 5 were confirmed, righties place their absolute trust in Mr. Di Rita, and henceforth all allegations of mistreatment of detainees at Gitmo can be shrugged off as leftie and "liberal media" lies.

You know the routine by now.

One of the handful of prominent writers whose opinions I respect, E.J. Dionne, says in today's Washington Post.

The war on Newsweek shifted attention away from how the Guantanamo prisoners have been treated, how that treatment has affected the battle against terrorism and what American policies should be. Newsweek-bashing also furthered a long-term and so far successful campaign by the administration and the conservative movement to dismiss all negative reports about their side as the product of some entity they call "the liberal media." ...

... Conservative academics have long attacked "postmodernist" philosophies for questioning whether "truth" exists at all and claiming that what we take as "truths" are merely "narratives" woven around some ideological predisposition. Today's conservative activists have become the new postmodernists. They shift attention away from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations -- and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward. Just a modest number of failures can be used to discredit an entire enterprise.

Of course journalists make mistakes, Dionne says, and the quality of much news reporting could be improved.

But this particular anti-press campaign is not about Journalism 101. It is about Power 101. It is a sophisticated effort to demolish the idea of a press independent of political parties by way of discouraging scrutiny of conservative politicians in power.

Certain prominent rightie bloggers actually long for the day when the "influence" of "Big Media" is diminished. To lefties, "Big Media" is hardly ideal. In theory, the "mainstream media" is made up of professional journalists independent of political power. In practice, the "MSM" is owned by Big Corporations who favor the Republican party, and the Washington pundit corps in particular is not nearly independent enough to suit me. But righties so trust their government that they want no independent reporting of it at all. They prefer partisan hackery. They want the Bush Administration to be utterly opaque and unanswerable to anybody. 

That, my friends, is trust.  Absolute, perfect, pure, childlike, mindless, trust.

Update: Cognitive dissonance deluxe--Exhibit A.  Beyond brainwashed. Gulag, here we come.

 
2:17 pm | link

thursday, may 26, 2005

It Ain't Just a River in Egypt, Allegedly
 
Is Newsweek vindicated? Let's compare the original Michael Isikoff-John Barry May 9 Newsweek article about Q'ran flushing to the news about Q'ran flushing that popped into the headlines today. Here's the original (sorry I don't have a link):

Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash. An Army spokesman confirms that 10 Gitmo interrogators have already been disciplined for mistreating prisoners, including one woman who took off her top, rubbed her finger through a detainee's hair and sat on the detainee's lap. (New details of sexual abuse--including an instance in which a female interrogator allegedly wiped her red-stained hand on a detainee's face, telling him it was her menstrual blood--are also in a new book to be published this week by a former Gitmo translator.) These findings, expected in an upcoming report by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, could put former Gitmo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller in the hot seat.

Here's Dan Eggan and Josh White in today's Washington Post:

Detainees told FBI interrogators as early as April 2002 that mistreatment of the Koran was widespread at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and many said they were severely beaten by captors there or in Afghanistan, according to FBI documents released yesterday.

The summaries of FBI interviews, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit, include a dozen allegations that the Koran was kicked, thrown to the floor or withheld as punishment. One prisoner said in August 2002 that guards had "flushed a Koran in the toilet" and had beaten some detainees.

Reuters reports,

The newly released document, dated Aug. 1, 2002, contained a summary of statements made days earlier by a detainee, whose name was redacted, in two interviews with an FBI special agent, whose name also was withheld, at the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union released the memo and other FBI documents it obtained from the government under court order through the Freedom of Information Act.

"Personally, he has nothing against the United States. The guards in the detention facility do not treat him well. Their behavior is bad. About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet," the FBI agent wrote.

Strictly speaking, the new information does not say the allegations were confirmed, as Isikoff/Barry did; just that there were allegations. (One of the first things I remember learning in journalism school is that everything is alleged; nothing ever actually happens. Even if you saw it yourself. Even if there are hundreds of eyewitnesses. Even if you get an official confirmation, because the confirmation is alleged, as are denials. Be sure that every statement of fact is qualified with alleged, and your butt stays covered.  Maybe Isikoff and Barry need a refresher course.)

However, given the preponderance of evidence that detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay have been tortured, the continued indignation from the Right about one detail in one story seems increasingly pathetic. As Jeanne d'Arc says,

Not just in Guantanamo, but everywhere the US holds prisoners, we've witnessed numerous cases of people picked up, imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes even killed, who were guilty of nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or having the wrong name.

No matter, say the righties. You can't prove anybody flushed a Q'ran down the toilet. Nyah nyah nyah.

Imagine if the guys who shot Rasputin were American righties and hauled into court for arraignment. "Your honor," says the prosecutor, "we have evidence these fellows murdered Grigorii Rasputin. We believe they poisoned him, stabbed him, shot him, tried to drown him, and when that didn't work, they hanged him." "We're NOT GUILTY!" yell the conspirators. "You can't prove we hanged him!"

As Terry Neal wrote in Monday's WaPo:

A certain and clear pattern has emerged when a damaging accusation or claim against the Bush administration or the Republican-led Congress is publicized: Bush supporters laser in on a weakness, fallacy or inaccuracy in the story's sourcing while diverting all attention from the issue at hand to the source or the accuser in the story.

Often this tactic involves efforts to delegitimize the entire news media based on the mistakes or sloppy reporting of a few. We saw this with the discrediting of CBS's story on irregularities in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service in the 1970s. Although the CBS "scoop" was based on faked documents, the administration's response and backlash from both conservative and mainstream media essentially relieved Bush of having to deal with the story. In other words, the allegedly "liberal" media dropped the story like a hot rock.

This is the modus operandi we've seen countless times, on blogs, on web forums, going back to the old Usenet flame wars. Instead of dealing honestly with issues, righties will pick out one weak fragment of an article or essay to challenge or ridicule, thereby pulling threads off-topic and deflecting attention away from the larger, usually unassailable, point. So many of them do it so consistently one wonders if they all took the same mail-order course in discussion sabotage.

Righties continue to trust Pentagon denials (like they wouldn't lie) and accuse the "MSM" of smearing the troops. We even get the argument that an entire book cannot be flushed whole, which rather ignores the fact that books can pretty easily be broken up into bits first (D'oh!). Most of the Right Blogosphere is no more capable of honestly facing the torture issue than they can fly. One of the very few exceptions, John Cole of Balloon Juice, is in serious danger of getting his rightie credentials revoked. He writes, 

I guess that means we need a talking points update:

1.) Newsweek Lied, People Died!
2.) The media hates the military.
3.) Why are they using anonymous sources?
4.) 1.) Why is the media recycling old stories?
5.) 2.) You can't trust those terrorists.
6.) 3.) Even if it is true, you shouldn't publish it- we are at war.
7.) 4.) You can't trust Newsweek and the Washington Post Reuters.
5.) What about the children?

More here.

That's allegedly amusing. 

 
8:46 am | link

wednesday, may 25, 2005

Something in the Water?
 
Reasonable and compassionate legislation on stem cell research from that Hanna-Barbera production known as the "U.S. House of Representatives" is a welcome surprise. What got into the congress critters?
 
The 238 to 194 vote, unusual because 50 Republicans broke with Bush and top House leaders, followed a highly personalized, occasionally tearful debate in which a parade of lawmakers recounted medical tragedies that had afflicted their families, while opponents contended that the science is built on destroying human lives.
(Breakthrough advancements on stem cell research recently announced by South Korean scientists probably didn't hurt. It seems the rest of the world is working on rocket science while we're still trying to figure out the steam engine.)   
The legislation, which has strong support in the Senate, would make federal money available for research on embryonic stem cells extracted from frozen embryos donated by couples who no longer need them for fertility treatments. It would lift a restriction imposed by Bush nearly four years ago that limits federally funded research to fewer than two dozen embryonic stem cell colonies, or lines.
Wonderful news. On the other hand, as Sheryl Gay Stolberg explains in the New York Times, the vote "fell far short of the two-thirds majority required to overturn a presidential veto, setting up a possible showdown between Congress and Mr. Bush, who has never exercised his veto power."
 
Last week the "President" held an East Room photo op with children who had been adopted as embryos. "This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," Bush said. "Crossing this line would be a great mistake."
 
But the bill has even broader support in the Senate than in the House, so it seems certain that, sooner or later, a stem cell research bill will be on Bush's desk waiting his signature. What will he do?
 
We might guess he would veto the bill, particularly since it is enormously unlikely the veto would be overridden. Particularly after Monday's filibuster compromise the "Christian" Right is howling for some of the payback they had expected after the 2004 election. A veto would pacify them some. 
 
Via Amygdala, John Cole of Balloon Juice quotes Glenn Reynolds"All the other lousy bills they've passed, and this is the first one he'll veto?"   Yeah, could be. 
 
On the other hand, the public overwhelmingly supports stem cell research and wants restrictions on federal funding eased or eliminated. If Republicans can be blamed for holding back life-saving research 'twould make a nice little issue for Dems to run on next year, methinks.
 
Stolberg also says "moments after the House vote, the Senate sponsors wrote to the Republican leader, Bill Frist, urging him to put it on the agenda." After Monday, Frist became persona non grata among the fringe fundies, and here is is being handed another hot potato. Heh.
 
Many righties say they don't mind stem cell research as long as they don't have to pay for it. See, for example, this site plus some of the comments to the John Cole post linked above. John Cole actually says in the comments "If you are asking me, would I rather the government be out of the research business altogether, the answer is, well, other than the military, yes, in most cases." Such a policy would not only set us back in scientific research, but it would also seriously erode higher education in science. Many, if not most, Ph.D. candidates in any scientific discipline depend on grants to fund their research, and universities count on these grants to help purchase the expensive high-tech gizmos scientists require these days. And in turn U.S. industry needs scientists and the fruits of scientific research to develop new products. Pull federal funding of science research, and within a generation we'll be well on our way to the Third World. But I don't think even Congress is that stupid.
 
7:37 am | link

tuesday, may 24, 2005

Vichycrats
 
Demagogue provides a roll call of votes for cloture on Priscilla Owen Priscilla Owen's confirmation today. Let's take a look.
 
Akaka (D-HI)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Byrd (D-WV)
Carper (D-DE)
Clinton (D-NY)
Conrad (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Leahy (D-VT)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Obama (D-IL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Schumer (D-NY)
Wyden (D-OR) 
 
When the Senate voted on Owen in 2003, the only Democrat in favor was Ben Nelson. The Demagogue writes,
Obviously, some current members of the Senate were not part of the Senate for the last Owen vote, but it is clear that a handful of Democrats who were not part of the compromise (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Herb Kohl) now decided to vote in favor of cloture for Owen.

I realize a deal has been struck, but why Democrats who are not a part of that deal felt compelled to help overwhileming invoke cloture on Owen when they just spent the last four years preventing it is beyond me.

Wankers.

Oldman at BOP News:

The story is that the Democrats are so deeply in their own spin-zone that they can't understand how much Vichy in Vichycrat they've become. ...

...The Democratic Senators needed some scalps to go back to the base with and posture about their great war victory. Being able to keep on filibustering a number of specifically named nominees, the ones that the Republicans didn't care that much about anyway, is their way of fulfilling the promise that "We will fight for you. Vote for us because we will keep extremist judges off the bench." And so they did, in their own special way. Expect a round of donation soliciting emails saying "We kept the filibuster alive to fight for SCOTUS nominations and we kept X,Y, and Z judges off the bench and they were nuts. Now donate to us so we can keep on doing such a great job for you!

In this they are completely deluded.

Vichycrats. That's a good one.

John Nichols in The Nation thinks the Dems could have gotten a better deal.
... there were plenty Republican senators who were looking for a way out of the corner into which Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., had maneuvered them. Democrats simply needed to hold the line, while attracting Republicans who were uncomfortable with Frist's machinations, and they could have secured the will of the people.

Unfortunately, the Democrats buckled. So Republicans will get the votes they want on at least three federal appeals court nominees who should not be allowed on the bench.

Jeffrey Dubner writes in TAPPED:

For all that Robert Byrd and John Warner talked about saving the Senate, all they did was retrench the perception that Democratic efforts to stop the worst of George W. Bush's nominees are at the outer limits of acceptable Senate practice, and are directly equivalent to the improper nuclear option. Janice Rogers Brown now typifies the mainstream, and Republican infelicities toward Bill Clinton's nominees are of no consequence whatsoever. When a Supreme Court nomination rolls aroud, the situation will be just like it was before, with Democrats relying on the kindness of a small group of "moderate" Republicans -- only now they have an explicit out clause, in that they can say Democrats are not holding their part of the deal. And barring a surprise decision by the moderates to start proposing nominees to the White House (thus getting the administration on the record opposing moderate conversatives in favor of raging ones), the highly touted clause suggesting Bush consult senators for nominations advice is toothless and even naive. [emphasis added]

Bush has a pathological aversion to "consulting" with anyone who isn't beholden to him for a job. So, yeah, it's pretty naive to expect him to actually listen to what any senator has to say, including Republican senators. Dan Froomkin writes,

Yesterday's last-minute bipartisan compromise averting a historic clash on judicial nominations was just that: A compromise.

But this White House isn't keen on compromises. It hasn't had to compromise much so far. And it doesn't want to compromise now.

Compromise means the Senate is not following the White House script. And where that leads is anyone's guess.

Anyone's guess, indeed.

 
6:56 pm | link

Win, Lose, Draw
 
Yesterday's compromise over judicial filibusters may be comparable to the Compromise of 1850, although on a smaller scale and without the great oratory. Moderates patched together a deal that allowed the contending senators to put their six-shooters back in their holsters this time, but nothing is really settled. If there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and President Bush continues his policy of nominating outrageously unqualified whackjobs to fill sensitive positions, expect some shootin'. So to speak.
 
The deal brings mixed results for President Bush. It means that at least three of the nominees who have been blocked for years will make it to the appellate courts, while at least two will not. Beyond that, without a total ban on judicial filibusters, as the nuclear option would have guaranteed, the president will not have such a free hand in selecting a Supreme Court nominee. He also will be under pressure from the moderates to work more cooperatively with the Senate on judicial nominations or face rebellion from at least some of them.

For that reason, the fragile compromise, stitched together in the office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) just as the Senate began an all-night session, will not necessarily end the battle over the future shape of the judiciary. At best, the group produced a cease-fire in the judicial wars that will deal with nominees who long have been in the confirmation pipeline. ...

..."I think they did what the Senate very often does," said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University and a longtime student of the Senate. "They kicked the can down the road. They basically postponed a crisis and set up the predicate for another one in the future on the Supreme Court nomination."

Also at WaPo, E.J. Dionne writes that preserving the filibuster was more important than the confirmation of a few said whackjobs.
The "nuclear option" was a problem not only because it meant reducing the power of Senate Democrats but also because it substantially reduced the ability of the Senate as a whole to challenge presidential judicial appointees. That capacity gives the Senate, currently the most middle-of-the-road of the elected branches of the federal government, the ability to exercise a moderating influence on the president's judicial choices.

The nuclear option to blow away the minority's rights promised a huge and unprecedented expansion of presidential control over the judiciary. The Republican compromisers decided that they needed to exercise some control over "those guys" in the White House. They also know they will welcome such influence when the Democrats take back the White House, as they will some day.

See also Michael Tomasky's pre-compromise explanation of what is at stake. "If the Republicans win on the nuclear option," Tomasky writes, "a fateful line will have been crossed that takes us one step further away from the democracy we grew up thinking we could rely on."
 
However, E.J. Dionne continues,
The deal is not perfect. There are grounds to worry that the federal judiciary will be dominated at the end of the Bush years by a certain style of conservative -- Janice Rogers Brown is representative -- ready to roll back the New Deal jurisprudence of the last 70 years. Many who buy this legal approach preach that federal rules on wages and hours, environmental and business regulation, should be overturned by courts that would use 19th-century standards to void Washington's capacity to create rational standards for a complex 21st-century economy. Stopping such a judicial takeover would justify filibusters.
The moderate Republicans agree to preserve the filibuster so long as the Democrats use it in what the moderate Republicans deem a reasonable fashion. And yet the use of the filibuster, by its very nature, almost always seems unreasonable to those whom it is used against. ...
 
...Can this agreement really withstand the appointment of another hard right nominee? The subtext of the compromise must be that neither side will be pushed beyond its limits. But that would, I think, force the Democrats to resort to the filibuster. And then everything, presumably, would unravel from there. It's hard for me to see how this deal survives the sort of appointee President Bush seems all but certain to appoint to the Supreme Court. ...
 
...So this isn't a pleasant compromise. But precisely because the Republicans -- or their leading players -- are absolutists in a way the Democrats are not, I think this compromise will batter them more than it will the minority party, which is after all a minority party which nonetheless managed to emerge from this having fought the stronger force to something like a draw.
A win now and then would be nice, though. As Avedon says, "They still have the filibuster as an issue to rant about and they get their anti-democratic, anti-Constitutional, corporatist judges. And the Lieberman wing ignored the needs of the nation and took over representing the Democratic Party yet again." Riggsveda at Corrente reminds us why giving these nominees a pass is a bitter pill to swallow.
 
Even so, the Right Blogosphere seems, on the whole, more pissed off about the compromise than the Left. One rightie compared Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to Neville Chamberlain, and Drew at Conservative Outpost says
As for blame, I think the first stones should be cast in Frist's direction...he should have made the rules change at the outset of the Senate session in January, (like everyone suggested that he do), and gotten it over with. I think this has dealt a serious blow to any presidential aspirations on his part.
And Bill Frist is toast.

GOP moderates in the Senate -- an admittedly endangered species -- yesterday emasculated their majority leader and refused to go along with the "nuclear option", which would have revised centuries-old rules of order to prevent "tyranny of the majority".

God, speaking through Dr. James Dobson, is allegedly unhappy:

"This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats..."

More of that can be found here.

You'll remember that Frist has been on an all-out pander campaign to win the support of the "Christian" Right, but the pre-Rapture crowd is likely to see the compromise as a betrayal. The majority leader secretly has been writing "President William Frist" on the inside cover of his school binder to see how it looks, but he might want to keep his career options flexible.

Yuval Rubenstein at The Left Coaster says, "The emerging view among some liberal bloggers (including Kos, The Carpetbagger Report and Crooks and Liars) is that this last-minute compromise makes Frist look like a chump, perhaps mortally wounding his chances in 2008."  
 
I see more invective from the Right against John McCain. "John McCain’s national political career is over," declares PoliPundit. "All that’s left for him is a Perot-style third-party run, and just like H. Ross already proved, along with George Wallace, and John Anderson, and Ralph Nader, that’s not a growth industry."
 
The Dems saved the filibuster and pulled the rug out from under Frist. Does this not mean the Dems got better than they gave? Not necessarily, says Liberal Oasis. L.O.'s analysis, which you should read in full, breaks into three parts.
 
First, the filibuster fight was not just a Left versus Right issue. Within Republican ranks there is a conflict of agendas between fringe fundamentalists and corporate conservatives. Corporate conservatives were more worried about the nuclear option. "Business-friendly legislation has been flowing out of Congress, and corporate cons feared the nuclear option would shut off the tap," says L.O. Thanks to the compromise, "The corporate cons get more lobbyist-drafted legislation and a few more judges to boot."
 
Second, the Dems agreed to use the filibuster only in "extraordinary circumstances." However, giving Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor a pass sets the standard for "extraordinary" pretty durn high. Even Hugh Hewitt might recognize nomination of, say, a northern quahog as extraordinary. But as long as Bush sticks to nominating vertebrates, the GOP will deny that the nominee is extraordinary enough.  
 
Third, L.O. says, the media narrative that "the center held" is nonsense, since the three judges getting a pass are no where near the center.
 
But there's the matter of the "President's" ever-diminishing political capital. His poll numbers continue to sink. If this trend continues, Republican Senators facing reelection in 2006 and 2008 might not want to be perceived as being in Bush's pocket. So although it's unlikely to compromise will hold, the next time there's a fight over the filibuster the Republican "center" may have grown a bit.
 
Frankly, it may be several months before the dust settles and we know who's still standing. If anybody.
 
Update: Other analyses of note: 
 
 
9:33 am | link

monday, may 23, 2005

So Does This Mean the Pajama Party Is Off?
 
It's amazing what can happen in a few hours when you aren't watching the news. I see that Bill Frist planned a pajama party for all his Senate buddies. But now that there may be a deal to compromise on the filibuster, does this mean poor Bill will be have to watch all those rented zombie videos by himself?
 
The details of the compromise are not clear to me, so I'm withholding comment for now. But please see Kos, Steve Soto, Kevin Drum, and Lambert.  
 
Other items of note from tday:
 

Since the election, high-profile right-wing initiatives, at both the federal and state level, have run into a stone wall of public disapproval. President Bush's privatization road show seems increasingly pathetic. In California, the conservative agenda of Arnold Schwarzenegger, including an attempt to partially privatize state pensions, has led to demonstrations by nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters - and to a crash in his approval ratings.

There's a very good reason voters, when given a chance to make a clear choice, increasingly support a stronger, not a weaker, social safety net: they need that net more than ever. Over the past 25 years the lives of working Americans have become ever less secure. Jobs come without health insurance; 401(k)'s vanish; corporations default on their pension obligations; workers lose their jobs more often, and unemployment lasts much longer than it used to.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed what the pollsters called an "angry electorate." By huge margins, voters think that politicians are paying too little attention to their concerns, especially health care, jobs and gas prices.

Stirling Newberry also points to this article by Daniel Gross:
In corporate finance, a "cram-down deal" is defined as a transaction "in which stockholders are forced to accept undesirable terms, such as junk bonds instead of cash or equity, due to the absence of any better alternatives." More broadly, it's what happens when stakeholders who have met their obligations are nonetheless forced to accept returns or compensation that are far less than they were promised. Frequently, cram downs occur because the entity charged with managing the investment has screwed up—it frittered away cash or went bankrupt. And this is the theme that is defining personal, corporate, and government finances this decade. ...
 
... the mother of all cram downs is shaping up this decade in Washington. For the past four years, as Americans have gone to work, played by the rules, and paid their taxes, Republicans in the White House and Congress have engineered a fiscal disaster. Every year, they take money that was supposed to be used for planning for retirement and spend it on other things. That's one of the reasons we have a crisis in Social Security. But like some of the private-sector corporate pension crises, this crisis is entirely discretionary. It's not that Congress and President Bush can't adequately fund Social Security. It's that they just don't want to. Instead, they want to cram us down.
Ain't that the truth? Then go see Ezra Klein--
This LA Times article on the rise of Health Savings Accounts in employer-offered health plans is the most important piece you'll read this week. Corporations, tired of paying out the nose for health care, are pushing the cost onto employees. Employees, sick to death of huge premiums, are taking them up on it. The catch? HSA's look cheap upfront, but when you actually start going to the doctor or having health problems, the cost makes your premiums look meager.
Kevin Drum believes national healthcare is inevitable, but he believes there must  be a complete collapse of the health care system before this comes to pass. Shouldn't take long.
 
Also, I see that Terry Neal is pissed about the Noise Machine. 'Bout time.
 
9:14 pm | link

sunday, may 22, 2005

Ends and Odds
 
For reasons TBA later this week--well, truth is, I'm off to battle evil leprechaun terrorists in outer space--I'm going to be away from my computer until late Monday at the earliest. You'll have to get along without me for a few hours. I'm sure you'll manage. In the meantime, you are encouraged to make use of the blogroll over in the right-hand column.
 
I have a limited time to post today, so I'm just going to call attention to one item. Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder offers an analysis of the struggle in the Senate--
All presidents seek power, but President Bush is setting a new standard with his efforts to consolidate and expand presidential authority.

He may be on the verge of his biggest victory yet as the Senate debates whether to change its rules for dealing with judicial nominations. A decision to bar Senate filibusters - unlimited debate - against judicial nominees effectively would give Bush a free hand in picking judges. It also would reduce the inherent power of every senator, and the Senate itself, to exert leverage against any president.

This is but the latest example of Bush's drive to boost White House power vis-a-vis other institutional rivals. On issue after issue, Bush has guarded presidential prerogatives and tested the limits of his office's clout. He asserted a ground-breaking doctrine of authority as commander in chief by declaring his willingness to attack other nations first if he thought them sufficiently threatening, sought to bypass the courts in dealing with terrorism suspects and proposed new restrictions on public access to presidential papers.

When Congress shelved his plans to boost federal aid to religious charities and scale back environmental regulations, he used executive orders and federal rule-making power to get his way. He's aggressively fought attempts by Congress, the news media and outside interest groups to shed light on his administration's internal deliberations.

Presidential scholars say Bush already has gone beyond previous presidents in the use of his authority.

There's a lot of jabbering on the Right about how Senate Democrats are not being true to the wishes of the Founding Fathers because they refuse to be a rubber stamp for Bush appointees. For why Alexander Hamilton thinks this is hogwash, click here. And as Ellen Dana Nagler put it so well,  "As the debate goes on, its outlines become clear. The Republicans are fighting for the president's prerogatives, the Democrats for the Senate's. It boils down to that."
 
Next time the righties present their highly revised version of what the Founding Father intended, remind them that the FFs deliberately made the office of the President a weak office. Go read the Constitution. Article I, detailing the powers of Congress, goes on and on; see especially section 8. Article II, on the powers of the President, actually says very little. I understand that several 19th century presidents believed their duty was simply to carry out the will of Congress, and little more.
 
7:57 am | link


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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

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It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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