Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Will Republicans Bring To The Table?

Most people in this country recognize the fact we need
tighter regulation of our big financial institutions.
Their reckless drive for profits at all cost practically
drove our economy off a cliff in September of 2008.

It looks like this will be the next problem the Democrats
work on.

So it will be interesting to see what solutions the GOP
offers. After decades of bellowing about getting the
government off our backs and touting the absolute
infallibity of the free market, they will be in especially
awkward position this time around.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

See No Evil?

Here's Christopher Hitchens discussing the current Pope's
role in the neverending Catholic child abuse scandal...

The pope is not above the law. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Do You Sell a Repeal?

I heard a Democratic media guy make a good point today...what
kind of bumper sticker statements will Republicans use
when they're trying to repeal healthcare reform?

He said he didn't think "Bring Back the Pre-Existing Conditions
Rule" would get people fired up.

Here are some others I thought up:

"Insurance Companies Should Have More Power!!"

"I Have Health Insurance. The Rest Of You Can Just Go Die".

"Kids Just Love Emergency Rooms!"

"Do We Really Need A Middle Class?"

Faces of Hate

(Note from J.Marquis: thanks to our buddy Snave for
letting me know about this piece)

GOP talking heads stoop to new lows


After watching them take nasty, personal shots at 11-year-old Seattle health care advocate Marcelas Owens, I would ask "wing nut" pundits Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh: At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Of course, those are words famously directed at Red baiting demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy by Army counsel Joseph Welch. But Rush and Michelle are using McCarthite tactics -- e.g. guilt by association -- to demean a kid.

Owens brought a personal story to Washington, D.C., as part of the campaign for health care reform. The boy's mother, Tiffany Owens, was fired from her job as assistant manager at a Jack in the Box. She was left without health insurance and died of pulmonary hypertension at the age of 27.

She doesn't have his five o'clock shadow, but Malkin sounded a lot like "Tail Gunner Joe" as she sneered, "Owens' grandmother and family have been longtime activists for the left-wing, single payer advocates of the Washington Community Action Network."

Limbaugh had a nasty, personal message for the Seattle fifth-grader: "Well, your mom would still have died because Obamacare doesn't kick in until 2014."

The audience for America's extreme-right voices is largely elderly, male and white. They like to label people and love racy innuendo. They tend to resent young people, minorities and women.

In another example, Limbaugh took out after Charlee Lockwood, an 18-year-old Yup'ik Eskimo girl, who traveled to Washington, D.C., to tell what global warming was doing to her remote home village of St. Michael, Alaska.

Charlee Lockwood, Limbaugh told his audience, made him "really want to puke. I just want to throw up."

"It's the Democrats exploiting a young child, ladies and gentlemen, for the advancement of a political issue that will grow the size of government and increase their control over everyone," he charged.

Limbaugh didn't mention that Charlee Lockwood, and 10 other Alaska students, met with (then) Sen. Ted Stevens and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans.

Malkin takes up a similar line with Marcelas Owens. Its essence: Young people can't think for themselves and are being manipulated.

Under a headline "Harry Reid hides behind 11-year-old kiddie shield," she charged that Marcelas has been "goaded by his left-wing activist grandmother and promoted by Democrat Sen. Patty Murray."

Malkin once wrote editorials for The Seattle Times, working hard to bring Fairview Fannie's views on climate change into alignment with those of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She was never open to hearing out peoples' motives before questioning them. A Buckley or Safire, Michelle Malkin is not.

Malkin has found a person on whom to place blame, Marcelas Owens' mother. Tiffany Owens ignored "a plethora" of assistance programs. Besides, by the time she lost health coverage, "She was apparently already in dire health straits. It's not clear that additional doctors' visits in subsequent months would have prevented her death."

The right-wing "commentocracy" relies on anecdotes to spin its myths, while ridiculing real-life examples of people who are hurting, or trying to grasp bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

They reserve special bile for groups, such as the Washington Community Action Network, who dare promote social justice advocate for the working poor. Never mind vast resources of the insurance industry and the Chamber of Commerce.

Malkin courts controversy. She has advocated racial profiling and defended internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. She told the Bush administration it should "get rid" of Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta because he was interned as a little boy.

"He was evacuated to a camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. And it has clouded, it has absolutely clouded his view of what needs to be done now," Malkin intoned.

Oh, yes. Michelle Malkin will be banquet speaker at this year's Washington State Republican Convention.

Why would the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan -- who signed legislation apologizing for the WWII internment and setting up reparations for survivors -- lionize such an extremist?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tell Me Again How There Are No Racists in the Tea Party Movement...

Too Much Tea Party Racism

by Joan Walsh (

When the tea party movement began last year I saw it as right-wing reaction, but given the economic turmoil across the country, I tried to understand it. Maybe there was populism within the movement that the left needed to recognize. I attended a local tea party last April 15, tax day, and while I didn't find folks whose minds seemed mutable by liberal populism, at least it seemed possible to have a conversation. I wrote about a former banker and a Democrat who made common cause with some of the protesters around the bank bailout and Goldman Sachs's overall influence on government. She had some good conversations. I saw closed minds, but I didn't see violence or overt racism. Of course I was in San Francisco, so it probably wasn't representative of the tea party movement, but I still think the effort to understand the economic anxiety that's part of what's motivating the tea partiers was worth my time.

A year later, though, it's worth more of my time to say what many resist: The tea party movement is disturbingly racist and reactionary, from its roots to its highest branches. On Saturday, as a small group of protesters jammed the Capitol and the streets around it, the movement's origins in white resistance to the Civil Rights Movement was impossible to ignore. Here's only what the mainstream media is reporting, ignoring what I'm seeing on Twitter and left wing blogs:

•Civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis was taunted by tea partiers who chanted "nigger" at least 15 times, according to the Associated Press (we are not cleaning up language and using "the N-word" here because it's really important to understand what was said.) First reported on The Hill blog (no hotbed of left-wing fervor), the stories of Lewis being called "nigger" were confirmed by Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones and Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, who was walking with Lewis. "It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," said Carson, a former police officer. "He said it reminded him of another time."

•Another Congressional Black Caucus leader, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, was spat upon by protesters. The culprit was arrested, but Cleaver declined to press charges.
•House Majority Whip James Clybourn told reporters: "I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus."

•There were many reports that Rep. Barney Frank was called a "faggot" by protesters, but the one I saw personally was by CNN's Dana Bash, who seemed rattled by the tea party fury. Frank told AP: "It's a mob mentality that doesn't work politically."

•Meanwhile, a brick came through the window at Rep. Louise Slaughter's Niagara Falls office on Saturday (the day she argued for her "Slaughter solution" to pass health care reform, though it was rejected by other Democrats on the House Rules Committee).

On Thursday MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews grilled tea party Astroturf leader Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity about supporters who taunted a man with Parkinson's disease at a tea party gathering in Ohio last week. Phillips insisted the bullies just didn't represent the tea party movement. But such demurrals don't cut it any more. At the Nashville tea party gathering last month, a proponent of the kinder, gentler tea party movement, Judson Phillips, tried to distance himself from crazed and racist elements – but later endorsed racist speaker Tom Tancredo even after he told the convention: "People who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama." Tancredo blamed Obama's election on the fact that "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country." He got some of the loudest cheers of the weekend.

So I'm having a hard time tonight trying to believe almost uniformly white tea partiers are anything other than a racist, right-wing reaction to the election of an African American president who brings with him feminists and gays (even if he doesn't do as much for them as they would ideally like). I'm having a hard time seeing the tea partiers as anything other than the spawn of George Wallace racism – the movement Pat Buchanan bragged to me that Richard Nixon made his own. Of course, in that same "Hardball" segment, Buchanan denounced me for condescending to and "demonizing" the tea partiers. I still find that rich: I grew up in lower middle class Long Island, with a first-generation Irish father, going to public schools and universities, while the wealthy Buchanan grew up in Washington D.C. with professionals as parents and attended Georgetown University. How is he the supposed working class troubadour while I'm somehow emblematic of the pointy-headed liberal elite?

Democrats are lame about fighting stupid class-based slurs like that, which is part of why this health care fight has dragged on and become so bitter. But I think a lot of Democrats were horrified by the ugliness they saw today, and I'm hoping that helps pass health care reform on Sunday.

I'm going to close with statements issued by the offices of Emanuel Cleaver and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (no firebrand lefty, by the way), which I found on the New York Times: Cleaver (who didn't press charges against the loser who spit at him) is first:

For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the other Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the “n” word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow’s vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today’s protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.

Hoyer here:

Today’s protests against health insurance reform saw a rash of despicable, inflammatory behavior, much of it directed at minority Members of Congress. According to reports, anti-reform protestors spat on Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, yelled a sexual slur at Rep. Barney Frank, and addressed my dear friend, Rep. John Lewis, with a racial slur that he has sadly heard far too many times. On the one hand, I am saddened that America’s debate on health care — which could have been a national conversation of substance and respect — has degenerated to the point of such anger and incivility. But on the other, I know that every step toward a more just America has aroused similar hate in its own time; and I know that John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, has learned to wear the worst slurs as a badge of honor.

America always has room for open and spirited debate, and the hateful actions of some should not cast doubt on the good motives of the majority, on both sides of this argument. But Members of Congress and opinion leaders ought to come to terms with their responsibility for inciting the tone and actions we saw today. A debate that began with false fears of forced euthanasia has ended in a truly ugly scene. It is incumbent on all of us to do better next time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Big Star in Heaven

I just found out Alex Chilton passed away yesterday. He was 59.

Chilton was in the Box Tops and then later Big Star, an
amazing power pop group that influenced everybody from REM
and the Replacements to Matthew Sweet and the Bangles. They didn't sell a lot of records when they were still together but eventually a lot of people discovered their music and just how
timelessly wonderful it was. Alex wrote a lot of those songs.

Thanks for the great music, Alex. Rest in peace.

YouTube - Big Star - September Gurls

Health Care Only Works If You Can Get In the Door

Op-Ed Columnist - Access, Access, Access -

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Obama 101

Getting Obama Right

By DAVID BROOKS (New York Times)

If you ask a conservative Republican, you are likely to hear that Obama is a skilled politician who campaigned as a centrist but is governing as a big-government liberal. He plays by ruthless, Chicago politics rules. He is arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.

If you ask a liberal Democrat, you are likely to hear that Obama is an inspiring but overly intellectual leader who has trouble making up his mind and fighting for his positions. He has not defined a clear mission. He has allowed the Republicans to dominate debate. He is too quick to compromise and too cerebral to push things through.

You’ll notice first that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed. You’ll, observe, second, that they are entirely predictable. Political partisans always imagine the other side is ruthlessly effective and that the public would be with them if only their side had better messaging. And finally, you’ll notice that both views distort reality. They tell you more about the information cocoons that partisans live in these days than about Obama himself.

The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book “The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs. He always uses the same on-the-one-hand-on-the-other sentence structure. Government should address problems without interfering with the dynamism of the market.

He has tried to find this balance in a town without an organized center — in a town in which liberals chair the main committees and small-government conservatives lead the opposition. He has tried to do it in a context maximally inhospitable to his aims.

But he has done it with tremendous tenacity. Readers of this column know that I’ve been critical on health care and other matters. Obama is four clicks to my left on most issues. He is inadequate on the greatest moral challenge of our day: the $9.7 trillion in new debt being created this decade. He has misread the country, imagining a hunger for federal activism that doesn’t exist. But he is still the most realistic and reasonable major player in Washington.

Liberals are wrong to call him weak and indecisive. He’s just not always pursuing their aims. Conservatives are wrong to call him a big-government liberal. That’s just not a fair reading of his agenda.

Take health care. He has pushed a program that expands coverage, creates exchanges and moderately tinkers with the status quo — too moderately to restrain costs. To call this an orthodox liberal plan is an absurdity. It more closely resembles the center-left deals cut by Tom Daschle and Bob Dole, or Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney. Obama has pushed this program with a tenacity unmatched in modern political history; with more tenacity than Bill Clinton pushed his health care plan or George W. Bush pushed Social Security reform.

Take education. Obama has taken on a Democratic constituency, the teachers’ unions, with a courage not seen since George W. Bush took on the anti-immigration forces in his own party. In a remarkable speech on March 1, he went straight at the guardians of the status quo by calling for the removal of failing teachers in failing schools. Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.

Take foreign policy. To the consternation of many on the left, Obama has continued about 80 percent of the policies of the second Bush term. Obama conducted a long review of the Afghan policy and was genuinely moved by the evidence. He has emerged as a liberal hawk, pursuing victory in Iraq and adopting an Afghan surge that has already utterly transformed the momentum in that war. The Taliban is now in retreat and its leaders are being assassinated or captured at a steady rate.

Take finance. Obama and Tim Geithner are vilified on the left as craven to Wall Street and on the right as clueless bureaucrats who know nothing about how markets function. But they have tried with halting success to find a center-left set of restraints to provide some stability to market operations.

In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don’t live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.

Elite Bullies of the Catholic Church

Secretive Catholic Order Founded by Accused Pedophile Under Fire

by Dana Kennedy (AOL contributor)

AOL News (March 14) -- As sex abuse scandals rock the Vatican, the results of an investigation into a rich, ultra-conservative and secretive Roman Catholic order founded by a priest accused of pedophilia and incest are due to be filed in Rome tomorrow.

The sordid story of the Legion of Christ, whose late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, was a close ally of Pope John Paul II before being forcibly retired by the Vatican in 2006, is a microcosm of the crisis currently enveloping the church.

At stake is whether Pope Benedict XVI will decide to take over the Legion and install new leaders from the outside or allow it to continue with its same hierarchy. Five bishops from five countries are expected to submit their reports about the Legion Monday.

The controversy over the Legion, which is now barred or severely restricted from operating in six U.S. dioceses, is especially awkward for Benedict because he wants to have John Paul, a staunch defender of the order, canonized.

"Maciel was a sexual criminal of epic proportions who gained the trust of John Paul II and created a movement that is as close to a cult as anything we've seen in the church," said author Jason Berry, one of two reporters who broke the Maciel story in 1997 and who directed a 2008 documentary about the priest called "Vows of Silence."

"But he got away with it for years and still in a sense he's getting away with it."

The Vatican ordered a worldwide investigation into the Legion, founded in Mexico in 1941, last year. But its response to decades of allegations involving Maciel has been as slow and often reluctant as its reaction to the long-festering sex abuse scandals now erupting in Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

In 1997, nine former high-ranking seminarians accused Maciel, who died in 2008, of sexually abusing them when they were boys training for the priesthood. Last year, it was discovered Maciel had an illegitimate daughter born in 1986 in Spain. Two Mexican men who say they are Maciel's sons claim he also sexually abused them as children.

With a leader said to be a manipulative monster who built a shadowy but powerful organization for elite, wealthy Catholics with schools in 22 countries – and a tradition of grooming handsome, clean-cut priests who all wear their hair parted on the left and black double-breasted suits -- the Legion of Christ sounds straight out of a Dan Brown novel.

But while Opus Dei, the other controversial conservative Catholic order, was made famous in Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," the Legion of Christ is virtually unknown to most Americans – at least on the surface.

Two of the most visible priests in America are Father Thomas Williams, a movie-star-handsome CBS News analyst, and Father Jonathan Morris, who is sometimes referred to as "Father Knows Best" on the Fox News Channel. They belong to the Legion of Christ but rarely identify themselves as such on camera.

"Dan Brown got the wrong group," said Genevieve Kineke, an orthodox Catholic who was a member of Regnum Christi, the legion's lay movement, from 1992 to 2000 and writes a blog about her experiences. "The Legion of Christ is the scary cult embedded in the bosom of the mother church. Not Opus Dei."

Though the Vatican knew of improprieties involving Maciel as far back as 1956, he was praised and protected by John Paul II, who became pope in 1978 and once called Maciel "an efficacious guide to youth."

Even when the former seminarians went public in 1997 about Maciel's sexual abuse and filed a formal complaint with the Vatican, the church at first did nothing while the Legion and other high-profile conservative Catholics called them liars.

A book, Vows of Silence, written by Hartford Courant reporter Gerald Renner and writer Jason Berry, was published in 2004 with what one reviewer called "horror stories... of brainwashing, manipulation, pederast seduction rituals, character assassination, bribes, drug abuse, gulag-type threats -- you name it."

Shortly after that, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would succeed John Paul, ordered an investigation that ended with Maciel being consigned to a life of "prayer and penitence" after John Paul's death in 2005. But the Legion itself was not condemned nor the victims acknowledged.

It wasn't until the discovery that Maciel had a daughter living in Spain that the Vatican ordered the worldwide investigation, reportedly to find out who in the Legion knew about Maciel's behavior and how it was covered up.

"Of course we're shocked and disappointed by all of this," said Jim Fair, the spokesman for the Legion of Christ in North America. "It's as if Father Maciel lived in two different universes, like some old science fiction movie. And now it's all blowing up."

Fair said the order has "toned down the veneration," such as often removing the photographs of Maciel that adorned Legion facilities. He added that the Legion welcomed the apostolic visitation, which is what the Vatican investigation is called.

"He was obviously a very flawed man," said Fair. "It's hard to reconcile the guy we now know with the man who built hundreds of seminaries. But we will go on. The work of the church is bigger than humans. It's a little as if we found out Abraham Lincoln was a serial pedophile after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation."

Interviews with former members of the Legion and Regnum Christi paint a chilling picture of Maciel as a sociopathic master salesman who knew how to charm the upper echelon at the Vatican as well as enlist the wealthy and elite to his fast-growing order, all while using cult-like techniques.

"He created a structure that allowed sexual abuse, financial fraud and spiritual improprieties to go completely unchecked," said Kineke. "Believe me, the best and the brightest got sucked into this scam. I was one. I was an elite bully for Christ."

Kineke said part of Maciel's allure was that he represented an old-school alternative in a modern, post-Vatican II world.

"But these recent incest claims have rattled even the sturdiest of cages," she said.

Paul Lennon, 66, was a member of the order from 1961 to 1984 and directs ReGAIN, an organization founded by ex-Legionaries.

"It was nothing short of mind control," said Lennon, who wrote a 2008 book about Maciel called Our Father Who Art in Bed. "He conned everybody."

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, 70, who was named the world's richest man by Forbes last week, has long been a supporter of the Legion. His children attended Legion schools in Mexico.

Harvard professor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Anne Glendon has also been a staunch supporter of the Legion.

But the man whom all Legionaries venerated as a near-saint and called "Nuestro Padre" (Our Father) allegedly led a double life as a pedophile and had at least two mistresses and three children.

"He destroyed my life," said Juan Vaca, 73, a former superior of the Legion of Christ who said he was molested by Maciel for ten years beginning when he was 12. "I dreamt of being a good priest. He killed all my dreams."

Vaca, like many interviewed by AOL News, doubts that the Vatican will make any lasting changes to the Legion of Christ, despite the investigation.

"The Vatican may distance itself a bit but the Legion is too powerful to shut down," Vaca said.

Vaca who left the order in 1978, is an adjunct professor of psychology and sociology at Mercy College. He remembers the first night he was summoned to Maciel's room. He said he found the man who was "a holy man, my mother and my father, everything to me," masturbating in front of him.

"I turned into a block of ice," said Vaca, who had left his family behind in Mexico to move to the order in Spain. "I was petrified."

Vaca said 28 other young seminarians were sexually abused by Maciel at the same time he was, and adds that some of them "went on to abuse others as they grew up."

That misuse of sex and power was an undercurrent that helped fuel the growth of the order, according to several former members of the Legion and Regnum Christi.

"Maciel always told me to recruit the most handsome boys from the best families," said Vaca. "They were trained to approach rich women. I'm not saying they had sexual relationships with these women but they did know how to charm them."

Kineke and others also said Legion priests are notoriously successful in winning over women to the church.

"They are spiritual seducers," said another former Regnum Christi member. "They are the only priests I've seen who have swept people off their feet. These men woo women because they want access to our children and our husbands' wallets."

In an interview not long before his death in 2007, "Vows of Silence" author Gerald Renner said Maciel was not the only priest in the Legion who led a double life. Renner referred to one priest who he said was known as "the horndog of Rome" for his many affairs with women.

"The Legion by its very nature spawns people who lead double lives," said Lennon. "Maciel was certainly not the only hypocrite in the Legion but he was definitely the worst one."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hey Fellas, My Eyes Are Up Here...

Forehead Tittaes w/ Marion Cotillard from Marion Cotillard, William Fichtner, Jake, Taraji P Henson, Lesley Ann Warren, and Seth - Video

A Gauntlet of Lies

Health Reform Myths


Health reform is back from the dead. Many Democrats have realized that their electoral prospects will be better if they can point to a real accomplishment. Polling on reform — which was never as negative as portrayed — shows signs of improving. And I’ve been really impressed by the passion and energy of this guy Barack Obama. Where was he last year?

But reform still has to run a gantlet of misinformation and outright lies. So let me address three big myths about the proposed reform, myths that are believed by many people who consider themselves well-informed, but who have actually fallen for deceptive spin.

The first of these myths, which has been all over the airwaves lately, is the claim that President Obama is proposing a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy, the share of G.D.P. currently spent on health.

Well, if having the government regulate and subsidize health insurance is a “takeover,” that takeover happened long ago. Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs already pay for almost half of American health care, while private insurance pays for barely more than a third (the rest is mostly out-of-pocket expenses). And the great bulk of that private insurance is provided via employee plans, which are both subsidized with tax exemptions and tightly regulated.

The only part of health care in which there isn’t already a lot of federal intervention is the market in which individuals who can’t get employment-based coverage buy their own insurance. And that market, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a disaster — no coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, coverage dropped when you get sick, and huge premium increases in the middle of an economic crisis. It’s this sector, plus the plight of Americans with no insurance at all, that reform aims to fix. What’s wrong with that?

The second myth is that the proposed reform does nothing to control costs. To support this claim, critics point to reports by the Medicare actuary, who predicts that total national health spending would be slightly higher in 2019 with reform than without it.

Even if this prediction were correct, it points to a pretty good bargain. The actuary’s assessment of the Senate bill, for example, finds that it would raise total health care spending by less than 1 percent, while extending coverage to 34 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured. That’s a large expansion in coverage at an essentially trivial cost.

And it gets better as we go further into the future: the Congressional Budget Office has just concluded, in a new report, that the arithmetic of reform will look better in its second decade than it did in its first.

Furthermore, there’s good reason to believe that all such estimates are too pessimistic. There are many cost-saving efforts in the proposed reform, but nobody knows how well any one of these efforts will work. And as a result, official estimates don’t give the plan much credit for any of them. What the actuary and the budget office do is a bit like looking at an oil company’s prospecting efforts, concluding that any individual test hole it drills will probably come up dry, and predicting as a consequence that the company won’t find any oil at all — when the odds are, in fact, that some of the test holes will pan out, and produce big payoffs. Realistically, health reform is likely to do much better at controlling costs than any of the official projections suggest.

Which brings me to the third myth: that health reform is fiscally irresponsible. How can people say this given Congressional Budget Office predictions — which, as I’ve already argued, are probably too pessimistic — that reform would actually reduce the deficit? Critics argue that we should ignore what’s actually in the legislation; when cost control actually starts to bite on Medicare, they insist, Congress will back down.

But this isn’t an argument against Obamacare, it’s a declaration that we can’t control Medicare costs no matter what. And it also flies in the face of history: contrary to legend, past efforts to limit Medicare spending have in fact “stuck,” rather than being withdrawn in the face of political pressure.

So what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.

For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.

This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Courage is Contagious

Obama Gets His Mojo Back

by Peter Beinart (The Daily Beast)

His whole career has been based on the idea of transcending partisanship. But lately, by confronting Republicans rather than courting them, Obama has Democrats fired up.

Amidst the speculation over whether David Axelrod hates Rahm Emanuel or Rahm Emanuel hates David Axelrod or Lawrence Summers hates them both, the punditocracy has glossed over something significant: Team Obama has had one hell of a month. In late January, health care reform was widely considered dead. Now it’s considered a better than even bet. It could all still end in tears, of course. But for the moment, Barack Obama has his mojo back. And he has it back for one basic reason: He’s given up the dream that he could transcend the partisan divide.

When Obama showed that he wasn’t afraid of enraging Republicans by passing health care through “reconciliation,” a lot of congressional Democrats decided that they weren’t afraid either.

That dream has been central to Obama’s political career. The most famous line in his 2004 Democratic convention speech was “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” He defeated Hillary Clinton in part because Democrats believed she would usher in four more years of partisan blood sport while he was someone Republicans did not hate. But this post-partisan dream, it turns out, rested on two fallacies. The first is that because average Americans want less polarized politics, politicians will listen. In truth, as political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson illustrated in their 2006 book, Off Center, the GOP now responds to a set of incentives that has little to do with the public’s desire for kumbaya. For roughly a decade, the Club for Growth has run primary challengers against Republican moderates, and party activists have threatened to deny those moderates committee chairmanships, and as a result, centrist congressional Republicans have either abandoned their centrism or abandoned Congress. In the 1980s, the Senate contained about a dozen blue-state Republican moderates. Today, there are two or three, which means there is no safety in numbers. So on health care, when Obama went looking for the GOP partners to help him usher in his post-polarized age, he found that they simply weren’t there.

The other fallacy was that the red-blue divide was all about the culture war. From E.J. Dionne’s Why Americans Hate Politics to Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? liberals have often argued that were it not for dastardly culture warriors like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove dividing the country over “symbolic” issues like god, guns, gays, Americans would come together on behalf of more government intervention in the economy. Team Obama seems to have been particularly enamored of the idea that since he is a post-baby boomer who neither imbibed at Woodstock nor cursed it, he could lead the country beyond the cultural fights of the 1960s.

To some degree, those fights are indeed fading. When was the last time you heard a pundit screaming about affirmative action or gun control or the death penalty or school prayer? But what the Obama Democrats forgot is that liberals and conservatives are also genuinely, profoundly divided over the role of government. That division, which dates back to the progressive era, is just as intense as the division over culture. The belief that liberals are closet socialists, which is to say, closet totalitarians, is not a fringe view on the right. It is what the conservative movement has always believed. The White House didn’t forcefully respond to these charges because they seem to have believed they were marginal; that particularly after the financial crisis, there was a mainstream, bipartisan consensus in favor of more government spending and regulation. They were wrong.

But all that has now changed. Since the special election in Massachusetts, the White House has clearly realized that the only bipartisanship Barack Obama is likely to achieve is the kind Bill Clinton achieved after 1994: a bipartisanship that eviscerates hope for fundamental liberal change. In response, Obama has stopped compromising with Republicans and began confronting them. It started with the health care summit, which Obama used to expose the GOP’s lack of interest in covering the uninsured. And it has continued on the stump, where Obama has given a series of scalding, Truman-esque speeches that lump congressional Republicans with insurance companies as defenders of an immoral status quo. The effect has been to lift some of the malaise that was afflicting the Democratic base and counter the image of Obama as bloodless and aloof. And the effect has been contagious. When Obama showed that he wasn’t afraid of enraging Republicans by passing health care through “reconciliation,” a lot of congressional Democrats decided that they weren’t afraid either. If the White House shows the same fortitude on financial regulatory reform, and exposes Republicans as defenders of the status quo there as well, Obama’s political momentum could continue to build.

Health care reform may still fail, of course, and with unemployment at nearly ten percent, the Democrats will get shellacked this fall no matter what. But Barack Obama is coming to terms with American politics as it is, not as he might like it to be. Partisan street-fighter may not be the part he envisioned himself playing, but he’s starting to warm to the role.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Glenn Beck vs. Jesus

Here's a smart essay on the institutuions people like Glenn
Beck want us to turn away from.

Rev. James Martin, S.J.: Glenn Beck to Jesus: Drop Dead

Republican Hypocrisy on Healthcare

What "Government Takeover"?

The bogus Republican claim that Obamacare is a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy.

By Daniel Gross (

There have been lots of absurdities in the debate—such as it is—about health care reform. There's the hypocrisy of people dependent on government-run health care complaining about government-run health care. And now comes the Republican canard that the current health care reform proposal constitutes a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. Here are Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina making precisely that argument.

First, the proposed health care reform does not take over the system in any sense. Much to the chagrin of progressives, the bills under consideration don't contain a public option and don't provide for a single payer. In fact, they provide subsidies for millions of people to purchase private insurance.

Second, such statements reveal how pathetically little many of our policymakers and pundits understand American health care spending. We're already halfway toward socialized medicine, but not because of Obamacare. (Here's a column I wrote about this in December 2006.) Over the last couple of decades, as the private sector has done a miserable job controlling costs, as employers have felt less and less compelled to offer health care benefits as a condition of employment, as the population has aged, and as the government created new health care entitlements, the government has been slowly assuming a higher portion of health care spending in the United States—or "taking it over."

Check out Table 123 in the CDC's big annual report. In 1990, health care expenditures in the United States were split, 60-40, between the private and public sectors. By 2000, the ratio had fallen to 55.9-44.1. In other words, in the 1990s, a period in which Republicans controlled the House for six years, the share of health spending controlled by the government rose by 10 percent. The trend continued in the period from 2000 to 2008, when Republicans controlled the White House and largely controlled Congress. The recession boosted the poverty rate, making more people eligible for Medicare, and led to the reduction of millions of payroll jobs, which led to losses in job-related insurance. By 2008, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, private health care expenditures had fallen to 52.7 percent and public had risen to 47.3 percent. In pretty much every year of the Bush administration, the government "took over" a greater chunk of the health care sector. And many of the Republicans who are complaining about reform proposals today didn't utter a peep. In fact, they helped the process along by voting for the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003. (Hat tip to Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic for the references.)

CMS also notes that thanks to these trends, public spending will soon outpace private spending—even in the absence of significant reform. "As a result of more rapid growth in public spending, the public share of total health care spending is expected to rise from 47 percent in 2008, exceed 50 percent by 2012, and then reach nearly 52 percent by 2019."

So, to reiterate, we're already half way toward fully socialized medicine. The government has already taken over one-twelfth of the economy—and more every day. That's the status quo the opponents of reform are defending.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hollywood's Big Day

Bill Maher made some interesting comments about
Hollywood on his show the other night.

He pointed out how silly it is for conservatives
to accuse the folks in Hollywood of being socialists.
This is an American industry that pulled in over
16 billion dollars last year.

He also pointed out how hypocritical it is for
conservatives to endlessly attack liberal Hollywood
actors but then practically wet themselves out of
joy when they find out ANY actor or actress comes
out and declares they're a Republican.

I believe Stephen Baldwin and Chuck Norris are
Republicans. I'm just not sure they should be
classified as actors.


On a less political note, I just wanted to say I
sincerely hope Jeff Bridges wins Best Actor tonight
for his role in "Crazy Heart". He's had an amazing
career and totally deserves the highest honor the
industry can bestow on him.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Heart Rocks On

My buddy Dave took me out for my birthday last night. We
saw Heart perform here in Seattle. They were filming a
dvd of the concert.

It was a great show. Nancy Wilson is really talented and
looks like she could pass for thirty. Ann still has an
amazing voice and gave it everything she had.

Plus there was a wonderful surprise. Alison Krauss showed
up and sang a couple songs and also helped out with her

YouTube - Mistral Wind - Heart Live in Seattle

Prepare To Be Even More Annoyed While Shopping

Have you noticed how hard it is anymore to purchase
an item at a chain store these days without having
to answer a battery of questions?

"Would you like to hear about our rewards card?"

"Would you like to get a Sears credit card and save
ten percent on your purchase?"

"Would you like to join our Frequent Underwear Buyers

"Would you like to donate a dollar to help the Haitian
family who escaped to Chile right before the megaquake
hit there?"

Well, it's about to get a whole lot worse. Twice now I've
been asked if I wanted to buy warranties on items. They
don't call them warranties but that's what they are...

And I'm not talking about a car or a stove or even a
vacuum cleaner. I'm talking a fourteen dollar universal
remote control and a sixty dollar pair of running shoes.

Maybe I should open a store and have my gimmick be the
fact we will simply ring up your purchase and say we
hope you have a nice day.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stimulating the Left

Coffee Party wakes up US radicals

by Ed Pilkington (Guardian UK).

Just when the Tea Party movement appeared to be spreading across the US, a radically different vision of America has emerged, courtesy of Facebook.

Its title might not be imaginative, but the Coffee Party USA is making waves. In just a month its Facebook page has acquired more than 50,000 fans; and supporters of this left-of-centre alternative were logging their interest at a rate of a thousand an hour today.

On the face of it, the rivals share features beyond their beverage titles: offspring of social networking websites; self-consciously harnessing energy unleashed by populist frustrations with the political establishment; and strong views on the nature and role of government.

There the similarity ends. The Coffee Party crowd believe government is not an enemy of the people but the voice of the people. Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker who started up the Facebook page from Silver Spring, Maryland, said: "We want to see people representing us moving towards solutions to problems rather than strategically obstructing any form of progress." In a video on (motto: wake up and stand up) she says she decided to act after "listening to news coverage that made it seem the Tea Party was representative of America. I completely disagree with this."movement, it is clearly adopting a pro-Obama stance in contrast to relentless and often virulent opposition extended to the president

Though she wants the phenomenon to be seen as a bottom-up movement, it is clearly adopting a pro-Obama stance in contrast to relentless and often virulent opposition extended to the president by the opposition. . Park herself has campaigned with Asians for Obama and on behalf of the Democratic senator Jim Webb.

The Coffee Party is yet another example of the democratising potential of the internet . Over the past two years it has allowed the political energy to swing wildly between opposite ends of the spectrum to a degree and at a speed unthinkable in pre-digital times. At first Barack Obama appeared to have a dominant grip over theweb, using social networking to attract enormous financial and organisational support.

Barely had he been sworn into office, however, but the Tea Party activists grabbed the initiative and applied it to their own purposes. Now the Coffee Party is attempting to seize it back.

Like the Tea Party groups, it is using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and to encourage individuals to form local outposts. Already some 45 Coffee Party chapters in at least 30 states have been set up, and meetings are being staged in several cities from Martinsville in Virginia, to Oak Ridge,Tennessee, and Los Angeles.

The coffee metaphor helps: "It's unfortunate that Tea is no longer soothing," posts one supporter on Twitter. "It now makes me tense."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Would You Push the Button?

We watched "The Box" last night. I didn't realize until
recently it was directed by Richard Kelly of "Donnie Darko" fame.

It's a lot more interesting movie than I had anticipated. Very trippy and very thought-provoking. If you like strange
movies, I recommend it.

YouTube - The Box (2009)- Official Trailer