Saturday, June 13, 2009

Defeating healthcare reform from the left

By Creature

Rep. Lynn Woolsey says the House Progressive Caucus will vote no on healthcare reform if a public option is not included. I have to say I agree completely and would applaud such a move. A bad healthcare bill, like the bargain-less prescription drug bill, is just a waste of time. If a true single payer plan had not been taken off the table so swiftly, maybe a public option would have seemed like a moderate fallback position and some leverage could have been had. With that option gone, the only leverage left is to crash the whole idea. As unpalatable as that may seem, it may be the only way to insure a robust, real, trigger-free public option.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

The Reaction in review (June 12, 2009)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:


By MSS: "Iran:Mousavi claims he won the presidency" -- This writer provides a helpful and interesting analysis of the Iranian presidential election results, votes yet to be completely counted.

By (O)CT(O)PUS: "When 'pro-life' means pro-death" -- (formerly known as "Swampcracker"), the author lays out an excellent history of the militant anti-abortion movement, including various significant court decisions, asking in conclusion, "Which is worse: The threat of international terrorism from abroad, or the threat of terrorism at home that can strike at any moment?"

By Edward Copeland: "A liberal's plea: Health care is too important to screw up" -- As our Editor, Michael said of this post, "Please take the time to read this important post. Edward has been dealing with some pretty serious health issues recently, notably MS, and his experiences with the health-care system provide him with sound insight into what a more fair and equitable system would be. As always, all of us at The Reaction wish good health and send our warmest regards to our friend and fellow blogger, a valued member of our team. -- MJWS.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "An open letter to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright" -- Michael asks now-outsider J. Wright to please stop, shut up, go away because "You're not helping . . . proving yourself to be, first and foremost, a bigot."


By J. Thomas Duffy: "Maybe Starbucks can sponsor the AMA's Operation Coffee Cup II" -- Duffy's great trademark post exposes the long history of the American Medical Association's opposition to the inclusion of a public/government option in the current health care reform legislation (includes bonus riffs).

By Mustang Bobby: "Not alone" -- A great writer, Bobby carefully examines the shooting at the Holocaust Museum with an eye to the larger societal picture of far too much hate speech (includes good comments).


By Capt. Fogg: "Holocaust" -- The good Captain's thoughtful and provocative essay raises the possibility that our "society should examine our own angers and stop blaming a host of straw men for having messed up our country."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "David Brooks backs Sotomayor -- but still espouses the racist double standard of the right" -- In this very fine and insightful essay, Michael exposes Brooks' identity politics which seeks to "demonize multiculturalism, still a favorite target of the right. . . Brooks' view amounts to this: Their racial and ethnic identity matters, ours doesn't."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Jon Voight? The actor?" -- Michael takes apart the Republican fundraiser speech by Voight as irrelevant nonsense from "post-stardom oblivion whence he came."


By Carl: "Palin in comparison" -- Covering the Palin-Gingrich face off at the big Republican fundraiser, Carl concludes, "Given what we learned about her during the McCain campaign, my gut tells me she took Gingrich to the mess he left and stuffed his nose in it:"

By Carol Gee: "Congress and the President are busily legislating" -- This overview of Congress concludes, "With Democrats in control Republicans are left with little to do but obstruct and complain. The world moved past them. It may take years to become relevant again."


By Carl: "Escape to which mountain?" -- Carl's wonderful personal and pictorial essay captures the on-going challenge we all face when we can neither fight nor flee, "the concept of stress relief."

By Capt. Fogg: "Hell, high water and Burger King" -- In this very effective piece, Fogg wonders whether the world will come to its senses soon enough to save itself from the effects of actual global warming.

By Hamid M. Khan: "The beginning of dialogue" -- Another wonderful guest post, by a writer we are beginning to know and admire, analyzes President Obama's Cairo speech to Islam for its brilliant strategic importance.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Sarah Palin, Newt-hungry plagiarist" -- Michael argues effectively that it was plagiarism, and that it "was Sarah being Sarah" typifying a "movement that has run out of ideas . . . a party that continues to run on failure."

Bonus Creature Feature: " It is time to take some responsibility" -- A too-powerful insurance lobby, Bolton on Iran vs. Israel, GOP for deficits, Bad mortgages and banks.

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Iran: Mousavi claims he won the presidency


Via Reuters:

Former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi said he was the "definite winner" in Iran's presidential election on Friday against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran's president is elected by two-round majority. There are other candidates, so a runoff could be required, as it was four years ago when Ahmadinejad was elected to his first term.

One of the other candidates is Mehdi Karroubi, who narrowly missed the 2005 runoff, being edged by Ahmadinejad by less than two percentage points. Ahmadinejad in 2005 won only 20.3% of the vote in the first round, to 22% for former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Ahmadinejad won the runoff 63.4-36.6.

Of course, Iran is by no means a democracy, and the presidency controls the interior ministry, which is responsible for the administration of elections. So official election results have to be taken with caution. Still, it is a lot easier to steal a close election, such as 2005, when Ahmadinejad's second-place finish in the first round was considered a "surprise," and Karroubi alleged fraud. In this election, we are unlikely to see a surprise second-round contender, as we did in 2005 (if a runoff is even needed this time). However, if results show Ahmadinejad narrowly ahead, we can expect suspicions to be rife--especially considering the "unprecedented" turnout. Iran may not be a democracy, but there is a lot of interest in this election.

The interest extends to expatriates, who are eligible to vote. This surprised me, as I would have imagined that expatriates would be more likely to be opponents of the regime, and denied voting rights for that reason.

At Fruits & Votes (to which this is cross-posted), I have previously discussed Iran's unusual brew of authoritarianism with quite competitive elections.

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When "pro-life" means pro-death


(Formerly "Swampcracker." He or she will be going by this name from now on. -- MJWS)

The title of this post is borrowed from an article originally written in 1998 by Mary Lou Greenberg, who reports on assaults by pro-life extremists. She describes this bomb attack on the All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham Alabama that killed a security guard and severely injured a nurse:

As I held in my hand the sharp slivers of glass that were now the only remains of the shattered windows, my eye was drawn to a metal object in the debris. It was a nail, a small, sharp spike two inches long (…) Just as this anti-personnel bomb at the clinic was intended to rip apart bodies, so too was it meant to penetrate people's minds and emotions with a chilling message: If you provide abortions, if you work at clinics or go to them as clients, you will be a target!

This court case, Fargo Women's Health Organization v. Lambs of Christ, tells another aspect of the story. Established in 1981, the clinic offered routine gynecological services including first trimester abortions. For years, anti-abortion protestors held peaceful demonstrations in the vicinity of the clinic but conditions changed in 1991 when protestors stormed the clinic and occupied the building.

In the ensuing months, demonstrators jostled patients at the front door, struck and pushed escorts, confronted patients in the parking lot, vandalized cars, and blocked public roadway access. As a result, the clinic was effectively blockaded, preventing patients and staff from entering or leaving the building. Protestors called these blockades "rescues" and vowed to close the clinic outright.

Away from the clinic, the situation turned nastier when protestors followed staffers to their homes, to stores, even to the airport. For five months, protesters stalked a doctor at her home. Before dawn, "as many as 30 protesters" gathered on the front lawn, shouted, honked car horns, and blocked the driveway to prevent the doctor and her family from leaving. Protestors vandalized the doctor's property and picketed the school where her daughter attended. Other staffers were similarly harassed; a car full of protestors stalked the daughter of a clinic volunteer.

Similar incidents spawned more litigation. In another noteworthy case, Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, several abortion clinics sued in District Court. In hindering women as a class from seeking an abortion, they argued, anti-abortion protesters had violated their equal protection rights. Although a District Court ruled in favor of the clinics, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling in a 5-to-4 decision that defied logic. Justice Scalia wrote:

Opposition to abortion cannot reasonably be presumed to reflect gender-based intent, because there are common and respectable reasons for opposing abortion other than a derogatory view of women.

In other words, a protestor's right to free speech trumps a woman's right to free and unfettered access to reproductive health services.

In Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo v. Williams, Joshua Wilson describes the "ideological dilemma" when two legal concepts come into conflict forcing both sides of the argument to decide which rights deserve priority over others. For pro-choice liberals, the strategy is to protect abortion rights by limiting disruptive demonstrations near reproductive health facilities. For pro-life conservatives, their strategy is the reverse: To obstruct access to abortions by expanding their traditionally narrow views regarding freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Depending upon on the issue, it seems, civil liberties are in the eyes of the beholder.

On January 13, 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic. Two months later, on March 10, 1993 to be exact, Dr. David Gunn was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in Pensacola Florida:

David Gunn, 47, was shot three times in the back after he got out of his car at the Pensacola Women's Medical Services clinic, according to Pensacola police […]

Last summer in Montgomery, Ala., an old-fashioned "wanted" poster of Gunn was distributed at a rally for Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry, AP said. The poster included a picture of Gunn, his home phone number and other identifying information.

Eight months later, on August 19, 1993, a pro-life extremist shot Dr. George Tiller in both arms. It was the first attempt on his life and the first of many threats throughout his career. Not only did Dr. Tiller survive the attack, he returned to the clinic the next day to administer to his patients.

In response to a pattern of arson, bombings, murder, and intimidation at abortion clinics, the U.S. Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) on May 26, 1994. More than a dozen states followed suit by imposing buffer zones around clinics and homes, prohibiting threats to personnel, banning telephone harassment, and imposing noise regulations. On March 17, 1997, Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo v. Williams reached the U.S. Supreme Court. This time, the Justices voted 6-3 to uphold the buffer zones.

Despite legislative initiatives to date to stop the violence, there have been:

-- 8 assassinations and over a dozen shootings;

-- 180 arson and 37 bomb attacks;

-- 100 butyric acid attacks including multiple attacks on the same clinic on the same day; and

-- 654 letters threatening anthrax attacks.

These are not the actions of a mere handful of lone extremists within the pro-life movement. These statistics imply the existence of a pervasive and organized network of accomplices working underground and nationwide. Scott Roeder, the man charged with the murder of Dr. George Tiller, agrees. From his jail cell last week, Roeder said: "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal."

Meanwhile, what about our vaunted rights of free speech and free assembly? Have these set us free when thousands of reproductive health professionals and their clients are forced to endure threats, intimidation, and humiliation every day?

Which is worse: The threat of international terrorism from abroad, or the threat of terrorism at home that can strike at any moment?

(Cross-posted from The Swash Zone.)

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A liberal's plea: Health care is too important to screw up

By Edward Copeland

(Please take the time to read this important post. Edward has been dealing with some pretty serious health issues recently, notably MS, and his experiences with the health-care system provide him with sound insight into what a more fair and equitable system would be. As always, all of us at The Reaction wish good health and send our warmest regards to our friend and fellow blogger, a valued member of our team. -- MJWS)

I have to go to the trouble of identifying myself as a liberal before I begin talking about the health care reform process because every time I say that I actually have good health insurance, that I'm not from the privileged class and not all insurers are created equally evil while it's been my experience that hospitals, most health care services and especially those who carry out billing for health care providers usually are the bad guys, I'm immediately accused of regurgitating right-wing talking points.

I do realize that there are plenty of bad actors out there in the health insurance industry, requiring pre-approval for tests, denying coverage for preexisting conditions, etc. However, my own personal experience has been something different and for that I know I'm fortunate (at least in terms of the insurance I have, not the hospitals I've dealt with). What strikes me as I listen to the pundits and the politicians blather back and forth is that it seems that none of them act as if they've actually had any experiences with the health care system, at least on the level of the average American.

That's why this sudden rush (as sudden as a rush can be for something that began being discussed during the Truman Administration can be) makes me ill at ease, admittedly for selfish reasons. Also because Congress' track record for legislation passed quickly is a piss-poor one. The argument for speed is that next year will be an election year and 2011 will be heading toward the next presidential cycle, but that's a load of bullshit. There's always an election around the corner and there is never a date on the calendar when Congress isn't populated by politicians and health care is too important for political gamesmanship.

Just take a quick look back at some of the fruits of quick legislation: approval for military action in Iraq (helped by Dems fearful of upcoming elections) which allowed the Taliban to regain ground in Afghanistan, further destabilize Pakistan and cut short weapons inspections in Iraq; Hank Paulson and the gang yelling the sky is falling, yet AIG coming back for more and more, the auto industry getting the shaft as Bush kicked the can down the road and bankruptcy happened anyway; the Patriot Act, etc.

A little background on what brought me to my point of view that not all insurers are bad, but most hospitals and health providers are. (In some nice timing, the American Medical Association, the supposedly good-hearted organization representing doctors, finally came out of the closet, as it always does, in opposition to reform. It's a simple truism: doctors have no financial incentive to get people well; there's no money in that.) I started developing all sorts of health problems that a myriad of doctors couldn't get a handle on until after two years of tests and trying and firing a few physicians (word of advice: it's good to remind doctors from time to time that they are the employee and you are the employer and fire their ass), I finally got the right neurologist who took the right test and who diagnosed me in January 2005 with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

At no time during this long, arduous process did my insurer deny me a test and for all the complaints about being restricted to in-network and out-of-network, the insurer saved me money. Sure, the amounts deducted from my paycheck rose slightly over the years and co-pays rose a whopping $5 a year once for the entire time I worked at my newspaper. I managed to keep working for three years with my m.s. before I had to go on disability. Going against my instincts, I agreed with my urologist to have surgery to install a suprapubic catheter, an event that has irreparably damaged my life since, leaving me bedridden since May 2008 along with other side effects including a massive bedsore and other ailments. Needless to say, my medical costs are huge, but my after I reach a certain amount of out-of-pocket expenses a year, I have nothing to pay for most hospital expenses. It also has had me hospitalized for about 4 months total at three different hospitals over the past year.

It's those hospital stays where I truly became grateful for the insurance I have since all the hospitals, the not-for-profit and for-profit alike, have one thing in common: patient care falls way behind saving money. There is a nationwide nursing shortage and they still understaff on purpose. Thermometers and blood pressure machines break down so there is a rush to grab the working ones first, either delaying the taking of patient vital signs or skipping them all together. Don't even hope you'll get a timely response if you hit the call button. You might as well be trying to change a walk/don't walk sign.

Hospital administrators also love to lie and try to blame anything they can on insurers, which can usually work except they are usually some of the worst liars on the face of the earth. At the for-profit hospital I stayed at, the problems were so many and since we could get no satisfaction from the bosses there, I went over their heads to their corporate bosses. Needless to say, they were anxious to get me out of their hospital, whether my health was good enough or not. Even though we would need a special bed and a lift at my home for my parents to be able to take care of me, the hospital case manager said that I was probably going to be discharged that day but she'd check with our insurer. Unbeknownst to her, we'd already talked to our insurance case manager who had already approved me for extra days to allow for time for my house to be equipped. Sure enough, the hospital case manager came back and said that our insurer said that I had to leave that day. It was hard for my father and I to keep a straight face and told her we'd try and of course the insurer told her that we had the extra days.

So, obviously I have selfish reasons to be worried by any rushed plan. This isn't to say I'm not sympathetic to those with bad insurance or no insurance at all, but I think hasty legislation makes for lousy legislation and any health care reform should include not just efforts at cost containment and universal coverage but regulation of the way hospitals operate and especially how they conduct their billing operations, which often makes Wall Street accounting look pristine.

I also worry about how this will be paid. If I hear Sen. Kent Conrad say one more time that they may tax the benefits of the "Cadillac plans," I'll puke. I have a great plan, but it's not a Cadillac and I would say, you cough up first, Sen. Conrad. That's something I'd like to see journalists do: Truly report on what kind of health insurance members of Congress have. Maybe that is the simplest plan of all: How about letting all the uninsured buy into their plan and have Congress cut some of their perks.

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By Creature

That's the dollar amount in millions spent in the first quarter of this year by the insurance industry to lobby our elected officials against health care reform. That's $1 million more than what was spent in the first quarter last year. With spending like that one would think the insurance industry believes Washington can be bought at the expense of America's health. Sadly, they are right.

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Stop smoking now

By Michael J.W. Stickings

CBS News:

The Senate struck a historic blow against smoking in America Thursday, voting overwhelmingly to give regulators new power to limit nicotine in the cigarettes that kill nearly a half-million people a year, to drastically curtail ads that glorify tobacco and to ban flavored products aimed at spreading the habit to young people.

Make no mistake. I do not think nicotine products should be banned. In a free society, even bad and dangerous habits must be matters of choice. (Which is why I support, within limits, some drug legalization.)

But smoking (or the use of nicotine products) isn't about choice, it's about addiction -- and about an industry that engages in false and misleading advertising, targets minors, and distorts the truth at every turn, even blatantly lying about its products and the health risks associated with them.

Should nicotine products -- cigarettes and nicotine-delivery systems -- remain legal? Yes.

But should they also be severely regulated? Yes. Which is the point of this legislation.

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An open letter to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Dear Reverend,

Please. Stop.

I didn't hold Obama's long association with you against him, and I still don't. He was a congregant, yes, but so were so many in the community. Your church was a sort of community center. He was an active member of the community, and he was there. And you were important to him, an important figure in his life. Whether he agreed with you or not is another matter, however. He agreed with you on some things and not on others. Given what I know of him, I suspect that he didn't agree with your various noxious prejudices, the ones that have become so public since you yourself became such a public figure last year during the campaign.

The right is vilifying you, of course, which is to be expected, but, personally, I don't think you're all bad, and I'm sure many of my fellow liberals are able to take a similarly nuanced view. From what I've read and heard, I, too, agree with you on some things and not on others.

But, seriously, the Jews? Or the Zionists? Or whomever you think is preventing you from seeing Obama. Is that truly what you believe, that there is some conspiracy to keep you out? First, they're not all Jews (or Zionists) -- even if they were, though, so what? Second, do you not think there might be good reason to keep you out? Do you not think that the president himself may think there are good reasons to keep you at a distance? What, after all, would he want from you at this point? Again, you're not all bad, but it's pretty clear that your prejudices have gotten the better of you, at least when you appear and speak in public.

So, again, please stop. Or, to put it another way, shut up. Or, if you can't, just go away. You're not helping. And you're just proving yourself to be, first and foremost, a bigot.

Yours truly,


Michael Stickings

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Maybe Starbucks can sponsor the AMA's Operation Coffee Cup II

By J. Thomas Duffy

After all, they want to "do business with people with like-minded values," which brought them to sponsor the Morning Joke Show, so it seems that there would be the vibe for them to get behind the AMA, to trot out Operation Coffee Cup II, and rail against the evils of "socialized medicine" once again.

You see, the AMA did that, back in the early 1960s, using a well-known "actor," Ronald Reagan:

The operation received support from Ronald Reagan, who in 1961 produced the LP record Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine for the AMA, outlining arguments against what he called "socialized medicine". This record would be played at the coffee meetings.

(You can go HERE to listen to The Gipper pitch against "socialized medicine.")

As Gomer Pyle would be apt to say, "Surprise, Surprise!"

The American Medical Association is at it again:

Doctors’ Group Opposes Public Insurance Plan

As the health care debate heats up, the American Medical Association is letting Congress know that it will oppose creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan, which President Obama and many other Democrats see as an essential element of legislation to remake the health care system.


While committed to the goal of affordable health insurance for all, the association had said in a general statement of principles that health services should be “provided through private markets, as they are currently.” It is now reacting, for the first time, to specific legislative proposals being drafted by Congress.


But in comments submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, the American Medical Association said: “The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.”

If private insurers are pushed out of the market, the group said, “the corresponding surge in public plan participation would likely lead to an explosion of costs that would need to be absorbed by taxpayers.”

But wait! ... That was this morning.

This afternoon, the AMA was singing a different tune.

AMA Walks Back From Its Opposition To All Public Options

The American Medical Association is walking back from its strong opposition to the public option ...


But now, the AMA has issued a statement saying that it is willing to accept a public plan that looks like the private option:

Today’s New York Times story creates a false impression about the AMA’s position on a public plan option in health care reform legislation. The AMA opposes any public plan that forces physicians to participate, expands the fiscally-challenged Medicare program or pays Medicare rates, but the AMA is willing to consider other variations of the public plan that are currently under discussion in Congress. This includes a federally chartered co-op health plan or a level playing field option for all plans. The AMA is working to achieve meaningful health reform this year and is ready to stand behind legislation that includes coverage options that work for patients and physicians.”

No doubt, there's a whole lot more dancing to be done to this tune.

In the meantime, the AMA is probably casting about, for the new well-known actor to record Operation Coffee Cup II.

Hmmm ... Wilford Brimley has been doing some medical commercials ...

Or, better yet, let Morning Joe and Ms. Mika Joke do it!

That way, they can plug Starbucks at the same time ...


Bonus Healthcare - Socialist or Private - Riffs

Joe Sudbay (DC): Dear AMA, You're saps and a big part of the health care problem for not standing up to the insurance companies who run your lives

Kevin Drum: The AMA Takes a Shocking Stand

Sam Stein: American Medical Association Trying To Torpedo Health Care Reform Again

Bob Cesca: The Health Insurance Mafia Deserves a Good Screwing

Jurassicpork: Here There be Windmills... Maybe

Matthew Yglesias: AMA Opposing Public Option

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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More flowers and candy

By Creature

Via TPM, here's John Bolton, he of the wrong about everything neo-con crowd:

Many argue that Israeli military action will cause Iranians to rally in support of the mullahs' regime and plunge the region into political chaos. To the contrary, a strike accompanied by effective public diplomacy could well turn Iran's diverse population against an oppressive regime.

And when that oppressive regime strikes back and kills thousands upon thousands where will John Bolton be? What an irresponsible ass.

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Insulted Israelis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Really? Some Israelis are insulted over a photo of Obama (speaking on the phone to Netanyahu) with his feet on his desk, soles on full display?

Some Israelis are nuts. And if this is what insults them -- and I get that it's an insult in the Arab world to show the soles of your shoes, but still -- then maybe there's just no helping them.

Get a grip. Get some perspective. And move on.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Eric Cantor

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For suggesting that the GOP might just win back the House in 2010 -- which would mean a landslide, a net gain of at least 40 seats.

Maybe he's just being optimistic, trying to inject some positive thinking into a party consumed by depression (and rage, much of it directed internally), but I'd say it's just as likely he's completely delusional, so enamored is he of his party's extremist ideology, and so convinced of his party's, and his own, righteousness.

Democrats should certainly not take the 2010 elections lightly, not with so many of them elected from swing districts, if not from solidly conservative ones, but it's hard to imagine a landslide for a party that is completely out of ideas, and out of touch, at a time of historic economic crisis and uncertainty, a party that simply regurgitates more of the same old failed policies at a time when more of the same is not just not good enough but counter-productive and downright dangerous.

Americans want progressive action on the economy, on energy and the environment, and on health care. They want a new approach to foreign policy and national security. They voted for change in '06, and again last year, and it's change that Obama and the Democrats offer. Cantor's free to wallow in his own delusions, but, back in the real world, Republicans are still losers.

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Not alone

By Mustang Bobby

The smoke had barely cleared from the scene at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. yesterday before we found out that the man, James von Brunn, who is accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, is a white supremacist with a long history of hatred towards anything that didn't fit the Nazi definition of the Master Race. He has a lot of writings and web postings that blame every minority he can lay his hands on for his troubles, he subscribes to the belief that President Obama is not a citizen of the United States, and he saw such things as the Holocaust memorial as "the enemy".

As far as we know now, Mr. Von Brunn acted alone; it appears that he spent a lot of time stewing in his own hatred, seeing the conspiracies piling up against him until something set him off on his solo mission from his home in Annapolis to the museum in downtown Washington. This fits the pattern of the "lone wolf," as described in the memo released by the Department of Homeland Security -- and immediately attacked by conservatives who, for some odd reason, thought that they were being singled out as being perpetrators of extremist violence. The howls of protest, including a speech on the floor of Congress by Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) against the Obama administration and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano neglected to take into account two details: the report was initiated by the Bush administration, and there was a similar report released at the same time that also warned about attacks from left-wing extremists.

The smoke had barely cleared before the cable shows were wall-to-wall with commentators and reporters making the connection between the ravings of Mr. Von Brunn and the heated rhetoric that has been coming out of a certain corner of the commentariat for the last year or so against Barack Obama and that has only intensified and gotten granular since his inauguration. And while no one is directly accusing the loudest right wingers of being behind Mr. Von Brunn's attack or supporting his views -- no matter what you may think of Rush Limbaugh's self-obsessed blather or Pat Buchanan's nostalgia for Joe McCarthy, they're far too liberal for the likes of the hard-core haters like Mr. Von Brunn -- the response so far from some on the right, including Debbie Schlussel and Michelle Malkin has been an over-reaction of defensive denial that they had anything to do with it even though no one has said they did, leading me to remember the quote from Queen Gertrude in Hamlet; "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." (Ms. Schlussel, in what could only be described as pretzel-logic, blames the shooting on tolerance of Islam in America. And President Obama.)

But this stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum, and the folks who caution against lumping the likes of Mr. Von Brunn in with their points of view would do well to remember that jumping to conclusions works both ways. After all, they are forever warning us about "Hollywood liberals" and the Radical Homosexual Agenda; a brief glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple or two men kissing on TV inevitably lead to the decline of the western world into sin and debauchery. If Glenn Beck carrying on about socialism and fascism doesn't have any impact on the actions of viewers, than neither does mindless sex and violence on TV. And while people like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh will warn the liberals not to use the "isolated incidents" as an excuse to crack down on free speech (which begs the question as to why they think anyone is talking about them) or institute more gun control (nobody was, but thanks for reminding us), the fact is that these aren't isolated incidents. We have these acts of terror on a regular basis, and it doesn't matter what adjective -- "Muslim" or "domestic" or "right-wing" -- we put in front of the word. If it's not the incitement of the words that gin up the paranoia of the disturbed that does it, what is it?

Certainly we can't monitor every website or shut down every nutball that rants about Jews and Negros controlling their life. But Mr. Von Brunn's beliefs were well-known and documented over decades; he first acted out against the Federal Reserve in 1981. And yet people stood by and basically let him carry on until he blew his cork. I'm not suggesting that he should have been arrested before he committed a crime (like in Minority Report) and I sincerely doubt that even had someone tried to get him to climb down would have had any impact, but perhaps it might do well to remember that just standing by and letting this kind of madness percolate isn't an exercise in democracy or freedom of speech; it's enabling the madness.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The party of schizophrenia

By Carl

On the one hand, the Republicans are doing their damndest to unleash the far right wing of the party, led by Rush Limbaugh, to weed out the infidels.

On the other, they're
trying to be more inclusive?

In the two weeks since President Obama made Judge Sonia Sotomayor his pick for the Supreme Court, outnumbered Republicans on Capitol Hill and conservative activists have struggled mightily over how to mount a credible opposition.

Conservative efforts to frame a coherent case against the nation's first Hispanic nominee took on new urgency Tuesday, after Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that Sotomayor's confirmation hearings will begin July 13, months earlier than many GOP leaders had wanted.

The GOP is still debating how to make that case against a nominee who, barring a disqualifying revelation, is expected to emerge from her Senate review as the newest justice. But consensus is emerging over how to use Sotomayor's confirmation process —and its three or four days of televised hearings — as a jumping-off point to appeal to the moderate and independent voters whom the party has been rapidly shedding.

Hmm. Considering the point man for the Republicans on Sotomayor has been
Jeff Sessions, one has to wonder how delusional they are?

The events of the past few weeks indicate to me a party that is not licking its wounds, trying to re-establish itself as a player on the national stage. Indeed, they seemed resigned to grabbinb power in whatever
cheap and base form they can.

Not that there's anything wrong with stealing power where you can, especially if Democrats are going to be asleep at the wheel, but still...this was the party that had it all just three years ago.

It's sad to see.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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By Capt. Fogg

When James von Brunn was sentenced to jail for the armed kidnap attempt of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors it was only because the Judge was a Jew and the jury was black. No doubt about it. He's been raging about Jews and Black people since most of you were children and he sees something called the Aryan race as victims of such inferior groups.

It's tempting, as a person who despises the growing culture of hate and defamation in the US, to tie this man and his hundreds of thousands of supporters to the hate shouters we're all too familiar with, but in good conscience, I cannot. Even so their endless derision of fabricated scapegoats has inured us to the danger of the terrorists out there among us. Their hate talk legitimizes and breeds more hate talk and we become habituated to it. Those standard scapegoats tend to include Jews, Blacks, and the Federal Reserve Bank, all of which are also targets of people like James von Brunn.

Von Brunn has written that the "Holocaust Religion" is destroying Western (by which he means White) culture. It's common amongst people who would like to re-invent themselves as victims of relentless persecution to resent those who have actually been victims and so it's not surprising that the elderly hatemonger chose the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC for what was surely intended to be a suicide attack.

I'm probably less surprised about this than my Christian countrymen, since I've been listening to all the old calumnies and fantasies about baby-eating, blood-drinking, Christ-killing, warmongering, bank-controlling Jews all my life while many of them are just now beginning to accept that the vilification of Jews has been, if not the very backbone, at least a major buttress of Christianity. Certainly not all however and certainly they are not the only ones. Muslim vilification of the Jews in all their fantastic stereotypes is second to none and many of them consider the Jews to be in control of the United States, if not Europe, Canada, and Australia as well.

There is a lesson here and it is that we have not only tolerated such people, but made heroes of some of them to a degree: men who will stand up to a government we blame for all our own excesses and deficiencies. They are not and their acts of terrorism are warnings that we should examine our own angers and stop blaming a host of straw men for having messed up our country.

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Ownership society

By Creature

For a party that likes to tout ownership as a way of life it would be nice if the GOP took ownership of the massive budget deficits they created. To help them, today's NYT takes aim at the lie that Obama is to blame for the deficit run up. In truth (a word the GOP also has no understanding of) it was Bush and his complicit GOP controlled Congress that is to blame. Obama's slice of the deficit pie... a "sliver." Armed with this data I'm sure the talking heads of America will put this GOP lie to rest once and for all. Or not.

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Treason in the Republican ranks

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, what else should we call what Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) did, telling Chinese leaders not to believe U.S. budget figures?

Shouldn't the flag-draped McCarthyites at Fox News, and all throughout the right, be all over this guy?

(Oh, right, he's a Republican. It doesn't count.)


Steve Benen has more.

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Annals of wingnuttery -- a continuing saga

By Mustang Bobby

Here's another brilliant idea from the right wing: boycott General Motors:

"In the effort to reverse this lurch beyond the farthest left fringe of previous Democratic statist urges, individual Americans have a role to play. They have to say no to GM products and services until such time as the denationalization occurs," says Hugh Hewitt. He acknowledges that this is a serious step that could hurt people currently working for GM: "But there isn't any alternative, every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise. Every car or truck purchased from Government Motors is one not purchased from a private car company that competes fairly against all other car companies."

Where Hewitt makes his point as a seemingly reluctant and composed agitator, Rush Limbaugh makes no bones about what he wants in his own praise of the idea. The most amazing thing here is that Limbaugh appears to be openly admitting that the purpose of this is economic and political sabotage -- to prevent President Obama from succeeding at something.

Limbaugh reassures any GM workers who might be listening that the boycotters aren't angry at them. "They don't want to patronize Obama. They don't want to do anything to make Obama's policies work!" he explains. "This is an untold story, by the way. Of course, the government-controlled media is not gonna report anything like this but there are a lot of people who are not going to buy from Chrysler or General Motors as long as it is perceived Barack Obama is running it, because people do not want his policy to work here because this is antithetical to the American economic way of life."

Even for right-wing wackos, this is amazingly stupid on so many levels that you just have to wonder at their ability to cram so much idiocy into one package; it's like a piñata of asshattery.

In the first place, boycotting GM and Chrysler would basically undermine efforts to get them back in business so they can pay back the taxpayers for the money that's been lent to them. The faster they recover, the sooner we get our money back. Second, crippling the car companies would only make the economies of the cities and states where the companies have plants even worse, leading to more layoffs and higher unemployment, not just in the auto industry but every other business in town. You close a car plant, you kill off jobs, which means people can't buy stuff, which kills off other businesses that have nothing to do with GM or Chrysler. Oh, and it would also kill off the car dealers who haven't already been terminated. (And thus completing the nefarious scheme by President Obama to close Republican car dealers, too.)

Mr. Hewitt and Mr. Limbaugh make no bones about their motivation. It's not because of some philosophical difference between free-market capitalism and government assistance; they want this president to fail because they don't like him. They don't care if it hurts the economy or the people who work for GM or Chrysler; they have a point to make.

Remember when the conservatives championed the small-town values and blue-collar workers as the "silent majority," the people they really cared about? This shows you how much they really mean it.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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David Brooks backs Sotomayor -- but still espouses the racist double standard of the right

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In his most recent NYT column, occasionally interesting conservative pundit David Brooks came out in support of Sonia Sotomayor and even had some nice things to say about her:

If you look at the whole record, you come away with the impression that Sotomayor is a hard-working, careful-though-unspectacular jurist whose primary commitment is to the law.

She is quite liberal. But there's little evidence that she is motivated by racialist thinking or an activist attitude.


Looked at in her totality, Sotomayor seems to be a smart, careful, hard-working judicial professional...


[S]he has, over many years, chosen to submit herself to the discipline of the law, and she has not abused its institutions. I hope she's confirmed.

Phew. I know we were all waiting for Brooks to give the word. I'm sure conservatives across the land will now flock in support of this undeniably qualified SCOTUS nominee. (Or not. Surely not.)

BUT HERE'S THE PROBLEM. Like pretty much every other conservative, Brooks is obsessed with identity politics. (As was I, once upon a time, back when I was a youthful conservative.) It's not liberals like Sotomayor who talk about race and other such "crude categories" all the time, it's conservatives. They just can't get enough of it.

Now, yes, Brooks acknowledges that Sotomayor's record shows her to be anything but a "racialist" -- her legal opinions have been "almost entirely impersonal and deracinated." But he nonetheless claims that she was scarred by the multiculturalism of the '70s. If only she'd gone to college before or after that supposedly horrific decade -- earlier? like when women and people of color were subjected to overt bigotry? -- she would have been fine... if only. And so, now, as a result of that upbringing in the ways of racialism, she gives speeches in which "race and gender take center stage."

But what is the evidence to back up this allegation? Other than the now-famous (and taken out of context) "wise Latina" comment, there isn't any. Sure, Sotomayor has spoken to Hispanic groups (she is Hispanic, after all) and has discussed race and ethnicity on numerous occasions, but is it wrong even to mention race and ethnicity? And is it wrong to discuss one's "identity"?

Brooks even admits that Sotomayor's judicial record is admirably non-racialist and non-activist. In short, there is no evidence, based on her judicial record, to suggest that she was unable to come out of the '70s "unscarred." So what is the point of Brooks's column other than to take a swipe at Sotomayor that he rejects in the same column, and other than to demonize multiculturalism, still a favourite target of the right?

I am not, I must stress, an advocate for radical multiculturalism, some forms of which I find to be deeply illiberal. But there is no denying that race and ethnicity (and other such "categories," as if they are nothing but, as if they do not exist in the real world but only in the minds of armchair radicals in the Ivory Tower) are essential elements of both individual and group "identity." We may long for this not to be the case, but then it is Brooks who is the out-of-touch idealist, he and his fellow conservatives, not those of us who try to understand, and deal with, the world as it really is.

What's more, I'm sick and tired of what has become an all-too-common component of the attack on Sotomayor, and more broadly a key plank of conservative anti-multiculturalism: namely, that it is not just racialist but racist for people of colour to discuss race and ethnicity, let alone to self-identity along racial and/or ethnic lines.

And it's more than that, namely, the double standard that applies to people of colour when it comes to race and ethnicity. In this case, a Hispanic woman who talks about her identity (that is, about being a Hispanic woman) is engaging in radical multiculturalism run amok and is, bluntly, not just a racialist but likely a racist as well.

What is behind this is clear: A person of colour -- and, indeed, anyone who is not a straight white Christian male, that is, a member of the privileged "majority" (though it's not a majority, of course) -- is fundamentally a product of his or her "identity." The only way out is to renounce that identity and to pretend not to be what one is -- and to embrace conservative ideology, of course. Otherwise, as in this case, the Hispanic woman cannot not be first and foremost a Hispanic woman -- and this "identity" must shape who she is, even if there is little to no evidence that it does in terms of her profession.

But how is David Brooks, for example, not a product of his "identity"? How is he not a straight while male? And, more to the point, how are his views not shaped by this identity? For example, how is his anti-multiculturalism, his supposed colour-blindness, not a result of his being a straight white male? It is easy, after all, to denounce colour, that is, race and ethnicity, easy to suggest that race and ethnicity don't matter, when one is white, when one finds oneself with the "majority," when one has not been the object of bigotry. (And I say that as a white male myself.) Isn't it obvious that Brooks's whole Patio Man / Realtor Mom thing (amusing, but simplistic and misleading), not to mention his whole celebrated Bobo thing (less amusing, but also simplistic and misleading), is the product of a privileged white male suburbanite.

It is arrogant presumptuousness, self-delusion, and stupidity for a white person to think that his or her "whiteness" plays no role whatsoever in his or her views on race, racism, and racialism, but Brooks's view -- a fairly common one on the right -- amounts to this: Their racial and ethnic identity matters, ours doesn't. We don't even have any such identity, because we're white. They wallow in their sordid identity, corrupted by it, unable to escape. We're above it all. (The same is true of gender as well: Women are all about being women, whereas men are above the whole gender thing, able to judge without bias. So, too, sexual orientation. So, too, religion. A Christian is rarely expected to explain being Christian, though this used to be true only of Protestantism: a Roman Catholic like JFK was seen as an agent of the Papacy and required to profess his loyalty to America -- that is, it was suspected that he was all about his religious identity.)

Nonsense. And, yes, racism.

David Brooks may back Sotomayor, but he's still all about the double standard that treats people of color -- and people of non-"majority" identity generally -- as less than his own kind.

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Jon Voight? The actor?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

At the Palin-and-Gingrich-blessed Republican Congressional fundraiser the other night, Jon Voight -- the actor, not the periodontist -- called President Obama a "false prophet":

Everything Obama has recommended has turned out to be disastrous.


We are becoming a weak nation. Obama really thinks that he is a soft-spoken Julius Ceaser. He thinks he's going to conquer the world with his soft-spoken sweet talk. And really thinks he's going to bring all the enemies of the world into a little playground where they’ll swing each other back and forth. We and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression.

Yes, Jon Voight -- a great actor, once upon a time, in one or two great films (Midnight Cowboy, at least) -- is a Republican. And he's our Craziest Conservative of the Day.

But, given the extent of his inanity, where to begin? (Check out Tom Watson, who runs down "the paroxysms of pleasure quivering in the downtrodden conservative blogosphere" -- great line.)

Oh, why bother? It's Jon Voight, not Liam Neeson, and one has come to expect such nonsense from him.

-- Everything Obama has touched? Really? Like what?

-- America is weakening? Because of Obama? Really? He's to blame?

-- Obama as Julius Caesar? Caesar was a soft-spoken sweet-talker? I'd like to ask the Gauls about that, if I may. (And did not Caesar help usher in the Roman Empire?)

-- Obama as false prophet? But he's neither false nor a prophet. In fact, Obama is being criticized from the left, and from many of his supporters (including the proprietor of this humble weblog), as too pragmatic and as too much of a realist.

-- The Obama "oppression"? Of what? Of whom? Well, of idiots like Jon Voight, apparently, who see whatever they don't like, whatever challenges their right-wing ideology and partisan orthodoxy, as somehow oppressive. In loss, they do so whine and complain, don't they?

I'd prefer it if Mr. Jon Voight, the once-relevant actor, stopped talking politics, or whatever this shit-spewing was, and went back to the post-stardom oblivion whence he came.

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Palin irritation

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I love this headline:


On the one hand, there's no doubt that Palin is indeed deeply irritating. On the other hand, Republican insiders, many of whom with their own establishmentarian ambitions, deserve to be irritated. (Boo-hoo... An outsider is more popular than we are... Who does she think she is? Woe are us!)

"She has to hunker down and govern and show she's not a joke," said one GOP senator.

Good luck with that.


In case you missed it, make sure to check out Carl's Palin post from last night.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

"Slutty flight attendant"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Once again, Letterman's right on target when it comes to Sarah Palin.

"Sexy librarian" is a nice way to put it. "Slutty flight attendant" is more accurate. It's the best description of Palin's "look" I've heard yet.

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Palin in comparison

By Carl

You know, when the Democrats shot themselves in the foot in 1994, things were never this chaotic:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Newt Gingrich was the keynote speaker at Monday night's fundraising dinner for the Senate and House Republican campaign committees, but it was Sarah Palin who stole the show.

The Alaska governor's last-minute appearance at the GOP's biggest fundraiser of the year ended 24 hours of speculation that the she might skip the event. A late attempt to have her speak at the dinner fell through when organizers feared she might upstage Gingrich, the onetime House speaker.

Hours before the event was slated to begin, an aide to Palin would not confirm that she would be attending. But when Palin and her husband, Todd, sauntered across the stage with Gingrich and his wife, Callista, shortly before the program commenced, their appearance was met with cheers from the audience of 2,000 party loyalists.

OK, on the face of it, not so bad, right? Even digging just a little bit further and realizing that Gingrich was the febrile ground in which the so-called "Permanent Republican Majority" withered and died, so why in the hell should he be anywhere near a podium speaking to Congressional candidates, yields little to mock.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attended a monster Republican fundraiser after all, despite floating the possibility she wouldn't because she was uninvited to speak.

Which she didn't, it should be noted.

So you have the heir apparent to the conservative wing of the Republican party, Sarah Palin, who has enormous appeal in the more conservative and more economically predatory wing of the party, thrown under the bus to give a man who has no ideas, no vision, and no real power in the party.

You have the presumptive nominee for 2012, certainly the frontrunner, being pushed off the biggest fundraising stage in her brief national career for someone who is irrelevant and immaterial. Denied access to the networks that create a national candidacy, the ground troops and connections with local officials and fundraisers, she decided to show up anyway.

So the question is, is this her Scarlett O'Hara moment or her Donna Reed moment? That is, did she get all gussied up in her $1500 dress from Neiman-Marcus and make a spectacle of herself, or was this Palin getting back into the kitchen for the good of the patriarchy?

Given what we learned about her during the McCain campaign, my gut tells me she took Gingrich to the mess he left and stuffed his nose in it:

[Palin's] was the only table in the vast ballroom that had a crowd gathered around it -- and despite their distance from Palin's table, multiple television cameras kept their lenses trained on the governor for much of the night.

I think we have our answer.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Congress and the President are busily legislating

By Carol Gee

With the Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, rapid change is the reality that keeps news hounds busy keeping up with the pace.

President Obama is making noises like the nation's budget deficit may become a problem before too long. He has proposed a pay-as-you-go plan that resembles that used in Congress during the Clinton years. But they are not the same. The biggest difference is that the savings are not immediately due, according to Yahoo! News. Rather, such legislation can be paid for over the next ten years.

Stimulus spending may not be happening fast enough. The President has introduced a "Roadmap to Recovery," ten initiatives that would impact more favorably on the job situation, reports CQ Politics. In a related story, the source reports that the Department of Health and Human Services is ahead of all others in spending, and the Social Security Administration comes in second. And one of the stimulus proposals is to allow some transit stimulus money to be spent for operating costs instead of only capital improvement projects. A battle between the highway interests and public transportation supporters is shaping up, which might include a push to increase the gasoline tax to boost trust fund revenues.

Congress and the President are both getting serious about health care reform. But how is it to be financed? CQ Politics reveals that taxing health benefits won't pay for the full cost of insurance for everyone. It would cover less than half over the next ten years. And Democrats on the Ways and Means tax-writing committee are resistant to the idea. The disagreements with Republicans over including a "public plan" are forecasting a very rough period ahead in Congress, with little hope for bipartisanship, according to

Congress is moving along quickly with the "Cash for Clunkers" plan where trading in a less-efficient vehicle on a new, more fuel efficient vehicle could mean a $4,500 voucher on the purchase, CQ Politics writes. President Obama supports the idea.

The war supplemental bill is still under negotiation, with military personnel costs badly underestimated, in the opinion of But at least, President Obama but the ongoing military costs in the regular budget rather than the emergency spending bill.

With Democrats in control Republicans are left with little to do but obstruct and complain. The world moved past them. It may take them years to become relevant again.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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What we have here is a failure

By Capt. Fogg

Sarah Palin says Obama is driving the country towards socialism, although she's not exactly sure what that is or how he's doing it:

We're borrowing more to spend more ... it defies any sensible economic policy that any of us ever learned through college,

said she to Insanity Hannity, although that's been the main thrust of GOP economic policy since Reagan. Never mind that she didn't actually study economics in her long, picaresque romp through a series of fourth-rate community colleges and hasn't any real idea of who owns what part of American industry. If she did, perhaps the failed VP candidate, failed beauty queen and desultory student would have to blush about Alaska's state ownership of oil and gas resources and her failure to bring capitalism to her state.

But that's OK. Former Speaker of the House and thoroughly dispicable human being Newt Gingrich says that whatever Obama may be driving us toward, the president's plan to fix the economy has "already failed" and "bowing to the Saudi King is not an energy policy." Of course not, and Obama would agree. Playing basketball after hours isn't either, but neither is it supposed to be, any more than being a serial adulterer like Newt is a guarantee he means what he says. Of course none of us will get the chance to ask him whether Cheney's collusion with oil magnates about raising the price of oil is an energy policy either, but it helps that whatever Obama has been falsely accused of doing, he's failed to do it.

Rush Limbaugh isn't ready to call Sonia Sotomayor a failure yet, but he hopes she will be. Racist and hack yes, he's ready to say that, but as he does with our president and our nation, he hopes for a good, solid failure. And besides, of course, as with Michael J. Fox's Parkenson's disease, Ms. Sotomayor's recent broken ankle is certainly evidence of lack of character:

Now, the question is, would a white, male judge have fractured his ankle in the same circumstances?

No, actually the question is whether Rush can say anything at all without his racism and misogyny creeping through, but we won't embarrass him by asking it, not while he's back on the Vikes and babbling.

Drug addicted, draft dodging Limbaugh however, hardly compares with Gordon Liddy, the convicted felon/conservative radio host who thought it important to speculate as to whether the judge's menstrual cycle will interfere with her judgment:

Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when she's menstruating or something, or just before she's going to menstruate,

Liddy said in a conservative fashion.

That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.

Yes, Mr. Liddy, and the Lord knows that would be bad regardless of which Lord you mean, just like conspiring to overthrow democracy in the US and bragging about it -- which seems to be your main "conservative" credential.

Yes, four months is soon enough to talk about failure and face it -- who is more qualified to talk about failure than the Republicans?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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