Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not a preexisting condition

By Creature

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How does it feel?

By Capt. Fogg

It's tempting to make all kinds of comparisons between the angry arrest of Professor Gates and the not-so-angry exchange with the scruffy looking 68-year old police found strolling through a minority neighborhood of Long Branch, New Jersey last month. They had received a call from a resident concerned that a suspicious looking white man was wandering around. The funny part though is that even after confronting him, the two officers in the New Jersey police squad car didn't seem to know who Bob Dylan was.

The experience of growing old sometimes only feels like everyone else is growing younger and you hear quips about knowing it's happening to you when the police, your doctor and all the other "authority" figures turn into children. I wouldn't necessarily expect a 24 year old to know all the much about the seminal figures of 20th century culture, but Bob Dylan? Who else looks or sounds like Bob Dylan?

The elderly gentleman accompanied the two officers whose combined age is less than three quarters of his own, back to the Ocean Place Resort and Spa where the tour was staying -- where he was identified by the no doubt amazed roadies.

There's no information about whether the police asked for an autograph, but I doubt it. They thanked him for his cooperation, but it's not like he was any kind of celebrity after all.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Specter v. Grassley @twitter

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Seriously, who ever thought that twitter would become such a phenomenon? So much of one, in fact, and now so much a significant part of our culture and our politics, that two rather elderly men, Senators Specter and Grassley (both born in the early 1930s!), are using it to battle over those supposed "death panels."

Crazy. (And kudos to Specter, a quasi-Democrat, for telling Grassley, a Republican, to stop lying.)

By the way, I'm new to twitter, but I'm into it -- you can find me, and follow me, @mjwstickings. Come on, have a look. It's much more fun that I thought -- useless, in a way, but fun.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Reaction in review (August 14, 2009)

By Carol Gee

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:

There's much about the craziness of Republicans vs. health care reform . . .


By Carl: "Evolution inaction" -- Skillfully, Carl analyzes the health care reform issues and notes: "We liberals have to begin to make the case that the Obama administration has been unable to: healthcare reform will save and prolong lives, and not force the elderly into euthanasia."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Despair" -- Michael insightfully explores the reasons for his increasing despair about the state of American democracy, including declines in opinion polls, media's making lies and truth equivalent, and our failure to sift through spin. See also: Mobs-(1) 8/14/09, (2) 8/14/09, Palin-8/14/09, Grassley vs.Murkowski-8/12/09, Gingrich & Palin-8/10/09, on guns-8/12/09, and on Ambinder-8/12/09, Sullivan 8/10/09, and Frum-8/9/09.

By Capt. Fogg: "Rationing, death panels, and takeovers, oh my!" -- Fogg's terrific post lays bare the projections of the health care industry, providing chapter and verse for their use of certain words concluding, "They are chosen with surgical precision so that using them as accusations, the corporate death panels, the corporate rationing of healthcare and the monopolistic trusts that indulge in them are protected from the truth."

By Creature: "The real healthcare crazy" -- Creature's great little post helps us regain perspective regarding what is the real deal with the need for reform. See also: (1) 8/14/09, (2) 8/14/09, 8/11/09-video, (1) 8/11/09, (2) 8/11/09, 8/10/09, 8/9/09-video, 8/9/09-comics.


By Creature: "Legitimizing the healthcare reform lies" -- First with a post about "death panels," Creature criticizes media's adoption of false equivalents.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Conservative Critique: David Frum on what a Republican victory over Obamacare would mean" -- This post adds important insight about the consequences that would ensue with the defeat of health care reform.


By J. Thomas Duffy: "Trig in 2012!" -- Taking his cue from Sarah Palin's FaceBook page on how her "baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' . . . system is downright evil," Duffy presents his own insanely funny scenario of the next presidential election.

. . . And there's everything else:


By J. Thomas Duffy: "Guitar legend, inventor Les Paul passes away" -- Duffy's fine tribute to Paul begins: "It is almost impossible to measure Les Paul's impact and imprint on music;" the post includes a great Gibson Guitar news release and a number of other good references for all us Les Paul fans.


By Mustang Bobby: "Welcome to Canada" -- Bobby's traveled to Stratford, Ontario for Shakespeare, reflects in his post on the long and deep relationship the U.S. has with our neighbor to the north, and is curious to see how Canadians feel since Obama's election.

By Carol Gee: "Frozen in place: When conciliation is a bad thing" -- This post looks at former Vice President Cheney's current willingness to talk about how he truly feels about his former boss, whom he believes went soft during his second term.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Toronto-area high school takes To Kill a Mockingbird off Grade 10 reading list over language complaint" -- Michael's post takes on a decision (that "is a form of censorship,") decrying that a book that teaches about racial injustice was removed because of a single parent complaint about bad words, and is "a cowardly act for which there is no excuse."


By Mustang Bobby: "Everybody gets caught" -- Bobby thinks that revelations of Karl Rove's involvement in the politicization of the Bush Justice Department may finally land him in front of a grand jury, unlike the Valerie Plame case.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Burma's totalitarians convice Nobel winner Suu Kyi" -- In another of his important posts on "Burma," not "Myanmar," Michael examines the recent show trial conviction of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and restates his support for Burma as the true name of the junta ruled country.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Will there be a jobless recovery? Maybe not, but the economy is still in terrible shape." -- Michael's done an excellent analysis, concluding "economy . . . has improved, at least relative to its recent slide, and, for that, there is government, the "Big" government so loathed on the right, to thank."


By Carl: "The trouble with viruses" -- Carl writes an excellent about the pending H1N1 flu pandemic coming back to the U.S. this fall, noting one bright spot: ". . . in all this nervous-making anxiety. . . this flu might be the final key in unlocking true healthcare reform, albiet at a tragic and hefty price."

By Capt. Fogg: "Rounding up the Righteous" -- Fogg takes on Glenn Beck's fear mongering regarding the Obama administration, calling out "Mr. Beck and Senator Cornyn and the other professional traitors and haters of honesty [who] are afraid someone will get to the bottom of it all and trace the sabotage, the lies and the psychotic ravings back to the RNC . . ."

(Cross-posted at Behind the Links.)

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Quote of the Day II

By Creature

"In short, the threat to personal liberty in America is so serious and imminent at this time that it requires the full commitment of my efforts." -- AstroTurf leader Dick Armey after being pushed out quiting the lobbying firm DLA PIper.

If Dick Armey is so concerned about the "threat to personal liberty" where was he when warrantless wiretapping was all the rage? Seriously, if these people, Teabaggers included, had any real convictions they would have been in the streets. Instead we got eight years of rationalizations, justifications, and lies. Unbelievable.

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Guitar legend, inventor Les Paul passes away

By J. Thomas Duffy

Another giant of music has died, as news broke yesterday that guitar legend and inventor Les Paul passed away at the age of 94.

It is almost impossible to measure Les Paul's impact and imprint on music.

He was there early, he stayed late, and he never, never, ever, gave up looking, searching, tinkering, demanding new sound, a new level he could take his genius to.

A news release, from Gibson Guitar:

The World Has Lost a Remarkable Innovator and Musician: Les Paul Passes Away at 94

New York, NY…August 13, 2009…Les Paul, acclaimed guitar player, entertainer and inventor, passed away today from complications of severe pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plain, New York, surrounded by family and loved ones. He had been receiving the best available treatment through this final battle and in keeping with his persona, he showed incredible strength, tenacity and courage. The family would like to express their heartfelt thanks for the thoughts and prayers from his dear friends and fans. Les Paul was 94.

One of the foremost influences on 20th century sound and responsible for the world’s most famous guitar, the Les Paul model, Les Paul’s prestigious career in music and invention spans from the 1930s to the present. Though he’s indisputably one of America’s most popular, influential, and accomplished electric guitarists, Les Paul is best known as an early innovator in the development of the solid body guitar. His groundbreaking design would become the template for Gibson’s best-selling electric, the Les Paul model, introduced in 1952. Today, countless musical legends still consider Paul’s iconic guitar unmatched in sound and prowess. Among Paul’s most enduring contributions are those in the technological realm, including ingenious developments in multi-track recording, guitar effects, and the mechanics of sound in general.


By his mid-thirties, Paul had successfully combined Reinhardt-inspired jazz playing and the western swing and twang of his Rhubarb Red persona into one distinctive, electrifying style. In the Les Paul Trio he translated the dizzying runs and unusual harmonies found on Jazz at the Philharmonic into a slower, subtler, more commercial approach. His novelty instrumentals were tighter, brasher, and punctuated with effects. Overall, the trademark Les Paul sound was razor-sharp, clean-shaven, and divinely smooth.

As small combos eclipsed big bands toward the end of World War II, Les Paul Trio's popularity grew. They cut records for Decca both alone and behind the likes of Helen Forrest, the Andrews Sisters, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Dick Hayes, and, most notably, Bing Crosby. Since 1945, when the crooner brought them into the studio to back him on a few numbers, the Trio had become regular guests on Crosby's hit radio show. The highlight of the session was Paul's first No. 1 hit and million-seller, the gorgeous “It's Been a Long, Long Time."


In 1948, Paul nearly lost his life to a devastating car crash that shattered his right arm and elbow. Still, he convinced doctors to set his broken arm in the guitar-picking and cradling position. Laid up but undaunted, Paul acquired a first generation Ampex tape recorder from Crosby in 1949, and began his most important multi-tracking adventure, adding a fourth head to the recorder to create sound-on-sound recordings. While tinkering with the machine and its many possibilities, he also came up with tape delay. These tricks, along with another recent Les Paul innovation—close mic-ing vocals—were integrated for the first time on a single recording: the 1950 No. 1 tour de force “How High the Moon."

This historic track was performed during a duo with future wife Mary Ford. The couple's prolific string of hits for Capitol Records not only included some of the most popular recordings of the early 1950s, but also wrote the book on contemporary studio production. The dense but crystal clear harmonic layering of guitars and vocals, along with Ford's close mic-ed voice and Paul's guitar effects, produced distinctively contemporary recordings with unprecedented sonic qualities. Through hits, tours, and popular radio shows, Paul and Ford kept one foot in the technological vanguard and the other in the cultural mainstream.

All the while, Les Paul continued to pine for the perfect guitar. Though The Log came close, it wasn't quite what he was after. In the early 1950s, Gibson Guitar would cultivate a partnership with Paul that would lead to the creation of the guitar he'd seen only in his dreams. In 1948, Gibson elected to design its first solidbody, and Paul, a self-described “dyed-in-the-wool Gibson man," seemed the right man for the job. Gibson avidly courted the guitar legend, even driving deep into the Pennsylvania mountains to deliver the first model to newlyweds Les Paul and Mary Ford.

(You can use the above link for a great slide show presentation of Les Paul.)

NYT (Jon Pareles) - Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94

Rolling Stone - Les Paul, Guitar Legend, Dies at 94

Les Paul on Wikipedia

Gibson Les Paul

Les Paul - Chasing Sound

Les Paul Website

And, of course, his music;

Les Paul & Mary Ford: Alabamy Bound /Darktown Strutters Ball

Les Paul & Mary Ford How High the Moon

Vaya Con Dios - Les Paul & Mary Ford (1953)

Yes, Vaya Con Dios, Les ...

It's been a gas ...

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Quote of the Day: Michele Bachmann on herself

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Her fundraising pitch:

Don't let them Palinize me!

Actually, she doesn't need any help. She may well be the craziest Republican in national politics.


What exactly does "Palinize" mean? She explains:

To smear or mock someone using falsehoods, baseless accusations or unsubstantiated character assassinations for the purpose of blocking them from achieving a goal.

To exaggerate the truth or lie by omission.

To attack a person for his or her conservative values by focusing an inordinate amount of attention on a single example of that person falling short (or being perceived as falling short) of the values they espouse.

Right, sure, whatever... As Charles Lemos puts it at MyDD: "Sarah Palin is a beacon of sanity compared to Michele Bachmann. That such insanity and ignorance graces the halls of Congress is a sheer travesty."

I encourage all of you to incorporate "Palinize" and "Bachmannize" into your vocabulary. Just make sure to turn the definitions around:

-- To "Palinize" something is to spin it for the sake of personal political gain and to exaggerate one's sense of long-term victimization at the hands of some nefarious, if vaguely defined, elite.

-- To "Bachmannize" something is to distort the meaning of it so radically, within the context of paranoid right-wing ideology, as to render it largely incomprehensible.

Have fun. And remember that we've alread introduced "glennbeckery" and related words to the language.

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Krugman's talking to me

By Creature


"I am in this race because I don’t want to see us spend the next year re-fighting the Washington battles of the 1990s. I don’t want to pit Blue America against Red America; I want to lead a United States of America.” So declared Barack Obama in November 2007, making the case that Democrats should nominate him, rather than one of his rivals, because he could free the nation from the bitter partisanship of the past.

Some of us were skeptical. A couple of months after Mr. Obama gave that speech, I warned that his vision of a “different kind of politics” was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face “an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false.”

So, how’s it going?

Not well, Paul. Not well at all. I put myself in the camp that thought things would be different under an Obama administration. Way back when, I looked at Hillary and thought: Please, not another Clinton in the White House. I can't relive the 90s. I can't relive the crazy.

We are reliving the 90s, only more so. I guess I should have known better. If I had to do it again, I'd still support Barack Obama, but if my crazy radar had been working better, Hillary would have gotten a longer look.

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Caving in to the mob

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So, according to The Hill, the "Senate Finance Committee will drop a controversial provision on consultations for end-of-life care from its proposed healthcare bill, its top Republican member said Thursday."

This was never about forced euthanasia, but rather end-of-life dignity, and there were never going to be "death panels." Still, the Democrats caved in, in so doing vindicating, in a way, the lies of the Republicans -- or at least signalling that enough yelling and screaming will get the Republicans what they want.

Not a good precedent to set.

As Steve Benen put it: "When in doubt, give the mob what it wants." And so:

Who wins? Unhinged activists, who are effectively being told that they'll get their way if they scream loud enough. Who loses? Everyone else.

It reminds me of kids who give the bully their lunch money thinking, "Well, if I give him the lunch money today, maybe he'll leave me alone tomorrow." I don't think that ever works.

And here's the real kicker: it won't make any difference. Lawmakers can take the measure out of the bill, and right-wing critics will continue to equate reform with the Nazi Holocaust, because a) they're unconcerned with reality; and b) they'll assume the measure is still there anyway.

Great job, Dems. More of this and you'll destroy health-care reform all on your own.

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Republican mobocracy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yeah, they're crazy. And dangerous:

There were signs comparing President Barack Obama to a Nazi and showing him with an Adolf Hitler-style mustache, but federal officials believe another sign referencing the president and his family went too far.

A man who was holding a sign reading "Death to Obama" Wednesday outside a town hall meeting on health care reform in Hagerstown, Md., has been turned over to the Secret Service.

Washington County Sheriff's
Capt. Peter Lazich said the sign also read, "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids."

Lazich said U.S. Secret Service agents took the unidentified 51-year-old man into custody Wednesday afternoon after deputies detained him near the entrance to Hagerstown Community College.

This guy may be the exception, but the problem is, there are a lot of exceptions. Don't let the Michelle Malkins and Glenn Becks convince you otherwise.

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Republicans were for killing grandma before they were against it

By Creature

At least Democrats want to make killing your grandmother voluntary. The Republicans, back when they were busy trying to drown Medicare in a bathtub, not so much. The dishonesty is astounding.

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Welcome to the Palin wing of the right-wing insanitarium, Rudy Giuliani

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, like the ex-Speaker of the House, the ex-mayor of New York has backed the ex-governor of Alaska on "death panels," providing yet more high-profile support to one of the key planks of the Republican propaganda effort.

Meanwhile, Palin is still pushing the lie herself.

It'd all be quite funny if so many people weren't actually buying this bullshit.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Welcome to Canada

By Mustang Bobby

Greetings from Stratford, Ontario, home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (and the Ontario Pork Congress). This is my annual pilgrimage to see some of the finest theatre in the world, a family tradition that I have been participating in on and off since 1970. And one of the things I find out when I'm here is that I get a bit of a different perspective on some things, including how our good friends here in the True North see us.

This is my first trip to Canada since the election of President Obama, and I am curious to see how Canadians perceive him. I know that during my visits here during past administrations you could get a sense of our standing in the world by just interacting with people. During the Bush administration, I rarely if ever heard anyone say anything overtly negative about Mr. Bush, at least in my presence, but I got the distinct feeling that while a lot of the people I met didn't particularly like the way the United States was going, especially with the war in Iraq, I never heard anyone express outright hatred for him or for U.S. citizens. After all, they probably couldn't tell how I might feel, and I was always very careful not to diss our country while I was in outside of the country -- or at least not say anything I hadn't already said on the blog -- so what I got from them was a sense of exasperation: "Oh, come on; just knock it off, okay?"

I'm sure there are some folks in the U.S. who could care less what Canadians think; after all this is a nation with single-payer health care, the metric system, you can book a trip to Cuba without getting indicted by the Treasury Department, and the roadsigns are in French as well as in English. Quelle horreur! But Canada is our biggest trading partner; we do more business with the Province of Ontario in a day than we do with some other countries in a year, and whether some care to admit it or not, our lives in the United States (not to mention the NHL) would be pretty well diminished without Canada as a good and trusting friend and partner. (Okay, I can forgive them for sending us Celine Dion; they made up for it with Joni Mitchell, William Shatner, Michael J. Fox, and Raymond Burr; I'm still mulling over Michael Myers and Jim Carrey.)

Just to remind you that Canada and Canadians are rightfully proud of their country, here's an ad that Molson Brewing ran a few years back to let the world know that Canada is not a bunch of stereotypes, any more than the United States is.

(It was also before Molson merged with Coors...)

(PS: I hope when Michael visits Florida, he'll write a similar post.)

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Amazing Ichiro

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Just up watching the Yankees-Mariners game. My main fantasy team this year includes Jeter, Cano, and Teixeira from the Yankees and Ichiro from the Mariners. I try to get Ichiro every year. He's one of the best players ever, I think, and it's such a joy to watch him play -- at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. And yet I think he's often taken for granted -- his ability with the bat, his defensive prowess, his speed, even his occasional power, it seems so easy for him, and he does it all without the flash that characterizes so many of the game's superstars -- so much so that what is often overlooked is just how good he is. Indeed, even I was amazed at what I read at Yahoo! Sports a couple of days ago:

RF Ichiro Suzuki enters play Tuesday 34 hits shy of 200 for the season and 29 hits shy of 2,000 for his Major League career. He's bidding to become the only player ever with nine consecutive 200-hit seasons. Wee Willie Keeler (1894-1901) also has 200 hits in eight consecutive seasons. Along the way, Ichiro hasn't gone hitless in consecutive games since Aug. 13-15, 2008 (Aug. 14 was a day off). That's a span of 145 games, the longest in the big leagues in 65 years, since Stan Musial played 174 games for the St. Louis Cardinals without back-to-back hitless games.

Baseball fans, you know just how amazing that is, how historically great those numbers are. In an era defined by PEDs and the long ball, by Bonds and Clemens, Sosa and McGwire, Manny and Big Papi, A-Rod and the rest, Ichiro is what this beautiful game is all about.


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Evolution Inaction

By Carl

If you are concerned about the current debate over healthcare reform,
you should be:

Frankly, what is surfacing is a survival of the fittest mentality. One demographic, being pitted against another, risks any true reform of the system and compromises the pursuit of good health for all.

One group in particular, unconvinced that change will not be destabilizing, has been the senior citizen population. Whether cautiously reluctant or downright suspect, seniors, many of whom are satisfied with Medicare, do not want to be scapegoated in the process to redress health-care grievances. At the crux, is the perceived threat that health care will be rationed for the elderly at the expense of insuring younger, healthier Americans. Seniors are not "on the chopping block," but propaganda and rhetoric would have you believe their interests will be disposed of readily.

What is true, however, is that there is already rationing in the America health care system. Insurance companies are able to differentiate which treatments are covered versus those deemed unnecessary. We, in the public, find this mediation palatable, but we question whether the government will interfere arbitrarily in our medical affairs.

Dr. Pernell goes on to point out what I pointed out yesterday:
Healthcare reform can ONLY drive down the cost of healthcare, freeing more money for more treatment.

But her trope of "survival of the fittest" is intriguing and got me to thinking: what if the
living room gibbons that have infested the Congressional town hall meetings win? What will happen to healthcare reform in this country?

It won't, frankly. We'll get the same lip service crap that President Bush offered up with Medicare prescription "reform" which turned out to be a boon for insurers and a muddle, ugly mess for consumers. And it will be decades again until someone straps on some cojones and decides to take the plunge into reforming a disastrous health insurance scam that private insurers have foisted on this nation.

We spend more, far more, per person on healthcare than any other nation on the planet, yet we rank in the 30s in life expectancy, have higher cancer and heart disease death rates than any country with "socialized" medicine, and have an infant mortality rate higher than many Third World nations (including Cuba)

So much for the "right-to-life," huh?

One bright spot in the whole town hall astroturfing is that we see now citizens who are on a government-provided healthcare plan are so satisfied with it that they will fight tooth and nail to keep it intact.

"I got mines, Joe, and I ain't giving it up!" A clever President and Congress would use this as an opening.

Getting AARP on board would be a big first step. They have reluctantly and half-heartedly endorsed some of the proposals bandied about. Even if they took the next logical step and just made a push to get people to realize this is not going to cut their Medicare, that would be a big help. People look at AARP and have respect for it as an organization devoted to the needs of the aging. I myself am a member, primarily because of that image.

We liberals have to begin to make the case that the Obama administration has been unable to: healthcare reform will save and prolong lives, and not force the elderly into euthanasia.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Rasmussen, voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats on health care, 44% to 41%.

I realize that Rasmussen tends to lean right, and so this poll may not accurately reflect reality, but, I must admit, I'm despairing more and more about the state of American democracy.

Part of the problem, in the case of health-care reform, is that the Republican propaganda machine is extremely effective, more so than anything on the Democratic side. Also, Republican activists, as they have been proving from town hall to town hall, are insane and loud and capable, simply by virtue of their screaming, of dominating public discourse -- who can hear the rational when the irrational drowns everything else out?

Part of the problem is also the media, which tend both to regurgitate Republican talking points and to endorse Republican lies simply by given them equal time, without much scrutiny. A Republican asserts that the reform bill includes a provision that would establish "death panels" for the elderly and disabled. A Democrat correctly notes that the bill contains no such provision and that there wouldn't be any "death panels," that the whole thing is just Republican fearmongering. The Republican lies, while the Democrat speaks the truth. But who wins? Surely the Democrat, right? Wrong. Given the media's enforced emphasis on equivalence -- except at Fox News, where the right-wing bias is always on full display -- it's a draw, the lies of the Republican equal in value to the truth of the Democrat. This is how it works. Republican lies are given a platform and legitimated. In the end, the whole arrangement benefits the Republicans, who back up their lies with effective propaganda.

But part of the problem is also the American people, I fear, who are getting what they deserve, which is, even with a Democratic president and Congress, obstructionism to reform at a time when the country -- an economy that can no longer sustain growing health-care burdens, the millions and millions of people without care, without adequate coverage, and without hope -- so desperately needs it. No, not all Americans, of course. So many of them, I know, are fighting the good fight against these Republican (and some Democratic) opponents of reform. But what does it say that, if this poll is to be believed, voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on this key issue? Or that so many Americans believe that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. despite the conclusive evidence that he was? Or that the likes of Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber have become national celebrities with massive public support? Or that Fox News is the #1 cable news network? Not good things, I assure you.

No, I know, it isn't fair to blame the American people en masse. It's just frustrating that the Republican narrative is doing so well, that Republican lies have gained such traction with the public. Obama and the Democrats, to be sure, can do better, and they must. But, in a democracy, the people must also take some responsibility, too, and it is essential that they take the time to sift through the spin in order to make rational decisions about their future.

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Frozen in place: When conciliation is a bad thing

By Carol Gee

Former Vice President Richard Cheney is working on his memoirs and assuring its success with a good deal of news making prior to its publication. Thursday's Washington Post article by Barton Gellman adds to the breathless anticipation of Cheney's potential reading public by promising revelations of previously unreported opinions and events. Here's a Hit Tip to journalist Mark Knoller, who posted several insightful tweets about the article, along with a generous suggestion to "buy the paper" to read the story.

The Cheney piece heads the current list of "most viewed political articles" on the WaPo website. And I read it immediately, too. Headlined, "Cheney uncloaks his frustration with Bush," it reveals more little juicy tidbits guaranteed to keep us all panting to read the published tome from cover to cover. One of the most interesting to me was this aspect of Cheney's frustration with Bush, whom he evidently thinks "went soft." To quote:

Cheney's disappointment with the former president surfaced recently in one of the informal conversations he is holding to discuss the book with authors, diplomats, policy experts and past colleagues. By habit, he listens more than he talks, but Cheney broke form when asked about his regrets.

"In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him," said a participant in the recent gathering, describing Cheney's reply. "He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. Bush was more malleable to that. The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice. He'd showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming. It was clear that Cheney's doctrine was cast-iron strength at all times -- never apologize, never explain -- and Bush moved toward the conciliatory."

. . . The former vice president remains convinced of mortal dangers that few other leaders, in his view, face squarely. That fixed belief does much to explain the conduct that so many critics find baffling. He gives no weight, close associates said, to his low approval ratings, to the tradition of statesmanlike White House exits or to the grumbling of Republicans about his effect on the party brand.

Cheney's intrigue -- What is it that keeps us all fascinated with this man, who guarded his privacy so jealously until now? As a retired psychotherapist, I am interested in his psychological make-up, particularly his apparently persistent paranoia. Others have their own reasons. But there is no doubt that his book will jump to the top of the charts when it comes out, which will please his daughter Liz, at whose suggestion Cheney is writing the book, despite past disdain for officials who wrote "tell all" books upon leaving office. It appears that he is not "frozen in place" on this issue.

Richard Cheney appears to have acquired fixed beliefs that are frozen in place, however. The first is in the concept of the "unitary" presidency, born after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. And the second is in a very dark world with enemies waiting to pounce and destroy him and the nation. With a model like that, is it any wonder that there is such fear mongering and craziness associated with Republican opposition to everything Obama.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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The "hard" life of Mark Sanford

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I must admit, I really do feel sorry for Mark Sanford. He's only human, after all.

Sanford is alone now in the governor's mansion in Columbia, South Carolina, and it's "hard." But, he says, "there are consequences for any mess-up that we have in life, and that's one of them."

He is contrite -- genuinely so, it seems -- and he has, it seems, accepted responsibility for what he has done, not least when it comes to his family: "They've been subjected to a lot this summer. That was a result of my actions, but nonetheless it put them in a spot they really didn't want to be."

This genuineness, I think, differentiates Sanford from other politicians, and other public figures, who have sinned, at least according to their own definition of "sin," or otherwise done something that they have come to regret -- if only because they were caught. Sanford knows that he is "dead politically." (Perhaps. There are usually second, and sometimes also third and fourth, chances for conservatives who sin, repent, are forgiven, and are welcomed back into the fold.) He is not denying what happened, nor trying to spin it to save his career. I admire that. And I sense that he may very well emerge from this whole episode a better man. (He is no Ensign or Vitter or Craig, all of whom remain appallingly self-righteous.)

I have been extremely critical of Sanford throughout -- see, for example, here and here -- and there remains a great deal about him that I don't like at all, mostly his politics and theocratic leanings. He is human, all-too-human, but he has also been a hypocrite, and his actions, his deceptions, not so much the infidelity but how he conducted himself as an elected leader, lying to his own staff and sneaking around without security and travelling to a foreign country, suggest that he violated the people's trust.

Simply put, he should no longer be in office. And yet, there he is, and, given his humility, that may not be so bad: "I am not running for another office. I just want to make the most of the 16 months that are remaining in trying to honor where I started in this thing, which is, how do you do some things that hopefully make people's lives just a little bit better in South Carolina." I still don't, and won't, agree with his policies, which are unlikely to change, but perhaps he really will dedicate his remaining days in office to something other than right-wing Republican politics. Or, if he does, perhaps he'll be less ideological in his approach to governance.

And perhaps, just perhaps, Mark Sanford will find peace, both with himself and with his loved ones, and move on with his life a happier man than he is now.

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Toronto-area high school takes To Kill a Mockingbird off Grade 10 reading list over language complaint

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's not just in the U.S. that this sort of thing happens:

The classic literary novel To Kill a Mockingbird is being pulled from the Grade 10 English course at a Brampton high school after a parent complained about the use of a racial epithet in the book.

Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which challenges racial injustice in America's Deep South, will be removed from curriculum at St. Edmund Campion Secondary School following a lone complaint from a parent whose child will be in Grade 10 this September.

"The parent was concerned about some of the language in the book," said Bruce Campbell, spokesman for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

Principal Kevin McGuire made the decision at the end of the school year to resolve the complaint quickly. The book, a fixture on high-school reading lists across the country, will still be available in the library, said Campbell.

"The school administration was aware of the parent's concern and made the decision to use another board-approved resource that teaches the same concept for the coming year," said Campbell.

"It's not a requirement that the novel be used," he said. "It's an option on our list of board-approved resources, and the school can make a decision to use whatever resource (it) would feel best suits them."

"In this case, the principal believed an alternate resource might be better suited for that community," said Campbell.

This is a Catholic school board, not a regular public one -- both are publicly funded in Ontario -- which may partly explain the decision. Still, it seems to me that the community would be better served by having what is widely regarded as one of the great novels of the last century, "bad" language and all, read by its students (in Grade 10 -- it's not like the book was assigned to young kids, after all -- presumably advanced high school students can handle, and appreciate the context of, a broad range of language).

What is the point of shielding students from a great book that just happens to contain language that some find objectionable (in this case, one parent)? Should students -- again, Grade 10 students, not children -- also not read, say, Huck Finn? Or how about Shakespeare, whose work was hardly free of language that at least one person might find objectionable (and that was, for the time, extremely objectionable). Forget that the language used in the book is appropriate to what the book is about, that the language is actually essential to the book. This obviously hyper-sensitive principal is denying his students the education they deserve and require. You'd think he had removed not a great novel like To Kill a Mockingbird from the classroom but, oh, say, Hustler.

Is censorship -- and this, indeed, is a form of it (the book hasn't been banned, but it won't be taught) -- more important to the community than literature? It would seem so.

Is the value of a book determined more by its objectionable language (even as objected to by just one parent) than by its content? Again, it would seem so.

Apparently, what the book teaches about racial injustice is outweighed by the presence of a few "bad" words. Apparently, reading those words would corrupt those oh-so-impressionable students. Apparently, the book is otherwise disposable.

This is truly outrageous, a shameful decision, a cowardly act for which there is no excuse.

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Rationing, death panels, and takeovers, oh my!

By Capt. Fogg

Is it a lack of determination that keeps me at this? There are times I just want to sail away into the sunset and forget about our idiot's Republic that seems hell bent to destroy itself in an orgy of irrational anger -- but I don't. Sometimes it takes only a word to start me off again and this time the word was "rationing."

On thing that's consistent about American politics is the practice of hiding your worst vices by preemptively accusing your opposition of it. If your practice of rationing health care to maximize profits hangs around your neck like a decomposing albatross, if you let people die because your top executives need their 20 million dollar salaries and the lobbyists and Congressmen need to be kept rich and happy, you make up a story about Obama and rationing and you stage public events where people pretend to be furious at it until eventually people do become furious enough that they stop thinking and start screaming.

Ask Wendell Potter, the former vice president of CIGNA who quit his job at Corporate Communications because of the company's decision that the life of 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan was not worth saving: the liver transplant cost too much so the CIGNA Death Panel refused, calling it "experimental." Although outcry from the public and organizations such as the California Nurses Association caused CIGNA to re-focus on how much the bad publicity was costing them and relented, it was too late and the girl died.

Now rationing is the thing with transplants. The supply is severely limited and systems are in place that attempt to make distribution equitable, but it's not based on the cost. That's not the case at CIGNA nor is it indeed in American health care. Our "system" if you can call it that, will decide how much your life is worth to them and whether or not you've paid your premiums, they will refuse treatment if it will eat into profitability. They will do so even though profitability is growing rapidly. Rationing of health care: it's nothing personal, it's just business and it's just about profits.

I know from personal experience that members of Congress and the public have good reason to question the honesty and trustworthiness of the insurance industry,

testified Potter to the Senate Commerce Committee last month. He related how unprofitable companies were purged, to maximize profits and he's now telling CNN that the buzz words and hackneyed phrases being shouted at Town Hall meetings come straight from the wordsmiths of the insurers:

People talk about the government takeover of the system ... that's a buzz term that comes straight out of the insurance industry.

Rationing of treatment is not new, nor has it anything to do with who's providing it. When resources are limited, it has to occur, whether it's because there aren't enough organs or operating rooms or surgeons or equipment. Indeed when kidney dialysis was developed in the early 1960s, a committee was set up in Seattle's Artificial Kidney Center, for instance, to ration the use of their machinery. I hesitate to call it a death panel, but if you needed time on the machines, a group consisting of a minister, a banker, a labor leader and a housewife picked by the Center would ration it based on such criteria as your record of church attendance, net worth and marital status. In other words private parties could decide what your life was worth and factor their profit into the equation. It wasn't until the "government takeover" which was Medicare that opened up access to almost everyone in need and perhaps lessened the ability of insurers to indulge in profit based rationing. They sure as hell don't want much more of that at CIGNA.

A great deal of thought goes into choosing words like "death panel" and "rationing" and "takeover." They are chosen with surgical precision so that using by them as accusations, the corporate death panels, the corporate rationing of health care and the monopolistic trusts that indulge in them are protected from the truth.

Now contemplating just how dumb are the people plugged into the corporate matrix, I'm back to wanting to give it all up and let the country sell itself deeper into slavery and dependency on those who see the American People as sheep to be fleeced.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Republican lunacy, Birther-style

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You want a good indicator of just how far gone most Republicans are? In North Carolina, for example, only 24 percent of Republicans think that Obama was born in the United States even though the evidence clearly shows that he was born in Hawaii. One explanation is that most Republicans don't recognize Hawaii as part of the U.S. (you know, because of how "exotic" it is). A likelier explanation is that partisan groupthink and anti-Obama bias (much of it undoubtedly racist) has overcome the majority of the GOP, especially in the South. Either way, this denial of the truth in the face not just of overwhelming but of conclusive evidence indicates that Republicans are, by and large, a party of willful ignorance, to put it mildly, that should be nowhere near the levers of power. How can you be trusted to govern, after all, when you are so thoroughly divorced from reality?

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The real healthcare crazy

By Creature

I'm very much fighting the impulse to throw up my hands and give up on the idea that any meaningful healthcare reform will make its way to the presidents desk. The crazy has gotten to me. However, after seeing thousands of people lining up in L.A. for the chance at seeing a doctor, I realize, again, that the real crazy is that this should not happen in America (or anywhere, for that matter). These people don't want handouts, but they have been left with very little choice. I hope Congress is watching too and I hope America can find its heart once again.


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Craziest Republican of the Day: Anna Falling

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Tulsa mayoral candidate is today's clear pick. Her #1 priority is not the economy, or crime, or energy, or any other such key issue. Rather, she wants to put a creationism display at the Tulsa Zoo.

Let me repeat that, because, at first glance, it reads so crazy as to be incredible: She wants to put a creationism display at the Tulsa Zoo.

A creationism display at a zoo. (How about a flat-earth display at the Smithsonian?)

That's #1 for Anna Falling.

"It's first. If we can't come to the foundation of faith in this community, those other answers will never come. We need to first of all recognize the fact that God needs to be honored in this city."


She uttered these words at a rally held outside the zoo. Her supporters responded, as you might have expected, with a flurry of "hallelujahs."

"We will also look for people who want to characterize the origins of both man and animals in a way that honors Judeo-Christian science that proves God as the creator."

Judeo-Christian "science"? Interesting. What it really is, of course, is fundamentalist theology, and what Falling is, of course, is a hardcore theocrat.

It makes her crazy to put such idiocy at the top of her priority list. Surely Tulsans would be better severed with a more relevant public policy agenda. But she's not crazy -- given that she's clearly playing to her constituents -- as much as she is, simply put, extreme. Delusional, perhaps, but certainly extreme.

Crazy in her theocratic extremism, a pre-Darwinian -- and obviously anti-Darwinian -- zealot.

But, then, it's Oklahoma. Maybe she's the perfect candidate, the voice of the mainstream in a world where James "global warming is a hoax" Inhofe is a star.

Or will the good people of Tulsa stand up and reject such nonsense?

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A tale of two Republican sentators (on health-care reform and those "death panels")

By Michael J.W. Stickings

1) Charles Grassley (Iowa): "In the House bill, there is counseling for end of life. You have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma."

NOTE: There is no such euthanasia provision in the proposed legislation. Grassley is fearmongering. He is lying. He is doing what many of his fellow reform opponents are doing. It is shameful, if also predictable.

2) Lisa Murkowski (Alaska): "It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there's these end-of-life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn't (in the bill). There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill."

NOTE: Murkowski is absolutely right. She's being sensible and responsible. Which is to say, she's being rather un-Republican. I understand that most Republicans want reform to fail, but should they not at least argue on the merits of the issue? They should, but they don't -- and Murkowski should be applauded for coming out publicly against the lies and the fearmongering.

NOTE 2: In so doing, Murkowski distinguishes herself clearly from that more famous -- and more extremist -- Alaska Republican, Sarah Palin, who is partly (if not mostly) responsible for the current right-wing "death panel" craze.

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Everybody gets caught

By Mustang Bobby

It comes as no surprise whatsoever that Karl Rove's involvement in the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration is a lot more than what he said at the time -- "Who, me?" His claims sounded hollow when he first insisted that he had nothing to with it, and anyone who has had the slightest bit of understanding of just how the Bush administration worked knew that he was being less than candid. After all, Mr. Rove never made it any secret that he saw his job as being purely about politics and about creating a permanent Republican majority. At the time, he didn't seem to think it was at all a bad thing for a political operative to be working out of the West Wing; he probably saw it as the normal operating procedure for every administration, and Mr. Rove's defenders are now saying that "everyone else does it." He's probably right. I sincerely doubt that Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan left the politics in the White House driveway, but there the false equivalency has to stop, because when it comes to politicizing the West Wing, nobody did it as overtly and as crassly as the Bush administration, and seemingly without any sense that they might be skating over the line.

Until now.

It never ceases to amaze me that people, whether they're presidents or just a teenager sneaking a bottle of booze out of the house, think they can get away with it. Mr. Rove had to know that e-mails leave trails, that people remember phone conversations, that the attorneys would wonder why they were being dismissed for inconsistent reasons -- for instance, in the matter of David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, being told he wasn't doing his job a few months after getting a stellar evaluation -- and that history has shown that there is just no way to cover up anything in Washington. But there's always someone whose ego is larger than their brain and for whatever reason, they think that they are either the one who can pull it off, or, even if they're caught, it won't matter. This, more than anything else, is Mr. Rove's problem... well, aside from the fact that he helped screw people over for political reasons.

Oddly enough, while Mr. Rove may have escaped punishment for his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, this matter of replacing U.S. attorneys that seemed to be just a matter of political expediency in the operation of the Department of Justice may be the one that finally gets him before a jury.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)


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Chickens and eggs: How Republicans have taken the town-hall protests too far

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"The American people remain anxious and confused about health care reform," observes Marc Ambinder. "That is an underlying reality that Republican activists are so eager to exploit." Yes, but it is also Republican activism -- in the form of lies, distortions, and propagandistic fearmongering -- that has manufactured much of the confusion and anxiety out there.

Otherwise, Ambinder is right that "the loudest voices [have] tended to be the craziest, the most extreme, the least sensible, and the most easy to mock." Again, though, this has been what Republicans wanted, an angry mob from the fringes of the party and the conservative movement -- or rather from the base itself, much of which lies on the outer fringe of American society -- disrupting deliberative democratic discourse and the educational efforts of the pro-reform side with a lack of "restraint" and without even "approximate truths" on their side.

"Unrestrained," he continues, "these town hall meetings are going to turn off the type of voters Republicans most need to pressure Blue Dog Democrats -- independents who don't have red genes or blue genes." Yes, but, then, Republicans are themselves unrestrained at the moment and, once the fog of lies, distortions, and fearmongering is lifted, it is precisely what Republicans stand for, both the policies and the propaganda, that is turning people off. In other words, if "conservatives are blowing their chance" (the title of Ambinder's post), it is only because conservatism itself blows -- that is, it's not just the strategy but the substance. Republicans are losing this battle because of what they stand for, an increasingly extremist right-wing ideology that includes opposition to reform, not just because their town-hall activism has gotten out of hand.

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Deny, deny, deny

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You can defend yourself all you want, Mark Sanford, but if it's a "feeding frenzy" for your opponents, you have only yourself to blame.

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Rick Santorum in 2012?

By Creature

I say go for it. The GOP needs more fundamentalists in the race. Heck, maybe he'll even choose a dog to be his running mate.

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

So a guy -- an anti-Obama Ron Paul supporter with a penchant for right-wing politics -- brings a gun to a health-care town-hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, one at which Obama himself is speaking. Or, rather, he brings it to the protest outside the venue, first on the sidewalk, which is public property, then on the private property of a nearby church, which apparently has given him permission. It is apparently legal for him to be carrying a weapon, but, thankfully, the Secret Service keeps a close eye on him.

This is all rather worrying, and even a staunch conservative like Allahpundit dismisses Second Amendment claims and thinks it was a bad idea to bring a gun to such an event, especially with the president in attendance: "having a right doesn't mean you're obliged to exercise it, particularly in circumstances where it would be provocative to do so."

And provocative it was. Allahpundit continues: "the number of daily threats against Obama is already four times the number Bush faced. Every pair of eyes diverted to watch this tool make his point about liberty is a pair that's not watching the rest of the crowd."

Do not think for a moment that this wacko is the lone exception. And do not think that no one would ever cross the line and start firing.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not going to kill your grandmother

By Creature

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Burma's totalitarians convict Nobel winner Suu Kyi

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The AP reports:

[Burma]'s generals have again succeeded in isolating democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but her fleeting emergence during a grueling trial showed that her steely resolve and charisma remain intact.

A [Burma] court on Tuesday convicted the 64-year-old Nobel Peace laureate of violating her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American to stay at her home. Her sentence of three years in prison with hard labor was quickly commuted to 18 months house arrest after an order from the head of the military-ruled country, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

Suu Kyi has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, and the extension will remove her from the political scene next year when the junta holds its first election since 1990. Her party won in the polls then but was never allowed to take power.

I'm sure it was the fairest of fair trials. And I'm sure the conviction has nothing to do with next year's "election," which will surely be "fair" and "open" and genuinely "democratic." (And note that the commutation is probably supposed to prove the junta's compassion and justice. Yeah, sure.)

What a bunch of reprehensible thugs tyrannize that poor country.


And, as I put it here, let's all please call it Burma, not Myanmar:

Can we all please stop calling it Myanmar? That's the name the military junta -- then the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), since 1997 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) -- gave the country when it declared martial law
in 1989.

As Yale law professor Amy Chua puts it in her book World on Fire (p. 23): "Members of the majority ethnic group in Burma are called Bamahs (in the spoken language) or Myanmahs (in the written language). The newly independent state that emerged from the end of British colonial rule in 1948 was called the Union of Burma. In 1989, SLORC changed the country's name to Myanmar. (It also changed the names of various cities: Rangoon, for example, is now called Yangon.) In deference to the democratic opposition party, which has refused to acquiesce in the name change, the United States government currently refers to the country as Burma, and I do the same."

We all should do the same. Burma it is.

Thank you.

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Town hall madness

By Creature

I know this question has been asked many times before but, after watching these town hall outbursts over government and how evil it is, I seriously wonder where were all these people when Bush was trampling the Constitution and letting his cronies loot the taxpayer? Now that it's a Democrat in charge, and a black one, no less, suddenly government is evil and must be stopped. I don't necessarily blame these people for being angry, but I do wish they would be more consistent.

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Faith healers

By Creature

For Cal Thomas the reason he, and his fellow fundamentalists, are up in arms over healthcare reform is because it would the leave godless left in charge of life and death decisions and we all know the godless left couldn't give a crap about life. So now I finally get it, if you believe in god, you don't need health care. All you need is faith.

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Quote of the Day: Lee Hamilton on the Afghan War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

One of Obama's leading foreign policy gurus isn't terribly enthusiastic about the current direction, such as there is one, of the Afghan war:

Seventy-five U.S. and NATO troops died in Afghanistan in July, the deadliest month for allied forces in nearly eight years of fighting. More than 1,000 Afghan civilians have died this year, up 24 percent from 2008.

Tens of thousands more American troops are en route, adding to the approximately 90,000 troops, both U.S. and allied, already on the ground. The U.S. military leadership likely will request more troops in the months ahead. President Barack Obama will have to make a crucial decision on the future of a conflict that has become his war.


Strategically, there are two broad and fundamental questions to be answered. First, how will our departure impact our regional and security interests over the next decade and longer? And second, is this type of war really the best use of American power and resources in today's world?

(That's the beginning and end of Hamilton's piece. Make sure to read it in full.)

Hamilton is nothing if not a realist. Specifically, he is unrelentingly realistic about the situation in Afghanistan and about the rather dim prospects ahead. He doesn't express any sort of overt criticism of Obama. Indeed, if there is criticism at all, it is implicit (and realistic) criticism that Obama hasn't really done much yet, that he has been slow to act, that he hasn't yet set a new and determined course for U.S. policy in the region in general and with respect to the Afghan War in particular: "To be successful, U.S. policy will have to become clear, forceful and well resourced." Evidently, in Hamilton's view, U.S. policy is not yet clear, forceful, or well resourced. (TNR's Michael Crowley makes the same point. Hamilton, interestingly, uses the future tense.)

The two questions in the final paragraph ought to give us further pause. Hamilton -- who speaks for the foreign-policy establishment, as Crowley notes -- assumes that U.S. withdrawal is inevitable sooner rather than later. In other words, this won't (or shouldn't) be a long, open-ended occupation. But how much longer will the U.S. be there? How much longer will the war be waged?

And if it's not the right "type of war," if American power and resources can best be employed differently, why is the U.S. even there?

Honestly, I don't know anymore -- if I ever really knew for sure -- and it's a question I've been asking more and more lately: What's the point? And, if there isn't a clear one, should the U.S. really send tens of thousands more troops to augment its (and NATO's) already sizable military commitment there?

As I put it a while back, what is needed is "an honest and open debate about American objectives and about the possibility for success." Since the initial defeat of the Taliban (and al Qaeda's withdrawal into the mountains), we haven't had anything like an honest and open debate. As one of Obama's "wise men," Hamilton is well-positioned to initiate one before a new course is set (and before more troops are sent), and this piece marks a key early step in that direction.

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