Saturday, May 28, 2011

The New York 26th special election and what it means for the budget debate

By Richard K. Barry

It's been fun to watch Republicans scramble over the past week to downplay the importance of the Medicare issue in Democrat
Kathy Hochul's upset victory in the special election for New York's 26th Congressional District. For the record, Hochul won with 47% of the vote over GOP candidate Jane Corwin, who got 43% and Tea Party candidate Jack Davis, who got 9%.

My favourite conservative spin has been the
claim by Erick Erickson at REDSTATE that the results had everything to do with local New York politics and little or nothing to do with Medicare or Paul Ryan's budget plan. In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove also did his best to suggest that we shouldn't read too much into the results as any sort of supposed referendum on Medicare. Let's face it. These guys need to believe this, else they have a problem.

Yes, there was some vote splitting due to Jack Davis' third party candidacy, although it is always difficult to know where a third party candidate's votes would go had they not been in the race. Would they be split amongst other contenders, or would they just have stayed home?

The bottom line is that Republican
Chris Lee won the seat back in November, a mere seven months ago, by a margin of 73.6% to 26.4%. Everyone knows that special elections are indeed special, but those are some pretty big honkin' numbers and you typically would want to look for a defining issue to help you understand what happened when a district flips so decidedly.

So aside from who actually won and who lost, let's not forget that the Democratic vote from 2010 went up by about 20% and the aggregate conservative vote went down by about 20%. Big numbers indeed in a district that has been a stable "keep" for Republicans.

But this is all old news.

Here's some new stuff. A poll has just been released by
Democracy Corp indicating that disapproval of Republican House members is in fact surging. They write:
Republican leaders and conservative pundits have spun Democrat Kathy Hochul's upset win in New York's 26th Congressional District as exceptional - with peculiar ballot line, Tea Party independents, quality of the candidates, and Democratic message discipline. But our national poll completed Wednesday (May 25) shows that New York's 26th is not alone. It is an advanced indicator of a sharp pull back from Republicans, particularly those in the House.

Disapproval of the Republicans in the House of Representatives has surged from 46% in February to 55% in April and to a striking 59% now. Disapproval outnumbers approval two-to-one; intense disapproval from three-to-one. For the first time in more than a year, the Democrats are clearly even in the named Congressional ballot - an 8-point swing from the election. This period captured the introduction of the Republican budget plan and vote by the House - and voters do not like what they see.

There are really just a few basic truths in politics and it is remarkable how clueless Republicans have been in understanding one of them. I am almost embarrassed to repeat it, it's just so obvious, but here it is: A lot of people like the idea of lower taxes and a reduction in services as long as they don't think that it will be "their" services, "their" programs, "their" entitlements that will be cut.

When the voters in the NY-26th started to clue in that a very identifiable and important program was on the chopping block, they didn't like it. And if Democracy Corp's poll is any indication, voters in western New York are not alone.

Simple, simple, simple.

Here is where all of this goes for me: Voters need to get real about the kinds of programs, services and entitlements they think our collective public action should provide (that means government) and start to think about how we pay for it, including plans to increase much needed revenue (that means taxes).

It's one measure of how successful conservatives have been in framing the budget debate that we seldom hear quoted the sage comment by early 20th century
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."

It's easy to spin one lonely special election; let's hope this starts us on the way to reframing the budget debate across the entire country. That would be courageous.

(Cross -posted to
Lippmann's Ghost)

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Friday, May 27, 2011

This day in history - May 27, 1933: The Century of Progress World's Fair opens in Chicago

I went to the New York World's Fair in the mid-1960s. I was quite young, but I vaguely remember it. Mostly I remember that I couldn't get that insipid little tune "It's a Small World (After All)" out of my head for months afterward.

One of the best things about world fairs is the inevitable exhibitions that describe what life will be like in the future and how they always get it so incredibly wrong. Apparently the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition featured futuristic homes with the promise that personal helicopter pads would be available as an accoutrement for those so inclined.

In fact, the overall theme of the fair was technological innovation.

One interesting fact is that the first Major League Baseball All-Star Game was held at the Chicago White Sox Comiskey park in conjunction with the fair.

All in all I understand that the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 -- "A Century of Progress International Exposition" -- was a splendid and highly successful event. No doubt.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Allen West

He wasn't being crazy when he was criticizing Newt Gingrich for proposing the return of "poll tests," but he's generally one of the craziest and most extreme Republicans around, and he's been at the crazy again in recent days attacking President Obama over Israel:

In West's typical hyperbole, he said [Obama's] speech was the "beginning of the end" of Israel and mysteriously accused Obama of giving Islamists a "Pavlovian-style" reward. But in a statement quoted by the Broward County New Times [on Wednesday], West took things further than any Republican lawmaker yet, invoking Hitler and accusing Obama of "nefarious" intent toward Jews:

In reviewing history, I would say Sir Neville Chamberlain was naive in his negotiations with German Chancellor Adolph Hitler. However, when one examines the state of affairs in the Middle East, including the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation pact, increase of rocket/mortar attacks from Gaza, the definitive Hamas Charter statement vowing the destruction of Israel, and the Hamas condemnation of America for killing Osama bin Laden... I cannot attribute this incompetent statement to naivete, but rather to conscious, nefarious, and malicious intent.

Of course, this is "an ignorant or intentionally dishonest interpretation of Obama's speech and the facts of the Middle East situtation." (And, yes, he spells Hitler's name incorrectly.)

And it is simply ridiculous, if predictable from the likes of West, to suggest that Obama is anti-Israel, or that suggesting, as Obama did, that the pre-1967 borders be taking as a starting point for negotiations signals an opposition to Israel's very existence. As the New Times explains:

Obama never once said Israel ought to withdraw to its "pre-1967" borders. He said that the division of land between Israel and a future Palestinian state would take the 1967 borders as a template and would be modified by land swaps. The words "pre-1967" never passed his lips. (In his speech, Obama also roundly decried Fatah's association with Hamas. West doesn't mention this, presumably because it would tarnish Obama's new image as the Jew Killer In Chief.)

How Obama's cautious, conservative stance on Israel is "unconscionable" is anyone's guess. It's precisely the approach advocated by every American president for a generation. The only way Obama's prescription is "unconscionable" is if a two-party solution is itself "unconscionable" -- which West firmly believes. Yet, like Obama's statements of unyielding support for Israel's security and his condemnation of Hamas, this goes unmentioned in his remarks.

And so you see, West is anti-Obama but also anti-Palestinian, and so he's attacking Obama, and doing so by lying about what the president actually said and actually supports, for working towards a sustainable peace in the region that includes not just a secure Israel but a Palestinian state that is itself similarly secure in its territory -- and not just "peace" on Likudnik Israel's terms, a "peace" that would allow Israel to keep all the post-1967 land it occupies.

A genuine peace agreement will require concessions on both sides. Obama knows that. But West, like Netanyahu, and like many in the American pro-Israel lobby, refuses to compromise, or to concede anything at all, which he crazily likens to appeasing Hitler. And that means he opposes peace, or at least that he doesn't give a damn about the Palestinians. Given his history of scapegoating Muslims, it's hardly surprising that that's the case.

(photo - with more on West's craziness)

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Palin on the bus, back in the spotlight, desperate for attention

Following up on my post from yesterday -- "So is Sarah Palin running, or what?" -- I should note that signs are indeed pointing to YES.

And the latest sign is that she's embarking on a pre-campaignish bus tour:

In a move designed to propel her closer to a presidential run, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will set out on a bus tour of the country on Sunday, making stops at symbolic sites along the way.

"Starting this weekend, Sarah Palin will embark on a ‘One Nation' tour of historical sites that were key to the formation, survival, and growth of the United States of America," SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford said in a statement to RealClearPolitics. "The tour will originate in Washington, D.C. It will proceed north up the east coast."

Details were still being hammered out on Thursday, but sources indicated to RCP that the bus tour is expected to last several weeks and will be divided into separate geographical stretches for logistical reasons.

Members of Palin's immediate family are expected to join her on the trip, which will eventually take her through key early-voting states.

Now, look, I admit, I've long thought there was no way she was running. I've said that over and over again. It just didn't make any sense. Doesn't she have too much to lose? If she's all about cashing in on her stardom, which she seems to be, how would it benefit her to expose herself to the rigours of another political campaign -- one that would expose here even more as a vapid, self-absorbed fool? We saw how that went in 2008.

But, you know, maybe the problem was that I was overthinking it, and not looking at it the way she might be looking at it. Consider:

One, she lives in a bubble, surrounded by sycophantic admirers who prop up the Sarah Palin myth, make her feel like she's the greatest person in the world, and tell her, one assumes, that America desperately needs her. No matter that she would likely get crushed to smithereens in a general election, particularly against Obama, and that's if she were even to make it that far, which she wouldn't, as the relatively saner elements of the GOP would rise up to make sure she didn't win the nomination. In her world, she's a winner and will always be a winner. Even when she loses.

Two, it may be that she has more to lose not running than running, the reverse of what I thought. It's clear that her star is fading. She has her devoted followers, of course, but she's no longer a major go-to figure anymore, or at least not the way she was post-2008, up to last year's midterm elections.

There are a number of reasons for this:

-- More and more people see her as a vapid, self-absorbed fool.

-- Many on the right and throughout the Republican Party either dislike her immensely or wish that she would go away, including, it would seem, the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, not to mention the entirety of the old-guard party establishment.

-- Major events both at home and abroad have overtaken her and exposed her further as utterly unserious and possibly even dangerous, and without anything of value to contribute, events such as the Giffords shooting, the pro-democracy uprisings throughout the Middle East, the military intervention in Libya, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the ongoing budget talks (with the GOP now the party of Paul Ryan, not Palin).

-- And, what's more, as we focus more and more on 2012, what's the point of talking about her? She's been eclipsed by Republicans who are in the race or who otherwise have been major figures on the national stage, figures like Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Mitch Daniels, and Michele Bachmann.

In other words, she's lost the spotlight, and what is she without it? It's not clear that her brand is suffering yet, but it will, eventually, unless she jumps back in. She can do that by agitating for the Tea Party, as she did last year, and by trying to present herself as a Republican kingmaker, but there other Tea Party Republicans who are far better spokespersons for a right-wing agenda, like Rand Paul, who actually holds office and isn't just a Facebook-based bobblehead, and her hold on the base just isn't what it once was, so it's hardly clear that she can wield all that much influence over party matters anymore.

So what is she to do? Well, run for president. Makes sense, no? She won't win, as I said, but even in defeat she'd recover some of what she's lost. Her star would burn brighter again, if only for a time, and that's what it seems to be all about for her. It's fading, her stardom, but she could extend it by running. Or even -- as we're seeing now -- just by giving signs of a possible run, by releasing a hagiographic documentary, by getting on a bus and showing up where it matters. Notice how she's back in the news? Notice how we're writing about her again? This is what she wants. This is what she needs. This is what feeds her. Like any celebrity whose time is almost up, she's desperate for more, for the spotlight to shine brightly once more, for all the attention that fame brings. This is why she's back, and why she's dipping her toes into the pool.

And if and when she loses? Well, so what? She'll have been martyred and her admirers will be all the more devoted. And she'll be able to blame the loss on her usual targets, the coastal elites, the "lamestream" media, even the GOP establishment, anyone and everything beyond her bubble of self-aggrandizing delusion.

You really want back in, Sarah? Go for it.

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If they're for it, we're against it.

By Capt. Fogg

The natural state of men, before they were joined in society, was a war, and not simply, but a war of all against all.

Thomas Hobbes -

Scanning the Facebook page of my congresscritter, Tom Rooney (R-FL) I find the real interest not to be the simplistic banalities and the strained attempts to generate outrage against Barack Obama. It's not the continuing effort by Rooney to portray the assistance being given NATO's actions in Syria as a constitutional violation; it's more about the truly demented calls for impeachment by the people who post there; calls that remain in view without comment by Mr. Rooney, who claims that he maintains the page to be more "in touch" with the sentiments of his constituents rather than as a tool to promote irrational rage for political purposes.

If he has some constituents other than me who disagree with the "Oh I just hate, hate him" and "Oh he just makes me sick" and the "he uses the constitution to line his bird cage" swamp dwellers, they must indeed like me, be very reluctant to post comments there under their real names. He's created a milieu quite hostile to reason and reasonable people offering constructive criticism.

Yes, of course there are many questions about the legality of George W. Bush's legacy, some of which -- too much of which -- remains in place, but the War on Obama is not really based on his alleged and often misrepresented constitutional infractions, and we know it because they weren't presented as such during the previous administration and indeed were eagerly supported by the reactionary beasts who hang out on the Rooney page to congratulate themselves and outdo each other on the size of their hate. Indeed, that place is a microcosm of our war against ourselves, a war of all against all.

It's not that I like Senator Rand Paul or his familiar pose of principled outrage, but I am indeed on his side when it comes to addressing the real constitutional outrage of the Patriot Act. I have to smile at what may be the end of his naivete because it isn't the Democrats at war with the Leahy-Paul Amendment, designed to allow greater oversight of ever increasing Government warrantless surveillance powers under that cynically named act. It's the Republicans supporting precisely the kind of power they pretend to oppose while posturing as libertarians to the frothy-mouthed and furious rabble.
“Unfortunately, what we’re finding now is that the Democrats have agreed to allow me to have amendments but my own party is refusing to allow me to debate or present my amendments.”

Said Paul. Imagine that.

But as the man said, the joining of people into a society serves to prevent the chaos of nature, and I have to ask myself whether the effort to portray anything social or designed for the common good as the unqualified evil of Socialism, did not have the promotion of that very bellum omnium contra omnes; everyone at war with everyone and every man for himself as a purpose. Perhaps when everyone is against everyone, such things as consistent viewpoints are illusory as is anything resembling principle. If you're for it, I'm against it may be as close as we can get.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Disney drops plans to trademark "SEAL Team 6"

Just to close the loop on this one, having written about it earlier in the month, I'm pleased to report that the Walt Disney Company announced yesterday that it was going to withdraw its application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to be granted exclusive rights to use the term "SEAL Team 6" on a range of items that would include clothing and games.

SEAL Team 6 was of course the military outfit responsible for finding and killing Osama bin Laden. Just a couple of days after the raid some genius in the Disney marketing department thought it might be a fine idea to cheapen that name by putting it on merchandise.

The quote from Disney that accompanied their decision was that they pulled the application "out of deference to the Navy."

According to a Wall Street Journal report:

Navy officers privately expressed relief Wednesday that the company had chosen to retract its application, saving the organization from a long trademark battle.

The Navy first fired back at Disney with their own filing for trademarks on the phrases "SEAL Team" and "Navy SEALs," on May 13, several days after Disney's application.

I will say that I don't have a fancy MBA in marketing from one them there prestigious Ivy League schools, or from any school for that matter, but I kind of thought that this idea was a stinker from the moment I heard it. Seriously. The Disney organization has to be one of the greatest marketing success stories in the history of capitalism. How could they have been so tone deaf?

And the idea of doing battle in court with the Navy, after they emerged as national heroes for taking out bin Laden, that would have played really well in the press. I'm pretty sure Mickey would have been out of work in short order if something like that were to have happened.

Here's the topper:

Disney's intentions were misunderstood, according to a person familiar with the entertainment company's plans. Disney, which owns the ABC television network, is considering a TV show about an elite squad, similiar to other fictional drama about real-life arms of the military, such as "NCIS" and "JAG."

Yeah, right. Looks to me like this mess got handed from Disney's marketing department to its public relations department in a hurry. The whole thing is positively goofy. (Sorry for that one, but I had to).

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

So is Sarah Palin running, or what?

The Times looks at recent developments that suggest maybe. The purchase of a new home in Arizona. A new hagiographic movie about Palin that is set to be rolled out in Iowa. Ongoing enthusiasm "beyond the Beltway" among her supporters.

The GOP establishment, and particularly those Republicans still with a trace of sanity (and a hope of winning), are clearly against her, but sanity is in short supply out there:

"All indications are that she will be in -- her supporters have an intuition about it," said Jeff Jorgensen, chairman of the Republican Party of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, where Ms. Palin came in second in a straw poll last week. "People are looking for somebody, a Ronald Reagan reincarnate, who does not seem to be out there yet."

Palin as Reagan 2.0? Please.

But Republicans are taking a look at their embarrassing field of unelectables and getting more and more desperate. Some may reconcile themselves to Romney or Pawlenty, while others may push for someone like Huntsman to get in, or maybe Giuliani or Pataki, but the right won't be happy with any of them and is already looking to someone like Bachmann to advance its agenda. And, of course, there are those, a hardcore group of admirers, who think that Palin really is the savior.

It's been my view all along that Palin won't run and I'm sticking with that now. She just has too much to lose, specifically whatever shred of credibility she has left. And yet she lives in a bubble surrounded by sycophants, and what if those sycophants convince her that America needs her and that it would be to her own greater glory were she to run? Or what if she thinks that the best way to extend her brand, a brand that has been in decline as she has become more and more irrelevant (even on Fox News), and to make even more money with an extended brand, is to run? When you look at it that way, even a crushing loss could benefit her in the long run, as she would be hailed as a martyr, with blame for her electoral demise heaped on the usual targets, the un-American coastal elites and the "lamestream media."

All of which is to say, I don't know. I thought I did, but I don't. Given how utterly self-absorbed and irrational she is, if also calculatingly focused on profiting off her brand and to that end keeping herself in the spotlight, it's hard to tell which way she'll go.

Just know that whatever she decides, it'll all be about Sarah Palin. In her world, that's all that matters.

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Living in pain is easy; dying with dignity is hard -- a review of How to Die in Oregon

By Edward Copeland

In 1994, Oregon became the first state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to the terminally ill so they wouldn't have to endure all sorts of crippling pain and the assorted loss of functions and powers that turned lives into something that could hardly be called living anymore. Tonight, HBO premieres the great documentary How to Die in Oregon, which personalizes the law, telling the stories of several Oregonians who weigh the option of whether or not to end their suffering. It's a powerful, emotional film that hits particularly close to home for me. It's also something everyone should see, especially in a time when compassion and rationality on a wide variety of issues seem to be in short supply.

Sometimes it's difficult when reviewing a movie — narrative or documentary — such as How to Die in Oregon that you know will deal with issues that are important to you. It makes critical distance harder to have. On the other hand, if you feel the film (or play or TV show for that matter) botches the presentation, you're liable to be harsher than you would be otherwise. Thankfully, that's not the case with How to Die in Oregon.

The documentary opens with a home movie of Roger Sagner, who became the 343rd person to have his suffering ended legally after the passage of Oregon's law. As his lethal dose of Seconal gets mixed for him, his volunteer from Compassion and Choices, the advocacy group that helps most people with their final act, asks him the two questions that they are required to: "Do you know you have the right to change your mind? and "What will this (drink) do to you?"

Sagner answers very quickly, "It will kill me and make me happy." He then gives his last words, first of love to his gathered family members, and then his final statement:

I thank the wisdom of the voters of the state of the Oregon for allowing me the honor of doing myself in on my own volition to solve my own problems.

What I wouldn't give if the wisdom of Oregon voters could somehow be bottled and slipped into the entire country's water supply, since we have a short supply of rational-thinking adults. Oregon also legalized medical marijuana, which has shown great progress in easing the pain for people such as myself who have multiple sclerosis, but then again 15 other states and the District of Columbia have joined Oregon on that law. Unfortunately, I'm stuck in a state which has a governor and legislature doing its damnedest to drag us back to the 19th century, prior to its and which on the last General Election ballot had as a priority a state question making sure that no state judge used Sharia law in making rulings.

When Oregon voters approved its Death With Dignity law, only the countries of Switzerland and the Netherlands had legalized the practice. Since then, forward-thinking voters in Washington state and Montana also have approved such laws. Worldwide, Luxembourg is the only country to legalize it since. Worldwide, debates go on everywhere, but they always run into the same opposition, usually from churches and the religious, who most of all should watch How to Die in Oregon and maybe they'd understand this is about compassion — and isn't compassion a basic tenet of most religions?

The film was directed, produced and photographed by Peter D. Richardson and won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentaries at this year's Sundance Film Festival. I don't know its competition, but How to Die in Oregon definitely proves award-worthy. Richardson establishes an amazingly intimate rapport with the film's interview subjects. His main focus stays with a 54-year-old woman named Cody Curtis who successfully beats liver cancer once only to have it return stronger and with a six-month death sentence attached, making Curtis face the idea of taking the lethal dose when the cancer returns.

Given an expiration date and knowing what kind of pain she faces, Cody decides that she won't let cancer and doctors control what remains of her life and she sets a date to take the lethal dose, which gives her an unexpected sort of freedom, even though her entire family isn't happy about it, especially her son Thomas, who asks his mom if she won't struggle for herself, can't she struggle a little for him?

Thomas moves past that, but that's what prevents laws such as Oregon's from being the law everywhere — friends and family, partly out of love but out of selfishness as well — can't bring themselves to accept the idea of their parent or child or whomever choosing to die, even when they witness the amount of pain that person goes through for long periods of time and know deep inside that it only get worse and that person's life will not end well under any scenario.

Before we meet Cody, the film introduces us to Sue Potter, a seven-year volunteer for Compassion and Choices and one of the group's most active. We see her make one of her first stops to a man lying in be, obviously having a particularly bad day. Potter explains to him that she's there to talk with him because he's contacted the group about ending his life.

"End my life? I'm already in life," he tells her. "I've already ended life. I want to exit life."

Potter explains what it's like for people who get to these conditions. "These people have lost so much control and they'll tell us repeatedly that they want the medicine for control."

The actual process requires filling out a form with the extremely long title REQUEST FOR MEDICINE TO END MY LIFE IN A HUMANE AND DIGNIFIED MATTER. It requires the signatures of two witnesses attesting that the person seeking the lethal dose is of sound mind.

As Cody Curtis says at one point in the documentary about having the lethal prescription in her house, should she need it:

It's very comforting to know they're here. I don't have to go through any more bureaucracy... They're here when I decide... It's not like when I'm in the hospital and they tell you, "You have to have another CAT Scan" or "We're taking you down for another procedure." It's my choice when to take them and whether to take them. My volunteer has told me I'll know and I'll just have to trust her on that. I'll know when my life isn't worth living anymore.

While the film keeps Curtis as its center, it has plenty of time for sidetrips to other dying people, interview subjects such as Derek Humphry, author of the once controversial book Final Exit, as well as Seattle's Nancy Niedzielski who leads the campaign for a similar law in Washington.

Niedzielski's story really illustrates the need for such laws. Her husband Randy was diagnosed with brain cancer. Nothing doctors could give him would alleviate the pain and the condition got so bad sometimes his eyes would literally pop out of their sockets. Randy finally decided to end treatment, since none of it was going to save his life or ease his pain. He went to a hospice and asked if they could help him do what they could to end his life quickly, but the hospice workers said they couldn't because that was illegal in the state of Washington. Randy told them that he would move to Oregon so he could take advantage of the Death With Dignity law, only he was told that he was so weak and near death by then that he wouldn't survive long enough to establish Oregon residency, a requirement of the law. His last request was that his wife change Washington's law and she helped lead the campaign for two years until its passage in 2008.

You get to see the usual opposition as when Nancy serves on a phone bank and gets an opponent of the law's passage and actually challenges the caller on what so many people don't seem to understand on any issue: They are free to think it's wrong, but why do they think their belief should be imposed on everyone else? Why is the idea of choice (and I'm not using it in terms of the abortion debate here) so revolting to them? You also see Nancy interviewed for a radio program where the host calls what she is seeking "assisted suicide," a term which offends Nancy and most others who support Death With Dignity. Nancy tells him that suicide is when someone who is otherwise healthy and would live for many more years decides to end his or her life because he or she is clinically depressed. Unfortunately, in the 47 states that don't have this law, that's how they treat people who are in chronic pain: as if they are just depressed and need shrinks and medication, like a teenage boy whose girlfriend just dumped him.

It also has something to do with what you hear in passing in a segment that plays excepts of the Washington debate on talk radio where a man talks about having to be placed in long-term care and how it's eating up his inheritance. Not that I ever had a fortune in savings, but I've watched it evaporate thanks to my medical costs. It doesn't help that my sole income is Social Security Disability Insurance and for two years running, Social Security recipients have been denied cost-of-living increases under the argument that the rate of inflation hasn't been high enough to justify it. Of course, this hasn't prevented Congress from giving themselves cost-of-living hikes to their six-figure salaries both of those years.

Then there is Medicare. Part A the "hospital part" is free, but if I wanted Part B, I would have to pay a premium which would be deducted from my meager Social Security check. On top of that, one of my doctors won't take Medicare patients and others are threatening not to because of talk that their fees might be reduced. Therefore, I didn't take Part B, staying on the health insurance that was funded by my employer who still considers me an employee on long-term disability, even though I receive no salary. The government tries to blackmail you into taking Part B, telling you that for each year you don't sign up, the premium will increase a certain percentage for every year you didn't. As far the increasing number of doctors who refuse Medicare patients, Lawrence O'Donnell pointed out last week that in 1960, before Medicare, the average family doctor's salary was $10,000. Just four years after Medicare's enactment, that average had increased to $24,000. Today, that average is something around $130,000 a year. For specialists, it's about $333,000 a year. And these poor babies fear cuts. By the way, Part A, the "hospital part" only covers you if you are admitted to a hospital. If you have outpatient procedures at a hospital or are taken to an emergency room at a hospital, that doesn't count. That's Part B.

The entire health-care industry, with the government as co-conspirators, opposes laws such as Death With Dignity because they want to bleed everyone dry first. The system for people who are chronically ill but not terminal actually is set up so that you really can't get financial help unless you are broke first. That's what they want: It's how the system is set up. Pardon my digression. I'm writing this to praise a wonderful documentary on an important topic.

Oregon isn't immune from this either. How to Die in Oregon also tells the infuriating story of Randy Stroup, a 53-year-old uninsured man diagnosed with prostate cancer who had to depend on the Oregon Health Plan. After his first treatment, his doctor recommended stronger chemotherapy and the health plan sent him a letter denying the treatment, but giving him a list of other options, including the Death With Dignity Act. This was a man who wasn't terminal and could be saved.

"To think they'd put a price tag on my life," Stroup said, "by saying they'd pay to kill me but they wouldn't pay to help me." Sounds very reminiscent of when Arizona recently cut their program for people awaiting transplants. One way or the other, it all comes down to money in the end.

The center of How to Die in Oregon and much of its power belongs to Cody Curtis' story. After setting a date to take the medication, she find a happiness and freedom. Instead of everything revolving around her impending death, it becomes about life again and she ends up not taking it on the date she set and actually living beyond the six months she was told and with few signs of the pain she feared. It's as if she's been given a gift and gets more time with her husband and children, but eventually the cancer does kick in with its pain and complications. As she had said before after her brush with the disease, it's a relief to know the medication already is there in her house when she needs it and it's up to her to choose when that time is. Director Richardson's choice in filming the conclusion of Cody's story proves both perfect for the documentary and for Cody as well.

From beginning to end, Richardson's compelling documentary takes you on an emotional roller coaster. It would have been easy to turn How to Die in Oregon into a propaganda piece supporting Death With Dignity laws, but he just lets his subjects talk and the audience has the experience. No embellishment is necessary.

How to Die in Oregon premieres on HBO tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific and 7 p.m. Central. Truly, it should not be missed. 

(Cross-posted at Edward Copeland on Film.)

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The aftermath of NY-26, looking ahead to 2012

A few quick hits as we all try to sort out the meaning of yesterday's Democratic victory in New York's heavily Republican 26th Congressional District:

Politico: "Have Democrats cracked the code for 2012?"

Nate Silver, NYT/538: "Six Months After Midterm Disaster, Hopeful Signs for Democrats."

Steve Benen sums it up: "What we saw in Buffalo was a test -- how is the public responding to the GOP's far-right agenda in Congress? It's a test Republicans failed."

Here's what I wrote last night, just after the race was called for Hochul:

Sure, a number of factors went into Hochul's victory, but, again, a lot of it had to do with the Ryan plan and, more broadly, the Republicans right-wing agenda. That's what Republicans were touting. That's what they were making so public. That's what they wanted to define them. Well, it failed -- once people learned about it, they recoiled. And in this heavily Republican district in Western New York, a Democrat, helped a little bit but not much by a Tea Party challenger taking votes away from the Republican, has swept to victory.

There's no guarantee, of course, that this is how things will play out in November 2012, and a whole lot can change between now and then, but that doesn't mean this wasn't a hugely significant and revealing result that may just be an indicator of things to come.


And, of course, the Senate yesterday rejected Paul Ryan's budget, which is now Republican orthodoxy.

The vote was 57-40 against, with five Republicans (Brown, Collins, Snowe, and Murkowski, who oppose it, and Paul, who thinks it doesn't go far enough) siding with the Democratic majority. 

What this means is that Republicans voted 41 to 4 to destroy Medicare. As TPM's Brian Beutler observes:

[T]he roll call illustrates that Medicare privatization -- along with deep cuts to Medicaid and other social services -- remains the consensus position of the GOP despite the growing political backlash against them.

And they'll be running on this in 2012 (while attacking the Democrats from the left and arguing that they're the ones who will protect Medicare from Democratic cuts, as utterly dishonest as this would be). 

Good times ahead.

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Tiffany, lobbying, and the corruption of the Gingriches

So you remember that huge no-interest revolving charge account Tiffany gave Newt Gingrich? Well, even with Tiffany's explanation and The Newt's dismissals, the story just doesn't make any sense. It's still not clear how it worked and why the Gingriches needed it (other than to buy lots of really, really expensive jewelry, though they surely have enough money of their own not to need credit there), nor why they seem to have had the account in place, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Tiffany, over two years, more than the usual 12-month period for Tiffany's "interest-free borrowing."

Regardless, there's actually much more to the story -- the smoking gun, if you will -- and it makes the Gingriches look even worse. Not just avarious and conspicuously consumptive but unethical and corrupt:

At the same time Tiffany & Co. was extending Callista (Bisek) Gingrich a virtual interest-free loan of tens of thousands of dollars, the diamond and silverware firm was spending big bucks to influence mining policy in Congress and in agencies over which the House Agriculture Committee -- where she worked -- had jurisdiction, official records show.

Filings by Tiffany's lobbyist, Cassidy & Co., and other government records show that the firm's spending on "mining law and mine permitting-related issues" in Congress, as well as the Forest Service, the Interior Department, and Interior's Bureau of Land Management shot up sharply between during the period when Callista Gingrich was chief clerk at the House Agriculture Committee.

Tiffany's annual lobbying expenditures rose from about $100,000 to $360,000 between 2005 and 2009, according to records assembled by the Center for Responsive Politics,  a nonpartisan government watchdog organization.

In other words, it looks like Tiffany may have been paying off Callista Gingrich, a major player on Capitol Hill (particularly in terms of Tiffany's lobbying interests), with what was essentially an interest-free loan for her and Newt.

Newt is denying any wrongdoing, which must mean he thinks there's nothing wrong with a company paying off (or giving gifts to) a Congressional staffer who just happens to be working for the committee the company just happens to be lobbying.

He says it wasn't preferential treatment. But it's pretty obvious it was blatant corruption. (And, yes, he really does seem to hold American democracy in such contempt.)


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Giffords shooter deemed incompetent, won't stand trial (yet)


A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Jared L. Loughner was not mentally competent to stand trial on charges that he opened fire at a constituent event for Representative Gabrielle Giffords in January, killing six and injuring her and 12 others.

The ruling by Judge Larry A. Burns of Federal District Court suspends the court proceedings against Mr. Loughner while the suspect, who experts said has schizophrenia, undergoes treatment at a federal psychiatric facility in Springfield, Mo.  

It's disappointing, I suppose, that Loughner will now face treatment instead of a trial, but it's good that the system allows for such determinations. In this case, we can assume that the judge did not make his ruling lightly.

For more, see Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft.

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Dead candidacy walking

By Carl 

Do you hear the deafening silence generated about the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates?

Indeed, the only buzz about anybody from the right lately has been from two people who are most distinctly UNcandidates: Donald Trump and Sarah Palin.

Newt Gingrich could have generated the kind of buzz that a nominee engenders. He really does have a pretty substantial resume for a candidate, on face: Speaker of the House, author, professor, engineered the Contract With America which was one of the biggest political gambles in history and one on which he placed a winning bet (none of this speaks to the value and/or quality of that resume, you will note.)

Which makes the curious collapse of this shnook's current candidacy all the more mystifying.

The latest? A charge of graft has been levelled at Callista Gingrich, some of which has landed on Newt himself.

Here's the curious bit: how clumsily his staff have tried to spin this: 

Update: I just spoke to Newt Gingrich’s press secretary, Rick Tyler. He said that the deal the Gingriches got was the same one that Tiffany’s offers to anybody else: interest free financing for 12 months. And that all debt with Tiffany’s was paid off within a 12-month period. If there was hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt outstanding for a second consecutive year, which there was, then that was new debt, associated with new jewelry purchases.

Now, as others have said in other places with respect to this story, no one is telling Newt how to spend his money. He wants to buy a half million in jewelry for his trophy wife, that's fine. So is paying for plastic surgery (if you look closely at her). Nothing wrong with that. It's the American way.

What IS wrong is this:

At the same time Tiffany & Co. was extending Callista (Bisek) Gingrich a virtual interest-free loan of tens of thousands of dollars, the diamond and silverware firm was spending big bucks to influence mining policy in Congress and in agencies over which the House Agriculture Committee -- where she worked -- had jurisdiction, official records show.

Filings by Tiffany's lobbyist, Cassidy & Co., and other government records show that the firm's spending on "mining law and mine permitting-related issues" in Congress, as well as the Forest Service, the Interior Department, and Interior's Bureau of Land Management shot up sharply between during the period when Callista Gingrich was chief clerk at the House Agriculture Committee. 

Spy Talk's figures are grossly understated, but you get the drift. There's more than the hint of quid pro quo here. Tiffany does yeoman business in silver. Callista Gingrich's golddigging appetite is for Tiffany jewelry. Newt swaps his wife's work for a couple of diamond necklaces, with no-interest financing.

Now perhaps it's true. I have a credit rating that would qualify me for one of those loans, and I do get such courtesies from other places I shop, like Apple. I don't think I've blown $500,000 on any of those, though.

Now, this story could easily have gone away quietly. You point out that it's not her job any longer, this thing ended in 2006, that under a Gingrich presidency she'll be under much more scrutiny, and that she will never ever do it again. Or words to that effect. People had problems with Hillary being an advocate and a feminist and while she never got around to baking cookies (she did publish her recipe, tho), you go the hint that she wouldn't cause a whole lot of trouble for Bill.

Which proved more true than vice versa.

The kicker, in my opinion, the deathblow in the great videogame that is the Presidential primary process, was Newt saying this on Sunday: 

The way Mr. Gingrich sees it, as he said on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, he's "a guy running for president who pays all of his bills," who lives within his budget and who is in fact "very frugal."

The way some voters out in the rest of America might see it, he's a guy who paid more for jewelry than some people pay for their houses. 

Precisely. No one begrudges Trump his wealth, for example, even if it is built on debt and on the forgiveness of Americans whose taxes subsidized his bankruptcies. He owned or owns airlines, casinos, cologne brands, real estate of untold value, golf courses... well, you get the idea.

Hell, Trump Tower is next door to Tiffany!

Trump would never try to imagine himself frugal or buffalo someone into thinking he was (he might be cheap, but that's a negotiating ploy). 

Add to this faux pas of Gingrich all the anger he engendered from opposing Paul Ryan's plan (and the echoes down the corridor that rejection will have in the campaign next year, whether he is a candidate or not) and any number of paper cuts he's self-inflicted (including his questionable marital fidelity), and you're looking at a man who is dying from the tiny little nicks and dings that become magnified in a campaign run. 

Dead. Candidate. Walking. 

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Major Democratic donor criticizes (and will not contribute to) Obama over Israel

As the neocon Commentary (or is it Dysentery?) is (gleefully) reporting, Haim Saban, a major Democratic donor, "has indicated that he will not contribute to President Obama's reelection campaign in 2012, because of the administration's stance on Israel":

"President Obama has raised so much money and will raise so much money through the Internet, more than anybody before him. And he frankly doesn't, I believe, need any of my donations," said Saban.

"I'm very perplexed as to why the president, who's been to Cairo, to Saudi Arabia, to Turkey, has not made a stop in Israel and spoken to the Israeli people," he continued. "I believe that the president can clarify to the Israeli people what his positions are on Israel and calm them down. Because they are not calm right now."

He's probably right that Obama doesn't need his financial support, but what does he object to, that Obama hasn't visited Israel? Okay, fine, he should go to Israel sometime, but the real issue is that Obama refuses to play along with the right-wing pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., that is, to kowtow before Netanyahu and Likud, and their American allies, who seek "peace" only on terms that penalize the Palestinians and otherwise keep them in a state of submission before an enlarged Israeli state that keeps the land it has come to occupy.

Again, all the president said in his speech last week was that Israel's pre-1967 borders should be taken as a starting point for negotiations. That's it, but it was enough to enrage Netanyahu and others on the right and to turn Congress into a bunch of shameless weaklings applauding Israel's, and the Israeli lobby's, demands.

Obama deserves criticism, perhaps, for not doing enough to work for a settled peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but his position is clearly aimed at securing such a peace by acknowledging that concessions are required on both sides. Of course, Netanyahu and his allies, both in Israel and the U.S., refuse to make any concessions, or at least the sort of concessions that could actually bring about peace, which is why they are obstacles to peace regardless of whatever dishonest rhetoric they may spew.

If there is to be any progress in the region, and any long-term security for Israel, it is essential that extremist ideology of all kind be rejected in favour of a more realistic understanding of what it may take to reach a compromise that, while not necessarily perfect, will be acceptable for the most part to both sides. It's too bad Saban doesn't seem to get that.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ed Schultz calls Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut," conservatives freak out

This one's pretty simple.

While I can't stand right-wing talk-radio extremist Laura Ingraham, it was clearly wrong for MSNBC's Ed Schultz, also on talk radio, to call her a "right-wing slut."

There are many things Ingraham could justifiably be called, but this was, to say the least, highly inappropriate.

I wouldn't go so far as to say it amounts to misogyny, but there's no excuse for it. It's obviously far worse than calling Republicans "bastards," as he did earlier this year. Such ad hominem slurs have no place in our society, including in our political discourse. Schultz should have known better, and spoken better.

And it was clearly right for MSNBC to suspend Schultz, if only for a week, which seems like an appropriate amount of time for such an offence.


It is ridiculous that some on the right are trying to score partisan political points by using Schultz's remark to attack their opponents more broadly. Ingraham herself called it misogyny, as did Michelle Malkin.

When did these two ever care about misogyny? Or about insensitive speech generally?

How typical that conservatives go all politically correct when it suits them, that is, when someone on the left says something inappropriate, even just a stupid and fleeting remark, while excusing all manner of inappropriate (sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.) speech uttered by the likes of, say, Rush Limbaugh, or countless others on the right, where trafficking in bigotry is widespread?


Schultz deserves his punishment and should be ashamed of himself. But the right shouldn't be allowed to turn this into a weapon to attack the left and cover up its own proclivities. If you really want to hear bigotry, after all, you know where to turn.

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Elephant Dung #33: Snowe and Collins to vote NO on Ryan budget plan

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see
here. For previous entries, see here.)

As the recent Gingrich vs. Ryan brouhaha revealed, the Republican wunderkind's budget plan, including its Medicare-slashing component, has become, despite its widespread unpopularity, Republican orthodoxy from which deviation/dissent is not tolerated. (If you do happen to dissent even just a smidge, the party's Bolsheviks will do their utmost to purge you from their ranks.)

And yet it's obvious that many Republicans are having their doubts. The result in NY-26 yesterday, in a way a referendum on Ryan's plan that was a resounding NO, shows that Republicans are vulnerable, and many are distancing themselves from the plan, if not outright opposing it already. Fear of voter revolt, it seems, may just overcome the party whip.

And that appears to be especially true in Maine:

Maine's Republican senators will vote against the House Republican 2012 budget authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, with Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe in opposition to the House GOP-proposed Medicare changes.

Snowe confirmed her opposition [yesterday] afternoon during a Capitol Hill interview, while Collins reiterated a position she first made known last month.

Senate Democratic leaders are expected to call up the House GOP budget for a Senate floor vote later this week, probably Thursday. Collins and Snowe join a small but growing group of Republican senators – including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and possibly Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – who have announced they will vote against the proposal to partially privatize Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors, and hand over authority to run Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor, completely to the states in the form of a block grant program. 

To be fair, both Collins and Snowe are on the more moderate, more sane side of the party and aren't exactly the sort of right-wing hardliners who have been falling head-over-heals for Ryan. And Snowe, who is facing a Tea Party challenge in 2012, would seem to have every reason to reach out to the right, but isn't. So maybe, just maybe, this is a matter of principle for them, not political opportunism.

Still, what we're seeing here, and not just in Maine, is what I'll call The Great Republican Exodus of 2012. It isn't really exodus from the party but rather exodus from the new party orthodoxy, from the new right-wing Republican mainstream. As more and more Republicans come to see how unpopular the Ryan plan is, and how vulnerable it makes them, more and more of them will do what Collins and Snowe and Murkowski and Brown are doing (and what it looked like Gingrich was doing), which is rejecting it as way too extreme.

Yes, this too is opportunism. The fear of a voter revolt, of losing moderates and independents and possibly even losing safe Republican seats, apparently outweighs, for them, the fear of a Tea Party challenge and of being attacked by their fellow Republicans and in the conservative media for being un-Republican and anti-American.

Still, it's the sort of opportunism that makes them look respectable, and obviously more appealing to voters in states like Maine and Massachusetts (if not necessarily Alaska). This will be one of the dominant stories over the next year and a half, this divide in the Republican Party between those on Ryan's side and those who, for whatever reason, have had enough, with a large gray area in between for those who want to hedge their bets and have it both ways.


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Photos of the Day: Tornado devastation in Joplin, Missouri

From The Atlantic, images of some truly horrendous destruction, the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in at least the past 60 years. It's hard to know what to say.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Rob Woodall

Speaking at a town hall back home, Rep. Woodall (R-GA) basically told a constituent worried about possible cuts to Medicare to go fuck herself:

"The private corporation that I retired from does not give medical benefits to retirees," the woman told the congressman in video captured by a local Patch reporter in Dacula, Ga.

"Hear yourself, ma'am. Hear yourself," Woodall told the woman. "You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, 'When do I decide I'm going to take care of me?'"

Large portions of the crowd responded enthusiastically to the congressman's barb, with some giving him a standing ovation, underscoring the fierce divisions within the electorate.

This apparently is one place where slashing Medicare is popular -- or at least among Republicans.

Seriously, though how is this about someone like Woodall taking care of himself? As a Congressman, he has excellent health insurance. But what about this poor woman? According to Woodall, she shouldn't rely on the government, just herself.

Ohhhhhhh. So that's it!

I had no idea one's health was a matter of choice. I also had no idea that health insurance was not just available to everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions or any other factors, but affordable even to a senior likely on limited income.

I'm not sure "crazy" is the right word here. Woodall, a good and loyal Republican, is obvously an ignorant, insensitive bastard.

(Karoli has more at C&L, as does Steve Benen at Political Animal.)


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