Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sen. Franken: Supreme Court's Judicial Activism Reverses Individual Rights

Speaking to the Judiciary Committee at the vote on the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Senator Al Franken (D) of Minnesota eloquently recounted the Supreme Court's judicial activism. 

Sotomayor's candidacy, Franken said, "comes at a critical moment for the Supreme Court." The current Supreme Court, he asserted, repeatedly has "struck down and questioned longstanding critical protections for Americans," including reversing the protection of women's health in the regulation of reproductive rights; almost overturning critical portions of the Voting Rights Act; reversing the ban on price-fixing under the Sherman Act; making it difficult to sue for age discrimination in the workplace; and moving toward overturning campaign finance law under the Tillman Act.

Franken accurately declared, "This is judicial activism." He specified that the Court is willing to overturn Congress and the Court's previous rulings to achieve its ends. Franken supported Sotomayor as a fair, objective judge who will stand against such activism.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Remembering Merce Cunningham, Giant Of Modern American Dance

Merce Cunningham, who revolutionized modern American dance choreography, died on Sunday in New York City at the age of 90. The obituary that appeared in the New York Times presented a detailed portrait of his groundbreaking and influential career. A few excerpts:

Mr. Cunningham ranks among the foremost figures of artistic modernism and among the few who have transformed the nature and status of dance theater, visionaries like Isadora Duncan, Serge Diaghilev, Martha Graham and George Balanchine.

In his works, independence was central: dancers were often alone even in duets or ensembles, and music and design would act as environments, sometimes hostile ones. His movement — startling in its mixture of staccato and legato elements, and unusually intense in its use of torso, legs and feet — abounded in non sequiturs.

In his final years, while still known as avant-garde, he was almost routinely hailed as the world’s greatest living choreographer. Mr. Cunningham had also been a nonpareil dancer. The British ballet teacher Richard Glasstone maintains that the three greatest dancers he ever saw were Fred Astaire, Margot Fonteyn and Mr. Cunningham. He was American modern dance’s equivalent of Nijinsky: the long neck, the animal intensity, the amazing leap. In old age, when he could no longer jump, and when his feet were gnarled with arthritis, he remained a rivetingly dramatic performer, capable of many moods.

Cunningham's declining physical condition did not put out his creative fire:

Even when it became known that he was fading, and friends began coming to bid farewell to him in recent days, he told one colleague that he was still creating dances in his head.

A Merce Cunningham Dance Company promotional video for a 2007 performance series in Chicago contains clips of Cunningham's avant-garde works:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Right Wing Ideologues Fan Racial Fears About Obama

The "birther" phenomenon, based on a debunked conspiracy theory that Obama is not a United States citizen, has an ugly undertone of the President as an alien, an interloper. Right wing ideologues are making the racial context of this suggestion explicit. 

While Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy spread absurd "birther" rumors, Rush Limbaugh describes Obama as "an angry black guy," a "militant" and a "community organizer" who is "fanning the flames of race." To Glenn Beck, Obama is motivated by "reparations," "has a deep-seated hatred for white people" and is "a racist." This bizarre language is used to describe a President who built a multi-ethnic coalition and sparked discussions about a "post-racial" candidacy. Watch:

William Shatner Recites Palin's Beatnik Poem

While Sarah Palin's exit speech may have seemed rambling and disjointed, it was more literary than at first supposed. Who knew that the former Republican Governor of Alaska was secretly a beatnik poet? All it took was William Shatner's cadence, with bongos and bass backup, to make that evident. Like, dig his crazy recitation, daddy-o:

Monday, July 27, 2009

GOP Representatives Sprint Away When Asked About Obama's Birthplace

In the clearest expression yet of the Republicans' embrace of their lunatic "birther" fringe, Mike Stark had to sprint after elected officials with the supposedly controversial question of whether President Obama was born in the United States.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) "would like to see the documents." Rep. Charles Boustany (LA) thinks "there are questions." One official hid in a bookstore to look at pens. Rep. Tom Price (GA) raced away to the soundtrack of "Chariots of Fire," stating, "I don't appreciate guys like you. You are the scum of the earth."

On it went until Rep. Trent Franks (AZ) stated that his office uncovered birth records confirming that Obama was born in Hawaii. Yet this moment of sanity is cast aside as Franks lets loose with right-wing talking points that Obama is "letting jihad gain traction in the world, doing things to undermine our Constitution and turning us into a socialist nation." 

The video starts by asking if "Birthers on the Hill" are "just nuts or just hostage to an irrational base?" Good question. Amid the amusement, it's disturbing to see elected officials give legitimacy to such a ridiculous conspiracy theory. Watch:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bachmann: The Problem With Gov't. Health Option Is That It's Cheaper And Better

Representative Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota has joined party members Olympia Snowe and Paul D. Ryan in setting as her first health care priority the fate of private insurance. The millions who are uninsured or have declared bankruptcy–half of all who declare, according to a Harvard University study–simply do not register. 

Speaking to The Conservative Women's Network, Bachmann started with the familiar nonsense of America being turned into a Marxist state: “What the Obama administration will do with health care is make us like Havana in 1959 when Castro came in.” You know, like Canada, England, France, Germany and every other major industrialized Western nation. First they had government-run health care, then everyone was thrown onto a collective farm. Bachmann then gets into the heart of her pitch:

The federal government will have its own government health care plan. We're told that this is the public option. Don't believe it. This is the government takeover of health care and this is how it works. The government, all of us, we taxpayers will subsidize that government option, and that government option will be thirty to forty percent cheaper than any private plan out there. It will probably offer equal or better benefits than any plan, but cheaper. Why? Because they're just spending your money. What do they care? It's your money they're spending as taxpayers, so they'll offer this cheaper plan.

"Cheaper and better"–aren't those the goals? No, that's the problem, according to Bachmann. It would be one thing if she said that private insurance is cheaper and better and covers more people. But Bachmann can't defend the industry on those merits. If she can't, she's merely shilling for it instead of working for the best interests of her constituency.

Like Senator Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, who said that health care could be Obama's "Waterloo," Bachmann sees the issue as a political game, part of the President's downfall: 

This is radicalization of America like we have never seen before in the history of our country. But don’t lose heart. Because the polling data is showing—Rasmussen for instance—polling data is showing that President Obama’s numbers are dropping like a rock. As a matter of fact, his polling data now says that President Obama is a mere mortal. (Laughter) And so we can take heart. That is absolutely true.

Think Progress recorded Bachmann's address:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Texas Bluesmen Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan

Janis Joplin wasn't the only contribution Texas made to the blues, as is evident from live performances by the state's most famous blues guitarists. First, Johnny Winter plays "Be Careful With A Fool" on Danish television in 1970. Don't let the strangely subdued audience detract from Winter's tasty riffs:

The late Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble perform "Texas Flood," the title song of a 1983 album. Note that, like Jimi Hendrix, one of his main influences, Vaughan wows the audience by playing behind his back at one point. Vaughan's blistering fret work is on full display:

Matthews Draws Out The Logical Absurdities Of Liddy's "Birther" Claims

Chris Matthews did an excellent job in taking on "birther" G. Gordon Liddy. Matthews presented Liddy with a Certificate of Live Birth stating that Obama was born in Honolulu at 7:24 PM on August 4, 1961, and also stated that Hawaiian officials, including the Republican governor, have verified the existence of the original birth certificate (Matthews said that the state does not hand out copies of the that document). In addition, Matthews displayed the birth announcement in a Honolulu paper. 

None of it is enough, though, for the right-wing conspiracy theorists whose goal is to delegitimize the President and detract from health care reform and other parts of his agenda. If Obama were to comment on this issue, he would be giving it credence–and his political enemies know that.

The fun part of the interview, however, came when Matthews drew out the logical extensions of the claim made by Liddy and other wingnuts that Obama was not born in the United States. An unusually subdued Liddy could not respond to the implications of his charge: If Obama was neither born nor naturalized here, is he an illegal alien who should be picked up? Matthews also wondered who was in on the conspiracy going back to 1961: two generations of the Obama family, educators at Columbia and Harvard Law, Hawaiian officials, the Obama administration, those who produced the birth certificate? Watch:

What If Kissinger Had Been Arrested–Or If Gates Weren't Famous?

In his second attempt, President Obama made common sense observations on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: The arresting officer, Sergeant Jim Crowley, and Professor Gates are decent individuals who were caught up in an escalating situation; Obama misspoke during his first comments; Crowley's arrest of Professor Gates was an overreaction; Gates also overreacted. Watch:

Obama also said, "The fact that this has become such a big indicative of the fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society.." In that regard, Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker recounted a troubling question raised by the Reverend Eugene Rivers:

Eugene Rivers made a brilliant point today on one of the cable shows—don’t ask me which one, they’re all a blur—about the Skip Gates brouhaha. What if the cop had been black and the professor had been former Cambridge resident Henry Kissinger? And Kissinger had lost his temper and behaved obnoxiously, and the cop had arrested him in his own house and slapped the cuffs on him and hustled him down to the station house for a mug shot? Wouldn’t the buzz be a little different? Wouldn’t people be saying, “Wow, that cop really has an attitude”?

Does anyone doubt that the response to such a scenario would have been widespread sympathy for Kissinger and blame for the officer? This has nothing to do, of course, with the fact that both sides bear some responsibility for the actual situation.

Bob Sommer of the Kansas City Star raised another difficult point: what if Gates had not been a prominent black man?

Gates failed to cooperate as a black man should, as Sidney Poitier’s character did when he was arrested in The Heat of the Night, showing respect and deference. If this hadn’t been the most pre-eminent scholar of African-American Studies in the country, we never would have known about this incident—but that was partly Gates’s point. Absent his notoriety, a middle-aged black man would have been taken from his own home for no other offense than claiming his right to be where he was—and saying so in a tone to which tone Crowley took offense. No law was broken. But a cop took umbrage. Yet we’re more inclined, even eager, to believe the word of a unknown cop than that of a respected professor.

I disagree with Sommer on one point: we shouldn't discount the word of an "unknown" in deference to the famous. Nevertheless, it was Gates's fame that brought attention to this issue; had it happened to an "unknown" African-American man who didn't follow the code of behavior, no one would be debating this incident.

Of course, one more valid point made by Obama is that no one was talking about health care, which must have delighted those who want to delay and obstruct any reform on that issue.

I just read that Obama, Crowley and Gates are going to have a beer at the White House together. If this incident becomes a "teaching moment" about racial profiling and conflict resolution, something positive will come out of it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

States' Gun Regulations Upheld In Defeat Of Concealed Weapons Amendment

For once, sanity prevailed when a bill that would have violated the right of states to uphold their own gun regulations was defeated:

The Senate on Wednesday turned aside the latest effort by gun advocates to expand the rights of gun owners, narrowly voting down a provision that would have allowed gun owners with valid permits from one state to carry concealed weapons in other states.

...“Lives have been saved with the defeat of this amendment,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a leading opponent of the amendment, said in a statement. “The passage of this amendment would have done more to threaten the safety of New Yorkers than anything since the repeal of the assault weapons ban.”

Schumer (upper left) is absolutely right. I dread to think about the prospect of legalizing concealed weapons in the subway. One armed hothead during the rush hour is all that's needed for an episode of carnage. Schumer was joined in his effort by Mayor Bloomberg and other mayors:

...Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group of more than 400 mayors headlined by Mr. Bloomberg and Thomas M. Menino of Boston, sent a letter to Mr. Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California pointing out that at least 31 states required gun owners to take a firearms training course to receive a permit and that at least 35 states banned those convicted of certain misdemeanors from carrying a concealed weapon.

“The vast majority of states have set minimum requirements for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed gun,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement, “and Congress should respect those laws instead of trying to usurp them.”

The attempted usurpation of local laws demonstrates hypocrisy on the part of Republicans:

The debate forced senators to wrestle with issues of states rights, sometimes in ways that seemed to clash with the general philosophies of their parties. Many Republicans, who typically favor limiting the ability of the federal government to dictate to states on social issues, voted in this case to limit the ability of states to insist on their own rules for concealed weapons carried by people from other states.

...Critics of the amendment argued that it would undermine state and local gun-control laws, and accused Republican supporters, typically staunch defenders of states’ rights, of hypocrisy.

This is not the first time that the Republicans have violated their principle of states' rights. Despite a 1996 statewide voters' initiative, Proposition 215, that made marijuana legal for medicinal purposes in California, the Bush administration undertook federal raids on medicinal marijuana providers. Those who support a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman seek to deny the laws of states that have recognized the marriage equality rights of gays. The attempt to supplant state gun regulations is part of the same pattern.

"States' rights" is a fine principle for conservatives when they happen to agree with the rights in question. When they don't, the states' rights concept is jettisoned, its supposed proponents are revealed as hypocrites and their principles are exposed as mere rhetoric. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

To Sen. Jim DeMint, Health Care Is A Political Game

The most explicit admission that health care to the Republicans is a political game came from Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He spoke in terms that echoed Rush Limbaugh's hope that Obama fails:

DeMint: If we're able to stop Obama on [health care reform], it will be his Waterloo. It will break him and we will show that we can, along with the American people, begin to push those freedom solutions that work in every area of our society.

By the "American people," does DeMint include the overwhelming majority of citizens who want a government-run health care plan and are willing to pay more taxes so that everyone can be covered?

Obama criticized DeMint's priorities and clearly indicated what is at stake:

Obama: Just the other day, one Republican Senator said, and I’m quoting him now, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Think about that. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. It is about a health care system that is breaking American families, breaking America’s businesses and breaking America’s economy. (h/t Think Progress)

The Democratic National Committee produced a hard-hitting ad about DeMint:, in an article on the many South Carolinians losing health insurance, presented the terrible choice faced by one couple: life-threatening illness or financial ruin:

After 25 years with the same company, Andy Stark lost his job and his health insurance.

While he found other work, it paid 30 percent less and had no benefits.

Then his wife got cancer.

Now the Simpsonville couple is struggling to pay medical bills they expect will total about $140,000.

“This is not the way things should be in America,” Andy Stark said.

In South Carolina, 670 people a week lose their health coverage, according to data from Families USA. In the decade ending in 2008, premiums soared 119 percent, increasing costs to employers and workers and adding to the spiraling cost of health care, according to the nonprofit group.

Does Jim DeMint, in the midst of his political games, have a "freedom solution" for Andy Stark and his wife?

Netanyahu's Commitment To Two-State Solution Questioned

The New York Times reports that both Israelis and Palestinians doubt Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to a two-state solution:

In the weeks since Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, finally accepted the principle of a Palestinian state, with qualifications, there has been deep skepticism about his sincerity.

On the Palestinian side, aides to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, have called Mr. Netanyahu’s grudging endorsement of Palestinian statehood, under international pressure, a disingenuous public relations exercise.

But even senior officials and prominent figures of his conservative Likud Party have been busy explaining, privately and publicly, why they think there is not likely to be a Palestinian state any time soon, in ways that raise even more questions about the current government’s commitment to reaching a final peace accord.

And Mr. Netanyahu’s diplomatic turnaround was greeted by a notable silence among the Likud firebrands and hawks, widely interpreted here as a sign that they feel they have nothing to fear.

Israel is continuing to build in East Jerusalem despite the objections of the Americans and Palestinians:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Sunday an American call to hold off on a planned Jewish housing development in East Jerusalem, saying Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed city could not be challenged.

Mr. Netanyahu issued the statement because State Department officials had raised concerns over the project with Israel’s new ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, during discussions last week on a range of issues. The American officials suggested that going ahead with the development now would cause problems in negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

...The East Jerusalem property in question, to be developed into a 20-unit complex, was bought by a Miami-based businessman, Irving Moskowitz, in 1985. ...The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told Israel Radio that instead of defending the Moskowitz development, Mr. Netanyahu should be preparing Israel to make peace. “He knows very well that there will never be peace between Palestinians and Israelis without East Jerusalem being the capital of the Palestinian state,” Mr. Erekat said.

Steve Clemons, writing in The Washington Note, calls Netanyahu "Obama's Krushchev" and advises Obama to challenge Netanyahu lest the U.S. lose credibility in the Middle East:

Netanyahu is poking the Obama White House, ridiculing his foreign policy team, and launching preemptive strikes at the very necessary deal-making that Obama must move forward in the region to shore up America's power position and global relevance.

The Moskowitz-Netanyahu Plan to expand settlements in East Jerusalem, clearly over the red lines set by previous presidential administration and Israeli prime ministerships, is designed to pommel Obama and deflate his power in the eyes of other regional stakeholders.

...If Obama doesn't find a way to knock Netanyahu down off his perch, then Bibi will define Obama rather than Obama leading and setting the key parameters for a new, forward looking, stable Middle East equilibrium.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Matthews Confronts Rep. Campbell On "Birther" Bill

In response to the fringe "birther" movement that traffics in the debunked theory that President Obama wasn't born in the United States, Representative Bill Posey (R) of Florida introduced a bill to require presidential candidates to produce a copy of their birth certificate. Chris Matthews interviewed one of the bill's co-sponsors, Representative John Campbell (R) of California:

Matthews let Campbell have his say and then got to the point: "Congressman, nice try. What you're doing is appeasing the nut cases. As you just pointed out, this won't prove or disprove whether Barack Obama is a citizen. By the way, let me show you his birth certificate. That's the way to deal with this. Mail this birth certificate to the wacko wing of your party so they see it and say, 'I agree with this; it's over.' "

Campbell had a great deal of difficulty answering the simple question, "Do you have any doubts about the authentic native birth in this country of our President?" Finally Campbell stated, "Yes, I believe so," in response to whether Obama was born in the U.S. Matthews acknowledged that they were "making progress." 

Regardless, Campbell posed as a legislator who was trying to "put the questions to rest." In reality, he's appeasing the wingnuts and advancing a conspiracy theory in the form of proposed legislation. While the Republicans can't put together alternative health or economic proposals, it's good to know that they're at the forefront of at least one issue of critical importance to the American people.

Michael Steele Stumped On The Kind Of Health Insurance He Has

Following Michael Steele's non-answers to reporters yesterday on health care, no one will be surprised about one more thing he doesn't know: the type of health insurance he has. Watch:

CNN: What type of health insurance do you have? Do you get that through the RNC?

Steele: Yup, through my employer.

CNN: What company is it?

Steele: Uhh. BlueCross BlueShield, I believe. Or maybe not. (h/t Think Progress)

Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, doesn't need to know. If he didn't have health insurance, he'd know that. If he were among the many who had health insurance but had to declare bankruptcy over medical bills, he'd know the name of his so-called "provider."

Steele is all taken care of through his employer. To keep his health coverage, he just needs to do the bidding of that employer, the RNC. So Steele speaks out to deny coverage to the millions of Americans who don't have it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Michael Steele Follows Baffling Comments On Health Care With "I Don't Do Policy"

Following a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, fielded questions from reporters on health care. Steele's answers were breathtaking in their incomprehensibility and lack of knowledge. Watch:

Asked whether it's morally acceptable for millions of Americans to have no coverage, the chairman implied that that might be outside the concern of elected officials: “I don’t know if that’s a consideration for politicians versus a pastor.” Why didn't the Republicans do "anything substantial" about health care when they were in power? Steele didn't exactly compliment his party by stating, "The will to do it" and the "focus" just weren't there. Asked why we can't insure all Americans, he seemed to contradict his oppositional stance by answering, "Bingo! That's it."

Asked when Republicans will propose alternative legislation, Steele in effect said that since his party is not in power, why bother? Probed about an individual requirement to purchase health coverage, Steele seemed stumped and then informed the reporters that there are "different opinions." Questioned about similar past GOP opposition to Medicare, Steele spoke about Medicare and Medicaid's effect on the economy–but did not mention what the effect on the economy would be if millions of seniors could only seek care in emergency rooms.

On the cost of health care, Steele said that it is "something that's up close and right here." Perhaps realizing that such an answer means nothing, Steele admitted, "Look, I don't do policy. I'm not a legislator." That's a rather strange statement following negative comments on health care reform–which, to say the least, is a matter of policy. Based on his answers, Steele could have put it more precisely: "Look, I don't know policy."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Performing Live, Paul McCartney Becomes A Citi Field Legend

In 1965 and 1966, The Beatles played Shea Stadium, performances that must be counted among the major events associated with the former home of the New York Mets. Paul McCartney, in concerts on Friday and Saturday night (another is scheduled Tuesday), has already become part of the lore of the Mets' new ballpark, Citi Field. In fact, seeing how the injury-addled team is doing, McCartney's concert must be counted as the one bright spot of the season.

I attended the Saturday night concert and received ample proof that the 67-year-old ex-Beatle remains an outstanding rocker and consumate, versatile musician–and, in a concert that lasted almost three hours, including three encores, an individual with a lot of endurance. The lasting power of The Beatles' music is clear by the number of musicians who still cover their songs; McCartney mentioned that "Yesterday," which he sang, has been covered 3,000 times. McCartney brings new power and delight to "Day Tripper," shown above, among the approximately 20 Beatles classics performed with the backing of his dynamic band. Those of us who gave short shrift to his post-Beatles work should know that "Jet," "Band on the Run" and the bluesy "Let Me Roll It"–with a "Purple Haze" finale in tribute to Jimi Hendrix–were rousing crowd pleasers.

McCartney lives up to the famous statement printed on the "Sergeant Pepper" album: "A splendid time is guaranteed for all." He's a legend in rock history and, now, at Citi Field.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rep. Paul D. Ryan Worried Sick About Survival Of Private Health Insurance

Representative Paul D. Ryan (R) of Wisconsin shares the same concern expressed by Senator Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, Senator Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska and columnist George Will: a public health care option will drive the private insurance industry out of business:

In the Ways and Means session, Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, who offered the amendment to kill the government plan, said it would have unfair advantages over private insurers.

“It is impossible for the private sector to compete fairly with government, with all its muscle and all its tools,” Mr. Ryan said. He predicted that many employers who now provided health benefits would “dump their employees into the public plan.”

How is it that Ryan is so concerned about the fate of the private health insurance industry, which profits by denying coverage? Is this insurance industry more important than the 47 million without coverage or the fact that half of those who declare bankruptcy do so because of illness or medical bills, according to a Harvard University study? Does Ryan's constituency believe that he is standing up for them by shilling for this industry? How can Ryan's concern about this industry be accepted as normal political discourse and not as outrageously misplaced priorities?

One indication of the derivation of Ryan's priorities comes from Ryan received campaign contributions from the following: Health Net, America's Health Insurance Plans, Wellpoint, Medco Health Solutions, Humana, AflacAssurant Health and UnitedHealth.

Two of the organizations,  United Health and America's Health Insurance Plans, were mentioned in an article in entitled "UnitedHealth, Allies Seek To Block Public Health Insurance":

A recent NBC/WSJ poll found that more than three out of four Americans support having a public or government health insurance option.

UnitedHealth Group's leadership is apparently not among that group.

The Wall Street Journal reports a group called America's Health Insurance Plans, which represents UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Humana and other large insurers, has fired off a letter to Congress warning of the "devastating consequences" public health insurance would have on its members.

Congressional Democrats say the plans they are working on would compete on a "level playing field" with private plans, but the insurers organization said there would be adverse affects "no matter how it is initially structured."

Is it quite clear now why, with such contributors, Representative Ryan is worried sick about the survival of the private health insurance industry? 

President Obama posed the most concise argument against the objections raised by Ryan:

"If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Parties Issue Dueling Health Care Charts

House Republican Leader John Boehner and other GOP members held a press conference on Wednesday detailing "The Democratic Takeover of Health Care." The fact is that the Democrats are arguing for a public option, not a universal, single-payer "takeover." That leaves room for the Republicans' beloved private health industry to compete against the public option. If they're so sure that most Americans also love private insurance, why would they bother railing against a public option?

After the press conference, the Republicans released a chart supposedly showing how complex the Democratic plan is:

Of course, there's nothing complex about the completely privatized system we have now, right? It involves no bureaucrats, little paperwork, minimal overhead, almost no denial of claims and hardly any financial worry among consumers.

In response to the chart above, a House aide sent Democratic staffers one that shows the Republican plan. Note its precise detail in overhauling health care in order to serve the needs of every citizen:

Right Wing Group Links Sotomayor To Support For Terrorists

A right-wing group, the Committee for Justice, has put out an ad equating Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor to "Obama's buddy, Bill Ayers" and calling her a "radical judge." Watch:

The insinuation is that Sotomayor "led a group supporting violent Puerto Rican terrorists" by serving on the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF). Republican Senators Jeff Sessions has called the group "extremist"; in response, the National Hispanic Bar Association sent Sessions a letter stating, in part:

LatinoJustice PRLDEF is a mainstream and respected civil rights organization founded in 1972 -- a time when Puerto Ricans living in the United States had no voice and were largely excluded from participating in public life. ...Attacks on Latino advocacy and civil rights organizations are not new – we have seen figures in the media mischaracterize and slander our good works, using provocative terms that fan the flames of ethnic animosity. We expect and are entitled to better from a sitting member of the United States Senate.

The letter lists those who have supported PRLDEF: Senator Jacob Javits, former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams, New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bomb throwers all!

So Sotomayor is linked to Ayers, who is linked to Obama. Such paranoid rhetoric really worked well during the presidential election, didn't it? It will work just as well in building bonds with the growing Hispanic electorate.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bush Administration Surveillance And Torture Practices Continue To Surface

Try as President Obama might to put aside calls for the investigation of Bush administration surveillance and torture, those issues are proving too controversial to suppress. The following reports have recently surfaced:

• Dick Cheney has been linked to the concealment of a CIA program–there's a shocker!–that has since been shut down by agency director Leon Panetta:

The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees...

The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.

Attorney General Eric Holder is considering a criminal investigation of Bush-era torture. As he examined reports, he told an associate that what he learned "turned my stomach":

Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. ...Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. ..."I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president's agenda," [Holder] says. "But that can't be a part of my decision."

• CIA director Leon Panetta stated that the agency deceived Congress, a point taken up by a number of Congressional Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, who was criticized by Republicans for speaking about CIA lack of disclosure, has gained credibility on this point:

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, has told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony that the C.I.A. concealed “significant actions” from Congress from 2001 until late last month, seven Democratic committee members said.

In a June 26 letter to Mr. Panetta discussing his testimony, Democrats said that the agency had “misled members” of Congress for eight years about the classified matters, which the letter did not disclose...

The question of the C.I.A.’s candor with the Congressional oversight committees has been hotly disputed since Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the agency of failing to disclose in a 2002 briefing that it had used waterboarding against a terrorism suspect. Ms. Pelosi said the agency routinely misled Congress, though she later said she intended to fault the Bush administration rather than career intelligence officials.

• We are still learning the extent of the Bush administration surveillance program–so secretive that even former attorney general John Ashcroft was not fully aware of programs that he was approving for over two years. The legal basis of the program continues to be troubling:

The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported Friday, questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they're still too secret to reveal.

...The report questioned the legal advice used by Bush to set up the program, pinpointing omissions and questionable legal memos written by [John] Yoo, in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. The Justice Department withdrew the memos years ago.

There's a possibility that some or all of these issues will explode over the next few months. President Obama is concerned about bitter divisions between the two major parties and detractions from his ambitious domestic agenda. Bush administration practices, however, were so deceptive and ultimately un-American that exposing them and bringing their perpetrators to justice may be both inevitable and beneficial.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Did This T-Shirt Inspire Racist Comments About Malia Obama?

Readers of the right-wing Free Republic web site, perhaps inflamed by a photo of Malia Obama wearing a T-shirt decorated with–horror of horrors!–a peace symbol, contributed vile, racist comments about her, as reported by the Vancouver Sun:

"A typical street whore." "A bunch of ghetto thugs." "Ghetto street trash." "Wonder when she will get her first abortion."

These are a small selection of some of the racially-charged comments posted to the conservative 'Free Republic' blog Thursday, aimed at U.S. President Barack Obama's 11-year-old daughter Malia after she was photographed wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign on the front.

The thread was accompanied by a photo of Michelle Obama speaking to Malia that featured the caption, "To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds."

If you can stomach it, click here for a screen capture of the comments (h/t Liberaland). Free Republic is not an obscure site; the Vancouver Sun refers to it as "one of the prime locations for U.S. Conservative grassroots political discussion and organizing." Site owner Jim Robinson sarcastically responded to one of the few complaints: "The writer has a point. We should steer clear of Obama's children. They can't help it if their old man is an American-hating Marxist pig." After some complaints, the thread was removed, then returned, then removed again. Why would he let such a thread stand at all? To be fair, a minority criticized the comments:

One poster by the name of "fullchroma" wrote, "To Jim Robinson: The recent uptick here in racist vitriol, aimed at Barrack, Michelle and their children has made me wonder if I belong. My objection to Obama has nothing to do with skin tone. Is the ugly stereotype of Conservative racism true?"

Excellent question. Is this a representative sampling of right-wing opinion? If so, the conservative movement will have a difficult time expanding its base and putting candidates in office. Obama's election is a strong indication that the majority of the country has moved beyond these bigoted sentiments.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Bill Evans Trio Performs "Nardis," 1965

No one interpreted the standards with more sensitivity and lyricism than Bill Evans, one of the most influential pianists in jazz history. He played on Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" (1959), the best-selling jazz album of all time; Davis wrote in his autobiography, "Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall." Above, Evans performs the Davis composition "Nardis" in London, 1965. Evans' body is characteristically bent over the keyboard in rapt concentration.  Complimenting Evans' quiet, introspective fire are Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums.

GOP Family Values: Ensign's Parents Give His Mistress Thousands, Brooks Speaks Of Thigh-Grabbing Senator

Following the revelation that Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina turned up in Argentina to meet his mistress, we now hear more about the extramarital complications of another Republican, Senator John Ensign (left) of Nevada. Ensign's parents gave almost $100,000 to his former lady friend and her husband. His lawyer explained that the gifts were made out of "concern" for the couple's "well-being" and were part of a "pattern of generosity." Why be cynical and refer to this cash as hush money?

Like Sanford, Ensign is opposed to gay marriage, seeing it as his duty to "defend" the institution. He and his wife were once active in Promise Keepers, a Christian evangelical group devoted to strong families and marriages. Gail Collins provides more details on Ensign's moral rectitude:

We hardly need to point out that Ensign was one of the people who demanded that President Bill Clinton resign over the Lewinsky affair, that he votes against financing for education and contraception services to combat teenage pregnancy and that he supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In the world of politics, hypocrisy is a hard market to corner, but lately the Republicans have been making a Microsoft-like effort to do it.

Adding to the growing perception that Republicans' licentious behavior is modeled after Fellini's "Satyricon," conservative columnist David Brooks said in an interview, "I sat next to a Republican senator at a dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ew, get me out of here." Watch:

Exactly why Brooks didn't remove the offending hand was not explored. In any event, with the recent escapades of Sanford and Ensign, along with those of Foley, Craig and Vitter, one must conclude that something strange is going on in the "family values"-oriented Republican party.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Former Health Care Exec. Reveals Industry Strategy Against Michael Moore's "Sicko"

Wendell Potter is the former head of corporate communications at CIGNA, which provides health insurance to 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies. He left the field after almost two decades and became a health care reform advocate. Appearing tonight on the Bill Moyers Journal, Potter spoke about his  insulated position in the industry and his growing awareness of inadequate private health care coverage in America:

Potter said that Michael Moore's film "Sicko," which critiqued American health care, "hit the nail on the head." Moyers and Potter examined the documented strategy of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health care industry's trade association, to counter the film and pressure politicians to oppose reform. 

Essential to this strategy was for the industry to discredit Moore personally as a "radical," circulating talking points that were parroted by politicians. Potter states that the strategy worked and the film's impact was blunted. Potter agreed that the film contained a "great truth": "That we shouldn't fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government and it's been proven in the countries that were in that movie, that more people can get care." Watch:

New To The Urban Dictionary: Pullin' A Palin

A new expression has entered the Urban Dictionary

Pullin' a Palin:

1. Quitting when the going gets tough; abandoning the responsibility entrusted to you by your neighbors for book advances and to make money on the lecture circuit.

2. Bizarre move that will damn ambitions for higher office.

Sarah Palin was a point guard on her high school basketball team. How can we "pull a Palin" in terms of basketball strategy? Watch Coach Sarah Palin's "Midcourt to Low Post Pass & Quit" (h/t Sam Seder):

Thursday, July 9, 2009

In Iran And Honduras, Obama Resists Cowboy Diplomacy

President Obama has taken a wise stance on Iran, condemning the brutal crackdown on protests following the questionable victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while refusing to drop all dialogue. Conservative figures like John McCain have urged a confrontational, counterproductive course of action. Ahmadinejad has already played the familiar card of blaming the U.S. and Britain; overly hostile declarations would only play into his hands.

A somewhat analogous situation is taking place in Honduras with the military coup against President Manuel Zelaya (upper left). In seeking to change the Honduran constitution to allow him to extend his presidency, Zelaya is violating the law. Yet he was not challenged legally; the military instead removed him by a coup and declared martial law, actions which are also illegal. 

Raw Story details how, once again, right-wing forces in the U.S. are declaring that Obama's position sells out our interests and the forces of freedom abroad. Macon, Georgia, city councilman Erick Erickson writes, ""Barack Obama has fundamentally shifted our foreign policy away from our own national interests in Honduras. He aligns us with the interests of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and a long list of South American drug cartels." The New York Daily News states, "...we have wound up on the wrong side." Such comments ignore the fact that Obama has joined the U.N., the Organization of American States and most of the world in protesting the undemocratic coup.

The fact is that, like his strategy with Iran, Obama is not letting America take the blame for chaos in Honduras. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, like Ahmadinejad, has tried pointing the finger at the U.S., yet Obama's stance has frustrated him, as reported in The New York Times:

From the moment the coup in Honduras unfolded over the weekend, President Hugo Chávez had his playbook ready. He said Washington’s hands may have been all over the ouster, claiming that it financed President Manuel Zelaya’s opponents and insinuating that the C.I.A. may have led a campaign to bolster the putschists.

But President Obama firmly condemned the coup, defusing Mr. Chávez’s charges. Instead of engaging in tit-for-tat accusations, Mr. Obama calmly described the coup as “illegal” and called for Mr. Zelaya’s return to office. While Mr. Chávez continued to portray Washington as the coup’s possible orchestrator, others in Latin America failed to see it that way.

...In recent years, Mr. Chávez has often seemed to outmaneuver Washington on such issues. He exploited the Bush administration’s low standing after the Iraq war and its tacit approval for the brief coup that toppled him in 2002, and blamed the United States for ills in Venezuela and across the region.

Now such tactics may get less traction, as the Obama administration presses for a multilateral solution to the crisis in Honduras by turning to the Organization of American States. In doing so, Mr. Obama is moving away from policies that had isolated the United States in parts of the hemisphere.

...Mr. Obama’s nonconfrontational diplomacy seems to have caught Mr. Chávez off balance. “Chávez is beginning to understand that he’s dealing with someone with a very different approach than his predecessor,” said Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington policy research group.

We do have a history of overthrowing governments in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, and it would be folly for Obama to follow the advice of right-wingers who call for a belligerent posture. Why would they want to continue isolating the country? Instead of conducting the cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush, involving threats, war and refusal to talk, Obama is upholding diplomacy and democratic principles abroad, deflecting blame from the U.S. and projecting a more reasonable national image. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When Iran Does It, It's Torture; When The U.S. Does It, It's "A Matter Of Debate"

The Iranian government has been torturing reformists in order to extract "confessions" for supposed subversive activities following protests against the presidential election. As reported in The New York Times:

Iranian leaders say they have obtained confessions from top reformist officials that they plotted to bring down the government with a “velvet” revolution. Such confessions, almost always extracted under duress, are part of an effort to recast the civil unrest set off by Iran’s disputed presidential election as a conspiracy orchestrated by foreign nations, human rights groups say.

...The government has made it a practice to publicize confessions from political prisoners held without charge or legal representation, often subjected to pressure tactics like sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and torture, according to human rights groups and former political prisoners. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of people have been detained.

One of the arguments against the Bush administration's use of torture was that it produced unreliable information. One never knows whether a "confession" is made just to end the pain. Ali Afshari (upper left) was tortured by Iran, not the U.S.; nevertheless, his experience is pertinent:

In 2001, Ali Afshari was arrested for his work as a student leader. ...“They tortured me, some beatings, sleep deprivation, insults, psychological torture, standing me for several hours in front of a wall, keeping me in solitary confinement for one year,” Mr. Afshari said in an interview from his home in Washington. “They eventually broke my resistance.”

The problem, he said, was that he was not sure what he was supposed to confess to. So over the next several months, he said, he and his interrogators “negotiated” what he would say — and, more ominously, whom he would implicate. Once his confession was complete, he said, he practiced it for 7 to 10 days, and then it ran on state-run television.

American conservatives who defended the Bush administration's use of torture would no doubt condemn the Iranian use of it and the phony confessions obtained. Their stand is not against torture per se; they're for it or against it depending upon who's using it. Conservatives, who profess a belief in an absolute right and wrong and decry "moral relativism," are quite relativistic when it comes to torture.

The New York Times has been practicing its own form of moral relativism on the subject of torture. Times public editor Clark Hoyt noted the debate that took place among the paper's journalists over the use of the word:

[Washington bureau editor Douglas Jehl] said: “I have resisted using torture without qualification or to describe all the techniques. Exactly what constitutes torture continues to be a matter of debate and hasn’t been resolved by a court. This president and this attorney general say waterboarding is torture, but the previous president and attorney general said it is not. On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?” Jehl argued for precision and caution. I agree.

Glenn Greenwald of Salon notes how cautious The Times is when it comes to the United States' use of torture, as compared to the torture practiced by other countries. He refers to the article on Iran cited above:

Virtually every tactic which the article describes the Iranians as using has been used by the U.S. during the War on Terror, while several tactics authorized by Bush officials (waterboarding, placing detainees in coffin-like boxes, hypothermia) aren't among those the article claims are used by the Iranians. Nonetheless, "torture" appears to be a perfectly fine term for The New York Times to use to describe what the Iranians do, but one that is explicitly banned to describe what the U.S. did. Despite its claimed policy, the NYT has also recently demonstrated its eagerness to use the word "torture" to describe these same tactics . . . when used by the Chinese against an American detainee.

The Bush administration's use of torture tainted America's reputation, and it will take a while to remove that taint. The Obama administration has broken with many of the tactics employed in recent years, though its consideration of indefinite detention is certainly troubling. At least for now, we cannot condemn countries such as Iran and China with the same moral authority we once had. An examination of the Times' contradictory use of the word "torture" makes it clear that the moral taint has spread to our mass media.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

West Bank "Natural Growth" And The Uses Of Ambiguity

The Israeli government's dispute with the Obama administration is over whether to allow for the "natural growth" of families in West Bank settlements. The Forward reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to use the words "natural growth," preferring to speak about facilitating "normal life." He reflects the ambiguity remarked upon by U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell, who said about "natural growth" that "there are almost as many definitions as there are people speaking." 

Givat Ha'eytam exemplifies this vagueness; despite the fact that it is remote from the settlement of Efrat, it is considered within its municipal boundaries (photo from The Forward above shows the view from Givat Ha'eytam to Efrat in the distance):

Givat Ha’eytam, a lonely hill in the Israeli occupied West Bank, seems like anything but a natural part of the bustling 8,000-person Jewish settlement of Efrat. ...Nevertheless, the Israeli policy that is being widely described as “natural growth” could permit developing Givat Ha’eytam as an extension of Efrat. ...Removed though it is from Efrat, building on Givat Ha’eytam would be regarded by Israel as simply expanding Efrat...rather than creating a new settlement. By prior planning, Givat Ha’eytam falls within Efrat’s municipal boundaries.

Another example of a settlement whose municipal boundaries outdistance its population is Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem:

Efrat is not alone among the 120 West Bank settlements in having jurisdiction over land well beyond its built-up sector. Among the most generously endowed settlements is Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, close to the Dead Sea. The settlement, with a population of just 200, offers housing to nonmembers of the kibbutz and has outlying jurisdiction of some 13.6 square miles — a spread of land equal to that of the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah which has a population of 189,000.

What are the boundaries of building in the West Bank? The Netanyahu government won't say:

Netanyahu’s office refuses to clarify whether natural growth, as Israel understands the term, would involve expanding settlements beyond the perimeters of their already built-up environments — thereby substantially changing the reality on the ground, with Jewish settlements covering a much wider area — or whether natural growth just involves construction within the perimeters of already built-up areas.

Does building for "natural growth" respond to the needs of the families already living there, or does it attract even more families? That, too, is unclear:

Trying to predict what the pattern will be in the future in order to determine a housing policy creates a chicken-and-egg scenario: The number of West Bank newlyweds who want to set up home in the territories will depend, in part, on how plentiful — and as a result, how cheap — housing there is.

...Dror Etkes, fieldworker for the anti-settlement organization Yesh Din, predicted: “In the bigger settlements, we would probably see further migration from Israel.”

In its editorial "Unnatural Growth," The Forward, a venerable Yiddish/English newspaper hardly unsympathetic toward Israel, states the following:

Obama isn’t being unreasonable. Netanyahu is. The Israeli government’s defense of “natural growth” masks its true intent. Ministers say that families deserve the right to stay in their communities as their broods increase, and that is why settlements should be allowed to add homes, schools and synagogues. That’s a “right” enjoyed by no one else in Israel, or the United States, for that matter.

But governments do have a right — indeed, an obligation — to plan growth in their communities, to zone for appropriate use, to respect the boundaries of adjacent neighborhoods. Most of us cannot build on our property without the requisite permits and permissions, never mind suddenly decide to annex the backyard next door to accommodate a larger household.

...the Israeli public is becoming less supportive of the settlers and more convinced that the growth of outlying settlements is a detriment to national security. So are many American Jewish lawmakers and communal leaders. They are saying what the current Israeli leadership needs to hear: There’s nothing natural, or acceptable, about “natural growth.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sen. Grassley's Health Care Solution: "Go Work For The Government"

President Bush famously showed how out of touch he was on health care when he asserted that access to care was no problem: "After all, you just go to an emergency room." Senator Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa recently demonstrated the same aloofness on an issue critical to the well-being and financial stability of millions.

First, a little background. Grassley has stated, "We need to make sure there's no public option." This despite the fact that most Iowans favor a public health plan, according to the Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. Fifty-six percent are in support, thirty-seven percent are opposed and seven percent are unsure.

Grassley, like his Republican colleagues who are vehemently opposed to government-run health insurance, takes advantage of the government's public insurance policy. In a letter to the Des Moines Register, he wrote "I pay $356 a month for Blue Cross coverage, a plan that is available to federal employees." That covers both Grassley and his wife, a bargain compared to most American families. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average American family pays more than $1,000 a month.

Lest we think that Grassley is completely unconcerned, however, he does offer a solution, as shown in a town hall meeting in Waukon, Iowa. An audience member asked, "My question is...why is your insurance so much cheaper than my insurance and so much better than my insurance?"

First Grassley stated that the questioner should work for John Deere, since they "don't pay anything" for their plan. Grassley then revealed how little he actually knew about his own plan and had to be helped out by another audience member. The original questioner persisted: "Okay, so how come I can't have the same thing you have?"

Grassley's answer showed so much chutzpah that one almost has to admire it: "You can. Just go work for the federal government." Watch:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sen. Murkowski: Palin Abandoned Alaska

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska (left) released a statement on the resignation of Governor Sarah Palin whose brevity underlined her anger: "I am deeply disappointed that the governor has decided to abandon the state and her constituents before her term has concluded."

Cenk Uygur, radio host of the Young Turks, wrote in the Huffington Post about three possibilities for Palin's action: she wants to lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign; she wants to cash in on speaking fees and a book advance; and ethics investigations.

If the move is part of a strategy to position her for the presidency, it is a strange one; fellow conservatives such as Karl Rove, Senator Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa and columnist George Will were baffled. Regardless of the reason for Palin's abrupt announcement, Murkowski correctly refers to the action as an abandonment. Will similarly said that Palin was declaring herself a quitter. None of these criticisms are answered by Palin's Independence Day message to supporters.

On her Facebook page, Palin stated, ""How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it's about country. And though it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make. But every American understands what it takes to make a decision because it's right for all, including your family."

Of course, we haven't been told what the "higher calling" is and why it's "honorable" to abandon one's elected position. One would think that Palin would be proud to reveal her noble intentions, especially since they are "about country."

Palin also stated that her administration had "accomplished more during this one term than most governors do in two." I see. She did enough and earned the right to quit. Senator Murkowski, then, is an ingrate.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Sarod Master Ali Akbar Khan

Ali Akbar Khan, the world's foremost virtuoso of the 25-string sarod, died at 87 on June 19. Along with Ravi Shankar, Khan brought Indian classical music to the West. Violinist Yehudi Menhuin, who took him to U.S. in 1955 for a concert at New York's Museum of Modern Art, hailed him as "an absolute genius." Khan performed at the Concert for Bangladesh benefit at Madison Square in 1971, organized by George Harrison; participants also included Shankar, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. He lived in San Anselmo, California, and founded a college of Indian classical music in San Rafael. Enjoy the beauty of Khan's performance of "A Lover's Melody":

Friday, July 3, 2009

Conservatives On Public Health Option: It'll Be Cheaper–That's Unfair!

A strange yet revealing conservative critique of a public health care option continues to emerge: it will deliver health care services more inexpensively. Yes, that's supposed to be the problem.

Senator Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine stated, "If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market...the public option will have significant price advantages." Snowe wants the public option to be a "trigger mechanism" in case private plans fail to reduce costs. The public, though, overwhelmingly supports a public option and does not state it first wants private insurers, with their poor track record, to try providing less expensive services by themselves. Unlike the Republicans, the public's first priority is affordable health care, not the private health care industry.

Conservative columnist George F. Will similarly admits that public health care will be cheaper–and, again, that's the problem:

Assurances that the government plan would play by the rules that private insurers play by are implausible. Government is incapable of behaving like market-disciplined private insurers. Competition from the public option must be unfair because government does not need to make a profit and has enormous pricing and negotiating powers. Besides, unless the point of a government plan is to be cheaper, it is pointless: If the public option conforms to the imperatives that regulations and competition impose on private insurers, there is no reason for it.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight summarized Will's position: "The government does not need to make a profit and will have greater leverage with providers; therefore it will deliver the same service for less money. That's unfair!"

President Obama recently questioned these critics of the public option: "If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."

Sam Seder lampooned this critique of a less expensive public option's negative impact on more expensive private services. Watch:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Scheuer To Beck: America's Only Chance Is Another Bin Laden Attack

Michael Scheuer, author and former CIA employee, told Glenn Beck that another major terrorist attack by Osama bin Laden would have a beneficial effect on America's security:

Beck: Yes, sir. OK. So you have seen this. Do you really, honestly believe that we have come to a place to where those very senior people in the highest offices of the land, Congress and the White House, really will not do the right thing in the end, that they won't see the error of their ways?

Scheuer: No, sir, they will not. Not -- the only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States. Because it's going to take a grassroots, bottom-up pressure, because these politicians prize their office, prize the praise of the media and the Europeans. Only -- it's an absurd situation. Again, only Osama can execute an attack which will force Americans to demand that their government protect them effectively, consistently, and with as much violence as necessary.

Beck: Which is why I was thinking this weekend if I were him, that would be the last thing I would do right now.

Scheuer: Absolutely. (h/t Huffington Post)

So our protection against another terrorist attack comes through another terrorist attack. To call another 9/11 "the only chance we have" is not only appalling, but it presumes that the Obama administration is not concerned about protecting the country. Imagine a guest speaking in similar terms to liberal hosts Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. We'd immediately hear from Fox hosts like Beck that liberals are traitors and defeatists. Yet here's Beck calmly taking in Scheuer's apocalyptic rhetoric, something Jon Stewart noticed in his commentary:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Osama bin Laden Needs to Attack America
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Stewart: What the f*ck is that? And by the way, here's the fascinating thing about our culture. My guess is that you didn't hear me say "f*ck." Because the Federal government is protecting you and your children's ears from that type of profanity. While, Santa's evil twin gets to, uhh...gets to nonchalantly propose the needless slaughter of Americans for the purpose of furthering his national security plan. But, obviously, in this country, everyone's entitled to their dope-pinion. Fortunately, there's a real patriot sitting next to this jerk that can admonish him for suggesting we need bin Laden to kill more Americans.