Saturday, September 22, 2007

Scratchpad: Sat. 22 Sept. 2007

Romney wants Republicans to act like Reagan Republicans again.
IOW-- like gasholes!

"...and like FDR Republicans...!"

How the hell can that game show host wannabe mention FDR & the late ungreat Ronald Reagan in the same breath...? More


From the ‘Last Will & Testicles’ files

“Codeine ! Bourbon!” -- Tallulah Bankhead (last words).

My last words will probably be something like: “Fock you, World! See you in the funny papers, suckers…!” (It’s so me…)

Or else if I‘m feeling beatific: “Peace Love and Joy to all of you. Farewell. I’m ready now, God…” ( Just in case Richard Dawkins is wrong…)


Bush: Kids' health care will get vetoed

Bush again called Democrats "irresponsible" on Saturday for pushing an expansion he opposes to a children's health insurance program.

"Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know will be vetoed," Bush said of the measure that draws significant bipartisan support, repeating in his weekly radio address an accusation he made earlier in the week. "Members of Congress are risking health coverage for poor children purely to make a political point."

In the Democrat's response, also broadcast Saturday, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell turned the tables on the president, saying that if Bush doesn't sign the bill, 15 states will have no funding left for the program by the end of the month.

At issue is the Children's Health Insurance Program, a state-federal program that subsidizes health coverage for low-income people, mostly children, in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private coverage. It expires Sept. 30.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a proposal Friday that would add $35 billion over five years to the program, adding 4 million people to the 6.6 million already participating. It would be financed by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack.

The idea is overwhelmingly supported by Congress' majority Democrats, who scheduled it for a vote Tuesday in the House. It has substantial Republican support as well.

But Bush has promised a veto, saying the measure is too costly, unacceptably raises taxes, extends government-covered insurance to children in families who can afford private coverage, and smacks of a move toward completely federalized health care. More

COMMENT: Yeah. That dreaded federalized healthcare. Better dead and sick children than that. Anything but that...!

Attention! George Knucklehead Bush is truly a sick sack of shit. What more can you say about such a creature…?


War Is Patriotic…& Highly Lucrative…!

The big strong Bushbuttsucking Repooplicker Crazy Cowboy Shoot-Anything-That-Moves Daddy-Staters are protecting the troops by keeping them in harm’s way on compulsory quadruple-overtime.

The namby-pamby DemoRATs and their limpwristed fruitcake antiwar allies are against the troops because they want to bring them home.

“Yeah but if the troops come home the Islamist freaks will come to East Jesus and crap all over our fat-burgers and cornpone…!”

O then well forgive me. Keep the troops in Iraq until the oil-extraction contracts are signed by ExxonMobil, Halliburton, etc. : MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

(Or until the ranks mutiny…Whichever comes first…)


In 2008, Bush v. Gore Redux?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 22, 2007

Right now it’s just a petition drive on its way to becoming a ballot initiative in California. But you should think of it as a tropical depression that could develop into a major storm that blows away the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House next year.

And it could become a constitutional crisis.

It’s panic time in Republican circles. The G.O.P. could go into next year’s election burdened by the twin demons of an unpopular war and an economic downturn. The party that took the White House in 2000 while losing the popular vote figures it may have to do it again.

The Presidential Election Reform Act is the name of a devious proposal that Republican operatives have dreamed up to siphon off 20 or more of the 55 electoral votes that the Democrats would get if, as expected, they win California in 2008.

That’s a lot of electoral votes, the equivalent of winning the state of Ohio. If this proposed change makes it onto the ballot and becomes law, those 20 or so electoral votes could well be enough to hand the White House to a Republican candidate who loses the popular vote nationwide.

Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has suggested that the initiative is a form of dirty pool. While not explicitly opposing it, Mr. Schwarzenegger said it smacks of changing the rules “in the middle of the game.”

Democrats are saying it’s unconstitutional.

The proposal would rewrite the rules for the distribution of electoral votes in California. Under current law, all of California’s 55 electoral votes go to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote statewide. That “winner-take-all” system is the norm in the U.S.

Under the proposed change, electoral votes would be apportioned according to the winner of the popular vote in each of California’s Congressional districts. That would likely throw 20 or more electoral votes to the Republican candidate, even if the Democrat carries the state.

A sign of the bad faith in this proposal is the fact that there is no similar effort by the G.O.P. to apportion electoral votes by Congressional districts in, for example, Texas, a state with 34 electoral votes that is likely to go Republican next year.

Longtime observers in California believe the proponents of this change — lawyers with close ties to the Republican Party statewide and nationally — will have no trouble collecting enough signatures to get it on the ballot in June. The first poll taken on the measure, which is not yet widely understood by voters, showed that it would pass.

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor and one of the nation’s pre-eminent constitutional scholars, believes the initiative is blatantly unconstitutional. “Entirely apart from the politics,” he said, “this clearly violates Article II of the Constitution, which very explicitly requires that the electors for president be selected ‘in such manner as the Legislature’ of the state directs.”

In Mr. Tribe’s view, the “one and only way” for California to change the manner in which its electoral votes are apportioned is through an act of the State Legislature.

Professor Tribe is not a disinterested party. He represented Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election. And not all constitutional experts agree that this would be such an easy call. “This is not an open-and-shut case,” said Richard Pildes, a professor at the New York University School of Law.

What is undisputed is that the Democrats will mount a ferocious legal challenge if the ballot initiative passes — “maybe even before it has a chance to pass,” a Democratic source said yesterday — thus opening the door to an ugly constitutional fight reminiscent of Bush v. Gore in 2000.

The potential for trouble in the event of a close election is huge. Said Professor Tribe: “This is really a prescription for a possible constitutional crisis in which we have one president if California electors act in accord with the method set out by the State Legislature, and another president if the electors are divided according to this ballot initiative.”

The operatives behind the initiative are experts at causing trouble. The effort is being led by Thomas Hiltachk, a lawyer who was one of the leaders of the successful effort to recall California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. Politics is not just hardball to this crowd; it’s almost literally a fight to the death.

The proponents of the initiative understand completely that a constitutional crisis could damage the nation’s democratic process and undermine the legitimacy of a presidential election. In their view that’s preferable to a Republican defeat.

California voters would be doing themselves and the nation a favor by soundly defeating this poisonous initiative if it makes it onto the ballot in June.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Olbermann to Bush: ‘Your hypocrisy is so vast’

A reaction to Thursday’s press conference: the president was the one who interjected Gen. Petraeus into the political dialogue in the first place

By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, 'Countdown'

Updated: 8:59 p.m. ET Sept 20, 2007

So the President, behaving a little bit more than usual, like we would all interrupt him while he was watching his favorite cartoons on the DVR, stepped before the press conference microphone and after side-stepping most of the substantive issues like the Israeli raid on Syria, in condescending and infuriating fashion, produced a big political finish that indicates, certainly, that if it wasn’t already – the annual Republican witch-hunting season is underway.

“I thought the ad was disgusting. I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. Military.”

“And I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad.

“And that leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like or more afraid of irritating them, than they are of irritating the United States military.”

“That was a sorry deal.”

First off, it’s “Democrat-ic” party.

You keep pretending you’re not a politician, so stop using words your party made up. Show a little respect.

Secondly, you could say this seriously after the advertising/mugging of Senator Max Cleland? After the swift-boating of John Kerry?

But most importantly, making that the last question?

So that there was no chance at a follow-up?

So nobody could point out, as Chris Matthews so incisively did, a week ago tonight, that you were the one who inappropriately interjected General Petraeus into the political dialogue of this nation in the first place!

Deliberately, premeditatedly, and virtually without precedent, you shanghaied a military man as your personal spokesman and now you’re complaining about the outcome, and then running away from the microphone?

Eleven months ago the President’s own party, the Republican National Committee, introduced this very different kind of advertisement, just nineteen days before the mid-term elections.

Bin Laden.

Al-Zawahiri’s rumored quote of six years ago about having bought “suitcase bombs.”

All set against a ticking clock, and finally a blinding explosion and the dire announcement:

“These are the stakes - vote, November 7th.”

That one was ok, Mr. Bush?

Terrorizing your own people in hopes of getting them to vote for your own party has never brought as much as a public comment from you?

The Republican Hamstringing of Captain Max Cleland and lying about Lieutenant John Kerry met with your approval?

But a shot at General Petraeus, about whom you conveniently ignore it, was you who reduced him from four-star hero to a political hack, merits this pissy juvenile blast at the Democrats on national television?

Your hypocrisy is so vast that if we could somehow use it to fill the ranks in Iraq you could realize your dream and keep us fighting there until the year 3000.

The line between the military and the civilian government is not to be crossed.

When Douglas MacArthur attempted to make policy for the United States in Korea half a century ago, President Truman moved quickly to fire him, even though Truman knew it meant his own political suicide, and the deification of a General who history suggests had begun to lose his mind.

When George McClellan tried to make policy for the Union in the Civil War, President Lincoln finally fired his chief General, even though he knew McClellan could galvanize political opposition which he did when McClellan ran as Lincoln’s presidential opponent in 1864, nearly defeating our greatest president.

Even when the conduit flowed the other way and Senator Joseph McCarthy tried to smear the Army because it wouldn’t defer the service of one of McCarthy’s staff aides, the entire civilian and Defense Department structures, after four years of fearful servitude, rose up against McCarthy and said “enough” and buried him.

The list is not endless but it is instructive.

Air Force General LeMay—who broke with Kennedy over the Cuban Missile Crisis and was retired.

Army General Edwin Anderson Walker—who started passing out John Birch Society leaflets to his soldiers.

Marine General Smedley Butler—who revealed to Congress the makings of a plot to remove FDR as President and for merely being approached by the plotters, was phased out of the military hierarchy.

These careers were ended because the line between the military and the civilian is not to be crossed!

Mr. Bush, you had no right to order General Petraeus to become your front man.

And he obviously should have refused that order and resigned rather than ruin his military career.

The upshot is and contrary it is, to the MoveOn advertisement he betrayed himself more than he did us.

But there has been in his actions a sort of reflexive courage, some twisted vision of duty at a time of crisis. That the man doesn’t understand that serving officers cannot double as serving political ops, is not so much his fault as it is your good, exploitable, fortune.

But Mr. Bush, you have hidden behind the General’s skirts, and today you have hidden behind the skirts of ‘the planted last question’ at a news conference, to indicate once again that your presidency has been about the tilted playing field, about no rules for your party in terms of character assassination and changing the fabric of our nation, and no right for your opponents or critics to as much as respond.

That is not only un-American but it is dictatorial.

And in pimping General David Petraeus and in the violation of everything this country has been assiduously and vigilantly against for 220 years, you have tried to blur the gleaming radioactive demarcation between the military and the political, and to portray your party as the one associated with the military, and your opponents as the ones somehow antithetical to it.

You did it again today and you need to know how history will judge the line you just crossed.

It is a line thankfully only the first of a series that makes the military political, and the political, military.

It is a line which history shows is always the first one crossed when a democratic government in some other country has started down the long, slippery, suicidal slope towards a Military Junta.

Get back behind that line, Mr. Bush, before some of your supporters mistake your dangerous transgression, for a call to further politicize our military.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Free Political Speech Is A Pain In The Neck! Get Used To It...!

The U.S. Senate just told us to sit down and be quiet. They passed a resolution condemning and it has one purpose: To intimidate all of us who care about ending this war. To send a message that anyone who speaks unpleasant truths about this war will pay. To make everyone--especially politicians--think twice before they accuse the administration of lying.

We can't let that happen. I just signed a statement telling Congress that they won't intimidate me, and I'm going to keep speaking out until they force an exit strategy out of this awful war. Can you join me?

Sign the fricken petition…

Click here



See which of your Senators are voting against Habeus Corpus

[Click on headline above for individual Senator rundown.]

A Letter to Readers About TimesSelect

Dear Readers:

Effective Sept. 19, we are ending TimesSelect. All of our online readers will now be able to read Times columnists, access our archives back to 1987 and enjoy many other TimesSelect features that have been added over the last two years – free.

If you are a paying TimesSelect subscriber, you will receive a prorated refund. For more information, please go to our TimesSelect FAQ.

Why the change?

Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.

We welcome all online readers to enjoy the popular and powerful voices that have defined Times commentary – Maureen Dowd, Thomas L. Friedman, Frank Rich, Gail Collins, Paul Krugman, David Brooks, Bob Herbert, Nicholas D. Kristof and Roger Cohen. And we invite them to become acquainted with our exclusive online journalism – columns by Stanley Fish, Maira Kalman, Dick Cavett and Judith Warner; the Opinionator blog; and guest forums by scientists, musicians and soldiers on the frontlines in Iraq. All this will now reach a broader audience in the United States and around the world.

This month we mark the 156th anniversary of the first issue of The New York Times. Our long, distinguished history is rooted in a commitment to innovation, experimentation and constant change. All three themes were plainly evident in the skillful execution of TimesSelect; they will be on full display as becomes entirely open.


Vivian Schiller
Senior Vice President & General Manager




So…Don’t Mourn…Organize! Educate! Agitate!

Now on to better things…


Shameless Self-Promotion:

Now that the NYT has returned to its senses eschewing elitism for providing the Great Unwashed with the intelligence of the day -- or lack thereof--my mission of “tearing down the firewall” is done.

I will continue posting news articles, columns, reviews, graphics and other items of interest, including my own continuing original commentary on the doings of the oft self-important human animal populating this speck of dust we call Terra (as in “Terra-ists”) …

The Scratchpad (which hopefully time permitting will be a regular or at least a semi-regular feature ) will be revised and added to during the course of the day. (At least that's the plan.) So visit often. If you dare…!


* Note: And you might want to take just a few moments to convey your appreciation to the greatest newspaper on the face of the planet: Bourgeois Establishment Liberal but still Ye Olde Venerable Newspaper of Record.

E-mail the NYT Editorial page/Op-ed editors at: .

To reach Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor, e-mail at: .


I wrote:

Dear Gray Lady:

Thx for liberating your columnists.


-- The Public


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Scratchpad: Wed. 19 Sept. 2007

Thought for the Day: Eros in Salem

Cheesy pornography is Crapitalistic. The twisted by-product of sex-shy Puritanism. A turn-off. Life negating.

On the other hand, Erotic art is Pagan. A turn-on. Life affirming. It enhances sex rather than replaces it..


Re: Cavett On Obesity

Dear Dick,

If Orson Welles--not to mention Jackie ‘The Great One’ Gleason, Zero Mostel, Diego Rivera, Luciano Pavarotti and Santa Claus--were around today...they’d be sitting on your puny head!

GOP bless…


Re: Kerry/Taser Incident

Andrew Meyer ( see his website) --the Tasee--was asking John Kerry a “run-on” question (“Zap him…!“) about why he rolled over so quickly after the ‘04 Election.

Why? Because --like Al Gore--he’s a loyal a member of the Market-Dominant Masterclass (Good Cop Wing of the American Establishment) who isn’t about to shake up the Imperial System to the point where all veils are lifted and the Golden Goose is summarily sent to the wall by the neo-Jacobin “class traitors”.


Take 2

Kerry is a veritable tower of Jell-O. A loyal Brother Bonesman who just couldn’t bring himself to aggressively question the Ohio 2004 shmay-dray.


What the hell ever happened to this guy ? MIA…?


On September 17, 2007, police from the University of Florida forcibly removed Andrew Meyer, a 21-year-old fourth-year undergraduate telecommunications student, from a forum with U.S. Senator John Kerry, restraining him with the help of a Taser.

After the end of a question-and-answer session, Meyer was allowed to ask a question, which, according to the Washington Post, turned into "an increasingly agitated three-parter."

1. Why did Kerry concede the 2004 presidential election?

2. Why has President George W. Bush not been impeached?

3. Were Kerry and Bush both members of the Yale University secret society known as Skull and Bones?

Meyer also cited Greg Palast's book Armed Madhouse. Kerry can be heard to say: "I've read it."

Just as Meyer finishes asking his third and final question, the microphone into which Meyer had been speaking was cut off and two University of Florida police officers seized him as Kerry said, "Let me answer his question." The student pulled away and demanded an explanation of the officers' conduct. He shouted "Help!", "What have I done?" and "Get away from me!", with his arms raised in the air. All four officers began forcibly ushering him to the back of the room as Meyer attempted to stand his ground. During this time, some audience members shouted phrases such as "What has he done?", "Why are you doing this?" and "Let him go!". Once in the rear of the hall Meyer attempted again to break away from the officers. The officers wrestled him to the ground and attempted to handcuff him. As Meyer lay pinned by the five officers, they threatened to taser him. Meyer stated that if allowed up, he would leave. The officer replied that he does not have that option. Meyer said "Don't tase me bro, don't tase me", but was drive stunned shortly after. He continued screaming for help as the officers removed him from the room. During the altercation, Kerry urged everyone to calm down, made a joke and kept speaking to Meyer's question, which he referred to as "very important". Meyer was then escorted off the premises and detained overnight.
[ Source: Wikipedia ]


The Religious fanatics, the Roves and the Tom ‘Bugsy’ Delays hijacked the GOP a series of waves beginning in 1980 with the advent of Reaganism-Thatcherism.

These days Goldwater Republicans probably identify more with the Democratic Party. Case in point: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton grew up in the Chicago suburbs in a conservative Republican household and was a "Goldwater girl" in 1964, supporting conservative icon Barry Goldwater in the presidential race won by Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.
[ Source: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Announces White House Bid ]

So much for the Republican Permanent Majority…


-- GP

The Opinionator

September 19, 2007, 9:31 am
Political Fight for a Soldiers’ Rest
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

Although both parties agree that our troops in Iraq are overburdened and under-rewarded, it looks like a plan to give them a bit more time at home is unravelling. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Republican Sen. John Warner said in an interview today that he is ‘reconsidering’ his support of a defense amendment requiring all U.S. troops returning from Iraq be guaranteed more time at home before their next deployment overseas. That could be a serious setback for Senate Democrats — particularly for his fellow Virginian, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who crafted the amendment.”

The anonymous commentator Digby at’s Common Sense blog sees a pattern:

The best thing about the grey eminence John Warner finally leaving the Senate is that he will no longer be around to play Lucy pulling the football away from the Democrats at the last minute any more. … Now we find that one of the great statesman Warner’s last acts may be to pull the football out from under Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, whose amendment to allow the military a decent interval between deployments is coming up for a vote. Like clockwork, Warner, who had supported the bill is now saying that he may not since the Bush administration has agreed to his propaganda ploy to bring home a handful of troops for a big Christmas pageant.

The Washington Times’s editorial board, not surprisingly, applauds Senator Warner’s apparent change of heart, saying that the amendment “would effectively cripple the troop surge in Iraq — even as it is demonstrating real success” and “tie the hands of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, making it impossible to move troops to the battlefield in a timely manner.”

For his part, Senator Webb has forsaken the digitized gabfest and taken his case straight to video, showing once again that in this political cycle, the only consistent winner seems to be YouTube.

Talk Show: Dick Cavett Speaks Again

September 18, 2007, 11:03 pm
Him, to Kick Around Again

Gentle reader: Who knew that the subject of obesity would strike such a nerve? The whopping number of replies must have set some sort of record for both clarity and intelligence. I greatly enjoyed reading them, ranging as they do from virtual scholarly essays to “Goodbye, Mr. Cavett.”

And speaking of goodbye, I am not gone but merely at the end of a somewhat lengthy summer layoff. But now you will, I hope, enjoy reading about a happening that involves one of the “big names” of the 20th century. It can only be described as bizarre.


“A blast from the past.”

Do you know where this phrase comes from? So far, Google has not produced a firm answer, other than that it’s frequently used by disc jockeys, but no one is confident of who specifically gets credit for its birth.

When trying to place a quote, we are advised to always guess Shakespeare first. (Without checking, I’m fairly certain that King Lear’s “blasted heath” is not “from the past.”)

I gather that the phrase is generally used for something positive; a pleasant reunion with or reminder of something good, like a favorite song. Recently I’ve had a rather startling BFTP, but pleasant is not, shall we say, the first adjective that leaps to mind in describing it.

Here’s what happened. I was called to Hollywood to be part of an event honoring “Pioneers of Television.” The previous year’s honorees had included Sid Caesar, whom I had avidly watched and worshipped in my teens while still in Nebraska. If he was a pioneer, was I -­ who came to TV a quarter century after Sid -­ really one also? And if so, what did that make Pinky Lee, Jerry Lester and Dagmar, and Kukla and Ollie’s Fran? Aborigines?

And what, then, was the man whose name I knew but had never seen until the coaxial cable finally stretched as far as Nebraska? I mean, of course, the then-king of the new medium, Milton Berle. About whom the great Fred Allen once said, “Milton…is the moron’s messiah.”

This year, Betty White, Ed McMahon, Tony Orlando and the hilarious Tim Conway were my fellow “pioneers.” Impertinently, I asked whether we would be making our entrance in a covered wagon.

But let’s get to the blast.

I arrive at LAX, and a nicely groomed and dressed young man approaches, puts out his hand and says, “My name is Trinklein.”

“Not your first name, I hope,” I reply, proving that one should not try to be funny with jet lag.
He is good-naturedly aware that the name is unusual. What remains of my German allows me to translate it mentally into “little drink.” Or even, “drinklet.” Graciously, he concurs with my translations.

Leading me to the obligatory black limo, he says, “I have something in the car that I’m pretty certain will interest you.” Something about all this begins to resemble the harmless-seeming beginning of a spy novel.

In lower levels of showbiz, the surprise in the limo is sometimes a cutie, sporting merely shoes and a baseball cap. I’m told. But Trinklein is clearly too classy for that. As we glide into the river of traffic, he produces a laptop and inserts a DVD, saying that a woman friend of his who has access to such things has gotten this for him. In the sense of the phrase, “Are you ready for this?”, I was not.

The screen is filled by a black and white photo of two men, seated facing each other across a vast desk. The background décor includes various national flags on flagstands. The two men are instantly recognizable; or they are, at least, to everyone above a certain age.

One ­- the one whose office it was ­- is The Great Unindicted Co-conspirator himself. Yes, the admirably earnest but unskilled former member of the Whittier College football team. From Yorba Linda. (Anyone who hasn’t guessed his identity by now must move to the back of the class.)

The other gent’s visual trademark is his tough-guy crew cut: it is the notorious loyal henchman and lickspittle, H.R. Haldeman.

Up comes a sign: NIXON WANTS REVENGE ON TALK SHOW HOST CAVETT. And my blood runs, well, if not cold, at least chilly.

As the chunk of dialogue you are about to read plays out audibly, the still of the two men remains onscreen, creating the illusion that you are seeing them speak the words now being heard in their actual voices.

When the scene begins, it seems my name has just been uttered.

Nixon: So what is Cavett?

Haldeman: He’s…Oh, Christ, he’s…God, he’s..

Nixon: He’s terrible?

Haldeman: He’s impossible. He loads every program…automatically he’ll…

Nixon: Nothing you can do about it, obviously?

Haldeman: We’ve complained bitterly about the Cavett shows.

Nixon: Well, well is there any way we can screw him? That’s what I mean. There must be ways.

Haldeman: We’ve been trying to.

A blast from the past indeed. My jet-fogged head didn’t know quite what to make of it. Oddly, I thought, “Is this real?” But Trinklein was clearly not a computer-nerd prankster.

I promise you that, even this long after the fact, there is something unsettling when it’s your name being abused by the chief executive of the United States. And isn’t there something nauseating about the spectacle of the most powerful man in the world scheming to “screw” a late-night chat show that he apparently sees as part of a widespread conspiracy to bring him down? Were there no more important international issues, perhaps, to be worrying about?
I was told that many people think the Nixon tapes have all been heard by now and, like the LBJ tapes, can even be listened to recreationally at home or at the beach.

Not so. It is only recently that the vast body of them were wrested from wherever they were being withheld, and are now the property of the Smithsonian.

I’ve been told that I’m on other tapes, too, embedded along with who knows how rich a lode of still-undiscovered Nixonian utterances of anti-Semitism, homophobia and his somewhat alarming preoccupation with being “a real man.”

Has history ever known so prominent a figure to be at once so frighteningly bizarre and so greatly gifted? Nixon’s rise and fall is almost classical. I’d be surprised if no theater director has yet staged a modern-dress, slightly updated “Richard III” with the lead actor got up as our Tricky Dick: “Plots I have laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken [!] prophecies, libels and dreams to set [those on my enemies list] in deadly hate the one against the other…” etc. And certainly both had winters of discontent.

There’s more to tell in this strange Tale of Two Richards, but I must draw the curtain of discretion for now.

But don’t let me forget to tell you how John Lennon figures in all this.

The Conscience of a Liberal: Paul Krugman

September 18, 2007, 11:45 pm
Introducing This Blog

“I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I grew up in for granted – in fact, like many in my generation I railed against the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing of Cambodia, went door to door for liberal candidates. It’s only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history.”

That’s the opening paragraph of my new book, The Conscience of a Liberal. It’s a book about what has happened to the America I grew up in and why, a story that I argue revolves around the politics and economics of inequality.

I’ve given this New York Times blog the same name, because the politics and economics of inequality will, I expect, be central to many of the blog posts – although I also expect to be posting on a lot of other issues, from health care to high-speed Internet access, from productivity to poll analysis. Many of the posts will be supplements to my regular columns; I’ll be using this space to present the kind of information I can’t provide on the printed page – especially charts and tables, which are crucial to the way I think about most of the issues I write about.

In fact, let me start this blog off with a chart that’s central to how I think about the big picture, the underlying story of what’s really going on in this country. The chart shows the share of the richest 10 percent of the American population in total income – an indicator that closely tracks many other measures of economic inequality – over the past 90 years, as estimated by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. I’ve added labels indicating four key periods. These are:

The Long Gilded Age: Historians generally say that the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era around 1900. In many important ways, though, the Gilded Age continued right through to the New Deal. As far as we can tell, income remained about as unequally distributed as it had been the late 19th century – or as it is today. Public policy did little to limit extremes of wealth and poverty, mainly because the political dominance of the elite remained intact; the politics of the era, in which working Americans were divided by racial, religious, and cultural issues, have recognizable parallels with modern politics.

The Great Compression: The middle-class society I grew up in didn’t evolve gradually or automatically. It was created, in a remarkably short period of time, by FDR and the New Deal. As the chart shows, income inequality declined drastically from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, with the rich losing ground while working Americans saw unprecedented gains. Economic historians call what happened the Great Compression, and it’s a seminal episode in American history.

Middle class America: That’s the country I grew up in. It was a society without extremes of wealth or poverty, a society of broadly shared prosperity, partly because strong unions, a high minimum wage, and a progressive tax system helped limit inequality. It was also a society in which political bipartisanship meant something: in spite of all the turmoil of Vietnam and the civil rights movement, in spite of the sinister machinations of Nixon and his henchmen, it was an era in which Democrats and Republicans agreed on basic values and could cooperate across party lines.

The great divergence: Since the late 1970s the America I knew has unraveled. We’re no longer a middle-class society, in which the benefits of economic growth are widely shared: between 1979 and 2005 the real income of the median household rose only 13 percent, but the income of the richest 0.1% of Americans rose 296 percent.

Most people assume that this rise in inequality was the result of impersonal forces, like technological change and globalization. But the great reduction of inequality that created middle-class America between 1935 and 1945 was driven by political change; I believe that politics has also played an important role in rising inequality since the 1970s. It’s important to know that no other advanced economy has seen a comparable surge in inequality – even the rising inequality of Thatcherite Britain was a faint echo of trends here.

On the political side, you might have expected rising inequality to produce a populist backlash. Instead, however, the era of rising inequality has also been the era of “movement conservatism,” the term both supporters and opponents use for the highly cohesive set of interlocking institutions that brought Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich to power, and reached its culmination, taking control of all three branches of the federal government, under George W. Bush. (Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy.)

Because of movement conservative political dominance, taxes on the rich have fallen, and the holes in the safety net have gotten bigger, even as inequality has soared. And the rise of movement conservatism is also at the heart of the bitter partisanship that characterizes politics today.

Why did this happen? Well, that’s a long story – in fact, I’ve written a whole book about it, and also about why I believe America is ready for a big change in direction.

For now, though, the important thing is to realize that the story of modern America is, in large part, the story of the fall and rise of inequality.

Alan (Not Atlas) Shrugged

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 19, 2007


It’s a lost art, slinking away.

Now the fashion is slinking back.

Nobody wants to simply admit they made a mistake and disappear for awhile. Nobody even wants to use the weasel words: “Mistakes were made.” No, far better to pop right back up and get in the face of those who were savoring your absence.

We should think of a name for this appalling modern phenomenon. Kissingering, perhaps.

In Las Vegas, there’s the loathsome O.J., a proper candidate for shunning and stun-gunning, barging back into the picture.

And on Capitol Hill, Larry Craig shocked mortified Republicans by bounding into their weekly lunch. You’d think the conservative 62-year-old Idaho senator would have some shame, going from fervently opposing gay rights to provocatively tapping his toe in a Minneapolis airport toilet. (The toilet stall, now known as the Larry Craig bathroom, has become a hot local tourist attraction.)

But no.

As though Republicans don’t have enough problems, Mr. Craig said he is ready to go back to work while the legal hotshots he hired appeal his case. He even cast a couple votes, one against D.C. voting rights. (This creep gets to decide about my representation?)

Even if President Bush is “the cockiest guy” around, as the former Mexican President Vicente Fox writes in a new memoir critical of W.’s “grade-school-level” Spanish and his grade-school-level Iraq policy, he can’t be feeling good about the barbs being hurled his way by former supporters and enablers.

Rummy’s back in the news, giving interviews about a planned memoir and foundation designed to encourage “reasoned and civil debate” about global challenges and to spur more young people to go into government.

It’s rich. Maybe more young people would go into government if they didn’t have to work for devious bullies like Rummy who make huge life-and-death mistakes and then don’t apologize.

In The Washington Post, he blamed the press and Congress for creating an inhospitable atmosphere that drives good people away from public service. Maybe that’s why he and his evil twin, Dick Cheney, did their best to undermine the constitutional system of checks and balances so they could get more fine young people to serve.

Does the man blamed for creating civil disorder in Iraq even know what the word “civil” means? Wasn’t he the prickly Pentagon chief who got furious with anyone who didn’t agree with him on “global challenges”?

He shoved Gen. Eric Shinseki into retirement — and failed to show up at his retirement party — after the good general correctly told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops to invade and control Iraq. And he snubbed the German defense minister when Germany joined the Coalition of the Unwilling.

Interviewed by GQ’s Lisa DePaulo on his ranch in Taos, N.M., with another mule named Gus nearby, the “75-year-old package of waning testosterone,” as the writer called him, was asked if he misses W. Offering a wry smile, he replied, “Um, no.”

He now treats the son with the same contempt he treated the father with, which is why it’s so odd that the son hired his dad’s nemesis in the first place.

He actually had the gall to imply to Ms. DePaulo that he was out of the loop on Iraq and dragged out a copy of a memo he had written outlining all the things that could go wrong.

In fact, he was the one, right after 9/11, who began pushing to go after Saddam. He and Cheney were orchestrating the invasion from the start, guiding the dauphin with warnings about how weak he would seem if he let Saddam mock him.

The ultimate bureaucratic infighter wrote the memo as part of his Socratic strategy, asking a lot of questions when he was already pushing to go into Iraq. He never did any contingency planning in case those things went wrong; the memo was there simply so that someday he could pull it out for a reporter.

In the same issue of GQ, Colin Powell tried to build up the objections he made to the president, too, in an interview with Walter Isaacson. But nobody’s buying.

Even though he rubber-stamped W.’s tax cuts, Alan Greenspan is now upbraiding the president and vice president for profligate spending and putting politics ahead of sound economics.

He also says in his new memoir that “the Iraq war is largely about oil,” telling Bob Woodward that he had privately told W. and Cheney that ousting Saddam was “essential” to keeping world oil supplies safe.

Irrational exuberance, indeed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Opinionator

September 19, 2007, 1:11 pm
Partisan Parsing
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

The Washington Post has taken issue with Fred D. Thompson’s stump speech statement that “you look back over our history, and it doesn’t take you long to realize that our people have shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world.”

In an unbylined article examining the facts behind Thomspson’s, The Post counters: “In World War II alone, the Soviet Union suffered at least 8 million casualties, or more than 10 times the number of U.S. casualties for all wars combined. Soviet forces died for their own country and their own tyrannical government, but they also spilled blood on behalf of their Western allies.”

Terry Trippanny, writing at, thinks The Post’s fact checkers are off base:

[T]he WaPo article begins by citing U.S. census bureau figures of causalities for all the conflict casualties in U.S. wars, ending with a witty, or so they think, “as of today” stat to emphasize the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They then proceed to follow that by examples of countries that have ’shed more blood for liberty’ by using the Soviet Union’s WWII casualties along with other stats from the conquests of Alexandrian Greeks and Napolean! Seemingly oblivious to the difference between giving a life fighting for other people’s liberty and shedding blood in a conquest to either defend yourself from conquest or seeking to conquer others the WaPo author proceeds to mention case after case that supposedly pins Fred Thompson as a liar.


September 18, 2007, 8:54 am
Chasing the Elusive Bubba Vote
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

Old, white and in the way? “The Democratic obsession with the down-home, blue-collar, white male voter, that heartbreaker who crossed the aisle to the Republicans many decades ago, may finally be coming to a merciful end,” writes Thomas H. Schaller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (and, depending on which region you’d place the Old Line State, perhaps a white Southern male himself) with unrestrained glee, at Salon.

“With few if any votes to be gained — and plenty of votes to be lost for being inauthentic — Democrats finally seem to realize that cultural contortionism in the pursuit of Bubba produces little more than smiles on the faces of Republican consultants.”

The idea that Democrats might no longer “pander” to good ol’ boys is music to the ears of Stanley Kurtz at The Corner:

First the Democrats alienated many white men by supporting discriminatory preferential treatment policies. When these men refused to accept this discrimination, many of them left the Democratic Party. This, in turn, enraged many Democrats, who began to think “invidiously” about white men. So it would appear that racial discrimination in law and policy breeds racial discrimination in culture. If the Democrats lose a large chunk of the “NASCAR Dad” vote in the upcoming elections, it might have something to do with the fact that the Dems richly deserve to lose it.

The commenter Aldo at the reader-written Protein Wisdom Pub thinks the problem for Democrats runs deeper: “I think Schaller is whistling past the graveyard. It isn’t just white men who have abandoned the Dems, but the entire South, and the exurbs.”

And a staff-written editorial at The Democratic Strategist seems to take the conservatives’ point: “Schaller doesn’t say anything about what possible effect discontent over the Iraq war, GOP scandals or other issues may have on white male votes in ‘08. And Democratic presidential candidates may be less eager than he to write off one out of four of their voters.”

Eager or not, the candidates all probably agree that there’s one “Bubba” that Schaller might want to bear in mind before he writes off Southern white males off as irrelevant to the party.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iraq suspends license of Blackwater USA

US mercenary firm denounced after civilian killings in Baghdad

By Kate Randall
18 September 2007

The Iraqi government on Monday said it had revoked the operating license of Blackwater USA, following a shootout involving the private security company in downtown Baghdad Sunday that left at least nine people dead and 14 wounded, the majority civilians.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said that the decision meant that Blackwater “cannot work in Iraq any longer, it will be illegal for them to work here.” Khalaf added, “Security contracts do not allow them to shoot people randomly.”

The bloody incident on Sunday focuses attention on the mercenary activities of the estimated 25,000-30,000 private contractors from some 60 companies operating in Iraq at the service of the US occupation, forming an integral part of the illegal war and occupation. With revenues of about $100 billion a year, these hired thugs commandeer helicopters and patrol in bulletproof vehicles; many are armed with automatic weapons.

Blackwater USA has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq, and at least $800 million in government contracts. One of its main contracts is to provide security to US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and other diplomats. The company has also guarded Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander in Baghdad in charge of the “surge.”

Blackwater has earned the fear and hatred of the Iraqi civilian population, particularly in Baghdad, where its heavily armed agents speed diplomatic convoys through the crowded streets in black SUVs and its “Little Bird” helicopters swarm overhead, riflemen at the windows to provide cover to ground-based convoys.

The shooting on Sunday was touched off when a car bomb reportedly exploded near a State Department motorcade in the Mansour district in western Baghdad. According to US Embassy officials, Blackwater employees opened fire, leaving at least nine people dead and wounding 14 others. Iraq Interior ministry spokesman Khalaf put the death toll at 11.

Hussein Abdul-Abbas, the owner of a mobile phone store in the area, told Associated Press, “We saw a convoy of SUVs passing in the street nearby. One minute later, we heard the sound of a bomb explosion followed by gunfire that lasted for 20 minutes between gunmen and the convoy people who were foreigners and dressed in civilian clothes. Everybody in the street started to flee immediately.”

Lawyer Hassan Jabar Salman, another eyewitness, recounted details of the Sunday incident to Agence France Presse as he lay wrapped in bloodied bandages in Baghdad’s Al-Yarmukh Hospital. Salman said he was hit by five bullets as he tried to flee the scene in his car. He said he heard an explosion and saw a two-car convoy ahead.

“The foreigners in the convoy started shouting and signaling to us to go back,” Salman said. “I turned around and must have driven 100 feet (30 meters) when they started shooting.”

“There were eight of them in four utility vehicles and all shooting with heavy machine guns,” he added. “My car was hit with 12 bullets, of which four hit me in the back and one in the arm.” Salmon said he witnessed the killing of a woman and a traffic policeman, and “dozens of people hitting the ground to avoid the barrage of bullets,” according to AFP.

Following the incident, US embassy spokesperson Mirembe Nantongo did not immediately confirm the cancellation of Blackwater’s license. W. Johann Schmonsees, embassy information officer, told reporters that the company had not “been expelled from the country yet.”

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the Diplomatic Security Service had launched a official investigation into what he described as a “terrible incident.” He was quick to cast blame on the Iraqi population, commenting, “We are fighting people who don’t play by any rules.”

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Khalaf stated, “We have opened a criminal investigation against the group who committed the crime.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the shootings as a “crime” committed by a “foreign service company,” although it is unclear whether the Iraqi government holds the power to regulate Blackwater’s operations.

Under the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) led by L. Paul Bremer in the early days of the occupation, a regulation was adopted known as Order 17, which effectively grants immunity to US security contractors and shields them from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Under the order crafted by the Bush administration, all foreign personnel—private and military—are exempt from “local criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction and from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their parent states.”

Order 17 was renewed before the “transfer of sovereignty” to the unelected Iraqi interim government in late June 2004. The measure allows the US military—as well as its hired mercenaries such as Blackwell—to carry out the killing of civilians, destroy homes and property and commit other war crimes such as extra-legal detention and torture of prisoners without fear of prosecution by Iraqi authorities.

While another CPA order requires security contractors to register with the Ministry of Interior, a number have not done so. The license obtained by Blackwater in 2005 has reportedly lapsed and the company has been having trouble getting it renewed, but has remained in the country nevertheless.

The Iraqi population closely identifies the activities of these military contractors with the brutality of the US occupation. On March 31, 2004, a Blackwater convoy was ambushed in Fallujah and four armed contractors were killed, their charred bodies subsequently hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.

Photographs of the slain contractors’ corpses were released to the news media, with the images used to condition public opinion for the impending assault on Fallujah. In November 2004, the US launched Operation Phantom Fury, laying ravage to and virtually leveling the city of 300,000. Thousands of civilians were massacred and about 100 US Marines died in the operation.

More recently, in late May of this year, Blackwater employees opened fire in the streets of Baghdad twice in two days. On May 23, a US convoy under Blackwater protection was ambushed in downtown Baghdad, setting off a raging battle in which security contractors, US and Iraqi troops and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were firing in a congested area.

Mohammed Mahdi, 37, an employee at a veterinary drugstore, told the Washington Post that the battle lasted for nearly an hour, and that afterwards he saw “four mini-buses, a taxi and an Opel sedan containing dead and wounded. He said that he saw ‘at least four or five’ people ‘who were certainly dead’ but that he did not know how the people were killed, who killed them or whether they were civilians or combatants.”

On May 24, an Iraqi driver was shot and killed near the Interior Ministry by a Blackwater guard, who claimed the victim had driven too close to their convoy. The Iraqi Interior Ministry had received four previous complaints of shooting incidents involving Blackwater in the two years previous to this incident.

Matthew Degn, a senior American civilian adviser to the Interior Ministry’s intelligence directorate, commented at the time that he was concerned the incident “could undermine a lot of the cordial relationships that have been built up over the past four years.”

These cordial relationships between US forces and private security firms—and, in particular, the connections between Blackwater and the Republican Party—have indeed been key in perpetuating the occupation in Iraq.

Blackwater USA was founded in 1997, and markets itself as “The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping and stability operations company in the world.” It receives at least 90 percent of its revenue from government contracts, two-thirds of which are on a no-bid basis.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blackwater worked under a no-bid contract with the Department of Homeland Security at a cost of $240,000 a day, operating as a security force whose main task was protecting government facilities.

Blackwater trains more than 40,000 people a year at its 7,000-acre base in Camden and Currituck Counties, North Carolina, which is composed of firing ranges, and indoor, outdoor and urban reproductions. Company promotional material boasts the company runs “the largest privately owned firearms training facility in the nation.” Blackwater also has a facility in Mount Carroll, Illinois and is looking to open another in California for military training.

In 2003, Blackwater was awarded the contract to guard Ambassador L. Paul Bremer at a cost of $21 million for 11 months. The company has been paid more than $320 million since June 2004 out of the US State Department’s five-year, $1 billion budget for the Worldwide Personal Protective Service—to protect US and some foreign officials in Iraq and elsewhere. In 2006, Blackwater won the contract to protect the colossal US embassy in Baghdad.

Blackwater founder and owner Erik Prince is a former Navy SEAL and millionaire who personally financed the formation of the company at the age of 27. Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Michigan and wife of billionaire Amway heir Dick DeVos, the party’s 2006 Michigan gubernatorial candidate.

Prince was an intern in the senior George Bush’s White House and campaigned for ultra-right Republican presidential hopeful Patrick Buchanan in 1992. Prince and Blackwater President Gary Jackson, also a former Navy SEAL, are major contributors to the Republican Party.

Prince now runs Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company. He also serves as a board member of Christian Freedom International, a group whose self-proclaimed mission is helping “Christians who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.”

Cofer Black, vice chairman of Blackwater USA since February 2005, worked in the Directorate of Operations at the Central Intelligence Agency for 28 years, and was appointed director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) in 1999. From December 2002 to November 2004 he was the US Department of State coordinator for counterterrorism, with the rank of ambassador at large.

Black is also chairman of Total Intelligence Solutions, providing “Fortune 1000 companies with the only comprehensive and complete solution for private intelligence” (

He is also CEO of The Black Group LLC, which advertises the company’s services on its web site: “The Black Group brings an unmatched skill set to the private sector. With corporations facing potential threats designed to cripple the global economy, The Black Group offers executives a variety of options; protection for travel to high threat locations, business intelligence, threat assessments, specialized investigations, and tools to detect biological/chemical threats. We can tailor a solution to meet your unique security needs.”

G.O.P.’s Dirty Tricks Begin

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 18, 2007

The folks who gave us the Willie Horton ads, the Swift boat campaign, the purges of black voters in Florida and endless other dirty electoral tricks are at it again.

Like crack addicts confronting the irresistible vial, the evil geniuses of the G.O.P. can’t seem to help themselves. This time — with an eye toward seizing the White House again next year, even if they lose the popular vote — they’re trying to rewrite the rules for the distribution of electoral votes in California.

Under current law, all of California’s 55 electoral votes go to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote statewide. This “winner take all” system is the norm in the U.S. It’s in place in all but two states, Maine and Nebraska, which have just four and five electoral votes, respectively.

Now comes a move, from lawyers with close ties to the Republican Party, to scrap the current system in California and replace it with one that would divide up the electoral votes in a way that would likely give 20 or more of them to the candidate who loses the popular vote in the state.

Democrats fear, correctly, that this maneuver could checkmate even their best efforts to win back the White House next year.

California is widely expected to go Democratic in the presidential election. Its 55 electoral votes are a hefty chunk of the 270 needed to win, and thus crucial to Democratic hopes.

Under this new proposal, the 20 or more electoral votes that would be denied the winner of the statewide vote in California, could well be enough to hand the White House to a Republican candidate who loses the popular vote nationally.

“Their idea is to have California be the only big state to do this,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who is supporting Senator Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. “If the Republicans can poach 20 electoral votes from the Democrats in California, that’s the same as winning all the electoral votes in Ohio. You’re basically giving them the election.”

The effort to change the way Californians vote for president has been cloaked in the typically deceptive garb that the G.O.P. pulls out for its underhanded maneuvering. The proposal has been dubbed the “Presidential Election Reform Act.” It is being led by Thomas Hiltachk of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk, a law firm that has represented both the state Republican Party and G.O.P. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

According to The Associated Press, the firm was also linked to a political committee, largely funded by Bob Perry, that targeted Democratic candidates in 2006. Mr. Perry, a longtime supporter of George W. Bush, contributed millions of dollars to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose intense and deceptive campaign in 2004 was so damaging to the candidacy of John Kerry.

This crowd is no more interested in genuine electoral reform than Britney Spears is.

Mr. Hiltachk and his operatives are trying to gather enough signatures to get their proposal before the voters as a California ballot initiative next June. If they succeed, and the voters approve the initiative, the rules for apportioning the state’s electoral votes would be changed for the 2008 presidential election.

Instead of “winner take all,” 53 of the state’s 55 electoral votes would be apportioned according to the winner of the presidential popular vote in each of the state’s 53 Congressional districts. A single vote would be awarded to the winner in each district. (The other two votes would still go to the statewide winner.)

John Kerry defeated George W. Bush in California in 2004 and collected all of the state’s electoral votes. But Mr. Bush won the popular vote in 22 of the state’s Congressional districts. If this proposed system had been in effect, 22 electoral votes would have been withheld from Mr. Kerry and given to Mr. Bush.

“This clearly is a power grab by the Republican Party,” said John Travis, a longtime political science professor at Humboldt State University in California. Mr. Travis believes that while there may be problems with the Electoral College system, this is not the way to fix it.

“This is simply a way for the Republicans to manipulate California’s electoral votes to their advantage,” he said.

Democrats do not have perfectly clean hands when it comes to this sort of thing. A similar effort by Democrats in North Carolina was scrapped at the insistence of national party leaders, and not a moment too soon.

What the Democrats need to do now is make sure that California voters understand that they are the latest targeted pawns in the G.O.P.’s longstanding efforts to undermine not just the Democrats but democracy itself.

Hillary Clinton, From Revolution to Evolution

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 18, 2007

Health care reform isn’t only about covering the uninsured. It’s about reorganizing one-seventh of the U.S. economy. It’s the issue that will redefine the role of government in the 21st century. So when I spoke with Hillary Clinton yesterday, I asked what her newly unveiled plan revealed about her political philosophy.

The word she kept coming back to was “partnerships.” She described an array of different social entities — individuals, the federal government, insurance companies, doctors and hospitals — coming together and exercising shared responsibility for creating a better system.

It began to sound like a health care loya jirga — indicative of the political vision that has marked so much of her thinking over the years. When some politicians are asked to describe systems that really work, they think of the competitive marketplace. Others think of political combat — good defeating evil. But Clinton, at her most hopeful moments, is a communitarian. When she’s asked to describe a system that works, she describes diverse people coming together around a big table to reach a consensus.

That’s the sort of national community her plan is supposed to foster and that’s the sort of process she used to create it. Clinton is hard to interview because her answers are often just chunks of her stump speeches, but I thought I detected real warmth when she described the way she and her staff came up with the plan.

“It was an exhilarating process!” she enthused, describing how all sorts of different people came together to talk through issues. “There were countless meetings,” she remembered fondly, “with business leaders who were surprised to find themselves sitting next to me” and a long parade of academics, nurses, experts and friends.

As she spoke, memories of the Clinton years wafted through my head — government by seminar running into the late hours. But as she will tell you (before you even have a chance to ask), she has learned a lot since the early 1990s, and while the conversations may still be endless, they are also more restrained.

And it’s true. The plan she unveiled yesterday is much simpler than the one she came up with 14 years ago. Back then, she and her staff were like technocratic engineers, one of her advisers told me, trying to patch every last gap in their edifice. This time they were content to leave the details of the plan to Congress.

Last time, they threatened people who were satisfied with their health coverage. This time they reassure them that nothing will change. Last time, they were out of touch with the American values of choice and individual freedom. This time they emphasize those values every chance they get, never seriously considering a Canadian-style single-payer system.

This time the change is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The private insurance/employer-based system will still remain the heart and soul of the social contract — it’s just that more people will be given tax credits so they can afford to buy in.

The Clinton plan makes life politically difficult for Mitt Romney. She relies on an individual insurance mandate. So does his plan in Massachusetts. The Clinton plan also takes the brave step of taxing the wealthy for gold-plated health care benefits — a reform that almost every Republican health expert endorses. Meanwhile, the plan seems to have driven John Edwards around the bend. The statement he issued yesterday qualifies as the shrillest statement issued by a major presidential candidate this year.

But the Clinton plan does have the weaknesses of the communitarian approach. She creates a magic circle of companies, providers, government entities, all interlocked in a system to provide health security. But there will still be forces outside the magic circle that will be adapting and innovating in ways that might upset the plan.

First, there will be state governments. One of the virtues of welfare reform is that while the national government set certain goals, it was up to the states to innovate and compete to reach them. Clinton says she’s not averse to creative solutions from the states, but she doubts that they’ll be able to lead the way since they rely on money from Washington. Hers is not a decentralized, federal approach.

Then, there are the insurance companies, the designated bêtes noires of her plan. They are commanded to insure everybody, but they’ll probably be extremely creative in finding ways to not insure high-risk people who will cost them money.

Then there are patients. The Clinton plan aims to lower health care costs through a variety of measures. But if the cost of an M.R.I. comes down, people will just want more of them. Americans spend more on computers as those machines get more efficient.

Finally, there is posterity. Our children face a gigantic tidal wave of debt as a result of our current health care system. If health care reform doesn’t fundamentally adjust benefits while using available tax increases to help the uninsured, then the system will still be unaffordable in the long run.

Hillary Clinton’s health care plan is a huge step forward from 1993. It’s better than the G.O.P. candidates’ plans (which don’t exist). But there are still complexities in the health care system that no loya jirga, no matter how smart, can fully anticipate and control.

Becoming an American Citizen, the Hardest Way

The New York Times
September 18, 2007

On an August day when some Iraqi’s homemade bomb tore through him, Cpl. Juan Mariel Alcántara became an American. He never got to appreciate the honor.

A little-discussed detail of this war is that some of those fighting in it as soldiers of the United States are not American citizens. Over all, about 21,000 noncitizens are serving in this country’s armed forces, the Defense Department says.

Until death claimed him on Aug. 6, one of them was Corporal Alcántara of the United States Army.

He did not live long enough to acquire a richly textured biography. He was born in the Dominican Republic, reared in Washington Heights. He was 22 when the bomb — an improvised explosive device, in military-speak — ended his life and the lives of three fellow soldiers from the Second Infantry Division while they searched a house in Baquba, north of Baghdad.

At 22, Corporal Alcántara was old enough to have talked about going to college and maybe becoming a New York police officer, old enough to have a fiancée, old enough to have fathered a baby girl he never saw, Jaylani, 6 weeks old when he was killed. He was old enough, too, to have sought American citizenship.

Every year, thousands of noncitizen soldiers do that, through an accelerated naturalization process offered to those who put themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us can go about our lives untouched by war. And every year, some of those soldiers become citizens only after they have literally been wrapped in the flag.

No other war has produced anywhere near as many posthumous citizens as this one, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Corporal Alcántara is the latest, No. 103. He is the 12th from New York, an honor roll that reflects today’s city: 10 men and 2 women born in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Myanmar and Nigeria.

The Americanization of Juan Alcántara came at his family’s request. Representative Charles B. Rangel of Manhattan helped shepherd the application through the bureaucracy in a matter of days. Officially, the corporal was declared an American from the day he died.

There was a formal ceremony yesterday in the colonnaded Great Hall of City College of New York. Corporal Alcántara’s relatives accepted his certificate of posthumous citizenship. They sat somberly in a front row: his mother, his two sisters and his fiancée, Sayonara Lopez, who fed Jaylani from a bottle.

Like scores of others filling the rows behind them, they carried small American flags. Yesterday was Citizenship Day across the country, a celebratory day for newly minted Americans. In the vaulted majesty of the Great Hall, used on occasion for such ceremonies, 242 people from 51 countries took the oath of citizenship. They were men and women like Lance Whitely, 32, formerly of Jamaica, now of the Bronx. “It’s everybody’s dream to become an American citizen,” he said before the ceremony began.

The new citizens listened to speeches on America’s grandeur and watched a large-screen video of President Bush offering congratulations.

Mr. Rangel, a critic of the Iraq war, left politics at the door. He spoke of a country that is hardly perfect but is ever working to make itself better. Once a combat soldier himself, part of the same Second Infantry Division during the Korean War, he talked about Corporal Alcántara’s sacrifice and America’s debt to him.

Throughout, the Alcántara family sat disconsolately. They applauded with the others and recited the Pledge of Allegiance and waved their little flags. But their hearts were elsewhere.

Maria Alcántara, the soldier’s mother, is clearly a woman of stricken soul. She holds Mr. Bush responsible for her son’s death. Corporal Alcántara’s Iraq duty was supposed to have ended on June 28, a day before his daughter was born. But his tour was extended as part of the president’s troop “surge.”

“If my son had been allowed to return, he would be alive,” Ms. Alcántara said in Spanish, “and he” — meaning the president — “is guilty.”

“My happiness, my everything, is gone,” she said.

The mother, who is not an American citizen, also spoke of being grateful for her son’s naturalization. Still, gratitude does not bring peace of mind, said one of her daughters, Fredelinda Peña. “It’s not a happy moment,” Ms. Peña said.

Unlike others on this day of celebration, the family wiped away tears. When the president’s image appeared on the screen, Ms. Alcántara kept her head down. She could not bring herself to look at the man who she felt was the reason her son did not come home.


Mangini Risks Fury of Scorned Hoodie

Sports of The Times
September 18, 2007

There is Coach Hoodie, and then there is Coach Hoodwink.

Coach Hoodie is the Patriots’ Bill Belichick. He answers with growls, is hardwired to be ruthless, and would have lost a congeniality contest to the dearly departed Leona Helmsley. He comes as is: obsessive, cold, and brazen enough to have cheated with his video spy games out in the open of a sideline.

Coach Hoodwink is the Jets’ Eric Mangini. He replies to questions in his library voice, visits Sesame Street in his downtime and readily reveals his soft, fatherly side. He comes off as duplicitous: paranoid, brutal, and nakedly ambitious enough to have double-crossed the organization that nurtured his career.

Mangini didn’t just flip on Belichick, costing his former mentor a celebrated image that has been reflected in a shelf-full of Lombardi Trophies, as well as a $500,000 fine and a prime draft pick. He did more. He also humiliated the respected Patriots owner and league power player Robert K. Kraft.

That sin has left Mangini toxic to some team executives. After all, would you trust him? Is there anyone — a player, assistant, general manager, owner or mascot — that he wouldn’t betray in a pinch?

Bad karma can be a career killer. It took Ted Nolan years to land his current gig as the coach of the Islanders after he was blackballed, in part because he was labeled a traitor of management during his Sabres days.

False righteousness can boomerang. The track coach Trevor Graham once said he anonymously mailed the syringe that started the Balco circus in an effort to clean up the sport, but a grand jury witness told a different tale: He did it to implicate athletes and coaches that his runners competed against. Graham is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to federal agents about the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs.

Videogate isn’t a criminal issue — it’s more of a punch line by now — but it does cast shadows on the league’s integrity.

There is no doubt Belichick’s video trickery was wrong, hubristic and a below-the-belt maneuver of reckless proportion. Commissioner Roger Goodell — the N.F.L.’s overtaxed moral warden — was right in delivering a punitive blow as a scare tactic to a league full of teams that seek a competitive edge by tapping into their inner MacGyvers. Even Kraft understood Goodell’s logic, even if it took him a while.

“I must tell you I was quite upset and perturbed when I saw the penalty, because I didn’t think that the incident deserved this kind of punishment,” Kraft told NBC on Sunday night. “Over the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about it and have cooled down. I realized he wasn’t just sending a message to the New England Patriots, he was sending it to all 32 teams.”

Belichick wasn’t alone in this race to the bottom of sports ethics. Mangini was very likely, at one point in his Patriot days, the spy who loved Hoodie.

How will we ever know? Maybe the lens will be the judge. In order to eliminate any competitive advantage Belichick might have tucked away in his film files, the Patriots said yesterday that they would comply with Goodell’s request to provide their videotape archive.

How about popcorn and a movie with Goodell? Imagine what’s on those old tapes. Is that Mangini holding the Cheat Cam in 2004? Is that Mangini wiretapping Bill Parcells’s headset in 2003?

A question to Jets officials yesterday about Mangini’s possible role in New England’s spy ring was greeted with the organization mantra: “It’s a league matter.”

The matter has revealed more about Mangini than Belichick. Already, Mangini was known for attempting to raid the Patriots’ cupboards upon his exit in January 2006. He slithered around Foxborough as if he were pilfering Whoville, trying to lift players, assistants and secretaries.

He wanted everything but the picture hooks on the walls. He also wanted to claim Belichick’s mind as his own intellectual property.

But who knew how far he would go for a gotcha of Belichick? Maybe Mangini’s betrayal was a little something he learned from Belichick’s school of calculated callousness. In a way, the two almost deserve each other. Someday, Belichick and Mangini may look up and realize teams can win — and play in Super Bowls — on the strength of a coach’s humanity, not his ability to humiliate.

Belichick is who he is. Mangini is the one with an identity crisis. He wants to portray himself as the anti-Bill — oozing charm when talking family values — and yet he longs to be Hoodie, to be known as wickedly smart.

Calling out his mentor lacked thought, though. It is not the wisest idea to mess with the N.F.L.’s version of Zeus. The wisdom of Mangini’s decision to flip Bill will play out all season — and maybe beyond. So far, it’s Coach Hoodie, 2-0; and Coach Hoodwink, 0-2.


Clinton Unveils Health Care Plan

Universal Healthcare. An idea whose time has come.

Associated Press Writer
Monday September 17

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a call for universal health care on Monday, plunging back into a political battle she memorably waged and lost as first lady more than a decade ago.

``This is not government-run,'' Clinton said of her plan to extend coverage to an estimated 47 million Americans who now go without.

She called for a requirement for businesses to obtain insurance for employees, and said the wealthy should pay higher taxes to help defray the cost for those less able to pay for it. She put the government's cost at $110 billion a year.

``Perhaps more than anybody else I know just how hard this fight will be,'' said the New York senator.

Dismissing the inevitable Republican criticism, Clinton admonished the crowd. ``I know my Republican opponents will try to equate health care for all Americans with government-run health care. Don't let them fool us again. This is not government-run.''

A front-running contender for her party's nomination, Clinton drew criticism this time from fellow Democrats as well as Republicans.

``To ensure all Americans have affordable health care will take more than leadership that simply knows how to fight,'' said rival Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

Addressing a crowd at a medical center in the early voting state of Iowa, Clinton laid out her proposal, with the centerpiece a so-called ``individual mandate,'' requiring everyone to have health insurance - just as most states require drivers to purchase auto insurance. Rival John Edwards has also offered a plan that includes an individual mandate, while the proposal outlined by Barack Obama does not.

Clinton's plan builds on the existing employer-based system of coverage. People who receive insurance through the workplace could continue to do so; businesses, in turn, would be required to offer insurance to employees, or contribute to a government-run pool that would help pay for those not covered. Clinton would also offer a tax subsidy to small businesses to help them afford the cost of providing coverage to their workers.

``I believe everyone - every man, woman and child - should have quality, affordable health care in America,'' said Clinton, vowing to accomplish the goal in her first term.

For individuals and families who are not covered by employers or whose employer-based coverage is inadequate, Clinton would offer expanded versions of two existing government programs: Medicare, and the health insurance plan currently offered to federal employees.

Consumers could choose between either government-run program, but aides stress that no new federal bureaucracy would be created under the Clinton plan.

Clinton proposed several specific measures to pay for her plan, including an end to some of the Bush-era tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 per year. Edwards has vowed to completely repeal the tax cuts for high earners to pay for the cost of his plan, estimated at $90 billion-$120 billion per year, while Obama would pay for his plan in part by letting the tax cuts expire in 2010.

Clinton says she has learned from the 1990s experience, which almost derailed Bill Clinton's presidency and helped put Republicans in control of Congress for years to come. Aides say she has jettisoned the complexity and uncertainty of the last effort in favor of a plan that stresses simplicity, cost control and consumer choice.

In response, Obama said Clinton's plan is similar to one he proposed in the spring, ``though my universal health care plan would go further in reducing the punishing cost of health care than any other proposal that's been offered in this campaign.''

He took another swipe at the Clinton administration's closed-door sessions on health care in the 1990s, saying ``the real key to passing any health care reform is the ability to bring people together in an open, transparent process that builds a broad consensus for change.''

Other Democratic rivals were swift in their criticism.

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said, ``If universal health care plans could have gotten us health care, we would have gotten it a long time ago.'' Added John Edwards: ``If you're going to negotiate universal health care with the same powerful interests that defeated it before, your proposal isn't a plan, it's a starting point.''

Edwards said on his first day in office he will submit legislation that would pull health insurance for the president, members of Congress and all political appointees unless they pass universal health care within six months.

Republican Mitt Romney, in New York City for a fundraising stop, criticized Clinton's proposal, saying, ``'Hillary care' continues to be bad medicine ... in her plan, we have Washington-managed health care. Fundamentally, she takes her inspiration from European bureaucracies.''

The plan that Romney helped institute while governor of Massachusetts requires the same individual insurance mandate as Clinton's and uses state subsidies to help reduce the cost of private coverage. Since then, Romney has said he would leave it up to the states to decide whether they supported such a mandate.

Said Republican Rudy Giuliani's campaign: ``Senator Clinton's latest health scheme includes more government mandates, expensive federal subsidies and more big bureaucracy - in short, prescription for an increase in wait times, a decrease in patient care and tax hikes to pay for it all.''

Associated Press Writer Ashley M. Heher in Chicago contributed to this report.


The Opinionator

September 17, 2007, 5:37 pm
Tough Talk on Iran (in French)
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

Ah, what must we Americans do to tamp down raging French bellicosity?

The world should ‘prepare for war’ with Iran, the French foreign minister has said, significantly escalating tensions over the country’s nuclear program,” reports The Telegraph of London, “Bernard Kouchner said that while ‘we must negotiate right to the end’ with Iran, if Teheran possessed an atomic weapon it would represent ‘a real danger for the whole world.’ ”

The Dutch blogger Michael van der Galiën is pleased:

One gets the impression that France is finding its old imperial soul back. No, I don’t favor Europe colonizing the world once again, but I do favor a strong and active Europe. We have lived too long in our Kantian paradise, pretending that the entire world is like us. The Americans understand much better that while Europe may live in its Kantian paradise, the world still lives according to the Hobbesian law: it’s all about power. Power is not something to be feared, but to be [pursued] and used.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy magazine’s Passport blog, however, thinks the top man at the Pentagon, Robert Gates, may supply a calming influence. He writes:

I think we know what side of the burgeoning “bomb Iran” discussion Bob Gates is on. Speaking with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, who asked about comments by Gen. David Petraeus about Iranian Revolutionary Guards bases thought to be supplying arms to Shiite militants in Iraq, the U.S. secretary of defense indicated that diplomacy remains the Bush administration’s preferred approach to the Islamic Republic.


September 17, 2007, 2:06 pm
Oh, That Michael Mukasey
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

Have we had a senatorial change of heart? Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters cites a New York Sun article reporting that Senator Chuck Schumer, head of the judiciary committee, may not support attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey. “Schumer, who had openly championed Mukasey as a ‘consensus candidate’ to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General,” Morissey writes, “suddenly appears unsure.” He continues:

Just two years ago, Schumer pushed Mukasey as a contender for the William Rehnquist seat on the Supreme Court. The liberal group Alliance for Justice joined him in endorsing Mukasey as an alternative to John Roberts …. Bush has managed to strip Schumer of his last pretenses of fairness and honesty, and the Alliance for Justice may be next. Uncle Chuck couldn’t give a fig for “consensus.” He used Mukasey as a club to beat Bush two years ago… Schumer just had his bluff called, and one can expect that the confirmation hearings will feature several Republican committee members read into the record over and over again Schumer’s endorsement of Mukasey for the lifetime appointment.

Jeralynn Merritt at TalkLeft is also bemused:

What’s up with Sen. Charles Schumer? First he touts Mukasey to Bush for both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s position, and now he’s promising a tough confirmation hearing and saying Judge Mukasey only has ‘potential’ to be a consensus nominee? … Maybe he should have ascertained the Judge’s positions on these issues before he recommended him for the job.

Merritt may be a proud liberal, but she seems satisfied by the White House choice: “[A]nyone Bush picks for A.G. is going to be a conservative,” she points out. “Mukasey has bucked the government in several cases, and I’ve found nothing to suggest he will be the administration’s water boy. Mukasey is a far better pick than Ted Olson or, for that matter, a career prosecutor who grew up under Ashcroft and Gonzales.”


September 17, 2007, 9:21 am
Judging Mukasey
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

After much speculation that conservative hero and liberal bete noir Ted Olson would be tabbed to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, it seems the Bush administration has chosen a nominee with a far lower profile: Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge from New York who has presided over several high-profile terrorism trials.

Deven Desai, an assistant professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, notes that “Judge Mukasey has a curious background.” Writing at Concurring Opinions, Desai continues:

He was a federal prosecutor with Rudy Giuliani and has ties to his campaign, served 19 years on the federal bench, and according to some interviewed by the Washington Post, is not well-known or likely to be favored among conservatives. Perhaps his rejection of the claim that Jose Padilla could be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant, which resulted in the case being transferred to South Carolina, upset some folks. Still as the Post notes, William Kristol of the Weekly Standard has written an editorial defending the choice.

Kristol suggests that even though Judge Mukasey denied the government’s motion in Padilla’s case he will be acceptable to conservatives. …

I can’t say I know enough about the man at this point. As Kristol posited, the right may be choosing someone who will not be challenged (Sen. Schumer of New York seems to like the choice) and do little harm from the right’s view in the year and a quarter left in this administration’s term.


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