Scenes: Battle Damage Assessment


File under, “Ouch”. And then visit Milt Priggee:

Milt Priggee via Cagle

If the above makes no sense, just skip it. There is no law that says everything must make sense to you.

Or go read “Waterloo“, by former American Enterprise Institute fellow David Frum.

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Notes On the Health Care Battle: Dust and Smoke


Only vague first impressions; it’s difficult to get any real perspective while so much dust and smoke hangs in the air after the conflagration.

Paul Krugman, before the vote:

Adam Zyglis via CagleSo what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.

For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.

This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Republican David Frum on the political fallout:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Kirk Walters via CagleCould a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

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Friedman Redux


Twice in a week? Well, maybe I’ll just have to get over Friedman’s whole “suck on this” big-stick attitude.

Apparently, Maureen Dowd has the day off, so Friedman fills in today with more reflections on the economic crisis:

Yet I read that we’re actually holding up dozens of key appointments at the Treasury Department because we are worried whether someone paid Social Security taxes on a nanny hired 20 years ago at $5 an hour. That’s insane. It’s as if our financial house is burning down but we won’t let the Fire Department open the hydrant until it assures us that there isn’t too much chlorine in the water. Hello?

Meanwhile, the Republican Party behaves as if it would rather see the country fail than Barack Obama succeed. Rush Limbaugh, the de facto G.O.P. boss, said so explicitly, prompting John McCain to declare about President Obama to Politico: “I don’t want him to fail in his mission of restoring our economy.” The G.O.P. is actually debating whether it wants our president to fail. Rather than help the president make the hard calls, the G.O.P. has opted for cat calls. It would be as if on the morning after 9/11, Democrats said they wanted no part of any war against Al Qaeda — “George Bush, you’re on your own.”

As for President Obama, I like his coolness under fire, yet sometimes it feels as if he is deliberately keeping his distance from the banking crisis, while pressing ahead on other popular initiatives. I understand that he doesn’t want his presidency to be held hostage to the ups and downs of bank stocks, but a hostage he is. We all are.

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The Bush success


There is something to be said for the obvious, although we can be sure there is somewhere an economist, politician, or pundit willing to explain why the prescription suggested by Michael T. Klare, writing for the Toronto Star would not be a particularly effective palliative for the spiraling costs of oil:

… the Bush administration’s greatest contribution to rising oil prices is its steady stream of threats to attack Iran, if it does not back down on the nuclear issue. The Iranians have made it plain that they would retaliate by attempting to block the flow of Gulf oil and otherwise cause turmoil in the energy market. Most analysts assume, therefore, that an encounter will produce a global oil shortage and prices well over $200 per barrel. It is not surprising, then, that every threat by Bush/Cheney (or their counterparts in Israel) has triggered a sharp rise in prices. This is where speculators enter the picture. Believing that a U.S.-Iranian clash is at least 50 per cent likely, some investors are buying futures in oil at $140, $150 or more per barrel, thinking they’ll make a killing if there’s an attack and prices zoom past $200.

It follows, then, that while the hike in prices is due largely to ever-increasing demand chasing insufficiently expanding supply, the Bush administration’s energy policies have greatly intensified the problem. By seeking to preserve an oil-based energy system at any cost, and by adding to the “fear factor” in international speculation through its bungled invasion of Iraq and bellicose statements on Iran, it has made a bad problem much worse ….

…. And if this administration truly wanted to spare Americans further pain at the pump, there is one thing it could do that would have an immediate effect: declare that military force is not an acceptable option in the struggle with Iran. Such a declaration would take the wind out of the sails of speculators and set the course for a drop in prices.

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Empowering the monkey-man


We know that the American political arena is a difficult one. And while shutting off microphones in an attempt to silence opposition is not a tactic confined merely to the FOX News crowd, what is the Beltway equivalent of covering one’s ears, shutting the eyes tightly, and singing “La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la Mary had a little lamb little lamb little lamb!”

Welcome to the Bush White House. (What? Like you didn’t see that one coming?)

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.’s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

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An open letter to Mr. Tim Rutten


Mr. Rutten:

Your June 18, 2008 opinion column, published by the Los Angeles Times, is untenable. Your attempt to reduce Bush administration collusion to license the torture of terrorism suspects to mere politics is a disservice to the people of the United States of America, and an insult to our neighbors around the world.

While indeed these are difficult times marked by sharp political disagreements, the pretense that bad-faith legal advice customized to warrant blatant disregard for the law, the United States Constitution, and the international agreements to which our nation has signed its commitment and prestige is mere political maneuvering does not simply verge on the outrageous, but rather punches through that border and demands a wholesale transcension of the very concept of rule of law.
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How strange can it get?


It’s just one of those things that makes me wonder how desperate the situation has gotten. Only two events done in a long list of fifty, and already the confusion and nervous hand-wringing has escalated the discussion to a nearly incoherent fever pitch. No, I’m not talking about any particular presidential campaign but, rather, the press corps that covers the campaign.

The mystery beginsThe current situation starts, for me, as a note on the front page of the Doonesbury Town Hall, where the Daily Briefing headlines include a note that “King Slight Could Linger”. Clicking on the link, perusing the collection of headlines assembled by NewsTrust, I am unable to find the relevant story. I use my browser’s find function, and cannot come up with a “king” that matches. (There is “breaking“, “talking“, “looking“, “asking“, &c., but nothing on “King”.) So I head on over to Google, which kindly and quickly suggests Seth Gitell’s January 10 article for the New York Sun, “Slight of King Could Linger for Voters“.

A-ha!

Senator Clinton’s comment stressing the importance of President Johnson at the expense of the role of Martin Luther King Jr. may come back to haunt her in the battle to attract African American voters, who make up half of the Democratic electorate in the upcoming South Carolina primary.

The situation underscores the perils for Mrs. Clinton as she confronts a challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination from Senator Obama. Her attempts to criticize Mr. Obama risk backfiring and alienating black voters, an important Democratic constituency.

Gitell notes a New York Times editorial that “cautioned that Mrs. Clinton ‘came perilously close to injecting racial tension'” into an “uplifting” historical occasion, e.g., a showdown between the first major female and first major African-American contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Reading through Gitell’s article, it is hard to find a description of the actual offense Senator Clinton has allegedly committed. But there is this paragraph:

The Obama camp and civil rights leaders independent of the political campaigns yesterday seized on Mrs. Clinton’s statement, “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964…It took a president to get it done.”

Okay. Gitell tells of Crown Heights Assemblyman Karim Camara, who talked about receiving calls from surprised constituents, colleagues, and pastors. Mr. Camara talked about sensitivity to language, and how that might benefit Senator Obama’s campaign. Gitell also notes Michael Meyers, of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, who said Clinton was out of line, and how her comments seemed “to be desperate and a misreading of history”. Indeed, Mr. Meyers called Clinton’s statements “ignorant of the participation of everyday people, including Dr. King”.

So it couldn’t possibly be the short quip Gitell had cited that has everybody up in arms, could it?

I head over to the New York Times for more. In the middle of a January 9 editorial comes this stinging indictment:

In Mrs. Clinton’s zeal to make the case that experience (hers) is more important than inspirational leadership (Mr. Obama’s), she made some peculiar comments about the relative importance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson to the civil rights cause. She complimented Dr. King’s soaring rhetoric, but said: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. … It took a president to get it done.”

Why Mrs. Clinton would compare herself to Mr. Johnson, who escalated the war in Vietnam into a generational disaster, was baffling enough. It was hard to escape the distasteful implication that a black man needed the help of a white man to effect change. She pulled herself back from the brink by later talking about the mistreatment and danger Dr. King faced. Former President Bill Clinton, who seems to forget he is not the one running, hurled himself over the edge on Monday with a bizarre and rambling attack on Mr. Obama.

Mr. Clinton has generally been a statesman as ex-president, and keeping up this sort of behavior will undermine his credibility and ability to do more good.

What, seriously? Did I really just read that?

It really does seem a bit of bluster over a few words, especially when nobody is explaining what, exactly, the offense is. As near as I can tell, President Johnson’s role in the civil rights drama should, according to the New York Times be ignored because of his role in Vietnam.

And maybe it has something to do with the words themselves. “Realize”. Most people treat the word differently than its components: “real” and “-ize”. The former is obvious, and the suffix? Is there some problem I’m unaware of? While many people might treat the word “realize” as synonymous to “understand”—e.g. did Clinton not realize that she was putting herself in a vulnerable position, given a contentious primary cycle and a hostile, embarrassed press corps reeling from its own punch-drunk speculations that crashed spectacularly on a Tuesday night in New Hampshire?—but there is another fairly common usage, as well, which is “to make real”. Other words people use—perhaps because some are confused by such a use of the word “realize”—are “actualize” and one of my favorite made-up words, “concretize”.

It seems to me that no matter how much dreaming Dr. King might have done, at some point some politician somewhere needed to implement that dream. And, the Vietnam debacle and the Times‘ distaste notwithstanding, that politician was President Lyndon Johnson.

If you’re confused by now, so am I. The best thing to do at this point would be to get it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Given the nature of the twenty-first century presidential horserace, is there any reason the statement in question wouldn’t be at YouTube?

Of course not. It’s 2008. If this one has escaped YouTube, it might be a sign of the Apocalypse.

Hmph. Really? That’s it? As specific an answer as you’re going to get from a politician to a specific question? Seriously, that’s really what’s at the heart of the hullaballoo?

At first viewing—and, truth told, all subsequent viewings—I’m hard-pressed to understand where the offense is. Someone needs to explain it to me directly and specifically.

Looking around for some sort of explanation, I land on Michael Fauntroy’s article, posted earlier today. The first clue is the title: “Johnson Did Help Give Life to King’s Dream“.

Okay.

Hillary Clinton has been taking a beating for a comment she recently made regarding Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the role President Lyndon Johnson played in bringing about the legislative change sought by the civil rights movement. She noted that King’s dream began to come into focus when President Lyndon Johnson supported and signed into law important civil rights legislation. Some African Americans, sadly disconnected from the historical record, took the comment as a slight to King’s legacy. Conservatives did what they usually do, stoking the fire by suggesting that Clinton simply dissed the Black icon and should be punished by African American voters. (Disclosure: Neither Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama is my preferred presidential candidate). Clinton is factually right and, after seeing the video of the comment, I am convinced that she met no disrespect to King’s legacy.

My interest in King is more than academic. I’m blessed to [be] a nephew of Rev. Walter Fauntroy, one of Dr. King’s chief lieutenants. He has long told me of his work during this period and how the man (King) and the movement coalesced and unified the country, which became outraged by what they saw on the evening news night after night. He also told me something that I tell my students: ideas and movements mean nothing if they don’t change public policy. Mass movements and demonstrations are designed to prick the conscience of the country on a given issue. At that point the legislative process takes over. That process must go through the president. A supportive president can accelerate change. An obstinate president (see Bush, G.W. – Iraq) can thwart a movement, even though it might have a majority of support in Congress.

My uncle has told me a thousand times about how important Lyndon Johnson was to making the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 a reality. He sacrificed his own favor with southern conservatives to do the right thing. I see a particular irony that some southern Black elected officials, some of whom owe their seats in Congress to the changes effectuated by the Voting Rights Act, now criticizing Clinton for remembering her civil rights history. Noting Johnson’s role is not disrespectful to King’s legacy. It’s simply a historical fact. And Clinton’s memory seems to be on target.

I suppose it’s not fair to take comfort from the fact that an assistant professor of public policy from George Mason University is willing to state so dramatically something so reflective of my suspicion. Perhaps he’s blinded by sentiment, being the nephew of a prestigious historical personage; perhaps his heritage gives him a stake in this debate that makes him unreliable. After all, it could not be that this whole controversy is driven largely by a the press, which, on the one hand has a long dislike for the Clintons and, toPresident Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, July 2, 1964 (photo by Stoughton) the other, was thoroughly embarrassed by Clinton’s victory in New Hampshire, right?

We cannot forget civil rights groups who are, understandably, tired of any implication that civil rights and human decency are somehow a privilege awarded by whites. The aforementioned Mr. Meyers finds company in Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), himself a prestigious figure in civil rights history, who has has reminded that “We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about” civil rights. According to Carl Hulse:

Mr. Clyburn, a veteran of the civil rights movement and a power in state Democratic politics, put himself on the sidelines more than a year ago to help secure an early primary for South Carolina, saying he wanted to encourage all candidates to take part. But he said recent remarks by the Clintons that he saw as distorting civil rights history could change his mind.

“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics,” said Mr. Clyburn, who was shaped by his searing experiences as a youth in the segregated South and his own activism in those days. “It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”

And while it is difficult to take issue with such a luminary of the civil rights struggle, Mr. Fauntroy’s observation is valid. Hulse’s article for the New York Times does not include Rep. Clyburn’s explanation of just how Clinton has denigrated Dr. King or the civil rights era in general. It is almost as if some are seeking a reason to be offended.

Mr. Clyburn, reached for a telephone interview Wednesday during an overseas inspection of port facilities, also voiced frustration with former President Clinton, who described Mr. Obama’s campaign narrative as a fairy tale. While Mr. Clinton was not discussing civil rights at the time and seemed to be referring mainly to Mr. Obama’s stance at the Iraq war, Mr. Clyburn saw the remark as a slap at the image of a black candidate running on a theme of unity and optimism.

“To call that dream a fairy tale, which Bill Clinton seemed to be doing, could very well be insulting to some of us,” said Mr. Clyburn, who said he and others took significant risks more than 40 years ago to produce such opportunities for future black Americans.

Unity and optimism, indeed. But such a sunny outlook can certainly be overextended. This point was at the heart of Paul Krugman’s criticism last month of the Obama campaign. In that case, Krugman assailed Obama’s idealism vis á vis wealthy and influential American corporations.

Do Obama supporters who celebrate his hoped-for ability to bring us together realize that “us” includes the insurance and drug lobbies?

O.K., more seriously, it’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? “I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.

As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.

The article sparked a controversy between Obama supporters and the New York Times columnist that lasted a couple weeks. It is important to note, though, that Bill Clinton was not the first to criticize Obama’s campaign vision as dysfunctionally idealistic. John Edwards called Obama’s outlook a “complete fantasy”; Krugman suggested the pitch was fit for a “fantasy world”. Neither of them have faced such stern condemnation from civil rights groups. It seems to me that Fauntroy might have a point that a disconnection has occurred. The unfortunate result is that venerable civil rights leaders such as Rep. Clyburn, and modern activists like NYCRC’s Meyers, do themselves and their work a disservice by making this about race. In the first place, the argument against Clinton’s remarks seems to suggest that acknowledging President Johnson’s role somehow denigrates black people and the civil rights movement. Secondly, there is an appearance that some are willing to use skin color in order to bait the controversy. And, of course, a smarting, bloodthirsty press will only complicate matters by actualizing the exploitation.

It seems a testament to the perversity of the American political arena that Hillary Clinton should be the villain in this particular dispute. On the one hand, Obama seems free to invoke Dr. King at will. To the other, Hillary Clinton, oft-criticized for her failure to give a straightforward answer, seems obliged—as the controversy suggests—to dodge a direct question or, perhaps in deference to Rep. Clyburn’s warning that we must “be very, very careful” about how we speak about civil rights, give a canned answer divorced from history when asked a specific question about Obama’s pointed reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. And, to yet another, I still don’t understand how, according to Rep. Clyburn, Mr. Meyers, the New York Times, or any number of critics, Dr. King’s famous, inspiring dream could begin growing into reality without President Johnson, or someone his equal, to shepherd and sign the Civil Rights Act.

More important than Hillary Clinton, per se, is the bizarre aspect that resembles race-baiting. The rise of a black frontrunner in the Democratic contest for the presidential ticket ought to signify a waning color divide in our society. Yet this controversy suggests the opposite, that, while we are prepared to at least pay lip service to such noble aspirations, we are somehow not ready to get over our racist American heritage, that we are not going to let go of the past and look to the future without at least one last desperate twist of the knife. Perhaps there is a grassroots corruption taking place. Assemblyman Camara describes getting calls from constituents, elected officials, and fellow pastors expressing surprise. Perhaps, in grasping for a sense of authority in a tumultuous period of redefinition, a significant number of people who should be reassuring those who inquire are, instead, exploiting the occasion, fanning the fires, in order to assuage their own insecurities with an illusion of control. It is hard to tell from afar. Then again, this whole controversy is puzzling, and seems, frankly, much ado about nothing. Which, of course, lends the issue a sordid, tragic air. And in that we come to the heart of the matter: the sordid and tragic, whose relationship is characterized by extraneity, hurts us all.