Saturday, October 31, 2009

Weekly Address: Milestones on the Economy and the Recovery Act

Yesterday on Air America, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter opined that health care reform appears to be the "signature issue" of Barack Obama's first term, as if the significance of Obama's presidency could be distilled to Harry Reid's ability to wring 60 votes for reform out of the Senate. Health care reform is important, no question. But reducing Obama's first term to his success or failure on this one issue ignores the eight years of malign neglect by the Bush Administration.

The Bush Administration didn't merely fiddle while Rome burned: It poured fuel on the fire. Its policies led to the economic collapse of 2008. It did nothing while more and more Americans joined the ranks of the uninsured. It ignored the ongoing impact of climate change. It poured American blood and treasure into a catastrophic war in Iraq and supported a corrupt government in Afghanistan. It backed the Pakistani military instead of a rising middle class, thus fueling resentment toward America in a vital part of the world. It bungled and then politicized the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. In fact, it politicized virtually everything, including scientific fact. It attempted to thwart the Constitution by building executive power beyond anything imagined by the Founders or any previous presidency.

This is the context in which Barack Obama took office last January. His success or failure will not come about due to his performance on a single issue, and certainly can't be reduced to the kind of scorekeeping indulged in by the MSM. Obama's responsibility is nothing less than restoring the presidency as an effective, coequal branch of government that is respected home and abroad because it successfully sets and executes policies that advance American domestic and international interests. He must accomplish this without, I hope and pray, deepening the country's military commitment in Afghanistan, something I have come to believe would be an error of historic proportions.

Sadly, the burden is on him and the Democratic party alone, as the Republicans have utterly failed to recreate themselves as a serious opposition party. Their attitude toward heath care and global warming sum them up: They have no plan because they recognize no problem. As for Afghanistan, if we don't blindly follow the recommendations of the military, if we treat the generals with skepticism, we are dithering. Hurricane Katrina? Hey, "those people" shouldn't have been living there. In short, keep the blinders on, bend to the will of the party yahoos, and hope Obama fails. If that happens, they seem to believe, maybe they'll gat back in power, which is what it's all about.

History will measure Barack Obama's presidency by his ability to turn around the ship of state in exceptionally troubled waters and by how successfully he can reverse the disaster of the previous administration. Bush failed the country and left a nearly unprecedented mess to his successor. In some respects, Obama can't help but be an improvement. But he has to be more than that: He must restore a fundamental credibility to the office. His achievements must be of the kind that restores the faith of the people in their own government, that allows them to believe that it works for them and not for special interests...


The Backstreet Cultural Museum presents and preserves the unique cultural traditions of New Orleans' African-American society, including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, and Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs:
Video: Backstreet Cultural Museum

More here and here...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Public Option Is Back In Play

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has decided to include a public option as part of a health care reform bill. While this doesn't mean that the Senate will pass or even debate such a bill, it leaves me cautiously optimistic that the House and Senate will eventually pass a bill that includes a public option. The counter argument suggests that this is a negotiating ploy by Reid aimed at placating Senate liberals. While this is definitely a possibility, it's also true that polls show consistent support for a public option and that two months ago such a maneuver by Reid would have been unthinkable...

Paul Krugman writes that not only will health care reform pass, the reforms will work...

Responding to an innovative assignment, NOLA students write and act out their own epic Katrina odysseys...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge...

Let it be...

The right eats its own in upstate New York, opening the door for its first Democratic congressman since before the Civil War...

October movie: Alphaville...

Lessons in letting go for empty nest parents...

Sunday Gospel Time: Pastor Phillip Britton and the Great St. Stephen Mass Choir

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Weekly Address: Working with Small Business to Drive Recovery

Michelle Obama talks about the importance of health care reform to women, mothers, and families:

Sacked out...

We're painting a wall today. Our first home improvement project! So far, we've taped the wall and washed it without getting a divorce. All that's left is the actual painting, plus removing the tape. This will add a dash of much needed color to the dining area...

Jacob Weisberg writes that the Obama administration is right to call out Fox News as not being a serious news network. He points out that Fox's response is typical: Deny the accusation with coverage that proves the point. What he can't understand is why legitimate news organizations have rushed to Fox's defense. I agree: Any competing news organization would be embarrassed to adopts Fox's standards. This doesn't have anything to do with Fox opinion programming, as despicable as it might be. It has everything to do with their blatant bias in news coverage, right down to uncritically reciting Republican talking points as hard news. No Democrat, no liberal commentator, no actual independent journalist should legitimize the Fox beast by appearing on its news programming...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dave Reichert, Referendum 71

This morning, I received email from my Congressman, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) about his "fight" for health care reform:
I am eager to adopt reforms for health care that make sense, and to strengthen our health care system without raising costs, reducing choices, or bankrupting or nation. I'll keep fighting to make that happen.
Now, if Reichert has actually proposed anything along these lines, he's been might quiet about it. But, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I wrote back giving him the chance to clarify his assertions:
Specifically, what reforms do you recommend? Specifically, how have you been fighting to make those happen? What is your evidence that any of the proposed legislation will "bankrupt our nation?"

We'll see how he replies. Reichert has generally been an ineffective, intellectual embarrassment to one of the most highly educated districts in the country. He has successfully positioned himself as a moderate while generally following the Republican party line...

On November 3, Washington voters will vote on Referendum 71, which, according to Wikipedia, would
re-confirm the expansion of domestic partnership rights and obligations in Washington's originally limited domestic partnership legislation. The expansion (SB 5688) was signed by Governor Christine Gregoire on May 18, 2009.

The referendum was actually submitted to the ballot by anti-gay groups like Protect Marriage Washington, which campaigns to reject the referendum and thus invalidate the law. Enforcement of SB 5688 is suspended pending the outcome of the referendum.

Supporters of the referendum have been running this simple yet forceful television ad:

Protect Marriage Washington, of course, resorts to wrapping itself in the flag, AIDS hysteria, and nativism (homosexuality, it appears, is an un-American and a peculiarly Scandinavian perversion):

The anti-71 crew's latest gambit is a lawsuit that would lift state limits on last minute contributions and throw shadows on Washington state's sunshine laws...

Friday's Choice: The Byrds sing "Turn! Turn! Turn!" on the Ed Sullivan Show:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chili Sunday

Blogger appears to be experiencing upload problems, so no Sunday funnies today.

We're having a few people over this afternoon for an annual celebration of football, friends, family, and Texas red chili. Here's W. Sam Oatman's tried-and-true recipe (as adapted by me) from the 1979 edition of the Texas Hill Country Cookbook:

3-3.25 pounds lean ground beef
6 oz. beer
3 oz. tomato paste
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 Anaheim chili peppers
3 red chili peppers
2 jalapenos

In a large stew pot, put meat, beer, and two cups water. Simmer meat until light gray in color, then add tomato paste. Stir and simmer for a few minutes, then add spices, garlic, onion, and salt. Stir thoroughly and remove from heat.

Remove seeds and stems from chili pods and boil in a covered saucepan for with 3 cups of water for 15 minutes. Remove peppers and water to a blender and blend into a thick sauce. Ad sauce to meat and simmer 2 hours. Serves 4 to 6...

Last night, I lit a fire and watched Mutiny on the Bounty, the 1935 Best Picture winner starring Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh and Clark Gable (sans mustache) as Fletcher Christian. Talk about great story telling! Laughton is brilliant as the sadistic Bligh and Gable -- despite misgivings about the part -- gives a definitive performance as the conflicted first mate torn between duty and a desire to handle the Bounty's crew with a light hand. Don't miss this one!

Foxessa reviews The Harder They Come, the 1973 film starring Jimmy Cliff that brought reggae to the United States...

Sunday Gospel Time: Lee Williams & The Spiritual QCs sing "He Laid His Hands On Me":

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Weekly Address: Taking the Insurance Companies on Down the Stretch

President Obama tells the truth about the "smoke and mirrors" resorted to by insurance companies to stop health care reform:
...there are still those who would try to kill reform at any cost. The history is clear: for decades rising health care costs have unleashed havoc on families, businesses, and the economy. And for decades, whenever we have tried to reform the system, the insurance companies have done everything in their considerable power to stop us...

If you missed Keith Olbermann's brilliant commentary on health care reform last night, it's here. Especially gripping is the part where he contrasts his own good fortune at being able to access the best of the health care system for his father with with the travails of a boyhood friend faced with selling the family farm to pay for care for daughter with Lyme disease. Olbermann asks a fundamental question: If the government has no role in helping keep its citizens healthy, what is it for?...

President Obama commits to building a VA hospital in downtown NOLA. The people at Save Charity Hospital are glad to hear of it, although they point out that the definition of "downtown" requires some refining...

I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes Dept: Stop the Morans!...

Rain in Seattle on October 15 is as certain as taxes as April 15. We awoke this morning to an absolute monsoon (don't miss Premium T.'s footage here), and naturally I've been humming The Beatles' "Rain" to myself all morning. Back in 1970, the Beatles released an album called Hey Jude. Available only in the States, it collected singles (including "Rain") that had never made it to an album, B-sides, and a couple of previously unreleased tracks into a 30-minute whole. Of course, I didn't know any of this when I bought it or when I listened to it endlessly back in my South Texas bedroom. To me, it was a collection of unbelievably great songs, of which "Rain" was only one.

Hey Jude has never been released on CD, but all of the songs can be found on A Hard Day's Night and The Beatles Past Masters Vol. 2. I spent part of this morning cobbling together the tracks in their original order:

Can't Buy Me Love
I Should Have Known Better
Paperback Writer
Lady Madonna
Hey Jude
Old Brown Shoe
Don't Let Me Down
The Ballad of John and Yoko

So, despite the rain, I've spent a good part of the morning back in South Texas, nearly forty years ago...

Friday, October 16, 2009


Retirement is killing me.

When my first wife passed away, I decided to be a stay-at-home dad. My boys were teenagers and pretty independent, but I figured that a reliable presence in the home was a necessary bit of continuity for them. They did not need a parent preoccupied with career worries and responsibilities; since I was already taking time off, it seemed natural to extend that. Plus, I felt like I had this responsibility to make the effort to get into the best physical condition I could manage: After all, I was the only parent they had.

Well, now they are both seniors in college and retirement is driving me crazy. I could write about the sameness of every day, but it all comes down to wanting to feel productive. I'm volunteering for an after school program and have put in my time on the boards of nonprofit organizations. That has helped. But there's nothing like being a part of working group and the feeling that your contribution is important enough to merit being paid for it.

Aside from the volunteer stints, I haven't worked in several years and feel as if my technical and writing chops have atrophied. And, I'm profoundly uninterested in resuming an executive career. So, I've decided to pursue the retraining route, in this case via Professional and Technical Editing Certification from Bellevue College.

I signed up for the obvious starter class: Professional Editing I. In some ways, I haven't learned much that I didn't already know. As I've never been an editor, the class -- which is well taught by a very experienced and knowledgeable guy -- has been useful in helping me organize and clarify my thoughts about editing. The real challenge of the class has been the project, which has been humbling to say the least.

For anyone interested -- and if you read for more than two sentences I'll be amazed -- I chose to edit this Wikipedia article. I selected the article after a cursory glance through it: The article related to work in my past life and I felt a comfort level with, if not necessarily an affinity for, the material. Then I started working on it. Suddenly confronted with a bewildering maze of technical terminology and amateurish organization, I wondered whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. The instructor gave me a pep talk and I waded in.

And do you know what? Twenty readings and several reorganizations later, I've whipped it into shape. It's not perfect and I may not have everything right, but I've added value -- an organization and attention to technical definitions that simply wasn't there. After meeting with the program advisor yesterday, I'm feeling like completion of this program will give me exactly what I need to walk into an agency and get some contracts.

So, I'll be spending the next several months taking classes like Substantive Editing, Developmental Editing, Information Architecture for the Web, and Project Management for Technical Writers and Editors. I'm glad that the classes seem demanding: I need to be pushed, plus succeeding in them will grow confidence. Stay tuned!...

Check out Farewell to Storyville, Paul Sanchez' new album, here...


Cliff's Crib reflects on President Obama's visit to NOLA...

Happiness is listening to your wife play Joni Mitchell's "The River" on piano from sheet music that you just helped her download...

If you lived in NOLA, you could join the likes of Buddy Guy, Irma Thomas, and Sonny Landreth at the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival this weekend. Tasty in so many ways...

Friday's Choice: The incomparable Toots Hibbert -- with help from the Maytals -- sings "Take Me Home, Country Road:"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bum's Rush

So Rush Limbaugh is part of a group attempting to purchase the NFL's St. Louis Rams. So what? Should his politics prevent him from his god-given right to own part of a professional sports franchise? After all, NFL ownership is hardly a bastion of liberalism anyway.

Yesterday, I listened to a sports call-in show in which this was the topic of conversation. Kevin Calabro, the host, felt that Limbaugh was too "controversial" to merit NFL ownership. Many callers said that even though they listened to Rushbo, they didn't always agree with him (they generally didn't say what they did agree with him about), which somehow argued for the position that there shouldn't be a political litmus test when it comes to sports team ownership.

Except that it's not about politics or even controversy. It's about racism, a matter on which professional sports doesn't have a particularly proud history. Should a league that has a franchise named "Redskins" invite into its ownership fold a man who makes his living in part by promoting racial polarization? Wouldn't Limbaugh's presence as an owner be a slap in the face to the majority of players who happen to be African-American?

The majority of NFL owners are no doubt deeply conservative, even though they happily reap the benefits of participating in a socialist institution built around revenue sharing and a salary cap. For all I know, several of them listen to Rushbo regularly and share his views. But they don't inject poison into the body politic by public appeals to racial fears and prejudices...

R. I. P., Rusty Wier. Here, he performs his hit "Don't It Make You Want to Dance?," also recorded by Bonnie Raitt and many others:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

Cajun Delights reports from the Festivals Creoles et Acadiens...

Reflecting the times at NOLA's Conservatory of Two Sisters...

Who has health insurance? Hint: It helps if you live in Vermont, Hawaii, Iowa, or Minnesota. It doesn't help so much if you're an adult living just about anywhere else, but particularly in the South, Southeast, or lower Midwest. (Thanks to Watergate Summer.)...

Race, class, and Katrina. (Thanks to Foxessa for pointing me to this amazing photo essay.)...

Down to Ochre Point. Who knew that Rhode Island could so dramatic?...

T. and I are off to today's must-win Seahawks' game. I'm not holding my breath...

Sunday Gospel Time: Pastor Shirley Caesar sings "He'll Do It Again:"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Weekly Address: New Momentum for Health Care Reform

The president cites the growing number of Republicans who support health care reform. Unfortunately, too many of them are former elected officials with no influence today other than the frail authority of their voices. Which, in the climate of today's Washington, is no influence at all even if you are Bob Dole or Bill Frist. In terms of what Obama must convey to the people of the United States, it's useful and necessary to remind us that the obstructionists in Congress don't represent every Republican out there...

Over at the New Orleans Ladder, Editilla sez that Obama's upcoming trip to NOLA may cost him at least one vote...Clifton at Cliff's Crib thinks that NOLA must show Obama more than a good time...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Does President Obama Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

I don't know what to make of it. Has President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for what amounts to talk? Not that I'm accusing him of being all hat and no cattle -- far from it. But we're only nine months into a promising presidency that simply hasn't had the time to follow through on its agenda.

On the other hand, there's no doubt that Obama's presence in the Oval Office and his rhetoric have done much in a short time to restore American world leadership and credibility. Whether acting as a president is supposed to act (as Richard Kim of The Nation points out here) is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize is another question.

According to the Washington Post,

Obama and his aides have described the tenets of his foreign policy as emphasizing "mutual interest and mutual respect" and the idea that global diplomacy functions on the principles of "rights and responsibilities" of sovereign nations.

He has delivered four major foreign policy addresses explaining these themes -- his nuclear nonproliferation speech in Prague; his outreach to the Muslim world in Cairo; his offer of U.S. support to the developing world (tempered with a reminder that nations are responsible for their futures) in Accra, Ghana; and his call for global cooperation at the U.N. General Assembly last month.

(More here.)

The left will carp about this and the right will be positively apoplectic (a sure sign that the award is well-deserved). What no one can deny is that in a few short months Obama has reversed eight years of Bush unilateralism, a dangerous course that indeed threatened world peace. Perhaps that combined with the international hopes for his presidency merits what in many ways appears to be a premature recognition. And I'd feel better about it if I knew that President Obama planned to reject requests by the military to increase American military presence in Afghanistan...

The Nation opposes military escalation in Afghanistan:
In the next few weeks, Barack Obama will make a decision that will define his presidency. Will he escalate the war in Afghanistan, sending 40,000 additional US soldiers to reinforce the 68,000 already there to engage in an open-ended, nation-building counterinsurgency mission? Or will he redefine US objectives and ask his advisers to craft an alternative strategy?

For now, however, the administration should be pushed hard to explain the purpose and logic of increasing US involvement. Until it does, any escalation has failed the very test Obama established: "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be..."

NOLA Happenings:
Tons happening this weekend, with the main event down the road in Lafayette at the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles...If, incredibly, that doesn't run to your taste, check out the food at the Zwolle Tamale Fiesta and Bridge City Gumbo Festival (over 2000 gallons served!)...As cinephiles attend the New Orleans Film Festival, bovine-ophiles can meet their needs at the Louisiana Cattle Festival...Of course, there's no shortage of talent at the Voice of the Wetlands Festival...

I'll always be dreaming my dreams with you...

Nicholas Kristof writes that "if Congress fails to pass comprehensive health reform this year, its members should surrender health insurance in proportion with the American population that is uninsured..."

What's next? According to the great E. J. Dionne, it's jobs, jobs, jobs...

Happy 70th Birthday, Harvey Pekar...

Friday's Choice -- Bob Dylan singing "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" -- goes out to Editilla:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dylan and the Blues

Since commencing the Never Ending Tour back in the mid-Nineties, Bob Dylan has amassed a volume of new work that has slowly worked its way into his performances. The artistic successes of Time Out of Mind (1997), Love and Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006), and Together Through Life (2009) -- along with last year's superb bootleg series release, Tell Tale Signs --have formed a second comeback worthy of the one fueled by Blood on the Tracks back in 1975. As a group, they convey Dylan's often dyspeptic vision of a world gone wrong, albeit a vision leavened by dark humor and love songs. In fact, humor and love dominate Together Through Life, an album on which Dylan sought his muse in the ambience of South Texas bodegas and dance halls.

In concert, Dylan has moved away from the neo-bluegrass sound that served so well to reinterpret his standards: As his emphasis changed to new material, the music moved in the direction of the blues. By Monday and Tuesday, this had taken the form of a crack band led by protean guitarist Charlie Sexton and (often) Dylan's keyboard, which often recalled the contributions of Al Kooper on Highway 61 Revisited. As a result, Dylan delivered the best and most rocking arrangement of "Like A Rolling Stone" that I've heard him perform. This time, it didn't sound like a pro forma version of a great song that he didn't quite know what to do with. It rocked from beginning to end, as it should; if Dylan's delivery didn't bite, it searched for an answer to the great question: How does it feel to be on your own?

He opened both shows his gospel number "Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking," an implicit challenge that the audience lay aside its expectations of the show and take in the spirit of freshness. Oh, he'd make it go down easy: There would be plenty of the great old songs ("Lay Lady Lay," "Stuck Inside of Mobile," "Highway 61," "Ballad Of A Thin Man," and a Hendrixian "All Along The Watchtower") and the new ones would be delivered in an extremely palatable blues-rock package.

The second show, despite the sepulchral atmosphere of the WaMu Theatre, was a hair better than the first night's effort at the Moore, an old brown shoe of a venue that better suited the occasion. The band, however, was a bit tighter on the second night, plus Dylan constructed a set list around four songs from Together Through Life. That show had greater cohesion than the first night, although that performance was farther ranging, reaching back as far as the early Sixties with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and successfully referencing the late Eighties with a beautifully rendered "Shooting Star."

On the first night, Dylan did display his incomparable gift for the blues ballad through startling renditions of "Shooting Star," "Not Dark Yet," and "When The Deal Goes Down." On both nights, he showed his incredible connection to American song forms, moving seamlessly between folk, rock, country blues, electric blues, and amalgams of any given forms. The second show offered a more variety, especially among the up tempo numbers, which added to the strength of that night.

On stage, Dylan moved easily from keyboard to the guitar to sometimes simply fronting the band, clutching his harmonica like a security blanket while striking song-and-dance man poses. These last moments forged an oddly touching bond between singer and audience which, after all, wanted so much to hear the time timeless strains of Dylan's harmonica. We got that and more: A great artist who had finally found a sound he deemed worthy of his new material.

Set Lists
10/4/09 (Moore Theatre)
1.Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking (Bob on keyboard)
2.Shooting Star (Bob center stage on harp)
3.Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on trumpet)
4.Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (Bob on guitar)
5.Lonesome Day Blues (Bob on keyboard)
6.I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)(Bob center stage)
7.Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Bob on keyboard)
8.Not Dark Yet (Bob center stage on harp)
9.High Water (For Charley Patton) (Bob on guitar)
10.When The Deal Goes Down (Bob on keyboard)
11.Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
12.Nettie Moore (Bob on keyboard)
13.Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
14.Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp)
15.Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
16.Jolene (Bob on keyboard)

10/5/09 (WaMu Theatre)
1.Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking (Bob on keyboard)
2.Lay, Lady, Lay (Bob on guitar)
3.Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on trumpet)
4.Spirit On The Water (Bob center stage on harp)
5.Honest With Me (Bob center stage on harp)
6.I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)(Bob on guitar)
7.My Wife's Hometown (Bob on guitar)
8Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again(Bob on keyboard)
9.Forgetful Heart (Bob center stage on harp)
10.If You Ever Go To Houston (Bob on keyboard)
11.Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
12.I Feel A Change Comin' On (Bob on keyboard)
13.Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
14.Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp)
15.Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
16.Jolene (Bob on keyboard)
17.All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard)

All day I face the barren waste without a taste of water, cool water...

The bailout explained in terms that anyone can understand...

This has to be a joke. Doesn't it? Someone, anyone, please tell me that it is. (Thanks to Kathy at Stone Soup Musings for uncovering this particular bit of lunacy)...

Graveyard Tunes #1: Robert Frost's Banjo observes Halloween month with a tribute to songs about death and devil...

Monday, October 5, 2009

The GOP Way

Paul Krugman writes:
There was what President Obama likes to call a teachable moment last week, when the International Olympic Committee rejected Chicago’s bid to be host of the 2016 Summer Games.

“Cheers erupted” at the headquarters of the conservative Weekly Standard, according to a blog post by a member of the magazine’s staff, with the headline “Obama loses! Obama loses!” Rush Limbaugh declared himself “gleeful.” “World Rejects Obama,” gloated the Drudge Report. And so on.

So what did we learn from this moment? For one thing, we learned that the modern conservative movement, which dominates the modern Republican Party, has the emotional maturity of a bratty 13-year-old.

But more important, the episode illustrated an essential truth about the state of American politics: at this point, the guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties is spite pure and simple. If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.

To be sure, while celebrating America’s rebuff by the Olympic Committee was puerile, it didn’t do any real harm. But the same principle of spite has determined Republican positions on more serious matters, with potentially serious consequences — in particular, in the debate over health care reform.

Now, it’s understandable that many Republicans oppose Democratic plans to extend insurance coverage — just as most Democrats opposed President Bush’s attempt to convert Social Security into a sort of giant 401(k). The two parties do, after all, have different philosophies about the appropriate role of government.

But the tactics of the two parties have been different. In 2005, when Democrats campaigned against Social Security privatization, their arguments were consistent with their underlying ideology: they argued that replacing guaranteed benefits with private accounts would expose retirees to too much risk.

The Republican campaign against health care reform, by contrast, has shown no such consistency. For the main G.O.P. line of attack is the claim — based mainly on lies about death panels and so on — that reform will undermine Medicare. And this line of attack is utterly at odds both with the party’s traditions and with what conservatives claim to believe.

Think about just how bizarre it is for Republicans to position themselves as the defenders of unrestricted Medicare spending. First of all, the modern G.O.P. considers itself the party of Ronald Reagan — and Reagan was a fierce opponent of Medicare’s creation, warning that it would destroy American freedom. (Honest.) In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich tried to force drastic cuts in Medicare financing. And in recent years, Republicans have repeatedly decried the growth in entitlement spending — growth that is largely driven by rising health care costs.

But the Obama administration’s plan to expand coverage relies in part on savings from Medicare. And since the G.O.P. opposes anything that might be good for Mr. Obama, it has become the passionate defender of ineffective medical procedures and overpayments to insurance companies.

How did one of our great political parties become so ruthless, so willing to embrace scorched-earth tactics even if so doing undermines the ability of any future administration to govern?

The key point is that ever since the Reagan years, the Republican Party has been dominated by radicals — ideologues and/or apparatchiks who, at a fundamental level, do not accept anyone else’s right to govern.

Anyone surprised by the venomous, over-the-top opposition to Mr. Obama must have forgotten the Clinton years. Remember when Rush Limbaugh suggested that Hillary Clinton was a party to murder? When Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those Medicare cuts? And let’s not even talk about the impeachment saga.

The only difference now is that the G.O.P. is in a weaker position, having lost control not just of Congress but, to a large extent, of the terms of debate. The public no longer buys conservative ideology the way it used to; the old attacks on Big Government and paeans to the magic of the marketplace have lost their resonance. Yet conservatives retain their belief that they, and only they, should govern.

The result has been a cynical, ends-justify-the-means approach. Hastening the day when the rightful governing party returns to power is all that matters, so the G.O.P. will seize any club at hand with which to beat the current administration.

It’s an ugly picture. But it’s the truth. And it’s a truth anyone trying to find solutions to America’s real problems has to understand...

Nutria fashion...

Voices in the Wilderness: Tab Benoit and other musicians aim to save the Louisiana wetlands. To them it's a matter of survival:
"What we’re looking at here,” said Benoit, gesturing at the flat grassland stretching off into the horizon outside of the runway, “is the new Atlantis. Out there are the places where people lived that don’t exist anymore. Indian burial grounds that don’t exist anymore. I’ve watched the land I grew up on here in Houma literally disappear. Places where I used to go to camp out don’t exist anymore. The house where my grandma and grandpa lived in is underwater. You have to take a boat to see where it was. It’s like people take a boat out to see where Atlantis used to be, and that’s going to be us.”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge...

Talk to your angels today...

NOLA's Henry Butler wows the Austin City Limits Music Festival...

They may not be the Red Sox or the Yankees, but the Seattle Mariners 20-game turnaround is impressive nonetheless, writes Jerry Brewer. Innovative statistical analysis helped acquire key players and win games...

Don't miss David Sirota's thoughtful column about who should decide the course in Afghanistan. Why, Sirota asks, should President Obama defer to the military when both the Constitution and public opinion so clearly invest decision making in presidential hands? There's a reason, Sirota writes, why the founding fathers made an elected civilian commander-in-chief of the armed forces. I'll reiterate a point that I made repeatedly regarding Iraq: A democracy that fights a war in defiance of the wishes of its own people has lost its way...

Flight over Willow Manor...

Sunday Gospel Time: Ry Cooder performs "Jesus On The Mainline" in 1987 and 1973:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Weekly Address: Health Care reform Urgent for Economy

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) points out that the Finance Committee health care bill doesn't actually require insurance companies to reduce administrative costs and increase spending on medical care...

Afghanistan: "Like Vietnam without napalm." (Special to the Seattle Times.)...

"If we learned anything from Katrina, it is the difference between a Weather Event and Multiple Catastrophic Engineering Failures." Editilla has more here...

Dems to GOP: Where's Your Plan?. Naturally, the Republicans find it easier to snipe and fob off responsibility to the "majority." They don't seem to have the same clarity of thought when it comes to the responsibilities of the minority...

Friday, October 2, 2009


It looks as if the Senate Finance Committee will report out a health care bill next week, probably on a 13-10 party line vote. That committee chair Max Baucus has bent over far enough to get the vote of Republican member Olympia Snowe (ME) seems doubtful, but he does seem to have rounded up the support of conservative Democrat Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

The bill, which does not include a public option, requires all Americans to have health insurance and bars insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on preexisting conditions. It appears to place no burden on insurance companies to control costs by reducing overhead. All in all, a small price to pay for the addition of 40,000,000 new customers.

The bill as it is likely to be reported out probably cannot pass the House of Representatives. But, it will be amendable on the Senate floor and is subject to negotiation in a joint committee. Hopefully, additional consumer protections will satisfy liberals, not to mention some semblance of a public option. Still, what we will wind up with will be a long way from single payer; as it stands, the eventual bill is likely to make no happier than the insurance companies. If there is an eventual bill...

The New Orleans City Council has doubled the salary of its members. Clifton of Cliff's Crib doesn't necessarily object, but he does think that it's now time for them to put up or shut up...

Don't miss Foxessa's account of the NOLA book tour supporting Ned Sublette's The Year Before The Flood. This one is next on Citizen K.'s reading list. If it's half of Sublette's brilliant The World That Made New Orleans, Flood will be one of the indispensable books of 2009...

Friday's Choice:
The Jefferson Airplane perform a psychedelic "Lather" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: