Saturday, 31 October 2009

It's Alive! [Updated]

‘CBS should be ashamed for continually providing a forum to propagate lies. Consider the source of the most recent attention-getting lies—those who would sell their body for money reflect a desperate need for attention and are likely to say and do anything for even more attention’.

How’s that for the mother-in-law from hell? Yes, the quote is from Sarah Palin speaking publicly about Levi Johnston, the father of her precious grandbaby. I guess that’s one way to defend ‘family values’.

Speaking of selling one’s body for money, Palin is currently extorting $100,000 from Iowa Republicans for the chance to come flash her beauty-pageant mug at them. It sure isn’t for intellectual stimulation.

And speaking of family values, who knew that just-withdrawn Republican candidate for Congress, Deirdre Scozzofava, had toiled away patiently in the New York State Assembly as head of something called the Republican Task Force on Sex Crimes against Children & Women? The days when Republicans can even dabble in such dubiously feministic pursuits are fast disappearing, and Scozzofava’s upstate New York district is about to provide dramatic proof.

Scozzofava got involved in sexual abuse issues as mayor of a town called Gouvernour, New York, when a gang rape investigation took place involving a woman in a bar, back in the time when a woman’s drunkenness could be credibly used to discount a rape accusation. You might know the story: Jodie Foster dramatized it in The Accused.

The Watertown Daily Times editorialized that Scozzofava ‘publicly said little, other than to attempt to protect her community against the national media as it descended on her village to describe it as a town without pity. But privately she was working with journalists, law officers, state politicians and anyone else who might be able to do anything to put those five SOBs in jail for raping a near comatose woman in her town and then bragging about it’.

Not that the people who benefited from Scozzofava’s earnest interest in such topics came to her defense when two boys’ club opponents piled on with all sorts of crypto-sexist tactics to eliminate her. They successfully showed that she would never win a beauty contest, leading to the conclusion that she didn’t deserve to go write laws in Washington. How telling that just as a camera-hogging, boneheaded bimbo like Palin becomes their darling, ‘conservative’ America grinds up a thoughtful professional woman like chopped chuck steak.

‘Conservative’ my upstate ass (I was born in that district)—these are Mongol Hordes attempting to sweep down upon us from the Asian steppe. The cynical Republican machine created this monster in the 1980s out of fundamentalist Christian paranoids to usher in the Reagan revolution and accumulate vast wealth. It has now emerged ready to eat daddy—and mommy.

[Update] Here’s what the now-official Republican candidate for the 23d District, teabagger Doug Hoffman, said about Scozzafava’s decision to drop out:

‘I think her statement clearly implies that the important thing from this point on is that all of us Republicans combine forces to make sure that we get a congressman that will represent the values and the ideals of the 23rd District, and I believe I am that person’.

There’s only one thing wrong with that—it’s totally made up. Here’s what Scozzafava actually said about quitting the race: ‘I hereby release those individuals who have endorsed and supported my campaign to transfer their support as they see fit’.

In other words, the departing Mrs S did not endorse as her party’s candidate for office the guy who helicoptered in (he doesn’t live in the district) and forced her out.

Civil War? If so, there is a God after all.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Harry Dares to Win

Who would have thought during the teabagger-dominated doldrums of last July that a mere three months later Harry Reid would be videocasting to the nation between portraits of John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt appealing to citizens throughout the land to phone Congress and demand a public option in the health care mega-bill?

It really must be seen to be believed. Reid looks exactly like the kindly, slightly doddering pharmacist in my home town who would give us peppermints while our parents waited for their prescriptions. He hardly distinguished himself in opposition to Bush’s criminal wars, so to see him suddenly acting the role of People’s Tribune flanked by these symbols of old-fashioned liberalism is jaw-dropping.

I am among the estimated 8 million people who have downloaded the healthcare bill—more precisely, a summary version of its 1900 pages—from the congressional website, and I have been reading it with great interest. It is a fascinating document. After all the shouting and carping and threatening and craziness has died down, we may wake up to find that health care in the United States has taken a sharp turn in the correct direction. Not a perfect one, but a surprisingly radical shift in both tone and concept as well as content.

There is a lot in the bill to welcome, even applaud, which many others better versed than I will be parsing out. But my sense is that the momentum to pass some version of what is now on the table is probably irresistible.

Inevitably, the big companies and their shills will go to work immediately once it becomes law to find ways around its better provisions or explode them through legislative legerdemain. Some important provisions won’t take effect for years, and that gives the enemies of health and prosperity a lot of time to regroup. On the other hand, the Obamanian base is more inflamed and mobilized than anyone expected, and Harry’s metamorphosis is a direct result of it.

Anything can still happen, of course, but there is one possible outcome that ought to be stirring some deep anxiety among the ranks of the teabagger party. The Republicans have gone all out in a very public way to demonstrate their unshakeable, immovable opposition to this legislation or even the idea of it. They dug in their heels and crowed to the heavens that they were doing so in the most unabashedly partisan way, explicitly aiming their most poisonous darts at the Obama presidency in its cradle. They pretended that they had better ideas, but I challenge anyone outside a 100-yard radius of Capitol Hill to state one.

But what if the reform succeeds? What if people like it? What if, like the ban on smoking in Manhattan’s bars, the screamers and bawlers discover six months down the road that it was a good idea?

What if, like the civil rights laws of the mid-1960s, the entire country comes around to the idea that health care restructuring was an utterly necessary and overdue moral responsibility and that the Obama package more or less fulfilled it?

What if people are shocked to discover that their worries about how to pay for catastrophic accident or disease care have been lifted from their shoulders? What if they like the feeling that their insurance companies cannot railroad them into penury or that their total health costs are capped at a manageable maximum?

What if their employers no longer seek healthcare givebacks and ever-larger copays because the federal government has alleviated the annual premium increases?

The opponents of this reform have backed themselves into a serious corner and have bet the farm on whipping up popular indignation leading to Obama’s failure. They were uninterested in compromise and indifferent to nuance. Now that they have made their bed, it may turn out to be quite a narrow one.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

As a peacenik, I need guidance on these things [Updated]

Um, let’s see, two helicopter crashes, a daylight assault on the UN hotel, bombing casualties up, a rigged election, the president’s brother trafficking heroin AND getting a CIA paycheck and now Marine Captain Matthew Roh resigning because NATO troops ‘provide an occupation force against which insurgency is justified’—sounds like things are going swell in Afghanistan!

I can’t wait to be reminded yet again that ‘Afghanistan is not Vietnam’, which is true, just as Peru is not Persia and my late grandmother was not Queen Elizabeth. This phrase seems to mean that the U.S. cannot lose another war, and no doubt the full explanation of why this is the case will be forthcoming soon.

Captain Roh in his resignation letter dismantled the anti-terrorist reasoning for continuing to fight a war in Afghanistan, noting that he is ‘not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love’, which is reassuring. (I was afraid we might have had another pacifist Marine combat officer on our hands—even a gay one! I breathe easier.) He says the GWOT makes no sense and never did unless you think we can invade and occupy Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and western Pakistan pretty much forever.

Now that we have someone who, in his own words, ‘was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys’ straightening us out on our priorities, we may be able to get back on track with our national security policy. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone making those decisions who was squeamish about whacking guys.

But I digress. John Kerry is back from a trip to Kabul and reminded me of the upside of the 2004 election, namely that he is not president. He carried the message to our unruly puppet, President Karzai-of-the-heroin-trafficking-sibling [left], that his blatant theft of the recent election would just not do. He then offered this Vietnam-era defense of continued military engagement there.

If we, the United States and our allies, are perceived as incapable of doing the job, it would help extremists recruit and raise doubt -not just in the region, but globally-about our resolve and effectiveness.

That is, we have to keep doing whatever it is we’re doing there because if we stopped, people would decide we were losers. A ‘paper tiger’ was the 1960s phrase, an entity that lacks the political will to ‘see a conflict through to the end’—most humiliating.

Captain Roh, on the other hand, says the extremists are recruiting just fine now precisely because the U.S. has occupied the country and pissed everyone off. Sure sounds like Kerry is sufficiently into whacking guys, but maybe he’s still wants everyone to be in love, and it’s clouding his reasoning.

Kerry also offered this curious colloquy on the arm-twist he performed on Karzai to give back the stolen ballots.

President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah’s decision last week to agree to hold a run-off election shows that both men are willing to put their country ahead of politics. But that result is not an end in itself.

Really? I thought electing someone president was all about ‘politics’ and did in fact constitute an ‘end in itself’.

I guess I just don’t understand international affairs and how to protect Americans from attack. Anyway, another $950 billion and eight more years of subsidizing the world’s principal heroin dealer seem a small price to pay. I’ll even forego the duct tape if they say it’s safe!

[Update] The bill just passed by Congress to authorize another $130 billion for continued guy-whacking in Afghanistan and Iraq also carried the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act. So if Captain Roh’s fellow soldiers use the money to hatefully whack an Afghani homosexual, they’d better watch out!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Torture: It Just Doesn’t Go Away

I hope the subpoena that Cook County (Illinois) prosecutors issued to students at Northwestern University attracts some notoriety for its blatant attempt to restore the police monopoly over criminal proceedings.

The students are part of a Northwestern professor’s Innocence Project, which so far has helped 11 people win their freedom after long prison terms for crimes they did not commit—almost all of them, not accidentally, black males.

Prosecutors are interested in the kids’ interview notes, recordings, e-mails they sent each other and to their professor, even their course syllabi and grades! All highly relevant to the state’s Search for Truth, no doubt.

Another interpretation is that exposing the fact that innocent people are sent up by the State of Illinois for crimes they did not commit doesn’t please the judge-police-prosecutor nexus, and this act of intimidation is their way of saying, ‘Youngsters: Don’t fight City Hall’—especially its uniformed members.

The specific case that triggered the subpoena is particularly noteworthy because convict Anthony McKinney—who has now spent 31 years in jail for killing a security guard—says the cops beat the confession out of him. He was 18 at the time.

So if the Northwestern kids are right and can prove it, someone will have to face the unpleasant implication that Chicago police sometimes torture suspects. Perish the thought! Or should I say, ‘sometimes utilize enhanced interrogation techniques’?

Combined with the stonewalling by Texas Governor Rick Perry over his 2004 execution of probably innocent Todd Willingham, the Chicago machine’s over-reaction has the air of panic. Let’s contribute to it.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Slouching toward something-or-other

Where do policy analyses and emotions intersect? We like to think that someone, somewhere, is calculating what would be best for the rest of us in a given arena of human endeavor—war, food, learning, doctoring, earning, transport, shelter—and yet everywhere these things are addressed, we see that decisions emerge based not on what might or has proven to work but rather on how we feel, or are made to feel, about them.

The principal issues this week are healthcare reform and warfare in Afghanistan. Surely few of those immediately and deeply engaged in the latter exercise in futility can take seriously their own sunny projections of how ‘we’ will snatch that country back from the heroin traffickers and bring it long-lasting peace and prosperity.

But as the Cheney outburst illustrated, the debate is not really about saving our nation from attack but whether this team or that team is the boldest and most valiant. Cheney’s remarks about Obama ‘dithering’ on a decision simply reminds us what a dick Dick is, but his argument is as old as bipedal deambulation itself. No matter how foolish and dangerous a warlike act may be, there will always be a peanut gallery demanding that it be pursued and calling those who resist hopeless weenies.

How curious also that the historical division around what was once called ‘foreign aid’ has undergone a complete ideological shift. In my youth the conservatives railed against this waste of good American dollars to try to help out ‘those people’ in places like Africa and Asia while liberal-minded sorts went off to join the Peace Corps and generally endorsed ‘development assistance’ or ‘international cooperation’ in the form of dam-building, well-drilling, education for girls, green agriculture and the like.

Now, the Bush-ite camp insists on staying put for the long haul in both Iraq and Afghanistan to ‘secure the population’ by means of bringing them all good things, such as ‘effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women’s rights’ to quote one list from retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich.

Of course, these actions are justified as merely the soft side of doing battle, part and parcel of the geopolitical aim, in this case to achieve ‘counter-insurgency’, and exclusively for that reason. After all, if they were worth anything in themselves, why wouldn’t we start by providing them to our own citizens?

As for healthcare, the less said about the twists and turns of that debate, the better, at least until something concrete is laid before us. It is interesting to note, however, that after the summertime follies of the ineffable teabaggers, another groundswell of popular opinion has made itself felt, this time from the liberal base. It is not due to sudden legislative enlightenment that the public option is firmly back on the table in Congress but a testament to the enormous appeal that this measure has among those who put Barack Obama in office and have been paying close attention to the zigs and zags all year. A campaign last week to get 100,000 people to call Capitol Hill ended up generating three times that amount, and suddenly Harry the Horsetrader Reid is almost a popular champion.

Notwithstanding the bizarre and often base aspects of the mammoth healthcare struggle, a chance remains that something positive will come out of the legislative thicket. Good or bad, it will spring as much from our collective gut as from our treacherous primate reasoning.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Michael Bloomberg's New York

The other electoral amusement coming soon is Mayor Bloomberg’s assault on City Hall powered by limitless campaign funds from his own pocket. What does it feel like, I wonder, to reach in, pull out $60 or $80 million and say to your team, Here, go get yourself a ham sandwich?

I venture to guess that most New Yorkers heading to the polls will feel somewhat conflicted about the mayor, unlike the feelings generated by, say, mayors Giuliani or Koch or even Dinkins in their respective days. We can all point to something good he has done, like getting smoking out of restaurants or increasing the number of bike lanes.

But there’s also the creepy sensation of having something like a Restoration regime in our city government. Bloomberg doesn’t have any heirs or known girlfriends (he may like guys, for all we know), so there’s apparently no danger of saddling ourselves with a nouveau monarchy à la Kim Jong-il. However, the fact that he could buy half of lower Manhattan puts even his supporters on the defensive.

What you constantly hear from the few people interested in discussing the mayoral race is the standard defense of an elite or aristocratic class, that they aren’t corrupt because they have no need to be. Last night I heard someone offer this insouciant endorsement: ‘It’s his money, so he just decides what he wants and doesn’t have to answer to anybody’.

This is a good thing? I had thought answering to people was somehow embedded in the idea of electing our governing officials rather than giving them life-time sinecures based on their titles, their landholdings, their numbers of serfs, or their ability to analyze the classical poets in Mandarin using 13-stroke characters.

Furthermore, it is simply not true that the super-rich or the high-born are less corrupt than grasping tradesmen still climbing the social ladder. They just do it differently. Bloomberg has plenty of bad habits involving land developers, city contractors and the like, and his origins in the business mega-deal and the quick assembly of staggeringly over-dimensioned fortunes do not give him a healthy outlook. His plans for a West Side football stadium and his backing of the highly dubious plans for the Brooklyn Navy Yards conjured the ghost of bad old Robert Moses and luckily blew up in both cases, either as a result of opposition in Albany or last autumn’s overall collapse.

Bloomberg’s challenger, Comptroller William Thompson, is the sort of cozy, clubby machine candidate who belongs in another era and wouldn’t be recognized on the street by three-quarters of the city’s residents whose money he now oversees. He said in a televised debate that he would ‘bring in his own people’ to the city government, which sounds alarmingly like very old-fashioned patronage. Not that anyone was paying much attention.

Finally, there is the nagging issue of Bloomberg’s gross abuse of the democratic process by buying his way to a third term after the people of New York voted TWICE not to permit them. I’ll be shocked if Bloomberg doesn’t get his way, but his arrogance should cost him a sizeable piece of his victory margin. And his inventory of goodwill could dissipate very quickly if things don’t perk up around here in the next phase of his reign.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Notes from the Garden State

In a dull election season, our tri-state area offers some entertainment next month, including a closely-watched race for governor of New Jersey, a contest I am delighted not to have to participate in given the choices.

The challenger is U.S. Attorney Chris Christie who had built up a positive image by pursuing a string of corruption cases—not exactly rocket science in New Jersey, but a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless. He had a comfortable lead a couple of months ago against incumbent Jon Corzine, whose first term has been undistinguished. Corzine came to the job after a stint as CEO of Goldman Sachs some years before that entity converted the U.S. government into its wholly-owned subsidiary.

Corzine used his obscene wealth to essentially purchase the U.S. Senate seat for New Jersey, spending a record $62 million in 2000. (This was before Mike Bloomberg.) He followed up with a bid for Drumthwacket—the New Jersey’s governor’s mansion—and closed that sale as well in 2005. He has followed a fairly liberal agenda, abolished capital punishment, promoted stem-cell research and tried to hold back the sea of red ink engulfing most states these days. But he also has had his share of dubious dealings, not least involving his girlfriend, a top union official whose role in contract negotiations with the state raised serious issues of impropriety.

All in all, Corzine is someone you’d like to see retire to his yachts, and he seemed to be en route there. But then there’s the alternative, Chris Christie.

Christie doesn’t really sell as a corruption-buster because he engages in too much of it himself, like handing sweetheart no-bid contracts to the law firm of his former boss, ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft. He drummed up a high-profile anti-terrorism case through the use of agents provocateurs and went after Democratic electoral candidates at suspiciously inopportune moments, like right before elections.

He imprudently thought that things were bad enough in the state that he could sail into office without a real campaign platform, and polls show the race now a dead heat.

Worst of all, Christie belongs to the Republican Party, and that engine of mass dementia and obstructionism would undoubtedly crow about an alleged ‘comeback’ were it to snatch a victory out of the virtually all-blue Northeast.

Anyone not in possession of a television for the next few weeks should praise Jesus on his knees because the display of bad taste and repugnant personal attacks in this election have plumbed new depths, including Corzine’s pathetic decision to point out that his opponent is fat. No doubt a record few of New Jersey’s elegible voters will crawl through the muck to the polling places in November, and who can blame them?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Peace is for pussies [Updated]

With apologies to Oscar Wilde, one racks one’s imagination to come up with a situation in Afghanistan that would not immediately be made worse by the presence of a contingent of U.S. military forces.

The reports and accounts from virtually every source—granted, I don’t read CIA analyses or RNC talking points memos—paints a picture of a losing, if not already lost, counter-insurgency war, permanently aggravated by the presence of an occupying army.

The fervid debates taking place in Washington now turn on whether to pursue ‘counter-terrorism’ (Biden) or continued ‘counter-insurgency’ (McChrystal). The latter option looks completely demented given the size of Afghanistan, the difficulty of its terrain and the damage done by eight years of failed warfare.

The miserable and miserably corrupt performance of the Afghan security forces, combined with the ongoing abuses at Bagram prison, rivaling those of Abu Ghraib but without the photos, are driving the situation from bad to worse. The whole war was supposed to make us safer from terrorist attacks, but the huge distraction it represents may very well be doing the opposite.

It is a testament to the biped reluctance to contemplate defeat in war that this sorry and treasure-draining exercise has not been wrapped up long ago.

Over three decades ago in 1969, Richard Nixon faced the prospect of presiding over a lost war when he took office. LBJ had already decided against what would have been a disastrous further escalation in troop numbers, leaving Nixon and Kissinger to drum up ‘Vietnamization’ as their magic solution. This meant slow U.S. troop withdrawals accompanied by massive slaughter through bombing and escalation of the war into neighboring Cambodia, with many happy results for the Cambodians—what’s left of them.

Mayhem and genocide, however, were a small price to pay to assure that Nixon did not have to preside over a lost war. That was left to Gerald Ford, the only president in American history to reach office through appointment.

The risks to calling it quits in Afghanistan do not really involve our security given the tenuous links between al-Qaeda and the Afghan/Pakistani Taliban, even were the latter to retake power there. The U.S. would lose face and influence in the region, which might be bad for business or other geopolitical aims like containing the Chinese.

But all that is manageable. The real fear among Democratic policy-makers, like their Republican counterparts while the latter occupied the throne, is political: how to handle the inevitable onslaught of denunciation from the opposition party for having been a yellow-bellied, no-dick, lily-livered, wimp-ass loser who dared to leave the field of battle before The Triumph.

This political gay-bashing strikes such terror into the hearts of the Rahmites and other Obamanians that they cast desperately about for some way to keep the fantasy alive and reshape the narrative of objectives and/or achievements. It also partly explains the cowardly acquiescence to President Karzai’s blatant theft of the recent elections since the White House has to pretend there is some sort of legitimate government in Kabul rather than a corrupt puppet regime.

It will be interesting to see how Nobel laureate Obama deals with the necessity of retreat. As Mikhail Gorbachev’s experience shows, history is often unkind to people who opt for peace. But we celebrate thugs and murderers throughout the ages.

Who today remembers that Richard Nixon caused the needless deaths of a million people?

[Update] Karzai's stealing the election turned out to be too much after all, and a runoff is now to be held. This is a positive sign although it seems less a defense of principle than a recognition by the U.S. and the UN lackeys that the theft was too blatant. It's not clear that the run-off will be handled any better, but a win by the opposition candidate might give the country a shot in the arm.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

No ammo to those damn liberals!

If Texas were still a foreign country, I wonder how it would do in the State Department’s annual report on human rights conditions. How would analysts review President (currently merely ‘Governor’) Rick Perry’s handling of the burgeoning controversy over the 2004 execution of Todd Willingham for setting fire to his house and slaughtering his two daughters? A crime Willingham probably did not commit.

The New Yorker had a long piece on the case a few issues back, detailing how the uneducated Willingham, who had been in trouble with the law for minor offenses, was incompetently defended and convicted on the evidence of arson ‘experts’ who turned out not to know shit from Shinola. He refused a life sentence in exchange for confessing and told his executioners he was an innocent man.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission, established in 2004, reported in August that a ‘finding of arson could not be sustained’ in the case, so Perry had no choice: he fired the Commissioners and appointed a slew of his political cronies to replace them.

But the whole sorry spectacle is about a lot more than one egregious miscarriage of justice. It was exactly five years ago, just as Willingham was getting his fatal injection of poison, that the Houston forensic lab scandal broke wide open, which in turn led to the establishment of the TFSC to review shoddy evidence in a torrent of other cases.

Investigators found that the supposedly solid and incontrovertible evidence flowing from the crime lab in the nation’s fourth-largest city was consistently flawed and the lab itself run by an incompetent who escaped perjury charges after the statute of limitations ran out. Prosecutors in Houston’s Harris County had to agree to review DNA evidence in thousands of cases—that is, where the local CSI geniuses had not used up the entire sample in the testing process, thereby making it impossible for a defendant to refute or verify their original results in a retest.

One of the first to go free after that scandal broke was George Rodríguez, who had spent 17 years in Texas jails for raping a teenaged girl. Rodríguez was prosecuted despite a confession from the co-rapist implicating someone else and sworn testimony from Rodríguez’s employer that he was at work that day. But forensic ‘evidence’ by sworn ‘experts’ at the Houston lab destroyed his life.

Texas is the execution center of the United States, and Harris County/Houston the leading supplier of prisoners with 110 deaths in the modern era, enough there alone to outrank any other state. Incarceration rates are similarly off the charts. But it has not mattered much to Texans whether or not those falling into the jaws of its prison apparatus are actually guilty of crimes.

The problem at Houston’s crime lab wasn’t unique. A federally-mandated report from the National Research Council issued in February of this year found the whole forensic system seriously flawed and in need of independent oversight and nationally mandated standards.

The report strongly implied what the Rodríguez and other similar cases confirm—that in their rush to obtain convictions, the prosecutor/police/crime lab nexus tends to give each other what they want: evidence for conviction. When defendants are poor and poorly defended, they have little chance to prove their innocence as the white-gloved ‘scientists’ trot out their convenient ‘facts’.

It was inevitable given this scenario that Texas eventually would railroad an innocent man to death.

Nor is it particularly surprising now to recall the enthusiasm the entire country displayed (with laudable exceptions) at the idea of torturing confessions out of Ay-rabs rather than patiently gathering evidence of criminal activity and putting them on trial. We actually have a long tradition of slapping people into jail because of who they are rather than what they did, and it didn’t start at Guantánamo nor in 2001.

But the Willingham case, instead of leading to a sober reassessment of systemic bias and possible injustice, leads certain Texas pols to worry instead that revelations that the state probably killed an innocent defendant might interrupt its deathhouse machinery. Senator and gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison, who looks at first glance to be a nice lady but in fact isn’t, hammered Perry not for obstructing justice but, in her words, for ‘giving liberals an argument to discredit the death penalty’.

To get elected in Texas, you have to prove that you’re a snake. Hutchison and Perry strike a blow for gender equity by proving that our ophidian cousins come in both male and female variations.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Insurance companies attack; Rahmie's team surprised in their p.j.s

Just as the real healthcare fight is about to start and determine whether the people’s interests or the insurance behemoths’ will prevail, we get a nasty crack from some self-important White House suit, as reported by NBC’s John Harwood, about bloggers having to get serious and ‘out of their pajamas’.

The cowardly and anonymous phrase about pajamas has all the markings of a statement from Obama’s chief of staff and blogger nemesis, Emmanuel Rahm.

The timing is priceless as it just now becomes clear that the Obama team is actually the ones sucking their thumbs and playing with their teddy bears while the forces of finance capital prepare to blow up Washington. Over the weekend the insurer lobbying arm, AHIP (American Health Insurance Plans), unleashed the in-house ‘study’ it bought and paid for purporting to show how the new reforms will cost the average policyholder thousands. Hello, Harry and Louise!

So now the smoke and fog begins to clear from the stage, and we see how the big boys never planned to give up anything substantial to some fresh kid from Hawaii, whatever his temporary title. And how all the newly-influential, self-inflated and terminally full of themselves staffers like Emmanuel so delighted with their White House offices have been played by the real experts in hardball.

Now is the time when the Obama campaign should be mobilizing all its troops to generate a decisive groundswell of support for real reform, yes, including those pesky bloggers and ‘leftists’ whom Obama himself mocked in his healthcare speech to the legislature. When the attack ads begin, they had better be able to call on the legions of Obamanians from last year’s campaign as a counterforce.

Instead, the smart alecks Obama brought in with him were convinced that they, and only they, knew how to deal with political and social forces, that they were the ‘realists’ in opposition to the juvenile masses. They thought they were working amicably with the drug companies and insurers to find a reasonable compromise and merrily jettisoned one by one the elements that made the reforms palatable and real to the long-suffering electors, including but not limited to the public option.

Now White House Office of Health Reform director Nancy Ann DeParle admits that she was ‘blindsided’ by news of the insurance industry's study, meaning she is a naïve twit. Only amateurs are surprised by a double-cross from the adversary, and only double-morons admit that they were surprised to boot.

‘I’d spent a couple of hours with insurance industry folks last week’ said DeParle pathetically, ‘and yes I did feel blindsided. I did feel we were working constructively’. Where’s that power-business suit, Nance? Left at home in favor of a lounging kimono?

The Rahmites thought they were ‘working constructively’ and did the financial giants’ bidding by ignoring the complaints from useless bloggers and activists who merely went out and got their boss elected but who clearly do not understand the workings of power and government. Surprise, surprise, finance capital had a different idea.

It’s far too early to gloat on any side of this issue, but given the stakes involved, ER should put on tighter undies himself before criticizing the attire of his boss’s true allies. He needs to get out of his own jammies and stop swinging his equipment in public. It ain’t pretty.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Bipeds with Guns-what a combination

What is one to say about the tragic death of Meleanie Hain? The Pennsylvania woman who sued her local sheriff for the right to continue packing a loaded pistol at her daughter’s soccer games was murdered Wednesday by her husband—with a firearm—who then committed suicide.

Mommy’s pistol was hanging in her backpack by the door, so I guess all those comforting theories about how guns will protect us didn’t pan out in this case.

We know that having guns around increases the probabilities that the domicile will be the scene of a gun-related crime, and I don’t really need to read peer-reviewed journal articles to be convinced of that. I don’t fear trichinosis in a vegetarian restaurant either.

Not that the fate of Mrs Hain will disquiet many gun-owners and their lobbyists as the possession of firearms as an article of faith trumps the objects’ actual usefulness. We are to worship weapons as symbols of treasured rights along with the defense of ‘family values’, the fetus and tax-free government.

Of course, the Hain family and its values are now somewhat reduced, as it is comprised currently of only three remaining members aged 2, 6 and 10. They will certainly manage somehow after matter-of-factly reporting that ‘Daddy shot Mommy’ to a neighbor. That is, as long as someone quickly teaches them self-defense with revolvers, double-ought shotguns and assault rifles.

The Hain family’s lawsuit against the sheriff who revoked Meleanie’s gun permit is still pending, including the $1 million they demanded for emotional distress and lost customers at their home baby-sitting service.

The news reports haven’t said if any of the babies the Hain household sat for were in attendance at the time of Mr & Mrs Hain’s departure from that business.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Thank you, I accept

Giving our president the Nobel prize seemed almost nuts at first given the two wars he has not ended, but reading the Norwegian committee’s account, it started to make sense. Perhaps we have to adopt a European view to get at their logic.

They insist that the prize is not for something they hope he does in the future, but for steps he has taken already around global warming, nuclear nonproliferation and repairing the damage with the Muslim world. None of which gets a whole lot of attention in the parochial heartland or even the hip coasts, but apparently really matters to the rest of the world.
The Nobel Committee is applauding the fact that the United States has taken a sharp U-turn away from war and towards peace after the complete catastrophe of the Bush years, and while Barack Obama is the standard-bearer and catalyst of that development, it is really We, the People, who did it. We created his movement, joined it, fought for its triumph and now demand its rewards, for all the reasons the Norwegians cited.

WE are the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Indian Summer of a Biped

House Democrats must be squirming a bit to have to defend—or at least not attack—Charlie Rangel while the party of Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay go after the Harlem congressman for his extensive list of financial ‘lapses’. What Rangel did is inexcusable, but he is the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, a 40-year House veteran, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, a top campaign money-raiser for Democratic colleagues and apparently a fun guy. [Full disclosure: he’s also my congressman.]

It’s not going to get any easier as the Democratic members of the ethics panels now poring through Rangel’s finances try to imagine how somebody who helps write the nation’s tax laws could fail to recall a half-million dollars of assets around April 15 of last year.

Or how he managed to keep four rent-stabilized apartments in New York when we mortals without powerful friends can only dream of one.

Or why he thought it was okay to hustle donations for his namesake institute (the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service) in pitch letters written on official House stationery and sent to people doing business before his committee.

Et cetera.

The real question in my mind, however, answers itself: why aren’t his own constituents up in arms about Rangel’s hanky-panky? Well, doh, they (we) are hoping for a piece of the action. In which case, all the sleaze and complicity with the exploiting banks, rapacious insurance companies and Wall Street thieves are forgiven.

Not that we upper Manhattanites are more corrupt than the rest of the country. No, we’re exactly like you, and therein, to my mind, lies the problem.

Our legislative branch has descended into a cattle market of legalized bribery by which those with deep pockets more or less brazenly purchase the needed votes. I won’t bore myself trying to document this nasty fact as it has been exposed repeatedly—and to no effect—for years with voluminous examples.

Just two election cycles ago, turncoat Joe Lieberman, once a Democratic candidate for vice president, was returned to the Senate by Connecticut voters. Constituents interviewed at the time returned again and again to the fact that Lieberman had brought home much juicy bacon in defense contracts for the otherwise liberal state, and that was enough for them.

Lieberman proceeded to deliver a stirring endorsement speech for John McCain at the Republican convention and do everything he could to bring Sarah Palin’s gun-toting anti-abortion crowds to within a whisper of the White House. Thanks, Joe!

In my own neighborhood a little north of Harlem, the trash cans on the street bear a reminder that they were ‘sponsored by Council Member Miguel Martínez’, which always annoyed me as I thought it was Council Member Martínez’s job to do that with our money.

I raised the trashcan issue with the Times city columnist Clyde Haberman just last month after said councilman was indicted for channeling city non-profit funds to relatives. Haberman agreed in principle but suggested that Martínez’s name might be exactly where it belonged—on a trash can.

I don’t see Charlie Rangel getting to enjoy his powerful perch much longer, but the disease he represents isn’t going to be cured by bouncing him back to Frederick Douglass Boulevard. It’s deeper, more structural and frankly more genetic than just one guy’s hubris.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Rahmian Grin

There is a peculiar insouciance about the Obama White House that suggests they either suffer from neurotic overconfidence or they know something the rest of us don’t. Or both.

Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, my least favorite Obamanian, was on the tube recently talking about the Middle East in oddly brash terms. Emanuel must be aware that his boss’s popularity in Israel hovers at around 1 percent, or roughly one-twentieth of that enjoyed by George Bush at the end of his term. Given that country’s habitual success in leading U.S. presidents around by the nose, Americans of a patriotic bent might well applaud this outcome.

Yet it is jarring to hear Emmanuel insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians must make the most of the ‘unique moment’ that they presently enjoy and come to the ‘peace’ table at Obama’s bidding. What universe is he living in? Neither side has any obvious reason to do so.

Israeli president Netan-Yahoo scored points with his cave-dwelling constituents by publicly scorning Obama’s call to halt West Bank settlements as a goodwill gesture—hardly surprising when your foreign minister is a former nightclub bouncer channeling a bearskin-wearing character out of Julius Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul[right].

One looks high and low for any evidence justifying this brassy optimism—and finds none. The Israelis haven’t the slightest interest in making concessions, and the Palestinians wonder what else they are supposed to give up in exchange for a couple of hearty handshakes on the White House lawn.

Emmanuel insists that both Netan-Yahoo and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must surely see that failure to make progress will only strengthen Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran, supposing that this terrible result is of the same importance to them that it is to him.

The opposite may well be the case. If Obama manages to settle the Iran issue favorably from the U.S. viewpoint, he will be in a much better position to get his way with both Israel and the Palestinians.

Emmanuel’s colleagues adopt similar all-will-be-well postures when discussing the dubious progress of the healthcare battle, and I certainly hope they turn out to be right. But we also may be on the receiving end of his browbeating to accept and even support supposed ‘reform’ even if it turns out to be a horrid mutant of no use to anyone but the insurance and drug companies.

The Rahm mentality is consistent with Obama’s own rhetoric about getting past silly differences like being black or white, a Republican or a Democrat, a Jew or a Muslim, and while that is a very nice and perfectly laudable sentiment (and got him elected), it seems to bear little relationship with how things actually work right now in the world as presently constituted, from Tel Aviv to Washington, D.C.

Obama regularly issues firm daddy-talk about stopping all this squabbling and getting down to business, stern warnings that the White House is ‘losing patience’ with both sides in the Middle East and ‘partisan politics’ obstructing healthcare reform. If he backs up the rhetoric and somehow gets his way, the crowing will be justified.

If not, Rahm Emmanuel flipping the world the bird is going to look demented.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Back down on all fours, please!

So the celebrated ‘Lucy’ is now outranked as our true ancestor by ‘Ardi’ who strolled the primeval forests bipedally a million years earlier, around 4,000,000 B.C. A drop in the bucket in geologic terms, but still awe-inspiring, even terrifying, to think of a few intrepid primates sallying forth on their hind legs. Had they any idea what they were unleashing?

Rather than ‘Ardi’, I’d call the Ardipithecus ramidus specimen ‘Bippy’ to celebrate the advent of bipedalism or ‘Balanchine’ since the lady made ballet dancing possible. And I love the explanation that less brutish and warlike representatives of the evolving simian bipeds won selective advantages over the chest-beaters by freeing their front paws to carry seductive quantities of food to ovulating females.

Similarly, the experts suggest that it was through smarts rather than brawn that Homo sapiens sapiens triumphed over Homo sapiens neanderthalensis although I wonder if we should revisit that conclusion given recent evidence. Speaking of which, it was refreshing to hear Alan Grayson, a freshman congressman from Florida, take an unapologetic dump on the tea-bagger party by calling Republicans ‘knuckle-dragging Neanderthals’ on Wolf Blitzer last night while the assembled gang of Beltway-consensus wankers blathered on about playing nice as if the entire country had been in a coma since June.

One notorious side-effect of all this biped craftiness, however, is the apparently genetic conviction of our fellow creatures that they can scam, con, hustle, cheat, double-deal and shake down others who are too slow to notice. Today’s New York Times is a remarkable document in that respect. Here is the line-up from the state and local section alone:

Farideh Tabaei indicted for extorting kickbacks from suppliers in exchange for contracts at Bellevue Hospital where she earned $199,000 a year as senior executive director for facilities management.

NYPD launches an investigation of a fatal DWI involving a fellow officer to see whether they tried to cover it up.

James Sutera indicted for perjury in an ongoing probe of the Waterfront Commission, formed to clean up the mob-linked corruption in that sphere (tee hee).

Career criminal Ronald Tackman waltzes out of a city courtroon in a three-piece suit after convincing a guard he was a lawyer rather than a prisoner.

State Senator Hiram Monserrate’s girlfriend attempts to absolve him of slashing her in the face with glass during his assault trial.

Compared with all that, Governor-of-Record Paterson’s promise to beat Giuliani in next year’s election looks downright benign. The poor man is not a hustler, merely deluded.