Thursday, March 31, 2005

DAYS OF AWE With the death of Terri Schiavo, the media, political and legal storm that engulfed her tragic case is likely to peter out.

But the memories will last a lifetime.

Some of the most interesting things to come out of the Days of Schiavo:

1. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist believes he can diagnose patients using years-old video footage.

2. Fred Barnes thinks we should let his moral judgment override the Constitution in some circumstances.

3. David Brooks doesn't believe that the sanctity of the rule of law qualifies as a moral issue.

And that's without even getting into House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's widely-discussed shenanigans or Senator Tom Coburn's little-publicized musings.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

VAPID MUSH Anyone tasked with writing two columns a week is going to come up with a clunker now and then. But in his Saturday piece David Brooks coughs up a real hair ball:
If you surveyed the avalanche of TV and print commentary that descended upon us this week, you found social conservatives would start the discussion with a moral argument about the sanctity of life, and then social liberals would immediately start talking about jurisdictions, legalisms, politics and procedures...

Then, if social conservatives tried to push their moral claims, you'd find liberals accusing them of turning this country into a theocracy--which is an effort to cast all moral arguments beyond the realm of polite conversation.
Things David Brooks Doesn't (Or Pretends Not To) Understand:
1. The sanctity of the rule of law is a moral issue to many people.

2. Some people are even silly enough to believe that the sanctity of the rule of law is a more important issue, morally-speaking, than the end-of-life issues at stake in the Schiavo case.

3. Some people believe that moral arguments are a crucial part of political debate, even in a pluralistic society with an Enlightenment era legal pedigree, but that those arguments should appeal to reasons we can all share, whatever our religious background.

Brooks is being seriously disingenuous about the nature of the debate here--either that, or he missed a good chunk of high school American History class.

One wants to grab him by the lapels, shake him, and ask, What about no taxation without representation, David? Where does that fit in?

Just more jurisdictional, legal and procedural nitpicking?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

LET THE FALLOUT BEGIN Which political players did the most damage to themselves during the Week of Schiavo? It's too early to tell. But however things shake out, it's certain that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will be high on the list.

Remember, Frist, a heart transplant surgeon, rose on the floor of the Senate and:

1. Announced that he was "speaking more as a physician than as a United States Senator."

2. Cautioned that the persistent vegetative state diagnosis, "is a very difficult diagnosis to make."

3. Proceeded to question that diagnosis, in the Schiavo case, on the basis of his review of video footage which (as far as I've been able to discern) is several years old.

What's more, as Howard Markel reminds us in a subscription-only article at The New Republic site:
Long-distance doctoring is problematic on many levels but especially for a doctor who has not practiced much medicine for more than a decade. Plus, there is the fact that even when Frist did see patients on a daily basis, he practiced as a heart transplant surgeon. Which means that most of his clinical work was done with anesthetized patients on an operating table.
Can a man who is willing to prostitute his medical credentials in this way be trusted about anything?

LINE IN THE SAND Governor Jeb Bush of Florida--whatever else you want to say about him--seems to be believe in the rule of law:
"The governor is disappointed (at the Supreme Court decision) and will continue to do whatever he can within the law to save Terri's life," Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said. (Emphasis added.)
That shouldn't count as high praise. But it puts him at odds with some in his party, including Fred Barnes.

Barnes, as we noted yesterday, has serious problems with the American system. He would prefer to live under a different system.

And when all the public pronouncemens from this hectic week get reviewed and parsed, my hunch is we'll learn that Barnes isn't the only one.

YOU GO, MANHOLA A couple weeks back, we brought you a doozy of an opening thrust from New York Times film critic Stephen Holden.

In today's editions, Manhola Dargis does her (his?) best to top Holden:

Wading through this junky sequel to her genial goofball hit "Miss Congeniality," Sandra Bullock looks as if she would rather be shoveling pig waste--though of course in some respects that is exactly what she's doing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

BARNES WANTS THE CONCH Andrew Sullivan directs readers to this quote from Weekly Standard executive editor and Fox News contributor Fred Barnes:
True, there is an arguable federalism issue: whether taking the issue out of a state's jurisdiction is constitutional. But it pales in comparison with the moral issue.
So there it is: Barnes is advocating that we set aside the Constitution when it conflicts with his own personal moral sensibility. Wonderful.

The fact that this kind of reasoning isn't thought to be outside the bounds of civilized, adult discourse gives me the shivers.

WHAT NEXT? I feel like we're precariously close to the point in the Schiavo case when James Baker gets put on a plane to Florida, and the infantry--I mean the College Republicans--get called in to cause chaos.

That said, the fact that the White House has been relatively quiet about the case for the last twenty-four hours is an encouraging sign.

UPDATE: At a noon news conference, the President declined to name Terri Schiavo an enemy combatant, or to otherwise press for actions outside the federal judicial process. The White House, at least, appears to be standing down.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

ON THE BLOCK The Billionaires for Bush are at it again.

UPDATE: eBay has removed the auction. But a screengrab can be found here.

Monday, March 21, 2005

FEDERAL CASE The White House has reasons for going out of its way to stress that the Schiavo case shouldn't be seen as a precedent. Mark Kleiman explains.

UPDATE: Kleiman revises and extends his remarks.

CHOICES CHOICES Congressional Republicans--enabled by many Democrats--have made a mockery of federalism over the past several days.

But in the next few hours, they may face a historic choice:

Do they double-down and put the rule of law on the chopping block as well? Or does there exist a point in the Schiavo case at which respect for process trumps their interest in achieving a particular outcome?

Meanwhile, the White House faces choices of its own. Chief among them: Just how far does the President want to go in abetting this lunacy?

The fact that it's difficult to discern where these people might draw the line--or whether they're willing to draw one at all--is evidence of just how far we've come as a nation in the last four years.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

SCHIAVO MADNESS ROUNDUP A useful legal Q & A can be found here and SCOTUSblog looks ahead here.

Meanwhile, Billmon takes refuge in humor.

BILL OF ATTAINDER Having trouble keeping track of the constitutional jargon you understood so well in high school? Lambert over at Corrente provides a refresher course.

THOSE MEN OF GOD Ed Kilgore says what needs to be said about congressional Republicans and the Schiavo case:
Do DeLay, his supporters in Congress, and those Men of God so conspicuously on display down in Florida really propose to picket every intensive care unit, nursing home, and hospice in America to ensure that no family facing Schiavo's situation is allowed to let their loved one die?

Is Congress really going to legislatively ban natural death so long as some theoretical means is available to continue it? Oh no, says James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and DeLay's prime enabler in this weekend's grandstand play: the "emergency" legislation is "narrowly targeted" and not designed to set a precedent.

In other words, this is pure political exploitation of a private family conflict that's become a media sensation, even though it involves a very common, if, for the people involved, agonizing event.

As such, the GOP's Schiavo intervention is of a piece with other cynical efforts by Bush and his supporters to signal support for a "culture of life" without much regard for logic and consistency. It's a whole lot like the Bush position on human embryo research, as a matter of fact.

Many thousands of human embryos are created each year in fertility clinics; it's only when it is proposed that these certain-to-be-discarded embryos be used for life-saving research that the Hammer comes down and Congress is asked to take a stand for life. Wouldn't want to inconvenience or embarass possible Republican voters utlilizing those fertility clinics, right?

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Thursday, March 17, 2005

BUSH THE FATHER Noam Scheiber unearths a comment George H. W. Bush made on the subject of Social Security privatization back in 1987:
I think it's a nutty idea to fool around with the Social Security system and run the risk of [hurting] the people who've been saving all their lives.... It may be a new idea, but it's a dumb one.
Someone get him Junior's phone number.

LOOKING THE OTHER WAY Andrew Sullivan has some thoughts about the indifference, in conservative circles, to mounting evidence of pervasive prisoner mistreatment and torture in Iraq and elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

SUPPLICANTS ALL At Tuesday night's Social Security debate in Manhattan, Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute (representing the pro-privatization side) let a few whoppers fly.

But he did a better job than most privatization advocates of steering clear of misleading and disingenuous claims.

In my notes, I quote him as saying:

"The problem with Social Security is not a financial one."

"Social Security turns all into supplicants."

"It's a moral issue to give workers control of their money."
If you accept these points--the last two in particular--of course you believe there is Social Security crisis: The crisis is the program's very existence.

But most Americans want to keep Social Security, not get rid of it. And if these are the terms of the debate, privatization is sure to fail.

I'd be curious, though, to hear how many congressional Republicans agree that the Social Security program creates a society of beggars.

TIKI BARBER, THESPIAN? According to Playbill.com, the New York Giants running back will make his theatre debut tomorrow in an off-off-Broadway production of WOMEN OF MANHATTAN, a new play by John Patrick Shanley.

Tickets are $15.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

MEET JOHN BOLTON Some of his more inflammatory statements have been making the rounds. But here are a couple quotes from the man recently nominated as ambassador to the United Nations that haven't received as much attention:
Bolton proposed that the U.N. change from one-nation-one-vote to "one-dollar-one-vote" (thus weighing voting in favor of the wealthy countries), or to voluntary contributions only.

--Inter Press Service, January 22, 2000
John Bolton, who managed U.N. affairs at the State Department for President George Bush (elected 1988, defeated 1992), said recently that the United Nations had "almost no role whatever" in the world "until about 1988, and its role lasted until about 1992."

--Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 17, 1995

Saturday, March 12, 2005

MARSHALL AND KRUGMAN VS. CATO The blogger and the columnist will debate Michael Tanner on the subject of Social Security on Tuesday night in Manhattan.

It's open to the public, and it's free.

9/11 CHANGED NOTHING Last week I had the chance to hear a lecture by Stephen Flynn, a homeland security expert, one-time Coast Guard official, and author of America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism.

According to Flynn:

1. A terrorist attack at a major U.S. port would cause a ripple effect that would bring the international shipping network--the backbone of the world economy--to a standstill for days or weeks, not hours or minutes.

2. In the wake of such a disruption, a global recession would be inevitable.

3. The people who control the world's major ports are vividly aware of this nightmare scenario and are eager to implement enhanced security measures. But such procedures will not be effective unless they are adopted universally, or nearly universally.

4. There is not a single official in the federal government working to develop or implement new, post-9/11 port security procedures or standards. The Bush administration doesn't view the enhancement of port security as a federal responsibilty.

Friday, March 11, 2005

PROJECTION? First the President builds a straw man. And then he imputes that straw man racist motives:
There's a proper risk reward, a portfolio that will allow you as a younger worker to pick a mix of stocks and bonds. Oh, I know they say certain people aren't capable of investing, you know, the investor class. It kind of sounds like to me, you know, a certain race of people living in a certain area. I believe everybody's got the capability of being in the investor class.
Disgusting. (Via Atrios.)

UPDATE: Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) responds:

First, Republicans said that they would consider providing African American workers with a different level of benefits based on their race.

That did not go anywhere, so President Bush and his allies claimed that Social Security is a bad deal for African Americans, since African Americans tend to have a shorter life expectancy. But Blacks have a shorter life expectancy because of higher infant and teen mortality--problems that the Bush Administration has cruelly ignored. With its disability and survivor benefits, as well as retirement benefits, Social Security actually is a slightly better deal for African Americans than for the general population.

Now, the White House has changed its tune again and is saying that those of us who oppose privatization are somehow racist. This is totally outrageous. No one is saying that any certain group cannot invest--we are saying that no matter who you are, you need one asset that you can depend on, no matter what. That asset is Social Security. Without it, almost 60 percent of African American seniors would live in poverty as would millions and millions of other older Americans of all races.

YOU GO, STEPHEN HOLDEN It's hard to top this movie review's first sentence:
More than sad, it's slightly sickening to consider the technology, talent and know-how squandered on "Hostage," a pile of blood-soaked toxic waste dumped onto the screen in an attempt to salvage Bruce Willis's fading career as an action hero.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

WATCH OUT NETFLIX I didn't realize that Blockbuster Online ships movies on Saturdays. Hmm...

In a separate post, Hacking Netflix links to a news story suggesting that Blockbuster has been adding about 10,000 subscribers a day.

2008 ALREADY? Markos Moulitsas--Mr. Daily Kos himself--is a man with more clout in Democratic politics than many would like to admit.

So it's worth noting that he has more or less endorsed a potential presidential bid by Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

You can listen to a Schweitzer interview from NPR here and read more about him here.

JOSH MARSHALL GETS IT Put that man in front of the cameras (or at least get him into the op-Ed pages):
The idea behind private accounts is that people should rely on themselves alone and bear the consequences of their successes and their failures and random chance on their own shoulders. If things don't pan out for you in retirement, that's something to take up with your children.

The concept behind Social Security is fundamentally different. The first premise is that if you put in a lifetime's work there is simply a level of destitution below which society will not let you fall.

Maybe you made so little during your working years that there wasn't enough to save. Or maybe you just didn't plan ahead well enough. Or maybe you suffered some misfortune. Whatever. If you worked you won't be destitute when you retire.

People who made big bucks through their lives don't get a particularly good 'deal' from Social Security, if you insist on seeing it in investment terms. But that's a distorting prism, sort of like thinking you got a rotten deal on your medical insurance if you never have a catastrophic illness.

I like to think of this as the moral equality of work. In our society, we allow the market to assign all manner of different cash values to different sorts of work or even the same sorts of work under different circumstances...

But the cash value of work isn't the same as its moral value. And if you look at the values imbedded in all those Social Security actuarial tables, you see this principle: whether you were a janitor or a fast-food worker or a doctor or a tycoon, if you worked during your working years you shouldn't be left destitute when your working years are over (retirement) or when, through no fault of your own, you can't work anymore (disability).

No matter what. The common denominator is a life of work--skilled or unskilled, impressive or unimpressive, remembered or forgotten. It doesn't matter.

Monday, March 07, 2005

BOLTON TO THE UN More evidence of the Bush administration's whoever-Democrats-hate-most approach to top-tier nominations.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

MCCONNELL GETS CREAMED Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) got the better of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this morning on Meet the Press. Some highlights:
MR. RUSSERT: What does private personal accounts do to fix the solvency problem? I don't understand that.

SEN. McCONNELL: What personal accounts are is an extraordinarily good investment. Let's take a 25-year-old, for example. Invests $1,000 in regular Social Security, gets a 2 percent return over 40 years, he gets $61,000. That same young person investing that same $1,000 in a personal retirement account, looking at the average return on investment of the stock market, would get $100,000 more. Why don't we at least discuss that in the context of the overall effort to save Social Security for our children and our grandchildren?

MR. RUSSERT: But how does that help the solvency problem?

SEN. McCONNELL: But why not discuss it? If it is a better deal for younger workers, why rule out adding that to the overall discussion of how we not only save Social Security but make it better for the next generation.

MR. RUSSERT: But when the president says Social Security is going to go bankrupt and we have a problem with solvency and the solution is private accounts, people don't understand that connection. Private accounts don't seem to deal with the solvency problem alone. And the White House acknowledges that.

SEN. McCONNELL: What we want to do is make Social Security better for the next generation, in addition to saving it. At the risk of being redundant, it seems to me that the smart thing to do is to discuss all aspects of this. Every good idea ought to come to the table. We're certainly open to any suggestions the Democrats have in any part of this discussion.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin, if you're trying to fix a problem, why would you say, "We will not sit down and talk to the president until he meets our demand by taking off the table private and personal accounts"?

SEN. DURBIN: Tim, I first came to Congress in 1983. We faced a real crisis in Social Security. We weren't sure we were going to make the payments that year. And so President Reagan turned to Tip O'Neill, a great Republican turned to a great Democrat, and said, "We need to do this on a bipartisan basis." Alan Greenspan led the commission. The very first agreement on that commission was that Social Security fundamentally would stay the same for generations to come. There was no debate over whether Social Security, as a program, would be protected and maintained. That's what we're saying on the Democratic side.

The privatization proposal of the president is going to destroy Social Security as we know it. And let me tell you why. It doesn't strengthen Social Security. It weakens it. It doesn't address the solvency problem. Secondly, we know that the White House is envisioning deep benefit cuts that will push many senior citizens into poverty. And we also know that there's a $2 to $5 trillion--trillion--transition cost here. The president cannot explain how we would pay for it. We understand people have earned this Social Security benefit. They want a guaranteed benefit as a secure foundation for their requirement. You can't start the conversation with privatization, which strikes at the heart of Social Security.
Notice how McConnell simply refuses to engage the solvency question.

That's because the White House has already conceded that it's plan will add trillions of dollars to the national debt; will involve scaling back guaranteed benefits; and will do nothing to solve the Social Security solvency problem.

People like Durbin--who are able to state simply and concisely what's at stake--should be all over the airwaves with this message straight through 2006.

And if the Democratic party doesn't capitalize on this serious Republican miscalculation, it ought to be put out of business.

Friday, March 04, 2005

CLEARPLAY WATCH Legislation containing language that would carve out a copyright exemption for ClearPlay has passed out of committee. Unanimously:
While the House Judiciary Committee's copyright subcommittee approved the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act without a "no" vote, it didn't do so without controversy.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., decried the bill's provision that protects the ClearPlay VCR and other devices that edit purportedly offensive content from movies.

"I'm voting for it in spite of the Family Movie Act," Berman said.


Berman and many other members of the committee voted for the legislation because it includes three other provisions, the anti-camcorder provision, legislation designed to make it easier for law enforcement officials to combat the growing problem of music and movies being distributed on file-sharing networks and circulating on the Internet before they are released and renews the Library of Congress' film preservation program.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

DELONG DEBUNKS Brad DeLong--whose blog is now featured on the right side of this page--takes on the myth that Democrats have no plan to save Social Security:
But there is an alternative plan on Social Security that is a near-consensus position for Democrats. It has three parts:
1. Social Security should be preserved--not phased out, as the Bush plan's "price indexation" formula does.

2. Social Security's long-run funding hole should not be closed by benefit cuts alone, but by a mixture of steps that reduce costs and increase revenues.

3. Private accounts to make it easier for America's non-rich to build their retirement savings are a wonderful idea if properly implemented and if proposed as an add on to rather than a carve out from Social Security.
So why haven't Democrats made their way up to the bargaining table?

Because the President's plan seeks not to fix the program but to dismantle it. And saving Social Security and dismantling it are mutually exclusive goals.

It's just that simple.

PINTER IS DONE So says Playbill.com:
Playwright Harold Pinter, one of the few senior playwrights of distinction, has told the BBC that he has decided to stop writing plays. On BBC Radio 4’s Front Row arts program, Pinter said, “I think I’ve stopped writing plays now, but I haven’t stopped writing poems. I think I’ve written 29 plays. I think it’s enough for me. I think I’ve found other forms now.”

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.