Thursday, November 30, 2006

Annals of Science: No wonder Chimpy the Prez doesn't like science. The laboratory animals all seem to be pointing at him and laughing


A friend of the blog passes on this nugget from the Nov. 23 New Haven Advocate:

Bush Nuts:
Are George W. Bush lovers certifiable?

By Andy Bromage

A collective “I told you so” will ripple through the world of Bush-bashers once news of Christopher Lohse’s study gets out.

Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

The study used Modified General Assessment Functioning, or MGAF, a 100-point scale that measures the functioning of disabled patients. A second scale, developed by Rakfeldt, was also used. Knowledge of current issues, government and politics were assessed on a 12-item scale devised by the study authors.

“Bush supporters had significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry,” the study says.

Lohse says the trend isn’t unique to Bush: A 1977 study by Frumkin & Ibrahim found psychiatric patients preferred Nixon over McGovern in the 1972 election.

Rakfeldt says the study was legitimate, though not intended to show what it did.

“Yes, it was a legitimate study, but these data were mined after the fact,” Rakfeldt says. “You can ask new questions of the data. I haven’t looked at” Lohse’s conclusions regarding Bush, Rakfeldt says.

“That doesn’t make it illegitimate, it just wasn’t part of the original project.”

For his part, Lohse is a self-described “Reagan revolution fanatic” but said that W. is just “beyond the pale.”

Regarding 9/11 commission recommendations, it's not as if there won't be a big difference in what the Democrats pursue--just don't expect miracles


"Of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important. So long as oversight is governed by current congressional rules and resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security they want and need."
--from the report of the 9/11 commission

What this recommendation entails, explains Jonathan Weisman in today's Washington Post, is--

grant[ing] the House and Senate intelligence committees the power not only to oversee the nation's intelligence agencies but also to fund them and shape intelligence policy. The intelligence committees' gains would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels' defense subcommittees. Powerful lawmakers on those panels would have to give up prized legislative turf.

And that, it turns out, is no more going to happen in a Democratic-controlled Congress than it was going to in a Republican-controlled one.

"I don't think that suggestion is going anywhere," said Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) [right], the chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee and a close ally of the incoming subcommittee chairman, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). "That is not going to be their party position."

Note the casual description of this change as a "suggestion," as if the commission had suggested changing all ice cream served on Capitol Hill from vanilla and chocolate to mocha almond raisin. This isn't quite how the commission members see it.

"The Democrats pledged to implement all the remaining 9/11 reforms, not some of them," said former representative Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind.) [left], who served on the commission.

Does it really matter?

To the Sept. 11 commission, the call for congressional overhaul was vital, said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R), the commission's co-chairman. Because intelligence committee membership affords lawmakers access to classified information, only intelligence committee members can develop the expertise to watch over operations properly, he said. But because the panels do not control the budget, intelligence agencies tend to dismiss them.

"The person who controls your budget is the person you listen to," Kean said.

The Democrats do plan to implement many other commission recommendations that were brushed aside by the Republican leadership in Congress. This one, however, appears to go just too far.



By Mags

In a moment of clarity, Rush Limbaugh has proven without a doubt why he makes the big commentary bucks. Without fanfare or doubt, he had this to say about the situation in Iraq that is now termed a civil war by some media (MSNBC and NBC):

“Let’s just have the civil wars and let the crumbs crumble and the cookie crumble where--because I’m fed up with this. . . Fine, just blow the place up. Just let these natural forces take place over there instead of trying to stop them, instead of trying to use . . . I just . . . Sometimes natural force is going to happen. You’re going to have to let it take place.”

Rush's popularity has always been a mystery to me. And when the right wing claims to be more mature than everyone else, I have to shake my head. But here he shows what he is truly made of. He puts to rest any doubts at all that the Right has superiority of thought and analysis.

Let me break this down for you, since his statement is so sophisticated and so fine-tuned and full of nuance. If I may be so bold as to offer my take on his take, I offer you this:

RUSH: "Kill them all, and let God sort 'em out."

Thank you, Rush. That is the most insightful analysis I have read on the Middle East in a long time. Not.

Here is the foundational principle in controlling others:

You can't do it!!!!

You can work with people. You can negotiate with people. You can offer incentives. You can withhold rewards. But ultimately what you and the boy prez and the whole of the right wing need to understand is that brute force will only work for so long. Of course you can kill them all, but even you will see the immorality of that. At least one can hope.

Here is my advice to you, Rush: Apply immediately to be a member of Bush's think tank. I think you are just the sort of policy wonk they are looking for.


It's one of those phenomena of the online world. Mags is one of my favorite people in the world, and yet I sometimes have to remind myself that I've never actually met her. Howie and I "met" her on an online political discussion group, and over the years got to know not just what and how she thinks, but a lot about who she is and how she became that. So, while I'm always curious to hear what she has to say about any subject, there are some subjects I'm especially keen to hear her talk about. Like the other day, when she was writing about Sen. Barack Obama's courting of leaders of the religious right. I know that when she speaks about the control those leaders exert over their flocks, she is speaking from her personal history as a victim of fundamentalism--but one who eventually escaped.

I hoped she would write more about that, and got back a personal note so powerful that I knew we had to share it with DWT readers. "I came out of religion," she wrote, "because my life fell apart to such a degree that I was no longer allowed the luxury of belief in fables. As I studied, I found out that much of what was taught within the church and what was spouted on religious channels simply was not true. The credibility gap for me was part of it, and I think initially the larger part. However, it goes beyond that."

I'm delighted to report that she has agreed to let us print that post. We should have it for you soon, depending on our hectic publishing schedule--maybe even tomorrow. Watch this space!--Ken

Quote of the day: A U.S. district judge in Washington catches the Bush administration doing what it likes doing best: flouting the law


"It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights. . . . Free these evacuees from the 'Kafkaesque' application process they have had to endure."
--U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who ruled yesterday that, in the words of the Washington Post's Spencer S. Hsu, "the Bush administration unconstitutionally denied aid to tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and must resume payments immediately"

This, it appears, is among the gentler portions of Judge Leon's 19-page ruling. Given the Bush administration's unvarying attitude toward the law--"we are above the law," or perhaps "we are the law"--the only surprise is that it doesn't have judges assaulting it nonstop all through the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

These people are other things as well, some of them more serious, but what they almost always are is lawbreakers. Isn't it time they began to be held to account for it?

Thanks to all the readers who added their comments to my Dr. Strangelove post--including the one who scooped my second-favorite line


I don't know about you, but I've been having a grand time with the comments that have been added to my Dr. Strangelove post (wondering whether readers today would know who Gen. Jack D. Ripper is).

We've heard more about the "purity of essence" man himself, General Ripper, and about Sterling Hayden, who played him so eerily and hilariously--seen above with the haplessly captive Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake [definitely check out the glorious chunk of their dialogue quoted by Scott], another of Peter Sellers' great impersonations in the film. (Hmm, we've seen him now as Mandrake and as President Muffley, but not as the title character. That doesn't seem right.)

We've had fond recollection of the great Slim Pickens as Major T. J. "King" Kong (left), the pilot of one of the planes dispatched by the wacked-out General Ripper to bomb their designated targets inside the Soviet Union. And from reader randy g came the fascinating note that Peter Sellers was originally scheduled to play this role in addition to his three others. I never knew that!

And then we've had this really interesting post from the goob:

Both of my daughters (17 and 21) have seen this movie and loved it. In fact, one of them viewed it in a high school history class. Much hope for public education there.

Whether or not they'd recognize a reference to Jack D. Ripper right off I'm not sure, but if I reminded them of the character I'm sure they would.

Oh, and as long as we're reciting favorite lines? This movie has more of my favorites than any other, but I have to include "You'll have to answer to the Coca Cola company."

As it happens, goob, this is my second-favorite line from the movie. General Ripper's sealed Air Force base has been liberated by the U.S. Army, but the planes the general has sent off on their deadly bombing missions in the Soviet Union can't be recalled without the code known only to General Ripper, who alas is no more. Now only one man can possibly save the world.

Actually, Mandrake doesn't know he's trying to save the whole world, but we do, having seen the officials gathered in the War Room in Washington [also from randy g--President Muffley's "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room"] learn about the Russians' Doomsday Machine, which the demented scientific adviser Dr. Strangelove [left--there!] explained will be triggered by the American bombing.

Now Mandrake needs to get word to Washington. Unfortunately, he has no change for the pay phone. (This just goes to show how the world has changed. Back in 1964, it was the lack of a mere dime that thwarted his efforts to save the world.)

But wait, there in the hall is a Coke machine! Mandrake orders Col. "Bat" Guano (Keenan Wynn, right) to shoot it open. The colonel, who has already shown himself none too impressed by Mandrake's funny uniform and funnier accent [from knobboy--"Bat Guano (Colonel): 'I think you're some kind of deviated prevert. I think General Ripper found out about your preversion, and that you were organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts' "], is aghast at the mere suggestion. Compelled by the "prevert" to do this deed, Colonel "Bat" warns him . . . well, you know.

Update from Howie: Well, uh . . . actually, we've got nothing, but rest assured, we're keeping our ears open

nothing, but rest assured, we're keeping our ears open'>nothing, but rest assured, we're keeping our ears open'>nothing, but rest assured, we're keeping our ears open'>nothing, but rest assured, we're keeping our ears open'>>nothing, but rest assured, we're keeping our ears open'>

Readers who scour the comments to DWT posts will have noticed that the proprietor made a special guest appearance yesterday commenting on Mags's piece on Barack Obama.

This actually exhausts our knowledge. We should, however, be coming up on one of the more dramatic legs of the journey: the Incursion Into Paraguay--armed with not much more support materials than an old Russian-language map. (And no, he doesn't read the Cyrillic alphabet.) From his initial researches, it seemed distinctly as if Paraguay doesn't exactly welcome outsiders with open arms, and his inquiries at the consulate in L.A. seemed to indicate a distinct lack of enthusiasm for discussing the subject that interested us most: the recently disclosed Bush land holdings in the country.

Naturally we're looking forward to a full report on those holdings. Or, alternatively (and even more dramatically), to news that Paraguayan authorities have detained a suspected American spy. Of course, if Paraguay's intelligence service takes the same approach to "enemy combatants" as its U.S. counterparts, it's possible that we may never hear from him again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

And now, by popular demand, we bring you Virginia Sen.-elect Jim Webb's "smackdown of Smirk"


Commenting on today's Quote of the Day, from Chimpy the Prez hisself, reader jimmy the saint suggested: "I think the comment of the day should be Senator-elect Webb's smackdown of Smirk."

It's taken us awhile to get back to it, but here it is:

In Following His Own Script, Webb May Test Senate's Limits

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer

At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia's newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

Webb was narrowly elected to the U.S. Senate this month with a brash, unpolished style that helped win over independent voters in Virginia and earned him support from national party leaders. Now, his Democratic colleagues in the Senate are getting a close-up view of the former boxer, military officer and Republican who is joining their ranks.

If the exchange with Bush two weeks ago is any indication, Webb won't be a wallflower, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq. And he won't stick to a script drafted by top Democrats.

"I'm not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall," Webb said in an interview yesterday in which he confirmed the exchange between him and Bush. "No offense to the institution of the presidency, and I'm certainly looking forward to working with him and his administration. [But] leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is."

In the days after the election, Webb's Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill went out of their way to make nice with Bush and be seen by his side. House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat down for a lunch and photo opportunity with Bush, as did Democratic leaders in the Senate.

Not Webb, who said he tried to avoid a confrontation with Bush at the White House reception but did not shy away from one when the president approached.

The White House declined to discuss the encounter. "As a general matter, we do not comment on private receptions hosted by the president at the White House," said White House spokeswoman Dana M. Perino.

Webb said he has "strong ideas," but he also insisted that--as a former Marine in Vietnam--he knows how to work in a place such as the Senate, where being part of a team is important.

He plans to push for a new GI bill for soldiers who have served in the days since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but not as a freshman senator. He has approached the Democratic leadership about getting senior legislators to sponsor the bill when the 110th Congress convenes in January.

A strong backer of gun rights, Webb may find himself at odds with many in his party. He expressed support during the campaign for a bill by his opponent, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), that would allow concealed weapons in national parks. But an aide said this week that Webb will review Allen's legislation.

"There are going to be times when I've got some strong ideas, but I'm not looking to simply be a renegade," he said. "I think people in the Democratic Party leadership have already begun to understand that I know how to work inside a structure."

His party's leaders hope that he means it.

Top Democratic senators, including incoming Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), had invested their money and prestige in Webb before he won the party primary in June. His victory was also theirs, but now they have to make sure he's not a liability.

"He's not a typical politician. He really has deep convictions," said Schumer, who headed the Senate Democrats' campaign arm. "We saw this in the campaign. We would have disagreements. But when you made a persuasive argument, he would say, 'You're right.' I am truly not worried about it. He understands the need to be part of a team."

One senior Democratic staff member on Capitol Hill, who spoke on condition that he not be identified so he could speak freely about the new senator, said that Webb's lack of political polish was part of his charm as a candidate but could be a problem as a senator.

"I think he's going to be a total pain. He is going to do things his own way. That's a good thing and a bad thing," the staff member said. But he said that Webb's personality may be just what the Senate needs. "You need a little of everything. Some element of that personality is helpful."

Webb has started to put himself out front. On "Meet the Press" last week, he dispensed with the normal banter with host Tim Russert to talk seriously about Iraq and the need for economic justice in the United States.

He announced yesterday that he has hired Paul J. Reagan, a communications director for former governor Mark R. Warner (D) and a former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). It will be Reagan's job to help his boss navigate the intricacies of Washington and Capitol Hill without losing the essence of his personality.

"The relationships he has built over his long career will serve me well," Webb said in a statement yesterday.

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who campaigned hard to get Webb elected, said yesterday that the first-time officeholder doesn't have the finesse of most experienced politicians.

"He is not a backslapper," Kaine said. "There are different models that succeed in politics. There's the hail-fellow-well-met model of backslapping. That's not his style."

But Kaine said that Webb's background, including a stint as Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary, will make him an important--if unpredictable--voice on the war in Iraq.

"There are no senators who have that everyday anxiety that he has as a dad with a youngster on the front lines. That gives him gravitas and credibility on this issue," Kaine said. "People in the Senate, I'm sure, will agree with him or disagree with him on issue to issue. But they won't doubt that he's coming at it from a real sense of duty."

Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.

If you've managed to be optimistic about what's being taught in classrooms, especially our science classrooms, don't read this piece by Laurie David


It's grossly unfair, but Laurie David is surely best-known as the real wife of the brilliant writer-producer Larry David--not to be confused with his fake wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm. It's unfair because everyone involved in environmental issues knows her as one of the movement's most steadfast activists. (The biographical note that accompanies the piece below from Sunday's Washington Post reads, "Laurie David, a producer of An Inconvenient Truth, is a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee and founder of")

Keith Olbermann reported this story on last night's Countdown, but there's so much interesting detail in it--and the devil is always in the details--that I thought you might be interested in her own telling of it:

Science a la Joe Camel

By Laurie David
Sunday, November 26, 2006; B01

At hundreds of screenings this year of "An Inconvenient Truth," the first thing many viewers said after the lights came up was that every student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie.

The producers of former vice president Al Gore's film about global warming, myself included, certainly agreed. So the company that made the documentary decided to offer 50,000 free DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for educators to use in their classrooms. It seemed like a no-brainer.

The teachers had a different idea: Thanks but no thanks, they said.

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other "special interests" might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film; and they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs.

Gore, however, is not running for office, and the film's theatrical run is long since over. As for classroom benefits, the movie has been enthusiastically endorsed by leading climate scientists worldwide, and is required viewing for all students in Norway and Sweden.

Still, maybe the NSTA just being extra cautious. But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it. It has run ads in leading newspapers (including this one) questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming, and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere. The company spends millions to support groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that aggressively pressure lawmakers to oppose emission limits.

It's bad enough when a company tries to sell junk science to a bunch of grown-ups. But, like a tobacco company using cartoons to peddle cigarettes, Exxon Mobil is going after our kids, too.

And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.

So much for special interests and implicit endorsements.

In the past year alone, according to its Web site, Exxon Mobil's foundation gave $42 million to key organizations that influence the way children learn about science, from kindergarten until they graduate from high school.

And Exxon Mobil isn't the only one getting in on the action. Through textbooks, classroom posters and teacher seminars, the oil industry, the coal industry and other corporate interests are exploiting shortfalls in education funding by using a small slice of their record profits to buy themselves a classroom soapbox.

NSTA's list of corporate donors also includes Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which funds NSTA's Web site on the science of energy. There, students can find a section called "Running on Oil" and read a page that touts the industry's environmental track record--citing improvements mostly attributable to laws that the companies fought tooth and nail, by the way--but makes only vague references to spills or pollution. NSTA has distributed a video produced by API called "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel," a shameless pitch for oil dependence.

The education organization also hosts an annual convention--which is described on Exxon Mobil's Web site as featuring "more than 450 companies and organizations displaying the most current textbooks, lab equipment, computer hardware and software, and teaching enhancements." The company "regularly displays" its "many . . . education materials" at the exhibition. John Borowski, a science teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Ore., was dismayed by NSTA's partnerships with industrial polluters when he attended the association's annual convention this year and witnessed hundreds of teachers and school administrators walk away with armloads of free corporate lesson plans.

Along with propaganda challenging global warming from Exxon Mobil, the curricular offerings included lessons on forestry provided by Weyerhaeuser and International Paper, Borowski says, and the benefits of genetic engineering courtesy of biotech giant Monsanto.

"The materials from the American Petroleum Institute and the other corporate interests are the worst form of a lie: omission," Borowski says. "The oil and coal guys won't address global warming, and the timber industry papers over clear-cuts."

An API memo leaked to the media as long ago as 1998 succinctly explains why the association is angling to infiltrate the classroom: "Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future."

So, how is any of this different from showing Gore's movie in the classroom? The answer is that neither Gore nor Participant Productions, which made the movie, stands to profit a nickel from giving away DVDs, and we aren't facing millions of dollars in lost business from limits on global-warming pollution and a shift to cleaner, renewable energy.

It's hard to say whether NSTA is a bad guy here or just a sorry victim of tight education budgets. And we don't pretend that a two-hour movie is a substitute for a rigorous science curriculum. Students should expect, and parents should demand, that educators present an honest and unbiased look at the true state of knowledge about the challenges of the day.

As for Exxon Mobil--which just began a fuzzy advertising campaign that trumpets clean energy and low emissions--this story shows that slapping green stripes on a corporate tiger doesn't change the beast within. The company is still playing the same cynical game it has for years.

While NSTA and Exxon Mobil ponder the moral lesson they're teaching with all this, there are 50,000 DVDs sitting in a Los Angeles warehouse, waiting to be distributed. In the meantime, Mom and Dad may want to keep a sharp eye on their kids' science homework.

Oh no! This means we won't have Doctorbill Frist to kick around on the 2008 campaign trail! (Some of us were counting on him for comic relief)


Somehow I got on the e-mailing list for Sen. Doctorbill Frist's PAC's newsletter. Sometimes when I'm feeling really good I read it for laughs. Of course it doesn't often happen that I'm feeling really good, so sometimes I open the file and shoot back a snotty reply having to do with the urgency of Doctorbill's need for prompt, powerful mental-health intervention. (I don't generally get any response. Not ever, actually.) More often I've come to just delete the thing unread.

So I don't know whether I missed the news that Chris Cillizza is featuring today on his blog, "The Fix":

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) will not run for president in 2008. Frist issued a statement on his Web site this morning announcing the decision (read the full text below). His decision was first reported in Hotline's On Call blog. He will not immediately endorse any of the other candidates pursuing the race, a source close to Frist said.

Shucks. I was looking forward to a replay of some of the highlights of Doctorbill's Senate career, in particular his distinguished service as Senate majority leader. You know, like his famously reptilian performance in the matter of poor brain-dead Terry Schiavo, whom he resurrected diagnostically via film clips.

Besides, isn't Tennessee supposed to supply the GOP's comic-relief presidential candidates? Does this mean that Lamar Alexander will have to run again? (I hope he's still got the plaid shirt, which I have a feeling he doesn't wear a lot outside election seasons.)

Of course, Tennessee has a brand-new Republican senator. Just today, though, Al Kamen, dubbing Sen.-elect Bob Corker "The Constant Campaigner," reported in his "In the Loop" column":

On Nov. 8, the day after his election, even before heading to Walt Disney World, his office prepared papers to file with the Federal Election Commission changing his campaign's name from Bob Corker for Senate 2006 to Bob Corker for Senate 2012.

Well, at least he didn't change it to 2008, as most everyone else in the House and Senate is doing.

Whoa, let's not take anything for granted there, Al. I know the guy hasn't served a day in the Senate yet, but by 2008 he'll have a full half term's worth of experience. Besides, he has access to those people who did the ad portraying his Democratic Senate opponent, Harold Ford, as a Playboy-style carouser, with those luscious racial overtones. I'm afraid Corker just may have to take this one for the team.



In case you hadn't heard, for what it's worth, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is now officially the most liked Democrat, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, with a "likeability" score of 58.8. (If you're trying to figure out what it's worth, consider that our Barack was handily out-"likeabled" by Rudy Giuliani--yes, Rudy Giuliani--who scored a monster 64.2. Any poll that finds Rudy the most "likeable" of any group of people is probably crying for a recount.)

And as has been widely reported--and debated--Obama has been invited by Pastor Rick Warren to speak this weekend at the Saddlebrook Church's second annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church, prompting howls from the left and the right.

Mags has some thoughts to share with the senator:

Barack Obama could have asked one of us oldsters to get his bearings on the evangelical-Democratic connection if indeed there needs to be one. (To be honest, it is more accurate not to call the religious right "evangelical," because there are many evangelicals who should be insulted to be lumped together with the religionists who call themselves evangelicals and fundamentalists these days.)

But Barack, being the overachieving youngster he is, decided to go full speed ahead. Poor kid decided to accept an invitation from Rick Warren (of Purpose Driven Life fame) to speak at the Saddleback Church in California.

What's the problem? In spite of the fact that Obama chided Democrats in 2004 for not being Christian enough, and did the same as recently as June 2006 (in a keynote speech to Call to Renewal's "Building a Covenant for a New America" conference), it turns out that Barack is not Christian enough for the Christians either. In fact, some of them are telling him that he is downright evil. I am sure he didn't have a clue as to the state of his damned soul, but there it is on the Internet, so it must be true. A Christian commentator said so. (Blogger Howling Latina provides a helpful rundown of Obama's perceived sins.)

What many people do not understand about the religious right is that they did not get where they are today by being inclusive. The older you get, the more you realize that people like being exclusive. Look, the rich tried it long ago and liked it in the form of country clubs. Now the poor can do it in the form of self-righteous religionism. It only follows--everyone wants to be special, and even better if one can claim the hotline to heaven. Name-dropping God is the biggest of all.

Now that the religionists have latched onto abortion and gay marriage as all-purpose dogmas, they are unlikely to let either one go anytime soon. Abortion is such a useful issue. They get the emotional impact of calling women and physicians baby-killers, and they get to insert themselves (pun intended) into the reproductive lives (read sex lives) of women. Look, judgment is not just for the Taliban anymore. U.S. men and women have decided they like being involved in your morality of lack of it.

These two exclusions are easy. The rules are simple. No nuance. No exceptions. No mercy. Pastor Ted will be able to tell you all about it.

Sorry, Barack, they do not want your kind of Christianity. They have spent decades being particular, and now that the Republicans have financed and used this segment of our population by rewarding their ignorance and their diminished ability to think logically with political clout, well, let's just say they are not open to you or your kind of outreach.

Here is the down low on this. The stalwarts will not change. There is no motivation to change. They are the most special of the most special. They have religious leaders to tell them exactly what is right and wrong, thus simplifying their lives and relieving them of the rational fears with which we all must grapple. They have a community within a bubble. There are no other reference points. They reinforce each other, no matter how insane, no matter what reality tells them. Like a dysfunctional family, they will allow no outsiders in. They might hear the truth or something they will later have to explain to their flock. Too much risk in letting the outside in.

We could have told you that, Barack. But you assumed that no one had ever tried to start a discourse with the right wing. Your smugness about your religion as opposed to us godless leftists just did not pay off. You will learn the lesson George Bush learned. If you do not cater to them on all points, then you are not welcome among them. They will shun their own for much less.

This might be your bump in the road. Popularity and good looks do not a president make. Don't believe everything the media tells you about why elections are won or lost. Next time you take your elders to task, as you did in 2004, check out the reality on the ground. We cannot afford to rearrange the basics of freedom for these people. If you aren't going to sell out women and gays, they don't want you. If you are, we won't want you.

Give the Pastor Teds and some other disgruntled right-wingers time to do the work. Let the Jesus Camps speak for themselves, and let the world march on without these people. Let them discover how corrupt their leaders are, and how bankrupt their philosophies are. A little more time, experience, and soul-searching might be of value to both you and the religious right.

Quote of the day: In Estonia, Chimpy the Prez shows that he's not goin' to say "civil war" and you can't foment him into sayin' it so don't even try


"There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place [in Iraq], fomented in my opinion because of the attacks by Al Qaeda causing people to seek reprisal."
--President Bush, at his news conference yesterday in Estonia, en route to Latvia for the NATO summit meeting (he's seen above in Riga with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga)

Actually, you don't get the full measure of the quality of the president's, er, "thinking"--the degree to which his "opinion" is based on not having the quaintest clue what's going on--unless you hear him running on about all that fomentin' going' on in Iraq. (Thank you, Keith Olbermann.) Given the level of fantasy and delusion going on here, there seems hardly any point in pointing out that any strength that Al Qaeda has in Iraq (and never mind that American military mouths were dismissing it just a week or two ago) is wholly owing to our efforts.

Of course, the president's immediate language problem was the desperate need to avoid the forbidden words "civil war." If we have any hope of making sense of this, we would do well to turn to the cartoon world. (Or perhaps we should say we're turning from an unintentional cartoon to an intentional one.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A question for our times: Please tell me it isn't necessary to explain now who Gen. Jack D. Ripper is (purity of essence, purity of essence)


I paused before posting Hendrik Hertzberg's creepy portrait of Dr. Eric Keroack, Chimpy the Prez's eerie choice to oversee "population services" in the Dept. of Health and Human Services. What gave me pause was Hertzberg's brilliantly evocative description of Dr. Keroack as "a sort of family-friendly version of General Jack D. Ripper." What gave me pause--and I'm sure the matter must have been discussed in the New Yorker copy department too--was whether readers would know who Gen. Jack D. Ripper is.

I would love to be embarrassed here, to be barraged with scornful assurances that of course everyone knows. But I worry all the same. Stanley Kubrick's stupefyingly great Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is 42 years old. Forty-two! (Yikes!) What's worse, it's in black and white. I keep hearing that you can't pay people to watch black-and-white movies nowadays.

So I just don't know whether you can now make casual reference to General Ripper, the Air Force base commander who goes completely nuts and, to protect the "purity of essence" of our bodily fluids against the demon Russkies, sets nuclear war in motion. In a film overflowing with astonishing performances, let's just say that there is none better than Sterling Hayden's glorious incarnation of the daffy Ripper (our opening photo).

I think my favorite line in the movie, though, is merely spoken about General Ripper. It's the reluctant, hedged-six-ways-to Sunday admission by gum-chewing Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott, above), in response to President Merkin Muffley's persistent questions, that in launching a nuclear attack it appears that General Ripper "may have exceeded his authority."

Candid admission: I didn't know President Muffley's name. I had to look it up.

Say, while we're on the subject, I don't suppose we have room here for a picture of President Muffley--one of Peter Sellers' three amazing role assumptions in the picture. Oh, come on, let's see if we can't just squeeze him in.

Whether he's trashing Anita Hill or habeas corpus, Arlen Specter can always be counted on to do . . . well, what he thinks is best for him

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"If Specter has accommodated his views to his party's, his leisure habits have not changed: he still plays squash seven days a week, a routine that he has maintained since the nineteen-seventies."
--Jeffrey Toobin, in "Killing Habeas Corpus," in the current (Dec. 4) New Yorker

Now Jeffrey Toobin is a fine writer on legal matters, and I enthusiastically commend this piece, which works a pretty decent profile of Arlen Specter into an excellent chronicle of the passing of the appalling Military Commissions Act of 2006, one of the low points of even this mind-numbingly dreadful session of Congress. But I keep coming back to this sentence.

Every writer, I imagine, gets stuck. One of the most familiar ways is the need for some sort of transition to get you from point A to point B when there really isn't any logical one. And maybe that's all that happened to Toobin (pictured at left) here. Having accomplished his tidy survey of the flips and flops of Specter's political survival, he wants to get into the subject of the senator's pretty remarkable literal survival, highlighted by his grimly determined battles against a brain tumor in 1993 (when he "was told that he had three to six weeks to live") and his late-2004 diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease ("during the first several months of his tenure as chairman of the Judiciary Committee [in 2005] he received chemotherapy," and he "never stopped playing squash").

And yet, there is that bizarre transition. There is no question in Toobin's mind, and certainly not in his account, that Specter has indeed "accommodated his views to his party's," meaning that he has submerged his famous "moderate" political views to those prevailing in his party. It was clear pretty much overnight, for example, when the Republicans retook control of the Senate in the 2004 election:

At a press conference on the day after he was reëlected in 2004, Specter repeated a view he had expressed many times, saying that he regarded the protection of abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade as "inviolate," and suggesting that "nobody can be confirmed today" who didn't share that opinion. Almost immediately, conservative groups in the Republican Party demanded that Specter be denied the chairmanship. Protesters chanted outside his office and inundated the Senate switchboard with telephone calls.

After a series of tense meetings with his Republican colleagues, Specter was allowed to take over as chairman of the committee, but he had to make certain promises, especially about Bush's nominations to the Supreme Court. "I have voted for all of President Bush's judicial nominees in committee and on the floor," Specter said in a carefully worded statement at the time. "And I have no reason to believe that I'll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination." In the subsequent two years, Specter was as good as his word, shepherding the nominations of John G. Roberts, Jr., and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., to confirmation to the Supreme Court. Nearly two decades earlier, Specter had provided a key vote against Ronald Reagan's nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Court, but as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he became an advocate for two new Justices whose views resembled Bork's.

And, as Toobin's chronicle shows, Specter's willing accommodation to the Right became clear again in the battle over the rights of "enemy combatant" detainees, where he wound up voting for a bill that--in fairly clear violation of the Constitution--legislates the suspension of perhaps this country's most fundamental legal right, that of habeas corpus.

I'm sure that Toobin knows there's nothing logical about this transition. What on earth could Specter's squash-playing have to do with his political twisting and turning?

But maybe Specter, the happily outgoing chairman of the Judiciary Committee (come on--Arlen Specter for Pat Leahy [right]? talk about a one-sided trade) just lends himself to curious transitions. He is one of the more curious denizens of the Senate in my alarmingly long time observing it. Not one of the best, or even one of the better senators. At the same time, certainly not one of the worst. (There's always heavy competition for that distinction.) There's just something, well, curious about him and his career that keeps drawing you back. Well, keeps drawing me back anyway.

Maybe the thing is that Specter himself probably thinks he numbers among the handful of greatest senators in the history of our republic. He would probably be happy to tell you so, without your even asking.

What can make Specter's Senate career so tricky is that Pennsylvania has an authentic tradition of prominent moderate Republicans, people like onetime Gov. William Scranton and Sens. Hugh Scott and John Heinz. Specter made believe he came in that tradition. And maybe, in less poisoned political times, he was--that is, before the Republican Party sold its soul to the devil.

The juxtaposition of Specter with Heinz [right] is curious. Specter entered the Senate in 1981, four years after Heinz, and they served together for 10 years. The plane crash that killed Heinz leaves us no way of knowing how he would have responded to the changing political times. He died on April 4, 1991. As an example, the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas--which we're about to talk about--was announced by the first President Bush three months later, on July 8.

For most of us, it's easy to date Specter's ascension to the upper ranks of the Public Enemy list: Clarence Thomas's 1991 Supreme Court confirmation battle. The televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in which Anita Hill testified to what she claimed was Thomas's repellent behavior when he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offered a rare glimpse into two wildly different philosophies of governing, indeed of life:

The committee Democrats, headed by then-chairman Joseph Biden, quaintly assumed that it was their job to get the facts. The Republicans, however, clearly didn't give a damn about the facts; all they wanted was to get their way--in this case, to ram the Thomas nomination through, no matter what it took. And what it took, from Senator Specter, was a vile trashing of Hill that had nothing to do with the facts. Drawing on his experience as a prosecutor, he did a dance of crude character assassination.

Of course I can't say for sure what Specter did or didn't know. I can only say that he's not a moron, and it seemed to me pretty clear at the time of the Thomas-Hill hearings that only a moron could possibly not know that Hill was telling the truth and Thomas was lying. It should have been a matter of personal embarrassment that there were morons among the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee at the time, but as far as Anita Hill was concerned, it really didn't matter. The committee Republicans' marching orders were to get Clarence Thomas confirmed, and that's what they were by God going to do--facts, schmacts.

Astonishingly, though, Specter seems to think that his disgraceful conduct in those hearings is grounds for pride:

In his autobiography, "Passion for Truth" (2000), he writes with pride about his work as a young investigator for the Warren Commission; as a crusading Philadelphia district attorney; and as an aggressive cross-examiner of Anita Hill in Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings. He has, he wrote, a "fetish for facts," and faith in proceedings like habeas corpus to protect individual rights

I don't know what it all goes to show. I guess maybe that there is a breed of politician as dangerous as, if not more dangerous than, the easy-to-read extremist ideologues like former Sens. Jesse Helms and Rick Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. These are the people who claim to be pragmatists guided by unshakable (indeed often biblical) principle, and yet who on closer inspection seem to have no principle higher than their own self-adoration.

Thinking about these people usually depresses me, and my response to the Toobin New Yorker piece has been no exception. The one surprise is that in this round of morbid speculation, I've found myself shading into thinking about the nearest thing Arlen Specter has to a senatorial twin, another legend in his own mind, Holy Joe Lieberman. You get that same smarmy, smug self-certainty, with an added layer of unpleasantness that may be generational, a product of the fact that Holy Joe is a dozen years younger: the heavy tinge of corruption in his career, the cash-and-carry history of corporate whoring that makes his quasi-rabbinical pretensions even more obnoxious.

(Somebody is bound to point out the disturbing coincidence, if it is a coincidence, that Specter and Lieberman are both Jewish. I'm just pointing it out before someone hurls the deadly charge of anti-Semitism. In fact, I and most of the Jews I know rate both of them high on our enemies' list. And I would point out that Holy Joe has gone even farther than our Arlen toward making himself the anti-Semites' favorite Jew.)

Jeez, now I'm really depressed.

Quote of the day: Hendrik Hertzberg offers his take on the rocky start to the new era (or perhaps "news cycle") of cooperation in Washington


"Who knows, really, what this President has been taught by this month’s election? The present President Bush, after all, is a decider of decisions, not a learner of lessons. And he likes to decide that he was right all along."
--Hendrik Hertzberg, in his New Yorker "Comment" piece this week (Dec. 4), "It's His Biparty"

In the wake of the midterm congressional election, Hertzberg notes, President Bush announced "a new era of cooperation" with the Democrats who are preparing to take over control of both houses. Hertzberg suggests, though, that "The new era of coöperation may or may not be definitively dead, but at the moment it appears to have been not so much an era as a news cycle."

He runs down the most blatant symptoms (with appropriate descriptive detail):

• resubmission of the failed nomination of U.N. Åmbassador John Bolton [right--"the man's resemblance to Yosemite Sam does not end with his mustache"] to his job (with discussion of backup plans to keep Bolton on the job without Senate approval beyond the term permitted by his recess appointment)

* renomination of the highly partisan ideological hack Kenneth B. Tomlinson, whom one would have thought had come out on the dark side of enough government investigations by now to be disqualified from any kind of legitimate employment, to be chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

• renomination of four of the least qualified candidates ever to be considered, let alone actually nominated, for federal judgeships

• appointment of "one Eric Keroack," a certifiable fake-Christian loon, to be in charge of "population affairs" at the Dept. of Health and Human Services (this one you have to hear about--see below for more)

He concludes:

Perhaps what we are seeing is one last White House attempt to reënergize the legendary "base," after which the new era of coöperation will resume. Or perhaps the President has simply reverted to type. Last week, he found himself in Vietnam, where the United States once fought a big, bloody, disastrous war of choice. In Hanoi, which under its nominally Communist rulers is more vibrantly capitalist than Ho Chi Minh City ever was when it was called Saigon, he was asked if the American experience in Vietnam offered any guidance about Iraq. "One lesson is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while," he replied, and added, "We'll succeed unless we quit." What did he mean? That the peaceable, bustling, unthreatening (if unfree) Vietnam of today represents an American success, made possible by the fact that we didn't quit until fifty-eight thousand Americans and three million Vietnamese were dead? Or that it represents an American failure, which would have been averted by another decade of war, another fifty-eight thousand, another three million? Who knows? And who knows, really, what this President has been taught by this month's election? The present President Bush, after all, is a decider of decisions, not a learner of lessons. And he likes to decide that he was right all along.

ABOUT DR. KEROACK—"a sort of family-friendly version of General Jack D. Ripper"

Here's what Hertzberg has to say about our new chief of "population services" in HHS:

On November 16th, Bush appointed one Eric Keroack to be the new chief of "population affairs" at the Department of Health and Human Services. In this post, Dr. Keroack, a gynecologist, will oversee what is called Title X, a Nixon-era program that distributes contraceptives to poor or uninsured women. Until recently, he was the medical director of a Christianist pregnancy-counselling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women." One of his odder theories makes him a sort of family-friendly version of General Jack D. Ripper. In Keroack's case, the precious bodily fluid of concern is the hormone oxytocin, a.k.a. "God's Super Glue." Apparently, oxytocin is released during certain enjoyable activities, including hugging, massage, and, of course, sex. It is also, according to Keroack, the fluid that keeps married couples bound to each other. Therefore, if a young woman squanders her supply on too much fooling around, she can forget about ever becoming a committed wife. Keroack's appointment, unlike the others, does not, alas, require Senate confirmation.


Even before I originally posted this item, I worried whether everyone would know who Gen. Jack D. Ripper is. If you don't know, or just would like to see a picture (hey, we've also got Gen. Buck Turgidson and President Merkin Muffley), click here.

Follow-up on the news: NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi easily won reelection, but there doesn't seem much chance that he can survive in office


Before the election, I expressed anguish over the damnably and unaccountably stupid behavior of New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi ("What happens when good people do bad things?"), a man I've admired for a lot of years, for a long time as a sensible, principled state assemblyman from Queens, then for two terms as New York City comptroller. I noted that I voted for him in the 2001 Democratic primary for mayor of New York City, which had its aborted first run on that least auspicious Election Day, Sept. 11.

Hevesi's troubles began when his obscure reelection opponent charged that he had regularly used a state employee to chauffeur his ailing wife. Unfortunately, it was true--and to make matters worse, he had already gotten in trouble for doing this while he was New York City comptroller. He had every reason to know this wasn't allowed, even if he had honestly intended to reimburse the state--an intention that was put in doubt by his not having done any reimbursing until he finally made an inadequate initial payment after the matter became public. He has offered the lame "explanation" that Mrs. Hevesi needed a state driver for some kind of "security" reasons.

The release of a damning State Ethics Commission report not long before the election seemed to seal the comptroller's doom, not least because the certain-to-be-elected new governor, State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer (they're seen together here in happier times), commented publicly that he had read the report carefully, and subsequently withdrew his endorsement of his fellow Democrat. Other state Democrats running for election or reelection fled from him.

Of course, state Republicans had thought so little of their prospects in the state comptroller's race that their nomination went to a barely known upstater, Saratoga County Treasurer J. Christopher Callaghan. Nevertheless, the New York Times took the extraordinary step of endorsing the unknown and clearly underqualified Callaghan. It was hard to argue the case: How could Hevesi possibly continue to serve as the state comptroller, whose primary responsibility is to serve as a watchdog over state expenditures to ensure their legitimacy?

Well, to the shock of no one, Hevesi was reelected, and by a fairly convincing 56 to 39 percent. (For what it's worth, I voted for him. I mean, what else could I do?) However, there are still several investigations underway, and on Nov. 17, Danny Hakim reported in the Times ("Spitzer Is Seen as Likely to Seek Hevesi's Ouster"):

Governor-elect Elliot Spitzer will almost certainly ask the State Senate to remove Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, who used a state worker as a chauffeur for his ailing wife, after the new term begins in January, people involved in the discussions said on Thursday.

Mr. Spitzer, the attorney general until the end of the year, is awaiting the outcome of three inquiries into Mr. Hevesi's conduct--including one by his own office, from which he has recused himself--before he makes a final decision.

But the governor-elect is inclined to push for Mr. Hevesi's removal based on information disclosed in a scathing State Ethics Commission report issued last month, the people involved in the discussions said. Those people spoke on condition of anonymity because Mr. Spitzer's decision is not final.

''While a personally painful decision, it's an easy decision because the facts are clear,'' said one person with knowledge of the governor's thinking on the issue. ''What would the drive for greater accountability and a higher ethical standard mean if you tolerated that level of abuse? He will move swiftly and aggressively to remove him.''

In a way, outgoing Republican Gov. George Pataki was let off the hook by the circumstances of the timing. He could have tried to remove Hevesi from office, but of course any action he took would have applied only to Hevesi's current term as comptroller, with no direct bearing on his reelection.

What happens next? (Always bearing in mind, of course, that those ongoing investigations might affect the course of events. Realistically, though, they seem hardly likely to do anything except make Hevesi's position even more untenable.)

The Legislature can remove a statewide elected official in two ways. The Democratic-controlled Assembly could vote to impeach Mr. Hevesi. A trial would then be held in the Republican-controlled Senate, which would be joined by judges from the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals. A two-thirds vote would be required to remove him.

Under the second procedure, the governor could call the Senate into session. A trial would then be held, and a two-thirds vote would be needed to remove Mr. Hevesi.

Because Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, has been supportive of Mr. Hevesi, Mr. Spitzer is more likely to refer the matter to the Senate, whose Republican leaders have called on Mr. Hevesi to resign. Many Democratic senators are also likely to be swayed by the new governor, who just won election by a record margin.

The Senate has never removed a statewide elected official from office under the second of these procedures. If it chose to do so with Mr. Hevesi, its action might be subject to legal challenge, some political analysts have said. In 1913, the Assembly impeached Gov. William Sulzer, and he was removed after a trial in the Senate.

If the Senate removed Mr. Hevesi, the governor would choose his successor. But if Mr. Hevesi resigned, the Legislature as a whole would choose his replacement, giving control to the Democrats.


The day after Hakim's piece appeared, the Times published the following letter to the editor, which pretty well describes my feelings too:

To the Editor:

Re ''Spitzer Is Seen as Likely to Seek Hevesi's Ouster'' (front page, Nov. 17):

Alan G. Hevesi's remark that ''millions of New Yorkers elected me by an overwhelming percentage to serve another four-year term as comptroller'' and ''that is what I intend to do'' may be wishful thinking.

Rather than allowing his ill-considered behavior to wound his party twice over, I voted for him in hopes of keeping the comptroller's office in the Democrats' hands until the investigations are completed, and then having him replaced by a qualified and more circumspect Democrat.

Harold Stone
New York, Nov. 17, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Today we find ourselves not particularly trusting the Washington Post's reporting or editorializing, but loving its editorial cartoonist

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We've already expressed doubt this morning about the independence of mind of the Washington Post's news judgment. Now it's the turn of the paper's editorial page, which wants to bully congressional Democrats into talking to His Imperial Majesty Tiny George Bush about Social Security:

THE BUSH administration has signaled that it wants to discuss Social Security reform with the incoming Democratic majority in Congress. This may sound quixotic: President Bush failed to secure reform when his own party controlled the legislature, so what hope does he have now? But the president's top economic advisers, including his Treasury secretary, his chief of staff and his budget director, appear ready to drop what Democrats call privatization--the diversion of payroll tax revenue into personal retirement accounts. Unless they want to define themselves as unbendingly partisan, the Democrats should accept the administration's invitation to discuss reform.

Let's pass over this business of "what Democrats call privatization." (This wasn't written by Karl Rove, was it? It is, after all, the Bush administration that always makes up names for its policies which distort or flatly contradict their actual intent. "Privatization," after all, is what most non-ideologues call the administration's scheme.) Now, I see no harm in Congress talking about anything--as long as it isn't being suckered into a propaganda ambush, which as far as I know is the only way this administration knows how to "negotiate."

But it's kind of astonishing that the Post editorial writer has the historically oblivious gall to assume, in defiance of the administration's entire record, that it is acting in good faith, while it's the Democrats who have something to prove. It makes you wonder if the editorialists ever look at their own brilliant editorial cartoonist. (See above.)

Is it just a propaganda offensive from drug companies and their GOP allies, or is the prescription-drug benefit actually working?


Is it possible that the Medicare prescription-drug program has been a success?

According to yesterday's Washington Post ("Success of Drug Plan Challenges Democrats; Medicare Benefit's Cost Beat Estimates"), it "has proven cheaper and more popular than anyone imagined."

It's not entirely surprising to learn that "drug-company lobbyists, Bush administration officials and many congressional Republicans are preparing to block any effort to increase federal control over drug prices, saying the Medicare benefit is working well."

Already this sounds suspicious, though, because "increase federal control over drug prices" is lobbyist-speak for what most of us would describe as "try to alter the prohibition in the drug-benefit enabling legislation which explicitly banned the government from attempting to negotiate lower drug prices." You do have to wonder--even though you know of course that Washington Post editors and reporters would never, ever let themselves be used as propagandists for the administration and its private-sector partners in the drug and insurance industries.

However, Lori Montgomery and Christopher Lee do report:

Polls indicate that more than 80 percent of enrollees are satisfied, even though nearly half chose plans with no coverage in the doughnut hole, a gap that opens when a senior's drug costs reach $2,250 and closes when out-of-pocket expenses reach $3,600. By the latest estimates, 3 million to 4 million seniors will hit the doughnut hole this year and pay full price for drugs while also paying drug-plan premiums.

The cost of the program has been lower than expected, about $26 billion in 2006, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The cost was projected to rise to $45 billion next year, but Medicare has received new bids indicating that its average per-person subsidy could drop by 15 percent in 2007, to $79.90 a month.

Urban Institute President Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, called that a remarkable record for a new federal program.

As someone who has written on a number of occasions that the program was a scam being perpetrated on senior citizens for the benefit of the drug and insurance companies (who certainly seem to be making out like bandits from it), I would love to know if I've been wrong. I admit that I'm unrepentantly suspicious, since it doesn't seem logical that everyone involved is coming out ahead financially and the cost is lower than anyone anticipated. If it is true, I'm inclined to think that it goes beyond good news into the realm of the miraculous.

In which case, I guess we should all shout "Hallelujah!" But first, could we have some independent verification? Believe it or not, this would not be the first time that the Bush administration has used the strategy of getting its story out first, even though the story turns out to be a pack of lies. By my count, it would be closer to, uh, the zillionth time. And I'm embarrassed to have to point out that on a fair number of those occasions, the Washington Post indeed has lent its news space to the propaganda campaign.

Perhaps Mr. Krugman, whose interest in the Medicare prescription-drug benefit is well-established, will be looking into it?

Quote of the day: That mean Bob Herbert won't even give Chimpy the Prez credit for his brilliant Iraq strategy: Let's all shop till we drop!


"The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying . . . anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop."
--Bob Herbert, in his NYT column today, "While Iraq Burns"

As we reported, last week on Keith Olbermann's Countdown, Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. quoted "a military relative" of his saying "that the American military is at war, but America is not at war."

November 27, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

While Iraq Burns

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns.

The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City--where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs--and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls that had opened for business at midnight.

A Wal-Mart in Union, N.J., was besieged by customers even before it opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday. "All I can tell you," said a Wal-Mart employee, "is that they were fired up and ready to spend money."

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman's proposal--it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S.--but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war.

With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: "I definitely don't know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don't even think about the war. They're more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday's test."

His thoughts were echoed by other students, including John Cafarelli, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, who was asked if he had any friends who would be willing to join the Army. "No, definitely not," he said. "None of my friends even really care about what's going on in Iraq."

This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name. While shoppers here are scrambling to put the perfect touch to their holidays with the purchase of a giant flat-screen TV or a PlayStation 3, the news out of Baghdad is of a society in the midst of a meltdown.

According to the United Nations, more than 7,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in September and October. Nearly 5,000 of those killings occurred in Baghdad, a staggering figure.

In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: "The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.' Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives."

Journalists in Iraq are being "assassinated with utmost impunity," the U.N. report said, with 18 murdered in the last two months.

Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore. They warrant maybe one sentence in a long roundup article out of Baghdad, or a passing reference--no longer than a few seconds--in a television news account of the latest political ditherings.

Since the vast majority of Americans do not want anything to do with the military or the war, the burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed.

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Stop the presses! According to the AP, it turns out that you can too buy happiness! (No, really--these professors have got it all figured out)


What's more--although the news doesn't seem to have reached Princeton--this one psychologist guy is convinced that "very rich people rate substantially higher in satisfaction with life than very poor people do, even within wealthy nations."

Oops, sorry! We should have warned you to make sure you were sitring down for that news.

Money-Happiness Link Is Complex, Study Says
Researchers Debunk Myth That Money Doesn't Buy Happiness


NEW YORK (Nov. 26) -- Does money buy happiness? It's sometimes said that scientists have found no relationship between money and happiness, but that's a myth, says University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener [right]. The connection is complex, he says. But in fact, very rich people rate substantially higher in satisfaction with life than very poor people do, even within wealthy nations, he says.

"There is overwhelming evidence that money buys happiness," said economist Andrew Oswald [left] of the University of Warwick in England. The main debate, he said, is how strong the effect is.

Oswald recently reported a study of Britons who won between $2,000 and $250,000 in a lottery. As a group, they showed a boost in happiness averaging a bit more than 1 point on a 36-point scale when surveyed two years after their win, compared to their levels two years before they won.

Daniel Kahneman [right], a Nobel-Prize winner and Princeton economist, and colleagues recently declared that the notion that making a lot of money will produce good overall mood is "mostly illusory."

They noted that in one study, people with household incomes of $90,000 or more were only slightly more likely to call themselves "very happy" overall than were people from households making $50,000 to $89,999. The rates were 43 percent versus 42 percent, respectively. (Members of the high-income group were almost twice as likely to call themselves "very happy" as people from households with incomes below $20,000.)

But other studies, rather than asking for a summary estimate of happiness, follow people through the day and repeatedly record their feelings. These studies show less effect of income on happiness, Kahneman and colleagues said.

There is still another twist to the money-happiness story. Even though people who make $150,000 are considerably happier than those who make $40,000, it's not clear why, says psychologist Richard E. Lucas [left] of Michigan State University.

Does money make you happier? Or does being happier in the first place allow you to earn more money later, maybe by way of greater creativity or energy? Or does some other factor produce both money and happiness? There's evidence for all three interpretations, Lucas says.

In any case, researchers say any effect of money on happiness is smaller than most daydreamers assume.

"People exaggerate how much happiness is bought by an extra few thousand," Oswald said. "The quality of relationships has a far bigger effect than quite large rises in salary.... It's much better advice, if you're looking for happiness in life, to try to find the right husband or wife rather than trying to double your salary."