Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Court Likely To Uphold Individual Mandate, Hence Entire Health-Care Law?

The Supreme Court spent over an hour and a half this morning acting like it was going to strike down the key feature of the Affordable Care Act, but a funny thing happened on the way to the noon recess: The justices made it apparent that they have no interest in going through the remainder of the entire 2,700 pages of the law to figure out what to keep and the net effect may have shored up support for the controversial individual mandate itself.

This is the off-the-cuff analysis of Lynn Denniston of SCOTUSBlog, who along with Dalia Lithwick of Slate are without peer in covering the high court.

"The dilemma could be captured perfectly in two separate comments by Justice Scalia," Denniston writes. "First, that it 'just couldn’t be right' that all of the myriad provisions of the law unrelated to the mandate had to fall with it, but, later, that if the Court were to strike out the mandate, 'then the statute’s gone.' "

Much of the morning's argument focused on just what role the Court would perform in trying to sort out the consequences of nullifying the requirement that virtually every American have health insurance by the year 2014.

Denniston writes that the argument presented the court three mutually exclusive options:

* Strike down all of the Affordable Care Act along with the mandate, which is the challengers' position.

* Strike down only two core changes in the way the health insurance system works, which is the Obama administration's position.

* Strike down nothing but the mandate, which is the position of a court-appointed lawyer. None of these options seemed to be especially appealing to members of the Court, and each of the three lawyers who came to the lectern faced tough and often skeptical questioning.

Congress’s capacity to react sensibly also came into question, somewhat surprisingly in my view given the cavalier attitude of the court's conservative bloc, and there have been indications that some justices are concerned about the chaos that might ensure if the heart of the act, let alone the entire act, was scuttled.

Justices Scalia and Kennedy appeared to harbor doubts that lawmakers would be up to the task of working out a new health care law if this one was overturned in part or whole, and Scalia noted the problems in the filibuster-prone Senate.

My head has told me from the outset of arguments this week that the mandate, if not the entire law, would be overturned, but my heard finds the plaintiff's primary argument that the act in general and mandate in particular is "unprecedented" is utterly unconvincing. Several major legislative initiatives in the last 80 years have been "unprecedented," notably Social Security, and it is possible that a bloc led by Chief Justice Roberts, who has been unsympathetic to the "unprecedented" argument, might in the end save the act.

It would not be the end of the world if the mandate is overturned.

The justices have seemed receptive to a single-payer plan under which consumers are insured from a pool financed by many parties, including employers, employees and government. Single-payer plans collect all medical fees and then pay for all services. The is the system in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, among other nations.

Final arguments were offered this afternoon, while a ruling is expected in June.

Illustration by Bill Hennessey

Book Reviews: John McPhee's 'Annals' & Robert Massie's 'Catherine The Great'

I inhale 50 or so books a year, or at the rate of about one a week, but in the case of John McPhee's Annals of the Former World, his Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece of the geology of America's 40th parallel, it has taken me 10 years.

Ten years ago was when Amazon was selling "More Books. More Music. More Fun." and nothing else, and that is what it said on the Amazon book marker wedged between pages 198 and 1999 when I rediscovered Annals at the bottom of a box of books the other day.

I had purchased Annals in the first place because McPhee is one of a small number of journalists who writes exquisitely and with a literary bent about every subject he touches, which have ranged from the Merchant Marine to freight trains to oranges. And truth be known, I had done horribly in geology, which was my college science requirement. I wanted to assuage my guilt and tip my hat to my long-suffering parents, who were by then deceased but would have appreciated that maybe their share of my tuition wasn't entirely for naught.

Some 460 pages later, I finished Annals and unlike the first 198, it didn't feel like my head was about to explode as I waded through a Devonian sea of geological nomenclature. I will chalk this up to being older, wiser, more patient and totally enraptured by McPhee's ability to effortless mix into a single sentence a half dozen ideas, with powerful visuals to boot.

Annals is McPhee's account of traveling back and forth across the U.S. on Interstate 80, which roughly parallels to 40th parallel, often in the company of geologists who open the world beneath and beside the highway for he and the reader.

It was only about the time I was getting Ds in geology that a cadre of renegade geologists rolled a grenade into the geology tent in the form of finally proving that plate tectonics, a long-disputed theory of sliding and colliding slabs of crust that has sent the continents hither and thither for hundreds of millions of years, was spot on. All of a sudden, everything geologic made sense, or sort of did, and McPhee uses this as a framework for a series of New Yorker articles that begat Annals.

From the Palisades overlooking the George Washington Bridge to the Golden Gate, McPhee writes about the geology we only catch glimpses of from a speeding automobile, although a transcontinental flight reveals much more. He pretty much skips Missouri and Nebraska (b-o-r-i-n-g) and pauses long in Wyoming, which one of my two favorite parts of Annals. This is because I have traveled extensively around that state and his guide is David Love, an eminent U.S. Geological Survey geologist who was born in a remote quarter of Wyoming.

Love was raised by a rough-and-tumble Scotsman and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wellesley College who came out West to teach in a one-room, all-grades schoolhouse for students who lived on scattered ranches over a 500 square mile area. The deprivations that he and his family suffered were extreme: Winters so cold , snows so deep and winds so fierce that sheep would get blown off of cliffs, but childhood was one big education and no more so than the geology in his midst.

McPhee tells us that the crazy quilt geology of Wyoming produces geologists like Love who have seen a lot of rocks -- and Love had lived and breathed them on foot, horseback and by truck before embarking to Yale where he got a PhD -- and "a four dimensional gift for fitting them together and arriving at the substance of their story -- a scenarist and lithographer of what geologists like to call the Big Picture."

My other favorite part of Annals is the section on Delaware Water Gap, the magnificent geologic formation bisected by Interstate 80 on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border a stone's throw from my mountain home.

"It's a real schlemazel," geologist Anita Harris cracks wise as she and McPhee examine geologic formations at a road cut along the interstate near the Gap that help explain the formation of the Appalachians, plate tectonics and continental glaciation.

"Not by accident is geology called geology," Harris explains, "It's named for Gaea, the daughter of Chaos."

The rocks are often chaotic, but as one reviewer noted, the study of them is not in McPhee's presentation. Oh, and Annals also includes 25 landform maps.

She sat on the throne of Peter the Great and ruled the largest empire on earth. She was intelligent, well read, had a quick wit and was a shrewd judge of character, was open minded but the power of life and death. She was Catherine II of Russia, better known to history as Catherine the Great.

And she is the well-studied subject of Robert Massie's Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, which is a current bestseller that I read in less than a week.

Massie, now 82, has spent almost half a century studying czarist Russia and as Nicholas and Alexandra and his other biographies, has the canny ability of writing like a novelist even when dealing with the historical minutiae that is a necessary part of all good bios.

Unlike the Romanovs, Catherine the Great lucked into become empress of the largest country on earth. She was a minor German princess who caught the eye of Russia's childless empress, Elizabeth. Long story short, Catherine wed Elizabeth's sickly and strange nephew, Peter, who would become her successor. The marriage was never consummated and after six disastrous months on the throne, Peter was ousted by his wife.

Catherine's reign lasted 36 years and was spectacularly successful save for her inability to abolish serfdom. She walked with commoners in the parks on her estates, rewrote Russia's legal code, won a few wars, had a peerless intellectual energy, assembled the greatest art collection of the era, which she hung in the Hermitage, and ruthlessly dealt with everyone who tried to undermine her absolute power.

Massie also reveals that Catherine had 12 lovers and she bore children with three of them.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Paul Ryan's Study In Political Cruelty

There is much to like in the Republican budget plan rolled out by Representative Paul Ryan last week. That is if you are a millionaire, a Wall Street fat cat or and don't have to worry about what happens if you become ill. But if you are like the many Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, wondering how they can afford to send their kids to college and whether the federal safety net will be there for them when they're elderly, the plan is an unmitigated disaster. And like Ryan's not dissimilar plan last year, is a study in political cruelty.

The plan may pass the Republican-controlled House relatively unscathed, but the early signs are mixed: It cleared the Appropriations Committee by a narrow 19-18 vote after two Republicans defected, likely mindful of how a yea vote would play back home with voters come November.

The plan has no chance of approval in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a few Republicans who also have an eye on re-election may also vote nay, while it faces ferocious opposition on Main Street because of it is seen as a deal with the devil: Eviscerating popular social programs in order to lower taxes for the rich.

There is another reason as well: The Republican Party, deeply discredited during the Bush years, remains extremely unpopular nationally. (The 2010 midterm election was a fluke, kiddies.) This is not to say that President Obama and Democrats don't have popularity problems of their own, but the GOP's embrace of positions out of step with the electoral mainstream will win it no new friends and the Ryan plan is an albatross that Mitt Romney, now the presumptive nominee, will have to wear around his neck no matter how vigorously he Etch A Sketches.

Those of us of the liberal persuasion often forget that people like Ryan really mean it when they set out to coddle the rich and screw the rest of us, and there is a certain logic, however perverse, to his Reverse Robin Hood thinking.

Republicans believe that taxes are too high and defense spending is too low, but doing both under Ryan's plan would increase the budget deficit by a whopping $2 trillion. So if Republicans are going to remain politically pure -- and that, of course, trumps all policy concerns, let alone the public good -- the difference can only be made up by deep cuts to the programs that benefit the have-nots.

How to accomplish this?

* $1.6 trillion would be slashed from Medicaid and other non-Medicare health programs.

* $1.5 trillion for the Affordable Care Act in the service of subsidizing the health insurance of low-income Americans would go bye-bye.

* $200 billion would be pared from the education and worker training programs that have sustained many unemployed workers.

* Food stamps would be capped at a low rate although the price of food continues to rise.

* Certain tax loopholes for the wealthy would be closed, but the proceeds would fund a tax cut.

The November election will be about a lot of things, among them the war in Afghanistan, Iranian nuclear ambitions and Chinese competition. But most of all it will be about an economic recovery.

When the Ryan plan is viewed in an economic context
it is a disaster as well as a hard sell for a presidential nominee-to-be who infamously said "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." Yes, Democrats took the statement out of context, but there still was a ring of authenticity to it.

Sympathetic commentators have written that they don't believe Ryan wants to balance the budget on the backs of the have-nots, but that happens to be the only way to make the plan's numbers work. I think that the answer is even more fundamental than that: The plan is just as unrealistic and therefore unserious as last year's. Oh, and poor people don't vote Republican.

Cartoon du Jour

Michael Ramirez/Investors Business Daily

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It's Over Bar the Shouting As Romney Now Has Momentum If Not A Mandate

With Mitt Romney's overwhelming victory in Illinois yesterday, it's all over bar the shouting -- and we still can expect plenty from his erstwhile opponents and their surrogates.

And so after a nearly three-month roller coaster ride through primaries and caucuses where Romney was often upstaged but continued to quietly rack up delegates, the Republican Party finally has a presumptive nominee, but while he is the only man in the once-crowded field who has a chance of beating President Obama, he is viewed with disdain if not downright horror by many party faithful while running the most lackluster presidential campaign in recent memory.

The story line going into the delegate-rich Illinois primary was that Santorum would do well in the Land of Lincoln and a brokered convention was a real possibility. Some polls did show the former Massachusetts governor and former U.S. Senator neck and neck and the conventional wisdom, which has been wrong so often this political season, noted that beyond Chicago and the affluent suburbs the state is Santorum conservative.

But when the last vote was counted, Romney had clobbered Santorum by a 47-35 percentage point margin, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul once again also-rans, and for the first time this year he had something that his campaign had sorely lacked: Momentum with a generally favorable schedule of future primaries, yet it is momentum without a mandate.

* * * * *
In an exquisite if entirely unintended sense of timing, Representative Paul Ryan rolled out the GOP's new budget plan as Illinois voters were coronating Romney.

The plan reneges on the deal that Republicans had hammered out with Democrats during the debt ceiling imbroglio while pretty much destroying Medicare and Medicaid, lowering the top marginal tax rate, eliminating all taxes on foreign profits, and kneecaps spending on social programs and research and development.

No surprise there, but this is the plan that Romney will have to not just live with, but defend, even as he slithers back toward the more moderate center from the hard right-wing views he has espoused.

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/The Washington Post

Monday, March 19, 2012

The GOP War On Women Continues

Why would a political party go out of its way to alienate the key bloc of voters -- in this case independent women -- in a presidential election year? In other words, why would Republicans oppose contraception and preventive health care, favor laws prohibiting abortions for even the victims of rape and incest, and now in essence come out in support of violence against women?

The answer is that some Republican politicians are so beholden to the right-wing and evangelical base that has taken over the party that they'd rather forsake votes that might help them recapture the White House, or end up with a loon like Rick Santorum as their nominee who couldn't capture the White House with a Christo-sized net.

This helps explain why many Republicans oppose renewing and strengthening the once broadly bipartisan 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which the reliably sick Phyllis Schlafly asserts is a slush fund "used to fill feminist coffers" in demanding that Republicans stand up against legislation that promotes "divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men."

Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the conservative Concerned Women for America, says her group had been pressing senators hard to oppose reauthorization of legislation she called "a boondoggle" that vastly expands government and "creates an ideology that all men are guilty and all women are victims."

Not all Republicans oppose renewing the act.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who got her wrist slapped by some of her woman constituents after she voted against contraception legislation, warned her colleagues that the GOP is at risk of being successfully painted as against women with potentially grievous political consequences.

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

"I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition," whined Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who joined his Republican peers last month on the Judiciary Committee in unanimously opposing the latest version. "You think that’s possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?"

Sessions did not specify what those "things" are, but other Republicans have said they are opposed to provisions to allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas and that would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.

"Obviously, you want to be for the title," said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership, of the act. "If Republicans can't be for it, we need to have a very convincing alternative."

Thus far no alternative has been offered.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has taken up arms in the War on Women and is desperately trying to out-Santorum Santorum. Having supported Planned Parenthood as Massachusetts governor and contributed personally to the group, he now says that he would "get rid of" Planned Parenthood

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The GOP: This Is What It Has Come To

Alabama and Mississippi are the heartland of today's Republican Party. Despite a veneer of modernity and significant strides away from their segregationist past, both states remain deeply conservative, and despite his Roman Catholicism and Rust Belt roots, Rick Santorum was the logical winner of primaries yesterday that threw the race for the party's presidential nomination into further turmoil.

Santorum's twin victories were shocking but at the same time not surprising, and should dispel any remaining doubt that the one-time party of the Big Tent has devolved into a knuckle dragging caricature of all that is rotten in American politics, as well as provide further evidence that Mitt Romney remains unready for prime time.

Despite the backing of the political establishments of Alabama and Mississippi and a huge fundraising advantage, Romney finished third in both states, and had Newt Gingrich dropped out -- as he now will be pressured to do by Romney and Santorum supporters -- the former Massachusetts governor would have been crushed.

While Santorum was triumphant, exit polls showed that 39 percent of voters in Mississippi and 36 percent in Alabama said that defeating President Obama their top priority.

In yet another gaffe, Romney had called the primaries "the desperate end" of Santorum's candidacy, but
exit polls showed that it is he who should be feeling desperate. With the exception of the elderly, no demographic got behind him and even affluent voters flocked to Santorum. Oh, and young voters stayed away from all three candidates in droves.

With Hawaii and American Samoa also voting, Romney still garnered the most delegates despite continuing to run what is possibly the most pathetic campaign in modern history. Although Romney appears weaker after each contest, the nomination is still his to lose because it is unlikely that Santorum can overtake him even if he wins the Illinois primary next Tuesday. Then again, the conventional wisdom has been wrong much of the time, and a Santorum win in the state of Abraham Lincoln could be a game changer.

Gingrich at this juncture is grasping at straws. He boasted last night that he remained viable because he won delegates despite losing, a weak argument that Romney also has used.

"Ordinary people across this country can defy the odds," Santorum declared last night. "This campaign is about ordinary folks doing extraordinary things, kinda like America."

That is true, of course, but only if you are an American who believes in the co-mingling of church and state, opposes family planning and abortion even in the case of rape and incest, who sees universities as left-wing re-education camps, and never saw a war you didn't like.

Image by Blue Sky

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/The Washington Post

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Future Be Damned, The GOP Wants To Return To Those Good Old 1950s

June Cleaver talks to little Mitt, Ricky, Newt and Ron
In this most excruciating of primary campaign seasons, it has become obvious that the Republican Party has lurched not just to the right but into the past.

On issues ranging from women's rights to gay rights, the GOP unashamedly evokes a "Leave It To Beaver" past that, as Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts puts it, was "
before Martin Luther King had his dream, before Betty Friedan wrote her book, before Rock Hudson was gay, before everything changed."

The bitterness and fear -- bitterness over 2012 not being 1952 and fear over an increasingly black and brown America -- among Republicans, who are almost uniformly white, gray and less educated, is palpable out on the hustings, and the party's presidential wannabes, passing up opportunities to offer policy proposals and platforms in contrast to President Obama's, are vying to see who can be the biggest demagogue in pandering to them.

Rick Santorum will win that contest hands down even if he won't win the nomination.

This is because Santorum has chosen to take a trip in the Wayback Machine (remember Mr. Peabody and his "boy" Sherman from "Rocky and His Friends," the 1950s and 60s kids' cartoon show?) to a time when young ladies always kept their legs crossed and blacks knew their place instead of focusing on what matters most to voters -- the economy.

Beyond the Santorum's misogynistic outlook, which dovetails nicely with the party's ongoing War on Women and use of sex as a wedge issue, there also are these aspects of the party's backwards looking stance:

* Opposition to affordable higher education and a return to a time when few Americans attended college and many of those who did were from well-to-do backgrounds.

Santorum unfortunately speaks for many of his party peers in declaring that P
resident Obama wants to expand college enrollment because colleges are "indoctrination mills" that destroy religious faith.

* A return of cheap energy, U.S. industrial and military hegemony, extraordinary economic growth and plentiful jobs.

Conveniently overlooked is that the 1950s were a time of massive public investment in infrastructure and education and the growth of government at all levels and rich people paid their fair share of taxes.

One consequence of this hellbent pursuit of times when party elders were party youngers is that young voters are pretty much completely turned off by today's GOP.

Only 5 percent -- only 5 percent -- of eligible voters younger than 30 cast ballots on Super Tuesday, roughly splitting evenly among Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, according to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, while so far only about 600,000 voters younger than 30 have cast ballots in all the Republican primaries.
ead more

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/The Washington Post

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Media Reports Of The Death Of The Daily News Are Yet Again Premature

There has never been a big city newspaper quite like the Philadelphia Daily News. Although it is a tabloid, it has been short on sleaze and long on quality journalism, winning its most recent Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for exposing a rogue police narcotics squad. It has long had the largest minority readership of any big city newspaper on a percentage basis and its blue collar sensibilities, powerful editorial voice and award-winning sports section has provided an alternative to the larger and more button-down Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Daily News has yet another distinction, as well. At a time when most big city newspapers are hemorrhaging revenues by the millions of dollars, the Daily News continues to make money. But the Inky, as it is locally known, is among the hemorrhagers and the two papers and their valuable Center City ivory tower property (think Superman and the Daily Planet) are up for sale for the fourth time in six years.

The Daily News has been something of an unwanted stepchild from the time that Knight Newspapers, which was to become Knight Ridder, bought the Inky from Walter Annenberg in 1969. He refused to sell just the Inky, so the Daily News was part of the deal -- and ever since has been on the chopping block or death bed or any number of other terms for going bye-bye.

And so it is that that fourth prospective ownership group has been told by its bean counters that the Daily News should jump off a cliff because the Inky, doncha know, is a newspaper of record even if it is awash in red ink while the Daily News is something else although it continues to make money. Besides which, the Daily News picks up the readers that the Inky misses and they're not likely to gravitate to the Inky if the Daily News ceases publication.

This bit of actuarial lunacy is sorting itself out, although 37 more jobs will have to be shed on top of the hundreds lost in the last decade before an ownership group led by Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor, does the deal. That Rendell is even involved has provoked controversy in the papers' newsrooms although he has said he will not meddle. Current owner Brian Tierney said the same thing. He lied.

I should mention at that I worked for the Daily News for a mostly glorious 21 years beginning in 1980. When I took an early retirement buyout in 2001, which was Knight Ridder's way of ridding the Daily News and Inky of its most experienced and often best staffers in a last-gasp effort to recoup lost profits, the Daily News was once again on the verge of going bye-bye. But the deep loyalty of its reporters, editors, ad salespeople, printers, pressmen and drivers, combined with its close ties with the community, as well as perhaps a dollop of good karma, kept its lease on life.

But for how long no one knows.

Cartoon du Jour

Ted Rall

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Super Tuesday: Mitt Romney Wins The Delegates But Still Not The Argument

Mitt Romney was bound to win a fair number of delegates yesterday in the 10 Super Tuesday primary states because most of these contests were proportional, but the real test was whether he won more than 50 percent of the delegates since these states represent 20 percent of the total delegate count, a not inconsiderable number. Win more than half and Romney's sclerotic campaign shows new signs of life. Win less than half and the issue of Romney's electability looms ever larger and the Republicans might as well give up on winning the presidency.

Well, Romney won 209 delegates of the 416 up for grabs. Rick Santorum won 85, Newt Gingrich 83, and Ron Paul 20, with 19 delegates still in play.

Yet -- and any Romney victory these days seems to come with qualifiers -- he appears to have beaten Santorum in the pivotal swing state of Ohio by a mere 12,000 or so votes and may have lost had the former Pennsylvania senator met ballot requirements in all districts. This despite Romney outspending him by a whopping 4-1 margin, while the former Massachusetts governor lost badly across the South.

Romney pointed to his wins in Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia to make the case that his campaign has regained momentum, but Massachusetts and Vermont will go to President Obama in November and Santorum and Gingrich weren't on the ballot in Virginia. Nice job in super important Idaho, though.

Santorum rightly claimed that his victories in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee were further evidence that many Republicans are still looking for a conservative alternative. Gingrich claimed that his overwhelming victory in his native Georgia showed that he is back, a dubious claim at best since he remains in the race only because of the largess of a billionaire and finished third or worse in every other Super Tuesday state, while Ron Paul continued his winless streak.

As Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times put it, "Mitt Romney won the delegates, but not necessarily the argument."

While Romney took a little more than half of the delegates yesterday, he only won about 40 percent of the popular vote and 60 percent of the states, which is pretty much what he has done to date, which is to say that Super Tuesday was yet another opportunity for him to break out -- as George W. Bush did in 2000 and John McCain did in 2008 -- but he did not.

In fact, as Romney has continued to roll up victories and delegates, his overall general election standing has not improved, which arguably makes Barack Obama the biggest Super Tuesday winner. Current polls show the president winning in all of the swing states against Romney and has pulled even in Florida. He has a healthy lead in Pennsylvania and is ahead in Ohio, while his lead against the other candidates is even bigger.

Romney also cannot expect much bounce from Super Tuesday because of the closeness of his Ohio victory. Exit polls there showed that he continues to struggle with working-class voters and evangelicals. He was crushed by Santorum in Tennessee and now faces primaries in Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi where he will not do well.

"There's a lot of questioning about why Romney can't 'close the deal,' " writes David Frum, a former George W. Bush administration who was banished from the Republican temple for being too moderate. "But maybe we should equally wonder, why GOP voters refuse to understand how complex and difficult the deal is."

That, as the Aussies like to say, is it in a bit.

No one, Romney included, is going to come close to beating Obama by continuing to relentlessly characterize the man who took out Osama bin Laden and much of the Al Qaeda cadres as being "weak" on foreign policy and not providing concrete alternatives to the president's efforts to resuscitate the economy other than giving tax breaks to the super wealthy.

When Bad Things Happen To Bad People

There have been myriad consequences flowing from the Republican Party's decision to make birth control an election issue under the guise of religious freedom.

Even more woman voters are migrating away from the former GOP Big Tent, Mitt Romney has had to do one of his on-demand flip-flops on whether employers beyond religious organizations should be able to refuse to underwrite family planning costs (he's now for it, of course) and least consequential but most delicious of all, radio talkmeister Rush Limbaugh is losing advertisers like leaves from a walnut tree in October after three straight days of calling a Georgetown University law student who testified before Congress a whore and a slut and then issuing a non-apology. (UPDATE: He has now issued an apology stunning for its candor.)

The issue has now spun so out of control that the publicity is almost entirely negative, which Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski found out to her chagrin. She now says that she would not back the measure, which she said she had in order to make a statement about religious freedom, if asked to vote on it again.

That is what happens -- okay, sometimes happens -- when politicians or in this case a political party go all pious for devious reasons. It is a beautiful thing.

Cartoon by David Horsey/Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Okay, Okay. I Reluctantly Agree.

Responding to Obama administration critics head on, Attorney General Eric Holder asserted yesterday that it is lawful for the U.S. to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be terrorists who are planning attacks on the homeland.

In a speech at Northwestern University's law school outlining the administration's counterterrorism policies, Holder said that if capturing a terrorist alive is not feasible, "Our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.”

Holder is not the first administration official to address the issue, but he is the highest ranking and his remarks were an effort to ease the controversy over the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki,
a New Mexico-born radical Muslim cleric who died in an U.S. drone strike in Yemen last September.

"Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces," Holder said. "This is simply not accurate. 'Due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."

Holder's logic is not easy to digest after years of Bush administration abuses, but I reluctantly endorse it in cases such as Awalki's when there appears to have been incontrovertible evidence that he was planning an attack on the homeland.

The attorney general did continue the Obama administration's refusal to even acknowledge that a Justice Department memo on killing American citizens exists. The New York Times and ACLU have filed separate lawsuits seeking both the memo and evidence against Awlaki.

Choosing his words carefully, Holder did not say that a situation such as Awlaki's is the only kind in which it would be lawful to kill a citizen.

Rather, he said it would be lawful "at least" under those conditions. He also offered the example of a situation in which it would be lawful to kill a citizen even if all those requirements were not met: "Operations that take place on traditional battlefields."

Image from Al Jazeera, via Middle East Media Research Institute

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Monday, March 05, 2012

The GOP Has Worked Hard To Insure A Political Apocalypse. Will That Happen?

Eight months from tomorrow, Americans will go to the polls to vote in what is in effect is a referendum on the future of the Republican Party.

This is because the GOP, to riff on a phrase used by some of its presidential candidates this primary season in a far different context, is at a tipping point. Not Rick Santorum's tipping point -- "when those who pay are the minority and those who receive are the majority" -- but whether a party that has marched ever deeper into the electoral wilderness and away from what not long ago was a plausible shot at taking back the White House, can remain a national contender.

The reasons that Republicans have arrived at this crossroads less than two years after recapturing the House are not only obvious, they are acknowledged by saner party leaders in increasingly public denunciations of the culture war-based campaigns that Santorum, Newt Gingrich and even Mitt Romney have run dependent on red-meat hyperbole that appeals to the party's white, less educated and rural base.

It was Pat Buchanan who launched the culture wars with a fiery speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention in which he railed against legal abortion, gay rights, discrimination against religious schools and women in combat.

That the GOP embraced all that and more, including making English the official language and denying citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, throughout the last decade is a commentary both on its fealty to evangelicals and hard right-wingers and the reality that it was bereft of policies beyond going to war with any country that gave America the finger.

It has not helped that President Obama, in some respects, has had some good luck to go along with his ability to lead and occasionally inspire.

But the biggest reason that Obama may be cruising to a landslide victory on November 6 is that the very people who elected him -- the young, college educated and independent women with a smattering of independent men -- are repelled by the racial, class and gender resentments that have become the Republican stock in trade. Stir in Republican congressfolk whose only goal has been to prevent Obama from doing his job while trying to pull the rug out from under the middle class, the poor, the elderly and the infirm, and you have a recipe for electoral Armageddon.

Beyond these factors is the reality that demographic trends favor the Democrats.

Republicans have made no effort to court Hispanics and other immigrants, who represent the fastest growing bloc of new voters. This bloc would seem to be a built-in opportunity for the GOP to win new friends and influence people, but instead it has denigrated the immigrant community and tried to impose draconian measures on it.

There is yet another reality as well: Modern American conservatism, which is to say Republicanism, appeals to so-called heartland values that are often expressed in anti-government and racial terms, and this too is a turn-off for the majority of voters, many of them black and brown, who hail from urban and suburban areas and may not be particularly fond of big government, but recognize the need for the safety net it provides and Republicans would deny them.

The Republicans have miscalculated in several key ways.

The party's strategy has been to strive for short-term victories rather than long term viability at the expense of broadening its base, while it willfully miscalculated that Obama had become so weak that voters could pretty much be ignored and it was a waste of time to develop policies and themes that might be viable alternatives to what the president and Democrats were saying and doing.

The result of all of this -- the weakest presidential field in memory, obstructionist politics, appealing to the few and ignoring or denigrating the many -- has resulted in a wholesale panic because it is now understood that the party has sabotaged itself and the result is that 2012 will be a do-or-die election.

The Republicans have worked hard to insure an apocalypse at the polls and they deserve one. Yet Obama and the Democratic majority are certainly not without fault while America needs two healthy political parties. As things stand, one of those parties is deathly ill and it may be a long time before it again becomes viable.
Photo by Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine

Cartoon du Jour

Chris Britt/State Journal-Register

Thursday, March 01, 2012

We Will Not Speak Ill Of The Dead

Andrew Breitbart, the conservative Internet publisher, author and lightning rod for controvery, has died. He was 43.

A statement posted on his website said that Breitbart died "unexpectedly from natural causes" this morning.

The following statement was posted on Breitbart's website today:

"With a terrible feeling of pain and loss we announce the passing of Andrew Breitbart. We have lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a dear friend, a patriot and a happy warrior.

"Andrew lived boldly, so that we more timid souls would dare to live freely and fully, and fight for the fragile liberty he showed us how to love."

As the headline notes, we will not speak ill of the dead, but you might want to read Breitbart's remarks after the death of Teddy Kennedy to see what he really was about.

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