Friday, September 04, 2009


Obama's Test: Can The Center Hold?

President Obama wants to use his prime-time address to a joint-session of Congress next Wednesday as a way to jump-start the health-care debate. He would be better off trying to restore civic order that has become dangerously frayed over the last few months.

The liberal interest group MoveOn organized a rally Wednesday evenings in Thousand Oaks, California to show support for Obama's health care reform. Yet, demonstrating how snake-bitten the effort has become, a pro-reform participant bit off the finger of 65 year-old William Rice, a member of a counter-rally. Even though the incident began with Rice throwing the first punch, it's ending with him losing a finger -- and the biter running off -- makes the whole situation a disaster for supporters of Obama and health reform. After all, it's been Democrats portraying the anti-reform movement as the ones prone to intolerance, unrest and potential violence. Rice may have started the fight, but, as the cops at the scene said, his mutilation now makes him the victim.

Meanwhile, conservatives have decided that President Obama's start-of-the-school year message to students is nefarious enough that many are organizing to keep their kids out of class next Tuesday:

The uproar over the speech, in which Mr. Obama intends to urge students to work hard and stay in school, has been particularly acute in Texas, where several major school districts, under pressure from parents, have laid plans to let children opt out of lending the president an ear.

Some parents said they were concerned because the speech had not been screened for political content. Nor, they said, had it been reviewed by the State Board of Education and local school boards, which, under state law, must approve the curriculum.

“The thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child,” said Brett Curtiss, an engineer from Pearland, Tex., who said he would keep his three children home.

“I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.”

The White House has said the speech will emphasize the importance of education and hard work in school, both to the individual and to the nation. The message is not partisan, nor compulsory, officials said.

The sheer violence of the finger-biting is more serious because it involves physical injury. Even so, it is ultimately an individual act that got out of hand at a political rally.

Urging or threatening a boycott of a presidential address by a political movement is truly disturbing. If parents are afraid about what their children might be told or encouraged by the president, there is a simple solution: Ask that question that parents have been putting to their kids for decades: "What did you learn in school today, dear? What did the president talk about?"

If the answer is, simply, He told us to study hard, do our homework and not watch as much TV or play as much video games," great! If it's something like, "We need to buy a smaller, more gas-efficient car," well, then, that's an opportunity to explain to the child why either the president is wrong -- or why such things can't be right away.

But, telling a child he or she isn't going to school because the president will be speaking!?!? That is absurd. it would have been just as ridiculous for a liberal to do the same thing because George W. Bush (or John McCain) might want to talk about the bravery of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of using the president's talk as a, to use an Obama phrase, "teachable moment." The parents could show how it is possible to disagree with someone politically without either being disagreeable -- or running away.

The president of the United States -- whomever the person is -- holds an office that should be respected. It's an office to which children should aspire. If a president wants to urge children to work hard, so they can have an opportunity to excel and place themselves on a track for the presidency, why should that be denied to the kids? If the gentleman in Texas thinks his three children could be so easily corrupted by listening to the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES for a few minutes, then he should just permanently yank his kids out of the school.

At the end of the day, however, Barack Obama ran a presidential campaign hoping to quell the raging political passions of the last few years. The last few weeks, with an increasingly contentious health care debate -- culminating in a lost finger -- demonstrate that, like an out-of-control forest fire, the political wars rage as hot as ever. That the hostility many have for the president has reached such a level that parents don't want their kids to hear him speak is even greater evidence. The so-called sensible center risks being squeezed out by the consuming flames of the ideological extremes..

Rather than health-care "reform," it would seem that the mental, spiritual and emotional health of the nation might be a more appropriate topic for Obama's Wednesday's address .

And, yeah, the kids should stay up to hear that one too.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009


Death Care

From the Daily Telegraph:
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of experts who care for the terminally ill claim that some patients are being wrongly judged as close to death.

Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.

But this approach can also mask the signs that their condition is improving, the experts warn.

As a result the scheme is causing a “national crisis” in patient care, the letter states. It has been signed palliative care experts including Professor Peter Millard, Emeritus Professor of Geriatrics, University of London, Dr Peter Hargreaves, a consultant in Palliative Medicine at St Luke’s cancer centre in Guildford, and four others.

“Forecasting death is an inexact science,”they say. Patients are being diagnosed as being close to death “without regard to the fact that the diagnosis could be wrong.

“As a result a national wave of discontent is building up, as family and friends witness the denial of fluids and food to patients."
This is what happens when politics mixes with medicine. Even if Obama and the Obamacare cheerleaders have no intention of making a healthcare system like Britain's NHS, who is to say we won't see this in the U.S. when our government cannot afford to provide wonderful health care for everyone? What happens when our government has to ration health care because the costs have NOT gone down, and in fact have gone up because everyone starts using health care services like a free buffet?

President Obama can laugh off the "death panels" arguments because that is not his intent. But once government controls health care, and it becomes too expensive to provide everything to everyone, what then? By then, it will become another third rail of American politics, and the politicians will be faced with making hidden sacrifices or raising taxes, just as they have had to do in Britain. When faced with a choice of angering all voters, or killing off a few of the already dying voters, which choice is obvious?

Dead voters can't vote against you.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Crosstown Traficant

Rare indeed is the person whose career opportunities expand after some time in the slammer. But, seriously, following seven years behind bars, has there ever been a politician more ready for a prime-time reality show appearance than former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio)?

The nine-time congressman was released from a federal lock-up on Wednesday, following a conviction on bribery, tax evasion, racketeering and obstruction of justice. Supporters were already planning an over-the-top return celebration:

A special "Traficant release night"-themed home game by the area's minor league baseball team, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, was canceled after a wave of criticism.

But a welcome home banquet for Traficant — what supporters are calling "an appreciation dinner" — will be held Sunday afternoon at a local banquet hall, where a representative said the venue was expecting 1,200 guests.

One of the organizers, Tony Trolio, told CNN that 1,200 was the official capacity crowd for the event, but that roughly 765 tickets had been sold as of midweek. The agenda is slated to include musical performances — including an appearance by an Elvis impersonator — and a PowerPoint presentation chronicling highlights of Traficant's congressional career.

Whether the event attracts 700 or 1200, that's still pretty impressive for a guy who has been out of the scene since 2002. Then again, this is the same man who turned "Beam me up," into his personal mantra to indicate fury over some form of government spending, bureaucratic decision or other perceived outrage. But, that line, combined with his bad clothing/permanent Bad Hair Day appearance means that Traficant is just begging to be transformed into America's next great reality star. That he was also expelled from the House of Representatives just adds to his renegade sensibility.

Heck, if the disgraced Rod Blagojevich -- impeached and removed from office -- could be asked to be part of the cast of "Help! I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" (invitation withdrawn after a judge's ruling), an over-the-toupee Traficant would be a natural. Indeed, there's an obvious precedent from Traficant's home state of Ohio.

Before he became the star of the tawdriest daytime talk show in history, Jerry Springer was in politics, served several years as a member of the Cincinnati city council and one as mayor. During his time on the council, it was discovered that Springer had used a prostitute (foreshadowing his aforementioned talk show). However, his admission actually went over well with the voters and he retained his seat.

So, flamboyant politician, great soundbites and a bit of criminality (his conviction was the second time the feds tried to get Traficant -- he was acquitted in 1983 over a similar bunch of racketeering charges)!! Jim Traficant, Reality TV is calling you. And, if not there, at least one of the cable news stations could use someone of his prodigious, ahem, talents.

He would be, alas, the perfect commentator for the times.


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No Will for Afghanistan

When a major conservative commentator comes out against a war, much like William F. Buckley came out against Iraq, people take notice. Yesterday, George Will did that on Afghanistan.

Unlike Buckley, Will did not reject involvement completely:
Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.
The main point Will brings to the table is the simple fact that an "effective central government" has never happened in Afghanistan. Even when the Taliban allegedly were "in charge", they weren't. The warlords were.

Are we prepared to dedicate hundreds of thousands of American troops for decades in order to establish an effective central government in a country which has never had one? Remember, this is not Iraq, which has a history of effective central governments.

Frankly, it doesn't matter if we have world support in our efforts in Afghanistan. Bush was wrong to assume we could do in Afghanistan what we did in Iraq. Obama is wrong to assume the same failed policy.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Spidey & the Mickey Mouse Operation

Ten years back, the purchase of Marvel Comics et. al. by Disney might have been something of a cause for celebration -- for Marvel fans. The company had fallen into bankruptcy, it was at a creative nadir (two words -- Spider-clone). But the company turned around and has been on something of a major streak in recent years with "Civil War", "Secret Invasion" and the "Death of Captain America" story lines (I'm less a fan of "Dark Reign"). Over the same time, the company co-produced -- and then started making -- great film versions of its characters -- Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, etc.

Now comes the Big D., buying the 5,000 Marvel characters lock, stock and barrel.

My feel is that Marvel is at a creative high right now. Disney, maybe not so much. As someone mentioned yesterday when the deal was announced, Disney bought The Muppets a few years back: When was the last time the company did anything with that once-wonderful little franchise?

Tune in next issue, true believers!! In the meantime, stretch your minds around some possible "mini-mergers" from this news. I'm hoping for Beast and the Beast (of the X-men).

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Reid 'Em And Weep

You'd think someone made it the position of senate majority leader might have learned that old Mark Twain adage, "Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel." So, what's going on with Harry Reid (D-NV) escalating a squabble with the main newspaper in his state? Chalk it down to just one more bit of miscalculation and misfortune that's been haunting both Nevada politicians and Democratic congressional leaders for quite sometime.

Reid is currently trailing two Republican challengers in polls -- including the son of former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian by double-digits.

To make matters worse, Reid is part of Nevada culture that is, to say the least, not in its best days. The other senator, Republican John Ensign, has been caught up in a most-unsavory sex scandal. Gov. Jim Gibbons, also a Republican, is deemed a "sure loser" by the Las Vegas Review Journal because of a host of personal and political problems.

The Review Journal would be the same newspaper that Reid is mixing it up with. On Sunday, the publisher revealed that Reid snapped at the paper's advertising director, "I hope you go out of business." Needless to say the publisher didn't take the comment well:

But to fully capture the magnitude of Reid's remark (and to stop him from doing the same thing to others) it must be called what it was -- a full-on threat perpetrated by a bully who has forgotten that he was elected to office to protect Nevadans, not sound like he's shaking them down.

No citizen should expect this kind of behavior from a U.S. senator. It is certainly not becoming of a man who is the majority leader in the U.S. Senate. And it absolutely is not what anyone would expect from a man who now asks Nevadans to send him back to the Senate for a fifth term.

If he thinks he can push the state's largest newspaper around by exacting some kind of economic punishment in retaliation for not seeing eye to eye with him on matters of politics, I can only imagine how he pressures businesses and individuals who don't have the wherewithal of the Review-Journal.

Most unsurprisingly, this column was picked up by numerous blogs and other media outlets across the country. Reid's spokesman dismissed his boss's original comment, but still took a dig at the paper:

"Clearly he wasn't serious," Reid spokesman Jon Summers told CNN in an e-mailed statement. "Once again, the editors at the Review-Journal got it wrong."

That statement, of course, guarantees that the story will continue -- thus explaining the wisdom of Twain's advice. A politician never gets the last word in such a situation. (Reid might not get much favorable press in the rest of the country either, as word of this incident spreads. The newspaper industry is in tough shape everywhere; wishing that a paper goes out of business is not the best way to curry favor with writers and editors.)

If Reid's polls continue to sink going into 2010, he could go on to become the third Democratic leader to lose a re-election fight over the last 15 years: In 1994, the Republican revolution swept out House Speaker Tom Foley in the GOP landslide -- the first sitting speaker to lose re-election since 1862; Foley lost to lawyer George Nethercutt. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) -- the then-minority leader -- lost to John Thune in 2004.

Reid may well face the same problem as Daschle -- leading a caucus that is far more liberal than the state he represents. Except Reid's in a more problematic position: He's trying to push through an ambitious agenda -- on both energy and health-care -- of a new president. These issues just might not sell in a state with libertarian sensibilities.

If the issues are against a politician, the best hope to remain in office to use charm and personality: Getting into a public, very ugly fight with one of the largest papers might not be the best idea (even though the media is always a favored whipping boy of politicians in trouble). Appearing to want to drive a paper out of business can get a politician portrayed as arrogant and out of touch (especially by said newspaper). Arrogance -- fraternal twin to pride -- can be as fatal to an electoral career as an actual scandal (a major reason Tom Foley lost in '94 was because he sued voters of his own state over term limits).

Since he can't win a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, Harry Reid needs to figure out what he can do to make sure he's not caught over a barrel. Lesson One: Just do your job.

Oh, yeah and try to be polite to ad execs major newspapers in social situations.


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