Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Public Option--Health Care

If I want to learn anything about the health care debate, there are only two people I listen to--Dr.Howard Dean and Barack Obama. The rest of the pundits and the Republican scream machine are simply nuts. Within minutes of today's press conference by President Obama, American Health Insurance Plans and Blue Cross/Blue Shield warned that a "government health plan" would dismantle employer coverage in the US and would not compete fairly with private health insurance companies. President Obama today was asked whether a public option is necessary for his health care plan.

It is apparent that the private health insurance industry is terrified by a public option. Almost all the arguments being used against the public option really relate to private insurance companies. Health care is already being rationed--as they claim about any government system--bureaucrats are already deciding proper medical care, --as witnessed by the complaints by private doctors that insurance companies prevent them prescribing certain medicines to their patients, --key procedures are being denied--maybe even triggering rescinding of the health insurance policy, leaving the patrient with the bill. The health insurance industry is in terrible financial shape and they are buying congresscritters left and right to block any fundamental reform that will force them to streamline their own bureaucratic bloat--almost 40% of current medical expenses--and will cut into their profits.

One reporter asked President Obama whether he can guarantee if someone likes their insurance they can keep it ,if the company decides to go on a public plan. Talk about a red herring. Today, you can't keep your plan if your employer drops coverage or moves to a less expensive option. I couldn't even keep my own organization's plan and I was the President. I'm no longer on it.

The media is not really being straight with the American people. I have yet to hear or to see a simple demonstration of what the public option would look like. President Obama clearly knows and keeps describing it as a menu of options--but this doesn't carry to the bulk of Americans. It sounds to0 vague and iffy as if it isn't being practiced right now. You can actually look up the menu of options right now.

A major network should do the CNN electronic screen and type into the internet www.opm.gov/Insure/Health and review all the options available for employees of the federal government. Simply type in your zipcode and then decide what type of employee you are, as an experiment. I choose to be an employee of the FDIC. You are then presented with a long list of options from the top providers in the health insurance industry--Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, etc. Then click a check for all the programs you want to compare. You will be amazed by the prices of the insurance. My wife and I spend $17,000 a year on health insurance for a family plan, a comparable program under this menu would cost one-half that. Same benefits, same deductible and same coverage.

In part, it's because of the larger risk pool that lowers the rates. Another nice feature is a list of questions about doctors choice, response speed, patient satisfaction so you get an idea about the users' responses to these health plans. No wonder the insurance companies are terrified--they simply don't want this option explained--clearly and succinctly to the American people. Even the media refer to Congressmen and women as having Cadillac programs--suggesting these would not be available to the average American. This is simply not true.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iranian Daze

The flood of information and images from Iran produce some fascinating details about the Green Revolution. Early on the sanitation workers went on strike and this weekend construction workers blocked police assaults on demonstrators using construction equipment. Rumors have Mousavi calling for a oil worker strike, one of the ways the Shah had been toppled. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri called for national strikes as well as a period of mourning starting on Wednesday.

For all our praise of twitter,e-mails, text-messaging, Youtube, it's nice to hear reports that people are going back to paper to communicate this week.

We have been told repeatedly that Khamenei feared "color coded" revolutions such as happened throughout Central Europe and the Ukraine and Georgia. Apparently, the regime spent a fortune preparing for a velvet revolution and tried to head it off at the pass. Observers note that if demonstrations spread throughout the country, they will be entering into areas where the population is armed and anti-regime. Conflict is likely to include the Kurds, Baluchis and the Arabs in the South. Perhaps, that's one of the reasons the military has been very cautious about staying out of the repression of the demonstration.

More evidence is coming forth that the election was cooked. London-based Chatham House produced an excellent report with considerable data demonstrating the absurdity of an Ahmadinjad victory. The Guardian Council acknowledged over-voting in 50 cities but ratified the final tally. Well, maybe not, rumors have Rafsanjani possessing a letter signed by 40 members of the Council demanding the elections be annulled.

One of the more curious rumors had Rafsanjani in Qom meeting with clerics, allegedly plotting to topple Khamenei, a man he put into power. But the most curious aspect of this is that reports had him meeting with Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq. What was that for?

Members of the Iranian parliament have suggested Iran reconsider its relationship with the United Kingdom. The British embassy is evacuating personnel. If the situation deteriorates further, I expect we will have some play to seize the British embassy. Could you imagine if Condi Rice had succeeded in opening an embassy in Tehran as planned, what would have happened now?

The Head of Iran's Parliamentary Judiciary Committee is trying to establish grounds to pursue Mousavi for "activities against national security".

University professors are telling students they can make up their exams at convenient dates. This has provoked Basij members to harass them as being supporters of the Green Revolution. Maybe so, but it only seems a humane act on their part.

The women we saw killed before our eyes on video was Neda Agha Sultan. She has become the icon of the current struggle in Iran.

Late at night EST, I saw a short e-mail about an arrest of a general of the Revolutionary Guard, who refused to obey orders to suppress demonstrations. This tracks with other messages throughout the week of the removal of high-ranking members of the Revolutionary Guard, who had secretly met with military personnel to oppose the election results.

One blogger at Dailykos wrote about how moved he was by the courage of the Iranian people, even though he was not an Iranian and was relatively ignorant of the political situation, and wondered why. I think it's simply that the world must exist in possibility and live in hope. Otherwise, the reality of things would be too crushing. Anytime we see a people act like the Iranians are doing it is a reminder that we too strive for freedom and justice in a world that frequently blocks them. As vicarious as we are in observing these events, there is something that reassures us that if they succeed, our fate will be alright.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Rants

The repression has been in full force this morning. If you want to see a protester die before your very eyes,Nico at www.huffingtonpost.com has posted an Iranian woman shot and dying. Mousavi has announced he is ready for martyrdom. And the Iranian regime claims a suicide bomber has blown himself up at the Khomenini memorial but curiously there is no evidence of this. Christiane Amapour claims the MEK engaged in the attack but the last time we heard this the Iranian regime blew up one of the oldest mosques themselves and blamed the group for it.

While important things are happening around the world, Joseph Farah of www.wnd.com posts the very important investigative report that demonstrates that Barack Obama had at the age of 11 a relationship with the SDS and Bill Ayres through a Unitarian church in Hawaii. Some of us remember in the anti-Vietnam war days the Unitarians were hosts to many anti-war activities,including draft counseling. But then again--maybe Farah meant Obama knew Lew Ayres. The last known photo of Barack Obama at 11 showed him body-surfing with his grandfather. Maybe it was his grandfather who had the relationship.

Farah also brags about how he conned $75,000 from unsuspecting donors to purchase billboards asking "Where is your birth certificate?" Why ,I ask ,isn't the RICO act used against this and the legal cases brought on the whole eligibility issue? This is a money making venture--pure and simple. If we even go further, why not crack down on the NRA and others who claim Obama is going to take away their guns? We all know and as gun lobbyists have been telling us for years that this is all about making Wayne La Pierre more money. I even think Bobby Rush is on the NRA payroll to introduce legislation against assault rifles just to gin up the money-making machine. There is even less sentiment for gun-control legislation than at any time since the 1990s. The only ones profiting by this are gun manufacturers, the NRA and ammunition people.

Senator Ensign of Nevada , a member of the Christian group Promise Keepers, didn't keep his promise when he had an affair with the wife of a campaign worker. It seems this has only come forward because the couple had problems with their mortgage and wanted to hit up the Senator for some loot. Senator Ensign is a roommate with Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who is also a Promise Keeper, and who knew about the affair for the past 18 months. It seems Coburn, one of Obama's best friends (go figure), believes his friend should be forgiven. Unfortunately, the episode re-raised the issue of Senator Diaper Dan Vitters and his escapes with the D.C. madam. It seems he may face a serious Democratic challenge and also a primary challenge by porno star Stormy Dawn.

Does anyone care about Letterman's jokes about Sarah Palin? It wasn't in bad taste--it was just the joke didn't work. To understand, you had to be aware of Bristol Palin's sexual habits and Yankee's Alex Rodriquez sexual appetites. And the timing didn't work. Forget about Palin's complaint it was about her daughter named Willow. The Freepers managed to whip up a crowd of 20 demanding Letterman be fired. And Cindy McCain--after sending photos of Navy beefcake exrcising on her beach--twittered that Letterman had gone too far. But, as we do know, the road to the White House ran through Letterman's studio and McCain's snubbing him cost him Indiana.

Has anyone caught the House hearings on health insurance? There is something called rescessions (?), which means that a health insurance company can negate a policy for certain types of illnesses. In the hearings, health insurance companies said they had a logrithm they use to determine this issue--even though the committee couldn't get them to submit the formula. It seems there are some 1,500 to 2,000 illnesses, which trigger insurances being cancelled. From what I heard, these included breast cancer, ovarian cancer and brain cancer. This means that if the patient starts treatment for these illnesses health insurance companies are likely to stop coverage, sticking the person with the full bill. Any wonder why people say all of us are a single illness away from bankruptcy?

The Republicans unveiled their exciting health insurance plan this week. It was the same idea as their stimulus plan--four pages with no numbers. They could not answer what their plans were for insuring the 50+ million uninsured Americans. I am increasingly getting the idea that Republicans no longer have any sense of the general welfare or the public good.

But the Democrats are only marginally acting any better. The whole health reform plan is now looking to be a new TARP program for the health care industry so that it doesn't go the way of GM. Mandatory purchase of health insurance for another 50 million people--that's good business. Senator Baucus, who is bought and paid for by the insurance companies, and Tom Dashcle basically said a public option is off the table. My suggestion to all congresscritters who feel this way is to voluntarily give up their own public option plans and pay for private insurance themselves. If you check with any federal employee, the so-called public option is simply a menu of private choices you can choose from and that choice as well as the large pool of employees force private insurers to be competitive. Hardly a revolutionary concept.

People are beginning to show concerns about the government deficits and this is beginning to slow support for health care reform. The $11 trillion of deficits left over from the Bush Administration and the few trillion from the Obama programs damper any enthusiasm for more dramatic changes in the economic situation and any new government programs. Senator McCain was already screaming about $1 trillion being spent for health reform over the next 10 years--a number easily accomodated by cuts in the Defense budget. Also, if we hadn't invaded Iraq we would have a national health care system--think about about.

But the deficits pose other types of problems--how to keep selling U.S. Treasuries to foreign markets, particularly the Chinese. Someone writing in the Daily Beast wrote that Obama should take the initiative and submit legislation that says that when unemployment dips below 5%,about half where it is now, then the U.S. could not have a deficit more than 3% of GDP, which is said to be acceptable. If the debt level goes above this, then it would take 60 votes in the Senate to override this. It's sort of like a modified Gramm-Rudman, where you either have to cut programs or raise revenues, which we used to call taxes. Since we need deficit spending now to try and mount some economic recovery, it's not realistic to address now and the Republicans will try to run with this even though they know in their heart of hearts it doesn't make any immediate sense. Obama could simply take this off the table by urging such a bill now before other initiatives are dragged under by this public concern.

My last thought in my rantings is this: After seeing the handsome men and beautiful women during this last week demonstrating in Iran, could anyone really believe the United States could fight a war against them?

Iran's Teaching Moment

If Americans could realize that events in Iran are not about us, we all could learn alot about the nature of The Islamic Republic. Washington analysts for years have been stuck with a unilineal model for evaluating political developments abroad and fail to possess a dynamic model by which we can understand political change. For the average American the last week is a primer to the internal workings of the Iranian regime, showcasing elements of that society which the Washington crowd have minimized in importance and significance. I should just mention two--the armed forces and the religious establishment.

With the facade stripped away, we saw ayatollahs siding with the Green Revolution and the armed forces telling sectors of the Revolutionary Guard they refused to get involved suppressing the Iranian people. Many of us who follow Iran rather closely have often pointed to the dissent and pluralism within the Iranian religious community and their less than enthusiastic support for the proclaimed powers of the Supreme Leader. Most observers have always concluded that demographics spelled doom for the Islamic Republic but now we see how extensive are the fractures within the governing structures themselves.

According to the doctrines of the Islamic revolution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is effectively an infallible political pope. Governing on the doctrine of the valyet-e faqih, the rule of the jurist, allegedly his word is final. But since the 1990s, many secular Iranian philosophers and religious figures in the city of Qom have openly challenged this doctrine--especially in light of Khamenei's own weak religious heritage. Many shi'ite clerics in Iran and throughout the region simply refuse to accept this doctrine because they claim that Islam would become tainted by the sins of the state and would cause younger generations to become more secularized. And, indeed, they were right. The current electoral crisis now revives the debate and deepens the divide between the government and the clergy. The numerous clerical institutions embedded in the government structure such as the Council of Guardians and the Expediency Council,are now divided.

Many of the clerics in Qom have sent emissaries to the protesters voicing support; others simply have failed to support Ahmadinejad. Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, the man originally selected to follow Khomeini before he criticized the excessive human rights violations of the regime,has ramped up his criticism of the process and declared the election results laughable. Grand Ayatollah Saanei has openly pronounced the Ahmadinejad presidency as illegitimate.

The position of the Supreme Leader is not that of the Pope in the media age with popemobiles and open air rallies for the Catholic faith; he's more secluded, only speaking forth of the anniversary of the Revolution and Ramadan. That's why Khamenei's appearance of Friday was so significant. For years he has always been considered an inferior religious scholar and is prohibited from issuing fatwas in his own country, being restricted to making religious rulings for Shi'ites abroad, where he faces fierce spiritual competitors such as Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq. Friday he had to emerge from behind the curtains to directly assert his political control, something he has been more reluctant to do than Khomeini.

Some observers called his "unity prayers" a gamble. I personally see it as a recognition of profound failure--even if he can suppress further demonstrations. From within Iran, there is circumstantial evidence that Khamenei told Mousavi he would win and that there was an agreement for modest reforms. He didn't want to have a reformer like Khatami ever again. The night of the election it has been reported that Khamenei actually told Mousevi he had won the election. And only hours later he announced Ahmadinejad's landslide victory--two hours after the polls closed in a country where paper ballots have to be counted. What truly transpired may remain a mystery for years but there are certain suggestions that the Revolutionary Guard "muscled" the Supreme Leader.

At the beginning of the protests, I like many people thought the cry of "Death to the Dictator" referred to Ahmadinejad but increasingly it is obvious and confirmed by Iranians that it referred to the Supreme leader.

How bad is it for Khamenei? Making his public prayer in nearly 20 years, the regime made sure to bus thousands of people in from the provinces. Decent television. But there were hundreds of rival prayers gatherings in dozens of mosques where prayers condemned him. For the "unity prayers", there were some extraordinary absences. Of the three "defeated" candidates, only Gen. Mohsen Rezai Mir-Qaed appeared. Over half the Islamic Majlis, Iran's parliament, were absent. Most of the members of the Assembly of Experts, a body of 92 mullahs who are suppose to supervise the work of the Supreme Leader, refused to go. Some senior members of the military and security establishment were also absent. If you were a Kremlinologist from the Cold War period, you would come to the conclusion that the organs of state are now severely divided.

There were some great moments for the outside world in Khamenei's speech--the mention of Waco, the denunciation of the British ( a bugaboo since the days of Mossadegh), and of course the Jews. He did try to placate Rafsanjani, the man who brokered the deal to make him Supreme Leader, and went out of his way to announce all the candidates were loyal members of the revolutionary family. Of course, they would not be able to run if they were not. Earlier he also reassured Rafsanjani who would not be prosecuted for corruption as Ahmadinjad had promised.

And what about Ahmadinjad? He received a boost by the Supreme Leader saying he agreed with him philosophically and in matters of foreign affairs. But he has been reduced to the simple role of puppet. His shrinking status has made him hide from view. Undoubtedly, once the protests are repressed, he will roar out again. But he has been reduced to a rather pathetic creature.

If the Supreme Leader crushes the opposition protests,there will be those within the government structures who believe the Republic side of the Islamic republic is dead. And conversely, the clerical elements will believe that the Islamic side is dead. The idea of a solely political Supreme Leader, especially one with overtly dictatorial powers, will ultimately be unacceptable to the religious establishment.

If peaceful change ever comes to Iran, it is very likely an ayatollah with real spiritual bona fides will be selected as an interim Supreme Leader to dismantle the entire position. Right now, Khamenei remains only the spirtual and political leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah, a strange position to be in.

The question I have is with whom can the United States negotiate with? Does Obama short-circuit everything and demand talks with the Supreme Leader and simply by-pass Ahmadinejad?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Digital Generation's Own Revolution--Iran

For a technological troglodyte like myself, I was thrilled by the fax revolutions of the 1980s in Eastern Europe and Russia. During the seige in Russia, when Boris Yeltsin stood on tops of the tanks and faced the Russian army down, I personally received faxes from within the Russian parliament building with instructions to circulate them to the American media to solicit support for the new Russian Revolution. This cumbersome mechanism gave the impression then of political change at the speed of light. Internet later came in and recently the use of cellphones in the Ukraine, Georgia and Zimbabwe. Cellphones were meant for internal organizing outside the communications infrastructure erected by the authoritarian regimes. They did not have the global transmission abilities that we are now seeing in Iran.

The Iranian regime has been perfecting cyber-warfare for the past several years. My own computer has been attacked via the Chinese software "Rain" by the Tehran regime. The regime along with China and other authoritarian governments have spent millions on cyber-warfare to block internet efforts to support groups fighting to build pockets of pluralism within these societies. Farsi is now the number 3 language used on the internet and videocam productions have been shown both ways over the last few years concerning human rights and democracy issues. One group actually has hosted seminars on constitutional and law issues from France, which are broadcast into Iran. No one has been able to judge these efforts until now. Los Angeles, which hosts thousands of Iranians, has been a prime source of movie entertainment downloaded into Tehran.

I have not posted anything for the past ten days because of I've been mesmerized by the campaign in Iran and the aftermath of the protests by the Green Revolution. The most appropriate reference book for this new Iranian Revolution is Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott (McGraw Hill, 2009, $27.95). In the largest study of a generation ever conducted, Tapscott surveyed 11,000 people from the ages 16 to 29, building on his previous work when he surveyed the group of 13-20 year olds for his previous book on Growing Up Digital. This global study was premised on the fact that there was a generation ,which was now coming of age which grew up with digital technology and had thoroughly integrated it into their lives in ways the rest of us could only imagine.

In the next to last chapter of the book, he talks about the net generation and democracy. Within the United States, this generation moved from an apathy toward party politics into full participation in the 2008 campaign, particularly for Barack Obama. Previous to this, the net generation had been active in grassroots community efforts for specific causes or simply as charitable works. Tapscott finished his book in the middle of the 2008 campaign noting that the net generation brought its digital savvy to the Obama campaign through its creative use of Facebook and social networking through the internet. He called the Obama campaign the first campaign of the Digital Generation.

With the dramatic demographic shifts in Iran, some of the same net generation features have shown up to dominate the current Revolution. Activists abroad petitioned Twitter to move their maintance period of the network until 4 am Tehran time so the continued flow of twitter messages could continue to come though to the rest of the world. Cellphones, particularly with video features, played a critical role in relaying the visual images of the Revolution to the outside world. As the regime cracked down on the domestic reformist press and cut down on the foreign media access to cover the country, the Iranian activists have ably filled in the vacuum, playing on several different technologies at once. How much of the internal communication between cities is being done by looping back around foreign networks is hard to tell.

By midday Tuesday, the regime clearly has not been able to create the media blackout of events we have seen in past times. The persistance of communication with the rest of the world has played a critical role in fragmenting the political, religious and security elites of the country. The whole legitimacy of the Supreme Leader has been challenged because of the open information he had quietly contacted the opposition telling them they had won and only hours later proclaiming Ahmadinejad the winner in a very unlikely landslide. It's as if Khamenei had been Youtubed with past comments being contrasted with the present. This became obvious by the emergence of other Ayatollahs emerging to assert the need for a recount or another election altogether. Even seminarians from Qom made their way to Tehran to present petitions of support for the Green Revolution. Through YouTube and Twitter, the digital generation plunged the Islamic Republic into its greatest crisis of legitimacy since the early turmoil after the initial Revolution.

There are many websites here that have been marvelous. Andrew Sullivan at Atlantic began blogging at dawn on election day and has added material ever since. Huffington Post has done a fantastic job of keeping readers abreast with the twitter feed. Dailykos has provided access to orginal Farsi sources throughout this period and several of its bloggers have added links to a variety of sources--large and obscure.

Is Mousavi the Vaclav Havel of Iran? No. He has a long past with involvement in some of the regime's bloodiest episodes. But after a period of political inactivity, he re-entered Iranian politics with a more reformist position. Does he want to change the institutions of the Islamic Republic? No or else he won't be allowed to run in the election. But, we should remember Mikhail Gorbachev came to power as a Communist but ended by dismembering the Soviet Union and removing the Communist party from the controlling position in the political structure. I am sure Mousavi had no clue of the depth of the resistance to the regime. I believe he was as taken by surprise as the regime was.

It is as if the great student movement of the 1990s that closed the country down for a whole month has re-surfaced with the arsenal provided by the net generation. What if they triumph, what does it mean? On the international front, Mousavi has already told Time magazine he is willing to negotiate the nuclear issue. During the campaign, he criticized Ahmadinejad's foreign adventurism, which probably means Mousavi will reign in Hizbullah in Lebanon and support like Khatami, his reformist predecessor, a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine issue. At home, it would mean greater freedoms for the Iranian people but not alot of economic progress. Ultimately, it would mean a normalization of relations with the United States.

For the largest issues concerning the nature of the Islamic Republic, I think time will tell whether the other parts of the 7 point demands could actually be met--the removal of the Supreme leader, the review of the constitution and other fundamental changes.

For now the Digital Generation might have to be content to have fragmented the establishment and set the stage for a future transformation.

This is not an inconsiderable achievement for a bunch of people who twitter.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Searching for the GOP nominee for 2012

CNN just published a poll of the favorites for the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee. Huckabee stands at 22%;Palin and Romney at 21%; Gingrich at 13% and Jeb Bush in single figures. While it's 30 months out from the election, it's fun to conduct thought experiments on the subject. Remember we just experienced the longest presidential campaign in history because of the contested Democratic primaries and there's no reason to believe next time will be any different. So, the candidates must put the foundation in place--the grass-roots organization and the funding in 2010 to make a serious run for it.

Republicans have rules of their own. They favor people who have run before for the nomination or a national campaign. Their primaries are winner-take-all. The base of the party is now extremely right-wing. McCain won last time by encouraging Huckabee to split the conservative vote to deny Romney the title. This time around we have no Nelson Rockefeller to challenge Goldwater or a moderate wing of the party. It's an all-white, conservative electorate.

The first three states up are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The Iowa Republican base is heavily dominated by the evangelicals. The New Hamsphire base is dominated by libertarian/ conservatives. The South Carolina base is dominated by the neo-confederate, evangelical base. Staking out the turf, Mitt Romney has moved his family residence to New Hampshire, where he has had a summer home for years.

For media coverage, both Mike Huckabee and New Gingrich have regular gigs on Fox News and Gingrich prides himself on how often he can get major media coverage. Mitt Romney has started responding to every Obama initiatives and appeared at the Heritage Foundation last week to critique Obama's national security policies. Huckabee and Gingrich showed up yesterday at a Virginia convention of evangelicals to encourage them to get further involved in politics so that Christianity remains a force in America. Newt even proclaimed we "are all surrounded by pagans". Newt even managed to leak out how Sarah Palin's speeches were plagiarized from his. he clearly sees where the direct threat is coming from.

Sarah Palin has a memoir coming out and has appeared at selected events such as the pro-life convention in Indiana and at the NRA's annual meeting. But she has been laying low on the national media. Despite all the ridicule and controversy over her daughter Bristol serving as the voice for abstinence, this only keeps her in the news without being directed at her.

I happen to believe the odds-on favorite in the race will be Sarah Palin. Mitt will have to win New Hampshire simply to stay alive. Once Obama selected Jon Huntsman, the Governor of Utah, as his ambassador to China, the Republicans are not left with any candidates that might be considered able to govern. But, that's besides the point: Democrats aim to govern; Republicans aim to power.

The basic theme for the 2012 election will be a re-run of anti-Washington populism, a paean to the small businessman,the defense of God, Guns and anti-gays and pro-life, and a nationalism for the "real Americans". The love of the big businessman and the rich will be muted because the Republican base doesn't trust the economic elite either. It will not be a friendly environment for Mitt Romney, who would have advantages on the issue of managing the economy because of his private sector experience. Romney's mormonism also is a problem with the evangelicals who regard his religion as a cult. He is an establishment candidate and the next election will not favor the establishment.

The question one has to ask is,"Who is the anti-Obama?" Newt Gingrich is viewed as a morally flawed man through this three marriages, a blowhard and an old war horse, who may have some residual influence within the Beltway but is no longer considered the voice of future conservatism. Mike Huckabee is appealing, which would make him a very dangerous candidate but even among evangelicals there is a reservation about him being a former pastor. The only one the base is convinced will not flinch from proclaiming the "truth about Obama" is Sarah Palin.

As I have written before, she touches all the bases and has shown she can mobilize the base of the party and perhaps even bring in the small right-wing parties, who have attracted more attention since the collapse of the Republicans in 2008. She is right in line with the 10th Amendment movement by her association with the Alaska Secessionist Movement, and her husband's membership in the group. She has virtually no idea that government might perform a useful function. She is anti-environment and absolutely pro-oil and gas development. She has been vocal in being against Obama's stimulus package. She is an end-timer who believe the ultimate conflict is coming in the Middle East and for those reasons is pro-Israel. She is an absolutist on the second amendment and against abortion. And her biography is anti-elitist and non-corporate. And she has unvaunted ambition. The fat cats in the conservative movement believe she's even better than Reagan. She combines an appeal to Ron Paul libertarianism with social conservativism.

All the negatives are plusses. Her anti-intellectualism brings her in line with the base, who deplore people educated at elite universities. Her hunting, fishing and outdoorsy nature makes her the heartthrob of conservative men--her primary appeal. All the family messes and brushes with the law are simply part and parcel of the travails of today's average American family. That the major media despise her is absolute gold. Her Christianist ideology is in line with George W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan. She believes her role in government is to bring the end-time closer. And as someone who aspired to be a model, she has sex appeal, which has a limited shelf life. Part of this also is that she would be a first--which would be a moral equivalence to Obama's first. She is the perfect candidate for a dystopian America, an America where everyone has a series of part-time jobs and the social welfare system has been shredded. It's the Northern Exposure version of "rural chic". And a country facing hard times might find that too tempting.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Virginia and New Jersey 2009--predictors for 2010?

Historically, the president's party takes a beating on a mid-term election during bad economic circumstances. Yesterday, the Tan Man, Rep. Boehner wailed about the current unemployment numbers and the hardship the Middle Class is facing as the Democrats spend and spend money and sink the country deeper in debt. The music is being written for 2010 now. Republicans are banking on past history and the fact that Americans should be amnesic by the time 2010 comes around about how we got into this mess in the first place. Karl Rove is already saying that unemployment should rise further and last until the first of 2010, thereby giving Republicans an advantage to peddle their new "small government" philosophy.

But interestingly, Charles Cook and other pundits are agreeing with my assessment of months ago that Democrats look like they actually might gain at least 1 seat and possibly 4-5 in the Senate and lose about 12 in the House. So, basically 2010 looks like a wash and no great harbinger of a Republican comeback.

However, Republicans are banking on victories in New Jersey and Virginia governor races this year to create the illusion of a recovery and to recruit stronger candidates for 2012. Karl Rove is already saying that these two victories would shake the Obama White House and might predict a one-term presidency. Despite the hype, you can get where the Echo Machine and radio air bombardment will go if this occurs.

In reality, the Republican race in New Jersey is actually a negative campaign against Corzine. The Virginia race is peculiar in that Republican candidate Bob McDonnell, the former Attorney-General, is trying to co-opt the slogans of the upbeat Obama campaign, including the slogan "Yes, We Can". Both races, it seems to me, are experiments by the Republicans to determine which works best--the relentless negative campiagn by Christie in New Jersey or the positive, results-oriented campaign by McDonnell. If Terry McAuliffe wins the Democratic primary, you can expect one of McDonnell's sub-themes will be about carpet-baggers.

As for great Republican fund-raising races in 2010, look for big bucks to go after Chris Dodd in Connecticut, Harry Reid in Nevada and John Murtha in Pennsylvania. It will depend on the Republican challengers in the New York race whether this will become a big donor contest. The same applies to the Pennsylvania Senate race. If it's Toomey versus Specter, it will be heavy right-wing money. If it's Sestak versus Toomey, it will be heavy Republican and right-wing money to secure the seat. Republican Bill McCollum looks real weak as the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida.

It seems to me that the Obama administration will have to speed delivery on the stimulus money so as to show results. But the counter to this is that many state governments themselves are collapsing from debt and having to cut back on services, which may well negate any gains from the stimulus projects.

Sotomayor and Health Care Reform

In her financial statements, Judge Sotomayor reveals she has $10,000 credit card debt and $15,000 debt for dental care. If she liquidated her cash accounts, the judge could wipe out her debt but be cash poor--this despite having a net worth of $1 million, almost exclusively her house. I'm very sympathetic to the dental debt since it is the one health area for which I constantly face financial ruin. Dental insurance simply does not pay for things like root canals, crowns, inplants, gum and bone treatments. Yet, in some ways, I can play a type of triage--letting the teeth go--which people with serious medical conditions can not. Over 60% of personal bankruptcy is the result of medical bills.

In a country where there is so much resistance to even teaching evolution, it still amazes me that our political economy elevates social darwinism as its ethos. The debate over health care reform is simply not going to deal with the root problem why the United States is number 37 in terms of health care in the world. Washington is already filled with armies of lobbyists to preserve the very lucrative status quo--which might at the end of the day get tweeked somewhat. But make no mistake when the debate begins in earnest, the fog of war will confuse voters in a way we have yet to see in all the plans submitted by the Obama Administration.

The New Republic printed an article that summarizes the problems. The Kaiser Foundation, which monitors closely attitudes to health care, reveals in its various surveys that there is a sharp discrepancy in the attitudes of health care professionals and the average voter. Universal coverage is widely endorsed by the professionals, but not so among Republicans and Independents. A majority of voters believe those who have no insurance should be able to go to the emergency room. Since all of us pay $1,000 per person already for the uninsured, it's worth examining this assumption.

Last year I had to be admitted to the emergency room because I felt I was having a heart attack. The hospital insisted on conducting a battery of tests, kept me in the hospital for two days because I was running a fever, and finally concluded there was nothing wrong. Great! However, when I finally got the bill, which was almost all covered by insurance, the cost for the uninsured would have been $12,000. Naturally, Blue Cross-Blue Shield pay a substantially lower negotiated rate. Consider the fees if a heart attack had really occurred and additional procedures would called for. The uninsured person would be facing catastrophic costs, which they would be unlikely to pay. Going bankrupt if you have a heart attack? Have we really sunk to such a low level?

The idea that a person should go bankrupt for one medical event should be intolerable to our society. With the D.C. Run Against Breast Cancer, we learn that 1 out of every 8 women will get breast cancer of some type. How many of all these women are uninsured and what are their options?Are these women faced with radical masectomies as the only cost-saving option? The lunacy of our medical system is directly linked to our view that it is another capitalist enterprise and not a public good.

It is ironic that Republicans are resisting any single payer option because, as Senator Grassley of Iowa was candid enough to admit, millions upon millions of Americans would desert their current insurer. The progressive caucus in the House, which consists of 80 members, is trying to educate their supporters that there is simply not enough votes, even in a Democratically controlled House to pass a public option. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has taken the time to try and educate progressives that the Senate is far, far more conservative than the House and that the way the Senate will try and kill the public option is by adopting Sen. Snowe's offer of putting a seven-year trigger in the bill, which would mean that if insurance companies didn't fulfill their obligations, then there would be a public option. In short, a Hail Mary pass, hoping that the political situation will change to prevent such an option. Bernie Sanders may be offering something eminently sensible--allowing for several states to implement the single-payer option as a pilot project. Apparently, this was how Canada gradually introduced their national health system. Hopefully, they'll start in Vermont and Maine so I can escape stoogeland.

When the real debate begins, expect to hear the calls that making health records electronic will be a massive invasion of privacy. Although no one barks about the NSA having all your bank and credit card information. 40% of health care costs in the United States are administrative. Ironically, this is one area where Medicare and Medicaid are more efficient than the private insurers. Republican senators have used the analogy that one wouldn't want to eat at the Senate cafeteria. But they neglect to mention they have the best health care courtesy of the government. We should really ask them to put their dollars where their mouths are--drop your congressional benefits and pay out of pocket for your private health insurance.

The noise level in this debate will be awesome and the deliberate misinformation put out by the private medical industry will dwarf any effort to date by the private sector. At the end of the day, there will be many face-saving gestures and some minor concessions whereby the Administration can claim victory. But be warned, the health industry is now close to the number one sector in our economy and it wants to remain that way.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Round-Up

A virtual grab bag of assorted items:

Congrats to Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson for winning his 300th game here over the Washington Nationals. The Nationals have now lost 17 out of 20 and must be seen as the official team of the Republicans.

In the last election I remarked that Republicans had to be in a sorry,sorry shape if they could not field a candidate to beat Frank Lautenberg for the Senate. Dittos if they can not beat Jon Corzine. But Chris Christie, the winner of the Republican primary, may just be the man to do it. Remember the hoopla about recruiting moderates to run in the GOP empty Northeast? Christie's campaign reads like a RNC field manual for losing. He's pro-life, anti-stimulus package, anti-enviromental regulations,anti-taxes, pro-reductions in health care benefits, and pro-reduction in the state govermnet's workforce. Boy, that's a winner. He's in a large lead against Corzine this moment except a whopping 50% do know what he stands for yet. When they do, watch that lead crumbles. Besides, he is one of the most physically unappealling candidates in a long time.

In Florida, Crist is cleaning up the mat against Rubio, who is backed by Jeb Bush's sons and the conservatives. Crist wins the Senate race walking away. Bill McCollum has a slight lead over the Democratic candidates for the governor's race.

Sarah Palin, who is mounting a rearguard campaign against Barack Obama, says that her idea of the war against terrorism is "We win, they lose", a parody of Reagan's comments on the Cold War. Imagine her giving a speech in Cairo!

Sonia Sotomayor has an approval rating higher than Rush Limbaugh in the ....South! Newt Gingrich's claims that Sotomayor is a "racist" don't go over well. The Fox News echo chamber hasn't found traction with this one. Only 8% of Americans believe Sonia Sotomayor is "racist". Another majority believe it's a good idea for judges to have empathy. By a margin of 54-26%, Americans believe she is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. But only 15% of Republicans do.

Craigh Deeds is roaring back in the Virginia Democratic Primary against Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe. It would be great if he won. Terry should move to New Jersey to run against Christie--the obnoxious election.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ordered Gov. Stamford to accept the stimulus funds.

Nate Silver started to have the funnies--he asked whether Michael Dukakis could have won the last election. No, Nate. Stop it. It's not even a good mind game.

Dr. Tiller's assassin is complaining he's being treated "like a criminal" and is worried about how his mother is taking this. Eric Holder announced the murder will be examined as a federal crime.

The Washington Times printed a front-page story the other day about a possible Al Qaeda bio attack from Mexico. The video of Kuwaiti dissident Abdullah al-Nafisi was broadcast on Al Jazeera in February. What's notable about the tape is that he claims that Al Qaeda would be interested in allying itself with white militia groups or any other anti-governmental organizations interested in mounting such an attack. Those of us who remember the Oklahoma City Bombing might recall Timothy McVeigh's connections with Middle East military types.

Still interested in proving that torture really did work, House Republicans on the Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations decided to leak classified information to the press. This are probably the same guys who gloated that a Gallup poll had Dick Cheney a few points more popular than Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Reagan came into town this week and was both graciously received by the Obamas and gracious in her remarks about them. At the unveiling of the Ronald Reagan statue in the Capital, Nancy Reagan went out of her way to praise Nancy Pelosi, even though "Tan Man" Boehner acted as her escort. her appearance at the Obama White House sparked distress on conservative websites.

Reflections on Obama in Cairo

If one recalls the presidential campaign and the taunts about Obama not going to Iraq,then remember John McCain "offering"to accompany him and then recall Obama's success in winning agreement from the Iraqi government for his withdrawal timetable, you have to wonder why anyone is surprised anymore by Obama's overseas successes. He was taunted by the GOP for his speech before 200,000 in Germany, while McCain made his criticisms outside the German House restaurant in Ohio. The press claimed he would meet deep resistance at the G-8 meeting in London, when he was actually credited with mediating disputes between the Chinese and the Europeans.

Having promised during the campaign he would make a major speech in the Muslim world, he fulfilled it and more in the Cairo speech. We have been treated by an endless barrage from the right about why the Americans must live in perpetual fear and that Obama is dismantling the apparatus built by the Bush Administration for dealing with terrorists, opening him up to criticism America was being weakened. Mitt Romney, an aspirant for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, chose to attack a seating President before he even went abroad for the speech. In many ways, the Republican condescension to Obama still exists, despite ample evidence that the American people overwhelmingly approve his policy on terrorism and in fact liked the Cairo speech.

If you look at the speech as a form of strategy, there are some obvious points. The field of America's stated enemies has become much more restricted for Obama than for the Bush Administration. The enemies in the speech were Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the danger of the Iranian nuclear program, but not the regime itself. The broadbrush of Islamofascists was not applied but narrowed to those who physically seek harm to the United States. While this makes eminent sense, it also helps push Muslims away from these extremes by not forcing an unnatural choice.

Few commentators point out that the last part of the speech focused on the aspirations of young Muslims and the need for different types of development, including women's rights. Since Bush spoiled the language of democracy, it was found throughout the speech in many ways--governments of the popular will,, who rule by the consent of the governed, the respect for minority religions such as the Copts in Egypt and the Marionite Christians in Lebanon, the need for employment opportunities for all. It is likely that this part of the speech will live longer in the hearts of the young than the discussion of the large political issues.

In many ways, it reminded me of a young President, who launched the Alliance for Progress. John F. Kennedy turned away from Eisenhower's policy such as overthrowing the Guatamala government of Arbenz in 1954 for the benefit of the banana companies to a broader notion of a Latin America based on democracy and economic development. This was then a region of virulent anti-Americanism, such as the attack in Caracas on Vice President Nixon's motorcade. Generations of younger Latin Americans revered Kennedy long after he had been assassinated and the Alliance of Progress was dismantled. His photograph was hung on the walls of many homes for decades to come. In many ways, the speech by a young President, who had lived for years in a Muslim country and who offered a different view from his predecessor, will be remembered long after his Administration ends. It too was made in a region now a hotbed of anti-Americanism.

President Obama had the courage to talk about issues generally left in private in the Middle East--the Holocaust, the 9/11 conspiracy folks, the CIA's overthrow of an elected government in Iran in 1954, Iraq being an elected war by the United States, and the fact that violence does not advance one's political agenda. Before the talking points were handed out, a Hamas spokesperson immediately said the speech was like "listening to Martin Luther King". The Israeli Government put a gag order on the cabinet until a press release could be manufactured that was essentially positive but neglected to address Obama's criticism of the settlements, his statements about the conditions of the Palestinians and the idea of a two-state solution.

American commentators were at their parochial best trying to analyze the speech and the reaction throughout the region. Some commented on the slow delivery, neglecting to understand it was being translated into 12 languages. Others deliberately neglected to notice all the ways Obama did bring up the issue of terrorism without resorting to Bush-speak. The conservatives barked that Obama was again apologizing for the United States and, of course, we have nothing to apologize for and this only makes us look weak. It was the Dick Cheney/Leonid Brezhnev view of world politics--it is better to be feared than respected. But for the United States, we only have leverage if we are respected as representing some higher standard. And naturally,both Democrats and Republicans who support Israel were concerned that Obama used a moral equivalence in talking about Israel and the Palestinians. Charles Krauthammer was appalled that Obama would criticize Israel's policy of criticising the extension of West Bank settlements. Jim Imhofe was the best,saying that the speech was anti-American. The Washington Times in its headline suggested that Obama was trying to compete with Osama Bin Laden for attention.

The two home boys--Bin Laden and Zawaheri--did pipe in to make their existence known. Zawaheri was particularly concerned about Obama's presence in his native Egypt. Bin Laden warned that Obama was spreading "the seeds of hate" in his counter-insurgency tactics in Pakistan and Afghanistan and vowed destructive acts in the future. Even Ayatollah Khamenei piped up with typical regime type rhetoric that will be measured against the eloquence of Obama's words.

In political parlance, Obama's Cairo speech had lift. The regional comments basically were enthusiastic with older cynics wondering about the specific acts to follow. An older Egyptian journalist, who also acts as a CNN stringer, called up his American counter-part saying in Arabic, "Yes, We Can". Let's put it another way the President of the United States received applause in over 30 parts of his speech and got a standing ovation at the end; the previous President got shoes thrown at him.

Obama Time

Just a subjective view--but I think Obama has only until the end of the fall to pass any major domestic initiatives for his first term.

With the U6 unemployment rate teetering at 16.5% and auto industry layoffs to push that number further up, 20% unemployment represents a Depression. The American people will not blame Obama for any of the country's economic woes until next year but Republican concerns about deficits will begin to gain traction earlier. Now that Obama has put the public option back on the table for health insurance reform Republican resistance to a bipartisan solution has hardened. Obama is right, health care reform has to be implmented by fall or it will never happen. The lobby armies are out now in full force to preserve the interests of the health industry. Recent e-mails from the White House to the Obama internet army and his call for Democratic leaders to pow-wow at the White House on health care reform indicate the Administration is readying for the power move soon.

Polling data also suggests over 2/3rds of the public are very favorably disposed to immigration reform, with the numbers polling in the 80% if one includes tighter frontier controls and English-first programs. The Administration would be wise to move on this score as soon as possible since this is a big winner for the Democrats.

The Employee Choice Act, with tinkering, can and should be passed within the next six months or it too will no longer be possible.

The Administration has to be very careful about making any concessions on Social Security, one of the most successful programs ever embarked in the United States. Basically, the program with full benefits can be sustained with very modest tax hikes in the upper income brackets.

No doubt the economic powers-that-be would like the regulatory framework for the banks and the SEC to be put in place so the rules of the game are known. Whether this is politically possible given current trilateral issues between Republicans, Yellow Dog Democrats and more liberal Democrats remains to be seen.

But after that, the window for any significant changes will diminish as both parties look to the 2010 elections and the Obama Administration will have to make sure its policies are creating the employment numbers it promised. Remarkably for a near Depression situation, concerns about the deficit and funding the deficit will take centerstage next year. Could you imagine FDR in the depths of the Great Depression having to worry about such a thing?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cheney Death March Continues

Greta van Cistern looked absolutely destroyed when Dick Cheney told her there was absolutely no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. He also reminded us there were no WMDs in Iraq but that was the fault of the intelligence comunity ( notice it's always "community" not the more menacing "services"). 9/11 itself was the result of failures by Richard Clarke and the same intelligence community because they didn't pound on his door enough. Well, the two memos that prove he was right all the time--well, they really talk about the success of the "interrogation program in general" like, I presume, the FBI agent who coaxed information out of an Al Qaeda operative by giving the diabetic man a sugar-free cookie. Apparently, the two memos are not the ode to torture Cheney had previously claimed. Now he says that invading Iraq has saved thousands of lives--torture is gone now from the lexicon and now the real life-saver is the Iraq War. So, is there anything else he would like to get off his chest? Today's papers report that Cheney was involved in the briefings on the Hill, where torture was ok'd.

Pat Buchanan is right,"White guys can't seem to catch a break." I believe it dates to the time the Lil' Rascals let Darla into their clubhouse. At least we had the Raccoons, while the "Honeymooners" was on television. Now it looks like seven men on the Supreme Court might be tied by the apron strings of two women. Lindsey Graham wants to know what Sotomayor thinks about "America". Where does he think she came from? Even the MSM refer to her parents migrated from Puerto Rico? If you move within the United States, does that make you an immigrant?

Mitt Romney has always been awkward. His speech on national security at the Heritage Foundation was an inopportune attack on President Obama as he departed the U.S. for his Middle Eastern tour. Mitt argues that Obama must spend more on defense--even though he's spending more than George W--because we face China, Russia and the jihadis as enemies. The bigger price tag is because China pays their army less and can make things cheaper than in the United States. Now that we spend more on defense than the entire earth combined, how much more? Are there any other enemies we can conjure so that as we re-militarize we can pay trillions in interest to the Chinese to foot the bill? To me the speech was a incoherent patchwork of the old, the used and the preposterous.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Truth Commission, Please!

We have been treated to around the clock defenses and rebuttals about the Bush-Cheney torture policy and claims and counter-claims about who was informed about what when and who lied. The Obama Administration hasn't done anyone favors by trying to keep this issue narrowly defined to the ethics of a small bunch of Bush-era lawyers. We know torture occurred prior to the legal memos. We know the torture time-line implies that these techniques were used to produce false intelligence to legitimize a war we chose to fight. And we also know that Cheney apologists have tried to keep the debate focused on three detainees instead of the abuse and torture of the many. The reversal by President Obama on the release of the abuse photos has only led to more confusion. Are these the photos and videos that showed young men being sodomized and women raped? Now we are treated to a bewildering set of claims and counter-claims about the nature of these photos. And,finally,in another post 9/11 moment, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are sponsoring a law to prohibit the release of all these photos.

Dick Cheney claims two memos will vindicate his assessment that thousands if not millions of lives were saved by torturing detainees. Senators Levin and Feingold, who claim to have read the same memos, categorically deny they say any such thing. Who's right? And it really does matter.

If we are going to escalate the war in Afghanistan, I don't believe it is enough for the Obama Administration to pledge not to do it again. Before the Republicans start their campaign about the war in Afghanistan being Obama's war alone (and they will--remember Bob Dole speaking about Democratic wars), it's important for the American public to know the whys and wherefores of the policy debacles of the last eight years. This is certainly not Washington's way because while the Bush Administration executed, the Democratic leadership acquiesced. It's important for the country to know that.

We have heard calls for such an investigation from Generals Sanchez, Karpinski and Taguba, Col. Wilkinson and a host of military, FBI and CIA interrogators. Torture activists such as Dick and Liz Cheney demand the infamous memos be declassified as others call for the declassification of the CIA's 2004 report by the Inspector General saying the torture policy did not yield the appreciable results claimed by Cheney and company. And why have we not heard from George "It's a Slam Dunk" Tenet, who is constantly quoted as saying,"This program yielded more intelligence than the CIA,NSA and FBI had all together."

Since the United States willfully abandoned its treaty obligations, its own domestic law and its military traditions, it's extremely important to establish why, how and what were the results. Washington simply doesn't have the guts to do this type of things. Just look at the Chamber of Cowardice, the U.S. Senate in its overwhelming vote not to approve the funding to close Gitmo, despite the fact the American system holds about a equivalent number of terrorists in super-max prisons. The Senate has become the worlds' most deliberative retirement home and has abandoned all pretence of leadership.

Scholars like Jonathan Turley of George Washington University claim we are too advanced a democracy for a Truth Commission and that our age-old commitment to the rule of law will be better served if an Independent Prosecutor is appointed. I don't believe this. With the media echo chamber allowing people like Dick Cheney ample time to argue for torture without the rebuttal of his errors, there is an impression that somehow his position and that of the Bush Administration was legitimate. Since Washington fears prosecution of anyone for fear of people losing their dinner guests to prolonged periods of jail time, it's important a non-partisan Commission be established with the remains of people with any credibility left in this country. Call it a Danforth-Hamilton Commission if you will. But, it is more important in my opinion to have public education about this policy than even prosecutions.

The Bush-Cheney crowd argue that Al Qaeda represented a unique enemy in our history and for that reason they abandoned out strategic doctrine and launched pre-emptive wars. While waging these elective wars, the same Administration embarked on the largest warrantless wiretap campaign in our history, argued for unheard of powers for the presidency, and overrode the Constitution to embrace a policy of torture, hidden prisons and disappearances. It is vital for our health as a democracy and our alleged role as the standard bearer of the values of freedom to come clean and produce the real and false of the countless accusations floating around.

Mondo Americano--Tales from the Crypt

I've come back around to the idea of American exceptionalism. We're exceptionally crazy.

Counterpunch, the Young Turks and Daily Kos have all reported this piece of lunacy. In 2003, President Bush spoke to France's Jacques Chirac and in trying to win his support for the Iraq war Bush talked about how Gog and Magog were in war in the Middle East and how God wanted us to defeat them. Bush told a very secular Chirac,"This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins".

Jean-Claude Maurice, a journalist for La Liberte, has published a book with the account of this encounter. Apparently, Chirac was so "stupefait"that he made inquiries to Lausanne in Switzerland to prevent any leak. Biblical scholar Thomas Romer, now at the College de France, had been contacted by the Elysee in 2003 to explain the significance of "Gog and Magog". This whole exchange inspired Jocelyn Rochat to publish in Allez Savoir, the magazine of the University of Lausanne, an article entitled "George W. Bush et le Code Ezechial".

With news that Donald Rumsfeld, an Episcopalian, put biblical passages on top of the President's military briefings during the run-up to the war in Iraq, one is left with the scene of Rumsfeld and Cheney laughing like hell about manipulating Junior. They must of known Poppy Bush's nickname at Cross and Bones was Magog, alluding to his sexual prowess.

Dick Cheney, Crusader Rabbit, is Free. He talks in public now like Richard Nixon did in private after a few martinis. Yesterday, he appeared at the National Press Club to suggest that if we close Gitmo down we have no choice but to kill the detainees--"but we don't operate like that." When he started speaking out, he said he do so to defend the little people. Yesterday, he blamed 9-11 on Richard Clarke and all the intelligence that there was some Al Qaeda-Iraq connection on George Tenet. He blamed the New York Times for leaking news about the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretape program--Terrorist Surveillance Program to use the euphemism. He has played this riff several times. But he didn't mention the New York Times real crime in all this-- waiting to publish until months after 2004 election. The Times was scared they would be blamed for influencing the election.

Dick Cheney probably set the cause of gay marriage back several years by backing it.

Col. Wilkinson continues to fire away at Cheney, likening him to Aaron Burr in a recent edition of the Daily Beast. I think the Colonel is having too much fun.

While Bill O'Reilly raves about the campaign against him by the Daily Kos, Democratic Underground, and Huffington Post. com, reporters in the heartland have dug up alot about the assassin of Dr. Tiller. On the Operation Rescue comment board before it was expunged, Roeder had used language about Tiller that was taken verbatim from one of O'Reilly's 48 shows against the man. It seems that the Wichita police chief was so P.O.ed about the murder, he may have been indiscreet by saying he would follow-up the leads on the internet. The Free Republic, who had inquiries from the Secret Service over anti-Obama hate language earlier this year, quickly purged the Roeder's posts but not before he had been identitied as user 2261860. Police found inside Roeder's car the phone number of the woman who had shot Dr. Tiller in both arms in the mid-1990s and a contact number with a Operation Rescue senior policy adviser, a woman who had been convicted in 1988 of conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic. Most interesting is Roeder's connection to the Freeman movement, which dissociates itself from all things having to do with the government from paying taxes to even having license plates on cars. According to a fellow Freeman in Shawnee, Roeder was just a Good Old Boy but "he got all excited about abortion". The FBI have followed Roeder path back to a house in Merriam where neighbors said there was a revolving door of men coming and staying there and described what appeared to be religious gatherings. The whole affair has the smell of an organized hit by anti-abortion people. Already the anti-abortion news services are putting out the line that Roeder has "a history of mental illness". Yet Randall Terry and others such as the Army of God made sure the public knew a good deed had been done.

Our previous guest lunatic Fred Phelps and his " church" abandoned their anti-semitic crusade momentarily to harass the family and friends of Dr Tiller who were holding a vigil in his memory. Classy, huh.