Archive for November, 2010
Important news in court today in Virginia, as a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming the newly passed health care reform bill was unconstitutional in requiring companies to purchase insurance for their employees. According to the above-linked Reuters story:
U.S. District Judge Norman Moon ruled that the law requiring individuals to buy health insurance coverage as well as requiring employers to buy coverage for their employees was legal under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Moon found that without the coverage requirements in the law, the cost of health insurance would increase because the number of insured individuals would decline, “precisely the harms that Congress sought to address with the Act’s regulatory measures.”
Further, interstate commerce would be hurt by large employers failing to offer adequate healthcare coverage, thus “the employer coverage provision is a lawful exercise of Congress‘ Commerce Clause power,” said Moon, who was appointed by then-Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The suit was filed by Lynchburg, Va.-based Liberty University and a group of individuals. Liberty was founded by conservative Christian Jerry Falwell, and apparently his college heirs apparent are continuing the tradition of attempting to do away with every measure put on the table that may make lives of the lesser among us better in preference to policies that help quite inhuman companies and their owners. Such policies are, it seems, diametrically opposed to Christian doctrines, at least as I read them, but let’s not let that get in the way propping up more wealthier interests and, in turn, stamping down the poor in continuing to build up the empire that Falwell built and the empires that folks like Dobson, Warren and others are still building. For anyone not familiar with those two “empires” of Warren and Dobson, research their enclaves in California and Colorado, respectively, and find out for yourself. Sprawling campuses of power and wealth that, if sold for charity, could feed many thousands, if not millions, of mouths. But feeding mouths, feeding the 5,000 seems to not be the ultimate purpose anymore, and making life on this planet better isn’t the ultimate goal either (For what good is food for the hungry if the hungry don’t know God?), and therein lies the heart-wrenching tragedy that tears at me and co-thinkers on a daily basis.
Like ESPN’s Rick Reilly, I’m not sure what Michael Vick critics want the man to do at this point. Some surely chaff over the knowledge that a convicted felon is now back from prison and making millions in the NFL, is on track to potentially earn MVP honors and has already become the first quarterback in history to be named as the NFC Offensive Player of the Week two weeks in a row (Nov. 9 and Nov. 16). And, the Pro Football Hall of Fame requested his jersey from the Nov. 15 game in which Vick lit up the field upon becoming the first player in history to pass for 300 yards, run for 50, throw four touchdown passes and run for two more. And, after just eight games, he’s also on track to shatter his passing yardage from 2006, the last year he played a complete season with the Falcons. For animal lovers or anyone else who may think that getting to walk around in civil society is too much of a privilege even for someone who has served their debt to society in prison, these facts may cut to the quick.
As if 18 months in Leavenworth, and six more in a halfway house, aren’t punishment enough.
“Michael Vick should give half of his … salary to animal rights groups,” Liz McGowin wrote on PETA.org.
As if losing $100 million and three years in the prime of his career wasn’t steep enough.
“Michael Vick is a Sociopathic Dog-Torturing, Dog-Maiming, Dog-Drowning, Dog-Electrocuting Pile of S—,” somebody posted on Vick’s Twitter page Thursday. Vick’s Twitter page was running about half against him this week — until it was frozen for “suspicious activity.”
As if being judged and humiliated in front of the world isn’t shame enough.
As if …
But for the rest of us, the Vick story is one of redemption. Some may say it’s all a ruse. Some may say that Vick is saying all the right things because he knows what to say and plays the role well. Some may say he’s actually unrepentant and is only doing and saying those right things because he doesn’t want to lose his career and his millions. But I think any honest look at the man’s attitude, demeanor and, yes, his words, will show that he’s “contrite,” “humble” and “chastened,” as Reilly put it.
Here are a few of his recent posts on Twitter that, I think, give a glimpse into where the man’s heart and mind are at this point:
- Well I’m about to go spend more time with my family. Thanks for all the well wishes on this day. I’ll be back in a few !
- Thank you God for watching over me another night and giving me the chance to see another day … Good morning twitter !
- I truly appreciate all the love i cant answer everybody but im going to figure out a way to start following a few of you !
- God Can Turn Mistakes Into Miracles ……….. Good Morning Twitter Family !
- Thank you God for watching over me another night and letting me see another day !
- I was just informed i’ll be this weeks NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Couldn’t have done it without my team !
- GOD IS GREAT !
Now, while we know that talking about how great God is isn’t necessary an automatic sign of someone’s character (Indeed, the opposite is the case a lot of the time. The very words Allahu Akbar, or, “God is great,” were, via Saddam Hussein’s order, placed in the center of the Iraqi flag in 1991), the humbleness to Vick’s fans and his teammates seems to come through in his various postings.
So to his remaining critics, I would say this: Is the American correctional system truly about corrections or not? Either the goal should be rehabilitation to some degree in all prisoners in which that might be possible, or we should throw away the keys on all sentences and wipe our hands of those folks. If I were to royally mess up at any point in my life, I would certainly hope society, family and friends would give me a second chance.
In the federal corrections world, they call it “re-entry.” For most freed felons, re-entry into society is fraught with trouble. Some guys get out and can’t even get a driver’s license, much less a job. The adjustment to life outside can give a guy the bends. Quite often, the road leads them right back inside.
But Michael Vick? He has made the kind of re-entry usually reserved for Apollo astronauts. The man reinvented himself into a wonder, both in his uniform and out. He has seen how wrong he was. He’s sorry. He’s making amends.
“I don’t have to think about going back down the path I’ve traveled because it’s not going to happen,” Vick said Wednesday. “I can live my life with a clear mind every day, knowing that I’m moving forward.”
Why can’t everybody else?
Why not, indeed.
I know. I know. It’s too easy criticizing the poor Jehovah’s Witnesses, but given a recent visitation to me house from our deluded friends, I feel obliged to bring to light this baffling passage in a recent issue of Awake!, in which the believers tackle the views of the so-called “new atheists” such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Here is the anti-enlightening text from the November 2010 edition:
The new atheists envision a world with no religion – no suicide, no religious wars, and no televangelists fleecing their flocks. Does that vision appeal to you?
Before answering, ask yourself this, “Is there any evidence that universal atheism would lead to a better world?” Consider: As many as 1.5 million Cambodians died in the Khmer Rouge effort to establish a godless Marxist state. And in the officially atheistic USSR, Joseph Stalin’s rule resulted in tens of millions of deaths. Granted, those evils cannot be directly attributed to atheism. But they do show that the rule of atheism does not ensure peace and harmony.
In fact, yes, that vision appeals to me very much. Believers like to point to Stalin as an example of nonbelief gone bad, with some 100,000 shot during the “purges” of 1937-38. Yes, Stalin was hostile to religion and was brutal in carrying out anti-religious policies, but the largest part of the deaths under his rule were carried out for political and social causes, not for religious reasons. He was not a religious cleanser in the sense that believers would like to paint him. From the Stalin Wikipedia entry:
After the Soviet Union dissolved, evidence from the Soviet archives also became available, containing official records of the execution of approximately 800,000 prisoners under Stalin for either political or criminal offenses, around 1.7 million deaths in the Gulags and some 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement – for a total of about 3 million officially recorded victims in these categories.
“Tens of millions of deaths” would be an exaggeration of enormous proportions, and in fact, the above-quoted passage from “Awake!” contradicts itself. The statement, “the rule of atheism does not ensure peace and harmony” can also be applied to religion, and I can point to the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, slavery, the 9/11 tragedy and any number of other religion-influenced events that most definitely did not ensure “peace and harmony.” Quite the contrary in all of these cases.
If we want to talk about the good religion has done, take the Hitchens challenge:
Here is my challenge. … name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first — I have been asking it for some time — awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.
If you will devote a little time to studying the staggering photographs taken by the Hubble telescope, you will be scrutinizing things that are far more awesome and mysterious and beautiful — and more chaotic and overwhelming and forbidding — than any creation or “end of days” story. If you read Hawking on the “event horizon,” that theoretical lip of the “black hole” over which one could in theory plunge and see the past and the future (except that one would, regrettably and by definition, not have enough “time”), I shall be surprised if you can still go on gaping at Moses and his unimpressive “burning bush.”
So then, I would suggest, instead, marveling at the wonders within the universe and also at those happening within our own selves at the cellular level. It is quite breathtaking:
And at the organelle level, here is “Powering the Cell: Mitochondria”:
I don’t think you’ll find New York Times columnists complimenting CNN’s reporting very often, but one exception came yesterday with Thomas Friedman’s piece, titled “Too Good To Check,” in which Friedman lauds Anderson Cooper’s recent efforts in unveiling a patent untruth circulating in conservative circles about the alleged cost of President Obama’s recent trip to India and elsewhere overseas. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, radio host Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others (I’m sure there are others. Although I have not listened to Mark Levin lately [Can't tolerate his nasally snarl], he surely hopped on the bandwagon like his like-minded-bash-the-Obama-administration-at-any-cost brethren) all claimed that the administration was spending some $200 million per day on the trip.
Here is Friedman quoting Bachman, who appeared on Cooper’s show:
I think we know that just within a day or so the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking 2,000 people with him. He’ll be renting over 870 rooms in India, and these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending.
Here is the Anderson Cooper video, in which he asks Bachmann what specifically she would like to cut in federal spending now that her party controls the House.
In the absence of any answers, she proceeds to immediately and ludicrously lampoon Obama’s “over the top” spending. The only sparse answer she gives as to how the Republicans would account for some $700 billion in lost revenue if the Bush tax cuts were extended is to suggest that Medicare eligibility levels may be too high. Cooper asked for three; he got one … half answer. Here is one exchange:
COOPER: But extending the Bush tax cuts will mean, in order to offset the costs of extending the Bush tax cuts, you have to come up with $700 billion dollars just in spending cuts alone just to offset that cost. If you acknowledge that that is true, what are three things you would cut immediately to help offset those costs?
BACHMANN: Well, it’s always considered a cost when people are allowed to keep their own money. I don’t think that it’s a cost when people get to keep their own money. Right now, the current tax policy is, in my mind, it’s actually too high. The taxes right now. If we don’t extend these tax cuts, for instance, in my district in Minnesota, we’ll see 1.6 … 1.2 billion dollars taken out of the pockets of my constituents and taken out of my local community, where it will be spent, instead, 1.2 additional dollars will be sent to Washington D.C. sucked into that hole.
Here, of course, Bachmann missed the point and dodged the question altogether. The federal government has to have money to continue to offer such services as Social Security and Medicare. The “cost” to which Cooper was referring was the cost the federal government incurs in continuing to offer services, not the cost to locals, and Bachmann failed miserably, and predictably, from the Palin mode.
But back to Friedman, who picks up Obama’s trip to India in his column:
The next night, Cooper explained that he felt compelled to trace that story back to its source, since someone had used his show to circulate it. His research, he said, found that it had originated from a quote by “an alleged Indian provincial official,” from the Indian state of Maharashtra, “reported by India’s Press Trust, their equivalent of our A.P. or Reuters. I say ‘alleged,’ provincial official,” Cooper added, “because we have no idea who this person is, no name was given.”
It is hard to get any more flimsy than a senior unnamed Indian official from Maharashtra talking about the cost of an Asian trip by the American president.
“It was an anonymous quote,” said Cooper. “Some reporter in India wrote this article with this figure in it. No proof was given; no follow-up reporting was done. Now you’d think if a member of Congress was going to use this figure as a fact, she would want to be pretty darn sure it was accurate, right? But there hasn’t been any follow-up reporting on this Indian story. The Indian article was picked up by The Drudge Report and other sites online, and it quickly made its way into conservative talk radio.”
Later, Friedman notes:
Cooper then added: “Again, no one really seemed to care to check the facts. For security reasons, the White House doesn’t comment on logistics of presidential trips, but they have made an exception this time. He then quoted Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, as saying, “I am not going to go into how much it costs to protect the president, [but this trip] is comparable to when President Clinton and when President Bush traveled abroad. This trip doesn’t cost $200 million a day.” Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said: “I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd, this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy and some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier in support of the president’s trip to Asia. That’s just comical. Nothing close to that is being done.”
The fringe right’s tactic here, as Bachmann, Savage and others use without fail, is to dodge substantive talk on specific reform with dodgy figures from even dodgier sources to blast Obama at all costs, never mind fact-checking any of their claims. Savage has even made analogies between Obama and the Red Army Faction, saying that while the RAF was a violent, left-wing movement, Obama was seeking to induce a nonviolent socialist revolution in America. For however untrue that may be, that kind of talk makes Savage and the gang look like raving lunatics. Some on the right, as Friedman notes, even called Obama’s trip a “vacation.” All the while, they proceed to make sweeping suggestions on how we must cut spending and rein in the government but offer barely anything in the way of substantive solutions. As I have said before, in the absence of intelligent ideas in political discourse, nothing is left but desperate and emotionally-charged ranting.
Friedman concludes by noting that
When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together.
While I agree with him wholeheartedly, we can’t forget how these people became “widely followed” public figures: the public put them there, which is an unfortunate truth that seems to say less about the figures themselves (They just ride the wave to the bank) and more about the people, who, by and large, don’t know what is best for them or how to think critically about important issues. The best we can hope for, as he says, is that more people will learn not to swallow everything they hear on radio and television without doing their own fact-checking. But given that most people only watch or listen to commentators that reinforce, rather than challenge, their own views, I can’t be sure such a noble exercise will gain widespread popularity.
Don’t get me wrong. I would be happy as a penguin in a freezer full of cod if the Dallas Cowboys never win another game … ever. At least not until the next century. But what is up with Bob Costas tonight calling the Cowboys unprofessional in their lifeless and uninspired effort last week and for most of this season?
Have any commentators thought this? Maybe Phillips just wasn’t a very good head coach. Let’s review his record as the head guy.
- Came in as the Saints’ head coach in 1985. Record: 1-3.
- Spent seven years as the defensive coordinator for the Eagles and Broncos.
- Named head coach of the Broncos, replacing Dan Reeves. Went 9-7 in first year and 7-9 in second year. Fired because of claims from Broncos officials that he didn’t have control of the team. Sounds familiar.
- Enjoyed some success with the Bills with seasons of 10-6 and 11-5 in ’98 and 99, but followed with an 8-8 season in 2000.
- Again replaced Reeves in 2003 for the last three games and went 2-1 to round out that season.
- Signed with the Cowboys in 2007 and loss to the Giants in a divisional playoff game to cap his best season at 13-3. Had a mediocre 2008 season, and then went 11-5 to again fall in the divisional playoff game.
- Fired after leading (or not) the Cowboys to a 1-7 record midway through this season.
In this article, Phillips said recently that:
… he watched nearly two years’ worth of games on tape and discovered fundamentals were lacking. Phillips said it was time for the team to return to the basics, but those basics were severely lacking in Sunday night’s loss to the Packers, as the Cowboys were plagued by missed tackles, a muffed punt and poor blocking techniques which resulted in four sacks and a fumble on a kick return.
“I thought we played poorly,” Phillips said after the Packers game. “I thought we played poorly as a team and we looked like a bad football team. That’s the way we played. Bad coaching.”
OK sure, the play on the field hasn’t been good. But, in the 45-7 blow out at Green Bay, the play was uninspired and, as I said, lifeless. And whose job is it to inspire and motivate the team? As Jason Garrett well knows, it’s the head coach. And he proved that this week with the Cowboys (surprising?) win at Giants Stadium. The play-by-play and color guys prior to the game even said Garrett gave an inspiring speech prior to the game that served to rejuvenate the team’s spirit. That’s something that Phillips has never seemed to have a) grasped, or b) been able to cultivate. In short, a “really special guy,” as Garrett recently lauded Phillips, doesn’t equal “good head coach.” I was also amused to find a Fire Wade Phillips blog as well. I, of course, am not a Wade Phillips hater. That would be ridiculous. I don’t enjoy it when people fail. But I’m simply making the case that, while he may been a decent defensive coordinator, head coaching was probably not his bag, as it were.
This is probably the longest I’ve gone without writing anything for this blog. For the eight people reading this, my apologies. Blame Leo Tolstoy. Or, any of my other various hobbies.
I will offer only a few thoughts here. When I finish it (I’m about 625 pages in), I’ll most likely write a fuller account of the experience. I call it an experience because reading a book such as this isn’t quite like plowing through whatever predictable plots Dean Koontz might be churning out this week. It’s the kind of book that you carry with you everywhere. You read it in 10-20 page chunks whenever you get some free minutes. You reread certain passages to make sure you catch the meanings. You put off reading anything else, for if you try to juggle two or three books at one time, “War and Peace” may never be completed, or at least not this decade. It seems to require a religious-like devotion (for lack of any better word). And when you are engaged with the text, you know that you are far, very far removed from the social and political climate described therein, but you are drawn back to that time by Tolstoy’s godlike ability to bring you inch-close to the dirt under the warhorse’s hoof or the fire inside a lover’s gaze. He tells you, not only what the main characters think, feel and dream, but even what various animals might be thinking at certain points within the plot. For instance, what a wolf may be thinking when it pauses to weigh its options on a hunt or what a horse may be thinking on the battlefield as bullets whiz by.
For someone who may undertake “War and Peace,” the first 200-300 words will be the most difficult, as you will be immediately hit with a barrage of characters, some minor, some major, and in the early going, the reader is not quite sure which is which. Tolstoy crafts the opening beautifully with one of numerous soirées related throughout the book, which gives the reader the opportunity to, first, become acquainted with many of the characters, and second, become familiar with the type and content of the conversations that will be prevalent throughout the novel. I attempted to read “War and Peace” about a year ago, but the endeavor ended only after about 150 pages. But I am resigned this time to soldier on. And soldier I will … until the Great Man, Bonaparte, falls in 1812.
As it happens, I was scanning the Web for something to write about this evening and came across this piece about our brains’ ability, or not, to understand what’s real and what’s figurative. It was literally the first thing my eyes glanced at when I went to The New York Times’ site. I decided to feature this because of this coincidental “teaser” that accompanied the column:
This Is Your Brain On Metaphors: Our brains are wired to confuse the real and the symbolic. And the implications can be as serious as war and peace.
Maureen Dowd‘s assessment of how the more things change, the more they …
Of the U.S. House of Representatives Speaker-to-be, she writes:
… the elites in the White House were snuffing out the America he grew up in. It only took two years to realize that their direction for the country was simply, as he put it, “a contradiction with the vast majority of Americans.”
No one gets to take America away from Americans — not even the American president!
“What the American people were saying is ‘Enough!’ ” the Speaker-to-be told me, as he savored his own win and his party’s landslide, which he said was “a historical tide, not just a partisan election.”
Washington had not been listening. Washington had been scorning the deepest beliefs of Americans. And now that would have to change.
“American people are clearly fed up with what they see as the decay of American society,” he declared.
The next Speaker felt that the humbled president should take the election as a cue to be conciliatory, and he proposed they talk in the next few days. He offered to reach out to Democrats who wanted to work with his side, but also noted that the president would not be wise to stand in the way of the conservative agenda.
“I prefer to believe that this president, who is clearly very smart, is quite capable of thinking clearly about a message sent by the American people,” he said.
He said that, contrary to what the media elite had been jabbering about, he would not use his subpoena power to rain down a series of investigations on the Democratic administration.
No “witch hunts,” he said. Only “legitimate” investigations.
Yeah, that all worked out for Newt Gingrich. He really came through. The quotes above came from Gingrich, when I covered his heady victory in Marietta, Ga., in the 1994 Republican landslide that made him Speaker.
And, obviously, the Republican House only pursued “legitimate” investigations of Bill Clinton. Sixteen years later, as a weeping John Boehner extolled the American values he learned at his father’s bar — in the moment he dethroned Nancy Pelosi — the new crop of anarchic conservatives are saying all the same things.
God help the Republic.
For Salon’s William Saletan, Boehner is a shell of his mid-1990s counterpart and offers a different perspective on the Gingrich-Boehner dichotomy:
Gingrich acknowledged Clinton’s authority but cast him as a responder to the new agenda. “At least half of our Contract With America are things that the president should be able to support,” Gingrich argued. He added: “We are bound, to some extent, by the contract. But within that framework, we’d like to work with the president.”
Boehner asserts no such mandate or central role. In his speech last night, he framed the referendum of 2010 in strictly negative terms: “Across the country right now, we’re witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government, and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the American people.”
As to his own agenda, Boehner offered only the vaguest boilerplate: “cutting spending,” “reducing the size of government,” and “giving government back to the people.”
Nor did Boehner proclaim a new relationship between Congress and the public, as Gingrich did. On the contrary, Boehner emphasized the centrality of Obama’s relationship with the public: “We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and commit to making changes that they are demanding. And to the extent that he’s willing to do that, we’re ready to work with him.”
Politically, Boehner’s deference makes sense. Voters are angry. They want the economy fixed, but it’s too messed up to be repaired before the next election. In these circumstances, the worst place to be, from an electoral standpoint, is in power. You want to be the linebacker, not the quarterback. You’re better off with Boehner’s vacuous Pledge to America than the substantial Contract With America.
But politics, too, has its price. Fear of electoral failure can make you impotent in office. You spend the years between elections ducking the risks of leadership. You wedgislate andhedgislate, but you never really legislate. For the sake of your career, you waste it.
That’s what I admire about Gingrich and Obama. Obama may lose more seats in Congress than Clinton did. He may be thrown out after one term. But he’ll have accomplished more than Clinton did, because he focused on doing the job, not keeping it.
The AJC’s Jay Bookman on supposed compromise between the Dems and Reps post election:
So to review what seem to be the major Republican themes:
GOP Talking Point 1: The Democrats lost because Obama refused to compromise.
GOP Talking Point 2 — Compromise? Hell no, we aren’t going to compromise!
In other words, our leaders can’t come to an agreement on whether it’s important to come to an agreement.
Ezra Klein with The Washington Post surmises that the final two years of Obama’s first term will be mostly focused on foreign affairs, rather than the domestic policies he took up in the first two years, and I’m inclined to agree, given that Obama barely got stuff done with a majority in both chambers, much less now with the House controlled by the Reps, who will do nothing if only to see Obama fail at every turn (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”). Shameful. \
I wouldn’t run the argument the same way Matt Yglesias does, but I definitely think you’ll see a more foreign-policy-focused White House over the next two years. In some ways, the domestic and economic focus that the financial crisis forced on the White House was a bit of a surprise, as Barack Obama’s candidacy was powered by his foreign-policy convictions, and that’s what he seemed most comfortable and enthusiastic about during the campaign.
And finally, The Times’ Paul Krugman on the “Whiny Center,” which, with their self-defeatest Blue Dog Democratic policies, some Dems shot their own party in the foot (Krugman says “in the face”) by first, blocking even stronger and needed measures from Obama and second, by losing half their seats in the process:
So, we’re already getting the expected punditry: Obama needs to end his leftist policies, which consist of … well, there weren’t any, but he should stop them anyway.
What actually happened, of course, was that Obama failed to do enough to boost the economy, plus totally failing to tap into populist outrage at Wall Street. And now we’re in the trap I worried about from the beginning: by failing to do enough when he had political capital, he lost that capital, and now we’re stuck.
But he did have help in getting it wrong: at every stage there was a faction of Democrats standing in the way of strong action, demanding that Obama do less, avoid spending money, and so on. In so doing, they shot themselves in the face: half of the Blue Dogs lost their seats.
And what are those who are left demanding? Why, that Obama move to the center.