Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn

There is not too much to say. Professor Zinn was one of the finest people around. His book "A People's History of the United States" is a great antidote to the usual "Great Men Make History" approach. It exposed new generations to the history of popular and progressive causes like the labor and civil right movements. Hardly any of my students know how it came to be that they, their parents, and their children don't work 60 - 70 hour weeks at starvation wages; or why there aren't daily lynchings -- up north as well as down south -- the way there used to be. I tell them whenever I can (less often now that I'm retired) to go read Zinn's book.

If you haven't, Go Read Zinn's Book.

R.I.P. Howard Zinn. (obit)

State of the Union: part II

There's a saying: "When you're a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail." Obama's rhetoric is his hammer, and he seems to be assuming that his problems will go away if he says some things very well. In his recent State of the Union speech, he was alternately serious, jovial, angry and "soaring" in his rhetoric. (I guess "soaringly rhetorical" is one of his epithets, like "grey-eyed" for Athena" or "devious" for Odysseus. Would that Obama were a bit of the latter!) But a lot of what he says just doesn't make sense.

First is this "budget freeze." This simply flies in the face of what nearly every economist thinks is reasonable. It's not just Krugman, though he puts the case very well in today's Times. What we need is more economic stimulus in the near term to bring down the terrible unemployment literally terrorizing the country. We will need this stimulus for at least another year, probably more. I personally think that aid to cities and towns should be a major part of any such Federal spending. In any case, a freeze on non-defense and non-"entitlement" (terrible word, a favorite of the PTR), even if it won't occur until next budget cycle, is exactly what we don't need. If anything, the tons of wasteful defense spending could be cut and transferred to the more efficient, competitive and productive civilian sector.

Next, and even more inexplicable, it seems that Obama is still making noises about bipartisanship and claptrap like "it's time to try something new. Let's try common sense -- a novel concept." That thigh-slapper got him nothing from either side of the aisle. Is it possible that he truly believes that the PTR is interested in helping him solve problems? That they will give an inch on their belief in trickle-down voodoo economics, also known as tax cuts for the rich? Socialism for the rich, law of the jungle for everyone else. Like the Bourbons, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. What part of beneath contempt doesn't Obama yet understand about them? It would be one thing if this talk of bipartisanship and "working together to solve America's problems" were just chin music. But congressional Democrats are getting increasingly annoyed that the President is not laying out a concrete strategy to get his program -- especially healthcare -- passed. A lot of them have to face re-election pretty soon, and they need leadership, not talk.

And then, finally, there were actual sops to the PTR: incentives for oil and gas development -- as if the booming oil industry needs a bailout -- as well as accelerated construction of new nuclear plants -- as if any state, much less red ones like Utah, have agreed to accept waste products with a half-life of 20,000 years -- and the oxymoronic "clean coal" chimaera -- as if there were any such affordable feasible process. This stuff is throwing money at problems of the type that the PTR can understand, but no one else can.

Has our great orator become totally unhinged?

What part of "the PTR is beneath contempt" doesn't he understand?

(I encourage everyone to use PTR -- Party of The Rich -- instead of the misnomer G.O.P.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union: part I

Since this is, after all, a blog, I'd like to give a quick reaction to the President's State of the Union speech just concluded. I've seen and heard quite a few of them, but this one stood out by what I can only characterize as awkwardness. Yes there were moments of the Obama rhetorical style, but there were pauses and significant glances to his left, where the Republicans were sitting on their hands. We were hoping he'd point out that they were the party of the filibuster -- and he actually did! He also pointedly mentioned the terrible mess the previous administration had left -- perhaps he strongest such reference since the campaign.

President Obama was clearly angry, and though he tried to chide both Democrats and Republicans, it was clear with whom he had the biggest bone to pick.

Yes, I noticed that he suggested removal of some capital gains taxes, and drilling for oil offshore, and nuclear power. He also stood pretty firm on healthcare and dared the Party of The Rich to come up with any -- any -- suggestion that improved on the bills already passed by House and Senate.

More later.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budget freeze

Most progressive economists think that long-term deficit reduction is a good idea, but budgets should increase in the short term, even at the expense of deficits, in order to help inject more money into the economy -- to create jobs.

Obama, on the other hand, seems to be on the verge of doing the opposite: freezing the federal budget in the short term (3 years). He is supposedly going to propose a few minor -- i.e. low cost -- sops to the the middle class. One of these involves tax credits (for college expenses and child care) which means, of course, no help for those who don't pay taxes. This group includes some of our neediest citizens, including many of the jobless.

Also, Obama seems to be sticking with Bernanke at the Fed; of course, so is Paul Krugman, who says that Bernanke is less bad than others waiting in the wings. So there's not even a symbolic change in the economists who have the Presdent's ear.

We'll just have to wait and see if the President is going to disappoint progressives once again. He's been bad on the war(s), bad on the economy, and, so far, bad on even healthcare where he has exercised weak -- in fact, bad -- leadership. That's three strikes. Hmmm.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Obama can do

I read that the President is trying to reassemble the political team that orchestrated his successful campaign in 2008. This includes David Plouffe, his campaign manager, who has been content in recent months to write a book about the experience. This is a little like hiring a manager and coaches from a World Series-winning team to lead another team -- in the hopes that their past success will transfer. It is highly unlikely. Obama represented some sort of "hope for change" in 2008. While he is vastly preferable as a President to his truly awful predecessor, he has proved to be no great agent for fundamental change. I don't have to reiterate the long list of things he was supposed to reform: everything from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" through government secrecy, to the public option in healthcare. It isn't clever political moves designed by his crack election team that's needed, it's genuine gritty populism -- of the FDR kind -- that will bring people around again. His recent attempt to take on the banks and investment houses is more of what he should be doing, IF, in fact, he actually follows through. His recent shift to the regulatory ideas of Paul Volcker -- at least for banks -- is welcome, but Volcker is no populist, just a realist as far as the misdeeds of banks is concerned.

In a previous blog I said:

What I would really like to see is a change in Obama's economic people: replace Geitner, maybe by Sheila Bair (a nominal Republican even); replace Larry Summers by Paul Krugman; bring back Robert Reich (Clinton's Secretary of Labor) and find a place for Bob Kuttner. Obama needs to hear some more progressive voices. Eventually, replace Bernanke by one of them.

Of course this is just a pipe dream team.

However, another person I should have mentioned is Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, the subject of a column in todays' Globe: The Woman Democrats Need. (In fact, I meant to add her name all week long; I'm glad Ethan Porter's op-ed did the job.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010


For weeks now the AP and other news sources have been saying that the Dems are reluctant to use reconciliation as a means of enacting healthcare legislation because the tactic would "enrage" members of the Party Of The Rich. What a laugh. The POTR after all made up the lies about death panels and have for decades been red-baiting the Dems; the POTR and George Bush, after all, passed the tax cuts for the rich by means of reconciliation.

I now would support either healthcare by reconciliation or have the House pass the Senate bill. The Dems need to do something, even if it -- gasp! -- enrages the POTR. So be it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

President endorsing a new Glass-Steagall Act?

President Obama has been trying to grab some appendage of the populist horse as it passes him again. This time he is picking up on Paul Volcker (no populist but of sound judgment on the banks) who has been suggesting splitting banks into those that are essentially risk-taking investment houses and those that are basically commericial or lending institutions. This was the aim of the Glass-Steagall act, which I have discussed in a previous blog.

The repeal of Glass-Steagall took place under Clinton, who acquiesced easily. His Treasury Secretary was Robert Rubin, close associate of Geithner and Summers. Plus ca change. Instead of going with Rubin's pals, Obama should have gone with Clinton's Labor Secretary, the other Bob: Robert Reich.

Some history. I worked on Reich's Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign. Reich was stiffed in a backroom deal organized by the Boston Menino machine at the Democratic convention, where the eventual candidate was Shannon O'Brien, a very weak candidate -- sort of a precursor of Martha Coakley. Massachusetts is a tough state for women: the really tough ones like Lois Pines are cut down by the macho establishment, while the ones who don't make waves lose to the Republicans. In that election, Republican acting Governor Jane Swift was shunted aside at the last moment when the Party Of The Rich imported "Mittster" Mitt Romney. But the Mittster was not a resident of Massachusetts, since he had moved to Salt Lake City to work on the Olympics. No matter: the POTR cooked up retroactive residence papers for him , paid taxes he had avoided, and convinced the Bay staters to install him as the Guv. The Democrats went down without a wimper, not even protesting the phony residence gambit. There you have part of the saga of the big bad Blue State (or Commonwealth as it likes to call itself) of Massachusetts.

Anyway, it is good to see the President make this small but important break with his Wall Street advisors Geithner and Summers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Grijalva and Dean on health care

Note that Rep. Raul Grijalva, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, sayswhat Howard Dean has said, and what I advocated in my last blog: Use reconciliation to pass basic budgetary aspects of healthcare reform, then amend these with a regulatory package. Here are the references:



Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts election

Well, can't say I didn't see it coming. A weak candidate running a weak campaign, added to a party unwilling or incapable of disciplining its members and beaten down by decades of red-baiting. A president who's smart but who seems to be afraid to take real political risks and who dealt away a lot of his political capital in backroom deals with Big Pharma and Wall Street.

And yet, in spite of all the hoopla in the press about Scott Brown's Senate victory, a poll taken in Massachusetts after the election shows that Obama voters who voted for Brown still support the things that Obama and the Democrats promised, but didn't deliver on. And that includes health care with the public option. They have not become Republicans.

Obama and the Democrats still can recapture public support, but they have to become more populist and take more risks. Unfortunately, Obama is already making noises about passing a "scaled down" healthcare bill with bipartisan support. With bipartisan support? What planet is he living on? The Republicans smell blood and the last thing they are going to do is give him any sort of victory when they think they have him pinned. Puleeez!

I think the way to go is to draft a compact, tight bill and pass it by reconciliation. The leadership must put the screws on the party and squeeze out majorities in both houses. This means bargaining for committee chairmanships and members pet legislation -- the way the Other Party does it. The bill should provide regulation ("pre-existing condition" protection, limits on profits etc.) and a healthcare exchange. I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that this can be done within the rules of reconciliation bills: i.e. expressed in terms of budgets. Since this has been floated before, I assume that it is possible.

What I would really like to see is a change in Obama's economic people: replace Geitner, maybe by Sheila Bair (a nominal Republican even); replace Larry Summers by Paul Krugman; bring back Robert Reich (Clinton's Secretary of Labor) and find a place for Bob Kuttner. Obama needs to hear some more progressive voices. Eventually, replace Bernanke by one of them.

I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tomorrow's election: doesn't look good

Well, we hope for the best in today's election. My wife and I did some phone bank work last night for Martha Coakley, and it wasn't any fun at all. I've done lots of political grunt work including phoning, but the response this time was depressing. Unlike calling for Obama, when even the occasional McCain supporter was relatively polite (but firm), most people last night were testy. The new telemarketing system the campaigns are using make the calls quickly and relentlessly, and most immediately went to the answering machine. The calls that did get a human response made it clear why most folks had their machines on: everyone had already been called numerous times -- robo-calls mostly, though also lots of volunteers like me with cheerful faux-naive messages: "Just calling to find out if you're planning to vote tomorrow." A lot of calls were from out of state.

After answering machine pickups, the most common result was either an immediate hang-up or a hang-up after I had said about 10 words of my spiel. The number of people with whom I actually spoke were pretty much evenly divided between Brown and Coakley supporters. Hardly anyone was in the mood to discuss or argue issues, which we were instructed not to do anyway.

Of course Brown and the Republicans are beneath contempt, for reasons which I have made explicit in the blog many times. Voters supporting them seem aggressively defensive and totally illogical. The most common line of unreason is: "Yes, I supported Obama and the Democrats last election, but I expected them to help us. They turned out to be just tax and spend; I hate Obama-care -- it's too expensive; and I don't like Martha Coakley."

Well fine. The Democrats haven't solved many problems but I want to yell at the complainers: "So you'll elect a member of the party that created the problems? You want the Democrats to create jobs, pay unemployment benefits, and lower healthcare costs? How? By cutting taxes and continuing deregulation? By ignoring problems in our healthcare system? And what programs and legislation does the Party of The Rich offer you?"

I have decided not to make any more calls today. Anyone who doesn't know about today's election or can't decide things at this point probably shouldn't vote anyway -- they might pencil in Rush Limbaugh or Attila the Hun.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why Coakley is in trouble

It is not surprising that Martha Coakley is not doing well in Massachusetts. Here are some of the more important reasons for her difficulties.

1. People in Massachusetts, like people around the country, are getting more and more disillusioned with Democrats, especially President Obama. Daily they see the majority party selling out to big business and special interests. This started with the big banks and insurance companies (Citi, AIG for example) and Wall Street. Although the Republicans created TARP, people who voted the Bush adminstration out had hoped for a "people's" government, only to read of one after another fat cat being drafted by Obama to be part of his "team." When Geitner and Bernanke and Summers couldn't or wouldn't stop big CEO bonuses, it became clear that the fat cats were in the saddle.

Healthcare has been even worse. The only real way to keep down insurance costs is to have a public Medicare-like plan -- even better, a single-payer plan. Everyone knows this, and it initially had tremendous public acceptance. But not for long. Instead of building on these good feelings, Obama began to capitulate immediately, making single-payer a non-starter, and giving clear signals that any public plan would be scuttled as soon as the insurance industry put its foot down -- which it did, of course, immediately. Thus, from this defensive beginning, the President was fighting from weakness. His only remaining argument is that all he needs is a crappy bill, which can be fixed later. (I personally support that idea because, given what he and the Democrats have already ceded, and the utter disdain that Republicans have for all but the rich, there will be no healthcare reform in my lifetime unless something succeeds now.)

So, with massive unemployment and crushing local deficits, the Democrats offer no real hope or excitement. They have become Republican lite.

2. Massachusetts isn't as blue as people think. Yes, we have an all-Democratic congressional delegation, and a Democratic governor. Yet, that hasn't always been the case. A Democratic governor is relatively new -- the past few have been Republicans; same for reps. Massachusetts is Democratic because it has been Democratic for such a long time. The Democratic party has been the party of the principle 19th-20th century immigrants we have here: Irish and Italian. Curiously, the party was inherited from the very nativists who hated immigrants. But the immigrants, slowly and surely, took over the party from the bottom up. When they became the majority (at least in eastern Massachusetts), the state became Democratic. The unions helped. Some of the intellectual segments of the population gave the Bay State Democratic party a kind of liberal veneer. Also, the Bay State Republicans have been only slightly to the right of the Democrats, so it has been relatively safe to elect them periodically when Democratic corruption became too obvious.

3. Martha Coakley has been a competent but non-adventurous Attorney General. Her senate candidacy has seen far less competency and no adventure. It is not clear to me that she has penetrating and deeply felt opinions on national economic, military or social policy. During the primaries she claimed that she couldn't support a healthcare bill with abortion restrictions; after the primary she made it clear that she would. She recently stated in a debate. that the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan, though she meant al-Qaeda. Her position on why we are the victim of terrorism is far less convincing than that of the third-party Libertarian candidate Joe Kennedy, who correctly sees our many bases abroad as highly provocative. Aside from issues of family and women's rights, she seems to be as uncommitted and un-populist as Obama -- more of the "it's all about competancy" Dukakis persuasion. Her style could not be confused with Kennedy's any more than Obamas could be confused with FDR's.

4. People have a short political memory -- maybe just a few weeks. The Republicans had control of the presidency, both houses of Congress, and a 5 - 4 majority of the Supreme Court. They also had an "opposition" party that had been beaten into total submission by decades of red-baiting and other right-wing name-calling. In two terms the GOP managed to ruin the economy of this country (with some help from a right-center Clinton administration). Of this there is no doubt. Everyone knew the unmitigated disaster of lack of regulation of the financial markets, an unnecessary war based on lies, and massive transfers of wealth from the middle class to the rich via tax policy. Right-wing Republican ideology, unchallenged in all branches of the government, laid waste to this country and pauperized millions. In no way could this be blamed on anyone but the Republicans, who had sole power over all three branches of government. There were no liberal tax hikes, no commies, no one who could challenge even idiocies like evangelizing in the Air Force and "abstinance only" sex ed. It was totally a G.O.P. show and they ruined things -- possibly for generations.

Now, however, counting on short memories, the Republicans have trotted out the Big Lie. "Don't bring up the past -- all the Democrats want is to raise taxes and kill jobs." Well, I guess that's fair. If the Democrats won't be populists, the Republicans might as well try to sound like populists. Scott Brown, Coakley's opponent, wants us to like him because he drives a truck. (Have any reporters seen any dents from 2x4's or scratches from gravel? What does a lawyer use a truck for anyway?) Bet he says he likes country and western music -- just like both Bushes. BTW, he pointedly calls her "Martha."

So, although the Democrats really have not made much substantial progress because they also have big debts to big business interests, does it make sense to let the Republican wolves loose again in the peoples' hen houses? As uninspiring as Martha Coakley may be, she didn't in any way create the mess we are now in, while her opponent, Scott Brown, is a 100% supporter of the policies that did. If voters in Massachusetts can't learn from history, and consequently vote
to force us to repeat it, is there much hope?

Friday, January 15, 2010

David Brooks has it all figured out

High in his mountain-top headquarters in upper Manhatten, NY Times conservative-lite columnist David Brooks has intuited what's really wrong with Haitians:

"There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10."

Apparently Brooks read a book of his choosing about Haiti and has it all figured out.

When this crapola hit the Times today, a dozen people pointed out that this was hogwash, not too much different from what Pat Robertson has already told us about how it's all the fault of the Haitians. (Read the comments to Brooks' column HERE. They have been limited to 48: who determines this?)

One more thing. Read the quote from Brooks above and ask yourself if it doesn't apply to at least a few segments of (gasp!) Chrisitian American society that we know about. Who suffers from a lack of internalized responsibility more than the entire "blame the Commies" tea-partying no-nothing right? After 8 years of Republican control leading to the worst terrorist attack on American soil (which some now seem to deny ever happened under their watch), an unnecessary war they lied us into, and the worst depression since the 1930s, caused by their "free-market" ideology, the Republicans can't seem to internalize any responsibility whatsoever. Do they remember their "voodoo" economics, as George Bush (Sr.) himself put it?

Arguably, the American wealth destroyed in the past decade, or transferred abroad or to the very rich, is far greater in relative size or social/economic damage than anything that has occurred in Haiti. A country that used to be the worlds undisputed number one economic powerhouse now has 1 in eight families on food stamps, massive childhood poverty, and a destabilizing amount of debt owed to a foreign country (China). Where is the internalization of that responsibility?

Brooks thinks everything must be OK here because the '89 San Francisco earthquake didn't kill anywhere as many people as the one in Haiti.

Does Brooks actually read more than one book or article on a subject, and does he actually have any area of expertise?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


A good organization to contribute to is "Partners In Health":

(see the NY Times Op-Ed: by Tracy Kidder).

PIH actually has functioning medical services and hospitals outside Port-au-Prince (which was largely devastated).

Please pass this on to your friends.

Two old jokes redux


Sarah Palin dies and goes up to heaven where she encounters St. Peter at the pearly gate.

"I am Sarah Palin -- let me in to paradise."

"Wait," says St. Peter, "First you have to prove you are who you claim to be."

"What? Why?"

"Well, it's standard procedure. When Alexander Hamilton came up here he had to prove who he was. Same for Charles Darwin and Dwight Eisenhower."

"Huh? Hamilton? Darwin? Eisenhower? Who were they?"

"Ah, but of course, come in Governor Palin!"

(NOTE: I first heard this -- of course when I was very young -- about General Eisenhower, who had just gone from POTUS to president of Columbia University. It seemed cute to make him one of the famous people to be ID'd. It also is much fairer to Ike who was, after all, pretty knowledgeable about his profession. In fact, he's looking better and better all the time...)


At a plastic surgeons' convention three doctors are aguing about who is the best.

Dr. Jones says "I am clearly the greatest. Why just a few years ago I had a patient who lost all of his limbs. I build him new ones made from cadavers, and now he is an Olympic decathlon champion."

Dr. Smith says "Not bad, but several years back a woman came to me who was completely disfigured in a terrible blaze. I built her a new body and now she's Miss America."

Dr. Brown says "Impressive, but nothing like my accomplishment. 5 years ago I found just a sphincter lying in the street. I built a whole new man around it and now he is the Republican minority leader of the Senate."

(With all due respect -- which isn't much -- to Mitch McConnell, this could be told about anyone you don't like. Also, of course, you needn't use the sphincter euphemism, but this is a family blog.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reporting on research about "Cadillac" healthcare plans

I just read an interesting article in the latest issue of the journal "Health Affairs", entitled "Taxing Cadillac Health Plans May Produce Chevy Results." The authors, J. Gabel, J. Pickreign, R. McDevitt and T. Briggs (all experienced researchers in the field of healthcare) do a statistical analysis of the premiums paid for various healthcare plans versus various factors such as value of benefits ("Cadillac versus Chevy"), type of plan (HMO, PPO, POS, high deductible), type of industry supplying the plan, and local cost of health insurance.

As written into the senate version of the proposed healthcare act, a plan is deemed a "Cadillac" plan solely on the basis of its premiums. The latest version sets the cut-off at $8500 for an individual plan and $23,000 for a family plan. This sounds like a lot of money but, as Bob Herbert of the the NY Times points out:

"Within three years of its implementation, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax would apply to nearly 20 percent of all workers with employer-provided health coverage in the country, affecting some 31 million people. Within six years, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would reach a fifth of all households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. Those families can hardly be considered very wealthy."

NOTE: The reason that these numbers are going up so dramatically is that the cut-off for taxation is not really indexed properly. The current indexing plans seem to call for cost of living + 1%. This is far less than the actual percentage rise in the cost of health care, which by many estimates is at least twice the rate of increase in other costs of living.

We've all heard about plans that pay for vacations at spas and full body scans and healthclubs. Is that what goes into Cadillac plans?

Not according to the statistics in the Health Affairs study. In fact, less that 4% of the premium cost of a plan is correlated with the actual benefits of the plan. Only about 6% of the cost is correlated with either benefits or type of plan (say HMO or POS). Most of the correlation is with type of company and local medical costs -- features over which the payer (individual or group) has no control. Most of the cost is actually uncorrelated, meaning no one knows why it is what it is.

Thus, Obama and the Senate have bought into a policy -- taxing health insurance solely on the basis of its cost -- that may save money, but most likely at the expense of individuals or providers who have little choice in the size of their premiums. Thus, these policy holders will either pay a steep tax (40% on amounts over the cut-off), or will be forced to give up coverage which was, all along, just Chevy, not Cadillac. Such people may be unfortunate enough to work in a high-risk industry, be middle-aged or senior, or simply live in an area with expensive medical costs. Their actual coverage, on the basis of statistical analysis, is unlikely to cover spas or body scans or any other high-end services.

This is yet another example of the curiously elliptical way that politicians often attack problems: "If I change A, it will likely change B which may change C which ought to change D, the thing I really want to affect." This Rube Goldberg kind of scheme is ridiculous. If the goal is to discourage truly luxurious and unnecessary coverage, then why not tax luxurious and unnecessary coverage? If the goal is to subsidize lower income people, then why not tax upper income people? If the goal is to control expenditures, then why not set strict limits on billing, based on actual local costs of medical services? A party or president who actually cared or thought acutely about issues would take these approaches.

But no. Obama and the Senate are pushing an ill-considered and unfair policy. They risk antagonizing one of the few segments of American society that has supported them relatively consistantly: the unions. Morever, it should be pointed out, most union members don't have "Cadillac" plans, and most people who have them are not union members. I would love to know who -- which advisors -- are pushing this policy, and what their agenda is. Obama may be a smart politician and lawyer, but does he understand statistics?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

China and green energy

Today's Op-Ed by Tom Friedman "Who's Sleeping now" , about China's commitment to massive green energy programs reminded me of an even better piece on the same subject from the December 21 issue of The New Yorker.

I don't have time to comment on these now, but I strongly recommend the New Yorker piece.

I've also been researching the proposed excise tax on "Cadillac health plans" that is being debated among congressional Democrats. I'll report soon.

Friday, January 8, 2010

David Brooks at the movies

So now NY Times conservative columnist David Brooks jumps on the lefty bandwagon, describing "Avatar" as an offensive "White Messiah fable." Conservatives have a long history of taking a "What, me worry?" attitude toward racism, generally viewing it as a matter of bleeding heart liberal obsession. As someone has already commented, if the earthling Jake and his avatar had come to Pandora preaching free market capitalism, Brooks would hardly be so concerned.
Not only is Brooks on ideological unfamiliar territory, he also has not paid too much attention to the movie. Here's his summation:

"It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration."

I have already commented on this supposedly leftish criticism of the film (see the blog on Avatar). I'd like to add that historically every initial contact between armed aggressors and unsuspecting and/or unarmed indigenous populations has gone very badly for the latter. Wouldn't it have been useful to Native Americans if some sympathetic European warned them about the white man's treaties and smallpox-saturated blankets?

Brooks' last sentence is pure pseudo-leftist claptrap. If he can't get the basic facts about an agit-prop movie straight, what could he possibly be thinking about healthcare reform, the economy and the Middle East?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Obama's choice: wrong again

Why does Obama continue to disappoint? His latest is to come down strongly for taxing "high end" health plans. This will, of course, alienate his union support at a time when the Democrats can ill aford to lose allies. He already threw out the only source of real healthcare savings when he abandoned the "public option," having never even considered single-payer. Will there at least be indexing of the costs? (See the previous blog.)

Obama has done about everything he can do to avoid being a popular and populist president. No wonder he and the Dems are losing popularity to the tea baggers. Their "movement" may be a phony, but at least it sounds like populism. Every day Obama sounds more and more like a stuffy academic law professor who loves the way he lectures. Just the appearance that he shouldn't have. What is it about class warfare that he doesn't understand?

The Dems are truly pitiful. So is the Party Of The Rich. Meanwhile the tea baggers are gaining converts. (To what I don't know. Glenn Beck for president?)

What a disappointment!!!!