Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
The New York Times
April 28, 2008
As the designated political heir of a deeply unpopular president — according to Gallup, President Bush has the highest disapproval rating recorded in 70 years of polling — John McCain should have little hope of winning in November. In fact, however, current polls show him roughly tied with either Democrat.
In part this may reflect the Democrats’ problems. For the most part, however, it probably reflects the perception, eagerly propagated by Mr. McCain’s many admirers in the news media, that he’s very different from Mr. Bush — a responsible guy, a straight talker.
But is this perception at all true? During the 2000 campaign people said much the same thing about Mr. Bush; those of us who looked hard at his policy proposals, especially on taxes, saw the shape of things to come.
And a look at what Mr. McCain says about taxes shows the same combination of irresponsibility and double-talk that, back in 2000, foreshadowed the character of the Bush administration.
The McCain tax plan contains three main elements.
First, Mr. McCain proposes making almost all of the Bush tax cuts, which are currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2010, permanent. (He proposes reinstating the inheritance tax, albeit at a very low rate.)
Second, he wants to eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which was originally created to prevent the wealthy from exploiting tax loopholes, but has begun to hit the upper middle class.
Third, he wants to sharply reduce tax rates on corporate profits.
According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the overall effect of the McCain tax plan would be to reduce federal revenue by more than $5 trillion over 10 years. That’s a lot of revenue loss — enough to pose big problems for the government’s solvency.
But before I get to that, let’s look at what I found truly revealing: the McCain campaign’s response to the Tax Policy Center’s assessment. The response, written by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former head of the Congressional Budget Office, criticizes the center for adopting “unrealistic Congressional budgeting conventions.” What’s that about?
Well, Congress “scores” tax legislation by comparing estimates of the revenue that would be collected if the legislation passed with estimates of the revenue that would be collected under current law. In this case that means comparing the McCain plan with what would happen if the Bush tax cuts expired on schedule. ... ( more )
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The New York Times
April 27, 2008
IT’S a nightmare. It’s the Bataan Death March. It’s mutually assured Armageddon. “Both of them are already losing the general to John McCain,” declared a Newsweek columnist last month, predicting that the election “may already be over” by the time the Democrats anoint a nominee.
Not so fast. If we’ve learned any new rule in the 2008 campaign, it’s this: Once our news culture sets a story in stone, chances are it will crumble. But first it must be recycled louder and louder 24/7, as if sheer repetition will transmute conventional wisdom into reality.
When the Pennsylvania returns rained down Tuesday night, the narrative became clear fast. The Democrats’ exit polls spelled disaster: Some 25 percent of the primary voters said they would defect to Mr. McCain or not vote at all if Barack Obama were the nominee. How could the party possibly survive this bitter, perhaps race-based civil war?
But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t just tell pollsters they would defect from their party’s standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party’s nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That’s more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama.
Those antiwar Paul voters are all potential defectors to the Democrats in November. Mr. Huckabee’s religious conservatives, who rejected Mr. McCain throughout the primary season, might also bolt or stay home. Given that the Democratic ticket beat Bush-Cheney in Pennsylvania by 205,000 votes in 2000 and 144,000 votes in 2004, these are 220,000 voters the G.O.P. can ill-afford to lose. Especially since there are now a million more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania. (These figures don’t even include independents, who couldn’t vote in either primary on Tuesday and have been migrating toward the Democrats since 2006.)
For such a bitterly divided party, the Democrats hardly show signs of clinical depression. The last debate, however dumb, had the most viewers of any so far. The rise in turnout and new voters is all on the Democratic side. Even before its deathbed transfusion of new donations, the Clinton campaign trounced the McCain campaign in fund-raising by 2.5 to 1. (The Obama-McCain ratio is 3 to 1.)
On Tuesday, a Democrat won the first round of a special Congressional election in Mississippi, even though the national G.O.P. outspent the Democrats by more than double and President Bush carried this previously safe Republican district by 25 percentage points in 2004. A Gallup poll last week found Mr. Bush’s national disapproval rating the worst (69 percent) for any president in Gallup’s entire 70-year history. For all his (and Mr. McCain’s) persistent sightings of “victory” in Iraq, the percentage of Americans calling the war a mistake (63) also set a new record.
“I’m thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings,” Mr. Bush joked on Monday night, when he popped up like Waldo on the NBC game show “Deal or No Deal” to root for an Army captain who was a contestant. But it turns out that not even cash giveaways to veterans can induce Americans to set eyes on this president. “Deal or No Deal” drew an audience 19 percent below its season average. The best deal for Mr. McCain would be for Mr. Bush to disappear into the witness protection program. ... ( more )Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
April 27, 2008
Maybe I’ve been reading too many stories about the fad of teenage vampire chick lit, worlds filled with parasitic aliens and demi-human creatures, but there’s something eerie going on in this race.
Hillary grows more and more glowy as Obama grows more and more wan.
Is she draining him of his precious bodily fluids? Leeching his magic? Siphoning off his aura?
It used to be that he was incandescent and she was merely inveterate. Now she’s bristling with life force, and he looks like he wants to run away somewhere for three months by himself and smoke.
Hillary is not getting much sleep or exercise, and doesn’t, like the ascetic Obama, abstain from junk food and coffee and get up at dawn to work out on the road. She’s still a long shot and she’s 14 years older than her rival.
Yet she’s the one who is more energetic and focused and beaming, and he’s the one who seems uneven and gauzy, often fatigued and unable to disguise being fed up with the slog. Even his speeches don’t have the same pizazz.
A man at a sports bar in Latrobe, Pa., advised Obama, “Get some sleep, Barack, you look like you’re tired, man.”
When the candidate noted he’s been running for president for 15 months, the guy offered another tip: “You need a drink.”
Obama disdains convention and touts his new politics, but on Friday, he had a news conference in an uninspired setting — a gas station emptied out by his Secret Service detail.
He doesn’t emulate Bobby Kennedy, who defied political tropes and underscored his concern about the poor by taking reporters on treks to rural Appalachia or odysseys to roiling inner cities for speeches on street corners.
With Indiana polls showing the Democratic combatants in a dead heat, and 21 percent of Democrats undecided, this is a perilous time for Obama to lose his fizz. He tried to recapture the magic — and erase the bowling debacle — by shooting hoops with kids in Kokomo on Friday night.
As a basketball player, he should know he’s in overtime in his race with Hillary — and overtime is not the period to indulge in whining. ... ( more )
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Friday, April 25, 2008
Crooks and Liars
April 24th, 2008
I was heartened when George Stephanopoulos–for all the heat he has taken over the ABC debate–asked John McCain a question on This Week this past Sunday that I have been waiting to hear the media ask the “straight-talker” for a long time now. To paraphrase, Stephanopoulos wondered why if government health care has been good enough for McCain to receive his entire life, it is not good enough for the rest of us?
That’s right, John McCain, the son of an Admiral, has had his healthcare taken care of by the government for the last seven decades at taxpayer expense. Yet, when asked this question, he was only able to muster a lame joke in response recounting the years he was being taken care of in a different country (where else but the Hanoi Hilton–which McCain wields like Giuliani did 9/11). In fact, McCain doesn’t even feel compelled to explain why he voted against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), so that countless children would lose the very government health care on which he has relied upon long enough that diapers have become bookends.
This wasn’t the first time I heard this question. It was brought up to me when I was speaking to a real straight-talking vet, Paul Hackett, for my book The Real McCain. But it was the first time the media brought it up, that I am aware of. And it shouldn’t be the last.
As for the rest of us, just remember this the next time McCain throws out some bogus charge about elitism at any Democrat, while lounging at one of his wife’s 8 homes. Or goes on a Barneys bender.© 2008 Crooks and Liars All Rights Reserved
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
April 22, 2008
McKEESPORT, Pa. -- Barack Obama doesn't expect to win Pennsylvania's primary on Tuesday, but why let that get in the way of a few more huge rallies? After all, if things go the way he expects them to, he'll be back in the fall, courting the state's 21 electoral votes instead of its 188 Democratic delegates. The polls show Hillary Clinton maintaining the lead she's held in the state for months, but it was Obama and his supporters who seemed like they were ready to celebrate Monday night.
He walked into a rally here straight from taping a "Daily Show" interview full of easygoing jokes. "I am so sorry we're late," Obama told the few thousand people crammed into a stuffy, hot gym. Most of them had waited at least three hours by the time he showed up and started speaking. They didn't care. "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!" the room erupted when he walked in. The ovations kept coming throughout the speech as Obama promised, with a staple part of his stump speech, to change politics in Washington and end "business as usual."
Obama may have reason to party; even a Clinton win will leave her with one fewer state remaining to close a delegate gap that puts her, every day, under pressure to get out of the race. But the path to this point has certainly been strange. By now, you could be forgiven for thinking that Pennsylvania had already voted, maybe two or three times. The nearly two-month campaign here has been so full of dramatic twists that fizzled after a few days of breathless coverage on cable news, so caught up in minicrises for each side, that it now seems like its own universe, detached from the rest of the race for the Democratic nomination.
For all that, though, on the night before the election, not much had changed from when the candidates first landed here. Clinton still leads in most polls, by at least six or seven points. Obama is still struggling to win over the white working-class voters who make up the swing bloc in statewide elections here. Sandwiched between contests in two other large, industrial Rust Belt states (Ohio and Indiana), Pennsylvania's primary may stand out mostly because, after an exhausting battle with record levels of TV advertising and massive voter interest, the race here is likely to produce a result predictable back on March 5: Clinton wins, but Obama still leads the delegate count.
The main difference between the end of the Pennsylvania campaign and the beginning was how nasty it got along the way. Clinton's final ad features images of Pearl Harbor, the stock market crash, the 1970s oil embargo, Osama bin Laden and Hurricane Katrina. A voiceover says, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Who do you think has what it takes?"
Clinton aides declared in a conference call Monday that the commercial wasn't negative; it merely made the case that Hillary, not Obama, is most qualified to be president. Her campaign's phone calls to voters also accused Obama of lying about his position on gun rights.
Obama wasn't sticking to the high road, as he previously sought to do. "She is a hardworking public servant, but Senator Clinton does not understand the need to fundamentally change how Washington works," he said Monday night in McKeesport. "We can't have lobbyists and special interests setting the agenda in Washington." His campaign was running ads implying Clinton was using "fear and calculation to divide us" and making its own harsh phone calls to prospective supporters. ... ( more )
Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The Huffington Post
April 14, 2008
You know, I just spent seven and a half years disagreeing with the administration that has given us an unprecedented military and economic mess. I saw it coming, it came, and in some ways it was worse, and promises to get worse, than I foresaw. I the course of these seven years, I have had my patriotism questioned and demeaned fairly often. I was even put in a book, as one of a hundred people who were hurting America.
When I got into this book, my relatives worried that I would get shot by some rightwing nut, even though several of them were and are rightwing nuts themselves (and they carry guns). All this time, though, I considered myself a patriot and a loyal American because I was able to see the destruction that was being wreaked upon the nation, and in particular, upon the middle and working classes, by the Republican liars and war criminals and job outsourcers and health care destroyers and army wreckers and infrastructure ignorers and media whores and agriculture blackmailers (see this month's Vanity Fair).
So now, Barack Obama tells the truth about conditions as we know them -- that the countryside and the small towns are dying in many places in our country, and that the corporatocracy doesn't care enough to do a thing about it. He points out that immigrant-baiting, gay-baiting, gun-baiting, and religious pandering have helped to destroy those towns and that countryside, that those being destroyed have been cynically enlisted by their very own destroyers to provide the votes that help accomplish the destruction. And this is what Senator Hillary Clinton says about it: "Senator Obama's remarks were elitist and out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans."
From Senator Clinton's remarks, I infer that to actually see what has gone on in the US in the last 20 years is unAmerican. It doesn't matter who you are, where you were born, what you pay in taxes, what else you might have contributed to the culture, how you vote, who you support. If you don't support fundamentalist religion, job outsourcing, and free access to guns, then you are not even American.
I cannot believe how angry this makes me. I cannot believe that after the last seven and a half years, I can even get this angry. Yes, I know she is pandering to her audience. Yes, I know she will do anything to get elected. Yes, I know that she and Bill Clinton are corrupt to the core, and that I should have never expected anything better of her.
But, please, any of you angry white women who still support this craven shill, don't mention it to me. Do me the following favor -- apologize to your children for not stopping the war that Hillary voted for, the war that is going to impoverish them. Then apologize to them for the effects of global warming that are going to make their lives hell. Then apologize to them for the school shooting they may someday see, the one where the kid gets the guns out of his father's gun case, or buys at a gunshow. Apologize to them for the meaningless wars they are going to fight and pay for. Then tell them that "American values" killed their hopes and maybe killed them. And ask them if they think it's going to be worth it.
Copyright © 2008 HuffingtonPost.com, Inc.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The New York Times
April 13, 2008
THE night before last week’s Senate hearings on our “progress” in Iraq, a goodly chunk of New York’s media and cultural establishment assembled in the vast lobby of the Museum of Modern Art. There were cocktails; there were waiters wielding platters of hors d’oeuvres; there was a light sprinkling of paparazzi. Then there was a screening. We trooped like schoolchildren to the auditorium to watch a grueling movie about the torture at Abu Ghraib.
Not just any movie, but “Standard Operating Procedure,” the new investigatory documentary by Errol Morris, one of our most original filmmakers. It asks the audience not just to revisit the crimes in graphic detail but to confront in tight close-up those who both perpetrated and photographed them. Because Mr. Morris has a complex view of human nature, he arouses a certain sympathy for his subjects, much as he did at times for Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary, in his Vietnam film, “Fog of War.”
More sympathy, actually. Only a few bad apples at the bottom of the chain of command took the fall for Abu Ghraib. No one above the level of staff sergeant went to jail, and no one remotely in proximity to a secretary of defense has been held officially accountable. John Yoo, the author of the notorious 2003 Justice Department memo rationalizing torture, has happily returned to his tenured position as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. So when Mr. Morris brings you face to face with Lynndie England — now a worn, dead-eyed semblance of the exuberant, almost pixie-ish miscreant in the Abu Ghraib snapshots — you’re torn.
Ms. England, who is now on parole, concedes that what she and her cohort did was “unusual and weird and wrong,” but adds that “when we first got there, the example was already set.” That reflection doesn’t absolve her of moral responsibility, but, like much in this film, it forces you to look beyond the fixed images of one of the most documented horror stories of our time.
Yet I must confess that, sitting in MoMA, I kept looking beyond the frame of Mr. Morris’s movie as well. While there’s really no right place to watch “Standard Operating Procedure,” the jarring contrast between the film’s subject and the screening’s grandiosity was a particularly glaring illustration of the huge distance that separates most Americans, and not just Manhattan elites, from the battle lines of our country’s five-year war. If Tom Wolfe was not in the audience to chronicle this cognitive dissonance, he should have been.
Mr. Morris’s movie starts fanning out to theaters on April 25. We don’t have to wait until then to know its fate. Sympathetic critics will tell us it’s our civic duty to see it. The usual suspects will try to besmirch Mr. Morris’s patriotism. But none of that will much matter. “Standard Operating Procedure” will reach the director’s avid core audience, but it is likely to be avoided by most everyone else no matter what praise or controversy it whips up.
It would take another column to list all the movies and TV shows about Iraq that have gone belly up at the box office or in Nielsen ratings in the nearly four years since the war’s only breakout commercial success, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” They die regardless of their quality or stand on the war, whether they star Tommy Lee Jones (“In the Valley of Elah”) or Meryl Streep (“Lions for Lambs”) or are produced by Steven Bochco (the FX series “Over There”) or are marketed like Abercrombie & Fitch apparel to the MTV young (“Stop-Loss”).
As The New York Times recently reported, box-office dread has driven one Hollywood distributor to repeatedly postpone the release of “The Lucky Ones,” a highly regarded and sympathetic feature about the war’s veterans, the first made with full Army assistance, even though the word Iraq is never spoken and the sole battle sequence runs 40 seconds. If Iraq had been mentioned in “Knocked Up” or “Superbad,” Judd Apatow’s hilarious hit comedies about young American guys who (like most of their peers) never consider the volunteer Army as an option, they might have flopped too. Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires.
This is not merely a showbiz phenomenon but a leading indicator of where our entire culture is right now. It’s not just torture we want to avoid. Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time. ... ( more )
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Monday, April 7, 2008
The New York Times
April 6, 2008
REALLY, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should be ashamed of themselves for libeling John McCain. As a growing chorus reiterates, their refrains that Mr. McCain is “willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq” (as Mr. Obama said) or “willing to keep this war going for 100 years” (per Mrs. Clinton) are flat-out wrong.
What Mr. McCain actually said in a New Hampshire town-hall meeting was that he could imagine a 100-year-long American role in Iraq like our long-term presence in South Korea and Japan, where “Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.” See for yourself on YouTube.
But Mr. McCain shouldn’t protest too much about the Democrats’ bogus attack. For him, this sideshow is a political lifeline, allowing him to skate away from his many other, far more worrying canards about Iraq. If anything, that misused quote may be one of his more benign fairy tales. How delightful to fantasize that staying the Bush-Petraeus course will transform Iraq into pacific postwar Japan. Iraq’s sects have remained at each other’s throats since their country was carved out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Perhaps magical thinking can bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians, too.
Everything else Mr. McCain has to say about Iraq is more troubling, and I don’t mean just his recent serial gaffe conflating Shiite Iran and Sunni Qaeda. The sum total of his public record suggests that he could well prolong the war for another century — not because he’s the crazed militarist portrayed by Democrats, but through sheer inertia, bad judgment and blundering.
So far his bizarre pronouncements have been drowned out by the Democrats’ din. They’ve also been underplayed by a press that coddles Ol’ Man Straight Talk and that rarely looks more deeply into the “surge is success” propaganda than it did into Mr. Bush’s announcement of the end of “major combat operations” five years ago. The electorate doesn’t want to hear much anyway about a war it long ago soundly rejected.
For the majority of Americans who haven’t met any of the brave troops who’ve been cavalierly tossed into the quagmire, the war is out of sight and mind in a way Vietnam never was. Only 28 percent of Americans knew American casualties in Iraq were nearing 4,000 last month, according to the Pew Research Center. The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that by March 2008 the percentage of prominent news stories that were about Iraq had fallen to about one-fifth of what it was in January 2007. It’s a poignant commentary on the whole war that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the nonpartisan advocacy group, was reduced to protesting the lack of coverage.
That’s why it’s no surprise that so few stopped to absorb the disastrous six-day battle of Basra that ended last week — a mini-Tet that belied the “success” of the surge. Even fewer noticed that the presumptive Republican nominee seemed at least as oblivious to what was going down as President Bush, no tiny feat. ... ( more )
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Friday, April 4, 2008
Elizabeth Edwards has cancer. John McCain has had cancer in the past. Last weekend, Mrs. Edwards bluntly pointed out that neither of them would be able to get insurance under Mr. McCain’s health care plan.
It’s about time someone said that and, more generally, made the case that Mr. McCain’s approach to health care is based on voodoo economics — not the supply-side voodoo that claims that cutting taxes increases revenues (though Mr. McCain says that, too), but the equally foolish claim, refuted by all available evidence, that the magic of the marketplace can produce cheap health care for everyone.
As Mrs. Edwards pointed out, the McCain health plan would do nothing to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to those, like her and Mr. McCain, who have pre-existing medical conditions.
The McCain campaign’s response was condescending and dismissive — a statement that Mrs. Edwards doesn’t understand the comprehensive nature of the senator’s approach, which would harness “the power of competition to produce greater coverage for Americans,” reducing costs so that even people with pre-existing conditions could afford care.
This is nonsense on multiple levels.
For one thing, even if you buy the premise that competition would reduce health care costs, the idea that it could cut costs enough to make insurance affordable for Americans with a history of cancer or other major diseases is sheer fantasy.
Beyond that, there’s no reason to believe in these alleged cost reductions. Insurance companies do try to hold down “medical losses” — the industry’s term for what happens when an insurer actually ends up having to honor its promises by paying a client’s medical bills. But they don’t do this by promoting cost-effective medical care.
Instead, they hold down costs by only covering healthy people, screening out those who need coverage the most — which was exactly the point Mrs. Edwards was making. They also deny as many claims as possible, forcing doctors and hospitals to spend large sums fighting to get paid.
... ( more )
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company