Sunday, August 2, 2009

Last Call

With all the crazy stuff going on in the world, at least it's good to know that Michael Phelps is still the man.
Michael Phelps and the U.S. 400-meter medley relay team closed the fastest meet in swimming history with an appropriate finish Sunday night - the 43rd world record.

Phelps earned his fifth gold medal of a world championships that showed he's still got plenty of motivation, even after winning a record eight times at the Beijing Olympics.

Swimming the butterfly leg, Phelps helped the U.S. pull away from Germany and Australia to win in 3 minutes, 27.28 seconds. That easily broke the mark set by the Americans at last summer's Olympics, 3:29.34.

Eric Shanteau, who overcame testicular cancer to swim his best times, picked up the first major gold medal of his career by taking the breaststroke leg, to go along with a silver and bronze in Rome. The other members of the winning team were backstroker Aaron Peirsol and David Walters, swimming the freestyle anchor.
Oh, and Tiger Woods won the Buick Open too.

It's almost like the universe is back to normal again. Almost.

New Gitmo, Same As The Old Gitmo

Via TalkLeft, the AP is reporting that the new improved replacement for Gitmo sounds...remarkably like Gitmo, only in Kansas or Michigan.
The Obama administration is looking at creating a courtroom-within-a-prison complex in the U.S. to house suspected terrorists, combining military and civilian detention facilities at a single maximum-security prison.

Several senior U.S. officials said the administration is eyeing a soon-to-be-shuttered state maximum security prison in Michigan and the 134-year-old military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as possible locations for a heavily guarded site to hold the 229 suspected al-Qaida, Taliban and foreign fighters now jailed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

The officials outlined the plans — the latest effort to comply with President Barack Obama's order to close the prison camp by Jan. 22, 2010, and satisfy congressional and public fears about incarcerating terror suspects on American soil — on condition of anonymity because the options are under review.

The only problem is, as Jeralyn says:
So there are two classes of detainees the Administration plans to keep detained without charges or trial or after acquittal or a court-ordered release.
And closing Gitmo and reopening this place would be a completely useless gesture on President Obama's part, but hey, he'd be keeping that January 2010 promise.

None of the Gitmo detainees would have any rights still, but at least we won't have to fly detainees as far. Perhaps the guards could get Taco Bell or something, maybe that would keep them from going rogue with the battery cables. Needless to say, yet another President Odubya moment.

The Old Man Of The Village

Sen. John McCain has more helpful advice for the President. Some of it is actually worth listening to.
“I think they may have over-learned the lesson of the Clinton proposal in '93, where there were totally specific proposals.,” McCain said. “Now there's not enough. “At this point, I think the administration and the president has to be more specific."
Which, actually makes sense, and it's something I've been saying for a while now. Unfortunately, the rest of McCain's interview is filled with the usual GOP projectionist blather.
In an interview taped Friday on Capitol Hill, McCain said his general-election opponent is “not changing the climate in Washington” as promised.

McCain said he has “not seen” a “public option,” or government plan, he could support.

“The co-ops remind us all of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” he told anchor John King. “And so I have not seen a public option that, in my view, meets the test of what would really not eventually lead to a government take over.”

King asked McCain if Obama has “failed the test he laid out at [an inaugural] dinner, to be truly bipartisan.”

“I'm afraid they have,” McCain replied. “And, look, they've got the votes. We understand that. They had the votes in the stimulus package, in the budget, in the omnibus, in the SCHIP [children’s health insurance], all this legislation. And they have picked off, sometimes, two or three Republicans.

“But that's not changing the climate in Washington. What that is, is exercising a significant majority. And so I respect their successes, but please don't call it changing the climate in Washington.”

Because 95% to 100% of the GOP voting against the President's agenda is all the President's fault, you see. Republicans taking responsibility for their own actions when there's an Obama to blame? Not going to happen. So the vicious attacks the GOP are launching are Obama's fault. They just have to call him a racist, you see.

In that way, I guess the GOP really has changed the climate in Washington. It's a poor excuse.

It's A Psycho-Birther Freakout

Frank Rich analyzes the Birther movement and comes up with a diagnosis that readers of ZVTS will be familiar with: there's a healthy chunk of the American population (particularly in the South) that is simply not capable of accepting minorities in positions of power, influence, and authority, and that some in the Village are going along with it as well.
Ground zero for this hysteria is Fox News, where Brit Hume last Sunday lamented how insulting it is “to be labeled a racist” in “contemporary” America. “That fact has placed into the hands of certain people a weapon,” he said, as he condemned Gates for hurling that weapon at a police officer. Gates may well have been unjust — we don’t know that Crowley is a racist — but the professor was provoked by being confronted like a suspect in the privacy of his own home.

What about those far more famous leaders in Hume’s own camp who insistently cry “racist” — and in public forums — without any credible justification whatsoever? These are the “certain people” Hume conspicuously didn’t mention. They include Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, both of whom labeled Sonia Sotomayor a racist. Their ranks were joined last week by Glenn Beck, who on Fox News inexplicably labeled Obama a racist with “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” presumably including his own mother.

What provokes their angry and nonsensical cries of racism is sheer desperation: an entire country is changing faster than these white guys bargained for. We’ve been reminded repeatedly during Gatesgate that Cambridge’s mayor is a black lesbian. But a more representative window into the country’s transition might be that Dallas County, Tex., elected a Latina lesbian sheriff in 2004 (and re-elected her last year) and that the three serious candidates for mayor of Houston this fall include a black man and a white lesbian.

Even Texas may be tinting blue, and as goes Texas, so will all but the dwindling rural minority of the Electoral College. Last month the Census Bureau released a new analysis of the 2008 presidential election results finding that increases among minority voters accounted for virtually all the five million additional votes cast in comparison to 2004. Black women had a higher turnout rate than any other group, and young blacks turned out at a higher rate than young whites.

It’s against this backdrop that 11 Republican congressmen have now signed on to a bill requiring that presidential candidates produce their birth certificates. This bizarre “birther” movement, out to prove that Obama is not a naturally born citizen, first gained notice in the summer of 2008 when it was being advanced by the author Jerome Corsi, a leader of the Swift boat assault on Kerry. That it revved up again as Gatesgate boiled over and Sotomayor sped toward Senate confirmation is not a coincidence.

Obama’s election, far from alleviating paranoia in the white fringe, has only compounded it. There is no purer expression of this animus than to claim that Obama is literally not an American — or, as Sarah Palin would have it, not a “real American.” The birth-certificate canard is just the latest version of those campaign-year attempts to strip Obama of his American identity with faux controversies over flag pins, the Pledge of Allegiance and his middle name. Last summer, Cokie Roberts of ABC News even faulted him for taking a vacation in his home state of Hawaii, which she described as a “foreign, exotic place,” in contrast to her proposed choice of Myrtle Beach, S.C., in the real America of Dixie.

And Rich is absolutely right. There really are Two Americas (to borrow a phrase), one where the reality is a black man is President, and the other where the reality is he's not, where his authority, power, and influence is simply not recognized as valid.

If you're capable of deluding yourself to that point in order to invalidate Barack Obama's legitimacy as President, then you're capable of a great many acts of reducing minorities as a whole to the status of invalid: invalid as authority figures, invalid as having rights, even invalid as being human.

And once you reach that level of delusion, you're then capable of a great many acts of hatred and anger...even of violence. This of course is my real fear, that as these idiots on FOX and other media outlets continue to stoke this hysteria that it will reach some sort of critical mass, and explode into something much darker and much more violent. The more it is fed, the larger it becomes, and the more likely it is to spiral out of control.

Eventually America is going to have to confront this head on and deal with it. But if anything, the last month or so has shown us that there are millions of Americans who aren't even close to being able to deal with this happening in their lifetimes yet.

We have a long, painful road ahead of us all. Pray it is not a road soaked in blood, as way too often this path has been in the past.

[UPDATE 11:41 AM] Via Steve Benen, the mathematical breakdown of last week's Daily Kos poll shows that white Southerners overwhelmingly have doubts about Obama's origins.

So what proportion of Southern whites doubt that Obama is an American citizen? While Ali did not release the racial breakdowns for the the South, and cautioned that the margin of error in the smaller sample of 720 people would be larger than the national margin of error (2 percent), the proportion of white Southern voters with doubts about their president’s citizenship may be higher than 70 percent. More than 30 percent of the people polled in the South were non-white, and very few of them told pollsters that they had questions about Obama’s citizenship. In order for white voters to drive the South’s “don’t know” number to 30 percent and it’s “born outside the United States” number to 23 percent, as many as three-quarters of Southern whites told pollsters that they didn’t know where Obama was born.

One thing to keep in mind, if only a quarter or a fifth of white Southerners believe Obama was born in the United States, that’s more than voted for him last year in some states. Obama won 14 percent of the white vote in Louisiana, 14 percent in Mississippi, and 10 percent in Alabama.

Food for thought.

Obamacare's Nuclear Option

Honestly, I'd like to know what game Carl Hulse of the NY Times is playing here with his article implying that The Legislative Procedure That Dare Not Speak Its Name, taking health care reform through the budget reconciliation process, is such a huge, dark secret. It's not.
With bipartisan health care negotiations teetering, Democrats are talking reluctantly — and very, very quietly — about exploiting a procedural loophole they planted in this year’s budget to skirt Republican filibusters against a health care overhaul.

They are talking reluctantly because using the tactic, officially known as reconciliation, would present a variety of serious procedural and substantive obstacles that could result in a piecemeal health bill. And they are whispering because the mere mention of reconciliation touches partisan nerves and could be viewed as a threat by the three Republicans still engaged in the delicate talks, causing them to collapse.

Yet with the discussions so far failing to produce an agreement, Democrats are exploring whether they could use the tactic as a last resort to secure a health care victory if they have to go it alone. The answer: It would not be pretty and it would not be preferable, but it could be doable.

No, reconciliation is not preferable. But it's something the Democrats have signaled they would be willing to use all the way back in April:
The deal was hatched late afternoon and last night, in a five-hour negotiating session at the office of Senate Majoriy Leader Harry Reid. A trio of White House officials were there: Rahm Emanuel, Peter Orszag, and Phil Schiliro. Also present, along with Reid, were House Budget Chairman John Spratt and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad.

The reonciliation instruction specifies a date. That date, according to one congressional staffer, is October 15. (The original House reconciliation instruction had a late September deadline.)

In other words, the House and Senate each have until that day to pass health care legislation.

So the Republicans and the Democrats have both been working under this particular deadline since the process started.

But here's what really bothers me about the Times article: listening to Sen. Kent Conrad complain about reconciliation...a deal he signed on to back in April.

Mr. Conrad, who is one of the Democrats bargaining with Republicans, has been advising that fashioning a health care plan under byzantine reconciliation rules is a bad idea. From his perspective, a major impediment is the fact that the plans devised by the Senate finance and health panels would have to produce $2 billion in savings over five years and not add to the deficit after that.

Considering the upfront costs of trying to bring all Americans under the health insurance umbrella, and the fact that some of the structural health care changes that lawmakers are eyeing might not produce immediate savings, the deficit rules could severely limit the scope of a bill.

“You would have a very difficult time getting universal coverage in reconciliation,” Mr. Conrad said.

Here's a question I have for the Senator: Why do we even need reconciliation in the first place when Democrats have a huge margin in the house and 60 votes in the Senate? There should be no need for reconciliation: none whatsoever.

That is unless Democrats like Kent Conrad aren't committed to getting the President's goals into legislation and passing them in the bill. If that's the case, then Democrats have a bit of an issue.

Not to tell Rahmbo, Orszag and the Axe how to do their job, but any Democratic senator yammering on about the evils of reconciliation in the Village Press should have a big ol' target on them for some serious arm-twisting action over August. You want to know where to put those ad blitzes proclaiming ordinary Americans need health care reform?

Try North Dakota, for starters.

Just saying. Kent Conrad just might be a problem.

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