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February 28, 2005

If you've ever had the pleasure of, say, trying to clean up the mess after a well-intentioned campaign volunteer from the Enchanted Kingdom Caucus took it upon himself to answer a reporter's questions rather than passing the call along to a professional press person like he was supposed to, you'll understand my not-insignificant misgivings about the ongoing and seemingly inexorable rise of the Democratic party's activist wing. That said, though, there's an enormous amount of talent and energy in that group. And if they prove to be as willing to learn as they have been to donate their time and, in recent days, their dollars, this could turn out to be a very good thing indeed for a Democratic party that can no longer afford to consistently leave some of its most dynamic and committed players on the sidelines. Here's hoping, anyway. . . .

In his 1981 treatise on the horror genre, Danse Macabre, Stephen King argued that the schlocky '70s haunted house flick, The Amityville Horror, was popular in its day because it was really about the terrifying financial insecurity that so many middle-class families were experiencing at the time. In fact, if memory serves, I believe King called it the first economic horror story.

Well, it may have been the first, but it certainly wasn't the last or the best; any number of good ones have come along in the years since. And Kevin Drum has found one of the most unsettling you're likely to chance upon in a month of Sundays here.

February 25, 2005

Here's TNR on the [Warning: Orwellian Construction Ahead] Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which is expected to pass the Senate in the next few weeks.

[T]he bankruptcy bill is a catastrophe. Under the current system, bankruptcy courts have broad discretion to decide who can file for Chapter 7, which allows debtors to erase their obligations after forfeiting a state-determined percentage of their remaining assets, and Chapter 13, which requires strict repayment according to court-ordered schedules. Judges base their decisions as much on why the debt was accrued as on income; this way people who come into debt through no fault of their own can get a fresh start, while a judge can decide that a careless gambler must pay what he owes. But the new bill would replace judicial discretion with a means test on household income--those above a certain level would be forced to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy--dismantling the system's ability to discriminate among worthy and unworthy debtors. . . .

Meanwhile, the bill does nothing to limit the ability of wealthy debtors to take advantage of the system's numerous loopholes, such as shifting assets into property holdings or trusts. Nor does it deal with the ability of scandal-wracked firms to enter bankruptcy to protect themselves from legal claims, a tactic employed by Enron, WorldCom, and many other companies. This sets up a perverse situation: Not only is it already easy for companies in dire straits because of financial misdeeds to file for bankruptcy, thereby absolving them of requirements to pay their employees' wages and health insurance, but the bill also makes it harder for those employees, were they to be hit by high medical costs, to apply for the same relief.

I'm still a little weak from the bug I've been fighting off for the past few days, so insert your own outrage here. And read the rest there.

February 24, 2005

I'm running a pretty respectable fever at the moment, so my judgment may leave more than a bit to be desired, but this really does seem awfully troubling at first blush, doesn't it?

February 23, 2005

More later. Maybe.

POSTSCRIPT: Back to bed. . . .

February 22, 2005

I can't think of a way to quote Ogged's thoughtful post on political advocacy and the blogosphere in any kind of a meaningful way without either reproducing the whole thing, or ripping his comments completely out of context. So I'm going to simply ask you to follow this link to view his thoughts in their native environment.

FunctionalAmbivalent -- "Here's something I think no one but me can say honestly: Back when I had a brain tumor, Hunter Thompson visited me in my hospital room and autographed my Bible. . . ."

Via Howard Kurtz, here's one I missed over the weekend:

Nearly two out of three Republicans say they would support President Bush even if his political opponent were the father of our country.

In a theoretical matchup between George W. Bush and the other George W., George Washington, 62 percent of Republicans said they would vote for Bush and only 28 percent said they would back Gen. Washington. But because Democrats and independents went strongly for Washington, he held a healthy, 19-point advantage over Bush.

Sure, he wins by 19 points today. But let's see how strong he looks after the Valley Forge Veterans for Truth get finished with him. . . .

UPDATE: Oh, hell. That's what I get for (a) not finishing the article before blogging it, and (b) going for the obvious joke. Turns out, Kurtz used a similar line in the last graf of the piece linked above:

How soon they forget! G.W. needs an image consultant, a PAC and some 30-second ads about that crossing-the-Delaware thing. (Though would that produce a rival blitz by Delaware Veterans for Truth?)

Sorry all.

The Gadflyer asks, "Just who is the Council for National Policy, and why aren't they paying taxes?" Which, as it turns out, is a pretty good question.

Are politicians who promise to lower physicians' insurance rates by limiting jury awards committing policy malpractice? Perhaps:

[L]egal costs do not seem to be at the root of the recent increase in malpractice insurance premiums. Government and industry data show only a modest rise in malpractice claims over the last decade. And last year, the trend in payments for malpractice claims against doctors and other medical professionals turned sharply downward, falling 8.9 percent, to a nationwide total of $4.6 billion, according to data compiled by the Health and Human Services Department.

"There is an underlying cost push," said J. Robert Hunter, the director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, who is a former insurance regulator in Texas. "But there has not been an explosion of big jury verdicts or settlements. It's a constant drip, drip every year."

Lawsuits against doctors are just one of several factors that have driven up the cost of malpractice insurance, specialists say. Lately, the more important factors appear to be the declining investment earnings of insurance companies and the changing nature of competition in the industry.

The recent spike in premiums - which is now showing signs of steadying - says more about the insurance business than it does about the judicial system. . . .

Data compiled by both the federal government and by insurance organizations show costs for the insurance companies climbing steadily over the last decade at an average annual rate of about 3 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Over most of that period, premiums for doctors rose modestly and sometimes even dropped as the insurance companies battled for market share in a scramble to collect more money to invest in strong bond and stock markets. But when the markets turned sour and the reserves of insurers shriveled, companies began to double and triple the costs for doctors.

Like a lot of folks, I sympathize with MDs on this issue, and I'm not opposed to addressing it legislatively. Still, it doesn't seem unreasonable to demand that any proposed solution to the problem might actually have the effect of, you know, solving the problem. And since we're dealing with real people's lives here (malpractice does happen, after all, and the results are sometimes quite horrific), we need to make sure that we keep our legislative priorities straight on this one: First, do no harm. . . .

February 21, 2005

According to the BBC, the Committee to Protect Bloggers has deemed tomorrow Free Mojtaba and Arash Day, and is asking bloggers around the world to participate in a variety of ways. (Bloggers Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad are currently in prison in Iran.) And while I have to tell you that I know far less about the Committee and its efforts than I probably should (just what Jeff Jarvis tells me, in fact), it would certainly seem to be a more than worthy cause.

Assuming that the scoop about John Fund's upcoming scoop (don't you love the blogosphere?) pans out, I have to say that Newt Gingrich's political judgment seems spot on to me. Condi-mania aside, that's a pretty weak-looking Republican field, particularly on the hard right. Why not take a shot?

Links via James Joyner and Glenn Reynolds.

POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of Glenn, his wife Helen's surgery is now under way. Again, best wishes and Godspeed.

UPDATE: Good news indeed.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Oops. It seems I may have left a false impression above. As regular readers will know, I'm not supporting Newt Gingrich for president -- just noting that a weak field makes almost anything possible.

When Democrats ponder the GOP's policy agenda, they almost always make the same mistake, says Mark Schmitt. They assume the Republicans are being serious.

February 20, 2005

It's hard to know what to make of Mark Steyn's tasteful remembrance of Arthur Miller, "Ballyhooed 'Crucible' was way out in left field," except, of course, to note that its central thesis -- well captured by the title -- is lit-crit on a par with the observation that Hemingway was really into balls. Still, one must assume that Mr. Steyn knows his audience better than anyone else.

Besides, I speak my own sins. I cannot judge another.

UDATE/RELATED: Hunter S. Thompson, Author, Commits Suicide

Can our conservative friends make a plausible sounding argument that the Social Security Trust Fund is just a big lie? Sure. But only if they're prepared to start out by calling President Ronald Wilson Reagan a big liar.

Over at DonkeyRising, Alan Abramowitz avers that "the dominant political creed in America today is neither conservatism nor liberalism but centrism," and he's right. A solid majority of our fellow citizens could be brought together fairly easily around a set of practical, non-ideological solutions to many of the nation's most pressing challenges.

Sadly, though, there's real cash to be copped in today's atomized media environment by making America's ongoing experiment in self-government look like a Sherwood Schwartz production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. And as long as that's the case, the Beltway players will keep learning their lines and hitting their marks. And the American people will keep trying to puzzle out the plot of a national debate that's all cheap jokes, chewed scenery and false choices.

February 19, 2005

According to the feds, some e-mail scammers have trained their sights on a new group of potential victims: the families of troops killed in Iraq.

February 18, 2005

The folks at the General Accounting Office have examined the results of a Social Security privatization experiment that's been underway in three Texas counties since 1981, and here's what they have to say: "Our simulations found that low wage earners retiring today generally would have qualified for higher retirement incomes had they been under Social Security. Many median wage earners, while initially receiving higher benefits under the [plan], would have eventually received larger benefits under Social Security because Social Security's benefits are indexed for inflation."

And what does that mean in the real world? "I get around $460 per month now," says one retiree, "but under Social Security, I would have gotten $1,000. They are putting this up to be a model for the rest of the country. Some model."

Uh, huh. Some model, indeed. And the rest is here. (Via Charles Kuffner.)

I somehow missed this Matthew Yglesias post yesterday, but it's more than worth going back for:

I'd be interested in hearing the views of the "responsible" right out there. Power Line is not an obscure site by any means. Indeed, it's become one of the most prominent nodes in the conservative blogosphere. Do others out there think Jimmy Carter is on the other side? Working in league with Osama bin Laden and others who seek the mass murder of American citizens? Or is this more the sort of situation where an increasingly shrill and hysterical right-wing has, despite its monopoly on political power in this country, chosen to adopt a bizarre paranoid worldview in which the fact that many people (including almost half of the American population and an absolute majority of the citizens of the world) think it's policies are misguided is equivalent to the existence of a vast global conspiracy to advance the jihad?

That's a good question. And one that our friends on the right really do need to answer.

Slate's Fred Kaplan has an interesting -- and generally positive -- take on John Negroponte's appointment as director of national intelligence.

Several years ago, when the blogosphere was young and I was the proprietor of a site called PoliticalProfessional.com, Mrs. O'Toole File developed some fairly serious health problems. Unsurprisingly, blogging quickly became the least of my concerns, and Political Professional was put on indefinite hiatus.

Anyway, to make a long story post length, one blogger I knew a little bit in those days made a point of dropping me a line from time to time during all that, offering encouragement, asking after Mrs. O'Toole File, etc. And while I would never dream of embarrassing that person by telling you who it was, I would like to take a moment this morning to wish Mrs. Instapundit all the best and a speedy recovery (an InstaRecovery?).

Mrs. O'TF and I are thinking of you both. . . .

POSTSCRIPT: Forgive the personal post. I know it's not really what you stop by here for. But at least now I probably won't get any more pissygrams ("How can you say you like InstaHack, you MORON????") when I try to leaven my occasional criticisms of Glenn's political commentary with a kind personal word or two.

February 17, 2005

President Kennedy once looked out at a room full of Nobel laureates and said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

Apparently, some religious conservatives in Virginia would take issue with that assessment of Mr. Jefferson's abilities.

February 16, 2005

More on the controversy surrounding New York State GOP Chairman Stephen Minarik in the update below.

February 15, 2005

"No administration since [Lyndon B. Johnson's] has had a more successful legislative record than this one. From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the 'poor people stuff.'"

-- David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, on the Bush administration's "failure to secure $8 billion in promised funding for the faith-based initiative in the first term," in today's Washington Post

State GOP Big: Dems Party of Terror (New York Post)

In a stunning attack, the head of the New York Republican Party yesterday charged that Democrats are the party of terrorist supporters.

State GOP Chairman Steven [sic] Minarik, commenting on the selection of Howard Dean as the national Democratic leader, called Democrats the party of Lynne Stewart, who was convicted last week for aiding convicted terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.

"The Democrats simply have refused to learn the lessons of the past two election cycles, and now they can be accurately called the party of Barbara Boxer, Lynne Stewart, and Howard Dean," Minarik said.

"Howard Dean is the personification of today's national Democratic Party ó elite, radical, out-of-control and, sadly, out of touch with ordinary Americans."

Minarik's bid to link the Democrats to terrorism drew a furious response.

"Don't accuse the 5.5 million Democrats in this state of treason if you hope to win our votes," said Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the state Democrats.

"And if you make that mistake again, you best be prepared to make it to my face," Wolfson added. "Because we love this country much too much to allow you to ever question our patriotism."

Needless to say, this is just, well, insane. Not only is Mr. Minarik engaging in the vilest sort of demagoguery, he's profoundly insulting a majority of the state's voters.

You know, I'm not generally one for scalp hunting, but an exception may be warranted in this case. Moreover, if I were a Republican who expected to see his name on a New York state ballot any time in the near future, I think I just might join the hunting party.

UPDATE: "The Democrats would be wise to take action on members like Lynne Stewart, rather than attacking me," says Minarik. But Republican Gov. George Pataki, who does, in fact, expect to see his name on a New York state ballot soon, disagrees: "The Democratic Party doesn't have anything to do with Lynne Stewart. . . . Obviously, she was found guilty of a heinous criminal act and that is not something within the realm of appropriate political discourse in New York state." State Senate Minority Leader David Paterson adds, "I think the Republican Party has to reconsider whether or not he should be running it."

Yep. And if we Democrats don't take advantage of this perhaps unique opportunity to establish the principle that neo-McCarthyism is completely out of bounds in the war on terror, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves as the problem metastasizes in the months and years ahead.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On the other hand, we could just attack each other. . . .

MORE: "Why, oh why, do left-wing blogs not keep this kind of odious insanity ever before the public eye, like right-wing blogs with their Democratic Underground posts and their Ward Churchill obsession?"

EVEN MORE: Okay, so I've already gotten a nasty email about the friendly little poke I took at Oliver Willis above. And I'm sorry if that irked some folks. But I'm a little irked by the constant suggestion that moderate Democrats who reluctantly supported the war in Iraq are, by definition, "phony Democrats." Look, maybe Dems like Marty Frost and Joe Biden and, well, me aren't your cup of tea. That's fine. But a minority party just can't afford these kinds of unnecessary divisions. And now that Howard Dean has been elected chairman of the DNC, I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to ask some of our more feisty brethren to be magnanimous enough to, uh, give peace a chance.

FINAL NOTE (I THINK): Were I as irresponsible and unfair as Mr. Minarik, I'd probably observe that it's awfully rich when the party of David Duke complains about things like this.

See? It's no fun to be accused of guilt by association. . . .

February 14, 2005

Abbas Declares War With Israel Effectively Over (NYT)

The new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview this weekend that the war with the Israelis is effectively over and that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is speaking "a different language" to the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon's commitment to withdraw from Gaza and dismantle all Israeli settlements there and four in the West Bank, despite "how much pressure is on him from the Israeli Likud rightists," Mr. Abbas said, "is a good sign to start with" on the road to real peace.

"And now he has a partner," Mr. Abbas said.

Pretty to think so, huh? And maybe -- just maybe -- things will prove to be different with Abbas at the helm in the PA. But no grand pronouncements or premature Peace Prizes this time, okay? As Kevin Drum wisely said the other day, baby steps. . . .

Mad Kane: "I've always fantasized about being a White House correspondent. But until now, I've never sought so lofty a position because -- silly me -- I assumed you had to be an actual journalist. . . ."

February 09, 2005

I'm so damned disgusted with the brain-dead nastiness of the political blogosphere at the moment (things have gotten so bad that a once fair-minded guy like Glenn Reynolds now apparently sees no problem with approvingly linking to a piece that accuses liberals of actively supporting radical Islamic terrorism) that I've decided to step back from the whole discussion for a couple of days.

So here's an interesting -- and thoroughly apolitical -- link via Boing Boing: Tobias Buckell's "How much does a science fiction or fantasy writer make?"

Enjoy.

UPDATE: Over the weekend, Glenn responded to a related post by Ted Barlow over at Crooked Timber, and his reply contained this noteworthy passage:

But maybe the emails I get from Oliver Willis, accusing me of thinking that everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman is a traitor, reflect a broader view rather than, as I assumed, just Oliver. So, in the interest of clarity: No, I don't think that. I do think that it's unfortunate that the Democrats decided to make the war their big issue for the election -- I suspect that they do, too, now -- and I think that it was unseemly and wrong for them to embrace Michael Moore, etc. That's hardly the same as calling them terrorists. [Emph. added.]

I think Glenn is being completely sincere here. He really is offended by the Dems' "embrace" of Michael Moore. The problem is that we Democrats are being equally sincere when we say that the GOP's relentless pimping of the Swift Boat allegations was, to borrow Glenn's apt phrase, unseemly and wrong. And that makes it just about impossible to have a real dialogue. Any conservative who acknowledges that President Bush's numbers don't add up on Social Security is in league with bad people. Any lib who recognizes that the elections in Iraq went better than expected is working with the enemy.

Frankly, I don't know how we're supposed to get past this. The feelings are hard and genuine on both sides. But I do know that the blogosphere is going to be a pretty unpleasant place until we do.

UPDATE: Related story here.

February 07, 2005

After several years of shilly-shallying, the CIA has apparently agreed to fully disclose information related to its postwar relationships with Nazi war criminals.

Under pressure from Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency has formally agreed to a broad new interpretation of a 1998 law that requires disclosure of classified records related to Nazi war criminals, a C.I.A. document shows.

Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, praised the action in an interview on Sunday as a "major breakthrough" in a dispute that had been waged in private for more than two years. Mr. DeWine presided last week over what he called "a very blunt meeting" on the subject with C.I.A. officials, and he had threatened to summon Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence, to testify in public on the matter.

The document was sent as an e-mail message late Friday to members of a government working group charged with reviewing the records. In the message, the C.I.A. reversed a legal stance in which it had argued that the law required disclosure only of records related to war crimes, not war criminals, and did not apply to information about the agency's postwar dealings with former Nazis....

In the message, the C.I.A. explicitly pledged for the first time to "acknowledge any relationship" between the C.I.A. and SS members, regardless of whether there was any information specifically tying them to war crimes. The message said the C.I.A. had also agreed that documents "concerning acts performed by Nazi war criminals, to include members of the SS, on behalf of C.I.A." are relevant and are subject to disclosure under the law.

LINK

NOTE: With apologies to Mort Sahl.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice has moved. Good luck in the new place, Joe.

February 06, 2005

Via Romenesko, perhaps the most amusing Fox News anecdote to date.

"Don't tell me Democrats don't stand for anything. We do. We stand for work and opportunity. We know when something is right. And we know when something's wrong.

"It is wrong when our neighbors work full time and still live in poverty."

-- Former Democratic vice presidential hopeful John Edwards

RELATED:
Edwards to Lead UNC's New Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity

Special interests held harmless, police and firefighters screwed.

Tell me again why we should trust these guys with Social Security. . . .

The president as Zig Ziglar.

RELATED:
Zuckerman: Why Bush is wrong
Details reveal drawbacks of Social Security investment plan

February 04, 2005

"I've talked to some of my colleagues and they're panic-stricken."

--Rep. Mark Foley(R-FL), on GOP reaction to President Bush's plan to end Social Security as we know it

February 02, 2005

I've been rather derelict in my blogging duties for the past few days (work, you know), but I expect that to end with tonight's SOTU. So, if you're of a mind to stop by this evening, I'll see you then.

UPDATE (2/3, 1:45 AM): So much for live-blogging the SOTU; I drifted off during the pregame show and slept right through the speech.

Ain't middle age grand?

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