Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I've tried to make the point...

...that it would be dangerous (and unpatriotic) for people like me to root for tea party candidates in Republican primaries (although it's especially difficult not to in John McCain's case). After all, they could conceivably win a general election, and then where in God's name would we be?

Jonathan Chait makes the case really well in the New Republic today.

As long as I'm beating up on...

...poor ol' Mitt Romney, I might as well pile it on. In a piece yesterday in the New Republic, Jonathan Chait wrote:

“Basically, it’s the same thing,’’ said Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who advised the Romney and Obama administrations on their health insurance programs. A national health overhaul would not have happened if Mitt Romney had not made “the decision in 2005 to go for it. He is in many ways the intellectual father of national health reform.’’

Now if I were advising Romney (and my phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook), I'd tell him that instead of all the mental gymnastics of how Romneycare is different from Obamacare (and better), why not just get out in front on the issue? Why not say something like, "I did health care reform in Massachusetts when the president was still in the Illinois state senate. I'd be a better leader!" That way you could claim to be both competent and innovative.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy privately criticized Richard Nixon for talking down to voters. Romney would do well to listen to that.

There's more buzz in one of my favorite blogs...

...about a possible run for president by South Dakota Senator John Thune in 2012. This tells me a couple of things. First, the GOP is still frantically searching for an alternative to Sarah Palin. Neither Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Rick Santorum, or anyone else I've forgotten has generated much interest.

Second, the health care reform bill has probably hurt Mitt Romney more with party insiders than casual observers know. (It couldn't have helped recently when President Obama said, "This is similar to the bill that Mitt Romney, the Republican governor and now presidential candidate, passed in Massachusetts." Ouch! In the famous words of Jed Clampett, "Quit helpin' me, boy.")

And to make matters even worse, Romney has been practically twisting himself into a pretzel trying to claim that his plan is not only different from the president's, but successful as well (the Republican base would probably beg to differ on both counts). And this highlights what I think could be Romney's biggest problem. Never mind that he's a dreadful campaigner and a Mormon stuck in a less and less tolerant Evangelical Christian party. Romney's biggest deficit is his lack of authenticity, something voters today value highly. And that's why I'm becoming more and more persuaded (despite what I've said previously about Newt Gingrich) that Sarah Palin may be the person to beat for the GOP nomination in 2012. If nothing else, she has authenticity.

But the Republican pooh-bahs will continue to thrash about desperately for a candidate like Thune who can appeal to both the party's base and the establishment--no small accomplishment. They're not stupid. They know if Palin gets the nomination it will be, to quote George W. Bush on John McCain's 2008 campaign, a "five spiral crash."

It's been almost a week now...

...since my father fell down and had emergency brain surgery. He still hasn't regained consciousness, and the doctor met with the members of my family in Minnesota yesterday. Afterward, my mother and my sister consulted with the priest that anointed my father.

My brother arranged a conference call last night for the immediate family, and we all agreed that the best course of action would be to just keep my dad as comfortable as possible in his last days.

The song of the..., today, is a sad one. (If you click on "more info" in the upper right corner you can follow the lyrics in English.) It's about the singer's lover, I presume. But it seemed to capture my mood anyway.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mark Kirk is the first Republican...

...(that I know of) to back away from repealing the health care bill. Come November, HCR won't even be an issue.

Next: Mitt Romney will soon be denying he was ever in favor of repeal.

Here's a pretty good piece called...

...A History of Obama Feigning Interest in Mundane Things.

Time for some wild predictions...

...(the news is slow). Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is expected to retire soon (that's not one of my predictions). President Obama will replace him with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden will move over to State, and Obama will select his heir apparent as vice president from a list of individuals including, but not limited to, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, or Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.

Kooky talk, you say? Perhaps. But I've read Hillary's name in connection with the Supreme Court before. I've also read that she's rapidly getting tired of her job at State; the travel, in particular, is tremendously draining (and she has a wedding to plan!). The Supreme Court could actually be a better fit for her interests, her voice on the Court would be a reliably progressive one, and Senate confirmation would be a walk in the park. Four years at State would make more sense, but Stevens's retirement could move that timetable up. Remember, man plans and God laughs.

Joe Biden, human gaffe machine, at State? Am I crazy? Maybe; it might be just too great a stretch after all. But that was the job Biden originally wanted, he sees himself more in that role, and it could also head off another Dick Cheney-type dilemma--a veep too old to run in 2016, leaving a messy succession. (John Kerry might actually be a more logical selection for State. He originally wanted the job, too, and was an early supporter of Obama in '08.) Maybe Biden could switch places with someone else, like Sebelius. But HHS might turn out to be too important of a job in the wake of the health care bill's passage; implementation will be huge.

This prediction stuff can be complicated.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm finally back at my desk...

...after a long weekend in Minnesota. My 90-year-old father fell down and hit his head on Wednesday night and had to have emergency brain surgery. My mother called me on Thursday morning and told me that the doctor had put his chances of surviving the surgery at 50/50 (with his age working against him).

Since one of my brothers who lives in Minnesota was in Florida on vacation, I jumped into my Honda and drove the six and a half hours up to my parents' condo and stayed with my mother until yesterday morning. We visited my father in the hospital; he has yet to regain consciousness. And it was quite a sobering sight: ventilator, tubes coming out of everywhere, unintelligible monitors and screens, etc. I sure hope my own kids never have to see me like that.

My brother arrived on Saturday and my sister from Naperville is flying up today. We're all just waiting for my father to regain consciousness. The neurosurgeon told us that every day that he doesn't is discouraging. Once he does regain consciousness--and the doctor said pretty much everyone does--it will be a question of what level and quality. At that point we can plan for the next step.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

There's an article in the Times today about...

...Elizabeth Warren, the head of Congressional oversight for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. (Stay with me. This isn't about dry financial stuff; it's about that old chestnut, "Nature vs. Nurture." Huh?) Buried deep in the piece is this paragraph:

“I learned early on what debt means, how vulnerable it makes people, what the security of owning a home means,” Ms. Warren said, her eyes welling. Even today, said Ms. Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, her mother is so frugal that she eats shriveled grapes out of the fruit bowl.

Does Ms. Warren eat shriveled grapes because of her upbringing, or because she is simply wired that way? I would submit it's because of the latter.

My mother and mother-in-law came from similar backgrounds. They both grew up in modest circumstances during the Great Depression. Like a lot of other people, they participated in the great prosperity following World War II. But while my mother was (and still is) the type to eat those last shriveled grapes (me, too, by the way), my mother-in-law would gladly throw those grapes away in favor of fresh ones. Why? My mother always cited her background; they never had much and appreciated everything they had. It was a sin to waste anything, especially food. My mother-in-law would also cite her background to explain her reason for eschewing those nasty little shriveled grapes. You see, her family never had much and considered it a sin to waste anything, especially food. Well, since then her circumstances had changed dramatically. So much, in fact, that she never had to eat shriveled grapes again. She could afford to throw them away and buy some nice fresh ones. Isn't America a great country?

My point is that while my mother and mother-in-law grew up in similar circumstances (nurture), they reacted completely differently to the prospect of eating shriveled grapes. My contention is that they were just simply wired differently (nature), and would have had the same response to shriveled grapes regardless. The same is true for Ms. Warren and me. While she supposedly learned from her background not to waste grapes, I became reluctant to waste grapes even though I was raised in a house where we could afford to waste those grapes. Maybe she and I are just wired the same; maybe circumstances don't have anything to do with it.

The "song" of the...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another good blog I have found...

...recently is Bruce Bartlett, an economist from the Reagan administration, wrote a good piece the other day about the tea partiers. (All emphasis mine.)

The first question that was asked concerned the size of government. Tea partiers were asked how much the federal government gets in taxes as a percentage of the gross domestic product. According to Congressional Budget Office data, acceptable answers would be 6.4%, which is the percentage for federal income taxes; 12.7%, which would be for both income taxes and Social Security payroll taxes; or 14.8%, which would represent all federal taxes as a share of GDP in 2009.

Not everyone follows these numbers closely and tea partiers may have been thinking of figures from a few years ago, before the recession when taxes were higher. According to the CBO, the highest figure for all federal taxes since 1970 came in the year 2000, when they reached 20.6% of GDP. As we know, after that George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress cut federal taxes and they fell to 18.5% of GDP in 2007, before the recession hit, and 17.5% in 2008.

Tuesday's tea party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times higher than they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median was 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944.


In short, no matter how one slices the data, the tea party crowd appear to believe that federal taxes are very considerably higher than they actually are, whether referring to total taxes as a share of GDP or in terms of the taxes paid by a typical family.

Tea party goers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.

As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president. And given the economic circumstances, it's hard to imagine that a tax increase would have been enacted last year. In fact, 40% of Obama's stimulus package involved tax cuts. These include the Making Work Pay Credit, which reduces federal taxes for all taxpayers with incomes below $75,000 by between $400 and $800.


Probably the simplest motivation the tea partiers have is the one that Howard Beale (actor Peter Finch) gave in the 1976 movie Network. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more!" he said to cheering crowds. In other words, tea parties just represent unfocused anger at current economic conditions. Those who feel this way have latched on to the tea party movement not because they really believe that their taxes are too high, that taxes are rising or that taxes are at the root of our economic problem. Rather, they have joined because it's the only game in town; the only organized force with at least the potential of bringing about change that might make things better.

Health care reform is already...

...polling better:

Nearly half of Americans believe the health care reform bill signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday was a “good thing,” according to a new Gallup poll.

Forty-nine percent of the 1,005 adults polled nationwide Monday said health reform was a “good thing,” compared with 40 percent who said it was bad.

Independents, meanwhile, were split almost evenly. Forty-six percent said the bill was a “good thing,” compared to 45 percent who believed it was bad.

Look for those numbers to improve as people get more familiar with the plan. Reform will be a net positive for the Democrats come November.

The pendulum has officially...

...swung, and it's about time.

For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

Over most of that period, government policy and market forces have been moving in the same direction, both increasing inequality. The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.

Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.

I grew up in the 1970s. I graduated from high school in 1976 and college in 1980. It was not a prosperous time. And, looking back on it, the whole New Deal-Great Society Era was getting a little long in the tooth. Governments everywhere seemed too big, too intrusive, too stifling. And Jimmy Carter, who could arguably be thought of as one of the greatest ex-presidents, was just seen as hopelessly ineffectual. The times were ripe for a Ronald Reagan.

Unlike today, the conservatives had all the energy and ideas. Liberals and liberalism seemed stale and exhausted. It was definitely time to give the Republicans a turn at governing. So the Gipper came into office and cut taxes, strengthened the military, and generally unleashed an optimistic spirit that swept in a new age of prosperity. The '80s and '90s were a heady time.

But the Reagan Era became long in the tooth, as well. And in 2000, the nation elected (sort of) the Republican version of Jimmy Carter. But George W. Bush was not nearly as intelligent or large-spirited as the 39th president. His attempt to recreate the '80s with tax cuts for the rich fell flat; the budget surplus was squandered and the hoped-for prosperity never arrived. Things only went downhill from there.

By the end of the Bush presidency it became apparent that the laissez-faire policies of the Republicans had, among other things, produced an out-of-control Wall Street and a dysfunctional health care system. In both, the market had evolved to serve only a select few while literally harming the vast majority of Americans. The GOP was now the tired party; their ideas were no longer fresh or compelling. The time had come once again for the pendulum to swing.

Now that President Obama has belled the health insurance industry cat, it's time to turn our attention to the financial sector. After that, who knows? Immigration, energy, education, and, oh yeah, that pesky national debt problem we've let fester.

There's a lot of work to do. And it appears that there's only one serious political party left in America to do it. The Republicans are still stuck in the 1970s and still worshipping at the shrine of St. Ronald. (I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but He's not coming back.)

It might actually be worse than all that; today's GOP has evolved into a reactionary party of war-mongering neocons, extreme economic libertarians, and Evangelical Christians who pine for the days of Ozzie and Harriet. (I'm not even sure Reagan would recognize this crowd.) Their leaders are a couple of blowhards named Glenn and Rush. Never mind the '80s; this cast of characters wants to return to the 1920s, or even the 19th century--before that wild-eyed socialist Teddy Roosevelt began causing trouble! (You remember him; he's one of those guys with his face on the side of that mountain in South Dakota.)

So the pendulum has swung, all right. And I think it's going to swing some more. And Obama and the Democrats are going to be the ones doing the swinging. The other guys better duck.

The song of the...

Now that health care reform... the law of the land, with whatever will I concern myself? Well, how about dreams, for starters, or at least why we dream:

Why do we dream? As a chronic insomniac, I like to pretend that our dreams are meaningless narratives, a series of bad B-movies invented by the mind. I find solace in the theory that all those inexplicable plot twists are just random noise from the brain stem, an arbitrary montage of images and characters and anxieties. This suggests that I’m not missing anything when I lie awake at night — there are no insights to be wrung from our R.E.M. reveries.

Unfortunately for me, there’s increasing evidence that our dreams are not neural babble, but are instead layered with significance and substance. The narratives that seem so incomprehensible — why was I running through the airport in my underwear? — are actually careful distillations of experience, a regurgitation of all the new ideas and insights we encounter during the day.

While we’re fast asleep, the mind is sifting through the helter-skelter of the day, trying to figure out what we need to remember and what we can afford to forget.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This just in from...


Alex Hermann, an autistic teenager from Glenbrook South High School, has done something almost impossible. He's picked every winner so far in the upset-filled NCAA basketball tournament.

Joe Biden is just too...

...#$&!! funny...

The great irony in this whole... care saga is that the Democrats ended up passing a Republican plan. Yes, that's right, a Republican plan. The bill that President Obama signed into law today is remarkably similar to the one Mitt Romney enacted when he was the Republican governor of Massachusetts. It's also similar to the Republican response to Hillarycare back in 1993. (It's even more moderate than the one President Nixon, another Republican, proposed in 1971.)

How can that be? It's as if, after failing to pass Hillarycare in 1993, the Democrats said, "Okay, fine. Have it your way. Let's pass your plan, then."

"Go ahead and try!"

And after 17 years, the Democrats made good on their promise. And the Republicans let them do it. From 1994 through 2006, the GOP controlled the Congress (and the White House for six of those years). Instead of claiming an historic legislative victory for themselves, the Republicans let the Democrats have it instead. The Republicans let the Democrats, in effect, reach into their holster, take their gun and shoot them with it. It reminds me a little of that old Sprint commercial where one cowboy keeps slapping the other one in the face. Except in this case, the Democrats slapped the Republicans in the face with their own hands!

Now, after painting themselves into an ideological corner, all the GOP is left with in 2010 is the plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. It can only be thought of, charitably, as the Banana Republic Plan--health care for the rich only.

I don't see how the Republicans come back from this.

Israel's prime minister is named...

...Binyamin Netanyahu. It's hard to take a guy seriously with a name that ends in "yahoo."

According to a new Harris poll...

...45 percent of Republicans agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president."

How do you deal with a party in which almost half of its members don't even think the president is legitimate? Where do you suppose they get such ideas? Where are the party's leaders?

David Frum's is the voice of reason... the Republican Party. (I know, I know; that sounds like an oxymoron.) In fact, he may very well be the last voice of reason in the GOP, especially after their disastrous defeat on health care. (I'm not even sure if the Republicans realize just yet how devastating was their defeat.) Yesterday, for example, John McCain said:

...that the anger was so intense over the parliamentary tactics on health care that Mr. Obama should not expect any help from Republicans. “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” (my emphasis) Mr. McCain told an Arizona radio station. “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”

My wife, who doesn't follow politics (she's normal), heard that and said, "Okay, that's enough of that." (I started to tell her about his primary challenge from J. D. Hayworth, the tea partier, but decided not to bother.)

Calls for repeal were everywhere yesterday, even (especially) from Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for 2012. (It was upon Romney's reform in Massachusetts that Obamacare was based.) It was almost painful to hear the poor guy practically tie himself up in knots in trying to distance himself from his own accomplishment. From Frum (sorry, I didn't choose his last name):

Romneycare invented a mechanism to buy insurance with before tax dollars, just like Obamacare: the exchange. It more tightly regulated insurance practices, just like Obamacare. It imposed an individual mandate to buy insurance, and offered subsidies to those who could not afford it, just like … you get the idea.

Devil is in the details as always of course. I’m sure a President Romney would have produced a different result than President Obama. But how different?

And if a President Romney had produced a plan based on his Massachusetts experience that did enlarge coverage, eliminate some of the worst abuses of the insurance industry, and set the country on track to slowing down the growth of healthcare costs – wouldn’t he have regarded that as a huge success?

Now Romney is denouncing a plan based upon his own supreme achievement. But if Romneycare is a disaster when it goes national, then why elect its author to national office?

And from another piece with the title, "Waterloo":

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration.
No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994. (Again, my emphasis.)

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat. (Yep, me again.)

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I have some advice for Republicans going forward: find another issue to run on. You lost this one (badly) and can only shoot yourself in the foot further by going on and on about something that will never happen: repeal.

I have some even better advice: start listening to David Frum.

The song of the...

Monday, March 22, 2010

In a front page article in the Times...

...yesterday, there were two references to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that particularly caught my attention:

The speaker, though, was determined to go ahead. “We will go through the gate,” she said at a news conference on Jan. 28. “If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed.”


Last week, with a vote drawing near and dozens of House Democrats still wavering — many terrified a vote for the bill would cost them their jobs — House leadership aides arrived at Ms. Pelosi’s office with a list of 68 lawmakers to lobby, turn or bolster. The aides presumed the Democratic leadership would divvy up the names.

“I’ll take all 68,” Ms. Pelosi declared.

I love that last one, especially. Give me the ball.

Nancy Pelosi reminds me of a modern-day American version of Margaret Thatcher. And I mean that as a compliment.

After the U. S. invaded Iraq...

...back in 2003, my wife turned to me at one point and asked, "What if they don't find any weapons of mass destruction?"

"Oh, that's just silly. Even Colin Powell--on the floor of the U. N.--said there were weapons of mass destruction."


And then a few days went by--no WMD. A few weeks; no WMD. A few months; no WMD. Could it be? Was it possible? Finally the experts confirmed what everyone had been wondering: there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Wow!

But some on the right, such as the Wall Street Journal, just wouldn't give up. Surely, they said, the weapons must be somewhere. Perhaps Saddam transported them to Syria. Or perhaps they're just really well hidden. Or perhaps...

And I remember thinking, perhaps the Journal will just have to give up on the idea at some point.

I don't know if the Journal ever admitted they were wrong; my guess is that they just turned their attention elsewhere.

I'm reminded of this story by the reaction yesterday and today from the opponents of the health care bill. Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, Paul Ryan and others are having their say on how bad this bill is and how they are going to go about repealing it or hindering its passage in some way. Whatever.

All I can think is, at some point they just have to give up.

There will be no repeal. Reform will be popular. And the Democrats' poll numbers will begin to improve as of today.

The song of the...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kevin from Flossmoor...

...writes in:

I made cole slaw today with the leftover cabbage. If I need a recipe I always go to Food Network website first. I really like Tyler Florence. DVR his show. His style is very easy to duplicate and it's sort of "guy" food. The cole slaw has a little bit of heat to it.

Thanks, Kevin!

You've probably seen this video...

...of protesters taunting a victim of Parkinson's disease. It's gone "viral," as they say nowadays.

I once knew a therapist who told me that hurt and fear are often expressed as anger. Ever since then, whenever I see someone angry, I ask myself, "Is this person really angry, or do they feel hurt or fearful about something? Can I assuage their feelings in any way?"

I believe these protesters are more fearful than angry. They are probably fearful that, under reform, they will lose the good health care they value so deeply. I happen to think they won't, but I could be wrong. But I'm quite confident that the opponents of reform have cynically exploited these people by fanning their fears and whipping them into a frenzy. This is shameful. Leaders are supposed to lead, not play to our worst fears and passions. Ultimately they will have themselves to answer to. They are the ones who have to look in the mirror each morning.

There's another lesson to be learned here, I think. And that is that we all have a choice. We can choose to be mean and angry, like the protesters in this video, or to be generous and compassionate.

I do not for a minute claim to be any better than anyone else when it comes to this. On the contrary, I've probably acted worse than most.

But I've decided that we do have a choice. And the better choice is to be generous and compassionate.

The song of the...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

In anticipation of tomorrow's historic... on health care, I can't help making another prediction. If the bill passes, as expected, it will begin a reversal in the Democrats' fortunes. Their poll numbers will turn around and they will outperform expectations in the midterms. The Republicans should gain seats in both houses, as usually happens for the party out of power, but their gains will be much less than anticipated. Look for the Democrats to retain control of both chambers and the GOP to engage in more soul-searching. I still think they have one more disastrous presidential election in them, in which they nominate someone (Sarah Palin?) from the base. Only after a drubbing on the order of a Goldwater, McGovern, or Mondale will the Republicans move back toward the center and rebuild their brand.

In the Times today, Gail Collins...


No matter what you think of it, this health care bill is one heck of a change.

The Republicans, of course, have been calling the bill a "massive government takeover of health care."

Bill Maher, on the other hand, said on his show last night that after the bill is passed, "we'll be able to buy health insurance from a private health insurance company." In other words, no change at all.

So who's right?

My wife asked me the other day what reform would mean to our family. After a minute or so, I mumbled, "Uh...nothing." (We're fortunate, you see. We're healthy and can afford a private insurance policy.) We'll continue to pay the same insurance premiums to the same company, see the same private doctors and go to the same private hospitals as always, and try to take good care of ourselves to avoid getting sick in the first place. If the bill passes on Sunday, as expected, we'll wake up Monday morning and go about our lives as if nothing ever happened.

But then I thought some more. And what I told my wife is that what this reform means for us (and all Americans) is security. Because for the first time in our nation's history, we'll enjoy what citizens in every other developed country take for granted. We'll never be without insurance, even if we can't afford it or get sick or get hit by a bus. We'll never get dropped by our insurer if we get sick or get hit by a bus. There will be no annual or lifetime caps if we get sick or get hit by a bus. We'll never have to declare bankruptcy if we get sick or get hit by a bus. We'll never again get cheated by an insurance company. In other words, we'll be insured against a medical catastrophe, just like we're insured in case our house burns down.

Now I can get back to earning a living, making a marriage work, and raising two kids--with one less thing to worry about.

Gail Collins is right. That is one heck of a change.

The song of the...

Friday, March 19, 2010

In the first round of the NCAA... tournament, Murray State beat Vanderbilt, 66-65. I didn't know much about Murray State, so I went to the school's Web site. It seems they have some interesting traditions, such as the Shoe Tree:

A stone’s throw away from Pogue Library, the shoe tree sits in the sun, at least 50 pairs of mismatched shoes nailed to it. Although no one on campus can say when the tradition of the shoe tree began, it has become an integral part of Murray State's history. If two students meet at Murray State, fall in love and then marry, they will have good luck if each partner nails a shoe to the shoe tree. Lovers usually write their anniversaries on their shoes as well. It is also common for people to return to nail a baby shoe to the tree when they’ve started their family. The current shoe tree is actually the second, because the first was struck by lightning and subsequently caught fire. Even today, the shoe “tree” is more of a stump because its limbs have been cut off to minimize the risk of fire.

You can't make this stuff up.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times...

...the weather today is "confident."

Today is the seventh anniversary...

...of the war in Iraq. Remember "shock and awe?"

According to figures compiled by Iraq's Human Rights Ministry and released last fall, 85,694 people were killed from the beginning of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008 and 147,195 were wounded. The figures include Iraqi civilians, military and police but do not cover U.S. military deaths, insurgents, or foreigners, including contractors. And it did not include the first months of the war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

However, those figure are widely considered a minimum because so many deaths went unreported.

The war in Iraq has cost more than $712 billion, according to the National Priorities Project. (My emphasis.)

According to the CBO, the health care bill will cost $940 billion over ten years, which would be less per year than the war (and cut a trillion dollars off the deficit). Remember that next time you hear someone say the U. S. can't afford universal health care. It's a question of priorities.

By the way, how come you never see any signs at the tea party rallies protesting the war?

In an article in Bloomberg...

...about the health care bill, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, said:

“It’s a corrupt system and frankly we really do need to change it,” Hatch said. “And I understand why they’d try and hold onto it. It’s a gravy train to them that nobody seems to look at or supervise or review.”

What!? Is Hatch having an epiphany about the insurance industry? Not exactly; he was talking about the BCS.

Jon Stewart does an excellent...

...Glenn Beck.

I have to wonder, how much of what Beck says does he really believe? Is he nuts or just a modern-day Elmer Gantry?

I saw Mike Pence, Republican Congressman...

...from Indiana, on Hardball the other night. Speaking about health care reform (again), Pence trotted out--for what must be the zillionth time--that worn-out old bromide, "massive government takeover of one-sixth of the American economy..."

As burnt-out as I have become on the whole subject (honest!), even Pence looked tired of repeating the same nonsense over and over and over again. I could only imagine him thinking, How many more times do I have to say that?

Even John Boehner looks exhausted; his face is a paler shade of orange than I remember. (I have a suggestion for his tombstone: He wanted to start over with a clean sheet of paper!)

Hopefully on Sunday this will all be over. (Maybe then I can take a look at that basketball tournament everyone is talking about.)

Here's a picture of Hillary Clinton...

...and President Obama sitting at a picnic table. Where was that taken, at some rest stop on the Interstate?

Fess Parker, who starred as Davy Crockett... the 1950s, died at age 85. Among his other accomplishments, Parker beat out a future president of the United States for the role of Crockett:

Disney had been searching for a quintessential American type to play the rough-hewn hero of the Alamo and had considered established stars like [James Arness], Glenn Ford, Sterling Hayden and Ronald Reagan before deciding [on Parker].

I've often wondered (out loud) why...

...Illinois colleges can't recruit better in their own backyard. With the sheer number of high school athletes in the Chicago area to choose from, shouldn't the University of Illinois, for example, be a perennial Big Ten contender in sports like basketball and football? When I bring this up in conversation, people usually look at me like I'm nuts. (Can you believe it?)

But an article in the Chicago section of the Times this morning backs me up:

Illinois, the entire state, not just the big university, is 0 for the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament this year. What in the name of George Mikan is going on? A state that prides itself on being the Fertile Crescent of basketball talent — from Cazzie Russell and Isiah Thomas to Dwyane Wade — is shut out of the college game’s showcase event? What are the odds that every one of Illinois’s 12 Division I basketball schools would sit out this year’s tournament?

It’s not accurate to say the entire state is enduring a silent March: Sherron Collins (Kansas), Jon Scheyer (Duke), Evan Turner (Ohio State), Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), Jerome Randle (Cal) and Maurice Acker (Marquette) are eager N.C.A.A. participants. Add one decent big man to that flashy lineup of Chicago-area guards and you’d have a team capable of a deep tournament run.

In football, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has done a good job recruiting from the Chicago area. But the U. of I. promises another mediocre season in 2010.

A glaring example of what I'm talking about is Kyle Prater, wide receiver from Proviso West. He was one of the top prospects in the nation last year and after much soul-searching, chose USC over Notre Dame. But I don't remember him even considering an Illinois school. Why can't we keep kids like that at home?

As we go into the final weekend...

...of the year-long health care debate and an expected vote on Sunday, Paul Krugman sums up the argument for reform one last time. The following sentence, in particular, struck me:

A House committee estimated that [the health insurer] Assurant made $150 million in profits between 2003 and 2007 by canceling coverage of people who thought they had insurance...

This could happen to you.

The song of the...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The CBO has scored the Democratic... care bill and said it:

...would cost $940 billion over 10 years and cut the federal deficit over the next two decades — figures that should help ease the worries of fiscal hawks who have been reluctant about supporting the sweeping measure.

The bill would reduce the deficit by about $130 billion in the first 10 years and by $1.2 trillion over the second 10 years. (My emphasis.) It will expand coverage to 95 percent of Americans, according to Congressional Budget Office figures released Thursday by House Democrats.

Sounds like a good bill to me. It's also very similar to the reform Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts and what the GOP proposed in response to Hillarycare back in 1993. (But more moderate than Nixon's plan in 1971.)

So how many Republicans are going to support it?

Jay Newton-Small...

...of Time magazine puts it well when she says:

...if Republicans really thought that passage of health care reform was going to be bad for Dems, would they be protesting quite so much right now?

To paraphrase Jim DeMint, the bill's passage could turn out to be the Republicans' Waterloo.

The NCAA is considering expanding...

...its basketball tournament to 96 teams. That would mean about 1 out of every 4 teams in Division I would make the playoffs.

The Association derives about 90% of its revenue from the tournament. Why not just cut to the chase and include everyone and begin the tournament in October? It could be double-elimination, call it Advent Madness and be done with it all by Christmas. That way, the worst teams would only lose two games all year and everyone could be back in class for the start of the second semester.

In case you were wondering...

...the corned beef and cabbage turned out great! Now I have out-of-control potato salad and cole slaw to look forward to.

Bill Maher has his "New Rules,"...

...and so have I. And one of my New Rules is to have holiday meals like Thanksgiving turkey and St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage twice a year. That's right. Why not? They're so good!

So in approximately six months, we'll be having the same feast again.

The "song" of the...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I have one St. Patrick's Day...

...corned beef and cabbage tip of the day--free of charge:

In the last twenty or thirty minutes of cooking, go ahead and toss the cabbage, potatoes, and carrots right in the pot with the corned beef. Don't worry; it won't be greasy. In fact, it's delicious.

While I'm at it, here's another tip (what the heck--it's St. Patrick's Day--I'm in a good mood):

Slice the head of cabbage in two and cook only half of it. If your house is anything like mine, only one person eats it anyway (go figure). Save the other half for home-made cole slaw. There are dozens of good recipes on the "Internet" (air quotes). It's like meat loaf; there are a zillion different good ways to prepare it. But there is nothing better (well, maybe a few things) than home-made cole slaw. And don't be afraid to slather it on those ham-and-swiss cheese sandwiches with rye bread. A Millburn Deli Sloppy Joe is truly a thing of beauty!

Is China the "greatest bubble... history?" More experts think so:

James Rickards, former general counsel of hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management LP, joins hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, Gloom, Boom & Doom publisher Marc Faber and Harvard University professor Kenneth Rogoff in warning of a potential crash in China’s economy.

“As I see it, it is the greatest bubble in history with the most massive misallocation of wealth,” Rickards said at the Asset Allocation Summit Asia 2010 organized by Terrapinn Pte in Hong Kong yesterday. China “is a bubble waiting to burst.”

Here are a few last minute...

...Irish toasts for St. Patrick's Day (with Kaliber, of course):

May those who love us, love us.
And for those who don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he can not turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we may know them by their limping.


May the grass grow long on the road to hell for want of use.

Here's to our wives and girlfriends:
May they never meet!


May the Lord keep you in His hand and never close His fist too tight.

Here's to your coffin...
May it be built of 100 year old oaks which I will plant tomorrow...

If California is a harbinger...

...for the rest of the nation (and it often is), a new study should give those still undecided on health care reform something to think about:

The number of uninsured adults and children in California swelled by 25 percent between 2007 and 2009, according to a new report by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

One quarter of the state’s population is now uninsured, according to the analysis, and less than half of those with insurance receive it through employers. (My emphasis.)

My two favorite Irish stories...

...are from Frank McCourt's musical, "The Irish...and How They Got That Way."

McCourt, who died last year at age 78, said the Irish originally immigrated to the United States because "We were told that the streets were paved with gold." When the Irish arrived, however, "we found out that not only were the streets not paved with gold, they weren't paved at all. And what's more, we were the ones expected to do the paving!"

The other anecdote involved a wealthy Boston Brahmin woman who admonished her Irish cleaning lady by saying, "Rosemary, the dust on this highboy is so thick I can write my name on it." To which the immigrant responded, "Ah, 'tis a grand thing to be educated!"

The song of the... Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dick Armey is the head of FreedomWorks...

...and: of the Tea Party movement's key leaders and funders. [He] said the [health care] battle was likely lost.

At a press conference on Monday, Armey acknowledged that Democrats "will most likely pass health care reform legislation that has been debated for the last year and is expected to come to a vote this week."

"They'll probably force this through," he said. "But you can't discount the number of people who can be moved by a ruthless and powerful political leader or group of political leaders."

I couldn't agree more, Mr. Armey. Look in the mirror.

My son is coming home tomorrow...

...from college for Spring Break. We're all looking forward to it, because, to paraphrase Helen, Jerry Seinfeld's mother in "The Cadillac" from season 7, "Whenever Joe comes, something exciting happens."

At Norma's, in the Le Parker Meridien Hotel... New York, you can order an omelet with 10 ounces of sevruga caviar for the (literally) princely sum of $1,000. Yes, you read that correctly: $1,000! (I wonder if the waiter would give you a look if you asked to share an order.)

At least they have a sense of humor, though. Just below that it says Norma dares you to expense this.

William F. Pewen is a former...

...senior health policy advisor for Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine. He has a piece in the Times today about (surprise!) the health care bill. It actually has some really interesting tidbits:

...many Republicans had decided even before Inauguration Day to block reform, including policies that their party had previously supported. In 2003, for example, Republicans enacted legislation that financed end-of-life counseling — yet in town halls last August they claimed a similar measure would create “death panels.”

Republican cries for fiscal responsibility also ring hollow when you consider the party’s record of establishing higher-cost private Medicare plans and enacting a drug benefit that wasn’t paid for. The fact is that under the Republicans’ watch, critical problems of escalating health costs and access to affordable coverage were largely ignored.

Should they succeed in blocking reform, Republicans should take no consolation. When Congress next attempts reform, in a decade or more, health costs and the number of uninsured and underinsured will have escalated — and the likely outcome will be the single-payer system that Republicans most abhor.

Three in four Americans say the health care system needs to be overhauled, and many provisions in the pending legislation have strong support. What’s more, the core of the Senate’s legislation closely resembles the very bill the Republicans offered in 1993 as an alternative to the Clinton plan. This makes clear that bipartisan reform was achievable, and indicts Congress for its failure to realize that goal with broad public support.

David Brooks talks about the differences...

...between the House and the Senate and the danger of using reconciliation to pass the health care bill in his column today. I disagree, but, whatever. It's his first three paragraphs that caught my attention. Because it's here that he inadvertently sets the table for a great argument against Ayn Rand and Objectivism:

Human beings, the philosophers tell us, are social animals. We emerge into the world ready to connect with mom and dad. We go through life jibbering and jabbering with each other, grouping and regrouping. When you get a crowd of people in a room, the problem is not getting them to talk to each other; the problem is getting them to shut up.

To help us in this social world, God, nature and culture have equipped us with a spirit of sympathy. We instinctively feel a tinge of pain when we observe another in pain (at least most of us do). We instinctively mimic, even to a small extent, the mood, manners, yawns and actions of the people around us.

To help us bond and commit, we have been equipped with a suite of moral sentiments. We have an innate sense of fairness. Children from an early age have a sense that everybody should be treated fairly. We have an innate sense of duty. We admire people who sacrifice for the group. We are naturally embarrassed when we’ve been caught violating some social code. We blush uncontrollably.

In other words, try as we might to imagine ourselves as rugged individuals, we're really members of groups. While I think of humans in the wild as existing in tribes, my wife (animal lover that she is) takes it back a step further, to herds.

Like it or not, man is a social animal and dependent on others.

The song of the...

Monday, March 15, 2010

As the health care debate winds down...

...this weekend (probably), I have some predictions and one last thought (yeah, right).

My first prediction is that the measure will pass. If not, why would Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama go to all this trouble?

Second, I predict the whole topic will be quickly forgotten afterward and won't be an issue at all in the midterms. The Republicans won't bring up health care or its repeal for fear they'll have to defend their "no" votes and their obstructionism.

Third, if health care reform is an issue, it could deny Mitt Romney the GOP nomination in 2012. Obamacare is just too similar to Romneycare. (Although I don't see him winning anyway.)

Last, why do the Republicans keep talking about the "2700 page bill?" Is that too long or too short? What exactly do they think is the optimal length of a health care reform bill? 2400 pages? 2300 pages? The Republican bill was much shorter than the Democrats', but it only covered an additional 3 million people instead of 30 million. Maybe covering that many people would be complicated. Maybe content is more important than length.

There are two articles in the Times today...

...that could have come straight out of the Onion. One is about elementary school recess coaches and the other is about keeping bees in New York City.

At Broadway Elementary School here, there is no more sitting around after lunch. No more goofing off with friends. No more doing nothing.

Instead there is Brandi Parker, a $14-an-hour recess coach with a whistle around her neck, corralling children behind bright orange cones to play organized games. There she was the other day, breaking up a renegade game of hopscotch and overruling stragglers’ lame excuses.

They were bored. They had tired feet. They were no good at running.

“I don’t like to play,” protested Esmeilyn Almendarez, 11.

“Why do I have to go through this every day with you?” replied Ms. Parker, waving her back in line. “There’s no choice.”

Broadway Elementary brought in Ms. Parker in January out of exasperation with students who, left to their own devices, used to run into one another, squabble over balls and jump-ropes or monopolize the blacktop while exiling their classmates to the sidelines.

In the article about beekeeping, there's a picture of

Andrew Coté, president of the New York City Beekeepers Association, which was formed two years ago and has 220 members.

He looks fairly sane.

New York City is among the few jurisdictions in the country that deem beekeeping illegal, lumping the honeybee together with hyenas, tarantulas, cobras, dingoes and other animals considered too dangerous or venomous for city life. But the honeybee’s bad rap — and the days of urban beekeepers being outlaws — may soon be over.

Dingoes are illegal?

Another beekeeper is a Mr. Sam Elchert:

Mr. Elchert admits that so far he has found his hobby more “nerve-racking” than relaxing...

“What if somebody, some cop, sees me?” he said. “It’d cost me $2,000. It’d really ruin my day.”

Beekeepers say that beekeeping is a relatively low-maintenance and inexpensive endeavor — Mr. Elchert said he spent $500 on hives, equipment and about 20,000 bees to start.

20,000? That sounds like a lot of bees! My family freaks out when there's even one remotely near our house. But compared to Katrinka and Chico Moore (Chico?), Mr. Elchert is a piker:

Mrs. Boyer said that she and her husband, Chico, took up beekeeping last year so that they could teach workshops in Haiti, where Mr. Boyer was born.

The earthquake has delayed the couple’s plans, but their hives are thriving with 80,000 bees that have yielded more than 100 pounds of honey.

“We gave it to friends for Christmas,” Mrs. Boyer said. “They love it. Everybody is asking for more.”

Ms. Moore said that after working in advocacy against gas drilling in upstate New York, she looked to beekeeping for some relief.

She said: “You get honey. You’re also pollinating gardens. It’s such a positive, happy thing to do.”

My grocery store sells at least a dozen brands of honey, and they all taste the same to me. How much of a honey connoisseur would you have to be to keep 80,000 bees at your home?

Meanwhile, in France...

...the Socialists are on the move:

The governing party of President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be beaten by the opposition Socialists on Sunday in a first round of regional elections marked by a record abstention, according to partial official results released Sunday night.

The results point to a resounding defeat for the center-right in the final round next Sunday, the last nationwide vote before presidential elections in 2012.

Conservatives are on the ascent in the U. S. and Britain; they're in decline in France. What does all this mean? In the famous words of James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid." When it's good, the public loves the incumbents; when it's bad, throw the bums out.

Keep your eye on the upcoming election... Britain. It could be a harbinger for the midterms in November:

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the opposition Conservatives would “wreck the recovery” with their planned budget cuts, stepping up his attacks after a poll showed his ruling Labour Party may emerge with the largest number of seats in parliament after the election.

A YouGov Plc poll published in yesterday’s Sunday Times newspaper showed Labour at 33 percent, the Conservatives at 37 percent and the Liberal Democrats with 17 percent. Because of the uneven distribution of votes across districts, Labour would get 302 seats in the 650-member parliament and the Conservatives 277, with no party having a majority, the Times said. No margin of error was provided.

Conservative poll ratings have slumped this year as the economy exited recession. (My emphasis.) Opposition spokesmen yesterday reiterated the urgency of cutting a record budget deficit and criticized Labour’s ties to unions.

The song of the...

Friday, March 12, 2010

In October, 1936, a month before...

...his reelection, FDR gave a speech in which he famously said,

Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.

Can you imagine any politician today having the guts to say something like that?

Howell Raines takes on...

...Fox News.

I was in Wyoming on business this week...

...and it was really an uneventful trip. I parked my car in the economy lot at O'Hare (surprised?) and it only cost me $33 from Sunday through Wednesday. You have to take a bus to the el to the terminal, but it was still worth it.

My flight actually left on time and arrived on time (huh?), so again, it was uneventful. I sat next to a nice retired guy who was going skiing in Montana. He's in a club that includes a 90-year-old man who is an active skier himself. (Kind of like my 90-year-old father. Not.) As I said, he was a nice guy and we struck up a conversation after I put down my book (Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin--catnip for political junkies like me). He was the one who told me about the Astronomy Picture of the Day Web site that I mentioned in an earlier post (not necessarily my cup of tea, but whatever).

As we were approaching the Denver airport, I noticed he was furiously scribbling what looked like information from our flight--estimated time of arrival, speed, altitude, etc. At one point he turned to me and asked, "What did the captain just say about our altitude?"

"Huh?" I looked up from my book.

"Our altitude. What did the captain just say?"

"Uh...I don't know." I'm one of those people who never listen to anything the captain says. Just fly the plane; if I wanted to hear stand-up, I'd go to a comedy club.

"Why are you writing all of that down?"

"No reason. I just like to keep track."

"What do you do with all of that information after you land?"

"I never look at it again."

Oh, I get it. You're a whack job!

In Denver, I switched to one of those small puddle jumpers that give some people the heebie jeebies. I can't imagine why. The lady next to me, for instance, looked terrified when we hit one of those air pockets that cause the plane to drop dramatically. I tried to reassure her, "These small planes hardly ever go down." That didn't seem to calm her for some reason. Go figure.

Cheyenne, as I said, was uneventful, except for all the Christian and NRA bumper stickers. To paraphrase Dorothy Gale, I was not in Kansas anymore. No matter, it was only for a couple of days. (And no sign of Dick or Liz Cheney. Phew!)

I returned on Wednesday to a 62 degree day in Chicago and drove home with the windows open and the tunes blaring. Spring is definitely on the way!

Jonathan Chait has a piece today... the New Republic about Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. In it, Ryan credits Ayn Rand as his inspiration:

"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." ...

At the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand's writings when he told his audience that, "Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill ... is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict--individualism versus collectivism."

Like Ryan and many other young men, I, too, went through an Ayn Rand phase. But unlike Ryan, I emerged from it sometime in my thirties or forties. (I can't remember exactly when; I evolved out of it.)

Or maybe you could say that I just grew up.

I hope, for his sake, that Ryan does too. If he's lucky, he'll have a friend like mine who once told me that Objectivism, Rand's pseudo-philosophy, was nothing more than "rationalized selfishness." I, of course, dismissed my friend's dismissal as ignorance on his part. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that he was spot on.

I now prefer the message of Christianity. (Calm down, I haven't turned religious on you.) But it's a powerful message, and it can all be summarized in three words, "Love your neighbor." I don't claim to be any better at it than anyone else, but it's a good target to shoot for.

The song of the...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Vatican's chief exorcist... a priest named Father Gabriele Amorth. Chief exorcist? How many are there? Does he have a staff? I guess they must be chasing demons all over the world.

According to the Holy See's chief exorcist, "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican."

Inside the Vatican? How much wrongdoing could there be inside the Vatican?

[Amorth] says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession.

70,000! What the--! My son's frat house could take some pointers from the Vatican! What do you suppose they're doing in there?

He claimed that [an] example of satanic behavior was the Vatican "cover-up" over the deaths in 1998 of Alois Estermann, the then commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife and Corporal Cedric Tornay, a Swiss Guard, who were all found shot dead. "They covered up everything immediately," he said.


A remarkably swift Vatican investigation concluded that Corporal Tornay had shot the commander and his wife and then turned his gun on himself after being passed over for a medal.

He was that distraught over a medal? That must have been some medal! (I knew guys like that in the Scouts.) I have a suggestion for the Vatican; next time there's any question, give the guy the medal!

Father Amorth, who has just published Memoirs of an Exorcist, a series of interviews with the Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, said that the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in 1981 had been the work of the Devil, as had an incident last Christmas when a mentally disturbed woman threw herself at Pope Benedict XVI at the start of Midnight Mass, pulling him to the ground.

I wonder if the Vatican would ever look into the Cubs' collapse back in 1969.

Father Amorth told La Repubblica that the devil was "pure spirit, invisible. But he manifests himself with blasphemies and afflictions in the person he possesses. He can remain hidden, or speak in different languages, transform himself or appear to be agreeable. At times he makes fun of me."

Can't imagine why.

He said it sometimes took six or seven of his assistants to hold down a possessed person. Those possessed often yelled and screamed and spat out nails or pieces of glass, which he kept in a bag. "Anything can come out of their mouths – finger-length pieces of iron, but also rose petals."

Uh huh.

He is the president of honor of the Association of Exorcists.

What do you suppose those conventions are like? Not exactly Ralph Kramden and the Water Buffaloes in Atlantic City.

My favorite channel, the CW, has a new...

...reality show premiering tomorrow night called "High Society." It stars a Manhattan socialite named Tinsley Mortimer, who was once married to a guy named Topper Mortimer. And his family once ran Standard Oil. Excellent!

No writer of fiction could do better than that.

The "song" of the...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This just in from...


The U.S. may add as many as 300,000 jobs in March, the most in four years, setting the stage for what some economists say will be sustained employment gains.

Joseph LaVorgna is more upbeat about the employment outlook, anticipating payroll gains averaging about 300,000 for the next three to four months.

“We have overcut inventories, we have overcut capital spending and we have overcut jobs,” said LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York. A March payroll gain of as much as 450,000 “can’t be ruled out,” he said, and further increases are “going to convince people of the sustainability and durability of the recovery.”

The song of the...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I'll be in Wyoming (of all places)...

...for the next few days. Postings will be lighter than usual as a result.

I wonder if I'll run into Dick Cheney while I'm out there. If I do, I'll inquire about his health. I think what he needs most is a little kindness.

The Dairy Queen on Lake Avenue... Wilmette will be open in only six days. Spring is coming!

The song of the...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some architect named Raimund Abraham...

...died in Manhattan, at age 76. You read that right, R-A-I-M-U-N-D (he was born in Austria). Whatever. Who knows, maybe the German spelling is better than ours? But what a pain that must have been all his life!


"Raimund Abraham. My first name is spelled--"

"I know how to spell Raymond! You think I'm stupid, or something, just because I work at the Department of Motor Vehicles?"

"No, it's just--"

"I have an Uncle Raymond! I know how to spell Raymond!"

"Sorry. I--"

"You artsy-fartsy types look down on people from Staten Island like me, don'tcha?"

"No, no--"

"And what's with that fake European-sounding accent? Knock it off!"

"I, I--"

"Now then; how do you spell Abraham?"

The song of the...

Friday, March 5, 2010

As I was paging through the Times...

...this morning, I came across an article about the N.F.L. players union, "Kendall Claims N.F.L. Proposal Would Mean 18 Percent Pay Cut." Apparently, the minimum salary in the NFL in 2010 is $325,000. Nice! There's also a picture accompanying the piece of running back Darren Sproles, who will earn $7.28 million in 2010 if he signs (my emphasis). Nice gig!

I guess unions have been good for the American worker; they're millionaires now.

But this is a little misleading. Unions are actually in decline in the United States.

According to The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman, at the end of World War II, more than a third of all non-farm workers were members of a union. As late as 1970, 27 percent of workers were in a union. Today the number is closer to 11%. Wal-Mart, America's largest corporation, pays its non-supervisory employees an average of $18,000 a year with meager health care benefits, if at all.

How did the U. S. evolve to the point where we have unions for millionaires but not minimum wage earners?

Ronald Reagan began his political career...

...with a speech endorsing Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona for president in 1964. Two years later, Reagan was elected governor of California and four years later he made his first run for the Oval Office. Finally, in 1980, the Gipper was elected president promising to increase defense spending, reduce taxes and balance the federal budget. How? According to John Anderson, one of his primary opponents, "Easy; you do it with mirrors." Another opponent, George H. W. Bush, who went on to serve as Reagan's vice president, got into trouble by calling it "voodoo economics."

But the public loved it.

Raise spending, cut my taxes, and balance the budget at the same time? Where do I sign up?

Reagan was elected in a landslide and made good on his promises to raise defense spending and cut taxes. There was only one hitch. The federal budget deficit ballooned. The Gipper then spent the rest of his two terms raising taxes in a frantic effort to close the shortfall. (Except in Reaganspeak it was done with "revenue enhancements," not taxes.) Bush and Clinton continued the effort and the budget was finally balanced in the 1990s. Phew!

I'm reminded of all of this by a story in the Times today, "Closing of Rest Stops Stirs Anger in Arizona":

The people of Arizona kept their upper lips stiff when officials mortgaged off the state’s executive office tower and a “Daily Show” crew rolled into town to chronicle the transaction in mocking tones. They remained calm as lawmakers pondered privatizing death row.

But then the state took away their toilets, and residents began to revolt.

“Why don’t they charge a quarter or something?’” said Connie Lucas, who lives in Pine, Ariz., about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from here. “There was one rest stop between here and Phoenix, and we really needed it.”

Arizona has the largest budget gap in the country when measured as a percentage of its overall budget, and the state Department of Transportation was $100 million in the red last fall when it decided to close 13 of the state’s 18 highway rest stops.

But the move has unleashed a torrent of telephone calls and e-mail messages to state lawmakers, newspapers and the Department of Transportation deploring the lost toilets — one of the scores of small indignities among larger hardships that residents of embattled states face as governments scramble to shore up their finances.

“People in this state are mad about this,” said State Representative Daniel Patterson...

Imagine that. It seems that people actually like some of the services that the government provides. Go figure. And it seems that those services need to be paid for somehow.

I always thought that one of the reasons Reagan was so popular was that he told everybody exactly what they wanted to hear. In effect, he treated the American people like children. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, preferred hard truths (and was pilloried for it).

Well maybe it's time for Mr. and Mrs. America (and especially the Tea Partiers) to grow up and face reality. Government services require taxes.

The song of the...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

If you haven't seen this video already...

...of Obama and his predecessors, you really should.

When I first saw this piece..., I thought it was satire:

The Republican National Committee plans to raise money this election cycle through an aggressive campaign capitalizing on “fear” of President Barack Obama and a promise to "save the country from trending toward socialism."

The strategy was detailed in a confidential party fundraising presentation, obtained by POLITICO, which also outlines how “ego-driven” wealthy donors can be tapped with offers of access and “tchochkes.”

The Times has a piece today...

..."With Election Looming, Tories Appear to Take a Detour in Britain":

A year ago, it looked as if the next British election would be an easy rout. The Conservative opposition was ahead in the polls by more than 20 percentage points. The prime minister was widely unpopular, the economy was an overstretched disaster, and the government seemed at times to be a chaotic pool of exhausted self-loathing.

Since then, in what may strike a note of caution for Republicans in Washington, the Conservative leader, David Cameron, has learned that it is not enough to sit back, relax and wait for a government to eat itself alive. With an election just months away, Mr. Cameron now finds that his lead is steadily evaporating and that despite his best efforts, the electorate still seems unsure what his party represents or what it intends to do, exactly.

The Republicans are already talking about...

...repealing the health care bill that hasn't yet passed. Listening to them speak yesterday, it's clear they are terrified. And they're terrified for two reasons. The first one is obvious; they spent the entire last year trying to deny President Obama and the Democrats a legislative victory. That appears to be for naught. Second (and more importantly), the Republicans seem scared that not only will health care pass, but once enacted it will become popular, like Social Security and Medicare. Then they'll have to spend the rest of their lives defending their votes. And that could put the GOP at a disadvantage for decades.

The "song" of the...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The odds of a health care bill...

...passing are soaring on

Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana... the latest flavor-of-the month for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Prepare to see a veritable parade of individuals (last month it was Senator John Thune of South Dakota) as the GOP scours the country for an ABP (Anybody but Palin) candidate. Good luck! So far, they're all boring old white guys.