Monday, January 31, 2011

G.O.P. War on Women and Compassion

As of this writing there are 173 co-sponsors in the House of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which was introduced by Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.  For House speaker and committed right-to-lifer John Boehner, this bill is one of the Republican's "highest priorities."  He hailed the introduction of the bill by stating:  “A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people and ought to be the law of the land.  But current law – particularly as enforced by this Administration – does not reflect the will of the people."

It is bad enough that for 35 years the Hyde Amendment has continued to prohibit the use of federal funds to pay for abortions -- except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is endangered.  According to The Center for Reproductive Rights, because of the Hyde Amendment, "more than a million women have been denied funds to cover an abortion."  This, of course, has been particularly harmful to women of limited financial means, making it extremely difficult for them to "finance abortion services and severely limit[ing] their right to reproductive health care."

The Hyde Amendment is not permanent, but must be -- and has been -- approved as a rider to the appropriations bill every year.  The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would make some of the Hyde Amendment provisions permanent.  Even worse, the bill would substantially limit the long-standing exemptions for rape and incest.  As a Talking Points Memo report notes, "changing the way rape is classified when it comes to abortion (as well as strictly defining what 'health of the mother' means) have long been goals of the anti-abortion movement."

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones explains that this new bill would drastically rewrite the rules to significantly narrow the meaning of rape and incest for these purposes.  Under the bill's rape exemption, for example, federal assistance would be limited only to instances of "forcible rape," an ambiguous term to say the least.  This could exclude federal funds for abortions for pregnancies stemming from statutory rape, as well as from non-consensual sex when the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, or was of  limited mental capacity, and for many date rapes.  As for the incest exception, the bill would exclude women over 18 years of age.  Even the "health of the mother" exception would be limited to where the woman is at risk for death but not other serious harm.

There are other serious problems with the bill, including a provision which, Baumann notes, pro-abortion rights groups are concerned could lead to the end of private health insurance coverage for abortion.  In a Sunday editorial, "The New Abortion Wars," which strongly condemned the bill, The New York Times explained that the bill "would bar outright the use of federal subsidies to buy any insurance that covers abortion well beyond the new [insurance] exchanges."  In addition, the tax credits small businesses would get if they provide insurance to their workers could not be used to buy policies that cover abortion.

In an earlier post, I referenced a Mother Jones article, The GOP's New Abortion Agenda, that detailed the Republican Party's top goals:  "Enshrine tough restrictions on abortion funding into federal law and defund Planned Parenthood."  (See Back to the Dark Ages.)  It seems that they are well on their way.  As for the latter, as the Times editorial notes, another bill clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood's health centers would deny funds for family planning services to any organization that provides abortion, even though -- as at Planned Parenthood -- no federal funds are used for abortion.  The Times rightly calls this "a reckless effort to cripple an irreplaceable organization out of pure politics."

While mostly a Republican endeavor, it must be pointed out that there are some pro-life Democrats in House too, including Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), a chair of the House pro-life caucus, who is a co-sponsor of Smith's bill.  The question, as always, is whether the rest of the Democrats in Congress and the President will stand up and fight hard for women's reproductive rights.

[Related posts:  Back to the Dark Ages]

Monday Jumpstart: The Decemberists (with Gillian Welch)

Down by the Water by the Decemberists with Gillian Welch (Live on Conan)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Money Talks

The United States gives $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government, $1.3 billion comes in the form of  military aid.  That means we are subsidizing the brutality and repression that is being meted out by Egypt's security forces. 

The Working Group on Egypt, which Politico describes is a "bipartisan group of former U.S. officials and foreign policy scholars," urged the Obama administration to suspend all economic and military aid to Egypt until the government agrees to hold elections and end its assault on civil liberties and civil rights. 

The Working Group issued the following statement today:

Amidst the turmoil in Egypt, it is important for the United States to remain focused on the interests of the Egyptian people as well as the legitimacy and stability of the Egyptian government.

Only free and fair elections provide the prospect for a peaceful transfer of power to a government recognized as legitimate by the Egyptian people. We urge the Obama administration to pursue these fundamental objectives in the coming days and press the Egyptian government to:
  • call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible;
  • amend the Egyptian Constitution to allow opposition candidates to register to run for the presidency;
  • immediately lift the state of emergency, release political prisoners, and allow for freedom of media and assembly;
  • allow domestic election monitors to operate throughout the country, without fear of arrest or violence;
  • immediately invite international monitors to enter the country and monitor the process leading to elections, reporting on the government's compliance with these measures to the international community; and
  • publicly declare that Hosni Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.
We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.

[Related posts:  Note to US:  Invest in Populations, Not Dictators]

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #18

Sarah Vaughan.  Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown (1954).  Last week, I wrote about the incredible album Dinah Washington recorded with the brilliant trumpeter Clifford Brown, among others.  The same year, Brown accompanied another of the all time greatest jazz singers, Sarah Vaughan.  This album is far more sedate than the Washington record, consisting of all standards.  Vaughan and Brown are are amazing together.  One reviewer writes that Vaughan "is arguably in the best voice of her career here," and that "Brown almost equals her with his solos; this "is one of the most important jazz-meets-vocal sessions ever recorded. The session also includes Herbie Mann on flute, Paul Quinichette on sax, Roy Haynes on drums.  As jazz critic Scott Yanow said, "everything works," making this an "essential acquisition"
[Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1 (Hank Mobley); , #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington)]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Note to US: Invest In Populations, Not Dictators

Steve Coll has a typically insightful piece in The New Yorker, Democratic Movements, on the implications of the revolution in Tunisia and the growing unrest in other countries in the region.  Coll points out that while each country has their own unique concerns, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Saudia Arabia have in common with Tunisia several political and demographic factors that are potentially combustible:  "youthful population, high unemployment, grotesque inequality, abusive police, reviled leaders, and authoritarian systems that stifle free expression."

In Tunisia, according to Coll, "investments in civil society -- programs launched by the United States, European governments, and independent foundation, which were peaceful, gradual, and unrelated to war or invasion -- bore fruit."  It was "Tunisian women (empowered by constitutional rights), labor unions, human rights campaigners, journalists, and artists" who survived the police state and triggered the overthrow of President Ben Ali "because outside supporters had promoted their legitimacy and built their capacity."  This is in stark contrast, Coll notes, to the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq, which "set back the cause of promoting democracy by tying its ideas to violence and occupation."

Coll is familiar with the many "objections to pushing democratic reform in the Arab world," which include the possibility of creating instability, empowering Islamists parties, and depriving us of reliable partners in combating terrorism.  And, "there are significant risks, particularly if Egypt's government were to fall to leaders who would abandon any alliance to Washington."  In addition, "the practical rewards for promoting democracy in Arab societies may be uncertain and slow, if they come at all."   Nevertheless, as Coll argues, "it is the right strategy -- in principal and in pursuit of America's national interests."  The "corrosive effects of political and economic exclusion in the region cannot be sustained."  As the situation in Tunisa shows us, "Arab politics is not stable" and "common sense is ample guidance in foreign policy:  the United States must invest in populations, not dictators."

British Hype Genetically Modified Food

Here is another important post from Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at PAN, originally posted on PAN's website (Pesticide Action Network (PAN North America).  Marcia reports on the grossly misleading and unscientific assertions of England's chief scientist about the need for genetically modified crops, which are based on findings in a report that turns out to be -- oh what a surprise -- tied to corporate interests.

 GMO apologists ignore science - again

by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Jan. 27, 2011

Britain’s Chief Scientist has come out trumpeting the need for genetically engineered (GE) crops to feed the world, and the UK media is falling all over itself with blaring headlines that echo this badly misinformed sentiment (see Guardian, Telegraph coverage).

The source of all the hullabaloo is the UK’s release this week of its mammoth Foresight report, Global Food and Farming Futures. Using the occasion to espouse what seems to be his personal opinion, Sir John Beddington —the Chief Scientist in question — argues that “It is very hard to see how it would be remotely sensible to justify not using new technologies such as GM. Just look at the problems that the world faces: water shortages and salination of existing water supplies, for example. GM crops should be able to deal with that.” “Should?” Is that the best you can do, Sir John?

In reality, after 25 years of research, no drought or salt-tolerant crops have yet been commercially developed, while yield declines, surging herbicide use, resistant superweeds, and a host of environmental—not to mention social—harms have been documented where GE crops have been planted. In contrast, ecologically resilient agroecological farming systems are known to perform well under the stressed conditions increasingly associated with climate change and water scarcity. For a scientist, Beddington does a remarkable job of ignoring the science.

So much hype

In truth, the UK report does not ever claim, as the newspapers and Beddington have, that “genetically modified crops are the key to human survival.” All it actually says is that “New technologies (such as the genetic modification of living organisms and the use of cloned livestock and nanotechnology) should not be excluded a priori on ethical or moral grounds.” But that sort of talk just puts people to sleep; it certainly doesn’t sell papers or keep industry happy.

The BBC at least has shown a bit more journalistic integrity, avoiding the GE hype and keeping to the report’s main message, namely that “the food production system will need to be radically changed, not just to produce more food but to produce it sustainably.” I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, despite the relevance of its main message, there's still much that is missing from the report, as Indian journalist and policy analyst Devinder Sharma and UK organizations GM Freeze and the Soil Association explain. When asked by BBC for his opinion of the report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, politely exposed the flaws in the report and concluded:
We should realize that the insistence on producing more food is one that often has not benefited the small farmers, the poor in the rural areas in developing countries.... The problem with GM crops is that the patents on these crops are [held] by a very small handful of corporations, who will capture a larger proportion of the end dollar of the food that the consumer buys. [This] creates a dependency for small farmers that is very problematic in the long term. It may not be sustainable for small-scale farmers to be hooked up to such technologies....  Investing in small-scale farming rather than investing in large-scale heavily mechanized plantations is really the path we should now radically espouse.
Too bad the UK fell short of the mark this time. We usually expect greater vision from across the Atlantic.  [Read more after the break]

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo (Sugarcube)

Yo La Tengo perform their song Sugarcube in a very funny video in which they are forced to go to Rock School.  [Related Posts: The Story of Yo La Tengo; If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo -- Mr. Tough, The Summer, I Feel Like Going Home, Today Is The Day, Sugarcube, Tom Courtenay, Here to Fall, Autumn Sweater, Femme Fatale, Our Way to Fall; With a Girl Like You, Black Flowers; Don't Cry No Tears; Jesus, Etc.]

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just Politics

Justices at 2010 SOTU
Supreme Court Justices Alito, Thomas and Scalia broke with tradition and declined to attend President Obama's State of the Union address.  Well, I could see how they would not want to be present for what Alito has referred to as a "very political event."  Oh, wait.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Activist Judges, Justice Alito attended a major fundraising event for the notorious right wing magazine American Spectator.  ThinkProgress reported that Alito was also the headliner at American Spectator's annual gala in 2008, and has been involved in other fundraising events for conservative groups.  "Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have also attended secret political fundraisers."

ThinkProgress has provided more information on right wing political functions attended by Alito, Scalia and Thomas.  In particular, both Thomas and Alito were the keynote speakers for The Manhattan Institute's Wriston Lecture, Thomas in 2008 and Alito last October.  The Manhattan Institute, funded by major corporations, is a conservative think tank that produces "right-wing policy papers as well as sponsoring speeches for judges and Republican politicians." 

The justices' participation in activities supporting these conservative groups not only raises ethical concerns but calls into serious question their impartiality.  Indeed, a study by the Constitutional Accountability Center recently concluded that the current conservative majority is significantly more likely to favor corporate interests than the most pro-corporate member of the Court twenty-five years ago.  Another study by scholars at Northwestern and the University of Chicago concluded "that the a percentage of business cases on the Supreme Court docket has grown in the Roberts years, as has the percentage of cases won by business interests."

It sure doesn't look right to have three conservative justices of the Supreme Court skip out on a Democratic president's State of the Union address while participating in right wing fundraising events.  Unfortunately, this is one instance where appearances are not deceiving.

[Related posts:  Corporate Takeover Update; Corporate Takeover; Activists Judges]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

R.I.P. Emmanuel Hammond

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On January 25, 2011, Georgia executed Emmanuel Hammond for the1988 murder of Atlanta preschool teacher, Julie Love.  There were two co-defendants.  One was given immunity in exchange for testifying against Hammond and was not prosecuted.  The other was sentenced to life after pleading guilty.  Substantial allegations that Hammond's trial lawyer was incompetent and the prosecution committed misconduct were rejected.  This is the fourth execution of 2011.

Death Penalty Politics

My friend and comrade, Natasha Minsker, the death penalty policy director for the ACLU of Northern California, wrote a great piece in the Sacramento Bee this week on the politics of the death penalty.  Here it is:



Viewpoints: Capital punishment low on voters' list of law enforcement priorities

Monday, Jan. 24, 2011 
When a hot button cools off with voters, it is worth a second look, especially after elected officials took office in the New Year.
Take the recent nail-biter contest for attorney general between San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Harris' opposition to capital punishment was supposed to be a loser at the ballot box. Many forecast that her refusal to seek the death penalty as a DA -- even in high-profile cases like the murder of a San Francisco police officer -- would cost her the office of state's top cop. Her argument that life without possibility of parole is a better and more cost-effective punishment was expected to be a hard sell across the state. So much so that the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based group dedicated to swinging key elections in the GOP's favor, bankrolled a $1.1 million run for an ad solely devoted to attacking Harris on her opposition to executions.

But voters chose Harris, and her numbers were especially good in Los Angeles -- a place that handed down more death sentences in 2009 than the entire state of Texas. Cooley should have had home-turf advantage. His aggressive push for death sentences was expected to doom Harris and turn out loyal voters. Yet Harris won Los Angeles County by a commanding 14 percentage-point margin.

Jerry Brown also faced sharp criticism on the death penalty on the campaign trail. Meg Whitman ran an ad called "Cops' Choice" in an effort to burnish her tough-on-crime image and expose voters to Brown's lifelong opposition to the death penalty. Whitman even went so far as to announce in the last days of her campaign that she would treat the death penalty as a litmus test when considering all judicial nominees. But the play fell flat with voters; Brown was easily voted into office.

Perhaps the most dramatic free fall on this issue in California happened last June when voters rejected former Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pachecho in favor of Judge Paul Zellerbach. Pacheco referred to his opponent as "Judge Marshmallow" for being "soft on crime," held rallies in favor of capital punishment, and frequently touted plans to "speed up" the death penalty and his hard line approach to prosecutions. In the end, Riverside voters preferred Zellerbach's broader approach to public safety and his promises to efficiently use public funds in a time of dwindling dollars.

It's not just Californians who are turning a deaf ear to death penalty election rhetoric. Election results from around the country confirm polling by Lake Research Partners that show many voters support candidates who support alternatives to the death penalty, and most voters simply don't care. Voters in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Kansas, and Illinois all elected governors who publicly support limiting or replacing the death penalty. Voters consistently hold other issues, such as the economy and jobs, as much higher priorities.

Economic woes may be the main reason that the death penalty issue has failed to ignite passions like in the old days. Across the nation, voters are questioning the high price tag of a system riddled with flaws such as the risks of executing the innocent. Last year, executions dropped again, by 12 percent from the year before, and death sentences remained at historic lows.
The nation and the state continue to move away from the death penalty even if political operatives and pundits have not. Whitman, Cooley and Pacheco learned the hard way that California voters are skeptical of the "tough-on-crime" rhetoric of the past. Voters have real reason to disbelieve the hype: For every 100 people sentenced to death in this state, only one has been executed. In the rare cases where the inmate is executed, it is 25 years or more after sentencing. The financial cost to the state is estimated at $1 billion over the next five years.

The human cost paid by victims' families is nearly incalculable. Legal turmoil drags on for decades in the appeals process, clemency and parole hearings, often bringing media superstardom for the killer.
With this year's election, the people of California have made their preference known: Capital punishment is low on their list of law enforcement priorities.

Voters want cost-effective public safety, not political posturing. Officeholders would do well to listen to them by supporting the swifter and less-costly alternative of life without parole, making the inmate work and pay restitution to victims' families.

[Related posts:  Tough on Crime]

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: The Kills

Pale Blue Eyes by The Kills (Velvet Underground cover)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU Word Clouds

A picture is worth a thousand words, and vice versa.  Here is a Wordle word cloud (which takes all the words from the text and gives the greatest  prominence to words that appear more frequently in the text) of Obama's speech:

Here is a word cloud from the Republican response by Rep. Paul Ryan, which is certainly better then hearing the speech itself. 

 Interesting that in Obama's speech "people," "jobs," and "work" are prominent, while for Ryan's it is the "government, "spending" and "debt."

Finally, here is one I made up that I would have liked to have seen from the SOTU:

And Justice For All: An Update

Ahmed Ghailani was the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in civilian court.  Below is a post I wrote in November 2010, after Ghailani's conviction for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the predictable outcry from conservatives that he should have been tried by a military commission.  Today, Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison.  The government was able to try and convict an alleged terrorist in a public jury trial in a civilian court.  With the imposition of the maximum sentence sought by the prosecution, it will be pretty hard for the right to argue with any credibility that military tribunals must be used in these cases.  It doesn't mean they won't try.

And Justice For All 

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'
 Nov. 18, 2010.  Ahmed Ghailani was convicted of conspiracy for his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.  Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, will be sentenced to somewhere between 20 years and life in prison, most likely life. As The New Yorker's Amy Davidson notes, "the verdict came after five days of deliberations, four weeks of trial, a year in a Manhattan jail, three years in Guantánamo, and two in a darker sort of prison, a “black site” run by the C.I.A."

Predictably, as the Times reports, because Ghailani was acquitted of all but one count, including the murder counts, "critics of the Obama administration’s strategy on detainees said the verdict proved that civilian courts could not be trusted to handle the prosecution of Al Qaeda terrorists."  Thus, N.Y. Rep. Peter King contends that "we must treat them as wartime enemies and try them in military commissions at Guantanamo."  Conservatives like King appear to be arguing that our system of justice didn't work because it wasn't rigged to ensure convictions on all counts.  As Davidson states, however, "our legal system is not a machine for producing the maximum number of convictions, regardless of the law."

Or as counsel of the Rule of Law Program at the Constitution Project said, "I don’t think we judge success based on the number of convictions that were received. I think we judge success based on fair prosecutions consistent with the Constitution and the rule of law.”

One argument offered in favor of a military tribunals is the ability to use evidence obtained through torture.  However, in this case, where evidence from a key witness whose identity was obtained through torture was deemed inadmissible, the judge made clear that a military commission judge would have excluded that testimony as well.

The trial proved that our justice system does work.  Greg Sargent asserts that the reality is "Ghailani's trial took a mere month, at the fraction of the cost of flying translators, jurors, lawyers and reporters back and forth from Guantanamo. He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. There were no opportunities to use the court as a "platform" to preach terrorism, and no security threats that disrupted the lives of New Yorkers. Opponents of the use of civilian trials often argue that civilian courts can't "handle" terrorists. They literally just did."  And Jack Tapper quotes a senior administration official:  "So, we tried a guy (who the Bush Admin tortured and then held at GTMO for 4-plus years with no end game whatsoever) in a federal court before a NY jury with full transparency and international legitimacy and -- despite all of the legacy problems of the case (i.e., evidence getting thrown out because of Bush-Admin torture, etc,) we were STILL able to convict him and INCAPACITATE him for essentially the rest of his natural life, AND there was not one -- not one -- security problem associated with the trial."

Amy Davidson makes a critical point in rebutting the assertion that the use of civilian trials creates significant hurdles for the prosecution -- and conviction -- of terror suspects:  "if time in the extra-judicial limbo of black sites, and the torture that caused some evidence to be excluded, makes prosecutors’ jobs harder, the problem is with the black sites and the torture, and not with the civilian trials that might eventually not work out quite the way everyone likes."  Finally, as Glenn Greenwald says, " When a reviled defendant is acquitted in court, and torture-obtained evidence is excluded, that isn't proof that the justice system is broken; it's proof that it works.  A "justice system" which guarantees convictions -- or which allows the Government to rely on evidence extracted from torture -- isn't a justice system at all, by definition."

What Happened to Filibuster Reform?

Strom Thurmond filibusters 1957 civil rights act

At the end of December, before the start of the new Congress, all of the returning Democrats expressed a strong desire for filibuster reform, signing a letter urging Majority Leader Harry Reid to change the rules.  As I wrote then (Better Late Than Never), the fact that the Senate Democrats could agree on this unanimously reflected how truly outrageous the Republicans have been in abusing the current rules to hold the government hostage to their right wing agenda.

Senator Tom Harkin recently made the following case for reform:
"What has the filibuster become? A means whereby a minority in the Senate dictates what we can and cannot do. We have stood democracy on its head. The minority has the power, and not the responsibility, to [stop] legislation. The majority has the responsibility, and not the power, to enact legislation.  The minority determines what the Senate does. It determines what the Congress can do . . . Therefore, a small minority in the Senate now decides what happens in this country."
The Udall-Merkely-Harkin proposal seemed to be getting the most attention in anticipation of the new Senate term.  Greg Sargent explains that this plan, "which includes doing away with the filibuster of the motion to proceed, eliminating secret holds, and forcing Senators to actually filibuster, will make it far harder for a minority to use the tool as part of a broader strategy to frustrate democracy."   However, this was not the only proposal on the table, and while the Democrats seemed unanimous in wanting to change the filibuster rules they could not, of course, agree on which plan to adopt.

Firedoglake summarizes some of the other proposals:  "Al Franken’s amendment would change the threshold for filibusters from needing 60 to break one to needing 41 to sustain one. Mark Udall has a separate proposal with elements of both Franken’s rule change and Udall-Merkley-Harkin, albeit slightly different. He includes to that ending the option for reading on the floor amendments which are printed in a timely fashion, and end the unanimous consent needed for committees to meet. Claire McCaskill and Ron Wyden seem to be focused entirely on ending secret holds, which is in the Udall-Merkley-Harkin document."

The Democrats couldn't reach agreement on their own proposals and, even worse, decided it would be better to get some Republicans on board as well.  Sam Stein of Huffington Post reports that although procedures were in place to permit rule changes with a majority of 51 votes, some Democrats were wary of this option and preferred to settle for a less ambitious, watered-down reform package that would garner 67 votes.  The deal that appears to be falling into place would do away with "secret holds," which have allowed any Senator to anonymously stop a vote on Presidential nominees, and reduce the number of nominations that require Senate confirmation.  There appears, however, to be no consensus on modifying the filibuster rules to ensure that a party would actually have to filibuster rather than merely threaten to do so.

As Rachel Maddow said, filibuster reform is "the single most important thing we can do on a single day to change Washington. It would make a huge difference in the rest of Barack Obama's first term, and might make a difference whether he has a second term."   Oh well.

[Related posts:  Better Late Than Never, Vermont's Finest]

Monday, January 24, 2011

Regenerated Progressive

Russ Feingold
The most bitter loss of the mid-term elections was the defeat of Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin to plastics executive and Tea Party-backed candidate Ron Johnson.  (See Plastics.)  Feingold is a true progressive and unyielding civil libertarian.  He was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, a remarkably courageous act at that time, and he later introduced a resolution to censure President Bush for authorizing illegal wiretapping.  He is a staunch opponent of the death penalty.  He was outspoken in his opposition to the Iraq War, and accused Bush of "mounting an assault on the Constitution."  And, of course, he co-authored the McCain-Feingold Act on campaign finance reform.

On his last day in the Senate, Feingold was interviewed by The Nation's John Nichols.  The whole interview is really worth reading, but the highlight was Feingold explaining how our society is "being dominated by corporate power in a way that may exceed what happened in the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century;" our country "has become so corporatized that the progressive movement is as relevant as it was one hundred years ago, maybe more so."  To Feingold, this is a struggle over the same issues:  "It's just that [corporate] power, because of money, international arrangements and communications, is so overwhelming that the average person is nearly helpless unless we develop a movement that can counter that power."  Feingold contends that we are at a critical moment:
We need to regenerate progressivism and make it relevant to what's happening right now.  But there's no lack of historical comparison to a hundred years ago.  It's so similar; the only real difference is that corporate power is even more extended.  It's the Gilded Age on steroids.
Feingold will back President Obama in 2012.  He advises progressives to support and respect Obama, but to be vocal about "a desire that he move more strongly in certain areas, such as civil liberties."  He urges that this be done "in a way that makes it clear we are not trying to harm the presidency but that we're trying to make sure that the base of the party and the progressive movement is motivated for this re-election."

According to Nichols, Russ Feingold will not fade away or follow the path of so many of his colleagues by becoming a corporate lobbyist.  On the contrary, he "intends to embrace the role of citizen reformer, continue challenging corporate power and play a part in renewing and extending the progressive movement."

[Related posts: Plastics]

Party at the SOTU

As President Obama gets ready to deliver his State of the Union address, there is much speculation about what he will say and how he will say it.  David Corn writes about what he thinks progressives want from Obama's SOTU and concludes that those on the left -- even more than specific policy initiatives -- will be looking to see "how vigorously he will fight the newly empowered Republicans."

This progressive has written repeatedly and with great frustration about Obama's predilection for compromise and bipartisanship.  (See, e.g., Greider on Obama, No Se Puede, Holy Pointless Gimmick; What Krugman Said.)  I certainly would love to see a more combative speech from Obama, where he exposes Republican hypocrisy and makes a bold case for a progressive agenda.  I know that is not going to happen.  What I would settle for is a speech that does not adopt Republican talking points, especially about the need for belt-tightening and the over-arching importance of deficit reduction.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Obama plans to take a "centrist" approach and strike a theme of "national unity" in his speech.  Unfortunately, the more Obama tries to find common ground with Republicans, the more the ground keeps shifting -- and shifting to the right.  Obama will thankfully argue that we must spur the economy by investing in infrastructure, education and technological innovation.  But I am afraid he will also tip his hat to Republicans by stating that such spending must be tempered with the need to reduce the deficit, which will only succeed in giving cover to Republicans, who want to make deep spending cuts and prohibit any new government spending. 

Instead of searching for where Democrats and Republicans can agree, Obama should be gearing up for a defense of his spending priorities by explaining what it would mean to adopt Republican policies.  In this regard, he has been given a great gift -- if he would only take it -- with the selection of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to provide the GOP response to the SOTU.  Rep. Ryan drafted a radical plan for reducing the deficit, known as the "Roadmap for America's Future," that Paul Krugman explained "is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."  Obama should anticipate Ryan's inevitable plea in rebuttal for budget cuts and no new spending by explaining what the Republicans truly have in mind.  The American public should know that the Roadmap calls for massive cuts to social programs, partial privatization of Social Security, severe cuts to Medicare, which is to be replaced by a voucher program, and more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Ryan and his fellow Republicans want to privatize Social Security and have been pushing the myth that Social Security is in dire crisis.  And Obama?  It is telling that the liberal Democrats in the House felt compelled to urge Obama to make it clear that he will not agree with Republicans to cut or make changes to Social Security.  As the letter from the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus explains, the SOTU provides Obama with a " unique opportunity to set forth a framework of democratic values and to call for protecting Social Security for generations to come."  At the very minimum, this is an opportunity he should not pass up.

[Related posts:  Dead Armadillos; Let 'Em Eat Catfood; Must Read: Krugman]

Monday Jumpstart: Foreign Born

Early Warnings by Foreign Born

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Marx Brothers Milestone

Today was a very big day in my life as a parent.  After years of hope, preparation and anticipation, I sat down with my young children and together we watched my absolute favorite movie of all time, The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup.

I have sprinkled their childhood with Marx Brothers' gags, with Groucho's wisecracks, and with occasional movie clips on You Tube (including Lydia the Tattooed Lady scene in At the Circus, the mirror scene from Duck Soup, Captain Spaulding's Adventures from Animal Crackers, and the Tootsie Fruitsie Ice Cream scene from A Day at the Races).  I warmed them up a few weeks ago with A Night At The Opera, which they really enjoyed.

And so tonight it was Duck Soup. They didn't quite comprehend the brilliance of the satirical commentary on subjects such as political leaders, government bureaucracy, diplomacy, law, and war.  And some of the wordplay was too quick and sophisticated.  But they loved the remarkable vaudevillian slapstick routines, the musical numbers, and the overall zaniness of the brothers' characters.  I would say it was a rousing success.  It's on to Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business and the Cocoanuts.

Here is their favorite scene from Duck Soup, the mirror scene:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Say It's So, Joe.

In honor -- and celebration -- of Senator Joe Lieberman's announcement that he will not seek re-election to the Senate, here is a 2006 Tom Tomorrow cartoon entitled "The Independent Thinker."

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #17

Dinah Washington, Dinah Jams (1954).  This is a remarkable album by a remarkable singer with a remarkable group of musicians backing her up.  Dinah Washington is in the pantheon of incredible jazz singers, with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.  She had "a distinctive vocal style," with a "gritty, salty, high-pitched voice, marked by absolute clarity of diction and clipped, bluesy phrasing."  Dinah Jams was recorded in front of a live studio audience and has the feel of a jam session, with the singer and band letting loose.  We have already discussed trumpeter Clifford Brown, who, together with his band at the time (Max Roach on drums, Richie Powell on piano and Harold Land on saxophone) are in fine form here.  Other legendary musicians, such as Clark Terry and Maynard Ferguson, are here too. There are long jams, fabulous solos, and wonderful ballads, and most of all, Dinah Washington, who, as one critic puts it, "though she's in the midst of these stellar soloists, Washington expertly works her supple voice throughout."  This might not be Dinah's most accessible album (for that try, a couple of albums she recorded two years later:  In the Land of Hi-Fi or The Swingin' Miss D, or What A Difference A Day Makes (1959).)  But for a combination of incredible jazz playing and singing, you can't beat this one.  [Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Got Organic Milk?

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN North America) seeks to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.  My dear friend, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, a senior scientist at PAN, is working to get the USDA to block approval of GE alfalfa.  In the post below she explains why this is so important:

Want organic milk? Stop GE alfalfa!

by Marcia Ishii-Eitman, Jan. 20, 2011

Please join me today in urging the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to block approval of GE alfalfa.  Things are moving quickly in Washington, and frankly, they aren't looking good.  Ignoring rulings from three district courts and the Supreme Court, the demands of over 50 members of Congress and concern expressed by his agency’s own scientists (not to mention farmers and the public), Agriculture Secretary Vilsack is apparently refusing to take action to prohibit the planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa.

I can hear the applause by Monsanto, et al.'s lobbyists now.  They've been calling loudly for just this decision: commercial release of GE alfalfa with no restrictions whatsoever.

Seriously, you might ask—is alfalfa really that big a deal?  Yes, it turns out.

Superweeds, contamination & milk

Alfalfa is our country’s fourth largest crop, covering 21 million acres of land. GE alfalfa has been engineered to be resistant to (and hence used with) Monsanto’s highly profitable weedkiller, Roundup.  Massive planting of other Roundup Ready crops around the country has already led to an epidemic of Roundup-resistant “superweeds.”  Approving GE alfalfa will not only contribute to more resistance (and hence recourse to older even more toxic weedkillers), but will almost certainly lead to widespread contamination of organic and non-GE alfalfa with GE pollen (alfalfa is pollinated by honeybees, which travel many miles).

GE crop contamination will inevitably lead to corruption of non-GE seed and feed supplies and huge economic losses to farmers who provide non-GE milk or meat to U.S. or international markets.  Alfalfa is a primary food of dairy cows (and in fact, most other livestock as well).  GE contamination of forage and hay would devastate the organic dairy and livestock industry; as consumers, we might soon have to wave goodbye not only to organic sprouts in our salads, but also to organic milk for our kids and even just plain old conventional non-GE milk.

Quick fact : 85% of non-organic milk has DDE (a DDT-breakdown product), 23% dieldrin and 6% 3-hydroxycarbofuran — the first two are known carcinogens and suspected endocrine disruptors, the last a neurotoxin.

Monsanto's patent play

Ironically, USDA’s own environmental impact study admitted that GE contamination of organic and conventionally grown crops presents a very real problem.  After receiving 400,000 comments from concerned citizens criticizing the agency’s eagerness to approve GE alfalfa, Vilsack assured us last month that he was “equally committed to finding solutions that support not only the developers and users of biotechnology products, but growers who rely on purity in the non-genetically engineered seed supply."  Those assurances are sounding awfully hollow today; it’s not hard to imagine where the pressure to protect sales of yet another Monsanto product came from. In fact, just yesterday three influential Republicans wrote to Vilsack urging approval, without (as Jill Richardson puts it), “all of these namby-pamby restrictions on where it can be grown.”

The irony is that RoundupReady alfalfa isn't even necessary for farmers.  The perennial crop has few serious weed problems and eliminating all "extra" grasses in a field in order to provide "clear alfalfa" is actually unhealthy for your cows (even if it enables one to maximize production over the short term, until one's cows give out—an understandable if ultimately unsustainable strategy). But Roundup Ready alfalfa is necessary for Monsanto, which is anxious to squeeze as much profit from its flagship weedkiller as possible before its patent protections expire in 2014.

Take Action » PANNA joins with National Organic Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch and Food Democracy Now! in rejecting the approval of GE alfalfa. We urge a strict moratorium on planting GE alfalfa, until such time as: 1) independent evaluations of the public health, environmental and economic impacts of GE alfalfa are completed and demonstrate no harm; 2) regulations are put into place to prevent and monitor genetic contamination; and 3) a mechanism and fund is established (and paid for by GE alfalfa patent-holders) to compensate farmers and others in the food supply chain for any losses resulting from GE contamination.

With USDA likely to make its decision by next week, there’s no time to waste.

[Related posts:  Farming to Nourish the Planet]

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo . . . (Jesus, Etc. w/ Jeff Tweedy)

Yo La Tengo with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, playing Jesus, Etc., at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ, on December 3, 2010 (the third night of their eight Chanukah shows).
[Related Posts: The Story of Yo La Tengo; If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo -- Mr. Tough, The Summer, I Feel Like Going Home, Today Is The Day, Sugarcube, Tom Courtenay, Here to Fall, Autumn Sweater, Femme Fatale, Our Way to Fall; With a Girl Like You, Black Flowers; Don't Cry No Tears]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Reagan Years: Mourning in America

Brace yourself for the bipartisan celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth on February 6, 2011.  In anticipation of the sanitized and romanticized Centennial celebration, I thought I would provide a primer on some of the darker aspects of Reagan's Presidency. 

1.  Hostility to civil rights.  As Bob Herbert stated, "Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people."  Reagan launched his first presidential campaign in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a place notorious for the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers, and gave a speech about states' rights.  Herbert explained that Reagan was "tapping the code;" that talking about states' rights in that particular venue was a clear signal that he was not going to favor African Americans over whites.  And this proved true throughout his presidency.  He was also speaking in code when, as Paul Krugman related, he "repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud."  Herbert summarized:  "As president, he actually tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He opposed a national holiday for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to get rid of the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination. And in 1988, he vetoed a bill to expand the reach of federal civil rights legislation."

2.  Trickle Down Economics.  As the theory goes, cut tax rates for the wealthy, and their increased spending will trickle down to the rest of us.  In a classic parody in 2007, The Onion nails the absurdity: "26 years after Ronald Reagan first set his controversial fiscal policies into motion, the deceased president's massive tax cuts for the ultrarich at last trickled all the way down to deliver their bounty, in the form of a $10 bonus, to Hazelwood, MO car-wash attendant Frank Kellener."  As Krugman points out: "While the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen"  Here is a clip from Rachel Maddow which completely dismantles the theory that cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans, cutting social spending, and cutting regulation was sound or fair economic policy.

3.  Ketchup is a vegetable.  Emblematic of Reagan's efforts to drastically cut social spending was the attempt by his administration to reclassify ketchup and pickle relish as vegetables, which would have saved money by allowing public schools to eliminate vegetables from the hot lunches.  Reagan severely cut spending on social programs, including substantial reductions in federal subsidies for low-income housing, and spending on Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and federal aid to education.

4.  From Bag Ladies to the The Homeless. Reagan drastically cut subsidies for low income housing, and together with cuts in welfare and other social programs, this led to a steep increase in the homeless.   Under Reagan, the number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 24.5 million in 1978 to 32.5 million in 1988.  By the late 1980s, the number of homeless had increased to 1.2 million a year.  Reagan, in a revealing moment, claimed on Good Morning America that people sleeping on the streets "are homeless, you might say, by choice."  

5.  Justice Scalia.  Ronald Reagan appointed three justices to the Supreme Court:  Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the Court, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia.  (Reagan was unsuccessful in his efforts to appoint Robert Bork, whose nomination failed when his extremely unorthodox right wing views were aired in his confirmation hearing.)  Justice Scalia has proven to be one of the most reactionary justices in modern times.  Most recently, he stated that he did not believe the Constitution protected women from discrimination.  All three of these Reagan justices were in the majority in Bush v. Gore, one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Supreme Court.

6.  Reshaping the Federal Bench.  Ed Meese was a highly influential adviser to Reagan, with their relationship dating back to when Reagan was Governor of California.  In the Reagan Administration, Meese was first given the title of Counselor with a cabinet rank and later was Attorney General, before resigning due to a corruption scandal.  Of his many dubious contributions to the Reagan Presidency, one of the most significant was in helping to aggressively re-shape the federal judiciary by appointing extremely conservative judges. Potential nominees underwent intense screening and scrutiny to ensure their conservative credentials.  By the time Reagan left office, he had appointed more than half of the judges on the federal bench and he left a blueprint for appointing judges that was followed by his Republican successors.

7.  Freedom Fighters.  The Reagan Doctrine's stated policy was to support so-called anti-communist rebel movements that were seeking to overthrow Soviet-supported governments in Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua and other countries.  This resulted in the U.S. providing substantial backing to groups that did not necessarily have support of their own people and who were linked to human rights abuses and, in some cases, drug trafficking.  Perhaps most cynically, Reagan referred to the CIA-trained and financed Nicaraguan Contras as "the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers."  At the same time Reagan backed right wing dictatorships with egregious human rights records because they supported U.S. interests and thwarted left wing insurgencies, including in El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala, Argentina, and the Philippines.

8.  Iran-Contra.  The Reagan Administration sold weapons to Iran, ostensibly to secure the release of hostages, and then used the money from the arm sales to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.  However, there was an embargo on arms sales to Iran and legal prohibition against funding the Contras. The ensuing scandal revealed evidence of money-laundering, arms smuggling and drug trafficking, and resulted in the the indictment of 14 participants, 11 of whom were convicted.  Some of the convictions were overturned and President George H.W. Bush, who was implicated in the scandal, pardoned six of those convicted.  The failure of any real accounting for the abuses of power stemming from the Iran-Contra Scandal lead directly to the excesses of the George W. Bush Administration, which operated under the belief that the executive branch could run foreign policy as it saw fit regardless of  laws, treaties and the Constitution.

9.  James G. Watt.  Reagan continually tried to undermine the mandate of government agencies by appointing people to head them who were opposed to the agencies' missions.  The Labor Department became anti-labor.  The EPA became anti-environment.  Reagan actually tried to abolish the Department of Education.  The classic example was the appointment of James Watt to be Secretary of the Interior.  Watt was hostile to regulations protecting the environment and  supported the unfettered development and use of federal lands by foresting, ranching and other commercial interests.  Another incongruous appointment was tapping Clarence Thomas to head the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.  

10. AIDS.  We can't forget Reagan's "shameful abdication of leadership in the fight against AIDS."  The first AIDS cases surfaced in 1981.  With the growing national health crisis and the dire need for federal funding and research, as well as leadership to quell the homophobic reaction to the disease, Reagan did nothing and said nothing.  On the contrary, his communications director, Pat Buchanan, said, that AIDS is "nature's revenge on gay men."  By Feb. 1, 1983, over 1000 AIDS cases were reported, and at least 394 had died in the U.S. Reagan remained silent.  Over two years later, in 1985, Rep. Henry Waxman said in the Washington Post:  "It is surprising that the president could remain silent as 6,000 Americans died, that he could fail to acknowledge the epidemic's existence.  Perhaps his staff felt he had to, since many of his New Right supporters have raised money by campaigning against homosexuals."  Still nothing.  Reagan would ultimately address the issue of AIDS in 1987, towards the end of his presidency, but by then over 36,000 had been diagnosed with AIDS and almost 21,000 had died.

Face Facts

So, yesterday, as I do most mornings before work, I published a blog post and hit the "share on Facebook" button.  I then received the following dreaded message from Facebook:  "Message Failed.  This message contains blocked content that has previously been flagged as abusive or spammy.  Let us know if you think this is an error."  I did let them know, but 24 hours later I haven't received a response.  

I can no longer share any blog posts directly from my blog to Facebook -- even to my own blog's Facebook page.  There is either some Facebook glitch I don't know about or someone flagged my blog as "abusive or spammy."  As you all know, this blog isn't abusive or spammy.  Opinionated, sure.  Sometimes a little strident, maybe.  But not abusive, and certainly not spammy, spammish or even spamesque.

I've spent a little time trying to figure out what to do other than letting Facebook know I think they erred.  Facebook, however, is faceless -- it is impossible to get any real answers directly, and my extra-Facebook research turned up nothing except that I now know there are plenty of other users out there who have been similarly flagged and who are as dumbfounded as me.

Facebook has become a worldwide phenomenon, interwoven into many people's lives.  It was reported in December that nearly half the American population have a Facebook account, and its popularity has grown remarkably overseas as well.  As its reach rapidly expands, there are increasing concerns about privacy, as well as, I have now been made aware, abusive content and spam.  Facebook's response to these issues, which is ever-changing, increasingly complicated, and seemingly random, suggests that the people running things might be out of control. 

If it is so easy for some anonymous person to muck things up for an amateur blogger, then I suppose we should all be wary of becoming too dependent on social networking sites or other kinds of social media.  When things go haywire, we need to be prepared to just let it go or we will wind up feeling completely dispirited and utterly helpless.  I'm trying.  I keep checking every 15 minutes or so to see if Facebook has replied to my error report, but I'm trying.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: Elvis Perkins

Shampoo by Elvis Perkins.

Healthy Debate

Honesty and civility are too much to ask for from House Republicans as they bring up the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act."  Not even the title of the bill is honest or civil.  Independent experts reject the assertion that the law will adversely affect employment.  As Ezra Klein explains, the health care law will not kill jobs, although it might slightly reduce the long-term supply of labor because older workers may retire earlier with the expansion of Medicaid and other subsidies.  Nor will the current law bust the budget and increase the deficit, as Republicans also claim.  On the contrary, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated, repealing health care reform would add $230 billion over the next ten years.  The health care law currently in effect is designed to rein in rising health care costs -- which is the single greatest cause of long-term deficit problems.

The Affordable Care Act contains many popular provisions that are now in effect, which include prohibiting denial of coverage for children because of preexisting conditions, rescission of a policy after a person becomes sick, and a lifetime cap on the amount insurers pay for medical care.  Children are able to remain on their parents’ policies until they turn 26.  Insurers must spend at least 80% of their premium income on medical care and quality improvements.  And small businesses are entitled to federal tax credits to help them provide coverage to employees.

It is worth asking why Republicans want to repeal these provisions, particularly when they admit that they have no coherent plan to replace the current law.  If the Affordable Care Act will help reduce the deficit, will not "kill jobs," and will provide better coverage for more people, what do Republicans have against it?  The answer, when you clear away the falsehoods, becomes self-evident.  As Paul Krugman bluntly put it:  "They’re against reform because it would cover the uninsured — and that’s something they just don’t want to do."

This would seem to be a perfect opportunity for Democrats to educate the public about health care reform and highlight Republican hypocrisy.  Remarkably, as The New York Times reports, the Democrats are planning to do just that.  They intend to mount a vigorous defense, which will include a rapid response operation to monitor Republican claims, phone-banking, special events and paid  TV advertisements.  The Democratic National Committee has produced detailed talking points which, after spelling out the many ways in which the Affordable Care Act provides Americans with more freedom and control in their health care choices, emphasizes Republican bias towards insurance companies:
  • Now, Republicans in Congress want to unravel the law that holds insurance companies in check.
  •  The insurance company lobbyists are working overtime with Republicans to return to the days when insurance companies were free to do whatever they want, including raising premiums and imposing higher costs on families and businesses to protect their CEO bonuses and corporate profits. 
  •  Republicans will allow insurance companies to once again DENY coverage to children with existing conditions, CANCEL coverage when people get sick, and LIMIT the amount of care you can get − even if you need it. 
  •  When the insurance companies are free to pursue their profits without any accountability, people have fewer choices, fewer options, and little recourse. 
  •  And, by rolling back the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are adding a TRILLION dollars to the deficit. 
  • They would give back to insurance companies subsidies of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. And they would cut back on efforts in the law to stop waste, fraud, and abuse in government spending. We can NOT afford to add another trillion dollars in debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay - especially when it goes to wasteful spending and outrageous subsides for insurance companies.
The repeal bill is likely to pass in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives but has no chance of passing in the Senate, and, in any event, President Obama has promised to veto it. But the Republicans' cynical efforts provide a second chance for Democrats who were intimidated by poll numbers and too craven to stand up for health care reform during the mid-term elections. It looks like they actually might take it.