Saturday, November 07, 2009


In a late night session, the House of Representatives passed the Obama-backed Democratic health care reform plan 220-215. As President Obama observed in an email, "Despite countless attempts over nearly a century, no chamber of Congress has ever before passed comprehensive health reform. This is history."

Democratic House members met earlier with President Obama, and Representative Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said afterwards, “This is an opportunity to do something as big as Social Security,” he added. “And me, personally, I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.”

After meeting with Obama, some Democrats began a familiar chant: Fired Up! Ready to Go! Fired Up! Ready to Go!

Republicans offered their own bill, which was defeated, and attempted to disrupt the debate by shouting down Democratic speakers. Republican leadership guaranteed that no GOPers would vote for the bill, so they must have been surprised when one Republican did--Representative Ahn Cao of Louisiana, the first person born in Vietnam to be elected to Congress. He said in a statement: "I listened to the countless stories of Orleans and Jefferson Parish citizens whose health care costs are exploding — if they are able to obtain health care at all. Louisianans needs real options for primary care, for mental health care, and for expanded health care for seniors and children.”

TPM summarizes what the House and Senate bills contain. Among those voting against in the House was liberal Dennis Kucinich, who supports a single payer system. Some interesting quick reflections on that, and on the politics of the vote, here from Booman.

Update: The NYTimes adds some handy stuff: a point by point comparison of House and Senate bills, an interactive map of districts by who voted for and who against the House bill, plus a chart concerning the Democrats who voted against the House bill. Meanwhile, Josh Marshall sees the vote as historic--but even though he believes health care reform will be enacted, it could possibly lead to Democrats losing Congress in 2010, and/or the presidency in 2012. (But then the world ends in 2012 so it won't make any difference.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Grand Entrance

In honor of the history-making White House Tribal Leaders Conference yesterday, which President Obama and tribal leaders hope is the beginning of a new era of justice and partnership, subject of the post below. "Grand Entrance" by Kenojuak Ashevak (Inuit.)

A Lasting Conversation

The President of the United States met with American Indian leaders from all 564 tribal nations on Thursday, at the conference he called. It was the first time--as the BBC pointed out--that a sitting President has ever held such a meeting.

The recognized tribes weren't the only ones represented, because problems of getting officially recognized is one of the issues discussed.

Several times President Obama made this point: "And I want to be clear about this: Today's summit is not lip service. We're not going to go through the motions and pay tribute to one another and then furl up the flags and go our separate ways. Today's sessions are part of a lasting conversation that's crucial to our shared future."

The shared past has been ugly, long past the well known history of slaughter, concentration camps and slavery in the 18th and 19th century, and the racism and exploitation of the 20th. Some members of Congress, such as Senator Ted Kennedy, and later President Clinton made some efforts to establish new federal policies, but such efforts died in the Bush administration, as corruption and exploitation again became more characteristic.

But as a candidate, Obama was the first since Robert Kennedy to actively campaign for Indian votes by engaging tribes and Native groups, and speaking to their issues. On Thursday, he could speak to these leaders with a record of having kept his major campaign promises to them, and he was honored for this effort. So the president of the National Congress of American Indians could say, "we respect you as a man of your word."

Throughout the day, cabinet secretaries and other federal officials listened to tribal leaders and their issues: the effects of the Climate Crisis on tribes in Alaska, the environmental destruction when reservations are used as toxic waste dumps, continuing issues of land and sovereignty, severe unemployment, and terrible health and education problems.

The Obama administration has already demonstrated its awareness by targeting money from the Recovery Act to Indian nations. In particular, recognizing that some of the better sites for solar and wind power projects are on Indian lands, the administration is interested in fostering clean energy projects. So are tribal leaders.

The President opened the conference, and handled this occasion with skill and style. He didn't suggest a Native genetic heritage, like the Cherokee blood that I've heard Indians say is the most common and meaningless claim. He spoke of a relationship that is taken seriously: he was adopted into the Crow Nation. Even though this can be a courtesy to flatter important people, it can have real meaning, depending on how seriously the parties take it.

And speaking of seriously, President Obama used a tool that Native peoples appreciate: humor. For example, after his remarks, Obama signed an executive order giving federal agencies 90 days to submit detailed plans on ways to improve their consultations with tribal leaders. He did so using 8 pens, which as is customary, would then be given to leaders. As he signed bits of his signature with each pen he told the audience, "this isn't as easy as it looks."

However, he may not have been prepared for the lengthy and almost ceremonial statements he got in the Q and A period, during which no Qs were asked. I recognize that, too, and I learned to love it.

President Obama returned at the end of the day to reiterate his resolve that this was a beginning and not an end to--at last--an attentive relationship between the U.S. government and the Indian nations. Unfortunately, the shootings at Fort Hood not only dominated the day's news but prevented the President from making his final remarks.

Here's a brief story from AFP, the New York Times account of the day, and USA Today. A transcript of Obama's remarks in the morning and the Q & A are here, in the Washington Post, and Reznet News has a story and video.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I turned on the TV at about 145 Pacific time and heard the reports of gunshots and deaths at Fort Hood. Apparently the cable news outlets had been reporting the wildly varying information for awhile. Then the first official spokesperson for the base provided this information: 12 dead, 31 wounded with wounds varying greatly in severity, the shooter was killed by a civilian police officer, the incident took place in a building where troops were gathered as part of the processing for imminent deployment--at least some to Iraq and Afghanistan. Two suspects were also in custody--they and the shooter are U.S. Army, though the victims included civilian police.

Though this official was careful to say there was one shooter and two additional suspects being questioned, it took miliseconds for both Wolf Blitzer and Chris Matthews to begin referring to the three shooters. It may turn out to be the case, but it may also turn out to be that the two suspects didn't actually shoot. They may be guilty of nothing. It's more than sloppy reporting, it's bad reporting, with a hint of hysteria. It's what comes of employing people not to think but to shoot their mouths off. I've turned the TV off.

Update: By about 630 pm Pacific it was confirmed that indeed the two suspects were not shooters, and after questioning were released. However, the official report was also wrong in saying that the accused shooter was dead. A second press conference revealed he is alive, with multiple gunshot wounds, as is the person who first shot him, described as "a female first responder." Whether this misreporting was intentional or not is a question that is likely to be asked.

Update 2: The New York Times story about the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, corrects yet another bit of misreporting on cable news. CNN in particular reported that the FBI had looked into web postings Hasan made, about suicide bombings. The implication was that they should have realized he was trouble. But the Times emphasized (repeating it twice) that the Nidal Hasan who posted had not been definitively identified as Major Nidal Hasan. Kind of an important point.

The Times story also suggests a rationale for the apparently paradoxical fact that Hasan was a psychiatrist:

He had also more recently expressed deep concerns about being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. Having counseled scores of returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, first at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington and more recently at Fort Hood, he knew all too well the terrifying realities of war, said a cousin, Nader Hasan.

“He was mortified by the idea of having to deploy,” Mr. Hasan said. “He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there.”

This doesn't make the taking of innocent life any more rational, and certainly not justifiable, but it does link Hasan's expertise to the situation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Seriously though, folks...

This is the guy who wants Death Panels? Whose health care plan is equivalent to the Holocaust? The new Hitler, the new Stalin, the unAmerican Anti-Christ? The media may eat it up, but the cognitive dissonance is clearly too much for the majority of Americans. A tumultuous and yet basically calmer year later, apart from an increasingly dangerous fringe. More on the year later theme in the post below.

A Year Later

The first November election after Barack Obama won the presidency had several races that the politicians and media watched for real and mostly imagined significance. The early morning after stories trumpeted Democratic defeats for governor of New Jersey (the incumbent lost) and Virginia (the Democratic incumbent wasn't running.) By the time Morning Joe begins fulminating, the GOPers will be crowing all over the place.

However, their glee might be tempered by a couple of House races where they lost badly, particularly the one in New York, where a Democrat won a Republican seat, for the first time in more than a century. This was the race where Rabid Right leaders endorsed the Conservative Party candidate over the Republican, who dropped out--and endorsed the Dem. The Conservative was still expected to win, but he sure didn't.

Inevitably there's the question of what this says about Obama. Looking at the polls, Kos said "nothing." Obama's support in Virginia and New Jersey is about the same as when he won those states, and in exit polls most voters said they weren't saying anything about Obama either way with their vote.

Later in the evening, Kos played a slightly different tune, attributing the low turnout among young voters to disenchantment with the lack of bold action. Earlier in the day I caught Chris Matthews railing against Netroots kids expecting that political change is as easy as "asking your mother to make you pancakes." So that's another argument that's bound to gas up the airwaves Wednesday.

Whatever each of them does or doesn't portend, a few off-year elections aren't going to change the dynamic for Obama. But how the perception game among pols plays out might, specifically in terms of pending legislation on healthcare and the Climate Crisis. If GOPers can project more strength and cast Obama as politically weaker, it could be trouble. However, GOPers feeling their oats are fairly reliable in their tendency to overplay their hand.

But what is important about a year later? We've forgotten the Great Recession--and how close we came to Great Depression II--even before the economy is actually healthy. That's remarkable. What isn't remarkable is all the hoo-haw about what Obama is and isn't doing, and particularly the inspiring speeches he's not making. I was only 16 or 17, but I remember the same hoo-haw about President Kennedy. He's such a great communicator, why isn't he doing more FDR style fireside chats? Etc. JFK may have been too skeptical, but he did understand timing, and nobody has been better at timing in recent years than Barack Obama. He waited until the right moment to address Congress on health care, and evidence is mounting that it was that moment that turned things around.

Sure, it's not done yet, and there's plenty of danger ahead. But that isn't the worst of it. What I find most appalling and most dangerous is the attempt to discredit and destroy the President. I understand where some of this is coming from. It's a brand of justice called revenge.

I saw it on a bumper sticker in front of me at a red light--surrounded by other Rabid Right slogans, it said something to the effect of: I'll respect your President exactly as much as you respected mine.

This is partly payback for what was said about G.W. Bush. And there's something to this: there was disdain, disrespect, however justified or not.

But the Rabid Right is much better at hate. Their leaders--including elected bigwig DC leaders-- aren't even pretending to restrain the haters. GOPers in Congress and possible presidential candidates fan the flames, as do ambitious media stars eager to cash in. They have inflated the rhetoric beyond reason. No longer even bothering with "socialized medicine," they've gone right to the inflammatory "socialism."

Was Bush closer to being a fascist than Obama is a socialist? I'd say yes, but someone could probably make the case that these propositions are equally wrong. I can recite ways in which Bush earned disdain (his appointment by the Supreme Court, Iraq, Katrina, torture, etc.) And I can show how a lot of this extreme opposition is delusional. So the equivalence breaks down, though obviously not everyone thinks so.

Is the racial hatred of Obama more toxic than the disdain for Bush as a spoiled rich kid? I'd say yes, but somebody on the other side might make a case that they're the same in some way.

What I don't think is debatable is the greater potential for violence now--there is a difference between gun-toting and civil disobedience. And again, GOPer leaders are eagerly embracing and encouraging the vocabulary of the haters, as well as their campaign contributions. They are extreme enough that columnist Joe Klein, not exactly a roaring leftist, accuses some of them of sedition.

Here's what I worry about, beyond the very real worry over President Obama's safety, and what will happen to the country if there is even an assassination attempt. We have a huge and powerful military, a military-industrial complex, constrained only by one civilian authority, the President. Anything that undermines his legitimacy and authority, threatens his control over the military specifically, and the military-industrial complex.

The relative power of the military today is an open question. Maybe they aren't as powerful as they once were, in the fifties and sixties, when even the Secretary of Defense admitted they were itching to start a thermonuclear war. But Obama may need all his authority to keep the military in control, especially if he makes decisions counter to their wishes in Afghanistan.

There's a delicate line between criticizing, even castigating the man who is president, and damaging the presidency and the ability of the President to fulfill constitutional roles and duties. But I don't think the Rabid Right is aware of that, or particularly cares. That's scary in itself.

On the plus side, most of the American electorate is being decidedly turned off by this rabid rhetoric. Still, it's a volatile situation, in a country where civilization itself seems increasingly vulnerable.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Yes We Can

Here on what one North Coast blogger links to as "Bill's Obama Blog," let's celebrate and remember another election night one year ago, with this terrific video by Jed Lewison. Note Obama's election night speech, warning that this was just the beginning of change, that it would be hard and require much of us, but as long as we breathe, we hope. A year later--only one year later-- it's good to remind ourselves of the magnitude of what happened, which was and remains a reason to hope that the future can still be saved.