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I confess. I watch American Idol. At the end of a long Tuesday or Wednesday at The Nation, I don't reach for Le Monde Diplomatique or New Left Review. I reach for my remote. And I enjoy the critical powers of American Idol Judge Simon Cowell.
(In the latest issue of The New Republic, newly anointed editor Franklin Foer has a terrific and snarkily insightful analysis of Simon's judicial "pistol-whippings"--replete with comparisons to the power of other arbiters of American critical taste such as Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, and Clement Greenberg.)
Since early Spring, I've had a running bet with one of America's leading religious thinkers as to who will be America's next Idol. In late March, she bet on Elliott Yamin. But after last night's performances--and I've been trying to reach her this evening without success--I'll bet she's changed her bet. It's now a showdown between the two other finalists--Alabama's Taylor Hicks and Los Angeles' Katharine McPhee. Yes, Alabama vs. Los Angeles. (The show's red-blue dynamic was brought alive tonight with highlights of Alabama's Bob Riley celebrating Hicks and LA's (Mayor) Antonio Villaraigosa welcoming McPhee.)
Taylor is your sort of blowsy, don't worry/be happy, cut-above-the-average wedding singer. He reminds me of an apolitical, young Clinton. (I keep waiting for him to bite his lip in that semi-rueful way.) No question that Taylor did well in tonight's make-it-or-break-it round--singing Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and Joe Cocker... and closing out with the inimitable Otis Reding's "Try a Little Tenderness." But McPhee, who's been ragged on for her lack of soul by that arbiter of soul, taste and culture, The New York Post, blew people away with her rendition of "Over the Rainbow." (Even Snarky Simon, who selected the song for her, said it was the performance of the entire program.)
So where's this leave us Idol addicts? Well, first, wishing Idol wasn't heading into its final rounds. But, putting that aside, I really want to see Simon's smirky certainties tested. After all, as TNR's Foer points out, "for the past three seasons, [Simon] has championed the contest's eventual winner..." And he's sealed quite a few fates by proving how right he was.
Monday night, Simon told Jay Leno that Taylor was "the favorite" to be the next Idol. But after last night's round, the delightfully mean-spirited Simon has to recognize he made a mistake. It's time he understand that even his conventional wisdom is almost always wrong, and that these are times which cry out for a woman Idol. After all, with a latter day Wizard of Oz running this country, we need a savvy, sharp LA woman belting out "Over the Rainbow" at every possible opportunity.
Six months ago, The Nation published The Dictionary of Republicanisms, a guide to the Orwellian phrases the Republicans have introduced into American politics. And it seems like every week since then they keep adding new ones. This week's winner is The Terrorist Surveillance Act. Last week's was trolling.
Yes, last Thursday the country experienced an uncomfortable moment when the President of the United States reassured us that the government was not "trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." Apparently W's speech writing staff doesn't know that trolling is slang for an older gay man cruising for anonymous sex with younger men.
The White House defense for the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Act, its defense for coercing the phone companies into giving up millions of Americans phone records is that they are trolling the "logs," not listening to the content. If you believe that I suggest you pepper your telephone conversations with the Arabic phrase for "Allah is great" and see how you're treated at airport security.
The Senate has the opportunity to rebuke the president for this warrantless wiretapping by rejecting the man who oversaw the program, General Michael Hayden. If they do not, they will see how much luck they have trolling for votes next November.
Wondering why Vice-President Dick Cheney recently played footsie with Kazakhstan's autocratic leader--an oil-rich president with an awful human rights record whose recent re-election was fraudulent? (Hey, sounds sort of familiar.) No, it wasn't because Cheney wanted to mimic his boss, who recently received another oil-rich autocrat--the president of Azerbaijan--in the White House. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Cheney used to occupy a cushy seat on Kazakh's Oil Advisory Board? (Did anyone see this in coverage of the Vice-President's trip?) As reported by Mark Ames in the June 2003 issue of The Exile, Cheney was a member of that board in 2001 and advised Bush to "deepen [our] commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and other Caspian states." On this trip, he pronounced himself to be "delighted" to be a guest of the Kazakh president, adding that the United States "is proud to be your strategic partner" and looks forward "to continued friendship between us."
Speak for yourself and your oily interests, Mr Cheney, not for the millions of Americans who still seek a moral compass in our politics.
Let's get a couple of things straight about the immigration speech President George W. Bush unreeled Monday night from the Oval Office.His address had nothing to do with actual border policy and everything to do with domestic electoral politics.
The real mission of the 6,000 National Guard troops he has called out is to quell the rebellion on the President's right flank, the flaring mutiny of his own conservative base. Indeed, if the President were being honest, the newly mobilized troops would be taken off the Federal payroll and moved onto the books of the 2006 national Republican campaign.
They certainly aren't going to be stopping illegal immigration. Most of the Guard will be unarmed. They will be barred from patrolling the border itself, as well as from confronting, apprehending or even guarding the undocumented. The troops will be given solely behind-the-scenes, low-profile, mostly invisible tasks of pushing paper, driving vans, and manning computers. Bush could have saved the taxpayers a load and sent a few battalions of Boy Scouts to do this job. (Click here to read the entire after-the-speech reaction on MarcCooper.com).
Here's what I wrote earlier today in the run-up to the speech:
While simultaneously trying to appease his own right and pushing a comprehensive reform program right over their heads, in his speech to the nation on immigration tonight Bush can be expected to tear immigration baby right into two.
While the details of Bush's speech cannot all be anticipated, what we know in advance is that he's going to satisfy nobody.
It now seems certain he's going to talk tough and announce he's sending "troops to the border"--National Guard troops. This part of the speech aims at staunching the political erosion on his right, the ongoing slippage of his own conservative base increasingly convinced that Old George has capitulated to blue-helmeted globalists and is conspiring with Vicente Fox to give the southwest back to Mexico.
But Bush will really be engaging in some sleight-of-hand. Anyone who thinks that as a result of the President's order there are soon going to be US troops with weapons in their hands standing steely guard on la linea is going to be very, very disappointed. The new infusion of Guardsmen, if it happens at all, will mostly mean the "troops" taking over some desk jobs and some technical chores, thereby freeing up more Border Patrol agents to run up and down the ravines of Arizona chasing our future cooks and bottle-washers. Some of the guard but might have an expanded role in surveillance as well; but make no mistake, there will be no phalanx of troops on the border. There's also the question of what sort of deployment takes place if the governors of New Mexico and California--as they have indicated--might oppose the measure.
So when it comes to the restrictionist right-wing and the hard-liners in the House that the President is now trying to appease, all Bush is going to do is tease them and eventually further tick them off.
The second part of his speech, we think, will be some sort of an endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform (a guest worker program and perhaps some sort of path to legalization for the undocumented already here). This is aimed at appeasing more liberalish reformers and at supporting--at least vaguely--the bill now expected to emerge from the Senate. Well, Bush might say enough to give cover to the more recalcitrant GOPers in the upper house who are only reluctantly going along with a reform bill, but you can also be sure that he's going to further cloud up the sensitive issue of legalization and of expanded legal immigration. At best it's going to be a back-handed endorsement from the president.
You can also expect that a large part of the reform coalition--the liberals, the Democrats, and the unions--are going to take the Prez at his word and be mighty worked up over the thought of unleashing the military on the border (even if that is not exactly what's going to happen). I can't imagine any lovefest from the left around Bush because of the coming speech.
When the dust clears, we might be closer to a Senate bill but I hardly see any resolution of the immigration or border issue coming out of this.
Lucky for the President, in many ways, that immigration has been such a back-burner issue until just a handful of weeks ago--a complex matter to which most people have paid scant attention (at least to the details). Bush's leadership on this has really been grossly incompetent and irresponsible.
The irony is that it is he, the President, who pushed this matter to national attention to begin with. Coming into office in 2001, he implied that making a deal with Mexico was his top foreign policy priority. After 9/11 blew that away, Bush came back to the issue a second time, citing a guest worker program as one of his priorities in his 2004 state of the union address.
And then, after once igniting the debate--one that turned quite conflictive this Spring--Bush ducked and covered, basically going MIA. Now that the debate is simmering, with mass mobilizations of immigrants, a Senate racing to catch up, a House mired in bumper-sticker solutions, Minutemen stealing headlines, and his own Republican Party split right up the middle on the matter, the President--very belatedly--plans to make this a dramatic, prime-time issue. The sure bet is that 24 hours from now, after his speech, the issue will be only more confused. I hope I'm wrong. But I don't think so.
As George W. Bush's poll numbers plummet, influential conservatives have diagnosed the cause of his misery: he's not conservative enough.
Bush is just a softy moderate masquerading as a right-wing Christian. He won't push hard for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He won't send illegal immigrants back across the border. He's never met a spending bill he didn't like.
"I can't tell you how much anger there is at the Republican leadership," direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie told The New York Times today. "I have never seen anything like it."
This not-conservative-enough claim is revisionist history at its most absurd. Yes, Bush has spent recklessly, compromised on immigration and flip-flopped on nation-building. But he is where he is today precisely because he listened to the conservative movement too often. He let neocons hijack our country's foreign policy. He let oil execs determine our energy policy. He appointed two Supreme Court justices beloved by the religious right. He gave Grover Norquist virtually every tax cut he wanted. He used a so-called "base strategy" to win re-election.
Bush is the farthest right president in recent memory--and possibly ever. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush raised taxes. Richard Nixon created the EPA. Dwight Eisenhower took on the military-industrial complex.
So forgive me, James Dobson, but I don't feel your pain. According to his spokesman, Dobson is "on a fact-finding trip to see where Republicans are regarding the issues that concern values voters most."
Maybe he can search for those missing WMDs in Iraq.
As a result of the work done by reporters Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber, the California Department of Managed Health Care has intervened to demand that Kaiser pay for transplants at established hospitals if its patients elect to transfer to other programs. "Let me put it this way, [Kaiser] will do what the patients want them to do," Cindy Ehnes, director of the department told the LA Times.
Yesterday, Kaiser made a public apology and confirmed that it has agreed to the terms described by Ehnes.
Kaiser is not out of the woods yet. Two patients and the widow of a third have filed suit against the HMO as a result of botched paperwork and unnecessary delays that harmed treatment. In all, the treatment of up to 1,500 patients suffered due to Kaiser's forcing them out of established hospitals, denying kidney transplants that were available at other institutions, or botching paperwork so patients were stuck in limbo between programs.
The LA Times points out in an editorial that more oversight is still needed, and that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could go a long way towards getting that done.
In the mean time, however, here's to the great work done by two sharp reporters and a regulatory agency with teeth.
Illegal wire-tapping, millions of civilian telephone records turned over to the NSA, National Guard troops "temporarily" deployed on the Mexican border, "extraordinary rendition" of nameless suspects, "detainees" imprisoned in Guantanamo without due process, a limitless war on terror, an "axis of evil" -- sounds like the President has been reading Michel Foucault's Society Must Be Defended, a series of lectures given at the College de France that reverses Clausewitz's famous aphorism and explores how "politics is war continued by other means."
That President, however, is not George W. Bush. He's Democrat Josiah Barlet, who departed The West Wing after two terms, seven seasons and a raft of Emmy nominations. Yes, in last night's series finale, observant viewers spotted Foucault's book among President Barlet's private possessions.
I'll leave it to TV critics to debate what this might signify. But note to the real Prez in case he decides to take the lead of his fictional counterpart and, uh, read: Though Society Must Be Defended "deals with the emergence...of a new understanding of war as the permanent basis of all institutions of power," it is not a how-to manual.
What will Bush really mean by sending "troops to the border" as anticipated in his Monday night speech on immigration. Probably a lot less than what it is implied as I explain here.
But it's going to be a bloody mess anyway. As Bush tries to appease his right flank while simultaneously pandering to the more moderate reformers in his own party, he's likely to tear that immigration baby right in half.
Those pushing for reform are likely to be dissatisfied with what will probably be at most a back-handed endorsement from the President. The Minuteman Right, meanwhile, is going to be even more irked when it learns that all those troops heading to la linea are most likely to wind up as glorified desk jockeys.
"Had enough?" certainly beats the focus-grouped hogwash that passes for Democratic slogans these days. Such as the official: "Together, America Can Do Better." Or the even more preposterous motto floated by a prominent Dem recently: "America Needs An Audit." As our colleague David Corn astutely noted, everyone hates audits.
"Had enough?" on the other hand, compresses all the Republicans failures into two easily understandable words. Barack Obama made the phrase the centerpiece of a fiery speech in Washington on Thursday:
I don't know about you, but I think old Newt is onto something here. Because I think we've all had enough. Enough of the broken promises. Enough of the failed leadership. Enough of the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try style of governance.
Four years after 9/11, I've had enough of being told that we can find the money to give Paris Hilton more tax cuts, but we can't find enough to protect our ports or our railroads or our chemical plants or our borders.
I've had enough of the closed-door deals that give billions to the HMOs when we're told that we can't do a thing for the 45 million uninsured or the millions more who can't pay their medical bills.
I've had enough of being told that we can't afford body armor for our troops and health care for our veterans. I've had enough of that.
I've had enough of giving billions away to the oil companies when we're told that we can't invest in the renewable energy that will create jobs and lower gas prices and finally free us from our dependence on the oil wells of Saudi Arabia.
I've had enough of our kids going to schools where the rats outnumber the computers. I've had enough of Katrina survivors living out of their cars and begging FEMA for trailers. And I've had enough of being told that all we can do about this is sit and wait and hope that the good fortune of a few trickles on down to everyone else in this country.
I don't know about you, but when George W. Bush said he didn't believe in nation building, I didn't know he was talking about this nation.
Obama's been hot and cold as of late. But speaking before hundreds of women at the annual gathering of Emily's List, he hit the perfect chords.
Remember when your parents used to say, if you study hard you can grow up to be President? Remember when it was, well, the job to aspire to?
But what with Bush at 29 percent approval ratings, according to the latest Harris poll, and close to 70 percent of Americans believing that the country is heading in the wrong direction, another recent poll, conducted by the Washington Post, reveals how the presidency has, well, fallen into disrepute.
It seems that parents, when asked to rate six career choices for their kids, rated doctor most favorably (at 89 percent). Then, in descending order, they selected lawyer, professional athlete and police officer. That all makes some sense. But catch this. 34 percent of parents selected rock and roll musician as a preferred career choice for their kid; President came in at just nine points higher--at 43 percent. So, does this mean Keith Richards, Courtney Love, and Kid Rock are close to edging out the White House job as most preferred, respectable, important?
Don't get me wrong, I love rock and rollers and think they should be higher up in this poll, but these numbers are just another gauge of the ugly damage the current WH occupant has done to the presidential office.