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Nation Now Alerts

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Crybaby Conservatives

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.

Kaiser Kidney Fiasco Part II

Last week I wrote about the Los Angeles Times smart piece of investigative journalism on Kaiser Permanente's troubled kidney transplant program in California.

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.

Foucault on The West Wing

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.

Prime Time Bush Bull

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?

Had Enough?

It's a phrase Newt Gingrich adapted from an ad exec in 1946 and popularized. Now he's telling Democrats to use it against his own Party. For once, Democrats should heed Newt's advice.

"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.

So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star?

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.

Wolfowitz's New Comb

Almost a year has passed since Iraq War architect and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank -- and the reviews have been slow to come, largely because he's been surprisingly quiet on the job. Back in 2005, Wolfowitz's nomination raised alarms across the international community, even and especially among erstwhile neoliberals like Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz. Sachs publicly called for another candidate with more "experience in development," and Stiglitz predicted that the World Bank would become a "hate figure" causing "street protests and violence across the developing world" and "an explicit instrument of US foreign policy" that will "take a lead role in Iraqi reconstruction."

Stiglitz's own, mutating views on the World Bank aside, his worst fears of a Wolfowitz presidency have yet to materialize. Only last month did Wolfowitz float the idea of returning the World Bank to Iraq (and apparently, only at the urging of donor nations). And following last year's G-8 meeting, he recently announced $37 billion in debt relief to 17 poor countries. Such moves have left even critics of Bush's foreign policy and the Washington consensus with little to say (see Clare Short).

But a story in the latest New Statesman by former World Banker Robert Calderisi asks if Wolfowitz is, in fact, "the worst man in the world?" World Bank staffers interviewed by Calderisi portray a "secretive, unilateralist, omniscient" leader who has surrounded himself with former Defense Department cronies, rarely emerges from his office and is obsessed with his public image. Gee, sound familiar? (Wolfowitz, readers may recall, is the spit and comb guy from Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.)

More worrying, however, is Wolfowitz only notable campaign to date -- his crusade against corruption. Last year when the G-8 announced its debt relief program to much fanfare, this magazine warned that Wolfowitz's emphasis on fighting corruption could become an excuse to stall debt relief. Earlier this year Wolfowitz laid out a far-reaching anti-corruption plan that according to the New York Times has already "delayed, suspended or canceled hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Chad and Argentina" and blocked $2.9 billion in debt relief for the Congo. What other debt relief might get caught up in Wolfowitz's new comb?

According to Calderisi, World Bank staffers see his campaign as "opportunism rather than sober policy." Moreover, global activists have criticized Wolfowitz's plan for suggesting corruption is endemic to the developing world, rather than something caused and perpetuated by the World Bank's anti-democratic, non-transparent policies that favor multinational corporations over small civil society groups. As the IMF/World Bank watchdog organization the Bretton Wood Project puts it, "Wolfowitz has so far failed to systematically address the roots of the problem."

Block that Cliche!

Most people agree that it's unattractive to try to stop a campusspeaker--however odious--who comes simply to present a point of view.But the choice of commencement speaker is a different matter, making astatement about the school's identity, and about the aspirations of thegraduates.

I didn't attend my own graduation from the University of Michigan,which was addressed by then-president Bush the First, who now seems aharmless granola-nut compared to Senator John "Stop Me Before I Nuke North Korea" McCain,this year's scheduled commencement speaker at the New School, an institution withprogressive traditions. Founded by the likes of John Dewey andThorstein Veblen, the New School remains, even with disgusting warcriminal and union-buster Bob Kerrey at the helm, a hotbed of seriousleftish thinking. So it's delightful to see New School students protesting McCain's upcoming speech .

Fewer and fewer members of the reality-based community still considerpresidential contender McCain a "maverick," but some members of thenews media are holdouts. Yesterday's New York Times story giddily dubshim an "iconoclast." Some recovering McCain liberals have beenobserving with alarm that--surprise, surprise--in preparation for 2008,McCain is buddying up to social conservatives like Jerry Falwell. Thefact is, his "maverick" schtick was always bogus; he's a genuineright-winger, deeply opposed to abortion rights and in favor ofprivatizing Social Security. Check out Bob Geiger's recent debunking of McCainmythology.

My dictionary defines the word "maverick" thus: "someone who holdsindependent views and who refuses to conform to the accepted orthodoxthinking on a subject." Yet for some reason, the word is always used todescribe Republicans who have trivial, though dramatically rendered,disagreements with other Republicans. So can we agree, from now on,that anyone who uses words like "maverick" and "iconoclast" to describemainstream conservatives like John McCain is a lazy hack?

A Corporate Horror Story

While everyone I know waits for Patrick Fitzgerald's next move--will he or won't he indict Karl Rove?-- I eagerly await the verdict in the Enron trial.

Remember that giant corporate house of cards that camecrashing down on the heads of all the little people while the big guys like former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and Chairman Ken Lay cashed out for mega-millions, smirking all the way? Remember theugliest financial scandal in an era of some pretty nasty corporate scandals? After presenting nearly three dozen witnesses and hundreds of documents, lawyers for Skilling and Lay rested their defenseagainst fraud charges earlier this week. Some analysts say that "gut feelings the jurors developed about Skilling and Lay over 14 days of testimony could prove to be the key..."

Gut feelings? If you want to turbo-charge your gut feelings about these corporate gladiators who ravaged 1000s of pensions, check out the documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

I finally watched it last weekend. It's like a corporate horror story. It's also, as one film reviewer described it,"a primer on corporate malfeasance for dummies."

No matter what your politics, this well told tale about greed, arrogance, ethical malfeasance on an epic scale is bound to make you mad as hell. Watch it now. And be worried, very worried, and angry, very angry if these Enron hucksters get off.

The Bada Bing Club

In a must-read

-opinionfront-hed ">Chigago Tribune op-ed, GWU law professor Jonathan Turley makes the striking but often ignored point that the Bush Administration has a penchant for hiring those who break or bend the law. It almost seems like a prerequisite for hire or promotion these days. The nomination of Michael Hayden--Mr. Warrantless Wiretapper--to head the CIA only underscores this fact.

"From his very first appointments," Turley writes, "Bush appeared inclined toward officials who appear willing to treat the law as a mere technicality." As examples he cites appointees from the Reagan-era such as Elliott Abrams, Otto Reich, John Poindexter and John Negroponte.

In the second-term, Alberto Gonzales went from torture memos to Attorney General. George Tenet leaped from a "slam dunk" on Iraqi WMDs to a Presidential Medal of Freedom. And on it goes. Turley continues:

There appears to be more here than simply a tendency of Bush's to hang around with a bad group of kids. Bush himself has long displayed an equally dismissive view of the law, claiming the right to violate federal law when he considers it to be in the nation's interest.

As these shadowy figures multiply, you can understand why civil libertarians increasingly see the White House like a gathering at Tony Soprano's Bada Bing! club In Soprano's world, you cannot become a 'made man' unless you first earn your bones by 'doing' some guy or showing blind loyalty. Only when you have proven unquestioning loyalty does Tony 'open the books' for a new guy.

Hayden earned his bones by implementing the NSA operation despite clear federal law declaring such surveillance to be a criminal act. He can now join the rest of the made men of the Bush administration.

Funny how in last week's Sopranos an angry Tony referred to Paulie Walnuts by the now infamous phrase: "You're Doing a Heckuva job, Brownie."

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