Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Summer of Surprises

1. There may be another Iran-style, popular uprising waiting in the eaves for the upcoming election in Afghanistan. People are fed up with the pervasive corruption of the Karzai administration, and it seems as if they, too, have been inspired by Obama's "change" platform and subsequent electoral victory in America. The surprising thing here is that other countries now want to find their own Obama equivalent.

2. Perhaps the biggest and most gratifying surprise of all (for me, anyway) was hearing Hillary Clinton singing Obama's praises to David Gregory on "Meet the Press" last Sunday. She was positively on fire when asked about him. This is the same Hillary who trashed Obama during the campaign in the worst way, saying that even John McCain would make a better president than him (!) Honestly, I never got over it--until I heard her saying loud and clear on Sunday that he was a dazzling leader, "very decisive, very disciplined." And you could tell she absolutely meant it. Hillary waxed so enthusiastic about their reconciled relationship that it has now become one of the most potent tools in her diplomatic arsenal. She claimed it shows the world how former adversaries can bury their differences and come together in common cause. She said this can be a teaching moment in discussions with other countries: demonstrating how old grudges and antipathies can be set aside 4-EVAH.

3. So listen up, Israel, Rabbi Pearlstein, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Surprise, Surprise: Israel isn't on board the SS Obama. Israelis have not joined the chorus Obama's international fan club and true believers. No standing ovations for the Prez there. In fact, Alluf Benn, an editor at large from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote from Tel Aviv to the New York Times (July 27):

"The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence.

"This policy of ignoring Israel carries a price. Though Mr. Obama has succeeded in prodding Mr. Netanyahu to accept the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he has failed to induce Israel to impose a freeze on settlements. In fact, he has failed even to stir debate about the merits of one: no Israeli political figure has stood up to Mr. Netanyahu and begged him to support Mr. Obama; not even the Israeli left, desperate for a new agenda, has adopted Mr. Obama as its icon.

"As a result, Mr. Netanyahu enjoys a virtual domestic consensus over his rejection of the settlement freeze. Moreover, he has succeeded in portraying Mr. Obama as a shaky ally."

4. Sarah Palin had a big, explosive surprise for everyone on the 4th of July. She stuck it to Alaska and quit her job as Governor. She's a real firecracker, that one. Definitely knows which side her mooseburger's buttered on.

5. Robin Wright lists some SURPRISING new tactics by the green revolutionaries in Iran (cited on Andrew Sullivan's blog, "The Daily Dish"):

"It includes calls to switch on every electric appliance in the house just before the evening TV news to trip up Tehran's grid. It features quickie "blitz" street demonstrations, lasting just long enough to chant "Death to the dictator!" several times but short enough to evade security forces. It involves identifying paramilitary Basij vigilantes linked to the crackdown and putting marks in green — the opposition color — or pictures of protest victims in front of their homes. It is scribbled antiregime slogans on money. And it is defiant drivers honking horns, flashing headlights and waving V signs at security forces."

Meanwhile, Ahmadi has lost his chief deputy and a good part of his cabinet. Maybe we will still lose him, too? Stay tuned.

6. I saw my first-ever Kindle while at Starbuck's this morning. A woman at the next table was reading her book on it, and eagerly showed me its features. It is surprisingly handy and nice looking, even shuts itself off if you fall asleep while reading in bed. No surprise here though: old-fashioned girl that I am, I'll probably just stick with real books until there aren't any more.

7. The "disappeared" mental-health records of Seung-Hui Cho (author of the 2007 massacre on the campus of VA Tech) were found accidentally last week by a former VT professor among some papers he had stored in his house. A surprise new twist to a situation that is still looking very murky, and probably always will.

7. Did you know Henry David Thoreau's real name was actually David Henry Thoreau? It seems he switched the words around to conform to his preferred arrangement.

8. It turns out Barack Obama will be taking his family to CAPE COD in August for a two-week, much-needed, family vacation. The surprise: he has never been there before.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Waterloo for Shmucks: A Teaching Moment?

This past Saturday night, in the conversational salon held at my house once every month, a lively discussion evolved about the polarized nature of energy--how it can suddenly and unexpectedly turn on a dime and reverse into its opposite. One obvious and well-known example would be the gloom and doom that settles in when a serious health threat looms over you, and the doctor has demanded a battery of horrendous tests. The doom and gloom will magically dissipate, however, the instant you learn the tests came back okay. But energy is amphibious: it can work both ways, in either direction. A friend was in the room who had just had a new and promising romance end suddenly, for instance, and without any warning, after a single, brief, but somehow fatal interaction.

Inevitably the conversation turned to Obama, and the tsunamis of negative energy that dog his efforts 24/7, day after day, week after week. Many of us admitted we would have leaned back in the boat long ago, and dropped overboard into the water, were we up against the kind of negativity he is, routinely, every single day. Now, for instance, special interests and opponents of health care reform in Washington have made their priority clear: attack President Obama at any cost. On Friday, GOP Senator Jim DeMint told a special-interest attack group that if they're "able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."

The plot thickens. Their plan is simple: oppose health care reform as a political ploy to weaken the President and defeat his entire agenda of change:

Bill Kristol: Kill It, and Start Over

With Obamacare on the ropes, there will be a temptation for opponents to let up on their criticism, and to try to appear constructive, or at least responsible. There will be a tendency to want to let the Democrats' plans sink of their own weight, to emphasize that the critics have been pushing sound reform ideas all along and suggest it's not too late for a bipartisan compromise over the next couple of weeks or months.
My advice, for what it's worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill.
The Obama White House and the Democratic congressional leadership shouldn't be underestimated. They're tough. They'll cut deals and twist arms to try to keep their priority legislation alive. They'll certainly attack their opponents, whether their opponents' tone is conciliatory or confrontational.
So this is not the time to let them off the ropes. This is the week to highlight every problem, every terrible provision, in the Democratic bills: from taxes and spending to government control and rationing to federal funding for abortion and government-required death-with-dignity counseling sessions for the elderly. Throw the kitchen sink at the legislation now on the table, drive a stake through its heart (I apologize for the mixed metaphors), and kill it...
The Obama plan wouldn't go into effect until 2013 anyway (except the tax increases, which would kick in in 2011). We have plenty of time to work next year on sensible and targeted health reform in a bipartisan way. But first we need to get rid of Obamacare. Now is the time to do so."

Posted by William Kristol on July 20, 2009 09:15 AM at the Weekly Standard

Quotes from Lindsey Graham on Health Care:

"Basically I think he'll fail, because he's trying to convince America to be something other than America ... I don't think he's going to be successful, because Americans really do not feel comfortable turning over healthcare to the government."

"The untold story here is how many Democrats are defecting on climate change, on spending, budgets, how many Democrats are upset about the way they're going on health care. They're trying to beat their own people into submission; they've given up on bipartisanship."

"The one thing they never counted on was an effective Republican response, and the American people being concerned about where they want to take the country."

And from the Chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele:

"Under the Obama plan, the vast majority of Americans will pay more to get less. It's that simple.
We will spend trillions more--trillions--and the 267 million Americans who now have insurance will have fewer options and worse care. And we still won't cover all the uninsured.
This is one-sixth of our economy. If we screw this up, it could last for generations. And Congress is trying to do this in the next two weeks?! Two weeks? This reckless approach to an ill-conceived experiment should scare the living daylights out of all of us...
"The president has insisted at every step of the way that his health plan will not add to the deficit. But just last Friday, CBO concluded that the Obama-Pelosi plan will add $239 billion to the deficit by 2019, and hundreds of billions thereafter. That means--according to CBO, not Michael Steele--the Obama-Pelosi plan does not do either of the two things the president swore that they would do: contain costs and not add to the deficit.
President Obama justifies this spending by saying the devil made him do it. He doesn't want to spend trillions we can't afford, but he says he just can't help it. Even though he says believes in less spending, he says has no choice -- but to spend even more.
"Even though Washington is on fire with spending, he says he is compelled to conduct this experiment with reckless spending and pour more gasoline on the flames."

In an op-ed in Politico, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal writes:
“I know a little something about health care policy, and I can tell you exactly the game that is currently afoot. If the House Democrats’ plan were to become law, the president’s statement that 'if you like your health care now, you can keep it' will not be true. This is not an opinion, this is a fact...One independent study already suggested that up to 119 million Americans will end up leaving their private plans for the public plan. To think otherwise requires one to suspend disbelief.”

Minority Leader John Boehner also joins in on the criticism with an op-ed in Yahoo News.
“Not only will the Democrats’ government-run health care plan raise your costs, but it also will raise costs for our nation’s employers – particularly small businesses. At the heart of their proposal is a small business tax that, for tens of millions, means diminished job security. The National Federation of Independent Businesses warns that the small business tax and mandates in the Democrats’ plan will destroy 1.6 million jobs – one million of them in small businesses alone."
(From firstread.msnbc.msn.com)

From a blog commenter, who writes:
"The GOP does not want health care reform, just as they have always voted against anything and everything that will benefit middle class America.
The republicans are on the path of becoming America's
most dangerous domestic terrorists.
They are out to destroy our president, our country and us."

"I heard Obama on the radio today," my friend Jane e-mailed me yesterday, "quoting a senator who talked about health care failure as "Obama's Waterloo." Obama said, 'Health Care isn't about me. It's about broken families, and broken businesses.' " He doesn't just ignore the meanness, she points out. Nor does he return it in kind. Like Martin Luther King, she says, he teaches from it.

That is exactly what sets him apart from these unseemly killer Republican swamp liars and poison pills. I do so love it when somebody else just nails something, even if it isn't me. That's how you deal with negative energy coming at you: you don't just ignore it. Nor do you return it in kind. You make it an object lesson for all to see.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Palin Redux

I'm not really on duty at the moment, but I did want to share these few paragraphs from this morning's New York Times, by columnist Frank Rich, who does see Sarah Palin as ultimately tucking the other (so-called) leaders of the Republican Party into her pocket, and meanwhile stoking up the rage of its deadly ranks:

"It’s more likely that she will never get anywhere near the White House, and not just because of her own limitations. The Palinist “real America” is demographically doomed to keep shrinking. But the emotion it represents is disproportionately powerful for its numbers. It’s an anger that Palin enjoyed stoking during her “palling around with terrorists” crusade against Obama on the campaign trail. It’s an anger that’s curdled into self-martyrdom since Inauguration Day.

Its voice can be found in the postings at a Web site maintained by the fans of Mark Levin, the Obama hater who is, at this writing, the No.2 best-selling hardcover nonfiction writer in America. (Glenn Beck is No.1 in paperback nonfiction.) Politico surveyed them last week. “Bottomline, do you know of any way we can remove these idiots before this country goes down the crapper?” wrote one Levin fan. “I WILL HELP!!! Should I buy a gun?” Another called for a new American revolution, promising “there will be blood.”

These are the cries of a constituency that feels disenfranchised — by the powerful and the well-educated who gamed the housing bubble, by a news media it keeps being told is hateful, by the immigrants who have taken some of their jobs, by the African-American who has ended a white monopoly on the White House. Palin is their born avatar. She puts a happy, sexy face on ugly emotions, and she can solidify her followers’ hold on a G.O.P. that has no leaders with the guts or alternative vision to stand up to them or to her."

She will become a powerful force for all those who want to bring Obama down.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tinyfeet and Muttonchops Deconstruct Sarah Palin

I said I'd be taking a break, but Palin's latest antic (quitting her job) has set my alarm system on red alert. Everyone, and that means everyone, is wondering exactly what she is up to, and why she did it. Lots of theories and speculations are spinning around the blogosphere, but nobody really knows the answer to either question. I have my own theory, and it is not pretty. I found one lone anonymous comment on a blog that jumped out at me, because it is precisely what I think:

"I Look for her to become a free-lance highly vocal attack dog against Obama and his programs. She could be a real problem for health care. And she'll be vocal about "national security" -- that is, Iran and other issues. Her immediate goal is to attack. It's what she is best at. Not policy or governing. Just attacking."

And then, today, I came across two more comments (by tinyfeet and Muttonchops on the Huffington Post) putting forth a similar view. I think that, together, these three comments have nailed it. This woman, ridiculous as she may be, is a potentially serious danger to this country.

Here is Post-modern, 21st Century Sarah's game plan: She is planning to reemerge in 2011 at the helm of an 'army of the righteous.' She will be, as her neatly coded 'higher calling' indicated, their self-styled Joan of Arc. Her army, indeed her entire base, will be comprised of virulent wingnuts, all gassed up on her strange pastiche of corn, lies, illiterate evangelism and poorly constructed jingoistic sound bytes. She won't win, but she'll scare the wits out of the rational. She'll continue her attempts to cow the media and anyone else who disagrees with her by rolling herself in an American flag, harnessing the paranoid fury of the NRA, and dousing herself with holy water. She is an ambitious, thin-skinned, venal, ruthless person - in short, a politician - morally and ethically as hollow and full of hot air as a carnival balloon, and a lightning rod for the ideologically impaired. She's not going away. The upside to this horror show is that its entertainment value will at least equal its freakishness, and those that align with her will be wearing their ignorance in public.

What"s important here is that, unconstrained by any meaningful connections to the Republican Party, Sarah Palin will now become the perfect spokesperson for an entire subculture of angry, white, aggressive, fully armed, hyper-religious, militaristic bigots.

Sarah"s genuinely one of them, always has been. Her appeals to their simple-minded prejudices are perfectly natural for her. Her supporters sense that, and that"s why they love her. Incapable of more than the most basic abstract reasoning, and handicapped by a severely limited lexicon, this group has a peculiar way of communicating. She and they all think in sound-bites, simple phrases and formulas that provide a comprehensible, confirming, and therefore wholly satisfactory means to explain and "understand" their world.

Now that Sarah has gotten a taste of the adulation her fans exude for her during her appearances, all she wants is more of it. As the economy worsens and international tensions increase, the mutual feedback between her and her audience will cause them all to become more and more radicalized.

This is going to be interesting.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th

Happy 4th, everyone! I'm taking a blogging break, so posts will be skimpy over the next month or two. Meanwhile enjoy this amazing red zebra, sprouting a cross-section of passion flower from its back, by my new friend, Sue Johnson. And always remember to give voice to your own astonishment.

However, don't be upset by Sarah Palin quitting her job as governor of Alaska, where she can no longer exercise her maximum potential to be used by God to heal the world. Or by Ruth Madoff's losing her fur coat, which got seized by the Feds despite her having implored them to let her keep it.

Think instead on what Samuel Beckett says in "Malone Dies": "To be buried in lava and not turn a hair, it is then that a man shows what stuff he is made of." Everybody needs some lava, agrees Virgil, because to go back and forth between thinking the world is wonderful and thinking it's completely screwed up is absolutely normal.