Fortunate son ...


President Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill appeals to the (tiny, I hope) Leninist in me.

The White House sought as little attention as possible, with the president wielding his veto behind closed doors without any fanfare or news coverage, here. No wonder.

This is what the bill did, again, according to

The State Children's Health Insurance Program is a joint state-federal effort that subsidizes health coverage for 6.6 million people, mostly children, from families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford their own private coverage.

The Democrats who control Congress, with significant support from Republicans, passed the legislation to add $35 billion over five years to allow an additional 4 million children into the program. It would be funded by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack.

Again, according to

Bush argued that the congressional plan would be a move toward socialized medicine by expanding the program to higher-income families.

So this is the point. Bush's argument is explicitly ideological. He wants children to get sick and die in order to prevent what he believes will be a slide toward what he calls "socialized medicine." Conservatives may not wish to claim him anymore, but this speaks to a fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives, and it's not just about letting kids get sick and die.

Conservatism is self-consciously ideological in a way liberalism is not. Milton Friedman argues that "freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself." This belief leads a conservative columnist like George F. Will to support policies like the privatization of Social Security irrespective of whether such a transformation will make the program more or less effective, but because of "reasons [that] rise from the philosophy of freedom." Liberals are often understood to be "pro-government" or even "pro-taxation" but this reflects a fundamental confusion between ends and means. Liberals believe in "government" only insofar as it is necessary to achieve necessary goals, including public welfare, investment, redistribution, defense etc. Conservatives, on the other hand, argue against government as a matter of principle: the less government involved, the better, period.

Of course, all of the above is to give the budget-busting, incredibly profligate spending George W. Bush and his contemporary conservatives far too much credit. As the apostate conservative, Kevin Phillips observes, "The Bush Administration is not against big government." What it opposes is merely that "portion of it that regulates business and requires tax increases, against a welfare system. When it's the latter, they're against big government, but when it's big government that takes care of the oil industry or bails out financial institutions or pumps money into the Pentagon, then they tend to be in favor of that."

I'd say the Democrats' greatest political failing during the Bush era has been to communicate the reality of Republican extremism to the public. Maybe the SCHIP veto will help.

I never noticed the name Rebecca Traister until she wrote this essay about my colleague Katha Pollitt, which, it turns out, speculates on the inspiration of both my sex life and my politics and their relationship but only in a generic and not unfriendly fashion. I mentioned it to a woman friend of mine, and she informed me that Traister was just about the best literary essayist going these days. Today I read this piece on Susan Faludi, 9/11 and Bruce Springsteen, and lo, and behold, it's terrific too. This woman is apparently a terrific writer. Check her out.

Juan Williams' appearance on The O'Reilly Factor last week defending the Fox News host for his racially insensitive remarks about Harlem almost certainly violated NPR's employee standards. They prohibit staffers from appearing on programs that "encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis" and are "harmful to the reputation of NPR." Read more here.

Here's Eric B on John Mellencamp:

With his new Internet release, "Jena," John Mellencamp examines the fresh wound still festering in Jena, Louisiana. He also continues his long-running commitment of addressing the issue of race in America.

Musically, the song is bluesy and basic with Mellencamp sticking to his now familiar minimalist approach to lyrics. Sonically, I love the gloomy hum of the song, which I'll credit to T Bone Burnett, who's in the midst of producing Mellencamp's next album, scheduled for release early next year.

Mellencamp has not only become adept at turning around topical tunes and using the Internet to distribute them in recent years, but he's also displayed a lot of guts. During the height of the 2003 war frenzy Mellencamp made himself a legion of enemies, mostly among middle-aged white men who make up his potential consumer base, when he posted "To Washington" online and tagged Bush as a phony.

The same with "Jena." This is not a "Kumbaya," let's-hold-hands song. It's a brooding, unflinching and even accusatory look at America. (The video features archival footage of Southern lynchings.) The song shines a spotlight on a dream that remains cracked. Mellencamp, still writing and producing top-shelf music, remains devoted to highlighting the fault lines, while maintaining his Midwestern sense of hope.

Recall that his "Cherry Bomb" video, featuring a simmering, interracial student couple slow-dancing by the jukebox, was groundbreaking for 1980s MTV. The black boy and white girl actually had little to do with the song of rural childhood nostalgia, Mellencamp simply wanted to make a point. And virtually every music video he's done since then has featured a purposefully interracial cast; everyday blacks and whites interacting, not just dancers in a kick line. In that regard, Mellencamp is most likely alone in modern day music.

Also, the title track to Mellencamp's 2001 album Cuttin' Heads featured Chuck D. rapping about the word "nigger": "I connect the word with pain, now some smile when they scream the name?/ Die, N-word, die. I want to live."

And in 2001, Mellencamp's concern about race relations got him in trouble with his record label, Columbia, where executives expressed displeasure that he had taken a wonderfully fun and upbeat-sounding pop song like "Peaceful World" and anchored it with a blunt lyric like, "Racism lives in the U.S.A." Not exactly Top 40 fare.

From Mellencamp's 2003 interview with Salon:

They didn't understand why I was even writing a song about racism in America today. I found that reaction to be awe-inspiring. That they thought there was no problem in America. What? You guys live in New York City and you don't see any race problems? Once I heard that I thought, "Oh shit. They don't like the record." They had a long laundry list of problems. Their complaint was, "You have this beautiful chorus ['Come on baby take a ride with me/ I'm up from Indiana down to Tennessee'], why do you have to fill the song with these things that will agitate people?" Well, that's what the song is. That's why I left Columbia Records. Because I always thought it wasn't the record company's job to like the song. I thought it was their job to sell them. And I just didn't see the point of me arguing with people about the material.

Meanwhile, since it's my favorite Altercation hobby horse, I have to point out that Mellencamp is finally up as a nominee to Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame this year, along with Madonna, the Beastie Boys, Donna Summer, and The Dave Clark Five, among others. I think that based on Mellencamp's extraordinary career that he should have been inducted years ago (about the same time as Tom Petty and Bob Seger), not only because of the gazillions of records he sold and the signature Midwest soundtrack he created, but also the fact that he's still producing Grade-A music three-plus decades into this career. (i.e. 2003's Trouble No More was masterful.) But can I just go on the record saying that if Mellencamp is not voted in to the HOF but the Dave Clark Five is, than I'll be forced to start a one-man sit-in protest outside Jann Wenner's corner office on Sixth Avenue until the injustice is corrected. I'm just saying.

P.S. Eric A wrote about coverage of Jena last week here.

John Judis, the George Ball of TNR, on AIPAC. Note that Jeffrey Goldberg terms the lobby "a leviathan among lobbies, as influential in its sphere as the National Rifle Association and the American Association of Retired Persons are in theirs, although it is, by comparison, much smaller."

Ian Williams on Irving Howe on Leon Trotsky.

Tom Tomorrow, genius.

Quote of the Day: "[T]he American people weren't just failed by a President -- they were failed by much of Washington. By a media that too often reported spin instead of facts. By a foreign policy elite that largely boarded the bandwagon for war." -- Barack Obama.

... though this would have worked as well:

"So there is a choice that has emerged in this campaign, one that the American people need to understand. They should ask themselves: who got the single most important foreign policy decision since the end of the Cold War right, and who got it wrong. This is not just a matter of debating the past. It's about who has the best judgment to make the critical decisions of the future. Because you might think that Washington would learn from Iraq. But we've seen in this campaign just how bent out of shape Washington gets when you challenge its assumptions."

From TomDispatch:

In "We Count, They Don't," Tom Engelhardt considers every aspect of "counting" in Iraq, American-style, from counting to three (the number of autonomous zones into which the Senate recently voted to divide that country) to counting to ten (the number of years since the invasion of 2003 by which leading Democratic presidential candidates won't commit to having U.S. troops withdrawn), to counting to 50 and beyond (the number of years the Bush administration would still like us to garrison the country), to counting bodies (a subject to which the military has now assigned "platoons" of numbers-crunchers), and finally to counting to 1.2 million (the number of deaths due to violence a recent British survey suggests have occurred since the invasion of 2003).

At the heart of this piece is the way the Bush administration and the U.S. military high command have given themselves over to the once-derided "body count" -- in a manner that can only be described as Vietnamesque. Just last week, the military released to USA Today for the first time its full count on "militant" deaths in Iraq since June 2003 (proving that they were counting all along), while Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reported that "platoons of soldiers in Iraq and at the Pentagon" have now been "assigned to crunch numbers -- sectarian killings, roadside bombs, Iraqi forces trained, weapons caches discovered and others -- in a constant effort to gauge how the war is going." On the ground, as a recent murder trial of an American sniper has revealed, this means, as in Vietnam, pressure to inflate body counts in all sorts of ways.

This represents déjà vu all over again. As in Vietnam, once progress in a frustrating counter-guerrilla war is pegged to those endlessly toted up corpses, the counting process naturally becomes the measure of success (in lieu of actual success) -- which means it also becomes a key measure of performance, and performance is, of course, the measure of military advancement. This, in turn, means pressure from commanders on units for more positive "metrics" to report. Sooner or later, if you just report actual enemy your unit has killed, your stats sheet begins to look lousy -- especially if others are inflating their figures, as they will do. And then the pressure only builds.

As a result, we are now in a carnage party in Iraq from which Engelhardt concludes: "The lesson of these last metrics-filled surge months is already clear enough: We count, they don't."

Quotes of the Day, Reader Suggestions:

Jon Schwarz:

Jeffrey Goldberg on Iraq in Slate on October 3, 2002. That was five years ago today:

There is not sufficient space...for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected)...

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

Goldberg's Slate views were heartily endorsed at the time by Andrew Sullivan: "The invaluable Jeffrey Goldberg presents what is to my mind an unarguable case for removing Saddam from power in Slate. ... We cannot let ourselves be led by the deluded and the defeatist any more."

Name: Terry
Hometown: Cheyenne

"From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend on reading it." :-) (with cigar and glasses) -- Groucho Marx

I think you should always have a Groucho quote on this day, Dr. A. It's only fitting.

Name: Kurt Weldon
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

I think a Dylan Quote Of The Day is a wonderful idea. I'd like to propose one of my favorites:

"To live outside the law, you must be honest."

I'd like to see that tattooed across Dick Cheney's forehead.

John Fogerty by Sal and Eric:

It's been 3 years since John Fogerty's last release, the disappointing Déjà Vu All Over Again. The saying isn't amusing when the music included is a tired retread of Fogerty's past. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, Déjà Vu... seemed more like a contractual obligation than a solid, fully-realized album.

Now, it's not as if Fogerty's new release Revival is any breakthrough in sound and style, but there's something about it, especially the second half, that just cooks. John Fogerty is sounding like he means it, all over again.

Ya got yer fun little country tune "Don't You Wish It Was True" starting things off, followed by a few more tunes in the same vein. "Broken Down Cowboy" and "River Is Waiting" both sound like the twang of Fogerty's "Blue Ridge Rangers."

But Revival really takes off with "Long Dark Night," a swampy, CCR romp about George, (Bush, not Brett) followed by "Summer Night," a kick-ass rocker sounding more like ZZ Top than Creedence and "Natural Thing," another rocker that would not be out of place in the E-Street Band's repertoire.

Two more tunes, both less than 2 minutes long, are simply rewrites of "Looking Out My Back Door" and "Travelin' Band," yet both work really well. Unlike the low point of the record "Creedence Song," a song about, well ... Creedence songs. Fogerty shamelessly works in the riff of "Green River," and it just ain't cute. That one flaw aside, "Revival" is a strong record. I like it better than the now classic "Centerfield," and almost as much as Fogerty's strongest solo release, "Blue Moon Swamp."

Stress Free Since July 1st

Eric adds:

Monday night, I finally got the opportunity to answer the question, "How close do I need to be to John Fogerty and his band to have to wear earplugs when they play?" The answer would appear to be "seated in the second row of seats, in a room where there are only two rows of seats..."

I was lucky enough to be in the room when Fogerty taped an NPR appearance that mixed full-band performances of a bunch of songs from the terrific new CD with questions about who he is, where he's been, why Bush sucks, etc. and what a treat it was. The songs, as Sal notes above, show Fogerty in a form we have not seen from him in decades, and certainly not since Centerfield. The riffs are familiar, sure, but that's why you come to John Fogerty; for songs that sound like you've known them all your life. And while Bush may be awful for the country, he's been good for the songwriting business. Or maybe touring with Bruce for the "Vote for Change" tour helped John refocus his talent. (Naturally, he credits his wife.) Anyway, he's back on Fantasy under its progressive and far-sighted new management and he's come full circle back into where his incredible voice, guitar playing and melody writing all meld into a musical whole.

(And check out his ferocious performance on Letterman last night on an impromptu "I Can't Take it No More." If only guitar riffs were impeachment votes ...)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: David Dennie
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia


The following, from a New York Times Web piece today on the Isiah Thomas sexual harassment verdict, is the correction of the week, if not the decade. I SWEAR I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

"Jury Awards $11.6 Million to Former Knicks Executive"

"...An earlier version of this article misstated the location of a 2005 sexual encounter between Stephon Marbury of the Knicks and a team intern. Marbury testified that it took place in his truck, not in the trunk of his car." [italicized in original article]

Name: Tony Zito
Hometown: Poughkeepsie, NY

Perhaps we should point out to Col. James Bradley that any time there is a draft, the parents of America are essentially forcing their children to join the army, and that this was exactly the case when the voting age was 21 and conscripts were as young as 18.

So let's ask the question this way: if Bush really believes that we are in the most important moral, political and military struggle of the 21st century, why hasn't he called for a draft?

Name: Jean Luc Descollenges
Hometown: San Francisco, CA


I'm sick and tired of all these silly comments on Mitt Romney's ties. Why should I care what kind of ties he has? Romney's rich, so why shouldn't he have a few Talbott, Charvet or Blackwater ties? How shallow can you get? I think we should all be a little more concerned about his economic policy and Iraqi strategy than what kind of ties are in his closet. Enough is enough. Let's get serious, folks.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland

Hi Eric,

You talked about being weak on Bob Herbert a while back. Well, you can post this and get strong:

The Nightmare Is Here by Bob Herbert

"We've heard from General Petraeus, from Ambassador Crocker, and on Thursday night from President Bush. What we haven't heard this week is anything about the tragic reality on the ground for the ordinary citizens of Iraq, which is in the throes of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis."

You can find the link and this opening graf at Vantage Point:

Accountability: It's for the Poor

Every huckster needs a gimmick, a seduction that greases their pitch and takes in the rube. On the carnie circuit, the midways of the state fairs are an education in advertising technique and contemporary politics. Coarser than Madison Avenue or K Street yes, but more revealing of the basic psychology stripped of "civilized" amenity. The creep on his metal perch taunts your lack of skill so you'll throw a ball to drown him in the waiting barrel. The pitch invites the mark to throw the dart, what could be easier, win your girl a stuffed toy, and put your dollars down again and again until you pay double for the doll and then some. Sideshow barkers like past president Ronald Regan began the shill that guided American politics down the rabbit hole of the last quarter of a century and whose legacy is carried on today in every cheap twist and turn of illogic that spews out of the Executive branch and cascades through the waste stream of Congress: put economic pressure on the disadvantaged, blame societal failures on the voiceless, make accountability an issue for the poor.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Ubuntu Linux

I bet I'm not the only blogger who reads this page regularly. So let us all join in a salute and earnest best wishes to our colleagues Ko Latt, Ko Htike, and the other courageous bloggers of Burma, thanks to whom we know the truth about what happened there. Their story is in the Times of London.

P.S. This is confusing: are you saying John Stuart Mill favored the Cubs? Anyway, here's my haiku on the Mets' loss:

"Historic meltdown":
some multi-millionaires fail;
all keep their money.

Name: Alan Straus
Hometown: New York (Mets Region)


I think you were unfair in ascribing "Willie Randolph-like incompetence" to Harry Reid. Harry doesn't have a talented but unmotivated team to manage; his team is clueless to begin with.

Besides, I think it's unfair to pick on Willie. Maybe his motivational skills need improving, but it was the players who failed to perform. Give him a roster of seasoned but ungeriatric players and see what he can do.

Sad until pitchers and catchers report,

Name: Terry
Hometown: Cheyenne

Eric, It was from your blog link I learned that the great Gary Trudeau is a devout Yankees fan, and I ceased to hold this against him. I mean, Gary Trudeau could nearly make the case for being a Yankee fan. You've gone too far, brother. From the anti-Yankee.

Dear Terry: Be careful, bub. Trust the text. All I did was defend Yankee fans from the implications from some -- some who might have read letters to yours truly -- that they are all assholes like "David" from Brooklyn apparently is. Some of my best friends are Yankee fans; some are even named "David," though none in that subset, thankfully, live in Brooklyn. Some of my best friends do, however, live in Brooklyn and some of these are Yankee fans, but none are named "David." Are we clear now?

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