Monday, February 18, 2008

The Cooper Concerns

Published: February 5, 2008
New York Times

I’m not a Hillary-hater. She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.

But there are certain moments when her dark side emerges and threatens to undo the good she is trying to achieve. Her campaign tactics before the South Carolina primary were one such moment. Another, deeper in her past, involved Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee.

Cooper is one of the most thoughtful, cordial and well-prepared members of the House. In 1992, he came up with a health care reform plan that would go on to attract wide, bipartisan support. A later version had 58 co-sponsors in the House — 26 Republicans and 32 Democrats. It was sponsored in the Senate by Democrat John Breaux and embraced by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, among others.

But unlike the plan Hillary Clinton came up with then, the Cooper plan did not include employer mandates to force universal coverage.

On June 15, 1993, Cooper met with Clinton to discuss their differences. Clinton was “ice cold” at the meeting, Cooper recalls. “It was the coldest reception of my life. I was excoriated.”

Cooper told her that she was getting pulled too far to the left. He warned that her plan would never get through Congress. Clinton’s response, Cooper now says, was: “We’ll crush you. You’ll wish you never mentioned this to me.”

In the weeks and months following that meeting, the Clinton administration reached out to Cooper. As David Broder and Haynes Johnson wrote in “The System,” their history of the health care reform effort, President Bill Clinton invited Cooper to go jogging and play golf. Others in the Clinton White House thought Cooper was right on the merits, and privately let him know.

But Hillary Clinton set up a war room to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. As the Broder and Johnson book makes clear, Clinton and her aides believed Cooper was pursuing his own political agenda. They accused him of crafting his plan in order to raise money from the insurance and hospital industries. They said he was in league with the for-profit hospitals to crush competitors and monopolize the industry. They did this despite the fact that Cooper’s centrist health care approach was entirely consistent with his overall philosophy.

At one meeting in the West Wing, a source told Broder and Johnson, Clinton “kind of got this evil look and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this Cooper bill. We’ve got to kill it before it goes any further.’ ”

Clinton denounced the Cooper plan as “dangerous and threatening.” Deputies were dispatched to Tennessee to attack his plan. Senator Jay Rockefeller said that Cooper is “a real fraud. I hope he doesn’t make it to this place.” According to Newsweek, Clinton brought an aide with a video camera to a meeting with senators and asked the senators to denounce Cooper on the spot.

The Clinton effort backfired. It temporarily raised his profile back home. Her health care reform failed, too. She says she’s learned the lessons from that failure, but she remains icy toward Cooper. Her health care memos, including a three-page memo drafted in preparation for her meeting with Cooper, have not been made public by the National Archives.

Moreover, the debate Clinton is having with Barack Obama echoes the debate she had with Cooper 15 years ago. The issue, once again, is over whether to use government to coerce people into getting coverage. The Clintonites argue that without coercion, there will be free-riders on the system.

They’ve got a point. But there are serious health care economists on both sides of the issue. And in the heat of battle, Clinton has turned the debate between universal coverage and universal access into a sort of philosophical holy grail, with a party of righteousness and a party of error. She’s imposed Manichaean categories on a technical issue, just as she did a decade and half ago. And she’s done it even though she hasn’t answered legitimate questions about how she would enforce her universal coverage mandate.

Cooper, who, not surprisingly, supports Barack Obama, believes that Clinton hasn’t changed. “Hillary’s approach is so absolutist, draconian and intolerant, it means a replay of 1993.”

He argues that her more coercive approach would once again be a political death knell. No Republican will support it. Red state Democrats will face impossible pressures at home. It’s smarter to begin by offering people affordable access to coverage and evolve from there.

Cooper is, of course, a man who has been burned in the past. But it is legitimate to wonder if adults can really change all that much. A defter politician would have reached out to Cooper and made an attempt to address the concerns he represents. 

Posted by Nuttshell on 02/18 at 01:38 PM
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Transcript of Lawrence Lessig Obama video

Lawrence Lessig has posted a video on why he is for Barack Obama. SJ Klein, Madeleine Price Ball and I just finished transcribing it. Lessig’s video, and our transcription, are available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

“A request”
I received a strange request from someone I didn’t know in my inbox the other day — a letter asking me to make a video “enumerating why I support Barack Obama”. As Julie Cohen wrote, “Many of my smartest friends have been recently leaning towards Clinton” and that, she said, was because “I believe that his speeches are not detailed enough regarding his policy strengths” and she concluded “now is the right time for you to make a video, I know you can change a lot of minds.”

Well I doubt I can change a lot of minds, Julie Cohen, but I do agree with you that this is an extraordinarily important election.

But it’s important not because of the details about Barack Obama’s policy strengths. I believe his policies are strong, especially the policies I know something in particular about — his technology policies are extremely strong. But policy differences between these two candidates are actually quite small. As the New York Times said in their editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton, “On the major issues there is no real gulf separating the two.”

So in policy alone I’m not sure that there’s any good reason to prefer the one over the other. Yet I still think it extraordinarily important that one win over the other: namely Barack over Hillary Clinton. For what’s at stake here, I think, is something much more important than the particulars of some laundry list of policy disagreements that there might be between them.

So what is that something important — why should one support Barack over Hillary?

Well I think there are three factors to consider here: character, integrity, and what each candidate would do.

So let’s start with character. In particular I’m thinking about a certain kind of moral courage. The question of whether the candidate is calculating in the face of right, or whether in the face of knowing what’s right or consistent with his or her principles, he or she chooses that answer regardless of the consequences.

So for example, one feature of this man’s presidency (Bill Clinton), a man I supported for president (and think he did an extraordinary job as president), but one feature (or let’s say bug) was his consistent refusal to stand up for for what were strong principles, at least as he articulated them, in his campaign. So for example within a couple weeks of coming into office he had given up a commitment to let gays serve openly in the military. It was expedience that led him to that result rather than standing and fighting on the basis of principle.

Now, the question is whether Hillary is like Bill in this respect. And I think to be fair we have to say you can’t really know, we haven’t seen enough. There are things to make one suspect that she lets principle yield in the face of expedience.

So, for issues as small as whether she would call for presidential debates to be left free so that people could download them and remix them without fearing copyright restrictions, Hillary — unlike Barack and John Edwards and others even on the Republican side of the debate — refused to endorse this call, fearing, perhaps, that it would alienate some of her strong pro-copyright interests in the Democratic party.

To issues as large as Iraq, where here the decision she made was the wrong choice. But she made that choice in the face of overwhelming political pressure to go along with the president. Now maybe she didn’t know it was the wrong choice, maybe she actually believed what she did was right; though it’s important to remember that among the Democrats not facing re-election at the time of this war, a majority opposed the war. And for senators running for president — therefore susceptible to this political pressure more than anybody — all but one endorsed the war, including John Edwards.

So while we can’t know about this feature of her character, I think all of us remember believing that when she voted in favor of the war at that time, rather than taking a strong and principled view that a majority of the Democrats not facing re-election did, it was an expression or sign of a certain kind of weakness that reminded many of us too much of the presidency of her husband.

This is the moral character — or lack of moral character, moral courage — that I fear most about this candidate.

Now, in this respect I think Barack Obama is exactly the opposite. There’s one clear example of this all of us know, that’s the example of Iraq. And we have to remember here just how hard this was. We have to remember the insanity of us, or of the United States, at this time. In October 2002, as the drumbeats for war were increasing, Barack Obama took to the streets of Chicago and made a strong call to stop the entry into this war. As he said:

I stand before you as someone not opposed to all war in all circumstances. I don’t oppose all wars. What I’m opposed to is a dumb war, what I am opposed to is a rash war. A war based not on reason, but on passion; not on principle, but on politics.

That was precisely the right description of the war that led us to Iraq, and this was not a popular position for a candidate for the United States Senate to take, especially in a State that had a Republican governor. Yet Barack Obama took this position. And in this one respect at least, it shows that he has a certain kind of moral courage. Not because he was smarter, not because he had access to better intelligence about Osama bin Laden, but because he had the moral courage to stand up for what was right in the face of very strong political opposition.

This is one clear example — perhaps the most important moral and political judgement of the last thirty years, signalling he is much less likely to make the same kind of cowering mistake again. That’s character.

Think now a little bit about integrity. When I think about the worst in politics in the last fifteen years there are two features that stand out for me. One is the lack of moral courage, of again candidates and presidents like Bill Clinton, and second, a lack of political decency, in particular around the elections that got this man (Bush) into office orchestrated by this extraordinary figure, Karl Rove. Think about Karl Rove’s tactics in South Carolina, where he made racial suggestions through push-polling that drove many Republicans away from John McCain, probably costing McCain the election. Suggestions that were false and were extraordinarily unfair to make, and that were made for the purpose of defeating the opponent.

Or think about the swiftboating of John Kerry, by taking his strongest character — the fact that he alone of all the candidates had voluntarily gone to war to defend the interest of his country — an unpopular war, while the President and the Vice-President found a way to escape that war. What Rove did was to find a way to take this strong feature and make it a target of an attack, by suggesting false and misleading facts about his service in Vietnam, to weaken this feature of his character: that’s swiftboating.

I remember when watching these things happen, thinking to myself “How in America can these sort of techniques win?”. Yet the worst in this campaign, was to watch this kind of Rovian Republicanism become Rovian Democrats. Think for example about the issues around the war: Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have launched an attack on Barack Obama, claiming he has been “inconsistent” about the war. Here’s what she said in one of the debates:

It was after having given that speech, by the next year the speech was off your website. By the next year, you were telling reporters that you agreed with the president in his conduct of the war. And by the next year, when you were in the Senate, you were voting to fund the war time after time after time.

Now as Hillary Clinton knows, this statement is both false and misleading. It’s false because in fact, the speech that she says was removed from Obama’s website remained on Obama’s website throughout the course of the next year. You can know that by going to this site, The Archive org’s Wayback Machine, and you can actually see copies of the web taken in every couple of month intervals from 1996 on. And here’s a copy of the Barack Obama website — we have to decode it a bit by looking at the very top line — this is a copy of February of 2003, there’s Obama’s speech.

Here’s a copy taken in April of 2003, there again is Obama’s speech. June, it’s still there… August, it’s still there… October, it’s still there. It was there the whole year. And even after that year Barack continued to lead his Foreign Policy section by describing his strong and consistent and principled opposition to George Bush’s decision to take us to war.

But the charge is also misleading, because there’s no inconsistency with opposing the war and actually supporting funding for the war once it has been launched or supporting funding for our troops once they are there. Think about Howard Dean, who was the strongest candidate in the 2004 election opposing the war: he absolutely and clearly signalled that even though he opposed the war he would not cut off funding for the troops or withdraw them immediately if he became President.

This is a kind of swiftboating — it takes the strongest feature of Barack’s political character here, the fact that he made the right decision about the war, and tries to weaken it by alleging false and misleading facts about that decision.

Or think about the brou-ha-ha around Ronald Reagan. At a Nevada editorial event, Barack said this about Ronald Reagan:

I mean, I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America, in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path, because the country was ready for it.

And then a little later he said:

And the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out. I think it’s fair to say that the Republican party was the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging the conventional wisdom.

This statement says two things:

a), that Reagan was a transformational president;
and b), that the Republicans were a party of ideas.
Both statements are obviously true.

What Barack did not say, however, was a) that he agreed with Ronald Reagan’s views, or that only the Republicans had ideas. And here’s how that statement was used by Hillary Clinton in the debate at Myrtle Beach just before the South Carolina primary:

She said, quote:

He has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last ten to fifteen years.

Now you saw what he said, and you can see that what she says here is just plainly false; Rovian in its character. But finally, consider this issue around the question of a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy or not. Hillary Clinton and her campaign have campaigned on the idea that Barack Obama is weak on “choice”. In mailings in both Iowa and New Hampshire she has claimed he’s weak on choice, and in public speeches to women, and young women in particular, that he is weak on choice.

Lorna Brett Howard was a supporter of Hillary Clinton, a former president of the ChicagoNow! organization. But she was so outraged by what she called the “false statements” about Barack’s campaign that she made this video, now appearing on YouTube where she asserts first that 100% ratings were received by Barack Obama during his time as Senator in the Illinois State Senate; and that the fact the he supported women’s rights had never been questioned, including the right to choose.

Here the campaign — the Hillary Clinton campaign — is totally ignoring the truth, and this time, ignoring the truth with a certain important consequence, as Lorna Brett Howard said:

And this line of attack on an issue that I care about so deeply is not acceptable to me.

And because it wasn’t acceptable, she publicly switched her support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama, switched her support because she had been using — Hillary Clinton had been using — the kind of techniques that we Democrats thought were only at the level of Republicans.

This is a measure of a certain kind of integrity, an integrity that I think we should all demand that the political process reveal.

Now people will say in response to this “Oh, that’s so naive. This is the way that politics is. All politics is like this. You can’t punish one candidate because they’re using the style of politics.”

But this is the way all politics will be only if we reward the behavior of people that employ this Rovian style of political behavior. We will get more of it if this is the kind of behavior we reward, and that’s a good reason, following Lorna, for people who support Hillary Clinton to either criticize this behavior of her campaign or to switch support to Barack Obama.

But finally, most important is the distinction between the two candidates about what they will do. But to see this we have to think about what we expect this election to be about. The rhetoric around this election is focused on “change”. But what is this idea of change? What do the candidates mean by it? Here’s what Hillary Clinton said in one of the debates:

Well, let me say first, that I think we’re all advocating for change; we all want to change the status quo, which is George Bush and the Republican domination of Washington for so many years.

When I heard that, I thought to myself “Is that really all we’re trying to achieve in this election, to get the Republicans out of office?”. Because as I heard candidates like Edwards and Obama, I heard a call for a change much more fundamental. A change in how Washington runs; a change in the power of money or corruption in how Washington runs. A change in the very core of the system that has produced the results that have slowed responses to global warming or slowed the adoption of healthcare. Edwards and Obama have evinced their support for this strong version of change by refusing to take any money from lobbyists or PACs: their target, at least as they see it, is fundamental reform of the system.

Hillary Clinton, here, is very different. Here is a speech she gave at the yearly Kos convention last summer:

“Senator Edwards has really a very straightforward question here, which is will you continue to take money from lobbyists or will you take his position...”

“Yes I will. I will, because you know a lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not… represent real Americans.”

No-one doubts that the lobbyists represent real Americans; though of course they also represent lots of foreign entities as well. But the question is not who they represent, the question is whether their influence represents — mis-represents — solutions for America. Whether the effort they have and the power they have in controlling the agenda and access to members of Congress shifts the way Congress responds to the issues. But it’s very clear given what she said, that when she speaks about change she speaks of a different kind of change; not the real change that Barack Obama puts at the center of his objective for a new administration. But there’s a second kind of change that I think is actually much more important than this change in how Washington works. This is a change for peace.

We have to understand of course that the presidency has become something very different from an accountant or CEO of the Government. The presidency is a leader, a leader who inspires moral courage, who inspires us to be something different, to transform us, and inspires the world in how the world sees us.

Here I think there is no comparison betwen these candidates. Hillary Clinton is good enough, she’s a good enough speaker, she’s very powerful and responsive, she’s a great debater. But in this debate, Barack Obama is just off the charts. Remember his intervention at the Democratic Convention in 2004:

“Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. he grew up...”

And then, on his campaign too:

“There’s no such thing as false hopes. But what I know deep in my heart is that, we cannot bring about change unless we are unified. Unless we do it together. Change does not happen from the top down, in America or anywhere else. It happens from the bottom up!”

This is a man who will inspire as he leads. He will inspire all of us, across racial lines, and gender lines, across class lines, across age. He will inspire us because he can capture, in a way that very few presidents in the last hundred years have been able to capture, the imagination of a generation.

But there’s one more crucial way in which Barack Obama can inspire, distinct from how Hillary Clinton could ever hope to inspire, and that’s the inspiration he would offer towards peace. We in this country need to acknowledge to the world a certain mistake that most of us understand we made. At the height of insanity, after this extraordinary and horrible bombing, of our own citizens on our own territory, we were led into war by a president who didn’t care to pay attention to the facts.

This was the biggest political blunder, perhaps ever, that an American president engaged. It was extraordinarily destructive — destructive to us and to them. If we’re going to find peace here, then that peace will only come if we can signal our own change. A change that they understand is a change in who we are, a change that they can see.

So I want you to shut your eyes and imagine what it will seem like to a young man in Iraq or in Iran, who wakes up on January 21st, 2009, and sees the picture of this man as the president of the United States. A man who opposed the war at the beginning, a man who worked his way up from almost nothing, a man who came from a mother and a father of mixed cultures and mixed societies, who came from a broken home to overcome all of that to become the leader in his class, at the Harvard Law Review, and an extraordinary success as a politician. How can they see us when they see us as having chosen this man as our president?

There can be no clearer way that we could say, that we could say that the United States could say, that we have changed, than by electing this man. There is no way we could more clearly move on toward peace than this. He represents the very best of who we are, the best of character, of integrity and ideals. And someone who opposed the war from the start.

So Julie Cohen, here is my request: I agree with you nothing could be more important than this election and this candidate; but nothing could be more important also than solving this impossible war; not just by bringing the troops home, but also by enabling the peace. By enabling that peace, by beginning a process of forgiveness and of hope. That is the great hope that this new generation, represented in this leader, Barack Obama, gives us. And gives the world.

Posted by Nuttshell on 02/18 at 01:15 PM
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who where and when got what?

It’s so hard to explain… The p p p Package.  R Kelly just can’t be serious.  Can he?


Here is the whole thing.

Posted by SPN on 02/12 at 12:19 PM
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Is America ready for Chris Rock as President?

Posted by SPN on 02/12 at 10:52 AM
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I’m not saying Barack Obama is the “perfect” candidate

The other day I was listening to Joe Madison on satellite radio and a caller and he were talking about Obama’s campaign.  Madison often talks about how black people are undervalued, underestimated and marginalized in politics and within American culture.  On this particular day, I heard both of them saying how if Barack Obama were to become president that we would no longer be undervalued, underestimated and marginalized.  While I heard this, I didn’t really listen (at the time).  Today, it really hit me. And I realized how powerful that statement was.  While I don’t believe things will change overnight, can you imagine the paradigm shift, if the most powerful leader in the world were a black man?  Our kids and grandkids would have a completely different mindset about what black people can and cannot attain. 

No longer would it seem so abstract or elusive for them to want to grow up and be president.  I think we can all agree that black men are the most undervalued, underestimated and marginalized members of our society.  Could society start to view them differently if the most powerful man in the world was a black man?  How differently would America be viewed in the eyes of the billions of people of color around the world?  Do you think a black man could have more success with the countries in the Middle East?  Would a black president (unlike the last 2 presidents) be more likely to step in when genocide is happening in Africa?  Would al Queda pause their violent campaign against American forces if a brother asked to meet with them?  Maybe my insight is long in coming or I’m naive but for some reason today I really thought long and hard about how it would affect our world today and the affect upon young kids growing up today.  Children of all colors would see that all people have value and that no one should be undervalued, underestimated and marginalized solely based upon color.  That idea is powerful to me.

I’m not saying Barack Obama is the “perfect” candidate but he’s as fine a candidate as anyone who is running right now.  Originally, I backed another candidate but in the last couple of weeks, I began to change my mind.  The idea of voting for someone solely because they are black was not palatable to me unless there was some compelling reason.  For example, I would never vote for a Clarence Thomas because I see him as a selfish and closed person unwilling to extend a hand to people who look like him.  It appears to me, that he is the kind of black man who likes being the “token” and will do anything and everything to please his white benefactors.  I hear conservatives gush about him but what I also hear is their admiration for his “loyalty”.  He’s like the trusty dog who fetches his master’s slippers and is rewarded for his special tricks for his master’s amusement.  I don’t see Barack like that.  I may not agree with everything he votes for but I believe that he operates based upon conviction.  He appears to me to be his own man and will do the right thing for the right reason.  Of course, Obama may not get the Democratic nomination but for the reasons I explained above, I decided to put my money where my heart is.

Posted by Nuttshell on 02/12 at 10:41 AM
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Friday, February 08, 2008

Can Mrs. Clinton Lose?

My boss told me about this little gem from the WSJ written by Peggy Noonan.  Wow!

If Hillary Clinton loses, does she know how to lose? What will that be, if she loses? Will she just say, “I concede” and go on vacation at a friend’s house on an island, and then go back to the Senate and wait?

Is it possible she could be so normal? Politicians lose battles, it’s part of what they do, win and lose. But she does not know how to lose. Can she lose with grace? But she does grace the way George W. Bush does nuance.

She often talks about how tough she is. She has fought “the Republican attack machine” that has tried to “stop” her, “end” her, and she knows “how to fight them.” She is preoccupied to an unusual degree with toughness. A man so preoccupied would seem weak. But a woman obsessed with how tough she is just may be lethal.

Does her sense of toughness mean that every battle in which she engages must be fought tooth and claw, door to door? Can she recognize the line between burly combat and destructive, never-say-die warfare? I wonder if she is thinking: What will it mean if I win ugly? What if I lose ugly? What will be the implications for my future, the party’s future? What will black America, having seen what we did in South Carolina, think forever of me and the party if I do low things to stop this guy on the way to victory? Can I stop, see the lay of the land, imitate grace, withdraw, wait, come back with a roar down the road? Life is long. I am not old. Or is that a reverie she could never have? What does it mean if she could never have it?

We know she is smart. Is she wise? If it comes to it, down the road, can she give a nice speech, thank her supporters, wish Barack Obama well, and vow to campaign for him?

It either gets very ugly now, or we will see unanticipated--and I suspect professionally saving--grace.

I ruminate in this way because something is happening. Mrs. Clinton is losing this thing. It’s not one big primary, it’s a rolling loss, a daily one, an inch-by-inch deflation. The trends and indices are not in her favor. She is having trouble raising big money, she’s funding her campaign with her own wealth, her moral standing within her own party and among her own followers has been dragged down, and the legacy of Clintonism tarnished by what Bill Clinton did in South Carolina. Unfavorable primaries lie ahead. She doesn’t have the excitement, the great whoosh of feeling that accompanies a winning campaign. The guy from Chicago who was unknown a year ago continues to gain purchase, to move forward. For a soft little innocent, he’s played a tough and knowing inside/outside game.

The day she admitted she’d written herself a check for $5 million, Obama’s people crowed they’d just raised $3 million. But then his staff is happy. They’re all getting paid.

Political professionals are leery of saying, publicly, that she is losing, because they said it before New Hampshire and turned out to be wrong. Some of them signaled their personal weariness with Clintonism at that time, and fear now, as they report, to look as if they are carrying an agenda. One part of the Clinton mystique maintains: Deep down journalists think she’s a political Rasputin who will not be dispatched. Prince Yusupov served him cupcakes laced with cyanide, emptied a revolver, clubbed him, tied him up and threw him in a frozen river. When he floated to the surface they found he’d tried to claw his way from under the ice. That is how reporters see Hillary.

And that is a grim and over-the-top analogy, which I must withdraw. What I really mean is they see her as the Glenn Close character in “Fatal Attraction”: “I won’t be ignored, Dan!”

* * *

Mr. Obama’s achievement on Super Tuesday was solid and reinforced trend lines. The popular vote was a draw, the delegate count a rough draw, but he won 13 states, and when you look at the map he captured the middle of the country from Illinois straight across to Idaho, with a second band, in the northern Midwest, of Minnesota and North Dakota. He won Missouri and Connecticut, in Mrs. Clinton’s backyard. He won the Democrats of the red states.

On the wires Wednesday her staff was all but conceding she is not going to win the next primaries. Her superdelegates are coming under pressure that is about to become unrelenting. It was easy for party hacks to cleave to Mrs Clinton when she was inevitable. Now Mr. Obama’s people are reportedly calling them saying, Your state voted for me and so did your congressional district. Are you going to jeopardize your career and buck the wishes of the people back home?

Mrs. Clinton is stoking the idea that Mr. Obama is too soft to withstand the dread Republican attack machine. (I nod in tribute to all Democrats who have succeeded in removing the phrase “Republican and Democratic attack machines” from the political lexicon. Both parties have them.) But Mr. Obama will not be easy for Republicans to attack. He will be hard to get at, hard to address. There are many reasons, but a primary one is that the fact of his race will freeze them. No one, no candidate, no party, no heavy-breathing consultant, will want to cross any line--lines that have never been drawn, that are sure to be shifting and not always visible--in approaching the first major-party African-American nominee for president of the United States.

* * *

He is the brilliant young black man as American dream. No consultant, no matter how opportunistic and hungry, will think it easy--or professionally desirable--to take him down in a low manner. If anything, they’ve learned from the Clintons in South Carolina what that gets you. (I add that yes, there are always freelance mental cases, who exist on both sides and are empowered by modern technology. They’ll make their YouTubes. But the mad are ever with us, and this year their work will likely stay subterranean.)

With Mr. Obama the campaign will be about issues. “He’ll raise your taxes.” He will, and I suspect Americans may vote for him anyway. But the race won’t go low.

Mrs. Clinton would be easier for Republicans. With her cavalcade of scandals, they’d be delighted to go at her. They’d get medals for it. Consultants would get rich on it.

The Democrats have it exactly wrong. Hillary is the easier candidate, Mr. Obama the tougher. Hillary brings negative; it’s fair to hit her back with negative. Mr. Obama brings hope, and speaks of a better way. He’s not Bambi, he’s bulletproof.

The biggest problem for the Republicans will be that no matter what they say that is not issue oriented--"He’s too young, he’s never run anything, he’s not fully baked"--the mainstream media will tag them as dealing in racial overtones, or undertones. You can bet on this. Go to the bank on it.

The Democrats continue not to recognize what they have in this guy. Believe me, Republican professionals know. They can tell.

February 8, 2008

Posted by Nuttshell on 02/08 at 07:07 PM
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Monday, February 04, 2008

The House of Representatives Must Act

Sudanese President Bashir is brashly defying the international community - again. We need the help of China - Sudan’s biggest ally - to put an end to the outrage.

Tell your representative to ask China for help.

What did Sudanese President Bashir do with a world-infamous war criminal? He gave him a promotion.

Bashir has appointed the militia leader who helped orchestrate genocide in Darfur as a senior adviser on ethnic affairs.

This brash and consistent defiance of the U.N. won’t stop - not as long as Bashir has China to protect him.

We must tell China that enough is enough, and our representatives can help. Leaders in Congress are gathering support for an official letter to President Hu of China letting him know that his indifference toward Darfur is unacceptable.

As you know, China is Sudan’s largest trade partner and foreign investor. It is Sudan’s biggest defender in the international community, and it is the regime’s largest arms supplier. But China played a crucial role in getting Sudan to agree to a hybrid peacekeeping force last summer.

Simply put, China has the power to put an end to the games Bashir is playing.

Our representatives must pressure the Chinese government to lead the world community and end the violence in Darfur. 

Save Darfur Coalition

Posted by SPN on 02/04 at 12:58 PM
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Friday, February 01, 2008

New Meaning of Dirt Poor: Hungry Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt

This is the saddest story I’ve read in a while.  My heart really breaks for these people.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

“When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day,” Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. “When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too,” she said.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.

“Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it,” said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti’s health ministry.

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

“I’m hoping one day I’ll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these,” she said. “I know it’s not good for me.”

By The Associated Press

Posted by Nuttshell on 02/01 at 11:00 AM
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