2009 - %3, August

Where Do We Go From Here?

| Wed Aug. 26, 2009 7:42 AM PDT

Conceding the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980, Edward Kennedy told the delegates at the Democratic National Convention:

We cannot have a fair prosperity in isolation from a fair society. So I will continue to stand for a national health insurance. We must—we must not surrender—we must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level. Let us insist on real controls over what doctors and hospitals can charge, and let us resolve that the state of a family's health shall never depend on the size of a family's wealth.

The president, the vice-president, the members of Congress have a medical plan that meets their needs in full, and whenever senators and representatives catch a little cold, the Capitol physician will see them immediately, treat them promptly, fill a prescription on the spot. We do not get a bill even if we ask for it, and when do you think was the last time a member of Congress asked for a bill from the federal government? And I say again, as I have before, if health insurance is good enough for the president, the vice-president, the Congress of the United States, then it's good enough for you and every family in America.

Nearly 30 years later, that dream—of health insurance for every American—is still unfulfilled, and now Kennedy won't be around to lend his considerable political heft to the continuing debate. His seat in the senate will be empty for six months before Massachusetts can hold a special election to fill it. (Unless Massachusetts Dems change the law.) The Democrats will have 59 votes (if the ailing Robert Byrd is healthy enough) in the Senate, and the Republicans will be able to filibuster anything and everything they want. When the seat's finally filled, it'll be well into 2010, an election year. No one expects sweeping health care reform to be passed in an election year.

Even without Kennedy, the Democrats are at a high-water mark in their political power. For sixty years, the party has tried and failed to bring health care to all Americans. Everyone, inside and outside the party, thinks this year may be health care reform's best chance yet. If Senate Republicans stand firm and filibuster, Democrats' only option to pass health care will be the budget reconciliation process—a parliamentary maneuver that would allow them to pass a bill with a simple majority. Will the Democrats muster the courage to move forward through reconciliation, even in the face of what are sure to be fierce protests from their GOP colleagues?

During the election campaign last year, Teddy and most of the rest of the Kennedy clan made a big show of passing the family torch to Barack Obama. "This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans, so with Barack Obama, for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew, the hope rises again and the dream lives on," Kennedy told the delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

Can Obama bear the burden? His style is not Kennedy's—he's more careful, more moderate, less emotional. Obama can sure give a speech, but it's not a Ted Kennedy speech. Obama talks about common sense and working together and bipartisanship. Teddy spoke about doing the right thing. As the Boston Globe's Charlie Pierce wrote in 2003, Kennedy's best speeches were eulogies—his greatest from the pulpit of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, over Bobby's coffin, "in a voice like that of someone choking on blood":

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."

Teddy Kennedy's funeral will be a huge moment in the history of the Democratic party and the nation. What will his chosen torchbearer say about him? And how will he carry forward Kennedy's legacy?

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Ted Kennedy Links

| Wed Aug. 26, 2009 7:24 AM PDT

Edward Kennedy died today.

Joe Biden: "I was talking to Vicki this morning, and she said, 'he was ready to go, Joe.' But we were not ready to let him go."

Ted Kennedy and the Future of Liberalism

| Wed Aug. 26, 2009 6:20 AM PDT

Ted Kennedy, who died late yesterday, was much, much more than the Liberal Lion of the Senate. He was all we had left. Even in sickness, he was the anchor for decent health care reform. He was the one man in Congress who could pull quarreling politicians into a united effort. (John McCain and Orrin Hatch were Kennedy best friends.)

We are left with weak, squabbling, visionless Democratic puppets and a President whose domestic reform policies are adrift—sliding towards the horizon with each passing day. The lost battle for Afghanistan. Seriously. The British. Then the Soviets. Now us. The phony victory on Wall Street, one bubble replacing another; health care in the hands of right wing screwballs at the town meetings. The very idea that Obama, amidst the rightwing anger of the town meetings, and with health care reform in flux, is vacationing on a huge estate at Martha Vineyard with the wealthiest of the wealthy, is smack out of the George Bush playbook.

So, without Kennedy, even as a shadow in the background, who will it be for health care reform? Max Baucus, pawn of the health care industry? Christopher Dodd, bag man for Wall Street? Lieberman, turncoat? Harry Reid?

To be sure there are decent senators—Dorgan,Conrad, Rockefeller, Levin, Harkin, Leahy. None of them with the knowledge, experience, and political acumen of Kennedy, though.

The flag will be at half mast across the country today. Not on Wall Street, where as the sun goes over the yardarm, you’ll be hearing the popping of corks.

This post first appeared on James Ridgeway's blog, Unsilent Generation.

The Importance of Sleep Deprivation

| Wed Aug. 26, 2009 4:22 AM PDT

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan highlighted this passage from the 2007 OLC opinion on interrogation techniques (PDF):Andrew writes that the "interrogators seem to have had an affinity for sleep deprivation." Indeed. That's probably because sleep deprivation was utterly central to America's torture program. It doesn't sound too bad when you just say it, right? Sleep deprivation? Everyone's pulled an all-nighter once or twice. A third of Americans don't get enough sleep. It's especially easy to play down sleep deprivation when you're someone like Joe "they do it in fraternities" Scarborough. The reality of course, is totally different: fraternities don't keep you awake for up to 11 days, standing, in shackles, in solitary confinement, in diapers, on reduced, liquid rations. They don't kill you, either: 

In conjunction with other pressures... irregular sleep could have serious consequences. "In December 2002, two detainees were killed" while incarcerated at a facility in Bagram, Afghanistan," according to the Senate report. "Investigators concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment at the hands of Bagram personnel, caused or were direct contributing factors in the two homicides."

You can learn a lot more about the CIA's use of sleep deprivation from this Spencer Ackerman article and this Wired piece. This quote (linked by Sullivan back in 2006) from former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, who faced sleep deprivation in the Gulag, also hits home:

[A person subjected to sleep deprivation feels] wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire to sleep, to sleep just a little, not to get up, to lie, to rest, to forget ... Anyone who has experienced the desire knows that not even hunger or thirst are comparable it with it.

If starving prisoners is unacceptable, how can depriving them of sleep somehow be okay?

Need To Read: August 26, 2009

Wed Aug. 26, 2009 4:01 AM PDT

This morning's must-reads are wondering what happened to the health care battle we'd heard so much about:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So are my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 26, 2009

Wed Aug. 26, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

A U.S. Army Soldier watches as U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets destroy insurgent positions with a bomb, after a 20-minute gun battle in Kunar province, Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, Aug. 13, 2009. U.S. servicemembers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, routinely engage insurgents in the volatile valley. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller.

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Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday, August 26

| Wed Aug. 26, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

A Wednesday morning question for gardeners and garden fans alike: Are heirloom tomatoes overrated? Novella Carpenter's piece on the subject will help you decide whether to ditch your old seeds. After you've got that one figured out, peruse environment, health, and science news from our other blogs and around the web:

Starring Fiji water: Will Lindsay Lohan, Diddy, Paris Hilton, and President Obama still have a taste for Fiji Water after they see this video?

Does torture work? Dick Cheney said the documents released Monday would prove that enhanced interrogation techniques were effective. Here's why he was wrong.

Cash for Clunkers, I hardly knew ye: Don't let the door hit you on your way out.

A farewell to phone books: The tomes of old are a waste of paper, energy, and space. And no one uses them. So why do we still get them?

Great creatures now small: Why polar bears are shrinking along with the ice they live on.

 A climate change Dow Jones: How an index could help us get climate under control.

Ted Kennedy Passes

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 10:46 PM PDT

According to news reports, Sen. Edward Kennedy has died.  R.I.P.

Obama's Not-So-Tough Spot

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 10:40 PM PDT

Scott Wilson and Joshua Partlow write in the Washington Post that Barack Obama is in a tight spot:

President Obama is caught between two important constituencies as he recalibrates his policy in Afghanistan — the generals who want more troops, and the base of his own party, whose tolerance for a worsening conflict is quickly evaporating.

...."Afghanistan is going to be a huge political challenge. There's no doubt about that," said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the military assessment is pending. "The key for us is to have a strategy and have the competency to execute that strategy. It's going to be hard to convey this. And it's never going to be popular."

Well, that sure doesn't sound like he feels caught.  It sounds, as usual, as if Obama is going to ignore his base and do whatever the Washington establishment wants him to do.  The fact that he's aware that his base doesn't like this is an entirely different thing from feeling that he has a genuinely tough decision to make.

But then again, why not?  As the Bernanke reappointment shows, even the people who have been criticizing the DC establishment relentlessly for showing too much deference to the people who originally got the financial crisis wrong fell all over themselves to declare the Bernanke choice brilliant once it was made.  So maybe Obama figures the Afghanistan criticism is just a bunch of hot air too.  And maybe he's right.

Quote of the Day

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 10:10 PM PDT

From 18-year-old Kristen Nagy, proving that the kids are all right:

I just think it’s weird and I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life.

She's talking about Twitter.  Turns out it's mostly an adult phenomenon, according to the New York Times, which speaks well for our nation's youth and not so well for our nation's grownups.