So HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt is heading off to Switzerland and the Netherlands next week to learn more about those countries' health care systems, which have been widely touted as a model for what we might do in the U.S. Of course, Bush administration officials tell the New York Timesthat they have no plans to actually do anything with whatever information Leavitt gleans from his trip.
"We don't have anything cooking that we haven't announced," the department official said. "We would not endorse a system like the Netherlands or Switzerland's. But if there's something we could learn about their system, we should learn about it."
So either the trip is just designed to indulge Leavitt's intellectual curiosity—or it's a chance for him to get out of town on the taxpayer dime and pretend that his boss didn't just derail a major piece of legislation that would have given a few million poor kids health insurance right here at home. No word on whether Leavitt will be commandeering the CDC's private jet for the trip, but hopefully he'll live blog his European vacation.
For months, Barack Obama and John Edwards have been trying to find issues that separate them from Hillary Clinton. On the Iraq war, HRC's strategy has been to provide neither of her main challengers much maneuvering room. Like them, she wants out. There may be differences in rhetoric or positioning. Edwards calls for an immediate pullout of 40,000 or more troops; Obama has urged withdrawing one or two brigades a month; Clinton has not been so specific. But these distinctions have not yet allowed Obama or Edwards to turn the war into an issue of traction.
Now comes Michael Mukasey. This morning, both Edwards and Obama announced they oppose his nomination as attorney general. Mukasey was once a shoo-in for the job, (If you Google "shoo-in," the third item that appears is a New York Times story on Mukasey. Literally.) But the judge has run into problems by refusing to state whether he considers waterboarding torture. In doing so, he is joining the Bush administration's word game. George W. Bush declares he doesn't torture, but he and his crew refuse to define torture. Though much of the world considers waterboarding to be torture, the Bush aides won't state if it's included in their definition of torture. So it seems Bush might well be saying "we don't torture" while thinking "waterboarding ain't torture." Mukasey also got into trouble during his confirmation hearing for essentially endorsing the administration's view that Bush is above the law when Bush determines that the Constitution allows him to be above the law.
Blackwater USA likes to think of itself as a good neighbor. Last Thursday evening, the company hosted a community meeting at its 7,000-acre compound in Moyock, North Carolina. The twice annual event, organized by Blackwater President Gary Jackson, is meant to update neighbors about the firm's activities and allow local citizens to air complaints about Blackwater's impact on the surrounding community.
Sounds great, right? Well, in typical Blackwater fashion, the meeting—which focused solely on hyper-local issues like noise pollution and traffic congestion—was closed to reporters. No national security-related topics were discussed, nor were the company's activities in Iraq, but nevertheless reporters from Norfolk television station WTKR were turned away at the compound's front gate. According to a report on WTKR's website, several local citizens were also given the boot "because they did not live in neighborhoods next door to Blackwater." Blackwater reportedly publicized the meeting with a small advertisement in several local newspapers. Responding to criticism that it did not do enough to encourage local turnout, the company has pledged to advertise future meetings more aggressively.
This week, psychedelic space-rock reunions and retro Brazilian romps, plus a soul singer does her best King of Pop impression and a troubled pop princess gets a mashup makeover. Look at all that alliteration, it's like Top Ten tonguetwisters. What?
10. Mary J Blige "Just Fine" (from Growing Pains out 12/11 on Geffen)
Justin Timberlake's whole career is predicated on a post-Michael Jackson equation, i.e.: people want soulful dance-pop, and they're tired of waiting for Jacko to provide it, so they'll take an imitation. Well, now Blige is stepping up to the MJ plate, aiming right for Off the Wall-era disco-lite. She vamps and struts over a backing track that's uptempo yet delicate, with an acoustic guitar and keyboard filigrees that are oddly reminiscent of Steely Dan's "Peg." Did I mention it's good?
9. Blue States "Allies" (from First Steps Into on Memphis Industries)
The UK producer (otherwise known as Andy Dragazis) is known for his Vangelis-style electronic swirls, and this track is appropriately dreamy. The video, on the other hand, is a somewhat disturbing look at how the random little details in our daily lives could bring about drastically different conclusions. Don't drop your keys!!
8. Reminiscing about seeing Daft Punk in concert
by watching really awesome videos like this one below or a full-length (if pretty shaky) video of their entire set at this weekend's Vegoose festival. Human! Robot! Anyway, if you missed them, sorry.
7. Blonde Redhead Live at the Warfield, San Francisco, 10/24/07
I'm not sure how Blonde Redhead do it. In order to replicate the full, multi-instrumental sound of their albums, the three-piece must be using some sort of tape in concert. Sounds of pianos and backing vocals show up without physical manifestations thereof, and oddly, it adds to the general otherworldliness of their live experience. The band's newer material is almost "shoegaze"-level fuzzy, but their edgy, unusual songwriting adds a strangely retro feel, as though you're watching an old Italian movie.
6. Black Dice "Kokomo" (from Load Blown on Paw Tracks)
It's nice to see this freaky Brooklyn combo have calmed down enough that you can actually make out individual notes in their songs, but this isn't going to the top of any hit parades anytime soon. Just sit back and remember your tripped-out college days, when a throbbing bassline and random, surreal images of Froot Loops commercials and freaky patterns would have totally made your Monday.
Over at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum is arguing that the only thing that is going to pull Barack Obama even with Hillary Clinton is a brand new issue that catches Clinton off-guard. Obama's current plan of intensifying his attacks on Clinton, within the realm of commonly discussed issues, isn't going to work because, in Drum's words, there's "no there there." That is, the differences between Obama and Clinton aren't substantial enough to get anyone excited.
So what does Drum suggest? "Propose that the United States unilaterally offer to reopen its embassy in Tehran. Ditto for Cuba and North Korea." Or, "Propose a specific list of Bush administration executive orders that he would rescind." The first would get Obama killed by every Democratic contender, TV pundit, and foreign policy establishment wonk. The legitimacy of those three groups aside, the gain here is dubious and the price is simply too heavy. The second idea is a darn good one, and I wouldn't be surprised if all the Democratic candidates do something similar in time.
Giuliani's seemingly insatiable appetite for authority was evident, first and foremost, in the way he ran his administration. Obsessed, as always, with loyalty, he demanded that power be centralized in his hands and that he receive credit for any of the administration's achievements. Even the Department of Environmental Protection's daily reports on the water level in the reservoir had to be cleared through Giuliani's press office before being released. He also replaced Dinkins-era officials with loyalists, some of whom had little preparation for their jobs. Tony Carbonetti, the grandson of Harold Giuliani's friend, was put in charge of the Office of Appointments, even though his previous experience consisted mostly of running a bar in Boston. According to Kirtzman, "one agency estimated that, of patronage hires, 60 percent were qualified, 20 percent had no experience, and 20 percent were 'dirtbags.' "
Placing loyalty above merit? Check and check. Unqualified losers that lack qualifications in high-level positions? Check. Altering scientific reports for political ends? Check.
If you've always been confused by the Lyndon LaRouche supporters who hand you pamphlets when you coming out of the subway (anyway subway in America, it feels), you should check out Avi Klein's article in the Washington Monthly. Those pamphlets, for many decades, have been the lifeblood of a bizarre movement that has been as ineffective as it has been tenacious.
In the almost forty years since its inception, despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a week in operations and annually printing millions of books and magazines, the LaRouche operation has had no significant effect on American politics. It is remarkable in its impotence.
Despite the unrelenting loyalty of his followers, LaRouche has never come remotely close to being elected president. In fact, no LaRouche cadre has been elected to office at any level higher than school board. Nor have his economic theories attained any kind of recognition. The LaRouche-Riemann Method, an economic model that LaRouche calls "the most accurate method of economic forecasting in existence," has gone unnoticed by the social science indexes. Many former members admit to not understanding it.
In one perverse way, of course, the movement did work. For thirty years, Ken Kronberg printed, and all the other members edited and distributed, everything that LaRouche wrote, whether anybody understood it or not. If, in the late hours of the night, LaRouche determined that 50,000 copies of his latest essay on the Treaty of Westphalia needed to be distributed around the country, his followers did their best to oblige.
But no longer. The LaRouche movement is on its last legs. The 2008 election will be the first in 32 years in which LaRouche does not run for president. Share your LaRouche stories in the comments.
Here on the Riff, we've covered the thorny issue of putting your music in commercials (with commenters coming down pretty evenly split, if I'm reading their incoherent ramblings correctly), but today's Times goes straight for the top: Duff McKagan, formerly of Guns N' Roses, currently of Velvet Revolver, and business school graduate. The Times kind of rubs in that the dude is 43:
Like other rockers easing into middle age or seniorhood, Mr. McKagan is also experimenting with new partnerships in response to a music business in flux. Amid plunging record sales and Internet file sharing, rockers are eagerly plastering their names everywhere. Their "brands" are now found in television commercials, tour sponsorships, and merchandise as diverse as cars, private-label wines and celebrity cruises.
"Seniorhood"? Ouch. The article brings up more aging rockers who have left their youthful anti-commercial ideals behind: The Stones (Budweiser!), Paul McCartney (Starbucks!), Sting (Jaguar!). Why is everybody shilling for The Man? Because nobody's buying records:
All of this has been set in motion by a well-known reality: record sales "fell off a cliff," says Jonathan Daniel, a former musician and now a partner at Crush, a management company that represents such bands as Panic! at The Disco and Fall Out Boy. Shipments of CDs were $9.16 billion in 2006, down 31 percent from their peak of $13.21 billion in 2000, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy: the Beatles and Stones of our generation.
Upon logging into my Gmail account this morning, what should I find in the "sponsored link" spot above my inbox but the following message:
"Global warming is not a crisis! Gore won't debate."
Intrigued, I clicked on the link and found myself at the website of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank whose mission is "to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems."