George Roy Hill

George Roy HillOn this day in 1921, the great American film director George Roy Hill was born. I always associate him with William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade. The entire chapter on directors consists of the following sentence, “Some of my best friends are directors.” This sentence did have a footnote where Goldman explained that directing was a hard job — not like a theoretical physicist’s job is hard, but like a coal miner’s job is hard. And he noted that directors help everyone involved in the production. His point was that we have mythologized directors and that given all the other creative minds on a film, the director is not that important. He has a vision of the film director that is more like that of a theater director: the person who manages all the creative activity. I agree with this vision to a large extent. And this is the kind of director that George Roy Hill was.

To a large extent, the film directors who are considered “auteurs” are generally the ones who talk a certain way. There is no doubt that someone like Jon Jost absolutely is the author of his own films. But it is hard to make that claim even for David Cronenberg, much less Martin Scorsese. This doesn’t say anything about the quality of the films these three men make — they all produce films that are without exception worth making and are sometimes great. But $100 million budgets are collaborations. Regardless, I don’t think that Scorsese has a more distinctive visual style than Hill does.

Of course, the thing is that Hill does have a distinctive style. Or rather: his films have a distinctive visual style. It is just that no one fetishizes that style. But as a result of that, Hill’s films tend to age better. I know for a lot of people, Goodfellas is a favorite film. To me, it is almost un-watchable; it is filled with tricks that Scorsese would (gratefully) eventually get over or refine. (I think Scorsese is at his best in films like The Age of Innocence and Bringing Out the Dead and Kundun.) Hill doesn’t have that problem.

So let’s look at a few of his classic films — and I will be ignoring a number of others! First is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — one of the greatest westerns ever made. (I want to say “the greatest” but that’s hard.) In a sense, that is William Goldman’s film, because it is drenched in his sensibility. Just the same, it looks and feels like a Hill film. It was a collaboration of a lot of great people, including Burt Bacharach. But Hill brought it all together in a film I still love watching.

Do I need to mention The Sting? Maybe we should just move on to The Great Waldo Pepper. When I was a kid, I didn’t much like it. But it ages well. Also: it helps to be an adult. This trailer makes it seem like it’s a comedy, but it really isn’t. It’s an interesting film about a man trying to find meaning in life. But it is done in a very Hollywood (false) way:

Other films that are well worth watching include: Slap Shot, A Little Romance, and The Little Drummer Girl. I will say nothing about the Chevy Chase film, because I haven’t seen it. But let’s take a look at The World According to Garp, which is still a joy to watch:

Happy birthday George Roy Hill!

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Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Why Only Cuba’s Human Rights Record Is Worth Discussing

Cuba FlagMax Fisher is one of the shining stars over at Vox — very possibly the best person they have there. And he wrote a really useful discussion of the history behind Wednesday’s announcement, Nine Questions About Cuba You Were too Embarrassed to Ask. It is very much worth reading. But I want to discuss the small part of it that annoyed me. It was the seventh thing you were embarrassed to ask about, “I hear that Fidel Castro is a monster who did lots of terrible things. Is that true?” I don’t even like the question, which is prejudicial. And the initial answer just makes it worse, “Oh yes.”

Let me be clear what I am not saying. I’m not saying Castro was a great guy. But I’m not keen on the facile dismissal of him either. And that’s especially the case when George Washington, the father of our country, owned hundreds of slaves. And we haven’t exactly done ourselves proud since then. Right up to the present with Bush’s torture program and Obama’s drone attacks, it would not be hard to dismiss our leaders as “monsters.” But I know what many will say, “You are just putting the worst face on this! Washington freed all his slaves at his death; Bush was trying to keep us save; Obama is managing a war. Have some nuance, man!”

Exactly!

Saudi Arabia FlagNone of the Castro’s notable brutality took place early on in his regime. Isn’t it possible that his behavior was shaped by the fact that the United States — just a few hundred miles from his country — was trying to overthrow him and assassinate him? Of all the things I know him to have done, they were all done against people who could be reasonably claimed to be his enemies. That’s at least better than the United States has managed to do over the last couple of decades. So I have no problem claiming that Castro was an authoritarian dictator who oppressed his own people. How that exactly makes him worse than other rulers I can’t say. If the United States were signing a treaty with Saudi Arabia, I doubt very seriously that Vox would spend hundreds of words describing the brutality of that “friendly” regime.

Vox is really pushing this point. I suppose it is because they want to head off the argument that the embargo shouldn’t be lifted because the Cuban government is so terrible. So their argument is, “Cuba is terrible and that is why the embargo is a bad idea.” I get it. I even agree with it. I don’t think there is any doubt at all that if we had tried to befriend Castro (or Ho Chi Minh or many others) the situation would now be far better. But I think it comes off as extremely self-satisfied to run articles (by another great writer Matt Yglesias) like, Cuba’s Human Rights Record Is Terrible, No Matter What You Think of the Embargo.

Going through the list of things that the Cuban government did, what keeps occurring to me is that generally speaking, Cuba comes off as somewhat to much better than Saudi Arabia[1] — our longtime ally. But more than that, the biggest point made in both articles is that there is no press freedom in Cuba. This is something I think about a lot these days. What does it mean to have press freedom if you don’t use it? The Soviet constitution provided press freedom, it just wasn’t available on a practical level. Maybe the only reason that the United States doesn’t need to interfere with the press (not excessively, anyway; yet) is because the government knows it can depend upon our press to treat official enemies to a higher standard than our friends.


[1] Interesting, both Fisher and Yglesias discussed the treatment of LGBT rights in Cuba. Cuba has indeed been horrible about this. But no mention was made of the fact that the country has made major progress in this regard over the last two decades. The same cannot be said for Saudi Arabia.

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Professional vs Regular Moderates

Lynn VavreckI don’t mind that elections are largely determined by people who don’t know anything about policy. Democracy isn’t pretty, but it is the best way I know for governance to muddle along. But what I most definitely do mind is when these ignorant people are held up as the best, most open-minded voters. They aren’t. They are just ignorant. As should be clear, I am not talking about conservatives. I may disagree with them and consider them intensely confused. But in general, they at least follow politics. I’m talking about the vaunted “moderate” or “independent” voters.

Back in May, my favorite political scientist, Lynn Vavreck, wrote, The Power of Political Ignorance. In the article, she reported on some research she had done. She gave voters a quiz to see what was going on in politics. It was nothing hard. It consisted of multiple-choice questions like, “What jobs does Joe Biden have?” She found that the less people knew, the more likely they were to split their votes between President and Senator. People in the bottom third of knowledge split their tickets three times as much as people in the top third of knowledge.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Why would people vote for two different candidates who are pushing opposing policies? In general, it is because they don’t know this. They are just voting for personalities or other whimsical criteria. The only world in which splitting a ticket makes sense is one in which political parties aren’t ideological. And that really has never been true. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Democrats had bizarre regional coalitions. But it was still the case that a Democrat in any given area was a Democrat.

As I indicated, I don’t have a problem with ignorant voters. For one thing, ignorance is a relative thing. Certainly someone could have great insights and not know that John Boehner is Speaker of the House. My problem is elevating such people to the status of the good. And this is done by those in the pundit class who fancy themselves as independent truth tellers. This would, of course, require that the candidates running have random policy positions, which is absolutely not true.

My favorite example of this kind of pundit is William Saletan. Two years ago, I wrote, Serious Centrist Saletan’s Selfishness. In that article, I discussed how Saletan, who considers himself a “moderate Republican,” is actually not a moderate. Just like almost all those professionals who use that moniker, he is a liberal on social issues and a conservative on economic issues. What’s more, the social issues are secondary to the economic issues — as they are with most people. So these professional moderates are really just conservatives.

So what we have are regular ignorant voters who truly are independent because they just don’t know any better. And we have professional “independent” writers who trump up the split ticket voters as a way of giving their own nefarious machinations the sound of reasonableness. In the end, the call for “open-mindedness” is just a call for more conservative economic policy, or at very least the same status quo that works great for the oligarchs. We’ve seen how great divided government works in the United States these last four years.

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Republicans Look Bad But Don’t Suffer

GOP SuicideThe Wall Street Journal editorial page just figured out that King v Burwell might be bad for Republicans, A Post Obamacare Strategy. As you may recall, King is the latest in a torrent of lawsuits against Obamacare designed to kill the law by any means possible. In this case, it takes a single phrase from the bill — one that conflicts with many other phrases in the bill and the bill itself — and uses it to claim that the government cannot provide subsidies on federally run healthcare exchanges. It is the kind of lawsuit that would have been laughed out of court forty years ago. But now with people like Scalia, who spout right-wing talking points from the bench, anything is possible. I often wonder if a lawsuit mightn’t get traction if its legal reasoning was simply, “We don’t like it!”

What The Wall Street Journal is concerned about is that suddenly throwing over five million people (it might be as high as 13 million) off their health insurance might be bad politics. They noted that even though it is all the fault of Obama and the Democrats “the public may not notice the difference once the press corps discovers a cancer patient or two who can’t afford her Obamacare plan without taxpayer support.” Meagan Hatcher-Mays at Media Matters is a little optimistic, however, when she wrote, WSJ Just Realized the Anti-ACA Lawsuit It’s Pushing Could Be Ruinous for Americans — Including Republican Voters. The conservative paper only thinks that it will be a temporary problem and soon people will see how much benefit they get from not having insurance. (The people at The Wall Street Journal are amazing: they are so insulated from most of America that they actually believe this dreck.)

There is really only one way that King would hurt the Republicans: the presidential election of 2016. It is likely that if the court decides to strike down the subsidies to those who get their healthcare on federal subsidies, the Republicans will be blamed. People will wonder why Republican controlled legislatures across the nation don’t do something to help the millions of people they are harming. This will be far worse than these same legislatures rejecting the free money of the Medicaid expansion just to thumb their noses at the president. Taking something away seems far worse than never giving something in the first place. The nation as a whole will look on this and be reminded just how awful the Republican Party is.

But other than the election of the president, I don’t see any problems for the Republicans at all. Let’s start with the fact that most governors are elected on off-years. So they can already depend upon a conservative electorate — older and richer and unlikely to have been negatively affected by this. But most of these states have Republican legislatures because the people (stupidly) support them. Just look back at Kansas this year. Sam Brownback has pretty much destroyed the state and yet he still won re-election by over 3.5 percentage points. So where the Republicans are strong now, they will continue to be strong. Harming millions of middle class Americans is the sort of thing that has gotten them elected in the past and it will continue into the future.

So sure, King might give the Republicans a little bit of bad press. Of course, even it won’t be the bad; just look at how the country has moved on from the torture report. It might hurt them a little bit in Congress and will reduce how well they do in the run for the White House. But it’s not even significant, much less catastrophic. And let’s not forget: if the economy tanks in the first half of 2016, our next president will be a Republican. It doesn’t matter how much the party actively harms the nation.

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Ukraine in Context

Owen JonesOur nation joins the United States in invading Iraq on a false pretext, effectively destroying the country and killing hundreds of thousands in the process. Israel is allowed systematically to violate UN resolutions, building illegal settlements and annexing Palestinian land. Our great ally, the “witch”-beheading, hand-chopping dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, invaded Bahrain (at the request of Bahrain’s dictatorial regime, of course) to help suppress a struggle for democracy and human rights. The United States launches drone attacks in sovereign nations like Pakistan, in direct defiance of the country’s Parliament, killing countless civilians.

If Russia, or other countries deemed unfriendly, acted in this way, the calls for action would be deafening. When foreign nations commit acts of aggression, it provokes a sense of “we have to do something” in the West; so it does in other countries when we commit similar acts, too. But “rogue state” is not a term that applies to countries that violate international law, but rather to those that have failed to bend to the will of the West.

That is not to suggest that these attacks on the international order provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It would undoubtedly have happened anyway. But they are all symptoms of the same phenomenon. International law is treated by Great Powers as a convenient stick to beat opponents with, to be discarded when it is inconvenient.

—Owen Jones
The Hypocrisy of the Great Powers Is on Display Again in Ukraine

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Édith Piaf

Edith PiafOn this day in 1915, the great singer Édith Piaf was born. The French Billie Holiday! Stylistically, they are rather different. But they are both highly emotional singers, with tragic lives to back it up. Piaf spent much of her childhood living in her grandmother’s brothel. At the age of 14, she began working with her father as a street performer. She continued in this line of business until she was discovered at the age of 20, when she began working nightclubs. She quickly rose to stardom, but died at only 47 of liver cancer.

It’s better just to listen to her music. Let’s start with one of her biggest hits, “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.” I love its resolve. I just wish it didn’t include the payoff line, “Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi” (“Today, it begins with you”). That seems to cheapen it. I want it to be a statement about who she is, not what relationship she now finds herself in. Regardless, it is wonderful:

Here is another hit, “Milord.” Exactly what happens in the song is not clear. So let me give you my take. The singer is a woman who works at a cafe as a server. She has seen this rich gentleman walk past before with a beautiful woman on his arm. But the woman is not there today. The server entreats the gentleman to sit down and tries to cajole him out of his sadness. And by the end of the song, she has him dancing around with her. It is very beautiful:

The next song, “Hymne à l’Amour,” Piaf actually wrote the lyrics to. It was written to her lover, after he died in a plane crash on his way to visit her. You don’t need to know the lyrics. It is just one of those “I would do anything for you” songs. You get everything from the performance:

And let’s end with Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose.” The lyrics are also by Piaf and it is pretty similar in content to “Hymne à l’Amour.” Life is rosy when he looks into her eyes. I think the reason the song works so well is simply that there is nothing quite so compelling as a sad woman singing of hope. Here she is singing it in Nine Boys, One Heart:

Happy birthday Édith Piaf!

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Normalizing Cuban Relations Is Smart

Fidel CastroStephen Walt is a smart guy, but he isn’t a political scientist. So he was wrong about Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, “See what presidents can do in foreign policy when they no longer need to get elected & therefore worry less about special interest groups?” The main problem with this assertion was pointed out by Jonathan Bernstein yesterday in, Obama, Cuba and Politics. This decision didn’t come out of a vacuum. There are lots of people across the political spectrum who have been calling for exactly this change. And it isn’t just voters, “Obama’s statement and actions today echo what Hillary Clinton said about Cuba in her recent book, which was written mainly to further her presidential campaign.”

I feel the same way about Cuba and Iran. We just don’t get any benefit from not having diplomatic relations with these countries. It strikes me as more like a middle school tiff than the behavior of adults. And behaving this way doesn’t cause the leaders of these countries to think, “You know, we ought to be more like them!” It makes us look petty and is hardly a good advertisement for joining the “free world.”

The other aspect of this that always struck me as strange was that we would have nothing to do with Cuba while we did have complete diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. What was up with that? As far as I can tell, it all comes down to Kennedy and his overwrought reaction to Cuban. Garry Wills wrote an excellent article about this back in 1982, Did Kennedy Cause the Crisis? The answer is: yes; Kennedy created the mess and then dealt with his own mess fairly badly — in a way that ought to appeal to Republicans today:

Then why were the missiles there? For defensive purposes, just as the Cubans said. We refused to accept this explanation, because President Kennedy had arbitrarily defined ground-to-ground missiles as “offensive,” after saying that offensive weapons would not be tolerated. Yet we called our ground-to-ground missiles on the Soviets’ Turkish border defensive. Deterrence — the threat of overwhelming response if attacked — is a category of defense when we apply it to our own weapons; but we denied the same definition to our opponents. Which meant that we blinded ourselves to the only reason Castro accepted (with some reluctance) the Russian missiles. He wanted to force the Kennedys to stop plotting his overthrow by threatening that if worse came to worst and we were ready to crush him, he would take some of our cities down with him.

Stuff like this is shameful. But of course the country has never come to terms with it. In fact, the Cuban Missile Crisis — the closest we’ve ever come to nuclear war — is one of the crowning achievements of Kennedy’s presidency, as far as most Americans are concerned. Lost in all of this is the fact that Cuba was always a small and weak country that shouldn’t have bothered the United States at all — except that as a people we are neurotically insecure.

From an electoral standpoint, I don’t see the problem with normalizing relations. There are some people who absolutely hate Cuba. But as far as I can tell, they are mostly Republican voters anyway. And, like most Republican voters, they are quickly dying off. What’s more, they are mostly just people who are angry because they lost a bunch of money and prestige under the corrupt Batista regime. Is that what our national goal should be: to get rid of the Castros and replace them with another dictator? People don’t think about it that deeply, but clearly Cuba hasn’t been an exporter of terrorism these last fifty odd years. In fact, it has been the opposite. Regardless of what you think has gone on inside Cuba, it has been the United Sates that has export terrorism to the island nation.

So it is about time that we normalize relations with Cuba. We ought to do the same with Iran. But we won’t do that. And I suspect that Stephen Walt knows very well why that is. The pro-Israel lobby in this country is far more powerful — especially with the Democratic Party — than the anti-Cuba lobby. And Israel would find it frightening if we were to treat Iran as just another nation. Even though it is.

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Phillip White Is the Symptom Not the Problem

Phillip WhiteI suspect you’ve heard about San Jose police officer Phillip White’s comments regarding his commitment to protect and serve the community. He started by tweeting, “Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter.” And he followed it up with the even more charming, “By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.” Yet he has been known as a supposedly good cop who was profiled in the San Jose Mercury News “for his good work with local schoolchildren.” But these tweets were not just a matter of having a bad night; he has a bit of a history.

BuzzFeed documented weeks of tweets by White ridiculing and attacking protesters. It isn’t hard to know what’s going on here. As long as Officer White feels respected by everyone, he’s fine. But if he feels disrespected, he acts like a spoiled child. In other words, White is entirely typical of law enforcement officers in this country. In fact, you might say he is more generally typical of this country. I continue to marvel at my fellow Americans’ constant inferiority complex — best illustrated by the frat boys chanting “We’re number one!” after Osama bin Laden’s death.

The situation with Officer White is a cause of great concern — but not in the way that most people claim. I’m sure that what he tweeted was entirely typical of what police officers say amongst themselves all the time. He is, in other words, not a “bad apple.” He is an entirely typical example of the apples in our national law enforcement barrel. And it is so rotten that it is emitting methane, which catches fire every few days. So I have a hard time getting excited about White being fired. What is the message that it will send to the law enforcement community? We all “know” the citizenry to be a bunch of subhuman scum, but don’t say that in public!?

Breathe Easy: Don't Break the LawThis goes right along with Jason Barthel, a police officer in Indiana. He also owns a clothing business, so he started selling the charming shirt that is illustrated on the right, “Breathe Easy: Don’t Break the Law.” Barthel claims to mean no offence, “We’re here to protect the public and we want you to breathe easy knowing that the police are here to be with you and for you and protect you.” Of course, that’s not what the shirt says. To be very clear: the shirt says, “Eric Garner wouldn’t be dead if he hadn’t sold un-taxed cigarettes in the past.”

The sad thing is that I’m sure Barthel actually thinks that his shirts represent a positive message. And certainly there has been no reporting of him getting pressure to stop making money (I assume) off the death of Garner. And that, my friends, is the problem with policing in this nation. It is too insular. Officers see the world as being “us” against “them.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had bad experiences with the police. Maybe it is my anti-authoritarian personality. But it still doesn’t make much sense, because I have gone out of my way to get along with the police. They want unearned respect, I give them it. They want unwarranted submissiveness, no problem. They want unconstitutional cooperation, it’s theirs. Yet in 80% of the cases, they still act like complete jerks. It’s because being in the police is more than a job — it’s a lifestyle. And its a lifestyle that provides them with undue power. And the only thing that power craves is more power. So there is never enough respect, never enough submissiveness, never enough cooperation.

So let’s not get too lost in outrage over Phillip White. He’s just a symptom of a far deeper and more pernicious problem — the angry side of Jason Barthel and his “inoffensive” shirts. I suspect we will go on doing as little as possible to address that problem. And people will continue to wrongly die at the hands of the police. And individual officers will ignorantly go around claiming that they are just misunderstood. And also threatening to murder us at the movie theater.

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Bush 2016: the Terri Schiavo Choice!

Jeb BushNow that Jeb Bush has jumped in the race to decide if he is going to jump in the race, do I have to take him seriously? I really don’t want to. It isn’t that I think he is especially worse than other Republicans. But if he actually became president, that would be the third Bush. As it is, I’m not that keen on Hillary Clinton just because she would be the second Clinton. But maybe I’m all wrong.

Maybe having a second Clinton or a third Bush would be perfect. After all, what is my problem with saying to the world, “We are a hereditary aristocracy!”? It is only that I don’t think that is what America should be. But I know full well that that is exactly what America is. There is less economic mobility in the United States than there is in most other advanced countries. So why try to hide it? America is not the land of opportunity: Bush 1988! Bush 1992! Bush 2000! Bush 2004! Bush 2016! With the missing dates there, it doesn’t sound so much like 18th century England as 21st century Russia: Putin, Putin, not Putin, Putin. The conservatives should love it!

But we should remember what a great guy Jeb Bush is. (That’s sarcasm, folks!) His career as a businessman is pretty much the same as his brother’s: his father is a well-connected ex-president and people want to suck up to him by handing money to the son. As much as my own life may suck, at least it is my own and not something gifted to me based upon my dad’s accomplishments. As for governor, well, Bush did for Florida what his brother did for the country: he moved money out of the public sector and gave it to his cronies. But that’s what we expect from a Republican, right?

In what is supposed to be a very positive look back on Bush’s eight years as governor in The Washington Post, Linda Kleindienst wrote:

Bush’s back-to-back terms were marred by frequent ethics scandals, official bungling and the inability of the government he downsized to meet growing demands for state services, including education and aid for the infirm and the elderly…

He championed tax cuts that chiefly benefited business and the wealthy, trimmed the state’s payroll, stripped job protection from thousands of mid-level civil servants, gained more power over the judiciary, exploited his Washington connections to prevent the closing of military bases and launched the nation’s first statewide private-school voucher program…

“He led the enactment of tax cuts that will drain the state of needed revenue for health care and children and senior citizens — and we already rank at the bottom of the nation in those services,” said Karen Woodall, a lobbyist for migrant workers and the poor…

Though he proclaimed himself the “education governor,” Bush’s legacy in this field was mixed at best… Florida’s high school dropout rate and per-pupil spending continued to rank among the nation’s worst. While Bush sought spending increases for public schools, they barely offset steadily growing demands on school districts, including the soaring cost of health and property insurance…

Perhaps Bush’s most grievous blunder came with the enactment of One Florida, a plan to end affirmative-action preferences for minorities in university admissions and state contracting. It sparked a sit-in by two black legislators in the governor’s executive suite — and hundreds of black college students in the hallway outside his office — and the largest ever protest-march, led by the Rev Jesse L Jackson, on the state Capitol in 2000.

One Florida was a prime example of Bush’s shoot-first, take-no-advice method of governing. It tarnished his image in the black community and alienated voters…

But that really is nothing, in my mind, compared to his behavior regarding Terri Schiavo. She was the woman in a vegetative state who Bush used all his power to make political hay out of. You probably remember that after years of making its way through the courts, Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed. But Bush got the legislature to pass a special law allowing Bush to have the feeding tube put back in. The law was found to be unconstitutional. After a few more twists and turns, Schiavo was allowed to die. At the autopsy, doctors found just what the fMRI had shown: that literally half of her brain was gone.

I found out something new today in an Think Progress article, Terri Schiavo’s Husband Speaks Out On Jeb Bush’s Presidential Bid. After the whole sad affair was over, Bush used his position as governor to investigate Terri’s husband Michael to see if the state couldn’t charge him for something because maybe he didn’t call 9-1-1 fast enough when she had her initial heart attack:

The state’s attorney found no evidence against him and closed the case. “The propriety of using your office to hunt and harass people, as the governor did to Mr Schiavo after his wife’s death, I think raises significant questions about his judgment and his character,” [Michael Schiavo's attorney at the time George] Felos said.

It raises more than questions. It ought to be disqualifying. Of course it isn’t. The only thing that disqualifies a person from being president is a lack of money. And that’s why we stand a very good chance of having another Clinton or yet another Bush in the White House. America: the land of the aristocrats, and the home of the serfs.

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The Torture Prosecutions That Couldn’t

Charles PierceIt is axiomatic, or it certainly ought to be, that people who torture are fundamentally cowards, and that the people who order torture are more cowardly still since they subcontract their crimes to people they consider little more than hired hands, and who they will gladly serve up to maintain the fiction of the few bad apples that spoil the whole coffin-sized box. We are seeing this in real time now. Cheney makes sure we know Bush knew. Yoo says the CIA people went too far beyond the careful legal infrastructure he’d built. And this brings us, sadly, to the moral calamity at the heart of the Obama Administration, the final, tragic consequence of Looking Forward, Not Back. And the deepest tragedy about it is that it was inevitable.

It is clear from what we’ve heard from these creatures over the last week that, if they’d ever been tried for the crimes against humanity they committed, in any courtroom in the world, they’d have turned on each other in a New York minute. You wouldn’t have to waterboard Cheney to get him to give you Bush. He’d do it for a steak. You wouldn’t have to blow pasta up John Yoo’s hindquarters to get him to roll on the people who relied on his instructions to carry out their orders. I’m willing to bet a considerable bag of nickels that there are a few dozen anonymous CIA operatives who are feeling very hung out to dry at the moment, and who would be willing, at the price of a reduction of their sentences, to sing a lovely aria. This might have been the easiest prosecution in the history of the world.

Alas, as we also have learned from the polling over the past week, it would not have been an easy prosecution to sell to a public that is more willing to trust a television show than it is to trust the Geneva Conventions… That is what made the moral calamity of the Obama Administration inevitable. The president is not an amoral man. Neither is he stupid. He knew full well, despite all his glowing rhetoric about the fundamental decency of the American people, that, for its own scurvy purposes, the previous administration unleashed the darkest collective human impulses that the country possesses, that the previous administration made good use of fear and ignorance, and the anger that is their monstrous stepchild, and that it profited politically and personally for having done so. He also knew that, somewhere, deep in the heart that he is sure the United State till possesses, a kind of national shame was building up to a level pretty close to critical mass and that, if it detonated in an uncontrolled explosion, the power of it could be terribly misused.

So the moral calamity of the Obama Administration is one that was forced upon it by the nature of the transformation of the country that was wrought in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, a transformation that never was going to be temporary, since an endless war requires a permanently transformed country. Reading the polls today makes a mockery of the notion that there ever has been a president elected to office who would have had the raw political courage to hand these gutless bastards over to the Hague to be tried for war crimes, or to prosecute them ourselves for criminal conspiracy… And that political establishment has resisted the court because it knows full well that the court has no constituency in the United States, an exceptional country that does not torture or commit war crimes, an exception country that has guaranteed that a moral calamity will be at the heart of every presidency for the next 100 years, because there is no constituency for law that is stronger than the constituency for vengeance.

—Charlie Pierce
The Moral Calamity of The Obama Administration

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