For thoughts on the death of John Paul II, please see this post from Friday evening.
For thoughts on the death of John Paul II, please see this post from Friday evening.
Bamboozlepalooza, Street Theater Edition!
Next Tuesday President Bush is taking the Bamboozlepalooza Tour to West Virginia.
But he's going somewhere special, Parkersburg, home of the Bureau of Public Debt. That's where the Treasury notes that make up the Social Security Trust Fund are kept -- the ones the president and his allies deride as worthless slips of paper or worthless IOUs.
Indeed, in announcing the president's visit, White House spokesman Taylor Gross noted that "This is a center that, in a sense, houses the IOUs of Social Security." And then he went on to say that "the president seeks to highlight the fact that the IOUs housed at Parkersburg are a good example of why this system needs to be fixed."
After touring the Bureau, the president is scheduled to move on to a Bamboozlepalooza event at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.
Now, the article on the visit in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, which appeared before the death of John Paul II, noted that the Pope's then-apparently-imminent death could lead to a change in scheduling of the president's trip. But whenever the visit occurs, the clear aim is to create footage of the president chatting up or even handling the debt instruments he says are worthless and that he is so committed to not repaying or defaulting on.
Now, if there were any shame in the man or any sense in the media, this would be treated like a case of the crook returning to the scene of the crime -- only we might say, in this case, in advance of the bad act he aspires to.
But it would certainly make sense for the supporters of Social Security to raise this question again now in the clearest terms: Does the president believe that those Treasury notes are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States and will he guarantee those funds will be repaid?
Late Update: TPM Reader AK writes in with a splendid bit of lexical or phraseological insight. What the president is doing is casing the joint.
Even Later Update: Actually, why didn't I realize this the first time through? The president is making a special stop at the Bureau of Public Debt to view his legacy.
Did the fat man sing?
As was widely reported yesterday, House Speaker Denny Hastert (R) of Illinois is quoted in the National Journal saying he doesn't believe the Republican Congress will be able to pass a Social Security phase-out bill in 2005.
He says it will have to wait until 2006.
Now, the idea that the Republicans are going to have the fortitude, shall we say, to pass a phase-out bill within six months of an election when they were too scared to do it eighteen months before an election is preposterous.
So what Hastert is saying is that Social Security phase-out is over in the 109th Congress.
Mind you, that doesn't mean I think it's over. But that is what he's saying, for all who have ears to hear it.
(ed.note: Another point worth noting is that the White House either didn't or couldn't get Hastert to eat his words like they did with Bill Frist. Hastert followed up by saying he'd like to pass a bill this year. But that means nothing. He'd like to, but he doesn't think it's possible.)
I try to follow a rule of not commenting or else saying little about topics on which I have no particular expertise or knowledge. But the apparently-imminent death of John Paul II is a historic event, unique at least in our lifetimes. So let me just share some thoughts with you.
One memory that stands out in my mind is from 1978, sitting down with my grandfather in a TV and card-playing room in the seniorsâ apartment complex where my grandparents then lived. We were sitting in front of the TV, perhaps after he or I got too bored playing gin rummy with each other, and I think I must have asked why there wasnât anything else on beside stuff about picking a new Pope. And my memory is hearing my grandfather say to me, in this almost passive sort of shrug I remember so well about him, âEhh, everything now is the Vatican â¦â
This would have been when I was nine and my grandfather was 68. And it was a seniorsâ retirement community run by the local Bânai Bârith in St. Louis. One other thing that is worth mentioning --- especially for people under thirty --- is that before John Paul II, the Pope was a much more, well â¦ parochial figure than he has been in the decades since.
The Pope didnât travel around the world. He was always an Italian. And he was far less involved in the ecumenical work that played such a role in John Paulâs pontificate. All of this goes to say that for a Jewish nine-year-old and his grandfather sitting in a rec room in a Jewish retirement home in 1978, the Pope was a much more distant figure than he would be to almost any of us today.
The day in question came when the conclave of Cardinals was meeting for the second time in little more than a month to elect a Pope --- John Paul I (Albino Luciani), remember, had died after only 33 days in office. These papal elections were getting wall-to-wall coverage on TV. And such blanket coverage was a far rarer occurence in the days before CNN and cable news than it is today when almost any drama gets the 24-7 treatment.
My recollection has no particular or greater consequence. And I mention it mainly because to me it symbolizes the fact that even as a man of 36 I have no real living memory of any Pope other than this man.
At an earlier point in my life I was much more interested in and immersed in religious and theological questions --- out of both academic and personal interest. So these are issues that I thought more about then than I do now. But thinking of John Paul II today I have a feeling of great respect and even an element of reverence but also, with all that, very mixed feelings.
On first blush, I think of all the ways he brought the Catholic Church into the modern world --- and, in this sense, I mean not so much Catholicism (Vatican II did that) but the institutional church and the papacy. I think most of his ecumenicism and the truly epochal changes he wrought in the Roman Catholic Churchâs relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people, symbolized by his visit to the Synagogue of Rome in 1986. I think of his ecumenical dialogue with Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy or his preaching at a Lutheran Church in 1983 --- an almost inconceivable event for someone steeped in the history of Early Modern Europe and the Reformation.
I think also of his ambivalent political legacy in the Third World. On the one hand he was hostile, even authoritarian in the measures he employed, toward Liberation Theology in Latin America. And yet he also made great strides in elevating that strain of Catholicism which, in the Third World especially, has always been on the side of the poor and the powerless (where it should be), and diminishing that often dominant portion which casts its lot with the wealthy and the powerful (where it has so often been).
Separate from all these individual points John Paul II has simply been a towering figure -- a perception that I imagine will grow as he recedes into history. And that is a striking thing in itself since he was a compromise candidate; and the Cardinals probably didn't have a clear sense of what they were getting into when they chose him.
Yet in recent years especially (and this isnât to say that the traditionalist dimension of John Paulâs pontificate hasnât been there from the beginning --- witness his special relationship with the deeply reactionary Opus Dei) his focus on family and sexual traditionalism has seemed to push most of this to the side, even to override it where they came into any tension, creating a papacy which viewed the whole world through the prism of a few key questions surrounding reproduction, sex and death and in some cases, in my opinion, verging or lapsing into a theological obscurantism.
I know this is a very broad brush for a very big subject. And I also recognize that there is a perspective from which these different elements of John Paulâs tenure and teaching --- even seemingly disparate or contradictory ones --- all fit together into a unified whole, a seamless cloth. So these thoughts arenât offered as anything definitive or complete; theyâre merely reflections for this day. So let me set all of that aside for the moment.
This article in the Times of London seemed a particularly rich summing-up of the Pope's transition out of life. The author captures the mix of a waiting world and also this small, passing moment in the Pope's quarters -- he and a few others presumably -- as they wait for the end.
The atmosphere of the moment also makes me think of the point Andrew Sullivan has made so eloquently in recent days with respect to the Schiavo case: that life is not an unqualified good at all times and under all circumstances. Nor is death, by extension, an unqualified evil. Indeed, in a Christian worldview it is almost unimaginable that death can be seen as such. And yet much of the commentary on Schiavo from the right seems almost to embrace that view -- leading to what Andrew -- if I remember correctly -- called not so much a respect for life as its fetishisation.
"This evening or this night," said Angelo Comastri, the vicar general for Vatican City, today, "Christ opens the door to the Pope." In the death of a man like the Pope for whom those words aren't a consolation or metaphor but life's deepest reality, what's possible for those watching and waiting is not just a tearful grief moving toward acceptance but a latent joy.
To TPM's Catholic readers let me extend a very sincere message and feeling of respect, condolence and solidarity in this moment of loss and grief and a shared hope for renewal and rebirth.
I was interviewed by a reporter today about the DeLay furor. And at one point we touched on this new 'counter-attack' which DeLay's partisans are trying to mount against his growing chorus of critics. Will it make a difference? Will they quiet the storm? And so forth.
There's a post at DailyKos which gives some examples of the degree to which major conservative leaders are now willing to stake their all on defending Tom DeLay. And it's worth noting that there doesn't seem to be much defense on the merits (in the sense of denying the voluminous evidence of his corruption); he's just their guy; and they'll attacks whoever attacks him.
But set that aside for the moment.
When DeLay says 'bring it on' to his critics and marshals the full host of movement conservatism to defend him, I can't imagine that worries his critics a wink. I don't say that because these folks are impotent or can't raise a ruckus; they can. It is rather that in purely partisan terms the aim of the people leading the charge against DeLay is to raise his profile, to make him the face of the Republican majority on capitol hill -- with all his full measure of snarl, extremity and venality.
So if DeLay's cronies want to go to war with Public Campaign or the Campaign for America's Future or anyone else, I can't imagine they mind. Because that's just another way to drive home the reality that these groups are trying so hard to demonstrate: that Tom DeLay is the Republican majority -- extreme on a few key 'culture' issues and, beside that, on the block for the highest bidder.
When Democrats go corrupt, they betray their principles. And certainly it's happened enough times. With someone like DeLay, there are no principles to betray. It's just money and power from the git-go. And really that means just power. A cash-and-carry operation.
Nothing changes from the alpha to the omega save that you eventually run afoul of the law.
Beauprez sees the light of day?
Representative Bob Beauprez (R) of Colorado today spoke out against the ejection of three non-Bush-loyalists at the Bamboozlepalooza event in his district back on the 21st.
Here's part of what the congressman said Peter Boyleâs morning show on KHOW-AM in Denver ...
Itâs unfortunate. This kind of stuff should never really happen. At least as I understand it, these folks showed up â theyâve got every right to be there. There was a pro-Bush leaning crowd but by no means at all, my understanding, a 100% pro-Bush crowd. And unless they did something wrong thereâs no reason why the should be yanked out of there and escorted through the door.
George Radich is a constituent of Allegheny County State Rep. Jeffrey E. Habay.
Radich and four other constituents petitioned a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to audit the records of Habay's political action Committee, the Friends of Jeff Habay. So, according to charges filed today, the next time he received a letter from Radich, Habay sprinkled some white powder on to the envelope and then called the cops, claiming that Radich had tried to take him out with an Anthrax mailing.
Unfortunately for his sake, Habay is apparently a fool since Radich had, uncharacteristically for a Anthrax mailer, included a return address. And things went even worse for him when it turned out that he had paid for the postage with a credit card.
Habay is already awaiting trial on unrelated ethics charges and, if there was any sense to things, would also be charged with being a friggin' moron.
Rep. Tom DeLay: "This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change. The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another."
Like moth to a flame. He can't help himself.
And who is he threatening retribution and punishment against? The judge or Michael Schiavo?
Pomeroy is on the <$NoAd$> case ...
North Dakota's congressional delegation wants to get to the bottom of a list that barred more than 40 people from President Bush's speech last month in Fargo.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy said Wednesday his concern stems from a similar incident in Denver, where three people were removed from Bush's March 21 town hall meeting on Social Security.
Pomeroy said the Denver incident raises disturbing questions given what also happened in Fargo. He said he'll evaluate what must be done to launch an inquiry.
"We need to find out whether this was part of the official planning," he said.
Since the beginning of this current round of the privatization debate -- now going back more than four months -- critics have made a simple and I think unassailable point: the privatizers' argument for the gains to be had from private accounts don't hold up because they use optimistic economic assumptions to forecast returns from private accounts but very pessimistic assumptions to predict the future of Social Security.
In other words, it's a bogus comparison. Whether our economic future is rosy or grim, we can only compare a future with private accounts to one with Social Security by using one common set of economic assumptions.
Suddenly now, this point is all the rage. A majority of economists surveyed by Bloomberg say that private accounts won't do as well as the White House says if we're really heading into a 21st century of anemic growth. And the Times devotes a whole article to the point in tomorrow's paper.
There's nothing shocking or untoward about the sudden interest in this point. And the Times piece is pegged to a paper that is set to be presented tomorrow at Brookings. But I'm always struck by the lack of rhyme or reason to why a particular point or argument suddenly gains traction after a long period of inattention, even when the facts on the ground and the governing assumptions haven't changed a bit. It's no more true today than it was four months or two months ago.
The only difference is that the market for articles predicting the demise of privatization has become more bullish.