Anyone who believed that the GOP would carry the shutdown around its neck like a dead albatross into the 2014 elections has surely begun to grasp what a bit of wishful thinking that was. Already people have begun to move on–the shortcomings of the health care act, eavesdropping on Angela Merkel (I’ll admit it: I want to read the transcripts. I want to know if know if it’s a boring as it sounds.) The point is, if the Republicans are going to have to pay for their 2013 folly, someone is going to have to make it happen. Someone, frankly, as Grover Norquist.

Norquist, as we know, turned himself into an influential figure in our politics by devilishly demanding that political candidates sign an oath swearing that they would oppose all tax increases. Having obtained a pledge, Norquest has been able to aim it like a bazooka at the head of any legislator who thought of increasing revenues.

The Democrats need someone who will go around to candidates of both parties and ask them to sign a pledge saying that if elected, they promise not to shut down the government.

Candidates would be free to sign or not, and of course, to explain why. This seems like a good way to make sure that the GOP’s act of malpractice gets addressed at the polls.

LOU REED, 1942-2013

alouimg213As we all know, the idealistic sixties died in the selfish eighties.The spirit of “All You Need Is Love” was cooed away by the spirit of “Material Girl.” In the eighties, the spirit of making money was wild upon the land. Big takeover companies took over businesses and fired all the employees to raise the stock price. Big real estate companies gouged local governments for subsidies, and mom and pop real estate companies did coop conversions in which some people got rich and other people got thrown onto the street. All of this had the blessing of the ideology of the market, the belief that knowing what the market will bear is better than common sense, human feeling, self-sacrifice, generosity, or any other idea or emotion–and this is the idea that rules our country even now, long after its massive discrediting. In 1989, Lou Reed, a rebel and a romantic and a true artist, released an album called New York, and in its fourteen songs, there is such a sneering outrage against the ugly, selfish attitudes of the times. It was such an interesting statement from Reed, whose best work is mostly about freedom–not only the freedom to explore sex or drugs or–that great euphemism, alternative lifestyles–but the freedom to be oneself, whatever that means (“Doing the Things That We Want To,” “New Sensations,” “NYC Man.” But people didn’t have the freedom to take advantage of one another, to lie or steal or exploit, no matter how cleverly you can spin your rationale. “Somewhere a landlord is laughing until he wets his pants,” Reed wrote. New York was a great document from a great artist. Thanks, Luu.


America loves its outlaw heroes. We love them when they are rebellious misfits like Bob Dylan, Holden Caufield and Huck Finn. We also love them when they are action heroes, like Batman and Dirty Harry. In our political life, some of our greatest figures have been outlaw heroes like Martin Luther King, who spoke truth to power and effected a change that America will wear in its crown of glories.

By outlaw heroes, I do not mean criminals or gangsters, people who break the law. I mean people who see gaps in the law, holes in the law, alternatives to the law, people who understand that there are times when the arrangements we have created for ourselves are stopping us, limiting us, crushing us with their illogic and their ineffectiveness. In America, it’s notable that our greatest presidents have been outlaw heroes.

Abraham Lincoln, for example—the man who is honored as the president who saved the union Except that Lincoln didn’t save anything. More properly, he transformed it, by entering a broken political system and combating the crisis with powers previously unrecognized in the system. The results were astounding. By the end of the war, the institution of slavery was finished. The rich and powerful class of slaveholders who had dominated the country since its inception was eliminated, the source of their wealth. Black Americans were accorded citizenship. And the union? It was intact as a legal entity, but it was destroyed it as a concept. The Civil War made the idea passé. We were no longer states that had entered into a union; instead, we were a country, a nation, led by a president and a central government stronger than it had ever been. And it was Abraham Lincoln who shattered the roadblock of inadequate laws and dysfunctional politics and inadequate options that had stymied lesser men.

When the southern states began to secede in 1860 and 1861, President Buchanan was flummoxed. The Constitution is silent on the question of secession—doesn’t say a state can, doesn’t say it can’t. Buchanan studied the issue, and decided that a state could not secede, but that a president had no authority to stop it. A perfectly logical, perfectly ineffectual answer.

Lincoln found the power he needed, in the presidential oath of office that is written into the constitution, in his solemnly sworn obligation to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. From that, he found the authority he needed to raise troops, establish martial law, spend money, and do what needed to be done to combat the emergency. None of those powers were explicitly his, but he acted.

Later, he suspended habeus corpus in order to break up rebel conspiracies. Lincoln clearly violated the constitution when he did this. But his reasoning was unassailable. “[T]he whole of the laws which I was sworn to [execute] were being resisted…in nearly one-third of the states. . . . Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?”

In coming days, President Obama may have his own outlaw hero moment. If the rabid right wingers in the House of Representatives–a gerrymander-created and protected minority segment of one House of Congress– refuse to raise the debt ceiling, as they have threatened, America’s creditworthiness may be endangered. The harm to our economy would be literally incalculable, possibly devastating. Our entire way of life could be destroyed. As Sean Wilentz demonstrated in the Times yesterday, Obama has a completely legitimate way to stymie that dangerous gambit, by continuing to pay bills as provided under the 14th amendment.
The Republicans who are threatening the debt ceiling are nearly as dangerous as the secessionists who once wanted to pull the country apart. Obama reportedly has some misgivings about this 14th amendment gambit, but he should ask what would happen if the government collapses. Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?

Time to find the path through the impasse, Mr. Obama. Time to be an outlaw hero.


The government has been shut down for a week now, and I feel nothing but disgust.

I don’t want to repeat what everyone else is saying, but I find the Republican tactics in thie matter shameful, bizarre, selfish and patently un-American. The cabal, led by the Koch Brothers, the odious Ed Meese, the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation’s political action committee, was detailed in a New York Times article on Sunday. The piece shows that months ago, these rabid right wingers devised a plan to defund the Affordable Health Care Act by putting a gun to the head of the federal government and threatening to pull the trigger.

Before we even get into the substance of this tactic—namely, shutting down the government unless the Democrats agree to postpone implementing Obamacare for a year—let’s just ask what echo chamber these nuts are living in? The thought that the President and the Senate would sit for this, the idea that even most Republicans would want this, is patently delusional, almost unreal in a bizarro universe kind of way. It is an objectively so implausible, so practically unobtainable as to cast down on the sanity of anyone who advocates it. The only thing that one can say is that these are the fevered `Hail Mary’-type plans that seem plausible only to the truly desperate. In this case, let us remember, that these radical right-wingers are, behind their smug smiles, truly desperate. They are from the far right wing part of the political spectrum that has opposed National Health insurance for the better part of three quarters of a century. They have fought it long past the time when all other western democracies have instituted some kind of plan. They have fought it long past the time when they have paid lip service to supporting it.. They opposed it when Clinton proposed it. They declined to put forward a plan when they controlled Congress, and instead put forward a plan to privatize Social Security. They opposed this particular plan in in two elections, in two houses of Congress, and before the Supreme Court, and they lost, each and every time, and in every venue. And they have no respect for the fact that they have been told in no uncertain terms that they are wrong.

One of their basic arguments is that the American people do not like this plan. Well, I for one do not like this plan, but that doesn’t mean I want no plan. I prefer a single payer system. First, as Jimmy Kimmel demonstrated so brilliantly, most people don’t even know what is in this plan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx2scvIFGjE Personally, I think most people don’t like plans in general. Plans involve choices, and most people don’t really like to make choices unless it involves making a choice about things they like, like ice cream flavors of iPhone cases. They don’t like choices when it comes to thinking about what happens when we have leukemia, or have to get hooked to a dialysis machine, or whether they’d rather pay more per month in order to pay a smaller co-pay when they’re actually sick. The unpopularity of Obama’s plan is directly related to unpopularity of discussing illness and bills. Hey, I’m here to help you figure out how to pay for your cancer. But I believe that once the plan starts rolling, everybody will get behind it and think it’s fine. It will be the program. We’ll be happy to have it, and even if somebody comes up with something better, a lot of us will be grumpy and dislike it because it involves change.


Derek-Jeter-J.R.-Murphy-Andy-Pettitte-Mariano-RiveraA Yankee season that was by turns surprising, lousy, exciting, and disappointing has a sweet and affectionate close as New York said goodbye to two stalwarts of the team’s most recent golden era. The peerless Mariano Rivera–the Great Rivera, of 19 seasons and 652 regular seasaon saves and 42 postseason saves with an astonishing 1.34 postseason ERA–had announced that he was going. He got two goodbyes at the stadium–a formal ceremony two weeks ago at the stadium, and then, on Thursday, a final vintage performance, where he got four outs in mariano-rivera-42-gettya must-have game that the Yanks were not going to get. When Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, his friends and brothers, cameAndy Pettitte to pull him, the crowd roared and Rivera wept. It had been a brilliant career, conducted in dignity, with many triumphs, and even defeats that were borne with honor. Two nights later, Pettitte bid adieu, in a meaningless game in Houston that was suddenly invested with significance, just because a fierce competitor chose to honor himself, his team, and his game by playing hard and holding nothing back. He earned his 256th career win in the process. We won’t see anyone like Pettitte again for a long time. We’ll never see another Rivera.