Great Movie Endings

The Times of London presents a list of their top twenty film endings. They rank Carrie as number one, which I would not go along with. Sure it was scary the first time, but it doesn’t really mean very much. It doesn’t cause viewers to continue to consider the meaning of the film such as in seeing the tip of the Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes or learning that things are not as we were led to believe in Memento.

The longer I were to think about it I suspect I’d come up with more movies which I’d add to the list but which did not make it. The first great ending to come to mind which failed to make the list was Dustin Hoffman crashing Katherine Ross’ wedding and fighting off her family and guests and escaping with church with the use of a cross in The Graduate. While perhaps not in the top twenty, another movie with a memorable ending was Match Point, at very least for relieving an incredible amount of tension built up in the final portion of the movie.

I’d also rank The Empire Strikes Back highly, but only for those watching the Star Wars movies in the order actually made. Those who watch beginning with Episode I rather than Episode IV will not be at all surprised to hear Darth Vader say, “I am your father, Luke.” Many other aspects of the original trilogy will be totally different if watched after what is officially the first three episodes. There will be skepticism of neither “old Ben” or The Force if newer movies are watched first.

Bush Threatening Veto of Medicare Bill

George Bush is continuing to threaten to veto the Medicare bill which passed on Wednesday. Bush’s loss of influence can be seen in the number of Republicans who plan to vote to override his veto. In addition to eight of the nine Republican Senators who changed their vote to support the bill on Wednesday, an additional Republican, Kit Bond, has indicated he will vote to override a veto. The bill also passed by a veto-proof margin in the house.

Bush might still go through with his veto threat, despite an inevitable override, to express his support for the bill and insurance companies. Bush and many Republicans oppose the bill as it reduces subsidies to insurance companies to treat Medicare patients. Medicare Advantage plans have been a flagrant example of corporate welfare for the insurance companies, in return for their heavy financial support, providing them with an average of thirteen percent more than it costs to care for Medicare patients under the government plan. Most of the of the extra money is being used to increase corporate profits as opposed to benefiting patients as insurance lobbyists often claim.

With regards to the impact on physicians, it will be helpful if this is settled quickly. Several years ago Congress passed a measure to delay Medicare payments for two weeks as a means of increasing the amount of money on hand for the government. With this built in delay no claims have been paid since the automatic 10.6% reduction came into effect on July 1. If the matter is settled soon, July claims can be paid based on the fee schedule in effect without the cuts. Ideally Bush will sign the bill quickly so that claims can be paid. If he does decide to proceed with his threatened veto, he will hopefully do this quickly so that Congress could then override the veto quickly, also allowing for payment without cuts.

If Bush drags out the process by not signing or vetoing the bill quickly, Medicare will have no legal option but to begin paying July claims based upon the 10.6% cut, and then would have to pay back the money afterwards. This becomes a paperwork headache for all involved, with such a scenario having happened once in the past. This is complicated as many Medicare services include a twenty percent copay, which is often paid by a secondary insurance company. Therefore correction of the 10.6% cut retroactively involves not only a second payment to make up for the cut but a correction for all claims for the change in copay. Republicans are already losing popularity with physicians over the manner in which they have handled this issue, and their popularity could fall further if Bush plays political games and drags out this problem unnecessarily.

McCain Caught by Media on Accusing Obama Of One Of His Faults

John McCain has gotten away with a lot thanks to a friendly news media. His untrue claims of flip-flopping by Obama have often been repeated by media with few reporters noting that it is actually McCain who has flip-flopped repeatedly for political expediency. Today there was a rare exception. CNN actually bothered to fact-check a claim from McCain. McCain criticized Obama for failing to be present for the vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment on September 26, 2007. They checked the record and also found that McCain was not present for the same vote he criticized Obama for missing.

Just as McCain is in a poor position to accuse anyone of flip-flopping, he is in a particularly poor position to criticize anyone for being absent for votes. While all presidential candidates tend to miss many votes, McCain is setting the record. McCain has missed 61.8% of the votes cast, exceeding even the number missed by Tim Johnson following a cerebral hemorrhage. By comparison Obama has missed 43.5% of the votes.

Another difference is that while all politicians must miss votes while out campaigning, McCain has used this as a means to avoid taking a stand on the issues. Most candidates at least announce how they would vote on votes they have missed. The most recent example of McCain avoiding taking a stand was on the Medicare vote earlier this week. Not only was McCain the only Senator to miss this key vote, he failed to respond to questions as to where he stood.

I’ve particularly noticed this tendency from McCain as the Medicare vote was the second time McCain’s has used such tactics on matters which affect me personally. Here in Michigan (and I’m sure in other states) visas for temporary workers are significant for the summer tourist industry. Every summer I go to Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island once or twice, and seeing the Jamaicans we have known for years is a major part of the trip. (The hotel is best known to those outside of Michigan as the site of the movie Somewhere in Time.) I’m afraid that those who do not frequent such resorts would not understand the significance of the friendships which can develop over the years. These are people who have seen my daughter grow up from a baby, and she runs to visit some of them even before we are checked in. Last week two different ones called to wish my wife a happy birthday, knowing that many other years we have celebrated her birthday there. It was major news in Michigan when many of the employees could not return this year due to a lapse in the law which allowed them to return for the summer with H2B visas. One reason for this turned out to be that John McCain blocked the immigration legislation which contained the H2B exemptions as he did not to vote on an immigration bill which could become a political issue this year.

There are numerous other examples, but the Medicare and immigration bills were the two which I paid the most attention to. Undoubtedly many in the news media realize that avoiding taking a stand has become common for the supposedly straight talking John McCain. This time CNN even made a point of it when he tried to accuse Obama of what he is actually guilty of. Hopefully this is just the start of the media holding McCain responsible for his statements.

Favorite Politicians of the Right Wing

Right Wing News has polled a selection of right of center bloggers on their favorite politicians. George Bush, despite all his failures, along with his destruction of any remnants of the right as being supportive of civil liberties and small government, managed to make the top ten. John McCain barely makes the list, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also makes their least favorite list, which is to be posted tomorrow.

20) John Thune (6)
16) Mark Sanford (7)
16) Mitch McConnell (7)
16) John Cornyn (7)
16) John McCain (7)
12) John Shadegg (8)
12) Jon Kyl (8)
12) Haley Barbour (8)
12) Tom Tancredo (8)
11) Dick Cheney (9)
9 ) Jeff Sessions (11)
9 ) Jeff Flake (11)
8 ) Mike Pence (12)
7 ) George W. Bush (13)
6 ) James Inhofe (14)
5 ) Sarah Palin (15)
4 ) Duncan Hunter (16)
3 ) Jim DeMint (18)
2 ) Tom Coburn (24)
1 ) Bobby Jindal (25)

Liberal Defenses of Obama on FISA

While most on the left (including myself) have been critical of Obama for supporting the FISA compromise, there are some who do see this as a useful compromise. Before the vote Morton Halperin, executive director of the Open Society Policy Center and a former member of Richard Nixon’s enemies list, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times concluding that “it represents our best chance to protect both our national security and our civil liberties.” Lawrence Lessig has defended Obama against what he calls the immunity hysteria.

Lessig makes six points which are worth considering. He discusses a topic I discussed earlier in the day as he points out that Obama is not a 1970’s style liberal:

Obama is no (in the 1970s sense) “liberal”: There are many who are upset by this who believe this (and other recent moves) shows Obama “moving to the center.” People who make this argument signal they don’t know squat about which they speak. You can’t read Obama’s books, watch how he behaved in the Illinois Senate, and watched how he voted in the US Senate, and believe he is a Bernie Sanders liberal. He is not now, and nor has ever been. That’s not to say there aren’t issues on which he takes a liberal position. It is to say that the mix of views he actually has and has had doesn’t map on a 1970s spectrum of liberals to conservative. He is not, for example, “against the market,” as so many on the left still make it sound like they are. He is for same-sex civil unions. So if you’re upset with Obama because you see him shifting, you should actually be upset with yourself that you have been so careless in understanding the politics of this candidate.

With regards to immunity, Lessig reminds readers that, “He has promised to repeal the immunity as president.” Unfortunately once immunity is granted it is doubtful that it could be revoked. Lessig also writes that the vote “is a vote that reflects the judgment that securing the amendments to FISA was more important than denying immunity to telcos.” He writes that the amendments are good because, “getting a regime that requires the executive to obey the law is important.” While this is true, there were also many aspects of the law which still grant excessive authority to the Executive Branch and which infringe upon civil liberties.

While I disagree with aspects of the bill, there are some benefits as Lessig points out. Perhaps the bottom line is Lessig’s final point:

please, fellow liberals, or leftists, or progressives, get off your high horse(s). More on this with the next post but: it is not “compromising” to recognize that we are part of a democracy. We on the left may be right. We may be the position to which the country eventually gets. But we have not yet earned the status of a majority. And to start this chant of “principled rejection” of Obama because he is not as pure as we is, in a word, idiotic (read: Naderesque).

Personally I think that if the Democrats stood strong they could have demanded a bill which did more to respect civil liberties. I’ve previously discussed my objection to moving to the center on national security issues to avoid Republican accusations of being weak. With the Republicans being so unpopular, this is a time when the Democrats could have stuck to their principles. The Republicans certainly had no qualms about doing so when they were in power.The Democrats did manage to do this on the Medicare bill, but in that case they could frame it as being pro-doctor and pro-elderly, as opposed to being accused of being weak on national security on FISA.

The point is not really whether Obama and Lessig are right or wrong, but to consider that there is more than one side to this issue. This represented a compromise, not what Obama preferred. In such a compromise there were those who wanted more power for the Executive Branch and there were those, like Obama, who would have preferred a bill which showed greater respect for civil liberties. It is incorrect to claim that both parties to such a compromise are morally equivalent. While I disagree with both the strategy of the Democrats and Obama’s vote on the FISA compromise, I also agree with Lessig in opposing those who now reject Obama as impure. With the possible exception of Chris Dodd, who never really had a chance at the nomination, Obama was the strongest major party candidate on civil liberties issues to run this year. I’ve felt for months that the election of Barack Obama represents our best chance of strengthing civil liberties and, despite my disagreements on how Obama voted, this fact has not changed.