Archive for February, 2010
28 Feb 2010

Noblesse Oblige and the Left

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Joseph Finlay, at American Thinker, discusses why the left has it wrong.

With the Orwellian definition now in play, at once the great liberal issues of our day become moral imperatives — and not mere political talking points subject to honest discussion. Nationalized health care, even if unworkable or bankrupting in practical application, becomes a noble obligation for you and me to subsidize — while Congress keeps its own sweetheart plan with no thought of sacrifice by the “more equal animals.” Or global warming crusaders can jet all over the world to useless summits and live in mansions while with a straight face urging the average citizen to turn his thermostat down. “Do as I say and not as I do” becomes an acceptable premise because, after all, the beautiful people really do know what’s best for the rest of us. It is no longer God nudging the heart toward a higher plane of concern based on love and empathy, but rather the state ramming its religion down one’s throat with a cold and heartless inefficiency.

I’d say that charity, from the perspective of the leftwing elite, represents a demand that the world be tidied up so that no unseemliness or unhappiness might mar our haute bourgeois elite’s enjoyment of its pleasures. Their uniformly desired methodology invariably consists of government mandates, i.e. of making George do it.

The impulse toward charitable coercion serves a second function, of course, for liberals. It would be unseemly for a class composed of the most privileged and affluent elements of society to make demands for further allotments of power and prestige on its own behalf. The left is seeking power, trying to redistribute everyone else’s income and liberties, not for themselves, but only for the poor and disenfranchised, you see.

Hat tip to the Barrister.

28 Feb 2010

How Does This Administration Handle High Value Interrogations?

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There were little gasps of surprise last December, when it was learned that Barack Obama’s new politically correct High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) was not yet operational, and therefore not available to wheedle information out of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab concerning Al-Qaeda-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula (AQAP)’s nefarious plots against the lives of American civilians, using the latest and most advanced forms of Tea and Sympathy.

Apparently, the president’s crack team of sympathetic listeners is now actually in business, but anonymous sources have revealed to Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball that the immaculate inquisitors are not actually being deployed to deal with Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Last summer, the Obama administration announced that, as a replacement for the Bush administration’s secret CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, it would create a SWAT-style team of interrogation experts to travel the world squeezing terrorist suspects for vital information. Administration officials say that the interrogation unit, known as the HIG (for High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group) is now operational. But for reasons that are unclear, the administration has not deployed HIG personnel to question Afghan Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arguably the most important terrorist suspect captured since the detention of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in spring of 2003.

Mullah Baradar was captured by Pakistani security forces in Karachi earlier this month following a tip-off from U.S. intelligence about a planned meeting involving some of his cohorts. … [S]ome sources say that U.S. intelligence personnel in Pakistan, who are believed to include both CIA and military counterterrorism experts, were not given access to Baradar until more than a week after his capture. Obama administration officials now say that Baradar is talking a little, that U.S. personnel in Pakistan do have access to him, and that any intelligence that has been squeezed out of him has been shared with American representatives.

But five U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, tell Declassified that the HIG—which the Obama administration has billed as a less-controversial alternative to the Bush administration’s use of secret CIA prisons and “enhanced” interrogation techniques that human rights advocates had described as torture—is not being deployed to participate in the questioning of Mullah Baradar. Some of the officials say they find this puzzling, since Baradar, who before his capture served as the Afghan Taliban’s top military commander, is widely believed to possess information that might be very useful to U.S. and allied forces fighting his Taliban comrades in Afghanistan. …

Officials from several government agencies involved in counterterrorism say that the HIG now is operational and that some of its personnel, who are formed into mobile interrogation teams, have already been sent out on highly classified interrogation assignments. But Mullah Baradar’s interrogation is not one of them, the officials affirm. Two of the officials say their understanding was that the reason that HIG personnel had not been sent to question Baradar was because Pakistan’s government was reluctant to allow them to do so. However, two other officials say that the Obama administration did not ask Pakistan for permission to send a HIG team to question Baradar, though these officials would offer no explanation for why the administration would not want to use HIG in this case. A White House official declined to comment on the matter

This leak obviously represents a rejoinder to Obama Administration pious poses regarding enhanced interrogation, drawing Newsweek’s attention to the fact that, since the Obama Administration has forbidden US Intelligence to question captured insurgents rigorously, what do they do when they get a high value prisoner who obviously possesses important information? They don’t rely on their publicly proclaimed policy, or use their shiny new white glove team of nice interrogators. Instead, they turn the prisoner over to the Pakistanis who can get right to work using forms of coercion far beyond anything ever imagined in the Bush Administration playbook.

27 Feb 2010

Weaponizing the Classics

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Alex receiving his dose of Beethoven.

Brendan O’Neill describes how in today’s Britain one of the dystopian predictions of Anthony Burgess has already become reality: Classical music used as a tool of social control.

Britain might not make steel anymore, or cars, or pop music worth listening to, but, boy, are we world-beaters when it comes to tyranny. And now classical music, which was once taught to young people as a way of elevating their minds and tingling their souls, is being mined for its potential as a deterrent against bad behavior.

In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go into adulthood associating great music—the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth—with a punitive slap on the chops.” This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think “Danger!” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.

The classical music detentions at West Park School are only the latest experiment in using and abusing some of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements to reprimand youth.

Across the UK, local councils and other public institutions now play recorded classical music through speakers at bus-stops, in parking lots, outside department stores, and elsewhere. No, not because they think the public will appreciate these sweet sounds (they think we are uncultured grunts), but because they hope it will make naughty youngsters flee.

Tyne and Wear in the north of England was one of the first parts of the UK to weaponize classical music. In the early 2000s, the local railway company decided to do something about the “problem” of “youths hanging around” its train stations. The young people were “not getting up to criminal activities,” admitted Tyne and Wear Metro, but they were “swearing, smoking at stations and harassing passengers.” So the railway company unleashed “blasts of Mozart and Vivaldi.”

Apparently it was a roaring success. The youth fled. “They seem to loathe [the music],” said the proud railway guy. “It’s pretty uncool to be seen hanging around somewhere when Mozart is playing.” He said the most successful deterrent music included the Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 by Rachmaninov, and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich. (That last one I can kind of understand.)

In Yorkshire in the north of England, the local council has started playing classical music through vandal-proof speakers at “troublesome bus-stops” between 7:30 PM and 11:30 PM. Shops in Worcester, Bristol, and North Wales have also taken to “firing out” bursts of classical music to ward of feckless youngsters.

In Holywood (in County Down in Northern Ireland, not to be confused with Hollywood in California), local businesspeople encouraged the council to pipe classical music as a way of getting rid of youngsters who were spitting in the street and doing graffiti. And apparently classical music defeats street art: The graffiti levels fell.

Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of an elite using high culture as a “punitive slap on the chops” for low youth has come true. In Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, famously filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, the unruly youngster Alex is subjected to “the Ludovico Technique” by the crazed authorities. Forced to take drugs that induce nausea and to watch graphically violent movies for two weeks, while simultaneously listening to Beethoven, Alex is slowly rewired and re-moulded. But he rebels, especially against the use of classical music as punishment.

Pleading with his therapists to turn the music off, he tells them that “Ludwig van” did nothing wrong, he “only made music.” He tells the doctors it’s a sin to turn him against Beethoven and take away his love of music. But they ignore him. At the end of it all, Alex is no longer able to listen to his favorite music without feeling distressed. A bit like that schoolboy in Derby who now sticks his fingers in his ears when he hears Mozart.

The weaponization of classical music speaks volumes about the British elite’s authoritarianism and cultural backwardness. They’re so desperate to control youth—but from a distance, without actually having to engage with them—that they will film their every move, fire high-pitched noises in their ears, shine lights in their eyes, and bombard them with Mozart. And they have so little faith in young people’s intellectual abilities, in their capacity and their willingness to engage with humanity’s highest forms of art, that they imagine Beethoven and Mozart and others will be repugnant to young ears. Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

27 Feb 2010

Robert Traver’s Cabin and Pond in Winter

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Cameron Mortenson, who (there’s no accounting for tastes) actually likes fiberglass fly rods, has a posting (with a slideshow of photos) on the late Robert Traver (John D. Voelker)’s camp at Frenchman’s Pond in winter.

He quotes Voelker, describing a childhood visit in winter to the camp:

I went along on a few of those outings as a kid, and usually wound up skiing around outside while the laughter echoed out of the cabin. I would busy myself by looking at the pond and surrounding woods. Even in the dead of winter the pond would never freeze completely over. Open spots would reveal where a spring bubbled up from below. I would mark those spots in my mind and revisit them on the hot days of late summer. There I would throw hopper patterns with my 8’glass Fenwick six weight that my Grandfather bought me at the local sporting goods store. On occasion, I would be rewarded for my craftiness and provoke a swirl from a large Brookie that had claimed the spot to fin in the cool water.”

Hat tip to Brad Reiter.

27 Feb 2010

Alan Clark’s “Backfire”

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The late Alan Clark.

Alan Clark, 1928-1999, eldest son of the art historian Kenneth, Lord Clark of Saltwood, had a significant political career, rising to the post of Minister of Trade under Margaret Thatcher. He was also a novelist and a historian, and his diaries are ranked high by admirers of that particularly English genre.

Clark was, in his private life, an automotive enthusiast and a life-long collector and seller of automobiles. Clark was once admonished by the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Commons for using the British Parliament’s parking to house some of his stock.

It is nice having private means. Alan Clark was able to purchase a Jaguar XK-120 from City Motors in Oxford in 1950, when he was an undergraduate; and he enjoyed boasting fifty years later of being probably the only person extant still possessing his own teeth and hair and the 120 Jaguar he had purchased new.

I was recently reading Backfire 2001, a posthumous collection of Clark’s automotive articles, and thought I ought to share a couple of gems.

Buyer Beware

The great thing about any engine made by Rolls-Royce is that unless you actually put a hole in the crankcase (quite difficult) they will always keep running — for a bit.

I well recall a fine summer afternoon at Saltwood when we had just induced the engine of a magnificent Phantom II tourer, bought very cheaply, to tick over after thirty years in storage. The great creature stood on the lawn, puffing gently, while dives cooed. Idyllic, really.

Then, one of my sons, idly scratching with a screwdriver at he flaking paint on the cylinder head below the header tank inlet, caused a jet of water to spurt out with great force. Water was distributed generously over the entire engine bay from huge fan blades, rotating at 450 rpm. The coil and distributor began to malfunction and the plug leads shorted. Yet thanks to a mouthful of chewing gim and a tiny squirt of aerosol matt black, the car was sold four days later.

Caveat emptor, old boy. About a year later I saw the car in a showroom, looking magnificent, and offered at exactly ten times what I had sold it for. I doubt the head had been changed and, anyway, would the new owner ever have noticed? Once ‘restoration’ passes a certain point people seldom drive the cars, except for that tiny distance — which chewing gum on a crack will usually cover — from the trailer to the judging line-up at a concours.



Do you also find, in July and August, the pedals get very hot? It’s heat transference, of course. But not a very good sign even if, like me, you enjoy driving in bare feet. Not long ago at some posh dinner I sat next to a very beautiful woman who inflicted on me one of the best motoring put downs I have ever suffered…

She told me how in her youth she had loved, best of anything at all, a Bentley 4 1/2 litre. Bought from Jack Bond for £130 during the Suez War forty years ago. It had been ‘cut’ and lowered [suspension-wise –JDZ], and would do the ton [100 mph –JDZ].

Patronizingly, I asked if she had ever mastered changing gear without the clutch…

‘Without the clutch? One summer was so hot that I drove the whole way from Falmouth to Anglesea (a beautiful route of 170 miles across the Welsh Marches) without touching the pedals, and kept my feet cool by hanging them over the side.’

Try it sometime.

27 Feb 2010

Obamacare Could Still Stall in the House of Representatives

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Kim Strassel, in the Wall Street Journal, explains why even the decision to employ the reconciliation “nuclear option,” throwing the rules of the Senate out the window, does not actually guarantee that democrats can pass the health care bill. The focus of drama now moves over to the House.

The Summit Show was designed by Democrats for Democrats, to give Mr. Obama an all-day stage to inspire and exhort his party to charge once more into the health fray. It’s about “altering the political atmospherics,” admitted one senior Democrat. Yet for all the talk of “jump-start,” there’s little to suggest the ugly politics of passage have changed.

The day after Mr. Brown’s victory broke the majority’s power, Democrats turned to New Strategy, Version 37, Part 12. It is now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s job to pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill. It is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s job to pass retroactive “fixes” to that legislation through an unsightly “reconciliation” process that requires only 51 Senate votes.

The strategy is somewhat bully for Mr. Reid, who can afford to lose eight of his own members. It’s meaningless for Mrs. Pelosi. If the speaker had the votes post-Brown to pass the Senate bill, we’d be living under ObamaCare. She didn’t have them then, and yesterday’s summit was a sideshow to the problems she has getting them now.

A few numbers: Mrs. Pelosi passed her health-care bill in early November, with three votes to spare. The one Republican yes has since bailed. On the Democratic side, one vote has left Congress, one has died, and one retires this week. A smaller Congress means Mrs. Pelosi only needs 216 votes. If all were equal to November, she’s at 216.

Only it isn’t November. It’s nearly March, and the speaker is being asked to pass a bill vastly different from her own, in the wake of a crushing electoral defeat and in light of dire public-opinion polls.

Mrs. Pelosi has at least 11 Democrats with big problems with the Senate’s flimsy language on publicly funded abortions. This is the same crew that nearly derailed her first bill, and whose threats at the time were serious enough to cause Mrs. Pelosi to throw over her liberals in favor of pro-life demands.

For many, this is a moral issue that can’t be changed with Cornhusker kickbacks or “atmospherics.” Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who spearheaded the pro-life fight, has already declared the Senate bill “unacceptable.” And the Conference of Catholic Bishops has no intention of now giving these pro-life Democrats an out.

Another reality is Mrs. Pelosi’s many announced retirements. The conventional wisdom holds that some Blue Dogs who voted no the first time—say, Tennessee’s John Tanner—might now be willing to stick it to their constituents as their last act in Congress. Maybe.

Mrs. Pelosi is surely more worried about retiring members who voted yes and are convinced that vote hastened their departure. Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry used his retirement announcement to rip the White House for pushing Blue Dogs into an electoral abyss. House Democrats leaving to run for the Senate—including Indiana’s Brad Ellsworth or New Hampshire’s Paul Hodes—might be more interested in, say, winning those races than clinging to their prior yes votes.

Speaking of Indiana, Mr. Reid’s decision to go reconciliation adds to Mrs. Pelosi’s problems. If retiring Sen. Evan Bayh votes no on reconciliation, is Mr. Ellsworth—running for Mr. Bayh’s seat—going to vote yes? Democratic senators will claim to vote against reconciliation on technical grounds, but the public will view it as the disownment of the president’s agenda. The pressure on House Democrats from states with senators who vote no will be incalculable.

Don’t forget, too, the House members who have seen their district polls disintegrate since their first yes. No doubt they appreciated the president’s spirit yesterday. Yet unless the summit drives a 30-point shift in public opinion, they retain good reason to not repeat their mistake.

The trillion-dollar question is how many votes Mrs. Pelosi had in reserve the first time. Yet here, too, March is no November. These members are now on record in opposition. They have benefited back home from those no votes. Why flip now?

Mrs. Pelosi has been effective at marshalling votes, and nobody should write her off. Yet it says plenty that she is demanding that Mr. Reid go first. Something big must change for her to move her members. Mr. Reid knows even reconciliation is no sure thing and is demanding that Mrs. Pelosi be the one to go first.

The next few days will provide a better sense as to whether the sight of 40 Washington pols summiting over CBO estimates is a game changer. Don’t count on it. Talk is easy. Politics is hard.

26 Feb 2010

Democrat Effort to Insert Criminal Penalties into Intel Bill Fails

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With the media and the country distracted yesterday by President Obama’s health care summit, House democrats tried to slip provisions into the intelligence authorization bill that would not only have criminalized a number of controversial interrogation tactics, an “includes but is not limited to” provision would have made anything done by a US interrogator allegedly “degrading” to a prisoner potentially punishable by imprisonment.

Faced with strong Republican opposition and fearing the reaction of the public, the House leadership backed off and removed the entire bill from consideration.

The Hill:

[Intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) added language, originally offered by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.)] into the intelligence authorization bill that would establish criminal punishment for CIA agents and other intelligence officials who engage in “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” during interrogations.

Democrats inserted an 11-page addition into the bill late Wednesday night as the House Rules Committee considered the legislation.

The provision, previously not vetted in committee, applied to “any officer or employee of the intelligence community” who during interrogations engages in beatings, infliction of pain or forced sexual acts. The bill said the acts covered by the provision would include inducing hypothermia, conducting mock executions or “depriving the [detainee] of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care.”

The language gave Congress the discretion to determine what the terms mean, and it would have imposed punishments of up to 15 years in prison, and in some cases, life sentences if a detainee died as a result of the interrogation.


Andrew McCarthy explains just how far the language went:

The provision is impossibly vague — who knows what “degrading” means? Proponents will say that they have itemized conduct that would trigger the statute (I’ll get to that in a second), but it is not true. The proposal says the conduct reached by the statute “includes but is not limited to” the itemized conduct. (My italics.) That means any interrogation tactic that a prosecutor subjectively believes is “degrading” (e.g., subjecting a Muslim detainee to interrogation by a female CIA officer) could be the basis for indicting a CIA interrogator. …

Waterboarding is not all. The Democrats’ bill would prohibit — with a penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment — the following tactics, among others:

    – “Exploiting the phobias of the individual”

    – Stress positions and the threatened use of force to maintain stress positions

    – “Depriving the individual of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care”

    – Forced nudity

    – Using military working dogs (i.e., any use of them — not having them attack or menace the individual; just the mere presence of the dog if it might unnerve the detainee and, of course, “exploit his phobias”)

    – Coercing the individual to blaspheme or violate his religious beliefs (I wonder if Democrats understand the breadth of seemingly innocuous matters that jihadists take to be violations of their religious beliefs)

    – Exposure to “excessive” cold, heat or “cramped confinement” (excessive and cramped are not defined)

    – “Prolonged isolation”

    – “Placing hoods or sacks over the head of the individual”

Naturally, all of these tactics are interspersed with such acts as forcing the performance of sexual acts, beatings, electric shock, burns, inducing hypothermia or heat injury — as if all these acts were functionally equivalent. …

Democrats are saying they would prefer to see tens of thousands of Americans die than to see a KSM subjected to sleep-deprivation or to have his “phobias exploited.”

26 Feb 2010

Surprising News

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Neville Nicholls

“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” — Groucho Marx.

The Express

Climate scientists yesterday stunned Britons suffering the coldest winter for 30 years by claiming last month was the ­hottest January the world has ever seen.

The remarkable claim, based on global satellite data, follows Arctic temperatures that brought snow, ice and travel chaos to millions in the UK.

At the height of the big freeze, the entire country was blanketed in snow. But Australian weather expert Professor Neville Nicholls, of Monash University in Melbourne, said yesterday: “January, according to satellite data, was the hottest January we’ve ever seen.

“Last November was the hottest November we’ve ever seen. November-January as a whole is the hottest November-January the world has seen.” Veteran ­climatologist Professor Nicholls was speaking at an online climate change briefing, added: “It’s not warming the same everywhere but it is really quite challenging to find places that haven’t warmed in the past 50 years.”

26 Feb 2010

Roger Kimball’s Favorite Recent Bumper Sticker

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Roger mentions it here.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

26 Feb 2010

The Nanny State Versus Thomas Edison

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Reason TV: Light Bulbs vs. the Nanny State
2:07 video

Hat tip to Roger Kimball via Karen L. Myers.

25 Feb 2010

The GOP Could Win the Hispanic Vote

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This Dallas Morning News story demonstrates that Hispanic voters are a natural GOP constituency.

A bent to conservatism and family makes Hispanics a promising pool of votes for Republicans, but the party’s targeting of illegal immigrants has withered its attraction.

Regardless, Gov. Rick Perry has fared relatively well, perhaps because of his anti-Washington rhetoric and his careful immigration stance, a recent poll indicates.

It shows more than half of Texas Hispanics call themselves conservative, and a surprising 23 percent say they might participate in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Emphasizing punishing illegal aliens, trafficking in slurs associating immigration with welfare and emergency room medical care, noisy advocacy of border closing and rigid enforcement of impractical and inflexible immigration regulations are popular vices of conservatives expressive of unattractive emotional impulses and representative of unsound political reasoning.

America is currently still in the process of receiving a major wave of largely Hispanic immigration arriving here to meet domestic labor needs which would be otherwise unfilled. We are again in a period of history in which our respectable native born laboring class has moved up and out. The residuum of unskilled native residents have attitudes, expectations, and alternative options making hard work at low pay unattractive to them. Yet the country’s labor needs to be done, and needs to be done affordably.

We should be congratulating ourselves that the people volunteering are Hispanic Catholics, generally hard-working, of conservative disposition, and possessing strong family values. In Europe, the same kind of immigration wave is made up of Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East.

24 Feb 2010

They Will Pay The Price, If They Try It

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Megan McArdle warns that trying an end run around the Senate’s rules will prove a costly mistake for democrats.

If the Democrats use budget reconciliation to bypass the Republicans, they will be making a big mistake.

Reconciliation is not meant to handle these sorts of problems; it’s meant to help Congress get revenues in line with outlays without letting protracted negotiations push us into a budget crisis. It’s not possible to do any sort of comprehensive, rational overhaul of the Senate health bill — which after all, was intended to be the opening salvo in a negotiation, not the final bill.

More broadly, for all that Democrats are declaring that they have a mandate, it’s pretty clear that the public does not want them to pass any of the health care bills on the table — which has to include the Obama plan, since it is only a minor tweak on the existing proposals. Polls have shown more Americans opposing passage than supporting it since early summer, and opposition has risen fairly steadily over time.

Democrats have had plenty of time to make their case. They have failed to do so. The longer they have talked, the more firmly the voters have rejected their ideas. If Congress goes ahead anyway, they will pay a terrible political price.

Many progressives are pushing the notion that having already once voted for it, Democrats will pay that political price no matter what, so they might as well pass it. That ignores several factors. First, a hated bill that failed last December is not going to engender the same ire as a hated bill that passed in May.

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