Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tonight's Daily Show: The Deconstruction of Death Panels

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The Wise Bard
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Registered: 08-20-2009

The Wise Bard

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Advance Directives for Health Care

I write as a retired professor of law and bioethics. I served as senior staff of a Presidential Commission on Bioethics from 1980-83 and as Executive Director of the New Jersey (State) Bioethics Commission from 1987-90, where we developed proposals for state statutes on declaring death and advance directives for health care. I personally also produced a model advance directives form, which emphasizes the right of the individual to request, as well as to decline, all medically appropriate procedures to sustain life. I should note that advance directives also include, and sometimes prefer, naming a proxy or representative to speak for the patient when the patient is no longer capable of speaking for her- or himself, as well as "instruction directives" or so-called "living wills."

I have, for the past three decades, strongly advocated the use of advance directives and the availability of hospice care --and for the desirability of patient-family-physician consultation well in advance of medical crisis, and for necessary updating as medical circumstances--and possibly opinions--change over time.I have, for better or worse, opposed legalization of physician-assisted suicide or medical killing, feeling that these are, particularly in the absence of universal health insurance including superior pain management and the availability of hospice options, too likely to invite abuse. I have worked in every way possible to improve care and support of dying patients.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly to some, while I have worked for widespread access to advance directive forms and appropriate consultation and counselling regarding end-of-life decisionmaking, I have been reluctant to support attaching this process to government financing of health care. While I strongly believe that physicians should be compensated for time spent counselling patients, I have been concerned that linking governmental financing programs (such as Medicare) to end-of-life planning might be misunderstood as pressure on patients to make certain choices in order to reduce the cost of their care. Given the delicacy of these issues, and the motives of political opponents to misconstrue such provisions to terrify fearful patients and family members, I thought the risks not worth the benefits of making this connection. I do support other measures encouraging health care providers and hospitals to raise these issues and to assist patients and families in working their way through these sensitive and challenging matters.

While I probably would have discouraged including these provisions in the various pending health reform measures, the mischaracterization of what these provisions say, and the invocation of language like "death panels" in recent months to evoke fear and distract from the moral necessity of improving access to quality health care, has been a disgrace and a terribledisservice to the American people and the integrity of public discussion and debate. Ms. McCaughey's participation in this process should be a source of everlasting shame--as was her disgraceful performance in 1993-4 opposing the last round of attempts to reform the dysfunctional and morally indefensible non-system of American health care.

Jon Stewart's participation in this evening's just-concluded interview was, in a word, magnificent. Jon was at the top of his form, exceptionally well-informed on the issues (I doubt that many professional bioethicists who have worked on these issues for years could do as well), razor sharp in his focus on critical details, and cutting through the obfuscation and blatant misrepresentations propounded, ever so brazenly, by Ms McCaughey. Ms McCaughey is not Orly Taitz; she is more dangerous because she appears to know what she is talking about and does not make a self-parody of herself. It takes an exceptionally skilled interviewer to pin her down and show the emptiness of her preposterous claims. Jon fully met that challenge tonight.

The Daily Show is, of course, a comedy, and Jon a comedian. Every once in a while, however, he allows his considerable intellect and insight to emerge in the service of an important public objective. He did so, memorably, in his critique of phony debate shows such as the late and unlamented Crossfire. This was another such occasion.

I am proud to be a fan, rarely more than tonight. Thank you, Jon.

(Prof.) Alan Jay Weisbard (blogging as The Wise Bard), Madison, WI.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

best i've found on the vp debate

Cif America

Flirting her way to victory

Sarah Palin's farcical debate performance lowered the standards for both female candidates and US political discourse

Sarah Palin, winking

Sarah Palin winks during the vice-presidential debate on Thursday in St Louis, Missouri. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

At least three times last night, Sarah Palin, the adorable, preposterous vice-presidential candidate, winked at the audience. Had a male candidate with a similar reputation for attractive vapidity made such a brazen attempt to flirt his way into the good graces of the voting public, it would have universally noted, discussed and mocked. Palin, however, has single-handedly so lowered the standards both for female candidates and American political discourse that, with her newfound ability to speak in more-or-less full sentences, she is now deemed to have performed acceptably last night.

By any normal standard, including the ones applied to male presidential candidates of either party, she did not. Early on, she made the astonishing announcement that she had no intentions of actually answering the queries put to her. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also," she said.

And so she preceded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity.

It was an appalling display. The only reason it was not widely described as such is that too many American pundits don't even try to judge the truth, wisdom or reasonableness of the political rhetoric they are paid to pronounce upon. Instead, they imagine themselves as interpreters of a mythical mass of "average Americans" who they both venerate and despise.

In pronouncing upon a debate, they don't try and determine whether a candidate's responses correspond to existing reality, or whether he or she is capable of talking about subjects such as the deregulation of the financial markets or the devolution of the war in Afghanistan. The criteria are far more vaporous. In this case, it was whether Palin could avoid utterly humiliating herself for 90 minutes, and whether urbane commentators would believe that she had connected to a public that they see as ignorant and sentimental. For the Alaska governor, mission accomplished.

There is indeed something mesmerising about Palin, with her manic beaming and fulsome confidence in her own charm. The force of her personality managed to slightly obscure the insulting emptiness of her answers last night. It's worth reading the transcript of the encounter, where it becomes clearer how bizarre much of what she said was. Here, for example, is how she responded to Biden's comments about how the middle class has been short-changed during the Bush administration, and how McCain will continue Bush's policies:

Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? ... My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Evidently, Palin's pre-debate handlers judged her incapable of speaking on a fairly wide range of subjects, and so instructed to her to simply disregard questions that did not invite memorised talking points or cutesy filibustering. They probably told her to play up her spunky average-ness, which she did to the point of shtick - and dishonesty. Asked what her achilles heel is - a question she either didn't understand or chose to ignore - she started in on how McCain chose her because of her "connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?"

None of Palin's children, it should be noted, is heading off to college. Her son is on the way to Iraq, and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter is engaged to be married to a high-school dropout and self-described "fuckin' redneck". Palin is a woman who can't even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details of her own life, never mind about matters of major public import. In her only vice-presidential debate, she was shallow, mendacious and phoney. What kind of maverick, after all, keeps harping on what a maverick she is? That her performance was considered anything but a farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain on taxes, the economy, and patriotism?

"The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the State, because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government. Not only should he recognize this obligation in the way he leads his daily life and in the way he earns and spends his money, but it should also be recognized by the way in which he pays for the protection the States gives him."

"As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government."

"The inheritance tax . . . is both a far better method of taxation, and far more important for the purpose of having the fortunes of the country bear in proportion to their increase in size a corresponding increase and burden of taxation. The Government has the absolute right to decide as to the terms upon which a man shall receive a bequest or devise from another, and this point in the devolution of property is especially appropriate for the imposition of a tax. . . . No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood."

Perhaps Senator McCain could speak to these remarks by his professed hero, Teddy Roosevelt?

Friday, August 1, 2008

A question for Service Nation

How might we best instill the value of citizen service early in life, develop commitment and helping skills in the course of development, and reinforce and enable all of these over the course of a lifetime? What should we expect from our public schools, colleges and professional schools, workplaces, unions and professional associations? What can local, state, and federal government do to enable and encourage greater and more effective participation?

My father, a much decorated veteran of WWII, died and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery last year. In the aftermath of his death (during the Jewish shiva period), the family located and watched an aging video of him, in which he spoke about the need for (preferably universal) national and community service to bring our nation together. He was inspired by JFK's inaugural call to service, and passed that on to the next generation. It is one of the things I will most remember about him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Long Run - As a Professor, Obama Enthralled Students and Puzzled Faculty - Series -
"“On the national level, bipartisanship usually means Democrats ignore the needs of the poor and abandon the idea that government can play a role in issues of poverty, race discrimination, sex discrimination or environmental protection,” Mr. Obama said."...

Nor could his views be gleaned from law review articles or other scholarship; Mr. Obama has never published any. He was too busy, but also, Mr. Epstein believes, he was unwilling to put his name to anything that could haunt him politically, as Ms. Guinier’s writings had hurt her.

“He figured out, you lay low,” Mr. Epstein said.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Love or Tough Love, Both Worthless Without Understanding; Nicholas Kristof Actually Understands Nothing About Israel ... or the Palestinians - The Spine

From my posting on the New Republic blog, in response to Marty Peretz:

I think Kristof's two recent columns on Israel/Palestine were among his worst ever. While my preference is for more judicious and less incendiary rhetoric than typical in this space, I would term them obtuse.

That said, the repeated invocations of Palestinian and Arab attitudes toward the 1949 cease fire lines seems to me tedious and, at this point, unpersuasive. Attitudes change over time, and the experience of the past 40 years, not to speak of changing geopolitical realities, allow for realism to sink in, despite the residual presence of more grandiose expectations. This has happened on the Israeli side: relatively few Israelis outside the minority of messianic types realistically aspire to a restoration of the Davidic boundaries, and most accept the presence of a Palestinian people (now, despite continuing arguments about the past), and the ultimate likelihood of some kind of Palestinian state. I have little doubt that many Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims wish that Israel never existed, or would go away; still, there is substantial evidence that many (including the leadership elites) have concluded, however reluctantly, that Israel is a fixture in the contemporary Middle East, and that some form of acceptance of that reality is a practical necessity for the foreseeable future.

If Israel is to flourish as more than a fortress state, and to pursue aspirations beyond survival (and that survival is, for me, of ultimate importance as a committed Jew and lover of both Israel and Judaism), it must accept that the pursuit of a practicable peace will entail certain risks (as does continuing the status quo). Certain risks, while unpleasant and sometimes tragic, are not incompatible with the secure existance and survival of the Israeli State as a Jewish and democratic state. Projections based on a tendentious reading of pre-Six Days War realities ("After all, the Six Days War was initiated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan..." ) into the 21st century seem more about polemics than problem solving in our current, importantly changed reality.

It is perhaps worth adding that genuine moves toward a tolerable peace are the best, and perhaps the sole, method of changing attitudes of the coming generation in a more positive direction. There are, of course, no guarantees in this world, but continuing the current course bears risks of its own.

It is time to move past the willful stupidities of the Kristof column and the associated polemics, and toward a more constructive dialogue.

Alan J. Weisbard (blogging as The Wise Bard)

Iowa Rally Protests Raid and Conditions at Plant -

The Rubashkin family is, sadly, a disgrace to Jews everywhere. That such people are the source of much of our ("kosher" ) food is unacceptable in multiple respects. That generally accepted standards for kashrut tolerate unfair and unsafe working conditions, environmental degradation, respect for animals and all God's creatures, and the other sins against abiding Jewish ethical values is intolerable. Kudos to all those working to upgrade standards for kashrut and to hold those entrusted with responsibility for producing and certifying our food to standards worthy of trust and respect from all corners of the Jewish world.
"“The high number of illegal people who were working here is more a testimony to the quality of their deceit, of their papers,” Getzel Rubashkin said. He said the company did not criticize immigration authorities for the raid.

“Obviously some of the people here were presenting false documents,” Getzel Rubashkin said. “Immigration authorities somehow picked it up and they did what they are supposed to do, they came and picked them up. God bless them for it.”"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How much does John McCain really know about foreign policy? - By Fred Kaplan - Slate Magazine

By Fred Kaplan - Slate Magazine:

"That was the big nail-biter: Would Obama, the first-term senator and foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe? The nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to 'the Iraq-Pakistan border,' or call the Czech Republic 'Czechoslovakia' (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.

But, of course, it was Obama's opponent, John McCain—the war hero and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—who uttered these eyebrow-raisers."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chimp’s Sex Calls May Reflect Calculation -

Though human vocalizations during intercourse have not been much studied, they do have “a quite elaborate acoustical structure, which suggests some kind of communicative function,” said Dr. Townsend, who is at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Copulation calls are not a feature of public life in Western societies,...

New MoveOn ad

Monday, June 16, 2008

Big City - A Young Man From Omaha, Who May Perfectly Represent Brooklyn
...Thanks to his Egyptian father, who left the family when Yosef was young, and his maternal grandfather, who was of African descent by way of Panama, Yosef looks African-American (though his family prefers to describe themselves as Jews of color, believing their culture to be exclusively Jewish). Yosef moved to Crown Heights only a year ago, until then having lived in Omaha, where his mother’s maternal family, German Jewish merchants, had settled several generations earlier. ...

Yosef was obviously sheltered from too much scrutiny from the outside world, but the surprising combination of his race and his particular form of religious observance fazed no one in Omaha — for all the average person knew in Omaha, all Hasidic Jews were of African descent, his mother said. When friends from Nebraska first visited New York, they were fascinated to meet some white Hasids for the first time.

Bahrain names Jewish ambassador

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Bahrain names Jewish ambassador:
Bahrain's king has appointed a Jewish woman as the country's envoy to the United States.

Houda Nonoo said she was proud to serve her country 'first of all as a Bahraini' and that she was not chosen for the post because of her religion.

She is believed to be the Arab world's first Jewish ambassador.

Ms Nonoo, 43, has served as a legislator in Bahrain's 40-member Shura Council for three years and is head of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch.

'It is a great honour to have been appointed as the first female ambassador to the United States of America and I am looking forward to meeting this new challenge,' Ms Nonoo told the Associated Press news agency.

Her family is originally from Iraq, having moved to Bahrain over a century ago.

Bahrain has one of the world's oldest and smallest Jewish communities. It was, at one time, home to as many as 1,500 Jews. Today the community has a synagogue and numbers around 50 people....

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Kosher??? From Arthur Waskow:

Unkosher meat, unkosher politics

The Rubashkin meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which has been the biggest supplier of allegedly kosher meat in America, has violated many moral, ethical, and legal codes of conduct -- American and Jewish. It has tortured the animals it is supposed to kill painlessly and has exploited its workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants who were fearful of complaining. It has even had the chutzpah to collect union dues from some workers and then pocket the money instead of passing it on to the unions.

Rubashkin is under serious criticism from major parts of the Jewish community. Yet even some who have called for a boycott of this unkosher meat have praised the Rubashkin family's "charitable" donations. Leave aside the fact that any such donations come from the super-profits made possible by oppressing humans and animals alike; when I asked for evidence of those charities, I was told only they were claimed by those within the family's (Lubavitch) community , and that some signers of the boycott call would not sign without it.

Finally the Federal government has stepped in.

To do what? To imprison hundreds of allegedly undocumented workers and - with rare precedent - to charge hundreds with criminal offenses rather than, as usual in such situations, simply deporting them. As for the owners - so far, no action at all.

Perhaps this failure of Federal authorities to act against the wealthy violators while destroying the lives of the powerless workers is rooted in the conventional deference to the rich. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Rubashkin family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to one political party - the one that happens to be running the Federal government at the moment. (Maybe these are the undocumented charitable contributions?)

In any case, this needs to change. I hope that many many of you our readers, of ALL religious and ethical traditions and beliefs, will write your local newspapers not only to support a boycott of this meat - unkosher in every sense - but also to press that Federal authorities take vigorous action against the owners to the full extent of the law, while dropping criminal charges against workers caught in this oppressive bind.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Welcome to Lebanon--Paris of the Middle East

Hezbollah’s Actions Ignite Sectarian Fuse in Lebanon - New York Times:

“He who pushes our faces in the dirt must be confronted, even if that means sacrificing our lives and shedding blood.” ...

On the way to a funeral on May 10 for one of the young Sunni men killed during the battles, mourners walked in a procession while chanting, “Shiites are the enemies of God.”

As the pallbearers approached a store owned by a Shiite man, some mourners rushed in and urged the man to close it out of respect. He refused, and the mourners began smashing his windows with rocks and chairs. Enraged, the man got his AK-47 assault rifle and began firing into the crowd, killing two mourners and wounding others.

As terrified mourners ran from the scene, the funeral procession turned into a sectarian riot, with Sunnis angrily destroying every store owned by Shiites in the neighborhood.

Get your programs here --you can't tell the players without a scorecard.

Einstein: Take Two

New York Times:

"Trying to distinguish between a personal God and a more cosmic force, Einstein described himself as an “agnostic” and “not an atheist,” which he associated with the same intolerance as religious fanatics. “They are creatures who — in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium for the people’ — cannot bear the music of the spheres.”

The problem of God, he said, “is too vast for our limited minds.”"

Einstein Letter on God Sells for $404,000

New York Times:

[Einstein] wrote that “the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

As for his fellow Jews, he said that Judaism, like all other religions, was “an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”

He claimed a deep affinity with the Jewish people, he said, but “as far as my experience goes they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

Shabbat shalom, Albert.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How Obama and McCain define each other.

By John Dickerson - Slate Magazine:

"When asked to respond to McCain's charge about Ahmadinejad, one of Obama's senior advisers simply forwarded a comment by Defense Secretary Robert Gates from today's Washington Post. 'We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage,' said Gates, 'and then sit down and talk with them. If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us.'"

Trailhead: President's Questions

Trailhead: "McCain’s Best Idea Yet
Posted Thursday, May 15, 2008 1:52 PM by Christopher Beam

John McCain’s speech on his vision for America [has] one nugget of genuine inspiration:

'My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons.'"

Responding to James Kirchick on AIPAC and J Street

Street Cred? by James Kirchick
| Posted by Alan J. Weisbard
37 of 38 | warn tnr | respond
The overwhelmingly ad hominem quality of both the principal argument and many of the comments suggests the weakness of much of the associated thinking/analysis, if one can call it that. I have spent considerable time in Israel, love and cherish it, and strongly support its security and flourishing. I believe many in the Palestinian and larger Arab worlds would, if they had their druthers (and were not otherwise constrained), do away with the State of Israel. That goes triple for Hamas. The serious question is, what follows from all of the above? Certainly, those who care urgently about the security of Israel and Israelis must think hard (and do more than thinking) about how that objective is best pursued in a very dangerous neighborhood. But the notion that Likud, or AIPAC, has a direct and excusive line to divine revelation on that question is far from self-evident to me. It is not evident to me that the building and thickening of hard to defend settlements in the midst of Arab populations in the West Bank (and previously in Gaza) contributes to Israeli security and flourishing. It is not evident to me that the caging of Palestinians within ugly walls, and the squeezing of their economy and ability to travel within the West Bank, exacerbating long-standing hatreds and passing them on through successive generations, contributes to the long-term prospect of Israeli flourishing. It is not evident to me that recalcitrant policies and actions that alienate Israel from much of the world, including nations with which Israel seeks to identify and engage with, contributes to the long-term prospect of Israeli flourishing. AIPAC's approach has varied over the decades. There were certainly moments, when Israeli policy inclined toward participation in the peace process, that AIPAC was supportive of Israeli peace policy. But in recent years, AIPAC has increasingly developed its own foreign policy, identifying with the most right wing tendencies in Israeli debate. AIPAC no longer supports policies consistent with the center of gravity in Israeli thought, and has long since departed from the views of many American Jews on the best paths to peace and security for Israel. It is still early to know precisely what paths J Street will take as it develops. For the moment, it seems to me more likely to represent a promising path toward the long-term security and flourishing of the Israel that I love than does AIPAC, which has become a n unrepresentative tool of a narrow faction of American Jewish thinking (and money). It is time for a broad based alternative more acceptable to (and more representative of) much of Israeli and American Jewish thinking on how best to secure the future of Israel. I have joined J Street and hope for its success. This is not the time to be writing its obituary.
Alan J. Weisbard

Responding to Michelle Cottle on Hillary's Campaign

THE NEW REPUBLIC | Article: The New Republic
What Went Wrong?
by Michelle Cottle

| Posted by Alan J. Weisbard
103 of 116 | warn tnr | respond
This article provides compelling evidence of why HRC did not deserve to win, and pretty strong evidence that she would make a poor president (albeit a better one than most of her Republican competitors). First, while there is lots of regret that Hillary's campaign did not attack Obama earlier and stronger, there appears to be zero recognition of Obama's strengths as a leader, and of the brilliance of his campaign. It's all about Hillary and her people, and the failure to achieve that which she was entitled to. The circular firing squad is indeed the lasting metaphor for her campaign. Very little sign of that in Obama's campaign. That tells you something, and something important. Second, there is virtually no reflection to be found on the substance of Hillary's positions as a Senator, and during her campaign. It is all political positioning, lacking in authenticity and conviction. Sadly, that goes to much of the substance of her failures as a Senator and party leader (on the war in Iraq, on Iran, and on too much else), as well as to failures of her campaign. Count me as one great supporter (even more of HRC than of Bill) from 1992 who has become utterly disillusioned over the ensuing years. Third, the Clinton campaign offered no serious explanation of how her Presidency would get us past the political deadlock of the past 16 years. Too much about herself, too little about what she has learned, if anything, from the enormous hatred she and her husband have evoked from much of the country (beyond the vast right wing conspiracy alone), far too little on building a progressive movement for change and figuring out how to move beyond her base to win the confidence and trust of a broader swath of the American people. Obama did that brilliantly (despite an all out effort by the HRC campaign to subvert it); the Clinton campaign provided no positive vision. To an alarming extent, the HRC campaign evoked some of the worst qualities of Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush. That is not the way to win a change election, or to elicit support from those of us hoping, and willing to work, for a better future. It is a sad truth of American politics that by and large, American voters get what they deserve. In this case, the HRC campaign reaps what it has sown. It is a sad end to an American story of once blinding promise--and, I hope, the beginning of an even more promising American story. Alan J. Weisbard (blogging at