Monday, March 31, 2008

The looming crisis in Social Security

We started to hear this off-key song once again (is it an annual thing, like swallows and Capistrano?). So once more, with feeling, and remarkable clarity, the history and future of Social Security:

The date at which the trust fund will run out, according to Social Security Administration projections, has receded steadily into the future: 10 years ago it was 2029, now it’s 2042. As Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong, and others have pointed out, the SSA estimates are very conservative, and quite moderate projections of economic growth push the exhaustion date into the indefinite future.

But the privatizers won’t take yes for an answer when it comes to the sustainability of Social Security. Their answer to the pretty good numbers is to say that the trust fund is meaningless, because it’s invested in U.S. government bonds. They aren’t really saying that government bonds are worthless; their point is that the whole notion of a separate budget for Social Security is a fiction. And if that’s true, the idea that one part of the government can have a positive trust fund while the government as a whole is in debt does become strange.

But there are two problems with their position.

The lesser problem is that if you say that there is no link between the payroll tax and future Social Security benefits - which is what denying the reality of the trust fund amounts to - then Greenspan and company pulled a fast one back in the 1980s: they sold a regressive tax switch, raising taxes on workers while cutting them on the wealthy, on false pretenses. More broadly, we’re breaking a major promise if we now, after 20 years of high payroll taxes to pay for Social Security’s future, declare that it was all a little joke on the public.

The bigger problem for those who want to see a crisis in Social Security’s future is this: if Social Security is just part of the federal budget, with no budget or trust fund of its own, then, well, it’s just part of the federal budget: there can’t be a Social Security crisis. All you can have is a general budget crisis. Rising Social Security benefit payments might be one reason for that crisis, but it’s hard to make the case that it will be central.

But those who insist that we face a Social Security crisis want to have it both ways. Having invoked the concept of a unified budget to reject the existence of a trust fund, they refuse to accept the implications of that unified budget going forward. Instead, having changed the rules to make the trust fund meaningless, they want to change the rules back around 15 years from now: today, when the payroll tax takes in more revenue than SS benefits, they say that’s meaningless, but when - in 2018 or later - benefits start to exceed the payroll tax, why, that’s a crisis. Huh?

I don’t know why this contradiction is so hard to understand, except to echo Upton Sinclair: it’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary (or, in the current situation, his membership in the political club) depends on his not understanding it. But let me try this one more time, by asking the following: What happens in 2018 or whenever, when benefits payments exceed payroll tax revenues?

The answer, very clearly, is nothing.

The Social Security system won’t be in trouble: it will, in fact, still have a growing trust fund, because of the interest that the trust earns on its accumulated surplus. The only way Social Security gets in trouble is if Congress votes not to honor U.S. government bonds held by Social Security. That’s not going to happen. So legally, mechanically, 2018 has no meaning.

Now it’s true that rising benefit costs will be a drag on the federal budget. So will rising Medicare costs. So will the ongoing drain from tax cuts. So will whatever wars we get into. I can’t find a story under which Social Security payments, as opposed to other things, become a crucial budgetary problem in 2018.


John F. McCain

You mean the same Kennedy who launched our successful foray into Viet-nam?

Whooo boy.


Who's in charge?

Despite our firepower and our puppets in the Green Zone, the events of the past week are surely signs that the U.S. no longer controls events in Iraq (that's assuming, of course, that we ever did). Iran, on the other hand, does control what's going on. In a surprisingly big way.

It's long past time to leave.

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Blue Monday, Bukka White edition

Baby, Please Don't Put Your Daddy Outside 'cause Openin' Day just got rained out.

Not sure what Chester's saying, but it must be mighty funny.

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Less than a year ago...

Bonds is an albatross for this team, that's for sure. But they only have themselves to blame. Forget about the recliner in the clubhouse. On the left field wall, directly behind where Bonds lumbers about on defense, is a sign that reads "a giant among legends," showing Barry's face along with Mays and McCovey. That's like retiring his number before he' know...retired. And there was an unbelievable campaign -- complete with between innings commercials and stadium workers wearing badges -- to get fans to "vote Barry" for the all-star game. I've never seen a team work so hard to get a single player elected. This year's game is being played in Frisco, but it was weird. Unseemly. Maybe the other members of this old, washed up*, never saw a pitch they wouldn't swing at team, don't mind. But between the constant losing, this attention on one player -- albeit, the only one with an on-base percentage higher than a mediocre .350 -- has to get old after a while.

And now?

My friend Scott Ostler of The San Francisco Chronicle recently joined a preseason tour of the Giants’ ballpark and found virtually no trace of Bonds and his home run records, in either the clubhouse or the stands. And except for a few collector jerseys, Bonds has vanished from the Giants’ store, like one of those generals who used to vanish from the May Day photographs in Red Square. Barry Lamar Bonds has become a nonperson.
Happy Opening Day!

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The persistence of poverty

The Boston Globe's "Ideas" section is one of the best -- and least appreciated -- parts of Sunday.

Today, Drake Bennett highlights the little known work of Charles Karelis, a philosopher and former president of Colgate University. Intuitively, his ideas make a lot of sense.

In the community of people dedicated to analyzing poverty, one of the sharpest debates is over why some poor people act in ways that ensure their continued indigence. Compared with the middle class or the wealthy, the poor are disproportionately likely to drop out of school, to have children while in their teens, to abuse drugs, to commit crimes, to not save when extra money comes their way, to not work.

To an economist, this is irrational behavior. It might make sense for a wealthy person to quit his job, or to eschew education or develop a costly drug habit. But a poor person, having little money, would seem to have the strongest incentive to subscribe to the Puritan work ethic, since each dollar earned would be worth more to him than to someone higher on the income scale. Social conservatives have tended to argue that poor people lack the smarts or willpower to make the right choices. Social liberals have countered by blaming racial prejudice and the crippling conditions of the ghetto for denying the poor any choice in their fate. Neoconservatives have argued that antipoverty programs themselves are to blame for essentially bribing people to stay poor.

Karelis, a professor at George Washington University, has a simpler but far more radical argument to make: traditional economics just doesn't apply to the poor. When we're poor, Karelis argues, our economic worldview is shaped by deprivation, and we see the world around us not in terms of goods to be consumed but as problems to be alleviated. This is where the bee stings come in: A person with one bee sting is highly motivated to get it treated. But a person with multiple bee stings does not have much incentive to get one sting treated, because the others will still throb. The more of a painful or undesirable thing one has (i.e. the poorer one is) the less likely one is to do anything about any one problem. Poverty is less a matter of having few goods than having lots of problems.

Poverty and wealth, by this logic, don't just fall along a continuum the way hot and cold or short and tall do. They are instead fundamentally different experiences, each working on the human psyche in its own way. At some point between the two, people stop thinking in terms of goods and start thinking in terms of problems, and that shift has enormous consequences. Perhaps because economists, by and large, are well-off, he suggests, they've failed to see the shift at all.

If Karelis is right, antipoverty initiatives championed all along the ideological spectrum are unlikely to work - from work requirements, time-limited benefits, and marriage and drug counseling to overhauling inner-city education and replacing ghettos with commercially vibrant mixed-income neighborhoods. It also means, Karelis argues, that at one level economists and poverty experts will have to reconsider scarcity, one of the most basic ideas in economics.

"It's Econ 101 that's to blame," Karelis says. "It's created this tired, phony debate about what causes poverty."

I'm not sure I get the bee sting analogy. After all, who gets treatment for bee stings, unless your allergic? But the dented car makes tremendous sense. Or, more accurately, the dented car, the toothache, the lack of child care, lack of health care, unavailability of fresh food, and the bureaucracy of dealing with social services does.

UPDATED for clarity.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday dog blogging

Dame Djuna really doesn't like to be photographed by the paparazzi. Though she seems more weary of the whole affair here, than angered by it.

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Ramp up those air strikes, baby

Hmmm, trying to get a few more air strikes in, before Musharraf flees office, is unlikely to help our relations with his replacements.

Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives. The moves followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban, the officials said.

About 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters have been killed in the attacks, all near the Afghan border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The goal was partly to jar loose information on senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, by forcing them to move in ways that U.S. intelligence analysts can detect. Local sources are providing better information to guide the strikes, the officials said.

A senior U.S. official called it a "shake the tree" strategy. It has not been without controversy, others said. Some military officers have privately cautioned that airstrikes alone -- without more U.S. special forces soldiers on the ground in the region -- are unlikely to net the top al-Qaeda leaders.

The campaign is not designed to capture bin Laden before Bush leaves office, administration officials said. "It's not a blitz to close this chapter," said a senior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing operations. "If we find the leadership, then we'll go after it. But nothing can be done to put al-Qaeda away in the next nine or 10 months. In the long haul, it's an issue that extends beyond this administration."

That said, shouldn't somebody ask John McCain about this tactic.

H/T Kevin Drum

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Justice Stevens is, like, really old

Scott Lemieux reminds those Democrats who have declared they won't vote for the icky candidate if their personal favorite loses, to shut the fuck up.



Seems fitting.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Come back soon, Bob

Bob Sheppard won't be making the announcements on Opening Day, but the Yankees just gave the...ninety-ogerian...a two year contract. Good for the Yanks. They may not have him on Monday, but hopefully he'll be meticulously articulating each batter's name when the Yankees open in the new stadium, in 2009.


Oliver Stone's "W"

Good Lord, Jesus, take me now.

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It's 3AM. Do you know where Joe Lieberman is?

In which Harold Myerson imagines a threesome in the White House.

McCain's meshugas didn't really get the attention it deserved, however. He was fortunate that his descent into fantasy occurred in the same week as Barack Obama's reverend crisis and Wall Street's near-meltdown. He got a pass from most of the media, too, in part because his statements in Jordan ran so completely counter to his image as an expert on national security.

What's been missing from the prevailing narrative of McCain's national security expertise, however, is any serious assessment of the nature of his beliefs. As early as 1999, McCain was recommending "rogue state rollback" as our policy toward such nations as Iraq. He remains an unabashed advocate of preventive war, as his comments on bombing Iran have made clear, and of permanent war, as his comments on remaining in Iraq have made clear. His advocacy of a missile defense system is rooted in a preference for military unilateralism -- though it may stimulate a new arms race -- over diplomacy. If you liked Bush's foreign and military policy, you'll love McCain's.

UPDATE: Damn you, Hilzoy!

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Richard Widmark



The military industrial complex

War profiteering for dummies.

AEY is one of many previously unknown defense companies to have thrived since 2003, when the Pentagon began dispensing billions of dollars to train and equip indigenous forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its rise from obscurity once seemed to make it a successful example of the Bush administration’s promotion of private contractors as integral elements of war-fighting strategy.

But an examination of AEY’s background, through interviews in several countries, reviews of confidential government documents and the examination of some of the ammunition, suggests that Army contracting officials, under pressure to arm Afghan troops, allowed an immature company to enter the murky world of international arms dealing on the Pentagon’s behalf — and did so with minimal vetting and through a vaguely written contract with few restrictions.

In addition to this week’s suspension, AEY is under investigation by the Department of Defense’s inspector general and by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prompted by complaints about the quality and origins of ammunition it provided, and allegations of corruption.

Mr. Diveroli, in a brief telephone interview late last year, denied any wrongdoing. “I know that my company does everything 100 percent on the up and up, and that’s all I’m concerned about,” he said.

He also suggested that his activities should be shielded from public view. “AEY is working on a moderately classified Department of Defense project,” he said. “I really don’t want to talk about the details.”

He referred questions to a lawyer, Hy Shapiro, who offered a single statement by e-mail. “While AEY continues to work very hard to fulfill its obligations under its contract with the U.S. Army, its representatives are not prepared at this time to sit and discuss the details,” he wrote.

As part of the suspension, neither Mr. Diveroli nor his company can bid on any further federal work until the Army’s allegations are resolved. But he will be allowed to provide ammunition already on order under the Afghan contract, according to internal military correspondence.

In January, American officers in Kabul, concerned about munitions from AEY, had contacted the Army’s Rock Island Arsenal, in Illinois, and raised the possibility of terminating the contract. And officials at the Army Sustainment Command, the contracting authority at the arsenal, after meeting with AEY in late February, said they were tightening the packaging standards for munitions shipped to the war.

And yet after that meeting, AEY sent another shipment of nearly one million cartridges to Afghanistan that the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan regarded as substandard. Lt. Col. David G. Johnson, the command spokesman, said that while there were no reports of ammunition misfiring, some of it was in such poor condition that the military had decided not to issue it. “Our honest answer is that the ammunition is of a quality that is less than desirable; the munitions do not appear to meet the standards that many of us are used to,” Colonel Johnson said. “We are not pleased with the way it was delivered.”

Several officials said the problems would have been avoided if the Army had written contracts and examined bidders more carefully.

Public records show that AEY’s contracts since 2004 have potentially been worth more than a third of a billion dollars. Mr. Diveroli set the value higher: he claimed to do $200 million in business each year.

Several military officers and government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the investigations, questioned how Mr. Diveroli, and a small group of men principally in their 20s and without extensive military or procurement experiences, landed so much vital government work.

“A lot of us are asking the question,” said a senior State Department official. “How did this guy get all this business?”

No written contracts? No wonder we're winning.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who's in charge?

I realize its the Bedwetting club, but, um, this is just weird.

The next two or three days will reveal whether Sadr can mount an effective response against Maliki; and more importantly how soon the Iraqi PM is willing to call off the dogs. For Sadr the timing of the offensive comes at a time when both Clinton and Obama are preoccupied with their war against each other. Neither candidate has reacted to restrain Maliki, who looks like he will have a few hours yet in which to accomplish whatever goal he has in mind.

I was unaware that Maliki was taking his orders from two senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination. But I guess the wingnuts think these two senators are omnipotent.



Aw for chrissakes. If Mark Penn really speaks for the Clinton campaign, then... enough.


It really is voodoo

Here we go again.

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he promised to cut taxes in what seemed, at the time, a magical way. Tax revenue would go up, not down, he said, as the economy boomed in response to lower rates.

Since then, supply-side economics, as it was called — first with derision but then as a label embraced by its supporters — has become a central tenet of Republican political and economic thinking. That’s despite the fact that the big supply-side tax cuts of the 1980s and the 2000s did not work out as advertised, as even most supporters acknowledge.

But advocates see broader economic benefits from lowering tax rates, which is one of the reasons the concept has reappeared as a point of contention in this year’s election campaign, in an amended form.

“What really happens is that the economy grows more vigorously when you lower tax rates,” said Kevin Hassett, an adviser to the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, and the director for economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “It is beyond the reach of economic science to explain precisely why that happens, but it does.”

Even with a growing economy, however, the promised boon in tax revenue never materialized. Arthur B. Laffer, the renowned proponent of supply-side economics, still holds that tax revenues “rise dramatically” when tax rates are cut.

It's really incredible how conservative ideology, repeatedly shot to pieces and proven illogical and wrong, simply never dies.

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"100 more years"

Implicit in Petreaus' decision to stop the withdrawal of more American troops is this: the "surge" didn't work.

Saeed Ammar, a government employee, said he was standing near policemen in the Huriya neighborhood on Tuesday morning when he was approached by Mahdi Army members. “They told me not to stand near checkpoints. They said, ‘We are waiting for the word from Moktada Sadr to attack the checkpoints — it may come at any moment.’ “

Despite the armed actions by many Sadr followers, members of Mr. Sadr’s party said the cease-fire was still in effect and called for peaceful civil disobedience. In Najaf, hundreds of followers carrying Korans and olive branches mounted a sit-in, chanting, “No to occupation, no to terrorism.”

Sahar Gani, a teacher, was taking students home along a nearly deserted Baghdad sidewalk. “The security situation is getting worse day by day,” she said. “The city is getting very bad now. We’ve been through this before, so we find it natural. But we don’t know what to do.”


Depressing sites

The op-ed page of today's print edition of the New York Times:

The Maverick and the Media

John McCain may be the first real postmodernist candidate for the presidency — the first to turn his press relations into the basis of his candidacy.

John McCain Wants You

All of John McCain’s actions can be seen as an attempt to use the federal government to restore your faith in ... [sic] the federal government.


Hillary or Nobody?

It’s hard to imagine that after spending her whole life playing second-fiddle to a superstar pol, Hillary Clinton wants to do it again. She’s been vice president.


The enemy of her enemy is her friend?

Hillary Clinton reignites the Wright controversy...while meeting with the bankroller of the "vast rightwing conspiracy"?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bats are dying

And I don't mean Johnny Damon's this spring.

This is truly terrifying.

Wouldn't it be ironic if, in our determination to eliminate the mosquitoes carrying West Nile, we're poisoning the animals who do most of the mosquito killing.


And so it begins

The Yankees are now a 1/2 game back in the AL East.

Thanks, Huston Street. Just thanks.

The good news for Yankee fans is that pretty much no one in New England saw the game.


Rumsfeld's prison

Abu Ghraib, as told by the woman in so many of the photos.

It was easier to be nice to the women and children on Tier 1B, but, Harman said, “It was kind of sad that they even had to be there.” The youngest prisoner on the tier was just ten years old—“a little kid,” she said. “He could have fit through the bars, he was so little.” Like a number of the other kids and of the women there, he was being held as a pawn in the military’s effort to capture or break his father.

Harman enjoyed spending time with the kids. She let them out to run around the tier in a pack, kicking a soccer ball, and she enlisted them to help sweep the tier and distribute meals—special privileges, reserved only for the most favored prisoners on the M.I. block. “They were fun,” she said. “They made the time go by faster.” She didn’t like seeing children in prison “for no reason, just because of who your father was,” but she didn’t dwell on that. What was the point? “You can’t feel because you’ll just go crazy, so you just kind of blow it off,” Harman said. “You can only make their stay a little bit acceptable, I guess. You give them all the candy from the M.R.E.s to make their time go by better. But there’s only so much you can do or so much you can feel.”

On Tier 1A, Harman liked to sneak cigarettes and doses of Tylenol or ibuprofen to prisoners who were being given a hard time. These small gestures gave her comfort, too, and it pleased her that prisoners sometimes turned to her for help. But Harman was generally as forgiving of her buddies as she was of herself. When toughness failed her, and niceness was not an option, Harman took refuge in denial. “That’s the only way to get through each day, is to start blocking things out,” she said. “Just forget what happened. You go to bed, and then you have the next day to worry about. It’s another day closer to home. Then that day’s over, and you just block that one out.” At the same time, she faulted herself for not being a more enthusiastic soldier when prisoners on Tier 1A were being given the business. When she was asked how other M.P.s could go at it without apparent inhibition, all she could say was “They’re more patriotic.”

What made the insane furor over Rev. Wright's "God damn America" line even more maddening was the rising sense of "America, love it or leave it" attitude that was exposed, and not just on the part of wingnuts. American exceptionalism was taken for granted, and how could Rev. Wright not proclaim America as God's favorite country.

But we're not. We're a country now known as one that is capable of holding children and women prisoners in order to make their fathers and husbands "talk." We're a country in which we are capable of equating patriotism with the ability to inflict pain on others.

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The choice

If Senator Obama finally pulls this thing off, we will have an interesting choice in November.

Barak Obama:

This is why, Obama's advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise -- because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. "It's about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe," Gration says. "Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I'm concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years."

Obama sees this as more than a global charity program; it is the anvil against which he can bring down the hammer on al-Qaeda. "He took many of the [counterinsurgency] principles -- the paradoxes, like how sometimes you're less secure the more force is used -- and looked at it from a more strategic perspective," Sewall says. "His policies deal with root causes but do not misconstrue root causes as a simple fix. He recognizes that you need to pursue a parallel anti-terrorism [course] in its traditional form along with this transformed approach to foreign policy." Not for nothing has Obama received private advice or public support from experts like former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism advisers Richard Clarke and Rand Beers, and John Brennan, the first chief of the National Counterterrorism Center.

The Obama foreign-affairs brain trust balks at the suggestion that what it's proposing is radical. "He said we'd take out al-Qaeda's senior leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas if Pakistan will not. That's not, to me, a revolutionary policy," Rhodes says. "Watching him get attacked on the right is absurd. You've got guys who argued for a massive invasion and occupation of a country that had nothing to do with 9-11 criticizing him for advocating the use of highly targeted force to kill Osama bin Laden!"

John McCain:

As you know, I was in Iraq, Jordan, Israel, France and England on my last visit. And a couple of days ago, as you probably know, an audiotape -- actually it was last week -- an audiotape was released where bin Laden said, and I have to quote bin Laden, ... 'the nearest field to support our people in Palestine is the Iraqi field.' He urged Palestinians and people of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to quote 'help in support of their mujahedeen brothers in Iraq, which is the greatest opportunity and the biggest task.' Now my friends, for the first time I have seen Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus in agreement, and that is, the central battleground in the battle against al Qaeda is in Iraq today. And that's what bin Laden is saying and that's what General Petraeus is saying and that's what I'm saying, my friends, and my Democrat opponents who want to pull out of Iraq refuse to understand what's being said and what's happening, and that is, the central battleground is Iraq in this struggle against radical Islamic extremism.

In short, Obama's advisers are calling for a comprehensive rethinking of our foreign policy, putting, as former adviser Samantha Power quotes FDR, "freedom from fear and freedom from want" along with more traditional anti-terrorism efforts as the best, probably only way to confront the rise of radical Islamism and terrorism in general.

John McCain, on the other hand, wants to do what Osama bin Laden tells us to do.

I urge you to read the entire Spencer Ackerman piece on the people -- all of whom were right about the war and were hammered for it -- who have chosen to align themselves with Obama as foreign policy advisers. They're calling for a truly ambitious change in our approach to the rest of the world.

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Pat Buchanan is a racist. I know that's probably not news to you.


Liberals are, of course, naturally divisive

At first I was outraged by the headline:

Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier?

And, for sure, it would be nice for the Times to consider -- just for a moment -- that McCain's consistently conservative positions on war, tax cuts for the most affluent, reproductive choice, etc., etc., are well to the right of most Americans. But overall, a fairly substantive argument, I think.

Mr. Obama seems to be promising less a split-the-difference centrism than an ability to harness the support of all those voters who yearn for something new, beyond the ideological stalemate. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote, “They are out there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”

In many ways, the Obama campaign is challenging the fundamental political premise that has prevailed in Washington for more than a generation: that any majority coalition must be carefully centrist, if not center-right. Bill Clinton ran in 1992 as a candidate willing to break with liberal orthodoxy on many issues, including crime and welfare, and eager to move the party — which had lost five of the six previous presidential elections — to the middle. Mr. Clinton’s New Democrats assumed a certain level of conservatism among voters.

Mr. Obama and his allies are basing his campaign on a different bet: that the right-leaning political landscape Mr. Clinton confronted has changed. Several major Democratic strategists, and outside analysts as well, argue that the country has shifted to the left because of the Iraq war, the economy and seven-plus years of President Bush, and that it has become open to a new progressive majority.

Mr. Obama said: “What I’m certain about is that people are disenchanted with a highly ideological Republican Party that believes tax cuts are the answer to every problem, and lack of regulation and oversight is always going to generate economic growth, and unilateral intervention around the world is the best approach to foreign policy. So there’s no doubt the pendulum is swinging.”

Still, he added: “The Democrats have to seize this opportunity by showing people in very practical terms how a different set of policies can deliver solutions that will actually make a difference in their lives. I think the jury is still out right now.”

Mark Penn, the chief strategist for Mrs. Clinton, said Mr. Obama’s Senate career did not back up his promise of being able to forge a new governing coalition across party lines.

“It’s a great promise,” Mr. Penn said. “But are the actions consistent with the words? I don’t see it.”

Still, many of Mr. Obama’s supporters say he has recognized this new political climate in a way that Mrs. Clinton has not. They say he is ready for a new, self-assured era in which progressives (few have returned to using the word “liberal”) make no apologies about their goals — universal health care, withdrawing troops from Iraq, ending tax breaks for more affluent Americans — and assume that a broad swath of the public shares them.

Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, often displays the wariness of Democrats who came of political age in the Reagan era, when the party was constantly on the defensive. As The New Republic recently put it, “Clintonism is a political strategy that assumes a skeptical public; Obamaism is a way of actualizing a latent ideological majority.”

Meanwhile, James Carville reminds Bill Richardson why Bill Richardson chose to endorse Barak Obama.

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We always knew that the Iraq War would not end until George W. Bush has been sent packing from the White House, but it's nice that we're all up front about it now.

Mr. Bush announced no final decision on future troop levels after the video briefing by the commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the diplomat, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. The briefing took place on the day when the 4,000th American military death of the war was reported and just after the invasion’s fifth anniversary.

But it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day.

General Petraeus, speaking to Mr. Bush by secure videoconference during a two-hour meeting of the National Security Council, recommended putting off decisions on further troop reductions for a month or two after the departure in July of five extra brigades sent last year to help secure the nation, the officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about internal deliberations.

There would be more frequent reviews after that to see when withdrawals might be allowed to resume, without any predetermined outcome and, given the time required to put troops into motion, little likelihood of big reductions on short timetables.

During the briefing to the president, General Petraeus laid out a number of potential options, the officials said, but avoided using the term “pause.” That word has gained traction here in Washington over recent weeks to describe the plateau in troop levels that is widely expected to last through the fall elections and perhaps beyond.

Instead, he described the weeks after the departure of the extra brigades ordered to Iraq in January 2007 as a period of “consolidation and evaluation,” a phrase first used publicly by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during a visit to Iraq in February.

The officials said that Mr. Bush and General Petraeus, recognizing public and Congressional wariness about the toll of the war, would publicly hold out the possibly of withdrawing more troops, but only if conditions allowed it. Mr. Bush, in particular, is eager to end his presidency with the appearance that things are getting better in Iraq.

Ya think?


Monday, March 24, 2008

Too close to call

I, too, would like the Clinton campaign to fold up their tent and throw their full-throated support behind Barak Obama, but that's not likely to happen in the next week or so. But in looking at Drum's patched together results of two months of Gallup polls we learn a startling fact: both candidates are evenly matched with very committed supporters.

Who knew?

Over at Sadly Know, Brad listens to the bitter contempt of Clinton supporters (and Obamas) who will not, no, never, ever vote for the other candidate in the general election because their votes weren't counted or whatever and he responds, "shut the fuck up."

Meanwhile, Krugman looks at the economic musings of the three candidates and is none too happy. I quote, in full.

We’re now in the midst of an epic financial crisis, which ought to be at the center of the election debate. But it isn’t.

Now, I don’t expect presidential campaigns to have all the answers to our current crisis — even financial experts are scrambling to keep up with events. But I do think we’re entitled to more answers, and in particular a clearer commitment to financial reform, than we’re getting so far.

In truth, I don’t expect much from John McCain, who has both admitted not knowing much about economics and denied having ever said that. Anyway, lately he’s been busy demonstrating that he doesn’t know much about the Middle East, either.

Yet the McCain campaign’s silence on the financial crisis has disappointed even my low expectations.

And when Mr. McCain’s economic advisers do speak up about the economy’s problems, they don’t inspire confidence. For example, last week one McCain economic adviser — Kevin Hassett, the co-author of “Dow 36,000” — insisted that everything would have been fine if state and local governments hadn’t tried to limit urban sprawl. Honest.

On the Democratic side, it’s somewhat disappointing that Barack Obama, whose campaign has understandably made a point of contrasting his early opposition to the Iraq war with Hillary Clinton’s initial support, has tried to score a twofer by suggesting that the war, in addition to all its other costs, is responsible for our economic troubles.

The war is indeed a grotesque waste of resources, which will place huge long-run burdens on the American public. But it’s just wrong to blame the war for our current economic mess: in the short run, wartime spending actually stimulates the economy. Remember, the lowest unemployment rate America has experienced over the last half-century came at the height of the Vietnam War.

Hillary Clinton has not, as far as I can tell, made any comparably problematic economic claims. But she, like Mr. Obama, has been disappointingly quiet about the key issue: the need to reform our out-of-control financial system.

Let me explain.

America came out of the Great Depression with a pretty effective financial safety net, based on a fundamental quid pro quo: the government stood ready to rescue banks if they got in trouble, but only on the condition that those banks accept regulation of the risks they were allowed to take.

Over time, however, many of the roles traditionally filled by regulated banks were taken over by unregulated institutions — the “shadow banking system,” which relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass those safety regulations.

Now, the shadow banking system is facing the 21st-century equivalent of the wave of bank runs that swept America in the early 1930s. And the government is rushing in to help, with hundreds of billions from the Federal Reserve, and hundreds of billions more from government-sponsored institutions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

Given the risks to the economy if the financial system melts down, this rescue mission is justified. But you don’t have to be an economic radical, or even a vocal reformer like Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to see that what’s happening now is the quid without the quo.

Last week Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, declared that Mr. Frank is right about the need for expanded regulation. Mr. Rubin put it clearly: If Wall Street companies can count on being rescued like banks, then they need to be regulated like banks.

But will that logic prevail politically?

Not if Mr. McCain makes it to the White House. His chief economic adviser is former Senator Phil Gramm, a fervent advocate of financial deregulation. In fact, I’d argue that aside from Alan Greenspan, nobody did as much as Mr. Gramm to make this crisis possible.

Both Democrats, by contrast, are running more or less populist campaigns. But at least so far, neither Democrat has made a clear commitment to financial reform.

Is that simply an omission? Or is it an ominous omen? Recent history offers reason to worry.

In retrospect, it’s clear that the Clinton administration went along too easily with moves to deregulate the financial industry. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that big contributions from Wall Street helped grease the rails.

Last year, there was no question at all about the way Wall Street’s financial contributions to the new Democratic majority in Congress helped preserve, at least for now, the tax loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

Now, the securities and investment industry is pouring money into both Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s coffers. And these donors surely believe that they’re buying something in return.

Let’s hope they’re wrong.

I don't understand why the Democratic candidates are not screaming about this each and every day. We just witnessed what was essentially a run on an unregulated bank while our president dances on the South Lawn. Senator Clinton has a more difficult time with this, as the Clinton administration did little to halt the deregulation of financial markets that were flying high at the time, but she and Senator Obama can surely remind voters that four more years of flying monkeys running the White House will have yet more disastrous consequences, and that it is, truly, time to restore adulthood to our political institutions. McSame can't say that.


Maybe they thought he meant, "the right to bare arms."

There was a time, long ago, in a universe far, far away, that this sort of thing would have made for some very big news.

According to Novak, the brief U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement filed on behalf of the Bush administration in D.C. v. Heller was never representative of the president's position in the case, taking—as it does—a temperate, pragmatic position on the scope of the right to bear arms. The fact that President Bush's lawyer has reservations about arming the nation with fewer controls has enraged some of the president's staunchest supporters. I don't doubt Clement was trying to reflect a compromise between all sorts of constituencies at Justice. What I cannot believe is that he came to a final decision without checking in with his bosses.

But in the interest of giving the president a bit of political cover, word is sent out from on high that the SG's amicus brief was actually the unfortunate result of Clement getting all hopped up on ecstasy and filing something he'd composed on his Blackberry from the men's room at Denny's.

Thus, Novak is advised by someone (he doesn't say whom) that "the president and his senior staff were stunned to learn, on the day it was issued, that Clement's petition called on the high court to return the case to the appeals court" (italics mine) and that "newly installed Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a neophyte at Justice, was unaware of the conflict and learned about Clement's position only after it had been locked in."

I know there are still some mouth breathers who still "support the President," but do even they believe the Solicitor General would freelance on an issue as important, hoary, and complex as the second amendment? I don't know of anyone else the Bush/Cheney mob would be trying to play to here and who would accept as truth a Novak column that, basically, defines the impssible.

Blue Monday: Uncle Sam edition

U.S. Blues.

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Red Sox last minute heroics

Recently, I called the Red Sox players mensches for taking a stand and refusing to go to Japan unless coaches and trainers got the same deal they did.

Turns out, they didn't think it was such a bad deal when they agreed to it in the first place. It seems that only after they started getting questions about it did they realize how bad they were going to look and decided to take their stand. In so doing, they violated the terms of their labor agreement with management.

Red Sox players appeared to be heroes last week when they staged a 66-minute strike in support of equal pay for managers, coaches and trainers for their season-opening trip to Japan. They were, as it turns out, less than heroes.

By threatening not to play that day’s exhibition game against Toronto and not to board the plane to Japan after the game, they did two things: They railed against the deal the union made with the commissioner’s office because that was the deal the players wanted, and they violated federal labor law and their own collective bargaining agreement.

The players wanted $40,000 each for going to Japan, and the only way the union could get that much was to drop managers, coaches and trainers from the agreement. That decision didn’t bother the commissioner’s office, because it didn’t think those extra people should be included. Under labor law, unions aren’t permitted to bargain for supervisory personnel.

But when the Red Sox’ players learned of the exclusions, they refused to play the exhibition game and said they wouldn’t board the Japan-bound plane.

In taking that stand, however, they were staging an illegal strike because they were violating the no-strike provision that is implied in their labor contract. They were also violating federal labor law.

I understand my beloved Yankees, when they were offered a similar deal a few years ago, divided the total sum up evenly for all members of the team, including the trainers and coaches. That's why God loves them so much.

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It was inevitable that we'd arrive at this point as a road side bomb kills another four soldiers in Baghdad. A quagmire and a ruling caste who still believe they were right to be wrong about Iraq. But the cost is far higher than the 4,000 officially killed.

The wounded figure since March 19, 2003, is now well above 29,000. It is far, far higher than the number killed, and often has a more lasting impact on those who sacrifice as a human tragedy and in terms of costs. If one counts the number of men and women whose lives have been virtually destroyed by critical combat wounds and adds that total to the number killed, we reached 4,000 long ago. Far too much media coverage focuses only on "killed." There needs to be balance in counting all of the wounded, and far more attention paid to the number of critical physical and psychological wounds and disability cases. In many ways, news reporting on the "stats" of the fighting now covers only half the sacrifice of those who serve in uniform.

Here's the story of one young man, now "a gimp."


The real McCoy

At long last, the Times publishes the story that got ol' John so worked up on the plane a couple of weeks ago, inexplicably lashing out at Elizabeth Bumiller. The two events that most clearly position McCain as a "maverick," and makes him so appealing to Dems -- his flirtation with crossing the aisle in 2001 and his even more coy flirtation with John Kerry in 2004 -- are really less about policy differences with his fellow Republicans then they are moments of fine pique with Bush and his party. It wasn't intellectual rigor, it was a bruised ego.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

"They'll be merciless"

What led the Feds to spy on Spitzer? The plot thickens.

Almost four months before Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal, a lawyer for Republican political operative Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI alleging that Spitzer ''used the services of high-priced call girls'' while in Florida.

The letter, dated Nov. 19, said Miami Beach resident Stone learned the information from ''a social contact in an adult-themed club.'' It offered one potentially identifying detail: The man in question hadn't taken off his calf-length black socks ``during the sex act.''

Stone, known for shutting down the 2000 presidential election recount effort in Miami-Dade County, is a longtime Spitzer nemesis whose political experience ranges from the Nixon White House to Al Sharpton's presidential campaign. His lawyer wrote the letter containing the call-girl allegations after FBI agents had asked to speak to Stone, though he says the FBI did not specify why he was contacted.

This is only going to get weirder.

Meanwhile, this article in New York Times seems to imply that part of what drove Spitzer to behave so dangerously was his frustration with Albany politics.

It was Day 190 of his administration — a term that had begun with his promise that everything that was dysfunctional and hopelessly partisan about Albany would change with his swearing-in.

But as the conversation wore on, that promise — that he would bring a kind of constructive passion back to Albany — began to feel distant, naïve, even lost.

And then he was asked a question about his wife. He was, in that moment, no longer a prosecutor trying a case, and the veneer of toughness that he and his handlers had taken years to build up fell away almost completely.

There was quiet for several seconds.

“This, this is harder,” he said, speaking with care about his wife, Silda, “because she looks at me and she says, ‘Do you really want this stuff? And do you want this for your kids and do you want them to see this stuff?’ ”

He paused again.

The reporter started to continue. “Just all the ——”

“Yeah,” Mr. Spitzer said. “It’s ugly.”

For a second, he flashed again with enthusiasm, speaking of a run he had taken with one of his daughters the day before.

“We had a great time,” he said. “I ran with Sarabeth in Utica, and it was spectacular. She beat me, which was great. But then you pick up the papers and you see this stuff.”

He paused again, looking nothing short of fragile.

“Well, you know,” he said. “There it is.”

His eyes were moist.

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Ah, yes, compassionate conservatism.

Controversies have occasionally flared over Interior Department officials who regularly overruled rank-and-file agency scientists' recommendations to list new species, but internal documents also suggest that pervasive bureaucratic obstacles were erected to limit the number of species protected under one of the nation's best-known environmental laws.

The documents show that personnel were barred from using information in agency files that might support new listings, and that senior officials repeatedly dismissed the views of scientific advisers as President Bush's appointees either rejected putting imperiled plants and animals on the list or sought to remove this federal protection.

Officials also changed the way species are evaluated under the 35-year-old law -- by considering only where they live now, as opposed to where they used to exist -- and put decisions on other species in limbo by blocking citizen petitions that create legal deadlines.

As a result, listings plummeted. During Bush's more than seven years as president, his administration has placed 59 domestic species on the endangered list, almost the exact number that his father listed during each of his four years in office. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has not declared a single native species as threatened or endangered since he was appointed nearly two years ago.

It should not be so, but somehow the Bush administration manages to continue to surprise. The depths they're willing to go to fuck anyone and anything that isn't a campaign contributor or Ahmed Chalabi is amazing.

Developers, farmers and other business interests frequently resist decisions on listing because they require a complex regulatory process that can make it difficult to develop land that is home to protected species. Environmentalists have also sparred for years with federal officials over implementation of the law.

Nevertheless, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton added an average of 58 and 62 species to the list each year, respectively.

One consequence is that the current administration has the most emergency listings, which are issued when a species is on the very brink of extinction.

And some species have vanished. The Lake Sammamish kokanee, a landlocked sockeye salmon, went extinct in 2001 after being denied an emergency listing, and genetically pure Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits disappeared last year after Interior declined to protect critical habitat for the species.

Administration officials -- who estimate that more than 280 domestic species should be on the list but have been "precluded" because of more pressing priorities -- do not dispute that they have moved slowly, but they dispute the reasons.

Every day, another reason to curse the existence of Ralph Nadar.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

"Black genocide"

Odd that the ranting of this preacher and McCain supporter doesn't wind up on the cable news shows, as he screams his hatred of America and tax payer-funded "genocide" of African-Americans.

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The Preacher and the Bear

The Jubilaires singing 'bout that old time religion.

They don't seem angry at all! What's that Hussein Obama fellow talkin' 'bout?

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The 24 cable news channels can help

Politics? From this administration? Nevah.

Base political motivations?

The focus on Mr. Spitzer was so intense that the F.B.I. used surveillance teams to follow both him and the prostitute in Washington in February. The surveillance teams had followed him at least once before — when he visited the city in January but did not engage a prostitute, officials said, confirming a report in The Washington Post. Stakeouts and surveillance are labor-intensive and often involve teams of a dozen or more agents and non-agent specialists.

An affidavit filed in the prostitution case did not identify Mr. Spitzer by name, only as Client 9, but it provided far more detail, some of it unusually explicit, about Client 9’s encounter with the prostitute than about any of the nine other clients identified by number in the document.

Government officials, including several who have been briefed on details of the case but declined to speak on the record because they were not authorized to discuss a continuing inquiry, said there was no alternative but to look into Mr. Spitzer’s activities once investigators began examining reports of suspicious transactions that banks filed with the Treasury Department. Those reports suggested to investigators that Mr. Spitzer might have been trying to keep anyone from noticing transfers of his own funds. That is the kind of activity that can bring an investigation of the possibility of corruption.

No, couldn't be.

WASHINGTON — The State Department has fired two employees and reprimanded a third for improperly opening electronic information from the passport file of Senator Barack Obama, State Department officials said Thursday.

On three separate occasions in January, February and March, three employees looked through Mr. Obama’s file in the department’s consular affairs section, violating department’s privacy rules, the State Department spokesman, Sean D. McCormack, said. Mr. McCormack said the department’s internal controls flagged the breach, which he attributed to “imprudent curiosity.”

State Department officials said that they had no idea why the employees broke into Mr. Obama’s files. The department is continuing to investigate, Mr. McCormack said.

I wonder what the IRS is up to these days.


"Monstrous fools"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A few observations on the week that was

That's why they're called "The Editors"

Inspired by Obama's speech on Monday, they take a few moments to stop rubbing the Doughy Pantload's face in the offal that is his own book, to talk about the Senator.

And I don’t recall one of these silly media feeding frenzies handled quite so deftly - using the stupid tabloid attention as an opportunity to raise the tone of debate; score some substantive points against his real political opponents (not HRC); and, oh btw, make one’s self look good in the process. I don’t know if Obama gets advice on how to handle this stuff - and if he does, he gets very good advice. In any case, he’s scary good. He can win this thing.

And he should win this thing. We face challenges in the coming years - nothing unprecedented, nothing which can’t be handled, but challenges of the sort that come around every few decades or so - and I think these are the sort of situations which require more than the capable, technocratic, managerial solutions which worked in the 90’s (and which might have averted the present circumstances had it continued through the ’00’s, but never mind). We face environmental crises which, if unchecked, will be far worse than the Dust Bowl (although we are also much more capable of dealing with these problems than we were 75 years ago.) We’ve got economic problems whose depths have not been sounded, we’ve got a ‘war’ with no particular objective we need to extricate ourselves from, we’ve got structural inadequacies in health care and other areas of domestic policy where we lag behind the rest of the developed world, and we’ve still - two decades on - not adjusted our military/foreign policy stance to the post-Cold War environment. The preferred responses to these problems, judging by various old and new media outlets, is to offer ever more preposterous explanations of why the facts in front of your face are neither facts nor anywhere near your face; or to try to pull the most bershon face this side of Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club and sigh that everything’s been going to hell since Hadrian built that foolish wall or whatever. The better response is not blind obedience to Dear Leader Barack Obama, but it is a situation which requires leadership, leadership of the sort which sets a clear direction and does not merely react to the media feeding frenzy de jour*. I’d prefer if Obama was more willing to take difficult, Doddlike stands as a Congressman, but I’d prefer if I was 6′6″ with a silky fadeaway jumpshot. Obama shows more potential than I in both departments. The bastard.

They then compare and contrast with McCain. Illuminating, especially for those of you new to this sort of thing, otherwise known as wingnuttia.

* Unless, obviously, that media feeding frenzy involves $5500/hr hookers. Inquiring minds want to know.
Or $400 haircuts.

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A man's got to have a code

Words to blog by.

Blogs Guns

1. The Blogger Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.

3. He must always tell the truth.

4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.

5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.

6. He must help people in distress.

7. He must be a good worker.

8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.

9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.

10. The Blogger Cowboy is a patriot. - "The Blogger Cowboy Code," Gene Autry

From Dreamtime.

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McClellan for president


Unlike McClellan, a real fighter with real national-security credentials, this man simply does not pass the Commander-in-Chief threshold. If the Republicans re-nominate this skinny, funny-looking lawyer from Illinois, they're dead meat.



Aw, Dana, don't be so hard on yourself. You're boss clearly didn't understand the most basic military term when he launched the war in Iraq.



Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Obama gave another speech.

Now we know what we'll hear from those like John McCain who support open-ended war. They will argue that leaving Iraq is surrender. That we are emboldening the enemy. These are the mistaken and misleading arguments we hear from those who have failed to demonstrate how the war in Iraq has made us safer. Just yesterday, we heard Senator McCain confuse Sunni and Shiite, Iran and al Qaeda. Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no al Qaeda ties. Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America's enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades.

The war in Iraq has emboldened Iran, which poses the greatest challenge to American interests in the Middle East in a generation, continuing its nuclear program and threatening our ally, Israel. Instead of the new Middle East we were promised, Hamas runs Gaza, Hizbollah flags fly from the rooftops in Sadr City, and Iran is handing out money left and right in southern Lebanon.


It is precisely this kind of political point-scoring that has opened up the security gap in this country. We have a security gap when candidates say they will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but refuse to follow him where he actually goes. What we need in our next Commander in Chief is not a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality or empty rhetoric about 3AM phone calls. What we need is a pragmatic strategy that focuses on fighting our real enemies, rebuilding alliances, and renewing our engagement with the world's people.

This has been a strange nominating process, and for probably the fifth or sixth time, I think we've witnessed a momentum shift these past couple of days.

Of course, with regard to McCain, the BBQ-stained media can't quite grasp how a guy with so much national security credentials could say something so foolish...or mendacious. You choose.

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Athletic supporters for the trainers and coaches

On race and religion

The speech.

About ten minutes into it, I was struck at how certain I was that Sen. Obama writes his own stuff. It was so personal, so nuanced, so intelligent, it couldn't have been written by a political staff member. I knew he was good, but this was the speech I've been waiting for, the one to prove he's not the naive, post-partisan, post-racial vessel he's so often depicted as, in large part because that's what he's wanted to convey during the primaries. The weekend's ugliness, when the media and the right "suddenly" became aware of Rev. Wright's often bitter comments on America and the Middle East (even though there were stories about some of Wright's more virulent views months ago), perhaps liberated him to go past the loftiness and make clear he's not starry-eyed and he's not a blank slate on to which we can write our own hopes and dreams.

As the Times editors write this morning, it's hard to imagine how Obama could have handled a toxic situation more deftly, and to then to go further, and take on the toxicity of race and religion in America showed courage I can't remember seeing in a politician of my generation.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Irrational exuberance

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lost in translation

Who wrote it?

Predatory lending was widely understood to present a looming national crisis. This threat was so clear that as New York attorney general, I joined with colleagues in the other 49 states in attempting to fill the void left by the federal government. Individually, and together, state attorneys general of both parties brought litigation or entered into settlements with many subprime lenders that were engaged in predatory lending practices. Several state legislatures, including New York's, enacted laws aimed at curbing such practices.

Elliot Spitzer coulda been a contender.

But is it any wonder the Bush administration's DOJ spent weeks trying to spot him with a call girl.


Exhausting decency

If Kevin Hench is any indication, then Fox Sports is just as douchebaggery as Fox News!

Why? Here's why.

Baldelli will be sidelined indefinitely, but said Wednesday that he is not retiring. He said there hasn't been an exact diagnosis but that doctors have told him he has "some type of metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities."

"Basically somewhere along the line ... either my body isn't making or storing ATP the right way, therefore not allowing my muscles to work as they should, and especially recover like they're supposed to on a day-to-day basis," Baldelli said.

Last year, he played in 35 games before hurting his hamstring running out a grounder on May 15. He aggravated the injury after just two games of a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Durham in June, and the Rays shut him down for the season in August, when lingering soreness ruined his comeback bid after two games with Class A Vero Beach.

The Rays had asked Baldelli to pace himself during spring training, hoping to keep him healthy and fresh for the start of the season. He said he felt fine when he reported to camp, but soon began regressing.

"My body is literally spent after a very short amount of time out on the field, which makes it extremely frustrating and difficult," he said, at times appearing on the verge of tears. "But it's something that's kind of a reality right now, something we're dealing with the best that we can."

Kevin Hench, writing for Fox Sports, finds this worthy of derisive "humor." Bravo, Kevin Hench.

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I'm pretty sure the New York Times does not fact check opinion columns. In the case of William "the bloody" Kristol, they'd better re-think that policy.

And, by the way, "Wright" appears to be "the new black" for the commentariat.


Blue Monday, Eddie Cochran edition

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The big cover-up

The NY Times editorial board.

For more than two years now, Congress, the news media, current and former national security officials, think tanks and academic institutions have been engaged in a profound debate over how to modernize the law governing electronic spying to keep pace with technology. We keep hoping President Bush will join in.

Instead, the president offers propaganda intended to scare Americans, expand his powers, and erode civil liberties — and to ensure that no one is held to account for the illegal wiretapping he ordered after 9/11.

Consider last Thursday’s performance, as the House debated a sound bill that closes some technology gaps in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and gives government agencies new flexibility to eavesdrop, but preserves constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. Mr. Bush distorted the contents of the bill and threatened to veto it.

He accused House leaders of “putting in place a cumbersome court approval process that would make it harder to collect intelligence on foreign terrorists.” Actually, the bill merely ensures that special judges continue to supervise surveillance of American citizens. The “cumbersome process” is really a court that acts swiftly and has refused only a half-dozen of more than 21,000 wiretap requests in its nearly 30 years of existence.

What Mr. Bush wants is to be able to listen to your international telephone calls and read your international e-mail whenever he wants, without a court being able to prevent it or judge the legality of his actions.

Mr. Bush said the House bill would “cause us to lose vital intelligence on terrorist threats.” But he has never offered credible evidence of any operation that was hobbled because officials had to request a warrant. The law already allows the government to eavesdrop first and then seek a warrant. As for that technology gap, Congress fixed it last year. The authority has expired, but wiretapping operations started under it can continue.

Finally, Mr. Bush said it was vital to national security to give amnesty to any company that turned over data on Americans without a court order. The purpose of this amnesty is not to protect national secrets — that could be done during a trial — but to make sure that the full damage to Americans’ civil liberties is never revealed. Mr. Bush also objects to a provision that would create a committee to examine his warrantless spying program.

Mr. Bush wanted the House to approve the Senate’s version of the bill, which includes Mr. Bush’s amnesty and does not do nearly as good a job of preserving Americans’ rights. We were glad the House ignored his bluster. If the Senate cannot summon the courage and good sense to follow suit, there is no rush to pass a law.

The president will continue to claim the country is in grave danger over this issue, but it is not. The real danger is for Mr. Bush. A good law — like the House bill — would allow Americans to finally see the breathtaking extent of his lawless behavior.

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Sorry for the inconvenience

Sheesh, step away for a few days and all hell breaks loose.

Thank goodness it's Vegacura Day.


Thursday, March 13, 2008


I dunno, but everything I know, I learned from McNulty.

Sorry, been busy. Be back as soon as this whole "high priced call girl thing blows over."


Tuesday, March 11, 2008


What Ezra says.

This is sort of the boring take on Spitzer, but what we're seeing here is not the fall -- if indeed he does fall -- of a high-flying governor. It's the final tumble of a crushed reformer. Spitzer, for reasons both structural and personal, has been utterly humbled by Albany. The new capitalism he promised, the age of transparency he spoke of, the national ambitions he harbored -- all have broken before the obstacles he faced in the governor's mansion. When you think of the hype he was getting only a couple years ago, that's a rather remarkable fact. I don't care about the prostitution. But the capacity of the system to stand against those who would reform it, and who come into office with a broad mandate to do so, is really quite sobering.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will voters overcome their disgust in reaction to the subsequent "outrage" of his opponents, as we've seen in the past? Or will the sheer mindless hubris of the act (or acts), combined with the money involved ($5K for two hours, yowzer), damage him so much he can't rally a defense?

Republicans in Congress were never able to make much of a case against Clinton based on cries of "abuse of power" over a young woman working for him. It probably didn't work because most people saw through the feigned outrage, realizing Republicans couldn't care less about Lewinsky (the Starr Report was certainly evidence of that). The whole thing seemed more sad than anything else.

Having the money and power to beckon a call girl to Washington DC may have a different effect on voters' views of Spitzer.

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"Is 'Kristen' your real name?"

Like Josh Marshall, I assumed at first that Spitzer was just collateral damage in a larger probe into a prostitution ring. Guess not.

The investigators working out of the three-story office building, which faces Veterans Highway, typically review such reports, the officials said. But this was not typical: transactions by a governor who appeared to be trying to conceal the source, destination or purpose of the movement of thousands of dollars in cash, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The money ended up in the bank accounts of what appeared to be shell companies, corporations that essentially had no real business.

The transactions, officials said, suggested possible financial crimes — maybe bribery, political corruption, or something inappropriate involving campaign finance. Prostitution, they said, was the furthest thing from the minds of the investigators.

"Human intelligence." An oxymoron?


Monday, March 10, 2008

Crusading politicians

Yes, even Democratic "crusading reformers" can get caught up in "scandal. Even a politician like Spitzer who seemed beyond reproach. But the difference here is that Spitzer, who, yes, has made a career out of "outing " crooked pols and dishonest brokerage houses, had not made a career out of "outing" politicians who have hired prostitutes.

NEW YORK - Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the crusading politician who built his career on rooting out corruption, has told senior advisers he was involved in a prostitution ring, The New York Times reported Monday. In a public statement, Spitzer apologized to his family and the public but did not elaborate on the reported links to a prostitution ring.

The Times reported that a person with knowledge of the governor's role believes the governor is identified as a client in court papers. Four people allegedly connected to a high-end prostitution ring called Emperors Club VIP were arrested last week.

It's embarrassing for him, possibly humiliating for his wife. But this isn't hypocritical behavior, as the AP seems to suggest. This isn't an homophobic "defender of marriage" who trolls men's bathrooms, or a defender of "exploited children" who, in fact, exploits children.

The AP story, furthermore, seems to take great delight in referring to Spitzer's "ties" to "a prostitution ring." We'll learn more, no doubt, but they seem to imply that he's the equivalent of a pimp.

I do believe he is the biggest name to come out of this story, yet.

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Clinton's fault

Brent Bozell wants to see McCain's blueprint for rebuilding the infrastructure of our armed forces. An infrastructure damaged, according to Bozoell, not by launching an unnecessary and disastrous invasion and occupation of a country that did not threaten us so that Bin Laden could escape in that other war in another country.

No, that couldn't be it.

McCain must present a strategy to defeat the threat of radical Islam. He needs to call on the United States to rebuild its military infrastructure, so devastated by the Clinton administration. He should secure our borders by a date certain. In every great struggle, the citizenry -- everyone, not just the country's military -- has been challenged to participate. McCain could make this the clarion call for volunteerism, for national service.

That should be a great case for McCain to make. Fortunately for him, voters will stop laughing at his claims that "Don't ask don't tell" is responsible for the failure to adequately protect our troops against IEDs as soon as he mentions reinstating the"national service."

But Brent's not done as the fever climbs to 103.

Our culture is decaying from within, and most Republicans have been shamefully AWOL on this issue. McCain could begin a national conversation about parents, not the state, taking responsibility for their children and their communities. He should call on the entertainment industry to stop polluting America's youth with its videos and its music and on the Internet. We wait to hear him call for the United States to honor the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage and family, and to return God to the public square.

Another great appeal to voters -- no YouTube for you! I'm sure that in the face of the undeniable rage and outrage McCain recently showered on a NY Times reporter when she caught him in a lie, the entertainment industry will immediately respond to McCranky's demand that they stop making, um, product?

But, really, Brent. Republicans AWOL on the issue of our "decaying culture?" That's unfair. They're just using the restroom.

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The Wire does not disappoint.

It's always a shock when the closing music comes up at the end of the hour. It was still true at the end of last night's two hour finale. An amazing feat.


Blue Monday, American Folk Blues Festival edition

I'll let Helen Humes introduce the band.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Previously unimaginable

Headlines like this:

Bush Uses Veto on C.I.A. Tactics to Affirm Legacy

At least up until recently.


There will be oil

The Bush administration simply can't list polar bears as threatened. That could threaten drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Interior Department’s inspector general has begun a preliminary investigation into why the department has delayed for nearly two months a decision on listing the polar bear as a threatened species. The decision was supposed to have been made by early January. But when the deadline came, the Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior unit, said it needed another month. That timetable was also not met. A spokesman for the inspector general’s office said a case had been opened in response to a letter from several environmental groups. He said the preliminary inquiry would determine whether a full-fledged investigation was warranted. Scientists say the bear is under growing threat as a result of significant loss of Arctic sea ice because of global warming.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

"Normal" Smith

Why, oh why, has Apple Records not remastered The Beatles? The band's records were some of the first to be put on Compact Disk, but they've never reissued them with more advanced reproduction now available.

And the men who could direct the remastering to achieve the sound they always wanted -- the band members and the guys behind the controls -- are dying.

Under the producer George Martin, it was Mr. Smith’s role to choose the equipment and techniques used to capture individual sounds in the studio and then to weave them into a finished recording. In the Beatles’ case, he favored sounds that were more stark than those typically heard in the ornamented and reverberation-drenched songs on popular radio.

“Norman thought the actual Beatles’ sound, playing together in the room, was great, and he wanted to preserve that,” Mr. Kehew said. “And that was really different from other records at the time.”

His approach made its mark on a remarkable stretch of hit songs from 1962 until early 1966. They included “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!” “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” — all crisp and ringingly energetic recordings that were increasingly experimental.

In the last full album he worked on with the Beatles, “Rubber Soul,” in 1965, Mr. Smith helped the band members lay the groundwork for the increasingly radical studio performances they would feature on later LPs like “Revolver” (1966) and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967). One “Rubber Soul” breakthrough was the use of a sitar on the song “Norwegian Wood.”

After Mr. Martin left EMI in 1966, Mr. Smith succeeded him as a senior producer. He scouted and immediately signed the experimental group Pink Floyd to a contract and produced its first two albums, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and “Saucerful of Secrets,” both recognized as definitive works of psychedelic rock...


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Shorter David Brooks: Now watch me pull a rabbit out of my ass.

As the trench warfare stretches on through the spring, the excitement of Obama-mania will seem like a distant, childish mirage. People will wonder if Obama ever believed any of that stuff himself. And even if he goes on to win the nomination, he won’t represent anything new. He’ll just be a one-term senator running for president.

Right. He'll look old and corrupt and all-Democraty against that stalwart man of integrity and maverickiness, John McCain.

Please. Tempers should cool all around, but arguing that Clinton should release her tax returns and wondering aloud about donors to the Clinton Foundation are hardly "attack politics." Of course, if Obama maintains the high road, Brooks will write a column three months from now saying that Obama's "new style politics" will look soft to our "enemies."

And Clinton has got to stop saying shit like this.


Like a Hurricane

The wind machine effect.


And it’s in that push/pull between the voice and the power of the lead guitar where you'll hear a tremendous drive to overcome the fear of love, while the lyric recedes “to somewhere safer where the feeling stays / I want to love you but I'm getting blown away,” never quite matching the wattage of the music. Grief and longing are Young specialties, and he captures the dual emotions in a minor-key verse that bursts into a major chorus—"a minor descending thing that opens up," he says—which he claims was inspired by Del Shannon's "Runaway." (A couple of other songs that employ the "Runaway" minor verse/major chorus technique are "I'll Be Back" and "Things We Said Today" by Del Shannon fans, the Beatles).

What Young doesn't get into with his biographer—and maybe that's just because it's so obvious—"Like a Hurricane" further borrows from "Runaway" for its verse. Think about the line, “As I walk along I wonder what went wrong with our love, a love that was so strong” and compare it to “Once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar, dancing on the light from star to star.” There are definitely echoes of a harmonious melody in there (not to mention the makings of a fine medley!) And while Shannon's pain is more of the brokenhearted variety, Young exposes heartbreak's dark side when he introduces fear and obsession into the equation. Biographer McDonough asked Young how the "attitude" of "Hurricane" has changed through the years, to which he responded, "It's not as pure and innocent as it used to be… because I'm not as pure and innocent as I used to be…."


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