Friday, February 27, 2009

Not "a driveway moment"

Driving home this evening and I'm listening to NPR as David Brooks, discussing Obama's budget outline said, (I paraphrase though I'm sure it's pretty close):

This is the point in the marriage when the wife turns to the husband in bed and says, "I don't know you anymore."

I threw up a little in my mouth.


An army of Abramoffs will descend like locusts

Remember that little kid sitting next to Michelle Obama the other night? The plucky kid who wrote to Congress to ask for stimulus help to rebuild her collapsing school? The one who wrote, "We're not 'quitters?'"

Well, according to the Moonie Times, she's not plucky at all. In fact, she's an irresponsible, ungrateful guttersnipe.

Facts be damned. To the Times, the plight of J.V. Martin is actually a story of how locals can solve their own problem, but Ty'Sheoma and Obama have hijacked it to make it an example of how only the federal government can help. Obama said Ty'Sheoma's letter reflected "a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity." The Times disagrees: "What is on display is not responsibility but irresponsibility. This is the new reality in America, that those with political pull will benefit, those without will not ... Connections are replacing competence as a measure of a person's worth."

Got it? Ty'Sheoma Bethea, she's no enterprising teen from a broken-down school. She sounds like the new Jack Abramoff, using her "political pull" and "connections" to benefit herself.

The brain bleeds.

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Jonah and the whore

Maybe I'll start a series called "Jonah Goldberg quote Fridays:"

If you haven't seen it, it's probably because you don't care, so I'm not going to spend too much time describing it.

That formulation in itself is classic JG. But, there's more. Long paragraph describing "Dollhouse" later we find,

[spoilers below the fold]

Keep reading this post . .
And who says conservatives are plumb outta ideas.

But The Corner is nothing if not an Equal Opportunity Dumbployer. So, not to be outdone, there's

The Culmination of the Socialist Agenda [Mark Krikorian]

They want us to pee sitting down.


High anxiety

I think Ambinder is more or less correct here.

There is absolutely a generational component to the anxiety. Three generations of Democratic activists view the possibility of Obama's election through different lenses; the first came of age in the 60s and 70s before the flowering of modern conservatism and the triumph of Nixonian resentment politics. The second rose to power with the election of Bill Clinton, and today, they approach politics with instincts as developed in the 1992 campaign and refined by Clintoncare, the government shutdown and the Monica Lewinsky affair -- careful, wily, programmatic, triangulatish, risk-averse, incremental. The third generation rejects all of that, believing that such caution kicked the legs out from under the Democratic Party. This generation rejects baby steps in favor of bold, often populist action; they reject the notion that the default liberal ideology cannot be majoritarian.

Who's right? Well, the Reagan revolution is no longer the dominant political environment. But did Americans really know what they were voting for in 2008? Didn't Democrats win the last two election's because the Republican party imploded, not because the political pendulum swung to the left.

I actually have a position on this one. I think the country is moving to the left. I think that demography and globalization are providing the momentum, and I think that, like the apparent retrogression of planets in orbit, there will be inevitably some backsliding as the American people adjust to the new equilibrium.

Though I'm not sure there is such a clear generational delineation. I became politically aware in the 70s, retired to a cave in the 80s, and became politically active in the 90s. But the lessons I took from that last decade was that it was a grave mistake to be risk-averse and tentative while a good thing to be pragmatic. And I think Obama learned a similar lesson.

And I think the voters -- both for and against Obama -- did understand what they were getting. How could they not? Even if they weren't listening to him -- either because of gushing fawnitude or fingers in the ears Ican'thearyoulalalala -- there was some McCain supporter on the teevee every night calling him a terrorist-loving socialist.

Of course, after the election the pragmatic aspect gave Republicans cause to think that he was secretly one of them and gave the Left the quivers, but he really never wavered in what he said he was committed to doing.

Here's to what should continue to be interesting times.

UPDATE: Oh, and forgot to mention this and this.



This sounds entirely plausible.

• Manny Ramirez rejected what seemed like a fair offer from the Dodgers on Thursday. Yesterday I wrote a story about Joe DiMaggio's 1938 holdout. One thing I came across, but didn't use in the story, was one of the top Yankees, either owner Jacob Ruppert or general manager Ed Barrow, saying of DiMaggio (I paraphrase), "His demands are just so ridiculous that we don't really believe he's holding out, we think he's just trying to get out of spring training." That seemed silly when I read it, especially because the Yankees and the Clipper were only $5,000 apart -- for whatever reason, the team had decided it wasn't going to compromise with DiMaggio no matter what, so they were trying to cast the blame on him. With Ramirez, though, I can almost believe it.


Didn't McCain lose the election? Part two

OMG. Man bites dog. Obama's budget actually lays out what he promised during the campaign. What he campaigned on. What John McCain and his buddies Joe and Sarah called with a sneer, "wealth redistribution." What a large majority of Americans voted for.

The White House press corps is aware of these facts. So, of course, they are surprised President Barack Obama would not prefer to govern like Sen. John McCain.

The sour mood of the elite press corps was apparent from the first question, by the Associated Press' Jennifer Loven. Noting Obama's quote from earlier today, “There are times when you can afford to redecorate your house and there are times when you have to focus on rebuilding its foundation,” Loven asked whether it was appropriate that the Obamas conduct any re-decorations in the White House as they settle in.

A visibly surprised Gibbs noted that there hadn't been seven and ten year old girls in the house in the previous administration. Then came Loven's "class warfare" question. Apparently, returning to Clinton marginal tax rates two years from now should put the White House on the defensive over "class warfare."

Here was an actual question the Wall Street Journal asked regarding health care:

"As an opening White House position, does President Obama still start with the plan he campaigned on?"

Because he won the campaign?

As one reporter observed after the briefing, "Did you notice all the questions about taxes came from reporters making over $250,000 a year, especially the TV guys?"
On the other hand, Michelle Norris was very good with Wanker Supreme, Judd Gregg last night.

UPDATE: And it turns out that Gregg commitment to fiscal responsibility is a come and go kind of thing.


Rockin' in the free world

Didn't McCain lose the election?

I was, reluctantly, going to beat up on NPR again, but Dean Baker beat me to it.


Toll roads

Budget madness

Ok, it's weird, but I found myself getting excited (in a platonic way) reading about the Obama administration budget outline. Seems I'm not alone.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

I read The Post today, oh boy

The Right Reverand George Will doesn't care for our hedonistic priorities.

Put down that cheeseburger and listen up: If food has become what sex was a generation ago -- the intimidatingly intelligent Mary Eberstadt says it has -- then a cheeseburger is akin to adultery, or worse. As eating has become highly charged with moral judgments, sex has become notably less so, and Eberstadt, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, thinks these trends involving two primal appetites are related.

In a Policy Review essay, "Is Food the New Sex?" -- it has a section titled "Broccoli, pornography, and Kant" -- she notes that for the first time ever, most people in advanced nations "are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want." One might think, she says, either that food and sex would both be pursued with an ardor heedless of consequences, or that both would be subjected to analogous codes constraining consumption. The opposite has happened -- mindful eating and mindless sex.

Be glad you're not a female relative of Mr. Will. And if today's sex is so "mindless," why do I think about it all of the time? Far more, I must say, then my cholesteral count.

Of course, for George, his concern is all about the ladies.

Imagine, says Eberstadt, a 30-year-old Betty in 1958, and her 30-year-old granddaughter Jennifer today. Betty's kitchen is replete with things -- red meat, dairy products, refined sugars, etc. -- that nutritionists now instruct us to minimize. She serves meat from her freezer, accompanied by this and that from jars. If she serves anything "fresh," it would be a potato. If she thinks about food, she thinks only about what she enjoys, not what she, and everyone else, ought to eat.

Jennifer pays close attention to food, about which she has strong opinions. She eats neither red meat nor endangered fish, buys "organic" meat and produce, fresh fruits and vegetables, and has only ice in her freezer. These choices are, for her, matters of right and wrong. Regarding food, writes Eberstadt, Jennifer exemplifies Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative: She acts according to rules she thinks are universally valid and should be universally embraced.

Betty would be baffled by draping moral abstractions over food, a mere matter of personal taste. Regarding sex, however, she had her Categorical Imperative -- the 1950s' encompassing sexual ethic that proscribed almost all sex outside of marriage. Jennifer is a Whole Foods Woman, an apostle of thoroughly thought-out eating. She bristles with judgments -- moral as well as nutritional -- about eating, but she is essentially laissez-faire about sex.

Ok, George, I get it, vegans and vaginas are both annoying. But, really, aren't the examples above the two sides of George Will's fantasy -- the 50s as a time of technicolor, bosom heaving but chaste romance and marriage fidelity, and our current era as one of unbridled female lust? But then again, he finds Ms. Eberstadt "intimdatingly intelligent." You should see her in stillettos, George.

And while I understand that the grandaddy of Wingnut Welfare sits on the campus of Stamford, since when do we refer to it as "Stamford University's Hoover Institute?"

Back to the Post's fair and balance editorial pages this morning. Bill Kristol urges Republicans to forswear the sirens of sane political, environmental, and public health discourse, and instead party like it's 1993.

For Obama's aim is not merely to "revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity." Obama outlined much of this new foundation in the most unabashedly liberal and big-government speech a president has delivered to Congress since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Obama intends to use his big three issues -- energy, health care and education -- to transform the role of the federal government as fundamentally as did the New Deal and the Great Society.

Conservatives and Republicans will disapprove of this effort. They will oppose it. Can they do so effectively?

Perhaps -- if they can find reasons to obstruct and delay. They should do their best not to permit Obama to rush his agenda through this year. They can't allow Obama to make of 2009 what Franklin Roosevelt made of 1933 or Johnson of 1965. Slow down the policy train. Insist on a real and lengthy debate. Conservatives can't win politically right now. But they can raise doubts, they can point out other issues that we can't ignore (especially in national security and foreign policy), they can pick other fights -- and they can try in any way possible to break Obama's momentum. Only if this happens will conservatives be able to get a hearing for their (compelling, in my view) arguments against big-government, liberal-nanny-state social engineering -- and for their preferred alternatives.

Right now, Obama is in the driver's seat -- a newly elected and popular president with comfortable Democratic congressional majorities and an adulatory mainstream news media. Still, Republicans do have advantages over their forebears in 1965 and 1933. There are more Republicans in Congress today, so they should be able to resist more effectively. There is much more of a record of liberal failures to look back on now than when the New Deal and the Great Society were being rushed through. Conservatism is more sophisticated than it was back then. So there is no reason to despair.

Ah yes, "conservatism is more sophisticated then it was back then." But you knew that.

"Obstruct and delay," my friends. Make your ("compelling" in his view) arguments heard, even though you haven't formulated any other than taxes, 9-11, volacano monitors. Given Col. Kristol's track record, I'm guessing conservatives have many reasons to despair.

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Health care reform is happening

Obama's budget actually provides money to do it, and in directing Congress to work with the administration to craft it, they've taken the lessons of 1993 to heart. At that time, Clinton put no money in the budget for health care reform and then dumped a 700+ "plan" in Congress' lap that was DOA due to Republican obstructionism, heath care industry propaganda, and Blue Dog Democrat pissiness.

Ezra, who knows this stuff really likes what he's seeing.

As do I. The administration's guiding principles reflect that they understand this must not be seen as social welfare. Personally, I worry about my own situation, especially losing the tax exemption for employer-provided health care. But I weigh that against the benefits of portability and no pre-existing conditions. It's encouraging to see that the administration recognizes that they must understand the needs and gain the confidence of the 85 percent of Americans who currently have health coverage.

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Science Thursday


Oh, and Gov. Jindal, I understand Gov. Palin can see volcanoes from her window, you bastard.


The NBC GOP connection

What is going on? First Sarah Palin and Tina Fey. Now Gov. Jindal and Kenneth? Is Lorne Michaels their political strategist?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fact-esque checking

I have no problem with NPR fact-checking Obama's address to Congress. But saying Obama's claim that they "have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last 30 days than we have in the last decade" is not accurate by invoking Bush's controversial Medicare Prescription Drug legislation goes way beyond "fact-checking." That's an editorial.

And, geez, how'd they miss this?



Remember when Gary Locke gave the response to the SOTU Address? Look where he is today.

But, geez, what a car wreck.


War. What is it good for? Consult your doctor.

Obama's speech did not give Bill Kristol an erection.

This was not the speech of a man who even contemplates the possibility of using force within the next year to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This was not the speech of a man who thinks America needs to be reminded about the dangers out there in the world, because Americans might have to be summoned to deal with them. This was not the speech of a man who thinks of himself as a war president.

Funny, Bobby J. didn't mention the war either.

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Hilda Solis

It was nice to see her enter the Senate chamber as a member of Obama's cabinet last night.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Michael Steele

Does the Republican Party really want Michael Steele doing the driving right now?

Punishing "defectors"

Yes! RNC Chairman Michael Steele told Neil Cavuto that he is open to cutting GOP funding for the 3 Senate traitors who voted for the Generational Theft Act.

Just saying, "no, no" to civil unions.

A reality check. As the party finds itself uniting in hostility to Obama, and the Independents and Democrats stay pretty much the same in terms of judging him, it's interesting to see Michael Steele being frank about reaching out to the center:

GALLAGHER: Is this a time when Republicans ought to consider some sort of alternative to redefining marriage and maybe in the road, down the road to civil unions. Do you favor civil unions?

STEELE: No, no no. What would we do that for? What are you, crazy? No. Why would we backslide on a core, founding value of this country? I mean this isn't something that you just kind of like, "Oh well, today I feel, you know, loosey-goosey on marriage." [...]

GALLAGHER: So no room even for a conversation about civil unions in your mind?

STEELE: What's the difference?

This, remember, is from the RNC candidate who was most regarded as eager to reach out to the next generation.

The Republican Party seems to have forgotten that its base has gotten smaller and smaller over the last four years, and they seem anxious to harden that through almost geological pressure. The result, they must think, will be diamonds.

There is a leadership vacuum in the GOP right now -- everyone knows that. And it is being filled by Michael "Off the Hook" Steele, and The Excorcist.

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McCain's helicopter

I must admit, I initially found McCain's response to Obama at yesterday's "fiscal responsibility what's-it" really obnoxious when I heard it last night. Obama graciously throws open the floor to McCain who responds with a snarky, "Well, what about your helicopter; it costs as much as Airforce One." As if Obama personnally requested some tricked-out ride with spinner hubcaps and shag rugs inside. But seeing the video, McCain just looks angry in general, and his comment gave Obama a great opportunity to respond with a self-deprecating, very funny remark, diffusing the situation.

But instead of getting pissed at McCain, we should be asking him: One helicopter has you worked up? What about the F22 program, flyboy?

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He's attractive and smart, etc.

While there is certainly a great deal of risk for Jindal to give the GOP response to Obama's speech tonight, there is seemingly no risk that any of his attacks on the stimulus funds will be challenged by reporters.

Jindal drew attention for his uncharacteristic outspokenness against the stimulus after announcing Friday that his state would reject funds from a provision to expand eligibility for unemployment, which he said ultimately would result in employers paying more taxes.

"The $100 million we turned down was temporary federal dollars that would require us to change our unemployment laws," Jindal said on "Meet the Press." "That would've actually raised taxes on Louisiana businesses."

But that provision is a small fraction of the overall stimulus funds flowing to Louisiana, and an amendment to the bill allows state legislatures to overrule governors and accept the funds.

Even as he criticizes the stimulus bill, Jindal is asking Congress for an additional $5 billion to $6 billion to help rebuild the Gulf Coast, said Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.). "There seems to be significant hypocrisy," Clyburn said. "Why would you be interested in rebuilding the levees and not be interested in helping the people stand themselves back up?"

Will increased unemployment taxes "actually raise taxes on Louisian businesses?' We don't know from this article. Maybe down the road, maybe not at all. The Post's writers do not care to find out.

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What are they waiting for?

Obama will never have greater political capital, at least until he shows he can feed the multitudes with a couple of fish and some stale bread, so, as Simon Johnson asks, let's do this thing already.

Why have we de facto nationalized? Because the private credit system - particularly large banks - is weakened and not getting any better. Attempts to deal with the problem banks are apparently blocked by the political power of influential bankers.

How then do we really privatize? By exercising leadership: take over insolvent banks and immediately reprivatize them. The new controlling owners can replace the boards of directors (tell me: why haven’t they resigned already?), and these boards can decide who to keep and who to let go from existing management. The taxpayer retains a significant number of shares (or the option to buy common stock) as a way to ensure upside participation - the economy will one day recover, and that will be a very good day for owners of the remaining banks.


Twitter laughs

Not sure I get the whole Twitter thing, but, as Ezra Klein says, Dave Weigel's Twitter (what, feeds? posts? twits?) are "absurdly funny."

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In the 1980s we nationalized a whole mess of financial institutions, except that we didn't call it that. We called it the Resolution Trust Corporation.


Monday, February 23, 2009

The myth of Newt

I think it's terrific that the GOP wants to go back to the "playbook of Newt Gingrich" to plan their retaking of Congress. After all, we all know that Gingrich's opposition to President Clinton on things like universal health care, not only set this country back two decades, it led to the GOP gaining control of Congress in 1994.

Except it didn't. I have no idea why Gingrich now gets the credit for GOP electoral success (though, yes, he does deserve credit for setting the country back two decades), because it wasn't the Contract with America, it was a Congressional scandal.

In 1993, the still Democratic-led House then suffered a House Post Office scandal, in which representatives traded stamps and official House postal vouchers for cash. Finally, House Ways and Means committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski essentially looted his own campaign funds for his own personal extravagancy.
Seems pretty penny-ante by today's standards, but it was an easy thing to digest -- Democrats in Congress were out of touch, indicted, and all too willing to steal...stamps of all things. There was a "throw the bums out" atmosphere across the country.

Like I said, if Republicans want to make Newt Gingrich their poster child for principled opposition, by all means, be my guest. But as is so often the case with Republicans, history, like facts, is a tricky thing.

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GOP governors to their state's unemployed: Drop dead

So that we can make political points off of your pain, LOSERS!


Stress tested

Is nationalization so politically unpalatable that the Obama administration won't deal with the inevitable?

In yet another sign of distress for the banks, Citigroup officials were in active talks with federal regulators on Sunday night about plans for the government to take a bigger ownership stake in the bank, according to a person close to the talks.

Citigroup approached the regulators with a plan that would allow them to convert a large amount of the government’s $45 billion of preferred shares, which is treated as debt, into common stock, this person said. The government owns a stake of roughly 8 percent, but that could grow to as much as 40 percent.

Converting the preferred shares while also issuing more common shares would bring Citigroup closer to the mix of equity that the government is likely to demand when it introduces the stress test. But that would severely dilute the value of shares held by existing Citigroup stockholders.

Still, the big banks say they remain relatively healthy and that, with time and support from the government, they will regain their footing.

But many economists, Wall Street analysts and even some bank executives contend that some of the banks are already effectively insolvent.

Even though banks have reported billions of dollars of losses from bad loans, these critics say, the major institutions still carry trillions of dollars in additional toxic assets and are too damaged to resume normal lending.

This camp says it would be best to nationalize some of them now — with the government wiping out shareholders and taking over the operation of some institutions, at least temporarily — rather than to drag out the process while the economy spirals further downward.

40 percent, after all, is a big bite of nationalization.



Throughout the Israeli election melodrama, I kept thinking, ugh, another Lieberman. Who would have guessed?


Blue Monday, Jimmie Rogers edition

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Zombie party

Sen. Shelby, changing the tone in Washington.

This kind of stupidity took a right turn at annoying quite a while ago, and now rests comfortably in the realm of madness. When Alan Keyes launches into a ridiculous tirade about the president's birth certificate, it's not especially surprising -- Keyes, based on all available evidence, is apparently not well. Anyone looking for lucidity from the poor man is bound to be disappointed.

It's far more annoying to have elected Republican officials in Tennessee signing on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit "aimed at forcing" the President to "prove he is a United States citizen."

But the Shelby example is a different magnitude of idiocy. Shelby isn't just some random yahoo with a right-wing radio talk-show; he's a four-term United States senator. He's the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee, for crying out loud. It's incumbent on him to be somewhat coherent and conduct himself with at least a little sanity.

I'd go further and say that it's incumbent on his GOP colleagues in the Senate to speak out against a baseless and stupid attack, and a charge that was debunked months ago. It's the right thing to do, showing that they won't stand for partisan grandstanding that has no purpose -- he's not opposing the president's policy, he's attacking the validity of the election -- and it's the right political thing to do as well. What, after all, is Shelby thinking in attacking a very popular president in this way? Do they pump right wing talk radio directly into these guys' brains?


Saturday, February 21, 2009


Gibbs can be entertaining.

“I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives, or in what house he lives,” Mr. Gibbs began, jabbing at the reporter for his former career. “I think we left a few months ago the adage that if it was good for a derivatives trader that it was good for Main Street.”

Mr. Gibbs went on to say that “Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won’t help everyone,” adding, “I would encourage him to read the president’s plan and understand that it will help millions of people, many of whom he knows. I’d be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee — decaf.”

In a sense, Mr. Santelli’s critique turned the tables on Mr. Obama; the president himself has been trying to tap into populist anger by declaring Wall Street bonuses “shameful.” When he announced his housing plan in Phoenix on Wednesday, Mr. Obama said pointedly that it would not help “speculators who took risky bets” or “dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibly” or “folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford.”

Mr. Santelli’s attack was a reminder to the White House that the mounting costs of the bailouts carry a political risk. If the bailouts are seen as primarily helping groups like bankers and people who got themselves into trouble by making bad financial decisions — rather than helping the overall economy and trying to stem the loss of jobs — it could make it more difficult for the administration to go back to Congress for more money and to maintain support for the president’s agenda.

But bailing out bankers was not Santelli's point. It was about "subsidizing losers' mortgages." That's the populism of the mythological "welfare queens" sort. The populism of traders, hedge fund sellers and derivative purveyors. Bankers are Rick Santelli's friends.

A veteran trader and financial executive, Santelli has provided live reports on the markets in print and on local and national radio and television. He joined CNBC from the Institutional Financial Futures and Options at Sanwa Futures, L.L.C. There, he was a vice president handling institutional trading and hedge accounts for a variety of futures related products.

Prior to that, Santelli worked as vice president of Institutional Futures and Options at Rand Financial Services, Inc., served as managing director at the Derivative Products Group of Geldermann, Inc., and was Vice President in charge of Interest Rate Futures and Options at the Chicago Board of Trade for Drexel, Burnham, Lambert. Santelli began his career in 1979 as a trader and order filler at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in a variety of markets including gold, lumber, CD's, T-bills, foreign currencies and livestock.
Probably all above board and with the greater good in mind, I'm sure.

TPM has the dueling videos.



The wiki page for that most savory of emotions includes a reference to The Three Stooges. Seems fitting.


Friday, February 20, 2009

The new "drug czar"

Although I'd prefer Obama abolish the position altogether, or turn it into a public health position, all signs point to a pretty good choice.

How Kerlikowske will behave as drug czar is unclear. His has not been a loud voice on drug policy, but he has been police chief in a city, Seattle, that has embraced lowest-priority policing for adult marijuana offenses and needle exchange programs, and he has gone with the flow in regards to those issues. For a keen local look at Kerlikowske, Seattle activist turned journalist Dominic Holden's musings on Kerlikowske are well worth checking out.

Prior to being named Seattle police chief in 2000, Kerlikowske served as deputy director in the Justice Department, where he oversaw the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program. He also spent four years as Buffalo's police commissioner. The military veteran has a total of 36 years in law enforcement, where he has earned a reputation as a progressive.

While Kerlikowske has a national profile in law enforcement circles, it is not because of drug policy. His interests have been around gun policy, immigration, and electronic data mining of private records, which he has criticized as highly intrusive and not very useful.

Drug reformers had advocated for someone with a public health -- not a law enforcement -- background to head ONDCP. But a progressive law enforcement official who has a record of tolerating drug reform and harm reduction efforts may make for a decent drug czar from the reform perspective.

UPDATE: Alternet's link is misdirected. For more on the view from Seattle...


Incoherence, with spit flecking rage on the side, please

The Palin/Santelli ticket.

Sure would be a winner. Nothing like a team that thinks there's a "real America" and an other America made up of losers and terrorist pals.

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Buzz awhile


The sideshow

Now, Rush Limbaugh and the WSJ opinion editors are many things, but probably not fools. So why do they continue to push this thing?

I have a straightforward question, which I hope you will answer in a straightforward way: Is it your intention to censor talk radio through a variety of contrivances, such as "local content," "diversity of ownership," and "public interest" rules -- all of which are designed to appeal to populist sentiments but, as you know, are the death knell of talk radio and the AM band?

You have singled me out directly, admonishing members of Congress not to listen to my show. Bill Clinton has since chimed in, complaining about the lack of balance on radio. And a number of members of your party, in and out of Congress, are forming a chorus of advocates for government control over radio content. This is both chilling and ominous.

Ah, right, Bill Clinton. Since little else is working for them, the Mighty Wurlitzer attempts to work up some of the old passion by invoking Clinton's name and accusing him and Obama of secretly trying to muzzle their spokesman.


Whale on, man.



It's not an "argument" when it is in fact "the truth."


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Give me money or I'll kill this three-headed dog...

James Kwak wonders why Chrysler needs a government bail-out when Chrysler is owned by a private equity firm. If Chrysler's restructuring plan is so good, the private equity firm should have enough confidence in to provide more funding. Apparently, Cerberus doesn't have quite that much confidence.

However, we can’t reliably infer what Cerberus really believes from their behavior, because even if they were willing to put in their own money, they wouldn’t say so until after the government turned them down. You’ve probably heard this bank bailout analogy: The banker walks into the Oval Office, puts a gun to his head, and threatens to blow his brains out unless he gets a bailout; the government bails him out because they don’t want to have to clean the carpet. The difference here is that no one cares about Cerberus (the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the underworld), so instead he dragged a hostage named Chrysler into the Oval Office and put the gun to her head. In the end, this feels like a kidnapping, where Cerberus is betting that the Obama Administration won’t be willing to take any risks with the hostage’s life.


Speaking truth to smug, self-satisfied morons

I sympathize with John Cole's and Glenn Greenwald's contempt for the Fox News actor who exhibited nothing but contempt and ridicule for his guest, Virg Bernero, the mayor of Lansing. But it has to be said that it is rare these days for a UAW supporter to be allowed to speak his mind on the teevee to the lengths mayor Bernero does. He speaks for many that it is high time that the leading lights of Washington stop feeling it is wise and appropriate for the sins of this economy to be placed on the backs of workers. The Fox talking head unknowingly illustrates Washington's disdain for people who make stuff, but at least the mayor is allowed to say his piece.

Watch it.

And the problem for GM, Chrysler, Ford, is not that it costs them $2000 more per car due to labor costs, it's that American cars typically cost $2000 less , according to Susan Helper of Case Western Reserve University, than comparable vehicles with Japanese marques and still Americans don't care to buy them.


You don't need a weatherman...

One of the annoying things about Sarah Palin's (among others) injection of Bill Ayers into the campaign ("pallin' around with terrorists) last year was in fact, Ayers himself. A spectacularly arrogant human being who, if Deborah Soloman's (notoriously unreliable) "interview" is any guide, still not only fails to see the moral risk of blowing shit up, he fails to see the damage the Weathermen's actions did to the anti-war movement as a whole.

How did you feel when Obama publicly disowned you, describing you as a guy in his neighborhood who had committed “despicable acts” when he was 8 years old?
That is not a minority position. I know a lot of people who feel that way, even people on the left.

Right, the Weathermen, which you co-founded, did hurt the antiwar movement by adopting violent tactics and alienating the middle class.
I don’t think that what we did was brilliant. Frankly, I don’t think what anybody did was brilliant.

Do you regret your involvement in setting off explosions in the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol?
Anyone who thinks what we did is despicable should look at the fact that the U.S. government killed three million people in Indochina between 1965 and 1975. That’s really despicable.

So via Yglesias, this brief memoir of the movement, by a fellow WU member, is a refreshing tonic.

By allowing our frustration and revolutionary airs to trump our political common sense, we disowned one of the ’60s-era organizers’ greatest contributions to leftist politics—the revival of what has been termed the “organizing tradition.” This was the tradition, focused on long-term change and bottom-up politics that animated the Civil Rights, Black Freedom, Women’s Liberation and antiwar movements.

This organizing tradition, which the WU abandoned, has a developmental, long-haul perspective and an emphasis on building relationships that endure. It respects collective leadership and holds that the best movement leaders should have ongoing, accountable relations with their bases—the grassroots. Its anti-bureaucratic ethos and preference for connecting issues and organizing around peoples’ everyday lives create an expansive notion of democracy.

This conception of organizing goes beyond mobilizing, disdains vanguardism, requires patience and emphasizes the centrality of building new leadership. The organizing tradition was most fully embodied in the practice of early Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizers, but also revivified in Women’s Liberation groups and even some SDS chapters.

Out of sheer impatience and an inflated sense of vanguardism, the WU rejected this empowering tradition. Ironically, the WU understood the painstaking work of grassroots organizing as a sign of white privilege. This work required waiting too long while the world was in tumult.

The WU favored more dramatic action that ended up disconnecting the purported leadership from any mass base, leaving it unaccountable (except self-glorifyingly to a nebulous “people of the world”) in its self-defined trajectory. The WU rationalized its practice by attacking any possible base as too privileged, too corrupted by consumerism and imperialism.

Of course, it's easy to look back now and condemn them for their impatience. Yes, the war was raging and would continue for several more years, but the trajectory had changed...Nixon ran as a "peace candidate, after all." Still, the frustration must have been intense, not unlike recent years as the war in Iraq continues against the wishes of the American people. But what the WU and other groups espousing violence did was lend legitimacy to violence and government surveillance against anti-war organizers and to help, along with the non-violent Yippies, fracture the movement. And that's what frustrates me about Bill Ayers and Sarah Palin's successful effort to enshrine him -- he refuses to admit he may just have been wrong. Unlike Ayers, Howard Machtinger grew up.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Secrets and power

Yes, this is indeed worrisome and we should hold the Obama administration's feet to the fire. But it was clear during the Bush administration that once the Executive Branch grabs power, it will be tough for future executives to give it up.

Addressing the executive-privilege dispute, Mr. Craig said: “The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened. But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle.”

But Glenn Greenwald sees something a little less suspicious than Charley Savage's article seems to imply.

Having said all of this, and while believing that Savage's article is of great value in sounding the right alarm bells, I think that he paints a slightly more pessimistic picture on the civil liberties front than is warranted by the evidence thus far (though only slightly). Additionally, it is all but certain that media stars and right-wing Bush followers will dishonestly exploit Savage's article to make claims about "vindication of Bush policies" that go far beyond the cautious statements Savage makes.

As Savage notes, there was a flurry of Executive Orders issued by Obama in the first week which are indisputably positive and constitute genuine reversals of some key Bush policies -- banning CIA black sites, guaranteeing International Red Cross access to all detainees (i.e., no more secret detentions), freezing all military commissions, increasing some Executive Branch restrictions on presidential secrecy powers, substantially limiting the interrogation techniques which (at least for now) the CIA is authorized to employ. All of those orders were, by design, preliminary, incomplete and reversible -- and their value is therefore limited -- but they were clearly important steps in the right direction.

Still, though, vigilance is vital here.

And it will be interesting to see what the Obama administration does about these poor bastards now that the courts have thrown it back into the


Stopping the wasting disease

For a while I was swayed by the idea of going ahead with foreclosures but keeping people in their homes as renters. And I hesitate to disagree with Dean Baker on economics issue, but isn't there also a "cost" to homeowners in the surrounding area? Sure the foreclosed are allowed to stay in their homes (where maybe they'll be willing to keep up appearances and mow the lawn), but doesn't the act of foreclosure further drive down housing values in the area. Yes, I realize that a burst housing bubble means more realistic housing prices, but the combination of an uncertain employment outlook and further declines in home values is not going to do much to end the recession. Nor will the blow to these peoples' credit ratings. Nothing is free. Also, it seems to me that only the (former) homeowner is punished, not the bank which will continue to receive rents.

Further, Baker seems intent on punishing "bankers and their shareholders," but, first, most of the home loans aren't owned by "banks" but by all manner of financial institutions, and second, the crash of housing prices does cost all of us, as we're seeing in vivid technicolor these days.

Yes, it's complicated and messy, but initial views on Obama's housing proposal sound mainly positive.

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Hidden friends

Not sure what to make of this.


Games played

Cliff Corcoran notes the one benefit Rodriguez gained from using PEDs as a member of the Texas Rangers -- no need to take a day off. It's overlooked -- the ability of a player to recover quickly isn't just about getting a thicker neck, but it also should help get through the rigors of the toughest season in sports.

As a fan, I'm not sure I have a problem with that.

On a related note -- and be advised, there will be no posts about either Alex's or Bristol's much covered media appearances this week -- Scott Lemieux takes a closer look at the "sanctity of the record books."

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Civilian deaths in Afghanistan

With the ordered deployment of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, it's now fairly safe to say that this is President Obama's war. One of the first priorities of these added "boots on the ground" must be to provide greater security outside of Kandahar and the reduction of civilian casualties, particularly those from U.S. air strikes and units operating "outside the normal chain of command."

The United Nations report found that the Taliban and other insurgents caused the majority of the civilian deaths, primarily through suicide bombers and roadside bombs, many aimed at killing as many civilians as possible.

Taliban fighters routinely attacked American and other pro-government forces in densely populated areas, the report said, apparently in the hope of provoking a response that would kill even more civilians.

But the report also found that Afghan government forces and those of the American-led coalition killed 828 people last year, up sharply from the previous year. Most of those were killed in airstrikes and raids on villages, which are often conducted at night.

One day this month, an old man who called himself Syed Mohammed sat on the floor of his mud-brick hut in the eastern Kabul neighborhood of Hotkheil and recounted how most of his son’s family was wiped out in an American-led raid last September.

Mr. Mohammed said he was awakened in the early morning to the sound of gunfire and explosions. Such sounds were not uncommon; Hotkheil is a Pashtun-dominated area, where sympathies for the Taliban run strong.

In a flash, Mr. Mohammed said, several American and Afghan soldiers kicked open the door of his home. The Americans, he said, had beards, an almost certain sign that they belonged to a unit of the Special Forces, which permits uniformed soldiers to grow facial hair.

“Who are you?” Mr. Mohammed recalled asking the intruders.

“Shut up,” came the reply from one of the Afghan soldiers. “We are the government.”

Mr. Mohammed said he was taken to a nearby base, interrogated for several hours and let go as sunrise neared.

When he returned home, Mr. Mohammed said, he went next door to his son’s house, only to find that most of his family had been killed: the son, Nurallah, and his pregnant wife and two of his sons, Abdul Basit, age 1, and Mohammed, 2. Only Mr. Mohammed’s 4-year-old grandson, Zarqawi, survived.

“The soldiers had a right to search our house,” Mr. Mohammed said. “But they didn’t have a right to do this.”

And all the troops in the world won't bring stability to Afghanistan unless political changes are made as well. The administration seems to get this, but the clock is ticking as the Taliban will surely increase activity with the spring thaws while government corruption never goes out of season.


Because no one would have shown up

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No illusions

OMG, the dude's like...Sun Tsu

Yet Obama held no illusions about the scale of the challenges he faces, both economic and political. One of those challenges was the overwhelming Republican resistance to his plan, which frustrated his campaign hopes of quickly bridging Washington's ideological and partisan divides. Obama seemed to split that opposition into several categories. Some of it was ideological: "I think that there were some senators and House members who have a sincere philosophical difference with the idea of any government role in boosting demand in the economy. They don't believe in [economist John Maynard] Keynes and they are still fighting FDR." Some was tactical: "I also think that there was a decision made... where [Republican leaders] said... 'If we can enforce conformity among our ranks, then it will invigorate our base and will potentially give us some political advantage either short-term or long-term." He paused. "Whether that's a smart strategy, I think you should ask them."
"I'm an eternal optimist, but I'm no sap," he went on to say. Taking the long view, as Obama seems intent on doing, and focusing on the ends not the means, as he clearly exhibited during the stimulus debate, is going to frustrate the Right and, at times, though I think the press will repetitively overstate this, worry the Left. And knowing the opposition as clearly as he obviously does is going to drive the GOP and their supporters batshit crazy.

Exciting times.

Oh, and note to Michelle Malkin: we appreciate the concern for the less fortunate among us, but I don't believe homeless shelters accept left-overs. It's not safe or sanitary.


Louie Bellson


1950, with the Duke Ellington Orchestra


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Monday, February 16, 2009

"All the fish are sold"

A colleague of mine from Spain recently told me there's an old Spanish expression that perfectly describes his prediction for the outcome of the Hugo Chavez referendum for unlimited terms:

Todo el pescado esta vendido

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The Mighty Wurlitzer makes its first sound check

NPR has an interesting story on the curious case of "comparative clinical effectiveness research" which basically monitors the effectiveness of medicines and medical devices. The point is to improve care by figuring out what works and what doesn't. And this is regardless of cost, though it does, theoretically, lower costs by figuring out what procedures are a waste.

This would generally be considered a good thing. Indeed it had bipartisan enthusiasm, not just support, including the support of the John McCain health care adviser.

Seems, though, that Republicans now smell the sulfuric hint of universal health care in this small whiff of health care sanity. So the jukebox starts playing those familiar songs: an op-ed in the WSJ, Limbaugh (himself a self-medicating expert on drug efficacy) picks it up, and soon House Republicans begin their inevitable braying.

Of course, it would have been nice if NPR had been a little more direct in calling "bullshit" on this, but it is a potentially useful preview of the battle to come over health care.

Nevertheless, because this is nothing if not a public service blog, we turn to Steven Pearlstein (via Klein) for the aforementioned calling of "bullshit."

There's nothing particularly new about comparative effectiveness research -- the National Institutes of Health, along with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, have been doing it for years, with a budget last year of about $335 million. But with the strong backing of the Obama administration, House Democrats are anxious to ramp up the effort, which nearly all experts agree is a necessary first step to reforming a broken health-care system.

To some, however, the wording in last month's House report was anything but innocuous. To them, it was a warning shot across the bow, the camel's nose under the tent of a government-run health system, the dangerous first step on the slippery slope toward European-style health-care rationing.

" 'Stimulus' bill may change health care forever," blared the headline in the Washington Times over a commentary written by Amy Menefee, communications director for the Galen Institute, a nonprofit think tank that aims to bring free-market ideas to the health-care debate.

"Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan," warned Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York and adjunct senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, in a commentary distributed by Bloomberg News several days later.

No sooner had the McCaughey commentary hit the tape then -- what a coincidence! -- radio bloviator Rush Limbaugh was quoting it on his syndicated show, warning that under the world envisioned by the Obama stimulus bill, old people would be denied all costly medical treatments under a new "duty to die" regime meant to save taxpayer money. The McCaughey commentary also got a prominent mention by uber-blogger Matt Drudge.

The next day, the Wall Street Journal's senior economics writer, Stephen Moore, was on Fox News warning that the stimulus bill would put the government in control of what medical treatments you and your family would be allowed to receive. That set the stage for Megyn Kelly's interview with Sen. Arlen Specter, who was virtually browbeat by the anchor until he promised that "we are not going to let the federal government monitor what doctors do."

The Journal's editorial page picked up the campaign the next day, drawing the line of causation from electronic health records -- another beneficiary of the stimulus bill -- to comparative health records to government price controls and then a government-run "health tech monopoly."

This right-wing brushfire didn't start on its own, of course. It was a work of political arson by the country's drugmakers and medical device makers, which have the most to lose if there is solid research showing that some of their most expensive and high-margin products aren't really better than the low-priced spread. The flames were also fanned by "disease groups" like Easter Seals and the American Cancer Society, which fear that any attempt to determine what works best will inevitably lead to a one-size-fits-all approach to treating people with serious chronic conditions.

It's not that these various groups have no reason for concern. If comparative effectiveness research is done badly, or if the results are used simply as an excuse to deny insurance coverage for all expensive treatments, then there would be plenty of reason to get out the pitchforks and storm Capitol Hill. And there are surely examples from Britain and other countries of people being denied access to the latest drugs and procedures, including some that are significantly more effective than other treatments.

What the critics don't have, however, is any shred of evidence that the professionals who do this research are incompetent or have any but the best intentions in trying to figure out what treatments are the most effective for patients. There is no reason to believe that once this clinical research is completed, it cannot be used in a disciplined, scientific way by physicians, economists and medical ethicists to determine whether there are drugs, tests, surgical procedures or devices that simply don't deliver enough benefit to justify their cost. And there is no reason we cannot set up reasonable procedures, overseen by independent health professionals, to protect patients who can demonstrate a special need for a treatment that is not normally cost-effective.

Maybe it's not 1993, but I don't think we should be too complacent about that.

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Baseline scenario

If you happened to catch Simon Johnson on Bill Moyer's Journal last week, you'll probably want to read his Baseline Scenario. A shorter, and slightly less technical version: We are gnawing on a shit sandwich of epic proportions, almost Carnegie Deli-sized.

Johnson, by the way is Dean Baker approved!

Today, however, he looks at how economic consensus, which can go unchanged for years, if not decades, can quite suddenly shudder and break in the face of new realities, and it can happen so quickly it's difficult to keep up.

We saw this last year with regard to discretionary fiscal policy - fiscal stimulus - in the US. Eighteen months ago, very few mainstream economists or other policy analysts would have suggested that the US respond to the threat of recession with a large spending increase/tax cut. The consensus - based on long years of experience and research - was that discretionary fiscal policy generates as many problems as it solves. To argue against this consensus was to bang your head against a brick wall, while also being regarded as not completely serious.

At some point in November/December 2007, this consensus began to shake. The history may prove controversial but my perspective at the time and in retrospect is that Marty Feldstein was the first heavyweight economist to question the consensus (including in interactions on Capitol Hill), and he was followed closely by Larry Summers’ influential writings in the Financial Times. Within a month or so, the consensus broke. Not only did we get a fiscal stimulus in early 2008 for the US, but the IMF quickly adopted the same pro-stimulus line globally and the terms of the debate changed everywhere. This fed into a process out of which came at least a temporary new quasi-consensus: a large US fiscal stimulus is part of the sensible policy mix today.

The consensus on banking just broke cover. For some weeks it has been under intense pressure. At least since the fall, serious people have been informally floating various new ideas on how to deal with the technical problems surrounding toxic assets and presumed deficient bank capital. But since mid-January, the mainstream consensus - that we should protect existing large banks and keep them in business essentially “as is” - seems to have cracked.

I wonder what the "consensus" is within the White House. "Nationalization" will be a tougher nut to crack then was even the stimulus package, and that is why, I suspect, Obama and Geithner are not yet prepared to use the term. As Simon notes, the banking industry has an enormous army of lobbyists at its disposal and is unafraid to use them. And I might add that this is true even if said lobbyists are now being paid by tax payers. You could see this over the weekend when Democrat Chuck Schummer thought nationalization would never happen, while Lindsay Graham seemed open to the idea. Schummber is not the only Democrat who regularly receives healthy donations from the banking/financial sector. So, Obama's significant political skills will be tested when this gets on the table, as he'll have to wrangle members of his own party along with the opposition, who will no doubt be hearing from konstituents yelling "fascism!111! Red Dawn!11111111!"

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"Smarter than Rush?"

As Steve Clemons notes, the line between satire and reality is perilously thin these days.


"Unimaginable pressure"

It seems that Justice Dept.'s Office of Professional Responsibility is prepared to release a report that's making John Yoo and other members of the BuCheney administration's Office of Legal Counsel very, very uncomfortable.

As Andy Serwer notes, while there probably are no criminal ramifications, making this public and making sure the tender aspiring lawyers John Yoo teaches understand that it may very well be illegal if the president does it would be a very good outcome.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

No record no rights

Henry Aaron injects some refreshing sanity -- and historical perspective -- into the steroids and records debate.

On the night in 2007 that Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record, Aaron, by way of video message, congratulated Bonds. Aaron said the feat required “skill, longevity and determination.”

”I move over and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement,” he continued. “My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.”

In an eye-opening column by Terence Moore in Friday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aaron repeated his contention that Bonds was the true home run king.

“There are things out there besides worrying about a home run record that somebody now holds,” Aaron told Moore. “Barry has the record, and I don’t think anybody can change that.”

Last week, in the wake of Alex Rodriguez’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs between 2001 and 2003, there were suggestions that Commissioner Bud Selig might consider suspending Rodriguez and adjusting baseball’s record books to restore Aaron as the career home run leader. While it seems unlikely either would happen, Selig said in Thursday’s USA Today that he did not dismiss the idea of erasing Bonds’s record of 762 homers. Bonds is awaiting a March 2 court date in connection with charges that he lied to a federal grand jury in December 2003 when he said he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. He has pleaded not guilty.

Aaron said he hoped Selig would leave the record book alone and simply allow Bonds’s career to speak for itself.

“It’s sort of a tricky call when you start going down that road of who is legitimate,” Aaron said. “I don’t know if Barry would have hit as many home runs or hit them as far — if that’s the case that he did use steroids — but I still don’t think it has anything to do with him having the kind of baseball career that he had.”

He added of Bonds: “He could have had an excellent career, regardless of what he did. So it would be something that I don’t think the commissioner would like to get involved in, really.”

What continues to bother me about all of this is the total lack of interest the media -- and I don't just mean sports "journalists" -- in the utter trampling of players' rights by the government. From the leak of grand jury testimony during the BALCO case, to the more recent leak of Alex Rodriguez's name from the list of players testing positive in'03, there seems to be a concerted effort by the government to try players via the press. They're using the media to ruin players' reputations because they're having trouble -- or have no chance whatsoever -- to prevail in a court of law. Writes Doug Glanville -- a former teammate of Rodriguez and a thoughtful voice amidst the din of self-righteousness and hyperbole -- where is the outrage?

I understood that when the federal government was looking for evidence in the BALCO investigation it might tread on players’ toes at some point. It seemed like all of baseball had become guilty by association once Ken Caminiti alleged that 50 percent of the major league players were on steroids. Or maybe the feds would be looking to catch players like Barry Bonds or Jason Giambi. The union and the league both knew that keeping these results privileged would be difficult. But for not one but four anonymous sources to leak this information, as is apparently the case with A-Rod, is unfathomable.

I’m not surprised by baseball’s extensive drug culture. It’s part of the game’s history and has as much to do with insecurity as greed. Players have to capitalize on opportunity, and at the hypercompetitive major-league level that’s like threading a needle — no wonder they will do just about anything to get ahead. Not that this justifies taking performance-enhancing drugs.

But before we get self-righteous, we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether exposing A-Rod, or any player for that matter, is worth stepping all over rights, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity.

There is a lot of outrage out there about Alex. Not surprising. But what really surprises me is the lack of outrage about how a confidential and anonymous test could be made public. We seem to gloss over the fact that these players voted to re-open a collectively bargained agreement in a preliminary effort to address the drug problem. When privileged information is shared it effectively hurts anyone who has expected privacy in any circumstance, just as when someone made Britney Spears’s medical records public.
Yeah, yeah, I know. These pampered superstars cheated and now they're getting what they deserve, and...what will we tell the children? But that's just it. If players like Bonds and Rodriguez can have their rights trampled by a bunch of obsessive federal agents, then any of us can.

And it might be useful if journalists, rather then simply lick their chops at the idea of being fed grand jury testimony and medical records, would question how and why they're being manipulated by the government in the first place.


Eye of Newt

It is surely a sign of how pathetic House Republicans are that they are hotly engaged in the search for the next Gingrich.

WASHINGTON — The last time Congressional Republicans were this out of power, they turned to a college professor from Georgia, Newt Gingrich, to lead the opposition, first against President Bill Clinton in a budget battle in 1993, and then back into the majority the following year.

As Republicans confronted President Obama in another budget battle last week, their leadership included another new face: Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who as the party’s chief vote wrangler is as responsible as anyone for the tough line the party has taken in this first legislative standoff with Mr. Obama. This battle has vaulted Mr. Cantor to the front lines of his party as it tries to recover from the losses of November.

As Republican whip, Mr. Cantor succeeded again on Friday in denying the White House the support of a single House Republican on the stimulus bill. That was a calculated challenge to the president, who, in his weekly address on Saturday, hailed the bill as “an ambitious plan at a time we badly need it.”

Mr. Cantor said he had studied Mr. Gingrich’s years in power and had been in regular touch with him as he sought to help his party find the right tone and message. Indeed, one of Mr. Gingrich’s leading victories in unifying his caucus against Mr. Clinton’s package of tax increases to balance the budget in 1993 has been echoed in the events of the last few weeks.

“I talk to Newt on a regular basis because he was in the position that we are in: in the extreme minority,” he said.

And leave it to Ad Nags to so fully echo the fun house mirrors of Washington conventional thinking to see this as a good thing for the GOP.

The Republicans badly misplayed this one. There's nothing like 100% obstructionism in response to an effort to stop the downward spiral of citizens' economic well-being to get your party out of its minority status. And there's nothing like the narcissism that fuels Washington to see this as a victory, even as poll after poll indicate that the public endorses Obama's handling of the stimulus package.

I don't know, perhaps they think that like Newt, they can maneuver an impeachable blowjob.


Friday, February 13, 2009

The lost...three weeks?

As I wrote earlier this week, Professor Krugman seems to think that the Obama administration can wave a wand and, in the politics-free environment of serious Washington D.C., unilaterally determine how to save us from economic ruin.

By any normal political standards, this week’s Congressional agreement on an economic stimulus package was a great victory for President Obama. He got more or less what he asked for: almost $800 billion to rescue the economy, with most of the money allocated to spending rather than tax cuts. Break out the Champagne!

Or maybe not. These aren’t normal times, so normal political standards don’t apply: Mr. Obama’s victory feels more than a bit like defeat. The stimulus bill looks helpful but inadequate, especially when combined with a disappointing plan for rescuing the banks. And the politics of the stimulus fight have made nonsense of Mr. Obama’s postpartisan dreams.

Impeachment. Now.

Officially, the administration insists that the plan is adequate to the economy’s need. But few economists agree. And it’s widely believed that political considerations led to a plan that was weaker and contains more tax cuts than it should have — that Mr. Obama compromised in advance in the hope of gaining broad bipartisan support. We’ve just seen how well that worked.

True enough, few economists seem to agree on anything.

He goes on to write that the administration's reaction seems reminiscent of Japan, but Japan didn't respond to the crisis until 10 years after their housing bubble burst. In fact, this was an incredible accomplishment by an administration that many continue to claim is still wet behind its ears.

Justin Fox also finds himself a little baffled by Krugman's invective.

First of all, Obama has been in office for all of three weeks. In that time he has gotten a stimulus package of a size that would have been pretty much unimaginable (except maybe to Krugman) a couple of months ago almost all the way through the legislative process, filled his cabinet and top advisory ranks at dizzying speed but made a few missteps along the way, and has yet to unveil a definitive plan for fixing a banking system embroiled in a once-in-a-century crisis. So yeah, the guy should probably just admit his utter failure and resign right now. Seriously, has the news cycle really sped up so much that a presidency is to be judged on its first three weeks, against a standard that I really don't think any previous White House would have met?

Meanwhile, on a different but somehow related note, it appears that the Left is being accused of giving Obama a pass on "entitlements."

Social Security defenders were surprised again last week, when Obama named a leading voice for reining in entitlement spending, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, to his Cabinet.

But despite some grumbling in the ranks, the powerful, organized movement that effectively defended the Social Security status quo from Bush’s ambitious reform effort in 2005 has been one of the key dogs that haven’t yet barked at Obama.

The relative silence of liberal activists who smashed Bush’s hopes of slowing entitlement spending is a mark of the deep trust Obama enjoys from the left of his party — and it’s also giving hope to those who would like to see major shifts in the way Social Security and other programs are funded and managed.

Obama is “in a honeymoon phase, and many liberals are afraid to express concerns,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat and deficit hawk who sees the current economic crisis as an opportunity to reform entitlement spending.

First off, does anyone believe that, in the wake of the greatest financial unravelling since the Great Depression, Obama will unveil a plan to privatize social security, as Ben Smith seems to be indicating here, by comparing it with Bush's efforts.

Secondly, we didn't "smash Bush's hopes of slowing entitlement," we smashed his hopes of killing off the most popular government program in history, Social Security, by privatizing it.

Finally, "the relative silence of liberal activists" may be due to the fact that Obama hasn't indicated what his plans are. As for me, I'm pretty sure that when Obama talks about reining in "entitlement spending," he's talking about Medicaid. And when he talks about reforming that, he's talking about reforming health care spending in this country.

But if those who want to privatize SS think that the Left would silently and fawningly accept destroying Social Security on Obama's say-so, they're in for a surprise.

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"Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress"

While it's fine that NPR has asked Wan Williams to stop identifying himself as "NPR News Analyst" when he appears on fine, informative Fox News programs such as "The O'Reilly Factor," it would be far better if NPR disassociated themselves from him and his Villager's perspective altogether..

Christ, even O'Reilly seems to discount Williams' comments at the end.

Via Prof. DeLong.

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Me and my uncle


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Paul Gigot's clown show

I heard recently that the joke in the Wall St. Journal newsroom was that the paper didn't need a comics page since the editorial page served that purpose already.

The Wall Street Journal, in an unsigned editorial, took issue with President Obama having prescreened journalists at Monday’s prime-time press conference.

Since then, the paper has been flooded with responses from readers who consider the conservative editorial board adopting a double standard, according to a source.

In November, I reported that Obama held transition press conferences with a list of reporters to call on, so it's not a completely new press strategy that the Journal took issue with. Of course, it's well within the editorial board's right to criticize this practice if they see fit.

However, one line stood out with critics: “We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors.”

Of course, Bush did prescreen reporters. Media Matters noted that Bush joked in a press conference once about it being scripted. And on Monday night, Ari Fleischer talked on Fox about preparing a list or reporters before the president's press conferences.

Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot, through a spokesman, said the editorial speaks for itself.

Well, does it? It would be easy to see the Journal’s point if it the editorial board called out both Bush and Obama for this practice, or simply noted that, in their opinion, the media lets Obama get away with things Bush never would.

But the editorial still gives the impression that the Bush team didn't preselect jounalists, when in fact they clearly did.
I expect Gigot and the clown car otherwise knows as the WSJ editorial section will grow increasingly unhinged. It's encouraging though that readers and some other media outlets are calling them on it.

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Who wants to be a Commerce Secretary?

Apparently Gregg's announcement caught the White House by surprise, and it seems really weird. After all, it was no secret what Obama wanted in the stimulus package and he seems to have gotten it (though the devil's in the details). And the census issue seems particularly contrived.


The dismal science



Ganga to the rescue

Marijuana is California's biggest cash crop.

California is bankrupt.

Legalize marijuana, regulate it, and tax the profits.

Simple, really.


Nationalizing banks

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Experience and leadership...oh, whatever

Shorter Actual Kathleen Parker:

Bush's contempt for the media meant he never stayed long enough to bore us.
Ah, the Village. Where attempts to actually explain complicated issues to the American people are considered boring and met only with the contempt of the clueless.

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Signs and portents


Three weeks

It is weird how the Right seem to have higher expectations for the "magic negro" then do Obama's own supporters.


Celebrating Darwin...and killing him

The Times ran a fantastic series of essays on the ongoing influence of Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago this week. And, in the same series, Carl Safina argues that it's time to kill "Darwinism."

Worth a read.

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What is it with Republicans and twitter?

UPDATE: John Cole has more fun with the twits.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

"Everything that's wrong,...yada, yada, yada"

I don't know if Jayson Stark suggests the headlines for his columns,

A-Rod has destroyed game's history

...but, please.

More sensible thoughts on this "shocking" development, here and here.

I will admit to feeling some disappointment when I heard the news. But just as I didn't come to hate Santa Claus when I learned he wasn't real, I don't get angry with Rodriguez upon learning he may not be who we hoped he was, either.

But the sport, as a unique paragon of American culture, is devastated. And that's forever.

"A unique paragon of American culture."

I can think of a few people who would disagree with that designation.

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Centeragious and Obama's "outreach"

With all due respect to Mr. Krugman, this idea that Obama "negotiated with himself" which then resulted in a weaker stimulus bill than he could have otherwise gotten...well...I'm not getting that. Yes, he encouraged and wanted "bipartisanship," but there was no way the bill was going to get past the threat of a filibuster without a few Republican votes, not to mention the "centrists" in the Democratic side of the aisle as well. If you want to place blame, blame the "centrists" who, as Krugman, Bard-like, puts it, "extracted their pound of flesh" in order to maintain their "centrist" bona fides. One of them even more or less admitted they weakened the bill.

Beyond that, Obama has again illustrated that he's looking beyond the daily/nightly news cycle. And he's looking beyond this stimulus bill. By reaching out to Republicans he didn't invite an ineffective, weak stimulus bill, but by doing so he did look reasonable and made Republicans look obstructionist. And when it became clear that Republicans weren't going to play ball and were instead going to rehash the last eight years of terrible economic direction, he and his administration changed the tone, to devastating effect.

All of that -- the outreached hand followed by the stern lecture when the hand was refused -- may just have furthered his mandate, at least when it comes to handling the economy.

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