Thursday, April 29, 2010

Antonin Alfalfa

Earlier today, we saw an example of Scalia using his own personal history -- and empathy for his own preferred Bronze Age religious symbolism -- to argue that of course the families of Jews killed in combat would have no problem with a cross on their loved one's tombstone. Now we get an example of something that I have never seen or heard addressed. Scalia is considered an intellectual lion on the Supreme Court. Today we see that besides the fact that his "intellectualism" rests on a single chord, he's just not very interested in learning about the subjects he will be passing judgment on.

As expected, this week's Supreme Court oral arguments on Monsanto had much less to do with the pros and cons of genetically modified (GM) seeds than it did with the ins and outs of environmental regulation.

On that point, the justices who actually spoke seemed fairly skeptical of the Ninth Circuit's decision to completely halt the sale of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa seed, rather than just sending the question back to USDA to re-decide.

That said, we did get some insight into how the justices are thinking about GM agriculture. In particular, we learned that Antonin Scalia does not think that cross contamination between conventional/organic crops and GM crops is "the end of the world."

To which the attorney for Geertson Seed Farms, one of the plaintiffs, offered the entirely appropriate and accurate rejoinder: "I don't think we bore an end-of-the-world burden, Justice Scalia."

At one point, Justice Sotomayor did jump in with the fact-based question of how GM contamination could reasonably be expected to occur out in the fields. She asked an attorney whether farmers in the U.S. often rent equipment from vendors to cut their fields. The suggestion is that farmers have a legitimate worry that tools used to cut a Roundup Ready alfalfa crop on one day might leave behind some modified seeds in a conventional field the next. Scalia admitted that sure, perhaps, that could, in theory, happen. And perhaps, sure, those farmers would find their crops unsellable in GM-unfriendly Europe. But here, Scalia was convinced that the market would solve things! In every agrarian nook and cranny of the United States! "You don't think that the free market would produce companies that advertise 'We only cut natural seed fields?'" Scalia went on to answer his own question. "I'm sure it would happen."

Yes, the riches that lie out there for farm-related support industries is massive, so competitors would sprout up like...alfalfa plants in no time.

Sotomayor obviously did her homework. Not only do farmers rent their equipment, carrying all sorts of detritus to their fields, if a modified crop from one of those seeds does indeed grow, the farmer can be liable to copyright infringement suits brought by Monsanto if the farmer then saves and replants or sells the resulting seeds from the contaminated crop the farmer harvests.

Scalia could care less, brushing off a significant issue with a "the free market will solve it" laziness that would be shocking if it weren't so typical of this incurious, pompous ass.

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Afternoon at Wrigley


Cornhusker kickback 2

What happens when supporting your biggest doner (not to mention one of your largest investment holdings) makes you subject to ridicule from members of your own party and intense animosity from your own constituents? I think Ben Nelson is learning just that.

Nelson has been the lone Democrat opposing financial reregulation legislation all week. He's upset that a carve out that would benefit Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway – which is based in Omaha, was stripped form the derivatives package negotiated by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln. Immediately, the press labeled Nelson's request a sweetheart deal and noted the senator owns anywhere from $1.5 million to $6 million in Berkshire Hathaway stock. Nelson, of course, was incensed. “Unfortunately, amid discussions on that bill, we've seen the usual Washington parlor game of wild speculation, unfounded rumor and uninformed comments by unnamed sources, some directed at me,” Nelson said in a lengthy statement put out yesterday. “Today, Washington is a cesspool of gotcha politics. It's so out of control you can't even shake hands in the hallway with a Future Farmer of America without people questioning your motives.”Because of that unpleasantness, Nelson's requests and amendments are now closely watched – and it doesn't help when he's the only high profile Dem holdout on a big vote. He could be asking for money for kittens and puppies and orphans these days and someone will still pounce and call it a Cornhusker Kickback. Those Nebraska puppies – why should they be saved any more than puppies across the country?! But in this case, in addition to Nelson's personal stock, Berkshire Hathaway has long been Nelson's largest donor, giving more than $75,000 over the years, as The Post points out today. Nelson makes it hard for leaders to include his provision because the last thing they want is national uproar over Cornhusker Kickback #2. And he should be careful: in an election the most dangerous thing is allowing your opponent to define you first. Nelson's not up till 2012 but he's already in trouble in Nebraska polls and the more he's seen as a greedy grubs, the more trouble he's going to have at home.

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Activist judge

I'm certain that Justice Scalia can point to the specific passage in the Constitution that lays out the "Founders' Intent" on this one.

Peter J. Eliasberg, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said many Jewish war veterans would not want to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.”

Justice Antonin Scalia responded that the symbol in the context of a war memorial carried a more general meaning. “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead,” he said.

Mr. Eliasberg said, “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew.”

Justice Scalia, who is usually jovial even in disagreement, turned angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

And it would also be outrageous to conclude that Scalia's Catholicism has no bearing on his decisions whatsoever. Empathy be damned.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The GOP keeps digging on finreg

I love this headline:
GOP poised to abandon stall of banking bill

"Poised." Makes it sound so action-y.

The fact that the GOP has been so politically tone deaf and inept looking when it comes to opposing the financial reform bill shows just how deeply they really are in Wall St.'s pocket these days, not to mention how ideologically incapable they are of supporting any kind of regulation on moneyed interests.

Democrats tried three times to begin debate on the bill only to be thwarted by Republican opposition. Democrats branded the Republicans as Wall Street allies. But Republicans said they were merely trying to secure changes to make the bill more bipartisan.

Republicans had already begun to drop their complaints that the Democrats' legislation would perpetuate bailouts, and had shifted their criticism to a consumer protection provision that they say goes too far.

The Senate Democrats' bill would create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau within the Federal Reserve that would have power to police transactions between institutions that provide financial services and their customers.

Republicans say the bill would have unintended circumstances that could ensnare small business people for merely extending credit to their customers.

Note to the GOP, consumers like being protected. And, yes, it could ensnare small business people if their business is predatory lending.

The GOP is acting like a college basketball team that is 15 points behind with 15 seconds to go, but keeps fouling anyway. It won't work. It's annoying. It only lengthens the Fail.

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Open-mic auditions

Blog post headline of the day

Oklahoma legislature wants to punish women Indiscriminately

A recent and recurring claim by those who oppose abortion rights is that they're doing it all for the sake of women who will later be "traumatized" by their decision to abort a fetus (despite evidence that most women aren't).

Well, one can pretty well assume that members of the Oklahoma Legislature feel no such concern for a woman's "feelings."

HOUSTON — The Oklahoma Legislature voted Tuesday to override the governor’s vetoes of two abortion measures, one of which requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion.

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

A second measure passed into law on Tuesday prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.

Opponents argue that the law will protect doctors who purposely mislead a woman to keep her from choosing an abortion. But the bill’s sponsors maintain that it merely prevents lawsuits by people who wish, in hindsight, that the doctor had counseled them to abort a disabled child.

Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed both bills last week. The ultrasound law, he said, was flawed because it did not exempt rape and incest victims and would allow an unconstitutional intrusion into a woman’s privacy.

Of the other measure, Mr. Henry said, “It is unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform pregnant women in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on a patient.”

The Republican majorities in both houses, however, saw things differently. On Monday, the House voted overwhelmingly to override the vetoes, and the Senate followed suit on Tuesday morning, making the two measures law.

“This is a good day for the cause of life,” said State Senator Glenn Coffee, the Republican majority leader. “The voice of the people has spoken twice now this session in the Senate and twice in the House, and I sincerely hope those who would reverse the people’s voice would think twice before acting.”

No, this is a good day for men who want to control a woman's body.



I'm always reluctant to gauge voter sentiments six months before a vote, but Dan Balz finds things looking up in the latest WaPo/ABC poll.

The current story line for Election 2010 took shape in the period beginning last summer and running through the first month of this year. That's when Obama's approval ratings fell, and tea party activists became the symbol of discontent. It is also when the health-care battle exposed much that the public found repulsive about the legislative process. And of course, there was Scott Brown's shocking victory in Massachusetts.

Since then, other things have happened. The health-care bill, whose demise would have been devastating to the Democrats, became law (though under the most partisan of circumstances). That hasn't changed public attitudes on the measure, which remain hardened and evenly divided, but it has pushed that debate off center stage, to the relief of the White House. In its place has come financial regulatory reform, an issue where Democrats are playing offense, Republicans are playing defense and a bipartisan outcome remains possible.

Meanwhile, a number of indicators show that an economic recovery is underway, a recovery that might be stronger than anticipated. Unemployment remains stuck closer to 10 percent than the 8 percent ceiling the administration promised long ago. But other measures might give people confidence that better times are coming.

For his part, Obama appears to be warming to a battle with the opposition. His moment of truth came after the Massachusetts election, when he was faced with the question of whether to scale back on health care in hopes of attracting Republican votes and assuring passage of at least something, or going for broke in a partisan brawl. He chose to fight. Since then, the president has appeared more comfortable with a posture of confrontation, when necessary, than he was when he first took office.

In the Post-ABC poll, there were a handful of indicators that, if sustained, could change the political climate -- but only if the Democrats can find a way to keep them going.

It's helpful to remember that Mitch McConnell and Republicans in Congress are no smarter than they were when they lost their majority in the 2006 midterms. The filibuster of finreg this week may well prove, at least temporarily, to have been an unnecessary mistake -- especially if they offer up an "alternative" that isn't all that different from the Dodd bill. Obama and Dems still win if a bipartisan bill passes.

UPDATE: Exactly:

The Democrats want to have a tough financial reform bill as an accomplishment, and they also want Republicans to oppose reform unanimously so they can show that the party is carrying water for Wall Street. The two goals are in tension. The sweet spot is for Republicans to spend several days opposing reform in a high-profile fight in which Democrats attack them as Wall Street stooges, and then cave in and make a bipartisan agreement. What I don't understand is why the GOP is letting the Democrats have the best of both worlds.


Republican outreach

ACORN, this isn't.

Orange County authorities are launching an investigation into possible voter registration fraud after a local newspaper reported over a hundred cases of voters being tricked into registering as Republicans by petitioners who asked them to sign petitions for, among other causes, legalizing pot.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Conservatives fickle love of fiscal conservatism

Over at National Review, where intellectual honesty drifts across the site like so much tumbleweed, Stephen Spruiell is certain that the loss of jobs resulting from student loan reform -- in which the wasteful middleman is eliminated -- is a sign of the program's failure:

Jobs Created or Saved Destroyed [Stephen Spruiell]

Sallie Mae closes call center in Killeen, Texas, eliminating 500 jobs, in the wake of the Democrats' student-loan "reform," which was packaged with the health-care reconciliation bill.

Pass the bill to find out what's in it.

Apparently he thinks that's a bug, not a feature of streamlining the process and saving the government billions. As Jonathan Chait puts it,

Well, yeah. When you cut back on a wasteful government subsidy, some of the beneficiaries of that waste will lose their jobs. Wasting tens of billions of dollars on loan subsidies in order to support call center jobs is a very, very inefficient way to boost employment. It's funny to see conservatives turn into bleeding hearts when the victims are banks.


Boycotting D-Backs

At his Edge of Sports blog, Dave Zirin, notes the complicity of the Arizona Diamondbacks ownership with the real innovative and cool laws the Republicans of that state are laying down.

As the official Arizona Diamondbacks boycott call states, “In 2010, the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s third highest Contributor was the [executives of the] Arizona Diamondbacks, who gave $121,600; furthermore, they also contributed $129,500, which ranked as the eighteenth highest contribution to the Republican Party Committee.” The team’s big boss, Ken Kendrick, and his family members, E. G. Kendrick Sr. and Randy Kendrick, made contributions to the Republicans totaling a staggering $1,023,527. The Kendricks follow in the footsteps of team founder and former owner Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo, along with other baseball executives and ex-players, launched a group called Battin’ 1000: a national campaign that uses baseball memorabilia to raise funds for a Campus for Life, the largest anti-choice student network in the country. Colangelo was also deputy chair of Bush/Cheney 2004 in Arizona, and his deep pockets created what was called the Presidential Prayer Team—a private evangelical group that claims to have signed up more than 1 million people to drop to their knees and pray daily for Bush.

As one of his commenters points out, though, fans in Arizona have been boycotting D-Backs games since 2003.


Pat Buchanan need not apply

Pat Buchanan was there when Nixon adopted his "southern strategy." It was a career builder for both men. And for Buchanan, it's never strayed far from his political and social outlook. His "tribe" is beset by all sides, by people of brownish hues.

That's fine, David Dukes is allowed his cramped world view; he's even allowed to profit from it politically, if voters in Louisiana so choose. Buchanan, on the other hand, profits from it be expressing his views on NBC, MSNBC, even fucking C-Span. So, I guess, if his calls for a "new tribe" to lead the forthcoming race war isn't enough for the media elites to not only condemn his views but to, ya know, not let him air his views on their programs, one must surely ask:

What makes Pat Buchanan think he's white?

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Successful two years may not help

I rarely read Mark Halperin, but I have to admit that I was intrigued when I noticed he was actually being un-Broderishly positive about the administration's first two years.

Over the past 16 months, both Biden and Emanuel have expressed concern internally that Obama has been too bold, risking his presidency on big bets. But those disagreements with the President have been fleeting and mostly futile - and, as it happens, unwarranted. So far, most of Obama's big bets have paid off.

The health care bill's passage is, of course, the White House's signal achievement, and was accomplished without revealing the Administration's cognizance (thanks to internal polling and focus groups) of the legislation's stark unpopularity among the public. But beyond health care, Obama acted decisively to stop the world from going into economic depression, after inheriting a mess from his predecessor. Quibble all you wish about the dimensions of the stimulus law or the administration of TARP or the Detroit bailout, but the actions taken were professionally handled, apparently necessary and, so far, constructive. Strikingly underrated by the Washington press corps are Obama's gains on education policy, including a willingness to confront the education establishment on standards for both teachers and students. Overseas, Obama has snagged an arms-reduction deal with Russia, managed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq exactly as promised, eliminated numerous terrorist leaders through an aggressive targeting operation and laid the groundwork for dealing with Iran and, perhaps, North Korea. (See the five immediate benefits of health reform.)

How all that translates to the mid-terms is anyone's guess, though it is likely now a matter of how much the Dem losses can be mitigated, but everything Obama has done has been in stark contrast with how he is portrayed by his political opponents.

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Beck offered it up, Drudge pushes it along, and Rush confirms it: Barry hates white people.

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That sound you hear are crickets

I expect any second now an entire squad of tea baggers conservatives will descend upon Arizona to protest the very idea of having to show authorities one's papers.

...any second now...

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Metro edition, or eating the Och's lunch

I'm fairly certain the high-end real estate, fashion and jewelry segments aren't hurting even these days, though they probably aren't looking to double their ad spend. And it would be a good thing if it meant more jobs for journalists. And he's not really competing with the lo-rent NY Post, so even though that newspaper has been a money-loser for Murdoch since he bought it, this probably won't make that situation worse. But it's hard to see this as not being largely motivated by wanting to hurt the Times. Financially, probably. Psychically, definitely.

But I am also guessing that Murdoch believes a NY Metro will give him even more political power in New York City.


Immigration hissy fit

Believe it or not, like Marc Amber, I'm willing to cut Sen. Hucleberry a little slack on pulling the football away and backing away from his own energy legislation. Energy use reform is, in the grand scheme of things, a much more pressing issue than immigration reform. But it does strike one as a little odd than Graham would react so strongly. It's a given that he's a walking hissy-fit, but he was working on an immigration bill as well, and suggested late last year that immigration was a "priority."

It's clear that Reid sees immigration reform as a means of improving Hispanic turnout this November, something he'll desperately need if he's going to keep his seat. But that's not the only reason. Immigration reform is perilous, but the issue is much simpler to understand, most voters are already pretty set in their mind -- for everyone who supports the Arizona measure, there are many others who want to see some sort of combination of increased enforcement, path to citizenship, and a better means of documenting workers. That applies to both sides of the aisle. And it's a reality of daily life. Everyone can see the men hanging out in the parking lot, waiting for work. But everyone also knows an undocumented worker, living in fear while raising a family here and paying taxes.

And the AZ bill was a big espresso shot of immediacy in this debate, something Reid and the Democrats certainly didn't ask for.

Energy, on the other hand, is another big, complex legislative tangle. It would be subject to the same misinformation campaign that was the health care "debate." It's easy to turn it into a screaming match over "taxes" and "intrusion" and, of course, the Prius Mandate.

So, Graham may not like it, but it's the past and current behavior of his conservative colleagues that forced the political calculus on this.

UPDATE: Maybe, energy legislation isn't quite as dead as was thought.

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Blue Monday, Jeff Healey edition

Cactus league hatred

I've often thought about Madam Cura and I taking a trip to the Cactus League in Arizona for Spring Training. I hear the weather's better than Florida and so are the prices. Now, I doubt it, even after they strike down the law as un-Constitutional.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010


Now, frauds are a way of life, and I have no idea the size of the con business in America, but I'm sure it's in the billions of dollars. But conservatives help put the con in con when they lie, mischaracterize, and basically sow confusion about important policies that affect people's daily lives.

In Illinois, a telemarketer recently sold an elderly woman a fraudulent health insurance plan that supposedly protected her against “death panels,” the state insurance director says.

In Alabama, a con artist has been offering “government health care reform” insurance over the phone in exchange for customers’ bank account numbers, according to the local Better Business Bureau.

And in Kansas, law enforcement authorities are investigating reports of people identifying themselves as government employees and taking payments for “Obamacare” insurance.

Con artists in several states are seizing on the public’s financial struggles and confusion about the recent health care overhaul, the authorities say. So far, the frauds appear to be relatively infrequent and are often no more sophisticated than spam fax messages with blatant misspellings and no company letterhead.

But they have generated warnings from state insurance departments and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. The authorities say the elderly and the poor are especially vulnerable to the bogus plans, which have names like Obamacare and Obama Health Plan and promise affordable compliance with the new law. The fraudsters often impersonate insurance agents and government workers.


Friday, April 23, 2010

The SEC porn story

I wondered about this when I saw the headlines this morning. Aren't Republicans just calling attention to a useless (and apparently horny) SEC when it was working under Republican's watch?

The latest details on the inspector general's probe of on-hours porn-watching inside the SEC are certainly not old news -- they come, as my colleague Ed O'Keefe reports, after a request for a summary from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

Dozens of Securities and Exchange Commission staffers used government computers to access and download explicit images and many of the incidents have occurred since the global financial meltdown began, according to a new watchdog investigation.

But Marian Wang points out that we've known about this for some time.

We pointed out the porn problem in a semiannual report from April 1, 2008, through Sept. 30, 2008 (PDF). ABC News pointed out similar findings in a report from Oct. 1, 2008, through March 31, 2009 (PDF). Similar reports on porn surfing within the SEC were reported in February, first by The Washington Times then blogged by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News and The Huffington Post, and later picked up by Gawker.

The difference now, as Wang points out, is that Republicans -- Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) -- are pouncing on the story to make an argument against financial reform legislation. This strikes me as politically wise and logically garbled -- the SEC, in the period covered by this investigation, was a mess at many other levels (go read Andrew Ross Sorkin on then-Chairman Chris Cox's fumbles during the 2008 meltdown), so why attack its old behavior instead of reforming it?

Well, that's easy. They are not interested in "reforming" the SEC. They are interested in making headlines. They are interested in defanging the SEC through humiliation, not strengthening it by allowing a Democratic administration to hire people better able and willing to police Wall Street. Just as Republican leadership is calling "a bailout" financial reform that would put a mechanism in place for putting large financial institutions our of business in an orderly fashion, the charges don't have to bear any relation to, um, the current reality.

Our financial watchdogs were surfing porn because they were bored, having very little to do during the Bush administration. The fact that Grassley and Issa are now outraged by this is yet another episode of Cynicism and Political Opportunism. Thanks for watching. Turn in next time -- same batshit time, same batshit channel.

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Rubber game

Pity the poor New York sportswriter. After a few years of having plenty of on- and off-field Alex Rodriguez "antics" to write about, they spent the last year with nothing whatsoever to write about. Rodriquez kept his mouth shut, overcame major surgery to play superlative baseball, and was robbed of at least one post-season MVP award in October/November.

So there is a lot of pent-up demand to dump on A-Rod and yesterday's ridiculous moment between him and the Athletics pitcher predictably unleashed a years worth of shrill.

By now we’ve all heard about it, A’s starter Dallas Braden threw a fit yesterday after Alex Rodriguez walked across the mound while going back to first base after a juuust foul ball. Braden went on an all-time rant, basically ripping Alex to pieces for jogging across what the Oakland lefty called “the center of the universe when I’m on it” on Baseball Tonight later in the evening. He also declared the issue over, saying that he hopes he left an impression with the Yanks’ third baseman.

But of course, this is New York, and it’ll never be a dead issue. There’s been more attention paid to this than there was when Alex saved that kid’s life a few years ago. In addition to the usual pieces declaring A-Rod in the wrong this morning, Joel Sherman went a little off the deep end when he dropped this gem on us…

Look, at this point, I want to see Alex Rodriguez combine his greatest hits and really show us something. Next time he is on base and there is a pop up around the mound, why doesn’t A-Rod cut across the field, step on the rubber, scream at the opponent trying to catch the popup and – if that doesn’t work – slap at the glove. No wait, don’t scream, belt out a Madonna tune.

What the hell is that about? I mean … sheesh. He walked across the mound. The nerve!

And sure enough, Axisa's prediction that McCarver would weigh in with a story about Bob Gibson came true.


Out of his depth

Fareed Zakaria should focus on his subject matter expertise: delivering bland, conventional wisdom on the Middle East. He should stay away from delivering bland talking points of Goldman Sachs.


Triple play

The Yankees lost a game yesterday (they can't win every game, I'm told), but they made it interesting nevertheless.


A tale of two cities

While Pres. Obama was in New York demanding financial institutions get on board with financial regulation reform, those institutions' lobbyists were fêteing GOP lawmakers in Washington.

I'm not sure Congressional Republicans know how to play the game any more. They've been so successful at raising huge political hurdles for reforms of our health care system, climate change legislation, immigration reform, and on and on, all by using shameless dishonesty and Lunz-tested lies, that they aren't able to adjust their playbook when it's not working for them. That seems to be case here, along with the fact that they can't seem to rally the tea-baggers and Cornerites of the world to support them in their effort to demonize efforts to regulate the financial industry.


Jug band surfer music?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


The Tea Party "movement" exults in their God-given freedom of speech to fire slurs at members of Congress protest the governing policies of Democrats the majority party, but citizens who dare to protest against the Tea Partiers' astroturf HQ -- they are harassed out of a job.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stuck inside the chicken coop

I guess everyone in the blogosphere has already posted on this one, so I don't have much to add other than Harry Reid's Senate reelection campaign took a turn for the better.

And she's doubling down. Because it's in the Republican Platform that when anyone of their candidates says something embarrassingly stupid, they must Rinse. Repeat.

We asked Lowden spokesperson Crystal Feldman how this could ever be a workable policy, in an era of costly procedures, tests, pharmaceuticals and provider networks? "Americans are struggling to pay for their health care, and in order to afford coverage we must explore all options available to drive costs down," Feldman told TPMDC in an e-mail.

Feldman continued: "Bartering with your doctor is not a new concept. There have been numerous reports as to how negotiating with your doctor is an option and doctors have gone on the record verifying this. Unfortunately, Harry Reid's failed leadership forces us to take drastic measures. The fact remains that instead of producing a health care solution Americans support, Harry Reid spends his time focusing on attacking his biggest threat to another six years in Washington, Sue Lowden."

That's "bartering," folks. Not "bargaining." "Bartering."

"The olden days," indeed.

She's not only ignorant when it comes to our health care system. She's ignorant when it comes to how our basic economy now works.


Boston history

This is crazy. And, if you can believe Glenn Stout, really, really dumb.

Red Sox history – in fact the entire history of the city and the Commonwealth – are in these newspapers, in papers like the old Boston Post, where Paul Shannon was one of most colorful sportswriters the city has ever seen, in the Daily Record, where Dave “the Colonel” Egan drove Ted Williams batty and pushed for integration before it was popular, and in the Boston Chronicle, where my late, great old friend Doc Kountze covered the athletes the rest of the Boston press did not, African Americans like Malden sprinter Louise Stokes, the first African American woman to make the U.S. Olympic team, and semi-pro pitcher Will Jackman, who threw a submarine knuckleball and might have been as good as Satchel Page. That’s where the history lives, in those thousands of newspapers from every corner of the state.

I know this because when I worked at the Boston Public Library I spent years helping to administer millions of dollars in state and federal funds to film and preserve these collections. And in those collections I found my calling as a writer and author, a career that now spans more than two decades and nearly eighty books of one kind or another that have sold a couple million copies, most of which could not have been written without the resources of the Boston Public Library’s Microtext department.

But I digress. Red Sox history is being sent in exile. The city wants to close the Microtext Department at the BPL which cares for, services and houses newspapers and other collections on microfilm, the department that literally provides access to the history of not only the Red Sox, but the Bruins, the Patriots, the Boston Marathon, the Boston Garden, Fenway Park, the old Boston Arena, the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Harvard Stadium, Boston College, … you get the idea. The city wants to close the department, move some of the film to the hard to reach City of Boston Archive Center in West Roxbury, disperse the rest to other BPL departments, can the staff, squander decades of institutional knowledge, and use the space they recently spent gazillions renovating for the department, for, oh, I don’t know, weddings or cocktail parties. Once they do that the ability to do the kind of research it takes to write a serious book about Red Sox history becomes almost impossible – having the resources you need in one place, at one time, is invaluable and irreplaceable.

I know this not just from my own experience, but because when I was at the BPL I helped local sports writers like Steve Buckley and national guys like Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford use these resources. I remember one guy in particular I helped – named Halberstam. Won a Pulitzer Prize that helped stop the Vietnam War and wrote a really great book about the Red Sox - Summer of ’49. Ever heard of him?

He could not have written that book without the BPL, and neither could Dan Shaughnessy have written The Curse of the Bambino, Howard Bryant Shut Out, Richard Johnson and I Red Sox Century, Ed Linn Hitter, Leigh Montville The Big Bam or any other author, like Buckley or Bill Nowlin or Bill Reynolds, who have written anything worthwhile about Red Sox history. None of these books – none - could have been done without the newspapers on microfilm at the Boston Public Library. Fenway 1912, which I just finished and comes out next year, would have been impossible.

And here’s the really, really awful part. This is supposed to save the city money. But this department, like much the Library, actually earns back every dime a hundred times over. I am just one of thousands of writers who use or have used the Library, who make special trips to Boston just to use the library and end up spending money on a lot of other things, or have lived in Boston, in part, because the Library was one of the places that make Boston a place worth living. Every book written by any writer on any subject who has used the Library – we’re talking thousands of books that have sold millions and millions of copies, here – pours money right back into city coffers every day of every week.

Not to mention books about the history of Boston polish the city's luster, attracting tourist dollars, not just authors.

Via Banter.


"The lupus of news"

It's an amazing feat. Bernard Goldberg went and made himself look even more paranoid and stupid than usual.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"An ear full of cider"

Good advice from Sky Masterson's dad.

Yesterday, Damon Runyon. Today, Shaft. Brad DeLong is a cross-culture-reference genius.

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The politics of health care

In trying to explain why Romney has been left standing at the curb with "RomneyCare," The Corner's Stephen Spreuiell seems to have forgotten to put the appropriate intellectual gloss over the fact that Republicans uniformly oppose a health care reform bill that, ostensibly, they would have supported in 1994.

When the Clinton task force unveiled its plan a few months later, it had combined a little from column A and a little from column B into a hybrid plan that the public ultimately rejected. But at the time, that outcome was far from certain. In a December 13, 1993 piece titled "Contrasting Conservative Plans" (columns C and D above), John Hood wrote that one advantage of the Heritage plan over the Gramm plan was its political feasibility as an alternative to Clintoncare: "By failing to guarantee universal coverage and by letting insurers charge higher prices in the initial underwriting stage to people with pre-existing illnesses or disorders, Heritage defenders say, the Gramm plan fails the first test of reform: Will it pass a nervous Congress and satisfy the demands of the American people?"

What happened in the intervening period is that the political center of gravity shifted to the right on this issue. Republicans looked to the town halls, the tea parties, and the polling on Obamacare and concluded that they could safely oppose the entire concept of compulsory insurance coverage and offer a different direction on health care — one more closely aligned with column D above and centered on attacking the cost problem first. Compulsory insurance would not be necessary, after all, if insurance were something most people could afford to buy on their own.

Most Republicans and conservatives who once supported the individual mandate moved to the right along with the rest of the public. As Sen. Orrin Hatch explained in a post on Critical Condition:

To be clear, I supported [the individual mandate as an] alternative to President Clinton's massive federal takeover of the American health-care system, because my number-one priority was the defeat of yet another big-government assault on health care that the people of Utah overwhelmingly opposed. It's that simple.

In the intervening years, I went back and carefully examined, in close consultation with constitutional experts, the legal problems with many of the bills being supported at the time. This needed to be done, because of the hasty nature of the debate which was thrust upon us in 1994. It is simply a fact that Congress has never imposed this kind of mandate before. We concluded, as would any intelligent scholar of the Constitution, that this federal mandate requiring Americans to either purchase health insurance or face a punitive tax exceeds the authority the Constitution has given to Congress.

The Heritage Foundation has adopted this same position, as Robert Moffit explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post yesterday: "Our research . . . has led us to realize our initial idea was operationally ineffective and legally defective," Moffit wrote. "Well before Obama was elected, we dropped it."
Wait, did they look to the polls or consult with (unnamed) constitutional "experts?" And during the last long summer of tea parties and town halls, how come Republicans didn't offer an alternative plan focusing on health care costs and lowering the price of insurance? I mean, if their ideas were so poll tested, popular, "operationally effective and legally...un-defective" than surely they would have scored tremendous points with a skeptical public by showing they really do have "ideas" about "heath care" and "reform."

Instead, what they really want to do now, should they regain control of Congress, is to "repeal" the "bad stuff," i.e., the cost control elements of the bill (such as the individual mandate) and keep the "good stuff,"such as the ban on rescissions and refusing coverage based on pre-existing conditions. And, oh yeah, billions of dollars to the states. You know, the stuff that will drive up the cost of health insurance.

As with the Plan D drug benefit, they're fine with showering voters with benefits (just don't mention "donut holes"), but paying for them...shit, that's for suckers.

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Dorothy Height, 1912-2010

Rest in peace.

As a teenager, Height marched in New York's Times Square shouting, ''Stop the lynching.'' In the 1950s and 1960s, she was the leading woman helping King and other activists orchestrate the civil rights movement.

One of Height's sayings was, ''If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.'' She liked to quote 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said that the three effective ways to fight for justice are to ''agitate, agitate, agitate.''


Dominican baseball

The Times "Bats" blog has a great Q&A with Mark Kurlansky, author of books on salt, cod, and oysters, who has now turned his journalistic attention to the baseball pipeline that has long been San Pedro, Dominican Republic. And sugar.

Mark Kurlansky: Sugar is why baseball developed in San Pedro. Having fertile flat land and a well-located and well-sheltered port, San Pedro became the sugar center of the Dominican Republic during the sugar boom in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Between 1876 and 1916, eight sugar mills were established in San Pedro. They were all owned or operated by Americans and Cubans at a time when baseball was a near obsession in both Cuba and the United States. The mills found it difficult to find Dominican workers because most agrarian Dominicans would rather work a small but fertile plot by themselves than endure the abuse of a salaried job for the sugar companies.

So the mills brought in sugar workers from the British West Indies, islands where the sugar industry had never recovered from the abolition of slavery. Many of them were cricket players and had a great deal of time to play, since sugar mills have little work for about half of the year. So the Cuban and American executives formed their idle bat swinging workers into baseball teams.

Each of the eight mills had a team, so there was an eight-team sugar league that competed fiercely and developed a very high standard of baseball. Many of the town’s players who went on to the major leagues got their start in this sugar league. Working in a sugar mill is absolute misery for very little money. Why would anyone stuck working in a sugar mill not want to take a shot at being a professional baseball player instead?


Outlining the history of the Dominican Republic and San Pedro, you write, “It seemed that baseball was the one thing a small Latin American nation could gain from a U.S. invasion.” Explain.


Dominicans, Nicaraguans and even the already highly skilled Cubans greatly improved their baseball skills when occupied by U.S. troops. The only acceptable resistance to a hated American presence was to try to beat them in baseball games.


How did the dictator Rafael Trujillo influence the development of baseball in the Dominican Republic? Was Trujillo a baseball fan?


Trujillo was more of a merengue guy, not particularly interested in baseball, but his unstable brother and psychotic son were. And after he renamed the capitol after himself and combined the two Santo Domingo teams into one bearing his name, the Trujillo team had to win.

After San Pedro beat them for the championship in 1936, winning became an obsession. He opened up the treasury of stolen wealth and hired top Negro League stars, even kidnapped some from San Pedro. Trujillo won the 1937 championship but both teams had spent so much effort and money in the fight that it was the end of professional Dominican baseball until the 1950s.



I wondered why Blanche Lincoln, as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, had such a large voice in the financial reform "debate." The Times' Edward Wyatt and Eric Lichtblau helpfully explain.

With so much money at stake, it is not surprising that more than 1,500 lobbyists, executives, bankers and others have made their way to the Senate committee that on Wednesday will take up legislation to rein in derivatives, the complex securities at the heart of the financial crisis, the billion-dollar bank bailouts and the fraud case filed last week against Goldman Sachs.

The forum for all this attention is not the usual banking and financial services committees, but rather the Senate Agriculture Committee, a group more accustomed to dealing with farm subsidies and national forest boundaries than with the more obscure corners of Wall Street.

A main weapon being wielded to fight the battle, of course, is money. Agriculture Committee members have received $22.8 million in this election cycle from people and organizations affiliated with financial, insurance and real estate companies — two and a half times what they received from agricultural donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Much of that lobbying has centered on Senator Blanche Lincoln, the Arkansas Democrat who is the committee’s chairwoman and who last week introduced the bill that would prevent banks from trading derivatives directly.

The daughter of a sixth-generation rice farmer, she has found herself navigating a dangerous channel between Wall Street firms, which raised $60,000 at two fund-raisers for her re-election campaign so far this year, and her constituents, many of whom want a crackdown on the speculation that led to the financial crisis.

Other committee members, on both sides of the aisle, also have reaped donations from people and companies in the derivatives business, including Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who is the committee’s ranking Republican member; Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat; and Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican.

The committee will be the main arena for the derivatives fight for reasons dating to an era when farming was more important to the nation’s economy than finance. In their simplest form, derivatives can provide financial protection on the value of an investment or commodity. For example, by putting up a relatively small amount of money, a farmer could buy a derivative known as a forward or futures contract that would guarantee a set price for crops and thereby guard against ruinous price swings between planting and harvest.

But the most esoteric derivatives — which also are the most profitable for banks to create and trade — have little economic purpose other than to let investors place financial bets, critics say.

And make no mistake, there is a lot of money -- and votes -- riding on this for Senator Lincoln and her colleagues on the committee. And the usual bedfellows are on opposite sides of the issue.

Now, these obscure and largely unregulated securities — more than $600 trillion of which are tucked into investors’ portfolios, according to the Treasury Department — are at the center of the fight over financial reform led by the Obama administration.

“The best that we can do for the American people is to put in place rules that will prevent firms from taking this risk again, make sure we protect the taxpayer, bring derivatives out of the dark — that’s what we can do, ” said Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary.

The lobbying is not just coming from Wall Street. Manufacturers, airlines and other industries, which use derivatives to control their business and foreign currency costs, worry that an important means of protecting their assets could be curtailed by Mrs. Lincoln’s bill.

“I think a lot of members of Congress are just getting up to speed on how these markets work,” said Paul Cicio, who is president of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, which represents an array of industries like fertilizers and chemicals. He said he worried that the lobbying prowess and financial resources of Wall Street firms, even when operating in the unusual environs of the agriculture committee, had the potential to outmuscle their opponents, which want greater regulation.

“Of course I’m going to be concerned, because they are big-money companies,” and derivatives make up substantial portions of their profit margins, he said. “But this is incredibly important, and it’s important to get it right.”


The Death Panel

Republicans like Mitch McConnell finally have a "Death Panel" to rail against, but this time they're calling it a "taxpayer bailout."

Here's the chain of events: A bank is judged failing. The FDIC submits a plan for the bank's liquidation -- which includes firing management, wiping out shareholders, handing losses to creditors, and selling off the firm -- and gets it approved by the Treasury secretary. Then the FDIC takes over the banks. The $50 billion fund is used to keep the lights on while all this happens. It's there to prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill for the chaos that will occur between when we recognize a bank is failing and when we shut it down.

Whatever you want to call this, it isn't a bailout. It's the death of the company. And the fund is way of forcing too-big-to-fail banks to pay for the execution. But stung by Republican criticisms, the administration is telling Democrats to let the fund go. And they're not all that unhappy to see it die. "The fund isn’t a priority for the Obama administration," reported Business Week, "which instead proposed having the financial industry repay the government for the cost of disassembling a failed firm, an approach preferred by the industry."

So let's just be clear: The alternative to the liquidation fund is Wall Street's preference. That should tell you pretty much all you need to know about whether the industry really views this as a bailout.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Bob Corker, who's been unfailingly respectful of his colleagues' criticisms of the bill, had enough. "This fund that’s been set up is anything but a bailout," he said. "It’s been set up to provide upfront funding by the industry so that when these companies are seized, there’s money available to make payroll and to wind it down while the pieces are being sold off." The only question, Corker said, was whether you pre-fund by taxing the banks, which is what the Republican head of the FDIC wants and the bill does, or whether you post-fund by recouping taxpayer losses after the fact, which the Treasury Department and the industry prefer.

That -- and not bailouts -- is the debate. And by demonizing it, Republicans will force Democrats to retreat to the post-funding structure that was the original preference of both the Obama administration and the financial industry. That's not really a strike against future bailouts, though it might be something you promised a roomful of bankers you'd do on their behalf.

But, of course, I'm sure that Susan Collins can be persuaded...

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Identity theft?

Does Melissa Theuriau, the French news broadcaster, know that she's being used on the intertubes to peddle everything from Acai berry juice to cheap IPads?

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Monday, April 19, 2010

The stupid and the mistrustful make deficit reduction very hard

We all know by now that large majorities of Americans think that 1.) the deficit is way too large; 2.) feckless politicians need to cut "waste," namely foreign aid; 3.) the military, Social Security and Medicare are sacrosanct; 4.) politicians in Washington can't be trusted.

Yet, we know that we spend a tiny portion of the federal budget on foreign aid and the military, Social Security, and Medicare account for 50% of federal spending. There isn't a whole lot of "waste" to cut that would result in any meaningful reduction of the federal deficit.

With that in mind, exacerbated by point #4, #1. is going to be very difficult to address.

Basically, the federal government spends money on programs that are popular, which makes reductions in spending politically difficult. In practice, populist mistrust of government seems to me to make it more difficult to grapple with the issue. If people were generally inclined to trust government officials, then people saying “reducing the rate of long-term growth in Medicare spending is necessary to prevent the country from going bankrupt” then the public might support reducing the rate of long-term growth in Medicare spending. But insofar as people are convinced that all the money is going to (presumably non-white) moochers while feckless politicians try to steal from deserving seniors, veterans, and soldiers then operationally it’s going to be very hard to persuade people to take specific steps that save non-trivial sums of money.

So, it's particularly interesting that in countries where the government is relatively popular, reducing government spending has been far more attainable.

The received wisdom in the United States is that deep spending cuts are politically impossible. But a number of economically advanced countries, including Sweden, Finland, Canada and, most recently, Ireland, have cut their government budgets when needed.

Most relevant, perhaps, is Canada, which cut federal government spending by about 20 percent from 1992 to 1997. The Liberal Party, headed by Jean Chrétien as prime minister and Paul Martin as finance minister, led most of this shift. Prompted by the financial debacle in Mexico, Canadian leaders had the courage and the foresight to make those spending cuts before a fiscal crisis was upon them. In his book “In the Long Run We’re All Dead: The Canadian Turn to Fiscal Restraint,” Timothy Lewis describes Canada’s move from fiscal irresponsibility to a balanced budget — a history that helps explain why the country has managed the current global recession relatively well.

To be sure, the spending cuts meant fewer government services, most of all for health care, and big cuts in agricultural subsidies. But Canada remained a highly humane society, and American liberals continue to cite it as a beacon of progressive values.

Counterintuitively, the relatively strong Canadian trust in government may have paved the way for government spending cuts, a pattern that also appears in Scandinavia. Citizens were told by their government leadership that such cuts were necessary and, to some extent, they trusted the messenger.

And, to be sure, distrust of government has been a fact of life in the U.S. since the Vietnam War and Watergate, but the levels of distrust reflect the economy.

Note that massive rise in trust during the 1990s, which corresponded with an economic boom. Conservatives always convince themselves that any positive turn in their political fortunes must result from Americans awakening from their misguided and flukish embrace of Democrats and embracing their small-government roots. The truth is that Americans may oppose spending in the abstract but they favor it in almost every particular. Indeed, one of the Republicans' most powerful attacks on Obama was the charge that he'd cut Medicare, which explains why Kristol has been urging his party to undo Obama's Medicare cuts.

The path seems pretty clear, doesn't it?


Worse than Truck Nutz?

Wow. And here I thought Confederate flags were offensive enough.


Wikileaks versus the print media

The Times asks, if Daniel Ellsberg were to leak "The Pentagon Papers" today, would he go to The Times and The Post, as he did in 1972, or dump the entire document on a site like Wikileaks?

Two weeks ago, released a classified video showing a United States Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad. The reaction was so swift and powerful — an edited version has been viewed six million times on YouTube — that the episode provoked many questions about how such material is now released and digested.

Put another way: if someone today had the Pentagon Papers, or the modern equivalent, would he still go to the press, as Daniel Ellsberg did nearly 40 years ago and wait for the documents to be analyzed and published? Or would that person simply post them online immediately?

Mr. Ellsberg knows his answer.

“As of today, I wouldn’t have waited that long,” he said in an interview last week. “I would have gotten a scanner and put them on the Internet.”

In early 1971, Mr. Ellsberg, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, passed a New York Times reporter a copy of a top-secret report casting doubt on the war in Vietnam, the so-called Pentagon Papers. For months, he said, he waited, unsure if The New York Times would ever publish.

When the Nixon administration went to court and prevented The Times from publishing the full report, Mr. Ellsberg gave copies to The Washington Post and other newspapers.

Today, he says, there is something enticing about being independent — not at the whim of publishers or government attempts to control release. “The government wouldn’t have been tempted to enjoin it, if I had put it all out at once,” he said. “We got this duel going between newspapers and the government.”

He does concede that something might have been lost had Wikileaks been around in 1971. “I don’t think it would have had the same impact, then or now, as having it in The Times,” he said. The government’s attempt to block publication — something ended by the Supreme Court — was the best publicity, he said.

I think that's right. The Wikileaks video led to a great deal of -- brief -- interest, but it was pretty confined. It got more attention than it might otherwise had because of the angry response by Gates. I was a kid in '72 and I can remember how much attention Ellsberg's leak received.

But more than that, "The Pentagon Papers" is multi-volumed and several hundred pages long. In the months that the papers waited to resolve the court cases, they had time to analyze the document and summarize its contents for their readers, likely by military and Pentagon reporters, upon its release. A document dump now -- all due respect to citizen journalists everywhere -- would require time for people to read it and post their interpretations. A document uploaded directly to The Tubes may seem like it would have more immediate impact, but I think the slow drizzle of blog posts, over months, not days, would have lessened its impact considerably.

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The fault lines

Kevin Drum takes a look at the state of play for financial reform and is left feeling more than simple "resigned cynicism."

The whole subject has left me with considerably more than that. Brutal partisan brawling over things like healthcare reform and climate change legislation was (and is) entirely unsurprising. It was the same old fights as always, and it never really left me with a feeling that politics had broken down in any real way. Financial reform is different. Politically, the obvious play for both parties is to outbid each other in efforts to rein in Wall Street, which practically everyone in America hates. But even though this would be an enormous vote getter, neither party is doing it. Democrats are offering up some mild reforms that would modify the playing a field a bit but not really fundamentally change anything. Republicans won't even go that far. Apparently motivated by industry fealty and a desire to simply oppose anything Democrats offer up, they're unwilling to support even modest reforms.

It's hard to know what to think about this. If your city were nearly destroyed by a huge earthquake, proposing better building standards would be an obvious response. It wouldn't be a left vs. right thing, it would be a property developers vs. everyone else thing. The financial meltdown of 2008 was like that. It exposed such massive fault lines in our banking system that outrage really shouldn't be a left vs. right thing. It should be a big banks vs. everyone else thing. But the intellectual and monetary hold of Wall Street on our political class is so overwhelming that it was able to turn the whole affair into just another excuse for the usual partisan bickering. The winners, of course, will be the big banks.

As weak a tea as Democrats propose brewing, the level of dishonesty the cynicism that Republicans are showing -- that voters won't bother to question McConnell's and Boehner's claim that legislation means permanent bail-outs by taxpayers. In fact, not doing anything means permanent bail-outs, and rather than those bail-outs being paid by the financial institutions, much the way the FDIC works, they'll continue to be paid by you and I. Whooppee.

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More examples of these creeps living off taxpayers' money. Maybe it's Glenn Beck's own stimulus plan.


Blue Monday, Jimmy Rogers edition

Poor quality video, but...

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Progressive jurists need not apply

Dahlia Lithwick on how conservatives control the judicial nomination process.

I have also been asked how it's possible that both Garland and Solicitor General Elena Kagan have managed to make it through prestigious professional careers without offending, insulting, or alienating a soul. Good genes? Gentle hearts? Raised by tender Buddhists in secret underground labs?

These are good questions to which I have no answers. But the hardest question I keep getting from liberal law students—and the most painful to answer—is why so few of their heroes are in serious consideration. Let me be clear that Garland, Kagan, and Diane Wood all have admirers and enthusiasts. But for a generation of law students that has grown up revering American Constitution Society stalwarts such as Dawn Johnsen, Eric Holder, Pamela Karlan, John Payton, Laurence Tribe, Goodwin Liu, David Cole, and my own partner in crime Walter Dellinger, among others, the absence of most of these names from even the long shortlist is demoralizing.

They understand that it's a foregone conclusion that there will be no risky pick for the court. They just aren't sure what makes their heroes so risky. Supreme Court savant Tom Goldstein has laid out better than anybody why the Obama White House has no interest in picking a fight about the Stevens seat this summer. Emily Bazelon has argued that the White House may not even have the stomach to tap Diane Wood if it means offering up red meat to antiabortion groups. Liz Cheney contends that Elena Kagan's participation in a broad national effort to ban military recruiters from campuses because of "don't ask, don't tell" makes her a "radical." By calling even Obama's moderate shortlisters unhinged, conservative judicial activists have knocked any genuine liberal out of play in advance of the game.

This has political implications, certainly, but my concern here is with the next generation of liberal law students, who continue to hear the message that their heroes are presumptively ineligible for a seat at the high court, whereas the brightest lights of the Federalist Society—Judge Brett Kavanaugh, professor Richard Epstein, Clarence Thomas, Theodore Olsen, Ken Starr, and Michael McConnell—are either already on the bench or will be seen as legitimate candidates the next time a Republican is in the White House. Look at the speakers list of the last national Federalist Society conference and tell me the word filibuster would have been raised if John McCain had tapped most of them. Not likely, because they're all perceived as smart, well-respected constitutional scholars and judges.

So can someone please explain to America's progressive law students why most of the liberal speakers at their national conference are already confirmation war punch lines? Is there some kind of false equivalency between the two groups that makes ACS "outside the mainstream" while the Federalist Society not only represents the mainstream but renders anyone outside of it hysterical? Why should conservative law students be moved and inspired by their legal rock stars while liberals are sent the message that theirs are outrageous?

The national debate about the courts has become so wildly unbalanced in recent years that a whole generation of young progressive law students has watched the teachers they revere sent up as constitutional buffoons. Whether it's Harold Koh (trashed in the media on phony charges of wanting to bring shariah law to the United States) or Goodwin Liu (torn apart with cartoonish claims that he wants to reshape all of America using the Constitution as his weapon of choice), these nominees are revered by their students precisely because they have been willing to talk and write in bold ways about liberal jurisprudence. That shouldn't be a disqualifying proposition, just as Justice Antonin Scalia's conservative jurisprudence was not.

Conservative judicial activists have been emboldened to take the position that any liberal who has ever offered a strong and persuasive defense of a nonoriginalist, nontextualist methodology is both dangerous and unserious. The lesson for many progressives is that the only way to be taken seriously as a viable nominee is to be either perfectly opaque or perfectly silent. I don't know how many times you need to see your heroes lampooned as crazies on Fox News before you begin to see the value in never speaking or writing another controversial word. It's not clear how it serves the country or the judiciary to have one whole side of the debate grow up cowed and embarrassed to voice their views.

The other implication is that the Supreme Court and public opinion on many, many issues are moving in opposite directions.


Can Senate minority leaders be impeached?

Mitch McConnell is deeply irresponsible.

Since the 1930s, we’ve had a standard procedure for dealing with failing banks: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has the right to seize a bank that’s on the brink, protecting its depositors while cleaning out the stockholders. In the crisis of 2008, however, it became clear that this procedure wasn’t up to dealing with complex modern financial institutions like Lehman or Citigroup.

So proposed reform legislation gives regulators “resolution authority,” which basically means giving them the ability to deal with the likes of Lehman in much the same way that the F.D.I.C. deals with conventional banks. Who could object to that?

Well, Mr. McConnell is trying. His talking points come straight out of a memo Frank Luntz, the Republican political consultant, circulated in January on how to oppose financial reform. “Frankly,” wrote Mr. Luntz, “the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout.” And Mr. McConnell is following those stage directions.

It’s a truly shameless performance: Mr. McConnell is pretending to stand up for taxpayers against Wall Street while in fact doing just the opposite. In recent weeks, he and other Republican leaders have held meetings with Wall Street executives and lobbyists, in which the G.O.P. and the financial industry have sought to coordinate their political strategy.

And let me assure you, Wall Street isn’t lobbying to prevent future bank bailouts. If anything, it’s trying to ensure that there will be more bailouts. By depriving regulators of the tools they need to seize failing financial firms, financial lobbyists increase the chances that when the next crisis strikes, taxpayers will end up paying a ransom to stockholders and executives as the price of avoiding collapse.

Krugman's analogy is perfect. McConnell would have apartment buildings burn to the ground in order to "punish" those living in non-fire safe buildings, when all the while he's working for the match companies and the building's contractors.


Ben Domenech is into diapers and baby powder

Or so I've heard.

Make no mistake, this is not just an effort to humiliate a potential Supreme Court nominee, it's also a calculated -- if rather pathetic -- attempt to infuse social conservative emotion into the process. That emotion has been lacking lately; "reverse racism" wasn't the powerful punch creeps like Gingrich thought it would be in opposing Sotomayor. But maybe the intersection of "activist judge" and "gay marriage in the courts" will gain more traction among the religious base of the Republican party.

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The Kenyan socialist

Norm Ornstein, a fellow at AEI -- hardly a leading Marxist organization -- looks at attacks on Obama has "out of the mainstream," or "socialist," and, basically, laughs.

Looking at the range of Obama domestic and foreign policies, and his agency and diplomatic appointments, my conclusion is clear: This president is a mainstream, pragmatic moderate, operating in the center of American politics; center-left, perhaps, but not left of center. The most radical president in American history? Does Newt Gingrich, a PhD in history, really believe that [expletive]?

The whole thing's worth a read, if only to get the explanation for the joke.


Our liberal media

No matter how high our unemployment rate, creeps like this never seem to have trouble finding work.

Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer, wrote that President Obama would “please” much of his base by picking the “first openly gay justice.” An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian.

CBS initially refused to pull the posting, prompting Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director who is working with the administration on the high court vacancy, to say: “The fact that they’ve chosen to become enablers of people posting lies on their site tells us where the journalistic standards of CBS are in 2010.” She said the network was giving a platform to a blogger “with a history of plagiarism” who was “applying old stereotypes to single women with successful careers.”


The Post’s Web site briefly hired Domenech as a conservative blogger in 2006. He resigned three days after his debut after a flurry of plagiarism allegations that were trumpeted by liberal Web sites. The sites found signs of plagiarism in a movie review he wrote for National Review Online and, earlier, in his writing for the College of William & Mary’s student newspaper.

Ignorance and homophobia is its own, it seems, stimulus package.

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Marc Thiessen, evil chicken shit

That's basically today's shorter Thomas Ricks.


Treason in defense of slavery heritage month

The "Baby A-bomb"

In the wake of the nuclear talks held this week in Washington, it's good to know that fears of a smuggled nuclear weapon is nothing new. Really nothing new -- those fears began at the dawn of the nuclear age.

It has become conventional wisdom, repeated by President Obama at the nuclear summit meeting this week, that the cold war danger of huge strikes by thousands of nuclear missiles has given way to a new threat: terrorists killing tens of thousands of Americans with a stolen or homemade nuclear device. A broad range of security experts agree that nuclear terrorism may well be the most serious danger the United States faces today.

But it is not new. In fact, almost from the invention of the atomic bomb, government officials were alarmed by the threat that compact nukes would be smuggled into the United States by Soviet agents and detonated.

“Officials regard the possibility of atomic sabotage as the gravest threat of subversion that this country, with its virtually unpatrolled borders, has ever faced,” The New York Times reported in 1953, telling readers that the Eisenhower administration was preparing to alert the public to the danger from “valise bombs.”

Hundreds of pages of declassified documents from the 1950s, obtained by The New York Times from the F.B.I. under the Freedom of Information Act, lay out a strikingly familiar story, in which Communist agents played the role of today’s Al Qaeda.

Then, as now, investigators searched for agents they feared were in the United States awaiting orders to attack. Then, too, the government spent millions to install radiation detectors at airports and seaports despite doubts about their effectiveness. (In those days, false nuclear alarms were set off by radium watch dials, once hidden in a woman’s corset.)

Nor is the worry in recent years about nuclear material crossing the permeable Mexican border new. An F.B.I. memo from 1953 warned that “a saboteur could easily pose as a Mexican ‘wetback’ and get into the country without detection, presumably carrying an atomic weapon in his luggage.”

I'm glad we don't act like crazy people in the face of implausible threats anymore.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

AWOL, not the same thing as a vast criminal conspiracy

Adam Serwer makes an excellent point in response to Lindsey Graham's insistence that alleged terror plotters be tried in military courts. Specifically, that civilian courts are great for liquor store robberies, but not for terror trials. Actually, the opposite is true.

America's military lawyers are among the best at what they do, but unraveling international criminal conspiracies is not what they usually do. They deal with murders, assaults, thefts. “It runs the complete gamut," says Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and Yale Law professor. "It’s everything from being AWOL to murder. The military justice system covers essentially any crime by a military person, doesn’t even have to be service-connected anymore," Fidell says. "You could get prosecuted in a court-martial for failing to pay your taxes."

What about liquor store robberies?

"I'm sure it's happened," Fidell says.

What about crimes of the kind of magnitude al-Qaeda represents -- an international criminal terrorist conspiracy?

"Never!" Fidell says.

In fact, military commissions are supplemented by legal expertise from the civilian world -- both from the Justice Department and military lawyers who also practice law in a civilian capacity -- in order to help the commissions function as a brand new legal system, precisely because of military lawyers' lack of experience in handling such cases.

Graham hinted at this issue in yesterday's hearing when he said that civilian courts would be appropriate for say, terrorism financing cases. Why? Because civilian courts deal with international criminal conspiracies, and military courts don't. Now Graham is, himself, the Senate's leading expert on military law. He is a former JAG lawyer. So he knows military courts aren't used to trying these cases and are in fact more used to trying "liquor store robbery" small crimes.


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