Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nu huh!

A new study is making the rounds which claims to prove that liberals are smarter than conservatives via a study of evolutionary psychology. PZ Meyers writes that it's bo-o-gus.

And then look at the source: Satoshi Kanazawa, the Fenimore Cooper of Sociobiology, the professional fantasist of Psychology Today. He's like the poster boy for the stupidity and groundlessnessof freakishly fact-free evolutionary psychology. Just ignore anything with Kanazawa's name on it.
Roy writes that that's good enough for him, but also knows this to be bo-o-gus based on, ya know, actual interaction with people.


Sunday cat blogging

Rather louche, wouldn't you say?

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In health care, there is no "status quo"

This humble blog spends a lot of time on how much it will cost Democrats if reform fails this Spring, but the media spends far too little time explaining how much failure will cost everyone else.

“Hands off my health care,” goes one strain of populist sentiment.

But what if?

Suppose Congress and President Obama fail to overhaul the system now, or just tinker around the edges, or start over, as the Republicans propose — despite the Democrats’ latest and possibly last big push that began last week at a marathon televised forum in Washington.

Then “my health care” stays the same, right?

Far from it, health policy analysts and economists of nearly every ideological persuasion agree. The unrelenting rise in medical costs is likely to wreak havoc within the system and beyond it, and pretty much everyone will be affected, directly or indirectly.

“People think if we do nothing, we will have what we have now,” said Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health care research group in New York. “In fact, what we will have is a substantial deterioration in what we have.”

Nearly every mainstream analysis calls for medical costs to continue to climb over the next decade, outpacing the growth in the overall economy and certainly increasing faster than the average paycheck. Those higher costs will translate into higher premiums, which will mean fewer individuals and businesses will be able to afford insurance coverage. More of everyone’s dollar will go to health care, and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid will struggle to find the money to operate.

Well,, that's all very abstract. What's that got to do with me?

“It will break all of our banks if we do nothing,” said Peter V. Lee, who oversees national health policy for the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents employers that offer coverage to workers. “It is a course that is literally bankrupting the federal government and businesses and individuals across the country.”

Even those families that enjoy generous insurance now are likely to see the cost of those benefits escalate. The typical price of family coverage now runs about $13,000 a year, but premiums are expected to nearly double, to $24,000, by 2020, according to the Commonwealth Fund. That equals nearly a quarter of the median family income today.

While some employers will continue to contribute the lion’s share of those premiums, there will be less money for employees in the form of raises or bonuses.

“It’s also cramping our economic growth,” said Frank McArdle, a consultant with Hewitt Associates, which advises large employers and reported on the need for change for the Business Roundtable, an association of C.E.O.’s at major companies. Spending so much on health care is “really a waste of people’s money,” Mr. McArdle said.

The higher premiums will also persuade more businesses, especially smaller ones, to decide not to offer insurance. More people who buy coverage on their own or are asked to pay a large share of premiums will find the price too high. It doesn’t take too many 39-percent increases, like the recent one proposed in California that has garnered so much attention, to put insurance out of reach.

“We have an affordability problem that is moving up through the middle class now,” said Paul B. Ginsburg, the president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonprofit Washington research group.

And people are going to die as a result, 275,000 over the next 10 years according to some analysts.

There are too many in Congress who are afraid of the word "comprehensive" and want to do this in incremental steps, but that's what happened in 1994, when Clinton was forced to scrap his health care bill and instead work with a new Republican majority to pass smaller fixes.

It barely put a dent in these costs. In fact, here's a chart comparing the actual rise of health care costs as a percent of GDP with the estimated rise had Congress passed overhauls put forth by the Nixon, Carter, and Clinton administrations.

Pass. The. Bill.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pulling back the curtain

Dems could have been...well, Dems...and quietly allowed Bunning to place his "objection" to the bill extending jobless benefits that will run out on Sunday. We would have seen the usual stories about how "Democrats fail to pass a jobless bill" -- in fact, early stories took just that lede. But they didn't. They stayed in session and forced Bunning to repeat his objection deep into the night. The result was putting a face on the Senate GOP's constant obstruction, and on a bill that everyone, everyone, knows simply has to be passed.

Democrats have been under pressure from their allies to be more aggressive and public in challenging Republican procedural tactics and to not quietly accept the fact that they have to consume days and produce 60 votes to move ahead on most subjects. Why not force all-night sessions? How about old-fashioned filibusters?

Despite ample frustrations, Democrats have been reluctant to embrace such ideas. From a practical standpoint, lawmakers have busy schedules, and forcing Republicans to stay around means Democrats must stay as well. They said the filibuster had been idealized in a Jimmy Stewart, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” fashion, when the rules make it easy for Republicans to sustain one without a single individual holding the floor for hours.

Then there is the fact that many senators are advanced in years and not eager to pull all-nighters.

But Democrats said they were finding that pulling back the Senate curtain a bit had its benefits. A few weeks ago, the leadership disclosed that Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, had placed holds preventing Senate votes on dozens of administration nominations to gain leverage for some home-state projects. The revelation generated significant media buzz, and Mr. Shelby backed off in a matter of days.

The situation with Mr. Bunning has yet to be resolved, but the showdown has already gotten plenty of attention. As they mixed it up on the Senate floor, Democrats said they found the airing of their grievances with Mr. Bunning cathartic and beneficial to the Senate.

“When Senator Bunning decided to do this, it came with a risk,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. “And the risk was that there were going to be senators who were going to speak out about it.” She said that both parties had been at fault in the Senate, “but that it is time we try to make this place work better.”

“I think the Senate would be a healthier place if we did it more often,” she said.

About time. Bunning is generally despicable, but this is beyond the pale.

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The earthquake in Chile, surviving a tsunami

Here's a report from the U.S. Geological Study on the May 1960 9.5 magnitude earthquake in Chile in May 1960, and the ensuing tsunami that hit Chile, Hawaii and Japan.

José Argomedo survived the 1960 Chile earthquake, which he initially mistook for nuclear war. Mr. Argomedo was 22 years old and living on a farm outside Maullín, Chile, where he got news of the world from his radio. Early in May 1960, the big news was the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union-a Soviet missile had downed an American spy plane.

On May 18, the Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, suggested treating the United States like a cat that had stolen cream. “Wouldn’t it be better,” he said, “to take the American aggressors by the scruff of the neck also and give them a little shaking?”

A few days later, on the afternoon of May 22, while out riding his horse, Mr. Argomedo felt more than a little shaking. As the ground beneath him shook hard for several minutes, he was forced to get off his horse. Mr. Argomedo thought the Cold War had turned hot. However, like everyone else in the area of Maullín, Quenuir, and La Pasada, he was actually living through a magnitude 9.5 earthquake, the largest ever measured.

Mr. Argomedo was on high ground during the hours that followed the earthquake. However, many other residents of the area were not, and 122 were killed by the ensuing tsunami.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Brooks: Amuse me

Two columnists. One paper.


So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do — and they have the power to do it — is finish the job, and enact health reform.


Fourth, you got to see how confident Republicans are. Obama’s compromise offer is one the Republicans can happily refuse. In their eyes, he is saying: If you don’t make some concessions now, I’m going to punch myself in the face. If you don’t embrace parts of my bill, I will waste the next three months trying to push an unpopular measure through an ugly reconciliation process that will probably lead to failure anyway.

While the writers don't write their own headlines, in this case, their columns' respective headlines says it all. For Krugman, it really is about "Afflicting the Afflicted." And for Brooks, it's always, always about the show -- "Not as dull as Expected."

I really never appreciated quite how cynical Brooks is. He doesn't seem to have much appreciation for all those Applebee diners he claims to understand so well. Republicans looked pretty good! The bill is going to die! And while he claims that Republicans have a lot of great ideas -- exchanges, market place solutions, etc. -- he doesn't seem to understand what's driving up the cost of health care in this country, and he doesn't care to try. And he's either not been paying attention or he doesn't really care, that, as the president said, much of what Coburn had to say -- who did in fact know what he was talking about -- were valid and addressed in the Senate bill.

And while Brooks claims to understand that the health system is a mess, he sides with Republicans' obstructionism because...well, just because.

Somerby blames "the media" and, most acidly, Maddow, for the stupidity of our discourse and the stunning arrogance of Republican leadership. I'd say the blame falls more squarely on our "serious, thought leaders" like Brooks (not to mention Friedman, Rose, Hiatt, et. al.).

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I'd rather read a book or something

Roy runs down the Corner's response to yesterday's summit so you don't have to.


Pass. The. Bill.

See, I can do this without profanity. Anyway, Surowiecki:

The problem—which Obama essentially acknowledged in his closing remarks today—is that it’s hard to see how the gap between these visions of health-insurance reform can really be bridged. As I pointed out a few months ago, many Republicans have in the past actually argued that we should have community rating and guaranteed issue. But in practice, they’re unwilling to accept what writing those principles into law would entail: namely, some form of individual mandate and/or substantial subsidies. And at today’s summit, they didn’t even seem all that supportive of bans on preexisting conditions—when the subject they came up, they demurred on the question of regulation. Similarly, while Republicans obviously aren’t opposed to having more Americans buying health insurance, they don’t want the government playing a significant role (via subsidies or setting up insurance exchanges) in making that happen. Obama was right, at the end of the day, to point to what common ground did exist, and to reject the notion that one side was interested in having government take over the system while the other was opposed to all regulation—as he said, even the Republicans agree, at least in theory, that the insurance market needs to be regulated. But ultimately, and unsurprisingly, the differences between the two sides far outweigh the similarities, so much so that compromise isn’t going to solve the problem. If Democrats want what they say they want, they’re going to have to pass a bill on their own. Which is, at this point, precisely what they should do.
Now, I haven't seen all that much from yesterday's summit, but I feel relatively safe in saying that not a single Republican expressed any concern for the uninsured. Nor the slightest concern for the millions who've lost their jobs in this recession and are relying on temporary -- and expensive -- COBRA*.

Of course, why should they?

* You ever wonder what the "R" stands for? Reconciliation.

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Murder in defense of apartheid

A special place in hell?

A former Ku Klux Klansman convicted in the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers has sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mississippi’s attorney general, claiming they conspired to suppress his rights to “defend his society and culture.” Edgar Ray Killen, a former saw mill operator and onetime preacher, is serving a 60-year sentence after his 2005 manslaughter convictions in the deaths of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday, seeks millions of dollars in damages and a declaration that his rights were violated when the F.B.I. allegedly used a gangster during its investigation. An F.B.I. spokeswoman had no comment.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our media overlords

So, a historic health care summit wrapped a couple of hours ago. What do you think CNN's lead headline on its site is right now?

Five ways to tell if you're a sex addict.
To be fair, lower down the page the summit is mentioned:

Analysts call health summit "a spectacle"


Sick, broken people, part 3,948

I mean is there a gene that they're lacking? Is it the wiring in the brain? Their moms didn't hold them enough?


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"You really don't want to go there"

Back in the 80s, I used to live in what would be this guy's district. Almost wish I hadn't moved outta Queens.

Best part, I think, is when he ends with, "Deal with it."

And, contra Ezra, the House of Represents has never been a bastion of bipartisan comity.


Corporate Interests

For years, I've been wondering why corporate executives who wail that "health care costs are killing us," haven't been wailing for health care reform. They've been noticeably silent over the past year of health care debates. David Leonhardt helpfully reminds us why that is so.

Republicans have shown little interest in negotiating a big compromise. Remember how Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, kept moving the goal posts last summer? This is basic game theory: the better Mr. Obama looks, the worse the Republicans’ chances are in the midterm elections. Philosophy plays a role, too. Some Republicans believe it’s not the government’s job to help people get insurance.

Mr. Obama, for his part, has shown little interest in adding conservative ideas that do not win him more votes in Congress. House liberals are already unhappy enough.

It’s not just the politicians’ fault, either. AARP opposes some new payment systems, worrying that the elderly will be hurt. Union leaders oppose a tax on high-cost insurance, fearing members will lose good benefits. Business executives oppose giving workers more freedom to choose their own coverage, because companies like having control over heath plans.

But aren’t business executives always saying that health costs are killing them?

Yes, but that’s mostly a sound bite, as the last year has showed. Companies care about how much total compensation they pay. Rising health costs generally come out of worker incomes, not company profits.
Exactly. In fact the status quo is their preferred state. Executives don't like uncertainty or change. And besides, employee-based health care is an incredible stick they hold, keeping valuable employees too nervous to leave a job that offers health care. And, as Leonhardt says, it doesn't cost them a dime.

And they know, like the GOP leadership, that passing the health care proposals that have already won super-majorities in the House and Senate would be a remarkable boon to the Democratic Party. Perhaps not in the short term, but even in the short term it would change a narrative -- that Democrats can't do anything because the public doesn't support their commie plans -- that helps Republicans. And for many, many business executives, they see their interests as lying with the Republican Party.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A plea deal!

I guess this outcome is unacceptable to Lindsey Graham.

Zazi, a former Colorado airport shuttle driver, pleaded guilty Monday in Brooklyn federal court to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support for a terrorist organization. The 25-year-old, part of what prosecutors consider one of the most serious U.S. terror threats since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, faces life in prison without parole when he's sentenced in June.



Journalists covering the Capitol beat need to ask Republicans today, do you agree that health care reform is a form of reparations?

It is interesting, though. In a way, I agree that health care reform is a form of civil rights -- the right to affordable health care. The right to keep your coverage if you lose your job. The right to keep your coverage if you get sick. Limbaugh sees that as a bad thing. More specifically, he sees that as a zero-sum game in which health care is a form of wealth redistribution. If someone who isn't covered now is covered by health care reform, that's taking money directly out of his -- and his listeners' pockets.

As Duncan Black would say, these people are sick, broken things.

UPDATE: Blogspot proves the existence of God as it apparently will not let me post the actual audio clip.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The perils of being understood

I did not know until I read this profile of Krugman that it's his wife, Robin Wells, who adds a lot of the anger and forcefulness in his columns. Other than that, Krugman comes off as you'd expect: cranky, a bit of a nebbish, having the convert's fervor of someone who came late to politics, and someone who doesn't suffer all. But this made me laugh:

Unlike most well-known academics, Krugman has never had many graduate students. He is unsure why this is so. Is it that his style of thinking, intuitive rather than methodological, is too difficult to imitate? he wonders. Is he too distracted? Too busy? Too short? Whatever the reason, it has become clear that his legacy will not be perpetuated in the usual way by a diaspora of little Krugmans, so, if his name is to survive, it is up to him. His papers and books, of course, are the main thing, but in recent years Krugman has also spent a great deal of time distilling his views into an undergraduate textbook. When he first signed the contract to write it, in 1994, he did it mostly for the money. Then he did no work on it for years. Finally, his publisher told him that he had to get moving, that he should work with a co-author who was better organized and more highly motivated than he was, and suggested his wife. It took them five years of intense work to write the first edition.

“It’s excruciatingly hard,” Wells says.

“You have to put yourself back in the mind of an eighteen-year-old,” Krugman says. “And it has to be impeccable. If you’re writing an academic paper, if you have some stuff that’s blurrily written, that won’t do too much harm. If you write a newspaper article and a third of the readers don’t get it, that’s a success. But a textbook has to be perfect.”

A third? I'm happy if one-fifth of my meager readership has any idea what I'm talking about.


Righting wrongs is long in coming

Adam Serwer compares the ideological underpinnings of John Yoo's and Jay Bybee's "torture memos" to the theological justification for al Qaeda's killing of thousands of innocent -- and usually Muslim -- civilians. The whole thing is worth a sober reading, but he ends on, I think, a hopeful note.

The American conscience, when it decides to act, is mighty--but it is also sluggish and vain. Americans are crushed by the weight of not fulfilling their own high expectations--so the shameful acts of one generation are often rectified by a subsequent generation unencumbered by their own complicity in such acts. So the compromise the Founding Fathers reached on the issue of slavery, in defiance of the spirit of the documents they authored, was eventually righted by the Civil War. The slavery by another name of reconstruction was ignored by a nation weary of conflict after nearly being rent in two--but eventually gave birth to the civil rights movement. The suffragettes were forced to accept a compromise on the 14th Amendment that denied them the vote--but they would ultimately prevail. Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans, Reagan gave them reparations. The American conscience is often slow to action, but not because it cannot recognize evil--but because our view of ourselves as a people guided by justice is so important to who we are that when confronted with proof of our own shortcomings, we recoil in shame and precious vanity. Eventually, with the big stuff, we usually find our way--we see this with our slow, staggering, but inevitable march towards full personhood for gays and lesbians. And while those who stained America's honor with war crimes have escaped accountability for now, these American takfiris will eventually be judged by history with a clarity we cannot muster today.

The arc of the universe is know, all that stuff.

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Blue Monday, Jimi Hendrix edition

GOP "thnkers" on health care reform: Call a vet

At least that's what I think they're prescribing, since all of them seem to rely on some form of "and a pony!"

To be fair, Bill Frist's suggestion that quality, not quantity, be the basis of Medicare and private insurance reimbursement makes a great deal of sense. But he seems uninterested in how his "reform" would make that happen. He's all...well, he doesn't seem to offer either a carrot or a stick, and all those physician owned medical imaging centers aren't going to pay for themselves! Oh, and there is, I think, a label for those that would deny care to people on the basis of "outcomes" and "effectiveness" -- "Death Panels."

Mark McClellan, likewise, seems sensible, as he appears to be calling for "health care reform!" No argument there.

Of course, Frist and McClellan are doctors (Frist, in particular, is one that can make diagnoses on the basis of a video tape), so they have a grounding in reality. Let's see what some of the other "thinkers have to say.

There's James K. Pinkerton's call for reforming health care by giving people "better health!" It will pay for itself!

Sixty-seven percent of Americans say they are not getting enough medical treatment, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data. But we want not just more care; we want better health. Thanks to the public-private effort that decades ago brought us the polio vaccine, we no longer spend money on wheelchairs and iron lungs. We could do the same today for other diseases. Finding a cure is cheaper than paying for care.

Why didn't Democrats think of that???!!!

Charles Kolb calls for insurance "exchanges." What a novel idea! And an end to the employer-based insurance system. Clearly, that's a bipartisan approach.

Congress should also end the current tax exemption for employer-sponsored insurance coverage. This change would encourage people to pay more attention to the price of their health insurance. And it would provide the money that will be needed to help underwrite coverage for the uninsured.

Finally, no backroom deals — for pharmaceutical companies, individual members of Congress or anyone else.

We have a rare opportunity to lower America’s health care costs, extend coverage and provide better care. What’s uncertain is whether our bipartisan leadership is up to the task.

I think we already know the answer to that.

Finally there's that omnipresent conservative "thinker," Newt Gingrich, instrumental in killing health care reform in 1994, who trots out the usual call for litigation reform and...nothing else.

These reforms would allow doctors to stop playing defense, and make it possible for patients and taxpayers to better afford health care.

So, there you have it. Frist and McConnell basically agree on the urgent need for health care reform. Pinkerton calls for an end to disease. Kolb basically wants regional exchanges (but not a public option, that would be bad!) that are already a part of one of the Democrats' bills, and no "backroom deals" with pharmaceutical companies (who needs them anyway!?), we can always buy from Canada! And Gingrich's only answer is a single reform that would lower costs by as much as 1 to 2 percent! Some won't even go that high.

The good news is that President Obama does seem to have successfully changed the framing of the debate. No longer are Republicans reflexively declaring that we have the best health care system in the world. So if reform is so urgently needed, as these "thinkers" seem to suggest, then surely the GOP will work to improve upon the current bills that already have majority support in the House and Senate?



Saturday, February 20, 2010

In which I get a glimpse into the Mighty Wurliitzer

From the mailbag:

Since 1973 The Heritage Foundation has been at the vanguard of the conservative movement. As the most trusted independent "watchdog" for grassroots conservatives like you -- we answer to you and you alone.

Our mission is to advance the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense to Member of Congress and key policymakers in the Executive Branch, the nation's enws media, and the academic and policy communities.

Oh, and torture. Did we mention torture? And individual freedom is fine, unless it runs up against those so called "traditional American values."

But the point of this mailing is to get my views on some important issues facing our nation, like "Do you believe the media has a decidedly liberal bias?" Oh, and to get my "tax-deductible membership contribution."

Tax-deductible? What. The. Fuck?

Anyway, I struck by this:

Equally important -- [the survey] will point the way you and other Americans can do to challenge the radical Left and even some of our supposed "allies," who are using the "megaphone" of the national media to distort the issues in an effort to undermine our conservative agenda

My emphasis.

Who would those "allies" with the "megaphone" of the national media be?

Well, Limbaugh and Hannity aren't numbered among them, 'cause their megaphones are A-OK.

Last year, Heritage began a promotional partnership with talk radio giants Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who are using o ur research to help get our conservative message to millions of listeners each week.

According to Rush Limbaugh, "The Heritage Foundation is a group of smart thinkers and scholars, excellent writers, and they churn stuff out faster than you can keep up with it: How to move the country forward, how to provide information that people can digest, and then spread to others.

Their emphasis.

Progressives have nothing to match it.

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Um, proof?

In this long profile of former Rule of Law advocate Andy McCarthy, who forcefully advocates against civilian trials for alleged terrorists, no where does it say why civilian courts are less effective in deterring further attacks then are military commissions or, as McCarthy wants, the ominous sounding and extra-Constitutional "national security courts.

The trial was an early success for the Southern District’s elite terrorism prosecutors. From 1993 to 2001, they also handled two trials stemming from the 1993 World Trade Center attack, a trial in the plot to blow up a dozen American airliners over the Pacific Ocean and another in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa, which killed 224 people.

In addition, the investigations broke up deadly plots before they could be carried out and turned up a wealth of information about Al Qaeda. The trials have been cited by the Obama administration to justify its support of civilian prosecutions of terrorists.

Mr. McCarthy said he understood why the office pursued the prosecutions. “I mean that’s the ethos of the place is that you want to do the cutting-edge case.” But, looking back, he said, he questioned the focus, particularly given that Al Qaeda kept escalating its attacks. He cited the 2000 bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 American servicemen, and Sept. 11.

“We become headquarters for counterterrorism in the United States,” he said. “Not the C.I.A. Not anyplace in Washington. The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.”

“From the country’s perspective,” he said, “it’s not a good thing.” A prosecutor’s job, he added, “is not the national security of the United States.”

In June 1998, the office secretly indicted Osama bin Laden. Three months later, Al Qaeda blew up the two embassies.

“I mean, we could go into the grand jury and indict him three times a week,” Mr. McCarthy said. “But to do anything about it, you needed the Marines. You didn’t need us.”

That's silly in the extreme (which is typical of Andy McCarthy). Osama bin Laden has been in the country's cross hairs for two decades -- "the Marines" still haven't caught him. It has nothing to do with where his fellow conspirators been tried.

On the contrary, a civilian trial elevates our Constitution in the world's eyes. A military trial, or some other extra-legal proceeding, elevates the terrorist thugs.


The Phil Zone

If you're looking for a Masterclass with Phil Lesh, this is the recording to listen to. At the end, GD Hour's David Ganz says, "a little heavy with the bass, but that's not necessarily a bad thing."


Friday, February 19, 2010

When Tigers attack!

Tiger speaks. Market comes to a halt.

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Be a Tiger

The Vega household has long been a canine house. Recently, that changed as we've adopted a cat. I blame gay marriage.


National trauma

Nostalgia for that blowjob just doesn't fade for many toiling in our nation's print media establishments. Note this cartoon appeared 12 years after the Clenis that Nearly Destroyed teh America.

Via Wonkette.

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Mittens' assailant speaks!

Would you vote for him?
No, I'm a daaimocrat; he's a Repug.
Would you guys be drinking buddies?
If he drinks.


"A slight fix"

With all the frantic warnings of the imminent demise of Social Security, it's refreshing to hear the president say something sensible about its future.

The system is funded with a tax on earnings, up to $109,000 a year. Obama says lifting that cap to tax a larger share of income would be one way to extend the system of monthly payments for retirees. It also would be unpopular with some.

Without an adjustment, Obama said Social Security will start to run out of money in about 20 years as more people begin collecting benefits.

I'm sure, though, that will only fuel "populist" rage.


True populism

I generally avoid Palinogging, but this is just too great.

Andrea Fay Friedman played the girl with Down syndrome Chris dated in the episode. (Her IMDB says she's been on Saving Grace, Law & Order: SVU and 7th Heaven among other shows.) She was the one who said the fateful line which incurred Sarah Palin's facebook-based ire: "My dad's an accountant, and my mom's the former governor of Alaska." ( has got the clip.) And she has something to say to no-fun Sarah Palin, which she said in an email to the New York Times.

However! It appears that what the Times printed was just the nice portion of a much meaner email Friedman sent out to various media outlets. The blog Palingates has published the uncensored email:

I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor. I thought the line "I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska" was very funny. I think the word is "sarcasm."

In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life. My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes.

The Times did not, as you may have imagined, print that last bit.

UPDATED, because the Times did print he last bit.


California Rising

You should go read Krugman today, but here's a taste.

Health insurance premiums are surging — and conservatives fear that the spectacle will reinvigorate the push for reform. On the Fox Business Network, a host chided a vice president of WellPoint, which has told California customers to expect huge rate increases: “You handed the politicians red meat at a time when health care is being discussed. You gave it to them!”
Our health care system is unraveling. I'm sure though, that the GOP is busy working on an alternative for the meeting at the WH next week.



Executives at WellPoint had to know that raising rates right now would lead to a shit storm. Did they do it simply for "sound business reasons" or because they wanted to raise the temperature on health care reform a bit? I don't know.

The weak economy and the unrelenting rise in the cost of medical care make it increasingly difficult for companies to avoid substantial rate increases — even if those increases provide fresh fodder for Democrats seeking to pass the now-stalled health care legislation in Congress.

“If they are losing money, they need to raise prices,” said Charles Boorady, an industry analyst with Citigroup.

Even so, he faults WellPoint for seeking the increases in the current political climate. He likens it to someone waving a five iron on a golf course during a lightning storm. “You’re asking to be electrocuted.”

Under that political pressure, the company has said it will delay the California rate increases until at least May 1.

But from a business perspective, WellPoint, one of the nation’s largest insurers and the operator of commercial Blue Cross plans in more than a dozen states, may have few alternatives as a company accountable to shareholders demanding higher earnings. The money WellPoint makes from selling policies to individuals and small businesses is an important source of its overall earnings. But the company says it lost millions of dollars last year in California on individual policies.

“They’re not prepared to lose money on this line of business,” said Cathy Schoen, senior vice president for research at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group in New York. In fact, she said, many carriers choose not to sell policies in the individual market.

Many health policy analysts point to the sharp price increase sought by Anthem as evidence that the way individual insurance is sold in this country needs to be changed.

“What they did is actuarially sound and totally legitimate,” said Andrew Kurz, a former insurance executive with Wisconsin Blue Cross and Blue Shield who is a vocal critic of the current health care system. “It’s the marketplace that is wrong, not Anthem.”

When insurance company executives are demanding an end to the status quo, things are seriously fucked up.


Dreams I'll Never See

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Police work and negotiations

All snark aside, I was struck by something when I read Steve Coll's take on the arrest of Baradar.

Why would Pakistan move decisively against Afghan Taliban leadership now? The Times suggests that Pakistani generals under the lame-duck Army chief, General Ashraf Kiyani, are coming around to the view that they require a national-security doctrine that does not involve sheltering the Afghan Taliban. Perhaps. There are certainly new debates inside the Pakistani military and civilian establishment about such a change of course.

I would guess at a more subtle motivation, one that might suggest a favorable pattern now emerging in the Obama Administration’s and Central Command’s approach to Pakistan’s role in the Afghan conflict. Over the last few months, by multiple means, the United States and its allies have been seeking to persuade Pakistan that it can best achieve its legitimate security goals in Afghanistan through political negotiations, rather than through the promotion of endless (and futile) Taliban guerrilla violence—and that the United States will respect and accommodate Pakistan’s agenda in such talks. Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban, especially in recent years, was always best understood as a military lever to promote political accommodations of Pakistan in Kabul. Baradar, however, has defiantly refused to participate in such political strategies, as he indicated in an e-mail interview he gave to Newsweek last year. The more the Taliban’s leaders enjoying sanctuary in Karachi or Quetta refuse to lash themselves to Pakistani political strategy, the more vulnerable they become to a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

If, through a combination of pressure and enticement, Pakistan and the United States can draw sections of the Taliban into peaceful negotiations, while incarcerating those who refuse to participate, it will produce a sweeping change in the war. With enough momentum, such a strategy would also increase the incentives for Pakistan and Taliban elements to betray Al Qaeda’s top leaders. It’s been a while since there has been unadulterated good news out of Pakistan. Today there is.

I can't say what, ultimately, is our current strategy for defeating the Taliban, but it appears to be a combination of stepped up military strikes like the one we're seeing this week in Marja, Afghanistan; drone attacks on Taliban leadership inside Pakistan; quietly laying enticements for Taliban leaders willing to consider a political settlement; intense, old fashioned intelligence work by the CIA; and, if Coll is correct, quiet negotiations with Pakistani leadership to make it clear that it's in their best security interests to find a political settlement as well.

That kind of stuff isn't spectacular to watch. It tends to involve stuff the previous administration didn't care much for, such as dogged police work, often frustrating diplomacy, and of course negotiatin' with the those we call our enemies. Case in point, if a Taliban leader had been arrested during that administration, there would have been a race to the podium to see who could announce this breakthrough, exposing the capture instead of quietly going out and capturing more.

And it struck me, terrorists and the Right in this country share many traits. The need for women to be subservient is one of them, but another is the need for symbolism and spectacle. Terrorists need to create high-visibility attacks against low-strategic targets. Our friends on the Right need the specter of torture and the symbolism of military commissions as opposed to civilian criminal courts. For both, this has been a pas de deux on the world stage. Finally, at least in Afghanistan, perhaps we're eschewing the showy and getting it done.

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Rounding up Taliban leadership

More interesting news from Pakistan, where security forces arrested two more Taliban leaders.

The arrests were made by Pakistani officials, the Afghans said, but it seemed probable that C.I.A. officers accompanied them, as they did in the arrest of Mr. Baradar. Pakistani officials declined to comment.

Together, the three arrests mark the most significant blow to the Taliban’s leadership since the American-backed war began eight years ago. They also demonstrate the extent to which the Taliban’s senior leaders have been able to use Pakistan as a sanctuary to plan and mount attacks in Afghanistan.

A senior United States official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the arrest of the two shadow governors was unrelated to Mr. Baradar’s capture.

Even so, Mohammed Omar, the governor of Kunduz Province, said in an interview that the two Taliban shadow governors maintained a close working relationship with Mr. Baradar.

“Mullah Salam and Mullah Mohammed were the most merciless individuals,” said Gen. Razaq Yaqoobi, police chief of Kunduz Province. “Most of the terror, executions and other crimes committed in northern Afghanistan were on their orders.”

The arrests — all three in Pakistan — demonstrate a greater level of cooperation by Pakistan in hunting leaders of the Afghan Taliban than in the eight years of war. American officials have complained bitterly since 2001 that the Pakistanis, while claiming to be American allies and accepting American aid were simultaneously providing sanctuary and assistance to Taliban fighters and leaders who were battling the Americans across the border.

The "most significant blow to the Taliban leadership in eight years." Hmmm. I wonder what those attacking the administration for being "lackadaisical" about the "War on Terror" will say now? Oh, right, we'll hear "jokes" about not "Mirandizing" them. Ha ha.

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I dunno, the Kerik Detention Center has a nice ring

Bernard Kerik completes his fall from "the lofty perches of power."

In addition to pleading guilty to two counts of tax fraud and one count of making a false statement on a loan application, Mr. Kerik also pleaded guilty to five counts of making false statements to the federal government while being vetted for senior posts.

Prosecutors had called for Judge Robinson to make an example out of Mr. Kerik, and to punish him for his “egotism and hubris.”

Mr. Kerik’s lawyer, Michael F. Bachner, had asked the judge for leniency, citing his years of public service, and the dozens of letters of support written by family members, former colleagues in the Police Department, and even strangers who said they admired Mr. Kerik’s bravery.

Those "dozens of letters" apparently did not include one from the close friend who recommended him to be Homeland Security Director, Rudolph Giuliani.

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"Our furniture!"

Faux fiscal conservatives

This morning on Morning Edition, in a report on the president's plan to create a commission to look at reducing the deficit, Andrea Seabrooke referred to conservatives who oppose participating in it as "fiscal conservatives." Republicans, under George W. Bush eliminated a federal surplus and, by the time they no longer controlled the White House and Congress, left us with a trillion dollar deficit. Massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, two wars that never found their way into the budget, and an unfunded prescription drug plan, do not make for fiscal conservatism, and it would be useful if reporters stopped applying the label to anyone who voted for those things. Namely, the "fiscal conservatives" that make up the Republican Party.


The dog whistle still works

Frankly, I expected some of the old, worn out cultural issues to fade even among Republicans as a new generation emerges. But no, even "a rising star" in the party plays teh gay card. Albeit quietly.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, how quickly we I forget.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who you gonna serve?

A new poll is encouraging. It finds that the majority of people who opposed the passage of a health care reform bill and the end of DADT wouldn't think of voting for a Democrat anyway.

In other words, letting these initiatives die in the hope that voters will vote for a Democratic incumbent does not have any basis in reality. Working for the agenda of those that oppose you and not for the agenda of those who voted for you is not especially bright. Even for Democrats.

In other, other words, act on your campaign promises.


Dick Cheney's Washington Post

Fred Hiatt is intent on making the WaPo editorial pages a fact- and morality-free place for his readers' entertainment.

Sullivan notes, "Watching this paper die a sad a sordid death as it gathers a gaggle of neocon sycophants and has-beens around a proud war criminal like [former Vice President Dick] Cheney is truly depressing." And there may be depressing truth to some of the scuttlebutt I'm hearing about Thiessen's hiring, which is rumored to have come about after Hiatt had a series of off-the-record meetings with Cheney, during which Cheney pitched Thiessen as a potential hire. (In this respect, it looks like the Washington Post is, once again, frantically trying to play catch-up with the Politico.)


Stale bread

Evan Bayh said last night,

We gotta vote out the ideologues who won't accept half a loaf.

That statement really sums up Bayh's Senate career (I'm unfamiliar with his previous stints as Hoosier governor and lt. gov). I know ideologues sounds nasty and partisan and stuff, but it means they have ideologies -- ideas -- that they're willing to fight for. Bayh, we know, does not. And it seems that the only people he was offering a half loaf to were the dirty fucking hippies -- i.e., his fellow Democrats who weren't willing to scuttle health care for 30 million Americans who don't currently have it, so that "bipartisanship" can be achieved.


"Hare Maranville"

Ground hog day

Pitchers and catchers officially report today. That means six more weeks of winter, folks.


Stimulate this

David Leonhardt looks at the effect of the stimulus package one year after its enactment and finds that it worked pretty well. It was oversold by the administration, to be sure (though I'm not sure what choice they had with a bare super-majority), but all in all,

Imagine if, one year ago, Congress had passed a stimulus bill that really worked.

Let’s say this bill had started spending money within a matter of weeks and had rapidly helped the economy. Let’s also imagine it was large enough to have had a huge impact on jobs — employing something like two million people who would otherwise be unemployed right now.

If that had happened, what would the economy look like today?

Well, it would look almost exactly as it does now. Because those nice descriptions of the stimulus that I just gave aren’t hypothetical. They are descriptions of the actual bill.

Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

Yet I’m guessing you don’t think of the stimulus bill as a big success. You’ve read columns (by me, for example) complaining that it should have spent money more quickly. Or you’ve heard about the phantom ZIP code scandal: the fact that a government Web site mistakenly reported money being spent in nonexistent ZIP codes.

And many of the criticisms are valid. The program has had its flaws. But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to their importance. To hark back to another big government program, it’s almost as if the lasting image of the lunar space program was Apollo 6, an unmanned 1968 mission that had engine problems, and not Apollo 11, the moon landing.

With that in mind, it's nice to see that the Senate, despite reports last week about the demise of the "bipartisan" jobs bill, is actually considering a number of different bills designed to create jobs, extend unemployment and COBRA benefits, etc.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I'm not sure how this helps get a health care reform bill closer to passage, but it is an interesting development.

During a news conference last week, Mr. Obama said he envisioned posting a merged House-Senate bill that would address his goals of controlling costs and expanding coverage. “Now, we have a package, as we work through the differences between the House and the Senate, and we’ll put it up on a Web site for all to see over a long period of time, that meets those criteria, meets those goals,’’ the president said.

But Mr. Obama may be running out of time. His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked Monday if the president would simply post his own bill if the House and the Senate cannot come to terms.

“Stay tuned,’’ Mr. Gibbs said. He declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, a few Senators seem to understand what's at stake here, calling for reconciliation and adding a public option during the process.

Progressive senators are calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to use reconciliation to end the health care reform deadlock. In a letter co-signed by Sens. Mike Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today, the group calls on Reid to use reconciliation to pass health care reform with a public option attached.

I am heartened that Gillibrand, facing a potential challenge from "centrist" Harold Ford, is now aligning herself with progressives.

First, they say a public option will be more fiscally responsible than the bill that was passed out of the Senate. "Put simply, including a strong public option is one of the best, most fiscally responsible ways to reform our health insurance system," they write.

Other reasons include increasing competition in the health care marketplace and the "strong public support for a public option, across party lines."

On the subject of reconciliation, the senators write that the process has been used in the past to pass health care programs in a partisan environment.

"The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare Advantage, and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA), which actually contains the term 'reconciliation' in its title, were all enacted under reconciliation," they write.

Exactly. Pass the fucking bill.


Cheney FAIL

Hadn't thought about it, but whomever writes Andrew Sullivan's blog points out that when VP Biden took to the air to defend the administration against Cheney's lying attacks last weekend, he already knew they'd captured the Taliban's #2. The famously "undisciplined" Biden could have dropped the bomb on Cheney, but didn't.


Buh Bayh

Madame Cura dared me to write that headline. It's not my fault.

Anyway, I was going to write a little more about Bayh than just a tack-on to a piece about a real person as opposed to the Suit that gave a ridiculous, self-absorbed speech about "partisan rancor" that failed to note that what set him over the edge were "seven Senators" that voted against a deficit commission. Not mentioning those seven were all "fiscally conservative" Republicans. His father, who actually stood for something other than his own political future, must be so proud.

Fortunately, though, Dog House has taken pen in hand and from his Indianapolis view point, says what I would have liked to say.

You're the "centrist" of "centrists" in the liberal party. Oddly enough, this does not make you the exact geo-political center of the country, or a commanding presence, or a guy with a big stick. It made you, by happenstance, a guy with a stash of stamps when somebody smarter, but penniless, wanted to mail a letter. Some of us would argue that partisanship isn't really all that changed from 2000, or '94, or '92, or '81, or '64, excepting that the Republican party can rest assured now that the Democrats won't fight it. So people in your Daddy's day went out for drinks after arguing across the aisle for a blistering three-and-one-half hours four days a week? So what? That's like saying board members at Augusta will ring for cocktails after arguing about the Eisenhower Tree. (No, I take that back; the modern US Senate has had three black members. World of difference.) Th' fuck would you want to go toss back a few with a co-worker who acts like he's blind drunk during business hours? The Republican party is clinically fucking insane, and the obvious contagion factor was roundly ignored. If this is the source of your trouble, Senator Bayh, why didn't you say so? Why didn't you say so five years ago, or ten? Trying to compromise a pack of rabid terriers into submission was your big idea, Senator. It didn't work, so you take your ball and go home? Sure. Might you at least say so on your way out?



A lot of these guys, you get the sense their checking off their "community outreach" box. Granderson seems like the real deal.

Celia Bobrowsky, the director of community affairs for Major League Baseball, held the same position with the Tigers during Granderson’s first season, 2004. Her first impression of Granderson was that “the baseball god had arrived for the community of Detroit.”

“On one of his first school visits, he didn’t leave until he spoke with every single kid,” Bobrowsky said. “And I mean every single kid. He got down to their level, spoke eye to eye. They hugged him. He hugged them back.”

Getting traded to the Yankees tugged him from that embrace, from a city that overlooked his flaws as a player — high strikeout totals, struggles against left-handed pitching — and valued his qualities as a person. The Tigers have contended they made the deal as a cost-saving measure — Granderson will make nearly $24 million over the next three seasons — but it has been difficult convincing their fans that there wasn’t some way to retain their most popular player.

“Oh, no, what a mistake,” said Jalen Rose, the former N.B.A. star and a native Detroiter, who played in Granderson’s third annual celebrity basketball game in suburban Detroit last month. “He cared as much about Detroit and the people there as he did about the Tigers.”

In past off-seasons, Granderson has served as an ambassador for Major League Baseball, traveling to Italy, Britain, China and South Africa, but the trade disrupted his schedule. Now, for instance, he wanted to travel to Arizona for a tutorial with the Yankees’ hitting coach, Kevin Long.

But Granderson still found time to visit schools around Chicago and Detroit this winter, participate at sign-up day at his old Little League, run his celebrity basketball game, and host a rally at his old middle school in support of a referendum to restore such extracurricular activities as the science fair. (As an eighth grader, Granderson earned a spot in the state science fair with an experiment on the reaction of peanuts to light.)

Just last week, he stood beside Michelle Obama at the White House as it unveiled a campaign aimed at reducing obesity among children. Afterward, he spoke with Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, for 10 minutes.

“People ask me all the time how I have time to do this, but I’m single and I don’t have any kids,” Granderson said. “I don’t have the responsibilities of teammates who are married. If I can find even an hour here or there to do something, I still have 23 hours to rest or see my friends and family. You look at it that way, it’s easy to find time.”

Granderson said he wanted to settle in New York before deciding how and when to get involved in the community. One potential initiative involves Rosetta Stone, the language-learning software, which Granderson would like to see used in schools. He also said he expected to play a big role in the Yankees’ Hope Week, which was initiated last season.

Ben Shpigel also knows better. Detroit didn't overlook his high K rate and struggles against left-handers because he's such a nice guy. They did so because he compensates for a lot of that with speed and great defense. The Yankees lost, potentially, a lot of offense with the departure of Damon, but they improved their outfield defense immensely.

Oh, and Evan Bayh is an asshole.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Not re-litigating the past or re-turning there

I think the Times editorial makes an important point.

It has always been true that a real accounting of the Bush administration’s abuses is vital if Mr. Obama truly wants to repair them and try to prevent them from recurring. It is more important than ever now, when the Republican right is trying hard to turn the clock back to those dark times by painting Democrats as “soft on terror” during an election year.

The administration has tried to avoid a political scrum (and keep the Executive's prerogatives, of course) by refusing to investigate the previous administration's criminal activities. Dick Cheney's appearance on the Idiot Shows each week makes a mockery of efforts, as Rahm Emmanuel has put it, to "not re-litigate the past." On the contrary, we are in danger of moving back to that dreadful past. By not pursuing criminal charges against an administration that authorized the use of torture, the Obama administration is validating that authorization. Similar to the bind in which they've put themselves in not shutting down military commissions for suspected terrorists, by not demanding a reckoning for torture, they are indicating that it's a valid tool. The Obama administration may not believe they're doing that, but they're setting themselves up for the rabid right to claim they're not using "all the tools at their disposal to keep America safe," and they are keeping the door open for future administrations to use those tools. They may find torture immoral, but they're legitimizing torture by not saying it is illegal -- by not going after those that perform it and authorize its performance.

They are, in effect, validating Dick Cheney's world view when they should be prosecuting him for acting on that world view.


"Run hard now"

Putting it more clearly then I could when I wrote that Dems should push the best, most consumer-friendly financial reform bill they can, even if it means they won't get Republican votes to overcome a filibuster, Simon Johnson writes,

Run hard now, against the big banks. If they oppose the administration, this will make their power more blatant – and just strengthen the case for breaking them up. And if the biggest banks stay quiet, so much the better – go for even more sensible reform to constrain reckless risk-taking in the financial sector.

When you are running against opponents with bottomless resources, great hubris, and a profoundly anti-democratic bent, get them to speak early and often in as public a manner as possible. Dig up and publish everything there is to know about them. Review and forward the details of how JP Morgan was humbled over Northern Securities and how John D. Rockefeller was finally brought to account.

FDR’s favorite president was Andrew Jackson. The White House might like to read up on why – Jackson confronted, ran against, and ultimately defeated, the specter of concentrated financial power. President Obama needs to do the same.

In the meantime, it goes without saying that President Obama needs to stop doing this.

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"Fundamentally dishonest"

We've wondered when the so-called liberal media would ask a deficit peacock calling for spending cuts what, exactly, he'd cut. Well, MSNBC's Melissa Frances and Contessa Brewster did just that, asking Judd Gregg to be specific. The results were not pretty.

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Reform = "bail-out!"

Felix Soloman seems perplexed about modern American politics and the GOP in particular.

I also wonder about the implicit 60-vote supermajority which Dodd seems to think he needs to get anything passed: is that strictly necessary? Are there really Republicans who would stick their neck out and filibuster a financial-reform bill aimed at reigning in Wall Street? Voting against it is one thing, but killing it with a filibuster is surely not a vote-winner anywhere in the US right now. Certainly the rhetoric coming from the likes of Gregg doesn’t suggest to me that the Republicans are in any way philosophically opposed to any bill along these lines being passed.
My emphasis, but the spelling is his.

Yes, yes there really are Republicans who would not hesitate filibustering a financial reform bill.

  • "Reform" is now a word the tea partiers populists in the base associate with "Obama overreach" and, as the video Solomon himself points to, bank bailouts
  • A voter who goes to the polls remembering a filibuster that sent a bill off to obscurity eight months earlier is a rare voter indeed; obstruction is rarely punished, at least not when it's done by Republicans
  • Republicans have no incentive -- none -- to get this thing passed; better for them the Senate does nothing, and, anyway they know who butters their bread
  • Rhetoric from Judd Gregg shall I put it...meaningless
That's why Dodd's seeming plan to strip consumer protection from the financial reform bill would be a mistake. As with health care, even when Republican ideas are incorporated into a bill, that's no guarantee that any Republican will support a bill that's also supported by the majority of Even if obstruction rarely comes back to haunt them, forcing them to filibuster would have some positive outcomes, not least of which is making clear that the GOP does not want to rein in the institutions that nearly destroyed the world's economy.


Posse comitatus?

The latest from Jane Mayer is definitely worth your time.

Holder told me that he was frustrated by much of the criticism over the handling of Abdulmutallab. “What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case” since 9/11, he said. “There’s a desire to ignore the facts to try to score political points. It’s a little shocking.” Without exception, he noted, every previous terrorist suspect apprehended inside the country had been handled as a civilian criminal. Even so, critics such as Krauthammer were denouncing Holder for failing to send Abdulmutallab directly to Guantánamo. As a senior national-security official in the White House put it, “It’s a fantasy! Under what alternative legal system can Special Operations Forces fly into Detroit, and take someone away without court oversight?”

According to Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, in Washington, the military can’t simply grab suspects inside the U.S. and hold them without charge or a hearing. “It violates the Constitution, which extends to everyone inside the U.S.,” she said. “You can’t be seized without probable cause. You have the right to due process, and to a trial by a jury of your peers—which a military commission is not.” Confusion on this point may derive from the Bush Administration’s controversial handling of two suspected terrorists, José Padilla and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. Both men were arrested in the U.S. by law-enforcement officials, and indicted on criminal charges. But Bush declared Padilla and Marri to be “enemy combatants,” which, he argued, meant that they could be transferred to military custody, for interrogation and detention without trial. (Neither suspect provided useful intelligence.) The cases provoked legal challenges, and in both instances appeals courts ruled that Bush had overstepped his power. The Administration, not willing to risk a Supreme Court defeat, returned the suspects to the civilian system.

For all the tough rhetoric of the Bush Administration, it prosecuted many more terror suspects as criminals than as enemy combatants. According to statistics compiled by New York University’s Center on Law and Security, since 2001 the criminal courts have convicted some hundred and fifty suspects on terrorism charges. Only three detainees—all of whom were apprehended abroad—were convicted in military commissions at Guantánamo. The makeshift military-commission system set up by Bush to handle terrorism cases has never tried a murder case, let alone one as complex, or notorious, as that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who will face the death penalty for the murder of nearly three thousand people.

The Bush Administration obtained life sentences in the criminal courts for two terror suspects arrested inside the U.S.: Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was planning a second wave of plane attacks. (Reid was read his Miranda rights four times.) When the Bush Justice Department obtained these convictions, the process was celebrated by some of the same people now criticizing Holder. Giuliani, after the Moussaoui trial, said, “I was in awe of our system. It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial.”

The hypocrisy is so thick you can smell it oozing from Giulini's pores. As Holder says later, if Giulini was still a federal attorney he'd be demanding they try the guy in civilian court in his district. But then there's this.

Holder tried to address his critics with lawyerly detachment. Dick Cheney had equated Holder’s approach to handling terrorism with giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”—the legal definition of treason. Holder said of Cheney, “On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice.” He added that he had seen documents making clear that Cheney’s office was the driving force behind the Bush Administration’s most controversial counterterrorism policies, especially those sanctioning brutal interrogations. He said of Cheney, “I think he’s worried about what history’s judgment will be of the role that he played in making decisions about everything from black sites to enhanced interrogation techniques.” Holder said that he doesn’t know Elizabeth Cheney, but noted, with a laugh, “She’s clearly her father’s daughter.”


Common criminal or "warrior?"

It's important to remind ourselves that not only do pricks like Cheney and other Republicans act as advance men for al Qaeda when the fulminate about failed undie-bombs representing a "victory" for the increasingly marginal group, they also play directly in to the terrorists' hands when they demand military tribunals for a bunch of murderers.

It's no surprise that al Qaeda members would want to be seen as soldiers at war with the United States. Terrorist groups always want to be seen as warriors. Just think of the names they give themselves: the Lord's Resistance Army, Lashkar-e-Taiba ("Army of the Righteous"), or the Irish Republican Army, to name a few. The warrior mystique helps them to recruit glory-seeking young men to join their cause. It helps them justify the killing of their enemies and portray all of their victims as casualties of combat. It enables men like Osama bin Laden to portray themselves not as outlaws hiding in caves but leaders of great armies, confronting the world's superpower on a global battlefield.

When KSM was first brought before a military panel in Guantanamo, he reveled in the trappings of military justice. After confessing to the September 11 attacks, he said: "I did it, but this [is] the language of any war." In war, he said, "there will be victims." He then compared himself to George Washington, and said that if Washington had been captured by the British, he too would have been called an "enemy combatant."

It makes sense that a man who plotted the murder of innocent people from a refuge thousands of miles away would want to be seen as a soldier in a war. But why would politicians who claim to be tough on terrorism want to give him that status, as many Republicans do today? Why on earth do they think that facing justice in a civilian court, where the United States prosecutes murderers, rapists, drug dealers, pimps, and yes, terrorists (over 300 during George W. Bush's presidency), would be some sort of privilege?

Even if KSM stands accused of war crimes, it doesn't necessarily follow that he should be put before a military tribunal. The War Crimes Act, passed by Congress unanimously in 1996, gives federal civilian courts jurisdiction to prosecute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in wartime -- in other words, war crimes. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is leading the Republican fight against civilian trials, says that the United States has never put combatants captured on foreign battlefields in civilian courts. That is flat wrong. The George H. W. Bush administration did that to Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of the Panamanian armed forces who was captured during the U.S. military invasion of Panama. Noriega demanded the right to be tried by fellow officers in a military court. The Bush administration conceded that he was a prisoner of war, but tried him before a civilian court anyway to drive home the point that he was nothing more than a drug trafficker.
Exactly. Giving KSM a military tribunal is precisely what he wants. Trying him in a civilian federal court would deny him the argument that he is "a warrior." He's a thug and a murderer and should be treated appropriately. That self-proclaimed war-criminal Dick Cheney doesn't understand that just speaks volumes about the people who ruled this country for eight long years.

Meanwhile, Eric Holder is most certainly in the right in pushing for KSM to be tried in federal court, but the Times has a fascinating profile of Holder in which he admits he could use some help in the political arena.

And while I certainly sympathize with those who lost a loved one in the World Trade Towers, their misplaced need to see the plotters at Guantanamo Bay is a product, I think, of their need to elevate the crime to something sacred. I understand that. Their wife, husband, child, father, should not have died for nothing but the egomaniacal insanity of a bunch of wanderers living in Afghanistan. But it's wrong -- it doesn't honor the dead, it honors the murderers.

As the judge in the Richard Reid trial put it, these guys just aren't "that big."

"You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. ... So war talk is way out of line in this court. You're a big fellow. But you're not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders."

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Blue Monday, Albert Collins edition

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The loyal opposition

Madame Cura recently received a "REGISTERED" survey with an accompanying letter from Michael Steele. The purpose of the survey, Mr. Steele writes, is "to gauge where you and other grassroots Republicans stand on the critical issues facing our nation."

Now, Madame Cura is not a Republican. She's not registered with either party, hasn't given money to a Republican group, and doesn't subscribe to any particularly conservative publications (ArtNews?). So one can only guess that this appeal from Steele is not intended for hard core, "grassroots" Republicans, but rather those not aligned with the party. And what independent voters wouldn't be moved by this sort of thing?

There is so much about the Obama agenda that most Americans do not know, thanks to the non-stop, swooning coverage of the ultra-biased media.

But with your help, we are going to expose the Obama agenda for all Americans to see so that we create a groundswell of opposition.

Indeed. Fortunately Steele will blow fresh air through the fog of the "ultra-biased media."

That's why we are asking where you stand on Barack Obama's promise to raise taxes...

...On his plans to give amnesty to illegal immigrants, which could lead to billions of dollars of government handouts and possibly bankrupt Social Security...

…And how do you feel about Obama’s efforts to nationalize health care and have it run by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?

Those are Obama’s top priorities!

All "sic."

One thing is for sure certain, Michael Steele is depending on most Americans not knowing much "about the Obama agenda," because it gives Steele an opportunity to peddle bullshit.

To wit, the questionnaire itself, peddling all notion of rightwing craziness, tea party conspiracy theory, and standard red meat for the base. A sample:

Do you support amnesty for illegal immigrants?

Should English be the official language of the United States?

Are you in favor of granting retroactive Social Security eligibility to illegal immigrants who gain U.S. citizenship through an amnesty program?

Are you in favor of the expanded welfare benefits and unlimited eligibility (no time, education or work requirements) that Democrats are pushing to pass?

Do you believe that the quality and availability of health care will increase if the federal government dictates pricing to doctors and hospitals?

Now, I'm pretty sure even in Michael Steele's fever brain does he or anyone else in the RNC believe in this for a moment. So I guess I'm just shocked, shocked, to find cynical appeals to xenophobia, class warfare, and fear in a fund-raising letter from the GOP.

Oh, and my favorite from the party that has for so long been the fierce defender of workers' rights:

Do you support Democrats' drive to eliminate workers' right to a private ballot when considering unionization of their place of employment?
If Republicans think that running on a platform of obstruction to a non-existent "agenda" is going to be a winning strategy, this should be an interesting year.

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