Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The numbers may not lie, but Howard Fineman, eh

Newsweek's resident sage, Howard Fineman, talks to a Democratic Congressman whom he can't name of course, who voted for the health care bill "because of party loyalty and admiration for President Obama," but now regrets his decision.

A Democratic senator I can't name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.

Besides that, this Democrat said, people who already have coverage will feel threatened and resentful about helping to cover the uninsured—an emotion they will sanitize for the polltakers into a concern about federal spending and debt.

On the day the president signed into law the "fix-it" addendum to the massive health-care measure, two new polls show just how fearful and skeptical Americans are about the entire enterprise. If the numbers stay where they are—and it's not clear why they will change much between now and November—then the Democrats really are in danger of colossal losses at the polls.

Yeah, I don't know what "sanitize for the polltakers" means either. But anyway, first let's put that in to perspective. A man paid to punditize American national politics thinks that poll numbers taken in March will be fixed until November, and who also believes he can predict in which direction those numbers will take in the next eight months, well, that man should not be paid to do so.

But let's look at his basic contention, that the law is all pain now (in the form of taxes and higher premiums, all before November) for a little gain later. Um, I think debaters have a Latin term for that: Bullshitius Ignoramitus.

While the biggest changes will not take effect until 2014, some important provisions will begin as early as June, while others will kick in by the end of the year. These include significant new restrictions on the insurance industry and new protections for consumers who already have health insurance. There are also perks for Medicare recipients and help for young adults. And in just 90 days there will be new coverage for people who have lost health insurance and can’t qualify for an individual policy.

“The basic thrust of this law is that all of these nooks and crannies, all these gaps where private insurance has left you without any option, those are going to be taken away,” said DeAnn Friedholm, the campaign director of health reform for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “It’s complicated, but it does establish a very key, important policy that you’re going to have options, regardless of your health situation or your employment situation.”


If you haven’t had insurance for six months, and you can’t afford or don’t qualify for insurance because of a pre-existing medical problem, you may be eligible for a new federal “high risk” pool to be offered by the end of June.


Beginning in September, the new law is expected to stop insurance companies from rejecting children or excluding coverage because of pre-existing medical problems. That’s what happened to Diane Knight, 52, of Orem, Utah, when she tried to get health insurance for her 17-year-old daughter.

Although Ms. Knight and her husband had family insurance in the past, they lost it when they left their jobs to start a small business. When they discovered that they were unable to get new insurance because both had a past cancer diagnosis, they sought an individual policy just for their daughter. But she was rejected, too, because she had used expensive prescription acne cream when she was younger and the insurance company did not want to pay for that in the future.


This year Medicare recipients with high drug costs will get a rebate of up to $250. And in 2011, the plan will pick up a larger share of brand-name drug costs. In addition, Medicare recipients won’t be charged co-pays or deductibles for preventive care like immunizations and cholesterol screening.


Starting in September, adult children younger than 26 can be added to their parent’s health policy. Some plans already extend coverage to adult dependents as long as they are full-time students. Although Health and Human Services still must announce the exact eligibility requirements, Congress deleted a restriction related to marital status.


Beginning in September, insurance companies will no longer be able to rescind a policy once someone gets sick, nor can they impose lifetime limits on coverage.

Today, honest mistakes on a lengthy insurance application — like forgetting to disclose a parent’s high blood pressure — could be grounds for losing your insurance.

Under the new rules, companies generally can’t rescind a policy for a minor application error. “The law takes away the incentive for insurance companies to look for application mistakes,” said Marian Mulkey, senior program officer with the California HealthCare Foundation. “There have been some egregious examples of someone getting cancer triggering a review of years of health history that seems very targeted and punitive.”


How the changes will affect existing insurance costs is a source of fierce debate. Over all, the Congressional Budget Office has said that by 2016, the provisions in the new law will result in little if any increase in premiums for people with employer-sponsored plans. People with nongroup plans (those not offered by employers) may see increases, but more than half the enrollees in nongroup plans will qualify for federal subsidies, lowering costs for middle- and moderate-income families on average by about 60 percent, the C.B.O. said.

Beginning in September, insurance firms will face new limits on administrative costs and executive compensation. Violations will trigger rebates to consumers. In addition, the overhaul package includes additional money for states to review unreasonable increases in insurance rates.


This year tax credits as high as 35 percent of premiums will be available to many small businesses that offer health coverage to employees.

As for these immediate taxes, not sure what he means by that, unless he's referring to eliminating tax breaks on federal subsidies to huge corporations. In 2013, by the way.

As for taxes on the middle class, there is a lot of talk, such as in this hit piece for Business Week, about "hidden taxes" that may come to pass at some point in the future:

True, most won't see direct tax hikes, per se. Few believe Obama will go back on his vow to keep income tax rates the same for all but the top brackets when the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010. And top White House economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers says Obama can keep his pledge while finding more than enough cost cuts and revenue elsewhere. "There is substantial scope for expenditure reductions in health care and for raising enough revenues from people with incomes over $250,000 and from companies," he says.

A key question, though, is whether over the next couple of years, middle-income families will face a host of surcharges, fees, reduced tax breaks, or other increased costs. Daniel Clifton, a Washington-based policy analyst for Strategas Research Partners, argues that Congress has purposely loaded onto the corporate sector the increased taxes needed to pay for the reforms to avoid politically unpopular individual tax hikes. But the added costs will eventually be shifted to customers. "It all depends on what your definition of 'tax' is. Everyone is mincing words here," says Clifton. "There isn't enough money available in just extracting more from corporate taxes or rich Americans."

But beyond all that nonsense stands Fineman's main area of concern trolling for Democrats, that the health care bill is wildly unpopular and a killer for Dems in the fall. First, if you look at the polling data, many respondents who say they don't like the bill say they don't because it doesn't go far enough. I doubt that will send them into the arms of Republican candidates. But even more broadly, as we expected, once the legislative process ended and the bill signed into law, people stopped hating it so much and Dems are now seen as having accomplished something, particularly among their base voters.

I'm not sure that there's yet been enough time to assess whether the Democrats' passage of health care reform seven days ago could mitigate -- or broaden -- their losses. Most polls suggest that the health care reform bill itself has become somewhat more popular since passage. But President Obama's approval ratings are little moved, and there has thus far been little new polling on the generic ballot or perceptions of the Democratic congress. Moreover, any changes in the polling may prove to be temporary.

Still, there is one set of numbers that potentially contain relatively good news for the Democrats. These concern the enthusiasm gap, which may be lessening. Daily Kos / Research polling has found that while Republican voters remain exceptionally engaged by the midterm election cycle, Democrats are becoming increasingly engaged as well. Rasmussen, meanwhile, has found that about 5-7 percent of voters nationwide have gone from being somewhat approving of to Obama to strongly approving of him -- and almost all of the movement is accounted for by Democrats. (Obama's disapproval -- including his strongly disapprove numbers -- are little changed in the poll).

I don't want to say that health care legislation is going to be the wave that gives Democrats their permanent majority, but it is worth noting that people's views change as time goes on, that enacting legislation is typically better than cravenly refusing to because of bad poll numbers, and that Obama and the Dems are only now beginning to make the case for the legislation, while Republicans have had well over a year to denigrate it.

Quinnipiac found about a 4-5 point bump in support for the health care bill itself, although a larger bump (8 points) in Obama's handling of the issue. Obama's overall approval rating, on the other hand, was little changed.

What's a bit more surprising is that Quinnipiac also found a decent-sized bump in approval of the Democrats in Congress: from a pathetically low 30 percent to a not-quite-as-awful 36 percent. And most of the bump came from independent voters, among whom approval increased from 19 percent to 33.
Fineman, you know, comes from a long line of fools.

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True colors

It is surely a sign of how off the tracks Greater Wingnuttia has become when a "teaparty favorite" doesn't dare denounce someone who just called him a spic.

You know, we just got through (electing) a politician who can run his mouth at Mach 1, a black one, and now we have a Hispanic who can run his mouth at Mach 1. You look at their track records and they’re both pretty gritty.”

Colonel Day continued, making clear that he didn’t think much of either man for their fast-talking or use of teleprompters. “You’ve got the black one with the reading thing,” he said. “He can go as fast as the speed of light and has no idea what he’s saying. I put Rubio in that same category.”


“Col. Bud Day is an American war hero, and we’re grateful for his service to our nation,” said Alex Burgos, a Rubio spokesman, in an e-mail message. “We hope this race will be focused on the real issues of importance to Florida voters, namely which candidate can be trusted to go to Washington, take on the Obama agenda and offer a clear alternative. We’re not holding our breath, but we hope Charlie Crist will eventually realize this.”

Personally, I'm just proud to be an American.

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Drill, ba...oh, screw it

Now, I'm guessing oil and gas companies haven't exactly been clamoring to drill off the coast of New Jersey, so maybe this is all optics by the Kenyan three-dimensional chess master. But, really, shouldn't we have a real chance at climate change legislation out of the Senate before he starts compromising?

And before you get all, "I thought McCain/Palin lost," Obama did say he was open to drilling during the campaign and he has set aside a huge area off the Alaskan cost as off-limits for drilling. But making this announcement without anything in return from Republicans is a bitter pill for conservationists to swallow.

The Senate is expected to take up a climate bill in the next few weeks — the last chance to enact such legislation before midterm election concerns take over. Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate have already made significant concessions on coal and nuclear power to try to win votes from Republicans and moderate Democrats. The new plan now grants one of the biggest items on the oil industry’s wish list — access to vast areas of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An iPhone on the Verizon?

"What difference could it possibly make?"

That's Somerby's name for the decade that just ended.

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"Obama's Kruschev"

I continue to wonder why Roger Cohen seems relegated to the ether of the dot com while Friedman rules the print edition, but never mind. Via Sullivan, Cohen writes that Netanyahu expected another compliant U.S. president, one that would begrudgingly accept Israel's provocations and avoid pissing off AIPAC. Like Medvedev before him, he underestimated the president's resolve (and his anger).

All the global mutterings about the “Carterization” of Obama, and the talk (widespread in Israel) of kicking the can down the road and so getting through the “garbage time” of a one-term president — that is suddenly yesterday’s chatter.

The reminder was timely: This man is no softie. He’s a politician tough enough to watch his rivals auto-destruct on his cool, and principled enough to set the right long-term objectives, including “comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue” with Iran, as he said in his second Nowruz, or New Year, greeting to Iranians.

It fell to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to play the role Khrushchev once played in toughening a young American president.

The former Soviet leader thought he could browbeat Kennedy only to discover, in Vienna, that the Kennedy charm was not unalloyed to steel (“It will be a long, cold winter.”) Netanyahu was the first foreign leader to think he could steamroll Obama. He earned a frosty comeuppance.

The Israeli leader toyed with Obama’s unequivocal call in Cairo last June for a “stop” to Israeli settlements. He allowed the ill-timed announcement that 1,600 apartments for Jews will be built in East Jerusalem. Then, rather than scrap that, Netanyahu chose cheap cheers from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee with “Jerusalem is not a settlement.”

(I say cheap because everyone knows Jerusalem is not a settlement. That’s not the issue. The issue is that the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem is rejected by the rest of the world and any peace agreement will involve an inventive deal on its status. To build is therefore to provoke.)

Obama was not amused. He airbrushed Netanyahu’s White House visit. The message was clear: The Middle East status quo does not serve the interests of the United States (or Israel). When Obama says “stop,” he does not mean “build a bit.”

Sometimes mistakes are needed. Through the law of unintended consequences they open new avenues.

I hope he's right. Obama made it abundantly clear that his administration believes the policies of the current Israeli government are not in the best interests of the U.S. -- nor of Israel. And he made it clear to the Palestinians and perhaps the larger Arab world that they might have an honest broker in the White House.

I can’t foretell the consequences of the Obama-Netanyahu spat, but it might speed a new, more centrist Israeli government including Kadima. That would help. It will bolster Obama next time he has to get tough with the Palestinians, who must curb incitement, renounce violence and clarify their end goals.

Obama’s stance has also demonstrated that his focus on Israel-Palestine will not be diverted by Netanyahu’s push to place the Iranian nuclear program front and center. This is critical: Iran cannot be a Palestine-postponing pawn.

Already, there are shifts in Israeli attitudes as a result of the new American clarity. Last year, Netanyahu described Iran’s leaders as “a messianic apocalyptic cult,” which was silly. Of late we’ve had Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, setting things right: “I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, are going to drop it in the neighborhood. They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not total ‘meshuganas.’ They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process.”

And to return to my original point, compare and contrast the above to this.

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Weather report

Meanwhile, the Times continues to confuse predicting the "five-day forecast" with long term climate change and to equate the blow dried guy on the 11 o'clock news with scientists who study these things. Because they both study "weather" doesn't mean their views on the subject are of equal merit. Just sayin'.

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I can't say I'm not amused by watching Ratzo's past come back to haunt him, nor am I surprised by his (and his adherents') response to the fact that he hid child rapists from the law -- that he is the persecuted one (like Jesus, you know). The New Yorker's Jane Kramer provides some perspective.

What Ratzinger managed, under cover of the ur-populist, airplane-hopping John Paul II, was to further, and in some sense complete, the isolation of the Church of Rome from the concerns of the world beyond the papal state. He conflated the dogma of infallibility, a baby doctrine in church terms—it dates from 1870 and has only been invoked once, to confirm the assumption of the Virgin—with the papal “teachings” that went through his office, and left a billion Catholics to accept them or to risk their souls dissenting. As Pope, he has regarded his own pronouncements as law; a case in point was his recent reaffirmation of a 1968 encyclical against birth control, issued despite the advice of the Vatican’s own commission on contraception, which found nothing in scripture to justify a ban that, in fact, was always as much concerned with producing Catholic babies as with theology. He has reinstated a small group of ultra-conservative priests, among them a Holocaust denier, who had been excommunicated, along with their renegade archbishop, in the late eighties. And he has continued to marginalize progressive theologians—including the Jesuits of the Pontifical Gregorian University, who have had their interfaith theology seminars put in question. Put simply, he has given Catholics a choice between his heaven and a hell he insists is of their own making.

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Phelps was really just ahead of his time

At the risk of sounding like John Cole, this is fucking nuts.

Lawyers for the father of a Marine who died in Iraq say a court has ordered him to pay legal costs for the anti-gay protesters who picketed his son’s funeral. The protesters are led by Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. The father, Albert Snyder of York, Pa., had won a $5 million verdict against Mr. Phelps, but it was thrown out on appeal. On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Maryland, ordered Mr. Snyder to pay the costs of Mr. Phelps’s appeal. The United States Supreme Court agreed earlier this month to consider whether the protesters’ provocative messages, which include phrases like “Thank God for dead soldiers,” are protected by the First Amendment. Members of the church maintain that God hates homosexuality and that the death of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is God’s way of punishing the United States for its tolerance of it.

I can understand that Phelps' "speech" is protected, but forcing the victim of that speech to pay his court costs? Shouldn't those be borne by the court that originally agreed to hear the case?

But really, I'm waiting for the wingnuts to rush to Phelps defense, but I guess their silence throughout his long stint on the national stage tells us all we need to know. I know, it's a topsy-turvy world these days.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The editor-in-chief

No, Barack Obama is not the product of good speechwriters, his speechwriters are the recipients of his good editing.

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Blue Monday, B.B. King and Buddy Guy edition

I worry for his job security

How long can Ezra Klein get away with calling his Kaplan Daily colleagues, as evidenced by their almost magisterial lack of empathy, "clinically disordered?"

For Robert Samuelson, the fact that the Affordable Care Act is fully paid for and in fact reduces the deficit isn't good enough. "If the administration has $1 trillion or so of spending cuts and tax increases over a decade, all these monies should first cover existing deficits -- not finance new spending," he writes. "Obama's behavior resembles a highly indebted family's taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it. It's self-indulgent and reckless."

"Self-indulgent." Wow. Jon Chait puts his back into it:

What an interesting phrase. Let's consider both words, starting with the end. It contains the assumption that some basic health insurance is an "indulgence," rather than a necessity. I defy anybody to make a careful study of the actual conditions of people who lack health insurance -- such as can be found in Jonathan Cohn's book "Sick" -- and come to this conclusion.

Next, there's the word "self." Self-indulgent is when you spend money to indulge yourself. The Bush tax cuts, which massively enriched George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, could be described as self-indulgent. Samuelson supported those, incidentally. President Obama and the Democrats who enacted health care reform all have insurance. Even if you consider providing basic medical care to people who lack it an "indulgence," they are not indulging themselves. They are "indulging" others.

And before you think this is all about Samuelson, consider that Charles Krauthammer calls coverage "candy." There's an absence of empathy here that borders on a clinical disorder. But even to play on their ground, let's be clear: There were no votes for cost controls in the absence of coverage expansions. Democrats accepted the excise tax, the increase in the Medicare payroll tax, the Medicare cuts and commission, and all the other pieces as part of a deal including near-universal coverage. No coverage? No deal. The deficit will be smaller because of health-care reform. The realistic alternative was not more deficit reduction, as Samuelson implies, but no deficit reduction.

Ezra goes on to argue that this is partly Democrats' fault. They chose to appease these fiscal "elites" by focusing on cost control, not simply universal coverage. They should have instead argued that achieving the latter is the ideal, the former is simply a nice bonus.

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Suspected terrorists charged in the midwest

Steven Benen asks if Dick Cheney and his ideological playmates will demand these religious extremists/terrorists be held in Guantanamo and waterboarded (since one of the conspirators is missing)?

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Defining enemy combatants

Charlie Savage has a fascinating (and, I think, generally sympathetic) look at the divides in the White House over how to define whom we are at war with. Who gets a trial? Can we take the fight beyond Afghanistan without Congressional authority? The complexity of this issue had not been a problem for the previous administration who decided that it was entirely in the president's discretion "to imprison an enemy combatant even 'a little old lady in Switzerland' who had unwittingly donated to Al Qaeda." On the contrary, in the Obama administration the debate is pitting career Justice Dept., Pentagon, and political appointee lawyers against one another.

With the president’s directions in hand, Mr. Obama’s Justice Department came back on March 13, 2009, with a more modest position than Mr. Bush had advanced. It told Judge Bates that the president could detain without trial only people who were part of Al Qaeda or its affiliates, or their “substantial” supporters. The department rooted that power in the authorization granted by Congress to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. And it acknowledged that the scope and limits of that power were defined by the laws of war, as translated to a conflict against terrorists.

But behind closed doors, the debate flared again that summer, when the Obama administration confronted the case of Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian man who had been arrested in Bosnia — far from the active combat zone — and was being held without trial by the United States at Guantánamo. Mr. Bensayah was accused of facilitating the travel of people who wanted to go to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda. A judge found that such “direct support” was enough to hold him as a wartime prisoner, and the Justice Department asked an appeals court to uphold that ruling.

The arguments over the case forced onto the table discussion of lingering discontent at the State Department over one aspect of the Obama position on detention. There was broad agreement that the law of armed conflict allowed the United States to detain as wartime prisoners anyone who was actually a part of Al Qaeda, as well as nonmembers who took positions alongside the enemy force and helped it. But some criticized the notion that the United States could also consider mere supporters, arrested far away, to be just as detainable without trial as enemy fighters.

That view was amplified after Harold Koh, a former human-rights official and Yale Law School dean who had been a leading critic of the Bush administration’s detainee policies, became the State Department’s top lawyer in late June. Mr. Koh produced a lengthy, secret memo contending that there was no support in the laws of war for the United States’ position in the Bensayah case.

Mr. Koh found himself in immediate conflict with the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Jeh C. Johnson, a former Air Force general counsel and trial lawyer who had been an adviser to Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign. Mr. Johnson produced his own secret memorandum arguing for a more flexible interpretation of who could be detained under the laws of war — now or in the future.

In September 2009, national-security officials from across the government packed into the Office of Legal Counsel’s conference room on the fifth floor of the Justice Department, lining the walls, to watch Mr. Koh and Mr. Johnson debate around a long table. It was up to Mr. Barron, who sat at the head of the table, to decide who was right.

But he did not. Instead, days later, he circulated a preliminary draft memorandum stating that while the Office of Legal Counsel had found no precedents justifying the detention of mere supporters of Al Qaeda who were picked up far away from enemy forces, it was not prepared to state any definitive conclusion.

Former Bush administration officials point to this on-going debate as vindication for their decisions, but Obama officials argue, persuasively, that strict adherence to the laws of war put them light years ahead of Bush's expansive view of executive power.

It's an important debate, obviously, and one that I hope is settled long before another "strongly Unitary Executive" adherent inhabits the White House.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

A muscular recess

In the furor over Obama's "muscular" use of recess appointments to overcome Senate Republicans' (and Lincoln and Nelson, such a surprise) refusal to permit the administration to fulfill its hiring needs, most of the attention has been on his choice of a member of the Labor Relations Board. I mean, Republicans have a point when they object that the president might appoint someone with whose views he agrees. But often lost is the fact that most of the recess appointments were to vitally important economic posts and were blocked because of one senator's impatience with the policing of internet gambling.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Domestic strength, international tests

If the Russians thought that Obama was not only a weak player on the international stage, and even weaker due to his domestic troubles passing health care, they appear to have been wrong. This story, on the twists and turns that led to yesterday's announcement of a new Start treat, shows just a tough he can be.

Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that the Kremlin thought Mr. Obama would back down out of eagerness to finish the treaty before coming international nuclear summit meetings.

“They believed Obama could be put under pressure and concessions could be extracted from him,” Mr. Trenin said. “He needed the treaty more than the Russians in the short term.”

Ultimately, Russia backed down. Mr. Medvedev called Mr. Obama on March 13, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton then traveled to Moscow. Negotiators finished drafting their separate statements on Tuesday, with Russia warning that it reserved the right to withdraw from the treaty if it deemed American missile defenses a threat, while the United States said it would build the defenses as it saw fit but was not making a target of Russia.

Similarly, Netanyahu is surprised to learn that, for the first time in a long time, a U.S. president is putting the interests of the U.S. ahead of what the government of Israel wishes.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Coburn does it again

Sen. Coburn re-enacts last month's dramatic attempt by his buddy, Jim Bunning, to put the ordeal of the recession on the backs of those who truly deserve it: the unemployed.

Meanwhile, the "Christian Libertarian" calling for bricks to be thrown through the windows of Democratic lawmakers who seek to provide health care to Americans is himself on Social Security disability.


Lord Salaten rings for the smelling salts

William Salaten is shocked...shocked... to learn (four Washington reporters say it's so, so it must be true) that Democrats would "maneuver" to outsmart Republicans' obvious obstruction to health care legislation in order to avoid being outsmarted by them.


Obama's failed presidency can have

Another rough week for Obama!

A bill gets signed.

Drowning homeowners will get some relief.

The Obama administration on Friday announced broad new initiatives to help troubled homeowners, potentially refinancing millions of them into fresh government-backed mortgages with lower payments.

Another element of the program is meant to temporarily reduce the payments of borrowers who are unemployed. Additionally, the government will encourage lenders to write down the value of loans held by borrowers in modification programs to make their mortgages more affordable.

Despite the Armageddon anticipated from a moderate health care reform bill, a few fewer opportunities to die beneath a mushroom cloud.

WASHINGTON — President Obama finalized a new arms control treaty with Russia on Friday that will pare back the still-formidable cold war nuclear arsenals of each country. The agreement brings to fruition one of the president’s signature foreign policy objectives, just days after he signed into law the most expansive domestic program in decades.

Ending a year of sometimes topsy-turvy negotiations, Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia sealed the deal in a morning telephone call, confirming resolution of the last outstanding details. They then announced they will fly to Prague to sign the treaty on April 8 in a ceremony designed to showcase improved relations between the two countries.

“With this agreement, the United States and Russia, the two largest nuclear powers in the world, also send a clear signal that we intend to lead,” Mr. Obama said, appearing in front of reporters at the White House to announce the agreement. “By upholding our own commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities.”

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Trampled Underfoot

Dedicated to the very notion that the (tyrannical) Democratic Party in Washington can "ram" anything through.

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Mission not accomplished

It is indeed a "big fucking deal" that, after last night's vote in the House, the health care legislative process is done for the time being. But Jonathan Cohn points out that now the real work begins -- implementing the law.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jim Marshall

It seems like I've been staring at his photographs my whole life.

Mr. Marshall, who lived in California, was in New York to promote “Match Prints,” his new book with his friend and fellow photographer Timothy White. Mr. Marshall had been scheduled to speak on Wednesday evening at an event at the John Varvatos store in SoHo, and an exhibition of photographs from his book is scheduled to open on Friday at the Staley-Wise gallery, also in SoHo.

Mr. Marshall was as well known for the striking images that he captured as the extraordinary access that he had to some of the most renowned names in music. He was a favored photographer of Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin, and he was the only photographer allowed backstage at the Beatles’ last concert, in San Francisco in 1966. He was also the chief photographer at Woodstock.

With his imposing presence and gruff, forceful personality, he was something of a rock star himself, and musicians respected him as much for his pictures as for his dedication in getting them.



In a typically breathless, front page story about the latest Social Security crisis, the New York Times hands Alan Greenspan the mic -- of course, readers may be surprised to learn that Alan Greenspan thinks the situation is dire because of the dire economic times we are experiencing. Dire economic times Alan Greenspan went a long way in helping to create.

But it's always "time to cut the benefits" for Greenspan, despite the fact that Social Security owns $2.5 trillion in federal bonds. For the Times, though, that's "an accounting trick."


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Circling the wagons

My mouth gaped wider and wider as I read this attack on "backpack journalists."

In a way, Amanpour, scheduled to leave CNN after 18 years of international coverage and take over the program in August, could be seen as the opposite of the perfect candidate. "This Week" deals mainly in domestic politics and inside-the-Beltway palaver, an area where Amanpour is widely considered to be deficient. Consider: Whenever CNN has thrown one of its big election-night, convention, or presidential debate spectaculars, drafting nearly every living staff member to appear, Amanpour has had a conspicuously low profile.

I'd like to say something insightful about The Village and its self-absorbed citizens, but I don't really have to, now, do I?

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Joe Biden -- true that

"How can you be outraged?"

Yesterday, Rodeo Clown took umbrage at the image of Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis locking arms to walk through a crowd of tea baggers, as if to "compare themselves to civil rights activists."

For those playing at home, John Lewis led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a leading participant in the Selma to Montgomery marches.


Show trials

Pro-discrimination forces rarely have logical arguments on their side, so it is not unusual for them to resort to dis-coherence:

Opponents of same-sex marriage have long said the issue does not belong in the courts. Lately they have gone a step further.

They say Judge Vaughn R. Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, made a serious mistake by calling for a trial in a challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage rather than deciding the case based on paper submissions.

“To think that somehow the rules of evidence can lead you to the right answer is just not right,” said Jordan W. Lorence, a lawyer with Alliance Defense Fund and a member of the trial team for the people and groups who intervened to defend the ban after state officials would not. “There should not have been a trial.”

The trial took place in January, but Judge Walker has not yet scheduled closing arguments. In the meantime, the defendants and their allies are calling the legitimacy of the proceedings into question.

Lorence is right, of course. The rules of evidence will never lead one to an answer pro-discrimination forces would consider "right."

Typical that they would call the legitimacy of the trial into question just before closing arguments -- you might suspect they think they're going to lose.

But that would be cynical.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Fact-checking Thiessen

Jane Mayer devastatingly points out the many, many fallacies of Marc Thiessen's salute to Bush/Cheney era torture.

On September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks on America, another devastating terrorist plot was meant to unfold. Radical Islamists had set in motion a conspiracy to hijack seven passenger planes departing from Heathrow Airport, in London, and blow them up in midair. “Courting Disaster” (Regnery; $29.95), by Marc A. Thiessen, a former speechwriter in the Bush Administration, begins by imagining the horror that would have resulted had the plot succeeded. He conjures fifteen hundred dead airline passengers, televised “images of debris floating in the ocean,” and gleeful jihadis issuing fresh threats: “We will rain upon you such terror and destruction that you will never know peace.”

The plot, of course, was thwarted—an outcome that has been credited to smart detective work. But Thiessen writes that there is a more important reason that his dreadful scenario never came to pass: the Central Intelligence Agency provided the United Kingdom with pivotal intelligence, using “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by the Bush Administration. According to Thiessen, British authorities were given crucial assistance by a detainee at Guantánamo Bay who spoke of “plans for the use of liquid explosive,” which can easily be made with products bought at beauty shops. Thiessen also claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the primary architect of the 9/11 attacks, divulged key intelligence after being waterboarded by the C.I.A. a hundred and eighty-three times. Mohammed spoke about a 1995 plot, based in the Philippines, to blow up planes with liquid explosives. Thiessen writes that, in early 2006, “an observant C.I.A. officer” informed “skeptical” British authorities that radicals under surveillance in England appeared to be pursuing a similar scheme.

Thiessen’s book, whose subtitle is “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” offers a relentless defense of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies, which, according to many critics, sanctioned torture and yielded no appreciable intelligence benefit. In addition, Thiessen attacks the Obama Administration for having banned techniques such as waterboarding. “Americans could die as a result,” he writes.

Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is “completely and utterly wrong,” according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006. “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.,” Clarke said, adding that Thiessen’s “version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006.” Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London’s public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, “used exactly the same materials.”

Thiessen’s claim about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed looks equally shaky. The Bush interrogation program hardly discovered the Philippine airlines plot: in 1995, police in Manila stopped it from proceeding and, later, confiscated a computer filled with incriminating details. By 2003, when Mohammed was detained, hundreds of news reports about the plot had been published. If Mohammed provided the C.I.A. with critical new clues—details unknown to the Philippine police, or anyone else—Thiessen doesn’t supply the evidence.


Affirmative action -- Yes we did!

Andy Serwer won't quite go this far, but it's got to be more than a little galling for greater Wingnuttia to contemplate fulminate stew bitterly on the fact that their side got out-smarted by an African-American man and a woman, from San Francisco, no less.

And, yes, elections have consequences. Congratulate yourselves, people, all that hard work in 2006 and 2008 led to this righteous victory.


Glibertarian statistics

Meegardle is certain that the central reason we libtards are happy that health care reform legislation has passed is that it makes her unhappy. Amazing how, as with so many of her libertarian friends, it really is all about her.

Also very much the libertarian is the precise ways she uses, um, percentages.

1) Conservatively, Ezra's arithmetic implies a reduction in the death rate of people between 18-64 of at 20,000-45,000 a year. Let's take the low bound--20,000 deaths a year--and assume that we should see that, or something close to it, by 2020. That's about 3% of deaths in the relevant age group, which would show up as a very noticeably kink in the death rate. For comparison purposes, the entire fall in mortality between 1980 and 2000 was about 2.7%.

Contra Ezra, I am predicting that this will not happen. I'm about 75% confident that you will not be able to discern any effect from the health care reform among the statistical noise. But I am 95+% confident that the effect will not be as large as 3%.

The precision is breathtaking, as is the basis on those "predictions." Show your work, if you have any.

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Blue Monday, Odetta edition

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Clowns, potentially armed

I knew it had been ugly in the Capitol the last few days, but it's hard to remember a time when congressmen themselves helped to whip up the frenzy.

It was one of the ugliest and strangest periods the American legislative process has ever experienced. And Sunday was no different. The day's debate on the House floor was in its early moments when two men, one smelling strongly of alcohol, stood up in the public gallery and interrupted the debate with shouts of "Kill the bill!" and "The people said no!" As the Capitol Police led the demonstrators from the chamber, Republicans cheered -- for the hecklers.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who for the second day in a row had homophobic epithets hurled at him by demonstrators, called his Republican colleagues "clowns" for this display. But the circus was just beginning.

As lawmakers debated their way to a vote on the legislation, dozens of GOP lawmakers walked from the chamber, crossed the Speaker's Lobby, stepped out onto the members-only House balcony -- and proceeded to incite an unruly crowd.

Thousands of conservative "tea party" activists had massed on the south side of the Capitol, pushing to within about 50 feet of the building. Some Democrats worried aloud about the risk of violence, and police tried to keep the crowd away from the building.

But rather than calm the demonstrators, Republican congressmen whipped the masses into a frenzy. There on the House balcony, the GOP lawmakers' legislative dissent and the tea-party protest merged into one. Some lawmakers waved handwritten signs and led the crowd in chants of "Kill the bill." A few waved the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag of the tea-party movement. Still others fired up the demonstrators with campaign-style signs mocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats, to show they wouldn't be intimidated, had staged a march to the Capitol from their office buildings, covering the ground where on Saturday African American Democrats were called racial epithets and spat on by protesters. Pelosi, carrying the speaker's gavel, linked arms with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was harassed Saturday but is no stranger to abuse from his years in the civil rights movement.

Police ringed Lewis, Pelosi and other Democrats while the conservative activists formed a gantlet and shouted insults: "You communists! You socialists! You hate America!"

The tone was little better indoors. Pelosi, holding a news conference after a meeting with her Democratic caucus, was heckled by a demonstrator. Inside the House chamber, Republicans placed on Democrats' chairs photos of the Democratic lawmakers who lost their jobs in 1994. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) went to the well to say that "freedom dies." Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), sitting in the front row in a way that displayed the Lone Star flag on his cowboy boots, said Democrats were on "the path of government tyranny." Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned of a "fiscal Frankenstein."

"Remember the dignity of the House." Indeed.


More good news for Republicans -- the Civil Rights disaster

On the Sunday Idiot Shows, Newt Gingrich helpfully pointed out that passage of comprehensive health care reform is the worst political disaster for Democrats since passage of Civil Rights legislation under LBJ.

Former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama and the Democrats will regret their decision to push for comprehensive reform. Calling the bill “the most radical social experiment . . . in modern times,” Gingrich said: “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” with the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Quickly called on that -- that overcoming decades of apartheid and doing the morally correct thing was probably worth the price (that LBJ himself recognized), Gingrich quickly backs away.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quoted Sunday as saying that President Obama and the Democrats, by passing comprehensive health care legislation, "will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" with the passage of civil rights legislation.

The article went on to note how Johnson's support for civil rights legislation broke apart the North-South coalition in the old Democratic Party and led to the realignment of the South into solid Republican territory.

Gingrich responded with several emails saying that the context misrepresented his views by implying that he believed Johnson was wrong to sign the major civil rights legislation of the 1960s. To the contrary, he said, the civil rights revolution of 1956-1965 was "morally absolutely necessary" for the country and Johnson was correct in pushing for the legislation. Other Johnson actions, he said, inflicted more damage to the Democratic coalition.

Not only is this guy unfit to be president, he's unfit to teach history. He was absolutely correct, in the first case, to note that Civil Rights legislation did in fact rupture the Democratic Party. Yes, the war would prove LBJ's undoing, but it was Civil Rights that broke the South from the Democratic Party. And good riddance, even if it did result in Nixon, Wallace, and Reagan (and, alas, Gingrich).

That southern arm of the Party no longer exists in any real sense. The correlation couldn't be farther from the truth. What is true is that, yes, many Democrats are going to face tough odds in November, but tackling one of the most intractable problems of our times and doing something that is morally upstanding seems worth what will be a tough price to pay for individual politicians and a brief one for the Party, but will stand as nearly as great an achievement as was Civil Rights was nearly 50 years ago.

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"Remember the dignity of the House"

It's difficult to discern where Rep. Boehner's cynicism meets his ignorance.

Congratulations to the 219 Democratic Congressman who passed legislation that is both relatively incremental and historic at the same time.

And special congratulations go out to Nancy Pelosi, who should go down as one of the most effective Speakers in many years.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Must they do everything backwards?

Well it seems that House Dems are going to debate and vote on the "fixes" before they Pass. The. Damn. Bill. So, should the Democrats manage to not shoot themselves with an unloaded gun before then, the historic passage of comprehensive health care reform legislation won't occur until well past midnight. No prime time victory lap message from the White House.


Anyway, it's been the first full day of Spring and J.S. Bach's birthday, so console yourselves.

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Greenberg's 58

For decades, people have wondered if pitchers intentionally walked Hank Greenberg as he closed in on Ruth's record 60 HRs in the closing months of the 1938 season. And, if they did, if Antisemitism played a part in that.

Seems like, yeah, they did and it did.

Until the Web site recently published game logs for the 1938 season, the subject of anti-Semitism during Greenberg’s record chase was a matter of opinion.

Some members of Greenberg’s family and legions of his fans believed that anti-Semitic pitchers had walked Greenberg often to keep him from a fair shot at Ruth, who set the record in 1927. Greenberg, however, called such a view “pure baloney.” To shift responsibility for his falling short of the record onto others would have been out of character.

Greenberg received many more walks as he chased Ruth in 1938 than he did in the rest of his career. Almost no other hitter going after the home run record had anything like Greenberg’s late-season spike in bases on balls. He had 119 walks to lead the A.L., the only time he did so, and they accounted for 17.5 percent of his 681 plate appearances.

Of all the would=be 60+ home run sluggers, only Bonds would see similar shifts in his walk rate. That was a whole different kind of baggage he carried.

On a barely relevant note, on the way over to Europe, I chose A Serious Man for the red eye flight. On the way back I watched Inglourious Bastards (with The Reader as my second choice). And of course, a bat plays an important role in IB. Coincidence? I think not.


Profiles in obfuscation

Think someone got to Anh Cao? Here he was back in November:

Mr. Cao (pronounced gow; rhymes with cow), a freshman from New Orleans, was elected last year in an upset victory over Representative William J. Jefferson, a Democrat who was under indictment on federal corruption charges at the time and has since been convicted.

“Tonight, I voted to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion and to deliver access to affordable health care to the people of Louisiana,” Mr. Cao said in a statement posted on his Web site.

“I read the versions of the House bill. I listened to the countless stories of Orleans and Jefferson Parish citizens whose health care costs are exploding — if they are able to obtain health care at all. Louisianans needs real options for primary care, for mental health care, and for expanded health care for seniors and children.”

Wonder what changed?

In November, Mr. Stupak had also succeeded in winning approval of tight limits on insurance coverage of abortions in the House bill. The current package now includes language from the bill passed in the Senate and negotiated by two Democrats, Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who have built up solid credentials in their political careers as abortion opponents.

Mr. Stupak and many of the lawmakers insisting on the tighter restrictions are Catholic, as is Ms. Pelosi, and all have cited their faith in justifying their position on the legislation.

In a sign of the emotion around the issue, Representative Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, who is Catholic and opposes abortion, announced his support for the legislation in a statement pointing out that he had once studied for the priesthood. He said he had consulted his priest and concluded that the abortion restrictions in the Senate bill were sufficient.

Democratic leaders said they hoped an executive order by Mr. Obama would clarify that the legislation was not intended to change existing federal law and policy that generally bar the use of taxpayer money for abortions.

But Representative Anh Cao of Louisiana, the only Republican who voted for the bill in November, said he could not support the current measure because of its “expansion of abortion, an absolute moral evil.”

Really odd political calculations. He's sure to face a Tea Party challenge from the right -- does he think hewing the party line now is going to help him with that? And now he puts a Democratic in an even stronger position in a district that is overwhelmingly African-American and desperately poor. He has a chance to put his vote on a historic bill that will do more for his constituents than likely anything else he is going to vote for in the short time he has left as a Congressman, but what was acceptable to his moral imperatives over a woman's body in November is no longer satisfactory.

Sad, when you think of it.

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Friday, March 19, 2010


Truckin' back tomorrow.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Slowly I turned...

The spectrum of potential opposition to health care reform got smaller as Kucinich perhaps realized (or was convinced) that history would not be kind to him. Excruciating, and I wonder if I'll be back in the country on Saturday before the House votes..

UPDATE: To fix an early morning exhausted blunder.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oh, fer christ's sake

MLB drug tests managers?

Back in the day, I stopped patronizing lens crafters when they built a marketing campaign boasting that they drug tested their employees. I was unimpressed. I'm less impressed by the idea of testing field managers for what they do in their personal lives.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Public announcement

I'll be setting out to look around this big ol' world of ours for the next few days, so postings will likely be light -- literally, now, as well as metaphorically.

Believe I'll dust my broom

It's out with the old -- in with the CDC.

ATLANTA — No federal health agency changed more during the Bush administration than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It got new buildings, new managers and an entirely new operating structure.

A year into the Obama administration, only the new buildings remain. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the agency’s director since June, has quietly scrapped nearly all the administrative changes that the previous director, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, spent much of her six-year tenure conceiving and carrying out.

Gone are the nonscientific managers whom Dr. Gerberding sprinkled throughout the agency’s top ranks. Gone is a layer of bureaucracy, agency officials said. Gone, too, are the captain’s chairs with cup holders from a conference room so fancy that agency managers dubbed it the Crown Room.

In their place, Dr. Frieden has restored not only much of the agency’s previous organizational structure and scientific managers, but also its drab furniture. And he has brought something new: a frenetic sense of urgency.

In defense of Dr. Gerberding, she was battling all those terrorist attacks that did not happen during Bush's terms, like planes flown into buildings and anthrax drifting around postal centers, so the captain's chairs were vital. Under such pressure, you need a cool one at hand.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Air cover

Greg Sargent notes that the spot, from MoveOn, comes on the heels of a MoveOn survey in which more than 80% of members supported the House approving the Senate bill and moving on to reconciliation, so there is a wide consensus for Passing the Bill Now. Moreover, Sargent writes, the TV buy shows Congress Critters that failure has consequences.

If they take a tough vote and pass reform, they’ll have major air cover from big-spending groups as they head into the bruising fall campaign. If not, well…

Meanwhile, Heather Graham is back in her singlet!


Prius black box?

I didn't know that automotive systems can provide this much historical data about pressing pedals.

Toyota said testing found that the car's accelerator pedal had no mechanical binding or friction, and the floor mat was not interfering with or touching the pedal.

A self-diagnostic system did show evidence of repeated applications of the accelerator and brake pedals, Toyota said.

"The data from the diagnostics test indicated that the accelerator and the brake had been rapidly pressed, alternately back and forth, 250 times," Mike Michels, vice president of corporate communications for Toyota Motor Sales USA, told a press conference.

In a test, the front brakes were replaced and then purposely overheated by continuous light application and still stopped the car, the company said.

According to Toyota, the Prius has a self-protection system that cuts engine power if the brake pedal is pressed moderately or greater. Tests found that system to be functioning, the carmaker said. The company also said the car's push-button power switch worked normally and shut off the vehicle when pressed for three seconds, and that the shift lever worked normally and allowed neutral to be selected.

The power management computer contained no diagnostic trouble codes, and the dashboard malfunction lights were not activated, Toyota said.

As I recall, the problems with Audi accelerators back in the 80s were later found to be user era. Nevertheless, you couldn't sell an Audi in this country for several years. But Audi didn't have this kind of post-incident information to look at.

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Small ball

Anti-capitalism gets a boost from Beck

The power of Glenn Beck.

This month, Mr. Beck proclaimed it “the most evil book I’ve read in a long, long time.”

The next day, “The Coming Insurrection,” whose authors call themselves the Invisible Committee, rose to No. 54 on Amazon’s best-seller list. In July, the book briefly reached No. 1. And even this weekend the book remained around No. 240.

Sylvère Lotringer, a professor emeritus of French language and philosophy at Columbia and the general editor of Semiotext(e), which translated and published the book, said there was no doubt that Mr. Beck was feeding what had been “in a short duration, the most books we have ever sold.”

He did not provide a sales number.

As for trying to play to Mr. Beck or the book’s other critics on the right, Mr. Lotringer said he was torn.

“I would be willing to come on the show if he had read the book, but he has never read it,” he said. “Nothing that he has said shows that he read it. He is incapable of reading it.”

Kind of like Oprah's book club, only for conspiracy-loons.

But I love the denial by the carny's spokesman that his boss hasn't read the book.

Christopher Balfe, president and chief operating officer of Mercury Radio Arts, Mr. Beck's production company, said, “Glenn read this book because he believes it is important for people to read everything, especially the titles they disagree with, so they can clearly understand all points of view and have open and honest debates.”

Beck reads "everything." Like his sister in con artistry, Sarah Palin.

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Blue Monday, Cream edition

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If these are principles, I'd hate to see what "craven" looks like

Dennis Kucinich, the least valuable Democrat.

But what if we don't build in an exception for the so-called "liberal no's" -- that is, simply take every vote at face value? It turns out, then, that Davis is no longer the least valuable Democrat. Instead, it is Dennis Kucinich, who voted against health care, the hate crimes bill, the budget, the cap-and-trade bill, and financial regulation -- all ostensibly from the left -- in spite of coming from from the strongly Democratic Ohio 10th district near Cleveland.


Kucinich's score of -4.22 is not only worse than that of any other Democrat: it is also worse than that of all but 22 Republicans.
The Vega hereby throws its support behind anyone willing to mount a primary challenge against this narcissistic asshole. He's not moving the Overton Window, he's defenestrating his own party and progressive ideals.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lucky stars

I've been through Hurricane Gloria and lots of Nor'easters, but that was one of the scariest storms I've experienced. The house was making sounds I'd never heard before as 60 MPH winds buffeted it. The street sign at the corner was uprooted.

But I guess I shouldn't complain about our satellite TV being out.


Vindicating Grant

Rep. Patrick McHenry's (R-NC) attempt to replace U.S. Grant with Reagan's mug is a shameful attempt in a long line of shameful attempts to rewrite the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Grant was one of our most progressive presidents and progressives should fight for his reputation.

As president, Grant was determined to achieve national reconciliation, but on the terms of the victorious North, not the defeated Confederates. He fought hard and successfully for ratification of the 15th Amendment, banning disenfranchisement on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. When recalcitrant Southern whites fought back under the white hoods and robes of the Ku Klux Klan, murdering and terrorizing blacks and their political supporters, Grant secured legislation that empowered him to unleash federal force. By 1872, the Klan was effectively dead.

For Grant, Reconstruction always remained of paramount importance, and he remained steadfast, even when members of his own party turned their backs on the former slaves. After white supremacists slaughtered blacks and Republicans in Louisiana in 1873 and attempted a coup the following year, Grant took swift and forceful action to restore order and legitimate government. With the political tide running heavily against him, Grant still managed to see through to enactment the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibited discrimination according to race in all public accommodations.

Grant did not confine his reformism to expanding and protecting the rights of the freed slaves. Disgusted at the inhumanity of the nation’s Indian policies, he called for “the proper treatment of the original occupants of this land,” and directed efforts to provide federal aid for food, clothing and schooling for the Indians as well as protection from violence. He also took strong and principled stands in favor of education reform and the separation of church and state.

Grant’s presidency had its failures and blemishes. On the advice of his counselors, Grant appointed men to the Supreme Court who wound up gutting much of the legislation he himself championed. This included the 1875 civil rights law, which the court declared unconstitutional in 1883.

Certainly, Grant’s administration was tainted by oft-remembered corruption scandals. But Grant was never seriously implicated in any of them, although emboldened Democrats and disloyal Republicans, with the help of a sensationalist press, did their best to make the president appear the villain. (Grant ill-advisedly decided to present a stoic public face instead of fighting back.)

In reality, what fueled the personal defamation of Grant was contempt for his Reconstruction policies, which supposedly sacrificed a prostrate South, as one critic put it, “on the altar of Radicalism.” That he accomplished as much for freed slaves as he did within the constitutional limits of the presidency was remarkable. Without question, his was the most impressive record on civil rights and equality of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson.

Grant has been slandered for 150 years, despite saving The Union, winning two terms as president, recognizing that it was the North that won the war when legislating Reconstruction, and writing an enormously popular memoir just before his death. We still allow those who pine for the White Sheets control our national narrative on The Civil War and Civil Rights.

DH Riley weighed in on this with his usual aplomb weeks ago.

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Worse then negotiating with themselves...

...they're pointlessly negotiating with Lindsey ("Milkaholic") Graham. He may provide "cover" for the administration's desire to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, but he doesn't provide any...ya know...votes for actually doing it.

For fuck's sake, Khalid Sheik Mohammed should already be on trial, in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Police state

Jesus Horatio Christ.

The Rapid City Police Department says Newsome, an aircraft armament system craftsman who spent nine years in the Air Force, was not cooperative when they showed up at her home in November with an arrest warrant for her partner, who was wanted on theft charges in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Newsome was at work at the base at the time and refused to immediately come home and assist the officers in finding her partner, whom she married in Iowa -- where gay marriage is legal -- in October.

Police officers, who said they spotted the marriage license on the kitchen table through a window of Newsome's home, alerted the base, police Chief Steve Allender said in a statement sent to the AP. The license was relevant to the investigation because it showed both the relationship and residency of the two women, he said.

''It's an emotional issue and it's unfortunate that Newsome lost her job, but I disagree with the notion that our department might be expected to ignore the license, or not document the license, or withhold it from the Air Force once we did know about it,'' Allender said Saturday. ''It was a part of the case, part of the report and the Air Force was privileged to the information.''

He said his department does not seek to expose gay military personnel or investigate the sexuality of Rapid City residents.

Except when they piss them off.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Somethin's happenin' here

I am a longtime Democrat, so I am not unmindful of their capacity to shoot themselves in the foot with a gun that ain't even loaded, but...

WASHINGTON — The White House and Congressional leaders put Democrats on notice Friday that they would push ahead next week toward climactic votes on the health care legislation, as President Obama delayed a foreign trip and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped to complete House action before he leaves.

As early as Thursday or Friday, Democrats said, they would first pass the health care bill already approved by the Senate in December, clearing the way for Mr. Obama to sign it, and then approve a package of changes in a separate bill that the Senate would also pass by a simple majority vote.

The White House said Mr. Obama had delayed his departure for a trip to Guam, Indonesia and Australia to March 21, from Thursday, so that he could keep the pressure on Congress, shortening the trip and not taking his family along — all clear signals that he wants this seen as a make-or-break moment.

“I’m delighted that the president will be here for the passage of the bill,” Ms. Pelosi said. “It’s going to be historic. And it would not be possible without his tremendous, tremendous leadership, his persistence, his concern for the American people, always guided by his statement that we will measure our success by the progress being made by America’s working families.”

And this is just all-round smart politics.

Ms. Pelosi said House Democrats were happy that a proposed overhaul of student loan programs would also be attached to the package. The bill is popular in the House and would help sway fence-sitters, said Democrats, who need 216 votes in the House. The student loan package would be hard to pass in the Senate except by sharing the health bill’s fast track.

The president’s international trip had grown into a source of frustration among many House Democrats, who complained privately to the White House that they were being forced to take a quick vote on health care so Mr. Obama and his family could leave on the overseas trip next week.

The president is no longer taking the first lady, Michelle Obama, and their two daughters on the trip, an administration official said. Mr. Obama agreed to delay his departure by three days, an administration official said, shortening the trip for official business only in an effort to show flexibility in the final push on health care legislation and to give Mr. Obama more time to win over skeptical House members.

I've said it before and longtime readers know I'm a rank Obamabot, but he understands the long view on this. That he couldn't just drop a bill in Congress and expect them to pas it. That, therefore, the legislative process was going to be messy, un-transparent, and ugly (read, "Nebraska"). That while news cycles are short, legislation is long and tempers cool. Much as he and his advisers exhibited during the campaign, it's a long slog and a lot of hard work and you got to pick your moments

He stepped in at the right moment and led the final charge when all sides were exhausted, but also when Dems began to realize that failure to pass this bill would only add to an appearance that they can't govern.

Things can still go wrong. House lawmakers haven't seen the budget bill that would be passed through reconciliation. Does Pelosi really have the 216? Who knows where Stupak is these days. But this feels like we really are on the verge of a historic moment. The Tell, as usual, is in the Concern Trolls.

Oh, and kudos to Sasha and Malia.


Public announcement

Lot's of folks changing their look or user-face or whatever (and whatever Firefox just did to make me "personalize"...bleh). All, in this humble blogger's opinion, for the worse. We, the proprietors of the Vegacura have no plans to change.


Shine on you crazy diamond

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God damn they are stupid

And they will kill us.

From the AFP this afternoon.

Democrats to use contentious tactic on health care

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Senate Democrats Thursday heralded a bitter endgame of President Barack Obama's health reform drive, announcing they would use a contentious legislative tactic to try to pass the bill.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid formally notified the Republican opposition that he would seek to pass the legislation by "reconciliation."

The reporter doesn't give us the actual sentence in which Reid used the word "reconciliation," so we don't know the context in which he used it. And Reid has been known to mis-speak.

But, one more time and with feeling. "Reconciliation" -- "contentious" or not, will not be used to pass a health care reform bill. Health care legislation has been passed, by a super majority in the Senate and a wide majority in the House. Only one bill can go to the president. So, certain items relating to its effect on the budget can be "reconciled" by a simple majority so, like, the U.S. government doesn't begin acting like California.

Kent Conrad explained this quite clearly in various mediums, and still reporters -- reporters who cover the workings of the U.S. Congress, I assume -- do not understand how this works.

The report does sort of kinda mention this later and also reminds readers that the GOP used reconciliation "on occasion" when they were in the majority. But none of that comes in until eight graphs into the story.


Denizens of the multiverse

Methinks Prof. De Long is shrill.

Jonathan Cohn Misaprehends the Sources of Opposition to Health Care Reform

Jonathan Cohn:

What, You Have A Better Idea For Cost Control?: David Brooks thinks it. David Gregory thinks it. The Washington Post editorial page thinks it. And, what the heck, I think it. If health care reform passes Congress, the final legislation probably won't cut the cost of medical care as quickly as seems possible on paper. But would the legislation make a good start--as good a start as possible, given political reality? Brooks, Gregory, the Post, and plenty of other critics seem to think the answer is "no." I think they are nuts...

Let's be very clear about what is going on. There is another branch of the multiverse right now--another component of the universe's quantum wave function that has decohered and is no longer interfering with our branch--in which Mitt Romney is president. And in that branch, this health care bill--minus its Medicare cuts--passed the Senate 80-20 (with the 20 being liberal Democrats whining about how it wasn't a big enough reform to work) last year. And that bill passed with the enthusiastic approbation of alternate-world David Brooks, alternate-world Gregory, and the alternate-world Washington Post editorial page. For our health care reform bill is, in its essentials, Mitt Romney's plan for Massachusetts.

Brooks, Gregory, the Post, and company are opposed to the health care bill not because they think it will not cut costs, but because it was proposed by a Democrat.



Narcissists will kill us

I'm all for supporting a primary opponent for Bart Stupak, but it's narcissists like Kucinich who should have their feet held to the fire. He would condemn the country to decades more without universal health care all so he can say he tried to make insurance company executives cry.

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Greatest deliberative body ever, Pt 364

Good for House Democrats.

WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders on Wednesday banned budget earmarks to private industry, ending a practice that has steered billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies and set off corruption scandals.

The ban is the most forceful step yet in a three-year effort in Congress to curb abuses in the use of earmarks, which allow individual lawmakers to award financing for pet projects to groups and businesses, many of them campaign donors.

But House Republicans, in a quick round of political one-upmanship, tried to outmaneuver Democrats by calling for a ban on earmarks across the board, not just to for-profit companies. Republicans, who expect an intra-party vote on the issue Thursday, called earmarks “a symbol of a broken Washington.”


But this is getting increasingly ridiculous.

Both parties are seeking to claim the ethical high ground on the issue by racing to rein in a budgeting practice that has become rife with political influence peddling. So far, though, the Senate is not joining in. House Democrats had tried to reach an agreement with their counterparts to ban for-profit earmarks, but the senators balked, Congressional officials said.

Senate Democrats can never be accused of trying to claim the ethical high ground. Sheesh.


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