Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy birthday, Mo

Belated, but "baseball's most dominant closer" turned 41 yesterday. A free agent, should expect the Yankees to sign him to whatever terms he chooses.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Project, much?

Ross Douthat...it's hard to say why he has a job in the New York Times though his work there makes it easier to understand why the Times killed Times Select. Anyway, he has gone from insisting that liborals love them a Culture War as much as his co-polireligious friends do, to today's edition of "We're all tribalists now."

Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been president when the Transportation Security Administration decided to let Thanksgiving travelers choose between exposing their nether regions to a body scanner or enduring a private security massage. Democrats would have been outraged at yet another Bush-era assault on civil liberties. Liberal pundits would have outdone one another comparing the T.S.A. to this or that police state. (“In an outrage worthy of Enver Hoxha’s Albania ...”) And Republicans would have leaped to the Bush administration’s defense, while accusing liberals of going soft on terrorism.

But Barack Obama is our president instead, so the body-scanner debate played out rather differently. True, some conservatives invoked 9/11 to defend the T.S.A., and some liberals denounced the measures as an affront to American liberties. Such ideological consistency, though, was the exception; mostly, the Bush-era script was read in reverse. It was the populist right that raged against body scans, and the Republican Party that moved briskly to exploit the furor. It was a Democratic administration that labored to justify the intrusive procedures, and the liberal commentariat that leaped to their defense.

Note, he doesn't link to anyone in that quote about Albania. And the hoards of liberals defending the TSA? He links to a grand total of two: those raving anti-establishmentarians, the Post's Ruth Marcus and Politico's Michael Kinsley. On the contrary, many leading voices on the Left have been quite noisy in the opposition and the "liberal" response has hardly been monolithic.

Moreover, contrary to Douthat's easy formulation, I don't recall liberals expressing the kind of outsized outrage we saw the last couple of weeks when, during the Bush administration, we were told to take off our shoes and forfeit our lotions and creams. I do recall progressive outrage at things like warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detention without recourse to the courts, and Guantanamo Bay. If Douthat thinks those are akin to Rapidscan or a frisk at the airport, then he has an odd view of the Constitution. And if he's unaware that liberals oppose these things regardless of who inhabits the White House, then he's a liar or an idiot.


Wikileaks all over Iran

I haven't a clue what the latest Wikileaks data dump was intended to do or prove. There isn't much in there that wasn't already pretty well known, such as Karzai's brother being a rat. We knew that the other Arab states don't much care for or trust Iran. And as for whomever leaked the documents to Wikileaks, if he or she thought this was the second coming of Daniel Ellsberg, he or she is very wrong. This isn't the Pentagon Papers; it isn't evidence that the American government is lying any more than using diplomatic language could be called "lying."

But, Kevin Drum is right, from what little I've admittedly read, if the intent was to make the case for an attack on Iran just a little bit easier, then, we might very well be able to say, "mission accomplished."

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Blue Monday, Kurt Weill edition

Friday, November 26, 2010

A big "fuck you" to history

If it is true that distance makes the heart grow fonder; if you were beginning to soften in your feelings towards the last president; if you were thinking, how bad could he have been? Then you're in luck, because he's written a "memoir," and it only takes a paragraph or two, madelaine like, it all comes flooding back. George Packer explains, yes, he was a self-regarding asshole and he remains so.

Modern ex-Presidents tend to write memoirs for reasons less heroic than Grant’s. Richard Nixon couldn’t stop producing his, in one form or another, in a quest to revise history’s devastating verdict. Bill Clinton needed the world’s undying attention. Why did George W. Bush write “Decision Points” (Crown; $35)? He tells us on the first page. He wanted to make a contribution to the study of American history, but he also wanted to join the section of advice books featuring leadership tips from successful executives: “I write to give readers a perspective on decision making in a complex environment. Many of the decisions that reach the president’s desk are tough calls, with strong arguments on both sides. Throughout the book, I describe the options I weighed and the principles I followed. I hope this will give you a better sense of why I made the decisions I did. Perhaps it will even prove useful as you make choices in your own life.”

Here is a prediction: “Decision Points” will not endure. Its prose aims for tough-minded simplicity but keeps landing on simpleminded sententiousness. Though Bush credits no collaborator, his memoirs read as if they were written by an admiring sidekick who is familiar with every story Bush ever told but never got to know the President well enough to convey his inner life. Very few of its four hundred and ninety-three pages are not self-serving. Bush, honing his executive skills as part owner of the Texas Rangers, decides to fire his underperforming manager, Bobby Valentine: “I tried to deliver the news in a thoughtful way, and Bobby handled it like a professional. I was grateful when, years later, I heard him say, ‘I voted for George W. Bush, even though he fired me.’ ” At the dramatic height of the book, on the morning of September 11th, “I called Condi from the secure phone in the limo. She told me there had been a third plane crash, this one into the Pentagon. I sat back in my seat and absorbed her words. My thoughts clarified: The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war. My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.”

The rare moments of candor come at other people’s expense. After his mother has a miscarriage, her teen-age son drives her to the hospital: “This was a subject I never expected to be discussing with Mother. I also never expected to see the remains of the fetus, which she had saved in a jar.” (In other appearances, Barbara Bush is heard telling her son, “You can’t win,” as he weighs a race against Governor Ann Richards, of Texas, and scolding him to “get over it. Make up your mind, and move on,” as he tries to decide whether to run for President.) During the worst period of violence in Iraq, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, implores the President to withdraw some troops in order to give the Republicans a boost before the 2006 midterms. “I made it clear I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls,” Bush writes. That’s the characteristic anecdote of “Decision Points”: the President always gets the last, serenely self-assured word, leaving others quietly impressed or looking like fools. Scenes end with him saying, “Get to work,” “Let’s go,” or “We’re going to stay confident and patient, cool and steady.” Bush kept two war trophies in his private study off the Oval Office—a brick from the pulverized house of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and a pistol found on Saddam Hussein when he was captured. There’s plenty of moral cowardice assigned, but none of it to Bush himself.

I know I shouldn't be surprised, but the book mirrors the administration itself, built on lies, easily identified omissions, and absolutely no reflection or admission of mistakes made. Only steely resolve which we stupid liberals mistook for lack of character and intelligence.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The comix

I know, Dear Reader, you wouldn't have thought they could top this, but in Fred Hiatt's quest to prove his wicked sense of teh funny, Kaplan Test Prep Daily gets even more AWESOME.


Breakfast of champions



This, my friends, is a sweet rant. Motor Trend's editor responds to Limbaugh's and Will's attack on the Volt being named "Car of the Year."

You’ve made two king’s ransoms by convincing legions of dittoheads to tune into you every day. I wonder, do you ever ride in anything that’s not German or Anglo-Saxon? Do you have any idea how powerful IG Metal is, and of the size of Germany’s social safety net?

My esteemed colleague, Jonny Lieberman, got a copy of Will’s hit piece on the Volt, and responded thusly: “A bit of flag waving is in order – but instead, Will chooses to be a partisan clown and gets everything wrong.” You and Will don’t even worry about being un-American, anymore.

All the shouting from you or from electric car purists on the left can’t distort the fact that the Chevy Volt is, indeed, a technological breakthrough. And it’s more. It’s a technological breakthrough that many American families can use for gas-free daily commutes and well-planned vacation drives. It’s expensive for a Chevy, but many of those families will find the gasoline saved worth it. If you can stop shilling for your favorite political party long enough to go for a drive, you might really enjoy the Chevy Volt. I’m sure GM would be happy to lend you one for the weekend. Just remember: driving and Oxycontin don’t mix.

Via TPM.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"My plans are done for the night. You're getting fucking arrested"

Yet another reminder of why New York City is the Greatest City on the Earth.

Libby Copeland explains,

A great deal has been written pondering how, for instance, YouTube and ubiquitous cell phone cameras have altered the way politicians operate (remember George Allen’s "macaca" moment?), not to mention ordinary folk, who have been vilified and humiliated, as well as made into stars through instant viral fame. Police also use YouTube, Facebook and message boards to catch all sorts of crime - street fighters, drag racers. (The folks who actually post videos of themselves committing crimes make it way too easy for the cops. Come on, people! Make them work a little.)

Add to those ranks the lowly, reviled flasher, who has long relied on shocking or humiliating his victims through brief glimpses of his body. It’s a frustrating crime because it happens in, yes, a flash, and then the guy covers up and maybe hustles away, leaving his victim wondering, How can I prove it? And perhaps even, Did I really just see what I think I saw?

You can already predict the media arc for this story: The city will make sure the flasher gets the fullest punishment it can mete out, and the woman will make the rounds on the morning shows. (She’s short, feisty, possessed of red hair and a New York accent – the stuff of producers’ dreams.) And the woman’s words – “My plans are done for the night. …Oh yes. Oh [bleeping] yes” – are soon to be an Auto-Tuned YouTube song.

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The Israeli model

I heard Rep. Mica on NPR last night, claiming that the Obama administration is screwing up airport security, that the TSA has too many desk jobs, and that we should follow El Al's security apparatus.

Never mind that there are two airports in Israel and 50 flights per day. We should be able to create an army of racial profilers behavioral pattern experts in no time. But if Rep. Mica thinks that air travel in Israel is so much more pleasant than dealing with fascist TSA union members wanting to "grope" you or look at titillating scans of your...well...tits, then I say he may not be so well briefed on the subject.*

As it turns out, the security methods employed by Israel’s famous Shin Bet security service at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv are frequently stricter and more intrusive than the full-body scanners and pat-downs American officials put into place Nov. 1, said security analysts and the travelers who regularly show up at Ben-Gurion four hours before their flights for screening.

At Ben-Gurion, some passengers have been searched so thoroughly that they have had to walk through the terminals, the gates and up to the doors of their planes with no handbags, wallets or even shoes.

The Israeli approach highlights the difficult balance faced by the Obama administration as it tries to address terror threats without unduly alienating the people it is trying to protect. The Israeli system relies on steps that would be likely to provoke opposition in the United States on civil liberties grounds: collecting detailed information about passengers before they fly. Besides, Israel has only two airports and 50 flights a day, compared with 450 airports and thousands of daily flights in the United States.

The administration argues that by focusing at airports on the search for weapons — in contrast to the Israelis, who focus in airports on finding terrorists — the United States is mounting a valuable and necessary last line of defense without undermining civil liberties. The multiethnic population of the United States makes it more difficult here than in Israel to profile possible terrorists, experts say, leaving officials with little choice but to screen passengers carefully for illicit items.

* Which makes him an excellent choice to be the committee chairman on this subject.

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Dances with the schmucks

I couldn't have said this better myself and, in fact, didn't.

The Bristol Palin thing shows, above all else, that Nixonian resentment remains very much at the forefront of modern conservatism. 1)Stuffing the ballot boxes for a crappy reality show, 2)in order to piss of liberals, 3)despite the fact that the vast majority of “liberal elitists” they will claim to have met at apocryphal cocktail parties couldn’t have less interest in the question of who wins the crappy reality show competition, and also 4)to pay liberals back for entirely imaginary vote fraud — perfect!

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Our present madness...

...is really nothing new.

The anti-Communist fervor of the 1950s resulted in numerous social conformist reactions. A face powder called “Russian Sable” was renamed “Dark Dark,” and libraries in Indiana were pressured by anti-communists to remove Robin Hood, with its lenient view of “spreading the wealth,” from their bookshelves. In 1954, the Cincinnati Reds changed their club nickname to “Redlegs,” and by 1956 the word “Reds” was completely absent from the team’s uniform. That season marked the first time since 1912 that Cincinnati’s home uniform failed to feature the team’s nickname. By 1961, with the era of McCarthyism over, the club’s original nickname and its use on the team uniform were re-established.

From a great on-line Hall of Fame exhibit, "Dressed to the Nines, A History of the Baseball Uniform."

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"Way outside the normal provocation"

First the attack on a South Korean naval ship. Then, the casual show and tell of the uranium enrichment facility. Now, shells falling on a South Korean village, killing at least two and sending inhabitants to Korean War-era bomb shelters. What the hell is going on in Pyonyang?


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Hack Thirty

In a world where so many political writers exhibit a form of omertà in which one pundit never speaks ill of another pundit, Alex Pareene is unafraid to tweak the noses of the New York Times' and Washington Post's most lauded columnists. He's on a roll with this one.

This sort of thing just isn't done.


Fit for a king

I doubt we'll have to wait long for John Boehner to point to this as proof that America has "the best health care system in the world."

The king, who is 86, is valued by Washington as a moderate at the helm of a pivotal Muslim country. He entered a hospital on Friday after a blood clot complicated a slipped disk he suffered the previous week.

“The king will leave on Monday for the United States to complete medical tests,” the Saudi state news agency SPA said.



Paul Krugman's hair is on fire.

Some explanation: There’s a legal limit to federal debt, which must be raised periodically if the government keeps running deficits; the limit will be reached again this spring. And since nobody, not even the hawkiest of deficit hawks, thinks the budget can be balanced immediately, the debt limit must be raised to avoid a government shutdown. But Republicans will probably try to blackmail the president into policy concessions by, in effect, holding the government hostage; they’ve done it before.

Now, you might think that the prospect of this kind of standoff, which might deny many Americans essential services, wreak havoc in financial markets and undermine America’s role in the world, would worry all men of good will. But no, Mr. Simpson “can’t wait.” And he’s what passes, these days, for a reasonable Republican.

The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation — cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.

Elite opinion has been slow to recognize this reality. Thus on the same day that Mr. Simpson rejoiced in the prospect of chaos, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, appealed for help in confronting mass unemployment. He asked for “a fiscal program that combines near-term measures to enhance growth with strong, confidence-inducing steps to reduce longer-term structural deficits.”

My immediate thought was, why not ask for a pony, too? After all, the G.O.P. isn’t interested in helping the economy as long as a Democrat is in the White House. Indeed, far from being willing to help Mr. Bernanke’s efforts, Republicans are trying to bully the Fed itself into giving up completely on trying to reduce unemployment.

And on matters fiscal, the G.O.P. program is to do almost exactly the opposite of what Mr. Bernanke called for. On one side, Republicans oppose just about everything that might reduce structural deficits: they demand that the Bush tax cuts be made permanent while demagoguing efforts to limit the rise in Medicare costs, which are essential to any attempts to get the budget under control. On the other, the G.O.P. opposes anything that might help sustain demand in a depressed economy — even aid to small businesses, which the party claims to love.

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Blue Monday, Albert Collins edition

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When the Allmans were the opening act

On Feb. 14, 1970, a group of guys from Georgia, after getting lost in lower Manhattan, opened up for Love and The Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East. They wouldn't be relegated to opening act status too often after this show. Duane would have turned 64 yesterday yesterday.

Listen to more The Allman Brothers Band at Wolfgang's Vault.


Friday, November 19, 2010

"Don't touch my junk"

As Riley notes, this "rising tide" of complaints over TSA agents patting down innocent travelers is more than likely not unlike a puddle after an afternoon rain shower. But, nevertheless, it's about time people stood up for their "rights."

In the three weeks since the Transportation Security Administration began more aggressive pat-downs of passengers at airport security checkpoints, traveler complaints have poured in.

Some offer graphic accounts of genital contact, others tell of agents gawking or making inappropriate comments, and many express a general sense of powerlessness and humiliation. In general passengers are saying they are surprised by the intimacy of a physical search usually reserved for police encounters.

Ah, right, police encounters. Those are way different.

The NYPD's stop and frisk policy shows no signs of abating. The latest data on the controversial program shows that the NYPD is on track to stop a record number of New Yorkers this year.

According to the NYCLU latest report, police made more than 404,000 stops of New Yorkers during the first nine months of [2009], the majority of whom were black and Latino. Only seven percent of those stopped were given a summons and just six percent were arrested. Between July and September alone, 137,894 people were questioned, with nearly nine out of 10 of these stops resulting in no charges or citations.

Police claim that these stops deter criminals, preemptively at times, and that the NYCLU is distorting "the statistics by defining an "innocent" person as someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime."

I'm not defending the practice in either case, but spare me the tears about powerlessness and humiliation. Some people live with that every day and I don't recall hearing too much of a groundswell of opposition to overbearing police officers, as long as the "right people" are the ones being accosted.


A squeeky toy beats logic every time

Because I feel understanding canine psychology may be an essential tool In These Great Times, I urge you to read this.


Extra: Man bites dog!

What? Are Democrats in Congress showing some interest in engaging in smart politics?

This is an easy one, and Obama needs to be out in front of this one, leading the charge in support of a popular tax cut for the middle class and in opposition to an unpopular tax cut for the wealthiest 1% of Americans. Let the Republicans "hold the middle class hostage" if they so choose. Democrats can hand them the gun to do it. Maybe even cut out the letters for the ransom note.

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Black Dub


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Conspiracy of dunces

Only in These Great Times could a terrorism suspect be convicted and face 20 years to life in prison and that verdict be considered a "failure of civilian courts."


"Flat, flabby and vague"

Adam Liptak reviews the writing coming out of the Roberts court.

The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is often criticized for issuing sweeping and politically polarized decisions. But there is an emerging parallel critique as well, this one concerned with the quality of the court’s judicial craftsmanship.

In decisions on questions great and small, the court often provides only limited or ambiguous guidance to lower courts.

And it increasingly does so at enormous length.

Brown v. Board of Education, the towering 1954 decision that held segregated public schools unconstitutional, managed to do its work in fewer than 4,000 words. When the Roberts court returned to just an aspect of the issue in 2007 in Parents Involved v. Seattle, it published some 47,000 words, enough to rival a short novel. In more routine cases, too, the court has been setting records. The median length of majority opinions reached an all-time high in the last term.

Critics of the court’s work are not primarily focused on the quality of the justices’ writing, though it is often flabby and flat. Instead, they point to reasoning that fails to provide clear guidance to lower courts, sometimes seemingly driven by a desire for unanimity that can lead to fuzzy, unwieldy rulings.


The court decides perhaps 75 cases a term these days, down from about 150 in the mid-1980s.

Yet the number of words per decision has been climbing. The Roberts court set a record last term, issuing majority opinions with a median length of 4,751 words, according to data collected by two political scientists, James F. Spriggs II of Washington University in St. Louis and Ryan C. Black of Michigan State. The lengths of decisions, including the majority opinion and all separate opinions, also set a record, at 8,265 words.

In the 1950s, the median length of decisions was around 2,000 words.

The opinions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the January decision that lifted restrictions on corporate and union spending in candidate elections, spanned 183 pages and more than 48,000 words, or about the length of “The Great Gatsby.” The decision — ninth on the list of longest majority opinions — was controversial, but the questions it addressed were not particularly complicated.

Long opinions are perilous, said Edward H. Cooper, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “The more things you say, the more chances you have to be wrong and the more chances you have to mislead the lower court,” he said.

There was a time when justices were keenly sensitive to keeping it short. Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote a memorandum to his law clerks in 1984 saying that “a frequent and justified criticism of this court is that opinions are too long” and “are overburdened with footnotes.” This can, he said, “leave lower courts and lawyers in doubt as to the law.”

These days, the writing emanating from the court can be bureaucratic and unmemorable.

Blame in part goes to the clerks who write the justices' opinions for them, but I suspect that specious reasoning -- a hallmark of this court -- leads to vague, flabby and flat opinions.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Defeat, at any cost

It's easy to see the GOP's political calculations in declaring the New START treaty dead for this Congress: deny Obama any success and declare his presidency a failure. Now, whether a failed treaty with Russia will have any effect on voters in 2012 would seem dubious, but I get the logic.

But denying the U.S. a successfully negotiated treaty with a country with whom we have vital interests on the basis of a dubious domestic political gain is very, very foolish.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, due to both his country's restrictive politics and his high approval rating, does not face the same treacherous domestic politics as Obama. But he had to make political sacrifices to sign New START in April. Between alienating the anti-American populists that have persisted to some extent after the Cold War and Russia's successive economic collapse, angering the hardline nationalist elements that remain in his security and military services, and of course preparing to reduce the military might that once made Russia a superpower, Medvedev paid very real costs for New START. If the treaty falls apart in the Senate, Medvedev will have nothing to show for his sacrifices. That lesson will not be lost on the world.

If New START fails then heads of state, foreign ministers, diplomats, and negotiators from around the world will be forced to think twice before making a difficult deal with the U.S. They will have to consider the possibility that any political sacrifices they make in the course of negotiating could very well be wasted. That will shift foreign leaders' calculus, if only slightly, away from deal-making with the United States. Why even bother?

It would be one thing for the Senate to consider blocking a treaty such as the proposed South Korean free trade agreement, which would benefit some Americans but possibly hurt others. But the nature of Republican opposition to New START would suggest that even a deal crafted to be as favorable as possible to all Americans could still meet with Senatorial defeat.

I realize John Kyle is an aggressively stupid individual, but is there not a single adult in the Republican party that can stand up to this madness?

Oh, right.

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The nuclear option

Historically, foreign affairs has been the purview of the Executive Branch. But as we've seen in recent days, Republicans in Congress have so qualms about negotiating with a foreign leader, and they have no interest in allowing the president a victory, even one that enhances our security and is supported by the Joint Chiefs.

Over many months of negotiations, the administration committed to spending $80 billion to do that over the next 10 years, and on Friday offered to chip in $4.1 billion more over the next five years. As a gesture of commitment, the White House had made sure extra money for modernization was included in the stopgap spending resolution now keeping the government operating, even though almost no other program received an increase in money.

All told, White House officials counted 29 meetings, phone calls, briefings or letters involving Mr. Kyl or his staff. They said they thought they had given him everything he wanted, and were optimistic about completing a deal this week, only to learn about his decision on Tuesday from reporters.

Mr. Kyl said he informed the Senate Democratic leader that there was not enough time to resolve all the issues during the lame-duck session that opened this week. “When majority leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame-duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to Start and modernization,” Mr. Kyl said in a written statement.

Mr. Kyl declined a request to be interviewed. Asked if the senator’s statement was meant to close the door to a lame-duck vote, his spokesman, Ryan Patmintra said: “Correct. Given the pending legislative business and outstanding issues on the treaty and modernization, there doesn’t appear to be enough time.”

Forget about the filibuster, this truly is "the nuclear option." It's a dangerous precedent and it's an even more dangerous undermining of our credibility.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Our media elites don't like paying taxes

During Obama's "60 Minutes" interview, I applauded the president for pushing back on the idea that raising taxes on the 1% of wealthiest Americans would "stall" a recovery. But I wished he'd gone farther by coming back with a question such as, "Well Steve [Kroft], I have to believe that someone like you makes a wee bit more that a quarter million each year. Maybe more than a wee bit. If we allow your portion of the Bush tax cuts to expire, what is it you won't buy next year that you otherwise would have?"

Jonathan Chait reminds u
s why this notion that higher taxes for the wealthiest is anti-capitalist is so powerfully intertwined in our senses.

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Methinks Romney doth protest too much. After hearing Obama say on "60 Minutes" that the Affordable Health Care Act was patterned on Republican health care reform plans going back to 1993, including the plan enacted when one Mittster Romney was governor of Mass., Romney's team goes all dog on the roof of the car crazy:

The notion that the Dems specifically tried to pattern ObamaCare after the Massachusetts plan is an outright lie. I’ve scoured news article and blogs from 2009 to Feb. 2010 when all the debate for the ObamaCare bill had taken place, and NOWHERE do the the Dems refer to MA as a model. They are trying to re-write history for political expedience.

NOWHERE, indeed. The all-caps are sure to convince Republican 2012 primary voters that Romney Care is nothing like Obama Care, and that it is all safe for Christians, Medicare patients, and Second Amendment defenders. Nothing at all like that socialism shit.

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Rosy assessments

In the last couple of years I've noticed that the Pentagon has resurrected a metric that seemed like Vietnam nostalgia: the body count.

But it seems that using those numbers to point to Good News in Afghanistan is meeting some much needed skepticism.

In Kandahar, NATO officials say that American and Afghan forces continue to rout the Taliban. In new statistics offered by American commanders in Kabul, Special Operations units have killed 339 midlevel Taliban commanders and 949 of the group’s foot soldiers in the past three months alone. At the Pentagon, the draft of a war assessment to be submitted to Congress this month cites a shift in momentum in some areas of the country away from the insurgency.

But as a new White House review of President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan gets under way, the rosy signs have opened an intense debate at the Defense Department, the White House, the State Department and the intelligence agencies over what they really mean. Are they indications of future success, are they fleeting and not replicable, or are they evidence that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top United States and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is simply more masterful than his predecessor at shaping opinion?


Blue Monday, Allman Bros edition

Barn coat mania

Friday, November 05, 2010

He was raised on loco weed

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Damn right it was worth it

Jonathan Chait takes up Ross ("Really, the New York Times?") Douthat's (tired and wheezy) argument that the Dems focus on comprehensive health care reform and the stimulus were the reason they were hammered at the polls this week. Setting aside the stimulus (and note, Douthat ignores the bank and auto bailouts that came about before Obama entered office), which with 9+% unemployment and most mainstream economists agreeing it was necessary to stave off a massive depression. And also setting aside the fact that health care reform has been the dream of Democrats for 60 years, was at the center of Obama's (and H. Clinton's) campaign, and was demanded by the base, was health care reform "worth it?" Chait responds,

But let's accept Douthat's premise for a moment that the decision to pursue comprehensive health reform hurt Democrats. Would I accept the trade-off? Yes, I would. Chances like this simply don't come along very often.

I'd also note that the decision to pursue a comprehensive plan was as much a GOP choice as a Democratic choice. Numerous Democrats in the Senate were desperate for bipartisan cover and only mildly committed to comprehensive reform. If any Republican Senators had put a deal on the table, almost any deal at all, however puny, at least one of those Democrats would have jumped at it. But Republicans were following Mitch McConnell's astute analysis that any bill with bipartisan support would become popular, and thus that withholding bipartisan support would hurt the Democrats but not Republicans. Republicans persistently followed an all-or-nothing strategy, and Democrats took all.

Which is to say, if Douthat is correct about his political premises, both parties had to choose between politics and policy. Democrats could have minimized their losses at the cost of sacrificing the health reform they wanted. Or Republicans could have minimized the scope of health care reform, at the cost of minimizing their potential wave. Democrats chose the best policy, and Republicans chose the best politics. I'm happy with the choice. Mitch McConnell won his election, and Democrats won health care reform. The latter is going to [be] around a lot longer than the former.

Well, assuming the latter survives the Roberts Court.

But I agree. I'm sorry stand-up guys like Perriello lost after voting to do the right thing for his (mostly rural, extremely impoverished, and mostly right-leaning) constituents, but doing the wrong thing would probably not have save his job, anyway. Just too much long-term unemployment, distress, anger, fear, and, well, old, to avoid "the wave."

With Republicans set to take control of the House, a number of the reforms' provisions will be slower to take affect due to lack of funding. Ironically, those provisions will likely be the ones best designed to control costs and lower the deficit, but you know the words to that song by now and Irony has been dead for a long time. But they will eventually have an impact on people's lives for the better. It was better to grab that chance -- along with consumer protections, financial reform, and workplace equality legislation passed by one of the hardest working, most progressive Congresses in 50 years -- than to let that historic chance that was briefly theirs in 2009 slip through Democrats' fingers.

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The silver linings

Steve Benen notes that there is a bright side to the "shellacking" Dems took in the House. It changes the dynamic in Washington making the Senate a much less important body than it was when Dems controlled the House and the Senate, with the latter absent a filibuster-proof majority. That means a few certain Senators may be a bit less welcome on the Sunday morning idiot shows.

There are still some responsibilities that are unique to the upper chamber -- judicial nominees, treaties, etc. -- but chances are, the political world will be obsessing less on a daily basis over what kind of mood Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and the Maine senators are in.

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Sparky Anderson in hospice care

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Evan Bayh will no longer be a U.S. senator

Looking around at all the Blue Dogs who will be soon packing their belongings in the Capitol, Evan Bayh decides democrats weren't conservative enough. Then there's this:

We also overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession. It was a noble aspiration, but $1 trillion in new spending and a major entitlement expansion are best attempted when the Treasury is flush and the economy strong, hardly our situation today.
Funny, back in February, on the one year anniversary of the too-small stimulus bill's signing, he railed against it, saying it hadn't created one new job. And he complained that there weren't enough tax cuts in the too-small stimulus bill. And he claimed that it was "too soon" to talk about a desperately needed second stimulus, even as the economy continued to bleed jobs.

So...what were the president and congress to do about job creation, besides..."focus?" Nevermind, the "$1 trillion" -- over ten years, by the way -- is paid for through health care reform.

Then there's this:

The most important area for spending restraint is entitlement reform. Democrats should offer changes to the system that would save hundreds of billions of dollars while preserving the safety net for our neediest. For instance, we could introduce “progressive indexation,” which would provide lower cost-of-living increases for more affluent Social Security recipients, or devise a more accurate measure of inflation’s effects on all recipients’ income.

Right. The lesson learned from an electorate that demanded government keep its hands off of Medicare is that those same voters are surely going to appreciate giving up some of their SS benefits to help those more in need. That should be about as popular as cutting Medicare payments for these suckers.

As many others have written in response to Bayh's nonsense this morning, "shut up, quitter."

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The voters have spoken

What they have to say, I'm not entirely clear. But the next two years should be...um...interesting.

How about them Giants?


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Voter fraud and intimidation

No sign of the New Black Panthers at my polling station. Kind of disappointing.



If you haven't already.

And, oh yeah


Monday, November 01, 2010

An excellent series of questions

Kevin Drum asks something that I've been asking for years:

I'm not quite sure what accounts for this. Opposing regulation I get. No one wants to be regulated. Ditto for higher taxes, even if they're pretty modest. But why do corporate chieftans oppose true national healthcare even though it would almost certainly make their lives easier and make them more globally competitive? Why do they oppose cap-and-trade even though its effects are modest and the alternative is more intrusive EPA regulations? Why do they oppose fiscal stimulus even though it would spur the economy and be good for business?

And I think I know the answer. It is because of a foul mix of self-interest that trumps the interest even of the company they work for or lead with a powerful sense of entitlement that they have earned certain rights to which others less fortunate are not entitled. Of course, national health care would benefit their company. But that would also mean a leveling of the playing field (even if they will still be able to afford much better health care insurance). Of course, foreclosures are bad for the economy. But why should some Lucky Ducky be allowed to modify the terms of his mortgage that he can no longer afford? They work for companies that profit from stimulus spending but support politicians who vow to "cut the deficit."

I see this every day.

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The Buff and the Blue

Edmund Morris thinks it feels a lot like 1910 around here.


A little obsessed?

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcdfw.com/video.

You just can't get away from the dirty fucking hippies out there.

After going 0 for 4 with a walk in the first game, Hamilton laughed about being assaulted in center field by the pungent aroma of marijuana wafting down from the stands.

“It was crazy,” he said.

Asked whether the smell triggered any yearnings or flashbacks, Hamilton said it did not. “That wasn’t my drug of choice,” he said.

Really? In a packed stadium, in a city where anti-smoking laws have been on the books for years, they're smoking pot like it's a Wednesday night game in Yankee Stadium in 1989?


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Blue Monday, Toshi Reagon edition

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