Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grand Old Unpopularity

By Michael J.W. Stickings

John Amato makes a good point. For all the talk about Obama's declining approval ratings, and about the overall unpopularity of the Democratic-led Congress and Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, shouldn't more attention be paid to the massive unpopularity of the Republicans? After all, their numbers -- as a party, as well as for party leaders like Mitch McConnell in the Senate and John Boehner in the House -- are abysmal:

Mitch McConnell is polling at an 18% approval rating. That's eighteen percent. John Boehner is polling at 12% approval rating. Just think about that one. And it doesn't take much to make him cry. Mitch and Boehner are viewed less favorably than Dick Cheney was during the dark days of the Bush administration. Why don't we hear about that on teevee?

The overall approval ratings of Congressional Republicans is 17% as a party! The Dems are taking their lumps over this chaotic time, but nowhere near the kinds of wounds the GOP are suffering. The media make it appear that all these teabaggers are rallying around the RNC and the country just loves the Beltway elites' favorite party, but that's not true at all.

Nope, not at all. Republicans claim to be optimistic about 2010 -- and they may very well be able to reduce the sizes of the Democratic majorities in Congress (though it's still a long way off, and I think Democrats will benefit from a recovering economy and, let's hope, health-care reform) -- but it's not like the country has abandoned the Democrats, and certainly not that it has embraced the Republicans.

In general, while Obama's numbers remain fairly high, there is widespread cynicism among the American people, some of it justified, and much of it is being directed at the country's political institutions, including those in Washington, most notably -- much to their discredit, given that the people elected them -- at their own elected officials. At the moment, the people don't care much for the politicians, or for either party, though that's nothing new. Anti-politics is built into America's DNA, and what has made it worse in recent years (decades) is not just corruption and criminality in the political class but the all-out assault on government by the right (which continues with the teabaggers, of course, as well as with the likes of Glenn Beck and his ilk, though anti-government rhetoric is widespread in the GOP and throughout conservatism), as well as, I must regretfully add, the growing civic irresponsibility of the people themselves.

But it's all relative, and, right now, the Republicans are doing far worse, if these polls are to be believed, than the Democrats. The problem is that the media aren't reporting this to the American people. Instead, they continue to hit Obama and the Democrats with declining approval ratings, ignoring the fact that, while low, the Democrats' numbers, and especially Obama's, are significantly better than the Republican ones.

The preference of the American people, however cynical and irresponsible they may be, is clear.

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Murder in Kentucky

By Mustang Bobby

More details are emerging about the death of Bill Sparkman in Kentucky.

A part-time census worker found hanging in a rural Kentucky cemetery was naked, gagged and had his hands and feet bound with duct tape, said an Ohio man who discovered the body two weeks ago.

The word ''fed'' was written in felt-tip pen on 51-year-old Bill Sparkman's chest, but authorities have released very few other details in the case, such as whether they think it was an accident, suicide or homicide.

Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio, told The Associated Press on Friday that he was certain from the gruesome scene that someone killed Sparkman.

''He was murdered,'' Weaver said. ''There's no doubt.''

Weaver said he was in the rural Kentucky county for a family reunion and was visiting some family graves at the cemetery on Sept. 12 along with his wife and daughter when they saw the body.

''The only thing he had on was a pair of socks,'' Weaver said. ''And they had duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something.''

It would be jumping to conclusions to assume that he was killed because he was working for the U.S. Census, even though his ID card was taped to his body. This part of Kentucky is known by law enforcement to have hidden marijuana fields and meth labs, so it could have been that Mr. Sparkman stumbled upon illegal activity while in the performance of his census duties. Whatever the reason, it's a federal crime to murder a federal employee in the performance of his or her duties, so if the perpetrators thought they might be scaring off the feds with this gruesome warning, they were wrong.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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What do Jon Kyl and the Republicans have against mothers?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There was much ado yesterday about the exchange between Republican Sen. Jon Kyl and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. I even tweeted about it. To refresh your memory:

Kyl: "I don't need maternity care..."

Stabenow: "I think your mom probably did."

Stabenow's interjection was both funny and poignant, but the focus should really be on Kyl's comments. As Steve Benen remarks, "Kyl's argument is worthy of derision":

In the hopes of making insurance cheaper, Kyl is comfortable with not covering basic maternity care. The status quo -- only 21 states require insurers to provide maternity care benefits -- is just fine with the #2 senator in the GOP leadership. If discriminatory practices boost industry profits, it's just the free market working as it should.

Kyl's measure was defeated, 14 to 9. That nine Republicans voted for it says a great deal about how the GOP is approaching the reform debate.

In other words, Republicans are against even basic care for new mothers. Not only are they not interested in compromise, they're actively working to preserve the injustices and failures of the existing system. And they're "approaching the reform debate" by being against reform altogether, unless it's reform to enhance the status quo.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

He shoots... he scores!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not much blogging from me tonight. I have the draft for my very serious, very competitive fantasy hockey league in half an hour -- we're now in our eighth year -- and I'm doing some much-needed prep.

I have the #1 pick. I'm a huge Sid Crosby fan, and I like Malkin, too, but I'm going to have to go with Alexander Ovechkin, the top offensive threat in the game. But do I really want to spend my year rooting for Ovy? I suppose so. I'm in it to win, after all. (Though, when it comes to hockey, I want nothing more than my beloved Habs to do well this year.)

But then I don't pick again until the end of the second round, #24. Maybe Staal, maybe St. Louis, or maybe, just maybe, a top blueliner like Lidstrom or Chara. We'll see.

Alright, enjoy your evening, everyone. I'll be back with the political stuff later.

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Mark Tapscott, delusional partisan idiot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Seriously? Seriously. There really is such idiocy out there:

If nothing else, the Obama eruption in American politics is steadily revealing the stark reality behind the progressive movement -- the totalitarian temptation is always there and, for more than a few, possessing the official power to compel sooner or later becomes irresistible.

Just consider the title of Tapscott's piece: "Beware the Stalin in progressive hearts?"

Progressives are Stalinists? Why, because they think that government should be more than just a complete non-existence, surfacing only to torture detainees, spy on American citizens, and hand out corporate welfare? What, exactly, is the evidence, that "the progressive movement" is totalitarian? Or does Tapscott believe that Obama is secretly setting up gulags?

Oh, sure, Tapscott excuses some "folks" on the left who haven't been overcome by Stalinism, but his message is clear, and it's a message that many on the right, including more popular fearmongers like Beck and Dear Leader Rush, are pushing.

He's our Idiot of the Day, and I'm sure you can see why. If you can't, just head on back to the GOP idiocracy whence you crawled.

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The plots thicken

By Capt. Fogg

I don't know why, but since the Vietnam era, the hawkish types seem to have preferred the world "embolden" to the more conventional "encourage." It may be simply that we prefer not to use the word "courage" when talking about our enemies, but figuring that one out is beyond any area of expertise I might pretend to. None the less, the Cheneyesque assumption that Obama, by being Obama, the liberal/fascist/Commie/Muslim born in Kenya and Indonesia will spur or "embolden" Islamic enemies to attack us to a greater extent than the refulgent presidency of George W. Bush did, is sure to be in the news again.

The last few days have seen the arrest of people involved in credible bomb plots, including the attempt to blow up a skyscraper in Dallas, Texas. Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, 19-year-old illegal immigrant from Jordan was arrested after he dialed a number on his cell phone that he had been duped by Federal Agents into believing would detonate a large bomb. He had been under close surveillance for some time.

This follows on the heels of the arrest of Denver resident Najibullah Zazi as part of another bomb conspiracy that had advance to the point of assembling the chemical components. Both of these plots were foiled by what seems to be good police work and not anything resulting from the massive powers given to the president by the infamous Patriot Act.

It would be hard to justify the opinion that the 2001 attack was a one-shot deal not to be repeated and it's been a no brainer to predict that the next attack wouldn't involve hijacking airplanes. Although Zazi may have received training in Pakistan and Smadi claims to be a "soldier of bin Laden," these plots may have less to do with anything hatched at the top levels of some central organization than with the more diverse worldwide culture of anti-Western hatred. It's hard to say these attempts wouldn't have happened if Afghanistan had been cleansed of the Taliban or Qaeda training camps. Of course the threat remains vanishingly small to any individual but it's important to note that Smadi wanted to blow up Wells Fargo as a blow to our banking system -- and it would have been.

But again, the FBI seems to have done its job and without waterboards or Transylvanian castle dungeons or reading the mail of the Quaker churches and without bombing any country back to the dark ages and this makes the idea that Obama has disabled our ability to deal with terrorists less of a credible talking point.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Quote of the Day: Nancy Pelosi on the "trigger"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Speaker is right, "a trigger is an excuse for not doing anything."

I suppose there could still be a meaningful health-care reform package without a public option but with a so-called "trigger" that would put a public option in place only if certain thresholds weren't met (that is, if reform failed to achieve certain desired outcomes, such as greater accessibility), but, to me, it's still a bit too early to concede on the public option just to appease a single Republican, Olympia Snowe.

The Democrats would do well to continue to push for a public option, a robust one, and to try to pull the party together to pass reform on their own, given ongoing Republican opposition and obstructionism. With majorities on both sides of Congress, there really is no excuse for doing nothing.

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Are the Blue Dogs coming around?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well... maybe:

Blocking a public health insurance option is a relatively low priority for conservative Blue Dog Democrats, according to an ongoing survey of its members. The fading House opposition could clear the way for the public option to move through the chamber.

Although this is a positive sign that Democrats are finally coming together -- which is what many of us wanted coming out of Obama's speech a couple of weeks ago -- it's not the House that's the problem, it's the Senate. And, there, there are still the likes of Nelson, Lincoln, Landrieu, and Lieberman to contend with, centrists of a sort who object to the very idea of a public option, and whose votes are needed if Democrats are to defeat a Republican filibuster (and if reconciliation is off the table, as it may very well be).

Still, let's allow ourselves some optimism here. With the Blue Dogs as a whole softening on the public option, there may very well be a real move towards party unity among Democrats. And if the Blue Dogs are coming around, maybe those Senate centrists will, too.


At the very least, it now looks better than ever that a meaningful reform package will be passed, one far more liberal than many of us thought possible back during the dark days of August, when Republican lies seemed to have the upper hand.

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Kirk (D-MA)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has tapped Paul Kirk, not Michael Dukakis, to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat until a special election can be held on Jan. 19.

Fine (although I would have preferred Dukakis, who deserves some respect for his significant contributions both to the Democratic Party and to Massachusetts, as well as to liberal-progressive public policy, over the years -- wouldn't it have been so fitting for a Sen. Dukakis to cast a vote in support of health-care reform?)

It's not like Kirk lacks credentials, after all. He was even chairman of the DNC once upon a time. And he may very well be a solid pick.

But did Patrick really have to fill Kennedy's seat with a long-time Kennedy friend and aide, a candidate seemingly being pushed by the entire Kennedy clan? It's like the Kennedys think they have some sort of dynastic right to the seat, and that it's in their power to bequeath the seat to whomsoever they annoint.

Sure, it's just a temporary thing, but something about the whole thing irritates me. Not because I'm anti-Kennedy, which I'm not, but because I object to anything that smacks of dynastic control. Let's hope the selection process to name a Democratic candidate for the special election is less of an insider job, that is, that the Kennedys don't control that process. (A Kennedy won't be running, but they could still wield their enormous influence to control the process.)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Craziest Honduran Ex-President of the Day: Manuel Zelaya

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You were expecting someone else? Of course it's Zelaya. (Actually, I can't name another one.) He's hanging out at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, and, well, it's not good:

It's been 89 days since Manuel Zelaya was booted from power. He's sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and "Israeli mercenaries'' are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.

"We are being threatened with death,'' he said in an interview with The Miami Herald, adding that mercenaries were likely to storm the embassy where he has been holed up since Monday and assassinate him.

For all I know, maybe he's not crazy. Maybe the Israelis really are after him -- though it's always so convenient to blame Israel, isn't it? And maybe he has been poisoned with toxic gas.

But I doubt it.

Here are a couple of hilarious lines from the Herald article:

-- "Witnesses said that for a short time Tuesday morning, soldiers used a device that looked like a large satellite dish to emit a loud shrill noise. Honduran police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said he knew nothing of any radiation devices being used against the former president."

-- "Israeli government sources in Miami said they could not confirm the presence of any 'Israelis mercenaries' in Honduras."

Cannot confirm? Huh. Couldn't they just have said no? Or that Zelaya's out of his gourd?

Maybe it's Zelaya's pitiful state that has driven him this far:

Zelaya, 56, is at the embassy with his family and other supporters, without a change of clothes or toothpaste. The power and water were turned back on, and the U.N. brought in some food. Photos showed Zelaya, his trademark cowboy hat across his face, napping on a few chairs he had pushed together.

Don't the Brazilians have toothpaste?

Poor, crazy guy.

Not that I'm all that sympathetic. But, then, I'm not exactly sympathetic to the other side, either. Honduras is a mess, much like, it would seem, the mind of Manuel Zelaya.

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Condoms as metaphor

By Carl

It's taken thirty years, countless dead and infected, and a worldwide push, but it looks as though the very tricky and difficult
HIV virus may be giving up its secrets to science:

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- An experimental vaccine prevented HIV infections for the first time, a breakthrough that has eluded scientists for a quarter century.

A U.S.-funded study involving more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand found that a combination of ALVAC, made by Paris- based Sanofi-Aventis SA, and AIDSVAX, from VaxGen Inc., of South San Francisco, cut infections by 31.2 percent in the people who received it compared with those on a placebo, scientists said today in Bangkok. Neither vaccine had stopped the virus that causes AIDS when tested separately in previous studies.

The finding represents a revival in a campaign that appeared to stall just two years ago when use of Merck & Co.’s experimental Ad5 vaccine boosted some people’s chances of infection in a study. The latest result will transform future research, said Mitchell Warren, director of the New York-based AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition.

31.2% is something, certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it means there's clues in there for a truly preventative vaccine or combination of vaccines.

I'm old enough to remember when sex could be had without any ill effects except maybe guilt. Syphillis and gonorrhea both seemed to be curable, and AIDS and herpes were on a distant horizon.

I've often wondered if the spread of AIDS, HIV, and even herpes was responsible, in part, for the rise of conservatism in this country. After all, when we could ball freely, we tended to be a little more open to new ideas as well as new experiences.

Once sex was clamped down upon, it seemed like everyone's rectums got a little more retentive, a little more conservative. Wearing a condom became a metaphor as well as a reality, forcing people to think back inside the box (um, pun not intended. Mostly.) because outside, alone, naked, was scary and a little dangerous.

Freedom became something negotiable, to an extent. You could be free, but you had to be ultravigilant, and once you had to be ultravigilant, that required an effort and efforts mean people will look for easy ways out.

Like the fox and the grapes, people began to look at sex as if it wasn't important, that sex was OK if it was readily accessible but to actually go out and pursue it became a matter of work. And who wants to work at sex?

So we saw a rise in monogamous relationships, but we also saw a rise in values that hearkened back to the Fifties, to a time when, yes, people had sex, lots of it, but no one talked about it, so everyone assumed no one else was getting any.

I dunno... just a thought.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Taking warnings seriously

Guest post by Jessie Daniels

Jessie Daniels is a principal of the Truman National Security Project and is currently an independent writer living in New York City. Most recently, she conducted research on future security challenges and multilateral response at the International Peace Institute in New York. Prior to that, she worked for four years as a national security legislative aide to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

[This is Jessie's third guest post at The Reaction. Her first, on Obama's Af/Pak strategy, can be found here; her second, on the use of Twitter and other new media in Iran, can be found here. -- MJWS]


Here in New York City, in the midst of Climate Week, warnings are in the air. Small nations fear extinction due to rising seas, while Bangladesh, the 8th largest country in the world, warns that one-third of the country could be submerged, forcing the displacement of 20 million people.

While these warnings come from countries halfway around the world, the conditions they alert us to can act as threat multipliers. And that brings the issue right back home.

Displacement due to the effects of climate change is already putting a strain on island nation populations in the South Pacific. For example, Kiribati, with a population of just over 100,000, has been conducting difficult negotiations with New Zealand to absorb its population. But such difficulties would only be magnified if a country as large as Bangladesh experienced massive displacement. Its location between India and Burma could raise tensions in an already tense part of the world. Moreover, destabilization in a noted terrorist safe haven adds even more fire to a potentially volatile pot.

At the other climate extreme, we already see how the effects of climate change can lead to violence. Kenya's worst drought in recent history is causing tribal violence that is expected to be ongoing until the drought is over, continuing the risk of spillover to neighboring areas or countries.

These threat multipliers could significantly affect our security abroad and at home. The Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council testified last year that "[a]s climate changes spur more humanitarian emergencies, the international community's capacity to respond will be increasingly strained. The United States, in particular will be called upon to respond. The demands of these potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations."

In addition, the U.S. might have to help fund humanitarian responses should one of these warning signs evolve into a major emergency. Particularly if our military is still overstretched or if the economy has not turned around by that point, this could place an even heavier burden on our troops and taxpayers.

We should heed these warnings because threat multipliers can turn local troubles into global conflict. And when one nation drowns, we could end up paying the price.

(Cross-posted from Operation FREE.)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Steve King

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This may be one of the stupidest things ever uttered by an elected official in American history. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), it is clear, hates the gays, and doesn't have a clue:

So in the end this is something that has to come with a, if there's a push for a socialist society, a society where the foundations of individual rights and liberties are undermined and everybody is thrown together, living collectively off of one pot of resources earned by everyone. That is, this is one of the goals they have to go to is same-sex marriage because it has to plow through marriage in order to get to their goal. They want public affirmation. They want access to public funds and resources. Eventually all those resources will be pooled because that's the direction we're going. And not only is it a radical social idea, it is a purely socialist concept in the final analysis.

Of course, this is not just stupid, and ignorant, and bigoted, and crazy, but totally nonsensical:

-- How is same-sex marriage "living collectively"? King obviously doesn't get it. Same-sex marriage is, lest we forget, marriage, the union of two people. Gays and lesbians marrying, as they do elsewhere (like in Canada), would hardly usher in some collectivist utopia.

-- Where is the "push for a socialist society" in America. King no doubt things that Obama is a socialist, but he clearly doesn't know what socialism is, or at least doesn't recognize it. Nothing Obama is doing is socialist, and there's nothing in Obama's or the Democrats' agenda that is socialist. Health-care reform? No. There is no talk among Democrats of a single-payer system (which is hardly socialist -- just come up here to Canada, not much of a socialist bastion), and even the public option as Obama envisions it would be but a small component of the system. If anything, the various reform packages being considered are all strongly pro-market in their emphasis on competition. If anything, there would be more competition, more choice, under a new system.

-- Same-sex marriage is all about "individual rights and liberties," not "pooled" resources. Gays and lesbians just want to be left alone, to live and to love as they want. What the hell's wrong with that? If anything is "collectivist," it's the moralism of the likes of Steve King, who wish to legislate how people are allowed to live, to regulate how they are allowed to be in private.

-- How does same-sex marriage threaten traditional heterosexual marriage? This is a common point made by the various anti-gay bigots on the right, but I wonder why they have such a low opinion of marriage? Is the institution so weak that divorce would skyrocket if gay and lesbian couples were also allowed to be able to marry? Hardly. Or perhaps King fears that heterosexual men and women would turn away from each other and embrace the gay and lesbian within?

Anyway, I'm sure many more stupid things have been uttered, including by more awful anti-gay bigots than King. The right is littered with them, after all. Still, there's no denying that this is stupid in a particularly crazy way.

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Tea stains

By Capt. Fogg

Maybe Chuck Norris has been kicked in the head once too often. Maybe he deserves another one. He's been barking about being true to the "spirit of our founders" by avoiding the use of a contemporary US flag to wave over their "tea parties" unless the flag is first desecrated by staining it with tea. His op-ed at World Net Daily links to a WND page peddling pre-desecrated flags for $73.50. I don't know if Norris gets a piece of the action:

If you insist on posting a modern USA flag too, then get one that has been tea stained, to show your solidarity with our founders.

The idea of being lectured to about political philosophies of the Enlightenment and the visions of the somewhat disparate men who drafted our constitution by an intellectual midget like Norris is galling enough but the spectacle of being urged to stain the flag by people who have been clogging up the legislative process for over 40 years trying to make it a crime to deface a flag is too much to let slip by without at least one Wilsonian "you lie!"

One of the things I'm sure our "Founders" would agree on is that presidents are not to be chosen or un-chosen by mobs of belligerent barbarians carrying guns in the street. In fact, the wisdom of letting the populace have much direct power was much discussed and protected against by the Electoral College and the indirect election of senators.

Another thing I suspect they would agree on is that we the people are the Founders of a country designed to be a constant work in progress through the institutions designed for that purpose. For someone who does nothing in this world but play a tough guy beating the crap out of stage ruffians in the movies to raise rabble that the rest of us will have to deal with is an outrage. For someone forgetful or dishonest enough to pretend that we don't remember him telling us that Bush was president and must be trusted, followed, and honored as such, to now preach revolution is disgusting.

If talking about tea is supposed to remind us that taxation without representation is tyranny, perhaps it will remind some of us that we have representation, but Chuck doesn't like or respect the process that elected them. Is representation by self appointed gangs without election and without taxation their utopian vision, or is it just formless and inchoate rage?

Do we need anything better to remind us that Republican views of civilization and government are entirely situational and entirely opposite when they are in power and when they are thrown out in the street? It's all about winning at any cost and about vengeance at any cost when they lose.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Strategy shift

By Carl

You know, ever since the healthcare debate heated up this summer, I wondered why no one noticed the elephant in the room: mandatory insurance. I believed the whole "hands off my Medicare!" and "no public option" arguments were weak, and that perhaps there was an unfolding strategy to buy time for the GOP.

here it comes:

On Tuesday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) described the health care legislation being considered by the Senate Finance Committee as a "stunning assault on liberty" due to a provision that would require individuals to buy insurance.

Earlier in the week, the individual mandate also came under attack when Tim Phillips, who heads Americans for Prosperity, described it as an assault on individual liberty.

"When you have health care, that's a choice that impacts yourself," Phillips told MSNBC's Hardball. "Drivers' insurance impacts other drivers you may have accidents with."

Utter bullshit, that last. Obviously, Phillips doesn't understand how insurance works: even car insurance, your insurance company pays YOU, and then recaptures the money from the other driver's company.

Sort of like how medical insurances are forced to raise rates because hospitals and doctors have to charge more for un- and underinsured individuals seeking medical coverage, usually for catastrophic and very expensive emergency or urgent care!

But it's no surprise to me that the Fright Wing of this nation would suddenly, after eight years of putting up with phone taps and email sifts and surveillance tactics... because it's OK if you're a Republican... suddenly find their balls with respect to individual liberty.

But this isn't about individual liberty. This is about my liberty not to have to worry that my health insurance company has to pay for a bunch of morons who aren't smart enough to buy their own insurance to cover their catastropic healthcare needs, much less any taking any preventative steps to ensure they don't impact me or the rest of the country economically OR medically.

In other words, what my neighbor does, or more, doesn't do impacts me directly, and affects my well-being.

Hmm. Maybe this is more a sign that the Fright Wing is fighting a rear-guard action, and that they're previous tropes have proven so ineffective that they've decided to gamble on painting in primary colours now.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Monkeying with Darwin

By Mustang Bobby

Kirk Cameron (aka "Banana Boy"), the former sit-com star and spokesman for the anti-evolution movement, is promoting a 150th anniversary edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species with a special introduction written by fellow fundie Ray Comfort that basically attempts to refute everything that follows and adds, at no additional charge, the bogus claims that Darwin inspired Hitler. They can do that -- the book is in the public domain.

The plan is to hand out copies of the adulterated book on college campuses because, as Mr. Cameron asserts in a promotional film clip, colleges are overrun by atheist professors: “A recent study revealed that in the top 50 universities in our country, in the fields of psychology and biology, 61 percent of the professors described themselves as atheist or agnostic.” (The same study shows, however, that the majority of college professors are not.)

I don't have a problem with Mr. Cameron handing out copies of the book, even though I cringe at the idea of someone going in and writing a fallacious and truth-challenged introduction. What I find insulting is that he assumes college students, who are mostly adults, are too stupid to make up their own minds, or that science cannot co-exist with religion. After all, if it's not a problem for the Catholic Church any more (that whole thing with Galileo is behind them now, right?), then why are they so touchy? Are they so insecure about their faith in the bible that they feel threatened by the overwhelming scientific evidence that the world was not created 6,000 years ago on a Tuesday and started out with two naked people and a talking snake? (Sometime we must really have a discussion with these folks about the concept of allegory.) Science doesn't exist to disprove religion, nor does it require you to give up your faith because the facts prove that the world is round and the sun does not revolve around it.

If Mr. Cameron and his crusaders were so confident in their beliefs, they wouldn't go around defiling a book. Instead, they'd give away both the original On the Origin of the Species and the bible and let the students make up their own minds (vide the last scene in Inherit the Wind). What are they afraid of?

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Craziest Republican of the Day: Jim DeMint

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Anything to attack Obama, it would seem. DeMint doesn't seem to approve of Obama's multi-tasking:

The problem is, the war in Afghanistan and our economy are our two biggest issues. But he's working on other issues such as health care and he's putting off the decision on Afghanistan which I think puts our troops at risk. So he needs to focus on priorities right now and not try to ram so many things down our throat here in Congress. He needs to address the issue of Afghanistan quickly.

No one denies that Obama needs to address Afghanistan -- and he is, actively. So, on this, DeMint is just wrong, as usual.

But it's also not true that health-care reform is some sort of unpopular distraction. It is a leading priority for many Americans, just as important, if not more so, than the Afghan War, with which Americans have grown tired, and no longer support as they once did. Again, DeMint is just wrong.

Health-care reform is a priority, not something Obama is just trying to "ram" down the "throat" of Congress. This may be what anti-reform Republicans think, but it's certainly not what most Americans think.

And it's irresponsible -- and, yes, appallingly wrong -- to suggest that Obama's efforts to pass health-care reform endanger the troops. Did Bush endanger the troops when, following his re-election win, he tried to reform Social Security? First, Obama is fully capable of multi-tasking. DeMint may only be able to focus on one thing at a time, but Obama can surely handle the economy, Afghanistan, health-care reform, and so much else. Isn't it required of a president that he (or she) be able to deal with a great deal at one time?

Obviously, DeMint is trying to score political points by pitting Obama against the troops (i.e., by making shit up) -- a lame but typically Republican smear -- but he's also trying to derail health-care reform by putting up any and all obstructions he can find, however ridiculous.

And this was about as ridiculous as anything DeMint has ever said. And that's saying something.

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Quote of the Day: Steven Chu on energy and the American public

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The energy secretary said this the other day:

The American public... just like your teenage kids, aren't acting in a way that they should act. The American public has to really understand in their core how important this issue is.

The media and the political class deserve much of the blame, of course, but Chu is quite right that Americans generally act like self-absorbed adolescents when it comes to energy consumption.

They've been taught to behave that way -- consume, consume, consume is the dominant American mantra, cultivated over decades, if not from the very beginning. You know the story, I'm sure.

I have little confidence that the people will change their ways quickly enough, or that the media will address responsible energy consumption in a serious way -- some in the media do, but the media amount to so much noise, with conservative spin often drowning out rational discourse.

It is refreshing, then, that Chu -- and the Obama Administration generally -- is working to address this gaping hole in public awareness of what the issues really are and of how urgent the need is for change with respect to both energy consumption and energy policy more broadly.

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Eric Cantor and Republican "compassion"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), if you're sick (even seriously sick, like with cancer) and don't have insurance, you should either look for "an existing government program" or beg for charity.

This is what passes for Republican "compassion" these days.

You're sick? Tough luck.


"No one in this country, given who we are, should be sitting without an option to be addressed," he added.

Yes, but existing government programs and "charitable organizations" aren't viable options for most people. When you're sick, and even when you're healthy and trying to prevent sickness, what you need is an option guaranteeing care -- yes, a public option that is either (and preferably) universal or that provides insurance coverage where private options don't.

When you're sick, you want to know that the care is there for you no matter what and that you can focus on getting healthy, and that you can be as comfortable as possible no matter how serious your sickness.

What you certainly don't need is the worry that comes with not having coverage to begin with, with your life possibly turned upside down as you struggle to find whatever care might luckily come your way.

Indeed, when you're sick, you certainly don't want to have to apply to a government program or to beg for charity, in either case being required to make your case for treatment and care.

It's not just unrealistic to think that these are viable options, it's cruel to oppose, as Republicans do, Cantor included, any serious reform to a system that keeps so many people, tens of millions of them, on the outside looking in, with little to no hope of getting the treatment and care they so desperately need.

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Paling around with Communists

By Capt. Fogg

It's funny that we live in a country so afraid of facing up to its history and its responsibility that anything even so mildly critical as admitting your president was sometimes an embarrassment is a death sentence to your career and reputation. Ask the Dixie Chicks.

That doesn't apply however to Republican critics, particularly critics of Barack Obama. As you know, Sarah Palin has been touring China and viciously berating our country and its policies to an international audience, in speeches to which the press is not invited.

It's reported that some delegates to the CLSA Investors’ Forum, part of the French bank Credit Agricole, walked out "in disgust" complaining that she would only take pre-arranged questions, talked too much about Alaska and criticised Obama without offering any solutions of her own. Predictably, some said she was brilliant. Of those, one European delegate said:

She said America was spending a lot of money and it was a temporary solution. Normal people are having to pay more and more but things don’t get better. The rich will leave the country and the poor will get poorer.

That's a condition that well describes the Reagan and Bush years, although she apparently spent much time praising Ronald Reagan.

I'll leave it to you to decide if reiterating her lies about death panels and "socialized" medicine to an audience, every nationality of which but the USA already has universal health care, indicates brilliance, insurmountable ignorance, vicious disregard for truth, justice and the United States of America. I won't ask if you think that telling an audience in China that Barack Obama and our trade policies are unfair to China nibbles away at any claim to patriotism she may have. She knows it does and CLSA reports that they closed the meetings to the press only because Palin didn't want to be known for what she is: a lying, chiseling, invidious little creep willing to sell out her country for her personal advancement.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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An Afghan alternative?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With McChrystal et al. pushing for a significant troop increase -- an irresponsible one, in my view, given that it's not clear anymore what the purpose of the war is -- this comes as something of a pleasant development:

President Obama is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase in Afghanistan, including a plan advocated by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan, officials said Tuesday.

The options under review are part of what administration officials described as a wholesale reconsideration of a strategy the president announced with fanfare just six months ago. Two new intelligence reports are being conducted to evaluate Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said.

The sweeping reassessment has been prompted by deteriorating conditions on the ground, the messy and still unsettled outcome of the Afghan elections and a dire report by Mr. Obama’s new commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Aides said the president wanted to examine whether the strategy he unveiled in March was still the best approach and whether it could work with the extra combat forces General McChrystal wants.

In looking at other options, aides said, Mr. Obama might just be testing assumptions — and assuring liberals in his own party that he was not rushing into a further expansion of the war — before ultimately agreeing to the anticipated troop request from General McChrystal. But the review suggests the president is having second thoughts about how deeply to engage in an intractable eight-year conflict that is not going well.

Yes, "testing assumptions." It is possible, of course, that the White House is just floating this development to give the appearance of serious internal debate -- and, of course, to make the president look good. I give full credit to the Times for considering this possibility, even if it credits it to anonymous "aides."

Still, I hope that Obama really is having "second thoughts" and that he is seriously considering alternatives to what the military brass want.

Given that this is now a war without a defined purpose, without a clear goal, and without an acceptable definition of what would constitute victory, the option of more troops -- and, with them, more war -- just isn't as desirable as it once may have been. And with the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating, or at least not improving in any real or sustained way, it doesn't make much sense to commit even more resources and to risk even more lives for the sake of what could become more and more of an insurmountable quagmire.

No one is saying -- well, I'm not saying -- that the U.S. should pull out of the region. Even if there is a significant troop drawdown, there are still the not insignificant matters of the Taliban, which is increasing in influence outside Kabul, and al Qaeda, which continues to find safe haven in the AfPak border region, to attend to. On this, Biden is probably right. Focus on narrower and more limited goals. Defend Kabul, perhaps, and target Taliban areas in Afghanistan, as needed, but address the greater threat of the terrorist stronghold, something the U.S. should have done a long time ago, when Bush et al. diverted attention and resources to Iraq.

Surely such a viable alternative like this exists. Obama would do well to consider the options, not just to rush into an escalation of a war that no longer makes much sense.

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Levin contra Beck

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You know you've got problems when even Mark Levin, whose extremist side you seem to be on, thinks you're "mindless," "incoherent," and "pathetic."

And, yes, this is like the pot calling the kettle black.

Still, it does seem that conservatives -- some of them (if not many of them, as most are either still with him or not coming out against him, for whatever reason(s)) -- are slowly turning on Glenn Beck. For some, his crazy brand of paranoid anti-government libertarianism mixed with emotional moralism just isn't their cup of conservative tea. For others, his paranoid, emotionally moralistic public persona just isn't to their liking. Still others surely just think he's bad for conservatism, and bad for them. And there is no doubt much overlap.

Whatever the case, Beck is still wildly popular on the right and will likely remain so for some time. I just find it all quite amusing that Beck has gone so far as to turn some of his own kind against him.

Conservatives, not to mention Republicans, would do well to demand higher standards of themselves. I'm just not sure that Levin, who resides in the gutter, has much of a leg to stand on.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama on Letterman

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I was a huge supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign last year, both in the Democratic primary and then against McCain, and I continue to be a huge supporter. This does not mean, however, that I am not critical, that I am a thoughtful, knee-jerk cheerleader.

I have, for example, been critical of his continuation of certain Bush-era national security policies.

I have been critical of his do-little approach to gay rights, including with respect to DADT (don't ask, don't tell), a loathsome policy that remains in place at the Pentagon.

I have also been critical of his policy on the Afghan War, or, rather, of his non-policy. The outlines are there, but he has yet to provide a cogent rationale not just for remaining in Afghanistan but for escalating the war there with a significant troop increase, to which I am, for the most part, opposed.

And I have been critical, at times highly so, of the slowness and caution with which he has addressed health-care reform, leaving it to a dysfunctional Congress. I certainly understand why he has been slow to act and cautious in his approach, as I have written here many times, but I would like to see him take a more aggressive leadership role. He has begun to do just that, going back to his address to Congress a couple of weeks ago and continuing with a major media offensive designed in part to retake control of the narrative from Republican opponents and obstructionists, but he needs to do more, not least to bring Democrats together in support of meaningful reform.

Regardless, I cannot overstate my admiration for this man, and I was reminded of that as I watched his amazing appearance on David Letterman's show last night. After eight years of Bush-style juvenilia, it is refreshing to find an adult in the Oval Office, a president who speaks to Americans, and to the world, like an adult, and who also treats them, and all of us, like adults.

I wish he had defended the so-called "public option" last night. He didn't mention it by name, but that's what he was getting at, a "public option" or something like it. I also wish he had been more decisive on Afghanistan, too, but he was nonetheless remarkably candid about the problems there, and about the problem with the war. And while I wish he had been harder on his Republican opponents, I understand why he took the high road.

He was on for over half an hour, but, if you missed it, take the time to watch it in full. (If the clip doesn't appear, click here.)

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Autumn leaves

By J. Thomas Duffy

Happy Autumn!

We didn't need the calendar to know the season is changing, based on the cooler weather sweeping in (especially, at night), and having to slosh through fallen leaves and crunch the squirrels' discarded acorn shells as we walk down the street.

Wikipedia tell us that:

Autumn (also known as Fall in North American English) is one of the four temperate seasons. Autumn marks the transition from summer into winter, usually in late March (southern hemisphere) or late September (northern hemisphere) when the arrival of night becomes noticeably earlier.

n theory, astronomically, the equinoxes ought to be the middle of the respective seasons, but temperature lag (caused by the thermal latency of the ground and sea) means that seasons appear later than dates calculated from a purely astronomical perspective. The actual lag varies with region, so some cultures regard the autumnal equinox as "mid-autumn" whilst others treat it as the start of autumn (as shown in the above table).

Autumn starts on or around 15 September and ends on about 20 December in solar term.

And, of course, darkness comes much earlier (not quite as bad as Monty Python had it -- "I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed.")

You can also check things out with Equinox.

Or Joan Morris, at Mercury News, and her "Autumn bliss: 10 things we love about the fall."

So, as you tool around on this First Day of Autumn, here's a soundtrack to rustle some leaves with:

Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley - Autumn Leaves

For a little international flair:

Edith Piaf - Autumn Leaves (Les Feuilles Mortes)

And two favorite artists we could listen to all day:

Eva Cassidy - Autumn Leaves

Barney Kessel - Autumn Leaves (1979)

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Inside the mind of Mark Foley

By Capt. Fogg

"Ninety percent positive — 99 percent positive from Palm Beach," said the station's general manager, Chet Tart in an e-mail to Florida's Sun-Sentinel. "Negative from other areas."

He's talking about comments on Inside the Mind of Mark Foley, a radio show that debuts tonight at 6:00 PM Eastern on WSVU-AM 960 KHz.

He's still a local hero, never mind the sexual harassment of teenage boys that caused his embarrassed resignation and "rehab." Disgraced Republicans do that: they become heroes like Ollie North, G. Gordon Liddy, and now Mark Foley -- martyrs to the cause, whatever it is and without that unpleasant martyrdom thing.

Of course, Foley is a minor-league player compared to the guys that ran illegal wars, illegal arms deals, and burglaries out of the White House. He's just a sad fellow compared even to Shouting Joe Wilson or Larry "Wide Stance" Craig. I'm not upset or surprised that he still has friends and supporters, I'm just amazed at how the public can't wait to get advice and presumably snarky opinions about the real enemies, liberals, from him on the radio.

The producer isn't going to risk putting any irate callers on the air though. The show will consist mostly of pre-recorded answers to e-mailed questions. If you're interested, you can reach him at

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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In the beginning... there were two cows


(O)CT(O)PUS interrupts our regularly scheduled program for an audacious request: We need cow jokes. What are cow jokes you ask? Well, cow jokes always start with … well … two cows (but not necessarily). In the beginning, cow jokes were used to teach
political economics, as examples:

Socialism: You have two cows. You give one to your neighbor.

Communism: You have two cows. You give them to the Government, and the Government then sells you some milk.

Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

Nazism: You have two cows. The Government shoots you and takes your cows.

These days, however, there are no constraints on cow jokes. Here are a few contemporary examples:

Corporate America: You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when the cow drops dead.

France: You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.

Switzerland: You have 5000 cows, none of which belongs to you. You charge others for storing them.

Canada: You have two cows. Vous avez deux vaches.

New Zealand: You have two sheep.

Democracy in Florida: You have two cows. The voters are asked to choose. Some prefer one cow over the other. Some vote for both. Some don't vote at all. Some vote for their favorite cow but their votes are declared invalid. Some can't figure out how to vote. Later, a court decides which one is your favorite.

Diebold: One cow and three elephants, no problem.

Existentialist: There are two cows. One is standing on the beach, staring at the sand ...

Deconstructionism: You have two cows, or is it that two cows have you?

Republicans: You have two cows in a Red state. You send them to a state university that was built and is kept alive using federal money raised by Blue states. You still want another tax cut and call Democrats a bunch of socialists.

Samuel Beckett: COW 1: Moo. COW 2: Moo. They do not leave.

Seinfeld: What's the deal with those two cows?

Kerouac: Now we must all get out and dig the river and the people and smell two cows.

Nietzsche: Is man only a blunder of two cows? Or are two cows only a blunder of man?

Andrew Sullivan: Cattle are being mutilated all over the county, but you don't speak out until your own ox is gored.

Okay, I think you get the idea. Now, it's your turn. Make up a cow joke and post it as a comment. Don't be square. Resistance is futile. Have fun.

(Cross-posted at
The Swash Zone.)


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Woodward, McChrystal, and Afghanistan

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Advocates of escalation in Afghanistan chose Bob Woodward to "reprise his role as warmonger hagiographer" by publishing Gen. Stanley McChrystal's "confidential" memo to the President arguing for increased troops. As Digby notes, the vague case for continuing to occupy that country is virtually identical to every instance where America's war-loving Foreign Policy Community advocates the need for new and continued wars. It's nothing more than America's standard, generic "war-is-necessary" rationale.

It's just the same old "experts" and "wise men" pursuing the same old failed policies.

What is needed is not more war, endless war, but, in Afghanistan at least, a justifiable rationale for the war to continue -- a purpose, a goal, a definition of what would constitute victory.

But what if there isn't, as there does not seem to be, such a rationale? Is it right to escalate a war without one? And is it right to send yet more men and women into such a war to risk their lives in purposeless battle?

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Michael Barone writes, hilarity ensues

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I think it's quite hilarious that Michael Barone, never a stranger to hyperbole or outright falsehood, claims that liberals are anti-dissent:

It is an interesting phenomenon that the response of the left half of our political spectrum to criticism and argument is often to try to shut it down.

It's also hilarious that he writes this without a trace of irony.

It is true that the Democratic Party seeks loyalty. What political party doesn't? Even here, though, it is nothing like the Republican Party, which demands lockstep marching, opposes difference, and gives the boot to those who do not play along. This is the party, after all -- the GOP, that is -- that effectively turned itself into a great huge rubber stamp during the Bush years.

But take partisan politics out of it. The problem with liberals -- if it is indeed a problem, which is not clear -- is not opposition to dissent altogether but too much dissent, often so much that the liberal-progressive coalition, including in the Democratic Party (which of course also includes many not on the left at all), breaks apart over key issues, unable to get anything substantive done. The left, broadly speaking, is full of difference, that is, and never shy about publicizing it, even to the point of internal conflict. Where the right is all about power, and just wants to do things to maximize its power, the left is all about justice. The right wants to do, the left wants to do right, and to get it right. This is why there is often so much bickering on the left.

It is simply ridiculous to assert, as Barone does, that liberals seek to silence dissent. Simply, there is enormous respect for dissent, and difference, among liberals. Indeed, liberals are nothing if not tolerant. We even tolerate dissent from the right, often to our political detriment (see health-care reform, for example). The same cannot, I would argue, be said about the right, which equates dissent with treason, and which demands not just unity but conformity (see Iraq War, war on terror, national security, taxes, "values" issues like abortion, etc.)

Liberals are not "violent," and do not simply want to "shut [dissent] down." Quite the reverse.

If it's the stifling of criticism Barone wants, he need look no further than his own kind.

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Here comes the judge -- again

By Capt. Fogg

Orly Taitz -- always in the news. Perhaps you remember my Sept. 16th post about how Judge Clay Land threw her "Birther" suit out of court with a warning that she would face consequences for any further frivolous suits. Ms. Taitz is not so easily dismissed, it seems, and Judge Land not kindly disposed toward a motion she filed asking the judge to reconsider -- at least not toward the part in which she called him a traitor and claimed that the 11th Circuit Court was subject to "external control" and political pressure from an illegitimate president.

At this point, even the Army captain on whose behalf the suit was filed has bailed out and apparently can't wait to get to Afghanistan. Taitz now has 14 days to show the infuriated judge why she shouldn't be fined $10,000 for contempt. It will be interesting to see how deep a hole this rabid pit bull can dig herself into. Ten thousand seems a very small fine considering how much her insane crusade has cost us all, and I'm hoping she can parlay it into some serious jail time.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

Over at TPM, Brian Beutler has an excellent post up on why Democrats likely won't use the reconciliation process to pass health-care reform with a simple majority in the Senate.

Aside from the fact that the process could actually result in a less-than-desirable bill, given that non-budgetary matters could be thrown out by the parliamentarian (with Republicans pushing to have as much thrown out as possible), according to reconciliation skeptics, "there probably aren't 51 votes in the Democratic party to run roughshod over custom, and even if there were, to do so could have dramatic consequences." "Why is there such hesitancy in the Senate to go all the way in reconciliation? Because if the majority party begins passing whatever it wants in reconciliation bills, it would significantly undermine the power of Senate elders."

I wouldn't call myself a reconciliation enthusiast, but, given that Republicans will likely oppose any bill, I certainly think it ought to remain on the table. And there is certainly something to be said for simple majority rule. (I delved into this a while back.) But the skeptics do make a good case, and, for now, the effort should be, as I put it again and again, on bringing Democrats together to pass a meaningful reform bill, preferably with a public option, while perhaps continuing to seek the support of, without granting a veto to, GOP moderates like Collins and Snowe. It is imperative, I think, that Democrats seek to pass the legislation the customary way, however undemocratic (and silly) the custom, before moving on to reconciliation.

Of course, liberals aren't happy about this. As a liberal, I'm certainly not.

Still, it's not just a matter of getting it right -- it's also, in the long run, a matter of doing it right.

Reconciliation must remain on the table -- it may be all that's left, and the time is coming, soon -- but caution may be the order of the day, for now.

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Smartest Conservative of the Day: Peter Wehner (on Glenn Beck)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He's our SCotD, and it's also our QotD, from Commentary:

Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger -- the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.


[T]he role Glenn Beck is playing is harmful in its totality. My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now -- and will soon flame out. Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism. At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.

Wehner has had a long career in Republican circles, and, as a conservative, he is right, I would say, to dismiss Beck as "harmful" to conservatism. (Although, Reagan certainly played on anger and fear, too.)

And yet, I wonder if his ode to a more genuine conservatism isn't just a little too quaint, and grossly inaccurate. He may long for conservatism with "intellectual depth," one full of "tough-minded and reasoned arguments," one defined by "good cheer and calm purpose," but "modern-day conservatism," the conservatism of today, is more anti-Burkean than Burkean, a shallow facade masking the relentless pursuit of power at its core.

Today's conservatism is more populist than elitist, more about lies than the quest for the truth, more about party, the Republican Party, than country, more about vindictiveness than "good cheer," more about screaming bloody murder than "calm purpose."

It's more about Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter and Dear Leader Rush and the rest of that rightist ilk than it is about the sober conservatives of Wehner's imagination.

Is Beck harmful to conservatism? Yes, probably -- although, one wonders what can actually harm conservatism, given how low it has fallen.

But, to many, Beck is conservatism. And, even if he flames out, there will be many more to take his place.

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