Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Palin Manifesto

I'm sorry to ruin your weekend, but I should mention that Sarah Palin, undeniably the greatest and most amazing living American, has posted "An Open Letter to Republican Freshmen Members of Congress" at Facebook, her usual outlet (which, like Fox News, her other haunt, does not allow for disagreement or dissent) -- because, of course, her not-even-one term as governor of Alaska and ability to regurgitate right-wing talking points without so much as having to blink make her an expert guide not just to Capitol Hill but to American politics generally. Here's a taste:

Your victory was hard fought, and the success belongs entirely to you and the staff and volunteers who spent countless hours working for this chance to put government back on the side of the people. Now you will come to Washington to serve your nation and leave your mark on history by reining in government spending, preserving our freedoms at home, and restoring America's leadership abroad. Some of you have asked for my thoughts on how best to proceed in the weeks and months ahead and how best to advance an agenda that can move our country forward. I have a simple answer: stick to the principles that propelled your campaigns. When you take your oath to support and defend our Constitution and to faithfully discharge the duties of your office, remember that present and future generations of "We the People" are counting on you to stand by that oath. Never forget the people who sent you to Washington. Never forget the trust they placed in you to do the right thing.

I'll pause while you rinse and spit -- and repeat.

I've already given the whole thing a read, but to spare you the misery our friend BooMan has helpfully listed Palin's priorities -- all 17 of them:

So, this is what Palinism stands for. It does not appear to deviate in any way from the policies of George W. Bush. Excepting earmark reform, increased hostility toward Latinos, and an even more Likudnik-friendly position towards Israel, nothing in Palin's proposals would change how the country was run between 2001 and 2009. 

Yes, Palinism is (far) worse than Bushism. What's amusing, though, in a not-so-very-funny sort of way, is that Palin is calling for "reining in government spending, preserving our freedoms at home, and restoring America's leadership abroad," Palin is (inadvertently and unintentionally) drawing attention to the the fact that Bush exploded government spending, trampled all over freedom at home, and destroyed America's leadership, credibility, and moral standing abroad.

She asserts that "so much damage has been done in the last two years," blaming Obama for anything and everything, but it is Obama who has sought to get the budget under control (including through health-care reform), revive Americans' constitutional rights at home, and restore America's image and standing around the world. To the extent that Obama hasn't done enough on civil liberties (for example, by maintaining elements of the Bush-Cheney national security state and by refusing to move forward on gay rights), he has actually found himself criticized vehemently from the left for being too much like Bush -- and shouldn't Palin like that?

As for her interpretation of the election results, Palin is just plain wrong. Republicans' success owed primarily to factors other than Republicans themselves -- to the lousy economy, to Democrats having to defend seats in predominantly conservative districts (won in the '06 and '08 "wave" elections), to Democrats failing to present a compelling case to voters (largely because they ran away from themselves and their achievements), to rabid anti-incumbent sentiment largely connected to the state of the economy, etc. It is a gross mistake to read too much other than that into the results, but of course Palin, basking in unwarranted triumphalism, does just that.

Simply, the election did not provide Republicans -- Palin's Tea Party Republicans, that is -- with a mandate to govern, or to impose their (highly unpopular) right-wing ideology on the American people, let alone to "leave [their] mark on history." The American people don't trust the Republicans and certainly didn't put their trust in them "to do the right thing." And the election certainly was not a victory for Palin's opportunistic combination of neoconservatism on foreign policy, theocratism on social policy, and libertarianism on economic policy -- even if this internally inconsistent insanity is currently what is holding the GOP together.

Yes, Sarah Palin is the ultimate princess of delusional overreaching -- and she presents it here, as she always presents herself, packaged in a wrapping of arrogant, self-righteous, self-aggrandizing cluelessness.

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Plagiarist-in-Chief, Fabricator-in-Chief

In my dismissal of Bush's Decision Points as predictable, superficial, legacy-boosting self-aggrandizement yesterday, I neglected to mention that, as HuffPo's Ryan Grim reports, the book contains a good deal of plagiarism and fabrication:

When Crown Publishing inked a deal with George W. Bush for his memoirs, the publisher knew it wasn't getting Faulkner. But the book, at least, promises "gripping, never-before-heard detail" about the former president's key decisions, offering to bring readers "aboard Air Force One on 9/11, in the hours after America's most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; at the head of the table in the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq," and other undisclosed and weighty locations.

Crown also got a mash-up of worn-out anecdotes from previously published memoirs written by his subordinates, from which Bush lifts quotes word for word, passing them off as his own recollections. He took equal license in lifting from nonfiction books about his presidency or newspaper or magazine articles from the time. Far from shedding light on how the president approached the crucial "decision points" of his presidency, the clip jobs illuminate something shallower and less surprising about Bush's character: He's too lazy to write his own memoir. 

For example:

Many of Bush's literary misdemeanors exemplify pedestrian sloth, but others are higher crimes against the craft of memoir. In one prime instance, Bush relates a poignant meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a Tajik warlord on Karzai's Inauguration Day. It's the kind of scene that offers a glimpse of a hopeful future for the beleaguered nation. Witnessing such an exchange could color a president's outlook, could explain perhaps Bush's more optimistic outlook and give insight into his future decisions. Except Bush didn't witness it. Because he wasn't at Karzai's inauguration.

It's an anecdote that Bush -- or, rather, his minions -- probably lifted straight a "Googleable free intro" to a New York Review of Books story by Ahmed Rashid.

And another:

In a separate case of scene fabrication, though, Bush writes of a comment made by his rival John McCain as if it was said to him directly. "The surge gave [McCain] a chance to create distance between us, but he didn't take it. He had been a longtime advocate of more troops in Iraq, and he supported the new strategy wholeheartedly. "I cannot guarantee success," he said, "But I can guarantee failure if we don't adopt this new strategy." A dramatic and untold coming-together of longtime rivals? Well, not so much. It comes straight from a Washington Post story. McCain was talking to reporters, not to Bush.

So basically:

In most instances of Bush's literary swiping, he was at least present for the scene. But the point of a memoir is that it is the author's version of events. Bush's book is a collection of other people's versions of events. But that's not what Bush promises readers. "Decision Points is based primarily on my recollections. With help from researchers, I have confirmed my account with government documents, personal interviews, news reports, and other sources, some of which remain classified," he offers. Bush, in his memoir, confesses to authorizing waterboarding, which is a war crime, so the lifting of a few passages might seem like a minor infraction. But Bush's laziness undermines the historical value of the memoir. Bush "recollects" -- in a more literal sense of the term -- quotes by pulling his and others verbatim from other books, calling into question what he genuinely remembers from the time and casting doubt on any conclusions he draws about what his mindset was at the time.

He even "appears to draw heavily from several of Bob Woodward's books and also from Robert Draper's 'Dead Certain'. The Bush White House called the books' accuracy into question when they were initially published."

Should we be outraged? Yes, I suppose so. Should Bush be called out on and be made to account for these transgressions? Of course. But, honestly, did we really expect much more from the guy?

And isn't this really just further confirmation of who he is.

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The triumph of truthiness

Andrew Sullivan on the Big Lie:

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector's in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don't think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

This is the era of the Big Lie, in other words, and it translates into a lot of little lies -- "death panels," "out-of-control" spending, "apologies for America" etc. -- designed to concoct a false narrative so simple and so familiar it actually succeeded in getting into people's minds in the midst of a brutal recession. And integral to this process have been conservative "intellectuals" who should and do know better, but have long since sacrificed intellectual honesty for the cheap thrills of enabling power-grabs. 

Aside from the fact that the Republicans and the right wing had decided long before January 20, 2009, that the Obama presidency would be a failure and that they would do everything they could to make it so, the simple fact remains that human nature is such that it is easier to convince the people that a vapor trail off the coast of California is a precursor to an invasion by the Borg than it is to convince 95% of the taxpaying public that their taxes actually went down last year.  The more outrageous the story, the easier it is to sell.  Orson Welles knew that in 1938; so did P.T. Barnum, and so did the folks who came up with the whiz-bang story that the universe was created in six days.  After all, which sounds better; the Garden of Eden and a talking snake or a long boring science lecture on microbes adapting to a planet with carbon and water?

It is one thing, however, to be fascinated by fiction and the tales of the supernatural; it is another to be deliberately lied to by presumably intelligent people who know better but do it anyway to pursue their own political agenda.  It's very difficult to have a conversation about how to solve our problems when you're dealing with people who are knowingly distorting the facts and face no consequences for their mendacity and hypocrisy.  They're not embarrassed or ashamed, either, and when you finally get their attention long enough to get them to hear you call them out on it, they either claim that they're the victims of a smear campaign or that both sides do it equally.  The first is an infantile evasion; the second is pure bullshit.

Knowing that, we can at least go forward with a clear vision about some things that will never change.  Lucy will never let Charlie Brown kick the football, they will always fuck you at the drive-thru, and Republicans will never accept the idea that anyone other than a Republican should ever be elected president.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Still. The. Worst. Ever.

Jacob Weisberg at Slate, on Bush's new "memoir," Decision Points:

[T]he book also has Bush's weaknesses: It is superficial, simplistic, and impatient to be finished. He leaps to conclusions without apparent thought or evidence. Bush's capable former speechwriter Chris Michel has done an impressive job structuring a readable narrative around a series of major events. But if he leads his old boss to water, he can't make him think. Because Bush is intellectually and emotionally incapable of truly reconsidering the past, his memoir fails to make a case that we should reconsider our view of him. 

It's not a book we really needed, is it? And there's really no need even to engage with it, try as Bush might to defend himself as "The Decider."

What's the point?

While he may be focusing on his legacy (and on trying to make it positive) "to the exclusion of any other useful contribution to society," he remains, and will remain, one of the worst presidents ever -- if not the worst.

Dubya in Dallas, signing copies of his book. Photo from The Globe and Mail.

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Are we all socialists now? Glenn Beck, Lawrence O’Donnell, and the politics of name-calling

MSNBC political commentator Lawrence O'Donnell recently identified himself as a socialist in an on-air discussion with prominent blogger Glenn Greenwald. Whatever his motivation, one result of this self-identification may be to begin the process of reclaiming a term that the right has been able to completely remove from our political landscape. 

It would be interesting if this started a more public discussion about what this term means and how an examination of its main points might be useful. O'Donnell was not, I am sure, unaware that this would all be red meat to certain of those on the right who don't care how embarrassing they appear to others.

You would not be surprised to learn that Glenn Beck rose to the bait. No analysis, no thought at all, just silly Beckian name calling. Quelle surprise! Has anyone else noticed that Beck comes across mostly like a bratty nine-year old hell-bent on annoying his siblings? 

To call someone a socialist in America has always been just about on a par with saying that the person kicks puppies as a hobby or steals lunch money from five-year olds as a way to make a living. There has never been much debate. Just launch the epithet and watch the subject of the attack reel in horror and protest vigorously. 

In point of fact, the term "socialist" is just too complicated, ambiguous, and multi-faceted to really mean much of anything specific in the modern context. But it does mean something. And if you happen to live in Europe or Canada, the term can actually be a conversation starter rather than a dirty name called to make cheap political points and shut down any further discussion. 

At the risk of oversimplification, most of the people I know who either identify with the term or look favourably upon it consider the power of corporations, the gross concentration of wealth, estimation of life chances tied directly to socio-economic class, the systemic inequities and terrible degradation endured by the underclass in capitalist society, etc., etc., as being circumstances that require some degree of state power to remedy. 

Not long ago, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story stating that "We Are All Socialists Now," and the right-wing howled. But obviously Newsweek was right, up to a point. We have government pension systems, Medicare, progressive income taxes, and all manner of government activity that socializes risk, and, yes, redistributes wealth. Now we even have health-care reform, and though it is hardly socialized medicine, it moves in that direction. In a manner of speaking, we are all socialists now. 

If we are to be honest, decades ago capitalist countries realized that in order for them to function at all, certain kinds of government intervention would be necessary: child labour laws, occupational health and safety regulations, social security legislation, all programs under the general heading of "welfare," etc. Capitalism just proved too blunt an instrument not to be counterbalanced by collective action in some way. 

Some sort of interventionist state has been a reality for a long time. We don't even need to go into the fact that George W. Bush understood as well as President Obama that the federal government would have to spend its way out of the current recession. The hard right claims not to approve in either case, but they're just wrong. 

A lot of people who identify themselves as socialist may not think that nationalizing major industries is a good idea, or that a command economy run by government is workable, or that there is a very good alternative to capitalist markets. Just as those who consider themselves more pro-capitalist want the latitude to consider a range of policy tools, self-described socialists can reserve the same right. 

But what we should all understand is that we live in a mixed economy. The private sector does a lot of things. Government does a lot of things. The key is in working towards a better balance between them that might just result in greater numbers of people having more than a slim chance of living a decent life. 

The point I am trying to make is actually quite simple. I have been calling myself a socialist for a long time, though I recognize it is an imperfect term. The important thing for me is that it suggests a constellation of ideas that we should welcome into the mix, such as: how much government intervention is justifiable in the lives of Americans; what limits should we place on private property for the sake of the common good; are there enterprises that might best be run by the government, like health care; are there goods so basic that they might be provided by government, perhaps like housing? I would want to talk about what factory owners owe local communities when they contemplate pulling up stakes after many years. I would want to talk about how governments ought to work with business to help create jobs. All kinds of stuff. 

Having the tools to explore these questions is what the concept of socialism makes possible. 

Yes, we can look at certain strains of socialism and try to connect them to state communism and then say that anyone who wants to argue for an expanded government role in the economy in the early part of the 21st century is a Stalinist in waiting, but, with all due respect to Professor Hayek, that would be silly. We might as well say that every capitalist is no better than a factory owner in some sort of 19th-century Dickensian hell or at least on the slippery slope to becoming one. 

Times change. The meaning of words changes. Like it or not, what the Newsweek headline should have read is that "We Are All More or Less Capitalist and More or Less Socialist Now." (I know. I'll never get a job as a headline writer). 

These days, any discussion about the relative merits of capitalism and socialism is really about how much government involvement in the economy is advisable. We can't know in advance. We have to take every case as it comes and work it out. 

If being a socialist means that I am more inclined to think that government should have an expanded role in ensuring that greater and greater numbers of Americans have a chance at a good life, then, along with Lawrence O'Donnell, I'm a socialist. 

Mostly I just want to ask a lot of questions to see where the answers take us. I think socialism provides some tools to help us do this. Nothing to be afraid of. 

But calling someone a socialist as a way to marginalize their ideas does nothing to help us find the answers we need. It's just dumb and par for the course for too many on the right.

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The great cave: How Obama and the Democrats are losing the battle over the Bush tax cuts

It was being reported yesterday that the White House was prepared to cave to Republicans and renew Bush's (highly unpopular) tax cuts for the wealthy. (See Carl's post here.)

Well, not so fast.

If we are to believe noted anti-progressive David Axelrod, Obama's top advisor, what he actually said ("We have to deal with the world as we find it," etc.) was, well, misinterpreted. As he wrote in an e-mail to WaPo's Greg Sargent:

There is not one bit of news here. I simply re-stated what POTUS and [Press Secretary] Robert [Gibbs] have been saying. Our two strong principles are that we need to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, but we can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy.

Please note -- the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will be extended, if not renewed or made permanent. Even there, on the extension, Obama has caved. Sargent writes:

The question remains, though, whether the White House will hold fast to Obama's demand last week that the extension of the tax cuts for the middle class remain permanent while extending the high end ones temporarily. The main sticking point is that Republicans won't allow the two categories to be extended for different durations, because that would force them to push for just an extension of the cuts for the rich later.

But why should the Republicans get what they want? This is an issue that many of us (notably TNR's Jonathan Chait) were writing about in great frustration before last week's elections. Why not separate the two and force Republicans to defend publicly their support for making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent?

Obviously, the Democrats aren't in the position they were before the elections. There's only so much they can do without control of the House. But Obama should stand firm and make sure that Republicans are identified, first and foremost, with what is deeply unpopular. Axelrod may talk up reality, but reality also means securing political wins even where policy wins may not be possible.

This is still a great issue for Democrats. Which means we can count on them to fuck it up. (And fucking it up they are.)

And you should forgive us if we don't entirely trust anything that comes out of the White House. While I hope that Axelrod is serious, the caving is already well underway.


By the way, Senate Minority Leader (and hyper-partisan Republican) Mitch McConnell said yesterday that he was "willing to listen to what the President has in mind for protecting Americans from tax increases," that is, that he might be open to compromise on the Bush tax cuts (including possibly only a temporary extension for the tax cuts for the wealthy). 

Don't believe a thing he says. For Republicans, compromise is not on the table.

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"I want to make amends for what I did": Reflections on military service

Today, the day after Remembrance/Veterans Day, I want to direct your attention to this post at ProseBeforeHos by a vet looking back at the Vietnam War and his time in the military. Here's an especially powerful passage:

I recognize the need for a military, and I no longer blame the men and women who choose to serve, although I believe their service is misguided. I do blame our elected officials and corporate leaders who carelessly risk the lives of our military and slaughter millions of innocent civilians overseas solely for profits, and it’s for that reason I continue speaking out. The country is no safer because of my service, mainly because we were never in any danger in the first place, but our leaders knew that. I’ll just keep working and hope I can pay back all that bad karma in this lifetime so I can start anew the next time around.

My most profound wish is peace for all, especially those who fought our hegemonic wars and suffer the torment of PTSD. I hope you all find the way back.

Make sure to read the whole thing.

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Smarter Than The Average Bear or Op Ed Writer

I guess we live in a country where - if you write for 'venerable' organizations like the Washington Post - you must smarter than the average bear.

In his November 12, 2010, WaPo column, Dana Milbank chalks up another day to punditoria arrogance, stupidity and revisionism.

"Democrats in the House are set to keep the same three leaders - Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn - who led them to their historic wipeout. This is the preschool-soccer theory of accountability: Nobody keeps score and everybody gets a trophy. The fallen House speaker seems to speak for a number of her colleagues when she says she has "no regrets" about the past two years."

and the inanity continues if you care to read.

First of all - I have had plenty of issues with Pelosi & Company with the things she they done ("impeachment is off the table") and haven't done ("impeachment is off the table"), but I believe she has been a pretty decent Speaker considering everything that has been tossed at her and her lieutenants.  They have had the obstructionist GOP (who would vote down a cure to cancer), the DINO Blue Dogs (who would sell their mother out), a President who has failed (yes I will use failed) to take stands, fight the GOP and follow through on many of his pledges and finally a media cheering for her demise.

Yes it was a pretty overwhelming wipeout.  But I can guarantee Mr. Milbank that NOT ONE person who voted on November 8th (except in CA-8) gave a rat's ass about Nancy Pelosi (or Stoyer or Clyburn).  I would bet over 50% of the country has no idea who the Speaker of the House is!  I would also bet well over 50% of the country has no clue whom their own House Rep is.  I live in deep blue 'sophisticated' Manhattan - where over 80% of registered voters are Democrats.  I know several people who have no idea who their Representative is (Carolyn Maloney) and there are many who still think Hillary Clinton is still our Senator!

When people voted last week - they voted against Obama - period.  They went into the booth (or 'private voting area' that we now have) and filled in straight Republican.  They could have been voting for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun for all they cared - it was a repudiation on Obama.  Less than 0.1% of the voting public went in to the polls and chose their Rep based on the actions of Pelosi or Stoyer.  Many of them may have actually benefited from House actions - but that didn't matter.  It was Obama they were repudiating and Pelosi was the indirect victim.

Then again Pelosi isn't as hot as Palin - so maybe that was the reason she was booted.

To say that those three led the House to an historic wipeout is disingenuous and another sign of a lazy writer.  The House and the Dems suffered because of the weakness of Obama, the weakness of the economy, the obstruction and great marketing of the Republicans, Fox News & Propaganda Inc., the Citizens United decision and the media's elevation of the teabaggers to lofty levels (without bothering to call them out for the racists and greedmongers they really are).  Sure the Democrats made major blunders and have the spine of a squid - but not one voter pulled the lever (an old school term - there are no more levers) based on the leadership of Pelosi.

Milbank knows this, the media knows this - but telling the real story requires work and probably doesn't sell a lot of columns or get you on TV.

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Conflict and conservatism on the deficit commission

It's good to know that many of the staffers working for President Obama's much-ballyhooed deficit commission -- known more pretentiously as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- are being paid by "outside entities," as The Washington Post is reporting:

For example, the salaries of two senior staffers, Marc Goldwein and Ed Lorenzen, are paid by private groups that have previously advocated cuts to entitlement programs. Lorenzen is paid by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, while Goldwein is paid by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is also partly funded by the Peterson group.

The outsourcing has come under sharp criticism from seniors' organizations and liberal activists, who say the strategy is part of a broader conservative bias favoring painful entitlement cuts over other solutions. The fears of some liberal groups appeared to come true on Wednesday, when the commission's two leaders recommended significant reductions for Social Security and other social-welfare programs.

Bruce Reed, the panel's executive director, defended the staffing arrangement as fiscally responsible and said the staff includes a broad range of views. Other staffers paid by outside entities include an analyst from the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute and a Clinton administration official who now teaches at Johns Hopkins University, he said.

"We've got wonks from across the spectrum who have been working on this issue for years," Reed said. "Every possible voice from left, right or center has a voice on the commission." 

Maybe so, but still. It's pretty clear which way the commission is leaning. Are we just to assume that the involvement of these "outside entities" has nothing to do with it at all? Are we just to trust that everything is on the up-and-up? Please. There are obviously many conflicts of interest here -- but even if there aren't, the perception of such conflicts is enough to destroy the commission's credibility.

Here are some reactions to where the commission appears to be headed:

Mike Lux, Open Left -- "The co-chairs [Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles] and staff found every conceivable way to screw the middle class in ways big (very big) and small, but barely nicked the bankers who caused the meltdown of the economy, or the wealthy whose massive tax cuts ended the big budget surpluses as far as the eye could see coming out of the Clinton years.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones -- "Bottom line: this document [the Simpson-Bowles plan] isn't really aimed at deficit reduction. It's aimed at keeping government small. There's nothing wrong with that if you're a conservative think tank and that's what you're dedicated to selling. But it should be called by its right name. This document is a paean to cutting the federal government, not cutting the federal deficit.

John Nichols, The Nation -- "The debate about the future of Social Security has opened, and how progressives respond will decide whether the United States is a civil society or a pirate state where the government's primary role is to take from the poor and give to the rich."

Paul Krugman, The New York Times -- "OK, let's say goodbye to the deficit commission. If you're sincerely worried about the US fiscal future -- and there's good reason to be -- you don't propose a plan that involves large cuts in income taxes. Even if those cuts are offset by supposed elimination of tax breaks elsewhere, balancing the budget is hard enough without giving out a lot of goodies -- goodies that fairly obviously, even without having the details, would go largely to the very affluent.

Jonathan Chait, The New Republic (assuming a much less critical posture) : "[T]he deficit commission's blueprint does have aspects liberals can get behind. It ends all manner of regressive tax subsidies, including the tax preference for capital gains and dividends. That's a huge policy triumph. It protects retirement benefits for low-income workers. It slashes agriculture subsidies. This may not be the best way to reduce the deficit, but it’s far from the worst.

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic (enthusiastically in support): "All of which leads to an obvious and compelling political and policy win-win for the president. He needs to embrace this opportunity to end the long-term debt and pivot to the center and call the right's bluff at the same time. There is nothing that would restore Obama's cred with Independents more than tackling his own party's ideologues on the deficit and the debt... Such a breakthrough, I believe, would also galvanize a recovery, restoring long-term confidence in the US economy, and prompting businesses to spend, invest and hire again."

I'm with Mike, Kevin, John, and Paul. This is yet another case of liberals being told that liberalism is wrong and that the solution to America's various ills lies in some Republican-friendly "center," with all the benefits going to the rich and the rest of the country, as usual, getting screwed.

And, in case you weren't aware:

-- Alan Simpson, while relatively moderate for his party, is a former Republican senator; and
-- Erskine Bowles, chief of staff to President Clinton, is on Morgan Stanley's board of directors.

There's your "bipartisanship" -- which, as usual, means "conservative" and "somewhat less conservative."

Where's the progressivism here? Also as usual, it's nowhere to be found, certainly not on the "Democratic" side of things.

I'm hardly a big fan of high taxes (most liberals aren't, even if they acknowledge their necessity), but the best way to cut the deficit is to put in place a progressive tax scale that requires the wealthy to pay their fair share and to focus on rationalizing and reducing military spending. It is certainly not to slash Social Security, which is actually working well to keep millions of Americans out of poverty. But of course the poor, or the needy generally, do not have nearly the political voice the wealthy have -- indeed, the wealthy have an entire political party dedicated to making them even more wealthy (as well as, it would seem, a presidential commission). And, yes, the trickle-down myth is alive and well despite its history of failure: make the rich richer and everything will be fine! Right.

Thank you, Mr. President, for using the cover of bipartisanship to give conservatives so much of what they want. Who won the '08 election again?

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Things are looking good for Murkowski

The Anchorage Daily News is reporting that incumbent Lisa Murkowski is getting almost all of the write-in votes in Alaska's Senate election -- about 98 percent.

As Nate Silver explains, Republican Teabagger Joe Miller needs 11.6 percent of the almost 93,000 write-in votes to be "something other than legal ballots cast for Lisa Murkowski." Given the results so far, he has "little chance of achieving that 11.6 percent threshold":

According to reporting by the Anchorage Daily News:
  • About 0.9 percent of the write-in ballots were legal votes deemed to be cast for someone other than Lisa Murkowski.
  • Another 1.4 percent of write-in ballots, which appeared to be votes for Ms. Murkowski, were successfully challenged by Mr. Miller’s campaign.
  • Another 8.5 percent of write-in ballots were unsuccessfully challenged by Mr. Miller's campaign and counted for Ms. Murkowski.
Together, these three categories add up to 10.8 percent: below the 11.6 percent threshold. If the first day of ballot-counting is representative of what will take place during the next four days, Ms. Murkowski would eventually be declared the winner by about 750 votes -- even if all of Joe Miller's challenges were eventually upheld in court.

Which is good news, right? Well, let us not forget that Murkowski is still a Republican even if she lost the primary vote to Miller. While her relationship with the party is somewhat unclear, it's highly likely that she'll be welcomed back with open arms, not least because Miller proved to be such a lousy candidate, not to mention an extremist thug even by Republicans standards, and many of the more establishment-minded Republicans of the sort who inhabit Capitol Hill flocked to Murkowski instead.

But is she preferable to Miller? Sure. And would her victory be a blow to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party? Yes, absolutely.

So there you go.

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Massive media merger mayhem madness

Raise your hand if you care that Newsweek and The Daily Beast are merging.

(Bueller... Bueller... Bueller...)

That's what I thought.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day 2010

It is a day to remember those who served, those who fought, those who gave their lives. But it is also a day to remember the horror of war. While many of those who served did so nobly, war itself is not noble, even if it is somehow justifiable, and undeniably necessary, as was World War II.

But World War I, the "Great War," the specific war this day commemorates? That was a pointless, generation-destroying abomination that resulted in nothing but another war, a continuation of the war, 20 years later. It was a war of dying empires, heavily militarized after a century of relative peace following the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, the generals and their political masters moving pieces around on their gameboard, the lines moving a bit this way, a bit that way, all for some greater glory that existed only in their illusions and delusions, while thousands upon thousands were dying for nothing at all on the fields and in the trenches. Think of the Battle of the Somme, one of the Great War's key turning points, with a death toll over a million. It was one of the worst, but it was also one of many such devastations. It is impossible, I think, to come fully to terms with such horror.

Let us, then, think not of the usual red poppy but of the white one, which symbolizes peace (and not so much military valour and certainly not the "nobility" of war).

Here is the very moving "Break of Day in the Trenches" by Isaac Rosenberg, a somewhat lesser-known Great War poet (compared to the likes of Owen or Sassoon) but still a very fine one:

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old Druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems, odd thing, you grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurl'd through still heavens?
What quaver -- what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping,
But mine in my ear is safe --
Just a little white with the dust.

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Baked Alaska

Somebody's got to do it, distasteful as it may be -- and what's she up to now? Same old thing. Presented with the facts, she said "thanks, but no thanks."

We all remember when the song was that Obama was the most liberal legislator -- ever -- and it's fun to remember it and more fun to listen to people try to reconcile that idiocy with the likelihood that he will imitate Bush in giving the 1% who own it all another tax break like the one instrumental in causing the First Great Depression and the more recent Bush Depression Recession. Obama is as liberal as Corporate America allows him to be, and that's to the right of Reagan.

But wait, there's more. Sarah's now slinging the one where Obama is the most pro-abortion president to occupy the White House and slinging it with the same, soggy, snickering spite and scorn for reality. "Obamacare," of course, will fund abortions, said she yesterday at a half-full old Texas vaudeville house, even though it won't, any more than there are death panels trying to kill your grandmother or that the president's trade mission to the far east is using up half the Navy and will cost billions. Behold the power of rumor over a willing audience.

But bullshit in motion tends to stay in motion despite any friction caused by the truth and maybe it's that strange "dark energy" but these days it seems actually to expand at an increasing rate.

People do not process information in a neutral way. Their preconceptions affect their reactions. Biased assimilation refers to the fact that people assimilate new information in a biased fashion; those who have accepted false rumors do not easily give up their beliefs, especially when they have a strong emotional commitment to those beliefs. It can be exceedingly hard to dislodge what people think, even by presenting them with the facts.

Cass Sunstein, "On Rumors."

Exceedingly hard? Understated humor is so refreshing these days.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Tax cuts are for nothing

By Carl 

The Obama administration has caved. The signal to the media and the Republicans is that the administration would not oppose renewing the Bush tax cuts, for growth's sake. Whether this would be a permanent tax cut is yet to be determined.

The CBHO has estimated that the budget deficit by these tax cuts alone would be 90% of annual GDP by the year 2020. Note that's before you consider the boom in Social Security and Medicare that is scheduled to happen after that year. 

That's not the national debt, which is already on par with the GDP and is the culmination of all deficits since the nation's inception. That's the annual increase in our national debt. That means we'd actually be running the country into the ground, and that assumption includes the rosiest of economic scenarios.

There were actually three Bush tax cuts, in each of 2001, 2002, and 2003. The 2001 tax cut eliminated estate taxes, or taxes on people who managed to avoid taxes on increases in wealth, but whose heirs would rightly reimburse society for the wealth those assets took out of the general pool. If you take a dollar out of the general wealth pool, that's one less dollar for the rest of us.

The 2002 tax cuts were focused on business, primarily to try to stimulate economic growth (and job creation).

The 2003 tax cut was the "No. Really! We mean it this time! We Republicans will create jobs, dammit!" tax cut.

As you can imagine, all three failed, miserably, to alleviate the suffering of a modest recession that occured during the waning days of the Clinton administration and into the Bush first term. 

Gross domestic product from 2000 to 2009 was as follows, on an annual basis: 

2000: (the last year of Clinton's administration, just before the recession) 4.1%
2001: 1.1%
2002: (the first year of Bush's tax cuts) 1.8%
2003: (the second round is in effect) 2.5%
2004: (the final round of tax cuts is effective) 3.6%
2005: 3.1%
2006: 2.7% (Bush tax cuts are in full effect after a phase-in of new tax rates)
2007: 1.9%
2008: 0.0%
2009: (Obama's first year, and the final year of Bush's budgets) -2.6% 

So, in no year did Bush and his precious little tax cuts manage to come within half a percent of Clinton's final year, which included the first rumblings of a RECESSION! 

Tax cuts do not stimulate economic growth. End of discussion. 

Wait. What about jobs? 

Precisely zero jobs were created in the decade from 2000-2009. Zero. 

This, despite the Bush administration creating the single biggest bureaucracy in world history, in the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration!

Job growth by year:
2000: (Clinton) 1.4 million jobs added
2001: (Bush) (recession) -1.7 million jobs
2002: (first year of tax cuts) -500,000 jobs
2003: 87,000 jobs added
2004: 2.0 million jobs added
2005: 2.4 million jobs added (finally, Bush has added jobs to the his SECOND term)
2006: 2.0 million jobs added (tax cuts fully effective)
2007: 1.0 million jobs added (whoops!)
2008: -3.6 million jobs (!)
2009: (final year of Bush budgets) -4.7 million

Factor out the Clinton administration, and Bush is responsible for a net job loss of 2.8 million jobs. 

The unemployment rate picture isn't much prettier: 

2000: 4.0%
2001: 4.7%
2002: 5.8%
2003: 6.0%
2004: 5.5%
2005: 5.1%
2006: 4.6%
2007: 4.6%
2008: 5.8%
2009: 9.3%

In no year did Bush's unemployment rate dip below the final, recession year of Bill Clinton.

Why is this even a discussion? Obama should tell Boehner in no uncertain terms, "You guys had everything you wanted: tax cuts, a Republican president, and a Republican Congress, and you did nothing, NOTHING, for the American people. This time, we'll do it my way." 

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"They said I could"

I've pretty much stayed out of the details of George W. Bush's memoirs as he goes around the country on his book tour (including Miami), but this snippet caught my attention.

Former President George W. Bush was asked during an interview last night why he believes waterboarding is legal.

"Because the lawyer said it was," Bush said. "He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do."

Aside from the fact that waterboarding is not legal -- it's torture and we prosecuted people as war criminals for doing it during World War II -- even if it was, just because the lawyers said it was okay doesn't make it right. It's pretty clear that the Bush administration went out and lawyer-shopped until they found folks like John Yoo who could come up with a justification for committing war crimes in the name of fighting terrorism and couching it in the Nixonian idea that when the president does it, it's not illegal. That's the excuse of a dictatorship.

Mr. Bush seems very proud of his ability to make decisions quickly and not stew over them once he's made them.  He -- and his minions -- seem to think that's an asset and they look down their noses at people like Barack Obama who actually consider all sides and consequences of a situation. They call it "decisiveness" (the former president might call it "decisioning"). But leadership isn't about that; it's about doing the right thing, not just the legal thing. And Mr. Bush, who can't help but sound somewhat adolescent in his invoking of "they said I could," comes across less as a leader of a nation but as a vindictive and intemperate thug who isn't above committing a war crime.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Craziest Conservative of the Day: Bryan Fischer

It almost sounds like a joke -- until you realize that this guy's insane (in a right-wing theocratic sort of way):

Bryan Fischer really hates it when animals attack. Like, hates it so much that he thinks we'd be better off without them.

Which is why Fischer, who is the "Director of Issues Analysis" for the conservative Christian group the American Family Association, wrote a blog post today called "A hot dog on two legs -- time for open season on Yellowstone grizzlies," in which he refers to Grizzly Bears as a "curse" and says that "it's time" for the grizzlies to go.


Fischer posted the piece on his "Rightly Concerned" blog, which is "a project of the American Family Association." 

He's apparently concerned about the high number of bear-on-human attacks in Yellowstone this year:

"One human being is worth more than an infinite number of grizzly bears," Fischer writes. "Another way to put it is that there is no number of live grizzlies worth one dead human being. If it's a choice between grizzlies and humans, the grizzlies have to go. And it's time."

He continues: "Of course there is a simple answer: shoot these man-eaters on sight."

Actually, this fucking shithead isn't worth a single hair on a grizzly's back. (And they're not "man-eaters," and resorting to the Bible, as he does in his piece (of course), only makes him look even more stupid.)

And don't think Fischer's just some fringe figure:

Fischer is a favorite of social conservative Republicans, and even spoke at the Values Voter summit this fall alongside Mitt Romney, Jim DeMint, and other big-name Republicans.

And -- surprise, surprise -- he hates Muslims, too:

Many also know him for having suggested that there should be "no more mosques, period" in the U.S. because "every single mosque is a potential terror training center or recruitment center for jihad."

No wonder he's so popular on the right. 


As Rachel Maddow notes, "not even Sarah Palin advocates shooting animals for the sake of wiping them off the face of the earth -- and especially not grizzlies." 

It's time for Stephen Colbert to get over his (satirical) fear and come to the bears' defence against this sort of abject craziness.

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The Republican path to fiscal responsibility

Republicans talk up fiscal responsibility -- which is to say, in their view, balanced budgets (spending no more than you take in) -- but of course what they really want to do is to slash taxes for the wealthy while handing off the responsibility for paying for those cuts to future generations. Oh sure, they talk about slashing spending, but, honestly, what are they going to cut? The National Endowment for the Arts? Public broadcasting? Please. Those amount to almost nothing compared to the rest of the federal budget. So how about major entitlement programs? Well, those are generally very popular, so no. What about all that pork? Well, politicians need as much pork as they can get their grubby hands on so they can pile up the votes back home, so, again, no. Then surely the military? Right. You expect Republicans to slash military spending? They'd much rather privatize Social Security, but, of course, they know the American people won't stand for that.

So it's really all a big, massive deception, this talk of fiscal responsibility and small government. (Some, to their credit, are at least talking about putting military spending cuts on the table. But they will soon be punished for their deviant ways.) You just can't achieve any such responsibility without ensuring sufficient revenue, and that means not extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, not slashing any other tax you can find, and looking for reasonable cuts in spending.

But you won't hear Republicans calling for anything of the kind. Instead, they'll avoid talking specifics, avoid the details altogether, while continuing to insist that they can and will balance the books. And if they talk at all about what they'll cut, they'll mention either small programs unpopular on the right (like the NEA), insignificant programs that barely register, or perhaps even programs that no longer exist.

Yes, that's right, programs that no longer exist.

As Think Progress reports, one Republican, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, has called for the elimination of "the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund [TANF], a successful program that has created 250,000 jobs in 37 states via subsidized employment programs for low-income and unemployed workers."

Problem is, the fund expired on September 30. And, what's more, it was popular even with Mississippi Gov. Haley "Boss Hogg" Barbour, "who said it provided 'much-needed aid during this recession by enabling businesses to hire new workers, thus enhancing the economic engines of our local communities.'" Not that that's stopping Republicans:

[A]dvocates, as well as the Obama administration, have asked that Congress fund the program for an additional year for $2.5 billion. Price multiplied that over ten years to come up with his ludicrous pronouncement that he would save $25 billion by cutting the program.

Republicans would also save approximately $35.7 gazillion by cutting the joint NASA/NSA/NOAA program to send Matthew McConaughey and a ragtag group of grizzled explorers on a fact-finding mission to Uranus, but, of course, such a program doesn't exist. Or has it expired?

No matter -- it's not like reality plays into the cynical imaginings of the GOP's fiscal fanatics.

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Threats and Rumors of Threat

by Peter Henne

The world seems a threatening place. The pre-election terror plot revealed al-Qaeda (AQ) continues its attempts to strike US and Western targets. A series of horrendous attacks occurred in the past week, including the massacre of Iraqi Christians and two suicide bombings of Muslim religious sites in Pakistan. And last Tuesday, voters in Oklahoma banned the application of sharia in the state's courts. Some on the right may claim these are examples of, and responses to, the spread of "radical Islam" throughout the world. Others might suggest xenophobia among some Americans is leading to both a hostile environment for American Muslims and the exaggeration of terrorist threats. I would offer the alternative explanation: AQ and its allies represent a continuing threat to the United States, which we ignore at our peril. At the same time, American Muslims are an integral part of our society, and the overwhelming majority of them do not share AQ's beliefs. Demonizing them serves only to distract us from the true danger, redirecting our energies into frivolous debates and manufactured fears.

Numerous details have emerged about the recent terror plot. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) appears to have disguised bombs as electronic appliances and mailed these to the United States, intending to either destroy the cargo planes or the synagogues to which they were addressed. Saudi intelligence or the diligence of airline screeners led to the bombs being discovered.

I have long believed incidents like this pose a threat to the United States, but one that must be placed in context . The bombs may have caused little damage if placed in the middle of the cargo area, but if they were by the planes' skin an explosion could have caused a crash. The resultant disruption of global air cargo network would have significant economic ramifications. Yet, America's economy and society are resilient enough to survive the effects of even several terrorist attacks. And the threat AQ poses is one of a shadowy network, rather than an ever-present anti-American insurgency.

The sharia ban, however, is different. At some point anti-Muslim sentiment in America (or at least media coverage of it) increased. This manifested itself in the Park51 controversy, and the vandalism of mosques around the country. And it has culminated in Oklahoma's attempt to head off a move to impose sharia by the state's Muslims (who make up less than 1 percent of the population).

The fear some Americans have of Islam is completely unfounded. The Park51 issue involves a moderate Islamic cleric's cultural center, with most of the controversy due to media manipulation. And there is little indication Sharia will be imposed here anytime soon. There have been scattered incidents of judges pointing to sharia to hand out unfair sentences, but these decisions have mostly been overturned. And while Muslim Americans tend to be very religious, they are better off economically and more integrated socially than Muslims in Europe.

I think it is safe to say there is no wide-ranging conspiracy to Islamize America. Yet, too often anti-Muslim hysteria and concerns over terrorism are linked in the public discourse: by those with the anti-Muslim attitudes, of course, but also by their critics who at times lump terrorism in with the manufactured "Islamic threat." This would be a mistake, as dismissing terrorist threats because of the lies and exaggerations of a few Americans would be almost as bad as denying the diversity and moderation of Muslim Americans because of the radicalism of a tiny minority.

So where does this leave us? One takeaway is that Americans must be sure to appreciate the threat we face from terrorism; it is unlikely, though, that we will experience a down-playing of terrorism anytime soon. Instead, it may be more important to emphasize that rejecting anti-Muslim attitudes is not the same as ignoring AQ and its minions. That is, we can be tough on terrorism and still accept religious diversity.

How? First, by doing exactly what the Obama Administration is doing: increasing counter-terrorism activities while trying to engage with Muslim publics. It also involves emphasizing the extent to which anti-Muslim attitudes increase the terrorist threat.

This partly involves America's image; more important, though, is the effect they have on our political debates. We should be discussing how to exert leverage over Pakistan to crack down on extremists, what the best ways are to use drone strikes while minimizing civilian casualties, and what level of airline security is enough to prevent terrorist attacks. Instead we are stuck in facile debates about whether an Islamic cultural center is too close to Ground Zero and how likely a pro-sharia movement will be among American Muslims. The anti-Muslim animus we are experiencing may only be rumors of threat, but that is enough to derail public discourse and undermine our ability to defend America.

(Cross-posted from The Huffington Post)

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Keith Olbermann and the tone of political debate in America

On November 9th, Keith Olbermann returned to the air after having gotten his knuckles rapped by MSNBC executives for making political donations to three Democratic candidates. They claimed he violated network guidelines. He claimed this prohibition was not in his contract and he was not aware of it.


What's interesting here is that prohibiting journalists from engaging in political activity is usually about maintaining at least the appearance of objectivity. Keith Olbermann? Really? Objectivity? Ummm. No.

Journalism has changed over the past little while. The number of public affairs programs with hosts who are rabidly partisan is growing at a prodigious rate. The idea that these folks not support candidates in order to protect their case for objectivity is a little odd. They have no case for objectivity, whatever that means.

But that doesn't mean that they are absolved of the responsibility of being fair and accurate in their work as political commentators. The best we can ever do is to make a good case for what we believe while citing fact that we hope will support our views. As long as we are then open to the possibility that we can be shown wrong by the preponderance of contrary evidence, we might be able to say that we have acquitted ourselves well.

The epistemologists in the room would likely quibble with the looseness of my terminology, but I think we all know what being open to honest argument means.

I don't think the good folks at MSNBC are without their faults on this score, but I do think by and large they put the cast of characters at Fox News to shame. Olbermann, Maddow, and Schultz are on the left; O'Reilly, Beck, and Hannity are on the right. Do I really think that these respective teams are in any way similar in the way that they do business on the scale of being fair and accurate and open to legitimate argument. No, I don't.

One last shout out to Jon Stewart, whom, of course, we all love: This is why Fox News and MSNBC are not the same.

As a lefty, I like to say that I have had many energetic political discussions with bright and decent individuals who describe themselves as politically conservative. These discussions have been marked by openness and honestly and a mutual interest in the truth. This means I know it's possible.

No, Olbermann is not "objective" in his politics. He has a point of view. But that doesn't mean he is unaware of the difference between integrity and bullshit. Strong beliefs are not what is destroying the tone of debate in America. Those who believe they bear no responsibility for proving the truth of their arguments are to blame.

I'm glad Olbermann is back and as feisty as ever.

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