Saturday, November 20, 2010

Living with our collective heads in sand

It has been awfully difficult to get motivated to write anything -- the lunatics have truly taken over the asylum and it really does seem that things are collapsing at a alarming rate.

The more I see what is going on the more I believe we're toast as a nation. Forget for a minute the morons in Congress running the country -- we are witnessing a huge increase in illiteracy, we are falling behind third world nations in education, our health care system is the most expensive and the most unavailable on the planet, there is not a whiff of moral compass left in our leaders, political courage is extinct, and innovation is more about how much money can be made and not how we can better society. What would be considered inhumane, spiteful, or uncharitable in any other rationale and free society, is seen as patriotic and character-building here. Our national leaders are entrenched in placing politics (and their own power) well-above national security and societal well-being -- and then are hailed by the media as "men and women of honor." Finally, if you even attempt to address the problems or call out what our weaknesses are, you are labeled (and cursed) as unpatriotic and anti-American.

Living with our collective heads in sand.

There is so much hate and divisiveness spewed every day from the Republicans and Teabaggers that there really doesn't seem to be any chance of any form of cooperation in the near future. The mantra of the incoming House leadership and new Senate minority is to insure the defeat and destruction of Obama and the Democrats -- at any cost.

Then have Pravda the Fox Propaganda Machine market those political battles as jingoistic rah-rah-America. If the extreme partisanship causes even more economic hardships along the way -- doesn't matter, the people -- who are numbed to the point of hearing only what they want to hear -- will believe that only the GOP can put the country on the right track and should gain all three branches in two years.

Joseph Goebbels and the Great Lie lives on.

That is the plan. It is that simple. The Republicans bully and the Democrats cower. So far, in the weeks after the election -- without even being sworn in yet -- it is working like a dream.

We are living in an era where hate is acceptable, idiocy is admired, selfishness and greed are the norm, blaming the other guy is the cause of everything, inanity (like Dancing With The Stars) is what is important and policy is dictated by threats. This cannot go on -- it will collapse of its own weight.

Our last best defense -- the news media -- has completely capitulated to the insanity. With ratings and good television as the driving force instead of exposure and information - the media has enabled maniacs like the Teabaggers, worthless idiots like Sarah Palin and and hatemongers like Glenn Beck to become credible and influential.

I wonder, are we in 1789 France, 1933 Germany, or 1991 Soviet Union -- or maybe all three?

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Quote of the Day

By Creature

"As I've tried to explain, the GOP moderates are gone and the two or three that are left (Snow, Collins, maybe even Scott Brown) still vote like a hive. They even block things they agree with. We can debate why they always vote in lock-step, but we can't debate the fact that they have. I truly do long for a world where news is news and facts are facts. Where an informed public made wise decisions after actively gathering those facts. Where moderates existed in the GOP that could be reasoned with to support moderate legislation (which all this president has offered so far, much to my liberal-socialist chagrin). I long for a world where there is no FOX News or Rush Limbaugh. In that world Keith could go back to sports broadcasting, Rachel could be a world renowned foreign correspondent for NPR, and Jon Stewart could go back to making bad movies and doing bland stand-up. But that's the dream, not the reality." -- me, in an email to a friend (and blog reader) as I continue to try to convince him that MSNBC is not FOX News and that ultimately we agree on Jon Stewart's overriding argument (that cable news is destroying America).

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Gagging the Web

What's a COICA? Not an anatomical term, but yet another government-sponsored acronym for the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. According to some, it's needed to protect intellectual property, a term which often provokes cynicism regarding the intellectual properties of some intellectual property, but I'll save that for another post.

According to others, like Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, quoted at Raw Story this morning, it's 

almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb, when what you need is a precision-guided missile. 

As I read it, if any state AG finds something you wrote last year was insufficiently attributed or a thought or picture that belonged to someone else -- you're off the air along with everything else you've written. Is it just me, or does that sound as if it had been designed for misuse? Will any website critical of government or government officials or members of the same party as a state attorney general be sifted for some infraction that can justify it's obliteration or postpone publication indefinitely? Is this bill far too broad to be safe? Were we all born yesterday?

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed this bit of poorly digested legislation yesterday. (There's a metaphor here. Look for it.) It was passed unanimously and yet it won't be hanging over the heads of bloggers like some bloody sword just yet and we owe it to Wyden who used his senatorial option to place holds on pending legislation to force proponents to re-introduce the bill in the next session. I hope that by then the opposition will have made its case and shed enough light on the potential for politically-based government censorship.

Ron Wyden is a Democrat, but Democrats should perhaps avoid crowing about being the defenders of freedom of the press since the bill was co-sponsored by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who described it as a bipartisan effort to protect property rights. Obviously there's no lack of support for putting such things above freedom of speech by Democratic senators.

A group calling itself Demand Progress is circulating a petition it hopes will make a difference, and now that we have a brief reprieve, perhaps it will. Perhaps you will agree.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Do Spaniards really have orgasms when they vote?

This is hilarious:

Spanish politicians have criticised a video by the Young Socialists in Catalonia in which a woman simulates an orgasm while casting her vote.

Both Socialist and opposition politicians have attacked the campaign video.

The equality minister called it "misleading" advertising.

In the video the young woman gets increasingly excited as she votes for the Socialist Party in this month's regional elections in Catalonia.

It concludes with the phrase, "Voting is a pleasure", after she puts her voting slip in the ballot box.

The leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party of Catalonia, Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, said the video was an "attack on the dignity of women".

The health minister, Leire Pajin, who is a Socialist, called on all parties to show respect for women and to act responsibly.

The Socialist equality minister, Bibiana Aido, said of the video: "If it was true, electoral participation would go up greatly, but I think we are dealing with a misleading advert."

Really? Really?!

Isn't Spain the Land of Almodóvar? Don't Spaniards have a sense of humour?

Of course it's "misleading." It's supposed to be! Well, sort of. It's a political ad, that's all. And a pretty funny one. Do these oh-so-serious critics really take it that seriously? Obviously, yes. But all it's saying is that you, you Spanish voter, should vote Socialist. And that you'll take great pleasure in doing so.

What's the Spanish word for metaphor?

And... an "attack on the dignity of women"? Please. That's just stupid.

Of course, it's a conservative who said that, a conservative who presumably has never gotten the message that the age of female repression is over (or should be, particularly, post-Franco, in a progressive country like Spain). But I suppose conservatives over there are a bit like conservatives in the U.S. and think that women were better off, and more "dignified" when they were being theocratically oppressed.

Whatever. It's an amusing and actually fairly mild ad, and you have to be a self-righteous idiot not to get it. Here, watch for yourselves:

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The hypocrisy of the right and the real cost of smaller government

This is the kind of thing that surprises no one, but let's talk about it anyway. 

Chuck Todd from NBC, among others, reports the following from an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: 

66% of voters in the survey say cutting spending was a "major" reason in their support of a candidate in the midterms, a whopping 70% of adults say they are uncomfortable with cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and defense programs -- which just happen to be the biggest sources of federal spending. Another 59% say they're uncomfortable about raising taxes (on gasoline, for example) or changing the tax code (like eliminating deductions on home mortgages) to reduce the deficit. And another 57% are uncomfortable about raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 by 2075 to reduce the deficit. 

Yup, all these people want smaller government. They just don't want anyone to do anything that would actually make it smaller. 

Hard to believe, but apparently a lot of people vote with limited regard for what their preferred candidates say or fail to say. During the campaign, on election day, and ever since, Republican politicians have been dodging the question about what they would cut to make government smaller to deal with the deficit/debt. And for some reason their supporters let them get away with it. 

Even now, Republican-speaking-points-of-the-moment are that we all need to have an "adult conversation" about what has to go, which is just code for the fact that they still don't want to talk about it. And of course the reason these politicians don't want to talk about it is that they know the people who voted for them don't really want to talk about it. No, these Tea Partiers and fellow travelers think that government will get smaller by a simple act of will or that if there is any pain it will be endured by those who deserve it. 

I'm not surprised. I'm just saying that I hope all those people who think they were voting against incumbents because they believed conservative candidates had an acceptable plan to achieve cuts are having just a little bit of buyer's remorse. 

Turns out those folks you voted for don't have any answers either, at least none you're going to like. And the thing is, they knew they didn't have any answers. Man, who saw that coming and do you feel stupid yet? You got hosed.

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Rick Perry suggests sending U.S. troops into Mexico to fight drug war

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a big-name, big-time Republican.

Elected lieutenant governor in 1998, he took over when the Supreme Court handed Bush the presidency two years later. He won gubernatorial elections in 2002 and 2006. Earlier this month, he won a third term with 55 percent of the vote.

And he is now set to head the Republican Governors Association.

Gov. Rick Perry says he's open to the idea of sending U.S. troops into Mexico to fight the drug war. The Texas governor told MSNBC [yesterday] morning that border violence has escalated dramatically since George W. Bush was governor a decade ago. He said more aggressive federal tactics are needed. "You have a situation on the border where American citizens are being killed, and you didn't see that back when George Bush was the governor," he said.

Host Chuck Todd asked whether Perry would advocate military involvement on the Mexican side of the border. Perry responded: "I think we have to have any aspect of law enforcement that we have including the military. I think we have the same situation we had in Columbia. Obviously, Mexico has to approve any type of assistance that we can give them. But the fact of the matter is these are people who are highly motivated for money, they are vicious, they are armed to the teeth. And I want to see them defeated. And any means we can to run these people off our border and to save Americans' lives we have to be engaged in."

Yes, he admits that Mexico would have to "approve" any such move, but it's not clear from this that Perry appreciates the concept of sovereignty. And would Mexico would really ever want American troops on its soil, troops over whom it would have no control?

All Perry shows here is that, like most other Republicans, he sees the military as the solution to America's various national security (or, in this case, drug) problems. As if the military isn't already overstretched, as if Iraq and Afghanistan aren't enough, as if the military is equipped to chase down and combat organized drug crime, as if the military can ever be a genuine instrument of law enforcement, particularly in another country.

This would be a recipe for disaster.

Yes, Rick Perry is our Craziest Republican of the Day -- maybe of the week, perhaps even of the month.

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Standing up for NPR

Really, Eric Cantor? One of the messages voters sent in the midterm elections was that NPR should be defunded?

Other than the fact that federal funding of NPR is relatively minuscule (barely a drop in the budgetary bucket), this is clearly a partisan move. Republicans don't like NPR, which is for the most part a news organization that aims at objectivity and mature discourse (and hence which doesn't simply regurgitate Republican talking points and narratives), and, of course, they're using the Juan Williams firing as a wedge.

I didn't necessarily think Williams should have been fired over this one incident, but he had a long record of shoddy punditry -- a record he's taken with him full-time to Fox News, where he belongs -- and the idiotic comments that got him fired, comments made on Fox News to Bill O'Reilly, comments that exposed him as a vaguely self-aware but completely in denial and unrepentant bigot, were nothing if not deeply ignorant. (If you remember, he admitted that he gets "worried" and "nervous" when he gets on a plane and sees people in "Muslim garb" (as if the 9/11 terrorists wore "Muslim garb).)

By way of explanation, NPR said that the comments "were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." That's not being partisan (in a way counter to Republicans), that's enforcing rigorous journalistic standards even for talking heads like Williams.

That puts NPR well above pretty much every other major news organization. It should be applauded, not defunded.

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A glimpse into the sick, twisted, and anti-American conservative mind

If you want to find Nazis, or people with Nazi or Nazi-ish sympathies, don't look at NPR (note: Roger Ailes is a fucking jackass), look at the mainstream conservative movement.

As you may have heard, former McCain advisor and current Palin advisor Michael Goldfarb tweeted on Wednesday that convicted terrorist Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani should have been executed without a trial:

Ghailani never should have been allowed to leave that CIA black site with a pulse.

We should be used to this sort of anti-Americanism from the right. The so-called war on terror has made it pretty standard fare. It was Bush and Cheney and their minions turning the U.S. into a torture state, and it's been any number of conservatives pushing for the immediate transformation of the country into a totalitarian national security state, supposedly for the sake of freedom. As Think Progress notes:

Maybe Goldfarb has taken Glenn Beck's advice a little too seriously. The radical Fox News host once said that as President, he wouldn't detain terror suspects, he'd "shoot them all in the head." Perhaps Goldfarb is an avid National Review reader, where one write once said that all Gitmo detainees should be let go and then killed. Or maybe Goldfarb has been listening to his former boss over at the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, who said last year of Maj. Nidal M. Hasan after his attack on the Fort Hood Army Base: "They should just go ahead and convict him and put him to death."

It seems execution without trial is fairly popular in conservative circles. 

As Digby writes, "[t]hese are the people the founders worried about when they wrote the bill of rights. And yet these people ran the country and want to run it again. They will not stop, apparently, until America turns into the fascist paradise of conservative longing, and perhaps not even then.

The Ghailani trial was a victory for the rule of law and, more broadly, for American democracy. No wonder conservatives hated it.

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Why are Republicans trying to violate the Constitution?

The answer, of course, is because they're Republicans.

But Steve Clemons, in this case, provides the details:

A handful of newly elected Republican US Senators have written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to undo the Constitutional authority of other elected incumbent US Senators.

That's right. Even the so-called strict constitutionalist Rand Paul is engaged in lobbying that would impose illegal burdens on incumbent elected representatives violating the word and spirit of the United States Constitution.

According to the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution, the respective terms of US Senators and US Representatives ends at noon on January 3rd...

Senators "elect" Roy Blunt (R-MO), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have written to Senator Reid stating, as reported by Joshua Rogin:

On Election Day we were elected to represent the constituents of our respective states in the Senate. Out of respect for our states' voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session prior to January 3, 2011.

Too bad guys!

Yes, too fucking bad.

You're not senators yet and the Senate as currently constituted (with duly-elected members) has every right -- it's in the Constitution, for the gods' sake! -- to take up anything it wants (within the parameters of its Constitutional powers), including START.

You are not yet elected and the incumbent Senators seating in seats they "won" previously have ALL the powers embedded in their positions until 12 noon, January 3rd.

Your efforts to impose your will beforehand are extralegal, irresponsible, and unconstitutional.

Rand Paul -- you owe many of your supporters a note of regret for having agreed to sign on to this letter giving your strict Constitutionalist views.

Rob Portman -- an old friend, and someone I respect for his sensible Republican pragmatism -- you too should know better than try to disrupt the operations of our government before your time has clicked in. De-sign this letter please.

Roy Blunt -- this was clever, but you know it was wrong. Dial down please.

Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio -- don't follow the leader so quickly.

This is an inappropriate request of Reid, and the US Senate should move post haste to whatever issues its elected body agrees to move to -- including the START Treaty.

Then again, when did the Constitution prevent Republicans from trying to get their way?

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Groping for consensus

By Carl 

There's a real irony in the outcry over the new TSA body-scanning, junk-touching protocols.

It's united the right and the left.

Let's sum up the conservative (and, by extension, the purported American) mindset here:

Invading a sovereign people innocent of any wrongdoing against us? Well, that's OK, I suppose.

Bombing the ever-living fuck out of civilians in the name of "fighting terorrism"? Cool. No problem.

Waterboarding and torturing enemy combatants? Bring it on!

Raise taxes a fraction just to pay for all this? No!

The left opposed all those, of course, and I'm proud to have been among that number.

I part company on this one, however. Perhaps it's the libertarian streak in me.

Flying an airline is a voluntary activity, driven by private enterprise. You pays your money, you takes your chances. The alternative is to let the airlines decide what security protocols to insitute, which means things will range from "Why, yes, Mr. bin Laden, we do in fact have a seat for you!" to "I don't care if you're the President and you're on Air Force One! It's in our terminal, so you'll be cavity searched!"

No one's made the case for any alternatives, although personally I'd prefer the Israeli system, and frankly, I can't see why it hasn't been adopted here. It's efficient and much less intrusive than the American system.

Of course, it would cost real money and involve trained personnel who would require higher pay and benefits and all that goes with that. We could hire Blackwater (or Xie or whatever name it goes by this week).

But I digress...

Maybe I'm just more comfortable about my naked body. Maybe it's that I ride the NYC subway on a daily basis, so I'm used to having my junk groped, or at least rubbed.

Maybe I'm just an adult. I don't know.

All I do know is, apart from the radiation risk (in my case, a real one, as I've had more X-rays than you've had hot meals, and have already developed at least one cancer), I have no problem with this.

I purchase my ticket to fly to my destination with the understanding that, indeed, I will get there. At 35,000 feet, I do not want any preventable risk. I see enough human error on a daily basis to know my chances are already less than 100% but they'd be lower if I was to drive to where I needed to be.

Especially if I had to cross an ocean!

We just went through eight years of the most egoistically driven administration since, well, Reagan/Bush. In that time, we drove up our national debt six trillion dollars, almost doubling it. We weren't asked to make sacrifices, like the U.S. did in World War II. Instead, we were warned to go shopping, or the terrorists win. We were coaxed into borrowing more money than we could possibly pay back in two lifetimes to buy houses that were way too big for our families. All this time, it was Christmas every day, as companies came out with new toys and gizmos that barely improved our lives.

And we spent. And spent. And spent. And the bill is coming due, right at the time that we can least afford to take our eye off the ball. The national government is in a real struggle between the haves and have-mores, while we the people dread going to the mailbox, not because of anthrax but because of Amex.

And we all get angry at a government that can do this to us, and in the next breath mock a government that can't get its act together over something as simple as the Zadroga bill. You can't have it both ways. Either the government is this well-oiled conspiratorial dictatorship (which I believe is an aspiration, but not a reality) or an incompetent boobish puddle of contradictions (more likely).

As to the National Opt-Out Day, I will be watching the news to see how it breaks. My guess is that there will be a few handfuls of people who will resist, but eventually, the added delay and the realization that it's the single biggest traffic day of the year will either cause fistfights among the would-be passengers, or force most people to chicken out of opting out.

For me, well, I won't be flying next week, but I will be and soon, and I want that TSA agent touching my junk, because for the first time since 9/11, that man will be as uncomfortable screening me as I am being screened.

As Lewis Black put it so succinctly this week on The Daily Show: "I get to fly five hours AND someone's touching my balls?"

Where do I sign up?

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Sarah Palin, tantalizing for 2012

I've written again and again and again that I don't think Sarah Palin is running for president in 2012.

And yet she keeps throwing it out there, tantalizing her supporters and worrying many in her own party who are smart enough to know that she'd be a disaster.

As she tells Barbara Walters in an upcoming interview:

I'm looking at the lay of the land now, and... trying to figure that out, if it's a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it's a good thing.

She also believes she could beat Obama. (Yes, she's crazy.)

Now, look, a lot of this is obviously Palin wanting to remain in the spotlight, and the best way to do that is to keep dangling the possibility of a presidential run in front of a credulous media establishment that watches her every move and hangs on her every word.

And, of course, she keeps giving herself an easy way out: She'll run if no one else does (that is, no one else she approves of), or if she's asked to do it (appealing to her supposed sense of public service), or is, as we see here, "the lay of the land" is right for a run. Ultimately, she could just use the excuse that her family wants her to stay home (or on Facebook and Fox News and at tea parties) or that someone she likes is in the race and worthy of her all-important endorsement.

The thing is, my assessment (or prediction) assumes that she won't run because she'll come to realize that it's not in her best interests to do so, that is, it assumes that she'll act rationally. But there is hardly any guarantee that she will, and, indeed, given what we know of her, it is perhaps more likely that she'll do what's irrational instead.

I've acknowledged this already:

Sure, she might run, and she could be talked into it, not least if the sycophants who inhabit her little bubble appeal to her massive ego and delusional belief that she's divinely qualified to be president, but I really do think she has too much to lose and that it's better for her, and her quest for ever more fame and fortune, to remain a sort of celebrity kingmaker within the Republican Party. 

Right, she has way too much to lose. But what if she doesn't see it that way? What if her egotistical delusions get in the way? What if she convinces herself, perhaps with the urging of her sycophants, that America needs her in the Oval Office (and that she really can beat Obama, even if so much of the country is against her)?

Well, then we're headed for a Palin run and I'll have to admit that I was wrong. In the meantime, though, stay tuned (if you must) for a lot more dangling. She ain't going away anytime soon.

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

(A follow-up to this post from last week.)

A new CNN poll shows that only about a third of Americans support an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (those making over $250,000 a year).

This is a winning issue for Democrats and it's already wrapped up with a nice big bow on top. Just fucking go for it!

So it continues to boggle the mind why they haven't jumped all over it -- especially now that so many of the Blue Dogs are on the way out, having been voted out in the midterms.

And what makes it so much worse is that Obama has been a complete failure on this issue -- as Slate's John Dickerson points out, inconsistent on his position and seemingly unwilling to take the fight to the Republicans, who remain firmly (because ideologically) opposed to anything short of a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy, which is obviously the #1 priority for them, not across-the-board cuts, not cuts for the middle class, but cuts for the rich, the Republican Party essentially being a party of plutocracy.

So why can't/won't Democrats message this for what it is? Have they lost any and all ability to try to frame a coherent narrative, even around a single issue that plays right into their hands? Are they really that pathetic?

Because it should be easy. Split the vote. Hold separate votes on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone else. Force Republicans to vote for the (unpopular) tax cuts for the wealthy and possibly but not likely against the (popular tax) cuts for everyone else. Make Republicans go on the record. Make them reveal what they really are, what they're really all about, on a high-profile issue that resonates with the entire electorate.

Why the fuck don't Democrats get this? And why the fuck is Obama waffling?

(Yes, I know. So much foul language in this post. But you know what? I'm pissed off.)

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Pelosi elected House minority leader, Democrats avoid self-destructive bloodletting

As expected, House Democrats have chosen Nancy Pelosi as minority leader, essentially keeping the party's leadership intact after the midterms.

Last week, I wrote about why this is a good idea. Basically, in ensures unity and continuity at a time when Democrats need to move forward by defending their impressive record (health-care reform, Wall Street reform, the stimulus, the bailouts, etc.), not by making a show of throwing out those who helped guide the party to those successes. Changing the leadership, including forcing Pelosi out, would have been an unwarranted admission of failure and an insecure act of cowardice, an expression of fear and weakness, essentially a self-vote of non-confidence.

There was every reason to believe the Democrats would undermine their credibility, and choose weakness over strength, fear over self-confidence, but I applaud them for doing the right thing.

But allow me to object strenuously to the headline at Politico: "Nancy Pelosi survives Democratic revolt."

What revolt? Blue Dog Heath Shuler challenged Pelosi for the top spot, but the vote was 150-43, hardly a close one. Did Shuler try to lead a revolt? Not really. He and others thought that Pelosi shouldn't be leader and launched a fairly mild challenge. (Surely they knew they weren't going to win.)

And given that the Democrats won in a number of conservative seats in both '06 and '08, it's hardly surprising that Pelosi has her critics and that, post-defeat, there was an effort to push her out. That's what happens when a party loses. There's always some clamour for fresh blood. 

In the very first paragraph, the Politico piece states that Democrats in the House are "fractured," even if the challenge to Pelosi was merely "quixotic" -- that is, if I may thesaurusize, idealistic and impulsive. So what is it? If Shuler's challenge wasn't really to be taken all that seriously, how was it a revolt -- and how is the party fractured?

And how is it any more fractured that the other side, with Republicans at each other's throats over earmarks and with the GOP Civil War already well underway, just two weeks after a supposed "wave" election that left Obama and the Democrats supposedly shellacked?

If anything, what we're seeing from Democrats is admirable restraint, not self-destructive bloodletting. And I expect Shuler and his allies to get behind Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn and the rest of the House leadership. If the party that get through this challenging period without imploding -- and the signs are all promising -- they will be well-positioned to withstand the Republican onslaught of investigation, gridlock, and right-wing extremism and to work constructively with Obama and Senate Democrats to get things done for the American people at a time of continued economic uncertainty.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Rachel Maddow - Jon Stewart interview: What politics is not

I finally got a chance to watch the entire Rachel Maddow - Jon Stewart interview. I'm sure that many people are tired of the dust-up to do with Mr. Stewart and the suggestion by some on the left that he was claiming an equivalence between what goes on at Fox News vs. at MSNBC.

That's getting old and I don't care about it anymore and neither, apparently, does Mr. Stewart, who wasn't claiming anything of the sort in the interview. Good.

No, something else came to mind while watching this very interesting exchange. It was that politics is not what Jon Stewart thinks it is. If he, as a bright and decent man, thinks that politics bears some resemblance to the way people communicate with each other and negotiate preferences in the every day world, he is mistaken.

Politics is, and has always been, an entirely different form of human endeavour and to attempt to understand it by any other set of rules than those that apply uniquely to it is shear folly.

Politics is, excuse the tired term, a blood sport. It is about putting your argument in front of the voters and ridiculing the other guy's argument. It is about "going after" one's opponents to make them look incompetent, clueless or otherwise just plain wrong.

It is not about working together to find common ground, at least not in the election period and increasingly not even in the governing phase, though I think we make too much of this being a new phenomenon. Republicans in FDR's time, for example, actively worked to thwart his plans to resurrect the nation amidst a depression in the hope they could return to power sooner.

Politics is about spinning and messaging that de-emphasizes inconvenient truths that weaken your position. It is about shading the facts, or telling half-truths to make one's arguments look stronger. It is about appealing to certain interests held by particular constituencies as a way to make them forget that most of your platform doesn't really benefit them at all.

It is almost always a very nasty game, which is why people don't like it. Moving mass opinion requires tactics that are not wholly honest. It just does. Scream if you like, it doesn't change the facts.

Jon Stewart is not wrong when he chastises those engaged in politics, and those who report it from strong ideological perspectives, for being part of a frequently unpleasant game. And the thousands of people who went to Washington with him are not wrong for wishing that politics was more civilized. All these fine folks are not the first to wish it so.

Niccolo Machiavelli is credited with having said that in politics we have to assess the means we can tolerate based on their relationship to the value of the ends that result -- the ends justify the means idea. The right, in great part through their mouthpiece at Fox News, has clearly decided that any deception, any reprehensible tactic, is justified because the stakes are so high. The left, at times through MSNBC, does politics the old fashioned way: they spin, they hold clear ideological positions, they emphasize certain facts, they engage in some choice name-calling, but they do not typically make shit up.

The left in America is just not willing to go as far as the right to realize their political goals, so I guess Machiavelli is only partly correct. The left doesn't have the same taste for blood as the right and they are suffering electorally for it.

I don't think that Jon Stewart thinks that everyone is the same in the way that they do politics. But I do think that the he and those who went to Washington with him have an unrealistic idea of what is involved, not that it's a bad idea to wish that human beings behaved better.

I also don't think I want the left to follow suit and completely spoil anything they might hope to gain by crawling into the gutter with the other side. But they are going to have to use more of the tools required by politics because that's the way the game is played. They, and those who support them, will have to decide what means they can tolerate and how far they will go to secure the ends they value.

Lest you think I am talking about anything insidious, I am not. Obama, Democratic politicians, supportive media, other progressive groups all need to push back hard against their political opponents with arguments and characterizations, based on fact, that make Americans understand the dangerous future the right is offering. The gloves need to come off.

Now is not the time for us all to get along. Now is the time for the left to fight back with all the legitimate tools politics offers.

As I said, Jon Stewart seems to be a smart and decent man, but what he is on about is not politics, though in a better world it might be.

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Elephant Dung #4: Murkowski blames DeMint for failure to win Senate

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

It's just the second day of this series and we're already on to #4. And even then I'm having to be selective. It hasn't taken long for the post-election smugness to disintegrate.

Lisa Murkowski is already on the fringe of the GOP, having lost the Alaska Senate primary to Teabagger Joe Miller and then (it would appear) winning as a write-in candidate and triumphing over Sarah Palin's Tea Party GOP.

And now she's pointing fingers:

After ripping Sarah Palin, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn't mincing words about another one of her high-profile GOP critics: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.

"I think some of the Republicans in the Congress feel pretty strongly that he and his actions potentially cost us the majority by encouraging candidates that ended up not being electable," Murkowski told POLITICO outside her Senate office. "And I think Delaware is a pretty good example of that, and I think there're some folks that feel that DeMint's actions didn't necessarily help the Republican majority."

Murkowski suggested the South Carolina conservative and favorite of the tea party seemed more interested in bolstering his own political standing rather than that of the Republican Party.

"So the real question is, what's his desire?" she said. "Does he want to help the Republican majority, or is he on his own agenda, his own initiative?"

Asked what she believed the answer was, Murkowksi said: "I think he's out for his own initiative."

Well, yes, probably so. DeMint has already scored a significant win over Mitch McConnell's establishment on earmarks, securing a two-year ban that McConnell initially opposed, and he's emerged as an influential leader on the right of the party. Can there be any doubt that he wants to take over?

And Murkowski is right that DeMint and Palin and the other Tea Party Republicans, going way back to the primaries, backed candidates that were either completely unelectable (Christine O'Donnell in Delaware) or that otherwise seriously weakened Republican prospects for victory (Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, John Raese in West Virginia). There's no reason Republicans couldn't have won in Nevada, Colorado, and West Virginia with less extreme and generally more appealing nominees, and even Delaware was winnable.

The thing is, it's not as simple as that. Republicans did well this year in part because of the "enthusiasm gap," that is, because their base was engaged and committed. And the base this year included the Tea Party, which injected a great deal of vigour into the Republican Party at a time, not long after Obama took office, when its prospects looked bleak. So, sure, maybe Republicans could have won in those states, but without Palin and DeMint and the Tea Party revving up the enthusiasm across the country would they have won, say, in Illinois or Pennsylvania? Perhaps not.

So while Murkowski may be right about DeMint's failures, she does not seem to take into account the fact that the Republican Party did so well this year to a great extent because it had embraced the Tea Party and linked itself to just the sort of extremism DeMint and Palin represent.

Anyway, far be it from me to want to put a stop to this. Let the blame game continue!

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Crawl back under your rock, Dick Cheney

Committed warmonger and torture enthusiast Dick Cheney said yesterday that "history is beginning to come around" on George W. Bush.

In refudiation, history called Cheney "a self-serving, delusional, dishonest shit" and "a goddamn fucking idiot."

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Elephant Dung #3: Inhofe defends earmarks, refuses to back down over ban

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

Mitch McConnell finally capitulated on earmarks, handing a big (if largely symbolic) win to Jim DeMint and the right-wing Republican rebels (even if it's also a win for good government), but at least one leading Republican is refusing to back down -- the ever-so-crazy, ever-so-extreme James Inhofe:

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe is going down swinging, insisting he'll still send earmarks to his state even though his fellow Senate Republicans are poised to adopt a two-year ban on pet projects.

"I'm going to look out for my state of Oklahoma," Inhofe told POLITICO. "Obviously, that's what the Constitution says I'm going to do, and I'm going to do it. Let's keep in mind this is over. I'll be the last conservative standing."

The Constitution? Really? Inhofe claims that the (non-binding) earmark ban "trashes the Constitution and violates our oath of office." This is stupid. While Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution requires Congress to pass legislation regarding all federal appropriations, it does not, as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) writes, authorize "the contemporary practice of earmarking, which typically involves individual members of Congress identifying specific projects for which they obtain exclusive funding."

Still, Inhofe certainly appreciates the power of pork, both for his state and for him personally -- not that he needs the votes, but what he brings home helps make him largely invincible in what is already a solidly red state. And he is quite right that earmarks total just a small percentage (1.5) of federal discretionary spending. Not I think he's right -- this really is a good government issue -- but he's got a point. Members of Congress serve their constituents, after all, and one of their jobs is to do what's best for them.

But what does he mean when he says that he'll be "the last conservative standing"? Is he suggesting that the earmark issue will be the undoing of his fellow Republicans?

As Walid Zafar puts it at Political Correction, a Media Matters blog, "[r]egardless of who is right or wrong, or whose side ultimately prevails, it's becoming abundantly clear the gap between the Republican old guard and the anti-government forces is starting to widen."

Good times. 


Senate Republicans approved the two-year ban last night, propelling DeMint's star even higher.

Inhofe isn't alone. Sen.-elect Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also came out against the ban. "He thinks it's the prerogative of the legislative branch, not the bureaucrats, to fight for projects in their states after they've sought the lowest possible budget," said a spokesman. One assumes that Blunt is rather more sober than Inhofe on this issue.

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We make it up, you decide

By Capt. Fogg

Keep saying it until it's true - that's Fox's other motto, the one you'll only hear in the board room, but you'll see it in action every day. President Obama is a far left socialist, repeats Roger Ailes to the Daily Beast. That's why his trade mission to the far East was an abject failure -- he's just too socialist for China.
"He just has a different belief system than most Americans”

said Ailes to Howard Kurtz. He's different, he's extreme, he's foreign. That's why he was elected by a majority of Americans, I guess. That's why his ratings are higher than Reagan's at the same point. He's the same, he's a conservative corporatist influenced by big business, he's no different. That's what so many liberal and non-liberal Americans are saying about him. Sorry Roger, you can lie report all you want, but we've decided.

Which Obama are we talking about?

" I literally never heard an Obama speech that didn’t blame Bush.”

says the Fox chairman. I guess I'm not listening carefully, but that's literally a lie and why isn't Bush to blame for what Bush did and why hasn't Obama come out and said it? Who else pissed away the surplus, spent the trillions shocking and awe-ing third world countries and was at the helm during the largest redistribution of wealth in our history? History blames Bush. The facts blame Bush and facts are what's missing in Ailes' endless accusations.

President Obama
“had to be told by the French and the Germans that his socialism was too far left for them to deal with."

What Socialism? The French and Germans are Socialists and Capitalists and they pay enormously higher taxes than we do. Under the current administration our taxes are at historic lows. Trying to reform health care in a manner far less socialist than any other country? Restoring a tax bracket to less that Reagan gave us? Asking for much less TARP money than George Bush, making it more accountable and lending money to Americans that's being repaid with interest? Being too much in cahoots with Wall Street, beholden to corporate interests, giving us a large middle class tax cut? What Socialism, you lying son of a bitch?

Sorry Roger, you're going to have to say it a lot louder and longer if you want to make it true and if you wanted to be something in the same galaxy as honesty, you'd just come out and use the N word. That would be even more of a boost to your oily profits, wouldn't it?

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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START the insanity

By Peter Henne

This should be no shock to anyone (although it's still distressing and aggravating); it looks like Jon Kyl -- Republican Senator from Arizona -- will not support the New START treaty. The treaty -- whose full name is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- deals with US and Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles, and basically follows the arms control paradigm set forth by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Despite the treaty's moderate, almost conservative nature, and the support it has from several Republican luminaries -- such as Henry Kissinger -- it has faced significant opposition from many on the right. Much of this seems tied to neoconservative distaste for any arms control agreements, but I suspect the anti-intellectual mood of the current Republican Party might play a part in this (Kissinger is hardly a Christine O'Donnell).

The critiques of the treaty barely make sense. I'm not an expert on nuclear issues, but Fred Kaplan brilliantly skewered an op-ed by John Bolton and John Yoo that attacked New START. And Rob Diamond has pointed out Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen's support for the treaty.

There is no reason this treaty should not be ratified by the Senate. Of course, that means it probably won't be.

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Frum Down Under

By Carl
David Frum is a gasbagging little guttersnipe who when he had the opportunity to do something about it, did nothing to try to prevent the very destruction he's whining about today, yet, he makes a few points:
...And while the Bush administration took wise and bold steps to correct the disaster, the unpopularity of its Troubled Asset Relief Program bequeathed the Obama administration a political disaster alongside the economic disaster.

It’s an uncomfortable memory, and until now Republicans have coped with it by changing the subject and hurling accusations. Those are not good enough responses from a party again entrusted with legislative power. If Republicans are to act effectively and responsibly, we need to learn more positive and productive lessons from the crisis.

Yea. "Uncomfortable memory". Somehow, the program that George W. Bush enacted has been painted as Barack Obama's baby. Mind you, this conciliation is handed to us by the same man who handed us the "Axis of Evil", thus giving Bush a neat little hook to hang our economy from.

By the neck.

Frum echoes what more credible commentators like Fareed Zakaria have said: this time might be the Republicans last chance. Frum goes into detail as to why the Republicans have failed so badly in the past, including the eight years of the Bush administration and the four that Republicans held both houses of Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court. 

Lesson 1: The danger of closed information systems. Well before the crash of 2008, the U.S. economy was sending ominous warning signals. Median incomes were stagnating. Home prices rose beyond their rental values. Consumer indebtedness was soaring. Instead, conservatives preferred to focus on positive signals — job numbers, for example — to describe the Bush economy as “the greatest story never told.” ...

Lesson 2: “The market” (the whole free-market system) must be distinguished from “the markets” (the trading markets for financial assets). Perhaps it’s because the most influential conservative voice on economic affairs is The Wall Street Journal. Perhaps it’s because conservatism disproportionately draws support from retirees who store their savings in traded financial assets. Perhaps it’s because a booming financial sector is uniquely generous with its campaign contributions. Whatever the reason, the intellectual right accords a deference to the wants and wishes of the financial industry that is seldom accorded to agriculture, manufacturing, transport or retailing...

Lesson 3: The economy is more important than the budget. During the recession of 1981-82, Democratic politicians demanded that a Republican president set a balanced budget as his top priority. Ronald Reagan disregarded this advice. He held firm to his tax cuts: once the economy returned to prosperity, there would be time then to deal with the deficit...

Lesson 4: Even from a conservative point of view, the welfare state is not all bad. G. K. Chesterton observed that you should never take a fence down until you understand why it had been put up. We should remember why the immediate post-Depression generations created so many social-welfare programs. They were not motivated only — or even primarily — by “compassion.” They were motivated as well by the desire for stability...

Lesson 5: Listen to the people — but beware of populism. Listen to the people and politicians who gather under the label “the Tea Party,” and you are overwhelmed by the militant egalitarianism of their message, the distrust of elites, the assertion that the Tea Party speaks for ordinary Americans against a privileged ruling class.  

 The irony there, of course, is that the Teabaggers will revolt, basically, and as Frum himself has said on many occasions, the GOP fears its base.

As well it should. It has no appeal outside of its base, and in truth, if it wasn't for scaring independent voters since 1980 with lies about liberals and social programs (a point Frum to his credit takes pains to point out), it would be an irrelevant sack of shit moldering in the corner of the country demarked by Texas in the West, Florida in the east, and South Carolina in the north. And maybe Wyoming. Possibly Utah.

Personally, I'd like to see it forced back into that box, but I digress. Frum calls for stability in a society and in a party and by extension in a government that cannot exist again until three things happen.

First, and most important, economic recovery. In a government hampered (and now crippled) by calls for modesty and restraint, this stability will never happen in this century. If you think this is impossible, I direct your attention to Japan which is now heading into its third decade of economic stagnation and instability, and is trying desperately to recover from the last recession it endured as it is being hit hard by this global one. Barring a war, and remember we've just fought and continue to fight wars financed by debt and debt alone, and an annexation of a nation with a good economy, we will not prosper again in our lifetimes.

That's just the facts, folks.

Second, talk radio and the opinionators who ladle out hate from the far right wing of this nation have to rein it in. I'm not sure this will happen voluntarily, but in the past, it has happened as markets have moved beyond them to more entertaining and positive voices. Remember, it wasn't that long ago in the US that Father Coughlin was a credible media figure.  

This time, however, it's going to be more difficult. The Republicans have so strongly tied themselves to the Limbaughs and Becks of the world that to defeat one, you will have to cut off the other. One can only hope that there is so little money left in the GOP coffers after these last few elections that funding will dry up. While billionaires will still abound to pump some money in, they'll have to be more choosy about the recipients...yes, even they hurt in a recession.

Narrow the field and we can focus on eliminating the hate-filled voices that remain. Failing that, the collapse of the GOP will create the same vacuum. My fear there is, cooler heads may not prevail.

Finally, peace between Republicans and Democrats must be achieved but it must be achieved on a basis that allows both parties to look strong. This capitulation that Obama has made to the centrist Democrats in order to pass watered-down legislation looks weak. Period. And it has made him vulnerable, not personally, but it makes his legacy iffy despite the enormous achievements of the last Congress. As his fortunes wane, the Democrats go down with him. As his fortunes rise, the Democrats can rightly claim legitimate equal status in the political dialogue.

Peace through strength. Obama must insist on this and insist on it now. He is the de facto party leader, a position he has been reluctant to use to bully his colleagues in the party. He has to grow a set.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Andy Harris

Craziest? Most hypocritical? Most self-absorbed? Whatever the case, this is the Republican sense of entitlement at its finest:

A conservative Maryland physician elected to Congress on an anti-Obamacare platform surprised fellow freshmen at a Monday orientation session by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan takes a month to kick in.

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland's Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

"He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care," said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange...

"Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap," added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris's request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

Oh no! A guy who makes a lot of money and just got elected to Congress won't have coverage for four weeks... whatever is he going to do?

How about buy some private insurance? Or how about just shut the fuck up?

Because, within the self-pity party, what he's saying is, fuck the millions and millions of Americans who either don't have adequate coverage or don't have coverage at all. Fuck 'em. All that matters is me!

My dear Americans, here are your 2010 Republicans. Just remember that you put them back in power in the House.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is Rush Limbaugh a racist? You betcha!

We hardly need any more proof that Dear Leader Rush is a racist, a calculated racist who knows how to push the right buttons with his followers, but sometimes it's just so blatant that you can't let it pass without comment. Andrew Sullivan posts this image and text from Limbaugh's website:

This guy is an utter wrecking ball all by himself on the world stage to the point now of getting embarrassing.  This presidency of Obama's, it doesn't take much to irritate the left. Try this: "Barack Obama's presidency is graffiti on the walls of American history." That's what his administration is. No more than graffiti on the walls of American history. We have a juvenile delinquent for a president who has ruined so much public and private property, not even his gang is making much of an effort here to protect him. It's an utter disaster.

Andrew highlights the "racial dog whistles," the racist code words that, in this case, aren't remotely subtle: "graffiti," "juvenile delinquent," "gang" (all of which Rush and his ilk associate with being black, or perhaps also Hispanic).

It isn't worth responding to such bigotry, which is all-too-common from Rush and his right-wing ilk. It is worth noting, however, that it is being spewed not by some no-name fringe figure but by a leader of the conservative "movement," by a driving force in the Republican Party.

You don't think race plays a dominant role in the right's assault on Obama? Get your head out of your ass and pay attention. It's all out in the open.

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