Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tom Waits: "Downtown Train"

Music on Saturday @ The Reaction

By Richard K. Barry

A young colleague asked me a couple of days ago if I had ever heard of Tom Waits. Yes, I have. I must admit that I'm always pleased when younger people find music that has been around for a while and are aware enough to recognize how good it is.

A guy like Waits never seems to get enough recognition, while people like Rod Stewart, who had a major hit with Waits's "Downtown Train," are of course better known. As long as the song gets out there and the royalty check is delivered to the correct address I guess I don't care that much.

Here's "Downtown Train" performed by the man who wrote it. There's just something about the poetry and passion in evidence here that makes you take a deep breath.

For those who pay attention to the details, it was released on Waits's 1985 album Rain Dogs. Stewart had a hit with it in 1989 for which he received a Grammy nomination in the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance category.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Mitt Romney throws America's allies under bus for political gain

Guest post by David Solimini and Benjamin Lowe

David Solimini is the Communications Director for the Truman National Security Project. Benjamin Lowe is a Fellow at the Truman National Security Project. Their statements are not endorsed by their employer. They can be reached at and

This week, Mitt Romney clumsily waded into the discussion of Israel and Palestine. By calling for a wholesale re-evaluation of relations with dozens of countries, he called more than his own judgment into question.

Strong alliances are an essential element of American power. They are difficult to build, important to maintain, and essential in a world of inter-connected economies and cross-border security threats. It is in this essential context that leading conservative voices have engaged in a perilous race to the bottom on issues of American national security. 

Most recently, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney suggested that the United States reconsider a number of long-standing alliances purely to further domestic political considerations. On Tuesday, right-wing radio show host Jordan Sekulow asked Romney how he would handle the application by Palestine for statehood recognition by the UN if he were president. Romney responded:

Putting aside what's already happened, at this stage the president should make it very clear that we stand with Israel, that this is very important to the United States of America and that any nation that votes against Israel and against the United States in the vote in the United Nations will recognize that America will very carefully reconsider our relationship with that nation.

Defenders of Romney's position might say it was an important statement in support of Israel. Critics would note that there are far better ways to demonstrate support for an independent Jewish state free from terrorism – a position he shares with President Obama. Romney went farther than he needed to go, apparently in an attempt to place political distance between himself and the president. Had the words he uttered – "America will very carefully reconsider our relationship with that nation" – actually come from the mouth of a sitting president, the impact would have been significant. 

The former governor's answer to a straightforward question is revealing to the point where one might wonder if Romney realizes the enormity of the job he seeks. These are not quarterly earnings reports or 10K filings, these are nations – some of which have nuclear weapons and thousands of our troops stationed in them. 

Let us consider exactly what Romney suggested:

Romney would be open to re-analyzing our relationships with China, the world's most populous nation; Russia, the nation with the most nuclear weapons in the world; India, the world's largest democracy; and Brazil and South Africa, two of the world's largest developing nations. Our relationship with Russia is essential to the prevention of a second Cold War. India is America's best bulwark against China in the East and Pakistan to the North. 

Also among those who would fall afoul of Romney's domestic political concerns include Spain, France, Norway, and Ireland, some of America's longest held friendships. 

If a president were to say what would-be-President Romney said, we would be forced to ask what it means to "reconsider" these relationships. Would a President Romney take the same actions in re-evaluating our relationship with China, our largest trading partner, as he would with Ireland? Would a President Romney cut funding to the efforts to stabilize Iraq over its vote on Palestinian statehood? Would he pull out of the 2016 Olympic Games because of Brazil's statement of support, or shut down the $160 billion per year in American goods sold to countries supporting the UN resolution?

And what of our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Would we stop the rebuilding efforts essential to peace in Iraq over this issue, even if it meant stretching out our military presence there?

Governor Romney's willingness to use our international alliances for political gain will likely be seen by many as deeply troubling. America's interests are clearly served by a stable solution to the conflicts in the Middle East, and Israel is a valuable if sometimes imperfect ally. It's also in our interests for ostensibly credible candidates not to make inflammatory policy proclamations for political gain.

Romney's comments cannot be taken in isolation. It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that he is exercising the political triangulation he is famous for and is simply catching up with some of the clumsier comments of his peers on the campaign trail. Michele Bachmann, for example, believes the Arab Spring is a problem for which she must assign the blame to President Obama. It is a familiar and troubling playbook from the ex-governor. 

Keeping America safe requires that we exercise delicate diplomacy backed by the effective and powerful force of our military. We have seen both exercised with deftness under President Obama, with relationships improving between us and our allies and precisely targeted strikes taking out more of our enemies than the Bush Administration managed to accomplish. America is not well-served when the talk is tough but the strategic considerations are ignored.

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Pigs fly again, Pink Floyd is back

Pink Floyd fans rejoice.

This week has seen the release of new remastered versions of Pink Floyd's 14 studio albums (separately as well as in the "Discovery" box set), as well as a six-disc "Immersion" box set of Dark Side of the Moon, the band's greatest (in my view) album. There's also a smaller "Experience" version of Dark Side. In addition to the regular studio album, both feature a live performance of the album from 1974 (Wembley). Needless to say, the "Immersion" set includes a great deal more, including different mixes and unreleased early versions of some of the songs. Similar versions of Wish You Were Here will be released in November. The Wall is set for release in February.

I'll probably end up buying the "Discovery" set, if only because I need to own every Pink Floyd release (or re-release). What can I say, I collect Pink Floyd stuff. I have everything on CD, of course, but I also have a fairly large collection of books, magazines, (original) vinyl, tapes, and posters, as well as various items like candles, incense, drinking glasses, etc. No, I'm not the hardest of hardcore fans, but I'm up there for sure. But what's really exciting about these "Immersion" sets, all of which include collectibles along with the discs and books, is all the previously unreleased material that at long last is being made available.

Pink Floyd is notoriously careful, probably in a good way, when it comes to protecting its music -- the official releases are the official releases, Dark Side is Dark Side, etc. But this means that we haven't been able to get hold of early and alternate versions (as, for example, are in the wonderful Beatles Anthology), nor old live performances, except through bootlegs (which are generally of bad quality and hardly complete). The "Immersion" sets don't include nearly enough, in my view, to satisfy fans like me, but they're a great start. And, after such a long wait, I'll take whatever I can get.

I hardly need to recommend Pink Floyd to you... or maybe I do. Whether you don't know much about them at all or haven't listened to them in a long time, now is a good time to get to know them. Go listen to Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, then other albums like Meddle, Animals, The Final Cut, and The Division Bell. Or go back to the beginning, to the psychedelia of "Arnold Layne," "See Emily Play," and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Or go find Pulse, the live concert album (and DVD) of their great Division Bell tour (which I saw in Boston). And, if you can, go see Roger Waters, the band's bassist and main songwriter, perform The Wall. I've seen it twice and hope that he comes back to North America for more. It's incredible.

(And check out their YouTube page, with all sorts of great clips.)

And for now, just for a taste, watch this:

(Photo from The Globe and Mail.)

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A real conversation starter: Taxing the rich

Talking about talking is a phenomenon in politics that has no equal.

We all smell smells and taste tastes. We sing songs and say sayings. And though thinking about thinking may be an exercise only the philosophically inclined among us entertain as a form of entertainment, we all think thoughts – when we're not busy dreaming dreams, puzzling over puzzles, believing in beliefs, supposing suppositions and fantasizing about fantasies.

Beyond our promises, however sincere, to call mom on Sunday, Americans don't generally talk about talking. If we want to talk, we talk – or "converse," if we're part of the "professional elite," or "conversate," if we're card-carrying members of the Tea Party.

When it comes to the big stuff, politicians don't want to have a conversation, they want to have a conversation about having a conversation. 
source: Kevin Kallaugher
When Rep. Paul Ryan proposed a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program in April, he was spurned by the American public and shamed into silence by the leadership of his own party, but he nonetheless was commended by many on the Right for "starting a conversation" about the future of entitlements. Unfortunately for Ryan, polls showed that his plan to "end Medicare as we know it" wasn't the best way to start that conversation, which is why it was so short-lived. The only conversation Ryan actually started was a conversation about starting a conversation.

Similarly, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the current co-frontrunner (with Mitt Romney) in the GOP's presidential primary race, said during a debate on Sept. 12, 2011 that "it's time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix [Social Security]."

He was correct: it is time. But describing an overwhelmingly popular anti-poverty program for seniors as a "Ponzi scheme" definitely isn't the best way to begin that conversation. As we've seen, there was no "legitimate conversation" that came out of his call to action. There was only nitpicking between pundits over whether Social Security does or doesn’t fit the definition of a Ponzi scheme.

President Obama's call on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act is another example of a politician trying to start a conversation. 

Let us not pretend that his American Jobs Act, or the tax increases on the rich he says should pay for it, has any chance of passing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. It doesn't.

"It could, however, be the catalyst for deal-making," according to The Economist ("No More Mr Nice Guy," Sept. 24, 2011). 

In "Hunting the Rich," also from the Sept. 24 edition, The Economist writes: 

In general, this newspaper's instincts lie with small government and against ever higher taxation to pay for an unsustainable welfare state. We reject the notion, implicit in much of today's debate, that higher tax rates on the wealthy are justified because of the finance industry's role in the crunch: retribution is a poor rationale for taxation. 

That said, The Economist gives "three good reasons why the wealthy should pay more tax": 

First, the West's deficits should not be closed by spending cuts alone. Public spending should certainly take the brunt: there is plenty of scope to slim inefficient Leviathan, and studies of past deficit-cutting programmes suggest they work best when cuts predominate. Britain’s four-to-one ratio is about right. But, as that ratio implies, experience also argues that higher taxes should be part of the mix. In America the tax take is historically low after years of rate reductions. There, and elsewhere, tax rises need to bear some of the burden. 

Second, there is a political argument for raising this new revenue from the rich. Spending cuts fall disproportionately on the less well-off; and, even before the crunch, median incomes were stagnating. Meanwhile, globalisation has been rewarding winners ever more generously. Voters' support for ongoing austerity depends on a disproportionate share of any new revenue coming from the wealthy.


[T]he third argument for raising more money from the rich is that it can be done not by increasing marginal tax rates, but by making the tax code more efficient... Getting rid of the deductions would simplify the code and raise as much as $1 trillion a year. Since the main beneficiaries of the deductions are the wealthy, richer folk would pay most of that. And since marginal rates would be untouched (or reduced), such a reform would do less to discourage them from creating wealth. 

The result would be "[a] larger overall tax take from the rich, without hurting the dynamism of the economy."

Our elected leaders would be wise to take The Economist's advice, as reforming the entire tax code – "curbing exemptions, credits and deductions" – would save $1 trillion of the $1.5 trillion in spending Congress is tasked with cutting by November 23. It lowers the debt without slowing economic growth or punishing "job creators."

You can't take The Economist's words as the Gospel – especially in a literal context, as there's very little "good news" in the whole news magazine – but its (anonymous) editors are correct. Taxing the rich is fair. Budget cuts hit the less-well-off more disproportionally than the wealthy. And common sense says balancing the budget requires balanced sacrifice.

The president has already agreed to trillions of dollars in budget cuts over the next decade. Politically, he has made his sacrifice, and by doing so he's given himself the credibility necessary to start that "real," "honest," and "legitimate" conversation with America, with Congress, and with the millionaires and billionaires who've been
"generously rewarded" by globalization and years of "historically low" tax rate reductions

Obama isn't talking about talking about tax increases. He's actually starting a conversation. In contrast to Perry's attack on Social Security as being a fraudulent scam, or Ryan's call for destroying Medicare, the tax increases in Obama's American Jobs Act are popular, and therefore possible.
(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.) 

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Is Obama a disaster for civil liberties?

Jonathan Turley thinks so:

Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the "just following orders" defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

Though I remain, for the most part, a supporter of the president, I cannot disagree. While I would argue that he has done a lot of good thus far in office, this remains the major blot on his record.

Actually, I'd call it a disgrace.

It may be that there have been political rationales behind these policies, including refusing to prosecute the war criminals of his predecessor's administration. Perhaps Obama and his advisors thought he needed to look tough so as to shake off the perception of inexperience and intellectual arrogance (as if Cheney wasn't an arrogant prick). Perhaps they calculated that any sign of weakness, or even perceived weakness, on national security would leave him vulnerable to Republican attacks and weaken his re-election chances.


The point is that these decisions were made and, ultimately, Obama must be held accountable for them -- and for driving a wedge between his presidency and his liberal-progressive base, the millions of people who bought into his promise of change we can believe in and expected if not revolutionary change at least something other than the brutality of the Bush-Cheney years. As Turley notes:

A Gallup poll released this week shows 49% of Americans, a record since the poll began asking this question in 2003, believe that "the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals' rights and freedoms." Yet the Obama administration long ago made a cynical calculation that it already had such voters in the bag and tacked to the right on this issue to show Obama was not "soft" on terror. He assumed that, yet again, civil libertarians might grumble and gripe but, come election day, they would not dare stay home.

Is Obama better than the alternative? Yes, of course:

Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism: A Republican would be worse. However, realism alone cannot explain the utter absence of a push for an alternative Democratic candidate or organized opposition to Obama's policies on civil liberties in Congress during his term. It looks more like a cult of personality. Obama's policies have become secondary to his persona.

Realism is certainly part of it. Generally, there has been a willingness to forgive Obama his transgressions simply because Republican opposition and obstruction have been so intense. Besides, however important civil liberties may be (and I'm with Turley and Glenn Greenwald on this), other priorities took over, mostly economic. The fight was about stimulating the economy out of the abyss (the worst crisis since the Great Depression), about rescuing Wall Street (and credit markets generally) from implosion, about saving the auto industry, about health-care reform, about raising the debt ceiling and preventing the country from going into default, about fending off the surging Tea Party and the Republicans' right-wing assault on everything from Social Security to disaster relief. Disappointing as it may be, civil liberties have taken a back seat during Obama's first term.

That's not an excuse, just an explanation. Maybe Obama doesn't actually want to change anything. Maybe he was motivated not so much by political calculation as by personal preference. Yes, maybe his views on civil liberties are actually closer to Bush's (and Cheney's) than to progressives'. One can only hope that a second-term Obama would face greater and more sustained pressure to expand individual rights after this period of 9/11-inspired authoritarianism. 

With the reality of 2012 already upon us, the choice is clear. But that doesn't mean Obama should be let off the hook.

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What is Romney's ceiling? (And would a Romney win lead to Republican implosion?)

I wrote yesterday that the GOP presidential race has become, with Rick Perry's recent collapse, Mitt Romney's race to lose. Romney may not have a high ceiling, but his (more) conservative opposition is divided and, unless some other candidate steps up to unite the anti-Romney vote (as many suspected Perry would do, and as it seemed he was in fact going to do given his early popularity), he may end up winning almost by default, as the least weak in a field of embarrassingly weak candidates.

Looking at some recent polls, Nate Silver finds that Perry's decline has not benefitted Romney in the polls. This makes sense. Romney is pretty much the lone establishment, relatively moderate candidate in the field. (Jon Huntsman is the other, but he's well back.) He appears to have Karl Rove and the Bushies behind him, along with most sensible Republicans. Perry's supporters clearly wouldn't switch to Romney but rather to the likes of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. They might have gone to Michele Bachmann, but she's barely registering anymore. Indeed, all we're seeing right now is some jockeying on the right, with Romney remaining fairly constant in the low-20s.

But there's the problem -- for Romney, if not for the GOP generally. Romney appears to have a very low ceiling and the opposition to him on the right is intense. There is clearly room for a right-wing candidate to take the nomination, especially in a one-on-one with Romney (generally, establishment versus base). It looked at first like that might be Bachmann, but then Perry surged into the lead upon entering the race and Bachmann fell back. But now Perry's falling back as well. It may be too early to write him off, but it seems increasingly unlikely that he'll recover. And there's really no one else around. Chris Christie isn't what the right is looking for (even if they're tempted by his bullying authoritarianism), Paul Ryan isn't running, and no one else seems to have both the conservative bona fides and national stature to unite the right against Romney. Actually, one person does, Sarah Palin, but she likely won't run (she's probably just toying with us, as she has all along) and isn't even all that popular among Republicans anymore.

For Romney, this is all good news. It's hard to imagine him winning with just 20-25 per cent support, but he could possibly boost that into the 30s and hold off his conservative challengers. But then what? Would Republicans really be happy with Romney having won the nomination with well short of majority support, with the right-wing base largely arrayed against him, and with the right divided? How much enthusiasm do you think there would be even within his own party for a Romney-led ticket? Sure, he could try to boost his standing among conservatives by continuing to move to the right and by picking a popular right-wing running mate (Ryan maybe?), but, just as he has never been able to shed his reputation as an opportunistic flip-flopper, would he ever be able to shed the stink of essentially having won the nomination by default? Conservatives still wouldn't like him and by moving to the right he would only weaken his standing among independents. He may get what he so badly wants, the Republican presidential nomination, but it's almost as if he's in a no-win situation.

Maybe I'm underestimating Romney's ceiling, but it really does seem to be him against the field, with the field unable to unite behind a credible anti-Romney candidate. Ongoing establishment support will help, particularly from the likes of Rove, as will the sense that Romney has the best shot of beating Obama -- Republicans may like their ideological purity these days, but they also like to win, and they may end up rallying around the most electable candidate, which right now is clearly Romney.

But it'll nonetheless be a steep uphill struggle for him even if he's currently sitting pretty atop the heap of  also-rans. After all, even though he's been around for a long time (with national exposure), has significant name recognition and solid ground organizations all across the country, and generally acquits himself well on the campaign trail, he's still stuck in the low-20s and doesn't appear to have a ceiling much higher than that. And of course there's still time for conservatives to find one of their own, assuming it's not Perry, to unite them.

Yes, the race would appear right now to be Romney's to lose, but a Romney win might just be the undoing of the Republican Party in 2012. As supposedly electable as he is, there's no way he'd be elected without the right fully on board. And that seems extremely unlikely given the party's current divisions.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Battleground Ohio: The war against the Republican war on democracy


Earlier this year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a sweeping bill intended to make it harder to vote in his state's elections. Kasich's anti-voter law drastically cuts back on early voting and erects new barriers for absentee and even for election day voters. Today, however, opponents of Kasich's war on voting will submit over 300,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office — well over the 231,000 signatures necessary to suspend the law until it can be challenged in a referendum in November of 2012. If enough of the signatures are deemed valid, the practical effect of this petition will be that Kasich's law will not be in effect during the 2012 presidential elections when Republicans hoped the law would weaken President Obama's efforts to turn out early voters who support his reelection. 

Long story short: Republicans hate democracy and do everything they can to restrict the exercise of the franchise, that is, to manipulate democracy by making it harder for certain people (and specifically those likely to vote against them) to vote. Once upon a time, this meant blocking blacks from voting, especially in the South. It's a bit more subtle now, but the intent remains the same.

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Florida ignores the rules to have an earlier GOP primary

Here's an interesting point of information reported by CNN yesterday:

Florida is now expected to hold its primary on the last day in January, a move likely to throw the carefully arranged Republican nominating calendar into disarray and jumpstart the nominating process a month earlier than party leaders had hoped. 

CNN speculated that if this were to happen it would most likely force the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to push their primaries and caucuses up into early or mid-January.

The move by Florida would violate rules set out by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that forbids any states other than the four mentioned above from holding a primary before March 6th.

The point of jumping the queue is to have more relevance in choosing the eventual nominee. To police the matter, the RNC stipulates that anyone who ignores the rules is subject to losing half their delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida in August. Doesn't appear to be much of a deterrent.

Even those who only casually follow the calendar for the nominating process would understand how important the sequence of caucuses and primary can be for candidates who want to put together a coherent campaign strategy.

For example, Michele Bachmann has said that she will focus on winning in Iowa. Jon Huntsman is hoping he can help his campaign by doing well in New Hampshire. I'm sure Romney and Perry know exactly how well they would like to do in which states to keep the money and momentum flowing. Needless to say, planning is going to be hard if states are moving their dates hither and yon.

At the moment, the earlier primary and caucus dates, some sanctioned by the RNC and some not, are as follows:

  • Jan. 31 - Florida (in violation of RNC rules)
  • Feb. 6 - Iowa caucuses
  • Feb. 7 - Colorado caucuses (unknown if the RNC will object)
  • Feb. 14 - New Hampshire primary
  • Feb. 18 - Nevada caucuses
  • Feb. 28 - South Carolina primary
  • Feb. 28 - Arizona primary (in violation of RNC rules)
  • Feb. 28 - Michigan primary (in violation of RNC rules)
And many others will follow.

Already the organizers of the Nevada caucuses, which are sanctioned by the RNC, have said that they would in fact move their date if Florida went ahead with a January 31 primary.

Apparently, the RNC is hoping to strike a deal with Florida to put its primary on February 21st, immediately after the four early states. It would still be in violation of the rules, but wouldn't muck up the earliest contests.

While it is surely true that going earlier may give a state greater influence in choosing the eventual nominee, it looks just a little foolish and pretty disrespectful of an agreed upon process. Even though I'm on the other side of the political fence, the political organizer in me hates to see people ignore the rules of the game once everything is set in motion.

Sounds boring, but democracy requires rules, not that Republicans seem to care all that much about fair play, even amongst themelves. And of course given the vote counting travesty of 2000, we know that the GOP in Florida considers democracy little more than an annoyance.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Herman Cain's rise is a sign of just how weak the Republican presidential field is; or, why it's looking more and more like Romney

According to a new Fox News poll, for what that's worth, Pizza Man Herman Cain, a Tea Party favorite (and, because he's black, the excuse some on the right need to continue their not-so-subtle racist assault on Obama), has jumped up to third place among Republicans vying for their party's presidential nomination. With 17%, way up from 6% before this month's debates, he's just back of Perry, the former savior/frontrunner who has collapsed back to 19%. Romney leads the way with 23%, his support remaining consistent.

So what are we to make of this? Is Cain for real? Is Perry done? Is the race Romney's to lose? Is Bachmann, once the race's upstart darling but now reduced to a paltry 3% (tied with Santorum and one point behind Huntsman), finished?

In order: no, possibly, probably, yes.

Cain isn't for real. His strength here is a sign not that he's a genuine contender but that the field is incredibly weak, with conservatives (and more specifically the anti-Romney base) still looking for someone to support. There's no way he wins.

It's too early to say Perry's done, but obviously he's in decline. That decline may not be irreversible, but his performance thus far has been less impressive than one might expect from the man deemed the Republican savior, the sure-thing conservative alternative to Romney. There was a lot of hype, he got in the race, there was more hype, he zoomed into the lead, it looked like a fait accompli, and then... well, people got to know him a bit and didn't really like what they saw.

As Jon Chait explains, "This is a man [Perry] who was put on Earth to defeat Mitt Romney. He is the walking embodiment of the Republican id." In other words, he should win. Easily. But it hasn't worked out that way so far. Clearly, the party establishment, the views of which now seems to voiced by Karl Rove (which shows just how right-wing the establishment is), doesn't like him, and its quiet campaign (with Rove taking implicit swipes at him in his WSJ column) to bring him down in favor of Romney has taken its toll. But Perry has also proven to be an incredibly weak candidate. Sure, he has the look and the talking points, but the 24/7 news cycle has exposed him as, well, as something of a dumb-ass. And the debates certainly haven't helped. Of course, most people don't pay attention to the debates, but the narrative of Perry as a less-than-impressive thinker, to put it mildly, seems to have taken hold. Normally this might not matter. Americans don't look for intellectuals to lead them. But with the memory of George W. Bush still fresh in people's minds, and with people looking for ideas on how to address the ongoing economic crisis, a lack of intellectual depth, not to mention an ability to handle even fairly simple policy questions, doesn't go far these days. In this sense, Perry makes Romney look like a genius.

Basically, Perry peaked way, way, way too soon. And, from what we now know of him, it was never likely that he would ever stay on top for long, let alone from the time he got in through the primaries. He's the kind of guy who would do well at a party leadership convention with delegates voting largely on first appearances. Under the bright light of national scrutiny, not just from the media but from his own party, he has withered badly.

So who's left? Not Bachmann, of course, and not Gingrich or Paul, who come in well back at fourth (11%) and fifth (6%), respectively, in the Fox News poll.

So, then, Romney. And, yes, with Perry struggling (and possibly not able to recover, though it's still too early to count him out) and Cain a non-contender, the race is very much his to lose. And yet, I still contend that he has a fairly low ceiling. Note that even with Perry's fall, Romney's support has remained constant. His ceiling may be higher than 23%, but what is it? 30%? Maybe 35%? Even if it's 40%, that would mean a majority of Republicans against him -- a solid majority. That majority may end up being divided among a number of lesser candidates, including Perry, but there's still room, should Perry continue to falter, for a right-wing candidate to emerge as a more formidable rival.

Who could that be? Not Christie, touted by many but unlikely to run and certainly not the sort of anti-Romney conservative the party's right-wing base is looking for (he's anti-union and an authoritarian bully, sure, but he's way too sensible in other ways, not to mention an ideologically questionable northeasterner).

Palin? Well, you know that dream won't die. (And so you know we haven't heard the end of the speculation. And you know she'll continue to be a tease.)

Ryan? Nope.


Yeah, it looks like it'll be Romney after all. It has to be, doesn't it? Or does all this make way too much sense for a party that has lost all sense?

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Dissent Grows

By Carl
One side effect of the Teabagger movement that I predicted two years ago was the rise of a leftie activist political movment.
Chicago. Denver. LA. All either started or slated to start soon to complement the protests on the actual Wall Street.
All without astroturfed money or influence. No Dick Armey. No Koch Brothers. Started out of a postal box in a UPS store.
Just kids. And anger. Lots of anger.
God bless 'em.
As the Teabaggers' influence wanes, we see now a true people's party forming. People can discern between a fraud, a scam, and a political movement. Indeed, if anyone missed the hint, when Rick Santelli started urging people to send in tea bags to the White House, wasn't it odd how quickly a framework and infrastructure for this protest sprang up?
The Teabaggers were doomed from the get-go. It was just a matter of how far down they'd drag this country before they evaporated.
Turns out, pretty far, mostly because we let them. We, the people, let them bully our national dialogue, and our national leaders. We, the people, complacently sat by wondering when SOMEbody would shut them up. We, the people, laughed at them then turned on the TeeVee to watch Snooki's exploits.
Meanwhile, they very nearly took down this nation. They fiddled while Rome burned and then turned and threw some more kindling on because, you know, their furniture was kinda old.
The best news? They got co-opted. Bought out. They sold what was left of their souls, their birthright, to the Republican party.
Oh, they can deny they did. Many do. Many swear they are "non-partisan," but push comes to shove, they'll inevitably talk up this Republican or that Conservative Republican. As people like Sarah Palin, and Eric Cantor, and Mickey Mouse...I mean, Bachmann, paid lip service to their concerns, these folks believed they were making a difference.
There are parallels to the Christian Coalition here:
1) A movement coalesces around some wealthy individuals (in the CC case, evangelicals) that purports to speak about issues important to thses constituencies,
2) Forces a "grassroots" movement onto those constituents.
3) ????
The worst thing that can happen to the kids down on Wall Street, and in Denver and Chicago and LA, is a similar inculcation into the political mainstream. It will be hard to resist. We're already seeing signs that this movement is attracting political influence: Susan Sarandon, Cornel West, and Michael Moore have all made high profile visits to the protest on Wall Street.
Before you jump down my throat, this is not a bad thing: the protest had been working feverishly to generate some publicity (until Saturday's unfortunate and unnecessary violence,) and appearances by high profiles activists and leaders can only help.
I'm worried about the next step. What happens when the tempting offers start rolling in? We've seen it before on the left, as the lure of TeeVee time has co-opted some of our original blogstars like Amanda Marcotte and Markos Moulitsas.
A seat at the table in the Democratic party was a powerful lure to them, and I have no doubt that, when the OWS crowd starts gathering more momentum, the same urge will befall them. A chance to "affect policy"? Who wouldn't want to try to do that.
Only, I think we on the left have grown a little these past years: we've seen that the people in power are not necessarily our friends and certainly not our allies. When the chips are down and the cards revealed, they tank for the moneyed interests every time. The best hope we have for now is to let them know we're watching.
After all, they still need our votes.
For now.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Tea and Cantaloupe

By Capt. Fogg

It's a perfect example of how government always interferes with the sacred market forces that keep us free, happy and doctrinally pure. That OBAHma has gone after the free and holy food producers, using that Communist agency the FDA to keep infected cantaloupes off the market -- a market that would, sayeth the Rand, regulate itself after enough people die, by scaring the survivors into staying away from fruit and eating the sanctioned BurgerfriesCoke meal like real Americans. Can you imagine? (Would you like to supersize your fries?)

I mean what greater freedom can we have than freedom from the knowledge of good and bad food and if OBAHma can tell us what to eat, he can tell us anything, that tyrant. And where does the money wasted on things like the FDA and FEMA and the FAA come from? TAXES, that's right, those fruits of our own unassisted labor of which we owe no portion to anyone much less those Commie bastards in Washington who want to give MY MONEY away to those undeserving leeches who won't work for less than minimum wage and have the effrontery to vote for Democrats.

No sir, I don't want those government schools brainwashing my kids with math and science and economics and twisted history. People are poor because they are lazy and because God put them here as an example to us, the elect and we don't need those America-hating, Godless, OBAHma loving liberals telling us otherwise. No sir, my house isn't going to blow down or get washed away or burned by a brushfire and if yours does, it's not my fault or responsibility. If the roads and bridges wash out, you can fix them yourself, you lazy, tax loving bums. I mean I worked hard for everything I got and I don't owe you shit.

God Bless America.

Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Baseball Night in America -- the awesome night of September 28, 2011

Sure, I wish the Blue Jays had been competing for a playoff spot, but it's been a decent year, a building year, a .500 year (81-81) with some promising signs for next year and the years to come.

But tonight. Wow. If you're a baseball fan, like I am... awesome. Simply awesome.

If you haven't been following it...

In the National League, the Cardinals and Braves were tied for the Wild Card going into the final day of the regular season -- and tied only because of a Cardinals surge in September, coming from well behind to be in contention. Ex-Blue Jay Chris Carpenter, an injury-plagued star, led the Cardinals to a decisive 8-0 win over the Astros, a dominant performance. So the Braves had to win.

And they were ahead going into the bottom of the ninth, with their outstanding closer, Craig Kimbrel, on the mound. But the Phillies, the NL's top team, tied it up and then won it with a run in the top of the thirteenth, 4-3. A win would have meant a one-game playoff with the Cardinals, but now it's St. Louis in the playoffs, going up against what on paper is a much stronger Philadelphia team (with Milwaukee going up against Arizona in the other NL series).

In the American League, the Red Sox and Rays were similarly tied -- and only because an epic collapse this month by a Boston team that spent wildly in the off-season and that was predicted by many to win the World Series. As if to make the situation even more intense, the Rays were playing the Yankees, the top team in the AL and Boston's historic rival, not to mention one of Tampa's rivals in the highly competitive AL East (where the Blue Jays finished fourth). Meanwhile, the Sox were going up against the Orioles, the last-place team in the division but still a team, after a disappointing year, with a lot to prove.

And the games were played at the same time.

Early on, it looked like the Rays were going down. The Yanks scored one in the first and four in the second and stormed out to a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 lead after five. I stopped watching. I stopped caring. I generally root against both Boston and New York, but, with the Yanks already in the playoffs, all I could hope for was for the Sox to lose and the Rays, a relatively small-market team built on a quality farm system, excellent player development, and sound management, to squeak in, a small victory at the end of a long Jays season. But while the Rays were losing badly, the Sox were winning, carrying a 3-2 lead all the way into the bottom of the ninth.

But then... well, sometimes baseball happens, the dramatic unpredictable that makes the sport so wonderful.

The Rays scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth (admittedly against a depleted Yankees' bullpen -- they used eleven pitchers in the game, getting the staff lined up for the playoffs by not over-exerting anyone), then one more in the bottom of the ninth on a home run by pinch-hitter Dan Johnson (hardly a household name) with two outs and two strikes to tie it up. On to extra innings it went.

At this point, I was flipping back and forth pitch after pitch. The drama was unfolding that simultaneously -- literally.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Sox brought in their all-star closer, Jonathan Papelbon. It looked bad for the Orioles... and for the Rays. After Papelbon struck out the first two hitters, it looked worse -- over. No way the Sox were going to blow it. But then Chris Davis, a strikeout machine, somehow knocked a double to right field, replaced at second by a pinch-runner. And then Nolan Reimold, a decent but hardly spectacular hitter (and, in this game, the ninth-place hitter in the order), drove him in with a double to right-center. All this off one of the best closers in the game. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, it was tied at three. The Sox looked stunned.

Meanwhile, the Rays narrowly escaped the top of the twelfth. After two straight hits, the Yanks had first and third with no outs, but the runner on third was tagged out on a fielder's choice and then Jake McGee, a young relief pitcher (and the eighth pitcher the Rays used), got the next two outs without giving up a run. Still tied at seven.

Flip... flip... flip... flip... flip... What the hell was happening? It's not like the Steelers were playing. I don't have a horse in the race. Why did I care so much? Well, because, I'm a baseball fan -- and a sports fan generally.

When the Orioles tied it up, Rays fans went nuts. But there was more to come. With Reimold on second, and with Papelbon still on the mound, and still throwing well, leadoff hitter Robert Andino, hardly the sort of hitter you expect to play the hero, slashed a weak liner to left field, where off-season acquisition (from the Rays, no less, where he had become a superstar) and massive disappointment) Carl Crawford seemed to give it little to no effort, sliding awkwardly, the ball bouncing off his glove. With Reimold rounding third, Crawford threw it weekly (pathetically, actually) and off-line to the catcher. Safe at home. Orioles win! Orioles win! Losing 4-3, the Sox and their massive payroll could only wait.

Back in Tampa, Rays fans went beyond nuts. Now they just needed to score. With one out, their best hitter, Evan Longoria, stepped to the plate. He didn't look good, swinging meekly, appearing overmatched by New York's Scott Proctor (who admittedly had already gone two and two-thirds innings, a lot for a reliever). But then... with everyone watching (including, no doubt, all of Boston), Longoria slammed a pitch down the left-field line. It looked to me like it would hook foul, or maybe end up in the corner for a double. But Tampa's Tropicana Field, one of the worst parks in all of baseball, has a ridiculously short and low left field fence. And the ball just barely cleared it. Home run! Really? I couldn't quite believe it, but it was true. Longoria sped around the bases and was mobbed at home plate. They knew the Sox had lost. They knew they'd made it. The Rays had won it, 8-7, and now, having overcome the Sox with an incredible late-season run, they were off to face the Rangers (with the Yanks off to face certain Cy Young winner and possible MVP Justin Verlander and the Tigers).

Maybe you don't get this if you don't like sports, but I felt the excitement, and I couldn't help but be swept up in it. The Sox were out, yes, and that was great, but this was about so much more than that. This was about the agony and the ecstasy of sports. No, maybe not at the level of, say, an Olympic gold medal game, with Crosby scoring the overtime winner for Canada, or of a Steelers Super Bowl victory, of which there have two in recent years, but still... it was awesome.

And I just had to blog about it.


Here's ESPN's rundown:

Four cities, two playoff spots and one epic night. Within 89 minutes, Atlanta and Boston collapsed as St. Louis and Tampa Bay completed two unimaginable comebacks. 

10:26 p.m. ET -- Cardinals win 8-0
11:40 p.m. ET -- Braves lose 4-3 in 13th, are eliminated
12:02 a.m. ET -- Red Sox lose 4-3 on walk-off single in 9th
12:05 a.m. ET -- Rays win 8-7 on walk-off home run in 12th, eliminating Red Sox

You know what's great about sports, though? Even the unimaginable is imaginable. We saw that tonight. 


Oh, and as if to make the night even more awesome, I won my highly competitive fantasy baseball league for the third year in a row and the seventh time in nine years.

Not competitive if I win so much, you say? No, I say I dominate a highly competitive league -- and winning this year despite picking A-Rod with my first pick; losing my top pitcher, Tommy Hanson, to injury; whiffing on Jeter with my third pick, Ethier with my fifth pick, Rasmus with my seventh pick, Hill with my tenth pick, and Wells with my eleventh pick; and trading a back-to-career-form Berkman for Hanley Ramirez just before the latter went down with injury for the year. Somehow I pulled it off through in-season management, trading for Ryan Zimmerman (when A-Rod went down to injury), picking up guys like J.J. Hardy and my boyfriend Eric Hosmer, and stitching together a decent pitching staff with guys like Nolasco, Buehrle, and Vazquez (with an incredible second-half resurgence).

Yeah, I'm in a good mood tonight.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mitt Romney speaks French and he's from Massachusetts - game over

I was born and raised in the U.S. I studied politics in the states and in Canada and have worked in politics on and off for many years. In Canada, which is formally a bilingual English/French country, any politician who aspires to a national leadership role has to be able to at least get by competently in both languages.

This is true for all sorts of political, historical, cultural, and geographical reasons. But beside that, I've always assumed that most people like the idea that their leaders are sufficiently well-rounded to speak more than one language. I know it's more complicated than that, but it's certainly seen as an unequivocal plus.

I was fascinated to learn today that GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney speaks French, though my guess is that many in the conservative base would not necessarily see that as a good thing. What a thought. One of their candidates is proficient in a second language and some in his own party might think that this makes him suspect, perhaps as one susceptible to foreign ideas and ways of governing. Lest you think this is a stretch, consider this comment made during the 2004 presidential:
U.S. Sen. Trent Lott today told an enthusiastic Nashoba Country Fair crowd that Demoratic presidential nominee John Kerry is "a French-speaking socialist from Boston, Massachusetts, who is more liberal than Ted Kennedy."

It's hard to miss the implication that Kerry's ability to speak French leaves him open to charges of being a socialist. After all, why else would you want to speak French if it weren't to talk about turning America into a socialist country? Maybe to order food in a nice restaurant, but why else? Really.

It takes xenophobia to whole new level.

You can find a lovely little clip here of Mitt speaking French for a video made to introduce volunteers to the 2002 Winter Olympics. You may recall that he was the President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

Makes me jealous. Thirty years in Canada and I still don't speak French.

You know, it's not that I like Mitt. I don't. But he's still too good for the voters he's courting. I wonder if he realizes that?

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


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It Ain't Over 'Til The Fat Man Sings

By Carl
I'm not sure what to make about Gov. Chris Christie's recent public appearances.
On the one hand, he's been pretty vehement and forthright in his declarations that he will not seek the nomination in 2012. On the other, he played it rather coy last night in his speech at the Reagan library. When asked point blank to consider running, he prefaced a rather quick comment with a long diatribe about how someone would have to be pretty egotistical not to consider it when so many people are asking about it.

" 'The fact of the matter is, anybody who has an ego large enough to say, 'Oh, please, please, please, stop asking me to be the leader of the free world, it's such a burden. If you could please just stop.' What kind of crazy egomaniac would you have to be to say, 'Oh, please stop, stop.'

'It's extraordinarily flattering. But by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. The reason has to reside inside me.' "

*Ahem* One would be more of an egomaniac to actually consider it flattery, but I digress...
His brother does say that he won't run, but then brothers aren't the candidate.
Christie's dilemma at this point can be summed up by another exchange at the speech:

The next questioner addressed the presidential campaign: "Gov. Christie, you're known as a straight-shooter, not one given to playing games. Can you tell us what's going on here? Are you reconsidering or are you standing firm?"

"Listen," said Christie, "I have to tell you the truth -- you folks are an incredible disappointment as an audience." That got big laughs. "The fact that it took to the second question shows you people are off your game. That is not American exceptionalism."

A "straight shooter" wouldn't pussyfoot around, throwing hints and travelling the country on fundraisers....for who, exactly?

Too, there have been a recent spate of television ads extolling Christie's ability to balance the state budget twice (on the backs of working class Jerseyans, of course), lower taxes and "improve" education (he actually makes that claim despite the fact that he's firing teachers, cutting funding AND has overseen a slip in test scores.)

And yet, he keeps his name out there, and allows his name to be tossed about as a potential candidate. That's something he has control over and hasn't exerted it much lately.

Here's my guess, based on a gut feeling: Christie won't run, unless it looks like it's coming down to a floor fight at the GOP convention in 2012. We may know this as early as the end of February. Perry will either be knocked out or will have taken a few surprise states by then. Romney has the funds and the werewithal to remain in the race until that point, no matter how well or poorly he's doing. He can count on the mushy middle of the GOP for the strongest support...I know, it seems weird that the guy who wears magic underwear would be considered the sanest, soberest candidate...and that will garner pluralities in states that he might not win outright.

Christie could jump in during the Spring, and if he can win a few key primaries-- say Colorado and Illinois, maybe Florida if they get brushed back-- Christie will have instant credibility in states that could be blue in 2012.

Until then, he might want to ratchet down the noise.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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