Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Big Trouble Band at the El Mocambo, just like the Stones and Marilyn Monroe


A couple of weeks ago, our band, The Big Trouble Band,  got to be a part of a benefit concert at the El Mocambo in Toronto. (Watch the video below.)

In addition to being around forever, the "Elmo," as it's called locally, is probably best known for hosting two Rolling Stones shows on March 4 and 5, 1977, that were recorded for release on the band's Love You Live album.

The website for the bar lists a number of acts that appeared there over the years, including Marilyn Monroe in 1958. I have no idea what that would have been all about. Other acts listed include April Wine (1977), Elvis Costello (1978), DEVO (1978), Lou Reed (1979), U2 (1980), Duran Duran (1981), Stevie Ray Vaughan (1983), and The Guess Who (1984). A few jazz greats are also on the list, like Grover Washington Jr. and Charles Mingus.

You won't be surprised that a club that's been around since the 19th century has had its ups and down, but it's not every band that gets to say they played the same bar as The Rolling Stones.

The benefit was a fun thing to do and for a worthwhile cause, United Way. For what it's worth, and it's not worth much, we won the "Battle of the Bands" that night, which was a "battle" among bands who have members employed by the Ontario Public Service, as I am. I'm in the middle of the horn section above on tenor sax.

Hey, we're all a bunch of people with day jobs, but you've got to take these moments when they come. So we did, and it was fun. This is the whole group taking a bow after our set. Rock and roll!

The Big Trouble Band
Dave de Launay, Frank Rooney, Jonathan Ison, Chris Watson,
Wayne Smith, Richard Barry, Rosemary Bennett

And here's a clip from that night's performance, an original called "Homeless Man":

 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)



I admired him and loathed him, and perhaps for no other major political commentator did I have such mixed feelings. When he wrote about the lies of organized religion and the crimes of Henry Kissinger and others, I applauded. When he promoted American militarism, including in Iraq, I recoiled in rage and disgust. Suffice it to say, he left his mark -- always engaging, always leaving me thinking. And he will be missed.

There are many things you can read on Hitch, obituaries and remembrances, at major media sites and around the blogosphere, but I recommend these posts at Driftglass (on the left) and Outside the Beltway (on the right), as well as these pieces by David Frum and Graydon Carter, and this one by David Corn.

For Hitch's greatest hits at Slate, where he was a columnist (and where I read him most often), see here.

And a must-read is this "in memoriam" by his brother Peter.

Hitch was productive almost right up to the very end, writing with his usual provocation. I remember a column he wrote less than a month ago for Slate -- on November 21, his second-to-last column there (the last coming a week later) -- on the ridiculous conservative belief in American exceptionalism. As usual, it was gorgeously written. And it ended with this:

The ancients taught us to fear "hubris," and the Bible teaches the sin of pride. I am always amazed that American conservatives are not more suspicious of self-proclaimed historical uniqueness. But proclaim it they do, as if trying to reassure themselves against the blasts of what looks like a very bad season.

And as if trying to reassure themselves that the American Empire isn't in fact collapsing, that America's time as global hegemon isn't in fact over. I often disagreed with him, often vehemently, but he was so very right about so very many things. (Go back and check out his "Fighting Words" columns at Slate, even just the ones from this year. You'd never know he was sick. In many of them, he was simply on fire.)

Allow me to close with this clip of Hitchens very casually (and very easily) taking down Ayn Rand and the cult of selfishness (which Driftglass also posts -- it's a classic). (There are many other clips of Hitch at YouTube. Go have a look. Enjoy.) Like him or not, the man had a sharp and deeply penetrating mind. Simply, he was one of the essential social, political, and literary commentators of our time.


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Friday, December 16, 2011

Conservative South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endorses faux conservative Mitt Romney

By Michael J.W. Stickings


At first glance, it seems somewhat surprising that right-wing South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would endorse a faux conservative and shameless opportunist like Romney. Shouldn't she be going for Newt, or perhaps even for a more authentic conservative like Santorum?

Whatever else you want to say about Haley, she seems to be politically savvy in a way that many other young stars in the Republican Party aren't.

The reasoning she gives for her endorsement is that Romney has changed for the better since 2008, when she also backed his bid for the GOP nomination. He's no longer just a candidate, she says, but a leader focused on getting things done. (As opposed to Gingrich, who was just a legislator, she dismissively argues.) And he's promised her that he'd give her state an opt-out from the Affordable Care Act, a not-insignificant pledge for a conservative like Haley given Romney's poisonous association with Obamacare as the original health-care reformer in Massachusetts (hence why so many on the right loathe him).

As for Gingrich, she dismisses him as a worthless legislator and tarnished insider: "I don't want anybody who was involved in anything to do with the chaos that was in Washington," she said, presumably also dismissing Newt's Contract with America.

Plus, she didn't like how Gingrich criticized Republican wunderkind Paul Ryan's Ayn Randian budget plan earlier this year, characterizing it as right-wing social engineering. (Newt recanted, you'll recall, but that obviously wasn't good enough for he, nor for many pro-Ryan fantasists on the right.)

How does this reflect her political savvy? Haley is ambitious and has a bright future in the GOP, possibly at the national level. It may not be now, but it could be 2016. And so she's being careful not to make any mistakes by backing the wrong horse and upsetting the party elite that she herself would need to court for her own presidential run.

Indeed, I suspect that the real reason she doesn't support Newt is that she knows his campaign is a train wreck waiting to happen and prudently thinks better of hopping aboard. This way, if Romney wins the nomination, she'll be seen as one of his most high-profile and important supporters, helping in a key early-primary state. She could be his running mate but even if not she'll have made a good name for herself with the party elite, both politicians and pundits alike, that for the most part is backing Romney and that would perhaps promote her down the road. Were Romney to become president, she's have a close ally in the White House. Were he to lose, she'd be well-positioned to be a major player in 2016, as a serious contender for the nomination or as a top-tier veep pick for someone like Christie or Huntsman.

See? Very savvy. Watch out for Nikki Haley. She could come out of all this Republican madness looking very strong.

(image)

**********

Here, watch Haley and the three morning morons on Fox News:

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This day in music - December 16, 2007: American singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg dies in Maine at the age of 56

By Richard K. Barry

I went through a period in my twenties during which I loved Dan Fogelberg's music. I discovered him while away at college at Oswego State University in upstate New York. He was very popular among the student population at the time.

"To the Morning" is still one of my favourites. "Part of the Plan," "Run for the Roses," "Longer" -- so many great tunes.

Fogelberg died of prostate cancer at the age of 56 in 2007. As I recall, he didn't have much of a chance for survival once diagnosed. Apparently, it was caught late.

I've always loved his songwriting. It may not be your cup of tea, but it's really not easy to write good lyrics. I know. I've tried. But Fogelberg always seemed to be able to do that. The opening lines of "Go Down Easy," for example, are, to me, so lovely and painful:


Linda lost her lover in the early part of autumn
And she moved out to the country, hoping all would be forgotten.
The last time that I saw her, she was making sure that winter
wouldn't come through that old door frame
where the door is several inches from the ground, the cold hard ground.

Love of certain artists is so situational. As I came upon Fogelberg's music while first being away at college, it holds a special place for me for that reason if no other. I guess the senses are open to new things and the music that's all around becomes memorable. Something like that. 

For whatever reason, I still love his music. He captured something for me. I was sorry to see him go. 


(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Democrats capitulate to Republican demands, Congress averts government shutdown


Last night, Congress reached a deal on a massive spending bill that will, among other things, keep the federal government running:

Retreating from their harsh partisan sniping, and perhaps fearing public rebuke, Congressional leaders said Thursday that they had agreed on a large-scale spending measure to keep the government running for the next nine months.

But an accord on extending a payroll tax holiday set to expire at the end of the month remained elusive, with Democrats weighing a possible short-term extension, setting the stage for another fight with Republicans over how to pay for it.  

And there's the problem, or at least the most glaring problem.

President Obama and (presumably) Democrats on Capitol Hill wanted to offset the extension of the payroll tax holiday, which would benefit 160 million workers, by imposing a surtax on income over $1 million, that is, on millionaires. Republicans love tax cuts but, plutocrats that they are, opposed any such tax increase on the wealthy. (Their priority is tax cuts for the wealthy, not tax cuts for everyone else.)

Instead of fighting for the tax cuts for 160 million people, though, Democrats capitulated, taking the surtax off the table and thereby giving up their main bargaining chip.

The spending bill will go through, but, needless to say, the payroll tax holiday battle will continue, with the GOP now holding the upper hand. Democrats are reportedly "considering a plan that would find savings in other ways, including fees on the federal housing finance agencies, and could seek to end certain deductions and other tax benefits for millionaires," but, with Democrats committed to the payroll tax holiday extension, it looks like Republicans will be able to get what they want out of this: not a surtax on millionaires and nothing else that would in any way increase the tax "burden" on millionaires but spending cuts of some kind.

How the hell did this happen? Over to you, Charles Pierce:

Oh, they have made a day of it. First, the pillars of Jell-O in the Senate roll over on the itty-bitty surtax they wanted to lay on the plutocrats to pay for a payroll tax cut for the rest of us. Then, the president announces that he's not going to veto after all the bill in which 400 years of Western jurisprudence is pretty much torn to ribbons and tossed to the wind, albeit slightly less deeply into the wind than the original monstrosity would have liked. And, finally, Ron Wyden of Oregon steps forward to give cover to zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan's latest attempt to "reform" Medicare in the same way that Arthur (Bomber) Harris "reformed" the building codes in Dresden. It's a Very Special Holiday Episode of the long-running hit comedy, Ah, Who Gives a Fk Anyway?

This is an outrage. This is borderline sociopathic. This is so gloriously suicidal that I keep waiting for an angel to come down from heaven to show David Plouffe and Harry Reid what Washington would be like if they'd never been born.

**********

It cannot be emphasized enough. Of the three issues under discussion, the polling data on two of them simply could not be clearer. The American people want taxes raised on the very wealthiest among us, and the American people do not want Paul Ryan's clammy hands anywhere near the Medicare program. Public opinion is (distressingly) ambivalent on the detainee provisions, but it's not overly popular with the people who have to implement it, and it has retired Marine generals throwing bricks at it, and, dammit, the president taught constitutional law, or so we are told repeatedly.

None of these "compromises" will solve a single one of the country's critical problems. None of these "compromises" will create a single job. All they will do is toss away almost every one of the major political advantages the Democratic party has going into the 2012 elections. My god, six months ago, Paul Ryan was a squawking albatross around his party's neck. (Remember how he said he'd "given up fear for Lent," and then proceeded to start charging people a fee to come to his town meetings, and setting the cops on constituents who showed up at his office while he was on vacation? Ah, thim was the days.) The "Ryan Plan" was well on its way to being an anchor. Now, thanks to the Democrats, and to a preposterously compliant elite political press, Ryan's rehabilitation is nearly complete. Nice work, fellas.

Here's a tip, gang: The American people are not angry at government because people yell at each other and nothing ever gets done. The American people are angry because people yell at each other and nothing the American people really want ever gets done. They want higher taxes on billionaires. They want Medicare kept out of the hands of the vandals. If they think about it a little, they even like their jurisprudence with a little habeas corpus sprinkled on top. Instead, they get endless platitudes, and the steady, futile placating of an insatiable political opposition.

Yes, well done. (And brilliantly put, Mr. Pierce.) Democrats willingly relinquish the advantage, to the extent they ever really had it, on winning issues (both in policy and electoral terms), and, while the government stays open, we end up with a convoluted appropriations bill that is heavily Republican.

Yeah, Merry fucking Christmas.

**********

I'm with my friend Libby on this: "I understand the need for pragmatic compromise. But this isn't compromise, it's the same devious cave-in to placate the plutocrats. It's not only spineless, it's stupid. I'm really sick of stupid."

Unfortunately, stupid is all we've got.

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Reverse Newtmentum: What to make of Gingrich's fall in the polls?


What goes up, must come down. (Even science-denying Republicans can't refute Newton. Well, they can, but it just makes them look like idiots.)

And The Newt is, apparently, coming down. Nate Silver:

The polling data I've seen over the past two or three days suggests that Newt Gingrich's momentum has stopped — and has probably reversed itself.

The most troubling numbers for Mr. Gingrich are in Iowa, where three recent polls show that his lead — which had been in double-digits just a week ago — has all but evaporated. One poll, in fact, from Rasmussen Reports, now shows him trailing Mitt Romney. The other two do not show gains for Mr. Romney, but do have Mr. Gingrich essentially tied with Ron Paul.

Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this anymore. Indeed, looking back over the Republican race so far, it's clear that making any sort of prediction was an act of folly. (It'll be Romney... no, Bachmann... no, Perry... no, Romney... no... well, you know the rest.) And it's been utterly futile trying to sort through the madness.

But it seemed that Newt, after months of running a seemingly pointless campaign, was in the right place at the right time. With no one else left to challenge Romney and unite the right against him (other than Ron Paul, who has his ardent followers but no chance of actually winning the nomination), it seemed that many Republicans were willing to give Gingrich a shot, if only by default. And so he surged up the polls, particularly after Cain dropped out, much to many people's surprise. And with so little time left before voting begins, it seemed that he might just be able to sustain his newfound popularity at least through the early states.

But now, this.

What are to make of it?

I don't think he's done. While his numbers are falling, some decline was inevitable as people got to know him better (and found things they didn't like), as his rivals turned their fire on him as the frontrunner (negativity came first from Paul, but Romney has picked up the attack in recent days), as his electability began to be called into question, and as the Republican elite/establishment (whatever you want to call it) began to panic over the inevitable disaster of Gingrich as the nominee, with both politicians (e.g., Pete King, Chris Christie) and pundits (e.g., Noonan, Will, Brooks, Gerson, Coulter, etc.) going on the anti-Newt offensive.

So while one way to look at it is that he's declining, another is that he's just levelling off at a more reasonable level of support, some of the early irrational enthusiasm wiped away.

Which is to say, he can still win Iowa, still run a strong second in New Hampshire, and still win South Carolina and Florida. If anything, his problem is not his poll numbers but his on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote campaigns, which were late getting going because he wasn't really a serious candidate until just recently. So it's possible he'll end up underperforming relative to expectations simply because of a lack of organization (and, relatively speaking, a lack of money). But maybe not. He's still the most viable non-Romney option the Republicans have, and we all know Republicans really don't want Romney as their nominee (other than some in the elite and those worried primarily about electability, and so certainly not the base, not most primary voters).

Look, we may well be witnessing "The Un-Newtening," as Jon Chait put it the other day (though a sudden influx of money may mean "The Re-Newtening"). I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything when it comes to the ongoing craziness of the Republican race to challenge President Obama. For all I know, Chris Christie will be anointed the nominee at a brokered convention next year. I just don't think we can count out The Newt quite yet.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ron Paul shows once again why he will never be the GOP presidential nominee


Via twitter: 

"Ron Paul says suggestion that Iran is pursuing nukes is 'war propaganda,' 'danger is overreacting.' Who thinks he can be GOP nominee?" 

-- Rick Klein (@rickklein)

No one with an ounce of sanity. Or at least no one with the slightest understanding of the Republican Party.

In the GOP, unfairly or not, Ron Paul is a freak show.

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Update: By the way, this is not to say that Paul's foreign/military views shouldn't be taken seriously, just that they're not taken seriously and are actually bitterly opposed by most of the GOP, particularly at the elite level (politicians, pundits).

I don't necessarily agree with his anti-interventionism (and anti-internationalism), which is really just isolationism (and hence irresponsible), but his views, which are the views of a fairly significant libertarian and paleo-conservative constituency on the right, and similar to the views of some on the left, where he has some admirers (for example, Glenn Greenwald), certainly should be part of the discussion.

For a good take on this, see this piece by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic.

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Mitt's moment of awkward


In case you missed it, earlier this week Mitt Romney sat down with Bob Garon, a Vietnam veteran, at a coffee shop while on a campaign swing in New Hampshire. Apparently Mr. Romney assumed that Mr. Garon would be a staunch supporter of the GOP; after all, he's a veteran in his sixties, it's New Hampshire, and he looks like the kind of guy who would be in his corner.

Heh. It turns out that Mr. Garon is gay and had some rather tough questions for Mr. Romney on marriage equality. Watch:


The fun part is where Mr. Romney realizes what's happened; he looks like he's trashed his shorts. He tries to get out of it gracefully, but he only makes it worse by declaring that gay veterans don't have the same rights as straight vets, and you can see the relief on his face when an aide tells him it's time to go get interviewed by Fox News.

It's rather enlightening that Mr. Romney thinks that because the Founding Fathers didn't write marriage equality into the Constitution, the spouses of gay veterans don't have the same rights as everyone else. (The Founding Fathers also counted slaves as 3/5ths of a person, and look how that turned out.)

Mitt Romney can think whatever he wants about gay people, but when he blithely dismisses the idea that they're entitled to equal rights under the law, I am seriously worried about the possibility of him getting close to the Oval Office.

Via
.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up, please stand up?

By Michael J.W. Stickings (@mjwstickings)

Via twitter: 

"Weird that Romney uses climate change to hit Newt. As MA gov, Mitt boasted that his climate plan was 'one of the nation's strongest.'"

-- David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod)

Sure, but back then he was just foolin'. You know, saying what he had to say and doing what he had to do to get elected in a crazy left-wing state. Or so he tells us.

(It was all just an act of necessary political contortion. Or maybe he really was something of a moderate progressive and then changed, either genuinely or calculatedly, when he went national. He can't quite get his story straight.)

There's no way he's doing the same thing now to suck up to the base of a truly crazy right-wing party in hopes of foolin' it into trusting him with its presidential nomination.

Right?

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This day in music - December 15, 1984: "Do They Know It's Christmas?" enters the UK charts at #1


Just because Michael has been begging, literally begging, me to post as much Christmas music as I can this season (ed. note: not true! -- MJWS), I'm going to put up the truly awful "Do They Know It's Christmas?" -- the fundraising production for famine relief in Ethiopia recorded in 1984.

If you're old enough, you will recall that it was pulled together by former Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof. He gathered together some of the biggest names in pop music at the time to record a one-off single, raise some money and, I suppose, do some good.

Featured are Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Paul Young, Culture Club, George Michael, Sting, Bono, Phil Collins, Kool and the Gang, and others.

Maybe it's me and the fact that I hated so much of the music of the '80s, but this doesn't do it for me. Maybe you always loved it.

Hearing the title, "Do They Know It's Christmas (in Africa)?" always made me wonder: if they knew, would they care? Just a tad Eurocentric, don't you think? And the line, "and there won't be snow in Africa?" A bloody good thing, I'd say. Do they really need that headache too?


(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Proving radical right-wing bona fides will be the undoing of the GOP presidential nominee


Many months ago, I made a point about how the Tea Party would drag GOP presidential candidates to the far right as these hopefuls battled it out to curry favour with this activist hard-core right-wing of the party. Conventional wisdom is that in nomination races you have to prove you are worthy of the party faithful who can have some pretty rigid views about what it means, in this case, to be a conservative. This is even more the case with the Tea Party, as we know.

In the general election, you typically have to moderate these ideological views to appeal to independent or swing voters who are more pragmatic and less impressed with your supposed purity as a standard-bearer for your party. 

It wasn't clear how this would all work out back then for the GOP, but now we know and so does the Obama campaign.

As Talking Points Memo pointed out recently:


The rise of Gingrich has forced Romney to take stands that Democrats are quite thrilled with, such as his new embrace of the Ryan Budget, which polled poorly back when the Republican House approved it. Months more of trying to win over conservative voters away from Gingrich could force Romney into more less-than-general-election-ideal stances. 
David Axelrod
That's assuming Romney wins. If the long primary results in a Gingrich nomination, well, the Obama campaign thinks more exposure for Gingrich is a good thing for them, too. 
Now, those with four year memories will recall that the epically long primary that resulted in Obama's nomination was widely seen as strengthening Obama and turning him in to a general election force to be reckoned with. Obama strategist David Axelrod said there's no danger of something similar happening to the GOP nominee that emerges from a long Gingrich-Romney slog. 
"The difference here is that we weren't being tugged to a pole in our party, we weren't being tugged to the left," Axelrod said. "They're being tugged to the right every day."

It seems likely that this Romney vs. Gingrich dust-up is going to take several months to resolve itself, which, if nothing else, assures less time for the eventual Republican nominee to focus his attention on Obama. But at least as important is all of the radical right-wing positions the GOP nominee will have blathered all over the country, which it will be really hard to walk back.  

As Axelrod says:

The agenda that the Republicans are embracing in order to win the nomination, I think they're mortgaging themselves for the general by tacking as far as they are now. I think the longer the race goes the more they're going to do that and the harder it is to scramble back.

Yes, that's the point and it wasn't hard to see coming. The Tea Party may not be the force it once was, but it set all of this in motion and now will reap what it sowed. Democrats everywhere are grateful.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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In praise of Tom Coburn, our Smartest Republican of the Day


I can't quite believe it, given what a crazy right-wing nutcase he is, but, well, credit where credit is due and all that.

Here, via Think Progress, is what the extremely conservative Oklahoma senator said yesterday about liberals and the budget deficit:

All of us are going to give a little something if we're going to get out of the hole we're in. Everybody's going to see something different... I think it's better for us to take the pain that we're going to have to take and make sure it's meted out in the proper order than take much more severe pain. When I talk to my colleagues on the other side, and some of my closest colleagues are the most liberal, I find them more intellectually honest oftentimes, the very people they want to help, unless we change these [government programs] now are the very people who are going to get hurt if we don't fix it.

I still don't agree with the vast majority of the positions he takes, but here he acknowledges that there is a need for compromise (and that Republicans must compromise), praises his liberal colleagues (i.e., Democrats) for being more honest than his own kind, and actually makes a case for reforming entitlement programs so as to help those who need those programs the most. How very refreshing.

And this wasn't a first. As Think Progress notes:

Coburn is absolutely a staunch conservative with whom we disagree on most budgetary issues, but to his credit, he has consistently said that new revenue needs to be a part of any realistic deficit reduction package, acknowledging what the vast majority of his Republican colleagues won't. He has said it's "pretty stupid and naive" for Republicans and anti-tax zealots like Grover Norquist to think that a budget deal won't include new revenue, accurately pointing out the depths to which government revenue has plunged in recent years.

How very... not Republican of him. 

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Euphemism of the Day: Romney calls Gingrich "zany"



From the Times:

Mitt Romney is sharpening his warning to Republicans about the consequences of nominating Newt Gingrich, declaring in an interview on Wednesday: "Zany is not what we need in a president."

"Zany is great in a campaign. It's great on talk radio. It's great in print, it makes for fun reading," Mr. Romney told The New York Times. "But in terms of a president, we need a leader, and a leader needs to be someone who can bring Americans together."

By the way, "zany" is Romneyese for "egomaniacally insane."

Romney is quite right, of course, and it makes sense for him to contrast his own supposed steadiness with Newt's all-over-the-place inconsistency.

Though of course Romney has only been steady since he flipped right, a move of blatant political calculation, back in 2005. Christine O'Donnell inadvertantly hit the nail on the head when she said, upon endorsing him, that "he's been consistent since he changed his mind." (That's like saying Newt has been monogamous since his last extra-marital affair. Wait... that's exactly what Newt's been saying about himself.)

And, even here, we see how Mitt is trying to have it both ways. While he's been careful not to go along with the Republican rush to the right, at least not completely (knowing he'll have to go back to the center to have any chance of winning the general election), he's certainly been shamelessly courting Republican primary voters by (re)positioning himself as a staunch conservative, turning his back on most of his political career, which included being a sort of progressive moderate as Massachusetts governor.

But here he's saying that America needs a uniter, not a divider, that is, a president who isn't beholden to purely partisan interests. That may very well be what he truly believes, and he may well be something of a progressive moderate still, but isn't it rather zany for someone who wants so badly to win the Republican presidential nomination and who has presented himself as a dedicated conservative in line with the current right-wing state of the GOP to talk about bringing Americans together?

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Promises Kept

 
By Carl
 
In the grand panoply of political promises made and kept by President Obama, this, along with healthcare reform, has to stand out.
 
I, along with many liberals, believe it took too long, happened too slowly, and that the transfer of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to create a mini-surge there was a foolish idea. But it is also undeniable that Obama promised that combat troops would be out of Iraq, and they are, officially.
 
It is easy in 2011 to look back and to see where Obama has failed to move the country much leftward. For example, he has maintained and even deepened the American government commitment to human rights abuses in arguing that American citizens can be arrested and detained indefinitely on the flimsiest of evidence, so long as the suspicion remains that the citizens are terrorists.
 
This, despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize essentially for breaking the color barrier of American politics. He could have lived up to that award.
 
He wasted an awful lot of American political and financial capital bailing out banks that really didn't need bailing out and the expense of average Americans who did.
 
And even in considering the promises he has kept and the policies he has enacted, we seen a defined centrist strain to the outcomes: healthcare reform, while both welcome and necessary, didn't go far enough in protecting us from the depredations of insurance companies. And the withdrawal from Iraq (and the inevitable withdrawal from Afghanistan) were timed with a cynicism only a Republican could truly appreciate.
 
Still, in the darkening days of 2011, there is hope. Spurred by the pressures exerted by the Occupy movements, President Obama has begun to finally talk a harder game, a better game. He talks with Americans, not down to them. This demonstrates the symbiotic need of the mediocre to be spurred by the actions of believers, even if the outcome is rarely the one we want, in toto.
 
At least he seems to be hearing. It's time to raise the volume and make him listen.
 
Perhaps it will be another promise kept. Perhaps not. But we ought to make him make that promise.
 
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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"The Protester" is Time's Person of the Year


It's a bit goofy, but, then, Time often goes goofy with this award. Remember when you -- yes, you -- were Time's Person of the Year? Maybe that made some sense, but it seemed pretty stupid at the time.

Well, 2011 was indeed a year of protests, particularly in the Middle East but also Occupy Wall Street. And whatever the outcomes of those protests (regime change here but not there, OWS protests forcibly shut down and the movement fading), there is no denying that they achieved a great deal (e.g., in Egypt and Libya) and effectively challenged a corrupt and unjust status quo (e.g., in Greece, as well as OWS generally), changing the content of political discourse and bringing much-needed attention not just to issues like income inequality but to those suffering under the weight of that status quo.

The question now is whether 2012 will see any sort of follow-through from these protests or whether the protesters and that for which they protested will be relegated to the dustbin of history. We can hope that it's the former, but we will all need to play our part in not letting the status quo prevail.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The horrible choice for Republicans: Romney or Gingrich?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Ron Paul may be surging in Iowa, but barring some unforeseen late entry into the race or something weird happening, like right-wing primary voters suddenly realizing that Huntsman is actually the most impressive and electable of the lot, the choice for Republicans has basically come drown to this: Romney or Gingrich?

You may think you know the key differences between these two, but Jon Chait helpfully, and amusingly, and accurately, explains the essence of the choice by way of an analogy: 

Romney is the handsome swindler who plots to win your mother's heart and make off with her fortune. Gingrich is like the husband who periodically gets drunk and runs off to spend a week with a stripper in a low-rent motel but always comes home in the end. Which one would you rather see your mother marry?

Great question.

Maybe Republicans should just stay home and lock the door.

Though of course then they'd end up with Ron Paul, who's only with your mother because she's the only woman who will have him, the other woman in the picture being completely turned off by his crazy fetishes, but isn't really committed to her and is always talking about moving out on his own, where he can truly be himself, even if that means being alone with his demons.

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Mitt Romney: progressive, non-partisan, moderate


Earlier I posted comments made by Mitt Romney that were intentionally presented out of context, just to make a point. I thought it was only fair to post comments he made undeniably in context that, at least for a lot of conservatives, are probably fairly damning.

Ed Morrissey, over at Hot Air, a well-respected conservative website, seems to take issue with Mitt on this. He writes:

Hey, we get it. Republicans don't win office in Massachusetts by proclaiming themselves as Ronald Reagan conservatives. When running for governor in 2002, Romney needed to sell himself as a Republican that represented the mainstream of liberal Massachusetts, which is why he told reporters in this clip that he was a "moderate" Republican who was "not a partisan," and that "my views are progressive." He told them what he needed in order to win the election.

The question is whether that was his strategy then and he was a secret conservative all along, or whether that's his strategy today and he's really a progressive.

Just want to do my bit to turn potential Republican voters off Romney. The quicker they nominate Newt, the quicker we can get this whole Obama re-election thing done and get to the work that needs doing. 

Romney's not a flip-flopper, he's an opportunist. Let's get our political nomenclature right, shall we?


(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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MItt Romney's own words, taken out of context because turnabout is fun


You may recall the Mitt Romney campaign ad in which he takes a quote by President Obama out of context to make it look like Obama is saying, "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." Those words were in fact spoken by a strategist for Sen. John McCain during the 2008 campaign, and Obama was simply citing something his opponent's team had said.

To make matters worse, a Romney aid defended the ad, claiming that this is standard practice in politics. It's only standard practice if you're a liar, of course. What Romney's campaign did was to lie by misattribution. A lie is a lie.

Just for fun, the folks at ThinkProgress strung together a bunch of quotes by Romney taken out of context in much the same way. It's a silly little exercise, but it makes a point. How do you like it, Mitt? Is this okay with you?


(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Better Batten Down The Hatches

 
By Carl
 
We're in for a long and bumpy ride:
True, historical parallels are never precise. We won’t re-play the long depression of 1873 to 1896 exactly, nor will this slump necessarily last as long. It is, however, a far more instructive episode than the Great Depression of the 1930s.
That time frame would see this depression end in 2031, just so you see the problem.
 
Now, we do have some tools to use that the world didn't back in the 19th Century, of course, many of which are designed to mitigate, lessen, and shorten an economic downturn.
 
And many more that could easily trigger another collapse. There's the rub that many economists won't talk about.
 
Economics has been called the dismal science. I prefer to think of it as more of a social science that gets mathematics. A little. The trouble with economics is it's very hard to factor the human element into it.
 
A few decades ago, one could make the case that people weren't as greedy, and they'd work to change things. I think it's less that they were not greedy as they simply didn't have the tools like computers and software that can make instantaneous decisions and act upon them.
 
People are greedy pigs, is what I'm saying, and if you put enough in front of them, they want more.
 
If the economy can be "fixed" before the tools necessary to exploit this downturn and turn it into a complete economic flatline can be developed, we stand a chance of coming out of it within the decade.
 
I just don't see that happening, however. Greed is a far better motivator than seeing your neighbor's lot improve and applauding it. There are very few rules that keep most of us from breaking and entering a house to swipe an iPad and once the urge-- or more important, need-- becomes strong enough, those rules are discarded.
 
Those rules are external, and there are even fewer internalized rules governing our behavior. Ultimately, in desperate situations, even those rules fall by the wayside.
 
This is something that the one percent and those who aspire to it should keep in mind: no nation is more than three meals from a revolt.
 
That's somewhat hyperbolic, but if the breakdown in local society evidenced by Katrina is any indication, it's not far off base: three days, maybe four, and you have chaos.
 
That argument, above all others, is fuel enough to pay attention to the Occupy people and liberals who would be accused of fomenting socialism (when all they want is equity and fairness.) That "socialism-lite" that liberals are accused of would be a damned site better for all of us, including the entrenched elite, than the inevitable chaos that will occur if we don't fix this problem and lift all the boats in the harbor.
 
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Donald Trump, attention whore: no debate, but maybe independent bid

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, so much for that "debate" Trump was supposed to "moderate." The unbridled egomaniac known as the The Donald has pulled out of the Newsmax affair -- which was only going to be Gingrich vs. Santorum anyway, as everyone else turned down the offer to play bit parts in Trump's purely self-serving political reality show -- and is now (surprise, surprise) talking about running as an independent.

Don't be fooled. He won't run. He was never serious about running as a Republican, and he's certainly not serious now. (He'd corner the electoral market on Birtherism, but that would be about it.) He's just trying to hog the spotlight to push the Trump brand, which was the whole point of his early flirtation with challenging for the Republican nomination.

You think Sarah Palin's bad? There appears to be no more shameless attention whore than Donald Trump. And he comes with a big mouth and bullying personality as well.

But wouldn't it be great if he were to run? Seriously.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

So what are Romney's views on masturbation and witchcraft?

By Michael J.W. Stickings (@mjwstickings)

From twitter:

"release just emailed to reporters: Mitt Romney today announced the support of conservative activist Christine O’Donnell"

-- Mike Allen (@mikeallen)

I suppose it says something that Romney got the endorsement of one of the GOP's most notable crazies, but, really, this is what his campaign has come to?

If nothing else, the Romney campaign's excitement over this basically meaningless endorsement tells you that Gingrich (who got a far more significant endorsement today, Giuliani's) is the clear frontrunner.

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Thuggery united: Rudy endorses Newt

By Michael J.W. Stickings (@mjwstickings)

From twitter: 

"Gingrich gets Giuliani's endorsement, guy who palled around w/ Bernie Kerik. Do character/ethics-challenged folks just like 2 hang together?"

-- Katrina vandenHeuvel (@KatrinaNation)

Next up... Sandusky endorsement!

(Too soon?)

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Oh, remember when Giuliani used to be considered a moderate, and even something of a liberal -- and when he would never have endorsed someone like Gingrich?

Looks like his inner neo-fascist thug has permanently won out.

In that sense, Newt's perfect for him.

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This day in music - December 13, 1975: Chicago IX - Chicago's Greatest Hits goes to #1


The album started a five-week run at No. 1 on the U.S. charts on this day. This really is one of my all-time favourite albums. When you're a young sax player, and most of what you hear on the radio is guitar-driven rock, you gotta love Chicago, a group that described itself as a "rock and roll band with horns."

I was a little too young to get caught up in the Blood, Sweat & Tears thing, a fabulous horn band, and was told by older friends that Chicago was a pale imitation of BS&T, but Chicago was my generation, and I loved them. I came to love BS&T later.

In truth, this album came out during my senior year of high school, and it's hard not to be crazy about music that came out during that period of one's life. Is it because teenage romance is usually in the mix? Probably. 

Because I can't help myself, I'll list the tracks.

Side One

1. 25 or 6 to 4
2. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
3. Colour My World

4. Just You 'n' Me
5. Saturday in the Park
6. Feelin' Stronger Every Day

Side Two

1. Make Me Smile
2. Wishing You Were Here
3. Call on Me
4. (I've Been) Searchin' So Long
5. Beginnings

The last one, "Beginnings," is probably my favourite track, though "Searchin' So Long" is up there.


(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Sperm donation, Republican-style


I'm not sure this is what being fruitful and multiplying was supposed to be about:

A conservative Christian politician has a secret life as a sperm donor for lesbian couples -- even though he has campaigned against gay marriage.

American politician Bill Johnson has spent most of this year in Christchurch helping run the earthquake recovery, all the while using the online persona "chchbill" to meet women who want help to get pregnant.

Under that persona, he has discussed making donations to at least nine women without the knowledge of his family in the US.

Three of the women are now pregnant, and Johnson has assisted another three with donations in the past month. It is believed he has been in communication with at least another three women to discuss sperm donation.

Johnson, a Republican (of course), ran in the 2010 Republican primary for Alabama governor, finishing a distant fifth with just 1.7 percent of the vote. So he's hardly a major figure in the party, though he actually seems a bit less crazy, and a bit less ideological and partisan, than many of his right-wing ilk -- if certainly as smug and self-righteous, and certainly as much of an anti-gay bigot. (And his wife, Kathy, has worked to help children, seniors, and persons with disabilities, "seeking to motivate, inspire and bring hope to our vulnerable populations." There's undoubtedly a Christianist element to that work, but it's rather admirable nonetheless.)

As it says at his website:

Growing up in low-income families of 8 and 7 respectively, Bill and Kathy learned hard-work and contributing to family and community early in life. The lessons gained during their formative years have led to their passion for community service and a compassion for others. Both feel very fortunate to have risen to leadership positions -- not through family rights nor heritage -- but through hard-work and perseverance. 

Who knew that "contributing to family and community" meant egotistically spreading his seed far and wide -- and being such a fucking hypocrite?

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Mitt Romney is not a professional politician -- and that's not a compliment

 
Romney at the Madison Lumber Mill in New Hampshire

Like a lot of people, I bought into the Romney inevitability thing. I smuggled my bias into an analysis that simply would not accept that Republican primary voters would choose a candidate who could not beat Obama. Since it seemed obvious that Romney was the only one who could do this, it was "obvious" that he would be the nominee.

I am still having a hard time believing they will throw it all away on Gingrich, but it looks like they might do just that.

In my defence, I have always had tucked away in the back on my mind the perception that Romney was a bad candidate, that there was something whiny and insubstantial about him, that he seemed like the proverbial empty suit, who didn't have the stuff.

I'd like to think I have a sixth sense about the ability of a politician to connect with voters. I may be flattering myself, but I think I'm pretty good at it. I know everyone is saying this, but, after watching a clip on the news tonight in which Romney was talking about how much he cares about people, it almost made me ill. I'm not even saying it's not true, it's simply that he is incapable of saying these kinds of things in a way that makes you feel he believes it.

I never noticed it before, but Romney has this little giggle that comes out after he says things that make him uncomfortable, which makes me uncomfortable. He giggles when his humanity is in danger of showing.

Yesterday, speaking at a lumber mill in New Hampshire, Romney told about 200 people, while perhaps trying to channel his inner Bill Clinton, that he understands the difficulties they are facing in the current economy. He never actually implied that he felt anyone's pain, but he did say this: "I care about business, because I do care about people." Okay, not exactly Clintonesque, but as good as it likely gets for Mitt. Doesn't exactly get you all choked up.

But that's the problem. You may recall the Mario Cuomo quote: "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose." There is no poetry in Romney. It's as if the idea of poetry would make him very uneasy, as if it wouldn't be a serious enough pursuit.

This is not a Democrat vs. Republican thing, it's a human thing. I'll even be kind to Romney. He might connect very well with people, but it simply does not come across on the stump. I've always believed that you really can't teach this. It's there or it's not. It's certainly one of the many reasons I'll never be a politician. I don't have it.

You might say that Romney got to be Governor of Massachusetts so he must have some of these skills. And I might agree. I'm just saying that I see a profoundly uncomfortable man on the hustings right now, who is not relating to the people he is trying to court.

Unfortunately, I can't find a clip of Romney's comments yesterday in New Hampshire, but it told me all I needed to know about why he isn't resonating with folks.

Since I'm not a Republican, it's not my problem. But Mitt Romney is a disaster as a politician. He's not suited to the role, and now that we are all starting to pay attention, it's becoming clearer.

Here's the folk wisdom: For voters to be comfortable with a politician, a politician has to be comfortable with him- or herself. That's not Romney.

Here's a joke I might have made up. I'm not sure. It goes like this: When some conservative hack running for office proudly says, "I am not a professional politician," I would like to respond, "then go get me one, this is not a pursuit for amateurs."

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Quotes of the Day: Noonan, Will, Brooks, and Gerson take down The Newt


The campaign to destroy Newt Gingrich, or at least his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, is well underway.

It's coming from renegades like Ron Paul (who's obviously acting on his own), Capitol Hill establishment types like Pete King (who's obviously playing his part in a more organized campaign), Romney surrogates like Chris Christie (who's obviously doing his pal's bidding), and, of course, from big-time conservative pundits who can see clearly that Newt, an unprincipled egomaniac, would be a disaster for the GOP. For example:

Peggy Noonan: "He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, 'Watch this!'"

George Will: "There is almost artistic vulgarity in Gingrich's unrepented role as a hired larynx for interests profiting from such government follies as ethanol and cheap mortgages."

David Brooks: "[Newt] has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with '60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form."

Michael Gerson: "Gingrich's language is often intemperate. He is seized by temporary enthusiasms. He combines absolute certainty in any given moment with continual reinvention over time."

Can you smell the fear? Can you sense the panic? If conservatives of this caliber are going after Newt with such aggressiveness, it's only because he's become such a formidable frontrunner, and because he's gaining such momentum that he may very well be approaching the realm of inevitability.

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About that Gingrich-Huntsman "debate" yesterday




The meeting of two presidential candidates here today was billed as a successor to the Lincoln Douglas debates, but turned out to be a festival of self-congratulation intended less to tease out differences between Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman than simply signal their status as serious men.

Well, Huntsman is a serious man, I suppose, but Gingrich is still an egomaniac.

Now, sure, a Gingrich-Huntsman debate (or, rather, discussion, as there wasn't much disagreement) is more substantial than, say, a Perry-Cain debate (where there would be disagreement about the number of Supreme Court justices and about what continent Libya is on), and if only by the standards of their own anti-intellectual party these two did have a fairly substantive discussion about foreign policy and national security -- whatever you may think of their specific policy prescriptions.

But let's not make too much of this. It wasn't Lincoln-Douglas. It was just a forum for Gingrich to sell himself as the "serious" candidate of 2012, particularly without Romney there, as the Republican candidate most able to stand up to Obama (and put him in his place -- and, yes, this racist fantasy of putting the uppity Negro in his place is driving a lot of Republicans, and Newt is more than willing to blow the dog whistle, appealing to that racism), and for Huntsman to pre-sell himself as a "serious" candidate in 2016 should the GOP not take the White House next year and turn to a more moderate option four years later.

It was all just a big show, in other words, and Newt did well enough to reinforce his standing as clear GOP frontrunner.

**********

For an excellent description of the "debate," here's The Guardian's Richard Adams:

If the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates had been as insipid and smug as yesterday's self-styled copy – a debate between Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman – slavery would probably still be legal in America.

In reality the long-winded discussion in New Hampshire between the two 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls was more like a warm bath than a hot-tempered dialogue.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas clashed over slavery, equality and what Lincoln called "the eternal struggle" over right and wrong – "The two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time," in Lincoln's words.

By 2011, Gingrich and Huntsman politely mused alongside each other's thoughts, largely agreeing and when they didn't agree they merely agreed not to disagree. How agreeable.

The high point of the night came when Huntsman, in the middle of a windy reply, spotted a family member in the audience falling asleep. "I see my daughter nodding off, so let's move on," he said.

I was following it on Twitter, and then watched some clips, and found it an utter bore. Good thing I didn't waste more time on it.

(photo)

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