Saturday, March 15, 2014

Senate Democrats shamefully abandon President Obama over outstanding surgeon general nominee

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's one thing for right-wing ideologues and NRA stooges like Rand Paul to oppose President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy, after all, has said that gun violence represents a serious public health threat, which of course it does, and reality-denying pro-gun absolutists live in a fetishistic fantasy world where guns save lives.

It's another thing, though, for Democrats, even Republican-leaning conservative Democrats, to oppose a Democratic president's nominee and for their opposition be enough, with Republican opposition, to derail that nominee's confirmation to a post for what he is supremely qualified: 

Facing a possible defeat in the Senate, the White House is considering delaying a vote on President Obama's choice for surgeon general or withdrawing the nomination altogether, an acknowledgment of its fraying relationship with Senate Democrats.

The nominee, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, an internist and political ally of the president's, has come under criticism from the National Rifle Association, and opposition from the gun-rights group has grown so intense that it has placed Democrats from conservative states, several of whom are up for re-election this year, in a difficult spot.

Senate aides said Friday that as many as 10 Democrats are believed to be considering a vote against Dr. Murthy, who has voiced support for various gun control measures like an assault weapons ban, mandatory safety training and ammunition sales limits.

I get that some of these Democrats are generally pro-gun and that some of them are facing tough re-election challenges this year. But it takes extreme ignorance and/or willful stupidity not to see America's plague of gun violence as a public health threat, and, what's more, it's not like Murthy's confirmation would suddenly mean the end of gun "rights."

But beyond that, these are Democrats undermining a fellow Democrat who could certainly use the support right now. I get that politicians are about self-preservation and that supporting the president isn't exactly a major vote-winner at the moment (though of course Congress's approval rating is way lower than Obama's). But these Democrats should a) do what's right for the country, b) support the president's, any president's, nominees unless something truly egregious is uncovered, and c) back up their president even if doing so might subject them to some (but probably not much) criticism back home.

But these Democrats aren't just looking at re-election, they're basically just siding with the NRA and the rest of the gun nuts against sensible gun policy, as well as sensible public health policy. They're NRA stooges just like Rand Paul is, and in opposing President Obama's extremely qualified nominee they're displaying not so much sensible political sensitivity but abject moral cowardice. And for that, they should be ashamed of themselves, just as all Democrats should be ashamed that their party can't even remain united in support of their president for what is, for all intents and purposes, an easy call.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Jon Stewart launches the comedic genius of #mcconnelling

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Last night, as part of one of the best Daily Shows in recent memory, Jon Stewart introduced us to #mcconnelling -- that is, setting a new ad for Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader running for re-election this year (against a formidable Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes), to music.

Pretty much to any music. It all works. Stewart went with Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" and The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes," both of which worked really well, but of course it's all gone viral since then, as Stewart wanted it to, and now YouTube in particular is full of #mcconnellings, many of them very amusing.

Of course it helps that McConnell himself is such a laughable creature, and in this ad he is shown acting like a regular guy / authoritative CEO just takin' care o' bizness -- and he's neither; he's really just a partisan obstructionist and giant fool -- but also smiling like a fucking idiot.

Here are two of the best videos I've come across, set to Lionel Richie's "Hello" and The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)." Sometimes the Internet is just so awesome. Enjoy!

And here, by the way, is the ad itself:

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Same old lesson for Dems in FL-13

By Frank Moraes 

David Weigel continues to be essential reading every day, but "bleeding heart libertarianism" seems to have morphed into old fashioned non-crazy conservatism these days. That's not too surprising, given that libertarians are, regardless of the number of holes in their hearts, conservatives. It is all based upon the conceit of their personal power and the delusion that they aren't entirely dependent upon their communities. See, for example, Weigel's total whitewash of Paul Ryan's recent racist remarks, "Paul Ryan Accused of Racism for Suggesting That There's Endemic Poverty in Inner Cities." So I wasn't shocked when Weigel seemed to take a certain delight in Alex Sink's defeat to David Jolly in the Florida 13th District special election.

But that doesn't mean that he isn't as insightful as ever. Yesterday, he wrote, "Hey, Democrats! This Election Will Make You Feel Less Sad About FL-13." Actually, the article itself is a confused jumble. But his point is clear enough: it's the turnout, stupid. As he noted:

I should admit that smart analysts predicted the result with one number. Two-hundred thousand. If that many ballots showed up in FL-13, Democrats were hitting their turnout models and winning the race. If fewer, they were losing. There were about 180,000 votes cast in the race, and the Democrats lost.

And then he goes on to document a number of elections (not one!) where the Democrats invested in turnout and won. We liberals have long known this. In fact, I have long argued that turnout is the only thing that matters and that Democrats should stop going after what are mostly mythical "swing" voters.

What did strike me in the article, however, was the tone that Weigel set in talking about this. And this is largely the reason for my tone here. For example, he wrote, "They won... But barely." It's a though he is trying to make a larger point that his Republican friends aren't that unpopular. But they are.

What's more, he seems to be implying that that Democrats aren't aware that they have an difficult task getting out their voters in off year and special elections. I would say that the Democrats are doing well when they even make such races competitive. (Weigel pooh-poohs this idea as it relates to the FL-13 election.) All I can think is that Weigel is falling for the recent libertarian rhetoric coming out of the Republican Party these days. And all I can say is, "Good luck with that!" Libertarian rhetoric leads to old fashioned anti-individual conservatism.

But the bottom line is clear enough. The Democrats have to spend a lot more money on turnout. That is the key to Democratic electoral success. And that should be clear to everyone, even libertarians. Because when I was a libertarian, I was painfully aware just how unpopular my philosophy was. It's nice to now have a political philosophy where I cheer for more people to vote.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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Darrell Issa, crying in his beer

By Carl 

You may or may not have noticed last week, amidst the growing turmoil in Ukraine and Crimea, that Darrell Issa is still – still – pursuing the IRS investigation of politically-oriented 501(c)4 groups, both left and right.

Summary: A 501(c)4 group is a non-profit social group that engages primarily in activities and advocacy of a social nature. They are permitted to do some political work but if they do too much, they can have their tax-exempt status lifted and get hit with penalties and interest on the taxes they should have paid.

Never mind there's jail time involved as well. About three years ago, it came out that, indeed, the IRS was doing its job and investigating groups that filed for this status. Turns out, the only group that was actually caught and punished was a liberal group, but be that as it may, right wing Teabaggers cried "oppression," "foul," and any number of the usual phrases white folks whine when caught in a lie.

Flash forward to last week: Issa held a hearing... excuse me, another hearing... involving Lois Lerner, a former IRS official who was nominally involved in the investigation (since the investigation itself was routine, it's hard to say anyone was at the center of it. Indeed, the official in charge of the IRS who had knowledge of the work, Douglas Shulman, is a Bush appointee, and it passed his muster.)

Lerner was questioned by only one member of the Issa's committee: Issa himself.

Lerner, sensing a kangaroo court, refused to testify to Issa, citing her Fifth Amendment rights.

After that, Issa cut off the mics and shut the hearing down, and threatened Lerner with a contempt of Congress citation. 

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Paul Ryan's racist dog whistle

By Frank Moraes 

(Ed. note: For more on Ryan blaming poverty on lazy inner-city men, clearly a code meant to assign blame to black men in particular, see ThinkProgress, which notes that "[w]ork requirements have yet to significantly reduce poverty, particularly during a downturn economy." -- MJWS)

Digby posted a Quote of the Day that made me burst out laughing. It isn't actually the quote that was funny. It is how she juxtaposed it with Lee Atwater's infamous "nigger, nigger, nigger" quote. For those that don't know it, Atwater gave an interview back in 1981 where he discussed the evolution of racial politics. He said, "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff..."

Well, as we all know, Paul Ryan now "cares" deeply about the poor. He put out his 204-page poverty report and openly campaigned against those evil liberals who want to fill children's stomachs with food and thus deprive them of a top rate soul. But this morning on Bill Bennett's Morning in America, Ryan said:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

This reminds me of the new The Young Turks segment, "Is It Racist?" In a word: yes!

But don't take my word for it. Let's just finish Atwater's quote:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is: blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me -- because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

It is much more abstract! It just isn't any less racist.

I actually think that Paul Ryan is actively a racist. He seems like an Ayn Rand true believer. Yet he doesn't make the Ayn Rand argument: selfishness is good and all that crap. Instead, he makes the argument that is coded to sound okay to moderates but which simultaneously pushes all those tribal and racist buttons. So I don't think he necessarily holds the "screw the poor" opinions because of any personal racial animus. But he sure is willing to knowingly use coded racist rhetoric to reach his preferred Ayn Rand dystopian future. And that is racist.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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Bill O'Reilly understands neither Lincoln nor the presidency nor comedy

By Carl 

It's odd that a man who claims among his favorite guests both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart would have a problem with President Obama's appearance in a comic interview on the website Funny or Die. But he does:

All I can tell is you Abe Lincoln would not have done it. There comes a point when serious times call for serious action. We're a divided nation which Talking Points believes is in decline. Mr. Obama is quick, has a good sense of humor. Those are assets.

Oh, um, Bill? About Lincoln? Yeah. He likely would have.

In response to a discussion about the pressure from abolitionists for the president to take action against slavery, Lincoln said:

Wa-al that reminds me of a party of Methodist parsons that was travelling in Illinois when I was a boy, and had a branch to cross that was pretty bad — ugly to cross, ye know, because the waters was up. And they got considerin' and discussin' how they should git across it, and they talked about it for two hours, and one on 'em thought they had ought to cross one way when they got there, and another another way, and they got quarrellin' about it, till at last an old brother put in, and he says, says he, 'Brethren, this here talk ain't no use. I never cross a river until I come to it.'

It was a characteristic Lincoln moment. He deflected the question of what he would do about slavery; he used the story as a device to explain his policy; in a display of folksy wisdom, he got his listeners to laugh.

Lincoln understood what Obama understands and what even idiots like Frank Luntz get: if you want to get your point across, you have to hit your audience in their gut with something.

It can be humor. Often, it can be tragedy, or anger. Bush utilized our anger to talk us into two massively destructive wars that made little sense in toto. Yet to this day – and it even echoes in your network's offensive, treasonous coverage of our president – people talk about how "strong" Bush was, and how "weak" Obama looks.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Obama and Galifianakis ramp up the funny on "Between the Ferns"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

President Obama faces an obstructionist, disloyal, and perhaps even treasonous Republican Party; an often cowardly Democratic Party with many in the ranks who don't have his back; a media establishment cowed into submission by the right-wing propaganda machine; a divided and apathetic electorate that allows itself to be manipulated by that machine; and a world in which the U.S., through no fault of his, just doesn't have the overriding influence it once had.

So, honestly, can you blame him for turning to comedy on Funny or Die's "Between the Ferns"? Besides, he was really funny, as was his hirsute, spider-bitten interviewer (a certain Zach Galifianakis, from The Hangover Part III), and it was all for a good cause that Republicans hate. 

And all the "worried harrumphing" is just nonsense. As Chait writes: 

One can certainly understand why the White House would be concerned about upholding the dignity of the office. Presidential dignity is one of the most powerful tools the president has. He commands a vast state apparatus designed to create a sense of grandeur around him, and this aura bestows upon him a power unavailable to his rivals.

Is this apparatus really too weak? Why is it the role of the press to worry that the president is coming across too much like an equal citizen and not enough like a monarch? Washington’s dignity fetish is one of those manifestations of the cult of the presidency that expresses some really weird ideas about how democracy is supposed to work.

Besides, if members of the media are so worried about "dignity," maybe they should look at their own chosen profession, and at themselves, before turning their noses up at the president. And as for the Obama-can-do-no-right conservatives, which is pretty much all of them, well, whatever. They have no dignity anyway, and their shameless hypocrisy is nothing new.

Anyway, back to the show. Here you go... Enjoy!

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Monday, March 10, 2014

On the Hustings


(Bloomberg Businessweek):"Even after Bridgegate scandal, Chris Christie is in better shape than you think"

(Huffington Post): "Former Christie aides ask judge to throw out subpoenas in Bridgegate case"

(Bloomberg Politics): "Paul says privacy focus would help with young voters"

(Roll Call): ""Expanding the Senate map promises to get expensive"

(The Hill): "Obama to Dems: It’s time to worry"


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Speak the speech, I pray you

By Carl

….Trippingly off the tongue:

More than two dozen Democratic senators will take to the Senate floor on Monday for an all-night session of speeches on climate change.

The marathon session will get underway after the last vote on Monday night and could last until 9am on Tuesday, Senate staff said.

The high visibility all-nighter was organised by a new initiative, the Climate Action Task Force, which is trying to galvanise support for Barack Obama's climate change agenda.

The Senators said they would be tweeting throughout the night, using the hashtag #Up4Climate.

Well, at least someone is talking about it, even if it’s only talk and only overnight.

It’s easy to forget global warming in the face of one of the coldest, harshest winters in recent memory, one where we learned a new term: “polar vortex”.

But the planet did not. In fact, January, 2014 was the fourth warmest January in world history. This is not good news if you’re a fan of living. 

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The Democrats' problem with their base

By Richard K. Barry

It should come as no surprise that President Obama is a bit worried that Democrats not neglect the 2014 midterms because the 2016 presidential election is a shinier bauble.

With the House increasingly out of reach, losing the Senate would pretty much be game over for what is left of the Obama agenda.

Speaking to some higher-end donors in Boston on Wednesday night, the president said that he "hoped because I'm not on the ballot that people aren't going to take it easy this time, because the ideas I care about and am fighting for are on the ballot."

Interesting too is the thought that making use of Obama and his team in the midterms is a tricky business. 

Our message to candidates is: How can we help?" White House political director David Simas said in an interview. If showing up for a rally isn't the answer in moderate districts, Simas said the president can give candidates a boost by raising money and setting a national debate on economic opportunity.

And the same point from the other side can be gleaned from this comment by Republican strategic Brad Dayspring:
"Obviously their plan is to hide Obama in deep blue states and use him to raise money in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles," Dayspring said. "The problem is that Democratic senators and candidates in the top 14 battleground states — from Mary Landrieu in Louisiana to Mark Warner in Virginia — have voted with President Obama an average of 94 percent of the time, a remarkable disconnect considering his approval rating in those states averages just 36 percent."

No great surprise, but midterms tend to be about turning out the base and the Republicans are typically more energized when Obama is not on the ballot to excite Democrats. This is why the Obama team will want to talk up those things that appeal to single women, young people and minorities, things like the presidents economic agenda and minimum wage.

Sadly, hatred is a more compelling turn-out driver than a vague hope that your guy's team has a plan.

So, no, I'm not feeling good about the midterms.

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A.M. Headlines

(CNN): "'We have to find the aircraft': Days later, no sign of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370"

(New York Times): "Leading Republicans move to stamp out challenges from right"

(Roll Call): "Uninsured rate continues to fall"

(The Hill): "Worst Congress ever?"

(Associated Press): "Obama meets with Ukraine prime minister Wednesday"


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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Mitch McConnell's musket

By Richard K. Barry

Don't shoot me, I'm only the piano player.

I would say that politics is becoming increasingly strange, but it doesn't do much to state the obvious. Latest proof is that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is being criticized for not looking particularly comfortable on stage at CPAC as he carried a flint-lock musket to the podium before making his speech. 

The gun was an award for retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., but McConnell must have though it would be a great idea to use it as a prop as he addressed the conservative faithful. 

But, As Courier-Journalist writer Joseph Gerth put it:
Instead or recalling images of Charlton Heston at NRA conventions, where the late actor incited the crowd by raising a similar gun, McConnell looked a bit more like Michael Dukakis riding in a tank or President Barack Obama shooting skeet at Camp David, or Jimmy Carter doing much of anything.

A little digging by the Courier-Journal could find no other picture of McConnell with a gun, and his campaign has refused to say whether he "hunts, shoots targets or even owns a gun."

On the one hand, the thought that one's familiarity with firearms should be considered an important qualification for high office is pretty scary. On the other, it's sad that McConnell tried to fake it in the way he did.

The other part of it is that McConnell is not the sort of politician CPAC types much cotton to. As Gerth writes:
McConnell is what he is. He’s a denizen of the beltway who revels in the type of insider politics that folks who attend CPAC hate. He is someone who has historically — at least until recently — believed in the largess of the federal government to help his state.

One thing for sure is the emergence of the far right has made establishment Republicans bigger frauds and liars than they had previously been, if that's possible. 

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