Monday, August 31, 2009


Eventually, Afghanistan might actually be Barack Obama's Vietnam -- in his latest column, George Will is effectively arguing that it threatens to be -- but, so far, Afghanistan isn't being treated like Barack Obama's Vietnam by the people whose opinions count the most in the Beltway, namely right-wing crazies. What's the reaction to the Will column right now by Matt Drudge? Crickets (click to enlarge):

It's not even on Drudge's front page.

The crazy right has thrown everything at Obama except the kitchen sink, but it still isn't ready to go after him from the pacifist side on Afghanistan -- it can't, because it's too deeply invested in star-spangled war stories. Will is not a bellwether -- he's an old-school conservative who doesn't always march in lockstep with Limbaugh and Murdoch. Drudge is a bellwether -- if he doesn't link Will, or the Politico story previewing the Will column, that tells me the right's going to effectively give Obama a pass on the war for now. (There's much more interest on the right in giving a megaphone to Dick Cheney -- his Obama's-a-traitor message dovetails perfectly with the domestic Obama's-a-commie-usurper message of the teabaggers.)

Maybe outrage from the left will pressure Obama on Afghanistan, but if so, it'll be a first: so far in the Obama years it's been clear that nobody in the Beltway cares what we think, and more and more that seems to include the president.


UPDATE, TUESDAY: I see that William Kristol, blogging for The Washington Post, has now whacked Will's knuckles with the neocon steel ruler, as has Frederick Kagan at National Review Online. Yes, Politico has a story titled "White House Fears Liberal War Pressure," but who do you think is going to be talking about this war on Meet the Press and other Sunday shows over the next year or so -- Kristol and Kagan or the "liberal, anti-war Democrats" cited by Politico? Maybe Fox and other right-wing outlets, in the spirit of "Let's you and him fight," will use lefties as a stick to beat Obama, while giving the back of their hand to right-wing war fans. But I still say the lust for battle is too much a part of the wingnut soul for a U-turn that sharp.


UPDATE, WEDNESDAY: Here's Michael Gerson at The Washington Post taking Will to task:

It should be more difficult to forget 9/11 than it apparently is -- the goodbye calls, the leaps from fire toward death, the continental economic consequences. The Afghan war was undertaken because the Taliban government, under Mullah Omar, sheltered a dozen al-Qaeda terrorist training camps that produced 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, some of whom were human weapons aimed at American citizens....

Will asks: Why Afghanistan but not Somalia or Yemen? The answer is 9/11....

Gerson wrote speeches for George W. Bush, of course. I know Bush got bored with Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, but the myth on the right is that he didn't -- and careful cultivation of the myth of Bush and Cheney's greatness in foreign policy is still vitally important to the right. The true believers actually fall for their own talking points on this subject. They're going to have a hard time shifting gears.

Er, President Obama? Hello?

... Nahhh, you'd never have the cojones to pick someone like this (and chances are you'd never be able to get him confirmed):

...Every week, the nation's mightiest banks come to his court seeking to take the homes of New Yorkers who cannot pay their mortgages. And nearly as often, the judge says, they file foreclosure papers speckled with errors.

He plucks out one motion and leafs through: a Deutsche Bank representative signed an affidavit claiming to be the vice president of two different banks. His office was in Kansas City, Mo., but the signature was notarized in Texas. And the bank did not even own the mortgage when it began to foreclose on the homeowner.

The judge's lips pucker as if he had inhaled a pickle; he rejected this one.

"I'm a little guy in Brooklyn who doesn't belong to their country clubs, what can I tell you?" he says, adding a shrug for punctuation. "I won’t accept their comedy of errors."

The judge, Arthur M. Schack, 64, ... has tossed out 46 of the 102 foreclosure motions that have come before him in the last two years. And his often scathing decisions, peppered with allusions to the Croesus-like wealth of bank presidents, have attracted the respectful attention of judges and lawyers from Florida to Ohio to California. At recent judicial conferences in Chicago and Arizona, several panelists praised his rulings as a possible national model....

You know what this guy sounds like? He sounds like a "strict constructionist":

Justice Schack's take is straightforward, and sends a tremor through some bank suites: If a bank cannot prove ownership, it cannot foreclose.

"If you are going to take away someone's house, everything should be legal and correct," he said. "I'm a strange guy -- I don't want to put a family on the street unless it's legitimate." ...

Confronted with a case in which Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs passed a defaulted mortgage back and forth and lost track of the documents, the judge made reference to the film classic "It's a Wonderful Life" and the evil banker played by Lionel Barrymore.

"Lenders should not lose sight," Justice Schack wrote in that 2007 case, "that they are dealing with humanity, not with Mr. Potter's 'rabble' and 'cattle.' Multibillion-dollar corporations must follow the same rules in the foreclosure actions as the local banks, savings and loan associations or credit unions, or else they have become the Mr. Potters of the 21st century." ...

"To the extent that judges examine these papers, they find exactly the same errors that Judge Schack does," said Katherine M. Porter, a visiting professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a national expert in consumer credit law. "His rulings are hardly revolutionary; it's unusual only because we so rarely hold large corporations to the rules."

Exactly -- holding people accountable to the plain text of the law. What could be more strict-constructionist than that?

And he's not an Ivy League elitist -- he attended NYU Law School. This was after he taught high school social studies for fourteen years.

Ah, but as a teacher he was (gasp!) a union representative. He was once the lawyer for another union, the Major League Baseball Players Association (though he came to see that situation as "the millionaires versus the billionaires"). And his wife is a Democratic district leader (though William Rehnquist was, of course, a Republican ward heeler in his youth, and a racist one at that). So I'm sure all the Republicans and Blue Dogs would gang up to filibuster him. Can't have a guy like that offsetting all the right-wing judicial activists on the current Court, now can we?

Still, he's a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. He quotes Bruce Willis movies in his decisions. Where I live, someone like this is considered a really, really regular guy. A regular American.

Schack on the Supreme Court. Wouldn't it be nice....

Office Of Majority Leader
Senator Harry Reid
August 31, 2009

Dear Senator Reid,

As a lifelong Democrat, and serious Democratic donor, I think I am entitled to write to you to let you know how absolutely disappointed I am with your handling of President Obama's health care reform initiative. I can assure you that your role as Senate Majority Leader was a crucial one—and by all accounts you have muffed it. Your job was to shepherd serious Health Care Reform, such as that promised us in the HELP and House legislation, through to a successful conclusion. Turning a major role over to Senator Max Baucus and pursuing a will o' the wisp strategy of accommodation with the Republican minority was a decision of crashing stupidity.

Real health care reform in this country is desired by 78 percent of the population. Even those who profess themselves “satisfied” with their current health insurance company worry ceaselessly—or they should—about what happens when their employer unilaterally decides to stop providing health insurance, about what happens if they lose their jobs, get sick, are underinsured, or try to change jobs or start a business. It is President Obama's job—as it was his promise—to reform the system entirely and create a “Public Option” that will, in effect, be like “Medicare for all.” Myself, I would prefer a true Single Payer system such as they have in Canada, or a mixed system such as they have in Germany. But whatever the decision we must have a true, robust, Public Option to keep the insurance companies honest and to create a pathway to real, affordable, health care for all.

I know that you don't read these letters, and your staff no doubt stop when they get the gist and put it all down on a tiny piece of unread paper with a check mark—so many “For” and so many “Against” this or that bill. But this needs to be said. Get us “Medicare for all” and pay for it and the Democrats as a party will reap the benefits in generation long majorities. But allow the Republicans to sabotage the efforts while still passing a bad bill under Democratic aegis? You will destroy the party for a generation. Passing a bad bill because you can't manage your own caucus or because you are unwilling to take on the Insurance companies and big Pharma is a recipe for electoral disaster, as well as a stupid strategy on policy grounds. It is bad policy and bad politics. The people know it—even if the hysterical seniors and the tea-baggers profess not to know it. It is the goal of the current Republican party to make the country ungovernable and to force the Democrats to lose on this and every progressive initiative. Every day that you treat with these obstructionists and provocateurs is a day that you are not arm twisting your own caucus and the beating the Blue Dogs into submission. Pass the HELP bill, pass the House bills, keep or strengthen the “Robust Public Option” or admit that you are utterly outmatched by an out of power, rump southern minority of angry, corporatist, bigots and get out of the way. Turn the leadership position over to someone who can lead.


As the 2008 elections approached, Rupert Murdoch, who is evil but is nobody's fool, flirted with throwing his weight behind the candidacies of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- but in the end he concluded that it was best to remain in the opposition (which was not the decision he made when Tony Blair's Labour Party was about to seize power in the U.K.). Let's put it another way: Murdoch concluded that it was safe not to back Obama and the Democrats. He could see that, numbers notwithstanding, the party and its leader just didn't have the mojo to make life difficult for its opponents.

And now we see that the rest of the media has concluded that we're already in a sort of post-Obama era. John McCain has made twelve appearances in eight months on Sunday morning talk shows; Dick and Liz Cheney are on TV all the time (yesterday Dick was on Fox while Liz was on ABC) -- and now NBC has announced that Jenna Bush will join the Today show as a correspondent.

Is it a coincidence that NBC hired Jenna at a time when Fox's Glenn Beck is joining Bill O'Reilly in mounting vicious attacks against NBC and GE? I think the suits at GE and NBC fear the wrath of the crazies who watch Fox (and the crazies who run Fox) and feel the need to appease them; on the right, of course, MSNBC is damned as an Obama propaganda machine. Presumably it's too soon for the GE/NBC suits to be acting out of fear of Republican politicians, who still aren't close to regaining the power to set agendas, but who knows? In any case, their apparent response to the teabaggers reminds me of Viacom's decision, not long after the Dan Rather Nation Guard story ran, to give Mary Matalin a book imprint around the same time it was considering putting the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and Ann Coulter on a panel to investigate the Guard story.


Y'know, if the "liberal media" worked it for the good guys the way the Murdoch media and the rest of the right-wing noise machine work it for the bad guys, there'd be a serious effort to exploit the tension so obviously on display at the end of Dick Cheney's Fox interview:

WALLACE: There was a story in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago that in the process of writing your memoir, you have told colleagues about your frustration with President Bush, especially in his, your second term. Is that true?


WALLACE: That story was wrong.

CHENEY: Right.

WALLACE: The report says that you disagreed with the President's decision to halt water boarding, you agreed with his decision to close the secret prisons, you disagreed with his decision to reach out to Iran and North Korea. Is that true?

CHENEY: Well, we had policy differences, no question about that, but to say that I was disappointed with the President is not the way it ought to be phrased....

WALLACE: Did you feel that he went soft in the second term?

CHENEY: I wouldn't say that. I think you are going to have wait and read my book, Chris, for the definitive view.

WALLACE: It sounds like you are going to say something close to that?

CHENEY: I am not going to speculate on it....

I'm loving the non-denial denials.

Oh, if only the "liberal media" would exacerbate this feud, the way, for instance the feud (or non-feud) between Barack Obama and the Clintons is routinely exacerbated in the press. News outlets would find phony anonymous "sources" close to the Bush administration who'd "say" things that get up Cheney's nose. The hiring of Jenna would be portrayed as a slap at the Cheneys. And on and on. At the very least, the real tension that exists would be endlessly speculated on. But it just doesn't work that way, does it?

Sunday, August 30, 2009


The Washington Post and Dick Cheney delivered an obviously coordinated one-two punch this weekend: Cheney defended torture on Fox News while the Post defended torture in an article subtitled "Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding."

Who were the sources for the Post article? Primarily people who wouldn't allow themselves to be identified, as Glenn Greenwald has noted.

But there's a passage in the Post article for which we might be able to name the source:

One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure.

"Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them," said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified.

Where have I heard that sort of argument before? Oh yeah -- here:

Critics claim that enhanced techniques do not produce good intelligence because people will say anything to get the techniques to stop. But the memos note that, "as Abu Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques, 'brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship." In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can -- and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that "Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable." The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.

That was from an April Post op-ed by Marc Thiessen, who, according to the biography at his blog,

collaborated with Secretary Rumsfeld on all of his major speeches during the first three years of the war on terror. He helped make the case for military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and traveled more than 250,000 miles with the Secretary across the world -- including his first visits to Kabul and Baghdad immediately after liberation.

Mr. Thiessen saw the war on terror up close -- from the planning rooms of the Pentagon to the major battlefronts of the Middle East....

Is that the "former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out"? A guy who was just a freaking speechwriter (for Rumsfeld and later for Bush)? Is he one of the Post's big sources? Is the Post recycling his propaganda?

We learn here that Thiessen "is at work on a book on the CIA interrogation program that will be published by Regnery in 2010." So, yeah, I think so.

Steve Benen is a terrific blogger and has been a great friend to this blog, but this seems to miss the essential nature of America and its people:

In some ways, conservatives couldn't possibly win the [health care] argument -- the status quo is ridiculous. We spend too much and get too little. Tens of millions of Americans go without coverage, and thousands die as a result of not having insurance. The existing private system screws over consumers, is a drag on the economy, and undercuts wage growth. The two groups of Americans best served by the status quo are seniors (in a Canadian-style, socialized system) and veterans (in a British-style, government-run system). Everyone else is in, at best, a precarious position.

Left unchecked, the dysfunctional, inefficient, patchwork health care system threatens to bankrupt the country. Reform was a no-brainer.

In this sense, Republicans, their allies, and their media partners had a seemingly impossible task.

No, that's wrong. They didn't have an impossible task, because they know that most Americans don't see health care the way we cerebral, wonky, well-read types see health care.

We're looking at the big picture -- all the things Steve describes. Most Americans are looking at themselves, or people like themselves. Poll after poll shows that most Americans are satisfied with their current health care -- yes, that just they're satisfied for now, but that's all that matters. Sure, we know that quite a few of them are facing serious pitfalls -- denial of coverage after a serious illness because the insurance company will now motivated to find a preposterous excuse to stop paying claims, loss of coverage because of unemployment, and so on and so on -- but most Americans who aren't in dire straits right now just aren't thinking about these risks.

They aren't thinking about the complex ways expensive emergency-room care for the uninsured gets tacked onto their premiums. They aren't thinking about (or don't know about) the fact that there are multiple treatments for many conditions, and the use of more expensive ones is making the whole system more expensive, which raises their premiums, frequently without making any more people healthier. And on and on.

And they certainly aren't thinking about the relative administrative costs of private and public insurers. What could be more boring?

The system is complex. We wonky lefties have at least a rough notion of the whole complex system in our heads. Most Americans don't.

So it's easy to scare most Americans with a complex-looking chart of a proposed Obama health care system because they don't ever think about the fact that our current system is scarily complex. They never think about the big picture. It's easy to scare them with talk of evil bureaucrats emerging from the shadows to thwart their heath care wishes because most people, at this exact moment, aren't going through that with an insurance company. It's easy to deceive them, in other words, because they simply never think about what's true regarding our existing system. It's just not of interest to them, except when they need to deal with it.

Steve goes on to say:

There are plenty of old sayings about the most effective sales professionals -- they can sell sand in the desert, they can sell ice to the Inuit, etc. The right's challenge was the opposite -- they had to tell a drowning country not to accept a life-preserver. That's an extremely difficult task.

But that's just it: most Americans think they already have a life preserver -- either private insurance (they choose not to think about the fact that it could be snatched away from them, or turn out to be a fraud at the worst possible moment) or government insurance from Medicare, the VA, or Medicaid (which they don't think of as government-run, because New Deal/Great Society rhetoric is a dim memory, while the dominant Reagan/Murdoch/Limbaugh/Beck rhetoric tells them that all government social programs are evil; they know that's true and yet they know their own health care system isn't evil, so they just choose not to ponder the contradiction).

If this discussion had started with a national Health Care for Dummies conversation -- today, class, we're going to explain where Medicare comes from: it comes from the government -- maybe we wouldn't be in this mess. But we were never going to start there, because we wonky Democrats always think Americans start with the knowledge base we take for granted.

Republicans know better. That's why they win.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Charles Blow, on today's New York Times op-ed page:

Liberals are flummoxed by the fact that obviously false and widely discredited claims about health care reform have not only taken root, but appear to be growing in acceptance....

What gives?

Is it partly the utter gullibility of some people? Sure. Is it partly deep-seated resentment of the black man in the White House? No doubt. But it's also about something more fundamental: fluctuations of basic trust in the federal government.

... according to an analysis of The New York Times/CBS News polls from the past 33 years, Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected -- at least at the outset....

Interesting numbers -- but I think Blow has cause and effect switched around.

People don't trust government less because a Democrat is elected president. They elect a Democratic president at moments when they trust government less.

Since 1980 -- maybe since 1972 or 1968 -- the default in America has been sending a GOP Daddy to sit in the Oval Office. GOP Daddy will be the grown-up and make all the bad things go away. The only times since then that we've elected a non-incumbent Democrat -- '76, '92, and '08 -- were when GOP Daddy had utterly failed us. (You could also throw in '96, when the incumbent Clinton was reelected, because the GOP Daddy who'd failed us was the guy who'd effectively declared himself the real president of the United States, Newt Gingrich.)

Blow adds:

Surprisingly, Democrats' trust in government was the same or higher after a Republican was elected than it was after a Democrat was elected. That in spite of the fact that all three Democratic presidents came into office at the same time that their party had won control of both chambers of Congress.

Well, Democrats generally have some trust in government -- it's diminshed somewhat, however, in those moments of mistrust when we've felt the need to kick the Republicans out of the White House.

But as a country, we generally trust GOP Daddy with the keys to the White House because he'll put everything right. We pick Democratic presidents only when we're angry and hurt and want to rebel against the proper way of doing things, because our real Daddy has betrayed us. Democrats, you see, are dirty hippies, not real Daddies. This is a stereotype the leaders of the Democratic Party might want tothink about trying to alter one of these days, though there's no evidence that anyone in the party has given it much consideration.

Friday, August 28, 2009


The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn:

The pundits are busy filing their reports on how President Obama blew it on health care reform.... Had he spent more time reminding voters that reform would provide them with the security they now lack--security from financial ruin and medical catastrophe, the type private insurance too rarely provides--he probably would have been better off.

Yeah -- because that approach worked so well last time, didn't it?

President Clinton called on Congress Wednesday to make health insurance a basic right for all Americans....

"At long last, after decades of false starts, we must make this our most urgent priority: giving every American health security, health care that can never be taken away, health care that is always there," Clinton said before a nationally televised joint session of Congress.

Let's face it -- this was always going to be one of the most difficult fights possible. Every sentence of every possible reform proposal was always going to be a gasoline spill, in an arena in which the opponents' weapon of choice was fire.

To win a decisive victory, Obama needed to have a strategy for dozens of lines of attack -- many of them not even based on the actual contents of proposed legislation -- or he and his team needed to be able to improvise as fast as Michael Jordan in midair switching the ball from one hand to another. Beyond that, Obama needed a base that was fired up for this reform, not just for the defeat of Bush or his own election, in order to counter the power of lobbyist propaganda retransmitted by an army Limbaugh and Murdoch have kept at a fever pitch for a couple of decades.

I'm not sure any politician, past or present, could have achieved the triumph and many Obama supporters seemed to anticipate.

From Kevin Sack's heart-tugging New York Times article about the real victims of the health care debate, those poor, beleaguered employees of huge billion-dollar insurance companies:

"I believe we're getting the pushback because we are standing up for what we believe in," said Cheryl Tidwell, 45, Humana's director of commercial sales training. "We believe there's a better way to control costs by controlling utilization and getting people involved in their health care."

"Controlling utilization." You know -- it's sort of like rationing. The difference is, it's privatized, so it doesn't make Glenn Beck watchers want to shoot anyone.


You may have though the president of the United States and his evil band of granny-killers were the most hated people in this debate, but Sack assures us that the most hated people are the midlevel employees of Humana, a huge insurance company that eagerly welcomed him into corporate headquarters out of a deep commitment to journalism, and not to try to gain a propaganda advantage, no sirree. Yes, these midlevel employees are the enemy, and it hurts, dammit!

They do not save lives. They just pay the bills.

(Or, perhaps, don't.)

When they have reason to interact with patients, it is usually because something has gone wrong.

(No one's done anything wrong, like improperly denied a claim. Something just happened. It was an act of God.)

"You're not having a good day when you’re talking to us, unfortunately," Mr. Shireman [Max Shireman, a Humana project manager] said.

That may make it easy to demonize insurance companies....

You know what? If I'm talking to a firefighter, I'm probably also not having a good day. But I don't hate firefighters, because if I'm talking to one, I assume he didn't burn down my house.

"Our industry gets blame for virtually everything that goes on in health care that people don't like," said Humana's president, Michael B. McCallister, over a cup of coffee in the corporate cafeteria. "I commonly get letters from people that say, 'Your doctor did this with me or to me,' so I don’t think people understand the system really well." ...

We understand the system quite well. You compel us to go to in-network doctors, presumably because they've agreed to your cost-containment rules (even though out-of-network doctors, who may include doctors we like, have probably agreed to the same cost rules for other insurance companies, just not for yours). So we complain to you when your doctors mess up.

A number of employees said they accepted the Washington rhetoric as a political device, and tried to let it roll off their backs. There seems to be no appreciation, they said, of the financial risk that insurance companies bear....

Yeah, right: it's just so risky to run a multi-billion-dollar corporation in America. If such a corporation were at risk of failure, we probably wouldn't lift a finger to help.

Humana has 28,000 employees, including 10,000 in Louisville, many of whom work in a monumental headquarters tower constructed of pink granite. It is the second-largest employer here....

A number of employees said they were concerned about their jobs, particularly given the emphasis in Washington on reducing the administrative costs of health insurance.

"I am an administrative cost," Mr. [Andrew] Osterman [a Humana technology manager] said. "The reason a public option would be able to get away with those low costs is if they took people like me out of the picture."

Right -- because a public plan won't need any technology managers. Magic pixies will do all the work technology managers do at private companies, and they'll do it for free.

See, we have to preserve the job of every last of Humana's 28,000 employees no matter what. We absolutely can't allow Humana to be subject to competition. You know how communist countries have always kept inefficient factories operating? That's what we have to do for Humana. It's exactly the same principle -- except we're not filthy commies, so it's perfectly OK for us to do it.

(Also see Yves Smith's take at Naked Capitalism.)

Right-wingers just can't stand the fact that Michael Moore and Al Gore have made documentaries that were box office hits and they haven't. The latest right-wing attempt at a would-be Fahrenheit 911 or Inconvenient Truth is Blood Money, an anti-abortion doc that's nearing completion. Anti-choicer Jill Stanek just posted the slick trailer -- and I have to give the filmmakers credit, because they've done something remarkable in the annals of propaganda: they've wedded a classic trope of political documentaries, the shocking interview with a talking-head whistleblower, to old techniques familiar from works like the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion." Watch the beginning of the trailer: the talking-head whistleblower claims to have participated in events that sound like an anti-abortion conspiratorialist's wish list of every evil it would be delightful to ascribe to pro-choicers:

We had a whole plan that sold abortions, and it was called "sex education." Break down their natural modesty, separate them from their parents and their values, and become the sex expert in their lives so they turn to us when we would give them a low-dose birth control pill they would get pregnant on, or a defective condom. Our goal was three to five abortions from every girl between the ages of thirteen and eighteen.

Wow. I can't believe we were so evil. I guess we didn't kill the girls and use their blood in Passover matzohs. Or maybe that's in the full documentary.

Later on, I see that another talking head gets into Glenn Beck/Alex Jones-style paranoia, and I wonder if this line is going to work its way into the health care debate:

Planned Parenthood is expanding now. They're building gigantic abortion clinics in anticipation of socialized medicine.

I don't know if this is in any way related to the rail cars with shackles many conspiracy nuts think the government is building -- again, we'll probably have to wait for the complete film. (What is it about these folks that they think we're constantly building sinister things? Is there something primal in the paranoid brain about fantasies of enemy construction projects?)

Stanek identifies this guy as Dr. Brian Clowes, the "Director of Research and Training" for Human Life International. He's not an M.D. -- he has a Ph.D. in "Civil Engineering and Systems Science." Maybe that gives him some credibility as an expert on construction projects. But his big subjects seem to be abortion, contraception (he equates use of the Pill with abortion in many cases), and homosexuality (the authors of the insane gay-equals-Nazi rant The Pink Swastika, about which I've written in the past, cite "some alarming statistics" from his work allegedly demonstrating that "eight of the top ten serial killers in the United States were homosexuals and that homosexuals were responsible for 68 percent of all mass murders").

This documentary is highly unlikely to have much impact on the discourse. But I'm I'll be curious to see if the Planned Parenthood conspiracy theory makes its way into Sarah Palin Facebook posts and Michelle Bachmann floor speeches.


And on a related note, Rachel Maddow pointed out last night that Operation Rescue has named another abortion doctor as the successor to George Tiller -- presumably as a target for assassination. Her interview (and more about the widespread craziness in this country right now) is here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I don't understand this headline from Greg Sargent at the Plum Line:

Whoops! RNC Admits Screwing Up With Suggestion That Health Care Reform Could "Discriminate" Against GOPers

You probably know the story already: a "survey" included in a Republican National Committee fund-raising letter included this question:

It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?

But is it true that the RNC "admits screwing up"? Um, just barely. Sargent and Time's Michael Scherer were merely told by an RNC spokeswoman that the question was "inartfully worded." That doesn't even qualify as an acknowledgment of factual error, or even significant tactical error. The full statement:

Although the question was inartfully worded, Americans have reason to be concerned about the failure of the Democrats' health care experiment to adequately protect the privacy of Americans' personal information. From bank accounts to tax payments to personal medical care data, the bill gives government bureaucrats access to a range of Americans' personal information but does little if anything to protect that data from misuse and abuse. This is one of the many reasons we have called on President Obama to slow this bill down so that we can get health care reform right.

This is the warning sign of a zombie attack. The RNC is making it clear that the Republicans think this is a lie they'll find useful in the near future, the way they found "death panels" useful after we thought it had been laughed off the public stage. It's going to come back. It's going to be yet another unkillable GOP zombie lie.

It may be remanded to e-mail forwards and World Net Daily. Or it msy be spread by Sarah Palin, or Glenn Beck, or Newt Gingrich, or Betsy McCaughey, or a few congressional back-benchers from safe GOP districts, or all of the above. Or, hell, Charles Grassley might pick it up. But somebody's going to keep it alive. This one isn't going to go away.

Silly us. We thought RNC chairman Michael Steele was being a hypocrite when he wrote recently in The Washington Post that "we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of 'health-insurance reform'" -- after saying in 2006 that Medicare cuts "absolutely" have to be on the table.

But apparently he wasn't being a hypocrite at all. Judging from an interview he gave to NPR's Steve Inskeep, which aired this morning, Steele's message is simple and consistent: Medicare cuts are perfectly OK -- but only when they're not done by (ick! pthui!) Democrats.

Think Progress has the audio and the transcript of the interview -- which, by the way, is entertaining from beginning to end, because Inskeep is one of the most tenacious interviewers out there, even though trying to pin Steele down is like trying to nail hot air to a wall. Here's the key passage on Medicare cuts:

STEELE: ... The problem, as we all know, is the system has been raided over the years from time to time, it's become bloated, and in some cases, efficiencies have not been maxed out. Therefore it's running into problems where, you know, every few years we're having stories about Medicare falling apart, and we've already projected it's going to --

INSKEEP: It's going to run out of money.

STEELE: Exactly.

INSKEEP: But you're coming here reducing the spending for Medicare, restraining Medicare.

STEELE: No, no, no. That's not coming out against reducing the spending for Medicare. That's a wonderful interpretation by the left, but what I was saying was, "Don't go raiding the program without some sense of what we're taking from the program, the impact it's going to have on the senior citizens out there." You know, raiding a program that's already bankrupt to pay for another program that we can’t afford is not good public policy.

INSKEEP: So you would be in favor of certain cuts?

STEELE: Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program. I mean, anyone who's in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to do that.

So ... um ... he is coming there reducing the spending for Medicare -- just not for some disgusting, vile Barack Obama program. Reducing it for fine, upstanding Republican reasons is fine. Just not for Democratic ones.

And that's what the RNC meant, clearly, in point #1 of its recent "Seniors' Health Care Bill Of Rights":

PROTECT MEDICARE AND NOT CUT IT IN THE NAME OF HEALTH CARE REFORM: President Obama and Congressional Democrats are promoting a government-run health care experiment that will cut over $500 billion from Medicare to be used to pay for their plan. Medicare should not be raided to pay for another entitlement.

No -- it should not be raided to pay for another entitlement. It should be raided to "maximize the efficiencies." (I guess that sentence was inadvertently dropped.)

Now, really -- go read or listen to the whole interview. Enjoy Steele's attempt to explain why Medicare desperately needs to be protected and is a lousy government-run program. Savor his acknowledgment that the nasty fascist government practice of getting "between the doctor and the patient" is also, ulp, done by insurance companies all the time -- oh, and, yeah, that means the insurance companies might need to be subject to greater regulation. By the government. Oops.

Glenn Beck just had Rush Limbaugh on his TV show, and the World Net Daily headline captures Beck's message succinctly: "Glenn Beck's Fear of Obama: Seize Power Overnight."

Oh, and did you know that Obama is building an Alinskyesque paramilitary force of Marxist CEOs? Or one CEO, at least.

Here's Beck (clip below):

Rush, tomorrow on this program I'm going to lay out the case of the army they are building right underneath our own, our nose, an army that he spoke about on the campaign trail, and if you watch what could only be called the administration's organ -- anything involved with GE or NBC -- you've got [GE CEO] Jeffrey Immelt on the board of the Federal Reserve, you have him in the Oval Office consulting not only on health care, but the financial situation, and they are an organ.

If you watch MSNBC, I contend that you will see the future because they are laying the ground for a horrible event that will be -- is what they're laying the ground for, anything from the right, there's some awful event and I fear this government, this administration has so much framework already prepared, that they will seize power overnight before anybody even gives it a second thought.

(Immelt, by the way, has been a director of the Fed since January 2006.)

Even Limbaugh doesn't buy the seize-power-overnight line:

Well, I think -- I think because of what you're doing with your television show, your radio show, what we're all doing, I don't think they're going to be able to seize it overnight without anybody knowing about it.

Ah, but this is a subtle disagreement: We know Barack Obama is hell-bent on destroying the country, but how exactly? Limbaugh has a different vision:

"Look at what they're doing to the U.S. economy," he said. "Anybody with a sense of economic literacy would know this is not how you create jobs. You do not rebuild the private sector. This is being done on purpose. All of these disasters are exactly what Obama wants. The more crises, the better. The more opportunity for government to say, 'Let us in and fix the problem.'"

It's Marxist CEO fascism! No, it's political Munchausen's by proxy! Marxist CEO fascism! Political Munchausen's by proxy!

Who said there's no diversity of opinion on the right?

By the way, here's Limbaugh expressing skepticism regarding the Obama shock troops. He's referring to the current health care wars:

The Obama army is not showing up with any passion for Obama's issue.

Well, he got that right -- I'll give him credit for that. Limbaugh is evil and frequently paranoid, but he's much less stupid and delusional than Beck.


Another choice Beck moment from last night -- a question he asked in an interview with Karl Rove:

Do you agree that there is some sort of -- the Republic is being used as a host right now, and some other virus is going in and eating that host, and at some point it will be what's remaining?

Wow. Just wow.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Teaser at David Frum's for a blog post (by Elise Cooper) slamming Attorney General Holder's decision to appoint a special torture prosecutor:

Yeah, between the "grown-up" Frum crowd and the rest of the GOP there's really a huge difference, isn't there? The knuckle-dragging crazies who dominate the GOP think we shouldn't prosecute torturers because 24 ROX!!!!!1!!! -- whereas Frum and his sober, sensible, mature compatriots think we shouldn't prosecute torturers because JAMES BOND ROX!!!!!1!!! Different as night and day!

National Review's Lisa Schiffren is taking very seriously a bit of speculation (a trial balloon?) from Peter Roff of U.S. News -- that Mitt Romney might run for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

... It would be an intriguing thing if, after waiting a day or two out of respect for the late senator, Romney were to downshift and announce he will be a candidate in the upcoming election to fill Kennedy's vacant Senate seat.

... If he did, Romney would then have a platform to actually introduce legislation modeled on the proposals he put forward as a presidential candidate in 2008 and planned to put forward in 2012. No guesswork. No empty rhetoric. Real ideas, on the Senate floor, that could be evaluated, debated, and perhaps even voted on.

From the Senate floor, Romney could show his fellow Republicans, and the country, just what kind of president he would be. How he would approach national problems. As an added political benefit, it would give him the opportunity to establish true conservative bona fides allowing him to finally overcome the suspicions many conservatives in the GOP's primary electorate still harbor about him. Rather than tie him down, Romney could actually use the Senate seat to lock up the GOP nomination in 2012.

Now, wait a minute -- which Romney is going to do this? The pro-choice, pro-gun-control moderate who was elected governor of Massachusetts? Or the bellicose ("double Guantanamo") flip-flopping right-winger who ran for the GOP nomination? Is he going to flip back to centrism to run in Massachusetts again and then flip back yet again once he's in office? Hell, even the Democrats could craft effective attack ads against an opportunist as shameless as Mitt.

Then again, why am I paying any attention to ex-Quayle speechwriter Schiffren? She says:

...should Romney run for and win that seat, he would actually be in a position to make a real difference in the health-care debate.

Um, the special election to fill Kennedy's seat is likely to be in January. We bloody well ought to have some resolution to this health care debate by then.


UPDATE: It's been pointed out (in comments and here) that Mitt Romney isn't even a legal resident of Massachusetts anymore. That could be a small stumbling block. On the other hand, he didn't really meet the residency requirements when he was elected governor, and yet he was allowed to serve; having a gazillion dollars can make people look the other way, I guess. (Admittedly, at that time he at least had a house in Massachusetts; he doesn't have one anymore. Details, details....)


UPDATE: It's possible William Weld will run, as Nate Silver notes (Weld lost to Kennedy in '96) -- but he's a bit of a flip-flopper himself. Unlike Romney, he mostly sticks to positions on the issues, but like Romney he can't seem to decide what state he lives in -- a few years ago, after moving to Manhattan, Weld made a serious bid to be governor of New York ("I think I could run a good race in this state, being a native New Yorker and now a resident of the Upper East Side, Long Island, and with places in the Adirondacks and the Catskills," Weld said at the time; tension between Weld and local GOP macher Al D'Amato and other factors forced him to drop out). In the last presidential election cycle, Weld (as Nate notes) endorsed Obama -- after endorsing Romney in the primaries. Plus, he was a Palinesque quitter years before Palin, resigning his Massachusetts governorship allegedly to devote all his attention to his fight to be Bill Clinton's ambassador to Mexico, even though it was clear to everyone that Jesse Helms wasn't going to let him be confirmed. If he were to win, would he serve out his term?

To follow up on what aimai just posted, you have to see Republicans' trumped-up outrage at the possibility that the health-care bill will be named for the late Senator Ted Kennedy, as well as their declaration that his death will provoke a "Wellstone memorial on steroids," as payback for our side's criticism of the town hall shoutfests -- you go after our attempt to rally public opinion, they're saying, and it's right back at you.

Of course, our side hasn't been at all successful in stoking outrage at the town-hall disrupters or the lobbyists and right-wing noise machine shills who feed them talking points. But that's the GOP for you: even when you go for an eye and miss, they want an eye in return.

Also note: they're faster than we are. Limbaugh attacked any Democratic to name the bill after Kennedy nearly six months before Kennedy died. And "steroids" is a preemptive war on anything of a political nature any supporter might want to say in Kennedy's honor now -- the terms of the debate are set and if we mention Kennedy's top priority as a senator, we've crossed the line.

Of course, the way Republicans won the battle over town hall disruptions was by ignoring us and just doing whatever the hell they wanted. Would that work for Democrats? Maybe, although Republicans are far better at getting press centrists to clutch pearls and react in horror at our behavior than we are at theirs (even when theirs involves Hitler and loaded guns). Still, it might be worth a try.

Oh, and as for the naming of that bill, gee, I just can't imagine Republicans wanting to name things for a political hero, can you?
Friends, Romans, Countrymen...

I have some terrible news for you all. This has never happened before in the history of the world but Teddy Kennedy's death is going to be...what's the word again? oh...politicized. Yes, scarily enough, weirdly enough, Democrats are probably going to use the occasion of his death to pursue mere political goals. How crass. How weird. How frighteningly demagogic. Can you imagine the nerve of these people?

Its our own little dance of death. Anyone remember the fake outcry at the Wellstone Memorial's political tone? If you missed it, or can't remember, you can read all about it here. Its one of the things that really politicized Franken, and in the linked essay he draws the connection between the way the right wing treated the outpouring of grief and political activism around Wellstone's death to the way they treated Coretta Scott King's funeral. In both cases the left was lectured in how we are to understand the lives of our own members and we were ordered not to celebrate those lives, not to take up the banner of their causes, but to mourn quietly, secretly, almost shamefacedly. But funerals and memorials aren't about something quiet, private, shameful. Death and Politics are both important parts of life. Funerals and memorials are places where we gather to be together and to pursue communal goals. We mourn, but we celebrate. We gather together to remember, and to plan to leap forward.

In America, as around the world there is a natural logic to the political and social use of the funeral. The end of one life is not the end of that person's struggle. Sometimes its the key inflection point, the moment that the solitary struggle becomes public, or the moment that the lone voice, though stilled, is taken up. This is as true for the famous (see e.g. MLK, Malcolm X, JFK, BK, Ninoy Aquino, etc..etc...etc...) as it can be for the lowly member of the crowd--(Neda Soltan).

As inevitable as the use of the funeral, or the memorial, by partisans is the attempt to repress the funeral or the memorial by the forces of reaction. Wherever funerals are an important social setting--a safe place for people to turn out, grieve, communicate, and organize there will be attempts from above or below to prevent any mobilization around the body, or the cause. In Iran, to give just one example, the state decides who is a "martyr" and whose death will be publicly solemnized, and it has for years interfered with families trying to publicize or socialize the deaths of their loved ones if those deaths looked like they would cause trouble for the government. The recent death of Neda was one such occasion. In the US, of course, we have struggled for years over who owns or appropriates public deaths like those of the 9/11 victims, the Katrina dead, and our soldiers.

Its not that Republicans don't use death, and death(s) to score political points or create policy. Jesus Christ, anyone? Not a Republican death per se, but certainly a recurring image in the pageant of right wing martyr funerals. Religious anti abortion rights activists routinely use the imagery of death and the fetus to compel policy changes they favor. Fred Phelps and his family routinely picket other people's funerals to make their political/religious points. And, of course, 9/11 was the greatest political funeral orgy in American History since Pearl Harbor. And the party that ran with the most necrophilic and abusive use of those deaths was, IIRC, tagged with an R. And they are still mourning their loss of the use rights to those deaths. A right which, apparently, goes with control of the Presidency.

I don't fault Republicans for having their own heroes, or for using funerals and memorials as places to gin up support for Republican policies. I don't even fault them for using the imagery of 9/11 and its victims over and over again to rally support for their wars and their depredations. There's nothing wrong with that. Waving the bloody shirt has a long history and its not always the wrong thing to do. I disagree with the policies but not with the notion that we use social occasions to promote social goals. I wish they were honest enough to acknowledge the fact that we all do the same thing: we celebrate that which we think is good, we fight for the continuance of policies that we want to see continued, and we use the lives and the deaths of our members to further those policies. Its human. Its Civil. Its Social. Its Public. These aren't dirty words and they don't dirty the memory of the deceased.

I can't speak for my late Senator on this matter. I can only say that if the day ever comes when my body and my death can serve the political goals I've pursued my whole life I would be heartily glad to hear it wherever I am in the great hereafter. Hell, they can chop my body up and serve it as soylent green if it gets us to national health care for all.

From a story in The Hill about a town hall meeting on health care featuring Democratic congressman Jim Moran Moran of Virginia and Howard Dean:

The Moran town hall was the last stop on a 10-city tour for Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist known for his extreme tactics.

Terry's colleagues put on a skit with a man in an Obama mask pretending to whip a bloodied woman, who kept saying, "Massa, don't hit me no more. I got the money to kill the babies."

It creeps me out that Terry's minstrel troupe went in this direction, and the creep-out isn't mitigated by the fact that they reversed the racial "massa"-slave relationship. It's still racism; it's just racism mixed with projection. These people have very ugly souls.

Well, Fox Nation does think the death of Senator Ted Kennedy is sort of an important story:

But I guess it would be poor news judgment to bump the infinitely more significant OBAMA DESECRATES 9/11!!!!!1!!! from the top of the Fox Nation charts....


AND: Does anyone understand what the hell Roger Simon is talking about at Pajamas Media?

Kennedy left the scene of a fatal accident for which he was at least partly responsible. Then he used his extraordinary power to get off, spending the rest of his career in pseudo-remorse, playing the most liberal of Senators. It was always an act to me, even when I agreed with him politically. This was not a life well lived.

It was an act? Hunh? In what way? He was really a Reaganite and a Randian? He was just pretending to make the Senate his life's work? I throw up my hands.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


World Net Daily tells us about this great moment in American democracy:

Democrats in Tarrant County, Texas, have launched a campaign to have a local church eliminated as a polling place because the pastor has posted a statement of his own choosing -- "Where's the Birth Certificate?" -- on the facility's marquee.

County officials have asked Pastor Gary Hopkins of Maplewood Baptist Church, which for a number of years has served the community as a polling place, to authenticate a photograph supplied to the local Democrats by an informer.

County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn told WND, "I'm not aware that this is a violation of any election law or anything like that." ...

From a quick scan of the Texas Election Code, I actually don't think it is a violation of the law to have a blatantly partisan sign up at a polling place at a time when an election isn't currently taking place; the closest item I can find is a provision that an polling place can't be located "at the residence of a person who is: (1) a candidate for an elective office, including an office of a political party; or (2) related within the third degree by consanguinity or the second degree by affinity, as determined under Chapter 573, Government Code, to a candidate described by Subdivision (1)."

But, um, it doesn't seem right, does it?

But in much of Limbaughstan this kind of thing isn't even regarded as partisan, is it? Heck, it's just plain ol' common sense. It's the rest of us -- the ones who think the president has demonstrated his natural-born citizenship more than satisfactorily -- who are the evil partisans. Right?

(And we'll ignore the larger question of why a country that allegedly has no state religion puts polling places in churches at all.)


UPDATE: More church-and-state fun:

The Family Research Council, a Christian organization, has issued an electronic "Town Hall Kit" (PDF) to help its followers, including pastors, set up their own meetings "to inform and activate the people in your pews and communities" against the health care overhaul proposals moving through Congress.

There is also a handy "sermon starter," which begins: "This morning I am going to take on a hot topic: The government takeover of health care." ...

As it turns out, a sermon like that probably wouldn't be a violation of a church's tax-exempt status, and the church sign above probably isn't, either:

Federal law prohibits charities, including churches, from engaging in political activity like endorsing candidates, but it does allow them to advocate on behalf of public issues.

And that's OK. I wouldn't have wanted the leaders of the civil rights movement to be banned from preaching for equality. (And President Obama has reportedly asked friendly clergy members to talk about health care in their sermons).

But in the case of the sign, do we want our polling places to be partisan on off-days? And as for the morality of the FRC's sermons, um, I seem to recall from my days as a Catholic that lying is a sin, or at least it used to be:

Many of the group's objections to the health insurance "scheme" being advanced by President Obama have to do with its objections to abortion.

"Americans would be compelled to pay for abortion on demand by financing insurance companies that pay for abortion services," it says. It also says Americans would be compelled to finance Planned Parenthood, "the leading provider of abortion in the nation" ..., a Web site that tries to fact-check such assertions, says that while "it appears likely" that most of the bills moving through Congress "would allow for the coverage of abortions, we don't see anything in the plans that would require taxpayers to foot the bill for that." It adds that the major House bill "went to great pains to include an amendment to ensure that federal money is not used for abortion coverage."

And any compulsory funding of Planned Parenthood would be news to Planned Parenthood. It does accept Title 10 funding, but that money is not allowed to pay for abortions...

"Death panels" also show up in the sample sermon (PDF), naturally:

This so-called "end-of-life" counseling, which some are referring to as "death panels," will be paid for by our tax dollars. This is morally unacceptable and must be resisted by all Christians.

Lying a sin? Silly me. Not in the Right-Wing Bible, which apparently isn't the same as the one I know. I guess I need to pick up a copy.

(Obama/clergy story via Americans United for Separation of Church and State.)

You've probably seen the latest birther story from David Weigel of the Washington Independent:

Public Policy Polling dips into Arkansas ... and finds that only 45 percent of Arkansans are confident of the president's citizenship....

As has been the case in other states, "birtherism" in Arkansas is largely a problem for white voters and conservative Republicans. Whites only believe that Obama was born in America by a seven-point margin, 41-34.... Fewer than one-quarter of Republicans are sure that Obama was born in America; 49 percent say he wasn't. The numbers are actually lower among "conservatives"....

I'd really be curious to see a poll of Southern whites/conservatives/Republicans on the birther issue involving politicians who aren't Barack Obama. Just as a control, I'd like to see what the numbers are for Democrats who are clearly American but perhaps not identified as children of the "real America" -- say, Chuck Schumer (born in Brooklyn) or Nancy Pelosi (born in Baltimore) or John Kerry (born, in case you didn't know, in an army hospital in Aurora, Colorado). Would Dixie-fried Repubs be sure those folks were born in the U.S.A.? Do they have the same suspicions about Brooklyn being part of America than some of them have about Hawaii? And I think Southern Democrats such as John Edwards and Bill Clinton would pass muster as Americans, but would Hillary Clinton (born in Chicago)? Or Harry Reid (born, of course, in Searchlight, Nevada)?

I'd just like to see these numbers stacked up against those of, say, "real Americans" such as George W. Bush (even though he was born in evil, ivy-infested New Haven, Connecticut) or Sarah Palin (identified with the late-arriving state of Alaska but actually born in Sandpoint, Idaho). And I wonder how the numbers would be for John McCain, who, of course, was born in the then-U.S. territory of the Panama Canal Zone. Let's stack up ten Democrats and ten Republicans. Would the Democrats all come out lower? Would Schumer come out lower than, say, Rudy Giuliani (also born in Brooklyn)? Given the great amusement with which some birthers refer to Obama as "Buckwheat," would there be a racial skew -- what would the numbers be for, say, Jesse Jackson (born in Greenville, South Carolina?

Let's poll this. Let's see how limited the yahoos' definition of America really is.

Two countries heading in opposite directions. Them:

China Racing Ahead of U.S. in the Drive to Go Solar

President Obama wants to make the United States "the world's leading exporter of renewable energy,” but in his seven months in office, it is China that has stepped on the gas in an effort to become the dominant player in green energy -- especially in solar power, and even in the United States.

Chinese companies have already played a leading role in pushing down the price of solar panels by almost half over the last year. Shi Zhengrong, the chief executive and founder of China’s biggest solar panel manufacturer, Suntech Power Holdings, said in an interview here that Suntech, to build market share, is selling solar panels on the American market for less than the cost of the materials, assembly and shipping.

Backed by lavish government support, the Chinese are preparing to build plants to assemble their products in the United States to bypass protectionist legislation....

Since March, Chinese governments at the national, provincial and even local level have been competing with one another to offer solar companies ever more generous subsidies, including free land, and cash for research and development. State-owned banks are flooding the industry with loans at considerably lower interest rates than available in Europe or the United States....


The nation's largest business lobby wants to put the science of global warming on trial.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect....

The goal of the chamber, which represents 3 million large and small businesses, is to fend off potential emissions regulations by undercutting the scientific consensus over climate change. If the EPA denies the request, as expected, the chamber plans to take the fight to federal court....

I'm not being dewy-eyed about this. China is still a totalitarian nation with low wages and dangerous work conditions. It's a huge polluter. And it's seeking to dump solar panels overseas to build market share.

But it's doing all these things in response to a real need for alternate energy sources. Our fat cats? They're actively courting a mass state of denial.

I can't quite imagine that they'll get this trial to happen under the EPA's aegis. But when it doesn't happen, I assume they'll go to Fox News and talk radio and anti-science loons in Congress and whine that the truth is being suppressed. They'll get something to happen. They're going to set the terms of the debate on climate legislation just the way lobbyist-led know-nothings have set the terms of the heath-care debate this summer. And even though scientific consensus is against them, they've got the money -- you'd be crazy to bet against them in this fight.

Because God forbid we should consider the possibility that dealing with climate change (and dependence on foreign oil) might be an opportunity for business. God forbid we should see it as a national challenge, in a JFK/space race way. God forbid we should acknowledge reality. Better to stay stupid (and leave fat cats to their happy little Reaganite status quo) as history passes us by.

(Chamber of Commerce story via Zandar Versus the Stupid.)

After the fall of Saddam and the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, George W. Bush told America in the 2004 State of the Union address that the Iraq War really had been necessary because of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." Those were sort of like actual weapons, right?

Well, now we have Dick Cheney's statement in response to the release of the torture report, and to me it's similarly weaselly:

The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda.

That's not the same as saying those techniques were how we got that intelligence.

This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al Qaeda members and associates since 2002.

Note: "a role." Not, say, "a key role." And again, note that Cheney's not saying torture was how we got the information we needed from these people.

The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush Administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States....

That would presumably include the non-torture activities as well as the torture activities.

He's underselling it. Even in his effort to set the terms of the debate, he's not declaring that torture worked. All he's declaring is that torture was part of how we interrogated the people who gave us some of the information that was part of what we used to fight terrorism.

Please, people, report this as what it is: a concession on Cheney's part that the newly released documents don't back him up.


UPDATE: And, of course, CNN reports it exactly the wrong way.

Monday, August 24, 2009


John Cole quotes Marc Ambinder...

Lieberman should be satisfied that Holder has decided to limit the investigation to twelve documented instances of abuse, and that the White House's first reaction here was to worry about morale at the CIA....

... after which John writes:

Is there another part of the government that we allow to just engage in wanton lawlessness, and then when the misdeeds are uncovered, the first priority in the investigation is the department's "morale?"

Well, there certainly has been in my lifetime, at least at the local level -- here in New York, until fairly recently, any attempt to investigate police brutality was deemed a betrayal of the people who are literally referred to as "New York's finest," even when some of the "finest" have been caught brutalizing suspects in a way that equals or even exceeds what was done to terror-war prisoners. (Remember Abner Louima?) People in other big cities who have sufficiently long memories know just what I'm talking about.

Regarding torture, I'm essentially hearing the same arguments I heard for years here on the subject of crime and cops -- that the "savages" will run rampant if the people we've charged with protecting us are held accountable for brutal misdeeds; that it's "us" versus "them," and we have to stand together with those who defend "us"; that "they" are innately violent and hell-bent on destroying what "we've" built, and prosecutions of those who use violence on behalf of "our" side help "them" destroy "our" society.

Here in New York it took years, a drop in crime, and a series of truly innocent victims (not just Louima but Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond) before whites in large numbers began to come to terms with the notion that we could afford to prosecute crime by cops, and that we needed to do so morally. I'm afraid we're still not there yet as a nation in our dealings with fighters and terror suspects from the Muslim world.


UPDATE, TUESDAY: I see that Glenn Greenwald has a post up entitled "What every American should be made to learn about the IG Torture Report." Glenn posts excerpts -- already familiar to a lot of us now -- under the headings "Threats of execution," "Threats to kill detainee and his children," "Pressure points on carotid artery," "Threats to rape detainee's female relatives in front of him," and so on and so on.

But this is my point. Every American could be made to learn -- forced to learn, as Glenn says elsewhere -- about all this and there's absolutely no reason to assume that it would move the needle one inch. There's absolutely no reason to think it would, as they say, shock the conscience. Our consciences, yes. But not everybody's, or even a majority's.

You have to stop thinking like a liberal once in a while. Everybody in America saw the damn Rodney King tape. And those cops were acquitted.

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn struggles, manfully and wonkily, to figure out why Kent Conrad and other Blue Dog Democrats want a health-care bill like the one the Senate Finance Committee is cooking up:

...people making between three and four times the poverty line--that is, families with incomes between roughly $66,000 and $88,000 a year--would get no assistance whatsoever. Families making less than that would still get some assistance, but it'd be a lot less than they'd get otherwise.

The consumer protections would be weaker, too, particularly if there's no public plan... Under such a plan, the Center on Budget [and Policy Priorities] concluded, "families with modest incomes who buy the lowest-cost coverage could face significant challenges if they experience a serious illness or injury, because their plans could leave them subject to steep out-of-pocket costs."

Put aside, for a moment, whether this makes sense substantively. It makes absolutely no sense politically. Scaling down legislation basically means gutting the benefits that would go to the working and middle class. In other words, it would help fulfill the fear many of these voters already have and that opponents of reform have tried hard to stoke: That reform doesn't have much to offer the typical middle-income American.

You can imagine why Republicans might think this is a dandy idea. But why on earth would Democrats agree?

But it makes perfect sense politically. These people are Democrats, but they're selling themselves as people who agree with (an imagined) Joe Six-Pack constituency that Democrats are evil. They know (or think they know) that Joe Six-Pack hears about the evils of Democrats all the time from Rush and from the imitation Rushes, and they're happy to agree with him. (God forbid they should ever offer an alternate narrative of present-day politics.) They also know (or think they know) that enough Joe Six-Packs identify the Democratic Party with the New Deal and JFK and sticking up for the little guy, so they don't actually want to quit the party. They pretend to be proud Democrats. But anything those slickster/hippie/Hollywood/new York/D.C./Cambridge/Chicago Democrats dream up, they have to look down their Middle American noses at -- just because they're sure that's what Joe Sixpack wants.

What this means, of course, is that everything sought by a Democratic president (who will be categorized as an evil slickster by definition, even if he was born in, say, Arkansas) has to be pushed way, way to the right. That way the Blue Dog can say, "The slickster thought he could put something over on me, but he thought wrong." (The Blue Dog also gets to tell Democratic and semi-Democratic constituents that, if a bill dies altogether, or emerges as actually harmful, either it was too liberal-slick or it was actually killed/ruined by Republicans -- whichever works better.)

Unfortunately, the slicksters aren't really very slick. They never start way to the left of what they really want. They never realize, in other words, that the Blue Dogs are going to drag everything X amount to the right, so they should start way, way to the left of where they want to wind up if they know what's good for them.

Blue Dog-ism makes perfect sense politically. It's the alleged liberal city slickers who don't understand politics.
Never mind -- I wrote this in a dull-witted moment.


Sunday, August 23, 2009


I'm back, and I almost feel sheepish about posting on my own blog -- thanks, Aimai, for stirring up a firestorm. And thanks, Kevin and Phil and Bulworth. What I have to say is much more boring.

But still, I have to react to this, from a Week in Review article in The New York Times in which Peter Baker argues that Afghanistan could be Barack Obama's Vietnam:

George W. Bush ... learned first-hand how political capital can slip away when an overseas war loses popular backing. With Iraq in flames, Mr. Bush found little support for his second-term domestic agenda of overhauling Social Security and liberalizing immigration laws.

Is Baker nuts? Regarding immigration reform, George W. Bush couldn't have passed it on September 12, 2001. There was never a time when he was popular enough to get that through, for the simple reason that his base hates illegal immigrants and would never have let him get away with anything that might seem to help them.

And Social Security "reform"? Bush announced reform plans in a State of the Union address on February 2, 2005, months after he won an election; his Gallup poll approval/disapproval numbers a few days later were 57%/40%. By the end of the month his overall job approval/disapproval was 52%/45% -- but his numbers on Social Security were 35%/56%. The war didn't doom Bush on Social Security -- Bush's Social Security plan doomed him.

And I don't agree with Baker's larger point -- that Afghanistan could doom Obama's presidency the way Vietnam doomed LBJ's -- for a simple reason: He's making a serious commitment to war, and a core element of Republican rhetoric is that the evildoers (commies in the past, Islamists now) are always at the gates, which, in this case, is also his message. Nothing's going to be his Vietnam unless they're defining the terms of the attack, and they simply can't attack him for being overly committed to a war -- it would be the opposite of everything they've said about Democrats for forty years. They could attack him for being inadequately committed to killing evildoers, but not the opposite -- it would ring totally false coming from them. Democrats are sandal-wearing, "Kumbaya"-singing hippie wusses -- full stop. It's the only message Republicans have on the subject -- so he gets a free pass, even if mires us hopelessly in this conflict. They're not going to go peacenik overnight.


UPDATE: Am I being too quick to dismiss the possibility that Afghanistan could be Obama's Vietnam? The mainstream press is certainly gearing up to write the story that way -- yesterday's Times reported that Afghan soldiers just aren't that into our war, while today's big Times story on Afghanistan is "U.S. Military Says Its Force in Afghanistan Is Insufficient." The latter story is eagerly linked by ("Obama's Viet Nam looms") and by Drudge -- but there still doesn't seem to be a glib message on the right framing the issue.

The Afghanistan headline from last week's Washington Post/ABC poll was, as AP reports, that "Just over 50 percent of respondents ... said the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting" -- but if you look at the numbers, it was a huge muddle: yes, 51% said the war was not worth fighting," but 60% of respondents approve of Obama's approach to Afghanistan (barely down from 63% in April and much better than his numbers on any domestic issue), and 51% of respondents say the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan should either stay the same or be increased.

So he's got a reserve of public support. And the right, after decades of Antichrist-spotting and saber-rattling, can't oppose the war in principle (although I suppose it can send a muddy, self-contradicting message, gleefully pointing out whatever liberal, moderate, and media discontent there is regarding escalation while simultaneously declaring Obama "weak").

But I think what saves him on this, for better or worse, is that the real anger on the war will come from our side, and as we've learned this summer on health care, nobody gives a crap what we think.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No, Wait, I Know This One--the Answer to "Who Does Joe Klein Think is the Crazy Left?"
Glenn Greenwald, for fifty points.

This is the summer of Joe Klein, resurgent. He's been washed in the blood of the lamb and, like Andrew "fifth column" Sullivan wishes to be welcomed back into the liberal punditin' fold. Every time he says something mildly rational about the irrationality of our current Republican opposition--"nihilists" was good--he gets an approving link from someone in the bloggosphere. Just yesterday Athenae, however, noted Joe up to his old tricks of false equivalency and asked herself "what the f? Is Joe really going to keep running this tired shtick until the Republicans are back in charge and he can get on Hugh Hewitt's show again?"

Athenae quotes Joe's latest:
There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees’ unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances.

And then she writes this:

Now, Joke is using these statements to set up a "but some of them are all right, and most of them are better than these other scumbags, so" kind of thing, but it's cheap nonetheless and I'm not willing to give him a pass just because he goes on to say that Republicans are failing in truly epic fashion right now.

Who are these America-hating Democrats, Joey? Can you give me some names? If there are "more than a few," it shouldn't be hard. Who are the Democrats who are so enslaved to the horrible idea of civil liberties (gasp, pearlclutch, faint) that they would make the Baby Jesus cry like that? Who's in the pocket of the teachers' unions (those terrible people) and who's a complete and total pacifist who thinks we should melt down every tank in existence to make swingsets for bin Laden's kids?

I want names put to these slurs because otherwise it's just the usual lame-ass "I'm praising Democrats, but not the pussies or anything, lest you think I am a pussy by extension" trick he and his always play in order to appear "independent." As if it's independent to say one nasty thing and one nice thing. As if that makes any kind of sense.

Essentially, Athenae wants to know the answer to the age old question "Joe Klein--weak, petty, and venial or weaker, pettier, and venali-er?"

Well, oddly enough, I have a tale to tell on this score. It turns out that Athenae and I must be twins, separated at birth, because I had *exactly* this conversation with Joe Klein and asked him to name names just last week.

Last week I went to a cookout on the beach here with some old friends (Sausages and seafood, but no cocktail weenies!) Every year they do a cookout, and then a birthday party, and for years I've known that one of their guests was Joe Klein. I never mixed it up with him because, after all, well...the opportunity never presented itself and while I'm pretty aggressive in print no one really goes up to someone and picks a quarrel with them, do they?

Or maybe they do. Yes, I guess they do. I was standing at the cookout minding my own business when Klein started pontificating for the rubes on how “surprising” and “shocking” it was that Grassley, of all people, should have come out and endorsed the “death panels” lie. I walked up and said “why are you surprised?” [edited to remove typo] to which he, in best pundit debater fashion (never allow yourself to admit you were just posing!), shot back “who says I'm surprised?” I said “well, you did. You just started your lecture saying “Its surprising.”” Its not surprising, the republicans have nothing left to lose and nothing left to gain at this point outside of pleasing the crazy base and attacking Obama and the dems.”

We were off and running. He then said that its true the fringe republicans were “crazy” but perhaps no crazier than the “crazy left” under Bush. I thought he meant the “truthers” so I said “name me one person in congress or the Senate who was as crazy on any topic as these Republican senators and Congressmen who sign on to the birther and deather stuff are now?” Evading this question he said “well, Glenn Greenwald is crazy—he's a civil liberties absolutist.” Now, me, I come from a long line of civil liberties absolutists so I said “I admire Glenn Greenwald's work immensley but it must be very embarrassing for you, of course, because he's been eating your lunch for years.” (!) I think this must be something of a sore point for him. He began shrieking “Glenn Greenwald is EVIL! EVILl! you know what he did? He “sicced” his blog readers on my EDITOR and she was going through a DIVORCE at the time.” Really? I said, politely, that was very wrong, if it happened.
“We kept it very quiet” he said, backing off the claim of any real harm and, as a twofer, managing to imply that only those "in the know" had been kept informed.

People around us were clamoring to know what the debate was about so I laid it out, chapter and verse: I explained the Klein was upset because he had been caught out shilling for the Republicans on National Security Matters and on the FISA court legislation in particular and that he was still upset because he'd been held up for ridicule for his absurd statement that there was no problem with the secret Bush programs although he didn't know anything about them. And that this extended to the actual retroactive FISA legislation, which he also said was fine but didn't know anything about. This seemed to inflame things somewhat. Can't see why. He began shrieking at me that he hadn't been wrong, he'd been misled by a “democratic staffer” but really, I just began laughing at that point because “I didn't read the legislation” like “the dog ate my homework” is rather a lame explanation for a grown man, let alone a self described journalist.

I re-iterated that I was a big admirer of Glenn's work and that he had just received the I.F. Stone award for his excellence. That really got Klein's goat and he started screaming that he had been one of Izzy's readers for years and that Glenn was no Izzy, that he was crazily anti-national security which Izzy wouldn't have been, and at any rate I shouldn't talk about things I don't understand and I should realize that Klein has been on the right side of every argument since the Vietnam war. Yes! I should read his stuff on the Vietnam war!”

I said that I was, in fact, one of his readers—that I read his column and his blog and that it was precisely because I did know his history, in detail, that I accepted Glenn's critique of him, which of course has always been extensively documented and linked. And then, in what might be the piece de resistance of this little interaction, he screamed “you don't read me! You read WIKIPEDIA! AND THAT'S LEFTIST.” He then added that he had always been anti war and that I should “read his [Klein's] stuff from 1993." Hmm....1993, were we at war with Iraq then? I rather thought that was a different time, and even a different president. I take it that the rationale behind that bizarre interjection is that, as far as Klein is concerned, most of this is really old history at this point and what he really wants to be talking about is health care reform.

After this the e discussion, such as it was, devolved into the usual journalistic posturing and ranting against “those bloggers” who “don't do research” and who “don't have editors.” (There were many other well respected journalists at this dinner but they don't deserve to be dragged in here) to which I responded “jeezus christ on toast points you can say that to me after it came out today that John Solomon, then of the Washington Post, was writing fawning letters to the White House explaining to them how he could spin the US attorney scandal anyway they wanted? And hellooooo? Judy Miller?” Klein actually backed down on this topic and we agreed that McClatchey had done very good reporting but the main thing I took away from the discussion is that for journalists like Klein the world is divided into practitioners/insiders and totally ignorant outsiders. He was surprised that I brought up the Solomon story, or that I took seriously the Judy Miller issue, because in his world that's really inside baseball. In fact when I pointed out how abysmal the Washington Post's editorial page had been, under Fred Hiatt's tenure, he and another Journalist standing nearby assured me that Fred is an “editorialist” so the ordinary rules don't apply and I don't need to tar the whole paper with his sins. Its as thought they imagine that each story is a stand alone piece and that there's a hard and fast line between opinion and “fact” when every day, and every way, we've seen any pretense to that distinction run right into the ground. Has any adult person thought that since Media Whores Online (of sainted memory?).

[Edited to remove two embarrassingly inaccurate French terms which I will replace with an apparently better chosen Yiddish word that makes me feel more like S.J. Perleman.] There's a term "Trepvorder" or things you wish you'd said after a conversation is over. Klein actually used a different strategy, more akin to anger sex--he stalked off to find someone at the party who would let him market himself as a great liberal spokesman with lots of friends in the bloggosphere that he'd just spent a good ten minutes attacking. (You have to understand it was a really small barbecue, maybe thirty people in all, so he stalked just two feet away from me and my supporters in order to find someone who isn't an American citizen and who doesn't read his blog. )

So what was his strategy to recoup the manhood he felt he'd lost in our argument? He told them that just that day he had received an obscene email from a right winger on the death panels issue. In retaliation for this he had “posted the entire email, with the guys name and email address” on his blog at Swampland so that his loyal readers could attack and destroy this poor, moronic, foul mouthed schnook. “So you see,” he said happily (and this is pretty much what he posted on his blog) “Attack this man for me! I'm really a liberal, if the right wingers hate me. And I do too have friends. I think.” Best moment of all was when our English friend rolled over on the sand and said, blandly and gently “oh, are you a liberal?”

This is a real life story, so it doesn't exactly have a point, or a moral, or even a conclusion except to say that the most striking thing of all about Klein's attitude towards me and presumably to his other readers was his assumption that although he's famous, and important, and people read his work that we read it as though it were a continually scrolling chyron at the bottom of a busy news screen and that we have no memory of what he has said, or done, or stood for. He was talking to a reader who actually reads him but he thought he could get away with bluffing me on a history which I actually share with him. He thought he could tell me that his argument with Glenn was something other than it was and that I couldn't go back, for myself, and review the evidence. Klein's Klein-line is that the parts of his past where he shilled for the Iraq war, where he covered for the excesses and abuses of the Bush Administration, where he played Hugh Hewitt's favorite “I ustabee a liberal but these dudes are crazee” guest can be forgotten because today he wrote something supportive about Obama's health care plan.

But as Athenae points out he is still hedging his bets. As long as there is money to be made or friendships to be maintained on the right side of the aisle he will continue to write these “on the one hand/on the other hand” pieces so in six or seven years he can point to whichever part is more convenient to him. And woe betide the reader who takes what he writes seriously--we're just crazy, leftist, wikipedia reading hysterics.