Saturday, January 31, 2009


Exciting news from Don Surber:

New York Post columnist's books uses the best weapon out there to attack liberal celebrities -- their own words.

Andrea Peyser takes on 49 stars -- and the New York Times and the town of Brattleboro, Vermont -- on and knocks them out, one by one in her first book, "Celebutards." From Sean Penn to Rosie O'Donnell to Hanoi Jane Fonda, she takes them all on.

It just shipped yesterday and it was a fun night's read....

Peyser included a few politicians -- Hillary Clinton and Mayor Mike Bloomberg (who has turned New York into detention study hall) -- but the best rips are on Hollywoodheads....

My favorite chapter is Barbra Streisand...

Wow, a right-wing attack on the likes of Rosie O'Donnell, Barbra Streisand, and Sean Penn. What a blazingly original book idea.

No, seriously -- I bet this is a great book. After all, it was a great book when Bernard Goldberg wrote it and called it 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken is #37). And it was an even greater book when Laura Ingraham wrote it and called it Shut up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America. And it was an even greater book when Michael Savage wrote it and called it The Political Zoo ("Serving as resident biologist and zookeeper, Dr. Savage asks that you watch your step when approaching the widemouth copperhead Ted Turner [also known as Mouthus desouthus], do not feed the ego of stuffed turkey Alec Baldwin [Notalentus anti-americanus], and please keep your children with you at all times around wolf boy Bill Clinton [Fondlem undgropeum]").

Bloody hell, do these people have any new thoughts? Do they think this stuff is funny? Still? "Hanoi Jane"? Still?

Enjoy your little mental gated community, righties. But maybe you should consider buying new calendars once in a while. They don't really last a lifetime.

Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos on ABC last night, talking about the stimulus package (video link):

... GIBSON: Are the Democrats nervous about this? Is the Obama administration nervous about it -- that the Republican argument might be beginning to take hold, that it's a bad bill?

STEPHANOPOULOS: A little bit. They say that President Obama is still popular and trusted by the American people and the idea of addressing the real economic pain out there is still popular with the American people, but they concede that this bill has been getting defined by its least popular elements. That's why they're pushing for at least three big changes, Charlie, over the next couple of weeks: number one, remove some of the most unpopular spending programs, even if they're valuable, like the National Endowment for the Arts; number two, maybe add some business tax cuts that Republicans have been calling for; and number three, add some agricultural spending or other aid to small rural states who say they've been shortchanged in this process. They think that could broaden the base of support, get some Republicans.

It's getting defined in the media as a bad bill, for the obvious reason that two thirds of the pols talking about it on cable news are Republicans. That doesn't mean the public is necessarily buying the GOP line.

But this is why Republicans never truly feel defeated: because they can always count on the media to bend over backwards to present their side of the story as not eminently reasonable but, in all likelihood more eminently reasonable than the Democratic side.

And, of course, this is compounded by idiot Democrats going to people like Stephanopoulos and fretfully telling him they think they're playing a weak hand and will need to give in even more. First-rate job, guys.

I said it before and I'll say it again: It's time for an Obama fireside chat. He should explain what's needed and why the allegedly controversial provisions are, in fact stimulative, in plain language -- no poetry needed, just informative, easy-to-understand prose. It's not only time for something like this, it's past time.

So Rudy Giuliani thinks it's wrong to complain about big bonuses paid to incompetent Wall Streeters because those bonuses create tax revenue for New York? Rudy, here's the problem: If a firm paying a bonus got money from TARP, that money is tax revenue. It came from the U.S. taxpayer. You think it should go to New York? Well, fine -- aid to struggling states and cities is good. But why does it first have to pass through the hands of the same greedy screw-ups who got us into this mess?

Oh, right:

"... it's because that money gets spent. That money goes directly into the economy...."

Fine -- so give it directly to the have-nots, not the haves. Oh, sure, maybe they won't spend it the same way -- they'll spend more money on children clothing at Queens discount stores and less money at titty bars in Manhattan. But they'll spend it. Or give it as direct aid to New York City (or aid for job-producing city infrastructure projects) so the current mayor doesn't can avoid some of the 23,000 layoffs he's planning as well as

-Increasing the sales tax by one quarter of one percent from 8.375 percent to 8.625 percent
-Repealing the sales tax exemption on clothing purchases under $110

Find a way to put a bit more money in the pockets of the very people who'd really be hurt by those changes. Then let it trickle up for a change.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Kathleen Parker, in concern-troll mode, argues today that President Obama is running a risk by making Rush Limbaugh his debating partner:

...Excuse me, Mr. President, but you've been baited by none other than the Master Fisherman. Limbaugh tossed you a lure and you chomped.


Never start a land war with Asia. Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel (or who owns the patent on the microchip). Never let rabble-rousers get under your skin -- especially those whose popularity in some circles compares favorably with your own and whose earnings make bailed-out bank presidents envious.

While we're at it, tread very carefully around the implication that conservatives cling to their talk-show hosts out of anger and frustration.

That may be true, but the backfire Obama felt in West Virginia was a gentle zephyr compared to the blowback that can be bellowed by El Rushbo....

She might be right -- I'm not sure -- but I think for now I'm going to go with Ben Smith and Mark Blumenthal's theory that the White House is quite aware of how the public at large sees Limbaugh, and thinks this is a safe bet:

The risk is still that the mainstream press, accustomed as it is to treating outrageous Republican pronouncements as reasonable (and reasonable Democratic pronouncements as outrageous), will make Limbaugh look like a moderate, rational, sympathetic figure, a plucky underdog speaking truth to power.

On the other hand -- and this is what I'm betting on -- Limbaugh has never had to tone down his act, having mostly been treated by the mainstream media as if he doesn't exist. Therefore, he may not be shrewd enough to dial it down now that he's getting a lot more mainstream exposure. His Wall Street Journal op-ed may have delighted the wingnuts, but it was arrogant. And every time he's in front of a microphone complaining about someone, he runs the risk of saying something boorish about, say, feeling forced to "bend over, grab the ankles" -- a metaphor he's used three times in the past seven months in various contexts.

So, yeah, this will work for the White House -- I think.


The Chicago Tribune's Swamp blog says Limbaugh was "lampooning the buy-American brand of Kobe beef served up at the White House's attempts at a bipartisan happy hour" on the radio yesterday:

"Well, I would be willing to explain my plan to him. I am prepared to go up to the White House and have an adult beverage and some wagyu beef appetizers, which he served last night. That's American Kobe.

"I'm willing to go up there and share an adult beverage and some Wagyu beef to persuade him of the wisdom of my plan. I am prepared, ladies and gentlemen, to reach out to President Obama -- to explain the bipartisan Obama-Limbaugh plan to him, to help bring the nation together, under a true stimulus plan.''

Is he waging, um, class warfare on Obama? I know a number of righties are, led by Michelle Malkin:

Yeah, "wagyu steak." $100 per serving delicacy. I had to look it up, too.

Wagyu? Domestic kobe? Well, it's $30 a pound here and $14.99 a pound here -- not cheap, but not budget-busting if you're a prominent person and you have guests you want to impress. It may be snooty, but good ol' brush-clearin' W. served it at the White House himself once. Oh, and Kobe? Rush is an aficionado:

RADIO host Rush Limbaugh is far from conservative when it comes to his big appetite. The Post's Braden Keil reports that Limbaugh and a female companion lived large at Kobe Club last Thursday night, devouring bacon with truffles, Japanese strip steak, Kobe beef cheek ravioli, a large seafood platter, a combo of American, Australian and Japanese wagyu steaks and several "side" dishes....

In fact, Rush's regular patronage at the Kobe Club has been reported. Just sayin'.

The L.A. Times really doesn't understand how Republicans see the current struggle:

Republicans lack a party line on economy

...As Republicans fight President Obama's gargantuan economic plan, they have plenty of ideas. What they don't have is a party-wide consensus: They can't agree among themselves on the best alternative, or on whether government action is even needed to pull the economy from its nose dive.

... "There is not a coherent Republican message at this moment," conceded lobbyist Vin Weber, a former GOP House member.

... how does the GOP oppose Obama without seeming heedlessly partisan, or ignoring the voters' desire for quick action to ease the economic hurt?

It doesn't. The GOP does what it always does: It embraces heedless partisanship, which rallies the base, and it concentrates on painting Democrats as evil, which, if everything goes according to plan, rallies the right-center sooner or later. That's all Republicans have got, but often enough in the past thirty years it's been all they needed to get to 50% + one vote.

... [Republican strategist Rich] Galen and others suggested Republicans could not merely wait for Obama to fail of his own accord or, worse, offer nothing beyond reflexive criticism of the president and his proposals.

"When your message is you're better than the alternative, you have to have ideas," said Brian Darling, director of Senate relations for the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank that has long been an incubator of conservative policy.

Yes, but Republicans' message isn't that they're better than the alternative -- not exactly. Republicans' message is that the alternative is unspeakably evil and unless we drive them from power we're all gonna go broke and/or die horribly at the hands of evil supervillains!!!!

Republicans can't just kvetch and wait for failure? Sure they can. Look -- even the perfect stimulus plan would take a while to work, and we know that what we're actually going to get will be far from perfect. However soon the recovery arrives, Republicans are counting on a period of national disillusionment that will be long enough for them to say convincingly to that magic 50% + 1 of the electorate, "See? Democrats are the Antichrist, just like we always told you."


Oh, and here's some obnoxiousness from the LAT story:

Small-government stalwarts such as [Governors] Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mark Sanford of South Carolina -- who face their own budget headaches -- have nevertheless expressed opposition, saying Obama's plan would only throw good money after the funds wasted in the massive financial bailout bill. "I'm not sure a stimulus package is going to do much good after all the money the federal government has popped into the economy," Barbour told the Wall Street Journal.

Funny -- Barbour wasn't complaining a couple of years ago about federal money popped into his state's economy:

... Barbour's ability to steer a lopsided share of Katrina money to Mississippi has touched off a firestorm of outrage in Louisiana, which suffered considerably more destruction from the storm.

... More than 75 percent of the housing damage from the storm was in Louisiana, but Mississippi has received 70 percent of the funds through FEMA's Alternative Housing Pilot Program. Of the $388 million available, FEMA gave a Mississippi program offering upgraded trailers more than $275 million. Meanwhile, the agency awarded Louisiana's "Katrina Cottage" program, which features more permanent modular homes for storm victims, a mere $75 million.

It's not just housing. Mississippi is also slated to get 38 percent of federal hospital recovery funds, even though it lost just 79 beds compared to 2,600 lost in southern Louisiana, which will get 45 percent of the funds. Mississippi and Louisiana both received $95 million to offset losses in higher education, even though Louisiana was home to 75 percent of displaced students. The states also received $100 million each for K-12 students affected by the storms, despite the fact that 69 percent resided in Louisiana....

Your newfound interest in fiscal rectitude is duly noted, Governor.

If anyone were actually reading Tina Brown's Daily Beast, this article by Michael Lind defining the rejection of the Obama stimulus plan by the largely Southern GOP as neo-Confederate conspiracy might be generating a lot of talk. As it is, the only blogger I know of who's responded to Lind's piece is Don Surber, who obviously skimmed it -- no, Don, Lind isn't saying this is simply about racism. Some excepts:

... The vote about the stimulus package was not about economics. It was about nullification. It was the bipartisan Confederacy sending a message to the rest of America, stricken by the greatest crisis since the Depression. That message? DROP DEAD.

... The slogan of the segregationist Democrats -- "massive resistance" -- characterizes today's Southern conservative resistance to necessary federal economic action, just as it inspired yesterday’s Southern conservative resistance to equal rights for black Americans.

...Southern opposition to capable national government is nothing new. In the Confederate Constitution, provisions modeled on those of the US Constitution that empowered the federal government of the Confederate States of America were followed by clauses frantically limiting the very powers that had just been bestowed....

This is the only constitution in history, to my knowledge, which banned the government from promoting and fostering branches of national industry....

So according to Lind -- and this seems right to me -- what we saw in segregation was a template that Southern politicians (and white Southern voters) are still following, a template that once led to a resistance to integration but can also lead, as it does now, to a resistance to any number of things advocated by the non-Southern part of America. Like using government power to put ordinary people back to work.


I was thinking about Lind's article when I saw this post at Hot Air last night...

Video: Beloved president gets rousing ovation at basketball game

It's in Waco, granted, but after eight years of Bush Derangement Syndrome culminating in boos at The One's inauguration, any moment of appreciation is a sweet one....

...and this news story:

... Former President George W. Bush and wife Laura attended Wednesday's game. The two entered several minutes before the opening tip, flanking Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey, and received a prolonged standing ovation from the fans at the Ferrell Center....

Another round of applause followed during the initial TV timeout at 15:57 of the first half, when the 43rd president was introduced again....

Here's the video:

Are they cheering him? Or do they just wish they could nullify the most recent presidential election, as well as the last 150 years of American history?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Nate Silver, looking at the GOP's unanimous rejection of the Obama stimulus package and near-total rejection of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the bill to delay the changeover to digital TV, finds himself a lot more baffled than he should be:

... [John] Boenher and Eric Cantor have obviously done an impressive job of rallying their troops -- and Cantor, in particular, seems proud of his efforts. But what grander purpose does this strategy serve?

... the Republicans, arguably, are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself....

I've said some of this before, but I'll risk repeating myself: I think the Republicans see two paths, which may not be mutually exclusive.

One is remaining a smaller, regional, angry, ideologically pure minority and just not giving a damn whether moderates and fence-sitters like what they're saying or are drawn to it. (As I said a few days ago, this seems to be similar to the strategy of the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict.) For the GOP, can't being the angry backseat drivers of American politics be a pretty good life? If you represent 28% of the population and still get two thirds of the TV airtime on critical issues, why not? If zealotry means fewer potential donors but more enthusiasm for giving on their part, why not? If you never have to be accountable for how your ideas actually work out in the real world, why not?

Plus, it's enjoyable to be juvenile delinquents, as Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity agreed on Fox News last night:

...COULTER: ... I just heard this that all the Republicans voted against the stimulus bill, and 11 Democrats. That's fantastic.

HANNITY: That is fantastic.

COULTER: And this will probably go through, and God bless the Republicans, isn't it fun being an angry insurgent?

HANNITY: But you know what we're dealing -- but as.

COULTER: So much better than being in the majority.

HANNITY: Do you like that? You like being conservatives in exile? The conservative underground.

COULTER: We can be principled now....

The other path Republicans see, I think, is a sort of "underpants gnome" theory of party renewal. The underpants gnomes were characters on a South Park episode who had

a three-step business plan, consisting of:

1. Collect underpants

2. ???

3. Profit!

Where none of the gnomes actually knows what the second step is, and all of them assume someone else within the organization does.

The three steps in this case are: (1) oppose everything Obama wants, (2) ???, (3) regain control of Washington!

They're confident they can find step 2 because they went from Nixon's resignation to Reagan's election in six years, and from an all-Democratic federal government under Bill Clinton to a takeover of Congress in two years. And they did it led by obnoxious liberal-bashing zealots (Reagan and Gingrich).

So no, Nate -- they're not going to change. They're just going to keep doing this. I think they see path #1 as just fine for now -- and really believe path #2 is inevitable.

The real affront to decent people everywhere in this New York Times article isn't the lede:

By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street -- except, that is, when the bonuses arrived.

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller....

It's that, while Wall Street bonuses fell 44% last year (why not 100%? why not givebacks, fer crissake?), elsewhere in Execustan they actually rose:

Outside the financial industry, many corporate executives received fatter bonuses in 2008, even as the economy lost 2.6 million jobs. According to data from Equilar, a compensation research firm, the average performance-based bonuses for top executives, other than the chief executive, at 132 companies with revenues of more than $1 billion increased by 14 percent, to $265,594, in the 2008 fiscal year.

Are you a recently laid-off non-CEO? Or are you a survivor of a round of layoffs who's now doing more work for no more pay because of a companywide wage freeze? Well, suck on that, peasant!

Oh, and the Wall Streeters want to know why they're looking at a compensation down arrow at all:

On Wall Street, where money is the ultimate measure, some employees apparently feel slighted by their diminished bonuses. A poll of 900 financial industry employees released on Wednesday by, a job search Web site, found that while nearly eight out of 10 got bonuses, 46 percent thought they deserved more.

Yes, I know: elsewhere in the Times there's this article about a decline in sales of corporate jets. But even in that story there's a catch:

... Mr. Nisbet of JSA Research said that the makers of smaller corporate jets were hurting more than companies selling bigger jets.

Indeed, General Dynamics, the parent company of Gulfstream, reported higher fourth-quarter profits Wednesday at Gulfstream as a result of strong 2008 sales.

The plane maker's fourth-quarter profits rose 25 percent, to $264 million. It expects to deliver 124 planes in 2009, down from 156. But this drop will be offset by the fact that more of them will be bigger, high-end models. The company has a backlog of 246 orders for the next two and a half years.

These bigger jets, Mr. Nisbet said, "are often bought by billionaires who can dole out $55 million for a plane and fly it off."

How should the rest of us respond? Confiscatory taxation? 100% clawbacks of bonuses paid to executives of banks that got TARP money? Consumer and large-pension-fund boycotts of companies that lavish cash on executives as millions of non-execs lose jobs?

All of the above, I'd say. And while we're at it, it probably wouldn't hurt to gather together a few torch-wielding mobs.


UPDATE: Wow, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post really knows how to lie with statistics. Here's a Post headline:


Here's part of the text that follows (emphasis mine):

...Bonuses paid by financial firms to their New York City employees tumbled a record 44 percent in the last year....

The drop reflects the largest decline in the local bonus pool in more than 30 years....

If bonuses had their largest decline in thirty years, that doesn't mean they're the lowest in thirty years. Far from it. As the Times story on bonuses notes:

... employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.

While the payouts paled next to the riches of recent years, Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.

Slick work, Rupe.

When I read this, from Think Progress, I start thinking that President Obama already has to play catch-up:

... ThinkProgress has found that the five cable news networks -- CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and CNBC -- have hosted more Republican lawmakers to discuss the plan than Democrats by a 2 to 1 ratio this week....

In total, from 6 AM on Monday to 4 PM on Wednesday, the networks have hosted Republican lawmakers 51 times and Democratic lawmakers only 24 times....

That means that the overwhelming majority of TV characterizations of this plan portray it as pure pork and socialism and non-stimulative and boodle for Democratic -- whoops, Democrat -- interest groups. And, of course, sure to be utterly ineffective, unlike all the GOP's wonderful magic bullets, which would turn the economy around in no time.

This is why I think the president should deliver a TV address as soon as possible. Sure, his inaugural speech was a mere nine days ago -- but FDR gave his first fireside chat just eight days after his inauguration.

Republicans are beginning to have a monopoly on the ways we talk about the provisions of this plan. Obama needs to end their control of the debate -- now.


UPDATE: And no, these efforts, however useful, aren't going to be sufficient:

... Pushing back against the unanimous House Republican vote against President Obama's stimulus plan, the White House plans to release state-by-state job figures "so we can put a number on what folks voted for an against," an administration aide said.

"It's clear the Republicans who voted against the stimulus represent constituents who will be stunned to learn their member of Congress voted against [saving or] creating 4 million jobs," the aide said....

And later today, MoveOn, Americans United for Change, AFSCME and SEIU will be announcing a new ad campaign targeting moderate Republican senators who might support the stimulus....

The ad, which will run in the Washington market and in those states, consists of clips of the president talking about the stimulus, followed by the male voiceover, "Tell Congress to support the Obama plan for jobs, not the failed policies of the past." ....

It's not enough for the White House (or liberal interest groups) to say, "We have a plan, they voted no, therefore they're against helping people." Republicans say their plans are better, and they've been given ample opportunity to put forth their (specious) arguments. The White House has to rebut those arguments. Obama shouldn't assume a limitless honeymoon with the voters.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Tonight I saw an unmedicated schizophrenic taping a Xeroxed manifesto to a lamppost in my neighborhood. The manifesto referred to Barack Obama as "Wall Street's Marxist presidential pawn." It read in part:

...But how could Obama, a controversial figure with a revolutionary Marxist background, communist connections, and socialist worldview, emerge as the favorite of Wall Street interests? The short answer is that he is the perfect front man.

As noted, the American people have been conditioned to believe that the Republican Party is the party of the rich. The Democrats are supposed to be representatives of the working man. Obama has to have figured that he can serve Wall Street and socialism at the same time.

The ploy has worked before. Meticulous researcher Antony Sutton's 1974 book,
Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution, documented a link between certain banking interests and the Bolshevik cause. In Obama's case, it is the China connection that is most relevant. Goldman Sachs, his major Wall Street backer, has had an exclusive financial relationship with the Communist government of China which has benefited both China and Goldman Sachs -- but not the United States.....

No, wait -- that was no manifesto from a schizophrenic! That was the latest column by Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media! (The column is also up at GOPUSA.)

Sorry -- I thought these were the insane rantings of an institutionalizable mental patient, but they're just near-mainstream Republican punditry. My apologies for not being able to tell the difference.

Maybe I'm reading way too much into this, but I'm struck by the way Representative Mike Pence answered a question about Rush Limbaugh's expressed desire to see Barack Obama fail. I'll explain below.

...[Limbaugh's] remarks have created a rather complicated and touchy political dynamic on the Hill, as the GOP tries to avoid a sour-puss, oppositionist label without offending its base. And on Wednesday, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana tried to walk that tricky line.

Asked whether he shares Rush's hope that Obama will fail, Pence, the no. 3 ranked House Republican and a leader of congressional conservatives, demurred.

"Let me just say, every American hopes that our president is a success," said Pence. "But I agree strongly with Rush Limbaugh that on those issues that President Obama has committed himself to more government or more spending or a departure from traditional values, that I hope Republicans and other leaders around the country will be steady advocates for the American people.

"Everyone hopes that America succeeds and our president succeeds," Pence added, "but Republicans are going to stand for conservative values..."

Notice what he doesn't say?

He doesn't say he hopes President Obama succeeds. When he talks about what he thinks are problems, he uses Obama's name. When he expresses hope for success, he says our president.

Is it possible that he's trying to make the crazy base think he's not actually referring to Obama?

I might not ask if I didn't know that when you Google "obama not my president," you get millions and millions of hits.

At the very least, I think he just can't bring himself to utter any sentence that contains the words "want," "Obama," and "succeed" -- or he thinks he'd better not utter any such sentence if he wants to stay in the base voters' good graces.

If I didn't know better, I would say that this (from The New York Observer's Steve Kornacki) was an excellent question:

Why Won't the Republicans Clean House?

As we have been reminded 11 times in the past few weeks, when a football team completes a disastrous regular season or two, the ownership's reaction is almost always the same: clean house and start fresh.

National Republican leaders should be thankful their party isn't an NFL franchise. Since 2006, they've presided over almost nothing but failure, but the cries for the scalps have been remarkably muted.

Consider the case of Robert "Mike" Duncan, who was installed as chairman of the Republican National Committee two Januarys ago, just after his party suffered a thorough drubbing in the 2006 midterm elections.

In the two years since, ... his party lost the White House, eight Senate seats, 21 House seats and a governorship in the 2008 election. If there's an equivalent to a 2-14 season in politics, this is surely it.

For some reason, Duncan decided to run for a second term as R.N.C. chairman -- and even more astonishingly, he may just get it.

The same resistance to change is evident in Congress.

... [John Boehner] faced only nominal opposition for his [House] leadership slot after both the '06 and '08 elections.

In the Senate, [Mitch] McConnell took charge two years ago, and has since seen his party's ranks thinned by eight members....

And this, from The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, would also seem reasonable:

The Political Case For The Stimulus, If You're A Vulernable Republican

... President Obama's approval rating is about 70%;

Congressional approval is still around 20%;

The public approves of the stimulus plan by a very large margin....

Obama is the most talented political figure of our generation -- Boehner and McConnell are, uh, less talented....

Republicans' ... economic prescription is more Bush economics.

... The public is clamoring for Washington to do something, anything. How'd you like to be a Republican member from Michigan or Indiana or Ohio?

The problem is, if I were a swing-state Republican -- at least in the House -- I'd probably like intransigence just fine.

If you're a GOP House member and you survived the last two election cycles with all that Bush failure hung around your neck, I'd say you're golden. And why not? Obviously, there's still a throwback remnant in this country, fed daily on Fox News and talk radio, that believes (a) that George W. Bush was a great defender of America and Christianity or (b) that George W. Bush failed only because he wasn't conservative enough. That third isn't evenly distributed; in some districts (and some states), it's an effective majority.

Those are the districts and states where the Republican officeholders are. At this point, those officeholders don't even seem to care that they're in the minority.

Beyond that, you need to recognize that the origin myth of the modern GOP goes like this: The party died in 1974; a mere six years later, Ronald Reagan emerged bodily from the funeral pyre.

Substitute Sarah Palin for Ronnie (and Obama, Republicans fervently hope, for Jimmy Carter -- yes, obviously they're hoping for failure) and you have the belief system that keeps party members from cooperating with Obama, keeps a dwindling voter core loyal, and keeps the party leadership from cleaning house.

If there are ashes, Republicans believe, surely a phoenix is inevitable.

I keep thinking I must be misreading many of the critiques of the stimulus plan -- the critics can't possibly be making the easily refutable arguments they're making, can they? Surely there's a catch, or a nuance I'm missing.

Here was the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday (hat tip Tom Hilton):

Economic stimulus or just more pork?

Is $200 million to rehabilitate the National Mall a crucial way to stimulate the U.S. economy? How about $276 million to fix the computer systems at the State Department? And what about $650 million to repair dilapidated Forest Service facilities? ...

I expected the haters and skeptics to complain about outlays that are only indirectly stimulative -- but on what planet is rehabilitating federal facilities or upgrading computer systems not directly stimulative? Are these tasks somehow not going to be performed by human beings, doing what I believe are technically referred to as "jobs"? Have "landscaper" and "IT guy" ceased to be employment categories while I was asleep?

The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal has a similar list today:

... The 647-page, $825 billion House legislation is being sold as an economic "stimulus" ...

We've looked it over, and even we can't quite believe it. There's $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn't turned a profit in 40 years; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; $50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts....

... Here's another lu-lu: Congress wants to spend $600 million more for the federal government to buy new cars. Uncle Sam already spends $3 billion a year on its fleet of 600,000 vehicles. Congress also wants to spend $7 billion for modernizing federal buildings and facilities. The Smithsonian is targeted to receive $150 million; we love the Smithsonian, too, but this is a job creator? ...

Amtrak? No jobs there, right? Mysterious supernatural beings actually run the trains. It's a Polar Express kind of thing -- right?

And cars -- gee, buying a whole bunch of new (and, we hope, more fuel-efficient) cars wouldn't put anyone to work, would it? Oh, maybe in some city where they actually make cars. But really, how much help do those folks need?

And child care -- nobody needs child care in order to continue holding a job, right? And child-care facilities don't actually employ people, do they?

And arts funding -- arts funding! People don't actually pay to go to plays or museums, do they? People don't actually buy paintings, right? I mean, can you imagine if FDR had tried something like this in the 1930s? Subsidizing people who paint and write? Isn't that just inconceivable? Why, it would have destroyed capitalism!

Of course, the Journal editorial goes on to complain about spending that expressly is for construction, gasping at the realization that "Some $6 billion of this will subsidize university building projects." Needless to say, no outlay will satisfy the Journal editorialists unless it falls into one of three categories: (1) tax cuts, (2) tax cuts, or (3) tax cuts.


UPDATE: Agreement problem in header now fixed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Here's Howard Fineman with a transcendently stupid explanation for why Republicans are going along with the Obama economic plan:

...I have been struck so far by the LACK of bipartisan goodwill on both sides. It's only a week into the Obama presidency and things quickly seem to be degenerating into the same old, same old spats and thrusts.

... There are a number of reasons. Obama essentially started governing the economy weeks ago, so his "honeymoon' was over -- at least among the political and chattering classes here in Washington -- before he was even inaugurated.

... Obama's plans are themselves part of the problem: they are not sufficiently radical to blow up the familiar, paralyzing partisan axis of argument about the role and size of government in our lives.

It's not so much a matter of the plan's size -- though some economists do think it's not big enough -- as it is the lack of imagination and shrewd strategy. In haste to spend, he and his aides in too many cases simply looked for programmatic spigots to turn on.

Lack of focus?

Rather than carefully watering each plant with care, Obama seems to be turning a fire hose on an entire desert. Even America doesn't have enough money for that.

The lack of focus allows critics on the right to pick off one or another line item, stoking outrage among the tax-cut, spending-cut crowd....

So "some economists do think" the plan is "not big enough," but "America doesn't have enough money for" the plan as it now stands. Oh, right -- that makes a lot of sense.

And Republicans really could be persuaded to go along -- but the plans "are not sufficiently radical"! Good grief, how could the Obama people not have figured that out? Everybody knows how easy it is to get Republicans to sign on to "radical" ideas from Democrats!

It's all that plus a lack of "imagination." Of course! Obama can't get the Republicans to buy in because it's all so dull. Instead of turning on the same old tired "programmatic spigots," he should have devised a plan centered on Overlords from another galaxy landing on Earth and using their more highly evolved intelligence to simply eradicate the recession overnight. Republicans would've accepted that in a heartbeat!

Me, I think Republicans aren't going along because they're a cult-like movement of extremist zealots who would rather see the country destroyed than compromise. But I'm just a schmuck blogger, so what do I know?

I really liked Jon Stewart's take last night on the notion that Guantanamo prisoners are so mind-bogglingly dangerous that we -- a country that imprisons large numbers of drug dealers, murderers, rapists, and (as Stewart says) even brain-eaters -- can't possibly manage to secure them:

Also see Atrios and Hilzoy, who've been mocking the notion that the Gitmo prisoners are "supervillains."

As I ponder this, I think I now understand why right-wingers consider The Dark Knight a conservative movie. Kyle Smith, writing for Pajamas Media, tried to explain this last summer, but I don't think he got the reason quite right:

There is no pretending necessary to fear the Joker (Heath Ledger, in a role that is already a screen landmark). It is said of the Joker that "Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

How to deal with such a figure? There is no easy answer, and here is where
The Dark Knight strikes me as a conservative movie.

That's almost it, but not quite. The key isn't that the Joker is a nihilist -- the key, as I noticed a couple of weeks ago when I finally watched the movie -- is that he can seemingly do anything he wants. Despite his schlumpy, depressive, beaten-down affect, he's just about omnipotent -- no evil plot seems physically, logistically, or financially impossible for him to pull off, instantly and effortlessly.

That, added to the nihilism, makes him the villain of right-wingers' dreams.

See, if your goal is pure evil and you can do anything you decide to do, then we, the good guys, get the delicious option of throwing out the rulebook. Since you would do anything and you can do anything, we're allowed to do anything we want right back -- no torture, no act of brutalization, is off limits.

That's the right-wing fantasy. Oh, and it's compounded by the sheer pleasure of telling liberals that their pathetic due process just isn't going to cut it.

In fact, The Dark Knight doesn't really champion that level of heroic sadism. But I think right-wingers play a different Dark Knight in their heads, one in which every jihadist is as uncontainable as the Joker, so no holds are barred.

Yes, President Obama gave an interview to Al-Arabiya. Quinn Hillyer of The American Spectator writes:

This... Blows....My...Mind

... If I'm an Israeli, I would run, not walk, early and often, to vote for Binyamn Netanyahu for president there, because there ain't no way that Obama is gonna support Israel when push comes to shove....

I just want to point out that George W. Bush gave interviews to Al-Arabiya in May 2004, January 2005, October 2005, October 2007, January 2008, and May 2008 -- six interviews, which, as far as I can tell, is six more than Bush gave as president to MSNBC.

Bush was also interviewed on Al-Hurra in May 2004 (the media blitz at that moment was Abu Ghraib damage control) and January 2008. And, of course, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld were interviewed on (gasp!) Al-Jazeera in October 2001.


UPDATE: I was wondering about Bush's "first formal interview" as president, and I found this, from Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post on 2/16/01:

...on Feb. 5, ... President Bush granted his first formal interview not to the New York Times or USA Today but to journalists from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Albuquerque Journal, Portland Oregonian, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Portland, Maine, Press Herald, Dallas Morning News and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Administration insiders note that all but the Texas paper are in states that Bush either narrowly won or lost in November, and could well need in 2004.

There you go: Obama's first formal interview was part of an effort to restore America's international standing and reduce tensions in critically important regions of the world. Bush's first formal interview was -- by his subordinates' own admission -- part of an effort to get reelected.

Monday, January 26, 2009


The latest administration subordinate to join the George W. Bush "We're Not Going to Stop Praising Ourselves Until You Admit We Were Right" Endless Legacy Tour is Alberto Gonzales; Gonzo just gave an interview to NPR's Michel Martin, which aired today.

During the interview (transcript here), Gonzales gave us his response to Attoney General-designate Eric Holder's unambiguous statement that waterboarding is torture (emphasis mine):

MS. MARTIN: ... Now the man designated as the Attorney General for the Obama administration in his testimony before congress, in his confirmation hearings, has explicitly said that he thinks that water boarding is torture.... When you heard that, what was your reaction?

MR. GONZALES: ... I don't know whether or not, in making that statement, Mr. Holder had access to all of the opinions, all of the underlying documentations supporting the opinions. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. The other thing I don't know is how much of the intelligence decisions Mr. Holder had with respect to the threat that existed at the time these opinions were offered, and the opinions of the intelligence officials about their belief in a particular detainee having very important, valuable intelligence information that might save American lives. And so, I don't know what Mr. Holder did or didn't know in making that statement....

Here's the thing: either waterboarding is torture or it isn't -- period. You can't say that it's torture if applied to a church deacon but not torture if applied to a mass murderer -- the act itself doesn't change. It doesn't stop being torture because the person being waterboarded is really, really bad.

You ask Gonzales about a blanket statement that waterboarding is torture and he says, well, Holder should have looked at the importance of the information we could get from certain detainees. But it doesn't matter. It's still torture, regardless of the circumstances -- or it isn't, regardless of the circumstances. (Needless to say, I think it is.)

Now, you can make an argument that it is necessary to torture under some extraordinary circumstances -- it's a troubling argument, but you can make it, but you have quite a task before you in defining the circumstances under which torture is necessary. But at least have the moral honesty to acknowledge that what you are advocating is the same act regardless of the circumstances. Gonzo is apparently so morally impaired that he doesn't even understand that.

Rod Blagojevich's remark on NBC that, after he was arrested, he "thought about Mandela, Dr. King and Gandhi" is either nuts or shameless -- I vote for the latter. What he said on ABC -- that he considered Oprah Winfrey for Barack Obama's Senate seat -- isn't nuts at all, at least by American standards.

It isn't just that we had a guy out in the heartland running a multi-year canpaign to get Oprah to run not for Senate, but for president of the United States -- it's that the guy got large amounts of attention from supposedly serious corners of the media. Before that, in 1999, we had the press taking seriously a possible presidential run by Donald Trump, who said he was considering Oprah as a running mate; more recently, we had Rasmussen in 2007 polling Oprah as a possible third-party candidate against then-Democratic and Republican front-runners Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani (Oprah got 10% of the vote).

This is a country that put Ronald Reagan in a governor's mansion and then the White House; it's a country where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura became governors, and where the same thing really might have happened to Howard Stern. And don't forget that Richard Nixon seriously consdidered Vince Lombardi as a running mate. (Lombardi, it turned out, was a Democrat.)

Blago's got a screw loose, but it's not this screw. Given the nature of U.S. politics, he was being perfectly rational.

This is an odd lede in The Washington Post today:

Obama Using His Personal Appeal to Put Change Into Motion

If George W. Bush saw himself as a CEO president, an efficient "decider" who relied on an administration of like-minded thinkers to get things done, President Obama is proving something else altogether. In his first week in office, Obama is giving clear signs that he is willing to trade on his own popularity, personal suasion and loose-limbed ease in the spotlight to help him lead the nation....

Is that really the difference between Bush and Obama -- that Bush was an aloof guy who governed from his office and didn't talk to anybody?

That's not how I remember it. It seems to me that Bush was just about as willing as Obama to interact with people -- he just found it intolerable if any of them disagreed with him. He occasionally tried to trade on whatever level of popularity he had, in his own fashion -- remember "I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it," from November 2004? That was followed by his speaking tour to garner support for Social Security privatization, a tour was that could be called Obama-esque -- except for the fact that he was selling a lousy, unpopular idea and did no outreach to critics, who were excluded from his handpicked audiences.

Within Washington, Bush did like to gather congressional leaders around conference tables, grinning like an idiot as shutters clicked, but he preferred to roll opponents rather than work with them (see: Iraq). That's not the mark of an aloof CEO -- it's the mark of a bully.

William Kristol, being willfully obtuse in today's New York Times:

... We don't really know how Barack Obama will govern. What we have so far, mainly, is an Inaugural Address.... Obama's speech was unabashedly pro-American and implicitly conservative.

... He spoke almost not at all about rights (he had one mention of "the rights of man," paired with "the rule of law" in the context of a discussion of the Constitution)....

Yeah, right -- that was just a dispassionate bit of constitutional exegesis. It couldn't have possibly been a specific allusion to a present-day real-world situation:

... As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers -- (applause) -- our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man -- a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake. (Applause.) ...

< Kristol > Torture? You think Obama was referring to torture?! Really? (Smacks forehead) Gosh, you may be right! That never even occurred to me! < / Kristol >


And yes, I should have noted that this is Kristol's last column for the Times. I agree with Ahab: "This'll have a painful multiplier effect around the blogs, believe you me."

Sunday, January 25, 2009


As I read about Republican objections to the Obama stimulus plan, not just from the people you'd expect to be zealots, such as John Boehner, but also from recent right-wing dinner companions of Obama like Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and David Brooks, as well as a guy a lot of people thought would be an Obama ally, John McCain, I'm reminded of a sentence I read in an article about Pope Benedict's decision to reinstate four far-right bishops, one of whom is a Holocaust denier:

A theologian who has grappled with the church's diminished status in a secular world, Benedict has sought to foster a more ardent, if smaller, church over one with looser faith.

That sentence accurately describes not just Pope Benedict but every prominent member of the Church of Reagan and Limbaugh, otherwise known as the national Republican Party: they all regard themselves as theologians; they all know their respective churches are less influential than they used to be ... and on every issue they inevitably come down on the side of whatever gets the looniest, most extreme church members pumped up, and moderates can go hang.

Benedict champions extremists who opposed Vatican II -- and if one of them is a crackpot ant-Semite, well, tough. Prominent Republicans champion champion tax cuts as the Alpha and Omega, tax cuts uber alles, and if the economy collapses ... well, tough. The thinking is the same.

Tom Hilton nailed it on Friday, when we first learned that a released Guantanamo prisoner had been identified as deputy leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen:

My first reaction on hearing about it was, 'who leaked this'? The timing struck me as a little too convenient, coming on the heels of Obama's executive order on Guantanamo. The answer is in the story:

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official. [emphasis added]

... the big story is that
al Qaeda is trying to sabotage efforts to close Guantanamo.

...Guantanamo has made us less safe, not more; if you don't believe me, just ask al Qaeda.

And, more specifically, the decision to close Guantanamo has made America seem less worthy of hate in the Arab and Muslim world, not more.

Today, The Washington Post reinforces Tom's point:

To Combat Obama, Al-Qaeda Hurls Insults

Soon after the November election, al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader took stock of America's new president-elect and dismissed him with an insulting epithet. "A house Negro," Ayman al-Zawahiri said.

That was just a warm-up. In the weeks since, the terrorist group has unleashed a stream of verbal tirades against Barack Obama, each more venomous than the last. Obama has been called a "hypocrite," a "killer" of innocents, an "enemy of Muslims." He was even blamed for the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which began and ended before he took office....

The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda's skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group....

Friday, a new al-Qaeda salvo attempted to embarrass Obama, a day after the new president announced his plans for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Appearing on the videotaped message were two men who enlisted in al-Qaeda after being freed from that detention center....

Yes, there are now two reported Gitmo detainees in the video. One of them also, according to a CNN story on Friday, "attended a media session" in which the commander of Al-Qaeda in Yeman was interviewed for the group's magazine, Sada al-Malahim (Echo of the Epics). Judging from this post at the monitoring site, it appears that the issue of the magazine in which that interview appeared was dated ... January 19, 2009.

By the way, that post begins:

Al-Qaida in Yemen (AQY) has released the seventh issue of its magazine Sada al-Malahim (SM), adding to the mounting evidence that the group is thriving. The slick 44-page publication contains no less than 30 articles by 23 different pen names. Many of the latter are no doubt invented, but the issue must be the work of a well-run media cell of a certain size. An undated picture on p. 16 showing 20 people training in the desert, as well as note on p. 12 inviting readers to submit questions to the journal's gmail address, suggest that AQY is not about to collapse any time soon....

That happened on George W. Bush's watch -- one more ball the Bush administration didn't keep its eye on, while it mired 150,000 troops in a country where the dictator we overthrew had never allowed Al-Qaeda to establish a foothold.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


GOP congressman Trent Franks, from that bizarre 40-minute tribute to Bush on the House floor:

President Bush often had to walk like a knowing lion -- like a knowing lion, Mr. Speaker, through the chattering of hyenas.

Er, in The Chronicles of Narnia, a favorite among righties, Aslan the Lion has to deal with hyenas. And, of course, Aslan represents Jesus.


First of all, while it may not be precisely worded, I think this is just a plain statement of fact:

President Obama warned Republicans on Capitol Hill today that they need to quit listening to radio king Rush Limbaugh if they want to get along with Democrats and the new administration.

"You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he told top GOP leaders, whom he had invited to the White House to discuss his nearly $1 trillion stimulus package.

One White House official confirmed the comment....

The comment had to be confirmed, which means we don't have a recording of the exact wording and therefore don't know how accurate this version is. But even as recounted, it's not a demand that Republicans "quit listening" to Limbaugh -- it's an assertion that nothing's going to get done in a bipartisan way if Republicans adopt Limbaugh's stand-athwart-history-yelling-stop posture of resistance. And, of course, the other recent Obama statement that has right-wingers' knickers in a twist is also a plain statement of fact: he did win. Democrats won. The public wants the page turned.

On the other hand, I'm uncomfortable with this, for a couple of reasons:

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen released the following statement in response to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh's outrageous remark saying that he 'hopes' President Obama fails.

"Rush Limbaugh's reprehensible remark that he 'hopes' President Obama fails to meet the extraordinary economic challenges Americas face has no place in the public discourse...."

I really, really don't like "has no place in the public discourse" -- it just gives Limbaugh and the Limbaughnistas, who are the biggest grievance junkies on the planet, the opportunity to declare that Barack Obama's Democrat Party believes the talk radio message needs to be censored out of existence. Why hand them this opportunity? Why use the phrase at all? This is America -- the First Amendment says every remark, however stupid or irresponsible, has a place in the public discourse, even if it's a place of shame or irrelevance. Really, please -- don't use this phrase. It's far too close to Ari Fleischer's remark in late September 2001 that Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

Beyond that, the back-to-back Limbaugh swipes give Rush a relevance he might otherwise be losing right now. In Nixonland, Rick Perlstein refers to Richard Nixon's ability in his pre-presidential career to use provocative public pronouncements aimed at the White House to make sitting presidents (Truman in the early fifties, LBJ in the mid-sixties) his "debating partners." Limbaugh, of course, wants Obama to be his debating partner -- but the country is moving on, and Limbaugh's message could have been catnip only to a large but increasingly irrelevant cult, but meaningless to the vast majority of Americans. Now, with the one-two punch of Obama and Van Hollen, Limbaugh may have become relevant again. That didn't have to happen.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Yesterday, Marc Thiessen published a Washington Post op-ed in which he counted up the consecutive days on which foreign terrorists had not killed Americans on U.S. soil during the Bush years (stopping just short of a particular rather unpleasant day when terrorists did in fact kill a number of Americans), and hinted darkly that President Obama might not be able to match his predecessor's stellar (one day excepted) record.

Today, for National Review, Thiessen kicks the rhetoric up a notch, asserting that "Obama is already proving to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office."

So who is this Thiessen?

In the Post, he's identified as someone "who served in senior positions at the White House and the Pentagon from 2001 to 2009, [and] was most recently chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush." At NR, we're told that "Marc Thiessen was chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush."

But prior to the Bush years, Thiessen had a different job, which might help explain the tone of his rhetoric: Foreign Relations Committee spokesman for Senator Jesse Helms from 1995 to 2001.

Those were fun times. Among other things, on behalf of Ol' Jess, Thiessen snapped at William Weld ("It's another example of William Weld speaking before he thinks") when Weld complained about Helms bottling up his nomination to be ambassador to Mexico; declared the International Criminal Court "the the most dangerous threat to sovereignty since the League of Nations"; and, bizarrely, defended Helms's call for a Justice Department investigation of the Baltimore Orioles because the team maintained a policy of not signing Cuban defectors ("Unfortunately, for [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos, being friends in this country with Fidel Castro doesn't put you above the law").

So if there's an unneutered-pitbull quality to Thiessen's rhetoric, well, he apprenticed with a master.

Sorry, the left is not at fault here, for a lot of reasons, not just the ones Atrios listed.

Freed by the U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief

The emergence of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen....

Right-wingers would respond to what Atrios says -- "[Obama] didn't let them go. Liberal bloggers didn't let them go. The ACLU didn't let them go" -- by saying that George W. Bush was under unreasonable pressure to let them go.

Boo hoo. This is, not, and during Bush's presidency was not, a dictatorship, much as he might have wished it to be.

Forget what lefties want, or what judges have demanded. If George W. Bush wanted these policies to stand, it was in his own self-interest to make sure the policies could stand up to legal scrutiny, as well as maintain the consent of the governed.

But this was perhaps George W. Bush #1 pathology as president: He simply didn't care whether anything he did actually worked -- by his definition or anyone else's. All that mattered to him, to paraphrase his own words in his 48,000 exit interviews, was that he made the tough decisions and never compromised his principles and so on and so on.

If he'd actually wanted dangerous jihadists removed from circulation, he would have made his detention policies as close to legally bulletproof as he could -- i.e., no torture, some form of due process, and a genuine effort to distinguish "the worst of the worst" from the falsely accused and the underlings.

But he didn't care. All he cared about was that the world knew he intended to be tough. Actually result just didn't matter. He wanted a fight with the courts and civil libertarians. That was more important to him than preserving the policies he said were vital to national security.

Bush's utter indifference to results (see also Iraq, the fight against Al Qaeda, Katrina, the economy) seems almost neurological -- I sometimes wonder if the writer who'd truly grasp his strangeness is not a political journalist or historian, but Oliver Sacks.

The left does not object, and the courts would not have objected, to a reasonable process for dealing with dangerous individuals. If Bush had actually wanted to deal with dangerous individual, rather than seeming to, a reasonable process is what he would have given us.


By the way, this 2007 Boston Globe article suggests that Bush administration release policy was based not so much on who seemed most suitable for release as on which countries were most willing to take detainees -- and what do you know, the Saudis, those great jihad-fighters, were especially eager. (Said Ali al-Shihri was released to Saudi Arabia.) Rehabilitation and monitoring of ex-Gitmo detainees by the Saudis, under the watchful eyes of Bush and Cheney -- what could possibly go wrong with that?


APOLOGIES: Link now added.

I don't know about you, but for quite a while I couldn't even read my own blog, or any other Blogger blog. It was a Blogger glitch; it seems to be fixed now.

Yes, this summary of the next New York senator's voting record is disheartening:

... [Kirsten] Gillibrand has described her own voting record as "one of the most conservative in the state." She opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, supports renewing the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning up to $1 million annually, and voted for the Bush-backed FISA bill that permits wiretapping of international calls. She was one of four Democratic freshmen in the country, and the only Democrat in the New York delegation, to vote for the Bush administration's bill to extend funding for the Iraq war shortly after she entered congress in 2007. While she now contends that she's always opposed the war and has voted for bills to end it, one upstate paper reported when she first ran for the seat: "She said she supports the war in Iraq." In addition to her vote to extend funding, she also missed a key vote to override a Bush veto of a Democratic bill with Iraq timetables....

There are some compensations -- EMILY's List recounted a few in 2007, emphasizing hot-button issues of the time: Gillibrand was pro-withdrawal on Iraq and favored greater funding of body armor for troops; she also co-sponsored the bill to increase the minimum wage. In addition, she's pro-choice and pro-alternative energy.

But she is a proud Blue Dog Democrat -- a deficit hawk. Before she was chosen, I would have liked to know: Does she still prioritize fiscal restraint at a moment when we need to do some very serious spending to stave off economic catastrophe?


I think Governor Paterson is fighting the last war. In the old days, yes, the votes of a winning Democrat in this state would be very much concentrated in New York City; as recently as a generation ago -- the heyday of Long Island's Al D'Amato -- it was difficult for a Democrat to win votes even in the adjoining suburbs, and a real struggle upstate.

But look at the 2008 New York map for Obama vs. McCain:

The commuter corridors north and east of the city are almost solidly Democratic, and as for upstate, look at all that blue! To pick just one issue, do you really need an NRA favorite to win votes upstate, just because a lot of people hunt there? No -- Obama made serious inroads upstate even though he was widely portrayed in the firearms community as a gun-grabber.

I even question the notion that you have to pick an upstater to fend off a Republican Senate challenge from, say, Rudy Giuliani or a re-Republicanized Mike Bloomberg. It seems to me it could actually be lose-lose for the Democrats: Rudy or Bloomie would run under the Republican banner in more Republican-leaning upstate areas -- but could also run as friendly, familiar, popular locals in the city ... and as pols who are actually to Gillibrand's left on certain issues (gun control, gay marriage) Even the most likely GOP candidate, Peter King, is to Gillibrand's left on guns.

Governor Paterson is a second-generation Democratic pol. He's protecting the party from an enemy that used to be a lot stronger than it is.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Marc A. Thiessen, former chief speechwriter in the Bush White House, writes yet another loyalist's defense of George W. Bush in today's Washington Post. His op-ed begins:

2,688 Days

When President Bush left office on Tuesday, America marked 2,688 days without a terrorist attack on its soil. There are 1,459 days until the next inauguration. Whether Barack Obama is standing on the Capitol steps to be sworn in a second time depends on whether he succeeds in replicating Bush's achievement....

So America marked 2,688 days without a terrorist attack on its soil from 9/12/01 to 1/20/09? That's interesting. That means that if you include 9/11/01 in that range -- a total of 2,689 days -- then the Bush administration presided over an average of more than one death per day at the hands of terrorists during the period in question (2,751 resulting from 9/11, plus 5 more in the anthrax attacks).

If Mr. Thiessen thinks that's an "achievement," he and I clearly don't see the world quite the same way.

By the way, this is yet more evidence that the Bushies intend to write and publish at least as many soundalike op-eds defending their hero as there were terrorist deaths on Bush's watch. (See also Karl Rove's latest Wall Street Journal column.) Do they think we haven't yet absorbed each and every one of their endlessly repeated arguments? For the love of God, can we pay them to stop?

In reaction to the Obama inaugural address, Foreign Policy's Christian Brose harrumphs:

... I've already detailed my mixed feelings, but the one thing in particular about the speech that I felt was most unfortunate, which left me sadder than I am angry, was the somewhat divisive tone it had at times. Here's what I wrote after the speech:

Other wording, however, struck me as almost divisive. By saying "there are some who question the scale of our ambitions" or "what the cynics fail to understand," Obama drew lines –- those who get it and those who don’t –- when some minor editing could have bridged differences. He spoke of the economic crisis as "a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some" –- undoubtedly true, but also somewhat too accusatory for an Inaugural. So too with, "We will restore science to its rightful place." Point taken. But why not "affirm" science or "promote" it, something positive; "restore" just has a chiding quality to it that seems out of place in a speech like this. And as for choosing as his one quote from Scripture the oft-heard “the time has come to set aside childish things” -– well, this seemed both to remind me of a wedding while also unfairly branding people of good faith, on both sides of the aisle, as somehow infantile. Phrases and words like these sadly seemed better fit for a campaign than today’s special occasion.

Whatever you think about George W. Bush, and my thoughts on him too are decidedly mixed, taking shots at the other guy, veiled or overt, consciously or not, on such an historic day, just seems like bad manners to me....

It's true -- gauntlets (gantlets?) were thrown down in the Obama address. That was too much for some.

I suppose everyone would have been much happier with subtle shiv-slipping like the kind we heard in Bush's first inaugural address:

America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected....

Our public interest depends on private character....

Not to mention

We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge....


America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.

-- which, judging from the fact that as late as last month Bush was still blaming the acrimony of the past eight years on the 2000 post-election battle over Florida, sure seems to me like a shot at Al Gore and those who challenged the Florida results ... although this, like the other lines I've quoted, is ambiguous enough to elicit a "Who, me?" if you asked Bush or his speechwriters if it was intended as a dig at the Democrats.

Yeah, sideswipes with deniability. It would have much better if Obama had gone that route.

As a politician, Governor David Paterson doesn't exactly inspire fear. What's more, for the past month there's been a perception that the governor has been a ditherer -- that's he's been endlessly prolonging the process of selecting Hillary Clinton's Senate replacement.

But maybe the lesson to learn from Caroline Kennedy's withdrawal is that Paterson, like a certain other African-American politicians who's risen higher than a lot of people ever thought he would, is a tougher guy than he seems at first glance.

The New York Post said last night that the withdrawal was Kennedy's face-saving reaction to Paterson's decision not to choose her. The New York Times and other news organizations are going with Kennedy's official explanation, which is that she withdrew for personal reasons, after her father's uncle's Inauguration Day stroke.

But it seems to me that Paterson's prolongation of the process, accompanied by contrary statements and confusing leaks, may have been a way of resisting the process of being Bigfooted -- not so much by Kennedy as by Mike Bloomberg, who thought he could push the accidental governor around.

A couple of weeks ago, in The Village Voice, Wayne Barrett asserted that Paterson appeared to be going along with Bloomberg's preference for Kennedy because he wants to avoid a gubernatorial race against the billionaire in 2010. Barrett argued that Bloomberg has strong-armed Paterson before: a few months ago, Paterson and his wife had "a largely unnoticed dinner at a Bronx restaurant" with the mayor and his girlfriend, after which key Paterson allies in the city supported Bloomberg's efforts to overturn the city's term-limits law -- even though a beneficiary of term limits might have been City Comptroller Bill Thompson ... who could have been the next black mayor.

So, if you believe Barrett, Paterson was in on the term-limits fix and was probably going to go along with the Kennedy fix. But if so, why didn't he just acquiesce sometime over the past several weeks?

It seems to me that he reached a limit of how much he was willing to let Bloomberg push him around. He may also have realized that while Bloomberg's political machine may be large and massive, it doesn't always run particularly smoothly. (How'd that third-party presidential thing work out for you, Bloomie?)

So whatever the proximate cause of Kennedy's withdrawal, I think Paterson's dithering allowed the process to play out until her candidacy began to seem problematic. I believe that was the point. Bloomberg loses. And Paterson actually gets to make his own choice.


UPDATE: The New York Observer says:

Even before the statement, the theories abounded. Among the insiders I talked to, they included the following: Paterson forced Kennedy's hand by leaking a false report to the Post that froze her and her consulting firm (and, apparently, his own staff); others speculated that something uncomfortable had been discovered about Kennedy's personal life that was about to be exposed, prompting her to withdraw under duress. In the absence of any information from official channels, it was hard to discount anything.

The former sounds right to me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Omigod, he's practically naked!


...In the Bush administration, it was a rule: Jackets in the Oval Office -- and now, it seems, one of the first Bush-era regulations to get scrapped in the Obama White House.

Of course, this was Reagan's rule before Bush's; Clinton's White House, by contrast, was known to be casual, to the horror of right-wingers everywhere. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they brought us peace and prosperity, but they did it tieless and in jeans! So it doesn't count!

This, of course, doesn't strike me as casual at all -- Obama looks like real go-getter, and quite spiffy to boot.

But righty blogger Matt Lewis smells danger to the Republic. Here's what he says at AOL's Political Machine blog:

My guess is that he will soon be breaking out a cardigan...

And at Townhall:

Could cardigans be far behind??

You know what that means: "cardigan" = "Jimmy Carter" = "America without a penis."

As a New York Times fashion story put it a couple of years ago:

Just weeks after his inauguration, President Jimmy Carter faced the nation, sitting fireside in a beige wool cardigan, and told the United States to turn down its thermostat. They were words no one wanted to hear.

The cardigan, already synonymous with the numbingly inoffensive style of one Mr. Rogers, completely unraveled, becoming an emblem of President Carter's wet-blanket austerity.

Personally, I don't see how you get from a tie-wearing but jacketless Obama to Carter in a cardigan, but, then, I'm not a Republican. In any case, this is why I'm glad Obama didn't pay attention to Tom DeLay and others when they whined about the costly fancy-dress inaugural parties. If Obama actually had approached Inauguration Day in a spirit of austerity, the same people who criticized the cost would have accused him of creeping Carterism -- accused him, in other words, of sapping our vital essence. And apparently, in the eyes of Republicans, exposing his dress shirt does that, too.