Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Arrives
Flurry of Snow?

Nearly midnight, and the new year arrives with a cascade of last minute emails begging me to make a difference the only way our political system knows how: with a small donation. Suddenly I'm on a first name basis with Chuck Schumer, Eric Massa, Anthony Romero, Cecile Richards and a host of others I'm too delicate to mention in public. The only magne manche who hasn't reached out to me is Rick Warren. If he lasts that long maybe he'll get around to the infidel in the New Year?

Which brings me to my subject: the Old Year. While sometimes I feel like the author of this post 2009 has been a pretty amazing year. It was no insignificant moment, last January, when I saw Bush leave the White House while our new President and First Lady waved demurely from the steps. While nothing quite matches that heady moment it has been a great day, every day, to wake up and know that our new President is on the job. I definitely don't agree with many of his tactics, and much of his strategy, but I'm proud of the job he is doing.

I want to thank the many people I "know" on the internet, my secret sharers, my blog friends and acquaintances, for helping me keep up with all the news and helping me analyze and understand what is going on. Without the work of many writers and commenters at Daily Kos, TPM, Tapped, Washington Monthly, FDL (yes, FDL!), without Atrios, Digby, Glenn Greenwald, Bats Left Throws Right, Slacktivist, The Mahablog, Pandagon, Orcinus, Alicublog, Experimental Theology, Taibblog, The Inverse Square Blog, Balloon Juice, Crooks and Liars, Whiskey Fire, Lawyers, Guns and Money , Vagabond Scholar, The Hunting of the Snark and a host of others the firehose of information that is modern life would have drowned me, long since.

I think SteveM will be back from his undisclosed location tomorrow but if he can't log on tonight I wanted to thank all his readers for keeping me company while he was away, and for giving both Steve and myself a place to muse about politics and culture throughout the year.
Has it Been Ten Years?

SteveM's away during these crucial days during which people seem impelled to tell over the past ten years like worry beads. Best of this, worst of that, top ten songs, top one hundred films. I can't go there. Its too horrific. I'm all for remembering the past so that we....etc...etc... but one set of lists (best films, most popular, moving moments) seems to undercut the reality of the last ten years during which so many were needlessly massacred for various ideas and ideals. I can't make up a list of all those horrors, and it wouldn't be good for me if I did. I think of this last decade as a sinking ship--lets take what we can and flee forward towards dry land, leaping from slippery rock to slippery rock, and extending our hands backwards to those who are willing to move forward with us.

How Hard Is It to Say:

"In America we have only one President at a time--former Vice President Cheney might want to look that one up." Stop with the process talk. Get with the boxing gloves.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This Bears Repeating--Because I Feel Like It

Right now HCR has been pushed to the back burner by discussions of just how clueless the Democrats are on the issue of terrorism pushback--not pushback against actual Muslim terrorists but pushback against Republican terrorists. Over at Balloon Juice yesterday there was a good discussion of just how flawed the Democratic response has been to the flurry of right wing hysteria over the crotch bomber. But, as usual, it also degenerated into a discussion of whether Obama bore some, all, or none of the "blame" for failing to get the Public Option. The situation is madly complicated by the fact that by the time push came to shove the "Public Option" we were being offered by either the House or the Senate was a shadow of itself. In addition, as Chris Bowers argues at Open Left there are many pieces of the current bill (s) that amount to an expansion of public option (s) that are not insignificant. That Obama didn't throw his prestige and power, such as it is, publicly behind the gutted capital "P" Public Option at the last minute doesn't mean that he isn't, in fact, going to get some good small "p" public options out of it.

Nevertheless unless Obama and Rahm change their style of governance we are going to see a lot more public triangulating and hedging because that seems to be the way they think they can best get things done. There's a value in just getting things done, of course--and sometimes small structural changes can produce great social and philosophical changes while great philosophical pushes, absent real plans, produce nothing in the way of forward motion. In the case of this health care reform bill its quite possibly the case that, as defenders have argued, just putting the government's hand down on Health Insurance, nationally speaking, is such a moment--like opening the floodgates. I actually agree with that.

One of the biggest complaints on the left is that the stupid "Cadillac tax" is, well, incredibly dumb and, because its not indexed to inflation, will soon hit a huge proportion of the middle class. Does that sound like anything else the government has ever done? How about the AMT? Hideously bad idea, not indexed, leading to bracket creep, punishes middle class/blue state taxpayers with children. Well, in reality, what happens?

For years, Congress has passed one-year patches aimed at minimizing the impact of the tax. For the 2007 tax year, a patch was passed on 12/20/2007, but only after the IRS had already designed its forms for 2007. The IRS had to reprogram its forms to accommodate the law change.[15]
Or how about the Medicare Doc Fix. That's the bizarre and stupid problem that absent annual Congressional intervention the amount that Medicare pays its doctors is cut, not raised. Every year, apparently, Congress has funded that on a "patch" basis rather than trying to pay for it all at once, or repeal the ridiculous law and try for a more sensible solution to the problem of rising costs. This year, of course, the Democrats actually tried to fix the fix and were shot down by an alliance of the centrist dems and the republicans.

Sane outsiders would think that passing the best legislation possible is the only sensible option. But its pretty clear that quite bad legislation gets passed all the time and never repealed but always fixed when it is politically unpopular to allow the true harm of the legislation to be felt. Looked at one way--Obama and the Dems know that a bad tax is incredibly hard to repeal--but not to fix or ameliorate. Looked at another way, Obama and the Dems know that a bad tax can be fixed with a "patch" periodically and most people will never have the faintest idea what is going on. That's by way of saying that, ultimately, I think Obama and the Dems--if they get the Health Care Bill at all--will have put the Democrats in as good a position as exists in the real world to try to tinker around the margins and get us most of the way towards the promised land of certain, cost effective, health care for all. That's because the new regulations shifts the focus of people's anger from themselves (I'm too poor to afford Health Insurance) and from the insurance companies (those bastards *&^%) to the government itself. Citizens who are forced to buy Health Insurance are citizens with a vested interest in making sure that they get subidies and or the premiums are lowered. They are not actually citizens who have a vested interest in returning to the current status quo. This means that the bill brings into being millions more potentially angry and activist citizens demanding government intervention in Health Care--a government agency devoted to policing the Insurance Companies? Calls to your AG demanding he investigate your denial of service? Calls to your congressman demanding that your subsidies be raised? These are all way more likely than calls to repeal the entire act. And each of them are more likely to be acted upon, because they are piecemeal "fixes" than just the repeal of the mandate--which is the only objectionable part of the bill from a consumer point of view.

That being said I'm still disappointed in the way the run up to the Bill was handled, and at the limp way the Public Option was sold away so publicly. The rest of this post is a reprint of a comment I posted over at Balloon Juice on a thread about Democratic Disorganization and Public Response:

I hate to enter back into a discussion that is becoming more rarefied and bizarre by the moment—how much blame does Obama get in a tripartite system of government? 1/3, 1/6th? none, all? But I think something that the “excuse Obama/blame Harry Reid” people keep not understanding is this simple, obvious, issue:

Politics is theater. I don’t care how mature and manly and shy and retiring Obama is as a President, or how he thinks of his role as leader—its theater. His voters expected him to act like he cared about the things they cared about—and they expected him to look like he cared enough to fight for those issues. Chief among those issues was some way of bending the cost curve by creating necessary competition with the private insurance industry*. He campaigned on it. It was one of the chief differences between him and Hillary. It was also very good policy.

It was obvious very early on that Obama and his team had decided not to risk any imaginary political capital by pushing too hard for any specifics that they might not be able to get. Obama started getting very vague and leaving things rather up in the air very early. That made sense from a “hoard your capital” point of view. If he believed that he’d never get the public option and that his voters would be more embarrassed by a public failure than a default on his reform promises that was a smart move. But, as it turns out, sometimes its not true that your supporters would rather you save yourself a humiliating public rejection. Sometimes they want to see that you are willing to go to the mat for something. I’m not saying its right or wrong—its a fact of political life and political organizing. And its one the democrats are well aware of since Obama and his team are starting the process of walking back the Public Option and talking up the reforms in order to heal the wounds left by his unwillingness to fight for it publicly.

I think it would have been wiser, politically speaking, for Obama to have fought harder, and uglier, and more publicly for the public option because I think since he didn’t he and the dems have a harder hill to climb convincing voters that they at least did the best job they could under the circumstances. They have to do that because they have to sell the bill emotionally in advance of rolling out its actual benefits.

I think the whole discussion of whether Obama is at fault or not is misplaced—who cares? Its also not a difference between Obama being a mature political actor and a hysterical leftist political actor. All choices were political. All were made with the same goals in mind: get some kind of health care reform, pass some kind of bill, run again on the bill holding his base and getting more center votes.

He had the chance to stride the stage like a colossus and that came with the danger that he’d end up in a pratfall. He chose to be more cautious and retiring and to try to shift the fight and the blame onto Reid and the Democrats in the Senate but without ever demonizing or attacking the most difficult dems. That was as political a choice as fighting harder and maybe getting slapped back publicly. Its all politics. Its all theater.


Monday, December 28, 2009

George Bush's Penile Implant to go on Display.

Really, what's next, Bob Dole doing Viagra commercials?


Sunday, December 27, 2009

I'd Like To Buy the World A Coke

No, this is not "a little surreal," its not kinda surprising, its not even a teeny bit new. JMM is shocked, shocked to discover that an affection for popular culture, and a modicum of money, don't protect people from feeling alienated, sad, lonely, scared, angry, and vengeful. Has he never heard the phrase "self medicating" used to describe every activity from exercise to drug abuse? Is he under the impression that money protects people from racism? That listening to western music translates to loving the western borg--so, what? if I love Judy Garland that's the same as living in Oz? This passage reminds me of nothing so much as those people who say, of Lesbians "if they'd only dated more men!" You actually have to live in the West as a foreigner, be a wealthy, educated man among people who won't let you fully play in their playground, to get enough anger and rage together to set yourself on fire. Of course that's not the province of goatherds and village rebels. It doesn't come about despite your contacts with the West but because of it. Not because the barriers to entry are so hard and rigid but because they are so porous and amorphous.

The Times has run-down of what is known so far about Umar Farouk Abdulmtallab. Most you likely already know. Son of a wealthy, Nigerian banker who'd studied engineering in London. His turn toward intense involvement with Islam, if not yet toward militant extremism, apparently began in High School Yet one close friend from those years says they used to listen to music together, watch videos and play basketball. Classmate Charles Anaman said Abdulmutallab was very into studying history and particularly into hip-hop music.

It's always a little surreal hearing how would-be suicide terrorists, seemingly so alien to our world, were in many ways very much a part of it. But it actually seems of a piece with many others in this group -- the commonality is just how cosmopolitan most of them seem to be. Often wealthy, sometimes extremely so, educated in the West and even imbued with iconically American popular culture.

It's seldom people from the remote reaches of Afghanistan or even the teeming metropoles of Pakistan. It's people living in the West or on the margins between West and the lands of Islam.

--Josh Marshall

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead:

Sign the Senate Version of the Health Care Bill into a law before Joe Lieberman, Chair of Homeland Security, finds it incumbent upon himself to kill it at the next Cloture vote.

Before the final Senate Vote there was some talk of "ping ponging" the bill--that is, eliminating the House/Senate Conference and just sending the Senate Bill straight to Obama's desk to sign. There were some problems with that approach, because it required the House to cede its prerogatives as a co-equal law making body to the much more dysfunctional Senate. It also required the Progressives to take another body blow, since the House Bill was, in some ways, more progressive than the Senate Bill. It also would be another example of House progressives and voters being told that "their concerns would be addressed in conference/on the floor/in an amendment" and then being told that for reasons of policy that moment will never come. (See, e.g. Weiner's Single Payer Amendment, Stupak-Pitts, the entire Public Option). On the good side taking the Senate Bill and rushing it through to signature prevents one more massive cloture vote fight during which, for example, Byrd could die or Lieberman defect.

So, what are the odds of Lieberman, or any other wobbling Senators, defecting if the House and Senate Bills are merged in conference? The problem with figuring this out is that we don't know what the White House and Reid think they know about Lieberman and the other Senators. So far we've all just been forced to watch from the outside and guess at the internal struggles and compromises. Nevertheless, looking at Lieberman's history of disappointing his friends and joining with our enemies, we can be sure that Lieberman will not let this last chance to fuck Health Care Over go without a struggle. There's a some Probability that Lieberman will insist on either being part of the negotiations in the House/Senate conference or will appoint himself a "shadow member" and simply let it be known, from the sidelines, that any and all changes to the bill for the better will be opposed with a final vote against Cloture.

I can't put a number on the odds of Lieberman actually carrying through on the anti Cloture vote but I think the betting must be very heavily in favor of his using the threat to fatally deform the House/Senate conference itself. That's been the real trick to it all along, hasn't it? The killer cloture vote was used to force the progressives and the real Democrats to cede ground on the bill before it came to votes--this was clearly the case, for example, even when the bill was in the House and the threat of "not getting to sixty in the Senate" was used to keep the House progressives in line. It was doubly true in the Senate where Lieberman and Nelson both forced the progressives, like Boxer, to do their bidding. (That this was done to weaken the bill and the Democrats as a whole is clearly the case regardless of your feelings about the minimal Public Option and Medicare buy in. Its clear that Lieberman's goal is to cripple both negotiations and the bill). What that means is that the more good things get put into the Conference Bill the more Lieberman will fight to have them taken out--I'm thinking of things that will specifically be pleasing to the base such as moving up the timing of some of the goodies.

But Lieberman himself is a shifting set of spites. Now that we've had our first Terrorist attack of the Obama years and Lieberman will be leaping to the fore in his role as Committee Chair for Homeland Security I see vast new arenas opening for Lieberman to exercise his bitter hatreds. Whatever he promised Obama and the Dems before the last cloture vote about the next Cloture Vote is now null and void. All bets are off. Lieberman is going to do something dreadful with the double power he now has as the "sixtieth vote" on everything. Before the Senate Bill was finalized I suggested that Obama and Reid should have made explicit "linkages" between parts of the bill that they really wanted (if, for example, they really wanted the Public Option) and goodies that the Senators wanted outside the bill. In Lieberman's case I suggested things having to do with Israel, or offering him an Ambassadorship to a desirable country, or both. I don't think Obama and Reid ever did anything quite that direct, although they were certainly willing to buy off Nelson with a quid pro quo when that was offered. Whatever went on in those negotiations I think Lieberman has proven himself a master at getting what he wants in and out of negotiations--look at the way he double crossed the Democrats on the Public Option/Medicare Buy in Swap--and he is now going to be making "linkages" between his Health Care Vote and his role in Homeland Security. That's just the way he does things.

Previously, even a day ago, I was opposed to the ping ponging of the bill. I hoped that a conference report might, with the good wind at its back, materially improve the bill and still squeak through the Senate's sixty vote bottleneck. Now I'm sure that Lieberman is going to step up and screw us if he can, when he can. Just imagine his puffed up self hectoring us about how irresponsible it is to spend money on health care when there are terrorists attacking us in our valued cities, like Detroit?

I recommend that Obama, Reid, and Pelosi take what they can get--push the Senate version of the bill through as is and then fix every bit of it they can as it relates to the budget through Reconciliation. Do it fast and without warning. And make the terrorist attack your excuse, if you want. Say "the country has been through enough and we need to get on with things. We believe this bill is very good and we can fix the parts that need fixing through reconciliation in a timely manner." And then just do it. Lieberman will be left with his mouth hanging open and the majority of the bill will be irrevocable. But promise the progressives that they will absolutely be able to get the rest of their initiatives through the reconciliation process and hew to that promise. It will be the best of all possible worlds.

Edited to add the link to "wobbling Senators" up above.
Best and Worst Christmas Moments?

As for me, its all good. My best Christmas presents were

Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises; Charles Kendleberger and Robert Aliber.

The Limits of Power; Andrew J. Bacevich

A Bakelite bracelet and the knowledge that my daughters can support themselves, if we are ever forced to flee the country, by making and selling either bread or handmade jewelry.

Aside from that, I feel an immense outpouring of gratitude that on this day-which-is-not-our-holiday we were together without any wingnut relatives driving us crazy. If we have any, they were far away and long forgotten.

But if your experiences were different, you can post them here.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Amanda has written a very good post on the left/leftier dustup over "the Bill"--herinafter TEEEEEBEEEE or "The eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevilest Bill eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever." She thinks, and so do I, that the split will be over again by Valentines day. Mnemosyne, one of my favorite muses as well as favorite commenters, disagrees and traces the split all the way back to the Clinton/Obama split in the primaries. But I don't think that's the way the division works at all--I think Jane marched rapidly at the head of a lot of people who wanted the progressives to be more proactive and more vocal during the run up to the bill regardless of their take on the primaries, which frankly are so far away I can't remember them. Lots of us wanted Obama to stand up for more, and Reid to be more hard knuckled not because we thought Obama was weaker than Clinton but because we thought the terrain after the election had changed sufficiently that a more full throated approach was warranted. Maybe we were wrong, maybe we were right. We'll never know. Things fell out the way they fell out and clearly, following Obama's and Reid's plan, it was pretty dicey.

But Jane has gone off the deep end, at this point, and I think most of the others (like me) aren't actually anywhere near a split with Obama and the current crop of Democrats. The most I hear the people I respect saying is "more and better Democrats...replacing centrist Dems [where possible] and Republicans [everywhere] kill the filibuster."

So Amanda rightly asks us, on women's issues, to try to elect more women. Down in the comment thread she suggests that we do it through donations to Emily's List. I agree with her that we need way more women in the Senate and the House. But I have to disagree with her on Emily's List. Their actual record is abysmal--by that I mean they have been collecting money from women, for women, for years but they choose their candidates based almost purely on their sex, and not their politics and then they don't exert any kind of due diligence and control over them. I believe both Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln were Emily's List Pick's of the Chicks. I had a nice chat with Ellen Malcolm about Landrieu years ago and she was rather apologetic about the whole thing. But she more or less said once Landrieu took the money it was buh bye bitchez, don't call me, I'll call you.

Its true that in the House, I believe, the entire roster of those voting for Stupak Pitts on the Democratic side were men. But on the Senate Side Landrieu, because of her voting on Abortion Rights for Native Americans was thought originally to be prepared to vote for Nelson's amendment. And, in the end, of course, even Barbara Boxer was forced by the logic of the situation to support some form of Nelson's amendment.

So, certainly we need more and better women. But without getting rid of the anti woman brinksmanship of Nelson and the Republicans, or the filibuster itself, we won't get very far.

Oh For Christ's Sake--Grover Norquist Would Drown Jane in a Bathtub if it Would Reduce His Taxes.

Over at Balloon Juice I'd been fighting a rearguard action to defend, theoretically, the Jane Hamsher approach to Health Care Reform which I saw as a necessary form of political action that would pull the debate to the left and allow Obama and the Dems to masquerade as more centrist than they are. But this thing with Norquist? And the absurd attacks on Sanders? No, that's gone way over the line. In joining in the lawsuit against Obama's Chief of Staff Jane has joined directly in the permanent Republican attack on Democratic legitimacy. I can't stand Rahm and think he's bad on politics and pretty bad at his job as hatchet man. But I'm sure he's a fine Chief of Staff and no more corrupt in a legal sense than any other political actor. I've got no problem with Jane hounding Republicans or Lieberman, or advocating strongly for Single Payer or any other progressive policy. But to go to Def Con One on Obama--a man who has been in Presidency for a single year, wrestling with the crushing burdens of the Bush terms? This is not only perverse its disgusting.

So, yeah, John, Steve and I delinked.


Thursday, December 24, 2009


I hear tell that there was some sort of vote in Congress this morning, but I gotta scram -- no time for posting, just enough time to drop Firedoglake from the blogroll, for all the good that tiny gesture does (I'm doing it not because Jane H. went on Fox but because her investigate-Rahm-for-Freddie-Mac campaign with Grover Norquist has the potential to be shockingly useful to the right in its effort to lay all of America's problems at the feet of Fannie/Freddie/ACORN/scary Negroes -- oh, and her failure to get Norquist to join in on any truly progressive effort in this area, i.e., something that might be a threat to the unholy alliance of the government and Wall Street, shows that she's just another lefty who believes in quid-pro-nothing, as sad as the D.C. Dems at their most ineffectual).

I'll be back on January 1. Aimai will be here; I think some guest bloggers will show up, too. Thanks for reading. Happy holidays. See you next year....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Via Steve Benen, I see that David Weigel thinks Sarah Palin is manipulating the media with her Facebook and Twitter manifestoes:

... The problem is that Palin has put the political press in a submissive position, one in which the only information it prints about her comes from prepared statements or from Q&As with friendly interviewers. This isn't something most politicians get away with, or would be allowed to get away with. But Palin has leveraged her celebrity -- her ability to get ratings, the ardor of her fans and the bitterness of her critics -- to win a truly unique relationship with the press. She is allowed to shape the public debate without actually engaging in it.

... I think what Palin's doing here is incredibly savvy. She knows that anything that goes out under her name will be accepted as fact by conservatives.... And she knows that liberals despise her and will pick apart everything that goes out under her name....

At the same time, I think that the media's indulgence of Palin’s strategy -- which often results in pure stenography of press releases that may or may not have been written by her -- is ridiculous, bordering on pathetic.

Steve adds:

... Weigel's observation is an important one -- outlets need not treat barely-coherent Facebook messages from an unemployed politician as major developments. She's playing the media for fools, and too many major outlets are only to pleased to be the sucker.

But is she really playing them for fools? And in what way? By communicating? By communicating through this newfangled Intertube technology? Is that some special way she sidesteps accountability? And is it "truly unique"?

The fact is, a lot of Republicans right now are being given a virtually unlimited platform to hold forth -- with or without the wonders of social networking. John McCain is on political interview shows so often you'd think he was running the country. Dick Cheney, ditto -- and his many, many speeches are major news. These folks are getting pretty much the same deal Palin is -- via old-school channels of communication.

Palin's getting covered not because she's exceedingly shrewd but because she's a Republican. She's a Republican and she's pretty good copy, so the media just keeps handing her and McCain and Cheney (and Liz Cheney, for that matter) powerful megaphones. Palin's not doing anything all that clever, media-wise; she's just taking advantage of the desperate search for "balance" in a situation that seems, to the media, desperately out of balance -- simply because Democrats are in charge.

Believe me, if Republicans were running Washington and a former Democratic vice president were making inflammatory speeches and remarks accusing the current administration of treason, the story would be how outrageous and unseemly this was, not a serious examination of what the ex-VP was saying. If the most recent failed Democratic presidential candidate were desperately trying to get booked on Sunday chat shows every week, he or she would be shut out on a regular basis. If the most recent Democratic VP candidate were sending out angry Facebook posts and tweets, it would just be seen as immature and pathetic.

It's not the medium. It's not the message. The key factor here is the party of the messengers.

I wonder if there's still time to buy the president one of these for Christmas:

You want to do something controversial as president? For crissake, get through the necessary steps to make sure it's irreversible well before the fall of your first midterm elections. That shouldn't exactly be rocket science, but for Team Obama, apparently, it is:

Rebuffed this month by skeptical lawmakers when it sought finances to buy a prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with the money to replace the Guantanamo Bay prison.

As a result, officials now believe that they are unlikely to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest.

... The administration will probably not have another opportunity until Congress takes up a supplemental appropriations bill for the Afghanistan war. Lawmakers are not likely to finish that bill until late March or April.

Moreover, the administration now says that the current focus for Thomson financing is the appropriations legislation for the 2011 fiscal year. Congress will not take that measure up until late 2010....

You guys are joking, right? You think you're going to get this appropriated in the midst of an election campaign? And you think it's not going to get un-appropriated as son as the next, vastly more Republican-plus-Blue-Dog Congress convenes?

No, it won't matter that the locals want the Gitmo prisoners -- nobody cared, after 9/11, that the locals (in New York City, D.C., and even Pennsylvania) didn't support every bit of the Bush/Cheney foreign policy and thus didn't vote Republican, because the demagoguing of the issue wasn't aimed at the locals, it was aimed at pants-wetters who were hundreds or thousands of miles from Lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and Shanksville and who nevertheless felt they were the experts on what needed to be done to calm their fears. The same thing's going to happen on this issue -- members of Congress who represent citizens a thousand miles away from Thomson will tell us how their people are quaking in fear. They'll run against it. They're going to nationalize this.

And this infuriates me:

Frustrated by the difficulties in obtaining financing from Congress, administration officials had discussed invoking a little-known statute that would allow the president to declare a national emergency and then use military funds allocated for other construction projects to buy and retrofit the Illinois prison.

That statute, however, has never been used for a project quite like this one. Fearing that lawmakers would be angered by such a move and could respond by erasing the statute, the administration decided not to invoke it.

Gah. Do you think that would have stopped George W. Bush? Folks, you're not going to reason the stonewallers into this, so either do it or drop it.

Well, no matter. It's going to be dropped for you.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake:

I notice there is a diary up on Daily Kos attacking me for going on Fox & Friends....

There's a difference between helping to recruit Democratic viewers to Fox that they don't have, and bringing a message about PhRMA that divides Republican viewers from the party leadership by pointing out the hypocrisy of their talking points....

It scares the bejesus out of the DC establishment of both parties to think that the left and right might align against the corporate interests that dominate the massive giveaways that keep happening no matter who's in power....

Oh, Jane, Jane, Jane, my innocent country mouse.

Do you think Rupert Murdoch's propaganda operation actually made a mistake? Do you really think this corporate behemoth let its guard down, booking you even though you're so dangerous you can help bring destroy structures Rupe desperately wants to see in place?

Don't be naive. Fox books liberals for two reasons: to be punching bags or to help reinforce messages Murdoch wants to deliver. I watched your clip and you weren't treated like a punching bag -- so that leaves only one choice: you were there to play "Even the liberal..." -- that is, you were there to deliver the message "This bill is so awful even some liberals loathe it."

No one on the right is "uniting" with you on principles. The Fox audience doesn't want to join you to help make a good bill. The Fox audience wants to kill this bill, brutally and mercilessly, and then get every single Democrat out of office. (And if Big Medicine really didn't like the idea of seeing this bill killed, it would tell Fox and the GOP to call off their dogs, and they'd dutifully comply. Big Medicine loves this bill compared to what it could have been, but no bill at all is still the fat cats' preference. Watch this report in its 2 1/2-minute entirety if you doubt that.)

I agree that the bill is rather awful, and I've been vacillating on the question of whether it's worth voting for, so I respect your intentions. But if you think left and right are meeting right now, your vision field is almost as warped as that of the we-love-Hillary-and-Sarah PUMAs. The Fox audience doesn't hate the fat cats -- the Fox audience hates you, Jane, and everything you stand for, and your readers and everything they stand for, and Barack Obama and everything (they think) he stands for. But they'll suspend their contempt when they can use you as a stick to beat Obama with. You know the old saying: "Let's you and him fight"? That's what they're saying to you.

You were used, Jane. If you weren't of use to the right, you wouldn't have been booked.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I wanted to talk about the Tim Pawlenty interview in Newsweek that was flagged by Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs:

Where are you personally?

Well, you know I'm an evangelical Christian. I believe that God created everything and that he is who he says he was. The Bible says that he created man and woman; it doesn't say that he created an amoeba and then they evolved into man and woman. But there are a lot of theologians who say that the ideas of evolution and creationism aren't necessarily inconsistent; that he could have "created" human beings over time.

I think it's very possible that, as of January 20, 2013, we're going to have a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican president -- the Democrats have done that good a job of squandering goodwill (and failing to figure out how to fend off a relentless GOP assault). In the leftosphere, a lot of people would say, "Well, so what? The Democrats are indistinguishable from the Republicans anyway. Both parties are right-wing. Both parties love big business. So who cares?"

That, of course, is what a lot of people said in 2000. And we know how that worked out.

The Democrats haven't given us nearly enough change. But that doesn't mean that the parties have become one -- because the GOP we've had wasn't necessarily as right-wing as the GOP we might have in the future.

Consider Pawlenty. He seems to have the nouveau right-wing belief about evolution: whether or not it exists, it didn't happen in the case of people -- heavens, no! And that's exactly where Sarah Palin falls on the question of evolution. Mike Huckabee appears to be a flat-out evolution denier. So is Ron Paul. Bobby Jindal signed a "teach the controversy" law on the subject of evolution as Louisiana governor and pals around with religious right extremists.

Now compare this to the race for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. At the outset of that race, it was big news when candidates were asked who among them didn't believe in evolution and three out of ten said they weren't believers.

Three out of ten? It looks as if we're already way past that for 2012. What potential candidate fully believes in evolution, besides Romney?

My point is that you may think the parties have met on the right, but the GOP never stops going further and further in that direction. We thought Reagan was the acme of extremism, and then George W. Bush came along; I'm saying that the next Republican president could be as far to Bush's right as Bush was to Reagan's -- on culture-war issues, on taxes, on the role of government, and quite possibly on war and civil liberties and torture.

So don't get complacent; don't let the Democrats' failings lull you. The next GOP wave is going to be appalling.
Talk about a Moving Target:

It really isn't over until its over. I had just been proposing, to the ambient air (well, LGM) that the Democrats should have attached all bribes to individual Senators only in the Conference Bill as a guarantor of good behavior from, say, Nelson. That would mean that in voting against cloture on any progressive initiative, like Abortion rights, a public option, or changes in financing Nelson and other Senators would be explicitly voting against their own goodies. My reasoning on this was that Nelson et al would be reluctant to go back to their constituents and admit that, say, 100 percent financing was stripped out of the conference bill because Nelson refused to vote for cloture on the conference bill--his last point of leverage. But lo, look what comes out today (reported at TPM)

Nelson May Ask For NE Deal To Be Stripped

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) said today he may ask that a deal he got for Nebraska be removed from the health care bill. The deal -- that he accept an abortion compromise in exchange for perpetual federal funding of a Medicaid expansion in Nebraska -- has become ammo for reform opponents. "This is the way Senate leadership chose to handle it. I never asked for 100 percent funding," he said. Nelson also said three lawmakers have approached him and said they're seeking similar deals.

Honestly, I can't even be surprised. There has always been something almost childlike about Nelson's account of what he wants, and why, in a legislative context. It always reminds me of the way a child coughs, just opening its mouth and doing it, or sneezes on everything around it. Unselfconscious, almost animal like, and eternally surprised to find out that there are adults around actually paying attention and somewhat disgusted. Nelson is truly a deeply stupid person, and mendacious even (or especially) to himself about his own motives. Thus it seems never to have occurred to him that there could be any kind of ugly fall out from his public actions. And even now he responds to the challenge presented by his perennial political enemies by simply flailing, lying, and going back on his own public statements crowing about the deal.

Nevertheless Nelson's backtracking ought to remind us that this is far from a done deal. Harkin's list of things yet to be decided in conference is a case in point:

Harkin Outlines The Key Issues For The Conference Committee

TPMDC's Brian Beutler reports that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has defined the major issues, as the health care bill heads to conference committee: Financing, whether to organize the insurance exchange on a national or state-based level, and the implementation date.


They can't think, they can't govern, but Republicans know how to win. So I've been waiting for the GOP to surprise us with a new direction in its health care bill-killing total war, and this, about which they're ginning up a hissyfit, is obviously the first salvo in the final phase of the war:

Reid Bill Says Future Congresses Cannot Repeal Parts of Reid Bill

Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) pointed out some rather astounding language in the Senate health care bill during floor remarks tonight. First, he noted that there are a number of changes to Senate rules in the bill--and it's supposed to take a 2/3 vote to change the rules. And then he pointed out that the Reid bill declares on page 1020 that the Independent Medicare Advisory Board cannot be repealed by future Congresses:

there's one provision that i found particularly troubling and it's under section c, titled "limitations on changes to this subsection."

and i quote -- "it shall not be in order in the senate or the house of representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection." ...

... For any fearmongers out there tempted to call an unelected body that recommends Medicare cuts a "Death Panel," let me be clear. According to page 1004, IMAB proposals "shall not include any recommendation to ration health care"--you know, just like the bill says there's no funding for abortion....

Paging Sarah Palin: the death panel is

I have no idea how unusual such a provision is -- I can't help suspecting that it isn't. I don't even know if the wording is being interpreted accurately. Even if it is, obviously a party that's insisted on supermajorities for virtually every key piece of legislation has some gall being upset about this.

This morning, when I read that Republicans were considering not holding the health care bill up in the Senate to the bitter end, I assumed it was because they thought they'd have a better chance of killing it some other way, after Senate passage but before the House and Senate versions are reconciled and voted on again. And so it begins -- a scary death panel story, to be followed by ... well, who knows what? A lot, for sure. As much mud and dung as was flung in August, if not more. This isn't over by a long shot.

That's why I find it ridiculous to engage in a discussion of whether liberals should kill the bill. I don't think we're going to get that chance -- the bill-killing is going to be in much more expert hands.


AND ... more feces-flinging:

Exclusive: ACORN Qualifies for Funding in Senate Health Care Bill

Go to the link for the story, which is less than meets the eye. But these are just the first few drops of the dung tsunami to come.

Did you watch Rachel Maddow's interview with Tom Friedman last night? No, really, don't run screaming out of the room. Here it is:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friedman was brought on to talk about the disappointing Copenhagen summit and the need for unilateral efforts to go green on the part of the U.S. government (which Friedman thinks would be a spur to action in other countries).... Yes, I know -- Friedman is horrible. On foreign policy, he appalls us on a regular basis. He's the guy who said we needed to kick some Iraqis around in 2003 in order to tell evil jihadists and wannabes to "Suck. On This."

But if all you knew about Friedman was from last night's Maddow interview, you really, really might think he was an OK guy.

He talked about how Denmark could serve as a model for the U.S. today -- it drastically reduced its oil imports, drastically increased energy efficiency, and built green industries that now provide a substantial portion of the countries exports after the OPEC oil shocks of the 1970s, largely because it made serious changes in tax policy with regard to energy. As he talked about this, I thought about some of his bellicosity and his worship of the global, and I realized that there used to be a lot of people like Friedman in government and the punditry -- people who thought actual progress on domestic issues was perfectly compatible with maintaining the superpower status of the U.S.

I can't completely hate Tom Friedman because he talks about going green and repairing U.S. infrastructure as part of sustaining American strength -- which you would think would make the idea compatible to your swing-voter dad.

And at a time when David Gergen is saying that "it's a tragedy" if health care legislation passes "with only one party voting for it," Friedman is continuing to slam the GOP for intransigence:

You know, there's only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, what China has, and that's one-party democracy, and that's what we've got here in America today. We've got one party playing and one party isn't, at all. And so when you have one-party autocracy, you can order optimal solutions from the top down. But when you have one-party democracy and you have to get all 60 votes, as you were talking about, from one party, votes 1 through 50 cost you a lot, votes 50 to 59 cost you a fortune, and, wow, vote 60 is called Ben Nelson, and that's a giveaway to the whole state of Nebraska, you know. And so you basically have this in the health, you know, bill that you were talking about, but, Rachel, you also have it in the climate bill -- that if there were 6, 8 Republicans who were ready to join this bill, the giveaways to coal and the legacy industries in this country could really be minimized. And so we're going to get a suboptimal bill -- well, how long can we as a country thrive when our chief competitor can order, from the top down, optimal, and we can only produce suboptimal?

At least, unlike Gergen, he names a villain. And, sorry, he's right about "one-party autocracy" -- grumble about Democratic lobbyist sellouts and Blue Dogs all you like, but this wouldn't be happening if the Republican Party hadn't turned into a Rand/Reagan/Beck cult with an enforced orthodoxy that permits no compromise. At the end of the day, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman (apparently) had their price. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins didn't.

That one-party autocracy riff infuriated the right when Friedman used it in a column in September, and, hell, even I think it's a bit too nice to autocrats, but the longer our politics is like this, the more I'm grateful that Friedman is talking this way. He's no real progressive, but he's sometimes articulate about how what we see as progressivism is compatible with what used to be American centrism.


UPDATE: I was thinking that maybe Friedman was a bit off base regarding climate legislation -- hasn't Lindsey Graham been cooperating a bit with Democrats on that? -- but then it occurred to me that he's bound to back away, if only to preserve his viability within his purity-obsessed party. And well, here goes:

Senate Republicans warned Monday that the bruising fight over health care reform could deliver a knockout blow to another Democratic priority: passage of a climate change bill in 2010.

... Democrats aren’t united on climate change, and the bitter battle over health care has left even sympathetic Republicans with little desire to help....

"It makes it hard to do anything because of the way this was handled," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

... Other potentially "gettable" Republican senators also sounded discouraging notes Monday.

"Right now, I would say that cap and trade is stalled," said Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

"Cap and trade has been delayed by the health care debate almost indefinitely," said Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar. "The question will be how many more battles members of Congress want to take on in an election year."

"I give it a very low chance," said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a potential GOP target for bill supporters. "What it comes down to is our ability to work together as a body. And right now, the indicators are not very positive for climate change." ...

A lot of Democrats aren't on board -- but I think, when the dust settles, the number of Republicans who'll be cooperative at all will be (as usual) zero.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Blue in the Bluegrass, The Hunting of the Snark, and the Truth Wins Out blog (now featuring Evan Hurst of Break the Terror). Many of you have already been reading these, but if not, go.

Good grief -- this is on the Fox Nation title screen:

What have we Jesus-hating anti-Americans done now?

The Fox Nation link goes to this AP story, which isn't exactly as Fox advertises it (i.e., as a story of liberal fascists at war with the majority of Americans):

NORMAN, Okla. -- To Steven Walls, it's beginning to look nothing like Christmas, anywhere he goes.

While more people make the switch to energy-efficient lights for their holiday decorations, Walls this year insisted on decorating with the old-style, torpedo-shaped Christmas lights his family has put up for years. But it was no easy feat: To replace the half-dozen or so bulbs that burned out last year, Walls had to visit eight stores before he found any.

"They're not the same. They're weird-looking. They're sized different and have these unusual ripples. If you have those interspersed with your traditional lights, they're going to look dumb," he said.

... While acknowledging LEDs are more durable and use up to one-hundredth the amount of electricity as incandescents, Gary Barksdale grows nostalgic sorting through broken bulbs and overloaded fuses every year.

... "We're doing the same thing my pops, my brothers and I did when we were kids," he said.

Yes, but you're betraying your great-great grandfather, dude! he put real wax candles in his windows -- and on his Christmas tree! It was dangerous but it was traditional, dammit! So you should do the same!

I don't really want to give these guys (and they do all seem to be guys) too hard a time -- they just remind me of vinyl-LP nostalgists, and that's a harmless preference. It's Fox that's trying to turn this into a culture-war story.

And what do you know -- that may be a bridge too far for Fox Nation. Check out some of the comments:

LEDs are a wonderful CAPITALIST invention. A light source that is just as bright as normal lights, but is much more efficient, cheap to mass produce and cheaper to run. Something that you, the consumer, would want to purchase to lower your electricity bills. LEDs have outcompeted traditional bulbs in a free market economy. Its capitialism at work in the land of the free, the USA....


LED?! GOSH DARNIT that's just unamerican! Also, I want black and white TV back! Color tv is for communists!


I also want my asbestos back!

But those may just be snarky liberal haters. Other Foxists agree that this is another sign of the decline of the Republic:

That is ok. These progessives will pass a law soon that you can't celebrate Christmas anyway. Communists have entered our Gov and won't leave. So I guess we will have to have a good ol Patrick Henry Revolution and evict these SOB's


The two-inch, 9-watt incandescent bulbs is like a conservative. they make you feel all warm and fuzzy and caring.
The energy-efficient LED is like a liberal they make you ..................... sick


I won't buy anything with GE on it. I am hording incandesced bulbs until the Government can be forced to get out of our way. And I don't want their mercury filled light bulbs. And I will not vote for anyone who thinks I should be taxed to give to the United Nations. Ever!


How's that Obama "freedom" working out for you liberal/socialists? You can't get the light bulbs you want, and next they'll tell which toilet paper you can have and how to use it. You feel "greener" now?

And my favorite:

When Israel attacks Iran, there will be a real energy shortage because Pelosi and her bird lover friends won't let us build nuclear plants. Forget the lights, better buy a gun.

Ah, now I'm in the Christmas spirit.

Interesting poll numbers:

CNN Poll: 6 point jump in support for health care bill

Support for the health care reform bill that Democrats are pushing through the Senate has risen six points since early December, according to a new national poll, and although a majority of Americans still oppose its passage, only four in ten agree with Senate Republicans that the bill is too liberal....

"Virtually all the increase in support for the Senate health care bill has come from Democrats, with a 10-point increase since early December," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Support is also up 10 points among younger Americans, compared to only two points among people 50 and older." ...

Now, when was this poll taken?

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted December 16-20....

Yup --questioning started two days after Joe Lieberman declared he'd block a bill with a public option, and ended just before the key cloture votes began to take place.

My theory: Democrats (especially young ones) despise Lieberman so much that his stab in the back made people rally to the bill (yes, even though he succeeded in weakening it).

Or maybe they rallied to it when they saw it slipping away (which is what some pollsters say happens whenever abortion rights actually seem threated), in which case I suppose both Joe and the DFH critics of the bill get the credit for the uptick.

I see (via the imitation Free Republic board known as Liberty Post) that a few tea party types are planning to bring the country to its knees:

National Strike -- We The People Strike Back against an out of control government.

My Fellow Americans,

...We are, as I write this post, a mere six hours away from the United States Senate will vote on Cloture that begins a water fall effect to bring about government run health care by Christmas day. A move that will put the government literally in the business of valuing life, deciding how much you should weigh, and forcing you to pay for health care in order to be a citizen in good standing.

... On January 20, 2010 We The People will strike at the life blood of that parasitic congress by denying them the tax revenue for one day. We will not work. We will not shop, or buy anything that is taxed. We will not renew any licenses, tags, file any government filings and we will not remain silent. On This day we will fire a shot across the bow of Congress that we rule them not the other way around....

I think it took years for anyone on the '60s left to imagine that the movement had the power to shut down America. These guys think they're there after a few months. The '60s left didn't have that kind of clout, no lefty movement since then has had that kind of clout, and these guys sure as hell don't.

This is being done in a social-networking way -- there are a whopping 146 members as I write, all presumably planning not to shop or work or go the motor vehicles department. (That'll show 'em!)

Any other clever ideas? One contributor to the group blog has a thought:

Instruct everyone to file a new w4 with their employer [all do it on 1/19/2010 if we are going to strike on 1/20/2010] . Claim 20 exemptions instead of the usual 0 or 2. If millions of employees do this, it will reduce federal withholding taxes from your paycheck to very little or nothing.....

The Treasury may not be able to sell our bonds at any price.

And if 146 people do it? Our blogger doesn't say. (My guess? 146 W-4s will be kicked back by 146 baffled HR departments -- "Um, I think there's a mistake on one of your forms....")

Penny Kwok, another contributor to the group blog, seemed inadequately focused on the goal this morning (until her post was removed):

discount beaded bracelets

Peek into the jewelry wardrobe of any well-dressed woman and you are likely to find a beaded bracelet among her favorite classic bracelet pieces. The discount beaded bracelet has been prized since ancient times for its perfection and absolute beauty. This fashion stone bracelet symbolizes all the best qualities human beings aspire to -- honesty, integrity, purity, charity and wisdom.

Beaded bracelet is the low cost way to go when searching for discount jewelry projects online....

She'd better not be planning to peddle these damn things on January 20!

After this past year, I never want to say for certain that a teabag hissyfit is too silly to fail, but I don't think this one's going to accomplish much. Who knows, though? Maybe tomorrow we'll find out that Fox is going all in to support the strike. (But wouldn't that mean Fox couldn't actually cover it? If Fox were really supporting the strike, wouldn't it have to go dark for the day in solidarity? Or would it have to get some kind of teabag equivalent of a shabbas goy? Maybe cover the whole day using Canadians?)
Digby! or "A National Party Once More."

I want to add something to what Digby had to say this morning about bipartisanship the Health Care Bill. Digby argues, with some interesting examples, that partisanship is important--that is, that each party ought to and should vote its conscience and that its good for us, as a country, to have a choice between two very different philosophies of government because that means that the legislation we get will actually be tailored to doing something, rather than to pleasing the incohate middle. I want to take that a step further and explain why I feel that this bill, flawed though it is, has driven a stake through the heart of the bipartisan zombie--to mix my horror film metaphors--and may finally enable the Dems to act like a National Party.

Yesterday Steve Benen quoted one of those anonymous sources as claiming that Evan Bayh, of all people, said this:

Mr. Bayh said that the health care measure was the kind of public policy he had come to Washington to work on, according to officials who attended the session, and that he did not want to see the satisfied looks on the faces of Republican leaders if they succeeded in blocking the measure.
Now, aside from the absurdity of making any kind of legislative decision on pique, or spite (not that I'm against them if they work) just stop and enjoy that for a moment. Evan Bayh is, temporarily, fleeing the sinking ship of bipartisanship. Well, they are doing so under duress, but they are doing so. And having done so, I believe there's no going back. Its something that the netroots have been saying for a while: when this legislation is done it is going to be understood as a wholly Democratic legislative act. Good, bad, or indifferent the Republicans are not going to take the fall for it but that being the case nor should they reap the benefits.

Up until now--and it sounds like the late night cloture vote run up was a doozy--the Democrats seem to have been unclear on this concept, at least as long as they were pursuing Republican votes. Now that it looks like they are going to get the bill through--though I'm hesitant to go that far at this point without spitting on the floor and shouting "Avert!"--most of them, except Feingold and Webb, seem to have grasped this nettle and grasped this fact: the Democrats had to be united to get the bill passed, and they will have to be united in supporting it. Each Democratic Senator who votes for the Senate version and the final conference version is nailing his or her personal flag to the mast. There's going to be no eliding responsibility, or shoving off the bad bits of the bill onto the Republicans or, more importantly, onto other Democrats.

One of the most enraging things about the Democrats, as SteveM has said again and again, is that they won't even take their own side in a fight. All through the Clinton and Bush years you could always turn on a TV and see Democrats, even relatively high up officials, slanging Democratic initiatives, the Democratic President, or anything else Democrats or progressives had touched. Chief among these attackers, of course, were people like Lieberman, Bayh, Nelson, Baucus--the conservadems. That's why Lieberman was chosen as Al Gore's running mate: because he was willing to serve as a public scold of Clinton's libertinism, as well as of liberalism.

Well, who now shall be the scold? Who now shall be the "reasonable" Democrat siding with the Republicans in deploring this bill? Apparently its not going to be Nelson, who I understand rose to defend it. And its not going to be Bayh. It may be the progressive Senators--but to my mind that's all to the good. It pushes the debate about what to do next far to the left, with "centrist" Democrats having to defend themselves against the charge of being too timid and too Corporatist rather than the implied charge of being Hippie Loving freaks leveled at them by their Republican enemies. This charge, as we know, was all that it took to make Democrats roll over and bark on command. It sounds like there was considerable blood and froth on the floor of the Senate last night. I take that for what its worth: nothing. But I do think that the Democrats as a block may emerge from this vote with a renewed need to stand together in opposition to the Republicans. In essence the Republicans have left them no choice. And that's all to the good.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I've said that I believe culture-war issues are less important for rank-and-file members of the tea party right than for wingers of the Reagan and Bush eras; no, they don't like gay marriage, and the health care bill will be killed over abortion if the right manages to kill it ... but the lobbyist and media-titan leaders of the tea party movement have the rabble focusing far more on "socialism!!!1!" these days than morals.

Robert George, the right-wing Catholic Princeton philosopher, would like to change that. He's profiled in today's New York Times Magazine, where he's described as a rising star on the right (he recently convened a multidenominational group of religious leaders to endorse the so-called Manhattan Declaration, which, as the Times notes, "promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage").

But what really seems to float this doctor of thinkology's boat is thinking about sex.

Read the article if you want all the details; I'll just note this:

The same-sex marriage debate, George argues, illuminates an error in our understanding that he blames for most of the ills afflicting modern marriage -- infidelity, divorce, out-of-wedlock births....

First, he contends that marriage is a uniquely "comprehensive" union, meaning that it is shared at several different levels at once -- emotional, spiritual and bodily....

The second step is more complicated, and more graphic. George argues that only vaginal intercourse -- "procreative-type" sex acts, as George puts it -- can consummate this "multilevel" mind-body union. Only in reproduction, unlike digestion, circulation, respiration or any other bodily function, do two individuals perform a single function and thus become, in effect, "one organism." ... Unloving sex between married partners does not perform the same multilevel function, he argues, nor does oral or anal sex -- even between loving spouses.

George argues that reason alone shows that heterosexual sodomy and homosexual sex are morally wrong, just as the Catholic Church, classical philosophers and other religious traditions have historically taught. Unlike marital union in his special sense, he contends, such acts treat the body as an instrument of the mind's pleasure.


Now, see, however much I may disagree with Professor George's morality, I can understand (if not agree with) the notion that the only kind of sex that's moral is heterosexual sex within marital bonds. And I can also understand the notion that there's something special about heterosexual vaginal intercourse -- it is, obviously, nature's special way of making more people.

But, um, reason leads us to recognize that non-vaginal sex is "morally wrong" even between married people? Hunh?

Even if you accept the notion that only, um, opposite-married people should have sex, and that vaginal intercourse is special, why are other kinds of married sex immoral? Because they're not that special kind of sex?

So what? A lot of things loving married couples do together aren't that special kind of sex. Forget sex. What if you just snuggle on the couch together and watch something mindlessly entertaining from Netflix while eating a big bowl of popcorn slathered with real butter? Is that morally wrong? Couldn't it be argued that that "treat[s] the body as an instrument of the mind's pleasure" -- the snuggling part, and maybe even the (mutual) junk-eating part?

Why is some sex that reinforces even a kind of love Professor George finds morally acceptable, married heterosexual love, immoral? Don't a lot of things married people do together lead to bodily pleasure?

Even if you don't want to expand the perimeter and say that many more kinds of love (and sex) are OK, isn't this nuts?

(And don't many of the evangelic churches teach that sex should be limited to the traditionally married virgins-until-wedlock, but that their sex after exchanging vows should be, well, hot? That at least seems relatively reasonable.)

Ah, but why does any of this matter? Well...

He has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as "one of the biggest brains in America," or, on one broadcast, "Superman of the Earth." Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told me he numbers George among the most-talked-about thinkers in conservative legal circles. And Newt Gingrich called him "an important and growing influence" on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage....

When George W. Bush became president in 2001, George was an active player in weekly White House conference calls for Catholic allies. Bush later awarded George a Presidential Citizens Medal. During the 2008 campaign, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain each sought George's counsel.

Does anyone care about this stuff anymore? If people start to care again, this guy really has an in.

Oh, and by the way:

...when Bill Clinton denied [Pennsylvania governor Bob] Casey a chance to speak about abortion at the 1992 Democratic convention, it was George who had helped to write Casey's speech.

Whatever the real reason Casey was denied a speaking slot -- The New Republic's Michael Crowley has argued, convincingly, that it was because Casey hadn't even endorsed Clinton -- it's probably just as well he didn't get to utter this lunatic's words.

So where does this guy get his deep philosophical ideas about sex?

His mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, taught her children "some pretty firm ideas about sexual morality," George told me, and then he begged me not to repeat some of his more recent arguments on the subject. "Mom, I have got to explain!" George said, raising his voice to imitate first himself and then his mother: "'George's opposition to sodomy! What are you doing talking about sodomy? You shouldn't even know what that is! Why do people have to know your views about that?'..."

Those are the underpinnings of an Ivy League philosopher's moral thought. Maybe the right-wingers have a point about the decline of elite education.
Snow Day. Will Stop Worrying about Politics for Five Minutes.

And in that Five minutes, I think I'll make bread. Make Brioche dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Spend next five days cooking and eating everything you ever dreamed of with Brioche dough. I actually made a batch of the basic dough two days ago, pulled it chilled from the refrigerator and made the sticky buns version, let it rise, stuck it back in the refrigerator overnight and baked it in the morning for breakfast without having to get up any earlier than it took to preheat the oven. This is simply a fabulous recipe. The picture below is from the website I linked to, but my version looked just as yummy:

Brioche dough (makes about 4 loaves)

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

8 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup honey (this is my all time favorite!)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast, salt, eggs honey and melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix in the flour, using a spoon until all of the flour is incorporated.

Cover (not airtight), and allow to sit at room temperature for about two hours.

The dough can be used as soon as it is chilled. This dough is way too sticky to use after the initial rise, but once it is chilled it is very easy to handle. It can be used to create the Tatin or any of these brioche recipes: caramel sticky buns, grilled fruit tart, Fresh Fruit Muffins, Brioche à tête, apricot pastries and fabulous doughnuts! The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. After that you can freeze the dough.

sticky buns

If you don't need your slow cooker and you have a really big one its perfect for the size of this dough. And it has the required lid but is not airtight. The dough is not very sweet so if I knew for sure that all I was going to make were danishes and cinnamon buns from a given batch I'd add a bit of sugar and cardamom or nutmeg, plus lemon zest. I plan to also experiment with doing the entire bun thing and then freezing it and defrosting it the night before I need it. I also used some amazing caramel sauce that I had on hand instead of making my own caramel for the top of the sticky buns.


You could say that if this is true:

Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani is expected to huddle with top aides soon to decide -- once and for all -- whether he will run for U.S. Senate.

But nobody should expect he will.

Simply put, there is no indication that Giuliani is preparing to run against freshman Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand -- or anyone else this year.

"There is no evidence at all, really," said former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, a longtime Giuliani confidant.

...He is not button-holing GOP county chairman or other party stalwarts in an effort to line up support.

He is not hiring staffers, traveling the state, raising political cash or dusting off old mailing lists.

The reason, say friends, is simple -- he likes his new life....

Rudy's rich (and surely doesn't have to do very much to stay that wy except be a figurehead lawyer and "consultant"). He's still famous. What's not to like.

What I read about Sarah Palin is that she'd be happy just to get a talk show. I don't believe it -- but I think a lot of people do because she seems flighty and girly, whereas Rudy must be planning a big move, because he's a Real Man.

I think he's the one who's happily for being famous-for-being-famous, whereas -- even though, yeah, she is insubstantial -- Palin still has her eyes on the White House.

Well, Rudy thought he could coast into it on public adulation, too. But right now, in terms of pure ambition, he seems like the flighty one -- his name keeps getting in the papers as a possible candidate, but it seems as if that's just rumor.

Palin's, by contrast, is aggressively reaching for something. If it's the presidency, she's going about it in a weird, Us-magazine, tease-the-paparazzi way, but I think she thinks that will work -- I think she thinks that'll work for her because she knows how to break the rules and succeed anyway. You probably disagree. But we'll see.


UPDATE, TUESDAY: Now it appears it's going to be made official -- Rudy's expected to announce today that he isn't running for governor or senator. Here's the end of the story in the New York Daily News:

Now he has other plans, friends said.

"Yeah, like enjoying his life," said one.

Apparently, of the two, Sarah's the one who's more interested these days in being the alpha male.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


It's being reported that Ben Nelson is on board now and therefore Harry Reid has his 60 votes for the health care bill.

I won't believe this is a done deal until I see it, but if it is, and if Nelson really was the final cat to be herded, I wonder if at least part of what got him on board (in addition, obviously, to huge compromises and bribes) was precisely the fact that now he can go to all the Real Americans back in Nebraska and say this can't be that much of a pinko-commie bill if Howard Dean and Keith Olbermann and all the other sandal-wearing DFHs don't like it. If that's a part of it, I'm guessing it's a small part, but hey, you never know. If we grumpy traitors made it easier for "centrists" to sell this to True Americans, then, far from being "destructive," as progressive supporters of the bill described us, we may have, in a small way, helped put it over the top. But hey, no need to thank us.


And by the way, if you're having as much trouble with the new-and-not-particularly-improved comments as I am, my apologies. I don't know what's going on, either. I'll try to get it resolved, though it may take a while.


UPDATE, EVENING: Well, I figured Joe Lieberman wouldn't be the last roadblock, and I knew I shouldn't bet the rent money on Nelson's yes vote being the end of it. So Stupak thinks what's been agreed to isn't draconian enough -- and he's coordinating with the Republicans? Can't say I'm surprised.

I've assumed for months that this was going to fail -- it seemed crazy to me that the discussion we all were having this week was "Should progressives kill the bill?" when it seemed obvious, still, that conservatives (among whom I include so-called centrists) were actually going to kill it -- and then this morning I thought I'd been wrong all along. No, I don't think I was wrong all along. I don't think this is going to happen. And of course it would come down to abortion, so Republicans can say both "Health care reform would have been the end of civilization as we know it" and "You didn't get health care reform because there was no pleasing the liberal baby-killers." Because the failure to get this done will be blamed on us, not Stupak and his GOP allies.
Git 'r Dun/Cut the Shit knocked into a cocked hat by cool dude. I'm satisfied with my electoral bargain.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Talking Points Memo:

Minnesota First Lady Mary Pawlenty is just fine with her husband Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential presidential candidate, referring to her as "my red-hot, smokin' wife."

Pawlenty made the comment while speaking to the Iowa Republican Party in April. "Thank you, Lord, for my red-hot, smokin' wife," he said, quoting the Will Ferrell comedy
Talladega Nights, a movie about an idiotic NASCAR driver.

"Obviously I can only speak for myself," Mary Pawlenty told the Minnesota-based ECM newspapers, "but I don't know a woman alive who wouldn't love to have her husband refer to her as his 'red-hot smoking' wife."

Oh, yeah, smooth move -- after all, this impressed GOP voters so much last time:


Bill Kristol sneeringly reminds us where he stands on health care legislation:

There's a really big snowstorm coming to D.C.tonight. It would be unsafe to ask all the staffers and Hill employees who'd be needed at the Capitol if Congress stays open all hours this weekend.... So from the point of view of public safety and personal well-being, Ben Nelson can do everyone a favor, announce today he won't vote for cloture, and let everyone stay home this weekend.

... we'll all benefit from a nice holiday break during which we can talk with the American people and recharge our batteries, and that he looks forward to seeing everyone in the New Year.

But we're hearing on the left -- I'm inclined to believe it -- that this bill is largely a giveaway to the insurance industry, with a mandate that will fill insurers' coffers but inadequate subsidies to make the mandatory purchases truly affordable. So why isn't Kristol secretly hoping this corporate-sellout bill passes? Why isn't he eager to see the insurers' pockets lined?

For that matter, if it's such a bad bill, and most of the benefits don't kick in for years -- or, to put it another way, don't kick in for two more election cycles -- and if Kristol believes it's wildly unpopular (he's a Republican, so surely this is what he believes), why isn't he hoping Nelson and Lieberman (and/or Olympia Snowe) just shut up and vote for cloture, so Democrats can hang the albatross around their own necks and Republicans can reap the benefit?

I don't really have answers for this -- I'm just throwing the questions out there. I think it has to do with a purist-Republican belief that any (non-military) use of the government is bad; perhaps it's a residual fear of what Kristol and his fellow Repubs thought the bill was going to do that would please ordinary Americans. Or maybe they think there really is plenty in there for ordinary Americans to like -- and possibly they believe Democrats will actually be able to build on the bill in years to come (heaven knows why, given several decades of Democratic haplesness).

I have no answers, just the question: why doesn't the even-more-corpocrat party want this bill, if it's so pro-corporate now?
You've Got To Dance With the Ones That Brung You

Meteor Blades says what I've been thinking about this whole "who killed the bill" discussion. The people who are now being excoriated for not supporting the bill, such as it is, were not part of the strategy to get the bill in the first place. Obama's actual supporters were not polled about what they wanted in the bill. The Left, whoever she be, wasn't asked what should be in the bill. And the actual progressives in the House and the Senate were, at every turn, told to sit down and shut up and take a back seat to negotiations with the all important moderates and reactionaries. I imagine this happening daily in the halls of Congress:

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

That attitude towards your voters works fine if you can deliver, in the end, what they want--and if they can see that you delivered. It won't work if you deliver something whose benefits are far less than you promised, if the benefits aren't evident, if the benefits are too long delayed, or if you look like you didn't fight. Its this last point that really seems, to me, to be important. Fighting hard, or fighting ugly, isn't Obama's style. And I certainly never expected it to be. People were ticked that Lieberman was invited to the White House Channukah party? I wasn't. I expect Obama to always be gracious and civil--I'd expect it would also be a good time for Rahm and some of Obama's more liberal Jewish guests to take Lieberman into a back room and piss on his shoes and stick his head in the toilet. (And if you think they wouldn't I have some enraged senior Jewish Democratic Donors I could introduce you to). That's the essence of good cop/bad cop--if u r doin' it rite.

This attitude towards your voters works less well when you fail to give them some respect: you don't include them in your discussions, you don't ask them for their help with the parts of the bill they care about, you strip out the parts of the bill you promised, you act like its no big deal to sacrifice key constituents (women) to placate obviously deranged and dishonest Senators (no links, anyone who's been watching knows who I mean, and why). That's ok too--you didn't think you needed your voters during the run up to the bill and you think you won't need them again until 2010. Perhaps they'll come back around by then.

But all of a sudden, in the last crunch hours before the Senate does whatever the Senate needs to do to please Nelson, Lieberman, or Snowe the cry goes up--"Its the fault of the left that we couldn't get this great/not great/disasterous/totally necessary bill all the way through?" I know defeat is an orphan and all that but this feels more like defeat is a parricide, to me. This bill is so crucial, such a once in a multi generational shot that the Democrats went into it with no clear blueprint to success--no guarantee from their own membership that all cloture votes would be pro-forma? No serious attempt to take down the cloture rule? No one ever took Nelson into a backroom with a coathanger and a copy of the constitution and choked him on the necessity of keeping local Nebraska religious politics out of other women's medical care?

There's been a lot of talk about "candidate Obama" vs. "president Obama" and I think there are lots of differences, of course, between those two styles of leadership. To my mind the most important difference isn't the difference between someone who promises vs. someone who has to govern, or someone who can be irresponsible vs. someone who is responsible (which are the various ways this has been conceived) but between someone who grasps that he is only going to get over if he really seems to want what his base wants, and is seen as fighting for it and someone who starts to act like the base were just some crazy fans who, once they've bought their tickets, have no right to say whether they like the show or not. I know I'm mixing my metaphors, here, but just one wouldn't do.

Read the Plouffe interview and see that the amorphous but passionate movement of Obama voters and supporters--people who were encouraged to get together, share their stories, build their own networks, pursue money, votes, support, local initiatives, political office--was not only entirely shut down but that Plouffe thinks this is a good thing. The weak, watery, politics of the post election Obama campaign has produced a weak, watery, confused, popular response to this tragedy of a bill. There's really nothing surprising about it. Where the campaign Obama asked people to commit to getting something specific done: deciding on Obama, contacting voters, contacting legislators, fighting for the election the President Obama has told everyone to sit back and let the grownups handle things. They asked us to be disengaged--they told the left not to have opinions about Senators or Congressmen who were going to vote against the bill. They told us not to mix in by running ads. They asked us not to advocate for policies we wanted but to accept the compromises that their right wing counterparties demanded.

This is the exact opposite tack from the campaign Obama ran in which, famously, ordinary people unleashed a ton of creative energy just reworking the logo, or making their own youtube videos and songs, or contacting their neighbors, or holding fundraisers. Well, if you run in the opposite direction from your base you have to expect that, in the end, you will get a very different response from them. Either they will accept your dicta and remain passive and disengaged, or their passion and engagement are going to go in other directions. This is what has happened. Instead of being able to draw on passionate support, Obama is fighting a headwind of apathy, disappointment, and general distrust. That's not because he is losing the battle for the bill against Lieberman and Nelson--its because he has refused to include his supporters in his strategy to get the bill in the first place. Because people were told explicitly that their contributions were not wanted they are uninvolved and uninvested. If they had been involved, and invested, as the bill started to go south they would have still felt some ownership of it, and still felt some trust that Obama and the Senate would deliver something pretty good. But months of ham handed negotiations, closed door agreements, shaving and mutilation, and contemptuous lectures have really killed people's trust in the process and its architects. In many ways Obama would have been better off if he had explained at the start that this was such an uphill battle against entrenched and corrupt interests that we had very little hope of getting anything good.

To get people to invest in the bill you have to either write the bill they want to see, pass a pretty good bill, or have a really good fall guy when the bill fails. Obama's people, if not Obama (of course), have decided that the fall guy is going to be "the left" or the "voters" for failing to appreciate all that was going to be done for them. But just as we were not involved in the writing or the negotiating for this bill we are not to blame. Frankly, I think the concept of blame is absurd. Obama and his team wanted to pursue the bill a certain way, and they did exactly what they wanted to do. They refused all offers of outside help, or criticism, or suggestion. They own this bill and they own the mechanisms that allowed Lieberman, Nelson, and Snowe to hold it up and, perhaps, to kill it. Just as they chose to exclude the base from the construction of this bill, however, they now seem determined to conclude that somehow its the base's lack of faith that is preventing the bill from being passed. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be more dangerous for the Democratic party. If this bill goes down I hope Obama and the Dems wise up and grasp that the fall guy had better not be "the base" for its lack of faith--the fall guy has to be Lieberman, Nelson, Snowe and the entire Republican party. Because you can't run against your own voters in 2010 and hope to win.