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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What Are You Doing New Years Eve?

by digby

Happy New Year, everybody.

h/t and HNY to bb


The Dead-End Kids

by dday

Eve Fairbanks has an important piece about the deepening conservatism in the Congressional Republican caucus. They have been emboldened by their little model Congress stunt on offshore drilling in August, which led to a predictable capitulation from Democrats and the prospect of oil rigs on the California coast within a couple years. Despite the will of the voters at the polls, Republicans learned the lesson of 2008 is that if they stamp their feet and scream loud enough, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

The episode was the happiest moment of the House Republicans' two years in the minority. But, for House conservatives, the energy insurgency provided far more than mere satisfaction: It became a blueprint for the future. Forget the self-flagellating remedies proposed by white-flag Republicans like David Frum or the Sam's Club crowd. The House right-wingers concluded from the drilling victory that conservatism needn't compromise ideologically in order to win--just the opposite. It's a lesson they're eager to apply to Barack Obama's economic schemes, like health care reform and the huge infrastructure stimulus package. Rather than accepting the implications of John McCain's recession-driven loss--that Americans, perhaps, might be growing weary of Republican economics--the conservatives intend to trigger a popular revolt, like the one they provoked over drilling, against Democrat-led socialism itself.

Conservatives may have dwindling ranks, increasing illegitimacy and the headwind of a very well-liked incoming President eager to implement a popular agenda to deal with. But that is simply not what they gained from the election season. Their take was that McCain was insufficiently conservative (!) and that, besieged on all sides, they must stand up for the people and put the brakes on this whole "change" fad. They have nothing left but ideology, and the Drudge/Fox/talk radio megaphone that it still able to mainline that ideology into the public opinion stream. The years of groupthink have proved to BOTH sides in Washington that only conservative populists are the holders of the popular will, regardless of, you know, election returns.

By the time Pence and his pro-drilling confederates stormed the House floor on August 1, Republicans were primed to accept the ensuing battle's lessons: One, dramatic gestures pay; two, conservatives don't have to compromise to capture the people's imagination. "When [Pelosi] and other Democratic leaders felt the force of America against them ... Americans let their voices be heard, and they were enraged, and it affected the way the [energy] bill was put before the House," explains Representative Louie Gohmert, a bald, cheerful judge from Texas who got swept up in the August excitement.

Soon, as Lehman Brothers melted down and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson rushed around the Hill begging representatives to do something, a new menace ripe for attack emerged: government intervention in the free market. Psychologically rejuvenated by the energy fight, conservatives turned their newfound taste for melodrama against government bailouts. Hensarling derided the September $700 billion plan to rescue the financial industry as a "slippery slope to socialism," and Thaddeus McCotter, a conservative from the Detroit suburbs, exclaimed that "it was no mistake that, during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the slogan was 'Peace, land, and bread.' Today, you are being asked to choose between bread and freedom. I suggest that the people on Main Street have said they prefer their freedom!"

All 17 House Republican freshmen rejected Boehner's tearful pro-bailout appeals and signed up with Hensarling's mutiny against the first bailout vote. And the enthusiastic response from constituents confirmed the conservatives' view that, while America (perplexingly) might not be planning to vote for them, it stood with them. As Culberson posted proudly on Twitter: "Texans core belief =leave me alone: gov't stay away from my home, my family, my church, my school, my bank account & my guns." Even Boehner became a believer. After the GOP's loss on Election Day, its second in a row, he promoted Pence, his old rival, to the leadership team and mailed a letter to House Republicans praising the conservatives and vowing to use the energy episode as his battle plan.

The bailout bill was ideologically muddled by the fact that it was designed to funnel money to giant investment banks at least partially responsible for the financial meltdown, and as such is not the best example. But what's significant is the language used, the simplistic shibboleths of "freedom" and "socialism". These didn't work during the Presidential campaign, but when they are channeled into populist proposals that Democrats haven't successfully pushed back on, the result could be dangerous.

Gohmert, the conservative Texas judge, had the brainstorm for his own contribution to the coming wave as he emerged from anesthesia a few days before Thanksgiving. He'd just undergone surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament, torn in the annual House softball game, and, as he lay recovering, he was possessed with the germ of an idea. He dropped an e-mail to Newt Gingrich. "He wrote, 'Do you realize that the amount of money they want [in the remaining, as-yet-unused $350 billion of the Wall Street bailout fund] is so great that you could actually give every American a tax holiday for two months?'" Gingrich remembers: "I looked at it and I thought, wow, what a great way to quantify it." Newt shot back a message predicting that a two-month holiday on both income and Social Security taxes--proposed by Gohmert as a conservatively populist, don't-let-Big-Brother-take-your-money alternative to the bailouts--would be "brilliant." "I don't get a lot of e-mails from anybody, especially somebody as smart as Newt, saying 'This is brilliant,'" Gohmert modestly admits.

I don't think anyone has invalidated that "let the people have their own money" approach. Obama's transition team is talking about reducing withholding taxes to give tax cuts to working Americans (which is a behavioral economics scheme based on the idea that people will spend an extra $20-$50 they get every two weeks instead of a lump sum of $500 or $1,000, which would just go to paying down debt). Traditional media still foregrounds ideas like "sales tax holidays" forwarded by lobbying groups like the National Retail Federation. And conservative economists can still credibly view the stimulus choice as one between tax cuts and public spending, and call on 40 years of demonization of government to trot out tax cuts yet again as the solution. After all, Obama's proposed it, so it's just a matter of more of them and less of that nasty big-spending liberalism.

The goal will be to end or moderate the recession. According to the textbooks, government spending raises the demand for goods and services. Tax cuts also spur demand by putting more income in the hands of consumers or more after-tax profits in the hands of businesses.

Is a fiscal stimulus good policy? The answer is no if the stimulus consists of increased spending. The stimulus may be good policy, though, if it consists of lower taxes.

See? They're just the same, only lower taxes lets YOU keep YOUR money, and big gubmint spending steals your money for pork. Pork!

There really is nothing left for conservatives to argue beyond "that way lies socialism." As Fairbanks explains, this is the same strategy they used in the 1930s to try and slow down the New Deal. They argued to themselves that Roosevelt was just a charismatic leader and his policies were abhorrent to the majority of the public. They tried to corner the 1930s version of Blue Dog Democrats to get them to flip their votes. They believed the country was center-right and that by holding to their convictions, they could not fail. What else could they do, other than disband? The strategy wasn't very successful then. Nowadays, there is the constant hum of the noise machine and a right-wing movement well-practiced in the art of obstruction. Not to mention a Democratic majority that fetishizes bipartisanship and timid in the face of these cries from the other side.

(I'm wondering about the connection between dead-ender conservative populists and the "Lost-Cause" mythmakers of the South. Michael Lind calls for a "Third Reconstruction" of the South to save the US economy, while Ed Kilgore has a contrarian view, while acknowledging that "first-wave" economic strategies of low wages, deregulation and the absence of unions have taken hold in the South in the Bush era.)

A lot of commenters and writers in the blogosphere thinks that we should just dismiss the conservative populists and let them play their little games, that the elections have rendered them irrelevant. I don't subscribe to this point of view. We still have a media inclined to promote conflict, one that loves a conservative comeback story, as well as a steady stream of right-wing operatives ready to get their position into the discourse. Further, the imbalance between extreme partisan warfare on one side and the desire to play nice on the other persists. Past history of Congressional capitulation is not promising here. Not to mention that so many of the initiatives the incoming Administration wants to implement need to happen fast to maximize their effectiveness, giving the dead-end kids a piece of leverage that they are sure to use.

Cranks like this are present in virtually every new Administration, but in our current media/political age I think they are uniquely equipped to succeed. And I don't see a real strategy to counteract them yet.

Control The Team

by digby

Jane Hamsher sez:

The Illinois legislature had their chance to strip Blago of his appointment power and call a special election, but the Democrats got cute and decided they didn't want to risk losing the seat (Reid sent a letter opposing a special election).

So they made this particular bed.

Now the Senate Democratic Caucus have said they will not let Burris join their exclusive little club. Really? As The Christian Progressive Liberal notes over at Jack & Jill Politics, that's a rich one:

Harry Reid, as well as the President-Elect, needs to explain why Traitor Joe Lieberman was allowed to keep his Senate seat, his committee assignments and his privileges when the man all but joined the Republican Party by publicly dissing PE Obama, and actively campaigning for Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain - thereby signing off on all the race-baiting inherently involved in McCain’s campaign, brought with an assist from the Moose Queen Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. Reid needs to explain what the difference is in keeping Lieberman the Weasel vs. seating Roland Burris, the near-squeaky clean former AG from Illinois.

I would add that the little end run by the Attorney General to have Blagojevich removed by the state supreme court and the Senate's clearly unconstitutional assertion that they can refuse to seat anyone they choose doesn't exactly reassure me that the Dems are going to be all that much more respectful of the law than the Republicans were. There are proper ways to handle this stuff and these are not among them.

I agree with Will Bunch. They should just seat Burris. It's not the end of the world, he's a good Dem who, as the Jack and Jill poster Jane excerpts above says, is far likelier to support Obama's agenda than the backstabbing Joe Lieberman. They blew it and they shouldn't make it any worse by refusing to seat someone who mets all the legal requirements of the job. (And anyway, this could be a dangerous precedent. Suppose senators in the future decide that in a time 'o war, they won't seat someone who calls himself a socialist --- like Bernie Sanders? It could easily happen.)

I have to say that I'm a little bit disappointed in the Obama political team. I have absolutely no problem with their response to the ignoramuses in the press or the way they conducted their internal investigation. But the stupidity about the special election, the AG filing that idiotic suit, letting Reid and the senate Dems run around like a bunch of hysterical Victorian spinsters --- it's not good. They need to get control of the Democratic political professionals in a hurry or they're going to screw them before they even get started.

Defining The Argument Down

by digby

A couple of weeks a go I wrote a long piece about "legal scholar" Stuart Taylor's arguments against prosecutions against the war crimes regime called, Don't Defend It, Don't mend It, Just End It and speculated that his thoughts on the matter would be the default position of the villagers. After all, everyone in the village agrees that there should be no pursuit of those who tortured, spied and used the constitution as toilet paper, for essentially the same reasons: the right wing will tear the country apart if anything is done about this and those who perpetrated the crime of torture have already suffered enough by being embarrassed at being found out. They all make the same absurd argument about lawyers' advice being the determining factor as to whether a law was broken.

But after reading Ruth Marcus' somnambulant "let's not play the blame game" piece today in the Washington Post, which validates my thesis in nearly every respect, I realize that I was wrong in one fundamental way: there will actually be two versions of the villager talking points which will define the contours of the "argument:" those who lean right and say that the new president should continue to torture, kidnap, illegally spy on and imprison innocent people and those reasonable "centrists" like Marcus who say he probably shouldn't unless he absolutely has to. (The left, needless to say, are a bunch of shrieking extremists who insist that these things are so wrong they should be repudiated and punished.)

The frame shifts, the goalposts move, the argument narrows and the conservatives get away with murder. And yet Marcus, like a dewy eyed debutante writes something like this with a straight face:

Second, the looming threat of criminal sanctions did not do much to deter the actions of Bush administration officials. "The Terror Presidency," former Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith's account of the legal battles within the administration over torture and wiretapping, is replete with accounts of how officials proceeded despite their omnipresent concerns about legal jeopardy.

"In my two years in the government, I witnessed top officials and bureaucrats in the White House and throughout the administration openly worrying that investigators acting with the benefit of hindsight in a different political environment would impose criminal penalties on heat-of-battle judgment calls," Goldsmith writes.

Well, they certainly won't spend any time worrying about that in the future will they? (And I'm pretty sure that those who had any knowledge of how Washington works understood very well that the likelihood of them ever being held liable for these crimes was nil.)

So, it has already been agreed upon by all sides (except those annoying DFH's) that these poor torturers have suffered enough what with all their fretting about being punished for their misdeeds and embarrassment at having been publicly revealed to be sadists and all. And everyone knows that the wingnuts are holding a gun to the country's collective head threatening to go postal if anyone is held liable for these crimes, so we'd better not rock that boat or all hell will break loose. The only argument left is whether or not the new president will commit the same crimes.

The danger in this, aside from the implications for a future lawless administration, is that the "compromise" position in such an argument is to do exactly what Stuart Taylor suggests be done with the torture and spying regime: mend it don't end it. And this is one issue where there is absolutely no room for compromise --- the world is watching and our national security depends upon Obama completely and without reservations ending these programs, closing Guantanamo, following the Geneva conventions and standing firm against any kind of lawless and unproductive anti-terrorism measures. Investigating and exposing the full extent of what went on is also, in my view, a necessity if we are to restore any kind of credibility around the world. If he doesn't do these things, this moment will be as squandered as the world's sympathy was squandered by Bush after 9/11. The world will be unlikely to give us a third chance at getting this right.

Casualties Of War

by dday

Alberto Gonzales, a guy who wrote memos calling the Geneva Conventions quaint, who barged into John Ashcroft's hospital bed to sign off on illegal wiretapping of Americans, who aided in the authorization and direction of torture, who watched as the Justice Department under his tenure became a politicized mess, just can't seem to figure out what made him the bad guy.

WASHINGTON -- Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration [...]

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

If Gonzales was just a dupe, an unwilling functionary in the Bush regime, that statement ALONE would be enough to justify all the scorn heaped on him. I think there are several thousand American families, and several hundred thousand worldwide, that know a little something about being casualties in the war on terror. Being forced out of your cushy job as Attorney General and getting ready to write a book doesn't qualify.

Republicans sure do love their own personal martyrdom, don't they?

Ask The Question

by digby

There's been a lot of speculation about how responsive the Obama administration is going to be toward their supporters and a lot of work is going toward the "change.gov" mechanism to facilitate it. Ari Melber at The Nation has a good suggestion:

The Obama transition team is taking questions again at Change.gov, throwing open the site this week for citizen input. The first run of this experiment was a mixed bag. The platform was open and transparent, but the official answers felt more like old boilerplate than new responses. When the submitted questions parrot toics in the traditional media, of course, the exchange can feel like a dated press conference. But here's a vital question that few reporters have ever presented to Obama:

Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?

That question ranked sixth in voting last time -- out of over 10,000 submissions -- but the transition team only answered the top five questions. Now that Vice President Cheney confessed his support for waterboarding on national television, flouting the rule of law, the issue is even more urgent. Activist Bob Fertik, who has submitted the question twice, explains how you can vote to press this issue on the transition team:

Sign in at http://change.gov/openforquestions

Search for "Fitzgerald" [...and] find our question

Look right for the checkbox, mouseover it so it goes from white to dark, then click to cast your vote

While the press has fixated on the criminal allegations against Gov. Blagojevich, for some reason, the (even more serious) allegations of torture by officials in the current administration receive scant attention. I have not heard one question about this during Obama's transition press conferences, and the traveling press corps almost never pressed Obama on the issue during the general election campaign.

(Melber does give a shout out to Will Bunch for being the only reporter who's actually done their job on this issue.)

This is really worth doing. If Obama wants to do the right thing here, he needs some political support and according to the polls he doesn't have much. It could be really helpful for liberals to apply their awesome powers to choose CIA chiefs to this issue as well.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Badda Bing!

by digby

This should be the standard response to all revisionist wingnuts:

"You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you."

Stop The Presses

by digby

Bush is an idiot:

Former administration underlings depict President Bush as a "Sarah Palin-like" leader with a short attention span who deferred on big decisions.

Larry Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said Vice President Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promoted the notion they were a national security "dream team" to guide the foreign-policy amateur Bush.

"It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like President - because, let's face it, that's what he was - was going to be protected by this national security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire," said Wilkerson.

Yeah well, some of us repeatedly pointed this out from the get-go and we were endlessly lectured by the breathless media that the American people wanted a moronic "regular guy" rather than some boring egghead for president and that his election meant the "grown-ups" were back in charge, even though he clearly had the emotional maturity and judgment of a testosterone overdosing teenager.

And then, for years after 9/11 they actually tried to make us believe that he was some kind of Churchillian savant, whose "gut" was so brilliant that brains were irrelevant. I'm sorry, but from the moment the Republicans trotted out that brainless brand name in a suit and passed him off as a leader ("I'm a leader cuz ah've led!") I've been agog with wonder at the sheer audacity of their scam. It makes Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme look like a small time grift.

(And frankly, the demonization of Palin after their deification of Bush struck me from the beginning as nothing more than class and gender snobbery. There really is no substantial difference between them except that Palin actually had more government experience than Bush did. She was his natural successor.)

I have to admit that this is really rich, though:

Former Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon said the administration was in trouble even before taking office in the aftermath of the 2000 recount in which the Supreme Court effectively ruled that Bush had won Florida.

"The recount poisoned the well from the beginning," McKinnon said."A good number of people in this country didn't believe Bush was a legitimate President. And you can't change the tone under those circumstances."

Oh please. It's not like Bush ever tried to change the tone. He swaggered into DC and behaved like he'd won a landslide. This is from February 2001, right after he took office:

When President Bush was asked recently by a reporter about his judicial selection process, he responded that his election was a mandate for putting conservative judges on the bench. Stumping for his $1.6 trillion tax cut, Bush declares that voters endorsed it when they chose him to be President. And why stop there? Bush has claimed a mandate for everything from changing the tone in Washington to building an antimissile shield in outer space.

Mandate? This from the first President in more than 100 years to win the office without garnering the most votes? But heck, Bush isn't about to let the election results get in the way of a good mandate. True, he lost the popular vote to Al Gore -- and in the eyes of many Democrats lost the electoral vote, too. The Pundit Elite was quick to portray the Texas governor as a "permanently scarred" leader after December's Supreme Court decision that made him the 43rd President.

But it's easy to forget how ephemeral things can be in the world of politics. Today, Bush's personal approval rating hovers around 70%. A majority of Americans supports his tax cut. And the new President is out to prove that a mandate is what you make it. "Essentially, a 'mandate' is what you can get away with," says Princeton University political scientist Fred Greenstein. "Bush is very good at claiming victory. He has a 'Marlboro Man' approach to communication. His idea of having a mandate is to say 'I have a mandate.'"

And the press went into paroxysms of delight over his assertion of manly dominance, while the Democrats seemed to be so shell shocked and paralyzed by his outrageous chutzpah they just stood there while he bulldozed over them. It took Jeffords actually leaving the Republican party for them to even blink. (And then 9/11 happened...) Meanwhile, those of us out here in the hinterlands, aghast at the way the Republicans seized power, were snidely admonished by the villagers to just "get over it."

I'm sorry, these insiders dishing on Bush is fun and all, but I will always have a sour taste in my mouth from the years of being forced to listen to so many elites try to sell me on the absurd idea that George W. Bush was capable of being president in the first place and then force me to listen while they absurdly extolled him as one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

It was obvious from the first time I saw him slumped in his chair like a surly delinquent at a Republican primary debate that the man had no more business being president than my cat (who is far more dignified and has better table manners.) It was an insult that they even recruited him for the job and and even worse insult that the press destroyed Al Gore on his behalf and managed to help him eke out a victory by presenting him as the rightful winner from election night on. Why I'm supposed to be impressed by these belated observations now I can't imagine.

h/t to Bill
Fortified For War

by dday

In other not-yet-decided Senate news, the Minnesota Canvassing Board, which is not really a body I ever wanted to hear a lot about, basically certified the victory of Al Franken today, putting him ahead by 50 votes with only a handful of wrongly disqualified absentee ballots left to count. The working rule from the state Supreme Court is that both the Franken and Coleman campaigns have to agree on allowing a ballot to be counted, and that is predictably going unwell. Of the 1,360 ballots that local election officials have cited as eligible for counting, Coleman is asking for just a portion to be counted, and most of them come from areas that voted for him in big numbers. They also want to look at ballots that officials did not put on the list. So Coleman is re-litigating the election, while Franken is perfectly content to have those 1,360 ballots counted and to leave it at that, which considering that he's only 50 votes ahead is something of a risk, although the absentees in general are thought to favor him.

Meanwhile, Coleman's strategy is to bash election officials and claim that the election is tainted as he moves into what will certainly be a contested election and a series of lawsuits. Funny, I don't hear anyone, inside or outside of Minnesota, saying that the election is over and the state needs time to heal, and for the sake of comity and bipartisanship Coleman needs to step aside. In fact, Senate Republicans are making every effort to block Franken from being seated, and using zombie lies to do it.

It now looks like the Senate GOP could end up trying to block the seating of Al Franken, assuming he is declared the winner next week in the Minnesota recount. NRSC chairman John Cornyn put out a statement accusing the Franken campaign of falsely declaring victory, and denouncing the idea of provisionally seating him while the expected legal dispute of the election is resolved:

"Al Franken is falsely declaring victory based on an artificial lead created on the back of the double counting of ballots. His campaign's actions in the last several days on the issues of rejected absentee ballots are creating additional chaos and disorder in the Minnesota recount. Those actions, coupled with the recent comments by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who suggests seating someone even if there is an election contest, are unprecedented. Minnesotans will not accept a recount in which some votes are counted twice, and I expect the Senate would have a problem seating a candidate who has not duly won an election."

The double-counting issue, dubious to begin with, was shot down by the state Supreme Court. The Coleman campaign has been the one cherry-picking the ballots. And the Congress can ultimately do what it wants regarding seating members after elections, and indeed they have on a number of occasions, most recently to Vern Buchanan in FL-13 in 2007, when thousands of electronic votes just went missing in an extremely close race against Christine Jennings.

But consistency is the hobgoblin of those in the reality-based community. Those unwritten "rules" just don't apply when you're a Republican. Washington is actually the best example of asymmetric warfare, in that one side practices it, and the other worries that elites will be mad at them if they do the same.

Political Circus

by digby

You have to give Blagojevich credit --- he knows how to make politics interesting. This latest gambit is a real pip. But there is some method to his madness, I think. He's trying to divide the Democrats both in Illinois and Washington and he did it using a powerful tool.

Michael Tomasky lays it out:

Then Bobby Rush showed up. The south side congressman -- the only man ever to defeat Barack Obama in an election -- introduced the racial angle and dramatically raised the stakes.

It must be said that Rush made an entirely fair point. In 2004, when they elected Obama, the voters of Illinois chose an African American senator. And so, in determining who should fill out his term, it's reasonable that race count as a factor. He pointed to Illinois' recent history as the only state that's elected two black senators (Obama and Carol Moseley Braun), arguing that the state has a history on this score that's unique. That's all fair.

But Rush wasn't pleading. He was warning. He was daring Reid and the other senators to deny this black man the seat. I couldn't quite believe my ears when he used the word "lynch," but sure enough he did: he urged the members of the media "not to hang or lynch the appointee as you castigate the appointor." He went on to say that he and his congressional allies would push Reid to reverse his position and said of the prospect of a bunch of white senators denying Burris the seat: "I don't think they wanna go on record doing that."

I covered lots of racial-politics conflagrations in New York in the very racially heated 1980s and 1990s, and I've heard rhetoric like Rush's before, and I've seen its effects. When a black figure issues a public challenge like this, including one of the most heavily freighted dog-whistle words in American political history, to a white politician, sides start to line up. Tempers start to inflame. Whether the white pol stands firm or assents, somebody is going to be really, really unhappy.

Reid is in a spot. There's a chance that is is going to be on black radio all over the country tomorrow morning, and if it is, it's going to have nothing to do with Blago on those stations. It'll have to do with whether the white Democratic leaders of the Senate, "who take our vote for granted in November," etc., will spurn this obviously qualified black man.

Blago pointed to the press on his way out of the room and said "don't lynch this appointee." What a piece of work.

Obama just made a statement condemning the appointment, so it will be interesting to see how this works out. Unfortunately, Ed Henry on CNN characterized this as a "rupture" in the Democratic Party.

Stimulate This

by digby

I'm watching stupid spokesmodels on MSNBC chortle and giggle and express shock and disgust at the idea of all the "pork" that the governors have put into their stimulus requests, openly siding with the Republicans who say that the only fiscal stimulus that's allowed will be in the form of tax cuts. The idea of projects to create jobs are simply not acceptable because they are now all labeled "pork." Meanwhile, I read over at Talk Left that the Politico is making up poll numbers suggesting that Americans are against the "unprecedented use of federal dollars to jolt the economy." (Of course if they, like the talking robots on MSNBC, are brainwashed into believing that any spending that isn't a tax cut or fixing a pot hole is considered "pork" then they may be right.)

What with Mitch deciding to obstruct everything in sight and the media lining up to call all government spending for stimulus "pork" we may have a little problem on our hands. As Krugman says, the problem isn't that the government might spend too much --- it's that it will spend too little. And it looks like the media and the Republicans are going to join forces to make sure that the government is hobbled in this regard before they even start.

I hate to be a broken record, but this is another example of how the conservative movement work on rhetoric and propaganda over the past 30 years will continue to pay dividends even as they are out of power. Since people have not heard anything different during that period, as Democrats embraced the idea that government was the problem not the solution and that liberal ideology was "divisive" and wrong, they pretty much left the playing field to the conservatives. Now that the right wing ideologues have destroyed the economy, people don't have any idea how a government is supposed to work and will be susceptible to tired, useless Hooveresque solutions because they simply don't know anything else.

Ideology actually matters at times like this. The idea of massive government spending to stimulate the economy is not intuitive when individuals are being told to tighten their personal belts and pay off their debts. (When people hear for decades that the government should run like a household budget or a business, that's to be expected.) If they had a simple faith that government is a solid, dependable actor, or were given a short primer in liberal economics as part of the political debate, they would know that this emergency requires serious government intervention. But they have been told for a quarter century that government is an irresponsible, spendthrift institution that stands in the way of individual prosperity and nobody has been saying otherwise, least of all Democrats who've also been fetishizing markets and praising tax cuts like a bunch of Ayn Rand groupies.

Obama will likely get some kind of large stimulus through the congress, but it's probably going to take a huge amount of his political capital to get it done, which it shouldn't, and will leave him with less than he needs to deal with the rest of this pile of compost the Republicans have left on his plate. And every incident of "pork" that is subsequently revealed will be exploited by the Republicans and gleefully reported by the press, thereby chipping away at the notion that the stimulus was the reason for any upturn, instead reinforcing the old saw about Democrats as feckless tax and spend liberals.

This is a dangerous development. This so-called pork is stimulus and it doesn't matter if the states spend it on courthouses or if they spend it on a snow making machine for a ski resort. It's about getting money into the economy, preferably by building and making investments in things that will provide jobs in the long run. But the most important purpose is to give the economy a quick, strong jolt that only the government is capable of giving. Obsessing about pork is entirely beside the point.

Someday Democrats will learn that they need to make their own case to the people instead of repackaging warmed over Republican rhetoric. It puts them 20 points behind at beginning of every play. There may be enough good will toward Obama that they can get a serious stimulus through, but it shouldn't take this scope of economic devastation for that to happen.

A Rational Party No More

by dday

I think that you can find a fair amount of consensus across parties and ideologies that the country is in a mess. There are two wars, an economic crisis, rapid climate change, rising ranks of the unemployed and uninsured, etc. So to see one of the two major national political parties grappling with the question of whether it's OK to send out a parody song called "Barack the Magic Negro" isn't just a sad commentary on racial sensitivities. It suggests that conservative Republican "leaders" are simply living in an alternate universe, without any recognition of reality whatsoever.

Given this, I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter who is elected as Chairman of the RNC. Hopefully they'll move on to more pressing issues like the impact of clowns on children and whether or not cousins of illegal aliens should be allowed in national parks.

A Voice For The Other Half

by digby

It's been a rocky year for feminism, no doubt about it. First, the media let their sexist freak flags fly during the presidential campaign and lately we've been treated to the slick partriarchal gurglings of the good Pastor Rick Warren and the pathetic spectacle of the financial boys club strutting around as if they are wearing skins and wielding clubs as they marginalize and demean the female oracles who saw the writing on the wall (street.) It's frustrating to say the least.

Still, I couldn't help but feel a little bit uncomfortable when I heard Caroline Kennedy's cousin say this:

KERRY KENNEDY, AUTHOR, “BEING CATHOLIC NOW”: ... she‘s a mother and a woman. You know, we live in a country where one out of every five girls is sexually assaulted by the time she reaches the age of 21, where women still only make 79 cents on the dollar made by men; and we need a woman‘s voice and we need Caroline‘s voice and her strength and her determination in that seat.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s important—it sounds like you do—that a woman replace Hillary Clinton?

KENNEDY: Absolutely. You know, there are only 16 women in the Senate right now, and Hillary Clinton is going, and we need Caroline to fill that seat.

What Kerry says about the Senate needing women's voices is correct, but it doesn't necessarily translate to Caroline, who hasn't made any serious contribution to politics up to this point. Just being a woman and a mother isn't really enough. (After all, Phyllis Schlaffley is a woman and a mother too ...)

If I were a New Yorker, I'd be lobbying for Representative Carolyn Maloney to get the slot. She's been in the congress for 16 years and is an unabashed liberal, feminist woman who has been fighting these battles for decades and knows whereof she speaks. Her recent book is called Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated and it catalogs a list of institutional, political and cultural inequities which are still so embedded in our system that we hardly even know to question them.

For instance, after 9/11, when the government was putting together its compensation fund, the government was blithely planning to shortchange female victims' families by hundreds of thousands of dollars because they were using discriminatory projected earnings tables that reflected the wage gap. It took a concerted campaign to persuade the government that the earnings estimates that determined the value of the payout should be gender blind. It wasn't a matter of conscious discrimination. They just didn't consider whether it made sense that the family of a woman who made the same salary as a man at the time of her death should be compensated equally. Maloney organized 11 members of the New York delegation to pursue the matter and reverse the policy. (Insurance companies around the country still use those outdated formulas, by the way.)

And speaking of Wall Street, Maloney compiles some stories about discrimination against women in the financial industry that make your hair stand on end. Morgan Stanley had paid out nearly $100 million in sex discrimination money to many of the top female employees in the past few years. Apparently, as with Sheila Bair and Brooksley Born, the common excuse was that these women just weren't "team players" --- mostly because they weren't welcome at the strip clubs and golf courses where so many of the deals were made. And they just wouldn't get with the program when it came to looking the other way at unethical or reckless practices. (The wimmin are always raining on the parade that way.) Maloney thinks that instead of giving tax deductions to companies for their strip club expenses, most citizens would prefer for that families be allowed to deduct their child care expenses --- and has introduced legislation to do that.

I would expect that women are especially going to be facing some tough times in the near term as their lower level service jobs are going to be very hard hit and they tend to have less money in the bank to tide them over. An awful lot of them are hanging by a thread as it is. Having fewer women in the government right now hardly seems like a good idea (particularly when people need to be reminded that a fiscal stimulus that creates mostly construction and engineering jobs will only put money in the pockets of the 9% of women who work in those fields.) I think that if the argument is that women need a strong voice in the senate, we would probably be better served by a woman like Maloney who has a lifetime of experience in politics and a deep and thorough understanding of these issues than someone whose experience is very limited. I just wouldn't expect Caroline Kennedy, no matter how dedicated and sincere, to be the kind of champion on these issues as someone like Maloney.

I don't know much about New York politics, so maybe there is some other reason why Maloney couldn't be the choice. But on the merits, she's the one I'd choose if I were Patterson. The country badly needs the contributions of the Sheila Bairs and the Carolyn Maloneys if the government really means to clean up the mess the old boys club has made.

Update: It's hard to believe, but I didn't know there was a movement afoot to push Maloney when I wrote this. Here's an article on the subject from the NY Daily News.


Monday, December 29, 2008



by digby

For all the talk about liberating the people of Iraq, nobody gives a damn about the half of the population that's demonstrably worse off than before, even in the most basic social and cultural respects. (I suppose that's to be expected from people who repeat the phrase "the surge was successful" like a mantra.)

But some are worse off in ways that are unimaginable:

Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor's house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan's genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan's mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq --and one of the few places in the world--where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament's refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women.

"When the Kurdish people were fighting for our independence, women participated as full members in the underground resistance," said Pakshan Zangana, who heads the women's committee in the Kurdish parliament. "But now that we have won our freedom, the position of women has been pushed backwards and crimes against us are minimized."


Kurds who support circumcising girls say the practice has two goals: It controls a woman's sexual desires, and it makes her spiritually clean so that others can eat the meals she prepares.

Read the whole article if you can stomach it. I couldn't read it again.

Women are dirty and their urges have to be controlled because they're always tempting men to do things they shouldn't do. Same as it ever was. The good news is that this practice helps preserve the ancient definition of marriage, so that's good. Maybe we can start practicing it here at those purity balls. If the men in pulpits told them it was required, have no doubt that the social conservative women would run with this one without a second thought.


by digby

I don't know what to say about what's happening in Gaza. I'm frankly somewhat shocked that I'm watching explosions on CNN for a fourth straight day. The only thing I can recommend at this point is to sign this petition from J Street , demanding that the US support an immediate cease fire.

At this moment of extreme crisis, J Street wants to demonstrate that, among those who care about Israel and its security, there is a constituency for sanity and moderation. There are many who recognize elements of truth on both sides of this gaping divide and who know that closing it requires strong American engagement and leadership. Click Here
I support immediate and strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza. This is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinian people and the United States.

It's really hard for me to believe that this is something people actually have to petition them to do, particularly after the birth pangs, cock-up in Lebanon. I guess that was considered a big success.

Meanwhile, I'm hearing the gasbags all speculate that this means the end of Obama's domestic agenda for some reason. I'm not sure why they insist on that; I don't actually think the domestic agenda can be shuffled off to the side even if he wanted to. It's not like it's expendable either. I'm pretty sure the president knows that he is going to have to do it all.

Here Come The Obstructionists

by dday

Mitch McConnell is very concerned about the people's money, and wants hearings.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced skepticism today about the emerging economic stimulus plan, applying a brake to Democratic plans to quickly pass up to $850 billion in spending and tax cuts soon after President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.

"As of right now, Americans are left with more questions than answers about this unprecedented government spending, and I believe the taxpayers deserve to know a lot more about where it will be spent before we consider passing it," McConnell said in a statement, which will be publicly issued later today.

Obama's advisers and congressional Democrats have been huddling in the Capitol trying to craft a massive stimulus plan that could cost anywhere from $675 billion to $850 billion, while some economists are pushing for a total package worth more than $1 trillion.

McConnell -- the most powerful Republican in Washington, based on the filibuster-proof level of 41 GOP Senate seats -- called for many congressional hearings on the stimulus plan and some undetermined safeguards to assure the money is being spent wisely [...]

McConnell specifically called for a weeklong cooling off period between when the bill is drafted and when it is voted on, allowing time to dissect it for signs of "fraud and waste."

I have no problem with a 72-hour rule between drafting a bill and voting on it, but I am touched by the newfound concern of Congressional Republicans about fraud and waste. They took an eight-year break from caring about this, and allowed giant bricks of money to be given away in Iraq, and a government concerned far more with profit taking than fulfilling its regulatory mission. But they can be forgiven for this temporary lack of attention to the destination of taxpayer money. After all, it's a new year coming up, and change is in the air.

It was obvious that the GOP would work to obstruct a stimulus package early in Obama's term. It's worth asking why. I understand why they would want to stop increased union membership that would come from fair labor laws like the Employee Free Choice Act - more union members vote Democratic. And shutting down universal health care would deny Democrats the ability to provide a tangible improvement to the lives of millions of Americans. That's part of why they would want to obstruct public works spending, but there may also be a political consideration, as explained nicely by Nate Silver:

So let's think through the other couple of choices. First thing first: if the economy improves substantially by the midterm elections, you're screwed. It won't matter whether you voted for the stimulus or voted against it, and it won't matter whether you achieved some kind of compromise or you didn't. If, by the summer of 2010, GDP growth has miraculously recovered to 4% per year, that's all the public is going to think about. Obama Save Economy!! Me Vote Democrat!! They aren't going to care about whether you snuck some sort of capital gains tax cut in there.

But let's say that the economy still sucks in 2010 -- which, frankly, is a pretty good bet. That's going to work much, much better for you if you've voted against the stimulus. Not only can you pin the blame on the donkeys, but you can campaign on tax cutting and fiscal responsibility -- the stimulus will "prove", once and for all, the wisdom of conservative economic principles. And then think about this: the Democrats are going to be trying to spend $800 billion in taxpayer dollars as quickly as they can possibly get away with it. Somewhere along the way, they're going to wind up funding a Woodstock Museum or a Bridge to Nowhere. Somewhere along the way, an enterprising contractor is going to embezzle a bunch of stimulus money, or cook up some kind of pay-to-play scheme. Maybe if you're really lucky, this will happen in your Distrct. Better to keep the whole thing at arm's-length and make sure that Democrats get the blame for that.

That's maybe part of it. But the simplest and therefore most likely explanation is that they oppose it because Democrats favor it. This is, in general terms, how modern Republicans practice politics - by being the biggest pains in the ass possible. "Because they can" is probably the most obvious answer. This is especially true when you have a rump conservative faction committed to fighting the pointy-headed elites to preserve Southern honor:

All the signs are that the stimulus spending will be opposed by congressional Republicans, whose shrunken ranks are increasingly dominated by right-wing Southerners who care not what their stance does to harm the party's national image.

The spectacle of LaHood facing off in congressional testimony against those naysayers will dramatize a split that is crippling the GOP.

The danger became apparent as far back as 2007. With Bush weakened by the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the midterm election losses of 2006, a Southern-led revolt killed his immigration reform bill. Junior senators such as Jim DeMint of South Carolina directed the rebellion, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, unable to stem the insurgency, joined it.

The price was paid in the 2008 presidential campaign. Despite his personal credentials as a sponsor of comprehensive immigration reform, John McCain was caught in the backlash of anti-GOP voting by Hispanics. It contributed to his loss of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and other states.

The same thing happened this year when Bush supported a bailout for the Big Three auto companies. Led by Republican senators from Southern states where there are many foreign-owned auto plants, the Senate refused to cut off a filibuster against the bill to provide bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler. This time, the opposition was led by Bob Corker of Tennessee and Richard Shelby of Alabama. When the Senate failed by eight votes to cut off debate, Southern and border-state Republicans voted 16 to 2 against the measure. On a similar vote on the 2007 immigration bill, the Southerners split 17 to 3 against.

Obstructing on the basis of principle or holding out for a particular point of compromise is a very different animal than obstructing for obstruction's sake, obstructing because, if a bunch of egghead economists say we need a massive public spending program, then real Murcans have to stand astride history saying "stop". As we hear a lot about bipartisanship and Republicans and Democrats having to come together to solve the nation's problems, as we hear from a President whose focus is "what works" instead of ideology, someone's going to have to stand up and mention that the modern Republican Party defines ideology through negation. Someone might want to mention that there's no compromise with those who reflexively oppose for no reason other than denying your opponent a victory is seen as a higher good than helping someone get a job or health care or a higher wage to support their family. Someone might want to suggest that accommodation is impossible.

Return Of The Zombies

by digby

...in which the Village begins a campaign to revise history and redeem itself for its support of George W. Bush:

The idea that 44 might in the future continue to seek the counsel of 43 would until recently have struck partisans on both ends of the ideological spectrum as absurd. But that was before the transition commenced and Obama began to tip his hand in the area of foreign policy. Before the appointment of the power troika of Bob Gates, Jim Jones, and Hillary Clinton, each of whom plausibly could have filled the very same jobs in a John McCain regime. Before the hints that Obama might not be fully, rigidly committed to the rapid timetable for drawing down combat troops in Iraq that he advocated during the campaign. Before, in other words, the pat assumptions of the right and the left were blown to smithereens.

That all this has come as such a shock to so many owes to a misreading of Obama as a starry-eyed idealist—when there was ample evidence that lurking just beneath the surface was a hard-eyed, sometimes hawkish realist. One obvious implication here is that the next four years may be marked as much by continuity with Bush’s policies as by radical departures from them. But a less conspicuous consequence is that, although the president and his supporters shared a dim view of Obama as a prospective commander-in-chief, the supposedly woolly-minded, lily-livered Democrat may wind up doing more to salvage Bush’s legacy than the grizzled Republican nominee ever would, or could, have done.

If Obama wants to join him in ranking as the worst president in US history, he'll do just that. There is no salvaging this neocon nightmare and any attempt to try will drag him down with the sinking Bush family ship. (Not to mention that it would be disastrous for the country.)

Heileman goes on to assert that Bush isn't really as much of a global miscreant as everybody thinks. Apparently he's been pretty darned level headed these last few years, more like his Dad, who everyone in Washington now seems to agree was the model president. All Obama needs to do is follow the Bush blueprint, but add a little of that patented Obama smooth talk about hope 'n change and it's all good.

This entire thesis seems to me to have far less to do with Obama than with the villagers' desire to legitimize their own failures during the past eight years. And predictably, the establishment line dovetails nicely with the embarrassingly obvious Republican efforts to co-opt Barack as a post-partisan keeper of the conservative flame. William Kristol today practically adopted him as the long lost son of Barry Goldwater:

I also have to admit that I look forward to Obama’s inauguration with a surprising degree of hope and good cheer.

For one thing, there will be the invocation, delivered by Rick Warren. I suspect he’ll be careful to say nothing pro-life or pro-traditional-marriage — but we conservatives have already gotten more than enough pleasure from the hysterical reaction to his selection by the tribunes of the intolerant left. And having Warren there will, in fact, be a welcome reminder of the strides the evangelical movement and religious conservatives (broadly speaking) have made in recent decades.


One more heartening tidbit — from my point of view — about the president-elect: he’s been in the past an intermittent smoker, and is now a nicotine gum chewer who admits that he’s occasionally fallen off the wagon this past year to indulge in a cigarette. He’s been chastised for this by some scolds. The editors of The Mercury News told him recently he needed to make “a very public show of quitting” to set a good example for young people.

Bah, humbug. Those of us who dislike finger-wagging nanny-state-nagging liberalism relish the prospect of President Barack Obama sneaking a cigarette on the second floor of the White House while rereading Harry V. Jaffa’s great work on Lincoln, “Crisis of the House Divided,” then taking a break to stroll over to take a look at the White House’s copy of Emanuel Leutze’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” then going back to the family quarters to tell his kids to get back to memorizing some patriotic poetry, all of this interrupted occasionally by calls from Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno — his Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman — to discuss progress in the wars we’re fighting, or from Rick Warren to discuss their joint efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.

Now that’s a presidency I can believe in.

I know it's unfashionably partisan and all, but I really hope that Kristol is forced to eat those words. Because if he isn't, I'm afraid that conservatism will remain the default political identity of the villagers (and a good number of Americans) who will then gravitate back to the Republicans if they're allowed to forget that it was conservatism that failed in the first place.

I know that most people believe it doesn't matter if voters think progressive policies are conservative as long as they are progressive in reality. And certainly the policy is the most important part of the equation. But most people's understanding of policy is vague at best and, in any case, politics has a number of moving parts and heuristic elements. For most voters politics are predicated on identity and affiliation as much as anything else and it matters to long term political success how most people see themselves on the partisan spectrum. As important to the country as it is that Barack succeed in enacting progressive policies, it's equally important that he till the soil for other progressives to follow.

The modern conservative movement has been disastrous on both policy and politics in America and I think it's a mistake to allow them to simply lay low and co-opt the successes of a center left president until they can regroup and come back to screw it all up again. Their economic and foreign policy radicalism has very nearly wrecked the world and I don't think the "serious people" in the political establishment should be allowed to pretend that it was anything but what it was. And I certainly don't think they should be allowed to state that Obama was elected to carry on the Bush family legacy without challenge. I'm pretty sure we'll come to regret being complacent about such things when the next George W. Bush comes along pretending to be a compassionate conservative --- and actually finishes what Junior started.

I realize that I'm out of step with my thinking on this. As Steve Benen reports in this post about Move On, most liberals don't give a damn think it's a top priority to hold the Bush administration accountable or reform politics and prefer that Obama devotes his time working on health care and global warming and getting out of Iraq. And I certainly can't argue that those priorities are extremely important.

But somebody has to call bullshit on the Republicans and the media lest they successfully paper over their ongoing malpractice and succeed in convincing people that Obama represents some sort of continuity instead of the change the people actually voted for. It's almost impossible to take them seriously at this moment, but if Obama succeeds we may very well find ourselves in a situation where the political establishment and the Republicans will take credit for his achievements to push their next aristocratic wrecking crew into power. Unless we challenge this new narrative, we could find ourselves right back where we were in 2000, with the country voting on the basis of who they'd like to have a beer with because the country is doing well and as far as they can tell there's no difference between the two parties. And as we all know, it only takes a few short years of GOP dominance (and tepid, credulous opposition) to reverse it all.

Whether anyone likes it or not I'm going to keep an eye on the Village zombies. Remember:

Modern zombies, as portrayed in books, films, games, and haunted attractions, are quite different from both voodoo zombies and those of folklore. Modern zombies are typically depicted in popular culture as mindless, unfeeling monsters with a hunger for human brains and flesh, a prototype established in the seminal 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Typically, these creatures can sustain damage far beyond that of a normal, living human (generally these can only be killed by a wound to the head, such as a headshot) and can pass whatever syndrome that causes their condition onto others.

Usually, zombies are not depicted as thralls to masters, as in the film White Zombie or the spirit-cult myths. Rather, modern zombies are depicted in mobs and waves, seeking either flesh to eat or people to kill or infect, and are typically rendered to exhibit signs of physical decomposition such as rotting flesh, discolored eyes, and open wounds, and moving with a slow, shambling gait. They are generally incapable of communication and show no signs of personality or rationality, though George Romero's zombies appear capable of learning and very basic levels of speech as seen in the films Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead.

Modern zombies are closely tied to the idea of a zombie apocalypse, the collapse of civilization caused by a vast plague of undead. The ideas are now so strongly linked that zombies are rarely depicted within any other context.

I'm just saying...


Tearing Down Camelot

by dday

I'm fairly lukewarm on Caroline Kennedy's Senate "campaign," which has consisted of her hiring insider consultants affiliated with Bloomberg and Lieberman and ringing up elites and putting pressure on the Governor to appoint her. But I have to say that I respect her a bit more after this interview with the New York Times, where she says something that probably most politicians have thought at one time or another.

With several weeks to go before Mr. Paterson makes his decision, she is doling out glimpses of her political beliefs and private life. But when asked Saturday morning to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat, Ms. Kennedy seemed irritated by the question and said she couldn’t recall.

“Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” she asked the reporters. “I thought you were the crack political team.”

If you read the transcript, you get a better sense of where that comes from. They were more than halfway through the interview at this point, and the whole thing had a certain People Magazine quality about it. The reporters asked Kennedy repeatedly about an imagined conversation they have in their heads, out of a bad biopic or something, a "moment of clarity" where she blurts out "I'm going to do this!" When Kennedy suggests that it didn't actually happen that way, because, um, life pretty much doesn't happen that way, they basically ask her to create a story where it does. That's when the woman's magazine crack comes in.

NC: So when in your own mind did it go from, ‘It’s kind of an interesting idea’ to ‘Maybe I should do this?’ (Pause) Or was that —

CK: Over the last couple weeks. (She chuckles.)

NC: Was there any moment where —

CK: No, I don’t think there was a moment, I mean, this kind of thing is too important for it to be, like, an on-off switch, right? This is a process, and as I became more serious about it, and talked to more people, you know, I thought — and then obviously I called the governor and expressed interest, and um, you know, so...

NC: The signs were on what day? Was it before you called the governor?

CK: The what? Oh yeah, that was a while ago.

NC: That was a while ago?

CK: Yeah.

NC: So that was after Senator Clinton had announced — so it was after the vacancy became possible?

CK: Well, yeah. Obviously.

NC: OK. (CK laughs.) I just wanted to make sure of the chronology.

DH: We just don’t know if it was after we started writing about you or —

CK: No, you guys had nothing to do with it. (Laughs.)

DH: No, we didn’t mean that. The timing.

NC: Uh, so sometime before those stories about your discussion with the governor, sometime after Senator Clinton had been tapped for —

CK: Yeah — yeah [...]

NC: Was he the first person you told — do you know if you uttered the words, ‘I think I’m gonna go for this?’ Or, something like it?

CK: Well, I don’t know if I utter those kinds of words, but yes. You know, it was a mutual decision.

NC: Could you, for the sake of storytelling, could you tell us a little bit about that moment, like, where you were, what you said to him about your decision, how that played out?

CK: Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something? (Laughter)

DH: What do you have against women’s magazines?

CK: Nothing at all, but I thought you were the crack political team here. As I said, it was kind of over a period of time, you know, obviously we talked about politics, we talked about what’s going on, we’ve been watching the team that the president-elect is putting together — Hillary Clinton is going to be a spectacular part of that team, you know, then there was a vacancy here, you know, just like everybody else, you know: who’s going to fill it, isn’t that interesting, there’s a lot of great candidates, you know, obviously I have become much more politically involved than I have in the past, so you know, I figure, why not try, I really think I have something to offer.

NC: But there was no one moment you can draw on —

CK: I know I wish there was, I’ll think about it.

NC: If there isn’t, that’s what it was, that’s fine too. We’re not the crack political team, we’re always looking for good anecdotes and good stories.

CK: I know, and I understand. I’ll think about it a little more.

Kennedy's mistake is assuming that there's any kind of marker or dividing line between political media and magazine personality profile at all anymore. Sometimes those kind of profiles elicit vaguely interesting questions, but they sure have nothing to do with being a Senator. They have everything to do with creating a mythical persona, and in this case, puncturing it, for no real reason other than it's good for business, I guess.

When the "crack political staff" finally gets around to asking about an issue, which they back into by asking Kennedy why she sent her children to private school and if she really should be credited with raising money for public schools, the entire thing is framed along whether or not she would break with a "conventional Democrat".

DH: Just to talk a little more about issues: a lot of your political positions seem pretty straight-up-the-middle, conventional for a Democrat.

CK: Does that surprise you?

DH: No. But I wonder, what are the biggest areas where you disagree with Democratic party orthodoxy? We want to know what sets you apart. You’ve cited a lot of examples and influences; what would be a subject that we would expect your position to be a real surprise on?

CK: Well, I think that there’s a range of views in the Democratic party. And you know, I am a proud Democrat, those are the values, you know — middle class tax relief, helping working families, fixing the health care system — those are the national priorities right now. So those are the issues that I would expect — I mean, I am a Democrat, that is, you know — I am trying to become a Democratic senator, so I don’t, um — I mean, there are issues along the way, that I’m sure that people have differences of opinion. There’s controversies in all these areas.

DH: One where you have a clear-eyed idea about where you stand on something that is diff —

CK: That is different from who? Anybody?

DH: The party platform. I mean, pick some standard. Just something that would surprise —

CK: I support gay marriage, I support, you know, I’ve had problems with Nafta, I mean, I don’t — if we’re not comparing it to anybody specifically it’s hard to say where I’m going to disagree.

NC: How about Governor Paterson?

CK: But I’m a traditional Democrat, so that’s what I want to fight for, those are the values I want to fight for.

NC: Is there any issue on which you and Governor Paterson disagree that you can think of?

CK: Well, I think Governor Paterson has — I can tell you two of the areas where I think he’s done great work. Which is, alternative energy —

NC: That wasn’t the question. Is there anything on which you two disagree?

CK: No, I’m not going to talk about my disagreements with Governor — I think he’s done a great job as a leadership, yeah, absolutely.

DH: Two powerful, respected people are allowed to differ.

CK: They are. They are.

DH: We just wonder where we’ll find out that you differ.

CK: Well, you’ll find out over time. You know, as issues come along.

It's a bizarre, accusatory tone, showing that typical reporter bias that the only way for a Democrat to show any integrity is to break with their own party. This fetish makes little sense to me, and the only explanation I have for it is that the reporters aren't well-versed enough on the issues to talk about them substantively, so they use the "how are you different" shorthand even though they have little sense of what the Democrat should be different from.

Of course, the only reason a possible Senate appointee is getting grilled in this fashion is because she's Caroline Kennedy, part of Camelot and American royalty and all that, and that belief that she sells papers, especially now that the narrative is set that she's flailing about, which this interview is clearly designed to elicit. There are at least a dozen aspirants nationwide for Senate appointments - in New York, Illinois, Colorado - but none of them are being exposed to confrontational interviews where they are subjected to endless variations of the question "What makes you so special?" My preference would be for NOBODY to get appointed to a Senate seat, and all of them decided by special election. But while I think a Kennedy appointment ought to be open to questioning, we'd have to find another media to conduct that questioning, if we want any insight other than how ridiculous 21st-century reporting has become.

Most fitting in all of this is the Politico's takeaway, as insubstantial as the interview itself:

One thing Caroline Kennedy would bring to Washington: A new, distinctive Kennedy verbal tic: She said "you know" 142 times in her Times interview.

Journalism par excellence.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who's Their Daddy?

by digby

Newtie is becoming just insufferable lately and he'd better watch it or even some of his friends on the right are going to call bs on him. In response to that idiot sending out Limbaugh's "Barack The Magic Negro" CD, he tells the New York Times:

“This is so inappropriate that it should disqualify any Republican National Committee candidate who would use it,” Newt Gingrich, a Republican former House speaker, said in an e-mail message. Referring to Mr. Obama, Mr. Gingrich said, “There are no grounds for demeaning him or for using racist descriptions.”

Please. I am all for conservatives coming over from the dark side. But the leadership of the movement that turned our politics into a cesspool simply can't be taken seriously as arbiters of proper civility now that they are out of fashion. It "demeans" the whole idea.

Here's a little reminder of Gingrich's past advice on such matters:.

I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around a campfire but are lousy in politics.

He also said this (in 1998) which proves what an astute political leader he is:

"Mr. President, we are going to run you out of town"

We know how that turned out don't we?

I don't mind Newtie trying to make a GOP comeback. And that he would do it by riding the post partisan zeitgeist is exactly what I would expect of a sleazy operator like him. But I will absolutely lose my grip if I see any Democrat embracing this wicked little bastard. He is as responsible for what the Republicans did to this country as Bush and Cheney, maybe more. To allow him even the slightest bit of credibility for this predictable oozing insincerity is to sow the seeds of their own demise.


Long Run Fantasy

by digby

Condi Rice and Laura Bush are insisting that the administration will be vindicated by history for all the wonderful work it has done around the world. Rice, especially, is intent upon making the case that if the world gets better some time in the future, Bush will be given the credit for it. (This isn't the first time she and Bush have made this stupid comment.)

This definition of success would mean that you have to reevaluate Tojo since Japan has since become a prosperous, first world country. After all, if it weren't for him, the world wouldn't be where it is today. Hell, where would Western Europe be if it weren't for that bad man in the mustache -- or Eastern Europe if it hadn't been for Stalin? Hey, even Caligula can be seen to be a hero if you believe that the world is better off today than it was during Roman times.

It's not that Bush is necessarily as bad as those examples, but the logic behind Rice's view inexorably leads you to evaluate everyone in history through the lens of human progress --- which means that none of the great villains can be held responsible for their deeds and nothing can ever be learned from bad decisions of the past. As long as the world goes on you can always make the case that things will probably turn out ok in the long run. And that's hardly any comfort ---as the old saying goes, in the long run we'll all be dead.

In fact, in the short run a whole lot of Iraqi people are dead because of the United States' inexplicable decision to invade their country. It is what it is and it's offensive to compare temporary political resistance to a pragmatic humanitarian policy like The Marshall Plan to the worldwide revulsion at an invasion for reasons that made no sense, as Rice does. If Iraq becomes a sane and prosperous nation some time from now, it will never render that policy, based on lies and propaganda, to be a good one --- and Bush, Cheney and Rice will never get credit for any future progress because of it. They need accept that the best they can hope for is to end up among history's inept clowns instead of history's villains. It's not much, but it's all they've got.


by digby

CSPAN3 History is showing a fascinating look back at the Iran Contra affair today if you are interested, including press conferences by the likes of Weinberger and Lawrence Walsh.

If you want to know where the Bush administration got the idea that they could get away with anything, this is a good place to start. Bush Senior pretty much pardoned himself by pardoning those who could have implicated him, thereby shutting down the investigation. If there are no political ramifications, the presidential pardon is the checkmate. And since Democrats have shown they will never pursue such things while Republicans have proved without doubt that they will leave no stone unturned, even to the extent of impeaching a president over a trivial personal matter (and turning the independent counsel's office into a partisan freak show) the result is the lawless Bush administration. I shudder to think what the next Republican administration will do.

*And once again, to those who have been convinced by some very hysterical people in the left blogosphere who have reading comprehension problems that I was against the impeachment of Bush, well, they're wrong.
Just Right

by digby

At some point in the last few years I saw some conservative wag saying that the first part of the 20th century may have belonged to Keynes but the second half belonged to Hayek. I don't know if that's exactly true --- after all, governments have turned tax cuts into holy rituals on the basis of Keynesian ideas about stimulus. But it is at least somewhat true. Free market fundamentalism (which Hayek didn't actually believe in --- he was more of an evangelical) has certainly been the order of the day for at least a quarter of a century and animated the arguments of the aristocracy, the Randians and the political anti-commies for longer than that.

But, just as with liberalism in general, when the shit comes down after the conservative ideologues have been allowed to pillage and destroy everything in their wake, it's back to Keynes. And via Krugman, here's an excellent article by Martin Wolfe in the Financial Times that explains that the ideological poles were between market fundamentalism and socialism, not Hayek and Keynes, the latter of whom was essentially a technocratic pragmatist. And so it also implies that electing a technocrat like Obama at a time like this may be the best possible news. I have a lot of problems with the idea that ideology doesn't matter, but when put into an economic context it appears to be just what the Doctor (Keynes) ordered.

One of the weirdest things I've seen in the past few weeks has been the bizarre, reflexive loathing of FDR crop up again. I hadn't actually seen anything like it since I was a kid and the old folks would rail against "that man." It seemed ancient even then and that was a long time ago. And when I was in school it was taught without any caveat that Roosevelt saved capitalism, period. The historical context of that statement, in the middle of the cold war, was that communism was on the rise during that period and had Roosevelt not been able to get the country through the depression, there may have been revolution or a political overthrow on the order of Germany.

But that's no longer a given --- or perhaps it is, but the rise of conservative media makes the old FDR hating seem more mainstream then it did back when I was a kid. We are suddenly being bombarded with the convenient revisionism of crackpots like Amity Schlaes and the confident gibberish of Fred Barnes, who Susie at C & L catches blithly passing on the popular contrarian fiction that FDR actually made the depression worse. The stuff about how Ronald Reagan saved the world by destroying the air traffic controller's union is especially rich. (The antidote to such lies and misrepresentations, is here, in this excellent article about FDR and the auto unions)

So, just as we seem to have finally been able to put the Vietnam era behind us (at least for the moment), we're taking a trip back to the 1930s and we're going to have those same stupid arguments all over again. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, yadda, yadda, yadda. It never really ends.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday Night At The Movies

You put THAT one on your list? No. Seriously?

By Dennis Hartley

It’s that time of year- for the obligatory Top 10 lists. Recently, I took a look back at what I thought were some of the best DVD reissues of 2008. Tonight, I don my Kevlar vest once again, to humbly offer up my picks for the best films that opened in 2008. I should qualify that. These would be the “top ten” movies out of the 40 or so first-run features I have selected to review on Hullabaloo since January. Since I am (literally) a “weekend movie critic”, I obviously don’t have the time (or the bucks, frankly, with admission prices these days) to screen every new release (especially with that pesky, soul-sucking 9 to 5 gig that takes up my weekdays-y’know, the one that pays the rent and junk).

And yes, I am aware that 2008 isn’t officially “over” yet, and we all know that the movie studios like to save their big guns (read: Oscar bait) for late December. There are a handful of such releases I still haven’t had the time or energy to catch (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt and The Reader) and the one I am most anticipating (The Wrestler) isn’t even slated to open in Seattle until January 9th (DAMME you, sirs!).

A gentle reminder, dear reader, that I’m just one of the ordinary motion pitcher watchin’ folks, plopping down my hard-earned kopeks at the box office like everyone else, and not a high-falootin’ critic who is comped into advance screenings or receives DVD screeners in the mail (OK…sometimes) or feted at Cannes (never!). I have resigned myself to the fact that, on the evolutionary scale of film criticism, I will never be held in the same esteem as a Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael or even a Jeffrey Lyons (although I would sincerely hope that I am taken more seriously than, let’s say, a Ben Lyons). So, with no asses to kiss and no promises to keep, may I present The List, in alphabetical order:

Burn After Reading- A welcome return to the type of dark, absurdist cringe comedy that the Coen brothers truly excel at. Leave it to the Coens to mash up the elements of screwball comedy, door-slamming bedroom farce, spy spoof, political satire, social commentary and self-parody into a perfect cinematic cocktail. The breezy script (penned by the brothers) is tighter than a one-act play, and capped off with a great zinger. It’s a rarity in film these days: an expedient, highly satisfying denouement. In other words, the film neither overstays its welcome nor feels rushed; it wraps up just when it needs to. With George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt. Full review.

The Dark Knight- There was one part of the considerable hype surrounding this film that didn’t blow smoke; the late Heath Ledger is mesmerizing in every single frame that he inhabits, and his performance alone makes this one a must-see. He plays his Joker to Christian Bale’s Batman like John Wayne Gacy, coming for your children with a paring knife (and in the clown costume). I don’t know what war-torn region of the human soul Ledger went to in order to find his character, but I don’t think I’d ever want to go there, even just to snap a few pictures. Stylishly directed by Christopher Nolan. Full review.

The Gits- In the summer of 1993, Seattle musician Mia Zapata, lead singer of The Gits, was beaten, raped and killed, her body unceremoniously dumped in a vacant lot. Her murder remained unsolved until an astounding break in the case in 2003 helped bring her killer to justice. This random, brutal act not only had a profoundly disheartening and long-lasting effect on Seattle’s incestuous music community, but symbolically represented the beginning of the end for the city’s burgeoning music renaissance. Super-fans and first time filmmakers Kerri O’Kane and Jessica Bender have constructed an engrossing, genuinely moving portrait of Zapata’s legacy in a rockumentary that admirably avoids sensationalizing the tragedy; it instead gives us an inspiring portrait of four close friends truly committed to each other, their music and their fans. Full review.

Happy Go Lucky- Concerning a young Londoner named Poppy, whose improbably infectious giddiness is brought to life with amazing verisimilitude by Sally Hawkins, in one of the best performances by an actress this year. I venture to say that British director Mike Leigh is making a somewhat revolutionary political statement for this cynical, post-ironic age of rampant smugness and self-absorption; suggesting that Poppy’s brand of bubbly, unflagging enthusiasm for wishing nothing but happiness unto others defines not just the root of true compassion, but could be the antidote to societal ills like xenophobia, child abuse and homelessness. Then again, I could just be dreaming. Full review.

Honeydripper- Writer-director John Sayles transports us back to the deep south of the early 1950s, evoking the earthy blues poetry of the Delta, outfitting it in shades of August Wilson and transferring it to the screen. Essentially a languidly paced folktale, set in an Alabama backwater called Harmony, Honeydripper rolls along, slow and steady, like a glass bottle sliding up a steel string, and is easily his most engaging ensemble piece since Lone Star. With Danny Glover, Charles Dutton and Mary Steenbergen. Full review.

Man on Wire- On the surface, this may appear to be a straightforward documentary about an eccentric high wire artist who is either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid. But if you look closer, you might discover one of the best suspense thrillers/heist movies of 2008, although no guns are drawn and nothing gets stolen. It is also one of the most romantic films I’ve seen this year, although it is not a traditional love story. Existential and even a tad surreal at times, it is ultimately a deeply profound treatise on following your bliss. Directed by James Marsh, featuring music by Michael Nyman. Full review.

Milk-Gus Van Sant’s stirring (and very timely) biopic about San Francisco politician and gay activist Harvey Milk (assassinated in 1978) is one of the most straightforward efforts from the frequently abstract and self-consciously arty filmmaker since his surprise mainstream hit Good Will Hunting in 1997, yet it arguably stands as his most important work to date. The excellent script (by Dustin Lance Black) is richly engaging, yet never strays too far from Milk’s own words and deeds. And most crucial to the success of this film is the powerhouse performance that lies at its heart from Oscar shoo-in Sean Penn, who never falls into exaggerated caricature, opting instead to ostensibly channel the wit, passion and genuine humanity of this remarkable individual. A must-see. Full review.

Slumdog Millionaire- Leave it to Danny Boyle, who somehow managed to transmogrify the horrors of heroin addiction into an exuberant romp (Trainspotting), to reach into the black hole of Mumbai slum life and pull out the most exhilarating love story of 2008. Slumdog Millionaire defies category; think Oliver Twist meets Quiz Show in Bollywood. Just like the best Bollywood offerings, Boyle’s most epic tale to date (co-directed by Loveleen Tandan with a script by Simon Beaufoy, adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel) is equal parts melodrama, comedy, action, romance and kismet. It’s a perfect masala for people who love pure cinema, infused by colorful costume and set design, informed by fluid, hyperkinetic camera work (from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) and accompanied by the type of rousing, pumping, eclectic music soundtrack that you’ll want to download into your MP3 player immediately after leaving the theatre. Full review.

Vicky Christina Barcelona- Dare I say it? Woody Allen’s latest is his wisest, sexiest and most engaging romantic comedy in, um, years. Okay…truth? To rate it on a sliding scale: as far as his own particular brand of genial bedroom farces go, it may not be in quite the same league as, let’s say, Hannah and Her Sisters, but it still handily blows the boudoir doors off of any other romantic “comedies” one suffers through at the multiplex these days. Penelope Cruz deserves any awards she may receive for this performance; she’s a real force of nature here. A museum-worthy rarity: a comedy for grown-ups. Full review.

The Visitor- If Richard Jenkins doesn’t get an Oscar nod for his amazing performance in Thomas McCarthy’s culture-clash comedy-drama, I will personally picket the Academy. Writer-director-actor McCarthy’s previous effort was the critical favorite The Station Agent, and once again he draws us into an extended family of very believable, warm-blooded characters, generously giving all of his actors plenty of room to breathe. The “strange bedfellows” setup of the plot may resemble The Goodbye Girl or The Odd Couple on paper, but this not a glib Neil Simon play, where characters throw perfectly timed zingers at each other; these people feel, and interact, like real human beings. There is plenty of humor, but there is also genuine heartbreak and bittersweet melancholy. The important thing is that it is all perfectly nuanced, and a joy to behold. Full review.

And just for giggles, a special nomination for The Most Fun I Had Trashing a Film in 2008: My review of the (unintentionally) pre-hysterical 10,000 B.C., which many of Digby’s readers appeared to enjoy (just in case you missed it). Happy New Year!