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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why Oh Why 2010 Edition

by digby

Brad DeLong:

Read through the 'This Week' Transcript. It's truly terrifying. You try to figure out why anybody thinks it's a good idea for these people to have the jobs that they do--and you can't:

.. WILL: Two things. First of all, Sam, you want the president to be Ulysses Grant, who won the war by his wonderful indifference to his own casualties, and I think some members in the Senate and in the House would not approve of that.

DONALDSON: Did I not just say that they may lose some seats? Were you listening?

WILL: By the millions. Now -- second, now, Paul says that, in fact, the Republicans have no ideas. They do, cross-selling across state lines, tort reforms, all those. Just a second, Paul. Then you say they're telling whoppers. That was your view about Lamar Alexander when he said, for millions of Americans, premiums will go up. You said in the next sentence in your column, I guess you could say he wasn't technically lying, because the Congressional Budget Office says that's true.

KRUGMAN: No, it's not what it says.... Can I explain? This is...

WILL: Wait. Let me -- let me set the predicate here, because you then go on and say the Senate does say the average premiums would go up, but people would be getting better premiums.

KRUGMAN: Look, let me explain what happens, because you actually have to read the CBO report.... [T]he CBO report tells you... that... what the bill will do is bring a lot of people who are uninsured, who are currently young and therefore relatively low cost, into the risk pool, which will actually bring premiums down a little bit. It will also... lead a lot of people to get better insurance... people who are currently underinsured, who have insurance policies that are paper thin and don't actually protect you in a crisis, will... get... full coverage. That makes the average payments go up, but it does not mean that people who currently have good coverage under their policies will pay more.... [T]hey'll end up paying a little bit less.

WILL: One question. If the government came to you and said, "Professor Krugman, you have a car. We're going to compel you to buy a more expensive car," but it's not really more expensive, because it's a better car, wouldn't you tell them to get off your land?

Will was really on this week-end. This one was particularly interesting in its total unresponsiveness:

VARGAS: I do want to get to one other issue related to this health care bill, which is the language on abortion, because it almost died in the House, the health care bill, because of abortion. There was the Stupak amendment, which attached highly restrictive language to when abortions could be covered, and there -- Bart Stupak says this is unacceptable, this current bill, as Obama has proposed it, and he says 20 other members of the House will have problems with it, too. Will abortion kill this thing in the end?

WILL: Well, Alan Frumin's 15 minutes of fame have arrived. He is the hitherto obscure, but soon to be quite famous parliamentarian of the Senate, and it will be his job to rule on what can and cannot be passed under reconciliation. That is, is it a budgetary-related thing? You can argue about a great many things in the health care bill. Can you say that's budget-related? No one thinks you can change the abortion language under reconciliation.

Obviously Will was riffing because he didn't have any clue about this issue and it was gibberish.

The thing went downhill from there with poor Krugman trying to inject sanity, but being thwarted by Roberts' fatuous non sequitors:

WILL: Twenty years from now, the country is going to be spending a larger portion of its GDP on health care than it is now for three reasons. We're getting older, and as we age, we get more chronic diseases that interact with one another. Second, we're getting richer; we can afford to buy more medicine. And, third, medicine is becoming more competent. Therefore, we're going to spend more on health care.

KRUGMAN: But there's a...

(DeLong: What Paul wanted to say here was: "There is a big difference between, twenty years from now, spending 20% of GDP on health care with universal coverage and spending 25% of GDP on health care with one-quarter of the non-elderly population uninsured and getting substandard coverage.)

ROBERTS: The other thing is, you know, the health care industry is the biggest employer in most of our cities now. So when -- when the speaker talks about a job creation bill...

VARGAS: A jobs bill, exactly.

It wound up with this sad, pathetic, predictable conclusion:
VARGAS: And then, of course, this weekend, we have a brand-new White House social secretary appointed to replace Desiree Rogers, a close friend of the Obamas who is exiting after a bumpy tenure, I would say. Cokie, you spoke with her. She -- she was highly criticized after the Obamas' first state dinner in which she arrived, looking absolutely gorgeous, but in what some people later said was far too fancy a dress, but most importantly, that was the state dinner that was crashed by the Salahis, who walked in without an invitation when the social secretary's office didn't have people manning the security sites.

ROBERTS: Well, I talked to -- I did talk to her, Desiree, yesterday at length. She is from my home city of New Orleans and fellow Sacred Heart girl.

DONALDSON: What's the name of the city?

ROBERTS: New Orleans.

DONALDSON: I love to hear her say it.

ROBERTS: But -- and she has lots of good explanations about that dinner. And basically, the bottom line is, it's the Secret Service. But she -- but her -- her major point is -- and I -- and I completely take this -- is that she -- she put on 330 events at the White House last year and did open the building to all kinds of people who had not been there before. And they had wonderful music days of all kinds of music, where you had during the day, the musicians would work with kids in Washington and teach them things before coming on at night.

DONALDSON: Cokie, that's irrelevant.

ROBERTS: Well, I don't think it's irrelevant.

DONALDSON: I mean, it's irrelevant. People who work for the president understand or should understand their place, which is to be spear-carriers. There are two stars in anyone's White House, the president and the president's spouse. After that, this passion for anonymity that once was a hallmark of people who worked for a president, has been lost. She wanted to be a star herself...

ROBERTS: And it's been lost. Look at all the people who work for presidents and then go out and write books about them.

DONALDSON: I think you're right.

VARGAS: Do you think she was -- did she quit, or was she asked to leave?

DONALDSON: She was asked to.

ROBERTS: She says she quit.

DONALDSON: Oh, well...

ROBERTS: And she certainly has lots...

DONALDSON: And to spend more time with your family.

ROBERTS: No, no, to go into the corporate sector and make some money, where she'll make a lot of -- she'll do fine.

DONALDSON: Good luck to her. I don't wish her ill.

DONALDSON: It's just that she didn't understand...

ROBERTS: She'll do very well.

DONALDSON: ... she was not a star in the sense that she should make herself prominent.

VARGAS: George?

WILL: It is axiomatic that when there's no penalty for failure, failure proliferates. She failed conspicuously in her one great challenge, which was the first state dinner, and she's gone. If she's gone because she failed, that's a healthy sign.

VARGAS: The big question, of course, because she was one of that close contingent of Chicago friends is whether or not she's just the first to leave or if we'll see other...

ROBERTS: But you'll see people leave.

ROBERTS: I mean, that's what happens. It's a perfectly normal thing that happens in administration, is that people come, and they come in at the beginning, and then it's time to -- to go back to life.

KRUGMAN: Can I say that 20 million Americans unemployed, the fact that we're worrying about the status of the White House social secretary...

VARGAS: It's our light way to end, Paul.

DONALDSON: Paul, welcome to Washington.

What can you say to this? The system is broken and corrupt and this is one of the major reasons why.

It's mind-boggling that George Will can say this without being struck by lightning right there at the table, but he said it without even the slightest shred of irony or self awareness:

It is axiomatic that when there's no penalty for failure, failure proliferates. She failed conspicuously in her one great challenge, which was the first state dinner, and she's gone. If she's gone because she failed, that's a healthy sign.

Yes, he's right about one thing. Failure certainly does proliferate when there's no penalty.

Big Mouths

by digby

It seems that I'm just documenting the atrocities today, but there are just so many. Courtesy Sadly No, we have Hugh Hewitt and Mark Steyn yukking it up over poor losers who don't have enough money for dentures:

Louise Slaughter: I even had one constituent, you will not believe this, and I know you won’t, but it’s true. Her sister died, this poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister’s teeth.

[Hugh Hewitt]: Mark Steyn…(laughing)

[Mark Steyn]: (laughing) That’s good. That’s good for the environment, isn’t it?

HH: (laughing)

MS: I’m in favor of that. If we can’t at least, if we can’t reduce our carbon footprint, at least we should be able to reduce our mastication mouth print by recycling dentures. I mean, this gets to the heart of why this is…is second-hand dentures, which I believe was the fourth chorus of that Barbra Streisand song, for those with long memories, but is second-hand dentures a huge problem in the United States? What are the number of people going around? There’s 300 million people here. Are 20 million going around with second-hand dentures? Are 5 million going around with second-hand dentures? The idea that you need comprehensive national health care for, to solve this particular lady’s second-hand denture crisis, I think is…

HH: But Mark, we’ve only got 15 seconds. It happened again and again. When the Democrats talked, you just looked the screen and said, “oh my God, they’re running the country.”

MS: (laughing)

HH: Oh my God, they’re running…Mark Steyn, always a pleasure ... Second-hand dentures, the chopper stopper, America.

The right wing has gotten quite a laugh out of this story. And maybe it really is just ridiculous leftwing political correctness to feel sorry for people who have problems with the medical system. But I'm not sure this works, even for their nasty, juvenile audiences. It just feels off, even for them.

But hey, Limbaugh made fun of Michael J. Fox and they all had a good laugh over over Graeme Frost, so being roaring assholes about sick people hasn't hurt them in the past. But these are tough times and it might be a little more dissonant now.

Looking For A Codpiece

by digby

Matthews is having "those" dreams again:

Matthews: Welcome back. On Friday George W. Bush said his memoir comes out this November. That will be two years since Barack Obama’s victory which some say was a repudiation of the Bush years and that brings us to this question. Will there be George W. Bush nostalgia this November when his book comes out? Kelly?

O’Donnell: Well every president gets a bit of that and I think the more George Bush is not visible, is not talking now; the more there will be interest in what he had to say.

Matthews: Will there be nostalgia?

O’Donnell: For some there will be.

Matthews: Okay, David Ignatius…

Ignatius: It depends on large part on where things are in Iraq. If after the election next month Iraq looks stable a lot of people are going to say, you know we weren’t comfortable with it at the time but George Bush was right.

Matthews: Kathleen, Bush nostalgia for the young (inaudible).

Parker: I think David makes an excellent point that will be the key to whether there’s any nostalgia, but you know George Bush has conducted himself awfully nobly since he left office in terms of hanging back…

Duffy: Compared to Cheney…

Parker: Yeah, well compared to Cheney as Chris would say… (crosstalk) I think he’d really appreciate that and you know there’s admiration for certain things about him.

Matthews: Yeah.

Parker: …that you know transcend his accomplishments.

Matthews: So there will be nostalgia?

Parker: Well, yeah.

Matthews: Okay.

Duffy: Sure as long as everyone’s competing memoirs don’t open up all the debates we’ve been talking about and they are all coming out. But I think these things get better with time.

Matthews: I think he needs a little more time to be away before he gets any, gets the David McCullough treatment.

It's an article of faith among the Villagers that Bush will eventually be vindicated as Truman was. They have to rationalize their fanboy hero worship to themselves somehow.

Wingnut Guru

by digby

George Packer watched the Glenn Beck speech at CPAC and helpfully synthesized it for people who erroneously assumed he was speaking in a foreign tongue. (Foreign planet, that is.) In case you were wondering, he has met the enemy and he is ... you.

Watching Beck’s speech to CPAC, I could imagine his appeal for Mrs. Stout. He’s friendly, he has an open face and a chubby body, he’s far from perfect-looking, he does a kind of stand-up comedy, and he talks openly, lugubriously, about his alcoholism and other past failings. “I was living in a little one-room apartment. I’d lost my family, everything was spiraling out of control. I was on the fetal position of my apartment. Am I going to die or I’m going to figure it out and live.” He’s self-educated and proud of it—he spent a semester in college before dropping out for financial reasons, but he still reads voraciously until two or three in the morning. “When did it become a something of shame or ridicule to be a self-made man in America?” And now he’s become a huge success. He gets choked up and pulls out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his face. He’s an inspiration for Mrs. Stout and the country. If I could get up off the floor, he tells his audience, so can America.

Beck puts on reading glasses, walks over to a blackboard that’s been wheeled onstage, and pretends to know things about American history that the educated people would keep from you. For example, the postwar recession of 1919-20 was worse than the Great Depression, which was only great “because of all the Progressive ideas to cure it.” He writes the word “Progressivism” on the blackboard. Progressivism is the main theme of his speech, the “cancer” that’s killing America, that has to be eradicated because it cannot coexist with the Constitution. Progressivism is Marxism and utopian Socialism. Did you know that Communists called themselves Progressives in the nineteen-thirties? To prove it, Beck reads from a 1938 Communist pamphlet that’s he’s just received from a fan, “Progress and Democracy in Rhode Island.” But the worst kind of Progressive was Woodrow Wilson. “I have to tell you, I hate Woodrow Wilson with everything in me” are Beck’s first words when he comes to the microphone. He holds Wilson responsible for the “progressive” income tax and for Hitler, who was created by the Versailles Treaty, which Wilson negotiated. And Wilson gave us Prohibition, which was the beginning of the campaign for health-care reform. Beck spreads his contempt around both parties—he hates T.R., too, whose Bull Moose Party was also called the Progressive Party (take that, McCain). Coolidge, though, was a great President—so great that Harding’s death must have been an act of God. Then came Hoover, another Progressive, who raised taxes and increased spending, which led to the Great Depression—which was not as great as Wilson’s.

So the bipartisan enemy is the Progressive President—the educated and condescending leader who believes that he can improve life in America. There’s one in the White House now, of course. Progressivism is unconstitutional. The only purpose of the U.S. government, according to the Constitution, “is to save us from bad guys.” (Forget about promoting the general welfare and creating a more perfect union.) “And right now the government looks at the American people as the bad guys.” Beck articulates and answers Mrs. Stout’s own resentments, her sense of siege, of being buffeted by change and powerful, far-off forces, of being despised and left behind. “I’m tired of feeling like a freak in America, and I know so many other people are as well,” he says. This year of resentment is his and hers.

Now that the liberal intelligentsia are finally paying attention to the ravings of the right, it's interesting that while everyone gets the paranoid strain stuff, they don't see how Beck has also appropriated both the old time religion delivery and the New Age language of the recovery movement. His schtick isn't taken literally, it's experienced emotionally, more as a religious experience or a self-help retreat than a political speech.

Unfortunately, the main point of his sermons and testimony does seep into the consciousness of those who hear him, especially that unpleasantness about progressives being cancer and creating Hitler. They absorb that deep into the psyches as the cause of their primal despair.

Hating On Sissy Britches

by digby

This is an interesting article about how the Republicans have become the party of George Wallace (as opposed to Rockefeller, Goldwater and Reagan.) I agree with almost all of it. But the writer, Jonathan Rausch, perversely insists that race has nothing to do with it, which strikes me a ludicrous considering the fact that Wallace's right wing was based on race resentment and his politics are all the rage just as we have elected our first black president. I suppose that could be unrelated, but I think it's a long shot.

Still, I would grant that many of the tea partiers don't see themselves as racially motivated and don't realize that their anti-government, anti-tax movement is predicated on the belief that it's wrong to take money from good, hard-working Real Americans and give it to the undeserving welfare queens. It's pretty abstract at this point, although there are more than a few who see it exactly for what it is.

But Rausch's observation about Wallace's right wing populism is exactly correct:

[L]ike Wallace and his supporters 40 years ago, today's conservative populists are long on anger and short on coherence. For Wallace, small-government rhetoric was a trope, not a workable agenda. The same is true of his Republican heirs today, who insist that spending cuts alone, without tax increases, will restore fiscal balance but who have not proposed anywhere near enough spending cuts, primarily because they can't.


It does seem serious about pandering to cultural resentment. Speaking to a conservative conference in February, Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota and a possible 2012 Republican presidential contender, denounced "elites" who "hang out at... Chablis-drinking, Brie-eating parties in San Francisco" and who look down on conservatives as "bumpkins." The only substantial difference from Wallace's resentful rhetoric is that Wallace did it much better ("They've called us rednecks.... Well, we're going to show, there sure are a lot of rednecks in this country!"). When Pawlenty called on the crowd to "take a nine iron and smash the window out of Big Government in this country," you knew you were deep into Wallace territory.

I am not saying that today's Republicans are a bunch of Wallace clones. Or that everything Wallace did or said was wrong, or that Republicans should shun all of his themes just because he used them. I am saying three things.

First, with the important exception of race, not one of Wallace's central themes, from his bristling nationalism and his court-bashing to his anti-intellectualism and his aggressive provincialism, would seem out of place at any major Republican gathering today.

Second, and again leaving race aside, any Republican politician who publicly renounced the Wallace playbook would be finished as a national leader.

Third, by becoming George Wallace's party, the GOP is abandoning rather than embracing conservatism, and it is thereby mortgaging both its integrity and its political future. Wallaceism was not sufficiently mainstream or coherent to sustain a national party in 1968, and the same is true today.

Conservatism is wary of extremism and rage and anti-intellectualism, of demagoguery and incoherent revolutionary rhetoric. Wallace was a right-wing populist, not a conservative. The rise of his brand of pseudo-conservatism in Republican circles should alarm anyone who cares about the genuine article.

I'm tempted to point out that this is what happens to pseudo-Straussians who empower the rubes and then come to find out that they can't control them, but that would assume they aren't still controlling them. And, of course, they are.

This is from the article in today's NY Times profiling a tea party leader from Washington:

Ms. Carender’s first rally drew only 120 people. A week later, she had 300, and six weeks later, 1,200 people gathered for a Tax Day Tea Party. Last month, she was among about 60 Tea Party leaders flown to Washington to be trained in election activism by FreedomWorks, the conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader.

And, as usual, the story fails to mention the additional "help" provided by corporate owned right wing Fox News and corporate owned right-wing radio.

The tea parties may be a George Wallace phenomenon, but it is a huge mistake to conclude that conservatives are upset by it. They consider them useful idiots, and very useful they are. By concentrating their fire on the anti-government side of the populist critique, they are helping the owners of America get their groove back. The big question is where the anti-business side of the populist critique is?

By the way, the person profiled in that NY Times article perfectly illustrates Rausch's point:

In a video viewed 68,000 times on YouTube, she confronted Representative Norm Dicks, Democrat of Washington, at a town-hall-style meeting on health care. “If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs,” she said, waving a $20 bill to boos and cheers, “then you come and take this $20 and use it as a down payment on this health care plan.”

Ms. Carender is less certain when it comes to explaining, for instance, how to cut the deficit without cutting Medicaid and Medicare.

“Well,” she said, thinking for a long time and then sighing. “Let’s see. Some days I’m very Randian. I feel like there shouldn’t be any of those programs, that it should all be charitable organizations. Sometimes I think, well, maybe it really should be just state, and there should be no federal part in it at all. I bounce around in my solutions to the problem.”

h/t to bb
Who Do They Serve?

by digby

We've heard that Chris Dodd plan agrees to tank the proposal an independent Consumer protection Agency, but Mother Jones is the first to print it. Nick Bauman reports:

This is the document's top-line summary:

Create a [Bureau of Financial Protection] inside of Treasury with a Presidentially-appointed director; a dedicated budget (through assessments on large banks, non-banks, and with the Fed making up the shortfall); autonomous rule-writing authority with the regulations to apply across-the-board to all entities offering financial services or products; and examination and enforcement authority for large banks and mortgage companies, small banks in a back-up capacity, and other non-banks on a risk basis, as described below.

The independent agency proposal would be dropped.

As Andy explained Saturday afternoon, Dodd's decision to move financial protection inside an existing agency is an effort to gain Republican votes for financial reform. But it's unclear whether either of the Republicans Dodd has negotiated with to date—Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Al.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)—will support the new plan. There hasn't been any hint of GOP backing for the proposal in newspaper articles on Dodd's leaked plan.

I doubt that this had anything to do with Republicans. They know they won't get their support. This is who Dodd is serving:

Mr. Dimon said Thursday at the Investor Day conference that he supported certain new regulations to secure the financial system, but not all of them. He said JPMorgan had always supported the creation of a systemic risk regulator, which would be controlled by the Federal Reserve, to monitor the largest and most interconnected banks in the nation.

He disagreed with one proposal to create a separate agency devoted to consumer protection, which would regulate a whole host of activities from mortgages to credit cards.

“We want better consumer protection; we just don’t want a new agency. We think it should be done by the O.C.C. and the Fed,” Mr. Dimon said, referring to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

“Yes, you can say they didn’t do a great job, but they are professional people,” he said. The elegant solution is for Congress to tell them do a better job.”

Mr. Dimon may get his wish, thanks to some persuasive lobbyists in Washington. Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said last month that he might drop demands for a new agency after pushing for its creation.

The Treasury has the same kind of "professional" people --- Geithner came from the Fed and Hank Paulson came from Goldman Sachs. I think Dimon will agree that they are trustworthy for his purposes.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday Night At The Movies

Monkey gone to heaven

By Dennis Hartley

The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

-Douglas Adams

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.

-Charles Darwin

I cannot persuade myself that it has been 50 years since anyone has bothered to make a film in which naturalist Charles Darwin’s seminal treatise on the theory of evolution, On the Origin of Species, plays any kind of significant role; but five long decades have indeed elapsed between Stanley Kramer’s intelligent and absorbing 1960 courtroom drama, Inherit the Wind (based on the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial”) and the new Darwin biopic, Creation. Perhaps this indicates that Hollywood itself has not evolved much, nu?

Perhaps I judge too harshly. After all, “Hollywood” has little to do with this particular film, as it was developed by BBC Films and the UK Film Council. The problem, it would seem, stems from U.S. distributors, none of whom initially appeared willing to touch the movie with a 10-foot pole following its debut at the Toronto International Festival last year. Maybe it had something to do with that peculiarly ‘murcan mindset that trucks with “reviews” like this one, posted on Movieguide.org., which states (among other things):

Manure, nicely wrapped with a bow, is still manure. A lie that there is no God and that somehow we have randomly shown up here on Earth as an accident is still a lie, even if it’s well written and acted.
Minds like steel traps. Okay, I do realize they are a staunchly Christian-oriented website, and are certainly entitled to their own opinions. At any rate…thank Ardi that someone eventually picked it up, because the film has now found limited release here in the states.

Although Jon Amiel’s film (written by John Colee and Randal Keynes) leans more toward drawing-room costume melodrama, focusing on Darwin’s family life-as opposed to, say, an adventure of discovery recounting the five-year mission of the HMS Beagle to boldly go where no God-fearing Christian had gone before in the interest of advancing earth and animal science, those who appreciate (to paraphrase my movie critic brethren over at Movieguide.org) thoughtful writing and fine acting…should not be disappointed.

Real-life married couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly play husband Charles and wife Emma Darwin, respectively. The story covers Darwin’s mid-life; beginning several years after his voyage on the Beagle and culminating on the eve of the publication of his most famous book. Darwin is not in a very healthy state when we are introduced to him; he suffers from a variety of stress-related maladies. Aside from the pressure he is under from peers like botanist/explorer Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) to organize 20 years worth of scientific notes and journals into his soon to be legendary tome (especially after Alfred Russell Wallace beats him to the punch with his brief 1858 essay on natural selection), he is literally sick with grief over the death of his beloved daughter Anna, who died at age 10 from illness. He is tortured with guilt over her death; he suspects Anna’s weak immune system to be the result of inbreeding (his wife was also his first cousin). Indeed, this was a tragic and ironic epiphany for the man whose name would become the most synonymous with the groundbreaking theories on evolution and natural selection.

Darwin also wrestles with a two-pronged crisis of faith. On the one hand, his inconsolable grief over the cosmic cruelty of a ten year old dying of complications from what should only have been a simple summer chill has distanced him even further from the idea of a benevolent creator (a confirmation in his heart of what the cool logic of his scientific mind has already been telling him). Then, there is the matter of the philosophical chasm between his science-based understanding of all creatures great and small, and the religious views held by his wife (whom he loves dearly). He continues his work, but hovers on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which distances him further from Emma and his surviving children (the Darwins eventually had ten, although only five are depicted in the film). He rejects counseling from long time family minister and friend Reverend Innes (Jeremy Northam), alienating him as well. Darwin’s subsequent journey to both recovering his well-being and finding the balance between commitment to his scientific life’s work and loving devotion to his wife and children is very movingly told.

Interestingly, Bettany had a bit of a “warm-up” for this role back in 2003, when he played the ship surgeon and naturalist Dr. Stephen Maturin, in Peter Weir’s Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World. He delivers a very strong performance here, and if you are familiar with some of the Daguerreotype portraits of Darwin taken in his younger years, even bears a striking physical resemblance. Connelly is sort of reprising the same role she had in A Beautiful Mind, but it is the type of character she inhabits very well; at once intelligent, strong-willed, compassionate, sensitive, and 100% believable. Toby Jones, who specializes in portraying historical figures as disparate as Truman Capote (Infamous), Swifty Lazar (Frost/Nixon) and Karl Rove (W) does a brief but memorable turn as botanist Thomas Huxley (who famously exalted “You’ve killed God, sir!” to Darwin in reaction to his breakthroughs in evolution theory). The revelation here is young Martha West in her film debut, stealing all her scenes as Anna (her dad is Dominic West, who is best known for his work on the HBO series, The Wire). There are some nice directorial flourishes throughout; especially when we are taken on a scurrying, “bug-cam” eye’s view of the wondrous microcosmic universe in the Darwin’s back yard.

Despite what the knee-jerk reactions from the wingnut blogosphere might infer about what I’m sure they interpret to be the godless blasphemy permeating every frame of the movie, I thought the filmmakers were even-handed on the Science vs. Dogma angle. This is ultimately a portrait of Charles Darwin the human being, not Charles Darwin the bible-burning God-killer (or however the “intelligent” designers prefer to view him). Genius that he was, he is shown to be just as flawed and full of contradictions as any of us. After all, we bipedal mammals with opposable thumbs are still a “work in progress”, aren’t we?

Previous posts with related themes:


Teabaggers Aren't The Only Kooks

by digby

Right up there with them are the neocon "intellectuals." Check out the latest lunacy from middle east expert Frank Gaffney (now writing for Breitbart, natch. What a hustle...)

Among other reprehensible actions, Team Obama terminated the nation’s only program capable of providing a near-term ability to intercept ballistic missiles early in their flight (i.e., the boost-phase). This Airborne Laser Program nonetheless was successfully tested earlier this month — destroying not one but two missiles similar to those arrayed against us and our friends today and making the case that such systems should be operationalized and deployed as a matter of the utmost urgency.

Then, there are the persistent reports that President Obama is going to accede to Russian demands to reinstitute bilateral restrictions on missile defenses as part of the new START follow-on treaty now being finalized with the Kremlin. Moscow lost its effective veto over such U.S. systems when George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 and the Russians have been as anxious as its American fellow-travelers to be able to exercise it again.

Now, thanks to an astute observation by Christopher Logan of the Logans Warning blog, we have another possible explanation for behavior that — in the face of rapidly growing threats posed by North Korean, Iranian, Russian, Chinese and others’ ballistic missiles — can only be described as treacherous and malfeasant: Team Obama’s anti-anti-missile initiatives are not simply acts of unilateral disarmament of the sort to be expected from an Alinsky acolyte. They seem to fit an increasingly obvious and worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam and the theo-political-legal program the latter’s authorities call Shariah.

What could be code-breaking evidence of the latter explanation is to be found in the newly-disclosed redesign of the Missile Defense Agency logo (above). As Logan helpfully shows, the new MDA shield appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo.

People keep talking about the reasonable Republicans reasserting themselves. Who are they?

Update: Haha.


by digby


At some point, people have to stop giving Bush era officials the benefit of the doubt. Every single major scandal of the Bush Administration–except, technically, the warrantless wiretap scandal, but if I were NARA I’d start asking about those emails–has included disappeared emails. I mean, it’s time to stop pretending this is anything but intentional.

Yes, it's time that everyone start calling it what it is: an institutional cover-up. They routinely and systematically violated the records act by deleting incriminating emails. It's obvious.

It's also obvious that nothing's going to be done about it.

All's Fair

by digby

These people will stop at nothing:

For years the largely white staff of Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, tried to tackle the disproportionately high number of black women who undergo abortions. But, staff members said, they found it difficult to make inroads with black audiences.

So in 2009, the group took money that it normally used for advertising a pregnancy hot line and hired a black woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator.

Ms. Davis traveled to black churches and colleges around the state, delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks.

The idea resonated, said Nancy Smith, the executive director.


A new documentary, written and directed by Mark Crutcher, a white abortion opponent in Denton, Tex., meticulously traces what it says are connections among slavery, Nazi-style eugenics, birth control and abortion, and is being regularly screened by black organizations.


It would be nice if these same people didn't also demagogue against "welfare queens" and simultaneously condemn them for having too many children, but that would require an intellectual consistency of which they are incapable.

And they really need to get their talking points straight because, as Mike Stark documents, some of their people are making major errors with this one:
In this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. And now we look back on it and we say "How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can't believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible." And we're right, we're right. We should look back on that with criticism. It is a crushing mark on America's soul. And yet today, half of all black children are aborted. Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery. And I think, What does it take to get us to wake up?

I really hope that some of the leaders in the black religious community step up here. This is sickening.

The Most Embarrassing Member Of Congress

by digby

You all know this woman. She is an embarrassment to the American people and a truly despicable human being. Here are just a few of her greatest hits:

"[Our bill] will be pro-life because it will not put seniors in the position of being put to death by their government"

"We have more to fear from the potential of that [health care] bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country."

"[People in foreclosure] are continuing the welfare mentality"

That's Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, of course, a woman who makes Jesse Helms look moderate by comparison. Despite her clear insanity, which you'd think would be a selling point, teabaggers in her district are going to field a right wing candidate against her in the general election. And that opens up this race to good guy, Billy Kennedy, the progressive Democrat who is running against Foxx.

Blue America is endorsing Kennedy today, and Howie and John will be hosting a chat over at C&L at 11 am if you'd like to meet him.

Howie wrote earlier today:

There aren't going to be any clearer choices between an advocate of people-oriented good government and an advocate of maintaining the status quo on behalf of the wealthy, powerful special interests than the race in NC-5 between Billy Kennedy and Virginia Foxx. Foxx doesn't think her wealthy backers should be forced to pay taxes to educate a bunch of poor people's children. Billy has a very different perspective on the role of government in a healthy society:
America needs a vibrant middle class and successful small businesses to survive. The middle class depends on quality public education available for all and jobs that pay a living wage... People have been benefiting from government programs for a long time in this country and still are. What would our Fifth District be like had the rural electric cooperatives not been started by the government? The government is our common wealth, our school systems, secure banking, police and fire departments, roads and water systems belong collectively to us all. And it’s our responsibility to manage our collective wealth wisely.

No one makes it all on their own. We all benefit from successful government programs. Virginia got her B.A., M.A. and E.D. from our outstanding public North Carolina universities, and she’s been on the dole ever since. She’s been living off the N.C. taxpayers, gaming the system, and now she wants to deny the same opportunity she had to everyone else. Just last weekend she said that she didn’t believe that federal funds should be used for education.

I went to college with the help of federal programs. Last year’s federal stimulus money went to our colleges and local schools, supporting, and in some cases saving teaching positions, in this tough economy. Students don’t get a second chance; you can’t abandon them. If their basic educational needs are not met, they become economically disadvantaged, costing us all more in the end. Countries with higher literacy rates have more developed and thriving democracies. Investing in education is money well spent. We need an educated workforce to compete. We need good jobs. We need to be leading the world in new technologies, green technologies. We need to promote these new green technologies with tax credits at the state and federal levels. We need to renew our manufacturing base. Bring the work back home.
Between a Tea Party candidate campaigning against Foxx from the right and Billy's plainspoken on-the-ground outreach, the anti-incumbent wave building nationwide this year could unseat an entrenched Republican in a red district, which is just what Alan Grayson and Eric Massa did with our help last year. Please consider contributing directly to Billy's campaign here at the Blue America page.
There has never been a better time to oust incumbents and there's no reason that it can't happen in North Carolina. Virginia Foxx is an embarrassment to all Americans, but she's a very special embarrassment to her district. They have a chance to correct that.

You can donate here.

And you can meet Billy Kennedy at C&L at 11:00.

Godless Smarties

by digby

I'm not sure I buy this, but I do enjoy the notion that it will make Rush Limbaugh's head explode:

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly...

The reasoning is that sexual exclusivity in men, liberalism and atheism all go against what would be expected given humans' evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them.

"The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward," said George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study. "It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people -- people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower -- are likely to be the ones to do that."

I actually think evolutionary psychology is pretty flaky, so I tend to take these conclusions with a grain of salt. But if the stats do show higher IQ among those people with those beliefs, it's interesting anyway and it further illuminates the culture war.

But what's up with the smart women? The smart liberal men apparently figured out that being monogamous is a lot less complicated and makes more sense, but the smart females haven't. Evolutionary psychology typically predicts that it has something to do with women needing a good man to provide for them while they sneak around for some DNA variety, but this particular study is supposed to reflect the smart, evolved types who aren't slaves to their lizard brains. So, what's up with that? Are smart women really more inclined to sleep around? Or are the smart men lying?

h/t to bb

by digby

I have friends who went through the 9.2 great Alaska quake of 1964, which was the second biggest quake ever recorded. It was one of those where the earth opened up and swallowed cars. Whole towns on the coast disappeared. Luckily, there aren't very many people in Alaska so the carnage was limited. But one of the things most people forget about that quake is that the tsunami it created killed a bunch of people in Oregon and Northern California.

This Chilean quake is also a great quake and the carnage is likely to be quite severe considering the population. Let's hope it isn't as bad as we might fear.

And I certainly hope we don't see any people in the pacific rim running to beaches to watch the waves. It would be very, very foolish..


Friday, February 26, 2010

Can They Ever Stop Whining?

by digby


Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, says he believes Washington has become increasingly erratic and unfair in its treatment of the banks over the last few months, and he now has some regrets about participating in the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“F.D.I.C. is going to cost us a lot of money. TARP cost us a lot of money. This bank tax, my first reaction was, ‘That will cost us a lot of money,’” Mr. Dimon said Thursday at the bank’s annual Investor Day conference in New York. “I think we are getting into the capricious, arbitrary and punitive behavior.”

Oh boo fucking hoo. For the first time in my life I'm really beginning to understand why the French went so nuts with the Guillotine. They were just sick to death of having to watch spoiled aristocrats behave as if a bunch of hungry, armed, very pissed off peasants presented absolutely no threat to them whatsoever. At some point you want to kick their privileged asses just to shut them up.

Update: Oh sorry, I forgot that Jamie Dimon only got a 17 million dollar bonus this year. No wonder he's so upset. Never mind.

Wolves In Sheep's Clothing

by digby

Ron Paul made a compelling case against corporatism in the health care system today on Rick Sanchez's show, rightly pointing out that the insurance companies are getting a good deal from the government with this mandate in exchange for some regulations. He claimed that it is government managed care that has ratcheted up costs:

SANCHEZ: Congressman Paul, you're a big free market guy. And -- and I think a lot of folks respect you for that. But do you not believe that some of these big insurance companies have gotten too powerful in what they can do?

PAUL: Well, yes.This is a consequence of government-managed care. The corporations get involved. The managed health care gets involved. The insurance companies get involved, the drug companies.

Who do you think pushed through prescription drug programs? It was the -- it was the drug companies. So, I agree that corporations are out of control. But it's -- it's not because it's a market function. There's been no market function. It's been a government-mandated function. The government controls this.

So, right now, do you think this administration is going to take on the drug companies and insurance companies? That's not going to happen.

We have a type of corporatism that runs in this world and in this country, and it moves toward a fascist system, because government and big business go -- get in bed together. And it's not free markets at all. The free market that I know about existed a long time ago, and things weren't nearly as bad as they are today, let me tell you.

SANCHEZ: That's -- that's interesting, because you're -- it's a double whammy that you're proposing. You're saying, look, the corporations are screwed up because they have gotten too greedy, and the people who have helped them get screwed up is the government, who have really been their allies in this.

PAUL: That's absolutely right. And they still are. They still are.
Provocative, interesting stuff, right? Unfortunately they ran out of time before Paul could really talk about what he thought should be done aside from the usual opening up insurance across state lines and tort reform. The good news is that last Tuesday both he and his son Rand (also a physician, who is running for the Senate in Kentucky) were on The Situation Room discussing their views on health care reform and they delved a little bit deeper:

RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY SENATE CANDIDATE: ...I think that if you talk to voters in Kentucky, they'll ask, how are we going to spend a trillion dollars on health care and yet it's not going to add anything to the debt?

Nobody here believes that. I don't think many people in the country believe that...

BLITZER: But that's what the Congressional Budget Office...

RAND PAUL: -- a trillion dollar program...

BLITZER: -- the Congressional Budget Office came up with that assessment, that they -- there are certain ways you can cut some of the growth, in Medicare, for example, among other things, and that way you'll have basically no increase in the debt.

You don't believe in the CBO...

RAND PAUL: Well, the argument is...

BLITZER: You don't believe in the CBO numbers?

RAND PAUL: Well, the argument is that they're going to get a lot of money out of waste and fraud.

But my question to them is show me the government program that's ever come in under budget. Look at the Medicare prescription drug plan. CBO predicted that it would cost $400 billion. Within a year, they revised their estimates to say it was going to cost a trillion.

So I think notoriously, government underestimates the cost of programs. And when something is free, people tend to over use it and it costs a lot more than they projected.

BLITZER: Congressman, do you trust the CBO?

RON PAUL: Well, I trust them that they're trying to do their best. But I don't think anybody can project the future, because you don't know what the revenues will be, you don't know what the interest rates are going to be, you don't know how much abuse there's going to be and who -- who lines up at the trough.

So, no, nobody is -- nobody can do that. And that's why government always fails once they get involved in doing these things and the market works, because the market irons these things out. The people who are inefficient get shoved aside or they have to declare their bankruptcy or they have to revamp. But when government does it, they have nobody to report to and all they do is go back and tax the people even more and that's why it fails.

BLITZER: So if you were in the Senate right now -- and you want to be the Republican candidate from Kentucky, Rand Paul, in the United States Senate. You want to get that Republican nomination.

You would reject the president's effort to come up with some sort of health care solution, is that what you're saying?

RAND PAUL: Well, what I would say is I would reject what the president is proposing. But I would also say that we, as Republicans, need to articulate a vision for what we would do. I personally am worried about the expense. And people come up to me everyday and are worried about the expense. I'm worried about pre-existing conditions. I'm worried about if Wolf Blitzer grills me on these questions and I have a heart attack today but I survive that my rates could triple.

So I'm concerned about the price. But my question is, is it that we need more government involvement or less?

Over half of what I do as a physician is already paid for by government. And the problem is, is that when government sets the price for health care, the patient quits caring about the price and there is no price competition.

BLITZER: All right.

RAND PAUL: You need to have price competition to make health care work.

When they talk about competition, they believe the problem is that patients aren't forced to comparison shop for heart bypasses, which raises costs. The government needs to stay completely out of it and let the market between patients and doctors work. If a few parasites people have to be sacrificed to make things more efficient,so be it. Otherwise we will have fascism.

The two Pauls are very slick characters. They have an appealing way of speaking about the ruling elites, which I'm sure gets a lot of young socially liberal populists at hello. But it's very important to understand what their philosophy really is and where it leads. Unsurprisingly, it leads to "every man for himself" --- and consequently enables the "corporate" side of the corporatist program to operate unfettered by pesky regulations or taxes. Of course if you want to put all your faith in the invisible hand to manage those wealthy interests on your behalf, then this sounds good. It sounds like useful idiocy to me.

There is no doubt that we have a corporatist system at work in Washington. Thirty years of conservative rule takes its toll --- this is, after all, how they planned it. But let's not allow ourselves to get confused by shills like Paul --- or allow young people who are already prone to see the fun side of libertarianism miss the other side of the coin. Little Randian Paulites almost always turn into Big Business Wingnuts once they start making a paycheck, at which point their concerns about "corporatism" tend to morph into concerns about government spending money on people who aren't wonderful producers like they are.

Update: Here's a nice succinct essay by Ron Paul on health care reform, which proves that he is a con artist. An excerpt:

"Universal Healthcare never quite works out the way the people are led to believe before implementing it. Citizens in countries with nationalized healthcare never would have accepted this system had they known upfront about the rationing of care and the long lines.

... Having to subject our health to this bureaucratic insanity and mismanagement is possibly the biggest danger we face. The great irony is that in turning the good of healthcare into a right, your life and liberty are put in jeopardy.

Instead of further removing healthcare from the market, we should return to a true free market in healthcare, one that empowers individuals, not bureaucrats, with control of healthcare dollars. My bill HR 1495 the Comprehensive Healthcare Reform Act provides tax credits and medical savings accounts designed to do just that."

Paul is obviously a fairly typical Republican liar but even on the merits, this argument comes down to the fundamental difference between modern American liberalism and right wing libertarianism. Liberalism seeks to protect civil liberties and pursue social justice while libertarianism seeks to protect civil liberties and preserve individual wealth. There is some common ground, to be sure. But the differences lead to starkly different beliefs about the role of government.

Update II:You can see the difference between right and left libertarianism as well by comparing the differences between Paul (who is also, incidentally, a fake libertarian) and left libertarian Chomsky. Their critiques of the problems are the same, but their solution is exactly opposite: Paul wants to leave health care entirely to the market and Chomsky is for a single payer system.

Preparing For The Other

by digby

TPM reports:
A 2003 handbook for the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Iraq exhorts soldiers to "Do your best to prevent war crimes" and warns that "when an Arab is confronted by criticism, you can expect him to react by interpreting the facts to suit himself or flatly denying the facts."
The document, obtained and posted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, runs nearly 100 pages outlining on the history of Iraq, the customs of Arabs, and the rules of war.


Some of the sections of the handbook describing Arabs are, to put it lightly, reductive.

Concerning criticism, the handbook advises: "The Arab must, above all else, protect himself and his honor from this critical onslaught. Therefore, when an Arab is confronted by criticism, you can expect him to react by interpreting the facts to suit himself or flatly denying the facts."

And it says the Arab world view is "based upon six concepts: atomism, faith, wish versus reality, justice and equality, paranoia and the importance of family over self."

Under wish versus reality, the handbook says: "Their desire for modernity is contradicted by a desire for tradition (especially Islamic tradition, since Islam is the one area free of Western identification and influence). Desiring democracy and modernization immediately is a good example of what a Westerner might view as an Arabs 'wish vs. reality.'"

It warns that Arabs in Iraq might be suspicious of U.S. objectives, categorizing this concern as "paranoia": "Arabs may seem to be paranoid by Western standards. Suspicion of US intent in their land and a cautious approach to American forces are a primary example. Some Arabs view all Westerners as agents of the government that may be 'spies.' "
This isn't surprising, but it isn't the worst of it. But there is more to this reductive view of "Arabs" than just this. Back in 2004, Seymour Hersh revealed that the Pentagon was distributing a discredited book called The Arab Mind to officers, which very likely influenced the torture regime. I wrote this at the time:

We know that big tough American guys like Trent Lott would never urinate all over themselves if they were tied up naked as a 150 lb snarling German Shepard was allowed to back them into a corner and take a piece out of their flesh. They don't have "a problem with dogs" like those arabs do.

This is but another example of the crude, stereotypical approach we seem to have taken toward the Iraqis (and undoubtedly the Afghans, as well.) And it is likely because the "intellectuals" who planned and implemented the war don't have a clue.

Sy Hersh mentioned in his May 24th article in the New Yorker one of the many possible reasons why:

"The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was 'The Arab Mind,' a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai ... The book includes a 25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression ... The Patai book, an academic told me, was 'the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.'"

You might as well read a ZOG comic on mudpeople as read this for any true understanding. The passages on sex could have been written during Queen Victoria's reign which is, indeed, the period from which many silly, crude stereotypes about arabs and sex really got off the ground. (The funny thing is that Patai's book portrays arabs as being rigidly sexually repressed when during Victoria's time they were reviled for being scandalously oversexed. It seems that no matter what, westerners believe that arabs are just all fucked up when it comes to sex.)

So, a bunch of second rate minds read a third rate book about people they know nothing about except what they've seen at parties where Ahmad Chalabi is holding court, and they fashion a torture regime based upon a ridiculous thesis that Arabs (as opposed to Western he-men apparently, which is interesting in itself) are unusually uncomfortable with being herded around naked, forced to pretend to masturbate in front of women and piling themselves up in naked pyramids, among other sexually charged, homoerotic acts.

It's always interesting to see people's innermost fears and insecurities projected on to another isn't it? These neocons have some serious issues.

They certainly do. And as we've found out since then, these issues ran all the way up to the White House, where members of the cabinet watched as torture techniques were simulated and top Justice Department lawyers conjured up secret memos indemnifying the torturers.

All of this seemed to stem from a primitive belief that they were dealing with a threat so unique and unprecedented that all civilized rules of behavior had to be eliminated. And most of that sprang from plain old vanilla racism. How that continues to happen in the most multicultural country in the world is a mystery for ages. It's not like they couldn't have asked some actual Arabs and Muslims about this stuff. America is full of them.

Too Much Trouble

by digby

Here's a video mash-up of the Republicans' inexplicable decision to obstruct the extension of unemployment benefits. (And it is the Republicans, not just Jim Bunning, because he had Bob Corker waiting in the wings to take over in case he needed to leave the room. They could have stopped it.)

I also don't understand why the Democrats didn't make Bunning and Corker put their bladders where their mouths are and force them to keep running this stunt all week-end if they had to. Here you have the Republicans using parliamentary tricks to withhold unemployment benefits in the middle of a vicious recession. Would that not be worth highlighting just a bit to illustrate that the Republicans are so ideologically rigid that they would compromise average citizens' actual survival just to make a point?

I guess not. They caved and adjourned. They are allowing the benefits to expire, which will require the states to go through all kinds of hoops to reinstate them if they end up voting for it next Tuesday.

The Democrats were evidently afraid of making the Senate look like it couldn't get anything done and Bunning is a nut so why fight it? And that's the problem. They had an opportunity to demagogue the living hell out of uncaring Republican parsimony in this time of great financial need and they didn't do it. I guess they figure it's better to let the other side continue convince the people that long term deficit projections are what's causing them to lose everything. It's less trouble. Plus they were tired.

Up And Down Simultaneously

by digby

Oh the irony. The day after Sally Quinn gets demoted to mere cheeto-muncher, it's revealed that Desiree Rogers is stepping down from her job as White house Social Secretary. How sweet it would have been for the Queen Bee if she'd only held back from commenting in print on her family's dirty laundry for one short week.

Here's how Mike Viqueira on MSNBC characterized the resignation:

We are confirming that Desire Rogers is stepping down. Of course she had been a controversial figure ever since that first state dinner the week of Thanksgiving, you remember it was the Indian prime minister who was here and it was crashed by not only the Salahis but a third uninvited guest. There were congressional hearings called, the White House refused to send Ms Rogers up to Capitol Hill to testify, claiming that she was simply a White House adviser, not a White house official who was eligible to testify before congress.

She received considerable criticism in the press. There was unfavorable talk about what was termed her "Hollywood image" that she was too high powered to have this role, that she could perhaps overshadow the first lady.

In case you missed the story about Rogers being above herself, here's a pretty good rundown. As far as I can tell, the only one in the press who raised questions about her "Hollywood image" was Quinn. How fitting it is that the day Quinn's power is proven to all the world comes on the day after she was ignominiously demoted by her own paper for being a shallow twit.

Meanwhile, it's hard to feel too sorry for Rogers who said that after a year in the White House she now feels she can "take advantage" of opportunities in the corporate world. I'll just bet.

The Big Rift

by digby

The leader of the Republican Party and the leader of the Tea Party disagree about Louise Slaughter's comments at the health care summit yesterday.


"If you don't have any teeth, so what? What's applesauce for?"


"I've read the Constitution ... I didn't see that you had a right to teeth"

There you see the big split between the two factions. Limbaugh is making the GOP conservative argument that one should be self-sufficient and eat soft food if they can't afford to get your teeth fixed. Beck is making the teabag constitutional argument that if something wasn't specifically written into the constitution then no government official is allowed to even discuss it.

Will they ever be able to find common ground?

A Draw?

by digby

Politico dutifully passes on the village CW:

Seven thick hours of substantive policy discussion, preening and low-grade political clashes had Hill staffers nodding at their desks, policy mavens buzzing — and participants declaring the marathon C-SPAN-broadcast session a draw.

But in this case, the tie goes to Republicans, according to operatives on both sides of the aisle — because the stakes were so much higher for Democrats trying to build their case for ramming reform through using a 51-vote reconciliation tactic.

“I think it was a draw, which was a Republican win,” said Democratic political consultant Dan Gerstein. “The Republican tone was just right: a respectful, substantive disagreement, very disciplined and consistent in their message.”

The White House and Hill Democrats had hoped congressional Republicans would prove themselves to be unruly, unreasonable and incapable of a serious policy discussion — “the face of gridlock,” as one Democrat put it hours before the summit.

That didn’t happen Thursday. In the 72 hours leading up to the encounter, Republicans drove a hard bargain with the White House over the seating arrangement — securing a massive square table that put them on a visual par with the president — to underscore their parity and seriousness. The move, ridiculed by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at the time, paid off.

Obama wasn’t able to dominate them like he did last month during an encounter with House Republicans in Baltimore, when he delivered zingers high above the GOP from a conference room podium.

All of this makes it tougher — though not impossible — for Democrats to make the case that they need to abandon talks with the GOP and immediately proceed with a plan to ram health reform through the Senate using a 50-vote reconciliation tactic.

That's a shame. Many of the Republicans were disingenuous and mendacious throughout the meeting, and even when they were being sincere they were espousing ridiculous policy fantasies. But as usual optics rule all.

Unfortunately, the Democrats failed to use the optics to their advantage by playing against type as the other side did. Republicans needed to appear to be cooperative technocrats yesterday in order to counter their image as the party of crazy and the party of no. The technocratic Democrats needed to connect as human beings and make an impassioned moral case (which some, including the president, did sporadically but without consistency.) In the end both parties ended up sounding like technocrats with some competing ideas of equal value. That's not good.

Democrats have been far too reliant on our president's intelligence and speaking skills to magically transform the political dynamic. His mastery of the details of the job is impressive and after our last goofball it's a relief. But Obama's best moments yesterday were when he challenged Republicans on their lofty assumptions about what people can afford --- he repeatedly asked these Representatives and senators to imagine what it's like to met these expenses if you make 40k a year. It was a nice populist moment for the president, speaking on behalf of the average folks and it put the Republicans off balance.

Certainly debating is part of the job, and he's good at it. But I suspect that what people need from the president and the Democrats right now is a sense that they understand the urgency of their problems, not the details of how they're going to fix them. I recall Clinton relating a story during his "laser beam" interview right after he was elected that I always thought was clever. He said he'd understood that he had to act quickly when he saw a man standing beside the road with a sign that said "For god's sake just do something." That's effective stuff.

I hope that this summit is soon forgotten and they move to the next phase quickly. And I also hope the Democrats let go of the idea that this is a good way to deal with the Republicans. They are a lot slicker than the White House gives them credit for and it's never a good idea to give them a forum in which to appear as if they are operating in good faith. They are not, and it does the country no good to help them pretend otherwise.


Thursday, February 25, 2010


by digby

Atrios wonders the same thing I did this morning when I read that the unemployment numbers still suck hard:

I generally hate that kind of thinking, and certainly don't wish for things to get worse, but I do wonder just what level of job losses and unemployment might cause the powers that be to decide that maybe they should do something.

Probably it would take a stock market crash. That's the important thing

It's pretty clear to me that they think this will eventually iron itself out and that they don't need to do much of anything. ut some point Unemployment will start to come down, however slowly, and then just as it was with St Ronnie, it will be morning in America. It's faith-based. And it ignores the very real suffering and lost opportunities that a long period of unemployment or underemployment causes as well as vastly underestimating the political and social upheaval such long periods of economic stress can cause. They're playing with fire.


by digby

Across the street from the White House, there is bipartisan agreement.

Unfortunately for President Obama, the bipartisan agreement is outside Blair House where today's health care summit is taking place, and the agreement is among liberal and conservative protestors arguing for different reason that the Democrats' current health care reform proposal isn't the correct prescription. Conservatives argue that it’s too much government intrusion and socialism. Liberals argue that the various leading Democratic proposals don't go far enough.

Most of the roughly one hundred protestors standing at the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania Ave, NW, are conservative.

Among some of the signs, from the Right: “This Summit Is a Sham,” “No! No! No More Secret Deals That Steal! No Obamacare No Unconstitutional Takeover Health Trap!.” “Slowbama Down,” and “No No No Hell No.”

Many chanted: “Kill the bill! Kill the bill! Kill the bill!”

From the Left: “Medicare for All” and “Support HR 676 National Health Care Act.”

A group advocating single payer has unfurled a large poster claiming to be the “Private Health Insurers’ Quilt of Shame,” with stories of various individuals who have struggled with insurance companies.

“Medicare for all! Medicare for all!” chanted one dark-haired woman, standing with another woman holding a sign advocating health insurance for immigrants.

“Why don’t you shut up!” yelled Susan Winton of Wykoff, NJ, a retired importer who said she’s part of the tea party movement.

“Medicare for all!” continued the woman.

“Are you a citizen?” Wykoff asked the woman.

“Medicare for all!” she continued, ignoring Wykoff.

“She knows three words of English,” Wykoff said to a fellow tea partier, Donald Woodbridge, a laid-off mechanical engineer from Amenia, NY.

Woodbridge, in Spanish, asked the woman if she speaks Spanish.

The Medicare-for-all protestor, Dr. Zunaira Khalid, continued to ignore them. She speaks plenty of English and isn’t Latina, it turns out. She’s an anesthesiologist and US citizen from Fairfax County, VA, the daughter of an Afghani mother and a Pakistani father. She told ABC News she’s with the group HealthCare Now, which advocates for a single-payer system.

Wykoff said she opposes President Obama’s bill because it’s “too much government. Medicare is broken. Medicaid is broken. Social Security is broken.”

“It’s unconstitutional,” said Woodbridge.

Roughly two dozen antiabortion protestors, with red tape saying “LIFE” on their mouths, staged a silent protest as close to the Blair House doors as they could get.

On the other side of the scrum, Joan Stallard, an activist with Code Pink, stood on the corner with a hospital gown over her winter clothes, holding a sign reading “Don’t Leave Us Uncovered.”

The sad thing is that I think that is a fairly decent cross section except for those who just want everyone to shut up and pass the damn thing so they don't have to hear about it anymore. And I suspect that group represents about 80% of the public.

Update: Please note that the above article wasn't written by me, but is rather a wire report. I excerpted it not because I was making the point that single payer advocates are equivalent to the teabaggers --- indeed, I thought the article made it very clear that the single payer advocate was a decent,normal person and the teabaggers were racist kooks. My only additional point was that there are very few people of any ilk who are invested enough to demonstrate at this point, beyond wishing it were over.

For the record, I don't consider single payer people to be teabaggers. I can't imagine why anyone would.

Equally Earnest

by digby

I’m not questioning the CBO’s quality, I’m questioning their reality. Representative Paul Ryan.

As a good liberal political junkie I watched the summit today and saw Democrats staying within the bounds of reality in discussing the various ideas on the table and I saw the Republicans making things up. The president was in command of the facts, competently defended the Democratic position and successfully batted back many of the GOPs misrepresentations. The Republicans were effective in repeating their usual talking points and non-sequitors.

However, if I were to tune in to this summit without having a fairly good grasp of the politics in play, I’m afraid I might come away from it thinking that both sides are equally earnest in trying to fix the problems with our health care system and they both have equally good ideas. After all, they told us that all day and the picture of these people all sitting around a table politely exchanging ideas creates that appearance. But the fact is that the substantive disagreements between the two parties represent more than an abstract philosophical difference of opinion. They represent a hardcore, political impasse.

Much, as always, depends on how the media chooses to frame this summit, but I’m afraid that many people are nonetheless likely to be left with the impression that problems passing this bill are the result of Democrats refusing to put all these neat Republican ideas into the mix --- and if they can just agree to do that, we can all hold hands and sing kumbaaya. This is, of course, nonsense. Republicans do not want to pass any health care reform that will be signed by President Obama and even if he agreed to implement their ideas in whole cloth and call it day, they still wouldn’t vote for it. In fact, even if a Republican president were in charge, conservatives of both parties don’t want health care reform except to the extent it reduces the current inadequate safety net and loosens existing regulations. They basically say that the answer to this problem is to eliminate physician liability, allow people to buy insurance across state lines, require Americans to get healthier and make them shop around for cheaper services in order to bring down costs. There’s really not much more to it than that. (Senator John Barasso, a medical doctor, even said that patients who have only catastrophic insurance are the best patients because they have to consider whether or not they can afford tests when they get sick.)

The fact remains that Republicans and certain conservative Democrats are bad faith players in this process. They have no serious plan to fix the health care system but this summit’s optics may have led people to erroneously believe they do. And rather than helping speed the momentum to pass the plan through reconciliation by sharpening the differences, I am afraid that this meeting may have slowed it down. And that may, unfortunately, lead inexorably to “Plan B.”

We’ll have to wait to see what the mainstream media highlights to know if the unctuous disingenuousness of the Republicans will be obvious for all to see. Let’s hope so.

Update: Gergen just said that the Republicans just had the best intellectual day they've had in years, especially our cutest li'l Randian, Paul Ryan. Oy vey ...

Update II: Cilizza thinks the Republicans did pretty well --- except for McCain, of course, who is the new GOIP sin-eater.

And Ryan really is the new "it boy." It must be the village's version of "going Galt."

Update III: Media Matters has collected Republican comments to the media throughout the day. Here's one example:

Nothing But A Dirty Stinking Blogger

by digby

Gawker breaks the news:

Erik Wemple nailed down WaPo editor Marcus Brauchli's decision on this after yesterday's exciting "Will Sally Quinn Totally Get Canned, Please Lord?" rumorizing. Wemple says Brauchli was pissed that Quinn's latest "Let me tell you some stuff about my family" column ran, and has now declared that in the future her column "will appear online at 'On Faith,' a section of washingtonpost.com that Sally guides."

I'm looking forward to her posts about proper pajama attire and delicious cheeto canapes.

Steele Trap

by digby

C&L made a great catch:

STEELE: This whole dog and pony show that we're about to witness today is something that should have taken place a year ago, when the administration first came in last February and laid out its agenda for health care. This is how you should have started it - bipartisan, public forum, CSPAN, your cameras rolling to capture this and to capture, most importantly, what the American people want. And right now, they want us to start over, and I think we should.

TODD: Chairman Steele, in fairness to them, I mean, it was a year ago that they actually had a summit.

GUTHRIE: On March 5th.

TODD: And it wasn't just the legislative leaders. They brought in folks from the industry as well. And that one was televised. So...does that one not count? I'm just curious.

STEELE: Well, apparently it didn't. Because we don't have health care.


He has a point about us not having health care. But I think the bigger one is that holding these summits doesn't automatically translate into legislation. And if they are dull and lifeless, they don't translate into public persuasion either.

Perhaps today will be different, though. The gasbags seem to be fixated on McCain and Obama's spat, but that might end up being a good thing if it illustrates hows batty and combative the Republicans are in contrast to the president.

Howzit Going?

by digby

I have been watching the health care summit all morning and I think Obama has been quite effective in parrying the combative Republicans while staying above the fray. On the overall optics of the event, I'm not sure it's going to move anyone. The anti-HCR people will cheer their leaders for standing up while the other side will praise theirs for holding fast.

Louise Slaughter's speech was impassioned, which I thought was refreshing. She simply related instances in which the government has had to intervene over the years in order to change inequities in the health care system. She used examples pertaining to women's health but the broader point about government's role was even more powerful.

In all the talk today about "philosophical differences" Slaughter was one of the only participants who really got beyond the soundbites and expressed how the liberal philosophy works in action. It's always good to tell personal stories and anecdotes, but it would be very useful if more Democrats could tell this kind of anecdotes as well --- instances of government stepping in to fix systemic institutional problems. More of this please.

Naturally, the pundits are all obsessing on the McCain exchange, which IMO only helps the president since it seems that nobody likes McCain anymore, not even his constituents. (It was very enjoyable watching that exchange on the Sunlight Foundation site, in which McCain railed against the sweetheart deals and big money influence as his major donors scrolled down the page next to him.)And Obama was right to put a stop to his pontificating by pointing out that the election is over. He may be a fixture on the Sabbath Gasbag shows, but he is just another Senator in this meeting.

So far so good, at least on the optics. As for the substance? Well ... it wasn't really designed for substance, now was it?