Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of 2009 - A Blank Page Moment from 2 Old Friends

To celebrate the end of a year on the Ole Train of Thought, I bring you the final strip of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Today is actually the 14th anniversary of its publication. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fixing the Sunday Shows

A great idea from journalism professor Jay Rosen:

Look, the Sunday morning talk shows are broken. As works of journalism they don't work. And I don't know why this is so hard for the producers to figure out.

The people who host and supervise these shows, the journalists who appear on them, as well as the politicians who are interviewed each week, are all quite aware that extreme polarization and hyper-partisan conflict have come to characterize official Washington, an observation repeated hundreds of times a month by elders in the Church of the Savvy. Ron Brownstein wrote a whole book on it: The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America

If the observation is true, then inviting partisans on television to polarize us some more would seem to be an obvious loser, especially because the limited airtime compresses political speech and guarantees a struggle for the microphone. This pattern tends to strand viewers in the senseless middle. We either don't know whom to believe, and feel helpless. Or we curse both sides for their distortions. Or we know enough to know who is bullshitting us more and wonder why the host doesn't. I can think of no scenario in which Brownstein can be correct and the Sunday shows won't suck. (Can you?)

It's remarkable to me how unaware someone like David Gregory appears to be about all this. He acts as if lending stage to extreme partisanship, and then "confronting" each side with one or two facts it would prefer to forget, is a perfectly fine solution. But then he also acts like his pathetic denialism about the adequacy of press performance as Bush made his case for war is sustainable, normal, rational. ("I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president.") Maybe he thinks we buy that. Or forgive him. Or something....

Well, Gregory is a special case. But in fact the whole Sunday format has to be re-thought, or junked so the news divisions can start over with a new premise. Of course the problem is that the people who would have to make that decision are the same people whose entire knowledge base and skill set lies in producing the "old" style of political television. That is what they know, so that is what they continue to do. I guess it's not hard to understand complacency of this kind. But do they really think we don't notice the growing absurdity of bringing to a common table people who agree on nothing?

I think the situation calls for cynicism. But I have to admit that is not much of a call. So instead I propose this modest little fix, first floated on Twitter in a post I sent out to Betsy Fischer, Executive Producer of Meet the Press, who never replies to anything I say. "Sadly, you're a one-way medium," I said to Fischer, "but here's an idea for ya: Fact check what your guests say on Sunday and run it online Wednesday."

Now I don't contend this would solve the problem of the Sunday shows, which is structural. But it might change the dynamic a little bit. Whoever was bullshitting us more could expect to hear about it from Meet the Press staff on Wednesday. The midweek fact check (in the spirit of, which could even be hired for the job...) might, over time, exert some influence on the speakers on Sunday. At the very least, it would guide the producers in their decisions about whom to invite back.

The midweek fact check would also give David Gregory a way out of his puppy game of gotcha. Instead of telling David Axelrod that his boss promised to change the tone in Washington so why aren't there any Republican votes for health care? ... which he thinks is getting "tough" with a guest, Gregory's job would simply be to ask the sort of questions, the answers to which could be fact checked later in the week. Easy, right?

The beauty of this idea is that it turns the biggest weakness of political television--the fact that time is expensive, and so complicated distortions, or simple distortions about complicated matters, are rational tactics for advantage-seeking pols---into a kind of strength. The format beckons them to evade, deny, elide, demagogue and confuse.... but then they pay for it later if they give into temptation and make that choice. So imagine the midweek fact check from last week as a short segment wrapping up the show the following week. Now you have an incentive system that's at least pointed in the right direction.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Real Talk from David Simon

I stole that title from Brian Beutler's tweet, but here's an interview with David Simon posted without comment: (via, full interview here)
Why does reform seem so impossible?

We live in an oligarchy. The mother’s milk of American politics is money, and the reason they can’t reform financing, the reason that we can’t have public funding of elections rather than private donations, the reason that K Street is K Street in Washington, is to make sure that no popular sentiment survives. You’re witnessing it now with health care, with the marginalization of any effort to rationally incorporate all Americans under a national banner that says, “We’re in this together.”

But then the critics of a system like that immediately cry socialism.

And of course it’s socialism. These ignorant motherfuckers. What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! If socialism is a taint that you cannot abide by, then, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be in any group insurance policy. You should just go out and pay the fucking doctors because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, “Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we’ll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan…” That’s fuckin’ socialism. That’s nothing but socialism.

It is, literally.

So the whole idea of group insurance, which of course everyone believes in, like that fellow on YouTube, “Don’t let the government take away my Medicare…” You look at that and you think there’s only one thing that can make people this stupid, and that’s money. When you pay people to change their votes on the basis of money, the wrong shit gets voted for. That’s American democracy at this point. And you get to the Senate and you’re looking at 100 votes, which don’t represent anything in terms of popular representation. When 40 percent of the population controls 60 percent of the votes in the higher house of a bicameral legislature, it’s an oligarchy.

I’m getting depressed.

Now you’re listening to Joe Lieberman say that he will filibuster anything with a public option. Let me understand this: One guy from a small state in New England is going to decide on a singular basis what’s good for the health care of 300 million people? That’s our form of government, and I don’t get it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays!

Our gift is a Train of Thought Lounge with awesome Christmas songs:

And what would Christmas be without random clips of Michael Jackson dancing while Christmas music plays:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Liebermania 2009 Continues

True, the list of people to blame for the shittiness of the reform bill is a mile long. True, some people on that list played a larger role than Lieberman. But it's also true that Lieberman has deserved pretty much every mean word aimed at him during the entire debacle. Here, enjoy this short video made by people who have The Right Idea:

Lieberman: will you just go back to Connecticut and get out of our way?


And Then There Was Liebercare...

Sometime after 7 AM tomorrow, the Senate will pass Joe Lieberman's health care bill. It's pretty terrible (an analysis of the details here) and there's a huge debate within the progressive community over what to do about the bill. The fight isn't over since the bill will go to conference committee and unlike the Senate, the House actually passed a good bill.

We'll see how this turns out. The most likely out come is that the progressives will get rolled by Harry Reid and the White House, and the final bill will look remarkably similar to the Senate bill that will pass tomorrow.

If that's the case, I'd find myself in opposition to the biggest piece of legislation proposed by a president that I proudly worked my ass off to help elect.

Not fun times.



A choked up teabagger calls in to CSPAN, hillarity ensues: (via thinkprogress)
He was apparently concerned that -- after following Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) instructions to pray that someone couldn't make a manager's amendment vote Sunday night -- his prayers for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to die struck the wrong senator.

"Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn's instructions and prayed real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn't show up at the vote the other night," the caller said.

"How hard did you pray because I see one of our members was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our members died? How hard did you pray senator? Did you pray hard enough?" he continued, his voice breaking.

Inhofe was at the Sunday vote, but missed another procedural vote this morning.
Nothing like a prayer deflection that kills someone other than the person who wished dead! Sure glad the Republicans decided that these guys are the future of their party. Good luck with that!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heckuva job, Ben!

Well, Henry Kissinger did win a nobel peace prize...

Time magazine on Wednesday named Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as its 2009 Person of the Year, calling him "the most powerful nerd on the planet."

Bernanke will be featured on the cover of the magazine that hits stores Friday.

He beat out Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, President Obama, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among other finalists.

Time said Bernanke was the reason the U.S. financial crisis wasn't worse.

"The story of the year was a weak economy that could have been much, much weaker. Thank the man who runs the Federal Reserve, our mild-mannered economic overlord," the article said.

"He didn't just reshape U.S. monetary policy; he led an effort to save the world economy."
Yep, that's just what he did. Dean Baker:
The Senate finance committee overwhelmingly voted to approve Ben Bernanke for another four-year term as Federal Reserve board chairman. This is a remarkable event since it is hard to imagine how Bernanke could have performed any worse during his last four-year term. By Bernanke's own assessment, his policies brought the US economy to the brink of another Great Depression. This sort of performance in any other job would get you fired in a second. But for the most important economic policymaker in the country it gets you high praise and another term.

There is no room for ambiguity in this story. Bernanke was at the Fed since the fall of 2002. (He had a brief stint in 2005 as chair of President Bush's council of economic advisors.) At a point when at least some economists recognised the housing bubble and began to warn of the damage that would result from its collapse, Bernanke insisted that everything was fine and that nothing should be done to rein in the bubble.

This is worth repeating. If Bernanke knew what he was doing, he should have been able to see as early as 2002 that there was a housing bubble and that its collapse would throw the economy into a recession. It was also entirely predictable that the collapse could lead to a financial crisis of the type we saw, since housing was always a highly leveraged asset, even before the flood of subprime, Alt-A and other nonsense loans that propelled the bubble to ever greater heights. Of course as the bubble expanded, and the financial sector became ever more highly leveraged, the risks to the economy increased enormously.

Through this all, Bernanke just looked the other way. The whole time he insisted that everything was just fine.

To be clear, there was plenty that the Fed could have done to deflate the bubble before it grew to such dangerous proportions. First and foremost the Fed could have used its extensive research capabilities to carefully document the evidence for a housing bubble and the risks that its collapse would pose to the economy.

It then should have used the enormous megaphone of the Fed chairman and the platform of the institution to publicise this research widely. The Fed could have ensured that every loan officer who issued a mortgage, as well as all the banks officers who set policy, clearly heard the warnings of a bubble in the housing market, backed up by reams of irrefutable research. The same warnings would have reached the ears of every potential homebuyer in the country. It's hard to believe that such warnings would have had no impact on the bubble, but it's near criminal that the Fed never tried this route.

The second tool that the Fed could have pursued was to crack down on the fraudulent loans that were being issued in massive numbers at the peak of the bubble. It is absurd to claim that the Fed didn't know about the abuses in the mortgage market. I was getting emails from all over the country telling me about loan officers filling in phony income and asset numbers so that borrowers would qualify for mortgages. If the Bernanke and his Fed colleagues did not know about these widespread abuses, it is because they deliberately avoided knowing.

Finally, the Fed could have had a policy of interest rate hikes explicitly targeted to burst the bubble. Specifically, it could have announced that it will raise rates by half a percentage point at every meeting, until house prices begin to fall and it will keep rates high until house prices approach their pre-bubble level.

This is what a responsible Fed policy would have looked like. But Ben Bernanke did not pursue a responsible Fed policy. He insisted that everything was just fine until he had to run to Congress last September, saying that if it didn't immediately give $700bn to the banks through the Tarp programme then the economy would collapse.

How on earth can you do worse in your job as Fed chair than bring the economy to the brink of a total collapse? If this is success, what does failure look like?
It's also good that he doesn't think 10% unemployment is a concern either. Man of the year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Train of Thought Lounge – Thomas the Train and Friends – SNOW SONG

    In honor of the DC Snowstorm; I bring you a message from our spiritual leader, Thomas the Tank Engine:

Friday, December 18, 2009


It's happening.

Enjoy your weekend

The Audacity of Asking Nicely

We helped them, why won't they help us?
After his meeting with top bank executives Monday, President Obama said his main message to them "was very simple: that America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry -- and now that they're back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy."

Specifically, he called on them to lend more money to small and medium-size businesses.

Could banks start doing that? Absolutely. Will they? Not if the past is any indication.

Banks certainly have money to lend. Collectively they are sitting on nearly $1.1 trillion in excess reserves, defined as cash above the level that federal regulators require them to keep. It's the highest amount ever recorded in the 50 years the government has been keeping track, even if one accounts for inflation. By comparison, in the decade before the financial crisis blew up in September 2008, the nation's banks held an average of $1.7 billion in excess reserves.
When stripped to it's core, Obama's banking policy is to give the big banks who caused the financial crisis lots and lots of free government money, and ask them nicely to do the right thing with it.

You don't need a PHD to guess how that will turn out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Down Goes Cerrato!

If you would have asked me yesterday what chance there was of the Redskins firing Vinny Cerrato, I probably would've said 5%. Maybe I would go as high as 10% if this season had ended and the Skins failed to win any of their final three games. This was a man that was immediately disposed of when Marty Schottenheimer came to town, then instantly brought back and promoted when Schottenheimer was fired. During Dan Snyder's decade of futility, Cerrato was present for nine years, acting as a puppet GM which allowed Snyder to make all the personnel decisions.

I didn't think there was a snowball's chance in hell that Cerrato would be gone after this season.

This is why today isn't just a wonderful, joyous miraculous occasion, it is hereby a Redskins national holiday. Today is Vinny Day; enjoy it, Redskins fans. My franchise has hope once again.

All of Snyder's sins are not forgiven, and in my book, the Burgundy Revolution is not over. What this does, though, is pave the way for an actual legitimate coach to come here to replace Jim Zorn, not some suck-ass yes man who'll defer to the owner.

Danny Boy also didn't hurt his standing with Skins fans at all by naming Bruce Allen the new General Manager. Yes, his title is actually GM, and he is the son of Skins coaching legend George Allen. He grew up in the Washington area as a Redskins fan, and he has spent his entire life working in football. He didn't have the greatest success when he held the same title in Tampa Bay from 2004-2008, but he did a great job of using the salary cap efficiently in that role.

Judgement is still reserved until we see how the rest of this scenario plays out. But, I gotta say... today was a good day. I'll let Ice Cube take it from here...

AFL-CIO Comes Out Against Liebercare

Not pleased with the Senate's bullshit:
The labor movement has been fighting for health care for nearly 100 years and we are not about to stop fighting now, when it really matters.

But for this health care bill to be worthy of the support of working men and women, substantial changes must be made. The AFL-CIO intends to fight on behalf of all working families to make those changes and win health care reform that is deserving of the name.

The absolute refusal of Republicans in the Senate to support health care reform and the hijacking of the bill by defenders of the insurance industry have brought us a Senate bill that is inadequate: It is too kind to the insurance industry.

Genuine health care reform must bring down health costs, hold insurance companies accountable, assure that Americans can get the health care they need and be financed fairly.

That’s why we are championing a public health insurance option: It is the way to break the stranglehold of the insurance industry over consumers that has led to double digit premium increases virtually every year.

Employers must pay their fair share.

And the benefits of hard-working Americans cannot be taxed to pay for health care reform—that’s no way to rein in insurance companies and it’s the wrong way to pay for health care reform.

Those are the changes for which we will be fighting in the coming days.

The Senate bill does some good things: It will provide health insurance to 30 million more Americans and provide subsidies to low income individuals and families. Benefits will have to meet minimum standards and insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or impose lifetime or unreasonable annual limits. The bill also includes some relief for plans with early retirees as well as delivery system reforms that may lead to lower costs over the long haul. And Senate leaders have made a commitment to close the Medicare prescription drugs donut hole which is so costly to seniors.

But because it bends toward the insurance industry, the Senate bill will not check costs in the short term, and its financing asks working people and the country to pay the price, even as benefits are cut.

The House bill is the model for genuine health care reform. Working people cannot accept anything less than real reform.
The language is intentionally vague, because it would be difficult for them to oppose the bill with all of the resources they invested in electing Obama. Not sure how far this will go, but any pushback from an institution this large is a positive.

Train Guide: Writing Legislation

With all of the analysis of the Senate healthcare reform bill, a lot of readers are writing in to ask how they could make that good of a bill themselves. Perhaps they want to make an equally great bill to give to a loved one for Christmas, or maybe they just want to see if they have what it takes to forge incredible legislation like the bill-smiths in our government. Luckily for you the Train has prepared a guide to crafting masterful legislation so that you can make a bill from the comfort of your own home! Just follow our easy step-by-step formula:

1. Choose a goal for your legislation. Is there a problem that urgently requires a solution? For the purposes of an example I'm going to use “reforming a hideously broken healthcare system” for the rest of this guide.

2. Take three or four of the most immediately obvious problems within this issue, and write commonsense solutions for them. Great job! Reform is on the way!

3. Invite people from the industry you're trying to reform to join in the process. Leave the room while they do whatever they want with your bill- I sure hope they don't add any loopholes to your reforms from step 2!

4. Now you need to lengthen the bill until it's too unwieldy for anyone to get a grip on. The proposal for the current Canadian health-care system was shorter than 50 pages- none of that for us! If you're having trouble breaking a thousand pages by using bizarre, dense language alone then you should consider taking passages from older, unrelated bills and using the “Find/Replace” function in your word processor to change the subject accordingly. With just a few clicks of your mouse the Smoot-Hawley Tariff is now the You-Someone Else Health-Care Reform Bill! Most of the sentences won't make sense anymore, but that's something we'll fix later.

5. Next, choose half a dozen people in your neighborhood who are opposed to your legislative goals, and give them free reign to edit the bill. You can refer to them as the Baucus Caucus, or the Lieberman Panel, or simply Those Douches. Step 5 isn't complete until they've all signed off on every aspect of your bill, so make sure you appease them in every way possible! You can rest assured that they'll be good faith negotiators, given their enmity to your goals and their unlimited power during this process.

6. Great job! You've made it pretty far. Now it's time for you to pick up a pen and add some more weak language vaguely addressing the issues you originally set out to fix. Perhaps you have a toned-down version of reform that might still have some place in the bill? Tentatively pencil it in, but make sure not to get your heart set on it- because now we…

7. Go back to the industry insiders and Those Douches! Run the entire thing past them again. And again. And again.

8. Print up a complete version of the bill as it stands, and take it to your local sewage processing plant. Dunk it repeatedly in the foulest substances you can find.

9. Take it to a sausage factory and run it through a meat grinder. Don’t bother sterilizing anything beforehand- in fact the more it resembles a scene from Midnight Meat Train, the better. Once you're done collecting the shredded bits of the bill and picking out the largest pieces of offal, run it through again for good luck.

10. Shoot it into space on a rocket made of radioactive waste. Guide the rocket into the Sun.

11. Use a solar panel to capture some of the energy coming back from the Sun after your rocket-bill explodes. Store the energy in a battery- we'll need it later!

12. Familiarize yourself with the principles of homeopathy as proposed by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century. Specifically, we're going to utilize the “like cures like” theory to create a homeopathic bill. Choose something which creates the same symptoms as whatever problem you're trying to solve. Health-care reform is trying to fix an expensive, under-regulated system rife with corruption which has managed to compromise portions of our government… does this sound a little bit like the military industrial complex? I think so, so for my example I'm going to use the mission statements of several large military contractors as the base for my healthcare cure. After printing them out I take the pages and place them in a large vat of water and shake them vigorously- using machines powered by the battery with the energy from our initial bill!

13. Next we have to follow homeopathic principles by diluting our solution. Take a cup of the water out and set it aside. Empty your vat and fill it again with fresh water. Pour the cup you set aside back in, and shake the entire mixture again. Congratulations, you've just finished your first dilution! Homeopathy practitioners claim that the most effective treatments are diluted in this manner sixty times. Go ahead and do that- take a cup out, drain the rest, fill it back up, mix the cup back in and shake, drain again, etc, until you've diluted it sixty times.

14. Wikipedia points out that after sixty dilutions, “on average, this would require giving two billion doses per second to six billion people for 4 billion years to deliver a single molecule of the [material from the first dilution] to any patient.” Don't worry about that, though. Now it's time for you to pour your bill into the local water supply and deliver healthcare reform to all. You win!

I've been saving a surprise for the end of this guide: doing this would actually result in an even better bill than the one they're considering in the Senate right now. Why? Because your bill would do absolutely nothing, whereas the Senate bill is a train wreck that may end up deteriorating the state of American healthcare even further. Congratulations, you beat the Senate at their own game.

Which Side Are You On?

Are you in favor or real reform or a givaway to the health insurance companies? Are you with Joe Lieberman or Howard Dean?

Well at least Obama's making his position clear:
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs strongly hit back at former DNC Chairman Howard Dean for criticizing the Senate health care bill, suggesting, at one point, that Dean was being irrational and didn't understand the contents of the legislation.

"I don't know what piece of legislation he is reading," said Gibbs.

"I would ask Dr. Dean, how better do you address those who don't have insurance: passing a bill that will cover 30 million who don't currently have it or killing the bill?" he added. "I don't think any rational person would say killing the bill makes a whole lot of sense at this point."

Asked if Dean was acting irrationally, Gibbs replied: "I can't tell what his motives are, to be honest with you."
. . .
"If this is an insurance company's dream, I think the insurance companies have yet to get the memo," he summarized.
As Sam Stein points out, Gibbs must have missed Ben Smith's report where an insurance company lobbyist emailed him "we win", after the senate bill was negotiated. But regardless, calling Dean "irrational", and accusing him of not having read the bill? Where was one tenth of this anger towards any of the people actually responsible for giving us a shitty legislation?

And the president's feelings towards Joe Lieberman after he killed any prospect of a good bill?
Obama thanked Lieberman privately for his statement issued earlier Tuesday pledging support for the bill as long as the Medicare expansion and public option were eliminated from the bill, Lieberman said.
Well, fuck.

A reader at TPM says it best, it's not just about the losing:
I think people are pissed right now less at the fact that they didn't get what they wanted, and more at the fact that they feel like their people didn't really fight for it. Leaders don't always get what they want. But people recognize when true leaders at least give it a shot. And people judge that leadership by what they say in public and how hard they see them publicly pushing for it. Closed door negotiations don't count.

They wanted to see Obama push the public option and say that it was crucial, important part. His broad outlines of "cuts the deficit, improves coverage" is too bland and not something people can rally around, and he gives the impression that he's ceding power and leadership to a less capable bunch in the legislative branch.

They wanted to see news stories about how "staffers close to the majority leader" say that chaimanships and other perks were on the line for any Democrat who talked about filibustering this crucial bill.

They wanted to see congressional leadership and the president campaign hard for an "up or down vote on healthcare" the way the Republicans did so effectively for the judge appointments.

But none of that happened, and the things that people care about died with a whimper.

I know there's been a lot of game theory from people about how that would never work, etc. But the fact is that you can show leadership for big ideas and there's always still room to compromise at the end. At least then it would be clear that there was no other way, that you put up the good fight, better luck next time.

Instead they feel like the people they voted for and trusted to lead them failed. And it's hard to imagine making that same emotional commitment again in the future. Self defeating, yes. Temporary, maybe. But we're talking primal stuff here - people don't like wimps, not matter what party.
Watching Howard Dean completely dismantle Mary Landrieu on hardball last night is a nice reminder of what that type of emotional commitment and leadership actually looks like:

Any time someone tells you how you need to "come home" and support this bill, remember how much they've actually battled for real reform throughout this process. You don't owe them shit. They haven't fought for you, why should you fight for them?

Remove the mandate or kill the bill.

They've put us in a position where there are no good outcomes, but that doesn't mean we need to accept the worst possible one.

Train of Thought Lounge: The Replacements

I'm going to deliver a warning right now: some terrible stuff happened in the Senate today, and there are going to be some angry posts here on the Train over the next few days. For now, though, we're going to take a moment and acknowledge that it's a pretty cool time of the year- holidays are coming up, snow is on the forecast, etc. I missed all this stuff last year, and being here for the upcoming holidays... well, one could say I can't hardly wait.

"Can't Hardly Wait," from Pleased To Meet Me by The Replacements. Why does youtube only have this version, which replaces the horns with some synths? It is a mystery.

Now get ready for some posts celebrating the health reform bill, a disaster of epic proportions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Why do people treat the Democratic base like a bunch of suckers?

Frankly, because a lot of them are. Tremayne at Openleft has a nice recap of the health care debate:
Let's review the health care debate of 2009.

Democratic base: We demand X.

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: That's dead on arrival.

Democratic base: There's strong support for X.

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: I don't support it and there aren't enough votes anyway. Maybe I'll consider a Jiggered X.

Democratic base: We can't accept a Jiggered X. How about an opti-X?

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: We need to slow down and get this right. I think maybe I can support an opti-X.

Democratic base: Yay! We no longer demand X. Opti-X it is!

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: I cannot support Opti-X.

Democratic base: Wait, you said...

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: I said I'd think about it which I did. And I'm against it.

Democratic base: Jiggered X?

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: I'd strongly consider it.

Democratic base: (grumble) Fine, okay.

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: I cannot support Jiggered X. How about Expandicare?

Democratic base: (grrrr) Fine, that has some merit. We no longer demand X or opti-X or Jiggered opti-X. Instead, we demand Expandicare!

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: Sorry, I can't support Expandicare.

Democratic base: What! Why?

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: You accepted it, there must be something wrong with it. Besides, I never said I'd vote for it.

Democratic base: But you suggested it.

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: I suggest a lot of things. Like this: drop Expandicare and I'll strongly consider not filibustering.

Democratic base: Yay! Let's do it.

Sen. LieberNelsnowe: Suckers.
Reading the rec list at dailykos these days will drive you a bit insane. You get good diaries there to remind you that not everyone's lost the plot, but the good ones are often quickly rebutted with more popular diaries like "Listen to Obama and shut up" and "Joe Lieberman IS change we need".

Wish I could paint a nicer picture, but these are not good times.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Clodwatch for 12/14/2009

Today the award goes to Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who went a bit too far in his war on the environment and said something totally baffling:
CO2 is odorless, colorless, tasteless – it’s not a threat to human health in terms of being exposed to it. We create it as we talk back and forth.
Yes, the old test for poisonous gases: is it odorless? colorless? tasteless? Then it scientifically cannot be dangerous! Why, human beings create carbon monoxide, like he says. It couldn't possibly be dangerous, right?
Symptoms and signs of [excessive CO2 intake] include flushed skin, full pulse, extrasystoles, muscle twitches, hand flaps, reduced neural activity, and possibly a raised blood pressure... symptomatology progresses to disorientation, panic, hyperventilation, convulsions, unconsciousness, and eventually death.
But... but Barton said exposure doesn't pose a threat to human health! There goes my plan to sit in a small airtight space for a few hours and not die- my weekend is ruined. But that wasn't all Barton had to say:
So, and if you go beyond that, on a net basis, there’s ample evidence that warming generically — however it is caused — is a net benefit to mankind.
So global warming doesn't exist and isn't caused by CO2, which by the way isn't dangerous to people at all, but even if it does exist (regardless of the cause- either human activities or the natural warming of the earth or maybe magic) then it certainly isn't a bad thing and may in fact be good. Ladies and gentlemen, one of the leading Republican authorities on global warming: Joe Barton, clod extraordinaire.

It's Not Just Lieberman

Yes, Joe Lieberman may very well be one of the worst human beings on the planet. Even in a US Senate filled with narcissistic corporate whores who only care about the spotlight and enriching the industries that paid for their reelection, Lieberman his has risen to his own special level of asshattery.

But here's the thing: he's not president, he's not speaker of the house and he's not the majority leader. He's only as powerful as the Democratic leadership lets him be. Chris Bowers:
Nothing Lieberman is doing would be possible without the ongoing support of the majority of the Democratic caucus. If Democratic Senators wanted to punish Lieberman for his consistent transgressions against the party, they could. If Democrats wanted to use reconciliation, and just circumvent him altogether, they could do that to. But they are not going to do either.

As such, Lieberman is simply taking the power that is being handed to him by the rest of the caucus. Since he knows that Senate Democrats won't ever punish him, and won't ever circumvent him, he now has free reign to dictate whatever legislation he wants, get tons of face time with the White House and Senate leadership, regularly be the top story on news outlets around the country, receive millions in campaign contributions, and appease his Republican base (at this point, most of Lieberman's supporters are Republicans). It is a great deal for Lieberman, and it would not be possible without the ongoing consent of the majority of the Democratic Senate caucus.

Since we have already defeated Lieberman in a Democratic primary, there is nothing more severe we can do as progressive activists to directly threaten Lieberman. What we need to start doing is taking action against the Democrats who enable Lieberman and his ilk. If other Senate Democrats are not going to do anything about Lieberman taking control of the entire caucus, then really, what is the difference between those other Senators and Joe Lieberman?
Never thought I would echo George W. Bush, but we have reached the point where it is time to stop differentiating between problematic Senators like Joseph Lieberman and the other Senate Democrats who enable them.
Lieberman is many things, but stupid is not one of them. He (like many of us) knows that the majority of the Democrats in the senate a bunch of pussies when it comes to actually fighting for anything that matters. He knows that Harry Reid won't use the leverage he has to strip him of his chairmanship, or that Obama won't threaten him in the slightest. You'd think these people would be tired of getting repeatedly screwed over by this man, but apparently not.

When Lieberman was in the race for his political life in Connecticut against non-antichrist candidate Ned Lamont, Obama used his star power and popularity to endorse him in the primary. Lieberman repaid this favor by endorsing and campaigning for his opponent in the presidential election, which included standing on stage when vile, hateful slurs were used to attack him.

Other than this brief lapse with sanity, Obama returned to his usual bipartians/pragmatic/generic-David-Broder-cliche self upon winning the election, telling senate Democrats not to expel Lieberman from the caucus and to let him retain his chairmanship. And then we have yesterday, where Lieberman repaid him by obstructing Obama's main domestic initiative, vowing to join a filibuster to oppose it.

While most sane people see this finally crossing the uncrossable line, the White House seems to have decided to bend over and wait for his demands:
The White House is encouraging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to cut a deal with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which would mean eliminating the proposed Medicare expansion in the health reform bill, according to an official close to the negotiations.

But Reid is described as so frustrated with Lieberman that he is not ready to sacrifice a key element of the health care bill, and first wants to see the Congressional Budget Office cost analysis of the Medicare buy-in. The analysis is expected early this week.

"There is a weariness and a lot of frustration that one person is holding up the will of 59 others," the official said. “There is still too much anger and confusion at one particular senator’s reversal.”
To call that a failure of leadership isn't strong enough. He may be a powerful Senator, but no one has done more to keep him in this position then Harry Reid and Barack Obama. They may not be scum of the earth like Lieberman is, but this situation is just as much their fault as it is his.

Bombing Towards Peace

A reply to Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech from peace scholar David Cortright. Chris Hayes:
Cortright is the Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame has been advocating peace since he was in the Army in Vietnam and organized his comrades against the war.
. . .
In the run-up to the Iraq war, Cortright helped lead Win Without War, conceived of as a"mainstream" alternative to ANSWER and other anti-war groups.
So Cortright's credentials as a pragmatic advocate of peace (whatever, in the final analysis, that means) are pretty impeccable: no starry-eyed, weak-kneed, incorrigible idealist, he! I emailed to ask him for his reaction, and he wrote back right away. "I found the Nobel speech disappointing." He continued: "To use the Nobel dais to justify the use of military force is unseemly. The president's characterization of the historic role of US military power was distorted, and his interpretation of just war theory was incomplete."
His full response follows:
The president asserted that US military policy has helped to "underwrite global security." More accurate would be an admission that many of our adventures have created global insecurity. Vietnam, the wars in Central America in the 1980s, the invasion of Iraq, countless interventions by the CIA--these and other actions have sown suffering and insecurity. The US has supported democracy in some settings but very often we have subverted democracy and overthrown legitimately elected democratic regimes, in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Chile (1973), etc.

The president invoked just war principles but showed a shallow understanding of the criteria. The most important principle of just war theory is a presumption against the use of force, a belief that war is almost always unjust and can be justified only under the most dire circumstances and only if strict ethical criteria are satisfied. He mentioned a few of the criteria, without probing them in depth, but did mention the standard of ‘probability of success.' Under that criterion, the war in Afghanistan cannot be judged just, since there is very little probability that the war can be pursued to achieve military victory, however that is defined.

The president's assertions about Afghanistan did not acknowledge the fact that war is an inappropriate means of combating terrorism. The Rand Corporation study of 2008 on how terrorist groups end found that military force was responsible for ending terrorist groups in only 7 per cent of the cases. Political bargaining (43 per cent) and effective law enforcement (40 per cent) were the primary factors accounting for the end of terrorist groups. The military's own counterinsurgency doctrine calls for a campaign that is 80 per cent nonmilitary. The US effort in Afghanistan is the reverse, more than 80 per cent military.

Peace demands responsibility and sacrifice, yes, but it is built primarily through nonmilitary means. The president mentioned some of these, but he failed to mention that US foreign policy systematically undervalues these approaches. In Afghanistan the US is spending far more on military approaches than on development and humanitarian assistance.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Next Generation of Media Stupidity

Luke Russert is making a strong push to edge out Jonah Goldberg, Cokie Roberts and Julie Foudy as dumbest person allowed on television: (via Digby)
Shuster: What sort of efforts are Harry Reid and his cohorts making toward Russ Feingold?

Lil' Luke: (smirking) You remember last week or ten days ago that Mary Landrieu was able to get 300 million dollars for Hurricane Katrina down in Lousisiana? Expect Russ Feingold to possibly get something, a nice little present, an early Christmas present from Harry Reid here, possibly that could go to other members.

Obviously David, you know it's politics. These Senators want what's best for their home states, if they can hold up a major bill like this and get something in return, they just might do it.

But I think the people who are interesting to look at here are one, is Mr Feingold here, as you mentioned because he is the apotheosis of the progressive wing, but also folks like Blanche Lincoln, like Mary Landrieu, who are very fiscally conservative. If this is very expensive, they might not be on board. We also have to look at Mr Lieberman who has given a little bit of a hint that he might like this idea, but he is very much opposed to the trigger and some folks are looking at Olympia Snowe to possibly give the Democrats that buffer, that one vote buffer they could lose somebody. But she's not signed on to this 100% at all either David so there's still a lot of jockeying to be done.

It's politics at its best, as we like to say at MSNBC.

Shuster: Thanks as always, (laughter) we'll be watching the horse trading as it develops.

Lil Luke: Hahahahaha! Take care David.
Russ Feingold potentially opposing the bill on it's merits = Mary Landreu being an unprincipled whore. Clearly the same thing. IT'S LIKE WE SAY AT MSNBC, IT'S ALL POLITICS! HAHAHAHA!!!! POLITICS!

The traditional way to preform crappy journalism is to have a basic idea of what's going on, and then craft a story using cliches and baseless assumptions. The beauty of Luke Russert is that he skips the step of having even the most tenuous grip of what's going on, and bases the entire story on buzz words and cliches.

To be fair, this is exactly the type of reporting you'd expect when you give a not so bright frat boy a microphone and unlimited access, but thanks to the last name Russert, it's good to see that he qualifies as a political analyst for NBC.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

So we CAN get our money back?

Remember when we were paying bonuses to the same people who destroyed the economy? Remember when Tim Geithner and Larry Summers told us how it made them very mad, but they just couldn't do anything about it because it would rupture the universe or something?
"We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts. Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by Secretary Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system."
Right. Then explain this:
A new "super-tax" on bank bonuses will be introduced immediately, the chancellor announced today, in an attempt to stop banks using profits to pay large bonuses to bankers.

Alistair Darling attempted to appease critics who feared the tax on bonuses would prompt defections from the City by insisting the 50% tax rate on bonuses of more than £25,000 would be paid by the banks rather than employees.

The one-off "bank payroll tax" will only raise £550m and is perceived as a fresh attack on the City following the bank bailouts last year, which the National Audit Office has calculated are costing £850bn.

The charge will cover bonuses awarded between 9 December 2009 and 5 April next year.

Darling said: "There are some banks who still believe their priority is to pay substantial bonuses to some already highly paid staff." He added: "Their priority should be to rebuild their financial strength and increase their lending. So I am giving them a choice. They can use their profits to build up their capital base. But if they insist on paying substantial rewards, I am determined to claw money back for the taxpayer."
The administration could have clawed our money back, but chose not to. Not only did they not try, but they actively fought against congressional efforts to do so.

And in country that still has a Queen, someone named "Alistair" is standing up to his nation's elites while our leaders shield them from any repercussions.

Sweet Jesus.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Israeli Protestors Vie With Teabaggers For Coveted "Dumbest Protest" Trophy

The Tea Party Ultra-Patriots thought they were the only ones who still know how to have fun- but now there's another challenger in the ring. Meet the 10,000 West Bank settlement protesters, who "filled part of downtown Jerusalem Wednesday, listening to fiery speeches, dancing in circles and pledging to defy a building ban imposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu." From the article:
Settler leader Dani Dayan complained, "Not one Jewish home can be built now."
Man if only there was a country in the area that had explicitly engaged in ethnic cleansing so that there would be plenty of room for Jewish homes... Wouldn't that be nice?
"I think this is a violation of people's basic rights if they can't build homes on their own property," said Jamie Levavi, a 25-year-old settler originally from Cleveland, Ohio.
Hahaha "their own property," nice. I'm going to start building a pool house in my next-door neighbors yard, he better not violate my basic human rights by stopping me. Israeli psychopath and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman chimed in on the issue:
"If someone came to you and froze construction on your house while you were building it, you would also object," he told Israel Radio.
"I mean, unless you're constructing your house in the Bantustan thrown together for the people who were kicked out of their original homes by your own ancestors, then you'd have to be some sort of enormous dick to even think about it in the first place, right?" he continued. The article mentions that some Israelis aren't amused by the protests:
The Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now also cast new doubts on the building freeze, saying that building in the West Bank continues to take place at a greater pace than elsewhere in Israel.

"Beyond the political dispute going on around the settlements, the argument of the settlers that they are discriminated against is simply not true," said Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer.
This wouldn't be the first time Israel made a big deal about halting/dismantling some settlements while establishing/enlarging others at the same time. The article ends it with this awesome quote by some terrifyingly crazy Israeli:
"We want to show the world that there is opposition and we are willing to fight," said Joab Tzarum, 49. "We want peace, but not peace at any price. Not peace in the form of a noose. This freeze is a noose for the land of Israel and the people of Israel."
"Stop us from infringing on Palestinian territory for the three billionth time? You may as well just hang the entire country! ISRAEL NEEDS LEBENSRAUM!"

Back Down

After 6 months of Obama's constant backing down and Rahm Emanuel berating progressives who refused to back down, I get this email:
We will not back down
From: President Barack Obama to JJ

JJ --

As we head into the final stretch on health reform, big insurance company lobbyists and their partisan allies hope that their relentless attacks and millions of dollars can intimidate us into accepting the status quo.

So I have a message for them, from all of us: Not this time. We have come too far. We will not turn back. We will not back down.

But do not doubt -- the opponents of reform will not rest. So I need you to fight alongside me.

We must continue to build out our campaign -- to spread the facts on the air and on the ground, and to bring in more volunteers and train them to join the fight. I urgently need your help to keep this 50-state movement for reform going strong.

Please donate $5 or whatever you can afford today:

Let's win this together,

President Barack Obama
Kos has a pretty incredible rant that sums up my feelings:
Really? All we have to do is send the DNC $5 and we get ponies? The same DNC that is enabling corporatist Democrats to water down and destroy any hope for health care reform? That DNC?

This is so freakin' obnoxious I can hardly stand it. We are about to get a turd of a "reform" package, potentially worse than the status quo. We have the insurance industry declaring victory, Republicans cackling with glee, and the administration is using that piece of shit to raise money?

Obama spent all year enabling Max Baucus and Olympia Snowe, and he thinks we're supposed to get excited about whatever end result we're about to get, so much so that we're going to fork over money? Well, it might work with some of you guys, but I'm certainly not biting. In fact, this is insulting, betraying a lack of understanding of just how pissed the base is at this so-called reform. The administration may be happy to declare victory with a mandate that enriches insurance companies, yet creates little incentive to control costs or change the very business practices that have screwed so many people. But I'll pass.

Democrats are demoralized, and have little incentive to turn out next year. The teabaggers will turn out. If this is how the Obama camp thinks we can energize the base -- by promising them a health care pony for $5 to the same Democratic Party that is home to the likes of Baucus, Nelson, Lincoln, Lieberman, and the rest of the obstructionist gang -- then we're in for a world of hurt in 2010.

Public option? What Public Option?

Yesterday President Obama went to the senate in an attempt to rally the Democratic Caucus to pass something called health care reform. He reiterated his commitment that it be "a bill", and that it be titled "health care reform" when it reaches his office. Well, at least someone was happy with the results:
As President Obama finished his speech to the Democratic caucus in the Capitol's Mansfield Room on Sunday afternoon, Joe Lieberman made his way over to Harry Reid.

The independent who still caucuses with Democrats wanted to point something out to the Majority Leader: Obama didn't mention the public option.

Lieberman was beaming as he left the room and happy to re-point it out when HuffPost asked him what Obama had said about the public health insurance option, perhaps the most contentious issue still facing Democrats as they negotiate their way toward a final health care reform bill.

"Well, it was interesting to me -- of course everybody hears with their own ears -- that he didn't say anything about the public option," said Lieberman. "In other words, when he outlined how far we've come on the bill, he talked about the cost-containment provisions; he talked about the insurance market reforms; and he talked about enabling 30 million more people to get insurance. He said these are historic accomplishments, the most significant social legislation, or whatever you call it, in decades, so don't lose it."
Sweet Jesus Leiberman is a dick.

And as for why health care reform without a public option is just a way to gift to the insurance industry: (via Ben Smith)
With the Senate shifting sharply away from a "pure public option," an insurance industry insider who has been deeply involved in the health care fight emails to declare victory.

"We WIN," the insider writes. "Administered by private insurance companies. No government funding. No government insurance competitor.”
And as we know from Rahm, it's all about winning. Mandated overpriced crappy private insurance for everyone! Yes we can!

I now make my way to the dailykos rec list to see how this was Obama playing 3 dimensional chess in support of the public option...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sarah Palin Starts Writing an Article; A Bunch of Stupid Crap Ensues

Republicans are still atwitter about the hacked emails from the University of East Anglia- I wouldn’t have assumed the shaming of a college most of them had never heard of before would bring this much joy, but these days I guess they’ll take what they can get. The content of the emails is a mixed bag, with some genuinely bad stuff amongst others with no real significance.  Listening to the major mouthpieces of the right you would assume that they had uncovered evidence of a major plot spanning hundreds of universities, governments, and research agencies, but 99.9% of them are left untouched by this entire scandal. Better luck next time, Russian hackers!

In a more reasonable world Sarah Palin would have been issued a restraining order keeping her from approaching any keyboard following her facebook outbursts (I’m still really glad we’ve spent so much the last few months talking about death panels instead of discussing the best way to overhaul the healthcare system!), but the powers that be were unconvinced by my campaign. Today she took time out of fleecing idiots to write up a response to “Climategate.” Let’s read it together!

First, Palin summarizes the event and says that today:
the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point.
They’re facing a tipping point? “A previously rare phenomenon [which becomes] rapidly and dramatically more common,” that’s what they’re facing? Is she insinuating that climatologists around the world should expect to have their emails taken by hackers in the dead of night, like being visited by shitty computer-savvy reverse-Santa Claus’s? Or is she saying that scientists will have to deal with more politically-motivated attempts to manufacture controversy on the subject? That’s already been happening for some time, I don’t think “tipping point” really applies there either. She continues:
The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won't change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse.
That Sarah, she still has it! The ability to clumsily deliver zingers, that is. By the way, does she really believe that the Copenhagen summit is being arranged by a shadowy cabal whose main goal is to cripple the American economy for no reason whatsoever? She isn’t done yet:
I've always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics.
And that’s why she devoted this article to attacking scientists with political arguments. It’s so backwards it almost makes sense!
As governor of Alaska, I took a stand against politicized science when I sued the federal government over its decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species despite the fact that the polar bear population had more than doubled.
More than doubled after decades of protection which began after their numbers dwindled to less than 10,000- is that the same doubling you’re referring to, Palin? I’m glad she had the pugnacity to sue Washington for protecting a vulnerable species, that’s a real act of courage right there. Then again we’re talking about a governor who proudly shoots animals from a helicopter, so I guess “not being a terrible human being” isn’t something to which she’s ever tried to lay claim.
This would have irreversibly hurt both Alaska's economy and the nation's, while also reducing opportunities for responsible development.
I had no idea that killing polar bears makes up a vital part of the Alaskan and national economy! You can learn so much by listening to Palin.
But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes.
We can’t say with assurance what happens to all the carbon dioxide we release- perhaps fairies use it to power their magical dream machines! You wouldn’t want to deny them their beloved dreams, would you?!
In his inaugural address, President Obama declared his intention to "restore science to its rightful place." But instead of staying home from Copenhagen and sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices, the president has upped the ante.
Republican leaders change. The Republican war on science remains the same.

“We sit together, the war on science and I,
until only the war remains.”
-Evil Republican Li Bai

Radiological Scans of Downtown DC Released

(Via the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News blog)

A pre-inauguration DOE/NSA study of radioactivity in the downtown DC area has just been released. They obviously didn't find any significant man-made radioactivity, as the ceremony went off without (much) disturbance. Now the report stands as a testament to the level of security last January and (for DC natives) a powerful alternative look at the streets we know and love.

There is one horrifyingly fitting piece of the report. See that lone big purple blotch in the middle/left of the map? That's the WWII memorial. Apparently, it was built with mildly radioactive materials.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Friendly Reminder

Because we will never, never let you forget:

Jobs over Stupidity

Great news:
President Barack Obama on Thursday disputed the notion that he is overly concerned about the budget deficit -- and as a result, is under-reacting to the jobs crisis.

Obama said he believes that the best way to reduce the deficit is through economic growth, and that by contrast, cutting back on government stimulus too early could stifle the recovery.

"Now, if we can't grow our economy, then it is going to be that much harder for us to reduce the deficit," Obama said. "The single most important thing we could do right now for deficit reduction is to spark strong economic growth, which means that people who've got jobs are paying taxes and businesses that are making profits have taxes -- are paying taxes. That's the most important thing we can do."

Obama's answer came in response to a question from Bob Kuttner, an editor of The American Prospect and a Huffington Post contributor, during the White House jobs summit. It received little attention from a mainstream media that prefers driving the storyline that the deficit is the greatest threat facing the economy.

Worries about Obama's willingness to keep spending is rooted in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's experience. In 1937, FDR bowed to deficit hawks and cut spending, jerking the economy back into what became known as the recession-within-the Depression or, alternatively, the Roosevelt Recession.

Seeking to avoid an Obama Recession, the president said: "The last thing we would want to do in the midst of what is a weak recovery is us to essentially take more money out of the system either by raising taxes or by drastically slashing spending. And frankly, because state and local governments generally don't have the capacity to engage in deficit spending, some of that obligation falls on the federal government."
Score one for the good guys!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Eric "Ice Burn" Burns Burns Beck

Eric Burns, former host of Fox News Watch, wrote a quick article mostly devoted to burning Glenn Beck.  My favorite bit:

Of course, Beck does not call himself a conservative; he is, rather, a libertarian, which may be defined as a conservative-squared, a person who wants the feds to collect no money in taxes, spend no money on programs, but make available all services that the libertarian deems necessary for his own convenience and safety.

Damn. Calls to mind part of George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796, passed on by a friend of the Train:

It is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.

Well said, G-Dubs. Countdown until Beck and company call Washington a socialist begins... now!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Republican Roadmap To Winning Afghanistan

After reading so much Republican fury directed towards the 18 month departure date, I tried to simulate their solution. It was pretty difficult because, like with the health care reform debate, the right has yet to offer any substantive ideas of its own. Still, the various talking heads and conservative thinkers have given me a lot to work with over the last few days. Behold the Republican Plan:

Continue this cycle until everyone in the Middle East is dead, or until the Taliban gets bored and takes up knitting as an alternative to fighting the great satan. Note that this isn't their appraisal of the current situation- this is what they see as the optimal decision. They're mad at Obama for not doing this.  There are plenty of godawful politicians in the Democratic party, but the right is still an entirely unreasonable entity right now.

"This Is The Opposition?" Afghanistan Edition

JJ wrote an excellent post yesterday about the decision to escalate the Vie- er, Afghanistan war. The only upside is that there's now a definitive date for when Americans start to leave Afghanistan, as long as Obama doesn't pull an Obama and weasel out of the 18 month limit. Like JJ noted, Obama never said he would end our Afghan debacle immediately.

If the left is unhappy about this, the right must be ecstatic, right? More sacrifices for their blood god, more opportunities for military contractors to rake it in, more time to continue the "Support Our Troops!" car magnet contest. Oh wait:

Conservative pundits on FOX complained that he didn't sound sufficiently enthusiastic about throwing more Americans into the meat grinder, Limbaugh wailed about how Obama "surrendered" Afghanistan, and O'Reilly said some more dumb stuff.

Conservatives aren't unhappy about seeing more Americans put in harms way in a war their president left to rot for 8 years- they're mad because 18 months from now the war is going to end. They're beyond parody. If anyone has ever jokingly used a bit of exaggeration and referred to the Republicans as the party of endless war, well, your joke just became obsolete. For these guys, Americans needlessly killing and being killed by various foreigners across the world isn't a side effect of foreign policy- it's the goal.

A History of Teabagging

One of the most storied magazines in the conservative movement, the National Review has finally weighed in on the crazies within their own party. No they haven't run away from them screaming like most sane people, they've engaged in a much more important debate: The origins of the movement being crudely described as "teabaggers", and what should be done to stop this. Not only is this not parody, but the article actually starts like this:
To “teabag” or not to “teabag”: That is not the most pressing question of these times, but it is a question to consider.
Routinely, conservative protesters in the “tea party” movement are called “teabaggers,” and those calling them that do not mean it in a nice way. Many conservatives are mulling what to do about this term: fight it, embrace it, what?
Maybe just sit back and accept it... CRAP! Another teabagging joke! It's a vicious cycle!
First, a little history. After Barack Obama was sworn in as president, with his big majorities in Congress, the Democrats launched quite a bit of federal spending: particularly with the “stimulus” package. Some Americans were determined to counter this. And, before you knew it, we had the “tea party” movement. What protesters were doing, of course, was invoking the spirit of the American Revolutionaries, and their Boston Tea Party. According to the website of the Tea Party Patriots, the movement is committed to three “core values”: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets.
And Racism. They seem to have forgotten that one. Having been to a teabagging event myself, I can pretty firmly say that anger at black people and muslims was somewhere in that founding charter. Oh yeah, and the fact that it's a "movement" funded and propped up entirely by corporate lobbyists and Fox News. That should also probably be in there somewhere.
The first big day for this movement was Tax Day, April 15. And organizers had a gimmick. They asked people to send a tea bag to the Oval Office. One of the exhortations was “Tea Bag the Fools in D.C.” A protester was spotted with a sign saying, “Tea Bag the Liberal Dems Before They Tea Bag You.” So, conservatives started it: started with this terminology. But others ran with it and ran with it.
Yeah, and with signs like that I can't imagine why you were universally mocked. No clue whatsoever.
I have no doubt you are sexually hip, but just in case you’re not, please know that “teabag” has a particular meaning in certain circles. In order to have a discussion of our general topic, we must be aware of that meaning, and I call on the Source of All Knowledge, Wikipedia: “‘Teabagging’ is a slang term for the act of a man placing his scrotum in the mouth or on or around the face (including the top of the head) of another person, often in a repeated in-and-out motion as in irrumatio. The practice resembles dipping a tea bag into a cup of tea.” I could quote you more, but you have had enough.
I'm really glad he used the "The practice resembles dipping a tea bag into a cup of tea" quote before he thought the readers had had enough.
The liberal media, to use a convenient tag, went after the protesters with glee. Take Anderson Cooper, the acclaimed anchorman for CNN. He was interviewing David Gergen, the political pundit. And Gergen was saying that, after two very bad elections, conservatives and Republicans were “searching for their voice.” Cooper responded, “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging.” He said this with a smirk.

MSNBC had an outright field day. Rachel Maddow and a guest of hers, Ana Marie Cox, made teabag jokes to each other for minutes on end: having great, chortling fun at the conservatives’ expense. And here is the performance of another host, David Shuster:

“For most Americans, Wednesday, April 15, will be Tax Day, but . . . it’s going to be Teabagging Day for the right wing, and they’re going nuts for it. Thousands of them whipped out the festivities early this past weekend, and while the parties are officially toothless, the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals. They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending.”

Shuster went on to say that Fox News personalities were “looking forward to an up-close-and-personal taste of teabagging.” Etc., etc., etc. All the while, MSNBC was picturing Republican figures, and the following words were on the screen: “TEABAG MOUTHPIECES.”
This just in... David Shuster is awesome.
Some on the right are using “teabagger,” but mainly the word is a putdown from the left. Conservatives realize that nothing friendly is meant by it. You can tell by tone and context, for one thing. (Or is that two things?) Of course, some people use “teabagger” in innocence — unaware of any vulgar connotation.
Let's see, are you talking about putting your balls in someone's mouth, or are you angry that we elected a black president? The tone and context of the response is always a dead giveaway when you discuss these things.
Now to the question of what to do. How should conservatives handle this matter? Should we challenge the language, let it slide, adopt it? Many conservatives — most, I would say — are of a mind to fight. According to this point of view, people who use “teabagger” and such should be called on it, especially if they smirk. “What do you mean by that?” one might ask. “What do you mean by ‘teabagger,’ and why do you smirk?” In other words, conservatives want to introduce a little shame. And the responses of liberals could be kind of interesting.

I myself have enjoyed “calling out” opponents in debate — not on “teabagger” (no opportunity yet), but on other words. “Neocon,” for example. “What do you mean by ‘neocon’?” I’ll say. “What’s a ‘neocon’?” Also “Zionist”: “What do you mean by ‘Zionist’? What’s a Zionist, in your mind?” These words have real meanings, but often people don’t know them. They just mean them as putdowns.
Somehow I just don't think the shame angle will work when he "calls someone out" for using the term teabaggers.

Jay Nordlinger: "What do you mean by calling me a teabagger?" (Assumes self satisfied smirk)

Guy Mocking him: "I mean you like to put your balls in the mouth of another man." (Scuffle Ensues)
Some conservatives are happy to embrace “teabagger,” or are at least willing to do so. They are “owning the insult,” which is to say, taking what is intended as a slur and wearing it proudly.
Oh no, I hope this isn't going where I think it's going...
There are many words and names in our vocabulary that started out as slurs and became something else. Several of these words and names are found in religion — “Christian,” for example. According to a Bible dictionary, this was “the name given by the Greeks or Romans, probably in reproach, to the followers of Jesus.” Soon enough, it “was universally accepted.” “Jesuit” had a defamatory beginning. Same with “Methodist,” “Unitarian,” “Quaker,” and “Shaker.” (You can sort of tell with those last two, can’t you?)
Just stop now, National Review, you know your history with race...
What about a special case — the worst word in American English, as some of us see it, namely the N-word? When I was growing up, in Ann Arbor, Mich., there was a little debate: Should school officials try to prevent black students from using the N-word? I don’t believe the issue was ever settled. And this brings up the question of whether “teabagger” could be kind of a conservative N-word: to be used in the family, but radioactive outside the family.
Well it was only a matter of time. With three paragraphs left, the article reaches peak stupidity.

With that said, it wouldn't be right if I didn't end with the National Review's plea for a more family friendly discourse:
It could well be that liberals at large are recognizing this too. In a discussion at Slate, the online magazine, Sam Tanenhaus wrote, “Even today the right insists it is driven by ideas, even if the leading thinkers are now Limbaugh and Beck, and the shock troops are tea-baggers and anti-tax demonstrators.” As he told me, he subsequently learned that “teabagger” had this vulgar meaning, and was used as a pejorative. So he changed his text to “tea-partiers”: “tea-partiers and anti-tax demonstrators.” Much better, don’t you think?
No, not really. Now it sounds like people reenacting a protest against taxation without representation, rather than a group of people putting their balls in each others mouths. Sometimes the context just isn't enough.

Only the National Review would discuss why "teabaggers" is an offensive way to describe a movement driven by racism and bigotry. Then again, they've never cared about racism in the conservative movement before, so why start worrying now?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

30,000 More To Afghanistan...

Tuesday night:
Obama laid out his plan for the buildup of U.S. troops in Afghanistan Tuesday night in a speech at the United States Military Academy, saying that "our security is at stake." Obama used the speech to announce the ordering of an additional 30,000 troops to the region, as well as his intention to begin drawing down U.S forces within the next three years.
So like he promised during his campaign, Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan much to the disappointment of the Obama-is-a-closet-progressive theorists. I can have a bit of sympathy for Michael Moore's argument about the scale of the escalation, but I still think Obama made it pretty clear during the campaign that he was planning this type of thing. I strongly disagreed with it then, I strongly disagree with it now, but I definitely don't feel "betrayed" or anything like that. He is who we though he was. And that's perfectly fine as long as you didn't make up progressive positions that he didn't take and convince yourself that he was somehow the second coming of FDR.

As for the plan itself, I oppose it for countless reasons starting with a basic belief that an increase in violence is not a way to achieve peace. This is not world powers duking it out, this is the worlds strongest military occupying a third world country where we're already fairly unpopular. An increase in troops will lead to an increase in killing not only for Taliban members but of civilians as well. I simply don't see how our presence there and the inevitable death and destruction of an occupation won't produce more enemies than we already have now.

One of the more common arguments in favor of the escalation came from Oliver Willis, who thinks we should finish the job that Bush fucked up:
We were attacked on 9/11 by the Al Qaeda network, who had safe haven under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Unlike so much of what swirls around in our world is not in dispute. At that time we demanded that Afghanistan turn over Al Qaeda. They refused. We invaded.

Again, these things are clear. Not a single characterization of them by President Obama deviated from what we all saw.

I supported Obama for many reasons, but for me, personally, the primary reason was that George W. Bush failed to fight the war against terrorism – specifically the Al Qaeda network – in any competent manner. Al Qaeda’s stated desire to hurt and cripple the country – stated time and again by Bin Laden and his lieutenants – demands a strong and clear response from us. Basically from the standoff at Tora Bora until now, the response to this challenge has been mush.
Yes, Bush fucked up the war in Afganistan. Yes, Bush fucked up the fight against Al Qaeda.

But what does that have to do with Afghanistan in 2009? Because the Taliban once sheltered him, and they're still there? Cause if we want to go going after Al Qaeda, everyone basically agrees they're not in Afghanistan anymore.

Another point about the "because of 9/11" argument: It's not 2001 anymore.

Regardless of what Obama says, the world is NOT behind this effort. Sure they might say nice things and not actively oppose us, but they sure as hell aren't sending many of their own troops to help this cause. Even if you thought an invasion of Afghanistan with a broad coalition in 2001 was a good idea that doesn't mean you can turn back time and escalate the war 8 years later with positive results.

Ok, now that we're through dealing with sane arguments, let's look at what a large portion of what the dailykos community believes. The first diary that topped the Recommended list on Tuesday morning can be summarized as follows:
Title: I've got Barack's back today, who's with me?

Point 1: It's incredible that we elected a black man as President of the United States. (It's true)

Point 2: I mean, it's really absurd that we elected a black man president (Again no argument here, still pretty amazing)

Point 3: Obama cares a lot about this decision, and the cost will weigh on him (No doubt that it will)

Point 4: He really, really cares about this (Again, I'm sure he does, with his presidency riding on how it turns out and all)

Point 5: Based on these reasons, you should support Obama no matter what he does, whether you agree or not (Whaaaaa?)

Update: I'm not advocating blindly supporting Obama! I just think that he shouldn't be criticized and you should have his back no matter what! There's a difference!
So that's one. I thought it might have been the worst diary I'd seen on the kos rec list until this one took it's place at the top:
I say to all of you, right now.

STFU and listen.

Listen to the President, tonight at 8:00 Eastern. He is smart enough guy to make the right decisions.
I remember doing one of those "what type of government do you prefer" type quizzes in a poli-sci class once, and a yes answer to the "My country/leader, right or wrong" gave you about 1000 points towards Authoritarianism/Fascism. Not to say that those quizzes mean anything, but I think you get my point.

Look, Afghanistan is in terrible shape. The Taliban are terrible people. I just don't think increasing our military occupation of that country will do anything to make us safer or make life better for the people of Afghanistan.

It's possible to have worked for Obama and voted for Obama knowing he had plenty of policies I disagreed with. It's also possible to support Obama on issues where you agree and oppose him on issues where you disagree. Obama is not a yes or no question. I thought this is how most sane people approached politics but I'm increasingly not so sure.