Archive for March, 2009

So that explains it

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I always figured my tendency toward high cholesterol would kill me in the end, but I never realized it also explains why I spend so much time chasing my own tail.

I always thought it was just due to poor organizational skills. Who knew?

Glenn Greenwald is right

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Jim Webb represents what politics is supposed to be.

Words that make me want to throw up

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Sources: Obama to add US troops in Afghanistan

Blue Dog Afternoon

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

“Kiss me. When I’m being fucked, I like to get kissed a lot.”
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

The Blue Dogs in the Senate are howling.

Actually, if we’re to be literal, I’m misusing the term: The Blue Dog Coalition is a group of fiscally conservative House members, with nary a senator among them. But the term has taken on a broader cultural meaning, at least among annoying liberal blogger types like me, who tend to call any Democrat who regularly gives aid and comfort to the GOP a Blue Dog.

And now comes word that “moderate” Democratic senators are starting their own, as yet unnamed, blue doggish organization. Their goal appears to be nothing less than to save America from everything it voted for in 2008. And they might just have the mojo to get the job done. Rank and file Democrats may think they’re twits, but the Beltway loves ‘em.

Anyway, here’s the skinny on these now semi-official Senate Blue Dogs:

Led by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), members said early press reports of their meetings were mischaracterized as an opposition group to President Barack Obama’s agenda and budget. But they acknowledge that they are seeking to restrain the influence of party liberals in the White House and on Capitol Hill. […]

[Nebraska Sen. Ben] Nelson said the moderate bloc is modeled after the Blue Dogs, but that the realities of the Senate prevent them from being as organized or unified as the House group, which regularly wins concessions from House Democratic leaders.

So here we go again. Blue Dog Democrats parroting GOP talking points, forcing compromises that damage progressive causes and generally undercutting “real” Democrats. Jesus, haven’t we seen this movie before. 

(Spoiler warning: the movie ends with crappy policies being adopted, a fuming rank and file and GOP electoral victories, as in 2002 when moderate Democrats who knuckled under to Bush on everything were still slaughtered on Election Day. Who knew that such a bad movie could get a sequel?)

But as infuriating as the Blue Dogs can be in general, what’s downright scary now is their determination to mess with the president’s economic recovery programs: scary because they just may have the power to force enough spending reductions (as they may have done with the earlier stimulus package) to neuter the stimulus effect.

And if that happens, both the country and the Democratic Party are screwed.


Yeah, go with that one

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

According to Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly, the right wing noise machine has a new talking point: Barack Obama, it seems, is a dummy. No, not that his programs are dumb: that the man himself is.

Benen quotes right wing blogger John Hinderaker:

Everyone knows that Barack Obama is lost without his teleprompter, but his latest blunder, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, via the Corner, suggests that the teleprompter may not be enough unless it includes phonetic spellings. [Obama apparently mispronounced the name of the company "Orion"]

So evidently we have to add astronomy to history and economics as subjects of which Obama is remarkably ignorant. I’m beginning to fear that our President has below-average knowledge of the world. Not for a President, but for a middle-aged American.

So, Obama the Ignoramus — that’s the new right wing sales pitch. Well, good luck with that.

So just how scary is it that these guys used to have the ear of the President of the United States?

Update: Come to think of it, this calls for the return of an old favorate:

The Obama Inaugural limerick

There once was a man named Barack
Who flew to the top like a hawk.
This caused disbelief
That a Commander in Chief,
Could actually chew gum and still walk.

A truly dumb decision

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Here’s another thought (sometimes I actually have more than one!) on Arlen Specter’s bizarre — as in feeble-mindedly ill-advised — political calculation in back peddling on the Employee Free Choice Act. All issues of gutlessness (as in prostituting himself for Rush and Co.) aside, it was an incredibly dumb decision.

As many others have noted, by far Specter’s best option, instead of spending the next year-and-a-half holding his breath and consistently voting with the far right nutcases in a futile attempt to stave off a primary battle, was to become a Democrat. Had he done so, he’d have been close to a lock to win in 2010 in an increasingly blue Pennsylvania. Of course, he might have drawn a primary opponent, but with support of labor and Gov. Ed Rendell, he would have been strongly favored to survive.

Instead, he now faces likely execution in the Republican primary, as well as increased risk in the general election (now that labor will be gunning for him). He’s also doomed himself to spend the rest of his professional career sucking up to people who hate his guts.

So, why did he do it?

Is he just too loyal a guy to change parties?

Yeah, try selling that one (his supposed loyalty) to union members in Pennsylvania.

One less soul for sale

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

If you are in the market to buy a US senator’s soul, boy did you just miss a bet! Arlen Specter’s soul, which had been available at a bargain price, is no longer on the market. He just sold it to the far right.

If you’re looking for him, he should be easy to identify during the next couple of years. He’ll be the old dude kissing Rush Limbaugh’s ass.

The great Krugman/Obama smackdown

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Like many Obama-Krugman groupies, I find myself torn. My instincts tell me to trust Barack Obama’s bank rescue plan: underestimating him, after all, generally proves to be a mistake. Yet, when it comes to economics, for me, Paul Krugman’s the man.

So what am I supposed to think now that Krugman is attacking Obama’s proposal with all the vigor of Rush Limbaugh tearing into a plate of Viagra coated spareribs? And Krugman isn’t alone. A clear majority of progressive economists agree — joining together in attacking the Obama plan (euphemistically referred to by anguished Obama supporters as the Geithner plan, as though the guy on top has no responsibility at all) with unrestrained force — and in some cases apparent glee.

The proposal has received some respectable progressive support, of course, including a spirited defense by Brad DeLong, who’s no slouch. Still, there’s no denying that only a distinct minority of economists favor the plan. As DeLong himself quipped, the world can be broken down into four categories:

• People who have no opinion of the Geithner Plan because they have not been briefed on it…
• People who are strongly opposed to the Geithner Plan because Tim Geithner is a socialist who wants to destroy American finance…
• People who are strongly opposed to the Geithner Plan because Tim Geithner is a corrupt plutocrat who wants to give Americans’ money to the princes of Wall Street…
• Lucien Bebchuk and me…

Taking all this together, I had just about convinced myself Krugman was right and Obama wrong. But the more I dig into the subject, the more I’m starting to doubt this. Instead, I’m now pretty much convinced that they’re both right. They’re just right about different things.

Krugman’s a brilliant economist and pundit, but I have no reason to believe he’s more than passably competent when it comes to the art of politics. Barack Obama is just the opposite — the best politician of his age, but a relative amateur (though a very smart one) when it comes to economics.

So, my guess (and my quasi-educated sense, for whatever it’s worth) is that in terms of pure economics, Krugman has the better argument: nationalization of the failing banks would be the better policy. But when it comes to the political feasibility of that approach, maybe not so much so.


Cherishing life when money’s tight

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Clarence Darrow was defending two infamous young men, Leopold and Loeb, who were guilty of a particularly heinous murder. Their fate — life versus death — rested with one judge. Even as the community angrily cried out for blood, Darrow begged for mercy. In a famous plea for life, he ended his statement with these words:

I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar Khayyam. It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all.

So I be written in the Book of Love,

I do not care about that Book above.

Erase my name or write it as you will,

So I be written in the Book of Love.

The pages of Darrow’s Book of Love faded during the last 30 years. Capital punishment, which had all but disappeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, roared back to life following a Supreme Court decision in 1976 and marched triumphantly across the nation. At its height, 37 states authorized the use of the death penalty.

Then in 2007 something extraordinary happened: New Jersey stepped away from this vengeful norm, repealing its statute. And now New Mexico has done the same. Meanwhile, legislatures in several others states have at least seriously debated the possibility of repealing capital punishment.

So what’s behind this hopeful trickle back toward a more rational and less violent criminal justice system? Is America suddenly rediscovering its humanity? Has the nation been shocked into action by evidence that innocent people have been sent to death row? Or are we finally bowing our heads in shame over the racially biased way the ultimate penalty has been imposed?

While all of this certainly is playing some role, none of it really explains what’s happening. No, to a significant degree this is about money. In hard economic times, capital punishment is simply proving to be too expensive. I mean, if it comes down to having to reduce funding for highway repairs or raise taxes in order to pay the price of putting a couple people to death every year, suddenly retribution stops looking so good.

So, what do I, as a passionate death penalty opponent, have to say about this? I will admit that part of me, when faced with the crassness of this pecuniary motivation for reform, is drawn back, instead, to Darrow’s words in the Leopold and Loeb case: in particular, to his insistence that he spoke for the future:

I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all. I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love. I know the future is on my side. Your Honor stands between the past and the future.

*  *  *

I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.

I won’t deny that I would like to believe we have drawn at least a little closer to that future — toward a day of reason and mercy: to dream that we are at last outgrowing the ancient desire for bloody revenge. But if this is not to be — if it is more the pocketbook than the heart that’s pushing us forward – I’ll still gladly take the progress.

Surely cherishing life is always a good thing, even if in the end it’s only because money is tight.

Obama’s first judicial appointment: a teaching moment

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Barack Obama has just made his first appointment to the federal bench, naming U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton, from Indiana, to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. By all accounts, Judge Hamilton is extremely well qualified for the job, as well as being fairly moderate from a political standpoint.

It was the latter attribute — Judge Hamilton’s relatively moderate political views — President Obama chose to emphasize in announcing the appointment. Who can blame him? Clearly, he’s hoping to avoid the contentious confirmation battles of the past.

Nice idea.

But then so was the perpetual motion machine.

Let’s see how this latest blast of post-partisanship is working out for the president: not so well, it would seem. As the headline at the far right Christian Broadcasting Network announces: “Judge Hamilton Under Attack.” The “article” goes on to quote the Republican-organized web site, Judicial Confirmation Network, as follows:

Hamilton has a history as a hard-left political activist, and his choice signals that Obama does intend to push extreme liberals onto the bench and politicize the courts as we’ve never seen before.

Let’s call this a teaching moment, not so much for Obama himself, who probably knows the truth, but for the national media: bipartisanship simply isn’t in the cards when it comes to judicial appointments. Nominating moderate Democrats won’t prevent confirmation fights. Nominating independents won’t prevent confirmation fights. Hell, nominating non-nutty middle/right Republicans won’t prevent confirmation fights.

The far right needs confirmation fights. They’re the lifeblood that just might be enough to keep their movement on life support, as opposed to having it carted off to the morgue (and ultimately buried in an unmarked grave to keep angry Americans harmed by its former rule from vandalizing the site). Raging against “liberal judges” (long after the federal judiciary had been turned into a right wing paradise by years of appointments by GOP presidents) has been the principal clarion call of the far right for over a generation.

And they aren’t about to give it up now — no matter how reasonable Obama’s appointments seem to be to those of us living in the real world. And the Republicans in the Senate, with perhaps a few occasional exceptions, won’t cross them. They never do.

But if this is to be a teaching moment, then exactly what is being taught? Here are my suggestions for two lessons to be learned:

As to the media: get a clue guys. You can’t expect Obama to be successfully bipartisan with a rabid dog.

And as to Obama: If you have to do the time anyway (being accused of making far left appointments) you might as well do the crime (you might as well send up a few).

Update: Let me be clear. I very much doubt the far right can prevent the appointment from going through — although they may claim 20 or 25 no votes and slow things down a bit. No, this is about making a lot of noise.