January 20th, 2009

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be blogging over at the main page with a couple of the other guys. The archives will stay up for link purposes, but new content will only be there.

Inaugural Thought

January 20th, 2009

1. I don’t particularly care for the pomp and circumstance. Although I suppose it’s good that we venerate the peaceful transer of power, it seems very monarchical.

2. CNN really can fuck up anything can’t they? For the record, the Constitution clearly requires the President take the oath of office before assuming the office of President. So Obama did not become POTUS at noon Eastern, even though Bush did vacate the office at that point. For however long after noon it took for Obama to finish the oath, we were, technically, without a President. You’d think a major news organization might have someone on staff familiar enough with the Constitution to catch that error.

3. Maybe it was the expectations of the moment, but that speech was pretty weak.

Wish You Were Here

January 20th, 2009

I give America’s major newspaper Op-Ed pages a lo of gruff for constantly publishing shoddy logic, factual inaccuracies, and keeping writers who just don’t seem to take the space seriously, and a lot of times I think Bob Herbert is as guilty as most, but today he has a genuinely moving column about the inauguration. Read it.


January 20th, 2009

Those Backwards Bush clocks are getting close to zero.

It really is over isn’t it?

David Sirota Needs A Drink

January 17th, 2009

Admitting a bias against populism in general, I still have to address a certain strain of nonsense coming from David Sirota on the latest TARP vote. I’m sort of hesitant to do this, because I doubt it will really do much, but if no one else says it then Sirota’s view will tae hold for lack of a challenge. So consider this another installment of “Know Your Congress.”

Sirota’s problem this time is the handful of new Democratic Senators who voted to release the 2nd $350 billion in TARP money despite opposing the bailout money originally, which he views as some sort of proof that everyone wants to fake populism until they get to Washington until they jump on the “Let’s Screw David Sirota” bandwagon. Or something like that. Here’s Sirota in his own words:

The Senate today voted to give Wall Street another $350 billion today. The vote tells us a lot about the new Senate (you can see the full tally here – and remember, on this vote, a “yes” vote was a vote against releasing the $350 billion bailout tranche).

For instance, both Tom and Mark Udall (D-CO), who voted against the bailout in the House when running for the Senate, switched their votes to support the bailout. You may recall that Mark Udall said he was against the bailout not because he didn’t trust George Bush, but specifically because he was against voting for a bill that had no oversight measures. And yet now he’s voting for the same bailout that includes no new oversight measures. This suggests that the Udalls (like lots of political aristocracy) have absolutely no principles – that, in fact, they are the worst stereotype of politicians: The kind of people who go populist when facing election, and then goes corporatist when he’s comfortably insulated in Washington.

Now there’s not all that much here other than the framing of the outrage-du-jour, but it’s sort of interesting that Sirota chooses to lead off the column with a broad, unprovable, claim that “aristocracies” have no principle. I sure hope I don’t see Sirota approving of ay healthcare plans that look like anything Ted Kennedy or John Dingell have been pushing for the better part of half a century or anything. But the real meat of this comes when Sirota gets around to Jeff Merkley, whom Sirota was a particularly big backer off in the election:

Same thing for Jeff Merkley – he issued a very strong statement against the bailout as a candidate for Senate (again, not because he didn’t trust Bush, but because he said he was conceptually against giving away money to Wall Street), and then voted for the bailout today. Again, this suggests Merkley – who I was previously convinced was a principled working-class populist – is starting his Senate career epitomizing the worst kinds of images people have of politicians – those who sound like they’re for “the folks” at election time, and then who sell out “the folks” once in Washington.

So what we’ve learned is that lots of our new senators – even those who campaigned as populists – are already under the spell of “the most exclusive club in the world.” And frankly, I don’t care what their public explanations are. These are people who made airtight declarations against the bailout on a conceptual level – and then walked away from those declarations when it came time to vote. We’ve learned (once again) that if there’s not constant pressure on lawmakers to respect the most basic campaign declarations they made, they will sell us out.

Actually what we’ve “learned” (really we already knew it), is that David Sirota doesn’t understand parliamentary procedures whatsoever, nor does he understand deal making or leveraging. Apparently he thinks that you jst show up and cast a vote, majority wins. Or “Washington” wins, whatever the hell that means. But the more interesting development comes later, after Sirota talks to Merkely:

Merkley explained that because the bailout was legislatively engineered to let the president – sans a two-thirds veto override vote in Congress – effectively veto his way to whatever he wants,* he decided to back the bill and simultaneously exact a commitment out of the administration. Merkley said he’s been in constant contact with top administration officials and that they have committed to him – both verbally and in writing – that they will devote a substantial portion of the new bailout money to helping homeowners.

I don’t agree with Merkley’s rationale – I believe he told voters he was against the bailout, and then proceeded to vote for that very same bailout, and I think in doing that, he does what I said in my original post: he starts his Senate career looking like he “epitomizes the worst kinds of images people have of politicians – those who sound like they’re for “the folks” at election time, and then who sell out “the folks” once in Washington.” He also officially goes on record supporting very bad economic policy.

Catch that? Merkley outlined a very logical rationale for his vote, that Obama would (and has promised to) veto a bill blocking the money, at which point he would…get the money. But that would be more politically costly than just getting the money, so Merkley, seeing an opening, opposed the effort to block the money in exchange for a promise on foreclosure relief, a good policy in its own right, which he then went public with. That’s just good politics anyway you cut it. And while I actually agree that a bill would be preferrable regarding foreclosures, what Merkley did is better than nothing, which is what Sirota is arguing for. Because let’s face it, by any observable measure what Sirota is demanding Democrats do amounts to nothing. They vote for the bill, the bill gets vetoed, and Obama gets the TARP money, while Congressional liberals get nothing back from Obama. It just doesn’t make sense, but I suppose it makes David Sirota happy. But making David Sirota happy doesn’t help being losing their homes, now does it?

This, in a nutshell, is why the progressive movement isn’t taken more seriously.

Ze Stimulus, It Helps Ze Democrats

January 17th, 2009

There’s really nothing that should shock be about the GOP (and especially Ken Blackwell) anymore, but still, this really blows my mind:

In an article published on Townhall today, RNC Chairman candidate and former Ohio governor Ken Blackwell urges congressional conservatives to oppose the reinvestment and recovery stimulus plan promoted by President-elect Obama. Though he offers standard conservative arguments against the plan — including a screed against the growth of “big government” — Blackwell seemed most concerned about the political benefit Democrats might see from successfully boosting the economy.

He warned that the bill, which calls for 80 percent job creation in the private sector, could create 600,000 new federal jobs — a problem because it would make it that much harder for for Republicans to win back Virginia.


Now, as you can imagine, a lot of people are mocking this today. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that a lot of people, Republican and Democrat, don’t think about things like this in Washington, but my question is pretty simple; who in the hell thinks it’s a good idea to say this publicly? Talk about going meta. Does anyone doubt that Senate Democrats are going to bring this article up in the face of Republican opposition? What happens if Ken Blackwell actuallys wins the RNC chairmanship? You think the DNC won’t make sure this follows him around for the next 4 years?

As they say, the stupid, it burns.

Epic Fail

January 15th, 2009

So there are basically 3 television shows I enjoy on a regular basis; House, Bones, and Burn Notice. None of them have had new episodes in 6 weeks, but Bones is back tonight. So I settle in to watch and what do I see? George fucking Bush.

Is there anything this jackass won’t screw up? And why is he still President?


January 15th, 2009

The House has a stimulus proposal out today, and Ezra has the rundown. David Sirota, you’ll be shocked to hear, is pissed. Matt Yglesias is fairly reserved about it all. 

I probably lean towards Matt’s take on all of this. The problem with the Sirota approach, looking at the raw number and screaming that it’s too small, is that it isn’t actually factoring anything else in. It’s like a reverse sticker shock reaction. There’s a lot of outrage at the price, but there’s no real consideration as to why the price is what it is. As much as we may need X amount of projects done, it may just not be the case that we can do it all at once. Another consideration is that transportation infrastrucutre spending, while a very worthy investment in the long run, isn’t exactly the best stimulus to the economy in the short term, which is probably why the stimulus bill isn’t more than 10% (a very large portion relatively I would add) devoted to that. The proper remedy to this, I think, is a subsequent bill dealing specifically with transportation issues, namely moving more projects along and getting them ready to go. But as Matt points out, that’s a process that could take years in some cases, which makes it very ineffective as part of the stimulus.

As to the road-rail ration, I’m not too burnt up about that, namely because I don’t know what “highway construction” means. If we’re talking about building $30 billion in new sprawl inducing roads, I’m not going to be happy. But if we’re talking $30 worth of repair and general maintenance to existing highways, that’s probably a pretty efficient way to undertake some necessary work while simultaneously pumping money into the economy quickly.

Biden’s Role

January 15th, 2009

There’s an interesting article in today’s New York Times that examines the way Vice-President elect Joe Biden intends to wield the “power” of the officem particularly in the wake of Dick Cheney. This, I think, it the most interesting bar, and highlights a good role, not just for Biden, but for the office in general:

Although Mr. Biden does not want to be another Dick Cheney, he does not want to be another Al Gore either. “I don’t want to be the guy who handles U.S.-Russia relations. I don’t want to be the guy who reinvents government,” Mr. Biden said, ticking off two of Mr. Gore’s most famous areas of responsibility. “I want to be the last guy in the room on every important decision.”

Walter F. Mondale, the first vice president to get an office in the West Wing, said Mr. Biden was taking the right approach. “Taking on a line assignment from some part of government that is already under way, I never thought was a good use of my time,” Mr. Mondale said. “And I thought it could lead to bureaucratic infighting.”

That’s a pretty wise conception of the office, in my opinion. It doesn’t really make any sense to have the Vice-President dealing with areas that encroach into the realm of cabinet secretaries. Aside from creating beuraucratic issues, it’s just redundant, and not a very effective use of time or resources. On the other hand, you don’t want someone who is just getting a paycheck and giving speeches every now and then with no real influence, because that’s going to discourage people like Biden from taking the worthless job when they could be chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee instead. So having the Vice-President as a general adviser who gets to take part in all of your decisions, at least nominally, as well as being a President-in-waiting and maybe handling some executive functions that cross over various agency lines or needs a White House footprint is probably the most effective way you could use the office in any administration, and Biden will be doing the government a great service if he can establish that as the norm for the office.

The Continuing Embarrassment of Politico

January 15th, 2009

Here’s a quick question, if all of Roger Simon’s questions about Tim Geithner’s taxes can be answered within 15 responses in this Balloon Juice thread, why can’t a “top reporter” like Roger Simon just call an IRS agent or some other tax agent and find out that there’s a 3 year statute of limitations on back taxes, barring fraud, and that the standard response to unpaid taxes where there’s no evidence of criminal intent (meaning you made an honest mistake on your taxes) is to pay the back taxes and a penalty (and how does someone who doesn’t know that even get to write a column about taxes)?

Answer, this is journamalism. And journamalism isn’t about facts, or some quaint notion like informing your readers, it’s about being “edgy,” finding some controversy, and getting page clicks. Which is why I’m only linking to the Balloon Juice thread. Don’t go to Simon’s column, it only encourage’s the rag.

Suck on This Redux

January 14th, 2009

I’d call him a wanker, but that just wouldn’t go far enough in describing the utterly despicable nature of one Thomas Friedman. Instead, I’ll just let him sum up his own depravity briefly:

Here’s what Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, said the morning after the morning after about his decision to start that war by abducting two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006: “We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 … that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not.” 

That was the education of Hezbollah. Has Israel seen its last conflict with Hezbollah? I doubt it. But Hezbollah, which has done nothing for Hamas, will think three times next time. That is probably all Israel can achieve with a nonstate actor.

Here’s Brian Buetler’s response:

One of the things that makes his commentary so maddening is that, right there, Friedman is acknowledging the failing of his own idea. In a conflict between states, one can imagine arguing a moral and practical case for the Friedman approach. The Nagasaki option. It’s not a clear cut case by any means, but if one country attacks another, and that country responds by unleashing overwhelming force–enough force to make its enemy acknowledge the folly of fighting–then perhaps the disproportionate response was the right way forward. And then there’s a peace treaty and then, perhaps, the dawn of friendlier relations.

If that situation mapped on to the Middle East, then the calculus would be different. Maybe Hamas kills a few Israelis, and Israelis respond by killing hundreds of Palestinians, and Hamas, now “educated”, throws in the towel, agrees to recognize Israel, and a new peace process emerges. But even Thomas Friedman knows this isn’t how things work.

Of course this is true, and it’s worth distinguishing motivations as well. In World War II, for example, you had an actor in Japan who was a totalitarian government seeking to acquire an empire through the Asian rim. A large, disproportionate response and massive bombing campaigns in populated areas was likely to end the conflict because to the average citizen, acquiring a territorial empire really isn’t worth being burned to death by napalm jelly or vaporized in an instant by an atomic bomb. The consideration for the Palestinians isn’t the same. They’re not trying to acquire a large realm of imperial territory, they’re trying to fight off an occupying power whose also blockading their country, cutting off humanitarian aid, enforcing a state of de facto perpetual poverty, etc. Bombing them isn’t going to change any of that, and it’s not going to beat the Palestinians into “submission.” After all, what exactly is submission? The Israelis don’t want to gain control of Gaza, and they certainly don’t want to make the Palestinian territories part of Israel. Rather it’s only going to make Palestinians even more desperate, so not only does Friedman’s strategy not work, it actively makes things worse.

But at least he feels manly.


January 14th, 2009

Once again, President Bush has affirmed that he doesn’t care that everyone hates him. Ezra responds:

I’ve made this argument before, but there are generally a couple democratic checks on a president’s power: his desire to retain political capital with Congress in order to pass legislation; his need to retain popularity in order more effectively advocate for his agenda; and his wish to improve the fortunes of his party and ensure the ascension of his vice-president. They’re how we ensure that presidents remain responsive to the voting public between elections.

Bush was constrained by none of them. He gave up on passing legislation through Congress. He had no designated successor. And he evinced no interest in the fortunes of his party. Indeed, he embraced this descent into unpopularity, eschewing even a hint of compliance with public preferences for withdrawal, or even drawdown, in Iraq. All of which meant he’s been completely free. Save for impeachment, he was utterly liberated from the natural democratic checks on executive behavior. There was nothing that congressional Democrats or the electorate could take from him that he had not already taken from himself.

I think this is all right, but it’s also true that popularity is extremely important to governing. The reason you don’t push a deeply unpopular initiative, say, privatizing social security, even if you think it’s a really good idea isn’t because you’re a wimpy girly-man who obsesses over polls, it’s because you’re probably not going to get it passed Congress. The opposition party has little reason to go along with you, and your own members, especially in the House where they have to be re-elected every 2 years, are unlikely to want to take a very unpopular stance. So the end result to all of this is that you identify yourself with a very unpopular idea, and get nothing for it. That’s not good politics by any measure.

The Bill Clinton example, however, skews all of this. The problem with Clinton wasn’t that he was too responsive to public opinion, but rather that the uniquely hostile Republican Congress made it impossible for Clinton to accomplish much of anything on “big” issues, no matter how popular he was or how much public opinion was on his side. So what you were left with was a President taking “small” issues that he likely didn’t care much about one way or the other but had broad public support and making a fairly big deal out of them in order to project an air of getting things accomplished. But as is often the case with Clinton, the problem wasn’t that Clinton was a bad President, or an evil Centrist, per se so much as it was the result of a very hostile opposition Congress that had no interest in working with the President whatsoever.

And it will be interesting to see how the effect of populatrity plays out with Obama. Right now Obama enjoys pretty broad popularity, largely driven by the fact that he’s not George Bush, and you’re seeing a certain amount of reluctance in Congressional Republican circles to attack Obama too directly. But how well that will hold once the governing begins, and how much of an effect it will have on Senate Republicans, remains to be seen.

Too Much Awesome

January 14th, 2009

So Israel went and banned Arab parties from participating in Israeli elections a few days ago. I didn’t blog about it for a couple of reasons. First of all it’s probably going to be overturned soon by the courts. Secondly, I’m not under the impression that you can simultaneously make an official policy out of maintaining a certain ethnic identity as the dominant identifier of your state (and to compete in Israeli elections parties are required to officially support maintaining Israel as a Jewish state) and be a liberal democracy. And because of that I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by trying to maintain that Israel is, in fact, a liberal democracy. They’re not, even if what they are is still relatively good. Although so far as elections go there’s not all that much difference between Israel and, say, Iran.

But the best aspect of all of this has tobe Jamie Kirchick popping up from answering Marty’s phone to write this downright stunning line:

In the United States, if the Ku Klux Klan were to form a political party, advocating the dissolution of the American government and inciting violence from within and without, it would be banned, and rightly so. 

I swear to Allah he actually wrote that.

Just to point out the obvious, in the United States we do not ban political parties. Any political parties. Advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government or engaging in criminal activity will generally get you in hot water, but we don’t deny ballot access to anyone on the basis of political beliefs. Period.

How long until the forced correction this time?

The Politics of the Press

January 14th, 2009

Jay Rosen wrote an excellent examination of the way the media treats political issues, and why they don’t understand how they do it. You really should read the whole thing, but I think this is probably the most important takeaway:

Deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate is—no way around it—a political act. And yet a pervasive belief within the press is that journalists do not engage in such action, for to do so would be against their principles. As Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post once said about why things make the front page, “We think it’s important informationally. We are not allowing ourselves to think politically.” I think he’s right. The press does not permit itself to think politically. But it does engage in political acts. Ergo, it is an unthinking actor, which is not good. When it is criticized for this it will reject the criticism out of hand, which is also not good.

This is where I think progressives get frustrated in their media criticism, and why they see a Republican bias to the media, but ultimately the left and the right are not approaching things the same way. The left used trained and quasi-trained journalists to complain that the media is skewing the political debate, misframing issues, focusing on trivial matters no one cares about, projecting their consensus onto the rest of the country, etc., and the media dismisses it out of hand. That’s a media critique at its finest, but ultimately journalists just don’t see themselves as thinking, actively, about politics in that fashion, so the critics are inevitably ignored. The right, on the other hand, just screams endlessly that the press has a straight, ideological bias that infiltrates their coverage and disadvantages conservatives. It’s not true of course, but then it’s not supposed to be because it’s not a real media critique, it’s a political strategy. It’s like a perpetual case of working the refs, putting it into their head that their default position is liberal groupthink, and making them make a conscious effort to defer to the right to “balance” their liberal instincts. But the fact that the press listens to them and not Media Matters doesn’t make the MSM a right-wing outlet, it just means that the MRC understands how to manipulate the press better than MMA, in part because MMA is infinitely more intellectully honest than MRC.

The Curious Case of Sarah Palin

January 13th, 2009

Nate Silvers on Palin’s media problem:

People weren’t turned off by Palin because of the questions about her wardrobe or baby Trig. They were turned off because — fairly or not — they couldn’t become comfortable with the idea of her sitting in the White House. Giving interviews to the likes of John Ziegler or exchanging nastygrams with the Anchorage Daily News isn’t going to get her to be taken more seriously.

I think that’s largely right, but I think a lot goes unsaid in this as well. Namely, Palin’s problem wasn’t Wardrobegate, or Tina Fey, or the sight lies of her back porch, ultimately Sarah Palin’s problem was that she was totally ignorant about the national issues that defined the 2008 election. Yes her statements in interviews were largely incoherent. Does anyone else remember when the bailout was good for those people who were concerned about the healthcare reform we need for the economic recovery? Good times. But the reason she was incoherent was because she really had no clue about the background information or the relevant facts to the discussion, and so she came off sounding like any college student who’s ever tried to bullshit their way through an essay exam.

And this is where Palin’s political path gets rather difficult to navigate. On the one hand, she needs to find ways to stay visible and relevant to the political world. Going back to Alaska and handling the work of the state is probably not going to get her much ink, and the last thing she wants is to cede the visibility war to Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. But at the same time, if Palin’s bitching about the media to John Ziegler, she’s not learning about foreign policy or healthcare, or even boning up on the right-wing catechisms. And one thing the general election really obscured was how unfamiliar with conservative orthodoxy Palin was, which was sort of shocking. And while right-wing activists may have rallied around her in opposition to Barack Obama, you had better believe they’re going to care if Palin can’t name a Supreme Court decision she disagrees with in 2011.

All of which is a long way of saying that, while she’ll undoubtedly prove an amusing sideshow for quite a bit longer, the odds of Sarah Palin actually enjoying any electoral success in a respectable field of contenders are quite slim.