Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Sha Na Na.

Most of these guys, after their at least semi-successful showbiz careers, went on to become doctors, lawyers, university professors -- meaningful contributors to society (obligatory crack: maybe not the lawyers); whereas the usual route for such people would have been to milk their modest fame for the rest of their lives. Most of the members seem to have been Jewish, and from New York.

Eventually, someone is going to have to investigate New York's Jewish culture from the period of about 1900 - 1960. Something they were doing turned out an astonishing crop of successful, useful people, who excelled in literally every academic, business, scientific, and artistic discipline, remaking the world in the process. It is, I think, an intellectual and creative explosion of output unseen at any other time in history outside maybe -- maybe -- classical Greece and the Italian Renaissance. And I don't think it an exaggeration to say America owes its dominance during that period to the people of that cohort. Yes, Jews have a long history of achievement, but the Jews of that time and place stand out even compared to the history of their own people. If we could recreate that on a larger scale, or hell, just recreate it on the same scale, with our current population base, God only knows what the world would look like in 100 years.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I've been taking a semi-break from politics, and I must say life is much less dismal when you aren't made aware of how wretched everything is all the time. Not better, mind you, just less dismal.

The Seeing Eye

The small dogs look at the big dogs;
They observe unwieldy dimensions
And curious imperfections of odor.
Here is the formal male group:
The young men look upon their seniors,
They consider the elderly mind
And observe its inexplicable correlations.

Said Tsin-Tsu:
It is only in small dogs and the young
That we find minute observation

-- Ezra Pound

Monday, March 23, 2009

Irrational Exuberance

A 500 point runup because Obama adopted a plan that wasn't considered good enough even during the Bush Administration.

I begin to realize Obama was dead serious about all that "hope" stuff he kept talking about during the election. He must really believe that if you just hope enough, everything will turn out OK. Needless to say, I hope he's right.


Before I forget... Bought the complete Outer Limits on DVD. Been on an old TV show kick lately, and really have been enjoying some of those shows -- TV doesn't have to be mindless garbage, any more than people need to eat french fries at a fast food joint. Anyway, as I watch this series, I'm impressed by how they were able to keep repackaging the same theme over and again without boring me to tears; and really how amazing an actor Martin Landau is. He made his mark playing oddball, even crazy, characters, but he could do it all, and had a particular gift for bringing out the humanity in the most inhuman-seeming characters. It's a reminder of how much luck plays a role in everything. He's had a fine career, capped by an Academy Award, but someone as good as he is --and he's has been turning in terrific performances for 50-odd years now -- should have had an even better one.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I bet the SWAT guys went barrelling in there to be tough guys and blow away the cop killer, which is why two more of them died. No way should they have tried to force that situation against somebody like that -- you back out and use tear gas and the like until he surrenders. But that macho mentality won out, and two cops lost as a result. My brother commands the SWAT unit of a nearby city to Oakland (where we grew up), and I'm wondering what he has to say about this. It'll be interesting to hear him -- he's become something of an autonomic wingnut on lots of things in his time on the force, but he's still a smart, professional guy, and he remembers Oakland, and race relations, pretty well. There are lots of segments of Oakland where people see nothing wrong with killing cops, and the SWAT guys' apparent lack of professionalism here will only reinforce that mentality, despite the unfortunate deaths of those four men at the hands of a scumbag.

* My brother tells me he isn't sure if the SWAT guys knew he was in there -- they might have been breaking in to search the place on a tip, not knowing for sure if the guy was there at all. In that case, they were doing about the best they could. Jumping to conclusions on my part. He knows some of the Oakland SWAT guys, and is going to find out for sure, but if they did know the guy was in there, his basic take is similar to mine, although he won't say that in so many words.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Myth That Will Not Die

Wingnut actor Gary Sinise:

I remember all too well what it was like for our returning military members during the Vietnam conflict. They were caught in the middle of a very divided nation and not only did they have to endure the scars of battle, but upon their return they also were spit on and shamed and ridiculed for their service.

That this is a well-documented, largely debunked myth, doesn't interfere with the "memory" of Mr. Sinise. And about that memory ... Sinise was born in 1955. He'd have been a high school student when the bulk of the Vietnam service members were returning. Exactly how did these "memories" form?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Flop Sweat

Obama looked bad on the teevee today. He looked 10 years older, unpoised, somewhat harried. I've never seen him look bad on the teevee before. He looked like someone who realizes he's in over his head. As I read around the internets this evening, it looks like Obama is fighting some chickens coming home to roost. Chris Dodd, the AIG bonuses, pressure from the left over civil liberties (isn't it supposed to be the left that wants to impose some kind of communist dictatorship on the country? Then why are they out in front on this issue, while the freedom loving right wants a more powerful, more intrusive state? Another question without an answer in your upside down world). The media people, fat and secure after watching their stock market investments appreciate 10% in a matter of days, are feeling their oats and going on the attack. Obama has yet to demonstrate he can sail into the wind, remember. His political career has been one long fairy tale.

I once worked with a guy who was young and black. A key manager took the guy, and despite his poor performance, pushed him into a management role -- at 21, with no college at all, he became the youngest manager in the history of this Fortune 500 company. A role he was clearly unqualified for, and one in which he failed miserably, taking many of his direct reports down with him as he failed. This guy was modestly talented -- with several more years of seasoning, he would have made a competent manager. He now sells insurance. As I first watched Obama on the monitors today, then read around the internets today, I thought about that guy. And then I thought about some of the people whose careers he ruined, people it was his job to mentor and help grow their careers. I wonder if, once he started selling insurance, he tried to sell some to them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Warning Sign

This stuff seems funny:

Now, at a time when the national GOP is trying to find its voice and cultivate new candidates, California GOP activists have begun engaging in a new pastime: issuing "fatwas" to punish state Republican legislators deemed too moderate on tax issues.

This circular firing squad was on display last week at a "Tax Revolt" rally that drew 8,000 people to a Fullerton parking lot. It was organized by popular conservative talk show hosts John and Ken - John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of radio station KFI in Los Angeles.

The raucous California tea party featured such dramatics as the spearing of a likeness of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's head, and the sledge-hammering of a pile of Schwarzenegger dolls, videos and movie memorabilia - even an action hero lunch box.

The radio hosts' "fatwas" target a handful of moderate GOP legislators who sided with Democrats to end the state budget impasse. Their calls to recall those lawmakers have reverberated throughout the Republican grassroots.

"It's becoming the fatwa party ... the Jon and Ken party," said Hoover Institution media fellow and GOP consultant Bill Whalen.

And the Democrats are having a good time with it:

Democrats, at least, are cheering them on.

"It's the definition of insanity - they keep doing the same thing, over and over," said Ben Tulchin, a veteran Democratic pollster based in San Francisco who says that the Republican antics have kept the party's eyes off the real prize - winning elections in California.

"Instead of trying to expand their support, they keep appealing to the far right, which gives them a dwindling percentage of the vote," he said.

But I can't help but remember 2004, when the Democrats were "a national party no more," when they were the punch line of every joke, when they couldn't block anything the Republicans wanted to do (well, some things never change).

The fact is, the Democrats got where they are not because of their own brilliance, and not even because of Republican extremism, but because the Republicans utterly failed at the business of running the country. Had the Republicans not been so numbingly inept, they'd still be in power, just as extremist as ever, only no one would be talking about their "disarray." This is particularly something to keep in mind considering Obama has been anything but impressive coming out of the blocks, particularly with regards to the economy -- the one issue, more than any other, that put the Democrats where they are. The breaks don't have to all go the Republicans' way in the future for a reversal of sorts to happen, and then these same crazy Keystone Cops everyone laughs at for their extremism will be running the show again. The Democrats being what they are, the Republicans don't even need a nominal majority to run things; they just need to get close enough to numerical parity to stop looking like losers to the media people. The Blue Dogs will then flip, and it will be something like 1994 - 2000 all over again, with a Democratic president presiding over the implementation of Republican policies -- except Obama lacks both Clinton's skill and his balls, and these Republicans are, simply, batshit crazy, as opposed to the '90s Republicans who were merely ... "eccentric" ... by comparison.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

True Believers


For years, it has been chic to snicker at Rand. She's not a good writer. Few grownups take her seriously. Every time her philosophy comes close to being realized, disaster strikes. But her books and philosophy remain seductive to a certain mentality, and that mentality will not go away because it's the object of a little snickering, and it sure won't go away because reality turns out differently than their philosophy predicts it will, any more than followers of one of those crazy cults throw in the towel when, despite predictions to the contrary, the earth continues to exist day after day after day, and no saviour returns amidst a thundering of trumpets and the apocalyptic crash of lightning to save the faithful.

As a semi-aside, Rush Limbaugh is a sort of Ayn Rand for Dummies. Both Limbaugh's listeners and Rand's followers are psychologically similar, and draw the same sorts of psychic nourishment from their oracle. Limbaugh's listeners are told they are morally superior to everyone else; Rand's followers are told they are morally and intellectually superior. The primary difference is Rand's followers tend to be smarter (they got that part right, at least), and so their pap isn't ground down into as fine a paste before they are fed with it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Comedian

Question: Why is it that more "journalists" don't interview people like Jon Stewart did with Jim Cramer?

Answer: Because to conduct an interview like that requires brains, courage, and above all, preparation. Real journalists have more important things to do than prepare, and if they had brains and courage to begin with, they never would have gotten involved in the giant, incestuous whorehouse that is modern journalism, in the first place.

Even the wingnuts are liking Stewart, and wondering why they haven't seen interviews like that before. There's obviously a market for this sort of thing out there -- but what good is the knowledge that there's a market for something if you don't have the product to serve it? Could Charles Gibson conduct an interview like that? Brian Williams? It's better to pretend that a want doesn't exist than to admit you don't have the ability to meet it.


I think Drum does a good job of nailing it here. The fact is, for what he does, Cramer isn't as nearly as bad as he could be. And I get the sense he genuinely cares about the people who listen to him, and wants them to do as well as they can. If it wasn't him out there yelling nonsense, it would be someone else. That's not to excuse what he and CNBC do; it's just to point out that the problem won't be solved by pointing at Cramer and CNBC and blaming it all on them. People are getting what they want.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Upside Down

Why, exactly, is the kneejerk assumption that it's the Republican Party that is the patriotic one?

Actor Chuck Norris has his eyes on the presidency, but not the White House. Norris wrote that he would be interested in becoming the president of Texas, if the state were ever to secede from the Union.

“I may run for president of Texas,” Norris wrote Monday in a column posted at WorldNetDaily. “That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.”

The actor claimed “thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation” and said that if states decide to secede from the union, that Texas would lead the way.

“Anyone who has been around Texas for any length of time knows exactly what we'd do if the going got rough in America,” Norris wrote.

“Let there be no doubt about that.” Norris was a strong supporter of Mike Huckabee’s presidential bid, and he helped to draw attention to the former Arkansas governor’s campaign.

This is the party of choice of the people from the South, who resisted the American Revolution, tried to secede from the Union, supported first slavery and then Jim Crow, the party of America-hating Limbaugh.

They had that poll out a while ago showing that something like 80-odd percent of the responders would rather Sarah Palin raised their children than Hillary Clinton. Hillary's daughter graduated from Stanford and Oxford; Palin's daughter is a highscool dropout unwed teenage mother. Sometimes, you wonder how the country doesn't simply explode at the seams of its own oblivious inability to pay attention.


With the real unemployment rate >10%, the Republicans are going around talking about nothing except "earmark reform," while one of their talking points is that Obama isn't focusing enough on the economic crisis.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


The way Fleischer said "Saddam might have attacked us again" implied it was Iraq who attacked us the first time. These are persistent people, whose persistence is exceeded only by their profound dishonesty. Matthews ended well (for him), but directly pointing out the implied falsehood and forcing Fleischer to backpedal would have been much better.

Separated at birth, Ari Fleischer:

and Werner Klemperer, better known as Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes:

Klemperer, a gifted, multi-talented man, got all the good genes; Fleischer got to work for the man who makes Colonel Klink look competent.

If I had a Hammer

Mark Sanford:

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford plans to ask President Obama for permission to use part of his state’s stimulus money to pay down its debt, not on new spending, according to a letter he sent state legislators Tuesday.

A longtime opponent of the president’s nearly $800 billion stimulus package, the Republican governor told his state’s lawmakers that spending approximately $700 million in money coming from the federal government would only make the state’s financial situation worse in the long term.

It's like being given a bucket on the Titanic, and deciding you want to put it away for the time when you really, really need it. Or deciding the proper use of it is to get some water from the ocean and wash down the dirty decks of the ship. It's frightening to note Sanford is one of the bright stars in the Republican firmament.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

If you have to answer...

Obama answers a stupid question:

Q. The first six weeks have given people a glimpse of your spending priorities. Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?

A. You know, let’s take a look at the budget – the answer would be no.

Q. Is there anything wrong with saying yes?

A. Let’s just take a look at what we’ve done. We’ve essentially said that, number one, we’re going to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to the lowest levels in decades. So that part of the budget that doesn’t include entitlements and doesn’t include defense – that we have the most control over – we’re actually setting on a downward trajectory in terms of percentage of G.D.P. So we’re making more tough choices in terms of eliminating programs and cutting back on spending than any administration has done in a very long time. We’re making some very tough choices.

What we have done is in a couple of critical areas that we have put off action for a very long time, decided that now is the time to ask. One is on health care. As you heard in the health care summit yesterday, there is uniform belief that the status quo is broken and if we don’t do anything, we will be in a much worse place, both fiscally as well as in terms of what’s happening to families and businesses than if we did something.

The second area is on energy, which we’ve been talking about for decades. Now, in each of those cases, what we’ve said is, on our watch, we’re going to solve problems that have weakened this economy for a generation. And it’s going to be hard and it’s going to require some costs. But if you look on the revenue side what we’re proposing, what we’re looking at is essentially to go back to the tax rates that existed during the 1990s when, as I recall, rich people were doing very well. In fact everybody was doing very well. We have proposed a cap and trade system, which could create some additional costs, but the vast majority of that we want to give back in the form of tax breaks to the 95 percent of working families.

So if you look at our budget, what you have is a very disciplined, fiscally responsible budget, along with an effort to deal with some very serious problems that have been put off for a very long time. And that I think is exactly what I proposed during the campaign. We are following through on every commitment that we’ve made, and that’s what I think is ultimately going to get our economy back on track.


President Obama: Just one thing I was thinking about as I was getting on the copter. It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question. I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. It wasn’t on my watch. And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement – the prescription drug plan without a source of funding. And so I think it’s important just to note when you start hearing folks through these words around that we’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can’t say the same.

Q. So who’s watch are we talking about here?

A. Well, I just think it’s clear by the time we got here, there already had been an enormous infusion of taxpayer money into the financial system. And the thing I constantly try to emphasize to people if that coming in, the market was doing fine, nobody would be happier than me to stay out of it. I have more than enough to do without having to worry the financial system. The fact that we’ve had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk taking has precipitated a crisis.

I think that covers it.

His followup answer was better, but the best answer of all would have been derisive laughter, followed by, "You've got to be fuckin' kiddin' me. If I used the military in response to an attack on this country, would that mean I was a warmonger? The fact is, the economy is falling apart, and the only entity capable of holding it together is the government. That doesn't make me, or anyone else in this office, a 'socialist,' -- it just makes me a public servant, using the tools at my disposal to do my job."

I'm reminded of the tone of Joe Biden's response to that airhead in Florida.

That Obama feels it necessary to go into this long-winded reply to a stupid question, and that he later felt it necessary to call the paper back for a do-over, suggests he's feeling the heat of all this socialism talk. That could be a good sign -- it could mean he realizes he's going to have to use even more activist policies to halt the freefall, and he wants to establish that socialism and ideology have nothing to do with it, or it could mean he's starting to bend in response to the constant onslaught. My sense of the guy is that, while he's pretty plastic, there will come a point where he won't bend anymore, and he's smart enough to know he has very little room to bend when it comes to the economy. But really, the left is going to have to put an end to this "socialism" talk. It takes instruments off the table just when we need them most, and the fact is, the country is facing problems -- healthcare, a collapsing economy -- that free markets have never been able to solve on their own.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I'm watching Soylent Green, a film I liked as a child when I saw it on TV, and one that is freaking me out just a tad as I watch it as an adult on my computer. Who can look at this world -- a collapsing economy; two presidents in a row who claim dictatorial powers to themselves; lawless wars centered around natural resources; looming ecological catastrophe -- who, looking at all this, could be anything but disturbed when watching a film like Soylent Green?

Watchmen is being described as a "dystopian film." Bullshit. The thing about Watchmen is that people are still in control. Sure, they're on the brink of nuclear war, but they can (and ultimately, do) step away from that brink. The problems we are facing could well be almost entirely out of our control. That is, we are on the brink of disaster, but that's because the disaster is growing, expanding to include what was once solid ground. And we're running out of room to step away from it.

Middle of the road

Obama should take a close look at Schwarzenegger's situation:

Arnold Schwarzenegger's dream of becoming the first "post-partisan" governor has finally come true - he's equally disliked by Republicans and Democrats.

"He's reached his goal. Both sides view him the same way," said Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll. "Negatively."

Overall, the action-star-turned-budget-bedraggled-compromiser scored a 38 percent approval rating in a statewide Field Poll of 761 voters taken after the recent budget deal was reached.

Schwarzenegger's abandonment of the Republican mantra of no new taxes cost him dearly among his own party. The number of Republicans who approve of his job performance is down to 39 percent, versus 56 percent who disapprove, the Field Poll showed.

The previous Field survey, taken in September at the beginning of the budget standoff, showed Republicans evenly split on Arnold - 45 percent positive, 45 percent negative.

His alienation of Republicans hasn't really helped Schwarzenegger among Democrats, who are thumbs down on him in the latest poll - 33 percent positive to 57 percent negative.

"I've never seen an elected official with these kinds of numbers," DiCamillo said. "Even when former President George Bush was getting very low job ratings here in California, he still had the support of half of his party."

When times are good, people like all that bipartisan, postpartisan, ZenJudoChess bullshit. When times are bad, people want results -- and if you don't deliver them, nobody cares about your conciliatory, good intentions.

"Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock.” -- Will Rogers

Obama -- with big Congressional majorities and high approval ratings -- came into office holding a rock, but all he did was keep saying "Nice doggy" to the Republicans. At the rate the economy is collapsing, the Republicans will have a rock of their own, and unlike Obama, they've not shown any reluctance to use rocks, or any other weapon, when they have one.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bad News in Wingnuttia

Even hardcore wingnuts are passing this around and laughing.

I wonder if the right's traditionally overwhelming edge in ridicule is eroding. I imagine a lot of that stuff is bandwagon-based, anyway -- the Republicans were on top for a long time, so the natural tendency was to see the Democrats as weak and ridiculous, but now the shoe is changing feet, and the Republicans are looking weak and ridiculous. Obama better do something about the banking crisis, or that shoe is going to go right back on the Democratic foot.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


When I read the name "Mark Twain," I mentally replace it with "Samuel Clemens." It's done subconsciously, and sometimes I can read for pages, doing that all along, before I realize there are times when the distinction between the two names serves a purpose.

I used to use a word processing program that worked like that; you would type in a word, make a spelling error, and the program would correct the error while you were still typing. Here's the key point: you could not turn this feature off, and unfortunately, I had made some additions to the spell checker's dictionary including some typos, and was stuck with mis-spelled words forever after, until I finally deleted the whole program in disgust. Of course, you can't do that with your brain. "Sam Clemens" is apparently hardwired in there for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The Democrats have some teeth. They're baby teeth, but you gotta start somewhere. Two years ago they would have been incapable even of this.

Sad to say, this is the sort of empty-headed mockery that the Beltway admires and rewards, but it's the only game in town, and if you aren't playing it, you're losing to it.

But he won't


In the 2007-2008 congress Specter, no doubt in part as a token of appreciation for that AFL-CIO support, was the lone Republican to back EFCA. If he votes for it again this congress, it’ll be tough for him to win the primary. But if he votes against it, I think he’ll find it tough to win the general election when his support from Democratic-leaning interest groups vanishes. I doubt Specter will avail himself of this option, but the obvious solution would be to stick to his guns on EFCA and follow up his support for the stimulus by switching parties and, like Jim Jeffords, reposition ideologically somewhat. In other words, stop being a vulnerable moderate Republican and become a plain-vanilla Democrat with a safe seat. It would be pretty easy for Specter, as a Democrat, to beat GOP nominee Toomey in a general election. But beating Toomey in a primary without becoming too right-wing to carry the state will be tough.

The Republican Party is driving itself off a cliff, and trying to make Specter the first one to go "splat" on the bottom below -- but he clings to his spot in the car all the same, even taking his turn at the wheel at times. Why? What is so compelling about that "R" next to his name that he'd rather risk political death than make a simple party switch?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Funny, but not haha funny.

E.J. Dionne

The central issue in American politics now is whether the country should reverse a three-decade long trend of rising inequality in incomes and wealth.

It takes one of Washington's house liberals to point out the obvious. Now that one of their media minders has said the words, maybe the Democrats can stop cowering in fear of the "Class Warfare!" attack and actually start reciting the dismal statistics that are the bitter fruit of almost 30 years of Reaganism. The case against Reaganism makes itself, but nobody seems to want to take it -- or anyone who does has been dismissed as "unserious" by E.J. and his pals. This is the single most interesting development of the past few months, surpassing even Limbaugh being called out by the Democrats. Take away "Class Warfare!" as some kind of master trump card and all sorts of interesting discussions open up -- none of them favorable to Republicans.

Joe Klein -- the ultimate house liberal -- is speaking out, as well. Joe doesn't wipe his ass without the approval of his Beltway buddies, so something is definitely afoot.

10000 Years plus one

The banzai spirit is catching on in Wingnuttia:

I want Barack Obama to fail and I want to help ensure he does.

If Barack Obama is successful in implementing his stated agenda, America will fail and the American dream will die for millions.

We already know Barack Obama's economic policy will fail, but it will hurt millions of hard working Americans.

Give that man a cup of sake, a bayonet, and point him towards the machine guns and barbed wire. He's ready to go.

I have my issues with Obama and his ability to positively move an agenda, but against these sorts of crude attacks, his counter-punching style is perfect. He should be able to mow these guys down.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Still Doodlin' After All These Days

A followup:

1982 Republicans defending only 13/33 seats.

1984 Republicans defending 19/34 seats.

2010 Republicans defending 19/34 seats.

2012 Republicans defending 9/33 seats.

I think it's pretty clear that, almost regardless of what else happens, and no matter how big Obama wins in 2012, the Democrats are going to lose seats in the Senate that year, probably enough to knock them down below 60 votes, maybe significantly below 60 votes. The key is 2010. If the unemployment rate (and for reasons I won't go into here, I believe almost nothing else will matter on the economic front) is declining, the Democrats pick up two, maybe three seats in the Senate, and then they can do almost what they please. If the unemployment rate is stagnant, or, worse case scenario, climbing, they stay flat to +1. As was true in 1984, when Reagan won huge with a historically high, but improving, unemployment rate, what matters is the sense of progress. Obama has done a good job of painting a sufficiently ugly picture of economic reality; now he has to show he can improve that picture.

I think the still-fresh memory of Republican failure, and their astonishing tone-deafness to date, plus the disadvantage of defending more seats, makes it highly unlikely they will actually pick up anything in 2010. The goal, for them, should be avoiding losing too many, just as the goal for the Democrats in 2002 - 2004 was to avoid losing so many they lost the ability to filibuster -- not that they used that ability all that often or well.

The point of all this is simple: Obama has, at the very most, three years to pass major legislation, like universal healthcare. The odds are he's going to be sitting pretty after 2010, but he's shot himself in the foot some with the too-small stimulus package, which means the economy could still be shedding jobs just when we're hitting the 2010 election. If that happens, a lot of the initiative Obama enjoys now will evaporate; he'll probably lose some of the cooperation of the crypto-wingnuts Snowe, Collins, and Specter; and face rebellion from the Blue Dogs in his own party, who'll be looking to distance themselves from "failure" in a (futile; as we saw in '02 and '04, when the winds blow against liberalism the moderate Dems in Red states are the first to go no matter how obsequious they are) attempt to save their own political skins.

The upshot of all this is that the Dem position is strong now, but it is hardly impregnable. The Republicans should be fighting a holding action to get safely to 2012, and then they will be in a much stronger position to obstruct. The way to have taken that away from them was to make certain the stimulus package was big enough all but to guarantee success, get a big working majority in 2010, and then enact popular and necessary legislation regardless of Republican whining. But the stimulus wasn't big enough to guarantee success. And now, we have to hope.

One annoying thought at the back of my mind: some time around late spring in 2010, the economy is still failing, what does Obama do? Public works-type spending won't hit the economy fast enough to move the dial on the '10 elections, the Republicans plus quaking Blue Dogs will block such legislation anyway, so he's left with one form of fiscal stimulus: tax cuts. The Rushpublicans would crow that they were right all along, that spending doesn't work, Keynes was an idiot, blah blah blah. It's a disaster that could easily happen. So much depends on the economy showing life in the next 18 months....


GDP shrank at a 6.2% rate in the most recent quarter. Pro-rated, that means that in one year, GDP would contract by an amount greater than the entire, two-year stimulus package.

I can see why Obama would want to be careful talking about this, as he's already on the record as saying the stimulus package is "the right size" or some such. But the silence of the greater left is baffling. It's a tailor-made talking point in favor of, not just this package, but the next one down the road. It's like the left doesn't want to win, like it doesn't really care all that much. Can anyone imagine the conservatives throwing away such a golden opportunity for propaganda?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Compare and contrast

CPAC, where Ann Coulter will receive yet another standing ovation in reply to every apeshit crazy thing she says, where Rush Limbaugh will be presented with something called "The Defender of the Constitution" award, on the one side, with Netroots Nation on the other.

Mitch McConnell, Tim Pawlenty, and I don't know how many other major Republicans are proud to have their names associated with this uncaged menagerie of loons.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Rushpublican Party:

I've been advocating this for years:

Top Democratic operatives are planning a stepped up campaign to promote Rush Limbaugh as the public face of the GOP — an effort that will include recruiting Dem governors to make this case on talk shows, getting elected officials to pen Op eds arguing it, and running more ads pushing it, a senior Democratic operative says.

Key leadership staff in the House and Senate, and in all the political committees, have been encouraged by senior Dem operatives to push this message wherever possible, the operative says.

One of these days the Democrats are going to succeed in defining someone or something on their own, instead of waiting for the permission granted by public opinion. The fact is, Limbaugh has been an insane, obnoxious clown for years, but was allowed to operate out in the open because the "liberal media" and the Democrats lacked the guts to point out his anti-American insanity. Better late, and all that, but it's still frustrating.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

10,000 years

Obama has given the Republicans all the room in the world to maneuver in, but the Republicans, egged on by Rush Limbaugh, who is tucked safely away in the rear, keep making these frontal assaults. It's simply bizarre. I'm tempted to say Limbaugh is ballast on the sinking Titanic. Except...


I've been looking at the Republicans and it seems to me they are playing what in backgammon would be called a back game. They can't win in a straight up race, so they are obstructing like hell and hoping disaster strikes their opponent. Except in this case, if disaster strikes their opponent, it strikes the country as well. If memory serves, you usually have about a 30% shot at winning a well-played back game, but when you lose, you usually lose big. For that reason, back games are seldom played these days, but then Rush Limbaugh probably doesn't play backgammon, and if he does, he certainly doesn't play it well.

What would be the cost of a big loss for the Republicans? A couple of more Senate seats, giving the Dems a nearly Blue Dog-proof majority. I don't think that's a huge deal, given Obama's ... "caution," which is one of the reasons the Republicans are being so reckless. I think a more interesting question is what does a big loss look like from the Republican perspective? I'm thinking of the 1982-1984 period as a comparison. At the time of the 1984 election, the unemployment rate was at 7.2% and falling, from a high of 10.8% in 1982. Reagan, of course, won in a landslide that year, with his "Morning in America" campaign. However, he lost two seats in the Senate, while picking up 16 seats in the House -- percentage wise about a wash, but the Senate loss hurt, while the House gain did nothing much. In other words, despite his landslide win, Reagan's ability to actually move legislation was diminished after the 1984 elections.

The other key to all this is the 1982 election, when the unemployment rate was at a post-Depression high, again, 10.8%. The Senate was a wash, with no gain to either side, leaving the Republicans with an eight seat advantage, while the House saw the Democrats -- the out of power party -- pick up 27 seats (which were essentially meaningless, since they started with control of the House already). Obama has already shown he has trouble functioning with a 17 seat Senate edge; he can't afford a single lost seat there in 2010. Even granting that the country is a very different place now compared to 1984, and that past performance isn't a guarantee of future performance, the evidence that exists says that Obama has a pretty narrow window to squeeze legislation through. He's got to do it now, before the vagaries of 2010 have a chance to take his advantage away.

Video Killed the Radio Star

Or something like that.

Media conglomerate EW Scripps Co (SSP.N) will shut down the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rocky Mountain News after failing to lure qualified buyers, as the industry endures a painful and prolonged economic downturn.

The 150-year-old Denver newspaper will run its final edition on Friday but employees will remain on the Scripps payroll through April 28.

Scripps management met with employees on Thursday morning and announced the closure. The newspaper's demise had been expected after the firm said in December it was putting the tabloid up for sale, as advertisers slashed budgets and readers headed online to get their news amid a global recession.

Shares of Scripps, which also owns television stations, were down 9.3 percent in afternoon trade.

The decision comes after a number of high-profile newspaper chains had taken steps to preserve their bottom lines by cutting costs. This week, the Hearst Corp said it may shut the San Francisco Chronicle, the city's main newspaper.

As a child, I read the paper pretty much every day, a habit I continued into adulthood, until I started using the internet, and became a very casual newspaper reader. I think all that newspaper reading improved me immensely, because a typical newspaper covers so many topics a reasonably curious and open-minded person can't help but expand their horizons by regularly reading them. I started, for example, reading the sports pages, then the local news, then national news and politics. As my reading skills improved, I moved on to more sophisticated papers, and developed an interest in business and politics from the WSJ at about 14 -- a much younger age than most people would. Had it not been for newspapers I have no idea what form my intellectual development would have taken, but I doubt I would have the broad range of interests I now do. For me, newspapers were a sort of liberal arts college -- I learned a little bit about everything. Can the internet replace that experience for today's youth? Absolutely it can -- it can even do better, because of all the information out there. But will it? I don't think so. Had I been able, for example, to play online games and so on instead of reading newspapers and books, I'd have played online games. They satisfy the same curiosity and urge to explore that reading does, without adding much information or reasoning ability: an entertaining, but highly educational, past time is largely going to be replaced by a merely entertaining one.

I also wonder, as these institutions come crashing down, who is going to cover local news, who is going to keep citizens informed about the goings on in their communities, who is going to at least try to keep regional politicians honest, who, in short, is going to fulfill the historic role of smaller newspapers. Most bloggers work for free, or close to it, so you aren't likely to get a consistently professional job from that source. This is a really bad development. I keep thinking these things have a way of working themselves out, that people tend to create the institutions they need, and the business models of, say, Huffpo or TPM or Politico or even Craigslist are flexible enough for them to add a local news component -- but then I think of the ratings of all these reality TV shows and so on, and wonder just how different my idea of need is from most other peoples' ideas of need.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Great Brown Hope II

So Jindal bombed. Big time. He didn't just bomb -- he made a complete ass of himself. But these things have a way of working themselves out in favor of the person who screws up, as long as they persevere. Clinton's famous keynote at the 1988 Dem convention, for example, became part of the Clinton lore -- it actually got him a bigger spot on the map, and gave him a charming tic -- the guy likes to talk too much, isn't that cute (people have this odd need to feel superior to the people who lead them. Smart leaders know this and throw a trivial bone -- like being long winded -- out there for public consumption). Jindal's screwup is a little different, in that he looked like such a complete tool, and the degree to which he pandered and talked down to people showed contempt for them -- that isn't sort of flaw people find endearing. Still, Jindal's young, and he has plenty of time to recover from this, and the public -- and very few people even saw him last night -- has a short memory. It's too bad, too, because Jindal didn't just look like a bumbling tool, he looked like a sleaze -- the kind of guy who would say any fool thing that comes into his head as long as it's what he thinks someone wants to hear. I've always considered him overrated, and think the odds of him winning the White House aren't very good (how many people will vote for Don Knotts with a sun tan?), but from what I've seen of him over the past few weeks, any chance at all of this guy being president is too much of a chance.

The real interesting thing to me out of all this is that the media people are showing a willingness to ridicule a Republican pol. Bush could fuck up, McCain could pander and flip flop, Boehner and McConnell could obstruct, Frist could make remote diagnoses, and no one would say a word. Jindal, though, isn't going to get away clean. It's something to keep an eye on -- Republicans live on being exempt from the kinds of smears and ridicule that Democrats -- with the notable exception of Obama -- are subject to as a matter of course; take that exemption away and they are going to be forced to fight it out on substance. I don't think they can pull that off.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Speech

Haven't seen it, but read the text. I assume he did a fine job delivering it much as I assume Barry Bonds will punish a hanging curveball, Joe Frazier will hurt somebody who drops their right hand, Kobe Bryant will score two-on-one running a fast break.

The text of Obama's speeches always strike me as pedestrian. It's as if he and his speechwriters know he will do well on the delivery, so the speech itself doesn't have to be all that good. There's nothing memorable -- no "Thousand points of light," no "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" (A line Obama could easily take for his own and turn on its head, I might add, if he had the guts; he could even use it mock-humorously to take away some of the sting), no "The only thing to fear is fear itself." Instead, what you get is watered-down academese. They're dull.

The other thing that bothers me -- really, deeply, bothers me -- about Obama's speeches is the tendency he shows to want to cover all the bases, be everything to everyone. As a result, his speeches always come across as a little fuzzy to me -- you sort of know what he's implying but everything is rubber-bumpered with so many qualifications and "I understand other people thinks" and so on, that you don't really know what he's going to do. As a result, not only do his speeches lack clarity, but they lack textual forcefulness-- he never really sets the expectation for decisive, specific action, which means when he does act he has to work even harder to get anything done. Speeches like these are his bread and butter -- they're his singular strength as a politician. If he can't use them to drive the debate, then he won't succeed, period, any more than Joe Frazier could have succeeded if he couldn't hit anything with his left hook, any more than Kobe Bryant could succeed if he couldn't take a slower player off the dribble. People have strengths, and they have to take advantage of them, and Obama isn't doing that in these set piece speeches.

Mindreading alert: I've been re-reading an FDR biography, and one of the things that really set him apart was that he enjoyed the fight, enjoyed the tussle of politics -- and partly as a result of this, he excelled at it. Obama seems neither to enjoy the tussle, nor excel at it -- it's a chore to him, and the result, I think, shows.


He can talk! He can answer questions intelligently! He listens! He isn't using an arrogant swagger to cover up for bottomless ignorance and insecurity! He isn't an asshole! For these reasons alone, Obama is a 10x improvement over Bush.

This speech tonight is going to be Obama in his very best element. It's his opportunity, now that people are getting used to him, but aren't yet jaded, to make a huge impact -- and he needs to make a huge impact. The tools are there.

The Great Brown Hope

Bobby Jindal is already running online ads, touting his website.

Monday, February 23, 2009

People I know


I was just watching Chris Matthews explaining how the Dow is President Obama's "scoreboard" and how people are going to start getting angry at him soon if he's not able to get the Dow to stabilized and start going up soon:

It is of course an entirely separate matter whether that is actually true -- as to public response -- and whether it makes any logical sense at all.

There does seem to be a certain lack of comprehension of the fact that there are economic realities, actual losses, underlying the steep stock market decline.

The left is going to continue laying this off on Bush, and because most people have no idea what is going on, they will largely get away with it. But people who are a little more sophisticated see the continuing, historic slide of the markets as a referendum on Obama's disorganized handling of the ongoing crisis -- particularly his astonishingly incoherent non-plan for the banking system. Nothing he or Geithner says has made sense, and that is devastating for the markets. For months, the markets waited to be rid of one hapless fool, only to see him replaced by what looks like another one. People expected better and they aren't getting it -- if anything, Obama/Geithner have been worse than Bush/Paulson, who at least sounded like they had a grasp on things every once in awhile.

Obama won the election on November 4th. He had ~10 weeks from then until inauguration. The crisis had been winding up for months -- even before the election, he had plenty of time to prepare. He gets into office, and it soon becomes clear he has no detailed plan to deal with things, that he's winging it. The phrase "What the fuck" comes to mind. So does the phrase, "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

It gets better. Now, when the country is suffering from Depression-like conditions, he's talking about halving the deficit in three years. Maybe it's just some of that Zen chess that Obama excels at to a degree we mere mortals can't comprehend, but it looks to me like the Obama Variation of the Hoover Attack. I thought that had been refuted way back in the '30s.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


There are still some people out there trying to make this world a better place:

American scientists have taken several key steps toward developing a near-universal flu vaccine. If further research works out, the vaccine could fight many types of conventional flu, as well as avian influenza, and even the virus that caused the 1918 flu epidemic that killed 50 million people.

Conventional flu strains mutate over time. And every year, well before flu season, scientists have to predict whether new strains will be coming through. Manufacturers base their vaccines on that prediction, which hasn't always been correct. One of the holy grails of immunology is finding some aspect of a virus that doesn't change from strain to strain, so the exact strain is no longer important.

In other news, the leadership of the Republican Party is, no doubt, preparing a press release decrying spending on medical research as "pork."


Joe Klein had been writing things like this for the past 15 years instead of the conventional, repetitive, finger-in-the-wind drivel that comprises the bulk of his output from the period 1994 - 2009, I wonder what would have changed. It's an honest question -- maybe Klein would have been driven out of the Beltway herd and marginalized; or maybe having such a significant figure using his brain and speaking honestly would have set an example other journalists could feel safe in following. I don't know the answer, but I sure wish we'd been given the chance to see.

Speaking for myself, no matter how hard he tries to redeem himself now, I will never be able to trust Klein after reading what amounts to the same six or so columns written over and over again for years and years, all with the same two themes: Democrats must renounce "the left" and operate on the right edge of the center to be "serious;" and Democratic politicians have no principles and are controlled by "consultants," are "poll driven," and need to "stand for something" if people will vote for them. Even a casual observer will see that these two themes contradict each other, but Klein reached the very heights of his field by repeating this nonsense, in one form or another, for years, while Clinton was harassed, Al Gore was made into a national joke, and George W. Bush ran the country into the ground. Maybe this would have happened with or without Klein's abetment; like I said, I'd sure like to have had the chance to find out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, superpatriot.

He looks like a greedy, barking mad fat kid who's been sent to bed with no dessert:

It is simply beyond belief that this has not been spread through every mainstream outlet out there, that both Bushes, and Cheney have gone on that man's show, that Republican officeholders go on his show and kiss his fat, wrinkled ass.

"I hope it blows everything to smithereens."

"I hope it prolongs the failure, I hope it prolongs the recession."

The exaggerated gesticulations, the handwringing -- he looks like a fat Captain Queeg raving about strawberries, but without the pitiable, creepy charm of the marbles. This pathetic, raving buffoon, this malevolent Falstaff, reaches millions of people a day, and lots of them take him seriously.

Update: Compare and contrast. Rush Limbaugh and Captain Queeg:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Boy Who Didn't Make It

Tom Gibbon, a proud member of "Teach For America," waxes unphilosophical about a triumph of human spirit:

He continued, telling me that “all that stuff is true.” He was left at an orphanage by his mother, who was 15 or 16 when she had him. For the first two years of his life, he was passed to three different orphanages. By an act of God, his grandmother found him when he was moved to a shelter in the inner city. He’s lived with his grandmother ever since. His mother also now lives there. He said it took a long time for him to forgive her for what she did early in his life. He said he’ll never trust her or anyone else in the world. The last person he trusted was his 4th grade teacher, who said she’d do anything to help him. He loved her, he said. But then she up and quit her job.

Though he was an infant when he was passed around like that and he can’t remember any details, he said there’s always been an unsettled feeling in him like he didn’t belong where he was and that no one wanted him. On the day he was telling me this, he said he had met with a lawyer, who is sent by the state to check up with him twice a year. He also meets with a case manager once a month. “I’m sick of it,” he said.

Later that week, he was accepted to a small rural college about an hour outside of the city. Again, he came into my room after school with a hesitant smile to tell me this great news. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s a kid who has not had help. He’s attended a crap high school in a crap school system and has been tracked by the state since birth. His father was out of jail long enough last year to get himself in trouble with the law and put away again. No one from his family has ever been to one of his track or cross country meets.

Still, there’s a spirit that makes this kid trust himself. I see it in him when he runs the mile race on the track. I know he’s hungry and doesn’t have a good diet at home, but he plugs away at this grueling event, and can almost break five minutes. He isn’t entirely sure where he’s going or what he’s going to do with his life. But he knows that he’s sick of what he’s grown up seeing in his family, school and city. I take no credit for his success, nor should anyone else. This is a kid who is pulling himself up in spite of a society that’s been passing him around since the day he was born.

With a few changes, I was that kid once upon a time, and I can tell Mr. Gibbon with certainty that for that kid, the struggle is only beginning, that to maintain his "success" will require a never ending battle against a world he doesn't understand very well, and one that doesn't understand him at all. That, however much effort he puts into his running, he'll need to put even more effort into understanding himself, and the mores of a world that is, in the fullest sense of the word, alien to him, and the payoff -- whatever payoff might be there -- for that effort will be both elusive and ephemeral. Maybe he'll get to a point, many years down the road, where he thinks he's figured it all out, and then he'll puncture his own disappointment with a mental, "So that's all there is to this white middle class stuff?"

Somerby has been whacking on that "Teach For America" thing for awhile now, and as good as his arguments are, something about this piece -- about its utter pointlessness -- does more than all the stuff he can write to poison my attitude about the program. Those people aren't heroes in some kind of morality tale, they aren't specimens under a microscope, and they shouldn't be fodder for somebody's dim political agenda. They're people, living lives the likes of which Mr. Gibbon can't really imagine, no matter how much he thinks his year or two teaching in those schools lets him imagine, any more than someone can look inside a goldfish bowl and imagine what life is like for the fish trapped within. I can't blame Mr. Gibbon for not understanding that, because his is the mirror image of the same problem I've lived with for most of my life: we're both on the outside looking in. But I can blame him for the pretence that his brief experience there has given him the right to write these stories, which are going to end up being used by people even more ignorant than he is in pursuit of an agenda that is not friendly to people like that kid Mr. Gibbon just spent so much time lionizing.

The wingnut mind

Number of people who claim the stimulus bill is "loaded with pork" I've asked to identify a single piece of bad legislation in it: 7

Number of people who have been able to answer: Zero

Number of those 7 people who then decided the bill really isn't "loaded with pork": Zero

And so it goes...

Judgment vs "balance."

Time's 25 Best Blogs

Not a single conservative blog made the list, while Krugman and Crooks & Liars, both of which will criticize the media, did. In the past, they would have thrown some conservative blogs on the list, no matter how awful (and at this moment in time there are no really good conservative blogs, which is a remarkable thing), to demonstrate "balance." The times, they are a changin'.

A related question: why is it that conservative blogs tend to suck? I suspect it begins with the innately in-curious, anti-intellectual nature of the conservative movement, which is then compounded by their own echo chamber, which has shielded them from the need for stimulative open and honest debate. These things move in cycles, but looking at the increasing insanity yet enduring popularity of Rush and the gang, this cycle looks like it's still sloping down for the Reps.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Odds & Ends

The right wing message machine used to sneer and bully; now it snivels and snarls. That can't be a good sign for them -- they're behaving like cornered rats.

Someone I know and respect thinks that, in a few months when the economic pain really sets in, people will demand more action from the government. That will be enough, my friend says, for Obama to get another package through, one with much more spending, much less tax cutting. We'll see. Even with Franken, you need to keep all the Blue Dogs, and get at least one of the three "moderate" Republicans (Collins, Specter, and Snowe) on board. I'm of the opinion that all three of them are crypto-wingnuts, and will do absolutely everything in their power to help the Republicans obstruct, as long as it won't cost them re-election. If the argument can be made that a billion dollars wasn't enough, why throw good money after bad? and made well enough for them to hang their hats on, all three of them will vote against further funds. That's one of the reasons the Republicans are pushing "bipartisanship" so hard now -- if the three of them make a public show of breaking with Obama, and blame him for being too partisan, they might be able to use it as cover to openly join the obstructionists. I don't think this will work -- their states are pretty blue, Obama is pretty popular, and most importantly, shit is falling apart. But it's something to keep an eye on.

Watched Revolutionary Road last night. Kate Winslet is a freak of nature.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The man's a raving lunatic:

But this is how the "liberal media" writes about him.

Judging by that sound clip, Ol' Rushbo won't be around for much longer. His usual anger has become impotent fury, and that has a way of eating people up. Given his age(58), history of drug abuse, obesity, and smoking, a stroke isn't too far out of the picture, and even if he escapes that or some other cardiovascular event, even his followers are going to lose interest when they hear demented raves like that day after day after day. And the longer Obama stays in there with high approval ratings, the more Limbaugh's fury will grow.

Soft Bigotry

A triumph:

Long before the end of the 100 days that, since FDR's feat, have been used to measure the opening act of a presidency, Obama and his allies who control Congress can point to a major legislative victory earlier than most new administrations.

Long before the end of the 100 days that, since FDR's feat, have been used to measure the opening act of a presidency, Obama and his allies who control Congress can point to a major legislative victory earlier than most new administrations.

That economic plan ultimately passed in August, giving the young president a victory. But his $19 billion stimulus plan -- one-fortieth of the current legislation -- was too controversial to survive the partisan battles.

By the end of three weeks, Clinton had named an envoy to Bosnia and announced rules to limit corporate tax deductions for executive pay. And he had announced a plan to save $35 billion in Medicare costs by cutting payments to hospitals and raising premiums for the wealthier elderly. He railed at the cost of prescription drugs. But none of those issues was resolved within that time.

President George W. Bush was similarly without a major achievement by the week of Feb. 8, 2001, three weeks after his inauguration.

Bush had begun selling his $1.6 trillion plan to cut taxes, and he had announced a plan for a big investment in new weaponry for the military. He was preparing for his first international trip, to Mexico, and gave a speech to military units warning against "overdeployment."

That's how you pass this fiasco off as a "victory": compare the situation Obama faced -- and because of his bumbling, still faces -- with the one that Bush and Clinton faced. Obama comes to office with the bleakest economic picture we've seen since the 1930s, and about a third of the population actually believes the country is already in a depression. Clinton and Bush, on the other hand, inherited relatively solid economies, but never mind that, make the comparison all the same. That way, when it comes time for Obama to stab his base in the back again, he can wave this "victory" around as a distraction.

I imagine if some country had, say, launched missiles at the U.S., it would be a triumph when Obama got Congress to declare war on them.

I can see why a dumb and hackish outfit like the Post would run stories like this, but people on the left who choose to buy into it are essentially handing Obama a knife and turning their backs to him. There's a reason why the left always loses the message game -- lots of them, actually. One of the biggest is they are so easily, and cheaply, bought.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Vietnam is the place."

Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place. -- John F. Kennedy

I'm an idealist without illusions. -- John F. Kennedy

Obama has looked so weak that his chief of staff has found it necessary to tout how tough he is. The thought strikes me that in Washington, there are two conventional ways to demonstrate "toughness": 1) Punch a hippie; 2) Bomb some country. We would seem to be in no position to bomb some country, so the left should be looking out. My guess is Social Security would be a natural spot to sucker punch the left in. He can justify it by saying, "I got this wonderful, magnificent, stimulus bill through, now the other side has to feel some pain." It burnishes his "bipartisan" credentials, will delight the Washington establishment, which hates and has no use for Social Security, and will allow him to claim that his failure on the stimulus bill was actually a success, a success so big that he now has to even the scales by throwing a bone to the right.

Will he do this? I don't know. But it makes perfect sense, given what we know of Washington and what we've seen from Obama.

Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm. -- John F. Kennedy

Friday, February 13, 2009

"I am not a wimp"

You gotta be kidding me.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel conceded President Barack Obama and his team lost control of the message for selling their massive stimulus bill last week, fixating on bipartisanship while Republicans were savaging the legislation.

But in a wide ranging interview with reporters, Mr. Emanuel said the president's travels across the country this week have shored up support for the $789 billion measure. He strongly defended the young Obama administration against charges that its opening weeks have been amateurish and mistake-prone.


Mr. Emanuel owned up to one mistake: message. What he called the outside game slipped away from the White House last week, when the president and others stressed bipartisanship rather than job creation as they moved toward passing the measure. White House officials allowed an insatiable desire in Washington for bipartisanship to cloud the economic message a point coming clear in a study being conducted on what went wrong and what went right with the package, he said.

But, he said, Washington should have learned something about Mr. Obama as well, with the shift from bipartisan overtures to outright mockery of his opposition.

He has an open hand, Mr. Emanuel said. But he has a very firm handshake.

A real decisive, forceful, tough guy, is our General McClellan President Obama.

Uh oh.

Greenwald steps his game up to an even higher level:

During the 2008 election, Obama co-opted huge portions of the Left and its infrastructure so that their allegiance became devoted to him and not to any ideas. Many online political and "news" outlets -- including some liberal political blogs -- discovered that the most reliable way to massively increase traffic was to capitalize on the pro-Obama fervor by turning themselves into pro-Obama cheerleading squads. Grass-roots activist groups watched their dues-paying membership rolls explode the more they tapped into that same sentiment and turned themselves into Obama-supporting appendages. Even labor unions and long-standing Beltway advocacy groups reaped substantial benefits by identifying themselves as loyal foot soldiers in the Obama movement.

The major problem now is that these entities -- the ones that ought to be applying pressure on Obama from the Left and opposing him when he moves too far Right -- are now completely boxed in. They've lost -- or, more accurately, voluntarily relinquished -- their independence. They know that criticizing -- let alone opposing -- Obama will mean that all those new readers they won last year will leave; that all those new dues-paying members will go join some other, more Obama-supportive organization; that they will prompt intense backlash and anger among the very people -- their members, supporters and readers -- on whom they have come to rely as the source of their support, strength, and numbers.

This oughta be interesting. You could see what Greenwald is now describing happening during the primaries, when the hackish clique that centers around Josh Marshall went to work. Then, the only person who was willing to speak out was Bob Somerby. Greenwald, these days, has a lot more clout than Somerby did; add in Obama's dismal performance to date, and the dying down of the stupid passions that always surround a Dem primary, and this will probably go somewhere. It's high time. This oughta be interesting, indeed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Gregg punks Obama. Worst start of a presidency in history*. The one upside is it can't possibly get worse from here. Obama has to have learned his lesson, and from here he can settle in and, well, do something, and do it right, FFS. Can't he?

*An e-mailer reminds me of William Henry Harrison, who spent much of his term sick, before dying on his 32nd day in office. That's the kind of competition Obama is going up against for the "worst start in history" title.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Running it up the flagpole

If this is representative of the way the left is going to deal with Obama, then we're in deep trouble. I'm going to go straight for the money shot here:

Whether or not it's the right package is a whole separate topic. But as a legislative achievement, coming so early in the term, this is astonishing.

Obama comes to office with a mandate the likes of which we haven't seen since FDR in 1933, has to fight like hell to get an inadequate bill addressing a looming catastrophe through Congress, and we are supposed to hail it as a triumph.

1) Whether or not it's "the right package" is, in the end, the only topic that matters. Either this stimulus works or the shit hits the fan.

2) Was getting this bill through a Democratically controlled Congress a legislational achievement like Bush getting through his giant tax cut in 2001, when he had no mandate at all? Reagan's Reconciliation Act in 1981, when he was working against a Democratic Congress? It's absurd.

The Republican ship ran aground because they were entirely incapable of self criticism, and refused to listen to criticism from outside (it didn't help them any that the press corps was the exact same way -- both towards itself and towards Bush, but that really is a "whole separate topic"). Everything Bush did was brilliant; people who pointed out that Bush was fucking up were dismissed as "Bush bashers." As things spun more and more out of control, the Republicans became more and more delusional, fucking things up more and more, and alienating more and more people in the process. It's too late for Obama to rectify his fuckup of the stimulus plan, but it isn't too late for him, and those of us on the left who hope he does a better job in the future, to learn at least this one lesson from the past eight years.

As an aside, printing a letter from someone without comment has got to be one of the most worthless and cowardly things a blogger can do. At least have the balls to express an opinion on it. If I want to read letters to the editor, I'll pick up a newspaper.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


What's left for Obama? He butchered the stimulus; that was his Depression, his WWII, his Civil War. He might (I think the odds are against it, but it could happen) end up coming out of it OK, but I don't see anyone looking back and writing that he handled it brilliantly or anything. Economic forecasting is little removed from fortune telling, but the size and composition of the stimulus package, compared to the size of the output gap, suggests we are going to be mired in slow or no growth for years. What else? Maybe some kind of breakthrough in the Middle East, maybe changing the course of US - Israel relations -- but such a move would require big balls, and Obama doesn't have them. He's already turned his back on civil liberties, while his healthcare plan isn't anything exciting, and the Republicans are going to kill it, anyway. After a few short weeks, he's Bill Clinton in 1994, a defensive, tactically-minded president. But Clinton at least went down after getting a good hack in at universal healthcare, whereas Obama, starting from a commanding position, has gone down after trying to do ... not much of anything at all. Anybody could have gotten the stimulus package Obama did through Congress; I suspect most people would have gotten a lot more through. I just don't see the value Obama's election has added to progressive aims -- he's done moderately worse, I think, than a generic Dem would have in his position.

I'm very aware that he's only been in office for a few weeks, but they weren't ordinary weeks. The challenges Obama faced are the sorts of things that ordinary presidencies might run across in a few years: it's as if we have seen several years of the man compressed into a short time period. I can't say I'm impressed, and I don't see how any dispassionate observer could be impressed, while the odds of some new event coming along to give him another opportunity to excel aren't very good.

The one caveat to all this is if the Dems pick up more Senate seats in 2010, and are then able to jam through a good healthcare bill. That would be a big win -- but Obama needs those extra Senators to achieve it, which is rather the point. If he was the man he had been billed as during the election, 58 Senators and his own brilliance would have been enough. Again, judging him against a hypothetical generic control, there's just nothing special there.

Monday, February 9, 2009


In economics and finance, there is something called the " Lump of Labor Fallacy." The people going around now talking about moving water from one end of a swimming pool to another are essentially engaged in the same type of reasoning, but if you're a conservative you can say whatever crazy thing you want and no one except the Dirty Fucking Hippies will bother to notice.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Antietam without the Emancipation Proclamation

Obama seems to have an admiration for Lincoln, but I think there's another Civil War figure Obama resembles much more closely: George McClellan. The parallels are there: McClellan was handed an overwhelming advantage in force and materiel, and squandered it, fighting a series of defensive battles, while the smaller force of Lee seized the initiative and repeatedly dictated the terms of battle. There's even a regional thing at play, as the same regions are at political war against each other, North vs South, as were at real war with each other then. Like Obama now, McClellan's heart never seemed to be much in the war back then, which is one reason he wasn't a very good soldier. It all came to a head at Antietam, when McClellan could have ended the war two years and hundreds of thousands of casualties before it did end, but, well, he was McClellan, and the George McClellans of the world don't end wars, they just make brilliant maneuver after brilliant maneuver until their opponents decide it's time to fight. This time, there is no Lincoln around to give our McClellan the sack. We're stuck with him for the duration.

Some quotations about George McClellan:

If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time. -- Abraham Lincoln

In making his battle against great odds to save the Republic, General McClellan had committed barely 50,000 infantry and artillerymen to the contest. A third of his army did not fire a shot. Even at that, his men repeatedly drove the Army of Northern Virginia to the brink of disaster, feats of valor entirely lost on a commander thinking of little beyond staving off his own defeat. -- Steven Sears

The long inactivity of so large an army in the face of a defeated foe, and during the most favorable season for rapid movements and a vigorous campaign, was a matter of great disappointment and regret -- General Henry Halleck, Battle of Antietam after action report

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The writing on the wall

Obama had one chance to get the stimulus package right, and he fucked it up. Contrary to what his more deluded supporters are saying, he doesn't have some kind of brilliant, masterful plan: he's an innately mediocre, cautious man whose first instinct in every situation is to do the inoffensive thing. The inoffensive thing, in this situation, is going to cause a lot of misery for a lot of people for a long, long time.



Krugman weighs in:

My first cut says that the changes to the Senate bill will ensure that we have at least 600,000 fewer Americans employed over the next two years.

The real question now is whether Obama will be able to come back for more once it’s clear that the plan is way inadequate. My guess is no. This is really, really bad.

How inept is the left?

Just saying the names "Nancy Pelosi" and "Harry Reid" is enough to conjure up images of some kind of old school, Boss Tweed, limousine liberal, etc etc figure. Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, has been entirely untargeted as an object of caricature and derision, despite looking like this:

He looks like the kind of guy who hangs out at playgrounds with a pocketful of candy in his trench coat, when he isn't trying to run out on some bill he owes to a transvestite hooker. He's been a proud participant in the dismantlement of this country, is ignorant about basic economic facts, is obstructing a desperately needed economic relief bill: but the Democrats and the left in general have been utterly unable to make him a target. It is jaw dropping, simply jaw dropping. "Nancy Pelosi Democrat" = bad; "Mitch McConnell Republican" = no reaction at all. Even in a majority, the Democrats are the most weak, useless gang of losers ever to take the helm of a nation; they make the Anthony Eden-led Conservatives of the '50s look like geniuses by comparison. And it is all too apt a comparison.


I can see why Ben Nelson, a Democrat from a red state, is eager to don the "moderate" mantle and hack into the stimulus bill, but Susan Collins is from one of the bluest states in the country: she doesn't lose a thing by supporting the bill as it is, and in fact, would gain some cred with her blue state voters. So why does she do it? A "moderate" Democrat gains and maintains his or her precious status as a "moderate" by sabotaging Democratic legislation. A "moderate" Republican is a Republican in a blue state who ... demonstrates their "moderation" by sabotaging Democratic legislation. That about sums up the scorekeeping abilities of the press corps.

The comments in this bit, unaptly titled "Political Intelligence," go a long ways towards explaining why this country, which should be nearing its apex, is, in fact, in decline, both in an absolute and relative sense.

Friday, February 6, 2009


The people who analyze politics on television say absolutely ridiculous things with a frequency that would make the laziest baseball announcer look like Socrates by comparison. -- Bill James

Still Wrong

I congratulate Obama on finally coming out and actually trying to lead, but saying the bill is "the right size" probably isn't the way to do it. It would be better if he pointed out that many economists didn't think it was big enough, that the bill as it now exists was the result of compromise. That way, he can point out he was being bipartisan, and if it turns out the bill isn't big enough, he has laid the groundwork now. As it is, the Republicans will come back and say, "He got what he wanted and it didn't work. Fiscal stimulus doesn't work, just like we said all along." But on the bright side, he's finally acting as if he actually believes there's such a thing as "correct" and "incorrect" when it comes to policy.

Digby made a telling parenthetical comment today:

Huckleberry Graham's multiple tirades today were pretty much a throwdown to Obama's manhood, which is quite a spectacle coming from him.

Obama is 47 years old, has a law degree from Harvard, two beautiful children and a beautiful wife, and someone named "Lindsey Graham" is schooling him on how to behave like a man. It's like a joke or something. I just wish I could laugh.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A good speech.

Why did he wait so long to deliver it?

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Well, it is a thrill to be here. Thank you, Secretary Chu, for bringing your experience and expertise to this new role. And thanks to all of you who have done so much on behalf of the country each and every day here at the department. You know, your mission is so important, and it's only going to grow as we transform the ways we produce energy and use energy for the sake of our environment, for the sake of our security, and for the sake of our economy.

As we are meeting, in the halls of Congress just down the street from here, there's a debate going on about the plan I've proposed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

This isn't some abstract debate. Last week, we learned that many of America's largest corporations are planning to lay off tens of thousands of workers. Today we learned that last week, the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000. Tomorrow, we're expecting another dismal jobs report on top of the 2.6 million jobs that we lost last year. We've lost half a million jobs each month for the last two months.

Now, I believe that legislation of such magnitude as has been proposed deserves the scrutiny that it has received over the last month. I think that's a good thing. That's the way democracy is supposed to work. But these numbers that we're seeing are sending an unmistakable message -- and so are the American people. The time for talk is over. The time for action is now, because we know that if we do not act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse. Crisis could turn into catastrophe for families and businesses across the country.

And I refuse to let that happen. We can't delay and we can't go back to the same worn-out ideas that led us here in the first place. In the last few days, we've seen proposals arise from some in Congress that you may not have read but you'd be very familiar with because you've been hearing them for the last 10 years, maybe longer. They're rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve all our problems; that government doesn't have a role to play; that half-measures and tinkering are somehow enough; that we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges -- the crushing cost of health care, the inadequate state of so many of our schools, our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.

So let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about. The American people have rendered their judgment. And now is the time to move forward, not back. Now is the time for action.

Just as past generations of Americans have done in trying times, we can and we must turn this moment of challenge into one of opportunity. The plan I've proposed has at its core a simple idea: Let's put Americans to work doing the work that America needs to be done.

This plan will save or create over 3 million jobs -- almost all of them in the private sector.

This plan will put people to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, our dangerous -- dangerously deficient dams and levees.

This plan will put people to work modernizing our health care system, not only saving us billions of dollars, but countless lives.

This plan will put people to work renovating more than 10,000 schools, giving millions of children the chance to learn in 21st century classrooms, libraries and labs -- and to all the scientists in the room today, you know what that means for America's future.

This plan will provide sensible tax relief for the struggling middle class, unemployment insurance and continuing health care coverage for those who've lost their jobs, and it will help prevent our states and local communities from laying off firefighters and teachers and police.

And finally, this plan will begin to end the tyranny of oil in our time.

After decades of dragging our feet, this plan will finally spark the creation of a clean energy industry that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells, for example -- millions more after that. These jobs and these investments will double our capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years.

We'll fund a better, smarter electricity grid and train workers to build it -- a grid that will help us ship wind and solar power from one end of this country to another. Think about it. The grid that powers the tools of modern life -- computers, appliances, even BlackBerrys -- (laughter) -- looks largely the same as it did half a century ago. Just these first steps towards modernizing the way we distribute electricity could reduce consumption by 2 to 4 percent.

We'll also lead a revolution in energy efficiency, modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the efficiency of more than 2 million American homes. This will not only create jobs, it will cut the federal energy bill by a third and save taxpayers $2 billion each year and save Americans billions of dollars more on their utility bills.

In fact, as part of this effort, today I've signed a presidential memorandum requesting that the Department of Energy set new efficiency standards for common household appliances. This will save consumers money, this will spur innovation, and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy. We'll save through these simple steps over the next 30 years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America.

And through investments in our mass transit system to boost capacity, in our roads to reduce congestion, and in technologies that will accelerate the development of innovations like plug-in hybrid vehicles, we'll be making a significant down payment on a cleaner and more energy independent future.

Now, I read the other day that critics of this plan ridiculed our notion that we should use part of the money to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of state of the art fuel efficiency. This is what they call pork. You know the truth. It will not only save the government significant money over time, it will not only create manufacturing jobs for folks who are making these cars, it will set a standard for private industry to match. And so when you hear these attacks deriding something of such obvious importance as this, you have to ask yourself -- are these folks serious? Is it any wonder that we haven't had a real energy policy in this country?

For the last few years, I've talked about these issues with Americans from one end of this country to another. And Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence, but I am. And so are you. And so are the American people.

Inaction is not an option that is acceptable to me and it's certainly not acceptable to the American people -- not on energy, not on the economy, not at this critical moment.

So I am calling on all the members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate -- to rise to this moment. No plan is perfect. There have been constructive changes made to this one over the last several weeks. I would love to see additional improvements today. But the scale and the scope of this plan is the right one. Our approach to energy is the right one. It's what America needs right now, and we need to move forward today. We can't keep on having the same old arguments over and over again that lead us to the exact same spot -- where we are wasting previous energy, we're not creating jobs, we're failing to compete in the global economy, and we end up bickering at a time when the economy urgently needs action.

I thank all of you for being here, and I'm eager to work with Secretary Chu and all of you as we stand up to meet the challenges of this new century. That's what the American people are looking for. That's what I expect out of Congress. That's what I believe we can deliver to our children and our grandchildren in their future.

Thank you so much, everybody. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Why is he always a step behind? Is it always going to be this way, or will he learn that passivity and listening to the same people who fouled everything up, and the people who aggressively enabled those people, leads to failure?