Saturday, January 31, 2009

I don't get it.

Why hasn't anyone switched away from the Republican Party? When the Democrats got crushed in 1994, ideological conservatives who had been caucusing D because they wanted to remain in the majority party switched to Republican:

Richard Shelby
Dan Richey
Jimmy Hayes
Greg Laughlin
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Billy Tauzin
Nathan Deal
Mike Parker

Now that the Republicans have been crushed -- twice -- where are the Republicans switching to Democratic? Snowe? Collins? Specter? The Republican Party as it now exists is a radical organization, one run by abhorrent, anti-American figures like Rush Limbaugh. But "moderate" Republicans seem perfectly happy to continue belonging to that party, while paying lip service to "moderation" and "independence." If they are so moderate, why can't they bring themselves to reject the extremism that is their own party? Even when their own political survival is on the line, they prefer to hang with the Rushpublicans, gambling that they can do just enough to hold on to their seats. They'd rather lose, even, than switch (Smith, Sununu, et al). Why?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bipartisanship watch

The stimulus bill passes the House, 244 - 188. Not a single Republican voted in favor of it.

I'm sure David Broder is penning a furious denunciation of Republican obstructionism this very moment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Brief thought on Star Trek

I've been watching the original Star Trek programs, which CBS has put on their website. It's interesting to watch how Roddenberry's original vision, in which he had a strong woman as the ship's first officer, became warped, as it were, into what we actually saw on the show, with women seldom portrayed as much more than eye candy, wearing those go-go dancer outfits with their asses hanging out of them:

Nowadays, of course, such a thing wouldn't happen -- we still like our eye candy, but we also have women who are capable of doing something more than looking good and then looking for a man to protect them. But back then, I assume it was done because A) everyone knew women shouldn't lead -- it just felt wrong; and B) the studio people didn't think the concept would sell without a lot of T&A.

Anyway, these shows are pretty interesting. You had blacks and Hispanics playing prominent roles, relevant, cutting edge social commentary at a time of polarization, generally good stories (some of them are even brilliant), appealing characters, and solid acting (In my view Nimoy's superb turn as Spock nullifies Shatner's frequent hamminess as Kirk, plus Shatner does bring charisma to the role). I wonder if there's any TV show out there now that's as courageous, or if the reality TV craze, and generally slovenly state of our culture, have driven the entire medium down to the level of those Star Trek go-go girl outfits.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Republicans signaled Sunday that they would not be daunted by President Obama's soaring approval ratings, criticizing his proposed $825-billion economic stimulus plan, his strategy for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and his decision to exempt a top-ranking Pentagon appointee from new ethics rules.

Some of the sharpest criticism came from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party's challenger to Obama in the election and the recipient of aggressive outreach as part of the new president's efforts to forge an image of bipartisanship.

Obama honored McCain on the eve of last week's inauguration with a bipartisan candlelight dinner, and he has solicited his former rival's advice on top appointments. McCain has returned the favor by pressing fellow Republicans to speedily confirm Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But Sunday, McCain had few kind words for Obama's initial moves as president. He called it "disingenuous" for the White House to impose new rules to limit the influence of lobbyists but immediately claim an exemption for William Lynn III, the nominee to be deputy Defense secretary, who has lobbied on behalf of defense contractor Raytheon Co.

The whole story.

I really hope all Obama's talk about bipartisanship was aimed more at the Beltway media hacks, and not the Republicans -- otherwise Obama is going to end up looking like a naive fool. Because the Republicans don't care about "bipartisanship," and sitting on a loyal, albeit rump, base that is geographically discrete, and with the backing of an extensive media support network, they don't have to. Getting anything done is going to require slugging it out -- it's the only game the Republicans play. Obama might score some style points with all his pretty talk, but he'd better be able to back it up with some hard punching when it comes down to it.

Interesting that when the Republicans ran the show, any hint of a lack of obedience on the part of the Democrats was met by a firestorm of demands for "bipartisanship," the word "obstructionism" was heard in every news story, and the "liberal" members of the punditocracy wrung their hands and predicted utter doom for the Democratic Party unless they shut up, sat down, and voted for whatever it was that the Republicans wanted. I haven't seen one prediction of doom for the Republicans, despite Obama's sky-high approval ratings, a disastrous economic picture created by Republican misrule that demands immediate attention, and the Republicans getting blown out in two consecutive elections, while their brand name is down there with Enron's. Bipartisanship sure is an odd word in Washington.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"He kept us safe"

We've been told now for years that the Gitmo prisoners were too dangerous to be released, and we're being told now that they are so dangerous, so incredibly radioactive, that they can't be entrusted to our prison system. Yet, the record keeping of these prisoners was so haphazard, that I wonder if anyone even knows who any of them is:

President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.

Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.


Charles D. "Cully" Stimson, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs in 2006-2007, said he had persistent problems in attempts to assemble all information on individual cases. Threats to recommend the release or transfer of a detainee were often required, he said, to persuade the CIA to "cough up a sentence or two."

A second former Pentagon official said most individual files are heavily summarized dossiers that do not contain the kind of background and investigative work that would be put together by a federal prosecution team. He described "regular food fights" among different parts of the government over information-sharing on the detainees.

A CIA spokesman denied that the agency had not been "forthcoming" with detainee information, saying that such suggestions were "simply wrong" and that "we have worked very closely with other agencies to share what we know" about the prisoners. While denying there had been problems, one intelligence official said the Defense Department was far more likely to be responsible for any information lapses, since it had initially detained and interrogated most of the prisoners and had been in charge of them at the prison.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that the Defense Department would cooperate fully in the review.

"Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized," Morrell said. He added that "in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents . . . which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor."

"Not all the documents are physically located in one place," Morrell said, but most are available through a database.

"The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review."

There have been indications from within and outside the government for some time, however, that evidence and other materials on the Guantanamo prisoners were in disarray, even though most of the detainees have been held for years.

Justice Department lawyers responding in federal courts to defense challenges over the past six months have said repeatedly that the government was overwhelmed by the sudden need to assemble material after Supreme Court rulings giving detainees habeas corpus and other rights.

In one federal filing, the Justice Department said that "the record . . . is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case." In another filing, the department said that "defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis."

Evidence gathered for military commission trials is in disarray, according to some former officials, who said military lawyers lacked the trial experience to prosecute complex international terrorism cases.

In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."

He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."

If these people are so incredibly dangerous, doesn't it make fucking sense to deal with them in some kind of organized fashion, so everyone would know exactly what they are dealing with? Apparently not to Bush. And the toughtalking, swaggering, brush clearing cowboy was able to bully the CIA when it came to getting information shaped the way he wanted it during the runup to Iraq, but when it comes to making them share information on the allegedly most dangerous people in the world, people so menacing that we had to subvert the Constitution and international law in order to deny them trials and keep them locked up, well, he was just too weak to get that job done.

It's Bush to a T: cynical, amoral symbolism backed by utterly inept management, poor planning, and no think-through. And this is the guy the conservatives are saying "kept us safe." Bullshit. If you can't maintain decent records on the most scary, bad men the world has ever known, you can't work shoplifting security at Walmart.

Guantanamo, the PATRIOT Act, FISA, the Military commissions Act -- it's our generation's Japanese Internment, Bull Connor, black list -- our generation's stain that future generations will look back on and feel superior to us for, and tell themselves they'll never be so short-sighted as to make the same mistakes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural blurb

I thought Obama's speech sucked. It was nothing more than a cut-and-paste of the most recent six inaugural addresses, delivered in a harsh, scolding tone. Not vintage Obama at all.

Aretha Franklin is, in my view, the most important artist this country has produced in any medium except film. She's also pretty much done. Every time I hear her sing now I end up cringing, stopping my ears, and then running to play some vintage Aretha, YGaB (my favorite of hers, and one of my favorite albums ever), or I Never Loved A Man, to wash the sound out of my ears.

Garth Brooks is an awesome performer, energetic, charismatic, warm, and he looks like he's out there having the time of his life, and he wants you to have the time of your life, too. I don't even like country music. But I'd go to a Brooks concert, just because it would be a blast. Of course, I'd probably end up getting into a fight with a drunk redneck or two, but that would just add to the experience.

Watching all the red and blue up on the stage, the eclectic choice of performers, makes me almost think Obama can pull this "Bringing us together" stuff off. He certainly seems determined. But if he fails....

Not all asses are created equal

Kissing Bill Clinton's ass = bad:

The more things change, the more Bill Clinton.....talks. And talks. And talks.

The country's "first black president" until the real one came along was the big hit at the Fairfax Hotel Monday night, where he held court near the entrance, lecturing Doris Kearns Goodwin about progressive voting patterns and Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett about ... well, we couldn't really hear over the din, but he did most of the talking and she nodded and said, "That's exactly right." Very diplomatic of her...

(Of course, it's quite possible -- even probable -- that Jarrett simply agreed with Clinton, but, well, this is a Clinton we're talking about here. And Clinton snark never goes out of style.)

Kissing Maureen Dowd's ass is something to be proud of:

Steve Clemons:thanks for the note Wig—actually, not embarrassed at all. I liked the post I did—and find the comments that have followed amusing. Don't know Somerby but glad what I wrote gave him time to scribble on something.

One is a former, successful president, known around the world for his political smarts and policy expertise. The other is a fucking lunatic. Guess whose ass warrants kissing in Washington?

Clemons is part of two in-crowds: the Marshall/Iglesias/etc blogging clique, and the Washington insider clique. I'm sure Clemons' personal future is quite bright given his connections; given what that says about what it takes to get ahead in Washington, though, well, the future of the rest of us might not be so promising.

Maybe we can't, after all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A pat on the back

OK, I'm going to have to dig through my books and find the specific quotation from Orwell on Labour MPs, pats on the back, and being forever lost. Not Swift, not Pope, not Johnson -- nobody could conciously do something like this. Those aren't stars in Clemons' eyes, they're supernovas, quasars, entire fuckin' galaxies exploding at once.

Katrina recedes

Leaving destruction and hope behind.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What's Going On

There are very few performers who could carry a project like this off. I've always admired Marvin Gaye, but I didn't expect that he would be one of them. Guess I seriously underestimated him. It won't happen again. --Vince Aletti

Gaye started out as a gifted, but conventional, pop/soul singer, and ended up, with "What's Going On" and "Let's Get It On," changing music forever.


Less than 24 hours to go for the worst eight years in the past 68 years of our history. Even during the violence and sacrifices of WWII, the nation had a shared purpose, a sense of togetherness, the knowledge that they were fighting and sacrificing for a cause that would result in a better world. Even during the strife, divisions, and excesses of the Sixties, people were fighting over issues that meant something, a borderline unjust war, equality and opportunity for all, the notion that human beings could be more than they had been in the past. What, exactly, have the past eight years been about by contrast? A tongue-tied fucking fool who saw, and used, every problem the country faced as a polemical opportunity to push an agenda that is disconnected from the concerns of most Americans. Even if the conservative agenda had not been a spectacular failure, would the country be better off now than it was in 2000? Would we be better off with even greater income and wealth inequality? Better off as a nation that uses torture? Spies on its own citizens? Is reflexively hostile to science and progress? Is contemptuous towards ecology and safeguarding the health and future of the planet? Has a chief executive unfettered by oversight? Felt, and behaved like, it had the unilateral power to wage wars on other countries with no provocation? Is run by the likes of Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin (who are, incredibly enough, even bigger fucking fools than W), intellectually backed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Kristol?

Sometimes I look back on the past eight years and think, "We got off cheap." Cheap or not, I can't help but thinking we got -- at least -- what we deserved, because we, as a nation, ultimately let the past eight years happen. Let it happen with Bush v Gore, with a press corps run amok, with jingoism after 9/11 when cool headedness was needed, with sitting on our asses watching reality TV while the country was spiraling out of control. Never again, please, never again.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Madoff II

Dear neighbors,

Please accept my profound apologies for the terrible inconvenience that I have caused over the past weeks. Ruth and I appreciate the support we have received.

Best regards,
Bernard Madoff

-- Letter from Bernie Madoff to his neighbors

I wonder what kind of letters he'll be writing to the people in nearby cells once he gets to the pokie -- assuming he ever does get there.

Dear neighbors,

Please accept these cigarets as an expression of my regret. I'm sorry I was screaming so loud last night when Bubba was beating me. I hope I didn't disturb your sleep too much. I used to give out expensive jewelry and other gifts, but I'm sure you understand.

Your Pal,


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The damage Madoff has done to the fabric of society is far, far greater than a murderer, or even a terrorist, could do. Billions of dollars disappeared, a punch in the kidneys to the world's confidence in the financial system, just at a time when no one can afford it. And yet, he gets out on bail, and is reportedly negotiating terms of his imprisonment. The attitude of this country towards white collar crime is, simply, bizarre. In a world that depends on peoples' trust in the system, we are most tolerant towards those who damage that trust. But knock over a liquor store for a hundred bucks using a gun, and look out!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Zen and the Art of Statistical Modeling

Nate Silver:

But I think we can also acknowledge one of the central mistakes made by both the McCain and Hillary Clinton campaigns: they treated the media as an exogenous factor, something which happens to them, rather than something within their locus of control.

Ah, so that's the solution. You just treat the media as "something within your locus of control," and they will begin behaving. The answer has been right there all along. All Al Gore needed to do was "treat the media as something within his locus of control," and suddenly, no more "Invented the internet," "Love Canal," etc. All Bill Clinton needed to do was "treat the media as something within his locus of control," and Whitewater etc would have disappeared down the drain. Kerry could have sunk the Swiftboaters, just by "treating the media as within his locus of control." Howard Dean could have silenced the "Dean Scream," by "treating the media as being within his locus of control."

Well, I have to say I'm sorry it took so long for someone to find the answer, but at least it's been found. We can move along now, start solving some harder questions. For example, inspired by the inspiring simplicity of this insight, I have an idea to cure cancer: cancer sufferers should treat the disease as if it's "within their locus of control." It's not something exogenous, but endogenous. And once you understand that, it should be easily managed. Maybe a a little chemo will be necessary, but maybe, if you treat it hard enough as being "within your locus of control," you won't even need that.

In fact, I rather suspect that, after I've examined this long enough, I'll discover this simple phrase has the power to solve all of life's problems, simply, painlessly. It's a New Age magic wand, without, and without needing, physical form. I am one with the cosmic all. Om shanti shanti shantih.


Anne Hathaway auditions to take over for Heath Ledger:

Or maybe she's looking to play the title role in the Cesar Romero biopic:

Either way, I think she gets the part.

Cynical observation of the day

Most fight fans would not spend a dime to watch Van Gogh paint Sunflowers, but they would fill Yankee Stadium to see him cut off his ear." -- Pat Putnam

Substitute "People" for "fight fans," and that about nails it.

Monday, January 12, 2009


"It does look like a great eight years, aside from the last quarter, unfortunately," Edward P. Lazear, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, said in a recent interview. "In the long term, things look good. The reason things look good is this economy will rebound, and it will rebound strongly. . . . We expect things to turn around, and I would say early in President Obama's administration."

Or hackish and dishonest, take your pick. And this is the guy charged with giving Bush advice on the economy.

"It was a great cruise, aside from hitting that iceberg. We'll be up and steaming along at 20 knots again in no time" -- Navigator of the Titanic

"It was an awesome flight, aside from that little fire. We'll have this cleaned up and be on our way back to Paris in time for dinner on the Champs Elyse. " -- Flight engineer of the Hindenburg

"You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie." -- George W Bush

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Post partisanship, or The Way of Broder

Some presidential mottoes:

George H.W. Bush: "What works?"

Bill Clinton: "How, fighting against the tide of Reaganism, can I keep things working?"

George W Bush: "What do the conservatives want me to do?"

Barack Obama: "What does David Broder want me to do?"

Establishment Washington didn't care for H.W. Bush much, loathed Bill Clinton and still do, both liked and feared W Bush, and adore, for now, Obama, although if Obama continues being their bitch that adoration will become tolerance mixed with contempt, as always happens in relationships with that dynamic. H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were exactly what establishment Washington says it wants: pragmatists. Bush was an ideologue, and Obama is beginning to look like one as well, just not a liberal idealogue, as I'll get to in a moment. Why the establishment hates most those who behave the way they say they want them to behave is a question for the psychiatrists (and one Obama should be asking himself), and it's an important question, but beyond me for the present.

Now, filtering every policy through the lens of "What does David Broder want?" is not non-ideological governing; neither is mandating that all policies and decisions be defensible as "bipartisan." Broderism is an ideology just like every other "ism." And like any dogma, it has its limitations, limitations which its practitioners must live with. Let's look at those limitations with regards to the current stimulus plan "debate."

If Obama's stimulus plan fails, the Republicans will say, "He got everything he asked for in his stimulus plan, and it didn't work." And Obama will have no reply, like he would have had he asked for more and been forced into negotiating a compromise with the Republicans. Then, he could have said "I wanted X, the Republicans wanted Y, and Y wasn't enough." But when you are a follower of Broderism, the fear of being seen as "partisan" is much greater than the fear of failing the country, so really super tricky, complicated, arcane things like proper bargaining procedures never cross your mind.

If Obama's plan succeeds, the Republicans will say it was because of the tax cuts, and the next time they assume power, they will re-institute the exact same policies that fucked everything up. But when you are a follower of Broderism, super tricky, complicated, arcane things like "thinking ahead" never cross your mind. Just head straight for the center of every issue, do not, under any circumstances, make any normative judgments about the merits of the arguments on each side, and you will be a success, regardless of the outcome of your policy decisions. Broderism is about process, not results; results are what the little, partisan people worry about, and by embracing The Way of Broder, you have grown beyond such pettiness.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shorter Obama

I fucked up:

President-elect Barack Obama confirmed to CNBC Thursday that he plans to lay out a roughly $775 billion economic stimulus plan but indicated that the amount could grow once it gets taken up by Congress.

"We've seen ranges from $800 (billion) to $1.3 trillion," he said in an exclusive interview with CNBC's chief Washington correspondent John Harwood. "And our attitude was that given the legislative process, if we start towards the low end of that, we'll see how it develops."

Politically at this stage, when there aren't any real proposals on the table, it's probably better that he fucked up by asking for too little money than asking for too much, because he maintains the whole moderate, post-partisan conciliator thing. But he's got to realize that this was a dry run: in less than a couple of weeks, he's going to be playing for keeps, and what are minor political fuckups now that have little actual consequences will be big political, and policy fuckups when he is in charge of things. Those have real ramifications, both for him and for the country. We simply can't afford them, and the media won't be able to rescue him by making phantom charges of race baiting, and instead of running against a discredited, intellectually broken party, he'll be running a country.

It looks like he's going to let the Democrats in Congress rescue him on this one, by upping the ante for the stimulus plan, and then he negotiates it back down with the Republicans. It's actually not a bad dynamic in the short run -- he gets to be the arbiter between the two parties, which makes him look presidential and moderate and blah blah blah. But it's tactical maneuvering, and by being so conciliatory on such a key issue with the party whose ideology is what screwed everything up, he's failing to take advantage of the greatest opportunity to establish a new national course since Reagan in '80, maybe even since FDR in '32.

For Obama to be truly successful, to get his presidency etched in the upper tier, at least some of the ideological questions that dog our current discourse must be settled, and in the favor of his own party. That's what Reagan did, that's what FDR did, that's what TR did, that's what all the best presidents did. The Republican approach to the economy, tax cuts for the wealthy and let big business have its way, has failed. Obama has the chance to establish that firmly in the public's mind, make it a settled issue that the Democrats' way is better, and move on. But he seems constitutionally unable to embrace the sort of fight it would take to do that, preferring instead to compromise by adopting parts of a failed ideology -- in effect, keeping it on life support -- in the name of "bipartisanship." And if he can't embrace that fight now, when he has every advantage in the world, he won't be able to do it later, when his approval ratings have come back to earth, when his "honeymoon" is over, when the memory of arrant Republican failure has faded from the public's mind. His time, the country's time, is now. If he really believes the Democratic approach to government is better for the country, now is the time to show that. He ran a campaign that essentially consisted of nothing more than repeating the word "Change" for two years. If he can't change the public's attitude about which economic philosophy is best for the country in the long run, given everything we've seen, then what can he change?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Seduction of Al Franken

One of my hopes for Al Franken, besides getting the execrable Coleman out of the nation's hair and off of its payroll, is that he will really use his status as an outsider and image as an oddball to shake things up -- that he'll be something like Paul Wellstone, but shrewder, hiding behind saying, "Hey, the people of Minnesota knew what they were getting, and that's what I'm going to be," all the while continuing to act like a buttoned down, serious player in the system. The contrast between Franken the clown and Franken the serious, thoughtful, man that he actually is gives him much more room for heterodoxy than any other politician in the nation's capital. Franken has a chance, I think, to be a lesser version of the guy Obama's supporters built him up to be, but that he very clearly now, is not: a radical who uses the forms and language of a moderate.

All that being said, I get concerned when the Villagers start building Franken up:

All of this matters because there are constants in the life of the man that Minnesota (Minnesota!!) has now (probably) elected to represent it in the U.S. Senate. Franken has spent his life as a sort of intellectual terrorist, a rebel in open war with the mores and power structures of America. With perhaps one or two exceptions, he has done a brilliant and noble job. Free nations need performers who will mess with our heads. But we are just not used to these performers becoming senators. I don't doubt that Franken will be more staid in his new job than he was in his old ones. But I also find it hard to believe that he will be able to do the job entirely straight, with the same soulless formality that is Congressional convention. He spent a lifetime unmasking the powerful as witless buffoons. Now he is set to become the powerful. It will be fun to see what happens next.

Now, this passage can be read many ways, but as I read it I remembered a line from Orwell: "like an old Trade Union man elected to Parliament, who gets a pat on the back from some titled member of the House of Lords and is lost forevermore." It's a paraphrase, but pretty close to the original, I think.

It's possible Franken is just another soulless hack and there's nothing there to seduce in the first place. If that's the case, him beating Coleman is nearly irrelevant. Coleman took away the seat of one of the very few genuine liberals in the Senate, and if Franken is not going to assume that mantle then those 240 votes or whatever they were might as well have gone the other way. But if he seriously intends to try to take Wellstone's place, he's going to have to learn to armor himself against the gross flatteries of the Versailles class -- a class Scherer is scrambling to join. Beating Coleman? Child's play. Resisting a corrupt and corrupting culture -- especially for a performer, who by nature seeks to be the center of attention? That's going to be a damned difficult thing to do.


It's hard to find someone who has been more right about everything for several years now than Paul Krugman. Here he is again:

And that gets us to politics. This really does look like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes. Yet even if the plan gets the hoped-for 80 votes in the Senate, which seems doubtful, responsibility for the plan’s perceived failure, if it’s spun that way, will be placed on Democrats.

I see the following scenario: a weak stimulus plan, perhaps even weaker than what we’re talking about now, is crafted to win those extra GOP votes. The plan limits the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad, with the rate peaking at something like 9 percent and coming down only slowly. And then Mitch McConnell says “See, government spending doesn’t work.”

Let’s hope I’ve got this wrong.

I frankly have no idea what Obama thinks he's doing with this stimulus maneuvering, which would be OK, except that it's beginning to look like Obama doesn't, either. All this bipartisanship stuff will tickle the David Broders pink (they are currently a dull shade of red), but Republicans don't listen to David Broder. They listen to Rush Limbaugh. And there is no way of reaching some kind of accord with Rush Limbaugh -- he's paid in excess of $20,000,000 a year to be unreasonable. In the end, as goes Limbaugh and his followers, will go Mitch McConnell and congressional Republicans -- they will have no choice.

This was one of my fears about Obama -- that in his eagerness to please the Broderites to whom he owes his meteoric ascent, he would get rolled by establishment Washington. And it's happening. If he doesn't show substantial progress on the economy, especially after talking about creating 3,000,000 jobs, he's going to find himself in a philosophical fight with a movement that is advocating policies that should, by all rights, be thoroughly discredited.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mindless partisan thought of the day

The three worst presidents of the past 100 years, in reverse chronological order: Bush, Nixon, Hoover. Bush and Nixon shared contempt for the Constitution and a belief that they were above the law; Bush and Hoover shared an economic philosophy -- a religious faith in the power of laissez fair capitalism -- that led the country to the brink of ruin. Hoover and Nixon were gifted men, Nixon particularly so, while Bush is a bumbler. All three were Republicans, of course, but that's just a coincidence.

Bush clearly comes out worst here. He has no accomplishments as president, is not accomplished himself, and rivals Hoover in the economic damage he's done; when you take into account the damage Bush has done to the rule of law, and the political culture of the country, he crushes Hoover on the destructive index. Economies can be fixed, but once you start tugging on the threads of democracy and no one sews the holes you've left back up, well, that's trouble.

If Bush is the worst president of the past 100 years, that leaves about 110 years to comb through and come up with a contender for him in the battle to decide "Worst president in history." It's kind of a single elimination thing, like the NCAA tournament. My money's on Bush. I can't believe anyone from back then was handed so much, and walked away with so little.

I remember back in the day, when saying such a thing would instantly result in you being dismissed as a "Bush Basher." Ah, progress.

Friday, January 2, 2009

If Bush grew a mustache

I'll bet the title of the post had you thinking "Hitler."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

One Nation politics

Josh Marshall:

Noam Scheiber asks whether, in an effort to attract substantial Republican support, Obama is aiming for too low a dollar amount ($675-$775 billion over 24 months) in his upcoming fiscal stimulus package.

I'm torn on this. As Noam points out, that looks to be a starting point at the low end of what most economists think is necessary, leaving treacherously little safe room to negotiate down. And everything about our recent history and current predicament tells me we have to be bold and aggressive, on policy and politics. But I've always had a weakness for One Nation politics; so I'm not willing to discount the possibility that Obama reshuffle the deck politically, operate under a different calculus.

If Obama doesn't fix the economy, what "calculus" does Marshall think he'll be "operating under"? Out here in the real world -- the world that has paid attention for the past 16 years -- we know what will happen: the Republican noise machine will crank up into high gear, and Obama will become another failed, big spending liberal who doesn't know how to do anything except "throw money at problems." Hooverism, even a fringe policy on the fringe right, will suddenly become, politically, a viable economic philosophy, and Obama will be lucky if he gets re-elected, let alone "reshuffles the deck politically," as Marshall put it.

In reality, Obama has one, and exactly one, way to "reshuffle" the political deck: succeed. He's got to demonstrate, clearly and with no room for misunderstanding, that a Democrat fixed things using liberal policy prescriptions, that the Republicans didn't only foul things up, but their entire economic program for the past 20 years was built on an erroneous understanding of how things work: he has to leave them no philosophical corner to hide in, much as FDR's New Deal did in the '30s. That led to a true "reshuffling of the political deck," as first Eisenhower, then Nixon, ruled as caretakers of liberal politics rather than as agents of conservative ideals. In order to achieve something similar to what FDR did, Obama has to fix the economy. The smart way to do that is to figure out how much money he thinks he will need, and then demand half again that amount, in order to give himself negotiating room, plus some margin for error (Once upon a time -- it seems like years ago now -- the 700 billion Paulson got was thought to be more than he would need). And if the Republicans obstruct, he has to make it clear that obstructing is exactly what they are doing. Mark Sanford didn't back down on unemployment assistance because someone played nice with him and asked, "Pretty please." He did it because he knew what would happen to him politically if he let those benefits run out. Self interest is the lingua franca of politics -- at least in this "One World." Obama had better show he knows how to speak it.

There is one thing I'll say about Obama's plan: the timing, 24 months, gives him a potential stick to beat the Republicans with during the 2010 elections. When it comes time to ask for more money -- and it probably will -- he can force Republicans running for re-election to make a painful choice, and most of them will choose -- as Sanford did here -- the politically safe way and give in on the money. It's an obvious play, and one I'm sure the Obama team deliberately built into the package. But Paulson has already burned through almost all the 700 billion he got, and that was given to him six months ago. Things are too dicey at this point to play political games. Either Obama fixes the economy, or the shit hits the fan -- the political, as well as the economic, shit.

Four years ago at this time people were hysterically talking about a "permanent Republican majority": things can change fast -- especially if you are running things ineptly, and with an eye more on politics than on competent governance. It's a lesson most people should have learned a while ago, especially those people like Marshall, who make their living commenting on politics. I hope Obama, who makes his living, and ours, by practicing politics, did learn that lesson.

The Village's new foreign policy expert.

OK, not so new. But he's a Republican, of course. Basketball players are tall. Football players are strong and run fast. Scientists are smart. And foreign policy experts -- "Yodas" in Klein's childish construct -- are Republican. Some things just are.