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...

Doodlin'

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.

Relief




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

Marshall:

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

Meanwhile...

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."

If

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

Unhinged

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

Bottom

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

Premortem

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

Fallacies

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.

--------------------------

*Update

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.

Crypto-wingnut

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?

Translation:

Michael Hirsh wrote an excellent piece:

Barack Obama began making his comeback Wednesday, apparently aware that he has all but lost control of the agenda in Washington at a time when he simply can't afford to do so. Obama's biggest problem isn't Taxgate—which resulted in the Terrible Tuesday departure of his trusted friend, Tom Daschle, and the defanging of his Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner. Nor is the No. 1 problem that the president can't seem to win a single Republican vote for his stimulus package. That's a symptom, not a cause. The reason Obama is getting so few votes is that he is no longer setting the terms of the debate over how to save the economy. Instead the Republican Party—the one we thought lost the election—is doing that. And the confusion and delay this is causing could realize Obama's worst fears, turning "crisis into a catastrophe," as the president said Wednesday.

Obama's desire to begin a "post-partisan" era may have backfired. In his eagerness to accommodate Republicans and listen to their ideas over the past week, he has allowed the GOP to turn the haggling over the stimulus package into a decidedly stale, Republican-style debate over pork, waste and overspending. This makes very little economic sense when you are in a major recession that only gets worse day by day. Yes, there are still some very legitimate issues with a bill that's supposed to be "temporary" and "targeted"—among them, large increases in permanent entitlement spending, and a paucity of tax cuts that will prompt immediate spending. Even so, Obama has allowed Congress to grow embroiled in nitpicking over efficiency when the central debate should be about whether the package is big enough. When you are dealing with a stimulus of this size, there are going to be wasteful expenditures and boondoggles. There's no way anyone can spend $800 to $900 billion quickly without waste and boondoggles. It comes with the Keynesian territory. This is an emergency; the normal rules do not apply.


Rude translation: Obama has been a pussy, and if he keeps behaving like a pussy, he's going to keep getting his ass kicked like a pussy.

This was Obama's pattern, which could easily be seen during the primaries: be passive, give airy speeches, construct "brilliant" master plans that go wrong, and then be rescued. Initially, he was rescued by the media in his battle against Hillary Clinton; then he was rescued by the economic collpase just when he was losing against McCain; and now it looks like the media people are coming to his rescue again by doing something they are ordinarily loathe to do: give a relatively honest appraisal of the state of our twisted, conservative-dominated discourse, as well as give a Democrat permission to do something other than bow and scrape. Eventually, these rescues are going to end.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Losing

Awhile back, Obama essentially called Rush Limbaugh out, by telling the Republicans they won't get anywhere by following Rush's dictates. Well, the Republicans are following Limbaugh's dictates, and because Obama and the party he leads are so weak and passive, the Republicans are doing fine, while Obama is well on his way to earning the title "Pussy In Chief." For a moment there it looked like Obama was capable of breaking out of the bonds of his own making and leading, but that moment is fading fast. He looks like a pussy, running from every confrontation, manipulating situations, not to bring about desired policy outcomes, but to minimize the possibility of conflict: he's a pussy. Pussy, pussy, pussy. No black man who grew up black would behave like this -- it simply isn't possible. You learn early, if not taught by your parents then you pick it up through osmosis, that you have to make it clear there are lines that can't be crossed, that you're willing to fight even if you know you're going to lose, because the alternative is worse. It's a lesson Pussy-in-chief Obama hasn't learned, and now, cocooned away in the White House, he never will. He'll go through life a pampered pussy, ducking and cringing and rationalizing his cowardice away by thinking that he's maneuvering and setting brilliant traps. Limbaugh is a bigot, he isn't the brightest match in the pack, he's venal, egotistical, anti-American in almost every sense of the phrase, but he is at least willing to stand up and fight. As a confirmed pussy, Obama wouldn't stand up and fight to save his own life, let alone the economy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Great Potato Famine

The parallels are unfortunate; were it not so late I'd do something more in depth, but the Democrats remind me of the Whigs, and the Republicans, of course, the Tories. Both are essentially conservative organizations dedicated to various shades of the status quo, while the status quo is becoming increasingly intolerable to a large, but safely ignored, minority of the population. Hopefully, we'll never get to the point where we're starving, but these people are so cowardly on the one side, and inept and ill-meaning on the other, that realistically anything could come as a result of all this. When bumbling fuckups are in charge, things get bumbled and fucked up.

It's pretty obvious the Republicans are going to let the stimulus bill pass, while hiding behind their ludicrous tax cut plan, hoping that the stimulus isn't big enough to actually work. Then, they'll come out swinging hard, their party as radical and unreformed as it's ever been. Such is the fruit of Obama's "bipartisanship." The naked contempt they are showing for him and his 60-odd percent approval rating would be breathtaking, were I not beginning to share it.