Saturday, April 11, 2009

What digby said ...

Digby: Mad As Hell
I just watched one of the most disturbing yet bizarrely entertaining shows I've ever seen on television. It's a Glenn Beck special called "Destined To Repeat(?)" featuring noted right wing intellectuals Jonah Goldberg, Amity Schlaes, and a couple of other fringy authors discussing the connections between Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and other "progressive" dictators, illustrated throughout with black and white footage of Nazis and concentration camps.

It ended with a stirring speech by an actor dressed as Thomas Paine exclaiming that the American founders wouldn't have flown airplanes into buildings or passed the biggest spending program in history. And then he said to join the tea parties.

Here's Beck's intro:
Our country is not being controlled by jack-booted fascists, but just like I said during George W. Bush's presidency, the groundwork is continuously being laid to take us there.

History shows us that it only takes two simple things for fascism to rear its ugly head virtually overnight: fear and hunger. A temporary crisis is almost always a precursor to a much more permanent one.

With that in mind, let me show you the four main things we'll be talking about tonight.

First, to Russia, where, under communists like Lenin and Stalin, their revolution pitted peasants against the rich. They were basically saying "Eat the rich! They did it to you! Get them, kill them!" These days? There were demonstrators rioting in front of the G20, unions protesting in front of AIG and buses showing up at the houses of the evil AIG executives.

It's a different style, but the sentiments exactly the same: find them, get them, kill them.

Second, we'll consider what the average person thinks about fascism. They believe it's ridiculous and could never happen in America; after all, no one's electing Adolf Hitler to office. But the secret we'll learn tonight is that fascism wasn't always synonymous with mass murder.

Progressives once had a love affair with it — particularly with Mussolini. You may remember him as the guy whose body was hung upside down by meat hooks while civilians threw stones at it. But before that he had lots of admirers in the United States, including singers Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, comic Will Rogers (who said "I'm pretty high on that bird,") and The New York Times, which wrote "Mussolini is a Latin [Teddy] Roosevelt who first acts and then inquires if it is legal. He has been of great service to Italy at home." Mussolini was also well-respected abroad. Winston Churchill once called him "the world's greatest living lawgiver."

Third, I'll show you how Woodrow Wilson moved away from the Founding Fathers' principles and values. Today, those who disparage the strict constructionists as worshiping old men in wigs are building on what the progressives started at the top of the last century.

The fourth topic tonight is the Great Depression. The world was starving and when the world goes into darkness, it's always based on several small events followed by one cataclysmic one. Hitler used the world economic crisis as a pivot point; he said he was going to protect the common man, people rallied around him.
I watched this surreal, intellectual train wreck with a mixture of awe and stunned disbelief. (You can watch video excerpts here.) I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it on national television.

I wrote the other day that Roger Ailes is a genius and I am convinced more than ever that he really is. He's reinventing FOX News as the voice of a revolutionary, counterculture right and, frankly, it's really fresh. It's like they've been set free and can finally do what they've always wanted to do.

I've featured Howard Beale over there on the left side of the page for a long time, mostly because the film Network predicted today's wierd, surreal media to an astonishing degree. But I think it's finally coming to full fruition with this Beck thing. And Roger Ailes is the Diana Christenson (Faye Dunaway) of our time:
Diana Christensen: Look, I sent you all a concept analysis report yesterday. Did any of you read it?

[Aides stare blankly at her]

Diana Christensen: Well, in a nutshell, it said: "The American people are turning sullen. They've been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they've turned off, shot up, and they've fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps." So, this concept analysis report concludes, "The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them." I've been telling you people since I took this job six months ago that I want angry shows. I don't want conventional programming on this network. I want counterculture, I want anti-establishment. I don't want to play butch boss with you people, but when I took over this department, it had the worst programming record in television history. This network hasn't one show in the top twenty. This network is an industry joke, and we'd better start putting together one winner for next September. I want a show developed based on the activities of a terrorist group, "Joseph Stalin and His Merry Band of Bolsheviks," I want ideas from you people. This is what you're paid for. And by the way, the next time I send an audience research report around, you'd all better read it, or I'll sack the fucking lot of you. Is that clear?
Now Beck isn't carrying Howard Beale's actual rants by any stretch. But he is performing the same role. And I would guess that it's going to translate into lots of money for the network.

The question is what it's going to do to politics.

And lest anyone think that this problem isn't helped along by the rest of the media's capitulation to the same values, here's Diana Christenson again to help you understand how this works:

Diana Christensen: I watched your 6 o'clock news today; it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park; on the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crime, sports, children with incurable diseases, and lost puppies. So, I don't think I'll listen to any protestations of high standards of journalism when you're right down on the streets soliciting audiences like the rest of us. Look, all I'm saying is if you're going to hustle, at least do it right.
Ailes has just upped the ante.

It's hard to believe that movie was made as a satire 33 years ago.

Saturday Morning: Just breathe through your nose Edition

digby on My Hero: Greg Sargent, for writing this on the Washington Post's own website. Bravo.


This is a bit off the beaten path for this blog, but Hilzoy's post on the psychology of spousal abuse should be read, and linked, by everyone. It's one of the best blog posts I've ever read. An excerpt:

To start with, it helps to know that (last time I checked) the two most common times for violence to start were the honeymoon and the first pregnancy. By the time you reach either point, you're already in a pretty serious relationship, and leaving is not something that anyone would do lightly.

Moreover, the violence often comes as a real surprise. It's not that there aren't signs: there are. But they are often things like: he falls for you too hard and too fast, or: he wants to be with you all the time. You'd have to be either paranoid or a victim of a previous abusive relationship to leap to the conclusion that either of these things means that abuse might be in your future. (Imagine, in particular, someone whose last relationship was with someone who didn't seem to care about her: imagine her saying to herself: last time he didn't care enough; this time he seems to care too much; am I impossible to please?)

So imagine yourself, in love with someone, on your honeymoon or pregnant, when suddenly this guy just goes ballistic, often for very little reason, and hits you. For a lot of women, this is profoundly shocking and disorienting. There are things that are comprehensible parts of the world, even if they're rare, like having your car stolen; and then there are things that are unexpected in a completely different sense, like having your car turn into an elephant before your eyes: things that make you wonder whether you're completely crazy. Being beaten up by someone who apparently loves you is one of those things.

What this means is that precisely when a woman needs as much confidence in her own judgment as she can muster, the rug is completely pulled out from under her. And it's not just that she questions her judgment because she got involved with this guy in the first place; she questions her judgment because something so completely alien to the world she thinks she knows has just happened.

Read the whole thing.

As I was trying to go to sleep last night, I kept thinking "Just breathe through your nose" and laughing out loud. So, in the interest of spreading my insomnia, here's a repeat:

Smooth like Remy: Thank You Spencer Ackerman
I am sure I am not the only one who has been a little bit worried (ok maybe more than a little) about President Obama's relationship with the military leaders especially with respect to Iraq. Earlier this year I posted about a story that alledged that Generals Ray Odierno and David Petraeus were both seeking to undermine President Obama's intention to withdraw from Iraq. It turns out that the story didn't seem to be accurate much if at all. Still because of some of the rhetoric on the campaign trail my suspicions lingered. Well today I happened across a piece in the Times of London with the provocative headline "General Ray Odierno: we may miss Iraq deadline to halt al-Qaeda terror" and my antennae went crazy. Rather than reflexively posting on the article which again made it seem as if General Odierno was undermining President Obama in the press I decided to send Spencer Ackerman, one of the best foreign policy bloggers around, a tweet and ask him what he thought about it. Well he looked into it and did a great job of debunking much of the Times article. Not only that he gave me a shout out in said post. So I just wanted to publicly thank him both for fisking the article and throwing my link up on the post. It is GREATLY appreciated!
via SGW, a great Media Matters video on the responsibility of cable news for whipping up conspiracy theories.

The Tea Tantrum Mystery

This helps. A reader writes:

I live in Kansas and have several family members who fit the mold of these Tea Partiers. The sense I get from them is much like what I felt after the 2004 election - absolute disbelief that this country could make such a decision. The reason that my relatives are so concerned is that Bush stood for everything they truly believed in - US primacy, nationalism, God (the Christianist version), guns, no gays, no illegals, where criminals get a fair trial before we hang them. In their mind, Obama repudiates all of that.

These rallies are an effort by a group that feels highly marginalized to find some comfort in the company of others with similar beliefs, and to express their fear and frustration over what they see happening to their country. At least, that's why my uncles and grandparents will be there.

I agree that it's a tantrum, but not over the issues you mention. Their issue is far more about their world-view than any one of these policy concerns. In their minds, this is the "conservative" equivalent of the Watts and Stonewall demonstrations. And when you (and others) dismiss these concerns as "adolescent, unserious hysteria," it only hardens their resolve. What will make this go away is time, and the realization that America has "survived" the threat posed by a President who represents so much that they find threatening.

It does make much more sense when you see it that way. If you're concerned, as I am, about the reach of government, you might think that Bush's supension of habeas corpus, claimed right to suspend the First and Fourth Amendments and authorization of torture would have concerned them. But nah. If you're concerned about spending and borrowing, you might imagine they'd have been in the streets against Bush in 2003, instead of rallying behind him. If you're concerned about pork, then the obvious culprits were the Bush Republicans. If you're concerned about spending, then you'd be campaigning against Medicare, Medicaid, and defense spending. But they're having an ostensible tax revolt just after the Democratic candidate offered, against his party's liberal base, a tax cut for middle class Americans! And they have taken up revolt against government spending at the very moment that even conservative economists think a little relaxation of fiscal discipline does more good than harm.

The whole thing is mystifying unless you see it as a tantrum designed as therapy. I'm just waiting for them to get serious about the debt and start proposing real spending cuts that will actually do something. That's a tea-party I'd happily join. When is it scheduled?

  • Matthew Yglesias adds:
    I haven’t said a great deal about the burgeoning “tea party” “movement” because (a) it’s incredibly stupid, and (b) I knew some colleagues were working on some more in-depth efforts in this regard than I could possible stomach. But here’s Lee Fang showing the role of corporate lobbyists in organizing these “grassroots” outpourings of sentiment and here’s Victor Zapanta’s compilation of Fox News’ relentless efforts to hype the tea parties ...

    Part of the underlying absurdity of this, however, is that it’s just so transparently silly to be pouring so much time and energy into trying to make Barack Obama appear unpopular when he’s not unpopular. There’s such a thing as opinion polling and it can answer this sort of thing pretty conclusively:


    People like Barack Obama. Not everyone! 30 percent or so of the people say they disapprove. And in a country of 300 million, that means it’s easy to get together a big meeting of people who really hate Obama. But it’s clearly a relatively modest minority of the population, comparable in size—and probably largely overlapping with—the group of people who approved of the job George W. Bush was doing all the way ’till the end. But even Doug Holtz-Eakin now concedes that the Bush tax cuts should expire.

But seriously, what is this teabagging about? April 10: Rachel Re: As silly as the terminology may be for the tea partying teabaggers, they still represent the most organized idea on the right of the political spectrum. Rachel Maddow puts (most) kidding aside for a look at the essential principles of the tea party movement.
One might think, given the severity of the global economic crisis, Republican leaders would be anxious to prove to Americans that the party takes the downturn seriously, and wants to do everything possible to help.

Downplaying the crisis, and laughing off dire economic conditions, seems like an unusually bad idea. And yet, there was Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele yesterday, guest-hosting Bill Bennett's talk radio show.

CALLER: I can really debate about how about that economic crises is because I look around and I don't see people spending any less money than they have been.

STEELE: I've heard a number of people say that across the country. [LAUGHTER] The malls are just as packed on Saturday. [LAUGHTER]

CALLER: The malls are just as packed. ... You still can't get seat in a restaurant.

As a factual matter, this exchange doesn't make any sense. Malls are losing stores at a record pace; mall management corporations are struggling badly; and consumer spending has dropped off dramatically. It's what happens during a severe recession.

As a political matter, what possesses Michael Steele to say things like this? It's in Republicans' interest to prove that they realize just how serious the recession is. And yet, last week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suggested Democrats are "overreacting" to the crisis, and this week, the chairman of the RNC is laughing about how crowded the malls are.

Maybe Steele says bizarre things like this as part of an elaborate strategy to help him "understand [his] position on the chess board." Or maybe Steele just doesn't know what he's talking about.

atrios: Not Necessarily A Contrast
Disagreeing slightly with Eric at the mothership, I'm not sure the quoted excerpts reflect vastly different opinions. I don't hate newspapers. I doubt Markos does. I'd be sad if something similar to printed newspapers didn't continue to exist. I'd be more sad if the best of what those news organization provide ceased to be in any form because the business model went away.

I think what happens in these discussions - and I've been guilty of it myself - is the conflation of a few different issues. One conversation is about how newspapers could change, perhaps shrugging off certain somewhat odd constraints, to be a more appealing product. That's the subscriber side. Another conversation is about the various reasons, other than declining readership, for declining advertising revenue. Still a third conversation is about all the awesome things newspaper organizations coulda shoulda and maybe still could do to improve their internet business model.

And Markos is referencing a fourth conversation,the quietest one, about how some of the companies who own newspapers are in trouble not because the business models are in trouble, but because they just made stupid fucking business decisions. That is, they bought the companies at absurd prices, or just built a shiny new skyscraper, or invested in Egyptian cotton futures, or whatever. These are things which are completely divorced from the daily operations of the newspaper, but which could still bring the companies down.

digby says: Give Me The Post Office Any Day
In the coming debates over health care, when your Uncle Bob pulls out the old conservative trope asking, "would you really want government bureaucrats to be in charge of your health care?" give him this article:

Five months ago, Rose Camilleri was a superstar at the Zales outlet at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets.

In November, the diminutive grandmother with an Italian accent was flown to Dallas, home of Zales' headquarters, where she was honored with a 1-carat diamond necklace for making $1 million in sales last year.


It was the fifth diamond Camilleri had earned during 4½ years at Zales, where she received nearly a dozen commendations.

"I loved my work," she said. "I loved the people, and I loved it when people came in and asked for me."

But in early March, Camilleri developed bronchitis and went for a chest X-ray and an MRI. Her doctor discovered an aortic aneurysm, a weakness in the wall of the aorta, which, without prompt treatment, might rupture and cause quick death.

Camilleri told Zales she would need surgery as soon as possible.

"I told my manager I can't get upset because it could explode any minute," she said. "I typed up a letter asking for time off and guidance from human resources."

One week later, on March 14, she was asked to attend a meeting with a new regional manager.

"He said, 'You're terminated,'" Camilleri recalled. "I tried to keep myself very calm because I knew something could happen to me. I said, 'You're joking — you've never been in my store.' He said, 'It's the best thing.'"

It also meant Camilleri had to postpone her March 26 surgery until she could convert her insurance to a self-pay plan known as COBRA.

Two weeks later, Camilleri had not even received the paperwork.

Her son e-mailed the Times Herald-Record.

"We are told that it could take up to 45 days," Charles Camilleri wrote. "I lay awake every night fearing the worst."

Contacted by the Record, Zales would not comment. Charles Camilleri called Zales' human resources, explaining it was a life-or-death matter, and he simply needed a fax from Zales to start the COBRA process. He was floored by the employee's response.

"She said, "Well, if the surgery was rescheduled, then it's probably not a life-or-death situation," Charles Camilleri recalled. "I absolutely was blown away

Once again, the Record contacted Zales' corporate office, stressing that Rose Camilleri's condition could be fatal.

That afternoon, Charles got good news from Zales.

"They're turning my mother's health coverage back on today and expediting the COBRA information," he said.

After paying the first premium of $830, Rose had surgery last week and was back home on Sunday. "I don't think we would have had the surgery so soon if it weren't for your e-mail," Charles Camilleri said. "They probably would have kept us hanging."

If people really think that dealing with private industry bureaucrats is any improvement over government bureaucrats, they need their heads examined. Human resources is a cost center not a profit center and most businesses do not put their best employees there. (That's not to say there aren't good HR people out there, just that they are the step children of the business world.)

The sad thing is that this woman's fight is only getting started because she hasn't even begun to deal with the insurance company yet. Lord knows what awaits her with that. In that industry, they actually give bonuses to their employees for denying coverage to their policy holders.

I know that people think the government is cumbersome and unresponsive. But I have had dealings with the IRS that are far more efficient and pleasant than anything I've ever done with an insurance company. The post office almost never loses a letter. Airplanes rarely run into each other in the sky and until George Bush came in, we didn't have a lot of food born illness or drugs malfunctioning. They actually do a pretty good job, if only because the people raise holy hell if they don't and have some ability to affect who the bosses are.

I would much prefer a government run bureaucracy than a for profit bureaucracy. In the first I am at least a stakeholder. In the latter I'm simply a cost.

h/t to bb

I asked Cornell economist Robert Frank to comment on my earlier post about limiting Wall Street salaries. He wrote back this afternoon, arguing that finance is a special case requiring more aggressive interventions than would normally be wise. In particular, he argued that there's another reason to disproportionately high pay in finance: It steers people away from more productive endeavors:

The problem with high pay in the financial industry isn't just that it tempts people to do illegal or unethical things. It also sucks a lot of talent out of other occupations in which it would do vastly more good. (I explain this point in some detail in the attached file.)

In general I think we should let markets sort out pretax pay, and if we don't like the resulting distribution, we should then use the tax system to change it. That's because we generally benefit from a price mechanism that assigns the most talented people to the most important jobs. IBM has annual earnings of about $10 billion. If it can hire someone who will improve its bottom line by just 3 percent, that's $300 million better for both the company and for society as a whole. Executives would obviously be willing to work hard for a tiny fraction of today's salaries (they always used to and still do in many other countries). Market-determined pay is important not because it elicits greater effort but only because it steers the right people to the right jobs. IBM will be less likely to be able to attract the most talented executives if it pays the same salary as smaller companies. But because it's primarily relative pay that people care about it, the current allocation mechanism would work equally well even if the top marginal tax rates on income were 80 or 90 percent. With a tax system like that in place, everyone would have reason to celebrate when an executive signed a lucrative contract.

As far as allocative efficiency is concerned, the finance industry is the glaring exception to all. Unlike most other industries, where company profits are closely linked to social value added, there is virtually no such link in the financial industry. When we send smarter people to financial firms, they just figure out more devious ways to increase leverage and unload hidden risk on the rest of the system. They make the total economic pie smaller, not bigger. So an incentive system that steers society's brightest to the financial industry is actually counterproductive.

We really don't need smart people to do the essential service that this industry needs to perform, which is to make capital available to worthwhile investment projects. There is almost never a worthwhile investment that fails to happen for lack of finance. Most projects can be operated initially on a small scale (Jobs and Wozniak, for example, started in their parents' garages). If you have a killer idea and a bank won't lend to you, a group of friends can, say, by taking second mortgages on their houses. Then once the idea's viability is clearly established, traditional lending institutions will stumble all over themselves to provide additional capital. Geniuses aren't required here.

So in the financial industry, we actually have the luxury of entertaining the possibility of adopting one of the populist pay cap proposals that would be folly in almost any other industry.

In general, I read Frank as arguing for a pretty explicit tradeoff here: Interventions into market pay are bad. Letting financial compensation continue to inflate the relative attractiveness of the industry, however, is worse. I don't know that this really gets to the question of how, precisely, you go at these earnings. But it's a fair argument for why you want to get at them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Our Broken Media ...

Think Progress: NYT Lends Credibility To The Launch Of Swift Boater’s Latest Pollution-Funded Science-Denying Venture
In today’s New York Times, reporter Leslie Kaufman profiles Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) former climate change skeptic spokesman, Marc Morano, and the launch of his latest effort to distort and deny the science of climate change, Joe Romm responded at Climate Progress, “[T]he paper of record has decided to promote the new disinformation campaign of the least credible global warming denier in the country.”

It’s not entirely clear why Kaufman would give Morano such credulous treatment. As Kaufman herself points out, Morano began his career as a “reporter” for Rush Limbaugh, later launched the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign smearing Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), and most recently earned $134,000 a year distributing false and inaccurate press releases for climate change denier Inhofe.

The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson recently explained that under Inhofe, Morano constructed a “global warming denier propaganda machine.” More recently, Johnson explained that Morano will use that machine to power and promote his new venture. Still, Kaufman seems to suggest that Morano’s work on climate science is credible and even award-winning:

Mr. Morano is proud of his work, which he says is not advocacy but truth seeking.

“Even in the Senate, I’d put up any of the stories we did against any pablum Time or Newsweek has put out on global warming,” he said. “We’d link to the other side; we’d present their arguments. They do one-sided screeds.”

In 2007, he points out, the Republican Web site of Mr. Inhofe’s committee won an award from the independent Congressional Management Foundation.

Kaufman fails to note, however, that the criteria used by the Congressional Management Foundation to award Inhofe’s committee website its “Gold Mouse” award does not factor in the accuracy of the material presented. Rather, the group’s award focuses on issues related to website design and usability.

Morano’s new site, which is a part of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), as aims to “serve as a ‘clearinghouse and one-stop shopping’ for climate and environmental news.” But CFACT is “part of the Scaife network of conservative front groups, supported by the Richard Mellon Scaife family fortune and corporations like Exxon Mobil.” As Johnson put it, “Climate Depot is sure to fit seamlessly into Morano’s alternate-reality right-wing universe of Newsbusters, the Drudge Report, and Glenn Beck.” If today’s article is any indicator, perhaps the New York Times is ready to go along as well.

All the news ...

Yglesias on The Cross of Corn

Tom Laskaway links to an enlightening CBO report on ethanol’s impact on food prices and carbon emissions which concludes that it makes food more expensive (boo!) while arguably increasing carbon emissions (also boo!) to say nothing of the direct budgetary costs of ethanol subsidies. His post asks “Is ethanol’s Congressional free ride coming to an end?”

I’m going to say no. The appeal of ethanol to the congress has nothing to do with issues about the merits of ethanol.

Think Progress: McCain’s former economic adviser flips on Bush tax cuts.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) top economic adviser and former CBO director, Douglas Holtz Eakin, argued passionately for McCain’s proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts (and cut some more taxes for the wealthy on top of it). Holtz-Eakin, however, has now come out against making the tax cuts permanent, acknowledging that it would explode the deficit:

Though economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin spent the 2008 presidential campaign advising Sen. John McCain to defend the Bush-era tax cuts, he now thinks they should be allowed to expire on Dec. 31, 2010 due to “the prospect of an Argentina-style fiscal meltdown.” Said Holtz-Eakin: “If you ask: ‘Who pays the taxes?’, it’s the first step toward not having the answer be: ‘Our kids.’”

Recall, McCain also flip-flopped on the Bush tax cuts, but he opposed the cuts in 2001 and argued for them in 2008.

Ezra Klein correcting history on THE "MALAISE" SPEECH.

Kevin Mattson has a nice piece in the latest issue of The Prospect that tries to correct the historical record on Jimmy Carter's famous malaise speech. Mattson thinks you might have some misconceptions about the address. First, you might think it included the word "malaise." It didn't. And you might think it was unpopular. It wasn't:

You might have heard that the speech was a disaster. That it was all about Jimmy Carter, the "loser" president, shirking his responsibilities. Sean Wilentz writes in The Age of Reagan, "Carter appeared to be abdicating his role as leader and blaming the people themselves for their own afflictions." This interpretation is repeated countless times in history textbooks.

But in fact, the speech worked. It prompted an overwhelmingly favorable response. Carter received a whopping 11 percent rise in his poll numbers. The mail that poured into the White House testified that many citizens felt moved by the speech. One man wrote to Carter, "You are the first politician that [sic] has said the words that I have been thinking for years. Last month I purchased a moped to drive to work with. I plan to use it as much as possible, and by doing so I have cut my gas consumption by 75%."

In the end, Jimmy Carter did blow the situation, but it wasn't because of the speech itself. Rather, he blew the opportunity that the speech opened up for him. Just two days after July 15, Carter fired his Cabinet, signifying a governmental meltdown. The president's poll numbers sank again as confusion and disarray took over. Carter could give a great speech, but there were two things he couldn't manage: to govern well enough to make his language buoy him or to find a way to yoke the energy crisis with concrete civic re-engagement initiatives. Though Americans were inspired by the speech, many were still stumped as to what was expected of them. As Time magazine described it: "The President basked in the applause for a day and then set in motion his astounding purge, undoing much of the good he had done himself."

This isn't just a matter of correcting the historical record. The "lesson" of the malaise speech was that presidents can't ever question America's greatness or ask for personal sacrifice on the part of its people. Politics, we were told, must be a realm of happy talk and big smiles. As Mattson writes, "From that moment, sacrifice and civic obligation faded from presidential rhetoric. You never heard Carter's language from either of the Bushes -- not even in the wake of September 11, when W. instead told Americans to go shopping." That lesson was based off the supposedly historic unpopularity of a speech that was in fact wildly popular. The real lesson of that period is that presidents shouldn't abruptly fire their cabinet and signal that their government has fallen into chaos. Voters, it turns out, have a quirky tendency to find that sort of behavior unsettling.

Kurtz (TPM): More Troubling Signs

A lawyer representing detainees at Gitmo tells TPMmuckraker that the foot-dragging and stonewalling that marked the Bush Administration's handling of detainee cases continues unabated under President Obama:

It did not surprise me in the slightest that the Bush administration would do everything in its power to subvert the Supreme Court's ruling. I expected that. What I did not expect is that there would be absolutely zero change in the stonewall strategy when the [new] administration came in.

Zack Roth has more.

Yglesias says: Know Your Branches

I think this from Chris Bowers brings a much-needed perspective to the oft-cranky discussions of the Obama administration at Open Left:

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Senate, rather than the Obama administration, is the biggest obstacle to progressive governance right now. If we were dealing with only the House and the Obama administration, there would be a noticeably more progressive government in America. From health care reconciliation, to 100% auction cap and trade, to a larger stimulus package, to bailout reform, to bankruptcy “cramdown” reform, and even to executive compensation, the Senate has moved to the right of both the House and the Obama administration. As such, it is the Senate, and not the Obama administration, against whom we should be directing more of our distrust and pressure.

Just imagine what we would have accomplished in terms of legislation without the Senate over the past few months. The stimulus would have had a hundred billion more in spending, 100% auctions would be on their way, hundreds of billions for new health care would be on its way, bankruptcy “cramdown” would be law, EFCA would be law, executive compensation limits would be far more severe, and on and on and on. However, if we had the Senate but there was no President, the legislative accomplishments would have been pretty much the same.

I think it’s crucially important to be aware of where the responsibility for disappointments lies. There are some important areas where the Obama administration really is the key actor. They are the ones taking positions on executive power that are at odds with what many people were hoping for from a new administration. And if you want to talk about strategy toward Afghanistan, the Obama administration takes full responsibility for whatever good or bad is coming out of that. But on basic domestic policy legislation, the essence of the matter is that the median member of the House of Representatives is more progressive than the median Senator and a lot more progressive than the sixtieth Senator you need to break a filibuster. Mark Pryor and Susan Collins are trying to unleash some torrent of liberal legislation that Obama is holding back.


On April 7th, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, delivered the mea culpa many have been waiting for. Wall Street, he said, "look self-serving and greedy in hindsight." He admitted that "we rationalized because our self-interest in preserving and growing our market share, as competitors, sometimes blinds us," and wondered "we collectively neglected to raise enough questions about whether some of the trends and practices that became commonplace really served the public's long-term interests." This wasn't a mistake, he said. It was a systemic failure. And a new regulatory structure will be required to prevent its recurrence.

Blankfein's whole speech is here, and worth a read. Steve Pearlstein gave it a nice write-up in The Washington Post, and made a corrective point that's worth echoing:

Blankfein also makes the common mistake to think that the problem with compensation has only to do with how the pay is structured and not with the overall level of pay, which on Wall Street got to be ridiculously out of line with that of similarly skilled and equally successful people in other industries. No matter how it is structured, pay at such astronomical levels has a tendency to swell heads, inflate egos and tempt people to take undue risks of all sorts, ethical as well as financial.[...]

Of course, an industry that earns so much profit that it can afford to pay multimillion-dollar bonuses to 26-year-old traders also has too much money to lavish on the political process in ways that undermine those who would regulate it. I wouldn't go as far as MIT economist Simon Johnson, who argues in the May Atlantic magazine that the United States has effectively become a banana republic with the Wall Street oligarchy running the show. What is undeniable, however, is that there are regulators here in Washington who have been reluctant to rein in the industry out of fear that they would be thwarted by the White House, the Treasury and key members of Congress acting under pressure from the industry.

Right. Everyone agrees on that the structure of the money misaligned the incentives. But the arguably bigger problem was that there was simply too much goddamn money. The possible rewards for discovering a new instrument or exploiting an innovative arbitrage scheme were so awesome, so staggering, that it would have been contrary to human nature for the industry not to fall into wild excess.

Put it this way: If every time journalists broke even a small news story, they were given $6 million, you'd probably have a lot more unethical behavior, a lot more burned sources, and a lot more useless, and even counterproductive, competition to sensationalize scoops or invent new controversies that could then be dominated. Some profit motive is good. But too much profit motive turns sane men mad.

Those Crazy Repuglicans: Colleague on Fire Editions

Why are repugs saying Obama is cutting defense?

Benen on what happened AFTER THE SEGMENT....
It was a very special episode of Glenn Beck's Fox News show, when he pretended to douse a colleague in gasoline while talking about setting himself on fire, but what I found especially interesting is what happened immediately afterwards.

You may have seen this clip already. After learning that President Obama might eventually embrace an immigration-reform legislation along the lines of the proposal touted by George W. Bush and John McCain (in at least one of McCain's various personas), Beck said, "President Obama, why don't you just set us on fire?"

From there, Beck had a fairly predictable tantrum -- he's apparently upset about France, bowing, Guantanamo, Cuba, etc. -- before concluding that we might "lose the Republic." To drive his point home, Beck took a gasoline container, and pretended to pour gas over Fox News' Bill Schulz.

This was so completely insane, it was probably the first time I genuinely started to wonder if Beck's derangement is an elaborate act. A guy this crazy, in real life, might try to eat his shoes while arguing with mailboxes. Getting dressed and making it to a television studio every day would be difficult.

But that's not really the interesting part. Alex Koppelman added, "Unfortunately, not captured in the video is what happened next, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry came on and Beck asked, 'Governor, you're regretting being on this program at this point, are you not, sir?' Perry responded, 'Not at all, Glenn Beck. I'm proud to be with you.'"

And that, in a nutshell, helps explain what's gone terribly wrong with conservative Republicans of late. Beck appears to be in desperate need of medication, and the chief executive of one of the nation's largest states is "proud" to appear on the show, just moments after Beck pretended to set a colleague on fire.

Credible, serious public officials would ordinarily want to avoid making eye contact with a deranged figure, but Gov. Perry was delighted to chat with the Fox News lunatic. Maybe it's because Perry actually finds Beck's madness compelling; maybe it's because Perry has a big Republican primary coming up and wants to curry favor with Beck's followers.

Either way, it's a problem for the party and the conservative movement. Conservative blogger Rick Moran said yesterday, "Beck worries me. Conservatives worry me. I worry about myself. I feel trapped in a huge ball of cotton, trying gamely to make my way out but don't know which direction to start pushing. I am losing contact with those conservatives who find Beck anything more than a clown -- and an irrational one at that."

If the GOP wants to pick itself up off the mat, this would be a good place to start.

McCarthyism revisited April 9: GOP in Exile: Rachel Maddow talks about how a GOP Congressman says he has a secret list of socialists he works with in Congress. Huh?

JedLewinson is on a video tear:

And, in case you missed that priceless cultural reference, here is Miss Teen USA 2007 from South Carolina (over 34,000,000 YouTube views):

Over the last couple of months, we've learned a few tenets of Republican thinking that are, to the GOP, fundamental truths. Government spending, for example, does not create jobs and cannot stimulate the economy. What's more, the only thing worse than government spending is government spending on unnecessary programs. It has always been thus; it will always be so.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a conservative Georgia Republican, has been pretty consistent on these points. His approach to the economy is strikingly incoherent, but at least everyone knew exactly where Chambliss stood -- we can't stimulate the economy with government spending, and wasteful spending is manifestly repulsive.

That is, until this week, when Chambliss suddenly changed his mind. Brian Beutler reports that the Georgian called into NPR yesterday and "argued that there's no better way to create jobs (read: stimulate the economy) than...with government spending." Chambliss said:

"Well listen, the jobs are important any time, whether you're in a fiscal crisis or not. But now, when we're in these very difficult times, certainly it's even more important.

"I've been an advocate not just of spending more money on the F-22 but on -- when it comes to stimulating the economy, there's no better way to do it than to spend it in the defense community."

Let's all welcome Sen. Chambliss to the Big Government Club. It's a delight to see such a far-right lawmaker embrace the notion that government spending stimulates the economy, and I can only assume that Americans can count on his support -- from now on -- on economic recovery efforts.

I should, of course, acknowledge the inverse of this, which the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb touched on yesterday: if liberals like government spending so much, why would they support the Gates restructuring plan that scraps spending on a variety of military programs?

The answer, of course, is that those who approve of Gates' plan are endorsing sensible government spending. The administration wants to spend an additional $21 billion on the military over Bush's last budget, focusing those investments to address modern national security challenges. Gates' blueprint identifies spending we don't need, and redirects the money to better uses.

In other words, it reduces waste, which is part of the conservative mantra, isn't it?

Or not discovering their love of stimulus. Aravosis: GOP chair Steele questions whether we're really in an economic crisis

The far-right extremists running the Republican party today do not believe that we are in any kind of economic crisis. That is why Steele said this today. That is why the Republicans all voted against the stimulus (why vote to save the country from falling into a depression if you think the economy is fine?). That is why GOP governors are turning away stimulus money, and risking their own local economies and the national economy. Because the far-right extremists who have taken over the Republican party do not believe that the economy is in any trouble. Talk to anyone. Ask them how their sales are going. Ask them how many customers they have this years as compared to last. Ask them if they still have a job, if they're still working a full week. This goes beyond out of touch. It's basically insane. The media really needs to come down hard on this - the Republicans need to be grilled on why they continue to believe that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.


Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, has a reputation for knowing what he's talking about. Keep that in mind when reading this exchange between Ryan and Sean Hannity last night:

HANNITY: You talk about the demonizing: This has become a mantra, tax cuts for the wealthy, Republicans don't care about the poor. They've been very effective in their bumper stickers and slogans and propaganda. How do you convince people that this benefits everybody ... when the Democrats are out there saying you don't care about the poor, which I know is a lie. But what's the answer?

RYAN: Well, look, what we're proposing is we're going to give taxpayers a choice. You can have the current tax code with all of its loopholes and bells and whistles, or if you want a simplified system that fits on a postcard, two rates, 10 percent and 25 percent. It's progressive.

Now, we've joked over the years about the Republican drive to "create their own reality," but let's be clear: they're not allowed to create their own dictionaries.

A "progressive" tax system has a certain meaning -- to over-simplify a bit, those who have more, pay more. What Ryan has recommended isn't "progressive" in the slightest, because it gives enormous breaks to the wealthy, while increasing the tax burden on everyone else. That's the opposite of a "progressive" structure.

Maybe this is why the White House hasn't had more productive policy discussions with congressional Republicans. They think a $21 billion increase in defense spending is a "cut"; they think a five-year spending freeze is stimulative; and their top budget guy thinks a regressive tax system is "progressive."

It's pretty tough to find common ground between sensible and nutty. When GOP officials wonder why they haven't played a more substantive policy-making role, this should be a pretty big hint.

Joe Klein: Krauthammer Desperately Seeking Nail

Charles Krauthammer, the ultimate bleating-heart neoconservative, is all atwitter over Barack Obama's foreign trip. Where most rational observers saw a significant U.S. triumph, the beginning of our reconciliation with the rest of the world after eight years of stupid bellicosity, destructive threats and empty bluster, Krauthammer sees decline and weakness. Obama admitted past U.S. misbehavior! That is surely a sign of weakness...or maybe, perhaps, a sign of renewed strength? Or maybe, it's just being honest, a quality the Bush Administration eschewed. The Euros chose not to play on Afghanistan? Perhaps that had something to do with the Bush Administration's myopic avoidance of that theater of battle for the past seven years--the Euros, not the heartiest of allies when it comes to warmaking, were left to fend for themselves without any U.S. leadership or much U.S. support and they are aching to leave now. Over the next year, we'll see what effect a renewed US good-faith effort in Afghanistan has when it comes to stiffening the spines of our allies. The Euros didn't buy Obama's plea for a stimulus plan? Perhaps that has something to do with the rampant corruption that has marked US-style capitalism during the Reagan-Bush era. Oh--and uh-oh--another sign of Obama's embrace of weakness: he actually admitted that the US finance-thieves had been part of the problem.

And there was--oh. my. God.--the failed North Korean rocket launch. The Gates Defense budget is cutting anti-missile defense systems in Alaska. More Obama wimposity! Except that Gates has decided not to spend tens of billions on an anti-missile system (that doesn't work) to counter a North Korean rockets (that don't work) carrying North Korean atomic bombs (that have, so far, fizzled when tested). The real North Korean threat, created by George W. Bush's first-term ineptness, is the nuclear fuel that was produced in the past six years--fuel that the wildly impoverished North Koreans could sell to terrorists or rogue states (as they sold their nuclear plant design to the Syrians). That is a threat that doesn't yield easily to the empty bluster of neocons--indeed, it was accelerated by US bluster.

The point is that Krauthammer's nonsense--the whole neoconservative project--proved an utter failure during the Bush years and now exists well outside a vast, stable, liberal-moderate consensus on foreign policy that includes most Democrats, the Bush 41 realists and the leading strategists of the U.S. military. Rectifying the Bush 43 embarrassment will not be easy and it will not come quickly. There are no Krauthammers and nails when it comes to diplomacy. But Obama's effort to show the rest of the world that the US can be trusted to lead once more is precisely what is needed right now.

Sully on The Tea Tantrum Movement

I spent the better part of an hour earlier today scanning the various sites and blogs to try and understand what specifically the Fox-Pajamas tea parties are about. Having absorbed about as much of the literature as I can, I have to say I'm still befuddled.

Option 1: It's a protest of the bank bailouts orchestrated by Bush and now Obama. But surely these tea-partiers understand what would happen if we didn't bail the banks out. Are they advocating letting major banks fail? Or are they advocating a Krugman-style government take-over? No idea.

Option 2: It's a protest against tax hikes. But there have barely been any! Are they arguing that the planned return to Clinton era marginal rates is an outrage worthy of the colonists ... only months after an election in which the winning candidate ran on exactly that platform? Is that postponed future increase so radical that it demands a protest modeled on one in which people were taxed with no representation at all? Truly bizarre. And when you consider that we have gone through a very long period of relatively low taxation for the very successful, and a very long period in which their wealth has soared, and after an election where a majority of such people voted for Obama, the extremism seems unrelated to anything substantive underneath it.

Option 3: It's a protest against illegal immigration. Ok, so why the tea? Weren't all the original tea-partiers illegal immigrants?

Option 4: It's a protest against government debt. Yay! I will leave aside the somewhat awkward fact that Fox News and Pajamas Media barely covered the massive debt racked up by the Republicans during a period of economic growth. Instead, I'll proffer a simple point: If the tea-partiers are concerned about debt and concerned about taxes, one presumes they favor drastic spending cuts. But what are the tea-partiers proposing to do to Medicare, Medicaid, and social security?

I'd love to see a proposal that they support on any of these entitlement programs, but particularly Medicare which is the culprit for much of the debt burden. Where is it? Or are we really going to hear more diversions about "pork"?

As a fiscal conservative who actually believed in those principles when the Republicans were in power, I guess I should be happy at this phenomenon. And I would be if it had any intellectual honesty, any positive proposals, and any recognizable point. What it looks like to me is some kind of amorphous, generalized rage on the part of those who were used to running the country and now don't feel part of the culture at all. But the only word for that is: tantrum.

These are not tea-parties. They are tea-tantrums. And the adolescent, unserious hysteria is a function not of a movement regrouping and refinding itself. It's a function of a movement's intellectual collapse and a party's fast-accelerating nervous breakdown.

The Ladies from "Sex and the City" Explain Teabagging

Thank you, JedL, for creating this video. Fox has a teabagg’n problem

Fox has spent the past few weeks relentlessly hyping their ‘tax day teabag parties’ as the second coming of Barry Goldwater, but now it turns out they have a bit of a problem.

A teabagg’n problem:

  • adds: My goodness, those FOX guys love their teabagging. They just can't stop talking about it. And, many of the FOX "stars" are going to cover the teabagging live. Can they show that on TV????

DougJ: Cheaper than a discount tea bag
This just came in from Human Events:

In 1773, a handful of men dumped tea into the Boston Harbor. That one act set in motion a chain of events that birthed the greatest nation on earth. But today, many Americans feel helpless as they watch an imperialistic government destroy our Constitution and 237 years of liberty.

The first American Tea Party birthed a nation. The second American Tea Party could help save it!

Just like our Founding Fathers, we’re tired of the way our government is behaving. And lawmakers are refusing to listen. It’s time to exercise our first amendment right and make a statement. The Patriot Depot is helping our friends at raise funds to take 1,000,000 tea bags to the nation’s capital.

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  • Steve Benen adds:
    The stickers, signs, and shirts have a simple enough message: "T.E.A. Taxed Enough Already."

    And that's where I start to get confused about why these events are occurring. Obama already passed the largest middle-class tax cut in history. Yes, he's proposing increasing the top rate back to where it was when our economy was healthy, but that only means that folks with household income below a quarter-mil aren't really in a position to whine about the administration's agenda.

    For that matter, given the last several decades, 36.9% is hardly the stuff of revolution. Indeed, Obama's rates will be lower than most modern Republican presidents' rates -- and have I mentioned lately that Reagan raised taxes, too?

    Which brings us back to where we started: what are these people whining about again? They don't like economic recovery efforts, but the stimulus has already passed and it's a little late to rally opposition to it. They don't like budget deficits, unless they're run by Republican presidents. They don't want their taxes to go up, but Obama has already passed a significant tax cut.

    Andrew Sullivan summarized this nicely: "These are not tea-parties. They are tea-tantrums. And the adolescent, unserious hysteria is a function not of a movement regrouping and refinding itself. It's a function of a movement's intellectual collapse and a party's fast-accelerating nervous breakdown."

    Post Script: By the way, I dare you to watch Rachel Maddow's segment on this from last night and not laugh. It was the first time I can recall seeing Rachel blush on the air.

Morning Clippings: violence, cruelty, and revenge Edition

The Ole Professor's Thought for the Day: We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice - that is, until we have stopped saying 'It got lost,' and say, 'I lost it.' -Sydney J. Harris, journalist (1917-1986)

The Right’s Anti-Koh Letter

I’d long wondered what, exactly, the “Center for Ethics and Public Policy” is. After reading the letter Dave Weigel found “that John Fonte of the Ethics and Public Policy Center is passing around conservative circles, collecting signatures to oppose the nomination of Harold Koh” I suppose we can see at least part of the answer, namely that they’re applying “ethics” to “public policy” through the advocacy of torture, aggressive war, and impeding efforts to bring war criminals to justice.

The official purpose of the CEPP, though, is to “clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.” Obviously, this is a broader issue than Koh or John Fonte, but as a secular person who thinks there’s a lot of wisdom in traditional Christian ethical thought it always strikes me as very odd that modern-day manifestations of Christian political activism in the United States so often take the form of advocacy for violence, cruelty, and revenge.

Ya Think? From the Times:

As Stocks Surge, Fears Linger About the Economy

The sudden turnaround has investors wondering if the markets have bottomed out or if larger problems are being ignored.

rom the Times:

Mugabe Aides Are Said to Use Violence to Gain Amnesty

President Robert Mugabe’s top lieutenants are trying to force the political opposition to grant them amnesty for past crimes by torturing opposition officials.

Aravosis: Arizona State refuses Obama honorary degree. Says he hasn't accomplished enough in life.
Arizona State University invited President Obama to speak at their commencement, but they've notified the leader of the free world that he won't be getting an honorary degree because, well, you know, it's great that he's the first black president and everything (yes, they noted that he's black), but maybe he could come back after he finishes his term, and if he's accomplished anything significant by then, the president of the Harvard of the desert will be happy to reconsider whether the President of the United States of America has accomplished anything significant in his life.

Now, before anyone thinks this is about racism or anything, it should be noted that Arizona State is happy to bestow honorary degrees on other people of color (or at least non-white color) who have accomplished great things in their lives, like the vice minister of education of communist China. Who I'm sure is a very nice woman, when she's not pimping for a dictatorship that oppresses fifteen percent of the world's entire population.
  • John Cole: Smackdown on Hardball
    Wow. I honestly don’t think you would have seen something like this just a few years ago, but Lawrence O’Donnell is all up in Pat Buchanan’s grill in this Hardball segment about the right-wing fauxtrage the past few weeks about Obama visiting Notre Dame:

    Buchanan was left sputtering, and you don’t see that too often. Democrats are definitely feeling as if they are in charge now.

hilzoy: Unified Electronic Medical Records!

More good news:

"President Obama announced plans on Thursday to computerize the medical records of veterans into a unified system, a move that is expected to ease the now-cumbersome process that results in confusion, lost records and bureaucratic delays.

Medical information will flow directly from the military to the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system. At present, veterans must hand carry their medical records to Veterans Affairs' facilities once they leave active-duty service. The Veterans Affairs system has a backlog of 800,000 disability claims, which means that veterans typically wait six months for decisions on their cases.

The task of creating a unified system will be handled by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. The undertaking has repeatedly confounded the two agencies in the past, and it remains unclear how long the project will take and how much it will cost. (...)

Mr. Obama also voiced support for a measure that would allow Congress to approve the money for veterans' medical care one year in advance. Congress has been routinely late in passing the bill that finances the Department of Veterans Affairs, a delay that hampers medical care for veterans and makes planning difficult. (...)

Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that modernizing medical records and allowing the two systems -- military and veterans affairs -- to talk to each other would have a dramatic effect on care.

Recently, Mr. Rieckhoff said, a Veterans Affairs doctor told him he had encountered a soldier with a brain injury, an amputation and a septic leg. The doctor had no idea how the man had been hurt because he did not have a complete file, he said.

"If you are a wounded service member, you have no continuity through the system," Mr. Rieckhoff said on Thursday."

This is really important. In a world in which medical records can be stored electronically, there's no excuse for veterans, especially wounded veterans, having to trudge around taking their files from one office to another. There's even less of an excuse if it delays their getting the care they need.

One of the things I minded about the Bush administration was that they didn't seem at all interested in trying to get government to work better. Unfortunately, this was dwarfed by little things like torture, starting unnecessary wars, and defying the law, but still. Likewise, this was, unfortunately, not at the top of my reasons for supporting Obama, but his legislation always included a lot of good, workmanlike ways of making things work better, and I imagined he'd do the same as President. I'm so glad he is.

Chris in Paris (AmBlog): Federal government places order with Detroit for fuel efficient cars
This is a good move and works for everyone. If Detroit is going to build the right cars that save money and are good for the environment then they ought to be supported. If Chrysler wants to keep rolling out gas guzzlers, let them fail.
President Barack Obama, saying he was committed to a strong U.S. auto industry, announced on Thursday that the government would purchase 17,600 new fuel-efficient vehicles from American automakers by June 1.

Obama said the vehicles, part of the U.S. government fleet, would be purchased from

General Motors, privately held Chrysler and Ford, all of which had an existing contract with the federal government's General Services Administration.

Daily Kos' BarbinMD: Republicans Continue To Lie About Pew Poll

I suppose this should be filed under other breaking news like "the sky is blue," and "grass is green," but I'll say it anyway: Republicans continue to lie about the recent Pew Poll, using it to say things like

Yet no president in the past 40 years has done more to polarize America so much, so quickly. - Karl Rove

But as reported by Greg Sargent at The Plum Line:

Many on the right have grabbed on to the Pew poll’s finding that Obama’s approval rating has a 61-point partisan gap — 27% of Republicans approve, while 88% of Dems do. Pew called the numbers “the most polarized” in decades but didn’t blame Obama.

Pew associate director Dimock, however, says this is a misreading of the poll. Dimock says the divide is driven by long term trends and by the uncommonly enthusiastic reaction to Obama by members of his own party — by what he calls “the way Democrats are reacting to Obama.”

Interestingly, Dimock also said this phenomenon is partly caused by the recent tendency of Republicans to be less charitable towards new Presidents than Dems have been.

In contrast to the 27% of GOPers approving of Obama now, more than a third of Dems (36%) approved of George W. Bush at a comparable time in 2001. Before that, only 26% of Republicans approved of Bill Clinton at the same time in his presidency, while 41% of Dems approved of both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan at comparable times.

And as Chuck Todd explains:

And then the other thing that Republicans ought to be aware of when they're making these charges, is that the pool of Republicans has gotten smaller, and so sure, the most conservative part of the party is still identifying themselves as Republicans, and absolutely, three out of four disapprove of the President's job. But there are a lot of former Republicans sitting in that independent category now, Nora, and a majority of independents do approve of the President's job. So it is a, it's one of these things that Republicans ought to be careful about how they're writing it because it's not, it's not the best news. It's a smaller group of Republicans that are identifying themselves that way and when you're getting shellacked in the middle like that, it doesn't matter what the ends look like. The middle is what decides these elections and right now we're seeing the President, he had big numbers with the middle during the election and he still has big numbers with them now.

Conservatives go teabagging

I'm dying here. :-)

ROTFLMAO. Conservatives go teabagging April 9: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow dips into subject of conservative activists expressing themselves through teabagging. Air America Radio national correspondent Ana Marie Cox offers top-down analysis.
In case you missed the omnipresent double entendre's in Rachel's piece:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Our Failed MSM

Foser: Stenography v. Journalism

Reporters tend to bristle when media critics refer to them as "stenographers." But Paul Kane of the Washington Post provides a pretty clear illustration of where that criticism comes from. Here's something Kane said during an online discussion Kane participated in today (the discussion carries tomorrow's date, but tomorrow hasn't occurred yet, so please believe me when I say it took place today):

Paul Kane: We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That's what she said. That's what Republicans are saying. I really don't know what you want of us.

Got that? Olympia Snowe said something, Paul Kane wrote it down, and he doesn't know what more anyone could want from him.

Well, it isn't very complicated: Context. That's what people want. Like the fact that Olympia Snowe had previously voted to do exactly what Kane quotes her criticizing -- that's useful context.

And that's the difference between "journalism" and "stenography."

Here's the full question-and-answer:

New York, N.Y.: Paul, do you care to defend yourself against this criticism from Media Matters?

"In an April 9 article about Democrats' legislative priorities, The Washington Post wrote, 'Democrats are sure to incite Republicans if they adopt a shortcut that would allow them to pass major health-care and education bills with just 51 votes in the Senate, where Democrats are two seats shy of the filibuster-proof margin of 60 seats. The rule, known as 'reconciliation,' would fuel GOP charges that (President) Obama has ditched bipartisanship.' The article, by Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray, then quoted Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) saying, 'If they exercise that tool, it's going to be infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide.' However, Kane and Murray did not mention that congressional Republicans -- including Snowe herself -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass major Bush administration initiatives. Indeed, Murray herself noted in an April 1 article that '(a)dvocates defend reconciliation as a legitimate tool used more often by Republicans in recent years, most notably to pass President George W. Bush's tax cuts.' "

Paul Kane: I'm sorry, what's to defend?

Someone tell Media Matters to get over themselves and their overblown ego of righteousness. We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That's what she said. That's what Republicans are saying. I really don't know what you want of us. We are not opinion writers whose job is to play some sorta gotcha game with lawmakers.

That's what columns and blogs are for. Look, Republcians will take reconciliation as a serious poison pill to Obama's so-called bipartisan/post-partisan era. The Republicans did this, in the most direct correlation, with welfare in the mid-90s. And Democrats took it as a vicious partisan maneuver.

That's what is happening, that's what we reported. [Emphasis added]

Beutler (TPM): You Can Lead A Reporter to Water, But You Can't Make Him Call It A Spending Increase

They just can't help themselves! In a live Q&A session today, a reader asked Washington Post Congressional reporter Paul Kane a question that's been on our minds for days now. "I keep hearing the term 'budget cuts,' but the defense budget isn't being cut at all," the reader writes. "Money is being redirected to other defense priorities, but the overall budget is increasing by 4%.... So why is it that certain pols are allowed to spout this inane lie with impunity."

Kane didn't respond to that question, but he did explain that Gates is trying to spend money more wisely...albeit amid a four percent budget cut that's not actually happening.

If I spend $100,000 a year, and I spend it on a whole bunch of garbage -- CDs from stupid American Idol contestants, trips to Atlantic City, etc. -- it's a whole lot better for me if I reorient my budget to spend my money on a downpayment for a new house at a cutrate deal, as well as Springsteen CDs (instead of Idol folks) and trips of value to see friends and family. I might still spend $96,000, but I've spent it a lot more wisely.

That's what Gates is trying to do.

Ummm. Ok. I'm as big a Springsteen fan as anybody. But if we're sticking with this analogy, then the idea is that Gates is buying so many Springsteen CDs this year that he's actually increasing his annual spending to $104,000. A four percent growth, as the reader noted. At about $20 a pop, that's a lot of copies of Nebraska--which may or may not be worth it, but, to quote Paul, that's what Gates is trying to do.

  • Beutler: Retired Admiral And Current House Dem Pushes Back On 'Cuts' Meme

    You probably haven't seen too many mainstream media reports of politicians arguing convincingly in favor of Gates' defense overhaul, but Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) did just that on Morning Joe earlier today. Watch:

    The capsule version is this: Sestak first corrected Joe Scarborough's assertion that the Gates plan amounts to spending cuts, and then went on to defend the overhaul on the merits (why we don't need to buy an extra handful of multi-billion dollar ships, but should modernize the existing fleet, etc.) and to accurately characterize the looming, sure-to-be bruising battle in Congress.

    This is important coming from Sestak, for a few reasons. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He's a young legislator, but very well regarded by his peers. He's a retired Admiral (the highest-ranking officer ever elected to Congress), so he knows a thing or two about what the military does and doesn't need. And though his state and his district stand to lose lucrative contracts under the Gates plan he's nonethelessrather enthusiastic about it.

    Sestak serves in the Pennsylvania delegation alongside powerful Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), a former marine, who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and who released a lukewarm statement about the budget proposal earlier this week--so we'll keep an eye on his role in the proceedings.

DougJ: Fortunate one

Digby caught an amazing exchange on CNN (which you can watch here):

Thelma Guttierez: Fear for people like Mildred Copeland, who’s 84 and still waiting tables after 34 years.


Ali Velshi: That woman who you had in your story, the woman who’d been a waitress, I almost wonder whether people who live close to the edge, but don’t carry a lot of debt are not as affected by this recession. They’ve sort of been living in that state for a while. There’s not a lot of room they’ve had to fall.

Guttierez: Ali, you’re absolutely right. I think that’s the lesson here. You look at somebody like Mildred, she’s 84 years old. She’s still waiting tables, but she’s doing it to supplement her social security income. The most important thing here is that she has no mortgage..

Ali: right ..

Guttierez: She doesn’t have the monkey on her back that we all have and so she doesn’t have to worry. She feels that she can move through this crisis because she lives simply, she was able to pay off her house, and she doesn’t have the big worry so many people out there have, which is mortgage.

A lot of what is wrong with our public discourse is summarized by this exchange. Once you accept the fact that 84 year-olds who are forced to wait tables to make ends meet are lucky people, it’s a short step to thinking that anyone who would want to do something to help the working poor must not be “normal“. And it’s hard to imagine that t v anchors would talk this way if they made less money and identified less with the wealthy.