Saturday, May 2, 2009

Saturday Noon

Sully: Just Because

Scott Adams marvels at "The Power of Ridiculous Reasons":

The human mind is wired to accept ridiculous reasons as if they are legitimate. Studies have shown that people are more likely to agree to a favor if the word "because" is used in the request. It doesn't seem to matter what follows that word. As long as the sentence is in the form of a reason, people accept it as though some actual reason is present.

John Cole: Nail ‘Em To The Wall

Via the good folks at Pruning Shears, this story which just made my day:

Ron Grassi says he thought he had retired five years ago after a 35-year career as a trial lawyer.

Now Grassi, 68, has set up a war room in his Tahoe City, California, home to single-handedly take on Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings. He’s sued the three credit rating firms for negligence, fraud and deceit.

Grassi says the companies’ faulty debt analyses have been at the core of the global financial meltdown and the firms should be held accountable. Exhibit One is his own investment. He and his wife, Sally, held $40,000 in Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. bonds because all three credit raters gave them at least an A rating—meaning they were a safe investment—right until Sept. 15, the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy.

“They’re supposed to spot time bombs,” Grassi says. “The bombs exploded before the credit companies acted.”

More of this, please. These guys have, as far as I can tell, gotten away with everything and really played an integral role in letting this mess happen.

Banner Day May 1: Rachel Re: It was six years ago that President Bush made that now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech. Rachel Maddow looks back on that day, and what's going on now.

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Tristero: Nightline On Industrial Farming
I'm working my way through all the links in farmgirl's terrific post on "Swine Flu, NAFTA and U.S. farm subsidies." But I wanted to share with you a link she provided to a pretty good Nightline report on industrial pig farming including footage shot in La Gloria, Mexico, where, apparently, the earliest cases of the swine flu outbreak were reported and which lies some 12 miles away from a hug industrial hog farm owned by a Smithfield subsidiary. For those, like Digby, who were horrified by an earlier post of mine that quoted descriptions of the disgusting conditions on these farms, don't worry. The Nightline report shows nothing that will sicken you. Unless, that is, you realize that that beauty shot of a pond is not a pond of water.

Several commenters have objected to my refusal to accede to the wishes of corporate pork production and euphemize swine flu by calling it something else. Their argument is that calling swine flu "swine flu" harms small, independent pork producers. Farm Girl, who has studied food issues closely and certainly cares deeply about small, independent farming, agrees with me:
...Mexico's swine flu (and keep calling it that, no matter what the National Pork Producers say...)
In responding to the objections, I also posted several links to scientists' discussion of swine flu that make the point that the term is accurate (go here, here, and here, for example. ) In comments to my previous post, Glen Tomkins writes:
Long-established practice in the field is to characterize strains of Influenza A first and foremost by which species it attacks. Thus we have avian (or bird) flu, swine flu, horse flu, dog flu and human flu.

There are other ways to characterize a given strain, such as by which type of the two antigenic glycoproteins it displays, and by this scheme, this swine flu is H1N1, and the avian flu of recent concern is H5N1.

But characterization by the animal of origin is the more basic and informative classification, and the HxNx name should be used as the primary name only if we're talking about a strain of human flu. The animal vs human flu distinction is the most basic and informative because strains of flu adapted to animals other than humans tend to behave very differently in humans than strains adapted to us. The animal strains tend to cause more severe illness and death, because of some combination of our not being well-adapted to them, and their being not well-adapted to us. A microbe that uses us as its meal plan does not want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,and tends to do so only insofar as it hasn't "learned" any better by long practice at adapting to us. But these animal strains also tend to not spread as readily among humans, presumably because that trick, much like not killing us, also requires adaptation to our peculiarities.

So it's "swine flu", not because we have it in for the porciculturists among us, or even because "swine flu" is a sexier phrase for CNN to use than "H1N1 flu", but because that's the way the nomenclature works, and works most effectively to convey important differences in expected disease behavior that calling it "H1N1" would fail to convey.

It strikes me as exceedingly weird to insist that we describe the agent of a potential pandemic with a pretentious, and less accurate, euphemism. To do so at the insistence of powerful corporations because it might hurt their profits is simply outrageous. Again, regarding the argument that no, it's not the big guys who will be hurt, but rather the small pig farmer -well, the real danger to small pig farming is not an ignorant and transient association - eating pork products, even disgusting industrially "raised" pork products can't give you swine flu, obviously - but rather the predatory, illegal, immoral, unhealthy, and downright repulsive practices of Smithfield and their ilk, who have consolidated production and ruthlessly driven many small producers out of business.
With the Senate Democratic caucus up to 59 seats, chances are pretty good that President Obama's Supreme Court nominee will be confirmed, no matter how big a fit the right throws. Even if Republicans abandon everything they said during the Bush years and launched a filibuster, it'd be pretty difficult to sustain it.

The problem, however, might be getting the nominee to the floor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a procedural rule, Rule IV to be specific, that will require judicial nominees to get at least one vote from the minority party in order to advance to a vote of the full Senate. Up until last week, that one vote was likely to be Sen. Arlen Specter, the most moderate Republican on the committee.

Specter has, of course, become an ostensible Dem, and now there are no GOP moderates on the Judiciary Committee.

The current Republican Judiciary Committee members are: Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Jon Kyl, Jeff Sessions, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, and Tom Coburn (Roll Call is reporting that Hatch or Session -- both conservatives -- are Specter's potential successors for the ranking slot). Most of these Republicans are pretty conservative save Graham, who was a member of the Gang of 14 which, you may remember, came up with the solution to avoid the nuclear option on judges.

If Obama comes up with a nominee opposed by the right, Graham will be under a lot of pressure to block the appointment -- essentially an insurmountable committee filibuster. Rahm may want to put Graham's # on speed dial.

For what it's worth, Graham, at least for now, doesn't sound like he's inclined to block the eventual nominee.

"The only way the Obama administration can screw this up is to nominate someone who is a radical," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. Graham said Republicans understood that "you're basically going to replace one liberal with another."

Just one more angle to keep an eye on.

C&L: Ed Schultz: This is No Time for Bi-partisanship--We Need a Liberal on the Supreme Court

From the Ed Show May 1, 2009. Ed Schultz's "Op-Ed" on President Obama's choice for David Souter's replacement on the Supreme Court. Ed's got this one right. Elections have consequences. The GOP did nothing but carping over their desire for an "up and down" vote when they were wanting Bush's right wingers nominated to the point where I was ready to throw something through my television screen if I heard it one more time. Bill "the cat killer" Frist said it so many times I was wondering if he was repeating it in his sleep.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot we'll see what sort of three ring circus they put on to obstruct Obama's nomination. I await the WATB side show that is sure to come. Fortunately since we have so many of them recorded crying about getting Bush's nominees through the inevitable hissy fits will be much easier to be called out for that they are..feigned indignation and wanting things both ways. Whether our sorry ass excuse for a "mainstream media" will follow suit is another story.

C&L: Chris Matthews wonders what Jonathan Turley's motives are

You would think that Chris Matthews would know something about Jonathan Turley, since he's been on MSNBC for years and has openly spoken about the Bush administration and torture, and has consistently said that waterboarding is a war crime and should be prosecuted.

The key exchange:

TURLEY: You know, Chris, the thing that disturbs me most, the thing that I think is most grotesque, is not the thought of prosecuting high-ranking officials, it's that high-ranking officials ordered war crimes. And if we need to prosecute it to show the world that we are not hypocrites...

MATTHEWS: When did you first say that?

TURLEY: When did I first say that we should prosecute?


TURLEY: Back in the Bush administration.

MATTHEWS: And why—I remember that. Why did the—why do you think there was no call within the legal community to do what you‘re saying right now? Why was this country so relatively silent? You were out there alone. Why was this country so silent on the possibility that war crimes were being committed in this country for eight years?

TURLEY: Well, unfortunately, that was part of the distortive effect after 9/11. And quite frankly, we lost our bearings. And this really shows how dangerous torture can be. When you hate someone enough or you‘re afraid enough...

MATTHEWS: OK, so what you think is possible here...

TURLEY: ... that you can violate the law.

Transcript below the fold:

Continue reading »

Wingnuts: natural disaster Edition

I think repuglicans confuse yelling and insults for effective argument. Funny that.

Think Progress: Rep. Gohmert bashes economist John Reilly: ‘He may go to M-I-T but he is an N-U-T.’
MIT economist John Reilly has come out and criticized Republicans for distorting his research on clean energy policy. GOP officials have been repeatedly misusing his work to claim that a cap-and-trade system would cost American families $3,100 in extra energy taxes each year. (In fact, the study actually says that any tax burden would be about one-fortieth of what Republicans claim.) Instead of responding to Reilly with facts, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) is now bashing the economist with ad hominem attacks in CNS News:

Anyone who thinks you can pay $3,100 to the federal government and thinks you can get that money back completely in services — like I said — he may go to M-I-T but he is an N-U-T.

Benen: NOT A GOOD SIGN....
Paul Krugman noted the other day, "Bobby Jindal makes fun of 'volcano monitoring,' and soon afterwards Mt. Redoubt erupts. Susan Collins makes sure that funds for pandemic protection are stripped from the stimulus bill, and the swine quickly attack. What else did the right oppose recently?"

Well, as it turns out, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) doesn't want to let the Senate vote on President Obama's nominee to head FEMA.

A Louisiana senator is stalling Florida emergency management director Craig Fugate's nomination as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Fugate had sailed through his nomination hearing and Monday cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by a unanimous voice vote. Republican Sen. David Vitter said, however, that he'd blocked Fugate because of concerns he has with FEMA.

"I have a hold on the FEMA nomination because I sent a list of hurricane recovery questions and projects to FEMA, many of which have not been adequately addressed," Vitter said in a statement. "I'm eager to get full responses and meet with the nominee immediately."

Fugate, of course, was chosen to lead FEMA in large part because of his impressive work responding to hurricanes in Florida. His nomination has garnered bipartisan support and Fugate was supposed to be easily confirmed.

But Vitter, who is seeking re-election next year despite a prostitution scandal that undermined his "family values" agenda, isn't quite satisfied.

Given the recent history with Jindal and Collins, I guess this means we should be bracing for a natural disaster sometime soon.

College football=communism? May 1: GOP in Exile: Rachel Maddow talks about how Rep. Joe Barton, R-TX, compared the college bowl series to communism!

BarbinMD (Daily Kos): Michael Steele: Obama A Media-Created "Magic Negro"

There are no depths to which Michael Steele will not sink:

CALLER: I wanted to bounce off to you my opinion of the press conference on Wednesday.

STEELE: Okay, go ahead.

CALLER: That was truly an enchanting evening, wasn't it?

STEELE: I was enchanted beyond words, to the point where I was enchanted.

CALLER: It's just like the LA Times said last year, or two years ago, he is the "magic negro."

STEELE: Yeah, he (laughs) ... you read that too, huh?

CALLER: Oh yeah, I read that too, and even when things go wrong, he still manages to come out smelling like a rose.

STEELE: Well, uh, yeah. And it's because he's getting unprecedented coverage and cover by the media that is of course, his creator.

Update: Thanks for the reminder, limpidglass (via Think Progress).

TP: A big theme on the panel today was how to get the GOP to embrace minority voters. Do you think that Mr. Saltsman’s CD that he released to the RNC members helps or hurts that effort?

STEELE: Oh it doesn’t help at all. Absolutely, it reinforces a negative stereotype of the party. [...] And so now we have a opportunity to step in the breach and clear that up and make sure that people appreciate and know that look, this is not representative of the party as a whole, this is not a direction that we want to go in or a system that we believe.

New Washington, old politics May 1: With the news that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is retiring, some conservatives are opposing President Obama's pick before anyone is even named. Isn't this the same ol', same ol'? Rachel Maddow is joined by MSNBC analyst Craig Crawford.

Herbert (NYT): Out of Touch

The incredibly clueless stewards of the incredibly shrinking Republican Party would do well to recall that it was supposedly Abe Lincoln, a Republican, who said you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Not only has the G.O.P. spent years trying to fool everybody in sight with its phony-baloney, dime-store philosophies, it’s now trapped in the patently pathetic phase of fooling itself.

The economy has imploded, the auto industry is in danger of being vaporized and more than half of all working Americans are worried that they may lose their jobs in the next year. So what’s the Republican response? To build a wall of obstruction in front of efforts to get the economy moving again, and then to stand in front of that wall chanting gibberish about smaller government, lower taxes, spending cuts and Ronald Reagan.

It’s not a party; it’s a cult. I’m no fan of Arlen Specter, but if I were a Republican, I wouldn’t be shoving him out the door and waving good riddance. This is the party of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Newt (“I’m trying to rise from the ashes”) Gingrich, and the dark force who can’t seem to exit the public stage or modify his medieval ways, Dick Cheney.

It is losing all credibility with the public because it is not offering anything — anything at all — that could be viewed as helpful or constructive in a time of national crisis. And it has been unwilling to take responsibility for its role in bringing that crisis about.

Americans are aghast at what happened to the country while the G.O.P. was in charge. Iraq and Katrina come to mind, not to mention the transmutation of the Clinton surpluses into the Bush budget deficits and the collapse of the entire economy.

Trickle down. Weapons of mass destruction. Torture. Deregulation. You name it. The Republican-conservative know-it-alls of the past several years (all-too-frequently with feckless Democrats following closely behind) brought destruction and heartbreak to just about everything they touched.

And yet the G.O.P. behaves as though nothing has changed. Even in the face of a national economic nightmare, the party is offering nothing in the way of policies or new ideas that might give a bit of hope or comfort to families wrestling with joblessness, housing foreclosures and bankruptcies.

It’s a party that doesn’t seem to care about anything other than devotion to a set of so-called principles that never amounted to more than cult-like rhetoric. Waging unwarranted warfare while radically cutting taxes for the wealthy and turning the national economy into the equivalent of a Ponzi scheme may be evidence of many things, but none of them have to do with the so-called conservative principles the G.O.P. is always braying about.

When it came to looking out for the interests of ordinary working Americans, the party of just-say-no could hardly have cared less. Referring to the catastrophic ordeal of Detroit’s automakers, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the banking committee, told us last November, “The financial situation facing the Big Three is not a national problem but their problem.”

And Phil Gramm, John McCain’s top financial adviser during the presidential campaign, was enshrined in the foot-in-mouth hall of fame last summer when he said the country was experiencing “a mental recession.”

After awhile, it became all but impossible to overlook the madness of these true believers and the incalculable damage they had done to the country. Voters who hadn’t sipped from the Kool-Aid themselves couldn’t help but recognize that the G.O.P. was bizarrely detached from the real world.

It still is. In the place of constructive alternatives to Obama administration policies, it has offered increasingly hysterical rhetoric. Mr. Gingrich warned on television that the Democrats’ moves to stem the banking crisis “gives them the potential to basically create the equivalent of a dictatorship.”

Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, described President Obama as “the world’s best salesman of socialism.” And Mike Huckabee, a former Republican governor of Arkansas and presidential candidate, said of the administration’s economic policies: “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

This is not a party that can be trusted with the leadership of the country. John McCain was ready to have Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the Oval Office and reportedly wanted Phil Gramm to be his Treasury secretary. Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has the strategic sense and attention span that you’d expect to find in a frat house on Saturday night.

“I love the Oscars,” he told GQ. “I’m looking for who’s got what dress on, you know?”

All the talk about the permanent marginalization of the Republican Party is silly. It will be back. Someday. But first it will have to stop fooling itself and re-engage with the real world.
Benen: THE FNC 'SNUB'...
On Wednesday night, President Obama held a prime time White House press conference, fielding questions from a variety of news outlets. It lasted about an hour, and is always the case, some news outlets didn't get a chance to ask a question. It's the nature of the process -- some folks are going to get left out. Better luck next time.

And while it's not uncommon to hear some grumbling the morning after a press conference about one outlet or another feeling "snubbed," I can't recall the last time a news outlet whined as incessantly as Fox News is whining now about not getting called on during Wednesday's presser.

Soon after the event, Fox News was complaining. That's hardly odd. But 48 hours later, the carping was still going strong.

Chris Wallace, for example, whined yesterday about the president "boycotting" Fox News, because Fox didn't air the press conference the way the real networks did. (Is "boycott" really the right word here?) Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett said Friday the president deliberately sought "retribution" against the Republican network. Last night, Sean Hannity was outraged. Glenn Beck whined, "What a surprise. I mean how can the guy face Ahmadinejad but he can't face Fox?"

This is all terribly silly. For one thing, Fox News should be pleased it's even allowed to attend White House press conferences, as if it were a legitimate, professional news outlet. I've always considered it quite generous that the president's team doesn't just dismiss the network as a propaganda machine.

But more important is the fact that the network's incessant complaining overlooks recent history.

It's hard to suggest that Obama doesn't want to "face" Fox News, given that its White House correspondent, Major Garrett, was called on at the two previous prime-time news conferences. When Fox suggested that they were not being given enough access to Obama during last fall's presidential campaign, Garrett actually defended Obama. "[M]ay I point out Obama has done 5 interviews with me and one with Chris Wallace, one with Brit Hume and one with Bill O'Reilly," Garrett wrote in an e-mail obtained by Huffington Post.

Obama decided not to call on Fox News for one press conference, after having called on the network in the two previous press conferences. This is hardly grounds for days of on-air whimpering.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Our media: fundamental moral equation Edition

AP at it again ...
TPM: The Fact Checkers Need Fact-Checking
The AP's Calvin Woodward does what purports to be "Fact Check" on Obama's talk today in Missouri, with gems like: "It actually was [Obama] -- and the other Democrats controlling Congress the previous two years -- who shaped a budget so out of balance."

TPM: Hiatt: George Will's Critics Are "Trying To Shut Him Down"

Fred Hiatt has waded back into the debate over George Will's global warming distortions -- a debate that only makes Hiatt look more out of touch than ever.

During an online chat with readers that was supposed to be about President Obama's first 100 days, Hiatt, the editor of the Washington Post's editorial page, had the following exchange with a reader:

Boston: This doesn't relate to Obama but would you care to address the whole George Will global warming column controversy? Is there any concern that lax standards for accuracy hurts the prestige of The Post opinion page more generally?

Fred Hiatt: Happy to, because we don't have lax standards for accuracy. He addressed the factual challenges to his column in detail in a later column. In general we do careful fact checking. What people have mostly objected to is not that his data are wrong but that he draws wrong inferences. I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.

Let's start by handing this over to the Post's own Andrew Freeman, who wrote earlier this month:

[Avoiding narrow factual errors] does not constitute the end of Will's responsibility to readers. There is another important consideration, which is whether he provides readers with misleading climate science information that conflicts with what scientists know about the climate system. This is more nuanced than blatantly stating falsehoods, but it is perhaps just as important.

That's exactly right, and implicates not just Will, but his editor, too. The "wrong inferences" that Will drew -- to take one example, suggesting that cherry-picked data on global sea ice, a measurement that scientists don't even use to gauge global warming, indicate a lack of certainty about whether global warming is occurring -- go far far beyond the realm of honest debate. They are, pure and simple, deliberate attempts to mislead the Post's readers. So for Hiatt, Will's editor, it's not adequate to say, as Hiatt has before, that this is an appropriate subject for debate. By suggesting there's a debate to have, Hiatt leaves readers worse informed than before about a crucial subject.

It's almost impossible to believe that the editorial page editor of a major paper would need to have this spelled out.

Froomkin (WaPost): Krauthammer's Asterisks

Charles Krauthammer, in his Washington Post opinion column this morning, tries to find loopholes for impermissible evil.

"Torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances," he writes.

"The first is the ticking time bomb. An innocent's life is at stake. The bad guy you have captured possesses information that could save this life. He refuses to divulge. In such a case, the choice is easy."

Actually, no. The ticking time bomb scenario only exists in two places: On TV and in the dark fantasies of power-crazed and morally deficient authoritarians. In real life, things are never that certain. And trained interrogators say that even in the most extreme circumstances, traditional methods are the most effective.

Krauthammer continues: "Some people, however, believe you never torture. Ever. They are akin to conscientious objectors who will never fight in any war under any circumstances, and for whom we correctly show respect by exempting them from war duty. But we would never make one of them Centcom commander."

Actually, no. They are normal people who share the post-World War II international consensus that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." Indeed, the idea of putting someone without a healthy respect for human rights at Centcom is abhorrent -- unless of course you believe that human rights don't matter.

Krauthamer: "The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great."

This of course is a blatant post-facto attempt at rationalizing the (inevitable) misdiagnosis of the ticking time bomb scenario. Now all of a sudden the standards are lower. Krauthammer is advocating fishing expeditions -- with a waterboard.

"Under those circumstances, you do what you have to do."

Krauthammer's core argument then is that the ends justify the means. He quotes two former CIA officials, both deeply invested in covering their asses, who unsurprisingly insist that torture worked. But none of the claims they or others in the complicit chain of command have made held up under even modest public scrutiny.

And he mocks the idea put forth by President Obama on Wednesday -- and supported by people who actually have experience in interrogation, rather than in watching TV and fantasizing about being Jack Bauer -- that traditional interrogation techniques are extremely effective.

For instance, he writes: "KSM, the mastermind of 9/11 who knew more about more plots than anyone else, did not seem very inclined to respond to polite inquiries about future plans. The man who boasted of personally beheading Daniel Pearl with a butcher knife answered questions about plots with 'soon you will know' -- meaning, when you count the bodies in the morgue and find horribly disfigured burn victims in hospitals, you will know then what we are planning now."

But as Scott Shane recently pointed out in the New York Times, with more than a little understatement: "Mr. Mohammed, captured on March 1, 2003, was waterboarded 183 times that month. That striking number, which would average out to six waterboardings a day, suggests that interrogators did not try a traditional, rapport-building approach for long before escalating to their most extreme tool."

And almost nobody who knows anything about the Pearl case (see, for instance, Lawrence Wright and Peter Bergen) actually thinks KSM -- who confessed to the killing after being tortured -- had anything to do with it. Torture after all is really only good at one thing: eliciting false confessions. That we got plenty of from KSM.

But his "soon you will know" boast was all bluster -- sort of like Saddam Hussein's claim to have nuclear capability. ("Responding to bluster with war crimes" -- there's a great motto for an administration.) Nothing KSM said came close to thwarting any imminent attack. One hundred and eighty three waterboarding sessions later, the "bodies in the morgue" and the "horribly disfigured burn victims" were still only a fantasy of the torturers -- and certain opinion columnists.

Krauthammer: "The other problem is one of timing. The good cop routine can take weeks or months or years. We didn't have that luxury in the aftermath of 9/11 when waterboarding, for example, was in use."

But his compacting of the timeline is shameless revisionism. Top officials of the Bush administration -- and yes, I'm looking at you, Mr. Cheney -- panicked. And they continued to panic after any excuse for panic was long over. Waterboarding was conducted over a period of several months, long after 9/11 -- from August 2002 at least through March 2003. Other torture tactics were widely employed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo over a period of years. Legal memos defending various forms of torture were being commissioned by the White House until virtually the end of the Bush administration.

And in his final defense, Krauthammer argues that the lack of objections at the time from Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress who were briefed on interrogation policies is proof that "at the time the information was important enough, the danger great enough and our blindness about the enemy's plans severe enough to justify an exception to the moral injunction against torture."

Precisely what members of Congress were told and how they responded should absolutely be a part of any thorough official investigation into the abuses of the Bush years. The enablers must be exposed as surely as the complicit. And members of Congress who knew what was happening and remained silent must be held to public account for their moral cowardice.

But their failure to speak out does not change the fundamental moral equation.

If the United States is to live up to its core values, if it is to once again be a beacon of human rights to the world and a champion of human dignity, then when it comes to torture -- to impermissible evil, as Krauthammer himself puts it -- there can be no asterisks.

By Dan Froomkin | May 1, 2009; 9:45 AM ET
  • Sully: The Krauthammer Slope

    A reader writes:

    First they tortured in ticking time bomb cases but I didn't mind because it was a clear and imminent danger.

    Second they tortured "slow-fuse" high value detainees and I didn't mind, because you never know what might happen.

    Third they tortured Iraqi and Afghan prisoners who weren't high value, but who might have had useful information, and I didn't mind, because they were acting in good faith.

    Fourth they tortured prisoners to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam, and I didn't mind, because surely there must have been such a connection.

    Finally, they came to torture me, and nobody cared, because if I was being tortured, I obviously deserved to be tortured, and, as Peggy Noonan says, some things are just mysterious and it's best to just keep on walking.

Wingnut Friday

Josh Marshall says Some Headlines are Golden Like this one from Bloomberg: "Chrysler Lenders Tried Obama's Patience, Lost Game of Chicken"

Think Progress: Beck: ‘What a surprise,’ Obama didn’t call on Fox News during his press conference.

On his radio show today, conservative talker Glenn Beck recycled a year-old talking point to complain about President Obama not calling on anyone from Fox News during his press conference last night. "What a surprise" he said sarcastically before asking, "I mean how can the guy face Ahmadinejad but he can't face Fox?" Listen here:

It's hard to suggest that Obama doesn't want to "face" Fox News, given that its White House correspondent, Major Garrett, was called on at the two previous prime-time news conferences. When Fox suggested that they were not being given enough access to Obama during last fall's presidential campaign, Garrett actually defended Obama. "[M]ay I point out Obama has done 5 interviews with me and one with Chris Wallace, one with Brit Hume and one with Bill O'Reilly," Garrett wrote in an e-mail obtained by Huffington Post.

Think Progress: Brownie Attacks Obama Administration’s Response To Swine Flu: Officials Are Just Crying ‘Chicken Little’

Yesterday, former FEMA chief Michael Brown went on Fox Business to talk about the response of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Obama administration to the H1N1 flu virus. Brownie, who gained infamy for his incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina, launched into a tirade accusing the WHO for addressing the H1NI virus in a selfish bid to gain "more attention" and said the Obama administration is recklessly overreacting:

BROWN: Well I think there’s one thing they’re legitimately worried about and that is this H1N1 is a new strain we haven’t seen before so we’re not sure how Tamiflu and everything will work against it. Here’s what I really think is going on. I think they want to raise this level because that gives them more attention, it gives them more, you know, more legitimacy, and allows them to get out there and say ‘oh look at us, we’re in control we've got this thing taken care of.’ It legitimizes what they’re doing. We shouldn’t be scaring the public. [...]

Neil, my theory always was after Katrina that the Bush administration and now the Obama administration will do it too. They will come out and they will do everything including the kitchen sink because they don’t want to get caught with their pants down. But what that does is, that’s the same as crying the sky is falling, chicken little. And next time people will be less inclined to believe it.

Watch it:

Host Neil Cavuto tried to rehabilitate Brownie's image by telling him that he was a "sacrificial lamb" for the Bush administration's Katrina failures. But just as Brown was woefully unqualified to take the job of FEMA director, it is unclear that he knows anything more about reacting to a possible pandemic.

After all, Brown (aka "Brownie") was a central figure in the Bush administration's dismissive, inadequate response to the disaster. He waited days after Louisiana had declared an emergency to even request DHS personnel to the Gulf region. As officials attempted to inform Brown that people were dying at the New Orleans Superdome, his press secretary responded that Brown needed "much more that (sic) 20 or 30 minutes" to eat at a restaurant. Brown told the press he had just learned about the situation at the Superdome four days after Katrina made landfall and a day after his colleagues had tried to tell him. He later resigned in disgrace.

Despite Brown's attacks, the Obama administration has been praised by experts for its response to the flu outbreak. Officials have made rapid moves to dispel "unjustified fears about the flu virus," while "stressing the need for precautions, such as washing hands, covering sneezes and seeking medical attention for flu-like symptoms." The WHO has raised its global alert level to phase 5 because the virus appears to be spreading easily person-to-person, and cases are appearing that have no link to Mexico.

  • Prudent or panic?

    April 30: Rachel Maddow presents a range of swine flu responses to Dr. Michael Osterholm to gage their degree of hysteria on her Worry Meter.
Think Progress: Conservative talker suspended after blaming swine flu on the ‘millions of leeches’ from Mexico.

Conservative talker Jay Severin was suspended indefinitely today by Boston's WTKK-FM after using the current swine flu outbreak to attack Mexicans and immigrants. On his radio show, Severin blamed the swine flu on what he called "some of the world's lowest of primitives in poor Mexico":

So now in addition to venereal disease and the other leading exports of Mexico -- women with mustaches and VD -- now we have swine flu. ... We should be if anything surprised that Mexico has not visited upon us poxes of more various and serious types considering the number of cimminalieans already here. [...]

[W]hen scoop up some of the world's lowest of primitives in poor Mexico and drop it down in the middle of the United States. Poor, without skills, without language, not share our culture, not share our hygiene. ... It's millions of leeches from a primitive country. ... Now they are exporting a rather more active form of disease which is the swine flu.

Listen to a compilation of his remarks:

Despite his comments, Severin's agent believes that Severin "will be back on the air doing great radio soon."

digby: Narcissistic Parasites

Economist Robert Frank, creative thinker and all around nice guy (and friend of this blog) went into the Lion's Den today and found that the beast was rabidly foaming at the mouth:

I've been writing about this phenomenon for a while now. It's an outgrowth of puerile Randism. These people really believe they are something very, very special. More absurdly, they really believe they work harder than everyone else. That's right, a moronic, blow dried FOX TV celebrity who spends more time with a tailor and manicurist in one week than most people spend in a lifetime, considers himself to be wealthy and successful not because he's a TV performer who got lucky, but because he's superior to everyone who makes less money than him. Indeed, these overpaid, Galt-worshipping wingnuts actually think they produce something and what they produce is unique and important.

If there is anyone in the world who should be thanking his lucky, lucky stars that Rupert Murdoch created a TV propaganda arm to protect the aristocracy and decided to hire a bunch of vapid spokesmodels to parrot talking points, it's a FOX News gasbag. John Galt would call such people parasites --- and in this case, he wouldn't be wrong.

Another case in point:

Republican road show April 30: Rep. Eric Cantor, R-VA, unveiled a new initiative called the "National Council for a New America," which is being billed as a traveling road show featuring top Republican Congressmen. Is this really going to help the Republican Party's image problem? Rachel Maddow is joined by MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson.


When Supreme Court Justice David Souter didn't hire clerks for the next term, that should have been a pretty big hint.

Justice David H. Souter plans to retire at the end of the term in June, giving President Obama his first appointment to the Supreme Court, four people informed about the decision said Thursday night.

Justice Souter, who was appointed in 1990 by a Republican president, the first George Bush, but became one of the most reliable members of the court's liberal wing, has grown increasingly sour on Washington and intends to return to his home state, New Hampshire, according to the people briefed on his plans. One official said the decision might be announced as early as Friday.

The departure will open the first seat for a Democratic president to fill in 15 years and could prove a test of Mr. Obama's plans for reshaping the nation's judiciary. Confirmation battles for the Supreme Court in recent years have proved to be intensely partisan and divisive moments in Washington, but Mr. Obama has more leeway than his predecessors because his party holds such a strong majority in the Senate.

A month ago, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said President Obama would "surely" be able to choose a new justice "soon." Looks like she was right. It will be the first vacancy under a Democratic president in 15 years.

A few angles to consider this morning.

Why is Souter stepping down?

Souter, 69, clearly never enjoyed life in D.C., preferring quiet seclusion in New Hampshire. The Washington Post's report noted, "A friend who ran into him last summer in Concord said he was surprised by just how strongly Souter spoke about wanting to leave Washington. 'He said, 'If Obama wins, I'll be the first one to retire.'"

Will this change the balance of the high court?

That's highly unlikely. Souter is one of the court's more progressive voices, so Obama is poised to replace one liberal with another. The key, however, is age and longevity -- Obama may choose a youthful justice, who can be a progressive voice for decades to come.

Who's likely to get the nomination?

It's obviously very early -- NPR broke the story just 10 hours ago -- but speculation is already focused on a handful of names. Some of the leading contenders include federal appeals court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diana Pamela Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. The early buzz is focused heavily on Sotomayor, who would be the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice.

Salon republished a list of possible nominees this morning, as did ScotusBlog's Tom Goldstein. Sam Stein has a few replacement possibilities as well. (You'll notice, of course, that there's quite a bit of overlap among the lists.)

What should we expect from the confirmation hearings?

With the Democratic caucus at 59, chances are pretty good that Obama's nominee will get confirmed. How Republicans will act, however, is less clear.

As far back as November, literally just a few days after the election, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, threatened to filibuster any of Obama's Supreme Court nominees he considered insufficiently conservative. That was 11 weeks before Obama was even inaugurated.

With this in mind, and given the GOP freak-out over uncontroversial cabinet nominees like Kathleen Sebelius, a severe Republican temper tantrum is likely, no matter who the president nominates. If for no other reason, the minority party will see some value in working the base into a frenzy of hot-button cultural issues.

Just when it seemed the political world couldn't get any more interesting, one more huge task is added to the president's to-do list.

DougJ: All news is good news

JMM notes that many are saying that the retirement of Justice Souter, like all other earthly events, is good news for Republicans. I expect to hear the phrase “a chance to get their mojo back” a lot over the next few weeks. Now, logic dictates there is no way that it is good news to have an Supreme Court vacancy occur while you are an opposition party with fewer than 41 Senate seats. That’s not my point here, though.

My question is this: why is it a smart political strategy to insist that absolutely everything is good news for your party? Other things in life don’t work that way. It’s not considered a good idea to insist you don’t need medical attention when are suffering from a life-threatening ailment. It’s not considered a good idea to run out the clock when you are behind. Why is politics so different from the rest of life?

Speaking of law ...

American justice works on terrorists April 30: Newsweek's Michael Isikoff talks with Rachel Maddow about the guilty plea by Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri and what it means for the future prosecution of terrorists.

Morning reading: collapsing walls Edition!

via Daily Kos -
Ronald Brownstein:

When Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched to the Democratic Party this week, the response from Republican leaders was unequivocal: Don't let the door hit you on your way out.

Of course, they said that while standing, metaphorically speaking, in a building with no roof, broken windows, and collapsing walls.

But Remember, Greed Is Good
Over the last 30 days, Chrysler secured deals with their union. They got the bondholders to take 28 cents on the dollar. They made a deal with Fiat. They lined up pretty much every stakeholder and got them all to share in the pain. And then the hedge funds said no and forced them into bankruptcy.

Chrysler LLC is going to file for bankruptcy, an administration official confirmed to CNN Thursday.

The filing comes after some of the company's smaller lenders refused a Treasury Department demand to reduce the amount of money the troubled automaker owed them.

Chrysler officials had no comment on the bankruptcy report. The company faces a Thursday deadline from the Treasury Department to reach deals with creditors who had loaned the company about $7 billion.

But the filing will not mean the halt of operations or liquidation for the troubled 85-year old automaker. Instead, the administration expects to use the bankruptcy process to join Chrysler with Italian automaker Fiat.

In addition, the United Auto Workers union announced late Wednesday night that its membership at Chrysler had overwhelmingly ratified a concession contract reached between the company and union leadership on Sunday night.

This will be a quick bankruptcy, since most of the deals are in place. But in this case, the hedge funds (they are the "smaller lenders" referenced in the article) are more likely to get a better deal from a bankruptcy judge. And we're certainly going to see if anyone trusts buying a car from a company in bankruptcy. So Chrysler comes out of this, but diminished, because the hedge funds demanded payment.

Now can we tax their income as income instead of capital gains?

...Obama on the hedge funds, just now:

While many stakeholders made sacrifices and worked constructively, I have to tell you, some did not. In particular, a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout. They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the return that other lenders were getting. I don't stand with them. I stand with Chrysler's employees, its families and communities. I stand with Chrysler's management, its dealers and suppliers. I stand with the millions of Americans who own and want to buy Chrysler cars. I don't stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.
Obama had an interesting bit last night where he talked about the enormous scope of the political landscape, and how "I can't get the banks to do what I want them to." It was a telling example.
  • Chris in Paris: Obama rips hedge funds over Chrysler bankruptcy
    This is encouraging news and suggests the Obama administration has had enough of the Wall Street extremists who are only too happy to sponge from taxpayers. They all thought they were going to get a better deal and Obama told them to drop dead. Hell yeah and good for him.
    "For too long," Obama said at the White House, "Chrysler moved too slowly to adapt to the future, designing and building cars that were less popular, less reliable and less fuel efficient than foreign competitors."

    The Obama administration had long hoped to stave off bankruptcy for Chrysler LLC, but it became clear that a holdout group of creditors wouldn't budge on proposals to reduce Chrysler's $6.9 billion in secured debt. Obama praised all the constituencies that have offered sacrifices and blasted those that did not.

    He said a group of investment firms and hedge funds were holding out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer bailout.

    "I don't stand with them," Obama said at the White House event.
    I'm with Obama on this one. It's not perfect and maybe the White House should have taken a harder line but it's a change in the right direction. Better late than never.
Think Progress: Banking lobby successfully defeats mortgage cram-down provision.

Today, a proposal to change bankruptcy law and allow bankruptcy judges to cram-down mortgage payments for troubled homeowners failed in the Senate by a vote of 45-51. The provision, which was introduced as an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), required 60 votes to pass. In recent weeks, support for the measure evaporated in the face of furious lobbying by the banking and mortgage industries. Prior to the vote, Durbin -- who this week said that bankers "are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill" -- took to the floor to decry the banking industry's influence in the cram-down debate:

At some point the senators in this chamber will decide the bankers shouldn't write the agenda for the United States Senate. At some point the people in this chamber will decide the people we represent are not the folks working in the big banks, but the folks struggling to make a living and struggling to keep a decent home.

Watch it:

The American News Project noted that the Mortgage Bankers Association was "in a celebratory mood" at its annual meeting this week because "a massive lobbying campaign" against cram-down appeared to be working.

Sully: Jesus Wept

Some terribly depressing news. Here's the poll result:

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

So Christian devotion correlates with approval for absolute evil in America. And people wonder why atheism is gaining in this country. Notice the poll does not even use a euphemism like "coercive interrogation" - forcing Allahpundit to substitute it. (Even HotAir, it seems, finds it difficult to write the sentence: "Evangelicals are more likely to be conservative and conservatives are more likely to support torture.") But it remains a fact that white evangelicals are the most pro-torture of any grouping. Mainline Protestant groups were the most opposed. A mere 20 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics believe that torture is never justified.

In a similar poll last September, Southern evangelicals got suddenly secular on this question:

The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

One wonders how many times evangelical preachers have inveighed against the evil of someone like me getting a civil marriage license compared with acts of cruelty inflicted on defenseless human beings in American custody. But one also sees the impact of a Catholic hierarchy more exercized on these social issues than on a categorical evil defended proudly by a former vice-president.

hilzoy: Paul Krugman Asks An Excellent Question

Paul Krugman's column today is on the costs of cap and trade:

"If emission permits were auctioned off -- as they should be -- the revenue thus raised could be used to give consumers rebates or reduce other taxes, partially offsetting the higher prices. But the offset wouldn't be complete. Consumers would end up poorer than they would have been without a climate-change policy.

But how much poorer? Not much, say careful researchers, like those at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Emissions Prediction and Policy Analysis Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even with stringent limits, says the M.I.T. group, Americans would consume only 2 percent less in 2050 than they would have in the absence of emission limits. That would still leave room for a large rise in the standard of living, shaving only one-twentieth of a percentage point off the average annual growth rate.

To be sure, there are many who insist that the costs would be much higher. Strange to say, however, such assertions nearly always come from people who claim to believe that free-market economies are wonderfully flexible and innovative, that they can easily transcend any constraints imposed by the world's limited resources of crude oil, arable land or fresh water.

So why don't they think the economy can cope with limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Under cap-and-trade, emission rights would just be another scarce resource, no different in economic terms from the supply of arable land."

Krugman is right. One of the main points of markets is to provide incentives to people to use their ingenuity to solve problems in the most efficient way. Cap and trade is a straightforward market solution to a straightforward market failure. There's no earthly reason why anyone who believes in the marvelous benefits of markets to decide that when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, those benefits will magically cease to exist.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

ha ha ha ha ha!! ... breathe ... ha ha ha ha ha ... breathe ...

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!! ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!
breathe . . . . ha ha ha ha ha!! ... breathe .... ha ...

CNN: GOP set to launch rebranding effort

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Coming soon to a battleground state near you: a new effort to revive the image of the Republican Party and to counter President Obama's characterization of Republicans as "the party of 'no.'"

CNN has learned that the new initiative, called the National Council for a New America, will be announced Thursday.

It will involve an outreach by an interesting mix of GOP officials, ranging from 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and the younger brother of the man many Republicans blame for the party's battered brand: former President George W. Bush.

In addition to Sen. McCain and Gov. Bush, GOP sources familiar with the plans tell CNN others involved in the new group's "National Panel Of Experts" will include:

*Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former national GOP chairman
*Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
*Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

It will report to GOP congressional leaders, and among those signing the announcement that will be made public Thursday are:

*House GOP Leader John Boehner
*House GOP Whip Eric Cantor
*House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence
*Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell
*The No. 2 Senate Republican, Jon Kyl
*And the Senate GOP Conference Chairman, Lamar Alexander

"However, this is not a Republican-only forum," reads the letter announcing the new effort, a copy of which was obtained by CNN from Republican sources involved in the effort. "While we will be guided by our principles of freedom and security, we will seek to include more than just our ideas.

"This forum will include a wide open policy debate that every American can feel free to participate in," the announcement letter reads. "We do this not just to offer an alternative point of view or to be disagreeable. Instead, we want to ask the American people what their hopes and dreams are. Since January, the President and the Democratic Majority in Congress have - rightfully so - put forward their plan for the future, now we must listen, learn and lead through an honest, open conversation with the American people that will result in building policy proposals that will yield the best results for our nation's long-term success."

The first meeting is planned this Saturday in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of the nation's capital. Northern Virginia is one of the suburban areas that has shifted decidedly in favor of the Democrats in recent years, helping President Obama carry the state for the Democrats for president for the first time since 1964.

Sources familiar with the effort say it was born of conversations between Cantor and the members of the experts panel. After Bush and Romney agreed to take part, the conversations expanded and the idea won the blessing of both the House and Senate GOP leadership. Additional town halls are planned in the weeks ahead, each likely dedicated to a specific issue, with health care, the economy, energy and national security leading the issues menu the group says it hopes to discuss heading into the 2010 midterm elections, and possibly beyond.

UPDATE: South Dakota Sen. John Thune will also participate in the group. The Republican congressional leadership is also slated to travel the country and attend town-hall meetings as part of the new effort.

  • Steve Benen:

    I see. The "rebranding" effort will be led in part by conservative Republicans with the last names Bush and McCain. What could possibly go wrong?

    Or, as Josh Marshall put it, "You know things are really humming along when your 'rebranding' effort is led by your recently crushed presidential nominee and your discredited party leader's brother."

    In a letter announcing the formation of the NCNA, the group's leaders explain, "We do this not just to offer an alternative point of view or to be disagreeable. Instead, we want to ask the American people what their hopes and dreams are. Since January, the President and the Democratic Majority in Congress have -- rightfully so -- put forward their plan for the future, now we must listen, learn and lead through an honest, open conversation with the American people that will result in building policy proposals that will yield the best results for our nation's long-term success."

    That's an interesting paragraph. It subtly concedes that the party has a reputation for knee-jerk partisanship ("disagreeable"); it makes a tacit effort at respect (they used the word "Democratic"!); and it acknowledges that the Republican Party simply doesn't know what to do anymore, so it's going to ask voters for a few tips.

    That said, who wants to wager that, after the NCNA completes its forums, Republicans will discover what they really need to do is push for more tax cuts and spending cuts?

    It's also worth noting who got left off the invitation list for the group's "panel of experts." Bush, McCain, Romney, and Jindal made the cut, as did Haley Barbour and John Thune. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) reportedly helped pull the initiate together.

    Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Michael Steele, Mark Sanford, and Tim Pawlenty apparently didn't make the cut. I wonder why.

    Regardless, the Republican establishment is looking to itself to determine how to improve the party brand they destroyed. The first NCNA event is this weekend. Stay tuned.


Funny & Angry - & right on the mark.

Normal Flu

If I were to say that this year 30,000 Americans would die from the flu, you’d probably think I was offering an alarmist take on the current swine flu outbreak. In fact, I would be offering an extremely optimistic take on influenza in 2009. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the country sees about 36,000 flu-related deaths in a normal year and around 200,000 hospitalizations. It’s standard for between five and twenty percent of the population to contract the flu in any given year.

Given all that, not only do we face the risk of an unusually bad pandemic of “swine flu” we also face a risk of panic. Apparently, very high levels of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are actually pretty normal. But the media doesn’t normally cover them as national news stories. The heightened awareness of swine flu risks, however, means that anything flu-related is going to get dramatically inflated attention.

Terrific segment.
Obama meets the press April 29: Did President Obama interact well with the press during his primetime news conference? Rachel Maddow is joined by "The Ed Show" host Ed Schultz.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of last night's White House press conference was the president's last answer. The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman noted, "You are currently the chief shareholder of a couple of very large mortgage giants. You are about to become the chief shareholder of a car company, probably two. I'm wondering, what kind of shareholder are you going to be?" Obama responded:

"Well, I think our first role should be shareholders that are looking to get out. You know, I don't want to run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already. I've got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be....

"I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy, you know, meddling in the private sector. If you could tell me right now that when I walked into this office, that the banks were humming; the auto were selling; and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran and a pandemic flu, I would take that deal.

"And that's why I'm always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of 'Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government.' No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that's not the hand that's been dealt us."

I've seen some who've described this as a presidential "gripe." That's missing the point. Obama was responding to a question premised on the notion of expanded government power. The president wasn't complaining; he was describing what was already on his plate. In other words, this wasn't "woe is me"; this was "why on earth would anyone think I'd want to take over non-governmental enterprises right now?"

Obama's answer drew some laughter in the room, and it was that kind of event. The president, despite all the pressing crises, seemed ... loose. His reputation for being almost preternaturally calm is well-deserved. Obama's only been in office for 100 days, but he demonstrated last night that he's very much in command -- confident, knowledgeable, at times even reassuring.

David Gergen, a Republican pundit, said last night, "I thought in terms of mastery of issues, we've rarely had a president who is as well briefed and who speaks in articulate a way as this President does. He's nuanced, he's very complete, he's up to speed on the issues."

Note to the right: now would probably be a good time to give up on the whole "teleprompter" talking point.

I won't even try to recap the whole thing; if you missed it, the transcript is online. I'd note, however, that Obama's comments on torture were very interesting; his response to a good question about the state-secret privilege was important but largely unsatisfying; and the president tipped his hand a bit on health care -- in a good way.

But it was Jeff Zeleny's question that will probably generate the most attention: "During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?"

Obama literally wrote down the question, so as to not miss anything, and went one by one. I found the question rather silly, but the president's responses were quite compelling.

By the time he got to troubled, Obama said, "I'd say less troubled but, you know, sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow. That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises. I would like to think that everybody would say, 'You know what, let's take a timeout on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year, and then we can start running for something next year.' And that hasn't happened as much as I would have liked."

Congressional Republicans? I think he's talking to you.

GOP's hundred days April 29: As President Obama marks his 100th day in office, how are the Republicans doing? Rachel Maddow is joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN.

tristero: Call It Like It Is
La Vida Locavore informs us that the industrial meat industry doesn't like the media calling swine flu..."swine flu." Quoting from Meatingplace:
The North American Meat Processors Association, the National Meat Association and the American Meat Institute all issued statements asking the media to pick up on the phrase "North American flu" or other, accurate references to the hybrid A/H1N1 flu strain that is the culprit in the ongoing outbreak.
I totally agree. We need to describe this flu outbreak as accurately as possible. But "North American Flu" doesn't cut it; that's far too general a term. Courtesy Mark Bittman, I believe that this post can help us a good deal in the search for a proper name for this disease:
A report in the Guardian* links La Gloria, a small town in eastern Mexico 12 miles from the Smithfield plant, as the possible epicenter of the recent outbreak. The article cites that “60% of the town’s population…has been affected.”

Dr. Hansen [of Consumers Union] weighs in: “If 60% of the population of a town near a huge swine facility got sick with this flu and those are among the first cases seen (e.g. close to ground zero), then that really does point a strong finger that something in that area could be the problem. At the very least, there should be a very specific investigation of the Smithfield facility that involves significant testing of those pigs for swine flu.”
And there we have it. It seems possible that Smithfield's pig megafarm may have been at least one important breeding ground for this nasty bug. And thus, what we may be dealing with is a highly lethal Smithfield Industrial Farming Swine Flu pandemic.

However, as the post makes clear, it may be the case that this flu strain may have come from a smaller farm. In which case it would be totally unfair to Smithfield and industrial farming in general to blame the bug on them. Therefore, I suggest that, given the current state of our knowledge, that until further notice, the media should call this virus by the currently most accurate description we have: Swine Flu.

Think Progress: Rice Channels Nixon: Since The President Authorized Torture, That Makes It Legal

Recently, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with some students at Stanford University, where she is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute. When a student asked whether Rice had authorized torture, she refused to take responsibility, saying only that she "conveyed the authorization of the administration." She added that, "by definition," once the president authorized "enhanced interrogations," they were automatically legal:

Q: Is waterboarding torture?

RICE: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture. So that's -- And by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.

Q: Okay. Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?

RICE: I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur, who obtained the video, said Rice "absolutely pulls a Nixon" in her answer. Watch it (Rice's answers come at 0:57):

Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture, as the Senate Armed Services Committee report released last week highlighted. She gave verbal authorization to then-director of the CIA George Tenet to waterboard Abu Zubaydah in July 2002 -- one month before the Office of Legal Counsel gave the legal justification for such torture.

Rice's opinion that a presidential authorization -- "by definition" -- grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States -- and its president -- are bound by U.S. statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions.

Memo to Rice: Bush may have been "the Decider," but he didn't have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.