Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wingnuts: Magneto Edition

Yglesias: Comic Book Prisons

Last week’s genius Gitmo quip belonged to Glenn Greenwald who observed “Actually, the only person to even make an escape attempt from a SuperMax is Green Arrow, who hasn’t succeeded despite the help of Joker and Lex Luthor.” That said, Adam Serwer correctly observed that this isn’t quite right:


Greenwald clearly doesn’t remember the Magneto incident of 2003, in which the mutant supervillain escaped from his glass prison facility after Mystique increased the iron content in his guard’s blood, which Magneto extracted using his ferrokinetic powers and then used to destroy his cell. Obviously, we need to discover if Gitmo inmates do have mutant abilities, which will undoubtedly require more waterboarding, and this has to be done before the administration gets a dime to close Guantanamo. In fact, I’m pretty sure Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the subject in 2002.

Indeed, the 1996 non-canon DC Universe miniseries “Kingdom Come” by Mark Waid and Alex Ross is largely consumed with the difficult question of super-villain incarceration. As a fictional problem, this shouldn’t be overstated. Note also that the Powers series, which I like a lot, has to rely on the pretty odd deus ex machina of the “powers drainer” to make its “realistic” superhero noir work.

Mid-day yesterday, I noticed that Mark Halperin had a headline that read, "Round 2: Liz Cheney vs Axe." Round 1, apparently, was President Obama and former Vice President Cheney, and Round 2's "Axe" refers to David Axelrod, Senior White House Advisor to the president.

Halperin added, "The two surrogates weigh in on the Cheney vs. Obama debate shortly after their speeches in MSNBC interviews. Must-see video...."

Notice the problem? Liz Cheney was brought on to offer analysis of her own father's speech, and parrot her dad's criticism of the president. (What a surprise -- she found her dad's argument very persuasive.)

What's more, as part of a full-throated defense of her dad's torture policies, Liz Cheney has been all over the television news. I asked my friends at Media Matters to check on just how many interviews Cheney has done lately. They came up with this list that spans the last 10 days (and today isn't over yet):

* On the May 22 edition of ABC's "Good Morning America"

* On the May 22 edition of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

* On the May 22 edition of CNN's "American Morning"

* On the May 21 edition of CNN's "AC360"

* On the May 21 edition of Fox News' "Hannity"

* On the May 21 edition of "MSNBC News Live"

* On the May 20 edition of Fox News' "Your World"

* On the May 17 edition of ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"

* On the May 16 edition of Fox News' "Fox & Friends Saturday"

* On the May 15 edition of Fox News' "On the Record"

* On the May 12 edition of Fox News' "Live Desk"

* On the May 12 edition of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

That's 12 appearances, in nine and a half days, spanning four networks. (On today's "Morning Joe," Liz Cheney was on for an entire hour -- effectively becoming a co-host of the program.) And this is just television, and doesn't include Liz Cheney's interviews on radio or with print media.

There's no modern precedent for such a ridiculous arrangement. Dick Cheney launches a crusade against the White House, and major outlets look for analysis from Cheney's daughter? Who everyone already realizes agrees with everything he says about torture?

This is just crazy.

Sudbay: Colin Powell is going to fire back at Cheney, LImbaugh
There may be some fireworks on this Memorial Day weekend -- intra-GOP fireworks.

Colin Powell may have been a successful military leader, but he's fighting a futile battle here. Cheney and Limbaugh are the leaders of the GOP now. And, those two are who the dwindling number of Republicans actually want to lead them:
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and former vice president Richard B. Cheney have attacked Powell in recent days as a traitor to his party.

"What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat, instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party," Limbaugh told listeners. And Cheney dryly commented: "I didn't know he was still a Republican."

Powell's turn will come this weekend. He is scheduled to appear on CBS's "Face the Nation" tomorrow and has told associates that he plans to answer his critics. Whether he will make an announcement about his party affiliation is unclear.
Sounds like the leaders of the GOP have already made a decision about Powell's party affiliation. They've kicked him out of their exclusive, right-wing club.

C&L: Wilkerson: If I Were Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jim Haynes...I Wouldn't Travel

Lawrence Wilkerson tells CNN's Rick Sanchez just who he thinks was running the show in the Bush administration, why the Cheney family is out in full force defending torture and suggests that a number of members of the Bush administration should avoid travelling.

Sanchez: You know the idea...I was struck by that because I heard the term "lawyer up" and I was trying to figure out what she meant, because it seems there's an implication with the quote lawyer up implying that these suspects shouldn't be allowed any kind of representation. And it makes me as an American then wonder, given the legal system that I know that we have in this country, if they don't have lawyers and there aren't any courts, then who decides that they're guilty or innocent? Did anybody ever ask that question?

Wilkerson: This is absolutely Orwellian. His speech yesterday was Orwellian too and George Orwell when he was with the BBC talked about this a lot--when lying drives out truth telling. And Mark Twain of course said a lie will make it around the world before the truth can pull its socks up. That's what they're involved in. That's what Karl Rove taught them. That's what they've been involved in for some time. And her bona fides scream at me that what in the world is America's media doing listening to this woman? This woman has absolutely no bona fides to talk about this.

Sanchez: She has made eleven appearances in nine days, so she certainly has been lot of us....

Wilkerson: They're scared. I think they're frightened. And I don't blame them for being frightened.

Sanchez: Why? Why would Dick Cheney be frightened?

Wilkerson: Well we've got the possibility, I realize the political will doesn't exist, but we've got the possibility of domestic problems for him, and we've certainly got the possibility of international problems. Judge Baltasar Garzon in Spain has started a case and if I were Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jim Haynes and a host of other lawyers in the administration, I wouldn't travel. I wouldn't travel anywhere.

Run for the hills May 22: Remember the 1964 Daisy political ad, which ended with a nuclear mushroom cloud? Republicans are tapping into the fear of that famous ad to promote some fear of their own - against Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay. Is that right? Rachel Maddow is joined by Princeton University political science professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Remember this week, when the RNC chairman vowed to attack Democrats with "class" and "dignity"? It was a vow that didn't even last a day.

She's the 69-year-old speaker of the House of Representatives, second in the line of succession and the most powerful woman in U.S. history.

But when you see Nancy Pelosi, the Republican National Committee wants you to think "Pussy Galore."

At least that's the takeaway from a video released by the committee this week -- a video that puts Pelosi side-by-side with the aforementioned villainess from the 1964 James Bond film "Goldfinger."

The RNC video, which begins with the speaker's head in the iconic spy-series gun sight, implies that Pelosi has used her feminine wiles to dodge the truth about whether or not she was briefed by the CIA on the use of waterboarding in 2002. While the P-word is never mentioned directly, in one section the speaker appears in a split screen alongside the Bond nemesis -- and the video's tagline is "Democrats Galore."

The wisdom of equating the first woman speaker of the House with a character whose first name also happens to be among the most vulgar terms for a part of the female anatomy might be debated -- if the RNC were willing to do so, which it was not. An RNC spokesperson refused repeated requests by POLITICO to explain the point of the video, or the intended connection between Pelosi and Galore.

These tactics are not, however, limited to the RNC. Right-wing talk-show host Jim Quinn has taken to calling the Speaker of the House "this bitch." Former comedian Dennis Miller was on Fox News calling Pelosi a "shrieking harridan magpie." Neal Boortz called her a "hag." Media Matters had a report on Monday noting the attacks from various far-right media personalities -- including Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and CNN's Alex Castellanos -- all of whom attacked the House Speaker, not over her remarks about the CIA, but because of their dissatisfaction with her appearance.

The Politico's report noted that these tactics are "bad politics." Ann Lewis said, "It's an attempt to demean your opponent, rather than debate them. If they're serious that this is an issue of national security, then you'd think that one would want to debate it on the merits. It's almost as if they can't help themselves."

I think it's true that, politically, the right's misogynistic attacks against Pelosi are insane. Conservatives think they have the Speaker on the run -- why overreach and begin making sexist attacks?

Ultimately, though, political strategy isn't nearly as important as basic human decency here. It's a quality the right is lacking, and this recent pathetic display against Pelosi says far more about them than it does about the Speaker.

Over the years, the debate over U.S. interrogation policies has featured quite a few references to fictional works, most commonly with the right referencing Jack Bauer and "24." Yesterday, we heard a twist, with the introduction of Col. Jessup and "A Few Good Men."

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough sees a parallel, with President Obama as Kaffee, and Dick Cheney as Jessup. Ryan Powers reported on Scarborough's on-air comments, in which the former Republican lawmaker described the two national-security speeches from Thursday:

"This scene yesterday...I'm serious here, this comes straight out of 'A Few Good Men.' The reason why the closing scene with Jack Nicholson on the stand worked so well, is, of course, we were all rooting for the young attractive Tom Cruise, just like more Americans are probably rooting for President Obama. But at the same time, what was said on that stand by Nicholson...I was struck by that contrast."

The comparison is not, on its face, absurd. If you've seen the movie, you know that Jessup believed the ends justified the means, and that a security-at-all-costs attitude was used to rationalize illegal conduct. It's a belief that sounds rather familiar.

But Scarborough seems to have forgotten the ending. Jessup lied under the oath, orchestrated a conspiracy to cover up his crimes, ordered the torture (and accidental death) of a United States Marine, and was eventually arrested to face criminal charges. In other words, the audience wasn't just "rooting for the young attractive Tom Cruise"; the audience was supposed to realize that Col. Jessup was the villain in this story.

Indeed, it worries me a bit that Scarborough would watch "A Few Good Men" and think, "You know, maybe Kaffee really did 'weaken a country' with his efforts."

It's like watching "Bob Roberts" and thinking you'd like to vote for the protagonist.

Cheney/Gingrich 2012 May 22: The two most visible Republicans right now are Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich - really! Is their ever-growing presence hurting the Republican Party? Rachel Maddow is joined by's Joan Walsh.

Liberty bull May 22: Liberty University, a Christian college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, shut down the campus Democratic Party club. Rachel Maddow is joined by Brian Diaz, the club's president.

Sullivan: The Moral Minority

The news that Liberty University shut down the school's College Democrats club probably isn't as surprising as the news that Liberty University had a College Democrats club in the first place. After all, the Lynchburg, VA-based school was founded by the late Jerry Falwell and isn't exactly known for its political diversity.

Still, Liberty College Democrats president Brian Diaz says that when the group first got approved by the administration last fall, its first meeting drew more than 50 students. "I was shocked when the university accepted our application," he says. "But when all those people showed up to our inaugural meeting, I was excited beyond belief." The club spent last fall organizing for Obama, has been involved with Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial campaign, and has co-sponsored events with College Republicans, including a town hall on Darfur.

Last Friday, however, Diaz received an email from Mark Hine, the school's vice president of student affairs, informing him that the College Democrats were being shut down because “we are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by” Liberty. Diaz and his fellow Democrats may no longer use the university's name, advertise events, or meet on campus.

Again, none of this is shocking--although according to Diaz the decision came without warning. And the private school is within its rights to withdraw support for a student group. But the cat's already out of the bag. Last spring I met a young woman from Liberty who made her mother drive her to Charlottesville to hear me speak because she had read an op-ed I wrote about being an evangelical and a liberal. She was an Obama supporter and a Democrat, but until she read that piece, she had worried that there was something wrong with her faith, that she wasn't a good Christian.

It's harder to feel that way when there's a critical mass of other people just like you. So even if the College Democrats have been shut down, the idea that theologically conservative Christians must be Republicans has already been challenged. Diaz says that when the College Democrats set up a table at a recruiting fair last fall, "people were a little confrontational, asking us how we could call ourselves Christians and be Democrats." But when they did the same thing this past semester, the response was different. "Now it's more like, 'That's interesting--let me talk to you and hear why you're a Democrat.'" That new openness to political diversity will be harder to shut down.

It's Friday. You know what that means -- Michael Steele is guest-hosting Bill Bennett's radio show again. Will he say something ridiculous? Of course he will.

Apparently unable to learn from egregious mistakes from the recent past, RNC Chairman Michael Steele once again took to the radio airwaves today as a guest host for Bill Bennett. Earlier this week, Steele declared "an end to the era of Republicans looking backward." This morning, however, Steele revisited the 2008 election to insist that President Obama had never been "vetted" because the press "fell in love with the black man":

"The problem that we have with this president is that we don't know [Obama]. He was not vetted, folks. ... He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office. 'Oh gee, wouldn't it be neat to do that? Gee, wouldn't it make all of our liberal guilt just go away? We can continue to ride around in our limousines and feel so lucky to live in an America with a black president.'"

Specifically, Steele wanted to see more "dissecting" during the campaign of Jeremiah Wright's relationship with the president.

It's hard to even know where to start with such an absurd remark. How offensive is all of this? Let us count the ways: 1) if Wright drew any more media attention last year, people might have begun thinking he was the candidate; 2) Steele just said Republicans have to stop looking backwards; 3) Obama was a candidate for nearly two full years and couldn't have been vetted any more thoroughly; 4) Steele has personally had to fight against the idea that he got ahead based on his race, so this is uniquely insulting coming from him; 5) if the RNC is still obsessed with Jeremiah Wright, it's in bigger trouble than I thought; 6) I've never heard of campaign reporters who get to ride around in limousines.

But Adam Serwer gets at the point that must not go overlooked: "Michael Steele tells black people different things than he tells white people."

When Steele has a black audience, Obama's victory is "a testament to struggle, perseverance, and opportunity." When Steele has a white audience, he thinks Obama is a "magic negro" who just won because of liberal white guilt.

It's practically the definition of a sell-out.

Post Script: And to keep harping on my Dean comparison, will political reporters now ask Republican leaders on the Hill whether they agree with their party's chairman that President Obama only succeeded because of the color of his skin? Or do they think the RNC chairman should apologize?

Wingnuts: You mean torture is torture?

sgw: Mancow Is More Of A Man Than Hannity
I absolutely LOVE this move by Keith Olbermann last night. Now its going to be hard for Sean Hannity to shake the appearance that he is much more of a coward than Erich "Mancow" Muller, a guy he competes with for radio audience share. I don't think it will motivate Hannity to finally actually submit to waterboarding, we can still hope though can't we, but I do believe that it will make some of his listeners and viewers look at him with a lot more skepticism.


I'm generally inclined to ignore publicity stunts, but this one might serve a greater goal.

Chicago radio talk-show host Erich Muller, aka "Mancow," apparently decided he'd subject himself to waterboarding. His admitted goal, which Mancow conceded on the air, was to prove that waterboarding was not, in fact, torture.

This morning, Mancow, who is nationally syndicated, went into a storage room next to his radio studio. The results were predictable.

"The average person can take this for 14 seconds," Marine Sergeant Clay South answered, adding, "He's going to wiggle, he's going to scream, he's going to wish he never did this."

With a Chicago Fire Department paramedic on hand, Mancow was placed on a 7-foot long table, his legs were elevated, and his feet were tied up.

Turns out the stunt wasn't so funny. Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop. He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.

"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face ... I got voted to do this [by his listening audience] but I really thought, 'I'm going to laugh this off.'"

He didn't. In fact, he explained afterwards, "It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke." (Christopher Hitchens had a similar reaction last year.)

I mention this, not to give a radio host more publicity, but because it's common to hear torture apologists insist that waterboarding is "no big deal." This is not only absurd, it defies common sense: if this wasn't torture, we wouldn't have done it. The whole point is to do something so horrific that the detainee would feel compelled to give up information. If it were merely a "splash in the face," as some on the right have argued, why would Bush administration officials think it might be effective?

What's more, also note the circumstances/context here. Mancow was in a familiar setting; he knew his life was not being threatened; and he know he could stop the procedure at any time. Despite all of this, he still recognized this as torture, despite wanting to prove the opposite.

  • John Cole adds:

    A couple points:

    1.) I’m not sure why we have to keep waterboarding wingnut radio hosts to prove that torture is in fact torture, but this is just starting to get silly. How many times have we now waterboarded someone like this to prove what we have known all along- that waterboarding is torture.

    2.) One of the things that supposedly separates humans from other animals is that we are able to learn from the experiences of other people. Apparently this ability is not available to right-wing radio hosts.

    3.) Not to diminish Mancow’s experience, but if he thought that was torture, think what the real deal must be like. You are snatched out of nowhere, flown across the world, kept awake for days on end in a freezing room with little food, woken every time you fall asleep on your metal bed, thrown against the wall with that lovely procedure known as collaring, slapped, had dogs threatening you, yelled at and beaten, and so on and so forth. That goes on for a couple weeks to soften you up, then you are dragged by multiple burly men and waterboarded repeatedly. You have no dead man’s switch like Hitchens did, you have no “safe” word to stop the process, there are no cameras and friends there to make sure you are alright. These people have been abusing you non-stop for days or weeks, for all you know this is when they finally kill you.

    Of course it is torture. I’m sick and tired of having this stupid damned debate.

  • Josh Marshall adds:

    The upshot is that the guy goes into it in cocky Hannity mode and then after maybe 5 or 6 seconds he struggles up and he's converted, claiming it's "absolutely torture", that he never realized it was that bad, etc.

    Now, here's the thing. I'm genuinely surprised that he was was surprised that it was that bad. I'm not saying that for effect. Muller really seemed to think it was like getting dunked by your friend in a pool or something. Just factually, everyone who knows anything about this says that it's horrific and you pretty much instantly feel like you're drowning and at the edge of death. And it's a physiological response. So even if you've gone through it ten times and know rationally that you don't die, it doesn't matter. You're instantly put back into the mental space of drowning and being at the edge of death.

    I must confess that when I see Hannity or the rest of these guys saying it's no big deal and it's not torture, I kind of figured they're playing semantic games and essentially saying 'I don't care what we do to evil Muslim terrorist bad guys.' Hang them from them toes, waterboard them, whatever, who cares? I don't agree with that. It's hideous. But I understand it. But here it turns out they're just completely ignorant, just haven't been paying attention. Just in the purest factual sense have no idea what they're talking about.

    I know, I know ... why am I surprised?

This is really funny. May also be pretty accurate.

Jonathan Bynes: The 83 Waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah

The following is a transcript of notes taken at the interrogation of Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. It was released by the C.I.A. at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques approved by the president.

1. Ha! Is this waterboard supposed to scare me? You think I don’t know that you are constrained by U.S. and international law from ever actually …

2. Hey! What the [redacted]?!

3. No, seriously. What the [redacted]?!

4. You’re Americans! Who do you think you are? Us?

5. You can’t do this! Show me the authorization for you to do this!

6. Wow. O.K., technically, you can do this. Although the quality of the legal work in these memos is shoddy at …

7. Enough! I beg of you! Stop the torture!

8. O.K., fine. Then stop the “enhanced technique!”

9. Please! For the love of God, I can’t take any more of this harsh treatment which does not rise to the level of torture!


50. A finger? Why is the bald guy holding up a …

51. One finger … one finger … First word! First word! Three syllables!

52. Two syllables! Sorry—my vision is a little blurry. First syllable … frown! Frowning!

53. Angry?


64. Prosciutto?

65. Ham! Ham! Sounds like ham! Sad Ham! Sad ham?

66. SADDAM! Saddam Hussein! It’s Saddam Hussein! So what about him?

67. O.K. … nine fingers. Ten fingers.

68. Eleven! Nine. Eleven … Twenty?

69. Wait. I got it! Nine-eleven! You want me to implicate Saddam Hussein in the attacks of 9/11? But that’s ridiculous. Osama and Saddam never so much as …

70. You know, now that you mention it, I think I may remember a telegram …


80. Nuclear weapons? You expect anyone to believe …

81. But Saddam didn’t have any …

82. … nuclear weapons to terrorists who intended to use them to destroy a major American city and were saved by the brave actions of your American president, George Bush! We good?

83. Bastards.

Appel: A Game Of Torture Telephone

Spencer Ackerman fisks Cheney:[There] is a straight line between the the CIA interrogation program at Abu Ghraib, moving like a game of telephone. At each stage, an important safeguard or restriction assumed at an earlier stage — the techniques apply only to the CIA; the techniques are to be used only on Geneva-exempted enemy combatants; the techniques are to be applied only by interrogators — breaks down. Not once do you have to assume that the Bush administration’s principals wanted abuse to happen to reach this conclusion. This is why the law exists, after all: to prevent unintended consequences by well-meaning individuals that veer off into horror. Redefining the law on torture leads to what a 2004 Pentagon investigation called the “migration” of so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques — even if that investigation didn’t have any mandate for discovering that the origins of those techniques came from CIA programs approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration.


On Tuesday, "The Daily Show" ran a good segment on why the right's arguments about Guantanamo Bay don't make any sense. If it seemed familiar, it's probably because the same show ran a very similar segment in January.

The problem isn't that the show is repetitious; the problem is the ridiculous debate is stuck in neutral, and the discourse is just spinning its wheels. Jon Stewart's commentary was just as applicable now as it was four months ago because the debate hasn't made any progress.

Indeed, we keep having the same arguments. The right will ask, "Is waterboarding really torture?" The rest of us will calmly explain the situation, point to the law, the science, and the history, and explain why it's torture. The right will respond, "OK, but is waterboarding really torture?" Months go by, and conservatives keep asking the same question, learning the answer, and then asking the same question again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This week, we kept hearing that torture prevented terrorist attacks. We know there's no evidence to support that, conservatives know we know that, but the right keeps saying it anyway.

Twice in the last two weeks -- including during his speaking duel with President Obama on Thursday -- [Dick] Cheney has said that the Bush administration's approach may have saved "hundreds of thousands" of lives. [...]

[T]errorism experts said that though it is possible to envision scenarios that involve casualties of that magnitude, no evidence has emerged about the plots disrupted during the Bush administration to suggest that Cheney's claim is true.

This article appeared in the LA Times today, but it could have run a month ago. Or five months ago. Or a year ago.

Policy debates aren't supposed to work this way. One side makes a dubious claim, and their rivals respond. If the claim is debunked, the first side moves onto new claims. The right refuses to play by these rules -- they make bogus arguments, they fail, and then they repeat the exact same arguments again. It's like the entire conservative movement is suffering from a short-term memory problem. That, or they assume Americans are idiots, and repeating lies improves the likelihood we'll believe them.

Just yesterday, over the span of a few hours, we heard Republicans argue that torture prevented an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles; torture didn't improve terrorist recruiting; and detainees only provided information after they'd been tortured. We know all of these claims are completely wrong, but more importantly, we've known this for a very long time.

As a movie, "Groundhog Day" was occasionally difficult to watch. As a national security debate, it's just painful.


For years now, many of us have pondered the question: conservative Republicans don't actually believe their arguments, do they? Publius considers this in the context of the hopelessly bizarre debate over the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The right is probably lying, hoping to exploit the politics of fear, but what if conservatives have come to accept their own nonsense?

[T]here's actually one thing even more disturbing than Republican dishonesty -- the possibility that they are sincerely afraid of transferring the detainees. Some critics are clearly lying -- no argument there. But it may well be that other Republicans are sincerely worried that the detainees' evilness cannot be contained by any prison, or that they will brainwash their hapless prisonmates. [...]

[W]hat's truly disturbing is that a sizeable chunk of the public still fears that the Gitmo detainees are so dangerous that they could break out and destroy towns in America with laser beams from their eyes. Some of the detainees are, of course, very bad and dangerous people. But the idea that America is so very fragile and helpless in the face of these overpowering evil forces that we can't transfer the detainees to another prison (or give them real trials) is absurd.

So let's hope the GOP really is lying on this one.

That would be more comforting. Blatant dishonesty for partisan gain is much easier to understand than rampant stupidity among leading federal lawmakers.

It's hard to say with any certainty, and there's no doubt some variety within the group -- some liars and some fools -- but for what it's worth, there's ample evidence to support the "blatant dishonesty for partisan gain" theory. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Republicans see the debate over Gitmo as "the culmination of a carefully developed GOP strategy," which they hope to use as "the beginning of a political comeback."

The goal, apparently, was to identify a "favorable issue" on which the party could go on the offensive; "tarnish" Democratic leaders; and attack until the criticisms "begin to seem counterproductive."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) concluded more than a year ago that Mr. Obama might be vulnerable on Guantanamo -- and the unease voters would have over the prospect of transferring suspected terrorists to U.S. soil. Since April 20 he has delivered 17 floor speeches on the issue. Mr. McConnell beat back party dissent over his strategy, as some argued it was a losing battle when the president enjoyed such high poll numbers.

The attacks, in other words, are largely a cynical ploy, predicated on Republican hopes that public fear will outweigh public reason, and that most Americans won't realize how spectacularly dishonest the whole argument is.

That beats widespread stupidity, I suppose.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Noon Readings

TPM is proud of this video: Every day, as you know, we bring you The Day in a Hundred Seconds. Today, though, weaving together the day's two speeches, it's particularly inspired and brings together what the day was about. The Day in 100 Seconds: Dueling Speeches

Joe Klein:
Iraq Shudders

I meant to post on this a few days ago, but the arrest of a key leader of the Sunni Awakening Councils in Diyala province is not a good sign. Diyala, which is located just northeast of Baghdad has been one of the toughest provinces to calm over the past two years, in part because it is not pure of sect--the Sunnis represent a significant minority. Diyala is, then, a crucial test for the Maliki government's effort to reintegrate Sunnis into the government...and there are far too many indications that Maliki is failing in Diyala and elsewhere.

I'd suspect that a good part of the rising body count in Iraq is being orchestrated to coincide with the planned departure of U.S. troops from the major cities, which is to take place over the next month. But there is a growing danger that Iraq could backslide into civil war--not just between Sunni and Shiites, but between Arabs and Kurds--if Maliki doesn't start making a more determined effort to reunite his country.

Krugman: Blue Double Cross

That didn’t take long. Less than two weeks have passed since much of the medical-industrial complex made a big show of working with President Obama on health care reform — and the double-crossing is already well under way. Indeed, it’s now clear that even as they met with the president, pretending to be cooperative, insurers were gearing up to play the same destructive role they did the last time health reform was on the agenda.

So here’s the question: Will Mr. Obama gloss over the reality of what’s happening, and try to preserve the appearance of cooperation? Or will he honor his own pledge, made back during the campaign, to go on the offensive against special interests if they stand in the way of reform?

The story so far: on May 11 the White House called a news conference to announce that major players in health care, including the American Hospital Association and the lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, had come together to support a national effort to control health care costs.

The fact sheet on the meeting, one has to say, was classic Obama in its message of post-partisanship and, um, hope. “For too long, politics and point-scoring have prevented our country from tackling this growing crisis,” it said, adding, “The American people are eager to put the old Washington ways behind them.”

But just three days later the hospital association insisted that it had not, in fact, promised what the president said it had promised — that it had made no commitment to the administration’s goal of reducing the rate at which health care costs are rising by 1.5 percentage points a year. And the head of the insurance lobby said that the idea was merely to “ramp up” savings, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry is busily lobbying Congress to block one crucial element of health care reform, the public option — that is, offering Americans the right to buy insurance directly from the government as well as from private insurance companies. And at least some insurers are gearing up for a major smear campaign.

On Monday, just a week after the White House photo-op, The Washington Post reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina was preparing to run a series of ads attacking the public option. The planning for this ad campaign must have begun quite some time ago.

The Post has the storyboards for the ads, and they read just like the infamous Harry and Louise ads that helped kill health care reform in 1993. Troubled Americans are shown being denied their choice of doctor, or forced to wait months for appointments, by faceless government bureaucrats. It’s a scary image that might make some sense if private health insurance — which these days comes primarily via HMOs — offered all of us free choice of doctors, with no wait for medical procedures. But my health plan isn’t like that. Is yours?

“We can do a lot better than a government-run health care system,” says a voice-over in one of the ads. To which the obvious response is, if that’s true, why don’t you? Why deny Americans the chance to reject government insurance if it’s really that bad?

For none of the reform proposals currently on the table would force people into a government-run insurance plan. At most they would offer Americans the choice of buying into such a plan.

And the goal of the insurers is to deny Americans that choice. They fear that many people would prefer a government plan to dealing with private insurance companies that, in the real world as opposed to the world of their ads, are more bureaucratic than any government agency, routinely deny clients their choice of doctor, and often refuse to pay for care.

Which brings us back to Mr. Obama.

Back during the Democratic primary campaign, Mr. Obama argued that the Clintons had failed in their 1993 attempt to reform health care because they had been insufficiently inclusive. He promised instead to gather all the stakeholders, including the insurance companies, around a “big table.” And that May 11 event was, of course, intended precisely to show this big-table strategy in action.

But what if interest groups showed up at the big table, then blocked reform? Back then, Mr. Obama assured voters that he would get tough: “If those insurance companies and drug companies start trying to run ads with Harry and Louise, I’ll run my own ads as president. I’ll get on television and say ‘Harry and Louise are lying.’ ”

The question now is whether he really meant it.

The medical-industrial complex has called the president’s bluff. It polished its image by showing up at the big table and promising cooperation, then promptly went back to doing all it can to block real change. The insurers and the drug companies are, in effect, betting that Mr. Obama will be afraid to call them out on their duplicity.

It’s up to Mr. Obama to prove them wrong.
'Borderline' torture OK'd? May 21: According to a new report, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved "borderline torture" months before the now infamous Justice Department memos authorizing torture. Could this be true? Rachel Maddow is joined by NPR Justice correspondent Ari Shapiro.
Mid-day yesterday, I noticed that Mark Halperin had a headline that read, "Round 2: Liz Cheney vs Axe." Round 1, apparently, was President Obama and former Vice President Cheney, and Round 2's "Axe" refers to David Axelrod, Senior White House Advisor to the president.

Halperin added, "The two surrogates weigh in on the Cheney vs. Obama debate shortly after their speeches in MSNBC interviews. Must-see video...."

Notice the problem? Liz Cheney was brought on to offer analysis of her own father's speech, and parrot her dad's criticism of the president. (What a surprise -- she found her dad's argument very persuasive.)

What's more, as part of a full-throated defense of her dad's torture policies, Liz Cheney has been all over the television news. I asked my friends at Media Matters to check on just how many interviews Cheney has done lately. They came up with this list that spans the last 10 days (and today isn't over yet):

* On the May 22 edition of ABC's "Good Morning America"

* On the May 22 edition of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

* On the May 22 edition of CNN's "American Morning"

* On the May 21 edition of CNN's "AC360"

* On the May 21 edition of Fox News' "Hannity"

* On the May 21 edition of "MSNBC News Live"

* On the May 20 edition of Fox News' "Your World"

* On the May 17 edition of ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"

* On the May 16 edition of Fox News' "Fox & Friends Saturday"

* On the May 15 edition of Fox News' "On the Record"

* On the May 12 edition of Fox News' "Live Desk"

* On the May 12 edition of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

That's 12 appearances, in nine and a half days, spanning four networks. (On today's "Morning Joe," Liz Cheney was on for an entire hour -- effectively becoming a co-host of the program.) And this is just television, and doesn't include Liz Cheney's interviews on radio or with print media.

There's no modern precedent for such a ridiculous arrangement. Dick Cheney launches a crusade against the White House, and major outlets look for analysis from Cheney's daughter? Who everyone already realizes agrees with everything he says about torture?

This is just crazy.

Josh Marshall: A-Team?. GOP sends Newt on to Meet the Press to debate Dick Durbin.

New GOP Ad Compares Threat Of Closing Guantanamo To Nuclear War

The Republican National Committee has a new Web ad that appears to suggest that the stakes of the Guantanamo issue are as high as those of the Cold War nuke standoff:

The ad references the famous 1964 “Daisy” ad that Lyndon Johnson ran against challenger Barry Goldwater, which featured a little girl plucking daisy petals while a voiceover counted down to a nuclear detonation. The Johnson ad suggested that Goldwater’s reckless temperament could lead us into nuclear war.

The new RNC ad shows Obama saying that it will be “easy” to close down Guantanamo, then airs the “Daisy” voiceover saying: “These are the stakes.” The suggestion appears to be that closing down Guantanamo potentially poses as big a threat as did the possibility of war with a nuclear-armed superpower — and that Obama’s move to close Guantanamo is as reckless and dangerous as Goldwater’s comments about possibly using nukes in Vietnam.

The ad, which also quotes Congressional Dems defecting from Obama on the issue, shows how neatly those Dems have fallen into the GOP’s trap by letting them drive the Gitmo debate. It has now enabled the Republicans to use the issue as a wedge and to use the words of Democrats to try to cast doubts on Obama’s ability to keep us safe.

If nothing else, the comparison of the stakes of Guantanamo to those of the Cold War signals how enormous the GOP’s ambitions are for the Guantanamo issue.

Chris Hayes had a tweet on Wednesday morning that really resonated with me: "Every morning I wake up, anxious to see what Newt Gingrich has to say about the issues of the day."

Chris was, of course, being sarcastic. The problem, though, is that major news outlets seem to genuinely believe Americans really do wake up, anxious to see what the disgraced former House Speaker has to say about current events.

This morning, for example, the Washington Post offers readers an 800-word op-ed from Gingrich about public attitudes on the size of government, Wouldn't you know it, Gingrich thinks there's a mass movement of people out there who think exactly the same way he does.

In the great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites, there will soon be a party of people rooting out the party of government. This party may be Republican; it may be Democratic; in some states it may be a third party. The politicians have been warned.

Anxious to hear more? You're in luck -- Newt Gingrich will be the featured guest on "Meet the Press" this weekend.

He was lying on Fox News yesterday. He was lying on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. More of the same on "The Daily Show" on Tuesday. Looking over CNN's political blog, which tends to keep up pretty well with the big political stories of a given day, Gingrich's various attacks have generated "news" every other day for a week.

As Atrios asked the other day: "[Y]ou know, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has precisely zero power but his every pronouncement is treated as Incredibly Important News. Any journalists want to explain why?"

I try to pay at least some attention to what Gingrich is popping off on, in part because many GOP leaders are inclined to follow his lead, no matter how little sense he makes.

But the constant media coverage has been embarrassing for a while, and it seems to be getting worse.

Eric Boehlert's take the other day -- before the WaPo op-ed and "Meet the Press" announcement -- was spot-on: ["A]s often happens when I read breaking, this-is-what-Newt-said dispatches, I couldn't help thinking, 'Who cares what Newt Gingrich thinks?' And I don't mean that in the partisan sense. I mean it in the journalistic sense: How do Gingrich's daily pronouncements about the fundamental dishonesty of Democrats (Newt's favorite phrase) translate into news? Why does the press, 10 years after Gingrich was forced out of office, still treat his every partisan utterance as a newsworthy occurrence? In other words, why does the press still treat him like he's speaker of the House? It's unprecedented."

I'm still waiting to see the media frenzy surrounding the latest pronouncements from Jim Wright and Tom Foley. I have a hunch I'm going to be waiting for a long time.

Yin and Yang

Editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes nailed what happened yesterday. (at the link)

Bodenner: Tracing Propaganda

NYT reporter Elizabeth Bumiller is backpedaling on her A1 story yesterday that blared "1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad," which was subsequently changed in the Web version to reflect a vaguer possibility: "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees." TPM's Elliott asks:

Did Bumiller and her editors consider the possibility that a six-year stay Gitmo could actually create terrorists? That an innocent Afghan man embittered after being scooped up by the United States and unjustly imprisoned for years might actually become a terrorist?

Ackermann tracked the story yesterday, highlighting a Human Rights Watch report saying at least one of the detainees had been tortured into admitting recividism. CAP's Ken Gude rips into Bumiller's shoddy journalism:

Reaching back into an old bag of tricks, Bush administration holdovers in the Pentagon have used the paper of record to spread false propaganda at a critical juncture in a key national security debate, this time about released Guantanamo detainees supposedly returning to terrorism. This article has just one purpose: to mislead readers about the true nature of the threat posed by released Guantanamo detainees. ... What kind of journalism allows a reporter to write a story so clearly slanted in one direction without even a minimal effort to verify the information that forms its basis?

Shayana Kadidal piles on.

Attaturk: Including every mumbled “and” & “the”

Well, here's something everyone could have anticipated, but as usual, other than bloggers it seems only Warren Strobel and John Landay of McClatchy reported:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney's defense Thursday of the Bush administration's policies for interrogating suspected terrorists contained omissions, exaggerations and misstatements.

Well, this column is apparently going to be as long as a Leon Uris novel, but here is a selection that seems remarkably DFH bloggeresque:

_ Cheney said that the Bush administration "moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and their sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks."

The former vice president didn't point out that Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Ayman al Zawahri, remain at large nearly eight years after 9-11 and that the Bush administration began diverting U.S. forces, intelligence assets, time and money to planning an invasion of Iraq before it finished the war in Afghanistan against al Qaida and the Taliban...

Oh, you damn dirty hippies -- being all right and not serious like Dick Cheney. Because David Broder and his ilk know serious, and only serious can be appreciated. Especially in the form of needlessly dead soldiers and civilians in a third-world country (no pictures though).

  • Sully: McCain On Cheney

    Jeffrey Goldberg gets a scoop (as he often does):

    "When you have a majority of Americans, seventy-something percent, saying we shouldn't torture, then I'm not sure it helps for the Vice President to go out and continue to espouse that position," he said. "But look, he's free to talk. He's a former Vice President of the United States. I just don't see where it helps."

    And then he got acerbic: Cheney, he says, "believes that waterboarding doesn't fall under the Geneva Conventions and that it's not a form of torture. But you know, it goes back to the Spanish Inquisition."
  • Joe Sudbay (DC) adds:
    As predicted, the traditional media was agog over the Cheney speech yesterday. Just felt like many of them fell right back into their circa 2002 reporting. Dick Cheney said we must be afraid. Dick Cheney said terrorists were going to get us.

    If Dick Cheney put as much time into thinking about protecting the nation at this time eight years ago, he and his hapless president might have prevented the worst terrorist attack in our history. But, many in the media forget that Bush and Cheney failed to protect us. And, a lot of them forget Bush and Cheney lied to them about so many issues. Lied right to their faces.

    But, Cheney is back. He's the GOP's future. And, while most Americans are long past the politics of fear, the D.C. press and pundits fall for it every time.
  • DemFromCT Daily Kos:

    The Opinionator (NY Times) collects reaction to the Obama and Cheney speeches. You wonder, sometimes, about how unintelligent and unreal the right's reactions are, speaking as if the GOP's isn't the unpopular minority position. Bill Kristol is a great example:

    Obama’s is the speech of a young senator who was once a part-time law professor–platitudinous and preachy, vague and pseudo-thoughtful in an abstract kind of way. . . . Cheney’s is the speech of a grownup, of a chief executive, of a statesman.

    You know, the kind of grown-up statesman that GOP insiders want to just go away.

  • Atrios has a Deep Thought: I love GOP Daddy Dick Cheney.
  • David Brooks:

    Do I wish he had been more gracious with and honest about the Bush administration officials whose policies he is benefiting from? Yes. But the bottom line is that Obama has taken a series of moderate and time-tested policy compromises. He has preserved and reformed them intelligently. He has fit them into a persuasive framework. By doing that, he has not made us less safe. He has made us more secure.

  • NYTs Editorial: The Real Path to Security

    We listened to President Obama’s speech on terrorism and detention policy with relief and optimism.

    For seven years, President George W. Bush tried to frighten the American public — and successfully cowed Congress — with bullying and disinformation. On Thursday, President Obama told the truth. It was a moment of political courage that will make this country safer.

    Mr. Obama was exactly right when he said Americans do not have to choose between security and their democratic values. By denying those values, the Bush team fed the furies of anti-Americanism, strengthened our enemies and made the nation more vulnerable.

    Such clarity of thought is unlikely to end the partisan posturing. It certainly didn’t quiet former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was fear-mongering in full force on Thursday. But we hope that lawmakers who voted this week against closing the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — starting with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid — were listening closely.

    We do not agree with every aspect of Mr. Obama’s solutions, especially his opposition to the court-ordered release of photographs of prisoner abuse and the positions he has taken on state secrets. But the course he outlined was generally based on due process and democratic governance. ... ...
  • The Onion: Guantánamo Detainee Ruled Not Mentally Fit To Testify About Psychological Torture
    WASHINGTON—In its first major hearing on the use of abusive interrogation tactics at Guantánamo Bay, a blue-ribbon panel found detainee Omar Khadr mentally unfit to testify about his years of psychological torture. "Because of Mr. Khadr's fragile state due to unknown hours spent under the most brutal, mentally straining conditions, he cannot be trusted to speak competently on his own behalf," said Rep. Kit Bond (R-MO), the panel's chairman. "It is unfortunate that someone with such intimate knowledge of the horrors of waterboarding, stress positions, and induced hypothermia is so emotionally unstable. He bursts into tears at even the mention of mock torture." Bond added that Khadr's confession of planning 9/11, the London train bombings, and the Iranian hostage crisis would be kept on the record.
  • Appel: Not Gonna Happen

    Reihan Salam, a few days ago, saw method in Cheney's madness:

    Could it be that Cheney, who has sound-enough political instincts to realize that the GOP is in dangerously weak shape, is finally gunning for the top job? If not, would he consider "guiding" another young pup from the office of the vice president? Right now this sounds like a surreal nightmare, one that would lead the five boroughs of New York and large swaths of Southern California to saw themselves off from the American mainland and try their luck as minor outlying islands. But stranger things have happened.

    Name one.

  • Think Progress: Romney: Obama’s speech was ‘more tortured’ than Bush’s interrogation tactics.
    Blogging at The Corner today, Mitt Romney panned President Obama’s speech on national security, saying that Vice President Cheney’s “response” to Obama was “direct, well-reasoned, and convincing.” Romney mocked Obama’s speech condemning torture as being worse than Bush’s torture tactics:

    He struggles to explain how he is keeping faith with the liberal advocates who promoted his campaign but in doing so, he breaks faith with the interests of the American people. When it comes to protecting the nation, we have a conflicted president. And his address today was more tortured than the enhanced interrogation techniques he decries.

    Obama “said that the last thing he thinks about when he goes to sleep at night is keeping America safe. That’s a big difference with Vice President Cheney — when it came to protecting Americans, he never went to sleep,” Romney concluded. This would be news to Cheney. In October 2007, Cheney dozed off during a briefing on the California wildfires and also during his boss’s farewell address in January 2009. Watch it:

hilzoy: Just Shoot Me Now

I liked most of Obama's speech. If it weren't for that one little bit about preventive detention, I'd be as happy as a clam. But there it was:

"But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture -- like other prisoners of war -- must be prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That's why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. And other countries have grappled with this question; now, so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred. Our goal is not to avoid a legitimate legal framework. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so, going forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution."

Let's start with the good part. If we have to have preventive detention, it ought to be subject to the kind of oversight Obama is talking about. There should be rules. There should be checks and balances. I like that part.

But that's like saying: if we have to have censorship or prohibitions on particular religions, they ought to be subject to judicial oversight. Yay for judicial oversight. Hurrah for explicit legal frameworks. Whoopee. That said:

Preventive detention????????

No. Wrong answer.

If we don't have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we don't have enough evidence to hold them. Period.

The power to detain people without filing criminal charges against them is a dictatorial power. It is inherently arbitrary. What is it that they are supposed to have done? If it is not a crime, why on earth not make it one? If it is a crime, and we have evidence that this person committed it, but that evidence was extracted under torture, then perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the fact that torture is unreliable. If we just don't have enough evidence, that's a problem, but it's also a problem with detaining them in the first place.

What puzzles me even more is this, from a New York Times story about this:

"The two participants (...) said Mr. Obama told them he was thinking about "the long game" -- how to establish a legal system that would endure for future presidents."

The long game? If we have a need for preventive detention, which I do not accept, it's a short-term need produced by Messrs. Bush and Cheney. The long game is the preservation of our republic. It is not a game that we can win by forfeiting our freedom.

People seem to be operating under the assumption that there is something we can do that will bring us perfect safety. There is no such thing. We can try our best, and do all the things the previous administration failed to do -- secure Russian loose nukes, harden our critical infrastructure, not invade irrelevant countries, etc. -- but we will never be completely safe. Not even if we give up the freedom that is our most precious inheritance as Americans.

Freedom is not always easy, and it is not always safe. Neither is doing the right thing. Nonetheless, we ought to be willing to try. I wish I saw the slightest reason to believe that we are.

'Prolonged detention' May 21: President Obama introduced some new approaches to detaining prisoners, and one of them seems to be controversial. What does prolonged detention mean? Rachel Maddow is joined by Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Dick on defense May 21: President Obama wasn't the only one with a major speech today. Former Vice President Dick Cheney defend the Bush administration's use of torture in an address on national security. Cheney also defended the Iraq war, but his claims were more vague than in the past. Rachel Maddow talks about Cheney's remarks with The Nation's Chris Hayes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Greg Sargent: White House Reporter Protects Cheney, Accuses Gibbs Of Taking “Swipe”

One of the odder things we’ve seen from some members of the White House press corps this year is a kind of zealous over-protectiveness of the previous administration — Dick Cheney, in particular.

Back in March, after Cheney accused Obama of putting the country in danger the first time, White House press sec Robert Gibbs defended Obama by describing Cheney as a member of a GOP “cabal.” The comment triggered outrage from the MSNBC gang and other reporters who said Gibbs hadn’t shown the former Veep proper deference.

Today during the briefing, another reporter (I’m not sure who) attacked Gibbs again for being mean to Cheney. The reporter said Gibbs had taken a “swipe” at Cheney. What was the swipe? Earlier in the briefing, Gibbs had responded to Cheney’s attack by puckishly saying he had a lot of time on his hands. That was the swipe.

This is just weird. Cheney delivered a 5,000 word speech today blasting Obama and Dems as unwilling to defend us from terrorists. He called them phonies and hypocrites for condemning torture. He accused Obama of closing Guantanamo in order to “receive applause in Europe.” And Gibbs is taking heat for gently pushing back?

To be clear, this isn’t a partisan question. Should Obama aides attack the next administration once they’re out of office, it would be equally buffoonish for them to expect deference and respect in return.

This is an odd habit on the part of the White House press corps. Not sure what it’s about.

Aravosis: Reagan's son discusses Limbaugh's erectile dysfunction and "man-boobs" (seriously)

SeriApparently, Limbaugh has been on quite a tear for a while, mocking the way Nancy Pelosi looks. Recently he said that Pelosi was shaking from "botox withdrawal," and back in January Limbaugh said he could keep the birth rate down by putting pictures of Pelosi in every hotel room. So Ronald Reagan, Jr. struck back. Via Slog:

"Limbaugh hasn't had a natural erection since the Nixon Administration; think he's compensating for something? Now, I wouldn't pick on him for any of this stuff, not his blubbiness, not his man-boobs, not his inability to have a natural erection—none of that stuff—to me, off limits until! until! Mr. Limbaugh, you turn that sort of gun on somebody else—once you start doing that, you're fair game, fat boy. Absolutely, you jiggly pile of mess. You're just fair game, and you're going to get it, too."
Again, putting the sheer comedy of this aside, having Reagan's son enter the fray to attack Limbaugh, which will only incite Limbaugh more, keeps the Republican story line on one of our three favorite Republicans, Limbaugh, Cheney and Gingrich. America can't stand any of the three. So the more the story keeps on them, the more Americans spurn the GOP.

Economics: Health Care and Speed Reading Edition

SGW: Genius
By now you have probably heard the story about Congressman Henry Waxman hiring a speed reader in response to GOP efforts to slow down progress on a new cap and trade bill. Well check out this clip of how Waxman's idea made the GOP back down.

Ezra Klein:
Dissecting the Republican Health Care Plan (Part 2)

An admission: I shouldn't be calling this "the Republican health care plan." There's no involvement from GOP leadership. There's no endorsement from the House Republican Caucus. The Patient's Choice Act is the work of four men. Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Richard Burr (N.C.), and Reps. Paul Ryan (Wisc.), and Devin Nunes (Calif.). Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) apparently helped them out a bit, but his name is not on the effort, and he's not endorsing it.

The plan itself is like the bastard child of the Massachusetts health reforms and the McCain campaign proposal. And that's not a bad thing. Like the McCain health reforms, it erases the employer tax exclusion. That means the health benefits your employer purchases for you will get taxed. And that means your employer is likelier to drop your coverage. The idea here is simple: To end the favoritism given to employer-based health care.

Like the McCain health plan, it plows the money the government used to be spending on the employer tax exclusion into a refundable tax credit that everyone receives ($5,700 for families, $2,300 for individuals). This is actually a progressive change. Rich people are generally employed and their employers generally provide them with health care benefits. Poor people are frequently not employed and the employers they do not have do not provide them with benefits.

But get ready for the break: Unlike the McCain health care plan, the Burr/Coburn/Ryan/Nunes proposal does not leave individuals to fend for themselves on the individual market. This was the McCain plan's fatal flaw. The individual market is cruel, unpredictable, and expensive. The Patient Choice Act does not repeat it.

Instead, all those people who would be purchasing health insurance on their own under the McCain plan purchase it together under the Patient's Choice Act. States are tasked with creating insurance marketplaces where consumers can easily compare different insurers, regulating insurers so they don't make money by making health coverage unaffordable for sick people, regulating insurance products so they meet some minimum standard of comprehensiveness (serious wonks: This is the standard. Go nuts.), and creating automatic enrollment provisions that encourage more people to purchase health coverage.

Are there problems with the proposal? Yes. Big ones. The minimum benefit package is too stingy. There aren't sufficient subsidies for low-income consumers. The plan controls costs by encouraging people to purchase less comprehensive insurance. That's fine until people fall comprehensively ill. It has a tendency to mistake a health care policy paper for the Sean Hannity Variety Hour and say crazy things like "the Federal government would run a health care system — or a public plan option — with the compassion of the IRS, the efficiency of the post office, and the incompetence of Katrina."

But it's still a step forward for the Republican Party. It's an admission that individuals can't go it alone. That the state has a large and important regulatory role to play. The business model of insurers is not simply broken but actively cruel. A Republican Party that accepts the principles of this plan is a Republican Party that is much likelier to accept the principles of Obama's eventual plan.

Related: Dissecting the Republican Health Care Plan (Part 1)