Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday Readings: Alarming Developments Edition

Beutler (TPM): House Chairmen Say Health Care Deal Imminent

Two of the House's most influential chairmen say that health care negotiations between the House, Senate, and President Obama have come so far, that they'll be ready to send a package to Congressional scorekeepers this weekend.

Congress Daily caught up with Rep. George Miller (D-CA)--chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee--and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY)--chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee--who both acknowledged that a compromise could be just around the corner.

"We hope to be able to send in the next couple days our changes to CBO," Miller said (sub. req.).

Rangel said they'd have a package ready for scoring by Saturday.

Congressional negotiators and the White House have made significant headway on resolving two of the biggest differences between the House and Senate health care bills in recent days, and it looks like they're just about ready to wrap things up.

Gail Collins:

There are 100 members of the Senate. But as Brown is currently reminding us, because of the filibuster rule, it takes only 41 to stop any bill from passing.

U.S. population: 307,006,550.

Population for the 20 least-populated states: 31,434,822.

That means that in the Senate, all it takes to stop legislation is one guy plus 40 senators representing 10.2 percent of the country.

People, think about what we went through to elect a new president — a year and a half of campaigning, three dozen debates, $1.6 billion in donations. Then the voters sent a clear, unmistakable message. Which can be totally ignored because of a parliamentary rule that allows the representatives of slightly more than 10 percent of the population to call the shots.

Why isn’t 90 percent of the country marching on the Capitol with teapots and funny hats, waving signs about the filibuster?

Here's that 41st vote . . .
Massachusetts Senate candidate Scott Brown told reporters today that he's "unfamiliar" with the "Tea Party movement." But TPM Reader NM just showed us that his own campaign site features at least two pictures of Brown addressing Tea Party events.
Kurtz: What A Difference A Dodd Makes
New poll of Connecticut Senate race: Democrat Richard Blumenthal is crushing Republican front-runner Rob Simmons, 62-27.
Kurtz: TPMDC Morning Roundup
Gov. Rick Perry withdraws Texas from federal program offering up to $700 million in education grants: "We would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children's future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special-interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington." That and the day's other political news in the TPMDC Morning Roundup.
Sullivan: Watching Beck And Palin: "God Played An Essential Role In The Founding Of This Nation"

Just listen to the beginning of their restaurant chat, appropriating both the WTC site and the Statue of Liberty. More to the point, listen to the framework of their discussion. The core concept is a "re-founding" of America. Beck writes a few sentences in his notebook, suggesting that Palin and only Palin is capable of saving the United States from the "radical, revolutionary crazy people" (Obama, Clinton) and relentless progressives (McCain). There's a combination of simmering class ressentiment, and a profound sense of self-pity:

Tomorrow I meet Sarah Palin and family for the first time. I am actually a little nervous as she is one of the only people that I can see who can possibly lead us out of where we are in. I don't know yet if she's strong enough if she's well-enough advised, or if she knows she can no longer trust anyone. I don't know if she can lead us and not lose her soul.

Here you have a confluence of many of the themes of the far right. Distrust of everything in politics, of every politician, of the "system" that has been co-opted by mysterious and menacing elites, and a sense of total beleaguerment in the modern world. And the interpretation of Obama as a hoax foisted on the country by these elites, an alien, subversive danger to "real America".

What you have is a new kind of radical right fusionism. The anti-government, populist streak taps into class resentment, and broader anger at what has been a terrible period for fiscal responsibility. But the narrative also fits precisely into the evangelical-Christianist narrative of being misunderstood and persecuted by the world, a constant humiliation and alienation ... that leads to a series of events in which things on earth get much worse until a leader, a new Esther, emerges to save us.

The more you isten to Palin, you sense a shift in her consciousness, a shift that she is indeed the woman chosen to save this country - chosen by God. "It is God's plan" was Palin's reaction to losing the election.

And the plan is that she will lose once only to be resurrected at the head of a large army of disaffected and alienated Christianists, a brigade of anti-government populists, channeled and organized directly by a media outlet that has abandoned even the slightest pretense of being a political organization.

FNC is now the RNC. The strategy is clear: demonize Obama as a threat from within (the classic McCarthyite paranoid tradition, given more oomph by race and religion), add a whiff of the idea that he is deliberately weakening America to allow Islamic terrorists kill us, portray even obviously emergency moves, like bailing out the banks, as a plan to take over the entire economy and socialize it, and wrap it all up in a coded religious eschatology.

If you are not alarmed by this development - a new, proto-fascist political party being recreated on television in front of our very eyes - then you have not read much history.

Clemons: Cheney Fear-Mongering as Predictable as Penultimate Scene in Slasher Film

Wednesday, Jan 13 2010, 10:00AM

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Last night, I chatted with MSNBC Countdown's Keith Olbermann not only about the predictable fear-mongering from the Cheney wing of America's national security establishment but about the importance of President Obama trying to replace torture chambers and the Kafkaesque detention nightmare crafted by Cheney and his team with rule of law.

As Keith Olbermann pointed out last night, recent polls show that Americans are increasingly immune to Cheney's fear-mongering and a majority are supportive of Obama's actions after the attempted Northwest Airlines bombing by an Al Qaeda operative.

My colleague and friend Steve Coll had a superb piece in The New Yorker this week titled "Threats" that should be read in full. (Coll also writes the "Think Tank" blog at The New Yorker.)

I paraphrased Coll's comment below that Cheney's fear-mongering is as predictable as the penultimate scene in a slasher movie.

Here is a clip from Coll's piece:

Compounding this impression, at least on the cable news channels, has been the resurrection--as predictable as the penultimate scene in a slasher movie--of the Cheney World View. Its principal proponent took time off from composing his memoir to issue a statement to Politico that was so lacking in dignity and restraint that it hinted at the presence of a sinister franking machine. On President Obama:
He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war. . . . But we are at war.

Apart from its construction on a false premise ("Now let me be clear: we are indeed at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates," Obama declared last May; "We are at war," he said again last week), the statement, and the attention it received, suggested that American discourse on counterterrorism policy remains frozen in 2002.

I also very much liked Steve Coll's reference of a line in a speech Barack Obama gave in May 2009 at the National Archives:

From Europe to the Pacific, we've been the nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology.

Obama deserves a lot of credit for moving forward a "rule of law package" that is replacing the inhumane detainee operations that violated both American and international law. Former White House Counsel Gregory Craig, who left his post on the 3rd of January this year, deserves great praise and much credit for these gains.

Atrios: Big Misses

This is what they're paid hundreds of millions for.

However, Dimon cautioned, "You never saw losses in these products, because home prices were going up."

The sector's failure, he added, was the assumption that prices can only go up.
By 2006 there were plenty of reasons that the existence of a housing bubble was rather obvious, even if all the details weren't known yet and the eventual consequences weren't completely clear.

My main reason, a rather simple one, was that not nearly enough people had the kind of incomes that allowed them to afford homes at those prices. I know that because the helicopter is not my primary mode of transportation.
Sudbay: Obama to collect $90 billion from banks thru 'financial crisis responsibility fee'

At 11:50 a.m., the President is going to announce a new fee on banks, designed to recoup losses from the TARP program. Here's what the “financial crisis responsibility fee" is and does:

President Obama plans to call on Thursday for taxing about 50 big banks and major financial institutions for at least the next decade to recoup all taxpayer losses from the bailout of Wall Street.

The tax on banks, insurance companies and brokerages with more than $50 billion in assets would start after June 30 and seek to collect $90 billion over 10 years, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters late Wednesday.

But the levy but would remain in force longer if all losses to the bailout fund, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, are not recovered after a decade.
Not sure what safeguards exist to insure that the fee is paid by the banks and not the rest of us. But, this is a political move, too. There's great anger in the country towards Wall Street and the big banks. It's easy to understand why.

For example, yesterday, a number of top bankers testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC). ABC's Jon Karl reports that while the bankers appeared contrite during the hearing, that wasn't the case after they left the hearing room:
When they came before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the leaders of the nation's top banks were contrite about their role in the financial meltdown. But when ABC News caught up with them after the hearing, they expressed no regret whatsoever for the big bonuses now going to bank executives.
Karl has video to prove it.
  • BooMan adds:
    How do Democrats get their mojo back? Well, how about proposing a financial crisis responsibility fee of $90 billion to be levied on the nation's largest banks and financial institutions and then waiting for the Republicans to fall on their face?

    “This is the latest proposal in the Obama administration’s failed attempt to borrow, spend and tax their way into economic prosperity,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said earlier on Wednesday. “To think that banks will loan more money if you tax them is beyond economic ignorance.”

    That message won't even sell in Texas.

    The $90 billion dollar figure was chosen because that's the administration's estimate of what will be the ultimate shortfall from the $700 billion bailout. So, we'll get paid back $610 billion and assess a tax on the fat cats to get the rest of it back over the next decade.

    Let the Republicans complain about that while they defend the banks.

Yesterday, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson told his national television audience that Haiti is "cursed" because the country "swore a pact to the devil" in order to rid itself of "Napoleon the third, or whatever." In what Robertson insisted was a "true story," Haitians agreed to "serve" Satan in exchange for independence, and is now feeling the effects of its "curse."

To put it mildly, this has not gone over well with the American mainstream, which sometimes forgets how truly deranged the religious right movement can be. Robertson's on-air remarks even came to the attention of the White House.

Robertson's words instantly triggered a firestorm on the airwaves and online, including a rebuke from senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett on "Good Morning America" today.

"I'm kind of speechless about that kind of remark," Jarrett said. "Our heart goes out to the people of Haiti ... That's not the attitude that expresses the spirit of the president or the American people, so I thought it was a pretty stunning comment to make."

For its part, the Christian Broadcasting Network issued a statement, arguing that Haitians "allegedly made a famous pact with the devil," but Robertson "never stated that the earthquake was God's wrath."

No, of course not. All he said is that is Haiti agreed to "serve" Satan, became "cursed," and is now burdened by a disaster. Why would anyone draw a connection from that?

As for the history, Matt Yglesias has a good item describing the background of the Bois Caiman Ceremony that in Haitian national mythology initiated the revolution. It wasn't a deal with Satan, and Napoleon III didn't lead France until a half-century later.

As for the politics, I can only assume that Robertson has disgraced himself once again in the eyes of the American mainstream, but conservatives and Republicans won't care. Robertson blamed 9/11 on Americans, and he remained a prominent leader on the right. He also blamed Americans for Hurricane Katrina, and was not ostracized from the conservative movement.

The right's tolerance for insanity knows no bounds.

StevenD: Haiti: Limbaugh was Bad, but ...

This is worse, much much worse. From a website promoting Anti-Obama and Anti-Democratic Party rants, Republicans in general, the Tea Party Movement and Conservative politicians comes one of the worst examples of political opportunism over the disaster in Haiti I've seen to date.

It seems several Florida Republican Candidates issued a press release extolling their efforts to provide relief to Haiti. Pretty standard stuff, I expect, considering how the Haitian community in Florida is a not insignificant voting bloc. If those Republican candidates for office want to publicize their efforts to obtain humanitarian relief for the devastated populace of Haiti, fine by me.

No, what I found execrable, especially in light of the massive aid effort to which have President Obama and his administration committed the United States and have already begun to implement, was this little preamble the people at Annuit Coeptis chose as a lead in to their re-publication of those candidates press release:

This shows how Republicans are once again the party of action and compassion, while the Democrats are the party of wanton neglect and disregard. Aside from the on-the-spot effort planned and coordinated last night by Bernard, Tom and myself, the only three congressmen to express concern were our three Republican members from Miami. This should demonstrate how Democrats once again pander to and use minorities to further their ends and throw them under the bus in the time of need. The D now stands for Desolate Destruction while the R stands for Repair, Renew and Reinvigorate.

These people really have no shame, do they? They will take any issue, even a humanitarian tragedy that clearly should have not become a political football and attempt to turn it to their advantage. If Obama promises all the aid and resources of the US Government to help Haiti recover from this catastrophe then, according to Limbaugh, he is doing it merely to garner favor with "light and dark skinned" African Americans.

If Republican candidates issue a press release about their attempt to organize an effort to help NGO's providing relief to Haiti, however, it proves that "Republicans are ... the party of action and compassion, while the Democrats are the party of wanton neglect and disregard." After Bush's response to Katrina, and "Heckuva Job Brownie" you'd think they'd keep their mouths shut. But as I said, no shame.

Just for your edification, here's the video of the press briefing at the Department of State yesterday at which various agencies of the Federal Government gave to the US press, yesterday:

Not only a demonstration of compassion, but also of competence. Compare and contrast that response to how the Bush administration responded to the damage done to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. Yeah, that was a real demonstration of compassion by a Republican administration wasn't it?

Enough said.

Clemons: HAITI: Falling Off the Map for Too Long

When I was last in Haiti, I learned how ignorant I was of some of the missing building blocks for national wealth creation in that poor island country.

As part of the deal for securing independence from the French, the Haitians were forced in 1825 to play 150 million French francs -- valued at about $21 billion today -- to France. To accomplish this, the island was denuded of trees. Valuable minerals in the soil and land eroded nearly immediately out to sea -- and thus a once richly fertile island became one of the real hells in the Caribbean.

I realize, of course, that there are many other reasons why Haiti has been a political and economic tragedy, but the island nation that struck an early deal for independence from colonialism certainly had a rough start.

This New York Times piece captures both the surge of support currently underway for Haiti, as well as the trauma and chaos there.

Help, if you can -- but Haiti has needed deep assistance far before this earthquake made a miserable situation a thousand times worse.

I will have some other thoughts posted soon on soft power collaborations to help Haiti after an oped I have done runs.

Steve Clemons:

Last night, I had a good chat with Rachel Maddow on the mechanics of smart power in the context of the Haiti disaster. A lot of our conversation focused on the role of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or US AID, which plays a vital role coordinating not only the combined US government response in a crisis playing out now on this Caribbean island but also coordinates with other governments.

I am hoping the US is smart enough in this case to get over its Cold War-fashioned anachronistic Cuba allergy and actually begins to work with Cuba's well-trained, natural disaster-focused medical corps which are going to be in Haiti helping as well.

One thing I tried to emphasize with Rachel Maddow is that US AID, which was under extreme attack by former Senator Jesse Helms and House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, is one of America's most vital yet under-resourced federal agencies that everyone respects in a time of crisis and neglects when things calm down. This isn't smart strategically -- and trying to change this boom and bust approach to international development and aid is a key priority of the Obama administration -- one I support.

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