Friday, February 12, 2010

The alternative is worse

The above picture is from the Palin-Perry Rally in Texas. The following video is related and enlightening:

Marshall: Times Tough All Over, Pt. 2

Today in Monterey, California, Nathan Augustine, 35, pleaded no contest to arson charges after confessing to throwing a Molotov cocktail into the Creative Visions tattoo parlor after the tattoo artists refused to give him a tattoo with a swastika and crosshairs overlaid on President Obama's face.

Augustine was apparently also responsible for a vandalism spree in the first half of 2009 in which swastikas and the phrases "kill Obama" and "death to Obama" were painted around the city.

There was also the restaurant Augustine firebombed after they didn't give him a job.

Booman: Why the Nutters?

Here's the thing, E.J....even if roughly a quarter of the people in this country are instinctively anti-government and opposed categorically to anything Washington does or proposes to do...they still tend to stay home and vent quietly as long as a Republican is in the White House. The second a Democrat enters the White House, the black helicopter-talk ramps up and the charges of socialism go out. Suddenly, congresspeople are inundated by nuts phoning them, writing them, showing up at their town hall meetings with guns and shouting batty nonsense they've learned from right-wing radio hosts. And it can be argued somewhat convincingly, I think, that even Poppy Bush aroused this kind of reaction when he raised taxes. He was no longer a Republican after he did that, so it was okay for Buchanan and Perot to gather up the nuts and run for the crown.

Obama's getting a couple extra doses of crazy because he's black and he inherited a terrible economy. But there's a reason that lunatics come out of the woodwork any time the rich get taxed. The rich people pay for it.

Greg Sargent:

* And, really, it’s not too surprising that 78% of GOP leaders believe Obama is a socialist, since that’s the RNC’s official position — or, at least, that Obama is moving “towards socialism.”

Paul Krugman:

"Don’t cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong." So declared Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, in a recent op-ed article written with John Goodman, the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

And irony died.

Drum: Public: Government Waste Tops $1.8 Trillion
Thu Feb. 11, 2010 1:36 PM PST
Here's a fascinating little chart. The question is, "Out of every dollar the federal government collects in taxes, how many cents do you think are wasted?" The average answer, in the latest Washington Post poll, is 53 cents. A few comments:
  • Clearly, Republicans are winning the PR battle on this score. The idea that 53 cents of every dollar is wasted is obviously ridiculous even for the most ardent tea partier, but I don't suppose this ought to be taken especially seriously as an actual response. Rather, it's sort of crude proxy measure of dissatisfaction with gummint spending. And it's been going up steadily for 25 years.
  • If the average was 53 cents, that means lots of people must have said 60 or 70 or 80 cents. Even more fascinating! I'd love to see the distribution on this answer.
  • Although there's a secular rise over time, specific dips and spikes seem unrelated to the party in power or to economic conditions. Maybe this is just statistical noise, though the drop from 1998 to 2000 was pretty substantial.
  • At this rate, by the year 2135 the average voter will think the entire federal budget is pure waste.

I wonder how people in other countries would respond to a question like this? And what does it all mean? Ponder away in comments.

Think Progress: GOP Sen. candidate refuses to apologize for comparing embryonic stem cell research to Nazi experiments.

As ThinkProgress noted earlier this week, GOP Senate candidate Curtis Coleman (R-AR), who is running against Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), compared embryonic stem cell research to “what the Nazis did to the Jews.“ Yesterday, progressive radio host Thom Hartmann invited Coleman onto his show and offered him a chance to apologize to survivors of the Holocaust for his statement. Coleman flatly refused to apologize and went on to say that it is “not at all” a horrific comparison:

HARTMANN: I wanted to give you an opportunity to apologize to the Holocaust survivors of Arkansas for that comparison and that remark.

COLEMAN: I’m not sure an apology is needed. [...]

HARTMANN: What I am saying is to compare eight cells in a petri dish to a human being in a death camp or even an experimentation camp in Germany during World War II is a horrific comparison.

COLEMAN: Well, not at all. It’s life at a different stage, but it’s still human life. That’s the point, it is still a human being, it is still a human life. It hasn’t fully developed, but it’s still that human being, and it’s unique –

HARTMANN: It is not experiencing pain, it is not experiencing the horrors of what the Nazis did. You know, I’m telling you there are Holocaust survivors listening right now Curtis Coleman who just have to be in shock to hear you say this.

Watch it:

Responding to Coleman’s comments, Progressive Puppy writes, “No, Mr. Coleman. What the Nazis did was round up living, breathing human beings, strip them of their freedom and dignity, and exterminate them in various ways. They also performed grotesque medical experiments on those same living, breathing human beings. Remarks like yours are not only incredibly stupid, they’re demeaning to Jewish people whose ancestors suffered terribly in Nazi concentration camps.”

Update In 2006, Michael Steele apologized for comparing stem cell research to Nazi experiments. "I offended members of the Jewish community and members of the Maryland community," Steele said outside a Prince George's nursing home. "It was a remark that was an improper inference, because I never specifically said Holocaust. ... And it did not reflect my attitude and my belief, and I am really sorry about the whole thing."

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Who Is John Galt? Maybe He's Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) determination to privatize Social Security and dismantle Medicare -- what he calls a "collectivist system" -- comes, at least in part, from his longstanding devotion to the works of Ayn Rand.

Rand developed the objectivist philosophy, which values the self, capitalism and laissez-faire economics. Ryan, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, reportedly requires staffers and interns to read her opus, Atlas Shrugged, and gives out copies as gifts.

In his keynote address to CPAC last year, Ryan said Obama's policies sound "like something right out of an Ayn Rand novel."

Fearing political suicide, Republican leaders have tried to distance themselves from Ryan's "roadmap" budget proposal, which calls for privatizing Social Security. But Ryan is upfront about it.

At a 2005 celebration of what would have been Rand's 100th birthday, Ryan called for reforming the "collectivist system" of Social Security by changing it to individual savings accounts.

"If we actually accomplish this goal of personalizing Social Security, think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a laborer but a capitalist. They will be an owner of society," Ryan said at the 2005 event, according to a profile written last year in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

In interviews, he has said Republicans should frame the choice between "collectivism" and capitalism as a moral choice.

"We have an opportunity to make a choice clearly once and for all in the next two elections, and we owe it to the American people to give them a clear choice: Do you want a collectivist welfare state or do you want to get back to being a free market? We need to make a moral, not just practical or statistical, case," he told Reason, a libertarian magazine, in December.

In last year's CPAC address, he claimed the White House had blamed the free market for the financial crisis, then used the crisis as an "excuse to impose a more intrusive state."

And despite GOP attempts to frame these entitlement reforms as something other than privatization, Ryan has been clear on the point.

"Rather than depending on government for your retirement and health security, I propose to empower people to become much more self-dependent for such things in life," he said in a speech to the Hudson Institute last June.

Beutler (TPM): Is GOP Budget Guru Paul Ryan Jonah Goldberg Acolyte?

He may be the House GOP's budget guru, and the conservative author of a plan to reduce deficits by slashing Social Security and Medicare, but Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) isn't always on the side of the GOP base. Under President Bush, Ryan voted for the bank bailout, and then under President Obama voted to authorize the bailout of the auto industry.

What leading light guided him to those controversial votes? According to him, none other than conservative...luminary...Jonah Goldberg--author of the controversial best seller Liberal Fascism.

According to the Daily Beast, "Ryan said his vote for the bailout was influenced by Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, a popular book among conservatives that argues that Nazism and other fascist movements were actually left wing in origin, and his belief that a second Depression would threaten capitalism--and rescue Obama's presidency."

"I'm a limited-government, free-enterprise guy, but TARP... represented a moment where we had no good options and we were about to fall into a deflationary spiral," he said. "I believe Obama would not only have won, but would have been able to sweep through a huge statist agenda very quickly because there would have been no support for the free-market system."

Goldberg's book was widely panned, but Goldberg himself described it as a "very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care." So who's to say.

He's also the same Jonah Goldberg who wrote this:

Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people about the basic functions of government? Immigrants have to pass a test to vote; why not all citizens?

A voting test would point the arrow of civic engagement up, instead of down, sending the signal that becoming an informed citizen is a valued accomplishment. And if that's not a good enough reason, maybe this is: If you threaten to take the vote away from the certifiably uninformed, voter turnout will almost certainly get a boost.

An intellectual leader among Republicans.

DougJ: Good stuff

I was banned from commenting on the New York Times site after I suggested that the only good that could come of pairing Bobo and Gail Collins would be a murder-suicide. Looks like I was wrong anyway (from Steve Benen):

David Brooks: Gail, there I was watching the snow drift down on the Brooks estate in suburban Maryland last Saturday, when suddenly, after some spluttering and coughing, I was without power. Now I know how the Republicans feel.

Gail Collins: David, I think the Republican analogy would work only if your next step was to barricade yourself in the power station, turn off service to all the people who did have power and announce that nobody was going to do anything until the company promised to build its next generator on your block and employ all your family, friends and neighbors at handsome salaries to do the assembling. But I’m sorry, you were saying about the snow…

It’s not a Cole-quality rant but not bad for a quasi-Villager like Collins.

digby: The Return Of Up Is Downism
The other day I hypothesized that the Republicans were hypocritically turning "bailouts" into a right wing dogwhistle. Unsurprisingly, it turns out it's a Frank Luntz special.

Senator Jeff Merkely explains:
We may be in the middle of a huge snowstorm here in Washington D.C. but there is another storm brewing on Capitol Hill. Master manipulator Frank Luntz is at it again, with a memo for the lobbyists and their allies in Congress who want to derail financial reform and allow Wall Street abuses go unchecked. The memo lays out an unapologetic roadmap for harnessing Americans' anger with bailouts and their demand for accountability to ... kill any effort to bring accountability to Wall Street. It just doesn't get any more cynical.


Say you're for reform while you kill it

Luntz writes that in order for politicians to remain popular on financial issues, they need to "be an agent of change" and state that the "status quo is not an option." Of course this advice is included in a memo explaining how to preserve the status quo. Luntz is saying, in short, pretend to be for reform while you work to kill reform.

Call financial reform a job killer

The memo tells opponents of reform to say that financial reform kills jobs. I'm sorry, but have they checked the unemployment rate lately? Failure to enact reform earlier led to the biggest loss of jobs since the Great Depression.

Blame the government

Predictably, given that the goal is to allow the banks to keep doing what they've been doing, the Luntz memo advises Republicans to blame the crisis on government instead of the banks. I will concede one point here - the government is responsible for not doing its job and allowing Wall Street abuses to run amok. But it's a tough stretch to argue that the cure is for the government to continue the same bad behavior and forgo accountability and oversight.

Luntz, by blaming the government, is advocating that legislators ignore many of the factors that created this crisis. Ignore that the banks paid kickbacks to brokers to put customers in high-cost loans they didn't need. Ignore that credit rating agencies said that lots of risky loans packaged together were a safe security. Ignore that investment banks borrowed billions to gamble other people's money on dubious mortgage-backed securities. Ignore the explosion of derivatives - bets on future interest rates, currency values, and the price of commodities, stocks and bonds - that linked banks and investment houses in a web of risk.

Threaten that reform will limit choices

The memo tells opponents of reform to say that financial reform will limit consumer choice. What kind of choice do consumers have when credit card companies can unilaterally change the terms of the contract, when mortgage brokers get secret payments to steer borrowers into dangerous loans, when banks reorder the sequence of one's checks in order to maximize overdraft fees? That's not choice, that's tricks and traps. Real choice is clear information and the right to walk away from a bad deal without leaving your wallet behind.

Poison the process

In the memo, Luntz advises Republicans to use the phrase "lobbyist loopholes" when describing a financial reform bill. He suggests, essentially, that any advocacy for reform be characterized as the work of lobbyists seeking special favors. But the fact is, last year the financial sector hired 2,567 lobbyists and spent over $300 million lobbying Congress in an effort to water down financial reform.
The Republicans are going to use the unpopularity of the bailouts to discredit Democrats so that they can cut taxes and deregulate the system even more. It's actually a beautiful scam --- may be one of the most beautiful ever because the Republicans have constructed a truly elegant explanation for their hypocrisy.

Here's the new GOP Superhero, Paul Ryan, explaining why he voted for the bailouts:
Ryan said his vote for the bailout was influenced by Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, a popular book among conservatives that argues that Nazism and other fascist movements were actually left wing in origin, and his belief that a second Depression would threaten capitalism—and rescue Obama's presidency.

"I'm a limited-government, free-enterprise guy, but TARP... represented a moment where we had no good options and we were about to fall into a deflationary spiral," he said. "I believe Obama would not only have won, but would have been able to sweep through a huge statist agenda very quickly because there would have been no support for the free-market system."

He couched his support for the auto bailout in similar terms, saying that he feared the bill's failure would have led the Obama administration to use TARP funds in order to rescue the industry with less congressional oversight instead.

“A lot of these votes are defensive votes," he said. "A lot of them are not votes you want to take but under the circumstances they're the best path forward."
It's not far removed from the thesis set forth at the teabagger convention last week-end by the far right fruitcake, Joseph Farah. And I'm sure Ryan and the boys will find no end of clever rationales for why they might need to do it again should the need arise, whether in power or out.

Yes, the Democrats are corrupt and complicit in the face of Wall Street crime as well. We know this. But Republicans are corrupt and complicit in the face of Wall Street crime --- and batshit insane about everything else. Empowering this wacko extreme wing at this moment of economic and social instability is a nightmare scenario. These people have already shown that they care nothing for popular opinion, elections or the consent of the governed and they are in the grip of a powerful myth about their own ideology. Any validation of that myth would be very dangerous.

Witness Sarah Palin's advice to Obama as to how he might win reelection:
PALIN: It depends on a few things. Say he played, and I got this from Buchanan, reading one of his columns the other day. Say he played the war card. Say he decided to declare war on Iran, or decided to really come out and do whatever he could to support Israel, which I would like him to do. But that changes the dynamics in what we can assume is going to happen between now and three years. Because I think if the election were today, I do not think Obama would be re-elected.

But three years from now things could change if on the national security threat --

WALLACE: You're not suggesting that he would cynically play the war card.

PALIN: I'm not suggesting that. I'm saying, if he did, things would dramatically change if he decided to toughen up and do all that he can to secure our nation and our allies. I think people would perhaps shift their thinking a little bit and decide, well, maybe he's tougher than we think he is today. And there wouldn't be as much passion to make sure that he doesn't serve another four years --
Two of the GOPs most important rising stars believe, respectively, that Liberal Fascism was an important work of political history and that the president could prove he is "tough" by invading Iran or doing "whatever he could" to strongly support Israel. That's just nuts.

It's very difficult to deal with the Democrats, most of whom seem to be in some somnolent state of denial about their own political fortunes, and it is vital that the liberal rank and file push them as hard as they can to end this sick, corrupt symbiosis between Wall Street and the federal government. But no matter how feckless they are are, it's important to also remember that the alternative is worse.
Sully: Thou Shalt Not Vote With A Democrat

Matt Steinglass revisits one of the odder political realities:

The temptation to criticise one's political allies exists because criticism can help individuals derive personal advantage, either within the group or by forming temporary alliances outside the group. Refraining from criticising your allies is a strategy of deferring or sacrificing individual benefits for the good of the group. But Republicans are supposed to be individualists! Democrats are supposed to believe in collective action for the good of the group. And yet Democrats are perfectly awful at collective action. Democrats are constantly undercutting their presidents; liberals have been lukewarm and quick to turn on Carter, Clinton and Obama, and no Republican president has ever faced the kind of fury from his base that the left directed at LBJ.

Marc Ambinder highlights an important court case that went entirely overlooked last week, but which matters quite a bit.

Last week, as Republicans ratcheted up their criticism of the administration's counterterrorism framework, a jury in the Southern District of New York quietly convicted a woman named Aafia Siddiqui on charges related to the attempted murder of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan. She faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

What makes Siddiqui's conviction relevant for the current debate is that she was captured, on a recognized battlefield -- Afghanistan -- and tried to kill FBI agents and American soldiers who had come to question her. Siddiqui, 40, could easily have been designated as an enemy combatant. But the Bush administration determined instead that she be tried in federal court. She was read her Miranda rights, and given access to a lawyer.

Afghanistan police arrested her in July 2008 -- she was reportedly loitering nearby a sensitive facility -- and Siddiqui was found to have materials suggesting an intention to commit acts of large-scale terrorism in the United States, including documents that referenced the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building.

When U.S. military interrogators and FBI agents sought to interview her, Siddiqui opened fire on the Americans, one of whom returned fire and wounded her. She was treated by Americans in a U.S. military hospital, transferred to American soil, arraigned in New York, charged as a terrorist.

Last week, Siddiqui was convicted, and will no doubt spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Republicans haven't said a word about this, but based on their increasingly stupid rhetoric, this series of events is not only outrageous, but actually dangerous. By GOP standards, Bush administration officials "imported" a foreign terrorist to American soil, and will now transfer said terrorist to an "American community."

So, here's the invitation: go ahead, Republicans, tell us how awful last week's conviction was. We're waiting.

Kleefeld (TPM): Lieberman Now Against Saying White House Critics Help Al-Qaeda (After He Was For It, During Bush Years) (VIDEO)

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) appeared on MSNBC Thursday afternoon, and made a bold pronouncement on the political debates surrounding the interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the attempted bombing of Flight 253: That critics of the White House should not be accused of aiding al-Qaeda.

The catch here is that during the Bush years, Lieberman himself made some similar comments about critics of the Iraq War -- saying that when they attacked the Bush administration they were harming America, or helping al-Qaeda, or attacking America's allies.

Yesterday on MSNBC, Lieberman said just the opposite of his earlier position. "I just think we're into a bad cycle here. I have a lot of respect for John Brennan. I think some of the things he's said have been provocative and in my opinion inappropriate," said Lieberman. "You can have a difference of opinion about how the Christmas-Day Bomber should have been treated without turning it into a political debate or suggesting that anybody who doesn't agree with the way the administration handled the Christmas-Day Bomber is somehow giving aid and comfort to al-Qaeda. Nobody here wants to do that or is doing that. I think we'd all say that what we're trying to do is in fact protect the homeland security of the American people against al-Qaeda."

Lieberman was referring to a recent USA Today column in which Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan declared: "Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill."

Here are just four examples of Lieberman's prior position on accusing White House critics of helping al-Qaeda:

Lieberman raised this issue in a November 2005 guest column in the Wall Street Journal: "After a Thanksgiving meal with a great group of Marines at Camp Fallujah in western Iraq, I asked their commander whether the morale of his troops had been hurt by the growing public dissent in America over the war in Iraq. His answer was insightful, instructive and inspirational: 'I would guess that if the opposition and division at home go on a lot longer and get a lot deeper it might have some effect, but, Senator, my Marines are motivated by their devotion to each other and the cause, not by political debates.'"

In December 2005, Lieberman famously declared in a speech: "The distrust is deep and I know it will be difficult to overcome, but history will judge us harshly if we do not stretch across the divide of distrust to join together to complete our mission successfully in Iraq. It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." (Via Nexis.)

In April 2007, in a Washington Post guest column, Lieberman said: "When politicians here declare that Iraq is 'lost' in reaction to al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks and demand timetables for withdrawal, they are doing exactly what al-Qaeda hopes they will do, although I know that is not their intent."

In August 2007, he declared: "Forced by facts on the ground to acknowledge the progress of the American and Iraqi militaries since the new surge strategy started, some of these opponents of the war are now turning their harshest criticism on our allies in Iraq instead of our enemies"

We've contacted Lieberman's office for comment on how these situations might be different. They have not gotten back to us at this time.

Marshall: Quite a Difference

A lot of people are saying that John Brennan went too far by saying that "politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda." Given the past administration's habit of arguing that dissent or questioning of counter-terrorism policies played into the hands of the terrorists, the words may have been ill-chosen. But it is simply wrong to equate the two things. Indeed, it's the kind of distinction, regrettably, the daily press is seldom able to grasp, putting simple, structural equations above the substance of what is actually being said.

If you look at what Brennan actually said it was that sowing panic, telling people that the terrorists are far more powerful than they are and that our institutions are incapable of defending us against them just makes them seem more frightening than they are. That seems qualitatively different than trying to forbid any question of just how great the threat is or the means we're using to counter it. In both cases, in and out of power, the Republicans are about the political mobilization of fear.

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