Monday, February 8, 2010

A Snowy Monday Reader

New York Times Headline

In a Message to Democrats, Wall St. Sends Cash to G.O.P.

Bankers, unhappy at the president’s proposals for tighter financial regulations, are shifting donations to Republicans.

Hank Paulson screwed a lot of things up, but his new book contains some interesting nuggets:

When he spoke to House Republicans about efforts to help Fannie and Freddie, he was chagrined that many responded with speeches about ACORN, the low-income housing activist group.

No one should pretend that fixating on idiocy like ACORN (instead of doing their fucking jobs as legislators) doesn’t have consequences.

  • from the comments:

    The wages of sin being death, what we have here is the rather profound sin of deceit leading to the folly of a whole generation of Republicans believing their own propaganda.

    And it is not just specific propaganda here. The Acorn bamboozlement was relatively new bit of nonsense. But the Republicans conditioned themselves to speak ridiculous lies, and conditioned themselves thereby to believe those lies. It is like a self-induced mental illness.

Think Progress: Podesta Calls On McConnell To Apologize For Denigrating FBI Interrogation Of Abdulmuttalab

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) besmirched the reputation of FBI agents who interrogated terrorist Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab after he was arrested. “He was given a 50 minute interrogation, probably Larry King has interrogated people longer and better than that,” McConnell said on Fox News.

This morning on ABC’s This Week, Center for American Progress Action Fund President and CEO John Podesta noted that intelligence agents have skillfully secured the cooperation of Abdulmuttalab’s family. Because his family was assured that Abdulmuttalab was not being tortured, they worked with the FBI to convince the terrorist to talk. Abdulmuttalab then provided intelligence, some of which was apparently used to capture terrorists in Malaysia.

“I think you can huff and puff as former Governor Palin likes to do, but the proof’s in the pudding — he’s talking, they’ve gotten actionable intelligence, they’re acting on it,” Podesta said. When conservative pundit Peggy Noonan complained that the administration shouldn’t have told the public that Abdulmuttalab was cooperating, Podesta suggested disclosure may not have been necessary if political leaders like McConnell weren’t criticizing intelligence agents:

PODESTA: Maybe if all those politicians stopped attacking the FBI – Mitch McConnell likened the FBI to a Larry King interview – maybe if they stopped with the politics –

RUTH MARCUS: Now that’s cruel.

PODESTA: Well, no, I think he owes the FBI an apology. But if they’d stop with the politics, maybe they wouldn’t have to respond.

Watch it:

Later, Podesta defended the FBI: “I tend to listen to the professionals, and other people tend to listen to Governor Palin.”

He also referenced Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) “blanket hold” on Obama’s 70 executive nominees — two of whom include the head of the State Department intelligence official and the Homeland Security intelligence official. “What gives here?” Podesta asked. “Are these people serious or are they just playing politics?

Update On Meet the Press this morning, Obama’s homeland security adviser John Brennan noted that Republican leaders were briefed immediately following Abdulmuttalab’s arrest, and none of them raised the criticisms that they are issuing now:

JOHN BRENNAN: On Christmas night, I called a number of-- senior members of Congress. I spoke to Senators McConnell and Bond. I spoke to Representative Boehner and Hoekstra. I explained to them that he was in F.B.I. custody. That Mr. Abdulmutallab was in fact talking. That he was cooperating at that point. They knew that in F.B.I. custody means that there's a process then you follow as far as mirandizing and presenting him in front of the magistrate.

None of those individuals raised any concerns with me, at that point. They didn't say, "Is he going into military custody? Is he going to be mirandized?" They were very appreciative of the information. We told them we'd keep them informed. And that's what we did. So, there's been-- quite a bit of an outcry after the fact. Where again, I'm just very concerned on behalf of the counterterrorism professionals throughout our government that politicians continue to make this a political football. And are using it for whatever political or partisan purposes.

SLR: John Brennan Kicks The GOP In The Ass

David Gregory, the king of wingnut talking points, gets his whole approach destroyed by John Brennan when talking about the underpants bomber.

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

Think Progress: Palin says she’s fine with Limbaugh’s use of the ‘r-word.’

This morning on Fox News, host Chris Wallace asked Sarah Palin about her public call for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to resign after reports surfaced that he called a group of liberal activists “f—ing retarded.” Palin reiterated her call for Emanuel to “step down” and explained that while she’s not “politically correct” or “one to be a word police,” she was committed to “reaching out and to helping the special needs community.” But when Wallace asked Palin about Rush Limbaugh’s endorsement of the language, Palin said she was fine with Limbaugh’s satirical comments. “I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with ‘f-ing retards,’” she said. “There is a big difference there”:

PALIN: I agree with Rush Limbaugh. He was using satire to politically correct

WALLACE: He used the “r” word.

PALIN: He used satire. Name-calling by anyone, I teach this to my children and you teach it to your children and grandchildren, too. Name calling by anyone is just unnecessary. It just wastes time. Let’s speak to the issues and — [...]

PALIN: I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with ‘f-ing retards’ and we did know that Rahm Emanuel has been reported, did say that. there is a big difference there. Again, name-calling, using language that is insensitive, by anyone, male, female, Republican, Democrat, is unnecessary. It’s inappropriate. Let’s all just grow up.

Watch it:

Emanuel, who has apologized for the remark to Special Olympics CEO Tim Shriver, now plans to host “a delegation of advocates, including two people with mental disabilities, at the White House” as part of his effort to make amends. Limbaugh, meanwhile, gleefully used a derivative of the word “retard” at least forty times, saying that “there’s going to be a retard summit at the White House. Much like the beer summit between Obama and Gates and that cop in Cambridge.”


Most observers of the health care reform debate thought they saw the road ahead: House would pass the Senate bill, and the Senate would approve improvements through reconciliation. Yesterday, President Obama announced he's taking a detour, which may or may not reach the same destination.

President Obama said Sunday that he would convene a half-day bipartisan health care session at the White House to be televised live this month, a high-profile gambit that will allow Americans to watch as Democrats and Republicans try to break their political impasse.

Mr. Obama made the announcement in an interview on CBS during the Super Bowl pre-game show, capitalizing on a vast television audience. He set out a plan that would put Republicans on the spot to offer their own ideas on health care and show whether both sides are willing to work together.

"I want to come back and have a large meeting, Republicans and Democrats, to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward," Mr. Obama said in the interview from the White House Library.

The president previewed the kind of questions he'll encourage GOP leaders to answer at the Feb. 25 meeting: "How do you guys want to lower costs? How do you guys intend to reform the insurance market so that people with pre-existing conditions, for example, can get health care? How do you want to make sure that the 30 million people who don't have health insurance can get it? What are your ideas specifically?"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) both accepted the invitation, though they said they'd like to see the reform discussions start from scratch, with the existing proposal thrown out altogether. The president said that's not an option, and that the talks will be focused on considering improvements to the work that's already been done. "This is not starting over," one White House official said. "Don't make any mistake about that. We are coming with our plan. They can bring their plan."

It is, by some appearances, a call-the-bluff moment, with the president daring Republicans to put their cards on the table. There will be a big, detailed policy discussion, aired on C-SPAN for all the world to see, and GOP solutions will be considered, scrutinized, and weighed against Democratic proposals.

The approach is not without risk. The public's appetite for a prolonged health reform debate may be limited, and it's extremely likely that Republicans will simply continue to reject any Democratic idea, regardless of merit, leading to a summit that brings us right back to where we are now.

But that wouldn't necessarily be an awful outcome.

The summit in two weeks appears to be part of a larger political strategy, intended to provide cover for lawmakers and assuage public fears about nefarious back-room deals. Democrats want to be able to say, "We reached out to Republicans, considered their ideas in good faith, and put the whole thing on television in an open and transparent way." The summit may make it easier, especially for some wavering Dems, to move forward without GOP support. "We gave bipartisanship our best shot," they'll say.

Whether one thinks this is wise or not, the planned summit is also a reminder that ... reform isn't dead. On the contrary, President Obama is taking on added responsibilities about moving this process closer to the end game.

We'll have more on this as the summit approaches, but one of the keys to keep in mind here is who's setting the agenda. In other words, participants will be seeking answers to questions the White House selects in advance. The president will start with the end game -- coverage for 30 million uninsured Americans, consumer protections, deficit reduction -- and challenge lawmakers to present ideas to successfully reach these goals.

The White House seems to believe a) Republican ideas will look worse when evaluated closely; b) Democratic ideas will look much better when scrutinized; and c) when it comes to addressing the agreed-upon questions, the way forward will appear much clearer. Subjecting all of this to a transparent, bipartisan discussion may even make it significantly easier to present the package to the electorate.

Krugman: America Is Not Yet Lost

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations — about 70 high-level government positions — until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

What gives individual senators this kind of power? Much of the Senate’s business relies on unanimous consent: it’s difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure. And a tradition has grown up under which senators, in return for not gumming up everything, get the right to block nominees they don’t like.

In the past, holds were used sparingly. That’s because, as a Congressional Research Service report on the practice says, the Senate used to be ruled by “traditions of comity, courtesy, reciprocity, and accommodation.” But that was then. Rules that used to be workable have become crippling now that one of the nation’s major political parties has descended into nihilism, seeing no harm — in fact, political dividends — in making the nation ungovernable.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich.

Readers may recall that in 1995 Mr. Gingrich, then speaker of the House, cut off the federal government’s funding and forced a temporary government shutdown. It was ugly and extreme, but at least Mr. Gingrich had specific demands: he wanted Bill Clinton to agree to sharp cuts in Medicare.

Today, by contrast, the Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals. They inveigh against the deficit — and last month their senators voted in lockstep against any increase in the federal debt limit, a move that would have precipitated another government shutdown if Democrats hadn’t had 60 votes. But they also denounce anything that might actually reduce the deficit, including, ironically, any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely.

And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.

After the dissolution of Poland, a Polish officer serving under Napoleon penned a song that eventually — after the country’s post-World War I resurrection — became the country’s national anthem. It begins, “Poland is not yet lost.”

Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.

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