Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bottom Feeders

echidne: Bwahahah! Life Imitating A Cartoon Show
Remember this, from 2003?

Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel threatened to sue the makers of the Simpsons over a spoof news ticker, the show's creator Matt Groening has claimed.

Mr Groening said Fox News raised the unlikely prospect of suing a show broadcast by its sister channel, Fox Entertainment, because it wanted to stop the Simpsons parodying its famously anti-Democratic party agenda.

The alleged row centred on a parody of Fox News' rolling news ticker, which included headlines such as "Do Democrats cause cancer?"

Scroll forwards to 2010. Here's Rush Limbaugh guessed it: "Voting Democrat Causes Cancer."

With right-wing radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh and radical TV preacher Pat Robertson leading the way, it's been a painful week for far-right rhetoric, especially relating to the nightmarish disaster in Haiti.

But the offensive disaster-related rhetoric isn't done yet. I'm trying to decide which of these two is more nauseating. Was it this quote from Glenn Beck, blasting President Obama for responding quickly to the catastrophe...

"I also believe this is dividing the nation ... to where the nation sees him react so rapidly on Haiti and yet he couldn't react rapidly on Afghanistan. He couldn't react rapidly on Ft. Hood. He couldn't react rapidly on our own airplanes with an underwear bomber ... it doesn't make sense. [...]

"Three different events and Haiti is the only one. I think personally that it deepens he divide to see him react this rapidly to Haiti."

...or this quote from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), urging the Obama administration to quickly deport Haitian immigrants who reached the U.S. illegally.

"This sounds to me like open borders advocates exercising the Rahm Emanuel axiom: 'Never let a crisis go to waste,'" Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said in an e-mail message to ABCNews. "Illegal immigrants from Haiti have no reason to fear deportation, but if they are deported, Haiti is in great need of relief workers and many of them could be a big help to their fellow Haitians."

The Obama administration, fortunately, has no intention of listening to this kind of advice.

Nevertheless, I'm trying to decide which of these truly insulting remarks is more odious. It's a tough call.

  • from the comments:

    Nevertheless, I'm trying to decide which of these truly insulting remarks is more odious. It's a tough call.


    These remarks represent the mainstream norm for about half of the nation. If it didn't then anyone who made such comments would be personally and professionally ruined.

    As it is, both of these guys will see increased success because of their remarks.

    As Don King would say, "Only in Amerikkka."

    Posted by: Winkandanod on January 15, 2010 at 5:08 PM
C&L: There's a reason conservatives shouldn't claim Martin Luther King: When he was alive, they smeared and demonized him

Glenn Beck decided to repeat his asking-black-conservatives-dumb-white-guy-questions show with a new round, this time evidently focused on Harry Reid's remarks. Unlike the last time, there weren't any open embarrassments, except for the moment when Beck agreed that poor people are "like a domesticated animal [that] never learns to hunt."

But again, Beck hijacked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. He opened up the show with a King quote written on a chalkboard.

And it really is shameless. Conservatives nowadays love to claim King as one of their own. And it's a complete joke -- because when King was alive, conservatives were the people he had to combat.

Rick Perlstein described this some time back:

When Martin Luther King was buried in Atlanta, the live television coverage lasted seven and a half hours. President Johnson announced a national day of mourning: "Together, a nation united and a nation caring and a nation concerned and a nation that thinks more of the nation's interests than we do of any individual self-interest or political interest--that nation can and shall and will overcome." Richard Nixon called King "a great leader--a man determined that the American Negro should win his rightful place alongside all others in our nation." Even one of King's most beastly political enemies, Mississippi Representative William Colmer, chairman of the House rules committee, honored the president's call to unity by terming the murder "a dastardly act."

Others demurred. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond wrote his constituents, "[W]e are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case." Another, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of "great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break."

That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. King was the man who taught people they could choose which laws they'd break--in his soaring exegesis on St. Thomas Aquinas from that Birmingham jail in 1963: "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. ... Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."

That's not what you hear from conservatives today, of course. What you get now are convoluted and fantastical tributes arguing that, properly understood, Martin Luther King was actually one of them--or would have been, had he lived. But, if we are going to have a holiday to honor history, we might as well honor history. We might as well recover the true story. Conservatives--both Democrats and Republicans--hated King's doctrines. Hating them was one of the litmus tests of conservatism.

I lived in a conservative town in a conservative state at the time, and I remember how deeply and viscerally people hated Martin Luther King when he was alive. And for years after his death, conservatives fought his legacy. They opposed a national holiday in his honor (Jesse Helms, that conservative icon, launched a filibuster against the proposal). Even today, many conservatives believe the old Bircherite smears that King was a Communist.

I thought Beck had a phobia about Communists. After all, the allegations that King had "Communist ties" are about as well grounded as Beck's own charges that Van Jones was a "self-proclaimed Communist."

But I guess when they make for handy stage props for phony discussions about race with a carefully selected audience -- shows which rapidly devolve into whinefests by black conservatives about being pegged as sellouts -- he'll look the other way.

Now, I dunno about sellouts. But anyone who thinks "conservative values" were anything but a hindrance to the black community for most of this country's history is just plain ignorant.

Especially if you know anything about what Martin Luther King Jr. actually stood for when he was alive -- and who his enemies were. They were conservatives. And for them to try to claim his mantle now is a travesty and a joke.

digby: Hating The Troops

Following up on Limbaugh's revolting comments, Turkana at Dkos writes:

Great comment from RichM:


I know now Limbaugh is obviously in a death spiral of "how low can you go". So what the fuck are we going to do about it? My suggestion? This should get his ass off of Armed Service Radio.

Limbaugh is disparaging a humanitarian effort by the U.S. military. He is disparaging a mission that should make our military proud. He is disparaging our military! Why is he on Armed Services Radio?

We've been there before, of course. But this time he really has demeaned the whole US military, not just the badly injured vets he called "phony soldiers."

I recall that during the tsunami the military was on the ground working for weeks, so Limbaugh's claim that they only do this during Dem presidencies is just nonsnese. But I also recall seeing soldiers on TV saying they were very pleased to be able to help. I can't imagine they like being called "meals on wheels" when they are actually being quite heroic and saving desperate people from certain death.

And it's long past time for this smart-ass jerk to be taken off armed forces radio. It's insane that soldiers should have to listen to this crap all day and have to try to keep up their morale. Unless they hate thier country it's hard to see why they would want to. Limbaugh certainly does. He hates everybody.

Update: is it possible that rightwingers actually see a thwarted terrorist attack and a shooting rampage in the US are equivalent to the massive human misery that we are seeing in Haiti?
BECK: I also believe this is dividing the nation…to where the nation sees him react so rapidly on Haiti and yet he couldn’t react rapidly on Afghanistan. He couldn’t react rapidly on Ft. Hood. He couldn’t react rapidly on our own airplanes with an underwear bomber…it doesn’t make sense. [...] Three different events and Haiti is the only one. I think personally that it deepens the divide to see him react this rapidly to Haiti.
Well, Beck and his pals didn't like to see anyone give a damn about katrina victims either. He said they were scumbags. 9/11 families too. He's just a soulless shell of a man.
The inmates are eyeing new ways to seize control of the asylum.

The Tea Party movement ignited a year ago, fueled by anti-establishment anger. Now, Tea Party activists are trying to take over the establishment, ground up.

Across the country, they are signing up to be Republican precinct leaders, a position so low-level that it often remains vacant, but which comes with the ability to vote for the party executives who endorse candidates, approve platforms and decide where the party spends money.

A new group called the National Precinct Alliance says it has a coordinator in nearly every state to recruit Tea Party activists to fill the positions and has already swelled the number of like-minded members in Republican Party committees in Arizona and Nevada. Its mantra is this: take the precinct, take the state, take the party -- and force it to nominate conservatives rather than people they see as liberals in Republican clothing.

It's who these folks consider "liberals in Republican clothing" that's perhaps most striking. Today's Republican establishment is, as far as this crowd is concerned, a bunch of sellouts. Just as the Republican Party has become as far-right and stridently ideological as it's ever been, this still-fringe "movement" insists even conservatives aren't conservative enough.

We're talking about a well-intentioned, passionate, and deeply confused group of people -- the folks who believe Democrats are "fascists," the president is Hitler, and programs like Social Security and Medicare are socialist, unconstitutional boondoggles that need to be abolished -- who are now intent on dragging an already far-right party over the cliff.

There's nothing wrong with passionate citizens getting involved in the political process. But the American mainstream may not appreciate the fact that uninformed crazies -- who think death panels are real, but global warming isn't -- intend to take over the Republican infrastructure, more than they already have.

Under normal circumstances, the American mainstream would see this and repelled in the other direction. A Republican brand that was already in tatters after the extraordinary and spectacular failures of Bush, Cheney, DeLay, et al, would suffer in the eyes of the public as the right-wing fringe gained more influence.

But that's what makes 2010 dangerous -- the mainstream doesn't realize the radical nature of the Tea Party "movement"; Democratic voters feel underwhelmed by the pace of progress; and the electorate may very well reward radicalization.

The consequences of the rise of nihilists are hard to predict, but the possibilities are chilling.

  • from the comments:

    Rep Scott Brown says if elected in Mass, he will vote with the big banks and wall street, who are sending him mega bucks, wonder how the tea bag party likes this?

    Posted by: js on January 16, 2010 at 10:23 AM

C&L: Foxheads love the idea of a Palin-Beck presidential ticket

There's been chatter among the Tea Party classes the past few weeks about the possibility of a Sarah Palin-Glenn Beck presidential ticket -- even though Beck himself has laughed it off.

But the notion popped onto the airwaves the other morning on Fox & Friends, when Gretchen Carlson gushed, along with Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, about Palin's appearance on Beck's show the day before:

Doocy: One other thing I think we should point out, they did challenge Saturday Night Live to put them on as guest hosts -- together.

Kilmeade: They should take that up.

Carlson: Some people are saying they might be on the ticket together, down the road. Maybe Saturday Night Live will be the first stop.

I'm trying to decide if these people's fantasies would be a dream come true, or our worst nightmare.

CW Watch: Charlie Cook Edition

Drum: Healthcare vs. Jobs
Via Bruce Bartlett, here is political analyst Charlie Cook repeating a widely held piece of conventional wisdom:

Nearly a year after Obama's inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it's clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation. The latest unemployment and housing numbers underscore the folly of their decision to pay so much attention to health care and climate change instead of focusing on the economy "like a laser beam," as President Clinton pledged to do during his 1992 campaign. Although no one can fairly accuse Obama and his party's leaders of ignoring the economy, they certainly haven't focused on it like a laser beam.

....Much of the political debate, meanwhile, has been obsessed with details of competing health care reform bills. Some analysts have wondered whether Democrats in Congress would be better off passing an unpopular bill or risking the consequences of failing to pass one at all. More to the point, though, is the probability that if Obama and Hill Democrats had taken a more modest approach to health care reform, they could have pivoted back to jobs and the economy sooner. It doesn't take much imagination to envision Obama declaring, "Health care reform is a journey; not a single step. We are today laying a foundation on which America can build better health care."

I don't really understand this. Is it a purely political argument that, regardless of the merits, Obama should have been viewed as spending 24/7 hunkered down in the West Wing helping create jobs for American workers? Or is it a substantive argument that governments have limited bandwidth and Obama should have spent more of his on reducing the unemployment rate?

The former is puerile and the latter is mysterious. What exactly should he have done? He passed a big stimulus bill, and it's plain that there's no political will in Congress to pass another one of any size. He extended unemployment benefits. He tried to take action on mortgage foreclosures, and perhaps he could have done more along those lines. But the financial lobby fought him, Congress wouldn't support cramdown legislation, and banks have resisted taking part in his program. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency would be a nice pro-worker feather in his cap, but it wouldn't help anyone find a job and probably wouldn't have gotten through Congress any quicker even if they weren't busy with healthcare.

So exactly what would his "pivot" back to jobs1 have looked like? Nobody ever really says. But aside from giving rousing speeches, the big levers available to fix the economy are monetary, which is in the hands of the Fed; fiscal, which he's done; and meliorative, which he's largely done too. The rest is mostly window dressing.

1Assuming that this mythical "more modest" healthcare bill really could have passed any faster than the current one in the first place. Frankly, given the Republican Party's dedication to "What part of NO! don't you understand" as its political strategy, I doubt it.

Krugman: Talk Is Cheap — And Irrelevant

So there appears to be a spreading piece of conventional wisdom saying that instead of trying to pass health care reform, Obama should have “focused on the economy”. I’m with Kevin Drum: I have no idea what this is supposed to mean.

It would be one thing if pundits were saying that Obama should have passed a bigger stimulus plan and nationalized some banks. But if that’s what they mean, they should be saying that. And that then raises two questions: could the stimulus have been made larger, politically? (I say yes, but many disagree). And if so, why would that have conflicted with health reform later in the year?

Anyway, I’m quite sure that Charlie Cook and the like aren’t actually quarreling about macroeconomic policy. What they mean by “focusing on the economy” is, almost surely, talking about it — you know, just like the way to fight terrorism is to talk a lot about terrorism.

And why on earth does anyone think this would have helped? I guarantee you, more speeches on the economy would not have produced more job growth. Would they have made the public feel better about 10 percent unemployment? (Hey, Obama’s plan may not be working, but he sure sounds like he’s trying!)

Obama’s problem isn’t that he tried to do too many things; it’s certainly not a lack of focus. You can argue — I do argue, and did at the time — that he settled for too weak an economic plan in the first few weeks of his administration. But did any of the pundits now criticizing his lack of focus on the economy ever say anything like that? No.

Steve Benen:

To hear Cook tell it, Obama and congressional Dems should have pivoted from focusing on the economy to ... focusing some more on the economy. I'm wondering what it is, exactly, Cook has in mind. Policymakers had to wait as the recovery initiative began to improve the economy, and all the while, the administration not only pumped the funds into the system, while the Treasury and the Fed worked to bring stability to the system. As a result, the crisis has passed, and the economy is significantly stronger than it was.

What, literally, would Cook have had policymakers do differently? Wait for photographers to take pictures of the president and his team staring at charts? Give a bunch of speeches?

To be sure, the stimulus package should have been bigger and more ambitious, and the federal housing policy fell short in some key areas. But that's not the point Cook is making here -- he's saying major policy initiatives such as health care and energy, despite their direct impact on the economy and growth, should have been put off indefinitely while leaders "focused" on the economy.

It's obviously an argument made with hindsight, but in retrospect, the "miscalculation" wasn't tackling health care reform, it was taking so long to bring it to a vote.

Rachel responds to Jon

As sharp as he is, Jon Stewart sometimes misses the forest for the trees. He did here, and Rachel was right to respond. This is surgical.
Acting on behalf of the American people Jan. 15: Rachel Maddow updates the news on progress being made by USAID in Haiti and responds to critics who think reporting on the government's efforts on behalf of the American people is inappropriately political.

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


How serious is the threat of Massachusetts electing a far-right Republican to the Senate next week? Serious enough to send President Obama to the state to try to prevent it.

President Barack Obama will travel to Massachusetts to campaign with state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) on Sunday, a sign of the import the White House is attaching to the Senate special election race that could determine the fate of the Administration's health care bill.

The Obama visit is the clearest signal yet that the race, which was once expected to be a cakewalk for Coakley, has turned into a toss up with just four days of campaigning before ballots are cast on Tuesday. [...]

In dispatching the President to the Bay State, Democratic strategists are hoping to energize their party's base, which, to date, has been largely apathetic about the race generally and Coakley's candidacy specifically. Obama, on Friday, also recorded an automated phone call as well in an effort to gin up turnout for Coakley.

Rahm Emanuel reportedly started reaching out to party leaders in Massachusetts this week, asking if a presidential visit was necessary. We now know what he heard in response.

There is, of course, a political risk involved in having Obama, who remains a popular figure in Massachusetts, hit the campaign trail in support of a struggling candidate -- if Coakley loses after a presidential visit, it makes Obama look bad, and may suggest to other Dems that the president can't save them if they run into electoral trouble.

But the risks associated with a Coakley defeat are far more serious -- thanks to Republican obstructionism, a GOP victory on Tuesday would effectively end legislative progress for the rest of the year. After all, Dems would "only" have 59 votes, and because the Senate is broken, 41 members trump 59.

Time will tell if the president is able to make a difference, but the recent trajectory suggests Coakley needs something to motivate Democrats -- the campaign's internal polling, which showed Coakley up by a few points earlier this week now show her trailing by four points.

It's also worth emphasizing that there may be some misconceptions about GOP nominee Scott Brown. Massachusetts Republicans, after all, have a reputation for being relatively moderate on key issues, and it's possible that some voters think Brown may be more of an Olympia-Snowe-like senator, caucusing with the opposition party but willing to engage with the majority.

That's clearly not the case. Brown is surprisingly conservative -- he supports torture, opposes Wall Street accountability, supports more tax cuts for the wealthy, supports restrictions on abortion rights, opposes economic recovery efforts, opposes modest health care reform efforts, and doubts that global climate change is the result of human activity.

Brown doesn't intend to go to the Senate to play a constructive role in solving problems; he intends to go the Senate to push the Bush/Cheney agenda. That's not spin or rhetoric -- that's what he's effectively promised the voters of Massachusetts.

Sully: Obama's Tora Bora?

He had health insurance reform in his grasp and yet it may now be swiped away because they simply took too long to get it done. Josh vents:

[If Scott Brown wins], Health Care Reform will be dead unless the House agrees to pass the Senate bill verbatim -- which I really wonder about, given how dug in the progressives in the House are. Barney Frank doesn't seem to think it'll happen.

At that point, how incredibly stupid is the dawdling over the last few weeks going to look? The work of a year, arguably the work of a few generations, let go needlessly over a single special election?

It's really almost beyond comprehension.

It is until you realize the Democratic party organized this Congressional mess and the Coakley candidacy. And then, of course, there is the total, rigid opposition to any reform and any cooperation at all from the nihilist Republicans. Obama is president for three more years. He will survive. He may even prosper. But this really would be a massive blow. To get this close and lose health insurance would embolden every enemy Obama has, from Netanyahu to Ailes.

That's the only reason to vote for Coakley on Tuesday.

She's a dreadful candidate, but this race is now a critical battle in the war to rescue the possibility of effective governance. If health reform dies, it will show just how broken the system is, just how impossible it is to effect even centrist reform in a Senate this paralyzed, how polarization has made compromise impossible, how the country's profound problems are simply beyond the system's reach. If this fails, what chance for any action on climate change? Or the debt? Or some movement toward a settlement in the Middle East?

And if Obama fails, there are no Democrats able to match him. The nihilist Republicans would be resurgent, pledging more tax cuts, more debt, and no entitlement cuts, entrenching torture as the American way, and pouring even more resources into the indefinite occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The lesson will be: permanent political war is the only way. The only way to govern the country is to divide and weaken it.

Just like Rove did. You want that back? Vote Brown. You don't? Hold your nose and vote for Coakley.

Booman: Let's Have That Debate
I haven't weighed in on the special election in Massachusetts. I hope Martha Coakley wins, but I don't know if she will. I don't have any advice to offer, and I'm not interested in running her down as a candidate because I don't see how that will help. Frankly, I haven't been paying enough attention to critique her performance as a candidate. But, if she loses, and people start pointing fingers, I don't think Armando really hits the mark when he says "don't blame internecine fighting." More explicitly, Armando makes the point that it makes no sense to shout down the disaffected left, even if they are partly to blame. Let's think about that.

He's 100% right that the left does not need to hear a lecture from Rahm Emanuel, or any squishy Blue Dog/New Dem 'centrists' about how we're all a bunch a cry babies who are hurting the party. But what about people on the left talking to other people on the left? How about an internal debate on whether our tactics are working or not? Because, I don't think they're working, and a lot of what I've seen in the progressive blogosphere this year has been more effective at demoralizing and dividing the troops than it has been in persuading anyone not on the left to do what we want or advise.

If Coakley loses and this starts some soul-searching debate or circular firing squad, I think the real conversation needs to be the left talking to itself.

Sully: The Candidate The Massachusetts Democrats Rejected

Here is congressman Capuano from Cambridge, rejected in favor of the tired, useless hack, Coakley:

Yeah, the Democrats are a bunch of hapless, complacent, arrogant morons. I'm anguished by what they have done to Obama. But they reap what they sow.

Marshall: No Health Care for Brown's Staff?

The Massachusetts senate race is all about Health Care.

But is Scott Brown even providing health care coverage for his staff? He's got his whole staff working as independent contractors -- top to bottom -- so they're paying their own payroll taxes and presumably finding health care coverage on their own.

Think Progress: Wall Street Investors Lavish Scott Brown’s Campaign With Money, Get Out The Vote Operations

Major U.S. banks which instigated the financial crisis are set to pay out “record” bonuses and compensation — $145 billion by some estimates. State Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), the Republican candidate running for the special U.S. Senate election next week, announced yesterday that he would oppose the recently announced financial crisis responsibility fee on large banks.

Brown’s defense of the financial industry has not been ignored by Wall Street. Wall Street’s two largest political enforcers are also out fighting to elect him:

The Wall Street front group FreedomWorks is mobilizing get out the vote efforts for Brown this weekend. FreedomWorks organized the very first tea party protests, and has used its extensive staff and resources to mobilize rallies and advocacy campaigns on behalf of corporate interests. Dick Armey, who as a corporate lobbyist represented AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch during the bailouit, is the leader of FreedomWorks. FreedomWorks is also funded and chaired by Steve Forbes and Frank Sands of Sands Capital Management.

The Wall Street front group Club for Growth is strongly “boosting” Brown and is expected to run ads in support for him. According to recent disclosures, the Club for Growth is funded by a $1.4 million dollar donation from investor Stephen Jacksons of Stephens Groups Inc, a $1.4 million dollar donation from broker Richard Gilder, and $210,000-$630,000 donations from at least 10 other investors and financial industry professionals. The Club is also supporting a slate of candidates to repeal health reform, while its other endorsed candidates have opposed a financial truth commission.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis of Brown’s latest Federal Elections Commission disclosures (part 1, part 2, part 3), filed on Jan. 8 and 11, business executives and Wall Street executives have lavished Brown’s campaign coffers with 11th hour contributions:

Scott Brown contributions

A report on financial industry compensation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found that large financial corporations — including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Citigroup — spend between 25% to 50% of total revenue on paying out executive compensation. While the finance industry often refuses to offer lines of credit to American businesses struggling in this economy, they operate largely as vehicles to make bankers richer.

Brown casts himself as an everyday man, telling reporters “it’s me against the machine.” In fact, Brown is teaming up with Wall Street bankers to kill financial reform and preserve a system of Bush-era unfettered capitalism.

It's a little late in the game to introduce a game-changing issue into the Senate special election in Massachusetts -- the election is Tuesday, after all -- but this revelation nevertheless tells voters something pretty important about Republican Scott Brown.

One month after the September 11th attacks, Scott Brown was one of only three Massachusetts State Representatives to vote against a bill to provide financial assistance to Red Cross workers who had volunteered with 9/11 recovery efforts, we've learned.

The Brown campaign acknowledged the vote to us, claiming the measure would have taxed already-strained state finances. [...]

On October 17th, 2001, Brown voted against a bill that would authorize "leaves of absence for certain Red Cross employees participating in Red Cross emergencies." The bill gave 15 days of paid leave each year to state workers called up by the Red Cross to respond to disasters. At the time, state workers called for such emergencies were required to use sick and vacation days.

This suggests an almost-stunning callousness. It's all the more galling that Brown knew it was going to pass -- 148 to 3 -- but opposed it anyway, just to make a point.

I shudder to think what Republicans would say about a Democratic lawmaker who cast a vote like this just a month after the 9/11 attacks

The Brown campaign has said the vote was about fiscal responsibility -- Massachusetts couldn't afford assistance for Red Cross workers who had volunteered with 9/11 recovery efforts.

That's not a bad line, I suppose, but here's my follow-up question: why, then, does Scott Brown recommend tax cuts now that the nation can't afford? Why would tax cuts for the wealthy be more important than help for 9/11 recovery volunteers?

DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz told Greg Sargent, "On a day with Scott Brown bringing in Rudy Giuliani, he ought to give the people of Massachusetts an explanation as to why he voted against relief for 9/11 workers. We knew Scott Brown was a shill for Wall Street and corporate interests, but I cannot imagine what excuse he comes up with for this vote. He ought to be ashamed of himself and he ought to apologize to the Mayor of New York."

It also reinforces the fact that Brown, a favorite of the Tea Party crowd, isn't even close to being a moderate. He's pretty far to the right on everything from torture to taxes, health care to the economy, Wall Street accountability to global warming.

But this 9/11 vote may lead on-the-fence voters to wonder whether Brown represents "a new day," or the worst of yesterday.

Update: On a related note, if the media is making a big deal about a DSCC ad that inadvertently showed the World Trade Center (the ad was pulled), Brown's vote on 9/11 recovery volunteers is at least as important, if not more so.

Friday, January 15, 2010

When Reality Hits

While I have no doubt that the republicans will continue to wage an all-out deceitful campaign about the health care bill that, Lord willing, passes Congress and is signed into law, the reality of the good it does will rapidly become apparent - as long as Dems aren't afraid of going out and selling it. Our President started that process yesterday win a speech to House Dems:
The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn't do things that people have been trying to say it does. Their worst fears will prove groundless, and the American people's hope for a fair shake from their insurance companies for quality, affordable health care they need will finally be realized.
If Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have. If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that argument.
Exactly right. The core reason republicans are fighting this now, and fought it in 1994, is that they realize substantive health care reform would not only be popular, but also that it would demonstrate in a very personal way that government can work to make peoples lives substantially better. Which is exactly the opposite of their core message and beliefs. It doesn't matter to them if this is good policy for America, because they see it as bad for their political prospects.

Sadly, the Fox News/RW Radio people will never be exposed to these ideas through their preferred media, just as they have not been exposed to the unanimous economist's analysis that the stimulus bill is accomplishing precisely what it was designed to accomplish. They have their own reality that is very difficult to penetrate. However, as they, and people they know, suddenly find themselves with access to health insurance/care that was previously denied them, that new reality will start to penetrate. One would hope.

Sullivan: Palin's FNC/RNC Ratings
A smash hit. Ailes' tactic is vindicated. And the media-political-industrial complex grinds forward.
President Obama delivered a speech to the House Democratic Caucus Retreat late yesterday afternoon, and made it clear why the chamber is his favorite. He noted that it's "amazing" that "out of the major initiatives we were talking about before we took office, you've either completed or set the stage for almost all of them."

Indeed, the House's to-do list features a lot of checkmarks, which the president was only too pleased to emphasize: economic recovery, health care, cap and trade, Wall Street reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay act, SCHIP, reducing Pentagon waste, cutting spending, reforming credit card rules, regulating the tobacco industry, a new national service bill, expanded hate-crime protections, new investments in education, etc. "In one of America's darkest hours, you answered the call," the president said. "Time and again you stood up and you led."

Specifically on health care, Obama acknowledged "how big a lift this has been." He conceded that he's seen the polls and the "occasional blog post or cable clip that breathlessly declares what something means for a political party, without really talking much about what it means for a country." But the president is nevertheless confident in the message he and other Dems can take to the country:

"The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn't do things that people have been trying to say it does. Their worst fears will prove groundless, and the American people's hope for a fair shake from their insurance companies for quality, affordable health care they need will finally be realized.

"This year alone, this reform will ban some of the worst practices of the insurance industry forever. They'll no longer be allowed to refuse coverage for preexisting conditions for children or drop coverage when folks get sick and need it the most. They'll no longer be allowed to impose restrictive annual limits on the amount of coverage that you receive, lifetime limits on the amounts of benefits received. They'll be required to offer free preventive care -- like checkups and routine tests and mammograms -- at no cost. Patients will have rights. They will get what they pay for. And that's just the beginning."

And what about the politics of the debate and the 2010 elections?

"Well, let me tell you something. If Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have. If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that argument. What are they going to say? 'Well, you know, the old system really worked well; let's go back to the way it was'? That's not going to appeal to seniors who are now seeing the possibility of that doughnut hole finally closing and so they can finally get discounts on their prescriptions. That's not going to appeal to the small businesses who find out all the tax credits that they're going to get for doing right by their employees -- something that they have been wanting to do, but may not have been able to afford. It's not going to be very appealing to Americans who for the first time are going to find out that they can provide coverage to their children, their dependents, all the way up to the age of 26 or 27.

"And that's why I'll be out there waging a great campaign from one end of the country to the other, telling Americans with insurance or without what they stand to gain; about the arsenal of consumer protections; about the long-awaited stability that they're going to begin to experience. And I'm going to tell them that I am proud we are putting the future of America before the politics of the moment -- the next generation before the next election. And that, after all, is what we were sent up here to do: standing up for the American people against the special interests; solve problems that we've been talking about for decades; make their lives a little bit better; make tough choices sometimes when they're unpopular. And that's something that every one of you who support this bill can be proud to campaign on in November."

It's not a bad message for the electorate over the next 10 or so months.

  • from the comments:

    OK - President Obama will probably blow the house down with his SOTU address, yet some random Republican (joe wilson) will yell something really awful in order to raise massive amounts of money which will also have the effect of pushing the Presidents message out of the limelight, off the frint pages, and cause John McCain to appear on every Sunday talk show for the entire month of February.

    I really hate Republicans and their sleazy tactics.

    Posted by: bcinaz on January 15, 2010 at 8:50 AM

Sargent: Vicki Kennedy: Yes, It’s The People’s Seat, But Coakley Would Carry On Teddy’s Legacy

The Martha Coakley campaign goes up with a new spot starring Vicki Kennedy, in which she pushes back on Republican claims that Dems feel entitled to the Massachusetts seat because of the identity of its previous inhabitant:

“Tuesday’s election is to fill the term my husband didn’t have a chance to complete,” Vicki says in the spot. “But it’s not the Kennedy seat. It’s the people’s seat — the mother struggling to make ends meet, the father trying to find a job. My husband fought for them, and so does Martha Coakley.”

This is a response to Scott Brown’s now-infamous jab, in which he said it’s not “the Kennedy seat” and is instead “the people’s seat.” As Ben Smith notes, it’s a sign that Brown’s crack is framing the debate. And some D.C. pundits have pronounced themselves transfixed by Brown’s cleverness.

But there’s another level to Brown’s remark that’s worth looking at. Brown recast the claim by Democrats that Coakley is the rightful heir, policy-wise, to Kennedy’s seat as merely reflecting a sense of Dem entitlement to the seat.

But it’s an objectively true fact that in policy terms Coakley would seek to build on Kennedy’s legacy and would support an agenda that reflects Kennedy’s principles and priorities. Brown, by contrast, would do the opposite. Those so taken with Brown’s cleverness might point out this underlying reality, too.

Bellantoni (TPM): Health Care Talks Went Into Wee Hours At White House

After a big hurdle was cleared yesterday when the White House struck a deal with Congressional leaders and labor unions on the excise tax, the team went right back to negotiating late last night.

An administration official told us that several top leaders huddled in the Cabinet room from 9:15 p.m. until 1:25 a.m. That's after a more than 8-hour meeting Wednesday. (President Obama left just before 1 a.m., the official said.)

"The President and congressional leaders continued to work through the differences in the health bills. They made solid progress toward a final package, including common-sense adjustments that strengthen the legislation and make sure it works for middle-class families while bringing down costs and expanding coverage to millions of Americans," the official said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) was at the White House this week discussing health care, TPMDC has learned. Officials wouldn't disclose details of what was discussed, but to be sure Obama and Democratic leaders want to make sure they keep his vote in place for the final health care compromise.

Members attending last night's meeting after the jump.

Speaker Pelosi
Leader Hoyer
Congressman Clyburn
Chairman Miller
Chairman Rangel
Chairman Waxman
Leader Reid
Senator Durbin
Senator Schumer
Chairman Baucus
Chairman Dodd
Chairman Harkin
-- Secretary Sebelius attended a portion of the meeting.
-- Staff attending this evening included Rahm Emanuel, Phil Schiliro, and Nancy-Ann DeParle

Here is the White House's description of the excise tax deal:

Ø Include permanent adjustments based on age, gender and high-risk professions - factors that affect the cost of health plans regardless of the generosity of the benefits they provide. This makes good sense, as it focuses the impact on plans that provide the highest-cost benefits - not those that happen to cover the highest-cost workers.

Ø Phases in an exemption of the cost of dental and vision plans from the cost of coverage. These benefits are outside the core health spending which this provision is aimed at slowing.

Ø Provide transition relief to help employers, insurers and workers adjust to the permanent provision. This includes a transition period for high-cost states, as well as providing health plans for state and local workers and collectively bargained plans a 5-year transition window before being subject to the tax. This is similar to the approach in other areas of the bill - including insurance market reforms and the insurer fee - where transition periods are built in to give stakeholders time to adjust.

Ezra Klein: Do national exchanges wreck Ben Nelson's abortion compromise?

A few of you have been asking me about this, so I may as well put it up on the blog. The abortion compromise that brought Ben Nelson onto the bill essentially calls for states to do whatever they want within their own exchanges. Moving to a national exchange, as the House bill suggests, sounds like it could muck that up.

But it only sounds that way. The national exchange envisioned in the House bill is not national in the sense of being one exchange serving the nation. It's still a separate exchange in each and every state. The difference between the House and Senate bills is that the Senate lets the states regulate and administer those exchanges unless they prove unable to do so while the House bill hands the federal government the job unless the states ask to do it themselves. To put it more simply, the national exchange is really just a federally-regulated state exchange. There's no reason that should harm the Nelson compromise, as different states will still be able to choose different ways forward on abortion.

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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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Politics: "I wouldn't know" Edition

John Amato (C&L):

I love Google, don't you? It's so handy. Why, if I were a Republican presidential nominee and I didn't know who to select as my running mate, I too might use teh Google to determine my pick.

John McCain did that very thing when he selected Sarah Palin. On the Today Show, when Matt Lauer questioned him on his pick, he said that he "wouldn't know." Jesus. McCain tried to bring up the war to divert Lauer from pushing him, and to Lauer's credit he didn't back down.

John McCain refused to comment on it. That is insane.

Lauer asked, that the vetting of Sarah Palin was so woefully inadequate that no one from the campaign traveled to Alaska to interview her husband or any of her political opponents?

"I wouldn't know," McCain said. "The fact is that I'm proud of Sarah Palin, I'm proud of the campaign we waged, she energized our party, she will be a major factor in American politics in the future, and I'm proud of our campaign."

Somewhat taken aback, Lauer told McCain that he found it "somewhat surprising" that he didn't know anything about the vetting process, adding "You were the presidential candidate."

McCain testily shot back by saying that he had no intention of "looking back over what happened over a year ago," adding, "I'm sorry, you'll have to get others to comment on it."

Watch the video below:

Really? That's all Mr. Straight talk had in him? And it's embarrassing that they were so desperate for a female candidate that they actually had to Google Chick-Repubs to see who was available.

Among their revelations is how McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, spotted Sarah Palin while searching the Internet for possible female vice presidential candidates.

"Rick Davis saw one interview she did with Charlie Rose where she was very much the Sarah Palin that people find appealing. She was lively, she was engaging, she popped off the screen. And he said, 'Wow, she jumps out,'" Halperin said.

"McCain boxed himself in. He needed a game-changing pick for vice president. And that left them with a last-minute pick of someone who was, to McCain, a virtual stranger, and was, to his senior staffers, an absolute stranger," he added.

Josh Marshall: Are the Dems Going to Blow This?

Charlie Rangel says House/Senate negotiations are at an impasse. "We've got a problem on both sides of the Capitol. A serious problem," Charlie Rangel tells Roll Call. Another senior Dem says no progress has been made at all. And they probably won't have a bill for the president until February. This article in the AP confuses me even more, suggesting the negotiators may drop the mandate for large employers to provide coverage and some other points about the exchange system that don't even square with my understanding of the two underlying bills.

All the details aside, are we really serious about this? Are they going to fumble this ball at the five yard line? February? March? Why not May?

  • Steve Benen adds:

    It's worth noting that it's generally a mistake to overreact to every discouraging quote from individuals involved in health care talks. Sometimes people get frustrated; sometimes they're talking to the media as part of a negotiating strategy; and sometimes folks just blow off steam.

    But at this point, it seems the final talks on the final bill really aren't going very well. This process has obviously been messy since, well, the moment it began. Nevertheless, a quick resolution of the House-Senate differences is unlikely, with major hurdles on financing options, anti-trust provisions, and the scope of the exchange.

    Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who made the Senate reform bill worse by making unpopular changes, said yesterday he may yet betray his party and his country by rejecting the compromise he helped shape. There's some talk of a compromise on the excise tax -- exempting collectively bargained health care benefits for union members -- but Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Texas), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said it's not enough. Those involved in the talks seem to think the tense negotiations may last several weeks, and make passage in January impossible.

    President Obama hopes to improve the status of the talks today at a White House meeting with congressional leaders, specifically on the status of the reform bill. Stay tuned.

Private health insurance companies said repeatedly throughout 2009 that they were sincerely interested in playing a constructive role in the health care reform debate.

Way back in March, Karen Ignagni, head of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), vowed, "You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year," As recently as October, "Ignagni declared that the insurance industry is still on board with the Democratic health care reform effort, pushing back against the presumption that the two sides have declared war."

But while AHIP was stressing its commitment to the reform initiative, and assuring policymakers of its good-faith intentions, insurers were secretly financing blatantly dishonest attack ads, hoping to kill the entire effort, quietly funneling money to outside groups. National Journal has the story:

Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation's biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.

That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.

The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multi-million dollar donations.

At the exact same time as AHIP was telling the Washington Post that insurers "continue to strongly support reform," AHIP was already quietly using its ad budget to mislead the country and weaken support for the plan.

I realize these revelations may have a dog-bites-man quality. "Imagine that -- health insurance companies were being sleazy and dishonest while trying to screw over the country," some of you are no doubt thinking. "Will wonders never cease."

But this story should remove all doubt. There are still plenty of conservative lawmakers, for example, who are prepared to take marching orders from AHIP. Worse, there are still plenty of Americans who've seen AHIP's subsidized attack ads, and don't realize that they're being lied to. Officially, AHIP still wants to maintain the facade that it's a friend of health care reform.

Policymakers struggling to resolve differences on the final reform bill may want to keep a simple adage in mind: don't let AHIP's duplicitous campaign win.

DougJ: A cool million

In all the mockery of Harold Ford, it’s easy to lose sight of this question: what the hell is Bank of America paying Harold Ford a million dollars for? He can’t even be working full time, not with his regular “Morning Joe” gig. He doesn’t seem all that smart or capable.

It’s true that lots of people make a million dollars a year at big banks. And I don’t know exactly what most of them do. I have one friend who makes about that much at a bank, but he’s been there for ten years, headed up two hugely successful large-scale projects, worked 90-hour weeks for a few years, had 200 people working under him, and so on (not that any of this justifies the salary in a sane world). I don’t know how typical that is—maybe most of the people making seven figures at banks don’t really do anything and have never done much of anything.

I’m left with the impression that Harold Ford is being paid for future services rendered, that he is being bribed to do the bank’s bidding should he ever become Senator or head of the DNC (remember, Carville was pushing him for that long ago) or something of that nature. I can’t see any other explanation.

With the House poised to return from its recess, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has another Poltico op-ed today, describing his hopes/expectations for the year. It's not an especially compelling look.

The thrust of the piece is to complain about, well, pretty much everything. President Obama, Cantor said, had "a unique opportunity to unite the country" last year, but that didn't work because the White House refused to govern with far-right priorities in mind. (The nerve of the president to follow his campaign platform.) The big bad president and those mean Democratic leaders expressed no interest in right-wing ideas, and as a result, Obama's desire to be "the great unifier" came up far short.

From Obama's first day in office, [congressional Republicans] stood ready to work with him on common-sense, mainstream solutions to return the economy to prosperity and get Americans working again.... Despite efforts like these to work together, the Obama administration, in tandem with Democrats on Capitol Hill, has forged ahead with a rigidly ideological agenda. [...]

It didn't have to be this way. From the stimulus to the budget to health care, Republicans have offered substantive solutions on every piece of major legislation in a good-faith effort to get things done for Americans facing tremendous challenges. During the rare occasions when we have held discussions at the White House, the president has paid our proposals mere lip service when the cameras are on, only to rebuff our ideas in their entirety once the meeting ends.

The column gets dumber -- for example, he urges the administration to "cast aside political correctness to keep the American people secure" -- which is to be expected. Cantor is, after all, the quintessential post turtle.

But these claims about the GOP agenda from last year warrant a little fact-checking.

Republicans offered a "substantive solution" during the stimulus debate? Actually, no. Republicans offered a five-year spending freeze and a new round of tax cuts. Even prominent conservatives described the GOP recovery plan as "insane."

Republicans offered a "substantive solution" during the budget debate? I wish they had. Republicans actually offered two genuinely ridiculous alternative budgets, one of which didn't include any numbers, and one of which sought to privatize Medicare out of existence.

Republicans offered a "substantive solution" during the health care debate? Not in this reality it didn't. The GOP plan was nothing short of laughable -- it did nothing for the uninsured, nothing for those with pre-existing conditions, and nothing for those worried about losing coverage when it's needed most. It was an entirely partisan plan, written in secret. The Republican proposal sought to create a system that "works better for people who don't need health care services, and much worse for people who actually are sick or who become sick in the future. It's basically a health un-insurance policy." And as we learned in November, the plan included provisions that "mirror the suggestions put forth by the lobbying entity of the private insurance industry way back in December 2008."

When Obama reached out to Republicans on the climate bill, the GOP said it would refuse to accept the idea that global warming is real. When Obama reached out to Republicans on a plan to cut spending, Cantor & Co. came up with only $23 billion in cuts over five years -- less than Obama's plan. When Obama met with GOP leaders in the White House, and started talking about the kind of concessions he was prepared to make as part of a bipartisan compromise on health care, he asked what Republicans might be willing to do in return. They offered literally nothing.

Obama, we're told, chose "to rebuff [Republican] ideas in their entirety." Maybe that's because the Republican ideas were a pathetic joke, unworthy of consideration, and unbecoming of a national political party that strives to be taken seriously?

  • From the comments:

Five minutes later, Cantor posed for cameras and took credit for the parts of Obama's rigidly ideological agenda that benefitted Cantor's district.

Posted by: scrappled on January 12, 2010 at 2:55 PM
I don't imagine there's much point in a president being gracious towards those who will do anything to destroy him, but Obama has a stubborn side.

President Barack Obama has accepted an invitation to appear at the House GOP issues conference later this month, and Republican leaders made it clear Tuesday that they will use the opportunity to push their solutions to the country's economic woes.

"House Republicans are grateful that the President of the United States has accepted our invitation to meet with the Republican Conference later this month," House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said in a statement. "House Republicans look forward to presenting the president with our proposals to protect our nation, create jobs, control federal spending, lower the cost of health care, achieve energy independence and strengthen families."

I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that one. The two sides want to take the country in entirely different directions, and one has spent a year trashing the other as an illegitimate, foreign socialist intent on destroying capitalism and the American system of government. Now that it's an election year, they're really prepared to get nasty.

Last February, after the president was urged to continue his bipartisan outreach, Obama said, "Well, I will certainly do that ... because I'm just a glutton for punishment. I'm going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Someday, sooner or later, he's going to say, 'Boy, Obama had a good idea.'"

It's a nice idea that's never going to happen, but the president at least gets points for persistence.