Saturday, July 31, 2010


Sullivan: The Benefits Of The Slow Struggle

I was never one who believed that Barack Obama could - in a mere two years - repair the enormous damage of decades of unfunded entitlement and defense spending, two disastrously conceived, off-budget and negligently prosecuted wars, a financial market collapse, the worst recession since the 1930s, two burst bubbles in tech and housing, and the importation of torture into the American way of war. Maybe I over-estimated how much the GOP might learn from their appalling record in the new millennium - but that would require an admission of failure that they seem incapable of.

Nonetheless, the sheer difficulties and resistance that Obama has met with - from the FNC propaganda channel to the balls-free liberal press to the utopian activist left and deranged radical right - is remarkable. But, as P.M. Carpenter notes, this is not an inherently bad thing. We need opposition - if a more intelligent and less cynical opposition than we now confront. And no real change has come to America without slowness and resistance and division - as its constitution requires. The filibuster has become, it seems to me, a promiscuously wielded impediment, but in real context, the huge shift Obama has already achieved is quite remarkable:

I direct your attention to American history, from early 19th-century social reforms to the decades-long battle for emancipation to the century's later political-bureaucratic reforms to TR Darwin-1-sm and Wilson's Progressive Era to FDR's New Dealism and to the Great(er) Society envisioned by LBJ. Each level of sociopolitical progress was grinding and grueling and packed with half-measures -- because remember, the other side gets its say, too; plus the other side, notwithstanding our oft-proper ridicule, is not always without its own version of idealism, possessed just as passionately.

And now, Barack Obama's correction of a dreadful, 30-year pseudoconservative misadventure. Step by step. Piece by piece. Half-measures by half-measures, which in time will become 60-percent measures, then 80-percent measures ...

That, quite simply, is the way it is. Indeed, that's the way it's supposed to be. If genuine conservative genius there ever was, it came in the Founders' Burkean inspiration that true and lasting progress must pass the tests of peaceful struggle and tireless debate. Achieving a national consensus is hard, but it's necessary to progress' durability; vast and overanxious progress in a consensual void only insures its unraveling.

If you backed Obama and want to see real change continue, now is not the time to give up because it's not as easy as you thought it would be. Now is the time to oppose the passionate intensity of his opponents with the reasoned conviction that elected him.

Remember: we are the ones we've been waiting for. Are we really going to substitute pique for purpose and ennui for hope now? By all means criticize when necessary, as I have. But he's the best we've got, and we are lucky to have him.

To paraphrase Mr Krugman this morning,

Mr. Obama may not be the politician of our dreams, but his enemies are definitely the stuff of our nightmares.

Pearlstein: The new division of labor: Adding profits, subtracting workers

On the outside of its majestic headquarters in Washington, across the park from the White House, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently hung four giant banners that spell out exactly what it thinks is missing from the current economy: J-O-B-S.

This is a particularly Orwellian bit of political theater, given that it is the private businesses the Chamber purports to represent that eliminated 8 million jobs in 2008 and 2009 and have managed to add a scant 600,000 since then. If Chamber President Tom Donohue wants to round up those responsible for the lack of job growth in this country, all he has to do is call a meeting of his board of directors.

Although the jobs haven't returned, corporate profits surely have and, at $1.2 trillion annually, are now higher than they were at the height of the bubble. It turns out that companies have found ways to produce as much as they ever did, but with fewer workers. As a result, over the past year, output for each hour worked rose more than 6 percent, even as average hourly earnings have risen less than 2 percent. The rest of those productivity gains have gone straight to the bottom line, creating a record stash of cash on corporate balance sheets.

One would have hoped that, by this point in the recovery, businesses would have begun to use some of that cash to ramp up spending on research and development and to invest in new plants and equipment. But after falling sharply for two years, such spending has only just begun to rebound, and much of it has focused on faster-growing markets outside the United States. Some of the cash has been used to pay down debt or buy back stock. But so far the one thing businesses haven't done is hire back full-time employees, preferring instead to contract for temporary workers or increase the hours of the workers they already have.

There are lots of theories why this is happening. With consumers cutting back on debt-financed spending, cutting expenses has been the most obvious way for businesses to increase their profits. New technology and the decline of unions have surely enabled that trend, while big performance bonuses for top executives have encouraged it. And when one company does it, all the others feel compelled to follow suit. Add to that a noticeable lack of imagination and risk-taking among today's corporate executives, and you have a pretty good recipe for a jobless recovery.

The only surprise is that anyone is surprised by the lack of private-sector hiring. It is only in the world of Chamber of Commerce propaganda that businesses exist to create jobs. In the real world, businesses exist to create profits for shareholders, not jobs for workers. That's why they call it capitalism, not job-ism. There's no reason to beat up on business owners and executives simply because they're doing what the system encourages them to do.

By the same token, however, it is more than a bit hypocritical for business leaders to pin the blame on the Obama administration for their own failure to create private-sector jobs, as they have been doing lately.

This week, Princeton's Alan Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics and a onetime adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign, released a paper laying out in simple and compelling terms how the government saved the country from another Great Depression. Using a standard econometric model, they backed out everything the government did to tame the financial crisis and stimulate the economy -- the zero interest rates and extraordinary lending by the Fed, the bailouts of the banks and the auto companies, the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the tax cuts and the infrastructure payments and the money for the states. And what they concluded is that, without these actions, the economy would now be 8 percent smaller, with 8 million fewer jobs and a federal budget deficit this year of $2 trillion rather than $1.4 trillion.

The irony is that this set of bold government initiatives that saved the country from economic catastrophe remain as unpopular today as when they were introduced.

Perhaps none was more controversial than the decision to rescue Chrysler and General Motors, using $86 billion in taxpayer funds and an expedited bankruptcy process that wiped out shareholders, brought in new executives and directors, forced creditors to take a financial haircut, closed dealerships and factories and imposed painful cuts in wages and benefits on unionized workers. It was an extraordinary and heavy-handed government intervention into the market economy that left the Treasury owning a majority of both companies. As one participant recalls, public opinion was divided among those who believed that the companies should have been allowed to die, those who believed they would never survive bankruptcy and those who believed the government would inevitably screw things up. Among the most vocal skeptics: the Chamber's Donohue.

A year later, the auto bailout is an unqualified success. The government used its leverage to force the companies to make the painful changes they should have made years before, and then backed off and let the companies run themselves without any noticeable interference.

The results, which President Obama will tout on a visit to Michigan on Friday: For the first time since 2004, GM and Chrysler, along with Ford, all reported operating profits in their U.S. businesses last quarter. The domestic auto industry added 55,000 jobs last year, ending a decade-long string of declines. Auto sector exports are up 57 percent so far this year and, thanks largely to new government regulations, the industry is moving quickly to introduce more fuel-efficient vehicles. Most surprising of all, GM and Chrysler have already repaid more than $8 billion in government loans, while GM is preparing for an initial stock offering later this year that would allow the government to recoup most, if not all, of its investment.

There was a time, not long ago, when real business leaders encouraged these kind of public-private partnerships. If the Chamber of Commerce were as interested in creating jobs as it is in promoting its free-market ideology, it would hang a new message on its columned facade for the president to see:


Friday, July 30, 2010

Sir, have you no decency?

Following up on an item from yesterday, it appears Republican reverence for all things related to the 9/11 attacks is officially over.

Congress turned thumbs down on the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Thursday night, raising doubts it will ever pass.

Most Republicans refused to back the measure, calling it a "slush fund," and saying it was another example of Democratic overreach and an "insatiable" appetite for taxpayers' money.

The bill would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years.

So, as Republicans see it, we can afford tax breaks for billionaires. But care for 9/11 victims, not so much.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), perhaps best known for his apology to BP after the company's oil spill, "said the rest of the country should not bear the brunt of helping New Yorkers cope with the aftermath of the terror attacks."

How could House Republicans kill the bill in a majority-rule chamber? As it turns out, Dems brought the measure to the floor as a "suspension bill," because they didn't want the GOP to try to gut the legislation with poison-pill amendments. But this strategy meant the bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass. The final vote was 255 to 159 -- far short of the two-thirds threshold -- with 155 Republicans in opposition, many of them saying they would consider supporting the bill, but only if the GOP were allowed to push unrelated amendments intended to embarrass the majority.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y), whose constituents include many directly affected by this legislation, wasn't especially impressed with the Republican argument:

Sargent: GOP blocks small business bill. Who will get the blame?

As I've argued a bunch of times before, no matter how many times Dems scream about GOP obstructionism, the jury is out on whether Republicans will take any of the blame for its consequences. Dems run the place, and the public may tune out any argument over Senate procedure as so much Beltway white noise.

The latest: In the Senate today, Republicans blocked a bill to create a $30 billion fund to enable community banks to boost lending to small businesses. Republicans decried the move as another bailout, and it's now unlikely that it will pass before Congress goes home for vacation in August, with little in the way of jobs bills under its belt.

So how will this story play? This paragraph in the Associated Press write-up says it all:

Congressional Democrats started the year with ambitious plans to pass a series of bills designed to create jobs. But if negotiations on the small business lending bill fail, they will have little to show for it just a few months before midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats keep their majorities in the House and Senate.

And there you have it. Is this how the story will be understood by the American people? Very possible.

Republicans claimed Dems blocked votes on the amendments they wanted. Dems countered that they agreed to votes on the GOP amendments, only to have the GOP demand more votes. Get what's happening here? The larger story is all getting subsumed in a bunch of Beltway white noise.

So here's the question: What storyline will the American people take away from all this?

At the press briefing today, Robert Gibbs tried to tell the story the administration's way. Speaking about the small business bill, he said:

"Why on earth would that fall prey to the same old tired partisan politics, unless one side was much more concerned about playing politics than it is about helping this economy along? That is the fight that this president has had to wage in many cases since the very begining of his administration. He will continue to make the tough decisions. And those that are more interested in playing politics rather than helping small business get the help they need, I assume they'll hear from their constituents about how unproductive that really is."

Whatever their substantive objections to this bill, it appears Republicans have calculated that the failure of Dem legislation, and Dem griping about the GOP's role in blocking it, will only feed a sense that government is broken and has failed to deliver, which will reflect badly on the ruling party. Indeed, if that AP paragraph captures the way the storyline is understood by the American people, Dems are in serious trouble.
Going into yesterday, hopes were relatively high that the Senate would make progress on a package to aid small businesses, including tax breaks, new incentives, and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks. Hopes were dashed when Republicans, throwing a bit of a tantrum over the number of amendments they were allowed to consider, voted unanimously to block the chamber from voting on the bill.

There's no real mystery about the partisan gamesmanship on display.

Senate Republicans on Thursday rejected a bill to aid small businesses with expanded loan programs and tax breaks, in a procedural blockade that underscored how fiercely determined the party's leaders are to deny Democrats any further legislative accomplishments ahead of November's midterm elections.

The measure, championed by Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, had the backing of some of the Republican Party's most reliable business allies, including the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Several Republican lawmakers also helped write it.

But Republican leaders filibustered after fighting for days with Democrats over the number of amendments they would be able to offer.

So, the bill with 59 supporters and 41 opponents is at least temporarily stuck. What now? The Senate leadership is moving forward on a separate measure to help states avoid teacher layoffs and cover Medicaid costs (EduJobs and FMAP), but there's still talk that aid for small businesses can survive.

At issue are Republican demands that they be able to offer amendments to the small-business package that have nothing to do with small businesses -- including border security and Bush tax cuts. They don't really expect the amendments to pass, but GOP leaders hope (a) that the votes put Dems in an awkward spot; and (b) the process of considering them will take up more floor time, and make it impossible to consider other legislation this year.

As it currently stands, after yesterday's nonsense, the earliest the Senate would approve the small-business package is September. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who's taken the lead on this bill, noted that for struggling businesses, that's not nearly soon enough. Republicans, in effect, replied that the number of amendments they'd be allowed to consider was more important than whether those businesses might fail.

Some GOP officials continue to push the line that both parties support expanded unemployment benefits; they just differ on how (and whether) to pay for them. As the argument goes, Dems see jobless aid as an emergency, while Republicans didn't want the costs added to the deficit. But don't worry -- everyone just loves to look out for the unemployed.

This really is nonsense. Greg Sargent has labeled the conservative Republicans with ideological opposition to jobless aid as the "Let Them Eat Want Ads" Caucus, and it's a contingent that keeps growing.

Here's Oregon congressional candidate Scott Bruun (R), explaining why he would have voted against the extension:

"When we're talking up over close to two years and longer with jobless benefits, I think we really start talking about a European style system and all the problems that that sort of system brings if you try to bring that sort of system to the United States."

I don't know what that means, exactly, but Brunn went on to say unemployment benefits may be "encouraging people to stay out of the workplace longer."

This comes the same day as Delaware congressional candidate Michele Rollins (R) insisting that helping struggling families get by after a job loss encourages the unemployed to "do nothing for a very long time."

I'm probably missing some, but it seems like the "Let Them Eat Want Ads" Caucus is getting to be pretty big. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) dismissed jobless aid as money that offers "a disincentive" to getting a job, a sentiment endorsed by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R).

Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) compared the unemployed to "hobos"; Nevada's Sharron Angle blasted the unemployed as "spoiled"; Wisconsin's Ron Johnson said those without jobs won't look until their benefits run out; Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett said the unemployed choose not to work because of the benefits; and Kentucky's Rand Paul thinks it's time to cut off aid, whether it's paid for or not, because, "In Europe, they give about a year of unemployment. We're up to two years now in America."

GOP media personality Ben Stein went so far as to characterize those out of work as having "poor work habits and poor personalities."

The moral of the story seems to be that conservative Republicans just don't seem to like the unemployed. If every American who's had to rely on jobless benefits since the start of the recession was poised to vote in November, the GOP would be in a bit of panic right now.

If the accounts from major media outlets are any indication, the political world is awfully excited about the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). To be sure, the interest is warranted -- the allegations against the former Ways and Means Committee chairman are serious; Republicans are thrilled; and the controversy has literally become front-page, above-the-fold news.

There may be some rule that I'm not aware of, prohibiting coverage of Republican scandals, but while a House Democrat's ethics problems intensify, a sitting Republican senator is still the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, which is also getting more serious.

The Senate on Thursday night quietly approved a resolution that will allow Sen. John Ensign's aides to testify to a federal grand jury investigating the aftermath of the Nevada Republican's extramarital affair with a former campaign aide.

By voice vote, the Senate approved the resolution that would authorize employees of the Senate to give testimony to a grand jury in Washington.

Senate aides said that the resolution was necessary because Senate rules would prohibit employees from testifying outside of the halls of Congress.

Politico added that the move, which nearly every major outlet ignored, "is the latest sign that the investigation ... continues to move swiftly."

This development comes just a week after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a former Ensign housemate, announced that he'd agreed to cooperate with the federal criminal investigation surrounding the conservative Nevadan. Coburn turned over more than 1,200 pages of documents to the Justice Department, including emails from Ensign.

And that development came on the heels of news that Ensign's aides have told investigators that the senator knew he was violating ethics rules on lobbying restrictions, but did it anyway.

As a rule, when a high-profile U.S. senator is facing a criminal investigation, the media shows at least some interest. When that investigation involves sex, the media tends to show quite a bit of interest.

But for reasons I still can't explain the Republican Nevadan is getting a pass. Here we have John Ensign, a "family values" conservative Republican, who had an extra-marital sexual relationship with his friend's wife, while condemning others' moral failings. Ensign's parents offered to pay hush-money. He ignored ethics laws and tried to use his office to arrange lobbying jobs for his mistress' husband. The likelihood of Ensign being indicted seems fairly high.

And yet, there's no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign's home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace. Instead, the media's fascinated with Charlie Rangel.

Rangel is facing a probe from the House ethics committee, while Ensign is under scrutiny from the FBI.

Is this just the IOKIYAR rule taken to the extreme? Was there some kind of memo stating that only Democratic scandals deserve media attention in an election year?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Great News for Al Qaeda

Ygelsias: Newt Gingrich Clarifies Thoughts on Mosque Exclusion Zone, Questions Remain

Ever since Newt Gingrich took the position that it should be impermissible to build a mosque “near ground zero” because that’s how they would handle this in Saudi Arabia, I’ve been wondering how big the Mosque Exclusion Zone is supposed to be. All of Manhattan? The whole of New York City?

According to Eric Kleefeld, Gingrich clarified his thinking somewhat last night on Greta Van Susteren’s show indicating that the northern boundary of the Exclusion Zone lies somewhere south of 59th Street:

“You know, there are over a hundred mosques in New York City. I favor religious freedom,” said Gingrich. “I’m quite happy if they’d come in and said, ‘We want to build a community center near Central Park, we’d like to build a community center near Columbia University.’ But they didn’t. They said right at the edge of a place where, let’s be clear, thousands of Americans were killed in an attack by radical Islamists.”

So the zone is clearly meant to mark out some kind of specific element of lower Manhattan. My recollection of the actual events of 9/11 were that the National Guard set up barricades along 14th Street (inconvenient for my 12th Street-based family) that people weren’t allowed to cross except for a one-time opportunity for folks to get to their houses. So maybe in honor of the day, we should say no mosques south of 14th Street since, after all, the good people of Greenwich Village, SoHo, etc. are well-known fans of Gingrich, Palin, and their brand of xenophobic militarism.

Sully: "They" Ctd

The cultures of Cheney and Palin are converging over opposition to the building of a mosque in Temecula, California:

An e-mail alert sent to area newspapers last week announced that a one-hour "singing – praying – patriotic rally" will begin at 12:30 p.m. July 30 at the Islamic Center’s existing facility. The advisory – sent by a leader of a conservative coalition that has been active with Republican and Tea Party functions – recommended participants "bring your Bibles, flags, signs, dogs and singing voices."

"We will not be submissive," the notice proclaimed. "Our voices are going to be heard!" The alert went on to question what its authors described as Islamic beliefs. It suggested that participants sing during the rally because Muslim "women are forbidden to sing." It suggested that rally participants bring dogs because Muslims "hate dogs."

This is great news for al Qaeda, and for all those Jihadists who want a civilizational war over religion. Are there any countervailing voices in the GOP? Anyone willing to stand up to this? When Gingrich has signed on, you realize that there are no moderating elites any more. Just opportunists willing to ride the tiger of polarization.

I don't think that word means ....

mistermix: Just Can’t Shut Up

Jeffrey Lord, who thinks that Shirley Sherrod’s relative—who was beaten to death in 1945 by 3 men while handcuffed—wasn’t lynched because there was no hanging, three isn’t a mob and the Supreme Court said the men were “acting under color of law,” tops all that in this interview:

Lord says he doesn’t want Sherrod to lose her job, and urges his fellow conservatives to work toward winning over black voters. “Get out there and engage on race,” Lord said. “There’s no reason in the world that we can’t be getting the black vote. But it’s our job to separate black from left and talk about left and right.”

I hope all conservatives will heed his call to engage on race, using his subtle yet effective tactics.

A mistaken impression quickly took hold recently during the debate over extended unemployment benefits, and much of the media bought it. The assumption became that everyone on both sides supported the extension, it was simply a debate over how. Dems saw the aid as an emergency, while Republicans didn't want the costs added to the deficit.

In effect, the GOP argued, "We're not callous; we love the unemployed. We're anxious to extend benefits. We just want the kind of fiscally responsible approach we cared nothing about when we were in the majority."

They're still pushing this line, probably aware of voters' support for the benefits.

In a blog post yesterday, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) argued that the "Unemployment Extension Should Have Been Paid For." Sen. Johanns works hard to defend the GOP, but in order to believe his excuses you'd have to ignore the past six months of Republican talking points, filibusters and anonymous holds.

"I don't know a single Senator in Washington who didn't want to see these benefits extended," Johanns claims.

This is pretty silly. As Alan Pyke noted, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) dismissed jobless aid as money that offers "a disincentive" to getting a job, a sentiment endorsed by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R) . For that matter, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) suggested that if you don't have a job, you might very well be a drug addict.

Johanns specifically referenced sitting senators, but if we expand the view a bit, we see even more Republican hostility towards the unemployed. One GOP congressman recently compared the jobless to "hobos." Nevada's Sharron Angle blasted the unemployed as "spoiled"; Wisconsin's Ron Johnson said those without jobs won't look until their benefits run out; Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett said the unemployed choose not to work because of the benefits; and Kentucky's Rand Paul thinks the jobless should just quit their bellyaching and "get back to work."

Johanns would have us believe that both parties were looking out for the unemployed, just in different ways. That's nonsense.

Neiwert: Right-wing 'true patriot' bank robber got away with $86,000 he gave to 'the cause'

When I first heard this story about a farmer from Port Townsend -- on the other side of Puget Sound from Seattle, the area where The Egg and I was set -- who had embarked on a bank-robbing spree, I was moderately intrigued. After all, rural hardship is often closely involved in these cases.

Fenter_df51f.JPG But it turns out that wasn't the case at all: Michael Fenter wasn't hard up for money to keep his farm afloat. Indeed, he didn't keep or spend any of the $86,000 he got away with: he gave it away, apparently to a right-wing Patriot organization or something very much like it.

This information was buried, actually, in the Seattle Times story by Maureen O'Hagan:

Calling it "one of the most perplexing cases" he's ever considered, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle sentenced Fenter on Monday to 10 years in prison, and ordered him to make restitution to the banks. He walked away with $86,000 from the first three robberies, and that money has never been accounted for.


During the robberies, Fenter told bank employees that he was angry about the government bailout of banks. He said he was taking the money to give to people who needed it, according to court documents — though when asked about it by authorities he declined to provide details.

Upon his arrest, he said his name was "Patrick Henry," a Revolutionary War-era governor famous for his "Give me liberty or give me death!" speech.

One Bank of America employee said at Friday's sentencing hearing in Tacoma that she thinks about the robbery everyday and her heart races.

"He's a terrorist," she said.


As for the question why? Fenter said robbing banks wasn't to get money for himself or his family. Instead, he did it because he was a "true patriot." The money, he said, went to fund that cause.

"What I am for is real justice, real truth, and real accountability within our system of government," he said. "The money was used and is probably currently being used to get to the truth."

He did not make clear who was using the money — though he emphasized it was being used in a "peaceful" way. Nor did he say what, exactly, he hoped to learn.

I think it's funny that Fox News spends so much time whipping up hysteria over scary black people.

Because there sure as hell are some scary white people out there, ya know?

Greg Sargent:

"The Republican Tea Party Contract on America." That's what the DNC is rolling out today, in what it bills as a major new effort to get the public to focus on the consequences of a GOP takeover of Congress.

At a presser this morning, DNC chair Tim Kaine will argue that "the Tea Party is now the most potent force in Republican politics," a DNC official says. He will present a "ten point blue print for how the Republican-Tea Party would govern, based on actual positions."

It's a "pre-emptive strike against the GOP's August rebranding effort," the official says. Polls have shown that the public has mixed feelings about the Tea Party, but this initiative isn't really about the Tea Party per se: It's about getting the public to focus on this election as a choice between two governing philosophies.

* Majority rule? Who needs it? The Hill talks to Democratic Senators about whether they back filibuster reform. Turns out -- shocker! -- that a fair number of them don't support it, including Ben Nelson and Dianne Feinstein.

* And: Amazingly, Senator Daniel Akaka tells The Hill that the current filibuster system is "working."

Really? For who? All is right with the world, as long as Senators get to keep riding in the Senators-only elevator?

* Matt Yglesias makes an important point about filibuster reform: The 60-vote threshold transfers vast power to the judiciary and dilutes the ability of the other branches of government to act as a check on it. Case in point: The DISCLOSE act.

* Things we wish we'd witnessed: An angry Nancy Pelosi privately reamed out Senator Harry Reid for the Senate's failure to tackle cap and trade after House Dems bit the bullet and took a tough vote for it.

Said Pelosi: "The Senate is moving at a glacial pace, slower than the glaciers are actually melting."

* Keep an eye on this: The House passed funding for the Afghan war last night, but over 100 Dems voted against it, signaling that war opposition on the left could soon become a major headache for the White House.

* The Gulf oil slick is vanishing far more quickly than expected, and while many questions remain, the spill doesn't appear to have destroyed Obama's presidency.

* Enviros lose another one as renewal energy standard is dropped from the energy bill because Dem leaders think it can't get 60 votes.

* Ruth Marcus calls for the Bush tax cuts to expire, and says what few other columnists are willing to voice out loud: The GOP position on tax cuts and deficits is "Intransigently divorced from reality."

* And: Mark Murray skewers the GOP position on tax cuts and the stimulus.

Sully: Democrats For Palin

Some Obama supporters are hoping for a Palin nomination because her high negatives will give Obama a better shot at reelection. Nick Resnikoff lists other consequences:

Palin has already demonstrated a disturbing willingness to frame even minor political squabbles in terms of "tyranny" versus "liberty," and to make her a major party’s presidential candidate would only do more to throw the spotlight on that sort of incitement. Perhaps, as Kevin Drum prays, the GOP would then, "go down to such an epic defeat that they finally get some sense knocked into them." But in the meantime, we would be facing a long, protracted campaign in which both a major political party and the mainstream press would treat violently anti-democratic positions as existing within the confines of reasonable political discourse. We’ve already had quite a bit of that over the past few years; accommodating and encouraging it could potentially make things much, much worse.

Truly: she's far too dangerous to be considered opportunistically.

GOP up the anti Republicans voted against even debating the DISCLOSE Act Tuesday, blocking the attempt to blunt the impact of the unpopular court ruling that allows corporations spend limitless dollars on U.S. elections.

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

Chait: Mavericky: GOP Thwarts Disclosure Bill

A modest but worthwhile effort to curb the power of money in politics died on Tuesday afternoon when Senate Republicans refused to let debate on the measure go forward.

The DISCLOSE Act would require corporations and interest groups to identify themselves when they sponsor political ads and, in the case of smaller organizations, to reveal their donors.

President Obama and Democratic leaders hoped the bill would, among other things, help undo the damage of the recent Citizens United ruling, in which the Supreme Court threw out limits on corporate political spending. And since the bill merely called to publicize who was putting money into politics, rather than limit that money, Obama and the Democrats hoped they could peel off enough Republican votes to break a filibuster. They were wrong. Not one Republican voted to proceed with debate--not even after the Democrats modified the bill, in order to address GOP arguments that it would treat unions differently from other groups.

This would be a fine moment to ponder, once again, the way the filibuster thwarts democracy. Fifty-seven of the Senate’s one hundred members think the bill should pass, but they can’t act because a minority of senators has the power to thwart action.

But the real story today is the hypocrisy of what used to be the Republican Party’s moderate, sensible wing.

Scott Brown campaigned for office on a platform of more transparency in government. In 2001, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe voted for the McCain-Feingold bill, which was far more restrictive. None of them voted to let the debate go forward.

And then there is John McCain himself. A decade ago, McCain did more than put his name on a major piece of campaign finance legislation. He made the fight against money in politics a personal crusade, energizing supporters with statements like this one he made during a Virginia speech:

I have called for the reform of campaign finance practices that have sacrificed our principles to the demands of big money special interests. I have spoken against ... [APPLAUSE] ... I have spoken against forces that have turned politics into a battle of bucks instead of a battle of ideas, and for that, my friends, and for that, my friends, I have been accused of disloyalty to my party.

Nobody is accusing McCain of that anymore.

Update: More dormant than dead? My old colleague Jesse Zwick reports in the Washington Independent that the bill's advocates hope to make another run at passing the measure in September.

I suppose what rankles most about Senate Republicans killing the DISCLOSE Act yesterday is just how modest the legislation really was.

For about a century, the country has prohibited corporations from sponsoring campaign ads. The Supreme Court concluded that such restrictions infringe on the First Amendment, so a majority of Congress decided, in lieu of a ban, to pursue disclosure. Corporations, labor unions, and non-profit organizations would have to tell voters that they're sponsoring their ads, and in some cases, divulge their donors. It's hardly unreasonable -- corporations can run their ads, but for the sake of the democratic process, everything should be out in the open for the public.

Every single Republican in the Senate disagreed, largely without explanation. Indeed, yesterday's GOP filibuster wasn't of the bill, it was on the motion to proceed -- every Senate Republican not only took a bold stand against basic campaign disclosure, they blocked the Senate from even having a debate. They're against disclosure and against talking about disclosure.

With that in mind, a quote collection was making the rounds on the Hill yesterday. The highlights included:

* Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) "believes that it is important that any future campaign finance laws include strong transparency provisions so the American public knows who is contributing to a candidate's campaign, as well as who is funding communications in support of or in opposition to a political candidate or issue."

* Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): "I think the system needs more transparency, so people can more easily reach their own conclusions."

* Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): "I don't like it when a large source of money is out there funding ads and is unaccountable... To the extent we can, I tend to favor disclosure."

All of them filibustered a measure to start a debate over a modest disclosure bill.

Jamelle Bouie added:

Between Citizen's United and the DISCLOSE Act, we've witnessed something genuinely incredible: in the interest of furthering the interests of powerful corporations, a narrow majority of Supreme Court conservative justices overturned decades of campaign finance precedent, and a small minority of conservative senators blocked congressional efforts at reform. At the risk of sounding really exasperated, this is absolutely insane.

If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd like to see it.

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

Sargent: No, both sides don't do what Breitbart does: Part II

Now that today's New York Times has weighed in on this topic, I'm going to hit this one more time, because I'm telling ya, it's important.

As I've been noting here, the real takeaway from the Shirley Sherrod mess is this: Not all partisan media are created equal. Right wing media are willing to engage in tactics that simply have no equivalent on the left -- even if mainstream news orgs and commentators keep taking refuge behind the notion that "both sides do it."

Now The Times's Brian Stelter has weighed in with a stand-alone piece that raises questions about what the Sherrod tale has done to the credibility of Breitbart and others on the right.

Some will think that Stelter's story doesn't go far enough. It asserts, for instance, that it is an "open question" whether conservative media have suffered a hit to their credibility. But I'll take it. It's a stand-alone story in the Paper of Record that's focused squarely on what this tale tells us about right wing media, with no nonsense about how "both sides" do it.

What's notable about this story is how few other outlets have done the same. And as a result, one of the most important aspects of the Sherrod mess is going almost entirely ignored: The vast difference it highlighted between media on both sides.

To make this point one more time, it's true that "both sides," to one degree or another, let their ideological and political preferences dictate some editorial decisions, such as what stories to pursue, how to approach them, who to interview, etc. But what's underappreciated is the degree to which the Breitbart-Fox axis goes far beyond this, openly employing techniques of political opposition researchers and operatives to drive the media narrative.

This simply has no equivalent on the left. The leading lefty media organizations have teams of reporters who -- even if they are to some degree ideologically motivated -- work to determine whether their material is accurate, fair, and generally based in reality before sharing it with readers and viewers. They just don't push info -- with no regard to whether it's true or not -- for the sole purpose of having maximum political impact. Period.

This is an important difference that's critical to understanding the rapidly shifting landscape in the new-media age. If I ran the universe more media figures would come right out and say what the Times hinted at today: No, both sides don't do it.
Marshall: Biko!

This just gets better and better.

Joel Pollak, who's running against Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is now comparing himself to anti-Apartheid martyr Stephen Biko (h/t), after Schakowsky criticized him for writing for Andrew Breitbart's site biggovernment. com. Maybe Peter Gabriel can write an anthem about Joel Pollack too?

It does get a little hard with these folks to pick apart the willful provocation from the simply pathological.

Booman: And I Reiterate...
Matt Yglesias was at Netroots Nation, and I wasn't this year, so I'll have to take his word for it that the conventioneers were depressed. It certainly wouldn't surprise me. I've been immersed in progressive politics for seven years and I've never seen such bitching and moaning and infighting as I see around me today. Some of that depression is warranted. Look at the state of the economy. Look at the quagmire in Afghanistan. Look at the state of political discourse in this country. But a lot of progressive opinion leaders have developed a relentlessly negative narrative that is being sopped up by loyal readers.

I basically agree with Yglesias's essay, which mirrors much of what I've been saying for months. I am one step above labeling people a bunch of ungrateful wretches, but there is blame to go around. The administration deserves plenty, and I think Matt is on to something here:

On the other side of the ledger, the Obama administration points to an impressive array of accomplishment. Their health-care bill is the most significant progressive achievement in more than 40 years. Financial regulation, the new START treaty, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, etc. are nothing to sneer at. But something the administration barely seems to recognize is that political activists do not live on policy accomplishments alone. Small donations, volunteer time, and even voting itself are undertaken primarily in exchange for psychological benefits. People engaged in the process want—need—to feel good about themselves for doing it.

This is something candidate Obama understood very well. People felt happy about the idea of being part of the election. But since taking office, the White House has largely avoided offering this kind of succor to the progressive base. The president likes to present himself as a “pragmatist” uninterested in questions of ideology, and his political strategy is largely organized around a posture of unctuous reasonableness in which he never loses patience with the opposition or affiliates himself emotionally with the passions that drive activists. This pose has bothered many for a long time, but with the progressive tide receding it’s becoming a real problem.

Again, this is mainly a problem not of style but of an infantile need to be hugged and patted on the head on the part of a bunch of cry babies. But the cry babies are also an important constituency who have the best track record of being right of any political group in the country. In the vast majority of cases, policy would be better if their advice was followed (or if it were possible to follow their advice). Progressives haven't gotten what they wanted, at least not in untarnished form. They need a jolt. They need something that tells them that the president shares their objectives. And nominating Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Agency would be just what the doctor ordered.

I hesitate to even say that because the Joe Liebermans of the world seem to make it their mission to find out what would make progressives happy and then make sure that it doesn't happen (remember Medicare expansion?). Sometimes I think progressives could get more by asking for the opposite of what they really want. Sometimes I think they'd find a way to complain even if they one day got what they really want. 'If the president wants Warren then Rahm wants Warren then there must be something wrong with her.' I can see it now.

The one thing I don't agree with Yglesias about is the inevitability of big Republican gains this fall (especially in the Senate). We should not succumb to that stinking thinking. Because, aside from the defeatism, doesn't this sound like something I just wrote earlier today?

Nobody knows exactly what the midterm elections will hold, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know it’ll involve Republicans gaining seats. That means that the comprehensive climate bill that died this week won’t be coming back. It means that the outlook for immigration reform will only get bleaker. The outlook for bills on gay rights will only get bleaker. The outlook for labor-law reform will only get bleaker. In the course of things, this results in a considerable degree of ill will toward Barack Obama and his administration.

It doesn't have to be. But if you don't get over your depression and inspire others to get to work, that's going to be the self-fulfilling reality.

If there's one thing that should be overwhelmingly obvious after the last four years, it's that the Senate process is broken. Obstructionist tactics that were once rare have been scandalously routine -- for the first time in American history, a Senate supermajority is necessary for literally every bill of consequence. The result is a legislative paralysis that undermines America's ability to thrive in the 21st century.

Except, it's apparently not obvious to all.

Senate Democrats do not have the votes to lower the 60-vote threshold to cut off filibusters.

The lack of support among a handful of Senate Democratic incumbents is a major blow to the effort to change the upper chamber's rules. [...]

Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation. Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it.

A 10th Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said he would support changing the rule on filibusters of motions to begin debate on legislation, but not necessarily the 60-vote threshold needed to bring up a final vote on bills.

Most of the support in the Senate for reforming the broken status quo comes from newer members of the chamber, but it's the Dems who've been around for a while -- those who remember being in the minority -- who are most inclined to keep things as they are, regardless of the consequences to the institution or the country.

It's a reminder that no one wants to give up a weapon they might want to use themselves someday. Republicans are abusing procedural rules now to undermine a progressive agenda, and some Dems are no doubt thinking they'll be able to abuse those same rules down the road.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) told The Hill, "I think we should retain the same policies that we have instead of lowering it.... I think it has been working."

I don't know what Senate Akaka has been watching, but it doesn't sound like this one.

With the Senate Democratic majority due to shrink, and Republicans becoming more hysterically conservative, these anti-reform Dems are inviting a disaster -- a government incapable of passing legislation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

With the media we have ....

DougJ: Lie to me

Matt Yglesias writes of Breitbart and the Daily Caller:

At some point conservatives need to ask themselves about the larger meaning of this kind of conduct—and Andrew Breitbart’s—for their movement. Beyond the ethics of lying and smear one’s opponents, I would think conservatives would worry about the fact that a large portion of conservative media is dedicated to lying to conservatives. They regard their audience as marks to be misled and exploited, not as customers to be served with useful information.

I used to believe this sort of thing, that it was shameful, for example, that Fox provided such a low level of journalism to its captive conservative audience. My thinking was that conservatives watched Fox and listened to crazy conservative talk radio not because they enjoyed being lied to, but because they enjoyed overtly conservative media and Fox/Rush/etc. was what they had to choose from; the lying and low level of discourse, I reasoned, might very well be bugs rather than features.

Well, I was wrong, they’re features. Compare the ratings of Shep Smith with the ratings for Glenn Beck. Compare the traffic numbers for Hot Air, Drudge, and Instapundit with those of FrumForum, The American Scene, and Eunomia. And note that the Daily Caller traffic went way up with when they started in with the JournoList silliness (whatever one thinks of JournoList, the way that Daily Caller is presenting the story is extremely dishonest).

Given the choice, conservatives as a group will go for the dumber, more dishonest, more insane option. There’s a market for good-faith conservative media, but that market is liberals. Who watches/reads the faux-good faith propaganda of David Brooks? Totebaggers. Who reads The American Scene and Eunomia? People like me.

Conservatives, by and large, have no interest in what you or I or actual journalists consider journalism. It’s telling that when Clark Hoyt and Andy Alexander muse about pleasing conservative readers, they don’t talk about covering legitimate stories that conservative readers are interested in, they talk (exclusively) about following ginned-up Breitbart controversies.

Yglesias has it backwards: the problem isn’t that conservative media lies to conservatives, it’s that conservatives seek out media that tells lies. There is no way for media to appeal to conservatives without lowering your journalistic standards.

I give Jim VandeHei and John Harris credit for realizing this. If you want to construct an optimal amoral pageview machine, you better be willing to debase yourself.

DougJ: Nostalgia for a past that never was

Dana Milbank has a column that is getting a lot of play on the intertrons this weekend, it’s about lack of shame within corporate culture. He concludes:

Government should push back against a corporate culture that has lost its sense of shame.

I’m not sure I agree with the use of the word “lost” which implies that corporate culture once did have a sense of shame. What has changed, instead, is that the government no longer has the wherewithal to push back against corporate shamelessness. Tom Schaller had an interesting take on how the Reagan revolution never ended:

What’s remarkable is how we still hear the same, core arguments about the role and functions of government—and how the policy-specific debates over matters like offshore drilling persist as well. And yet here we are, 30 years later, and the tax burden is at its lowest since 1950, the regulatory state has been cowed if not captured by the industries it is supposed to oversee, and America stands as the world’s lone remaining superpower. The antipathy toward government Reagan popularized has, even if indirectly and merely in spirit, contributed to a governing approach that has led to everything from coal mine disasters to the BP oil spill.

It’s not just antipathy towards the government, though, it’s also reverence for corporate leaders. Establishment media now invariably celebrates captains of industry as Galtian geniuses who “create jobs”. Pulitzer prizer winners criticize reporters who dare to cross corporate leaders. Mockery of any sort is left now to Taiwanese animators and amateur bloggers.

It’s fun to wax nostalgiac about an imaginary past where corporate American had more of a sense of responsibility; it’s the same past where every teen-ager respected his elders, every American helped out his neighbors, and no one needed to lock the door. If people are tired of corporate misconduct, they need to vote for a government that will rein it in, not shed a tear for the end of the good old days.

Aravosis: Howard Dean calls FOX News 'absolutely racist' for handling of Shirley Sherrod affair


Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took direct aim at Fox News for its involvement in the Shirley Sherrod racism flap, calling their coverage "absolutely racist."

Dean, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, offered his candid assessment in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" in which he criticized the cable network for being complicit in the controversy.

"Fox News did something that was absolutely racist," Dean said. "They had an obligation to find out what was really in the clip. They had been pushing a theme of black racism with this phony Black Panther crap and this business and this Sotomayor and all this other stuff."

E.J. Dionne Jr. considers the smearing of Shirley Sherrod as a possible "turning point in American politics," but not for the reason that generated so much discussion last week.

For the Washington Post, the reason this is a "time for action" is the right has embraced "racial backlash politics" in the hopes of destroying President Obama, and news organizations -- treating extremist rants as "one side of the story" -- are accepting right-wing propaganda as legitimate.

Dionne laments the Obama administration's initial handling of the Sherrod matter, but noted that "the Obama team was reacting to a reality: the bludgeoning of mainstream journalism into looking timorously over its right shoulder and believing that 'balance' demands taking seriously whatever sludge the far right is pumping into the political waters."

This isn't a new phenomenon -- see 2000, presidential election of -- but it's getting worse.

There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." That was the summer when support for reform was dropping precipitously. A straight-out lie influenced the course of one of our most important debates.

The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.

Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party." Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.

Dionne concludes that, in addition to the administration learning a lesson about overreacting to an inane media climate, "the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting on the difference between news and propaganda."

That's exceptionally good advice, which will almost certainly be ignored.

Levensen (Inverse Square Blog): Why Friends Don’t Let Friends Cite The Atlantic’s “Business and Economics Editor”: Further to the Megan McArdle is Always Wrong chronicles.

Update: Greetings to everyone coming here via TBogg, Susan of Texas, Eschaton and Brad DeLong — and my thanks to those good folks for the links. A special thanks, of course, to Ms. McArdle herself, who tweeted this very post, apparently authored by “some idiot.” She has forgotten, I think, that here in Boston, that’s an epithet of glorious memory. This idiot welcomes readers from wherever they come.

Though if I were just a little snarkier, I would add that being insulted by McArdle calls to my mind the experience of being attacked by the British Tory parliamentarian Sir Geoffrey Howe, as described by Roy Hattersley Denis Healey: it is like being savaged by a dead sheep.


The old joke* about Richard Nixon asked “How can you tell when he’s lying?”

The answer: ”When his lips move.”

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that something similar must be said about Megan McArdle. Perhaps lying is too harsh a word — but the serial errors that all fall on the side that supports her initial claims and that recur again and again in her work suggest to me that something other than mere intellectual sloth and sloppiness is the driver.

Ordinarily, such a record wouldn’t matter much, especially in journalism. In theory, a series of clips as riddled with error as McArdle’s would end most careers in high prestige journalism. Hot Air might still find a use for you, but The Atlantic?

But the problem is that McArdle is useful: she advances an agenda — that which comforts the comfortable — and she does so with what I think is truly her original talent, the capacity not to notice the ridicule and ferociously dismissive debunking that she so often attracts.

Being able to be wrong in a form and fashion that aids the powerful, and possessing the ability not to mind a life that must be thus lived in willing embrace of error…now that’s a trick.

But it is one that does real damage to the republic, as the post that aroused this latest bout of McArdle-bashing demonstrates. In it, McArdle seeks to discredit Elizabeth Warren as a potential leader of the new Consumer Finance Protection Agency to be set up under the just-passed financial reform bill.

To do so she tries to impugn both the quality and integrity of Warren’s scholarship, and she does so by a mix of her usual tricks — among them simple falsehoods;** highly redacted descriptions of what Warren and her (never mentioned) colleagues actually said;*** and descriptions of Warren’s work that are inflammatory — and clearly wrong, in ways she seems to hope no one will bother to check.****

You can see the footnotes for quick examples of these sins. Here, I’ll confine myself to pointing out that in this post you find McArdle doing the respectable-society version of the same approach to argument that Andy Breitbart has just showed us can have such potent effect.

To see what I mean, you have to follow through two steps: how McArdle constructs her picture of a feckless, partisan and dishonest Warren — and then how she generalizes from it.

Partly, McArdle relies on the strength of her platorm. As “Business and Economics editor of The Atlantic” she routinely writes in assertions that we are to accept on her say -so.

(As an aside — this argument from authority is never that strong, and, as McArdle demonstrated very recently, can descend to pure, if unintended, comedy (go to Aimai’s comment at the bottom of Susan of Texas’s post), its flip side is that different. Everytime someone gets something thing wrong in a consequential way, the loss of trust should advance, ratcheting up with each such error detected, to the point where it becomes the safest default position to assume that someone — McArdle, for example — is always wrong till proven otherwise.)

But back to the anatomy of McArdle’s campaign. I’m going to focus on just one example where McArdle asks us to believe that her argument is strong and supported by the literature — without quite fessing up to what her supporting material actually says. As part of her sustained campaign to deny the significance of medical bankruptcy in the US, she writes,

A pretty convincing paper argues that the single best predictor of bankruptcy is simply how much debt you’ve accumulated–not income, job loss, divorce, or what have you. People who declare bankruptcy tend to have nicer stuff than others at the same income level.

The problem here is that the paper does not actually say quite what McArdle implies it does. She’s mastered here the trick Sally Field played in Absence of Malice — she’s managed to come up with a sentence that is accurate…but not truthful.

In fact, should you actually take the trouble to read the cited study (by UC Davis finance prof, Ning Zhu) you will find material like this: ”households with medical conditions are twice more likely to file for bankruptcy (33.5 percent) than households that do not have medical conditions (14.8 percent)…;”

And this: “Having medical problems increases the households’ filing probability by 7.6 percent and one standard deviation of increase in employment tenure is associated with an increase of 9.2 percent in the filing probability. Such changes represent 48.40 and 58.60 percent deviation from the baseline probability….;”

And this “our results provide qualitative support for both the adverse event and the over-consumption/strategic filing explanations.”

To be fair Zhu concludes that overconsumption — spending too much on housing, cars and credit cards account for more of the total burden of bankruptcy than medical events, divorce or unemployment, as McArdle wrote.

But as McArdle completely failed to acknowledge, Zhu does so while using somewhat more stringent standard for counting medical expenses as a factor in bankruptcy than other scholars employed — as he explicitly acknowledges. He concedes the continuing significance of medically -induced bankruptcy. He acknowledges what he believes to be a weak underweighting of that factor (because some people pay for medical expenses on credit cards). And he notes that a number of other studies, not limited to those co-authored by Warren, come to different conclusions.

In other words: McArdle correctly describes one conclusion of this paper in a way that yields for its readers a false conclusion about what the paper itself actually says. And look what that false impression implies: if medical bankruptcy is a trivial problem, society-wide, then Warren can be shown to be both a sloppy scholar and, as McArdle more or less explicitly says, a dishonest one as well.

And that leads me back to the thought that got me going on this post. It seems to me that what we read in McArdle here is a genteel excursion into Andrew Breitbart territory. Like the Big Hollywood thug, she misleads by contraction, by the omission of necessary context, by simply making stuff up when she thinks no one will check (again, see the footnotes for examples). And like Breitbart, she does so here to achieve a more than on goal. The first is simply to damage Elizabeth Warren as an individual, to harm her career prospects. Hence ad hominem stuff like this:

Her work gets so much attention because it comes from a Harvard professor. And this isn’t Harvard caliber material–not even Harvard undergraduate.

Which neatly sets up this punch line:

..this woman is now under consideration to head a powerful new agency. If this is how she evaluates data, then isn’t that going to hamper her in making good policy?

But there is a larger goal as well. McCardle hasn’t given up, as the GOP hasn’t either, on the idea of simply undoing all that the Obama administration has managed to push past the outright lies and bad faith arguments of the right. So here she does her bit for the cause, taking every attempt to sideswipe health reform:

Obviously, this was also held out as an argument for PPACA, [the health care reform bill] making an implicit promise to the American people which I believe to be false.

So Warren is the target, and there is no doubt that McArdle is trying by any means to discredit her to the public — but the larger ambition here is to discredit major reforms undertaken by the Obama administration in a kind of guilt by association. (See, e.g. the connection some GOP leaders are making between Shirley Sherrod and the negotiated settlement in the discrimination case brought by African American farmers and the USDA.)

McArdle is much more housebroken than many of her fellow travelers of course. She knows which fork to use (or perhaps better, that particular ocean margin from which the right people secure their salt). People who would not dream of taking Breitbart seriously still quote McArdle as a seemingly respectable source.

But she’s doing the same kind of work.

Caveat Lector.

And with that, I’m done with McArdle-world for the summer. Just not worth suffering the Ceti Eel infections that result from too frequent a return to that particular planet.

On Wednesday night's episode, Rachel Maddow talked about Fox News' role in the Shirley Sherrod matter. "This is what Fox News does," she explained. "This is how they are different from other news organizations. Just like the ACORN controversy, Fox knows they have a role in this dance. That's not new; that's not actually even interesting about this scandal. Fox does what Fox does."

Bill O'Reilly responded on his Fox News program, "Which is kick your network's butt every single night, madam. And you have to be kidding me with this 'fake ACORN scandal' stuff? Unbelievable. Do you live in this country?"

Rachel responded on the air last night. If you haven't seen it, you should.

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

Here's the kicker: "Because when you got all 'kicked your network's butt' and 'madam' on me, you really weren't trying to tout your network's ratings. You were trying to take the attention off me saying that your network, Fox News, continually crusades on flagrantly bogus stories designed to make white Americans fear black Americans -- which Fox News most certainly does for a political purpose, even if it upends the lives of individuals like Shirley Sherrod, even as it frays the fabric of the nation, and even as it makes the American dream more of a dream and less of a promise.

"You can insult us all you want about television ratings, Mr. O'Reilly, and you'll be right that yours are bigger -- for now and maybe forever. You are the undisputed champion. But even if no one watches us at all except for my mom and my girlfriend and people who forgot to turn off the TV after Keith, you are still wrong on what really matters, and that would be the facts, your highness."

Benen: A 'SLAP IN THE FACE' -- IN 1981
Charles Krauthammer had a surprisingly interesting column a couple of weeks ago, some of which I even found vaguely persuasive (an odd feeling given its author). But one paragraph in particular got me thinking.

The net effect of 18 months of Obamaism will be to undo much of Reaganism. Both presidencies were highly ideological, grandly ambitious and often underappreciated by their own side. In his early years, Reagan was bitterly attacked from his right. (Typical Washington Post headline: "For Reagan and the New Right, the Honeymoon Is Over" -- and that was six months into his presidency!) Obama is attacked from his left for insufficient zeal on gay rights, immigration reform, closing Guantanamo -- the list is long.

Just six months after Reagan's inauguration, was the "honeymoon" really perceived as over between him and the "new right"? A friend of mine dug up the article Krauthammer referenced, and it's almost amusing to read nearly three decades later.

It ran on July 21, 1981 (obviously, no link available), and it came in response to conservative outrage over the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For some of the most vocal leaders of the New Right movement, the nomination was the latest in a series of slights and insults they have suffered from Reagan advisers which raise questions in their minds about whether the president is really their kind of conservative.

"The White House slapped us in the face," says Richard A. Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail expert. "The White House is saying you don't have a constituency we're concerned about. We don't care about you."

The "New Right" was defined, at the time, as breaking with the Goldwater old-guard and expanding the GOP with outreach to the fledgling religious right and use of "sophisticated campaign techniques," such as direct mail.

And six months in, the leaders of this faction weren't happy. The O'Connor nomination made them livid, and conservatives grew all the more frustrated when, despite an aggressive campaign involving "letters and telegrams," the right couldn't even find Republican senators willing to come out publicly against the nominee. (O'Connor was confirmed 99 to 0.)

But the anger and frustration was more expansive than one high court nomination. "In terms of having any real influence with the Reagan administration, we just haven't had any," Howard Phillips, at the time the head of the Conservative Caucus, said. "All they've done is throw us a few bones to keep the dogs from biting their heels."

The right was angry when George H.W. Bush, perceived as a moderate, was added to the 1980 ticket. Conservatives were angrier still when James Baker became Reagan's chief of staff -- a man activists on the right considered overly pragmatic and insufficiently conservative.

And by this time 29 years ago, conservatives could hardly contain their disappointment. Leaders on the right began complaining regularly that they "won the election, but lost the White House." Paul Weyrich questioned whether the relationship between his conservative allies and the Reagan administration was "salvageable."

And all of this came before Reagan raised taxes, extended "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants, expanded the size of the federal bureaucracy, tripled the deficit, negotiated with our most hated enemy without preconditions -- and became the single most revered figure in Republican circles of the 20th century, up to and including the RNC describing him, in all seriousness, as Ronaldus Magnus.

I guess the moral of the story is that perceptions can change over time.