Friday, July 10, 2009

Last Call

It's tough being a Villager. Deadlines, controlling the Beltway crowd, parties filled with little weenies (staffers, oh and cocktail franks too), and embarrassing party stories like this:

Part of me just died now as David Brooks here laments the lack of dignity in Washington by...displaying his complete lack of dignity as a Village Idiot, so I thought I would share.

Bombshells, Now With More Explosions

Turns out that bombshell dropped by CIA Director Leon Panetta about the Bush warrantless wiretapping program and then reloaded into the bomb-launching device by House Democrats this morning has been re-reloaded into a larger bomb-launching device with significantly more range by the Washington Post. From Saturday's edition:
"Extraordinary and inappropriate" secrecy about a warrantless eavesdropping program undermined its effectiveness as a terrorism-fighting tool, government watchdogs have concluded in the first examination of one of the most contentious episodes of the Bush administration.

A report by inspectors general from five intelligence agencies said the administration's tight control over who learned of the program also contributed to flawed legal arguments that nearly prompted mass resignations in the Justice Department five years ago.

For the first few years of the program's operation, only three Justice Department lawyers were aware of the highly classified initiative, and intelligence analysts whose "scary memos" helped certify the program initially were kept in the dark by supervisors who sometimes ordered up more data to prepare a "compelling case," the watchdog report said.

So...three lawyers knew. Three. Out of the entire Justice Department. And they of course said "Yeah, this is legal, whatever" and then Americans were wiretapped for several years. That's good. Gets worse. Much worse.
Significant elements of the initiative are still unclear. But an unclassified version of the inspectors general's report for the first time offers new details about its origins and its advocates.

The clandestine program was born in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, when then-CIA Director George J. Tenet asked the National Security Agency's chief, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, "what he might do with more authority," the report said. A short while later, Bush signed a single document paving the way for the plan.

For the first few years, then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and two senior aides -- Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John C. Yoo and intelligence policy lawyer James Baker -- were the only Justice Department officials made aware of the initiative, bypassing many of the latter men's superiors, the unclassified summary reported for the first time.

One former department lawyer, Jay S. Bybee, told investigators that he was Yoo's supervisor, but that he was never read into the program and "could shed no further light" on how Yoo came to be the point man on memos that blessed its legality. By following this route, investigators say, the memos avoided a rigorous peer-review process.

The White House determined access to the program, a former Bush official said. The report said that Yoo prepared hypothetical documents in September and early October 2001 before writing a formal memo in November, after Bush had already authorized the initiative.

Yeah, let's back that train right the hell on up there. Bush authorized this garbage with no legal authority and no oversight, then had select people in the DoJ (John Yoo, Jim Baker, and AG Ashcroft) craft the legal authority Bush would need later as the world's crappiest fig leaf. Then moutains of data were collected on Americans without their knowledge or consent for several years.

Monstrous. Absolutely without equivocation there, monstrous.

In that memo, Yoo concluded that existing surveillance law could not "restrict the president's ability to engage in warrantless searches that protect the national security," and that "unless Congress made a clear statement . . . that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area -- which it has not -- then the statute must be construed to avoid such a reading," according to the report.
In other words, Yoo's logic is "unless Congress has passed a law strictly forbidding something, the President can do anything he damn well pleases", like, say, collect mountains of data on Americans for several years.
But when that analysis reached higher-level officials in the Justice Department by late 2003 and early 2004, lawyers were troubled by the conclusions. They grew convinced that the plan may have run afoul of the law and ignored key Supreme Court rulings on the subject of executive-branch power.
And yet that was still years before the NY Times revealed the existance of the warrantless wiretapping. It took the rest of the Justice Department and the intelligence agency heads a couple years to find out. They did...nothing. Oh, and then they apparently lied to Congress about it too. This led to the now famous scene at Ashcroft's hospital bedside:
The inspectors general report alleged that Yoo "did not accurately describe the scope" of other intelligence activities in what was known as the President's Surveillance Program, presenting "a serious impediment to recertification of the program." Traditionally, in reviews by the Office of Legal Counsel, lawyers rely on a description of classified programs from the agencies that carry them out, the former Bush official said.

Disputes prompted a series of meetings in March 2004, including lobbying by the White House, to try to persuade the Justice Department to temporarily continue the surveillance while any legal problems with it were being fixed. On March 9, 2004, intelligence officials and Vice President Richard B. Cheney met to discuss the issue without inviting Justice Department leaders.

Cheney suggested that Bush "may have to reauthorize without [the] blessing of DOJ," according to previously unreported notes taken by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. Mueller told investigators he would have had a problem with that approach and raised the prospect that the bureau would have withdrawn from the program.

The resignation threats came the next day, after a dramatic visit by then-White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to the hospital bedside of an ailing Ashcroft. Gonzales told the inspectors general that Bush instructed him to go to the hospital to obtain Ashcroft's signature on a document that would green-light continuation of the program.

Seems to me the last real piece of resistance to not investigating the warrantless wiretapping program just died. The Washington Independent has the AG report posted. As Spencer Ackerman notes, he was right on the money when he surmised that Bush had authorized two surveillance programs, the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" the Bushies talked about from 2006 on, and the real one, the "President's Other Activities".

I'm pretty sure those "other activites" are going to get somebody's ass fried. It's time to ask the truly uncomfortable questions here: What did President Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Jim Baker, Andy Card, Robert Mueller and John Yoo know, and when did they know it?

Ahh, but remember, Congress voted to retroactively legalize all this bullshit with the FISA bill in 2008...including the affirmative votes of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

The circle is now complete. Smintheus at has much more.

Paying For It All

TNR's Jonathan Cohn has been putting in yeoman's work on covering the health care debate in Congress. Today he reports that the CBO is suggesting that a robust public option will be able to drive down health care costs by as much as $150 billion over ten years.
The sources cautioned that these were only the preliminary estimates, based on previous discussions--that CBO had not yet issued final scoring on language in the actual bill. But the sources felt the final estimate would likely be close.

Exactly how the plan produces those savings is, obviously, a key question. The reason--well, a reason--centrists and conservatives don't like a public plan is that they fear it will use the government's bargaining leverage to force doctors, hospitals, and drugmakers to accept unfairly low reimbursements. Private insurance would go out of business, since they couldn't compete; meanwhile, providers and producers of medical care would struggle to stay afloat.

Advocates of a public plan (myself included) think those fears are overblown--and that there are ways to make sure a public plan doesn't have that effect. But if the CBO is scoring significant savings, then chances are the House version gives the public plan the kinds of power conservatives and centrists fear.

But, for now, the bigger story is the number. At a time when finding the $1 trillion it will take to finance coverage expansions remains the major challenge of reform, the discovery of $150 billion in potential savings is an important--and encouraging--piece of news.

That is good news, and if the CBO's official scoring of the plan is in line with these estimates, maybe, just maybe, this plan has a chance after all.

Over in the Senate, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown is saying that he and a number of other Senate Democrats will have problems voting for the health care reform bill unless it does have a public option in it.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says he'd likely oppose health care reform legislation if it didn't include a public option--and that he'd have company. "I think a number of Democrats, and I among them, would have great difficulty voting for a bill without a public option," Brown told me today. "I don't want to say absolutely wouldn't. But I would have great difficulty voting for a bill without a public option."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has similarly suggested that he'd oppose legislation without a public option.

Brown co-wrote the public plan provision in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee bill with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)--a temporary member of that panel, who has nonetheless become a vocal proponent of the idea. In his capacity as a surrogate, Whitehouse has insisted that health care legislation include a government insurance option, though he hasn't come as close as his colleagues have to drawing a line in the sand.

Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and now Sherrod Brown have come out and said that a public option is pretty much necessary. That's good news as well.

[UPDATE 6:13 PM] Meanwhile, over in the House, Democrats have come up with a plan to pay for a lot more of the public option:
The House will propose raising taxes on people earning more than $350,000 a year to pay $540 billion for healthcare reform, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Friday.

House Democrats had been weighing a plethora of other tax increases, such as levies on sugary soft drinks and alcohol, that raised hackles within their caucus.

Instead, Rangel said Democrats will seek to enact one large tax increase targeting wealthier workers to generate the revenue they need to finance their $1 trillion-plus healthcare reform bill.

“We have decided that instead of putting pieces of different revenue raisers together, that the best that we can do [is] we would have graduated surtaxes starting at [$]350],000],” Rangel said. The tax hikes would begin in 2011 and raise $540 billion over 10 years, he said after a meeting with Democratic committee members.
The problem is, all indicators are that this tax plan is a 100% non-starter in the Senate.

And Now, A Metaphysical Proof In One Part(s)

So, if Obama's the Antichrist, shouldn't this handshake be causing a massive annihilation explosion and a big crater in Italy right about now?

Just saying.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Q: What's the difference between a conservative Republican and a full-blown Wingnut?

A: The Wingnut is genetically incapable of admitting that nominating Sarah Palin was a mistake.

Covert Intelligence Agency

After the revelations yesterday that CIA Director Leon Panetta had testified that the CIA had hidden things from Congress since 2001, Congressional Dems have come out swinging, ready for a full-scale investigation into the CIA. Details from the WaPo:
Four months after he was sworn in, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta learned of an intelligence program that had been hidden from Congress since 2001, a revelation that prompted him to immediately cancel the initiative and schedule a pair of closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill.

The next day, June 24, Panetta informed the House and Senate intelligence committees of the program and the action he had taken, according to Democratic and Republican members of the panels.

The incident has reignited a long-running dispute between congressional Democrats and the CIA, with some calling it part of a broader pattern of the agency withholding information from Congress. Some Republicans, meanwhile, privately questioned whether Panetta -- who has stood with CIA officers in a dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- was looking to score points with House Democrats.

The program remains classified, and those knowledgeable about it would describe it only vaguely yesterday. Several current and former administration officials called it an "on-again, off-again" attempt to create a new intelligence capability and said it was related to the collection of information on suspected terrorists that was instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Congressional Republicans said no briefing about the program was required because it was not a major tool used against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. They accused Democrats of using the matter to divert attention away from Pelosi's accusation that CIA officials intentionally misled her in 2002 about the agency's interrogations of suspected terrorists.

But Democrats waved away such claims and said they may open a congressional investigation of the concealment of the program.

"Instructions were given not to brief Congress," Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said in an interview.

So the question now is "What else do we not know about?"

[UPDATE 3:01 PM] At least one Republican in the House, Mac Thornberry of Texas, is behind a full investigation into this matter. Also, Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky says that if the CIA deliberately mislead Congress, people could be charged with violations of the National Security Act.

[UPDATE 3:15 PM] And on top of all that we find out today that the report on Bush's warrantless wiretapping program is out and it basically began right after 9/11.
The highly controversial warrantless surveillance program initiated by President George W. Bush began within weeks of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a newly released report to Congress compiled by the inspectors general of the nation's top intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department.

The report, mandated by Congress, provides context to information that has been leaked in press accounts and buttressed by congressional testimony and in books authored by former officials involved in the surveillance effort.

The report notes that several members of Congress — including then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Nancy Pelosi — were briefed on the program on October 25, 2001, and a total of 17 times before the program became public in 2005.

Among other things, the report also cites a Justice Department conclusion that "it was extraordinary and inappropriate that a single DOJ attorney, John Yoo, was relied upon to conduct the initial legal assessment of the (surveillance program)."

So for at least four years, the NSA was illegally reading America's email and listening in on America's phone calls.


Live From D.C. It's Supreme Court!

Stephanie Mencimer at MoJo reports that confirming Sonia Sotomayor to replace the camera-shy David Souter may actually remove the last block to having cameras in the Supreme Court. the biggest proponent of those has actually been Sen. Arlen Specter:

In his letter, Specter said he had tried to persuade the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist to allow the broadcast of oral arguments during Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election. Rehnquist said no. But much has changed since then. Rehnquist has been replaced by the young, telegenic John Roberts, who has said that he would keep an open mind on the subject of televised arguments. Justice Samuel Alito actually voted to allow cameras into the courtroom while on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, a sign that he might belong to the TV-friendly camp. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and John Paul Stevens have long suggested that they would support broadcasts, and the all-important swing voter, Justice Kennedy, has grudgingly conceded that cameras in the courtroom are "inevitable."

Even so, the court, which can decide to allow cameras unilaterally, still has some holdouts. Justice Clarence Thomas opposed Specter's bill in 2006. In February, Justice Antonin Scalia said at a public event that TV's "30-second takeouts" would misrepresent what the court really does. "Why should I be a party to the miseducation of the American people?" he grumbled.

But by far the court's biggest stick in the mud has been Justice Souter, who famously announced, "I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it is going to roll over my dead body." Souter is a notorious technophobe. His New Hampshire farmhouse is full of books, but TV is outlawed. Not only does he eschew computers, emails, and answering machines, he wrote his opinions with a fountain pen. Deeply publicity shy, Souter was repulsed by the television coverage of his own confirmation hearing. Specter believes Souter's retirement presents a great opportunity to revisit the camera question.

Sotomayor is an entirely different animal than Souter—she's from the Bronx, after all—and actually has some experience with judging on camera. Back in 1991, the Federal Judicial Conference toyed with the idea of allowing cameras in all federal courtrooms for civil proceedings. It ran a three-year experiment, allowing cameras in six federal district courts and two circuit courts. One was Sotomayor's. She hasn't spoken publicly about the project, but the Federal Judicial Center reported that most judges were just fine with the cameras, and for the most part noticed little effect on proceedings. And most of the concerns the federal judges did have—that people wouldn't testify or that jury privacy would be compromised—don't apply to the Supreme Court, where there are no juries or skittish witnesses to spook.

Specter plans to ask Sotomayor about this experience, and whether she might agree with Justice Stevens' view that Supreme Court TV is "worth a try." Let's hope she does. Otherwise, her perfunctory confirmation hearings may represent the first and last time the public really gets a good look at her. Which would be a shame because, while her written opinions may be a drag, Sotomayor is reportedly a firebrand on the bench. The sparks missing from her opinions—and her confirmation hearings—are likely to fly in oral arguments, when she'll get to square off against some of the nation's best litigators and her other brilliant colleagues. Sotomayor v. Scalia is something everyone should get to watch on TV.

It's an interesting argument and long overdue process, frankly. As much as conservatives complain about transparency in government and "legislating from the bench" it's really hard to see an argument against putting cameras to capture the proceedings. C-SPAN has been doing it for decades for the Legislative, and of course the Executive is all over TV. Why not the highest Judicial in the land on TV too? Frankly, I'm all for it and would love to see the next term have televised proceedings.

This is a good and necessary idea, and something Snarlin' Arlen has been pushing for since his Republican days, so really I don't see how even the (R-Nutbar) delegation can really hate on this. Make this happen.

We Do It Bigger In Texas

...especially the Stupid. If the wingers on the Texas State Board Of Education weren't bad enough on the evolution issue, now they've decided that teaching about civil rights leaders (in a state with a rapidly growing minority population mind you) just shouldn't be that important.

Civil rights leaders César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall – whose names appear on schools, libraries, streets and parks across the U.S. – are given too much attention in Texas social studies classes, conservatives advising the state on curriculum standards say.

"To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin" – as in the current standards – "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. David Barton, president of Aledo-based WallBuilders, said in his review that Chávez, a Hispanic labor leader, "lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others."

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is "not a strong enough example" of such a figure.

The recommendations are part of a long process as the State Board of Education prepares to write new social studies curriculum standards for public schools. Debate on the issue, which will also include questions of the role of religion in public life, could be as intense as that on new science standards that were adopted by the board in March, when evolution was a major flashpoint.

The social studies requirements will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in government, history and other social studies classes in all elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to write textbooks and develop state tests for students.

Good lord. As Steve Benen notes:
This is bound to help Republicans with their outreach to minority communities, right? It's quite a message to voters in Texas -- Vote GOP: the party that thinks civil rights leaders get too much credit.

Barton went on to say the state curriculum should ignore the contributions of Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women's rights and religious freedom, and argued that Texas social studies books should discuss "republican" values, not "democratic" ones.

Good luck with that down there, guys. Pissing off a generation of black and latino voters by denigrating those who fought for equality is sure to help you regain political control of the Lone Star State.

Honestly, the GOP is self-destructing. It's like they want to lose.

[UPDATE 6:31 PM] And it gets worse. Republican Gov. Rick Perry just appointed "self described creationist" Gail Lowe as head of the Texas Education Board.

So, those who wanted Governor Perry to appoint someone better than Don McLeroy can thank him for that. Actually, unless he appointed Cynthia Dunbar, I don't think it could have gotten worse. So Rick Perry made an easy choice that is meant to appease those who complained about Mr. McLeroy. And in some ways, he succeeded. Already, there are some who are applauding him for selecting a more moderate choice.

But where is Ms. Lowe more moderate? It seems, I think, her rhetoric. From the Denton Record-Chronicle:

Ms. Lowe, who called herself a creationist, said the study of evolution is important to the teaching of biology. At the same time, she added, "Kids ought to be able to hold religious beliefs and still study science without any conflict."

And when she exerts her creationist ideas at Board meetings (for surely all members of the social conservative block do), she does so with subtlety.

But she is not so moderate in her rhetoric regarding sex education, where she has said, "I think parents have overwhelmingly shown that they want abstinence to be taught," although I strongly doubt a majority of parents really think that. Her words aren't so subtle regarding environmental science or the make-up of families, either.

So, when looking at the new Chairwoman's words, we see that she is really only significantly better than Mr. McLeroy in one area of policy: evolution. She might not be as bad with her devotion to conservative principles that hold Texas schools back, but her website claims she is "Committed to excellence and conservative Republican principles," including "traditional values in education."

And remember, the Texas textbook market is big enough that should Texas demand these changes, other smaller states will just have to go along with "traditional Republican values" in the classroom.

Generally Better Motors

GM is back, baby. We have the technology. The 50 Billion Dollar Man is out of surgery and ready to go...but there's bad news too.
GM now consists of four U.S. brands, has about $11 billion in U.S. debt and will be run by a smaller corps of executives, the Detroit-based company said today. It finished restructuring in 39 days, three days faster than Chrysler Group LLC.

The birth of the new automaker is a victory for President Barack Obama’s administration and Steven Rattner, the Treasury’s chief auto adviser, because the company was formed faster than the government predicted. GM was forced into Chapter 11 protection on June 1.

“This restructuring is a lot of what GM has been trying to look like for years now,” said Aaron Bragman, an analyst at IHS Global Insight Inc. in Troy, Michigan. “What bankruptcy has done is allowed them to sweep away a lot of undesirable things like debt and uncooperative labor contracts.”

Salaried employment will fall by 20 percent, GM said, and the number of U.S. executives will shrink by 35 percent to help meet Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson’s goal of shedding management layers to speed decision making.

The bad news is that tens of thosands of jobs will be lost, dealers will be axed along with tens of thousands more jobs, and the taxpayer still owns 60%+ of this mess. Also, I would be thinking that retraining laid off GM workers would be a stimulus priority, hint hint.

Obama needs to find a buyer for GM, or GM needs to pay the money back and repuchase the stock. It needs to happen soon, as in "within the end of the year, preferably". Nobody's really brought up the time frame of how long we own this company, and if it doesn't start really and truly making money and damn soon, it's going to be an engine block around Obama's neck.

In other words, if GM still stands for Government Motors by November 2012 or even 2010, the Dems are going to take some damage. That however depends on GM getting smaller cars out that people want like the Chevy Malibu and the Chevy Volt.

The article does go on to say that GM will be back as a publicly traded company next year. The sooner, the better. Good luck to them.

Moose Bites Can Be Really Nasty, Mind You

While she may have spun it as a chance to boost fundraising for the new class of post-Dubya GOP stars in the House, turns out many Republicans running for re-election in 2010 really, really don't want Sister Sarah anywhere near their districts.
Several of these Republicans hail from districts or states carried in 2008 by President Obama, a frequent target of Palin’s criticism. Republicans must keep these districts and win others where Obama is popular if they are to gain seats next year.

GOP Rep. Lee Terry (Neb.), who squeaked out a victory despite his district’s overwhelming turnout for Obama, said he’d rather have House colleagues campaign for him than Palin.

“There’s others that I would have come in and campaign and most of them would be my colleagues in the House,” Terry said.

Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Northern Virginia, which is increasingly becoming Democratic territory, offered caution when asked whether he’d welcome a Palin fundraiser.

“I don’t generally need people from outside my district to do a fundraiser,” Wolf said.

Several other lawmakers indicated a wariness about accepting help from Palin, but did not want to criticize the GOP’s vice presidential candidate from last year. They said Palin could hurt them by firing up Democrats.

An unnamed GOP lawmaker representing a district that Obama carried in 2008 told The Hill that if Palin came into his district, his opponent would “probably be doing a dance of joy.”

The head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm said he’d welcome Palin’s involvement in the 2010 campaign.

“We hope that she will be part of the future debate on the direction of the country,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Several Republicans running for statewide office over the next two years in areas where Obama is popular suggested Palin could hurt the party’s candidates.

Centrist Republican Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) said that Palin’s polarizing views, coupled with her surprise decision to resign with 18 months left in her term, would make it difficult to ask for her help.

“I think the combination of her being very conservative and the fact that what she did has concerned some of us would mean that people may be hesitant about having her in [to campaign],” said Castle, who is considering a bid for Senate in 2010.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R), who is running to become Michigan’s governor in 2010, said he needs a better explanation of why Palin suddenly quit her job before he’d want her campaigning with him in Michigan.

“I’ve thought about it but I don’t have an answer,” Hoekstra said. Before making a call on a Palin visit, he said, “I need a better understanding of why she quit. Why quit with a year and a half to go?”
Ouch. I mean honestly, if the rank and file House Republicans are telling her to get lost, where the money Palin could raise among Republican voters would make a big difference down the stretch, and they are already telling her to get lost 16 months before the election, she's got serious problems.

Needless to say, the Wingers are pissed. Dan Riehl is already referring to these guys as "Republicowards". They can't imagine for a second why anyone would not want Saracuda to fundraise for them.

Personally, I've got to actually agree with Riehl on this. If you honestly believe a Sarah Palin fundraiser would be a serious detriment in the general election, your grip on your House seat is pretty tenuous as it is. Might as well go for it, you'll need the money. I'm going to say that the way the GOP is going right now, you'll be hurt more in the polls by Republican voters sitting out than Independent voters being turned off in the general.

That is if you don't get crucified in the primary, there. After all, turning down Sister Sarah is sure to raise the ire of some of the more...committed...members of the local party machinery and they just might find somebody who appreciates her more to run against them. And in the general, well, that might backfire just a bit.

Either way, it's a lose-lose situation for the GOP, so pick your poison.

Going to go ahead and correct a major oversight, adding a 2010 Election tag. Geez, Zandar. Pay attention.

[UPDATE 11:57 AM] Sister Sarah has apparently lost the Peggy Noonan vote, too...and in a big way.
"The elites hate her." The elites made her. It was the elites of the party, the McCain campaign and the conservative media that picked her and pushed her. The base barely knew who she was. It was the elites, from party operatives to public intellectuals, who advanced her and attacked those who said she lacked heft. She is a complete elite confection. She might as well have been a bonbon.

"She makes the Republican Party look inclusive." She makes the party look stupid, a party of the easily manipulated.

"She shows our ingenuous interest in all classes." She shows your cynicism.

"Now she can prepare herself for higher office by studying up, reading in, boning up on the issues." Mrs. Palin's supporters have been ordering her to spend the next two years reflecting and pondering. But she is a ponder-free zone. She can memorize the names of the presidents of Pakistan, but she is not going to be able to know how to think about Pakistan. Why do her supporters not see this? Maybe they think "not thoughtful" is a working-class trope!

"The media did her in." Her lack of any appropriate modesty did her in. Actually, it's arguable that membership in the self-esteem generation harmed her. For 30 years the self-esteem movement told the young they're perfect in every way. It's yielding something new in history: an entire generation with no proper sense of inadequacy.

"Turning to others means the media won!" No, it means they lose. What the mainstream media wants is not to kill her but to keep her story going forever. She hurts, as they say, the Republican brand, with her mess and her rhetorical jabberwocky and her careless causing of division. Really, she is the most careless sower of discord since George W. Bush, who fractured the party and the movement that made him. Why wouldn't the media want to keep that going?

Here's why all this matters. The world is a dangerous place. It has never been more so, or more complicated, more straining of the reasoning powers of those with actual genius and true judgment. This is a time for conservative leaders who know how to think.

And this is coming from a woman who a couple of months ago said Americans shouldn't think and ask questions about torture policy and just "walk on by". And behold, Orouboros devours its own tail.

Don't Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Via John Cole at Balloon Juice, the Pentagon is considering a ban on tobacco in the military.
Pentagon health experts are urging Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ban the use of tobacco by troops and end its sale on military property, a change that could dramatically alter a culture intertwined with smoking.

Jack Smith, head of the Pentagon's office of clinical and program policy, says he will recommend that Gates adopt proposals by a federal study that cites rising tobacco use and higher costs for the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs as reasons for the ban.

The study by the Institute of Medicine, requested by the VA and Pentagon, calls for a phased-in ban over a period of years, perhaps up to 20. "We'll certainly be taking that recommendation forward," Smith says.

A tobacco ban would confront a military culture, the report says, in which "the image of the battle-weary soldier in fatigues and helmet, fighting for his country, has frequently included his lit cigarette."

Also, the report said, troops worn out by repeated deployments often rely on cigarettes as a "stress reliever." The study found that tobacco use in the military increased after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

I'm with John on this one, I see the sun exploding before the Pentagon actually enforces this one. No way...but having said that, the Pentagon's health guys do make a valid point.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the department supports a smoke-free military "and believes it is achievable." She declined to elaborate on any possible ban.

One in three servicemembers use tobacco, the report says, compared with one in five adult Americans. The heaviest smokers are soldiers and Marines, who have done most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the study says. About 37% of soldiers use tobacco and 36% of Marines. Combat veterans are 50% more likely to use tobacco than troops who haven't seen combat.

Tobacco use costs the Pentagon $846 million a year in medical care and lost productivity, says the report, which used older data. The Department of Veterans Affairs spends up to $6 billion in treatments for tobacco-related illnesses, says the study, which was released late last month.

Which is a good argument. I know military guys who see their bodies as temples, and plenty who smoke and drink. Making the military a smoke-free workplace however is going to be a massive undertaking, and I expect a pretty hefty amount of resistance to the plan. Personally, I think the military has bigger policy problems to deal with right now than smoking...oh yeah, and there's the whole DADT crap to deal with too.

Taibbi Versus Goldman Sachs, Con't

Ahh, Matt Taibbi, he is a machine. People keep coming at him, and he keeps punching them square in the nuts.
If anything it seems to me that what defines these Wall Street characters is not religion but the absence of it: even a hardened atheist like myself comes away from the experience of reading about the last two decades of Wall Street history shocked by that community’s complete and utter Godlessness and moral insanity. What I’m saying in other words is that if any of these clowns actually had a real religious sensibility, we wouldn’t be in this mess — and that’s coming from someone who believes all religions to be inherently ridiculous. For Goldman now to hide behind the cloak of Jewish victimhood is both more obnoxious and less convincing than Marion Barry wearing a dashiki after the indictment.

Then there is this other argument, the one being bandied about by Time magazine, among others. According to Steven Gandel of Time, the problem with my piece is that it is — get this — too specific. According to the above passage, focusing on Goldman in particular when attempting to explain (in general) the crimes of Wall Street to ordinary readers is somehow a distraction from the “real problem.” To repeat:

…spend too much time on Goldman and you miss the fact of how broadly the financial system and the regulations that are supposed to keep profiteers in check failed us.

I had to read that passage several times to even begin to grasp its ostensible meaning. Apparently this is the best argument that Time could come up with to discredit this article, that the rhetorical technique of using a specific example of a specific bank like Goldman to tell a broader story about Wall Street in general distracts readers from the “more important” issue of how government regulators… failed to stop banks like Goldman! I mean, really, how’s that for circular thinking? This is silly stuff even by Time magazine’s standards.

I’ve been shocked by how many grown adult people seem to have swallowed this argument, that the argument against Goldman’s behavior during the bubbles of recent decades is invalid because “everyone was doing it” — and other banks, like for instance Morgan Stanley, were “just as bad” as Goldman was.

Two things about that. One, it isn’t true, not really. By any reasonable measure Goldman is and has been the baddest guy on the block for a long time. When it comes to government influence, no other Wall Street company even comes close. And while maybe one might have made an argument that other players were more damaging to society before the crisis of last year, there’s simply no question now, after the bailouts and especially after the AIG fiasco, that Goldman now reigns supreme in the area of insider advantage. To pick any other bank to tell the story of the rapidly growing influence of Wall Street on politics and the blurring of public and private roles would be a glaring journalistic oversight, and surely even Goldman’s biggest supporters would admit this.

Two, even if it is true that “everyone else was doing it”: so what? Who cares? To me this response is highly telling. We published a piece accusing Goldman Sachs of systematically ripping off pensioners and other retail investors by sticking them with rafts of toxic mortgages it knew were losers, of looting taxpayer reserves to cover its bad bets made with AIG, of manipulating gas prices to massive detrimental effect, of helping to explode an internet bubble that caused over $5 trillion in wealth to disappear, and numerous other crimes — and the response isn’t “You’re wrong,” or “We didn’t do that shit, not us,” but “Well, Morgan did the same stuff,” and “Why aren’t you writing about Morgan?”

Why didn’t we write about Morgan? Because we didn’t. Because it’s your turn, you assholes. Maybe later someone will tell the story of the other banks, but for now, while most ordinary people are only just learning about the workings of the financial innovation era that blew up in their faces last year, the top dog in that universe is going to be first in line to get the special treatment. That might be inconvenient for Goldman, but it doesn’t make the things I or anyone else say about them untrue.

Did I mention that this guy's my hero? As long as there's people like him willing to question the status quo and to speak truth to power, America can fix itself. We need to do much more of that ourselves, rather than having the Village Idiots pretend to.

Critical thinking. It works.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Mark Steyn asks:
One of President Obama's arguments for "reforming" health care is that "preventive" care — more tests, more screening — will help control costs. Really? Apropos cancer, Prof. H. Gilbert Welch of Dartmouth Medical School notes:

For starters, the majority of folks who are screened receive no benefit. That's because, despite scary statistics, most people will not get cancer. Let's look at breast cancer as an example.

According to government statistics, the absolute risk of a 60-year-old woman dying from breast cancer in the next 10 years is 9 in 1,000. If regular mammograms reduce this risk by one-third-a widely cited but by no means universally accepted claim-her odds fall to 6 in 1,000. Therefore, for every 1,000 women screened, three of them avoid death from breast cancer, six die regardless, and the rest? They can't possibly benefit because they weren't going to die from the disease in the first place.

Apply that across the system: How can testing 997 out of a thousand people for no good reason save money?
Well, I'm going to go with "The three people you save will be able to be treated early, live normal lives, and contribute positively to the GDP of the nation rather than costing taxpayers thousands in cancer treatment costs." Also, the whole point of testing the other 997 people is that ahead of time you don't which are which. This makes logical sense. You should try it sometime.

Also, you pretty much save the lives of 3 out of every 1000 Americans, one of them who might be, you know, somebody you care about, love, or are related to you ginormous conservative douchebag.

The Wrong Kind Of Power

I understand that the issue of a small number of active duty military espousing the views of white supremacist groups online is a damn tricky one to discuss, but here goes. From Stars & Stripes:
But there’s one other thing that dozens of members of, a white supremacist social networking website, have in common: They proudly identify themselves as active-duty members of the U.S. armed forces.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Ala.-based watchdog group that tracks extremist hate groups, has compiled a book containing the online user profiles of at least 40 users who say they are serving in the military, in apparent violation of Pentagon regulations prohibiting racist extremism in the ranks.

On Friday, the SPLC will present its findings to key members of Congress who chair the House and Senate committees overseeing the armed forces and urge them to pressure the Pentagon to crack down.

“In the wake of several high-profile murders by extremists of the radical right, we urge your committees to investigate the threat posed by racial extremists who may be serving in the military to ensure that our armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists,” Morris Dees, SPLC co-founder and chief trial counsel, wrote to the legislators. “Evidence continues to mount that current Pentagon policies are inadequate to prevent racial extremists from joining and serving in the armed forces.”

Added Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report, a magazine produced at the law center: “The Pentagon really has shrugged this off and refused to look at this in any serious way.”

On the website, which Potok termed “a racist version of Facebook run by the National Socialist Movement,” many participants list their branch of service, base location and hometown on colorful pages festooned with Nazi art and Confederate battle flags. Some say they have served or will soon be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Several include pictures of themselves in camouflage combat uniforms.

One participant under the username “WhitePride85,” who said he is a 24-year-old staff sergeant from Madison, Wis., wrote: “I have been in the Army for over 5 years now ... I am a SSGT ... I have been in Iraq and Kuwait ... I love and will do anything to keep our master race marching. I have been a skinhead forever.”

It would be the height of stereotypical unfairness to paint the typical member of our military as accepting of these repugnant views. But it is also equally unfair to ignore that this exists, and that it is a problem the Pentagon must deal with. I have great respect for the men and women who have made the choice to join the Armed Forces and go into harm's way. In return, America has not always been nearly kind or grateful enough for the sacrifices they and their families and loved oves have made. I am a strong believer in the phrase "Support the troops: Bring them all home."

But the reality is that there are those in our military, just as in civilian life, that believe in the purity and dominace of the white race. Our generals and admirals and lawmakers and commanders, as well as our ground troops and new recruits, comprise all peoples of all walks of life, integrated just like America is. I have friends in the military, and I know they are honorable and good people. If anyone should be outraged at this, it's them.


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