Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Call

Joe The Plumber. Not a Joe. Not a Plumber. Still not very helpful, via ThinkProgress:

This past weekend, at the right wing’s RightOnline blogger conference in Pittsburgh — sponsored by Americans for Prosperity — Alternet’s Adele Stan reported that Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher attacked Nancy Pelosi for calling teabaggers “un-American.” (In fact, Pelosi said “drowning out opposing views is un-American.”) Wurzelbacher said that in the good ol’ days, he would have been able to physically “beat” Pelosi:

WURZELBACHER: For Pelosi to write about us bein’ un-American and disprespectful — I’ll tell ya what: I respect nobody who lies to me and manipulates me and takes my money and puts my children in debt. They want me to be respectful towards them? Please! You know, I’m not the most civilized person: Those kind of people, I usually took behind the woodshed and just beat the livin’ tar out of ‘em.

(UPDATE: Crooks and Liars has the video.)

This is wrong on dozens of individual levels. Why does this idiot continue to get press attention? Oh yes...there's nothing a Wingnut can say that would actually banish them from the Village press.

The Message Sent

What's the message sent here?
A man was seen carrying an assault rifle and a pistol outside the VFW Convention in Phoenix where President Obama spoke today, a local newspaper reports. (Click through for a photo.)

Local police said it's legal under Arizona law, but two officers kept close by him.

"If we need to intervene, we will intervene at that time," said Detective J. Oliver.

The man, who gave his name only as "Chris", was asked why he was armed. "Because I can do it," he said. "In Arizona, I still have some freedoms."

A man shows up outside the place where the President is speaking. He is carrying a rifle ("assault rifle" is a meaningless term) and a pistol.

What message is he trying to send to the President, and to others? "Because I can do it" is not a particularly good reason. But the threat of violence is implied, is it not?

That's where our health care debate is in 2009. A man can bring a rifle to a Presidential speech. That's his idea of contributing.

[UPDATE 7:01 PM] From TPM:

(Late update: CNN now reports that there were two men carrying assault rifles, reportedly AR-15s, outside President Obama's event in Phoenix.)

(Late late update: The Associated Press reports that there were about 12 people with guns outside the event.)

So, a dozen armed people outside a Presidential speech event.


Church, Meet State

Via Memorandum, Texas's 2007 requirement that the Bible be taught in all public schools takes effect this school year.
The school year is almost here, and if literature of the Bible is not already offered in your child's school, it will be this fall.

Books are a common sight in classrooms around the nation, but the Bible is one book that is not. Come this fall, a Texas law says all public schools must offer information relating to the Bible in their curriculum.

"By the end of the year, what they begin to realize is that it is pervasive. You can't get away from it. The kids came back and were like 'It's everywhere,'" said John Keeling, the social studies chair at Whitehouse High School. Whitehouse already offers a Bible elective. "The purpose of a course like this isn't even really to get kids to believe it, per se, it is just to appreciate the profound impact that it has had on our history and on our government."

The law actually passed in 2007, but this will be the first school year it is enforced because the bill says, "The provisions of this act pertaining to a school district do not take effect until the 2009-2010 school year."

Two observations:

1) This can't be Constitutional, can it? Freedom of worship and all that? I can understand offering it as an elective, but a requirement?

2) What if the book was the Qu'ran?

Some quick research on the topic uncovers this:
Legislators had built safeguards into the law that were meant to ensure the class on the Bible's impact on history and literature of Western civilization would be taught in an "objective, academic manner that neither promotes nor disparages religion," and not "from a particular sectarian point of view," according to the law.

Those protections included mandated teacher training, state-approved training materials and curriculum standards deemed constitutional by the state attorney general.

The Texas Education Agency told school districts that it would not provide the training and materials because the Legislature did not budget the $750,000 to do so.

And the curriculum standards approved by the State Board of Education, though constitutional, were vague and provided districts little direction for crafting a course on such a legally and culturally touchy topic.

As a result, the Wichita Falls district administration canceled plans for the Bible class.

"We didn't want our teachers teaching something that we didn't have the legal parameters of," district spokeswoman Renae Murphy said. "There was a lot there that was left up in the air with no details, and we needed a lot more details."

All Texas public school districts for the first time this fall must offer instruction in the literature and history of the Bible under the 2007 law.

Many school districts, including Austin and most other Central Texas districts, say their current high school curriculum already satisfies the requirement because it addresses world religions in history and geography courses.

Many other school districts — there is no definitive count of how many — say they plan to launch a new elective on the Bible if there is enough student demand. The teachers say they are working hard to ensure the course is done right and within the legal constraints, even without the state's help.

Education agency officials point the finger at the Legislature for not providing the specific authority to spend money for the Bible course support.

So, the law was authored and passed, and yet...the money to safely teach the course wasn't provided, the instruction to teach the Bible from an objective point of view wasn't provided, and the objective curriculum itself wasn't provided. None of the safeguards were provided at all.

Yeah, that's not a colossal screw-up or anything. They're dumping all this on the individual districts and teachers and saying "Teach it."

However, the legislation's author, state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, said it was the education agency that dropped the ball.

"That's news to me that they didn't get any money appropriated for it," said Chisum, who was also chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time and said he would have earmarked money for his own bill.

There was not a specific budget rider directing the agency to spend the money for the Bible course, nor was the agency precluded from using $750,000, a relatively small amount in its budget, for that purpose.

The agency also did not include a request for the upcoming 2010-11 budget to pay for the Bible course support going forward.

Chisum said that the education agency should have spent that money to help the districts prepare and that the districts "would have been better off if TEA had done what we expected them to do, which is to have the money there to teach the course."

John Keeling, social studies department chairman at Whitehouse High School in East Texas, said he can understand why districts might be reluctant to offer a course.

"If you end up with a teacher that is not prepared, if you end up with a curriculum that is not balanced and academically sound, I could definitely see how a district could get into trouble pretty quick," said Keeling, who taught a Bible literacy course last year.

You think?

Yeah, somehow I see this turning into a disaster, imminently.

Negotiaions, Republican Style

Ezra Klein calls GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley out.
Chuck Todd asked Grassley whether he'd vote for the bill if it was a good piece of policy that he'd crafted but that couldn't attract more than a handful of Republican votes. "Certainly not," replied Grassley. Todd tried again, clarifying that this was legislation Grassley liked, and thought would move the ball forward, but was getting bogged down due to partisanship. Grassley held firm. If a good bill cannot attract Republican support, then it is not a good bill, he argued.

Grassley, in other words, is working backward from the votes. If the Gang of Six reaches a compromise that the Senate Republicans don't support, Grassley will abandon that compromise, regardless of the fact that he's the guy who built it. The Gang of Six, in other words, falls apart if it can't assure a vote of 76. Since it seems virtually impossible that such a vote will manifest, it seems similarly unlikely that Grassley will sign his name to the final bill. And Grassley, remember, was willing to say all this publicly. His version of bipartisanship is strikingly partisan.
Nobody seems to have figured out the obvious, that Chuck Grassley will never vote for a health care reform bill, and neither will any other Republican. Period. They're not here to pass a bi-partisan bill. They're here to strip the bill down so far that progressives revolt and the bill dies.

I mean honestly, what will it take for Democrats to stop dicking around with bi-partisan anything, or negotiation, when no matter what form the bill takes, no Republican will vote for it? Can we stop fantasizing and get on with the reality that the Republican party is nothing more than a useless roadblock? When the pointman on Senate GOP negotiations on health care has clearly has no intention of negotiation in good faith, why waste your time with him or his party?

Most of all, why is anyone still acting surprised at this?

[UPDATE 3:55 PM] At least somebody seems to understand that no public option means no bill.

[UPDATE 2 4:00 PM] Publius at ObWi posits:
My take on all this is that he was always bad, but that the teabaggers have scared the bejesus out of him, and made him worse. The only potential threat to him is from the right, so what possible incentives does he have to stand up to the town hall protesters, Palins, etc.

Epic Meat And Lasers Win

Beef jerky plus lasers equals business cards.

It pains me that only now has mankind been able to combine beef jerky and lasers into something useful.


Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Remember, 59.4% of the House and 60% of the Senate behind a new President is no way shape or form a mandate if you're a Democrat.
A lot of liberals certainly saw it as such. All the strained comparisons of Obama to Franklin Roosevelt were a tipoff that many were talking themselves into the idea that the 2008 election created an opportunity for a substantial, leftward shift in policy. Yet the election of 2008 was not like the 1932 contest. It wasn't like 1952, 1956, 1964, 1972, 1980, 1984, or even 1988, either. Obama's election was narrower than all of these. FDR won 42 of 48 states. Eisenhower won 39, then 41. Johnson won 44 of 50. Nixon won 49. Reagan won 44, then 49. George H.W. Bush won 40. Obama won 28, three fewer than George W. Bush in his narrow 2004 reelection.
You see, now all that matters is the number of states Obama won. Wyoming's opinion is just as important as California, despite the fact that California has 70 times more people.

Of course, When Dubya won after losing the popular vote, he had a clear mandate because America is a center-right country.

Ergo, Obama and the Democrats don't have a mandate.

Here endeth the lesson.

She's On A Mission From God

For if the Lord calls Bachmanniac to run for President, then she shall answer that call, according to TPMDC's Eric Kleefield.
Talk about a political draft. In an interview with World Net Daily, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was asked whether she would ever run for President -- and she replied that she would do it if God calls her to it:
"If I felt that's what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it," she answered. "When I have sensed that the Lord is calling me to do something, I've said yes to it. But I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it. That's really my standard.

"If I am called to serve in that realm I would serve," she concluded, "but if I am not called, I wouldn't do it."
And people say God doesn't have a sense of humor.

I had no idea our political decisions were made by deities.

Go Ahead, Mister Wendell

Former Cigna Insurance PR exec Wendell Potter has an informative and well-written op-ed piece up at
Friday morning my former CIGNA buddy sent me an e-mail challenging something he said his wife heard me say in a radio report about my press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday with Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-New York, chairwoman of the House Rules Committee.

"She heard you say that these protestors are funded by the insurance companies. Frankly, nothing would surprise me, but certainly not each and every person," he wrote. "If there was a meeting near me, I certainly would tell my local representative how I feel about this entire subject (and it wouldn't be pretty), and I certainly am not funded by anyone. So I am ultimately wondering what proof there is that seemingly ordinary Americans are finally protesting what is going in Washington and there are all of these suggestions of a greater conspiracy."

If the radio report had carried more of my remarks, he might have a better understanding of how the health insurance and its army of PR people are influencing his opinions and actions without his even knowing it.

Until I quit my job last year, I was one of the leaders of that army. I had a very successful career and was my company's voice to the media and the public for several years.

It was my job to "promote and defend" the company's reputation and to try to persuade reporters to write positive stories about the industry's ideas on reform. During the last couple of years of my career, however, I became increasingly worried that the high-deductible plans insurers were beginning to push Americans into would force more and more of us into bankruptcy.

The higher I rose in the company, the more I learned about the tactics insurers use to dump policyholders when they get sick, in order to increase profits and to reward their Wall Street investors. I could not in good conscience continue serving as an industry mouthpiece. And I did not want to be part of yet another industry effort to kill meaningful reform.

I explained during the press conference with Rep. Slaughter how the industry funnels millions of its policyholders' premiums to big public relations firms that provide talking points to conservative talk show hosts, business groups and politicians. I also described how the PR firms set up front groups, again using your premium dollars and mine, to scare people away from reform.

What I'm trying to do as I write and speak out against the insurance industry I was a part of for nearly two decades is to inform Americans that when they hear isolated stories of long waiting times to see doctors in Canada and allegations that care in other systems is rationed by "government bureaucrats," someone associated with the insurance industry wrote the original script.

The industry has been engaging in these kinds of tactics for many years, going back to its successful behind-the-scenes campaign to kill the Clinton reform plan.

And Potter should know. He helped design and implement that talking point campaign for Cigna and help run it for years. There's a reason why there has been no meaningful health care reform in decades, and that reason is the insurance companies have the money to influence politicians and the media. This latest iteration has been very successful, with the internet and targeted e-mails to supporters, the battle lines are instantly reformed again and again to attack each facet of the reform before Congress.

The talking points that you'll hear people repeat time and time again are from the insurance industry. They have been for twenty years, and this is directly from somebody whose job was to write those talking points. Americans have been played for years into voting against their own self-interest. It's happening again, and with greater virulence this time around but the playbook is the same.

And decades of "government health care is bad" slammed into our collective psyche for years and years has taken its toll. America is once again being expertly manipulated by the best PR resources money can buy, and the GOP and the Village are more than happy to go with the script. Whether it's Limbaugh or Beck, John Boehner or Eric Cantor, or FreedomWorks or the teabaggers, all of it comes from the same tainted well they've been drawing this garbage from forever.

And Wendell Potter helped to dig that well. Now, he's trying to atone, thankfully.

The Politics Of Dancing, Or Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em

Think Progress discovers Tom Delay has mad skills. (h/t Cookie Jill at Skippy The Bush Kangaroo)
Former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will participate in the upcoming season of “Dancing with the Stars,” facing off against pop singer Aaron Carter, actress Melissa Joan Hart, and former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin. According to DeLay spokesperson Shannon Flaherty, “Anyone who’s seen him on the dance floor at convention parties or weddings knows he’s going to surprise a lot of people — and in a good way. This is going to be a fun campaign, and at least we know he’ll make it as far as Tucker Carlson.” (Carlson was the first contestant eliminated in the 2006 season.) DeLay has long been a “Dancing” fan. In 2006, he urged people to support country singer Sara Evans because she represented “good American values in the media.”
Can you imagine the outcry if, say, any Democrat did this, how it would be "a political stunt" or "proof of how unserious the party is" or "embarassing".

But DeLay's a Republican, so it's all in good fun. The additional interviews DeLay will get to push GOP talking points on Good Morning America are completely incidental.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

CalcRisk asks:

From the WSJ: Failed Banks Weighing on FDIC

For the 102 banks that have collapsed in the past two years, the FDIC's estimated cost averaged 34%. That is sharply higher than the 24% rate between 1989 and 1995, when 747 financial institutions were closed by regulators ... At three of the five banks that failed Friday, increasing the total to 77 so far this year, the financial hit to the agency's deposit-insurance fund is expected by the FDIC to be about 50% of their assets.
The numbers for the Community Bank of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada are amazing. From the FDIC on Friday:
As of June 30, 2009, Community Bank of Nevada had total assets of $1.52 billion ... The cost to the FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund is estimated to be $781.5 million.
The question is: Why is the FDIC waiting so long on banks like Community Bank of Nevada?
The answer of course is politics. The FDIC jumping in when a bank was at a 25% hit rather than 50% would be a tacit admission that many, many banks are at that stage. Waiting until the near last minute is necessary to keep convincing people that the problem is only a couple of small banks each week, not the entire system.

If the FDIC went after any bank whose bad assets constituted just 25% of their total assets, why there would be hundreds of banks closing.

They're stalling as much as they can, clearly. That won't last too much longer when the FDIC will have no choice but to close banks at ten or twelve a week instead of five.

Dick Armey (Of Darkness)

Ray-Ray takes Captain FreedomWorks out back and lets him have it with both barrels.

Not only does Dick Armey flat out lie about non-existent Bush equals Hitler ad, but he refuses to admit Rachel Maddow is right and just sails along.
First, let's note the facts. Five years ago, invited people to put together homemade television ads for the presidential campaign, and anyone could just post their idea to the group's site. Some unknown person put together an ad comparing Bush to Hitler, and put it on the site without the group's knowledge. MoveOn pulled the submission. When Armey said MoveOn "ran those ads," he was lying.

Second, note the competing standards. If some anonymous liberal compares Bush to Hitler, Armey thinks it's "despicable." If Armey organizes far-right activists carrying placards comparing Obama to Hitler, he thinks they're "colorful."

And finally, now that it's obvious that Armey said things he knows are untrue on national television, any chance he'll be barred from returning? Will bookers conclude that Armey shouldn't be invited onto television news programs, since he's obviously willing to lie to the public? No, that's not how the game is played, which is why hacks like Armey feel comfortable lying in the first place -- there are no consequences.

I'm betting Dick Armey will in fact be on Meet the Press again before Rachel Maddow is, judging from David Gregory's peevish response to Rachel Maddow actually daring to correct Dick Armey. If anyone will not be booked, it's her. After all, she dared to call out Dick Armey on national TV. The Villagers don't like that when their conservative lobbyist friends get the flag thrown on their outright lies, you see.

But Steve Benen is right: there are never any consequences for a right-wing media figure to tell an outright lie on TV. Odds are very good it will simply get repeated by the Village.

Sister Sarah Uber Alles

It's like the Mickey Mouse club, only with snowmobiles and loyalty oaths (h/t Kevin K.)


We endorse, advocate, support, and promote Sarah Louise Heath Palin of Alaska and her causes and issues. We, as “Team Members” vow our Loyalty to Sarah Louise Heath Palin of Alaska, her Family, her Associates, her Allies, and whoever else she deems worthy. We vow that we will use our God given talents in a positive and inspirational manner befitting of a servant of the people of the United States of America, her Allies and of Sarah Louise Heath Palin of Alaska. We will act as if we are working for Sarah Louise Heath Palin of Alaska herself. We promise to use our talents, intellect, spirituality, emotion, words, and actions towards the betterment of our creator’s plan above all and towards the advancement of his creation Sarah Louise Heath Palin of Alaska.


Yeah, in all seriousness, this is creepy as hell. It's like that short-lived NBC series Kings or something, you expect to see her anointed by Jesus riding a moose. The Lord has a plan for Sarah Palin, you see. You would think God could find somebody, you know, slightly less batshit crazy.

Seriously, how many people are going to join Sarah's Facebook Army there?

A New Week, A New Plan

I don't buy at all the efforts to walk back yesterday's multiple efforts by the White House to say the public option is optional, if not completely dead. Barry Schwartz at PERRspectives nails it:
The signs of President Obama's seeming walk-back of one of the pillars of his health care overhaul are multiplying. His Sunday New York Times op-ed fails to mention "public option," referring only to "a choice of high-quality, affordable coverage" and "quality, affordable options once we pass reform." That glaring omission followed his declaration at a Colorado town hall meeting yesterday:
"The public option - whether we have it or we don't have it - is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it. And, by the way, it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else."

For her part, Sebelius suggested the White House would yield to public option opponents on either side of the aisle, including key Senate Democrat Kent Conrad. So-called health insurance co-ops, which many doubt will result in either affordable insurance premiums or slow rising medical costs, could instead be an ingredient. As she told CNN's John King, "what's important is choice and competition," adding that, a public option "is not an essential element."

Unfortunately, we've been here before. As the concessions to obstructionist Republicans over the watered-down economic recovery package showed, appeasement is futile.

Absolutely. If the Democrats can pass a health care reform plan, they keep their majority. If they don't, 2010 and 2012 will not be kind to them. Democrats elected this majority and this President on the knowledge that it would take a significant margin to get real legislation passed, and yet the Republicans still effectively control the Senate through the filibuster and Democratic defectors. That's Harry Reid's fault.

The Republicans will never allow a health-care reform bill to be passed, period. If it does, they're dead as a party for twenty, thirty years. There isn't a single Republican who will do it. The GOP political machine would instantly disown them and primary them out of Washington. Do not count on a single Republican vote on the issue as long as Obama is President.

Following up on his post last night, Nate Silver charts the likely course forward:

If the White House now says that Kathleen Sebelius "misspoke" in her statements on CNN this morning, they still have a lot of explaining to do. Did Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, Bill Clinton, and Dick Durbin also misspeak when they hinted that it was time to move past the public option? Did they not know that they'd generate headlines like this one on the Drudge Report, headines that would take a lot of wind out of the public option's sails?

The White House had to know these things. This has not been a subtle hint. If they're hedging a bit now, it's probably because they're hoping to temper the reaction some in the blogopshere. I don't blame them for wanting to do so. And I don't blame the blogosphere for being angry -- the White House did not provide much in the way of leadership on this issue. But that doesn't mean it isn't the right time for the White House to (at least mostly) cut bait. There's likely going to have to be some sort of "regrouping" moment in September for health care to pass -- some sense of momentum that the White House can sustain for two, three, four weeks. If you'd waited until then to table the public option, such a moment would be less likely. There also probably has to be some effort to sell the public on the virtues of the plan as is -- and if the Administration can't convince the liberal blogopshere of that over the next 2-4 weeks, they almost certainly can't hope to do so to the general public.
The battle now is to rally the Democratic base, which has been badly demoralized. Can Obama do it? He's certainly capable. Will he? I'm not at all sure. The alternative? Get a bill on the floor with 55 votes or so and force the Republicans to filibuster it, then make that the issue of 2010.
What about this?,” Carville said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, “Suppose they pass a House bill that can get 56 Senate Democrats.” Then, Carville suggested, instead of using reconciliation, a special budgetary maneuver in Senate procedure that frustrate GOP attempts to mount a filibuster, Democrats should call for a vote. “And make [Republicans] filibuster it. But the old kinda way is that they filibuster it and make’em go three weeks and all night and [Democrats] will be there the whole time.

“Then, you say, ‘They’re the people that stopped it. We had a majority of Democrats. We had a good bill. They stopped it.’"

The problem with that of course is that was the plan in 1994. It failed rather spectacularly.

We'll see how this version goes on the Democratic side, but the Republican playbook was written 16 years ago, updated for the internet age, and is in full effect. And so far, it's working.


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