Monday, January 18, 2010

Last Call

Is there anything Dr. Sanjay Gupta can't do?
Star CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta -- a practicing neurosurgeon -- performed brain surgery on a 12-year-old Haitian girl Monday aboard a US military ship.

The girl, whose name was not released, was injured in last week's devastating earthquake, and was diagnosed as having a 1.2-cm (0.4-inch) chunk of concrete embedded in her skull.

The ship's surgeon called for a neurosurgeon, which are in short supply in the region amidst the mammoth and often chaotic rescue and recovery operation.

"With the help of a CNN producer, we called CNN in Atlanta who then patched us through to Doctor Gupta in Port-au-Prince," said the Vinson's Deputy Public Affairs Officer Erik Schneider.

"Someone got a hold of our international desk," 40-year-old Gupta later recalled. "They said there was an urgent call from the Carl Vinson. So I put a call in to them and there was something about a head injury."

Assisted by Los Angeles surgeon Henri Ford and the ship's surgeon Kathryn Berndt, Gupta pulled off the surgery between his multiple reports for the international news network on the massive quake that hit the Caribbean nation.

Gupta and Ford said they anticipate the girl making a full recovery.
In the end it's good to remember that there's still some decency in the universe, and that one person really can make a difference every now and again.

Three Signs Of The Apocalypse

Sign one:  Nate Silver is now calling Brown the winner tomorrow, 3:1.
The FiveThirtyEight Senate Forecasting Model, which correctly predicted the outcome of all 35 Senate races in 2008, now regards Republican Scott Brown as a 74 percent favorite to win the Senate seat in Massachusetts on the basis of new polling from ARG, Research 2000 and InsiderAdvantage which show worsening numbers for Brown's opponent, Martha Coakley. We have traditionally categorized races in which one side has between a 60 and 80 percent chance of winning as "leaning" toward that candidate, and so that is how we categorize this race now: Lean GOP. Nevertheless, there is a higher-than-usual chance of large, correlated errors in the polling, such as were observed in NY-23 and the New Hampshire Democratic primary; the model hedges against this risk partially, but not completely.
Sign two:  Sully is breaking out the hemlock.
Democrats can stop hoping at this point.

I can see no alternative scenario but a huge - staggeringly huge - victory for the FNC/RNC machine tomorrow. They crafted a strategy of total oppositionism to anything Obama proposed a year ago.

Remember they gave him zero votes on even the stimulus in his first weeks. They saw health insurance reform as Obama's Waterloo, and, thanks in part to the dithering Democrats, they beat him on that hill. They have successfully channeled all the rage at the massive debt and recession the president inherited on Obama after just one year. If they can do that already, against the massive evidence against them, they have the power to wield populism to destroy any attempt by government to address any actual problems.

This is a nihilist moment, built from a nihilist strategy in order to regain power ... to do nothing but wage war against enemies at home and abroad.

What comes next will be a real test for Obama. I suspect serious health insurance reform is over for yet another generation.
Sign three:  Jane Hamsher poses this question:
Should Dems Give the Money Back If They Don’t Keep Their Public Option Pledge?

The only way the Senate bill can be jammed through the House is if those 65 members who said they would vote against any bill without a public option violate their pledge. And since the 60 vote Senate bar has now apparently been lowered to 51, that would be something they did because they wanted to, and not because they had to in order to pass health care at all.

So, we’d like to know what you think. Should those 65 members who received $430,000 in donations because they pledged to vote against any bill that did not have a public option keep the money if they break that pledge, or should they give it back?
Rutger Hauer said it best in Blade Runner.

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die."
I don't know about you, but I really expected the end of the Obama moment to go out with...I dunno, more explosions or something.  Not in a cloud of emopants stupidity.

Well, actually yes, I expected it to go down in a cloud of emopants stupidity.  Just not this f'ckin' quickly.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

The GOP is actually dumb enough to invoke Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today.  No, really.
“Though close to 50 years have come and gone since Dr. King delivered his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, the principles by which he lived and worked remain as true as the day he began his epic and historic fight for civil rights. The principles of freedom, faith, and opportunity for all people are truly timeless and will continue to influence America and the world for generations to come. As we celebrate his legacy, I’m reminded that his message is rooted in ideals and principles that the Republican Party has advocated since its inception. Today, our Party and the nation honors Dr. King’s dream by continuing his fight — the fight for all Americans to have an equal chance at the American Dream.
Even worse, Moose Lady wants to teach the "lessons" of Dr. King:
“Please take a moment to tell your children about this great man. He fought for liberty and equality because he knew they were God-given and he knew that no government should be empowered to thwart our freedom. King summarized his mission when stating that no one should be judged based on skin color, but by the content of one’s character.”
I believe Dr. King would find Sarah Palin's character sorely lacking.  And liberty and equality sure as hell doesn't apply to gays, non-Christians, and women if you're a Republican, much less racial minorities.  Dr. King would have told today's Republican Party the same thing he said in 1966 as Amanda Terkel points out:
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.
I guess that means we'll be seeing Sarah Palin advocating same-sex marriage rights and universal health care any second now...

Sue The Pants Off You

Wall Street isn't going to stand for Obama's TARP money recovery fee.  They're going to sue the pants off the government for even trying to recover the money.
Wall Street's main lobbying arm has hired a top Supreme Court litigator to study a possible legal battle against a bank tax proposed by the Obama administration, on the theory that it would be unconstitutional, according to three industry officials briefed on the matter.
In an e-mail message sent last week to the heads of Wall Street legal departments, executives of the lobbying group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, wrote that a bank tax might be unconstitutional because it would unfairly single out and penalize big banks, according to these officials, who did not want to be identified to preserve relationships with the group's members.
 Nice.  As Steve Benen points out:
As for the politics, I continue to marvel at the fact that conservative Republicans, including Scott Brown, are taking the banks' side on this. It's tempting to think Americans would reject such nonsense, but then again, Massachusetts seems poised to elect Brown anyway, and the GOP seems largely unafraid of pretending to be populist while fighting to shield Wall Street from burdens -- such as paying us back for the money we spent to rescue them from their own recklessness.
It's actually simple:  GOP populism is "Whenever a Democrat uses government for any reason, it's inherently evil tyranny and must be resisted by any and every means necessary."

To whit, the government bailout out the banks.  This is intolerable evil.  The government should have done nothing.  Now the government is trying to assess a fee against the banks to get that money back.  This is intolerable evil as well.  The government should have done nothing.

You see, the Party of No is really the Party Of Do Nothing.  The GOP is winning by advancing the claim that doing nothing...nothing at all...would magically have solved everything.  Therefore, vote for Republicans for Nothing.

Nihilism, as Digby said.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

A Michigan company contracted to build rifle sights for use by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan freely admits it stamps Bible verse reference codes onto them.
The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.

U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan and were drawn up in order to prevent criticism that the U.S. was embarked on a religious "Crusade" in its war against al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents.

One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Other references include citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as "the light of the world." John 8:12, referred to on the gun sights as JN8:12, reads, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Trijicon confirmed to that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions "have always been there" and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is "not Christian." The company has said the practice began under its founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa who was killed in a 2003 plane crash.
Two observations.

One, this has been going on since 2003.  You damn well better believe somebody in the Pentagon noticed, knew about it, approved of it and made it continue into the Obama administration.  The fact that it's only being brought up now, six or seven years later, says volumes about our military command structure.  Somebody very, very high up thought shooting Muslims with rifles with Bible scripture codes on them was a really, really good idea when the largest problem we've had is convincing the Muslim world we're not conducting a religiously motivated Crusade against them.

Two, clearly somebody's a Warhammer 40K fan and has been reading the Imperial Munitorum Manual.  The machine spirits of any weapon must be properly placated in order to maintain it in good working order, praise the Emperor, and this includes the application and strict adherence to the proper Litanies of Faith to and on said weapon.  (For those of you who are non-gamers and have no idea what in the name of the Warp I'm talking about, this is a bad thing in general to have such similarities between our current military and a fictional military in the year 40,000 run on unending and eternal war.  Trust me on this.  You do not want our Marines to be Space Marines if you're not the one commanding said Space Marines.  Hell, you don't even want them to be Imperial Guardsmen.)

Scary, scary stuff.  (Even if it does give you combat bonuses.)

Just A Reminder About Tomorrow's Election

The answer to "The Democrats haven't solved out problems yet" is not "Allow Republicans to be elected to teach them a lesson."  That leads to people like this being in power because you decided to sit this one out.

Want better Democrats?  Elect them and then support them.  Want worse Democrats?  Turn on the ones that do try to make a difference.  When they still manage to fall short of perfection and you decry them as corporate stooges, those who follow say "Why bother?" and will become the Centrists you hate in order to survive politically.

It really is that simple.

I criticize Obama on his economic and terrorism policy relentlessly.  He's still better than McCain would have been.  Remember that.

Obama Sticks To His Guns (And Not To Yours)

Yet another perception versus reality problem the President has:
President Barack Obama received a failing grade this year from The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on Monday .

The Brady Campaign blasted the president, whom the group endorsed in 2008, for not having taken significant steps to advance gun control laws.

"It's been a very disappointing year for us, especially considering what he campaigned on," the group's president, Paul Helmke, said during an appearance on MSNBC. "This year they ran away from the issue, and actually signed two repeals of good gun legislation."

Those changes, which would allow guns in national parks and on Amtrak trains, were attached as amendments to larger pieces of legislation the president generally supported.

Obama got an "F" on every issue the Brady Campaign scored, according to its report card.
But wait, I thought Obama was coming for your guns!
79 percent of NRA members believe Obama will definitely or probably try to outlaw gun sales, according to a poll released Thursday that was conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. 18 percent of NRA members saw it as unlikely for Obama to ban firearms sales.
Gunowners unaffiliated with the NRA still saw it as likely for Obama to outlaw gun sales, though by a lesser margin. 57 percent of non-NRA members said the president would definitely or probably try to ban gun sales, whereas 30 percent said Obama likely wouldn't try to criminalize gun sales.
There's a problem here. Obama has actually rolled back gun control laws since taking office, and gun manufacturers and gun stores have no problem using Obama as their bad guy.

It's weird, you campaign on one thing, you do another, and you get hated by both sides.  Funny how that's starting to be a recurring theme among some.

Das Boot And Applying Too Big To Fail To Haiti

Over in Commentary's web site, Max Boot takes the argument for getting rid of Too Big To Fail banks (that there needs to be a mechanism to unwind them and place them into receivership) and...applies it to Haiti (emphasis mine)
The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.
Now...I actually agree with Boot here.  Like it or not, Haiti is now a major problem that requires us to fix it, and we are...but we do have to admit to ourselves that unless we're committed to nation-building here, Haiti will always be a basket case.  The good news this time is that we do have the support of the UN and the world.   But then Boot goes back to being Max Boot again:
Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.
(More after the jump...)

You're Not Helping

When Public Policy Polling is asking questions like this in Massachusetts:
Q17 Do you think that ACORN will try to steal the
election for Martha Coakley? If yes, press 1. If
no, press 2. If you’re not sure, press 3.
Yes ................................................................. 25%
No................................................................... 38%
Not Sure.......................................................... 37%
I honestly have to wonder about the future of our Republic.   A quarter of people in the bluest state in the nation believe "ACORN will try to steal this election" whatever that's supposed to mean.

It's crazy.

Contingency Plan

There is no plan to failure, only failure to plan, the saying goes.  The Dems in Massachusetts may have done both, frankly.  But now we're at least seeing a way forward for health care reform:
A new way forward on health care is gaining some traction among Democrats, who are preparing for the possibility that Democrat Martha Coakley will lose her bid to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate, costing Democrats their 60th vote, which they'll need to overcome the filibuster.

The House has been preparing to tweak the Senate bill with a package of amendments based on a deal reached last week with organized labor, send it back to the upper chamber for final passage, and claim victory. But Coakley could well lose her race, depriving Democrats of the 60th vote they'd need to overcome a filibuster, and that unthinkable possibility is forcing party leaders to consider a Plan B.

As I noted last week, the House could simply pass the Senate bill unchanged, and Obama could sign reform into law. As recently as last week, a number of high-profile Democrats were saying that would never fly. But many are now suggesting that the House might still pull through, if House members are promised that the deal they agreed to last week will be passed separately--and quickly--through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the Boston Globe, the idea is "well within the scope of the rules of the Senate," and, indeed, the deal with labor is largely a change to the tax structure of the bill, which is the sort of issue the reconciliation process is designed to address.
My question is why not make the changes the House wants through reconciliation regardless of what Coakley does?  Take the "Lucy and the football" factor away from guys like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman altogether and do this anyway.

This should be the plan.  The Senate has done its damage.  It's time for the House to fix it.

Timmy's In Trouble

If this Reuters story at CNBC is accurate, Tim Geithner is going to have some very uncomfortable questions to answer in front of Congress on January 27th.
The New York Federal Reserve Bank actively worked with bailed out insurer AIG to build a case against disclosing details of AIG's payments to banks just days after the insurer considered making them public, documents released late on Saturday showed.

Lawyers for the Fed bank, which had taken over a pool of AIG assets as part of a $180 billion government bailout of the insurer in 2008, advised that AIG maintain a "confidential treatment request" from the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to emails provided by Rep. Darrell Issa, a U.S. lawmaker probing the matter.

A separate batch of emails made public earlier this month showed that New York Fed had advised AIG not to disclose the payments in a securities filing in late 2008.

The email traffic has raised questions about the role of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who ran the New York Fed at the time of the AIG bailout and the insurer's payment of some $62.1 billion to banks to liquidate credit default swaps it had sold to them.

Geithner is among those due to testify on the AIG payments and efforts to limit public disclosures about them at a January 27 hearing of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also has been asked to appear before the panel.

Geithner has said Fed officials had no choice but to allow AIG to pay the banks in full, but has denied any involvement in discussions to suppress disclosures. He recused himself from matters involving AIG after being nominated for Treasury Secretary in November 2008.
And gosh, now we see why he did so.  He was neck deep in AIG from the beginning.  He was also apparently neck deep in advising AIG to keep everything as quiet as possible months before the rest of the financial sector blew up.

Timmy's got to go.  He should have never been SecTreas in the first place.  So far his appointment has been President Obama's only really bad mistake.

And for this.

Nate Runs The Numbers

Nate Silver games out not one, but six different scenarios for tomorrow's special election, ranging from a Brown beatdown of Coakley (if all the GOP leaning polls are right) and a 5 out of 6 chance of winning to a Coakley cruise in the most favorable polling scenario giving her a 68% chance of victory.

But the bottom line is he's calling it a coin flip:
To state the obvious, one's assumptions matter a lot! Any of these are reasonable and defensible sets of assumptions. And I'm sure that you some the more creative among you could come up with other wholly reasonable and defensible sets of assumptions, including some that fall outside the goalposts of the scenarios contained herein.

On the heels of the PPP poll, the consensus of other analysts is liable to be that Scott Brown is favored (which I might agree with in the most literal sense), and favored by a large enough margin to characterize the race as something other than a toss-up (which I don't yet agree with.) That's fine; I can see how they get there. The only thing I'd really caution against is that, because our minds are wired to detect patterns, and the story of this race has been Brown! Momentum! Rawwr! it's perhaps easy to forget about some of the polls that did show Coakley ahead, like the Research 2000 poll (which is no less recent than the Suffolk or ARG polls), the Rasmussen poll (at least until they come out with a fresh one), and the Boston Globe/UNH poll, which is definitely old but showed a 17 (!) point lead. It's also easy to forget that all of these polls have their hitches: with the possible exception of Ann Selzer's polling in Iowa, there's no poll anywhere that should be thought of as the gold standard.

In the end, it comes down to Tuesday's vote.  But here's the thing, this has to be the low point so far of Obama's coattails effect.  If Coakley still wins, then the momentum favors the Democrats.  But if Brown wins, it's a breakdown.

The Kroog Versus The Kroog's Desire To Say I Told You So On The Stimulus

And, well...he kinda fails on that.  But he's not wrong, either.
About the stimulus: it has surely helped. Without it, unemployment would be much higher than it is. But the administration’s program clearly wasn’t big enough to produce job gains in 2009.

Why was the stimulus underpowered? A number of economists (myself included) called for a stimulus substantially bigger than the one the administration ended up proposing. According to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, however, in December 2008 Mr. Obama’s top economic and political advisers concluded that a bigger stimulus was neither economically necessary nor politically feasible.

Their political judgment may or may not have been correct; their economic judgment obviously wasn’t. Whatever led to this misjudgment, however, it wasn’t failure to focus on the issue: in late 2008 and early 2009 the Obama team was focused on little else. The administration wasn’t distracted; it was just wrong.

The same can be said about policy toward the banks. Some economists defend the administration’s decision not to take a harder line on banks, arguing that the banks are earning their way back to financial health. But the light-touch approach to the financial industry further entrenched the power of the very institutions that caused the crisis, even as it failed to revive lending: bailed-out banks have been reducing, not increasing, their loan balances. And it has had disastrous political consequences: the administration has placed itself on the wrong side of popular rage over bailouts and bonuses.
And he's right.  Obama should have swung for the fences on the stimulus and then dared the Republicans to stop him.  Instead, he bunted and got on base.  It was easier for him to do so...but it didn't score any runs.
(More after the jump...)

Dr. King's Memory

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wonder what advice Dr. King would have for President Obama right now.  Obama's speech two years ago on MLK Day was one of the main reasons I became a volunteer for him.  The parallels are obvious, but looking back on that 2008 speech in Atlanta, I am reminded again of this passage:
The Scripture tells us that we are judged not just by word, but by deed. And if we are to truly bring about the unity that is so crucial in this time, we must find it within ourselves to act on what we know; to understand that living up to this country's ideals and its possibilities will require great effort and resources; sacrifice and stamina.

And that is what is at stake in the great political debate we are having today. The changes that are needed are not just a matter of tinkering at the edges, and they will not come if politicians simply tell us what we want to hear. All of us will be called upon to make some sacrifice. None of us will be exempt from responsibility. We will have to fight to fix our schools, but we will also have to challenge ourselves to be better parents. We will have to confront the biases in our criminal justice system, but we will also have to acknowledge the deep-seated violence that still resides in our own communities and marshal the will to break its grip.

That is how we will bring about the change we seek. That is how Dr. King led this country through the wilderness. He did it with words - words that he spoke not just to the children of slaves, but the children of slave owners. Words that inspired not just black but also white; not just the Christian but the Jew; not just the Southerner but also the Northerner.

He led with words, but he also led with deeds. He also led by example. He led by marching and going to jail and suffering threats and being away from his family. He led by taking a stand against a war, knowing full well that it would diminish his popularity. He led by challenging our economic structures, understanding that it would cause discomfort. Dr. King understood that unity cannot be won on the cheap; that we would have to earn it through great effort and determination.
A year into Obama's presidency, and there are those of us have already given up on Obama.  They say "Mr. President, your deeds have yet to match your words.  You still tinker around those edges and refuse to make the sweeping changes that the times demand.  You're functionally no different than the last man to hold the office."

(More after the jump...)


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