Saturday, January 30, 2010

Last Call Plus

One last thing before I turn in for the evening.  Anti-choice zealots are furious that a Kansas jury found Scott Roeder guilty and all, but it's the legal logic they are using for an appeal that should sicken everyone.
Roeder faces a minimum sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 25 years in prison when he's sentenced March 9, although prosecutors will ask the judge to require the 51-year-old Kansas City, Mo., man to serve at least 50 years behind bars before he is eligible for parole. His attorneys plan to appeal, arguing jurors should have been allowed to consider the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, requiring proof that Roeder had an unreasonable but honest belief that deadly force was justified.

The Rev. Donald Spitz, of Chesapeake, Va., who runs the Army of God Web site supporting violence against abortion providers, said the rejection of that argument has upset those who view Roeder as a hero.

"I know there is not a lot of good feeling out there _ everybody is pretty angry," he said.
If as a member of the legal profession you advocate that the killing of abortion providers is not murder but justifiable manslaughter, then you are truly a repugnant human being, and should probably be disbarred to boot.

That's probably the most repugnant thing I've heard in a very long time.

Last Call

As long as we have an ignorant electorate, an equally ignorant Village media, and a government that wants to keep it that way, we're all in a lot of trouble.
Only one in four Americans know how many votes a Senate filibuster requires. One in three know the name of the chairman of the Republican Party. One in two know the Democratic leader of the US Senate.
Health care? Fewer than one in three Americans even know that no Republicans voted for the Senate health care overhaul.

Americans' ignorance about politics isn't new, but the latest results from the Pew Poll suggest few are really paying attention.

Half of Americans don't even know that Stephen Colbert is a comedian. And among those surveyed, only one in three Democrats knew that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was the Democratic leader.
How the bloody hell are we supposed to get health care reform and climate change legislation when a majority of America can't tell the difference between Colbert and  El Rushbo?  But the big one is a good 75% of Americans think Democrats can pass anything they want even with 59 votes in the Senate.

This is the Stupid that Zandar is Versus.

Barney, Frankly Part 2

More Barney Frank in our public discourse, please.  Frank at Davos:
So, what hard choices could be made to avert a government debt crisis, at least in America? In his State of the Union speech a few hours later, Obama would call for a three-year government spending freeze, not including national security spending or key entitlements. But Rep. Barney Frank, who attended the Davos session as one of the selected "challengers" for the three presenters, called for large cuts in defense spending as well as tax increases -- particularly on wealthy Davos types. "I think almost every American here pays much less in taxes than you ought to. I'm going to go back and try to raise the taxes of most of the people who attended here," Frank vowed.
Then again as Katrina vanden Heuvel notes, Barney Frank's been talking defense cuts for a very, very long time.
The math is compelling: if we do not make reductions approximating 25 percent of the military budget starting fairly soon, it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity even with a repeal of Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy.

I am working with a variety of thoughtful analysts to show how we can make very substantial cuts in the military budget without in any way diminishing the security we need. I do not think it will be hard to make it clear to Americans that their well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by canceling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face.

So those organizations, editorial boards and individuals who talk about the need for fiscal responsibility should be challenged to begin with the area where our spending has been the most irresponsible and has produced the least good for the dollars expended--our military budget. Both parties have for too long indulged the implicit notion that military spending is somehow irrelevant to reducing the deficit and have resisted applying to military spending the standards of efficiency that are applied to other programs. If we do not reduce the military budget, either we accustom ourselves to unending and increasing budget deficits, or we do severe harm to our ability to improve the quality of our lives through sensible public policy. 
And this is why anyone who talks of fiscal conservatism without demanding we cut trillions from our defense budget is full of shit.  That basically includes every Republican in Washington (and a fair number of Dems to boot.)

A Little Perspective

Digby gives us some much-needed perspective to temper the euphoria from Question Time yesterday in today's must-read:
I suspect that average voters don't see Obama being persecuted as Clinton was, or subject to non-stop calumny by a rabid Republican majority. The Republicans aren't doing anything (and that's the problem.) I think people see Obama conceding that he hasn't been bipartisan enough and that he intends to keep trying. And that will never be a winner for our side because all the Republicans have to do is continue to obstruct to prove him a failure.
She has a point.  The Village now has to admit that the GOP has 41 votes and now has to take some responsibility for that endless wall of saying no, but let's be honest here, the Village will never actually extract a price from the GOP for actually continuing to block every piece of legislation that Obama could possibly take credit for, especially for the legislation they agree with (every single Republican in the Senate voted against Pay-Go last week.)

I'd argue the "average voters don't see Obama as being persecuted" but then again, racists don't admit they are being racist, so again she has a point there.  But here's the kicker (emphasis mine):
If all this only means that Democrats will continue to move further right in order to reach across the aisle then I don't suppose it hurts anything --- they are already stretching themselves into pretzels to get there. But if the Republicans continue to successfully obstruct and then criticize Obama for failing to achieve his promise of bipartisanship, I think it exacerbates the problems we already have coming up in November. I suppose the American people may see through their ruse, but I think it might be just a little bit too complicated: they just see Obama unable to achieve bipartisan agreement with people he repeatedly portrays as rational actors. Therefore, he is weak and the Democratic agenda isn't mainstream.

I'm happy to be wrong about this and hope fervently that this interaction really did create a whole new dynamic in Washington. At the very least, Obama got to answer his knuckle headed critics so there is some satisfaction in that. But my intuition tells me that it won't change anything and could make things worse in the long run if Obama further backs himself into the bipartisan corner.
So, the question becomes this:  should Obama even try to negotiate with a group of people that have no intent of giving an inch?  One one hand, the Republicans have paid back every single bipartisan effort Obama has made with nothing but bad faith and vitriol.  Even when it's a Republican measure that they supported during the Bush years, they immediately attack, mislead and obstruct every single time.  That got us Scott Brown.  They are very rational, it's just the rationality of fanaticism.

On the other hand, America needs to see Obama correct the lies if anything's ever going to get done.  The Teabaggers refuse to portray Obama as a rational actor in any way shape or form.  To them, he's an amorphous monster, the right-wing equivalent of Cthulhu or something.  If America sees Obama doing this on live television, that starts to break down, and then the burden of rationality flips to the Teabaggers.  Besides, the Village does love them some bipartisan overtures.

On the gripping hand, if Obama doesn't get the foreclosure meltdown fixed, he's screwed and so are we.  It's a moot point.

Anyway, do read Digby's post.

[UPDATE 8:37 PM]  Then again as Steve M. reminds me the Village does love bipartisanship, but only because that means they can criticize both sides instead of merely holding everything against the President and the Dems.

Chinese Fire Drill

China is pretty pissed over America's announcement Friday that we're selling $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan, and these days the Chinese can hurt us in the wallet far easier than they can hurt us militarily.
China suspended military exchanges with the United States, threatened unprecedented sanctions against American defense companies and warned Saturday that cooperation would suffer after Washington announced $6.4 billion in planned arms sales to Taiwan.

The response to Friday's U.S. announcement, while not entirely unexpected, was swift and indicated that China plans to put up a greater challenge than usual as it deals with the most sensitive topic in U.S.-China relations.

"This is the strongest reaction we've seen so far in recent years," said Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, northeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group. "China is really looking to see what kind of reaction it's going to receive from Obama on this."

China's Defense Ministry said the arms sales to self-governing Taiwan, which the mainland claims as its own, cause "severe harm" to overall U.S.-China cooperation, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. Vice ministerial-level talks on arms control and strategic security were postponed.

The warning comes as the U.S. seeks Beijing's help on issues including the global financial crisis and nuclear standoffs in North Korea and Iran. Tensions were already high after recent U.S. comments on Internet freedom and a dispute between Google and China, as well as President Barack Obama's plan to meet with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama this year.

China's Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman that the sales of Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and other weapons to Taiwan would "cause consequences that both sides are unwilling to see," a ministry statement said.

The Foreign Ministry also threatened sanctions against U.S. companies involved in the arms sales, which hasn't happened in past sales to Taiwan.

"Our action regarding Taiwan reinforces our commitment to stability in the region," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Saturday. "We know China has a different view. Given our broad relationship with China, we will manage this issue as we have in the past."
It's the whole "sanctions against U.S. defense contractors" that is getting people's attention over this.  That's a card China's not been willing to ever play before, but now they clearly see they can go straight after us where it hurts and that they aren't afraid to do so.

Things are getting interesting:  Chinese "May you live in interesting times" interesting.

There'll Be Time Enough For Countin' When The Dealin's Done

Alex Bolton at The Hill reports that according to Sen. Tom Harkin, health care reform was done and on the way to the CBO to be scored when Scott Brown won, effectively killing it.
Harkin (D-Iowa), who attended healthcare talks at the White House, said negotiators were on the cusp of bringing a bill back for final votes in the Senate and House.

Harkin said “we had an agreement, with the House, the White House and the Senate. We sent it to [the Congressional Budget Office] to get scored and then Tuesday happened and we didn’t get it back.” He said negotiators had an agreement in hand on Friday, Jan. 15.

Harkin made clear that negotiators had reached a final deal on the entire bill, not just the excise plans, which had been reported the previous day, Jan. 14.

Harkin said the deal covered the prescription-drug “donut hole,” the level of federal insurance subsidies, national insurance exchanges and federal Medicaid assistance to states.

Senate Democratic aides declined to confirm Harkin’s account. A White House spokesman also declined to comment.
That's as expected, frankly.  Sidecar reconciliation could go ahead at any time, but isn't.  We need action out of the White House to go with this talk, and I'm just not seeing it.

I keep hearing "We're almost there, we're moving along, we'll get it passed" and now we're hearing "it'll get passed this year".  We heard that last year, frankly.  Anything past April and it's over.  Hell, February may be too late.

It's time for action.  Pass the damn bill.

At Long Last Our National College Football Nightmare Is Over

Eric Holder takes on the Bee Cee Ess.
In the letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, obtained by The Associated Press, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the Justice Department is reviewing Hatch's request and other materials to determine whether to open an investigation into whether the BCS violates antitrust laws.

"Importantly, and in addition, the administration also is exploring other options that might be available to address concerns with the college football postseason," Weich wrote, including asking the Federal Trade Commission to review the legality of the BCS under consumer protection laws.

Several lawmakers and many critics want the BCS to switch to a playoff system, rather than the ratings system it uses to determine the teams that play in the championship game.

"The administration shares your belief that the current lack of a college football national championship playoff with respect to the highest division of college football ... raises important questions affecting millions of fans, colleges and universities, players and other interested parties," Weich wrote.

The Kroog Versus Rahmbo

Paul Krugman's opinion of Rahm Emmanuel is not especially glowing right now, but the bigger point is that President Obama has to lead like the man we saw yesterday is capable of doing.
Ezra Klein finds Rahm Emanuel’s apparent willingness to let health reform slide into the indefinite future very depressing. So do I. And it’s not just health reform that will die under this approach — it’s the road to a caretaker presidency.

It’s all very well to say “we’re going to focus on job creation”. But what does that mean? At this point, no major economic programs have any chance of getting passed. Think of it this way: a year ago the question was whether the stimulus would be $700 billion or $1.2 trillion, now we’re talking about $30 billion jobs tax credits.

Maybe financial reform will happen, or at least set up a “teachable moment” battle with the GOP. But by letting health reform slide, the administration is abandoning one really big policy initiative that is just inches from happening. Let this go, and there’s likely to be no achievements worth remembering.

But don’t blame Rahm Emanuel; this is about the president. After Massachusetts, Democrats were looking for leadership; they didn’t get it. Ten days later, nobody is sure what Obama intends to do, and his aides are giving conflicting readings. It’s as if Obama checked out.

Look, Obama is a terrific speaker and a very smart guy. He really showed up the Republicans in the now-famous give-and-take. But we knew that. What’s now in question isn’t his ability to talk, it’s his ability to lead.
And while the one major thing I agree with both the Firebaggers and Krugman on is that Rahm Emmanuel is a real big damn problem right now, Obama is still the man who's payin' the cost to be the boss.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way.  What is needed now is to turn the energy of yesterday's Question Time into actual policy.  Obama has now turned around the narrative.  He's stanched the blood flow and gotten the ear of progressives back.  But now he has to deliver, and that starts with Rahm not fouling up the message and allowing the Senate to soft-pedal health care reform, and it certainly means we need to be well the hell past the Snowe Job stage.

That U-6 Number Again

Via Twitter comes this admission from Larry Summers:
Speaking on a panel at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Summers said one in five American men aged 25 to 54 are unemployed. He said given a “reasonable recovery,” that rate could improve to one in seven or one in eight. That still contrasts with a 95% employment rate for that group in the mid-1960s.
That's a big ass problem.  It's going to get worse in 2010.  And I don't know when it's going to actually get better.

Honestly.  One in five men my age are out of a job right now.  That is not sustainable in any way shape or form.

The Crack In The Wall Of Total Opposition

Whether or not you believe that complete and total Republican opposition to Obama's agenda is politically sound policy or not, the general consensus is that the Republicans sure as hell believe that.  Whether the opposition is born of cynical political tactics or firebrand ideology, the opposition has been there, it's a provable fact, and the Republicans are reveling in it as a populist lynch mob.

But on the day where Barack Obama went into the House Republican retreat and basically said "The reason why nothing is getting done is because your Teabagger masters will never let you work with me, for they see me as The Enemy Above All" we have this article from HuffPo's Sam Stein, who signals that maybe in the post-Democratic Supermajority era that the Republicans are actually worried that they just might have to take responsibility for being the Party of No. (Emphasis mine:)
Some senior Republican strategists and party veterans are beginning to fret that the party's refusal to work with President Obama, even when he crosses onto their own philosophical turf, could ultimately erode some of the political gains they've made this past year.

Over the past two weeks, Republicans in Congress have united in nearly unanimous opposition to a series of ideologically conservative policy suggestions, starting with a commission to reduce the deficit, a pay-go provision that would limit new expenditures, and a spending freeze on non-military programs.

Opposition has usually been based on specific policy concerns or complaints that the measures aren't going far enough. But the message being sent is that the GOP's sole mission is presidential destruction
Now, some in the party are beginning to worry.

"I can't tell you why they are taking this approach," said Jim Kolbe, a former member of Congress and longtime fiscal hawk from Arizona. "I have doubts about some of them myself but I think that certainly the pay-go and the commission have some merit and we should be supporting those. I don't have an answer to this. Whether this is just part of them being philosophically opposed or are they just being obstructionists, I don't know?

"I do think there is that worry [that we come off as obstructionists]," Kolbe added. "I think this thing can turn around just as fast as it turned against the Democrats, it can turn the other way if the Republican don't respond with serious proposals here." 
Ahh, but there's the rub.  The spittle-flecked Teabaggers will never let the GOP go over and play with Obama in the big ol' Gubment sandbox.  They seek not only the political destruction of not only Obama but the ideologies that form the kernel core of liberal policies as well.

And so far it's been working.  Scott Brown, the GOP will tell you, is proof enough of that.

On the other hand, I've said that Obama just didn't get the GOP Plan for total obstruction leading to his destruction.  I'm glad to say that Obama not only understands the plan perfectly, but showed yesterday that he can win that battle handily.

Maybe that's what the GOP is really afraid of.  They got what they wanted, that 41st Senator.  Now the GOP has to take responsibility for obstruction.  Yesterday was the beginning of Obama winning that battle.  The question now is how will the GOP respond?  Past evidence shows they will double down and expect Obama to implement 100% of their failed ideas.  If Obama can shift the argument towards that battle of substance rather than noise level, he wins hands down.

As Matt Osborne reminded me, the "Obama we voted for" was always there.

Jumping At Shadows

I'm still trying to figure out how Jennifer Rubin arrives at this conclusion where she goes from "Mike Bloomberg doesn't want to pay for the increased security for putting KSM on trial" directly to "AG Eric Holder should be fired."
But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo.
Say what?  It seems to me that this proves that we actually have a thoughtful and competent AG, A Justice Department that doesn't try to rule by legal fiat, and a President that practices common sense, unlike the last guy in charge.  It also seems to me that Obama respected the suggestion from Bloomberg, and is still very much holding open the prospect of trying KSM in civilian court.  Plenty of other places to do it.

But Holder being fired over this?  You're taking this decision as a vindication of Ashcroft-Gonzo era stupidity, when as usual you can't see past the nose on your face.

Wishful thinking, madam.  I like how it's perfectly fine to torture people, but actually listening to other people's opinions is a terminal offense for an Attorney General.

Switch to decaf.

The Morning After A Kick Ass Rock Concert

Man I still feel good today after watching Obama go off like that yesterday.  If you haven't seen it, take the opportunity to do so.

Time to make the rounds on the reactions.  HuffPo's Sam Stein:
What resulted was what one Democratic strategist described as "amazing theater" -- certainly for cable news. Standing on a stage, looking down at his Republican questioners, Obama assumed the role of responsible adult to the GOP children, or, at the very least, of a college professor teaching and lecturing a room full of students.
Taylor Marsh:
Every single person who has refused to give Pres. Obama a pass on his lack of leadership, inability to get beyond platitudes and speeches, as well as pushing him to engage in a transparent way beyond slogans, was finally served substance today, with Obama actually delivering it. Pres. Obama’s engagement with Republicans was an unprecedented performance. It also has the potential to be a game changer.
(More after the jump...)

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