Monday, December 13, 2010

Last Call

The Hot, The Not Hot, The Entertaining and The Right On:

The Hot:

The Smoking Gun confirms Bea Arthur was a tough, truck driving Marine. She was described as "argumentative and over-aggressive" by her interviewer. I have a new respect for her, because she may be just as tough and sassy as she portrayed herself to be.

The Not Hot:

It looks like DADT is still going to linger. Three veterans who were discharged under DADT are suing the government to be reinstated, mere days after being delayed again. I am interested to see the outcome of this, or what measures will be taken to delay a final ruling.

The Entertaining:

Google gives us a review of the year in searches. It's interesting to have an entire year reduced to under three minutes, and was fairly thorough.

The Right On:

A Major Diplomatic Blow: Amb. Richard Holbrooke Dead At 69

If the scurrying to put out the fires caused by WikiLeaks this month wasn't bad enough for the State Department, word is this evening that our top diplomat in Af-Pak, Richard Holbrooke, has passed away after complications from this weekend's surgery to repair his torn aorta.  CNN:

Richard C. Holbrooke, the high-octane diplomat who spearheaded the end of the Bosnian war and most recently served as the Obama administration's point man in the volatile Afghan-Pakistani war zone, has died, officials said.

The 69-year-old diplomat died Monday at George Washington University Hospital. He was admitted last Friday after feeling ill. Doctors performed surgery Saturday to repair a tear in his aorta.

One of the world's most recognizable diplomats, Holbrooke's career spanned from the Vietnam War-era to the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, coinciding with presidencies of the past five decades, from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.

This man was a career civil service diplomat, one of the good ones.  I don't think he ever got the credit he deserved for the Dayton Accords during Clinton's term.

Holbrooke was best known for being "the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement" that ended the Bosnian war -- the deadly ethnic conflict in the 1990s that erupted during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Serving President Bill Clinton as assistant secretary of state for Europe from 1994 to 1996, Americans got a taste of Holbrooke's drive and intellect, as typified in this remark from "To End a War" -- his memoir of the Dayton negotiations.

"The negotiations were simultaneously cerebral and physical, abstract and personal, something like a combination of chess and mountain climbing," he wrote.

After President Obama took office in 2008, Holbrooke took one of the toughest diplomatic assignments -- U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the region Obama regards as center of the war on terrorism.

Holbrooke had worldwide respect.  Both the Afghan and the Pakistani President called him in his hospital room earlier today to wish him well.  Without him, America's diplomatic job just got a hell of a lot harder.

Those are tremendous shoes to fill.  This guy was a giant.  More on Holbrooke in his own words here at Foreign Policy mag.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

God bless Matt Osborne.

Jane the Hamsher is one of the cool kids, I realize; her front page status at Arianna’s place helps maintain her illusion of intellect and relevance. Yet she wouldn’t recognize progress if it smacked her in the face, and so far has achieved nothing resembling progress on any front. Indeed,  I have been waiting for someone to tell me what this woman’s “progressive” credentials are.

He goes on to argue that hey, Jane Hamsher may not actually be a progressive.  And he does it pretty convincingly.

In other news the same folks who say that food stamps and unemployment benefits make people lazy are the same folks who think Michelle Obama is a fascist for wanting to fight childhood obesity.

Meet The New Boss

Worse than the old one.  Hey, pro-choice firebaggers who said that Obama was taking female voters for granted and the women who voted on those issues as well, and that the Democrats needed to learn a lesson?  Meet the people you helped to elect to power, like Congressman Joe Pitts.

Like most Republicans in Congress, Mr. Pitts said he wanted to repeal the health care law, which was passed by Congress on party-line votes without Republican support.

Short of that goal, Mr. Pitts said he was determined to ban federal subsidy payments to any health insurance plans that include coverage of abortion — a benefit now offered by many private health plans.

Under the new law, the federal government is expected to spend more than $450 billion in subsidies to help low- and middle-income people buy insurance from 2014 to 2019.

When Congress was writing the law, Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, led efforts to restrict the use of federal money for insurance plans covering abortion. Mr. Pitts, though less well known, was the chief Republican co-author of the “Stupak amendment.”

From his powerful new perch, Mr. Pitts said he would try again to impose those restrictions.

“The new health care law is riddled with loopholes that allow taxpayer subsidies for coverage that includes abortion,” Mr. Pitts said. 

Feel sold out by Obamacare and the Dems?  Wait until the Republicans get done with making abortion impossible to actually get.   Did you think replacing them with Republicans would make things better?  "But we've heard that threat before!"

There's a reason for that.

The Netflix Conundrum

It's a classic case of killing the golden goose.

Upset by the success of Netflix, media giant Time Warner is trying to set a trap by provoking them in the press. An industry that is famous for its sharp business deals is crying foul and having the equivalent of a PR tantrum in response to Netflix and their recent deal with Starz. Industry leaders are surprised by the outcome, which also publicly acknowledges a drop in cable subscribers and premium add-ons for television service possibly due to the increase in Netflix subcribers (and the availability of Hulu and YouTube). Time Warner is only the loudest voice among many, as this trend has been tracked for 18 months now and the news isn't good for overpriced cable packages. The media giants will get together now, and stage new structures in a bid to take out Netflix or price their rights so high that it will force Netflix to price themselves out of business.

The only problem is, Netflix has already won the war, and they did so quietly and without being guilty of anything besides making a hell of a business deal. I have some pretty smart friends and they think this could work out just the opposite, but I am going out on a limb and will predict that behind the scenes this was all pulled off while misdirecting the issue towards bandwidth and supply.

Why do I think so? Don't tell me the execs didn't realize the impact Starz would have on the competition. In an age of shrinking entertainment budgets as the middle class teeters on the edge of going hungry, consumers are going to change the tide of business power, because when times are tight catering to the customers is the only way to win. MGM already went bankdrupt, and the media companies that want to survive will do so by participating in the Netflix entertainment model. There is a temporary threat to raise the cost dramatically to license content, but that's a hollow threat. Telecommunication companies have invested billions in expanding the number of areas and the highest data delivery to their customers for a reason. Phone lines and rabbit ears are a thing of the past. So is paying an insane price for the delivery of digital content. Cable service and Internet service has become redundant, and the smart move is to participate in the data delivery and let Netflix create the need for the new premier entertainment delivery - the Internet.

But The Catfood Commission Came Back, The Very Next Day Part 3

If you thought the Catfood Commission's miserable "Let's cut social programs for tax breaks for the rich!" idiocy was over with, you thought wrong.  It's time for the Sensible Centrist All-Stars to talk you into tightening your belts, America...and they are disappointed in you for not wanting to take your cuts like an adult.  Don't you want to do your part to help America's precious millionaires?

The final vote on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Commission's report serves as a concrete example of the disconnect between main street and Washington as well as the dysfunctional state of our current political system.

The Commission's report makes a clear and compelling case that the federal government faces large and growing structural deficits that must be addressed. In fact, the Commission's report was the third fiscal report in the past month alone to come to the same conclusion.

All three also noted that the size of the problem is so great that entitlement reforms, defense and other spending cuts, and additional revenues will be necessary in order to put our nation on a more prudent and sustainable fiscal path.

The American people have also expressed their concern with the country's fiscal state in public opinion polls and at the ballot box in the midterm elections. As a result, 5 of the 6 public members of the Commission and 5 of the 6 Senate members of the Commission voted for the report. They seemed to get the message from mainstream America and were willing to vote to have the report and its recommendations considered by Congress despite serious concerns regarding some of its recommendations.

Mainstream America wants higher taxes and Social Security and Medicare cuts so that the top tax rate can be dropped to 23%.  It has to be true, because Evan Bayh and Christie Todd Whitman would never lie to you.  Won't you help our poor millionaires?  After all, they'll move to the Cayman Islands or something if we don't, and without America's most precious resource, rich people, why the rest of us would be in a recession or something.

Maybe if you're really nice, they'll start hiring people again.  After all, "No Labels" is a lot catchier than "Rich Beltway Centrists Who Think The Wealthiest 20% of America Having 83% of the Country's Wealth Is Unfairly Low."

Now get back to work.  You've got Centrists who need tax breaks to help.

Injunction Junction, What's Your Function

Breaking news this afternoon as a federal judge in Virginia has ruled the insurance mandate part of heath care reform unconstitutional.

A judge in Virginia on Monday invalidated a key part of the landmark healthcare law that requires individuals to buy health insurance, the first major setback for President Barack Obama on an issue that will likely end up at the Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2002, backed arguments by the state of Virginia that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring that individuals buy health insurance or face a fine.

The decision is the first finding against the law that was passed in March and aimed at overhauling the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system. Judges in other states have rejected other challenges to the law.

Given the number of lawsuits brought, it was only a matter of time before the anti-Obamacare guys found their judge and their ruling.  This was always going to end up in front of the Supreme Court anyway as I've been saying for months now.

Silver lining here is that the appeal process to get this case to the highest court in the land just got a swift kick in the ass.  Full ruling is here (PDF).

Key excerpts:

"A thorough survey of pertinent constitutional case law has yielded no reported decisions from any federal appellate courts expending the Commerce Clause or General Welfare Clause to encompass regulation of a person's decision not to purchase a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce or role in a global regulatory scheme.  The unchecked expansion of congressional power to the limits suggested by the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers.  At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance -- or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage -- it's about an individual's right to choose to participate."

Funny.  Under that logic a whole hell of a lot of federal laws and regulations just became unconstitutional.  Still, it was expected.  SCOTUS will have the final say.

And remember, the MECP was a Republican idea in the first place.

[UPDATEAtrios thinks the ruling isn't totally without merit.  In a vacuum, no.  In practical application, this interpretation of the Commerce Clause is still as silly as it was back in March.

[UPDATE 2John Cole FTW

None of this really matters until Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia invent a way to overturn HCR without making a precedent that will hamper future Republican presidents.

[UPDATE 3Adam Serwer points out just how Scalia will most likely do this.

Buyer's Remorse

Dave Weigel discovers that not everyone on the Right (and certainly not everyone in Libertarian land) is happy about Ron Paul being in charge of Fed oversight.

"Republicans stashed him in this job because they don't want him making more important decisions," said Megan McArdle, a prominent libertarian blogger and economics editor of the Atlantic. "He cares passionately about monetary policy, which most Republicans don't care about. But when you look at his speeches, he doesn't understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily."

Paul-phobia is almost as old as Paul-mania, especially among libertarians. The anti-Paul case consists of one simple argument—he sounds crazy—and one complex argument, which is that he's distracted libertarians and Tea Partiers by focusing their ire on the easily demonized Fed. Both of those factors were epitomized in February 2010, when he confronted Ben Bernanke with the allegation that the Fed "facilitated a $5.5 billion loan to Saddam Hussein and he then bought weapons from our military industrial complex" in the 1980s. Paul would later explain what he meant, but Bernanke used the moment to dress him down.

"Well, Congressman," said Bernanke, "these specific allegations you've made I think are absolutely bizarre, and I have absolutely no knowledge of anything remotely like what you just described." That incident and incidents like it make the Paul skeptics cringe about what he'll do next.

"I don't think he's often the best messenger for the things he believes in," said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute and a six-year veteran of the Senate Banking Committee. "I give the guy credit for bringing the Fed under the spotlight, but the real credit probably goes to the Fed for making enough mistakes to make us interested in them. Does Paul approach this in a way that helps his own cause? That's not a guarantee, necessarily. He needs to avoid going down the path to conspiracy theories and keep the focus on economics."

‪Paul's cheering section has gotten used to that, and they're past it now. In 2007 and 2008, the world of libertarian economists and pundits were pretty evenly divided over whether his presidential campaign and its obsession with the Federal Reserve were doing good for the movement. Paul's supporters mocked his opponents as the "Kochtopus," the small-minded and well-funded elitists looking down on the movement's best spokesman from perches at Cato, the Mercatus Center, and Reason magazine. (I'm a contributing editor of Reason.) But the criticism is more muted now. There's more excitement about what Paul will pull off now that he finally has a gavel.

"Paul's commentary on, and cross-examination of, the Federal Reserve has only seemed less crazy with the passage of time," said Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason. "It sounded crazy when he kept pestering Bernanke or whoever about whether the Fed was involved in various overseas bailouts. But then the Fed was involved in various overseas bailouts! ‪By trying quixotically to End the Fed, he will succeed in doing more to audit the Fed, because there is a growing interest/concern in the post-TARP world about the unprecedented and not-very-well-controlled power that the institution has to do whatever it wants."

Granted, anything that precipitates a McMegan vs the Reasonoids fight with Cato in the middle is always worth paying attention to.  But Ron Paul's going to let his ego get the better of him, and I just hope a camera is on the guy when he goes into rant mode.

Again, much of my problem with Ron Paul isn't the 30% of the time he makes sense, it's the 70% of the time he's borderline racist nutbar insane.  But hey, that's who the Republicans want in charge of Fed oversight?  Should make for some good TV.

Damned If You Do...

President Obama is finding out the hard way that centrism for centrism's sake is a losing proposition.

President Barack Obama's approval ratings have sunk to the lowest level of his presidency, so low that he'd lose the White House to Republican Mitt Romney if the election were held today, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

The biggest reason for Obama's fall: a sharp drop in approval among Democrats and liberals, apparently unhappy with his moves toward the center since he led the party to landslide losses in November's midterm elections. At the same time, he's gained nothing among independents.

"He's having the worst of both worlds right now," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the national survey.

"As he moves to the center, he's not picking up support among independents and he's having some fall-off among his base. If his strategy is to gain independents and keep the Democrats in tow, it isn't working so far."

Voters want results.  What they see is Obama cutting a deal that his base hates, and at the same time he's gotten absolutely nothing in return.  Republicans have still blocked everything in the lame duck session.  Even worse, Obama folding on taxes and getting nothing back for it makes him look weak.

Dems are pissed.  Independents haven't seen anything that indicates this was a good deal.  Republicans still hate the President.

So what has he gained?  So far, a fat load of nothing.  And he's given up quite a bit.  Americans are overwhelmingly against tax cuts for the wealthy and want to see DADT repealed, and so far Obama's dropped the ball on those issues and a lot more.

The deal could have been a win if Obama has actually gotten something out of it.  But a week in and the President once again has nothing to show for what he's already given up.  He's likely not to get anything for it, either.

Clinton learned to fight back.  Will Obama?

Orange Julius And A Side Of Ham

Incoming House Crying Man Speaker John Boehner wants you to know that he's naturally orange, and it makes him sad that people think otherwise.

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who cried during an emotional speech on election night, let the tears flow once again in an interview with Leslie Stahl of "60 Minutes" which aired Sunday.

Stahl asked him why he got choked up on election night.

"Talking, trying to talk about the fact that I've been chasing the American dream my whole career," Boehner said.

"Some things, there are some things that are very difficult to talk about. Family, kids -- I can't go to a school anymore, I used to go to a lot of schools. You see all these little kids running around, can't talk about it," Boehner said. "Making sure that these kids have a shot at the American dream, like I did, is important."

"What you see if what you get," Boehner added. "I know who I am and I'm comfortable in my own skin, and everybody who knows me knows that I get emotional about certain things."

Boehner, who has been ribbed by President Barack Obama for what some call his orange skin tone, claimed his skin color is all natural.

"I've never been in a tanning salon in my life, I've never used a tanning product in my life," Boehner said. His wife said he's had dark skin since she's known him.

He's orange.  He cares.  He's John Boehner.  Apparently it's not easy being orange, but Rep. Boehner has gone far in life.  A reminder of just how much he cares:

Mr. "Hell no you can't!" is Speaker come January.  Think anything's going to get done for those kids he's choking up over?

Hell no I don't.  (But he cares!)

By The Time I Get To...Kentucky?

Add the Bluegrass State to the number of Republican state legislatures eager to put forward an Arizona-style "papers please" law, constitutional questions be damned.

Senate Republicans will file legislation similar to a controversial Arizona law that would allow police to carry out federal immigration law, said Senate President David Williams.

Williams, R-Burkesville, announced the Senate majority's legislative agenda Friday after the 23 members of the Republican caucus met for two days in Frankfort. The legislative session begins in January.

The expansive agenda includes proposals to overhaul the state's tax code, change the state's campaign laws and tweak state government pensions for new employees.

Williams, who plans to run for the Republican nomination for governor in the spring, declined to talk about specifics of the Senate's planned proposal regarding immigration enforcement, saying only that it would be similar to legislation that passed in Arizona.

If it were in effect, Arizona's law would require police to determine the immigration status of people they have stopped and determine whether the person is in the country legally. That law is currently being challenged in the federal court of appeals. 

Keep an eye on David Williams here.  He wants to be Governor, Kentucky's election for chief executive is in 2011, one of the few off-year gubernatorial contests.  He has a lot of "ideas", mostly involving increasing the state's sales tax so he get get around to giving corporations tax breaks, as well as changing the state's primaries from May to August.

Luckily he'll have both a Democratic State House to deal with as well as Democrat Steve Beshear in the Governor's mansion.  And Williams himself is going to certainly face a primary challenge from Tea Party businessman Phil Moffett.

Still, Williams may be able to do a lot of damage in 30 days.  We'll see.


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