Sunday, January 31, 2010

The gutlessness of the MSM

One thing the GOP excels at is message discipline. If you say something enough times, it becomes true. Talking points like spending and debt, Obama being a radical leftist, and their willingness to work with the President on... anything have all started to become conventional wisdom.

(Side note: as I was typing this, an anti-healthcare ad came on that said Massachusetts voters put Scott Brown in office because they know how bad government-run health care is. Patently untrue: their health insurance system is nearly identical to the HCR bill under consideration [except with fewer cost control mechanisms] and MA voters like it, to the tune of 60%+ approval.)

How is this possible? The people doing interviews and hosting the news shows on which these people appear are spineless. With the possible exception of Chris Matthews, anchors don't ask tough questions, and they don't press for a real answer that's more than a talking point.

Just this morning, John King stood by and listened, and didn't challenge Mitch McConnell at all as he went off on the usual "Obama is spending us into oblivion" talking point. John King just let him talk and moved on. He didn't press him on his fuzzy numbers, holding Obama responsible for Bush's spending, didn't ask him why he was so willing to spend under Bush, didn't ask him why every member of the GOP caucus voted against PAYGO.

In the interests of looking "impartial," the media treats everything said on either side as truth. They don't do any fact-checking. I have to go to the blogs to find any journalists with the intestinal fortitude to actually look into the facts. CNN, the NYT, WaPo all treat as equal the claims made by both sides. Isn't it their responsibility to sort through the various claims and find where the truth lies? Instead, they act as mouthpieces for the parties. With the growth of New Media, politicians have plenty of mouthpieces that have no media filter. The media should play the role of fact-checker, and make sure the American public is well informed. Right now, they aren't.

----------

As another aside, part of what sparked this post was a conversation I had at happy hour Friday evening with a friend. He pointed out that Obama says the GOP hasn't come to the table in good faith, while GOP leadership says that they've offered alternative policies and been stonewalled. He didn't know who to believe, and said that there needs to be a fact checker somewhere. My question remains: isn't that the job of the mainstream media?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fiscal Hypocrisy (II)

Sullivan takes a fastball down the middle and knocks it out of the park:

The GOP is as interested in restraining spending as I am in wanting to have sex with women. But at least I'm not in the closet.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fiscal Hypocrisy

The senate voted today to re-institute PAYGO, the law that says every law in congress must pay for itself. If you cut taxes, you have to cut spending or raise revenue some other way to make up for it. If you raise spending, have to do the same. This is a law that encourages fiscal responsibility, something the GOP talks about all the time.

So I'm sure a bunch of those spendthrift Democrats voted against it, and it needed GOP votes to get passed, right?

Nope. 60-40, on a party line vote. (Scott Brown hasn't been seated yet.)

Next time a Republican goes on TV to lecture Democrats about fiscal responsibility (like Judd Gregg does here, while insulting the MSNBC anchors for asking him to actually say something of substance) kindly tell them to shut the hell up.

The thing is, the GOP will get away with it. The general public doesn't care about wonky process arguments like this. Blatant hypocrisy works when it's on an issue that just plain won't resonate.

DADT

I don't really have any reason for this post other than to link to Spencer Ackerman's response to Sen. McCain's statement about opposing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I think it's the simplest, most honest (and brutal) take on opposition to allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Read it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union

Pretty solid. Chastised congress for being a bunch of parochial idiots. I doubt it took. Told the GOP to stop being children and help governing. I doubt it took. Mentioned tax cuts/credits about a dozen times. Can we have an adult conversation about taxes in this country? If Obama isn't willing to, I doubt anyone is. Somewhat disappointed by the Health care part, reaffirmed the need and the GOP applauded. Never mind that they'll filibuster any kind of reform.

Mostly, it just seemed to show how frustrated the President is with the parochialism that's keeping him from getting anything done. I wonder when he gets to his "mad as hell, and not gonna take this anymore" moment? Does he unleash Rahmbo when that happens?

Pledging to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a nice touch, will congress follow through? It actually polls very well, so you would think it could pass. But the GOP needs the gay-bashing base, so who knows. Chuck Todd pointed out that it was unfair to shoot the camera over to the Joint Chiefs, since they can't applaud/advocate military stuff that congress will debate. What looks like stone-faced opposition was intended to be studied neutrality.

It was a remarkably centrist speech. His positions on every issue were much closer to the (pre-Bush) GOP positions than to those of moveon.org or DailyKos. Nuclear power, no mention of cap and trade or a carbon tax, insurance reform (not single payer), tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. It is a sign of the partisanship in this country that these conservative ideas met stone-faced opposition from the right.

Good speech, kinda long. Doesn't change anything unless congress gets its shit together.

Pearlstein takes a stab at speechwriting

And knocks the State of the Union out of the park:

My fellow Americans, the state of our union is . . . well, quite wretched at the moment. As president, I owe you that honesty and candor.
...
I look forward to discussing these initiatives with you. I am open to reasonable and principled compromises. But there will be no more games, no more business as usual -- just straight talk and the hard work of governing. On one thing we should all be clear: The do-nothing option is not acceptable -- not to me, and more importantly not to the voters who sent us here.

Well, unfortunately, I doubt we'll hear such straight talk tonight.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"In this universe, there's only one absolute... everything freezes!"

The White House is taking a page out of Mr. Freeze's book. They have proposed a three-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, starting in 2011. Within the overall freeze, some programs will lose funding and others will gain funding.

This is mainly window dressing, if you ask me. The White House says it can save $250bn over the next 10 years. That sounds like something congress will let pass unscathed, I'm sure. Assuming the WH targets bad programs for cuts, and boosts spending on good programs, will that survive the process of getting through congress? Congress won't cut subsidies to agriculture and corn ethanol, among many other things.

Second, the problem with the deficit and debt is entitlements, not discretionary spending. Exempting entitlements (and defense) is ignoring the big problem. You can cut discretionary spending down to zero, and the long-term deficit will still spiral out of control if nothing is done about Medicare costs. Passing health care reform would do far more to reduce the deficit than this spending freeze.

The Pentagon's budget will be over $700bn, and nobody who is sane thinks that there isn't room for cuts in there. Too bad the WH is too risk-averse to take on the military-industrial complex. They made a very small start with the first defense budget, but even then it still grew. Arbitrarily exempting the Pentagon from this "attempt" at deficit reduction is conceding victory to the GOP and defense contractors without a fight.

Color me unimpressed.

EDIT: Ackerman has another good post on the dumb defense budget.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Couldn't have said it better myself

A TPM reader and political operative (opposition research guy) goes off on lazy/bad political reporting. Much of what he says sounds pretty familiar, I must say:

Finally, this may seem like a harsh attack on political reporters. Well, yeah. It kind of is. Many do good work, but most focus entirely on the game and whose up and down and winning the political contest - they don't take the act of governing or legislating seriously.

...

[E]arly in my career, someone said the following to me. "If reporters did their jobs, you wouldn't have yours."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The best medicine

(Shamelessly stolen from someone on NPR's "Wait, wait, don't tell me.")

In light of the Citizens decision, and its impact on political ads, a couple suggestions for new slogans:

For Nike-sponsored Democrats:

"Just talk about it."

For pork-sponsored Republicans:

"GOP, the other white meat."

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's been too long...

...since I've linked a Steven Pearlstein column. But his latest is a good distillation of the last week or so in Washington, and a challenge to Obama at the end.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Piecemeal won't work. (II)

Krugman chimes in:

As I’ve written before, the pieces of reform are interdependent.
...
Hasn’t anyone been paying attention here?

No. Because that's never been reported on CNN, MSNBC, Fox "News", or been mentioned by people other than Klein and Krugman in papers like the WaPo or NYT. Nobody reports on policy, so nobody (and my suspicion is that this includes a scary number of Senators and Reps) actually understands the nuts and bolts of HCR. Hence this pipe-dream of "just passing a ban on risk discrimination with bipartisan support".

You either pass a comprehensive bill like the Senate bill, or you start all over from scratch and get a bill that is drastically different.

Piecemeal won't work.

Ezra Klein explains why you can't just chop up the bill and pass it in various parts. Ignore the fact that the GOP will most likely find a way to oppose even the uncontroversial parts of HCR. This is the policy argument:

Let's say you want to take out everything but the insurance regulations. If sick people can buy insurance for the same price as healthy people, sick people will rush into the system, healthy people will rush out, and premiums will become unaffordable for both sick and healthy people. Let's say you want to keep the regulations and the individual mandate, so healthy people stick around. Well, without the subsidies, premiums will be too expensive for people, and you'll be penalizing them for something they can't afford, which will create a massive and rapid backlash. Let's say you want subsidies with no insurance regulations. Insurers will jack up prices on the sick and exult in the new rush of healthy customers. The pieces of this bill aren't like different courses of a meal. They're like different legs of a stool.

Byebye McCain-Feingold...

SCOTUS just ruled in favor of allowing corporate money to be used to campaign for or against specific candidates in Citizens United v FEC.(PDF) 5-4, party/ideological lines.

Skimming the decision, I'm struck by how SCOTUS broke with the custom of deciding cases as narrowly as possible. The genius of the Supreme Court is that they usually avoid actually making big decisions. This is a good thing; nobody really wants them to legislate from the bench. They decide cases as narrowly as possible. There was a harbinger of this decision when it was announced that SCOTUS would expand the scope of this case to campaign finance law as a whole, and not just the question of whether or not the movie Hilary could be shown in the days before an election.

Stevens points out in his dissent that:

Moreover, even in its merits briefing, when Citizens United injected its request to overrule Austin, it never sought a declaration that §203 was facially unconstitutional as to all corporations and unions; instead it argued only that the statute could not be applied to it because it was "funded overwhelmingly by individuals.”

...

This is not merely a technical defect in the Court’s decision. The unnecessary resort to a facial inquiry “run[s] contrary to the fundamental principle of judicial restraint that courts should neither anticipate a question of constitutional law in advance of the necessity of deciding it nor formulate a rule of constitutional law broader than is required by the precise facts to which it is to be applied.” Washington State Grange, 552 U. S., at 450 (internal quotation marks omitted).

It is worth pointing out that corporations were able to take part in campaigning in the past, they just had to do it through PACs. Apparently, even that small hoop has been ruled unconstitutional, under the First Amendment.

Sen. Feingold has already registered his displeasure with this possible outcome. Let's see if Sen. McCain still has a principled bone left in his body.

EDIT: SCOTUSblog has a good look at what questions the decision answers, and what questions are left unanswered.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thank you, Ed

Ed Rendell is on Rachel Maddow right now talking about going down fighting, if the Dems must go down. "That's what we're elected to do! Do something!"

Good to see someone with a spine in the Democratic Party. But then, I've always kind of liked Rendell.

Tangentially related; he did something in Haiti, as well. The possible criticisms of the move aside, it's nice to see the guy trying to get something done.

Why GOP talking points on "Radical" Dems are bullshit

Silver examines:

Back in 2008, the smart liberal spin on "post-partisanship" -- one which frankly I bought into -- is that it was in part an effort to put a popular, centrist sheen on a relatively liberal agenda. Instead, as Leonhardt points out, what Obama has wound up with is an unpopular, liberal sheen on a relatively centrist agenda.

He's right, and worth reading. He also says this:

Mistakes were made along the way to health care reform, but you've paid the political price for health care: now pass the fucking thing.

"A game"

Sullivan sums up my thoughts pretty well:

The glee with which the GOP is greeting the end of any access too health insurance for millions of the working poor, even as they propose nothing in its stead to help them or to restrain soaring costs for everyone else, is instructive. This really is a game to them. But to the sincere progressives who backed this moderate bill as the best they could get, this is, simply, tragic. And to those of us who wanted politics to become something more than a game, given the accelerating decline of this country on all fronts, it's a body blow.

The whole post is worth reading.

I don't think I've ever been more ashamed and embarrassed by the political system in this country. On both sides of the aisle. The GOP is playing games with peoples' lives, while the Democrats sit in a corner and cry. Give me a break. I lost a lot of respect for Barney Frank today. I didn't start with much respect for others on the hill, but now I'm just disgusted.

I spent months knocking on doors to build support for health care reform, along with thousands of others. I wanted a strong public option, but was willing to take the bill we got. Now the Democrats are just throwing in the towel. The entire process has been spent giving in to the GOP, and this is the final nail in the coffin.

There are two reasons to hold out a sliver of hope. Only a sliver.

One: Nancy Pelosi is very very good at her job. She's a Democrat with a spine, which seems to be a rare species. I have far more confidence in her vote-whipping abilities than Harry Reid's.

Two: Barack Obama. He's still more popular, by far, than either party in Congress. He's the best thing the Dems have going for them. This is when we see what Obama is really made of. During the campaign, every time he hit a stumbling block, he took a chance and made it work. It's time to see that Obama again. If he rolls over now, it sets a precedent and nothing will get done in the next year, and Dems will get slaughtered in 2010, and probably in 2012.

UPDATE: Barney Frank seems to have walked back his comments a bit. Perhaps he had one too many glasses of scotch while watching the results come in last night and was a bit down in the dumps.

Winner!

Village Voice:

"Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate"

Pass it.

Jonathan Cohn makes the point I made last night in a more eloquent fashion.

UPDATE:

One lousy vote. One lousy, stinking roll call vote. That's the only hurdle in the way of health care reform.

Are Democrats really willing to give up now?

When the going gets tough...

...quit.

That's what it sounds like we're hearing from the left.

Yeah, now is a time to drown your sorrows, maybe cry a little, and admit defeat.

GOVERN.

That's why you get elected. You think this is bad? You think you're going to get slaughtered in 2010? It will be a lot worse if you give up now. Either you get it done somehow, or you get all the flak for voting for HCR without the bonus of there actually being reform.

I'm contacting my Senators and Rep tonight. I suggest you do the same.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reality check on the deficit

Republicans and self-styled deficit-hawks have been screaming to anyone who will listen about the "reckless spending" by the Obama administration. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a study on long-term deficit reduction, and this stood out:

Federal spending for programs other than the “big three” is not responsible for the long-term imbalance. Total spending for all federal programs other than Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — which includes federal entitlement programs other than these “big three” — is projected to shrink as a share of the economy in coming decades. These programs will consume a smaller share of the nation’s resources in 2050 than they do today. As a result, they are not part of the cause of the long-term fiscal problem. Statements that we face a general “entitlement crisis” thus are mistaken.

(Emphasis in original.) All these Republicans that are screaming about the deficit but are completely unwilling to do anything with entitlements or raise taxes don't have a leg to stand on. The GOP actually talks about an even smaller slice of spending than CBPP talks about here, since they won't touch defense spending.

To be fair to the GOP, they did try to privatize Social Security. Put aside the thought of what would have happened to retiree's savings in this downturn if they had been relying on, essentially, government sponsored 401(k)s. Take a look at this chart. Clearly, Medicare is a MUCH bigger problem than Social Security. The Obama administration is working to make that number go down. Yes, that health care bill is actually GOOD for the deficit. You can't be for deficit reduction and against health care reform. Tort reform will not solve the problem alone. It would be a blip. They will also have to most likely peg the retirement age to life expectancy, which will help with both problems, unpopular though it may be.

Taxes will also be a big issue:

Tax policy decisions that Congress will make in the near future will have important implications for the size of the long-term fiscal problem. Allowing all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire as scheduled — or fully offsetting the costs of those tax cuts that are made permanent — would increase revenues by nearly 2 percent of GDP each year. That action would reduce the fiscal gap through 2050 by almost two-fifths — from 4.9 percent of GDP to 3.0 percent.

Look at that. The Bush tax cuts had a HUGE effect on the deficit. Merely letting them expire will help a lot. Not enough, but a lot.

Then there's this. I've linked it before, but blaming Obama for this deficit is just plain dishonest:

What's wrong with health care

DiA spreads it out in a nutshell:

[H]ealth care is a complicated issue. Some on the left, like Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake, have a health-care position voters can understand: it's all the fault of the insurance companies and Big Pharma. That's not true and leads to no workable solution, but it makes progressives happy to hear it. Scott Brown has a health position voters can understand, too: it's all the fault of big government. That's not true and leads to no workable solution, but it makes conservatives happy to hear it. Barack Obama has a different position: it's the result of a set of systemic problems that need to be changed with a combination of government subsidies, regulations and market incentives, and to have a realistic shot at enacting a reform like that you need to get all the political and industry stakeholders involved and craft a compromise that better serves the public but that everyone can sign off on. That message is political poison, and it now has a significant percentage of the American public calling for his head.

Obama is a monarch

Or at least that's what David Brooks thinks:

He is no ideologue, but over the past year he has come to seem like the sovereign on the cover of “Leviathan” — the brain of the nation to which all the cells in the body and the nervous system must report and defer.

Really? If anything, he's done a good job of showing the limits of his power. Congress has bogged down his initiatives, Netanyahu has made him look like a fool, and China and Russia are stymieing his international efforts.

Trust in government has fallen. The share of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track has risen.

...but still aren't near the levels they were at under Bush.

Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop. They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad. They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it. Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

That, of course, would be political suicide. It would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern. Marie Antoinette would applaud, but voters would rage.


I apologize for not reading more Drudge report, or watching Glenn Beck. But if I wanted to read about death panels, I would become Sarah Palin's friend on facebook. And the economy does have a huge effect on opinion polls. Chait has some graphs to illustrate that here. And I don't think HCR is misunderstood because people are unsophisticated, but because the media continually fails utterly at discussing details of policy.

Passing a reform bill that will allow 30m Americans to get health insurance and begin the necessary work of arresting the skyrocketing costs of health care that will bankrupt the country if nothing is done is "arrogant, elitist, and contemptuous"? It sounds like good governance to me. Not to mention the fact that this bill would still be able to pass easily even after a Coakley loss if it weren't for the totally dysfunctional rules in the Senate.

If I were President Obama, I would spend the next year showing how government can serve a humble, helpful and supportive role to the central institutions of American life.

I think Brooks means we should let the planet cook, let people continue to go bankrupt and die due to lack of health insurance, let banks run amok like they did leading up to fall of 2008, watch our country continue to fall farther behind in education, and let unemployment stagnate around 10%.

Thanks for the advice, David, now please shut up and stop taking up space on the NYT Op-Ed page that could go to someone with something constructive to say.

...

I just hope Taibbi has enough juice left to eviscerate Brooks twice in one week. Although his critique will, no doubt, have more references to the size of Brooks' manhood.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein has an interesting take on Brooks' column. Still no word from Taibbi, unfortunately.

UPDATE 2: Chait chimes in, and contrasts Brooks' column with Douthat's take.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Ungovernable" (VII)

Biden enters the conversation:

"As long as I have served ... I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decisions has required 60 senators," Biden said. "No democracy has survived needing a supermajority."

Yeah, I knew I would get there.

(HT: TPM)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In lieu of Cap and Trade

Tim Hartford has some quick hits on low-carbon living:

My conclusion is that a well-meaning environmentalist will make counterproductive decisions several times a day. I don’t blame the environmentalists: the problem is intrinsically complicated.

He has a few examples of the counter intuitive ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and the contradictions in trying to reduce your carbon footprint. Good reading.

(HT: Sullivan)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

International Aid

In a conversation with a friend about Haiti, we got onto the topic of the problems inherent in distributing aid and making sure it gets to the right people. It reminded me of one of the best sketches SNL has ever done. It is hilarious, gets in a bunch of good digs at Bill, and yet is a perfect demonstration of the problems with sending aid to troubled countries.

Haiti is going to need assistance long after this tragedy fades from public consciousness. This is happening as there's a serious debate going on about the effectiveness of aid, and how we can improve both delivery and results. Secretary Clinton is headed down to Haiti with USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, and it is a good bet that Haiti will be a major issue for Shah for years to come.

With that said, we need to make sure that our aid money is being spent well, and producing results. In my (infinitely humble and completely unbiased) opinion, one thing that would help immensely is to expand the number of foreign service officers at State and USAID. It's easier to bypass the "warlords" if there are aid workers on the ground, handing food directly to the people who need it. Right now, we don't even have fully staffed embassies. If we want to do a good job of promoting growth and prosperity in impoverished parts of the world, we need more boots on the ground.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Palin makes W sound eloquent

Palin waxes lyrical on race:

PALIN: I know. And that double standard is — and that hypocrisy is another reason why so many Americans are quite disgusted with the political games that are played, not only on both sides of the aisle, but in this case, on the left wing, what they are playing with this game of racism and kind of letting Harry Reid's comments slide, but having crucified Trent Lott for essentially along the same lines (inaudible).

A) What the hell did she just say?
B) Does it count as hypocrisy if you don't realize it? Or know what the word hypocrisy means?
C) Talking about Obama's chances for election in antiquated terms is not equivalent to espousing segregation and white supremacy.
D) I love when WASPs yell about racism. Even though a black journalist with a Pulitzer says Reid was... right.

Silliness

Ever wonder why the random piece generator in Tetris always seems to screw you? This is why.

How can anyone vote for this guy?

Scott Brown, the Republican running for Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, has an op-ed in the Boston Globe. In it, he says that Massachusetts' health care system works, but the federal plan, which is the same thing in every important way, is bad. He says the $12tn dollar debt is a problem. But he wants an across the board tax cut. He thinks the Fruit of the Boom terrorist should be sent to Guantanamo and tortured instead of being given his rights. He says the stimulus didn't create a single new job, and no more jobs bills should be passed.

Is this really the opposition party in this country? There are no new ideas. No good ideas. In fact, most of what he says is demonstrably false. But hey, if you say something enough times, it makes it true. It just convinces me once more that the number one reason Dems are having a tough time is that a bad economy is bad for incumbents. It doesn't really have anything to do with policy.

(HT: Sullivan)

And now for something completely different...

...I usually just ignore most/all "entertainment" stories, but I can't help but be fascinated by the "Late night wars" resulting from NBC's reshuffling of Conan and Leno. If nothing else, it certainly makes for compelling television. Gawker has a good rundown of what was being said just Thursday night. Leno made the mistake of having Kimmel on his show via satellite, and Kimmel tore into him. Also, it's well worth hopping over to Hulu and checking out Conan's monologues from the past week. He is just tearing into NBC.

It's damn entertaining.

In somewhat related news, Craig Ferguson challenged Rush Limbaugh to donate $1,000,000 to the Red Cross to make up for his inflammatory remarks regarding Haiti and the Obama administration's response to the crisis there. My money says it ain't gonna happen.

...

I can't believe I just wrote a post that involves four late night TV hosts and the political version of Howard Stern. And now Howard Stern.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Smart and sober analysis from Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria is the nation's most well-known and influential foreign policy academic for a reason:

The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well.

[..snip..]

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda's hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn't help.

I don't have much to add that I haven't already said, but his whole piece is worth reading. The man knows what he is talking about.

(HT: Yglesias)

I love Congress

From Ezra Klein's chat today:

Washington, D.C.: One thing that most threatens the Obama agenda is that the American public still has deep-seeded, but incorrect assumptions about things. Take for example, the idea that the "government should tighten its belt" during a recession, or that the deficit is caused by discretionary spending. How do we break through these assumptions? What can Obama do to change the way people think about things?


Ezra Klein: No idea. This is, in theory, why we have a representational government, rather than a weekly referendum on "things the government is doing." We're supposed to elect folks who study up on this stuff and then make the decisions we would make if we were more informed. Instead, we get hacks who pander to our ignorance because they want to win reelection, or retake the majority, or run for Senate. Or maybe because they're ignorant, too.


From an old post on this blog:

Congresspeople have, as their primary goal, reelection. Ok, so that means that they should be doing what's best for their constituents, and that's not a bad thing, right? Unfortunately, that doesn't always hold. First, they do what's best for the constituents with the most money, not necessarily what's best for all of them. And, as an elected representative, it is your responsibility to look long-term. What is in the best interests of the country going forward? In many cases, that is not in the short-term interests of your district.

(I decided against doing a seventh post entitled "Ungovernable." But I'm sure I'll get there.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Should Ford run?

Tom Schaller makes a convincing argument why he shouldn't:

The point is that Ford would have a great shot in the general election, and knows it. New York is so reliably blue, even a reddish Democrat need not don a camo baseball cap to be competitive. Which means Ford's bigger obstacle to office is Gillibrand in the primary. And yet surely Ford calculates that, because she attained office via appointment and hasn't had sufficient time since then to introduce herself to everyone in what is still the nation's third most populous state, Gillibrand is potentially quite vulnerable.

[..snip..]

Gillibrand hasn't been perfect, but she's darn good. Liberals in New York and Washington undoubtedly prefer that she be less of a Blue Dog and more of a bull dog. But, long term, I think she'll make a fine senator, both back home in the state where I grew up as well as in committee and on the floor of the chamber. She also deserves special dispensation if only for one reason: She took out one of the slimiest Republicans in Congress, former Rep. John Sweeney.

I really like Harold Ford, Jr... but I'm not sure this is the place for him.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stat geeks and Political Scientists

Drezner draws a parallel:

Ambinder's passive-aggresive attitude towards my profession is not unique to him -- it flares up every once in a while among political journalists. In some ways, this dust-up mirrors the occasional testiness that emerges between traditional baseball writers and sabermetricians. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy's recently complained about "the stat geeks, those get-a-lifers who are sucking all the joy out of our national pastime." Yeah, because the last thing the sport would want is for informed people to be arguing passionately about it.

Shaughnessy's assertion flabbergasted most sabermetricians, who clearly love baseball and all of its facets. They just find it silly not to consider the utility of smart statistics when analyzing the support. But a lot of sabermetricians tend to watch baseball with the television on mute so they don't have to hear broadcasters emphasize points that, to them, are superfluous -- just as many political scientists I know rarely watch the cable news shows.


Hey! I resemble that comment!

"Ungovernable" (VI)

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 75:

It has been shown, under the second head of our inquiries, that all provisions which require more than the majority of any body to its resolutions, have a direct tendency to embarrass the operations of the government, and an indirect one to subject the sense of the majority to that of the minority.

I don't have much to add to that.

(HT: EK)

Classy...

...and helpful!

I'm not sure politics ever stopped at water's edge. But what Senators Lieberman and McCain said in Israel yesterday goes beyond the usual partisan bickering. Lieberman:

Any attempt to pressure Israel, to force Israel to the negotiating table, by denying Israel support will not pass the Congress of the United States. In fact, Congress will act to stop any attempt to do that.

Well, that's a pretty good way to cut the presidents' legs out from under him on Israel/Palestine. It's not like it's a delicate situation where it's probably a good idea to clear any public statements with the foreign policy establishment. But no, the massive egos of both these senators led them to make statements that directly undermine what the President and his special envoy are trying to do. This, of course, will make them heroes to AIPAC and the GOP. On the other hand, it will also help scuttle any small chances there were for a negotiated settlement in Israel.

I'm actually having trouble writing about this, because it's just beyond the pale to me.

I'll let Sullivan vent.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You're Fired! (II)

Yglesias has a tangentially related response to a Maureen Dowd column:

[T]he job is to make decisions that reflect a realistic assessment of the risks, of the available policy options, and of the costs and benefits involved in the different options. Reassuring children is a job for parents. Treating adults like they’re little children is, perhaps, a job for newspaper columnists.

Unnecessary effort on Nukes?

Foreign Policy has an interesting article on nuclear weapons and disarmament.

Nuclear weapons are already disappearing, and elaborate international plans like the one Obama is pushing aren't needed to make it happen. During the Cold War, painstakingly negotiated treaties did little to advance the cause of disarmament -- and some efforts, such as the 1972 SALT Agreement, made the situation worse from a military standpoint. With the easing of tensions after the Cold War, a sort of negative arms race has taken place, and the weapons have been going away more or less by themselves as policymakers wake up to the fact that having fewer useless things is cheaper than having more of them. By 2002, the number of deployed warheads in Russian and U.S. arsenals had dropped from 70,000 to around 30,000, and it now stands at less than 10,000. "Real arms control," wistfully reflected former U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control Avis Bohlen in an essay last May, "became possible only when it was no longer necessary."

[..snip..]

In his 2008 campaign, Obama pointedly pledged that, as president, he would "do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon … everything." Let us hope not: The anti-proliferation sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s probably led to more deaths than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the same can be said for the ongoing war in Iraq, sold as an effort to root out Saddam Hussein's nukes. There is nothing inherently wrong with making nonproliferation a high priority, so long as it is topped with a somewhat higher one: avoiding policies that can lead to the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of people under the obsessive sway of worst-case-scenario fantasies.

The whole article is well worth reading. A mature, sober, (one might say "realist") look at nuclear weapons policy in this day and age.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Meltdown

Chernobyl-style.

Minnesota Wild 6, Chicago Blackhawks 5

I don't often get to watch the Hawks up here in the frigid northlands... so it's disappointing to sit on my couch in my Jonathan Toews jersey, having a beer in my Blackhawks glass... and watch them crap away a 4 goal lead in the 3rd period.

That about sums it up.

EDIT: And it's not like this Cowboys/Eagles game is any better. Are the Eagles the new Cardinals? Very talented but so inconsistent that they're impossible to predict? Seriously, I'm not sure I picked an Eagles game right all year. Except the win over the Bears. And even that was closer than it should have been.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Once an organizer....

From today's Star Tribune:

THE SNOW PATROL

Instead of sidewalks, worry about the streets

In the Jan. 1 story "On the snow patrol," about city fines for failing to clear sidewalks, no mention was made of the city's corresponding responsibility to clear public thoroughfares.

It seems to me that the revenue raised from the fines levied on Minneapolis residents who fail to shovel their sidewalks would best be used to help clear the side streets. My street currently has several inches of ice on it, making any sojourn from my apartment a dangerous adventure.

I find it highly hypocritical that the city fines residents for not clearing their sidewalks when it can't be bothered to clear the streets that those residents use every day. I call on the city to do a better job clearing the side streets in Minneapolis. The main streets look fine, but many of us must drive on the side streets, too.

MATT LEWIS, MINNEAPOLIS

Two Gentlemen of Lebowski

The Big Lebowski, at the Globe Theatre:

MAUDE
In faith, the art is only what you will,
And if the word can poison not your ear
Then you’re in luck; some men of lesser stuff
Dislike to hear it, dare not speak its name.
Whereas without a flicker of his eye
A man might speak of King Richard the Third,
Or pose an idle sonnet on his rod,
Or praise the wit of his selfsame Johnson.

Oh lord, this is fantastic.

THE KNAVE
Thou know’st. The Knave abideth.

(HT: Chait)

A harbinger?

What would happen if Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change caused severe changes to the Gulf Stream?

Maybe this.

"Ungovernable" (V)

Klein:

In theory, Washington should be making good economic policy, even if it means going home to districts and explaining hard decisions. That's why we have Washington rather than a weekly election. Instead, it slavishly follows popular whims. In 2003, when growth was sound, Republicans in Congress passed a massive expansion of Medicare that was entirely financed on the deficit (not to mention tax cuts that were funded the same way). In 2009, amidst a crippling recession, Democrats are paying for every last dime of their health-care bill and delaying implementation so the price tag looks smaller.

(Emphasis mine.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Ungovernable" (IV)

Douthat thrusts:

Frankly, I have a very difficult time believing that Ezra Klein, or any other anti-filibuster liberal, would really rather live in a world where the Bush tax cuts had been larger, permanent, and easily passed on a party line vote. The filibuster has constrained recent Democratic efforts on the stimulus and health care, but those efforts would have been much more radically constrained if the Obama administration had inherited the tax code as rewritten by Dick Cheney and Trent Lott, circa 2001. Without the filibuster, 51 Republican senators a decade ago would have been able to tie the hands of 60 Democratic Senators in 2010. With it, the country was spared — and continues to be spared, at least to some extent — the tyranny of temporary and highly ideological majorities.

Klein parries:

But just this once: Yes, I really would prefer to live in a world without a filibuster. Indeed, I'd prefer it so much that I've consistently argued for the elimination of the rule on a six- or eight-year time lag, by which point Barack Obama would not be in office and the party in control of the Senate is anybody's guess. This isn't about making Obama's presidency go better. It's about making the legislative process work better.

Both posts raise interesting points. Yes, it is nice that Bush's tax cuts will expire. But Klein's point about the rarity of 60-vote majorities is worth considering. As he has pointed out before, the current system incentivizes obstruction by the minority party. The GOP knows that blocking the Dems can win them seats. There is no incentive to work with the Dems to pass good legislation. Fortunately, the Democrats have 60 votes.

Douthat is operating under the assumption that either party will pass better ("less radical") legislation if they are forced to compromise for 60 votes. I see two problems with this:

1. If we've learned anything this past year, it's that the minority party doesn't want to compromise, it wants to obstruct. Does he really think Congress would have made any progress at all toward fixing health care if the Dems had only had 57 votes? Maybe they would have passed tort reform. That's about it. The reliance on centrists and compromise is a pipe dream. The "centrists" in congress aren't really much more principled than the ideologues. Sen. Snowe thought a year of deliberation was "rushing" health care reform. Seriously? Compromise is a lost art in the senate, offered as a sacrifice to the gods of electoral politics.

2. Does compromise really create a better bill? Just to get all 60 Democratic votes, many good ideas were left on the cutting room floor. Read through this document that's being used on the Hill as negotiations between the Senate and House bills commence. Can you really make the case that the Senate bill is better? The House bill just needed a majority, and is a better bill for it.

I understand that the sword has two edges, and the GOP will be able to pass legislation, too. But you know what? If that's the price to pay for being able to govern the country effectively, under either party, I'm willing to pay it. The problems facing our country are too great for half-measures. I think we will probably see, in the years following the 2010 midterms, just what the filibuster can do to prevent good governance when neither party can muster 60 votes to pass legislation.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You're Fired!

Watching Hardball and reading The Daily Dish, among others, I hear this constant refrain that Obama needs to do something whenever something happens. He should have fired the head of the Secret Service because the Salahis gate-crashed the White House. He should fire Janet Napolitano because some moronic Nigerian tried to blow up his underwear on a jetliner.

What good is that going to do? I'll tell you what it will do. It will cause the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security to go through a painful transition to a new leader. You don't just fire a Cabinet Secretary (especially of a department as convoluted, ill-conceived, and unwieldy as the DHS) like she's an NFL head coach. I know I've used this metaphor before, and I am willing to admit that I was wrong about McChrystal, but really, doesn't firing Napolitano or the head of the Secret Service amount to Dan Snyder firing the coach of the Redskins every year? It doesn't accomplish anything. In fact, it's surely one of the reasons the Redskins still suck, and why Jason Campbell, who is undeniably talented, is having such a tough time.

Obama's resistance to this knee-jerk, symbolic action is a good thing. Yes, this is the "too-cool" president. But guess what? He's using his brain, which is something we got precious little of from the previous chief executive. If you wanted symbolic, knee-jerk reactions, you should have voted for McCain. He's good at those.

Ms Bachmann, meet Ms Karma...

...but let me warn you, she can be a bitch.

From the Star Tribune:

It's ironic that a Minnesota member of Congress, Republican Michele Bachmann, went so far last summer to declare her intention to only partially complete her census forms, and to suggest reasons for others not to comply with the census law. If Minnesota loses a congressional seat, Bachmann's populous Sixth District could be carved into pieces. She likely would have to battle another incumbent to hang on to her seat. We've noticed that her anticensus rhetoric has lately ceased. We hope she got wise: Census compliance is not only in Minnesota's best interest, but also her own.

(HT: TPM)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tea Party Party?

David Brooks thinks the Tea Partiers will be a potent force in the coming years:

Over the course of this year, the tea party movement will probably be transformed. Right now, it is an amateurish movement with mediocre leadership. But several bright and polished politicians, like Marco Rubio of Florida and Gary Johnson of New Mexico, are unofficially competing to become its de facto leader. If they succeed, their movement is likely to outgrow its crude beginnings and become a major force in American politics. After all, it represents arguments that are deeply rooted in American history.

And those arguments are? Cutting taxes, getting the deficit under control, smaller government... but don't touch medicare or social security. Never mind the hypocrisy there. And global warming is a myth. I hope none of them live on the coasts.

As Brooks says, they're defined by what they're against. As far as I can tell, they're against solving the big problems this country faces. I think the ascendancy of the Tea Party movement is probably even worse for the country than the success of the current GOP.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Green shoots?

No, not about the economy. That's still in the crapper. I mean about the 2010 midterms:

The fundraising disparity between the two committees is striking: The DCCC outraised the NRCC this year by more than $18 million, according to FEC figures at the end of November. The NRCC has only $4.3 million left in its campaign account — with more than $2 million in debt — leaving it with just a pittance to fund the dozens of races it hopes to aggressively contest.

I guess those tea-partiers don't want to put their money where their mouth is. Or maybe the NRCC just isn't conservative enough for them (scary thought). Maybe the Dems are in a slightly better position than previously thought? Only losing a bunch of seats instead of a crapload?

“At the end of the day, we don’t need as much money as the Democrats to win the majority,” said McCarthy. “They have to defend going in a direction America doesn’t want to go. … They need more money because they have to defend something the American people don’t want."

Ah, never mind, the GOP needs no money.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lynch: Kindly ignore Joe Lieberman

After the shoe-bomber and resulting hysteria over airline security and AQAP in Yemen, Marc Lynch offers his thoughts.

So what should the U.S. do? Pretty much what it's been doing in the Obama administration, which has in fact been thinking seriously about Yemen all year and which has quietly been working there in some constructive and some unconstructive ways. It's never as satisfying as a morally pure call to battle, but the administration shouldn't over-react or under-react. Be patient, build intelligence and CT assets, strike against clearly AQ targets when available but only where the civilian costs will be minimal and the rewards high, search out local partners... the usual. But the administration shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking it must "do something" to fend off political harping from the right and end up over-committing... or taking steps which ultimately make the situation worse.
Deep breaths, people. Remember what Bin Laden has explicitly said.

All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.

Don't fall into this trap again.