Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Watching the WHCD

Donald Trump on the hustings.


I was struck watching Obama speak to the White House Correspondence Dinner.  I was struck by how Obama deftly filleted Donald Trump, who sat there as the knife skipped in a so effortlessly and removed meat from bone.  I was struck by the dry humor of the President, especially on the issue of his nativity.

But I couldn't help but juxtapose it with this.

The impassioned video linked to above is by Baratunde Thurston, in which he vents his passion and outrage over the birther issue.  As he puts it, and I'm paraphrasing, every time Donald Trump and other Birthers raise the issue, they are saying, "Nigger, you can't be president."

I had always considered the Birthers a joke, much like the President treated them in his speech.  They are and should be objects of ridicule.  Objects of derision.

But I guess I didn't get the pain that this issue caused African Americans until I saw Thurston's video.  It was an eye-opening experience.

I don't have a clever ending for this - it's late - but I have to say, watching The Donald squirm as the President mocked and belittled him did bring me a more than inconsequential pleasure.

I have no idea if the President's dry, mocking tone was appropriate for what Thurston correctly identifies as a national outrage.  But I am glad that Trump was there, so that he could swim in the filth of his own making.

I hope it fuels the ego maniacal fire that drives his campaign.  I hope he sinks deeper into the fetid backwaters of racism and bile that he has waded in these past weeks.

And I absolutely hope it f*cking destroys him.

UPDATE: Seth Myers also lit into Trump, here.  Compare the stony anger on Trump to the good natured smile on Obama's face when each are ribbed.  There could be no greater display of what is right with Obama and what is wrong with Trump.  (And Myers is pretty funny, too.)

On the plus side, I now forgive the Washington Post for inviting him to their table.

Facts Are Stubborn Things

One of these statements is true.  It's important that you know which one.

Political news is slow, and I've been obsessed with the NFL Draft and Mel Kiper's truly amazing hair, so I haven't been posting much.

Eugene Robinson wrote a column here that has been largely quoted.  The line quoted is: To those deniers who can’t come to terms with the fact of the Obama presidency, I have nothing to offer but this: Yes, he’s smarter, richer, luckier and better looking than you, and he’s your president.

It's a good line, but it's not the important point.  I offer this line instead: I’m not talking about competing worldviews, I’m talking about a lack of agreement on what is provably, objectively true and what is not. Political polarization is old hat. Empirical polarization — a rejection of this nation’s founding Enlightenment principles — is something new.

Hell, Eugene, that's why I started blogging.  That's what has so disgusted me about this political moment and especially the modern GOP.  Bending facts and confirming bias is a natural if unpleasant part of politics.  But outright breaking of facts, the crushing of facts in the service of ideology does feel new.

As a teacher, I'm not just under assault by guys like Scott Walker who want to crush the idea of liberal education and an educated citizenry in order to transfer wealth up the ladder, I'm under assault by an ideological assault on facts themselves.

Here's a passel of facts for you:

A) Tornadoes are common in parts of the United States.

B) Tornadoes are caused by the interaction of warm and cold air.

C) Warmer weather means more and stronger tornadoes.

D) Tornadoes have just killed hundreds of people in the southeast.

E) The global climate is warming.

F) We can expect even more and stronger tornadoes in the future if the weather keeps getting warmer.

Nothing in that above sampling of facts is debatable.  It's not.

But my guess is that Jim Inhofe would deny some of them.  Or refuse to add up the facts into a policy that address global warming.

George Washington was not a genius, bright enough, but no Jefferson or Hamilton.  But Washington could change his mind, because he was a product of the enlightenment.

He would not recognize his country today.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Oil Subsidies


Paul Ryan came out against oil subsidies.  Democrats have been arguing this for years.  Paul Ryan is courageous.  Democrats hate business.

The problem is that with gas prices being ridiculous and unlikely to get better, the oil companies can simply pass the lack of subsidies on to us, the consumer.  Because what the hell else are we going to do?

Ever since that unserious failure Jimmy Carter pointed out that oil is not a renewable and inexhaustible resource, we've neglected to address this day of reckoning.  Now it is too late.

We are a society high on petroleum and the dealer just raised the hell out of his prices.  We could have weaned our dependency years ago.

We didn't and now we're screwed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Required Reading

Ezra Klein goes Full Metal Ross Perot and hauls out the charts and graphs that demonstrate just how messed up our health care system is.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/the-three-most-important-health-care-graphs-in-the-world/2011/04/13/AFtU1E6E_blog.html

Put another way: If the Clintons had passed a universal, single payer health care system in 1993, we might not be hyperventilating over the budget deficit today.

Where Were YOU Born

Barack Obama: Somali Pirate

There have been some fine takes on the release of Obama's long form birth certificate.  Everyone seems to like Fallows' take here.  Lawrence O'Donnell was also good here.

But another common theme amongst Those Who Are Almost Always Right is that this won't make a difference to hard core birthers.  Their belief in this patent nonsense is based on delegitimizing the Obama Administration.  It's also racist, as explained here.

One wonders, I guess, what happens to Donald Trump's stunt candidacy.  Glenn Beck is already gone, so one can hope that the conspiracy theory wing of the GOP will be forced back into the shadows as a general election nears.

But I doubt it.  This is a fascinating test case for whether a political elite (the institutional leadership of the GOP) can control a democratic institution.  McConnell couldn't prevent a Senator Rand Paul, can the GOP prevent the 2012 Bachmann nomination?

Obama is right that we have serious issues that need solving.  But I am unconvinced that the American political establishment can approach them with the seriousness and thoughtfulness that will "make our children and grandchildren proud" because it was this system that produced and tacitly endorsed birthers and Teahadists in the first place.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thoughts On The Upcoming Royal Wedding

What does this have to do with the wedding?  Nothing.  Jane Austen's British?  

1) Kate Middleton is more attractive than Diana Spencer and has better hair.  Seriously, the only unflattering picture of my Most Beloved and Desirable Wife And Helpmeet is when she sported the "Princess Di".  She looked like a blond mushroom.  (I realize I could get in trouble for that, but she never reads this thing anyway.)

2) There is no way in hell I am sacrificing one moment of sleep to watch this on TV.  I will wait until someone produces a mash-up on YouTube that combines footage from the Royal nuptials with wedding footage from Kill Bill and is set to the music of the Chemical Brothers.

3) My chronology may be off, but let me see if I have this straight.  The British have elected a conservative government that is shredding the safety net during an economic downturn and are about to numb their national pain by obsessing about a marriage in which one of the participants is the product of centuries of inbreeding.  I guess next up is an invasion of the Falklands Libya.

4) I am mildly impressed young William is marrying from the Commons, because it will make blueblooded royalists crap their knickers.

5) I hope that Ms Middlelton produces male progeny so that she does not get her head chopped off in the Tower of London.  Because that's the way these royal bastards roll.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Your Wednesday Morning Takedown

tbogg takes on the National Review's mancrush on Paul Ryan.

http://tbogg.firedoglake.com/2011/04/26/james-pethokoukis-is-now-totally-gay-for-paul-ryan/

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Love This

Great quote from DougJ at Balloon Juice.  After you read it, you will never read David Brooks quite the same again...

I think elite journalists have set up this fantasy morality play where their own high-school selves—geeky and unpopular but smart and hard-working—represent everything that is good while their insufficiently adoring teachers and cool athlete classmates represent everything that is evil. Of course, good triumphed, Joe Klein is a millionaire now, while the cool athletes (now adults) can’t earn a living wage and the teachers are being stripped of their collective bargaining rights.

The Shrinking GOP Field

Obama stands next to the GOP dream candidate.

So, Foghorn Leghorn Haley Barbour has decided not to run for President.

Sigh.

Given the modern GOP's fondness for secession, nullification and questioning whether African Americans are really American, it's a shame that the least "reconstructed" potential candidate for 2012 has already dropped out.  I mean Michelle Bachmann and Donald Trump are trying, but really, it's a suit that doesn't fit as well.

GOP presidential primaries used to be boring, staid affairs.  Someone like McCain might win one in New Hampshire, but everyone pretty much knows who will win before the first primary.

That ended in 2008, when everyone knew that McCain Giuliani Romney McCain would win.  McCain limped along, winning pluralities of the primary votes and all of the delegates but never captivating the imagination the way Obama and Clinton's epic slugfest did.  His weaknesses as a candidate only became apparent later, most notably his impulsive decision to anoint a semi-literate grifter his heir apparent.

So this time around, the GOP has axed the winner-take-all primary system and gone to proportional representation.  This should prevent someone like Bachmann sewing up the Iowa social conservatives and New Hampshire libertarians and riding that to a premature victory.

But if a GOP candidate falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it stand a chance?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gitmo

The Guards vs Prisoners soccer game at Gitmo is different than most.

So, WikiLeaks has released a bunch of documents that show that - surprise! - Gitmo was a poorly thought out, ad hoc solution to a problem that should have been remotely foreseen by anyone before the first Special Forces units put a boot into Afghanistan's moonscape.

There was "coercive interrogation"/prisoner abuse.  People were captured and held for spurious reasons.  Some people at Gitmo entered bystanders and left terrorists.

It was a really, really bad idea.

It seems better now, but that's like saying the second half of the Titanic's voyage was free of iceberg mishaps.  There seems to be a bit more transparency and the abuse of prisoners has stopped (or is likely as prevalent as it is in any institution where you give absolute power to some men over others).  And at this point, it seems pretty likely that anybody there is not someone you can safely release.

In 1971, the Pentagon Papers spelled out the disastrous clown show that was America's involvement in Vietnam.  They showed the mendacity and incompetence of decision makes in the Kennedy and especially Johnson administrations that led American into the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time".  Finished in 1967, they specifically did NOT mention Nixon who wasn't elected until 1968.  

But Nixon responded to the leak of the Pentagon Papers by establishing the Plumbers group within the White House.  They broke into Ellsburg's psychiatrist's office to find information to discredit him.  They failed at that, just as they failed to plant bugs in the Democratic National Committee a year later in the Watergate building.

The Pentagon Papers were an expose of the decision making in Washington, but not a specific indictment at all of Nixon, yet he reacted with law breaking and paranoia.  Thus, the Pentagon Papers ultimately DID tell us something about Nixon.

If the WikiLeaks exposures - whether the diplomatic cables or the recent Gitmo documents - show us anything about the Obama administration, it will not be about Gitmo itself.  The time period covered in the leaks essentially cover the Bush years.  The Obama administration was largely frustrated in its desire to close Gitmo by Congress - and I guess public opinion - but they at least cleaned the place up some.  While it remains a stain on the tradition of American jurisprudence and the rule of law, without the ability to hold real trials for the prisoners, the current situation seems the best of a terrible roster of options.

So far, we are getting the routine round of denunciations of WikiLeaks... blah blah blah, whatever.  But we also have word that Pfc. Bradley Manning is being transfered from Quantico, which has to be a good thing.  

For if there was any "reveal" from WikiLeaks, it was the harsh treatment of Manning.  Now, I don't think Obama was sitting, Nixon-like, in the Oval Office saying, Nixon-like, "We've got to (expletive deleted) this guy.  (Expletive deleted) his hide to the (expletive deleted) wall."

But the reveal about Obama is that his now legendary emotional equilibrium is also a form of acquiescence to the business as usual climate in Washington.  His desire not to rock the boat anymore than absolutely necessary means that abuses occur that need not occur.

While I disagree with it, I understand the impulse behind his decision not to investigate Gitmo/Abu Ghraib/Bagram and the torture regime established under Bush.  But that decision ultimately makes him a tacit, passive accomplice.  

But then again, that goes for the majority of his countrymen, doesn't it?

Friday, April 22, 2011

So, DADT Really IS Dead

Friday Funny



Also, too... We know Yo-Yo Ma is an artist, but...




Hat tip to Kung Fu Monkey for the vids.

The Boy In The Bubble

Not unless your name is Jobs McEmployment.

So we get this story: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_obama

And we get this one: http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/04/paul-ryan-gets-booed-by-consituents-for-opposing-tax-hikes-on-rich-video.php?ref=fpblg

So basically, our proud deficit warriors on the Left and the Right take a minute to leave DC where everyone is trying to be "brave" and "serious" about the long term budget situation.  And they hear from actual, you know, Americans.  And it turns out, Americans don't care so much about the DC obsession with the deficit.  Because Americans actually live in America, an America with 8.8% unemployment and skyrocketing gas prices. They don't live in the rarefied bubble of Meet the Press and campaign fundraisers.

This is the problem with oligarchy.

After a few years in DC, your concerns naturally become the concerns of "DC".  Those concerns are, in turn, largely shaped by the culture of that town, which tends towards lobbyists and think tank dorks and "seriousness".  The point of democracy is to give voice to the needs and concerns of the great mass of the people.

Now, those concerns are not only inconsistent, they are often contradictory.  But right now, they really aren't. The solutions to their concerns might be different, but people really don't give a damn about the deficit, despite what various journalists and politicians say.  They care about the economy.

And caring about the economy, at least for the moment, is actually a really good idea from a policy standpoint.  As we know, the deficit is caused by four things:

And those are: the Bush tax cuts, the wars, the recession and health care costs.

Now, the Bush tax cuts aren't going anywhere until 2012 at the earliest.  The GOP wouldn't raise taxes if Zombie Reagan himself came out and asked them to (before eating their brains).

We're ending our commitment in Iraq, but we're ratcheting up the pressure in Libya with drone strikes.  At some point, I'd like to see Obama be "serious" about Afghanistan and say, "We can't afford to keep pumping dollars down the corrupt maw of that jerk off Hamid Karzai."  But that will have to wait until we get "Peace with honor" in 2014.

ACA has addressed some of the health care costs, and I think some of the ideas about reforming payment for services have merit.  Paul Ryan's plan, by the way, does not.  But if Obama wants to engage in some long term reform of how Medicare pays for care, that's fine.  Personally, I think it can wait until 2013, because the Democrats will likely be hitting the GOP over the head with its plan to end Medicare, and reforming it will allow the GOP and the media to say, "Well, both sides are creating Death Panels, opinions differ."

But one area that makes the most sense to tackle RIGHT NOW is the recession.

The Stimulus was based on faulty economic projections, poor political realities and bad packaging, but it has objectively helped the economy.  Proving that is difficult, and the administration and Congressional Democrats shouldn't be talking about more "stimulus".

They should be talking about a jobs plan.

One that puts people to work repairing roads and bridges, building high speed rail and improving the information infrastructure of the country.  You know, winning the future.

It won't pass the House.  I'm not naive.

But I'm 100% convinced that the GOP coming to power in 2012 would have catastrophic results for the country.  Catastrophic.

So Obama needs to channel his inner Harry Truman and rail against the "Do Nothing Congress" that spends its shortened work week trying to defund Planned Parenthood and end Medicare, while he's trying to put Americans to work.

It's blatantly obvious to anyone with an even cursory ear to the ground.

For anyone who doesn't live in the bubble.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

These People Are Sociopaths



http://www.ginandtacos.com/2011/04/21/doomsday-cults/

Let me see if I can summarize what Ed relates in the above post.

No, I don't think I can.  But I'll give it a try 'cause Mama didn't raise no quitters.

Basically, some "economist" at the Cato Institute (natch) says we should refuse to raise the debt ceiling because the ensuing global economic catastrophe will help rein in entitlement spending.  (Ed gives it a good Fisking.)

There is something psychologically wrong with libertarians.  At some point I think libertarianism will wind up in the DSM-V.  I don't mean the general, "Hey, pot isn't hurting anyone", "government needs to stay off my lawn" garden variety libertarianism, I mean the hard core, Randian, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul type of capitalism red in tooth and claw that basically seems to welcome hardship and catastrophe.

Ed likens them to a Doomsday cult, but I think it's something subtly different.

To me this flavor of libertarian - who hordes gold next to his 50 gallon barrels of water and 50 pound sacks of rice in his survival bunker - is really looking for a chance to show his exceptional nature.

The modern world is a tame place for the libertarian professional.  There is no war, no hunger, no civil strife.  There is only the quiet, quotidian roundabout.

Despite having many advantages over 99% of humanity, the upper middle class/upper class libertarian - who probably works in finance or dentistry or something - thinks that he has an inner Rambo, an inner Chuck Norris.  That he would TOTALLY win on Survivor.  That when the end comes and the zombies swarm over the earth, he alone will thrive and Mary Jean Prettypants - who ignored him all through high school - will finally see his true merit.

Seriously, anyone who think crashing the global economy would be "good for us" has likely never experienced a moment of real hardship - like watching your child starve - or had a moment of human empathy for those who have.

We followed their nostrums about the market into the mess we're in now.  We will watch gas prices rise because they convinced enough people that "the market will sort this out."  They have wrecked the economy and social safety net and will wreck it further if given the chance.

Can't they just go back to playing Dungeons and Dragons?  Is World of Warcraft not good enough for them? Can't they indulge their fantasies without cratering the hopes and dreams of the rest of us?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

There Will Be Blood

I bet there's enough biofuel in that thing to power a Hummer for a year.

The guys over at Bondad's Blog, especially NDD, have been charting the rise of oil prices and their potential impact on the economy.  Shorter version: it doesn't look great.

They use a few models that suggest we are on the cusp of an energy-price induced recession.  This would be the double-dip that everyone has been worried about.  The political effects of this... well, who the hell knows.

But it's telling that the political press - and largely the economic press, too - has been hyperventilating over the budget deficit, which is really a long term problem based in declining tax revenues and higher medical costs.  Meanwhile we have a legitimate economic crisis creeping over the near horizon.

The scary thing is that this crisis has no easy and immediate answer.  If oil hits $130 a barrel, we're simply doomed and there's not a ton that can be done about it.

You can't drill anywhere that's easy, or else they would be drilling there already.

Biofuel technology runs into a food problem (ie we have to stop making biofuel out of corn) and the non-food biofuels (like the algae process) are not ready for the wholesale production that would make a meaningful dent in fuel prices.

Other options, including thermal depolymerization, would also require a year or more of start up time to get production going.

Thermal depolymerization is a process that takes organic waste - say offal from a slaughterhouse or even sewage - and heats and compresses it, turning it into light crude.  It was too expensive to do when oil cost $80 a barrel.  Which is why it needed a long term commitment from a federal energy policy to subsidize and expand it, so that when we DID have $110/bl oil, we would be ready.

Peak oil, if that's what this is, was not a surprise to anyone with brains and foresight.  Just as Iraq/Afghanistan being a quagmire was not a surprise, just as the levees failing was not a surprise, just as the housing bubble collapsing was not a surprise.

But we have a political culture that predominately focuses on the past and past battles.  Why the hell are we still arguing about abortion or the existent of Medicare?

Obama tackled health care first in 2009-10.  And he got an historic deal.  But from his political perspective and more importantly for the health of the American economy and the global ecosystem, perhaps his focus should have been on a comprehensive energy policy that addressed both carbon emissions and fuel sustainability.

Who knows.

But this is the first really bad economic news I've heard in a while.  Much worse than future problems with the budget.

Though I doubt anyone in DC gives a good God damn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Sky Is Falling

We have other things to worry about besides poll numbers.  Like monkey snipers.

Blackwaterdog is upset about Obama's recently sliding poll numbers.  Here.

She makes the point that unemployment has fallen a full point since December when he was flying pretty high in polls.  Where is the love?

I think there are several reasons.

First, there was a lot of Manic Progressive caterwauling over the budget deal that turned out to be nonsensical.  Maybe...MAYBE as word leaks out that very little spending this year was cut, he will bounce back a little with his fickle base.

Second, the budget deal was kind of a crap sandwich all the way through and few people came out of it looking good.

Third, and most important, people are starting to feel the pinch of inflation caused by rising fuel costs.  Fuel costs were at the heart of inflation in the Seventies - which sucked if you are too young to remember - and they could cause real problems for the recovery.  If the Fed starts raising interest rates to stave off energy based inflation, the recovery, such as it is, could be choked off.

But for the average American, they know that gas is $4 a gallon and suddenly their food costs more.

This is a real issue.  I wonder about how much the rise in fuel costs is speculative, built around unrest in the Middle East, and how much is global demand picking up after the recession.

Whatever the reason, it's reason #23846 why we need (and have needed) a national energy and transportation policy.

Unfortunately, that idea was first introduced by Jimmy Carter, and we all know he's a worthless failure and incapable of having a good idea.

Plus, the GOP's idea of an energy policy is drill, baby, drill, so you can't expect much until 2013 at the earliest.  But given people's anger at declining buying power, you have to wonder how that will play out at the polls.

Required (NFL) Reading

Rick Reilly has always been one of my favorite sports writers.  He's good for a hanky or a laugh, whatever it takes.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=6388708

This is one of the best articles I've read about the Lockout.  The whole "millionaires vs billionaires" meme was true to an extent in the MLB labor dispute in 1994.  But it's much less true in the NFL, at least for most players.

America's hostility to unions is reflexive and unthinking.  We just seem to hate them, largely because so few of us belong to them.  But it's gotten to the point where we hate the guys getting locked out?

I don't understand, and neither does Reilly.

Your Wednesday Morning Takedown, Now With More Tuesdayness

Objectivism in a nutshell.

You could hear the knives being sharpened as soon as the news came out.  Ayn Rand's magnus crapus Atlas Shrugged was being rushed into production by a bunch of people no one had heard of before in order to preserve the option on the material.

Just as no one could have predicted that bin Laden would strike in the US, that the levees would fail or that the housing bubble would burst, so, too, no one could have predicted that this would be a steaming pile of feces.

http://alicublog.blogspot.com/2011_04_01_archive.html#3402858641747286348

http://www.ginandtacos.com/2011/04/17/battlefield-train-an-atlas-shrugged-movie-review/

Which leads to the finest summation of Rand I've ever heard:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Donald

Somehow, the Donald was left off this chart, maybe that's why he's running.

I really was trying to avoid the stunt candidacy of Donald Trump.  But then THIS happened.  He goes out and laps the field in a PPP poll of potential GOP presidential candidates.

In some ways, Trump is a perfect candidate for the modern GOP.  He almost certainly doesn't believe this Birther nonsense he's been spouting non-stop.  As he said to Eric Cantor, "People love this issue!"  He doesn't believe it!  He's just giving people what they want!

The lack of principle behind it is irrelevant, he's just trying to give the base what it wants.

He's a mid-level celebrity and reality show star, so he's perfect for a field in which Mike Huckabee is known as the charismatic one.

He's rich, so that works.

He's been married more times than Elizabeth Taylor, so he can fit perfectly into the family values hypocrisy.

And he's nakedly opportunistic.  

This candidacy is simply an extension of Trump the Brand.  He's on the front pages, he's getting headlines, he's been talked about.

He's an attention whore and the fleet is in town.

Eventually, this candidacy as performance art will crash and burn, but I hope it continues a while longer.

With any luck it will force another certain attention grabbing narcissist into the race.  No, not Newt.  Not Bachmann.  Further north.  Furrrrther.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday, Mel Gibson and the Religious Right



I was in church today where we read the whole Passion from Matthew.  Then, rather than listen to a sermon - which the minister had written for the town fishwrap and distributed to us afterwards - she invited us to sit in silence and contemplate this very familiar story on our own.

Naturally, I composed a blog post.

The story is one of a guy who we presume to be God incarnate entering Jerusalem on a donkey.  The scene in Gethsemane where he asks the cup to pass from him is poignant and real.  But, he willingly accepts death in the service of humanity.  And it's an awful, awful death.

That was the point of Gibson's torture-porn film, The Passion Of The Christ.  Look, said Mel, at what Jesus endured so that you might be saved.  So knock of with the vernacular Mass and the abortions.

But I read the story differently.  I see Peter denying Christ three times, despite saying he would never do so.  I see Jesus doubting his mission and the cost he must pay upon the cross.  I see very human frailties.  What I do not see is certainty.  Not from Jesus, not from Peter, not from Pilate, not from Judas, not from the crowd, not from the centurion who stands beneath the cross.

There is, instead, overwhelming doubt.

But even with that doubt, there is an impulse to do what we can.  After his denials, Peter finds new devotion.  Some of the crowd at the cross repents.  Jesus finally accepts degradation and death.

The religious people who go through their life without doubt are strangers to me.  My journey in the church is entirely about doubt.  I doubt the resurrection, which is one thing you're really not supposed to doubt.  I doubt that much of the Gospels bear much resemblance to what really happened.  I doubt all the time.

But I also recognize great wisdom and truth when I see it.  I also need the re-centering that goes on in church.  I need to be wrenched away from the problems in front of my face to the glory and grace of the world around me.

But I still doubt the hell out of it.

I don't think the Religious Right doubts their faith.  I think they live with the certainty that what they believe is right and unassailable.  And that means that their prejudices and opinions are unassailable, too.

That's what allows them to burn Qurans or shoot abortion doctors or embrace a party in the GOP that fundamentally ignores the idea of serving the poor as children of God.

My doubt makes me humble, their certainty makes them proud.  And that pride in their certainty means that they can give some spare money to the people of Haiti or Japan, but blinds them to the need to take care of the poor in the next town.

This is why the idea of a religious left is somewhat absurd.  My first pastor, who was further left than me, constantly referenced his own doubts.  It seems almost axiomatic that liberals and liberal Christians are people who live within their doubts, whereas conservatives and religious Christians live within their certainty.

I am constantly intrigued by the historical evidence surrounding the Bible.  It gives me more evidence to consider.  It gives me context for my debate between doubt and certainty.  I imagine it is profoundly unimportant to those with certainty.

That might be the common thread between the Religious Right and the Randians.  Absolute belief in things that have no evidence to support those beliefs.  And that's how people can support a plan that would demolish protections for the poor and call themselves Christians.

UPDATE: Interesting piece in Time about Rob Bell, a minister who seems comfortable with doubt, and how the conservative evangelical community ain't happy with him:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20110414/us_time/08599206508000

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Steny Hoyer Shows His Worth

Just when you least expect it...

Steny Hoyer pulled a nice one on the GOP.  When the GOP managed to find a budget more odious than even Paul Ryan's, they brought it to the floor for a vote, expecting it to fail in the face of moderate(sane) GOP and unanimous Democratic disapproval.

Instead, Hoyer had the Dems change their vote to "present" which would have made the budget pass with a majority of Republican votes.  And then the Democrats could run against THAT piece of budgetary cruelty.

It's theater, I know.  Hoyer (and Boehner) knew the bill would die in the Senate.

But the Democrats have been so god awful at the theater of politics, it is nice to see them embrace it.  I also think that the GOP plans to end Medicare have unleashed Nancy Pelosi's inner Mama Bear.  She rose to prominence by marshaling the Democratic response to the Bush plan to end Social Security.  This is in her wheelhouse, and Democrats seem to be finding their legs on this issue.  Which is reassuring.

Also, too, we have Obama calling out the GOP on a "live mic" incident.  Again, this is refreshing.  Obama is never going to embrace his inner populist, but at least he's a little pissed.

Apparently, the GOP is going to double down on this ending Medicare crap.  But at some point, their pollsters are going to have to have a word with them.  Now, that won't matter to the freshmen Teatards.  But it will matter to Boehner and maybe Cantor.  They aren't suicidal.

You also have the dynamic of Boehner not delivering his caucus on the budget bill this week.  Pelosi could always get you 219 votes.  Boehner can't.

So what happens with the upcoming negotiations on the debt ceiling and the 2011 budget?  If Boehner can't deliver his votes, then shouldn't Pelosi be at the table, too?

A House that functions a bit like the Senate could be a good thing under these particular circumstances.

Watching "The Girl Next Door"

A mid-list sex comedy about a porn star moving in to a suburban neighborhood.

It stars Emile Hirsch who won a bunch of acting awards for Into The Wild and Milk; Timothy Oliphant who I think will win an Emmy for Justified some time soon; and Paul Dano who won a bunch of awards for There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine.

For some reason, I've always liked movies like that.  It's nothing special - Risky Business for the porn age - but you have this extraordinary collection of young talented actors in it.  Oh, and Elisha Cuthbert.  Was it really good casting director?  A director with an eye for talent?

Oh, and awesome soundtrack.

Notes From A Train

Luckily this was not my experience on Amtrak.

I took Thing One and Thing Two on Amtrak to DC yesterday to meet my parents who are taking them down to Georgia to enter a fiddle competition with the Devil spend a week on the family farm.  We embarked at Union Station in New Haven and got off in Union Station in Washington, after passing through Penn Stations in New York, Philly and Baltimore.  We left the house at 7:15am and I rolled back in around 11pm.  It was not cheap, though it was cheaper than flying.  It was perhaps faster than driving, certainly easier to nap.  It was also much more comfortable than flying as the seats actually fit your ass.

If Thing One had not left his iPod Touch on the train to continue on to Newport News, it might have been enjoyable.

Amtrak is no doubt "socialism" because they aren't being run by Dagny Taggart or using Rearden metals.  I don't know, I don't read Ayn Rand, because I don't want to encourage the sociopaths.

But in the northeast corridor, it clearly gets a lot of traffic, which makes sense, given the population density.  I sat next to a young Korean woman who switched fluently from Korean to English on her iPhone.  Coming back, I sat next to someone who appeared to be from South Asia, and then later next to someone from Narnia.  Maybe Middle Earth?

It wasn't perfect - would it kill them to get Wi-Fi on the train - but it had its advantages, especially if you happened to live in one of the cities along the route.

There was also something interesting about looking out the window.  Not from 30,000 feet and not from the corridor of the interstate, but right in the midst of communities.  We passed through both the affluence of places like Westport and Greenwich, but also Bridgeport and Stamford.  We passed through the Meadowlands in such as way so to actually see meadows and wetlands.  We saw egrets wading in the marshy water.  We passed through the ineffable sadness of South Philly and Baltimore, but also the sprawling muscular energy of New York and the vivid light of DC.

It is too expensive to make a habit of, and far too expensive to use Acela.  But there is a place for trains in our national transportation system, aside from the masturbatory dreams of Randian filmmakers.  (Really, read all about it.)

I was reading about how diversity, which we profess to value, actually makes the social contract and social safety net harder to support.  No one wants their tax dollars going to "those people" whether "those people" are African Americans, French Algerians or German Turks.  It is a struggle to live with people who are so very different from you.

But it isn't impossible.

I think the people who advocate for trains, and for sharing the burden of building them, are in some ways trying to build communal bridges as well as trestles.  They are trying to link the country with more than just steel, because to sit on a train is to force yourself to sit next to America: both out the window and in the seat next to you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

This About Sums It Up

How crazy?  This crazy.

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2011/04/whirlwind_1.php#more?ref=fpblg


TPM Reader MO:
So, let me see if I have this straight. In the period of less than 7 days:
- It looked almost certain that the Federal government was going to be shutdown.
- At the 11th hour, Boehner, Reid, and Obama "made a deal."
- For the next few days, everyone was crowning Boehner as the master politician -finally a Speaker of the House who was an effective leader of his entire coalition and could use that clout to muscle the political opposition.
- At the same time, Dems were in great despair. Obama gave up too much. Our economy was now going to be in free-fall. Obama was now about to sell out Medicare and the Middle Class too!
- Then, come yesterday, it seems pretty clear that the budget deal was, in fiscal terms, pretty minor. The amount of money that was negotiated, let alone the punch-the-hippies policy riders, was all small potatoes.
- And, yesterday, Obama came out hard, at least rhetorically, against the GOP.
- And today, Boehner looks less powerful than Hastert. Eric Cantor must be struggling to suppress a permanent grim. And the most prominent GOP figure right now in the news is Donald Trump.
Truly a bizarre week in Washington ...

Dear Lord These People

Fair and balanced...

I'm nitpicking here, I'm sure, but the Pravda on the Potomac (aka Politico) just said that Obama may have made negotiations difficult by giving a "partisan" speech.  Interesting turn of phrase, since that was exactly how Boehner, Cantor and Ryan described it - partisan, political, so on.

Look, if Obama's speech, in which he laid out a clear vision of what the social contract of this country is and then points out exactly how he disagrees with the GOP and what he would do to balance the budget is "partisan" then so is the GOP's "serious" budget proposal.

The parties are ideologically opposed.  I think we all understand that (well, I sometimes wonder if Obama really understands that or if he believes all that bipartisan who-haw he spouts).  Any in depth discussion of an issue is bound to lead to disagreements.

It is clear that the GOP has no interest in negotiating with the party that holds the Senate and the White House.  Boehner and Cantor have both declared the plan DOA.

And it's Obama that's being partisan?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Obama's Speech

Remember that time I redefined the debate about the budget? That was awesome.

It was very good.  Intelligent naturally, but also clear.

The capitulation that the Left was anticipating with a mixture of dread and masochistic glee did not happen.

Obama laid out a clear difference between the GOP priorities and his priorities.  While I don't agree with him that "together we can get things done" I think it's a great marker in the debate.

Clearly, Obama reads this blog.

Clearly.

UPDATE: This is hilarious.  For all the crowing about the GOP spending cuts and all the handwringing about how Obama sold progressive causes down the river, the real impact of the $38B in cuts this year?  About $350M.  For Andrew Sullivan's sake let me explain: That is less.

Like A Cartoon Villain

James Inhofe, the Senator from Evil, took to the floor to defend... Wait for it... the now deposed dictator of Cote d'Ivoire.

http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/04/inhofe_defends_ivory_coast_strongman_with_happy_face_video.php?ref=fpblg

Apparently, Gbagbo is a Christian and therefore incapable of doing the things he actually did.

Perhaps Senator Inhofe's speech was not meant as a factual statement.

UPDATE: Speaking of which, line of the day from Roy Edroso:
Finally, this from Conservatives 4 Palin: "CNN Poll Shows that Governor Palin Probably Leads If You Take Huckabee, Trump, and Bachmann Out of the Poll." And if wishes were horses, Palin would probably shoot one.

If You're Curious, You Should Ask



I've been reading a lot of newspaper and online articles about the budget battles and how Obama and the Democrats have to shift to cutting mode because "of the public's increasing concern about the debt".

Now, the debt is a real issue.  But the debt exists for a reason.  Here are the reasons:


Here's another chart, showing what would happen to the deficit (as opposed to the debt) if we do NOTHING - including let the Bush tax cuts expire for everyone.


Well, looky-there!

So, dealing with the deficit/debt is not a difficult accounting problem, it's just a question of raising taxes for the most part.  Which won't happen until we get Democrats back in control of Congress.

But I want to go back and look at the idea that the "public" is upset and clamoring for action on the debt.

CBS actually, you know, asked people what was the most important issue facing the country today.

Economy/Jobs - 51%
Other - 27%
Deficit/Debt - 7%
Health Care - 5%
Hunh?  What was the question? - 4%
Education 3%
Wars 3%

I guess, in the spirit of Jon Kyl, they rounded to the nearest 50.

Bloomberg found more concern about the debt

Unemployment - 43%
Deficit/Debt - 29%
Health Care - 12%
Wars - 7%
Immigration - 3%
Other 4%
Honey, there's someone on the phone asking questions - 2%

Still, not seeing close to a majority or even a plurality obsessing about the debt.

Let's assume that 29% of the American people are really, really concerned about the budget situation.  That's their number one concern.  More than jobs or war or health care or swarthy brown people sneaking into the country.

Let's cross reference that number (29% give or take) with an NBC poll asking people their opinion on the Tea Party:

Very Positive - 13%
Somewhat Positive - 16%
Neutral - 20%
Somewhat Negative - 14%
Very Negative - 30%
Tea?  I like coffee - 7%

Hunh!  Look at that.  People who have a net favorable view of the Tea Party make up... 29% of the population.  What are the odds?

When asked if you are a member of the Tea Party, we got these responses:

Yes - 25%
Hell, No - 67%
Depends - 3%
I said I like coffee, damnit - 5%

Yes and depends.... 28%.

So, in the world of our political media, we can see the indelible impact of this minority movement known as Teatards Teahadists Teabaggers the Tea Party.

They make up less than a third of the population.  They are old, white and conservative.

And their agenda has become the nation's agenda.  Not because they enjoy majority support, but because they enjoy a majority within the majority of the House of Representatives.

It sounds like Obama is going to come out and make a truly "serious" speech about raising revenues, cutting defense spending and reining in health care costs.

But the caterwauling from the Tea Party Grand Old Party will be treated with equal seriousness and we will get Ryan talking about how taxes will kill job growth in the absence of evidence that makes it true.  Speaker Agent Orange will announce it DOA.

My question is: will the news media that fell all over themselves fawning over Paul Ryan be as starry eyed at an ACTUAL plan to end the deficit?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Watch This.... IF YOU DARE.

http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/04/colbert-ridicules-sen-kyls-statement-on-planned-parenthood.php?ref=fpblg

I've never seen Stephen Colbert lose his game face like this.  It's absolutely hysterical.

Obama's Next Move


So, Obama is making a speech tomorrow.

Reports are divergent as to whether this speech will be an embrace of Bowles-Simpson, and embrace of part of Bowles-Simpson or a clarion call against the McKinleyite GOP/Ryan budget.

Needless to say, there is a lot of handwringing amongst the Left that Obama will capitulate to the Bowles-Simpson plan as a starting point and then move hard right.

Frankly, while I find the incessant whining about Obama on the Left to be annoying and counterproductive as hell, he has earned the dubiousness of the Left.  Staking out a bad position and then making it worse does seem to be a pattern.

But I've noticed that Obama has a way of creating terrible negative preconceptions on the Left before he does something, then he does something and everyone's kind of like, "Oh, is that it?"  The recent budget deal, for instance, was mostly the number Boehner wanted.  But apparently Obama shifted some funds around to protect what he wanted protected.  The budget still sucks, but it sucks less than it would have without Democrats holding the line.

Nevertheless, Obama needs to clearly and forcefully explain to the American people what the GOP budget plan does.  That Medicare and Medicaid need to be saved, not ended.  The same with Social Security.  That we have to raise taxes and cut defense spending.

I think I'll wait to see what Obama actually says before I throw up my hands and go all emo.

If There Is An Incentive To Be Wrong, Wrong Will Be Done

Yay!  Multiple Choice tests today!

My dad sent me an article about a school scandal in Atlanta ("Dog bites man!") surrounding a school that had cheating on standardized tests and the harassment of the principal brought in to clean the situation up.

This seems to me to echo the scandal in the DC school system where a charter school that was constantly pimped by Michelle Rhee turned out to also - allegedly - cheat on their tests.  Of course, the Atlanta saga came wrapped in a nice layer of racial politics, although Rhee has sort of played the Tiger Mom Superintendent card herself.

When you tie teacher pay and employment to the performance of a bunch of distracted, apathetic kids on a multiple choice test that has no relevance to their life, you will have teachers going back in, erasing the mistakes and making their scores look good.

This will likely require independent monitoring of the tests, because heaven forbid we acknowledge that high impact testing might warp educational values.  Students have to understand and internalize the need to learn first.  Then, those lessons need to be relevant to them.  Maybe the understanding is superficial: I need to get into college/avoid summer school/get a good job/not get grounded.  It's tougher to sell the standardized test as an internally valid educational experience.  Good students will apply themselves, because they are good students.  Indifferent and poor students simply won't.

And teachers who need to keep their jobs will go to great lengths to falsify a test that they likely don't believe in anyway.

My guess is teacher-based cheating will increase as these tests become more and more important to teachers being able to put food on their families.

Monday, April 11, 2011

And That's My Final Offer Until The Next One

This is the most important chart of all.  Ross Perot would have loved it.

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2011/04/id_spent_part_of_the_1.php#more?ref=fpblg

What worries me is what worries Josh Marshall.  There was little doubt that the GOP would "win" the last budget fight, because of the time constraints and the fact that half or more of the GOP caucus is batshit insane.  They welcomed a shutdown.

But the really important fight comes next.  And it sounds an awful lot like Obama is going to go through one of his preemptive cave ins/negotiating with himself routines.

The GOP/Ryan plan is a gift from the political gods.  It allows for what Lenin called "heightening the contradictions", which is an essential part of any political fight.  If Obama creates a GOP-lite budget, then there is no reason for voters to get rid of the GOP House majority, keep a Democratic Senate and return Obama to the White House.  If Obama is simply a more rhetorically gifted Mitch Daniels, then what's the point?

One of the nice things about Obama the Candidate was that he really couldn't have cared less what the chattering classes said.  I think it was Plouffe who said, "If Politico says we're losing, we're winning."

I hope Obama won't decide to be "serious" or "courageous".  I hope he decides to be hopeful and compassionate.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Required Reading

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/2011-is-not-1995/2011/04/06/AFxPaT5C_blog.html

Ezra Klein says what I'm thinking.

The Debt Ceiling

Stage Two of the budget negotiations...

So, having wrung almost all of the spending cuts that the mainstream GOP House members (both of them) wanted, we turn now to the debt ceiling.

Now, it is self-evident that the debt ceiling must be raised, unless the US wants to become Argentina in 2001.  (Hint: we don't.)

The Wingnuts are saying that in order to raise the debt ceiling, ACA, DADT and the 14th Amendment will have to be repealed (or something, it's so hard to keep current with the crazy).

Obama can not cave on this.  I don't think he will, but he can't.

The GOP says that the Democrats created the debt.  That is categorically false, as the debt was created by
1) the Iraq War
2) the Bush tax cuts
3) the recession caused by lax oversight of the financial markets

So, the GOP has to be on the record as stopping default.  I doubt it will happen.  But first, the Democrats have to show how irresponsible the GOP is being with playing chicken with the debt limit, then, if needs Democratic votes to pass, it should be extended a lot higher than immediate needs, so that we don't have to go through this again in 2012.

Once again, not holding my breath.

Friday, April 8, 2011

No, Not A Curse On Both Your Houses

There's a difference here.  And it's REALLY important.

I had a text-conversation with my Mom today (Hi, Mom, thanks for reading).

She seemed to be taking a "throw them all out" attitude towards Congress.

On the one hand, I get that.  Congress is slightly more popular than bedbugs and head lice, while being slightly less popular than Sarah Palin.

But this is not a case of both sides being to blame.  That would be a false equivalency.

The Democrats have given up a TON of ground on this.  The GOP has gotten more or less everything they reasonably wanted from a budgetary standpoint.  Thirty-eight BILLION in spending cuts?  In a recovery?

One side is holding the functions of the US government hostage in order to stage an attack on women's health.  One side.

But I think since their overall plan is to discredit government as a whole, this plays right into the GOP's plan.

Is Wisconsin The New Nigeria?

Blown away by the audacity of the Wisconsin GOP.

I don't know what to think about this issue of the 7500 votes mysteriously turning up in Wisconsin's Supreme Court case.  Ed has a good take on it here.  Hawes' Law says that when choosing  between conspiracy and incompetence, always bet on incompetence.  But too much of this stinks.

I do know that the GOP would be flipping its shit if the inverse had happened and a trailing Democrat had suddenly received a massive amount of votes from an overwhelmingly Democratic district overseen by a partisan Democratic election official.  I think we all know how that would play out.

So much stinks about this: the individual involved, the exact number of votes needed to avoid a recount, the location.

And the fact that it's Wisconsin and with all that that state's GOP has come to symbolize: from Scott Walker to the Scott Fitzgerald to Paul Ryan and now this clown who misplaces thousands of votes...

It does make one worry.

Wisconsin was once the laboratory of progressivism under guys like Fighting Bob LaFollete.

Maybe it's time for Thomas Franks to write What's The Matter With Wisconsin.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Economist Weighs In on the GOP/Ryan Plan

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/04/medicare_reform

"fundamentally immoral"

Boehner? Boehner?


I wonder what's going through John Boehner's orange tinted, tear sodden head right about now.

Orange John is pretty much a classic pol.  More savvy than intelligent, he sees the angles without really knowing how they might eventually play out.

But he has to know that shutting down the government will be bad for the GOP.  Democrats and Independents pretty much both want to see a compromise that keeps government funded.  Republican do not.  It runs around two-thirds of Democrats and Independents want a compromise and a little more than half of Republicans do not.

And the crazy assed Republicans who make up "the base" of a lot of these GOP House members want to see the government shut down more or less for good (as long as they keep getting their Medicare and Social Security).

If Harry "It's Not A Porn Star Name" Reid is to be believed, the sticking point are riders within the budget that will dramatically attack all spending on all family planning anywhere that a federal dollar might be seen and a desire to gut environmental protection.

It's not really about the budget at all, but about the screwed up priorities of the Wingnut Caucus.

If Boehner was really "courageous" and "serious", he could likely get a budget passed today.  All he would need is about a third of the GOP caucus and two thirds of the Democratic caucus.  Or even half and half.

But the GOP seems perfectly willing to sabotage both the operations of the government, the fiscal reputation of the United States and the economic health of the entire frakking country in order to prove that they can bully that Kenyan in the White House.  Because if Obama and Reid agree to some of the lunatic demands that Boehner brings from Louis Gohmert and Michelle Bachmann, they'll just change the demands.  Apparently that's happened already.

The shutdown is coming.  Not because America can't pay its bills, but because a bunch of Teatards want it that way.  And screw the rest of the country from feeling differently.

I Like EJ Dionne, but...

This is not balance.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/for-moderates-no-more-fence-straddling-on-the-budget/2011/04/06/AFdQaPrC_story.html

In his column, Dionne makes some good points about how the GOP budget under Paul Ryan is a radical document and pretty much everything most sentient people with fourth grade reading and math skills have been saying since it came out.

But he falls victim to the Myth of the Moderate.  Many political scientists, when evaluating the political spectrum say that there is no such thing as "moderate".  There is "radical", "liberal", "conservative" and "reactionary".  But "moderate" is not a political viewpoint but an attitude.  An aloofness.

Many "moderates" simply don't pay attention.  These are the fabled independent swing voters that we obsess about every four years.  Another phrase for them is low information voter.  They get fed a steady stream of "horse race" stories as they half heartedly watch the evening news waiting for Wheel of Fortune to come on.  They see a bunch of He Said/She Said stories that suggest tht a pox on both their houses.

Dionne's point, and it might be right, is that the GOP, Medicare killing budget should strip the blinders from their eyes.  That they should see the naked extremism of the GOP for what it is.

But then you get Mark Halperin praising the "courage" of  Paul Ryan and Andrew Sullivan praising its "seriousness" because it has (non-sensical) numbers in it.  You will get horse race and process stories on the looming shutdown.  A few people will point out that the Tea Party hates government and wants it shut down anyway.  That the GOP kept changing their numbers whenever Democrats moved in their direction.  That they're holding the budget hostage to defund Planned Parenthood.

But those moderates... They either won't notice or won't understand.  Not at the levels the evidence thrust into their face would suggest.

Maybe those socially conservative Midwestern union members will finally wake up and realize that every time they vote for a "Pro-Life" conservative, they're really voting for a Pro-Plutocrat ideologue who wants to shower benefits on the rich and cut everyone else's benefits and wages.

Maybe.

But the defining characteristic of the "moderate" is their desire to be above the fray.  Their desire to declare a pox on both houses.

The fact that their own house is being razed seems not to enter their mental picture.

The Hijacking Of The Party Of Lincoln

Lincoln fights off fellows from the Cato Institute.

If this comes off as concern trolling, so be it.

I've been studying America's "Second Party System", the division between Jacksonian Democrats and the Clay-Adams-Webster Whigs.  At the end of this - which concerned my reading What Hath God Wrought over the past six months (sumbitch was LONG) - I concluded that I am a Whig.  The Whigs were the progressive party advocating sane financial institutions, infrastructure improvements, moral and political reform and equality.  The Democrats were laissez faire, state's rightist, conservative and white supremacist.

But Whigs and Democrats, despite their real differences, agreed on certain principles in American democracy.  The issue of slavery, however, became an issue that the Whigs couldn't find a way clear on.  They eventually dissolved and were replaced by the Republican party.  The Republican party was the liberal party of the mid-19th century.  Lincoln even advocated women's rights in the Illinois statehouse.

From those liberal roots, there emerged divisions between the old Lincoln wing of reformers and the pro-corporate model ultimately typified by Mark Hanna and William McKinley.  This tension between the old progressive/Teddy Roosevelt/Abraham Lincoln wing of the party and the Old Guard/William Taft/Warren Harding wing of the party led to the rupturing of the party in 1912.  It was this rupture that helped push Woodrow Wilson to the left, as he tried to capture the Bull Moose vote for 1916.  It was FDR that finally swallowed most of the progressive Republicans into the New Deal coalition.

But there were always a few legacies from that progressive Republican past.  Famously, John McCain tried to aspire to that legacy and was smacked down for it.  So he reinvented himself as an Old Guarder for 2008.  But there were always a few Lincoln Chaffee/Bob Michel/Olympia Snowe types rumbling around the caucus.

Now, we have three left.  And they are all from within an hour of Fenway Park, and they are all effectively hamstrung by their party's ideological core.

And even the Old Guard of corporate friendly, Coolidge-esque Republicans are muscled aside by these new ideological shock troops.  I don't think Boehner and McConnell really want a shutdown.  I just don't think they have a choice.

What we have is the complete takeover of a political party by the political fringe.  In Lincoln's day, the Garrison abolitionists -the radicals in their coalition - weren't given a real seat at the table.  Now, the radicals write budget proposals that would drag American back into a pre-New Deal laissez faire plutocracy.

And they are lauded for being "courageous" and "serious" because apparently the political press is incapable of reading or simple math.

The GOP budget proposed by Paul Ryan would gut the safety net, not control health care costs but rather shift them to people who can't pay for them, leave defense spending intact while cutting just about every other aspect of the government and then cutting taxes for corporations and the rich.  It would "balance" the budget by assuming that these tax cuts for the rich would be offset by 2.8% unemployment.

This "serious" budget the GOP is proposing is as radical and fanciful a document as you are likely to see.  It rests on ideas that have been objectively shown to be false - tax cuts for the rich create jobs - and ridiculous assumptions - 2.8% unemployment and an American polity that will allow every single elderly person who is not rich as hell running through their savings in order not to die earlier than necessary.

This is a terrible farce.  It's an assault on the very idea that we exist as a commonwealth, with a social contract that guarantees a subsistence standard of living in your old age.

The new Old Guard is scared of this, I think.  I'm not sure Boehner likes the idea of blatantly ending Medicare, because he can read a poll.  But the hijacking of the Party of Teddy Roosevelt by the Rand Paul/Michelle Bachmann wing is now complete.

Their budget proposals, combined with their willingness to shutdown the government in the middle of a recovery and their assaults on unions in the midwest, demonstrates for anyone paying attention that they have abandoned all pretense to "compassionate conservatism" (which was itself largely a pretense).  They have become the party of libertarian extremism.  The party of the laissez faire, red in tooth and claw.

They are unfit to govern.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Style Note

From now on, the "Ryan plan" is now the "GOP plan".

Your Wednesday Morning Takedown



http://www.ginandtacos.com/2011/04/06/bundled-mediocrity/comment-page-1/#comment-55935

This is a truly epic and righteous rant.  Good for insight, good for a chuckle.

Priorites

Your modern GOP at work.

The Ryan plan pisses me off mightily, because it would make retirement effectively unaffordable for me, and frankly, I'm better off than most Americans, so it would make retirement unaffordable for everyone.

I'm also pissed at the "courageous" talk in the media.  Yes, this is politically more risky than not doing it.  But "courage" is a virtue.  "Courage" does entail taking from the poor and powerless and showering MORE TAX CUTS on the rich.

That is where Ryan lost his opportunity.  Cutting Medicare/Medicaid is likely a non-stater politically.  My hope is the GOP pays for it for at least two elections cycles but...LOOK!  Snooki fell off a barstool and her boobs popped out!

Anyway... Where was I?  Oh, yeah, if Ryan had avoided YET MORE TAX CUTS for the rich, he could have made at least a plausible case that he was serious about the deficit.  Personally, I and a majority of Americans would rather see the Defense budget cut than Medicare, but that's at least a debate to have: Cut Medicare or cut Defense.

But that's not what the GOP's plan does.  It cuts Medicare in order to transfer more wealth to the rich and ultimately does not address the deficit in enough of a way to compensate for the pain it will cause.

The GOP has revealed - in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Michigan and now in Washington - what their priorities are.  They want to strip the middle and working classes of whatever few protections they have and create a plutocratic oligarchy that will rule this country and run it into the ground.

And any Democrat who can't see this and can't elucidate it is an idiot.

UPDATE:  Or, what Dean Baker says.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Even The...Er.. Liberal Forbes Magazine


E.D. Kain, formerly of League of Ordinary Gentlemen and Balloon Juice ombudsman, lays out how to balance the budget without gutting the social safety net.  Here.

I'll give you the highlights: cut the defense budget back to Clinton era levels and return the tax rate to Clinton era levels.  Basically, Clintonize the damn thing, because, you know, it worked the last time.

There are some other important points about the tax code and other issues.

But here's the thing: this is at least as "serious" a budget as Paul Ryan's.  It does the same thing Ryan's budget does, but it does not involve plunging future generations of retirees (me!) into penury.

I would LOVE to see the Democrats put forward such a budget proposal.  It would be just as "serious" and politically much more popular, if polls are to be believed.

Of course, neither are likely to become law so...

UPDATE: The CBO scores the Ryan plan and...... It doesn't reduce the deficit!  It will however take a shiv to grandma and grandpa's retirement savings.  Yay!  Paul Ryan is very serious and courageous!  Or ideological and cruel.  One of those.

Class Warfare

Time for the gloves to come off.

Here's what the Ryan plan does:

It effectively ends Medicaid and Medicare.  Medicaid - which benefits mostly children and the elderly - will be squeezed into irrelevancy by block grants.  States will commence a race to the bottom.  I'm guessing Mississippi will lead the way.  Medicare will be phased out and replaced with vouchers to be used to buy health insurance.  This was the plan behind Medicare Advantage, and it proved to be LESS efficient than single payer Medicare.  Once you get older and sicker, it is tough to see $15,000 buying much insurance at all, especially in 2022 (the number does not appear to be adjusted for inflation in health care costs).

That was outrageous.

But it gets worse.

Ryan's plan cuts taxes for businesses and the wealthy.

On the one hand, it's unlikely to pass the Senate, and good Lord, I would hope if it did, Obama would veto it.  So it's unlikely to become law.

At the moment.

What needs to happen is a real debate, which Obama promised us at Christmas, about taxes and the deficit.  The GOP has now just laid its marker down: less benefits for the poor and elderly, more tax cuts for the rich. Again, the Democrats need to demagogue the living shit out of this.  They got hit with Death Panels in 2010, so turn about is fair play.

And they need to do so quickly and forcefully.  Already, the news media is buying the line that this is a "courageous" budget, because it attacks sacred cows.  When ACA put reforms in place to limit Medicare's growth, it was "risky" and "socialism", but Republicans are courageous.

But what's so courageous about rich Republicans cutting other people's benefits?  They aren't going to get hit with this.

Here's the terrifying scenario:  You're 67 and you have a massive heart attack and need triple bypass surgery and a regimen of drugs for the rest of your life.  You think $15K will cover that?  Bullshit.

So before you know, you've run through your savings, your depleted 401K, which took a hit because we deregulated Wall Street again under President Bachmann and they tanked the economy again.

You lose your house, your savings and you're forced to move in with your kids who are already struggling because all the good jobs have been outsourced to Chindia.

What am I missing here?

This is class warfare.  This is the minions of the malefactors of great wealth destroying the social safety net.

And it's patently unfair (which matters in politics).  I have paid into Medicare my whole working life.  I subsidize a generation of retirees, and will subsidized another one before I myself retire.  For that, I am promised that my kids and my students will subsidize my Medicare.

That's the social contract of the post-New Deal America.  And the GOP wants to tear it to pieces, urinate on it, light it on fire and feed the ashes to the swine.

I am having trouble managing my outrage over this, also because I am aware that there will be little outrage in the comfortable halls of Washington.  This won't hurt them.

It would hurt me.  It would hurt my kids.

Fuck you, Republicans.  This is personal.

UPDATE: What Josh Marshall says.