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Why Is The Mustache Getting Paid?

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Thomas Friedman’s column in the New York Times today is just gob-smackingly stupid. That’s fairly normal for Friedman, of course, but today’s is a real doozy even by his standards. Here’s how he opens:

I’ve been trying to understand the Tea Party Movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years. Never mind. I’m sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 percent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract lots of young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion:

Become the Green Tea Party.
Oh no, it gets even dumber:

The manifesto is easy, too: “We, the Green Tea Party, believe that the most effective way to advance America’s national security and economic vitality would be to impose a $10 “Patriot Fee” on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt.”

This is just beyond stupid. For one, there’s the name. Do you really see the right-wing calling themselves the “green tea” anything? The people who use arugala and dijon mustard as short-hand for effete elitism now? Yeah, didn’t think so. But more than that, this just kind of ignores the fact that, you know, the teabaggers are the right-wing. They don’t care about the climate. They don’t believe in global warming. They’re the assholes who tell you how they’re going to leave all their lights on or drive around as much as they can in their SUV on Earth Day for the sheer joy of being assholes. And, oh yeah, they’re not big fans of taxes either. I suppose Friedman would probably argue that his “Patriot Fee” isn’t a tax, but good luck getting them to buy it. But what’s extra confounding is that Friedman concedes that he knows this is all stupid nonsense:

Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.

Ok, so you just wasted 300 words. Awesome. What’s the point then?

So if there is going to be a Green Tea Party, it will have to emerge from a different place — the radical center, a center committed to a radical departure from business as usual. Acting on that impulse, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman had forged a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill that deserves an energetic centrist Green Tea Party to support it.

This critical piece of energy legislation was supposed to be unveiled by the three senators on Monday, but it was suddenly postponed late Saturday because of Senator Graham’s fury that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the White House were planning to take up a highly controversial immigration measure before the energy bill.

If this is what the Obama administration is doing — to score a few cheap political points with Hispanics — it is a travesty. The bipartisan energy bill is ready to go. It is far from perfect. Indeed, it is a shame the fossil fuel industries still have such a stranglehold on Congress. But it’s the best we’re going to get, and we have got to get started. However, without a centrist Green Tea Party movement — one that brings the same passion to cutting emissions that the Tea Party brings to cutting deficits — even this effort will never pass.

A couple of things here. First of all, what the hell would a “radical center” even look like? The center, by definition, is defined by other points. So a “radical” center, I suppose, would dogmatically insist on plopping itself right in the middle of the left and the right and refusing to move? Or refusing to acknowledge that maybe being precisely in the middle isn’t the right place to be? I mean, where does one find the middle of something like the debate over whether or not to invade Iraq? Declare that they won’t support invading Iraq, but that they could get behind invading the Ivory Coast? It’s all very confusing to me, as these poorly thought out pieces of pretension from writers like Friedman usually are. But I digress.

The other problem here is that this is just drastically ignorant of the underlying politics. Lindsay Graham has, in the past, been a supporter of immigration reform efforts. He’s touted his support for comprehensive immigration reform, in fact. There’s no obvious reason why moving forward with legislation on that issue should cause him to drop support for another worthwhile bill he’s supported. It’s a naked political ploy by Graham to turn his back on the bill, and gum up two Democratic initiatives at the same time ahead of the election. If Democrats acquiesce and shelve immigration reform, Graham will just find another reason to oppose the bill, the same way he used the passage of healthcare reform to pivot to a position of being unable to support immigration reform anymore. But then, even if Democrats do go ahead with immigration reform and climate legislation, it doesn’t really make much sense to blame them for Graham’s temper tantrum. Lindsay Graham is a big boy. He’s a United States Senator fergawdsake. And, at best, he’s using his potential support for a bill he ostensibly supports, regarding an issue he ostensibly recognizes as being vitally important, to ransom the very large Senate majority into dropping another item on their agenda. That’s despicable behavior, particularly if you actually believe Graham appreciates how serious climate issues are. And yet, Friedman is chastising the majority over it, rather than calling out the United States Senator acting like a psychopathic adolescent.

I don’t really expect major newspaper columnists to write intelligent things anymore, but it still puzzles me why publications that seem to regard themselves seriously, like the Times, pays people who seem to know nothing about American politics to write about the subject on such valuable space. Especially if they’re having financial problems.

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Whither the Teabaggers?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Kevin Drum wonders how much longer the Tea Parties have before they flame out:

My take on the tea partiers is that they’re basically a 21st century version of the Birchers of the 60s. Except that where the Birchers had to rely on mimeograph machines to get out their message, the tea partiers have Fox News and the internet. At first glance, this is nothing but bad news: the Birchers were bad enough as it was, so just think what kind of damage they could have done with modern communications technology.

But maybe not! Being limited to flyers and PTA meetings might have slowed the rise of the Birchers, but it also made them a fairly long-lived movement. The tea parties, conversely, skyrocketed to fame in just a few months. And we all know what happens to novelty acts that skyrocket to fame: most of them plummet back to earth within a year or two. We just get bored too quickly these days, and the media moves on to new things. So it’s possible that the tea parties peaked too fast and don’t have much longer to live. In fact, my sense is that the media is starting to get bored with them already.

They’ll certainly last through the November election, but I wonder if they’ll be able to keep up a head of steam much after that?

There’s really two questions here-how long can the teabaggers last and how long will the media remain interested-and the important thing to remember when answering the question is the same in both cases. At the end of the day, no predictions about the tea parties can be made without reminding yourself that there’s nothing all that special about the teabaggers. Rather, they’re just run of the mill right-wing talk radio listeners who have taken to making a spectacle of themselves now that they’re in the opposition. So, in that sense, they’ll always be there, much as the talk radio audience and general right-wing fringe has always been there. How long will they be able to keep up the public spectacle of it all? I doubt that will last much longer, but I could be wrong, although I’m not sure that matters either way. I think it’s more important to keep in mind that much of the media coverage of the teabaggers has been driven by the fact that it was a non-election year, and so therefore anything that provided a narrative of overt conflict-with-theater was bound to attract media attention. But with an election in 2010, there’s less business attraction to the teabaggers for the cablers, and the tea parties will probably fade into the general noise of the election. They are the Republican base, after all, and I don’t really expect them to act much differently now than they ever have, or the media to cover them any differently. So once the campaign season really heats up, expect the tea parties to run out of steam, whether because the GOP fully co-opts it, or because the media loses interest, in which case I suspect most teabaggers will as well.

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Say It Again; Conservatives Don’t Care About the Deficits

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Fretting about the deficit, and the difficultly in addressing the deficit, is a constant source of posturing from pundits, but sometimes they remind you that they really have very weird views on the nature of the problem, and the possible ways of addressing it. Consider David Brooks:

Now some people think their elected officials are so rotten that only an unelected commission can save us. Snobs. The history of commissions is the history of failure. Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation and Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution argue compellingly that it is simply impossible in a democracy to rewrite the social contract without popular consent. Commissions are fine, but they have to be embedded in a broader democratic process.The way to do that is to break free from the polarized committee structure. Invite a dozen handpicked senators and House members and stick them in a room three times a week for six months.

After they’ve come up with a debt-reduction plan, have them send it up in secret to the presidential deficit commission, which President Obama was smart enough to create.

This is a fine idea, so far as it goes, and it’s not something I’d have a problem endorsing. But what’s odd is that Brooks, like basically every other pundit that trades in deficit hawkery, completely ignores the main problem facing people who want to tackle the long-term deficit; Republican elected officials will not under any circumstances accept tax increases. Really, they won’t. Republicans in the federal government haven’t voted for a single tax increase since George H.W. Bush was President, and the conservative base revolted in response to that attempt to address the deficit. What’s even more maddening is the inevitable need to paint the deficit as a problem made by both parties, which both parties are equally reluctant to tackle.

Consider the last 30 years of fiscal policy. When Reagan was in office, he advocated drastic tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy, and large increases in defense spending. The result, naturally, was historically large budget deficits. George H.W. Bush attempted to take steps towards deficit reduction, and was villified by most of the Republican Party for it. Then came Clinton, whose 1993 budget not only reduced the size of the deficit, but turned it into a large surplus by the time Clinton left office. And not a single Republican voted for that budget. Every single Republican member of Congress opposed the most significant deficit reduction measure of the last 30 years. Let that sink in. Then of course, Dubya came along with a large surplus on the budget, and through a series of massive tax cuts, a completely unfinanced entitlement expansion, and two unfinanced wars created more historically large budget deficits. The current Democratic government, by contrast, constructed their major legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, in a way that was not just paid for, but actually reduces the deficit in the long term according to the CBO. Yes, there was the stimulus, but that was both a one-time, short term expeniture in the face of a massive economic downturn, and a textbook example of how government is supposed to react in situations where monetary policy is of limited effect in stimulating the economy according to modern economic theory.

The pattern here is pretty simple, moderate and liberal governments budget responsibly, and take deficit reduction seriously, even when it makes legislating more difficult, while conservative administrations mix large tax cuts with new spending on pet projects, specifically wars and military equipment, leading to exploded deficits. And at present, the obvious impediment to serious bi-partisan attempts at deficit reduction is Republican refusal to accept tax increases to generate new revenue. As is usually the case, the fact that pundits who are ostensibly concerned about this issue never make note of the problem suggests that they either don’t take the issue as seriously as they purport to, or simply don’t pay enough attention to know what the actual impediments to their goal are.

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David Broder Parodies Himself. Again.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

It’s normally not worth pointing out a Broderian column from the Broder himself, but for some reason today’s effort is a unique classic of the genre. Broder is examining why people hate Congress and concludes that, you guessed it, it’s because Republicans and Democrats don’t get along, and Barack Obama hasn’t delivered on his promise of post-partisanship:

But the partisanship on both sides was a turnoff to independents. They were the people who had taken Obama seriously when he said he wanted to move Washington beyond the recriminations of the George W. Bush years. Regardless of their views on health care — or the economy or education or anything else — they are turned off by the inability of both parties to overcome their parochial concerns and agree on steps to curb the joblessness and debt that are consuming the country.

There’s two parts of this paragraph that leave me downright angry. The first is the notion that Obama hasn’t moved Washington into the age of post-partisanship. It would be one thing to claim that Obama made a promise, explicitly or implicitly, that he couldn’t keep, but that’s not what Broder is doing. Rather Broder is laying the continued existence of partisanship in Washington at Obama’s feet, which is just absurd, especially coming the day after Obama announced his intention to open up more coastal area for oil exploration. Republicans, on the other hand, have opposed everything in basic lockstep, with individual members reversing past positions to do so and taking absurd stances along the way. The Republican Senate leader has even bragged about how he managed to keep his caucus in unanimous opposition for political ends. That Broder purports to care so much about bipartisanship yet never mentions this implies either that he is stuck in some strange paradox of his own making where he can’t even bring himself to point out that one party is more to blame for legislative gridlock than the other, or that he simply doesn’t pay much attention to what’s actually going on in government.

But even more than that, once again we see the fundamental Broderian assumption of the world; there is one universal Truth, and the existence of political parties functions solely as a barrier towards individuals acknowledging that. There’s no allowance whatsoever that people actually disagree, even fundamentally, about how to address policy questions, and that parties are a reflection of that. In Broder’s world, there’s simply no possibility that, at base, people just have irreconcileable differences about the fundamental issues affecting public policy. On jobs, for example, Democrats have accepted a basic Keynsian framework for how to respond to the recession that’s basically embraced by the vast majority of economists. Republicans, on the other hand, have come to embrace a pre-Depression view of the relationship of government to the economy, and reject the basic idea that the government can take affirmative action to spur economic growth and job creation, and will accept nothing except or beyond permanent tax cuts at the highest marginal rates. There’s absolutely no way to bridge these two views of how the government should respond to economic downturn, and a government that requires these two groups to agree to act is a government that will ultimately do nothing, because you can’t get these two sides to agree. The only answer is that one side, or at least a few members of one side, could agree to capitulate in the name of allowing some sort of action, and sign off on a plan they think is a mistake, but how unprincipled is that?

This is really expending much more mental energy on Broder than he’s worth, but it’s a useful reminder that the vaunted center, as represented by Broder, is actually nothing but an intellectually immature, ignorant, vapid set of nonsense. Broder doesn’t really believe anything (or know anything about public policy), so he just can’t imagine that other people have goals, beliefs, or ideas about matters of policy that will create real fault lines of uncrossable differences. But that’s just proof that Broder has a very narrow, very myopic view of the world, and doesn’t have the inclination to learn anything about actual policy debates. It would be comical, but important political journalists look up to this guy.

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Weird Attitudes on Process Questions

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

This finding is truly bizarre:

Of course, it’s not really possible to know why 58% of independents, and 19% of Democrats, think passage of healthcare was an “abuse of power,” but there you go. To be clear, healthcare reform went through the normal committee process in both chambers of Congress, taking months to get through the whole process. Max Baucus, the chairman of the most powerful committee in all of Congress, spent at least a month trying to reach out to Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate passed its bill through normal order, as did the House, and then a longstanding procedure was used to make minor changes to the law after it was signed. There’s nothing remotely untoward about any aspect of the process of passing healthcare reform.

What you’re seeing here is the wages of Republican attacks on the legislative process. At basically every point of the process, Republicans alledged that Democrats were abusing this or that parliamentary rule. Reconcilliation, a decades old law that both parties have used for major pieces of legislation, became “the nuclear option.” Parochial deals cut to win support from on-the-fence Senators, a central aspect of the US system of representative government since 1787, became the hallmark of corrupt governing. Private negotiations, a basic cornerstone of decision making in pretty much any venture, became a no-no. And to compound it, the poltical media, especially cable news, gladly played along, happy to pretend this was a legitimate scandal so they could milk some ratings out of it. And as a result, more than half of respondents to this Gallup poll think that routine use of Congressional rules is an abuse of power. This is bad news for Democrats, obviouly, but it’s bad news for the country too. The clear lesson from this “debate” is that constant demonization of not just your opponent, but of the basic workings of the American government itself, is a huge political winner because the American public doesn’t know enough about the way Congress works to know that the minority is full of crap.

The Consequences of Lying Republicans and Timid Journalists

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

At the Wonk Room, Igor Volsky has a good summation of the new Republican line that ACA will cost businesses millions of dollars in new taxes. It’s not techincally untrue, it really will force companies to write down hundreds of millions in tax deductions over the course of many years. That’s because it repeals a loophole created by the Medicare Part D law that allows companies to deduct the value of a federal subsidy from their taxes. Republicans aren’t telling you that part, of course, because who exactly would think that companies should get a subsidy from the federal government, and then be able to claim that money as a tax deduction? The GOP’s attacks against student loan reform, on the other hand, are very much dishonest. Far from being a Stalinist takeover of the student loan industry, the government is simply ending a policy of subsidizing private bank loans. This should be a marketistas dream come true; banks won’t issue a certain kind of loan without the government bearing the risk, but that considered, it’s much more efficient for the government to simply make the loan itself. So the government is now pursuing the more efficient strategy. It’s the free market at work! But in a contest between the market and business profits, Republicans are always going to side with business.

The problem with this dynamic is that once you get to the point of having to explain it, you’ve already lost. Republicans have easy to remember sound bytes, while Democrats are stuck explaining in more detail why this isn’t true. In an age of cable news and sound bytes, there’s just no way to win that argument if you can’t boil it down to a soundbyte. This is what makes “he said-she said” journalism so pernicious; not only does it not inform the reader, in cases like this it leaves them misinformed, because journalists aren’t clearly explaining that Republicans aren’t being honest. And if journalist aren’t explaining that, most people are going to assume they’re making a valid point. And then, faced with an argument where one side is screaming “government takeover/tax increases” and the other side is saying “well, not exactly, let me explain,” they’re going to think Republicans have a point. Without fear that journalists are going to expose your dishonesty, lying is a great political strategy. The problem is that democracy can’t work properly when its political actors make a point of lying all the time and the supposed referees don’t call them on it, anymore than a basketball game would function if one team tackled the other team as they shot the ball and the referees refused to call a foul.

The Washington Post’s Greatest Monster

Monday, March 29th, 2010

It’s a tough competition at a paper that includes Charles Krauthammer, Anne Applebaum, and Marc Thiessen in its stable, but Robert Samuelson, an original member of the Pain Caucus, can always be counted on to make a strong case for the title of Greatest Monster at The Washington Post. Here’s a section of his column today, arguing that expanding health insurance to those without access is a “self-indulgence:”

To criticisms, Obama supporters make two arguments. First, the CBO says the plan reduces the deficit by $143 billion over a decade. Second, the legislation contains measures (an expert panel to curb Medicare spending, emphasis on “comparative effectiveness research”) to control health spending. These rejoinders are self-serving and unconvincing.

Suppose the CBO estimate is correct. So? The $143 billion saving is about 1 percent of the projected $12.7 trillion deficit from 2009 to 2020. If the administration has $1 trillion or so of spending cuts and tax increases over a decade, all these monies should first cover existing deficits — not finance new spending. Obama’s behavior resembles a highly indebted family’s taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it. It’s self-indulgent and reckless.

As  brief aside, there was a point not that long ago when Samuelson couched his morally outrageous positions in much more clever arguments. But whether time is catching up with him or his position has gotten so cozy he can’t avoid the temptation to phone it in, these days Samuelson’s columns don’t even stand up to an initial skimming. In the next paragraph, for example, Samuelson argues that the CBO’s report is “misleading,” and bases this claim on a New York Times Op-Ed by Douglas Holtz-Eakin that Krugman absolutely shredded on the Times’ own website, and by invoking the “doc fix” that was going to pass regardless of the fate of healthcare reform. It’s the work of a complete hack, and not even original hack work at that.

But even leaving that aside, Samuelson’s argument, such as it is, falls apart under the weight of Samuelson’s own analogy. Samuelson would have you believe that expanding access to health insurance is akin to a family that finds some extra money in its budget opts to take a lavish vacation rather than pay down existing debt. I have a better idea, how about we compare it to a family who, rather than pay off some of their credit card debt, takes the newfound funds and…buys health insurance! Of course, that wouldn’t work for Samuelson’s point, because while people can generally agree that vacations should be sacrificed in the name of controlling your personal debt, they’d look at you like you had 3 eyes if you even remotely suggested that paying more than the minimum credit card payment should take precedence over getting your family health insurance.

It’s entirely possible that it didn’t occur to Samuelson that it would be better to compare expanding health insurance coverage to buying insurance rather than taking an extravagant vacation, but I doubt it. The omission is so egregious, and the example Samuelson chose so over the top (I mean really, how many people go on a globe-trotting vacation anyway?), that I can’t really imagine that Samuelson wasn’t deliberately trying to obscure how basic a necessity health insurance is in the modern world. Because, while a hostility to the social saftey net and social welfare spending is the animating factor of Samuelson’s existence, he’s aware enough of the larger political debate to know that most people would be appalled by his beliefs. And so, he’s left coming up with wild analogies to make giving people access to a basic necessity seem like a frivolous expenditure. Thankfully, he’s just not smart enough, nor his writing strong enough, to carry that sort of argument these days.

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The Useless Bob Schieffer

Monday, March 29th, 2010

It’s great that CBS felt compelled to run a fact-check of Michelle Bachmann’s ridiculous claims from Face The Nation yesterday (although it does beg the question of why, exactly, CBS thought it would be a good idea to book Bachmann in the first place), but I still can’t get past the fact that host Bob Schieffer didn’t call her insane claims out on the spot. I mean, I make the point that most political journalists don’t really know much at all about policy a lot, but how much do you really have to know to be aware that in August 2008 more than 0% of the economy was accounted for in terms of public spending. I mean, Medicare anyone? Salaries for military personnel? Hello?

Add this to Schieffer’s recent problem understanding what all of this reconcilliation stuff was about, even as the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee patiently explained it to him, and you have to wonder what anyone is gaining from watching Schieffer interview public officials despite clearly knowing nothing about the topic, or even apparently possessing enough cognitive ability to spot obvious stupidity.

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The New York Times Corrects ACORN Reporting

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Well it’s nice that they got that in before ACORN close up shop:

Several articles since September about the troubles of the community organizing group Acorn referred incorrectly or imprecisely to one aspect of videotaped encounters between Acorn workers and two conservative activists that contributed to the group’s problems.

In the encounters, the activists posed as a prostitute and a pimp and discussed prostitution with the workers. But while footage shot away from the offices shows one activist, James O’Keefe, in a flamboyant pimp costume, there is no indication that he was wearing the costume while talking to the Acorn workers.

The errors occurred in articles on Sept. 16 and Sept. 19, 2009, and on Jan. 31 of this year. Because of an editing error, the mistake was repeated in an article in some copies on Saturday

Of course, that’s not really right either, and it’s incredibly galling that the Times continues to underplay how atrocious their “journalistic” work was on this story. While it is true that James O’Keefe didn’t wear his ridiculous “pimp suit” when he was in an ACORN office, is also true that in the most inflammatory videos, O’Keefe did not present himself as a pimp at all, but rather as someone trying to help a prostitute escape an abusive pimp. This fact compeltely alters the nature of the interaction ACORN had with O’Keefe and Giles, as everyone who has investigated the unedited film O’Keefe refused to release to news organizations has concluded (and one would think that the fact that O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart refused to release the raw video would have sent up red flags with professional journalists). Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and ACORN is beng forced to shut down their operation due to an inability to raise funds.

Freedom of the press is obviously a very important thing, and as a general rule a large degree of latitude should be given to media outlets to report information. That said, there needs to be some consequence for media outlets/reporters who traffic inaccurate information and cause real damage to organizations or individuals. In this case, the “reproting” the Times did was so unbelievably credulous it basically constitutes professional malpractice. I’m not sure whether ACORN could demonstrate damages or not, but it seems hard to believe that the inaccurate reporting of the Times didn’t damage ACORN, or that accurate reporting wouldn’t have helped them. Either way, ACORN ought to have to ability to attempt to prove their case, and if they can show that the Times caused them damages, and that their reporting was especially sloppy, the Times ought to be required to pay damages to ACORN.

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Megan McArdle Has A Breakdown

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I make it a point to ignore Megan McArdle, or at least not concern myself with her enough to bother writing about her. McArdle is so regularly so detached not simply from sound logical reasoning, but basic facts in evidence, that arguing with her simply isn’t worth the effort, even if she somehow manages to hold a job as editor of a magazine like The Atlantic. But her reaction to the passage of healthcare reform is such a classic, I can’t not take note of it. Her basic complaint is this:Roblox HackBigo Live Beans HackYUGIOH DUEL LINKS HACKPokemon Duel HackRoblox HackPixel Gun 3d HackGrowtopia HackClash Royale Hackmy cafe recipes stories hackMobile Legends HackMobile Strike Hack

One cannot help but admire Nancy Pelosi’s skill as a legislator.  But it’s also pretty worrying.  Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?  Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill.  And that mattered basically not at all.  If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances.  Farewell, Social Security!  Au revoir, Medicare!  The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected.  If they didn’t–if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission–then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.  
Other people have pointed out that McArdle doesn’t really seem to understand what “tyranny of the majority” refers to. Basically it’s mostly been applied to things like racial majority groups denying civil rights to minorities. It’s never really been applied to disparage the idea that duly elected legislative majorities shouldn’t have the authority to enact their agenda. Moreover, the idea that there’s “no recourse” is transparently silly, even containing ourselves to McArdle’s reality. If Megan is right that Republicans have turned the public against healthcare reform, then the recourse is pretty easy; they lose Congress, and Republicans repeal the effort. As to McArdle’s contentions about Republicans repealing Medicare an Social Securty, again, she disproves her own premise; such a move would cost Republicans control of government and Democrats would set about re-creating the programs. You can call this a lot of things, but “tyranny” is hardly one of them.
But the more strking thing about this to me is the way that, per usual, McArdle s just completely ignorant of basic reality surrounding her topic. To point out what should be obvious, yes, the House of Representatives has always been a majoritarian institution. And where the Senate is concerned, the bill in question cleared all of its normal counter-majoritarian hurdles, which is to say it overcame the filibuster. 60% of the Senate voted for it, which is more than voted for any number of major bills that have come out of the Senate since 1980. McArdle is simply angry that she lost, especially, I imagine, after she was supremely confident that the reform effort was dead, and she simply isn’t letting any sort of attachment to objective reality get in the way of venting about it. Which is fine, I just continue to wonder why The Atlantic continues to want to pay her for work of this quality.

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Fred Hiatt’s Most Shameful Moment

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I’ve basically been at the point where very little that shows up in The Washington Post, especially on the Op-Ed page, surprises me anymore. I’m not really sure how Fred Hiatt views his job responsibilities, but it’s been clear for some time that the practical impact of whatever it is Hiatt thinks is that conservatives can expect to tell pretty much any lie they want and have it published by Hiatt. That extends to regular columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, and to guest submissions from Repulican politicians like Sarah Palin and Sen. Lamar Alexander. I imagine that Hiatt views this as “presenting all sides,” but of course all that is doing is muddying the waters for the readers, especially when the writers are telling verifiable lies. Whatever it may be, the Post has not been a publication primarily concerned with informing its readers for quite some time.

But when Hiatt actually hired Marc Thiessen to write a weekly column, I suspected Thiessen would actually find a way to drag the paper lower. Thiessen is a former Defense Department speechwriter whose only real claim to fame is having written an entire book vociferously defending the use of torture. Indeed, Thiessen is the guy who argued that torturing Muslim detainees was absolutely necessary so that they could achieve compliance with their religious beliefs in talking to interrogators. Thiessen’s premise has been the subject of fierce push back from actual Army interrogators, but he’s a moral monster who likes the idea of being able to brutalize people, if only by proxy, so of course that doesn’t make much difference. Before being hired by Hiatt, Thiessen’s most prominent interaction with the Post was taking to its pages to claim that the waterboarding of Khalid Mohammed had thwarted the plot to bomb the Library Tower, even though that plot had been foiled before KSM was even captured, a fact that was noted by The Washington Post’s sister publication, Slate. This, of course, hasn’t stopped Thiessen from repeating the claim.

Today, however, Thiessen and Hiatt have outdone themselves with what may be the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen run in a major newspaper. Thiessen is defending Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol’s attack on Justice Department lawyers who had represented suspected terrorists detainees in the past, a position that basically no one in the conservative legal community has yet stood behind. Here’s Thiessen:

Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would — and rightly so.

So right off the bat, we already have a mischaracterization. “Mob lawyers” are most often members of the criminal organization themselves, albeit somewhat at a distance. They aid and abet the operation’s illegal activity, and are actively sympathetic to the business. So right at the outset, Thiessen is constructing a comparison designed to make the reader think of the lawyers as actively sympathetic to terrorists, something, incidentally, that even Cheney and Kristol won’t openly claim they’re doing.

Yet Attorney General Eric Holder hired former al-Qaeda lawyers to serve in the Justice Department and resisted providing Congress this basic information.

Again, Thiessen chooses to call the attorneys “al Qaeda lawyers” instead of “lawyers who represented suspects,” in order to plant the impression of people actively working for al Qaeda, as opposed to lawyers fulfilling what they believe to be a civic duty to provide a defense for the accused.

Yet for raising questions, Cheney and the Republican senators have been vilified. Former Clinton Justice Department official Walter Dellinger decried the “shameful” personal attacks on “these fine lawyers,” while numerous commentators leveled charges of “McCarthyism.”

Of course, what Thiessen doesn’t note is that the condemnation of Cheney and Keep America Safe has been basically universal, with such noted liberal luminaries as Ted Olsen and Ken Starr leading the pitchforked mob. The response to Cheney has not been one of partisan rancor, but rather legal professionals of all political persuasions responding to an attack on fundamental principles of their profession and the American legal system.

Where was the moral outrage when fine lawyers like John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Jim Haynes, Steve Bradbury and others came under vicious personal attack? Their critics did not demand simple transparency; they demanded heads. They called these individuals “war criminals” and sought to have them fired, disbarred, impeached and even jailed.

This is where the column really goes off the rails, because while Thiessen is very good at selecting his words and rhetorical framing (he isa speechwriter, after all), the fact that he’s looking for a ridiculous premise at the outset leaves him grasping for a comparison that is just so self-evidently absurd that any self-respecting, non-propaganda outfit would have squashed this column immediately. To wit, it should be clear that there’s absolutely nothing similar about the accusations Liz Cheney is directing at the attornies in question and what Yoo, Bybee, & co. did. Cheney is asserting that, because an attorney represented a detainee accused of a certain crime, that must mean that they’re sympathetic to those people and the cause of which they’re accused, and therefore we can’t trust them to hold jobs in the Justice Department. Yoo, Bybee, etc., on the other hand, are accused of actually breaking the law in facilitating and implementing the use of torture. Calling this an apples to oranges comparison would be giving it too much credit.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Some defenders say al-Qaeda lawyers are simply following a great American tradition, in which everyone gets a lawyer and their day in court. Not so, says Andy McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney who put Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik,” behind bars for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

And this is the giveaway. Whatever McCarthy may have to say, that Thiessen has chosen to quote him and describe him in this manner exposes the column as abject dishonesty, propagand in its most undiluted form. For one thing, there’s the fact that McCarthy is a raving lunatic, birther, and all around radical too extreme even for Rich Lowry and most of the other writers at The Corner to stand. But even more basic than that, McCarthy is the originator of the “al Qaeda seven” attack. For Thiessen not to disclose that, and especially to paint McCarthy as simply some sort of detached expert on the question, is an indescribale breach of ethics, a blatant attempt to mislead, not persuade, readers, and so unbelievably ham-fisted and obvious that I can’t believe for a second that no one at the Post noticed it.

The entire column is nothing but a string of lies, false equivalencies, and misrepresentations. Thiessen quite transparently wrote this with the intent of misleading the reader. There’s simply no other way anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes following the issues in question could interpret the article without straining credulity to the max. It also, I should hope, represents a low point, thus far, in the moral degeneration of the Post. And at this point, I think we can safely say that the Post is into the territory heretofor occupied by The New Republic; where the overall direction of the publication’s management begins to tain everyone involved in the publication. In the same way I feel that Jon Cohn, Jon Chait, Michelle Cottle, and the other wonderful writers at TNR nonetheless have to carry the stain of working for Marty Peretz, at this point Ezra Klein, Steve Pearlstein, Eugene Robinson, and any other decent employee of The Washington Post nevertheless has to live with the stain of association with Fred Hiatt, Marc Thiessen, Charles Krauthammer, etc, so long as they accept a paycheck from Kaplan.

Greenwald has more.

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The Place To Be For Lying Republicans

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

I really try not to focus too much on the Washington Post Op-Ed page, because if I did I could basically have a dedicated blog, and that’s not what I want. Still, when they do things like run this blatantly dishonest guest Op-Ed from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, you really can’t ignore it. Plenty of people have already addressed most of the dishonesties, so I’ll just add a few points. First of all, there’s no way to really excuse most of this as “just opinion.” Almost all of it is objectively false. The founders didn’t establish the filibuster, nor did they personally design the Senate as a super-majoritarian body. Reconcilliation has been used numerous times, and for proposals much larger in scope than the “sidecar” amendment Democrats are talking about at the moment. Off the top of my head, the $1.8 trillion of Bush tax cuts comes most easily to mind, but so do COBRA and the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. Finally, the notion that reconcilliation can only be used to “balance the budget” is particularly ridiculous, not just because reconcilliation has often been used to increase the deficit, as with the tax cuts Hatch voted for in 2001 and 2003, but because the healthcare reform bill scores as deficit reduction. Is Hatch literally arguing that reconcilliation can only be used for proposals that literally balance the budget in its entirety, and so even bills that reduce the deficit in part, but not in whole, are out of bounds for the process?

On a larger note, I really would like to know what the Post thinks it’s doing by publishing pieces like this. Presumably, the purpose of a newspaper like the Post is to inform its readers about what’s going on, as well as to help them understand it. That’s certainly what journalists, publishers, etc. see their work as. But I think you’d be hard pressed to really defend the notion that Post readers are being better informed by Fred Hiatt’s habit of regularly publishing blatantly dishonest Op-Eds from conservative writers and Republican politicians. And while I can at least sort of understand how newsmedia has gotten to the point where regular columnists for a major paper are allowed to lie on a regular basis, I really don’t see how an self-respecting journalist could imagine there’s any journalistic value whatsoever to printing objective lies from a politician.

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The Washington Post’s Problem With Reality

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The Washington Post ran two columns this morning coming down somewhere between disdainful and skeptical about costs associated with healthcare reform. Chait already did a good job dealing with Fred Hiatt’s column, but I’d prefer to engage the much worse column from (surprise!) Robert Samuelson. This seems to be the key graf from the column:

On the left, President Obama and Democrats have spent the past year arguing that, despite the government’s massive deficits and overspending, they can responsibly propose even more spending. Future deficits are to be ignored (present deficits, to be sure, partially reflect the economic slump). The proposal is “responsible” because it’s “paid for” through new taxes and spending cuts. Even if these financing sources were completely believable (they aren’t), the logic is that the government can undertake new spending before dealing with the consequences of old spending. Of course, most households and businesses can’t do this.

Politicians can, because it’s all make-believe. They pretend to deal with budget deficits when they aren’t.

First of all, it seems to me that if Samuelson is going to claim that the financing mechanisms for reform aren’t “believeable,” he really ought to go to greater lengths to say why that’s the case. The CBO has scored both bills as deficit reducing, and if Samuelson has some sort of reason to believe those reports aren’t accurate, then it seems to me that his station at a major newspaper obligates him to let us know about it. If nothing else, you’d think the vaunted editors that make newspaper so wicked awesome we keep hearing about might ask their main economics columnist to explain this to their readers. It’s not like it’s trivial, after all. Secondly, there’s the rather obvious point that that last sentence rather blatantly ignores the fact that the CBO says the healthcare reform bill would lower the long-term budget deficit. Passing legislation that reduces the long-term deficit definitely strikes me as “dealing with budget deficits,” and I’d be interested to hear why Samuelson thinks it isn’t. Of course, Samuelson is a big proponent of cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits, as is the Washington Post editorial board, so I suspect it’s mostly a matter of cutting the deficit in general not being as important to Samuelson as cutting social safety net benefits in particular, but that really doesn’t give him a license to lie about the effect reform would have on the deficit. Being a Washington Post columnist, on the other hand…

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Our Deeply Unserious Corporate Media

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I think this really should have been the focal point of Krugman’s column today, and so the fact that it’s buried at the bottom is a bit disappointing, but I do think that this is the key takeaway from yesterday’s summit:

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

This is basically the fundamental obstacle to getting the public to understand what’s going on with any number of issues at the moment; the Congressional minority is spinning a bunch of outright lies about the proposals, and the media isn’t interested in pointing that out. Consider this Glenn Thrush report, explaining that the summit was “a tie,” and that that means Republicans won because they spoke in complete sentences and didn’t cite Sarah Palin’s Facebook page or something. Thrush was apparently particularly impressed with the Republican decision to let Sen. Alexander take the lead:

The GOP’s smartest move, Democrats say, was picking Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a folksy, even-keeled conservative with a moderate disposition, to lead off.

Alexander eschewed the usual GOP talking points, instead offering a barbed olive branch, disavowing South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s prediction that health care would be Obama’s “Waterloo” — while pressing the moral argument for passing the bill through reconciliation.

 “We want you to succeed,” said Alexander, who urged Obama to heed the lessons the senator learned back in 1979 when he was elected as a 39-year-old governor of the Volunteer State.

 “Some of the media went up to the Democratic leaders of the Legislature and asked, ‘What are you going to do with the new Republican governor?’ They said, ‘I’m going to help him because if he succeeds, our state succeeds,’” said Alexander. “But often they had to persuade me to change my direction to get our state to where it needed to go. I’d like to say the same thing to you: We want you to succeed, because if you succeed, our country succeeds. But we would like, respectfully, to change [your] direction.”

How touching. Thrush thinks (or his sources think, anyway) that it was a smart move to let Alexander lead, and that Alexander took a rhetorically wise track in his remarks. What Thrush never says, not even once, is that Alexander’s “barbed olive branch” included an awful lot of lying of the bill and the process. To the former, Alexander claimed matter of factly that the CBO report on the bill says it will cause premiums to rise. As Krugman notes in his column though, and as many people pointed out in real-time yesterday, this simply isn’t true. The CBO estimates that the bill will lower premiums, and that the lower cost and availability of subsidies will lead to some people buying more coverage. But the same unit of coverage would cost less if the bill was passed. (This, incidentally, is in line with my criticism of another POLITICO article yesterday). Relating to the latter, Alexander claimed that reconcilliation has never been used for something like this, which is an even more egregious falsehood. Reconcilliation has been used to pass TEFRA in 1982, the Balanced Budget Act of 1995 (and 1997), among other Republica priorities. As Krugman notes, both Bush tax cuts were passed using reconcilliation, at a price tag twice that of the current healthcare bill. In the realm of healthcare specifically, COBRA was passed using reconcilliation in 1985. There simply is no way to make Alexander’s statements anything other than egregious falsehoods, but not only do political journalists not point out when polticians are telling egregious lies, they actively praise them based on theater criticism.

It might sound like nit-picking or whining about the refs, but this is a serious problem. If American political journalists are going to make a habit of ignoring when politicians lie about issues, then there’s nothing keeping everyone from wildly making shit up about public debates, which means there’s basically no hope of maintaining an objectively informed populace. And if that happens, democracy itself is threatened.

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