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Archive for the ‘Hackery’ Category

On Labor, Primaries, and Pressure

Friday, June 11th, 2010

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I wasn’t really planning on writing on this silly spat between the White House and organized labor over the Democratic primary in Arkansas, but there’s a few different angles I want to address. For starters, while I’ll agree that this never should have been said publicly, and if the White House finds out who the source is they probably ought to relieve them of their duties, let’s get one thing straight; the White House official is right.Labor has every right to do what it wants with its money, but it definitely wasted its resources in this race. For one thing, Halter was hardly a progressive lion, and likely wouldn’t vote much differently than Lincoln in the Senate. For another thing, Arkansas just isn’t a state where labor has a lot of clout, making their backing somewhat less valuable than it might have been elsewhere. Indeed, much of Lincoln’s campaign was premised around attacking Halter for being pushed by national labor unions.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that the message was sent anyway; that incumbents better not cross labor less they make your life miserable. Perhaps, but I think the people pushing this line the hardest are looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. The bottom line is that incumbent re-election rates are very high in the U.S., and they’re downright astronomical for sitting Senators in primaries. And, of course, Blanche Lincoln is now a mark in favor of re-election. So even if we assume that labor or other factions of the party can give an incumbent a headache in the primary, the simple fact remains that the incumbent is overwhelmingly likely to win the primary, and much more likely to get beaten in a general election (especially if they’re in a conservative state) than in a primary. For someone who’s only concerned about getting re-elected, this isn’t really a tough call to make at all.

On the other hand, there’s the notion of the White House’s ability to pressure Senators, which Greenwald raises again in typically dense fashion. Yglesias and Bernstein dispose of the nonsense in good fashion, but I’d simply add that, again, there’s a very simple balance of power here; while troubled incumbents may want White House backing in elections, it’s at least technically possible for them to win without it. On the other hand, the White House can’t get its agenda through Congress without sufficient votes from members. With 40 Repuplicans lined up to oppose his agenda no matter what, Obama had to keep every Democrat on board for healthcare reform. If Blanche Lincoln refused to support the bill, that was it. There was no clever way out of things; it was get Blanche Lincoln to support the effort or give up on comprehensive reform. Period. The leverage between individual Senators at the tipping point of votes and the White House is always going to tilt in favor of the Senators (at least in domestic policy) because they have votes in the Senate, and you have to get votes in the Senate to pass bills. The question is how do you get those votes. Greenwald wants to imagine a world where you get them by beating marginal Senators with sticks until they’re cowed like powerless children into doing what you want them to, but that world quite simply doesn’t exist. Senators just aren’t powerless, and thanks to the filibuster, they’re holding the trump card more often than not. The national party or various factions of the party might be able to make life difficult for them, hell they may even be able to slay the dragon, but that vote in the Senate means that the Senator is going to be able to return the favor and then some as long as they have it.

And losing primary challenges does nothing to alter that balance.

Weird Attitudes on Process Questions

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

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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.

Shelby Steele is a National Embarrassment

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

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Normally I don’t bother to comment on Op-Eds in the Wall Street Journal becuase, really what’s the point. But Shelby Steele’s column today arguing that Barack Obama is essentially an egomaniac for pursuing healthcare reform, and seeming to not even consider that people might consider that to be an important issue, is a unique case. It’s vintage Steele, using the fact of the author’s blackness to deliver a scurrilous racial charge that would rightly be viewed as offensive if a white writer were writing it, and then pivoting to an absurd charge that barely makes sense, but seems to damn liberals in Steele’s mid. The starting point here is that, in Steele’s mind, as the first black President, and first black head of government in Western history, Obama doesn’t have an arechtype to glom on to, and therefore no sense of political identity. This, Steele argues, has led Obama to view himself as an historic/mythical figure. Of course, Obama is an historic figure in Western history, but what the hell. Steele then argues that the healthcare reform effort is just a manifestation of Obama’s egomaniacal focus on his place in history:

Does this special burden explain Barack Obama’s embrace of scale as vision (if I don’t know what to do, I’ll do big things)? I think it does to a degree. It means, for example, that a caretaker presidency is not an option for him. His historical significance almost demands a kind of political narcissism. For him the great appeal of massive health-care reform—when jobs are a far more pressing problem—may have been its history-making potential.

Here was a chance for Mr. Obama not just to be a part of history but to make history. Here he could have an achievement commensurate with his own historical significance. To have left off health care and taken up jobs would have left him a caretaker rather than a history-maker. So he hung in with health care and today it can be said: Barack Obama has signed the most significant piece of social legislation in 45 years—achieving something that has eluded every president since FDR.

A historic figure making history, this is emerging as an over-arching theme—if not obsession—in the Obama presidency. In Iowa, a day after signing health care into law, he put himself into competition with history. If history shapes men, “We still have the power to shape history.” But this adds up to one thing: He is likely to be the most liberal president in American history.

Much like Robert Samuelson, Steele just isn’t a good enough writer to carry the ridiculous arguments he sets out to make, and the absurdity of his claims causes his writing to fall apart under their weight? Obama likes to talk about making history? That makes him different than basically every modern political leader how, exactly? Obama the most liberal President ever? I think the ACA is a monumental victory in social policy advancement, but to call Obama more liberal than FDR or LBJ or it is comical. The ridiculousness of the claims barely even require refutation, especially given that Obama is proposing more oil drilling on the same day this runs.

But the truly astonishing claim is that reform amounts to little more than a vanity project for Obama, a claim that requires you to believe Obama and other Democrats don’t actually believe healthcare reform is that important. This is of course belied by the fact that, far from being a new novelty, some form of healthcare reform has been attempted by every Democratic President since Truman. Obama isn’t the first President to tackle the issue, he’s just the first one to actually see a universal healthcare bill passed. And that does make him an historical figure, but that’s because healthcare reform is a very important issue.

It’s really not worth expecting much more out of Steele. His entire professional persona is built around the fact that he’s a black man willing to say offensive things about black people in general and insist that white people are uniquely awesome, and this appeals to a segment of the conservative movement because they get to live vicariously through him, or preface their own statements with “Shelby Steele said…” As I’ve said before, it’s good work if you can get it, and are willing to sell your soul (to say nothing of your personal integrity) for the money/stature. But it also requires the occassional ridiculous argument not at all tethered to reality. It just seems like that’s about all Steele is churning out these days.

The Washington Post’s Greatest Monster

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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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.

David Frum Fired From AEI

Friday, March 26th, 2010

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Frum broke the news yesterday that he’d been terminated from the American Enterprise Institute, and today he tells Mike Allen that he does think it was a result of his “Republican Waterloo” post that’s been tearing up the internet since Frum wrote it. Assuming that’s true, and I don’t see any reason to think it isn’t, it’s an incredible sign of just how rigid the right has become in demanding complete and total conformity on  a number of isses. After all, it’s not like Frum is endorsing the Affordable Care Act, indeed, his basic premise is that the ACA is horrible, and that Republicans made it more horrible than it needed to be (in Frum’s eyes) by refusing any number of opportunities to jump at a desire of some Democrats to compromise and drastically scale down the bill. Instead, they simply opposed the bill in lockstep at every turn, forcing the Democrats to stick together and pass a comprehensive bill. I happen to think that, from a conservative standpoint, Frum is right. Had Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe reached some sort of compromise with Max Baucus last July and been able to brng 4 or 5 Republican votes along with them, comprehensive reform would have been dead. By opposing in lockstep, especially after Democrats pushed their caucus to 60 members, Republicans forced marginal Democrats like Baucus and Ben Nelso to negotiate with more liberal members of their caucus instead of less conservative Republicans like Olympia Snowe or Richard Lugar. But even if you think Frum’s analysis is off-base, it can hardly be said that it represents some sort of grave ideological sellout. Frum isn’t criticizing the underlying ideology of opposition at all, rather he’s criticizing the tactics Republicans used. But apparently we’ve reached a point where even criticism of Congressional Republican strategy won’t even be tolerated on the right.

The New York Times Corrects ACORN Reporting

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

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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.

John McCain Promises Next 9 Months Will Look Just Like Last 15

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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This isn’t exactly Earth shattering news:

Democrats shouldn’t expect much cooperation from Republicans the rest of this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday.

McCain and another Republican senator decried the effect health reform legislation has had on the Senate, a day after the House passed the upper chamber’s bill.

GOP senators emerged Monday to caution that the health debate had taken a toll on the institution, warning of little work between parties the rest of this year.

“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” McCain said during an interview Monday on an Arizona radio affiliate. “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”

Of course, Republicans haven’t cooperated on anything yet this Congress, and their cooperation moving forward was unlikely anyway, to say the least. Still, the logic is funny, as Chait outlines nicely:

Second, if we believe McCain and Graham, they’re saying that there are areas in public policy where Republicans would help make legislative changes that they believe would make the country a better place, but they are refusing to do so out of pique that Democrats employed a commonly-used legislative procedure. In other words, their own claim is that they are deliberately choosing to create suffering — not merely preventing legislation the Democrats want, but preventing legislation they agree would help people and would otherwise support — in order to punish the Democrats. This sounds like something the Democrats would accuse them of doing, not something they’d boast about.

I think Chait is almost certainly right about Republicans here, I don’t see any reason to believe they don’t honestly think they have the best ideas for the country. But I don’t for a second believe the logic Chait describes doesn’t describe John McCain to the letter. After all, most of the Republican Party, and certainly the conservative movement, has always been skeptical of/hostile to immigration reform, so doing everything they can to kill a Democratic plan on the issue wouldn’t be any different then where they’ve been for 20 years. But John McCain made immigration reform a significant cornerstone of his legislative career, and more specifically made cooperating with Democrats on the issue central to his public persona for years. And now he’s threatening to take him ball and go home, because he lost a Presidential election Democrats passed a healthcare bill with 60 votes in the Senate.

The sad thing is that important media figures will still try to pretend John McCain is something other than a cruel, angry, petty man.

Does the New Bill Cover Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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Apparently responding to criticism of her very dumb response to healthcare reform passing last night, Megan McArdle writes:

Obviously, yes, I was upset yesterday.  I’m glad that this could bring so much joy to peoples’ hearts, and of course to know that for many people, the happiest part of passing health care reform seems to have been knowing that it made people like me unhappy.  The people wondering why I was so upset should contemplate that first, I think you people just screwed up both our health care system, and our fiscal system (even further), and that if I’m right, that’s not really funny.

Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me personally the happiest parts of passing healthcare reform are, in no particular order, that people with pre-existing medical condition will no longer lack adequate access to care, that entrepreneurship will no longer be stifled by the fact that striking out on your own represents a tremendous risk of health coverage for the rest of your life, that tens of millions of people who don’t have/can’t afford insurance will now be covered, and that insurance companies won’t be able to reduce costs by cancelling policies when people get sick. That it’s also driven McMegan, and people like her, completely insane is just an added bonus.

Also, I really can’t understand why McMegan’s critics accuse her of being self-absorbed.

Megan McArdle Has A Breakdown

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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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

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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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It’s Not Democrats Fault Republicans Are Tremendous Hacks

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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Jamison Foser does some digging, and finds that not only did the media not think budget reconcilliation was some great evil when Republicans used them to pass Bush’s 2003 tax cuts on a 50-50 vote, they basically didn’t even realize the process existed, even though they’re pretty much obsessed with it now, and largely convinced that if Democrats use it, it will damage the legitimacy of their legislative agenda. Kevin Drum says this is a failing on the part of Democrats:

In fairness, though, part of the problem here is the Democrats didn’t complain about reconciliation back in 2003. There’s no reason for the media to make a fuss if the opposition party hasn’t bothered to bring it up, after all.This doesn’t excuse the fact that they keep getting basic facts wrong this time around, like the fact that Dems aren’t planning to pass the entire healthcare package through reconciliation, only a small package of amendments. And it doesn’t change the fact that the conservative noise machine is way more effective than anything liberals have. Even if congressional Democrats had tried to make an issue out of reconciliation in 2003, they probably wouldn’t have gotten much traction.

Still, you have to try. Republicans figure they can get some attention for this kind of nonsense if they yell loud enough, and they’re right. Democrats don’t even think of it.

I wouldn’t really say I think Kevin is wrong in this analysis, I just think he’s got it backwards. The reconcilliation process is part of the law governing the process of passing budget related legislation in the Congress, and it’s a perfectly legitimate tool for Congressional majorities to use when it’s allowable. There simply wasn’t any reason for Democrats to complain about Republicans using reconcilliation, because there was nothing wrong with that. One thing I think we really have learned beyond any shadow of a doubt from the past two weeks is that, as a whole, the Republican Party really is nothing but a collection of pure hacks at the moment. Republican Senators are well aware of how reconcilliation has been used in the past, what reconcilliation bills they’ve voted for, and that this is a rather mundane procedural move given the landscape. And yet they’re pretty much united in painting the process as controversial and illegitimate. It’s just shameless. Another problem, the one that Foser nails down, is that our elite media institutions and major “journalists” are just completely clueless. Not only do they not have the nerve to resist whatever meme it is the right-wing noise machine is peddling on any given day, they don’t even seem to have the inclination to try to do even a little legwork to learn about Congress, its rules, or even recent legislative history. I haven’t heard any Republicans who are complaining about reconcilliation be asked about the tactics House GOP leaders used to get Medicare Part D passed.

The Place To Be For Lying Republicans

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

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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.

The Washington Post’s Problem With Reality

Monday, March 1st, 2010

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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…

Conservative Praises Inefficiency, Inconvenience

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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One thing that’s often hard to get across in writing, and even to speaking to people, is just how far out of the mainstream the conservative movement is, even on taxes. After all, no one likes paying taxes, or fees, or fines, to the government, but when you can actually strip away the emotion and the cognitive dissonance a lot of people have about these things, you generally can come away with an understanding that they’re necessary for things people like. No one likes paying the fees to register a motor vehicle, for example, but if you really try, you can get them to acknowledge that maintaining roads costs money, and that that money has to come from somewhere. Ditto for traffic fines; no one likes getting caught or having to pay the fine, but no one wants people driving down highways at 90 MPH or speeding through neighborhoods, so some sort of punishment that actually stings has to be put in place to ensure compliance with the rules (although that’s not counting for people who simply think it’s different when they do it, obviously). Now though, Eric Felten actually makes the case for making dealing with government fees as difficult and inconvenient as possible. He starts out by excoriating red-light cameras, a topic that’s probably best left for another post (for the life of me I can’t understand how the notion that people have a right to go through intersections after the light turns red without getting caught for it became so widespread), but goes on to complain about…parking meters:

Take Montgomery County, Md. Last month it started a new program that lets motorists pay at parking meters with their cellphones. How easy! How convenient! How civilized! No more digging around the ashtray for dimes and quarters. No more pestering passersby to change a dollar. Of course, when you have to scrounge for coins to feed the meter, you’re painfully aware of just how much the parking regime is costing you. Not so with the mobile-phone parking app. According to a demonstration on the Web site of the company powering the service, you just key in how long you’d like to leave your car, and you’re on your way. The pesky question of how much you’ve just paid doesn’t come up.No doubt you can find out later from your online statement, and surely there are some savvy and well-organized folks who do. Yet for most of us the cost fades toward invisibility, and that’s when fees go to town. Policymakers have long understood that the less visible—or “salient,” to use the economist’s term of art—a tax is, the easier it is to raise. Which is why Milton Friedman, looking for ways the federal government could collect more money during World War II, recommended the creation of income tax withholding (an innovation he was not proud of). It’s also why “value-added taxes” act like steroids when it comes to bulking up government.

What I find interesting about this isn’t so much the comical level to which Felton takes his anti-government beliefs (the parking regime? Seriously man?), bu rather, how the examples he cites and the effect thereof mostly take apart his arguments themselves. What Felten has basically discovered is that people don’t so much hate cost as they hate hassle. It’s true that people hate dealing with parking meters, or waiting in line at toll booths, but it’s not so much the cost of a parking space they mind so much as it’s the inconvenience factor. Whether it’s the inconvenience of having to find spare change to pay parking meters or the burden of looking at/paying a bill as a whole, as opposed to splitting it into increments, the basic takeaway is that people are perfectly willing to pay more for parking spaces, or tolls, or whatever, so long as it’s more convenient. Indeed, it’s odd to see someone who I imagine probably fancies himself a free-market champion complaining that people are willing to pay more in exchange for something, in this case, convenience.

What this really is is an example of how exactly conservatives are very much out of the mainstream. Conservatives like Felten hate government, don’t much care for public services, but to the extent they do, really don’t like paying for them. I very much doubt that Felten objects to having public roads, or places to park, for example, he just doesn’t think he should have to pay the cost of providing those roads or parking spaces, or pick up any of the opportunity cost that goes along with him occupying a parking space. To that end, he imagines that a lot of people are like him, but it turns out they’re not. They’re more or less ok with paying for parking spaces, they just don’t like how inconvenient it is to pay a parking meter. Make it more convenient, and they’re perfectly fine with it. So fine, in fact, they’re willing to pay higher fees. And people who can pay a bill in increments find it more manageable than paying in one larger lump sum. But conservatives like Felten hate government, have built an entire political movement around hating government, and think other people should hate government too. But it turns out that most people don’t really hate government, so long as their routine interactions with it are convenient and at least somewhat pleasent. To that end, Felten thinks we ought to deliberately make routine interaction with government as inconvenient as possible, simply so that more people will hate government. It’s like that old joke that Republicans spend their time complaining that government doesn’t work, and when they elected they get straight to proving themselves right. Only this is an actual conservative really writing that government should be deliberately inconvenient so that more people will agree with him.


Our Deeply Unserious Corporate Media

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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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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