Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2009

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq's "National Sovereignty Day" marred by violence: "At least 26 people were killed Tuesday in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, marring a national holiday declared to celebrate the departure of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities after six years and three months of war."

* The White House lauded the key transition day in Iraq, but Robert Gibbs told reporters, "I will keep the banner printers from doing anything crazy."

* Another tragic plane crash: "A Yemeni jetliner carrying 153 people crashed in the Indian Ocean on Tuesday as it came in for a landing on the island nation of Comoros. Yemeni officials said a teenage girl survived."

* A North Korean ship, monitored under U.N. sanctions, reversed course today and headed back toward the south coast of China.

* As if the past couple of weeks weren't enough: "Police officers and militia forces crowded the streets of Tehran on Tuesday, setting up checkpoints and making clear that the government had zero tolerance for any further public expressions of defiance to the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a day after the powerful Guardian Council certified his landslide victory."

* The United Nations approved a measure today condemning the removal of President Manuel Zelaya from power in Honduras. The U.N.'s move comes on the heels of condemnations from the U.S., the E.U., and a variety of Latin American countries.

* Mark Sanford apparently plans to resist calls for his resignation, saying it's God's plan for him to finish his term.

* Justice Samuel Alito's perspective in the Ricci case is generating considerable attention, but not in a good way.

* Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia was released from the hospital today. The 91-year-old senators is reportedly home, "resting comfortably." It's unclear when he might return to work.

* This fall, San Francisco will be the first city to require composting. (thanks to doubtful for the tip)

* Someone should probably let Joe Scarborough know what "out of touch" means. He seems confused about it.

* And finally, Sen.-Elect Al Franken (D), who will be sworn in next week, will apparently be able to hit the ground running. His staff is already in place, and party leaders have reserved spots for him on four committees -- including those tackling health care reform and judicial nominees.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

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SANFORD SERIAL SINS.... Part of crisis management is not letting a story drag out over several days and weeks. Someone really ought to let Mark Sanford know about this.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Tuesday that he "crossed lines" with a handful of women other than his mistress -- but never had sex with them. The governor said he "never crossed the ultimate line" with anyone but Maria Belen Chapur, the Argentine at the center of a scandal that has derailed his once-promising political career.

"This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story," Sanford said. "A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."

During an emotional interview at his Statehouse office with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Sanford said Chapur is his soul mate but he's trying to fall back in love with his wife.

He said that during the encounters with other women he "let his guard down" with some physical contact but "didn't cross the sex line." He wouldn't go into detail.

The governor added that he was less than honest last week about how many liaisons he'd had with Chapur.

South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler said this morning, "This latest admission from Mark Sanford is precisely the reason why we've pushed the Attorney General and Republican legislative leaders to investigate all of the Governor's activities related to his extramarital affair. South Carolinians need to know if Governor Sanford's reckless, irresponsible behavior constituted illegal behavior."

That, as it turns out, came before we'd learned that Sanford had "crossed lines" with women other than his wife and mistress.

As of this afternoon, South Carolina's attorney general requested that the State Law Enforcement Division review the governor's travel records to look for evidence of possible illegalities.

And to think, Sanford probably thought the worst was behind him.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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THE LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE ENDS.... After nearly eight months of legal wrangling, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) has conceded last year's election, thus ending one of the longest Senate election fights in American history.

Coleman was under pressure from party leaders in Washington to keep his legal fight going indefinitely, taking his case to the federal courts, but after a unanimous defeat at the Minnesota Supreme Court today, Coleman apparently saw no upside to dragging this fiasco out any further.

Coleman said that further litigation would damage the state, and congratulated Sen.-elect Franken on his victory. He said his future plans in politics "are a subject for another day."

The matter, then, is resolved. Lingering questions about Republican filibusters and gubernatorial certifications are now moot, and the 2008 election cycle is complete -- just a little later than expected. (Coleman added this afternoon that he's made Pawlenty's life "a little bit easier.")

Congratulations, Senator Elect Al Franken (D). The chamber's newest member will reportedly hold a press conference in about an hour.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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TODD NOTICES 'LEGISLATING FROM THE BENCH'.... The standard conservative critique of judges and/or rulings they don't like is that they see evidence of "legislating from the bench." Most of the time the criticism doesn't apply, and doesn't even make sense, but it's more reflexive than anything else. (What do you call a judicial nominee you don't like? A "judicial activist.")

It was refreshing, then, to see NBC News' Chuck Todd note this morning that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court engaged in some legislating from the bench in yesterday's Ricci ruling.

Pay particular attention to Joe Scarborough's reaction. He not only acts as if the very idea is inexplicable, but suggests Todd is going into too much detail.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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DEFINE 'ESSENTIAL'.... Time's Mark Halperin had an item near the top of the page this afternoon about Rush Limbaugh's latest paranoid fantasy regarding President Obama. Halperin seemed to think it was important, and even went to the trouble of transcribing Limbaugh's latest attack.

So, I clicked to see what the fuss was about. In a nutshell, Limbaugh thinks Obama might try to "serve beyond 2016."

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if in the next number of years there is a move on the 22nd Amendment, which term limits the President of the United States. He may not do it that way, he may not openly try to change the Constitution. But there might be this movement in the country from his cult-like followers to support the notion that a democratically-elected leader who is loved and adored has carte blanc once elected. Just serve as long as he wants because the people demand it, because the people want it, because the people love it. [...]

"No one else can lead the nation, they will say. And they won't care a whit about the legalities that might be trampled. Half of the legalities if they don't even know about them because they haven't been properly educated. I think this situation in Honduras is very instructive. Anybody who thinks that [Obama] intends to just constitutionally go away in 2016 is nuts ... These are people who seek power for reasons other than to serve. They seek to rule."

I see. Rush Limbaugh, a mere five months into President Obama's term, is convinced not only that Obama will win a second term, but also that the president will position himself as some kind of dictator seven years from now. He doesn't point to anything substantive to bolster this nonsense -- it's Limbaugh, after all -- but he thinks those who disagree with him are "nuts." How amusing.

That, however, isn't the interesting part. After all, Limbaugh, a drug-addled blowhard, says all kinds of ridiculous things on the air every day. That's his job. It's what he's paid (handsomely) to do.

No, what caught my eye is the fact that Time's political analyst described Limbaugh's harangue as "essential reading." In fact, Halperin put the words "essential reading" in all caps, bolded, and in a bright-red font.

Here's hoping Halperin considers this "essential reading" because Limbaugh's tirade is a good example of the kind of pathological lunacy that passes for conservative criticism of U.S. leaders these days, not because he thinks Limbaugh's tirade has merit.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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MINNESOTA SUPREME COURT: FRANKEN WON.... In a unanimous ruling issued this afternoon, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected former Sen. Norm Coleman's argument and agreed that Al Franken won the Senate race held last November.

The courts finds that "Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under Minn. Stat. 204C.40 (2008) to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota." This means that when Franken is ultimately seated, the Democrats will have 60 seats and be able to beat any Republican filibuster if they stay completely united (though good luck with that, obviously.)

It's been seven and a half months since Election Day, and five and a half months since the seat went vacant after Coleman's term expired -- but the state's process of recounts and litigation is now over, barring the unlikely event of a higher authority stepping in and forcing them to do more. Franken has won by 312 votes, out of roughly 2.9 million -- a difference of 0.011%.

The full ruling is online here.

The unanimous ruling obviously resolves one big question, but we still don't know exactly what will happen next. As we discussed yesterday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said he would certify Franken's victory if instructed to do so. The state Supreme Court, however, said Franken is "entitled ... to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator," which Pawlenty may very well try to weasel out of.

Coleman, for that matter, now has to decide whether to keep filing more lawsuits, taking his case to the federal courts after having lost repeatedly in the state courts. He'll likely be encouraged to do just that by the RNC and NRSC, regardless of the will of the voters or the impact on Minnesotans.

And speaking of Minnesotans, recent polling shows the vast majority of the state expecting Coleman to go away if he lost at the state Supreme Court. In the wake of this unanimous ruling, the demands for him to end this will likely be overwhelming. Whether he cares or not remains to be seen.

Should Coleman do the right thing, the impact on Capitol Hill will be significant, with Franken becoming the Democratic Senate caucus' 60th member.

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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OBAMA'S WRONG, EVEN WHEN HE'S RIGHT.... As post-election developments in Iran spiraled into violence, many on the right were outraged -- or, at least they pretended to be -- that President Obama didn't thump his chest more. The administration, conservatives said, should take a firm stand in support of democracy and liberal principles.

In the wake of the coup in Honduras, it seemed the administration was taking steps that even these conservatives would like. The president spoke up personally yesterday to criticize Zelaya's ouster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on for the "full restoration" of democracy in the country.

So, the right is finally pleased, right? Wrong. The same people who loved democratic principles in the Middle East two weeks ago aren't especially concerned about the overthrow of a democratically elected president in central American this week.

On the June 29 edition of his Fox News show, Glenn Beck said of Zelaya's ouster: "They installed their own man, drawing a quick rebuke from Cuba, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, and our president." Beck added: "Wow, good company we're keeping ourselves with." Similarly, on the June 30 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, in arguing that Obama was "sending the wrong message to our allies and our foes," Beck stated: "I'm telling you, the policies that we have seem to always embrace our enemies and slap our friends across the face. It just doesn't make sense to me."

Apparently, if Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega take a stand against a coup in a foreign country, far-right media personalities believe the United States should necessarily take the other side and support the coup, because, well, Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega are "bad."

This attitude was endorsed, not only by Glenn Beck, but also by Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Drudge, Bill Kristol, and Charles Krauthammer. In fact, offering the kind of sophisticated, high-brow analysis we've come to expect, Krauthammer argued on Fox News, "[A] rule of thumb here is whenever you find yourself on the side of Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and the Castro twins, you ought to re-examine your assumptions."

Now, I realize that developments in Honduras are not cut and dried, at least when it comes to identifying "good" guys and "bad." Zelaya was poised to work outside the law to stay in power, and his opponents worked outside the law to remove him from office.

But the analysis we're getting from the lines of Kristol and Krauthammer aren't focused on the merits of the situation. They're not even addressing the up-until-recently-popular principle of defending democracy at all costs. Instead, they're offering a child-like approach to foreign affairs (if Chavez opposes a coup, coup = good).

For what it's worth, the European Union has also condemned the coup in Honduras, putting the United States on the same side as our traditional allies. Reflexive conservative hackery notwithstanding, it's not unusual for international governments to criticize the overthrow of democratically elected leaders.

Meanwhile, in Honduras, tear gas was used to break up protests yesterday, and the "provisional" government cracked down on international media and blocked Internet access for its citizens. They sound like the kind of developments Kristol and Krauthammer might otherwise find interesting.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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EVERY SPERM IS SACRED.... President Obama, even as a candidate, always seemed to have a good, politically-salient line on reproductive rights: he's pro-choice, but he also supports common-sense measures that would reduce unwanted pregnancies, reduce the abortion rate, and improve the reproductive health of millions of women.

In general, it was an approach that resonated with many who were otherwise skeptical of progressive politicians. After all, if Obama supports steps that would lower the number of abortions, he can be pro-choice while also finding some meaningful areas of agreement with opponents of abortion rights.

At least, that was the theory. U.S. News' Dan Gilgoff reports:

As the White House readies its plan for finding "common ground" on reproductive health issues and reducing the need for abortion, a major debate has emerged over how to package the plan's two major components: preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion.

Many abortion rights advocates and some Democrats who want to dial down the culture wars want the White House to package the two parts of the plan together, as a single piece of legislation. The plan would seek to reduce unwanted pregnancies by funding comprehensive sex education and contraception and to reduce the need for abortion by bolstering federal support for pregnant women. Supporters of the approach say it would force senators and members of Congress on both sides of the abortion battle to compromise their traditional positions, creating true common ground that mirrors what President Obama has called for.

But more conservative religious groups working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships say they would be forced to oppose such a plan -- even though they support the abortion reduction part -- because they oppose federal dollars for contraception and comprehensive sex education. This camp, which includes such formidable organizations as the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention, is pressuring the White House to decouple the two parts of the plan into separate bills.

It often goes overlooked, but a significant number of conservatives not only oppose abortion rights, but would also deny Americans legal access to contraception.

As a result, it's difficult to have a constructive discussion. The left says, "Women should have the right to a safe, legal abortion." The right replies, "We're against that." The left says, "OK, how about improving women's access to contraception and education, which in turn would reduce unwanted pregnancies and cut down on abortion?" The right replies, "We're against that, too."

So much for "common ground" with conservatives.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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CHENEY'S CHEAP CHICANERY.... Former Vice President Dick Cheney, after quite a bit of time in the media spotlight of late, started to fade away, at least a little. He piped up again yesterday, though, complaining to the conservative Washington Times about U.S. policy in Iraq.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday said he is concerned about U.S. forces withdrawing from Iraqi cities within 24 hours.

Mr. Cheney told The Washington Times' "America's Morning News" radio show that he is a strong believer in Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and that the general is doing what needs to be done.

"But what he says concerns me: That there is still a continuing problem. One might speculate that insurgents are waiting as soon as they get an opportunity to launch more attacks." [...]

"I hope the Iraqis can deal with it," Mr. Cheney said. "At some point they have to stand on their own, but I would not want to see the U.S. waste all the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point."

Andrew Sullivan responded, "[H]aving initiated the worst foreign policy decision in recent times, Cheney doesn't want the occupation to end any time soon. More to the point, he is gearing up to blame Obama if the withdrawal leads to bloodshed or chaos."

That's probably true, but I'd go a little further. Cheney argued the Obama administration's policy may produce a new round of violence and squander recent gains. What Cheney neglected to mention is that the Obama administration is simply following through on the SOFA deal negotiated by the Bush/Cheney administration.

As Fred Kaplan explained the other day, "[T]he withdrawal is not the doing of President Barack Obama. Rather, it was negotiated during the Bush administration, at -- more to the point -- the Iraqi government's insistence. The Iraqis are the ones who wanted, and ordered, us out. Even if John McCain had won the 2008 election, we'd still be pulling out of Iraq's cities."

If Cheney doesn't like the Status of Forces Agreement, signed in November 2008, he should take it up with Bush.

For that matter, Cheney is going to have to work a lot harder to convince the public. A new CNN poll found that 73% of Americans "favor the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraqi cities and towns." Among Republicans -- the ones who bought into the "cut and run" rhetoric Cheney threw around for years -- 74% favor the withdrawal plan being executed this week.

The national consensus is obvious. It's just not what Cheney would like it to be.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) campaign for a full term got a big boost yesterday when the NARAL Pro-Choice America political action committee threw its support to the incumbent.

* In related news, while the Democratic primary in the Senate race in New York is pretty intense, it's far from clear who the nominee will face on Election Day. Yesterday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) accepted a key slot on the House Intelligence Committee, which by King's own admission, makes a Senate campaign far less likely.

* Joe Torsella, who briefly sought the Democratic nod in next year's Senate race in Pennsylvania, has officially endorsed Arlen Specter. Keep in mind, Torsella was deputy Philadelphia mayor under now-Gov. Ed Rendell (D), and Rendell is heavily involved in supporting Specter.

* In Florida, a Mason-Dixon poll found that Charlie Crist still has a huge lead over Marco Rubio in the Republican Senate primary, but that lead all but disappears among Florida Republicans who know both candidates well. It suggests Rubio, if he can raise a lot of money, may have a legitimate shot at an upset in the primary.

* Mason-Dixon also polled Florida's gubernatorial race, and found state Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) leading Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D), 41% to 35%. The good news for Sink is that she's close, despite having only 61% name recognition (McCollum's name I.D. is 87%).

* Rep. Don Young (R) of Alaska, despite a series of scandals and close calls, will seek a 19th term next year.

* Rudy Giuliani conceded to CNN yesterday that he's thinking about running for governor of New York next year. You don't say.

* Add another name to the mix for the Senate race in Illinois next year: Chicago Urban League head Cheryle Jackson.

* It may sound ridiculous, but House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) may be thinking about a presidential campaign. Seriously.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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THE BLURRED LINES.... Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a prominent conservative writer, has a new National Review piece that's ... how do I put this gently ... a little out there.

A quadrupling of the national debt in just one year and accepting a nuclear-armed sponsor of international terrorism such as Iran are not things from which any country is guaranteed to recover.

Just two nuclear bombs were enough to get Japan to surrender in World War II. It is hard to believe that it would take much more than that for the United States of America to surrender -- especially with people in control of both the White House and the Congress who were for turning tail and running in Iraq just a couple of years ago.

Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for their granddaughters to live under sharia law.

Sowell goes on to insist that Republicans resist calls that the party reach out to a larger audience, and steer clear of "moderates."

Now, anyone who raises the specter of the United States surrendering to Iran, which would in turn impose sharia law on Americans, has a terrific imagination, but a rather tenuous connection to reality.

Reading Sowell's piece, though, my first thought wasn't, "Wow, this is nuts"; it was, "Wow, National Review published this on purpose."

Over the last couple of decades, the line between the GOP establishment/leadership and the unhinged GOP base has become blurred. At the same time, the line between the analysis offered by "serious" and "respectable" conservative voices and the unbalanced tirades put forward by the nutty conservative fringe has all but disappeared.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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MORE TRIGGER TALK?.... Talk of a public option "trigger" as part of health care reform gained some attention earlier this month, but it quickly faded. Brian Beutler reports this morning that a key Republican senator is reviving the idea.

This idea sort of came and went a few weeks ago, but some legislators just can't let it go. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)--a potentially key moderate on the Senate Finance Committee--hasn't forsworn signing on to a health reform bill that includes a public option. But she's holding out to see it affixed to a "trigger mechanism," which would, in theory, give insurance companies a years-long window to lower costs on their own and only "trigger" the public option if they failed to do so.

"If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market ... the public option will have significant price advantages," Snowe said. But this was her argument against making the public option available as soon as the bill becomes law.

It's a reminder of why this policy debate has been so frustrating -- a few too many of those involved believe we must avoid positive developments.

As you've probably heard, a public option would improve the system by lowering costs, expanding access, and using competition to improve efficiency. Those who like the idea of a "trigger" argue that if we pass a reform package and private insurers can lower costs, expand access, and improve efficiency on their own, we wouldn't need a public option. It's better, they say, to wait for the system to get really awful before utilizing a public option to make things better.

The problem should be obvious: if proponents of such an idea realize that a public option would necessarily improve the overall system -- and they must, otherwise there would be no need for the trigger to kick in when things got even worse -- then why deliberately delay implementation of the part of the policy that lawmakers already realize would help?

Or, put another way, if Snowe knows a public option is a good idea, there's no reason to push it off to some arbitrary date in the future, as the system deteriorates in the interim.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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SKIPPING A SOTOMAYOR SCRAP.... After the Supreme Court handed down its Ricci decision yesterday, conservative activists and media personalities seemed awfully excited. Finally, the right said, a development that might be twisted into a cudgel to use against Sonia Sotomayor.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, however, raised a good point. While conservative activists saw an opportunity, their Senate allies took a pass.

If there was any question of whether Republicans had given up on the idea of turning the nomination of judge Sonia Sotomayor into a major political fight, the events of the past 24 hours have effectively erased those doubts.

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn a ruling by Sotomayor regarding allegations of reverse discrimination by a group of white firefighters in Connecticut seemed like just the sort of thing Republicans would jump on to reinforce the idea that President Obama's nominee was not fit for the bench.

Instead, crickets.

To be sure, people like Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) issued statements hitting Sotomayor but neither GOP leader took any real rhetorical risks.

Newt Gingrich didn't stomp up and down. Mitt Romney didn't even issue a press statement. Judicial Watch and the Judicial Confirmation Network were certainly worked up, but the far-right groups' enthusiasm apparently didn't work its way to the Hill.

Cillizza talked to some party strategists who conceded that the party just doesn't see much of an upside to this fight. Mike Murphy said, "I think the strategy not to rain on a very big Latino parade that could not be stopped anyway was a very good one."

Stuart Stevens, a media consultant who worked for Romney, said he sees value in blaming President Obama for inheriting a mess, but added, "Don't pick a fight with a tough girl from the Bronx. There are easier fights."

Those on the right who hoped Ricci would be a game-changer for Sotomayor are likely to be disappointed.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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THE LATEST MCCAIN DISAPPOINTMENT.... With the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act on its way to the Senate, the global warming legislation's fate remains very much in doubt. Not only are there skeptical centrist Democrats to worry about, but the prospects of winning over Republican votes appear slim.

It's tempting to think John McCain would be willing to show some leadership on this. It was, after all, just a year ago, after he'd secured the Republican presidential nomination, that the Arizona senator acknowledged the climate crisis and said the United States "needs ... a cap-and-trade system." It was a position he reiterated throughout the year.

As Ryan Powers reports, however, McCain has since decided that a cap-and-trade system is a "far-left" agenda item, which he, like many far-right activists, now prefers to call a "cap-and-tax" system. Here's McCain yesterday on an Arizona talk-radio show:

"It's really terrible, because I believe that climate change is real, I believe it is something that we need to address, and I'm sure that a lot of Americans do, but to do so with a bill like this? ... What [the Obama administration is] doing is using cap-and-trade...to raise billions of dollars so they can spend money on Cash for Clunkers, you know, buying General Motors and Banks and the world's largest insurance company.... So it started on the wrong path and now it's just turned into, you know, it's laws and sausages at its worst in my view.

Ryan fact-checks McCain's criticism -- not surprisingly, McCain doesn't know what he's talking about -- but I'd just add that the Republican senator's bizarre and baseless opposition makes the larger effort that much more difficult.

Keep in mind, while reconciliation rules are in place for health care, center-right Democrats made it so that Republican obstructionism can kill climate-change legislation. To get to 60, the Democratic majority will need some support from those handful of Republicans who take science and global warming seriously.

McCain was supposed to be one of them. That now appears unlikely.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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(RE)BUILDING BRIDGES.... There's obviously ample room for criticism when it comes to the speed with which the Obama administration is addressing gay rights. But it also seems obvious the White House takes the criticism seriously, and is prepared to make things right.

President Obama opened the doors of the White House to hundreds of gay and lesbian leaders yesterday, continuing his cautious outreach to a constituency that has loudly criticized his efforts on its behalf.

In an event in the East Room marking the 40th anniversary of the riots surrounding New York's Stonewall Inn, where gay patrons rose up against a police raid in Greenwich Village, Obama sought to reassure guests that he had not abandoned the issues important to them. He also drew a parallel between the progress gays and lesbians have made in recent decades and the struggles of black Americans to win equality.

Reading the transcript of Obama's remarks, it was arguably the most forceful pro-gay speech ever delivered by an American president. Joe Solmonese of Human Rights Campaign, who has been sharply critical of the administration of late, talked after the event about his renewed optimism. "There certainly was the appropriate and inspiring acknowledgment that he made of what this community has been through," he said, adding that the event helped reassure gays and lesbians "that the work continues, that the commitment is still there."

Much of the president's speech was devoted to acknowledging the history and struggles, not only of those involved with the Stonewall events of 40 years ago, but also of the larger community. Obama also made note of the steps his administration has already taken after just five months in office, before recommitting the White House to repealing "the so-called Defense of Marriage Act," passing the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, expanding hate crimes law, "rescinding the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status," and ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

He also sounded like a president who "gets it."

"[T]he riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day. It continues when a partner fights for her right to sit at the hospital bedside of a woman she loves. It continues when a teenager is called a name for being different and says, 'So what if I am?' It continues in your work and in your activism, in your fight to freely live your lives to the fullest.

"In one year after the protests, a few hundred gays and lesbians and their supporters gathered at the Stonewall Inn to lead a historic march for equality. But when they reached Central Park, the few hundred that began the march had swelled to 5,000. Something had changed, and it would never change back.

"The truth is when these folks protested at Stonewall 40 years ago no one could have imagined that you -- or, for that matter, I -- would be standing here today. So we are all witnesses to monumental changes in this country. That should give us hope, but we cannot rest. We must continue to do our part to make progress -- step by step, law by law, mind by changing mind. And I want you to know that in this task I will not only be your friend, I will continue to be an ally and a champion and a President who fights with you and for you."

Obama didn't ask for the "patience" of gay right supporters, because as he noted, it would be no more appropriate than those who "counsel[ed] patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago."

Instead, the president asked to be judged on the promises on which his administration delivers. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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U.S. POSITION ON IRAN ENJOYS SUPPORT.... In recent weeks, there's been a very aggressive push on the part of some high-profile Republicans, most notably leading neoconservatives, to condemn President Obama's policy on Iran. What seemed like a common-sense approach, endorsed by a variety of experts from both sides of the aisle, somehow became the latest "controversy" ginned up by the right.

Fortunately, the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll suggests the neocons aren't persuading the American mainstream.

A new national poll suggests that that nearly three out of four Americans don't want the U.S. directly intervene in the election crisis in Iran even though most Americans are upset by how the Iranian government has dealt with protests over controversial election results. [...]

Most Americans approve of how President Obama's handled the situation. And 74 percent think the U.S. government should not directly intervene in the post-election crisis, with one out of four feeling that Washington should openly support the demonstrators who are protesting the election results.

In all, 61% approve the way Obama has responded to the events in Iran. (The same poll, by the way, also showed the president's overall approval rating at 61%.) What's more, much to the consternation of the staff at the Weekly Standard, 82% of Americans do not support military action against Iran.

For all the bloviating from McCain, Graham, Krauthammer, et al, they've largely only impressed those who already agree with them.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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By: Hilzoy

ENDA (Again)

A few days ago, Barney Frank introduced HR 2981, a new version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bans employment discrimination against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Unlike last time, this bill includes protections for transmen and transwomen. That's the good news.

The bad news is that, according to drjillygirl at Pam's House Blend, not enough Democrats are on board to pass the bill. As of two days ago, 48 Democrats are undecided on ENDA. They are:

Bobby Bright (AL), Parker Griffith (AL), Vic Snyder (AR), Dennis Cardoza (CA), Allen Boyd, (FL), Sanford Bishop (GA), David Scott (GA), Walt Minnick (ID), Bobby Rush (IL), Daniel Lipinksi (IL), Deborah Halvorsen (IL), Jerry Costello (IL), Peter Visclosky (IN), Joe Donnelly (IN), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Ben Chandler (KY), Frank Kratovil (MD), Dutch Ruppersberger (MD), Bart Stupak (MI), Mark Schauer (MI), Travis Childers (MS), Bennie Thompson (MS), Dina Titus (NV), Michael McMahon (NY), Scott Murphy (NY), Paul Tonko (NY), Daniel Maffei (NY), Earl Pomeroy (ND), Dan Boren (OK), Kathleen Dahlkemper (PA), Jason Altmire (PA), Christopher Carney (PA), Paul Kanjorski (PA), John Murtha (PA), John Spratt (SC), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD), Al Green (TX), Solomon Ortiz (TX), Henry Cuellar (TX), Gene Green (TX), Glenn Nye (VA), Bobby Scott (VA), Thomas Perriello (VA), Rick Boucher (VA), Gerald Connolly (VA), Alan Mollohan (WV), Ron Kind (WI), David Obey (WI).

You can find their email addresses here.

This should not be a hard bill to pass. The idea that people should not be able to lose their jobs because they are gay or transgender should not be controversial. For some reason that I do not understand, however, it seems to be.

And it's really, really important. This might be our best shot at getting protection from employment discrimination for a lot of people who need it. It might also be our best shot at getting a bill passed that includes protection for transmen and transwomen. This really matters: my best stab at explaining why is here. Altogether too often, the burden of educating people about trans issues, and advocating for their rights, falls on trans people themselves. As I try to explain in that post, this is not fair. And now is a good time for those of us who are not trans to step up to the plate and explain to our representatives why this matters to us.

It's not 1966 anymore. There is no excuse for the fact that it is still legal to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. If your Representative is still on the fence, let him or her know how you feel.

Hilzoy 2:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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June 29, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Not So Long Ago

Hendrick Hertzberg has a good piece on the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In it, he quotes a 1966 article from Time called "The Homosexual in America". It's worth reading as a stunning reminder of exactly how far we've come in the last forty three years. For instance:

"Both [male homosexuality and lesbianism] are essentially a case of arrested development, a failure of learning, a refusal to accept the full responsibilities of life. This is nowhere more apparent than in the pathetic pseudo marriages in which many homosexuals act out conventional roles -- wearing wedding rings, calling themselves "he" and "she."

And:

"Homosexuality (...) is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste -- and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness."

For some reason, the tone in which this is written bothers me almost as much as the content: it's somehow curdled. The condescension, the fake knowingness, the pervasive underlying "heh heh heh" -- it sets my teeth on edge.

As long as one gay man or lesbian is denied the right to marry, or legally discriminated against because of his or her sexual orientation, or asked to leave the military after honorable service, we haven't come far enough. But we have come a long, long way.

Hilzoy 11:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from Honduras: "One day after the country's president, Manuel Zelaya, was abruptly awakened, ousted and deported by the army here, hundreds of protesters massed at the presidential offices in an increasingly tense face-off with hundreds of camouflage-clad soldiers carrying riot shields and automatic weapons."

* President Obama described Zelaya ouster as a "not legal" coup, meaning that the current government is not legitimate as far as the U.S. is concerned. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today called on for the "full restoration" of democracy in the country.

* The Iranian government certified the results of its own dubious presidential election. Protestors were not pleased.

* Bernie Madoff was sentenced today to 150 years.

* New lighting standards may not seem especially exciting, but they're important anyway.

* A big event at the White House this afternoon, commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 1969, and hosting 250 gay leaders in the East Room in honor of LGBT Pride Month.

* Speaking of Stonewall, is history repeating itself, this time in Texas?

* Most senators are heading home this week. Max Baucus isn't -- he has health care homework to finish.

* With the Iranian regime consolidating power, what's Mir Hossein Mousavi's next move?

* At an event this morning at the Center for American Progress, Tom Daschle said, "I don't think the public option is dead at all. I think it's very much alive."

* Keep an eye on the big upcoming election in Afghanistan.

* Bizarre developments at a San Diego fundraiser for a Democratic congressional candidate over the weekend, prompting an internal affairs investigation.

* A series of office posters celebrating Gay Pride Month at the Department of Labor were defaced or removed recently. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis warned employees about this kind of behavior: "I do want to make myself absolutely clear: Respect for others is non-negotiable at the U.S. Department of Labor."

* I imagine MIT's John Reilly is pretty frustrated.

* Did Israel and the Bush administration have an "understanding" on settlements? Apparently not.

* There's no shortage of nutty state lawmakers out there, but when it comes to being "special," Missouri's Cynthia Davis (R) is pretty extraordinary.

* Pat Boone was never a good entertainer, but his political activism is even more offensive.

* Do "red" states have a lock on morality and virtue? Not so much.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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'A SETUP FOR A SELLOUT'.... There was some interesting discussion last week on whether now would be a good time for President Obama to take more of a hands-on approach to health care reform, twisting arms and knocking heads before the larger effort skids off the rails. Michael Tomasky made the case for more intervention; Ezra Klein argued for White House restraint, at least for now.

Today, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. more or less takes Tomasky's side, arguing that the president can make a difference at this stage of the legislative process, addressing angles that "only Obama's intervention can solve." But in making the case, Dionne raises an important point about "the absence of substantial Republican support for comprehensive change."

Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has done everything short of making ethanol a reimbursable prescription drug to win the heart of his good Republican friend from Iowa, Chuck Grassley.

I'm told that Grassley, under immense pressure from Republican colleagues not to deal at all, has informed Baucus that he cannot sign on to a bill if it is supported by only one other Republican, the sensible Olympia Snowe of Maine. Grassley needs more cover from more conservative colleagues.

This creates a terrible dynamic in which Baucus is pushed toward one concession after another. It's a setup for a sellout. And the compromise Baucus is likely to produce cannot be the final word.

Dionne is clearly right, and his observations raise more than a few concerns. Matt Yglesias noted, for example, that Grassley's search for bipartisan "cover" is ridiculous: "[A] new consensus is emerging that for a bill to be 'really' bipartisan, it's not good enough to acquire the vote of the 41st-most-conservative Senator (Ben Nelson) or even the 40th- and 39th-most-conservative Senators (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe). You also need an additional even more conservative Senator. And now we have Chuck Grassley signaling that his commitment to this weird principle is so strong that he would vote against a bill of which he otherwise approves unless a Senator who even more conservative than Grassley agrees to vote for it. But what's the point of this? Who does this help? The way bipartisan bills happen is that you forge a compromise with the moderate members of the other party. As it happens, there are only two moderate Republicans in the Senate. But that should be understood as the GOP's problem, not the Democrats' problem."

I was also struck by the apparent fact that Grassley, arguably the leading Republican negotiator on health care reform, is "under immense pressure from Republican colleagues not to deal at all." That seems like a pretty big deal -- Democratic lawmakers and the Democratic administration are reaching out to a party that is actively opposed to any constructive discussions.

Indeed, it's not just Dionne's point about Grassley. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) was asked how many Senate Republicans could sign on to developing Democratic plans. He told the NYT, "I think right now, none. Zero."

So, to review, Republican lawmakers -- the ones Democrats are trying to find some common ground and consensus with -- don't want to lower health care costs, don't want to spend money on health care reform, don't want to do anything that might upset the insurance companies, don't want to give the government any additional authority in the health care system, and don't even want to discuss possible reform options with the Democratic majority.

What's wrong with that? In principle, nothing. Republicans are the opposition party; they're supposed to oppose what the majority party wants.

The problem, though, is that there's an ongoing effort on the part of Democrats to generate bipartisan support for a reform initiative that one side of the divide not only rejects, but doesn't even want to discuss. The appropriate response isn't to keep making the bill the worse, in the hopes that the GOP will eventually do the right thing; the appropriate response is to write a good bill, invite Republicans to support it, and pass it.

The alternative is, as Dionne put it, "a setup for a sellout."

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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MEETING A DEADLINE IN IRAQ.... For months, there were plenty of concerns that the U.S. commitment of withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by June 30 was ambitious, and perhaps unrealistic.

And yet, here we are. The deadline is tomorrow, and the schedule is very much on track. There will still be U.S. troops in the cities, and conditions will still be dangerous, but the American servicemen and women will take on "support" roles, rather than "combat" roles.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on his countrymen to revel Monday to mark the ostensible departure of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by the end of the month -- a turning point he calls a "major victory." [...]

American troops have been thinning out across Baghdad and other restive cities in recent months. Since Jan. 1, the U.S. military has shut down more than 150 bases and outposts.

In deference to the security agreement that set the pullout deadlines, American troops in and near urban areas have begun avoiding nonessential outings during the daytime and will be on virtual lockdown during the first days of July. But they expect to continue conducting patrols in urban areas alongside Iraqi security forces in the months ahead.

"On 1 July, we're not going to see this big puff of smoke, everyone leaving the cities," Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, a spokesman for the U.S. military, said recently.

Nonetheless, some Iraqis see the date as an independence day of sorts.

"The 30th of June will be like a wedding," said Maj. Gen. Abdel Amir al-Zaidi, commander of the Iraqi army's 11th Division, currently in the northern city of Kirkuk. "It is a victory for all Iraqis, a national holiday."

What's more, Gen. Ray Odierno told CNN over the weekend that he believes Iraq's security forces are ready: "They've been working towards this for a long time. Security remains good.... I believe this is the time for us to move out of the cities and for them to take ultimate responsibility."

Of course, the excitement and optimism are not universal, and plenty of people throughout Iraq fear an increase in violence as Americans continue to pull back -- a sentiment that has grown in the face of deadly bombings over the last week or so.

Are conditions likely to deteriorate? Slate's Fred Kaplan ponders the possibilities, but concludes that the weight has shifted to Maliki: "For better or for worse, there isn't much we can do about this situation, however it develops.... [F]ormally and practically, it's out of our control."

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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'HIGHLY CONCENTRATED'.... When it comes to health care policy, two of the more popular buzz words, even among conservatives, are "choice" and "competition." Mitt Romney, for example, said on "Meet the Press" yesterday that Republicans "believe in allowing people to have choice in their health care." Likewise, Joe Lieberman recently emphasized the importance of "competition" in the system. Kathleen Sebelius told CNN a couple of weeks ago, "Choice and competition is what we want."

What's not to like? Americans are predisposed to like choices and competition, and when it comes to health care, any approach to reform that offers consumers fewer choices and less competition is necessarily suspect.

It's worth remembering, then, that conservative defenders of the status quo are fighting against choice and competition. Zachary Roth has a very good piece today pointing to a HCAN report documenting the fact that most Americans don't enjoy "anything like a competitive marketplace for health care."

The report, released by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), uses data compiled by the American Medical Association to show that 94 percent of the country's insurance markets are defined as "highly concentrated," according to Justice Department guidelines. Predictably, that's led to skyrocketing costs for patients, and monster profits for the big health insurers. Premiums have gone up over the past six years by more than 87 percent, on average, while profits at ten of the largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007.

Far from healthy market competition, HCAN describes the situation as "a market failure where a small number of large companies use their concentrated power to control premium levels, benefit packages, and provider payments in the markets they dominate."

So extreme is the level of consolidation, in fact, that one former top Federal Trade Commission official working with HCAN has sent a letter to the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, asking for an investigation into the health insurance marketplace.

Specifically, the Justice Department considers a marketplace "highly concentrated" if a company's market share tops 42%. HCAN found 10 states in which one or two companies control 80% or more of the market. In Alabama, home to Sen. Richard Shelby (R), one of the strongest opponents of reform, Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 83% of the statewide market.

Individual insurance companies enjoy practical monopolies in many parts of the country, which keeps prices high, profits high, and consumers screwed. It's why the public option is seen as such a serious threat -- it would introduce at least some competition, and offer consumers some choices.

In terms of political framing, this would, it seems, give Dems a pretty big reality-based hint: ambitious, progressive reform is necessary for consumer choice and competition. To oppose reform and a public option is to oppose choice and competition. And everyone loves choice and competition, right?

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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INHOFE'S NEW CONSPIRACY.... On Fox News this morning, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) insisted the Environmental Protection Agency was given evidence that undermines global warming, so the agency hid it to advance "probably the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

Inhofe said the EPA "absolutely" buried evidence undermining policy on global warming after a researcher's report claimed that carbon dioxide has had little effect on the environment.

"They've been cooking that science since 1998," Inhofe said during an interview on Fox News.

Inhofe argued that there should be a criminal investigation into the EPA report, as well.

"I don't know whether there would be or not," he said. "There could be, and there probably should be."

In our reality, the EPA has an employee -- an economist, not a climate scientist -- named Alan Carlin who apparently doesn't believe in global warming. In fact, he insists that global temperatures are "not going up, and if anything they're going down." He submitted a "report" arguing that the government shouldn't worry about regulating carbon emission, relying on familiar conservative arguments.

Not surprisingly, the EPA saw the "report" but did not take Carlin's concerns seriously.

"Claims that this individual's opinions were not considered or studied are entirely false. This Administration and this EPA Administrator are fully committed to openness, transparency and science-based decision making. These principles were reflected throughout the development of the proposed endangerment finding, a process in which a broad array of voices were heard and an inter-agency review was conducted. [...]

"The individual in question is not a scientist and was not part of the working group dealing with this issue."

Nevertheless, Fox News is awfully excited about this; the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute is trying to rally support for Carlin; Inhofe is talking about a criminal investigation of the EPA; and House Republicans are waving Carlin's report around as evidence of ... something.

Our policy discourse can be very frustrating.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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IT WAS A 5-4 SPLIT.... Everyone knew the Ricci ruling would come down today. It was the last day of the session, and the Supreme Court hadn't issued its decision yet. By mid-day Friday, we knew the ruling would be released early Monday.

And that, in turn, gave the various players plenty of time to come up with their carefully crafted over-the-top responses. I'm afraid some of the leading conservative activists didn't use the time wisely.

Wendy Long, head of the Judicial Confirmation Network, which apparently exists for no other reason than to attack Democratic judicial nominees, quickly issued a statement this morning with the headline: "Not Even One Justice Approved Sotomayer In Ricci Case." Yes, even now, Wendy Long can't spell "Sotomayor." The press statement went on to say:

"Frank Ricci finally got his day in court, despite the judging of Sonia Sotomayor, which all nine Justices of U.S. Supreme Court have now confirmed was in error."

Soon after, on a Federalist Society conference call with reporters, additional conservative activists emphasized a similar line.

Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity suggested that the ruling "gives the Senate Judiciary Committee a lot to ask about" and that it brings to light her past statements on this issue.

He was joined by Gail Heriot, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law in the insistence that each of the nine Justices had rejected Sotomayor's reasoning in her Second Circuit decision.

There's a variety of problems with all of this, but the most obvious is the fact that the Ricci ruling was 5 to 4, not 9 to 0. Even if Wendy Long & Co. hoped to exploit the ruling to attack Sotomayor -- itself a dubious proposition -- they should have at least checked to see that there was a dissent, endorsed by four justices.

Raise your hand if you think Long, Clegg, or Heriot actually read all 93 pages of the ruling before sharing their analysis of the decision with reporters.

And, again, it should be clear by now, but the fact that a narrow Supreme Court majority reached a different conclusion on this case than Sotomayor is not a "rebuke" of the high court nominee. Repeating the line over and over won't make it true.

Update: Rush Limbaugh also insisted that Ricci was "a nine-zip decision." Is the right so far gone that they can no longer count to four? If someone can explain to me, I'm all ears.

Second Update: Ah, now I see. Brian Beutler explains that the 10th footnote in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion takes issue with a procedural matter from the appeals court. So, for these conservative activists, even the justices who agreed with Sotomayor necessarily disagreed with her, too. It doesn't quite explain Rush calling it "nine-zip," but that's probably the rationale for Long, et al.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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'TRANSFORMING' INTO POLITICAL PABULUM.... A reader emailed me the other day to let me know about the political subtexts of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a big-budget action flick released last week. Reader P.C. told me the movie mentioned President Obama in a less than flattering light.

I haven't seen it, but Matt Yglesias also saw the movie, and noticed its "searing indictment" of the administration.

[O]ne critical turn in the storyline comes when a heroic Major in the United States Army (or possibly Air Force) decides to disobey orders and mutiny against a civilian operative specifically sent by POTUS to take command of the operation. But what's more, this is no rogue special forces officer, he's clearly supported in his action by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who elects to turn a blind eye, and leave President Obama (who's named specifically) in the dark as he cowers in fear in an underground bunker. Obama, you see, has ordered American forces to attempt to appease the Deceptecon threat by halting all collaboration with the Autobots, and agreeing to turn Sam Witwicky over to the forces of evil. By defying Obama and staging what amounts to a coup, the military saves the day.

What's more, the film appears to indicate that Jordan and Egypt share a border right near the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. For this to be the case, of course, Israel would have to be wiped off the map. The film doesn't specify how this horrific turn of events took place, but I think we can take for granted that Obama's cowardly of a settlement freeze is ultimately responsible.

This might be less annoying if the movie didn't make $200 million in its first five days.

I'd just add, by the way, that the movie was apparently filmed last year, before we knew who'd win the presidential election. Presumably, post-production continued into 2009, and filmmakers could add Obama-specific references after he took office in January. Great.

Maybe Michael Bay could stick to explosions and steer clear of political messages? (If we're lucky, he might also stay away from cameras, the movie industry, scripts, actors....)

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* The Club For Growth is still trying to figure out ways to make Sen. Arlen Specter as miserable in Pennsylvania as possible.

* In related news, former Rep. Pat Toomey, who will likely be the Republican Senate candidate in Pennsylvania next year, is attacking Rep. Joe Sestak (D), Specter's likely primary rival, for his support of the Waxman-Markey global warming bill last week.

* With about a year left before California Democrats choose their gubernatorial nominee, a new poll shows state Attorney General Jerry Brown with a big lead over San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

* Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) may have referenced certifying Al Franken's victory after the upcoming ruling from the state Supreme Court, but a closer look suggests Pawlenty's comments were nothing new.

* Is former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) planning to run again for the Senate next year? We'll apparently find out this week. Sununu's father, former Gov. John H. Sununu, who also happens to be the current Republican state party chairman, said he expects other possible GOP candidates to get out of the way should Sununu launch a campaign.

* Peter Schiff, an advisor to Ron Paul's presidential campaign, is moving forward with his plans to run for the Senate in Connecticut, apparently as a Republican. He would face former Rep. Rob Simmons and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri in a GOP primary.

* And as Mitt Romney continues a lengthy run for the presidency, his already-assembled team has to figure out how to spend the next few years.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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OF ALL THE GUESTS AND ALL THE TOPICS.... National Review's Jim Geraghty caught an interesting segment on MSNBC this morning.

Rudy Giuliani is on MSNBC's Morning Joe, talking about the fate of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Giuliani mentions that a lot of it comes down to performance. One of the other guests mentioned that a CEO who behaved like Sanford did would be replaced by the company's board quickly; Giuliani said he wasn't so sure; he said a lot had to do with performance, and he could think of at least three executives who were in a similar spot to Sanford. (He didn't elaborate; did he mean adultery, or suddenly disappearing for a few days?) [...]

Asked whether the forgiveness-depends-on-performance mentality was right, Giuliani said, "it's just reality."

I didn't watch the segment, so I can't speak to what viewers were told by way of disclosure, but inviting Rudy Giuliani onto national television to discuss consequences for a politician caught in an adultery scandal is hilarious, even by the standards of "Morning Joe."

For those who've forgotten, Giuliani has been married three times. The first was to his cousin. He left his second wife, Donna Hanover, during his mayoral tenure by announcing it in a press release -- before telling his spouse. After Hanover kicked him out their home for alleged serial adultery, Giuliani marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade with his mistress. (In the divorce proceedings, Hanover accused Giuliani of serial adultery, alleging that Judith Nathan was just the latest in a string of mistresses, following an affair the mayor had had with his former communications director.)

Atrios tweeted this morning, "of course the cable news day began with rudy giuliani discussing the sanford affair on morning joe. any self awareness journos?"

Apparently not. Inviting Giuliani onto national television to discuss Sanford's sex scandal is like inviting Barry Bonds on to discuss what should happen to a baseball player accused of steroid abuse. Sure, there's some familiarity with the subject matter, but it's not like there's any degree of credibility.

Update: More on this from Jamison Foser, who noted that the segment included discussion of Bill Clinton, but not Giuliani himself.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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RICCI RULING.... The Supreme Court this morning did pretty much what everyone expected it to do, ruling that New Haven, Conn., was wrong to deny promotions to white firefighters in the Ricci case.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.

The ruling, written by Justice Kennedy, is online here (pdf). The high court breakdown fell along familiar lines -- Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito in the majority, with Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer dissenting.

Because of the subject matter, the case has been closely watched, but because the Supreme Court was hearing an appeal of a ruling decided in part by Sonia Sotomayor, the case was of particular political significance.

More soon.

Update: It's probably safe to assume that Sotomayor's detractors will characterize today's ruling as a rebuke of her judgment regarding race and the law. It's worth noting, then, that this is a very poor argument.

Remember, Sotomayor joined a unanimous appeals court panel in Ricci, and she applied precedent that existed at the time. Four justices on the high court agreed with her conclusion.

Also note, the Supreme Court's role in the process is different. As Scott Lemieux noted, "[T]he Supreme Court can create new law in way that Circuit Courts can't." Besides, if this were the right metric for evaluating an appeals court judge nominated for the high court, Alito and Roberts would have been rejected by the Senate.

For more background on Ricci, consider a couple of very helpful items Hilzoy wrote in May, as well as this discussion on the case from Slate's Nicole Allan and Emily Bazelon.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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ENDGAME IN MINNESOTA?.... Most analysts seem to agree that the Minnesota Supreme Court will, one of these days, rule against Norm Coleman. At that point, the former Republican senator may very well try to keep the process going, taking his case to the federal courts.

Will Al Franken's victory be certified after the state court's ruling, regardless of Coleman's next move? Maybe.

Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) said Sunday he has no plans for further delay in certifying the results of the state's disputed U.S. Senate election so that Republican Norm Coleman can pursue a federal court challenge.

Pawlenty told CNN that he would abide by whatever ruling the Minnesota Supreme Court makes in the contest, where Democrat Al Franken appears to have an upper hand.

"I'm prepared to sign [the certification] as soon as they give the green light," Pawlenty said. "I'm not going to defy an order of the Minnesota Supreme Court. That would be a dereliction of my duty."

Pawlenty said he had no plans to slow up the process to allow federal litigation to play out, but would abide by any federal court stay Coleman might obtain. "If that doesn't happen promptly or it drags out for any period of time, then we need to move ahead," Pawlenty said.

This sounds fairly encouraging for those anxious to see this matter resolved, but like Dave Weigel, I'm not sure what Pawlenty means by "green light." It's certainly possible, for example, that the Minnesota Supreme Court will reject Coleman's claim, but not specifically order the governor to certify Franken's victory. Indeed, by saying he won't "defy an order," Pawlenty made it sound as if he'll wait for specific instructions, and won't necessarily act before.

In other words, the state court ruling may not resolve the matter, as far as Minnesota Republicans are concerned.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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A MORE LIBERAL SECOND HALF?.... The first half of 2009 on Capitol Hill has seen Congress focus the bulk of its attention on the economy, the budget, health care and energy. And while those last two are still very much on the front burner, Roll Call reports today that the second half of the year will likely feature more work on domestic social issues, most notably on gay rights.

...House Democratic leaders are starting to show signs that they are now ready to push key aspects of the gay rights agenda.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team met privately last week with Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) -- the three openly gay Members of Congress -- to chart a strategy for advancing gay rights issues this Congress.

Sources in the meeting said Members discussed workplace discrimination, health care benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees, and a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Lawmakers also discussed how to help the Senate pass hate crimes legislation that has already cleared the House and the possibility of rolling workplace discrimination and federal health benefits into one bill.

House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the original sponsor of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, has also agreed to hold hearings, revisiting the issue 16 years later.

The second half of the year is also likely to include a renewed debate over immigration reform, as evidenced by a meeting last week among key lawmakers plotting a legislative strategy. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) left feeling "very optimistic"; Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the meeting as "a real shot in the arm." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is committed to tackling immigration reform this year, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) sounded encouraged by the prospects.

I can't remember the last year in which policymakers even tried to do this much in a single calendar year. Bush didn't really have a policy agenda after 2005, so it's good to see Congress wiping off the cobwebs. It'll be even better if they can actually succeed.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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HOLDS.... Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) explained over the weekend that he's put a hold on Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein's nomination to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Sunstein easily cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in May, but Chambliss doesn't want him to get a floor vote, because of something Sunstein once wrote about animal rights.

If this were just an isolated delay, it would hardly be cause for concern. It's not. This is, regrettably, quickly becoming the norm.

In a burst of activity before adjourning on Friday for a two-week recess, the Senate confirmed 12 nominees for important positions in the Obama administration. That is the good news. Unfortunately, there are still 21 nominees for important posts awaiting confirmation.

Most of the stranded nominees have long since had hearings and majority approval by Senate committees and meetings with lawmakers. None of the nominees have been tainted by scandal or had their core competence questioned. And yet, they remain unconfirmed -- one for more than three months and several others for more than a month -- mainly because of holds, often anonymous and unexplained, by Republican senators.

Holds are effectively a filibuster, requiring 60 votes to overcome. Used legitimately, they can buy time to clear up unanswered questions about a nominee's qualifications. But the current widespread holds of uncertain duration are obstructionism. Writing in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Norman Ornstein, a Congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the mass delays are "damaging the fabric of governance."

That may sound hyperbolic, but Ornstein makes a very compelling case that good governance is undermined by these "capricious" holds. He explained, "We need political appointees in place to make decisions and sign off on policies. Of course, there are talented career executives. But they often lack the authority, or the will, to make tough or controversial decisions that are not normally in their purview. Some of the delays in implementation of the stimulus package have undoubtedly occurred because no official able to expedite the normal vetting process for projects or grants has been in place to do so. It is also important to keep in mind that incoming officials cannot start operating at 100 percent the day they are sworn in; it takes a while to learn the ropes and the procedures, so these delays will be even longer and more damaging than they appear."

I'd just add that while the holds are themselves frustrating, I'm not even sure why the Senate has to confirm all of these officials anyway.

Regardless, there was at least some progress last week, with Harold Koh's confirmation. It'd be even more encouraging if Dawn Johnsen (OLC) and Robert Groves (Census Bureau) could overcome holds and get up-or-down votes, too.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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SOTOMAYOR'S STRONG SUPPORT.... Conservatives had such high hopes for Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination. They were going to raise lots of money, put Democrats on the defensive, and use the confirmation fight to generate enthusiasm among Republican activists.

Developments have clearly not gone according to plan. In Washington, Republican leaders concede that Sotomayor has not become the lightning rod they'd hoped for. And nationwide, support for the judge's conformation is quite high.

A sizable majority of Americans want the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and most call her "about right" ideologically, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Senate hearings on Sotomayor, President Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter, begin in two weeks, and 62 percent of those polled support her elevation to the court. Sotomayor, 55, is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York.

If confirmed, Sotomayor would become only the third female justice and the second on the current nine-member court. But there is no gender gap in support for her, with men and women about equally likely to be on her side.

With 62% supporting her, Sotomayor enjoys stronger backing at this stage in the process than any of the last four nominees.

It seems none of the charges from Sotomayor's detractors has had much of an effect. Only 25% want to see the Senate reject her nomination, and a fifth of those critics insist that Sotomayor isn't liberal enough. What's more, despite some recent polling suggesting a growing number of Americans describing themselves as "pro-life," the Post/ABC poll found 60% of respondents saying they want Sotomayor to vote to uphold Roe vs Wade.

All the attacks on Sotomayor have managed to convince conservative Republicans, but no one else. The right largely expected to lose this fight over Sotomayor, but the goal was to lose in a productive way, leaving conservatives in a better position going forward. That isn't happening.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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By: Hilzoy

The Awful Truth

In my last post, I noted the disquieting fact that Nick Gillespie, the editor of Reason, misquotes Carl Sandburg in the same way as Bill Ayers. Using Jack Cashill's methodology, I have now discovered frightening new evidence that Ayers actually ghostwrites Nick Gillespie's blog posts at Reason. Specifically:

* As Jack Cashill notes, both Bill Ayers and Barack Obama refer to a "yellow dog". Nick Gillespie uses the phrase "Yellow Dog Democrat". Coincidence? I think not.

* Bill Ayers refers to "ducks". So does Gillespie.

* Like Ayers, Nick Gillespie refers to "water buffaloes".

* Like Ayers, Nick Gillespie uses the word 'baleful', which even Jack Cashill had to look up.

* Like Ayers, and unlike Cashill, Nick Gillespie knows what the term "bill of particulars" means.

* Like Ayers, Nick Gillespie writes a lot about "social control".

* Gillespie also uses the phrase "beneath the surface", a sure sign of secretly being Bill Ayers.

* Gillespie does not talk much about eyebrows, a trademark Ayers word. However, his own eyebrows are rather impressive. Ayers probably implanted them as Gillespie slept.

I could go on, but you get the point. Faced with this mass of A-level matches, there is only one possible conclusion: the editor of the best libertarian magazine I know is actually an aging ex-Weatherman.

Hilzoy 3:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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By: Hilzoy

In Which I Discover Bill Ayers In My Head

Of all the bits of lunacy unleashed by the prospect that Barack Obama might actually win the election, my personal favorite was Jack Cashill's claim that Bill Ayers had ghostwritten Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father, based on such stunning evidence as this:

"Although there are only the briefest of literal sea experiences in Dreams, the following words appear in both Dreams and in Ayers' work: fog, mist, ships, seas, boats, oceans, calms, captains, charts, first mates, storms, streams, wind, waves, anchors, barges, horizons, ports, panoramas, moorings, tides, currents, and things howling, fluttering, knotted, ragged, tangled, and murky."

Guess what? Cashill is back with a new installment, which is even funnier. His first piece of evidence: Both Obama and Ayers not only quote the same line from Sandburg's Chicago, they misquote it in the same way: "Hog butcher to the world", not "Hog butcher for the world." I misremembered it as 'to the world', which just goes to show that I am, in fact, Bill Ayers. But I'm not alone: writers for the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and even, to my amazement, Reason's Nick Gillespie all turn out to be Ayers too. Who knew?

But wait! There's more:

"In his Indonesian backyard Obama discovered two "birds of paradise" running wild as well as chickens, ducks, and a "yellow dog with a baleful howl."

In Fugitive Days, there is even more "howling" than there is in Dreams. Ayers places his "birds of paradise" in Guatemala. He places his ducks and dogs together in a Vietnamese village being swept by merciless Americans. In Parent, he talks specifically about a "yellow dog." And he uses the word "baleful" to describe an "eye" in Fugitive Days. For the record, "baleful" means "threatening harm." I had to look it up."

Wait: they both mentioned yellow dogs? And ducks? Well: that settles it. It also means that Bill Ayers wrote Old Yeller and Make Way For Ducklings. As a birder, I should also note that while Obama managed to put his birds of paradise in Indonesia, where Birds of Paradise are actually found, either Ayers' bird was an exotic captive or he just appropriated the name because it sounded nice.

I didn't have to look up 'baleful'. Funny thing, that. Moving right along:

"Ayers is fixated with faces, especially eyes. He writes of "sparkling" eyes, "shining" eyes, "laughing" eyes, "twinkling" eyes, eyes "like ice," and people who are "wide-eyed" and "dark-eyed."

As it happens, Obama is also fixated with faces, especially eyes. He also writes of "sparkling" eyes, "shining" eyes, "laughing" eyes, "twinkling" eyes, and uses the phrases "wide-eyed" and "dark-eyed." Obama adds "smoldering eyes," "smoldering" being a word that he and Ayers inject repeatedly. Obama also uses the highly distinctive phrase "like ice," in his case to describe the glinting of the stars."

Twinkling eyes? That's evidence?

Cashill does not think that Ayers wrote The Audacity of Hope, though. That had to have a different author. Why?

"In Audacity of Hope, Obama does not use (...) most of the distinctive words or combinations of words in Dreams. In Audacity, for instance, there are virtually no descriptions of faces or eyes, and the few that the author does use are flat and cliched -- like "brave face" or "sharp-eyed." In Dreams, seven different people "frown," twelve "grin," and six "squint." In Audacity, no more than one person makes any of these gestures. (...)

These two Obama books almost assuredly had different primary authors."

It would be foolish, in the face of this evidence, to point out that Dreams is a memoir while Audacity is a campaign book about policy, and thus that one would expect both more description and more striking language in the first than in the second. Likewise, after extensive analysis, I have concluded that while I seem to myself to have written both my scholarly publications and my blog posts, I cannot have done so, since there are lots of phrases -- 'Oh Noes!' and 'Ya Think?' leap to mind, as does the word 'blog' -- that never appear in my scholarly work, but do appear in my blog posts.

The explanation is obvious. As I said, since I remembered Sandburg's poem wrong, Bill Ayers apparently ghostwrites my memories. He probably writes my blog posts too. I just wish he had told me himself, rather than leading me to infer his presence in my head on the basis of all this literary "analysis."

Hilzoy 2:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Hilzoy

More Puzzlement

Daniel Larison says a(nother) wise thing (h/t):

"Americanists believe that any statement from the President that fails to build up and anoint Mousavi as the preferred candidate is discouraging to Mousavi and his supporters, because they apparently cannot grasp that being our preferred candidate is to be tainted with suspicion of disloyalty to the nation. It is strange how nationalists often have the least awareness of the importance of the nationalism of another people. Many of the same silly people who couldn't say enough about Hamas' so-called "endorsement" of Obama as somehow indicative of his Israel policy views, as well as those who could not shut up about his warm reception in Europe, do not see how an American endorsement of a candidate in another country's election might be viewed with similiar and perhaps even greater distaste by the people in that country."

Indeed. And a lot of those same people thought that Iraqis would adore us because we had overthrown Saddam Hussein, apparently without thinking: however much they hated him, it's deeply humiliating to have someone else overthrow your dictator and occupy your* country. And so, in all likelihood, however happy Iraqis might be at first, we should expect that not to last: inevitably, soldiers in an alien country make mistakes and kill or detain the wrong people, call in airstrikes on people who are doing nothing wrong, etc.; and when that happens, our welcome, however warm initially, will very quickly turn to resentment.

National pride is a powerful thing, and a completely comprehensible one. Why the very people who will brook no criticism of their own country, even when it's fully justified, should fail to understand this is a mystery.

* corrected

Hilzoy 12:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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June 28, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Puzzled By Honduras

From the New York Times:

"The Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted by the army on Sunday after pressing ahead with plans for a referendum that opponents said could lay the groundwork for his eventual re-election, in the first military coup in Central America since the end of the cold war.

Soldiers entered the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and disarmed the presidential guard early Sunday, military officials said. Mr. Zelaya's private secretary, Eduardo Enrique Reina, confirmed the arrest. (...)

Political tensions have increased as Mr. Zelaya pressed ahead with plans for a nonbinding referendum that opponents said would open the way for him to rewrite the constitution to run for re-election despite a one-term limit. In the weeks leading up to the referendum, supporters and opponents of the president held competing demonstrations.

Last week, the Supreme Court and Congress both declared the referendum unconstitutional. But on Thursday, the president led a group of protesters to an air force installation and seized the ballots, which the prosecutor's office and the electoral tribunal had ordered confiscated.

After the armed forces commander, Romeo Vazquez, said that the military would not participate in the referendum, Mr. Zelaya fired him. But the Supreme Court declared the firing illegal."

I am puzzled by this. I found the Times' description of the referendum unilluminating ("a referendum that opponents said could lay the groundwork for his eventual re-election" -- what does that mean?) So I went off in search of the actual question, which seems to be this:

"Esta usted de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de noviembre de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna para decidir sobre la convocatoria a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente que apruebe una nueva Constitucion politica?"

Unless my rusty Spanish misleads me, this means: "Do you agree that there should be a fourth urn (I'm guessing this means: ballot box) in the Nov. 2009 general elections to decide whether to convene the National Constituent Assembly to approve a new Constitution?"

Apparently, the Supreme Court ruled that this referendum is unconstitutional, either because the President does not have the right to call referenda, or because "the constitution says some of its clauses cannot be changed." (Though why the latter would mean that the referendum is illegal, and not just that the proposed Assembly could not legally change those parts of the Constitution, is a mystery.)

As a result, the Army, which normally distributes ballots, declined to do so, the President sacked the head of the Army, his Attorney General argued to the Supreme Court that the firing was illegal (on the rather puzzling grounds that "it regarded the president's decision to hold the referendum as "illegal," and therefore his order to the military commanders as well"), and the Supreme Court agreed.

Meanwhile, the Congress banned referenda within 180 days of a general election, thereby making this referendum illegal. The President took the ballots so that the referendum could be held, and today the military removed him from power and flew him to Costa Rica.

The President's supporters seem to think that he plans to use a National Constituent Assembly to create some sort of Chavez-like system in Honduras. His supporters seem to think that the coup just reflects an entrenched oligarchy's unwillingness to contemplate anything that might reduce their power. (Some Honduran takes are here.)

For my part, I am puzzled. (Seriously: I know nothing about Honduras.) If holding an Assembly to revise the Constitution is such a bad idea, why not just vote no on the referendum? If the people would, in fact, like to have such an Assembly, why not have one? What, in short, is so scary about a referendum that simply asks whether people would like to have an Assembly that might revise the Constitution in as yet unspecified ways? And even if there's some reason for thinking that it is scary, is this (seemingly) mild, non-binding referendum anywhere near threatening enough to hold a coup over?

Can anyone shed light on this?

Update: I checked Randy Paul's blog as I was writing this, but he waited until I had just hit post to put up a lovely, link-filled post about this. Check it out.

I should also have mentioned this, from the WSJ: "The Obama administration and members of the Organization of American States had worked for weeks to try to avert any moves to overthrow President Zelaya, said senior U.S. officials." Apparently, the Honduran military just stopped taking their calls.

Here's Obama's statement:

"I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."

The EU:

"The EU strongly condemns the arrest of the constitutional president of the Republic of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, by the armed forces. This is [an] unacceptable violation of constitutional order in Honduras. The EU calls for the urgent release of President Zelaya and a swift return to constitutional normality."

Other reactions here, here, and here.

Hilzoy 11:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THE CODA.... It's been a few days, and the political world has largely moved on, but the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney asking President Obama a question submitted by an Iranian continues to wrinkle some feathers. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has played a leading role in criticizing Nico -- Milbank's column on the subject included a series of errors of fact and judgment -- and sat alongside Nico on CNN this morning to discuss the matter.

It led to quite a lively chat.

It's not in the video, but as Howard Kurtz went on to introduce the next segment, Milbank whispered to Nico, "You're such a dick."

I guess he didn't think the discussion went well.

For the record, Milbank again suggested this morning that Nico "worked in collusion" with the White House, and argued that presidential aides encouraged Nico to ask a question "a certain way."

Milbank hasn't produced evidence to bolster his claims, probably because they're false. As Milbank should realize by now, the White House saw some value in answering a question from an Iranian, and knew Nico was in a position to offer one. Obama didn't know the question in advance, Nico didn't work in "collusion" with anyone, and not incidentally, Nico's question was a good one that the president seemed anxious to dodge. (Honestly, if the White House were really going to "collude" with a journalist and encourage said journalist to ask a question "a certain way," wouldn't aides make it a softball?)

It's a shame Milbank is still bothered by this, but his accusations, days later, remain unfounded. It's one thing to be annoyed; it's another to make up relevant details to fit a bogus conclusion in front of a national audience.

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THE PARTIES ARE SUPPOSED TO DISAGREE.... On ABC News' "This Week," presidential advisor David Axelrod said the health care bill "will be bipartisan by definition." By way of an explanation, he added, "The Senate health committee accepted 82 Republican amendments. Republican ideas will be included with this process, we hope it will come with Republican votes as well."

Soon after, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the leading Republican negotiators on health care, said the 82 Republican amendments that were approved don't count. "Those were strictly technical," Grassley said this morning. "And Republicans are not going to hoodwinked into calling that a bipartisan bill."

The back and forth pointed to an obvious truth that the political establishment doesn't seem to like: the two major parties don't agree on health care reform.

Congressional Republicans are finding much to dislike in Democratic health care proposals, illustrating the immense difficulty Democrats face in fashioning an overhaul that can attract enough Republican support to be portrayed as bipartisan. [...]

Asked how many Senate Republicans could sign on to developing Democratic plans, Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, author of a Republican alternative, said: "I think right now, none. Zero."

Grassley added that even in the unlikely event Democrats are able to find a few Republicans to support their reform efforts, it wouldn't count as a "bipartisan bill" unless a lot of Republicans sign on.

Several GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, have said they're open to the possibility of a bipartisan effort, just so long as health care reform doesn't cost a lot of money, doesn't raise taxes, doesn't adversely affect the insurance companies, doesn't include a public option, and doesn't give the government more influence in the system. As long as Dems can agree to these conditions, everyone can get along just fine.

Maybe now would be a good time to remind the relevant players that there are different political parties for a reason. Democrats and Republicans are -- I hope you're sitting down -- supposed to disagree.

They have very different policy agendas, driven by different worldviews. That they're struggling to agree on how to pass the most sweeping overhaul of the health care system isn't surprising; that they're trying to overcome this is.

A.L. noted this week:

For as long as I can remember, the Democratic party has fought to increase the government's role in providing health care coverage for Americans while the Republican party has fought to reduce the government's role. The Democrats are responsible for Medicare, Medicaid, and S-CHIP; the Republicans fought all of those initiatives. On a policy level, the Democrats believe that the best health and cost outcomes can be achieved by increasing access and encouraging widespread use of routine and preventative medical care. Republicans, on the other hand, have routinely identified the problem as over-consumption of care. Their proposals to fix the system inevitably involve significant deregulation with the goal of encouraging the use of high-deductible policies to try to discourage personal consumption of health care. Nearly every Democrat (including the blue dogs and "centrists") believes this to be bad policy.

In other words, there is virtually no common ground between the parties. The parties don't even see eye-to-eye regarding basic goals and policy assumptions.

There's nothing wrong with this. It's nice and pleasant when both sides can agree, and President Obama probably hoped the situation was so severe, Republicans would put aside many of their preconceived ideological objections to reform, and work in good faith towards obvious, common-sense solutions. That's not going to happen, of course, but that's not necessarily awful. The political system expects the parties to argue with one another. It's a feature, not a bug.

It looks like the opposition party is going to criticize and object to the Democrats' health care reform effort. That's what opposition parties do -- they oppose.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) asked the other day, "[D]o you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice."

The process will probably go much smoother once negotiators come to grips with this.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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WRONG RESPONSE TO THE WRONG QUESTION.... It hasn't gotten too much attention -- all things considered, that's probably a good thing -- but MSNBC picked up on the calls from some conservatives for a boycott of General Motors. (The idea also got some airtime recently on "The Colbert Report.")

A sizable share of Americans, recent surveys show, are reluctant to buy from a bankrupt automaker. Complicating matters, the bailout is triggering a harsh reaction from the conservative end of the political spectrum, with some high-profile pundits calling for an outright boycott of what many are calling "Government Motors."

Among the most vocal is Hugh Hewitt, who has frequently called for a boycott to protest the "Obamaization of the American car business," both on his syndicated radio show and on his blog.

Hewitt insists that "individual Americans" must resist buying the automaker's products because, as he wrote in one blog entry, "every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise."

I rarely agree with Joe Scarborough, but two weeks ago, he described the idea of a GM boycott as "stupid," and the conservative proponents of the boycott "morons."

While that's probably an impolite way of putting it, Scarborough's larger point is certainly true. As we talked about earlier this month, these conservative activists have the situation backwards.

The Obama administration intervened to prevent GM's collapse, but its goal is to see the auto manufacturer get back on its feet quickly. The White House doesn't want to hold onto GM; it wants to divest as quickly as possible. A boycott, organized by far-right activists, would work against Americans' interests -- it would undermine GM, exacerbate the company's problems, and undercut taxpayers who obviously have a lot invested in this arrangement.

If GM's finances improve, the government can divest, American jobs will be saved, and taxpayers can get a return on their money. That would be a good thing.

There's been (a little too much) debate in conservative circles over the last several months about whether, in the midst of multiple crises, it's appropriate to root for failure. But it's even more striking to see some conservatives trying to actively ensure failure, regardless of the consequences for the country.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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IDEOLOGICAL INFERENCE.... When it comes to political commentary and analysis, it's easy to make certain assumptions about the perspective of the writer/speaker. It's a lazy habit that many of us make, and I include myself in this. If a prominent political media voice was critical of Bush/Cheney, one assumes he/she is on the left. Those who go after Obama must be on the right.

But it's worth remembering that these are just assumptions, and they're often wrong. This came to mind the other day when the Washington Post's Andy Alexander addressed Dan Froomkin's departure.

[The paper's decision was] not about ideology. My original Omblog post quoted Hiatt as saying Froomkin's "political orientation was not a factor in our decision." In my discussions with Froomkin, he has not cited ideology as the primary reason. And several veteran Post reporters have dismissed that as the cause. In an online chat this week, Post Pulitzer-winning columnist Gene Weingarten, who expressed "respect" for Froomkin and regret that White House Watch was ending, said: "I don't know why Froomkin's column was dropped, but I can tell you that the diabolical conspiracy talk is nuts. Froomkin wasn't dropped because he is too liberal; things just don't work that way at the Post."

I'm not in a position to say whether ideology played a role here or not. The Post insists the decision had nothing to do with politics -- DougJ has a compelling item with healthy skepticism -- and for all I know, the paper's line may very well be true.

But I'm still struggling with the premise. Dan Froomkin had an "ideology"?

The official response from the Post emphasized the idea that Froomkin's ouster had nothing to do with him being "too liberal." OK, but how do we know he was a liberal at all?

It gets back to this problem about ideological inferences. Froomkin wrote, extensively and eloquently, about Bush administration wrongdoing. He called out the Bush White House on its disastrous policy in Iraq, its torture policies, its abuses of power, its secrecy, and its lies.

It's assumed, then, that Froomkin must be left of center. But that's, at best, speculative and unfounded -- can't a conservative also find fault in the Bush White House's failures, abuses, and crimes? Why can't political observers in the media be able to call it the way they see it, without being pigeonholed into one group or another?

It's only been five months since President Obama took office, but Froomkin has been plenty critical of the president since January. Hell, for all I know, conservatives would have ended up loving Froomkin for his efforts to hold this Democratic White House accountable for its errors. Regrettably, we'll never know.

Put it this way: if the president, any president, lies about something important, it's a lie no matter what the ideology is of the person who hears it. Froomkin was considered some kind of ideologue because he had the audacity to a) notice White House wrongdoing; and b) use a media platform to write about it.

By that reasoning, we could use a lot more ideologues in media.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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TIME FOR D.C. TO CATCH UP.... On June 28, 1969, police officers raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, touching off days of riots. Forty years later, federal policy makers are in a position to finally enshrine equality in the law, but they're not only reluctant, they're behind the American mainstream.

[E]ven as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases across the country, the politics of gay rights remains full of crosscurrents.

It is reflected in the surge of gay men and lesbians on television and in public office, and in polls measuring a steady rise in support for gay rights measures. Despite approval in California of a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, it has been authorized in six states.

Yet if the culture is moving on, national politics is not, or at least not as rapidly. Mr. Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. The prospects that Congress will ever send him a bill overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, appear dim. An effort to extend hate-crime legislation to include gay victims has produced a bitter backlash in some quarters: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sent a letter to clerics in his state arguing that it would be destructive to "faith, families and freedom."

"America is changing more quickly than the government," said Linda Ketner, a gay Democrat from South Carolina who came within four percentage points of winning a Congressional seat in November. "They are lagging behind the crowd. But if I remember my poli sci from college, isn't that the way it always works?"

The political establishment developed certain preconceived notions of how America approaches gay rights, and as of now, most of those notions are locked in the early '90s. For Dems, that means a fear that a culture-war clash will cost the majority party dearly, seemingly unaware that polls show most Americans already support many of the measures Democrats want but are afraid to seek.

For the right, it leads to confidence that the country is on conservatives' side, reality notwithstanding. For example, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a far-right anti-gay group, noted to the NYT that supporters of equality want to see an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but doubts the administration is willing to oblige. "I think there's a reason for that, and that is because I think the American public isn't there," Perkins said.

Except, of course, the American public is there. Gallup poll released this month found that 69% of the country supports allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military. Better yet, a clear majority (58%) of conservatives support it, too.

It's time for policymakers to catch up to the rest of the country. Indeed, it's past time.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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By: Hilzoy

Indefinite Detention

From the Washington Post:

"Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said. (...)

Under one White House draft that was being discussed this month, according to administration officials, detainees would be imprisoned at a military facility on U.S. soil, but their ongoing detention would be subject to annual presidential review. U.S. citizens would not be held in the system.

Such detainees -- those at Guantanamo and those who may be captured in the future -- would also have the right to legal representation during confinement and access to some of the information that is being used to keep them behind bars. Anyone detained under this order would have a right to challenge his detention before a judge."

This is a very puzzling article. It has some good news: for instance, that Obama has rejected the idea of national security courts. This is good: the idea of trying to construct an entire new set of courts, all of whose procedures could be litigated until eternity, is crazy, and why we need a new court system has never been adequately explained. If the administration has rejected that, that's good news.

Then there's this:

"One administration official said future transfers to the United States for long-term detention would be rare. Al-Qaeda operatives captured on the battlefield, which the official defined as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly the Horn of Africa, would be held in battlefield facilities. Suspects captured elsewhere in the world could be transferred to the United States for federal prosecution, turned over to local authorities or returned to their home countries.

"Going forward, unless it's an extraordinary case, you will not see new transfers to the U.S. for indefinite detention," the official said."

Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress comments:

"Congress has already approved traditional law of war detention in the Authorization to Use Military Force of 2001. The Supreme Court sustained military detention authority of those detainees captured in zones of active combat in 2004 in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, so President Obama is on firm legal ground should he choose to limit military detention to those circumstances. (...)

This would be a significant shift from the Bush administration's policy that swept into U.S. military detention virtually anyone suspected of terrorist activity captured anywhere in the world. It would restore the bright line between criminal and military detention, a crucial distinction to preserve not just in the United States, but also in other countries that look to or use the U.S. as an example."

That's not entirely right, I think. First, I'd like to see a very clear definition of "the battlefield", to prevent future reversions to Bush's doctrine that it was the entire world. This should not be left up to the discretion of the President. Second, this allows for exceptions to the rule that future detainees will be either held as prisoners of war, transferred to the US for trial, turned over to local authorities, or sent home. Those exceptions should not be "rare", or reserved for "extraordinary cases"; they should be nonexistent.

Finally, of course, there's that little bit about "going forward". Those detainees that the administration believes that it can neither try nor release could be held indefinitely, according to this policy. That is, of course, the elephant in the room. And it's just wrong.

In this country, we have what we call "laws". When you break a law, you can be tried, and, if the government can prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you can be sent to jail. If the detainees in question have not actually violated any laws, then it's hard to see why we propose to detain them. If they have, and we cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then we should ask: why not?

If we don't have convincing evidence against someone, we should not detain him. If we do have such evidence, but it was obtained under torture and the person we tortured will not repeat it in court, then it is unreliable. If we have evidence, but revealing it would compromise "sources and methods", then we're in a pickle, but not an insoluble one. We might allow a judge to review that evidence in camera. We might decide that convicting this person is worth compromising some of our secrets. We could try to find more evidence that we could disclose. But we do not get to just detain someone indefinitely.

No President should have that power. Period.

I sympathize with Obama's not wanting the Congress to pass legislation on this topic. They have been horrible on these issues so far, and I see no reason to think that they would change. (And, yes, Obama has been awful too, but the Congress has been even worse.) If he somehow has to obtain the power to detain people indefinitely, and it's legal to do it via executive order, fine.

I also don't envy him the politics of it. Obviously, if some released detainee commits an act of terror against the US, all hell will break loose. And the costs of that will not be purely political: people might not get health insurance, or we might be unable to act on global warming, if some released detainee decides to blow himself up in an American city. I wish that my fellow citizens were also moved by the wrongness of keeping people who might be innocent locked up without recourse, but apparently not enough of them are.

But that doesn't make it right. Obama doesn't have to do this. The rule of law is one of our most basic values. It underwrites the freedoms that we go on and on about, but are apparently unwilling to risk much of anything to preserve.

Shame on him if he does this. And shame on us.

Hilzoy 2:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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June 27, 2009

ELITE EIGHT.... House Republicans wanted to put up a united front against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), but eight GOP lawmakers -- Reps. Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Mike Castle (Del.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), John McHugh (N.Y.), Dave Reichert (Wash,), and Chris Smith (N.J.) -- broke ranks. In light of the narrow margin, it's likely ACES would have failed were it not for these Republicans' support.

Today, conservative bloggers responded to the eight.

RedState labeled them "quisling" Republicans who "sold out the nation\'s [sic] future." Malkin put up a "wanted" poster with the eight, under the text: "Wanted in the United States of America for selling out taxpayers." She went on label them the "GOP's Cap-and-Tax 8."

And Robert Stacy McCain is targeting the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), now that the "Monstrosity From Hell That Will Destroy the American Economy" passed with the help of eight GOP lawmakers.

...I've got four words for the National Republican Congressional Committee: Not One Red Cent.

We've already said Not One Red Cent for the National Republican Senatorial Committee because Sen. John Cornyn and the NRSC betrayed the GOP grassroots in Florida. Now, add the NRCC to the list.

What's the point of giving money to the national party if, on key votes, Republican members of the House are indistinguishable from Nancy Pelosi?

Why give money to the campaign committee whose job is to re-elect these RINO sellouts?

It's not altogether clear why RSM blames the NRCC for last night's outcome, but he added, "Unless and until all eight of these swine announce their retirements -- or are defeated in next year's primaries -- I say the grassroots answer to the NRCC should be NOT ONE RED CENT!"

Whether the party is inclined to take this talk seriously is unclear -- few seemed to care when these activists were livid about the Crist endorsement -- but some of the eight from last night are preparing statewide campaigns next year. If activists were really focused on punishing the defectors, Kirk and Castle would be the two most vulnerable of the eight.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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'ERADICATION IS A WASTE OF MONEY'.... When the administration talked up the idea of a new U.S. policy in Afghanistan, officials apparently meant it. This includes new restrictions on airstrikes, but just as importantly, it also includes a new approach to Afghanistan's drug problem.

The U.S. has announced a new drug policy for opium-rich Afghanistan, saying it was phasing out funding for eradication efforts and using the money for drug interdiction and alternate crop programs instead.

The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, told The Associated Press on Saturday that eradication programs weren't working and were only driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

"Eradication is a waste of money," Holbrooke said on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting on Afghanistan, where he announced the policy shift and said it had been warmly received, particularly by the United Nations.

Afghanistan is the world's leading source of opium, cultivating 93 percent of the world's heroin-producing crop. The United Nations has estimated the Taliban and other Afghan militants made $50 million to $70 million off the opium and heroin trade last year.

Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the U.N. drug office, has been arguing that international efforts are necessary to assist Afghan farmers who are willing to grow valuable crops, while at the same time, targeting drug trafficking and production. Holbrooke told the AP that hasn't been U.S. policy, but it's exactly what the Obama administration intends to do.

"We're essentially phasing out our support for crop eradication and using the money to work on interdiction, rule of law, alternate crops.... That's the big change in our policies."

Holbrooke said the previous U.S. policy to combat Afghan poppy, which focused on eradication programs, hadn't reduced "by one dollar" the amount of money the Taliban earned off cultivation and production.

"It might destroy some acreage," Holbrooke said. "But it just helped the Taliban." [...]

"The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living," he said. "It's the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban."

Afghanistan is going to remain a nightmarish challenge, but the chances of U.S. policy succeeding go up considerably with smart policies like these.

Steve Benen 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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IT'LL TAKE MORE THAN FOUR MONTHS.... Republicans have a new line of attack they seem to be especially excited about: President Obama, irrespective of what he inherited, has not yet fixed the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Indeed, in the Republican response to the president's weekly address, Representative John A. Boehner, the minority leader ... derides what he calls the Democrats' "spending binge" in service of helping the economy and asks, "After all of this spending, after all of this borrowing from China, the Middle East, our children, and our grandchildren, where are the jobs?"

Earlier this month, after May's job numbers looked less awful than expected, Boehner tried the same approach: "Today's announcement is an acknowledgement that the Democrats' trillion-dollar stimulus is not working, and the American people know it." (Boehner's assessment of the size of the stimulus is only off by hundreds of billions of dollars, but he's never been a "detail oriented" kind of guy.)

What's interesting, though, is the underlying point. When Obama took office, the economy was in free fall, the job market was collapsing, the banking industry was in crisis, the auto industry was on its last breath, the deficit was nearly $1.3 trillion, and the budget was a total mess. The White House got its stimulus bill in February, and saw Congress approve its budget in April.

And now, it's June, and congressional Republicans are shocked President Obama has not yet completely cleaned up the mess they directly helped create.

Boehner's argument, in a nutshell, is easy: if the recovery package passed in February hasn't solved our problems by June, it's only reasonable to declare it a failure. Paul Krugman noted this week that this kind of analysis is "insane," in large part because "hardly any of the money has flowed to the economy yet."

It took quite a while to dig our way into this hole; it'll take more than four months to get us out.

Maybe Boehner can just wait in the corner and let the grown-ups talk for a while.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is the resolution of a recent controversy involving the late Jerry Falwell's college in Virginia, which no longer wanted to allow its students to organize an official Democratic student group on campus.

Liberty University's College Democrats again will be recognized by the school after the two sides reached a compromise, school and club officials say.

Controversy ensued last month after the school announced it was revoking official recognition for the chapter, citing moral beliefs held by its parent organization. Specifically, Liberty was upset with the national Democrats' views supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

In an agreement announced Tuesday, whose terms begin with the fall semester, Liberty will classify all political clubs as "unofficial" -- meaning they will not receive any funding from the institution, but can use its facilities. According to the university's new policy, posted on its Web site, such groups will be able to use Liberty's name "as long as they make it clear they are not being endorsed by the university."

As compromises go, this may not sound like much of a deal for the College Dems, but Liberty will now at least treat College Democrats and Republicans equally.

"We had no policy governing unofficial clubs before all of this controversy," Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said in a statement. "The new policy will allow Liberty to protect its Christian mission and at the same time will allow the political clubs to achieve their objectives."

College Democrats Secretary Jan Derwish told CNN, "Our goal throughout this whole situation was to be put on the same playing field as our counterparts. I believe it is a fair compromise."

Liberty had more to consider than bad publicity and magnanimity -- the evangelical college was facing an IRS complaint because it's a tax-exempt institution that wanted to favor one political party over another. The compromise effectively ends the controversy.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The drive to make the visitor center on Capitol Hill a little more religious is gaining steam: "The House Administration Committee has unanimously approved a resolution directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the National Motto -- 'In God We Trust' - and the Pledge of Allegiance inside the new Capitol Visitor Center."

* And this week, when South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) returned to the United States and acknowledged his adulterous affair, he made an oblique reference to "C Street" in his remarks. The comment has renewed interest in a secretive spiritual haven in D.C.: "On any given day, the rowhouse at 133 C St. SE -- well appointed, with American flag flying, white-and-green-trimmed windows and a pleasant garden -- fills with talk of power and the Lord. At least five congressmen live there, quietly renting upstairs rooms from an organization affiliated with 'the Fellowship,' the obsessively secretive Arlington spiritual group that organizes the National Day of Prayer breakfast, an event routinely attended by legions of top government officials. Other politicians come to the house for group spirituality sessions, prayer meetings or to simply share their troubles."

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE PROMISES OF PRIMARY PRESSURE.... Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, up until fairly recently, opposed including a public option in health care reform. This week, he reversed course. I wonder why that is.

Speaking [on Thursday] to a large and animated crowd of union organizers and health reform advocates in a brewing house just North of the Capitol, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) said he supports a public insurance option.

"Schumer has it right about having a public component," Specter said. [...]

[T]he Schumer proposal is in line with the principles of the major reform campaign Health Care for America Now -- and, as such, just about every major health care and labor organization in the country.

Before Specter switched parties this spring -- and for a brief period afterward -- he said he did not support the public option. But as a Democrat he's facing different pressures -- notably from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) who plans to challenge Specter in next year's primary -- and he's begun tacking to the left as a result.

He certainly has. In his first week as a Democrat, Specter voted against the Democratic budget, rejected a Democratic measure to help prevent mortgage foreclosures, announced his opposition to the Democratic president's OLC nominee, announced his opposition to a public option, and told a national television audience that he'd never promised anyone he'd be a "loyal Democrat." Soon after, he told the New York Times, "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner." (Specter later said he forgot he was a Democrat.)

And yet, now we see Specter speaking at HCAN rallies and endorsing a public option.

Is there any doubt that a likely primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak is having an effect on Specter's policy positions?

When it comes to primary challenges, I tend to think they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If Specter were a Republican-turned-Democrat from Alabama, and a primary challenger were pushing him far enough to the left to make a general election campaign more difficult, I can imagine this being detrimental.

But for those who believe primary campaigns are always harmful to a party's interests, Specter's example is pretty compelling evidence to the contrary.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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DENIERS.... National Review's Victor Davis Hanson explained his rationale yesterday for denying evidence of global warming.

I just spent a few days in the Sierra in May during freezing cold temperatures and snow; a week ago it was quite cool and raining in New York; each time I have passed through Phoenix this spring it seemed unseasonably cool; and just gave a talk on the Russian River and about froze. Meanwhile the grapes look about ten days behind due to unseasonably cool temperatures. Any empiricist would be worried, as Newsweek once was, about global cooling. Will the planet boil, if we slow down a bit, review the science and dissenting views, and consider the wisdom in a recession of allotting nearly a trillion dollars to changing our very way of life (while the Chinese absorb market share)?

It's items like these that help explain why our political discourse is so routinely stunted. If the left and right disagreed on how best to address policy challenges, that would at least open the door to constructive dialog. But we're still stuck in a political environment in which prominent conservative voices at high-profile conservative outlets a) don't recognize the difference between climate and weather; b) find meaningless anecdotes compelling evidence of global trends; and c) are entirely comfortable delaying necessary solutions while trying to continue an already-completed debate.

Also yesterday, the Wall Street Journal editorial page ran an item from Kimberly Strassel that offered even less persuasive evidence. (via Jon Chait)

The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. -- 13 times the number who authored the U.N.'s 2007 climate summary for policymakers.

Ah, yes, the Inhofe list. Strassel sees "more than 700 scientists" who reject evidence of global warming, but a closer look reveals that the list includes economists, engineers, geographers, TV weathermen, and physicists -- none of whom has a background in climate science. Some of the "more than 700" actually accept global warming as fact, have asked that their names be removed from the list, only to find Inhofe ignore their requests.

In my favorite example, one of the 700 "scientists" is a weatherman at the FOX-affiliated station in Bowling Green, Ky. The "scientist' doesn't have a college degree, believes in creationism, and rejects evidence of global warming because he doesn't believe "God would allow humans to destroy the earth He created." He's also argued that his perspective on science has value, despite not having a background in science, because, "The way I see it, some people are too smart for their own good."

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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EXECUTIVE ORDER, INDEFINITE DETENTION.... About a month ago, President Obama delivered a speech at the National Archives on national security, and described his vision of a five-part system for detainees in U.S. custody. The fifth is made up of detainees who "cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people," and the president described what was, in effect, a system of indefinite detention without charges.

Obama added that his administration would submit such a system to checks and balances, and "will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution."

The administration has since come realize that working with Congress on this is practically impossible, so a new approach is under consideration.

Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.

Now, there are some ambiguities here. A White House spokesperson said "there is no executive order and that the administration has not decided whether to issue one." Time's Michael Scherer added, "A White House official tells me that there is no 'draft executive order' and that the task force charged with investigating this issue has not completed its work."

At the same time, according to the Post's report, an administration official suggested that the White House is trying to build support for an order. "Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order," the official said.

At first blush, this sounds very hard to believe. Why would civil liberties group encourage the White House to pursue indefinite detention through an executive order? The answer may be that an executive order is preferable to a new law negotiated through Congress, since an executive order can be easily rescinded.

For that matter, Spencer Ackerman talked to Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Policy who explained that the devil is in the details of the policy.

[Martin] doesn't have any knowledge about the order aside from what she's read, but says, "If the administration issues an executive order like the one [Linzer and Finn] describe [in the WaPo piece], it'll be a major victory." That's because Martin thinks that established law holds that the administration doesn't require any additional legal authorization to hold anyone captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan without charge until the end of hostilities -- that comes from the September 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, as does dispensation for the 9/11 plotters -- but would need to charge or release any detainee picked up outside either Afghanistan or Iraq. Martin thinks the reported executive order might be the only thing standing in the way of an even broader congressional effort of the sort seen in the war supplemental that Daphne critiqued yesterday.

While we wait for that additional information, there's one simple concept policymakers should keep in mind: locking people up indefinitely, without charging them with a crime or giving them a fair trial, is always a recipe for disaster.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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COMING UP ACES.... Hilzoy noted overnight that the House, in a very close vote, approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), 219 to 212. In the end, 44 Democrats broke party ranks and joined the minority in opposition -- including a few who had told the leadership otherwise -- while eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority.

The legislation's flaws notwithstanding, yesterday's vote was a very big deal. The NYT noted that this is the "first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation ... could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction."

Under the circumstances, a handful of Democratic leaders have definitely earned a pat on the back.

"It has been an incredible six months, to go from a point where no one believed we could pass this legislation to a point now where we can begin to say that we are going to send president Obama to Copenhagen in December as the leader of the of the world on climate change," said [Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (D)], referring to world climate talks scheduled this winter.

When Markey says "no one believed we could pass this legislation," that's not an exaggeration. This was more than just an ambitious long shot; this was widely seen as nearly impossible. When House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) vowed to get this bill out of committee, onto the floor, and over to the Senate before the 4th of July, some literally laughed at him.

And yet, here we are. Looks like Waxman was the right person for the job.

Credit also has to go to Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, both of whom were tested on this, twisting arms on legislation Congress didn't want to pass, and both passed their tests nicely. The Hill called yesterday's vote "one of the biggest victories of [Pelosi's] tenure" as Speaker, which is an entirely fair assessment.

As for the eight Republicans who supported the measure -- Reps. Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Mike Castle (Del.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), John McHugh (N.Y.), Dave Reichert (Wash,), and Chris Smith (N.J.) -- this should probably be seen as a sign of at least some progress. For one thing, the legislation likely would have failed without them. For another, a few of these GOP lawmakers are planning to run for statewide office next year, suggesting they see a political upside to being on the right side of climate change when seeking a promotion.

And let's also not forget that House Republicans have been strikingly disciplined and in lock-step this year, giving Democrats exactly zero GOP votes on measures like the budget and the economic stimulus package. The Republican leadership would have loved nothing more than to see a united front against ACES yesterday, but it obviously didn't happen.

Now, onto the Senate. Does it stand a chance? Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Hilzoy

Cap And Trade Passes The House

From the NYT:

"The House passed legislation on Friday intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

The bill's passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.

At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves. The cap would grow tighter over the years, pushing up the price of emissions and presumably driving industry to find cleaner ways of making energy.

President Obama hailed the House passage of the bill as "a bold and necessary step." He said in a statement that he looked forward to Senate action that would send a bill to his desk "so that we can say, at long last, that this was the moment when we decided to confront America's energy challenge and reclaim America's future."

Think about it. Cap and trade is completely in line with standard market economics: you identify an externality that the market does not capture, design a market system to capture and price that externality, and rectify a market failure. The Democrats, who favor the bill, have a huge margin in Congress. They water it down in various ways to make it more palatable to various wavering people. And after all that, it still only passes by seven votes.

That's sad. I hate to think what will happen to it in the Senate.

It's also a testament to the power of special interests. Consider the bill's emissions credits. President Obama proposed to auction them all, which would have allowed them to be distributed to those businesses to whom they were most valuable; the proceeds from the auction would have gone both to rebates to consumers and to funding a continuation of the middle class tax cuts. Oh no! shrieked various utilities and other corporations that would have had to pay for those auctioned credits. And lo! our representatives caved, which means that the money that would have paid for our tax cuts is no longer there.

I'm really glad it passed: it's a lot better than nothing. But it could have been better still.

Hilzoy 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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June 26, 2009

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Bloodshed in Baghdad: "A bomb mounted on a motorcycle exploded in an outdoor market in Baghdad on Friday, killing nearly a dozen people and wounded scores more in a third straight day of violence in the capital ahead of the Tuesday deadline for American troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities.... Nearly 200 people were killed and hundreds wounded in attacks over the past week in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, with the deadliest attacks aimed at Shiites."

* More signs of trouble out of Iran: "An influential Iranian cleric told worshipers Friday that those stirring unrest in connection with the recent election should be punished 'ruthlessly and savagely' and convicted for waging war against God, a crime that under Shiite Islamic law is punishable by death."

* The CIA's declassification of that 2004 report we've been waiting for will happen ... someday.

* For all the recent complaints about "apology tours," South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) seems to be in the middle of one.

* At this point, some of the Democratic fence-sitters on Waxman-Markey appear to be announcing their support for the bill, and the leadership seems confident that the bill will pass.

* House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers' (D-Mich.) wife, Monica Conyers, the president pro tem of the Detroit city council, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit bribery.

* Sen. Kay Hagan's (D-N.C.) opposition to a public option is a major stumbling block, so MoveOn.org is putting the pressure on.

* One of these days, conservative Republican lawmakers are going to learn to stay away from comparing American leaders to Iranian's authoritarian regime. It's not only insulting; it makes them appear ridiculous.

* Given how very, very wrong she is, and how often her arguments fall apart upon scrutiny, it's disturbing that Betsy McCaughey is given major media platforms as often as she is.

* Sarah Palin's comeback insults are about as fresh and creative as her policy agenda.

* Vice President Biden spoke at a party fundraiser with gay and lesbian donors yesterday, and reiterated the administration's commitment to gay rights. He added that he doesn't blame supporters for their "impatience." Despite recent tensions, Biden reportedly drew "repeated standing ovations."

* The Senate's impeachment trial against U.S. District Judge Sam Kent was cut short when he resigned yesterday.

* I'm familiar with the notion that "sex sells," but Burger King's ad campaign in Singapore is wildly inappropriate.

* Michael Savage is apparently no longer threatening the staff of Media Matters.

* And Rhode Island's official name is "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." Policymakers are moving towards dropping the last two words in the long name. Seems like a good idea.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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HOAXES.... Listening to the House debate over the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) is a surprisingly frustrating experience. It's probably better that most Americans don't actually see these debates -- it would undermine faith in our system of government.

At one point today, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) noted, "It is very difficult to find common ground if the other side rejects the science of our times." Truer words, never spoken.

Take, for example, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.). Broun is perhaps best known for telling reporters late last year that he fears that President Obama may establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship on Americans. He added at the time that Obama reminds him of Hitler. Today, the Georgia Republican shared his thoughts on the environment.

"Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus.... And who's going to be hurt most [by ACES] the poor, the people on limited income…the people who can least afford to have their energy taxes raised by MIT says $3,100 per family.... This bill must be defeated. We need to be good stewards of our environment, but this is not it, it's a hoax!"

The "$3,100 per family" line has been debunked over and over again -- the MIT scholar Broun cites has specifically tried to explain to Republican lawmakers that it's completely bogus -- but they just can't seem to stop using it.

Regardless, the general inanity of the speech is what's troubling. Ideally, the two major parties would at least agree on reality. Reasonable people would look at the evidence and recognize the seriousness of the climate crisis. From there, Democrats and Republicans could argue fiercely over how best to address the problem.

But policymakers can't work together to tackle problems when one side prefers to believe the problems don't exist.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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DEPT. OF PRACTICING, PREACHING.... Patrick Ruffini, a Republican strategist and blogger, had an interesting item yesterday on the GOP and adultery, and the apparent double-standard when it comes to the major political parties and infidelity.

At the core of the Sanford and Ensign episodes is the cloud of "hypocrisy" that hangs over any Republican who strays from the bonds of their marriage. (Quickly forgetting that all who commit adultery are hypocrites, having taken a solemn vow of marriage.) Because Democrats are perceived as more socially libertine, they get off easier.

This is a structural disadvantage that, on the margins, hurts Republican officeholders, forcing them into resignation or disgrace more easily than their equally adulterous Democratic counterparts.

Simply put, it is a strategic error to sanctify the idea that it's worse when Republicans cheat.

Ruffini's argument, at face value, is not unreasonable. Adultery is, he argues, a "human failing that strikes Democrats and Republicans equally." With that in mind, the GOP should resist the temptation to "purge their ranks based exclusively on a test of personal moral conduct."

I tend to see this differently. For one thing, I'm not at all sure that Republicans are forced into "resignation or disgrace" more easily than unfaithful Dems. In fact, I get the sense that's backwards -- the only recently caught adulterer to resign from office was Eliot Spitzer. Sanford, Ensign, Vitter, Craig, et al were all caught while in office, and each one ignored calls to step down.

But more to the point, shouldn't there be a double standard? I can appreciate why Ruffini would lament a "structural disadvantage" on this, but hasn't the Republican Party invited this disadvantage?

For a few decades, Republican candidates at every level have emphasized the GOP's moral superiority on "family values." If you want to protect the "sanctity" of marriage, the argument went, it's incumbent on you to vote Republican. There's a culture war underway, Americans have been told, and Democrats just aren't as reliable on these issues as the GOP.

All the while, the list of prominent Republican officeholders who cheat on their spouses keeps getting longer.

Ruffini thinks it's a mistake to "sanctify the idea that it's worse when Republicans cheat." The problem is, it is worse. If the party doesn't want to be held to a higher moral standard, the party probably ought to stop lecturing everyone else about higher moral standards.

If you help run Mothers Against Drunk Driving and you're caught drunk driving, it's going to be a bigger deal than the typical DUI. If you're the local fire chief and you're caught setting a fire, it's going to be a bigger deal than the typical arson.

And if you're part of a party that hails itself as the political arbiter of virtue and morality, it's going to be a bigger deal when some of your party's leading figures get caught in sex scandals.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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NAMING NAMES.... Dan Froomkin's last Washington Post piece was, alas, published earlier today, and for all the reasons we talked about last week, it's a real shame to see him go.

But as TS reminded me, it's worth paying particular attention to Froomkin's last item, not just for sentiment, but because Froomkin goes out with the kind of pull-no-punches insights that made his work so valuable in the first place.

Froomkin reflects, for example, on his observations from the previous administration (links in the original):

When I look back on the Bush years, I think of the lies. There were so many. Lies about the war and lies to cover up the lies about the war. Lies about torture and surveillance. Lies about Valerie Plame. Vice President Dick Cheney's lies, criminally prosecutable but for his chief of staff Scooter Libby's lies. I also think about the extraordinary and fundamentally cancerous expansion of executive power that led to violations of our laws and our principles.

And while this wasn't as readily apparent until President Obama took office, it's now very clear that the Bush years were all about kicking the can down the road – either ignoring problems or, even worse, creating them and not solving them. This was true of a huge range of issues including the economy, energy, health care, global warming -- and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.

How did the media cover it all? Not well. Reading pretty much everything that was written about Bush on a daily basis, as I did, one could certainly see the major themes emerging. But by and large, mainstream-media journalism missed the real Bush story for way too long. The handful of people who did exceptional investigative reporting during this era really deserve our gratitude: People such as Ron Suskind, Seymour Hersh, Jane Mayer, Murray Waas, Michael Massing, Mark Danner, Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau (better late than never), Dana Priest, Walter Pincus, Charlie Savage and Philippe Sands; there was also some fine investigative blogging over at Talking Points Memo and by Marcy Wheeler. Notably not on this list: The likes of Bob Woodward and Tim Russert. Hopefully, the next time the nation faces a grave national security crisis, we will listen to the people who were right, not the people who were wrong, and heed those who reported the truth, not those who served as stenographers to liars.

Why am I going to miss Dan's column at the Post? This is why.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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TYING IT ALL TOGETHER.... We learned yesterday, by way of Rush Limbaugh, that Mark Sanford's sex scandal was President Obama's fault. If it weren't for the administration's economic policies, the argument goes, Sanford would have been more optimistic about the future, wouldn't have cheated on his wife, and wouldn't have secretly left the country to see his mistress.

Who can argue with air-tight logic like this?

Today, Limbaugh's right-wing colleague, Michael Savage, takes this one step further. Obama didn't just inspire Sanford to betray his family; the White House conspired to make this scandal happen in the first place.

"The fact is, Obama's team is taking out potential [2012] rivals, one after another," Savage argued. "Just last week, the media jumped on the story of Sen. John Ensign (R) of Nevada and his infidelity. He was considered to be a possible Republican presidential candidate in '12. Now Sanford, who had similar ambitions, caught in a similar situation.

"This is politics at its worst, brought to us by the worst administration, the meanest administration, the most closed administration, the most incompetent administration in American history."

Now, listening to the clip, it's a little unclear to me whether Savage thinks Obama made Sanford and Ensign have sex with these other women, or whether Obama was spying on Sanford and Ensign, learned of their adultery, and brought it to public attention.

Sure, either way, this is all painfully stupid, and not to be taken seriously. But even from the perspective of a twisted right-wing worldview, I'm curious about one thing: how does an incompetent administration pull off a feat like this? Wouldn't it take an enormous amount of competence to secretly hatch such an elaborate conspiracy?

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (135)

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HOLDING A MISGUIDED GRUDGE.... Apparently, some of the conservative criticism of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is not just about her or her record. Some of it, the NYT's Neil Lewis reports today, has to do with the fact that liberals hurt conservatives' feelings in 1987 and 1991.

[T]he fervor with which some of those criticisms have been hurled may not be just about Judge Sotomayor. Those emotions, say people who have followed the confirmation wars, are often fueled by the sense of grievance among conservatives and Republicans who say their judicial nominees have been treated unfairly and, sometimes, disrespectfully.

Richard A. Epstein, a noted libertarian-conservative scholar at the University of Chicago, said he had concluded that the case against Judge Sotomayor was thin but that it was energized by the anger over the treatment of past conservative nominees like Robert H. Bork, who lost his confirmation battle in 1987, and Clarence Thomas, who was narrowly confirmed four years later.

"There's no question that those hurts remain powerful today," Professor Epstein said in an interview. "And there's no question that Breyer and Ginsburg were never subjected to anything remotely like that," a reference to Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the last two Democratic nominees, both of whom faced relatively easy confirmation proceedings.

As conservative whining goes, this is awfully weak. Bork isn't some kind of conservative martyr, inspiring baseless conservative attacks 22 years later. He was a "right-wing nut" who was so far from the American mainstream, he drew bipartisan opposition. For that matter, Clarence Thomas was not only a conservative ideologue with limited judicial experience, he also faced credible accusations of sexual harassment -- and was confirmed anyway.

As for Breyer and Ginsburg, they were far less controversial because, well, they were far less controversial. They were both qualified, mainstream jurists, recommended to a Democratic president by the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time. They faced "relatively easy confirmation proceedings" because they, unlike Bork and Thomas, were better nominees for the high court.

And yet, two decades after Bork and Thomas, the right is feeling sorry for itself, and using the old controversies as a justification for new unfair attacks on Sotomayor. Maybe it's time for conservatives to get over it?

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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BACHMANN RAISES THE ISSUE OF 'MENTAL STABILITY'.... You can enjoy Glenn Beck's deranged worldview, or you can enjoy Michele Bachmann's deranged worldview, but for real entertainment, you can watch one "interview" the other.

Yes, the Minnesota Republican appeared on the infamous Fox News program yesterday, and said a lot of the things you'd likely expect her to say. Cap and trade is anti-freedom? Check. The census can be used to round up Americans for internment camps? Checkity check. ACORN is scary and dangerous? Checkity check check.

But Bachmann did break a little new ground: "Does the federal government really need to know our phone numbers? Do they really need to know, like you said, the date and time that we leave? Mental stability?

"You know the one question that's not on this survey, Glenn? 'Are you a U.S. citizen?' This would be your perfect opportunity to find out how many illegal aliens are in the United States. Guess what? That's the one question they don't ask on this."

First, the form asks for a phone number, but it's not required, and it's only there so the Census Bureau can follow up with those who submit incomplete questionnaires.

Second, asking people whether they're American citizens or not is hardly an effective strategy for "finding out how many illegal aliens are in the United States." I don't want to alarm Bachmann and Beck, but I have a hunch someone who's in the country illegally might not answer the question truthfully.

Third, the reasons people are asked some seemingly personal questions is that it's relevant information, tied to government policy. As the Census Bureau tried to explain to Bachmann, "[The materials] would include questions such as income, education levels, how long it take you to get to work. All of these things are actually tied to federal programs, laws or judicial rulings that say we must collect data on these questions. So Congress approves these questions so they can now administer some of the programs and laws that they've passed."

And finally, did you notice that Bachmann just threw in a random reference to "mental stability"? It seemed a little out of the blue, and given the circumstances, rather ironic.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Former Rep. Rick Lazio (R), perhaps best known for getting trounced by Hillary Clinton in New York nine years ago, is planning to run for governor of New York next year.

* The polls in Florida's gubernatorial race are far from consistent, but Rasmussen has state Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) leading state CFO Alex Sink (D), 42% to 34%.

* In North Carolina, a survey from InsiderAdvantage shows Sen. Richard Burr (R) with just a 39% approval rating. Though this reinforces the perception that Burr is definitely vulnerable next year, Democrats have not found a top-tier challenger for the race.

* There's a very competitive Republican Senate primary in Kansas for the open-seat contest next year, featuring two House members: Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran. Yesterday, it seemed the religious right started moving heavily in Tiahrt's direction.

* In Oregon, the latest Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos shows Democrats with the edge in next year's gubernatorial campaign. The leading Democratic candidates -- former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Rep. Peter DeFazio -- are leading the likely Republican candidates -- former Sen. Gordon Smith and Rep. Greg Walden -- in hypothetical general election match-ups.

* Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton is stepping down next month after five terms, in preparation of a primary challenge against Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

* Is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) going to run for president? He seems to be thinking about it.

* Is former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) going to run for president? He's thinking about it, too.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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DEMINT DOES IT AGAIN.... Gearing up for his re-election campaign next year, Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, arguably the chamber's single most conservative member, is doing what all candidates in his position are doing: raising money and unveiling legislation.

Here's his latest pitch to supporters:

I believe the only way to take back our freedom is to return to the constitutional principles our founding fathers promised in 1776. It's upon those principles I announced my conservative alternative to President Obama's liberal healthcare plan just yesterday.

I can't do all this alone.... I trust that conservative activists are willing to stand behind the ideas I've been pushing in Washington, so I've set a loft [sic] goal of raising $17,760 in $17.76 increments over the next five days.... All you have to do is click here and donate $17.76.

I suppose this preoccupation with 1776 is a cute little fundraising gimmick, but it's also rather embarrassing. As Alex Koppelman explained this morning, "[T]he Constitution wasn't written until 1787, 11 years later. The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, but it didn't contain 'the constitutional principles our founding fathers promised.' In fact, there was a whole other system of government in place in the U.S. before the Constitution was written."

Given the constant references in DeMint's pitch, it seems like the kind of detail he's want to get right.

And what about the Republican senator's "conservative alternative to President Obama's liberal healthcare plan"? Well, as DeMint sees it, Americans would be given vouchers -- $2,000 dollars for individuals, up to $5,000 for families -- to go buy private insurance. Voila, universal coverage.

How would this lower health care costs? DeMint doesn't say, probably because it wouldn't lower costs at all. Instead of using competition to challenge insurers, DeMint would instead direct untold millions to insurance companies. He'd pay for it by scrapping TARP.

What happens when TARP money runs out? DeMint doesn't know. What happens with Americans who can't get insurance because of pre-existing conditions? DeMint doesn't know. What's to stop employers from scrapping their own plans and simply telling their employees to take the DeMint voucher? DeMint doesn't know. What happens when costs continue to spiral out of control? DeMint doesn't know.

Andrew Leonard said the South Carolina senator's "plan" takes us "to a Republican fantasy-land so devoid from any moorings in reality that one is forced, willy-nilly, to admire it, irrespective of its merits. It takes true chutzpah to pull something like this off."

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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PRESCRIPTION FOR RATINGS?.... There's a perception that it's difficult to get Americans, in large numbers, to tune into policy discussions, even important ones. I was curious, then, to see what the ratings were like for the ABC News special this week on health care at the White House.

Apparently, folks tuned in after all.

The ABC News special edition of Primetime "Questions for the President: Prescription for America" drew 4.7 million Total Viewers - last in the time slot but ABC's best 10pm audience in six weeks. NBC's "The Philanthropist" won the time period with 7.4M and CBS' "CSI NY" was second with 7.3M.

ABC's program continued into "Nightline" where it topped NBC's "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" and CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" in fast national data. The program averaged 4.25 million Total Viewers at 11:35pm, to Conan's 3.66 million and Letterman's 3.23 million.

It's possible, of course, that the RNC's incessant whining about the program helped give the special the publicity needed to generate a larger audience, but for an evening discussion on health care policy to draw bigger numbers than Letterman and Conan seems pretty impressive.

Apparently, some far-right blogs are crowing that the ratings weren't higher. All things being equal, though, the numbers suggest there is an audience for substantive policy discussions, which is encouraging.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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THE AD WRITES ITSELF.... For several years, Democratic opposition to blank-check spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the single most popular area of attack for Republicans. To vote against "funding the troops," the GOP said, was to betray the nation and those who wear the uniform. It was the basis for countless speeches, ad campaigns, and attacks.

Whether a lawmaker was fully satisfied with individual provisions in the spending bill was irrelevant -- the troops are fighting wars and they need the money. Excuses won't protect them or give them the resources they need.

In fact, just a year ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued, "[T]here is a clear distinction between saying you support the troops and backing up those claims with genuine action. [Obama] once said 'we shouldn't play chicken with our troops' when it comes to funding our troops in harm's way, and [Hillary Clinton] urged General Petraeus at the start of the surge to request 'every possible piece of equipment and resource necessary' to keep our troops safe. These words turned into little more than empty rhetoric when both proceeded to vote against funding our troops last year."

Last week, of course, the situation was reversed, and it was House Republicans "voting against funding our troops." This week, the DCCC is unveiling a series of 60-second radio ads targeting seven vulnerable GOP incumbents on their votes. This one, for example, goes after Rep. Lee Terry (R) of Nebraska.

"Around here, we recognize Independence Day with parades ... and picnics ... maybe a few fireworks.

"But July Fourth is about more than that. It's about remembering those who fought for our freedoms. And those still fighting today.

"Congressman Lee Terry used to understand that. When George Bush asked, Congressman Terry voted to fully fund our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, last year he said, quote, 'We must give our military every resource it needs.'

"Seems like Congressman Terry is playing politics now. Last month Congressman Terry voted AGAINST funding for those same troops. It's true: vote number 348 -- you can look it up."

Republicans did make this easy for Dems. Indeed, all the DCCC had to do was pull up the same kind of radio ads Republicans used before and insert GOP names.

As a substantive, policy matter, lawmakers can have completely legitimate reasons for voting against military spending measures, and opposition to these expenditures does not make one an unpatriotic terrorist sympathizer.

But Republicans opened this door. It's hard to blame Democrats for walking through it.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... I don't usually think of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) as a champion of progressive public policies, but on health care, it sounds like he's exactly where he needs to be. (via TPM)

"We can't count on insurance companies. They are just maximizing their profits. They are sticking it to consumers. I am all for letting insurance companies compete. But I want them to compete in a system that offers real health-care insurance. I call it a public plan," Rockefeller said.

Earlier this month, Rockefeller introduced the Consumers Health Care Act that would give all consumers the option to participate in a government-run plan competing with private plans. [...]

On Thursday, Rockefeller admitted he expects little bipartisan support.

"There is a very small chance any Republicans will vote for this health-care plan. They were against Medicare and Medicaid [created in the 1960s]. They voted against children's health insurance.

"We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that," Rockefeller added.

"But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice."

Good for Jay Rockefeller -- a moderate from a "red" state where Obama lost last year by 13 points.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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SANFORD'S POOR ODDS.... Even if South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) had engaged in a regular ol' extra-marital affair, the pressure on him to resign would be considerable. South Carolina is one of the most socially conservative states in the nation, Sanford has always positioned himself as a Bible-quoting champion of "family values," and even "routine" adultery would ruin his credibility with the state's political establishment.

But it's Sanford's specific and aggravating details* that make his survival significantly less likely. Instead of a regular ol' affair, this governor used tax-dollars to see his mistress, and then left the country for a week, ignoring his responsibilities, to visit with his lover in Argentina.

Early yesterday, Sanford's office said the governor would not consider stepping down. As the day dragged on, it became apparent that the governor may not have a choice.

Fellow Republicans issued sharp calls for the disgraced Sanford to step down -- a move he indicated he was not considering. And at least one campaign donor was drafting a letter asking for his money back.

One county GOP leader said the governor "talked about how our leaders have stepped away from our core values, and said one thing on the campaign trail or out in the public and did something different in the background."

Glenn McCall, a local representative to the Republican National Committee, said the GOP "can recover from this if we hold him accountable and the governor does the right thing and resigns for the sake of the party."

The state Commerce Department records indicated that Sanford's taxpayer-financed trip to Argentina last year cost the public more than $8,000. The governor said yesterday he would reimburse the state, but Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts, a longtime Sanford foe, said that wouldn't be good enough. Knotts called for an independent investigation by the state's Law Enforcement Division into Sanford's extracurricular activities.

Which helps point to what may be the biggest impediment to Sanford's political survival: his complete lack of allies. The governor wasn't especially popular with lawmakers in either party before he secretly left the country to visit with his foreign mistress, and by any reasonable measure, Sanford has just done an awful job as South Carolina's chief executive, independent of his obvious personal shortcomings.

Ordinarily, in a situation like this, a governor might a) circle the wagons; and/or b) point to his record of on-the-job successes and hope they overshadow his personal failings.

In this case, though, Sanford has run out of friends and can't rely on his record.

* fixed

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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CAN THE CLIMATE CHANGE BILL CROSS THE FINISH LINE?.... After months of legislative legwork, arm-twisting, and compromising, the Waxman-Markey energy reform legislation will likely get a vote on the House floor today. The NYT has a good editorial, urging its passage.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act would, for the first time, put a price on carbon emissions. The bill has shortcomings. But we believe that it is an important beginning to the urgent task of averting the worst damage from climate change. Approval would show that the United States is ready to lead and would pressure other countries to follow. Rejection could mean more wasted years and more damage to the planet. [...]

The centerpiece of the legislation is a provision that aims to cut America's production of greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by midcentury -- the minimum reductions scientists say are necessary to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

Its mechanism for doing so is a cap-and-trade system that would place a steadily declining ceiling on emissions while allowing emitters to trade permits, or allowances, to give them flexibility in meeting their targets. The point is to raise the cost of older, dirtier fuels while steering investments to cleaner ones.

The two seasoned politicians behind this bill -- Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts -- have also insisted on provisions that would mandate more efficient buildings, require cleaner energy sources like wind power and provide subsidies for new technologies.

The AP did a nice job putting together a Q&A with frequently asked questions about the bill. Of particular interest was its description of how the reform legislation will affect Americans' lives: "It fundamentally will change how we use, produce and consume energy, ending the country's love affair with big gas-guzzling cars and its insatiable appetite for cheap electricity. This bill will put smaller, more efficient cars on the road, swap smokestacks for windmills and solar panels, and transform the appliances you can buy for your home."

This is not to say, however, that it's nearly as progressive or as ambitious as it could be. Indeed, some of the chamber's most liberal Democrats (see Kucinich, Dennis) will oppose the bill for not going far enough. David Roberts added, "The green world is ... fluctuating between rage (kill it!), dread (we're screwed), and resignation (it's better than nothing)."

And even under optimistic scenarios, nearly everyone seems to agree that Waxman-Markey, if it passes the House, and if the Senate doesn't screw it up, and if it does what it's supposed to do, will still only be a first step in the right direction. No one is under any illusions that, if the bill becomes law, policymakers can just clap the dust off their hands and say, "Global warming? Problem solved."

But first steps still need to be taken, and Waxman-Markey is about the best bill anyone can hope for, all things considered.

So, is this thing going to pass? In a 435-member House, 218 is the minimum necessary for passage. As of late yesterday, Waxman-Markey had 184 "yes" votes, and a whole lot of "maybes," with a lot of wrangling going on behind the scenes.

Republican leaders think the votes aren't there for passage; Democrats think it'll cross the finish line; and President Obama is doing his part to push those on the fence. We'll know soon enough, but keep in mind -- if the Democratic leadership is counting heads and can't find 218, they'll probably scrap today's vote and reschedule.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Hilzoy

"Hot Air", Indeed.

Here's an exchange from ABC News' special on Obama's health care proposal:

"Q: If your wife or your daughter became seriously ill, and things were not going well, and the plan physicians told you they were doing everything that could be done, and you sought out opinions from some medical leaders in major centers and they said there's another option you should pursue, but it was not covered in the plan, would you potentially sacrifice the health of your family for the greater good of insuring millions or would you do everything you possibly could as a father and husband to get the best health care and outcome for your family?

OBAMA (after talking about his grandmother): I think families all across America are going through decisions like that all the time, and you're absolutely right that if it's my family member, my wife, if it's my children, if it's my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care.

Ed Morrissey calls this Obama's Michael Dukakis moment", and writes:

"Oopsie! So ObamaCare for thee, but not for me? Hope and change, baby! (...)

If ObamaCare isn't good enough for Sasha, Malia, or Michelle, then it's not good enough for America. Instead of fighting that impulse, Obama should be working to boost the private sector to encourage more care providers, less red tape and expense, and better care for everyone."

It's worth taking this apart a bit. It is true now, and would be true under any remotely plausible insurance scheme, that sometimes insurers will not pay for treatments, on the grounds that they are too experimental and unproven, or that they just plain don't work. That is true under our current system, and it would remain true under Obama's plan.

It is also true, both under our present system and under Obama's proposal (and, for that matter, any other proposal out there) that people who want medical care that is not covered by insurance can get it, so long as they are willing to pay for it themselves (or find someone else to pay for it.) Thus, if Bill Gates wants to try some very expensive unproven treatment, he can. If I wanted that same treatment under the same conditions, I would not be able to have it.

If this counts as "ObamaCare for Bill Gates but not for me", then it exists now, and will continue to exist under Obama's plan, and any other plan under even remotely serious consideration. Curiously, we have the same system for all sorts of things. Cars, for instance: much as I love my Prius, I would really, really love to have a vintage Jag. Unfortunately, I can't afford one. I imagine that Barack Obama can. Oh no: he's a hypocrite again: it's ObamaCar for him but not for the rest of us, who can't afford vintage Jags! I could go on -- ObamaFood, ObamaLivingRoomSets, and so forth, but you get the point.

The main difference between ObamaMicrowaves and ObamaCare is that the government does not so much as try to ensure that everyone will have a toaster oven. So Obama and I get what the government provides in the way of toaster ovens, namely nothing, and then we have the option to buy more. This is what we call "the market", and it means that some people end up better off, toaster-oven-wise, than others.

With health care, by contrast, we guarantee that certain kinds of people -- the elderly, children, veterans, federal workers, etc. -- will get health insurance, which in turn provides them with health care -- at least, it's supposed to. As I said above, it will not pay for experimental treatments, or treatments that don't work. Nonetheless, unlike toaster ovens, the government provides some people with a decent level of health care; as with toaster ovens, they are free to get more.

Obama's health care plan would extend insurance to more people; ideally, to everyone. The point is to put a floor under everyone -- and a decent one. It's also to give them more choices about the health insurance they or their employers purchase. The point was never to put a ceiling on how much people can spend, or to make absolutely sure that Bill Gates has no advantage over anyone else, as far as health care is concerned.

Nothing -- nothing -- about this idea is in any way inconsistent with the idea that someone who can pay for health care that his or her insurance company declines to cover should be able to do so. The alternative would be to forbid people to get any care that is not covered by their insurance. Again, that is something that no one has seriously proposed. Surely Ed Morrissey isn't faulting Obama for not proposing to forbid people from buying health care on his own -- is he?

Hilzoy 2:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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By: Hilzoy

Broken

Finally, four months after his nomination, Harold Koh has been confirmed by the Senate as the State Department's legal advisor. Various Republican Senators have put holds on Koh. They threatened to filibuster, and 31 of them voted against cloture.

The Republicans who voted in favor of his nomination were Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Richard Lugar, Mel Martinez, and George Voinovich. Those who had the decency to vote for cloture even though they opposed his appointment were Lamar Alexander, Judd Gregg, and Orrin Hatch.

Meanwhile, Dawn Johnsen's nomination remains on hold, although TPMDC reports that she has -- gasp -- been seen in DC, so maybe things are looking up on that front as well.

This should not be happening. Normally, nominees for administration positions are confirmed unless there's some reason to think that the nominee is just beyond the pale. But this time, the Republicans seem to have decided that they will filibuster things at will. The government cannot function this way. The Senate is broken, and it needs to be fixed.

I'm in favor of having a filibuster so long as it is used only in extreme situations. But the understanding that it will be so used has broken down. Reporters who should know better routinely write that some bill or nominee cannot get "the sixty votes needed to pass", as though it were standard operating procedure for the Senate to require a supermajority.

It is not. And if the Senate Republicans want to make it into one, it's time to end the filibuster (though I'd be open to keeping it for judicial appointments, which are for life.)

Hilzoy 12:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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June 25, 2009
By: Hilzoy

First, Farrah Fawcett:

Photobucket

She was enough of a star that she didn't need to make The Burning Bed, and the kind of star (all-American sex symbol) who might justifiably have wondered what effect it might have on her career. But she made it anyways, and it had an enormous effect of bringing the discussion of domestic violence into the mainstream. A lot of people owe her thanks for that, and other things.

Michael Jackson was about my age, which means that I remember when he first came to national attention. If you know him more from Thriller, let alone from his later life, it might be hard to imagine just how talented he was; and how beautiful his face was before he started trying to improve on it. This is from when he was around eleven (if you want to skip the dumb intro, start at around 40 seconds):

Wikipedia:

"From a young age Jackson was physically and mentally abused by his father, enduring incessant rehearsals, whippings and name-calling. Jackson's abuse as a child affected him throughout his grown life. In one altercation -- later recalled by Marlon Jackson -- Joseph held Michael upside down by one leg and "pummeled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks". Joseph would often trip up, or push the male children into walls. One night while Jackson was asleep, Joseph climbed into his room through the bedroom window. Wearing a fright mask, he entered the room screaming and shouting. Joseph said he wanted to teach his children not to leave the window open when they went to sleep. For years afterward, Jackson suffered nightmares about being kidnapped from his bedroom.

Jackson first spoke openly about his childhood abuse in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey. He said that during his childhood he often cried from loneliness and would sometimes get sick or start to regurgitate upon seeing his father. In Jackson's other high profile interview, Living with Michael Jackson (2003), the singer covered his face with his hand and began crying when talking about his childhood abuse. Jackson recalled that Joseph sat in a chair with a belt in his hand as he and his siblings rehearsed and that "if you didn't do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you.""

For me, the song that encapsulates Michael Jackson's stranger side is Ben. If you don't know it, give it a listen, bearing in mind that the Ben in question is a homicidal rat.

May they rest in peace.

Hilzoy 9:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from Iran: "As Iran's embattled opposition leader said he would "not back down for a second" in challenging the disputed elections, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told President Obama on Thursday to avoid interfering in Iran's affairs and demanded an apology from the American leader for striking the same critical tones as his predecessor, George W. Bush."

* The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 ruling, makes the right call on the strip-search of a 13-year-old girl suspected of having ibuprofen.

* South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) office said today he will not resign, but there's a growing number of key officials who want him gone, and his constituents would prefer he step down.

* The Waxman-Markey energy bill is headed for a vote tomorrow on the House floor, with the outcome very much in doubt. Today, President Obama leaned on lawmakers to pass the legislation. Brad Plumer has a very good look at the behind-the-scenes wrangling to secure a majority.

* I'm delighted to see Harold Koh was confirmed this afternoon, 62 to 35.

* Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is on board with the public-option plan sketched out by Sen. Chuck Schumer.

* Art Levine considers the showdown between lobbyists' interests and the nation's interests.

* Mark Sanford's personal emails to his mistress are his own business. Who leaked them, however, continues to be of interest.

* Why is right-wing shock-jock Michael Savage threatening Media Matters?

* With the Letterman controversy more or less finished, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has started a new feud, this time taking on an Alaskan blogger.

* In light of Hal Turner's arrest, that DHS report on extremists continues to look more and more relevant.

* Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas officially announced his opposition to Sonia Sotomayor's nomination yesterday, joining Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

* If you're a Republican candidate guilty of adultery, don't worry, the Washington Examiner can help pretend it didn't happen.

* Ezra Klein notices that conservative bloggers tend to live in an alternate universe.

* Fox News is sorry it identified Mark Sanford as a Democrat yesterday.

* As expected, the $3,100 cap-and-trade GOP talking point has been thoroughly debunked, but House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) keeps repeating it.

* Think Bush's Justice Department couldn't possibly look any worse? Think again.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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UNDER THE ARBITRARY CEILING.... Max Baucus has his eye on a specific spending target, and he seems to think he'll hit it.

A senior lawmaker trying to break the logjam on health care overhaul says his committee has come up with elements of a plan that would allow them to produce a bill under $1 trillion that would be fully paid for.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., made the announcement Thursday. Of the five congressional committees working on President Barack Obama's top legislative priority, Finance has the best chance of producing a bipartisan bill.

Baucus said the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed the $1 trillion cost over 10 years.

Now, I haven't seen any of the details on this, so I can't speak to the efforts that went into Baucus reaching the desired price tag.

But it occurs to me that it's odd, just on a conceptual level, to pick an arbitrary number and build the policy around it. We're apparently dealing with a legislative dynamic in which Senate leaders want a reform bill that costs no more than $1 trillion over the course of 10 years (or, an average, $100 billion a year). What if a good bill cost $1.1 trillion or $1.2 trillion? That's too much. Why? Because the Senate likes round numbers.

Did any of this happen during the Bush years? Did Republican senators ever say, "We'd like to fund the war in Iraq on an indefinite basis, but only if it costs less than $100 billion a year for the next decade"? Or, "We'd like to slash taxes on wealthy people who don't need a tax cut, but we're picking an arbitrary round number that the cost of the tax cut can't exceed"?

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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IT'S NOT JUST 1953.... Reader J.C. alerted me to this exchange on Fox News the other day, with the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes insisting that President Obama's rationale for not intervening in Iranian affairs is outdated.

BARNES: [T]he most pathetic thing is to say, 'Gee, well, we were involved in 1953.' 1953! This is an extremely young society. You think those demonstrators are thinking, 'Well, we hope the U.S. stays out because they were involved in 1953'? That's total nonsense.

KIRSTEN POWERS: I think there is a history there.

BARNES: 1953?

POWERS: They do remember the United States meddling.

BARNES: No, they don't.

This is absurd for a variety of reasons. Right off the bat, no one in the administration is pointing to 1953 as a rationale for the White House's current strategy relating to Iran. Barnes is convinced it's the principal basis for the United States steering clear of the ongoing developments in Iran, but that's "total nonsense."

What's more, Barnes assumes that contemporary Iranians couldn't care less that the United States helped overthrow Iran's democratically elected leadership 56 years ago. That's a debatable point, but it's worth noting that this is the kind of development that sticks with a populace. In fact, Chris Good had a very helpful item the other day, noting that Mossadeq, Barnes' assurances notwithstanding, remains very relevant to Iran's population today, with the former leader remaining a symbol for democracy.

But what's especially striking about Barnes' argument is the idea that nothing has happened since 1953 that might give the U.S. pause about intervention now. In our reality, Iranians are, for example, very well aware of the fact that George W. Bush inexplicably placed Iran in the "axis of evil." For that matter, as Joe Klein noted this week, "I have yet to meet an Iranian who does not believe that the United States gave poison gas to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, gas which injured thousands upon thousands of Iranian men, who still live, incapacitated, in the shadows of that society.... The protesters admire our freedom, but they are appalled -- and insulted -- by our neocolonialist condescension over the past 50 years."

Or, to put another way, what is Fred Barnes talking about?

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (236)

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SELF-PARODY WATCH.... I remember, when Enron and other corporate scandals first broke during Bush's first term, some conservatives argued that the scandals were Bill Clinton's fault -- not because of lax regulations, but because the Lewinsky scandal sent an "anything goes" signal to the nation, which in turn led business leaders to abandon their ethical standards.

It was a reminder that, when it comes to the right's drive to blame unrelated events on Democratic presidents, conservatives' creativity and imagination are practically limitless.

This occurred to me again today when Rush Limbaugh, without a hint of humor, argued that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) cheated on his wife, betrayed his family, and abandoned his professional responsibilities to fly off to Argentina ... and it's President Obama's fault.

"This is almost like, 'I don't give a damn, the country's going to Hell in a handbasket, I just want out of here,'" Limbaugh said. "[Sanford] had just tried to fight the stimulus money coming to South Carolina. He didn't want any part of it; he lost the battle. He said, 'What the hell. I mean, the federal government's taking over -- what the hell, I want to enjoy life.'"

Limbaugh added, "The point is, there are a lot of people whose spirit is just -- they're fed up, saying, 'To hell with it, I don't even want to fight this anymore, I just want to get away from it.'"

A listener apparently sent Limbaugh an email during the program, asking if he was kidding about the White House's economic policies being responsible for Sanford's affair. "No!" he said, adding that the governor may have realized, "The Democrats are destroying the country; we can't do anything to stop it."

What's especially funny about this is the way in which Limbaugh's attempts to pass the buck and shift the blame -- Mark Sanford isn't responsible for his own behavior, Barack Obama is responsible for Sanford's behavior -- is that it can be applied to practically any situation. Any time anyone does anything wrong, following Limbaugh's logic, he/she could simply chalk it up to Obama-driven despair.

Remember when conservatives used to say that liberals were opposed to people taking responsibility for their own actions? Good times, good times.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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BACHMANN FEARS CENSUS-DRIVEN INTERNMENT CAMPS.... Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), solidifying her well-deserved reputation for madness, insisted she will refuse to cooperate with the 2010 census. This happens to be illegal, but the Minnesota Republican has an elaborate conspiracy theory to bolster her position.

Today, Bachmann appeared on Fox News to defend this, and came up with a new argument: "If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that's how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps."

Bachmann added, "I'm not saying that that's what the administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps."

When Fox News' Megyn Kelly, who'd been bashing ACORN with Bachmann to this point, noted that members of Congress probably shouldn't deliberately ignore federal law, Bachmann added, "I'm just not comfortable with the way this census is being handled," in part because Americans are "compelled" to answer the census.

It's tempting to note that the census hasn't started and compulsion is kind of the point, but I don't imagine Bachmann would understand.

Ali Frick, showing great patience, fact-checks the Fox News interview, but let's also note, as Eric Kleefeld does, that Bachmann's concerns about census-driven internment camps is consistent with her insane argument that the Obama administration may try to force Americans into "re-education camps."

I'm curious, does one have to work hard to be this crazy, or does it come naturally?

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME.... I'm not surprised Joe Lieberman is offering veiled criticism of President Obama on Iran. I'm surprised it took this long for Joe Lieberman to offer veiled criticism of President Obama on Iran.

At a presser today, Lieberman seemed to take a veiled shot at President Obama's handling of the Iran crisis, obliquely comparing Obama's desire not to be seen as "meddling" in Iran with a failure to stand up for protesters.

Lieberman was at the presser with John McCain, where they unveiled new Iran legislation, to be introduced next month, that would boost funding for radio outlets that have been informing Iranians and might fund a new Farsi-language website. Lieberman said:

"I know somebody asked, 'Don't we risk discrediting the forces of change and reform -- and reform in Iran and risk that the regime will accuse us of meddling.' I would ask, if we don't stand up for the fundamental rights of the Iranian people to speak freely, to assemble peacefully, don't we risk abandoning our own first principles as Americans in undermining the courageous quest of the Iranian people for freedom?"

Lieberman didn't (or couldn't) specify what "standing up" would constitute, how/why it would help reform-minded Iranians, how/why it would advance American interests, or why we should disregard concerns about "discrediting the forces of change and reform" in Iran.

In other words, Lieberman's grandstanding and posturing is about as constructive as all of the other neocon palaver we've been listening to for nearly two weeks.

Indeed, Lieberman's remarks today further reinforce the point from the weekend: we're not dealing with a dynamic that pits the left vs. the right, or Democrats against Republicans. Rather, this is a situation featuring neocons vs. everyone else.

Lieberman isn't satisfied with the administration's deft handling of the issue, but notice that plenty of prominent Republicans believe Obama is absolutely right -- including Republicans who are in office (Dick Lugar), served in Republican administrations (Henry Kissinger, Gary Sick, and Nick Burns), or are prominent Republican voices in the media (George Will, Peggy Noonan, and Pat Buchanan).

Lieberman is siding with McCain, Graham, Kristol, and Krauthammer on U.S. foreign policy? You don't say.

For an alternate take, consider Reza Aslan's interview on "The Daily Show" last night. Here's a teaser: he told Jon Stewart, "All I can say is thank you God for President Barack Obama."

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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RALPH REED?.... Wait a second. Ralph Reed believes he can show his face in public again? He thinks he has the credibility to once again be a political player?

Ralph Reed, the Republican operative who built the Christian Coalition into a potent political force in the 1990s by mobilizing evangelicals and other religious conservatives and who did similar work to help George W. Bush win two presidential elections, is quietly launching a group aimed at using the Web to mobilize a new generation of values voters. In addition to targeting the GOP's traditional faith-based allies -- white evangelicals and observant Catholics -- the group, called the Faith and Freedom Coalition, will reach out to Democratic-leaning constituencies, including Hispanics, blacks, young people, and women.

"This is not your daddy's Christian Coalition," Reed said in an interview Monday.

Now, as a substantive matter, the idea of yet another religious right group seems pretty silly. There are already plenty of organizations and ministries, doing the same work, on the same issues, chasing the same donors with the same culture-war message, with the same goal in mind. The problem isn't a dearth of groups; it's that the American mainstream has already rejected the movement's message.

But putting that aside, Ralph Reed is trying to make a comeback? I know it's been a few years, but the Abramoff scandal left Reed a humiliated disgrace. It wasn't just some embarrassing misunderstanding; the scandal ruined him. Permanently.

Remember this one, from June 2006?

Yet another delightful characterization of Ralph Reed, courtesy of today's McCain report on the Abramoff scandal. This one comes courtesy of Jack Abramoff himself, via his discussion with Marc Schwartz, a public relations representative for the Tigua tribe in Texas.

Let's pick up the report on page 148. Schwartz was evaluating whether the tribe should hire Abramoff as its lobbyist: To Schwartz, Abramoff appeared to have the right credentials. Abramoff claimed to be a close friend of Congressman Tom DeLay. He also discussed his friendship with Reed, recounting some of their history together at College Republicans. When Schwartz observed that Reed was an ideologue, Schwartz recalled that Abramoff laughingly replied "as far as the cash goes."

Or, how about this one?

Ralph Reed, email to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, 1998: "Hey, now that I'm done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts."

Or this?

E-mails and testimony before McCain's panel showed that Reed, who once branded gambling a "cancer" on society, reaped millions of dollars in tribal casino proceeds that Abramoff secretly routed to him through various non-profit front groups. Abramoff, a lobbyist for the tribes, paid Reed to whip up "grassroots" Christian opposition to prevent rival tribes from opening casinos.

And now Reed wants to launch the "Faith and Freedom Coalition"? You've got to be kidding me.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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IT CERTAINLY DOESN'T HELP.... It looks like all of the major dailies had the same idea: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) sex scandal isn't just awful for him and his family, it's also more bad news for a political party that's already been knocked down.

New York Times:

Republicans were just starting to breathe a little easier....

Then Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a fiscal conservative seen by many Republicans as an attractive standard-bearer for the next presidential campaign, went missing. Worse, he returned. His confession on Wednesday that he had been in Argentina with a woman not his wife -- and not hiking the Appalachian Trail as his staff had said Monday -- was another jolt of bad news for a party that has struggled to get off the ropes all year.

Washington Post:

Sanford's story is more than personal. For a Republican Party down on its luck, the governor's disappearance and subsequent rambling apology to his wife, his family, his close friends and all the people of South Carolina draw more unwelcome publicity to a party that needs but cannot seem to get any good news. [...]

For Republicans, the long winter continues. "It's bad news," said Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House adviser, of the back-to-back confessions by Sanford and Ensign. "It reflects on them individually, but it reflects on the party. The Democrats are vulnerable on a number of areas, including scandals. They've had their own on a range of issues. But if you accept as I do that the Republican brand is hurt, this does more damage to it."

LA Times:

Mark Sanford's extramarital excursion to Latin America is just the latest -- albeit the most lurid -- in a series of setbacks that have plagued Republicans as they struggle to recast the party and promote a new generation of national leaders.

Wall Street Journal:

[T]he GOP, still struggling after losing control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, was left to wonder when it would stop seeing its attempts to attract positive attention trumped by embarrassments.

It's best not to exaggerate this too much. In all likelihood, the Republican Party "brand" has already just about bottomed out, and while Sanford is yet another embarrassment, it probably won't make matters significantly worse.

But it certainly doesn't help, either. Every time the Republicans start to think they're finally ready to get back on track, they suffer another humiliation.

We'll see what kind of long-term implications these scandals have for the GOP, but I suspect the real lasting impact will be the loss of a key party issue: "If Republicans talk about family values, people will roll their eyes," said Matthew Dowd, a onetime adviser to President George W. Bush. He added, "It's hard to say [voters are] going to trust Republicans on it."

You think?

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will take over for Mark Sanford as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Sanford resigned from the post yesterday.

* It's a Republican pollster, but Strategic Vision shows former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) leading incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in this year's gubernatorial race in New Jersey, 51% to 39%.

* State Rep. Nikki Haley (R), running for governor in South Carolina next year, has generally been known as Mark Sanford's favorite for the race. Yesterday, Haley "removed a picture of the governor and any mention of him from her campaign Web site."

* Former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer kicked off his gubernatorial campaign in Texas yesterday, running as a Democrat despite his work in the Bush administration. "I am a Democrat -- as Sam Rayburn used to say without prefix, suffix or apology -- and I think it is time we all had a governor," Schieffer said.

* Rep. Joe Sestak (D) took one step closer to launching a Senate campaign in Pennsylvania, telling supporters in a fundraising letter that he's received encouragement from his family.

* In related news, a new poll in Pennsylvania shows bad news for Sen. Arlen Specter, with 57% of voters in the state agreeing that it's "time for a change," and only 43% of Democrats saying Specter deserves another term.

* In still more Pennsylvania news, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) effectively ruled out a Senate campaign next year, boosting former Rep. Pat Toomey's chances of being the Republican candidate.

* And in Florida, Marco Rubio continues to line up far-right supporters for his Senate campaign in Florida, the latest being Rep. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) who was a big supporter of Charlie Crist's gubernatorial campaign in 2006.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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HIM AGAIN?.... Some people run for president, come up short, but nevertheless see their stature enhanced by the process. For Rudy Giuliani, it was the opposite -- his fairly ridiculous and spectacularly unsuccessful presidential campaign diminished his reputation and turned him into something of a joke. Indeed, Giuliani entered the 2008 presidential campaign with a 9/11 halo and widespread admiration, and quickly found he had nowhere to go but down. The more Americans saw of Giuliani, the less they liked him.

But, for whatever reason, Giuliani not only finds himself credible, but is apparently eyeing a gubernatorial campaign.

As part of the effort, the former NYC mayor is putting himself back into the spotlight, talking up Fox News, and writing pieces for the New York Times about how the state government should run.

New York state government is not working. This has been true for some time. But the paralysis and confusion that has overtaken the capital demonstrates the need to confront this dysfunction directly and take decisive steps to solve it once and for all. That's why I'm calling on Albany to convene a state constitutional convention. [...]

Calling another convention would be an extraordinary step, but it is a necessary and effective way to overcome the challenges we face. It would be an opportunity for Republicans, Democrats and independents to come together, take a long hard look at our problems and then propose real, lasting solutions.

As part of his agenda, Giuliani, in an apparent '90s flashback, proposes that New York impose strict term limits -- because if there's one thing New York doesn't need, it's experienced policymakers with institutional knowledge in state government -- before demanding mandatory "supermajorities" for all tax increases. "A supermajority," Giuliani said, "would protect already over-burdened citizens and attract businesses, improving our long-term competitiveness."

In other words, the former mayor is watching the budgetary catastrophe unfold in California and thinks, "Hey, we should do that, too!"

It's obviously too soon to know what kind of gubernatorial candidate Giuliani would be, but by all appearances, his time has come and gone. His claim to fame -- performance on 9/11 -- drew scrutiny, and turned out to be rather humiliating. And don't even get me started on Bernie Kerik and all the alleged criminals Giuliani hung out with in recent years.

It was no doubt embarrassing for Giuliani to invest millions in a presidential campaign that produced exactly zero delegates, but why keep trying?

Don't go away mad, Rudy. Just go away.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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THE GOP'S FLEETING LOVE FOR THE CBO.... Back in January, the Congressional Budget Office issued a preliminary assessment of the administration's stimulus package. It was only a partial look at an out-of-date proposal, but it bolstered Republicans' criticism, so the GOP ran with the misleading numbers. Soon after, a more complete CBO report was issued, it bolstered the Democrats' case, and all of a sudden, Republicans' love and respect for the CBO disappeared.

We're seeing the exact same scenario play out again.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office scored an incomplete Democratic health care proposal, issuing an unhelpful analysis with little practical value. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) not only accepted the CBO numbers as gospel, but called the analysis "the turning point in the healthcare debate."

This week, the CBO ran the numbers on the Democratic cap-and-trade, and in the process, discredited the Republican talking points on the proposal. Cantor's fickle love for the CBO, predictably, faded quickly.

"Today, now we are reading the reports that have come out this week that CBO has now reduced its cost estimate to say that it is only $160 that families will be impacted by the cap and trade bill. I think that now CBO has now entered the realm of losing its credibility."

Um, congressman? If you believe the CBO when it tells you what you want to hear, and reject it when it delivers bad news, it's not the Congressional Budget Office that's "losing credibility."

In January, the New York Times' David Brooks wrote that President Obama is "going to have to prove the hard way that he meant what he said about being pragmatic and evidence-based. That means he won't sweep a C.B.O. study under the rug simply because the findings are inconvenient."

It's tempting to think, under the circumstances, that the criticism might now be directed at congressional Republicans, except no one has ever accused them of being pragmatic and evidence-based.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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WEAPONIZED KEYNESIANISM.... For all the talk about cutting wasteful spending and saving taxpayer money, a whole lot of members of Congress are fighting awfully hard to spend billions on the basically useless F-22 fighter jet. Conservative Republicans, in particular, are arguing that it will be good for the economy to spend the money.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) highlights the irony.

"These arguments will come from the very people who denied that the economic recovery plan created any jobs. We have a very odd economic philosophy in Washington: It's called weaponized Keynesianism. It is the view that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation."

We seem to keep running into this problem. For Republicans, there are certain incontrovertible, unyielding truths: government spending does not create jobs and cannot stimulate the economy. The only thing worse than government spending is government spending on unnecessary programs. It has always been thus; it will always be so.

Unless, that is, the government spending and the unnecessary program relates to the military, at which point the economic benefits are huge.

Back in April, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a conservative Georgia Republican, argued on NPR, "When it comes to stimulating the economy, there's no better way to do it than to spend it in the defense community."

So, for the GOP, government spending can't help the economy, except when it can. I'm glad we could clear this up.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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PERFIDY PARITY.... Way back in May 2003, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz had an item about then-West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise (D) admitting to an extramarital affair and apologizing to voters. Kurtz told readers at the time, "Just what the country needed: another Democrat who can't keep his zipper zipped."

I get the sense that, for quite a while, this was the accepted conventional wisdom. When it came to sex scandals, this was more a problem for Democrats than Republicans.

Can we finally put this notion to (ahem) bed?

To be sure, looking back over the last couple of decades, Dems have had plenty of high-profile controversies about illicit affairs. John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, and Jim McGreevey are some of the more recent ones. If we look back at the '90s, we can add Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Henry Cisneros to the list. Looking back even further, Gary Hart, JFK, and even FDR come to mind.

But Republicans have made great strides of late in closing the gap with Democrats, and by some measures, have taken the overall lead. Mark Sanford, John Ensign, David Vitter, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Vito Fossella, and Jim Gibbons* are all pretty recent. If we look back just a little further, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich obviously come to mind. And if we include the '90s, embarrassing adulterous admissions were made by Tim Hutchinson, Henry Hyde, Dan Burton, and Bob Livingston.

The point isn't that there are a lot of men in positions of power who are sleeping around -- though that seems to be a common problem -- the point is that neither party has a lock on virtue or vice.

The difference, of course, is that only one of these two parties presents itself as the champion of "family values," seeks to use government to impose its sense of morality through public policy, lectures Americans on the "sanctity of marriage," and blames gay couples for undermining Western civilization.

With that in mind, Bob Inglis seems to have the right idea.

South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis made a name for himself in the late 1990s as one of Bill Clinton's most zealous pursuers, an impeachment "manager" who attacked the moral failings of the president with a gusto that earned him a devoted following in the staunchly conservative "Upstate" of conservative South Carolina.

But with his governor now felled by similar temptations, Inglis sees an opening for the Republican Party, a chance to "lose the stinking rot of self-righteousness" and "to understand we are all in need of some grace."

It would be a welcome development.

* updated

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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NO WAY TO NEGOTIATE.... For all the talk about reaching some kind of bipartisan consensus on health care reform, and all the concessions Democratic lawmakers are willing to make to keep the GOP at the negotiating table, let's not forget that many Republicans just don't want health care reform. Brian Beutler reports:

[T]here's no evidence that potential Republican support for the idea of a co-operative health care system will translate into Republican support for the broader reform bill they're attached to. [...]

[Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi (R)] is the ranking member of the Senate HELP committee, and he's been a harsh critic of the health care bill that's come out of that panel. I talked to his spokesman this evening, who said ... Enzi supports the Finance Committee's process, which he said has been more transparent and bipartisan in spirit. He says the co-op proposal sounds promising, but he needs to learn more about it before he offers his full support to the provision.

But, crucially, even if he does decide that co-ops are a great policy idea, in no uncertain terms, [Enzi] withholds judgment on the greater bill. This is a common position in the GOP, and, frankly, a common legislative tactic in general. It's not necessarily a wink and a nod toward a 'no' vote, but it raises concerns among Democrats -- or at least it should -- that Republicans might try to weaken the bill only to turn around and vote against it.

That's not only right, it's a critically important point that often goes overlooked.

Democrats are willing to weaken their own bill in the hopes of winning support from a discredited minority that not only has an interest in seeing the reform effort fail, but which is almost certain to vote against the final bill, no matter what's in it.

This isn't an effective way to negotiate -- or to govern.

Indeed, most of the focus over the last couple of weeks has been about the public option, and the fact that Republicans consider it a deal-breaker. It is, we've been told, the one line the GOP minority cannot cross. But looking at the big picture, Republicans haven't said, "We can support the rest of the reform agenda, outside of a public plan." In fact, Republicans haven't actually endorsed anything in the reform agenda at all.

The bill the Senate Finance Committee's written, which has no public plan but does have a lot of virtues, provides an important test. Will Republicans actually flock to support the bill? If they will, then that's something worth thinking about. A public plan is important, but if you could get leading Republicans to sign on to the idea of tough new regulations on insurers, on an expansion of Medicaid, on subsidies to ensure that insurance is affordable for everyone, and on higher taxes to pay for the whole thing that would be no small achievement. You'd have to think seriously about whether it isn't worth cutting a deal. But thus far, for all the whining about the public plan, I'm not seeing the evidence that they're actually willing to embrace the rest of the health reform agenda, either. In which case, you may as well go forward with a robust public plan.

Sounds like a no-brainer.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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SANFORD'S PRECARIOUS FUTURE.... Not surprisingly, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) political health did not improve after his painful mid-afternoon press conference. Indeed, things went from bad to worse when The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper, published a series of emails Sanford sent to his mistress last July. (Far more interesting than the private love letters is the question of who leaked the emails in the first place.)

Making matters even worse still, it appears that at least one of Sanford's trips to Argentina was financed by taxpayers, which makes the "private, personal indiscretion" argument a little more difficult to make.

So, what happens next? The State reported this morning that South Carolina lawmakers, many of whom were never especially enamored with the governor in the first place, are focused specifically on his bizarre disappearance, and the fact that he effectively stopped doing his job for a while.

In the next few days, lawmakers may consider whether Sanford abandoned his duties as governor. No lawmaker uttered the word "impeachment." But most left the impression an apology may not be enough.

"We all know that leaving the state without a governor for any period of time is not acceptable," said Attorney General Henry McMaster, a Republican who plans to run for governor in 2010. "I suspect Governor Sanford now understands that better than anyone else." [...]

[State Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R)] -- who clashed repeatedly with Sanford over money issues, taking sharp criticism from him -- said Sanford "basically stopped being governor" while in Argentina.

Lawmakers said they'd begin asking lawyers to help define phrases like "gubernatorial negligence" and "abandonment of office."

The governor's strategy, I suspect, is to hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over. Under the circumstances, it's unlikely to work.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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By: Hilzoy

Obligatory Sanford Post

I watched his news conference, and I thought he looked at or near the end of his rope. I admire him for taking responsibility for what he did, though I don't at all admire what he did, either the 'betraying your wife and four kids' part or the 'leaving your state in the lurch and putting your staff in a completely untenable position' part.

I wonder who leaked the emails? And why? And why did the paper hold them for months?

I think about his sons. The youngest is ten. This has to be excruciating for them. I hope they don't have the kinds of horrible classmates who might make the next weeks and months a misery.

Strangest Sanford- related fact I've seen: he digs holes "to unwind".

Quote I wish he wishes he'd either borne in mind or not said in the first place:

"But I think the Bible says, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father that's in heaven." Hopefully, by the way in which you act. The way in which you make decisions. They're going to see that something's there. (...) If you have a religious view, it's incumbent upon you and it's real to have that. The Bible talks about the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. There ought to be certain things that are clearly observable by your actions."

The two silliest defensive responses from before he fessed up:

"It is refreshing that Mark Sanford is secure enough in himself and the people of South Carolina that he does not view himself as an indispensable man." (Erick Erickson)

And:

"Are [Cassie] and I married to the only real men left in the entire freakin' country? Do we only want Momma's boys or Daddy's girls in the White House from here on out? Teddy Roosevelt is doing backflips in his grave right now: apparently no one is allowed to go on a writing retreat, take a road trip, or hike, hunt, or fish if they have any political ambitions at all. Unbelievable." (Little Miss Attila)

Mark Sanford: secure enough in himself to to leave his state without a governor, his wife without a husband, and his sons without a father; enough of a real man to willfully torpedo his closest relationships. Family values in action.

Hilzoy 1:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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June 24, 2009

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* A powerful bomb killed at least 60 people today in an eastern Baghdad market.

* Confrontation near the Iranian Parliament: "Hundreds of protesters clashed with waves of riot police and paramilitary militia in Tehran on Wednesday, witnesses said, as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted that the authorities would not yield to pressure from opponents demanding a new election following allegations of electoral fraud."

* North Korea's government called the United States "imperialists" today and said the "army and people of Korea will ... wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all."

* An airstrike, likely from an American drone, "killed at least 60 people at a funeral for a Taliban fighter in South Waziristan on Tuesday."

* After more than four years without one, a U.S. ambassador to Syria is en route to Damascus.

* The Obama administration has "stepped up its efforts yesterday to salvage a four-year-old peace accord for Sudan, convening officials from 32 countries and international organizations amid fears that Africa's longest-running civil war could resume."

* Did the White House signal last night that a public option is less important than a bipartisan deal? Not according to one of the senators at the meeting.

* With House Democratic leaders finally in agreement, Waxman-Markey will likely get a vote on Friday.

* If you missed South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) press conference this afternoon, it's online.

* Proving once again that the network is beyond parody, Fox News labeled Sanford a Democrat during his event today.

* Setting a land-speed record, the Family Research Council dropped Sanford very quickly from its big upcoming religious-right event.

* I don't think it matters, but technically, adultery is illegal in South Carolina.

* Tesla Motors gets a government loan for its electric sedan project.

* We haven't seen a good impeachment trial in a long while.

* R.I.P., Dr. Jerri Nielsen.

* The Republican temper tantrum against ABC keeps getting stranger.

* And Dick Cheney finally got the book deal he wanted, when his former aide, Mary Matalin, used her Simon & Schuster imprint to get the former vice president a deal. Matalin also came to Karl Rove's rescue. Industry insiders don't expect either book to sell especially well.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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THE PRECONDITION FOR 'BIPARTISAN' REFORM.... Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee and arguably the lead Republican negotiator on health care, argued on MSNBC this morning that a public option was a deal-breaker for the minority party. Period.

If the legislative package is going to be "bipartisan," Grassley said, "We need to make sure that there's no public option."

This comes up from time to time, but hearing Grassley take an unyielding position on the proposal embraced by most Americans, the president, and most of Congress reminded me that it's worth reiterating why there are fundamental flaws in trying to prioritize Grassley's happiness. A.L. had a great item on this last night.

Health care policy is a definitional issue in American politics. For as long as I can remember, the Democratic party has fought to increase the government's role in providing health care coverage for Americans while the Republican party has fought to reduce the government's role. The Democrats are responsible for Medicare, Medicaid, and S-CHIP; the Republicans fought all of those initiatives. On a policy level, the Democrats believe that the best health and cost outcomes can be achieved by increasing access and encouraging widespread use of routine and preventative medical care. Republicans, on the other hand, have routinely identified the problem as over-consumption of care. Their proposals to fix the system inevitably involve significant deregulation with the goal of encouraging the use of high-deductible policies to try to discourage personal consumption of health care. Nearly every Democrat (including the blue dogs and "centrists") believes this to be bad policy.

In other words, there is virtually no common ground between the parties. The parties don't even see eye-to-eye regarding basic goals and policy assumptions. So why on earth would anyone believe that there is a bipartisan solution to health care? If one side believes the answer is behind door #1 and the other believes it is behind door #2, the correct answer is never to walk into the wall between the doors. Yet any conceivable "bipartisan solution" to health care would amount to exactly that.

This is especially true when dealing with a small (and shrinking) Republican minority, which has done nothing but act as an obstructionist force, and which has a vested interest in ensuring that reform efforts fail.

On a related note, Sen. Max Baucus finally realizes that it was a mistake ruling out the very possibility of a single-payer system, before the debate even began, if no other reason because it threw off the balance of negotiations.

Imagine where we'd be right now if, on the one hand, Dems were pushing a single-payer plan, and on the other, Republicans were pushing a protect-the-insurance-industry-at-all-costs proposal. At that point, the "bipartisan compromise" could have settled around a system in which private insurers competed with a public option -- which just so happens to be the mainstream Democratic position right now.

Sooner or later, Democratic policymakers -- on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- are going to realize that they keep entering these talks with the fulcrum in the wrong place.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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MIXED EMOTIONS.... Mulling over South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) press conference, I'm not sure what to think.

On the one hand, just on a human level, it was tough to watch the governor humiliate himself, fessing up to a deeply embarrassing extramarital affair. Sanford didn't make excuses, he wasn't dodging any uncomfortable questions, and thankfully, didn't have his wife standing there next to him. All in all, at least on the surface, the governor acted like a stand-up guy, owning up to his wrongdoing

And then there's that other hand. A stand-up guy doesn't lecture others on "family values" and then cheat on his wife. A stand-up guy doesn't secretly leave the country and blow off his professional responsibilities to more than 4 million South Carolinians.

Indeed, watching Sanford's confession today, I kept thinking about Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) identical confession just last week. The circumstances are surprisingly similar -- during the Lewinsky scandal a decade ago, Ensign voted to remove the president from office, and Sanford voted to remove Clinton from office. When other prominent politicians got caught in sex scandals, Ensign went on the attack, and Sanford went on the attack. Ensign is an evangelical Christian who's promoted the "sanctity" of marriage; Sanford is an evangelical Christian who's promoted the "sanctity" of marriage.

A politician's personal problems are a private matter, but the hypocrisy here is harder to overlook.

Chris Cillizza added:

This is not the end of the story. The problem for Sanford is that he appears to have willfully misled his staff, the lieutenant governor and the people of the state about his whereabouts -- signaling that he was likely headed to the Appalachian Trail before hopping on a flight to Argentina. There will almost certainly be some sort of investigation into whether Sanford misused state funds on this trip -- remember that he took a state-owned vehicle and parked it at the Columbia airport -- that will keep this wound raw for the foreseeable future.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised, given the governor's popularity (or lack thereof) among state lawmakers, if impeachment talk starts making the rounds fairly quickly.

I'd be remiss if I neglected to add that while sex scandals are always going to generate public interest, the significance of Mark Sanford's efforts to screw over his own constituents with his neo-Hooverite economic policies is almost certainly more offensive than anything he had going on in his private life.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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SANFORD SPEAKS.... In a strange and meandering press conference, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) explained this afternoon that he'd been "unfaithful" to his wife, after developing a "relationship" with a woman in Argentina. Sanford said he would step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, but did not respond when a reporter asked if he would step down as governor.

Sanford began by repeatedly talking about his love of "adventure trips." (Is that what they're calling adultery these days?) He then said his admission is "gonna hurt."

The governor proceeded to apologize, in order, to:

* his wife

* his four boys

* his staff

* his constituents

* his friends

* his in-laws

* people of faith in South Carolina and nationwide

"I've let down a lot of people; that's the bottom line," he said, adding, "I would ask their forgiveness.... All I can say is that I apologize."

Sanford then requested a "zone of privacy" for his family, who apparently is not living in the same city as the governor for the time being.

As the governor began to walk away from the podium, a reporter asked, "Are you going to resign?" Sanford continued to walk away. When the same reporter asked a Sanford aide the same question, he said, "Thank you" and ended the press conference.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (114)

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THEIR LYING EYES.... Some opponents of a public option in health care reform seem to have a new strategy: pretend they know what Americans want -- and ignore evidence to the contrary.

On Fox News this morning, for example, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), arguably the chamber's most far-right member, insisted, "Americans don't want more government in health care."

Yesterday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) made the same argument in a bizarre piece in the Washington Examiner: "The President's proposal would empower bureaucrats -- rather than patients and doctors -- to make key medical decisions, limit treatments, and ration care, raise taxes, and kill jobs. The American people simply don't support it."

Putting aside the absurd policy argument here, what's interesting is that these conservative Republican leaders seem convinced they know better than anyone what "the American people" want.

If there was evidence to back up their claims, we could at least have a debate. But how many more polls need to be released before GOP leaders realize the public isn't with them on this issue? On DeMint's point in particular, a recent national CNN poll found 72% of Americans said "they favor increasing the federal government's influence over the country's health care system in an attempt to lower costs and provide health care coverage to more Americans."

Republicans think the 72% are wrong? Fine. They hope to change those Americans' minds? No problem. But to simply make up public attitudes based on their personal beliefs is silly.

We're left with the new GOP talking point on public attitudes and health care reform: don't believe your lying eyes.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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IT'S ALWAYS GOOD NEWS FOR REPUBLICANS.... The lead story on the Politico today ponders the likelihood of a "Republican comeback."

For the first time since their 2006 election drubbing, top Republicans see signs -- however faint -- of a political resurgence over the next year.

The Politico's Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Martin concede this "sounds absurd," but proceed to spend another 2,000+ words exploring why a Republican comeback is "plausible" and "might not be as far-fetched as it seems."

Substantively, the piece raises some legitimate points, but hardly offers the GOP a roadmap back to the American mainstream. VandeHei and Martin, for example, note that Republican leaders have come to realize that it's in their interests to "distance themselves a bit from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich." The same piece adds, however, that the party has done a "poor job of doing so."

Similarly, the Politico article argues that Republicans need to "find a way" to appeal to younger voters and minority communities. That's true, as far as it goes, but it's not exactly a constructive tip for the GOP.

But strategic advice aside, one of the striking aspects to all of this is just how poorly timed the idea is.

Last week, two major national polls asked respondents whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the major political parties. The GOP not only fared poorly, but had the lowest ratings ever recorded in NYT/CBS or WSJ/NBC polls.

In a WaPo/ABC poll released yesterday, Republicans hardly fared any better: "Obama maintains leverage on these issues in part because of the continuing weakness of his opposition. The survey found the favorability ratings of congressional Republicans at their lowest point in more than a decade. Obama also has significant advantages over GOP lawmakers in terms of public trust on dealing with the economy, health care, the deficit and the threat of terrorism, despite broad-based Republican criticism of his early actions on these fronts."

The stage is set for a Republican "comeback"? Really?

I suppose in a nowhere-to-go-but-up kind of sense, that's reasonable, but under the circumstances, it's a stretch.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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SANFORD'S SILLY SOJOURN.... I think I've got it -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) secretly traveled to Argentina last week because he thought it might count as foreign policy experience.

I hope he's not too disappointed when it doesn't.

As you've probably heard, the governor has called a press conference to discuss his bizarre behavior, which will get started around 2 p.m. (eastern). I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess there will be more than a few reporters on hand for the Q&A.

There's no shortage of possible questions for Sanford to answer, but some of the inquiries that come to mind...

* Where did Sanford stay during his trip? And with whom? (The governor refused to discuss his accommodations in Argentina earlier today.)

* Did Sanford lie to his staff, or did he encourage his staff to lie to us?

* Why didn't the governor tell his wife and children where he was going?

* Why didn't Sanford check in with the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires?

* The governor's vehicle parked at a South Carolina airport had a "baseball cap, running shoes, sunscreen, a pair of shorts, a canvas bag and a sleeping bag" inside. Did Sanford intend to come home and pretend that he actually was on the Appalachian Trail during his absence?

* Why did Sanford change his travel arrangements for his return trip home?

* Who was in charge of the South Carolina executive branch for the last six days?

* Given the number of telephones and computers in Buenos Aires, why didn't Sanford call and/or email anyone on his staff or in his family?

Sometimes, there's a reasonable explanation for a seemingly unreasonable situation. I can't wait to hear what Sanford has come up with.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* A new Quinnipiac poll in New York shows an extremely competitive Democratic primary in next year's Senate race, if, as expected, Rep. Carolyn Maloney challenges appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. At this point, about half New York Dems are undecided, but among those with a preference, Maloney edges Gillibrand, 27% to 23%. Both easily lead Rep. Peter King (R) in a hypothetical general election match-up.

* Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has vowed to support former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), no matter how long he keeps fighting last year's election results.

* On a related note, Cornyn's NRSC continues to support Coleman's efforts financially, directing nearly $1 million to the former senator last month alone.

* The League of Conservation Voters has let members of Congress know that anyone who votes against the Waxman-Markey climate change bill will be automatically ineligible for an LCV endorsement next year.

* Is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign? Probably.

* And speaking of 2012, the latest poll from the Pew Research Center asked Republicans about their support for prominent GOP officials. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) was easily the most popular figure in her own party, with Mitt Romney a distant second.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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GLENN BECK, ACORN, AND DOLLS.... Now, I can appreciate the notion that some news stories are hard to explain with just text or words. Graphics, charts, video, etc. can help a news consumer understand an item with more depth.

But when Glenn Beck starts playing with dolls on national television to go after ACORN, explaining a "story" that really isn't especially complicated, it's a helpful reminder of the caliber of "reporting" we're getting from Fox News.

As Nicholas Graham noted, "Beck used the dolls to illustrate that the federal government's probe of ACORN was too narrow, and that by focusing on one of their houses in New Orleans, they were letting the 'villains' just drive away and set up shop elsewhere."

Well, that's probably what Beck was trying to get across. With him, it's hard to say for sure what he's talking about.

I should also note that Beck "reported" that ACORN is in the process of changing its name. In our reality, that's not true, either.

As for the dolls, Graham added, "[P]erhaps a visual aid was necessary to distract from the fact that Beck's not making much sense." If so, it didn't work.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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LETTER TO IRAN.... It seems one of the bigger political stories of the day is this Washington Times report about previous outreach efforts towards Iran by the Obama administration. Reading the details, though, this isn't especially shocking.

Prior to this month's disputed presidential election in Iran, the Obama administration sent a letter to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for an improvement in relations, according to interviews and the leader himself. [...]

U.S. officials declined to discuss the letter on Tuesday.... An Iranian with knowledge of the overture, however, told The Washington Times that the letter was sent between May 4 and May 10 and laid out the prospect of "cooperation in regional and bilateral relations" and a resolution of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

This has caused a stir -- predictably, Drudge is all excited -- but there's nothing in the official correspondence that's especially provocative.

Indeed, it's not even particularly new. Iran's regime sent Obama a letter of congratulations last fall, and it's already been reported elsewhere that the State Department has been crafting a response.

What's more, this is entirely consistent with what Obama said he'd do if elected -- reaching out to a foe to explore possibly improving relations and engaging Iran on a possible nuclear deal.

The White House said it would reach out, we knew officials were working on reaching out, and so now we know the White House did reach out. As revelations go, this hardly sends the heart aflutter.

Some of the overly-excited conservative analysis is that the administration's letter was predicated on "the expectation that President Ahmadinejad would win a landslide victory." But there's no evidence to support this -- in fact, it seems backwards. The letter was to Khamenei, the country's supreme leader, not the Iranian president, and there's nothing in the reports pointing to any White House assumptions about the Iranian presidential election.

Indeed, the correspondence seems unrelated to the election, which is why it was sent more than a month before Iranian voters headed to the polls, long before any U.S. officials could have expected the unrest that's shaken Iran so dramatically, and circumventing Ahmadinejad altogether.

I suspect the right will continue to be excited about this; I'm just not sure why.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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TURNING THE NUTTY TO 11.... I thought it was bad when John McCain, asked yesterday whether "there's any doubt what side President Obama is on" in Iran, replied, "I know what side I'm on. I'm on the side of the people. I'm not on Ahmadinejad's side or Mousavi. I'm on the side of the Iranian people and I'm on the right side of history."

Even for a politician whose descent into cheap hackery has been painful to watch, this kind of embarrassing chest-thumping is just ridiculous.

As it turns out, though, it wasn't even close to being the worst Republican rhetoric of the day regarding the administration and U.S. policy towards Iran. No, that prize goes to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who happens to be a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and who believes Iranian brutality is President Obama's fault.

The California Republican, appearing on MSNBC's The Ed Show, said that the president "ratcheted up the language a little bit" during his press conference on Tuesday. But, he added, "If [Obama] would have been talking even a little bit tougher a few days ago we might not have seen the violence and bloodshed of this repressive regime in Tehran in the last two days."

This is what it's come to. Senior Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee think Iranian bloodshed might have been diminished if Obama "had been talking ... a little bit tougher."

On Monday night, The Nation's Chris Hayes noted, "There's just a tremendous pathological narcissism on behalf of [neocon Republican lawmakers] that everything revolves around the U.S. and revolves around our kind of preening self-satisfaction. And it's actually really destructive. I mean, if the president was doing what they wanted him to do, we would see things get worse in Iran, worse for the dissidents and protestors. It's very hard to excuse."

And yet, the Republican screeds continue to get even more offensive anyway. Incredible.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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ENTIRELY RIGHT, EXCEPT FOR ALL OF THE RELEVANT DETAILS.... I don't mean to belabor the point, but the Washington Post's Dana Milbank ran some criticism today of Nico Pitney's press conference question that deserves some follow-up.

In his first daytime news conference yesterday, President Obama preempted "All My Children," "Days of Our Lives" and "The Young and the Restless." But the soap viewers shouldn't have been disappointed: The president had arranged some prepackaged entertainment for them.

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. "I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post," he announced.

Milbank generally described the general circumstances correctly -- the White House told Pitney he was likely to be called on, because he could ask a question submitted by an Iranian -- but Milbank's analysis was wildly unfair.

The Post reporter/columnist/humorist described the question from Pitney as "arranged," "prepackaged," "preplanned," and "planted." Milbank added that Pitney's question sent "a message" that the "American press isn't as free as advertised."

For all the reasons we talked about yesterday, Milbank's diatribe is just wrong. Indeed, we know it's wrong in part because of the reporting done by one of Milbank's colleagues at the Washington Post Company.

But I have a more general question: if the White House were "preplanning" a "planted" question with a sympathetic journalist -- it wasn't, but I'm speaking hypothetically here -- wouldn't the president's team make it an easy one? Wouldn't Obama want a softball he could just hit out of the park? Indeed, when the Bush White House invited a former male prostitute to ask questions, he was called on specifically because he'd help the Bush gang out.

In Nico's case, the question was really good. So good, in fact, that President Obama largely dodged it.

Milbank's criticism isn't just mistaken; it doesn't even make sense.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, THERE'S BOREDOM.... There's something odd about the media's fascination with President Obama's occasional cigarette. McClatchy's Margaret Talev broached the subject during yesterday's press conference.

"As a former smoker, I understand the frustration and the fear that comes with quitting. But with the new law that you signed yesterday regulating the tobacco industry, I'd like to ask you a few questions. How many cigarettes a day do you now smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law should help you to quit? If so, why?"

In other words, the president had just signed landmark legislation, giving unprecedented authority to federal officials to regulate tobacco products. What's really interesting, though, isn't the new government policy, decades in the making, but rather, Obama's personal habits.

The president addressed this, explaining that the new law isn't about him. Recognizing the "human interest story," however, he added that he "struggles" with it and has "fallen off the wagon" at times. Obama went to explain that he never smokes around his family, is 95% "cured" of his addiction, but like recovering alcoholics, "it's something you continually struggle with, which is precisely why the legislation we signed was so important, because what we don't want is kids going down that path in the first place."

This led to reports today in the New York Times and LA Times, bizarre criticism from Michelle Malkin, and even some unexpected disapproval from Matt Cooper.

Does the president's occasional cigarette and difficulty in kicking the habit really deserve this much attention?

Michelle Cottle added, "In the wake of the tobacco bill signing, I'm sure the media's hypocrisy obsession comes into play. But who better knows the insidious allure of smoking than a struggling addict? As things stand, the storyline that the leader of the free world stupidly got himself hooked on nicotine as a kid and, despite having tried on numerous occasions to kick the habit, still can't totally shake that monkey kind of works as a cautionary tale."

The president has a personal vice. It's not that important.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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TAKE A HIKE?.... The official line on South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) whereabouts is that he went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The number of people who accept the official line at face value appears to be small. (Updated below: he actually left the country)

Late yesterday, CNN reported the vehicle Sanford drove off in last week turned up at an airport near the state capital.

The black Chevy Suburban believed to have been used by South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford to leave town has been found in the parking lot of Columbia Metropolitan Airport. [...]

The SUV is outfitted with blue police lights and two-way radio.... A parking permit for the school attended by Sanford's children is visible on the windshield.

Complicating matters, the local NBC affiliate reports that Sanford was seen boarding a plane in Atlanta.

Sources told [News 4's Nigel Robertson] that a federal agent spotted Sanford in the [Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta] boarding a plane. Robertson was told that the governor was not accompanied by security detail. [...]

[S]ources told WYFF News 4 that the federal agent who spotted Sanford saw him at the Atlanta airport, which is about 80 miles from the start of the trail.

WYFF News 4 has not yet confirmed where the plane was going or how the governor got to the airport, but it is clear there are two very different stories.

Now, this doesn't necessarily prove anything. The local affiliate is the only outlet with these details, which haven't been confirmed elsewhere. It's possible Sanford from South Carolina to Atlanta, and then flew again from Atlanta to somewhere he could go hiking, but it seems like a strange way of going about doing things, especially in light of the other details.

As for Sanford's family, the governor was away from his wife and kids for Father's Day, and yesterday, after his aides told reporters Sanford was returning to his duties, Jenny Sanford said she still hadn't spoken to her husband. In talking to CNN, she added, "I am being a mom today. I have not heard from my husband. I am taking care of my children."

As for the governor's allies, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) didn't appear anxious to vouch for Sanford's character during a Fox News interview yesterday.

Stay tuned.

Update: This morning, Sanford returned to the United States, explaining that he wasn't actully hiking, but rather, was in South America. He claims he was alone, driving around Buenos Aires since Thursday. When asked why his staff said he was on the Appalachian Trail, Sanford replied, "I don't know."

Second Update: Any chance state lawmakers, who don't care for Sanford anyway, may hold hearings and/or consider impeachment?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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By: Hilzoy

One Good Move (But We Need More)

I'm no happier about most of Barack Obama's record on LGBT issues than anyone else. That makes me pretty unhappy. But this, at least, is very good news:

"Lawyers for President Obama are quietly drafting first-of-their kind guidelines barring workplace discrimination against transgender federal employees, officials said Tuesday.

The guidelines will be in an updated federal handbook for managers and supervisors to be distributed and posted online in the next couple of months, and they could also be included in other materials for managers. They will list transgender people -- those who identify their gender differently from the information on their birth certificates -- as among several groups protected by antidiscrimination laws.

Though transgender men and women are not believed to make up more than a fraction of a percent of the federal work force, their inclusion in the discrimination guidelines is seen as a breakthrough by transgender and gay rights advocates.

"The president is making a very clear statement that transgender people won't be discriminated against," said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, a group that has been talking with the White House about the new provisions."

Discrimination against transmen and transwomen is just wrong, and it's pervasive. Transitioning to a different gender is a tough enough process without worrying about whether you're going to lose your job as a result. And people can be pretty antediluvian about these things: they freak out about who gets to use what bathroom, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

So this means a lot.

Autumn Sandeen notes:

"A fully inclusive Employement Non-Discrimination Act is going to be submitted to Congress this week by Rep. Barney Frank. Every LGBT American deserves these same nondiscrimination protections related to their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression that all federal employees are soon going to have."

I hope it passes. It's long past time.

Hilzoy 2:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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June 23, 2009
By: Hilzoy

The Past Is Past, And Thank God For That

I just wanted to take a moment to give thanks for the fact that we truly don't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore:

"On Jan. 23, 1973, when the Supreme Court struck down state criminal abortion laws in Roe v. Wade, President Richard M. Nixon made no public statement. But privately, newly released tapes reveal, he expressed ambivalence.

Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster "permissiveness," and said that "it breaks the family." But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases, such as interracial pregnancies.

"There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white," he told an aide, before adding: "Or a rape.""

I see. The bad thing about abortion is that it lets people have sex without having to have kids if they don't want them or aren't ready for them. The good thing is that you get to be both a racist and a hypocrite without having to confront your own contradictions.

Glad we got that straightened out.

Hilzoy 8:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iran's Guardian Council has "refused to nullify" the contested presidential election. No big surprise.

* Iran has also created a "special" court to try arrested protestors.

* Iranian women continue to stand up in large numbers.

* North Korea keeps making noises about its next missile launch.

* The deadly accident yesterday on the D.C. metro system was just breathtaking.

* More than a few politicos in South Carolina are having trouble believing that Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has really been hiking since last week.

* And even now, with Sanford poised to return to work, the governor who wasn't with his family on Father's Day also hasn't spoken to his wife.

* If you missed today's White House press conference, the entire video is online.

* Sen. John Ensign (R) of Nevada apologized to his Republican colleagues today, but he doesn't want to talk to anyone else.

* In an interesting twist, Sean Hannity believes Ensign should resign.

* Iran's dissident soccer players, banned for life.

* To her credit, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) isn't giving up on a public option.

* Even now, all of these years later, Richard Nixon can still appear even crazier.

* Next week, the White House will host an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, further evidence of the administration hoping to heal the rift with gay-rights supporters.

* What do you know, the state Senate in New York can get even nuttier after all.

* Recent buzz notwithstanding, the latest WaPo/ABC poll shows Obama with a 65% approval rating.

* Despite conservative rumors to the contrary, ACORN isn't changing its name.

* The Washington Times drops the pretense and starts doing conservative activism?

* The RNC and ABC are still at odds.

* And finally, Charles Krauthammer's criticism of Obama for describing Khamenei as Iran's "supreme leader" might be more persuasive if Krauthammer hadn't repeatedly referred to Khamenei as Iran's "supreme leader."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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HOW THIS PROCESS WORKS.... I guess it was obvious that there'd be a flap surrounding Nico Pitney's question at the White House press conference this afternoon, but that doesn't give this "story" merit. Here's the latest:

Some reporters and right wing bloggers are accusing the White House of "coordinating" a question with The Huffington Post at today's press conference, suggesting this shows the White House cozying up to a lefty news outlet.

The White House, however, says No Dice. White House officials tell me they didn't ask the Huffington Post reporter, Nico Pitney, what his question would be, and didn't know what Pitney would be asking.

Of course not. For all the speculation about "coordination," there's even less here than meets the eye.

Let's talk a little about this process. Sometimes, presidents call on specific journalists because they know, not what the question will be, but what the subject matter is likely to cover. At one of his press conferences, for example, Obama called on a reporter from Stars & Stripes. Did the president know what the question was going to be? No. Did Obama know it was likely to have something to do with U.S. troops? You bet. And why is that? Because that's what Stars & Stripes covers.

Obama also not too long ago called on a journalist who covers the auto industry. He didn't know the question, but Obama had reason to assume it would have something to do with the auto industry, and the president had something to say. That was the point.

Indeed, even today, Obama called on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language E.F.E. news agency, and who asked about Chile and Colombia. Did the president know what the question was going to be? No. Did Obama know it was likely to have something to do with Latin America. Of course, which is why he called on her -- the president wanted to talk about his upcoming talks with President Bachelet.

This isn't collusion. It's not unethical. There's nothing here that breaks with journalistic standards. Specifically with regards to Nico, the White House saw some value in responding to a question that came from someone in Iran, and knew that Pitney, given his recent work, was likely to ask just that. It's no different than calling on someone who covers the auto industry and expecting a question about that industry. As White House spokesperson Josh Earnest explained, "We didn't want to know the question, and we didn't ask. This was a creative way for us to answer a question from an Iranian."

If someone has a legitimate concern about Nico's specific question, that's one thing. But that's just it -- it was a terrific question that the president wasn't anxious to answer.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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'THE TIMELESS DIGNITY OF TENS OF THOUSANDS OF IRANIANS MARCHING IN SILENCE'.... As the brutality in Iran becomes more apparent, the forcefulness of the administration's strategic responses adapts. We were told in advance of today's White House press conference that President Obama would use different, tougher language today, and that's exactly what happened.

This was an opening statement -- Obama discussed his perspective in more detail in response to specific questions -- but notice that the president continues to carefully walk a fine line. For example, the president condemned the violence and offered an unambiguous defense of those who wish to peaceably assemble and have their voices heard.

But also note, he didn't dictate suggested remedies -- John McCain's suggestion that the U.S. should call for new elections hasn't gained traction -- and certainly didn't insert the American government in the middle of the intra-Iranian conflict.

Obama, in other words, took a firm stand against the actions of the Iranian regime, while avoiding language that the same regime could exploit or use as an excuse for more brutality.

I've included a full transcript of the opening remarks after the jump.

"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.

"I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

"I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran's affairs.

"But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

"The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in Iran -- some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the elections.

"These accusations are patently false. They're an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran's borders.

"This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won't work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran and the future that they -- and only they -- will choose.

"The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That's precisely what's happened in the last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice. Despite the Iranian government's efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers. And so we've watched what the Iranian people are doing.

"This is what we've witnessed. We've seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence. We've seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard.

"Above all, we've seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we've experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.

"While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

"As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech.

"If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion.

"That's what Iran's own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government."


Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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CALLING THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY'S BLUFF.... I believe it was David Jackson, from USA Today, who suggested to the president this afternoon that a public health care option would "drive private insurance out of business." I thoroughly enjoyed the Obama's response.

"Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government -- which they say can't run anything -- suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical.

"Now, the -- I think that there's going to be some healthy debates in Congress about the shape that this takes. I think there can be some legitimate concerns on the part of private insurers that if any public plan is simply being subsidized by taxpayers endlessly that over time they can't compete with the government just printing money, so there are going to be some I think legitimate debates to be had about how this private plan takes shape.

"But just conceptually, the notion that all these insurance companies who say they're giving consumers the best possible deal, if they can't compete against a public plan as one option, with consumers making the decision what's the best deal, that defies logic, which is why I think you've seen in the polling data overwhelming support for a public plan."

I don't know the president personally, but I got the sense he actually enjoyed making this argument. In effect, he said, "If the insurance companies are telling the truth about the service they're providing to their customers, they have nothing to worry about. And insurance companies couldn't possibly be lying, right?"

Indeed, it's been the underlying point all along that usually goes overlooked in media coverage. A public option, critics tell us, would provide a horrible, bureaucratic service for customers, including rationing and long waiting times. But here's the follow-up: if that's true, no one would choose the public option and insurance companies would be just fine for the indefinite future.

Except, of course, insurance companies and their policymaking allies know better. Which is why they're panicking.

Obama returned to the subject later during the press conference.

"... I think that there is a legitimate concern, if the public plan was simply eating off the taxpayer trough, that it would be hard for private insurers to compete. If, on the other hand, the public plan is structure in such a way where they've got to collect premiums and they've got to provide good services, then, if what the insurance companies are saying is true, that they're doing their best to serve their customers, that they're in the business of keeping people well and giving them security when they get sick, they should be able to compete.

"Now, if it turns out that the public plan, for example, is able to reduce administrative costs significantly, then you know what, I'd like the insurance companies to take note and say, 'Hey, if the public plan can do that, why can't we?'

"And that's good for everybody in the system. And I don't think there should be any objection to that. [...]

"[Y]ou know, I take those advocates of the free market to heart when they say that, you know, the free market is innovative and is going to compete on service and is going to compete on, you know, their ability to deliver good care to families.

"And if that's the case, then this just becomes one more option. If it's not the case, then I think that that's something that the American people should know."

I'd just add that it's very encouraging to hear the president issue such a forceful defense of the public option. He wasn't prepared to draw a line in the sand and vow to veto a reform package if it lacked a public option, but he not only made his priorities clear, he also issued a spirited argument in support of a public plan.

Here's hoping the "centrists" in the Senate Democratic caucus were listening.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (117)

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BEING A PUNDIT VS BEING A PRESIDENT.... One of the more memorable exchanges from this afternoon's White House press conference came when President Obama called on NBC News' Chuck Todd, who followed up on earlier questions regarding Iran.

TODD: You have avoided, twice, spelling out consequences. You've hinted that there would be from the international community, if they continue to violate -- and you said "violate these norms." You seemed to hint that there -- there are human rights violations taking place.

OBAMA: I'm not hinting. I think that when a young woman gets shot on the street when she gets out of her car, that's a problem.

TODD: Then why won't you spell out the consequences that the Iranian people...

OBAMA: Because I think that we don't know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not.

Greg Sargent noted, "Obama and his advisers have repeatedly disparaged the D.C. cable bubble as petty and distracting from the country's challenges, though the White House happily uses good cable coverage to its advantage on occasion. I guess Obama wants to make it clear that he won't handle sensitive international crises on cable's clock, either."

And that's definitely a good thing. Todd seemed to be asking, forcefully, that the president address a series of hypotheticals -- assume the demonstrations continue, assume the violent crackdown continues, assume Iran makes no concessions to address the concerns of dissidents, and assume an international reaction is being crafted. What, then, is the White House prepared to do?

Except, of course, presidents don't -- and shouldn't -- engage in this kind of speculation publicly. What Todd wants to hear is Obama as a Pundit in Chief, pontificating about possible consequences for possible outcomes, addressing an international situation that's still unfolding at this very minute. The president knows better, and it was a genuine treat to hear him smack down the entire approach.

It reminded me of something Matt Yglesias said last week: "Something I think people don't always get is that the President is not the columnist-in-chief or the National Blogger. One of the very nice things about being a professional political pundit, is that you can just sort of spout off what you think and use colorful language and strong, bold words." Presidents, in contrast, "need to be careful ... paying scrupulous attention to consequences."

Whether his detractors like it or not, Obama is a president, not a pundit, and he doesn't seem to care much about whether that meets with the chattering class' approval.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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WHAT OBAMA WOULD BE WILLING TO ACCEPT.... Before today's White House press conference, the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, who's offered readers some truly fantastic coverage of developments in Iran, explained that if he were called on at today's event, he'd like to pose a question from an Iranian.

The president, obviously aware that Nico had opened the floor to such an inquiry, called on him. Obama said, "I know there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?" Nico, as promised, relayed a question from an Iranian: "Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad? And if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of what the demonstrators there are working to achieve?"

The president responded with a nuanced reply, but explained, "Ultimately, the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States. And that's why I've been very clear, ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government." (If you can't watch video clips from your work computer, Faiz Shakir posted the transcript of the exchange.)

The Politico's Michael Calderone was critical, not of the specific question or answer, but that the exchange took place at all: "Reporters typically don't coordinate their questions for the president before press conferences, so it seemed odd that Obama might have an idea what the question would be. Also, it was a departure from White House protocol by calling on The Huffington Post second, in between the AP and Reuters."

I can't speak to the traditional protocol -- the AP and Reuters deserve special placement? -- but I think it's unfortunate to characterize this a question "coordinated ... for the president." The White House realized Nico solicited questions from Iran, and the president apparently wanted to answer just such a question. There's no reason to think this was scripted, or that Obama knew the specific question in advance. The president knew it would be about Iran generally, with an inquiry from Iran, but that hardly makes this inappropriate.

What's more, let's also note that this was a good question, pressing Obama on a specific point he wasn't anxious to address. This wasn't a pre-arranged softball; it was the opposite.

If the Politico piece is any indication, there's likely to be a dust-up over this. That's a shame.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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'BULLET FEE'.... Talk about adding insult to injury.

Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman shot and killed in Iran on Saturday, became an international symbol when video of her death went online. Yesterday, Iranian officials ordered her family to bury her "immediately and barred family members from holding a memorial service." Making matters even worse, "Authorities even asked the family to take down the black mourning banners in front of their house, aware of the potent symbol she had become."

Tragically, Neda was hardly the only victim. The Wall Street Journal reports today what happened to 19-year-old Kaveh Alipour, and the consequences for his family.

On Saturday, amid the most violent clashes between security forces and protesters, Mr. Alipour was shot in the head as he stood at an intersection in downtown Tehran. He was returning from acting class and a week shy of becoming a groom, his family said.

The details of his death remain unclear. He had been alone. Neighbors and relatives think that he got trapped in the crossfire. He wasn't politically active and hadn't taken part in the turmoil that has rocked Iran for over a week, they said. [...]

Upon learning of his son's death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a "bullet fee" -- a fee for the bullet used by security forces -- before taking the body back, relatives said.

The Alipour family refused to pay the fee, and morgue officials eventually caved, but "demanded that the family do no funeral or burial in Tehran."

Iranian protestors "hate the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime." There's no shortage of reasons for that.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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KLEIN 1, MCCAIN 0.... John McCain has spent an enormous amount of time lately criticizing President Obama's approach to developments in Iran. On CNN last night, Larry King mentioned to Time's Joe Klein that McCain would be on the program tonight, and asked what Klein would tell the Arizona Republican.

"Be quiet," Klein said. "You don't need to do this.... What you're doing is a self-indulgence at this point. Senator McCain, if he's going to talk about this, should also talk about the fact that the United States supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq war for eight years. Every one of those protesters out in the streets, every last one of them believes the United States supplied Saddam Hussein with the poison gas that has debilitated tens of thousands of Iranian men.... They blame us for identifying them as part of the Axis of Evil, with two countries that they disdain, the Iraqis and the North Koreans."

After getting positive feedback from Iranian-Americans, Klein expanded on this today, explaining why McCain and other conservative critics of the administration are not only misguided, but also making "unseemly" attacks.

I have yet to hear what possible good it would do for the President of the United States to encourage the protesters, except to give the Iranian regime a better excuse for killing more of them. McCain's bleatings are either for domestic political consumption or self-satisfaction, a form of hip-shooting onanism that demonstrates why he would have been a foreign policy disaster had he been elected.

To put it as simply as possible, McCain -- and his cohorts -- are trying to score political points against the President in the midst of an international crisis. It is the sort of behavior that Republicans routinely call "unpatriotic" when Democrats are doing it. I would never question John McCain's patriotism, no matter how misguided his sense of the country's best interests sometimes seems. His behavior has nothing to do with love of country; it has everything to do with love of self.

That sounds about right. When one combines a misguided worldview with petty partisanship and an inflated ego, we get the kind of small-minded cheap shots McCain and his allies have been taking against the president for over a week now.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Despite having taken some steps for a statewide campaign, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced yesterday that he will not run for governor of California next year.

* Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has endorsed former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio's (R) Senate campaign. While most of the GOP establishment is backing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), a growing number of far-right leaders are throwing their support to the even-more-conservative Rubio.

* The latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Dems with the edge in next year's Senate race in Ohio. While the Democratic primary will pit Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner against one another, both lead former Bush OMB Director Rob Portman (R) by about nine points.

* Will Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) seek a second term next year? A whole lot of in-state insiders, from both parties, expect her to skip the race and focus on her national ambitions.

* Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) starts off his Senate campaign in Louisiana as an underdog, trailing incumbent Sen. David Vitter (R) in a Research 2000 poll by seven points, 48% to 41%. Given the state and circumstances, Vitter can't be pleased that he's already polling below the 50% threshold.

* The RNC is, not surprisingly, prepared to invest heavily to help former Attorney General Bob McDonnell win Virginia's gubernatorial campaign, and transferred $1.5 million to the candidate's coffers in May.

* Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) re-election prospects are still shaky, but he seems to be reconnecting with the party base in Connecticut.

* New York Gov. David Paterson (D) is slightly less unpopular than he was, but "the Siena College Research Institute poll released Monday also indicates that seven out of 10 New York state voters would vote for someone other than Paterson in next year's gubernatorial contest."

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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ANOTHER DEMOGRAPHIC DOWNWARD SPIRAL.... Occasionally, we'll hear prominent Republican leaders argue that the GOP has to do better in broadening its appeal in minority communities if the party expects to compete effectively in the future. In general, those arguments are ignored by the party's rank and file.

The results, then, aren't surprising.

New poll numbers really seem to bear out the fears of some Republicans: The GOP's quasi-opposition to Sotomayor seems to be hurting the party among Latinos in a big way.

The latest numbers from the nonpartisan Research 2000 for Daily Kos find that only eight percent of Latinos view the party favorably, while an astonishing 86 percent view it unfavorably.

That's a real shift from what were already pretty bad numbers from before the Sotomayor nomination, when 11% of Latinos viewed the GOP favorably, and 79% viewed it unfavorably.

For a while, when some of the conservative attacks against Sotomayor were especially offensive, Republican leaders tried to keep the ugliness at arm's length. GOP officials would remind folks that Gingrich, Limbaugh, et al, were not actually Republican officeholders.

It appears these distinctions have been inconsequential.

What's more, Josh Marshall notes that the Republican Party may have structural impediments in place that will make progress difficult.

The only problem is that the modern Republican party's panic switch, or at least one of them, is rancid jingoism and more or less open anti-Hispanic (though often specifically targeted at Mexicans) prejudice. Or, to put it more bluntly, as with African-Americans, it's tough to be the party of the blacks and the racists at the same time. (Not that the Dems didn't try it for a few decades in the middle of the 20th century -- but it didn't end up panning out.)

One might imagine an alternative universe in which gays were not only an increasingly open and powerful political constituency but also one that was growing rapidly in population terms. And you'd have Republicans wanting to cultivate support among this growing group but also episodically bashing them to consolidate support among base conservative voters.

In other words, it's not a mistake or incompetence or any lack of planning that has Republicans in such a bad position with Hispanics, America's fastest growing ethnic group. It's just that people who are hostile to Hispanic immigration and just Hispanics in general are one of the GOP's key constituencies. That puts some real obstacles in the way of becoming the party of Hispanics.

Quite a conundrum.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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MOVING FORWARD ON JOHNSEN, KOH.... As of about a month ago, Dawn Johnsen's OLC nomination was stalled because "only" 57 senators were on record supporting confirmation. Senate Republicans refuse to allow the chamber to give Johnsen an up-or-down vote, and four senators -- Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Arlen Specter, and Ben Nelson -- were undecided on the minority's filibuster.

It's never been at all clear to me why these four were on the fence. Nelson complains that Johnsen is pro-choice, but that's a crazy reason to support a filibuster. Snowe, Collins, and Specter are themselves pro-choice, but remained undecided for unclear reasons.

Now, there appears to be at least signs of progress on Johnsen's nomination. Brian Beutler reports:

Johnsen -- who was nominated in April to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel -- has been spotted around Washington in recent days, and is rumored to have moved in to town. And she's certainly not here to work for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE).

And what about former Yale Law Dean Harold Koh, nominated by the president to serve as a legal advisor to the State Department, but who can't get an up-or-down vote because Republicans won't let him? There's apparently been some progress on that front, too. David Weigel reports:

A spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tells me that the senator is filing cloture on Harold Koh, the president's nominee for State Department Legal Adviser, "right now." ... There's confidence that Koh has 60 votes -- that's why they're going ahead -- and there's disappointment that it came to this instead of some kind of a deal. "The Republicans would not agree to an up or down vote," said a Reid spokesman. "We had hoped they would not block his nomination and would agree to move him by a regular majority vote." Instead, they're looking at a debate that could last several days.

The right-wing smear campaign against Harold Koh has been pretty nauseating. (For more background, or a refresher, check out Hilzoy's item from April.)

Confirmation for Koh and Johnsen are long overdue. I'm glad to see some signs of progress.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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HOW NOT TO DISCREDIT A POLL.... The latest New York Times poll found that 72% of Americans support a public health option as part of the larger reform effort. John Hinderaker at Power Line, a prominent conservative blog, pushed back against the results yesterday, arguing that the poll's sample is skewed in Democrats' favor.

Specifically, Hinderaker found that when respondents were asked which candidate they supported in the 2008 presidential election, 48% said Obama and 25% said McCain. Since Obama actually won 53% of the vote, and McCain won 46%, the poll, Hinderaker concludes, "obviously skews left."

As it turns out, though, it's not "obvious" at all. In fact, the Power Line criticism doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Eric Kleefeld noted:

A big problem occurred to me, though, one known to anyone who's read about polling for a long time: The who-you-voted-for question is good for a lot of things -- except for finding out how people actually voted. It's really an indicator of people's willingness to say they voted for the incumbent (regardless of whether they're telling the truth) or to say they voted for the challenger. All this poll really tells us is that some people are eager to say they voted for Obama, and others won't readily admit they voted for McCain.

Exactly. In fact, Slate's Christopher Beam did a good piece on this just a few days ago, explaining in some detail that Americans routinely take some liberties when asked by pollsters who they voted for, and the phenomenon has existed for decades.

What's more, not only did Hinderaker's efforts to cast doubt on the NYT poll come up short, but he'll also have to work harder to get the results he'd like to see. For one thing, even within the NYT poll, 50% of Republicans support a public option. Even if Power Line is convinced there weren't enough McCain voters among the respondents, it doesn't explain the popularity of the public plan. For another, the NYT poll isn't the only one -- an NBC/WSJ poll that showed 76% of Americans believing that it's important to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance," and a D.C. policy think tank conducted a poll, financed in part by previous opponents of health care reform, which found 83% of Americans favor a public plan.

Nevertheless, arguments like Hinderaker's can have an impact, even if they're easily-discredited. Yesterday, Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas cited the bogus Power Line criticism in two national television appearances: "'With all due respect to the New York Times and CBS, this polling sample was skewed,' he told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. Similarly, on Fox News Cornyn said, 'I think there's been some particularly good blog coverage like Powerline blog talking how that sample was so skewed as to be meaningless.'"

If recent history is any guide, news outlets will start referring to recent polls on the public option as "controversial" and "possibly skewed," even though reality shows otherwise.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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A LITTLE HEALTHIER AFTER ALL.... There were plenty of developments last week that suggested health care reform was in trouble. This week is obviously just getting started, but it already seems more encouraging than last week. Mike Madden, for example, reports this morning that, all of a sudden, health care reform "is no longer dead."

By the weekend, conventional wisdom inside the Beltway had more or less already declared reform dead.

Which made Monday's announcement by President Obama that the lobbying arm for the nation's drug manufacturers had agreed to cut the costs of drugs for seniors by $80 billion over the next decade something of a confusing spectacle. If the chances for getting anything done on healthcare had dwindled away, what was the president doing bringing back his campaign slogans -- and, more confusingly still, smiling confidently?

"To those who, here in Washington, who've grown accustomed to 'sky is falling' prognoses and the certainties that we cannot get this done, I have to repeat -- revive an old saying we had from the campaign: Yes, we can," Obama said. "We are going to get this done."

Also yesterday, the AP reported, "Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) moved sharply toward public health care Monday, saying that he could 'absolutely' support major parts of Sen. Chuck Schumer's compromise proposal for a public option after closed-door negotiations."

Hoping to generate some additional momentum, the White House is launching a new tool today.

In a major new effort to throw Obama's campaign apparatus into the push for health care reform, the White House's political operation is set to launch a massive new online data bank of thousands of health care stories, which will be spread around the country via Obama's extensive email list, officials familiar with the project tell me.

The new "health care story bank" ... is perhaps the most ambitious test case yet determining whether the technological apparatus that fueled Obama's campaign can succeed in driving Obama's governing agenda.... OFA officials view it as a major technological and communications component of their push to make reform happen.

As Roll Call reported, it's part of a deliberate p.r. push.

With a carefully designed timetable at risk in the Senate, President Barack Obama and his allies this week are launching a public relations blitz to bolster the case for health care reform.

Some of the events may have been planned before Obama's health care effort ran into difficulties.... But the result will be a huge burst of health care cheerleading before Congress breaks for the July Fourth recess at the end of the week.

Also today, House Democrats, who seem to have their act together on this, are pushing forward with their reform package.

It's worth remembering that there will be peaks and valleys over the course of the debate. Last week, by all appearances, was a valley, but that doesn't mean the larger reform effort is stuck there.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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CONSIDER THE REF WORKED.... One of the oddities surrounding the Republicans' fit over the White House health care forum to be aired on ABC this week is how implausible the accusations are. To hear conservatives tell it, the event, hosted by Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, will be the kind of pro-administration propaganda that was common on Fox News between 2001 and 2008.

It's a silly argument for a variety of reasons, but there's one point that's gone largely overlooked: have GOP activists ever actually watched Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson? Have these two ever seemed like media figures carrying water for Democrats?

Take yesterday morning, for example.

A media watchdog group, Media Matters, has released an analysis of the first installment of the ABC series -- a Good Morning America segment headed by Diane Sawyer -- including critiques of the actual questions asked. In particular, the group draws parallels between the areas of Sawyer's interests and how the Republican strategist Frank Luntz framed his strategy to derail health care reform.

For example, Sawyer began the segment by questioning Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius about "the public fear of a towering $1-to-2 trillion cost. Can Americans afford it?" From there, she pressed the president's top domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes, about the issue of "rationed care" before playing a video of Newt Gingrich warning about "government bureacrat[s]" telling the public what type of coverage it can and cannot receive.

The similarities to Luntz, Media Matters says, are obvious.

Take a look at Media Matters' report on this from yesterday, and notice the kind of questions Sawyer raised. As a substantive matter, probably the two big policy questions of the day relate to inclusion of a public option and the merits of the co-op alternative. How many questions did Sawyer ask about these issues? Zero. Concerns from the left about reform efforts were ignored altogether, while the Luntz-written script served as the basis for practically the entire interview.

As digby explained, "This is how it's done. The right wing stages a hissy fit accusing the so-called liberal media of being in the tank for Obama. And the so-called liberal media, which is more afraid of being called the liberal media than being seen as corporate whores, stooges or fools, bends over backwards to ensure that every right wing talking point is aired with the authority of Zeus."

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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LOST AND FOUND?.... By late last night, after news outlets picked up on the fact that no one seemed to know where South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has been since Thursday, the governor's office issued a statement hoping to "clarify" matter. Sanford, his aides said, is hiking the Appalachian Trail and is completely fine. Nothing to worry about. Mystery solved. Move along, nothing to see here.

But, when looking at the details of the story, and watching how various explanations evolved yesterday, the story of the disappearing governor appears more, not less, bizarre.

Remember, early on, the governor's wife conceded that she doesn't know where her husband is, but said Sanford needed some time away "to write something." The governor's office said he decided to "recharge" after the legislative session, and has decided to "work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside." A few hours later, that version of events changed, and the governor is now "hiking."

But even now, no one -- not his wife, not his staff, not his security detail -- seems to know exactly where Mark Sanford is, and no one from his family or administration has actually spoken to him. His spokesperson's statement last night conceded that his office is clueless as to his exact whereabouts.

"I apologize for taking so long to send this update, and was waiting to see if a more definitive idea of what part of the trail he was on before we did so," said Joel Sawyer, the Republican governor's spokesman. Sawyer added that he will update the public on Sanford's specific whereabouts as soon as he knows them.

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R) called Sanford's office yesterday afternoon and demanded an "immediate phone conversation with the governor." That didn't happen.

"That request was denied because the governor's chief of staff does not know where the governor is, and has not communicated with the governor since he left South Carolina last Thursday," Bauer said. "I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts."

The State reported this morning, "Sanford's last known location was near Atlanta late last week. A mobile telephone tower there picked up a signal from his phone, according to a source familiar with the situation. Since then, the governor's state and personal phones had been turned off, and Sanford had not responded to phone or text messages."

Why mobile telephone tower was used to track down Sanford, and who requested such a search, remains unclear.

It's also unclear who's running the executive branch of South Carolina's state government, what would be done in the event of an emergency, or when the elected two-term governor of the state may return.

To be sure, Sanford has taken breaks without his security detail before, and it's understandable to think the governor wouldn't bring a team with him to go hiking. But that doesn't change the fact that, during his tenure as governor, Sanford hasn't gone this long without at least checking in with someone.

Josh Marshall added, "Put it all together and this is starting to sound a lot like the governor is genuinely missing." Given what we know, it's hard to reach any other conclusion.

Update: As of about 10:30 am, Sanford has reportedly checked in with his chief of staff, is wrapping up his hiking trip, and will return to work tomorrow.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Hilzoy

Who Is This "Hard Left" Of Whom You Speak?

As Steve noted earlier, Andy McCarthy has gone off his meds again:

"The fact is that, as a man of the hard Left, Obama is more comfortable with a totalitarian Islamic regime than he would be with a free Iranian society. In this he is no different from his allies like the Congressional Black Caucus and Bill Ayers, who have shown themselves perfectly comfortable with Castro and Chàvez. Indeed, he is the product of a hard-Left tradition that apologized for Stalin and was more comfortable with the Soviets than the anti-Communists (and that, in Soros parlance, saw George Bush as a bigger terrorist than bin Laden).

Because of obvious divergences (inequality for women and non-Muslims, hatred of homosexuals) radical Islam and radical Leftism are commonly mistaken to be incompatible. In fact, they have much more in common than not, especially when it comes to suppression of freedom, intrusiveness in all aspects of life, notions of "social justice," and their economic programs. (...) The divergences between radical Islam and radical Leftism are much overrated -- "equal rights" and "social justice" are always more rally-cry propaganda than real goals for totalitarians, and hatred of certain groups is always a feature of their societies."

When Rich Lowry politely demurs, McCarthy doubles down:

"As between freedom and dictatorship, in principle Obama is fine with dictatorship -- we are seeing less and less freedom in our own country, and I believe Obama (who is dirigiste by nature) values stability over the rambunctiousness of a free society. He has certain values, and while he'd be delighted to have a free society arrive at them, he'd rather see them imposed if the alternative was a free society likely to shun them."

Leave aside the fact that this is completely insane. And leave aside as well the fact that this was written by Andy "detaining US citizens without charges is fine" "waterboarding someone once or twice is not torture" McCarthy. What puzzles me is this: I have spent a lot of time in places where one might suppose the Hard Left might be found. I mean, I grew up in the Kremlin on the Charles, for heaven's sake. Moreover, I know some people who are fairly far to the left. And yet I'm not sure I've ever met anyone in this country who even remotely resembles McCarthy's "Hard Left".

My guitar teacher might have -- he didn't talk politics enough for me to be sure -- but that was in the early '70s. I might have found one had I ever ventured into Revolution Books in Harvard Square, but I can't recall that I did. There's one other person I knew back in the mid '80s who might have fit the bill, though I'm not sure how much of what makes me think this wasn't just general obnoxiousness, rather than a substantive political view.

But with these possible exceptions, none of the people I have known in this country, in a long life of knowing leftists, has been "fine with dictatorship". None of them has the slightest interest in the "suppression of freedom", or "intrusiveness in all aspects of life". Like most people, they would prefer that the policies they think are best get adopted, but none of them would want to impose those policies by force if they lost the political argument.

So here's my question: have I just been hanging out in the wrong places? Are there, in fact, any substantial numbers of "Hard Leftists", as Andy McCarthy uses that term -- not just the handful of surviving Stalinists that I'm sure exist somewhere in the US, but an appreciable number of people who are "fine with dictatorship"? And if so, how did I miss them?

Hilzoy 12:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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June 22, 2009

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Unrest continues in Iran: "Riot police used clubs and tear gas to disperse protesters in a Tehran square Monday after the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps warned Iranians not to continue disputing the results of the June 12 presidential election, and an influential supervisory body said voting irregularities were not sufficient to alter the outcome."

* The Supreme Court today chipped away a little at the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but left Section 5 of the act in place. It was an 8-1 ruling, with only Clarence Thomas dissenting.

* A rocket attack on Bagram Air Base yesterday killed U.S. soldiers and wounded six other Americans.

* Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, intends to sharply restrict airstrikes in the country, in the hopes of reducing civilian fatalities that undermine the American-led mission.

* In Iraq, a truck bomb near Kirkuk over the weekend killed at 63 people.

* President Obama held a brief event at the White House today to praise an announcement from the pharmaceutical industry on cutting drug costs in Medicare. The president also used a phrase we haven't heard much since the election.

* Iran's efforts to censor and control its citizens' access to the Internet is remarkable, and makes China look almost liberal by comparison.

* The Supreme Court decided today not to hear an appeal regarding Valerie Plame Wilson's civil suit against Lewis "Scooter" Libby, effectively ending the matter.

* The Obama administration is drawing plaudits for its diversity.

* Sonia Sotomayor is no longer a member of the Belizean Grove women's organization.

* Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) endorsed marriage equality. Good for him.

* Congressional Republicans banned Internet gambling a few years ago. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is optimistic this Congress can repeal the ban.

* Bolstering an argument from the weekend, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough took issue with John McCain's and Lindsey Graham's criticism of the White House policy on Iran, calling their attacks "outrageous."

* Not only is there less to the Gerald Walpin "controversy" than meets the eye, but if you want to talk about firing IGs, consider Reagan's record from January '81.

* Quote of the Day: "The economists who have pledged allegiance to the Republican Party this year ... have stopped thinking like economists."

* As part of a scary, right-wing conference over the weekend, Pat Buchanan talked up English-only initiatives -- under a banner that spelled the word "conference" incorrectly.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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HEAD-BANGING TIME?.... Michael Tomasky surveyed the landscape on the political debate over health care reform, and has come to the conclusion that if President Obama wants Congress to send him a good bill, he's going to have to "start banging some heads."

Simply put, legislators are rarely courageous. They're not leaders. They're followers. They don't like doing risky things. They like doing things they know are popular.

Think about it. When a case emerges that puts a new twist on, say, child molestation, legislators rush forward with new laws meant to address the problem. The public will back them, and child molesters don't have a lobby.

But changing the country's healthcare system? That's big, and terrifying. It requires taking chances, doing things a new way. Legislators hate that.

In the healthcare case, we can add an ideological element to this. Democratic legislators currently in Congress now have served almost their entire careers during an age of conservative dominance. They've been trained over the course of two or three decades to hear and respond to certain dog whistles.

Lower taxes. Breathe out. Good. More regulation. Tense up. Risky. Free market. Smile. Good. Government. Clench teeth. Scary.

I'm telling you, legislators "reason" in those flash-card sequences. Then, the next thing they think of is their district or state, and they rarely think about the new votes a courageous stand might win them. Instead, they focus nervously on where they might lose votes (and local political, financial and editorial support) as a result of doing something out of the ordinary.

I found all of this pretty compelling. In fact, for most of the "centrist" Democrats who are standing in the way of meaningful, effective reform, they like Obama, they fear Republicans, lobbyists, and the 30-second ads about "socialized medicine."

Tomasky's argument, then, suggests it's time to expand the elements these Dems are afraid of, and include the popular president. It's time, Tomasky says, for Obama to show he can "scare people."

Obviously, different approaches would be needed with different senators. There's probably not too much the White House can do to scare Ben Nelson. But if the vote-counters are lining up support on, say, a genuine public option, I can imagine someone in the West Wing letting Joe Lieberman know, "The president is interested in hosting a town-hall event in Bridgeport, and he's about to tell everyone in the state to call your office." Or maybe calling Arlen Specter to mention, "Obama is going to talk about reform in Pittsburgh, and Joe Sestak might be there."

Or maybe just telling the whole caucus, "If health care drags me down, I'm dragging all of you with me."

There's still time to see how all of this plays out, but when push comes to shove, it's not too much of a stretch to think Obama might turn to his chief of staff for a few ideas on how best to scare members. When it's time to "start banging some heads," I suspect Rahm Emanuel might have a few ideas.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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IS SANFORD MISSING?.... This is probably nothing, but it certainly seems odd.

The whereabouts of Gov. Mark Sanford have been unknown to state officials since Thursday, and some state leaders are questioning who is in charge of the executive office.

Neither the governor's office nor the State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for governors, has been able to reach Sanford after he left the mansion in a black SLED Suburban SUV, said Sen. Jake Knotts and three others familiar with the situation but who declined to be identified.

Sanford's last known whereabouts were near Atlanta, where a mobile telephone tower picked up a signal from his phone, authorities said.

First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press today her husband has been gone for several days and she doesn't know where he is.

Mark Sanford's wife doesn't know where he is? Neither do the state officials responsible for his security? What's more, both the governor's personal and professional phones have been turned off, and messages have gone unreturned since Thursday.

The governor's wife said the governor needed some time away "to write something." Sanford's office issued a statement today saying that Sanford decided to "recharge" after the legislative session, and has decided to "work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside."

South Carolina's lieutenant governor said he also didn't know where Sanford is, but added that he has not been given any temporary power.

State Sen. Jake Knotts, a Republican, said in a statement, "I was recently made aware that Governor Sanford has frequently been eluding SLED agents and disappearing at odd times.... As the head of our state, in the unfortunate event of a state of emergency or homeland security situation, Governor Sanford should be available at all times to the chief of SLED."

I'm sure someone is responsible for running the state of South Carolina. For now, it's not altogether clear who's actually doing the job.

Update: Chris Cillizza added, "[P]ulling a disappearing act like this -- whatever the reason -- is a decidedly odd move for someone who is seen as a likely presidential candidate in 2012."

Second Update: Fortunately, it appears that Sanford is safe and sound. The governor's communications director said Sanford let his "staff know his whereabouts," though he would not say where the governor actually is. There's also no explanation, at least not yet, as to why the governor's wife, lieutenant governor, and security detail did not know where's he been since Thursday.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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By: Hilzoy

The Idea Of An Islamic Republic

Andrew Sullivan posted an email from a reader that I think is interesting but wrong. Its author disagrees with the idea that Mousavi and his followers are essentially trying to restore the Islamic Republic. He writes: "Mousavi, insofar as he is a vessel of Iranian contempt for and rage at Khamenei, is the undoing of the 1979 revolution, not its restoration." Partly this is because the author thinks that the Islamic Republic is identical with "the institutions created after 1979". I wouldn't describe any change to those institutions as the abandonment of the Islamic Republic, but I suppose that if one did, one might argue that that might be Mousavi's goal, though he would not describe it that way.

However, the author also says this:

"In this contest, there is a claim on both sides for the spirit of the 1979 revolution. But there is also a recognition, I think for Mousavi, that the Islamicness of the Islamic Republic has led Iran to this depraved state of affairs."

I am not privy to Mousavi's innermost thoughts, but it would surprise me if this were true of him or of most of his followers. If you believe in Islam, the problem cannot be that the Islamic Republic is too Islamic. It has to be something else -- for instance, that the Islamic Republic is insufficiently Islamic, not in the sense of not having enough mullahs in positions of power, but in the sense of not being set up in the way that a proper understanding of Islam would suggest.

What is true, I think, is that the current events in Islam will force a reexamination of the theological underpinnings of the Islamic Republic.

I am not a scholar of Islam, so take what I say with caution (and please feel free to correct my errors), but my understanding is that those underpinnings turn on Ayatollah Khomeini's novel reading of the concept of the Guardianship of Jurists (velayat-e faqih). As I understand it, Islamic jurists (in Shi'a Islam) are normally thought to have guardianship over various rather non-contentious things: things that are plainly within their purview (e.g., religious trusts), people who are plainly in need of guardians (orphans, the insane), and so forth.

But within orthodox Shi'a theology, they are not supposed to have guardianship over whole countries. The idea that they should was an innovation of Ayatollah Khomeini's, and in theology, innovation is generally not seen as a good thing. Jonathan Lyons:

"Despite its formal name -- the Islamic Republic of Iran -- the political system now overseen by Ali Khamenei has few supporters among the recognized grand ayatollahs and their large circle of clerical fellow-travellers. In traditional Shi'ite thought, legitimate political authority may be exercised only by the line of the Holy Imams, the last of whom went into hiding to escape the agents of the rival Sunni caliphs and has not been heard from since 941. The return of the Hidden Imam, which will usher in an era of perfect peace and justice on earth, is eagerly awaited by all believers. Until then, all political power is seen as corrupt and corrupting by its very nature, and as such it must be avoided whenever possible.

Historically, this has served the Shi'ite clergy well, forging a close bond with the people, as intercessors with the state authorities at times of acute crisis, a privileged and influential position only rarely achieved by their Sunni counterparts. Yet, it stands in direct opposition to Ayatollah Khomeini's radical religious notion of direct clerical rule and has been the source of underlying tensions within the clerical class for three decades. The dirty little secret of the Islamic Republic is the fact that it is seen as illegitimate by huge swathes of the traditional Shi'ite clergy."

Thus, Shi'a theology contains plenty of materials with which to construct an argument that the Islamic Republic should be restructured. I expect that whether or not Mousavi and his supporters succeed, these arguments will be made. However, I do not expect them to take the form of arguments to the effect that politics would be better off without religion -- to which the obvious answer, for the faithful, is: so much the worse for politics. Instead, I expect two kinds of arguments: first, that the Islamic Republic is damaging to Islam, and second, that the idea that even the most learned and saintly jurist can escape the temptations of power is mistaken.

As to the first: certain forms of damage are obvious. At times, it would be awfully convenient if Islam said something it does not say, or gave some power it does not give to those jurists who exercise guardianship. When that happens, the temptation to simply distort Islam is hard to resist. For instance, originally, Iran's odd power structure made it hard to make coherent policy. As a result (pdf):

"In January 1987 Khomeini declared the principle of the "Absolute Rule of the Jurist" (velayet-e motlaqeh faqih). According to this concept, the decisions taken in the interest of the Islamic state by the Supreme Leader have precedence over religious rules, even over such fundamental commandments as those of prayer, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. In the end, practical constraints forced Khomeini to allow reasons of state to take precedence over religion -- this was a policy that he had criticized in the time of the Shah, and he had hoped to eliminate it by introducing a theocracy in which the highest political and religious authority would be combined in just one person."

On a much smaller scale, consider the fact that Khamenei was made an Ayatollah for political reasons, even though, by all accounts, he lacked the relevant scholarly credentials. This is the corruption of a serious religious office, and it was done because politics, not religion, demanded it.

Besides that, to anyone who believes that the election results are fraudulent, the actions of the Iranian government are bringing discredit to Islam. The government is lying. It is ordering its militias to murder people. And it is doing so in the name of Islam. Imagine how this would seem to a devout Muslim who thinks the election was stolen: it would be as though the hierarchy of the Catholic Church had come down on the side of its pedophile priests and pronounced them holy. Catholics and non-Catholics can see the harm those priests did to the children they molested. But if you were a Catholic who loved God and the Church, you would find the idea that the Church sided with the priests horrifying in an additional way, and you would fear for the people whose faith might be destroyed.

As to the second argument (that even the most learned and saintly jurist cannot escape the temptations of power): Iran claims to have an Islamic government, ruled according to the principles set out in the Qur'an. But that claim relies on the assumption that you can identify "a government ruled according to Islam" with "a government ruled according to Islam, as understood by the Supreme Leader." And that, in turn, has to rely on the idea that the Supreme Leader will be, not infallible, but at least capable of discerning the right and holy thing to do more often than anyone else. Possibly he is an instrument of God, and will be guided by him; possibly his learning will enable him to see what faith requires at a given time; but one way or the other, he must be worthy of the position he has been given, and worthy of it in religious terms.

As long as that assumption stands, the government of Iran can command the allegiance that people think they owe to Islam itself. But if it falls, the government turns into one more repressive dictatorship, one that happens to be run by clerics rather than generals. There have, of course, been all sorts of reasons to question that assumption in the past. But the events of the last ten days have, I think, made it untenable for anyone who thinks the election was stolen, and probably for some who think it wasn't, but who nonetheless find the government's actions since the election appalling.

If Iranians no longer regard the Supreme Leader as capable of authoritatively discerning what Islam requires in matters of state, that obviously calls into question the foundations of the Islamic Republic. But it might do so in several ways, some of which are more interesting than others.

The least radical would be to suggest the possibility that Iran now has the wrong Supreme Leader. This would, of course, raise the question: how did this happen? Presumably there would have to be something wrong with the process by which the Supreme Leader was selected; how might that process be modified to prevent any similar error in the future?

The more interesting one would be to suggest the possibility either that no one could play the role of the Supreme Leader, or that while some saint somewhere might be able to play that role, there is no reason to think that the person actually appointed as Supreme Leader will be that person. (Compare: someone might be able to be a genuinely just and wise monarch, but there is no reason to think that the person who actually ascends the throne will be that person.)

In that case, I think, both concern for your country and concern for Islam would lead you to jettison the idea of having a Supreme Leader at all, and to try to work out what other arrangement might best enable Muslims to have a state that genuinely lived up to Islamic principles. In either case, people who are committed to the idea of having an Islamic state will have to confront the fact that their leaders and those who select them are fallible human beings whose views about what Islam requires cannot just be presumed to be correct.

As I noted above, this is in line with orthodox Shi'a theology, which (as I understand it) holds that political power is inherently corrupting, and that a perfectly Islamic government must await the return of the Mahdi. Khomeini abandoned this view, and held that Islamic jurists could, essentially, speak for the Mahdi and act as his agents until his return. Ahmedinejad reportedly believes that the Mahdi guides his policies. If you're a Muslim and you conclude that this is wrong, it is not just an error, but blasphemy.

If, as seems likely, a significant number of Iranian Muslims conclude that the Supreme Leader does not speak for God, then they will have to rethink the basis of their government, whoever prevails in the struggle that's going on at present. And they will not do so because they have concluded that their government is "too Islamic", but because they conclude that at least until the return of the Mahdi, some human beings might be wiser than others, but none should arrogate to himself the right to speak for God.

I have no idea what will come of this rethinking, but I suspect it will be both very important and fascinating.

Hilzoy 3:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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LIMITED PARALLELS.... The Atlantic's Derek Thompson has an item today comparing ongoing health care reform efforts to one of George W. Bush's more ambitious domestic policy initiatives.

The prevailing concern among liberals is that health care reform in 2008 will follow in the footsteps of the 1993 debacle. This is a legitimate concern, and health care reformists would be wise to draw lessons from the Clintons' failure, but we don't need to reach back the 1990s for allusions to failed entitlement reform. Beleaguered Republicans could always sink health reform the way beleaguered 2005 Democrats torpedoed Social Security privatization: Paint the other side as radical conspirators against America.

As Thompson sees it, Bush's detractors criticized Social Security "reform" by explaining that it was really just privatization by a different name. The plan, in other words, was more nefarious than officials were willing to admit. Likewise, Obama's detractors now insist that overhauling the health care system is really just a secret effort to impose a single-payer system.

In 2005, it was progressive voices like Paul Krugman who tried to expose Bush's Social Security scheme for what it was really was. In 2009, it's conservative voices like George Will who insist the health care system is fine and does not need to be reformed.

Krugman then (like Will now) railed against a radical plan to give an entitlement system a facelift and beat the conspiracy drum to alert readers that the government was't [sic] being honest about their plans. In both cases, dramatic entitlement reform wasn't necessary, but it was a microcosm of the perverse ideology that ruled the White House and sought to change the face of America forever.

There's a lot wrong with this comparison.

First, the Krugman and Will arguments may feature similarities in style, but that doesn't mean they're of equal validity. If we look at the substance, instead of the rhetorical commonalities, Krugman was right about Social Security and the effects of privatization. Will's health care pitch (tax credits for everyone) quickly falls apart.

Second, the underlying needs are polar opposites. Social Security, as was noted at the time, was not facing a crisis. The status quo on heath care is completely untenable and serves as a brutal drag on the national economy. It costs too much, covers too few, and keeps getting worse.

Third, while Bush went out of his way to avoid letting voters know the details of his Social Security ideas while running for national office, Obama made health care one of the centerpieces of his national campaign. What's more, while the public was deeply skeptical of privatization, there's strong national support for reforming health care in general, and including a public option, in specific.

Granted, we dealing with presidents, fresh off a campaign victory, working with a Congress led by their party, on an ambitious domestic policy matter. But I'm afraid the similarities pretty much end there.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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ANOTHER MISGUIDED COMPARISON.... Last week, we heard quite a few ridiculous Iran-related comparisons from high-profile Republicans, but former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, now a U.S. Senate candidate, adds a rather unique twist today.

Twitter hasn't always been a politician's best friend, most recently for House Republicans making comparisons of their own political plight to the demonstrators in Iran.

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio is the latest to make his own questionable comparison drawn from the Iranian demonstrations — that the protesters would have more success if they had a constitutional right to bear arms.

"I have a feeling the situation in Iran would be a little different if they had a 2nd amendment like ours," Rubio tweeted.

Rubio added hashtags for tcot and the nra.

It's fascinating to watch developments unfold in Iran, and it's not unusual to think how much better off Iranians would be right now if they enjoyed some of the freedoms Americans already have. But instead of free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, a free press, and the separation between religion and government, Rubio is apparently thinking, "Boy, if those folks only had lots of guns...."

As far as I can tell, Iran seems to already have quite a few well-armed "militias." Indeed, it's part of the problem.

But stepping back, it's hard not to appreciate the wild change in direction we've seen from the right when it comes to Iranians. Last year, the conservative line on Iran seemed to be a desire for a military conflict. Now, at least some on the right lament the fact that Iranians aren't better armed.

As Jason Linkins put it, "[I]t's symbolic of how much has changed that a conservative now thinks Iran could use more readily available weaponry."

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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AROUND THE CORNER.... Noting some of the oddities in Jonah Goldberg's latest column, Kevin Drum observed the other day, "Obama really drives conservatives to the loony bin, doesn't he?"

It's an observation with broad applicability, especially when it comes to the team at National Review.

Over the weekend, Victor Davis Hanson did his level best to read President Obama's mind before concluding, "Obama is almost more at ease with virulent anti-Westerners, whose grievances Obama has long studied (and perhaps in large part entertained), and whose estrangement alone offers opportunity for Obama's sophisticated multicultural insight and singular narcissistic magnanimity."

Today, Andy McCarthy keeps pushing the envelope, explaining his belief that the president is "steeped in Leftist ideology, fueled in anger and resentment over what he chooses to see in America's history," but willing to yield ideologically "in order to maintain his grip on power.

"It would have been political suicide to issue a statement supportive of the mullahs [in Iran], so Obama's instinct was to do the next best thing: to say nothing supportive of the freedom fighters. As this position became increasingly untenable politically, and as Democrats became nervous that his silence would become a winning political round for Republicans, he was moved grudgingly to burble a mild censure of the mullah's 'unjust' repression -- on the order of describing a maiming as a regrettable 'assault,' though enough for the Obamedia to give him cover. But expect him to remain restrained and to continue grossly understating the Iranian regime's deadly response. That will change only if, unexpectedly, it appears that the freedom-fighters may win, at which point he'll scoot over to the right side of history and take all conceivable credit."

I expect some hysteria from The Corner -- McCarthy, after all, has expressed concerns about the president's birth certificate -- but the quality of the attacks are getting increasingly delusional. Cornerites can't bring themselves to refute the fairly obvious argument -- intervention in Iran would be counterproductive for everyone except Iran's ruling regime -- so we get this bizarre hybrid of pseudo-psychology, cheap smear, and conspiracy theory.

Jason Zengerle added, "I suppose McCarthy at least deserves some credit for creating a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose scenario for Obama on Iran: If the protestors in Iran succeed in toppling the regime, then their success will have come in spite of Obama's reticence (and Obama's subsequent embrace of them will be cravenly cynical, since we know at heart, like the always insightful Hanson, that Obama really prefers the mullahs); and if the resistance fails, it will of course be because Obama didn't make a big enough speech on their behalf. Either way, guys like McCarthy and Hanson needn't adjust their myopic world view in the slightest."

They never do.

Update: Chris Orr adds to the criticism, with an amusing comparison involving magic unicorns and ravenous zombies. I wish I'd thought of that.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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THEY WERE ONLY OFF BY A FACTOR OF 18.... For several months, whenever the issue of cap-and-trade comes up, GOP policymakers and their allies immediately turn to their favorite talking point: a cap-and-trade proposal would impose, on average, a $3,128 energy burden on the typical American home. The figure comes from a bastardization of a study conducted by John Reilly, an M.I.T. scientist who supports the cap-and-trade plan -- and who has tried to explain to Republicans why the claim is wrong.

Told, over and over again, that their talking point has no basis in reality, Republican officials nevertheless keep saying it. When the GOP isn't denying climate change science altogether, it's pushing the $3,128 claim.

OK, so we know the Republicans are lying, but what's the actual cost Americans can expect if a cap-and-trade system becomes law? The Congressional Budget Office, which has produced several reports of late that Republicans just love, reported on the expected costs of Waxman-Markey.

...CBO estimates that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion -- or about $175 per household. That figure includes the cost of restructuring the production and use of energy and of payments made to foreign entities under the program, but it does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the associated slowing of climate change.

Some households would pay a little more, and some of the nation's poorest households would actually get money back, but the average is about $175 per household, the equivalent, Chris Harris noted, of "a postage stamp per day."

Better yet, the costs go down in future years, as carbon permits are sold, and the proceeds are "rebated to taxpayers."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who pushed the $3,128 line as aggressively as anyone, told Brian Beutler in April he would revisit Republican talking points if additional information came to light.

I'm glad to hear that. Congressional Republicans now have a chance to approach the debate in an honest, serious way. Anyone want to lay odds on whether they keep using the discredited argument anyway?

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Health concerns have forced Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to limit his work schedule, but he nevertheless took time to film a 30-second commercial in support of Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) re-election campaign.

* In the wake of an embarrassing sex scandal, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has seen his approval rating drop to 39%. The Mason-Dixon poll, however, found that more than six in 10 Nevadans do not think Ensign should resign.

* Interestingly enough, even now, Ensign's approval rating is slightly higher than that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is seeking re-election next year.

* Much to the delight of Democratic recruiters, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) has decided he will run against Sen. David Vitter (R) next year in Louisiana.

* Much to the delight of Republican recruiters, it looks like Rep. Mike Castle (R) has decided to run for the Senate in Delaware next year.

* A new Public Policy Polling survey shows Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's (D) approval rating dropping to 42%. In a hypothetical match-up against congressman-turned-Fox News personality John Kasich, the poll shows Strickland leading by just two points, 44% to 42%.

* Speaking of Ohio, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will apparently not face a primary challenge next year, after all.

* New Yorker Tom Golisano is eyeing a Senate campaign in Florida? As a Democrat?

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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DEMS 'EMBOLDENED'?.... CBS News runs a headline on this AP piece about the health care debate that reform supporters will probably find encouraging*: "Democrats May Unite On Public Health Plan." The story doesn't exactly reflect that, but it's nevertheless encouraging to see at least one Democratic senator step up his game.

Emboldened by polls that show public backing for a government health insurance plan, Democrats are moving to make it a politically defining issue in the debate over the future of medical care.

Behind-the-scenes attempts to get a deal with Republicans on nonprofit co-ops as an alternative to a public plan have led only to frustration, complains a key Democrat. He and his colleagues may have to go it alone, said Sen. Chuck Schumer.

The co-ops were seen as perhaps the last hope for compromise on a contentious issue that threatens any remaining prospects of bipartisan support for President Obama's sweeping plan to remake the health care system.

Schumer has not always been a consistent progressive champion, but by all appearances, he's showing some real leadership on this issue right now. To his credit, Schumer even rejected the co-op proposal gaining steam among Republican and "centrist" Democrats: "I don't think I could say with a straight face that this (co-op proposal) is at all close to a nationwide public option. Right now, this co-op idea doesn't come close to satisfying anyone who wants a public plan."

What's more, the recent polls are giving Schumer a hand in pressing his colleagues: "The polling data backs up our subjective view that to make health care reform work, you need a public option."

It leads to a test for the Senate caucus: back an effective plan that enjoys public support, or pursue an inferior bipartisan alternative.

We know Senate Republicans have said a public plan option is a step they are simply unwilling to take. We also know that for Democratic "centrists," GOP opposition has them scrambling for plausible alternatives.

But E.J. Dionne recently posed some questions that these "centrists" should ponder: "Where did we get the idea that the only good health-care bill is a bipartisan bill? Is bipartisanship more important than whether a proposal is practical and effective? And if bipartisanship is a legitimate goal, isn't each party equally responsible for achieving it? ... It's one thing to compromise to pick up votes, which, one hopes, is what Baucus is doing. It's another to compromise in exchange for nothing at all. The first is bipartisanship with a purpose. The second is the bipartisanship of fools."

* edited for clarity

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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BIG TOBACCO'S HARD TIMES.... At an event this afternoon in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama will sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, and in the process, give the FDA "unprecedented authority to regulate tobacco."

It's a strong piece of legislation, approved by very large majorities in both chambers, and by any reasonable measure, constitutes "landmark" legislation on the making and marketing of tobacco products. Words like "low tar" and "light" will be prohibited from cigarette packages, as will various flavorings. For the first time, tobacco companies will have to disclose the ingredients that go into their products. The president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids recently said, "This is a bill not for a one-year or two-year splash, but for a long-term impact."

And while all of this is encouraging, Alex Koppelman noted a key political development that shouldn't go overlooked: Big Tobacco's political power has probably never been this weak.

According to the New York Times, this fight took more than a decade -- similar legislation was blocked by filibuster in 1998. It ended with wide margins in both houses of Congress in favor of the bill: The Senate approved it by a vote of 79-17 on Thursday, and the House voted for it 307-97.

Granted, Philip Morris, the country's biggest tobacco country, came around and supported the bill after having opposed it for years. But its closest competitors both fought the measure, as did legislators from the traditional tobacco states.

That the bill could pass over the objections of, among others, North Carolina's senators, points to how the country's political dynamic has changed.

Quite right. It wasn't too long ago that everyone knew legislation like that was needed, and everyone also knew Big Tobacco's lobbyists would ensure it would never become law. Part of this is the result of the regionalization of the Republican Party in the South, and part is the result of revelations about industry wrongdoing, which has contributed to a very different political climate for tobacco companies.

Whatever the cause, today's bill signing is long overdue.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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SOTOMAYOR ISN'T DELIVERING FOR THE RIGHT.... With the Senate Democratic caucus enjoying a sizable majority, even some of the administration's staunchest critics realized from the outset that Sonia Sotomayor was very likely to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. The goal, conservatives thought, was to use the nomination to bolster their larger goals.

If the right could effectively demonize Sotomayor, conservative groups could, for example, see a boost in fundraising, and a newly energized far-right base. Having the first real fight over a Democratic president's high court nominee in four decades could, the idea went, be a shot in the arm to the conservative movement and Republican activists.

A month later, how's that working out? Not particularly well.

Nearly a month after President Barack Obama picked her for the Supreme Court, Republican senators say Sonia Sotomayor isn't serving as the political lightning rod some in their party had hoped she would be.

"She doesn't have the punch out there in terms of fundraising and recruiting, I think -- at least so far," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who most likely will be elected as the No. 4 Republican in Senate leadership this week.

The calculus could certainly change when Sotomayor's confirmation hearings begin July 13. But the Republican senators' initial review of Sotomayor's record, together with the meetings they've had with her, have left them doubting that she'll be controversial enough to help them or hurt the Democrats heading into the 2010 elections.

Part of this, I imagine, is the result of other news stories overpowering the nomination for media attention. Developments surrounding Sotomayor's nomination were quickly bumped from the front page in light of unrest in Iran, negotiations over health care reform, etc.

But more important is the fact that Sotomayor is an extremely well qualified, experienced, mainstream judge who deserves to be confirmed. The right hasn't been successful in exploiting this nomination because there's just not much to exploit.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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'SUPREME LEADER'.... In his Washington Post column the other day, Charles Krauthammer expressed his outrage that President Obama referred to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the "Supreme Leader" of Iran. "'Supreme Leader'?" Krauthammer asked indignantly. "Note the abject solicitousness with which the American president confers this honorific on a clerical dictator."

This line of attack seems to be catching on, at least a little, in conservative circles. Yesterday on CNN, Bill Bennett added:

"We should be on the side of freedom, and not on the side of this, our 'supreme leader,' as our president keeps referring to."

This is really silly. Krauthammer and Bennett may be annoyed by the use of the title, but they're being awfully selective in how they apply their disgust.

The same days as Krauthammer's column ran, for example, John McCain was on Fox News when he said, "There may be those indications since the Supreme Leader said that they were not going to tolerate further demonstrations in the street." Does this count as "abject solicitousness," too?

Likewise, Media Matters added, "[T]he Bush State Department, and conservatives, including The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, and Republican Sens. John McCain and Richard Lugar, have also 'referred to' Khamenei as Iran's 'supreme leader.'"

The right should at least start taking a little more time to think their criticisms through. Throwing everything at the wall to see what'll stick is hardly a sound rhetorical strategy.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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THE RISK TO REFORM.... On CNN yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California commented on the state of the debate over health care reform: "To be candid with you, I don't know that [President Obama] has the votes right now." She added, "I think there's a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus."

In context, Feinstein wasn't exactly lamenting the current state of affairs. In other words, she wasn't suggesting, "There's a lot of concern among Democrats, but I hope to convince them that reform efforts are sound and necessary." Rather, Feinstein made it sound as if she's discouraged by the entire initiative.

Paul Krugman made it clear in his column today that it's senators like Feinstein who will either deliver on reform or kill it. Republican lawmakers, by and large, do not even want to play a productive role in the process. Progressive Democratic lawmakers are moving forward with a strong plan, which includes a public health insurance option that competes with private insurers and keeps costs down. And then, there are the "centrists."

The real risk is that health care reform will be undermined by "centrist" Democratic senators who either prevent the passage of a bill or insist on watering down key elements of reform. I use scare quotes around "centrist," by the way, because if the center means the position held by most Americans, the self-proclaimed centrists are in fact way out in right field.

What the balking Democrats seem most determined to do is to kill the public option, either by eliminating it or by carrying out a bait-and-switch, replacing a true public option with something meaningless. For the record, neither regional health cooperatives nor state-level public plans, both of which have been proposed as alternatives, would have the financial stability and bargaining power needed to bring down health care costs.

Whatever may be motivating these Democrats, they don't seem able to explain their reasons in public.

Thus Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska initially declared that the public option -- which, remember, has overwhelming popular support -- was a "deal-breaker." Why? Because he didn't think private insurers could compete: "At the end of the day, the public plan wins the day." Um, isn't the purpose of health care reform to protect American citizens, not insurance companies?

Over the weekend, we learned that the idea of a public option enjoys 72% support -- including 50% of Republicans -- in the latest NYT poll. It followed an NBC/WSJ poll that showed 76% of Americans believing that it's important to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance." What's more, a D.C. policy think tank conducted a poll, financed in part by previous opponents of health care reform, which found 83% of Americans favor a public plan.

The president is ready. The House is ready. The public is ready. The times demand that Senate Democratic "centrists" step up. Will they answer the call?

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WHEN STRONG VOTER TURNOUT IS TOO STRONG.... On Friday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a speech in Tehran arguing that he would find allegations of election fraud more plausible if "perhaps 100,000 votes, or 500,000" were in question.

By late yesterday, officials were telling a slightly different story.

Locked in a continuing bitter contest Monday with Iranians who say the presidential elections were rigged, the authorities here acknowledged that the number of votes cast in 50 cities exceeded the actual number of voters, state television reported following assertions by the country's supreme leader that the ballot was fair.

But the authorities insisted that discrepancies, which could affect three million votes, did not violate Iranian law and the country's influential Guardian Council said it was not clear whether they would decisively change the election result.

Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for the Guardian Council, described the discrepancy as a "normal phenomenon." How encouraging.

This was one of several noteworthy developments from yesterday afternoon in Iran. This NYT piece, for example, suggests there's growing divisions within Iran's elite.

A bitter rift among Iran's ruling clerics deepened Sunday over the disputed presidential election that has convulsed Tehran in the worst violence in 30 years, with the government trying to link the defiant loser to terrorists and detaining relatives of his powerful backer, a founder of the Islamic republic. [...]

Earlier, the police detained five relatives of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who leads two influential councils and openly supported Mr. Moussavi's election. The relatives, including Mr. Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, were released after several hours.

The developments, coming one day after protests here in the capital and elsewhere were crushed by police officers and militia members using guns, clubs, tear gas and water cannons, suggested that Ayatollah Khamenei was facing entrenched resistance among some members of the elite. Though rivalries have been part of Iranian politics since the 1979 revolution, analysts said that open factional competition amid a major political crisis could hinder Ayatollah Khamenei's ability to restore order.

The crackdown on journalists also continued yesterday, with 24 reporters and bloggers taken into custody, including Newsweek's Maziar Bahari.

And the video of "Neda," a young woman who died on a Tehran street after reportedly being shot by Iranian security forces, has quickly become an iconic image and a rallying cry for demonstrators. Time's report argues that her death "may have changed everything."

The painful video is online, but if you haven't seen it, please know that it's extremely disturbing and is most certainly not safe for work.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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June 21, 2009
By: Hilzoy

"What The Hell Do I Know!"

NIAC has published an interesting account of yesterday's demonstrations. It's really worth reading. One bit that stood out:

"There is a woman who is being beaten. She's horrified and hysterical but not as much as the anti-riot police officer facing her. She shrieks, 'Where can I go? You tell me go down the street and you beat me. Then you come up from the other side and beat me again. Where can I go?' In sheer desperation, the officer hits his helmet several times hard with his baton. 'Damn me! Damn me! What the hell do I know!'

I ask myself, 'how much longer can these officers tolerate stress? How many among them would be willing to give their lives for somebody like Ahmadinejhad?'"

That is, I think, the real question.

Comic relief: I meant to post this a few days ago, but forgot. Now Andrew Sullivan has reminded me by posting it himself. It is, apparently, an Iranian propaganda film from last year, featuring claymation John McCain and George Soros sitting in the White House, plotting the overthrow of Iran. And who knew that Toby Ziegler from the West Wing worked for Iranian intelligence?

Hilzoy 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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IT'S NOT EXACTLY LEFT VS RIGHT.... On ABC's "This Week" earlier, George Will, hardly a liberal ally of the president, noted that he's heard the criticism of the Obama administration's tactics regarding Iran, and he finds it unpersuasive.

"The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what's going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don't need that reinforced."

Ben Armbruster noted that Peggy Noonan, another prominent conservative, also rejected the criticism aimed at the president. "To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous," she wrote, adding that "the ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week."

Of course, shortly before George Will's remarks, there was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), blasting the president on the same program for being "timid and passive" when he'd like to see Obama "speak truth to power."

Graham, as is usually the case in this situation, was pretty vague about what, exactly, he expects the White House to do, and what, exactly, he thinks will happen if the president throws around more bellicose rhetoric regarding developments in Iran. Graham won't (or can't) offer anything constructive, except to say he wants to see Obama "speak up" on behalf of Iranian protestors. Great tip.

That said, seeing Will and Graham on opposite sides of this reminds me of a point that often goes overlooked: we're not dealing with a dynamic that pits the left vs. the right, or Dems against Republicans. Rather, this is a situation featuring neocons vs. everyone else.

You'll notice that President Obama's strategy has not only been endorsed by Democratic lawmakers, but also prominent Republicans who are in office (Dick Lugar), served in Republican administrations (Henry Kissinger, Gary Sick, and Nick Burns), or are prominent Republican voices in the media (George Will, Peggy Noonan, and Pat Buchanan).

The president's leading detractors, meanwhile, primarily come from a motley and discredited crew who cling to neoconservatism -- McCain, Graham, Kristol, Krauthammer, Wolfowitz.

When we see reports indicating that "Republicans" are outraged by the president's tack on Iran, let's not forget it's mostly just a certain part of the party.

Steve Benen 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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LINDSEY GRAHAM MAKES HIS CASE.... There are a small handful of political figures whose families never see them on Sunday mornings, because they practically live on the morning talk shows. John McCain and Newt Gingrich immediately come to mind, though Sen. Lindsey Graham is on nearly as much. (When Calvin Trillin came up with the phrase "Sabbath Day Gasbags," I suspect he had these three in mind.)

This morning, Graham explained why a public option in health care reform -- with the broad, bipartisan support of the nation -- cannot become law.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told me that the U.S. Senate will not "go down the government-run health care road" despite a new poll showing 72 percent of Americans want a government role in health care -- and are willing to pay higher taxes for it.

"The reason you're not going to have a government run health care pass the Senate is because it would be devastating for this country," Graham said Sunday in an exclusive "This Week" interview.

"The last thing in the world I think Democrats and Republicans are going to do at the end of the day is create a government run health care system where you've got a bureaucrat standing in between the patient and the doctor. We've tried this model...."

Actually, that's true, we have tried this kind of system. It's why I'll take Graham's opinion on this far more seriously just as soon as he explains why he'd like to see Medicare and the Veterans Health Administration hospitals eliminated because of their "devastating" effects for the country.

And while he's at it, maybe he can unveil a proposal to prevent unaccountable insurance company bureaucrats from standing in between patients and doctors. I can't wait to see what he comes up with.

Graham added, however, that while he's dead set against the idea endorsed by 72% of the country, he's open to Kent Conrad's proposal for state-based co-ops. If only that were good enough.

Steve Benen 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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NOT NECESSARILY A DISQUALIFIER.... Following up on this week's revelations about Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) adulterous affair, the Washington Post has a report today about the 2012 field.

In the wake of the revelation of Sen. John Ensign's extramarital affair, The Post asked politicians, former officials and others to take stock of the GOP field for 2012.

Left unsaid was the observation that many political observers probably assumed, upon learning of the Ensign controversy, "Scratch one name from the 2012 GOP field." Indeed, the New York Daily News had an item the other day that noted:

Many believed he was aiming to make a bid for the presidency in 2012, which could now be a long shot since evangelicals dominate the GOP primary process and such moral lapses are frowned upon by religious conservatives in the party.

Maybe, but not necessarily.

Sure, Ensign's affair is humiliating. And sure, the fact that he's championed "family values" and lectured others on the "sanctity" of marriage makes his adultery more embarrassing than most.

But it may be premature to assume that the controversy derails Ensign's presidential plans.

Clearly, Ensign has been positioning himself for a presidential run. Despite carrying on an adulterous affair throughout 2008, the Nevada Republican apparently thought his adultery would remain a secret, and he began raising his visibility, traveling to Iowa, and working his way up the GOP leadership ladder.

But let's not forget that when it comes to Republicans and adultery, the intuitive political dynamic is backwards. Given that the GOP presents itself as the "family values" party, it's tempting to think Republicans caught in affairs would pay a higher price. The opposite is true.

Note that John McCain and Rudy Giuliani were the first presidential candidates in American history to run after their adulterous affairs were in the public record. Newt Gingrich's scandalous personal life hasn't stopped speculation that he, too, might run in 2012.

If personal disgraces are overlooked for other high-profile Republicans, why should Ensign necessarily be ruled out as a national candidate?

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (109)

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IT'S NOT JUST THE PUBLIC OPTION.... The latest NYT poll on health care shows 72% support for a public option, which, under the circumstances, is a statistic with considerable political salience.

But looking through the poll, there was one other relevant detail to keep in mind. Respondents were asked:

"Regardless of you personally vote, do you think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is more likely to improve the health care system?"

A 57% majority prefer Dems, while 18% prefer Republicans. The 18% figure is tied for the lowest score for either party on this question since the NYT began asking it nearly two decades ago.

Adding insult to injury, "Even one of four Republicans said the Democrats would do better" improving health care for Americans.

I mention this, not to kick the GOP when it's down, but to reinforce the notion that "bipartisanship" need not be a goal unto itself. Most Americans support the policy ideas Republican lawmakers hate, and most Americans trust Democrats to take the lead in improving the system.

And yet, Republican opposition and Democratic efforts at a "bipartisan" bill may scuttle the larger reform effort. What an odd system.

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WHEN IDEOLOGY TRUMPS LAW ENFORCEMENT.... Newsweek had an item the other day that I found a little startling.

In February, the Missouri Information Analysis Center, one of several "fusion" centers created after 9/11 to share intelligence among local, state and federal agencies, issued a "strategic report" warning about a resurgence of the "modern militia movement." Last week, on the same day that white supremacist James von Brunn allegedly killed a guard at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum, Missouri's police chief informed legislators that the fusion center had suspended production of such reports. Why? Outcry from conservative activists, who felt they were being tarred too. [...]

They may talk about it less in public now, but law-enforcement and intel officials tell NEWSWEEK they're quietly scrutinizing threats from the far right just as carefully as those from Islamic extremists.

So, let me get this straight. Law enforcement officials decided, on purpose, to stop preparing reports on potentially dangerous radicals, because conservative activists said scrutiny of extremists made them feel put upon? Conservative activists whine about all kinds of things; shouldn't law enforcement officials ignore them and focus on real threats?

Thankfully, it appears their fear has subsided, and officials are back to taking these extremists seriously again. Given recent events, that's a relief. As awful as the tragedies in Kansas and D.C. were, if law-enforcement and intel officials are back to "scrutinizing threats from the far right" without undue fears of conservative criticism, that's a good thing.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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SOMETHING TO STIFFEN SOFT SPINES.... Politicians tend to care about polls. Other considerations may apply pressure to an office holder, but nothing is quite as effective as cold, hard data pointing to public attitudes. When push comes to shove, popular ideas are much easier for a policy maker to support than unpopular ones.

In the context of the debate surrounding a public option in health care reform, lawmakers on the Hill may not care that President Obama wants such a provision and has a mandate to get one, but the recent poll numbers are so one-sided, the results should be hard for Congress to ignore.

An NBC/WSJ poll released the other day found that 76% of Americans believe it's either "extremely important" or "quite important" to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance."

The wording of that question was a little awkward, though. The results from the latest NYT poll are even more encouraging.

Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The poll found that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and that they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.

Respondents were asked, "Would you favor or oppose the government's offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans?" It wasn't even close -- 72% supported the public option. Among Republicans, the ones who are supposed to find the very idea of a public plan so outrageous, 50% favor the same policy idea.

Now, for conservative Republican lawmakers, it's likely that none of this matters. A public option can save money, can enjoy broad public support, and can make all kinds of sense, but they have a philosophical objection that trumps everything else. Fine.

But conservative Republicans represent a fairly small minority in Congress right now. For those Democrats who are reluctant to support a public plan, the concerns may be strategic -- they're worried that they'll be punished by voters for supporting a controversial idea. But that's precisely why a poll like this matters. It's not like Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and Evan Bayh can go to the next caucus meeting and say, "If we support an idea with 72% national approval, voters will kill us."

The president wants a public option. A majority of the House wants a public option. It's likely a majority of the Senate wants a public option. A clear majority of Americans want a public option. Oh, and not incidentally, a public option makes a lot of sense as a matter of public policy.

I don't know what more it would take to stiffen the spines of wavering Democratic senators who just can't seem to bring themselves to do what needs to be done.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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UNREST IN IRAN.... The Iranian regime's efforts to severely limit reporting on developments has stunted access, but there's still some excellent journalism coming from the country, shining a light on a brutal day.

Hours after police and militia forces used guns, truncheons, tear gas and water cannons to beat back thousands of demonstrators, a tense quiet set over this city Sunday as amateur video continued to emerge of the violent clashes that filled the streets the day before.

It was unclear how the confrontation would play out now that the government has abandoned its restraint and large numbers of protestors have demonstrated their willingness to risk injury and even death as they continue to dispute the results of Iran's presidential election nine days ago.

There was uncertainty as well about how many deaths resulted from Saturday's violence. Witnesses and human rights groups reported at least several deaths. Iranian state radio reported that there were 19 deaths, and Iran state television reported 13.

Among the developments we've learned overnight, protestors seeking medical treatment were being arrested, as were many reformers, journalists, intellectuals, and their families. Mir Hussein Moussavi did make an appearance yesterday in southern Tehran, telling supporters, "I am ready for martyrdom," and calling for a general strike in the event of his detention.

And while yesterday was considered a key showdown, as protests continue, the brutality may be poised to get worse. An Iranian military leader said on state television last night that soldiers "acted with leniency" on Saturday, which may change starting today. "The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable," he said. "I want them to take the police cautions seriously because we will definitely show a serious confrontation against those who violate rules."

In terms of the commentary, be sure to read Roger Cohen's piece, reported from the streets of Tehran. He not only has a fascinating on-the-ground perspective, but just as important, he emphasizes the fact that the demonstrations are no longer simply about a controversial presidential election.

"[T]he initial quest to have Moussavi's votes properly counted and Ahmadinejad unseated has shifted to a broader confrontation with the regime itself," Cohen explained.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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By: Hilzoy

More Things That Do Not Involve People Dying

Here's Steven Walt's IR Guide To Parenting, in which we discover how the study of international relations helps you understand what's going on with your kids. For instance:

"Once the kids are mobile, you learn about another key IR concept: the window of opportunity. You're feeding or changing Kid #1, and Kid #2 makes a bolt out the front door, just like North Korea tested a nuclear weapon while we were busy with Iraq. Or you're in the middle of a crowded department store and they each decide to head down different aisles. The potential complications of a multipolar order were never clearer the first time this happened to me."

And:

"The whole field of asymmetric conflict can prepare you for another aspect of child-rearing: your superior education, physical strength, and total command of financial resources will not translate into anything remotely resembling "control." A two-year old who is barely talking can destroy a dinner party or a family outing just by being stubborn, and a smart, loving, strong and wealthy parent can be damn near helpless in the face of a sufficiently willful son or daughter. Read Andrew Mack, Ivan Toft, or James Scott on "asymmetric conflict" and the "weapons of the weak" before you have kids, and at least you'll be forewarned."

Meanwhile, Undiplomatic spots a wonderful headline on Iran: "Clerical Error".

Hilzoy 1:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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June 20, 2009
By: Hilzoy

In A Moment Of Neglect I Might Fly

The woman who wrote the letter I posted last night made it through the demonstrations, and has posted another letter, about the woman who was shot in the video:

"I'm here to let you know I'm alive but my sister was killed...

I'm here to tell you my sister died while in her father's hands

I'm here to tell you my sister had big dreams...

I'm here to tell you my sister who died was a decent person... and like me yearned for a day when her hair would be swept by the wind... and like me read "Forough" [Forough Farrokhzad]... and longed to live free and equal... and she longed to hold her head up and announce, "I'm Iranian"... and she longed to one day fall in love to a man with a shaggy hair... and she longed for a daughter to braid her hair and sing lullaby by her crib...

my sister died from not having life... my sister died as injustice has no end... my sister died since she loved life too much... and my sister died since she lovingly cared for people...

my loving sister, I wish you had closed your eyes when your time had come... the very end of your last glance burns my soul....

sister have a short sleep. your last dream be sweet."

I didn't know who Forough was. My loss:
"The Captive [ Asir ]

I want you, yet I know that never
can I embrace you to my heart's content.
you are that clear and bright sky.
I, in this corner of the cage, am a captive bird.

from behind the cold and dark bars
directing toward you my rueful look of astonishment,
I am thinking that a hand might come
and I might suddenly spread my wings in your direction.

I am thinking that in a moment of neglect
I might fly from this silent prison,
laugh in the eyes of the man who is my jailer
and beside you begin life anew.

I am thinking these things, yet I know
that I can not, dare not leave this prison.
even if the jailer would wish it,
no breath or breeze remains for my flight.

from behind the bars, every bright morning
the look of a child smile in my face;
when I begin a song of joy,
his lips come toward me with a kiss.

O sky, if I want one day
to fly from this silent prison,
what shall I say to the weeping child's eyes:
forget about me, for I am captive bird?

I am that candle which illumines a ruins
with the burning of her heart.
If I want to choose silent darkness,
I will bring a nest to ruin."

***

There's more here. -- I just wanted something else to think about in the midst of death.

Hilzoy 11:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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By: Hilzoy

Iran: Saturday

Barack Obama:

"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said - "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples' belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."

Some of what the world will see as it watches can be seen here, at 2:37, under the accurate description: "Graphic video of a woman shot."

This is horrific.

Hilzoy 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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DAVID ROHDE IS HEADED HOME.... Taliban kidnappings don't usually turn out this well.

David Rohde, a New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban, escaped Friday night and made his way to freedom after more than seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Rohde, along with a local reporter, Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was abducted outside Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 10 while Mr. Rohde was researching a book.

Mr. Rohde was part of The Times's reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize this spring for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.

Mr. Rohde told his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, that Mr. Ludin joined him in climbing over the wall of a compound where they were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. They found a Pakistani Army scout, who led them to a nearby army base, and on Saturday they were flown to the American military base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

The kidnapping was deliberately kept quiet, after experts said publicity would put Rhode and other hostages in greater danger.

Even now, details of what transpired over the last seven months are sketchy, because as Bill Keller explained, "Kidnapping, tragically, is a flourishing industry in much of the world. As other victims have told us, discussing your strategy just offers guidance for future kidnappers."

We did, however, learn that no ransom money was paid and no Taliban or other prisoners were released.

Steve Benen 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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A SHOW OF FORCE.... The expected crackdown on the streets of Tehran, thus far, seems fairly brutal, though I haven't yet seen reports of fatalities.

One day after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of bloodshed if street protests continued over the nation's disputed elections, witnesses, quoted by news services, said that thousands of demonstrators had attempted to gather for a scheduled opposition protest on Saturday, but that riot police, using tear gas and water cannons, had dispersed them.

Witnesses reported that the black-clad security forces lined the streets of two squares in central Tehran as the city braced itself for a violent crackdown. State television, meanwhile, reported that two people had been wounded at a bomb blast at the Tehran shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The report could not be independently confirmed.

There had been varying reports in the hours leading up to the rally about whether it would be called off in the face of the state's threatened crackdown. State television reported that the leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, had called off the protest, but some of his supporters, posting on social networking sites, urged demonstrators to gather.

State television had reported that a reformist group called the Combatant Clerics Assembly had called off the rally, saying that "permission was asked to hold a rally, but since it has not been issued, there will be no rally held."

The AP report added that there were "fierce clashes near Revolution Square in central Tehran after some 3,000 protesters, many wearing black, chanted 'Death to the dictator!' and 'Death to dictatorship!'" It added that "between 50 and 60 protesters were seriously beaten by police and pro-government militia and taken to Imam Khomeini hospital in central Tehran."

Steve Benen 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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DO THEY KNOW THE OTHER SIDE EXISTS?.... I'll give the Weekly Standard credit for clarity. The conservative magazine published two very similar pieces today -- one from Stephen Hayes and William Kristol, the other from Fred Barnes -- offering the identical attack with indistinguishable language: they want President Obama to do more to intervene in Iran.

The pieces are almost comical in their belligerence towards the White House. Hayes and Kristol lament Obama's "weakness," and described the U.S. president as "a de facto ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei." Barnes insists, "Obama has tilted in favor of the regime. The result is personal shame (for Obama) and policy shame (for the United States)."

What I find interesting about the 2,000 words of the conservatives' angry and righteous denigration is how remarkably narrow it is. For Hayes, Kristol, and Barnes, it's almost as if the argument presented by the president is so self-evidently horrible, they don't feel the need to explain why they think it's wrong.

By now, we've all heard the pitch. Obama believes it would be counterproductive for Iranian protestors for the U.S. to intervene on their behalf. The more Americans weigh in to "help" reformers, the more it's likely to help Khamenei and Ahmadinejad -- throwing them a public-relations life preserver when they need it most -- and the easier it is to make dissidents look like American stooges.

Gary Sick, a former National Security Council expert on Iran in the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations -- not, in other words, a liberal activist or party hack -- explained the other day, "The Obama administration has handled this pretty well. There's nothing we can do in a proactive way that is going to improve things. We could make things a lot worse."

It's a position endorsed by other Republicans such as Dick Lugar and Henry Kissinger. Nick Burns, an Undersecretary of State in the Bush administration, said this week that Ahmadinejad "would like nothing better than to see aggressive statements, a series of statements, from the United States which try to put the U.S. at the center of this."

Why do the neocons believe this is a misguided approach? We don't know; they won't say. Jon Chait noted yesterday:

What's remarkable to me is that those on the other side refuses to rebut it. Today's Washington Post op-ed page has two more columns lambasting Obama for failing to embrace the demonstrators. Today's offerings are by Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz. Neither one of them even mentions, let alone answers, Obama's argument for why embracing the demonstrators would be counterproductive.

I don't understand how you could write a column without ever once addressing the primary argument for the proposition you're arguing against. The low quality of argument on this topic from the right is striking.

Chait's criticism of Krauthammer and Wolfowitz applies just as easily to Hayes, Kristol, and Barnes. All five of them are so focused on attacking Obama, they never quite get around to refuting the argument from the president they find so offensive.

Is the administration's position justified? Is it sensible? Might it be the responsible approach under the circumstances? The strategy is not above reproach, but the Weekly Stanard neocons just won't, or can't, challenge the policy. It's bizarre.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (249)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a move by PBS relating to religious broadcasts on public television.

The Public Broadcasting Service agreed yesterday to ban its member stations from airing new religious TV programs, but permitted the handful of stations that already carry "sectarian" shows to continue doing so.

The vote by PBS's board was a compromise from a proposed ban on all religious programming. Such a ban would have forced a few stations around the country to give up their PBS affiliation if they continued to broadcast local church services and religious lectures.

PBS has also prohibited sectarian broadcasts, but enforcement had all but disappeared. On several public stations, for example, church services had become part of the schedule. This week, PBS agreed to start enforcing its own rules again.

Some religious conservatives have said this amounts to discrimination against religion, but it's a bogus charge. PBS's news program about religion, "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly," will continue unaffected, and news shows, documentaries, and specials about faith are still permitted. What's more, individual stations will be grandfathered in, and will keep their spiritual programming.

My friend Rob Boston makes the case that the PBS compromise may not go quite far enough: "Anyone who channel surfs knows that there is no shortage of devotional programming on television. If you doubt this, bust out your remote and make the rounds. You'll find evangelists of every stripe. There are entire cable and satellite channels devoted to religion, offering programs around the clock. That's enough. There's no need for PBS to get into the business of proselytizing."

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Newsweek has a good piece in its new issue exploring military chaplains using their positions to encourage evangelism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Central Command's General Order Number One forbids active-duty troops from trying to convert people to any religion, but the problem persists and it severely undermines U.S. efforts in the region.

* Liberty University, an evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell, recently made national headlines when it withdrew support from College Democrats as an officially sanctioned student group. School officials, apparently embarrassed by the attention, have been involved in negotiations to reinstate the Democratic organization, but the talks haven't gone well. (thanks to Blue Girl for the tip)

* And in South Carolina, a Christian ministry known as the Inspiration Network has lost its tax-exempt status after bringing in more than $39 million in profit between 2002 to 2006. David Cerullo, head of the Inspiration Network, receives a $1.5 million annual salary, and his wife and children are all on the ministry's payroll. The Cerullos have also reportedly bought extravagant homes, including a $3.1 million lakefront house in Greenville, thanks to the success of their "non-profit" network. Ministry officials are planning to appeal the decision.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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GETTING THE ADMINISTRATION'S ATTENTION.... When it comes to tensions between the Obama administration and gay rights supporters, opinions vary on the severity of the slights, who's to blame, and how best to mend the rift.

It seems clear, however, that administration officials at least recognize the problem and are taking steps to put things right. Whether those steps are sufficient is another matter, but either way, I'm glad the criticism is being taken seriously enough to garner a response. Greg Sargent reported yesterday:

The Obama Justice Department has reached out to major gay rights organizations and scheduled a private meeting for next week with the groups, in an apparent effort to smooth over tensions in the wake of the controversy over the administration's defense in court of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Tracy Russo, a spokesperson for Justice, confirmed the meeting to me, after I posted below that top gay rights lawyers were miffed that administration lawyers had rebuffed their requests to meet and discuss ongoing litigation involving DOMA.

At the meeting -- which hasn't been announced and is expected to include leading gay rights groups like GLAD and Lambda Legal -- both sides are expected to hash out how to proceed with pending DOMA cases.

The meeting will come on the heels of a series of related moves the administration has made this week on gay rights, the latest of which was announced yesterday afternoon: "Gay couples traveling overseas can now show passports that feature their married names, letting them take advantage of a revision to State Department regulations that critics had feared would undermine the federal Defense of Marriage Act."

In the larger context, the point is, criticism from the gay rights community has clearly gotten the administration's attention, and officials are concerned enough to act.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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THE 'HEAD-KNOCKING STYLE OF GOVERNANCE'.... RNC Chairman Michael Steele offered his perspective yesterday on how policymakers can reach agreement on reforming the health care system. It's easy to mock his rhetoric, but it's worth remembering how common this kind of thinking is in Republican circles.

"[I]f it's a cost problem, it's easy: Get the people in a room who have the most and the most direct impact on cost, and do the deal. Do the deal. It's not that complicated.

"If it's an access question, people don't have access to health care, then figure out who they are, and give them access! Hello?! Am I missing something here?

"If my friend Trevor has access to health care, and I don't, why do I need to overhaul the entire system so I can get access he already has? Why don't you just focus on me and get me access?"

Now, it's obvious from these remarks that Steele is clueless. He's so lost, I almost feel bad for the guy. That said, hearing Steele's "do the deal" remarks, it reminded me of the same, intellectually lazy approach we've heard from Republicans on a wide variety of issues.

In 2006, John McCain explained his solution for the war in Iraq: "One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit.'" Around the same time, George W. Bush reflected on a solution for violence in Lebanon: "What they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."

Last year, McCain explained that we could resolve FISA-related controversies by having "patriotic Americans ... sit down together and work this out." A month before the presidential election, McCain said he had a plan to address Social Security issues: "We've got to sit down together across the table."

And now Steele thinks policymakers can resolve complex health care issues if they simply "do the deal" and "give" Americans "access."

Digby once famously described this as the "head-knocking style of governance" -- complex problems can be resolved through force of will, because Republicans say so. Nuances, history, competing goals, divergent ideologies -- nothing matters except "doing the deal."

I realize it's nice to think well-intentioned people can sit down in a room and resolve complex issues, but if policymakers could snap their fingers and fix historic challenges, they would. For those of us above the age of 11 who try to take government seriously, it's just not that easy.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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LAUGHING AT HIM, NOT WITH HIM.... Ayatollah Ali Khamenei probably wasn't trying to be funny, but he drew some laughs yesterday anyway.

[T]he ayatollah said Friday that there was nothing to discuss, as he again endorsed the victory of Mr. Ahmadinejad, seated in the audience, and called the elections "an epic moment that has become a historic moment." He dismissed allegations of fraud.

"Perhaps 100,000 votes, or 500,000, but how can anyone tamper with 11 million votes?" he asked as the crowd burst into laughter. "If the political elite ignore the law -- whether they want it or not -- they would be responsible for the bloodshed and chaos," he said.

On the first point, tampering with 11 million votes, I can't speak to the audience's laughter, but it seems funny to me since the Iranian regime wouldn't necessarily have any trouble assigning vote totals as it saw fit.

On the latter point, blaming protestors for violence, this was an argument President Obama sought to reverse yesterday, when he told CBS, "[H]ow [Iranian officials] approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and -- and is not."

Reports this morning indicate that plans for today's protest are still on track, despite Khamenei's demands, and despite the risks.

The LA Times ran a quote from a young woman who vowed to attend today's protest. "This is how countries that have freedom and democracy get it," said the woman, who asked that her name not be published. "They have to fight and die for it."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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June 19, 2009
By: Hilzoy

6:45 am In Tehran

Via Nico Pitney, Carnegie Endowment Iran analyst Karim Sadjadpour:

"The weight of the world now rests on the shoulders of Mir Hossein Mousavi. I expect that Khamenei's people have privately sent signals to him that they're ready for a bloodbath, they're prepared to use overwhelming force to crush this, and is he willing to lead the people in the streets to slaughter?
Mousavi is not Khomeini, and Khamenei is not the Shah. Meaning, Khomeini would not hesitate to lead his followers to "martyrdom", and the Shah did not have the stomach for mass bloodshed. This time the religious zealots are the ones holding power.

The anger and the rage and sense of injustice people feel will not subside anytime soon, but if Mousavi concedes defeat he will demoralize millions of people. At the moment the demonstrations really have no other leadership. It's become a symbiotic relationship, Mousavi feeds off people's support, and the popular support allows Mousavi the political capital to remain defiant. So Mousavi truly has some agonizing decisions to make.

Rafsanjani's role also remains critical. Can he co-opt disaffected revolutionary elites to undermine Khamenei? As Khamenei said, they've known each other for 52 years, when they were young apostles of Ayatollah Khomeini. I expect that Khamenei's people have told Rafsanjani that if he continues to agitate against Khamenei behind the scenes, he and his family will be either imprisoned or killed, and that the people of Iran are unlikely to weep for the corrupt Rafsanjani family.

Whatever happens, and I know I shouldn't be saying this as an analyst, but my eyes well when I think of the tremendous bravery and fortitude of the Iranian people. They deserve a much better regime than the one they have."

From NIAC, a translation of a blog post:

"I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I'm listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It's worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I'm two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow's children..."

I think it's about 6:45am in Tehran. I wish the demonstrators godspeed; may they get the government they deserve, without the sacrifices it seems likely they will have to make.

Hilzoy 10:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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By: Hilzoy

Coming To You Live From An Alternate Reality ...

Today the Washington Post, fresh from canning one of its best writers, lets Charles Krauthammer send us a dispatch from the alternate reality in which he lives. In that reality, apparently, Iranian demonstrators "await just a word that America is on their side." Joe Klein, just back from the real Tehran, asks:

"They do? Which ones? Name one. And if that word came, what then? Would it be the same as the "word" Dwight Eisenhower sent, and later regretted, supporting the Hungarian protesters in 1956 when he had no intention of supporting them militarily? Or the "word" that George H.W. Bush sent the Iraqi Shi'ites after the first Gulf War, who then rebelled against Saddam Hussein and were slaughtered?"

Krauthammer then lets us know what's at stake in the reality he inhabits:

"This revolution will end either as a Tiananmen (a hot Tiananmen with massive and bloody repression or a cold Tiananmen with a finer mix of brutality and co-optation) or as a true revolution that brings down the Islamic Republic.

The latter is improbable but, for the first time in 30 years, not impossible. Imagine the repercussions. It would mark a decisive blow to Islamist radicalism, of which Iran today is not just standard-bearer and model, but financier and arms supplier. It would do to Islamism what the collapse of the Soviet Union did to communism -- leave it forever spent and discredited.

In the region, it would launch a second Arab spring. The first in 2005 -- the expulsion of Syria from Lebanon, the first elections in Iraq and early liberalization in the Gulf states and Egypt -- was aborted by a fierce counterattack from the forces of repression and reaction, led and funded by Iran.

Now, with Hezbollah having lost elections in Lebanon and with Iraq establishing the institutions of a young democracy, the fall of the Islamist dictatorship in Iran would have an electric and contagious effect. The exception -- Iraq and Lebanon -- becomes the rule. Democracy becomes the wave. Syria becomes isolated; Hezbollah and Hamas, patronless. The entire trajectory of the region is reversed."

Is there any evidence -- any at all -- that this is true? Not from where I sit. As best I can tell, there is no particular reason to think that Mousavi will bring any kind of major foreign policy shift:

"Mr. Moussavi began his political career as a hard-liner and a favorite of the revolution's architect, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Although he has long had an adversarial relationship with Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his insider status makes him loath to mount a real challenge to the core institutions of the Islamic republic. He was an early supporter of Iran's nuclear program, and as prime minister in the 1980s he approved Iran’s purchase of centrifuges on the nuclear black market, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Back in the day, he supported taking hostages in the US embassy and funding for Hezbollah. I suspect that he will not have Ahmedinejad's knack for making crazy and offensive statements, and with any luck he won't deny the Holocaust, but I do not expect much in the way of major foreign policy changes if he prevails -- all the more so since he will, I assume, have to try to reconcile his country, and might bend over backwards not to provide ammunition to his enemies.

The best way I can see to make sense of Krauthammer's ravings is to suppose that America and freedom have merged in his mind, so that when a people demonstrates for freedom, we can infer that they are pro-American. But this is not just false; it's crazy.

I hope Mousavi and his supporters prevail. But that's not because I think that he will make everything peachy in Iran; it's because I think that the Iranian people deserve to have a voice in their government. I do not think that a Mousavi government would stop funding Hezbollah or suspend its nuclear program. I do think that if he and his supporters prevail, Iranian society will become more open, and its government less authoritarian. This will probably make a real difference in its foreign policy in the long run, though I think it would be foolish to try to predict what difference it will make.

You'd think that after getting Iraq so badly wrong, Krauthammer might decide to devote himself to writing op-eds on patent law or food safety or -- well, anything other than how some development in the Middle East would lead to democracy busting out all over. You might think that if he did go on writing about foreign policy, he might at least try to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. And you might think that if the Washington Post has to go around firing people, Charles "I Believe Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast -- Just Wait Til You See How Many I Can Manage By The Time I Finish My Column!" Krauthammer might be first in line.

Apparently, you'd be wrong.

Hilzoy 7:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* As of the latest reports, another opposition rally is scheduled in Tehran for tomorrow afternoon.

* Good point: "Isn't it funny that conservative who used to complain about Obama's use of rhetorical powers as 'just words' now think his relative caution in speaking out about Iran is a deep betrayal of everything American?"

* Latest from Pakistan: "Pakistani ground troops moved into Taliban-controlled areas Friday and engaged in the first gunbattle of a new offensive in the volatile northwest, as an aerial and artillery bombardment pounded other targets."

* Ken Starr, yes that Ken Starr, endorsed Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination.

* H1N1: "America's count of swine flu cases has risen to 21,449 cases and the number of deaths have nearly doubled to 87.... The tally is up from the last week's count of 18,000 cases and 44 deaths. Worldwide, the number of confirmed cases reached 44,287, the WHO reported Friday. WHO says cases increased by more than 10 percent in two days."

* Washington Monthly contributing editor Art Levine has a fascinating report on the House Homeland Security Committee taking up a key chemical security bill. In the face of pressure from Republicans and the chemical industry, it looks like committee Dems have moved in the wrong direction.

* R. Allen Stanford, busted.

* Unemployment on the rise in 48 states and D.C.

* A rare bit of good news for Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).

* Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's elbow surgery apparently went well today.

* Age-discrimination lawsuits get a little tougher, thanks to another 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court.

* Republican excitement notwithstanding, the Gerland Walpin "controversy" doesn't stand up well to scrutiny.

* Walpin's outster was set in motion by a unanimous request the White House received from the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

* Google Translate service adds Farsi to its list of languages.

* Apparently, Reader's Digest wasn't conservative enough, so its editors are making a deliberate effort to move it even further to the right.

* One of the funniest things I've ever heard: Steve Doocy insisting that "here at Fox, we still do journalism." That he said it with a straight face was a little unnerving, though.

* Glenn Beck thinks "the government" tried to "destroy" Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher? Which government would that be?

* NPR's ombudsman has every reason to be "embarrassed" by Juan Williams' appearances on O'Reilly's Fox News show.

* I want my "Arrested Development" documentary, and I want it now.

* A fun behind-the-scenes video of President Obama and Stephen Colbert.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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IT'S ALWAYS MORNING IN AMERICA.... Once in a while, misplaced Reagan worship is even more cringe-worthy than usual.

John McCain, for example, reflecting on U.S. "moral support" towards Iranians, told Sean Hannity last night, "You and I are both students of history and we've seen this movie before. When Ronald Reagan stood up for the workers in Gdansk in Poland, when he stood up for the people of Czechoslovakia, in Prague Spring, and America did. And some good Democrats did, too."

He wasn't kidding.

Let's put aside the notion that neither McCain nor Hannity are "students of history," and consider how foolish the senator's remarks were on their face. Ben Armbruster notes McCain's calendar-centered confusion.

Perhaps McCain needs a new history lesson. The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia when Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek allowed greater speech and assembly freedoms when he came to power ... in January 1968. Ronald Reagan had just completed his first year as California's governor at that time. Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops invaded eight months later to end the reform movement. [...]

If McCain and company are going to continue to rely on Reagan for guidance, they should at least try to maintain the correct historical time-line.

Right. In fact, this constant talk comparing ongoing developments in Iran with Reagan and Eastern Europe is utterly ridiculous. As Hilzoy noted the other night, "We can debate how important Reagan's various pronouncements about Eastern Europe were, but I do not recall anyone suggesting that they would not be welcomed by Eastern European dissidents, or would harm their cause. In [Iran's] case, [presidential pronouncements] could do real harm, which is why no Iranian human rights activists and opposition leaders that I'm aware of have called on Obama to speak out. Question: do the people who make these arguments not know this? If they don't -- if they really believe that the question how Obama should respond is in any way like the question how Reagan should have responded to Eastern Europe -- then they are completely ignorant of Iran's history, and have no business commenting at all."

I'd just add one final thought. We're talking about the same Ronald Reagan who sold Iran's regime weapons and sent Rumsfeld to Iraq to get chummy with Saddam Hussein after the Butcher of Baghdad used chemical weapons to attack civilians in his own country.

Something for the "students of history" to keep in mind.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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'THE WORLD IS WATCHING'.... Anyone hoping Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might make some new concessions in his speech this afternoon was no doubt disappointed. Khamenei not only ordered the end of the demonstrations protesting the election, but warned of additional violence if dissidents ignore his instructions.

Sharply increasing the level of confrontation, he said that opposition leaders would be "responsible for bloodshed and chaos" if they did not stop further rallies in protest of last week's disputed presidential election. He called for all sides to halt any violence.

With another opposition rally a strong possibility tomorrow, the likelihood of an ugly confrontation remains very real.

Khamenei added that there would be no new election, and the results of last week's election will not be annulled. He added that to do so would be "the beginning of dictatorship." What an interesting choice of words.

In the meantime, President Obama sat down with CBS News' Harry Smith today, and responding to developments in Iran, he repeated a phrase that sends a signal to the Iranian regime, without giving Khamenei and Ahmadinejad a cudgel to be used against demonstrators.

"...I'm very concerned based on some of the tenor -- and tone of the statements that have been made -- that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching. And how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and -- and is not."

It's a statement that walks the line pretty well. It notes the right of Iranians to express their concerns peacefully, and signals that Iran's global reputation is on the line. At the same time, there's nothing in the statement that the regime is likely to use as a cudgel to characterize protestors as tools of the American government.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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RNC VS ABC, ROUND III.... Not only are they still talking about this, their arguments are getting transparently sillier.

Last night, on "On The Record with Greta Van Susteren," no less a figure than Karl Rove was giving the old piss and moan about this ABC special:

"If it's not crossing a line, it's getting comfortably too close to a line of where a news network becomes a cooperating partner of and an adjacency to the White House communications shop. And I think the presence of a former ABC reporter as the communicator-in-chief inside the White House on this issue also raises questions about how it ended up in the hands of ABC."

For goodness sakes, ABC is airing a discussion on health care policy, asking the president questions about the issue. ABC isn't acting like a "cooperating partner," it's acting like a network covering a policy debate. An "adjacency to the White House communications shop"? Seriously?

I can see why poor Karl might be confused (again). He's seen first-hand when a network teams up with the White House communications shop, and Rove is apparently getting the details mixed up.

As Media Matters first noted, when Fox News' Bret Baier was granted "unprecedented access" to the White House in Feb. 2008, the network billed it as a "documentary," not an "infomercial." Further, Fox was not only welcomed into the White House, but aboard Air Force One, to Bush's ranch in Texas, and into the Oval Office. Baier introduced the "documentary" saying, "Fox News has been granted unprecedented access inside the President's world.... It's a President Bush you've never seen before." [...]

Prior to airing the Bush special, Baier hosted a special on the famously-reclusive vice president entitled "Dick Cheney: No Retreat." Fox billed it as "a rare glimpse into the life of the vice president" and aired the program Oct. 13, 2007. Similarly, on Oct. 30, 2007, Fox's Greta Van Susteren was granted what she called "unprecedented access" to First Lady Laura Bush's tour of the Middle East.

None of these Fox News broadcasts dealt with policy issues. None of these programs pressed officials on any substantive controversies.

As manufactured controversies go, this is just nuts. ABC News' Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer will host a prime-time discussion on health care policy next week at the White House. President Obama will respond to questions about the reform effort, and the ABC anchors will give regular Americans -- selected by the network, not the administration -- a chance to press the president.

I can appreciate the "working the refs" dynamic, but this "controversy" is hardly grounds for another Republican tantrum.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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HOUSE DEMS PRESENT TRI-COMMITTEE PLAN.... There's been plenty of attention focused this week on the health care negotiations in the Senate, but let's not forget there's another chamber working on a reform package, too.

House Democrats released the outline of their health care reform bill Friday - a proposal that would create a public insurance option, expand Medicaid, and require employers to provide coverage or pay a tax.

The outline did not include details on how Democrats would pay for the plan.

It does provide the first look at how Democrats would structure a public insurance option -- an idea favored by many in the party, but one in which the Senate has been struggling to find agreement.

The public option is more liberal than what senators are considering, and it is likely to draw fire from the American Medical Association because of the payment levels. It would pay Medicare rates during the ramp-up phase.

The proposal is the result of the combined efforts of three House committee chairs -- George Miller (D-Calif.) on the Committee on Education and Labor, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) of the Ways and Means Committee.

Their work together on this is of particular interest, in part because of the recent past. Jonathan Cohn noted, "The fact that the three are producing language together is, itself, a pretty strong statement: In 1993 and 1994, committee infighting was a significant factor in the failure of reform. This time, everybody is on the same page."

To pay for this, House Democrats are eyeing a possible V.A.T.

The committee chairs have posted a whole lot of information on the plan, including the bill text, a discussion draft summary, a piece on the public option, and a list of "12 ways health care reform will help you and your family."

Update: Marc Ambinder has a good item on this, noting a key detail: "There's an interesting trigger mechanism for a public plan; it would tie itself to Medicare's provider rates for a few years, and then de-tether, meaning that, in essence, it would be very competitive early on but less so later, rewarding insurance companies who act quickly to match its efficiency."

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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ENSIGN'S EVOLVING MOTIVATION.... So, why did Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) publicly acknowledge his extra-marital affair with an aide? It's a humiliating revelation, which has already cost Ensign his leadership position among Senate Republicans, but it's still a little unclear what Ensign was hoping to achieve.

The original line was that Ensign believed his mistress' husband, another former aide to the senator, was going to blackmail him. Today, we get another possible explanation -- the husband sent a letter to Fox News' Megyn Kelly, giving her the scoop on the story.

In a letter dated five days before Sen. John Ensign's public confession of an extramarital affair, Doug Hampton pleaded to a national Fox News anchorwoman for help in exposing the senator's "heinous conduct and pursuit" of Hampton's wife.

Hours before the Sun obtained an unsigned copy of the letter, Ensign's spokesman said the senator disclosed the affair with Cynthia Hampton because her husband had approached "a major television news channel before Tuesday," the day Ensign admitted the affair. "We learned of this fact before the news conference," the spokesman noted in an e-mail.

Doug Hampton's letter to Fox News' Kelly is a little odd, but it explains Ensign's "relentless pursuit of my wife," which "ruined our lives and careers and left my family in shambles." He offered to present a "paper trail, phone records and personal witnesses" to bolster his accusation against Ensign, and urged Kelly to "please help" him.

He added that he "could have sought the most liberal, Republican hating media to expose this story, but there are people's lives at stake and justice is about proper process as well as outcome. Senator Ensign has no business serving in the US Senate anymore!"

The Politico added that this letter "sheds new light on why Ensign decided to make the announcement Tuesday." Well, maybe.

Doug Hampton wrote a long, strange letter to a pseudo-journalist who works at a network committed to helping conservative Republican officeholders and candidates. Are we to assume John Ensign's Senate office heard about the letter to Fox News and leapt into action, genuinely worried that Megyn Kelly would humiliate the senator by launching an exclusive Fox News investigation into this? Isn't it far more likely that Kelly would have ignored the letter?

Maybe Ensign and his aides figured that Hampton would, sooner or later, find someone in the "liberal, Republican-hating media" to report on this, and it was better to take control of the story before that happened. But I find it hard to imagine the senator and his team were seriously worried about a hard-hitting Megyn Kelly expose against a fellow Republican.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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SO MUCH FOR 'WATER'S EDGE'..... I remember a time -- I believe it's known as "2001 through 2008" -- when congressional Republicans believed politics had to end at the water's edge. They also believed that the United States couldn't have individual members of Congress coming up with their own foreign policies -- these responsibilities were in the hands of the president.

Ah, the good old days.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) has spent the last few days advocating in support of a resolution, weighing in on developments in Iran. Pence has said he realizes where President Obama has "drawn the line," but he "respectfully disagrees" with the administration. Pence added that the U.S. can't "stay neutral," so his resolution is necessary to "condemn the violence."

In our reality, Obama has already expressed "deep concerns about the election," and publicly shared his concerns about "violence directed at peaceful protesters," but maybe Pence wasn't paying attention. Maybe he doesn't care. Maybe he wants to intervene in such a way as to undermine U.S. foreign policy, just to see what happens.

After watching Pence grandstand on (where else?) Fox News this morning, Tom Ricks expressed concern that Iranians might not realize why it's important to ignore Mike Pence.

I just hope that Iranian protestors know not to take this clown seriously.

This problem goes to the essence of strategy: A "tough" stance that Fox's anchors are pushing might feel good, but it likely would be unproductive. A sober stance of the sort that Obama has taken is more difficult but likely more effective in the long run.

I was cautiously optimistic that Republicans would realize this, especially after Obama's approach was endorsed by prominent conservatives who focus on foreign policy (Lugar, Kissinger, Sick, et al). Alas, a few too many GOP leaders have other ideas.

Watching this unfold, I am reminded of something Matt Yglesias wrote earlier this year: "The larger issue ... is that Mike Pence is a moron, and any movement that would hold the guy up as a hero is bankrupt.... I would refer you to this post from September about the earth-shattering ignorance and stupidity of Mike Pence.... [I]t's really staggering. In my admittedly brief experience talking to him, his inability to grasp the basic contours of policy question was obvious and overwhelming."

Update: The administration apparently worked with House Dems "to moderate [the] fire-breathing resolution circulated by Republicans to rebuke Iran for its post-election crackdown on dissent." After changes were made, the White House said it was fine with the resolution, and the measure passed this afternoon, 405 to 1.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In next year's Senate race in Pennsylvania, either Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak will be well positioned to defeat former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) in a general election match-up, according to a new Rasmussen poll.

* In Virginia, the latest Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos shows Bob McDonnell's (R) lead over Creigh Deeds (D) shrinking in the closely watched gubernatorial race. A few weeks ago, the poll showed McDonnell leading by 12 points, but now the margin is just one, 45% to 44%.

* In a setback for Republican recruiting, former Rep. Jon Porter (R) officially ruled out a Senate campaign next year against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).

* In New Mexico*, a poll from the Democratic Governors Association shows Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) with big leads over her likely Republican rivals.

* In Hawaii, the latest Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos shows Democrats in a good position to recapture the governor's mansion next year. In hypothetical general election match-ups, both Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (D) lead Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) by about 10 points.

* And in Louisiana, Dems have been looking for a top-tier challenger to take on Sen. David Vitter (R) next year, and they may have found one. Rumor has it that Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) is poised to launch a Senate campaign. Vitter is considered a vulnerable incumbent, after running on a "family values" platform and then getting caught up with a prostitution ring.

*Corrected

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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STEP ONE, STOP FILLING IN FOR BILL BENNETT.... There was a point a few months ago when it seemed RNC Chairman Michael Steele would say something ridiculous and/or humiliating just about every day. Steele has wisely pulled back from the media spotlight a bit, and in turn, seems to embarrass himself far less often.

But for some reason, he continues to guest-host Bill Bennett's conservative radio talk show every Friday. Invariably, Steele starts speaking his mind about something he knows nothing about, and it produces gems like this one.

The context was Steele's response to a call from a physician with a question about preventive care.

"Well you'll get issued, Doc, you're gonna issue, to your patients, a health care card that's gonna be part of a national ID system that, you know, every time I charge something or use that card, it's going to show up on a grid what I've done and what I have failed to do, according to the government plan. So the government will know whether or not I've had my physical at the appropriate time and then probably some health police will come knocking on my door telling me I'm now costing the system money because I haven't, you know, gone and done my preventive care."

Now, in our reality, none of this makes a lick of sense. Steele's dystopian nightmare about "health police" is purely a figment of his bizarre imagination.

But Steele keeps popping off anyway, unconcerned about how foolish his nonsense makes him appear.

He has to have better uses of his time. Doesn't he have, you know, a national political party to run?

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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INHOFE DROPS THE PRETENSE.... The same day Sonia Sotomayor was nominated by the president, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) issued a statement that argued, without a shred of evidence, that the judge's ability "to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences" is in doubt.

In other words, Inhofe was unlikely to ever treat Sotomayor fairly. But I foolishly expected him to show more class than this.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is dead set on voting against Sonia Sotomayor's nomination. In fact, he's so certain of his position that he refuses to even meet with her.

Sotomayor has been meeting privately with Senators over the last few weeks, but when it was Inhofe's turn, he declined.

Inhofe's spokesman explained that since the Senator has already decided to vote against the nomination, there's no reason to waste time on a sit-down discussion.

Given the decorum of the Senate, members usually try to maintain the appearance of dignity. In the case of evaluating a judicial nominee, senators are generally inclined to say they're "open minded" and willing to consider the would-be judge's background on the merits.

Inhofe, without looking at Sotomayor's rulings, without evaluating her career, without even speaking to her, has made up his mind.

What's more, Inhofe said he voted against Sotomayor 11 years ago, so he feels comfortable reflexively rejecting her nomination now. He called his opposition a "foregone conclusion."

It's worth noting just how little sense this makes. Inhofe voted against Sotomayor in 1998, convinced she would be a bad judge. But now he has a chance to see if he was right or wrong, scrutinizing her record and analyzing her career on the bench. He can see whether Sotomayor met or exceeded his expectations, and reverse course if confronted with new evidence.

Instead of doing that, Inhofe has decided to effectively stick his fingers in his ears and shout, "La la la, I can't hear you!"

What an embarrassment.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

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PRESSURE WORKS.... In light of the recent criticism of the Obama administration from supporters of gay rights, many started to wonder whether the White House realized the degree to which many were angry and frustrated.

The reactions weren't immediate, but there's growing evidence the administration is trying to address these concerns.

The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.

The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn't released same-sex marriage data. [...]

Gary Gates, an expert in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender demographic data at the University of California at Los Angeles, called the administration's move "a very positive step," adding that he would like to see more details.

The move, of course, comes shortly after the president "issued a directive providing federal employees protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and an expansion of some benefits to same-sex partners."

I can appreciate why it's hard to get too excited over steps that should be obvious. Of course the census should expand to include data on same-sex partnerships. Of course the federal government should protect its employees from discrimination and extend benefits to same-sex partners. The administration is just keeping up with moves that were long overdue.

Indeed, so many of the White House's moves on gay rights -- personnel appointments, the diplomatic passport issue, the inclusive White House Easter Egg Roll, the Pride Month proclamation, the support for an updated hate crimes bill -- seem more like no-brainers than civil rights breakthroughs.

That said, they are steps in the right direction -- steps that seem to be coming more quickly in response to the recent round of intense criticism.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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TWO NEOCONS, ONE MESSAGE, ONE PAGE.... The Washington Post editorial page does it again. This morning, it publishes two separate columns from two separate neocons, both making the same (bogus) argument about the same issue on the same page.

First we have Charles Krauthammer who's convinced that President Obama is "afraid to take sides between the head-breaking, women-shackling exporters of terror [in Iran] -- and the people in the street yearning to breathe free."

Millions of Iranians take to the streets to defy a theocratic dictatorship that, among its other finer qualities, is a self-declared enemy of America and the tolerance and liberties it represents. The demonstrators are fighting on their own, but they await just a word that America is on their side.

And what do they hear from the president of the United States? Silence.

Sharing the page is Paul Wolfowitz, who offers similar criticism with similar language.

President Obama's first response to the protests in Iran was silence, followed by a cautious, almost neutral stance designed to avoid "meddling" in Iranian affairs.... Now is not the time for the president to dig in to a neutral posture.

Wolfowitz goes on to compare the Iranian presidential election in 2009 to "Reagan's initially neutral response to the crisis following the Philippine election of 1986, and of George H.W. Bush's initially neutral response to the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991." Wolfowitz's claims don't stand up well to scrutiny, but then again, his claims rarely do.

The liberal media strikes again.

Update: Jacob Heilbrunn has more on the errors of fact and judgment in the Wolfowitz/Krauthammer criticism.

Second Update: I'm also glad to see Joe Klein weigh in. Klein seems to hate neocons more with each passing day.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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DEPT. OF ELECTIONS, CONSEQUENCES.... In light of George W. Bush's not-so-subtle shots at his successor this week, White House reporters pressed press secretary Robert Gibbs yesterday for a reaction to the former president's criticisms. In particular, Gibbs was asked about Bush's disparagement of Obama's policy on the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Gibbs said Thursday that many of those policies were debated during last year's election.

"We kept score last November, and we won," Gibbs said.

The response is reminiscent of a closed-door exchange on the Hill in January, a few days after Obama's inauguration. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told the president that the Democratic plan to give a tax credit to those who don't pay income taxes isn't a tax cut, but rather, a check. Obama responded that this was a common point of debate during the presidential campaign -- McCain/Palin called the plan "welfare" -- and voters were not swayed by Republican arguments. "I won," Obama told lawmakers.

It's nice to see a little bravado from the White House on occasion -- I think it's what Bill Maher probably had in mind when he criticized the president last week -- but the message should be especially relevant to Congress.

After all, American voters gave Democrats a big majority in the House, a big majority in the Senate, and 365 electoral votes to the Democratic president. Obama has a 60% approval rating, and support for Republicans has plummeted.

It's tempting, then, to remind Democratic policymakers, as they negotiate with the shrinking minority party and back down on key priorities, "You won."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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FINANCE COMMITTEE PUNTS ON PUBLIC OPTION.... The Senate Finance Committee is moving forward with its health care reform plan. It's not exactly encouraging.

A draft proposal in the Senate to overhaul the nation's health-care system would require most people to buy health insurance, authorize an expansion of Medicaid coverage and create consumer-owned cooperative plans instead of the government coverage that President Obama is seeking.

The document, distributed among members of the Senate Finance Committee yesterday afternoon, addressed none of the funding questions that have consumed House and Senate negotiators in recent days. But it included an array of coverage provisions that were drastically scaled back from earlier versions, as lawmakers seek to shrink the bill's overall cost. The proposal, for instance, would reduce the pool of middle-class beneficiaries eligible for a new tax credit meant to make insurance more affordable.

The absence of a "public option" marks perhaps the most significant omission. Obama and many Democrats had sought a public option to ensure affordable, universal coverage, but as many as 10 Senate Democrats have protested the idea as unfair to private insurers. In its place, the draft circulated yesterday outlines a co-op approach modeled after rural electricity and telecom providers, subject to government oversight and funded with federal seed money.

It's the result of negotiations between Baucus, two other Democratic senators on the committee, and four Finance Committee Republicans.

Ezra Klein was the first to get a hold of the Finance Committee draft proposal, and he called the version "quite diminished" from the original Baucus approach, thanks to Baucus scaling it back after the CBO put a $1.6 trillion price tag on it.

Ezra described the approach as "comprehensive incrementalism," because it makes everything in the system "a bit better." He added, "This version of health reform is far from what the country needs. It is far from what any health-care experts would develop left to their own devices. But it is still a monumental initiative and, if passed, it would be the most significant step forward since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid."

Of course, given all of the discussion lately about the cost of care, the inclusion of a public option is the one measure that would lower costs most effectively and efficiently. It's also the one measure Republicans, insurance companies, and some center-right Democrats can't stomach.

It's worth emphasizing that the Finance Committee draft proposal is only a draft proposal; there's still the HELP Committee measure to consider; and then there's the House, where there are more than a few Dems who've said they won't support a bill that lacks a public option.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters yesterday, "The give and take, the back and forth of different ideas -- you may call them snags, we call them the legislative process."

That line about watching laws and sausages being made keeps coming to mind.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (142)

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June 18, 2009

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Latest from Tehran: "Hundreds of thousands of black-clad protesters massed quietly in central Tehran on Thursday for another day of protest over last week's disputed presidential election, even as the Iranian government made its first move toward some form of dialogue to defuse the outrage."

* Mousavi's external spokesman, Mohsen Makhmalbaf: "Ahmadinejad is the Bush of Iran. And Mousavi is the Obama of Iran."

* Henry Kissinger, the smartest person John McCain knows (his words, not mine), thinks Obama's line on Iran is just right.

* The U.S. Supreme Court, in another 5-4 ruling (natch), rules that "convicts do not have a right under the Constitution to obtain DNA testing to try to prove their innocence after being found guilty."

* Devastation in Somalia: "Somali Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden was among at least 50 people killed in a suicide-bombing that the al-Shabaab Islamist group, accused by the U.S. of backing al-Qaeda, said it carried out.... The blast killed 50 people and injured 100, al-Jazeera reported, without citing anyone."

* The Senate passed the $106 billion war spending bill this afternoon, but just barely.

* The Senate also unanimously approved a non-binding apology for slavery, though a disclaimer was added to the measure to make clear Congress doesn't support reparations. The resolution passed the day before Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of slaves in 1865.

* It's safe to say health care reform is having a very bad week.

* Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, with help from a few Dems, ignored the administration and approved spending on the F-22.

* Joe Nocera reviews the White House proposed regulatory reforms for the financial industry: "[T]he Obama plan is little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dam rather than rebuild the dam itself."

* Call it son of subprime.

* Americans seem to have the right idea when it comes to Gitmo.

* The original rationale for Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) disclosing his adultery gets walked back.

* Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announced this morning that the Obama administration's infamous brief on DOMA may not have been as troubling as originally thought. Indeed, Frank issued a statement that read, "After rereading this brief, I do not think that the Obama administration should be subject to harsh criticism in this instance."

* On a related note, here's another interesting item with an alternate look on the DOMA brief.

* On second thought, maybe Tom Daschle's departure from the cabinet was a good thing.

* Michael Savage: "The white Christian heterosexual married male is the epitome of everything right with America." Words fail.

* And finally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) defended John Ensign today, offering reporters an interesting quote: "I've got plenty of sins that I'm not going to share with anyone else."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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BIRTHER BILL SPEAKS OUT.... Rep. Bill Posey, a conservative Republican congressman from Florida, is perhaps best known for his efforts to require presidential candidates to present a valid birth certificate before seeking national office. It was, of course, legislation driven entirely by ridiculous attacks on President Obama. (Posey is also rumored to be the illegitimate grandson of an alligator, but that's another matter.)

In the three months since Posey unveiled his Birther-inspired legislation, most of the House Republican caucus, filled with some very right-wing members, kept its distance from his proposal. Dave Weigel reports today, however, that Posey has found four new co-sponsors for his silly idea -- Reps. John Carter (R-Texas), John Culberson (R-Texas), Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), John Campbell (R-Calif.) -- and explains how he's found new allies on his little crusade.

"I was talking to Neugebauer about it, and my good friend John Culberson was listening to the conversation and so Randy said, 'Yeah, I told my staff I wanted to sign up on that already.' And having heard the conversation, Culberson says, 'Yeah, sign me up.' And the judge (Carter) was sitting in the next row listening to the conversation and he said, 'By God, sign me up!' So you know, we might start getting a little bit of steam here pretty soon," he reported.

"I didn't strong arm these people," Posey explained. "I haven't begged anybody to sign on this thing, I haven't asked anybody, really. The people that come up and slap me on the back and say, "Good luck to you!' I say, 'Hey, there's room for you on here!' And of course, they start doing the moonwalk, you know? 'Oh no, no, no, congressman!' he laughed. "But you know, times change and time wounds all heels."

One unhinged lawmaker finds other unhinged lawmakers, and the original unhinged lawmakers suddenly seems pretty pleased with himself.

What's more, Posey added that he's spoken to "high-ranking members" of the House Judiciary Committee about the chances of the president "being removed from office."

And to think no one takes this clown seriously. Imagine that.

Posey added that he's tempted to appear on "The Rachel Maddow Show" to discuss his little endeavor, but he doesn't want to "give her the ratings."

Yeah, I'm sure Rachel's heartbroken that the crazed right-wing Birther, who's even too embarrassing for most of the House Republican caucus, won't be around for sweeps. A bitter disappointment, to be sure.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Hilzoy

Neocons Vindicated?

Andrew Sullivan links to " a smashing column" by Daniel Finkelstein:

"I am a neocon. Given all that has happened over the past ten years, I am sure my PR consultant would advise me to drop this label. But I don't employ a PR consultant. So, stubbornly, I cling on to the designation. It declares my belief in two things -- that in every country in the world, wherever it may be and whatever its traditions, the people yearn for liberty, for free expression and for democracy; and that the spread of liberty and democracy (not necessarily through the barrel of a gun) is the only real way to bring peace to the world. I believe that what we are seeing on the streets of Iran now is a vindication of these neoconservative ideas."

Hmm. If that's what neoconservatism is, then I suppose I must be a neoconservative, or something very like one. I do not believe that everyone yearns for liberty, free expression, and democracy. I think that it took a lot of time for people to work out what, exactly, a free government would be like, and that before that happened, people could not possibly be said to have yearned for one. (Did people yearn for democracy in 12th century France?)

On the other hand, we have worked that out now, more or less; and the idea of democracy is available to anyone who is in contact with the broader world. It's a natural idea to turn to when one's own government seems unsatisfactory, and once a people start asking why they should have no say in their government, I think it's hard for them to un-ask it, or to accept without hesitation a country in which their voices are completely excluded. So I suppose I am, for practical purposes, on board with this part of the neoconservative program.

Similarly, while I'm not sure I'd agree that "the spread of liberty and democracy (...) is the only real way to bring peace to the world", I think it would certainly help a lot. So I suppose I'm on board with that as well. This, according to Mr. Finkelstein, makes me, if not a real neoconservative, at least a pretty close approximation of one.

Which is, of course, absurd.

I don't have a definition of neoconservatism ready to hand. But to my mind, my differences with actual neoconservatives over the past decade or so have never concerned such questions as: Is freedom good or bad? Is an abhorrence of dictatorships a uniquely Western idea which we should not imagine that other people share? And the idea that they do is a symptom of one of the things that has consistently bothered by about neoconservatism: namely, a tendency to make arguments that either are made in bad faith or show a deep lack of interest in the details of any view but their own.

My biggest difference with neoconservatives concerns attempts to create democracies by military force. I do not believe that it is impossible to do this: we did it in Germany and Japan after World War II. But in that case, we had a really good reason both to occupy Germany and Japan: namely, the fact that they had attacked us, and they had lost. Similarly, we had a decent reason for trying to recast their political institutions: those institutions were partially responsible for the fact that they had just started a world war.

Creating a democracy requires the active participation of a lot of people in the country in which you are trying to create it, and you are unlikely to get this participation if those people regard your presence not just as undesirable, but as illegitimate. People tend not to regard our occupation of a country as illegitimate when they attack us, and they lose. But they do tend to regard it as illegitimate when we invade simply because we think they should have a different form of government, even if they themselves do not much like the government they have. For this reason, I think that even if we had the right to invade a country for the express purpose of creating a democracy, that invasion would be virtually certain to fail.

I also think that neoconservatives tend to have a wholly unrealistic view of how the United States and its allies are perceived in the developing world. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people in the developing world do not see America as a benevolent power generously offering the gift of liberty to people around the world, but as a country whose interventions in their countries are often self-interested and sometimes disastrous. To an Iranian in particular, I would imagine that the idea that America or the UK are primarily interested in spreading freedom around the globe would seem downright delusional.

Many neocons seem to me to have bought into their own propaganda about our country and its history. For this reason they find it much easier than I do to advocate intervention in the affairs of other countries. I believe that we have less of a right to intervene in other countries than they do as a matter of principle. But I also think that the likelihood that any particular intervention will succeed is often undercut by our own past actions.

Again, Iran is a clear example of this: we forfeited the right to expect Iranians to assume that our intentions were benign when we decided to overthrow their government and support their dictator. And any intervention whose success depends on Iranians' taking that view of us is one that we have, by our own actions, placed beyond our reach.

This is not about bashing the US. It is about having a realistic assessment of other people's views of us.

Finally, I think I have a different view of war than most neoconservatives. I think war is one of the most horrible things there is. It is not the most horrible thing there is, which is why some wars are justified. But we should never go to war without thinking very, very hard about whether it is truly necessary, and about the likelihood that we can accomplish our objectives by military means.

The kind of cheerleading for war that neocons engaged in before the invasion of Iraq was, to my mind, both utterly irresponsible and profoundly unrealistic about what can be accomplished by military force. Our army is very good at what it does. But we should not expect it to do what no army can do: change people's minds, create systems of government that depend not on force but on things like commitment to the rule of law, and so forth.

I did not oppose the invasion of Iraq because I thought that Iraqis did not want to be free. I opposed it because I thought that because we should never unleash war on anyone without a very, very good reason to do so, and that in this case, we did not have one. I thought the invasion of Iraq was both unnecessary and profoundly unlikely to achieve its stated objectives; and thus that it did not so much as begin to justify the immense costs it would impose on Iraq and on us.

Towards the end of his article, Finkelstein writes:

"The mistake the neocons made is that we were not conservative enough, not patient enough. Such impatience with dictatorships is understandable, indeed laudable. But the frustrating truth is that there are limits to what can be achieved by outsiders. Instead we have to wait as national movements, one by one, stand up for their rights. And sometimes, tragically, we even have to stand aside as those movements are crushed by their oppressors."

Well, yes; that would be one way to put it. Another would be to say: neoconservatives were not just insufficiently patient; they were reckless beyond belief, willing to bring down unspeakable costs on other people without bothering to weigh the possibility that their simplistic and unrealistic views of the world might be wrong. If Mr. Finkelstein wants to change his ways and become more "patient", power to him. To my mind, though, this column, with its equally simplistic (and insulting) view of his opponents, shows that he has not changed nearly enough.

Hilzoy 3:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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FROOMKIN OUT?.... When it comes to the paper's online presence, the Washington Post has made some very smart moves in recent months, most notably the additions of Greg Sargent's "The Plum Line" and the Who Runs Gov project, and Ezra Klein.

But this move, if accurate, is a step in the wrong direction.

In a move sure to ignite the left-wing blogosphere, washingtonpost.com columnist Dan Froomkin (author of the "White House Watch" blog) has been let go by the news organization, POLITICO hears. In so many words, Froomkin was told that his blog had essentially run its course.

Froomkin's work for the Post has, at times, been amongst the most popular, but he has also ruffled some feathers, including former Post ombudsman Deb Howell, who used a column to field complaints over the labeling of Froomkin's "highly opinionated and liberal" "White House Briefing" column, which was subsequently changed to "White House Watch."

I haven't seen official confirmation of this, but if Froomkin is leaving the Post, it's a real loss. Froomkin has been a great writer with keen instincts, often picking up on a burgeoning story before it's gained traction elsewhere.

The Politico says the move is "sure to ignite the left-wing blogosphere," but Froomkin's departure, if true, should disappoint anyone concerned with insightful political analysis. Indeed, far-right complaints notwithstanding, Froomkin has spent months scrutinizing the Obama White House, cutting the Democratic president no slack at all. Just over the past couple of days, Froomkin offered critical takes on the president's proposed regulations of the financial industry, follow-through on gay rights, and foot-dragging on Bush-era torture revelations.

Froomkin was one of the media's most important critics of the Bush White House, and conservative bashing notwithstanding, was poised to be just as valuable holding the Obama White House accountable for its decisions.

If the report is correct, I'm sorry to see him go.

Update: I've spoken to Dan, who confirmed that he is, in fact, leaving the Post.

"I'm terribly disappointed," he said. "I was told that it had been determined that my White House Watch blog wasn't "working" anymore. Personally, I thought it was still working very well, and based on reader feedback, a lot of readers thought so, too... I also thought White House Watch was a great fit with The Washington Post brand, and what its readers reasonably expect from the Post online.

"As I've written elsewhere, I think that the future success of our business depends on journalists enthusiastically pursuing accountability and calling it like they see it. That's what I tried to do every day. Now I guess I'll have to try to do it someplace else."

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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ALL-TIME LOWS.... I've seen a few Republican blogs today crowing about the latest national polls, which show some lukewarm support for some of White House's policy priorities. There are a couple of numbers, though, that should give them pause.

For one thing, President Obama's approval ratings still look quite strong. In the New York Times/CBS poll, for example, the president's national rating stood at 63% support, the same as it was a month ago. In the WSJ/NBC poll, Obama fared slightly worse, with 56%, which is still not a bad rating under the circumstances.

But what's gone largely overlooked is the numbers for the Republican Party. Consider this tidbit from the NYT/CBS poll:

While Republicans have steadily increased their criticism of Mr. Obama, particularly on the budget deficit, the poll found that the Republican Party is viewed favorably by only 28 percent of those polled, the lowest rating ever in a New York Times/CBS News poll. In contrast, 57 percent said that they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party. [emphasis added]

The WSJ/NBC poll added:

25 percent hold a favorable view of the Republican Party, which is an all-time low for it in the poll. 45 percent hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party. [emphasis added]

CNBC personality Jim Cramer told Joe Scarborough this morning, "I think everybody wishes that Obama would just kind of go away for a little bit."

That may apply to Cramer and the cast of "Morning Joe," but given the "all-time lows" for the GOP right now, it's probably not the president Americans would like to see "go away for a little bit."

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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COMPARATIVE EFFECTIVENESS RESEARCH.... It's always struck me as something of a no-brainer -- comparative effectiveness research helps point to the most reliable medical treatments. To conservatives, though, CER is a nefarious scheme that will lead to bureaucratic overlords dictating which patients are eligible to receive which services.

This is especially relevant in the context of Medicare and Medicaid. Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) introduced a bill yesterday to make sure the government doesn't use CER to deny coverage for treatments deemed ineffective.

Paul Krugman helps highlight some of the more conspicuous flaws in the Republican senators' approach.

1. Politicians who rail against wasteful government spending are taking action to prevent the government from reining in ... wasteful spending.

2. Politicians who warn that the burden of entitlements is killing the federal budget are stepping in to block ... the single most painless route to reducing the growth of entitlements.

3. They're doing it in the name of avoiding "rationing of health care" ... but they're specifically addressing taxpayer-funded care. If you want to go out and buy a medically useless treatment, Medicare won't stop you.

4. These same politicians are, of course, opposed to efforts to expand coverage. In other words, it's evil for government to "ration care" by only paying for things that work; it is, however, perfectly OK, indeed virtuous, to ration care by refusing to pay for any care at all.

Yep, it's that bad. In fact, Krugman may have missed one.

For Kyl, McConnell, and Roberts, it's outrageous to think the government would withhold payment for ineffective medical treatments. But Jonathan Cohn asks a helpful follow-up: "Are Kyl and McConnell prepared to extend a similar ban to private insurers? After all, private insurers factor cost into treatment decisions all the time. Do Kyl and McConnell think that's wrong, too -- that cost should never, ever be factor? Or do they think it's o.k. when the medical directors for your friendly neighborhood HMO -- operating behind closed doors and under pressure to make profits -- make these decisions?"

I have a hunch we know the answer to that one.

Post Script: For a refresher on CER basics, be sure to check out Hilzoy's post on this from last month.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THAT CAN'T BE RIGHT.... The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today covered quite a bit of ground, but this tidbit about the economy stood out, in large part because it doesn't seem right.

A solid majority -- 58% -- said that the president and Congress should focus on keeping the budget deficit down, even if takes longer for the economy to recover.

That's hard to believe. Most Americans, during a severe economic downturn, would prefer that the recession last longer in order for policy makers to focus on deficit reduction? I realize the deficit has gotten a lot of play from Republicans and the media, but this result seems odd. Most of what we've heard for months is a public demand to get the economy moving again; no other concern comes close.

Indeed, it's the kind of poll result that should cause great concern to Democrats. The message from Dems, in effect, has been, "We'll run deficit now to help spark a recovery." This poll suggests the proper response is, "We'd rather have a longer recession than high deficits."

Part of me wonders whether respondents didn't understand the question. Elsewhere in the exact same poll, people were asked to choose from a list of policy issues which was the most important for the federal government to address, and which was the second most important. If a 58% majority want deficit reduction to take precedence over economic recovery, you'd expect to see the deficit as the top concern.

But that's not what happened. "Job creation and economic growth" was easily the top priority. Deficit reduction and health care were tied for second.

Later, in the same poll, respondents were asked to identify the "most important economic issue facing the country." Unemployment beat out the budget deficit by double digits.

With that in mind, here's hoping policy makers ignore the poll, address economic recovery now, and tackle deficit reduction later.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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PUSHING BACK AGAINST RECONCILIATION.... It's always fascinating to watch center-right Democrats take a firm stand in support of Republican obstructionism.

A bipartisan group of House members is demanding that special budget rules allowing Democrats to pass healthcare legislation by a simple-majority vote be taken off the table.

Democratic leaders have signaled they are open to using reconciliation to force President Obama's signature domestic issue through the Senate along party lines if need be.

The House group says that is not acceptable.

"Reconciliation is not an option for health care reform," read a news release sent out Thursday morning by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition. "By rule, any bill that passes under reconciliation cannot make the changes needed to reform the American health care system," the release read. "Working together is the only option."

This, oddly enough, positions the Blue Dog Democrats to the right of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who said Senate Dems can certainly pass health care reform through the reconciliation process. He told radio host Bill Bennett on Tuesday, "[Reconciliation is] legal, it's ethical, you can do it. And it has been suggested and accepted by the administration, pretty directly that if it came down to it, they're going to drive this thing through a 50-vote door. And if they do that...they can pass whatever they want to."

But Blue Dogs and House Republicans disagree. The majority party can pass reform, they say, but it's paramount to protect the right of Republicans to demand supermajorities and block the legislation, even if it enjoys the support of a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, a majority of the public, and the president.

Matt Yglesias, on an unrelated point, noted this morning: "I continue to be a little bit astonished by how little attention the political establishment is giving to the implications of the routinization of a 60-vote supermajority requirement for all Senate business. This is a very new 'tradition' in American governance, it goes against everyone's common understanding of how democratic procedures are supposed to work, and there's very little reason to believe that the results will be beneficial in the long run."

Quite right. The American system of government has was never supposed to work this way, and wasn't designed to force 60-vote minimums on everything of significance. At some point fairly recently, without a word of debate or discussion, the political world simply accepted as fact the idea that a small and shrinking Senate minority can require supermajorities for every piece of legislation. It quickly became something everyone simply "knows," despite the fact that this is a fairly radical departure from historic legislative procedure.

And now, Blue Dogs and House Republicans are adamant that Senate Democrats take the one procedure that can guarantee an up-or-down vote on health care reform off the table. Incredible.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Pennsylvania, a new Rasmussen poll shows Sen. Arlen Specter with a comfortable lead over Rep. Joe Sestak in a Democratic primary, but the margin is shrinking. The incumbent, a former Republican, now leads by 19 points, 51% to 32%.

* On a related note, Sestak continues to push the idea that Specter is a "flight risk" for Democrats.

* New Hampshire's state attorney general, Kelly Ayotte (R), has been sought out by party leaders to run for the Senate next year against Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), and she's apparently thinking about it.

* Illinois' state attorney general, Lisa Madigan (D), is still eyeing next year's Senate race, but is reportedly telling party leaders she expects an Obama endorsement and a clear primary field. With state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias already running hard, Madigan's conditions may be hard to meet.

* The Republican primary in next year's Senate race in Missouri remains very much in flux. Thomas Schweich dropped out of the race last week, but state Sen. Chuck Purgason is poised to jump in.

* Have we seen the last of former presidential hopeful John Edwards' political career? To hear the former North Carolina senator tell it, his future is unclear. "Sometimes you just keep your head down and work hard and see what happens," Edwards told the Washington Post.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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HOEKSTRA KEEPS DIGGING.... Rep. Pete Hoekstra's (R-Mich.) generated a fair amount of attention yesterday when he tweeted, "Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House."

It was, of course, a ridiculous thing to say, which in turn drew media attention and widespread online mockery.

Don't worry, though, Hoekstra's spokesperson can explain everything.

"Congressman Hoekstra did not compare the ongoing violence in Iran to when Democrats shut down the House chamber during the energy debate last summer," said spokesman Dave Yonkman. "The two situations do share the similarity of government leadership attempting to limit debate and deliberation, and the ability of new technologies to bypass their efforts and allow for direct communication. That's the only point that he was trying to make."

Hmm. Hoekstra wasn't comparing the two, he was just publicly noting the similarities the two situations share. It's good to have that cleared up.

Hoekstra and his spokesperson really ought to quit while they're behind. Last August, congressional Dems didn't "limit debate and deliberation," they took a scheduled summer recess. That's what Congress does. Republicans didn't use "new technologies to bypass their efforts"; they delivered silly speeches to tourists in the Capitol, with support from far-right radio personalities (radio is not a "new technology").

The Michigan Republican and his aide really believe this is comparable to Iranian demonstrators taking to the streets to protest a presidential election that may have been stolen from them by an oppressive regime, and using Twitter to shine a light on developments in a country that's cracking down on free press and free speech.

GOP lawmakers last August faced tourists; Iranian dissidents are facing clubs and bullets. The more Republicans defend the comparison, the more foolish they appear.

Update: Glenn Thrush added, in response to the Republican comparison, "Pelosi, unlike Ahmadinejad,didn't dispatch her Revolutionary Guard to beat them up or shoot them in the streets, nor did she have the capacity to block their access to the Internet, rig a national election to keep them from being seated in the legislature or place them under House arrest when they protested."

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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HEALTH CARE POLLING.... A few new national polls were released over the last 24 hours, but of particular interest are public attitudes about health care reform. The data from the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll seems relatively encouraging.

Without being told anything specific about the Obama plan in the survey, about a third of people said it's a good idea, about a third said it's a bad idea and the rest had no opinion. When given several details of his approach, 55% said they favored it, versus 35% who were opposed.

There was also support for the Democratic push to let people sign up for a public health-care plan that would compete with private companies, one of the toughest issues in the health-care debate. Three in four people said a public plan is extremely or quite important. But when told the arguments for and against the plan, a smaller portion, 47%, agreed with arguments in support of the plan, with 42% agreeing with the arguments against it.

Americans are, in other words, open to persuasion. They don't know they like Obama's approach, but approve when they hear about it. The public option fares very well -- 75% support is tremendous -- but hesitate when confronted with conservative arguments. If the White House has a powerful communications strategy in mind, now would probably be a good time to launch it.

The same poll found majority support for requiring all Americans to get insurance, but majority opposition to taxing health benefits.

Gallup, meanwhile, also issued an interesting poll, which asked respondents to say whether or not they have confidence in various groups and names involved in the health care policy debate. Doctors, hospitals, and President Obama all fared pretty well, with majorities expressing confidence.

At the bottom we see pharmaceutical companies (40%), insurance companies (35%), and congressional Republicans (34%).

That's right, GOP lawmakers fared even worse than insurance companies.

With these results in mind, mcjoan asks the right question: "So, for the 432nd time, why do the Democrats feel it is so critical for 'bipartisanship' on this one? No one is demanding it except Republicans who keep showing, time, and time, and time again that they are not going to help."

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (117)

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RESCISSION.... In light of the current policy debate, it was awfully nice of insurance industry executives to help demonstrate why a public option is so necessary as part of the broader reform effort. (via Kevin Drum)

Executives of three of the nation's largest health insurers told federal lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that they would continue canceling medical coverage for some sick policyholders, despite withering criticism from Republican and Democratic members of Congress who decried the practice as unfair and abusive. [...]

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.

It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.

The insurance industry -- you know, the one conservative lawmakers and the AMA are so desperate to protect at all costs -- has this unpleasant habit called "rescission." Customers have insurance, and they pay their premiums, but once they get sick and require expensive medical treatment, the companies drop the coverage.

And in testifying before Congress, executives of these insurers not only confirmed the rescission practice, but said they had no plans to change the money-saving tactic.

One executive said rescission is about "stopping fraud and material misrepresentations that contribute to spiraling healthcare costs." So, for example, when a woman in Texas was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, her insurer dropped her coverage because the company found an instance in which she visited a dermatologist for acne, and didn't tell the insurance company about it. This, the insurer said, was an example of "fraud and material misrepresentation."

Late in the hearing, [Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.)], the committee chairman, put the executives on the spot. Stupak asked each of them whether he would at least commit his company to immediately stop rescissions except where they could show "intentional fraud."

The answer from all three executives: "No."

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) added, "This is precisely why we need a public option."

You don't say.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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ADDING SOME SPICE TO THE 'VANILLA'.... The Washington Post ran a Style-section piece on Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) adulterous affair, largely dismissing its significance. The headline says this is "no affair to remember," because it doesn't match up to the salacious details of other recent political sex scandals (Craig, Foley, Spitzer, Edwards, Vitter).

The piece quotes an expert from a D.C. crisis management firm, calling the controversy "really vanilla."

At first blush, that sounds plausible. Hypocritical politician promotes "sanctity of marriage," then cheats on spouse with former aide. Hardly unprecedented stuff.

But there are still a few unresolved angles to this story.

The son of the couple at the center of the sex scandal that has engulfed Sen. John Ensign was being paid by National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2008 at the same time his mother was having an affair with the Nevada Republican.

Both Doug and Cynthia Hampton were already working in senior positions for Ensign when their son Brandon Hampton was hired to do "research policy consulting" for the NRSC in March 2008.

The younger Hampton, 19, was paid $5,400 before he left the Ensign office in August last year, Federal Election Commission records show.

The bi-weekly payments to the 19-year-old employee ended when the affair ended.

There's also the matter of whether Ensign came forward to disclose the extra-marital relationship because he faced possible blackmail threats from his former mistress' husband. That's questionable, too.

David Kurtz added, "The closer you look at the John Ensign love triangle, the stranger it becomes.... It's a very tangled web."

"Really vanilla" is not the first phrase that comes to mind.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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HE ALMOST MADE IT FIVE MONTHS.... In March, George W. Bush had a chance to criticize his successor, but he took a pass. "I'm not going to spend my time criticizing him," Bush said. "There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence."

It was a good move. Not only is there an expectation of decency when presidents leave the stage, but Bush, of all people, should be as silent as possible. After all, it's Bush's spectacular failures in practically every area of governmental policy that his successor is now forced to deal with. The less he says, the better.

Last night in Pennsylvania, however, the failed former president decided to play fast and loose with his vow not to criticize President Obama, who Bush apparently no longer believes "deserves his silence."

Former President George W. Bush fired a salvo at President Obama on Wednesday, asserting his administration's interrogation policies were within the law, declaring the private sector not government will fix the economy and rejecting the nationalization of health care.

"I know it's going to be the private sector that leads this country out of the current economic times we're in," the former president said to applause from members of a local business group. "You can spend your money better than the government can spend your money."

Repeatedly in his hourlong speech and question-and-answer session, Mr. Bush said he would not directly criticize the new president, who has moved to take over financial institutions and several large corporations. Several times, however, he took direct aim at Obama policies as he defended his own during eight years in office.

Bush, without a hint of irony, talked about his expertise in knowing how to use government to "expand the job rate in the United States." What's more, asked about the facility at Guantanamo Bay, the former president said "I told you I'm not going to criticize my successor," before using some unusually cheap rhetoric: "I'll just tell you that there are people at Gitmo that will kill American people at a drop of a hat and I don't believe that persuasion isn't going to work. Therapy isn't going to cause terrorists to change their mind."

Asked if he finds the new president's policies "socialist," Bush started to answer, saying it "depends on..." before concluding, "We'll see."

Stay classy, George.

That said, I wouldn't be too surprised if Obama's team found all of this encouraging. The more there's a "Bush vs. Obama" dynamic, the more it benefits the current occupant of the Oval Office, not the former.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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BACHMANN VS. THE CENSUS.... Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sure does love her conspiracy theories.

In February, Bachmann explained her belief that President Obama is orchestrating an elaborate scheme involving the Census Bureau. As she sees it, the White House will use the 2010 census to redraw congressional lines to keep Democrats in power indefinitely. The argument was obviously crazy, but the Minnesota Republican seemed quite excited about it.

This week, we learn that Bachmann's census-related conspiracy theory has evolved, and now includes ACORN.

Outspoken Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann says she's so worried that information from next year's national census will be abused that she will not fill out anything more than the number of people in her household.

In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times' "America's Morning News," the Minnesota Republican said the questions have become "very intricate, very personal" and that she feared ACORN, the community organizing group that came under fire for its voter registration efforts last year, would be part of the U.S. Census Bureau's door-to-door information collection efforts.

Bachmann added, "I know for my family, the only question we will be answering is how many people are in our home. We won't be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn't require any information beyond that."

First, Bachmann's creative legal thinking notwithstanding, it's illegal to refuse to answer census questions. It's generally not a good idea for sitting members of Congress to boast in advance about law-breaking.

Second, ACORN has applied to help recruit census workers, but has not yet been chosen to take on any specific role. Should ACORN play a role in the process, it's not clear what Bachmann thinks these workers would do with census data, but the lawmaker said the very possibility is "very concerning."

What's "very concerning"? Only Bachmann knows for sure.

Steve Benen 8:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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RNC VS ABC, ROUND II.... If I didn't know better, I might think the RNC and far-right activists are afraid of a substantive exploration of health care policy.

To quickly review, ABC News' Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer will host a prime-time discussion on health care policy next week at the White House. President Obama will respond to questions about the reform effort, and the ABC anchors will give regular Americans -- selected by the network, not the administration -- a chance to press the president.

The RNC and a number of conservative blogs are outraged, insisting the policy forum will be an "infomercial" in support of Obama's efforts. ABC News explained why these concerns are unfounded in a straightforward, easy-to-understand letter to the RNC, which was posted online.

But the party is still flipping out.

The Republican National Committee isn't buying ABC News' assurance that its day-long focus on the Obama administration's health-care package will be unbiased.

Indeed, the RNC will open up its television studio in Washington next Wednesday -- the day of ABC's programming -- and foot the bill for House and Senate Republicans to do interviews with stations in their home districts.

Greg Sargent has the full memo.

The RNC's allies are doing their part to push the party's message. CNBC's Larry Kudlow told his viewers that ABC's programming "is going to be given over to Obama, and it's going to be in favor of Obama's health care plan." How does he know? He doesn't, but Kudlow isn't exactly truth-oriented. Meanwhile, one right-wing blogger has said ABC is now "state controlled," while one right-wing radio host has compared the network's policy discussion to fellatio.

I got an email the other night from a reader who asked me if I'd be annoyed if, in 2005, ABC hosted a discussion/forum on Social Security with President Bush at the White House. In truth, I wouldn't. The analogy is imprecise -- privatization was a long shot, while health care reform is still doable -- but if a sitting president is pushing a sweeping policy proposal that would affect the whole country; Americans have questions about what it would mean for them; and a network wanted to explore this in detail in prime time, this hardly seems worthy of a tantrum.

I'd be annoyed if ABC hosted this Social Security discussion without challenging and/or fact-checking any of Bush's arguments, but I wouldn't know this until it aired.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Hilzoy

There But For The Grace Of God ...

Charles Brown at Undiplomatic picks up a gem from John McCain that I missed yesterday (Brown's emphasis):

"DAVID GREGORY: Let's get right to it on Iran. How does the U.S. deal with an emboldened Iranian President Ahmadinejad?

SENATOR JOHN McCAIN: Well, we lead; we condemn the sham, corrupt election. We do what we have done throughout the Cold War and afterwards, we speak up for the people of Tehran and Iran and all the cities all over that country who have been deprived of one of their fundamental rights. We speak out forcefully, and we make sure that the world knows that America leads -- and including increased funding for part of the Farda, Iranian free radio.

Ah, yes: our celebrated Cold War concern for the rights of the people of Tehran and Iran! I wonder which of those golden moments McCain wants us to relive. Maybe the one where we overthrow Iran's democratically elected government and install a dictatorial monarch? Or maybe one of these:

"In 1957, with the help of the CIA, [the Shah] set up SAVAK, the notorious secret police, to crack down on dissidents.

Documentation of its activities is still difficult to come by, partly because SAVAK spread an atmosphere of terror so intense that victims -- those who survived -- were long afraid to talk. International investigators tell of families beseeching them to try to find out what had happened to relatives who had disappeared months before, but simultaneously begging them not to let the Shah's government know they were asking.

The number of SAVAK's victims is also difficult to establish. In 1976 Amnesty International, a London-based organization that keeps track of "prisoners of conscience" around the world, estimated that 25,000 to 100,000 political prisoners were being held in Iran. (...)

There is no longer any dispute that SAVAK practiced systematic torture. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a member of Khomeini's Revolutionary Council, described to TIME'S Raji Samghabadi how SAVAK agents in 1964 lashed the soles of his feet with electric cable: "The flesh was torn apart, and the bones jutted out. There were multiple fractures." The agents, he says, also held a knife to his throat for hours, making small nicks and telling him to guess "when the blade might go all the way down and sever my head." Amnesty International in the 1970s described other methods of torture: electric shock, burning on a heated metal grill, and the insertion of bottles and hot eggs into the anus. Last spring Anne Burley, an Amnesty International researcher, was shown by the government a SAVAK file that she deems authentic, containing pictures of victims who had been tortured to death. Several were women, she says, and "in each case the breasts were mutilated."

William J. Butler, a New York lawyer who investigated SAVAK for the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, spoke to Reza Baraheni, an Iranian poet who was held for 102 days by the secret police in 1973. Baraheni told of seeing in SAVAK torture rooms "all sizes of whips" and instruments designed to pluck out the fingernails of victims. He described the sufferings of some fellow prisoners: "They hang you upside down, and then someone beats you with a mace on your legs or on your genitals, or they lower you down, pull your pants up and then one of them tries to rape you while you are still hanging upside down." Baraheni himself was beaten and whipped, and released only after agreeing to make a statement on television condemning Communism. Many other SAVAK victims were tortured briefly and then released, after the secret police satisfied themselves that they would no longer oppose the Shah."

At least the objects of our concern would be able to listen to Radio Farda while they are having hot eggs shoved up their anuses -- and I'm sure that would make it all worthwhile.

Seriously: this guy might have been President. National security was supposed to be his strong suit. On the most charitable interpretation, he is completely ignorant of the history of our relations with Iran, but this fact does not prevent him from pontificating about what we ought to do. Think about that, and thank the deity of your choice that he lost.

Hilzoy 12:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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June 17, 2009
By: Hilzoy

You'd Think This Would Settle It ...

In a sane world, the absence of any evidence that the Obama administration was considering reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would have prevented people from talking darkly about the end of talk radio and freedom of speech. Regrettably, we do not live in a sane world. But this exchange seems clear enough to put this particular canard to rest once and for all:

You'd think. But AllahPundit, who posted this, adds:

"Worth posting whether he's telling the truth or he's lying. If the former, it's cause for a collective sigh of relief. If the latter, we should flag it now so that we'll have something handy later to throw in The One's face when the march towards Fairness begins."

And the comments are a sight to behold: a few people seem willing to entertain the idea that, in fact, no one is planning to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, but for the most part the debate is between the following positions: (a) the nominee will be fired tomorrow, (b) the nominee is lying, like all liberals, and (c) this only shows that liberals have figured out some other way to destroy talk radio.

Sigh...

Hilzoy 10:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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By: Hilzoy

A Mystery Solved!

Slate answers a question about Iran:

"In many photos, riot police wear uniforms with the English word police on them. Ambulances, too, bear the word ambulance in English. Why not use Persian words instead of their English equivalents?

Because everyone knows English. Like many capital cities, Tehran has its emergency personnel wear markings that are internationally recognizable. Street signs, too, are translated into English, and police cars are generally inscribed in both English and Persian. That makes the city more tourist-friendly without sacrificing clarity for locals. After all, the Persian word for police is the same: polise. (Persian, or Farsi, is an Indo-European language that uses an Arabic script, but people will often use Latin lettering, also known as Penglish or Fingilish, especially when typing or texting.) It's also the same word in French (police), German (polizei), Italian (polizia), Czech (policie), and many other languages. Iranian students are required to take English classes in high school. So using the English word for police actually maximizes the number of people who will understand it."

I was wondering about that. Now it all makes sense. Thanks, Slate!

Hilzoy 9:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* In Iran, protests intensify -- as do government crackdowns.

* Obama's unveils his sweeping new market regulations.

* The administration's proposal for a Consumer Financial Product Safety Commission sounds just about right.

* Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) started the day as a member of the Republican Senate leadership. He didn't end the day as one.

* An NYT report explores new revelations about "recent intercepts" of "private telephone calls and e-mail messages" through the NSA.

* On Twitter, we're all Iranians now (literally).

* Obama will reiterate his opposition to DOMA.

* How Eric Cantor managed to become a House Republican leader without knowing the meaning of the word "silence" is a mystery.

* Conrad's co-op "compromise" keeps generating attention. This is more than a little discouraging.

* Harriet Miers testified, behind closed doors, on the U.S. Attorney purge scandal. Karl Rove is next, though we don't know when to expect his testimony.

* Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) conceded that passing health care reform through the reconciliation process is "legal" and "ethical."

* Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has an important op-ed today on human trafficking.

* South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) had a very bad day yesterday.

* Matt Duss 1, Robert Kagan 0.

* Beautiful post by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

* Maureen Dowd devotes an entire column to criticizing President Obama for occasionally eating fast-food.

* Why doesn't NPR want Juan Williams identifying himself with NPR when he goes on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News program? This is why.

* Josh Marshall will be on Colbert tonight.

* Can you imagine an elected office coming down to a game of high-card?

* And finally, as you've probably noticed, today was a complete mess, tech wise. Here's hoping tomorrow is a better day. Thanks for your patience.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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GOP DEJA VU.... Remember when House Republicans, on April Fools' Day, released a budget with no numbers in it? And were widely mocked and ridiculed for being so fundamentally unserious about public policy that their budget was made up entirely of odd charts and vacuous text?

They haven't learned their lesson.

House Republicans presented a four-page outline of their health care reform plan Wednesday but said they didn't know yet how much it would cost, how they would pay for it and how many of the nearly 50 million Americans without insurance would be covered by it.

The GOP health care plan seems to have omitted a health care plan.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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RUSH KNOWS ALL ABOUT HOUSEKEEPERS.... As controversies go, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's membership in a New York-based professional women's organization seems like pretty weak tea. The judge is apparently one of about 115 women in the group, known as Belizean Grove, which describes itself as helping "women pursue more significant dreams, ambitions, purposes, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment."

The group reportedly was created as a counterpart to the all-male social club the Bohemian Grove, which also is known for its influential members and networking opportunities.

Sotomayor told senators this week the club does not "invidiously discriminate on the basis of sex," and it's unlikely anything will come of this.

Rush Limbaugh, though, the classy guy that he is, had his own a unique take on this today.

"Today, my friends, we turn our attention to the latest revelation from Judge Sonia Sotomayor. It appears that Ms. Sotomayor, the model of diversity and inclusion, has some explaining to do regarding her membership in a club. Not just any club -- a club whose members are all female....

"Safe to say, any conservative in this situation would find their nomination dead in the water. Clubbed -- like a baby seal. No question about it. I think I'm going to send Sotomayor, and her club, a bunch of vacuum cleaners to help them clean up after their meetings."

Obviously, this kind of ugly comparison about professional women is obnoxious and insulting. It's par for the course for Limbaugh, but that doesn't make it any less offensive.

That said, given his notorious background, I have a follow-up question: does Limbaugh really want to start making housekeeper comparisons?

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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ALWAYS PLAYING THE VICTIM... It's never been clear to me why Republicans present themselves as members of the "tough" and "strong" party. Given all the time they spend feeling sorry for themselves, the GOP seems to send the opposite message.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.), for example, is annoyed about the number of amendments considered in the House to appropriation bills. He's so annoyed, in fact, that he's tweeting about the similarities between House Republicans and Iranian demonstrators.

"Good to see Iranian people move mountains w social media, shining sunlight on their repressive govt - Texans support their bid for freedom"

"Oppressed minorities includeHouseRepubs: We are using social media to expose repression such as last night's D clampdown shutting off amends"

I see. Iranian dissidents are protesting a presidential election that may have been stolen from them by an oppressive regime, only to face threats and violence. At least eight Iranians have already been killed. They're using Twitter to shine a light on developments in a country that's cracking down on free press and free speech. House Republicans, meanwhile, want more amendments considered on appropriations bills. I can't believe I didn't notice the "repressive" similarities.

It's not just Culberson. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who's gearing up for a gubernatorial campaign in Michigan, had a similar tweet.

"Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House."

Remember, these guys aren't kidding. This isn't satire, and it's not sarcasm. These House Republicans see Iranian demonstrators being beaten for standing up for their rights, and they think they're in a comparable situation. The GOP is made up of oppressed victims, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the Ayatollah Khamenei.

The Hill's Eric Zimmermann noted, "...I think protesters in Iran, who are using Twitter to compensate for a crackdown on foreign media, would take issue with the comparison."

Seems like a safe bet.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* U.S. News reports that the "word around the Twin Cities is that Democrat Al Franken will be certified the winner after the State Supreme Court rules against Republican Norm Coleman's appeal of the outcome last November."

* The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage is threatening to spend $500,000 in support of Republican primary challenges for any Republican in New York who backs marriage equality at the state level.

* The Republican Governors Association has launched its first attack ad of the campaign season, blasting New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) as a "Wall Street banker."

* The Democratic Governors Association released a poll late yesterday on the Virginia race, showing Creigh Deeds (D) leading Bob McDonnell, 42% to 38%.

* Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) campaign got a boost yesterday with an endorsement from ACORN's political action committee.

* Gillibrand is still under fire, though, from her likely Democratic primary challenger. Rep. Carolyn Maloney yesterday took aim at the senator's "character."

* Speaking of New York, a Quinnipiac poll shows NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a 22-point lead over his next closest competitor, City Comptroller William Thompson.

* And in North Carolina, Dems still haven't found a top-tier candidate to run for the Senate, but incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) still looks vulnerable. A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Burr trailing a generic Democrat, 41% to 38%.

Steve Benen 4:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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A LONG-OVERDUE STEP.... Facing intense criticism from supporters of gay rights, President Obama is poised to take a step that the federal government should have taken years ago.

Faced with growing anger among gay and lesbian supporters, President Obama is expected tonight to extend healthcare and other benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.

His action is a significant advance for gay rights and comes days after the Obama administration sparked outrage by filing a legal brief defending the law forbidding federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Obama opposed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act during his presidential campaign.

It was not immediately clear whether Obama's latest decision would mollify his critics.

The responses to the announcement have, thus far, suggested the administration still has quite a bit more work to do. Some supporters of gay rights have looked at the president's decision as a step in the right direction, but most of the reactions I've seen point to widespread dissastisfaction, with some labeling the announcement "irrelevant" and others arguing the administration is "throwing us a pathetic bone."

The context, of course, makes all the difference. If the White House had made this announcement in, say, January, the reception from supporters of gay rights would likely have been far more enthusiastic. But after nearly five months in office, Obama has repeatedly disappointed gay rights advocates, following delays in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and a legal defense on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act last week. Justice Department attorneys said they are legally obligated to defend DOMA in court as long as it's on the books, but those who've read the administration's legal brief were deeply insulted by the attorneys' arguments. For that matter, Obama is on record saying he'd like to see DOMA repealed, but there's been no progress on that front since the president took office in January.

This isn't to say the White House hasn't made some positive moves. As administration officials are quick to remind civil rights proponents, Obama has "named openly gay men to head the Export-Import Bank and the Office of Personnel Management. The State Department promised to give partners of gay and lesbian diplomats benefits such as diplomatic passports and language training. In April, gay parents were invited for the first time to bring their children to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll." There was also a strong presidential proclamation in support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

What's more, Obama hasn't actually changed his position on any of the issues from the campaign -- he still supports repealing DADT, he still wants to see the Defense of Marriage Act rescinded, and the administration still supports an updated hate crimes bill that includes sexual orientation.

But the frustration is nevertheless palpable and patience is wearing thin. Today's gesture is a step, but it's only a step, in addressing the rift with supporters.

Steve Benen 4:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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ENSIGN, WHOA.... Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't much care what Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) does in his personal life. What he does in his bedroom is his business.

But the larger context of this story matters a great deal. Stupid personal mistakes are easily overlooked; breathtaking hypocrisy isn't.

Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), considered a rising star in the Republican Party, yesterday acknowledged an extramarital affair with a former campaign staffer who is married to one of the lawmaker's former legislative aides.

Ensign, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, disclosed the affair at a hastily arranged news briefing in Las Vegas, his home town.... "I deeply regret and am very sorry for my actions," Ensign said, reading from a prepared statement and leaving without taking questions.

The details of the affair are rather salacious -- Ensign was in a relationship for much of 2008 with a woman on his staff, who was married to a man who was also on his staff -- but those circumstances are really only relevant to the people directly involved in the relationship.

Of far greater interest is Ensign's hypocrisy. When Bill Clinton's adultery came to public light, Ensign not only voted to remove the president from office, but insisted the president should resign as a result of the personal scandal. When former Sen. Larry Craig was caught up in a sex scandal, Ensign not only called for Craig's ouster, but led the charge against him.

Ensign has also been a fierce opponent of marriage equality, and supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In 2004, the Nevada Republican lectured his colleagues, "Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded. For those who say that the Constitution is so sacred that we cannot or should not adopt the Federal Marriage Amendment, I would simply point out that marriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation."

And did I mention that Ensign is a longtime member of the Promise Keepers, a conservative evangelical group that promotes strong families and marriages?

Few really care about Ensign's private life. The story is relevant only insofar as the Republican lawmaker has spent much of his career touting "families values" and using his office to promote his version of sexual morality -- with standards he doesn't apply to himself.

For what it's worth, his previous statements regarding others notwithstanding, Ensign has said he does not intend to resign. He is not up for re-election until 2012.

Steve Benen 4:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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WELL, THAT WAS UNPLEASANT.... As you've probably noticed, the Washington Monthly was knocked offline for quite a while, and just recently recovered. Complicating matters slightly, the site was back up before I could get into the administrative page to add new content. But we seem to be back in business now -- except for maybe the comments section, which is still having some trouble.

I'm still a little sketchy on the details, but as I understand it, an unknown party attacked the site at some point last night, and did an enormous amount of damage. Thanks to a lot of hard work this morning, we're back up and ready to go. (If readers find unresolved tech problems, please let me know.) We appreciate all the supportive emails and tweets, as well as your patience.

Also, during the outage, I went ahead and wrote a bunch of posts that I would have published earlier were it not for the difficulties. Unfortunately, given the usual speed of the blogging news cycle, these posts now seem stale and dated, but since they're just sitting here, darn it all, I'm posting some of them anyway. (They were fresh and interesting when I wrote them nine hours ago. Honest.)

And now, back to the news....

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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June 16, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Each Country Is What It Is, And Not Another Country

There's an Eastern European theme developing on the right. Here's one version:

"Someday a future president may have to apologize to Iranians for Mr. Obama's nonfeasance, just as Mr. Obama apologized for the Eisenhower administration's meddling. But the better Eisenhower parallel is with Hungary in 1956. Then as now a popular uprising coalesced around a figure (Imre Nagy in Hungary; Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran), who had once been a creature of the system. Then as now it was buoyed by inspiring American rhetoric about freedom and democracy coming over Voice of America airwaves. And then as now the administration effectively turned its back on the uprising when U.S. support could have made a difference."

Here's another, contrasting Reagan's statements about the USSR with Obama's statements on Iran. And here's AllahPundit contrasting Obama with Reagan on Poland:

"Reagan took a stand on freedom, where Obama sounds desperate for engagement with the forces of oppression. Germany's Angela Merkel took a much tougher stand than Obama did, calling the oppression "totally unacceptable," while all Obama can say is that it's "deeply troubling".

It's the difference between leadership and management. Reagan led, and he inspired the Poles to continue the struggle that eventually helped free half of Europe from iron-fisted domination by the Soviet Union. Obama wants to manage the crisis to keep from having to lead. Big, big difference."

This parallel only works if you don't think about the details at all. In the 1980s, we had been opposed to the USSR for decades. The people of Eastern Europe were opposed to it too: the USSR was, after all, occupying their countries. While we might not have taken up their cause as clearly as some people would have liked, we had never oppressed them; our adversary had. Our support was therefore generally welcomed.

Iran is, of course, a different story entirely. We can debate whether we or the British played the biggest role in toppling the Mossadegh government, but it is beyond debate that we played a crucial role in the overthrow of Iran's last fully democratic government. We then kept in power a dictator who terrorized the Iranian people and squandered their resources for over a quarter of a century, and who maintained a secret police, which we helped train, that killed thousands, and used torture methods including "electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails."

Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, we have been consistently hostile to the Iranian government. We have maintained economic sanctions against them, and now have troops more or less surrounding their country. We spent the last few years threatening to bomb them, and saying ludicrous things about real men going to Tehran.

I am not saying any of this because I want to get into the pros and cons of our Iran policy. That's not relevant to my point, which is just this: we are not very popular in Iran.

And that is why comparisons to Reagan and Eastern Europe are ludicrous. We can debate how important Reagan's various pronouncements about Eastern Europe were, but I do not recall anyone suggesting that they would not be welcomed by Eastern European dissidents, or would harm their cause. In this case, they could do real harm, which is why no Iranian human rights activists and opposition leaders that I'm aware of have called on Obama to speak out.

Question: do the people who make these arguments not know this? If they don't -- if they really believe that the question how Obama should respond is in any way like the question how Reagan should have responded to Eastern Europe -- then they are completely ignorant of Iran's history, and have no business commenting at all.

If they do know this, then either they genuinely believe that Obama ought to come out in favor of the protesters or they don't. In the first case, I think they are deeply unwise. (Matt Yglesias on McCain: "a dangerous madman whose ideas would risk incredibly suffering and destruction around the world.") In the second, they are advocating a policy that they know would harm the demonstrators they claim to support, demonstrators who are risking their lives. That would be deeply cynical, and vile beyond belief.

Hilzoy 10:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* If the ruling regime in Iran hoped the idea of a partial recount would help diffuse some of the anger among voters who feel betrayed, the regime was clearly mistaken.

* Iranian officials today also banned all foreign news reporting from the streets. An NBC News producer was, however, "able to report from the scene of a rally in central Tehran that plainclothes militia were beating pro-reform protesters with sticks. Some of the plainclothes officials were chanting, 'Death to America.'"

* If our political system made sense, the "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" report would spark immediate interest in an ambitious new energy policy.

* AP: "Declaring North Korea a 'grave threat' to the world, President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged the U.S. and its allies will aggressively enforce fresh international penalties against the nuclear-armed nation and stop rewarding its leaders for repeated provocations. In a display of unity with South Korea's leader, Obama said the world must break a pattern in which North Korea puts the globe on edge, only to put itself in line for concessions if it holds out long enough."

* Dennis Ross is, in fact, moving to the National Security Council from the State Department.

* No bailout for California.

* The New York Times editorial board took the administration to task today on its support, or lack thereof, on GLBT issues. "The administration," the editorial explained, "needs a new direction on gay rights."

* On a related note, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today "a number of senators" are working on a measure to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the chamber would "welcome a legislative proposal from the White House on repeal so as to provide clear guidance on what the President would like to see and when."

* The Bush White House believed its visitor logs were private presidential records, and therefore not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Apparently, the Obama White House has come to the same conclusion.

* If the Washington Times would at least pretend to tell its readers the truth, it would be far less embarrassing.

* CNBC's Erin Burnett makes little effort to hide her antipathy for liberals, but to compare the Employee Free Choice Act to the Iranian presidential election is ridiculous, even for her.

* I guess the feud between Palin and Letterman is just about over?

* And Time's Joe Klein comments on the latest rhetoric from the neocons: "The point is, neoconservatives like McCain and Wehner just can't seem to quit their dangerous habit of making broad, extreme statements based on ideology rather than detailed knowledge of the situation in Iran and elsewhere. This was always the main problem with McCain's candidacy -- he would have been a trigger-happy President, just as Wehner's old boss, George W. Bush, was. We are well out of that."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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PENCE'S POOR PLAN.... George W. Bush's top negotiator with Iran, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, believes President Obama has shown sound judgment by showing restraint in the midst of developments in Iran. Burns told NPR, "President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see aggressive statements, a series of statements, from the United States which try to put the U.S. at the center of this, and I think President Obama is avoiding that, quietly rightly."

Leave it to congressional Republicans to try step in and give Ahmadinejad the rhetorical life-preserver he's been waiting for. Here's a statement this afternoon from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the #3 leader in the House Republican conference, on his new congressional resolution on the Iranian election.

"Today I'm introducing a resolution that ... express its concern regarding the reported irregularities of the presidential election of 12 June, 2009. It will condemn the violence against demonstrators by pro-government militia in Tehran in the wake of the elections. It will affirm our belief in the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections. And lastly, and most importantly, it will express the support of the American people for all Iranian citizens who struggle for freedom, civil liberties and the protection of the rule of law."

Adam Blickstein's response was spot on.

There is nothing that the very people Pence is decrying would like more than to show how this is an "us versus America" battle and paint the dissidents and Mousavi as tools of the American government. And creating at least an appearance of disunity in the American government provides ample ammunition for the regime and Ahmadinajad government to do just that. Pence is treading on some pretty dangerous ground, and he will invariably become a talking point for the thugs and Iranian officials who are attacking the opposition and embarking on violent suppression of dissident Iranians. I just hope Pence understands that political posturing like this should stop at the water's edge, especially when thousands of lives and the future of a nation are at stake.

This note, from an Andrew Sullivan reader, also reinforces the sense that Obama has it right, and his detractors have it wrong: "I'm an Iranian living in Canada. A few hours ago I talked to my brother who is a student at Sharif University, he was at the big rally yesterday and they were only feet away from Karoubi when they marched from the university entrance to Azadi square. He asked what had Obama had said and I started reading the transcript. When I got to 'the United States can be a handy political football, or discussions with the United States [can be]' my brother sighed and said thank God this guy gets it."

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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DELIBERATE OBTUSENESS.... Did you happen to catch Jonah Golberg's column in the LA Times today? It's about Golberg's desire to see President Obama intervene -- in some ambiguous, undefined way -- in support of protestors in Iran.

Reportedly, you are biding your time, waiting to see what happens, as if it is a great mystery. Your campaign lived and breathed YouTube. Check it now, check it often. You and your team promised "soft power" and "smart power." Well, let's see some of that. Because by not clearly picking a side, it appears you have chosen the wrong side.

Do you fear antagonizing the powers-that-be in Iran? That ship has sailed. Though I am sure they're grateful for your eagerness not to roil the seas around them. Is it because you think "leader of the free world" is just another of those Cold War relics best mothballed in favor of a more cosmopolitan and universal awe at your own story?

"Enough about those people bleeding in the street. What do you think of me?" Is that how it is to be?

Kevin Drum added, "Obama really drives conservatives to the loony bin, doesn't he?"

Apparently, yes. Goldberg's column -- not just some quick blog post at The Corner, but an actual print piece, published in one of the nation's largest newspapers, presumably read by an editor or two -- goes on and on, paragraph after paragraph, imploring the president to "take the side of democracy" and "lift a finger for democracy."

It's not that Goldberg finds the administration's perspective unpersuasive, rejecting arguments about U.S. intervention undermining Mousavi and helping Ahmadinejad. Goldberg doesn't even bother to acknowledge this reality.

Maybe Goldberg hasn't heard that playing a more active role would be counter-productive to U.S. interests? Maybe he has heard but found these pesky details inconvenient to the point (I use the word loosely) he hoped to make?

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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BOEHNER'S BUMBLING IMF BLATHER.... House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is leading his caucus in opposition to funding for U.S. troops this week, based on money in the spending bill for the International Monetary Fund. To fund the IMF, the GOP leader says, is to support a "global bailout."

It's interesting, then, to take a closer look at Boehner's record on the issue.

That wasn't Boehner's tune in 1998, when the Clinton administration requested $18 billion in IMF funding to ameliorate the effects of the Asian financial crisis.

"I have been as critical about the IMF as many, but given the crisis we have around the world, the U.S. needs to provide leadership," the Ohio Republican told the [Newark, N.J.] Star Ledger in Oct. 1998. "The only real avenue is the IMF."

His comments were in keeping with the rest of the House GOP leadership at the time, including then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said the US had "an obligation to work with" the fund.

A Boehner spokesman responded that the "world of 2009 is very different from the world of 1998." That's true -- the IMF investment is more important now.

Indeed, let's not brush past that too quickly. Yes, it's ridiculous to see the House Republican vote against funding the troops during two wars. And sure, it's great to contrast his opposition to IMF funding now with his enthusiastic support for IMF funding a decade ago.

But Boehner's argument, in addition to being hypocritical and dishonest, is also wildly wrong and irresponsible. As Matt Yglesias explained earlier, "It now looks like [the global economy] might start getting better. But it's possible that some "other shoe" or two may drop -- most likely the meltdown of an Eastern European country -- and the IMF exists to stop that kind of thing from happening."

Boehner's failure works on several levels.

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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NEW MEDIA, OLD RACISM.... Republican Party leaders have gone to great lengths to urge party activists to use tools like Twitter and Facebook to get their political message out. On the one hand, the GOP's rank-and-file have paid attention and taken the leaders' advice. On the other hand, it's the messages that have become, shall we say, problematic.

Yesterday, it was a prominent South Carolina Republican who used his Facebook page to liken First Lady Michelle Obama to an escaped gorilla. (He proceeded to blame Obama for his comparison.)

Today, a different prominent South Carolina Republican operative had shared this all-caps message via Twitter:

Just heard Obama is going to impose a 40% tax on aspirin because it's white and it works.

He later acknowledged that his comments "were hurtful, wrong and have no place in civil discourse."

And making matters slightly worse, this comes the same day a Republican staffer for a Tennessee state senator emailed a "composite picture of the country's 44 presidents, which represents President Obama with only a set of eyes," in what was clearly another racist message. The staffer backpedaled, not by denouncing the racist image, but by explaining she sent the email to the wrong list of people.

I suspect this isn't what Michael Steele had in mind when he vowed Republicans would go "beyond cutting edge" in using technology.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (93)

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TO WHAT END?.... For all the far-right hand-wringing about whether President Obama is doing "enough" to intervene in Iran, I still don't know what, exactly, conservatives think will happen if the administration takes a harder line.

Dave Weigel has a great report today on neocons and congressional Republicans who are making all kinds of demands, without much in the way of depth.

The president, they argue, has an opening -- if not a responsibility -- to make a statement on the elections that aligns the United States with reformist elements inside of Iran. Monday began with a few disconnected critiques of the president's silence, and ended with calls for a bold Obama statement from leading neoconservatives and one of the Republican Party's most prominent leaders in the House.

The Heritage Foundation, Michael Ledeen, Daniel Pipes (who had recently rooted for an outright Ahmadinejad victory), and a variety of leading congressional Republicans keep making oblique demands. Obama should "act." The U.S. should "show resolve." The president needs to "support" Iranians.

I keep wanting to hear these activists answer the follow-up question: and then what?

If the president issued a sweeping condemnation of the Iranian political process, what do the neocons and other Republicans see happening? Iranians might take to the streets to protest their government? Call me crazy, but I think they've already done this. Demonstrators aren't waiting for the U.S. president to give them a green light. Indeed, you also might have noticed that Iranian protestors haven't called out for more U.S. support at all.

By now, the policy dynamic is no doubt familiar. The more the president pushes, the more it helps Ahmadinejad. It's why so many foreign policy experts have lauded Obama's restraint -- because to do what his conservative detractors want would be to run the risk of "making things a lot worse," as Gary Sick, a former National Security Council expert on Iran in the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, put it.

With that in mind, the president appeared alongside South Korea's Lee Myung-bak this morning at the White House and reminded his audience that "it's not productive" for the U.S. president "to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections." Obama added, however, that he has "deep concerns about the election," and expressed distress over the "violence directed at peaceful protesters."

The president went on to say that "something has happened in Iran.... How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something for the Iranian people to decide."

The right will no doubt continue to complain. Given that they've been wrong about practically every foreign policy issue for decades, and that their advice here is backwards, here's hoping the White House ignores them.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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A 'PRESCRIPTION' FOR A MANUFACTURED CONTROVERSY.... A week from tomorrow, President Obama will sit down with ABC News' Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer for a prime-time discussion on health care policy. It's scheduled to be called "Questions for the President: Prescription for America."

It doesn't seem like the kind of interview/forum that would spark a controversy. A national debate on health care policy is beginning; Americans have concerns; and the president is apparently anxious to explore this in more depth. Gibson and Sawyer will no doubt ask plenty of pointed questions, and Obama will have plenty of GOP talking points to respond to. What's more, ABC, in addition to the assembled audience, will reportedly work with Digg to let viewers have input into which questions get asked.

Sounds like a reasonable approach to a major policy debate? Well, it depends on who you ask.

The RNC and conservative blogs in general are outraged by the discussion. Drudge insisted earlier that ABC is "turn[ing] its programming over to President Obama and White House officials to push government run health care," adding that "the media and government [will] become one."

Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Ken McKay wrote to ABC News last night, calling the health care discussion with Obama "astonishing," because viewers will be hearing from the president, and not members of the congressional minority party. McKay suggested the program may "become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat [sic] agenda" (yes, even in formal correspondence, the RNC uses incorrect grammar, on purpose) and demanded that "the Republican Party ... be included in this primetime event."

Kerry Smith, ABC News' senior VP, responded to the RNC today.

...ABC News announced plans to broadcast a primetime hour from the White House devoted to exploring and probing the President's position and giving voice to questions and criticisms of that position. We hope that any American concerned about health care will find our efforts to be informative, fair and civil.

Second, ABC News prides itself on covering all sides of important issues and asking direct questions of all newsmakers -- of all political persuasions -- even when others have taken a more partisan approach and even in the face of criticism from extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. ABC News is looking for the most thoughtful and diverse voices on this issue. ABC News alone will select those who will be in the audience asking questions of the president. Like any programs we broadcast, ABC News will have complete editorial control. To suggest otherwise is quite unfair to both our journalists and our audience.

Third, there already has been extensive coverage of the upcoming health care debates, on ABC and elsewhere, and there will be much, much more. Indeed, we've already had many critics of the President's health care proposals on the air -- and that's before a real plan has even been put before the country.

I suspect the RNC and its allies are just trying to work the refs, hoping that by throwing a fit now, they can push Gibson and Sawyer to push more absurd questions during the program.

In the end, though, it seems like a rather strange thing for Republican activists to get worked up about.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Just as the Republican establishment was solidifying its support for Charlie Crist's Senate race in Florida, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) indicated he would break with the leadership and throw his support to former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, running to Crist's right.

* As expected, Arlen Specter will enjoy the backing of the Democratic establishment, as evidenced by a fundraiser DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez will host for Specter in NYC later this month. Rep. Joe Sestak (D), meanwhile, is staffing up for a primary campaign.

* President Obama lent his name to a fundraising email issued yesterday in support of Creigh Deeds' gubernatorial campaign in Virginia.

* Despite his recent controversy involving China, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is still planning to launch a statewide campaign.

* Tea Party activist Tom Cox is launching a Republican Senate campaign in Arkansas. Cox has never held or sought public office.

* In Kansas' open Senate race, Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt continue to run neck in neck.

* And finally, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) has all but ruled out a gubernatorial campaign in Minnesota next year, but the wacky lawmaker told Minnesota Public Radio that she's still considering the possibility.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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IT'S A GOOD THING HE LOST.... John McCain, the one who lost the last presidential election, has been very aggressive over the last 24 hours, demanding that President Obama do more to intervene in Iranian affairs. It's less clear how McCain wants to see his former rival do.

Yesterday, McCain told Fox News he expects to see the administration "act," because, "We are for human rights all over the world." This morning, McCain was on NBC's "Today" show, pushing some more, insisting that Obama "should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election and that the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights."

And also this morning, in an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper via Twitter, McCain said the White House should call for a new Iranian election. The Arizona Republican added, "USA always stands for freedom and democracy!! ... [I]f we are steadfast eventually the Iranian people will prevail."

Putting aside reasonable questions about the relevance of McCain's constant and reflexive Obama criticism, and putting aside McCain's lack of credibility on foreign policy issues in general, McCain's specific critiques just don't stand up well to scrutiny. Matt Yglesias had a great item on this earlier:

[W]e can say clearly that the guy is a dangerous madman whose ideas would risk incredibly suffering and destruction around the world. ... His twitterview today with Jake Tapper is full of examples as he talks about Iran not so much as an actual country full of actual people doing actual things in a difficult situation, but instead as a kind of phantasmagoric canvass onto which we should paint a tableau of American hubris and militarism. [...]

Whether or not the Iranian people prevail [according to McCain] depends on how steadfast we are. How steadfast we are in what? In wishing them well? In tweeting mean things about the Iranian security services?

McCain, in other words, understands developments in Iran about as well as Eric Cantor. That's not a good thing.

For what it's worth, Sen. Dick Lugar (R) of Indiana told CBS News this morning that Obama is doing the right thing by allowing the Iranians "to work out their situation." Lugar added that it would be unwise for the United States "to become heavily involved in the election at this point."

Here's hoping McCain was paying attention.

Update: George W. Bush's top negotiator with Iran, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, also thinks Obama is doing the right thing here, and added that an approach advocated by McCain would play into Ahmadinejad's hands.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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THE CBO ON HELP.... It was the kind of news that opponents of health care reform were no doubt thrilled to see. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) late yesterday published an estimate of the costs associated with the Kennedy/Dodd health care bill, crafted within the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

The results were ugly: the measure, as reviewed by the CBO, "would cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years yet leave tens of millions of people uninsured." Not exactly the kind of legislative package that would generate widespread public support.

If this CBO scoring doesn't sound right, there's a good reason for that. Republican hyperventilating notwithstanding, Jonathan Cohn explains why all of this is premature.

Imagine you were trying to build your dream house and the architect gave you a status report. The design still wasn't finished: He hadn't sketched out the plumbing, the wiring, and the roof. But, he said, he could tell how much it would cost to build what he'd already designed.

You'd be curious about the number; it might offer some hints about how much the house would cost in the end. But you wouldn't spent too much time dwelling on it since, after all, the final price was going to be much different.

Well, that's the same attitude you should take about the estimates of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee bill that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) delivered yesterday.... The Senate HELP bill is not yet finished. Like the house design without the plumbing, wiring, and roof, the HELP bill is missing several key elements that would dramatically change the final estimate.

The question then becomes what led to yesterday's CBO results. Why would the HELP committee send over an incomplete bill? Ezra Klein noted, Dems hoped to buy some extra time while working on building some bipartisan agreement. "The HELP Committee's expectation was that the CBO, in crafting its preliminary estimates, would assume something similar to the outline it had seen months before," Ezra explained. "The CBO didn't. In fact, it did the opposite. CBO ran its estimates with no employer mandate and an individual mandate with a laughably small penalty. Members of HELP were shocked by yesterday's estimate. The bill that CBO scored did not look much like the bill they intend to write. Which means that the numbers aren't correct. If HELP is writing a bill with a strong employer and individual mandate, and CBO scores a bill with no employer mandate and a weak individual mandate, it's not clear where that estimate leaves us."

In other words, don't believe the headlines and definitely don't believe the Republicans using this as a reason to oppose reform.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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MAYBE RICHARD COHEN HEARD A DIFFERENT SPEECH.... The point of Richard Cohen's latest column is to condemn what he sees as the routine anti-Semitism that exists in the Middle East. But in the process, the columnist admonished President Obama for not doing more to combat these anti-Semitic ideas during his recent visit to the region.

"In his remarkable speech at Cairo University, President Obama only inferentially mentioned this aspect of what has become an ugly part of the Middle East: a tolerance for and advocacy of old-style anti-Semitism," Cohen chided.

Obviously, whether Cohen liked the president's speech is up to him, but I heard the same remarks, and far from "only inferentially" mentioning pervasive anti-Semitism, I thought Obama actually did the opposite.

"Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the peop