Saturday, March 14, 2009

Acid recriminations: The media's new narrative against Obama, pushed by David Broder and the WaPo

By Michael J.W. Stickings

On its front page today, The Washington Post chides President Obama for "[reminding] the public at every turn that he is facing problems 'inherited' from the Bush administration, using increasingly bracing language to describe the challenges his administration is up against." This, the Post stresses, goes against what he said in his Inaugural Address -- as well as throughout much of the campaign, which featured similar post-partisan rhetoric -- in which he called for "an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics." In the Post's view, the "recriminations" are back, which is to say, all that pre-Obama partisanism is back, and it's Obama's fault.

Also in the Post today, as if to drive the anti-Obama point home, David Broder argues that Obama's honeymoon is over. He doesn't blame Obama as directly as the front-page story, but he focuses his attention on Democrats in Congress, as if the Democrats are the problem, falls in line behind soft Obama critics David Ignatius of the Post and David Brooks of the Times, and notes that there are some who think that Obama "has bitten off more than he can chew," a view that Broder, a long-time member of a media establishment that holds Republicans to a far easier standard than Democrats, a centrist who leans right, seems to share.

Broder is a waste of time. He's one of the most predictable pundits in a world where most pundits are appallingly predictable. That he's taking a line against Obama comes as no surprise. The punditocracy, at both the Post and the Times, and elsewhere, has decided on the new narrative, that Obama is already an embattled president, that his (Republican) critics are more or less right, and Broder is nothing if not the personification of the conventional wisdom of the mainstream punditocracy.

As for the front-page nonsense, I think Steve Benen, as usual, is right: "The problem, if I'm reading the article right, isn't that the president is saying anything untrue. Rather, we're dealing with a dynamic in which one president hands off a catastrophe -- several catastrophes, actually -- to a successor, and the successor isn't supposed to talk about it. Wilson [the article's author] chides Obama [yes, I see that Steve and I have chosen the same verb] for using 'acid' reminders, offering 'partisan' defenses, sounding 'petty.' To highlight his point, Wilson pointed to the president saying recently that 'we've inherited a terrible mess.' That doesn't sound especially 'acid,' 'partisan,' or 'petty' to me." Nor to me.

But I do think that Steve is under-representing the point of the article. It isn't just that Obama shouldn't talk about what is true, namely, that Obama inherited the mess from Bush, but that Obama isn't living up to his own rhetoric, that Obama is to blame for the return of a climate of "recriminations" in Washington.

And while I agree with Steve that "[t]he point of articles like these seems to be freeing Bush of accountability and responsibility for his devastating failures," I would add that another point is to free Republicans of accountability and responsibility both for their rhetoric and their actions thus far in Obama's presidency. Consider, after all, that it is Republicans who have been so deeply partisan, so deeply divisive, so deeply obstructionist. Obama tried to work with Republicans on the stimulus package, but what did he get? Every single Republican in the House voted against it, while only three moderate Republicans in the Senate voted for it, three (Collins, Snowe, and Specter) who find themselves alienated in their own party. Meanwhile, Dear Leader Rush and the rest of the conservative GOP base have been hurling smears at Obama ("socialist!" "communist!"), admitting that they want Obama (and hence efforts to revive the economy) to fail, and tossing around anti-Obama conspiracy theories (that he wasn't born in the U.S., for example). And yet it is Obama who gets criticized on the front page of the Post for saying that he inherited a mess? Crazy.

And just more of the same from a media establishment -- with Broder and the Post right at the center, a media establishment that the right claims is liberal but that is really just corporate, myopic, and gullible -- that swallows Republican talking points whole and that already has it in for Obama.

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Chew 'em if you got 'em!

By J. Thomas Duffy

If we wanted to be snarky about it, we could use this post to herald The New York Times, on its op-ed page, coming out and endorsing cocaine.

For today, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, is on the page with a informative piece:

Let Me Chew My Coca Leaves

THIS week in Vienna, a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place that will help shape international antidrug efforts for the next 10 years. I attended the meeting to reaffirm Bolivia’s commitment to this struggle but also to call for the reversal of a mistake made 48 years ago.

In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine — thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic — and ordered that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention.” Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.

President Morales notes that many have been "criminals" for the past eight-years, citing the "absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples," before giving us a bit of a science (and social) lesson:

Many plants have small quantities of various chemical compounds called alkaloids. One common alkaloid is caffeine, which is found in more than 50 varieties of plants, from coffee to cacao, and even in the flowers of orange and lemon trees. Excessive use of caffeine can cause nervousness, elevated pulse, insomnia and other unwanted effects.

Another common alkaloid is nicotine, found in the tobacco plant. Its consumption can lead to addiction, high blood pressure and cancer; smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States. Some alkaloids have important medicinal qualities. Quinine, for example, the first known treatment for malaria, was discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru in the bark of the cinchona tree.

The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.

Just think of the global, economic boon there could be if Bolivia, and other Andeans, could mass-market the coca leaf.

Maxwell House could get into the action with "Good to the last chew."

Winston, also plastering billboards: "Tastes good, like a coca leaf should."

Certs can make a comeback, go retro, and offer this: "You get two, two, two coca leafs in one."

And let's not forget Billy Mays, to corner graveyard television, with one of those shouting informercials, touting some new coca leaf product that will shine your car, stitch your clothes, or wash your entire house while you go to the market.

President Morales also enlightens us:

It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.

No addiction ... Fights obesity ...

With coca offering "energy during long days of labor," countries around the world will experience increased productivity, inproving their GDP and export markets.

Sounds like tremendous upside to this little leaf.

Start plowing the fields down there, El Presidente Evo!

Listen for the voice, the whispering but booming voice, that says:

"If you grow it, they will come," "Go the distance," and "Ease our pain."

With a little bit of make-up, maybe Kevin Costner can play you in the movie.

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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The Group of Twenty

By Carol Gee

The G-20 is hosted by the United Kingdom in 2009, and it consists of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. They met Saturday in Horsham in southern England. Membership includes:

The G20 is made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and The European Union who is represented by the rotating Council presidency and the European Central Bank. To ensure global economic fora and institutions work together, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the President of the World Bank, plus the chairs of the International Monetary and Financial Committee and Development Committee of the IMF and World Bank, also participate in G-20 meetings on an ex-officio basis.

Working groups -- the UK . . . has established four working groups to advance this work for the next Leaders Summit on 2 April in London. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was optimistic world leaders would reach an agreement at next month's G20 summit in London, despite signs of rifts between Europe and the United States. The workings groups focus on:

  1. Enhancing sound regulation and strengthening transparency

  2. Reinforcing international co-operation and promoting integrity in financial markets

  3. Reforming the IMF

  4. The World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs)

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner issued a statement and a G-20 Fact sheet (pdf-4). Secretary Geithner's demand for larger stimulus packages from other countries was dropped in favor of language emphasizing the good cooperation among the countries. There was not yet a commitment to put more money into the International Monetary Fund. The meeting's news, according to the Saturday The New York Times, is generally neutral to positive. To quote:

Finance officials from rich and developing countries pledged to boost the role of the International Monetary Fund and make a ''sustained effort'' to restore global growth after a key conference that sought to bridge deep divisions on how to tackle the financial crisis.

The key priority must be restoring frozen bank lending through cash infusions and dealing with the shaky assets souring bank's balance sheets, the gathered finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 countries said in a statement at the end of talks in southern England.

The statement did not back a U.S. push for concrete, coordinated efforts for governments to spend more money to boost their economies. It acknowledged the importance of the stimulus efforts already in place, and called for stronger financial regulation.

Other news and views --BBC News has good coverage of the "nuts and bolts" of the gathering, including a Communique and Key Agreements. The story from China's point of view can be found at the China Daily. For the best in depth analysis of the meeting's modest outcomes, turn to the Financial Times, my favorite newspaper.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Republicans keep laser beam like focus on economy

By Creature

Or not...

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Florida, introduced legislation this week requiring candidates to produce a birth certificate to be eligible to run in future presidential elections [...]

Limbaugh would be proud.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Reaction in review (March 13, 2009)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:

Just this week -- Note that (See also-dates) refer to another post by the author that is related, or also well worth reading.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Reflections on the Stewart-Cramer interview" -- The interview really caught a lot of peoples' attention and Michael analyzes its true impact in a very effective way. (See also 3/12)


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Laura Ingraham, asshole extraordinaire" -- Michael, and rightly so, takes on a right-winger's cheap criticism of Meghan McCain, blogger daughter of Senator John McCain. (See also 3/9)

By LindaBeth: "WaPo blogger Cillizza implies Obama's Council on Women and Girls is not addressing gender issues" -- This well-done piece takes apart Cillizza's shallow, dismissive and stereotypical thinking, point by point. (See also 3/13)

By Creature: "Metaphors instead of policy" -- This succinct post absolutely "nails" the idiocy of Republican criticism of President Obama's current policies and actions.

By Libby Spencer: "How to win the war on some drugs" -- Libby argues that the only way to end the turf war is to shut down the black market by legalizing drugs and treat addictions clinically, as a public health issue.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Trouble in Palin's Paradise: Bristol and Levi split up" -- Michael concludes, ". . . it's hard not to think of this whole sad, sorry affair as yet another case of the inevitable breaking through the facade of right-wing moralism and hypocrisy."

By Michael J. W. Stikings: "Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXXXVIII, and LXXXIX" -- Michael explores the "enormous task" faced by the Iraqis when U.S. troops leave this "deeply divided and deeply violent place."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Good riddance, Chas Freeman" -- This very well done post makes sense of the controversy surrounding Freeman's withdrawal from consideration to serve as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, concluding "liberals everywhere should have objected to his nomination."


By Carl: "Just a coincidence, I'm sure" -- Carl raises some interesting questions about what really happened in the car crash in Zimbabwe that killed Mrs. Tsvangirai, wife of the man who is supposed to join a Robert Mugabe unity government. (See also 3/9)

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "In with the new, out with the signing statements" -- In this thoughtful post Michael argues for something more than "just trusting" any President Obama signing statements.

By Mike McNerney: "
Justice at Gitmo: An eyewitness account of the military commissions process" -- Our guest author from the Truman Project writes from a fascinating and unique perspective about his observation of the Gitmo military commissions.


By Mustang Bobby: "Had enough?" -- Bobby, with a very well written post about the dust-ups in the Republican party, makes this important point, ". . . I'd rather have the discussion and debate in this country be a fair match rather than giving into one-party rule." (See also 3/13)

By Carol Gee: "No one is above the law" -- This post discusses the dilemmas faced by Justice Department lawyers, who may be on shaky ground as they make arguments supporting Bush's previous legal positions.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Around the World: Darfur/Sudan, the United Kingdom, France, Iran, and Turkey" -- Michael rounds up a number of very interesting tidbits from faraway places.

Creature Feature: "By the numbers" -- 18 (% of lost American wealth-2008); 30 (% up, foreclosures in Feb.); 39 (% happy with Congress, up 20% since Jan.); 587 ($ in billions current net bank losses in mortgage derivatives).

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Reflections on the Stewart-Cramer interview

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(My initial reaction is here. Watch the interview here.)

Last night, as you know, Jon Stewart took down Jim Cramer and exposed the ridiculousness of the stock-happy, CEO-coddling business media, as well as the malfeasance of master manipulators like Cramer. It was an amazing and utterly one-sided debate, with Stewart coming out easily on top, and it made for some amazing television.

There is nothing "faux" about Stewart. He may be self-deprecating, and he may often shield his his seriousness of purpose behind his comedian persona, and behind his unwillingness to take himself too seriously, but he and his show -- which isn't "fake," journalistically or otherwise -- are far more real, and far more honest, than just about anything else in the media. (And so it isn't surprising that many in the media, threatened and insecure, continue to write him off as "fake.")

With most in the media unable and unwilling to do what they are supposed to do, so beholden are they to their corporate masters (and so much a part of the problem, especially in Washington and New York), Jon Stewart has become one of America's leading commentators. This is why so many people turn to him night after night -- and why, last night, it fell to him to take on not just Cramer but what Cramer represents, Cramer's whole world. Who or what else is there out there? There are a few in print, yes, and more online, but on television? PBS, 60 Minutes, which has its moments, and, like Stewart, others who don't have the platform of a major network. It isn't cable news, that's for sure. CNBC, Cramer's network, is precisely what Stewart was exposing. MSNBC, another part of the pro-Cramer NBC family -- well, it is being reported that MSNBC intentionally avoided the Stewart-Cramer interview today, apparently not wanting to highlight Cramer's failure. CNN doesn't know what it's doing much of the time, and Fox News, well, you know where Fox stands on all this, firmly against Stewart and fully dominated by right-wing ideology.

I disagree entirely with the Times's Alessandra Stanley, who wrote today that Stewart's "point was not to hear Mr. Cramer out, but to act out a cathartic ritual of indignation and castigation." No, his point was to speak the truth to a liar and a fraud, and he did just that. Stanley obviously didn't get it, perhaps because of her own right-wing inclinations, and her piece is full of anti-Stewart nonsense. She even claims, evidently out of her mind, that he has "always had a messianic streak to his political satire." Apparently some people can't handle the truth, or what nothing to do with it.

That applies to Stanley and to others like U.S. News blogger James Pethokoukis, who alleges that "Stewart really doesn't believe in the idea of a stock market where individuals can go to invest their money and build wealth over the long term." This is just crazy. How is Stewart against the market? He isn't against it, just as he isn't against long-term investment, he's against, to repeat, the stock-happy, CEO-coddling business media and the malfeasance of master manipulators like Cramer. Not that that matters to the right, for which any criticism even of the excesses of the market amounts to an assault on the very foundations of capitalism. So Obama is written off as a "socialist," even though he is nothing of the kind, and Stewart is similarly dismissed as an anti-market "liberal." It's all so silly, but the smears are hugely popular among conservatives, who seem to accept dishonesty, fraud, and corruption in the market without much concern.

As for me, I agree with James Fallows: Jon Stewart is the new Edward R. Murrow. And, after last night, I will watch him with even greater pride and admiration than ever.

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By Creature

That's the percentage of wealth Americans lost in 2008. It's a loss totaling $11 trillion after an unprecedented boom during the years before. And, I'm sad to say, after never having a 401k until a few short years ago, some of my cash is included in that bust number. If only I had participated in the boom, then maybe I wouldn't feel so betrayed by the bust. Or something.


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The first crack in taking down DOMA

By Mustang Bobby

A couple of recent court rulings are going to make President Obama live up to his campaign promise to "fight hard" for equal rights for gay couples.
Just seven weeks into office, President Obama is being forced to confront one of the most sensitive social and political issues of the day: whether the government must provide health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers.

But the federal Office of Personnel Management has instructed insurers not to provide the benefits ordered by the judges, citing a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act.

While I can appreciate the political risks from both sides -- side with the courts and risk pissing off the right wing; follow DOMA and alienate the LGBT people who helped him win the election -- it really shouldn't be a question of political benefits, even though that's the way the world works.

Regardless of what President Obama does, it's a given that he will never mollify the "social conservatives" (i.e. the anti-gay lobby). And since the president has already taken the stand that he's not in favor of gay marriage, he's not going to make all of the people in the gay community happy no matter what he does, either. So he might as well go along with the court rulings, using them as the leverage to make the case to Congress to repeal parts if not all of the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was probably the most blatantly bigoted piece of legislation to come out of Congress in the last generation.
In adopting the Defense of Marriage Act, Congress said the government had a legitimate interest in “defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage.”

But Judge Reinhardt said the denial of benefits to same-sex spouses would not encourage gay men and lesbians to marry members of the opposite sex or discourage same-sex marriages.

“So the denial cannot be said to nurture or defend the institution of heterosexual marriage,” the judge wrote.

Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values, a conservative advocacy group, said that if Mr. Obama extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers, he would “provoke a furious grass-roots reaction, reinvigorate the conservative coalition and undermine his efforts to portray himself as a moderate on social issues.”

Oh, how frightening to be threatened with a hissy-fit from Gary Bauer. If anything, that kind of bleating from that sanctimonious twerp confirms that extending benefits to same-sex partners is exactly the right thing to do.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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The changing political demographics in the U.S.

By LindaBeth

New report out on the changing political demographics in the U.S. from Ruy Teixeira for the Center for American Progress.

Open Left's summary of the first third of the report:

  • The white working class is no longer the dominant swing vote
  • The white working class isn't even a swing vote, as Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and Obama performed the same with that group.
  • America will no longer be a majority white Christian nation by 2016 .
  • All demographic growth is with Democrats.
  • The previous four statements signal the end of the culture wars.
  • The previous five statements point to a vastly increased Democratic base vote.
It's worth a read.

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Half-way to a hundred --

By Carol Gee

The Obama administration's first 50 days has been characterized in part by "transparency," by high expectations from the public for a quick fix to its ailing economy, by the synthesis of a number of policies into a single, long-term budget plan, by an apparently change-oriented approach to national security, and by its amazing speed of action.

President Obama's transition to a "transparent" administration started with his inaugural address, and progressed quickly after that. The Obama administration was instructed on January 20 and 21 that it would be doing business in the sunlight. Memos were issued on transparency and open government, as well as how the Freedom of Information Act was to be implemented. The MSM coverage continues to benefit from that transparent governing style, but that brings with it the likelihood of quick criticism of whatever the administration does.

There are those who see the future of capitalism* in President Barack Obama's hands. A recent WSJ/ABC poll of economists revealed some dissatisfaction with the administrations handling of the economy to date. Responses pointed particularly to delays in enacting key elements, that have led to uncertainty about the bank rescue plan. If the criticism came from Wall Street from the beginning, it also came from Republicans in Congress.

President Obama has used a policy-based budgeting style. The GOP has launched a united attack on President Obama's budget, CQ Politics reports (3/11/09). They plan to challenge the assumptions and content in President Obama’s budget and offer alternatives," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana). In general congressional Republicans have resisted everything the administration has proposed. They have adopted a "just say 'no' " approach, and have remained fixed in the post 9/11 reactive view that all that matters is the "War on Terrorism."

While congressional hearings in recent days have highlighted the persistent threat of terrorism, our chief spy master , Director of National Intelligence, Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, says, "It's the economy [as the main] intelligence" issue according to CQ Politics (3/7/09). The article raises the question of whether the intelligence community is up to the task of gathering the requisite amount of economic intelligence information. To quote:

. . . a reeling world economy [is] again forcing economic matters to the forefront of intelligence concerns. In an annual global threat briefing to Congress, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in prepared remarks that “the primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis.”

After seven years of intelligence community reports that placed a heavy emphasis on terrorism, Blair’s declaration was a “sea change,” said John Parachini, director of the Intelligence Policy Center at the Rand Corp.

Who knows what the next 50 will bring as the president reaches the magical "first 100 days" mark. With the fast pace adopted by President Obama, it is a big challenge to remain abreast of what is happening. Among several other e-mail resources, I rely on this national security newsletter from Congressional Quarterly - Behind the Lines (newsletter of 3/11/09) by David C. Morrison. I conclude with a couple of excerpts that apply to the preceding paragraphs. To quote:

Feds: The global financial crisis threatens U.S. national security, The Associated PressStephen Manning has military and economic experts telling a House panel yesterday. Federal cybersecurity efforts would be in “grave peril” if passing oversight from DHS to the NSA led to intel community domination, Threat Level’s Kim Zetter has an ex-homelander testifying this week — and check The Washington Post’s Brian Krebs on the mounting power struggle. U.N. human rights investigators have announced a global investigation into secret detention practices, saying they would not relax scrutiny of U.S. counterterrorism policies under President Barack Obama, ReutersStephanie Nebehay notes. The Obama administration will appoint a senior diplomat as a special Guantanamo envoy, underscoring the importance it places on persuading other countries to accept detainees, The New York TimesWilliam Glaberson and Mark Landler relate.

. . . Unlike other officials recently, a Pentagon intel chief testified Tuesday that Iran does not have highly enriched uranium to power a nuclear warhead, AP reports — while a Boston Globe op-ed underlines the dangers of “intricate and foolproof verification schemes.”


  1. *The Financial Times In Depth: "The Future of Capitalism" - A major new series.

  2. Secrecy News from the Federation of American Scientists, by Steven Aftergood: Includes Presidential Policy Directive on "Organization of the National Security System," and "Opening the Files on Bush's Secrets."

  3. Pipes: Change Tracker - by ProPublica. This is a great resource for tracking any changes made at the several White House and government websites.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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So much for the Zimbabwe dollar

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Zimbabwe's inflation is... 79,600,000,000 percent? Or maybe 89.7 sextillion percent?

Yikes. (That's apparently what it means when a currency becomes essentially worthless.)

(h/t: Jason Zengerle)

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It's not only CNBC that needs a talking to

By Creature

Here's the thing, after watching Jon Stewart face off with Jim Cramer, it's clear that everything Stewart criticized Cramer and CNBC for could easily carry over to the media at large. Our chattering class treats all issues, especially politics, as entertainment. They seem to forget that real people are affected by their chatter. We would all benefit if they dropped the snazzy, picked up the phone, hit the pavement, and actually investigated, instead of digesting the half-truths and lies feed to them on a daily basis.

More Stewart vs. Cramer commentary here.

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Stewart KOs Cramer (and CNBC): The Video(s)

By Creature

As promised.

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Fuck you, South Carolina

By Michael J.W. Stickings

That's basically what South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is telling his constituents.

His state has the second highest unemployment rate in the country, 10.4 percent, but he's turning down about $700 million in stimulus aid.

Sanford wants to use the money, if he ever takes it, to pay down debt. Which normally would be fine, except that, in case you haven't been paying attention, there's a historic financial crisis going on.

The people of South Carolina, like Americans all over the country, need help. Their governor apparently won't be giving it to them, such an extremist right-wing ideologue, such a partisan Republican, is he.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stewart KOs Cramer (and CNBC)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

We'll have the video for you ASAP.

My immediate reaction is: Wow. Incredible. This was Jon Stewart at his absolute best. Anyone who thinks he's just a funny man, a comedian, the host of a faux news show, watch this, and learn from it. There was more truth here than there's ever been at CNBC, and certainly more than there is anywhere else in the media, anywhere in "serious" news.

Cramer admitted he isn't Murrow. No kidding. Stewart exposed Cramer for what he is, CNBC for what it is -- and pretty much the entire market for what it is.

Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.

The media were playing this up as a war of two prominent television personalities. To the extent that it was, and the media were making far too much of it, it wasn't even close.

(Photo: The Globe and Mail, with an article on the Stewart-Cramer "feud.")

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Laura Ingraham, asshole extraordinaire

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A couple of days ago, Meghan McCain, daughter of John, dared to criticize wingnut sexpot Ann Coulter -- well, she's a sexpot to them, if not to me. Appearing on Rachel Maddow's show last night, she repeated her criticism, arguing as well that there is "there’s an extreme on both parties and I hate extreme."

In response, Laura Ingraham, who is hardly known for her moderation, called McCain "just another Valley Girl gone awry," essentially dismissing her as an airhead. As well, just to drive home the ad hominem nature of her attack, she called McCain "plus-sized."

Now, whether or not McCain is "plus-sized" is beside the point. (Although she certainly isn't.) But why even go there? I expect an extremist like Ingraham, a sort of Limbaugh lite, to stand up for wingnut orthodoxy, like Rush, and to lash out at opponents, including Republican opponents, with venomous glee. And perhaps I expect her to get personal in her attacks. But to make fun of McCain's appearance -- although, again, there isn't exactly much to make fun of, and so what if she were plus-sized? -- and to suggest that she's a moron? Well, sure, I guess we should expect such nastiness from the likes of Ingraham, too. These are ugly, nasty people, after all, and Coulter and Ingraham are two of the far right's worst offenders.

This time, it was the daughter of the Republican nominee for president who was the target of their viciousness. It will be someone else next time. Indeed, it doesn't really matter who it is. Whether it's Ann or Laura, Michelle or Rush, Sean or [fill in the blank], this is what they do, this is how they try to take down anyone and everyone who challenges them. In this sense, Laura was just being Laura, an asshole extraordinaire.

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WaPo blogger Cillizza implies Obama's Council on Women and Girls is not for addressing gender issues

By LindaBeth

In an odd phrasing, Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza seems to imply that Obama's call for a Council on Women and Girls, is not primarily a result of his recognition that we need policies and solutions to social problems that adequately address how they impact women and families (for whom women are still overwhelmingly responsible for the care of). In other words, Obama is forming this council out of the recognition that appropriate solutions to social problems must take both men's and women's experiences into consideration.

Cillizza seems to imply otherwise:

Obama has both personal -- his wife and two daughters -- and political reasons to make this sort of high profile move to ensure that women's needs are being addressed by his administration.

In 2008, 53 percent of the electorate was female and Obama carried that group 56 percent to 44 percent over Arizona Sen. John McCain. [...]

So Obama's "personal" reasons for putting the council into place are that he has a wife and daughters. Yawn. How insulting to think that men are only concerned about women's issues and the male-centric models of citizenship and public policy because they have daughters. I would hope that there might too be fathers of boys who are concerned about gender issues so their sons could have the socially-supported ability to be at-home dads if they choose, without their masculinity being denigrated and without threat to family finances because their female partner's career is being stymied by gender discrimination (by pay or "mommy tracking") or sexual harassment in the workplace.

And the "political" reasons Obama is putting this into place keep the allegiance of his female voters (?). So Obama is doing this to keep women happy, not because it's good policy?

Reading between the lines, much?

Oh and let us not forget, this council is in no way (expected to be) substantial: "Expect then more symbolic moves like the establishment of the Council to demonstrate Obama's commitment to women and women's issues." Because all women voters expect are empty gestures without results. Because women usually applaud style over substance. Because women don't want to be taken seriously, just acknowledged. Because women are above all, fans of [political] superficiality.

(I think you have us confused with lad-mag apologists.)

And I think you underestimate women as political actors who demand accountability, as well as our new president, who has demonstrated at least an understanding that there are structural barriers to success that equal rights legislation did not address.

(Cross-posted to Smart Like Me.)

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Metaphors instead of policy

By Creature

I don't quite understand how Republicans can scream that Obama is distracted, that he needs to be focused like a laser beam on saving the economy, while at the same time making ridiculous comments about too much spending. Yesterday it was John Boehner's spending freeze, today it's Mitch McConnell's ludicrous claim that since Obama's been in office he's spent $1 billion an hour.

Wasn't the entire point of this spending to help the ailing economy?

As Steve Benen says, "Instead of trying to come up with policy solutions, Republican leader are trying to come up with metaphors." When all a party has is metaphors then any criticism by them should be discounted and their seat at the table removed. And, if they insist on being seated at the table, then they should be strapped into high chairs, given Crayolas, and anything they create be hung on the Capital fridge to humor them (though, even that may be too much consideration given).

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How to win the war on some drugs

By Libby Spencer

The rising violence on our Mexican border is clearly driven by the black market drug trade. However, a military solution is not the answer. Adding more government soldiers to this 'war' will only cause more collateral damage among innocent civilians. Don't believe me? Well let's review.

In the beginning, there were a handful of very powerful drug lords who controlled the market. I don't know how many, let's just say there were five of them. There was some violence connected with these cartels, but it was contained pretty much within that community. In the last few years we jailed these kingpins and the violence rose, along with the supply of drugs. The current chaos is simply the manifestation of a very large turf war.

Jailing the kingpins didn't destroy the black market, it simply fractured it and now the jockeying for primacy among the lower level players has spilled into the streets and over the borders. The only way to end the violence is to shut down the black market. The only way to shut down the black market is to legalize drugs.

There is no way to eliminate demand. Surely if the present eradication/interdiction/incarceration model was going to work, it would have done so by now. The US alone has sunk hundreds of billions of dollars into this strategy for over 50 years and the problem is worse than ever. The only way to get drugs off the streets is to put them into a clinical setting and treat drug abuse as a public health problem.

The war on some drugs really can't be won, but it can be ended. As scary as it sounds, legalization is the safest strategy and the only one with any chance of success.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Democrats, please stop your whining

By Creature

While I'm not a big fan of marching lockstep with a president, Republicans did it with Bush and it drove the country into the ground, I will say, when Congressional Democrats start to whine about their Democratic president based upon Republican talking points I have no sympathy for their cause. Democrats have a unique chance to do great things right now, and complaining, without any real foundation for those complaints, is one sure way to stop any progress dead in its tracks.

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Good reads: Foser on Fineman, Chait on Shlaes

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I don't have time to comment extensively on either of these two pieces, but they're well worth taking the time to read:

1) Jamison Foser, Media Matters: "Howard Fineman, the Establishment, and Barack Obama," a biting critique of the Establishmentarian Fineman's efforts on behalf of the Establishment to take down Obama. Fineman is the consummate insider, a member of the Beltway club. He's been wrong about so much, just as he is wrong about Obama now.

2) Jonathan Chait, The New Republic: "Wasting Away in Hooverville," a fantastic dismantling of the right-wing nonsense of Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, a baldly revisionist history that has been received with cheerleading enthusiasm by conservatives. It's a long review, and an important response, a necessary correction, to current right-wing propaganda. The New Deal wasn't perfect, and neither was FDR, but it worked, for the most part, proving Keynes right. Now, as then, conservatives, who "have embraced the pre-Keynesian nostrums," just don't get it.

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By Creature

That's the percent climb in foreclosure filing for February. That number was bigger than expected and goes on record as the third-highest monthly total since they started counting in 2005. Unfortunately, as with Obama's stimulus plan, it looks like his attempt to stem foreclosures will eventually be as underwater as the mortgages he is looking to save.

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Hersh: CIA "deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

To put it mildly, this is intriguing:

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh dropped a bombshell on Tuesday when he told an audience at the University of Minnesota that the military was running an "executive assassination ring" throughout the Bush years which reported directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The remark came out seemingly inadvertently when Hersh was asked by the moderator of a public discussion of "America's Constitutional Crisis" whether abuses of executive power, like those which occurred under Richard Nixon, continue to this day.

Hersh replied, "After 9/11, I haven't written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven't been called on it yet."

Hersh then went on to describe a second area of extra-legal operations: the Joint Special Operations Command. "It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," he explained. "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office... Congress has no oversight of it."

"It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on," Hersh stated. "Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us."

Pretty frightening, if true. And it may well be. Hersh is a brilliant reporter. And, hopefully, we will substantiate his claims.

Bush and Cheney did a great deal to destroy America's credibility and moral standing both at home and abroad. As of right now, though, we may only be able to see the tip of the iceberg.

There is likely a great deal more to come.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Douthat to the NYT

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As Marc Ambinder is reporting, the young and prodigal Ross Douthat, currently at The Atlantic, is headed to the New York Times op-ed page to replace the disgraced and departed Bill Kristol. He and David Brooks will make up the conservative wing of the Times punditocracy.

I don't read Douthat all that often -- and, when I do, I generally don't agree with him -- but I regard him as one of the few conservatives who actually thinks outside the box of current right-wing orthodoxy. And, unlike Kristol, he's not a partisan hack and propagandist. Sure, it's not much of a compliment to say that someone is an improvement over Kristol, who was an embarrassment at the Times, and who is one generally, but if a right-winger was what the Times wanted, Douthat wasn't a bad pick. At the very least, he should be an interesting, if aggravating, read, perhaps even, as Andrew Sullivan puts is, "a boon to intelligent conservatism," which is hardly a crowded field, not least with Dear Leader Limbaugh and his minions dominating the right these days.

So... Congratulations, Ross. We'll be reading.

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Trouble in Palin's Paridise: Bristol and Levi split up

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Come on, you knew it was gonna happen, right? You knew all the happy talk was a sham, a cover story, likely driven by political considerations, all to make Sarah look good, all to make it seem as if Palin's world, Wasilla, was a sort of Norman Rockwell paradise, a world where kids make mistakes but are born again, and forgiven when they have the right connections, a world of such entrenched family values as to please any hardcore right-winger, praise be to all things Palin.

Well... yeah.

It is being reported that Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, the much-ballyhooed couple at the GOP convention last year, the couple that received such enthusiastic applause, have broken up:

Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter Bristol has reportedly broken off her engagement with Levi Johnston, the father of her 2-month-old son Tripp. It's surprising because in an interview just last month with FOX's Gretta Van Susteren, Bristol said the 19-year-old Levi is a hands-on dad and that they planned on marrying after finishing their education.

But in a new interview with Star Magazine, Levi's sister Mercede Johnston says Bristol actually broke up with Levi more than a month ago, is not attending school and rarely lets her baby daddy see their young son. Mercede also says Bristol even told him that she hates him and, when she learned she was pregnant, wished the baby wasn't his.

Mercede told Star: "Bristol's just crazy. That's the nicest way I can put it. She and Levi actually broke up a while ago!"

Apparently, Levi is also far from being a hands-on dad. Said Mercede: "Levi tries to visit Tripp every single day, but Bristol makes it nearly impossible for him. She tells him he can't take the baby to our house because she doesn't want him around 'white trash.' She treats him so badly!"

Say it ain't so!

Now, look, I'm trying my best not to succumb to Schadenfreude. I'm trying not to let any partisan sentiments -- what with my intense dislike of all things Palin -- get in the way of looking at this fairly. It's not like I'm happy that yet another "family" is broken, after all, and it's not like I don't feel for the kid.

But... well, you know. It was all such a pathetic farce, such transparent manipulation on the part of Palin and the Republicans. Looking at it that way, that is, as the way it really was, it's hard not to think of this whole sad, sorry affair as yet another case of the inevitable breaking through the facade of right-wing moralism and hypocrisy.

In other words, it's all just more of the same. And one can't help but find that somehow amusing.

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Quote of the Day: Specter on Steele

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I wouldn't pay a whole lot of attention to him,

Specter said yesterday morning on Pennsylvania radio. Right, because it's not like Steele is a major player or anything, or that he can simply be ignored. He's only the chairman of your freakin' party.

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By Creature

That's the percentage of people who are happy with the way Congress is doing its job. That's up from 19% in January. The boost comes from Democrats and, even better, from Independents (up 17% to 34%). You have to think, eventually, the obstructionist Republicans will realize they are losing this war. Until then, I'm not complaining.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXXXVII, LXXXVIII, and LXXXIX

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The U.S. will soon be gone, Iraq left to the Iraqis. The U.S. shouldn't be there, and perhaps never should have been there, but there is no denying that the Iraqis face an enormous task.

For their country is still a deeply divided and deeply violent place:

At least 33 people, including a local army chief, have died and 46 have been injured in a suicide attack on the western edge of Baghdad, officials say.

The attack took place in the Abu Ghraib municipality, and appeared to target a group of dignitaries as they left a national reconciliation conference.

Violence levels have declined in Iraq recently, but this is the third major attack in the last few days.

More than 30 died in an attack on a police recruitment centre on Sunday.

On Thursday, a car bomb exploded at a cattle market in Babel province killing 10.

How ironic, and telling, that the latest attack, or at least the lasted attack reported here, targeted a reconciliation conference. Clearly, the perpetrators of these attacks want nothing of reconciliation. Their Iraq is a sectarian one, a tribal one, a genocidal one. And their attacks will likely increase as the U.S. draws down, and then again when the U.S. leaves.

There are forces of peace in Iraq, elements of reconciliation, but it is still not clear how the Shiite majority, which controls the government in Baghdad, will rule in the absence of the U.S. It is also not clear how the Sunnis, many of whom have made temporary peace with the U.S., and the Kurds, who retain their separatist aspirations in the north, will respond. There is at least the possibility that reconciliation will prevail, if without the Kurds, but there is little doubt that progress will not be made without great struggle against the mass murderers who continue to turn Iraq into a bloodbath, and who will oppose peace literally to the death.

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Jon Stewart vs. Jimmy Creamer

By Creature

The fight rages on.

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Good riddance, Chas Freeman

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't blogged on the Charles "Chas" Freeman saga, until now, but I've been following it fairly closely, notably the rather intense debate his nomination to head up the National Intelligence Council spawned in the blogosphere, if less so elsewhere.

Freeman withdrew from consideration yesterday. And that's for the best. He never should have been nominated in the first place.

This puts me at odds with many on the left, many with whom I usually agree, including high-profile bloggers like Matt Yglesias and Glenn Greenwald, the latter of whom argued in response to Freeman's withdrawal that "blind loyalty to Israel" was the driving force behind his critics. (Andrew Sullivan also made this case, in a way, arguing that "[h]aving the kind of debate in America that they have in Israel, let alone Europe, on the way ahead in the Middle East is simply forbidden.")

While acknowledging the disproportionate influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., and acknowledging that many of Freeman's critics are vocal members of that lobby, I reject Greenwald's argument.

I, for one -- while hardly one who wields much influence -- am not Jewish, am not a member of the so-called "Israel Lobby," and am certainly not a neocon. But I am a liberal, and a proud one, and, to me, there were strong liberal grounds upon which to object to Freeman.

In this regard, I have been in agreement with TNR's Jon Chait, one of the leading and most compelling voices against Freeman throughout this saga. There may be some who question Chait's liberal credentials, but I do not. He is a liberal, albeit a more hawkish one than most, and, at The Plank and elsewhere, he made the liberal case against Freeman: In short, as Chait put it at WaPo, Freeman is "an ideological fanatic," an extremist realist with a history of cozying up to authoritarian dictatorships like Saudi Arabia. Now, it's not like realism should have no place in the Obama Administration. Certainly it should. (I would like to think of myself as an idealist tempered by enough realism to keep me fairly grounded.) But when realism means defending China's brutal response to the Tiananmen Square protests, and even suggesting that it should have been more brutal? That's just not acceptable.

"There just aren't many liberals out there who want to defend a man who sees regimes like China and Saudi Arabia as something close to the beau ideal of a modern nation-state. It's only the fact that Freeman is also controversial for things like praising the hyperbolic book 'The Israel Lobby' and blaming Israel for the 9/11 attacks that has endeared him to the left." So wrote Chait.

I will admit that I think Chait overstated the case against Freeman and has been overly critical of Freeman's supporters on the left -- like them, if not nearly to the same degree, I worry about the excessive influence of Israel's more rabid backers in the U.S. And, to be sure, most of Freeman's supporters are not unhinged -- some, like James Fallows, made impressive cases for Freeman, arguing that he is not the extremist Chait and others made him out to be. Still, I think Chait was mostly right that "[t]he basic strategy of Freeman's defenders, with a few thoughtful exceptions, has been to paint the entirety of the criticism against Freeman as relating to his views on Israel, and even to insist that Freeman critics who raise non-Israel-related concerns are secretly acting in Israel's interests." That strategy, simply put, involves a gross misrepresentation.

It is possible that Freeman would have made a valuable addition to Obama's team. As a liberal, though, I simply cannot look past the illiberalism at the core of his worldview. That is reason enough to applaud his withdrawal. I cannot support a proponent of Chinese and Saudi brutality. Whatever their concerns about Israel and the "Isreal Lobby," liberals everywhere should have objected to his nomination.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just a coincidence, I'm sure

By Carl

This eye-popping story began last week and
has now taken an intriguing turn:

Mr Mugabe made his first public comments on last week's fatal crash, reportedly telling mourners at Tuesday's church service: "I plead with you to accept it, it's the hand of God."

Suspicions have swirled over Mrs Tsvangirai's death given past acrimony between the prime minister and president.

But Mr Tsvangirai said on Monday it was unlikely foul play took a part in the collision, which involved an aid lorry.

You have to know, though, that Tsvangirai is playing his cards close to his chest. That it took Mugabe nearly a week to come out and say anything publicly about the death of the wife of his alleged "partner" in governance... well, imagine if Jill Biden died in a car crash in which Joe Biden was also injured. How quickly would Barack Obama offer his condolences and sympathy?

And too, it's a curious comment to make at a memorial, the "hand of God" bit. Almost sounds as if the reporter is signalling to the world that Mugabe, who is not exactly known for his subtleties, had a hand in this.

We're all familiar with the classic line from The Godfather: "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." Is there anyplace closer as president than to have your sworn enemy and rival as Prime Minister, where you can keep a eye on him?

It seems pretty clear what Mugabe's intent is here, if you follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion and take the background of the election at its face: Mugabe,
having lost the popular vote to Tsvangirai, rammed through a Bush SCOTUS-like overturn of the election results.

And now that he has what he wants, he intends to kill Tsvangirai. Indeed, it is
something of a miracle that he survived the crash.

How a convoy of three vehicles, with one in the middle carrying the second most important person in the land, got involved in a car crash, is what has perplexed many people.

The oncoming lorry, which apparently belonged to a partner of the US government aid agency USAID, is thought to have crossed into the prime minister's path, sideswiping the right bumper of Mr Tsvangirai's Land Cruiser, which then rolled off the highway.

You read that correctly. This magic truck managed to pick off the middle vehicle of a heavily armed convoy. What makes this story troubling to us here in the States is the apparent if probably unintentional involvement of a truck with ties to the United States.

What to make of this, assuming that indeed it was an assassination attempt? Was it an attempt to draw the US into the African conflagration? Was it a clumsy and ham-handed assassination plot? Or was it just a fortuitous happenstance? Who the intended audience for that message is will be the factor that decides what the motivation for using that truck is.

Sadly, it will not surprise me if, when the uproar over the USAid truck gathers momentum, the right wing in this country starts using this incident to prove Obama's Muslim ties run deeper than a dalliance in a school in Indonesia.

Nevermind that millions if not billions of lives hang in the balance in this part of Africa and the effect this assassination would have beyond Zimbabwe's borders (to North Africa, China, and the Middle East). These numbnuts will focus on a truck that was probably planted.

Just a coincidence. I'm sure.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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This week on Capitol Hill

By Carol Gee

The personalities of those elected to Congress are often the stuff of the news, as yesterday's post "Fighting back at your critics" illustrated. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership has been one of the keys to success so far in the 111th Congress. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is one that gets regular coverage, such as this piece that declares McCain "does not want the President to fail," even though his opposition is major in several areas. House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor (R-VA) appears to lead the obstructionist tactics of the minority, fighting President Obama at every turn. Democrats will rely heavily on the big new "freshman class" and deputy whip, Mark Udall (D-Colo). If Al Franken is elected and seated the group will number an even dozen.

Senate leadership vs. Republican strategy -- The $410 billion omnibus spending bill has not yet passed the Senate. Problems from Senate Democrats that complicate House-Senate relations have stalled the measure since last Thursday night. House Democrats are mad at Senate Majority leader Harry Reid because of his perceived weakness in the face of "marginal members of both parties," according to Politico. The Republicans are thence able to turn the fight into one over what they call pork-barrel politics and CQ calls "earmark overload." Several more Republican amendments are up for a vote Tuesday. Republican Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is looking to get a vote on his amendment that would force legislators to have to vote themselves a pay raise, rather than depend on the current automatic method. CQ Politics explains: "If the amendment is adopted, it could prove to be a poison pill, eroding support in both chambers for the yearlong spending measure, and forcing a House-Senate conference."

Congress will get to finish the jobs -- President Barack Obama lifted the ban imposed by former President Bush on stem cell research. But Congress will be asked to codify the administration's position so that the scientific community could tap into funds in the economic stimulus bill, according to a story in CQ Politics on Monday. Quoting the key idea, "It also would block any of Obama’s successors from overturning his support through similar executive actions." Last week a bill that would give the FDA the power to regulate tobacco as it is advertised and marketed, got out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with a strong affirmative vote. The bill, (HR1256) is sponsored by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, (D- Calif).

The Employee Free Choice Act could be debated soon --"Card check," the EFCA union bill, would make it easier for employees to organize workers into unions. Pressure from unions, who helped President Obama win his election, is strong and united. Much of the business community and Republicans are furious at the prospect of its passage, characterizing it in end-of-the-world terms. The result is lots of lobbying money being spent to defeat it, according to a Politico's story of Monday. In further news it seems that moderate Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), may hold the key to its passage or defeat.

And finally last week there was a discussion among Democrats about a possible strategy for filibuster-proofing President Obama's agenda this year. The budget reconciliation process allows legislation affecting tax and entitlement programs to be moved through the Senate by a simple majority vote, according to CQ Politics (3/5/09). Potential measures might include health care overhaul, the climate change cap-and-trade proposal, as well as the student loan program. No decision has been made yet.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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