Saturday, December 12, 2009

Follow the money

By Creature

Between the defeat of mortgage cramdown legislation in the House, the legislative loophole allowing caps on annual limits in the Senate' s healthcare bill, and the active attempts by the White House to kill the drug importation bill, yesterday was not a pretty day for the little guy. I'd be depressed if I wasn't so numb.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Taking the mission to secure America to Copenhagen

Guest post by Jonathan Powers and Robert Diamond

Jon Powers is the Chief Operating Officer of the Truman National Security Project. He is a veteran of the Gulf War, serving as an officer in the United States Army, and the founder of War Kids Relief. He was previously Veterans Program Director at the Eleison Group, where he worked on outreach efforts by the progressive community to veterans and military families.

Rob Diamond, a Truman National Security Fellow, is a Senior Vice President at Realty Capital International LLC, a global real estate investment banking and advisory firm. He was previously a Vice President at Bear Stearns & Co. in the Structured Equity Products/Equity Finance group. Prior to his career in finance, he served as an officer in the United States Navy, completing deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Ed. note: This post was originally published at The Huffington Post. In September, we ran a post by Jon on "why the military is worried about climate change" -- you can find it here. We have also published a number of different posts from Operation Free -- see here. -- MJWS


Next week we will board a flight with a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to fly to Copenhagen and wage a battle that will help address a threat to our national security. Our plan of action does not involve the Danish military, but instead involves the negotiators who are gathered to develop an international agreement on addressing climate change. We are bringing to Copenhagen the voices of the veterans and national security experts from across the nation who are standing up as part of Operation Free to secure America with clean energy.

Watch this video of our fellow veterans who have been reaching out at events across America to talk about the risks that climate change poses to our national security:

The American people understand their security is at risk when we talk about:

• The absurdity of funding our enemies who hunt our troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. By sending $1 billion a day overseas to buy oil from other nations, many of whom have unfriendly regimes, we are endangering our own troops on battlefield.

• Climate change acting as a "threat multiplier," making the world less safe. When Americans see that the CIA, Pentagon, and the national intelligence apparatus are actively developing plans to address threats in climate-affected nations with already fragile governments, they understand this is a threat to our country. Climate change is a root cause of destabilization in countries around the world in which extremist groups will look to take advantage and gain a foothold.

• Our nation's dependence on dirty fossil fuels is causing carbon pollution that is making our climate unstable... and is affecting our security.

Operation Free was formed because we know it is our military that will have to address these threats. Instead of waiting for things to get worse or fights to break out, we believe the United States must begin to take decisive action now.

The security community agrees that these are unsustainable courses of action and that we must act urgently to reduce these threats. Here at home Congress is moving ahead with clean energy legislation, but Copenhagen provides us an opportunity to truly establish ourselves as a nation that leads by example.

Skeptics are calling on us to wait for China or India to take the lead, but why would we put our security in others' hands? Americans want us to take our security in our own hands, and that is why our leadership is so critical in Copenhagen.

It is American leadership that is necessary to provide a broad consensus towards an agreement that will:

  • Reduce our dependence on oil;
  • Promote clean energy incentives; and
  • Get Americans back to work producing clean, domestic, and safe energy.

America must lead by example in Copenhagen. Our security depends on it!

Sign up for Live from Copenhagen articles next week.

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There's no pleasing Joe Lieberman

Uh-oh. It looks like Joe Lieberman's against both a public option trigger and, like Olympia Snowe (another of the centrists who are hijacking the whole health-care reform process), a Medicare buy-in.

(Without Snowe and Susan Collins on board, the Democrats would need both Ben Nelson, one of their own, and Lieberman, formerly one of their own, to vote yes. But how many more concessions will there have to be just to pull over two of them?)

There's just no pleasing Lieberman, is there? It doesn't matter how much you give in, he always wants more... and more... and more...

Asks Steve Benen pointedly: "Do you ever get the feeling that Lieberman may, just may, oppose progressive ideas associated with reform simply because they're progressive ideas associated with reform?"

Um... yes? Lieberman isn't a man of firm principle, he's a man of self-important vindictiveness and retribution. At some point, Democrats have to say that enough is enough. Try to get the two Maine Republicans, Nelson, or just two of the three, and let Lieberman rot with the Republicans as historic health-care reform is passed.

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Reflections on Obama's Nobel speech

I don't have all that much to add to Carl's post. Suffice it to say that I thought it was a fantastic speech comparable to the best he's ever given, including last year's speech on race in Philadelphia. (Video below.)

We can argue over the particulars, over the substance, but the speech revealed Obama to be, well, what we knew he was, which is as close to a genuine philosopher as we are likely to get in the White House, a man of profound thought who wrestles with some of the key issues facing America and the world today -- issues of war and peace, of life and death -- some of the issues that have been central to the human condition from the very beginning.

Allow me to quote a few commentators who, in my view, got it right:

[T]his may have been the deepest and most elegaic speech of Obama's presidency. But what a strange one it was. Obama is a man trapped amongst the contradictions created by America's awkward place in the post-Bush world...

The rest of Obama's speech was movingly inspirational. Having conceded that war can't be wished away, Obama laid out a vision of human nature and progress that is fundamental to his view of the world.

See also Jonathan Chait on Obama's "foreign policy worldview."

[T]his was a very good and serious speech, which like many of his major addresses -- the Inaugural address, the one in Prague about nuclear weapons, the one in Cairo on relations with the Islamic world -- will stand re-reading and close inspection, and which shared an obvious intellectual and structural architecture with all his other major addresses. Those trademark elements include:

The embrace of contradictions (in this case, a defense of war as a means to peace); the long view; the emphasis on institution-building; the concern about the distortion of religious and ethnic loyalties; and above all a consciousness that was once called Niebuhrian and at this rate will someday be "Obamian," which emphasizes the importance of steady steps forward in an inevitably flawed world.

That was our president today and I couldn't have been prouder. Unflinching, reversing the muddled message of last week, once again regaining the moral authority of why we fight... Today's speech unraveling last week's tangled rhetorical mess that had Pres. Obama talking about 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, which I remain against, while simultaneously talking about a draw down by July 2011, which came off cravenly political, while ignoring the importance of why we're in Afghanistan, which is in large part humanitarian, and the genesis of what brought us there.

The speech today begins a righting of what went terribly wrong on Obama's Afghanistan strategy speech. The tone and content was pitch perfect, including the bravery of taking on whether he deserves the Nobel or not.

This is not to say -- and I must stress this -- that I agreed with everything in the speech. Like Chait, I found Obama's discussion of genocide weak. What is needed there is an aggressive commitment to fight genocide, as in Darfur, not just a desire to stand together in righteous opposition to it. And while I appreciate the careful distinction between just and unjust wars, and while the Afghan War may for a time have been just, I continue to oppose Obama's Afghan surge, the 30,000-troop increase he announced just last week, and to think that the Afghan War is not just unwinnable but untenable, that the U.S. and its NATO would do well to withdraw now and to give up on the unlikely possibility of achieving political and social stability in that country, keeping some military presence in the region to target Taliban and al Qaeda forces. (I'm not against nation-building, as I was not against the Afghan War early on. I just don't think it makes much sense to stay there without a clear purpose and achievable goal.)

And yet, I found the tension in the speech between realism and idealism, with Obama searching for the right balance, compelling and persuasive. Indeed, what the speech revealed is that Obama gets it -- maybe not in policy terms, where there is room for disagreement, but in philosophical terms, which is deeply reassuring. It just remains to be seen whether Obama can find that right balance by reconciling the contradictions, if that is even possible, and then whether he can actually translate his Niebuhrianism into a cohesive foreign policy that adequately addresses not just the Iraq and Afghan wars but Iran, North Korea, Darfur, and the world's other hotspots, the myriad challenges facing America, including global terrorism.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Craziest Republican of the Day: Jim DeMint

The right-wing senator from South Carolina isn't happy with the direction of the GOP:

The problem in the Republican Party is that the leadership has gone to the left. I need some new Republicans.

Really? To the left? Well, perhaps so, relatively speaking. After all, one can be to the left of an extremist like DeMint and still be extremely conservative.

DeMint's comments come as party leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas), and RNC chairman Michael Steele have come under fire from several conservative bloggers and conservative grassroots activists.

They argue that they have not done enough to thwart the Democratic legislative agenda and to back conservative candidates running in primary elections.

Those on the right point to some establishment Republicans' initial support for state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R-N.Y.) instead of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman the New York special House election.

Conservatives have also rallied around former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) instead of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), the NRSC's choice in the state's GOP Senate primary.

True, there is something of a civil war going on in the Republican Party, along with a push for purity on the right, and so it's understandable, perhaps, that DeMint is complaining that the party leadership isn't rightist enough for his liking.

Indeed, while DeMint is certainly crazy, say, to think that what the GOP needs is to be even more extreme than it is now -- that is, crazy in the sense that what he wants wouldn't be good for Republicans (if good for those of us on the other side) -- but, given the current state of the GOP, he may actually be more genuinely Republican, more authentic, than those Republicans to his left, however conservative those others may be.

I mean, come on, McConnell and Cornyn? Hardly a couple of lefties. They may be slightly to DeMint's left, sure, but what concerns such Republicans, those DeMint wishes to replace with his own kind, is not just ideological purity but electoral success, and that means a bigger tent than the one DeMint would have the GOP be. I don't want to give McConnell et al. much in the way of credit -- they hardly bear much resemblance to the moderates who once ruled the party -- but I do recognize that some in the GOP leadership are working to build up the party, not reduce it to a narrow sliver on the far right.

Again, though, DeMint seems to be in tune with the Republican Zeitgeist, which is all about rigid right-wing extremism. And so, while crazy, he's about as dedicated a partisan as they come.

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The children are the future... so let them eat shit

A troubling story from the USA Today:

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products."

That isn't always the case. McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders -- KFC won't buy them -- and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations."


(By the way, I don't eat KFC, and most other fast food, not just out of concern for my health but out of regard for both "quality considerations," to put it mildly, and humaneness -- just read Fast Food Nation. It's a good thing I'm no longer in school -- though I only went to high school in the U.S. and I don't think I ever ate whatever crap they were serving in the cafeteria.)

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Awkward moments

By Carl

So how does one accept an award for peace while waging war?

With aplomb and humility,

OSLO — President Obama, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize here on Thursday, acknowledged the age-old tensions between war and peace but argued that his recent decision to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan was justified to protect the world from terrorism and extremism.

“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth,” Mr. Obama said. “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

[...]“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage,” Mr. Obama said. “Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King, Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.”

This was your basic "
damned if you do, damned if you don't" moment: Obama could not possibly have said anything that would have satisfied his critics.

From the left:

Obama refused to renounce war for his nation or under his leadership, saying defiantly that "I face the world as it is" and that he is obliged to protect and defend the United States.

From the
insane asylum right:

They wounded two doves with one stone. No matter how much you like Obama and his foreign policy, it is patently ridiculous that a man who's served less than nine months as President should earn a prize that eluded even Mahatma Gandhi.

Nevermind, shithead, that
non-northern hemisphereans were ROUTINELY denied the Peace Prize by your forefathers in feigned enlightenment! No! But a black man wins in America and suddenly you find the cojones to stand up for Gandhi, someone you've probably mocked as wearing a really bad toga.

My take on it is this:

Matt. 10:13: "And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you."

We are human. Barack Obama is human, but he stands for more to the rest of the world as well as to this great nation. His symbolism is profound. His election is a demonstration that, despite the hatred from the bigots and ignorant of the right, the country is healing from the terrible shame of slavery and discrimination. We have far to go, and so we cannot make it to Dr. King's Promised Land in one stride, but we must continue to take the steps, small and large, halting and fluid, until we do get there.

Likewise, the Promised Land of Peace beckons us on. Some would criticize this award as undue, as a down payment on a promise.

So? IF ONLY FOR THE HEALING HIS ELECTION BROUGHT TO THE SHAME OF AMERICAN HISTORY, he has earned the prize. He accepts it on behalf of us all, black and white, who voted for him and against him, for bringing the United States finally into the latter 20th Century. And if there is more to come, if indeed he can make inroads in the Middle East conundrum, or calm the waters in Pakistan and Afghanistan, if he can persuade Iran and North Korea to use atoms for peace, if he only brings China into the fold of fighting global warming, he will have accomplished more for peace than the sum total of every President up to this point.

Of course, there's no rule that says he can't win a second one...

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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It looks like we'll still have Mark Sanford to kick around

House lawmakers Wednesday rejected a measure to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford, making it unlikely the governor will be removed from office.

However, the special House impeachment panel approved an official rebuke -- or censure -- of Sanford for bringing "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" on the state, its citizens and the governor's office.

Funny (sad?), isn't it, that "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" do not amount to impeachability? Have we just come to expect all that from our elected officials?

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All I want for Christmas is a silver bullet

Christmas in these new dark ages is like a full moon to werewolves and lunatics, and the USA is the new Transylvania. You can almost hear them howling at night. In the dark, ruined castle of the House of Representatives, the latest time-wasting assault on truth, the Constitution, freedom of religion, and the Founding Fathers is H. RES. 951, a resolution drafted by 19 House Republicans stating:

Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and
Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;

(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and

(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.

The framers have been framed once again, it seems. Of course. there is no prohibition against "mentioning" religion, but there sure as Madison is one against promoting one religion over another and establishing support for any belief or ceremony or symbol is as prohibited as Jefferson could make it -- the ignorant passion of the lawless Republican denialists notwithstanding.

No, I'm not going into the open hostility the Constitution writers had toward organized religion and it's influence on Government, or the largely fraudulent claims that "liberals" hate Christmas and Christians and want to take away your Christmas tree. You either already know or you're one of the hairy palmed lycanthropoids too demented to listen. For my part however, any party that harbors such Visigoths (yes they were Christian) is illegitimate to the core, an enemy of religious freedom and unworthy to participate in government on any level.

Is it humorous that the only real effort to stamp out Christmas and its various and ever changing "traditions" was by the "pilgrim fathers" we just finished pretending were the founders of American democracy. It would almost be laughable if these worms weren't eating the heart out of liberty by trying to restore exactly the sort of government we fought a revolution to rid ourselves of.

We've got 15 more days of raging Republicans who are going to make up stories about stores not having Christmas trees, towns banning lights or private business owners not having the right to call Christmas a holiday -- or private citizens not having the right to celebrate it or not celebrate it when and how they please. We have at least two more weeks of support for tyranny and attacks on our freedom of speech, press and religion. It's more than just some Scrooge, more than just some Grinch stealing everyone's good time, it's the ancient evil of religious authority stealing our birthright and for me, the holiday I used to love is hardly worth it any more.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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How "Climategate" is a phony, manufactured scandal

It's right on the mark. Here's a taste:

While the hacked e-mails may reveal that scientists might not have nice things to say about climate change deniers at times, they do nothing to change the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use are raising temperatures and making oceans more acidic. As the right attempts to use the Climategate story to derail the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference this week, arctic sea ice is still at historically low levels, Australia is still on fire, the northern United Kingdom is still underwater, the world’s glaciers are still disappearing and today NOAA confirmed that not only is it the hottest decade in history, but 2009 was one of the hottest years in history. But how did the right-wing noise machine hijack the debate?

Read on.

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Scream thy Norwegian scream


Dear President Obama,

Please don't snub us. It will only deepen our existential malaise.

Depressedly yours,

The people of Norway


This gives me an opportunity to post another work by one of my favourite painters, Edvard Munch -- as I did here, here, here, and here.

Here's the magnificent Ashes (1894), which, as you can see, is overflowing with existential despair.

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Learning to live with the compromise

If, like me, you're not terribly happy about the (no public option) compromise Senate Democrats have worked out, make sure to read Chris Bowers's post at Open Left on how there has actually been "real success" here:

While it looks like we didn't get a new public option program, we have received at least:

  • 4 million more people covered by Medicaid, which is a public option, than the July version of the House bill
  • 1-2 million covered by a Medicare buy-in, which is also a public option, and which was entirely absent in the July version of the House bill
  • An increase, from 85% in the July House bill to 90% now, in the percentage of money companies receive on health insurance premiums that must be spent on health care.
These are all concessions directly made to progressives in return for dropping a Medicare +5% public option that would have covered 10 million people. Not bad.

True, not bad. And, of course, any Senate bill would still have to be reconciled with the House bill, which includes a public option. (And there is still the possibility of reconciliation, which would require not 60 but 50+1 votes in the Senate.)

As I said yesterday, I suspect that the public option is dead, but even the compromise package, if passed as is, could lead to more substantive reform down the road. Here's how the Times (linked above) explains it:

Under the agreement, people ages 55 to 64 could "buy in" to Medicare. And a federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management, would negotiate with insurance companies to offer national health benefit plans, similar to those offered to federal employees, including members of Congress.

If these private plans did not meet certain goals for making affordable coverage available to all Americans, Senate Democratic aides said, then the government itself would offer a new insurance plan, somewhat like the "public option" in the bill Mr. Reid unveiled three weeks ago.

In other words, no public option now, but maybe, just maybe (probably?), later. That's not bad either, is it?

Look, I'm just trying to be optimistic.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sarah Palin and "Climategate" propaganda

By Michael J.W. Stickings 

I really don't want to waste my time blogging about Sarah Palin's ridiculous op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post on "Copenhagen's political science," that is, on what she (or whoever really wrote the piece) thinks is the politicized science behind global warming.

Needless to say, she plays up the right's (that is, the denialists') talking points on those hacked University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU) e-mails.

Among other idiotic things, she calls the CRU researchers "so-called climate change experts," dismisses "the radical environmental movement" as some nefarious force behind "politicized" science, claims there is "no real consensus" among climate change researchers, suggests there are "strong doubts" among scientists regarding historical temperatures (implying there are similarly strong doubts regarding global warming generally), and refers to the supposed "agenda-driven policies" at Copenhagen.

Thankfully, Marc Ambinder has performed an invaluable service in providing an annotated rebuttal to Palin's op-ed. Read it in full. His key points (with my comments) include:

-- "By 'radical,' Palin means the overwhelming scientific consensus... The global warming consensus minus the East Anglia contributions is still a strong consensus, one that has been regularly, repeatedly and independently verified." (I would add, of course there are disagreements between and among scientists. Science isn't religion or ideology, it's an ever-evolving quest for the truth ascertained through the scientific method. When it comes to climate change, what's truly remarkable is that there is such an overwhelming consensus. Denialists take this as proof of some grand conspiracy, which is just silly. What it really means is that, whatever minor differences there may be, climate change researchers are in general agreement about the key points. It isn't a conspiracy, it's the truth.

-- "These are experts. Their science has been validated, independently. Their 'actions' here consist of insulting climate change skeptics, immature name-calling, and, at worst, devising a strategy to keep the climate change deniers out of debates and peer-reviewed journals. The 'concerns' that Palin speaks of are the result of years of accumulated science denialism that now, conveniently, has been seemingly 'validated' by the fog of a grand conspiracy, suddenly revealed." (Yes, the e-mails make them look bad, but it doesn't make them wrong, or a part of some grand conspiracy.)

-- "[T]he politicization came about as a response to an extremely well-funded political campaign by those whose bottom lines would be most harmed by carbon taxes, cap and trade schemes and the like." (That's right, the blame belongs with the denialists and their industry backers, who are doing everything they can to undermine the consensus and turn the public against the truth about climate change.)

There you go.


For more on the faux scandal known as "Climategate," see my post "Hacking reality: 'Climategate,' denialist propaganda, and the truth about climate change."

See also Brad Plumer's recent post at TNR's The Vine.

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Stanley Fish is an idiot; or, an appallingly bad review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue by a supposed literary expert

Stanley Fish's review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue at the Times is... how shall I put it?... a combination of vomit and diarrhea.

Seriously, it's one of the worst "literary" pieces I've ever read, all the more awful, and all the more shameful, coming from a supposed literary expert like Fish and being published at a supposedly serious outlet like the Times.

The main problem is that Fish doesn't care about Palin's, or the book's, honesty:

My assessment of the book has nothing to do with the accuracy of its accounts... The questions to ask then are (1) Does Palin succeed in conveying to her readers the kind of person she is? and (2) Does she do it in a satisfying and artful way? In short, is the book a good autobiographical read? I would answer "yes" to both.

Now, it is supposed to be a work of non-fiction, correct? So shouldn't truth matter? Not to Fish, who seems to think that truthiness trumps truth. Stephen Colbert at least is a man of irony. Fish is deadly serious. And so the book may be a pile of shit, a self-mythologizing effort on the part of a woman who seems to be a profuse liar, but who cares? It's a "satisfying and artful" read. Look, I appreciate artistic/literary licence, but this isn't a work of literature, it's a work of propaganda about a significant public/political figure, one that her supporters are taking as gospel. There are certainly good autobiographical reads that take liberties with the truth, I know, but how is Palin "conveying to her readers the kind of person she is" by spinning herself without regard for the truth? How are her readers supposed to see through the layers of bullshit?

Fish's review gets worse. Just try to take this in:

Do I believe any of this? It doesn't matter. What matters is that she does, and that her readers feel they are hearing an authentic voice. I find the voice undeniably authentic (yes, I know the book was written "with the help" of Lynn Vincent, but many books, including my most recent one, are put together by an editor). It is the voice of small-town America, with its folk wisdom, regional pride, common sense, distrust of rhetoric (itself a rhetorical trope), love of country and instinctive (not doctrinal) piety. It says, here are some of the great things that have happened to me, but they are not what makes my life great and American. ("An American life is an extraordinary life.") It says, don't you agree with me that family, freedom and the beauties of nature are what sustain us? And it also says, vote for me next time. For it is the voice of a politician, of the little girl who thought she could fly, tried it, scraped her knees, dusted herself off and "kept walking."

And this:

In the end, perseverance, the ability to absorb defeat without falling into defeatism, is the key to Palin's character.

Really? Sarah Palin is all about perseverance? How did Fish even come up with this nonsense? You can find this sort of hagiography at The Weekly Standard, but even there it usually isn't so laughable.

The message is clear. America can't be stopped. I can't be stopped. I've stumbled and fallen, but I always get up and run again. Her political opponents, especially those who dismissed Ronald Reagan before he was elected, should take note. Wherever you are, you better watch out. Sarah Palin is coming to town.

Yes, that's right, Palin is like Reagan. She is America. Like I said, vomit and diarrhea.

Fish claims that he is not a Palin supporter, and, indeed, he is hardly a man of the right -- he's been accused by his critics in the academic world of being a relativist and extreme subjectivist. My sense of him has always been that he defies easy labelling. And, to be fair, what he likes about Going Rogue is more the style than the substance. Still, this is an appallingly bad review, one that excuses dishonesty and misses the very point of the book, which is to build up the Palin myth, celebrity, and cult of worship, and to do so by telling lies and airing grievances and ratcheting up the culture war rhetoric, with the utterly self-absorbed Palin (because, of course, it's all about Sarah) on the side of "real" America.

It's hard to believe that Fish means any of this. But he seems to, and whatever shred of credibility he has left should be obliterated.

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Senate Dems supposedly reach deal on health-care reform

It is being widely reported tonight that Senate Democrats have reached a deal, a compromise, on health-care reform, and it could mean the end of the public option.

It's not clear what's in the proposal, which will go to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for scoring later today (Wednesday). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is calling it a "broad agreement."

The AP is reporting that the public option has been dropped. Here's Politico:

Senate negotiators moved decisively away from including a government-run health insurance plan that would start on Day One in any final compromise, a major disappointment for the Democratic base but one that is likely to prove necessary to win over fiscally moderate senators.

Instead, Democrats are considering including a "trigger" that would allow a public plan to kick in – but only in the event that private insurers didn’t step up and offer policies for the new national health insurance plan, which seemed unlikely.

To win over liberals disappointed at losing the public option, Democrats would allow older Americans starting at age 55 to buy into Medicare, the popular program for the aged. The Medicare expansion would be a significant victory for Democrats, who spent years pushing for it. The proposal would in effect create a public health insurance option for older Americans, since Medicare is government-funded and government-run.

Needless to say, liberals and progressives who think, rightly, that even a robust public option is enough of a compromise (as I do) won't be amused. Nor will many of those Democrats in the House who successfully passed a reform package with a public option. (Of course, there would still remain the arduous task of the House and Senate sitting down to hammer out a bill satisfactory to each side.)

But the public option may not be dead... yet. As TPM's Brian Beutler is reporting, Reid is leaving open the possibility that the compromise package might just include it: "All the things you've read in the newspapers," said Reid, "'the public option is gone,' -- it's not true."

I suspect that it is gone, or will soon be, and that, as Beutler notes, those behind the deal will try to make the case there is still a public option when in fact there isn't. I suppose the question then will be, is something, the something in the compromise package, better than nothing? Or could it at the very least be the starting point for negotiations with the House, which could lead, if not to the public option being put back it, to concessions that make the absence of a public option less unpalatable to supporters?

We shall see.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I'm only sleeping

By Carl

It's hard to believe it's been 29 years since the death of John Lennon. Ironically, this complex man of peace who had a temper as large as all outdoors was shot to death by someone he barely knew.

Michael Jackson's death earlier this year throws this anniversary into stark detail. While Jackson arguably had as much influence over music, particularly American music, as John Lennon and the Beatles had, Lennon outclasses Jackson by a wide margin in his influence over American culture, American politics, and America's image. From the worst, Lennon's persecution at the hands of the Nixon administration, to the best, his ultimate inclusion as the ultimate insider in America, Lennon became a totem for the burgeoning liberal anti-war movement.

And a hero. I confess, my favorite Beatle as a Beatle is Paul McCartney -- he's just do darned cute! -- but my favorite Beatle as a human being and world citizen is John Lennon.

I look around me at the world today, and wonder what John might think? Would he say that we as a people, we as Americans, have backslid? Would we have slid had he been around to be in our faces on the news or on these egregious "talk shows" that pass for open debate? Would he have become so disgusted at Ronald Reagan and the forces of evil that crept across this land over the past thirty years that he would have thrown up his hands and moved to his farm in Delaware County to raise cows (been there, by the way)?

If we could wake him now, what would he say about September 11 and the aftermath? I have a pretty good idea what his opinion would be of George W. Bush and the Iraq war, but would he have been more forgiving on Afghanistan?

What would he say about the current healthcare debate? Would he point out that England has had national health for decades and seem quite happy with it? Would he point out that Jesus would have wept to see the resources of a government used to destroy the lives of its citizens, not heal them?

What would he say about a black American President, besides "it's about bloody time"?

What would he say about the internet, besides it's obvious distortion into a giant shopping mall? Would he approve of the fact that it's bringing billions of people closer together, despite the fact that it's also exposing the inherent hatred of those who fear change? Or would he take note that it still has a long way to go?

Would he have, as a Beatle, used the internet to its fullest ideal, to broadcast a message that billions could respond to in real time, to come together over him and reach out to each other? To see that we share as much in common with the farmer in Katmandu as we do the shopkeeper in Kankakee?

What would he say about technology?

What would he say about global warming? "We are all water from different rivers"?

Imagine if we gave peace a chance...

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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"Liberals are a useless lot": Chris Hedges and the left-wing attack on liberals, liberalism, and Barack Obama

I hardly think we liberals are "a useless lot," but I like Chris Hedges a lot, and those are his words, and I think it's important that we think critically about ourselves and that we welcome thoughtful criticism from thoughtful commentators -- including from the likes of Hedges, a self-defined socialist (and the author of some excellent books) who voted for Nader. And here's the rest of the opening paragraph of "Liberals Are Useless":

They talk about peace and do nothing to challenge our permanent war economy. They claim to support the working class, and vote for candidates that glibly defend the North American Free Trade Agreement. They insist they believe in welfare, the right to organize, universal health care and a host of other socially progressive causes, and will not risk stepping out of the mainstream to fight for them. The only talent they seem to possess is the ability to write abject, cloying letters to Barack Obama -- as if he reads them -- asking the president to come back to his "true" self. This sterile moral posturing, which is not only useless but humiliating, has made America's liberal class an object of public derision.

And here's some of what he has to say about Obama:

How can an organization with the oxymoronic title Progressives for Obama even exist? Liberal groups like these make political satire obsolete. Obama was and is a brand. He is a product of the Chicago political machine. He has been skillfully packaged as the new face of the corporate state. I don;t dislike Obama -- I would much rather listen to him than his smug and venal predecessor -- though I expected nothing but a continuation of the corporate rape of the country. And that is what he has delivered.

I do not necessarily reject all left-wing criticism of Obama, and I think this is partly right. Obama is certainly a continuation of a sort of Democratic-Republican consensus that has ruled America for a long, long time. Take his new Afghanistan policy, for example, which is a surge very much like Bush's in Iraq, or take his bailouts of the banks and the auto industry, both of which seek to prop up the corporatism at the core of the oligarchy at the core of socio-economic America. It's just more of the military-industrial complex of which Eisenhower, at the end of his presidency, warned -- and it is what Morris Berman analyzes so thoroughly in Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire. Those who thought Obama would be a transformational president were bound to be disappointed. He is a brilliant man, I believe, but he is no revolutionary, nor even much of a radical -- no matter the silly propaganda of the right. Socialism? Please. Obama is no socialist. He wants to make America stronger, to rescue it from the brink of collapse, not replace it with something else entirely different. That much has always been clear.

Still, while we can wish that Obama were transformational, and that he wouldn't continue certain key elements of the Bush-Cheney national security state, which was itself a continuation of a long history of national security policy in the U.S., and that he might remake the financial sector rather than just save it from itself by feeding some of its worst habits, and that he might actually do something about the fact that America is a dying empire in need of an historic overhaul, as massive debt continues to flow to China and other international creditors and as the economy sinks below the possibility of recovery to anything resembling its former glory, while we can wish all that, and more, it would be wrong to think that nothing meaningful has changed, and this is where Hedges, for all his scathing left-wing criticism, comes up well off the mark.

Some of us would like to see a single-payer health-care system in the U.S., but it is likely that whatever reform bill Congress ends up passing, with Obama's support, even without a robust public option, will be an historic overhaul of a sick and unjust system. At the very least, it will be the thin end of the wedge leading to further and more substantial reform down the road. And what of Obama's commitment to addressing the climate crisis, including yesterday's announcement that carbon emissions will be regulated even in the absence of federal legislation? Again, we can wish that Obama would push a more transformational approach to global warming, which would require a transformation of the U.S. economy, but he is limited by what is possible within the context of federal politics and the Constitution. What is clear, though, is that he is nothing like his predecessor on this issue, the most pressing of our time, and he does seem genuinely committed to joining the international effort, as well as to changing U.S. energy policy broadly. And what of the re-engagement with the international community that has been one of the key priorities of the president's first year in office?

I do not disagree with this:

[H]ow about the refusal to restore habeas corpus, end torture in our offshore penal colonies, abolish George W. Bush’s secrecy laws or halt the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of American citizens? The imperial projects and the corporate state have not altered under Obama. The state kills as ruthlessly and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as it did under Bush. It steals from the U.S. treasury as rapaciously to enrich the corporate elite. It, too, bows before the conservative Israel lobby, refuses to enact serious environmental or health care reform, regulate Wall Street, end our relationship with private mercenary contractors or stop handing obscene sums of money, some $1 trillion a year, to the military and arms industry.

But I do disagree that Obama has simply been a continuation of Bush, that nothing has changed. Actually, a lot has changed, and there is the prospect of significant change to come, starting with health-care reform and continuing, hopefully, with climate legislation and energy reform. Yes, yes, there is much to criticize, and I do that, as many other liberals do, but it is important not to lose perspective, which I fear that Hedges has.

Hedges directs some of his most stinging criticism at "our bankrupt liberal intelligentsia," but he uses a broad brush that, once more, reflects a lack of perspective, a lack of nuance. There are many liberals who are very much like conservatives in their approval for the military-industrial consensus, yes, but liberals are not all part of some single-minded monolith. Really, liberals are all "cloying" when it comes to Obama? Hardly. Besides, liberals are very much at the center of the fight for health-care reform, the battle currently being waged up on Capitol Hill, and, while many of them may be looking for compromise rather than pushing a reform package that has no possibility of passing, such being the reality of things, it is simply wrong to claim that they aren't at all socially progressive. If you don't like the system, that's fine, but democracy in America is what it is -- both for better and for worse -- and there's nothing inherently wrong with working within the system to effect real, lasting change.

Like Nader, Hedges is just plain wrong that there is fundamentally no difference between Democrats and Republicans, between Obama and Bush, between liberals and conservatives. I'm sorry, but if that's what you think, you just don't have that much credibility -- and again, I really like Hedges otherwise.

Liberals aren't useless, they're fighting for some of the very things Hedges seems to support. They may not be as revolutionary as some left-wing progressives would wish, but they have been the driving force behind much of American history -- I would argue, behind most that has been good in American history -- and, contrary to the illiberal views of their critics on the left and right, they continue to be that even now. There are exceptions, of course, and liberals can be deeply critical of their own kind, and rightly so. Some liberals really do seem to have given up, and to have joined the ruling consensus -- we see that in the media all the time, where "liberals" seem like conservatives with a bit of a social conscience and nothing more -- but America's liberal class, and I'm not even sure what that means, or who supposedly belongs to it, is hardly an object of public derision any more than any other "class." And if it is, it's only because conservative anti-liberal propaganda, combined with similar condemnation from the left, has been so effective at making liberalism a dirty word.

Yes, we liberals could and should be doing a lot more, and a lot better, but there's no reason we shouldn't be proud of our accomplishments, encouraged by our successes, and dedicated to our principles. America needs liberals and liberalism more than ever.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

I see what you do here

By Carl

OK, so I'm half-asleep, and I notice this
little item on Memeorandum this morning, and nearly spit out my coffee:

As President Obama heads to Copenhagen next week for global warming talks, there's one simple step Americans back home can take to help out: Stop "going green." Just stop it. No more compact fluorescent light bulbs. No more green wedding planning. No more organic toothpicks for holiday hors d'oeuvres.

December should be national Green-Free Month.

My first reaction is, "Mike Tidwell must have had a stroke or something," because he's been pretty much at the forefront of the battle over Louisiana wetlands preservation since I can remember.

Plus, and worse, I see that
Ann Althouse has linked to this piece, which means that there's a whole shitbag full of ignorance about to pop out of the right-wing blogosphere.

Uh oh, says I... another environmental expert has been gotten to, and paid off. This can't be good.

Imagine my relief, then, when I read on...

Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions, we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change. The country's last real moral and social revolution was set in motion by the civil rights movement. And in the 1960s, civil rights activists didn't ask bigoted Southern governors and sheriffs to consider "10 Ways to Go Integrated" at their convenience. [...]

For eight years, George W. Bush promoted voluntary action as the nation's primary response to global warming -- and for eight years, aggregate greenhouse gas emissions remained unchanged. Even today, only 10 percent of our household light bulbs are compact fluorescents. Hybrids account for only 2.5 percent of U.S. auto sales. One can almost imagine the big energy companies secretly applauding each time we distract ourselves from the big picture with a hectoring list of "5 Easy Ways to Green Your Office."

As America joins the rest of the world in finally fighting global warming, we need to bring our battle plan up to scale. If you believe that astronauts have been to the moon and that the world is not flat, then you probably believe the satellite photos showing the Greenland ice sheet in full-on meltdown. Much of Manhattan and the Eastern Shore of Maryland may join the Atlantic Ocean in our lifetimes. Entire Pacific island nations will disappear. Hurricanes will bring untold destruction. Rising sea levels and crippling droughts will decimate crops and cause widespread famine. People will go hungry, and people will die.

*WHEW* That's the Mike Tidwell I've read and learned to respect!

And he's right. The problem is big, way too big, to be solved by people making individual choices.

They help, to be sure, but unless you're like me and have made an absolute commitment to minimizing your carbon footprint, the sum total will only be large drops in the bucket.

And keep in mind, I'm as left as they come without a hammer-and-sickle shoulder patch! And there's still plenty of "carbon fat" that I need to whittle away at in my life.

The evidence with respect to climate change is undeniable, despite the last-gasp efforts of the right wing to take what amounts to a
first reading of a play as evidence of a conspiracy on the part of climatologists to deny the truth.

Tidwell's point about civil rights is even dated and almost obsolete. Hell, we've had government intervention in making a mass exodus to a new technology
this. fucking. year. already! No one on the right breathed word one about conspiracies and interventions there, threatening to have the FCC chairmen jailed.

If we can do this because the frickin' broadcast airwaves were effectively polluted and overheated, then we cannot deny, cannot ignore, and cannot delay, government intervention on our own lives. Period. End of discussion.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Medicare for more

By Creature

That's the healthcare idea being floated today as the demise of the public option continues. Bringing down the eligibility age to 55 sounds like a great idea. And, because it sounds like a good idea, one that liberals could rally behind, it will surely die.

Update: I didn't mean to channel Atrios, but I sort of did.

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Life is not a Rolex -- a Rolex is not alive

By Capt. Fogg

"Comprehensible to the intelligent, to the world at large, needing interpretation"

- Pindar -

Ah, Pastor Rick Warren -- not quite smart enough to realize that his arguments have long since been steamrollered by better minds or just smart enough to realize that enough people are ignorant of it for him to make a living by peddling delusion? That is the question.

Put Rick on the list of people deeply disturbed by a sign on a bus saying belief in invisible magic spirits isn't necessary if you want to be good to your fellow humans. In fact he's been in terror of disbelief for a long time, resorting often to such idiocies as the idea that Atheists must be wrong because they're angry, that Atheists are responsible for most of the worlds wars and atrocities including being responsible for the Spanish Inquisition. I have to admit, even I didn't expect that.

No, it's ridiculous not to believe in magic and the supernatural and forces and places for which there is no evidence other than the failure to understand nature. You see, if Pastor Warren is walking down a mountain and finds a rock -- that could be accidental, but if he finds a Rolex, it's "design."

Again, it's easily comprehensible to the rare intelligent American that Rolex's do not occur in nature, nor are they alive and self reproducing; but things like living cells and viruses can indeed result from natural processes which is liberally illustrated by evidence and that Warren is trotting out this mawkish and moronic argument only because, as I said, there are enough congenitally and willfully stupid people out there to be blind to his festival of fatuous fallacies. It's not an argument at all really, it's just a bad analogy and an attempt to shift the burden of proof as Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker illustrates with greater patience and a good deal more skill than I have.

Warren doesn't have enough faith to be an atheist, he says in an attempt to make science and evidence and logic and knowledge a false equivalent of ignorance and the will to believe. Again, if you're intelligent, nobody has to explain it to you any more than I would have to explain why, contrary to his lies belief, same sex marriage is not just like pedophilia and neither Tomas de Torquemada nor the Holy Office at the Vatican were atheists.

But almost everybody believes in the supernatural he says, bringing the ad populum fallacy up to bat. "The actual number of secularists in the world is actually quite small outside of Europe and Manhattan," he continues, adding an appeal to people who find an educated populace threatening. The place for Secular Humanists is North Korea, whines Warren. It's called "poisoning the well" for anyone interested and yes, it's in any book of popular fallacies. That he doesn't tell us that the place for blind faith in religious authority is in the Taliban, isn't surprising, but it is telling.

Of course, if the future of the world is not secularism but as he reminds us: pluralism, a certainty that certainly lacks support as we see beliefs declining as education (and intelligence) increases, it's hard to understand that we should accept a multiplicity of religions but not Secular Humanism. What then does Humanism lack that theistic religion has? Authority. It's rather hard to base a tyranny or any system of arbitrary authority on it and that, dear reader, is what Rick Warren is all about and that's why he's afraid and that's why he has to make fun of your freedom.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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A day in the life of Ivan Cornysovitch

By Capt. Fogg

I guess Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is trying to cornhole us again. I imagine that he woke up early one morning and realized there was another absurd, extreme, preposterous, shameful, ridiculous, and grotesque simile he hadn't used yet to vilify any health care reform that doesn't appeal to the corporate overlords he serves. We've already heard about "death panels" and how extending the program that Cornyn benefits from to the rest of us, is just like Pol Pot's killing fields and Hitler's death camps. Somehow he'd overlooked Stalin's Gulag Archipelago, and it's important we hear about it right away.

You see, the problem is that the Democrats aren't accepting "input" from the Republicans although it's pretty clear that the only "input" he or they have offered is to drop the damn subject. Still it's hard to understand why Tex himself isn't trying to escape from that death camp of federal employee insurance that just might kill him at any time now.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Just a baby

By Capt. Fogg

Why is Fox News so damned afraid of secular humanism? They're not, of course; they're afraid of failing ratings and growing irrelevance, so they tell me once again and right on schedule that I'm at war with my favorite holiday because I'm not at war with my freedom -- and yours. If you think that virtue is its own reward or that doing the right thing by others whether or not you're rewarded for it is by definition the right thing: in fact, if you believe in freedom of thought, perhaps you're at war with Christmas, too.

Last year, the American Humanist Association ran an ad asking "Why believe in a God?" They did it again this year with No God... No Problem signs on city buses and the point of the slogan Be Good for Goodness Sake although certainly not out of line with most religious teachings, can according to the slimy logic of Bill O'Reilly, not only be a direct slander against God, but worse, an attack on the poor, helpless, little baby Jesus.

How do you sell atheism by running down a baby?

asks lyin' Bill so glibly that he can hope that the right people won't notice that being a good person, having compassionate and kindly humanist values, isn't likely to run down anyone's baby.

Blindingly blond and botoxed Margaret Hoover and Gretchen Carlson grinned in frightening fashion during last Thursday's "Culture Warriors" episode although the 85-year-old O'Reilly couldn't seem to remember who was who. Perhaps the beauty pageant grins were as sewn on as they looked or perhaps the grotesque lengths Fox has gone to demonstrate the dangers of freedom simply amused them, but Grinning Gretchen opined that

This is a direct and deliberate smear against Christianity. Do you think they would do this ad in July?

Well, St. Swithyn's day seems hardly worth the effort and after all, December is in some vague and fact-free fashion "the most sacred month" Easter notwithstanding. There's little of ritually sacred nature in July that needs to be forced down the throats of heretics, while December contains other holidays of other religions and the birthdays, of Horus, Mithra, Constantine's favorite Sol Invictus, and other Jesus predecessors -- but never mind. She managed to sneak in the proposition that not being Christian, not loudly professing faith that Jesus was born coincidentally on the same day as the Roman and Persian gods he replaced and not in April as their Gospels state, is an attack on our established State Religion.

Do you think they would do it against Allah on Ramadan? I don't think so! No.

said Lyin' Bill in turn and nicely adding the subliminal hint that the growing secularism of the Western world is actually to be laid at the feet of our Islamic President.

Why does the American Humanist Society want us to be 'good for goodness sake'? Why do they loathe the baby Jesus? He's just a baby.

What a marvelous way to heap fallacy upon fiction upon fraud and turn it into a call to battle. Is it really offensive to anyone's religion to recommend that in doing good unto others, one should not do it for reasons of prestige or self elevation - or that being a good person without doing it from fear of a vengeful son of a god is not really good?

Allowing people to believe or doubt or disbelieve anything they like can only be offensive to a religion that seeks only to convert and control and not to improve mankind. That's just the kind of religion and perhaps the kind of politics O'Reilly and his attendant familiars would be advocating if they really were advocating anything rather than fabricating reasons for rage in those whose mental capabilities don't extend to debunking a train of logic leading from "we don't have to believe in your god to be good" to "Why do they loathe the baby Jesus? He's just a baby."

The real questions, of course, are about why the two-bit Torquemada clones at Fox News loathe people who aren't fundamentalist Christian Conservatives, why lying and bearing false witness in the service of a myth is not loathsome while freedom of thought is an offense to the "baby Jesus."

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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