Saturday, December 19, 2009

For a minute, I thought Peggy Noonan was coming out against Gitmo

By J. Thomas Duffy

Jesus, I thought, Peggy Noonan is slamming The Commander Guy, the Shadow President, and all the other dwarfs, finks, phonies and frauds of The Bush Grindhouse.

The Gipper's Groupie is against torture!

" ...uncorked an act in which he, in the words of various news reports the next day, performed "faux oral sex" featuring "S&M play," "bondage gear," "same-sex makeouts" and "walking a man and woman around the stage on a leash."

Oh, wait a minute ...

No, she isn't.

The single biggest problem this country is facing today is Adam Lambert!

Somebody that knows her, make an intervention.

Get over there and take the wine and pills out of the house.

Bonus Riffs


Sady: Red-Blooded Americans “Assaulted” by Dancing Gay Dude on TV


(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Nelson still holds gun

By Creature

The White House has long promised that whatever bill makes it to conference it could be fixed there. Well, with President Nelson now threatening the conference committee (and in the turn the House and White House) what will the White House say now? I assume more crap about half-loaves, enemies of good, and something about a starter house. And, just to be clear, I'm not saying kill the bill, I'm saying politicians suck.

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Stupidest, most ignorant headline of the day (global warming edition)

We did this on Thursday, with a Bloomberg headline, and we're doing it again today, with a CNN headline:

Haha. Get it? There's this global warming thing, but then there's this snowstorm in Washington, and it's chillin' Pelosi's plans. Hilarious. My sides... they're splitting!

But that's not all. Here's the post's opening paragraph:

In a strange twist, a Washington snowstorm is forcing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to make an early departure from a global warming summit here in Denmark.

How is that "a strange twist"? Well, it's only a twist at all, strange or otherwise, if you're completely ignorant as to just what global warming is.

I won't repeat what I wrote on Thursday, which I encourage you to read, but the point is that weather isn't climate, and global warming doesn't mean that there won't be any more snow in places where it snows now, like Washington. It's just not that simple.

Ed Henry and CNN were obviously trying to be cute, but the implication of the piece, as with the misleading Bloomberg piece, is that such supposedly freakish weather indicates that global warming isn't real. Which, of course, is nonsense.

Such ignorance and irresponsibility. Well done, CNN. You guys are just so trustworthy.

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President Nelson's on board

By Creature

The sausage has been made. It's nose holding time.

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Inhofe in Copenhagen -- a hoax?

Politico: "Jim Inhofe gets cool reception in Denmark."

Maybe that's because he thinks Denmark, like global warming, is a hoax.

Would someone please send this dangerous and ass-backwards idiot back to Oklahoma and let the mature, civilized people of the world try to deal with the most pressing crisis of our time?

(Not that that's working out too well, but denialists like Inhofe don't exactly make it any easier.)

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So, for McCain, was it senility or hypocrisy, or what?

So you know how Al Franken refused to give Joe Lieberman any extra time to speak on Thursday, once his allotted ten minutes were up, prompting John McCain to rush to the defence of his pal, saying he'd never seen anything like that before and lamenting what had become of the Senate?

I posted on it yesterday and included the clip. Here's specifically what McCain said:

I've been around here 20-some years. First time I've ever seen a member denied an extra minute or two to finish his remarks. And I must say that I don't know what's happening here in this body, but I think it's wrong.

McCain's memory must be failing, or something. Levin interjected, pointing out that that very thing had just happened earlier in the afternoon. But McCain, undaunted, kept going:

Well, I just haven't seen it before myself. And I don't like it. And I think it harms the comity of the Senate not to allow one of our members at least a minute. I'm sure that time is urgent here, but I doubt that it would be that urgent.

As I argued in my post, Lieberman probably should have been given the extra time. The issue, if there is one, is McCain's righteous outrage. And not only did McCain forget, or not know, that it had happened that same day, but, as Think Progress reports, McCain himself did the very same thing back in 2002, objecting to any additional time for Mark Dayton, then a Democratic senator from Minnesota.

And why did he do that? Maybe because Dayton was speaking "in favor of an amendment that would have restricted Bush's constitutional powers to wage war against Iraq."

Hypocrisy? You betcha. Unless it's senility, which is a distinct possibility.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

The transparent insincerity of Krazy Bill Kristol, partisan hack

I've met Krazy Bill Kristol a couple of times. I've even spoken to him about my academic work (long story -- one of my teachers at the Univ. of Toronto was one of his teachers at Harvard). He's not a stupid man. Sure, he's a partisan hack with a whole lot of neocon fervor, and I think he's wrong about just about everything, but I'm not about to ridicule him for lack of intellectual capacity, even if he deserves a whole lot of ridicule for just about everything he says and writes and, well, is.

And I've been deeply critical of him here at The Reaction. In fact, I think we all have.

And sometimes, or a lot of the time, it's just so transparently obvious what he's up to, as he spews arguments that are just plain stupid. Like, for example, this, from earlier today:

There's a really big snowstorm coming to D.C.tonight. It would be unsafe to ask all the staffers and Hill employees who'd be needed at the Capitol if Congress stays open all hours this weekend, as Harry Reid intends, to drive to and from work -- especially since many will have to do so at night, and they won't be well-rested. So from the point of view of public safety and personal well-being, Ben Nelson can do everyone a favor, announce today he won't vote for cloture, and let everyone stay home this weekend.

Furthermore, Harry Reid is maniacally insisting on a Christmas Eve vote on a bill whose final text no one has seen yet. So from a good government point of view, Nelson can say that he feels he has to be against cloture.

And of course there's no need to vote in December rather than January or February -- it's just that Reid fears the already unpopular bill can't stand up to more public examination and debate. So from the point of view of respecting democracy and the American people, Nelson can insist that he needs time -- once we have Reid's text -- to go back to Nebraska and have some town meetings to let his constituents' voices be heard.

Two things:

1) Kristol has nothing positive to add to the health-care reform debate. He's just against it. And, to that end, the end of killing it altogether, he's all for obstructing and delaying as much as possible. So if there's no need to vote in December, there's no need to vote in January or February, or perhaps at all next year, and so on and so on. The "argument" is absurd. At some point a vote needs to be held. Why not this month? Oh, right, because the bill will likely pass and there will be actual reform. That's what Kristol knows and fears. There's still work to be done, not least winning the support of Nelson and Lieberman, but we're almost there. Unlike last time, with Hillarycare, Kristol has lost, and he knows it.

2) Kristol likely doesn't give a shit about the welfare of Hill staffers, or at least not much of one. So his deep concern for their safety at this time of impending snowstorm is obviously insincere. He just wants any excuse to delay the vote, which is why he's pushing Nelson to make a decision now. As Jon Chait notes sarcastically, "Kristol is a man of ideas, not some hack who marshals any available argument that serves his political ends." And as Chait correctly points out, if the roles were reversed, Kristol wouldn't be pushing for everyone to be sent home ahead of a key vote. Kristol's "argument" is so stupid and so insincere, and so obviously so, it isn't possible to take him at all seriously. Yeah, yeah, we know he's against reform, and we know he badly wants Nelson to side with the Republicans. So then just say it and don't bullshit us with "the point of view of public safety and personal well-being."

No, he's not a stupid man. He knows full well what he's doing and what's going on. But he really does write and say some appalling stupid things. In fact, he's made a highly lucrative career of it.

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Ben Nelson, reform killer

So. No Joe Lieberman, or not yet. And no Ben Nelson, so far.

Democrats have caved in to Lieberman, giving up not just the public option but the Medicare buy-in, and that still might not be enough, and now it's Nelson who's contradicting himself and saying he won't support the bill, mainly over federal funding for abortions, which he opposes.

It's infuriating, and I'm infuriated, so let me turn this over to my friend Steve Benen, who calmly examines the record:

Remember, literally one month ago today, CNN reported that Nelson was satisfied with the compromise language from the Senate Finance Committee. Now he's decided the Finance Committee compromise not only isn't good enough, but he's also prepared to kill health care reform over it.

What's more, let's also not forget that while Nelson isn't making any real effort to seek common ground, he's also rejecting compromises of compromises -- Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), another pro-life Dem, offered Nelson a new proposal with additional restrictions on federal financing of abortion. As of today, Nelson said the compromise on a compromise still isn't good enough, and he won't even let the Senate vote on the bill because of it.

And while we're at it, let's also not forget that just a few weeks ago, Nelson said he doesn't like the existing restrictions on abortion funding, but added, "If there's no public option, perhaps some of the [abortion] problem goes away." It suggested this wasn't the issue he was prepared to kill health care reform over. And now it is.

Indeed, as of today, Nelson sounded like he's giving up altogether. He said Democratic offers are "not enough," and suggested it might be time to go "back to the drawing board in some areas."

So now Nelson seems to be even more of a problem than Lieberman, which means that the 60th vote, if indeed Lieberman is aboard, would have to be Republican Olympia Snowe.

And if Nelson does join a Republican filibuster and seek to block the bill even from getting to the floor for a vote? At this historic moment, with historic (if hardly ideal) health-care reform legislation possibly soon to be passed, I can only hope that history will frown upon him, as it will upon the Republicans, who are decidedly on the wrong side of it and who will be remembered for having advocated for a status quo that is unjust and unfair and profoundly dysfunctional.

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President Nelson

By Creature

Since it's former insurance company executive Ben Nelson's turn to run the country, does anyone actually think his real objection to the healthcare bill is abortion funding? Let's be serious here. Just like Lieberman, he's bought and paid for. Let's stop the charade.

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Shutting up Lieberman


[Joe] Lieberman was giving a ten-minute speech on health care reform. [Al] Franken, who was presiding over the Senate, cut him off when his ten minutes were up. When Lieberman requested unanimous consent for an extra few minutes to finish his speech, Franken, in his capacity as a senator from Minnesota, objected. And, in his capacity as presiding officer, Franken honored the objection.

After a brief moment of tension, Lieberman laughed and said he didn't take it personally, and requested that the rest of his speech be put in the record.

Then [John] McCain took the floor to defend his friend, saying he'd never seen anything like it.

Watch the clip below.

McCain: "I must say that, uh, I don't know what's happening here in this body, but, uh, I think it's wrong..."

Really, Senator McCain? You don't know what's happening? Look, Franken probably should have granted Lieberman an extra minute or two. The perception, after all, is that Franken denied him the extra time simply because he doesn't agree with him (or like him). But, Senator McCain, why don't you take a long, hard look at your own party, which is a party of ideological extremism and procedural obstructionism.

For example, just yesterday, according to The Hill, Jim DeMint, one of your more extremist colleagues, said he's "prepared to use every procedural tool to delay a vote" on the Democratic reform bill. And just two days ago, again according to The Hill, Tom Coburn, another extremist, required a 767-page amendment to be read aloud and in full, a clear waste of time and one of the Republicans' key delaying tactics.

You could argue that giving a senator an extra minute or two is the same as allowing senators to use the tools at their disposal, but if what you're talking about is civility, I'd say the reverse is true. Sure, give Lieberman an extra minute or two, out of respect if nothing else, but then stop your fellow Republicans from being nasty and vindictive in their quest to kill a bill that has the support of a decisive majority of senators (at least 58).

What's happened to your beloved Senate, Senator McCain? The Republican Party happened, your party, the party of DeMint and Coburn and their ilk.

You really want to stick to the stupid rules that govern cloture and filibustering and that allow a single senator to hold the Senate hostage, denying the will of the majority? Then shut up about Lieberman's ten minutes.

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Thoughts on the state of health-care reform

I'm not happy there's no public option, I'm not happy there's no Medicare buy-in, and, in general, I'm not happy it's not a single-payer system like the one we have in Canada.

But what to do? Oppose the bill because it isn't enough or support it because it's all we can get?

I've been mulling this over for some time, like a lot of you out there, and like a lot of prominent commentators in the blogosphere, and a conversation with a friend yesterday clarified a few points for me.

To wit: I think it's extremely important for those on the left, liberals and progressives alike, not to give in too easily. We have been largely dismissed by the White House and the Democratic leadership -- with Obama himself pushing Reid to make a deal with Lieberman while all but ignoring the protests of those on the left of the party, as well as of those within his, and the party's, liberal-progressive base -- as if we simply don't matter and are of little consequence. But why are we the only ones who need to compromise? Why do we have to give more than, say, Lieberman and Nelson? Well, we are told, because that's just the way it is, what with the Republicans apparently unanimous, for now, in opposition to reform. Either we give in or there's no bill, and no reform, and it'll apparently all be our fault, as we're the ones who'll be blamed. Yes, I accept that the bill will be more to the right than what we would like, but we should nonetheless withhold our support until we win at least some concessions. Okay, no public option, no Medicare buy-in? Then, if you want your individual mandate, which is what the insurance companies want, then put in sufficient subsidies to ensure that those required to buy insurance will actually have the means to do so. In other words, if it's the Dutch system you want, more or less, then give us the Dutch system, more or less.

Here's Jon Cohn:

Now, the reforms moving through Congress won't produce a system as comprehensive as what the Netherlands or Switzerland has. But that's not because of the individual mandate, which actually makes a lot of sense. (Read here if you want chapter and verse on that.) That's because the subsidies and regulation in these bills aren't as generous and strong as they could be.

The public plan would have helped make up for these deficiencies. That's why it's loss is truly regrettable -- and why its supporters should be angry. But the best response wouldn't be to demand the politically impossible -- that is, to insist upon a restoration of the public plan that simply doesn't have the votes it needs to pass. It would be to demand some other things, like better subsidies and regulation, that do have political potential and could actually make the final bill better.

I'm all for a loud, angry left. If nothing else, we need it to balance out the loud, angry right. But there's a fine line between being constructive and destructive. This latest gambit, I think, crosses it.

That "gambit" is opposing the individual mandate. I actually support the individual mandate, but I think it makes some sense to oppose it until "subsidies" and "regulation" are "generous and strong." At the very least, that should be our bargaining position.

So keep fighting. Don't just go along with Reid and the White House. Demand more. Demand concessions. It's quid pro quo. If Lieberman and Nelson need to be appeased, fine, but they should compromise, too, and not simply be allowed to determine the final version of the bill. Yes, we need to be "constructive" about it, but we can be constructive within the parameters of good-faith negotiating.

Ultimately, though -- as I swallow hard -- I think Kevin Drum (via Cohn) is right:

From any kind of progressive point of view it's hard to see how you could seriously argue that the current bill is a net harm. Sure, it makes compromises to powerful interests that are hard to swallow. But that's why they're called powerful interests: because they can kill your legislative priorities if you don't assuage them. In return, though, the Senate bill brings down insurance rates, expands Medicaid, offers the prospect of moderately priced insurance to tens of millions of the uninsured, forces insurers to take you on even if you have a chronic pre-existing condition, mandates minimum levels of coverage, and takes several small but important steps toward reducing the future growth of healthcare costs. That's an enormous advance for the progressive agenda.

There's an alternate universe out there in which you could get all this stuff without compromise based on the sheer force of progressive arguments. Sadly, it's not this universe. I sure hope we don't have to learn this the hard way yet again.

Of course, there is also much to be said for Glenn Greenwald's position (via Drum):

In essence, this reinforces all of the worst dynamics of Washington. The insurance industry gets the biggest bonanza imaginable in the form of tens of millions of coerced new customers without any competition or other price controls. Progressive opinion-makers, as always, signaled that they can and should be ignored... Most of this was negotiated and effectuated in complete secrecy, in the sleazy sewers populated by lobbyists, industry insiders, and their wholly-owned pawns in the Congress. And highly unpopular, industry-serving legislation is passed off as "centrist," the noblest Beltway value.

Kevin agrees, I agree, and I suspect most liberals and progressives agree. But what else are we to do? Yes, I wish it had all been done differently. Yes, I wish the bill currently in the Senate were more progressive. Yes, I see that "the worst dynamics of Washington" have triumphed yet again. Am I happy about that? No. But what I am happy about is that real reform is finally on the horizon.

And if it were to fail now, then what? It wouldn't be brought back next year, with the midterms, and likely not before 2012. And who can predict what Washington will look like beyond that?

Sad to say, but what we have now, compromises and all, is better than nothing.

We just need to keep fighting as urgently and as strenuously as we can, and to win as many concessions as we can, and to demand that the White House and the Democratic leadership take us seriously and pay us the recognition we deserve, before swallowing hard and signing on for good.


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NYT: Liberal Revolt on Health Care Stings White House

By Creature

When I read that NYT headline, my first thought was "good." I hate that this is where I'm at. What did they think would happen when capitulation came so quick? President Lieberman opens his mouth and within 24 hours he got everything he asked for. Everything the insurance industry asked for. And to top it off, Leiberman was embraced while someone like Howard Dean was demonized. It's all backwards and while I still hold out hope that this bill can be fixed, my hope is no longer directed toward the man who promised it.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Stupidest, most ignorant headline of the day (global warming edition)

From Bloomberg:

This sort of misleading reporting, with an implication that global warming isn't real because of freakish weather, drives me crazy.

Let's get this straight: Climate is not the same thing as weather. A blizzard in Copenhagen, however strange or, here, ironic, doesn't say anything about the global climate, or about rising global temperatures.

Besides, as I have put it here before (e.g., here and here), global warming, which is indisputable (the facts are the facts), melts sea ice. When sea ice melts, the seas rise, and there are potentially dramatic changes to the earth's hydrologic cycle, including to the so-called Ocean Conveyor, which regulates the Gulf Stream, the flow of warm water up into the North Atlantic. If the Conveyor slows down significantly as a result of more and more fresh water coming down from the north (melted sea ice), temperatures would cool significantly in Europe and elsewhere in the region, and, more dramatically, much of the Northern Hemisphere could be plunged back into another ice age. (Researchers have already discovered remarkable changes in oceanic salinity levels.)

In other words, global warming could lead to cooling in places like Denmark.

That's not too hard to understand, is it? Well, it clearly is to the fucking morons who write headlines like this, not to mention to the global warming denialists who continue to live with their heads firmly up their asses and, with some of them, to lie about the most pressing crisis of our time.

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Good riddance!

By Carl

You think Barack Obama is glad to see 2009 end?

Climate Change Conference Stalled

Democrats Squabble Over Healthcare Reform

Whiny Republicans Throw A Temper Tantrum

First Time Jobless Claims Are Surprisingly Higher

Obama's Support Is Winnowing Away

This closely mirrors the first Bush year, when he could get nothing done and was falling apart, until one fateful day in September of 2001.

We hope Obama will not resort to allowing a tragedy on his watch, but one never knows for sure.

I wouldn't say he desperately needs good news, but it's certainly looking as though he could stand a bit of picking up and the clock is running, after all. He needs something in the first half of 2010 in order to consolidate the gains Democrats have made over the past six years in Congress.

Curiously, it's the attacking from the left that flummoxes me. I get that an awful lot of hope (pun intended) was placed on Obama's shoulders, but come on! The economy this year, the worst since the Great Depression, has hampered any effective legislation he could possibly have been expected to pass, AND he's had to herd cats from his left and his right in order to do what he has been able to accomplish.

And it's most assuredly NOT helping that the
moronic leadership in Congress has been nipping at his heels instead of assisting his agenda.

Hell, you'd almost be tempted to blame Bush/Cheney for sabotaging the nation, poisoning the well ahead of Obama's takeover, in order to give one final bird to the people of the United States.

If liberals, and I count myself a liberal, albeit one with a mind, are going to blame anyone, then let's shift the focus to where the blame truly belongs. If
Republicans could blame Clinton (or worse, Jimmy Carter) for Bush's failings eight years out, certainly we can be sporting enough to blame Bush for failing to live up to his fiduciary duty to protect the nation and its citzenry, just one year down the road.

(crossposted to
Simply Left Behind)

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Jesus laughed

By Capt. Fogg

"How dangerous it is in sensible things to use metaphorical expressions unto the people, and what absurd conceits they will swallow in their literals."

-Thomas Browne - Pseudoxia Epidemica-


Making sense out of someone else's religion is a bit like looking at a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't all fit and some are taped in place or hidden under others. Take the Mary and Joseph story. We're supposed to believe that since Joseph was too old to have sex with his obscenely young bride Mary, her pregnancy was a bit of a surprise - until of course she told him that God, in the form of a bird, did the deed. The subsequent pregnancies resulting in brothers and sisters might have been harder to explain, unless the bird left some blue pills for the old man -- or unless we ignore old Occam: "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem" which means don't make shit up just so people won't laugh at your bogus story.

That of course would have Jesus' brother Jacob the true heir to the throne of David, making him the Messiah; because after all, Joseph, from whose family the title was inherited, wasn't his real father. OK, so we don't ask and we just tape that piece in place and ignore what is underneath.

Anyway, one can choose to treat the alleged divinity of Jesus as a metaphor, which makes sense, or literally, which makes absolutely none. If you're of the latter persuasion, which didn't approach universality for many centuries into the Christian Era, (if it ever really did) the flimsiness of your construction is likely to make you touchy and humorless if not aggressively pugnacious. Imagine the fundamentalist's reaction to a poster showing A young Joseph in bed with a frustrated looking Mary and titled "Poor Joseph, God was a hard act to follow."

The Church that put up the billboard in Aukland, New Zealand simply wished to point out the absurd conceit of swallowing this literal fundamentalist interpretation. Archdeacon Glynn Cardy of The St Matthew-in-the-City Anglican church said he wanted to inspire people to talk about the Christmas story: to challenge a fundamentalist interpretation that's obviously pasted together from pieces torn from other religions, rather than swallowing the cocktail.
"What we're trying to do is to get people to think more about what Christmas is all about. Is it about a spiritual male God sending down sperm so a child would be born, or is it about the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus?"

Predictably, it wasn't well received by those who demand that everyone else swallow the same mind numbing potion and within hours an irate man was trying to paint over the image. Local Catholic spokesmen were up in arms and a "conservative" group called Family First was calling the whole thing irresponsible. It's nice to know that "conservatives" despise religious freedom in New Zealand as much as they do here. I mean it's one thing to be able to speak out against secular authority, but suggesting that God's own sacred chicken doesn't make half breed, wholly God children with young girls who somehow remain virginal throughout multiple pregnancies and births! What fools these mortals be!

If only I could claim such protection against people who disagree with me.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Al Qaeda and the Taliban still tied in a knot

Guest post by Michael Lieberman

Michael Lieberman, a Truman National Security Project fellow, is an associate at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington D.C., where he works on international regulatory and compliance issues. (The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Steptoe & Johnson LLP.)

Ed. note: This is Michael's second post at The Reaction. His first, on how climate change is a real national security threat, is here. This post below was originally published at Partnership for a Secure America.


President Obama has now presented the nation with a sober, solemn assessment in explaining the need for an additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan: al Qaeda remain in "common cause" with the Taliban; it has metastasized into Pakistan; it has again infiltrated our shores. Answering those who have grown complacent, the president reminded America that "this is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat."

Yet many are unconvinced. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), for instance, responded to the president's address that more troops would not make America more secure because "al Qaeda can go any place. They don't have to be in Afghanistan." Senator John Kerry stated that many members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, "either don't see the nexus or don't accept" that al Qaeda and the Taliban remain in league with one another.

Many observers outside the beltway agree. Harvard's Stephen Walt argues that "Afghanistan is increasingly a distraction... all [al Qaeda] needs are safe houses in various parts of the world and a supply of potential martyrs." Since al Qaeda franchises are already operating in Yemen and Somalia, "denying its founders a 'safe haven' in Afghanistan will not make that network less lethal." Juan Cole, his colleague at Michigan, agrees: "neo-Talibanism does not imply the return of al-Qaeda."

But far from being a "distraction," Afghanistan remains a central front. One need not only take President Obama's word for it. According to Peter Bergen, who interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1997, al Qaeda training camps are vital to its ability to mount attacks. Virtually all recent anti-Western terrorist plots, including the recently disrupted plot of Najibullah Zazi, link up to operatives who underwent intensive training in Afghanistan or Pakistan. And to cite Pakistan's role as a reason to oppose the troop increase misses the point: it is the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan that has reduced the threat there and pushed it over the border. In sum, al Qaeda needs more than safe houses and shaheeds. It needs time, training, shelter, and resource networks. Such necessities are far more difficult to obtain in remote Yemen and Somalia (al Qaeda's top alternatives), where its roots are shallower and where, as littoral states, U.S. countermeasures and intelligence are logistically simpler.

Commentators like Walt and Cole also posit that the Taliban, bitten once, will be twice shy. But it does not follow that the bad taste left in the Taliban's mouth after the U.S. invasion will lead it to renounce its friends. Such a perspective places undue weight on schisms between al Qaeda and Taliban leaders such as Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who each criticized bin Laden following the 1998 African embassy bombings and 9/11. Still, neither time did they expel or betray him. Bygones were bygones by 2007, when, after retreating from Iraq, al Qaeda was met with open arms back in Afghanistan. As Abdel Bari Atwan (who, like Bergen, has had the pleasure of interviewing bin Laden) notes, "the alliance between [al Qaeda] and the Taliban is currently stronger than it has ever been." Veteran Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yousufzai (yet another who has interviewed the al Qaeda leader) explains that even if the Taliban grew wary of al Qaeda, the groups have now "given blood to each other... the bonds are much stronger."

Even if the material benefits and ideological affinities of the alliance were diminished, it is hard to imagine the Taliban being chastened once we've walked off and wagged our finger. The Taliban are more likely to calculate that the costs of returning to Afghanistan would simply be too staggering for the U.S. and difficult to justify absent another attack on the scale of 9/11. More likely, al Qaeda and company would wage "pinprick" strikes that would reduce the risk of a massive U.S. reinvasion of their stronghold. Now that we have toppled their regime, overrun their country and killed their leaders, it is not hard to imagine the Taliban countenancing such behavior -- with a vengeance.

Even if the Afghan Taliban's current leadership were somehow to trade al Qaeda for Kabul, the up-and-comers in their ranks appear more motivated by an expansionist theology than do the elders. The Taliban today, even under the best view, is not necessarily the Taliban of tomorrow. In any event, the Taliban's primary driver -- Pashtun nationalism -- does not imply the absence of religious fundamentalism and the global ambitions that accompany it. An analysis of the Taliban's "night letters" to villagers, for instance, suggests that it is framing its insurgency as part of a larger transnational struggle against infidel forces.

All this is to say nothing of the intimate relationship enjoyed by al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, who have succeeded in provoking even Pakistan off the fence and into Swat and Waziristan. Pakistan's willingness to see this fight through will depend to a great extent on what it sees the U.S. deciding. This is perhaps one of the primary, if unspoken, objectives of the surge. Pakistan's history of hedging its bets is based on its perception of U.S. perfidy. An anemic U.S. presence on the Afghan side of the line will undermine Pakistan's incentives to truly sever its connections with jihadist groups in Afghanistan and with its colleagues seeking the restoration of Kabul and Kashmir. President Obama, recognizing this reality, offered Pakistan America's hand in friendship -- based on "mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust" even "after the guns have fallen silent." They must first feel secure enough to accept it.

As we know, the swords of even the world's mightiest army cannot unravel the Gordian knot of Afghanistan. But neither can the knot be finessed by a counterterrorism strategy, more civilian aid or a "Bonn II" conference. Despite the great costs and sacrifice, Obama's recommitment to Afghanistan is -- much as we might wish otherwise -- the only realistic course.

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Bernie Sanders is a no

By Creature

While I appreciate very much that Bernie has announced his intention, no matter how tentative, to vote no on the Lieberman-Obama healthcare bill, he has not said he would filibuster. The fight here is now on the filibuster level. I don't like that it is, but that's where we are at. Bernie should say no to cloture and be clear about. It's the only way this bill will be forced to the left.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stop being so stupid, Michael Moore

I don't like Joe Lieberman either, but calling for a boycott of the state of Connecticut is just stupid:

People of Connecticut: What have u done 2 this country? We hold u responsible. Start recall of Lieberman 2day or we'll boycott your state,

he tweeted.

Um, it's called democracy. And, like it or not, Lieberman beat Lamont to win re-election in '06. How could the people of Connecticut have known then what we know now, namely, that Lieberman would flip-flip and block efforts to include a public option and/or a Medicare buy-in in the Senate's health-care reform bill?

We could have expected as much, specifically that he would be a thorn in Democrats' sides on a variety of issues, which is why many of us opposed him then and opposed the Democrats' decision, at Obama's urging, to allow him not just to caucus with the Democrats after last year's election, for which he campaigned eagerly for his pal McCain, turning viciously on Obama, but to keep his seniority and committee leadership positions, but why hold the entire state of Connecticut responsible for his misdeeds? The people of Connecticut will have an opportunity to decide what to do with him in '12, should he run, and I suspect they'll kick him out of office with all the decisive indignation they can muster.

Oh, and Moore might want to get his facts straight. There is no recall provision in Connecticut.

And what a terrible precedent it would be if entire states were boycotted for partisan political reasons, as if all there is to a state is how it votes. Because if you want to boycott Connecticut, then you should probably also boycott Nebraska, which elected Ben Nelson. And then what would stop Republicans from boycotting every "Democratic" state?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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Person? Of the year?

By Carl

Ben Bernanke?

A bald man with a gray beard and tired eyes is sitting in his oversize Washington office, talking about the economy. He doesn't have a commanding presence. He isn't a mesmerizing speaker. He has none of the look-at-me swagger or listen-to-me charisma so common among men with oversize Washington offices. His arguments aren't partisan or ideological; they're methodical, grounded in data and the latest academic literature. When he doesn't know something, he doesn't bluster or bluff. He's professorial, which makes sense, because he spent most of his career as a professor.

He is not, in other words, a typical Beltway power broker. He's shy. He doesn't do the D.C. dinner-party circuit; he prefers to eat at home with his wife, who still makes him do the dishes and take out the trash. Then they do crosswords or read. Because Ben Bernanke is a nerd.

He just happens to be the most powerful nerd on the planet.

Now, look, I'm a nerd, so I suppose I should have some support for this news.

And it cannot be doubted that Bernanke has been front and center of the news this entire year. Or rather, his policies and oversight have. Too, I have nothing against a guy who hasn't married a DC pundit and whirls around the DC cocktail party circuit like a banshee. In fact, I rather like that about Bernanke.

But seriously... person of the year? This presumes that Bernanke's policies will have far-reaching effects throughout the economy for a period of time extending beyond this year, and that's up for grabs, as far as I'm concerned.

Indeed, from what I've seen, Bernanke has both been a factor creating the problems we've encountered and acted as a bandaid now that those chickens have roosted.

If maintaining the status quo is the most newsworthy thing a person can do in this "Year of No," then perhaps the real person of the year should be Joe Lieberman, whose insistence on being a slave to the corporatocracy while millions of Americans sicken and die under his thumb will have a far greater impact on American and by extension world culture than the few dribs and drabs and wrist-slaps of the Fed chairman.

A better choice: how about rewarding the courage of
Olympia Snowe for getting on board the healthcare reform bandwagon and insisting that, come what may of the bill, it should be subject to serious debate and discussion in the halls of the Senate? I get the title is for the person who has made the most news this year, but it seems to me that means bucking the partisan trends of political thought to actually get something done. Without her, there is no healthcare discussion much less the pitiful reform we're seeing take shape.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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It's what the White House wanted all along

By Creature

The more I sour, the more I grudgingly come to accept that the healthcare bill coming out of the Senate is exactly what the White House wanted all along. The big pharma deal and every public-option hedge should have been enough for me, but today, in the cold light of a corporate-Lieberman-Obama victory, I am now converted. Many have been whining that Obama is not leading on healthcare reform, he is leading, just not in a direction I would like. I wanted conservative arm-twisting, but it's liberal arms that are red and sore today.

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Obama's Afghanistan troop decision necessary

Guest post by Jared Stancombe

Jared Stancombe, a 2009 graduate of Indiana University, is currently an analyst for a U.S. government agency responsible for national security. He is also in the officer selection process for the U.S. Marine Corps. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Ed. note: This is Jared's third guest post on Afghanistan and the Afghan War. You can find his first two here and here. -- MJWS


Obama's decision to send approximately 34,000 new troops to Afghanistan is a necessary decision to finally disable al-Qaeda's ability to reorganize along with the Taliban in the southern region of the country. With a timeframe of 18 months, the insurgents may simply wait it out; however, it is my opinion that this timeframe is necessary.

The ultimate goal in Afghanistan is not to make the struggling state become stable, but rather to disable and disrupt al-Qaeda from launching attacks upon U.S. interests. Fixing Afghanistan is an effort that would take generations, and Obama has realized that Afghanistan is only a component on the effort to disrupt terrorism across the globe.

Yemen is increasingly becoming politically unstable and Somalia is a failed state with a substantial al-Qaeda influence. The focus of al-Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan but the Baluchistan region along the border with Pakistan . Also, domestic threats threaten U.S. interests, and some Americans have been recruited by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Afghanistan has failed politically. Karzai no longer has the legitimacy he once had, and the institutions that the U.S. has invested millions in do not deliver the basic services to the Afghans they are responsible for. The Karzai regime is beyond corrupt, and a centralized national government is not the fix for local problems. Afghanistan is a countless mess of localized problems that a centralized government cannot solve comprehensively.

With this failure, we must build up the Afghan National Security Forces, allowing the government to take charge of the counterinsurgency effort and pacify its own country. The fact of the matter is that we will not win in Afghanistan , the Afghans will. That is a primary objective for the counterinsurgency: to empower the country to defeat the insurgents on its own.

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Kill the bill?

By Creature

I'm not there yet, but I'm getting close. For the first time yesterday when I saw Obama on the TV talking about healthcare reform I was sickened. That's not a good sign. Howard Dean wants the bill killed. I tend to trust Howard Dean. With the loopholes, the mandates, and the lack of any real public choice I don't see how this bill helps. Forcing people to buy crappy, expensive insurance makes no sense. Ugh.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trending positive

By Carl

One thing about being educated in America in the second half of the 20th Century:
you forget just how rare you really are:
About 30% of Americans 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree; in 1988 that number was only 20% and in 1968 it was 10%.

Re-read that. And for you Republicans, let me spell it out. Less than 1/3, one in three, Americans. Have. A. College. Degree.

Hard to believe, I know, considering the high price businesses place on a college education in the workforce. And note that this is after the Vietnam War when pursuit of a college degree was the best way to avoid the draft. You'd think the percentages would be much higher. Curiously, that rate is second highest in the world (
Canada is number one,) but it's slipping.

So how is this "trending positive"? Well, over the longer term, politically speaking...well, let me have Petrilli finish his thought:
As less-educated seniors pass away and better-educated 20- and 30-somethings take their place in the electorate, this bloc will exert growing influence. And here's the distressing news for the GOP: According to exit-poll data, a majority of college-educated voters (53%) pulled the lever for Mr. Obama in 2008—the first time a Democratic candidate has won this key segment since the 1970s.

Or, as Karl Rove so eloquently put it, "As people do better, they start voting like Republicans - unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing."

Rule of Thumb:
Smart people vote Democratic. Dummies vote Republican.

Not that this is the salvation this nation needs. After all, it still means that 70% of the country doesn't have a college degree, and the current graduation rates have about 17% of people 25-34 with degrees. Now many of those are likely in the armed services and will get their degrees on the GI Bill's dime, so let's be generous and say it will be twenty percent by the end of 2015 (allowing for the Iraq and Afghan pull outs).

This means we have a short window to show our stuff, to encourage the less-educated folks in the heartland to stop listening to people who want them to remain dummified, and to pay attention to the world around them. We have to defuse the old Nixonian "east coast intellectuals" trope, which has evolved into the wide perception of "liberal thought," period.

In other words, we have to lift people up to our vision while not talking down at them. From my observation within the walls of cyberspace, that's not going to be an easy trick. Liberals tend to assume that the people they want to lead want to be led, but here's the thing: autocracy works in an atmosphere of violence, fear, and hatred, but is not well-suited for a free society. Free societies tend to think freely, and the tendency of liberals in a free thinking atmosphere is to, well, overthink things.

Not that this is a bad thing, but you have to keep in mind that 70% of the people considering your thinking don't have a grounding in philosophy beyond the Good Book, have never heard of Descartes much less Sartre, and are going to be put off by that kind of roaming thought-process.

You have to find a visceral connection to these people, too, because you aren't going to win many elections with the 17% of the people with degrees that are represented in the 2008 exit polls. As much as we liberals poo-poo the Blue Dog Democrats, like it or not, they represent a large enough voting bloc that they cannot be ignored, and indeed, have to be put first.

On a practical basis,
as I pointed out yesterday, it means making a connection between a complex issue like the bank bailouts, the greed of bankers, and the opposition viewpoint that greed is good, and then selling that image to these voters. It means calling the heads of Citibank and Goldman Sachs "fat cat bankers," even if their past campaign contributions put you in power.

It means making an issue like a public healthcare option so identifiable to the mass public that they can't help but support it, so much so that Joe Lieberman has to shrug his shoulders and give up. Maybe a "Katrina" moment would do it, where we see who is most affected by the lack of insurance: the most vulnerable among us. People just like the people we need to help get liberals elected.

It's Christmas time, it could work, you know.

We do best when we talk up to people, not down to them.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)


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Are military commissions really much different?

Guest post by Michael Foote

Michael Foote is a deputy district attorney in Boulder, Colorado and a principal at the Truman National Security Project. This is his first guest post at The Reaction.


Many critics of Attorney General Holder's decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and his fellow 9/11 conspirators in federal criminal court seem to believe military commissions would be an efficient and straightforward solution to all the weaknesses present in criminal courts. They promote military commissions as some kind of panacea that would disperse efficient and certain justice to KSM and other terrorists. When one actually understands the two systems, however, it becomes apparent that disparagement of the criminal system and praise for the military commissions both go too far.

In reality, the systems are similar in many ways. Try to figure out which system is described below:

A terrorist defendant is informed in open court of the charges against him, which include murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He is presumed to be innocent. The defendant hires a well known and effective defense attorney who in turn files numerous motions demanding information, suppressing statements, and to dismiss the charges. Some of the demanded information is classified so the judge denies those requests. Some of the defendant’s statements are in fact suppressed while some are admissible. After extensive pre-trial litigation, the trial finally begins. Twelve jurors are seated and they must determine whether the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is allowed to testify and takes advantage of the opportunity to justify his actions and defend al Qaeda ideology. If the defendant is convicted, he has the right to appeal his conviction in a federal appellate court and even ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

If you guessed this scenario describes a federal criminal court, you are correct. If you guessed it is a military commission, you are also correct. That is because both have many of the same characteristics. In KSM's case, his trial in both would unfold in a very similar way.

How do we know this? Take a look at the military commissions rules of evidence and rules of procedure. Or, for a succinct summary, read a recent report comparing the two systems by the Congressional Research Service.

In both systems, KSM can hire the attorney of his choice. Statements he made about the 9/11 plot before his capture and in court proceedings afterwards would be admissible in both systems. When the death penalty or imprisonment over ten years is sought, all members of a twelve person military commission must agree on the verdict. The government must overcome KSM's presumption of innocence by proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Both systems have protections against the disclosure of classified information. Neither system can force KSM to testify, but both allow him to do so. Both systems require an impartial judge to play the leading role in adjudicating disputes and making evidentiary rulings.

So, when Alabama Senator Jeffrey Sessions says, "different procedures are far more appropriate" in military commissions, it is difficult to know specifically which procedures he is referencing. When he says KSM's case in federal criminal court will result in "massive pre-trial motions," he does not mention the same is true in military commissions. In fact, there is even more room for pre-trial litigation in the military commissions because of the lack of precedent in that system. Defense lawyers in the commissions will attack everything from the constitutionality of the proceedings to the most minute procedural issue.

While former Vice President Dick Cheney laments KSM's ability to "proselytize millions of people out there around the world" during his trial in New York, he fails to explain how a military commission will curtail that opportunity.

When Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann proclaims "we would have had 100 percent certainty in a military tribunal, but because of the provisions of reasonable doubt, that could turn into something like 80 percent," as she did in a recent protest on the steps of the Supreme Court, she apparently overlooks the fact that reasonable doubt is the standard in both systems.

All this is not to say KSM's trial in criminal court will be a short process immune from intrigue and legal maneuvers. But any court with the required due process provisions will present the same prospects. If the military commission system has the due process its advocates insist, any marginally competent lawyer will be able to fight conviction every step of the way. Trying KSM and other terrorists in either system will be a complex and time-consuming process. Military commissions will hardly shortcut that fact. The use of misleading and incomplete statements about the two systems should be seen for what it is: an attempt to score cheap political points without much regard for the truth.

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Let only one flower bloom

By Capt. Fogg

According to the Foxspeak dictionary, a school of thought is defined as a scheme, usually by Roger Ailes or Rupert Murdoch that they wish to attribute to a broad segment of the public. People say, or Some people are saying are alternate disguises for propaganda. If there really is a school of thought that believes cutting the minimum wage will be good for workers, I would like to see its accreditation and I suspect it's a school where employers such as McDonalds and Wal-Mart are heavily represented.
"One school of thought says lowering the minimum wage will actually create more jobs,"

pronounced anchortwit Juliet Huddy from the Fox News Podium in an attempt to give credit to the idea if not to the school of one promoting it.

As Raw Story describes in detail, Fox reduces the entire concept of a minimum wage to "social justice" which sounds sufficiently close to Socialism that they deemed it unnecessary to point out any contrary ideas, no matter how credible. Blind slogans and doctrines being so much easier to sell than truth in all its complexity -- or justice for that matter.

At one point I was foolish enough to think that the failure of doctrine driven economic, social and military policies would be an embarrassment to Fox and its friends, but it seems now that with America down and out, the opportunity to kick us while we're down is irresistible. It seems that their dream of building a new, invincible corporate oligarchy from the ruins of our country, is the only school of thought that isn't a strategic fraud.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Easy money

By Carl

This is a kind of
strawman argument to make by Obama, but nonetheless it will resonate:
In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" programme, he said he did not run for office to be "helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street".
Later on Monday, the president will meet some of the US's top bankers face-to-face.
He is scheduled to hold a meeting with executives from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup.
He is planning to tell them to step up lending to small businesses and get behind legislation to overhaul Wall Street regulations.

The term "fat-cat bankers" is one of those totems of neurolinguistic programming that I have been urging Democrats to pick up on for quite some time. We are not in a race war in this nation, nor are we truly in a political fight with the right.

We are, however, in a class war, one that pits the monied interests against the hundreds of millions of Americans who not only are not wealthy, but stand absolutely no chance of ever becoming wealthy. ("No chance" includes a rounding error to account for that small percentage, perhaps one-tenth of one percent, who might actually get lucky and hit the lottery or write a novel that takes off).

"Fat Cat Banker" raises the image of Mr. Monopoly, Rich Uncle Pennybags, complete with top hat, morning coat and striped pants, wearing a monocle and smoking a cigar, or the image used in so many mortgage and business lending commercials prior to the banking crisis, with a wood-paneled office, drinking brandy from a snifter which the banker then uses to crush the poor little guy trying to get a loan from Megabucks Bank.

But it's the rest of his remarks that truly intrigued me.
"“They don’t get it,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let’s see. You guys are drawing down ten million, twenty million dollar bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it’s gone through in decades, and you guys caused the problem.[...]

Much of it was due to the irresponsibility of large financial institutions on Wall Street that gambled on risky loans and complex financial products seeking short-term profits and big bonuses with little regard for long-term consequences.[...]

What's really frustrating me right now is that you've got these same banks who benefited from taxpayer assistance who are fighting tooth and nail with their lobbyists up on Capitol Hill, fighting against financial regulatory control," he said.

And here's the most effective point he's made while raising the image of the greedy banker: not so much that the banks were greedy for their own sake, but that they owe a debt of gratitude to the small business owners and taxpayers who stood by them when the shit hit the fan.

See, any idiot with a degree in accounting or finance (like me) could have told any banker that the risks they were taking by lending to anyone and everyone who walked up with a hat in hand were enormous and unnecessary. That the bankstahs spent more time listening to the shareholders who threatened mutiny if this quarter's earnings didn't meet or exceed last quarter's earnings and the board of directors who insisted on pay-for-share-performance than they did to the people warning them of the cliff they were about to drive over means they now owe a debt to the people who not only warned them, but who got down under the cliff and caught the bank before it crashed.

Greed is pervasive in the capitalist system. Hell, it IS the capitalist system and used wisely, greed is good. I'm not about to stick my neck out on the chopping block unless there's a better than even chance that I'll end up better, much better, off than when I knelt in front of it.

But here's the thing: that same greed should recognize the people who stood by me, my workers, my investors, my community. That same greed should acknowledge the role of my customers and my vendors. AND that same greed should reward the government that put me in a position to take the chance, by creating a framework that was safe for me to do business in.

And if anyone of these groups, these stakeholders, goes above and beyond the call of duty to assist me when I am in trouble, then greed should absolutely be given to them, not me.

The parallel in my mind is alcoholism. If a man is supporting his family and giving to his community and keeping up with his obligations, then by all means, if he's a drunk then let him drink.

But keep an eye on him, because at some point, the drink, the greed, will overtake him and someone needs to be prepared to step in.

The right wing knuckleheads will tell you that this should be a function of his family (the company), taking care of his alcholo problem (his greed), but they may not notice or worse, may not care. That's when someone else needs to step in and stop him.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Cutting a deal with Lieberman

Following up on Creature's post from earlier this evening...

The White House is apparently behind the move to scrap the Medicare buy-in, pushing Reid et al. to cut a deal with Lieberman. Specifically, and not surprisingly, it's Rahm Emanuel behind it.

It's a flip-flop for Lieberman, who was for the buy-in just a few months ago.

Honestly, how is it that one senator, and specifically a moral vacuum like Lieberman (who's all about himself, and getting what he wants, and basing his policy positions on ever-fluctuating whims), is able to hold the entire reform process hostage? How is it that he gets what he wants while the majority party is forced to give in and compromise again and again?

Is Tom Harkin right that the bill would be good enough without the public option and the Medicare buy-in? It could be, yes, and Democrats seem to have resigned themselves to giving Lieberman what he wants. At least, that's the takeaway from their public utterances.

Arlen Specter ought to be praised for saying this at a Democratic caucus meeting this evening: "Don't let these obstructionists win. I came to this caucus to be your 60th vote." The problem is, those 60 votes include a vote for Lieberman, an anti-Democrat who has been allowed to caucus with the Democrats despite his Republican inclinations.

Is there no way to win over Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins while giving Lieberman the boot he deserves?

For more on Lieberman's threat to reform, see Jonathan Chait, who is extremely critical of Lieberman and yet:

I don't think that health care reform is in peril. If Harry Reid decided to submit to Lieberman's demands, the health care bill would basically revert to what the Senate Finance Committee produced. That's still a major piece of legislation. Expectations among liberals have risen since then, so the come-down is understandable. But this isn't the end of reform.

No, perhaps not, but it's a tough pill to swallow, not least when you have 58 votes (60 minus Lieberman and Nelson) and when you've already given in and given up a lot already.

Here's American democracy at work, the sausage-making of the legislative process. It's ugly, and it's stupidly unfair, and, ultimately, it's the American people who get screwed.

In this case, all because of Joe Lieberman and his enablers, including those in the Obama White House.

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