Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kabuki kablooie

By Mustang Bobby

The debt talks got to the tantrum stage yesterday when House Speaker John Boehner took his balls and went back to the House, presumably to give them back to Eric Cantor:

Facing the specter of the government's first default, President Obama summoned congressional leaders to the White House for an emergency meeting Saturday morning, and Senate leaders rushed to revive a fallback strategy for raising the debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline.

"We have now run out of time," a visibly angry Obama said during an impromptu White House news conference held after Boehner (R-Ohio) called to say he was walking out on the talks for the second time in two weeks — again citing differences over taxes. Now, Obama said, "one of the questions that the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is: Can they say yes to anything?"

This whole thing is playing out the way these crisis situations always do; lurid bits of gossip being floated by reporters on the White House lawn and trying to come up with some reason to justify staying on the air and preempting a rebroadcast of a 2003 episode of Lockdown.

It's theater, as predictable as a traditional Japanese kabuki. We know how it will end. (Ezra Klein lays out the three scenarios.) The stock characters all know their roles and their actions, the audience knows exactly what they're going to see, the outcome is preordained. And still we watch because we wait to see if there's any enlightenment for us by observing the characters in their roles.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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91 dead in Oslo

By Capt. Fogg

People have made it very clear to me that Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah Federal building in 1995, was not a Christian, the connection between that vicious, inhuman act and the Waco, Texas incident notwithstanding. He couldn't be, you see, by virtue of the fact that he did such a thing.

It's too bad that Muslims who are horrified by terrorism aren't given the benefit of the same rationale, but I'm still waiting to hear about Anders Behring Breivik. Despite the initial prejudice that had the Oslo bombing and the murders at a summer camp as the work of al Qaeda, it looks like Breivik, identified by a survivor as the attacker, was a Christian conservative disturbed by the presence of other cultures, other religions, in Norway. Would he fit in with a spectrum of Americans, from the Aryan Brotherhood to the Tea Party, trying to promote our intentionally secular republic as a "Christian nation" and perhaps an exclusively Christian nation?

How long can we go on pretending that religious tribalism of any denomination hasn't been and doesn't remain a potentially destructive, oppressive, and communicable human vice?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Palin politics: Mistaking the little pond for the big pond

Although Sarah Palin is remaining coy about her intentions to run for the Republican presidential nomination, many of us continue to talk about her. I suppose that is a part of her grand strategy, which is, we must admit, working. I mean the part about us still talking about her.

Given the fact that she is doing none of the things a candidate conventionally needs to do to run a credible campaign, people who understand how it is typically done are raising questions.

Maybe this means she has no intention of running, but what if she does?

As evil as Karl Rove may be, no one disputes his experience as a campaigner. When asked if Palin could wage a non-conventional nomination campaign with any degree of success, his response was:

Her people think so.

They've talked with people about it, whom I talked to, and they've been explicit about it - that she doesn't need to go to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, press the flesh and go to all these local events in order to cultivate local leadership. She can talk to people over that. She doesn't need to cultivate the fundraisers and the bundlers, because her mere presence in the race will generate the cash needed for the campaign.

Rove added, rather ominously, that she was ignoring the "niceties" at "her own peril."

Scott Conroy, however, at Real Clear Politics takes issue with Rove on this, claiming that doing things the old-fashioned way in Iowa may not matter that much. Consider, he says, that Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich are getting praise for their organizational efforts there yet going nowhere in the polls. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and even Chris Christie, none of whom is even declared, are doing better.

This, he suggests, tells a different story.

First of all, if we are just talking about Iowa, Conroy might be right. Although I was always of the impression that Iowa was all about retail politics, that in smaller races like this it was all about meeting people and pressing the flesh, maybe Palin's brand is such that she can get away without all of that in Iowa. I might even cede the point.

But is there any way a candidate can run a credible campaign for the nomination across the country by running a top-down effort that does not rely on strong organization?

All of Karl Rove's experience tells him that it is not possible. There is just too much work involved, too many fundraising bundlers to organize and stroke, too many opinion leaders to lobby, too many volunteers to care for and feed, too much effort required for a successful "Get Out the Vote" campaign, and on and on.

Maybe that's Palin's problem. She has never been good at understanding the scale of things. Iowa may be an important race in the early days of the GOP nomination, and if she got in she might do well there, but America is a much bigger country and doing things the old-fashioned way in primary after primary is probably still necessary.

Relying on your brand alone to win in Iowa, where a lot of GOP voters may already love you, is different than winning over the long haul.

This is classic Sarah Palin politics: mistaking the little pond for the big pond.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Billie Jean is not my lover

I recently discovered The Civil Wars, the duo of Joy Williams and and John Paul White, while checking out KINK 101.9 radio in Portland, a funky folk-oriented station that has hosted an impressive line-up of artists at its Bing Lounge, including -- and this is what brought me there in the first place -- the wonderful Sarah Jarosz

They're a compelling pair -- and here, at The Bing Lounge, is their very fine cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean":


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Friday, July 22, 2011

Ex nihilo nihil fit

George Packer, writing in the New Yorker about the debt ceiling crisis and the ever more strained fault line running through Washington, reminds us of a quote usually attributed to Vladimir Lenin: "the worse, the better."

I rather think Lenin himself was quoting Georgi Plekhanov's 1917 essay "Three Crises," but whatever the source and however Lenin used it, I tend to agree with Mr. Packer that we're looking at a planned destruction of our economy to serve a revolutionary cause that in some ways, in its ideological blindness to practical consequences, looks so much like the Bolsheviks it might cause liquid irony to condense into caustic clouds and rain down upon us.

Indeed, the worse this manufactured crisis becomes, the more likely it is, at least in the minds of the radical right, to destroy the prospects of Obama and the Democrats as well as our national prospects, leaving the Tea Party, like roaches after a nuclear war, in charge of a withered state sure to become a wildly prosperous unregulated utopia. It seems a fatuous dream, of course, to anyone who has read even a little about the aftermath of the 1917 revolution, but if you've read this far I shouldn't have to point it out. Out of a power vacuum, power comes.

Packer quotes Max Weber, writing only only two years later with regard to "the ethic of responsibility" versus "the ethic of ultimate ends," and it seems that little has changed in the course of human events since then -- at least in American events. The distinction: 

between those who act from a sense of practical consequence and those who act from higher conviction, regardless of consequences,

describes our current struggle -- unser Kampf, if you will. 

These ethics are tragically opposed, but the true calling of politics requires a union of the two.

Is there any doubt about into which group the "tax cuts and deregulation produce prosperity" and "the government is always the problem" people fall? Discussion of practical consequences can't be heard through the roar.

Such a political union is less foreseeable, I think, than at any time in American history that I can call to mind, and a complete rupture or a complete capitulation of the "ultimate responsibility" forces to the anarchists and nihilists may be the only possible outcome. Ex nihilo nihil fit: out of nothing, nothing comes, no longer is supported by science, but in the world of governments and power and people, things are different -- and après ça, le déluge, of course.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Photo of the Day: Slender loris

Photo from The Globe and Mail: "An eight-month-old female slender loris waits to be given her first health check by the veterinary team at London Zoo."

Very cute.

I had no idea what a slender loris was until I checked Wikipedia. Apparently it's "a small, nocturnal primate found only in the tropical rainforests of Southern India and Sri Lanka."

There you go.

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The balanced budget amendment that wasn't

In what appeared, if you didn't look too closely, to be a noble effort to enact strong debt-reduction legislation, House Republicans on Tuesday passed a bill that would cut spending, cap total outlays based on average GDP growth, and amend the Constitution to require balanced annual budgets.

But like most things Republicans do, there's a catch. Or two catches, in this case.

Catch No. 1: It in fact wasn't a noble effort at all, because the bill has no chance of earning majority approval in the Senate and is therefore yet another example of the GOP wasting crucial time with useless legislation that has no chance of becoming law. The bill received a presidential veto threat even before it was passed (along party lines) in the House.

Catch No. 2: The balanced budget amendment included in the bill isn't really a balanced budget amendment.

The "Cut, Cap, and Balance" bill doesn't have the congressional support to cut or cap anything. Nor does it have the legal authority to balance anything. As a whole, the bill doesn't do anything.

It makes veiled threats to the effect that, if enacted (doubtful), Congress would not allow the debt limit to increase until spending is cut and capped over time, and until a balanced budget amendment is sent to the states for ratification, but it doesn't actually achieve those ends.

As Republicans well know, or should know, demanding a balanced budget amendment isn't the same as actually voting for one. The former requires only a simple majority to pass through Congress, while the latter requires a two-thirds supermajority and three-quarters of states' approval for implementation.

Republicans didn't achieve that.

That fact they didn't even try to achieve that says something about their intelligence. On the one hand, they're not so naïve as to think that a balanced budget amendment would garner enough support in Congress to meet the two-thirds majority requirement needed for eventual implementation. On the other hand, they settled for a purely symbolic gesture that achieves nothing and that has just as hopeless a future in the Senate as an actual, legitimate amendment proposal would have.

We need a name for this sort of political posturing.

I propose "Rainbow Wheel Politics."

Any other suggestions?

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Is the Huntsman campaign coming to an end?

If you're at all familiar with the views expressed at this blog, you'll know that we're generally quite impressed with former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

I've even called him "Huntsman the Formidable," the one Republican who should really worry President Obama (but who won't, because Republicans are too stupid to nominate him).

It's not that we agree with him on the issues -- despite some renegade positions on, say, civil unions, and despite his admirable civility, he's ardently conservative and very much in line with Republican orthodoxy not so much of the present but at least of the recent past -- it's that he's something of a throwback to when Republicans weren't entirely insane. And, yeah, that makes him look good.

He's in the race for the Republican nomination for president, but he's way back and without a hope. The latest RCP average has him tied for ninth, with the ridiculous Rick Santorum, in what is generally an embarrassingly weak field. He polls at just 2 percent -- hardly a formidable showing.

And now his campaign manager, Susie Wiles, has resigned:

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Wiles said it was "just time" for her to move on.

"I signed up to get it started," she said. "It's like a phase. This morning I said it's time to move on."

Sounds to me like she was pushed out, likely because the campaign is doing so poorly.

Now, Huntsman still has some fairly big names still on board, including McCainiacs John Weaver and Matt David, the latter of whom also worked for Schwarzenegger in California. (David will replace Wiles.) And he's raising a lot of money. But at this point it looks like he's positioning himself for 2016, not competing seriously for 2012. And while it may not be wise to read too much into the departure of a single campaign staffer, even the top one, this change is hardly a positive sign.

I suppose that change could bring improvement, but I doubt it, not with Romney and Bachmann so far ahead and not with his inability so far to catch on in any significant way. Huntsman's campaign is already doomed to failure, and I suspect it won't be around much longer.

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More on my hate-hate relationship with Tim Pawlenty

If you have been reading this blog at all, you may know that I really dislike Tim Pawlenty. I don't know what it is. I just have a thing about him.

While all politicians calculate what they can say and do and what they should not say and do if they are to have electoral success, some simply give up their souls without much of a fight. They are so quick to calculate every move that they no longer, if they ever did, have a center. They stand for nothing.

Okay, that would be way too harsh a characterization of anyone, but if you imagine politics as being conducted on a continuum, Pawlenty is, for me, so far to the side where the calculation for success trumps integrity that I can't stand it.

As you might imagine, I am having a rather good time watching his campaign fail to take off in any appreciable way. And this week I have particularly enjoyed watching him screw up as the indicators mount that he is going nowhere in a hurry.

In no particular order, here are some fun facts:

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted from July 14 to 17 had him at 2 per cent. That's behind Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and New Gingrich, and, obviously, well behind Mitt Romney (30 percent) and Michele Bachmann (16 percent). It is also behind Rick Perry, who hasn't even announced, though he got 11 percent, which is relevant for the next fun fact.

As Daily Kos reports:

In a sign that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's campaign is still struggling, Public Policy Polling announced Monday night that Texas Gov. Rick Perry will replace Pawlenty in general election polling match-ups against President Barack Obama.

Pawlenty will still be included in the organization's Republican primary polls but his removal from this company's general election poll match-ups bodes badly for Pawlenty, who has faltered in recent polls, leading some observers to speculate that his campaign is sinking.

The point is that a major polling company has made a decision to pay less attention to Pawlenty. That's never good when it happens.

As if to drive the point home, Pawlenty's team seems to be lowering expectations for the Iowa caucuses, despite the fact that he had earlier hoped to do quite well there. Recently, campaign spokesperson Alex Conant said that "[W]e want to show progress in Ames, do better than sixth or seventh." Sixth or seventh? Wow.

But the icing on the cake for me is the fact that he is not only doing poorly, but he is beginning to climb into the gutter, hoping that something, anything, might work. Such was, no doubt, the calculation when he challenged Michele Bachmann's fitness to lead by implying that she might need to take too much time off due to her migraines. As he said:

All the candidates I think are going to have to be able to demonstrate they can do all the job all the time... there's no real time off in that job.

I am certainly no fan of Michele Bachmann, but this kind of thing by Pawlenty just creeps me out and shows some serious desperation.

And then, true to form, when pressed, he backed off the claim that the migraines would be a problem by calling the whole thing a "side show." First you sling the mud and then you claim that's not what you meant at all. What a backbone.

Maybe failure in Iowa will mean a quick and merciful end to his campaign. Maybe he gets out earlier, but that's unlikely, although 2 percent in current polling isn't much to work with.

As I said, I just don't like the guy and it's not even a Republican vs. Democrat thing. I swear.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Republican governors are all crazy extremists

Okay, that's an oversimplification -- but it's not far from the truth. As Nate Silver shows, crunching data, there just aren't any moderate Republican governors anymore:

Unlike for the Democrats, there is almost no ideological diversity within the group: essentially all of the current Republican governors are quite conservative, taking moderate positions on at most one or two issues. Also unlike the Democrats, there is no correlation between the ideology of the governors and the ideology of the states. Whether you have a Republican governor in a fairly liberal state like Maine, a moderate state like Ohio, or a conservative one like Idaho, his agenda is likely to be highly conservative.


This is unusual behavior. Politics 101 would suggest that you need to be at least somewhat responsive to voters in your state. And American political parties in particular are traditionally broad-based coalitions that tolerate a fair amount of intellectual and ideological diversity, especially at the state level. Republicans, of course, are going to try to push policy toward the right and Democrats to the left. But you can go only so far before you get a ticket out of office, so electoral and policy goals remain in some degree of balance.

The new breed of Republican governors run counter to this principle in a way that wasn’t true as recently as a year ago.

The principle no longer really holds for today's Republican Party, which has embraced the far right and seems to be getting more and more extreme all the time, with the extreme now the party's mainstream, a mainstream that, judging by these governors, is deeply unpopular:

So just a year ago, there were plenty of moderate Republican governors — most of them in liberal or moderate states, where they were often quite popular. Now there are almost none...

The unsurprising result is that Republicans now have a group of extremely unpopular governors -- particularly [Rick] Scott of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John R. Kasich of Ohio and Paul R. LePage of Maine, all of whom have disapproval ratings exceeding 50 percent. Other Republican governors in crucial swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania also have below-average ratings.

What does it all mean? Well, we'll have to see. Perhaps voters will reject this extremism, and perhaps defeat will bring state Republicans back to the center.

What is clear, though, is that what is happening at the state level is a reflection of what is happening nationally, namely, the right-wing radicalization of the Republican Party.

And it's only getting worse.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pentagon set to end DADT

According to reports, the U.S. military is finally ready to end DADT.

Then fucking do it already.

We already know that the military will be fine, that most in the military, including the rank and file, those who would serve in close proximity to gays and lesbians, are supportive of repeal, and that the top brass are on board, even those personally against repeal.

The public is overwhelmingly supportive of gays and lesbians serving openly.

And the courts have already ruled against the bigoted policy.

An announcement may come tomorrow. Not a moment too soon.

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This day in history - July 21, 1925: High school teacher John T. Scopes is found guilty of teaching evolution

In Dayton, Tennessee on this date a high school teacher was found guilty of teaching evolution. Yes, John T. Scopes was found guilty of teaching science. (That's Darwin to the left, by the way, not Scopes).

So, where do the current crop of declared and potential GOP presidential hopefuls stand on teaching science in our schools?

Michele Bachmann has said that evolution is a theory that has never been proven one way or the other and that schools should teach intelligent design as an alternate explanation for the origins of life.

Tim Pawlenty thinks that creationism should be taught alongside evolution, which is Sarah Palin's view.

Rick Perry supports teaching creationism in Texas public schools.

Rick Santorum is a creationist, obviously.

To his credit, Newt Gingrich seems to have a more nuanced view (hell, let's give him credit for something).

Mitt Romney, also to his credit, once said that while he "believed that God designed the universe and created the universe," he also believed that "evolution is most likely the process he used to create human beings."

Even those who want to support science see the need to equivocate in order to keep a large segment of the conservative base happy.

All in all, things really haven't changed that much.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Box office bomb: Sarah Palin and the failure of The Undefeated

Sarah Palin's admirers and various other delusional conservatives are doing their utmost to try to convince us that The Undefeated, the hagiographic documentary about Palin, has been a rousing success thus far.

In the process, they're also attacking anyone who suggests otherwise. Take The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, for example, a conservative civil libertarian (and hardly one of Palin's fiercer critics) who on opening night last week went to a midnight screening of the movie out in Orange County, California, and found the theater empty (save for two young women who didn't know what it was about and left after just 20 minutes, as well as a couple who came in near the end, made out in the back row, and quickly left). (The rest of the multiplex was jam-packed for Harry Potter.) Friedersdorf's anecdotal point was simply that the midnight first screening of the Palin documentary didn't attract an audience even in a conservative place like Orange Country. (Big deal. That's hardly much of a surprise. Surely Palin's fans would show up at a normal time.) Friedersdorf was just reporting the facts as he witnessed them.

Ah, but that was enough to put him in the crosshairs, and he has since been viciously attacked by Andrew Breitbart, conservative bloggers, and conspiracy theorists (who insanely claim he set the whole thing up), as well as by various right-wing trolls on the Internet. You know, the usual suspects, wallowing in dishonesty, hatred, and outright craziness.

What happened to Friedersdorf is instructive (and deeply troubling), if predictable, but the question remains, how has The Undefeated done so far?

Critically, it has been panned. As I write this, it has a 32 at Metacritic (which seems to be a tad high given the overwhelmingly negative reviews it has received) and a 0 (yes, zero) at Rotten Tomatoes.

To Palin's defenders, this hardly matters. They, like conservatives generally, write off film critics as liberal partisans who couldn't possibly review a film independently of their supposedly left-wing political views. (This is how they dismiss negative reviews of any "conservative" movie, like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. If you didn't like that sadomasochistic turd, you had to be politically and/or theologically predisposed against it. There's no possible way you could just have disliked it, or thought it a terrible movie.)

So what they do is turn to box office figures. Critics may not like a "conservative" movie, but the public is another story. That's the real America, the "heartland" pushing back against the leftie elites. Surely the box office can prove that The Undefeated is an exceptionally popular, and hence exceptional, movie. This is the case that John Nolte (who also attacked Friedersdorf) makes at Breitbart's Big Hollywood: "Numbers Don't Lie: "The Undefeated" Had a Remarkable Box Office Debut.

Well, not so much. If there's anything remarkable about the movie's first-weekend haul it's how remarkably mediocre it was, well short of what some might have been expecting given the ongoing fascination with all things Palin.

The Undefeated grossed $65,132, or $6,513 per screen on its first weekend of release (as it played on ten screen total across the country). This put it in 40th place in terms of weekend gross but 5th in terms of screen average. Not too bad, though it's hard to compare a movie that played on ten screens (and for which people who wanted to see it had to search out those few screens) and a movie that played on thousands of screens, like Horrible Bosses, which averaged $5,672 on 3,134 screens. If a movie is playing on that many screens, attendance can be spread out more, reducing the per-screen average.

But, still, yes, $6,513 isn't bad. But it was the first weekend for The Undefeated, not for Horrible Bosses (which has a total gross of over $60 million to date), and one would expect the numbers to have been higher.

Not to worry, says Nolte. If you compare The Undefeated's numbers to the numbers of other political documentaries, it did very well. Its weekend gross puts it well back on the list, but its per-screen avergage makes it look much stronger. No, it wasn't Fahrenheit 9/11 ($27,558 average on 868 screens), Bowling for Columbine ($26,143 average on eight screens), or Roger and Me ($20,063 average on four screens), and certainly not An Inconvenient Truth ($70,332 average on four screens), but it stacks up fairly well against most of the other major political docs of the past 20 years.

Nolte takes this to mean that the movie was an unqualified success -- and then goes on, predictably, to slam Palin's critics.

Here's the thing, though: As Joshua Green notes at The Atlantic, The Undefeated's numbers really weren't that good, or at least aren't worth bragging about. Now, the movie could have some life as it opens elsewhere around the country, and perhaps the ongoing infatuation with Palin will attract solid audiences, but shouldn't it have done better? Maybe not at Michael Moore or Al Gore levels, but Palin is a major political celebrity with a huge following. Where was the excitement for this piece of hagiographic crapola? Maybe elsewhere, maybe in the Heartland (as opposed to right-wing Orange County?), maybe if somehow some buzz can be generated, maybe if people go merely out of curiosity, but it certainly wasn't there opening weekend.

Now, I would suggest that Palin's popularity, while certainly real given her devoted following, is a product of the media as much as anything else. Which is to say, she would have some popularity anyway, but it's all the attention she gets in the media that turns her into a cultural phenomenon. Which is further to say, much of her popularity is a mirage -- it isn't really there. Just think how poorly she polls even among Republicans. Yes, I'll include myself and this blog in here -- we overdo it, covering her with excessive attention, treating everything she does, every word she utters, as far more significant, far more interesting, than it really is. And so we build up these expectations around her, including that any movie about her must do extremely well simply because it's about her -- and of course we, and supposedly the public generally, just can't get enough of her. If this is all wrong, or at least grossly exaggerated, then it should actually come as no surprise at all that people haven't been flocking en masse to see The Undefeated. Why should they? She's not nearly as popular as we say she is.

Don't get me wrong... this isn't all the media's fault. Palin plays the media and makes it seem herself as if she's far more significant and far more interesting than she really is, worthy of all the attention she gets, worthy of her stardom.

But while she rakes in massive amounts of money, often by duping her gullible supporters, she hasn't actually been all that successful, has she, at least in entertainment terms?

Sure, many still love her, including a core (if small) GOP constituency, and she has her Facebook followers and her commentator gig on Fox News, but her TV show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, mostly a massive ego trip but also possibly part of a campaign to boost her political fortunes (as it was a kind of campaigning, if not actually preliminary campaigning for a possible 2012 run), saw a huge drop in viewership after the first episode and was not renewed for a second season. And, again, her poll numbers are incredibly weak, even among Republicans. So should we really have expected a shamelessly and gratuitously hagiographic documentary about her, a documentary with an obviously self-aggrandizing agenda, to be a hit?

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A Republican Party too conservative for Ronald Reagan

You may have seen this, but I need to post it to help myself stay sane, if it's not already too late.

The House Democratic Caucus has released a new video in order to encourage Congress to do the right thing on the debt ceiling. It is hardly what one would expect, given the source, or maybe it tells us all we need to know about how insane the current crop of Republicans really are.

It's a 1987 radio address by Ronald Reagan in which he raised the concern that "Congress consistently brings the Government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility."

As Steve Benen writes:

The point of the video, of course, is to drive home the point that [the Republican Party] is no longer the party of Reagan. Indeed, Republicans in 2011 recognize the Reagan legacy and deliberately reject it. These are folks who claim to have a religious-like reverence for "Ronaldus Magnus," but have no use for his style of governance.

I'm not even sure what I want to say about this other than the fact that one of the most conservative politicians of my lifetime is far too moderate for what has become of the Republican Party, and that should scare the hell out of all of us.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Social media: yer doin' it rong

By Carl 

Did you know there was a Republican presidential debate last night?

Don't bother looking for repeats of it on CNN or video on YouTube. 

It was held on Twitter:

Now there's the @140townhall, hosted by the Tea Party, for a few hapless GOP 2012 candidates. 

I don't think enough attention has been paid to how terrible, asinine and embarrassing it was. It was almost funny. The only way it could possibly have been worse would have been if Romney had showed up.

To give you an idea of the level of discourse, which you can read in less time than it took the candidates to misstype, Bachmann's opening statement begins as follows: "TY for this forum. I'm running 4 POTUS 2 bring the voice of the people back to DC."

How... dignified.

Now, in truth, Twitter may be the best venue for the GOP to debate issues: 140 characters means you can't explain anything, you can't easily obfuscate, and you have to create bumper sticker answers on the fly.

Plus, as I often say, Twitter is for twits. This is perfect!

Except what's the point of having an exchange like that if no one knows about it? What's the point of having a debate if it's going to become a muddled mess of snappy answers that you can't even really be certain thread to the other participants?

You might as well ask Dickie Goodman to sample the candidates' position papers and create a "debate" that way.

This points up the contrast in how social media is used by both parties.

The blogosphere/Blogtopia (© Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo) is well-established and -- as conservatives are wont to do -- pretty bipartisanly effective well after the blog-world lost its uniqueness.

Facebook is similarly fairly familiar now, and conservatives have made inroads there as well. Sarah Palin's Facebook page is among the most popularly and most carefully watched pages on the site.

This is a far cry from not too long ago, when Rupert Murdoch purchased MySpace as an attempt to "Fox News" social media, thus abandoning hundreds of conservatives to a lonely outpost on the edges of the cybergalaxy.

Now we have Twitter. Twitter is great for alerting people: you need a quick fundraising hit, or an urgent policy announcement, you link to it on Twitter and it gets around. Twitter is great for a wiseass like me (even though I don't tweet) who can snap off one-liners.

Twitter is not great for a dialogue. And therein lies the problem for the Republicans. They bring a rubber band to a knife fight.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

America gets that poll-taxed look

By Zandar

I've been talking about GOP voter suppression efforts at the state level that all but constitute a de facto poll tax for months now, in Ohio specifically and nationwide. People are beginning to notice and you know it's got the GOP concerned because the noise machine is screaming "The only racists in America are Democrats!" as loudly and in as farcical a manner as possible.

But now we're starting to see Democrats take notice and start fighting back. It's fitting that the man leading the way on this is respected civil rights leader and long-time Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

Mr. Speaker, voting rights are under attack in America. There's a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their Constitutional right to engage in the democratic process. Voter ID laws are becoming all too common, but make no mistake: Voter ID laws are a poll tax. People who struggle to pay for basic necessities cannot afford a voter ID. The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy. Today we must be strong in protecting that blessing.

Lewis, as usual, does not mince words. Voter ID laws really cannot be seen as anything other than a deliberate effort to make voting as difficult as possible for the groups he mentioned:  the elderly, the young, students, low-income Americans, and minorities... groups that tend to vote Democratic.

Many, many more Democrats at the state and federal level need to take up this call going into 2012, and stop these laws that attempt to circumvent the right to vote. It's a right, not a privlege. Throwing up legal roadblocks to voting was abhorrent in America's past, and it's a critical mistake to ignore it again now just because these efforts are wearing the mask of "protecting your right to vote."

When there have only been 86 convictions of wrongful voter identification out of 196 million votes cast when the Bush Administration declared war on "widespread voter fraud" in America, the true reasons behind making it more difficult to vote in order to disenfranchise people becomes crystal clear.   Anyone who makes it harder to vote in order to reduce who can vote is trying to take your vote away from you, period.

Good for John Lewis to name the demon.

(Cross-posted at ZVTS.)

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Really, Larry?

People in glass houses... 

Former Government and Harvard hack Larry Summers is in the news again today.

No, he isn't bellowing some inane financial wisdom, rather dissing two of the original Facebook founders, the Twinkletoes Twins, or whatever their name is: 

One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o'clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they're looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole. This was the latter case.


Ha-ha-ha, what a funny guy you are, Larry.

Or as Ryan Tate at Gawker states, "Everyone at the money conference laughed, which means Summers has successfully found two people who are somehow even less popular than he is." 

One thing people didn't laugh at, and you didn't learn, as a "college president" was managing your university's endowment, as Felix Salmon detailed in his "How Larry Summers lost Harvard $1.8 billion" a few years ago.

I second Naomi Klein's call, "Why We Should Banish Larry Summers From Public Life": 

I vote to banish Larry Summers. Not from the planet. That wouldn't be nice. Just from public life...

And this brings us to a central and often overlooked cause of the global financial crisis: Brain Bubbles. This is the process wherein the intelligence of an inarguably intelligent person is inflated and valued beyond all reason, creating a dangerous accumulation of unhedged risk. Larry Summers is the biggest Brain Bubble we've got.

Brain Bubbles start with an innocuous "whiz kid" moniker in undergrad, which later escalates to "wunderkind." Next comes the requisite foray as an economic adviser to a small crisis-wracked country, where the kid is declared a "savior." By 30, our Bubble Boy is tenured and officially a "genius." By 40, he's a "guru," by 50 an "oracle." After a few drinks: "messiah."


And that's the problem with Larry. For all his appeals to absolute truths, he has been spectacularly wrong again and again. He was wrong about not regulating derivatives. Wrong when he helped kill Depression-era banking laws, turning banks into too-big-to-fail welfare monsters. And as he helps devise ever more complex tricks and spends ever more taxpayer dollars to keep the financial casino running, he remains wrong today. 

It was funnier, Larry, when you used to sleep through meetings.


And, as far as Facebook goes, what is much, much more funnier was Twitter's Biz Stone's turn on "Wait Wait ...Don't Tell Me" last weekend. 

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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This day in history - July 20, 1969: Apollo 11 lands on the moon

The first ever human-crewed landing on the moon, in the Sea of Tranquility, took place on this day. Almost seven hours later (on July 21st), Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.

Along with Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, they made up the three-person crew of Apollo 11.

Even today, I can easily remember those names without having to think much about it, such is the importance of the occasion in my memory.

As my co-blogger Carl pointed out yesterday, the manned space program, at least for now, will effectively end when the current Shuttle mission is complete. I agree wholeheartedly that it is a tragedy that the program will not go on for many of the reasons he cites.

I remember well growing up with the space program and how as a young student I was motivated to be more interested in learning because of it. While my education eventually took me away from the sciences and in the direction of the humanities, I remember thinking as a young person that a good education might be useful if I wanted to do interesting things in life. I recall the exploits of the early NASA astronauts helping to form that perception.

Again, without having to think much about it, I can recite the names Shepard, Glenn, Slayton, Schirra, Carpenter, Borman, Lovell, Cernan, and especially White, Chaffee and Grissom, the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission, along with those from Apollo 11 and on and on.

It seems to have had an impact on me.

It might also be good to remember how important shared national goals can be in bringing a nation together, though the concept is hard to imagine in the current climate.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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