Saturday, May 19, 2012

Porcupine Tree: "Even Less"

Last week I blogged, for the third time over the past several years, on Porcupine Tree, the amazing British "prog rock" band -- "prog rock" being a term that doesn't do nearly enough justice to its music, though still appropriate -- of which I've been a fan for a long time but whose music I've come to admire more and more recently, acquiring pretty much everything they've ever done and getting into their music in a deeper way than ever before.

I won't repeat what I wrote last week, when I looked back over their career, still going but on something of a hiatus (hopefully with a new album coming soon), but given that they're what I'm listening to most right now, I thought I'd post another of their best songs. Last week it was "Russia on Ice," the best song off what I think is their best album, Lightbulb Sun, and probably their best song period. This week it's the best song off Stupid Dream, perhaps their second-best album, and I'd say one of their top five songs overall, "Even Less."

Here it is, live, off the Arriving Somewhere... DVD (from performances in Chicago in October 2005). For a version of better quality, but with just still shots, see here. This one's fine, though -- just turn it up. And enjoy.


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Alan Dershowitz's ridiculous legal opinion on the Zimmerman-Martin case

I continue to be confused by the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case in Florida. I have no legal training. The only thing I can bring to it is common sense. Based on that, I've always had a pretty good idea of what I think happened and what a fair legal resolution might be. But I guess the law can work in a way that defies common sense. I don't know. Based on a recent article by Alan Dershowitz, it seems that way.

Dershowitz is a lawyer. I get that. He's supposed to understand what the law says. But when he writes that recent findings are that Zimmerman had "a fractured nose, two black eyes, and a back injury on the day of the shooting," and that this somehow changes everything, I don't get it.  His further statement that Martin had traces of marijuana in his system damns the young man as a point of law is additionally confusing.

There is also mention that a bruise on Martin's ring finger, which may indicate he punched Zimmerman, is also relevant.

As Dershowitz writes:

If this evidence turns out to be valid, the prosecutor will have no choice but to drop the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman — if she wants to act ethically, lawfully and professionally.

Okay, this is what confuses me. If there was an altercation of any kind between the two, a fight, then Zimmerman should necessarily be exonerated? Huh?

My guess has always been that George Zimmerman, a self-appointed community vigilante, who always wanted to be a cop, habitually hung around his neighbourhood waiting for supposedly suspicious characters to show up so he could call 911 and then, in his own way, be a part of the law enforcement brotherhood.

He saw Martin. We know he called 911. We know he was instructed not to follow Martin, direction which he ignored. What we don't know is precisely how it went down once Zimmerman confronted Martin.

It seems logical that Zimmerman provoked Martin in some way, that he threatened him. What other intent would Zimmerman have had? Obviously, the junior G-Man's goal was to "apprehend the suspect." It seems equally obvious that Martin, who we know was simply returning from the store, got freaked out by the confrontation. If it were me, I'd be freaked out by that kind of confrontation too. Even if Zimmerman wasn't the first one to "lay a hand on Martin," Zimmerman was still the instigator of the confrontation and his aim was to "control" the situation. Again, if it were me, I would want to get away from that whole thing as fast as I could and if the best way to do it was to physically defend myself, I wouldn't hesitate.

So, they got into a fistfight. Zimmerman took some lumps and at some point decided to take out his gun and end things.

If Dershowitz is right, that the available evidence suggests Zimmerman did no wrong, it all seems like a pretty nifty way to get away with murder. Confront someone you want to kill. When they resist you in any way, take out a gun and shoot them in the heart.

Again, I just don't understand why Zimmerman's injuries necessarily suggest he did not commit murder.

And the comment about marijuana, well, Dershowitz will have to explain that one to me. Perhaps he sat through too many screenings of Reefer Madness in his youth. Whatever the case, if Dershowitz thinks this is the way the law should work, he must be smoking something.

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It's becoming less likely that Hillary will be VP

I could make Bill Ambassador to Australia.
Just think about it.
Okay, I'm actually getting tired hearing myself say this, so when other people say it I don't quite know what to do. The "it" is that Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton would make a seriously powerful ticket come the fall. I have said in the past that if the Obama team really felt it needed a bump, it would not hesitate to find something else for Joe Biden to do. I guess there is still time to make that move, but I see it as less and less likely.

A couple of days ago, Carol Marin at the Chicago Sun-Times made a pitch centered around the fact that Obama and Clinton were going to be at a NATO Summit this weekend in Chicago. I'm not sure why that should change anything, but it got Ms. Marin excited.

There is no doubt that ever since Obama appointed Clinton to the Secretary of State job, the relationship has been wonderful, or, as Marin writes, "Obama has been appreciative and respectful. Clinton has been skillful and loyal. Together, they have done well." Yes, they have.

I supposed what I see is that Hillary Clinton, building on her massive accomplishments before joining Obama's Cabinet, has been maybe a little too masterful in her role as Secretary of State. Any way you slice it, she is a huge presence. And then there's that husband of hers. I don't think either of them would be a problem for Obama should it happen, against my instincts, that she be tapped for second in command. I simply think it's a headache neither Obama nor his team wants. Second banana is second banana.

The only caveat is, as I say, if they really think they need her to win. I don't think they do. I don't think they think they do. In a lot of ways, it's too bad. As a political junkie, it would be exciting and position her to run in 2016. Without that, I suspect someone like Andrew Cuomo would be a more likely choice.

The other consideration is that Biden may end up being a very important strength in the campaign as he presents the working class / middle class antidote to Romney's elitism. Joe did well at that a few days ago and will likely continue to play that role.

What can I say? I'm a Hillary Clinton fan, but I think her illustrious career in politics may be coming to an end. I'm not worried, though. She'll find something.

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George W. Bush, the incredible shrinking president

Oh, great. Mitt Romney and George W. Bush had a chance to chat after Bush's "dramatic" elevator-door-closing endorsement with those unforgettable words: "I'm for Mitt Romney." They spoke via a telephone call in which Romney thanked Bush.

According to ABC News, the Romney campaign put out no official press release of Bush's support, "signalling that the former president still carries too much baggage to help the current GOP nominee with voters."

On the other hand, the Obama campaign was quick to make use of the endorsement with a fund-raising pitch arguing that Romney's economic policies would be the same as Bush's.

ABC News added that:

The day after Bush's impromptu plug, Romney didn't mention the former president's name once on the stump, even as he referred repeatedly to President Obama's "predecessor."

I wonder what the Romney-Bush phone call was like...

Mitt: Well, thanks for the kind words, George, but would you mind never mentioning my name ever again. In fact, it would be great if we could just forget we ever knew each other. Do you think we could do that?

George: You know, Mitt, I was the President of the United States for eight years.

Mitt: I realize that, but you'd be amazed how most Republicans have very nearly forgotten all about that. It's incredible really. We had an entire presidential nomination process and we were almost able to avoid any reference to you at all. If the Democrats would just play along, if would be like your presidency never happened. You'll admit that might be for the best.

George: If you think so. But I sure would like to go to the Republican convention. Maybe I could say a few words.

Mitt: We'll let you know.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Arizona goes birther, may kick Obama off ballot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm not crazy... I'm not... Seriously!!!

Arizona's Republican secretary of state, Ken Bennett, may claim he's not a birther, and that he's just being responsive to constituents, but how else are we to take his statement that he may kick President Obama off the ballot in his state because he's really not sure he was born in the U.S.?

As Nick Martin writes at TPM: 

Bennett's comments came in an interview late Thursday with conservative radio talk show host Mike Broomhead on Phoenix station KFYI.

Bennett said he was following the lead of the state's eccentric Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a fellow Republican who ordered an investigation into the president's birth certificate last year and concluded the document released by the White House is a forgery. Bennett said he is now trying to get verification from state officials in Hawaii that the certificate is authentic.

In doing so, Bennett caved to a fringe group of activists and writers who believe in a conspiracy theory that just never seems to die no matter how much proof they get. Hawaiian officials have said time and again that Obama was born there in 1961, yet the theory persists. 

Indeed it does, in large part because of idiots like Bennett and even more so Arpaio -- the former of whom, by the way, has designs on running for governor in 2014 and who therefore has an interest in sucking up to, if he isn't a card-carrying member of, the various right-wing extremist elements, including of the nativist-birther variety, of the state's crazy Republican Party

Steve Benen writes that Bennett is "stuck in the fever swamp" of birtherism, following a number of other relatively high-profile Republicans who have "publicly questioned Obama's citizenship status" in recent weeks. It may help electorally within the insanitarium of the GOP, in Arizona and elsewhere, but all these Republicans are doing is reminding voters how insanely crazy, not to mention disgustingly racist, they, and so much of their party, really are.

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The Iranian nuclear talks, part 2: Back to the negotiating table

By Ali Ezzatyar

(For part 1, see here.)

Iran and the international community (read: U.S.) are set to retake their seats at the negotiation table next week in Baghdad. If these were real chairs, one would hope they were made of a durable mahogany, as they have been frequented for ten years by fidgety, tough-talking diplomats on both sides, and there is still no likelihood that they will be retired soon. The talks are seen by both sets of negotiators as a zero-sum game, where no confidence-inspiring measures have been seriously considered -- the other side's threat of force has been the bottom-line motivator for both. As an important diplomatic window opens again, America and the world need to seek a grand bargain with Iran instead of the same old course of action. Think three factors: Assets, Sanctions, and Enrichment.

I argued previously that Iran's nuclear ambitions, while scary to the West, are understandable. They are reasonable from an energy perspective, as Iran can diversify its energy composition for domestic use and boost sales to the outside world of its most valuable natural resource. The nuclear program also offers Iran, even if it fully abides by the legal requirements of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), dual-use capability that allows it to be a potential acquirer of nuclear arms, and hence to have a deterrent. This nuclear policy is supported by a vast majority of Iranian citizens, who otherwise (mostly) disagree with their government on most things.

So while the fundamental calculation for both sides to push full-steam for their objectives has not changed, the constantly changing threat of force from each respective side has colored the way in which negotiations have gone forward. From the U.S. perspective, Iran's temporary halting of uranium enrichment in 2003 was an exceptional step that was not adequately taken advantage of. In 2003, America's aggressiveness in the region was Iran's primary motivating factor to consider this concession. Later, as the U.S. position in Iraq deteriorated, Iran utilized its proxy groups and resources to drive America into an even more precarious position there; this distracted America's attention from Iran's nuclear program almost totally, and even lead to the U.S. asking Iran for help and cooperation in stabilizing Iraq. That was music to Iran's ears, and the death knell of a genuine nuclear diplomatic process as far as the Iranians were concerned.

Today, there is still no clear existential danger in the view of the Islamic Republic. Threats of attack from Israel fall short of a regime-change scenario; the regime is likely to survive even if sanctions continue or get worse; and the United States is largely viewed as being out of the regime-change game, in particular where such a campaign in Iran would make Iraq and Afghanistan seem almost effortless in hindsight. There is one very important consideration in Tehran, however, that in addition to the aggregate effect of the latter annoyances has convinced the Iranian regime to play peace-seeker again.

The on-and-off tinkering of the Syrian regime, the only true regional ally that the Islamic Republic has ever had, is probably the largest existential threat to the Islamic Republic as well. Iran has sacrificed resources, political capital, and even its revolutionary idealism in supporting Bashar al-Assad with his brutal crackdown. The Saudi regime, Iran's primary rival in the region, is seeking not only to oust Assad due to his faithfully anti-Saudi stance on all issues, but also as a blow to its main rival.

From the moment America began dedicating countless resources to preventing Iraq from spiraling into civil war, and its positions in Afghanistan and the region were similarly weakened, Iran has not had a series of pressures that have convinced it that it needs to negotiate. The current tenuousness of Iran's position presents an opportunity. As a result, both sides (but particularly the U.S.) must take the initiative in proposing solutions -- solutions that will be viewed by both sides as painful concessions at home. The reality is, the necessary compromises have been clear from the beginning.

Iran's billions of dollars in frozen assets residing in the U.S. or in U.S. financial institutions must be back on the table as an incentive. There were early discussions of an offer to unfreeze Iran's assets in 2002, but that was soon replaced by a more hawkish stance on the American side that basically only considered more or fewer sanctions as the two options for going forward. The U.S. needs to acknowledge that it doesn't have a kitchen sink to throw at Iran anymore militarily; it needs to offer to repair Iran's refrigerator instead. The partial unfreezing of sanctions needs to be the ultimate carrot, short of restoration of diplomatic relations, to motivate Iran. Talk of this possibility should be brought up early enough to have a fruitful bearing on the conversation, and the appearance of weakness should not be a preoccupation of the American position. 

Speaking of broken refrigerators, a genuine plan to quantifiably reduce or end sanctions against Iran must also be presented as a prize for Iranian cooperation. The sanctions have always had the wrong effect on Iran, preventing ordinary Iranians from procuring key supplies necessary for important medical research, spare parts for civilian aircraft, and other supplies, while actually strengthening the regime's hold on power. While the sanctions are just recently leading to Iranians holding their government responsible for the consequences of sanctions, the people and not the government continue to be the primary group affected by sanctions in Iran's autocracy. Scaling the sanctions back as good reward is a no-brainer.

Iran must be prepared, in return, to freeze its uranium enrichment once again. More importantly, it has to be willing to abide by one of the various plans that have been proposed historically that allow it to develop its technology unhindered, with checks against production of nuclear arms. Such a process might entail having weapons-grade uranium produced offshore and imported at no extra cost to Iran, and will most certainly necessitate frequent inspections by the IAEA that are to some extent a blow to Iran's sovereignty. But the trade-off could be immense, and could (for better or worse) guarantee survival of the Islamic regime while leading to greater prosperity in Iran.

If the U.S. makes the right promises, Iran should take an active step towards easing American fears of a weapons program. This must be reciprocated by a temporary rolling back of certain sanctions against the Iranian regime, while a final plan is worked out for a functioning Iranian nuclear program in line with the NPT. That is the chronology. Ultimately, a full proof process that is acceptable to the world, guaranteeing that Iran cannot develop nuclear arms in the short term, should be reciprocated with Iran's inclusion in the international community.

Surely, critics will say that such proposals are idealistic, technically incomplete and shabby, and naive. But no matter how these negotiations are analyzed, sanctions, assets, and weapons-grade uranium enrichment are the three main factors. Everything else -- accusations of support for terrorist groups in the region and threats against Israel on one side, regional imperialism and an anti-Muslim crusade on the other, will not derail the negotiations if genuine will exists as to those three points.

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Rep. Mike Coffman tells supporters that "in his heart" President Obama is "just not an American"

No, I never mean what I say. I don't even listen to myself when I speak.

To my mind, there is little more disturbing than the kind of comments made recently by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) about President Obama. While discussing the issue of Obama's birthplace, he said that "in his heart, he's not an American."

The full comment, as reported by Fox 31 Denver, was: "I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don't know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he's not an American. He's just not an American."

He later gave some bullshit apology, probably only because he had to. It seems that his district has been redrawn to include fewer Republicans and this kind of incendiary remark may not help him with more rational voters in the fall.

His Democratic opponent, State Rep. Joe Miklosa (D-Aurora) has already jumped on it, calling Coffman "Colorado's version of Rush Limbaugh."

I do understand that local races are different than national races, but if Republicans continue to give Democrats this kind of ammunition, this kind of Tea Party, hate-filled rhetoric, to use against them, this isn't even going to be close come November.

If you, you stupid Republicans, really want to gin up the Democratic base, keep on suggesting that liberals, and the leaders with whom they identify, are not really American. Please. Go there.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Fox News poll has Obama leading Romney 46% to 39% nationally

By Richard K. Barry

Fox News released a poll on Wednesday. Here are some of the key findings: 

  • Obama has a 46% to 39% advantage over Romney at the moment. 
  • Among independents, 34% back Romney, 29% support Obama. A third are undecided or say they won't vote. Romney led by a 46% to 33% margin last month among independents. 
  • Women continue to be more likely to support Obama by a 55% to a 33% margin. Men support Romney by a 46% to 33% margin. 
  • Obama voters are much more like to say that they are satisfied with the candidate choice by a margin of 74% to 59%. 
  • Obama's current approval rating is 49% to 47% to the good. That's up from 45% approval to 51% disapproval three weeks ago. 
  • A range of responses suggest more people think the economy is improving. 
  • The prize for the weirdest question goes to "who would you rather have managing your personal finances, Romney or Obama?" Would you rather have the guy who made himself millions or the former law professor? Guess who won that one? 
  • The poll is based on 913 randomly chosen registered voters nation-wide. It was conducted May 13-15. Margin of error was plus or minus 3%.

What does it all mean? Very little in the short term. Come back in a few weeks and the numbers will probably be totally different.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer (1948-2012)

I honestly could not say I was ever a fan of disco. Maybe if I had learned to dance, I would look more kindly on the genre. About as close as I came to liking it is to say that I really enjoyed the Saturday Night Fever album, which I don't actually consider disco, but I guess music from that movie has to qualify.

It was sad to hear of the passing of Donna Summer at the age of 63, a disco legend if ever there was one. It seems that she had been dealing with cancer for some time.

She had a big career and was, notably, a five-time Grammy winner. She was best known for songs like "I Feel Love," Love to Love You Baby," "She Works Hard for the Money," "Hot Stuff," and "Bad Girls." Hell, I even remember her unusual version of Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park."

I had forgotten she performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in honour of President Obama, but she did.

The Rolling Stone piece on her passing carried a quote from Summer that she made in an interview done around the time of her last album, Crayons, in 2008. She was asked if she felt vindicated by her longevity. She replied:

I don't think they made fun of my music as much as they made fun of some of the music that maybe came as a result of that whole genre. But I do think in the course of time it is nice to reestablish something and to say, "Okay, this stood the test of time..." I have nothing to prove to anyone. I just get out there and do my best, and those who love it, great. And those who don't, they'll move on to something else.

That's funny. She was clearly stung by the shots people have taken at disco. I know I've taken some of them myself. But a number of the recordings during that time were good pop music, her's in particular. She had a great career. A lot of people loved that stuff, even if it wasn't for everyone. And the girl could flat out sing.

She got to be a famous recording artist and seemed to do it with a good deal of grace. No small feat.

"Last Dance" was a song I always liked.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Ben Stein shares his superior wisdom

Former Nixon speech writer and sometimes actor Ben Stein was on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show recently and offered that he didn't think Barack Obama was a very smart man, at least not as smart as Richard Nixon.

Does anybody care what Ben Stein thinks about anything? Anyone? Anyone?

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


MJWS adds: The pic above is great, but I've got to add the clip:

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Lawrence O'Donnell as an actor on The West Wing

By Richard K. Barry

Here's a little diversion from our daily cares. I was watching Lawrence O'Donnell's show last night on MSNBC, as I frequently do. It is called, as you may know, The Last Word. I was well aware of the fact that he was closely associated with the television drama The West Wing, as a story editor, writer, and co-producer. I must say that I was very surprised when he said he also did a brief acting stint on the show.

I fancy myself quite familiar with every season and could not imagine what he was referring to. When he mentioned he played Josiah Bartlet's father in a flashback sequence on the episode "Two Cathedrals," I was amazed. I remembered it well, and remembered the character, but hadn't put it together.

I went to YouTube, found it, and there he was. He did not a bad job, actually. Judge for yourself. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Republicans plan all-out smear campaign tying Obama to Jeremiah Wright (updated)

By Michael J.W. Stickings 


The Times is reporting that "[a] group of high-profile Republican strategists" is planning a vicious assault on President Obama that would involve "running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign." The campaign would be financed by right-wing billionaire (and Cubs owner) Joe Ricketts.

In a copy of the plan -- called "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good” -- obtained by the Times, the strategists write that the campaign would "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do."

Which is to say, go brutally nasty in their efforts to destroy Obama, in this case with a not-so-subtly racist effort to link the president to Wright, and selectively to every questionable thing he has ever said, reinforcing the right-wing narrative that Obama, the black Obama, is a dangerous anti-American leftist.

You know what? It's not going to work. We've been here before, in 2008. Back then, Candidate Obama distanced himself from Wright, as he was right to do, and outside of right-wing circles there's no interest in rehashing any of this, particularly given how blatantly racist it is (so much so that the plan includes a a blatantly racist proposal to hire, as cover, an "extremely literate conservative African-American” for some black-on-black attacks). Anyone who would be impressed with such a campaign is already going to vote Republican, and there's no way it would attract much-needed support from independents. 

BREAKING: Ricketts has reportedly rejected the plan. This follows the Romney campaign's repudiation of it earlier today (though there may have been support for it privately; once it went public, Romney pretty much had to come out quickly and object to it, though he himself brought up Wright earlier this year).

So that's it, right? Of course not. This particular plan may be dead, but you can be sure Republicans will go nasty even as Romney himself tries to stay somewhat above the fray, preferring to lie about the president and his policies instead of engaging in broad character assassination. They just can't help themselves. It's who they are, and it's all the worse now given how vindictively they hate Obama, a president who throughout his first ten has advanced a moderate, often Republican-leaning agenda but who is nonetheless viewed on the right as the second coming of Che Guevara.

What's more, the point is that some leading Republican strategists, with loads of money at their disposal, actually wanted to do this, actually wanted to take their assault on the president even deeper into the gutter.

As Steve Benen writes, this is "a reminder that many Republicans have never heard the adage about the futility of fighting the last war." And it shows that Republicans don't think they can win on the issues. "[A] project like the Ricketts Plan would likely represent the most shameless effort to play the race card this year. If the right were confident about defeating the president on the issues, it wouldn't feel the need to exploit racial animus. This plan, in other words, comes across as rather desperate."

To me, it's also yet another reminder that in politics the right is populated by abhorrent people who do and say abhorrent things.

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Census Bureau: Whites now account for under half of U.S. births

The New York Times is reporting one of those newsy little bits that makes you think about long-term electoral implications: "After years of speculation, estimates and projections, the Census Bureau has made it official: White births are no longer a majority in the United States."

"Minorities" -- which include Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and those of mixed race -- have reached 50.4%.

It's certainly true that whites will remain in the majority for some time, but times are changing. And, while facile assumptions about what this might mean at the ballot box in the distant future may not be very helpful, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Republicans are probably not that happy with the trend.

One thing that is not a guess is an observation made by Dowell Meyers, a demography professor at USC: "If the U.S. depended on white births alone, we'd be dead. Without the contribution from all these groups, we would become too top heavy with old people."

Can't argue with that.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


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Citizens United gets nasty (and not in a good way)

I put one finger here, and...
I don't quite know what to make of the controversy to do with incredibly nasty fundraising letter sent out by Citizens United. They are a conservative non-profit organization made famous by the Supreme Court decision that now makes it possible, almost mandatory, for obscene amounts of money to pollute the political process.

BuzzFeed got its hands on the letter sent out to donors over Gov. Mike Huckabee's signature. The language in it was quite disgusting, even for a conservative organization, which is saying something. For example, it contained this line: "President Obama has surrounded himself with morally repugnant political whores with misshapen values and gutter-level ethics." Whoa! Really? That's not nice.

The implication, of course, is that the letter was "written" by Huckabee, although everyone knows big names don't write these things, they just allow their name to be used. Having said that, these luminaries are pretty sensitive about what is said in their name and, at least in my experience, either they or "their people" sign off on the content. Within a big campaign, where the candidate is too busy, a campaign manager might do the authorization, but there is a necessary degree of trust between candidate and manager that you wouldn't find between an organization like Citizen's United and someone of Huckabee's profile.

In a statement to Politico, Huck said this:

This was a complete surprise to me. I most certainly did not approve such language and would never have used that kind of repulsive rhetoric. I repudiate that language, find it offensive to me, and have ordered that it be pulled immediately.

Initially, Jeff Marschner, a spokesman for Citizens United, "categorically denied" the letter was sent by his organization. Some time after, Marschner corrected himself to say that the letter was sent as a test. Here is his statement:

Neither Governor Huckabee nor Dave Bossie, President of Citizens United, approved the language presented and used in the fundraising letter that was sent out as a test to a small number of people. Both have taken corrective action to make sure that this does not happen again. It is language that is beneath Governor Huckabee and Dave Bossie, and language that they would not use.

I've done a ton of political fundraising letters in my life. You do not generally put a letter out, no matter what it says, no matter how small the mailing, without the approval of the person whose signature appears at the bottom. When I first read the full text, which BuzzFeed has at its site, it simply did not seem that the governor would allow his relatively good-natured public image to be used in that way. He's making his money in television now, looking goofy with an electric bass around his neck. It doesn't seem like the approach he would take.

It struck me as so improbable that I even thought it could have been a dirty trick to make the right look even more extreme than it is, though that hardly seems necessary.

No, it looks like Citizens United was trying to pull a fast one and got caught. I'm not sure I buy the "test" excuse. No, I'm sure. I don't.

This is the nuts and bolts of politics. Believe or not, there are some rules it's best not to break.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Herman Cain's third endorsement goes to... Mitt Romney!

Herm Cain and the Swiss Miss, falling into partisan lockstep behind Mitt

After dropping out the Republican presidential race, Herman Cain endorsed "The People": "We the people are still in charge. That's who I'm endorsing. We're going to have to lead this revolution. We have to take our power back. I'm endorsing the people. The people who started this country." Not exactly the most conservative rhetoric, and not exactly all that meaningful an endorsement. But in its stupidity it lined up with his whole campaign.

Then, a while later, he endorsed Newt Gingrich: "When you find a candidate that basically is running still on the ideas and the ideologies that I was running on, along with him embracing 9-9-9, then it was a no-brainer and I thought that the timing was right." In other words, Newt said he liked his crazy tax plan, which is highly unlikely, and Cain thought they were ideologically similar, though what we witnessed back then was Newt coming to Cain's rescue on policy matters during debates and other joint appearances and Newt using Cain to attack Romney.

Well, we now have Cain's third endorsement, and this time it's for... Mitt Romney: "My endorsement evolved. Early in the process is one thing, but as we converged toward the convention, what we did earlier isn't as relevant. It wasn't a matter of changing my mind." Yes, it's just like it was for Obama and same-sex marriage, an evolution in his thinking. Please. Embracing Romney because he's the guaranteed nominee isn't exactly the same as taking an historic stand on a major civil rights issue.

And, yes, like so many other Romney endorsements, this one lacked conviction. Cain said that Romney is "right on the big issues," but to a simpleton like Cain, or indeed to any Republican, that would pretty much describe... any Republican.

Really, none of this matters. No one cares what Cain thinks about anything these days, including the election, and his endorsement is essentially meaningless, particularly after the ridiculousness of his time on the national stage. He was a joke then, and he remains one, more so even than Trump.

The only even vaguely interesting thing here is what this endorsement says about Romney -- which is, again, that Republicans aren't exactly excited about having him as their nominee. It's just that he's the only one left.

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By Carl 

A moment arrives tomorrow that is one of those markers in life that grabs your attention. My daughter graduates from college -- although she still needs a couple two credits -- and it makes all the difference.

I worry for her, as I worry for all young people of my acquaintance, from fellow bloggers to people at my gym and work, to her friends. I see trouble, deep deep trouble, ahead.

I guess if I could make a keynote at a graduation, I'd say something like this:

Today, you are glad to be finishing a stairway in your life. You've climbed to a landing, and can take a breath and look back down. Those steps, they looked so tall and steep as you walked up, but you made it. You perservered, and did what you had to and got through.

People, your parents and teachers had expectations of you based on what they knew of you, and they knew you better than you think they did. They didn't know all your secrets, but here's a secret they kept from you, and I'm going to reveal it: they never had to.

All those times you hid that cigarette or joint, the times you wiped the lipstick off before walking in the door, the times you walked quickly past the family room to hide the fact you were a little high, we knew. We didn't have to know the specifics, and we may not have figured out exactly when you did whatever it was that you did, but we were pretty sure you had done stuff.

We knew when you were slacking off your homework and when you were studying frantically because you forgot about a midterm.

We didn't always call you on our suspicions, because that would have set up an adversarial relationship, but we knew.

See, we were students once too. There's a big difference, though. When we grew up, the world was promising us, well, the world. You don't seem to have that promise anymore, but I've got another delightful secret to share with you.

It doesn't matter. The world you learned about growing up, the one you learned about in school and at church or on the ballfield or the Y, in Scouts or down at the mall is not the world you'll end up living in, but it doesn't matter.

It wasn't for your parents or your teachers. It won't be for you.

When I was a kid, baseball players made about $40,000 a year, which was pretty good money in an economy where $100,000 was the estethetic equivalent of a million. But it wasn't enough to stay unemployed in the odd-season. Ballplayers took odd jobs, working as stock brokers or even digging graves. I was a fair athlete. I could have been a Rhodes Scholar if my parents had any inkling that my athletics combined with my grades would have put me in that class, but they chose to keep me from palying sports in school for the most part.

See, they raised me based on the world they knew, and the world they knew was one of poverty and want, one that saw them go days without fresh food, living off bread and soups and stews. They learned from the world they grew up in that a brain was the most valuable asset a person could have and that it ought to be honed to a sharpness that would make a Ginzu knife embarassed.

It would be hard to blame them for missing the turn in fortunes that saw this nation go from a thriving intellectual hotbed to one where Snooki is more admired than Eric Lander. It's as if Greta Garbo would be better remembered than Albert Einstein. They'd never see that coming.

As my life unfolded, it didn't matter that I was reading college textbooks in fourth grade. I mean, it helped, but I didn't end up in an academium. I ended up in the corporate world because I was trying to live the life I thought I should live.

"Should." There's the most dangerous word in the English language. I'm here to tell you that "should" doesn't matter. The experiences you've lived and the values you've been taught up to now are important, even vitally, but you have to remain flexible because some of them won't matter nearly as much as they used to.

What does matter is the two oldest pieces of advice any adult can give you: Gnothi Seauton (you may have seen this rendered as Nosce te Ipsum) -- Know Thyself -- and "To thine ownself be true."

It took five years out of my life and tens of thousands of dollars to understand what those really mean. I'm going to sum it up for you with a piece of imagery:

When you die, who gets buried in your casket? Not your mom. Not your teachers. Not your spouse or business partners.

You. And you alone. And in the preceding moments, as your eyelids close for the final time, is the spiritual reckoning we all must entertain: who are you?

If you are anyone else than who you are, if you try to be someone else because it's just easier than fighting people's expectations, you will have failed at life.

Once you know who you are, once you get a handle on your basic essence -- and make no mistake, you have the capacity to infinitely surprise yourself, so this is an ongoing process! -- a door will open in your soul, and what you will find is your calling. Getting to this point takes a lot of work, mind you. It's a constant process of auditing yourself and asking difficult questions like "Why? What the hell did I do that for? Is it lunchtime yet?"

Worse, as you evolve (apologies to any evangelicals out there, but you know, facts are stupid things), you change and who you are changes, too. Who you are at twenty is not who you'll be at 35, married with a couple of kids and, one hopes, a mortgage.

So take a few minutes each day to know yourself. Pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth as much as you pay attention to how other people receive those words. Lay back on the grass every so often and just listen to the world around you. In those sights and sounds lie an awful lot of the answers you seek. When something or someone annoys you, ask yourself why. When you feel enormous joy, wrap yourself in it like a blanket and enjoy. Later, you can reflect on why it felt so good (sex with the right person leaps to mind, because it's the right person).

You'll be attracted to some people and things and repelled by others. Figure out why. In those, especially, lie many answers to who you are. Treat your life like a detective story, always asking why you did what you did. A lot of the time, the answer is obvious but not apparent, like the shoe print under the window, but behind a bush.

You want to do this, because you want to follow your heart in life. The most satisfying work you'll ever have is the work you love to do, and you can't know what you love unless you know who you are. This is what the Bard meant by "To thine ownself be true." You can't be anybody else. That would be false, and you can't be true to anyone or anything else until you are true to yourself first.

And if all this sounds like a lot of work and you'd rather give it a miss, that's okay too. You just learned something about yourself and there's nothing wrong with deciding this isn't important, just as it isn't wrong to not want to wear a helmet riding while riding a bike: probably nothing will happen and you'll still enjoy yourself, but in the back of your mind will always linger the concern that you might be missing something. If you can live with that, god bless you. I tried, and ultimately could not.

Let me start to wrap this up, because I can see the champagne bottles shift under your gowns and the nervous glances at your watches: If you can be true to yourself, then nothing and no one will ever be able to stop you.

They may stand in your way, but the harder you work on yourself, the easier it will become to look upon these objects and people as obstacles, not blockades. You can get around or even roll over an obstacle. You just work a little harder. You know all those people who you read about who "overcome"? They do it because they refuse to let themselves be blockaded. They see the obstacles and figure how to get around them.

You'll have friends, true friends, because of who you are, not what you are, and they'll cheer you on without taking an ounce of credit for themselves. This is your life. Take center stage. And in the words of Steve Jobs, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."

I mean, he only changed the world. You only have to be yourself.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)


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Hawaii bans plastic bags at the check-out counter state-wide, libertarians gnash teeth everywhere

Great to see Hawaii has become the first jurisdiction to impose a state-wide ban on plastic bags at the checkout counter. To make it happen, Honolulu County just joined the state's three other counties.

According to MSNBC, Pete Carlisle, Honolulu mayor, had this to say about it:

This is groundbreaking. By signing this environmentally friendly bill, Honolulu joined our neighbor island counties. Hawaii has become the only state in the United States where every county has plastic bag legislation.

It's not going to happen overnight. There is a three-year phase-in so retailers can get used to the change, but it's coming.

One interesting comment by Sierra Club spokesman Robert Harris is that:

Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment. People in Hawaii are more likely to be in the water or in the outdoors and see the modern day tumbleweed -- plastic bags -- in the environment.

I live in a jurisdiction that imposed a five-cent charge on every plastic bag you need at the checkout. We routinely bring our own cloth bags whenever we shop. A small legislative change did a great job of modifying behaviour in a very important way, and I'm glad it did.

The libertarian streak in the GOP these days is, to put it mildly, not helpful. Laws and regulations that protect the public good are essential. There is no question we should debate and discuss these changes when they are proposed, but to reject them simply because they involve state action and enforcement is absurd.

I know elements of the right will never accept this but, in a democracy, when it's running properly, duly elected officials act on behalf of the governed for the common good. Sometimes, even frequently, individual action doesn't get it done.

The question is not about whether or not we should regulate, but what regulations make sense.

A "small thing" like Hawaii's state-wide ban on plastic bags is a case in point.

Nanny this, Ron Paul.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Boehner calls for another debt ceiling fight, prepared once again to take country to brink of economic apocalypse


"We shouldn't dread the debt limit," said Speaker Boehner yesterday at the (right-wing) 2012 Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit in Washington. "We should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction." 

Translation: My ass is on the line as speaker. I'm already dangling by a thread after trying to make a deal with the president last year, a really great deal for Republicans but never mind, and much of the party wants me out simply because I'm not an ideological extremist, even if I had the president agreeing to some major concessions and know a lot about getting shit done. That idiot Cantor's just waiting for me to fall. But I'm not going to go without a fight! You want another debt ceiling battle. Bring... it... on. So what if it will once again take the country to the edge of the abyss? So what if we're risking economic suicide. It's my ass we're talking about, for Christ's sake! I'm just giving the Tea Party, and my Tea Party-dominated party, what it wants. Besides, you don't think Obama will cave once again? Of course he will. I'll hold out for max concessions from him. No tax increases, no sacrifices for the wealthy, just massive cuts across the board, especially to programs that aid the disadvantaged. Who don't vote Republican anyway, so screw 'em. See, it's totally win-win for me. I've learned my lesson. My ass comes first, my party comes second... and the country? Well, it's fucked anyway, so who gives a fuck?

Thanks, Boehner.



You can find the full text of Boehner's speech here.

According to The Hill, Obama and Boehner "clashed" over the debt ceiling during a meeting at the White House yesterday. "As long as I'm around here," he told the president, "I'm not going to allow a debt-ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt."

But of course the president has shown time and time again that he's willing to tackle the debt, including by putting significant cuts to key entitlement programs on the table. Republicans want those cuts and more but refuse to compromise on tax increases.

If anyone's not "serious about the debt," it's Boehner, and he's actually one of the more sensible Republicans in the House. Indeed, pretty much the entire Republican Party refuses to accept a deal that would give them much of what they want in terms of historic cuts to government spending. All they'd need to do is agree to a moderate revenue increase on the other side -- in other words, to a decidedly center-right deal that involves Obama and the Democrats selling out some core liberal-progressive principles.

But... no. The Republicans are so ideologically extreme, so entrenched in their anti-tax abolutism, that they can't even accept a deal that is almost entirely in their favor.

Which means that once again Republican are going to hold the country hostage over the debt ceiling, making completely unreasonable demands and seriously endangering the economy -- not just the national one but the global one as well.

Needless to say, the president will need to try to drive public opinion on this, reinforcing the narrative that the Republicans are acting irresponsibly by blocking a debt ceiling increase (something both Democratic and Republican presidents have regularly requested and received) and that it is the extremism and obstructionism of the Republicans that is paralyzing American democracy and hindering economic recovery.

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The inevitable stench of third-party money

Thank you. Thank you soooooo much.

Certain themes in the presidential election campaign are going to come up again and again. Third-party money is one of them. Since the Citizens United Supreme Court case, it's basically okay for outside groups to plow as much money into campaigns as they can.

It's obvious at this point that conservatives / Republicans are going to be a lot better at this than liberals / Democrats. But these are the rules. Democrats are going to have to try to keep up, but it will be hard.

We hear now that American Crossroads, Karl Rove's super PAC, will be spending $25 million on an ad campaign this month to match what the Obama campaign has already announced.

As The Washington Post notes, the Crossroads ad buy "confirms the major role [the organization] will play in the general election," which is to step in and do what the Romney campaign can't do from time to time. In this case it will step in as Romney's campaign attempts to recover from the costly nomination race. Campaigns and super PACs aren't supposed to coordinate their efforts, but how can they not?

Conservatives like to imply that spending money in campaigns, maybe massive amounts of it, is just another way of exercising freedom. But, with this much money floating around, something has to start smelling sooner or later. Probably sooner.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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George W. Bush is releasing a book with his advice on boosting economic growth. For real.

Yes, it's upside-down. Remember?
I love it when Republicans claim the statute of limitations has run out on blaming George W. Bush for the economic crisis we have been suffering through since 2008. It's like a little kid's game to them. They can do whatever they want but "No punch back!" Screw that. As Think Progress catalogues:

[U]nder his watch, "growth in investment, GDP, and employment all posted their worst performance of any post-war expansion,"while "overall monthly job growth was the worst of any cycle since at least February 1945, and household income growth was negative for the first cycle since tracking began in 1967." As the Economic Policy Institute found, "between the end of the 2001 recession (2001Q4) and the peak of that expansion (2007Q4), the U.S. economy experienced the worst economic expansion of the post-war era." 

One thing that George did well was to increase average corporate profits.

Point is, George put the country in a big hole and I have no idea why Democrats should stop talking about that.

But if you really want to know how W. thinks we should be growing the economy, despite his inability to do that when he was in charge, you are in luck. He'll be putting out a book this summer on the topic.

I'm still not expecting Mitt Romney to be citing Bush's economic wisdom any time soon. That tells me that Republicans know quite well where the blame lies for the economy and don't want to do anything to draw attention to that fact. I'm sure they would really appreciate it if Democrats played along.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Behind the Ad: Pro-Obama super PAC joins the attack on Bain Capital

By Richard K. Barry 

(Another installment in our "Behind the Ad" series.)

Who: The pro-Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA. 

Where: Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. 

What's going on: First, the Obama campaign put out an ad accusing Mitt Romney of, according to The New York Times, "being a corporate raider whose private equity firm preyed on weak companies seeking profits, than tossed aside their employees with little regard."

Now a pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA, has a new ad out about Bain Capital, Romney's former company, that echoes those sentiments.

Romney's people argue, as campaign strategist Eric Fernstrohm has said, that "[a]ttacks on how our free enterprise system works have a way of backfiring." And it is true that the primary obligation of private equity firms is to turn a profit for their investors. If that means expanding a business and hiring workers, that may be what they do. If it means laying off workers or shutting down a perfectly serviceable company because it's the easiest way to turn a profit in the short term, they'll do that too.

That's fine. But for Romney to present himself like some kind of Robin Hood, whose main goal in life was to create jobs for people is nonsense. The moment he starting characterizing Bain Capital in that way, he opened himself up to criticism that he really didn't give a shit what happened to workers one way or the other as long as he and his investors got theirs.

I agree with the Times analysis that sees some danger in putting our economic system on trial:

If voters conclude that Mr. Obama's attacks on Mr. Romney amount to an unfair criticism of capitalism, it might boomerang on the president as a political weapon.

Okay. Let people hear everything there is to know about how a company like Bain Capital operates. But don't tell me that these kinds of ads are somehow inappropriate, not while Mitt Romney is out there talking about the 100,000 jobs he created. Maybe Romney wins this argument, but let's have it.

I'm sure there is a way to conduct business so that investors get a fair return on their investment while employees and the communities they inhabit prosper. I am equally sure there are ways to do business in which the investor or their agents extract every last nickel with limited regard for the devastation left behind.

In both cases it's capitalism. I think Americans have a right to know what kind of capitalist Mitt Romney is. I think it makes a great deal of difference. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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If Americans Elect collapses, and "centrism" takes a hit, does anyone care?

Well, so much for Americans Elect, that full-of-itself "centrist" organization that was hoping to run a third-party candidate for president in November. Politico explains:

The group had qualified for the general election ballot in 27 states, and had generated concern among Democrats and Republicans alike that it could wreak havoc on a close election between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

But just after a midnight deadline Monday, the group acknowledged that its complicated online nominating process had failed to generate sufficient interest to push any of the candidates who had declared an interest in its nomination over the threshold in its rules.

What a charming euphemism: "failed to generate sufficient interest." The statement from AE CEO Kahlil Byrd is less negative, of course, but also more misleading: "Through the efforts of thousands of staffers, volunteers, and leadership, Americans Elect has achieved every stated operational goal. Despite these efforts, as of today, no candidate has reached the national support threshold required to enter the 'Americans Elect Online Convention' this June."
Uh-huh. Whatever. In other words, no one really gives a shit -- other than these supposed "thousands" and self-important (holier-than-thou) David Broder-oriented pundits like Thomas Friedman (whom Ed Kilgore suggests should be the group's nominee).

So does this mean "centrism" is dead? Of course not. It may not be a viable political movement (partisan even as it claims non-partisanship), and AE may not go anywhere, but there are still the likes of, oh, er, ah, Michael Bloomberg out there, not to mention all those self-glorifying pundits, and a lot of people like to call themselves centrists.

But, look, it really depends on what you mean by centrism. As I wrote back in November 2007:

It is also a rigid ideology that demands compromise between "left" and "right," however defined, no matter what, regardless of the merits of either side. And the split down the middle tends, from experience, to favour the right, which has manged in recent years to persuade the media, and many Americans, that the "center" is well to the right of where it really is.

And this Crossfire view of politics only serves to legitimize the extremist positions of the right, as well as their proponents, to bring them into the debate, to take them seriously, and, ultimately, to include them equally in whatever "compromise" is worked out.

This is how the right wins, with oblivious and self-important centrists enabling its hold on power.
Even further back, in November 2005, not long after I started this blog, when I was going through a period of self-examination with respect to just where I fit on the left, I wrote this:

The point is, the "center" is open to debate and interpretation. And if centrism for the left means abandoning liberal principles and ideals and embracing certain illiberal aspects of conservatism, then I'm not sure I really want much to do with it. It's fine to be a "moderate" or a "centrist," and I myself am no ideologue, but some things are worth standing up for over and above compromise. (For example: social security, universal health care of some kind, and the environment.)

Regardless, the center is with the Democrats, more to the left of where the Republican spin machine says it is. Indeed, I would say that liberalism is centrism. But it's up to liberals, and their Democratic candidates and representatives, to explain that to the American people, that is, to explain just how liberalism is at the very center of American life, how America's fundamental values are themselves fundamentally liberal.
I remembered all this when I found myself agreeing yesteday with Paul Krugman's assessment of centrism in general and AE in particular:
Americans Elect, a lavishly funded "centrist" group that was supposed to provide an alternative to traditional political parties, has been a ridiculous flop. Basically, about seven people were actually excited about the venture -- all of them political pundits. Actual voters couldn't care less.
What went wrong? Well, there actually is a large constituency in America for a political leader who is willing to take responsible positions -- to call for more investment in the nation’s education and infrastructure, to propose bringing down the long-run deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. And there is in fact a political leader ready and willing (maybe too willing) to play that role; his name is Barack Obama.
So why Americans Elect? Because there exists in America a small class of professional centrists, whose stock in trade is denouncing the extremists in both parties and calling for a middle ground. And this class cannot, as a professional matter, admit that there already is a centrist party in America, the Democrats -- that the extremism they decry is all coming from one side of the political fence. Because if they admitted that, they'd just be moderate Democrats, with no holier-than-thou pedestal to stand on.
Exactly. Damn centrists. (Unless it's the real center we're talking about, the liberal center, which is not what these self-styled centrists, nor those further to the right, would have you believe.)

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