Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Liberals Have Compromised Enough

Ezra Klein lays it out:

Was out of the office for a few hours at C-SPAN world headquarters, but early reports were accurate and Sen. Reid will include a national public option that states could choose to offer to their residents -- or not! -- in his bill. In the Senate, this is about to become the "liberal" half of the debate. But it's not very liberal at all. It is a compromise, and a conservative one at that.

For the real liberals, the public option was already a compromise from single-payer. For the slightly less radical folks, the public option that's barred from partnering with Medicare to maximize the government's buying power was a compromise down from a Medicare-like insurance plan. For the folks even less radical than that, the public option that states can "opt out" of is a compromise from the straight public option. Access to the public option will be a political question settled at the state level. It is not a settled matter of national policy.

In many ways, this is a fundamentally conservative approach to a liberal policy experiment. It's only offered to individuals eligible for the insurance exchanges, which is a small minority of the population. The majority of Americans who rely on employer-based insurance would not be allowed to choose the exchanges. From there, it is only one of many options on the exchange, and only in states that choose to have it. In other words, it has been designed to preserve the status quo and be decided on the state level. Philosophically, these are major compromises liberals have made on this plan. They should get credit for that.
They won't. They never do. That's not the game. The game is to exploit the "reasonableness" of too many liberals—their naive (yet oddly touching) belief that everybody is reasonable. They're willing to "meet half-way" with those who have openly declared themselves as unreasonable, unwilling to compromise, and completely hostile to everything that liberalism stands for.

So those enemies of Liberalism just "compromise" long enough to set up a new far-right position, then conveniently forget about the old "compromise" as anything but a starting point for a new "compromise" between their old position and their new one. Then, when they hit THAT point, they just go 'round again.

And if someone questions wingers on this little game? Well, then they rant, and rave, and scream about how the questioner is being "unfair", because they know that at least some will be uncomfortable with the "unreasonable" people in their midst. The liberals are divided against themselves. That is part of the game too.

All that's left is for people like Ezra to tally up the compromises, sorrowfully opine on what might have been, and then ignore it all over again when it happens the next time 'round.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oh, Hey, Looks Like the "Veal Pen" Broke

MoveOn is running a nice little ad (with Heather Graham in, no less!) that advocates the public option:



I had thought they were still quaking at the thought of taking shots at Dems—they're the ones who will be instrumental in getting a public option, after all—but I suppose the polls have stiffened their spines a bit.

Must be pretty frustrating in the "anonymous senior official" wing of the White House.

Democracy Corps' Terrible Study

Dear Democracy Corps:

Do you really think that even the most ardent Republican is going to use out and out racist language in a research setting?

ARE YOU HIGH?

Seriously, guys, aside from everything else, your methodology sucks. So does your analysis: they spent (as you yourselves put it) an absolute ton of time saying that "I'm not racist but they'll label me as racist if I criticize him", and you don't stop to think that maybe, just maybe, they're being unbelievably defensive for a reason?

Look at this one quote:

You can’t openly criticize Obama. If you do, you’ll be labeled as a racist.

Whatever we say about Obama, no matter what we say about him, it is a racial comment so you know, we can’t say anything, we personally do not like him. I don’t care if he is purple, but whatever we say we’re racist.

As far as a person goes, I don’t want to say I hate him. I don’t like what he stands for… and I don’t like what he is doing and the choices he is making, but I mean I don’t know him as a gentleman so… You would be called a racist. You would not like him because he is black. That is what the media is saying...

...The things that we’ve said have nothing to do with race. They have to do with policy and… an agenda, his agenda… Right… Manipulation.

I think basically we have a lot of the same views of Clinton as we do about Obama but most of us are freer to express it because we are not going to be accused of being racists...

...Actually that is a good thing that he has done. In all the charges of it being racial he has defended, he has come out and said, no I don’t think that comment was meant that way and that was the one thing that I think he has done that you know.

I don’t think he thinks it, but I think other people think it. You know the ones that are really supportive of him. If we don’t like him, and we have something against him, then we’re a racist...

...I think he’s got a hidden agenda… and I’m worried that we won’t be able to undo what he has done in such a short time

I mean that is when you start questioning, what is the agenda? Because they are weakening us as a country to where we cannot afford so we are going to cry out or we are going to take what has been offered to us....

...I just think that Obama was molded and I think that he is being fed what he can and cannot do and what to do next and it seems like he is a puppet in this whole game. I don’t know who the people are behind him really but I don’t think it is him. I think it is somebody, I think he is just the figurehead… I think it is George Soros… I do too… Is he the guy with money?… Yes… They say follow the money.

I think he has a money person behind him that has planned this long before because he has gotten pushed into a position that is unbelievable for a community organizer…I come from Chicago so I know how he got there and I don’t like his tentacles into ACORN and everything else that are subsidiaries and it all goes back… He couldn’t do it by himself.
The parts that were stripped out were generally the DC comments. The quotes are verbatim.

To you or me, what that says is pretty goddamned clear: "There's no way a lazy n----- like that could become president alone, he's got to be a puppet of those big rich j---s". Yet Democracy Corps doesn't even consider that there might be a subtext there. They just blithely repeat what they're told, as if Republicans haven't been using dog-whistle language for years and ratcheted it up against Obama during 2008.

No, racism isn't all of it. There's also the mad fantasies about how he's a big ol' socialist, and the psychotic paranoia about the gigantic liberal media conspiracy that simultaneously grants that "a lot of conservatives have platforms on the radio or television." (Though that last one could easily be tied to the j--- thing if you push a little and mention the word "Soros".)

There's also the creepy personality cult that's coalescing around Glenn Beck, which is honestly worse than anything that ever attached itself to Limbaugh's meaty frame. I won't reproduce the comments here, but it's starting to look like a good ol' fashioned "Uncle Joe" personality cult. At best.

But to discount racism based on what I'm seeing here is ludicrous, and a complete mockery of proper social science technique. There's simply no way that this sort of methodology is going to bring out taboo opinions on race, any more than it would bring out any other taboo. At best you'll find it by reading between the lines, but it's more likely that you could just say "we failed to elicit racist language, but cannot be sure whether racism is or isn't a motivating factor." After all, to believe that there is no racist opposition to Obama doesn't pass the laugh test. That means that either their focus group selection methodology didn't find them, or their survey methodology didn't elicit it. Either way, they didn't acknowledge that.

Very, very disappointing. Whether or not it's an attempt by Carville et al to change the tone of the debate by deliberately trying to take racism out of it, I cannot say. They didn't publish the interviews, only their interpretation. But as it is, all this shows is that dogwhistle politics are alive and well in the Republican party...

...and that I'm starting to become very, very worried about Glenn Beck's fans.

Monday, October 19, 2009

You Have Got to Be Kiddng Me

Forget that nasty Darfur stuff! Let's play with Sudan!

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has formulated a new policy for Sudan that proposes working with that country’s government, rather than isolating it as President Obama had pledged to do during his campaign.

In an interview on Friday, President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, retired, said the policy, to be announced Monday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, would make use of a mix of “incentives and pressure” to seek an end to the human rights abuses that have left millions of people dead or displaced while burning Darfur into the American conscience.

General Gration said the administration would set strict time lines for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to fulfill the conditions of a 2005 peace agreement that his government signed with rebels in southern Sudan.

Under that agreement, independence for southern Sudan is to be put to a vote in 2011.

“To advance peace and security in Sudan, we must engage with allies and with those with whom we disagree,” said a statement of the policy that was obtained by The New York Times.

General Gration said the administration’s new approach was also intended to prevent Sudan, which once provided refuge to Osama bin Laden, from again serving as a terrorist haven.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama criticized the Bush administration for doing too little to stop the killing.
So that's it. It looks like the realists have been whispering in a few ears, judging by that section I bolded. They want Sudan on the inside, because a few dead people in Darfur (okay, hundreds of thousands) are less important than another "ally" in the we-won't-call-it-a-War-on-Terror.

The justification they've pulled out is that things are getting better, and maybe the Sudanese government should be brought into the fold. But they're getting better because the Darfur people are thoroughly repressed, and the rehabilitation of the Sudanese government is only going to encourage other governments to murder even more minorities.

(But, hey, it's not really genocide as long as they're nobody I know, right?)

Obviously, people are ticked:

But the new administration policy is likely to inflame an already vociferous chorus of criticism.

In advertisements and letters to the White House, legislators, activist groups and Sudanese rebel leaders have accused Mr. Obama of abandoning his promises to make Sudan a priority from his first day in office and to stand tough against President Bashir, whom the International Criminal Court indicted this year for crimes against humanity.

Some critics have expressed outrage over earlier statements by General Gration in which he raised questions about the effectiveness of imposing sanctions and suggested that a series of rewards might work better at getting Mr. Bashir’s government in Khartoum to cooperate.

In the interview, General Gration disagreed with the critics.

Summing up the administration’s approach, he cited what he described as an old African proverb. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, you have to go with someone,” he said.

“We want to go far,” General Gration said, “and to do that we are going to have to go with Khartoum.”
Why, yes, I'm sure you do want to go far, Mister General Sir. All the way into Darfur.

Mind the bodies.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Economists Acting LIke Blithering Idiots About Climate Change?

Is it Wednesday already?

Seriously, when economists wonder why the rest of us think they're clueless muttonheads with a dangerous entitlement complex, I think they can rest assured that we're talking about things like this:
“Rogue” is a good word for Levitt, but I think “contrarian” is more apt. Sadly, for Levitt’s readers and reputation, he decided to adopt the contrarian view of global warming, which takes him far outside of his expertise. As is common among smart people who know virtually nothing about climate science or solutions and get it so very wrong, he relies on other smart contrarians who know virtually nothing about climate science or solutions. In particular, he leans heavily on Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft, who has a reputation for brilliance, which he and the Superfreaks utterly shred in this book:
“A lot of the things that people say would be good things probably aren’t,” Myrhvold says. As an example he points to solar power. “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12% gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributed to global warming.”
Impressive — three and a half major howlers in one tiny paragraph (p 187). California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld called this “patent nonsense,” when I read it to him. And Myhrvold is the guy, according to the Superfreaks, of which Bill Gates once said, “I don’t know anyone I would say is smarter than Nathan.” This should be the definitive proof that smarts in one area do not necessarily translate at all.
I trust you to realize why the quoted bit is absolute blithering idiocy. ClimateProgress goes into great detail if you're wondering, but I doubt you would be, since most people would just respond to this with a hearty "WTF?"

So what's gone wrong here? Well...

The reason I’m calling Levitt and Dubner Superfreaks for short is that Chapter Five of SuperFreakonomics, the “Global Cooling” chapter — aka “What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?” — has precious little economics, and what it does have is simply wrong. So the book could easily have been titled Superfreaks. [Note: Most of the book is searchable online. At the request of the publisher, I have taken down the PDF of the chapter.]

The answer is that Gore and Pinatubo’s eruption both suggest a way to cool the planet, albeit with methods whose cost-effectiveness are a universe apart.

Yes, the Superfreaks frame this chapter mostly as their (misguided) view of the science versus the views of that famous non-scientist Al Gore (as opposed to the views of all of the scientists who disagree with the crap they are peddling). That straw man approach gives them the “high” ground.

But by embracing aeresols and rejecting mitigation, they have adopted the identical view of that rogue, thoroughly debunked, non-economist Bjorn Lomborg. Unlike the Superfreaks, CP readers know that Ken Caldeira calls the vision of Lomborg’s Climate Consensus “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.”

And yet Caldeira is the primary practicing climate scientist the Superfreaks rely on in the chapter! He has responded to many e-mail queries of mine over the weekend so I could characterize his views accurately. He simply doesn’t believe what the Superfreaks make it seem like he believes. He writes me:

If you talk all day, and somebody picks a half dozen quotes without providing context because they want to make a provocative and controversial chapter, there is not much you can do.

This is classic, classic economist behavior, where they move into another science and start babbling whatever crap comes to mind as long as it sounds good and fits their axiomatic dogma. A lot of people have already asked a lot of questions about Levitt's methodology. But as we see here, the methodology doesn't necessarily have anything to do with it, because the damned thing didn't have methodology worth the name to begin with!

It used to be that this sort of thing only happened in the social sciences and in historiography, where economists would barge in, brandishing whatever model happened to to be at hand, and proclaim that they have a solution that all the "little people" that came beforehand should just shut up and accept. Never mind that they removed all the evidence that didn't fit with all the surgical skill of a medieval barber. What was worst about this sort of dilletantism was that their statements were inevitably wrong, and did tremendous damage.

That's what we saw with Lomborg. Everybody who knows a damned thing about climate change knows that Bjorn Lomborg was completely off his rocker, and smacked him down multiple times: first when he tried to dismiss global warming, and then again when he tried to pull some sleight of hand by claiming that what he was really advocating was lovely things like malaria nets and childhood innoculation...as if it were climate change that were the problem there. But because he's an economist and therefore part of the "proper" tribe, he gets his sounding board whether he's right or not. Sure, there are other scientists who carry water for the polluters, but they're usually in fields that at least have something vaguely to do with ecology and meteorology. Lomborg is (when you get right down to it) a glorified sociologist! He has absolutely no business even discussing this field! But he does, because he gets the pass. So does Levitt.

And when these people misuse this power, as they inevitably do, it's the real scientists (and the rest of us) that inevitably have to clean up the messes. Except that with climate change, there may not be a "rest of us" to do it. But, hey, as long as it sells books, right?

The hat tip goes to Krugman. I'm a bit uncomfortable about his positioning on this one, though. I remember his old "dismal science" column, where he used to play this card with gusto. He's since recovered from his own bout of economists' entitlement. That's a good thing.

It's still important to remember that this is a serious, serious problem with social science that goes back years, not a "right wing vs. left wing" or "Krugman vs. Levitt" issue. (Privileging economists like that is the entire problem.)

It won't be solved by ideological wrangling. It'll be solved by economists rediscovering a bit of humility, and other scientists rediscovering their ability to tell that obnoxious economist to,

well,

"sit the hell down and shut the hell up"
.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"But Rae Has Gained Our Trust"

So, hey, here's a story:
One of Michael Ignatieff’s close caucus supporters said to me the other day, “We’re still supporting Michael, but Bob Rae has gained our trust.”

He went on to list some of the reasons he and others now have more faith in Rae than Iggy. At the Sudbury party meeting last month, Rae got it right. He was saying, behind the scenes, that Iggy should not be pushing for an election because it would make him look just as the Conservative attack ads were depicting him — an opportunist. Iggy didn’t take Rae’s advice.

He vowed to bring down the government as soon as possible. But the gambit has done more to bring him down than the prime minister. Caucus members now say they will undercut any order by Iggy to defeat the government by conveniently being absent on voting day.

In June, Ignatieff’s team was pressing for a summer election. Rae cautioned against such a move, saying the party wasn’t ready and summer wasn’t the time. But the leader came out sounding hawkish, ready to go. Then he suddenly pulled back when told his party wasn’t financially ready. In so doing, he looked feckless.

The far more experienced Rae has told associates he is not happy with Ignatieff’s handling of the job. A participant at morning meetings with the leader and some MPs says Rae’s performance there has been noticeably less enthusiastic in recent times.

Former prime minister Jean Chr├ętien, whose old team is replete with Rae supporters, complained recently that he hasn’t been hearing much from the Liberal leader. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he said, calls him more often.

On the weekend, Rae had to come forward to deny he orchestrated a move by a group of Liberal senators to amend a crime bill, a bill that Ignatieff was supporting.

As common sense would suggest, Rae, who fell short in a couple of runs for the crown, still has leadership ambitions. He can protest that he is being loyal, that he is doing nothing to encourage his supporters. But with the party in a free fall, disgruntled caucus members are going to talk and journalists are going to listen.

The last thing the Liberals need at this point is a new outbreak of leadership feuding. But unless Ignatieff reverses his slide, that’s what they’ll get.
Absolutely true. But, to be fair, it is somewhat of a "what goes around, comes around" situation. Stephane Dion is probably howling with laughter right now.

In any case, at least he'll be having that "thinker's conference". Certainly the "wait out the Tory collapse" and "erect a personality cult" strategies haven't took off. Might as well try policy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No, Richard Cohen, You Did Not Win a Nobel

I know you'd like to pretend that you did, but as one of the greatest apologists for the previous administration and one of the worst "even the liberal" enablers out there, you are everything that the Nobel committee was trying to punish.

Whether you voted for Obama or not is immaterial. You've long since forfeited any claim to this.

Nobel Prize in...Political Economy?

Seems odd, but take a look:

American economists Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, who study the way economic decisions are made outside markets, were awarded the Nobel Prize in economics Monday.

Ms. Ostrom, who teaches at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., is the first woman to win the economics prize, which had been awarded to 62 men since its launch in 1969. The judges cited her analysis of what happens when natural resources are shared commonly.

Mr. Williamson, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, was cited for explaining why some decisions are made more efficiently inside corporations rather than at arm's length in markets.

Within the economics profession, neither was seen as a likely choice for the award, officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Ms. Ostrom's doctorate is in political science, though she considers herself a political economist. Ms. Ostrom, 76 years old, said that when the phone rang at 6:30 a.m. Monday, she thought it might be a telemarketer. Mr. Williamson's work, meanwhile, has been highly influential on fields outside of economics. The 77-year-old has been described as the economist most cited by noneconomists.

Both have highlighted areas where standard approaches of economics are inadequate at explaining what actually occurs. "They both pay incredible attention to what happens in the real world," said Wharton School economist Witold Henisz, a former student of Mr. Williamson's.

Ms. Ostrom's work challenged the view that when people share a finite resource, they will end up destroying it -- what is known as the tragedy of the commons. That view argues that resources that are important for the common good need to be highly regulated or privatized.

As a graduate student in the early 1960s at the University of California, Los Angeles, Ms. Ostrom researched the way water was being managed in Southern California. Groundwater levels were falling, and saltwater was seeping into the system. But rather than collapsing into a tragedy of the commons, communities and water producers hashed out a solution. That led her to explore situations throughout the world where resources were commonly held, and she found that people often developed institutions, networks and other ways of interacting that solved problems.

Economists had largely ignored the importance of such networks, said Yale University environmental economist Matthew Kotchen, in part, because they couldn't come up with elegant models to describe them.
First Krugman, now this. Something very, very interesting is happening with the Sveriges Riksban.

Going on...
[Williamson] found that many economic decisions that standard theory said would be more efficiently left to the marketplace were actually better left within a firm. "Competitive markets work relatively well because buyers and sellers can turn to other trading partners in case of dissent," the Nobel judges said. "But when market competition is limited, firms are better suited for conflict resolution than markets."
This is a more profound insight than you'd think. A firm is essentially a bureaucracy, just one in a condition of competition with other bureaucracies. The practical upshot here is that markets are not always the best mode of economic organization, which is an astounding idea to even consider.

But what's even more astounding is the fact that thse two people got the award in the first place. A political economist getting the Nobel Prize in economics? Only a few years ago, that would be seen as something like sacrilege. Yet here we are.

That point about a lack of elegant models is important, too. Nobel prizes in the past have been all about elegant models. In fact, your model was probably the fastest and most predictable way to earn a Nobel. Economic history and (until now) Political Economy were nonstarters compared to things like Econometrics and Economic modelling. Yet, again, here we are, where a model-resistant theory takes the prize.

I'm not sure why, exactly, attitudes seem to have shifted. But they have. And good on' em.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An Obama Admin Reality Check:

If one of their people gets caught saying "those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult”, what do you expect them to do, exactly?

Do you expect them to say "hell yeah, that's absolutely where we stand, SCREW the bloggers and the swivel chairs they rode in on"? Hell no.

You're going to expect them to say "that doesn't reflect White House thinking." Which they did say. Because they aren't idiots. That's why they're going anonymous in the first place!

So if you do expect to say that, don't assume that that somehow excuses everything. It doesn't signify that they didn't mean it. It doesn't signify that they've seen the error of their ways. It just signifies that they know enough to deny it on the record. But if you look at their history, like Aravosis does, the attitude becomes perfectly clear:

this isn't the first time the White House has "reportedly" criticized bloggers, or progressives. In August, they dismissed anyone who had concerns about how health care reform as "the left of the left" - which is awfully similar to the current accusation that we're "the Internet left fringe." Then a few weeks later, the president said that blogs don't fact check, and are all "people shouting at each other."

And the fact that the White House holds conference calls with bloggers is nice. But let's not exaggerate here. Those calls are as much, if not more, for the White House's benefit than for ours.

Bloggers are the only key members of the Democratic noise machine who have been shunned by the president. He met with liberal talk radio, with the partisan pundits on TV (Rachel and Keith), and even invited a conservative blogger (Andrew Sullivan) and conservative writer/activists Bill Kristol and David Brooks. But no such meeting has ever been scheduled with the liberal political blogs.

There is a pattern of disdain for, and distrust of, the blogs that started with the Obama campaign two years ago, and now has extended into the Obama White House. Privately, both the campaign and the White House have been happy to ask the Netroots for help when the going gets tough (Joe and I alone, via this blog, raised $50,000 for Barack Obama - and I suspect Jane and Markos and Duncan and others have raised a lot more than that). And in spite of our differences with Barack Obama, the Netroots have been happy to help the President when called upon. But publicly, Team Obama keeps us, like much of the core Democratic constituencies, at arm's length.
He doesn't pay enough attention to his base because he takes them for granted. Fine. We knew that.

But the bigger story here is that they really, really don't like blogs, or bloggers, or independent, not-for-profit online journalism and commentary in general. They're fine with the Washington Press, since they love their empty little stories about horse racing, parrot the conventional wisdom, and are people that you can intimidate or reward with access to the administration and its officials. They don't even mind the hard right, I suspect, since they're a known quantity and are expected to be the opposition. But loud, unpredictable, passionate, dissatisfied liberals and progressives with a megaphone and an attitude are just dangerous. They write inconvenient things. They either don't know or don't care about what is or isn't "out of bounds" to believe. They don't care about access, and they despise lobbyists as much as the Admin once pretended to.

They aren't playing the game. They aren't to be trusted. So anonymous "pyjamas" it is.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Goddamned Well Took Long Enough, Barry

So apparently the Prez is going to finally get rid of DADT:

President Barack Obama told the largest U.S. gay-rights group that he’ll work with Congress and the Pentagon to end the policy that forbids openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

“I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Obama said in an address last night to at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner. “That’s my commitment to you.”

The president gave no timetable for acting and said he realized many in the audience “don’t believe progress has come fast enough.” He said they would look back at his time in office and be able to say that “we put a stop against discrimination whether in the office or in the battlefield.”

Obama spoke the night before the National Equality March, which may draw thousands of people to the National Mall in Washington demanding “equal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states,” according to the Web site for the event.

Obama promised during his presidential campaign to support equal rights for gays and lesbians, including ending the policy on gays in the military. As a Democratic senator from Illinois, he supported legislation expanding health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. He supports civil unions for gays, though not same-sex marriages.
Not exactly my favored position, though if it opens the door for federal recognition of same-sex marriages in pro-SSM states as "civil unions" under the law federally, I could get behind that.

Anyway...

“Many of us had hung our hats on major legislation including repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and we recognize those are heavy lifts, but the president had very powerful and strong rhetoric during the campaign and we think his administration has really been uneven,” Darlene Nipper, 44, deputy executive director of the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said before the speech.

Nipper said the gay and lesbian community “expects concrete policy changes, including the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and an executive order to stop the inappropriate release of gays and lesbians from the military.”

In his speech, Obama said progress will be made.

“Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach,” he said.

The president also said that there’s not “a single issue” his administration deals with “that does not touch on the lives” of the lesbian and gay community, citing his efforts to revive the economy, pass health-care legislation and manage the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In June Obama signed a presidential memorandum allowing domestic partners of civil service employees to be added to the long-term care insurance program and allowing employees to use sick leave to take care of domestic partners and adopted children.
Well, Mr. President, there's a bit of a problem. The progressives out there are a wee bit more skeptical than they used to be. You see, promises are all well and good—but promises aren't enough for them. They want to see results. They want to see policy. They want to see legislation on the table. They want a commitment, one that says "while I may be the President of all of America, I'm going to recognize the beliefs of those that made me President in the first place". They want to know that you're on their side, and that must include ending the ridiculous farce that is DADT.

Don't tarry, Barry.

Friday, October 09, 2009

America Cares About That

Oh HELL yes, Go Grayson Go.



Transcript from DK:

"Madame Speaker, I have words for Democrats and Republicans tonight."

"Let's start with the Democrats"

"We as a party have spent the last six months, the greatest minds in our party, dwelling on the question, the unbelievably consuming question of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote on health care reform. I want to remind us all that Olympia Snowe was not elected President last year. Olympia Snowe has no veto power in the Senate. Olympia Snowe represents a state with one half of one percent of America's population."

"What America wants is health care reform. America doesn't care if it gets 51 votes in the Senate or 60 votes in the Senate or 83 votes in the Senate, in fact America doesn't even care about that, it doesn't care about that at all. What America cares about is this; there are over 1 million Americans who go broke every single year trying to pay their health care bills. America cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that there are 44,780 Americans who die every single year on account of not having health care, that's 122 every day. America sure cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that if you have a pre-existing condition, even if you have health insurance, it's not covered. America cares about that a lot. America cares about the fact that you can get all the health care you need as long as you don't need any. America cares about that a lot. But America does not care about procedures, processes, personalities, America doesn't care about that at all."

"So we have to remember that as Democrats, we have to remember that what's at stake here is life and death, enormous amounts of money, and people are counting upon us to move ahead. America understands what's good for America. America cares about health care, America cares about jobs, America cares about education, about energy independance, America does not care about processes politicians or personalities or anything like that."

"And I have a few words for my Republican friends tonight as well. I guess I do have some Republican friends."

"Let me say this; last week I held up this report here and I pointed out that in America there are 44,789 Americans that die every year according to this Harvard report published in this peer reviewed journal because they have no health insurance. That's an extra 44,789 Americans who die who's lives could be saved, and their response was to ask me for an apology."

"To ask me for an apology?"

"That's right. To ask ME for an apology!"

"Well, I'm telling you this; I will not apologize. I will not apologize. I will not apologize for a simple reason; America doesn't care about your feelings. I violated no rules by pulling this report to America's attention, I think a lot of people didn't know about it beforehand. But America DOES care about health care in America."

"And if you're against it, then get out of the way. Just get out of the way. You can lead, you can follow or you can get out of the way. And I'm telling you now to get out of the way."
"American understands that there is one party in this country that is favor of health care reform and one party that is against it, and they know why."

"They understand that if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation"

"They understand that if Barack Obama could somehow bring about world peace they would blame him for destroying the defense industry."

"In fact, they understand that if Barack Obama has a BLT sandwhich tommorrow for lunch, they will try to ban bacon."

"But that's not what America wants, America wants solutions to it's problems and that begins with health care, and that's what I'm speaking for tonight."

"I yield back the balance of my time"
There's not much to add. Except that "if Barack Obama solved world human, the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation" is hilarious.

Here's the Actblue link if you want to pony up. Can't say he hasn't earned it.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"It's the Retirement, Stupid"

Edit: Added some inexplicably missing links.

There's an excellent exchange between "Mike the Biologist" and digby going on about political corruption.

First, Mike:
I think Krugman, in an otherwise excellent column, misstates the motivations behind the 'centrist' Democrats opposition to the public option for healthcare:
Yes, some of the balking senators receive large campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex -- but who in politics doesn't? If I had to guess, I'd say that what's really going on is that relatively conservative Democrats still cling to the old dream of becoming kingmakers, of recreating the bipartisan center that used to run America.

I think he's right in that it's not about the campaign contributions. If their reluctance to support a public option were based solely on the electoral calculus of campaign donations versus popular support--that is, votes--the votes win hands down. Any Democratic senator in a swing state who needs independent and Republican votes can't afford to piss off the ~50% of Republicans and ~70% of independents who support a public option. To the extent that an Evan Bayh is supported by independents and Republicans, does he really think that these crossover voters are the ones who oppose a public option? (Actually, Bayh just might think so, since he's dumber than a fucking sack of hammers). So, if this is simple electoral politics, the obvious move is to screw your donors (of course, we are talking about 'new Democrats' who are the most inept politicians in recorded history, so who knows?).

So, Mad Biologist, how is this about money? It's simple: it's about life after politics. One of the dirty secrets about many, if not most, congressmen and senators is that they like Washington, D.C., rhetoric notwithstanding. They want to stay in town after they leave (or lose) office. Once you've tasted the Capital of the Free World, do you really want to go back to Pierre, South Dakota? (Tom Daschle comes to mind...). It's funny how many politicians, having made a career out of bashing War-Shing-Tun, don't...seem...to...ever...leave.

I can't blame them: I moved to Boston, and would be very happy to stay here. Places do grow on you. The problem comes, for politicians, when they have to find a job. For an ex-politician, there aren't that many 'straight paths' to getting your next job: lobbyist and corporate board member are the easiest and the most lucrative.

But if you get a reputation as someone who opposes large business interests, what chance do you have of getting either of these types of jobs? Sometimes, the quid pro quo is very crude and direct (e.g., Billy Tauzin), but the Village's political culture makes it clear what is acceptable. One should not be 'populist', or, heaven forbid, liberal.

The narcissistic motivation is far more subtle. Many ex-politicians are invited to join think tanks or, at least, be participants on panels and round tables (which often pay a decent stipend for 'marquee' names, such as an ex-senator). This allows them to, once again, for a brief, shining moment, walk into a room and have everyone treat them as a Very Important Person. And you get to blather on about policy without having to the heavy lifting of politics and politicking. Yet if you're tagged as the 'wrong sort', you won't get these perks either.

So, I think we're missing the big picture on corruption: it's the retirement, stupid.

Here's digby:

Dick Gephardt as a former majority leader with more than 20 years under his belt makes 80% of his highest salary which was about $195,000 in pension. Plus a 401k, social security and the congressional health care system. They were given these generous benefits for a reason:

S.Rept. 79-1400 (May 31, 1946) stated that a retirement plan for
Congress:

"would contribute to independence of thought and action, [be] an
inducement for retirement for those of retiring age or with other
infirmities, [and] bring into the legislative service a larger number of
younger Members with fresh energy and new viewpoints concerning the
economic, social, and political problems of the Nation".

Yeah, that worked out.

And apparently that and everything that's come since is such a pittance that a man just has no choice but to whore himself out to Goldman Sachs.

I agree with Mike, but I think it's more than money. It's about staying in the game, being a player. And in American culture, being a real player means being paid huge sums of money. How can anyone possibly be respected otherwise?

It's the culture of power in general in this country that creates these incentives. And I'm still not sure what to do about it except pick up a pitchfork and get busy.
I don't think either are wrong, but I think Mike actually addressed digby's point when talking about the "Very Important Person" angle. There are two things that drive people to Washington: money and power. Power, of the two, is actually the least objectionable, since anybody who wants to make a positive difference needs to recognize that they need to gain the power to do so.

But once you get power, you don't want to give it up, especially if you believe that you're actually "doing good things". (A lot of these guys do, brainwashed as they are by lobbyists 24/7.) So, as Mike said, you start seeking out ways of staying in Washington, where the power is. Yes, there's also money involved, but to a great extent money is power, so there's no incompatibility there, and I suspect that most of them would choose more power over more money in a heartbeat. They already did; the private sector is more lucrative.

This is an old, old problem. It's the one that brought down Japan from its heights of the 1970s and 1980s and is still plaguing them today. It is at the heart of small-scale third-world corruption. It's also why you can't pay politicians a pittance, because the corruption would only get worse.

And, honestly, outside of more progressive and liberal "institutes" and whatnot to soak these guys up, the solution is difficult to foresee. As long as there are lobbyists and corporate board members, politicans will want to become them.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why is it, to Canadian Columnists, "Bold" Means "Right-Wing"?

So I opined earlier about Canadian opinion journalism. I said it was almost uniformly terrible. (So is the American version, but you've got more Glenn Greenwalds and the like out there.) That isn't quite true: Gwynn Dyer is excellent, as is Antonia Zerbisias, whose old blog on Canadian media was a savage indictment that anybody would be proud of.

What it is more appropriate to say, I think, is that it's bizarrely conservative, to the point where it gives just plain bad advice. Case in point, Jeffrey Simpson:
Their new pitch would be: Elect us and we will eliminate the federal deficit fast and pay down the debt that Canada incurred to fight the recession. Not for us the Conservative approach of stringing out deficits and building up debt, thereby leaving Canada more vulnerable than it would otherwise be to external shocks such as inflation. We Liberals balanced the budget and kept it in surplus when last in government, and we'll do it again.
How? By raising the goods and services tax by two points, thereby bringing in about $70-billion over five years. With that money and reasonable growth, Canada would almost balance the books in 2012-13, and run a surplus the next year.
With budgetary surpluses, Canada would better prepare itself for the aging population. It could invest more money in health care or higher education. It could have some left over for reducing taxes on individuals and businesses....
...Politics aside, the risk of a tax hike is slower growth. But if the Bank of Canada knew fiscal policy would be tightened, because a government had been elected on that platform, it could ease monetary policy in a few years. Or the government could phase in the GST increase if a tax hike would unduly threaten growth. Or it could offset some of the GST hike with lower taxes on incomes – something almost every economist would applaud.
This is all babble. This over-focus on deficits in Canada is absolutely ludicrous: the Great Recession is not over and shows signs of double-dipping, unemployment is sagging (at best) and horrifying in certain regions, inflation is as unlikely there as it is in America and Canada doesn't have that bad a debt-to-GDP ratio to begin with!

He even acknowledges that the debt-to-GDP ratio will be declining in the piece itself!

Canada is now headed for a less-than-optimal postrecession landing. We'll get deficits stretching until almost the end of the next decade, with an accumulation of debt (although a declining debt-to-GDP ratio).
So why the hell are you babbling about debt, Jeffrey?
But more importantly, why on earth would the "bold idea" be to run to the right of the Conservatives on the issue of deficits? Yes, voters worry about such things, mostly because they are pushed to think of state budgets in terms of their own budgets, and aren't told that the situation is completely different. But the ones who may theoretically vote on such things are conservatives. Progressives don't vote based on deficits, because they know there are better things to worry about most of the time.
(Oh, and I didn't miss the veiled attempt to shift the tax burden downward by reducing progressive income taxes and increasing regressive consumption taxation, either. Shameless, isn't he?)
So does Simpson honestly think that conservatives are going to vote for a tax hike? During a recession? Against all historical evidence and common sense? And he thinks that that is how the Liberals should distinguish themselves? Sure, it'd be different. It'd certainly differentiate the Liberals from the Tories or the NDP, since neither of them are blithering idiots.
It just shows how out-of-touch people like Simpson are. They spend their time in that circle of (useless) Canadian elites that actually thinks that people are going to care more about deficits than their taxes or the programs that help them and their families. Regular Canadians (and Americans, and Britons, and Indians, for that matter) are not going to lose their minds over deficits crowding out spending or minor inflationary pressures. They aren't corpulent bondholders and creditors, for whom the prospect of deflation is a glorious windfall—another round at the trough.
I suspect that Simpson's circle are. He has no idea what people think, no more than Iggy does. So he should probably stop trying to give advice. He's got neither the aptitude nor the insight.