Happy New Year

One of these years, I'm going to write a end-of-the-year post that doesn't include the words "good riddance." Unfortunately, this won't be that year. We got a lot of suck this year, but at least it wasn't 2001-level suck, so that's something.

I'm not going to write a real long post today, just a few paragraphs. I haven't even prepared anything -- I'm just winging it.

Where Scarlett O'Hara was able to say "tomorrow is another day," we're able to say that tomorrow is another year. It's a year we can begin to rebuild America and begin to change the political landscape. No rush -- we've got a whole freakin' year. And then we have the next and the next and the next. We'll go on and on until the last day of this republic, constantly working to improve it and constantly defending those improvements from backwards-minded fools. If you defend these improvements long enough, they eventually become institutions. There's no going back to the days of slavery or Jim Crow, no taking away the vote from women and minorities and 18 year-olds. These improvements have been defended for so long that only fringe crackpots want to take us back -- and they stand no chance of doing so. Things that were once mad, unthinkable changes are now so deeply ingrained in our culture that it's unthinkable that they'd ever be changed back. A consensus has been built around these ideas, by the slow process of defending them with each generation. Despite what Republicans and the 'baggers say, America is now a freer country than it was at its founding and this is the result of progressive change.

So take it easy tonight. I'm not a big fan of designated drivers, because there is no more thankless way to spend a New Years Eve. If you're in the city, take a cab. Here in Madison, the buses will run all night, so check to see what the schedule is where you live. And, if you have to go with a designated driver, take that person out to dinner some night and show them a good time -- they deserve it.

We can say that tomorrow is another year only if we live that long. Make it through tonight and we'll get back to work next year.


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Taking Exception to the Concept of "American Exceptionalism"

I've been watching Adam Curtis' four part BBC documentary, The Century of Self, which you can watch here. It's a fascinating, but depressing, look at the history of propaganda and public relations. To boil things down about as much as you can, it tells us how a group of powerful people came to the conclusion -- based on now discredited psychological theories -- that democracy was deeply flawed. The reasoning was based on a belief that the vast majority of people were irrational and had to be guided by an enlightened elite or democracies would devolve into mob rule, which in turn would lead to fascism or communism. The average person, the thinking went, was not persuaded by rational arguments and had to be influenced in their decisions by emotional arguments. Put simply, you are dumb. You're basically nothing more than a clever monkey and, if left to your own devices, you'll eventually wind up throwing your feces at random people on the street.

The problem of course, was that this was entirely wrong. People weren't incapable of understanding rational arguments, what was happening was that many of the arguments put forth by this ruling elite weren't very good. These were simply political disagreements, but the flawed thinking of the time would have it that everything a person did had a psychological basis. So a logical, rational disagreement with a political argument was seen as a symptom of a mental illness that nearly all human beings shared. You didn't disagree because you'd come to a different conclusion based on the set of facts put forth, you disagreed because you were insane -- just like everyone else who hadn't been "cured" of their inherent mental illness.

I don't want to get too far into the weeds with this -- if you're interested in all this stuff, you can just watch the documentary yourself -- I just want to lay down the background to what is happening right now. This all exists right now. There is a would-be ruling elite in America -- an unholy alliance between the corporate and the governmental -- that believes that you aren't rational, that you're incapable of logic, and that you must be tricked into making the right decisions. If you doubt that, explain to me why a majority of voters in the 2010 elections believed things that simply were not true. There's a concerted effort to get people to vote based on fear, because there are those who believe you're not capable of rational thought. Propaganda appeals to emotion, not logic, so whether its true or not is irrelevant.

What brought all this to mind was a Gallup poll on Americans' attitudes toward the concept of "American exceptionalism." Asked if "the United States has a unique character because of its history and Constitution that sets it apart from other nations as the greatest in the world," 73% believed this was so. Conservatives hammer away at exceptionalism, beating the drum to death, for a reason; it's not a rational idea. America has much to be proud of, but it also has room for improvement. The idea of exceptionalism is just another way of saying, "Everything is perfect," when clearly this isn't true. But remember, the elite believes you're incapable of reason, so they avoid making logical appeals. Everyone wants to be on the winning team, so "we're number one! U-S-A! U-S-A!" is offered instead of an argument.

Exceptionalism trumps everything and justifies anything. The greatest country in the world can do whatever the hell it wants -- and anyone who says anything different just plain hates America. We got to invade Iraq, despite what the rest of the world said, because we're a special case. If you don't believe that, you aren't a patriot. You might even be a terrorist. Exceptionalism means whatever the ruling elite wants it to mean, because -- don't forget -- you're basically an insane ape who must be guided by more enlightened creatures. If you don't buy into their arguments -- and you won't, because you're just rabble -- then they'll play along with your psychological infirmity and appeal to your animal emotions, since they're the only thing guiding your decision-making anyway.

And why shouldn't these elites believe this? It works. Again, I point out that most voters believed things that weren't true in the last election. And imagine it from a Republican's point of view; you found yourself speaking to huge crowds with misspelled signs making seriously idiotic and paranoid arguments and, when you told them the most ridiculous BS in the world, they all cheered. Who could speak at a Tea Party rally and not come away thinking that the average American was stump-dumb, crazy, and desperately in need of a keeper?

So you lie to them. You frighten them. You tell them they're the best, smartest, most important people in the world. You tell them they're exceptional and that the rest of the world is subordinate. You whip them up into a mixed frenzy of fear and pride, tell them they're all independent thinkers, then tell them exactly what they should believe. And anyone who doesn't subscribe to this hivemind hates America. In an Orwellian twist, individuality and independent thought become synonymous with believing the exact same things that the person next to you believes. A vast sea of "rugged individualists" who are ideological clones of each other -- one mind, one voice. Ironically, they're exceptional in no way, but identical to the rest of the idiot swarm. All individuals, but all the same individual.

The same poll found that only 58% believe Barack Obama believes in American exceptionalism and 37% disagreed. For my part, I hope the dissenting minority is right. The last thing we need is a president who's a member of that vast, brainwashed zombie hoard.


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GOP Deficit Dishonesty

Man throws money
The deficit, the deficit, the deficit! By all accounts, the Republican Party is about to get tough on deficits. They're going to force Washington to get real and live within its means. If Republicans have their way, wasteful deficit spending will become a thing of the past.

There's only one problem with this widely accepted narrative -- it's not even remotely true. A couple of stories yesterday paint a picture of a party making a big show of deficit hawkery, while returning to their traditional borrow-and-spend ways. The GOP talked a lot about deficits, because they realized deficit panic could get them elected, but they aren't serious about the issue. They love deficit spending the way an alcoholic loves happy hour and they have no interest in giving it up.

Exhibit A is a gimmicky new house rule called "cutgo." Where Democrats used a rule called "pay as you go" or "paygo," which required all but emergency spending to be paid for somehow, Republicans are requiring that all new spending be offset by cuts. Or at least, that's what they'd like you to believe. But it isn't true at all.

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:]

House Republican leaders yesterday unveiled major changes to House procedural rules that are clearly designed to pave the way for more deficit-increasing tax cuts in the next two years. These rules stand in sharp contrast to the strong anti-deficit rhetoric that many Republicans used on the campaign trail this fall. While changes in congressional rules rarely get much public attention, these new rules -- which are expected to be adopted by party-line vote when the 112th Congress convenes on January 5 -- could have a substantial impact and risk making the nation's fiscal problems significantly worse.

Current House rules include a
pay-as-you-go requirement that any tax cut or spending increase for a mandatory (i.e., entitlement) program must be offset by cuts in other mandatory spending or increases in other taxes, in order to avoid increasing the deficit. [1] Current rules also bar the House from using budget "reconciliation" procedures -- special rules that facilitate speedy action on specified budget legislation -- to pass bills that would increase the deficit.

The problem, we're told, is that "increases in mandatory spending could be offset only by reductions in other mandatory spending, not by any measure to raise revenues such as by closing unproductive special-interest tax loopholes. For example, the House would be barred from paying for continuation of a provision enacted in 2009 (and extended in the just-enacted tax compromise) that enables many minimum-wage families to receive a full, rather than a partial, Child Tax Credit by closing wasteful tax breaks for multinational corporations that shelter profits overseas. Use of such an offset would violate the new House rules because the provision expanding the Child Tax Credit for working-poor families counts as spending and hence could not be paid for by closing a tax loophole. Yet the same new rules would enable the House to expand tax loopholes for multinational corporations and wealthy investors without paying for those tax breaks at all, because any tax cut, no matter how costly or ill-advised, could now be deficit financed."

In short, spending that helps you is now waste, while spending that helps corporations move jobs overseas is untouchable. And all the while inflating the deficit. Republicans will argue that tax cuts pay for themselves, but that's what we were told about the Bush tax cuts at the outset -- that we'd "grow our way out of deficits." This argument hasn't paid off yet and it never will.

"I hear that a lot of journalistic insiders were annoyed when I began calling out self-styled deficit hawks like Paul Ryan as flim-flammers," writes Paul Krugman. "But they are; nobody, and I mean nobody, in a position of influence within the GOP cares about deficits when tax cuts for the affluent are on the line. Deficit hawkery is just a stick with which to beat down social programs." Krugman calls Republicans "frauds" for their deficit grandstanding.

Exhibit B is the GOP's phony self-imposed ban on earmarks. Earmarks were never a problem, since they don't spend money, but rather allocate money. Spending bills without earmarks just give whatever federal agency the funding is made through the discretion to spend the money as they see fit. Put another way, if you get rid of earmarks, then unelected bureaucrats make spending decisions, not your elected representatives. This would seem to be contrary to GOP philosophy, but freaking out over the non-problem of earmarks makes great political theater, so let the freaking out begin. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, it's business as (nearly) usual.

[New York Times:]

No one was more critical than Representative Mark Steven Kirk when President Obama and the Democratic majority in the Congress sought passage last year of a $787 billion spending bill intended to stimulate the economy. And during his campaign for the Illinois Senate seat once held by Mr. Obama, Mr. Kirk, a Republican, boasted of his vote against "Speaker Pelosi's trillion-dollar stimulus plan."

Though Mr. Kirk and other Republicans thundered against pork-barrel spending and lawmakers' practice of designating money for special projects through earmarks, they have not shied from using a less-well-known process called lettermarking to try to direct money to projects in their home districts.

Mr. Kirk, for example, sent a letter to the Department of Education dated Sept. 10, 2009, asking it to release money "needed to support students and educational programs" in a local school district. The letter was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the group Citizens Against Government Waste, which shared it with
The New York Times.

If Kirk wants to use stimulus money -- $1.1 million in all -- to help kids in his state, then good for him. It's what it's there for. But railing against the stimulus and earmarks, while using a backdoor earmark to get stimulus money, is not so good. It's hypocritical and demagogic. And, obviously, it does nothing to reduce the deficit. Kirk's not the only one, he's just the example. The Times tells us that the use of "lettermarking" and it's sibling "phonemarking" is widespread. Republicans are making a big show of changing Washington, while making sure they change it as little as possible.

So there you go. As Krugman points out, they're all deficit frauds. Writes Steve Benen, "To disagree is to deny reality."

Then again, we all know how Republicans feel about reality. They're pretty much against it.


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Because Conservatives Always Need Something to be Terrified of, 'Death Panels' are Back

Grim reaperAmerican conservatives are a national embarrassment. Frightened, gullible, and angry over things that aren't actually happening, they take up the most insane positions merely to be contrary (see Sarah Palin's pro-childhood obesity stance). And, in reaction to healthcare reform, they've given themselves plenty of phantoms to be afraid of. PolitiFact's Lie of the Year for 2010 is the claim that healthcare reform marks a "government takeover of healthcare." Last year, the big winner was Sarah Palin's "death panel" lie. If you need to become terrified of something that doesn't actually exist, go find a conservative. They can help you out, because they're the experts at this stuff.

And they never seem to notice that their gloom and doom predictions always fail to pan out. During the Clinton administration, for example, the right was freaking out over what they claimed was the largest tax increase in history. It would destroy the economy and put millions out of work, as gazillionaires would conclude that it was too expensive to be rich and quit the money-making business. Not surprisingly, the wealthy didn't stop thinking it was worth the effort it takes to be wealthy and what followed was the longest economic expansion in American history. In short, Republican fearmongering was shown to be just about as wrong as it possibly could be. But they didn't seem to notice this -- "tax increases equal economic doom" is still a god-given truth for them, despite the fact that it was proven untrue before their very eyes.

To put it bluntly, conservatives are delusional. They don't live in the same world of facts and history as the rest of us, but rather in a fantasy world where everything they wish was true is true. And the things they wish for betray a seriously demented frame of mind. Why do they wish every Muslim was a terrorist? Why do they want the President to be foreign-born, sparking a constitutional crisis? Why do they wish with all their crazy little hearts that healthcare reform means dystopian "death panels" weeding out the sick and infirm? Why do they want these awful things to be true?

I don't have an answer for that. The demagogues and charlatans who make this stuff up know it's not true, but the people who believe them are seriously bent. There's a yellow streak in America -- and it runs straight up the spines of Republican voters. Give them something to be terrified of and -- no matter how unlikely or insane that thing is -- terrified of it they will become. If you're wondering what that smell is right now, the conservative nearest to you crapped themselves on reading this, from the New York Times:

When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over "death panels," Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

Congressional supporters of the new policy, though pleased, have kept quiet. They fear provoking another furor like the one in 2009 when Republicans seized on the idea of end-of-life counseling to argue that the Democrats' bill would allow the government to cut off care for the critically ill.

Never mind that this whole "death panels" thing was thoroughly debunked as the 2009 Lie of the Year -- remember, conservatives don't notice that their BS never comes to pass -- Barack Obama's senior Holocaust is about to begin.

A quick run through the conservative blogosphere confirms that the rampant panic has set in. "Just imagine how things will turn as the ObamaCare system becomes bankrupt (and it will) and the government looks for ways to shift costs," reports Flopping Aces. "End of life care is expensive and mark my words they will look for ways to get rid of it."

"[T]he 2009 charge leveled by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the then-House Minority Leader Boehner that Obama fully intended to set up what Palin termed government 'death panels' -- panels that Boehner said would set the government on the road to euthanasia -- is no longer a charge," writes Jeffrey Lord for American Spectator. "It's reality. By executive fiat -- in this case a new Medicare rule issued by Obama Medicare chief Dr. Donald Berwick."

Of course, what's missing in all this cowardly panic is any evidence at all to back up the charge. It's all based on prediction and supposition -- and, if history tells us anything, it's that conservatives suck at predictions. The invasion of Iraq was supposed to stabilize the middle east, remember? Didn't really work out that way.

In the end, much of modern conservatism is a fear-based philosophy, embraced by cowards and panicky grandmas. Someone who's not afraid doesn't feel the need to collect a kajillion guns, for example, or to assume that every Arab guy on the street is a terrorist, just to be on the safe side. No, it's the coward who's always afraid.

What's especially ironic about all of this is that it's the right who's always talking about liberty and freedom, but the cowardly aren't free people. They're slaves to their fears and easily manipulated, so if some underhanded pundit liar tells them that something represents "death panels," then death panels it is. Because, in a world without fear, modern conservatism could not exist.


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Blizzard Knocks Out the Right's Powers of Reasoning

New York blizzardIt's always entertaining to see the rampant stupidity that a winter storm brings out in conservatives. A big blizzard really brings out the dumb. For them, snow means there's no such thing as climate change. But it's called global warming for a reason -- it effects the entire globe. Yet a weather event over a tiny fraction of that globe means it's snowing everywhere. Or something. Seriously, I can't work up enough ignorance to get the argument to make any damned sense at all. Apparently, being a wingnut requires a special talent for idiocy that I lack.

Add in the news that scientists now believe that global warming means more snow and, perhaps, lower temperatures in the winter and the right becomes insufferable.

[Robert Stacy McCain:]

Global warming is a hoax, a dishonest racket. a crooked scam whose chief purpose is to provide taxpayer-funded employment for "environmental science" majors. In a truly just society, the perpetrators of this hoax would be treated like Bernie Madoff.

That's right, the fact that it snows in the winter is solid proof that global warming is a crock and that scientists should be prosecuted. Never mind that warming is predicted to raise global temperatures only by low single digits and that no climate scientist anywhere has predicted the end of snowfalls, if there isn't actually fire raining down out of the sky, the whole thing is obviously hooey.

And, of course, an op-ed in the New York Times by climate scientist Judah Cohen is cause for mockery. In it, Cohen argues that blizzards and winter low temperatures aren't inconsistent with global warming. But of course, this is false -- so sayeth the brilliant scientific minds who write wingnut blogs.

What infuriates me most about the right is how smug they are, even as they're being stupid a-holes. Anyone who's argued with a wingnut will recognize it; the insulting insistence that you're the dumb one, while making the most poorly informed and illogical arguments out there -- e.g., "Hahahaha! Everyone knows Obama's a Muslim from Kenya! You libtard!" or "Hahahaha! The economy's a mess because of the national debt, you moonbat!" I think they learn it from talk radio.

The fact that global warming would create more storms -- in the summer and the winter -- is not only logically consistent, but obvious. Weather is driven almost entirely by heat energy. This is why there are hurricanes and tornadoes during the summer. In Cohen's model, lower temperatures are caused by these snowfalls, as all that white snow reflects heat back out into space, creating what he calls "an unusually large dome of cold air" over the affected area. Obviously, this is a local phenomenon and doesn't affect the weather elsewhere, so storms that form to the west move through these colder areas regardless of the local conditions.

But what gets me most is the insistence that global warming isn't global, that a snow storm in New York is indicative of the weather worldwide. Never mind that earlier this month Arizona and Colorado were hitting record highs, never mind that Bulgaria just recorded it's warmest Christmas Eve in history -- 63 degrees -- the east coast of the United States is the whole damned world and if it ever snows there, climate change is proven to be a big hoax. 2010 is turning out to be one of the warmest years on record, but we can ignore that fact because a kid in Brooklyn made a snowman.

Logic dictates that warming would mean more precipitation. As global ice thaws, there's more liquid water. More water means more evaporation and this in turn means more moisture in the atmosphere. In the winter, this precipitation obviously comes mostly in the form of snow. But the obvious is lost on the deniers -- especially those in the blogosphere and talk radio, where the only real agenda is to convince people that liberals are wrong about everything. As always, conservatives have everything bass-ackward. In this case, they begin with a conclusion and try to find evidence to back that conclusion up. So it's not extremely surprising that their arguments are idiotic. If you ignore the rules of logic, the only way you're going to wind up making a logical argument is through blind luck. So far, the right hasn't been very lucky.


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News Roundup for 12/23/10

The Frito Bandito
The GOP's conception of the average Hispanic voter

-Headline of the Day-
"2012 hopefuls to skip Hispanic forum."

In a sign that the Republican Party has totally given up on Hispanic voters, the vast majority of the GOP's undeclared presidential hopefuls are skipping out on a CPAC-inspired political conference aimed at whatever Hispanic Republicans still exist. Both Hispanic Republican voters are said to be disappointed.

Of the field, which includes Mittens Romney, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and Mike Huckabee, the only 2012 hopeful willing to commit has been Tim Pawlenty. Why?

Because, in backing the Arizona "papers please" law, Republicans have gone to insane length to justify it. After painting Hispanics as insane, murderous drug-runners bent on reclaiming the southwest for Mexico, it gets a little tough to put on the "friend of the Latino voter" button. These guys get nervous being seen at Taco Bell now, let alone a conference hall filled with the Mexican Menace.

You'd stand as much of a chance seeing them attend a conference for Muslim voters. (Politico)

-Cartoon time with Mark Fiore-
hey kids, Dogboy and Mr. Dan are back with a special holiday message! Yay!

The Night Before Dogboy
Click for animation

Things never seem to work out well for Mr. Dan... Happy holidays anyway, everybody! (MarkFiore.com)

-Bonus HotD-
"Jon Stewart's 9/11 Demagoguery."

The neocon rag The Weekly Standard is terribly disappointed that Jon Stewart chose to politicize 9/11.

No, the magazine that nearly humped 9/11 to death to justify invading Iraq isn't joking. But that doesn't mean they aren't a joke. (Weekly Standard)

Demonstrating the Value of a Legislative Steamroller

It has been an extraordinarily productive lame duck session of Congress. Just yesterday, the Senate passed the new START treaty, the Zagroda health bill for 9/11 first responders, and President Obama signed a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" into law. In fact, this last gasp of the 111th congress is in many ways representative of this class's entire term -- this congress has been the most productive of any since 1960.

And, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, America seems to be paying attention. While Gallup reported earlier this month that congressional approval ratings were the "worst in Gallup history" at 13%, CNN polled opinions of only this lame duck session and found an amazing turn-around -- 56% approve of what Congress is doing. Also interesting, 46% blame Republicans for the "lack of cooperation between the two parties in Washington," compared with just 28% who blame Democrats and 23% who say both parties are equally guilty. (Full results here [pdf])

On approvals, CNN finds Americans perfectly split on Democrats, with 47% reporting favorable opinions and 47% unfavorable. Republicans don't fare as well, with 42% favorable and 50% unfavorable. The Tea Party likewise doesn't do all that well, with 37% having a favorable opinion and 43% unfavorable. And, above all, Pesident Obama is the big winner in this session, with 56% approving his actions during the lame duck session and 41% disapproving.

All in all, this points to Republicans walking into a public opinion buzz saw next year, when the party takes control of the House of Representatives. It was clear that the GOP had no mandate after the elections and it's never been more clear than now. While some (not very serious) pundits were predicting that Barack Obama was headed to a one-term presidency just a week or two before, not many are saying that now. They might be better off wondering what the hell Republicans are going to do to keep from further losing the public.

On that point, Republicans are making a common mistake. Get a GOPer in front of a camera and, sure as shootin', that GOPer will start talking about how the American people voted for the Republican Party in November. I say this is a mistake because most people don't vote for parties, they vote for people. I'd be more than willing to bet that the average voter didn't cast their ballot to give Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives. In fact, they didn't vote for whichever Republican they cast their ballot for, they voted against the incumbent.

But what about Democrats? With the lame duck Congress riding high, what can we learn there?

Lesson number one is that voters don't give a crap about process. Congress suffered lousy approval ratings while they dithered over bipartisan agreement and enjoys soaring approvals as Democrats steamroller Republicans. Democratic leadership -- President Obama included and Nancy Pelosi (largely) excluded -- need to get their heads out of Washington and into America. Hit the mute button on pundits and cable news "analysts," because they don't know crap. It's just white noise meant to fill a 24 hour news cycle. Pay no more attention to it than the wallpaper in your office. It's useless, it's stupid, and easily 90% of it is wrong.

Just get things done. It doesn't matter how you get things done and no one other than Republicans and empty-suit pundits care about things like budget reconciliation. Getting things done won't be very possible in the 112th Congress, but -- if Democrats play their cards right and keep pounding away at Republican bad ideas -- they might have a chance again in the 113th. When someone talks to a Democrat about the importance of bipartisanship, that dem should laugh in their face and tell them that snipe hunts for bipartisan compromise are how they got in this mess in the first place. And every time they find themselves in front of a camera or a microphone, they should ask, "Have the Republicans fixed the economy yet?" -- because GOP economic ideas are boneheaded, bass-ackward, and sure to fail. The answer will always be "no."

There are no decisive victories in a democracy, no permanent gains. And, unless you keep throwing wood in the stove, the public opinion fire lit by the lame duck session of the 111th Congress will go out. Then Democrats will go back to being what they were before -- members of one of two clown troupes in Washington that no one at all likes.


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News Roundup for 12/22/10

Cartoon 'lame duck'
Surprisingly agile

-Headline of the Day-
"Obama bested GOP in extraordinary lame duck session."

Greg Sargent writes, "So this afternoon, the Senate voted to ratify New START after months of partisan wrangling and passed the bill giving health benefits to 9/11 heroes after, well, years of partisan wrangling. This, on the same day that Obama signed the repeal of don't ask don't tell, a civil rights milestone. All in all, a pretty productive day."

Yup, light a fire under Democrats and they can roll right over Republicans and get things done.

Makes you wonder why Senate Democrats have been sitting around with their thumbs up their asses for two years, waiting for GOP permission to work. Yeah, all those attempts at bipartisanship really paid off, didn't they guys?

It's just like I pointed out this morning; putting bipartisanship above all breeds stupidity. You dick around for months trying to put together a bad compromise, fail, then wind up passing a weak bill by a largely partisan vote. The it's on to the next issue, where you dick around for months trying to put together a bad compromise, fail, then wind up passing a weak bill by a largely partisan vote. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But when the chips are down and there's no time to go on a pointless snipe hunt for bipartisan agreement, major pieces of legislation are passed in days. If this had been the way they'd operated all along, Democrats might not have gotten their asses kicked in November.

It's a lesson that comes too late for the current crop of Senate Democrats and you wish it wouldn't be lost on the next. But, of course, they won't learn it either. Democrats seem stuck in a fatal pattern -- good on policy, idiots about strategy.

The next time a Democrat talks to you about how important bipartisan agreements are, just go ahead and smack them with a rolled up newspaper -- it's the only way they'll never learn. (Plum Line)

-Speaking of which...-
Don Asmussen's Bad Reporter takes on Obama's tax deal with the GOP.

Thousands still missing after Obama caved to GOP last week!
Click for full comic

What could I possibly add? (Bad Reporter)

-Bonus HotD-
"Obama Approval Rises Among Republicans."

See what happens when you stop trying to kiss their asses? (Political Wire)

"No Labels" = No Ideas

Holding handsHaving people in Washington get along is the most important thing in the world. If Republicans and Democrats can't find common ground, then we're all screwed. Now, everyone join hands and sing We Are the World. This will solve all of America's problems.

Except that it obviously won't. Since Democrats and Republicans disagree on solutions to some very real problems, concentrating on points of agreement basically means ignoring things that need to be dealt with immediately. Worse, it means cobbled together compromises that make no one happy and solve nothing.

We're reminded of the consequence of compromise today, as President Obama signs the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" into law. DADT was a compromise between Bill Clinton, who wanted to eliminate the ban on gays in the military, and Republicans, who believed that homosexuality was a "lifestyle choice" that should be punished. In the end, we wound up with a policy that allowed gays to serve in the military, but only if they kept it a secret -- an absurd and ridiculous policy that actually ended up increasing discharges of gays and lesbians until 2001, when the Bush administration and the military started to get a little short on enlisted personnel. As compromises go, it was typical -- when you try to combine a good idea with a stupid idea, the good part becomes infected with stupid and you wind up with a 100% stupid idea.

Yet, there's a group out there championing compromise above all and centrism for the sake of centrism. We can only hope it fails as completely as it seems destined to. "No Labels" is a group of middle-of-the-road Democrats and Republicans who'd rather get things done -- even if those things are stupid -- than fight over getting the right thing done. It's the same idiocy that paralyzed Max Baucus during the battle over healthcare reform; the belief that process is more important than the result and that "bipartisan" is synonymous with "best." Baucus wound up playing chump to Chuck Grassley, finally abandoning any hope of bipartisanship long after it became obvious to everyone else that Grassley had no interest in it. Pinning all your hopes on bipartisan agreement turned out to be a really lousy way to govern.

In fact, No Labels eschews even politics and, with it, ideas. A Washington Post story on the group ends this way:

Others said they were trying to lead by example. Ben Leming, a Democrat who ran for Congress in Tennessee this year and lost, said he has proudly adopted the No Labels attitude and tries not to use divisive language. But he said he still occasionally catches himself slipping into his old us vs. them rhetoric.

"It's hard sometimes when I wear the No Labels shirt and find myself talking politics," Leming said. "I'm like, 'No! Can't do that.'"

The unfortunately -- but aptly -- named Leming believes he can't champion what he believes are the best ideas, because he believes that would be wrong. In his weekly New York Times column last weekend, Frank Rich explained the problem:

The notion that civility and nominal bipartisanship would accomplish any of the heavy lifting required to rebuild America is childish magical thinking, and, worse, a mindless distraction from the real work before the nation. Sure, it would be swell if rhetorical peace broke out in Washington -- or on cable news networks -- but given that American politics have been rancorous since Boston's original Tea Party, wishing will not make it so. Bipartisanship is equally extinct -- as made all too evident this month by the pathetic fate of the much-hyped Simpson-Bowles deficit commission. Less than a week after the panel released its recommendations, the Democratic president and the Republican Congressional leadership both signed off on a tax-cut package that made a mockery of all its proposals by adding another $858 billion to the deficit. Even the Iraq Study Group -- Washington’s last stab at delegating tough choices to a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission -- enjoyed a slightly longer shelf life before its recommendations were unceremoniously dumped into the garbage.

And let's remember that the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission were so bad that it didn't actually get the votes needed from commission members to formally send its recommendations to Congress. Simpson-Bowles was, in fact, a failure.

Most of what's driving all this is what's known as "High Broderism" -- a term for the belief that confidence in elected officials is more important than having those officials actually accomplish anything. Broderism involves a lot of false equivalency -- i.e., Democrats are just as bad as Republicans. And it pretends that Washington's political center is America's political center. As the name would suggest -- it's named after David Broder -- it's especially prevalent among the punditry, who want to sound sensible by striking a balance between political two extremes, while defending ruling class.

But where is the halfway point on global warming, for example? The argument is over whether it's fact or fiction. If we strike a balance between the two, what does that look like? And meeting someone halfway on the issue is to fail to deal with it. You do what needs to be done or you fail to do what needs to be done -- there are no other possible outcomes. If you start making concessions to deniers, you wind up failing to do what needs to be done. Again, a good idea is infected by a stupid idea, making it a 100% stupid idea. Half a dam is no dam at all and it's a stupid waste of time and resources to build one.

Luckily, No Labels doesn't stand a chance in hell of becoming much of a force in Washington. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the media. The centrist bad idea factory will find a home there, because it's where the whole thing started in the first place.


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News Roundup for 12/20/10

Fox onscreen logo
Remember, if it sux, it must be Fox

-Headline of the Day-
"Fox Runs Interference For GOP Obstructionism On 9-11 First Responders Bill."

After Jon Stewart's smackdown of the media over non-coverage of the 9/11 first responders' health bill -- the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 -- all the foxbots are suddenly furious that such a bill would hit a roadblock in the Senate. It's the worst thing ever and the people responsible for holding it up should be ashamed!

So, who are the people holding it up? If you watch Fox News, you have no freakin' idea. According to Media Matters' Eric Boehlert, foxbots are "simply playing dumb, on an epic scale, and forgetting to tell viewers Republicans filibustered the Zadroga bill." Instead, Fox viewers are told that "politicians," "Congress," or "Senators" are holding it up. Which ones? Pffft! Who cares? What's important is that the lame duck session of Congress (i.e., Democrats) aren't getting this thing passed! Outrage! Outrage!!

Why do Democrats hate 9/11 first responders so much? That's what Fox News would like to know. (Media Matters, with plenty of video)

-Thank you Fox News!-
While we're on the subject, here are Republicans thanking Fox News for all their totally unbiased reporting:

Need I remind you that a recent study found that Fox did the worst job of informing viewers? It also found that, the more viewers watched Fox, the dumber they got. Given that, these Republicans are basically thanking Fox News for making viewers stupid enough to vote for them.

Remember, friends don't let friends watch Fox. That is, unless you want stupid friends. (Media Matters, via Reddit)

-Bonus HotD-
"Repent Amarillo Executes Santa to Highlight The Importance of Christmas."

Because, for the religious right, that's what Christmas is really all about -- death to infidels and making children cry. (Right Wing Watch, with video)

Military Equality Achieved. Now on to Marriage Equality

Image of 2 wounded soldiers; caption - '1 of them is gay. Does it matter who?'After yesterday's victory in the Senate, a bill repealing the discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" military policy is being sent to the president's desk. It's a step in the right direction toward the equality of gays and lesbians, but of course it's not the final one. Most states don't enjoy marriage equality and many states are arguing whether gays and lesbians should even be allowed to adopt. It's a long road, but we just passed a mile marker.

One thing that's striking here is the lack of influence the religious right now has in Washington. Predictably, the lunatic God Squad is going into a full-blown Holy rage right now, but no one seems to care. With the rise of the Tea Party -- who mostly agree with the religious right, strangely enough -- an archaic religious fundamentalism has been pushed to the background. On the other hand, a monument to an archaic economic fundamentalism has been erected in its place, so no real win there. And reliably pro-'bagger voices have been reliably insane -- while others have been quietly sanguine -- on this issue as well. Fighting the advance of the Homosexual Menace is still an issue with the right, but it's been prioritized down a notch or two. Priority number one is an economic policy designed to help only the wealthy, while destroying the middle class, because that's LIBERTY! At least, that's what middle class chumps in the Tea Party have been conned into believing, anyway.

In other words, despite being on the verge of having a bigot-controlled House of Representatives, gays and lesbians see a window of opportunity here. And they're taking advantage of it.

[New York Times:]

As gay people around the country reveled on Sunday in the historic Senate vote to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," a liberal media watchdog group said it planned to announce on Monday that it was setting up a "communications war room for gay equality" in an effort to win the movement's next and biggest battle: for a right to same-sex marriage.

The new group, Equality Matters, grew out of Media Matters, an organization backed by wealthy liberal donors -- including prominent gay philanthropists -- that has staked its claim in Washington punditry with aggressive attacks on Fox News and conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

It will be run by Richard Socarides, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who has been deeply critical of President Obama's record on gay rights. A well-known gay journalist, Kerry Eleveld, the Washington correspondent for
The Advocate, will leave that magazine in January to edit the new group's Web site, equalitymatters.org, which is to go online Monday morning.

It's important to take advantage of momentum while you have it. And that momentum is still building. An October poll by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found support for marriage equality rising. Where only 27% supported the idea in 1996, 42% do now, with 48% opposing. And the decline in opposition has been striking in recent years -- last year, 54% opposed. In '04, opposition was at 60%. There's been some fluctuation -- most likely due to propaganda campaigns against state moves to either allow or ban same-sex marriage, but the trend is most definitely downward. It's Republicans who are holding the anti-equality numbers numbers up; only 24% support same-sex marriage, while independents score 44% and Democrats score 53%. These are nowhere near the numbers that repealing DADT enjoyed, but that's the direction they're heading.

"[Repealing DADT] not only means that gays and lesbians will be allowed to serve with the dignity they deserve, but that America is beginning to recognize that our struggle is for civil rights," writes Socarides at the newly launched Equality Matters. "America is beginning to understand that gay rights are human rights."

It sure looks that way.


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News Roundup for 12/17/10

The stripper pole is the backbone of American commerce

-Headline of the Day-
"Newt Gingrich Can't Stop Going To Strip Club For Money."

Newt has a cozy little scam going. It works like this: he sends some business a letter telling them they've been chosen to win an award from his fundraising organization, Americans Solutions for Winning. Then all the business owner has to do is pay $5,000 for the trophy.

What qualifications do the winners of this prestigious award share? They're all in the phonebook, I guess. Seems Newt doesn't do a lot of research to determine who wins this award -- unless by "research," you mean "throwing a dart at a map."

Anyway, last year one of Newt's big leaders in the business world was a Dallas restaurant called The Lodge. Well, not a restaurant really, more like a bar. Actually, more like a nightclub where very nice young ladies dance naked around poles. They probably would've put the ASoW trophy next their "Overall Club of the Year" award from Exotic Dancer Magazine. Newt figured this out eventually, telling The Lodge that they weren't so awesome after all and he wouldn't sell (I mean GIVE! GIVE!) them the award. Lesson learned.

OK, so lesson not learned. This year, the owner of the Lodge was informed that for a mere $1,000-2,000, they could be a member in good standing of ASoW and get a card and everything! The owner, Dawn Rizos, says she's not willing to drop that kind of cash to join an organization that doesn't actually seem to do anything, but that doesn't mean she doesn't want in. She's willing to barter.

According to one report, Rizo sent Gingrich a "lifetime VIP membership card to The Lodge."

Y'still gotta pay for drinks though, Newt. (Wonkette, with video)

Jon Stewart takes on Republicans and the media for non-action on the 9/11 responders' health bill.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Make sure to take the time to watch the interview with first responders about the Zadroga health care bill and what it means to them. So far, exactly one network has bothered to do this and it's Comedy Fucking Central!

Our media is broken. (Comedy Central)

-Bonus HotD-
"Stephen Baldwin Wants To Be 'The George Soros For Jesus' When He's A Billionaire."

There are two problems here: one, George Soros is Jewish and, two, Stephen Baldwin's struggling to remain a thousandaire. (Mediaite)

A Study in Rightwing Media Misinformation -- The FDA and Avastin

AvastinIf you've ever wondered how the right got crazy, then join the club. Personally, I think it happened after Clinton was elected. For some reason, this unleashed a fury in conservatives, who seemed to believe that the White House in a post-Reagan world belonged to Republicans. They were entitled to a president from their own party and a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office became an affront to liberty and freedom and blah, blah, blah. Never mind that Clinton brought with him an unparalleled period of prosperity and growth. Never mind that Clinton balanced the budget. Never mind that he was meeting Republican goals, he was a Democrat and that automatically made him incompetent. With Clinton administration rose what Hillary Clinton rightly called a "vast rightwing conspiracy" -- a campaign of misinformation and outright lies that began with Rush Limbaugh and would eventually be described as the "rightwing noise machine." What began as talk radio blather grew into a massive, self-feeding echo chamber that exists primarily to agree with itself and attack anyone outside a certain group of politically correct ideologues.

Case in point; a University of Maryland study that found viewers of Fox News to be the most poorly informed of all cable news viewers. Worse, the study found that the more you watched Fox, the less informed you became. In other words, watching Fox News makes you dumb and watching more Fox News makes you dumber.

But Fox News isn't the worst offender. Here's Fox on the FDA's revoking of approval of the drug Avastin for treatment of breast cancer:

Dr. Cynara Coomer, Chief of Breast Surgery and Director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital, told FoxNews.com that doctors should ultimately base their decisions on statistics.

"Avastin has been given to patients to decrease the chance of metastases, but they are not really finding that there is that much of a significant difference," Coomer said.

The FDA still holds approval for Avastin for other types of cancer, because breast cancer was the only disease that showed lack of evidence for improved survival rates, according to Coomer.

"With indications such as metastatic colon cancer, metastatic kidney cancer and metastatic brain tumor -- some of these cancers, the benefit of the drug clearly outweighs the risks of the drug," she said. "With breast cancer, it is not as clear that it is improving the chance of survival for these women taking it, according to the studies by the FDA."

Pretty straightforward, right? Now here's Andrew Brietbart's Big Government blog:

Sources on Capitol Hill have informed Capitol Confidential that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will indeed begin rationing late-stage cancer drugs. The FDA will make an 11am (EDT) announcement that it will begin denying Avastin to breast cancer patients but will graciously offer the creator of the drug a final show trial of a hearing in 60 days.

The FDA will be judge, jury and executioner. Unfortunately, the victims of breast cancer will be the ones punished and harmed.

The post calls this "rationing" and warns, "Republicans are talking a good game about repealing ObamaCare but the battle has now truly been joined and it is a fight we cannot afford to lose." Another post on the same subject by the same author warns that revoking approval for Avastin for breast cancer is the beginning of the dreaded "death panels."

So let me see if I have this right; in clinical trials, Avastin is shown to be no more effective than standard chemotherapy, but with worse side effects, making it a needlessly expensive and pointlessly dangerous course of treatment. So abandoning it means "death panels?" Have I got that right?

Bloomberg reports that the FDA aren't the only ones taking a second look at the drug and that "European regulators said Sept. 24 they would review Avastin's use in metastatic breast tumors." In fact, Bloomberg reports that the drug was approved for breast cancer treatment under the Bush administration despite an advisory panel's findings.

The FDA's 2008 clearance overruled an advisory panel that concluded the benefit of slowing the spread of breast tumors wasn't worth the risk of side effects including high blood pressure and death. Approval was accelerated, and done on the condition that later research confirmed Avastin's benefit for breast cancer patients.

So that condition hasn't been met, Avastin's approval is being revoked as planned under the Bush administration, but we're all supposed to believe this is Obama's "death panels" -- because Sarah Palin had a crazy notion one day that must be defended until the end of time. Big Government has everything ass-backward; instead of looking at the evidence and coming to a conclusion, they come to a conclusion and look for evidence to back it up. No wonder people who follow the blog seem crazy. This isn't anything even approximating logic. Yet a bunch of 'baggers consider it slam-dunk proof that "Obamacare" will kill us all.

What's wrong with the right and their media is as much the fault of the right's media consumers as anyone else. They want to be outraged, they want to be terrified, and they want news sources that will outrage and terrify them. Maybe they've gotten used to it, I don't know. But they clearly want to live with a bunker mentality, always under attack by enemies without and within, intent on destroying them, their families, and the entire United States.

So there's a certain amount of supply and demand going on here. People will sell bullcrap as long as there are people who want to buy it. Call it the "cowards' market" or the "paranoia exchange" or the "gullibility economy," but if no one was reading this crap, these things would go under. We can blame Fox and wingnut blogs all we want, but we can't forget that most of these misinformed and frightened masses are misinformed and frightened by choice.

The next time you read about a study showing how poorly the rightwing media serves their audience, go ahead and skip feeling sorry for that audience. They got what they were looking for.


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News Roundup for 12/16/10

Sen. DeMint is proud to be an asshole

-Headline of the Day-
"GOP will paralyze Senate floor with reading of 1,924-page spending bill."

According to the report, "Republicans will paralyze the Senate floor for 50 hours by forcing clerks to read every single paragraph of the 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill." Why? Because they're assholes, that's why. Seriously, ask the asshole whose idea this was.

"Again, we're trying to run out the clock," says Republican asshole Jim DeMint. "They should not be able to pass this kind of legislation in a lame-duck Congress."

Why are Democrats trying to pass such massive legislation in a lame-duck session? Because Republicans were assholes before this. These are all appropriations and spending bills passed by the House of Representatives that the Senate hasn't gotten to yet, because Republican assholes have been abusing the filibuster so much that the chamber is now 1,924 pages behind. And here's DeMint, still being an asshole and still trying to hold up this legislation.

And here's the thing: it's pointless. There's no way this will take the whole rest of the session to read. And, even if it did, Democrats will still rule the Senate next year. This thing is a sure bet to pass.

Still, for some insane reason, Senators have the right to ask that a bill be read out loud in its entirety. I propose a new rule: the Senator making that request has to sit there and listen to the whole thing. If he or she leaves the Senate floor --even for a moment -- the request is considered withdrawn, people take their thumbs out of their butts, and everyone gets back to business.

Give a Republican just one day of having to pee in a 2 liter Mountain Dew jug and this will never happen again. GOPers talk tough, but they're really pansies. (The Hill)

-Cartoon time with Mark Fiore-
Hey kids, Rep. John Boehner's here to show you that it's OK for boys to cry!

Johnny Cry
Click for animation

OK, let me change that -- it's OK for boys to cry about the right things. Forget what John said there... (MarkFiore.com)

-Bonus HotD-
"John Boehner's Crying: Is He Drinking Too Much?"

Yes. (Politics Daily)

The GOP's DADT Problem

Before we get started, I just want to say that Texas GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert has distinguished himself as the dumbest goddam person in either chamber of congress. Considering that this title is competitive -- he beats Michele Bachmann, Steve King, and Joe Wilson -- we can assume that Louie has a real talent for idiocy. It was Louie who warned us of terror babies, after all. So he's really on the ball.

Still, I think he's better off in congress. Gohmert used to be a Court of Appeals judge, where he could probably cause a lot more damage. Here, he's just one vote out of 435. Sure, he still has more power than a man of his limited intelligence should safely have, but if America has to be saddled with a Louie Gohmert, this is probably the safest place to keep him. Here's the great man himself on repealing "don't ask, don't tell":

I'm not even going to bother pointing out all the places he's just plain provably wrong. Let's just save some time and say it's pretty much all wrong; suffice it to say that Gohmert -- a big Israel booster -- disses his second favorite country by suggesting they're on the verge of collapse. See, they have gays in their military. By Louie's argument, Israel is headed "toward the end of their existence as a great nation." It's weird, but that's not what the Bible predicts, Lou. The good book says Israel is going to become larger and more powerful. Why do you hate the Book of Revelations?

Of course, Louis Gohmert is that very special individual who's almost always wrong. By virtue of his buffoonish incompetence as a legislator, he serves as a sort of anti-compass -- if Louie's headed in a certain direction, you can be nearly 100% sure that it's the wrong way. And his position on DADT demonstrates the rule, not the exception.

Surprisingly, Louie's plea citing fictional history did not sway the august 111th congress in the House of Representatives. The repeal won by a pretty wide margin -- 250-175. This is a stand-alone piece of legislation -- not part of a military appropriations measure, as the other attempts at repeal have been -- and this stands a better chance of passing. So, having gotten past Louie Gohmert and the perpetually wrong God Squad, it moves on to the Senate.

[Huffington Post:]

The Senate has at least 62 votes to repeal the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Thursday morning.

"I have to give Joe Lieberman credit. We were told, Steny Hoyer was told by the Senate leadership, and particularly by Senator Lieberman -- Senator Collins and I will give her credit too, she has been good on this from our standpoint -- that if we passed it as a separate bill that would help," Frank said on the Sirius XM Satellite Radio show "POTUS." "There are at least 62 senators -- more than the 60 that is needed under that outrageous filibuster rule, but at least we have even met that -- who are committed to repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' It was tied up with other things and they said they couldn't do it until they got a tax bill worked out, until they got the spending bill. All the obstacles that people have said existed to a straight up-or-down vote have now been met. And unless there are some liars in the Senate, we are going to get this done."

"Unless there are some liars in the Senate" gives me pause -- because there most definitely are -- but, for the most part, I'm feeling optimistic. Few actions congress could take would be as popular as repealing DADT -- 77% of Americans oppose the discriminatory policy. Yet the majority of the Republican Party is on the side of the unfortunate Louie Gohmert -- no repeal, no way, no how.

"Republicans have made a pledge to America to listen to the American people and a pledge to focus on their priorities," soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner said after the elections, "and that's exactly what we are going to do." John Boehner voted against repeal and in opposition to the majority opinion of the American people. Barney Frank may wonder about liars in the Senate, but we don't have to wonder about liars in the House. Maybe he meant he'd start giving a crap what the people want in the next session of congress.

If, as things look now, the repeal passes, is signed by the President, and becomes law, expect the religious right to go into fullblown apocalypse mode. There will be calls for repeal from some quarters, many of them influential in the GOP's coalition. What Republicans do with those appeals will tell us a lot. I always say that when a Republican talks about change, it means they want to change something back. Forward is just not a direction conservatives are comfortable with. At heart fearful, conservatives dislike change and would rather make little tweaks from within the comfort of a (seemingly) safe status quo. This is why the Republican Party has no new ideas -- just old retreads from the Reagan administration.

The question for Republicans as they take over the House in the 112th congress will be -- as it is with healthcare reform -- "forward or backward?"

If I had to bet, I'd put my money on "forward" -- although it'd be a reluctant and griping "forward." Republicans will back off their position and ignore the calls for repeal. Eventually, those calls will go away. And they'll ignore them because it's better to be on the unpopular losing side than the unpopular winning side. Republicans may be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century on this, but they will be dragged, the kicks will be weak, and the screams will be less than energetic.

It'll be one of those rare occasions when political cowardice is actual good for the country.


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Griper News: News Roundup for 12/15/10

Man makes stupid face while another bellyflops in a mud puddle
Fun and games at the annual Fox News Fan Club picnic

-Headline of the Day-
"Study Confirms That Fox News Makes You Stupid."

You don't have to be stupid to watch Fox News, because -- if you watch it long enough -- Fox News will make you stupid enough to watch it. Those are the findings of a new Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland study that shows that Fox viewers are mentally helpless and permanently bewildered.

According to the report, the university "conducted a survey of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources. What s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation... So the more you watch, the less you know. Or to be precise, the more you think you know that is actually false."

Asked about nine facts, Fox viewers led in giving the wrong answer to eight of them. The study found:

-91% believe that the stimulus legislation lost jobs.
-72% believe that the health reform law will increase the deficit.
-72% believe that the economy is getting worse.
-60% believe that climate change is not occurring.
-49% believe that income taxes have gone up.
-63% believe that the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts.
-56% believe that Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout.
-38% believe that most Republicans opposed TARP.
-63% believe that Obama was not born in the US (or that it is unclear).

That's right, 63% of Fox viewers are birthers -- or, at least, birther-lite. Fox always scores at the bottom of these studies, making it the worst cable news network ever. At least, in terms of delivering actual news; they're pretty good at selling you junk.

If someone you know is watching Fox News, stage an intervention. Because if they keep watching it, sooner or later they're going to be too stupid to dress themselves. Maybe you can convince them to take up drinking or heroin instead, because both are better for your brain. (News Corpse)

-Do as we say, not as we do-
GOP Senators John Thune and John Cornyn held a press conference today to tell America that they both hate earmarks so much! At issue was an omnibus bill (a bunch of unfinished business due to Republican obstructionism) that Democrats filled with wasteful commie pork!

It didn't go well:

"The bill contains many earmarks that you requested," said one reporter, starting the Q&A.

"Pardon me?" said Cornyn.

"I intend to vote against those earmarks because the American people sent a message on November 2nd," said the Texas Republican.

"Senator Thune, I was just looking at the list of earmark requests that you requested this year and it adds up to over a hundred million dollars," said another reporter, asking the South Dakota Republican -- who has been talked about as a Presidential hopeful -- if he would strike those earmarks.

"I support those projects, but I don't support this bill," Thune answered.

Time for another question.

"Going through this bill, there is earmark after earmark from the both of you, millions of dollars in earmarks," asked another scribe with a jab.

"Why do you have any credibility on this?"

"Because we're going to vote against the bill," answered Cornyn.

"It appears like you're saying one thing and doing another," another reporter pressed.

"Not at all," said Cornyn, as Thune also stepped in to defend their stance on the Omnibus.

"We've got to leave it there -- we've got to get going," a GOP aide said, trying to end the press conference and quickly get the Senators out the door.

"Were you wrong when you put these earmarks in?" asked one reporter, ignoring the staffer.

"You're missing the story if you think it's just about earmarks," Cornyn protested, trying to turn the focus back to Democratic leaders bringing this huge bill to the floor with little time for review.

"Thank you guys. Thank you very much," the same staffer quickly interjected as Cornyn finished his answer, trying again to end the news conference.

"Is that an acknowledgment that it was wrong to put the earmarks in in the first place?" a reporter asked.

"You've asked the question about five times and I've tried to answer it to the best of my ability," said a somewhat irked Cornyn, who then zipped out the door.

Why would Thune and Cornyn request a whole bunch of earmarks (71, to be exact), then announce they're going to vote against the bill? Because it's a sure bet to pass, even without their votes. This is called "having your pork and eating it too -- with a big side of grandstanding."

It's also called "hypocrisy." (OpenCongress)

-Bonus HotD-
"Poll: Americans Trust Obama More Than Republicans To Guide Country."

Print this out and roll it up. The next time a Republican tells you "the people said what they wanted ____ in November," swat them with it. (Talking Points Memo)

Irrational Non-Solutions to the WikiLeaks "Problem"

Internet censorship
There's nothing like good, old fashioned irrationality. So many other conditions sprout from it -- willful ignorance, stupidity, hatred, paranoia, and fanaticism, to name a few. While we're at it, let's add futility to the list.

[New York Times:]

The Air Force is barring its personnel from using work computers to view the Web sites of The New York Times and more than 25 other news organizations and blogs that have posted secret cables obtained by WikiLeaks, Air Force officials said Tuesday.

When Air Force personnel on the service's computer network try to view the Web sites of
The Times, the British newspaper The Guardian, the German magazine Der Spiegel, the Spanish newspaper El PaĆ­s and the French newspaper Le Monde, as well as other sites that posted full confidential cables, the screen says "Access Denied: Internet usage is logged and monitored," according to an Air Force official whose access was blocked and who shared the screen warning with The Times. Violators are warned that they face punishment if they try to view classified material from unauthorized Web sites.

"Some Air Force officials acknowledged that the steps taken might be in vain since many military personnel could gain access to the documents from home computers, despite admonishments from superiors not to read the cables without proper clearances," the story continues.

The ban "might be taken in vain?" Someone tell the Air Force they're spelling "certain to be" wrong. This is the definition of pointless. Not only can Air Force personnel view the sites at home, but this does absolutely nothing to the documents secret. If censorship is bad in most cases for a lot of reasons, we can add uselessness to those reasons in this case. It's hard to understand how this policy makes any sense at all.

"News media Web sites will be blocked if they post classified documents from the WikiLeaks Web site," Lt. Col. Brenda Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space Command, which oversees Air Force cyber systems, told the Times. "This is similar to how we'd block any other Web site that posted classified information."

That reads less like an explanation and more like an excuse. Once it's out, it's out. This doesn't do anything to keep anything secret.

But if the Air Force's remedy is futile, Representative-elect Allen West's of Florida is downright draconian. West was interviewed by a wingnut internet radio station and he had this to say (emphasis TP's):

[Think Progress:]

WEST: There are different means by which you can be attacked. I mean it doesn't have to be a bomb or an airplane flying into a building. It doesn't have to be a shooting. It can be through cyber attacks, it could be through leaking of very sensitive classified information. Regardless of whether you think it causes any harm, the fact that here is an individual that is not an American citizen first and foremost, for whatever reason gotten his hands on classified American material and put it out there in the public domain. And I think that we also should be censoring the American news agencies which enabled him to do this and also supported him and applauding him for the efforts. So that's kind of aiding and abetting of a serious crime.

I should add that West was one of those super-patriotic Tea Party candidates who claimed to worship the Constitution. Now here he is shredding the First Amendment. And, again, it'd be futile anyway. Can't see it on the Time's website? Then head over to Der Spiegel. Unless the US begins to take China's approach to the internet, West's "solution" is not just oppressive and unconstitutional, but it's stupid. Conservatives would argue that "the Constitution isn't a suicide pact," but I'd argue that needlessly abandoning freedom of the press in a futile effort to keep secrets would be suicide in itself. The media may be broken, but without press freedom and freedom of speech, there's nothing keeping government in check. This limping, wounded shell of a free press still serves a valuable function. It just doesn't do it very well.

And even if we were able to block all access to WikiLeaks documents in the US (an impossible task), it would do nothing to keep them secret. All those foreign sources would still be out there and everyone else in the world would still have access to that information. If crapping all over the First Amendment is un-American, then doing it needlessly and to no real effect is worse.

Some on the right believe that assassinating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would be helpful. It wouldn't. WikiLeaks is an organization, not an individual. This "solution" makes as much sense as saying that killing the guy who runs a torrent website would end internet piracy. Already, Wikileaks is being hosted by thousands of mirror sites globally and WikiLeaks will soon have a rival leak site, OpenLeaks.

As I said, reaction to WikiLeaks has been irrational. Rational would be to beef up information security and to take the radical step of becoming a model global citizen. It's our crimes we have to worry about, not the witnesses to those crimes. Logically speaking, the fault for an action lies with the actor, not with those who tell everyone about those actions. If you don't want to be embarrassed, then don't do anything embarrassing. If you don't want to be seen as a criminal, don't commit crimes.

It's really very simple. And, best of all, it's rational.


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News Roundup for 12/13/10

Boehner cries
"Wa-a-a-ah! Mr. Mooney! Wa-a-a-a-a-ah!"

-Headline of the Day-
"Boehner Cries, Claims He Doesn't Go Tanning In 60 Minutes Interview."

Really, the only way that this could be funnier is if John Boehner cried like Lucille Ball -- a big, open-mouthed "Wa-a-ah! Wa-a-a-a-a-ah!" Unfortunately, the Orange One doesn't have a comedic bone in his body. In an interview with Lesley Stahl, Speaker-to-be Boehner denied that he came by his burnt umber hue any way but naturally and cried when he spoke about the American dream, while sitting next to his wife Debbie.

"He cries all the time?" Stahl asked the long-suffering spouse.

"No but he's going through an emotional period too, as you said this isn't an ordinary job," Debbie answered.

Whether "emotional period" means preparing for his impending speakership or going two hours without a Tom Collins, I'll leave you to decide. (Talking Points Memo)

-Script-writing 101-
Again, not politics, but pretty funny.

Someone needs to make the movie in that last chart. (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

-Bonus HotD-
"Bachmann: 'Porking Has Gotten Way Out of Control.'"

Seriously, that's a direct quote. (Wonkette)

American Aristocrats

Maybe it's geography, but I often find Madison-based John Nichols and myself thinking along the same lines. While conservatives call the estate tax a "death tax," Nichols comes up with a much more accurate term for it -- the aristocracy tax (the link is mine):

Robber baronThe estate tax agreement is a giveaway to millionaires. Indeed, as the group United for a Fair Economy notes, "The deal (Obama accepted) would make the estate tax even weaker than it was under President Bush, and the weakest it has been in seven decades."

"Originally," the group OMB Watch notes, "President Obama had been calling for extending 2009 estate tax levels as a compromise on the issue. An extension of the 2009 estate tax would exempt the first $3.5 million ($7 million for couples) of an estate's value and tax any amount above that at a rate of 45 percent. This proposal was more than generous to the wealthy of this nation, as it would affect less than 1 percent of estates each year."

"The Obama-GOP deal is all about the idle rich," Nichols writes. OMB watch says that the exemption to the estate tax in the Obama-GOP deal represents a "$163 billion check to the nation's richest families" and says "...President Obama has inexplicably agreed to give away the store to Paris Hilton and other heirs to vast fortunes through the evisceration of the estate tax."

Why does this make it an aristocracy tax? Because money is power in the United States. Wealthy people are already the most overrepresented group in Washington, both by lobbyists and elected officials. This, in the case of Republican and Blue Dog Democrats especially, is part of the reason for the bass-ackward economics popular in the capital. Supply-side or "trickle down" economics have failed again and again, but only for the vast majority of Americans. For the privileged few, it's been a gold mine.

"Mr. President, in the year 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the United States made 23.5 percent of all income," Bernie Sanders said in his historic stemwinder last week. "The top 1 percent earned 23.5 percent of all income -- more than the entire bottom 50 percent. That is apparently not enough. The percentage of income going to the top 1 percent has nearly tripled since the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, the top 1 percent earned about 8 percent of all income. In the 1980s, that figure jumped to 14 percent. In the late 1990s, that 1 percent earned about 19 percent."

To put it another way, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet once said, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." At the time, Buffet was pointing out that he pays a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than his employees. "It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office," the New York Times reported in the 2006 Buffet story. "Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn't use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires."

So, since the estate tax is so low, the wealthy hand off their wealth, and with it their political power, to their heirs -- creating an American aristocracy. That aristocracy is no different than any other aristocracy in history; they're concerned only with their own power and their own freedom. Everyone else, the vast riffraff majority, are just drones.

Nichols recommends that Nancy Pelosi take a tough stand on the estate tax. "If there is pushback, she can toss in some Thomas Jefferson, who warned that America would be ill-served by 'an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents.' Jefferson added that 'provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy.'"

The estate tax exemptions, as they stand in the Obama-GOP deal, represent another way -- along with the extension of Bush's tax giveaway to the top 2% -- that the rich have been allowed to enrich themselves off the national debt. Worse, it represents a tax on everyone else.

It's not a monetary tax -- although it bumps up your share of the debt and diminishes theirs -- but a tax on your political power and your freedom.


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