Posted by Rojas @ 10:34 pm on April 30th 2009

Souter resigns from SCOTUS

As of a few minutes ago, NPR is reporting that David Souter will step down from the US Supreme Court.

Souter was, of course, a George W. Bush appointee, and has sort of been the benchmark as to why those on the right have insisted upon rather rigorously stringent credentials for their nominees from Republican Presidents.

It is more or less impossible to ignore the timing of this decision, coming as it does on the heels of Specter’s party switch and the near-guarantee of a Dem supermajority in the Senate. Obama will more or less be able to choose whatever sort of nominee he wants and be guaranteed confirmation. Lets hope that his campaign rhetoric on the subject of judicial qualifications wasn’t serious.

Posted by Rojas @ 8:50 pm on April 30th 2009

Music video of the nostalgia

Lovejones – Roll Call

If you don’t understand, I won’t attempt to explain.

Posted by Brad @ 1:07 pm on April 30th 2009

The Trap of Gay Marriage for the Republican Party

Adam Nagourney pens a very good article in the New York Times about the gay marriage issue, and specifically gives two premises that, taken together, bode very poorly for the GOP.

Number one, in a month where we saw Iowa and Vermont legalize gay marriage and New Hampshire, New York, and Maine proposing too, the public opinion on the matter has shifted…quickly. Today, the New York Times and CBS released a pretty significant poll.

NY Times/CBS News Poll. 4/22-26. Adults. MoE 3% (3/12-16 results)


Which comes closest to your view? Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry. OR, Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry. OR, There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

Legal Marriage 42 (33)
Civil Unions 25 (27)
No Legal Recognition 28 (35)

That is, unlike some polls, a very clear construction of the question, and if you take the numbers as a whole, pretty compelling in support of gay marriage. 42% in favor of legal marriage itself is huge. 67% favoring some form of legal recognition just as much. And that the “no legal recognition” position is down to 28% just as much.

But look at the movement!

Some more:

In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, released on Monday, 31 percent of respondents over the age of 40 said they supported gay marriage. By contrast, 57 percent under age 40 said they supported it, a 26-point difference. Among the older respondents, 35 percent said they opposed any legal recognition of same-sex couples, be it marriage or civil unions. Among the younger crowd, just 19 percent held that view.

And support from Republicans went from 6% to 18%. In a month.

Concurrently, ABC and the Washington post released their poll today which further supports the finding.

Take gay marriage, legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut and now Iowa, with Vermont coming aboard in September. At its low, in 2004, just 32 percent of Americans favored gay marriage, with 62 percent opposed. Now 49 percent support it versus 46 percent opposed — the first time in ABC/Post polls that supporters have outnumbered opponents.

More than half, moreover — 53 percent — say gay marriages held legally in another state should be recognized as legal in their states.

The surprise is that the shift has occurred across ideological groups. While conservatives are least apt to favor gay marriage, they’ve gone from 10 percent support in 2004 to 19 percent in 2006 and 30 percent now — overall a 20-point, threefold increase, alongside a 13-point gain among liberals and 14 points among moderates. (Politically, support for gay marriage has risen sharply among Democrats and independents alike, while far more slightly among Republicans.)

What’s more, that movement is not restricted to Democrats and Independents or even moderate Republicans. CQPolitics presents their finding, and gets at the second point: the Republican conundrum:

Leaders of evangelical Christian organizations — the most vocal opponents of gay marriage as the issue polarized the electorate for much of this decade — now face a similar divide in their own ranks. In a survey last fall by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Inc., 58 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 said they support either civil unions or gay marriage; support dropped to 46 percent among white evangelicals who were older than that. (Asked about gay marriage exclusively, the support figures were 26 percent for the younger group and 9 percent for the older group.)

“The data do show a growing divide between younger and older evangelicals. There clearly is a generational difference,” said Amy E. Black, a political scientist at Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois. She characterizes the thinking among many younger evangelicals as, “What big deal is civil unions, really? What I care about is the environment, or what I care about is human rights.”

The attitudinal divide between younger and older evangelicals was also revealed last November, when one-third of white evangelicals under 30 voted for Barack Obama . That was double the share of the vote that John Kerry drew four years before from the same demographic, exit polls showed, even though both Democratic candidates supported civil unions, abortion rights and stem cell research.

The trend poses a big challenge to an already beleaguered evangelical Christian movement as it tries to get its message heard this year in Washington, where both the White House and Capitol are filled with people who don’t generally share similar views. To keep growing, the movement will have to bring in new generations of activists with new ideas. But most evangelical organizations aren’t about to relax their orthodoxy on hot-button culture-war issues for the sake of broadening their appeal with the young. And as a practical political matter, evangelical leaders worry that they will jeopardize their established activist base if they stake out more conciliatory positions on issues such as gay marriage or the environment.

Despite the fact that already younger Christians are flaking away from the evangelical movement on this issue, not enough to force a sea change of that movement, just enough to dilute them. It seems pretty unlikely that the evangelical political movement would be able to back off on this issue even if they wanted to (the generals are not always necessarily in charge of the soldiers in that movement). Instead, it just seems likely that the movement will grow smaller.

But not enough to exert a change in their political force, and as Nagourney points out, that’s the rub for the GOP in 2012 and 2016.

For Republicans, the complications of this issue could very well focus on the very first state on the nominating calendar in 2012, Iowa. The courts there overturned a law banning gay marriage earlier this month, and social conservatives — who are a strong force in Republican politics in Iowa — are already organizing to try to amend the state Constitution to restore the ban.

Should developments continue apace, Republican candidates for president are going to be pressed to support that effort, and to spend time talking about an issue that could undercut their appeal to more centrist voters in a general election.

Will that matter? As Mr. Schmidt noted, the winner of the Iowa Republican caucus is hardly assured of becoming the party’s nominee; Mr. McCain lost there in 2008. Still, he said it would be difficult for any Republican candidate to win his party’s nomination in 2012 without opposing gay marriage.

I agree with that. It will also be interesting to see how the Republican base in New Hampshire reacts to gay marriage in their state, and honestly I think that could go either way.

But the point is, the GOP used 2004 to whip their troops into a frenzy on this issue. That worked then, though probably not at a level worth the effort, but now it’s jack-knifing on them. One finds that pattern in a lot of Republican decisions—short term gains that create a calcified grassroot foot soldier frenzy, that mobilizes that 21% of the country that identify as Republican, but that turns off everybody else…and turns them off in a way that ripples through generations, such that the rock throwing now leads to bigger waves with each generation.

Will this matter? Well, just add it to the list. I don’t know that we’ll ever have an election where it’s as “live” an issue as 2004, but then again we might. It wouldn’t surprise me if, by 2012, there was a big charge to overturn DOMA afoot, and one doesn’t expect the judicial review and the state government wrangles on the matter to go away anytime soon. At which point, if you’re Mike Huckabee, you look pretty good for Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, etc. And pretty bad for the general.

Posted by Adam @ 8:24 pm on April 29th 2009

Bravest of the brave

Gordon Brown is the first Prime Minister for 30 years to lose a vote on an opposition day motion. At stake is the situation of some 36 000 former Gurkhas, those who served before 1997 and who are thus largely ineligible to reside in the UK (the situation is better for Gurkhas who have served since 1997); the government had suggested some terms under which a number of those Gurkhas could reside in the UK, but this was unacceptable to the Liberal Democrats, who had been leading the Commons charge, the Tories who supported them and the Gurkhas themselves. Whilst 27 Labour MPs voted against Brown, many others abstained and as a result, the government lost the vote; it’s not binding, but it’s humiliating.

This pretty much demonstrates the great affection that the British public have for the Gurkhas; elements of British society and their politicians might be suspicious of increasing immigration in general — and many do seem to be — but the situation regarding the Gurkhas, who have been enormously loyal in fighting for the British for nearly 200 years, is very different. I have written before about the seedy treatment that some of them have received. In the comments section of that post, I quoted Professor Sir Ralph Turner MC, former Gurkha officer, an extract from which appears on the Gurkha memorial in London:

As I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and thirst and wounds; and at the last your unwavering lines disappear into the smoke and wrath of battle. Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you.

Repaying their loyalty and bravery is a worthwhile use of tax money.

Posted by Brad @ 5:57 pm on April 29th 2009

Thought of the Day

The blogosphere is understandably abuzz about this comment from Byron York:

Obama’s sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

And justifiably so.

But wasn’t that a central argument of the Clinton campaign?

Posted by Brad @ 5:52 pm on April 29th 2009

Same Sex Marriage In New Hampshire

The state legislature has approved it.

The vote [in the Senate] was 13-11 in favor of the measure. The House passed a similar measure last month by a 186-179 vote. The two chambers must reconcile small changes between the two measures in a conference committee but this is seen as a technicality. Democratic Gov. John Lynch must decide whether he will sign or veto the bill or allow it to become law without his signature. Lynch has been silent on the matter, though he has stated in the past that he opposes same-sex marriage.

Hard to call New Hampshire a twin to Vermont—in my experience it’s got a peculiar, and strong, Republican streak to it, though it’s not particularly socially conservative. In other words, they’re not a bunch of hippy socialists (like Vermont).

The tide, methinks, has turned since 2004.

Posted by Brad @ 2:51 pm on April 29th 2009

Music Video of the Hump Day

Robert Earl Longley – Flambaux

Posted by Brad @ 2:49 pm on April 29th 2009

Quote of the Day II – Big Tent Edition

“Specter, take McCain with you. And his daughter. Take McCain and his daughter with you if you’re gonna…It’s ultimately good. You’re weeding out people who aren’t really Republicans.”

Rush Limbaugh

Posted by James @ 12:13 am on April 29th 2009

Quote of the Day

Related to Brad’s post here.

“To say that it should not be made public knowing that it might scare people it’s just confounding,” Sen. Charles Schumer said. “It’s what gives Washington and government a bad name. It’s sheer stupidity.”

Thanks for summarizing the federal government for us, Chuck. What a guy.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:49 pm on April 28th 2009

This won’t end well

The Florida State Legislature has approved this vanity license plate design:

The comments thread here provides you with a delightful forecast of the free speech holocaust to come. What happens when somebody orders this license plate with STL DED or ZOM BIE as their plate designation? State law permits restrictions on vanity plates where obscenity is concerned…but can there possibly be restrictions based on the religious commentary provided by the combination of the plate and the letters selected?

We know from experience that vanity plates can permit pro-religious designations; given that fact, can restrictions on anti-religious speech possibly be permissable under the first amendment? We are damned sure about to find out.

Florida: eternal birthplace of dingbattery.

Posted by Rojas @ 6:54 pm on April 28th 2009

Sebelius to HHS

Confirmed. Nothing like the imminent arrival of Captain Trips to break through a confirmation logjam.

Posted by Brad @ 5:45 pm on April 28th 2009

The Silent Minority

As Obama’s 100 days come to a close, some sites are pushing one particular number as being important to take note of. Namely, the The Partisan Gap. Historically, nobody has much used this as a measure of anything—near as I can figure it was just recently devised as a metric. But essentially what it does is compare the difference between how the President’s party views him vs. how the opposition party views him. The implication is that if that number is high, that President is polarizing. Obama’s is indeed high—nearly 60%—theoretically making him the most polarizing President of the last 10 at the end of the 100 days.

But of course there is a much more important and fundamental number that makes that metric meaningless. Chiefly, there is less of the opposition party now than there has been at this point in the last ten presidencies.

21% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans, according to the most recent polling. That’s staggering. 35% identify as Democrats, 38% as independents. By definition, that makes them an increasingly marginal minority. That they might, in fact, be wildly more partisan than the same party made up of 35% of the electorate is not exactly “news”.

As we move forward, that’s the number to keep in mind. 21%.

Posted by Adam @ 12:10 pm on April 28th 2009

Arlen Spector to turn blue?

And not from choking on his own self-importance and ambition*, but by becoming a Democrat, a year before he is up for re-election. I imagine that, as the guy that could make a filibuster-proof majority for the Democrats, he’s getting a pretty sweet deal.

*If this were likely, the Senate would be full of dead people.

Posted by Brad @ 11:02 pm on April 27th 2009

Your Weird Soda Review Moment of the Day

I’m having trouble picking out a single line from the review for a sauerkraut flavored soda called Biotta Digestive Drink, as it has about the best one-liner ratio I’ve read in something in a good long while, so I’ll pick two.

It tastes rather a lot like heartburn.

This is the beverage version of a war crime.

Posted by Adam @ 8:23 pm on April 27th 2009

Fox declines chance to air Obama prime-time live press conference

According to CNN, Fox say they are doing this because they get three times as many viewers showing ‘Lie to Me’.

I’ve always been a bit queasy about the use of the media by Presidents in what is clearly something of a dual political exercise as well as the exercise of their Presidential duty, but it’s been going on at least since FDR and his ‘fireside chats’. Also, I am bitter about the role that Obama may have played in the potential cancellation of NBC’s amusing tv series Chuck. One wonders whether Fox would have done this to Bush (although I am sure that most anyone who watched one of Bush’s press conferences would have preferred to watch something else, too) but if the networks stop automatically deciding en masse to air Presidential addresses (the only purpose of which is to make sure that people with basic cable can’t watch anything else, so far as I can see) then I shall be happy enough.

Maybe it would provide some incentive for the Press Conferences to be less godamned boring, too. Although I still can’t see myself sitting through a whole one; there’s only so many moronic platitudes a man can take. On the other hand, ‘Lie to Me’ is supposed to be pretty good; I wonder if they’ll get a bump from not showing Obama, or the opposite; I imagine that the other networks will be watching with some interest.

Posted by Brad @ 5:31 pm on April 27th 2009

The La Brea Tarp Pit; $3 Trillion and Counting

Hey, remember when we authorized $700 billion dollars be allocated to an opaque and unaccountable Troubled Asset Relief Program?

Yeah, well it was actually 3 trillion. Why? Just like the authorization for the use of force circa 2001, apparently voting in favor of TARP was interpreted to mean a complete and total executive authority exercised in perpetuity for basically whatever the hell they feel like?

Feel better?

Powerline has the story, which is actually quite good despite John completely missing perhaps the critical angle here. Here is a chart showing the alphabet soup of recovery programs basically laundering taxpayer money. Do you see the programs that ballooned from the original TARP authorization to “total projected funding” of, in some cases, 1333%? For instance, the Public Private Investment Program, originally authorized for 70 billion dollars but now being projected at a trillion dollars? See the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, authorized for $80 billion and now, also, projected at a cool trillion? Or the Capital Assistance Program which even the government doesn’t know the expense of?

Well, all of those programs, the ones responsible for turning a $700 billion dollar authorization into a 3 trillion trust dollars nebulous morass, fall under the rubric of a single shady government entity which, to this day, is unaccountable in the quite literal sense of it—meaning, nobody is allowed to do any accounting of it. Congress voted to take $700 billion dollars of taxpayer money and throw it at the banking system. Somewhere along the way, some backroom government agency decided to expand that to three trillion dollars, and that’s just in direct money.

What agency could possibly be this big a threat to economic liberty and basic transparency?

Anyone want to take a stab at it?

Posted by Brad @ 5:11 pm on April 27th 2009

Happy Gay Marriage Day, Iowa

A reminder that America is still awesome.

Posted by Brad @ 5:07 pm on April 27th 2009

Oops

Perhaps, in retrospect, staging a photo op by having a low-flying jumbo jet buzz New York City was a bad idea for the White House

Posted by Brad @ 4:30 pm on April 27th 2009

“Why not do a universal health care system like the European countries?”

Fox News, somehow, is getting worse.

Below is the original, plus the Fox Version (TM).

In case you missed it, in the original, Obama is reading an audience email question that ends with the title quote, and then answers that question, his answer being:

I actually want a universal health care system; that is our goal…whether we do it exactly the way European countries do or Canada does is a different question, because there are a variety of ways to get to universal health care coverage… I don’t think the best way to fix our health care system is to suddenly completely scrap what everybody is accustomed to and the vast majority of people already have. Rather, what I think we should do is to build on the system that we have and fill some of these gaps.

But Fox has parsed it down to “Obama wants to impose a European health care system”, and just plays him reading the question (without flagging that he is, in fact, reading someone else’s question).

Full story here.

Posted by Brad @ 2:59 pm on April 27th 2009

The Cantor-Obama Sitdown

A nice story from Politico, ableit one of those anonymously sourced closed meeting sort of things.

In a meeting with House Republicans, Obama threw down the gauntlet as to whether Cantor and House Republicans were willing to compromise and, by extension, have a seat at the table on budgetary matters, or whether they were just going to say no to everything at which point, presumably, Obama will eventually stop caring what they have to say. Obama offered Cantor the chance to submit a list of $100 million that they would like to see cut from the federal budget—peanuts, of course, but an olive branch of sorts—which gives Cantor a decision to make.

Asked this week how much he fears the “party of no” label — both for his party and for himself — Cantor dodged the question and stressed the road ahead. “The first 100 days are now up,” he told POLITICO. “We haven’t seen the intent to engage in bipartisanship come to fruition. There are some very straightforward, thoughtful ways we can do that.”

The question now is how far Cantor will go. Obama’s seemingly impromptu entreaty on cutting costs gives him an opening: He can swing for the fences and propose drastic cuts that he knows Obama won’t accept, or he can make a more modest request that Obama might be compelled to support — even if such a proposal won’t sit well with his own allies in Congress.

Beyond the mostly window dressing aspect of the story, compelling an account that that is, I think the quote above does indeed get to the heart of the matter.

Obama doesn’t strike anybody as a dogmatic schill in his working style. He is indeed liberal, but he does seem genuinely frustrated by what he perceives as a lack of good faith negotiating from the Republicans. He pointed out to Cantor, at the meeting, that he met with the Republican caucuses and added a fair few compromises to some aspects of the stimulus bill that Republicans had objected to—and for his trouble, he got not a single Republican vote in the house. What Obama is obliquely getting at and what he is surely thinking, the subtext of his comments to Cantor: “Why should I both to compromise on anything if your caucus has made up its mind to just oppose me 100% for political reasons no matter what I come to the table with?”

It’s a good question, and one Republicans ought to be asking themselves. $100 million in cabinet cuts is of course laughably inconsequential, but what Obama is trying to feel out now, and what Cantor is too, is the extent to which Republicans are going to be working partners to be accommodated or at least placated, or whether they intend to be carte blanche obstructionists to be steamrolled and ignored. All the advantage is Obama’s, and he knows it, and the country is on his side, as I discussed at length in this post, and he knows that too. He would like to have good faith negotiations with the GOP caucus, but he doesn’t have to. That may not matter right now, but likely what the Republican caucus decides on this in the next 90 days or so will in large measure set the tone for the rest of Obama’s presidency. Republicans can check out early, but then we’ve got the health care debate coming in a year or two, the energy debate, the tax and revenue discussions when the bill for TARP and the bailout start coming due, and on and on.

My guess is right now Obama is feeling out what place the Republicans will have in that, if any, and that that will in large part be the theme of his second 100 days.

The Republicans are going to have to decide if they want a place at that table. They won’t be able to dictate terms (which they never seem to understand), but they will be able to have at least some hand in shaping the policy.

Or, they’re shut out entirely. They may deem that worth it if they feel it gives them a political angle, and they’ll just spend the next eight years tea partying and whatnot.

I hope they consider both options carefully.

Posted by Brad @ 2:35 pm on April 27th 2009

Quotes of the Day

Regarding Abu Gharib:

“It’s important for people to understand that in a democracy, there will be a full investigation. In other words, we want to know the truth. In our country, when there’s an allegation of abuse … there will be a full investigation, and justice will be delivered. … It’s very important for people and your listeners to understand that in our country, when an issue is brought to our attention on this magnitude, we act. And we act in a way in which leaders are willing to discuss it with the media. … In other words, people want to know the truth. That stands in contrast to dictatorships. A dictator wouldn’t be answering questions about this. A dictator wouldn’t be saying that the system will be investigated and the world will see the results of the investigation.”

George W. Bush

“We didn’t kill them. We didn’t cut their heads off. We didn’t shoot them. We didn’t cut them and let them bleed to death. We just did what we were told to soften them up for interrogation, and we were told to do anything short of killing them,”

Lynndie England.

Posted by Brad @ 12:31 pm on April 27th 2009

“We Could Have Done This The Right Way”

Today’s must-read is an article in Newsweek about the experience of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan. Soufan was the agent who first questioned Abu Zubaydah. He did so by engaging in interrogation in the method used by American agents for centuries–a mixture of psychological chess and just plain winning over his confidence. These methods worked, and Zabaydah willing gave up a fair bit of actionable intelligence.

Here is a good description of the methods and the result:

“We kept him alive,” Soufan says. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” Gaudin, for his part, cleaned Abu Zubaydah’s buttocks. During this time, Soufan and Gaudin also began the questioning; it became a “mental poker game.” At first, Abu Zubaydah even denied his identity, insisting that his name was “Daoud.”

But Soufan had poured through the bureau’s intelligence files and stunned Abu Zubaydah when he called him “Hani”—the nickname that his mother used for him. Soufan also showed him photos of a number of terror suspects who were high on the bureau’s priority list. Abu Zubaydah looked at one of them and said, “That’s Mukhtar.”

Now it was Soufan who was stunned.

The FBI had been trying to determine the identity of a mysterious “Mukhtar,” whom bin Laden kept referring to on a tape he made after 9/11. Now Soufan knew: Mukhtar was the man in the photo, terror fugitive Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and, as Abu Zubaydah blurted out, ” the one behind 9/11.”

As the sessions continued, Soufan engaged Abu Zubaydah in long discussions about his world view, which included a tinge of socialism. After Abu Zubaydah railed one day about the influence of American imperialist corporations, he asked Soufan to get him a Coca-Cola—a request that prompted the two of them to laugh. Soon enough, Abu Zubaydah offered up more information—about the bizarre plans of a jihadist from Puerto Rico to set off a “dirty bomb” inside the country. This information led to Padilla’s arrest in Chicago by the FBI in early May.

Indeed, every bit of actionable good intel we got came from Soufan’s interrogation. Then, at some point, Zabaydah was handed over to the CIA, who relentlessly tortured him—he’s the guy that got waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. And the CIA got nonsense and goose chases.

Torture apologists love to present the Hollywood version of “The Terrorist”. Unyielding, fanatic, a ticking time bomb always in the pocket, and who would never willingly give over information. The truth is, anyone can be worked over psychologically, and in fact it’s the soft touch that has the most success. Even the Nazis understood this, as has every generation of American intelligence professionals and front line military mine since the founding of our republic. Torture, if you ask any of them, just does not work as well as the kind of non-illegal methods we’ve been refining for centuries.

But George W. Bush and Dick Cheney decided that they—not the military, not the intelligence agencies on the front lines every day, not history, not a mountain of applicable precedent covering the entire gambit of modern warfare and intelligence gathering—they and they alone had the inside track, and so they decided to slam on the brakes and do a 180, radically altering the foundations of the American interrogation system. And so, they got worse intelligence through a profoundly less moral means and with a massive blowback of unintended consequences the extent of which will be rippling for decades and which we likely won’t understand the full scope of for generations. The American system was fundamentally upended, and all because an “I’m not a cowboy but I play one on T.V.” dullard with delusions of grandeur and his five-times-deferred Vice President with a host of residual Cold War fantasies decided it must be so. When you step back and take in the full picture, the scope of the sheer smallness of the two men and their perspective is staggering, and combined with the sheer massiveness of the change they exerted is enough to horrify even the most cynical.

Posted by Brad @ 12:15 pm on April 27th 2009

Music Video of the Week

It’s nice to see Regina Spektor getting some mainstream success. She’s been paying her dues on the indie folk scene for many years now, and is a very talented very compelling performer. So it’s good to see her single Fidelity (below the fold) making a big splash on the adult contemporary charts and being used in ad campaigns. Hopefully the people that like this song will check out the rest of her stuff.

Like this one, which is very reminiscent of Tori Amos.

Regina Spektor – Braille

(more…)

Posted by Brad @ 8:39 am on April 27th 2009

The Senate Working Environment

The Hill conducted a survey of the 99 Senators actively serving about who they felt were the most and least partisan members of their body, although by “bipartisan” what they really mean is “person on the other side of the aisle who is easiest to work with”). Amazingly, 97 Senators responded to the survey (Jim Bunning and Herb Kohl were the non-responders: Bunning returned his survey with one word scrawled on it: “no”).

It’s pretty interesting. Ted Kennedy was named the most bipartisan member of the Senate (Susan Collins a distant second). Jim Bunning and Patrick Leahy were the most partisan.

On the Republican side, Orrin Hatch is a clear favorite for a lot of Senators on both sides of the aisle. Dick Lugar, John McCain, and the two Maine ladies round out their top five. Arlen Specter, curiously or otherwise, didn’t make the list.

For the Democrats, Kennedy takes top honors, with Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa). Dodd, interestingly, makes both lists, garnering top five mentions as most partisan and most bipartisan. Lamar Alexander came close to doing that on the Republican side, but has to settle for a “most partisan” mention.

The most hated members of the Senate?

Democrats singled out Bunning, David Vitter (La.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and DeMint as the most difficult. One Democratic senator called them “a bunch of 4-year-olds.”

Several Democrats said Bunning in particular is so irascible that they don’t even try to speak to the Hall of Fame pitcher unless it’s about baseball.

“Jim just makes it difficult,” said one Democrat. “Sometimes you have a sense of where your bipartisan outreach maybe won’t be successful, so you tend to not even engage.”

Of the four, only one got a single mention by any of their colleagues. Bernie Sanders, of all people, listed Bunning as a friend.

Lots of interesting anecdotes and whatnot in the article.

Posted by Brad @ 5:36 pm on April 26th 2009

Ah Stumped Im!

Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) is passing around a video of a question he asked Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu. The question was “how did oil get to Alaska and the Arctic?” The implication being, I think, that this somehow disproves global warming—I’m really not sure. Barton tweets: “I seemed to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question.” His office put out the video on YouTube under the header “Energy Secretary puzzled by simple question”. “Oh,” Barton says at one point when Dr. Chu mentions plate tectonics. “It just drifted on up there?” He shakes his head at this sorcery talk. You can tell from the smug look on his face that he really thinks he nailed the egghead with his crazy liberal “science”.

Nobel prize winning physicist Dr. Chu does indeed look puzzled as he attempts to explain geologic history to an idiot congressman who clearly believes it’s all crazy voodoo and probably wouldn’t pass a 4th grade science quiz.

Posted by Brad @ 3:24 am on April 26th 2009

Quote of the Day

I know I ought to stop quoting Andrew Sullivan—it’s already worn thin with a few readers. But on the issue of torture, there’s none better. Because Andrew, unlike most pundits, absolutely realizes the ridiculousness of calling the matter a partisan debate.

I’m confounded and perplexed by the people, including the President, who want to just “move on”, or the majority of the apologists who decry investigation into the matter as partisan shrillness, but whose own rampant partisan tribalism, their own desire to circle the wagons, has led them so far down the road of defending the indefensible that they’re now, of all things, defending the right of the American president to capture and detain, with no oversight, whoever they want, and torture them, not because torture works or because it isn’t immoral, but just because. What’s more, they’re not only defending it, but somehow trying to cast it as patriotic. If you had told me, at the age of 20, that by the time I turned 30 not only would America institutionalize indefinite detention and torture, the shining city on the hill, but also be trying to demand that the executive branch of the government not be constrained by “laws”, and that in the mainstream political debate, the principle issue supposedly dividing liberals and conservatives is whether they opposed torture or not, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have thought you were mad. I would have found our present to be a dystopian fantasy. And yet, here we are.

In any case, Andrew Sullivan, I think, understands the stakes better than most, with his crossed pond perspective. His critics will surely take this to be “hyperventilating”, or whatever the buzzword is now for giving a fuck, but he seems to me to be about the only major figure in this debate who is not taking what America stands for for granted. To wit:

If I had one belief in politics, it would be that the freedoms secured by the modern West are worth fighting for. Absolutely central to those freedoms is barring the executive branch from torturing people. No power is more fatal to freedom and the rule of law than torture. It is like Tolkien’s ring: no society remains free, if its rulers use it. Its power is banned because it is a solvent to the rule of law, the establishment of truth, and the limits of government. For an administration to secretly and illegally unleash this weapon – against citizens and non-citizens alike – and to demand that it not be subsequently called to account, that it be allowed to get away with it under some absurd notion that it’s too divisive to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes is and was an outrage. Punishing those responsible for war crimes is not “scapegoating”. You know what scapegoating is? It’s throwing Lynndie England in jail for following orders given by George W. Bush, while leaving him to the luxury of a Texan suburb.

The precedent of a torturing American president must be reversed. That means it cannot be allowed to stand.

There is no way the American experiment can continue while legal and historical precedent gives the president the inherent authority to torture. It is the undoing of the core idea of the founding – protection against arbitrary, lawless, cruel and despotic rule. And the impact on the entire world of America allowing this to stand would be profound. The world looks here for moral leadership. Those who endure real political oppression, imprisonment, torture and abuse at the hands of despots look to America for leadership, for guidance, for hope. If America – America – discovers that its own president has illegally tortured and decides that it simply won’t do anything about it, that it doesn’t matter, that it’s too polarizing to restore the rule of law … then what hope do those people have? To whom will they look when they fight far more pervasive tyranny, buttressed by the same absolute power to coerce the truth and break the human soul?

We don’t want vengeance. We want America back.

Posted by Brad @ 8:38 pm on April 25th 2009

Medical TV

A survey of 1,555 medical professionals solicits their comments on shows like House, ER, Scrubs, and the like. They’re evenly split on whether those shows are good or bad, but man, they all hate House.

Edit: Speaking of Scrubs, is it just me or does Scott Murphy (below) look an awful lot like Dr. Cox?

Posted by Brad @ 4:01 pm on April 25th 2009

Congressman Scott Murphy and the Abject, Total Failure of Dogwhistle Conservatism

Republican James Tedisco conceded defeat Friday in the race to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, handing a sweet victory to Democrat Scott Murphy in the conservative Albany-area district.

Tedisco and Murphy were separated by only a handful of votes following the March 31 special election, setting the stage for nearly a month of intense ballot counting. This week, Murphy’s lead started to grow – he was more than 400 votes ahead Thursday.

“It became clear that the numbers were not going our way and that the time had come to step aside and ensure that the next congressman be seated as quickly as possible,” Tedisco said in a statement. “In the interest of the citizens of the 20th Congressional District and our nation, I wish Scott the very best.”

Murphy, a venture capitalist, said, “I can’t wait to get to work.”

Paging Norm Coleman…

Edit: I wanted to add a few more quick thoughts. At the outset of this election I mentioned that it would be in many ways a litmus test, and I think it was. And while the weeks since the election have sort of stamped out any enthusiasm, it is worth reflecting on, very briefly.

Scott Murphy, it must be said, is not a particularly strong candidate. That’s not to say he’s a weak candidate, just that he wasn’t a SuperStar Dream Candidate. He’d never held elected office, his views are straight party line, if anything on the liberal side of the Democratic spectrum, he had money but not so much to make or break the race. Jim Tedisco, similarly, is not a particularly weak candidate. He was well known, well respected (still is), well spoken, had no scandal hanging over him, and his views put him pretty well in the moderate Republican mainstream.

In other words, these were, in many ways, ideal stand-in sort of candidates.

The nature of the district is hard to bead. Yes, it is a Bush district, and Republicans hold the registration advantage by a significant margin. It had also previously sent Kirsten Gillibrand to the House, and still views her very favorably. There has been talk in Corner sort of circles that, based on that, it’s not really a Republican district. That might have had some merit, and in many ways this could just be considered a tossup district, save for the fact that, a month and a half before the election, Jim Tedisco was up 21 points. Meaning, it’s not like this was just always an even playing field and remained one right up until the end. If it’s 50-50ish in registration and brokes 50-50ish elections, then a 50-50ish result might not matter. But it’s a 60-40 district, does indeed broke close election, but at the outset of this race, the Republican was up 60-40.

What, then happened?

Ironically, the Republicans pushed to make this race a referendum on the national political environs, and to a remarkable extent (chiefly because there was no other action going on), that worked. Both parties more or less effectively made their cases, both poured in money and spokespeople (both about equally), and both candidates toed their party lines and made their party cases about as well as can be made. The race caught fire right at a time when Republicans hoped it would, when they were framing the stimulus debate as Republican vs. Socialism, and when they were assuming that America, at large, was on their side. NY-20 isn’t Grandview (google it), but it came to be a fairly rough approximation. A captive audience, if anything stacked with Republicans, on which the debate over Obama’s first 100 days would face a remarkably clean referendum.

And then, as soon as that happened, Scott Murphy went from 21 points down to winning the race. In less than 45 days (not counting the weeks of counting).

I underline all this just because I assume, like me, that most of us come from a conservative bent of some stripe or another and like to believe that a small government civil liberty and fiscal conservative worldview is, at least in its basest form, relatively popular. And yet, polls show not only that Obama is popular, but that more and more Americans are believing America is back on the right track. We’re not exactly living in an easy carefree period at the moment, but remarkably, Americans (in the “at large” sense) are becoming increasingly persuaded that we’re doing okay, in large measure because of Obama. And for the people that say “the only poll worth anything is an election”, fair enough. We have the 2008 election, and now, lest there be any question of buyer’s remorse, we have NY-20, which is, to me, a pretty convincing data point.

Here is, I think, the fact of it, and neither Republicans nor Democrats seem particularly aware of it: we live in a center-left country. There are strains of individualism that will always have a place in the American context, and it’s from those that libertarians will (and always have) garnered the most success. But despite the view of the Beltway, the Republican party, and most conservative activists, I think they wildly underestimate the difficulty of the task ahead of them, to the point where they seem to take it for granted that they don’t really have to work very hard at all because the value of their case is self-evident. That’s why they couldn’t fathom the reaction they got to the Tea Parties, wherein the media turned on this notion. The protesters shouted “Spending is Bad!” Observers kept pressing “What spending? How bad? What should we do instead?” And there was no answer for that, not because it was a protest, but because most of the anti-Obama forces, I think, don’t even understand the need for persuasion on this point. They assume that saying “he is a tax and spend liberal” is akin to saying “he is soft on crime” in the 80s, just something that is self-evidently damaging. It leaves them a little flummoxed when they have to make the case beyond that, because frankly, they haven’t really had to (or at least not thought they had to) since the Reagan era. They still just assume that the people asking for clarification are the “liberal elites” who are just being snarky, but Nixon’s “silent majority” knows what they mean.

Those days, I think, are over.

Not to overgeneralize too much from NY-20, which is just sort of incidental to this conversation, but I think it’s worth reminding we small government activists that we are not necessarily on the side of The People in the political sense on that question. Kevin at the Liberty Papers writes, even more despondently than me:

The first thing we libertarians and small government conservatives need to admit is we cannot stop Obama’s radical agenda politically. Obama has the support of the American people first of all. Secondly, we are politically discredited from the Bush years.

All we can do is try to educate enough people to realize the dangerous path we are on before it is too late in the time we have left and hope we have enough support to do something.

I don’t think that’s quite right, but I’m sympathizing with it a lot these days. Where I don’t think it’s quite right is I think the real lesson for libertarians and fiscal conservatives and the like is that they need to begin picking their battles, targeting specific things. Frankly, what we’ve seen, from the anti-bailout discussions (which spun out in a million different things that clouded the matter, from cries of socialism to earmark debates) to the Tea Parties, is a wildly overgeneralized critique of liberalism. There, I think, Kevin is right. For the moment anyway, that’s just not flying. What’s more, the more the GOP and the constellation of libertarianish causes bang away at the “Socialism!” drum at its most general and opaque, the more, I think, the public no longer considers them serious participants in the debate. And the more, I think, that the GOP will be befuddled by going into a clean race and making their case as well as they can make it and watching it swing 21 points for the Democrat in a month, not because they didn’t argue their point well, but because those 21+% of voters took the argument into consideration and then categorically rejected it.

I still believe libertarian conservatism has a political case to make, but it’s not going to come by trying to force a center-right vs. center-left blanket referendum. To the extent they do that, they lose. It’s going to come by taking those critiques and honing them to specific issues in specific contexts and taking seriously the job of persuasion on those points, not just preaching to the choir or trying to employ dog whistles to bring in the silent majority that they assume is still out there somewhere but has, in fact, long since left the room.

I’m going to have a post up in a few days that sort of tangentially makes this case about Ron Paul in 2012, wherein you go from “Abolish the Fed” to “Audit the Fed because of this and this and this”. One is a dog whistle. The other is a smart critique that can persuade people.

But as Scott Murphy takes office and Jim Tedisco, a good Republican, goes down (although, unlike Norm Coleman, he’ll live to fight another day), those are some of the thoughts that are swimming around in my head.

Posted by Brad @ 2:35 pm on April 25th 2009

“It’s time for libertarians to start taking Federal Reserve issues seriously”

So writes Stephen Gordon at the Liberty Papers. While admitting that the Fed critics have often been peppered with outright kooks, he nonetheless notes that the issue, while in 2007 it might get one laughed off the stage, is at least raising some mainstream eyebrows now. Exhibit A: Tea Parties, where the Fed issue wasn’t central but was certainly visible at every one, and it’s no longer uncommon to hear commentators relaying it without rolling their eyes.

Exhibit B: Ron Paul’s “audit the Fed” bill now has 80 92 co-sponsors, and even Barney Frank (who runs the committee the bill has to pass through), while making clear that he doesn’t agree with the implications of it, he also indicates that it’ll get a fair hearing (starting at about 2:25).

Posted by Rojas @ 11:57 pm on April 24th 2009

The worst idea ever

I do not find this inspirational. I find it insane.

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