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Wed Oct 08, 2014 at 09:52 PM PDT

Will Anyone Read This?

by BooMan23

[Cross-posted in green]

So, the DSCC is moving in with a big buy in South Dakota. So what? You don't live there, so what do you care?  Hell, it exhausts me to even think about trying to explain the Senate race in South Dakota, let alone why you might want to give a crap about it.  

Pretty much everything about American politics exhausts me right now, which is why I haven't been writing too much.  It's not writer's block exactly.  It's just fatigue. What are we doing?  How are we going to get out of this jam?  Where is all the energy we had back in 2005?  Even if I had the energy to try it, I can't organize potted plants.  

I guess I am digressing. I am in a mood.  There's shit to understand about South Dakota but the public is being custom-fitted for a collective hazmat suit for the brain.  Ebola! Benghazi! Hamas!

Who the fuck is going to read this thing anyway, which I will publish in the middle of the night? What difference will it make?

Well, judging by all the generous donations you've been making over the last few days, I'm guessing there are more people who still give a shit than the cable news channels want me to know about.  So, here goes.

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[Also available in green]

Charles Krauthammer is clearly nervous about the House Republicans' decision to go Full Metal Benghazi by creating a Select Committee to look into...what? So, he has some advice for the congressmen who will be serving on the Benghazi! Committee.

The select committee will be headed by Representative Trey Gowdy, a skilled 16-year prosecutor. He needs to keep the hearings clean and strictly fact-oriented. Questions only, no speechifying. Every sentence by every GOP committee member must end with a question mark. Should any committee Republican instead make a statement ending in a period, the chairman should immediately, by button, deliver an electric shock through the violator’s seat.

Yes, Charles Krauthammer even advocates torture for his own side.  He is consistent like that.  Give the man credit.

So, we know that the Craphammer is going into this battle with a heavy heart and a gigantic sigh, but he's game, you see.  He's game. We can see exactly how game he is.

These hearings are a big political risk for Republicans. Going into the 2014 election, they stand to benefit from the major issues — Obamacare, the economy, chronic unemployment — from which Benghazi hearings can only distract. Worse, if botched like previous hearings on the matter, these hearings could backfire against the GOP, as did the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings. On purely partisan considerations, the hearings are not worth the political risk.

But the country deserves the truth.

Ah, yes, the country deserves the "truth," so, obviously, this telegraphed "own goal" is totally worth it.  But, pray tell, what is this committee supposed to discover?  Krauthammer wants to know what happened before, during, and after the attacks in Benghazi!

Before:

Where and to what extent was there dereliction of duty as memos, urgent pleas, and mounting evidence of danger were ignored and the U.S. ambassador allowed to enter a deathtrap?

This is already known.

During:

What happened during the eight hours of the Benghazi attack, at the end of which the last two Americans (of four) were killed by mortar fire? Where was the commander-in-chief and where was the responsible Cabinet secretary, Hillary Clinton? What did they do?

The White House acts as if these are, alternatively, either state secrets or of no importance.

Once again, the Republicans act as if a consulate in Benghazi was the biggest concern facing the administration that night, even though our embassy in Cairo was under threat and protests were taking place worldwide.

If this Select Committee hopes to justify its own expense by demonstrating that the president placed a phone call to Benjamin Netanyahu and engaged in some debate prep during the attacks, they will discover that the American people disagree.

After:

We now know the White House was pushing the “video made them do it” cover-up, lest the blame be placed on administration policy. Who was involved in that decision, obviously designed to protect a president campaigning that al-Qaeda was “on the run”?

The administration argued, correctly, that the protests that had erupted worldwide were in response to a crazy minister's anti-Muslim movie, and not an indication that the entire Muslim world was about to rise up and destroy America.  

If the Select Committee can demonstrate that, in fact, the attacks in Benghazi! were proof that al Qaeda was on the rebound, that will be an impressive feat.

Krauthammer knows that the Republicans are engaged in a heat-fever bacchanalian feast of stupid.  All he can offer is some mitigating advice.

 
Discuss

[Also available in White and Green]

I don't know if everyone is talking about race because Congress is deadlocked and, well, we have to talk about something more than Ukraine and the missing jet airplane, but I think Jonathan Chait's cover story for New York Magazine probably has a lot to do with it.  It obviously touched a nerve.  There's a point in his piece where he makes a reference to "the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession," which we are all obviously supposed to be familiar with.  If you want the full background on it, Rick Perlstein wrote it up for The Nation right after the election in November 2012.  The short version is that legendary GOP strategist Lee Atwater gave an interview in 1981 (which survives on audio tape) in which he confessed (not for the record) that, among other things, calling for tax cuts was really just an abstract way of saying that you don't want any of your money going to black folks.  The way he actually put it was a bit more colorful.

"You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”"

When Chait refers to this quote as "the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession," it's meant to be dismissive.  He uses "ubiquitous" to mean that the quote is over-referenced, and he uses "Rosetta-Stone" sarcastically to argue that you can't actually translate every conservative belief into a form of abstract racism.  And he follows this up by flat-out refuting the main thrust of what Atwater confessed to:

Impressive though the historical, sociological, and psychological evidence undergirding this analysis may be, it also happens to be completely insane. Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.

It's a rather argumentative tone to take, suggesting that he'd given up on using logic to further his position.  It's plainly not "insane" to object less to taxation because it costs you money than because of who (you think) your money will go to. There are people who don't like paying taxes because a lot of it goes to buy weaponry used to fight wars they don't support.  Those people don't necessarily object to paying taxes for roads and bridges; they just don't like violence and death.  

But this kind of turns things around a bit, because Atwater isn't talking about why people don't like paying taxes; he's talking about politicians who make subtle racial appeals to white people by suggesting that all their tax-money goes to black welfare queens.  If we're talking Rosetta Stone, it goes something like this:

Language A: Very wealthy people stand to benefit greatly by even slight reductions in the tax rate, but most people will not benefit because all the lost revenue from very wealthy people will have to be made up elsewhere, unless services and investments are cut.  

Language B: Since winning at politics requires a majority, very wealthy people have to convince a lot of people that a reduction in very wealthy people's tax rate is a good thing or else they will never see that reduction.  Convincing them that their taxes are being misallocated is the key.

Language C: The way to convince people that their money is being misallocated is to tell them the money is going to racial minorities who are lazy and undeserving.  

Language D: The more stigma is attached to nakedly racial political appeals, the more abstract the language must be so, eventually, you don't even talk about welfare queens anymore.  Except, sometimes.

Does this mean that all requests for lower taxes are racist?  Of course not.  Lowering taxes is a tool that can be (and is) used to juice a slumping economy.  It's a tool that can encourage or discourage certain behaviors.  For the very wealthy people who started this anti-tax campaign, racism was a necessary tool but not necessarily a belief. I'd point out, though, that being so greedy that you're willing to enflame racial animosities for your personal financial gain is probably worse than not wanting your taxes to go to racial minorities.

I'd put the question to Chait this way: "Do you think that very wealthy people would have been so successful in restoring wealth disparity to 1920's levels if they hadn't had a party out there telling white people that their taxes were going to welfare queens?  If so, how would they have convinced a majority of the people to go along with it?"  

What's disturbing to Chait is that he sees the left as making a tautological argument in which everything conservative is racist because of racism.  And, he's right that you can go too far with that kind of analysis, particularly when you are ascribing feelings and motives to individuals rather than explaining political strategies and movements.  Chait gets to the core of his argument here:

One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life, a lesson that has been driven home over decades by everybody from Jimmy the Greek to Paula Deen. This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.

Can we begin our response by asking Chait (since he didn't mention it) to stipulate that questioning the legitimacy of the president's birth certificate is not within the scope of "legitimate opposition" to the president's policies?  

Yet, I get his point.  You can't explain every conservative belief by reference to racism.  At some point, you have to debate things on their merits.  The problem is that Chait is concerned about the wrong thing.  He is concerned that liberals are too quick to lob accusations of racism around, but the bigger problem is that the Republican Establishment has lost control of the beast they created to get these historically low tax rates.

When Wall Street bankers and the Chamber of Commerce and the evangelical community and agricultural industry, collectively, can't outweigh the racists in the Republican Party and pass comprehensive immigration reform, you've reached the point where there isn't anything left to prove.    

Discuss

[Originally in green]

The following excerpt raises so many issues:

As senators in 2005, Obama and Biden publicly defended the filibuster and the requirement of a supermajority to change Senate rules.

[Sen. John] McCain denounced any effort to change the rules unless there is a broad supermajority supporting the move. “We will destroy the very fabric of the United States Senate and that is that it requires a larger than numerical majority in order to govern,” he said.

First and foremost, what John McCain is saying is both correct and incorrect.  When we talk about getting rid of the filibuster, whether for nominees or for everything, we are talking about doing something truly extraordinary, which is changing the rules of the Senate in the middle of a Congress, with a mere majority of votes.  The potential consequences are so explosive that it has been aptly described as the "nuclear option." Changing the rules in this way would set a precedent that would allow a majority in the Senate to change the rules as they go along to suit their needs, and it could result in all manner of mischief and discord.  

Yet, the rest of McCain's brief argument is dubious and misleading.  For starters, the "very fabric" of the Senate is being destroyed, but it isn't being destroyed by the Democrats.  To see what I mean, go back to February 1st, 2001.  That was the day that former Senator John Ashcroft was confirmed as the U.S. Attorney General by a 58-42 majority.  At the time, the Senate was split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, which meant that Vice-President Dick Cheney split ties and gave the Republicans a technical majority.  John Ashcroft had just lost his reelection bid to Mel Carnahan, who had actually died shortly before the election in a plane crash.  Ashcroft was a divisive and controversial social conservative who the Senate Democrats had been glad to be rid of, and they were very unhappy to see him appointed to head the Justice Department.  Nonetheless, no Democrat raised an objection to having a debate and a vote on his confirmation.  In the end, eight Democrats (including liberal Russ Feingold) voted for Ashcroft's confirmation, while 42 Democrats voted against it.  Those 42 Democrats were signaling their displeasure, but each and every one of them could have stopped the nomination in its tracks by raising an objection that would have required 60 votes to overcome.  None of them did that.  

Compare that to what the Republicans are doing today.  They are requiring 60 votes for virtually all of the president's nominees, even ones that they overwhelmingly support.  In many cases, they don't object to the nominee but they just don't want the position filled.  That's the case with three vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals:

“The court is currently comprised of four active judges appointed by Republican presidents and four active judges appointed by Democrat presidents. There is no reason to upset the current makeup of the court, particularly when the reason for doing so appears to be ideologically driven,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said during floor debate.

The Republicans held up Richard Cordray's nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more than a year just because they opposed the very existence of the agency.  

Then there is the case of Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), who was just denied a debate and a vote over his nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  Rep. Watt, who happens to be an African-American, has seniority on the House Financial Services Committee that oversees the agency.  But the Republicans don't want a Democrat to oversee the agency, so they are arguing that Watt is unqualified.

In a floor speech before the vote, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that Watt’s lack of experience in the industry represented the sort of “extraordinary circumstance” that he was thinking of in 2005 when he first helped defuse a showdown over presidential nominations.

The Senate hadn't denied a confirmation vote to a sitting member of Congress since the 19th-Century, and that was really a dispute about slavery.  The optics of filibustering a black congressman, while calling him unqualified despite his years of experience working on financial issues, are so toxic that it is astounding that the Republicans were willing to take the hit.  

As should be clear, this isn't part of the historical "fabric" of the Senate.  This is a major aberration.  

But, you might object, back in 2005, Sens. Obama and Biden defended the Democrats' right to filibuster objectionable judges and defended the precedent that the rules could only be changed with supermajorities.  That's true, but things have changed.

First of all, we should distinguish between nominations to serve in the administration, which are basically term-limited, and nominations to the federal courts, which are generally lifetime appointments.  As you saw with the Ashcroft confirmation vote, the Democrats were willing to vote in protest against certain administration appointments, but they didn't block them or even require 60 votes for their confirmation.  They could have done that, but they just didn't.  

Secondly, when the Democrats did filibuster some of Bush's judicial nominations, they did so because they objected to something in those nominees' records.  They did not argue that no one, no matter how qualified and moderate, should fill those seats on the bench.  They wanted different nominees, not no nominees at all.  

So, the two things that have changed are that the Republicans are now requiring 60 votes for virtually all nominees, and they now using this nullification by filibuster to deny votes without any regard for the qualifications of the nominees.  In the latter case, they are deliberately keeping offices vacant just because they don't like the offices.  This is why you cannot accurately accuse Obama and Biden of hypocrisy, because you are comparing apples to oranges.  

Nonetheless, when John McCain says that the "very fabric" of the Senate is dependent on the idea that it "requires a larger than numerical majority in order to govern," he is correct.  Without that structure, the Senate would just be a smaller, less representative, version of the House of Representatives.  It would be redundant in most ways.  But the structure of the Senate, until very recently, has never required "more than a majority" to govern on most things.  That 60 vote requirement had been reserved for only the most contentious and divisive issues.  Yet, at this point, the Senate cannot even confirm non-controversial nominees, nor can it pass routine appropriations bills.  And it must be beaten and kicked to even agree to protect the nation's credit rating by paying our bills on time.

The structure of the Senate has been broken, and it has been broken by the Republicans' obstruction.  The rules are therefore no longer working and we have no compelling reason to preserve them.  Unfortunately, if the Republicans will not relent, the filibuster will have to go.  

Discuss

[Originally in green]

Jonathan Bernstein is correct that you can tell who the target audience for an opinion piece is by looking for the "to-be-sure" paragraph.  The "to-be-sure" paragraph is intended to anticipate, confront, and cut-off likely criticisms of your argument from people who are generally on your side of the political spectrum.  It is usually used to solidify your credentials as a solid liberal or conservative, depending on your intended audience.  

Example: "To be sure, I'm all for single-payer health care, but ObamaCare isn't too shabby."

Example: "To be sure, ObamaCare is a complete disaster, but now is not the time to shut down the government over it."  

Mr. Bernstein is also correct that pandering to the Tea Party with the latter of those two examples is not going to be effective, and what is really needed is direct confrontation of their bullshit.  The way to treat Tea Partiers is the way you would treat a drug addict. Realize that you didn't cause their craziness, you can't cure their craziness, and you can't control their craziness.  All you can do is establish that you have zero-tolerance for their bullshit and lay out consequences for them if they keep mainlining excrement.  And then you need to get out of their way and let them figure things out for themselves.  

Judd Gregg thinks that he can talk sense to these addicts if he grants them half their insanity.  That's like telling a junkie that it's okay for him to abuse alcohol as long as he stays away from the smack.  That won't work.  These people need some tough love and a 12-step program.  

Their brains have been marinated in weaponized bullshit for so long that they don't know how to function without it.  They can't be reasoned with until they've been right-wing media-free for at least 90 days.  They probably need an inpatient treatment program that has no televisions or radios, and no email, either.  

You can't shame them.  Begging won't work. Anger won't work.  Negotiating won't work. Guilt won't work. Fear won't work. Pretending you're their best friend won't work. You might as well stop being in denial about it and realize that only forcing them to own up to their problem is going to get them to begin on the road of recovery.  

Discuss

Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 02:08 PM PST

John Boehner and the Sequester

by BooMan23

[Also available in green]

If you've been following the debate over the impending "sequester," you have probably seen liberals quoting Speaker Boehner saying that he got 98 percent of what he wanted in the deal that created it.  What you might not have noticed is that Boehner made that remark in an August 1st, 2011 interview with CBS News reporter Scott Pelley, who had just asked him the following question:


SCOTT PELLEY: You were unable to get your own caucus behind your bill a few days ago. Do you intend to remain Speaker of the House?

In other words, what Boehner was really saying was "Why would I quit?  I just got a sweet deal!"  

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Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 09:22 AM PST

Marco Rubio is Being Groomed for 2016

by BooMan23

[Also available in green]

Something I noticed in January, when Marco Rubio unfurled his support for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, was that many voices on the right who vehemently oppose "amnesty" (as they insist on calling it) were extremely reticent about criticizing him.  Reading Beth Reinhard's piece in the National Journal helps to explain why.  There is a widespread feeling on the right that Marco Rubio is going to run for president in 2016 and that he will be the nominee.  For the most part, this is something that is hoped for across a pretty wide spectrum of the Republican Party.  

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Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 08:21 PM PST

The Wilderness

by BooMan23

[Also available in green]

That the Republican Party is demonstrating fractured views on foreign policy is only one small part of a much greater state of generalized disarray.  The most obvious problem is that they have no leader.  Not only is there no prospect of past leaders like Dick Cheney, John McCain, Sarah Palin, or Mitt Romney making some kind of comeback, there is no one like Ronald Reagan or Poppy Bush waiting in the wings to take the reins of the party and lead it in a new direction.  

Of course, we can find people who might plausibly pick up the banner, step into the breach, and rally the troops (and someone can always come from nowhere), but it is becoming increasingly hard to see much promise in the usual suspects.  Chris Christie always had the problem that he is morbidly obese, but he's discovered that the secret to immense popularity is not to compete to make the most unhinged comment about the president but to wrap his arms around him and thank him for coming to his state's aid.  Bashing the Republicans in Congress doesn't hurt, either, but it doesn't carve out much of a future in any prospective primary season.  

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Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 08:39 PM PDT

Lying Romney in Couplets

by BooMan23

[Also available in green]

Let's do a little exercise.  I am going to provide you with some couplets.  They are things Mitt Romney said at different times about the same subject.  And I want you to try to explain to me how they do not contradict each other.  Ready?  Here goes.

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[The author is a consultant for Democracy for America]

If my readers will indulge me for a moment, I want to talk briefly about something local.  I live in Pennsylvania's Sixth District.  My congressman is Rep. Jim Gerlach and,  as I recently detailed here and here, he is useless.  I interviewed his Democratic opponent, Dr. Manan Trivedi, back in May 2010, and he's an excellent person, a strong well-financed candidate, and a proud progressive who has been endorsed by Howard Dean and Democracy for America.  

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[Originally posted at Booman Tribune]

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district had about the most inauspicious beginning to his term that can possibly be imagined.  He literally failed to show up for the swearing-in ceremony because he was at a fundraiser with National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas.  Both of them then proceeded to cast votes and conduct other House business illegally and in violation of the Constitution.  Congress actually had to nullify two of their votes.  This, of course, brought great shame to the people of Bucks and Montgomery counties he was elected to represent.

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You don't wait until you have been in a car accident to purchase car insurance; you don't wait until your house has been flooded to buy flood insurance, and you don't wait until your home is ablaze to buy fire insurance.  That is not how insurance works.  And it most certainly is not how health insurance should work.  That's why we have Medicare.  Medicare is a program designed primarily for people who are 65 years old or older, most of whom are either retired or working part-time.  Their income has gone down at the precise time that their health risks are beginning to skyrocket.  These people often don't have the extra money lying around that they need to pay for either insurance or for prescription drugs and other care.  The insurance companies are not interested in insuring the health of the elderly, and if they do offer a plan, it's going to be astronomically expensive.  It's easy to see why.  Someone who needs dialysis at 70 may have paid their insurance company for fifty years by the time they need to make a claim.  But someone who has only been a customer since they turned 65 will use up all the money they paid in after only a few treatments.  It isn't profitable to insure old people at any reasonably affordable rate.  

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