As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, August 07, 2009

Krugman, Dubois, and the "psychic wage" of being white.

(cross-posted from my DailyKos piece from today.)

It has been said many times before, and I'm sure it'll be said many times again. But if you only read one thing today, make sure it's today's NYT column by Paul Krugman.

For in today's column, Krugman merely goes to a place where no other traditional media figure has gone: namely, the only thing that makes sense. While other media figures are comparing the violence provoked by the Astroturfed radical right to previous contentious policy debates--such as that over Hillarycare in 1993, or over Social Security in 2005--Krugman just lays out the simple facts:

That dog won't hunt, and it's time to hunt for the real cause: the color of our President's skin.

There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind...

Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison.

Why isn't there any comparison? Krugman's argument in breathtakingly simple: there was no violence. No physical assaults on elected representatives. No swastikas. No devil caricatures. No lynchings in effigy. Rather, we had policy debates. Bush thought his political capital was strong enough to touch the third rail. And the ensuing discourse wasn't always polite--but you never had members of Congress fearing for their life.

It's obvious that there's something different going on here--that the right wing is ablaze with passion in a way we have not seen in a long time. So inflamed, as a matter of fact, that they are willing to resort to lunatic conspiracy theories to try to disprove Obama's eligibility to hold office. What's up with that?

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing...

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship....

And what is that driving force? The Southern Strategy, of course. Opposition to Obama based on the color of his skin.

But if you're like me, you end up wondering: how can the fact that our President is only half-white inspire so much blood-boiling hatred? So much that powerful moneyed interests can use that outrage to once again get regular people to seriously obey talking points about forced euthanasia? I mean, come on! How is that possible? Are these dead-enders really so racist that they believe a black Democrat will try to get euthanasia of the elderly written into law, but a white Democrat wouldn't?

No--because it's really not about that. I'd like you to go back and read TomP's recommended diary from yesterday about this subject. TomP's thesis was that the outrage that is being felt all across the country by this berserk minority represents the death throes of racism. I understand his general point, and it is one echoed in Paul Krugman's column--white racists are an increasingly small sliver of the electoral pie, which is what allowed Obama to get into office in the first place.

But I disagree mildly with TomP--it's not really the racism that's dying. As bloggers and as thinkers, we always, to use Newton's phrase, stand on the shoulders of giants when it comes to writing our ideas--and here, the shoulders I'm standing on are those of my fellow Calitics blogger Robert Cruickshank, whom you know around these parts as eugene.

It started, as so much does, with a simple tweet:

@DavidOAtkins DuBois had it figured out 75 years ago: Poor/middle class whites draw a psychic wage from being white.

(DavidOAtkins, by the way, is my brother and the preeminent thereisnospoon).

In the span of less than 140 characters, Robert Cruickshank has spelled out the emotional raison d'etre of the birthbagger movement. Put quite simply: W.E.B. DuBois, author of some of the standard readings in American History class about reconstruction and race relations in the United States, wrote about the "psychic wage" that racist white people derive simply from being white: a feeling of supremacy and moral superiority. Put in a more modern context, this "psychic wage" is what allows white birthbaggers on Medicare to scream about government-run healthcare. It's what allows the citizens of Alaska to scream about inner-city welfare. The "psychic wage" of being white stipulates that because they are white, they are superior in station and there is no moral problem with them receiving services--a paradox brilliantly explored by my brother shortly after election day. (Incidentally, this same concept of the "psychic wage" is a large factor in why bigots claim that same-sex marriage will destroy straight marriage: it's all about the psychic wage of being superior because one's heterosexuality.)

One of the key pillars of the so-called psychic wage has been, simply put, that the highest office-holders in the land were white, and nobody but whites stood a shot in hell at winning it--especially when it came to the highest office in the land, the Presidency of the United States.

And now that the Presidency is not an exclusive club for those of purely European heritage, the key pillar of the racial psychic wage has crumbled to dust.

So I want you to imagine a scenario. Imagine you've gone through your entire life believing you're superior. You're better than everyone else. You belong to an exclusive club. It's the root of your self-identity--and despite whatever is going on around you, you know that whatever else happens, you're still a member of the club that gives you a status higher than anyone else but your fellow members. And then one day, that club is gone. Imagine the angst. The fear. The passion and energy. You'll do whatever it takes to try to reconstitute that club--no matter how crazy it is to any outsider, and you'll oppose the people who took your membership away, no matter what it is that they're doing, just because of what they did to you.

That's what this is about. And I'd like to close with some stern words of warning from the piece that started this: Paul Krugman's column.

But right now Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

And if Mr. Obama can’t recapture some of the passion of 2008, can’t inspire his supporters to stand up and be heard, health care reform may well fail.

So show up, dammit. This movement rests on us.

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Vote for D-Day in CREDO's state blogger poll

From an email from CREDO mobile:

CREDO Mobile and Netroots Nation are teaming up this year on the Blogger Awards program, under which three deserving bloggers will win a BlackBerry Curve smartphone and one year's unlimited service from CREDO. ...

Here's how it works. We'll be awarding one prize in each of three categories -- best national, state or local, and activist bloggers. Between now and 10 AM EDT August 15, you're invited to text in your votes to 27336 (that spells CREDO) in the following format: keyword
bloggername. Examples:

- National nolantreadway
- state david dayen
- activist maryrickles

So what do you need to do? Sent a text message to 27336 that says:

state david dayen

Help the hardest-working blogger in California win an award for his work.



Thursday, August 06, 2009

Is the media turning against the right-wing astroturf mob?

First, I wanted to thank my good friend dday for giving me a guest gig on his site during his marital-bliss-induced absence, and join all of you in giving him my best wishes for married life.

With all due felicitations out of the way--to business.

It seems, finally, that after much harassment of Congressional Democrats trying to engage voters in healthcare town halls (see: Lloyd Doggett of Texas, an anonymous freshman physically assaulted, death threats against Congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina, and any other similar incident that has been written about or caught on video lately), it seems that the intentional astroturf strategy of disruption, "rattling" and artificial numbers inflation just might be wearing thin with people and journalists who actually think that there's some value to the Democratic process of actually having constituents be able to ask questions of their Representatives.

Even in more conservative papers.

I submit as evidence yesterday's coverage in the Napa Valley Register (California wine country):

Monday night’s health care forum in Napa grew unruly and wild, with some critics of the current health care proposals seeking to derail the event, harming their cause and nearly destroying a meaningful forum on a critical topic for Napa and the nation.

The display was unwelcome — and unsuccessful if it was meant to move health care reform supporters toward considering the concerns of the critics. Several callers to the Register on Tuesday reported they were repulsed by the aggressive tactics of some members of the crowd.
To the degree the catcalls, chants and shouts were organized — and it appears from events around the country that they were — we strongly suggest that the organizers find more constructive ways to get their message out.


Monday’s event was out of character for Napa County political clashes, even hotly contested ones. In our view, most politically active people here have better sense than to debase the debate that way.

Unbridled anger is not a substitute for intelligent discussion. Catcalls are not replacements for hard questions and criticism.

For health care reform critics or anyone in political life to get their message across effectively, our message is that they should choose a more substantive and respectful approach.

Keep in mind: the Napa Valley Register endorsed McCain. (h/t to Mark Kleiman on that one). The objective of the birthbaggers here was to force Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson underground in the same way that Brad Miller has now been restricted to holding no public town hall events and restricting access to one-on-one constituent meetings--and they have succeeded, to some degree: Rep. Thompson is now going to only hold telephone town halls.

This isn't a policy issue. Everyone has the right to show up and make their opinions known. In fact, I dare say that everyone should have the obligation to stand up and make their opinions known. This isn't about that. This is, instead, a concrete effort to make Democratic members of Congress actively fear for their safety so they will be unable to publicly promote the agenda of reform. This goes far beyond disagreement on issues: this is an overt challenge to the fundamental structure of democracy, which is based on the right to have access to one's Representatives.

Ultimately, of course, the blame for this lies with the leadership of the Conservative movement: Fox News and the entire AM dial. They are speaking to an increasingly shrinking base, but managing to convince that base that the Democratic healthcare plan will result in forced euthanasia--just like they believe that Orly Taitz has the original genuine Kenyan birth certificate, or just like Glenn Beck believes that the Cars for Clunkers program is just a tool to let the feds take over your computer. (Didn't know about that one? It's for real.)

The problem is that an increasingly small minority that is convinced that must fear for its very existence will, as a method of fighting for what it believes is its own survival, become increasingly violent. And if anyone gets hurt in these protests--and God forbid that mean that any elected official gets injured or worse--the blame will lie with those who filled the proverbial passion bucket of the right-wing extremist base to overflowing.

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An Announcement

So I will be away from blogging and the online world for the next week. That's because, in between posts over the last couple years, I met a wonderful girl, and we will be getting married in her hometown of Pittsburgh on Saturday. Somehow she likes the chained-to-the-computer-and-occasionally-unresponsive type. I don't know. But I'm pretty pleased about it.

I know that your main reaction, gentle reader, is "what's in this for me?" Well, I'll tell you. I've lined up a guest poster who you may know from around the blogosphere. Dante Atkins, who posts as hekebolos at Daily Kos and Calitics and everywhere else, will be filling in for me around these parts. Treat him kindly, or with studied indifference, as most of you do me.

After the wedding and a little "mini-moon" (a word I've coined for "shortened honeymoon," how do you like it?), the wife and I will go back to Pittsburgh for the annual gathering, Netroots Nation. So seek me out there and say hello. After all, you'll be on my honeymoon!

By the way, I should again plug the panel discussion I'm running at Netroots Nation on Saturday, August 15 called "California: How Process Creates Crisis," in room 317 at 3:00pm. The panel features myself, Robert Cruickshank of Calitics and the Courage Campaign, Jean Ross of the California Budget Project and AD-21 legislative candidate Kai Stinchcombe. If you're heading to the convention, I hope you can make it.

And that's it for me. Take it away, Dante.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Rest of The (Mid)Week In Review

Why? You'll find out tomorrow, that's why:

• Looks like the Senate has a deal on cash for clunkers to extend it through Labor Day. Good, that's another $10 billion or so circulated into the economy. Good stimulus, good tangential environmental benefit. Everybody wins.

• Looks like the SEC actually wants to do something about high-frequency trading, particularly the technique of "flash orders" which allow traders to legally buy inside information and look at investor orders before they are consummated. There's just nothing useful about that to the wider world other than making investment firms rich. Baseline Scenario has a good look into the subject. Hopefully the SEC regulation won't amount to slaps on the wrist, like that pathetic fine on Bank of America.

• It certainly looks like Stanley McChrystal wants more troops for Afghanistan. I'd rather throw something into an actual sinkhole and not just a figurative one. Russ Feingold has vowed to oppose any increase because the case for more troops has yet to be made. If you want some damning evidence of the mission creep we're engaged in here, read this quote from Rory Stewart:

Since arriving at Harvard in June last year, he has been consultant to several members of Barack Obama’s administration, including Hillary Clinton, and is a member of Richard Holbrooke’s special committee for Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. “I do a lot of work with policymakers, but how much effect am I having?” he asks, pronging a mussel out of its shell.

“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’”

• Rep. Tom Perriello has more information on the astroforging, where letters from local groups asking him to oppose the Waxman-Markey bill were actually forgeries sent by lobbyists. Apparently women's groups and senior groups were spoofed as well. Meanwhile, this peek inside Booner and Associates, the "white-collar sweatshop" responsible for the astroforging, is quite a read.

• Is there an enthusiasm gap in politics right now, with the Republicans more intense and more excited? I think the data isn't totally clear, but to the extent that there is one, it's entirely driven by the sucky economy that still feels like a deep recession to millions upon millions of people. If the economy remains in this lower gear, particularly the employment numbers, by November 2010, the Democrats will take big losses.

• They finally convicted Dollar Bill Jefferson, but curiously, NOT for the count regarding the $95,000 in the freezer. There wasn't enough evidence for that particular count.

• That fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act bill, including LGBT, has finally been introduced in the Senate. We need at least some movement on gay rights this calendar year.

• Chris Matthews lies about polling. There's just such an obsession with balance that journalists have to invent an equivalence between Truthers (a discredited and bipartisan segment of the fringe) and Birthers (accepted by 30-odd percent of the Republican Party).

• This car battery challenge could actually spur some creative innovation. Good use of stimulus funds.

• Adam Liptak has a good rundown of the Obama Administration's deeply troubling use of state secrets to 86 lawsuits. Their stance on this issue has really colored all of their civil liberties and terrorism decisions, even ones like this that may or may not be benign, depending on how you look at it. For sure, it doesn't make me want to defend them from people like Pat Roberts, who is vowing to "shut down the Senate" if Guantanamo prisoners are sent to Leavenworth in his state of Kansas.

• I haven't made my Kenyan birth certificate yet. You?

• Radio Shack's rebranding themselves "The Shack", prompting a copyright lawsuit from Shaquille O'Neal and Love Shack writer Fred Schneider of the B-52s.



The Actual Business Of Health Care

The teabag rallies are theater, but some actual substance has made its way into the health care debate this week.

First of all, the President has openly considered a partisan process to pass health care reform.

President Obama urged Democratic senators on Tuesday to persevere in trying to get a bipartisan deal on health care, but left open the possibility that they might have to pass a bill with only Democratic votes if Republicans stood in the way.

At lunch with Democrats at the White House, Mr. Obama vowed to respond to Republican attacks on his plan, which aims to guarantee insurance for all Americans while slowing the explosive growth of health costs.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said there was “absolute unity” among members of the normally fractious Democratic conference.

“Everyone recognizes that we are going to do, if there’s any way humanly possible, a bipartisan bill,” Mr. Reid said. “We don’t want to do a partisan bill, and we hope our Republican colleagues acknowledge that. We’ll continue to work with them as long as we have to.”

I take the nods toward bipartisanship is simply what you say. The news here is Obama suggesting they must not be an obstacle. And frankly, it's about time. Chuck Grassley today actually referenced Ted Kennedy's brain tumor to try and whip up a fear of rationing. And he's one of the Republicans in the midst of bipartisan talks! They are simply not bargaining in good faith.

In an interview today with Chuck Todd, Obama reinforced the deadline for those talks in the Senate Finance Committee.

"I am glad that in the Senate Finance Committee, there have been a couple of Republicans--Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, Olympia Snowe--who have been willing to negotiate with Democrats to try to produce a bill. But they haven't yet. And I think at some point, sometime in September, we're just going to have to make an assessment."

He says he'd "prefer" a bipartisan process. And I'd prefer dinner every night at Nobu. But I can't get that. So I eat what I can get. Obama's saying the same thing. I think everyone's ready to go to war on this. And you will see arm-twisting to end cloture like you wouldn't imagine.

Meanwhile, Jay Rockefeller is doing a good job savaging the Finance Committee talks, talks which he has been shut out of even though he chairs the Health Subcommittee on the panel. Rockefeller's tough talk will push the debate in that committee to the left, just as liberals in the House are pushing Nancy Pelosi and the leadership to the left and drawing a line on the public option. And the September deadline enforces the whole process, telling Republicans like Grassley they can either have input or watch a bill get passed without them.

That's the theory, anyway, we'll see how it works in practice.

Couple other things. Health Care for America Now has a good report personalizing the health care debate and explaining what reform will bring for every type of family. And the White House has apparently secured a win in the all-important budget nerd battle:

The White House scored a point today in its ongoing battle to convince establishment Washington that health-care reform will succeed at cutting costs even as it expands coverage. The White House and budget director Peter Orszag, as well as the House Blue Dogs, are very bullish about allowing an independent board to pursue cost-cutting measures in Medicare. But when CBO scored the measure to determine if it would be succesful, they produced a very lukewarm estimate. Today, though, a group of health-care experts sent a letter [PDF] to Obama arguing that IMAC, the independent cost-cutting board, would be very effective if done right -- and nine of the signatories are members of the CBO's Panel of Health Advisers, nearly half the membership. It's a good sign for the White House, and will help push the message that, while CBO's scores are important, the assumptions made in that office are not carved in concrete.

The CBO simply should not be the final arbiter on questions that are really outside their purview.

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Death Threats

They are a fact of life in the hand-to-hand combat of the highly charged and polarized political blogosphere, sadly (it's never happened to me, though someone did publish my address once), but threatening the life of a public official takes it up a notch.

Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) will not be hosting any town hall events this August -- instead, he's making himself available to constituents for one-on-one meetings about health care reform -- and at least part of the reason is this: His offices have received threatening phone calls, including at least one direct threat against his life.

"We had no town hall events scheduled for the August recess anyway, but in light of everything that's happened -- we have received a threatening phone call in the D.C. office, there have been calls to the Raleigh office," said Miller communications director LuAnn Canipe, in an interview with TPM. The threatening call in question happened earlier this week.

"The call to the D.C. office was, 'Miller could lose his life over this,'" said Canipe. "Our staffer took it so seriously, he confirmed what the guy was saying. He said, 'Sir is that a threat?' and at that time our staffer was getting the phone number off caller ID and turning it over to the Capitol Police."

Will Republicans distance themselves from open calls for violence from a hyped-up, lobbyist-activated rank and file?

...just to add the other element to this, the corporate underwriting, here's a health industry CEO asking his employees to email their members of Congress opposing reform.

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CA-10: An Interview With Lt. Gov. John Garamendi

John Garamendi has been seeking votes in California for well over 30 years. He first took a run for the Governor's mansion in 1982, and was set to do so again in 2010 until the seat in CA-10 opened up, and he was inspired to return to Washington, where he served in the Clinton Administration in the Department of the Interior. He has the most diverse record of anybody in the race, with stints at the federal level, the state legislature, and in two statewide offices, as the Insurance Commissioner and now Lieutenant Governor. In our interview, we discussed health care, lessons learned from regulating insurance, No Child Left Behind, saving the NUMMI plant in Fremont (more on that from Garamendi here), and foreign policy in Iran. I found Garamendi to come at issues in a very comprehensive and thoughtful way, and you can see this for yourself below. A paraphrased transcript follows.

DD: Thanks for talking with me today.

John Garamendi: My pleasure.

DD: So how's it going out there on the campaign trail?

JG: It's going very well. Every day, I feel we're moving along well. You have everything being done that is normally done in these campaigns. We have a strong volunteer grassroots organization committed to getting out the vote. Phonebanking has started, we've hit about 30-40 thousand homes. We're walking in different communities. We just had a meeting in Rossmore, with 300 people turning out. So I think it's going very well.

DD: Your last several campaigns have been statewide, with district-level campaigning being more retail, how are you finding it?

JG: To me, it's exactly the same, only it's done in a smaller area. I've always believed strongly in retail politics. The only difference is that after the event's over, I don't have to get on a Southwest Airlines plane. We did an African-American church out in Fairfield over the weekend, same as any African-American church in Southern California or anywhere else. It's just easier for travel.

DD: OK, let's hit some issues. First off, health care. August is this time where everyone's making their feelings known about health care in their districts. What are you hearing in yours?

JG: I am hearing a strong element for single payer, or Medicare for All. As you may know, I've led that debate in this state for many, many years. I've always found it the most efficient, most cost-effective way you can possibly do this. Just send your premiums to the Medicare office.

So I hear a lot of individuals trending in that direction. And some of the unions, the California Nurses Association, are also trending in that direction. There is also a concern about the complexity of the legislation moving through Congress. And people want to see at the very least a public option to compete with the insurance companies. Also, with a lot of seniors, the drug issues concern them, both with fixing some of the issues with Medicare Part D and also maintaining what they like about Medicare. So that's the range.

DD: Would you vote for any bill that didn't have at the least a public option that's available from day one, without a trigger?

JG: Well, I've always been a strong voice for Medicare for All. The fallback position is the public option. That's already a compromise. And so the legislation had to have a public option, I can't go any further away from that. The other thing I want to express is that I understand insurance reform, which is a lot of this bill. I was the main regulator for insurance companies in the largest state in the union. So I bring a set of knowledge to this debate that not only doesn't exist among my competitors, but doesn't exist in Congress.

DD: Let's talk about that. Right now, insurance companies are regulated in the states, and so the regulations vary from one place to the next, and can be corrupted by local interests. Do you support a federal role in insurance regulation?

JG: This is something that we have to figure out with insurance reform and with respect to financial regulation. The regulatory mechanisms need some clarity. It simply won't work to write a law saying to the insurance companies, "Take all comers." They will not do it. So you need a police force. Someone to enforce that law. Will that be federal, or based where it is now, at the state level? That's the kind of detail that must be worked out. I mean, we've had auto insurance here in California that's supposed to take all comers, and they find numerous ways to avoid that. And of course, this is why I support Medicare for All. You don't have to worry about any of that. But as long as we're going with health insurance reform, I can add something to that process.

DD: What are the pluses and minuses of putting this in the hands of the Feds?

JG: If it's a federal process, you'd have to set up a massive new federal bureaucracy. In the positive sense. But you have to have a police force, because otherwise, the insurers won't do it. That's a major, expensive undertaking for the federal government. There's an advantage to the existing mechanism in that it already exists, like with Medicare or Medicaid. However, you mentioned some of the problems with how the regulation changes depending on the state. So both options have shortcomings. Either way, if we have a bill based on insurance reform, it has to be dealt with. And I've been dealing with these companies for eight years of my life. I know how to do this.

DD: Medicare for All will apparently get a vote now. Is that helpful?

JG: It's enormously helpful. It got pushed to the side of the debate for too long. Medicare provides about 60% of the care in dollar terms already in this country, and it's very popular. If you bring the rest of the population in, on a per-person basis, the cost would decline dramatically. The money in the private system is good enough to get this done and cover everybody. And the other important thing is that Medicare allows individual choice of provider. Whatever doctor you like, you can keep them. Of course, we know that private insurance restricts your choice of doctor. So this is the big lie in this debate, the idea that Medicare would have government telling you what doctor to pick. That's what happens right now.

DD: Let's move on. I noticed on your website you took a lot of time talking about the need to rebuild manufacturing. We're seeing this cash for clunkers program becoming very successful as an economic stimulus for the auto industry. Is that the kind of incentive-based programs that we can use to bring back manufacturing to America?

JG: Not exactly. The auto industry is not central, but it is important. That's why I'm trying to save the NUMMI plant. 1,200 businesses are direct suppliers to NUMMI. The auto supply industry is one of the largest in America. So cash for clunkers will help NUMMI. But what I'm talking about with respect to manufacturing is an economic theory that I developed in the 1980s. Basically, I figured that you need certain things to maintain the ability to lead as an economic power. You need a world-class education system and a commitment to research and development. Through both of those, you can create new things, with a high profit margin, whatever those things are, but new innovations that people find valuable. Eventually, those new things become a commodity, and once that happens, like all commodities, it seeks the lowest-wage place to be made. So those things get pushed off, and you have to create more new things, to keep feeding that engine. So that's what I'm talking about, high-end manufacturing.

DD: Couldn't the NUMMI plant be retooled to serve as a place to manufacture those new things, be they innovations in solar or wind technology or new batteries?

JG: Well, we tried this a few years back. I endorsed a bill in the legislature to provide a specific exemption for sales tax on manufacturing equipment to retool the NUMMI plant for hybrid vehicles. And that probably would have been enough to keep NUMMI open. But it didn't pass. Right now, what we're doing is putting together a package for NUMMI of incentives that will hopefully keep them in California. But it's more complex than that. This is like a divorce. You have GM and Toyota fighting over who owns what widget on the line. So there are legal issues in play now. I think we can get it done, because that's a very efficient plant, one of the most efficient in the country. But we have to manage this divorce.

DD: Education is another issue you talk about a lot. The Department of Education just put out this Race to the Top program to offer money to the states with good outcomes, but they are restricting the funds to states which incorporate student testing into teacher evaluations, and because California doesn't do that, they don't qualify. What are your thoughts on that, and this larger divide between education reformers and groups resisting their reforms?

JG: My question about it is basically, what is the equation between the test and teacher evaluations? Are we talking about just the test score? In that case, do I get to choose the students? Because the students and their backgrounds are a contributing factor to their performance. So it's a complex equation. There's a socioeconomic element to it. And it's very difficult to do to take everything into account. I don't think that testing should be the sole measure of a teacher evaluation. There are multiple factors. My daughter's a kindergarten teacher, and this year she got to school and there were a lot more kids in her class. So is that a factor? I think we need to evaluate teachers, but we must be fair.

DD: Do you support a reform like paying teachers more to go into poor-performing inner city areas?

JG: I've always supported reforms like that. I put up a bill in the 1980s to pay more to math and science teachers, to make sure we were attracting the best of them. And I support sending good teachers into the inner city. We have to pay our teachers better if we want to get the best outcomes.

DD: We are having such a tough time in California, what can the federal government do to alleviate some of the burden here where we are destroying our social safety net during a deep recession?

JG: Well, just to go back to education, one thing the federal government can do is fix No Child Left Behind. It was a great concept, but not good in detail. The reauthorization is coming up, and the Feds had better fund it. You can't place a burden like that on the states and expect them to deliver. So funding, and some reform of the law, has to get done. I don't think testing should be the only evaluation of students. There's a place for it, but we're building a nation of robots by teaching to the test. I have significant concerns about No Child Left Behind that need to be addressed.

DD: What about beyond that. Would you support a second stimulus focused on the states?

JG: I don't know whether there will be a second stimulus. But the problem is pretty elemental. California is the 7th, 8th-wealthiest place on Earth. We have made a decision, and it was a decision, not to invest in education. We have plenty of money to fund it, but we made the decision not to. The leadership has refused to use that wealth in the greatest resource we have, and that's our education system. It's clear to me that the federal government cannot substitute for the effort that California must make for themselves. We need investment, coupled with serious reform, to break the gridlock. Voting to tax students by raising college rates is just insanity. And the regents and trustees refused to support legislation for an oil severance tax to fund higher education. I brought it to them, and they wouldn't support it. We are the only oil producing state with no tax on the natural resources coming out of our ground. The oil companies have been able to take it for free for over a century. It's madness.

So the federal government cannot substitute for California. But I'll fight to bring money back to the state. First by funding No Child Left Behind. And also, there's the issue of medical services. The formula for state participation in Medicaid in California is 50-50, an even split between the Feds and the state. In other big states, that ratio is different. In Illinois, New York, it's more like 60-40, 70-30. Getting a better split in that formula represents a huge amount of money for California. And there are numerous formulas like that. So experience counts in understanding all that.

DD: OK, final question. On your website, I noticed very strong language supporting Israel, and also warning Iran not to continue with their alleged nuclear program. And you advocate for stopping shipments of refined oil to Iran if they refuse to cooperate. Now, I'm assuming that was written before the most recent uprising.

JG: It was, yes.

DD: Do you still believe, given the events over there, that it's a good idea to stop refined oil shipments, when it may hurt not the regime, but the very people in the streets who are resisting it?

JG: There's no doubt that the effect of an embargo would hit the economy and the people. That's what it's designed to do. I've thought long and hard about this, after watching the events take place, and I still believe in the concept. What you have over there is the current government's legitimacy being questioned. Does that mean they are more willing to negotiate on the nuclear program, to bring something tangible to the people? We don't know. So I think you have to pull together the interested groups, and that's Europe, and Russia, Pakistan, the Arab states, they might be more interested than us. And you create a larger coalition to change the behavior of the government. The uprising actually helps in that regard. And like in any negotiation, you have to have a big stick. So I would not drop the embargo possibility. And again, all of this is down the road a piece. Now another big stick would be bombing their facilities, and I think there are some unadvisable consequences to that. So I'd rather use the other stick.

DD: Thanks so much for talking to me today.

JG: Thank you.

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Spitting Out The Mouthpiece

Where oh where will I get my weekly dose of horrendously bad comedy now?

The Washington Post has brought down the curtain on "Mouthpiece Theater."

Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli killed the satirical video series Wednesday after harsh criticism of a joke about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which had prompted him to pull the latest episode from the paper's Web site Friday night. The Post staffers who appeared in the videos, Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza, agreed with the decision and apologized in separate interviews.

"I don't think the series worked as they intended," Brauchli said. "It was meant to be funny and insightful and translate the superb journalism Chris and Dana do in print and online into a new format."

"Mouthpiece Theater" was designed as a sendup of pompous punditry, with Milbank, the paper's Washington Sketch columnist, and Cillizza, a White House correspondent who writes The Fix blog, appearing with oversized pipes and smoking jackets.

Um, it wasn't a sendup of anything. It was exactly what it looked like - bitchy, self-regarding gossip from two inside-the-Beltway Villagers who accurately translated their feelings of entitlement into video form. They weren't sending up pompous punditry, they were EXHIBITING it.

By the way, you'll be excited to know that Brauchli praised Milbank and Cillizza effusively and welcomed them back to work on their regular assignments of spouting conventional wisdom and producing Mean Girl low-rent Maureen Dowd ripoffs (which is quite a feat).

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Thug Life

For all the conservatives trying to make some equivalence between Code Pink ralliers and lobbyist-supported teabagger groups on their side, please let me know the instances of left-wing protesters physically assaulting politicians:

As lobbyist-run groups encourage conservative activists to “rattle” members of Congress at local town hall events, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), the president of the freshman Democratic class has revealed that “at least one freshman Democrat” has already been “physically assaulted at a local event” by right-wing activists. Connolly warned that conservative groups had taken things to a “dangerous level“:

“When you look at the fervor of some of these people who are all being whipped up by the right-wing talking heads on Fox, to me, you’re crossing a line,’ Connolly said. ‘They’re inciting people to riot with just total distortions of facts. They think we’re going to euthanize Grandma and the government is going to take over.”

I think Harold Meyerson has this right. We've become a Filibuster Nation, with the minority reduced to shouting down the majority, using procedural tricks and rage and in some cases violence to veto the popular will.

Health Care for America Now has a memo on how to counteract the right at these rallies. There are probably a range of options. Invoking the Larouchies would be a start. Just getting the teabaggers on camera spouting their inanities is probably enough for them to embarrass themselves. But shutting up a mob that has shown a propensity for physical assault is probably not going to be handled with reasonable techniques. I'm thinking back to my days as a comic, when I was heckled. I actually enjoyed hecklers, it meant people were paying attention, for one thing. And I found two techniques to be successful:

1) Go meta - you cannot just plow ahead with your presentation. You have to comment on what's happening in the room. And making clear what's happening, essentially speaking for those in the room who aren't shouting, gets that segment of the room on your side. Saying things like "this is a coordinated effort by people funded and directed by Washington lobbyists to deny 47 million people health care" is a start. "Where are you from?" is another.

2) You have a microphone and they don't: use it - people on the fence generally go with the side that they feel has the upper hand. A microphone can be a powerful tool to talk over, above, and through a heckler. It can also be wielded for shaming them, although a politician probably has to do this tactfully.

There probably aren't a lot of former comics among the Congress outside of Al Franken, but they should maybe take some advice from him. I mean, these people at the town halls aren't even belligerent drunks! They will, however, try to beat you up after the show, just like regular hecklers.

...TPM has a live news wire of events happening on the ground, which may be useful.

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The Reaction: Tough On Crime Robots Cannot Come To Terms With Reality

The federal ruling to reduce the prison population by over 40,000 is the result of a years-long, if not decades-long process, where the failed leaders run amok in Sacramento have let the corrections system grow completely out of control, preferring to warehouse prisoners into modified Public Storage units instead of embarking on same, smart policies that would save us money and make us safer. In response to this damaging comment on the state's failure, the political leadership has... signed up for more failure:

Attorney General Jerry Brown said in an interview that the order is probably not appealable, but eventually the state will have to consider going directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, marking the first time the high court would face such a case.

"I think the Supreme Court would see it differently," Brown said.

State officials said the proper solution is for the governor and legislators to work out a reduction plan as funding becomes available. The state should not be forced to function under the hammer of a federal court order, they said.

"We just don't agree that the federal courts should be ordering us to take these steps," said Matthew Cate, secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

How dare the federal courts order anyone around to respect Constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment! Who the hell do they think they are, a co-equal branch of government?

What's so interesting about this is how abnormal it is. Federal courts grant a significant amount of leeway to the states to manage affairs. But when a state consistently and deliberately violates Constitutional rights without letup, they must act. And that's been true for a long time.

California's archipelago of 33 prisons houses more than 170,000 inmates, nearly twice the number it was designed to safely hold. Almost all of its facilities are bursting at the seams: More than 16,000 prisoners sleep on what are known as "ugly beds" — extra bunks stuffed into cells, gyms, dayrooms, and hallways. [Governor Arnold] Schwarzenegger has referred to the system as a "powder keg."

....Even as Schwarzenegger has promised reform, the corrections budget has exploded during his term, from $4.7 billion in fiscal 2004 to nearly $10 billion in fiscal 2007, or about $49,000 for each adult inmate.

....For more than three decades, California has been trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle where putting more people in prison for longer periods of time has become the answer to every new crime to capture the public's attention — from drug dealing and gangbanging to tragic child abductions. Spurred on by a powerful prison guards' union and politicians afraid of looking soft on crime, corrections has become a bottomless pit, where countless lives and dollars disappear year after year. And now that it has metastasized to the point where even a tough-guy governor and the guards agree that the prisons must be downsized or else (see "When Prison Guards Go Soft"), every attempt at change seems stymied by inertia. The sheer size of the system has become the biggest obstacle to finding alternatives to warehousing criminals without preparing them for anything more than another cycle of incarceration. "The public believes the prison population reflects the crime rate," says James Austin, a corrections consultant who has served on several prison-reform panels in California. "That's just not true. It's because of California's policies and the way it runs the system."

This is a policy failure driven by a political failure, a cowardly series of actions that arises from a broken system of government. Dan Walters happens to be spot-on today - politicians have played on people's fears for 30 years and, faced with the tragedy they created, delayed and procrastinated until it became so torturous that the courts had to step in. From the three-strikes law to the 1,000 sentencing laws passed by the Legislature, all increasing sentences, nobody comes out looking good in this failure of leadership. Even the Attorney General of the United States recognizes that we cannot jail our way out of crime problems.

“We will not focus exclusively on incarceration as the most effective means of protecting public safety,” Holder told the American Bar Association delegates meeting here for their annual convention. “Since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened.”

“Today, one out of every 100 adults in America is incarcerated — the highest incarceration rate in the world,” he said. But the country has reached a point of diminishing returns at which putting even greater percentages of America’s citizens behind bars won’t cut the crime rate.

Mark Kleiman has additional good thoughts.

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A New Day In Iraq

Not only are the blast walls which divide Baghdad coming down, which separated the city and provided a dreary reminder of life during wartime, but Arabs and Kurds are actually meeting to resolve their differences.

In the first such meeting in a year between the two rivals, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani pledged Sunday to resolve disputes over land and oil that have threatened to spill into fighting.

The conflict between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish autonomous region is seen as the most dangerous threat to the nation's stability, and U.S. officials have publicly urged both sides to resolve their disputes before most American combat troops complete their withdrawal from Iraq by August 2010.

"The challenges that face the political process require more meetings and cooperation between all Iraqi people," Maliki said Sunday at a news conference with Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd. "I am very optimistic after this meeting."

The war in Iraq was an unnecessary horror for millions who had their lives disrupted, their families shattered, their friends and neighbors killed. The country is just now returning to some normalcy after the tragedy of war. I hope for their sake it holds.

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1/2 Percent Bump in GDP Just Like 2,000 People Dying In A Flood

National Public Radio gets grants from the federal government, so keep in mind that your tax dollars pay the salary of Mara Liasson:

Last night, Fox News aired a clip of a woman at a Philadelphia town hall meeting over the weekend berating Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) about health care reform. “What I see is a bureaucratic nightmare, senator. … And you want us to believe that a government that can’t even run a Cash for Clunkers program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy,” the woman complained. “I think that there is anger out there, real anger,” said NPR’s Mara Liasson, responding to the clip. She then called the woman’s concern “legitimate” and compared the Cash for Clunkers program to Hurricane Katrina:

LIASSON: I thought that woman actually asked a pretty legitimate question — especially Cash for Clunkers is like a mini- Katrina here. I mean it’s not good to start a program and not be able to execute it.


The government did start a program in Cash for Clunkers, and they DID execute it, you magnificent fool. They executed it so well that traffic at dealers shot through the roofs and 250,000 eligible cars were sold in a week. They executed it so well that Congress will appropriate more money for it. They executed it so well that $5 billion dollars got circulated through the economy with a $1 billion dollar investment. They executed it so well that carbuyers saw a 69% increase in their fuel efficiency.

And, as long as you're comparing it to Katrina, they executed it so well that NOBODY DIED.

If Cash for Clunkers is a mini-Katrina, Social Security is a mini-9/11. Why does Mara Liasson hate Social Security and our brave men and women who died in a terrorist attack? Sadly, that logic is better than what Liasson used in her original statement.

Let NPR know what you think about this. Liasson made the comment on Fox News, but NPR is the bigger pressure point.

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Waiting For The Daily Blast Fax So The President Can Tell Me What To Write

Phillip Klein of the far-right American Spectator has an amusing blog post out apparently accusing me of taking marching orders from the White House.

...those bloggers who get their marching orders from the White House and DNC have become part of the effort to attack ordinary Americans expressing their beliefs about an issue of great importance.

David Dayen of the blog D-Day was on the call. Yesterday, he wrote a post titled, "Top-Level Democrats Assault The Extremist Astroturfers." It began, "The White House took the lead on this, publicly calling the teabagger disruptions an example of astroturfing and citing conservative industry-backed groups taking credit for activating the rioters. Now other elements of the Democratic Party are taking up the baton. Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer blasted the clown show today..." [...]

So just to sum up, Obama enlists the aid of a small group of liberal bloggers in the health care fight, and then those same bloggers write posts echoing White House and DNC talking points -- and in the very process of doing that, accuse their political opponents of astroturfing!

I seem to remember the call going like this: I asked a fairly pointed question about the negative consequences of those deals with industry groups, and Obama gave an answer based in his conception of realism that I called "deeply unsatisfying." Weeks later, I identify in multiple posts over a series of days an organized effort by corporate lobbying groups to bus around, distribute instructions to and in some cases fund so-called "ordinary Americans" who are hanging Congressmembers in effigy and wishing death upon them. The White House comes to the party a few days late, and I notice that as well.

Who's taking marching orders from whom?

I think the right wing is just a bit upset because their code has been cracked and pretty much every element of the Democratic side of the aisle has managed to notice.

Those aren't "marching orders," it's "recognizing what's plainly visible in front of your face." Which admittedly isn't always a simple task for a conservative.

By the way, when the insurance company lobby is trying to distance themselves from these tactics, you know the worm is starting to turn. The teabaggers are hurting nobody but themselves.

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John McCain goes on national TV this weekend and talks about his party's problems with Hispanic voters, how there's "much work to be done" and how Sonia Sotomayor is a great American success story. One day later, after claiming to be undecided, he comes out against Sotomayor, claiming that she's "an activist judge who legislates from the bench." Ian Milhiser does a great job showing how conservative activism on the Court is basically repealing the 20th Century.

Repealing the Twentieth Century: In three opinions that read like a tea-bagger’s wet dream, Justice Thomas would have restricted Congress’ power to enact economic regulation to a point unheard of since the Great Depression. A short list of laws that would simply cease to exist in Clarence Thomas’s America includes “the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the sick leave portions of the Family and Medical Leave, the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act, as well as minimum wage and maximum hour laws.”

Selling Justice To The Highest Bidder: Roberts, Thomas and Alito all joined dissents arguing that a West Virginia coal magnate could literally buy a judge for $3 million to overturn a verdict against his company.

Corporate Immunity From the Law: Joined by Roberts, Alito wrote a dissent arguing that drug companies have almost-total immunity from the law when one of their dangerous products caused a former professional musician to lose her arm and her ability to play music. Roberts, Thomas and Alito also joined a majority opinion giving sweeping immunity to the makers of dangerous medical devices.

Massive Resistance: All three justices joined a radical opinion which not only held that it is unconstitutional for school boards to desegregate public schools, but which audaciously cited Brown v. Board of Education for this proposition.

This Election Brought to You By Wal-Mart: Perhaps most ironic of all, all three of McCain’s justices are poised to declare McCain’s signature legislative accomplishment, campaign finance reform, unconstitutional.

McCain voted for all of the judges leading that charge. In fact, he's voted to confirm EVERY SINGLE JUDGE in his Senate career except for Sotomayor. And that's the larger point. Republicans are so in hock to their right-wing base that they must risk a generational divide with Hispanic voters by voting against a qualified Latina judge:

Most Senate Republicans say opposition to Sotomayor is a principled stand based on the belief that her public speeches reveal a personal bias in her judicial philosophy. Republicans have cited her views on Second Amendment cases, speeches she has given during her time as a federal judge and a key ruling on affirmative action -- all issues that are of sharp interest to conservative-base voters.

But some senators and Republican strategists worry that efforts to shore up support from conservative voters who dominate the GOP primaries could become a missed opportunity to extend an olive branch to Latino voters, who gave just 31 percent of their ballots to McCain last fall.

If you look at the demographic shifts of the country, both with age and ethnicity, you'll see that this is just suicide. But I'm not about to get in the way of it.

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Freedom Riders

Turns out that the teabaggers at one town hall meeting in Texas weren't from the area:

Last night, Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) hosted a rowdy town hall meeting to discuss health care reform. Fox’s local Houston affiliate reporter, Duarte Geraldino, reported that he talked to the participants and found that “some attendees admit they don’t live in the district.” How did they get there? Geraldino noted “an internet campaign” by far right activists urging their allies to attend and heckle Democratic Representatives. Geraldino then aired a clip showing one participant acting disrespectfully towards Rep. Green. “Pay close attention to the man behind the congressman,” Geraldino says in this clip, “he seems to have forgotten the part about respect.” Watch it:

Here's my favorite part:

During the town hall, one conservative activist turns to his fellow attendees and asks them to raise their hands if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Almost all the hands shot up. Rep Green quickly turned the question on the audience and asked, “How many of you have Medicare?” Nearly half the attendees raised their hands, failing to note the irony.

Decades of conservative message dominance has convinced a healthy portion of the public that a government-run program isn't run by the government. Failure to counteract that message 30 years ago is deeply affecting this debate today. Paul Waldman writes:

After decades of being told that the federal government is a sinister, rapacious beast with nothing but evil intents, the idea that a complex bill might contain a Soylent Green provision isn't too far a stretch. Nonetheless, it remains entirely possible that before long, health reform will no longer be a debate but will become an actual policy, one that will succeed or fail on its own merits. As both sides have understood (the Republicans more so than the Democrats, however), this battle is so critical because the stakes go to the heart of each party's approach to the role of government.

Both parties hope that the successful implementation of their favored policies will lead to a broader acceptance of their ideology. Republicans want to privatize government services not only as an end in itself but to show people that the private sector works better than government. In the same way, Democrats advocate for effective government services not only to solve an immediate problem but to demonstrate that government can in fact do some things very well.

Unfortunately, the successful implementation of a government program doesn't necessarily convince people that government can successfully implement programs. Antipathy toward government even among many who receive both Medicare and Social Security -- two of the most successful government programs in history -- is remarkably strong. In fact, by some measures, the elderly have the most skeptical views of government. For instance, in the latest version of the Pew values survey, 64 percent of those over 65 -- who are either on Medicare and Social Security or know that they will be soon -- said that "when something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful" (see page 34 here). That compares to only 43 percent of those age 18 to 29.

Part of that is just the tribal identity with conservatism (which is stronger in those over 65, based on most surveys) trumping the shared knowledge of government programs like Medicare and Social Security. Because these same people generally really like those programs; they've just convinced themselves, in a supreme case of cognitive dissonance, that government doesn't work well (except for whatever it is they're getting). And mainly, that's because they've heard this repeated from the conservative noise machine for thirty years, virtually unchallenged and sometimes enthusiastically endorsed by Democrats.

Or perhaps there's another answer. The polls are showing that people under 50 support health care reform at much higher levels than people over 50. It's no accident that the strongest smears against the plan have to do with killing grandma or taking things away from Medicare. They like what they have and are wary of extending it to the rest of the population, mainly because of how it might impact them.

But this is a funny type of skepticism. Seniors don't oppose government-run health insurance. They like it too much. Americans over 65 live in a welfare state that most Europeans could only dream about. They have single-payer health care and government-run pensions. Most of their political activity is either an effort to expand those programs or a defense against anything that could in any way harm them. That includes not only direct changes, like cuts to Medicare, but indirect changes, like health-care reform that would focus new resources on the uninsured.

This is a reversal of the normal politics of opposition. Generally speaking, people who oppose health-care reform are worried we're going to end up with something like what Canada has. Not seniors. They have something like what Canada has (Canada, in fact, also calls their health insurance program "Medicare"). And they like it. They report higher rates of satisfaction with their health care than do people in employer-sponsored insurance. They're worried, rather, that they might end up with something like what the rest of America has. And having spent time in both Medicare and private health insurance, they don't want that. They don't want that at all.

The fight to get successful government recognized is an ideological fight. To those who already have evidence of successful government, the fight is somewhat different. They still echo the conservative line of "government is teh suck," but they don't want their government programs tampered with. How do you thread that needle?

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Ahmadinejad's Inauguration Day

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term yesterday amid much protest and even more defiance.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term as Iran's president Wednesday while security forces battled hundreds of protesters chanting "Death to the Dictator" in the streets around parliament where the ceremony was held.

Key opposition leaders, moderate lawmakers and all three of Ahmadinejad's election challengers boycotted the swearing in ceremony. State-run Press TV said more than 5,000 security forces were in the streets around parliament and police with sniffer dogs patrolled the area after the opposition called for demonstrations to coincide with the inauguration.

Hundreds of protesters chanted "Death to the Dictator" before security forces broke up a demonstration near parliament, striking people with batons and blasting them with pepper spray, witnesses said.

The opposition has vowed to continue rolling protests. Iran society will never be the same, at least not until the regime either restores its legitimacy (through concessions or official violence), or is driven out.

And then there's the issue of engagement with the West, obviously strained even further by the arrest of three American hikers along the border with Kurdistan, who the Iranians have designated "spies." I do not hold high hopes for engagement, which is probably why the Administration is foregrounding the big stick in their public diplomacy right now:

The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama’s offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products.

The option of acting against companies around the world that supply Iran with 40 percent of its gasoline has been broached with European allies and Israel, officials from those countries said. Legislation that would give Mr. Obama that authority already has 71 sponsors in the Senate and similar legislation is expected to sail through the House.

In a visit to Israel last week, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, James L. Jones, mentioned the prospect to Israeli officials, they said.

I wonder whether this will actually backfire and punish those in the street who are battling the regime, while the hardliners manage to keep what refined oil can get produced and shipped for themselves and their cronies. A country that is already beating and imprisoning its own people shouldn't have much difficulty causing them more suffering. There's also the question of getting the world to go along with this.

The promise of Iranian engagement has been really wounded by this internal strife.

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Why Is Current Taking No Heat Over Euna Lee And Laura Ling?

I suspected this to be the case.

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 4 -- One woman approached China's border with North Korea as a seasoned foreign correspondent, the other as a sharp editor who was on her first trip abroad in her new role as a producer.

I knew Euna Lee as an editor. Her first producing assignment was to go to... North Korea? And the only possible reason for that is that she spoke Korean and grew up in Seoul.

This is not to say that she's not a smart person, or that she is overly aggressive. And yes, someone fluent in Korean would be helpful in chronicling the story. But in the field, the producer makes the decisions. The "seasoned foreign correspondent" does not. And so Current TV sent a first-time producer to perhaps the most dangerous place on Earth. They played on her ambition and figured just anyone who spoke Korean and who they could pay cheaply would do. And when things went catastrophically wrong, they shut their traps about it and censored material on their website. Now that they've been released, it's a Laura Ling film festival on Current.

(That whole "seasoned foreign correspondent" thing about Laura Ling, by the way? I've seen a couple segments. One has her walking through a 7-11 shop in China picking out different snacks. The story they were sent to do in the border region was about human trafficking. That's several orders of magnitude different.)

The "citizen journalist" model is great and all, but air-dropping unseasoned people into war zones and giving them none of the resources to succeed produces outcomes like this. And it's completely unfair to the two women, who were brave in their ordeal. You have to blame the management decision to send them there. They treat their staff like spare parts, giving them no training or resources, and send them abroad to essentially poke a bear with a sharp stick.

This is not an uninformed armchair opinion, by the way. I know people at Current. OSHA should step in.

...All that said, John Bolton should have offered to serve a substitute sentence of 12 years hard labor in a prison camp if he wants to keep his country's manly neocon manliness intact. I'm sure nobody would miss him.

How obvious was it that Fred Hiatt would ring up Bolton to write an op-ed about this?

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Breaking The Dam

I'm going to have to pretty much agree with Thers' take:

Like I said over at the Cerulean Cherub's place, getting a health care bill passed through reconciliation would be great fun even if it were a crap bill [...]

From a democratic (small d) perspective, the Senate has been asking for it for a long time now. The filibuster is not a constitutional tradition, and as we've seen, amply, is a safeguard of made-up Senatorial principles, not democratic principles, and the public good be damned.

Yes, we need sane healthcare, but we need lots of sane things that we're not getting because of the absurdities that the Senate enables -- Max Baucus directly represents fewer than a million people, and has extensive power over the healthcare of over 300 million Americans. Why? Because he's a fucking healthcare maven genius! Or not! It's all amazingly silly.

A case could be made that whatever the content of any specific bill, a punch to the solar plexus of the pudgy, complacent Senate would be good for the nation. The nation's health literally rests at the whim of a very small number of individuals who are only directly accountable to a very, very small percentage of the nation's voters. Whatever this is, it's not democracy.

The Senate has basically gotten completely out of control. It was conceived as a saucer to "cool the cup" of the passions of the House, but there's a fine line between that and freezing the cup and throwing it into a meat locker. If the Senate were instituted after passage of the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court would likely have found it unconstitutionally in violation of the equal protection clause. California has 69 times as many citizens as Wyoming, and yet their citizens get the same amount of Senate representation. The Senate was a bad compromise put in by the Blue Dogs of the 18th century.

What's more, it's gotten worse, as runaway egos and peculiar Senate rules have completely paralyzed the legislative process. The filibuster has only recently been transformed from an occasionally used temper tantrum to a de facto 60-vote supermajority requirement. This recent development is a significant intrusion to the ability of the country to govern itself.

The filibuster, however, has undergone little-noticed changes. Even as successive generations have weakened it by creating the option of cloture, the filibuster itself has become more present in everyday legislative maneuvering. The political scientist David Mayhew argues that we've misremembered our own past on this matter. He's written that Senate has never faced “any anti-majoritarian barrier as concrete, as decisive, or as consequential as today’s rule of 60."

That seems strange, of course. After all, the filibuster was stronger back in the day. But it wasn't used to create a de facto 60-vote majority. It used to be more akin to a temper tantrum. Mayhew looked at FDR's court-packing scheme as one of his examples. The filibuster hardly figured into the discussion. “General opinion is that the [bill] will pass,” wrote the conservative Portland Herald Press, “and sooner than expected, since votes to pass it seem apparent, and the opposition cannot filibuster forever.”

Its elevation to the decisive rule in the U.S. Senate is a recent development, and one that has taken a countermajoritarian institution (both in its structure and representation) and saddled it with a supermajority requirement. The product is an almost impossibly obstructed legislative body. We tend to assume this will work out fine, as we've had the filibuster forever, and we're still around. But the evidence is that the filibuster did not really exist in this form before, and so it's very hard to say whether it will work out fine. And those who think that the political system will always respond to emergency, and that countermajoritarian rules don't matter, should really take a look at what's going on right now in California.

Reconciliation may or may not be able to produce a bill worth a darn; YMMV. But if the fallout from using it produces a demystification of "Senate process" as some kind of holy writ, the effects would be profound. Process changes have often preceded substantive policy changes. Unless you want health care reform and financial regulatory reform and climate change and energy and all the rest in the tender hands of President Ben Nelson in perpetuity, it may be worth breaking the dam that's holding back the country.

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Just Some Admirable Grassroots Passion

A protester on Chris Dodd, just diagnosed with prostate cancer:

"Barack Obama clearly said, all you should do is take a painkiller. How come we just don't give Chris Dodd painkillers?" shouted one man. "Like a handful of them at a time! He can wash it down with Ted Kennedy's whiskey -- oh excuse me, scotch!"

Miserable little people.

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Federal Judges Order California To Reduce Prison Population By 40,000

A ruling by the three-judge panel who have effectively taken control of the California prison system has ordered the state to reduce the prison population by as much as 40,000 inmates within the next two years, finding the system in violation of Constitutional mandates. The Tough On Crime balloon has just popped.

The judges said that reducing prison crowding in California was the only way to change what they called an unconstitutional prison health care system that causes one unnecessary death a week. In a scathing 184-page order, the judges criticized state officials, saying they had failed to comply with previous orders to fix the health care system in the prisons and reduce crowding, and recommended remedies, including reform of the parole system.

The special three-judge panel also described a chaotic prison system where prisoners were stacked in triple bunk beds in gymnasiums, hallways and day rooms; where single guards were often forced to monitor scores of inmates at a time; and where ill inmates died for lack of treatment.

“In these overcrowded conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent, infectious diseases spread more easily, and lockdowns are sometimes the only means by which to maintain control,” the panel wrote. “In short, California’s prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage.”

This started as a series of lawsuits claiming that the overcrowded prisons violated inmates' Constitutional right to medical care through the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment while under confinement. The judges concluded that massive reductions were the only way to get the balance right and restore Constitutional order to the process.

It's nothing less than an epic failure at all levels of leadership over the last thirty years which has brought us to the point where judges must mandate reductions in the prisons. A state that is unable to manage its finances can also clearly not manage its plainly illegal corrections system.

This now hangs over the head of lawmakers as they come back from recess in August and determine how to achieve $1.2 billion dollars in savings to the prison system. The Governor and Democrats in the legislature have proscribed various reform programs that would reduce the prison population, change mandatory prison sentences for technical parole violation, and create an independent sentencing commission to look at reforming our draconian sentencing policies. Many of these reforms are desperately needed, would save money for the state and also comprise a smarter, more sensible way to deal with prisons that actually makes Californians safer. Today's ruling makes this not only a good set of ideas, but a mandatory set, given that the state is now under court order to reduce the population.

The Governor's Prisons Secretary Matthew Cate is not ruling out appealing the ruling to the US Supreme Court. He also claims that the state has a plan to reduce overcrowding that would lower the number of prisoners by 35,000 in two years. That's less than required by the ruling. But this is no longer an option; unless they appeal, and it's no guarantee they can, the state must submit a plan to meet the judges' dictates within 45 days. End of story.

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Top-Level Democrats Assault The Extremist Astroturfers

The White House took the lead on this, publicly calling the teabagger disruptions an example of astroturfing and citing conservative industry-backed groups taking credit for activating the rioters. Now other elements of the Democratic Party are taking up the baton. Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer blasted the clown show today:

Speaking outside the White House after meeting with President Obama, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York both dismissed the significance of boisterous protesters who have been interrupting Democratic lawmakers' events.

"It is a small fringe group," Schumer told the Huffington Post, "and if we let a small group of people who want to monopolize the conversation and not listen to the facts win, you may as well hang it up."

"These town hall meetings have been orchestrated by the tea baggers and the birthers to just be a free-for-alls, make a lot of noise, go on YouTube and show discord," said Durbin. "I mean that is what they are determined to do. But that is not going to accomplish what we need to accomplish: real health care reform."

Likewise, the DNC called the protesters "right-wing extremists funded by K Street" and alluded to the Palin/McCain rallies with the ugly cries of racism and xenophobia. The House Speaker's blog has a pretty comprehensive list of the extremism of the rioters, the links to special interests, and the coordinated strategy to shut down debate. And I've seen every single Democrat on cable news today talking about the Brooks Brothers riot, astroturfing, lobbyist-funded front groups, and the like. It's pretty interesting.

Will this push either the extremism or the astroturf element of this into the conversation, given the obvious evidence of lobby groups strategizing on this? I'm not sure. The media has a depressing tendency to treat a mob like a poll sample of public attitudes. In fact, public support for health care is still very strong. But the various ambushes throughout the country will still get national and (perhaps more important) local ink.

I'm glad that Democrats are fighting back, but I'm compelled to note that their charges also have to get into the game themselves. The ads have largely been garbage, the organizing hasn't gotten the traction from the media, and they have been unable to drown out the shouters. There is a gap here.

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Poster Plastered At Drudge Report Evidence Of Grassroots Fire

I drove through a good bit of Los Angeles today and never once saw this poster of Obama as the Joker. It wouldn't be especially newsworthy if I did, no more than Shepard Fairey's Andre the Giant "OBEY" posters said something meaningful about grassroots attitudes about wrestlers. But somehow, this gets mentioned by major news organizations because Matt Drudge linked to it.

Hopefully this will lead to a "street art" report, surveying graffiti and posters everywhere, throughout all major media.

Wait, not hopefully.

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Countdown To Telling The Truth

You've probably been following the very strange deal between Fox and GE to silence a feud between Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann that threatened to sully the two corporate parents.

At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

In early June, the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, for the most part, found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

Glenn Greenwald has been following this issue with the depth it deserves, noting it as part of the larger danger about corporate control of the media, and how certain subjects get denied coverage because it would bother those corporate benefactors. It's a serious issue.

Therefore, I was a bit dismayed by Olbermann's non-denial denial about any "deal":

On his show last night, Keith Olbermann essentially issued a non-denial denial about the GE-MSNBC-Fox story, saying that he himself was "party to no deal" - exactly what he said in the original New York Times article. There's no reason to doubt Olbermann - however, as journalism prof Dan Kennedy suggests (h/t Glenn Greenwald & Jay Rosen), Olbermann's own personal lack of involvement in a "deal" is far less important than the simple fact that GE started trying to give blatant news-content orders to MSNBC's newsroom - orders that may have been followed in places well beyond Olbermann's control.
Certainly, the fact that Olbermann resisted those orders is good news - but again, as I said in my original post, this story wasn't an indictment of Olbermann - it was an indictment of the entire corporate-news structure of the networks in question.

Indeed, in Olbermann's non-denial denial last night, he didn't refute the quotes from General Electric management, he didn't refute that MSNBC execs told its producers that they "wanted the channel's other programs [to] restrain from criticizing Fox directly," and he didn't refute this report from TV Newser saying that the parent companies for Fox and MSNBC have been in negotiations for months.

It was a weird segment last night, with Olbermann hitting O'Reilly on a ticky-tack maneuver, noting the coincidental timing of the George Tiller death as the reason he temporarily "retired" his O'Reilly character, and hitting Brian Stelter, the writer, without disagreeing with a word written in the piece.

It is very good that Olbermann has apparently stopped using Richard Wolff. But his dodgy statements last night about the provenance of any "deal" between GE and Fox leave me fairly cold. He claims that he was party to no deal and yet praises Greenwald's coverage of the story, which asserts that there, in fact, was a deal.

Olbermann has now made two contradictory statements about his role in the affair:

He confirms what Glenn Greenwald wrote, which is that he stopped covering O'Reilly because he was told to do so by his bosses at GE

He says that his decision to stop covering O'Reilly was purely a response to O'Reilly's role in the Tiller incident, and that any assertion to the contrary is a blackmail attempt by Roger Ailes

It is clear that there was a deal between GE and News Corp, because both are confirming it. So Olbermann is, at best, guilty of obfuscation by claiming that he was not "party" to any deal.

I'm mildly a fan of Olbermann, and his willingness to tell the truth about health care and the money drowning the process is significant and vital. But his cloying behavior in this episode thus far has damaged his reputation to an extent.

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Cash For Clunkers Extension Sails Toward Senate Passage

A rare bit of good news from the Senate, as an extension of cash for clunkers looks primed for passage.

The Senate will approve another $2 billion for the popular "cash for clunkers" program, probably by the end of the week, confident Democrats predicted Tuesday as Republican efforts to block the funding faded.

"We'll pass cash for clunkers. Before we leave here," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The vast majority will be voting for this," added Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. The Senate is scheduled to begin a month-long summer recess Friday.

Many Republicans, realizing that constituents and auto dealers were pushing hard to continue the program, reluctantly agreed.

"I don't get a sense anyone will block it," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

I don't know who would stand in the way of a wildly successful economic program and the first sustained benefit to the manufacturing base of this country in over 30 years. And the statistics on fuel economy are far, far better than anybody thought they would be. Sure, this is not the entire answer to the climate crisis. That's not its intention. The intention is to leverage $5 billion dollars into the economy, and extending the program would leverage another $10 billion. The fuel efficiency issue concerns adding 10mpg to a not-all-that-trivial 750,000 cars. But that was never the main goal.

The country needs a stable economy and job creation. This program provides it, with a reduction in foreign oil as a side benefit. Win-win.

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