Friday, January 29, 2010

Another Steny-gram

I know I'm preaching to an empty church here, but there's not much else to do at this point.

Dear Majority Leader Hoyer,

I see in today's Washington Post that the President's political advisers are inclined toward letting health care reform linger while moving on to other topics. This is disappointing, as health care is more likely to die from lack of attention than from losing a key vote.

Democrats have gone 99% of the distance needed to pass this historic legislation. The bill is flawed, true, but it is an important step forward, not only as being the first real attempt to get health spending under control and ensure more Americans have fair and equitable coverage, but as a value statement going forward, acknowledging health care reform as a matter of grave national interest, even national security.

Losing a vote would be bad enough; to walk away from legislation Democrats have long asserted to be a core component of their beliefs is to cast doubt on the willingness of the party to govern. Politics is the art of the possible, not the art of the easy. American voters elect representatives and senators and pay them well, with substantial perquisites and pensions--including health care--so that difficult decisions are made, not avoided. It's time for the party to stand up.

The Democratic Party is in danger of losing more than a legislative fight here; its core constituency is at risk. I resigned my party affiliation last fall over my dissatisfaction with how the party did business. (Or failed to do it.) I still align myself with its alleged principles. If the party walks away from this now, I swear I'll never vote for a Democrat for national office as long as any current members are seated. Given my age, that means never.

Dana King

Cowards and Hypocrites

Yesterday the Senate passed a resolution that raised the debt ceiling for the Federal government. A distasteful process to be sure, but without it the government defaults on its outstanding debt, which could be an economic catastrophe in several levels.

The following exchange took place, as chronicled by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post:

Before the debt-ceiling vote, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, warned that a default by the Treasury would have a "cataclysmic result in the financial markets."

Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), the top Republican on budget matters, rose in opposition. "It is not responsible to raise the debt ceiling in this manner if you're not going to put in place any responsible activity to bring under control the rising debt."

Not going to put in place any responsible activity to bring under control the rising debt? The Senate voted Tuesday on just such an activity, a debt commission whose recommendations would get an up-or-down vote in Congress. Gregg joined Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) in introducing the bill, and Obama endorsed it. But a majority of Gregg's GOP caucus opposed the panel.

Baucus, the Democratic floor leader, realized he was wasting his breath. "I think we all know where we are," he said before one of Thursday's votes, declining the time he had been given to speak.

Baucus’s big mistake here was in ceding his remaining time. He should have called bullshit on Gregg, who is as big a phony as can be found in the Senate. This is why Democrats consistently lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the public. Republicans repeatedly obfuscate, lie, and repudiate what were allegedly the sincere and heartfelt convictions of only a few years ago, and the Dems never call them on it.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should have staffers lined up, ready to hand rebuttals to any Democrat who follows a Republican who makes a false or hypocritical speech on the floor. Define “death panels” right after the lie is put out. Keep both images, the true and the false, in the public’s mind. Ask hard questions. “I ask my distinguished colleague why he stands so squarely against accumulating debt when he voted six times for budgets that increased the deficit during the Bush Administration?”

But they won’t. It’s hard to decide whether they’re more cowardly than they are stupid sometimes.

Why Newspapers Might Not Be Missed As Much As They Think

Sub-headline on the Senate's confirmation of Benjamin Bernanke to another term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve from the home page of today's Washington Post:

The Federal Reserve chairman scrapes by with the narrowest margin in the history of the position.

Bernanke was confirmed by a vote of 70-30. This is, admittedly, the closest vote ever for this position. It can hardly be considered "scraping by."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Sense of Abandonment

A salient point from Paul Krugman's blog on Obama's proposed spending freeze:

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

Me, too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Geaux Saints!

Since the Steelers have not held up their end of our unconditional fandom agreement by not making the playoffs this year, The Home Office has adopted the New Orleans Saints as our chosen in this year's Super Bowl. Saints fans have suffered long enough, and the city of New Orleans can use something to truly cheer for. They seem like a good bunch of guys, and the fact that they wear black and gold will make the visual transference of my support that much easier.

Besides, it's always fun to listen to Peyton Manning explain why it wasn't his fault the Colts lost.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bait and Switch

The edifice of health insurance reform is crumbling, and Democrats are swinging the wrecking ball. The logical path would be for the House to pass the Senate bill, then for each house to pass “clean up” bills to address the differences; the Senate can pass these through the budget reconciliation process to avoid a filibuster. Since this time would normally be spent negotiating differences in conference committee, there’s no real downside.

Except the House doesn’t trust the Senate to do the right thing and wants the Senate to go first. Harry Reid can’t even get 51 of the 58 senators he allegedly leads (not counting Joe Lieberman) to sign a letter pledging to address the House’s concerns after the fact. Their attitude is, “We passed our bill. We’re not going to spend three weeks on some other bill.”

Passing bills is not the purpose of a legislature; governing is. That means doing more than the bare minimum of work calculated not to interfere with fund raising. Members of both houses say how hard they’ve worked on these bills. Bullshit. Some members have worked hard. The great majority have been doing whatever it is they do, waiting for the relevant committees to send them a bill they won’t read so they can check their polls and lobbyists to tell them how to vote.

What is President Obama’s response to the crumbling status of health care reform? He says he’s going to get tough on the big banks. The MO of this administration is now clear, based on its handling of the stimulus and health care battles: lay low, commit to nothing, claim victory if it passes, and walk away if it doesn’t.

Health care reform has been a cornerstone of Democratic philosophy for as long as I can remember, which is a considerable length of time. For all three branches of elected “leadership” to walk away from it this close to success, when success is still within reach, is unconscionable. To paraphrase Ezra Klein in the Washington Post (because I can’t find the link), this is like taking the ball to the one yard-line in an overtime football game, fumbling, then conceding the game. Given the current Democratic majorities, this attitude is prima facie evidence of an inability to govern.

Ted Kennedy’s endorsement was key to putting Obama over the top in the 2008 nomination campaign; Democratic senators will push each other away from microphones to tell what a great friend he was to them. Abandoning the legislative goal most dear to him in the manner in which they’re doing it is shameful, and shows health care reform was only ever important to them when it became convenient to trot it out at campaign time. To abdicate their professed commitments to it, and to him, is disgraceful.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Letter to Congress

As luck would have it, my representative is House Majority Leader. He just received the following email, and will get a similar phone call later today.

Dear Majority Leader Hoyer,

The sounds of dismay coming from Democratic members of Congress in the aftermath of the Massachusetts special election are disturbing. True, that seat was the 60th vote against a filibuster. Democrats still have sizable majorities in both houses, and the nation needs this bill. Now is the time for our elected officials to show the leadership implied by their positions, not wring their hands.

Republicans have more or less had their way for over twenty years, in large part because they have shown will. I truly believe their goals are misguided and selfish, but they have shown the will to get their way. Now it’s time for the Democrats to show they, too, have will.

I understand the political realities. The bills that have been passed, especially by the Senate, do not, in my opinion, go far enough. They are still great improvements in the system that exists now. Go to your peers and ask which of them would be willing to tell a parent his child will die because the parents can’t afford insurance, or tell a child he will soon be orphaned because a nation with our wealth refuses to take care of its less fortunate. Health care is not an abstract concept. People die from its lack every day.

Many Democrats say the Massachusetts loss means it’s time to dial back their legislative ambitions. I would remind them the nation gave Democrats their substantial majorities precisely because of those ambitions. To abandon them now would be to repudiate the mandate handed you in 2008, and leave the field open for the Republicans, who are at least willing to act forcefully for what they want to do.

This can be the Democrats’ finest moment, as I truly believe health care reforms will become as popular as Social Security and Medicare, both of which Democrats enacted over Republican opposition. Speak out. Twist some arms. Use the legislative power available to the majority. Not to continue on the course we were promised is to abdicate your responsibilities, making the party not worthy of re-election. History remembers fondly those who dare.

Dana King
Laurel MD

Monday, January 18, 2010

Where’s the Line?

Last week I came across a dilemma I've had before and have yet to find a satisfactory resolution. I read a blog, the subject of which dovetailed with a blog post of my own from the day before. I commented on the other person's blog, had to cut myself short when the length of my comment threatened to become blog-length.

Part of me wanted to post the link to my blog, but that seems tacky, wandering into the unattractive swamp of Blatant Self-Promotion. Anyone interested can click the link associated with my name in the comment on the other person's site and get to mine. Of course, they don't know that I've posted a more detailed comment already, even if they care.

I see three choices:

  1. Continue as is.
  2. Include my link in appropriate replies.
  3. Indicate I have posted on the same topic at more length than the present comment.

I'd like to drive some traffic to the blog, but not at the expense of looking like I'm a parasite on better-known blogs.

Insights and advice are appreciated.

Friday, January 15, 2010

[Stuff His] Dad Says

I don't do Twitter. Facebook is bad enough; Twitter is the ultimate expression of the banal raised to an alleged art form.

A few weeks ago, the Show Tunes Correspondent exposed me to the Twitter site "Shit My Dad Says," where a Twit (if that's what they call Twitter users) posts entertaining things his 74-year-old father says, and the old man is a riot. Among my favorite over the past few weeks:

"Son, people will always try and fuck you. Don't waste your life planning for a fucking, just be alert when your pants are down."

"That woman was sexy...Out of your league? Son. Let women figure out why they won't screw you, don't do it for them."

"The baby will talk when he talks, relax. It ain't like he knows the cure for cancer and he just ain't spitting it out."

"I need to change clothes? Wow. That's big talk coming from someone who looks like they robbed a Mervyn's."

"If mom calls, tell her I'm shitting... Son, marriage is about not having to lie about taking a shit."

"You worry too much. Eat some bacon... What? No, I got no idea if it'll make you feel better, I just made too much bacon."

"Nobody is that important. They eat, shit, and screw, just like you. Maybe not shit like you, you got those stomach problems."

"Oh please, you practically invented lazy. People should have to call you and ask for the rights to lazy before they use it."

"I hate paying bills... Son, don't say "me too." I didn't say that looking to relate to you. I said it instead of "go away."

"Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn't invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that."

"You look just like Stephen Hawking...Relax, I meant like a non-paralyzed version of him. Feel better?... Fine. Forget I said it."

"It's never the right time to have kids, but it's always the right time for screwing. God's not a dumbshit. He knows how it works."

"I just want silence. Jesus, it doesn't mean I don't like you. It just means right now, I like silence more."

"We're out of Grape Nuts... No, what's left is for me. Sorry, I should have said "You're out of Grape Nuts."

"Pressure? Get married when you want. Your wedding's just one more day in my life I can't wear sweat pants."

"I like See's candy. Put me in a See's store, I'm eating candy. The whole world is Tiger's See's store, and the candy is vagina."

"Mom is smarter than you...No? Well, ask yourself this; has mom ever unknowingly had toilet paper hanging out of her ass?...Mom 1. You 0"

"Yes I got him a gift. He had a kidney stone. You piss a rock through your pecker, you deserve more than just a pat on the fucking back."

Yesterday he hit the jackpot:

"Might not do a damn bit of good, but tell people to donate to Haiti on your twitter thing." TEXT "Haiti" to 90999 to donate 10$

That's an old, crabby man with class. I want to be like him when I grow up.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Poster Child for Increased Regulation

Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein testified before the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission yesterday. The following exchange is telling. (From Dana Millbank's column in today's Washington Post.)

"Would you look back on some of the financings as negligent or improper?" asked the commission chairman, former California state treasurer Phil Angelides.

"I think those were very typical behaviors in the context that we were in," Blankfein replied.

Angelides pointed out that others regarded Goldman's behavior -- in which the firm sold mortgage securities to customers and then placed bets against those same securities -- was "the most cynical" of practices. "It sounds to me a little bit like selling a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on the buyer of those cars," observed the chairman.

Blankfein treated the chairman to a patronizing account of Goldman's function. "That's what a market is," the CEO explained.

Capitalism has proven to be the most effective economic system in history, when practiced reasonably. When pushed to its extreme, it may be the worst.

Today's Sign of American Decline

Baltimore is selling sponsorships of police horses.

Another Nail Pounded In

You know you're getting old when your spam stops having subjects like "Make her happy all night long," and "Natural Enhancement," to "Recover your independence with a power wheelchair."

As mine has.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Never Thought I’d Do This

I have been critical of Harry Reid in the past. (Here. And here. And then here and here. Wait, here's another. One more. No, two more. Ooh, a stray.) It is with no small amount of confusion and irony I find myself supporting him today.

Harry got himself into a jackpot this week for something he said a couple of years ago, when he mentioned—in what he thought were off-the-record comments—that Barack Obama could win the presidential election because he was "light skinned" and had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The controversy is reminiscent of one Obama himself created two years ago, when he referred to some Pennsylvania voters as "bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

I grew up on the cusp of the part of Pennsylvania Obama was talking about, and thought nothing of it; he was right. I know people like those he described. I was around in the 70s when the mills closed, and saw firsthand how the economic changes were received. I can't quibble with his assessment.

The same is true of Reid's comment. He didn't say it as a slur toward Obama; he was talking about a group of people—who could be from anywhere, but Obama's bitter Pennsylvanians certainly qualified—who might be willing to overlook Obama's race because he's not all that black, and he doesn't speak like he's auditioning for The Wire. You know it's true. Maybe it doesn't apply to you personally, but I defy anyone to argue the point with a straight face. There were people out there for whom that mattered, even if they wouldn't admit it in so many words.

Harry Reid has earned every shred of criticism I've given him over the years, but fair's fair. He shouldn't be pilloried for telling the truth.

Breaking News

Sarah Palin is going to work for Fox News.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Coincidence or Karma?

The first real blemish on the so-called American Century was the war in Vietnam, where the greatest military force the world had ever known was bogged down for years fighting an army of indigenous insurgents who could blend in with the local population at will.

The current version of the greatest military force the world has ever known has been bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, fighting armies of (largely) indigenous insurgents who can blend in with the local population at will.

The American Revolution was begun when indigenous insurgents who could blend in with the local population at will bogged down and harassed the greatest military force the world had ever known.

The parallels can’t be pushed too far. The Viet Cong won because American public opinion turned against the war; they were routinely hammered on the battlefield. The American colonies were eventually able to build an Army that gave the British enough of a beating for them to go away. We’re likely going to be able to declare victory and leave Iraq and Afghanistan on more or less our own terms, though who—or what—will fill the vacuum is unknown and worrisome.

Still, it’s a little disconcerting, and worth noting to anyone who complains because these rag heads won’t fight fair.

Terrorism Revisited

Recent energetic discussions with The Sole Heir (live) and Charlie Stella (via web comments) have prompted a re-evaluation of anti-terrorist policies here at The Home Office. Neither TSH nor Charlie will find me in full agreement with either of them, but they did get me thinking.

Homeland Security had all the information needed to stop the Christmas Day (attempted) bomber. (That’s how I’ll refer to him. His name is too much trouble to type and he’s beneath acknowledgement in civilized society, anyway.) A guy (whose own father has warned you about) who pays cash for a one-way ticket from Yemen (where there is a known terrorist plot underway) to Detroit and has no luggage (no winter coat in December), deserves at least a friendly, “Please step over here, sir, so we can look in your shorts.” Doesn’t matter if he’s Muslim, black, Arab (he isn’t), white, Protestant, Polish, Catholic, Zen Buddhist, or pagan solstice worshipper. That’s not profiling; it’s common sense.

Remember when Dubya created the Department of Homeland Security, so there would never again be silos of potentially useful intelligence? How bringing intelligence and security agencies under the same umbrella would allow them to share intelligence? I said then (though it was pre-blog and I can’t prove it) that it wouldn’t matter. The president should be able to order the respective agency heads to work out ways to make sure everyone got what they needed, or he’d find someone for the job who would. Creating another layer of bureaucracy wouldn’t help. Now it’s eight years later, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars on this cluster fuck, and guess what? The security agencies still don’t coordinate their data. I’m shocked—shocked!! Let’s not worry about more invasive security measures until we can actually handle the ones we have.

Charlie Stella has another provocative post over at his Temporary Knucksline blog. (Scroll down past the Patricia Highsmith stuff to get to what I’m talking about, though the Highsmith info is worth reading for those so inclined.) He and I had a lengthy discussion last week about whether terrorists should be tried as criminals or in military tribunals. We pretty much agreed to disagree, though he’s wearing me down on some points.

What I’m about to say seems inconsistent, even to me. Feel free to smite me about the head and shoulders for this; I’m refining my argument. It now occurs to me that the justice meted out to alleged terrorists should be suited to the circumstances and location of their apprehension. If they’re caught here by the police or FBI (Border Patrol, ICE, or some other domestically authorized agency), then they go to court. We’ve prosecuted spies from real countries like this for years; it works.

On the other hand, if the military or CIA catch them abroad, tribunals are fine. Hold the trial on a military installation, under established protocols. We’re killing them by the handful whenever we can; there’s no point being hypocrites about it. Considering the level of outrage not heard over collateral damage (read: dead innocents), the American people as a whole should be good with this. I’m still not down with torture—probably hypocritical, since I’m willing to kill them without due process—but that’s my fig leaf for civilized company.

One caveat: American citizens are American citizens, no matter where and how we catch them. We’re no better than the terrorists if we allow the government to start disappearing citizens without consequence.

Blatant self-promotion alert!

Lawyer and author JD Rhodes writes a liberal and entertaining blog titled, “What Fresh Hell is This?” Earlier this week he picked up a comment I made in the Murderati blog as his Quote of the Day. He and I don’t always agree, but his arguments are always well thought out and have merit. Getting acknowledged there is flattering.