Thursday, April 30

David Souter to retire

He's 69 years old and was nominated by George H. W. Bush 19 years ago.

His retirement should come as bittersweet to rightwingers who expected him to be more conservative:
At the time of Souter's appointment, John Sununu assured President Bush and conservatives that Souter would be a "home run" for conservatism In his testimony before the Senate, Souter espoused the concepts of originalism (as Bork had) and was thus thought by conservatives to be a strict constructionist on Constitutional matters. However, as a state's attorney and state Supreme Court judge, he had never been tested on matters of federal law.

Initially, from 1990 to 1993, Souter tended to be a conservative-leaning Justice, although not as conservative as Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, or William Rehnquist. In Souter's first year, Souter and Scalia voted alike close to 85 percent of the time; Souter voted with Kennedy and O'Connor about 97 percent of the time. The symbolic turning point came in two cases in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Court reaffirmed the essential holding in Roe v. Wade, and Lee v. Weisman, in which Souter voted against allowing prayer at a high school graduation ceremony. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Anthony Kennedy considered overturning Roe and upholding all the restrictions at issue in Casey. Souter considered upholding all the restrictions but still was uneasy about overturning Roe. After consulting with O'Connor, however, the three (who came to be known as the "troika") developed a joint opinion that upheld all the restrictions in the Casey case except for the mandatory notification of a husband while asserting the essential holding of Roe, that a right to an abortion is protected by the Constitution.
After the appointment of Clarence Thomas, Souter moved to the middle. By the late 1990s, Souter began to align himself more with Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on rulings, although as of 1995, he sided on more occasions with the most liberal justice, John Paul Stevens, than either Breyer and Ginsburg, both Clinton appointees. O'Connor began to move to the center. On the abortion issue, Souter began to vote to override restrictions he believed in back in 1992. On death penalty cases, worker rights cases, criminal rights cases, and other issues, Souter began voting with the liberals in the court. So while appointed by a Republican president and thus expected to be conservative, Souter is now considered part of the liberal wing of the Court.
Predictions are that Obama is likely to appoint a woman to replace him.

To those who think Specter makes no principled stands

Read his article in the NY Review of books.

How does a selfish hack with no principles—as folks from across the spectrum are making him out to be—get off writing something like that at age 80? What's in it for him, power-wise?

I'm pleased that, as a swing vote, he has the Obama administration's ear and they seem willing to listen. Bushies would never have listened to talk of limiting executive power.

Condoleezza Rice: Torture was ok because Bush did it?

I've had some nice things to say about her in the past—which I've been regretting today—because boy has she gone off the deep end defending the legality of Bush's torture program.

I understand her need to be defensive, because she was complicit as National Security Advisor, but this doesn't wash.

Update: Actually, maybe I can parse her remarks as intended:
The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture...

The United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, and so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
What she's doing here is merely defending her boss. Her defense may be insufficient or wrong, but she's not suggesting that Bush's orders were, by definition, lawful.

What she's saying is that Bush ordered everyone to act within the law, so his orders were, by definition lawful. If his subordinates exceeded it (e.g. by concocting bogus legal rationals) then this wasn't Bush's fault, but theirs for crossing a line he didn't want them to.

This line of thinking jives with Bush's public statements that "we don't torture". And "I asked, are these techniques legal? And so we got legal opinions..."

I don't think it's valid, because it seems to me Bush must have had knowledge that what he was doing wasn't kosher, but it was never a Nixonian "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal."

Obama's takeover of GM

Doesn't look pretty for the bondholders, and legally they were supposed to be paid first. This is a fair bankruptcy?

I'm going to wait for someone who knows what she's talking about, like Megan, to weigh in before I jump to conclusions on this. Because from these numbers it sure looks like Obama's version of assisting GM with "hard choices" is to reward unions for their parasitic, company-destroying behavior with a disproportionate stake in the company.

Americans now more libertarian

It seems an odd headline to write in today's "American Recovery and Reinvestment" bail-o-rama.  But look at this ABC/Washington Post polling of other issues (.pdf)...
2003 2009
Gay marriage Support 37 49

Oppose 55 46

Net -18 3 +21   (6 years)

1986 2009
Marijuana Support 21 46
Legalization Oppose 78 52

Net -57 -6 +51   (23 years)

2007 2009
Amnesty Support 52 61
for illegals Oppose 44 35

Net 8 26 +18   (2 years)

1989 2009
Gun rights Support 34 48

Oppose 60 51

Net -26 -3 +23   (20 years)

Short story of the day

I am a Zombie Filled with Love, by Isaac Marion

Pas comme la France, s'il vous plaît

French culture is amazing. Politics and economy, not so much. (ht Perry)

Marriage statism

"I don’t actually see why communities shouldn’t prohibit inter-racial marriage if they want to. I’d prefer not to live in such a community — given my domestic circumstances, in fact, I wouldn’t be able to! — but this doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable or immoral restriction for a state or country to impose on its citizens."

John Derbyshire, posting as "Bradlaugh" at Secular Right
It strikes me as both unreasonable, immoral, and incompatible with the individualism of Charles Bradlaugh. I fear Mr. Derbyshire may need a new pseudonym; he's disgracing this one.

Grand New Party

Nate Silver:
Per the LOESS curves, the number of Republicans has decreased by about 5 percent since Inauguration Day, from roughly 27 percent to 22 percent. The number of Democrats has also decreased slightly, however, from 38 percent to 35-36 percent. The gains have been made by independents, whose numbers have increased from 30 percent to about 36 percent, such that there are now roughly equal numbers of independents and Democrats.
What say we forget about that 22 percent rump and start a new party of pragmatic centrists? C'mon, who's with me?

Obama reads the Dish

Andrew Sullivan and I have been told fairly regularly that President Obama reads his blog and has been influenced by Sullivan's writing on torture. We seem to have some proof now.... (A senior administration official confirms that Obama was citing Sullivan.)
I've had an inkling that Obama was directly influenced by Andrew and not just vice-versa. Now we know.

I think it's great news our president is semi-regularly exposed to Andrew's brand of libertarianish conservatism. Say what you want about Obama, but it's clear he doesn't abide within a bubble of like-minded advisors—as Bush did, not even reading newspapers.

Quote of the day II

"Somewhat weirdly, as I waited [in the West Wing lobby], I listened to a Marine guard and the uniformed Secret Service agent on duty quietly argue about the torture memos." Marc Ambinder

Specter roundup

The Hill: Dems upset about seniority.

There are ripple effects for staff.

A TMVer cries DINO.

The hard left is gearing up to oppose Specter—to which I say:

The Post notes that, on his first day as Dem, he voted against Obama's budget. I, of course, approve.

Obama and Biden welcome him.

Meghan McCain was let down. Christine Todd Whitman admires and regrets. NYT gets letters.

Sen. Inhoe (R-OK) says this is the first visible evidence of a GOP comeback in 2010. And I'm a monkey's fraternal twin. Yglesias makes some interesting points, though.

Link blag

Jim Manzi makes the most compelling argument against torture.

1-800-[GET OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY]... Cato's David Boaz bemoans.

Speaking of tax-and-spend, the Leftopia of Washington, D.C. is now charging residents for parking in their own driveway.

Mexican Senate passes bill decriminalizing drug possession for personal use.

Megan examines why general practitioners are underpaid.

Giving up on politics, a libertarian brainstorms new frontiers of freedom.

Hathos alert: Sarah Palin is a twitter.

An environmentally-friendly pizza box.

Masturbation has fatal consequences (Le livre sans titre, 1844)

Another boring press conference?

Politico: "Obama works to avoid being exciting"

Andrew: "I'm beginning to regret watching this terribly dull and unnecessary pseudo-event."

A New York Economist blogger:
I'm starting to wonder after last night's presser, what the purpose of these things are. Barack Obama's first few prime-time appearances before the press were refreshing in their novelty; George Bush seemed allergic to reporters' unscripted, live questions. But do they really accomplish anything? Even when a reporter peacocks with a "tough" question (that he's obviously very pleased with himself for asking), the president can filibuster without saying much. Mr Obama did just that many times last night. Unlike his predecessor, he did allow a few follow-ups, but he still didn't say much that surprised anyone who has been alive since November. I'm starting to feel suckered into watching an hour-long campaign advertisement.
Apparently the hidden hypnosis is wearing thin.

But seriously, better too many press conferences that we can skip watching rather than not nearly enough, as Bush gave us.

Library Grape embeds the video and other reax. Transcript here.

I appreciated the part on Arlen Specter and Republicans:
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. On Senator Specter's switch to the Democratic Party, you said you were thrilled.

I guess nobody should be surprised about that. But how big a deal is this really?

Some Republicans say it is huge. They believe it's a game changer. They say that if you get the 60 votes in the Senate, that you will be able to ride roughshod over any opposition, and that we're on the verge of, as one Republican put it, one-party rule.

Do you see it that way? And also, what do you think his switch says about the state of the Republican Party?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think very highly of Arlen Specter. I think he's got a record of legislative accomplishment that is as good as any member of the Senate.

And I think he's always had a strong independent streak. I think that was true when he was a Republican; I think that will be true when he's a Democrat. He was a very blunt in saying I couldn't count on him to march lockstep on every single issue. And so he's going to still have strong opinions, as many Democrats in the Senate do. I've been there. It turns out all the senators have very strong opinions. And I don't think that's going to change.

I do think that having Arlen Specter in the Democratic Caucus will liberate him to cooperate on critical issues, like health care, like infrastructure and job creation, areas where his inclinations were to work with us but he was feeling pressure not to.

And I think the vote on the recovery act was a classic example. Ultimately, he thought that was the right thing to do. And he was fiercely berated within his own party at the time for having taken what I consider to be a very sensible step.

So -- so I think it's a -- overall a positive.

Now, I am under no illusions that suddenly I'm going to have a rubber-stamp Senate. I've got Democrats who don't agree with me on everything. And that's how it should be. Congress is a coequal branch of government. Every senator who's there, whether I agree with them or disagree with them, I think truly believes that they are doing their absolute best to represent their constituencies.

And we've got regional differences, and we've got some parts of the country that are affected differently by certain policies.

And those have to be respected, and there's going to have to be compromise and give-and-take on all of these issues.

I do think that, to my Republican friends, I -- I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine. I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work, and the American people voted to change. But there are a whole host of areas where we can work together.

And -- and I've said this to people like Mitch McConnell. I said, "Look, on health care reform, you may not agree with me that I've -- we should have a public plan. That may be philosophically just too much for you to swallow. On the other hand, there are some areas like reducing the cost of medical malpractice insurance where you do agree with me. If I'm taking some of your ideas and giving you credit for good ideas, the fact that you didn't get 100 percent can't be a reason every single time to oppose my position." And if that is how bipartisanship is defined -- a -- a -- a situation in which, basically, wherever there are philosophical differences, I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in an historic election, you know, we're probably not going to make progress.

If, on the other hand, the definition is that we're open to each other's ideas, there are going to be some differences, the majority will probably be determinative when it comes to resolving just hard- core differences that we can't resolve but there is a whole host of other areas where we can work together, then I think we can make progress.

QUESTION: Is the Republican Party in the desperate straits that Arlen Specter seems to think it is?

MR. OBAMA: You know, politics in America changes very quick. And I'm a big believer that things are never as good as they seem, and never as bad as they seem. You're talking to a guy who was 30 points down in the polls during a primary in Iowa so -- so I never -- I don't believe in crystal balls.

I do think that our administration has taken some steps that have restored confidence in the American people that we're moving in the right direction, and that simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy.

"The Curtain Lifts" [updated below]

Byron York:
Obama's sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.
I'm with Benen. What can that last phrase possibly mean, except that African-American opinion does not count as much as everyone else's? Yglesias and Weigel pile one.
York is not implying that the opinions of black people matter less, as the others suggest. All he meant is that black approval of Obama has more to do with racial identification than Obama's policy positions.

Weigel shows that York is factually wrong about the degree and reason for Obama's popularity among blacks relative to other Democratic pols, so that's a lot of egg on York's face.

But there's no "curtain being lifted" or actual racism being exposed—York simply made an unwarranted assumption about black racism and failed to look at the data to disprove it.

Update: CBS/NYT had some very high approval numbers among the black community, so maybe there is something to what York is saying. When approval is so high, polls vary, because you need a pretty large sample size to figure out how high with more precision.

Wednesday, April 29

Ambassador stages coup at UN

Issues long list of non-binding resolutions...

100 days in seven haikus

Via Democracy in America, from the editor of More Intelligent Life:
In 100 days
A super-majority.
What next? A hushed Rush?

Seventy percent
Of Americans dig him
The dog didn't hurt.

As long as his foes
Hold lame "tea-party" protests
The force is with him.

A plump government
Is grand if it means cheap meds,
Not water-boarding.

Such ambition! Well,
Roosevelt would be impressed
If not Kim Jong Il.

It is a fine thing
To have a smart president
Whose sentences work.

A fine amuse bouche
For what promises to be
A grand, filling meal.
Seems I need to continue working on my effete librulness, for I didn't know about amuse bouches.

Let's just say my idea of a pre-meal snack is more pedestrian. Why not order a few packs? It's $0.37 a stick, half the price of brick and mortar stores.

Quote of the day

"Ross’ column was a thought exercise, which can be difficult for people who do not think." —Daniel Larison, via E.D. Kain

Towers at sea

The Maunsell Sea Forts: Fortified towers built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries during the Second World War to help defend the United Kingdom. [google map] (© Jason Hawkes) #
One such platform is now Sealand, a sovereign nation:

Dept. of OMG he speaks in full paragraphs!

Reihan highlights Obama's remarkable interview with David Leonhardt, an economics columnist for the Times.

That we've gone from Frat Boy in Chief to someone with this level of understanding is still, to me, a wondrous thing. I also find it disarming—it's difficult to rail against the deficit spending of someone so much smarter, well-informed, and articulate than I am.

I remain committed to my libertarian heuristic of opposing state interventionism. But seeing as people are demanding it, I'm hard pressed to come up with someone who'd be better suited to heading such intervention.

However, this is the very problem with larger governments—effectiveness depends on the quality of technocrats at the top. Reliance on the capability of present-day leadership is unwise, for that leadership will change. What happens when we elect a George W. Palin ignoramus in 2016 or beyond to manage Obama's forays into social democracy, regulation, and interventionism? Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Anywho, be sure to read the interview.

Update: Andrew has other reactions.

Parties, countries, popularity

Ambers wrote:
My Republican friends keep asking me when I’ll take the GOP seriously again and why I’ve stopped writing about ticky-tak political gamesmanship and GOP consultant tricks. When they’re a serious party with serious ideas, then we can talk
Mark Hemingway protests:
To support his decision to ignore Republican politics, Ambinder cited poll numbers straight from a liberal blog that supposedly demonstrate that Venezuela — not specifically the country’s socialist government, but the country as a whole — has a higher approval rating than the Republican party. Of course, the same meaningless CNN polling data also show that Americans have a higher opinion of Turkey than of the Democratic party. Maybe Ambinder can explain what that means — perhaps Armenians and Kurds are underrepresented in the polling sample?

Deep thought

Republicans want Obama to be more like Sarah Palin and learn to speak without a teleprompter.

Baby squirrel parkour

Celebrating 112+ years of ignorance

Image Hosted by
(Archive link)
The fact that it focuses on Canadian copyright laws as the problem…nearly perfectly mimics today’s claims from the recording industry. The article even talks about a recent conference held by industry members to create a committee to fight piracy. Basically, it’s the same exact story we see today—and the same bogus complaints. If the industry has shown one thing, it’s that it will consistently overreact to any new change in technology, claiming it’s some massive threat, rather than learn how to embrace it and turn it into an opportunity.

Link blag

Libertarian dogma led the Fed astray?

Olympia Snowe opines in the Times: We Didn't Have to Lose Arlen Specter.

publius explains why Club for Growth Republicans are so counterproductive compared to the leftroots.

In analyzing Specter's move, Maddow is hypocritical.

Stephen Walt has a long but interesting post up on Israel and the "treason of the hawks".

Not-so-breaking-news: There is a negative relationship between high state+local taxes and economic growth.

Tuesday, April 28

The Final Countdown, absurd nerd version

Hold till 0:26

Quote of the day III

"So when our economy collapses after the deficit is doubled, it will be—my bad!

Otherwise, I am with you, Mr. President. Keep up the good work."

Christopher Buckley

Specter laments club-for-shrinkage

Chafee winning in '06 with more money sounds unlikely to me, even though he was a better Senator than the Democrat who replaced him. Under Bush, Republicans were simply to unpopular at that point in RI. But I take Specter's broader point.

The Club's response...
"Senator Specter has confirmed what we already knew - he's a liberal devoted to more spending, more bailouts, and less economic freedom. Thanks to him, Democrats will now be able to steamroll their big government agenda through the Senate.
"This also shows how unprincipled he is. Just a few weeks ago, he stated quite clearly that he was remaining a Republican because he thought he had 'a more important role to play there.' And he said 'the United States very desperately needs a two-party system.'

"This cynical play for political survival calls into question whether Pennsylvania taxpayers can believe anything Arlen Specter says. If his only principle is personal ambition, can he really be trusted with the serious issues that face our country?"

"The Club for Growth PAC enthusiastically endorsed Pat Toomey for Senate in Pennsylvania when Specter was pretending to be a Republican. Club members will be even more committed to Toomey's candidacy now that Specter has revealed his true identity."

Nate Silver has more numbers on what the switch may mean in practice.

F@#k you all

Could be fake, but funny either way.

Quote of the day II

“Ultimately, we're heading to having the smallest political tent in history, the way things are unfolding,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-MN)

I would just mention the Federalists and Whigs as having been a bit smaller, at one point.

Hungry boxer puppies

Michael Steele's statement

Via TPM:
Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not.

Let's be honest-Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.

Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first."
Up yours, man. You were supposed to be pro-moderate. If Specter is left-wing, I am too. Enjoy your rump of a party.

Quote of the day

The Club for Shrinkage

"My initial reaction on hearing the news was that after generating a bunch of Democratic House seats, the Club for Growth has now produced its first Democratic senator."

Ramesh Ponnuru

Specter of doom (for the GOP)

I'll have more thoughts on this later. For now, his statement:
Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.
Quoth TNR:
Specter is one of the better-known senators in America. If you follow politics even casually, you've seen or heard him on the news before. So it's going to register with you that a major Republican senator has decided his party has become too extreme for him. And if you're a Republican, you might wonder if it's become too extreme for you, as well.
Let there be no further doubt, Democrats are now the big tent party. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, only 21 percent of Americans identified as Republican. Even allowing for how much of an undercount that could be, it's still startlingly low.

Yet you'll read many conservative blogs reacting to the news with "we didn't move to the right, Specter became more liberal."  Heads, meet sand.

In my opinion Specter is one of the greatest public servants in the US Senate; one who actually votes against his party often enough when they're wrong. I don't agree with him on everything, but I'm pretty sure the U.S. would be a better place if we had a few more Arlen Specters in office.

Update: NYT has a timeline of Specter's career.

TPM analyzes why Specter had to switch.

Nate Silver looks at the consequences.

Link blag

Why DOMA Must be repealed: Reason offers yet more reminders.

Cato: Obama promised to post bills online and wait 5 days between passing and signing them. So far, he's 1-for-11.

Why do Republicans think the public perceives them as obstructionists? Because of the media, of course.

Gays begin to marry in Iowa; world keeps spinning.

Jimmy Carter is just another clueless advocate of gun control.

The Federalist Society is now pro-torture?

Monday, April 27

Obama cuts the federal budget

(via Radley)

Cheney for President

Check out one of Ross Douthat's first regular NYT columns...
Watching Dick Cheney defend the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, it’s been hard to escape the impression that both the Republican Party and the country would be better off today if Cheney, rather than John McCain, had been a candidate for president in 2008.
He's right, in hindsight.

American capitalism v. social democracy

Megan laughs at left-onomics:
I think that John Quiggin is voicing an opinion held by a lot of people on the Left: the current financial crisis has somehow discredited American-style capitalism, that the only way out of the mess we're in is to embrace a more social democratic society.

I believe that many on the left believe this [..] but as an empirical matter, it is high-test hokum.

[..] It is true that the belief in both tighter bank regulation and a larger welfare state cluster on the left, but if social democracy is some sort of preventative cure-all, how come the US economy is outperforming places like Denmark, Sweden, and Germany, not to mention the OECD as a whole? Why, if the problem is "American style capitalism", are the biggest GDP declines found elsewhere? I understand that the left finds it politically convenient to link the uninsured and the banking crisis, but this seems only very slightly less silly than blaming it on gay marriage--indeed, looking at the countries worst effected, the latter's correlation seems stronger.

Office tuning

Hopscotch gone wrong

Pandemic flu planning is not stimulus

Democrats are jumping on the revelation that Sen. Susan Collins (R-MN) objected to funds for pandemic flu planning in the stimulus bill.

I'm with The Economist's New York blogger:
Stimulus bills are meant to quickly stimulate demand in the economy and create jobs. They are not meant to account for all unforeseen contingencies. Congress could've included all sorts of funding in the stimulus—volcano monitoring, tornado tracking, alien surveillance—if the only reason needed was "just in case". Perhaps it's not the best time to brag about it, but Ms Collins was right to oppose the inclusion of this funding in the stimulus measure. Put those items in the annual budget, where they belong.

Update: A more valid criticism of the GOP is that they've delayed the confirmation of a HHS secretary.

Sunday talk on prosecution

Link blag

Nate Silver looks at tea party demographics: 2 parts libertarian-conservative, 1 part Palinite know-nothings.

Politico: The GOP Base is in rebellion mode.

Hilzoy explains the magic of recent Wall Street profits.

Daily Beast: Why don't Chinese want more freedom?

Yglesias on Secrecy, Democracy, and Security...
The long-term viability of the United States depends much more on our ability to sustain liberal institutions than on our ability to carve-out effective exceptions to the basic principles of transparency, democracy, and accountability.
RBC: A modern three-fifths rule?

ReadWriteWeb: First impressions of Wolfram|Alpha

The World Privacy Forum has a list of the 10 most important things to opt out of.

In comments, Metavirus and I have a go about lefty arrogance and gov't interference in the housing market.

A serious essay on the evolution of the female orgasm.

Seven years ago, Greenpeace published a guide to environmentally-friendly sex.

Many people don't understand gravity.

Meet the press

Gibbs and Jordan's King Abdullah interview on torture, America's international image, Iran, Israel, and other issues:

Sunday, April 26

Deep thought

We executed German and Japanese war criminals who followed orders to torture, and we punish those guilty of breaking laws they're unaware of. Yet if we prosecute those who tortured in the name of American national security, we're going to be a banana republic.

(McCain vid, if you missed it)

The Lee Harvey Oswald Band

Now that's just wrong...but clever. (Via Pime)

Nickel Creek, Ode to a Butterfly

(via LGF)

Glenn Beck's dressing room

Trickle-down economics

Via Krugman, photos of bankers who left Iceland after the financial crisis have a new use in the restroom of a bar in Reykjavik.

Thatcher on the left's concern for inequality

(ht The Humble Libertarian)

Link blag

Megan understands the relevance of torture's effectiveness. RBC has a good follow-up.

TMV: Dick Cheney as faithful old retainer?

LA Times: Bill Maher excoriates Republicans.

Post: Jay Bybee has regrets.

Missing link between seals and land mammals was found in Canada.

The Post profiles Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The smallest man in the world and his cat, 1956

Saturday, April 25

"The second ammendment is not about duck hunting"

And why gun free zones don't make any sense:

(via Kellene Bishop)

Converting federal stimulus handouts into commensurate state tax cuts

Missouri House Republicans have the right idea:
House leaders are now working to direct $1 billion of the state’s stimulus share toward an 8-percent state income-tax cut for the next two years.

[..] The new plan would reduce the state income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent for two years, said House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, a St. Louis County Republican. The cut would apply to earnings from 2009 and 2010.

“At the end of the day, the Missouri taxpayer will be able to put more money in their pockets and decide how it should be spent to stimulate the economy,” Icet said.
Of course, state Democrats aren't keen on the idea—because they believe they can spend stimulus money better than the public. It's just typical lefty arrogance.

Obama hearts fiscal discipline

There's a rule in politics about going after your opponent's biggest strength. Sow enough doubt and criticism, and pretty soon the public stops perceiving it as that big of a strength.

In addressing fiscal discipline, Obama has adopted an alternative approach: Talking up his biggest failing.

After passing a $3.5 trillion bailout and stimulus, he wants to reintroduce the pay-go?

He says he's identified $2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years, but that's a bogus number. It assumes the Iraq war would continue unabated at the rate it was going when Bush left office, which was never going to happen.

He asks his cabinet to cut $100 million dollars in waste, which is 0.0029% of the federal budget---equivalent to someone who makes $60,000 cutting back on one $3 latte a year. Political theater much?

See this chart again from the Congressional Budget office:

Notice the dotted lines of the president's budget begin after the stimulus and bailout peaks. The solid "baseline" after the peaks is the revenue and spending we'd have if no changes had been made.

Obama's budget doubles the gap between revenue and spending, and now he wants to sell himself as fiscally disciplined? It's as if a new CEO doubled the rate his company was losing money and then went to assure shareholders that it's really OK, he has plans to be responsible by rationing new office pens.

The last time we had a gap of this magnitude were the much-needed Reagan reforms and defense 'stimulus' of the 80s that drove the Soviet Union into ruin. But we aren't dueling superpowers anymore, and the world is a flatter place.

What Obama won't say is the math on his campaign promises doesn't work. In order to pay for this medium- and long- term spending, he's going to have to raise taxes. Spent money has to come from somewhere, and this president's budget is the largest progressive binge since LBJ.

So depressing

Overheard at an airport gate...
Mom to 9 year old son: You're going to be a teenager in 4 years. If you ever start doing weird things when you're a teenager, I'm going to have you locked up in a jail.

Son: What do you mean by weird, Mummy?

Mom: Like wearing lots of black clothes.

Son (voice quavering): But I like to wear black, Mummy.

Mom: No, I don't mean just wearing some black, but wearing only black. Lots of black. Maybe even black lipstick. And being pale and depressed. I will be so mad if you do that.

Son: Oh, I'm not going to do any of that. I'm going to be a paleontologist. I want to study dinosaurs and clone them from their DNA.

Mom: That's just as bad. Scientists lock themselves up in their labs and never talk to anyone and they get really depressed. You are not going to be a scientist.

Friday, April 24

Cat in a box

America's dying newspapers

"In the main it is correct to say that the decreasing number of newspapers in our larger American cities is due to the enormously increased cost of maintaining great dailies.  This has been found to limit the number which a given advertising territory will support.  It is a fact too that there are few other fields of enterprise in which so many unprofitable enterprises are maintained.  There is one penny daily in New York which has not paid a cent to its owners in twenty years during that time its income has met its expenses only once.  Another of our New York dailies loses between four and five hundred thousand dollars a year if well founded report is correct but the deficit is cheerfully met each year.  It may be safely stated that scarcely half of our New York morning and evening newspapers return an adequate profit." —The Atlantic monthly, 1918

How I learned to stop worrying and love me some systemic failure

Machines Took 'R Jobs!

Homeless edition...

(Seen in Atlanta.)

Bachmann very concerned about "stark raving mad" DHS Secretary

At what point does self-parody become the new self?

Worst song ever?

Warren Ellis calls it "a near-perfect snapshot of everything that’s shit about this point in the culture."

(blame Suderman)

Deep thought

Independents haven't been enthralled by the Republican black guy Michael Steele.

Conservatism, then and now, ctd.

Andrew highlights Reagan's signing statement ratifying the UN Convention on Torture from 1984:
"The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called 'universal jurisdiction.' Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution."
He comments:
Reagan was admant about prosecuting torture, but also prosecuting inhuman treatment that some might claim was not full-on torture. Now go read National Review or The Weekly Standard. And look what has happened to conservatism in America.
Is Andrew suggesting the right was later taken over by a bunch of militant nationalists and religious fanatics who countenance the inhumane treatment of our enemies? Perish the thought. (Peggy Noonan had best walk faster, lest the legacy of her former boss catch up.)

About that Rasmussen torture polling [updated below]

Conducted April 21-22:
2* Did the United States torture terrorism suspects?

42% Yes
37% No [what universe do these people live in?]
21% Not sure

3*Should the Obama administration do more investigating to find out how the Bush administration treated terrorism suspects?

28% Yes
58% No
13% Not sure

4* Does the release of CIA memos on interrogation techniques help the image of the United States abroad or does it endanger the national security of the United States?

28% Helps the image of the United States abroad
58% Endangers the national security of the United States
14% Not sure
The 58% No to question 3 is isn't so impressive if you care about informed opinions, because there are 37% above who still don't think the U.S. tortured, making their perspective on the justice of prosecution next-to-useless. If we can mostly subtract the 37% crazies from that 58%, that could leave us with as low as 21% who realize there was torture but think it shouldn't be investigated. That gives us roughly as many for as against prosecution. (need to see poll's crosstabs for a more accurate figure).

The 58% Nos to question 4 are also sadly misinformed, as Rahm explained. Plenty of information was already available about the techniques used. New information provided in the memos is:

a) Quantified extent of use (waterboard counts and time limits, for instance)
b) The embarrassingly bad legal reasoning

Update: In the comments, Metavirus points points out some of the problems with Rasmussen's polling, especially the false binary choice of question #4.

Thinking about this, I realize question #3 is also poorly worded. It's pitting the Bush administration with the Obama administration, when it should be pitting the Bush administration with justice.

The Attorney General's decision to investigate should be independent, which also makes polling irrelevant to it. 99% of Americans could be for or against investigating the Bush administration, but either way wouldn't change the legal analysis.

But it's still interesting to get a picture of how informed or biased Americans are. Here's Gallup's last poll from several months ago:

Better-worded questions and methology there, for sure, with a new update coming out next week.

Bottom line, for me: Only pay attention to Rasmussen election-tracking polls, which are much more valuable since question-wording isn't a problem.

Meet Brutus

Yep, that's a grizzly bear.

Question of size

Commenter at Yglesias' Financial Innovation Takes the Homework out of Banking...’s alway interesting to me to see the cognitive dissonance among the left wing on these type of issues. When it comes to banks, smaller is better, because “when institutions get really big they can’t really be doing much homework,” and instead “things need to be handled through bureaucratic processes and rules and formulae”. And this is bad in some way or another. Meanwhile, they continue to assert that we ought to be increasing the size of the very biggest institution we have - the US federal government - as if none of what they say about big banks applies to the government. What I can’t understand is, why can’t people on the left see that the issues with Bank of America being too big are highly magnified with the federal government?

Walk the plank

Link blag

One American interrogator killed herself...
"Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."
NYT editorial explains the silliness of the Right's preoccupation with shaking Chavez' hand.

naked capitalism: Enjoy dollar hegemony while it lasts.

Connecticut legislates gay marriage, meaning all the misplaced cries of judicial fiat hold even less water.

Sen. Jim Webb says marijuana legalization should be on the table. Any year now, sanity threatens to break out.

Nate Silver divides Texas.

Mt. Everest gets cell phone service.

Human lungs breathing outside the body (video)

Deep thought

America is a Christian nation, except when it's not.

Ambers on Obama's popularity

3. Independents remain firmly rooted in the Democratic garden. They're skittish about deficits, but they love Obama. They trust him, alone, of all the institutions of and figures in -- government.
I'm more than skittish about deficits, but I'm sure it describes many independents. And we don't love Obama, we just like him--in a Kennedyesque way. See the rest of Marc's points...

Thursday, April 23

Grading Obamanomics

Robert Reich was Clinton's Secretary of Labor and is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He writes:
As a university professor I'm accustomed to giving grades. So here's my report card on Obamanomics so far:

The 10-year budget gets an A. It's an extraordinary vision of what America can and should become, including universal health insurance and environmental protections against climate change. And the budget takes a little bit more from the rich and gives a little bit more back to the poor and lower middle class, which seems appropriate given that the income gap is wider than it's been since the 1920s. I'd give the budget an A plus except for its far-too-rosy economic projections.

The stimulus package gets a B. Good as far as it goes but doesn't go nearly far enough. $787 billion over two years sounds like a lot of stimulus. But the economy is operating at about a trillion and a half dollars below its capacity this year alone. And considering that the states are cutting services and increasing taxes to the tune of $350 billion over this year and next, the stimulus is even smaller.

The last grade is for the bank bailouts. I give them an F. I'm a big fan of this administration, but I've got to be honest. The bailouts are failing. So far American taxpayers have shoveled out almost $600 billion. Yet the banks are lending less money than they did five months ago. Bank executives are still taking home princely sums, their toxic assets and non-performing loans are growing, and the banks are still cooking their books. And now the Treasury is talking about converting taxpayer dollars into bank equity, which exposes taxpayers to even greater losses.

So that's the report card. An A on the budget, B on the stimulus, and F on the bailout. On the whole (given how I weigh grades) that gives Obamanomics a C-plus. Not bad given the magnitude of the problems Obama inherited. But by the same token, not nearly good enough.
I'll give Obama close to an overall C+ as well. But my breakdown is very different.

The 10-year budget gets an F. It's the polar opposite of the Clinton-Gingrich years, and worse than those of solid Republican control-- there's absolutely no fiscal restraint to be seen. It's a nightmare scenario for anyone in the center and right-of-center.

The stimulus effect is difficult to judge at this early point. Theory-wise it sure runs contrary to the historic triumph of laissez faire-ish principles. But I'm going to be optimistic and give it a B like Reich.  One can hope.

Lastly, Reich's assessment of the bank bailouts doesn't seem to grapple with the tradeoffs and compromises that make the PPIP more palatable than nationalization or bank runs. And he says he's concerned about equity stakes exposing taxpayers to losses, but don't equity stakes actually have more potential for upside compared to mere loans, which could also be losses?

Other lefties like Yglesias and Krugman were arguing that the original bailouts were subsidizing losses and privatized gains. They wanted a nationalization of gains so the taxpayer could benefit from these investments. Well, that's what equity is for. It's called capitalism. Now obviously I'm no expert on this subject, either, but I'll give Obama another optimistic B. It could end up lower as things pan out, but Reich's F strikes me as highly unlikely

Baby preacher

What is seen...cannot be unseen. Does indoctrination start young or what?

Holding the Democrats accountable

The Economist's New York blogger has it exactly right (emphasis mine):
AT PRESENT there is a general consensus that government spending needs to rise in order to make up for the shortfall in demand from American consumers. A great deal of federal money also needs to be put toward rescuing the financial system. Thus, even this magazine has endorsed much of Barack Obama's expansive economic agenda. But at some point in the future the economy will stabilise, private spending will once again be counted on to spur growth, and a more restrained government should return. At that point, will the Democrats in power (assuming they're still in power) be able to turn off the tap?

Jon Henke of The Next Right suggests how we might measure the Democrats' seriousness about long-term fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction.
Watch how Obama funds programs that are not successful, or that do not have clear metrics for success/failure. Recall a point that Obama made in his inaugural address.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works ... Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
Here's my prediction: programs that Democratic groups are inclined to like will almost never end. They will be given additional funding. For those programs, the answer will almost never be "no".
Therein lies the fear of every centrist now supporting Mr Obama. The Republicans, of course, were no better in managing the budget. But should the president fail to make a dent in the deficit by 2012, the opposition will have an issue to run on. Sensing this, Mr Henke puts his party on notice:
We can't dig our way out of this fiscal hole by "cutting waste". We certainly can't afford any significant tax cuts at this point. Proposals that are not politically viable are not "serious"; they are grandstanding for the base.

Quote of the day II

"Nothing invigorates interest in federalism like losing a national election. And nothing smothers that interest like winning one." —Radley Balko

Quote of the day

"We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do ... to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture." President Bush, 7 November 2005

Not so, as it turns out.  I have words for you, Mr. President: Ignorantia legis neminem excusat. Especially deliberately constructed ignorance.

Deep thought

How long until George Bush apologizes during a nice sit-down interview in comfortable chairs?

A solemn read

I don't have the heart to pare this op-ed down to quote bytes. Please just read the whole thing...

Bush against torture

Official proclamation by President Bush in June 2003:
Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.

Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice....

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy. I further urge governments to join America and others in supporting torture victims' treatment centers, contributing to the UN Fund for the Victims of Torture, and supporting the efforts of non-governmental organizations to end torture and assist its victims.
Accept that sleep deprivation for 11 days, waterboarding, and other parts of the cumulative program he approved are torture and you can hang the man by his own standards—which also happen to be those of a supermajority of Americans.

It's little wonder partisans from the right are stuck trying to argue Bush and Cheney didn't torture. And so 183 waterboards in 2 months becomes "something that should be considered a source of pride" by the unhinged right.

Link blag

Lefties are upset that more centrists healthcare reforms such as the Healthy Americans Act are being considered.

Andrew: the Right has forgotten what tyranny is.  (but at least they finally found something worth mocking)

Megan and Manzi examine torture's effectiveness with their logic caps on. Conor quibbles.

Radley: Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is a ridiculous hack.

Sad news: Ann Coulter's mother is dead. Worse news: Ann Coulter is still alive. (hey don't look at me, she's said far more outrageous things)

Maine gay marriage hearing is a riot.

Cato: We have a "People's Garden"? Deus mio.

High-class redneck hunting. The orange cap is a nice touch.

Kid studies female anatomy.

More from Philip Zelikow

"...The White House wants all the copies of your memos collected and destroyed."

"...Not only was the piece of paper 'wrong', it was inconvenient to have it around."

Back to basics

Seems she's allowed to raise that blindfold and read. Shepard Smith has the right words:

"I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are AMERICA! We do not fucking torture!!"

Ordinary Will puts it more eloquently. I'm just reminded of the inauguration:

Wednesday, April 22

How did the oil get to Alaska?

Joe Barton (R-TX) doesn't have a middle school science textbook handy:

Later, he tweets:

Um, right--what a fool.

Sunlight happens

Conor posits:
Jonah Goldberg wonders whether the fallout from the torture memos “merely proves such methods should be kept secret, not that they shouldn’t be used.”

This presumes that it is possible for a modern democracy to keep extremely controversial policies secret for many years, across multiple administrations. Not likely! In fact, even the unusually secretive Bush Administration failed to keep most of its interrogation practices secret — damaging information outed prior to the end of its tenure. So for the sake of argument, say the policies they pursued were advantageous only if never revealed, and disadvantageous otherwise. It remains the fact that pursuing them was wrongheaded, because a halfway competent strategist would have anticipated that of course they couldn’t be kept secret indefinitely.

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