Monday, January 25, 2010

"Monsters" and "Political Reality"

I should point out that, despite my last post, I have a lot of respect for people like Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and (of course) Paul Krugman. I do believe they have a point, and they're dead-on on a lot of issues.

The problem isn't their perspective. The problem is the extent to which they've gone to defend it. Like practically everybody who finds themselves on the side of the Village—or finds themselves a part of it—they are jettisoning far too much in the name of "political realities". They are not stopping to think about how real those "realities" are, and the extent to which their cases are built on a rickety foundation of assumptions, suppositions, and projection.

They always forget that the rest of America does not think as Washington does. Republicans are forced to remember that because they live in fear of their base. If they forget, they could end up on the business end of a nasty primary challenge. GOP candidates can even lose a general if the SoCons stay home. Dems don't have to worry about either of these possibilities from their always-supportive base, so they end up imprisoned Washington's "political realities".

That is the true basis for that Republican "you study reality, we create it" comment that Dems mocked a while back. The Republican in question was not talking about physical reality. He was talking about those political realities, the ones that people like Matt are always referring to. The Republican use their knowledge of both the Dems and Washington to create the conventional wisdom, and the Democratic lawmakers and hangers-on end up trying to operate within those ever-shifting Republican-built boundaries.

And when they fail, as they so often do, they always blame everybody but themselves. They blame the Republicans, sure, but they mostly blame those who stand outside the "political reality" and try to tell them what's really going on. They don't want to hear it, since they have invested time, energy, and their personal reputation in these "political realities". They build a common defense against the cognitive dissonance between "political reality" and the actual stuff. It happened with Iraq, and it's happening here.

Even this whole "pass the Senate bill" thing has a sense of unreality to it. It boils down to the Dems exploiting the fact that the Senate passed the bill before the new guy could chance to vote against it, and before the public made it clear that the Senate bill was not enough. Both of those, together, make "pass the Senate bill" sleazy at best.

The public will hate it. The Republicans will run against it. The base will walk away. Seats will be lost. So why support it? "Political reality".

The good news is that the Brown victory seems to have helped these guys realize what's truly real. Bernanke's reappointment was "political reality", but it's troubled. Knuckling under to the banks' agenda was "political reality", but Obama looks to be giving Volcker and Warren their heads on that one. Pretending that the Republicans were partners, instead of opponents, was "political reality", but the Dems seem to finally realize what they're up against. Chasing the independent vote while ignoring the core supporters was "political reality", but the Dems are now confronted with proof that young, committed supporters can and will stay home.

So now we have to find new "political realities". With any luck, the Dems will start creating them, instead of just following them. The only way that will happen, though, is if people like Yglesias, Klein and Silver start defending what's right, instead of whatever "reality" they're invested in.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Now They Just Sound Pathetic.

"Republicans", you might ask? No, the Senate bill's bloggy defenders, who are now reduced to calling House Progressives "monsters".

No, I'm not making this up. Yglesias actually said that. House progressives are not particularly receptive to the whole "pass the Senate bill or health care dies forever" argument, and aren't willing to roll over for the Senate, so apparently that makes them "monsters". Not Lieberman. Not the Republicans. Not the voters who—largely because they think the Democrat Senate is a hill of crap—rejected the Dem's chosen candidate in Mass. and will probably react very poorly to an attempt to ram this thing through. It's the progressives, somehow, that are the "monsters". Because, unlike Yglesias et al, there's a line they won't cross.

HCR's defenders get really oversensitive to the comparison, but this is exactly what happened with Iraq. Liberal "hawks" and neoconservatives spent enormous time and energy defending the idea of the war and its necessity. When it went bottoms-up, they responded to the (entirely justified) criticism of their enormous mistake by absolutely losing their minds. They called the war's progressive critics traitors, communists, hippies—and, yes, "monsters". And now that the Senate's perverse legislation is likely doomed, what happens? They're losing their minds, again, and the namecalling begins anew.

Yes, it's pathetic. It was pathetic with Iraq, and it's pathetic now. Not even so much because it's wrong, but because they just don't want to admit they lost. Yes, they're losers, as firmly rejected by the electorate as the Bush agenda was in 2006. Somewhere deep down, they probably know that they deserved to lose. They can't stand that. So they lash out, and stink of fear and desperation in doing so.

And in that fear and desperation, they have also finally answered that question I posed to the defenders months ago. You may remember it:
Is there a line? If there were a bill called "health care reform" that consisted solely of "everybody tithes 10% of their money to Rupert Murdoch", would they still support it? If THAT were all that Joe Lieberman, Nelson et al were willing to vote for, would Rahm head on down to Reid's office and harass them to pass the Health Care/Buying Rupert Murdoch Big Yachts Act of 2009?
Yglesias just showed that the answer is "no". There's no line. There never was. The Buying Big Yachts Act of 2009 would be perfectly acceptable. Anything with the name "health care" on it would be acceptable. Anything that makes Matt Yglesias and the rest feel like winners, instead of losers, is acceptable.

And if you don't support it?

You're a MONSTER.

Edit: Some of Matt's commentators are defending his post for being "sarcastic". Bull. He's dressing up a serious point in quasi-sarcasm. It's "Ha Ha Only Serious".

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court Rules That Corps Can Advertise As Much As The Want

This blog entry has been brought to you by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart: we think unions are smelly!

So, yes, the Supremes ruled 5-4 (naturally) against restrictions on corporate advertising during elections. No surprise: the Roberts court was, and is, a profoundly corporatist creature.

This does slightly help unions and non-profits like the ACLU, but the money gap there is just too much to contemplate. Wal-Mart is going to be able to, quite literally, buy their own candidates. Sure, they can't donate directly or coordinate, but who cares? Most campaign spending is advertising anyway. If a corp can pick up that slack, the campaign's fundraising work is a million times simpler.

America: It Was Nice While It Lasted.(tm)


This is from TPM. It's an anonymous staffer talking about the mood in Washington after the Brown win. Quoted verbatim:

I certainly wouldn't want to indicate I have any unique insight on how everyone feels around this place but I thought you might be interested in how one Senate staffer is feeling.

My background is like probably the majority of staffers I know. I came to DC, from a far superior climate and quality of life, because I wanted to save the world. I arrived, and took a job in the House, at what I still view as the nadir of Congress - in 1996. Republicans had recently taken over Congress and had 230 seats in the House and 52 in the Senate. Democrats were in a state of shock and we watched (because that was essentially all we could do) in horror as they systematically went after nearly every institution of civil governance culminating in nearly removing the President from office via an entirely trumped-up charge. They had destroyed the Democrats in 1994 because they simply couldn't deliver - the BTU tax went down, health care went down, and finally the Crime Bill failed because it had such laughably wacky ideas as "midnight basketball" as a crime prevention measure (something with is widely approved of today and is completely noncontroversial). As a young LA, it was amazingly dispiriting. Literally nothing we proposed could get passed - we couldn't even get votes. Every bill came to the floor under a closed rule so we couldn't propose amendments and our Senate colleagues faced a full amendment tree on every bill such that unless they had Republican patron they couldn't get votes either. Kennedy fought like hell for things like minimum wage and sometimes could arm-wrestle a procedural vote win out of them but things would just die in the hands of the Hammer in the House. Eventually, my boss got fed up and retired and I went over to the Administration where I thought I might be able to get more accomplished.

Even there, in a Democratic Administration, we faced constant battles as anything remotely beneficial to the public or in keeping with our mission was forcibly outsourced by the Congress or investigated into near-paralysis. The Republican Majority in the House had steadily eroded so that by the end of the Clinton years they had only a 5 seat cushion (223) in the House, but their strong majority in the Senate (55) kept them firmly in control. Then, when Bush took over in the wake of the most disputable election imaginable, the political appointees flooded in and began reversing policies (including policies promulgated by previous Republican administrations) as if they were exercising the overwhelming mandate of the people. Republicans barely kept the House with 221 seats and only held on to the Senate via Cheney's tie breaking vote on the organizing resolution. I left to start a family.

Despite Jeffords' flip, and the razor-thin majority in the House, the Democrats dealt no significant losses to President Bush and his agenda went essentially unchecked, and nominations were processed efficiently and quickly (after all, the people had spoken!). The only arguable exception I can think of right now is that the Administration was unable to push through drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but they actually did put it on reconciliation, they just lost too many Republicans to win. I returned to being in the Minority on the Hill, on the Senate side this time and as staff to an important Committee, and Republicans now had a 51-seat Majority in the Senate and had strengthened in the House to a mighty 229 seats. We fought valiantly to slow them down but were unsuccessful in stopping a one-sided energy bill, escalation of a needless war in Iraq, and continued erosion of the social safety net and de-funding of civil institutions through tax cuts for the well-off. We got occasional fig leaves, and maybe could get a witness or two included in a hearing, but were essentially not a part of the final discussions to put together bills. I dreamed that if only we could get two Senate seat takeaways, then we could finally take the reigns back - after all, poll after poll showed the American people agreed with us on nearly every issue. In 2004 we would surely break through to the public - we had neutralized them on their central issue by nominating a war hero and people were desperate for health care and education reforms. We had moved away from that scary Howard Dean fellow and were now proposing only modest reforms to health care, more tax cuts, and deficit reduction (don't worry, never at the expense of the Pentagon!). How could we lose? Republicans strengthened their majorities to 55 Senators and 232 House Members and I almost lost my job as the now-overwhelming Republican Majority in the Senate increased their allocation of the office space and staff salaries. Now a majority was a faraway dream and the best we could hope for was a few sympathetic Republicans on a few issues that might help us at least expose what they were doing (and we did manage to beat back drilling in Arctic again).

Unexpectedly, public mood did finally begin to sour on the wars and deficits agenda in 2006 and we were able to eek out victories in MT and VA so that we could take a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate (including a dicey vote from Lieberman) and a massive 233-202 Majority in the House. Of course, we'd have to cautious and trim our sails a bit since Bush still was President and we had several skittish votes in the Caucus, but the American People were giving us a shot. We suffered some disappointments but we did about as well as could be expected in the Senate, but at least we were making progress and, though I had to trim my ambitions a bit, I was finally writing provisions that were becoming law. On balance, it was a good Congress, but I dreamed of having big majorities like 55 Senators so that we could really do the stuff we've all been waiting for.

A wave election hit us in 2008 where we not only had overwhelming majorities of 59 seats in the Senate (once Republicans finally got around to letting us seat Franken) and 257 seats in the House (returning us to the same power level as when we ruled the House with inpugnity in 1992-3) but, most importantly, a President who was explicitly elected on an agenda of "change." It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wrench the wheel away from the abyss and really deliver on our promises. It was disheartening when it seemed that Reid was allowing McConnell's disingenuous narrative of "it's always taken 60 votes to get anything done" to take hold, but we were later even saved from that when Specter switched. But it seems we've spent the entire year moving our own goalposts farther away. Things have gotten so bad that in roaming the halls today it feels exactly as if we lost the Majority last night.

The worst is that I can't help but feel like the main emotion people in the caucus are feeling is relief at this turn of events. Now they have a ready excuse for not getting anything done. While I always thought we had the better ideas but the weaker messaging, it feels like somewhere along the line Members internalized a belief that we actually have weaker ideas. They're afraid to actually implement them and face the judgement of the voters. That's the scariest dynamic and what makes me think this will all come crashing down around us in November.

I believe President Clinton provided some crucial insight when he said, "people would rather be with someone who is strong and wrong than weak and right." It's not that people are uninterested in who's right or wrong, it's that people will only follow leaders who seem to actually believe in what they are doing. Democrats have missed this essential fact.

The stimulus bill in the spring showed us what was coming. In the face of a historic economic crisis, Democrats negotiated against themselves at the outset and subsequently yielded to absurd demands from self-described "moderates" to trim the package to a clearly inadequate level. No one made any rational argument about why a lower level was better. It would have been trivial to write "claw-back" provisions if the stimulus turned out to be too much or we could have done a rescission this year to give these moderates their victory, but none of this was on the table. We essentially looked like we didn't know what the right answer was so we just kinda went for what we could get. This formula was repeated in spades in both the Climate and Health Care debacles.

This is my life and I simply can't answer the fundamental question: "what do Democrats stand for?" Voters don't know, and we can't make the case, so they're reacting exactly as you'd expect (just as they did in 1994, 2000, and 2004). We either find the voice to answer that question and exercise the strongest majority and voter mandate we've had since Watergate, or we suffer a bloodbath in November. History shows we're likely to choose the latter.

Although I realize this is far too long to publish, if you do decide to use any of it, please keep my anonymity. Just in case I'm wrong and there is more good to do yet.

Bolding is mine. I wanted to quote the whole thing, but that was the important bit. The Dems just don't get that it's not about some nonexistent line from mythical "left" to mythical "right". It never has been. And they're going to be crushed for it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cohn Pleads: "Pleeeeease Pass the Senate Bill!"

Yep, it's already started. We've already got Jonathan Cohn whinging in TNR about how doomed the House will be if they don't pass the Senate's bill unaltered.

Yes, that Senate bill. The one that's a big ol' giveaway to insurance companies, which taxes the holy hell out of unions to avoid higher upper-class taxes, which practically forces insurance cartels and and which Coakley almost certainly lost the election on. (Yes, it's similar to Massachusetts' own setup. That is completely irrelevant.)

The House should pass that bill unchanged.


Look, Jon. I can call you Jon, right? I know that you've invested a lot of your own political and intellectual capital into this thing, despite your own misgivings. A lot of other people have, too. Poor Ezra seems to have found himself practically authoring the thing, and Captain Sabermetrics has, in defending this tripe, managed to so competely alienate himself from more progressive bloggers that his reputation as a cool, unattached statistical analyst is probably gone for good.

But now you've been reduced to advocating the very bill that you and everybody else had been saying, just a few months ago, would be "fixed in reconciliation". You've been reduced to telling politicians that a terrible bill is "better than nothing", which has always been political suicide. And you've been reduced to telling the House that their entire Congressional body is supposed to lie down and admit that they have less authority than ONE Connecticut Senator...that they're essentially worthless.

Even if you can pull it off, is it really worth it? You sound exactly like the neoconservatives and "liberal hawks" trying to defend the Iraq occupation after the wheels went off the whole thing in late 2003. Same damned "better than nothing" arguments, even. "You go to war with the army you have" is a punchline, not a guideline. Sure, TNR was one of the main sources of that malarky, but you're a good writer and a good journalist; you should be able to learn from history.

I'm not going to predict whether this sort of thing will work. The same entitlement and disconnect that fueled this bill and Coakley's humiliating, bizarre defeat might mean that the House gets convinced to vote against their own interests. They're trying to save their jobs, after all. They're politicians.

But Cohn isn't a politician. And, dammit, he should know better.

Edit: And, as you can see here, he DOES know better, when it isn't health care on the table.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Brown Won, and the Dems Will Undoubtedly Learn the Wrong Lesson

Already the talking heads are bleating about "too much government". This is Massachusetts we're talking about; it's not about "too much government".

No, it is about—and has always been about—the belief that the Dems got into office and, instead of changing anything, bellied up to the lobbyists' tables and ate their fill at the American people's expense, just as the Republicans did. Of course, the Republicans weren't quite as hypocritical about it.

And, yes, that means it's really about the bailout, and about the economy. It has ALWAYS been about the economy. There is a disconnect between the people they see on television chattering about how the "economy is rebounding", and their experiences as workers, small businessmen, and the increasingly-desperate unemployed. They sense that they've been had, and the Republicans are (as ever) adroit about exploiting it while the Dems are busy stumbling around like idiots.

So, is health care now dead? Depends. I suspect that, considering this IS the Dems we're talking about, they'll try to leverage some BS about "moving towards the center" to pressure progressives in the House into passing the Senate bill. They've spent the entire past year pissing on progressives and calling it rain, no reason to think that they'd stop now.

If they smarten up, realize this has nothing to do with "big government" and everything to do with the perception of who they're governing for, they might be able to turn this around and exploit reconciliation to get a (better) bill on to Obama's desk.

But if they were that smart, Brown would never have won to begin with.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Credit Card Companies Skimming Off Haiti Donations

Again, on HuffPo, Laura Bassett:

As a massive human tragedy unfolds in Haiti, relief organizations are soliciting credit-card donations through their hotlines and websites. About 97 percent of these donations will actually make it to the designated organizations -- but the other 3 percent will be skimmed off by banks and credit card companies to cover their "transaction costs."

Thanks to this hidden fee, American banks and credit card companies are making huge profits -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million a year -- off of people's charitable donations, according to a Huffington Post analysis.

Those profits rise sharply after major disasters, when humanitarian relief organizations such as Oxfam and Operation USA take in more than 85 percent of their donations via credit card -- and the credit card providers, with only a few exceptions, refuse to waive their fees...

...Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research at, says the hidden processing fees tacked onto all credit card donations cover far more than the transaction costs, allowing the issuing banks, as well as companies like Visa, MasterCard and American Express, to generate significant profits off of online charitable donations.

"They certainly profit off of these fees," Woolsey said. "Charities are treated like any other merchant. The credit card company bleeds a few percentage points off each transaction; that's central to their business model.

Words fail. But it gets worse:

Spokespersons for Visa and American Express declined to say whether they would consider waiving their fees for the Haiti disaster, or for all charitable donations. But Bill Strathmann, CEO of the online charity portal Network for Good, says they won't: "The reason credit card companies don't waive fees for charities is that they have so many corporate partners who drive high volume through their system. A company like Walmart could say, 'Hey, you're giving them a bettter rate? Last I looked I was passing billions of dollars through your company.'"

It is difficult to know whether this is the true reason or not. it would almost be worse if it were. What would it say about America if a company as important as Walmart couldn't understand why charitable donations should get preferential treatment?

I agree with Laura that legislators should intervene. This is unconscionable. Visa et al should not be profiting from this disaster. They are literally taking food away from the mouths of starving Haitians, and they should be ASHAMED.

How You Can Help in Haiti

You don't need to be told about what happened in Haiti. You almost certainly just want to know how you can help.

Unless you're a professional, you probably shouldn't go to Haiti to help. You can best help through donation. From Huffpo:

The U.S. State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747

NOTE: We will continually be updating this page. The best way for you to help right now is to give through one of the organizations below.

The American Red Cross is pledging an initial $200,000 to assist communities impacted by this earthquake. They expect to provide immediate needs for food, water, temporary shelter, medical services and emotional support. They are accepting donations through their International Response Fund.

UNICEF has issued a statement that "Children are always the most vulnerable population in any natural disaster, and UNICEF is there for them." UNICEF requests donations for relief for children in Haiti via their Haiti Earthquake Fund. You can also call 1-800-4UNICEF.

•Donate through Wyclef Jean's foundation, Yele Haiti. Text "Yele" to 501501 and $5 will be charged to your phone bill and given to relief projects through the organization.

Story continues below

Operation USA is appealing for donations of funds from the public and corporate donations in bulk of health care materials, water purification supplies and food supplements which it will ship to the region from its base in the Port of Los Angeles. Donate online at, by phone at 1-800-678-7255 or, by check made out to Operation USA, 3617 Hayden Ave, Suite A, Culver City, CA 90232.

Save The Children has launched an emergency relief effort for Haiti. Donate to their fund to provide medical attention and clean water to children and families.

International Medical Corps is assembling a team of first responders and resources to provide lifesaving medical care and other emergency services to survivors of the earthquake. The IMC previously helped recovery efforts after September 2009's earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia, and the massive 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. Donate to the International Medical Corps through their 24-hour hotline at 800-481-4462

•Ben Stiller's Stillerstrong campaign will be temporarily diverting all donations to support the Haiti relief effort.

Partners In Health reports its Port-au-Prince clinical director , Louise Ivers, has appealed for assistance: "Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS... Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us." Donate to their Haiti earthquake fund.

•As a UN Special Envoy to Haiti, Bill Clinton appeared on CNN on Wednesday to ask for further assistance in bringing relief to populations on the ground. You can donate through the Clinton Foundation or text HAITI to 20222 to donate $10.

Mercy Corps is sending a team of emergency responders to assess damage, and seek to fulfill immediate needs of quake survivors. The agency aided families after earthquakes in Peru in 2007, China and Pakistan in 2008, and Indonesia last year. Donate online, call 1-888-256-1900 or send checks to Mercy Corps Haiti Earthquake Fund; Dept NR; PO Box 2669; Portland, OR 97208.

Doctors Without Borders is on the ground and has set up clinics to treat injured in Haiti. Donate any amount so they can keep their efforts going.

Direct Relief is committing up to $1 million in aid for the response and is coordinating with its other in-country partners and colleague organizations. Their partners in Haiti include Partners in Health, St. Damien Children's Hospital, and the Visitation Hospital, which are particularly active in emergency response. Donate to Direct Relief online.

Oxfam is rushing in teams from around the region to respond to the situation to provide clean water, shelter, sanitation and help people recover. Donate to Oxfam America online.

•The UN World Food Programme is gathering all available resources to deliver food to the recently homeless and impoverished in Haiti. Donate now to help bring food to those affected as quickly and efficiently as possible.

•The Baptist Haiti Mission is operating an 82-bed hospital that is "overflowing with injured." Donate online to BHM and 100% of your donation will go to the relief effort.

International Medical Corps is assembling a team of first responders and resources to provide lifesaving medical care and other emergency services to survivors of the earthquake. Donate online.

•Following the earthquake, Catholic Relief Services made an immediate commitment of $5 million for emergency supplies. They are distributing food and relief supplies, and importing plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and water purification tablets from the Domincan Republic. Donate to Catholic Relief Services to assist in these efforts.

•Give to the American Jewish World Service's Earthquake Relief Fund.

•CARE is deploying emergency team members to Port-au-Prince today to assist in recovery efforts. They're focusing their efforts on rescuing children who may still be trapped in schools that collapsed. Donate to CARE.

Orphans International America reports that they have been able to make contact with their program director in the town of Jacmel, a city about 20 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince that houses OI's hospitals and schools. Orphans International America is attempting to gather food, clean water and emergency medical supplies to Jacmel. You can contribute to them through PayPal.

The International Rescue Committee is deploying an emergency response team to Haiti to deliver urgent assistance to earthquake survivors and to help overwhelmed local aid groups struggling to meet the immense emergency needs. They will focus on critical medical, water and sanitation assistance. Donate to the IRC Haiti Crisis Fund.

NetHope is coordinating its response with its NGO member agencies and with the UN's Emergency Telecom Cluster to establish connectivity in Haiti. Seventeen of NetHope's members are already providing aid and deploying resources on the ground. Donate online.

The Haitian Health Foundation is still assessing the situation of their full-time facilities and staff in Haiti. They regularly provide health care, development and relief to rural mountain villages in Haiti. Donate to the Haitian Health Foundation.

•World Vision has more 370 staff in the country. Staff members from less-affected regions of Haiti are mobilizing, and World Vision's global experts are expected to arrive in the disaster zone as soon as possible. Donate to World Vision.

The Jewish Federations of North America is partnering with the American Jewish Joint Distribution committee and have created a dedicated Haiti Relief page for online donations.

United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is the UN's humanitarian fund responding to emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti. Donate online.

Friends of the Orphans will use donations to meet the needs of first responders such as first aid supplies, shipping of necessary materials to assist in efforts, and treating the injured. Those interested in helping the relief effort can visit, or call 888-201-8880 to make a donation.

World Concern's staff is almost entirely composed of Haitian nationals and will be tapping into private as well as U.S. government supplies to help in the relief effort it hopes will soon be supplemented by cargo ships. Donate to World Concern.

Merlin USA is sending an emergency response team out to the region and have subsequently launched an emergency appeal to bring urgent medical aid and assistance to those affected. Donate to Merlin USA.

HuffPost Impact is following relief organizations in Haiti and will be updating with their latest messages from the ground.

The ARC, Oxfam, the medical NGOs and UNICEF would be my first choices. I don't have much to add to that, except remind people that the first few days are incredibly important, and that while donations of food and blankets are certainly welcome, cash can be put to work much faster.

Edit: If you want to donate RIGHT NOW, easiest way possible (assuming you have a mobile phone) is to text "HAITI" to 90999. It'll put a $10 charge on your phone bill and send the money to the ARC. I don't trust those texting services in general, but this one seems legit: it's linked from the ARC's own site.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Once Again, This is Why You Lose

Over on Huffpo (C/O Ryan Grim) there's another cogent reminder of how you lose power:

Freshman Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who has long been critical of the surtax on the wealthy, which he worries could hit small businesses, spoke up in favor of the tax on insurance. His comments about union opposition to the tax struck some on the call as surprising. Big Labor may be opposed to it, he told his colleagues, but the unions support the Senate plan, which must mean that they'll go along with a bill that includes such a tax.
Story continues below

"I said that the unions supported the Senate bill, which they did," Polis told HuffPost. "So that was just a simple factual statement that the unions supported the bill in the Senate. That was my only mention of unions in my comment."
Although Grim correctly points out that the AFL-CIO didn't support the bill, the story shows why reflexively supporting something like this is a giant mistake. If you support something that does not benefit you, and that you had no hand in, the people who did develop it and who do benefit will simply take you for granted. If all the unions (as opposed to the AFL-CIO) had said "we will not accept this without changes", it would have made it perfectly clear that the Senate bill was going to need changes, and the Senate would be gearing up to discuss what sort of changes it would or wouldn't accept.

(After all, these are unions we're talking about, and even the most obstinate Senate Dem is going to be a wee bit cautious about drawing their fury.)

But because unions like the SEIU acted like "team players" and gave the bill their full-throated support, the unions have little leverage. Had they been a bit smarter, a bit savvier, and played their cards closer to their chests, they could be more effectively influencing reconciliation.

Then again, that assumes there's going to BE one. Yes, Pelosi is saying that the House isn't getting "rolled" on this one. But there, again, she has no credibility. The House has been rolled over, and over, and over again, to the point that it's rapidly becoming roughly as effective and influential a parliamentary body as, say, the Russian Duma.

(Or whatever Saddam had rubberstamping him.)

If you think it's bad now, just wait until what the coming year brings. I shudder to think at the sort of doctrinaire right-wing twaddle is going to masquarade as a jobs stimulus program or climate change legislation. It'll make your head spin.

Sure, the Senate Republicans will still oppose it, no matter how right-wing it is. But why wouldn't they? By keeping two or three people around that might relent, those forty people ended up having far more impact than the entire House of Represenatatives.

Sad as it is to say, the unions could learn from them.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Ross Douthat: "Shockingly Bad"

Hie to Bitch Ph.d, where M. Leblanc says:

Ross Douthat's column about Avatar, which is shockingly bad. And I really can't believe that the NYTimes lets him write something that is basically a whiny defense for Christianity on their pages.
LeBlance's not kidding. The whole thing is (near as I can tell, it's pretty incoherent) about how bad pantheism is compared to monotheism. And, lord is it loopy.

First, it's loopy because Douthat takes cheap shots at Hollywood.

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
Let's leave aside how goofy it is to try to call Star Wars "pantheistic" when it's pretty transparent space opera, or how those other movies are far more about "back to nature" themes than Pantheism.

How the HELL can a New York Times columnist get away with such a ludicrous, ludicrous statement? There are THOUSANDS of films that have been made from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. Hell, if you want to get technical about it, almost [i]ALL[/i] films are made from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. That's the context and society they were made in! Pantheism isn't something Americans long for! It's treated as a novelty!

He then transitions to a weird defense of Christianity (well, monotheism, but you know which "mono" we're talking about here):

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.
You got a cite there, Ross? And what does this have to do wtih Pantheism, exactly? It might have something to do with primitivism, which was also a theme in Avatar, but they aren't the same thing.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.
Okay, I'm going to stop right here. This is all too nonsensical to rebut, since it's just a series of bald assertions of monotheism's (read: Jeebus') superiority. That last assertion that "Nature cannot take us back" is little more than "your religion is wrong and mine is right! Nyaaaah!" dressed up.


Pantheistic? Hell yeah, go look up the word "kami" sometime. Primitivist? Not really, their cell phones make the west's look like toddler's toys, and they have a long tradition of techno-fetishism that would make Ross' precious little head spin. Even if it were not logically incoherent to argue that Pantheism is primitivist, it is demonstrably wrong. Yet neither Ross nor any of his editors thought to question whether insulting and trivializing the beliefs of millions in the pages of the New York Times was a good idea.

So, now, there's a better question here. Japan is a nation of hundreds of millions, prominent in American history, one of America's biggest trading partners, a key player in a key region in American policy, and a country that exports cultural products that are hugely popular among America's youth. How the hell could nobody at the New York Times think of any of this? Sure, Ross is an idiot, but why the hell did nobody go "uh, Ross, you are aware that you just told Japan that their religion is bad and that they're full of shit, right? Maybe you could use another draft?"

And, for those of you who have seen Avatar, you'll know that Douthat's whole premise is faulty at best. I don't want to drop spoilers, but there are damned good reasons within the film's setting for that "all is connected" stuff that has less to do with pantheism and more to do with a few other key concepts in SF. Even if Avatar is an allegory about pantheism, there are other, better questions going unexplored as Christian America goes through its convulsions about a non-Christian movie that questions America making bank.

I know that the token conservative columnist at the NYT gets away with a lot. And I know that Douthat is, by and large, beneath contempt. His columns are weak stuff at best, barely worth response. This is no different: it's just a lukewarm swipe at Hollywood and those non-Christian heretics and infidels, intended to solely build up his stature within the conservative movement. And, certainly, his commentators are carving him up for it. One correctly pointed out that he's taking shots at Animism, not Pantheism. Another correctly notes that he sounds petulant and defensive.

But come on, NYT. He's under your damned imprint. He's damaging your damned reputation. EDIT HIM.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Haloscan is going away, apparently. So comments may be down for a bit until I determine what's the best choice to replace Haloscan.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

One in Four American Children Are on Food Stamps

And the Republicans want to take it away:

“This is craziness,” said Representative John Linder, a Georgia Republican who is the ranking minority member of a House panel on welfare policy. “We’re at risk of creating an entire class of people, a subset of people, just comfortable getting by living off the government.”

Mr. Linder added: “You don’t improve the economy by paying people to sit around and not work. You improve the economy by lowering taxes” so small businesses will create more jobs.
But, hey, it's okay. Surely the answer lies in the middle! Sure we can't kill them, but we can just starve 'em a little.

(No, I can't wait to see what the blue dogs will do to the jobs bill either.)