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From the monthly archives: March 2011

Apparently Donald Trump is actually gearing up to run an official joke candidacy. I suppose the next season of Celebrity Apprentice will have him audition another batch of celebrity has-beens to find a running mate.

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Now we’re going to arm the rebels. I think it’s time to break out the “E” word.

Here’s why I continue to think Libya to be Obama’s greatest folly: now he can’t let the rebellion fail. If it does, he becomes the punching bag of the right for “losing” Libya, and he undermines all the humanitarian arguments he’s made. So, we move to arm the rebels. And, God bless them, it won’t be enough, since the rebels aren’t professional soldiers and can’t hold territory against an actual army. So, we arm them, and like the no-fly zone it helps for a while. It sends a fresh new current through the rebellion, maybe they mount another advance. But the fundamentals are still largely unchanged and then they lose some more. We could walk away then, but then the rebels lose and Obama becomes a punching bag. We’ve sunk serious resources into the rebellion, and we have to “make sure their sacrifices count” by people unfamiliar with the sunk cost hypothesis. So, presumably, it’s onto “advisers” on the ground. And “advisers” are, of course, troops.

So, let’s just assume we get there. Winning militarily would be easy–easier than Iraq, anyway. Libya only has 6 million citizens, about as many as Massachusetts, but substantially poorer. Iraq has five times the population of Libya, and was not engaged in a civil war when we invaded. But all of a sudden we are where we shouldn’t be, where we said we wouldn’t be, and all the people (like myself) who supported Obama because of the clarity of his anti-Iraq position get another Arab war in the bargain. Super. Maybe we can pawn off responsibility for rebuilding the country on the U.N., though their record on these things isn’t exactly stellar, as Daniel Larison would remind you about Kosovo. Tell me I’m wrong–tell me there’s reason to believe that the Libyan rebels can actually hack it against Gaddafi’s regulars. There’s been absolutely no evidence of it so far.

And let’s keep in mind that those of us who oppose this adventure are supposed to be the bad guys. We’re supposed to be the ones who could care less if innocents are slaughtered. Of course, the assumption that the rebels would have been slaughtered wholesale by Gaddafi is just that, an assumption. What isn’t an assumption is that our involvement could lead to more slaughter by propping up the losing end of a civil war, lengthening the killing. So compassionate! Filling the rebels with false hopes against a superior force, so that they hold on longer and fight more, or a full-on invasion: these are the two options if we stay in the game. The politics of this situation could theoretically help Obama if they all work out perfectly–think Thatcher after the Falklands, or George H. W. Bush after Desert Storm–but the downsides are much greater. If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s just like Lyndon Johnson’s decision to enter into the Vietnam conflict. He too was worried about “losing” a country and was wary of the “go big or go home” choice, though arguably it was a bigger deal for him since America had, to that point, never lost a war. These days, actually winning wars is a distant memory.

To me, it’s not a matter of trusting or not trusting Obama to keep his word. It’s the fundamentals that are lousy.

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Rick Scott

Lex Luthor's Political Rise Took Everyone By Surprise...

Another day, another Tea Party governor who has approvals in the low 30s. This time it’s Rick Scott of Florida, in yet another entirely predictable twist in the narrative. At this point, it seems reasonable to conclude that all the states where the Tea Party gained significant power in the midterms are the states where the central Tea Party personalities have become toxically unpopular. There is not any exception that I’m aware of.

This makes me think about something tangential. I’m always surprised by arguments to the effect that the inability of any government to make Communism work somehow disproves the theories behind Communism. Those theories are indeed false, but they are false because its underlying assumptions are incorrect, not because a random set of countries tried them out and failed. Haiti has tried out democracy for quite some time, does its failure say something about democracy? Ultimately, wealth and power do indeed corrupt, but they were as capable as corrupting the new, poor leaders as they were the prior ones. Communism couldn’t accept this critique and failed for that reason.

The Tea Party has been greeted everywhere it’s been empowered with rapid hostility from the public. But, unlike Communism, there’s not even a real theory behind the movement. There’s been many vague arguments against spending, and lots of rhetoric about taking the country back or what not. It was, fundamentally, a cultural movement disguised as a political one. Just look at ace Teabagger Michele Bachmann:

Michele Bachmann served up red meat to the crowd at the Iowa conservative principles conference Saturday, slamming President Barack Obama as a Jimmy Carter retread, dissing the Mitch Daniels “truce” call for social issues, and saying she wants a “waiver” from the last two years of White House leadership.

Talking loudly and waving her hands, a pumped Bachmann used a slide presentation of various numbers — the national debt, the cost of a gallon of gas two years ago the day before Obama took office, the corporate tax rate — to make her points and pull the crowd in.

Suggesting that Iowa caucus voters had the power to halt Obama, Bachmann wrapped up her speech by asking, “Are you in? Are you in for 2012?”

Lots of rhetoric, here, bolstered by numbers free of context. This isn’t a policy argument, it’s cultural grievance with a thin veneer of truthiness. There’s no there there, nothing to really think about or engage with. There’s no conversation to be held about the ideas of the Tea Party because there are none, and after two years, none appear to be forthcoming. It’s more strategy than substance, more attitude than rigor (hence Chris Christie as a mascot of the movement), and to the extent it has any policy objectives, they are either politically-motivated or completely arbitrary (Drum has a good example of how arbitrary the Tea Party objective on discretionary spending is).

Put simply, unlike Communism, I think the Tea Party movement can be dismissed by saying that it’s failed everywhere it’s been tried. I know some thoughtful people who sympathized with the budget-cutting ideas and hoped the movement would mature and turn into something better. That rarely happens with dogmatic movements. Pennyslvania’s Tom Corbett’s plan of cutting education and spending more on prisons seems paradigmatic at me. Nearly three months in, it seems clear enough to me that the real objective isn’t to shrink government and return more power to local communities, but on the state level to seize control over school systems and other local entities and impose inflexible top-down control over them, while funneling money to preferred corporate supporters and punitive programs. Power to the people, I guess. And the people hate it. The whole thing is a rapidly passing fad, in my view, a short-lived enthusiasm whose certainty appealed to desperate voters at a desperate time. In the clear light of day, the ideas aren’t so appealing.

As for Florida, I’ve always wondered how such a perennially-competitive state was so thoroughly Republican at all levels. I came to the conclusion it was because the Florida Republican Party was more moderate than most, which might be why it’s generated a number of national Republican politicians in recent years. After all, Charlie Crist convinced them to start a cap-and-trade system in the state a few years back. Rick Scott could wind up doing damage to that standing in addition to his state in general.

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Your mileage may vary, of course, and I know he has had his moments over the years. He got fired for being a lone voice against the irritating pap that passed for analysis in the wake of 9/11, a casualty of political correctness during the exact sort of time when political correctness is most prevalent, and the alternative is most needed. (And the irony is that his show was called, “Politically Incorrect”, though obviously ABC didn’t actually want him to follow up on the concept of his show.)

But…Maher really, really bugs me. I have a few longstanding gripes with the guy. I suppose I should say that I am a Christian, but I’m not offended by the existence of atheists, just as I’m not offended by the existence of Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. I know the “atheism is a religion too” argument causes many to bristle, but let me assure you that that’s not my point. The only people who are angry that reasonable people disagree with them are weak people who don’t trust their own system of beliefs and are too freaked out to change it. This is not a new debate. But Maher…he rejects religion as just a set of fairy tales, though he prefers a slightly different set fairy tales. Really, what Maher conveys is ignorance, a smug dismissal of stuff he considers bad, and an embrace of stuff he considers good, whether he gets it or not. He doesn’t bother to understand what’s in either category. Embracing anti-vaccination claptrap is the opposite of the scientific mindset. And regardless of whether you think it’s true or not, religion has long been an important part of human societies. To merely dismiss it all without a thought is to close off an entire avenue to understanding human nature. To want to understand, to know, is a foundational liberal value. It’s the opposite of dogma. Maher’s stance is not the sign of a liberal-minded person with a curiosity about the world, is all I’m saying.

But this isn’t a new story. I guess what brings me to write this is that Maher’s not really much of a progressive. He’s perhaps of the left, but that’s not the same thing. I’m writing this because I was bothered by the man using language that degrades women. Now, to be fair, the women in question are appalling in pretty much every way. I can see the temptation to be controversial in a position like Maher’s. But this reminds me of when conservatives rushed to say that Constitutional rights didn’t apply to anyone who wasn’t an American. Either they’re the things we believe in, or they’re not. I don’t believe in special rights for one group over another (though occasionally fairness and equality aren’t exactly the same thing, which is why I support programs to help the poor). Human rights must be universal rights, and this is especially true of the people we can’t stand. The urge to dehumanize the people we dislike the most is so strong and so constant throughout the course of human history. You can see it in the conservative reaction to Barack Obama–there seems to be a need to reduce the man to some sort of one-dimensional caricature that can be easily vilified and dismissed. Foreign-born jihadist, Kenyan anti-colonialist, college Marxist, closeted Alinskyist–they don’t make sense on their own or go together, but there is such desperation to reduce the man to a stereotype of some sort. I can certainly understand the urge to do it to Palin too, but it must be resisted. Her team’s protestations aside, I feel as if Palin has been rejected based largely on her actual flaws instead of by invoking stereotypes, and this is a good thing. To reduce a person to a few superficial (or just invented) components and then to condemn them is the opposite of liberalism–it’s the source of much that is bad in the world. Reading stuff like this just reminds me that I need to be careful when criticizing Palin and the rest of her ilk, lest I fall into a similar trap.

To me, Maher is just as bad as the people he targets, just from the other side. He might be “of the left” but his worldview is devoid of actual liberal values. This is eminently possible–really, just look at any communist country for proof. To the extent that Maher extols something like science, it is an assertion and not a lived value. To the extent he abhors sexism, it is because the “bad guys” do it, not because he finds it personally disgusting. Words, as they say, are cheap, it’s what you do that matters most. So I say no thank you to Bill Maher. If I wanted kulturkampf of the ill-informed variety I would have registered as a Republican in the first place.

And this is because such ugliness requires a little beauty to offset:


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It seems like the field of Republican 2012 candidates is just starting to assemble. Bachmann and Pawlenty are exploring. Gary Johnson will be getting in soon, presumably making a bid for the support of the Paulite wing of the Republican Party. Donald Trump seems likely to run, and meanwhile he is making an ass of himself, which is about what one would expect of Trump at all times and in all situations. Romney and Barbour will be in soon enough. But it turns out that practically all of them are unpopular to some extent or other. TPM breaks it down here, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Gingrich and Palin are the most hated, Huckabee is only mildly unpopular. No doubt that will drop further if he runs and people realize he’s hardly the amiable “moderate-ish on some things Chuck Norris funny person” dude he used to be.

This just shouldn’t be surprising. Republicans have, over the past few decades, opted for a political style and a set of views that just don’t mesh too well with the mainstream. The media has bought into the notion that the American people love division and slashing rhetoric (and they even went and caught Chris Christie fever), but Karl Rove’s statement about the American people being averse to electing an angry president strikes me as about right (and one of the few things I think he’s right on). It’s worth keeping in mind that, regardless of how he behaved as president, George W. Bush built a prior reputation as a proponent of compromise and a less abrasive political style. People like that. But the George W. Bushes have been replaced by Rick Perrys, and the Christine Todd Whitmans have given way to Chris Christies. There’s now no plausible way to the Republican nomination without either being a slash-and-burn right-winger, or playing one well enough on TV, which is the same thing for most people. But the public outside of the actual right wing still does not like this combination of style and substance and the fact that the people most identified with it are the most unpopular of the crop confirms it. It’s entirely possible that a 2012 loss might change things for 2016, but it’s hard not to see this as one of the factors that will make things difficult for the Republican Party going forward.

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I was reading an interesting Economist article today on the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger when I came across a sentence that really left me scratching my head:

“The suspicion is that Mr Obama, desperate both to build some broken fences with big business and to make progress on connecting every American home to the internet, will give in.”

Can I just ask everyone a simple question?  What quantifiable measure shows that has Obama done anything to hurt “big business” during his time in office? I mean, seriously

For why I’m so nonplussed, dig this inconvenient block of facts from Glenzilla:

Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% — from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest recieved a massive tax cut; the top marginal tax rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, “the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporations has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.”  During this same time period, the unemployment rate has increased from 7.7% to 8.9%; millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed; and the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by many millions, the largest number since the statistic has been recorded.  Can you smell Obama’s radical egalitarianism and Marxist anti-business hatred yet?

The only thing that explains to my satisfaction this whole “Anti-Business Obama” zombie meme is the apparently stellar ability of the Republican mind control apparatus to implant complete fabrications in the minds of both the media establishment and its viewers.  Any other ideas?  WTF?


Ta-Nehisi Coates has a must-read post on the complicated legacy of the late VP candidate. Really, it’s great, definitely worth a few minutes of your time. I was going to excerpt it and I actually felt uncomfortable doing it, that’s how good it is.

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