Remember during the campaign, when then-candidate Obama was perfectly poised and careful to stay on message? Be it climate change, social issues, or foreign policy, Obama and his campaign lackeys clung to their message for dear life. Not even Sarah Palin's repeated insinuation that Obama is either a terrorist or secretly in love with terrorists could faze them.

So where did that ninja-like focus go? In each of this week's divisive issues, President Obama swerved from the important goal of moving health care reform through Congress to give his critics the unrelentless, shameless platform that is 24-hour news networks. When it came to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and proving his own citizenship, President Obama just could not avoid commenting.

Whether you think that the Cambridge police department, as President Obama put it at his health care press conference Wednesday night, "acted stupidly," in arresting the prominent Harvard professor breaking into his own house, or if you think that Gates blew it with his response, it's clear that Obama should have steered clear of the issue. The next day, instead of debating health care, the MSM focused on the President's Gates remark and its implications for race in America. Obama backpedaled today and even invited Gates and Officer Crowley to the White House for a beer. 

Jon Stewart mocked Obama and the MSM response last night on The Daily Show (skip to 6:00 minute mark). “I think it’s fair to say that Obama handled that question… oh what’s the word I’m looking for…stupidly?”

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Political Humor Joke of the Day

 

Meet the new drug czar, not especially different from the old drug czar:

The federal government is not going to pull back on its efforts to curtail marijuana farming operations, Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Wednesday in Fresno...."Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine," he said.

...."Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit," Kerlikowske said in downtown Fresno while discussing Operation SOS — Save Our Sierra — a multiagency effort to eradicate marijuana in eastern Fresno County.

It's disappointing to hear him say that — and a bit cowardly.  But hardly unexpected.  Despite a flurry of optimism a few months ago, Obama and Kerlikowske have obviously come to the same conclusion as all of their predecessors: this isn't a fight worth fighting.  They've got other fish to fry, they know perfectly well there's no support for marijuana legalization in Congress, and there's no political upside in taking the side of a bunch of potheads.  It's better to simply denounce the demon pot, provide the culture warriors with nothing to complain about, and move on.

We might legalize marijuana someday — de facto if not de jure — but not today.  Maybe in another ten years or so.

Chalk it up to the Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher effect, or better yet, just call it creepy: Northern California is bracing for an influx of cougars in about a month. And I'm not talking about the animals; I'm talking about the ladies, specifically those in the 35+ age bracket who are seeking young men with better than average verility.

Pop culture loves cougars, but apparently real people do too. Yesterday, a friend sent an e-mail inviting me to the following event:

National Single Cougars Convention

Single cougars from all over America will converge on the Silicon Valley, the ONLY major metropolitan area in America with a surplus of single men, many of whom are young, educated, attractive, and prosperous, but lacking in experience with women.

7:30pm - Complimentary appetizers from Trader Vic's, as long as they last.

8pm – Entertaining Keynote Address with author Francesca Gentille and Tahil Gesyuk, her romantic partner, who is 14 years younger.

9pm-Midnight - The Cougar Ball, featuring dancing to your favorite hits. At approximately 11pm, one cougar at the Convention will be crowned MISS COUGAR AMERICA and receive prizes, including her choice of the upcoming Singles Halloween Cruise or the Spring Baja Cruise, courtesy of The Singles Travel Company, plus a Cougar Kit from Cardeaux Cosmetics, valued at over $100. To be eligible to win, the lucky Cougar must be present at the convention, legally single and at least 40 years of age.

BONUS: The first 50 women to arrive will receive free samples from Cardeaux Cosmetics!

Yes, you read correctly. There will be prizes and even a coronation. I'll be out of town that day, but if I were around, you can bet your bottom dollar I'd be tempted to go watch.

Making Lemonade

Ezra Klein is frustrated that Congress is going on vacation when they're within spitting distance of constructing workable healthcare reform legislation:

To be so close to a finished product and a mark-up and a vote and then, for no actual reason, abruptly stop, is insane. It means a cessation to discussions, negotiations, relationships, hearings, to the work of legislating. It means that the hard work of creating this policy will stop for a month and give way to the politics of fighting over it. That's not healthy. "Ideas can melt in the sun," Nancy Pelosi said when I interviewed her Wednesday, "especially in August."

I'm not sure there's much that can be done about this, but there's more than one way to look at it anyway.  The first way is the conventional one: Republicans are hoping that the August recess will slow things down. It gives them more time for attack ads, more time to manufacture uncertainty, and more time to drive wedges between unsteady allies on the pro-reform side.

That's all true.  But the main thing that happens during the August recess is that everyone in Washington goes home and talks to people in their district.  If their constituents are largely opposed to healthcare reform, it hurts the cause.  But if they're pissed off about the status quo and want to know why Congress can't get off its butt and do something — well, that can actually speed things up.

Now, that's not normally what happens.  And it won't this time either — unless Barack Obama's army of supporters are still ready to go out and answer the call of reform.  I've long been skeptical about whether his famous electoral machine would continue to work after the campaign was over, but if there was ever a time to prove me wrong, it's now.  If Obama's army is still willing to go out and do battle, they should show up now and start putting the fear of God into their congressmen.  If that happens, the August recess will be the best thing that ever happened to healthcare reform.

I wouldn't bet the farm on that happening.  But congressmen listen to their constituents when they go home for the holidays, and there's no reason reform advocates can't use that to their advantage.  It all depends on whether we're really as motivated and as angry as the opposition.  Are we?

Dan Rather Wins One

Dan Rather has won access to a whole bundle of internal CBS documents in his lawsuit against his former employers. This all goes back to a controversial "60 Minutes" report on George W. Bush's time in the military. The report was disputed, and CBS ended up essentially firing Rather. He sued in 2007, saying the panel CBS set up to review the 60 Minutes report was biased. Now Rather's lawyers will have access to e-mails between CBS and the law firm that it hired to investigate the segment. Media Matters' Eric Boehlert explains why this new development is important [emphasis mine]:

The picture painted by the CBS memos and documents already reviewed by Rather suggest a craven news organization that was less interested in uncovering the truth about the disputed memos, and more interested in appeasing Rush Limbaugh. It wanted to "mollify the right," as one internal CBS memo put it.

You can probably expect this to get juicy.

Chart of the Day

Here's a fairly astonishing survey from the Pew Global Attitudes folks.  When they polled various countries on their general favorability toward the U.S., attitudes were improved since Barack Obama's election, but for the most part not improved dramatically.  European countries were generally far more favorable toward the U.S. compared to last year, but most of the rest of the world was only moderately more favorable.

But they also asked if respondents were confident that the U.S. would "do the right thing," and the results there were stunning.  With the sole exception of Israel, every single country registered an increase in confidence toward the U.S.  A few of the increases were moderate (Pakistan, Lebanon), but most of them were stratospheric (Egypt, Spain, Canada, Japan, Brazil).

Time will certainly erode this goodwill.  That's just the nature of these things.  But for now, the rest of the world has a spectacularly improved view of how they expect the United States to act on the world stage.  As Dan Drezner says, this is a hard measure of Obama's — and America's — newfound soft power.

I guess everyone knows by now what I think of the idea that Wall Street is going to turn the emissions trading market into the next trillion dollar bubble.  Basically, it seems like about #178 on the list of problems we should be worried about.  But aside from the fundamentals of the thing, one of the reasons I feel this way is that Waxman-Markey has regulation of the carbon market built in.  So what's to worry about?  Here's an update from worrier-in-chief Rachel Morris:

Well, Waxman-Markey had some good language regulating carbon and other energy derivatives....However, in the 300 pages of amendments added to Waxman-Markey just after 3.a.m on the night the bill passed, a few new sentences materialized that placed a big asterisk on those safeguards. The final text now says that the sections of the bill regulating carbon derivatives will be overridden by any derivatives legislation that the House passes later in the year.

Hmmm.  Still, that might not be so bad.  In fact, treating carbon emissions just like any other commodity, and then tightening up the entire market, might not be such a bad thing. Unless, of course, derivatives regulation gets captured by Wall Street shills like Rep. Michael McMahon of Staten Island.  Which, um, it turns out is in the process of happening:

McMahon, Bean and other New Democrats released their proposal for derivatives reform on Wednesday....Their bill would provide regulators with more information about derivatives than they have now, and it would establish an office in the Treasury for oversight of those instruments. But — similar to the proposal advanced by the Obama administration earlier in the year — it only requires standardized derivatives to be cleared, not exchange-traded, and calls for OTC derivatives to be reported to a trade repository, which is far less transparent than an exchange. Their provisions intended to prevent harmful speculation and market manipulation are also less explicit than those offered by Stupak.

Rachel has more in her piece, and it's not all bad news.  There are competing proposals that would be considerably tougher than McMahon's.  What's more, there are still some fundamental reasons to think that carbon trading isn't likely to be a huge gold rush. Still, this is obviously worth keeping an eye on.  There's really no legitimate reason to oppose fairly stringent regulation of carbon emission trading, and anyone who suggests otherwise should be given a very skeptical hearing indeed.

It's time for a new episode of the PinkerCorn show on Bloggingheads.tv. Jim Pinkerton and I discussed President Barack Obama's recent news conference and the prospects for health care reform. When Pinkerton claimed that average Americans are growing skeptical of Obama, I accused him of projecting. We also gabbed about two matters that did not come up at that press conference: the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. Since the Afghanistan war quickly became "the other war" after George W. Bush invaded Iraq, I opined, it remains insufficiently covered by the media, even though thisis an expanding conflict. (The monthly death toll of US and NATO soldiers is up in Afghanistan.) But you can hear and watch for yourself:

 

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From the Washington Post:

As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin prepares for the next stage of her political career, a majority of Americans hold an unfavorable view of her, and there is broad public doubt about her leadership skills and understanding of complex issues, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Well, that's our elite-East-Coast-passport-wielding-NASCAR-hating media for you.  They've managed to convince everyone that Sarah Palin doesn't understand complex issues.  It's sad.  When will they ever learn that it's about country?

Happy Friday. Blue Marble-ish news from around the site:

Vacation trumps healthcare: No reform till September, if ever.

Numbers game: If you're 29, is it true that no global warming has occurred in your adult lifetime?

Backwards bill: An Ohio state rep thinks a woman should be required to get written consent from the man with whom she had sex before seeking an abortion.

Late-night climate change: The Waxman-Markey climate bill had some pretty good language regulating the carbon derivatives market. Until someone added a big ol' 300-page asterisk at 3 a.m.