2008 - %3, January

Quote of the Day

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:18 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Michael Dukakis, in an interview with Katie Couric where he described George Bush's tenure as "the worst national administration in my lifetime":

"Look, I owe the American people an apology. If I had beaten the old man you'd of never heard of the kid and you wouldn't be in this mess. So it's all my fault and I feel that very, very strongly. So this is an important election for us. Let me tell 'ya."

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Hillary Clinton Followup

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:15 PM EDT

HILLARY CLINTON FOLLOWUP....Hillary, as we all know, isn't a naturally great speaker, but she did good tonight. She gave a great speech that pumped up the crowd, told her supporters in no uncertain terms to vote for Obama, and included an attack line that even my wife thought was pretty zingy (rough, from memory):

"It's fitting that John McCain and George Bush will be meeting in the Twin Cities next week, because it's getting pretty hard to tell them apart."

A pretty good job, I'd say. As usual, I have no idea how your average couch potato is going to react to it, but I liked it.

Hillary Clinton

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 9:52 PM EDT

HILLARY CLINTON....Ezra Klein on Hillary Clinton's upcoming convention speech:

For what it's worth, my hunch is Clinton will own the convention. What she needs to do in this speech is so easy and so obvious and will be greeted with such gratitude by the Democratic Party and such rapturous coverage by the media that it's almost inconceivable that she'll pass up the opportunity to be the hero.

I agree, and I'll be shocked if she does anything else. She is going to praise Barack Obama to the skies and rip John McCain several new bodily orifices. There's just no way she's dumb enough to do anything else.

UPDATE: Yep, she came through with flying colors.

Mark Warner

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 9:46 PM EDT

MARK WARNER....I am distinctly underwhelmed so far. How about you?

The Bush Boom

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 9:40 PM EDT

THE BUSH BOOM....The Bush expansion is over, and Brad DeLong describes it as "the first business cycle during which median household income in America falls from peak to peak." And indeed it is.

The closest we've come to such a dismal recovery in the postwar era was the dreaded stagflation-driven economic expansion of Jimmy Carter's presidency. You remember Carter, don't you? The president vilified by Republicans for decades as almost single-handedly responsible for destroying the American economy.

Poor Jimmy, of course, has gotten a bad rap: he may have had his problems, but he inherited stagflation from his Republican predecessor and, to his credit, eventually had the biggest hand in killing it by appointing Paul Volcker as chairman of the Fed. George Bush, by contrast, had only a mild recession to tackle when he took office. He inherited a fundamentally strong economy from his Democratic predecessor, immediately set out to manage it with supply-side nostrums that would make Gordon Gecko blush, and after eight years ended up with an economy that wasn't even as good as poor old vilified Jimmy Carter managed in four.

And yet, somehow we're still supposed to believe that Republicans know how to manage economic growth? Can someone please explain this to me?

MoJo Video: Party-Crashing The Democratic National Convention's Private Back Rooms

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 9:11 PM EDT

Like the flow of the Mississippi or the winds of the Sahara, the pursuit of free alcohol, free finger food, and access to power is an unstoppable force. No puny ethics legislation shall stand in its way.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, passed after the Democrats took control of Congress, limited the ways in which lawmakers can hobnob with lobbyists, corporate officials, and special interests. But if Denver is any example, hobnobbing is a game and flexible beast, able to squirm over or around any obstacles placed in its way.

For example, there is a rule against lawmakers and their aides accepting meals from lobbyists. That means that every time a lobbying firm throws a party here in Denver, it has to follow the "toothpick rule." Hors d'oeuvres only. If it fits on a stick, put it on one. This leads to odd scenes, like a woman at a party on Monday night eating a slice of pizza on a toothpick.

Hosts can play the music in the background, instead of throwing a concert, so lawmakers can't be said to be accepting free music. They can take away chairs, because a standing-only reception is apparently less ethically questionable than an event where power players can schmooze while putting their feet up. Party throwers can distribute literature that advocates for a cause, making the event "educational." Slate reported that the Distilled Spirits Council got away with hosting a bash for lobbyists and politicians on Monday by handing out literature on the dangers of underage drinking.

And of course there is the farce known as the "widely attended event," a party that can have a high-roller host and an exclusive, undisclosed guest list as long as it makes a point of inviting 25 people who are not lawmakers. The rules may be shown the door, but you and I certainly aren't getting in, as my video above illustrates.

Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Foundation, a government oversight group, is trying to illustrate the ineffectiveness of current ethics restrictions by attempting to get into as many fancy receptions as she can, knowing she'll be rejected time and time again. While it is not shocking that a party-crasher would get turned away at the door of a high-end party, it nicely illustrates that the infamous smoke-filled backroom is still alive and well, at least in a figurative sense, and that oversight has a long way to go.

I spent an afternoon with Nancy as she sought a lobbying firm's reception, Democratic top-dollar donors, and a party thrown by the CEO of a telecom company. Not surprisingly, we ended the day without a single cucumber sandwich. [To see her try, watch the video above.] —Jonathan Stein

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Did Facebook Just Endorse Obama?

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 7:47 PM EDT

This past weekend I finally decided to launch myself a Facebook page. I was going about my business setting up my profile, editing my information, importing pictures, re-editing my information, and so on until I was ready to begin inviting friends. So I found an old buddy, clicked "Add as Friend" and this popped up:

voted%20ican.png

I didn't notice at first. But then I saw it... look again at the words I was required to enter.

"voted ican"

Usually we're just asked to type randomly capitalized jibberish, but here we have an incredible promotion of civic engagement. How responsible of Facebook. Thank you, Mark.

But wait—"ican"—that reminds me of something... Seriously, did Facebook just endorse Obama?

A blog post about mojo

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 6:22 PM EDT
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Maliki and the Sunnis

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 5:22 PM EDT

MALIKI AND THE SUNNIS....I've written before about this, but today Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl tell us yet again that Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite government in Baghdad is refusing to incorporate former Sunni militiamen into Iraq's security forces — and that this may soon lead to a renewed outbreak of insurgency. There are lots of things to say about this, but I think this paragraph gets to the heart of things:

The "surge" strategy in Iraq, as described by President Bush in January 2007, rested on the belief that tamping down violence would provide a window of opportunity that Iraq's leaders would use to pursue political reconciliation. But this has not occurred, despite the dramatic security improvements. Indeed, if the problem in 2006 and 2007 was Maliki's weakness and inability to pursue reconciliation in the midst of a civil war, the issue in 2008 is his overconfidence and unwillingness to entertain any real accommodation with his political adversaries. America's blank check to the Iraqi government feeds this hubris.

This problem repeats itself constantly in debates over Iraq policy: no matter what happens, there's a reason to continue doing what we're doing. If Maliki is too weak, he can't compromise with the Sunnis. But now he's too strong, so he doesn't have to compromise with the Sunnis. In either case American troops need to stick around. Likewise, when violence is high, we have to stay to crush it out. But when violence is low, we can't leave because the peace is so fragile. Elections, ditto. Infrastructure, ditto. Regional squabbles, ditto. It's never quite the right time for us to leave.

Brimley and Kahl, like a lot of others, are convinced that there's still some kind of magical middle ground where Maliki is a strong enough leader to enforce his will on a fractured country but a weak enough leader that the U.S. can exert meaningful leverage over him. Unfortunately, this is almost certainly a delusion. That middle ground is a target about an inch wide and nearly impossible to hit, let alone keep our balance on for long. So what happens when Maliki decides it's time to consolidate Shiite power? Joe Klein:

The question now is: what can — or should we do about this? Whose side are we on if Maliki launches the crackdown? Brimley and Kahl think we can influence Maliki's behavior by threatening to withold U.S. military support — but that may be exactly what the overconfident Maliki wants. Then again, what choice do we have? I doubt that even John McCain will argue that the role of the U.S. military will be to defend the Sons of Iraq in the coming battle. My guess is that the end result in Iraq is an authoritarian Maliki- or military-led Shi'ite government, less toxic than Saddam Hussein's, which will stand closer to Iran than to Saudi Arabia in the regional Sunni-Shi'ite contest. The war in Iraq will not have been "lost," but can this be reasonably described as "victory?" I think not. It can be best described as a terrible, shameful waste of lives and resources.

One way or another, Iraqis are going to solve Iraq's problems. Our presence only puts off that day, it doesn't eliminate it. More here from Marc Lynch.

California's Gamble: Building More So People Drive Less

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 5:12 PM EDT

sprawl.jpgIn a so-crazy-it-just-might-work attempt to combat global warming, California legislators are trying to get people to drive less by building more—and more intelligently.

Acknowledging that passenger cars account for 30% of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, lawmakers want to make it easier for people to avoid using their cars by encouraging denser development.

A bill now making its way through the legislature would dole out state transportation funds—about $15 billion—only to those communities that pursued "smart-growth" development plans, such as filling in commercial strips and building new homes around existing roads and rail lines. "We know people are going to drive. We want them in their cars for less time," said the bill's author, state Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). It's a pragmatic approcah to a persistent problem: Instead of preventing new development—a move that business interests say stunts economic growth—the measure would encourage cities to build responsibly.

Conventional wisdom says that if they want Californians to stop driving, politicians will have to pry the steering wheels from their cold, dead hands. But if they do this right, residents of the Golden State can have their cake and eat it too. Development isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if it means that more people can work in the communities where they live. The higher gas prices climb, the more crucial such choices will become.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from the pink sip.