2008 - %3, November

Movement Drivel

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 1:36 PM EST

MOVEMENT DRIVEL....After listening to George Will this weekend, Brad DeLong is confused:

I have never been able to make any sense at all of the right-wing claim that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression by creating a "crisis of confidence" that crippled private investment as American businessmen feared and hated "that Communist Roosevelt." The crisis of confidence was created by the stock market crash, the deflation, and the bank failures of 1929-1933. Private investment recovered in a very healthy fashion as Roosevelt's New Deal policies took effect.

There's a good reason Brad has never been able to make sense of this claim: it was never made in good faith in the first place. Movement conservatives don't like the New Deal, so they did what they always do when confronted with something they don't like: they went searching for some content-free but semi-plausible argument against it that they could use to con the rubes. Then, once they found something glib enough to pass muster, they repeated it often enough that it took on the patina of conventional wisdom. Conventional enough even for the likes of George Will.

For the first time in a while, though, liberals have the luxury of mostly ignoring this nonsense. In this case — George Will spouting economic drivel on ABC's This Week — Paul Krugman batted down the nonsense in the course of a few seconds and the conversation moved on. End of story. Very refreshing.

So today's moral is: make an argument in good faith, and it will (or should, anyway) be engaged. Spew movement nonsense and you will be quickly corrected and then ignored. It's a good system.

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The Military-Conservative Complex

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 1:17 PM EST

THE MILITARY-CONSERVATIVE COMPLEX....Via TPM, Bernard Finel writes about military-civilian relations:

In the mid-1990s, congressional Republicans, concerned that the Clinton administration was allowing the Department of Defense to run on inertia, mandated the Pentagon produce a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)....The roots of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's dicey relations with the uniformed military stemmed from his refusal to accept a fait accompli in the form of a [2000-01] QDR largely drafted without his input. The consequences of the rift were severe.

This has since changed, of course. The QDR review is now conducted not in the last year of a presidency, but in the first. The next QDR will be conducted in 2009, and released in early 2010. It will be an Obama-influenced product from start to finish.

Or will it? Finel says that the uniformed services have already tried to hijack the process by teaming up with conservatives to make sensible defense spending a political impossibility:

Earlier this year, briefing slides showing $60 billion to $80 billion per year in new expenditures started making the rounds inside the Beltway, supported by a public campaign by conservative think tanks and politicians to establish a floor on defense spending at 4 percent of GDP.

The uniformed services are trying to lock in the next administration by creating a political cost for holding the line on defense spending. Conservative groups are hoping to ramp up defense spending as a tool to limit options for a Democratic Congress and president to pass new, and potentially costly, social programs, including health care reform.

....There are so many things wrong with this emerging process that it is hard to address the issue concisely. Promoting overspending on defense in order to forestall popular social spending is undemocratic — it creates a false tension between national security and other public policy goals.

The informal alliance between the services and conservative think tanks threatens to further politicize the military. The abuse of national security arguments to win political arguments is both morally suspect and threatens the security of the nation by delinking strategic assessment from public policy.

This is nothing new. The Pentagon has been highly politicized pretty much forever, and has worked hand-in-glove with hawkish conservatives for its entire existence. The fact that the service chiefs want more money and are laying the groundwork to get it is entirely unsurprising.

Which is why Obama's most important cabinet appointment probably won't be either State or Treasury, but Defense, where his personal experience is at its lowest. It's also what makes the possibility of Robert Gates staying on so interesting. In his favor: he has the background and conservative cred to fight off the kind of power play Finel writes about. On the other hand, the QDR he produces would set Pentagon priorities for four years. Does Obama really want a Bush holdover wielding that kind of influence?

I'm not sure myself. But here's an interesting observation: there's been loads of scuttlebutt about who Obama's picks for State and Treasury will be, but very little about his pick for Defense. There's been lots of talk about whether Gates will or won't stay, but not so much about who's in line for the job if he leaves in January. Why is that?

Obama Meets McCain: What Will Come of Today's Meeting?

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 1:09 PM EST

President-elect Obama is hosting John McCain in Chicago as I write this. Over at his other space, David speculates on how that conversation is going. Here's a snippet:

B: Can I get right to the point?
J: Straight talk? Sure, fire away.
B: It was a tough campaign. But now it's over. And as I said on the campaign trail, I respect all you've done for this country. All you have given and sacrificed. I do. But now it's time to talk about what comes next. For you.
J: (Slightly sarcastic.) Thanks for thinking of me.
B: John, you're not going to have a lot of friends back there. There's Lindsey, Joe and...well, that's about it--
J: You don't have to worry about me--
B: I'm not worrying--
J: And you want to be my friend now?
B: Not your friend. Your partner. Listen, there's a lot we disagree on. But there are several big things we see eye-to-eye on. Guantanamo, torture, global warming, political reform. And I'd like to ask you, what would you now like to accomplish? What legislation would you like to pass? What do you want your legislative legacy to be?

I think this raises a great point. What direction does John McCain take in the post-presidential period of his life?

Comparing Obama to Hitler on Right-Wing Radio

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 1:06 PM EST

Anomalos Publishing, a company that puts out conservative and Christian works and describes itself as "created for authors who...have a talent for writing but have not found a publisher," has announced that one of its authors will appear on right winger Michael Savage's nationally syndicated radio show to compare Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. From the press release:

Nationally-syndicated talk show host Michael Savage is set to interview former German member of the Hitler Youth, Hilmar von Campe this Tuesday, November 18.
The program will focus on similarities, which von Campe sees between the rise of totalitarianism under Hitler and the current social and political trends inside the United States.
"Every day brings this nation closer to a Nazi-style totalitarian abyss," writes von Campe, now a U.S. citizen, and author of "Defeating the Totalitarian Lie: A Former Hitler Youth Warns America."
"Today in America we are witnessing a repeat performance of the tragedy of 1933 when an entire nation let itself be led like a lamb to the Socialist slaughterhouse. This time, the end of freedom is inevitable unless America rises to her mission and destiny."
Hilmar points to events surrounding the election of Barack Hussein Obama as reminiscent of the way the Nazi regime came to power.

Von Campe was one of a bevy of conservative authors who in the weeks before the election whipped up the fear that Obama was the modern-day version of the Nazi dictator. In an October 28 WorldNetDaily column, he wrote, "Socialist Hitler destroyed free society in a few months. Socialist Obama is close to his steppingstone. The following is an attempt to clarify the issue."

Savage, of course, is an over-the-top purveyor of extreme rhetoric. He recently questioned whether welfare recipients should be permitted to vote. Weeks before the election, he proclaimed, "I fear that Obama will stir up a race war...in order to seize absolute power." In July, he created a fuss when he claimed that autism is a "fraud, a racket. ... I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out."

Quote of the Day - 11.17.08

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 12:08 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From the Mormon church, reacting to protests against their campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California:

"People of faith have been intimidated for simply exercising their democratic rights. These are not actions that are worthy of the democratic ideals of our nation. The end of a free and fair election should not be the beginning of a hostile response in America."

I'm afraid the church elders have it exactly backward here. Churches have every right to involve themselves in political issues, but if they do then they're going to be treated as political actors. Protests, boycotts, op-eds, blog posts, and marches are exactly the democratic ideals of our nation, and being on the receiving end of them is what happens to anyone who enters the political fray. It's a little late for them to pretend they didn't know this.

Notes From A Black Nerd's Memoir

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 10:12 AM EST

John McWhorter has a quickie in New York magazine arguing that Obama's election will destroy, or at least complicate, blacks' ability to ostracize other blacks for being smart and working hard.

(Ta-Nehisi Coates has loads of fun with that here.)

I, too, used to regale any passerby with tales of my own ostracization for being smart. Did that til my 30's. Then, I grew up and realized that I often told these tales, much enhanced, as a plausibly deniable way of talking about how smart I am. (I also usually left out spitefully speaking in French to the dumbest girl in school, or viciously correcting my classmates' English. I guess it was just me who did those things. All the smart black kids are saints, all the non-smart ones Neanderthals.) McWhorter (with whom I'm chummy when we infrequently cross paths and whose work I support, albeit with caveats. Like this entry), nods to those like me who question this but concludes, "[sociological] work has shown that black students do in fact have fewer social connections the higher their grades, to a much greater extent than white students." White students with equally high grades? And besides, if most nerds, whatever their race, spent as much time alone as I do (then and now), lost in books, un-assigned experiments, furious arguments with newspapers and TV pundits, Star Trek arcania, and debating every minor point uttered offhand within earshot, it might explain that pesky lack of "social connections."

Hello, smart kids spend a lot of time studying, something only other nerds want to participate in.

Glad as I am that Obama's win will undoubtedly lead (finally!) to a focus on black interiority and an examination of our complexity, not just what white folks are doing to us on any given day, I'm frustrated with such uninterrogated formulations. This is a good beginning, but we need to complicate it; negroes are no easier to understand than any other group.

The notion that smart blacks are tormented by other blacks until and unless they dumb down and force themselves to be stupid is both insulting and far too easy. Here's why.

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Obama Speaks

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 2:11 AM EST

OBAMA SPEAKS....There's been a lot of speculation over the past few days about Barack Obama's position on issues like torture and Guantanamo, most of it based on nothing more than a couple of early appointments mixed with content-free rumors of other appointments. Tonight on 60 Minutes, though, we got more than speculation. We got the man himself making his position clear:

Kroft: There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shutdown Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by U.S. troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?

Mr. Obama: Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture. And I'm gonna make sure that we don't torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world.

Good.

Side Benefit of Prop 8's Passage: Celebrities Busting Out of Closet

| Sun Nov. 16, 2008 4:39 PM EST

mojo-photo-wandasykes.jpg…or at least one celebrity, so far. Comedian and actress Wanda Sykes surprised an audience at a Las Vegas protest against on Saturday with the announcement that she's gay. The event was one of many held around the country as part of a coordinated protest against Proposition 8 and other anti-gay measures. Sykes told the crowd that Prop 8 inspired her to be more outspoken:

"You know, I don't really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn't feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life," Sykes told a crowd at a gay rights rally in Las Vegas on Saturday. "Everybody that knows me personally they know I'm gay. But that's the way people should be able to live their lives. Now, I gotta get in their face. I'm proud to be a woman. I'm proud to be a black woman, and I'm proud to be gay."

The Emmy award-winning actress has roles on The New Adventures of Old Christine and Curb Your Enthusiasm. While Sykes hadn't publicly discussed her sexuality before this, she has been a long-time supporter of gay rights causes, performing as part of this year's Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour which benefited the Human Rights Campaign. Her Wikipedia page says, "She is now officially a homosexual," which makes me wonder if there's some sort of certificate I'm supposed to get? A passport stamp or something? I've been practicing without a license!

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Bobster1985.

Mortgage Rescue Wonkery

| Sun Nov. 16, 2008 2:29 PM EST

MORTGAGE RESCUE WONKERY....One of the problems surrounding any plan to rescue homeowners with troubled mortgages is that most mortgages are bundled up into securities that have multiple noteholders and are governed by reams of carefully written contractual requirements. So even if the mortgage servicer wants to rewrite mortgages to prevent defaults, they probably can't. The terms of the contract don't allow it, and getting the agreement of every single noteholder is nearly impossible.

So what's the solution? The federal government doesn't have the authority to unilaterally abrogate private contracts, but via Matt Yglesias, CAPAF's Michael Barr explains a way to get in via the back door:

Servicers managing pools of loans for investors are generally barred by contract from selling the underlying mortgage loans, but the trust agreements also provide that servicers must amend the agreements if doing so would be helpful or necessary to stay in compliance with tax rules under the Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit, or REMIC, statute, which provide important benefits for these securitization trusts and their investors. We propose to modify the REMIC rules to ensure that servicers have the authority and incentive to sell the mortgages to Treasury.

Legislation would provide that REMIC benefits would be denied going forward if the securitization's contract provisions have the effect of barring servicers from selling or restructuring loans under Treasury's programs. Servicers would have a legal obligation to their investors to modify the agreements to stay in compliance. Servicers could then sell loans to Treasury for restructuring. Participation in the Treasury program would remain voluntary, but the key legal impediments to participation would be removed.

There's more to it, including some indemnification and accounting details, but this appears to be the main change that would allow a broad-based mortgage rescue plan to go forward. Comment is invited from anyone with the background to offer an informed opinion on whether Barr's plan would work.

And as long as we're on the subject, here's an interesting tidbit from Barr's testimony:

Under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, an estimated 400,000 at-risk mortgages could be restructured on affordable terms with credit enhancement from the Federal Housing Administration under the "Hope for Homeowners" program....This "Hope for Homeowners" program began insuring loans in the fall of 2008, but as of mid-October had only processed 42 loans.

We sure seem to move faster when it comes to bailing out Wall Street and the auto companies than we do when it comes to helping out distressed homeowners, don't we?

Talk Radio

| Sun Nov. 16, 2008 1:48 PM EST

TALK RADIO....Via Digby, here is Dan Shelley, former news director and assistant program director at Milwaukee's WTMJ, telling us about his career working with his station's right-wing talkers:

To succeed, a talk show host must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims, and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners.

This enemy can be a politician — either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a "RINO" (a "Republican In Name Only," who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy.

....Conservative talk show hosts would receive daily talking points e-mails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They're not called talking points, but that's what they are. I know, because I received them, too. During my time at WTMJ, Charlie [Sykes] would generally mine the e-mails, then couch the daily message in his own words. Midday talker Jeff Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.

On the groupthink/talking points front, Digby suggests that "there are some disconcerting parallels between the right wing talk radio hosts and bloggers." Do you agree?

UPDATE: Edited slightly based on feedback from Digby in comments.