After a huge gay rights rally in Washington DC, John Harwood of CNBC reported this in a segment on MSNBC:

If you look at the polling, Barack Obama is doing well with 90% or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the “internet left fringe” Lester.  And for a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn’t take this opposition, one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.

The blogosphere went nuts. But wait:

In an email to the Huffington Post on Monday, Harwood clarified that the quote was not meant to convey any displeasure on the part of the administration for the gay community's public advocacy.

"My comments quoting an Obama adviser about liberal bloggers/pajamas weren't about the LGBT community or the marchers," he wrote. "They referred more broadly to those grumbling on the left about an array of issues in addition to gay rights, including the war in Afghanistan and health care and Guantanamo — and whether all that added up to trouble with Obama's liberal base..."

You know, blind quotes are blind quotes.  You either take them seriously or you don't — and there was never any reason to take this particular quote any more seriously than any other blind quote.  And sure enough, not only does this one not necessarily represent widespread opinion in the White House, it turned out not to even have anything at all to do with the LGBT community.

Still, even putting that aside, there's a big segment of the gay community that's pretty pissed off at Obama right now.  In one sense, I understand: they supported him, his record on gay issues is pretty modest so far, and the only way they're going to get what they want is by keeping the pressure on him.

At the same time, some of the criticism is way over the top.  Obama doesn't suddenly become a different person whenever he's dealing with whatever your particular hot button issue is.  He's the same guy all the time: cautious, tactical, organized, and prone to prioritizing things pretty carefully.  For better or worse, he's also sensitive about learning lessons from the Clinton administration, and Clinton obviously failed miserably when he tried to force the Pentagon to accept gays early in his administration.

Obama plainly plans to avoid that trap.  Military policy toward gays is a huge hot button, it can be changed only by Congress, support isn't there yet, and in any case Obama pretty clearly told us last year that his major priorities at the beginning of his term were going to be Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, healthcare, financial regulation, and global warming.  That's a massive agenda.  Given all that, there was never the slightest chance that he'd put a ton of energy into gay issues in his first year.

Instead, he's slowly building up support for change.  He — very smartly, I think — wants to make sure that when Congress takes up gays in the military, it doesn't look like a liberal Democrat trying to force something on the service chiefs.  He wants Gates to support it, and Mullen, and the rest of the Joint Chiefs, and maybe a few high-profile commanders and conservative opinion leaders as well.  Failure in Congress does no one any good, and like it or not, this kind of widespread support within the military is what it's going to take to get Congress to vote to change the current policy.

For my money, Obama tends to be too cautious, tactical, and organized, and the kind of pressure he feels from the blogosphere is a good thing, regardless of what Mr. Blind Quote thinks.  But there's still an objective reality out there, and the fact that Obama recognizes it doesn't make him a sellout.  It just makes him human.

After all my blogging about the relative peachiness of climate politics in Denmark, over the weekend the story broke that the country's lead negotiator has resigned.

Thomas Becker, deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry for Climate and Energy and Minister Connie Hedegaard's "right hand man," quit his post on Friday—apparently not long after we were hearing from Hedegaard about how much agreement there is on climate policy in Denmark. The Danish press is speculating that the departure is the result of a rift between Becker's views and those of the new Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. Becker is said to have wanted the country to stake out a more aggressive position on climate than the PM's office is willing to back.

Hedegaard said on Danish television that his exit is "purely an administrative matter." Becker will apparently be replaced with senior diplomat Steffen Smidt. From Reuters:

Quote of the Day

Speaking of the Nobel Prize, Ezra Klein gets Quote of the Day honors for this.  Or should I say, Quote of Day Honors in Memory of Alfred Nobel?

Ross Douthat [] says it will be "offensive when Obama takes the stage in Oslo this November instead of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s heroic opposition leader." By that same logic, it seems a bit offensive for Douthat to spend his column arguing that Obama should give back the Nobel rather than devoting his column to the struggles of Tsvangirai, who has never before been mentioned in one of Douthat's op-eds. That's all the more true given that Douthat chooses the subject of his columns, while Obama does not choose the recipients of the Nobel.

Quite so.  And while we're on the subject, I wonder if any of these guys criticizing Obama have given even half a minute's thought to the optics of a presidential refusal?  Frankly, I can't think of anything that would look more arrogant than turning down the Nobel Prize.  What, it's not good enough for him?  He's above such things?  Euro-weenie prizes have no place in the White House?

That's how it would look.  Not humble or self-effacing.  Arrogant.  I don't think the Norwegians should have awarded Obama the prize, but once they did, even the most minimal considerations of graciousness and respect required him to accept it.

We all have pet peeves, and I'm afraid one of mine is people who insist on pointing out every year that the Nobel Prize in Economics isn't really a Nobel Prize.  It's actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Science in Honor of Alfred Nobel, it wasn't part of Nobel's original will, it's a party-crasher that was tacked on a mere 40 years ago, blah blah blah.

Come on, people.  It's awarded by Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, just like the Physics and Chemistry prizes.  It follows the same rules as the other prizes.  The Nobel Foundation bought into the idea and lists it on their website along with all the other prizes.  (Yes, it's carefully referred to only as a "Prize," not  a "Nobel Prize," but still.)  And it's presented on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death at the same awards ceremony as all the others.  Don't believe me?  Here's Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman at the awards ceremony last year right alongside all the "real" winners.  Hell, Krugman even looks a little bit like Alfred Nobel.

So it's a Nobel Prize.  End of micro-rant.  You may now continue with your previously scheduled Columbus Day festivities.

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Here's the thing: This may be our next "Vietnam moment," but Afghanistan is no Vietnam: there are no major enemy powers like the Soviet Union and China lurking in the background; no organized enemy state with a powerful army like North Vietnam supporting the insurgents; no well organized, unified national liberation movement like the Vietcong, and that's just a beginning. Almost everywhere, in fact, the Vietnam analogy breaks down—almost everywhere, that is, except when it comes to us. Because we never managed to leave Vietnam behind, even when we were proclaiming that we had kicked that "syndrome," it turns out that we're still there. Our military leaders, for instance, only recently dusted off the old Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine that once ended in catastrophe, shined it up, and are now presenting it as an ingenious new solution to war-fighting. Let's face it: everything about American thinking still stinks of the Vietnamese debacle, including the inability of our leaders to listen to a genuinely wide range of options.

Now, according to Peter Siegel and Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal, a "battle" of two Vietnam histories is underway at the White House and the Pentagon. Think of them as dueling books. The president and a number of his advisors have just finished reading Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam about a White House "being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead" and backed by a hawkish national security adviser. The other, a Pentagon favorite, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam, focuses on a military that by the early 1970s was supposedly winning its counterinsurgency struggle only to be "rejected by political leaders who bow[ed] to popular opinion and end[ed] the fight."

Jingle Mail

Time magazine reports on the rise of jingle mail:

Homeowners of a new and unattractive breed are plaguing the Federal Housing Administration these days. Known as "the walkaways," they are people who find themselves unable to meet their mortgage payments — and to solve the problem simply move out their belongings at night, drop their house key in the mailbox and disappear.

....The rate of mortgage foreclosures has tripled during the past ten years, to an estimated 3.77 per 1,000 mortgages. Most housing economists agree that the leveling off of home prices in many parts of the U.S. accounts for most of the increase. As long as home prices were rising, a homeowner who could not meet his payments could always sell out — usually at a profit. Now, with prices steady, an overextended homeowner must either sell at a loss or face foreclosure.

....Confides a leading West Coast banker: "Again and again I have to tell my branch managers that I would rather have a soundly conceived mortgage at 5¾% than one at 6¼% which goes bad." Unless the branch managers take this advice to heart, today's overambitious mortgages will create tomorrow's walkaways.

That's from 1962.  Good times.  (Via Felix Salmon via Mark Gimein.)

Uh oh.

The excellent muckrakers of the McClatchy Washington bureau report:

As the Obama administration reconsiders its Afghanistan policy, White House officials are minimizing warnings from the intelligence community, the military and the State Department about the risks of adopting a limited strategy focused on al Qaida, U.S. intelligence, diplomatic and military officials told McClatchy.

Recent U.S. intelligence assessments have found that the Taliban and other Pakistan-based groups that are fighting U.S.-led forces have much closer ties to al Qaida now than they did before 9/11, would allow the terrorist network to re-establish bases in Afghanistan and would help Osama bin Laden export his radical brand of Islam to Afghanistan's neighbors and beyond, the officials said.

McClatchy interviewed more than 15 senior and mid-level U.S. intelligence, military and diplomatic officials, all of whom said they concurred with the assessments. All of them requested anonymity because the assessments are classified and the officials weren't authorized to speak publicly.

In the past few weeks, it has seemed that the White House has been looking to adopt an in-the-middle course in Afghanistan, not dumping too many more troops in, not drawing down the troops already there. And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has repeatedly noted that the entire Taliban is not an extension of al Qaeda—an assertion that has tremendous strategic ramifications. If there is a difference between the two, then perhaps the United States and NATO can cut deals with some Taliban elements and isolate those Taliban slices that are in bed with al Qaeda. But if the Taliban and al Qaeda are joined at the hip—as Senator John McCain and others have claimed—then there's a better argument for a bigger military mission aimed at destroying the Taliban.

The McClatchy piece indicates that intelligence officials are pushing the one-and-the-same analysis—meaning they are increasing the pressure (either purposefully or not) for boosting the US/NATO military presence in Afghanistan. If Obama does not head in that direction, he can expect a storm of protest from hawks who will be waving news stories like this—and perhaps leaked reports—and claiming that he's ignoring the intelligence. Afghanistan—as both a political and policy concern—keeps getting messier for the latest Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

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Running the Traps

So what kind of options is President Obama getting from his military commanders regarding Afghanistan?  Here's Martha Raddatz of ABC News on the advice he's getting from Gen. Stanley McChrystal:

The three options are, option one: send no more troops to Afghanistan, considered a "high risk option;” option two: send 40,000 more troops, and option three: a major increase in troops, a number that has not been made public but that is far more than 40,000....We’re told that number is [...] well more than 60,000, but under 100,000. But this high option is not the one McChrystal favors.  He favors the middle option.

And here's the New York Times:

Officials said over the weekend that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, had prepared options that include a maximum troop increase of about 80,000, a number highly unlikely to be considered seriously by the White House. Much of the official focus has been on a lower option that the general presented, for 40,000 additional troops.

A couple of months ago Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote a piece in the Washington Post about the post-Petraeus Pentagon's focus on "a new kind of military leader," one who was "able to nimbly run the troops on the ground as well as the traps in Washington."  Stanley McChrystal was said to be just such a leader.

And apparently he is.  Nobody takes the 80,000 number seriously, and McChrystal certainly knew that would be the case.  Apparently he didn't even endorse it himself.  So why include it?  All part of nimbly running the traps in Washington, I imagine.  If you toss in a higher number, then the natural compromise figure becomes 40,000, the place he wanted to be all along.  It's one thing for Obama to eventually decide on a figure a little lower than the high-end option, but once everything has been properly leaked it's a lot harder for him to publicly defend a figure that's less than even McChrystal's pre-packaged "compromise" position.

This is all pretty obvious stuff and I don't want to make too much out of it.  But I'll repeat something I said earlier anyway: I'm not really thrilled at the idea of the Pentagon focusing its energies on promoting generals who are good Washington gameplayers.  If McChrystal truly doesn't favor the higher option, we'd all be better off if he just left it out and instead made the recommendation he really believes in.  Trying to box in the commander-in-chief may be business as usual when it comes to things like F-22 acquisitions or base closings, but I don't have to like it.  I especially don't have to like it when it comes to things a little more important than Lockheed-Martin's balance sheet.  And I don't.

I recently got a press release from the makers of Linger, an "internal feminine flavoring" that promises to keep your vagina in mint condition. Think of it as an Altoid for your lady parts or, as its website explains, "A small, naturally sweetened flavoring, free of artificial dyes, which was created to flavor the secretions of a woman when she is sexually aroused." What...the...?!

So where did the idea for this curiously wrong mint come from? Linger's website (a little NSFW) offers up a wondrous, romantic tale about the supposed discoverer of femimint hygiene, an unnamed woman who was seduced in India by a man with skin "the color of caramel." He quelled her fears of tasting bad "down there" with a mysterious, Eastern mint. "When I returned to the States, I brought the tingly sweet tasting mint with me," she writes. I've requested an interview with this mysterious entrepreneur, but have yet to speak with her. However, Linger's PR guy did send me a sample—made in exotic New Jersey. But that was just my first taste of disappointment.

While I was en route back to the US over the weekend, Washington saw what may well be a game-changer on climate legislation, as Lindsey Graham (R-SC) officially endorsed the Senate climate bill.

Well, maybe.

In an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, Graham joined with bill author John Kerry (D-Mass.) to support passing climate legislation this year. They write:

[W]e refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change. We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce pollution.
Our partnership represents a fresh attempt to find consensus that adheres to our core principles and leads to both a climate change solution and energy independence. It begins now, not months from now—with a road to 60 votes in the Senate.

Of course, the op-ed does make it clear that there are some things to be worked out, as the bill remains in draft form. Graham is a big nuclear proponent, so the extent of nuclear support in the final bill will be key. It's also key for other Republicans who are possible "yes" votes, like his close ally John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).