Rotwang says that whining about right-wing mobilization over healthcare reform just makes liberals look weak.  We're bigger and have a better case and we should just make it:

The numbing details of health care reform are important and worth discussing, but the argument against the [teabaggers] is pretty simple. If you hate socialized medicine, do you want to abolish Medicare? Why not? If not, why not have more Medicare, rather than less? Why not have wider access to health insurance that resembles what Members of Congress have? Medicare is their soft underbelly. It's socialized medicine that people already have, are used to, and support. More, not less. Once that is established, you can have a civil discussion about all the details.

That's exactly what my mother was saying to me on the phone last night.  And it's very logical.  I don't think it will work with these folks, but it's very logical.  I'm not sure Rotwang thinks it will work either, considering his ultimate advice:

Anybody who is unwilling to throw people out of their meetings should not be organizing them.

Yeah, but that has to be done very, very carefully indeed.  One small slip and you'll end up on a 24/7 loop on Glenn Beck's show.  Videotape of your goons dragging some 70-year-old grandma out of the room by her hair will not play well at all in the fabled heartland.

I guess I'd propose the following for members of congress speaking at town hall events: (1) Announce beforehand that there have been organized efforts to disrupt constituent meetings and it might happen here too, (2) ask everyone to please stay calm even in the face of provocation, (3) have your own cameras there to record the lunatics, and (4) rely on the fact that organized screaming doesn't wear well with the American public.  And then turn up the volume on your sound system.

Either that or you can get on the stage and announce that some there are some shaggy punks outside burning an American flag and you want some volunteers to go teach them a lesson.  That should get the riff raff out of the room.

It is a sad day for lovers of 80's cinema (and really, who isn't?) John Hughes, the filmmmaker behind such classics as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, died of a heart attack today, at age 59.

Of course, Hughes worked his magic well past the Brat Pack age, on hits such as Beethoven and Curly Sue. But as a child of the 80's, I and millions of others will always remember him as an icon of an era—as indelible as neon colors, New Kids on the Block, and scrunchies.

So RIP, John Hughes. Samantha Baker's parents may have forgotten her birthday, but we'll never forget you.

President Obama announced today a tiny sliver of his much anticipated and long forgotten plan to reform immigration policy: The US will stop detaining families at T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a CCA prison near Austin, TX that holds exclusively immigrants. I've never been to T. Don Hutto, but I did hang out in one of the private Corrections Corporation of America's non-criminal detention facilities in New Jersey, the hub for undocumented immigrants snagged coming in or out of one of the New York Metro airports.

It looked, not surprisingly, like a prison. And it was run like one, if a prison had window-walled dormitories instead of cell blocks: breakfast at 7, dinner at 5, showers with no curtains and toilets with no stalls. The inmates all wore gray uniforms (including gray hijabs for Muslim women, since Muslims make up a third of the inmate population there). Mostly they made paper flowers and played dominoes while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Legally, it should take a maximum of three months. But lawyers who represent immigrants say the three month maximum detention limit is a myth.  

"Cramdown"—the process of modifying mortgage terms in bankruptcy court to make them more affordable—could yet see the light of the day. The Senate, which earlier this year killed a proposal that used cramdowns to prevent foreclosures, is revisiting the topic. Members of the Senate's Judiciary Committee held a hearing last month on the subject, and others in Congress seem poised to reintroduce cramdown as a means of rescuing ailing homeowners who can't keep up with their mortgage payments.

Cramdown's resurrection is largely owed to the utter failure of the Obama administration's existing homeowner relief efforts—namely, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). A $75 billion initiative run by Treasury, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, HAMP offers incentives to mortgage servicers (the sometimes ill-reputed companies who deal with customers, handle payments, etc., but don't own the loan) to lower payments, decrease interest rates, reduce owed principal, and extend the life of the mortgage. A good idea, in theory.

I may regret posting this, but here's an account of how George Bush tried to talk French president Jacques Chirac into supporting the invasion of Iraq:

Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East.... The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.... This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn’t comply with Bush’s request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal.

....In 2007, Dr. Romer recounted Bush’s strange behavior in Lausanne University’s review, Allez Savoir....Subsequently, ex-President Chirac confirmed the nutty event in a long interview with French journalist Jean-Claude Maurice, who tells the tale in his new book, Si Vous le Répétez, Je Démentirai (If You Repeat it, I Will Deny), released in March by the publisher Plon.

This isn't brand new: the Toronto Star wrote about it a couple of months ago, though it's gotten very little attention since.  In any case, consider it your weirdness of the day.  Not that we've exactly been lacking for that lately.....

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

By a vote of 68-31—supported by all Democrats present—the US Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, making her the first Hispanic justice. Though her confirmation was all but assured, Sotomayor had emerged as a divisive figure among conservatives, who claim that her judicial philosophy is tainted by ethnic favoritism. They cited an appeals court decision Sotomayor made upholding an affirmative action law that was seen to harm a group of white firefighters in Connecticut, in addition to a comment she made about the merits of a "wise Latina" judge.

But Sotomayor's conservative critics never gained traction, perhaps due to the political stigma associated with attacking Hispanics, a demographic the GOP hopes to win over in future election cycles. Still, only nine Republicans voted for Sotomayor. Speaking directly after the vote, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) joked that Republicans would have been dissatisfied with anyone Obama nominated, no matter how qualified. "If the President had nominated Moses... they would have voted no," he said, trying to stifle laughter.

The statements of support are already coming out.

First, the nominator himself:

Like so many other aspects of this nation, I'm filled with pride in this achievement and great confidence that Judge Sotomayor will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it's a wonderful day for America.

The Service Employees' International Union:

[T]he janitors, nurses, security guards, bus drivers and other hardworking members of SEIU have proudly stood with her because her personal story of achievement has given her a rare insight into the lives of people who get up and go to work each day to make a better life for their families."

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

[B]y confirming [Sotomayor] today, the U.S. Senate refused to be intimidated by the National Rifle Association and instead did what's right for the country and the rule of law.

There's a lot of things the Golden State will do to save water (including declaring a State of Emergency and virtually closing the water supply to the Central Valley) but pushing Californians to pee in the shower is NOT one of them. 

"That's not something we've advocated, no," said Water Department spokesman Matt Knotley, who seemed shocked by the suggestion, apparently all the rage in Brazil, that folks should pee in the shower to save water. "If that's what they want to do in their country, fine. There are plenty of other ways that are very easy to save water." 

Unfortunately, none of those have a cute Portugese PA video. 

 In case you're totally grossed out, you should know that this is not the first time we've approached water conservation through toilet humor. In the late 80s, when I was potty training, you could sum California's drought policy in a simple rhyme: If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down.  

A Pensacola judge has green lighted the government seizure of Pensacola's Dinosaur Adventure Land, a creationist theme park whose owners, Kent and Jo Hovind, owe $430,400 in federal taxes. The Hovinds' excuse for not paying was that they were employed by God and thus could claim zero income and property.

According to the Pensacola News Journal, the government will sell off the Hovinds' property to pay the debt. Not sure exactly what those properties are, but the park's website offers a few clues:

Learn about dinosaurs, principles of science, and even how to make a paper airplane that can fly over 300 feet! Handle our real, live creatures and take the Leap of Faith swing. Enjoyable and educational for all ages, it is specifically targeted for kids under a million years of age!

Be prepared to be challenged to think and to follow the Lord in the way God the Creator has planned for you. If you do not know your Creator, we will be overjoyed to introduce you to Him.

Our funny and experienced guides will lead your family or group on the tour, declaring the works of the Lord and the words of the Lord.

DAL is not an amusement park, for “amuse” means “to not think,” and we want people to think. Rather, it is an amazement park.

So I wonder what's to become of all the park's statues and critters? And what's the going rate for a Leap of Faith swing these days, anyway?

Does fiscal stimulus work when the economy is in a deep recession?  There's no way to definitively "prove" that it does, but we can certainly amass evidence for it.  Via Tim Fernholz, here's a chart from a talk CEA chair Christina Romer gave today.  The question she's addressing is whether countries that applied bigger stimulus packages have recovered more quickly:

To get evidence about this, we started with a set of forecasts of growth in the second quarter of this year that were made last November — after the crisis had hit, but before countries had formulated their policy response. We then collected analysts’ recent best guesses for what second-quarter growth will be in those countries. This figure shows the relationship between how countries’ second-quarter growth prospects have changed from what was expected back in November, and the countries’ discretionary fiscal stimulus in 2009.

The fact that the observations lie along an upward-sloping line shows that, on average, things have improved more in countries that adopted bigger stimulus packages. And, the relationship is sizable: on average, a country with stimulus that’s larger by 1% of GDP has expected real GDP growth in the second quarter that’s about 2 percentage points higher relative to the November forecast.

Italics mine. This is, obviously, hardly ironclad proof about how well fiscal stimulus works.  For one thing it's based on estimates, not final data, and if those November forecasts were systematically overoptimistic they might also have been systematically useless.  What's more, eyeballing that line doesn't suggest to me that Romer's correlation is very strong — especially since it mostly seems to rely on three Asian outliers.

Still, it's up and to the right, and that's a data point in favor of using fiscal stimulus during an economic crisis.  There's more evidence in the talk too, all of which is suggestive though not conclusive.

Of course, you wouldn't expect anything conclusive at this point.  Overall, though, I expect data from 2008-2011 to become a rich field for economists to study in the future.  We haven't had a worldwide recession like this since the Great Depression, and it presents a unique opportunity to study what worked and what didn't.  There are enough variables that drawing firm conclusions will always be hard, but it's nonetheless the best chance we've had in decades to get meaningful comparative data on macroeconomic policy responses to an economic crisis.  This paper is a start.

John Brennan, President Obama's senior advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, gave a speech Thursday morning outlining the President's strategy for decreasing the threat of  global terrorism. Some consider Brennan an odd choice to deliver this message because of his ties to the Bush administration and his reported opposition to declassifying the Bush torture memos. But love him or hate him, he's Obama's man, and he was there to defend Obama's policies. And defend them he did.

Brennan stressed the importance of restoring America's moral reputation. A key strength of the President's anti-terrorism strategy, he said, is that it no longer undermines national security by turning the American forces into monsters with the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Such actions, he said, "were not in keeping with our values as Americans, and these practices have been rightly terminated." Brennan's repudiation of these techniques is especially interesting because he was Obama's first choice for CIA chief, but withdrew his name after critics said he was too soft on torture, which paved the way for the eventual choice Leon Panetta.

Dick Cheney and others who claim Obama's policies are putting the country at risk came in for heavy criticism from Brennan. Such claims show nothing more than "inflammatory rhetoric, hyperbole, and intellectual narrowness" and fail to understand that Obama's "views are nuanced, not simplistic; practical, not ideological," he said.

Brennan argued that al Qaeda's weakened economic and political position in the Middle East and throughout the world is evidence that the administration's strategy is working. Al Qaeda, said Brennan, "is being forced to work harder and harder to raise money, to move its operatives around the world, and to plan attacks." But he also emphasized that our overall strategy has been far from perfect, and the United States must increase pressure on terrorists to ensure that they never obtain nuclear weapons. The administration has a five-point plan to continue its fight against Al Qaeda: