Kevin Drum

GOP Lemming Watch

| Sun Feb. 15, 2009 2:54 PM EST
GOP LEMMING WATCH....You think DC Republicans are nuts?  Come to California for the real thing.  We're in a $41 billion hole, and after weeks of grinding negotiations Gov. Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders finally agreed on a package that contained $15 billion in spending cuts, $15 billion in temporary tax increases, and $11 billion in new borrowing.  So what happened?

Nothing.  The package needs a grand total of three (3) GOP votes in the state Senate, and it turns out there are only two.  All the others are still dead set on allowing California to run off a cliff rather than vote for any tax increases whatsoever no matter what the circumstances.  (Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark: The package, if passed would be remembered as "the Valentine's massacre on California taxpayers.")  In the Assembly, my representative, Chuck DeVore, tried to lead a revolt against the sellout Republican leadership, failed, and then promptly resigned his position as minority whip.  (Brian Leubitz at Calitics: "In the Byzantine world of Yacht Party politics this of course is good news for his chances of winning the party's nomination to get pummeled by Barbara Boxer in 2010.")  The Assembly then went into lockdown overnight.  (John Myers via Twitter: "A lockdown really is a lockdown. Assembly sergeants are at all exits of the chambers.")  The Senate pulled an all-nighter too, but by dawn the third GOP vote was still nowhere to be found.  Senate Dems even slashed some spending for children's healthcare, a project always near and dear to moderate Republicans, but it wasn't enough to get Sen. Dave Cox on board.  So they're still a vote shy.

Anyway, no big point to make here except that Republicans in California are certifiably insane.  Unfortunately, they're also pretty much invulnerable.  Over the past decade their ranks have dwindled to about a third of the legislature, but thanks to the cozy gerrymandering deals of the recent past they represent districts that are far more likely to punish them for compromise than for constructive engagement.  And since California requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget, they can stamp their feet, hold their breath, give rousing speeches to their neanderthal constituencies, and run the state off a cliff just for giggles.  Aren't you glad you don't live here?

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Geithner's Plan

| Sun Feb. 15, 2009 1:43 PM EST
GEITHNER'S PLAN....Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was pummeled last week for offering up a vague and unsatisfactory plan for dealing with the U.S. banking crisis.  But he had better luck with his fellow economic mandarins at yesterday's G7 meeting:

Going into the meeting, Canadian Finance Minister James M. Flaherty called the U.S. financial rescue "less than clear," echoing comments made by financial chiefs in France and Germany. Afterward, many of the officials appeared reassured, saying that Geithner provided clear answers to their questions.

Several officials said Geithner was particularly helpful in explaining how the various elements of the administration's initiatives tie together as well as how he plans to combine public funds with private resources to get more bang out of every rescue dollar the governments spends.

That's great! So how about if he provides the American public with the same clear answers he offered to foreign central bankers? Apparently that's not going to happen:

Withholding critical details was a conscious choice by Geithner and his team, the official said in an interview. They wanted to avoid the mistakes of the Bush administration, which announced proposals before fully debating them and then quickly abandoned them when it realized they would not work.

Geithner and his staff also wanted to coordinate their proposals with lawmakers, the private sector and their counterparts overseas. This need for coordination is more than just rhetoric, officials said. If the United States develops a method to examine the books of banks and evaluate the real worth of their assets, it would likely affect financial firms around the world.

So let me get this straight.  The story we're asked to believe is that Geithner deliberately mumbled his way through Tuesday's press conference, but then, four days later, working from "a few pages of notes that he had quickly scribbled in a small notebook," provided a brilliant explanation of his plan that satisfied the most sophisticated economic audience on the planet?  What's wrong with this picture?

Happy Valentines Day

| Sat Feb. 14, 2009 9:34 PM EST
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY....Craig Childs defends the refinement and discrimination of pre-Columbian cultures in North America:

A thousand years ago, people in the Southwest had not invented the wheel, had no armies and relied on stone tools, which has marked them as uncivilized. They are imagined as cavemen. But the recent discovery of chocolate in a broken jar from pre-Columbian New Mexico might be enough to change that kind of thinking.

Consider it changed!  If chocolate isn't the mark of a great civilization, what is?

Which Reagan?

| Sat Feb. 14, 2009 4:29 PM EST
WHICH REAGAN?....Conservatives want Barack Obama to act more like Ronald Reagan.  Fred Kaplan asks, which one?

In his first term, from 1981-85, Reagan escalated East-West tensions, spoke in bellicose rhetoric, and jacked up military spending to 30-year highs. This is the Reagan whom Republican chieftains worship and insist that all subsequent presidents emulate. But in his second term, which coincided with Gorbachev's rise to power, Reagan flipped, making dramatic diplomatic overtures to Moscow and accepting equally dramatic proposals in turn.

Few remember, but many of the Republicans who now tout Reagan's accomplishments pummeled him at the time for "betraying" his followers and their Cold War ideology.

....When Republicans tell Obama to act more like Ronald Reagan, a suitable response might be: "Which one?"

Do I get a vote? How about neither? George Bush has just spent the past eight years pretending to be the first-term Reagan, so we hardly need a repeat of that. And the second-term Reagan was a clueless naif. I could do without that too. How about if we just let Obama be Obama instead?

Rush

| Sat Feb. 14, 2009 4:08 PM EST
RUSH....Speaking of Rush Limbaugh, here's his latest tirade against Barack Obama:

"I want everything he's doing to fail... I want the stimulus package to fail.... I do not want this to succeed."

Charming, no? I don't have a problem with Limbaugh wanting Obama to fail. That's just politics. But publicly rooting for the stimulus to fail and the economy to tank? Is there anyone in the conservative community who thinks that's taking things a wee bit too far? Or are they all OK with this?

Fairness Follies

| Sat Feb. 14, 2009 3:59 PM EST

FAIRNESS FOLLIES....For months conservatives have been nattering obsessively about how Democrats want to put their talk radio stars out of business by bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. It's ridiculous. Barack Obama says he's against it, there's no serious legislation pending, and there's no chance at all of any legislation passing. Given all that, then, it's pretty annoying to hear Bill Clinton hand the talking heads some free ammunition on the subject. Here's the Big Dog a couple of days ago:

Well, you either ought to have the Fairness Doctrine or we ought to have more balance on the other side, because essentially there's always been a lot of big money to support the right wing talk shows and let face it, you know, Rush Limbaugh is fairly entertaining even when he is saying things that I think are ridiculous....

I don't get it. Is there some kind of subtle three-cushion bank shot stategerizing going on here? Are we just trying to keep conservatives off balance over trivia? Or what? Because unless there's some serious movement afoot to repeal the Fairness Doctrine — and I don't think there is — Dems with big microphones really ought to just shut up about it.

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The Opposition Opposes

| Sat Feb. 14, 2009 3:36 PM EST
THE OPPOSITION OPPOSES....Atrios says it's OK for the opposition party to oppose the president en masse:

I don't have a problem with Republicans who, on balance, wanted the bill to pass but still voted against it. I don't really think it's "cowardice" or whatever, they're simply making it clear that they're the opposition party. And that's a good thing! It's only in bizarro Broderville, combined with the annoying supermajority bits of the Senate, that anyone really thinks differently.

Basically, I agree. Both parties have an interest in differentiating themselves, and the best way to do that is to make the majority party responsible for its agenda.

But as Atrios also points out, there's one problem with this: "the annoying supermajority bits of the Senate."  A parliamentary system is fine if you have the machinery of a parliamentary system, in which the majority party has the power to pass its legislative program and then stands or falls based on how well it works out.  But it's not so fine if a party can win the presidency, the House, and the Senate by landslide majorities but still can't pass big parts of its program because it needs 60 votes in the Senate.

If Republicans want to adopt the party discipline features of a parliamentary system, fine.  But they also need to adopt the rest of the system as well.  The filibuster was never intended to become a routine requirement that all legislation needs 60% of the vote in the Senate to pass.  But that's what it's become.  It's time for reform.

Chart of the Day - 2.14.2009

| Sat Feb. 14, 2009 3:20 PM EST
CHART OF THE DAY....It's cold this year!  I guess that means global warming is a crock, right?

Even as a joke this is inane, but in case you want to see what's really happening this winter, here's a NASA chart of global temps for January.  As you can see, there are only two areas in the entire world that are colder than the 1951-1980 average: eastern Siberia and the American northeast, home to virtually the entire national press corps.  So naturally cold temps are getting lots of media play.  But, in fact, the rest of the world continues to be substantially warmer than in the recent past, and if you look at entire latitudes, even in this chilly month every single one is warmer than in the past.  It would be nice if global warming really were taking a break, but it's not.

CBO Scores the Stimulus – Part 2

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 7:38 PM EST
CBO SCORES THE STIMULUS – PART 2....So how did the stimulus bill turn out?  Answer: according to the CBO, pretty well.  Their scoring of the original House bill is here, and their scoring of the final bill is here.  The bottom line for both bills is below: the original bill pumped out 64% of its money over the next 18 months, while the final bill pumps out 74%.

Now, the final bill has a different mix of taxes and spending, and it also has a bit less total spending than the original bill.  However, it has more spending in the next two fiscal years.  This frankly doesn't seem like a bad tradeoff.  All kvetching aside — and I've got a lot of the same kvetches as other liberals — the final bill really doesn't seem substantially worse than the original, and in some respects it's better.  Given the realities of the sausage factory, that's not bad.

Friday Cat Blogging - 13 February 2009

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 3:33 PM EST
FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Our next-door neighbor and I are doing our part to stimulate the economy.  Thanks to roots and trees and strong winds, our fence collapsed several weeks ago and we agreed to stimulate the local fencebuilding industry by getting it replaced.  Yesterday Inkblot took his first walk along our magnificent new construction project, and as you can see by his tail propped up behind him, he approves.  Who wouldn't?

As for Domino, I hauled her up onto the fence too, but she was less impressed.  She doesn't really like being that high off the ground.  So this week's picture is as ground level as you can get.  I know that I'm just begging for comments about how, um, rotund she is, but I say, bring 'em on.  Domino is deliriously happy with her body image and thinks that it just gives her more surface area to soak up the sunshine.  And she's right.  So go soak up some sun this weekend if you can.  Lincoln and Washington would approve.