Kevin Drum

Mindless Cuts

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 1:53 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Sat Feb. 7, 2009 12:30 PM EST

MINDLESS CUTS....The nickel version of what's happened to the stimulus bill so far is that it started out at around $800 billion, a bunch of stuff got added that increased the tab to $900 billion, and then a centrist group of senators took out a machete and pared it back to around $800 billion. Assuming it passes the Senate on Tuesday, it will then go to conference, where there will probably be some more horsetrading before it reaches its final form.

In other words, this is lawmaking as usual, and I can't say that I'm especially outraged by it. Yes, the cuts were fairly random, but then, the original bill was a pretty scattershot collection of programs too. That's inevitable in legislation this size. Besides, some of this stuff will probably get a second life later in the year — and in any case, I have just enough residual doubt about the wisdom of stimulating consumption when we all know that eventually consumption needs to fall that I'm not especially unhappy about keeping the price tag to $800 billion.

That said, the primary target of the cuts is pretty hard to defend:

The biggest cut, roughly $40 billion in aid to states, was likely to spur a fierce fight in negotiations with the House over the final bill....In addition to the large cut in state aid, the Senate agreement would cut nearly $20 billion proposed for school construction; $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings and make them more energy efficient; $1 billion for the early childhood program Head Start; and $2 billion from a plan to expand broadband data networks in rural and underserved areas.

State aid was cut? That's crazy. Even many of the conservatives I read agree that preventing huge state cutbacks is one of the quickest and most efficient forms of fiscal stimulus. And most of the rest of the spending on this list is infrastructure spending, exactly the thing that conservatives were complaining there was too little of.

Granted, neither laws nor sausages bear close scrutiny, but trading this stuff for a bunch of idiotic car and homebuying subsidies strikes me as unusually mindless, even by U.S. Senate standards. This is not exactly centrism's finest hour.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 6 February 2009

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 1:44 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 3:49 PM EST
FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....This has been sort of a crummy week on a whole bunch of levels, so I'm glad it's over. Unfortunately, one result of this crumminess has been a lack of energy to take new catblogging pictures to mark the end of the week. Luckily, we have many, many file photos of our adorable furballs here at Catblogging Headquarters, so here's a couple from last year. However, I promise some brand new photos next Friday to go along with the rollout of our brand new site here at MoJo. In the meantime, have a nice weekend, everyone.

Liam Neeson

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 1:37 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 3:03 PM EST
LIAM NEESON....Peter Suderman writes that Taken is "a formulaic tough-guy revenge picture....short, ultra-violent, occasionally sadistic, not particularly creative, and packed with a continent’s worth of stereotypical foreign uglies." But he liked it anyway. Why? Because it stars Liam Neeson.

I'm not surprised. Neeson is, after all, our greatest living actor. How do I know this? Consider: every single actor directed by George Lucas in the second Star Wars trilogy gave a performance that could only charitably be called embarrassing. The lone exception was Liam Neeson, who, against all odds, managed to overcome Lucas's leaden dialog and clunky direction and turn in an appealing, understated performance anyway. If that's not evidence that he's our greatest living actor, I don't know what is.

Lala Land Update 1

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 1:00 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 2:06 PM EST

LALA LAND UPDATE....Harold Meyerson reports the latest on the Hilda Solis front:

Republican senators have a modest proposal for Hilda Solis: that if she’s confirmed as Labor Secretary, she recuse herself from any advocacy for the Employee Free Choice Act.

That’s quite the suggestion. Rather like asking Robert Gates not to advocate for the armed forces, or Judd Gregg not to champion American business, or President Obama’s environmental picks not to support stricter fuel-efficiency standards. But then, Republicans’ opposition to unions is close to clinically pathological.

These guys just don't know when to quit. Don't they ever get embarrassed by this stuff?

Iraqi Elections

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:59 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 1:37 PM EST

IRAQI ELECTIONS....Results from Iraq's provincial elections are finally in. The LA Times reports:

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has won a resounding victory in provincial elections across Iraq, cashing in on his strongman image while dealing a sharp defeat to outright religious parties, according to preliminary results released Thursday.

Candidates running under Maliki's Enforcement of Law slate won the most seats in nine of 14 contested provinces, including the Shiite Muslim power bases of Baghdad and Basra. /p>

Juan Cole offers a rather different take:

Although Nuri al-Maliki's Da'wa Party got over a third of the votes in Baghdad and Basra, they clearly did not achieve a commanding position, and its share in the more rural Shiite provinces was signifcantly less..

The big story here is that the Shiite religious parties (and yes, the Da'wa or Islamic Mission Party is among them) again swept the Shiite south. However, those Shiite parties that won out this time want a strong central government, not a Shiite mini-state.

....On the whole, I think these results are encouraging for Obama. The Sunni Arab ex-Baathist secular elites have reentered polities in the Sunni Arab areas. These election results put paid to the fantasies of Dick Cheney and John McCain that Sunni Arab Iraqis are pro-"al-Qaeda." Most of them would not even vote for a religious party, much less for a radical fundamentalist terrorist group. Cheney said that if the US left, al-Qaeda would take over Sunni Arab Iraq. That is highly unlikely given these election results.

I certainly wouldn't have guessed this a year or two ago, but Maliki really does seem to have consolidated his position throughout the country, something that's almost certainly good news for the U.S. If Obama really does want to get out of Iraq within 16 months (or 19 months or 23 months, depending on who you listen to), it's going to be a lot easier if the Maliki administration is stable and relatively secure. And while Iraq will still have friendly relations with Iran under Maliki, that would have been the case regardless and is probably no bad thing anyway. Overall, I'd say these results make a successful withdrawal from Iraq more likely than it was a week ago.

Hilda Solis

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:55 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 7:23 PM EST

HILDA SOLIS....I see that Senate Republicans are continuing to throw up roadblocks in front of Hilda Solis, Obama's nominee for Labor Secretary. This is pretty odd. I mean, what's their beef? That she's pro-labor and pro-EFCA? That can hardly be a surprise, since Obama himself is pro-labor and pro-EFCA. That there's some kind of skeleton in her closet? Maybe, but the items they've dug up so far have been tissue thin. They can't possibly think her husband's tax liens are going to derail her nomination, can they? And the ARW stuff is even more ridiculous.

The whole thing is hard to fathom. But I guess it's yet another indication that of all the things that drive Republicans crackers, labor tops the list. Even more than taxes, they just go completely nuts when they're faced with the prospect of unions gaining a bit of power. The result is a temper tantrum over Solis even though they know perfectly well they can't stop her nomination.

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Quote of the Day - 02.05.09

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:53 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 2:32 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Joe Klein, begging his fellow reporters not to make the same mistake he made 16 years ago:

In 1993, I did a pretty shabby job of covering Bill Clinton's economic plan. It was, in sum, a very good plan — it worked wonders for the economy — but I focused on the mishaps. (Clinton, for example, pulled the rug out from under House Democrats by offering a carbon tax, which they voted for...and then the President removed it from the bill.) Clinton couldn't get any Republican votes for the package. A disaster! He had trouble getting Democratic votes for it; he had to beg Bob Kerrey for his vote to get it through the Senate. His presidency was in ruins! He had lost all credibility! (Actually, those of us who had focused on some big ugly trees rather than the blooming forest were the ones who had lost credibility.) It pains me to watch normally reasonable colleagues overreacting to Obama's situation now — which is far less dire than Clinton's was.

The problem is that Republicans know what attracts media attention: shiny new baubles. So we need an even shinier new bauble of our own to distract them. But what? A war? Maybe a shark attack somewhere? Or some Britney news?

Terrorist Watchlist Watch

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:47 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 1:38 PM EST

TERRORIST WATCHLIST WATCH....This is good news, I think:

The House passed a bill Tuesday aimed at helping people who have been misidentified as terrorists clear their names from government watch lists and databases.

The bill (HR 559), sponsored by Yvette D. Clarke , D-N.Y., passed by a vote of 413-3....“This is a good bill,” said Pete Olson , R-Texas. “This is a bipartisan bill.”

It's always been sort of Kafkaesque that a gigantic security bureaucracy could stick your name on a terrorist watchlist and basically give you no way to get it off. It's long past time for Congress to address this.

But here's what I want to know: if this bill passed 413-3, what took so long? Did Republicans only decide they could afford to support it once George Bush was out of office? Or what?

Conventional Wisdom Watch

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:42 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 12:52 PM EST

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM WATCH....Wednesday's CW: The stimulus bill is doomed! We're all gonna die!

Thursday's CW: It'll pass by Friday, with a few modest changes. Happy days!

You could get whiplash from stuff like this. Hopefully today's CW is the right one.

Honeybees!

| Thu Feb. 5, 2009 10:21 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 3:20 AM EST
HONEYBEES!....I'm back! Not really at a hundred percent or anything, but in good enough shape for blogging. And I have to say that my timing was pretty good: all I really missed was a fantastic amount of teeth gnashing (tooth gnashing?) over Barack Obama supposedly losing control of the stimulus bill. And I admit that my teeth were gnashing too for a while. But I have to say that with the benefit of thinking about this for a few hours rather than a few minutes, it's pretty obvious that people are overreacting. Yes, Republicans are acting like Republicans, and sure, Obama is going to end up making some compromises. But that's what he said he was willing to do all along. So really, what's the big deal? It's going to work out OK within the next few days, and I'll bet the Senate ends up adding about as much stuff as it takes out. So chill. But speaking of Republicans acting like Republicans, Michael Hiltzik has dredged up a good one. Apparently Neil Cavuto has been carrying on for the past week about an item in the stimulus bill he calls "honeybee insurance," and Mitch McConnell and David Vitter have joined in on the Senate floor to mock this disgraceful waste of taxpayer money. It's shocking! Now, you will be unsurprised to learn that the program in question isn't honeybee insurance at all, it's disaster insurance for all livestock producers. But that's not the best part. This is:

The provision simply continues a program enacted by Congress last year, overriding a veto by President Bush. In other words, the Senate voted on it twice in 2008 — once to enact and once to override. Connoisseurs of political comedy will see the punch line coming: McConnell and Vitter voted yea both times. So it turns out that McConnell isn't really against honeybees. He's only using them to pretend that he's got a principled objection to a stimulus plan aimed at pulling the country out of the most severe recession in decades.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Party. Country first, as always.