Kevin Drum

Quote of the Day: Obama vs. Charlie Brown

| Sat Dec. 5, 2009 6:26 PM EST

From Russell Wiseman, mayor of Arlington, Tennessee, on his annoyance at the timing of Barack Obama's West Point speech:

Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch "The Charlie Brown Christmas Special" and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose. Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will give you a 10 minute disertation (sic) about it....w...hen the answer should simply be "yes"....

As Will says, this is the best conspiracy theory ever.

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Death Threat Update

| Sat Dec. 5, 2009 4:14 PM EST

This isn't the kind of topic I normally spend much time on, but since I mentioned it yesterday:

[There was] a spike of threats against Mr. Obama before his inauguration and in the early months of his presidency, raising deep concerns inside the Secret Service and at the White House.

The threats have leveled off in recent months, officials said, and Mr. Obama now receives about the same as his two most recent predecessors. But several officials said they took no solace that the volume of reports had receded because it was the nature of the threats that concern them and because the factors behind the increase remain — Mr. Obama’s race prime among them.

....While the big increase in threats against Mr. Obama took place in the first four months of his presidency, officials say the depressed economy has contributed to an increase in antigovernment sentiment, which particularly alarmed federal officials over the summer.

“They are absolutely totally aware that the spike did occur, and they are watching for any trends that would indicate it’s going to spike again,” said W. Ralph Basham, a former director of the service who keeps in contact with Mark Sullivan, the current director.

So there you have it.  There were more threats than usual early on, but now things have mostly settled down.  Good to know.

Friday Cat Blogging - 4 December 2009

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 4:01 PM EST

What do cats do when they're home alone?  The folks at Nestle Purina PetCare's Friskies division installed cat-cams on 50 cats in order to find out, and they've now announced the results:

Based on the photos, about 22 percent of the cats' time was spent looking out of windows, 12 percent was used to interact with other family pets and 8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos. Just 6 percent of their hours were spent sleeping.

Uh huh.  Look: I work at home.  So I know exactly what my critters do between the hours of nine and five: they sleep.  I'd peg it at about 80% of the time.  The Purina folks clearly have some serious methodological issues here.  Perhaps it's a Heisenberg kind of thing: the existence of the cat-cams affects the behavior of the cats being observed.  They'd have to be pretty small cats, though.  Alternatively, someone just screwed up.

Anyway, photographic proof is right here.  These pictures were taken just moments ago.  Earlier this morning Domino woke up just long enough to hop up on my desk and stare at me until I vacated my chair (no worries, I've got a spare for just these occasions), and then fell fast asleep.  Inkblot didn't even open his eyes that long.  He's been curled up on the red blanket upstairs ever since he finished his breakfast.  Six percent my ass.

UPDATE: More detail than you ever imagined possible about the cat-cam study here.

Soccer Madness

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 3:46 PM EST

I know you're all interested in the World Cup draw, right?  Well, the United States (ranked #14 in the world) ended up in Group C, the second easiest group, along with England (#9), Algeria (#28), and Slovenia (#33).  The Daily Fix reports:

[Landon] Donovan nods and smiles as Algeria and Slovenia are placed in the U.S.'s group. He is trying to be diplomatic. But there's no question that he's relieved, and that the U.S. got a good draw.

....Drawing England will make for huge viewership and some in England feared the U.S., but the U.S. will have its hands full with England. The rest of the group, Algeria and Slovenia, looks workable. The USA has a decent chance of advancing — they dodged some huge obstacles (France, Portugal) and drew a weakish seed. I bet the USA camp will be in decent spirits.

Anyway, just thought I'd let everyone know.  Schedule here.

Reining in Entitlements

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 2:51 PM EST

The healthcare legislation winding its way through Congress is chock full of cost-savings measures.  But will they be allowed to take effect, or will Congress cave in and repeal them once they start to bite and interest groups start to squeal?  A new CBPP report suggests the former:

The history of health legislation in recent decades demonstrates that, despite some critics’ charges, Congress has repeatedly adopted measures to produce considerable savings in Medicare and has let them take effect....In arguing that Medicare cuts never “stick,” critics point in particular to Congress’ repeated refusal to let the reductions in physician reimbursement rates under Medicare’s so-called “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) mechanism, which it enacted in 1997, take full effect. The SGR cuts, however, represented a badly designed measure that was not intended to produce large savings (the projected SGR savings represented less than five percent of total Medicare savings in the 1997 bill), but turned into a blunt instrument that would have produced cuts far in excess of what was anticipated and would have had harsh and indefensible effects. (Moreover, even though Congress did not allow the full cuts required under the SGR formula to take effect, it has still cut the physician reimbursement rate substantially — at its current level, the reimbursement rate in 2010 will be 17 percent below the rate for 2001, adjusted for inflation.)

The SGR mechanism has little in common with most of the other provisions that Congress has enacted over the years to produce savings in Medicare and that have, in fact, taken effect. This distinction is important because most of the Medicare savings provisions in the House and Senate health reform bills are similar in nature to the types of Medicare provisions that Congress has enacted in the past that have taken effect — and they differ markedly from the blunt-instrument design of the SGR cut.

....Every significant deficit-reduction package in the last 20 years has included Medicare savings, most of which have been implemented as planned....And most of the savings enacted in 1997 other than the SGR cuts — nearly four-fifths — were implemented as well.

Obviously it's impossible to predict which cost savings measures will work and which ones won't.  But CBPP's summary of past efforts suggests that most of them will be allowed to take effect and most of them will have a noticeable effect.  They're still only small steps in the right direction, but anyone who's serious about reining in entitlement spending should welcome them.  Much more detail at the link.

Quote of the Day: Sarah and the Birthers

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 2:18 PM EST

From Sarah Palin, asked if she thinks questions about Barack Obama's birth certificate are legitimate:

I think the public, rightfully, is still making it an issue. I don't have a problem with that.

The mainstreaming of insanity in the Republican Party continues apace.

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Death Threats Remain Steady

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 2:04 PM EST

Secret Service director Mark Sullivan testified before Congress yesterday about PartyCrasherGate (or whatever they're calling it), and it's only at the very end of today's LA Times account that we actually learn something interesting:

[Sullivan] pushed back Thursday when Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D–D.C.) suggested that the event may not have been properly staffed given reports of a rise in threats against President Obama.

Sullivan said that the number of threats against the nation's first black president was now "at the same level it was" during the two previous administrations.

Same level as always, eh?  So why is the belief so widespread that death threats are up?  Bob Somerby speculates here.  (Warning: as usual, not for the faint of heart or easily pissed off.)

Watching Cable News

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 1:50 PM EST

Over at The Monkey Cage, Joshua Tucker wonders about the actual size of the daytime cable news audience: "When people say that cable news audiences are only in the hundreds of thousands, does that mean the same hundred of thousands? Or are lots of people watching infrequently?"  His colleague Markus Prior answers:

We don’t know for sure how the average audiences add up over the course of a day or a week because [cumulative] audiences are rarely reported by Nielsen. But it’s a good guess that concentration is pretty heavy.

I think that's a good guess too.  This is just anecdotal, but I recently received an email from a reader that began like this:

I just finished a two week visit by a family member of sorts who is about as standard issue Fox conservative as they come.  He's 68, retired (since 49) and his daily regimen consisted of waking up and turning on Fox News / CNBC all day — with friggin 2 and 5 year olds running around.  (News is not for children and Fox News in particular).  At the end of the day, when I get home, he's armed with the talking points and diverts every conversation back to venting and victimization.

And this one from another reader who is temporarily living in his mother's home, where Fox News is "blaring off two TV sets in the house virtually 24/7":

Watching my mother go into a spin cycle with every new "revelation", it occurred to me that it is not even necessary for Fox to spin anything — their job is "rinse and repeat". The FNC watchers let their fevered imagination fill in the gaps, going way beyond FNC's feeble reporting when they describe the issue to their friends and relatives. Because FNC is always on, it is not necessary to actually watch and listen — one can pass in front of a TV, catch a glimpse and a few words of the topic du jour and just make up the rest.

Like I said, this is just anecdotal.  But I suspect that Fox watchers (and perhaps other daytime cable news watchers) tend to be people who basically turn it on and listen all day as sort of background noise.  If that's true, it means that Fox's daytime audience is (a) really, really small, and (b) almost purely made up of fever swampers.  Plus, of course, a few hundred DC political junkies who don't realize how limited its reach is.  I'd welcome any actual data that either confirms or contradicts this.

ACORNorama

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 1:14 PM EST

Ed Kilgore on ACORN mania among conservatives:

Regular readers of this site know the narrative by now: engorged with federal grants, ACORN engineered the housing and financial crises by intimidating lenders into offering mortgages to poor and minority families with no means or intentions of making their payments, and then when the chickens came home to roost, gambled everything on an illegal effort to secure bailouts and a general "socialist" takeover of the country by stealing the White House for its long-time associate and radical community organizer, Barack Obama.

....Any narrative this powerful has to be fed continuously, which is why the recent congressional vote stripping ACORN of nearly all access to federal grants was a pyrrhic victory for conservatives. How could they keep fear of ACORN alive?

That necessity led to yesterday's strange event in the U.S. House, a partisan "forum" on ACORN that was sort of a parody of a congressional hearing, based on the circular reasoning that the refusal of the House itself to launch an wide-ranging investigation of ACORN was proof of the conspiracy's power.

You can read Dave Weigel's detailed account of the "forum" by following the link above, but the main claim yesterday (specifically by Rep. Darrell Issa of CA) was that the White House serves as a "war room" for ACORN, as "proved" by Obama's tangential relationship with ACORN years ago in Chicago, and more recently, by the hiring of Democratic election law wizard Bob Bauer as White House Counsel. Bauer's smoking gun, it seems, is that he once wrote a memo dismissing broad-based GOP election fraud claims, and warning (accurately) that they would be retailed by the McCain-Palin campaign. Anyone denying the conspiracy, you see, is obviously a party to it.

In the same way that ClimateGate, though relatively trivial from the standpoint of science, is helping keep the faith among climate deniers, the ACORN videotapes, which have nothing to do with voter registration, are keeping the faith among the election fraud conspiracy theorists.  It would be loads of fun to watch if only it were happening in someone else's country.

Herding Cats

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 12:54 PM EST

A friend emails to recommend this statement of the obvious from First Read:

Was Will Rogers right about the Democratic Party? With multiple reports today (in the NYT and National Journal) about how liberals are upset with Obama’s policies (on Afghanistan and other issues), it makes us wonder if it’s much easier to be a Republican president rather than a Democratic one. Consider: Because there are more self-described conservatives than liberals, GOP presidents are freer to play to their base and not rely as much on the middle to win national elections. In addition, Republican presidents typically don’t face much dissent from GOP members of Congress. Even as the Iraq war became an albatross for Republicans, almost all of them followed George W. Bush off that political cliff in 2006 and 2008. And on issues that Republicans now say they disagreed with Bush — the spending, the deficits, No Child Left Behind — the criticism was barely audible while he was office. By comparison, a Democrat has been in the White House for just 10 months, and the left is freely criticizing Obama over Afghanistan, health care, the economy, judicial nominations, you name it. Many liberals and Democrats would probably pat themselves on the back for this kind of independence. Then again, maybe there’s a reason why Republicans have controlled the White House more times than Democrats have over the past 40 years...

Sometimes it's worthwhile to repeat the obvious, just in case anyone has forgotten.  Which they seem to do with stunning regularity.  So yes, Virginia, the Republican Party really is different....