Kevin Drum

Glenn Beck Gets a Scalp

| Sun Sep. 6, 2009 1:58 AM EDT

A few days ago, after a month of low-level sniping, Glenn Beck declared full-on war against Van Jones, an environmental activist who had been appointed an advisor on green jobs to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  Why?  Well, Jones had been fairly radical in the early 90s, which was probably enough, but it's more likely that the real reason had to do with a recent boycott of Beck's show spearheaded by ColorOfChange.com, a group that Jones co-founded in 2005.  Jones left the group a couple of years ago, but no matter: Beck wanted revenge and Jones was an easy target.

I don't have the stomach to repeat all the smears that have been leveled at Jones, so you'll have to google it if you haven't been keeping up with this.  And none of it would have mattered much if (a) a YouTube of Jones calling Republicans "assholes" hadn't gone viral and (b) he hadn't signed a petition in 2004 from 911Truth.org asking for an investigation into charges that the "current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen."

But it did, and he did, and tonight Jones resigned.  "I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past," he said. "We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future."

So now Beck has his scalp and our effort to generate green jobs during a recession will be just a little less effective.  Lovely.

UPDATE: More here from Gawker ("The story of how the President's Special Advisor for Green Jobs became the biggest, scariest villain of the right wing (this week, anyway) is also the story of how the right wing information delivery process works now") and David Roberts ("For the record, Jones isn’t a truther").  The wingers, of course, are ecstatic over all this.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Battle of Jericho

| Sat Sep. 5, 2009 3:15 PM EDT

When the fire chief of Jericho, Arkansas, finally got fed up and went to court a few days ago to challenge his second traffic ticket in as many days, the town's entire 7-man police force showed up for the hearing.  And then shot him.

Seriously.  Apparently a scuffle broke out and one of the cops pulled out his gun and shot the guy in open court.  He's OK, but the police department, which was already in deep trouble for its habit of ticketing everything on wheels that rolled through Jericho, has been disbanded and all outstanding tickets have been voided.  The town's part-time judge has quit too.  And nobody knows what's happened to all the ticket revenue.

Story here.  Happy Labor Day!  (Via OTB.)

Melville and Bin Laden

| Sat Sep. 5, 2009 12:04 PM EDT

Is Moby Dick America's great national epic, as Matt Yglesias (along with his tame cabal1 of American Lit professors) says?  Or is it really a terrorist handbook meant to indoctrinate our youth in anti-whale2 hysteria?  The New Yorker's Close Read blog shows itself unafraid to confront the truth:

Richard Brody [...] has been writing about “The Baader Meinhof Complex.” But one detail he doesn’t explore is the appearance of a German edition of “Moby-Dick” in the movie: imprisoned members of the Red Army Faction use it as the key to their enciphered messages to co-conspirators on the outside. It turns out that Gudrun Ensslin, one of the group’s founders, was obsessed with the book, and thought that it told the story of the R.A.F.’s struggle against the state. She gave the terrorists Moby-codenames: Baader was Ahab, Holger Meins was Starbuck, and she herself was the cook. [...] Horst Mahler, their lawyer and later, as Brody writes, a neo-Nazi, was Captain Bildad. Stefan Aust, who wrote the book the movie was based on, told an interviewer that “to understand the R.A.F., you have to read Moby Dick.”

Aust explains further: "The whale is Leviathan, and Leviathan is a symbol for the state, a state whose papier mâché mask of deceptive appearances the RAF was committed to smashing."  This closely echoes Osama bin Laden's published views of the decadent West3, which makes it no surprise that blame-America-first liberals like Matt think impressionable children should all be forced to read Melville's seditious maritime propaganda4.  Nor should anybody be surprised on Tuesday if Barack Obama exhorts our kids to "work hard and read American classics like Moby Dick."  Today it's a white whale in the classroom, tomorrow it's sharia in the White House.

1I believe this is the correct term of art in conspiratorial circles to imply a Jewish conspiracy without actually saying so.  Right?

2Whale = United States, of course.  It's all about the imagery in Moby Dick.

3I'll look up the page number later.  But I'm pretty sure about this.

4Note similarity of box cutters used by 9/11 hijackers to harpoons used by Ahab's murderous crew.6

5This isn't actually a footnote.  I just want to mention that I created the bin-Ladenized version of the Fail Whale myself.  A new career in graphic design surely beckons.

6In comments, John Sully provides a better and more erudite extended metaphor.  Or simile.  Or something: "I think you meant flensing knives, which are used to cut the blubber from the whale for rendering. Flensing knives are similar to box-cutters, the implements with which bin Laden's minions symbolically cut the fat from the corpse of Amerika so that the county was rendered impotent against the power of Islam."

Real Tyranny

| Sat Sep. 5, 2009 1:25 AM EDT

One of my least favorite abuses of power is the government's use of material witness warrants as all-purpose excuses for detaining people when they have no actual evidence of any wrongdoing.  So I'm very pleased to hear that the 9th Circuit Court has not only ruled that such behavior is reprehensible and obviously unconstitutional, but that former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be held personally responsible for it:

Members of the panel, all appointees of Republican presidents, characterized Ashcroft's detention policy as "repugnant to the Constitution, and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history."

....[Abdullah] Kidd, a former University of Idaho running back...was handcuffed, strip-searched and shuttled among interrogations in Virginia, Oklahoma and Idaho before being released 16 days later and ordered to surrender his passport and live with his wife and in-laws in Nevada.  The arrest led to Kidd being denied a security clearance and losing his job with a government contractor.

....Georgetown Law professor David Cole said that Ashcroft adopted an aggressive "preventive paradigm" after Sept. 11 designed "to incapacitate people who government officials thought suspicious but lacked evidence of any wrongdoing. They were locked up and then investigated, rather than the other way around." Virtually all of the targets had nothing to do with terrorism, Cole said.

....The judges, alluding to the George W. Bush administration, said that although "some confidently assert that the government has the power to arrest and detain" suspects without evidence of wrongdoing, the panel considered such preemptive detentions "an engine of political tyranny."

Yep, boys and girls, that's what the seeds of real political tyranny look like.  Somebody please tell Glenn Beck and the rest of the fever swamp crowd.

Kabul Krazytown and Obama's Kid Speech

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 8:08 PM EDT

It's Laura, back with the newest week-in-review podcast with Kevin and David. Kevin's clanging around in the kitchen a bit this week while discussing Obama's forthcoming socialist indoctrination of children everywhere —not sure what he was cooking. Next time maybe he'll give Inkblot a meow cameo instead? I kid. Sort of. Worth a listen.

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is an editor for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

Friday Cat Blogging - 4 September 2009

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 3:17 PM EDT

Last week Domino got Friday Catblogging all to herself, so this week it's Inkblot's turn.  Besides, I got lots of good Inkblot pictures this week and none of Domino.  Them's the breaks.

Anyway.  On the left, Inkblot is peering down on all of his loyal subjects in the living room below.  On the right, he's decided to come downstairs to join us and watch some tennis — cat style, of course.  And by "cat style," what I really mean is that his dinner clock had kicked in and he was rolling around on the floor and trying to look cute, which is what he does every night around 6:30 or so.  It's uncanny, really.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

It's All About Affordability

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 2:50 PM EDT

As long as we're on the subject of what's really important in the healthcare negotiations right now, you might want to check out Jordan Rau's piece at the Kaiser Health Network.  It's all about affordability: regardless of whether or not the final bill includes a public option, health insurance will still be virtually unaffordable for a lot of people.  And the key to fixing that in the real-world depends on the level of federal subsidies provided to low and medium income families who don't have employer insurance and have to buy insurance themselves.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  Those subsidies are where the bulk of the cost of healthcare reform comes from, and figuring out a way to finance it is by far the biggest problem Congress faces.  Go read.

Quote of the Day

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 2:02 PM EDT

From Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, wondering just what President Obama is going to do with all those letters that schoolkids send him after his classroom speech on Tuesday:

There are going to be questions about — well, what are they are going to do with those names and is that for the purpose of a mailing list?

Sometimes the classics are best, you know?  Fox News prepared the ground for this with its suggestion a couple of weeks ago that Obama was trying to create an enemies list when it asked for examples of healthcare myths, but now the Obama team is apparently creating an enemies list for future Democratic presidents.  Or a true believers list.  Or something.  Clever!

You know, this whole first-day-of-school-presidential-speech thing might not have been the greatest idea in the world, but the reaction to it makes death panels look practically sane by comparison.  Socialism!  Cult worship!  Jedi mind control!  And the worst part of it, just as it was with the death panels, is how eager party leaders have been to fan the flames of this stuff.  If it was just talk radio, that would be bad enough.  But Tim Pawlenty is a governor.  And he's even reputed to be a fairly boring sort of governor.  But he knows the drill: if you want to survive in the Republican Party today, you have to prove that you can't be out-crazied.  Consequences be damned.

This stuff just has to backfire on them eventually, doesn't it?  Please tell me yes.

Fighting the Power

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 1:21 PM EDT

For the last couple of weeks Bob Somerby has been complaining that liberals are lousy at message framing.  Conservatives have their big government/low taxes message down to a science, but we just flail around.  Flail, flail, flail.  Finally, today, he offers up his take on what our fundamental message ought to be:

You can’t expect Obama to compensate for the lack of a strong, well-established counter-narrative. But if we ever do build such a narrative, it would probably turn on these points:

First, it would turn on some well-crafted statement of an obvious fact: Big Moneyed Interests will try to loot you. They’ll do it every time — till they’re stopped.

Second, it might turn on a second obvious fact: Big Moneyed Interests will send tribunes out to deceive you. They will lie in your faces — till they’re stopped.

If Democrats and liberals hadn’t dozed all these years, we might have familiar, well-crafted versions of these obvious truths at our disposal. Voters might have heard those well-crafted statements many, many times....But if such messaging pre-existed, Obama could talk about the conduct of the insurance companies — and the things he said would fit into a larger framework, a framework voters pre-understood. But on your side, that larger framework simply doesn’t exist. Your side has slumbered, burbled and dozed. We are simply too lazy and indifferent — and too bought — to spend time on such messaging.

Well, I'm all for this.  Bill Clinton did yeoman work moving the Democratic Party toward the center and helping it regain power, but unfortunately he did it at the expense of also transforming it into a "business friendly" party.  It would be nice to turn that around.

But how?  Unfortunately, even among those of us who aren't bought one way or another, there are an awful lot of people like me: business skeptical, perhaps, but not really business hostile.  I think the business community need to be treated like teenagers on a football team: lots of good energy and good hustle, but they work best when they're guided by a firm hand.  I want corporations regulated fairly strictly, but not because I bear most of them any malice or anything.  I just know that, like any teenager, they'll test their boundaries to the breaking point, so those boundaries need to be clear and well enforced.

That's not a real clean message, though.  Better go with Bob's instead, I guess.

Zen Koan of the Day

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 12:45 PM EDT

From Ezra Klein, meditating on what it will take to get Republicans to act like grownups:

The lesson of this process has been that the only path to bipartisanship — if one in fact exists — is effective partisanship.

Indeed.  But he's right.  Call me Pollyanna if you want, but I continue to think that beneath all the hysterical political theater of August, not that much has changed.  Support for healthcare reform has always been broad but shallow, and to the extent that some of that support has turned into opposition, that opposition is also shallow.  Among independents, there's a good chance that a lot of that newfound opposition can be turned around as the stage moves back to Washington DC and the conversation becomes a little quieter.

What's more, I think Republicans know this, which is why they're continuing to bluster so loudly.  For reasons that have always escaped me, the media takes conservative bluster a lot more seriously than liberal bluster, and Republicans are taking advantage of this by trying to win the debate simply by loudly claiming they've won the debate.  But they know they haven't, and if Democrats seriously hold out the threat of passing healthcare reform via reconciliation — which requires only 51 votes and would therefore produce legislation much more liberal than a bill passed via standard order — Republicans are likely to give in and start negotiating in tolerably good faith.  Enough of them, anyway, to pass a bill.

This is the real threat, I think, not all the clamor pro and con over the public option.  The reconciliation process has problems of its own, but in the end Democrats can do whatever they want if Joe Biden is willing to play along and they don't lose their nerve.  Republicans know this.  If it becomes clear that Democrats are serious, they'll cave and Obama will get his bill.