Kevin Drum

On Accepting Apologies

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 12:44 PM EDT

In an episode of "Mouthpiece Theater" last week, Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post joked about what brands various luminaries might be served at future beer summits.  For Hillary Clinton, they suggested "Mad Bitch."

Ha ha ha!  Well, Mouthpiece Theater has been cancelled and Milbank and Cillizza have apologized.  But Bob Somerby isn't happy:

We’ve long been aware of Milbank’s oddness. But you haven’t seen “corporate media clueless chic” until you read the apology the bosses beat out of Cillizza. Each fellow was required to feign regret; below, you see how Christopher did it. So you’ll know, his blog at the Post is called “The Fix:”

CILLIZZA (8/5/09): I would like to personally apologize for the content in last Friday's video as it was inconsistent not only with the Post brand but, more important and personal to me, the Fix brand which I have worked so hard to cultivate.

Good God, that’s awful! Calling a woman a “bitch” is, at this level, remarkably stupid. Unless you’re a modern, upper-end “journalist,” in which case the practice is inconsistent with a long string of brands! Never mind the denigration of the woman in question! The real harm here was carelessly done to Cillizza’s beloved Fix brand!

This is something that bugs me.  I'm not quite as willing to forgive and forget this episode as MoJo's editor is, but neither do I think it was exactly a hanging offense.  Jokes go awry all the time.  More to the point, though, Cillizza apologized.  But these days, that's never good enough.  Either it's a "non-apology apology" or it's not groveling enough or it's not sincere enough or it came too late or it's an unforgivable crime and no apology can ever erase the stain.

Or something.  Get over it, folks.  Cillizza screwed up, but he groveled plenty for my taste. "I would like to personally apologize" is admirably direct, and there's nothing wrong with also acknowledging that his reputation is going to take a hit from this.

I've mentioned this before, but I sometimes wonder why anybody ever bothers to apologize for anything anymore since it never seems to do any good.  I remember that someone in comments to that post suggested that apologies should be done for their own sake, not in hopes of getting forgiveness.  That's an admirable sentiment, but it's also fabulously innocent of human nature.  Like it or not, public apologies are hard to do, and people hope to get something out them.  If all they get instead is more grief, they'll quit bothering with them.  Learning how to accept an apology is as important as learning how to give one.

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Feeding the Beast

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

Who's to blame for conservatives gaining traction with ridiculous arguments like Betsy McCaughey's that Democratic healthcare proposals will make it easier for government bureaucrats to kill old people?  Brendan Nyhan says it's not Obama:

Who's to blame for this problem? I largely fault the media. While the Obama administration's message strategy has hardly been perfect, it's absurd to say, as Cynthia Tucker did on This Week, that Obama "allowed the opposition [to health care reform] to scare people" (my emphasis). In a polarized political system, the McCaughey/Taitz approach to concocting and promoting misinformation probably would have worked no matter what the White House did. As Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias recently argued, it's extremely difficult to myth-proof a bill or to effectively counter these claims once they are made. Until the media stops giving airtime and column inches to proponents of misinformation, the playbook is going to keep working.

James Ridgeway elaborates:

In recent weeks, variations of this argument have been sprouting up all over the conservative ecosystem. Rush Limbaugh has been laying it on particularly thick for his 22 million listeners. "People at a certain age with certain diseases will be deemed not worth the investment, and they will, just as Obama said, they'd give them some pain pills, and let them loop out till they die and they don't even know what's happened…They're preparing you to die," he said on one show. (A caller who said she was 66 responded, "You know, Rush...they want to get rid of the old people so they can insure the illegal aliens for their voting base.") And it gets even more sinister: Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ezekiel, a physician and White House health care policy adviser is, Limbaugh says, a "central figure" who believes it’s a "waste of money to invest in health care in the elderly. " Plus, he plans to expand hospice care. And we all know what that means!

Fox News host Sean Hannity has also taken up the cause, as has [Randall] Terry, the former head of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who has been railing against the President's "death care." Donny Ferguson at the libertarian Small Government Times writes that Obama's plan "sends government employees to your home to monitor your parenting…and forces the sick and elderly to submit to 'end of life counseling.'" According to the Washington Post, Betsy McCaughey, the former New York politician who played a major role in derailing the Clinton health care initiative, told former GOP senator and failed presidential contender Fred Thompson on his radio show that the health care reform bill contained mandatory counseling sessions for seniors "to end their life sooner" by showing them how to "decline nutrition...and cut your life short."

Hmmm.  So this is getting lots of play in the conservative media — places like talk radio and the Wall Street Journal editorial page — but how much play has it been getting in the mainstream media?  I'm not saying it hasn't, but I'm curious abut this since I don't watch much of it.  Outside of Fox, has the "Democrats want to kill granny" meme gotten much play?  Help me out here in comments.

Revenge of the Nerds

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 2:26 AM EDT

Crunching numbers is the new cool thing:

“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And I’m not kidding.”

The rising stature of statisticians, who can earn $125,000 at top companies in their first year after getting a doctorate, is a byproduct of the recent explosion of digital data. In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore — sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more. And the digital data surge only promises to accelerate, rising fivefold by 2012, according to a projection by IDC, a research firm.

They want to know what you're doing and what you're likely to buy next.  That's worth a lot of money.  Multivariate correlations and data cluster analysis are the new black.

Southern White Culture

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 12:42 AM EDT

Kathleen Parker muses on the Republican Party's woes:

Not all Southern Republicans are wing nuts. Nor does the GOP have a monopoly on ignorance or racism. And, the South, for all its sins, is also lush with beauty, grace and mystery. Nevertheless, it is true that the GOP is fast becoming regionalized below the Mason-Dixon line and increasingly associated with some of the South's worst ideas.

It is not helpful (or surprising) that "birthers" — conspiracy theorists who have convinced themselves that Barack Obama is not a native son — have assumed kudzu qualities among Republicans in the South. In a poll commissioned by the liberal blog Daily Kos, participants were asked: "Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?"

Hefty majorities in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West believe Obama was born in the United States. But in the land of cotton, where old times are not by God forgotten, only 47 percent believe Obama was born in America and 30 percent aren't sure.

Southern Republicans, it seems, have seceded from sanity.

Well, look, I like magnolia groves and bluegrass music too, but let's call a spade a spade.  Parker never actually uses the word "white" in her column, but later on she makes it clear that's what she's talking about.  Not "the South."  Not "Southern Republicans."  Southern whites.

Parker says Republicans need to "drive a stake through the heart of old Dixie," and she's right.  The rest of us need to help.

NOTE: Penultimate paragraph redacted on advice of my frontal lobe.

A New Thesaurus, Please

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 8:37 PM EDT

Here's an email I got today from Richard Viguerie's shop:

Dear conservative friend,

In one of the White House's creepiest acts yet, it has posted a blog, which amounts to asking citizens to turn in those opposing Obamacare.

They even set up an email address so citizens may tell the White House who is spreading "disinformation" (wink, wink) about Obamacare.

Can you believe it?  President Obama and his radical community organizers at the White House want literally to "keep track" of those who disagree with the government-run, potentially bankrupting health care bill, with its rationing of medical procedures to control costs, which Obama and Democrats in Congress are trying to ram through the system and into law.

They want information passed through "emails or even casual conversation."  How Orwellian is that?

Totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, used similar tactics (without email, of course) to keep tabs on dissidents and other critics of those regimes.

I love the parenthetical remark at the end: "without email, of course."  Wouldn't want to be historically inaccurate or misleading!

OK, fine.  Richard Viguerie is nuts and it's not fair to tar all of conservativedom by pretending he speaks for them.  But Steve Benen, who pointed out earlier today that one of the differences between lunacy on the left and lunacy on the right is that right wing lunacy frequently migrates from the fringe to serious political actors, informs me that Sen. John Cornyn (R–Tex.) is now serving up the same derangement:

Cornyn says this practice would let the White House collect personal information about people who oppose the President.

"By requesting citizens send 'fishy' emails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, email, addresses, IP addresses and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House," Cornyn wrote in a letter to Obama. "You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program."

Cornyn asked Obama to cease the program immediately, or at the very least explain what the White House would do with the information it collects.

God save us.  Before long we're going to have start inventing new words to describe these guys.  My thesaurus is running dry.

Quote of the Day

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 3:18 PM EDT

From Rory Stewart, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School and advisor to the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan:

It’s like they're coming in and saying to you, "I'm going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?" And you say, "I don't think you should drive your car off the cliff." And they say, "No, no, that bit's already been decided — the question is whether to wear a seatbelt." And you say, "Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt." And then they say, "We've consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ..."

Plus there's this about our military strategy in Afghanistan: "The policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years."  Read the whole thing.

(Via Steve Hynd.)

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Deranged

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 2:45 PM EDT

Earlier this morning I talked about Obama Derangement Syndrome and Bush Derangement Syndrome.  Both involve lots of anger, but that's about where the similarity ends.  ODS is way more detached from reality, and that's no coincidence.  Bob Somerby reminds us today of the granddaddy of them all, Clinton Derangement Syndrome:

Is this attack on Obama “simply nuts?” Actually, yes — it is, quite sadly. But the last time a Democrat went to the White House, the following beliefs were widely asserted — and those beliefs were clinically crazy too....

 • As governor, Bill Clinton murdered many rivals.Hillary Clinton was involved.

 • As first lady, Hillary Clinton was involved in Vince Foster’s death.

 • As governor, Bill Clinton trafficked drugs through Mena, Arkansas.

 • Bill Clinton was himself a major coke user. It’s why his nose is so red.

 • As a graduate student, Bill Clinton visited Moscow because he was a Soviet agent (or something).

 • The Clintons decorated the White House Christmas tree with condoms and drug paraphernalia.

Those beliefs were also clinically insane; they were widely trumpeted and believed all through the 1990s. Indeed, one of the nation’s most famous “Christian leaders” actively pimped the lurid film which detailed the many murders. He remained a cable favorite — and a Meet the Press guest.

Good times.  When it comes to being unhinged, you just can't beat movement conservatism.

Bipartisanship and the Filibuster

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 1:13 PM EDT

Ezra Klein argues today that since minority parties in the U.S. have universally concluded that the best strategy for regaining power is to prevent the majority from ever passing anything important, we should take another look at the filibuster:

There's a good argument [] that eliminating the filibuster would make the Senate a more, rather than less, bipartisan institution. For many legislative efforts, it would remove the "no bill" outcome from the list of possibilities. That would leave minority legislators with one of two options. Vote against a bill that will pass, or work to change and improve and add priorities to a bill that will pass. You might imagine that if "no bill" is the first-best outcome, then a "no vote" would be the second-best outcome. But that's not always true: Voters aren't very interested in ineffectual opposition. They're interested in what you've "done." That can mean killing a bad bill or improving a successful bill. Voting no, over and over again, isn't a very impressive record in any but the most partisan districts.

Actually, this is a testable theory because there's one bill (or, rather, a package of bills) that's passed every year on a straight majority vote: the annual budget.  No filibusters are allowed on budget resolutions, so the question is whether constructing the budget tends to be a more bipartisan process than it is with other bills.  I'm not quite sure what the right metric would be for measuring bipartisan participation in the legislative process, but surely there's some smart political scientist out there who can propose something.  (Or already has.)  Anyone?

In any case, I continue to think the filibuster is unconstitutional.  The fact that certain types of legislation (treaties, constitutional amendments, veto overrides, etc.) specifically require supermajority votes is evidence that the framers assumed that ordinary legislation should be passed by majority vote.  Assumed it so strongly, in fact, that they never seriously considered the possibility that they had to spell it out.

Until I get the Supreme Court to agree with me, of course, this doesn't matter.  But I still think it's true.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias points out that Senate rules are a political question and therefore the Supreme Court can't rule on them.  I think that's probably true — but I'm not absolutely sure it's true.  In any case, I wouldn't mind forcing them to consider the question just to be sure.  Only a senator would have standing to bring a case, probably, but how hard is it to find one rogue senator willing to take a flyer?  Especially in light of this:

I would say the key piece of evidence for Kevin’s interpretation of this is that the initial draft of the rules allowed for cloture on majority vote. Then during an 1806 revision of the rulebook, the cloture motion was scrapped on the grounds that it was never used and therefore unnecessary. Nobody was contemplating the creation of a supermajority requirement.

Like I say, unconstitutional.  The framers quite clearly intended for congressional legislation to be passed by majority rule.

Flash Trading Finis?

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 12:41 PM EDT

The New York Times reports that Chuck Schumer has persuaded the SEC to ban one of the most controversial practices associated with high frequency trading:

The S.E.C. chairwoman, Mary L. Schapiro, said on Tuesday that she would push to eliminate a controversial high-frequency trading technique known as “flash orders,” which allow traders to peek at other investors’ orders before they are sent to the wider marketplace.

....In a flash order transaction, buy or sell orders are shown to a collection of high-frequency traders for just 30 milliseconds before they are routed to everyone else. They are widely considered to give the few investors with access to the technology an unfair advantage, even by some of the marketplaces that offer the flash orders for a fee.

Flash trading in an era of supercomputers and 10 millisecond latency is an abusive practive that should be eliminated without question.  The other aspects of high frequency trading are a little murkier: they clearly give an advantage to firms who have the money and connections to colocate massive server farms with the exchanges, but the question is whether these practices are unfair and potentially destabilizing, not whether they're flat-out corrupt.  That deserves further investigation, but getting rid of flash trading is a good start.

The Crazies

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

James Joyner admits that there are lots of conservative lunatics running around these days:

But here’s the thing:  There’s plenty of crazy to go around.  Remember Bush Derangement Syndrome?  The 9/11 conspiracy theorists who thought Bush and Cheney were in on the whole thing?  The Diebold plot to steal the 2004 election?  Should we judge the Left by the whackos that show up at the anti-trade rallies?  PETA?  Greenpeace?  Of course not.  Almost by definition, the people motivated and available enough to show up in the middle of the day to express their outrage about something are not like you and me.

Professional intellectuals surround themselves with likeminded folks and get the idea that they and their cohorts are the norm for their group whereas the crazies on TV are the norm for the opposition.  It just ain’t so.

Now, obviously there's some truth to this, but there are a couple of things that have struck me about the recent surge in conservative nutballs.  First: there's just a whole lot of them.  The Diebold folks couldn't even get a hearing at Daily Kos, let alone anywhere more mainstream.  The 9/11 truthers have always been a tiny band.  And most of the people who believed Bush "knew about 9/11" just thought he had been warned something was coming down the pike.  There was never more than a trivial handful who thought he literally knew the details and deliberately let the plot go forward.

Second: the conservative lunatic brigade appeared so goddamn fast.  It's true that some precincts on the left went nuts over Bush, but anti-Bush venom didn't really start to steamroll until late 2002 when he was making the case for war against Iraq.  Nobody drew BusHitler signs after he signed NCLB or called him a war criminal for signing a tax cut.  It took something really big to create a substantial cadre of big league Bush haters.

Conversely, the conservatives who think Obama is a socialist, or think Obama was born in Kenya, or think healthcare reform is going to kill your grandma, or think Obama is going to take all your guns away — well, that stuff started up approximately on January 21st, if not before.  And it's not just a weird 1% fringe.  There's a lot of conservatives who believe this stuff.  And there wasn't any precipitating cause other than the fact of Obama's election in the first place.

Every movement has its loons, but the current crop of conservative loons really isn't the same as the lefties who grew to loathe Bush over the years.  These folks were crazy from day one, they've become crazy in scarily large numbers, and their conspiracy theories are entirely untethered from actual events on the ground.  ODS is a whole different beast than BDS.