Kevin Drum

Quote of the Day - 5.17.09

| Sun May 17, 2009 6:48 PM EDT

From Fran Townsend, George Bush's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, when White House chief of staff Andy Card called during Hurricane Rita to ask her what she needed:

“I want to know if the president knows what a fucking asshole Don Rumsfeld is.”

Probably not.  But plenty of other people did.  Robert Draper's full story is here.

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Life in the Playground

| Sun May 17, 2009 3:06 PM EDT

Via Joe Romm, a wee quiz:

Q: Why do Republicans want to raise Alcoa's taxes?  Also Chrysler's, Ford's, GE's, and Pepsi's?

A: Because these companies and 20 others are in favor of reducing greenhouse emissions.  In other words, they're traitors, and they no longer deserve the tax breaks the GOP has worked so hard to give them over the years.

Isn't political kabuki grand?  Turns out Joe Barton (R–Fantasyland) and his friends are planning to introduce a tidal wave of 448 amendments to the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Act, apparently in the belief that kindergarten stalling tactics like this will get them taken seriously.  Among the 448 are 25 that remove all tax benefits from corporate members of the United States Climate Action Partnership, who obviously no longer deserve them.  Plus there are five more that ominously address the "tax status" of nonprofits who support action on greenhouse gases.

Very grown up.  But what about the other 418 amendments?  Well, a couple hundred or so are routine nonsense, but some of the others are more entertaining.  There's the Dollar-Yuan-Euro Study, whatever that is.  The Economy Killer Lobbyist Transparency Provisions.  The American Hero Exemption and Credit.  And the Virgin Islands Tourism Killer Safety Valve.

But my favorite is BLACK_004, the Black Liquor amendment.  There's no explanation of what this might be, but considering the almost comical bamboozlishness of the current black liquor loophole, you just know it has to be outrageous even by wingnut standards.  If you've forgotten what this is all about, details are here.

Chart of the Day - 5.17.2009

| Sun May 17, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

Is public opinion against abortion hardening, as a couple of recent polls indicate?  Not likely.  Over at the Monkey Cage, John Sides helpfully presents three decades of data from the National Election Studies which shows (a) remarkable steadiness and (b) if anything, a modest increase in the strong pro-choice position.  John slices and dices the data further at his place, if you're interested in the details.

God Talk

| Sun May 17, 2009 1:24 PM EDT

Professional complainer Charlotte Allen takes to the pages of the LA Times today to complain about her competition: the "superstar atheists" who professionally complain about religious believers.  People like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, P.Z. Myers, etc.

Which is fine.  Sometimes these guys are annoying.  And they certainly don't need me to defend them anyway.  But after some fairly routine whining about how much she hates all these other whiners, Allen drops what's rapidly becoming my all-time least favorite argument from the religious crowd:

The problem with atheists — and what makes them such excruciating snoozes — is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments against God's existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that theologians have made attempting to reconcile, say, God's omniscience with free will or God's goodness with human suffering. Atheists seem to assume that the whole idea of God is a ridiculous absurdity, the "flying spaghetti monster" of atheists' typically lame jokes. They think that lobbing a few Gaza-style rockets accusing God of failing to create a world more to their liking ("If there's a God, why aren't I rich?" "If there's a God, why didn't he give me two heads so I could sleep with one head while I get some work done with the other?") will suffice to knock down the entire edifice of belief.

Please.  This argument has become ubiquitous lately (was there some secret meeting or something?), which I suppose is a confirmation of Drum's Law: the more inane a complaint is, the more popular it becomes.  And this one is right up there.  Aside from the fact that if you so much as scratch any of these "serious arguments" you end up with a handful of air, the fact is that atheists have addressed them in sophisticated ways since the beginning of organized religion.  But they do it in journals and convocations and formal theses and other equally tedious venues, not in bestsellers at Barnes & Noble.  Just like religious believers, who are represented in the nation's bookstores and chat show circuits by sophisticated tomes like the Left Behind series and the collected works of Robert "Possibility Thinking" Schuller.

If you want to believe, it's fine with me.  But contra Allen, don't pretend that atheists can easily get elected to public office, that creationism is no big deal, or that believers have gobs of sophisticated theological arguments that atheists have never had the guts to take on.  It may be comforting, but it just ain't true.

America's Team

| Sat May 16, 2009 12:46 PM EDT

You will all be excited to know that Team America aka Team AIG aka Manchester United has won the Premier League title.  Hooray.  It's good to see our investment paying off for the plucky lads.

One Billion Calls

| Sat May 16, 2009 12:39 PM EDT

Forget the stimulus package, universal healthcare, and global warming.  This will surely be the Obama administration's greatest legacy:

A federal judge has issued two temporary restraining orders designed to stop what officials describe as a wave of deceptive "robo-calls" warning people their auto warranties are expiring and offering to sell them new service plans.

....The FTC filed suit against two companies and their executives on Thursday, asking a federal court in Chicago to halt a wave of as many as 1 billion automated, random, prerecorded calls and freeze the assets of the companies.

....Besides ordering a halt to the automatic telephone sales calls, Grady's order froze the assets of the two companies. The FTC alleged in its complaints that the calls were part of a deceptive scheme and asked the court to assure the assets will not be lost in case they might be needed to repay consumers who have been victimized.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has more here.  Next up: how about taking on the clowns who keep calling to tell me they can lower the interest rate on my credit cards?

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Quote of the Day - 5.16.09

| Sat May 16, 2009 12:11 PM EDT

From George Will:

"Perhaps it would be restful to give moral reasoning a rest...."

Yeah, I guess it would be for some of us.  Even better, though, would be to stop pretending you can tell fables about the economy based on a single poorly written paper on an absurdly narrow topic.  I don't think the fact that demand goes down as price goes up is going to come as a big surprise to anyone in the economics profession.

Friday Cat Blogging - 15 May 2009

| Fri May 15, 2009 2:44 PM EDT

I sure have been feeling cranky this week.  I'm not sure whether it showed on the blog, but I have been.  Too much torture blogging, too much healthcare mendacity, too much gutting of carbon policy, too much credit card venality, too much wingnuttery — just too much of everything.

In other words, pretty much like every other week.  So why did it seem worse?  Hard to say.  But I'm sure looking forward to being able to hit the reset button in a couple of days.

In the meantime, though, here are the Friday cats!  Yesterday Inkblot suddenly went crazy and started tearing around the house for no reason, the way cats do, and after finishing up with all the ground level rooms he decided to tear up the stairs and — kaboom!  There was Domino, sacked out in a sunny patch at the top of the stairway.  Stopped him cold.  Domino gave him the evil eye, he stood around for a minute looking confused, and finally turned around and slunk back downstairs.  And who can blame him?  After all, what would you have done?

Congress and the CIA

| Fri May 15, 2009 2:12 PM EDT

The CIA says Nancy Pelosi was briefed about its interrogation methods.  Pelosi says they're lying.  Bob Graham, the former Senator with an anal retentive habit of tracking his movements to the minute in a spiral notebook, says they're lying too: the CIA claims they briefed him on four occasions, but Graham's notebook says different — and after he confronted them about this, they caved.  There was only one briefing, and Graham says waterboarding was never mentioned.  Jim Fallows:

Part of the payoff of reaching age 72 and having spent 38 years in public office, as Graham has, is that people have had a chance to judge your reputation. Graham has a general reputation for honesty....If he says he never got the briefing, he didn't. And if the CIA or anyone acting on its behalf challenges him, they are stupid and incompetent as well as being untrustworthy. This doesn't prove that the accounts of briefing Pelosi are also inaccurate. But it shifts the burden of proof.

Agreed.  If the CIA could screw up — or lie, or whatever — that badly in Graham's case, obviously they could have done it in Pelosi's case too.  DougJ has an optimistic view of what this all means:

To me, though, the big take away here is that the right is losing the torture debate. It started with “Dick Cheney was just keeping us safe from teh terrorists, don’t you libtards watch ‘24’?”. Then it became “mistakes were made, but it was a difficult time.” And now it’s “okay, maybe the whole thing was fucked up, but Pelosi knew about it so it’s her fault.” It’s just another variation on “Clinton did it too” and it’s essentially a defensive posture.

I'm not sure I believe this, but it's a nice thought.  Anybody else feel like the good guys are finally making some progress on the torture debate?

Cui Bono Bono

| Fri May 15, 2009 1:01 PM EDT

A few days ago I blogged about a supposedly blockbuster announcement from a group of healthcare executives: they were 100% with President Obama on his crusade to cut skyrocketing medical expenses and figured they could reduce the growth of healthcare costs by 1.5 percentage points a year.  That's a cool $2 trillion over ten years.

That was on Monday, and nobody seemed to have a problem with the announcement.  Ditto for Tuesday and Wednesday.  On Thursday, however, after, um, consultations, the healthcare honchos started rowing things back:

The president of the American Hospital Association said Thursday that a deal with the White House to cut the growth in health care spending has been “spun way away from the original intent.”

....But in a conference call Thursday, President Richard Umbdenstock told 230 member organizations that the agreement had been misrepresented. The groups, he said, had agreed to gradually ramp up to the 1.5 percentage-point target over 10 years — not to reduce spending by that much in each of the 10 years.

I'm sure the reason it took them three days to correct the record is because they were in such a state of shock initially that they could hardly pick their jaws off the ground.  And the reason they all stood around beaming for the cameras when Obama made the announcement is because they were simply paralyzed in The Presence.  And the reason they're changing their tune now, away from the spotlights, has nothing to do with the fact that they never had the slightest intention of seriously following through on their cost-cutting promises in the first place.

And I have a bridge to sell you.

Look: I never believed the $2 trillion number.  But after weeks of work and a big public announcement, it's just pure mendacity to pretend that they were taken by surprise and had never agreed to anything beyond a "general commitment to be part of bending the cost curve."  Spare me.

These guys are never going to be partners in any kind of real reform of healthcare.  Never.  Beneath the smiles and the photo-ops, I sure hope the Obama team understands this.