Mojo - July 2009

Political Reform and Revolution: Yglesias Responds

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 9:41 AM PDT

Matt Yglesias has responded to questions (raised by The Economist's anonymous Democracy in America blogger and yours truly) about his supposed drift towards Matt Taibbi-style broad cynicism about America's political system. Yglesias points out, quite rightly, that he's always been more of a Taibbi-ite than DiA gave him credit for:

I also would like it noted, for the record, that my interest in political reform does not stem from any “disappointment” in how Barack Obama isn’t able to get anything done. I was writing about this back in December because I always knew that Barack Obama wouldn’t be able to get anything done.

Duly noted. Yglesias also provides a long list of political reforms—DC statehood, the elimination of the filibuster, the end of the electoral college, etc.—that he thinks would improve matters, claiming that "It wouldn’t take a 'revolution' to achieve any of that." That's where he's dodging the question.

Most reasonable people (presumably even Taibbi) are, like Yglesias, "skeptical about the utility of violence in bringing about positive political change." But the reason Yglesias could so confidently assert back in December that Barack Obama wasn't going to be able to get anything done was that the political reforms Yglesias suggests are actually incredibly unlikely to happen.

Just because a reform is possible or even theoretically easy (i.e., doing away with the filibuster or carving out a federal district and making the rest of DC a state) doesn't mean it has any realistic chance of being enacted. So that puts pragmatists like Yglesias and Ezra Klein back in the same spot. If what the country needs is unlikely to happen without political reform, and political reform is very unlikely to happen, what is a pragmatist to do? I don't have the answer. But it's one thing to say a reform doesn't require a violent revolution for it to happen. It's another to explain how the reform is actually going to happen, or how the people who support it are going to make it happen.

I'm also still interested in a Port Huron-style Juicebox Mafia statement of principles.

PS: I'm using the term "Juicebox Mafia" with the understanding that it has been co-opted and is no longer a slur.

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Real Change: Presidential Medals of Freedom Edition

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 8:57 AM PDT

I can be pretty hard on President Obama. He's broken promises on transparency. His regulation of the financial sector leaves much to be desired. He supports horrible laws. In the midst of all that disappointment, one can lose track of the fact that while he may be continuing many of the last administration's worst policies, Obama is not George W. Bush. The previous president decided that these guys deserved Presidential Medals of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor:That's a whole heaping bag of fail right there. From left to right, we have the guy who screwed up the intelligence before the Iraq War (George Tenet), the guy who screwed up the troop numbers for the Iraq War (Gen. Tommy Franks), the Decider himself, and the guy who screwed up the Iraq occupation (L. Paul Bremer). Later, Gen. Peter Pace, noted homophobe, also got himself a shiny medal.

The current president has slightly different criteria for awarding this prestigious honor. His list includes Stephen Hawking, Billie Jean King, Sidney Poitier, two Nobel Peace Prize winners, and (tear) Harvey Milk, among others. It really makes that parade of fail above look especially pathetic. It's a small thing, but it is, for once, some real change.

A Tip For Aspiring Racists

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 8:49 AM PDT

A tip for all the racists out there who want to hold on to their jobs: If you are going to write a really racist email highlighting your deep discomfort with modern American society, don't send it to a journalist.

Dodd/Conrad vs. Issa the Inquisitor

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 8:33 AM PDT

Is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) out of line? Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) are questioning the California Republican's motivations for investigating Countrywide Financial's VIP loan program, through which both of the Democrats received financing. "I find it very odd to be investigated and never given a chance to give my side of the story," Conrad tells Politico. "I think that’s unusual." Says Dodd, who's hanging on for dear life to his Senate seat: "This is just too coincidental."

Issa's a pretty committed ideologue, so trying to stir up trouble for his Democratic rivals certainly wouldn't be out of character. But even if his motivations are political, that doesn't mean Countrywide's lending practices and influence-peddling loan program shouldn't be thoroughly investigated. A different question is whether it's appropriate for Issa to be investigating fellow lawmakers in the first place. Former House general counsel Stanley Brand says Issa has stepped "way, way out of bounds" and that the House oversight committee in general lacks the authority to investigate the ethics of a Senator. That job belongs to the Senate ethics committee, a body not known for its hard-nosed investigative prowess but which is nevertheless moving forward with an inquiry into the Countrywide loans handed out to Dodd and Conrad.

The Loneliness of the Anti-Earmark Crusader

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 7:48 AM PDT

While we're on the subject of earmarks...the Post has a discouraging snippet in a piece about defense pork that shows just how tough it is to get rid of even the most ludicrous projects. The piece notes that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has vowed to try and remove 540 earmarks for no-bid contracts from the defense budget bill. The catch? "His prior earmark-stripping efforts have succeeded only once in dozens of attempts, and never on defense spending."

Update: The House is debating Flake's amendments now (he's offered one for every no-bid earmark). You can follow along on Twitter if you'd like a blow-by-blow on all 540 of them. They're up to 315 right now...

 

 

White House Thwarts Bill to End DADT Funds?

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 7:40 AM PDT

President Obama has said repeatedly he thinks Don't Ask, Don't Tell is bad policy that "hurts our national security," but he wants Congress to take the lead in rescinding the law. We can all see the logic here: It would continue a terrible Bush-era precedent (not to mention reek of hypocrisy) if Obama were to issue an executive order eliminating an act of Congress.

We all understand that logic. But I'm having trouble understanding this: Florida House Democrat Alcee Hastings introduced an amendment this week to a military appropriations bill that would cut off funds for Don't Ask, Don't Tell investigations. The next day, he says, colleagues in Congress and in the White House urged him to withdraw the amendment, which he did.

Why would the White House get in Congress' way? The Senate has already committed to hearings on DADT; the House's bill to eliminate the policy has 165 cosponsors. It's not as if quashing Hastings' amendment will slow the momentum. Or will it? Because what kind of message does this send to House members unsure about whether or not to support DADT's end?

Last night, Hastings tried to make sense of it with Rachel Maddow.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

H/t: ThinkProgress.

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Another Giveaway, This Time to Insurers

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 7:37 AM PDT

While the health care debate has been consumed by the smoke and mirrors game on Capitol Hill, one big story is being overlooked: the Obama administration’s decision not to regulate—or even attempt to regulate—the insurance industry, led by AIG, the giant outfit at the center of the national financial collapse. Instead of curbing the power of these companies, Obama is proposing another one of his half-hearted solutions. This time, it’s something called the Office of National Insurance, to be stuck in a corner of the Treasury Department. This new contraption is meant to “monitor’’ insurance—but can’t get involved in setting rules or regulating the business.

 

 

Of Earmarks and...Blimps? Yes, Blimps

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 5:55 AM PDT

This is too good. From Politico:

Rep. Pete Sessions — the chief of the Republicans’ campaign arm in the House — says on his website that earmarks have become “a symbol of a broken Washington to the American people.”

Yet in 2008, Sessions himself steered a $1.6 million earmark for dirigible research to an Illinois company whose president acknowledges having no experience in government contracting, let alone in building blimps.

What the company did have: the help of Adrian Plesha, a former Sessions aide with a criminal record who has made more than $446,000 lobbying on its behalf.

You can't make this up. Someone's balloon ought to get popped.

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Horrible News: "The President Will Drink Bud Light"

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

Important news from press secretary Robert Gibbs on the Skip-Gates-controversy-ending beer-sharing planned at the White House later today:

The President will drink Bud Light.  As I understand it—I have not heard this, I've read this, so I'll just repeat what I've read, that Professor Gates said he liked Red Stripe, and I believe Sergeant Crowley mentioned to the President that he liked Blue Moon.  So we'll have the gamut covered tomorrow afternoon.  I think we're still thinking, weather permitting, the picnic table out back.  All right?

I, for one, am outraged that Barack Obama would drink a furrin-owned beer like Bud Light, which is owned by the pot-smoking frites-eating, universal health care-having, freedom-hating Dutch Belgians (Sorry. I often get my low-lying western European countries confused). Clearly the president should be drinking a true American beer like Sam Adams, which is not only owned by Americans, but also named after a great American hero. Boston Beer Company, which makes Sam Adams, is actually only the second-largest American-owned brewery. Here are the top American choices, in order of size, via Foreign Policy's Travis Daub, with commentary and notes by yours truly:

  1. Pabst Blue Ribbon (video has NSFW language). It's worth noting that Pabst doesn't brew its own beer anymore, but outsources it to a South African conglomerate:
  2. Boston Beer Company/Sam Adams
  3. Yuengling, otherwise known as "lager" in Pennsylvania and its environs. Seriously—go order a lager at a Philly bar and see what you get.
  4. Sierra Nevada, makers of a delicious pale ale.
  5. Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Co. Inc., makers of Fat Tire.
  6. High Falls Brewing Co., which is responsible for the NESCAC beer pong staple that is Genessee Cream Ale.
  7. Spoetzl Brewery, brewers of the excellent Shiner Bock.
  8. Widmer Brothers Brewing Group, which makes a Hefewiezen that is sold at the food court across the street from Mother Jones' DC bureau for $5.00 for a 32-ounce plastic cup.
  9. Redhook Ale Brewery, a favorite of hipsters everywhere, which makes the very good Red Hook ESB and Long Hammer IPA.
  10. Pyramid Breweries Inc, which has "alehouses" in Portland, Sacramento, Seattle, Walnut Creek, and, of course, Berkeley.

The President has plenty of American beers to choose from. Bud Light doesn't need more advertising. Buy American, Mr. President!

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 30, 2009

Thu Jul. 30, 2009 3:59 AM PDT

US Marines assigned to 1st Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, prepare to return fire after receiving enemy fire in Lakari Bazaar, Afghanistan, July 19. The Marines are accompanied by Afghan National Army soldiers in order to deny freedom of movement to the country's enemies. The Marine battalion is the ground combat element of Regimental Combat Team 3, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. (Photo by Gunnery Sgt. James A. Burks courtesy marines.mil.)