My friend Steve Coyle (no mean picker himself) had this link on his Facebook page from a friend of his. That led me to Fretkillr's YouTube channel page, which is just great. Embedding is disabled, or I'd embed an example, but go and listen - it's worth it.
Who knew that Stuart Smalley's nickname was "Hoot"? Apparently Michelle Bachmann is getting used to the idea of having Al Franken as one of her senators. Like so much of what falls out of Bachmann's mouth, his little history lesson is priceless:
Let's recap, shall we? The recession in the early 20's was worse than the grerat depression (ummm, no), and FDR was responsible for the "Hoot-Smalley Act" (presumably the Smoot-Hawley tarriff, which was written by two Republicans and passed under Herbert Hoover). Way to go, Congresswoman, that's pretty good for less than a minute.
"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."
As Rachel Maddow said last evening, this would be a wonderful thing, but it doesn't exist. She also pointed out that the same is true for a 60 seat, filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, despite the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democratic party yesterday, and she's right.
First of all, having 60 Democratic votes is only valuable if they will reliably vote for your program, and they won't (see Bayh, Nelson, several others, and now Specter). It doesn't matter which side of the aisle a Senator sits on when he votes.
Indeed, it's not at all clear to me that having Specter as a Democrat is a positive development. The party already has one Joe Lieberman, and I'm not at all sure it needs another. The parallel between Lieberman and Specter is really quite close, because Lieberman got
elected as an independent by muddying the waters of his support for the Republican party while raising
most of his money from Republicans, after losing in a Democratic primary. (It's worth remembering that his Republican opponent in the general was so pathetic that he was being publicly chased for not paying his gambling debts during the election.) Lieberman got a majority of the Republican vote, and many of those Democrats who voted for him were misled about his support for the Iraq war, a support he made quite clear immediately after the election by changing his public position dramatically and then supporting the Republican candidate in the 2008 presidential race.
Further, I'm not sure I understand all the fuss at Republicans who wouldn't support Specter. That's the way the system is supposed to work - if you work against your party's interests for years, those constituents who want to see those interests advanced have the right to vote you out as their candidate. That's what happened to Lieberman, and that's what was happening to Specter. The fact that incumbents are so entrenched that they don't usually lose primaries doesn't mean they are elected as their party's candidate for life, even if they think they were.
I'm a Democrat, so I'm happy to see more Democrats in Congress, but that happiness is tempered by the knowledge that Democrats who vote like Republicans are actually more dangerous to a traditionally Democratic agenda than Republicans are, because they serve as a foil for obstructionist votes on the other side of the aisle. So I'm particularly puzzled by the the Obama administration's immediate acceptance of Specter's choice to be a Democrat, when Specter has made it quite clear that he will not support a great deal of that administration's program. I'd rather see provisional support from Obama, the continuation of which is conditioned on his support for that agenda. They don't have to say that now, but I hope that's what they're thinking.
So, welcome, Senator Specter. I hope your tenure as a Democratic Senator is a successful one. I hope your success comes of proving willing to support more of the agenda that your Democratic constituents voted for in the last election (changing your support for EFCA again, and supporting health care and energy policy reform will be key indicators, it seems to me). You'll have my provisional support for your candidacy in 2010, while I look long and hard at what you do to earn more than that between now and then. Vote as a Democrat and I'll work for you when the time comes. Fail to do so, Pat Murphy or Joe Sestak would make a great Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania. Your state has proven it would elect a real Democrat to your seat, if that Democrat were running against Pat Toomey. Behave as a real Democrat, and it can be you.
Here's an interesting piece by the Energy Minister of the UK, Ed Milliband. It describes the growing consensus on the economic opportunity presented by the promise of a green energy economy, and outlines a couple of the things Great Britain will do to start getting there.
One thing the piece discusses is how the UK will fund research into carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Like the US, Britain gets a significant percentage of its power from coal generation, and like the US, has a substantial coal mining industry. Coal is cheap, if you don't count the environmental costs, so there is a great deal of pressure to find a way to make it cleaner, regardless of how improbable that is at the moment.
The steps outlined in the piece are good ones, but they don't include either cap and trade or carbon tax moves, and if that represents a real gap in British policy, that's a huge mistake, just as it would be here. If we don't get an international agreement to start reflecting the true costs of carbon-based energy production in the prices of the energy produced that way, we'll never get this problem beaten.
I hope this lapse in Mr. Milliband's piece is just an editorial slip, and not the real shape of British policy to come. Neither Welsh nor Appalachian coal miners' interests will be well served if they have jobs while their children's futures are discarded.
Yesterday's NY Times ran this piece on an interview conducted by ABC's Brian Ross in December of 2007 that created the misperception that torture was both effective and relatively painless, because it was over so fast.
The article notes that the statement by the CIA operative, one John Kiriakou, was not verified at the time, but it has been steadily repeated ever since, despite having been questioned almost immediately as false, something the release of the memos last week proved without any doubt.
It's an interesting portrait of how bad information spreads quickly and persists in the face of counter-eveidence on the nation's TV sets (something it does in the nation's newspapers too, but perhaps less regularly).
The next time you see one of those clean coal ads, or hear some fatuous windbag describe what a boon the coal industry is to the poor folks of the Appalachian region, remember this:
We get a lot of our energy from coal in this country, and the change from coal to renewable sources will inevitably cause some economic hardship to some members of those communities. It's important to remember, though, that in addition to the incredibly damaging effects massive coal consumption has on our carbon impacts and climate change, the way coal is being mined now is both incredibly destructive of local environments (which are gorgeous) and really bad at creating jobs, since the labor-intensive shaft mining has been replaced with mountaintop removal mining, which uses massive equipment instead of miners to recover the coal in ways that leave the surrounding landscape utterly destroyed.
We have to stop this. Go to iLoveMountains.org to help. Go now, and do as much as you can.
Hat tip to this article on Huffington Post, which notes the poor coverage that this issue got on last night's "60 Minutes" show.
Ross Douthat published his first column as the new NYT conservative columnist, and it was certainly an improvement on Bill Kristol's maundering diatribes. Douthat wrote a what-if column, positing the results for American conservatism if Dick Cheney had run for president instead of Johnh McCain.
It's an interesting question, and Douthat's answer is a likely one. He observes that Conservatives have somehow managed to convince themselves that McCain lost because he wasn't conservative enough, and conservatism itself was betrayed by the Bush administration, which strayed from Cheney's ideological purity. He goes on to speculate that having Cheney get his ass handed to him in an election might have had the twofold effect of discrediting both that doctrinaire version of conservatism as an electoral strategy and Cheney himself, which might now be sparing us from having to watch Cheney lead the charge against the Obama administration with his anti-spending, pro-torture version of conservative critique, a critique that Douthat rightly observes is likely to keep conservatives and Republicans in the electoral wilderness for another several election cycles, if not destroy the party and the movement entirely.
That conclusion is very likely right, and it's certainly welcome to read a conservative who doesn't just leave me shaking my head at the stupidity of his argument. Despite the overall sense of his column, though, I am surprised at one aspect of Douthat's column. He notes the value of investigations into torture, and correctly notes that the only way to leave this disgraceful episode in our past is to investigate what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again. At the end of that assertion, though, he says that investigations shouldn't lead to prosecutions, "unless the Democratis party has taken leave of its senses". He doesn't explain this conclusion, and he should, because maintaining that war crimes should be investigated but not punished leaves a huge hole in an otherwise sensible column.
After an illuminating and stimulating program last Sunday, Fareed Zakaria's GPS program this afternoon did a certain amount of regressing to the mean. As part of the "grade the president's first hundred days" frenzy, Zakaria had a panel of three "historians" on to produce a grade. The three were:
Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, and author of a memoir about being a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, an account of the presidency of Ronald Reagan, a how-to book about making speeches as good as Ronald Reagan's, a collection of her own newspaper columns, a hagiography of Pope John Paul, a hit job on Hillary Clinton, and an appeal for a public discourse that is more "graceful", and less prone to hagiography or hit jobs.
Even for those not familiar with these three people, those lists of book subjects should give a broad hint at the relative qualifications of the panelists, and they lived up to expectations. Despite their skills as writers and legitimate claims to historical perspective, both Meacham and Isaacson gave measured, but somewhat uninspired evaluations of Obama's performance in several areas. Noonan punctuated those efforts with regular doses of fatuous disapproval that drew on completely bankrupt Republican tropes and made me wonder if Mike Pence wasn't available.
The process of arriving at these putative "grades" involved chewing on two particularly annoying media narratives we hear all the time lately, both of them derived entirely from the pages of an RNC talking point sheet.
The first is that the president is "doing too much", which is the concern troll version of Republican obstructionism, and asserts that the change Obama ran and won on and is now trying to produce is a tactical mistake, since "presidents can only do one big thing". It's certainly noteworthy that those who are the most "concerned" about the costs of this tactical mistake are those who disagree with those changes anyway, since that tends to make their concern a little hard to take seriously. The other thing that makes the concern hard to credit is that the president enjoys spectacularly high approval ratings and trust from the American public, which appears to be pretty happy to see him try to keep his campaign promises.
Finally, since the project these concern trolls are most interested in seeing President Obama focus all his attention on is fixing the financial system, the assertion amounts to a declaration by Republicans that they have made such a mess that it is the Democrats' only responsibility to clean up that mess, and that there is consequently no time and no mandate to fix the problems that created the mess in the first place. When asked what was the one big thing Obama shoud devote all his attention to, Noonan solemnly intoned, "the banks". None of the agenda items Obama ran on, and not even the economy at large, of course, since that would be socialism, and the only thing we are permitted to socialize is the cost that financial buccaneering imposes on the buccaneers!
There is an old saw that goes "When you're up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp." This is a case in which the alligators themselves are observing that since they are so difficult to deal with, there really isn't any energy left to drain that swamp, and it would be much better and much more politically astute for Obama to devote all his time to making sure they are all getting fed well enough to keep them from doing more damage.
The second talking point arose in discussion of how the Obama administration was dealing with the torture memos and the policies they attempted to legitimize. Noonan essentially repeated her by now notorious opinion that it's better not to know what has been done in our names, despite the fact that we and the rest of the world already did and do know. To his great credit, Meacham said this was ridiculous, and that the essence of democracy is for the public to know what is being done in its name, so it can decide if it approves of those actions.
Noonan then went on to repeat the substance of Karl Rove's claim that trying people for these crimes would make the US into a banana republic. Isaacson agreed, saying that it would condstitute "criminalizing policy differences". Nobody on the panel had the wit to recognize that these "policy differences" were to torture people, and torture has already been criminalized, in the same way that rape has been criminalized - we passed laws against them both. To prosecute people for breaking laws is what sets us apart from banana republics, not what makes us like them.
Meacham and Isaacson delivered unimpressive beltway conventional wisdom, and Noonan, once again, made a complete fool of herself. I truly don't have any idea why this woman still gets airtime, and I
wouldn't even if I were a conservative - she couldn't be a worse
representative of her own point of view.
After this disappointing foray into feverish 100 days analysis (which CNN is overplaying even more than the rest of the media), the program took a turn for the much better, with interviews of Niall Ferguson and Malcom Gladwell. Ferguson made an interesting, if rather gloomy, analysis of the current financial crisis (and perhaps the most damning grade for the new administration, even though that was not the focus of his interview), and Gladwell discussed the thesis of his new book, Outliers.
Ferguson is a thought-provoking historian and a skilled economic analyst (his tenth work of history is a finanvial histrory called The Ascent of Money), and Gladwell is an incisive student of social phenomena, and Outliers sounds as though it's as interesting as his first two books, Tipping Point and Blink, both of which were great reads.
So, even though it started by regressing to the mean, Zakaria's program departed from it again right away - I'm still a fan.