26 February 2009

1964 all over for GOP? Or, maybe a flip or two gets you 60+?

I think this weird retrenchment into obstructionism is pretty likely to lead the Republicans to an electoral debacle worse (for them) than 1964, if they don't change their strategy.

Also, the way that moron Steele is almost openly threatening Arlen Specter and the Maine women! What are the chances that Specter, in particular (or maybe Snowe), both of whom are retaining their Senate seats at this point despite rather than because they're Republicans, just might realize that if they want to keep their seats, they need to flip and become Democrats? It's happened before. We may get 60 yet.

25 February 2009

Obama splendid, Obstructionists' Response... well...

President Obama's speech was splendid, although I confess to some fear that the policies that ensue, especially with regard to the banking crisis (where I think he's getting really rotten advice), will not live up to the speech.

What can one say about the G.O.P. (Great Obstructionist Party) response? Rachel Maddow commented that a party that put up a spokesman to tout the Katrina response as an appropriate example of government action in a crisis left her unable to do her job (talk)... in other words, it left her literally speechless. Krugman did a good little summation:

So what did Bobby Jindal choose to ridicule in this response to Obama last night? Volcano monitoring, of course.

And leaving aside the chutzpah of casting the failure of his own party's governance as proof that government can't work, does he really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Let's just rely on self-defense by armed citizens.

The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.

David Brooks, on PBS's coverage, was clearly embarassed by Jindal's performance. More importantly, he thought the message of do nothing and just call for tax cuts is "insane" as a strategy for his party.

Allow me to make a bold prediction: Bobby Jindal will fade into the background. Actually, I hope he's tremendously successful and wins the 2012 Obstructionist nomination. We could see a margin larger than 1964. (OK, I know a lot can happen in four years, but wow, what a turkey).

24 February 2009

George Lakoff on Obama's speech

Please read George Lakoff's interesting piece on what we can expect from President Obama's first speech to a Joint Session of Congress this evening. He focuses more on the heart than the head of what the speech will contain, which most pundits pretty much ignore. (A guest submission to Nate Silver's www.fivethirtyeight.com, reproduced in full below).

·The Obama Code
By George Lakoff
Berkeley, CA. February 24, 2009.

As President Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress, what can we expect to hear?

The pundits will stress the nuts-and-bolts policy issues: the banking system, education, energy, health care. But beyond policy, there will be a vision of America—a moral vision and a view of unity that the pundits often miss.

What they miss is the Obama Code. For the sake of unity, the President tends to express his moral vision indirectly. Like other self-aware and highly articulate speakers, he connects with his audience using what cognitive scientists call the “cognitive unconscious.”

Speaking naturally, he lets his deepest ideas simply structure what he is saying. If you follow him, the deep ideas are communicated unconsciously and automatically. The Code is his most effective way to bring the country together around fundamental American values.

For supporters of the President, it is crucial to understand the Code in order to talk overtly about the old values our new president is communicating. It is necessary because tens of millions of Americans—both conservatives and progressives—don’t yet perceive the vital sea change that Obama is bringing about.

The word “code” can refer to a system of either communication or morality. President Obama has integrated the two. The Obama Code is both moral and linguistic at once. The President is using his enormous skills as a communicator to express a moral system. As he has said, budgets are moral documents. His economic program is tied to his moral system and is discussed in the Code, as are just about all of his other policies.

Behind the Obama Code are seven crucial intellectual moves that I believe are historically, practically, and cognitively appropriate, as well as politically astute. They are not all obvious, and jointly they may seem mysterious. That is why it is worth sorting them out one-by-one.

1. Values Over Programs
The first move is to distinguish programs from the value systems they represent. Every policy has a material aspect—the nuts and bolts of how it works— plus a typically implicit cognitive aspect that represents the values and ideas behind the nuts and bolts. The President knows the difference. He understands that those who see themselves as “progressive” or “conservative” all too often define those words in terms of programs rather than values. Even the programs championed by progressives may not fit what the President sees as the fundamental values of the country. He is seeking to align the programs of his administration with those values.

The potential pushback will come not just from conservatives who do not share his values, but just as much from progressives who make the mistake of thinking that programs are values and that progressivism is defined by a list of programs. When some of those programs are cut as economically secondary or as unessential, their defenders will inevitably see this as a conservative move rather than a move within an overall moral vision they share with the President.

This separation between values and programs lies behind the president’s pledge to cut programs that don’t serve those values and support those that do — no matter whether they are proposed by Republicans or Democrats. The President’s idealistic question is, what policies serve what values? — not what political interests?

2. Progressive Values are American Values
President Obama’s second intellectual move concerns what the fundamental American values are. In Moral Politics, I described what I found to be the implicit, often unconscious, value systems behind progressive and conservative thought. Progressive thought rests, first, on the value of empathy —- putting oneself in other people’s shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and therefore caring about them. The second principle is acting on that care, taking responsibility both for oneself and others, social as well as individual responsibility. The third is acting to make oneself, the country, and the world better—what Obama has called an “ethic of excellence” toward creating “a more perfect union” politically.

Historian Lynn Hunt, in Inventing Human Rights, has shown that those values, beginning with empathy, lie historically behind the human rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Obama, in various interviews and speeches, has provided the logical link. Empathy is not mere sympathy. Putting oneself in the shoes of others brings with it the responsibility to act on that empathy—to be “our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper”—and to act to improve ourselves, our country, and the world.

The logic is simple: Empathy is why we have the values of freedom, fairness, and equality — for everyone, not just for certain individuals. If we put ourselves in the shoes of others, we will want them to be free and treated fairly. Empathy with all leads to equality: no one should be treated worse than anyone else. Empathy leads us to democracy: to avoid being subject indefinitely to the whims of an oppressive and unfair ruler, we need to be able to choose who governs us and we need a government of laws.

Obama has consistently maintained that what I, in my writings, have called “progressive” values are fundamental American values. From his perspective, he is not a progressive; he is just an American. That is a crucial intellectual move.

Those empathy-based moral values are the opposite of the conservative focus on individual responsibility without social responsibility. They make it intolerable to tolerate a president who is The Decider—who gets to decide without caring about or listening to anybody. Empathy-based values are opposed to the pure self-interest of a laissez-faire “free market,” which assumes that greed is good and that seeking self-interest will magically maximize everyone’s interests. They oppose a purely self-interested view of America in foreign policy. Obama’s foreign policy is empathy-based, concerned with people as well as states—with poverty, education, disease, water, the rights of women and children, ethnic cleansing, and so on around the world.

How are such values expressed? Take a look at the inaugural speech. Empathy: “the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child…” Responsibility to ourselves and others: “We have duties to ourselves, the nation, and the world.” The ethic of excellence: “there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of character, than giving our all to a difficult task.” They define our democracy: “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed.”

The same values apply to foreign policy: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and make clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” And to religion as well: By quoting language like “our brother’s keeper,” he is communicating that mere individual responsibility will not get you into Heaven, that social responsibility and making the world better is required.

3. Biconceptualism and the New Bipartisanship
The third crucial idea behind the Obama Code is biconceptualism, the knowledge that a great many people who identify themselves ideologically as conservatives, or politically as Republicans or Independents, share those fundamental American values -- at least on certain issues. Most “conservatives” are not thoroughgoing movement conservatives, but are what I have called “partial progressives” sharing Obama’s American values on many issues. Where such folks agree with him on values, Obama tries, and will continue to try, to work with them on those issues if not others. And, he assumes, correctly believe, that the more they come to think in terms of those American values, the less they will think in terms of opposing conservative values.

Biconceptualism lay behind his invitation to Rick Warren to speak at the inaugural. Warren is a biconceptual, like many younger evangelicals. He shares Obama’s views of the environment, poverty, health, and social responsibility, though he is otherwise a conservative. Biconceptualism is behind his “courting” of Republican members of Congress. The idea is not to accept conservative moral views, but to find those issues where individual Republicans already share what he sees as fundamentally American values. He has “reached across the aisle” to Richard Luger on nuclear proliferation, but not on economics.

Biconceptualism is central to Obama’s attempts to achieve unity —a unity based on his understanding of American values. The current economic failure gives him an opening to speak about the economy in terms of those ideals: caring about all, prosperity for all, responsibility for all by all, and good jobs for all who want to work.

I think Obama is correct about biconceptualism of this sort — at least where the overwhelming proportion of Americans is concerned. When the President spoke at the Lincoln Day dinner recently about sensible Midwestern Republicans, he meant biconceptual Republicans, who are progressive and/or pragmatic on many issues.

But hardcore movement conservatives tend to be more ideological and less biconceptual than their constituents. In the recent stimulus vote, the hardcore movement conservatives kept party discipline (except for three Senate votes) by threatening to run opposition candidates against anyone who broke ranks. They were able to enforce this because the conservative message machine is strong in their districts and there is no nationwide progressive message machine operating in those districts. The effectiveness of the conservative message machine led to Obama making a rare mistake in communication, the mistake of saying out loud in Florida not to think of Rush Limbaugh, thus violating the first rule of framing and giving Rush Limbaugh even greater power.

Biconceptual, partly progressive, Republicans do exist in Congress, and the president is not going to give up on them. But as long as the conservative message machine can activate its values virtually unopposed in conservative districts, movement conservatives can continue to pressure biconceptual Republicans and keep them from voting their conscience on many issues. This is why a nationwide progressive message machine needs to be organized if the president is to achieve unity through biconceptualism.

4. Protection and Empowerment
The fourth idea behind the Obama Code is the President’s understanding of government—“not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” This depends on what “works” means. The word sounds purely pragmatic, but it is moral in operation.
The idea is that government has twin moral missions: protection and empowerment. Protection includes not just military and police protection, but protections for the environment, consumers, workers, pensioners, disaster victims, and investors.

Empowerment is what his stimulus package is about: it includes education and other forms of infrastructure—roads, bridges, communications, energy supply, the banking system and stock market. The moral mission of government is simple: no one can earn a living in America or live an American life without protection and empowerment by the government. The stimulus package is basically an empowerment package. Taxes are what you pay for living in America, rather than in Congo or Bangladesh. And the more money you make from government protection and empowerment, the more you owe in return. Progressive taxation is a matter of moral accounting. Tax cuts for the middle class mean that the middle class hasn’t been getting as much as it has been contributing to the nation’s productivity for many years.

This view of government meshes with our national ideal of equality. There needs to be moral equality: equal protection and equal empowerment. We all deserve health care protection, retirement protection, worker protection, employment protection, protection of our civil liberties, and investment protection. Protection and empowerment. That’s what “works” means—“whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”

5. Morality and Economics Fit Together
Crises are times of opportunity. Budgets are moral statements. President Obama has put these ideas together. His economic program is a moral program and conversely. Why the quartet of leading economic issues—education, energy, health, banking? Because they are at the heart of government’s moral mission of protection and empowerment, and correspondingly, they are what is needed to act on empathy, social and personal responsibility, and making the future better. The economic crisis is also an opportunity. It requires him to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the right things to do.

6. Systemic Causation and Systemic Risk
Conservatives tend to think in terms of direct causation. The overwhelming moral value of individual, not social, responsibility requires that causation be local and direct. For each individual to be entirely responsible for the consequences of his or her actions, those actions must be the direct causes of those consequences. If systemic causation is real, then the most fundamental of conservative moral—and economic—values is fallacious.

Global ecology and global economics are prime examples of systemic causation. Global warming is fundamentally a system phenomenon. That is why the very idea threatens conservative thinking. And the global economic collapse is also systemic in nature. That is at the heart of the death of the conservative principle of the laissez-faire free market, where individual short-term self-interest was supposed to be natural, moral, and the best for everybody. The reality of systemic causation has left conservatism without any real ideas to address global warming and the global economic crisis.

With systemic causation goes systemic risk. The old rational actor model taught in economics and political science ignored systemic risk. Risk was seen as local and governed by direct causation, that is, buy short-term individual decisions. The investment banks acted on their own short-term risk, based on short-term assumptions, for example, that housing prices would continue to rise or that bundles of mortgages once secure for the short term would continue to be “secure” and could be traded as “securities.”

The systemic nature of ecological and economic causation and risk have resulted in the twin disasters of global warming and global economic breakdown. Both must be dealt with on a systematic, global, long-term basis. Regulating risk is global and long-term, and so what are required are world-wide institutions that carry out that regulation in systematic way and that monitor causation and risk systemically, not just locally.

President Obama understands this, though much of the country does not. Part of his challenge will be to formulate policies that carry out these ideas and to communicate these ideas as well as possible to the public.

7. Contested Concepts and Patriotic Language
As President, Barack Obama must speak in patriotic language. But all patriot language in this country is “contested.” Every major patriotic term has a core meaning that we all understand the same way. But that common core meaning is very limited in its application. Most uses of patriotic language are extended from the core on the basis of either conservative or progressive values to produce meanings that are often opposite from each other.

I’ve written a whole book, Whose Freedom?, on the word “freedom” as used by conservatives and progressives. In his second inaugural, George W. Bush used “freedom,” “free,” and “liberty” over and over—first, with its common meaning, then shifting to its conservative meaning: defending “freedom” as including domestic spying, torture and rendition, denial of habeus corpus, invading a country that posed no threat to us, a “free market” based on greed and short-term profits for the wealthy, denying sex education and access to women’s health facilities, denying health care to the poor, and leading to the killing and maiming of innocent civilians in Iraq by the hundreds of thousands, all in the name of “freedom.” It was anything but a progressive’s view of freedom—and anything but the view intended in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

For forty years, from the late 1960’s through 2008, conservatives managed, through their extensive message machine, to reframe much of our political discourse to fit their worldview. President Obama is reclaiming our patriotic language after decades of conservative dominance, to fit what he has correctly seen as the ideals behind the founding of our country.

“Freedom” will no longer mean what George W. Bush meant by it. Guantanamo will be closed, torture outlawed, the market regulated. Obama’s inaugural address was filled with framings of patriotic concepts to fit those ideals. Not just the concept of freedom, but also equality, prosperity, unity, security, interests, challenges, courage, purpose, loyalty, patriotism, virtue, character, and grace. Look at these words in his inaugural address and you will see how Obama has situated their meaning within his view of fundamental American values: empathy, social and well as personal responsibility, improving yourself and your country. We can expect further reclaiming of patriotic language throughout his administration.

All this is what “change” means. In his policy proposals the President is trying to align his administration’s policies with the fundamental values of the Framers of our Constitution. In seeking “bipartisan” support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those values on particular issues. In his economic policy, he is realigning our economy with the moral missions of government: protection and empowerment for all.

It’s Us, Not Just Him
The president is the best political communicator of our age. He has the bully pulpit. He gets media attention from the press. His website is running a permanent campaign, Organizing for Obama, run by his campaign manager David Plouffe. It seeks issue-by-issue support from his huge mailing list. There are plenty of progressive blogs.

MoveOn.org now has over five million members. And yet that is nowhere near enough.
The conservative message machine is huge and still going. There are dozens of conservative think tanks, many with very large communications budgets. The conservative leadership institutes are continuing to turn out thousands of trained conservative spokespeople every year. The conservative apparatus for language creation is still functioning. Conservative talking points are still going out to their network of spokespeople, who still being booked on tv and radio around the country. About 80% of the talking heads on tv are conservatives. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are as strong as ever. There are now progressive voices on MSNBC, Comedy Central, and Air America, but they are still overwhelmed by Right’s enormous megaphone. Republicans in Congress can count on overwhelming message support in their home districts and homes states. That is one reason why they were able to stonewall on the President’s stimulus package. They had no serious media competition at home pounding out the Obama vision day after day.

Such national, day-by-day media competition is necessary. Democrats need to build it. Democratic think tanks are strong on policy and programs, but weak on values and vision. Without the moral arguments based on the Obama values and vision, the policymakers most likely be unable to regularly address both independent voters and the Limbaugh-FoxNews audiences in conservative Republican strongholds.

The president and his administration cannot build such a communication system, nor can the Democrats in Congress. The DNC does not have the resources. It will be up to supporters of the Obama values, not just supporters on the issues, to put such a system in place. Despite all the organizing strength of Obama supporters, no such organizing effort is now going on. If none is put together, the movement conservatives will face few challenges of fundamental values in their home constituencies and will be able to go on stonewalling with impunity. That will make the president’s vision that much harder to carry out.

The Obama Code is based on seven deep, insightful, and subtle intellectual moves. What President Obama has been attempting in his speeches is a return to the original frames of the Framers, reconstituting what it means to be an American, to be patriotic, to be a citizen and to share in both the sacrifices and the glories of our country. In seeking “bipartisan” support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those values on particular issues. In his economic plan, he is attempting to realign our economy with the moral missions of government: protection and empowerment for all.

The president hasn’t fooled the radical ideological conservatives in Congress. They know progressive values when they see them — and they see them in their own colleagues and constituents too often for comfort. The radical conservatives are aware that this economic crisis threatens not only their political support, but the very underpinnings of conservative ideology itself. Nonetheless, their brains have not been changed by facts. Movement conservatives are not fading away. They think their conservative values are the real American values. They still have their message machine and they are going to make the most of it. The ratings for Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are rising. Without a countervailing communications system on the Democratic side, they can create a lot of trouble, not just for the president, not just for the nation, but on a global scale, for the environmental and economic future of the world.

George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of The Political Mind and Don’t Think of an Elephant!

23 February 2009

Rove No-Show cannot stand

Rove's no-show before the judiciary committee today may be no surprise. But it seems to me no exaggeration whatever to say that if the Congress does not enforce, with or without the cooperation of the Obama justice department, its right to compel administration witnesses to testify about matters of legitimate investigative interest, the investigative power of the Congress will have effectively been brought to an end. If that happens, it will be yet another key element of our constitution which the Bush administration will be recorded by future historians as having destroyed. Whether these incidences of constitutional destruction turn out to be temporary or permanent, it seems to me, will depend very largely on the actions of Attorney General Holder's Justice Department.

20 February 2009

Scott Horton must read on why 'moving on' is a really bad option

Please see Scott Horton's indispensable piece in his online No Comment column (Harper's).

19 February 2009

Taking by Means of Compassion:
a beautiful meditation anyone can do

The following is considered an advanced spiritual practice in Mahayana Buddhism, called Taking by Means of Compassion, but it is actually quite practical and easily accomplished, on a basic level, by anyone who cares to give it a try. You don't have to be a Buddhist, or believe anything; if you just sincerely follow the instructions, it works.

Sit quietly, eyes mostly closed, completely relaxed. Don't worry about sitting cross-legged on a cushion; just sit comfortably however you can, but it's important to sit upright and keep your back straight. Take your time. Let your body really relax. For a few moments, just watch with your mind's eye the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. If your mind wanders, just gently drop the thought and return to the breath. Don't worry about it; this is natural. You may have to return again and again, but it can be relaxing, if you don't fight it. After a bit, you will begin to feel a mental peace arise. Think to yourself, I will imagine sincerely that my meditation is real, and that what I do in my meditation actually helps others. This is important; it gives your mental practice authenticity. It doesn't matter whether you intellectually believe in the power of meditation, just think this, and stick with it for the short time it takes to do this meditation.

Now, imagine some particular person, some group of people, or, if you can, all living beings, and develop compassion for them. Try to actually see them in your mind's eye. Think "how wonderful it would be if all their suffering were to end permanently." Seeing them in your mind suffering, you feel their suffering and develop a strong wish for it to end. Keep thinking this, while focusing your inner attention on them. Actually see them, and think how wonderful if they did not suffer.

Now imagine all their suffering, or maybe some particular suffering, even something as simple as a headache, and imagine that it takes the form of a dark cloud of black smoke.

Now imagine that this cloud of smoke forms a jet of dark smoke that pierces your body and fills your heart. It destroys all your negativity, selfishness, and obsessive concern with your own life, which we all have. In its place arises purity. Your body transforms into light. Feel your body is light, and that your heart is like a jewel. Imagine that the person or beings whose suffering you have taken away in the form of dark smoke are now relieved, free from suffering. They are happy. Take a moment to actually see them as happy, as not suffering. From this, a feeling of joy arises in your heart. Keep your mind focused on this feeling of joy as long as possible. This feeling of joy is the actual object, or main focus, of your meditation.

When you arise from the meditation, think, may may practice actually benefit all living beings.

This simple meditation is extremely powerful, and creates a very pure state of mind, which indirectly benefits others, and also benefits you. For example, if you yourself are suffering, this meditation will make you feel better, by refocusing your mind on others' suffering. It also creates causes for future successful spiritual practice.

Based on the practice described in Eight Steps to Happiness, by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche (a commentary on Lojong Tsig Gyema ("Training the Mind in Eight Verses") by Bodhisattva Langri Tangpa (1054-1123)). This practice is also one of the meditations of lam rim, ("stages of the path"), taught by the great Buddhist masters Atisha (Dipankara Srijnana, called Atisha (982-1054)), and Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419); described in very practical form in Kelsang Gyatso's A New Meditation Handbook.

Re: Al Franken: Can't help but think. . .

I personally have no doubt that Al Franken is perfectly qualified to be Senator from Minnersota, and, in fact, he's probably smarter and better informed, both technically and philosophically, than the majority of people who have become Senators over the years in our country. But I can't help but wonder, if it were not for his public persona as a goofy comedian, whether (a) whoever the Democratic candidate had been in his place wouldn't have won easily (given the Obama coattails); and (b) the Minnesota court, if faced with the situation it's now faced with, wouldn't have acted with dispatch to get the winner of the election certified.

All of which is to say, in this still-deeply partisan political climate, and with the level of frankly unfair scrutiny that has now become routine in politics, Democrats need to put forward candidates who are solidly Democratic but also conventional enough that their personal lives or past careers do not become distractions. We Democrats NEED Franken's vote, and we need every single vote we can get. At least partly due to the incomprehensible (to me) unwillingness of the leadership to call the Republican Obstructionist Party's bluff and actually force them to filibuster when they threaten to, we do not have an effective majority in the Senate.

13 February 2009

Bipartisanship: a crock

Again, the House passed the stimulus bill without a single Republican vote. I sure hope the Obama people get it now: bipartisanship is a crock.

12 February 2009

Gregg's out; good riddance

First, Judd Gregg (R-NH) reaches out to Obama and offers himself for Commerce after Richardson bows out. He promises support for administration, and the Obama people bend over backwards to accommodate him, working out a deal with NH Gov. Lynch, a Democrat, to appoint a Republican staffer to replace Gregg, keeping the Republicans at 41, just enough to prevent cloture.

Now the jerk cites differences with the Adminstration and backs out.

I said and continue to say he was a poor choice to begin with and the deal to keep the Senate seat Republican made no sense whatsoever. To which I now add, "Good Riddance, and choose a Democrat this time."

Leahy on Cheney credibility

HuffPo's newly exalted Sam Stein (the guy who got to ask Obama about Sen. Leahy's proposal for a Truth Commission during the news conference earlier this week) also got a chance to ask Sen. Leahy about former V.P. Dick Cheney's recent asinine comment that the Obama administration was making it easier for terrorists to successfully attack the United States. Leahy's answer was virtuosic:

"I just want to say here Bush and Cheney were in charge when the last attack happened," Leahy said. "They were warned about the last attack before it happened. On September 10th their proposal was to cut our counter-terrorism budget substantially. I don't need any lectures from him. They screwed up badly.

"They are also the same people who said the war in Iraq would be over in a couple weeks, shock and awe and we would find the weapons of mass destruction. Their policy was to let Osama bin Laden get away when we had him cornered and send the troops into a useless war in Iraq. No, no, I don't think he has a great deal of credibility."

200th Birthday: Lincoln and Darwin

By remarkable coincidence, today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of two intellectual titans of the 19th Century, one in the field of political affairs and the other a truly exemplary scientific mind: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

Amidst all the turmoil of the relatively short-term economic crisis and the longer-term climate crisis facing us, we should stop a moment and draw a bit of inspiration from these two.

Lincoln was courageous enough to stand up for the proposition that human beings can change their wrong or immoral behavior; his success shows that leaders can make it happen.

Darwin was a visionary, but a practical one, who discerned truth from observation, thought it through, and explicated it. We need this kind of clear-headedness, that faces the realities presenting themselves, and accepts them, even when they contradict longheld beliefs.

09 February 2009

Obama can sway public opinion to get it done

I believe the Gallup poll numbers today showing that Obama is "way ahead" of the FROs* in Congress on the stimulus bill is proof that he has tremendous potential to influence the American people through the bully pulpit. I'm constantly harping: Obama needs to sway the public, so the public will make policy makers make the policy we need. Finally, in the wake of what I consider the abject failure of his bipartisanship initiative (for which I blame the aforementioned Republicans for basically giving him the middle finger)... he seems to be doing just this.

*(F--king Republican Obstructionists... sorry, I get exercised and I refuse to call these louts the GOP. They're a disgrace even to the likes of wrongheaded people like Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan).

CLARIFICATION: I didn't mean to imply that all the Rebublicans in Congress are obstructionist. Only 38, possibly 39 of the 41 Senators and essentially all of the House members.

06 February 2009

No comparison

· It amazes me that people on the Right (e.g. John Thune) are so very, very upset about spending borrowed money in America to benefit Americans, but they thought it was a great idea to commit our nation to $3 trillion in spending and (essentially entirely) debt in prosecuting an optional war in Iraq. (John Stewart made this very point surprisingly straigtforwardly (with clips) on The Daily Show last night). To spell it out, it's all but beyond dispute now that the Iraq policy was originally predicated on knowing untruth, carried out with spectacular dishonesty, illegality, and incompetence, and never plausibly in the country's interests in the first place. I know this is no valid argument for current spending. But it amazes me nonetheless. It's like equating, with a straight face, an international gun running racket with people who fiddle their expense accounts to make a few bucks while basically doing the job they're paid to do. Both are worthy of criticism and penalty, but there's just no comparison.

05 February 2009

Republicans as Flat Earthers

Josh Marshall reports:

There were 36 out of 41 Republican senators who voted to scrap all spending in the Stimulus Bill. All of it.

This approaches flat earth territory in terms of where the economy is right now and what conventional macroeconomics suggests about how to combat the problem.

This is why I've come to regard the Republican Party as increasingly out of step with reality, or anything even close to the policies needed to move our country out of Depression. Not to mention how out of step they are with the realities that must be faced to take us towards a footing necessary to solve the coming even more serious crises of (non-fossil) energy independence and Global Climatic Disruption.

02 February 2009

Judd Gregg expecting Republican replacement ? Huh?

I wrote this to talkingpointsmemo's comment address:

I heard a report on NPR this morning to the effect that Judd Gregg had said that he would only consider the Commerce post if there were some kind of guarantee that his replacement would be "aligned with the Republican caucus." What gives? How is that even possible? I can't imaginge NH's governor would agree to such a thing. I know as an "involved Democrat" I would find that totally unacceptable, and I'm sure it would be extremely unpopular among Democrats generally.

Frankly, the prospect of a Dem. Senator is the only reason Judd Gregg should even be
considered for this post. I'm not buying the utility of "bipartisanship" generally, since the Repubs are mostly obstructionist, not "bipartisan." But this would be utterly beyond the pale.

To which I add, if Gregg doesn't want the post, no strings attached, he can turn it down. The Republicans need to wake up and realize they aren't in power anymore. And if they can't do that, then they shouldn't whine about it. Gregg can either get on board and support the President, or get out of the way so someone else can take the post. A Democrat, for instance.

UPDATE 03.02.09: OK, so now this reported "deal" has actually happened. One word: disgusting. Feingold is right, we do need a constitutional amendment to take away the power of governors to appoint to fill Senate vacancies. More to the point, in the current climate, I can't imagine what anyone was thinking in agreeing to this. Gregg isn't worth it.

Senior military leaders tried to convince Obama to go back on Iraq withdrawal campaign pledge

It's being reported that General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, and Secretary Gates all tried (unsuccessfully) to convince President Obama to back off his 16-mo. Iraq withdrawal campaign pledge.

OK, there's nothing wrong with military leaders giving the president advice, even advice they know will not be welcome. In fact, I acknowledge that this, in and of itself, is admirable, and exactly what you want from senior people: their independent assessments. But given the intense politicization of the Bush administration vis-a-vis the Iraq war, using retired brass to secretly sell their war agenda, etc., I think it would be appropriate for Pres. Obama to pass over these individuals and select new senior leaders, who share his vision for the future. Including Gates. Keep him a while, till things are settled, then ask for his resignation. We need a totally new aproach, and these guys aren't it.