Archive for January 4th, 2010

Can Democrats Be Saved By Their Opposition?

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

Make no mistake: the essay you are about to read is not one that is awash in optimism.

There are no shortage of signs that 2010 could be a deeply perilous year for the Democratic Party:

  1. The ghosts of cycles past is certainly going to visit the Democrats with no small amount of woe to follow. It is, in the recent political past, decidedly rare for a political party to have two “wave elections” in a row. Yet that is exactly what the Democrats have enjoyed in both 2006 and 2008, when they gained over a dozen Senate seats and over 50 House seats. This creates two dangerous dynamics for the Democrats: (a) there is precious little low-hanging fruit left for the Democrats to harvest and (b) there are plenty of potentially imperiled Democrats who owe their seats to the favorable electoral climates to which they were elected.
  1. Whereas Democrats benefitted politically from voter discontent in both 2006 and 2008, any lingering voter anger (and recent right track/wrong track polling data confirms it is still very much out there) is likely to get directed disproportionately to the party-in-power. Of course, this is a fluid statistic, and voter malaise in January could become relative contentedness by November, depending on the state of the economy and any legislative accomplishments that can be touted between then and now.
  1. Perhaps the biggest concern for Democrats has to be the sizeable gap between the two parties in terms of voter motivation as we head into 2010. It should give the Democratic Party tremendous pause that, according to the final Daily Kos “State of the Nation” tracking poll, 45% of Democrats identify themselves as either unlikely to vote or certain not to vote. For the Democrats to avoid a major defeat in 2010, this above all other things needs to be rectified.

Democrats, all that having been said, do have a unique weapon at their disposal which might limit their losses in 2010. And it is not the traditional advantages of money, or superior recruits, or even an advantage in open seats (although, despite the hype over Democrats “fleeing” from Congress, the two parties are both defending roughly an equal number of open seats).

Their unique weapon? The Republican Party.

It has gone largely underreported in the traditional press, but the ascendancy of the “tea party” movement brings with it enormous electoral peril for the Republican Party, and carries with it the potential to blunt potential gains for the GOP in what otherwise might have been a very lucrative 2010 election cycle.

The typical trad-med coverage of the “tea party” goings-on have reflected on the ascendancy of the movement and the implications for the Obama administration and their political initiatives. Lost in the coverage was the implications for the Republican Party, save for a brief moment of reflection on that subject in the wake of the electoral outcome in New York’s 23rd district (although even that got buried underneath the tortured attempts to pin the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial results on the Obama administration).

It is mystifying that a simple Google News search of the term “Democrats Divided” yields significantly more results than the term “Republicans Divided” (1060 to 794, for those scoring at home). After all, while it was given scant coverage in the larger narrative of the 2009 election cycle, the odyssey that was the New York 23rd special election might have been the most instructive in understanding the political dynamics of the 2010 electoral cycle.

In retrospect, there were several aspects of the Owens-Scozzafava-Hoffman contest that were extraordinary. It was not just the discontent of the activist Right over the decision to nominate Scozzafava, who like many Northeastern Republicans was not doctrinal on social issues. That, to some extent, was to be expected.

What made the betrayal of DeDe Scozzafava so extraordinary was the reaction of the “official” GOP to the events as they transpired. In short, the reaction was so scattershot that it bordered on the comical.

In one hand, the Republican party funded the Scozzafava candidacy with independent expenditures that may well have topped a million dollars. In the other hand was the steadily increasing number of Republican “regulars” eager to embrace the third-party insurgent conservative, Doug Hoffman. It culminated in the campaign’s final week, when no less a Republican figure than national party chairman Michael Steele essentially abandoned his own nominee, saying that a Hoffman victory would be just fine by him, since Hoffman, too, was a registered Republican.

This is a microcosm of the problem confronting the GOP. They want to harness the potential political energy and power of the “tea party” movement. But they are very wary of ceding their party to that movement. Thus, the often absurd dance of the Republican Party, which in one breath embraces the teabaggers while in the next breath endeavoring hard to keep them at arms length.

Nowhere has this dance been more evident than in one Newt Gingrich. Back in October, he endorsed DeDe Scozzafava, and then pushed back hard when the usual suspects on the right criticized him for embracing a “RINO”:

My number one interest is to build a Republican majority. If your interest is taking power back from the Left, and your interest is winning the necessary elections, then there are times when you have to put together a coalition that has disagreement within it.

We have to decide which business we are in. If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed then I probably made the wrong decision.

Of course, that was then. This is now, in the form of a Newt Gingrich tweet from Saturday:

Every American who is not corrupted by the secular-socialist left should join the Tea Party movement.

Another dilemma for the GOP is that this schism is, in no small part, an inside job. Some of the most vocal proponents of the Republican Party have elected to make themselves leaders of the insurgency.

In some cases, this has come from the realm of the conservative media, where voices like Laura Ingraham are using their fairly vast platform to extol insurgent candidates against candidates that were recruited, in no small part by the GOP. In just the past month, Ingraham has used her show to tout insurgent primary challenges to party-anointed 2010 candidates like Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte and VA-05 House frontrunner Rob Hurt.

In other cases, the push for insurgency has come from within their elected ranks. No one has pushed that envelope further than right-wing U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, who has made it his quest to dramatically reshape the Senate by endorsing and fundraising for insurgent right-wing candidates from coast-to-coast. As James Rosen at McClatchy News Service wrote last month:

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is using his rising national profile among conservative activists to support and bankroll Republican Senate candidates around the country, some of them underdogs challenging GOP establishment favorites.

DeMint’s endorsements of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio over Gov. Charlie Crist and California state Rep. Chuck DeVore over former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina put him at odds with other prominent Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and fellow South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

This movement by DeMint has to rankle Republicans eager to make gains in the Senate. If a sitting Senator like DeMint says that people like Carly Fiorina and Charlie Crist are insufficently conservative to become U.S. Senators, then what can be said about some of the NRSC’s top recruits? Certainly Mike Castle in Delaware, and Rob Simmons in Connecticut (try as he might to embarrassingly he tries  to ingratiate himself to the teabaggers) would not meet the Jim DeMint purity test.

And therein lies a monstrous dilemma for the GOP, one which could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Do they risk dimming the fire of the insurgents by sticking with their anointed “mainstream” candidates? Or do they embrace the insurgents, and wind up anointing unelectable candidates in winnable races (see: Hoffman, Doug)?

Worse yet, does their dithering on the issue actually inspire a spate of conservative third-party challengers, as has already happened in several races?

Any political analyst who does not factor the GOP/teabagger relationship into their electoral calculus may well be missing a potentially pivotal piece of the campaign puzzle.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , , , , ,

End-of-session executive calendar maneuvering

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

In another look back at the Senate’s end-of-session flurry of activity, let’s examine what happened on the 24th, when the Senate approved a raft of nominations by unanimous consent, agreed to hold some over into the second session (also by unanimous consent), and returned others to the President.

First of all, why the race against the adjournment at all? Rule XXXI tells us:

  1. Nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session at which they are made shall not be acted upon at any succeeding session without being again made to the Senate by the President; and if the Senate shall adjourn or take a recess for more than thirty days, all nominations pending and not finally acted upon at the time of taking such adjournment or recess shall be returned by the Secretary to the President, and shall not again be considered unless they shall again be made to the Senate by the President.

With the Senate adjourning its first session sine die on the 24th, all pending nominations had to be disposed of in one way or another. Hence this last minute burst of confirmations:

Confirmed the following Exec Cal items:
#264, #280, #303, #315, #429, #478, #489, #490, #582, #583, #584, #585, #586-587, #593, #594, #595, #596, #597, #598, #599, #600, #601, #611, #612, #613, #621, #624, #626, #632, #633, #634, #635, #636, #637, #638, #638 and all nominations on the Secretary’s desk in the Coast Guard, Foreign Service and NOAA.

What are the actual names behind “Exec Cal items” #264, #280, etc.? Well, bmaz — writing in Emptywheel’s slot at Firedoglake — lists them for you.

Normally, I’d point you to the Executive Calendar itself (PDF) to look them up, but of course those names and numbers have now been cleared from the calendar, since the nominations have been disposed of.

But if you do take a look at the Executive Calendar, you’ll see that it’s still quite full of pending nominations that, in theory, should have been returned to the President at the end of the session, but weren’t. Here’s why:

Mr. CARDIN. As in executive session, I ask unanimous consent that all the nominations received by the Senate during the 111th Congress, first session, remain in status quo, notwithstanding the December 24, 2009, adjournment of the Senate, and that the provisions of rule XXXI, paragraph 6, of the Standing Rules of the Senate, with the following exceptions: PN1119, COL David Teeples; Calendar No. 32, Dawn Johnsen; Calendar No. 205, Mary Smith; Calendar No. 312, Christopher Schroeder; Calendar No. 488, Edward Chen; Nos. 491 and 492, Craig Becker, and Calendar No. 579, Louis Butler.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Pryor). Without objection, it is so ordered.

The upshot? Everyone not confirmed on the 24th has, by unanimous consent, had their nomination held over for consideration during the second session, with the exceptions noted above.

Dawn Johnsen’s nomination has been a flash point for a long time (and see bmaz for more on that). What the particular problems were with the rest, I’m not entirely certain, offhand.

But as you can see, nominees about whom there is some controversy — whether real or manufactured — were easily enough plucked from out of the unanimous consent request, and have so had their nominations effectively killed, unless the President should choose to renominate them. That might lead someone to question why, for instance, the nomination of Erroll Southers — which apparently caused such personal irritation for Jim DuhMint — was allowed to be carried forward into the next session with DuhMint’s consent.

DuhMint’s position, at least up to this point, has basically been that his objection wasn’t so much to Southers personally, but rather stemmed from his desire to have a floor debate about TSA policy toward the unionization of its workers. Of course, now that someone has come up with something on Southers himself, I have little doubt that DuhMint will shift gears and insist that this — or the possibility that something like this existed and might eventually be discovered — was part of his reasoning all along. He may end up needing to try to pull that off, given the backlash against his intransigence created by the attempted Christmas Underpants Bombing.

But do keep in mind that DuhMint is (regrettably enough) a Senator, and therefore could have entered his objections to unionization (or Southers himself) on the record at pretty much any time, on any day. And he may very well have done so on several occasions, for all I know or care. But DuhMint apparently wanted “debate,” meaning he wanted some other Senator to answer his objections, for some reason. Then again, the chances that DuhMint would have bothered to remain on the floor to listen to those answers is probably pretty slim. And the chances that he’d have kept himself open to those arguments and allowed himself to be swayed? Almost certainly zero or thereabouts.

And again, I’m not aware of any objections DuhMint ever made to Southers personally, nor even to the necessity of  ”debating” his nomination so that his personal record could be more thoroughly examined. The objection, as I understood it, was over matters of personnel policy only. So to the extent that DuhMint ends up leaning on this latest discovery as justification for his hold, that’ll have to be taken with a gigantic lump of salt.

Odds that the traditional press will notice, convey that nuance to a mass audience, and challenge any attempt DuhMint might make to rewrite the history of this hold? Also almost certainly zero or thereabouts.

Categories: Politics Tags: , ,

Midday Open Thread

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments
  • A mini-boomlet this weekend of stories about Democratic allegations of political bias by one of the most prolific pollsters in the game: Rasmussen Reports, a case that was made by Greg Sargent and here at Daily Kos back in August. Scott Rasmussen, shockingly, denies it. Nate Silver says that there is more than one way in which a pollster can be biased, and that Rasmussen is hard to defend on a couple of those criteria.
  • Ben and Josh over at Politico raise an issue that is often going unnoticed in all the talk of a GOP resurgence in 2010: the party might lack the resources (read: moolah) necessary to make big gains in this election cycle. It had already been a problem for the GOP (as Kos noted back in November). The bigger issue for the GOP? It is a situation that has not improved.
  • Speaking of underreported 2010 campaign memes, check out this quote from GOP big-time player and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour:

    “People are crazy if they think we win by getting more pure. We win by getting big.”

    Anyone who thinks the GOP-Teabagger schism will not play a huge role in the 2010 cycle is insane.

  • Ha! Ha! Ha! From the sounds of it, expect California GOP standard-bearer Meg Whitman to be a prime candidate for a teabagger insurgency in 2010. The biggest complaint about her campaign, according to GOP insiders? Insufficient fealty to conservatism.
  • If you are a fan of political fisticuffs, the preferred destination for the early part of the cycle may well be the state of Texas. While most of the attention is being focused on the GOP side and the “Clash of the Titans” between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas insiders also say to watch the Democratic Primary between former Houston Mayor Bill White and multimillionaire self-funder Farouk Shami. Some are comparing that race to the legendary Richards-Mattox brawl for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1990.
  • Out of curiosity, what type of outcry do you think would have erupted back in the shoe-bomber days if a Democratic politico said that the shoe bomber “did us a favor” by attempting to attack?
  • A question that every journalist should be prepared to ask Peter Hoekstra, Peter King, and the rest of the GOP terror bloviators: how is it possible for the outgoing president (Bill Clinton) to have been responsible for one early-term terror incident, but for the incoming president (Barack Obama) to have been responsible for the other early-term terror incident?

Categories: Politics Tags: , , , ,

The Year Of Health And Politics

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

No, this isn’t yet another Top 10 list. But looking back at 2009, I do think it’s worth looking at a few of the major health stories we covered here.

One thing I won’t list is the efforts on the health reform bills currently making their laborious way through Congress. It was one of the most important health stories of the year, but we don’t have an ending for it yet.

The other health story of the year, and no surprise to anyone who reads Daily Kos regularly, was the 2009 H1N1 (aka swine flu pandemic), the first in 41 years. Oh, it’s not just me saying so. It’s also HealthDay, CNN, and news editors in Canada:

The H1N1 virus was the top Canadian news story of 2009, according to 70 per cent of the country’s editors and news directors in The Canadian Press’s annual survey of newsrooms.

“It was a coast-to-coast story that people followed with interest no matter where they lived in Canada,” said Lesley Sheppard, managing editor of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, in Moose Jaw, Sask.

But equally important, especially for the contrast and the long term implications was this story: On Cancer Screening, Politics, and Communication. As I wrote on the Arena today:

This past year has two particular health stories outside of the health reform efforts: pandemic (excellent reviews by the bloggers and the press) and mammogram guidelines. Both have deep implications for how our health system functions. But the most interesting observation is how the former (pandemic preparedness) has thankfully not been politicized. Alas, the same cannot be true for the latter. Despite that, evidence based medicine and the need to establish guidelines for what works and what does not are essential to health quality improvements as well as cost control (doing well by doing good), and good sense will prevail. All political parties and persuasions should be pushing for that, and in the end, we will adopt evidence based medicine and improve the system in the next year and years to come.

I want to highlight some of the work done at Flu Wiki by our volunteer bloggers and newshounds, who chase down stories from all over the world, but I also want to point out this excellent summary of how the pandemic seemed to those who were looking for it to happen (Real-world lessons learned.)

Interestingly, in his year-end summary, Donald McNeil writing for the NY Times notes some things that were tough decisions, but decisions that panned out:

…the relatively cautious decisions by the nation’s medical leadership contained the pandemic with minimal disruption to the economy.

For example, in the early days, they ignored advice to close the Mexican border and pre-emptively shut school systems. They released part of the national Tamiflu stockpile, but did not give it to millions of healthy people prophylactically, as Britain did. They ordered vaccine made with a 50-year-old egg technology rather than experimental methods. They bought adjuvants — chemical “boosters” — that could have stretched the first 25 million vaccine doses into 100 million, but did not use them for fear of triggering a backlash among Americans made nervous by the messages of the antivaccine movement.

To alert the public without alarming it, a stream of officials — from doctors in the navy blue and scrambled-eggs gold of the Public Health Service to a somber President Obama in the White House — offered updates, at least twice a week for months.

But the last paragraph is the important one:  

Dr. Frieden said he thought a victory over the antivaccine movement had been scored. Nearly 60 million people have been vaccinated, including many pregnant women and children, with no surge in side effects.

John P. Moore, an AIDS researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College, was less sure. Dr. Moore, who spent years fighting AIDS denialism, has called skepticism about flu vaccine “an unholy alliance of the left and right” because it joined the liberal natural-medicine proponents with anti-big-government conservatives.

“It’s hard to say if it hurt or helped,” Dr. Moore said, pointing out that polls still show a large minority of Americans rejecting the vaccine. “As with AIDS, people have to die before others understand the consequences of ignoring science-based medicine.”

Dr. Frieden is, alas, wrong, if he thinks facts will simply trump opinion, at least not without effort. Only day to day discussions in doctors offices and by officials on a recurring basis will fight the well-funded anti-vax misinformation machine. Well informed people have the right to be skeptics, but the organized for-pay misinformers do us all a disservice, particularly high risk patients who need their vaccines. This one was a publicly paid for vax, no extra charge, but the billions invested in novel manufacturing techniques are yet to pay off, though they are getting closer to reaching fruition.

Was this a less than feared outbreak? Absolutely, though it hit children especially hard. H5N1 (bird flu) is the mother of all flu strains (greater than 60% mortality at the moment), and worse things than swine flu are still out there. But complaints about hurricane warnings because the storm wasn’t as bad as feared are equally misplaced. Well, at least those that deny the possibility of pandemics have been quiet for a few months (don’t count on it lasting any longer than that.)

As for mammograms and guidelines, nothing highlights the dangers of politicizing medicine like that topic does. But what’s important is the concept that everything we do in medicine is right because it’s the US and we do everything best. This “medical exceptionalism”, as highlighted by National Geographic with their “cost of care” graphic, is simply not true.

The United States spends more on medical care per person than any country, yet life expectancy is shorter than in most other developed nations and many developing ones. Lack of health insurance is a factor in life span and contributes to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year. Why the high cost? The U.S. has a fee-for-service system—paying medical providers piecemeal for appointments, surgery, and the like. That can lead to unneeded treatment that doesn’t reliably improve a patient’s health. Says Gerard Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies health insurance worldwide, “More care does not necessarily mean better care.”

But how do we get control of costs? By not spending it on things that don’t work, just because we always have. That means taking hard looks at futile end of life care, looking at cheaper ways to do things (like importing drugs from Canada), relying less on antibiotics that are inappropriately used. In other words, using evidence based medicine to determine what works and what does not (P.S., vaccines work and are very cost effective.) That’s exactly what the new mammogram guidelines do: suggest recommendations based on currently available data, even as they ruffle entrenched interests and entrenched thinking.

The reaction and blow back, which has been considerable, are less aimed at the actual guidelines (”talk to your doctor if you are woman under 50, because we really do not know what’s best”) than the way they were presented (somewhat naively in the midst of health reform debate, immediately hijacked by the “death panel” faction of the Know Nothing Party.) But if you really are serious about quality improvement and cost control, task forces like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) are essential in sorting through facts and opinion. And the more the process is politicized, the worse the country is served.

Don’t expect that to change any time soon. But serious health reform proposals will incorporate evidence based medicine to enrich and improve our lives. And get used to being challenged about what you think you know. That’s going to become an everyday part of our lives.

2009: Tracking The Year In Politics

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

With 2009 now in the rear-view mirror, the weekly tracking poll offered to the readers of Daily Kos allows for an interesting graphical look at the political winds of the year that was.

One thing becomes evident almost immediately: the pivotal month of the year in the realm of politics was the month of August. This is perhaps most evident in the favorability ratings for President Barack Obama:

While the graph shows downward movement throughout the first eight months of the year, it is worth noting that the initial slide was predictable, and in line with pretty much every president as their inaugural honeymoon dissipates.

No one (not even Obama, one presumes) believed his favorabilities would stay north of 65% forever.

But, in the heat of the August recess, that downward shift became more sharp. The president’s net favorability went from +26 on July 30th (62/36) to a mere +9 on September 3rd (52/43).

While his well-received address on health care the following week (and the absurd GOP flap over his speech to the schoolchildren of America) staunched the bleeding, the President’s numbers have basically plateaued since then. He has never recovered the favorability that he had before the month of August.

What might be most alarming for Obama, and by extension the Democratic Party, is that while the President has recovered the adoration of his base (his favorables have actually ticked up a few points since July with Democrats, from 88% to 90%), his numbers with Independents have dipped palpably. What was 70% favorability prior to the August recess now sits at just 54%.

There could be a couple of reasons for this. The right-wing analysis, predictably, is that Independents are appalled by the super-scary socialist stuff, and are repelled by it. That would not explain, however, why only 26% of Independents want a Republican Congress, while the majority are still on the fence about their voting intentions for 2010.

A second explanation is that Independents, since they are not married to either political party, are more about results than they are about particular political positions. The remedy, in that scenario, is simple for Democrats: get things done.

As it stands, Independents have consistently expressed a lower degree of favorability for Republicans in Congress and in the Congressional leadership, which is why the GOP’s Congressional entities have consistently polled lower than their Democratic counterparts this year:

What was once a wide gap has tightened somewhat (helped especially by a surge of support for the GOP from its Republican base in that pivotal month of August), but there is still a pretty substantial gap between the two parties.

There is one other unique trend in these numbers. Notice how, as the health care fight escalated through the latter half of the year, the numbers for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid diverged noticeably.

Reid, it must be noted, did make something of a comeback in the final few weeks of 2009.

Does this divergence between the two parties mean that the conventional wisdom forecasting gloomy 2010 prospects for Democrats are unjustified? The simple answer, unfortunately for Democrats, is: no.

For one thing, as we have tracked over the last month, there is a substantial gap in the relative levels of voting enthusiasm in 2010. This reached an alarming level at the close of the year, where the final tracking poll of the year showed that 45% of Democrats now say that they are either unlikely to vote or certain not to do it.

For another thing, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling said in November that he suspects that people who hold neither political party in esteem will be more likely to vote Republican. His logic: if they are dissatisfied with the course of the country, they’ll vote for the party that offers the greatest likelihood of change from the present circumstance.

This might explain the relatively narrow advantage for Democrats over the last few months of the year on our variation of the Generic Ballot test for the 2010 elections (note: this question did not make its debut in our tracking poll until May):

When the Democrats swept to their large majority in November of 2008, they led the GOP by just over seven percentage points in the aggregate national House vote. More often than not, Democrats have led the GOP by margins less than seven points since the late summer. This would imply, at least on the surface, that the goal for Democrats will be to minimize the number of seats they shed in the 2010 midterms.

Of course, there are still more than ten months to go in the 2010 campaign cycle. Anyone interested in the predictive value of polling might want to look at one statistic that is highlighted weekly in the Daily Kos tracking poll:

It is worth noting that the right track/wrong track metric is not an inviolable predictor of political fortune. After all, Democrats padded their majorities in 2008, despite that particular metric resting at its most pessimistic point in recent history.

The difference between then and now, however, is that there were several places for voters to direct their anger. By virtue of having a deeply unpopular President in the White House, the Republican Party bore the overwhelming brunt of voter disdain.

In 2010, of course, voter anger is likely to be concentrated on the party-in-power. And, unlike 2008, there is only one party in power.

Therefore, Democrats need to see a dramatic shift in the right track/wrong track metric. And the sooner, the better. If they can succeed in raising voter optimism about the state of the nation, their majority will be considerably more comfortable than it is at present.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , , , ,

Remember Naught

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

I was nice about it.  I didn’t make any demands on 2000.  I didn’t fuss that we were nowhere near launching that manned mission to Jupiter’s moons, that we hadn’t broken regolith on the lunar base, or that Pan Am’s service to the orbital hotel was very far behind schedule.  I did not even demand that most basic right of every American — my own flying car.

Now that it’s 2010, I don’t think I can be quite so generous. After all, I went into the decade a relatively young man with parents, grandparents, a series of novels on the shelves, and even a television show about to appear on (not then quite so ubiquitous) basic cable. I came out the other side with a cubicle job, an AARP card, and a lot of “out of print” citations on Amazon. Not exactly a tragedy, but it does leave me feeling that I’m entitled to a least a Nexus 3 to help out around the house. So be warned, 21st century teen decade, I have high expectations for you.

Now that the decade we still don’t know how to name is in rear view (even if the “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Seem” label is still very visible), there’s been something of a movement to forget the last ten years. There are web sites, pundits, and television shows pushing the idea that we should just put the decade of zeros out of our minds, write it off as a lost period, and move on.

Of course, many people remember nothing about the naughts but moments of unmatched horror. To understand why, here’s a simple experiment (animal lovers turn away now) involving rats and a tank of water. Rats can swim, but that doesn’t mean they like it and a rat in the water is generally a rat in panic. Scientists tossed rats into a small tank of water in which a block of clear plastic had been suspended. Everywhere else in the tank it was so deep that the rat had to keep on paddling, but if the rat reached the plastic block it could climb up, rest, and shiver in relief. The scientists let the rats catch their breath, took them out… then tossed them back in again. It may seem cruel, but there’s a point to it. On repeat visits into the tub, rats remembered where the plastic platform was and scrambled over to it much more quickly. But here’s the kicker: rats given a compound that blocked the action of adrenalin on their first visit had a much harder time locating the platform on their return trips. In other words, they remembered better when they were terrified.

The same rules apply to us. If you think you remember the worst days more clearly, it’s because you do. There’s a good reason for this. For a primate making it’s living back in the savanna, every moment of every day wasn’t worth recording in the big book of memories. But the time you went down to the water hole and a leopard nearly jumped you? That one gets a page all it’s own — one with flashy stickers and a bright red border.

As tempting as it is to forget the bad times, the reason there’s a whole friggin’ biological system built around the idea of burning these events irrevocably into your cerebellum in 18pt type is so you don’t do it again.

Here’s the thing about the naughts: there was nothing magic about the numbers. It wasn’t because of a double-zero in the middle of the dates that we launched an invasion that’s cost the lives of thousands of Americans, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and a trillion dollars plus out of the pocketbooks of taxpayers. We launched into that still unresolved idiocy because of bad policy based on the conservative philosophy of smash things first, think never. We went there because of a extreme version of American exceptionalism, one that views America as above the the rules of law and exempt from questions of morality. A view that says not only if the president does it, it’s not a crime, but that if America does it, it can’t be wrong.

It wasn’t the decade that caused the economy to come down in tatters. It was a conservative approach to the marketplace that views government as the enemy, greed as the only acceptable motivation, and the only solution for disasters brought on by a lack of regulation as still less regulation.

It wasn’t the calendar that brought down the banks, or American manufacturing, or American’s influence around the world. It wasn’t the date that added torture to the list of growth industries while erasing our budget surplus.

Don’t forget the naughts, because this decade, no matter what anyone on the right might say, was conservatism on trial. You want less taxes? You got less taxes. You want less regulation? You got less regulation. Open markets? Wide open. An illusuion of security in place of rights? Hey, presto. Think we should privatize war by handing unlimited power given to military contractors so they can kick butt and take names? Kiddo, we passed out boots and pencils by the thousands. Everything, everything, that ever showed up on a drooled-over right wing wish list got implemented — with a side order of Freedom Fries.

They will try to disown it, and God knows if I was responsible for this mess I’d be disowning it, too. But the truth is that the conservatives got everything they wanted in the decade just past, everything that they’ve claimed for forty years would make America “great again”. They didn’t fart around with any “red dog Republicans.” They rolled over their moderates and implemented a conservative dream.

What did we get for it? We got an economy in ruins, a government in massive debt, unending war, and the repudiation of the world. There’s no doubt that Republicans want you to forget the last decade, because if you remember… if you remember when you went down to the water hole and were jumped by every lunacy that ever emerged from the wet dreams of Grover Norquist and Dick Cheney, well, it’s not likely that you’d give them a chance to do it again.

And they will. Given half a chance — less than half — they’ll do it again, only worse. Because that’s the way conservatism works. Remember when the only answer to every economic problem was “cut taxes?” We have a surplus. Good, let’s cut taxes. We have a deficit. Hey, cut taxes even more! That little motto was unchanging even when was clear that the tax cuts were increasing the burden on everyone but a wealthy few. That’s just a subset of the great conservative battle whine which is now and forever “we didn’t go far enough.” If deregulation led to a crash, it’s because we didn’t deregulate enough. If the wars aren’t won, it’s because we haven’t started enough wars. If there are people still clinging to their rights, it’s because we haven’t done enough to make them afraid.

Forget the naughts, and you’ll forget that conservatives had another chance to prove all their ideas, and that their ideas utterly and completely failed. Again.

The point of remembering bad events is to stop them from repeating. So remember, and remind others if they start to forget. Because really, this is one trip to the water hole we can’t afford to repeat.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , , , ,

Your Abbreviated Pundit Round-up

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

Sunday, and I still keep writing ‘09 instead of ‘10. It’ll come in time… for ‘11. And Connecticut now requires area codes for local calls. Wish I could remember how to program the cellphone. Oh, well, the pundits call it progress… now where did I put that Top 10 list of Top 10 lists?


If we have overindulged in anything these past several days, it is neither holiday ham nor American football; it is Top 10 lists. We have been stuffed full of them. Even in these self-restrained pages, it has been impossible to avoid the end-of-the-decade accountings of the 10 best such-and-suches and the 10 worst fill-in-the-blanks.

And so, in the spirit of rock star excess, I offer yet another.

Nick Kristof has his list of Top 10 micronutrients (what we used to call “vitamins and minerals”.)

So what’s the most scrumptious, wholesome, exquisite, healthful, gratifying food in the world?

It’s not ambrosia, and it’s not even pepperoni pizza. Hint: It’s far cheaper. A year’s supply costs less than the cheapest hamburger.

Frank Ahrens: Top 10 bankster quotes:

Lloyd Blankfein

Goldman Sachs chief executive, responding to the Times of London about criticism of the firm’s big bonuses, on Nov. 8

What he said: “He’s “doing God’s work.”
What he meant: “It’s a joke. Get it?”

Blankfein, days later, when announcing a multimillion-dollar PR program to help small businesses:

What he said: “I apologize.”
What he meant: “Yeah, not so funny. My bad. [Pause.] By the way: We’re still giving out bonuses.”

Kevin Huffman: Top 10 ways to fix the education system. Start with getting better administrators, fire lousy teachers and get parents to do their job. Simple, no?

Steven Flynn: Top 10 5 WoT® myths. My favorite?

1. Terrorism is the gravest threat facing the American people.

The threat from too many Top 10 lists is actually far greater. It’s a good piece, but Flynn was apparently kidnapped before he could finish the last 5. Still polls (like the NY Times poll) show terrorism coming in at less than 1% ranking for “most important problem”. I should send this to Maureen Dowd.

Wait… who are those guys with sunglasses and ear pieces at the front door? And what’s a black helicopter doing on my lawn?

Categories: Politics Tags: , , ,

Sunday Talk – The Best and the Brightest

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

While there’s much room for debate about the top things of the decade, the funniest political videos, biggest media fuck-ups and most moranic protest signs of the year, and whether or not Rahm Emanuel deserves to be drowned in a bathtub, I think there’s one thing we can all agree upon:

America has the greatest health care system the world has ever known.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , , ,

Open Thread and Diary Rescue

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

Tonight’s rangers are mem from somerville, blank frank, HoosierDeb, ybruti, and mtperson, with jlms qkw and YatPundit sharing edit duties.

Remember, this is the best writing of the day, albeit under-appreciated thus far. Show the diarists some recommends, comments, and mojo.

jotter has High Impact Diaries: January 1, 2009.

sardonyx tells us who has lots of time to type in Top Comments: The Prolific Commenters, October through December 2009.

Please join us this evening by suggesting your favorite diaries from today in this Open Thread.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , ,

Will Terry Moran Ask About "the dumbest term … you could use"?

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

While it’s not clear if Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) will continue his efforts to cash in on terrorism when he appears tomorrow on ABC’s This Week, there is no doubt that he will continue to politicize the attempted terrorist attack that took place on Christmas day.

The only question is, will Terry Moran, guest-hosting for George Stephanopoulos, allow Hoekstra to peddle the GOP talking points or will he challenge the spin? In light of the attacks by Dick Cheney and other Republicans about the President not using the phrase, “war on terror,” will Moran remind Hoekstra that in 2008, he said:

… the phrase ”war on terror” was the “dumbest term…you could use”.

If Hoekstra repeats the charge that:

… the U.S. needs to be more forward-leaning in its approach to terrorism and put into place the latest technology for dealing with it.

… will Moran point out that Hoekstra, along with his fellow-Republicans, voted against:

… more than $4 billion for “screening operations,” including $1.1 billion in funding for explosives detection systems, including $778 million for buying and installing the systems.

And finally, when Hoekstra bemoans the Obama administration’s “slow response” to the near-tragedy in Detroit, will Moran ask him if he had a similar reaction in 2001, in the wake of the nearly identical attempt to bring down an airliner.

Or will it be an hour of fair and balanced demagoguery?

Categories: Politics Tags: , ,