Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

2440 posts categorized "Politics"

February 24, 2010

The White House and Stupak

Amy Sullivan writes:

The President's proposal has, by virtue of not altering the Senate language on abortion coverage, opted for Ben Nelson's formulation rather than Bart Stupak's stricter standard. The Stupak amendment, you'll remember, was deemed necessary back in November to break the logjam in the House and get enough pro-life Democratic votes to pass health reform.

This post is part of a strange emerging conventional wisdom that it's significant that the White House didn't address abortion in its health care proposal.

The thing is, the White House never had the option of altering the Senate's language on abortion coverage. I mean, the president could have proposed whatever he wanted, but there would have been no way to make that alternate proposal into law without scrapping health reform and starting over.

At this point, any changes to the Senate health bill will have to be made through budget reconciliation. With his proposal, the president is telling the Senate what he wants them to try to pass through reconciliation.

Under the Byrd Rule, budget reconciliation is only for provisions that affect outlays and revenues. The Stupak amendment disqualifies private insurers from receiving subsidies if they offer abortion coverage that customers pay for with their own money. It doesn't materially affect the federal budget. So, there's no way to slip it into the Senate bill through reconciliation.

I don't think the White House wants to change the abortion language in the Senate bill anyway, but it's a moot point.

The Weathermen were terrorists

Ta-Nehesi Coates writes:

All jokes aside, again, I think the problem here is defining terrorist strictly as the work of "foreign attackers" is really dubious. Newsweek certainly had no problem identifying Bill Ayers as a "former terrorist" in its subhed back in 08. I'm not in their newsroom. But I'd be very interested to see whether they debated this.

The Weathermen were definitely terrorists. Just because they operated domestically doesn't make them any less terroristic. The IRA, the UDL, and the ETA are terrorist organizations that operate on home turf.

Terrorism is a tactic. It can be perpetrated by a group of people, or by a lone individual, at home or abroad. The essence of terrorism is using spectacular violence for psychological leverage in the service of ideology.

A terrorist attack is designed to spark fear out of all proportion to the person/group's operational capacity to inflict casualties, and therefore to give the terrorists disproportionate influence--either to coerce a population or a government directly, or to provoke their adversaries into an overreaction that will set off a backlash.

Terrorists hope to distort our perception of risk by committing memorable, dramatic, "telegenic" atrocities.

I can see some justification for reserving the term terrorist for those who are part of organized groups. If if an attack is obviously a suicide mission by a lone assailant, that kind of defeats the purpose of a terror attack. The attacker loses a lot of leverage by dying and thereby removing further credible threats.

On the other hand, not all terrorists are suicide bombers. Tim McVeigh was clearly a terrorist. He didn't team up with an organization to destroy the federal building in Oklahoma City--but he had enough ties to the right-wing, anti-government movement to make us wonder. If he hadn't been caught, he probably would have committed more attacks. Years after McVeigh's execution, you still see Teabaggers showing up at rallies in "Tree of Liberty" t-shirts, an homage to McVeigh.

Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, waged a 17-year terror campaign against scientists, mathematicians, lobbyists, and other symbols of technological society. Early in his career, he nearly brought down an American Airlines flight with a bomb in the cargo hold. At one point, Kaczynski wrote a letter to the New York Times falsely claiming to be part of a group called the FC, or the Freedom Club. Was Kaczynski really any less of a terrorist because he turned out to be the FC's only member?

The lone wolf vs. group divide is looking increasingly arbitrary the era of networked organizations and virtual social movements. Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan acted alone, but he saw himself as being part of a much larger project.

In an age of mass communication and media, even a suicide bomber can hope to kindle a chain reaction that will continue long after he's gone. IRS bomber Joe Stack hoped that his attack would inspire others to rise up against the government, and sure enough, within minutes of the crash online shrines were popping up all over the web.

Weekly Pulse: Obama gives GOP rope to hang itself at health care summit

Tomorrow, President Obama will gather with Republicans for the long-awaited televised health care summit. Obama will promote his health care proposal, the Republicans will demand that we start over.

Even House Minority Leader John Boehner dimly senses that the GOP is walking into a trap. The public is thoroughly sick of the health reform process, but people still like the idea of health care reform. So, the GOP can't just say "kill the bill" in public. Instead, Republicans have to make disingenuous speeches about "starting over," knowing full well that if health care reform dies now, it'll stay dead.

Boehner must realize that starting over is about as appealing as National Root Canal Week at the DMV. But what can he do? The Republicans have no ideas beyond "tax cuts cure cancer." And they can't boycott the summit, or they'll lose the "bipartisan" blinking contest.

So, when Obama gets on TV and lays out his reasonable-sounding plan, complete with protections against private insurers who want to hike your premiums 39% overnight, he's going to sound good and the Republicans are going to sound crazy.

Brilliant tactician Boehner is now exhorting Republicans to "crash the party" they've already been invited to.

It's a trap, alright.

February 19, 2010

Hannah Giles admits O'Keefe didn't wear pimp costume to ACORN (Correction)

Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent got an amazing scoop from CPAC.

Conservative activist Hannah Giles flat-out admitted to Dave that collaborator James O'Keefe never wore his pimp costume during their attempted hidden camera stings of the anti-poverty group ACORN:

I asked Giles about a criticism that’s often been leveled against them — that they hyped up the video by wearing outrageous clothes in promotional materials and the videos’ introductions that they didn’t wear in the actual stings.

“We never claimed that he went in with a pimp costume,” said Giles. “That was b-roll. It was purely b-roll. He was a pimp, I was a prostitute, and we were walking in front of government buildings to show how the government was whoring out the American people.”

I guess the New York Times is going to have to issue that clarification after all.

Correction: I took Giles to mean that the costumed footage of her as a prostitute and him as a pimp was staged outside the ACORN offices. After reviewing the videos, I'm convinced that she wore that costume into an ACORN office at least once.

Recall that O'Keefe didn't even pose as a pimp during the ACORN stings. He work khakis and claimed to be the college student boyfriend of a prostitute, Giles, who was trying to get away from her abusive pimp. Naturally, that didn't stop O'Keefe from going on TV in his pimp costume and inviting the inference that he wore the suit during the sting. 

At least Giles posed as a prostitute at the ACORN offices. That much was never in doubt. The question is whether she wore that prostitute costume. The videos show her in various sexy outfits in ACORN offices. She isn't always as flamboyantly dressed as she is in the famous promo shot with her and O'Keefe in full pimpin' regalia, but she appears to have worn that memorable leather halter top and sarong ensemble into the Baltimore office ACORN office. She looks more ordinary in some of the other stings, like the San Diego operation, where she's dressed in a pink tank top and clunky jewelery--though, since the video is shot from the waist up, for all we know, she's not wearing any pants.

Andrew Breitbart has been forced to admit that O'Keefe never dressed as a pimp to sting ACORN.

Of course it was terrorism

I can't believe people are seriously debating whether yesterday's suicide attack on the IRS building in Austin was an act of terrorism. If the manifesto attributed to pilot Joe Stack and published on his website is authentic, then he was a terrorist.

This passage should remove all doubt:

Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough).  In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws.

I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand.  It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants.  I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after.  But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change.  I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less.  I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are.  Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

A classic definition of terrorism is using force, or the threat of force, to coerce a civilian population to advance a political or ideological agenda.

Stack wasn't politically-motivated in the sense that his agenda fits any recognizable political philosophy. His manifesto isn't liberal or conservative, it's a paranoid incoherent mishmash of populism, rage, and self-pity.

Still, Stack thought he was striking a blow against a tyrannical government. He wasn't like the disgruntled postal worker who decides to destroy all the supervisors who made his life miserable. Stack said he hoped that his spectacular act of violence would galvanize others to rebel against the government. Those are clearly political motives.

Sure, he wanted revenge, but he intended for his act of vengeance to have broader repercussions. Stack's attitude wasn't so different from a Palestinian suicide bomber who hopes his martyrdom will inspire others. It wasn't a totally irrational idea. Within minutes of the crash, Stack fan sites were springing up online.

In his manifesto, Stack explicitly articulated a motive often attributed to terrorists: Goading an adversary to overreact, thereby fueling a backlash. Osama bin Laden hoped that the 9/11 attacks would provoke the U.S. into declaring war on a Muslim country. Stack hoped to provoke the U.S. government into further unpopular restrictions on personal liberties.

Terrorism isn't a natural kind. It's a somewhat arbitrary category that is supposed to encompass a broad spectrum of behavior. The best definition is the one that draws the most illuminating distinctions.

The most interesting hallmark of terrorism is the use of spectacular violence for psychological leverage. The terrorist knows that a big enough atrocity will force us to pay attention to him, and by extension, his political agenda. Stack was in no position to lead an insurgency against the U.S. government, but he could own the news cycle for a day or two. By this definition, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan was a terrorist. He apparently wanted to strike a blow for his version of Islam against the U.S. military. 

There are gray areas, of course. Real life is a lot messier than the neat categories we create to make sense of it. There's probably a continuum between terrorists and mass killers with more personal motives.

Was ultra-misogynist gym shooter George Sodini a terrorist according to the leverage through spectacle criterion? Arguably he was because he went on a shooting spree to draw attention to his alleged grievances against the entire female gender, and no doubt to intimidate or coerce women in general. Though he didn't make any specific political demands, his spree definitely had a strong ideological component.

Contrast Stark, Hasan, and Sodini with Jiverly Voong who gunned down 14 people at an immigration services center in Binghamton, New York. Voong was lonely, unhappily unemployed, and furious at the world, but it seems unlikely that he went on the rampage to draw attention to the plight of people like him, or some social or political condition that he blamed for his misery. 

Terrorism has always been a tool of asymmetrical conflict--a tactic used by the weak against the strong. But in an age of mass media, terrorists gain ever more power over us. Any attack anywhere is national news for days. We live in fear, not that we're going to get blown up, but that someone, somewhere is going to blow himself up and the whole world will go crazy. It's the crazification we should be afraid of.

Terrorists, and the demagogues who gain power by promising to protect us from terrorists, are exploiting our inability to reason objectively about risks. Terrorism has never killed as many Americans as automobile accidents. Yet the U.S. reshaped its entire foreign policy and legal system in response to terrorist attacks.  Whether counter-terrorism real motive is irrelevant. The point is that large numbers of people decided the terror threat dire enough to Change Everything.

So it's no surprise that future disgruntled zealots who hope to Change Everything will look to terrorism.

February 18, 2010

Governor Paterson, you have piqued my interest

Today, the Times published what is arguably the best quote ever from a New York governor:

“This latest kind of bashing of me is a depiction of me in what is, in my opinion, a racialized, hypersexualized and more or less dissolute context,” [Gov. David Paterson] said, adding, “I resent this sort of, in my opinion, and I’ll be frank with you, kind of profiled way that it appears that all I’m doing is drinking, chasing women, doing drugs.” [NYT] 

Okay, Governor, what else?

The Daily Beast's Top 25 Lefty Journos

Blogger Ezra Klein, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

The Daily Beast ran a list of its Top 25 Lefty Journalists, as ranked by Tunku Varadarajan.

The good news: Jessica Valenti, Ezra Klein, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Jane Hamsher, Markos Moulitsas, Rachel Maddow, Eric Alterman, and a host of other lefty luminaries.

The bad news, they used my photo of Ezra Klein without asking permission.

[Update: I emailed the Daily Beast to ask for a credit and they immediately set things right. So, more good news.]

The list probably should have been called "The Liberal Establishment's Top 25 Public Intellectuals/Pundits/Media Personalities, Including Several Journalists." I mean, Arianna Huffington made the list. She's a media entrepreneur, but not a journalist.

Best Of lists are always wildly subjective and it's generally stupid to make strong prescriptive arguments about what should have made someone else's list.

It all depends on how you define your terms. By "top" do you mean the most influential or the most excellent, or maybe some weighted combination of the two? Who's on the left? Varadarajan is a fellow of the Hoover Institution, so I imagine his definition of left is quite different from mine. Is it enough to be personally left-wing, or does the politics have to come through in the work itself?

Instead of arguing about what should have been on Varadarajan's list, here are some names that didn't make his list, but would have made mine: Sy Hersh, Jeremy Scahill, Naomi Klein, Ken Silverstein, Jeff Sharlet, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jane Mayer, Dahlia Lithwick, Tom Geoghegan, and Harold Meyerson. Update: I can't believe I forgot Amy Goodman.

I don't know if Michael Pollan self-identifies as a leftist or a journalist, but he makes my list because his work has galvanized an entire generation of lefties.

Matt Taibbi probably doesn't qualify because he's more of a nihilist than a lefty, but it's a tough call. In terms of sheer influence, you could make a case for Malcolm Gladwell, though I'm also unsure whether he counts as a man of the left, or even the left of center.  Nick Kristof is more of a neo-liberal than a lefty, but he does great work on women's issues and poverty. 

You can play along at home. Please do.

February 17, 2010

Bayh-partisanship = Giving your seat to a Republican

In this week's Pulse we look at the implications Sen. Evan Bayh's (D-IN) decision not to seek reelection. As an incumbent, he could have easily won another term. But Bayh says he's fed up with partisanship in Washington. So, he's quitting and handing his job to a Republican. Blue Dog bipartisanship in a nutshell.

Maybe the Senate Democrats will snap out of their stupor and resolve to do something with their dwindling majority before it's too late. They're scared because they're unpopular, but they're unpopular because they're too scared to pass anything.

February 11, 2010

Conservatives want to stick it to the weather hippies

The northeast is facing the snowiest winter in living memory. New Jersey and Delaware have already spent their entire budgets for snow removal and we're not even halfway through February. State budgets have already been slashed to the bone and states can't borrow extra money to make up for the shortfall. 

So, there are two options: i) Write 'em off until spring thaw; ii) Send in FEMA with snowplows. President Obama, like any reasonable person, has chosen the latter. The alternative would be to let the economic powerhouse of the northeast grind to a halt.

Predictably, the conservative Heritage Foundation is railing against a "snow bailout". As far as they're concerned, the U.S. taxpayer shouldn't have to subsidize losers who live in states with weather. Enterprising and upright Americans live somewhere free of snow, sleet, hail, hurricanes, heat waves, ice storms, dust storms, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, droughts, severe hoar frost, and other climactic upheavals.

If you want to live in a state with weather, go ahead, but don't expect Uncle Sam to subsidize your edgy lifestyle. As far as they're concerned, New Jersey is a moral hazard. Admittedly, they have a point, but not because of federal snow removal.

As Amanda points out, these spending scolds get to have it both ways. They know perfectly well that Obama isn't going to let snow paralyze the economy. So, they can score political points, secure in the knowledge that their roads will be plowed.

February 04, 2010

Of course the National Enquirer should be eligible for a Pulitzer Prize

The editor of the National Enquirer is openly angling for a Pulitzer Prize for the tabloid's expose of John Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, secret love child, and alleged use of campaign funds to underwrite his indiscretions.

I tend to agree with John Cook of Gawker on this one, the National Enquirer should probably be in the running. Like it or not, this was one of the big scoops of the year. Well, the last two years, really. As an investigative reporter, I like to see institutions rewarded for investing in old fashioned investigations. An insider didn't just hand this story to the Enquirer on a silver platter, they went out and dug for it.

Just to be clear, I'm not hoping the Enquirer's Edwards coverage wins. At end of the day, it was mostly tawdry gossip. It was tawdry gossip that assumed meta-importance because everyone knows that gossip influences elections, but still.

Besides, Edwards was already politically finished by the time the Enquirer nailed down the details. I'm sure the Pulitzer judges can find reporting that had a bigger impact, maybe even work that exposed injustice or--gasp--made someone's life better.

Enquirer's reputation of paying for information should complicate its Pulitzer ambitions. That's generally considered a no-no in mainstream journalism. That said, big news outlets routinely find ways to pay celebrity interview subjects without paying them. For example, sometimes they'll pay the subject a ridiculous fee to license some snapshot of the person with the understanding that the photograph comes with an exclusive interview. 

According to John Cook, there's nothing in the Pulitzer rulebook that disqualifies checkbook journalism. But that doesn't mean that judges shouldn't take reporting methods into account. Information volunteered freely is generally better and more reliable journalism than the word of paid informants.

It would also be harmful to the profession to openly reward checkbook journalism. (If that's actually what the Edwards coverage was based on.) If pay-to-pay becomes the norm, journalism becomes even more of a gated community. When it comes time to hand out awards, corporations that buy scoops should get less consideration than reporters who earn them the old fashioned way.

We don't know that the Enquirer paid for info in the Edwards story. Rumor has it that there were plenty of disgruntled people willing to spill for free. If the Enquirer's editor can assure the Pulitzer judges that his reporters played by generally accepted journalistic rules, then the series should at least be a serious contender for the prize--assuming the judges find the editor's claims credible. 

Cook does a good job of debunking several the nitpicky excuses for disqualifying the Edwards coverage outright, such as the claim that the Enquirer isn't eligible because it isn't really a newspaper.

Treating the Enquirer's Edwards reporting a serious Pulitzer contender is like nominating Avatar for Best Picture. I seriously doubt it was the year's best film, but an endeavor that succeeds so spectacularly on its own terms deserves to be nominated.