Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: February 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bus Blogging

I wish I could tell you why, every single time I get on a bus that has a choice of seats, I inevitably gravitate to the seat over the wheel. Without fail. I did it today, but after a few stops, I had to get up to move. There'd been a woman nearby who was rather loudly talking on the phone, and she may have thought I was moving away from her, but I was actually sorry that I couldn't continue listening to her. She was complaining about someone she knew having trouble in the Hollywood TV industry. "It's not fair," she said, "that some people become stars on shows and then they just go on to the next series to be stars again. But David never wanted that." It's certainly true that some people seem to settle into TV on a number of roles, but there are plenty of people who shoot up to TV stardom in one role and then disappear. And then there are others who make random appearances on random shows but are never able to make a career of it. I'm not sure that fairness ever enters into the equation. Anyway, I was disappointed to move farther away without getting a chance to figure out who David might be. The most info I got was that he's 21 but plays a teenager in whatever show he's in. I know, that really narrows it down.

All that to finally get around to the subject that made me pull my Blackberry out in the first place. A woman, in what I'd guess to be her late 20s got on the bus and pulled out her copy of Watchmen. I know that comics and graphic novels are more socially accepted than they once were, but I guess I'm still not used to actually seeing that play out. So now I'm curious--who else is seeing Watchmen in unexpected places or contexts?

Quick Hits

Earlier tonight, we had misplaced a piece of art I bought from Jeff Lemire a couple of months ago (it's a variation of what was in the window of The Beguiling, a prominent Toronto comics store, two Christmases ago). Fortunately, it didn't take too awfully long before we found the artwork, but it does give me the opportunity to link to his blog, which is overloaded with great artwork. If you don't know, Lemire is the creator of the Essex County trilogy from Top Shelf, which is well worth your time. He's also a new dad.

Like just about everybody else who watched the Oscar show, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I were quite surprised with the way the traditional "In Memorium" montage. In case you didn't see it, Queen Latifah sang while various screens on the stage showed movie people who had died during the previous year. Unfortunately, the cameras were spending so much time panning around and moving in and out through the screens that it was often hard to catch exactly who it was we were supposed to be commemorating. Possibly to make up for that confusion, the Academy has posted the actual montage that the screens were showing. Mark Evanier has embedded it in a post on his blog, so you can see who exactly it was that we were intending to honor. He's also got a list (more extensive than you might've guessed) of people who could've been included but, for whatever reason weren't.

Just following up from the other night, Dean Grose, the mayor of Los Alamitos who sent out an e-mail depicting the White House lawn as a watermelon patch, has decided that maybe he can't fulfill his duties as effectively as he had been doing now that much of the world has seen the racist drivel that he likes to forward to his friends. (He's still hanging on to his city council seat, though.) And he's still standing by his claim that he hadn't intended the joke to be taken in that manner and was surprised when it was. Who could've known there was any kind of pre-existing negative stereotype about African Americans and watermelon?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Honor the Sacrifice

The Pentagon today changed its policy of prohibiting photos to be taken of coffins returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a shift in policy that's long overdue. Although the intention of the Bush administration (and the Clinton and previous Bush administrations, as well) was to hide the cost of these wars. Deaths were reported, of course, but we never got to see any actual evidence, on the theory that the remains of dead soldiers would just inflame the public against the military actions. I won't pretend that this result would be negligible, but it always seemed to me that the policy of hiding the dead also disrespects them. We're asking soldiers to pay the ultimate price to defend our policies, but when they lose their lives in that endeavor, the government acts as though it doesn't really want anyone to know. These aren't lives that can be thrown away with no consequences. Some families may feel that the attention is invasive, and the Defense Department will honor their preferences.

My reaction was nicely summed up by Jon Soltz, chairman of

"So many Americans want to have Memorial Day once a year when they go to the beach and cook hot dogs in the backyard," Mr. Soltz said. "This is a way for Americans to see and honor the sacrifice of our fallen when it occurs. It's something our public should be aware of."

We should definitely be aware of the price that is paid, but we should also be aware of those who have paid it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Republicanism: The New Bliss

What's the new fascination with ignorance? Yeah, yeah, it's not exactly new, but it does seem to be in vogue these days, especially among Republicans. The straw that made me start to wonder about this was a story about an e-mail forwarded by Dean Grose, the mayor of Los Alamitos, California. Entitled "No Easter egg hunt this year," the e-mail depicted the White House lawn being turned into a watermelon patch, which, I guess, means that there's no room for Easter eggs--although from the picture, it looks like there's plenty of places for the Easter Bunny to hide its bounty. He sent this e-mail to at least one African American businessperson, who was (reasonably enough) offended. He of course immediately countered that he hadn't meant to offend anyone, but the actual ignorance came from further explanation. He claims that he "was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons." I don't even have a comment in response to that. I do wonder, though, if what he says is true, what exactly did he think the joke of the e-mail was? It's either racist or completely nonsensical.

I was just going to write about that, but then I realized that it's only the latest example of feigned ignorance on the right. Last night in his response to Obama's address, Bobby Jindal criticized money for "something called 'volcano monitoring.'" Now, the man is a Rhodes Scholar. What was it exactly about the juxtaposition of the words volcano and monitoring that eluded him?

And George Will--how reclusive is he? After his speech, Barack Obama was seen embracing someone. Will's response? "I don't know when men started to hug each other, but hug they do, and look at that." Brad DeLong sums up the sad situation.

I think it is safe to say that George F. Will has never played a sport, or watched a sport in a bar, or spent any time on a trading floor . . .

Paul Krugman says that the Republicans have become the party of Beavis and Butthead. At least that may make them entertaining (to a point).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Quick Question

Did I miss Rick Santelli's rant against Northern Trust? Maybe I can find it on YouTube.

Those Addresses

I listened to part of Obama tonight, but I got all of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's Republican response. The President's address seems to be getting a wildly successful response. It seems like he hit all the right notes in just the right tone. You can watch it or you can read it and come to your own conclusion.

As I said, I heard these, listening on the radio rather than watching on TV, so I don't know if the experience was somewhat different, but Jindal sounded awful. His delivery was very stilted, and I wondered exactly what he was trying to accomplish. I think my favorite moment was when he told the entire country that we can't depend on government to help us because George Bush and FEMA ignored Katrina when it devastated New Orleans. It all goes back to Reagan's "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem" (his "and watch me prove it" was just implied). When I got home and looked up reaction, I discovered that it wasn't just me. David Brooks called Jindal's response "a form of nihilism" and "a disaster for the Republican Party." The governor couldn't even get Fox News behind him. I guess he doesn't really need to start worrying, though, until talk of his chances for 2012 start fading away.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tory Tendencies

George Will wants to make the Senate more like the House of Lords. He thinks the Senate would be better served if it could just sidestep those annoying voters and get themselves appointed by state legislatures. That, of course, is how the Constitution originally set up the selection of senators, but in the 220 years since the Constitution was ratified, it has become progressively more and more inclusive. African-American men were made citizens and granted the vote after the Civil War. Women were allowed to vote in 1920. And senators became subject to popular vote in 1913. But George Will thinks we should go back:

[Senator Russ] Feingold says that mandating election of replacement senators is necessary to make the Senate as "responsive to the people as possible." Well. The House, directly elected and with two-year terms, was designed for responsiveness. The Senate, indirectly elected and with six-year terms, was to be more deliberative than responsive.

Furthermore, grounding the Senate in state legislatures served the structure of federalism. Giving the states an important role in determining the composition of the federal government gave the states power to resist what has happened since 1913 -- the progressive (in two senses) reduction of the states to administrative extensions of the federal government.

Severing senators from state legislatures, which could monitor and even instruct them, made them more susceptible to influence by nationally organized interest groups based in Washington. Many of those groups, who preferred one-stop shopping in Washington to currying favors in all the state capitals, campaigned for the 17th Amendment. So did urban political machines, which were then organizing an uninformed electorate swollen by immigrants. Alliances between such interests and senators led to a lengthening of the senators' tenures.

You'd almost think that the "uninformed electorate swollen by immigrants" didn't vote for the state legislators. But anything that creates distance between voters and their representatives seems to be good in Will's eyes. It's a good thing that he was born into the modern era. Had he been around in 1776, you know he would've supported the Redcoats.

So What's the Point, Then?

Harry Reid has researched filibusters, and he's come to a very disappointing conclusion: They can't bring the "real" filibuster back. I've supported the idea of forcing anyone who wants to filibuster to get up and actually filibuster in the classic sense, just like Jimmy Stewart. If you're going to block legislation from getting a chance, you should have to pay some sort of price. It turns out, though, that no, you don't have to pay a price.

Reid's office has studied the history of the filibuster and analyzed what options are available. The resulting memo was provided to the Huffington Post and it concludes that a filibustering Senator "can be forced to sit on the [Senate] floor to keep us from voting on that legislation for a finite period of time according to existing rules but he/she can't be forced to keep talking for an indefinite period of time."

Bob Dove, who worked as a Senate parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001, knows Senate rules as well as anyone on the planet. The Reid analysis, he says, is "exactly correct."

To get an idea of what the scene would look like on the Senate floor if Democrats tried to force Republicans to talk out a filibuster, turn on C-SPAN on any given Saturday. Hear the classical music? See the blue carpet behind the "Quorum Call" logo? That would be the resulting scene if Democrats forced a filibuster and the GOP chose not to play along.

As both Reid's memo and Dove explain, only one Republican would need to monitor the Senate floor. If the majority party tried to move to a vote, he could simply say, "I suggest the absence of a quorum."

The presiding officer would then be required to call the roll. When that finished, the Senator could again notice the absence of a quorum and start the process all over. At no point would the obstructing Republican be required to defend his position, read from the phone book or any of the other things people associate with the Hollywood version of a filibuster.

So all this makes me wonder why we haven't reached this point of unceasing filibusters before? If the minority can make the majority cobble together sixty votes for every vote, why hasn't it always been this way? What stopped previous minorities before the Republicans in 2006 to threaten filibusters all the time? Has there somehow been a political price that the majority Democrats simply aren't collecting these days? And now that we've reached this point, now that the filibuster isn't an extraordinary measure but simply business as usual, what's the argument not to get rid of it altogether?

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's Good to Remember

I stumbled over an intriguing story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune today. A couple of weeks ago, two descendants of Plessy and Ferguson dedicated a plaque in New Orleans to commemorate the Supreme Court case that immortalized their names.

Plessy v. Ferguson, in case you don't remember from history classes, was the case in which Homer Plessy, a man reportedly of one-eighth black ancestry, was arrested for riding on a train in the white car instead of the black car. He had been recruited by the New Orleans Citizens' Committee, a proto-Civil Rights organization, to be the subject of a test case in 1892. The case was first taken in front of Judge John Howard Ferguson in New Orleans, where Plessy was found guilty. The Citizens' Committee appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Times-Picayune perhaps summed the situation up best: "Everything the committee plotted went as planned -- except for the final court decision." Intriguingly, the Court was made up mostly of Northerners, but in a 7-1 decision (with one abstention), it ruled that keeping races apart in separate train cars wasn't unconstitutional. Sure, all men may be created equal, but that doesn't mean they have to sit next to each other! The decision stated that the Louisiana law upheld legal equality and that social equality was not the law's concern. One Southerner, John Marshall Harlan of Kentucky, was the sole dissenting vote, predicting that, regardless of the Court's intent, the decision would lead to greater and greater differences between the races. The loss of the case in the Supreme Court devastated the New Orleans Citizens' Committee, which disbanded some time later. But their position, of course, was ultimately vindicated sixty years later when the Court reversed itself in Brown v. Board of Education.

The Times-Picayune story was about reconciliation. The descendants of the case's original namesakes, Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, have formed the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation. They were largely responsible for the ceremony marking the debut of the historical marker. Here's the front of the marker, and the back.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

By the Numbers

Sunday is Oscar night, and the world waits with bated breath for the winners. So far, I've just seen two of the movies up for the top awards, so while I may have an opinion about who I'd like to see win what, I can't say that it's an informed opinion.

Nate Silver may or may not have an informed opinion of who he prefers to win, but like always, he's got his eye on the numbers. And he shares those numbers with New York magazine. Although he talks a bit about the numbers, he doesn't explain precisely how he worked them out, but he claims that Slumdog Millionaire is a virtual lock for Best Picture, and its director, Danny Boyle, is even a more certain winner. The odds for Slumdog are 99 percent, with the other 1 percent going to Milk. In terms of director, Boyle's got a 99.7 percent likelihood, with Milk's Gus Van Sant and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's David Fincher coming in at 0.1 percent each.

The acting categories are closer--except for Best Actress, every nominee scores some amount of likelihood of a win. Silver picks Kate Winslet 67.6 percent for The Reader over Meryl Streep in Doubt at 32.4. Mickey Rourke's performance in The Wrestler is predicted to win him Best Actor with a 71.1 percent chance. Heath Ledger has an 85.8 lock on Best Supporting Actor. The biggest surprise is Best Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson from Benjamin Button at 51.0 percent. She comes over Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona at 24.6 percent and the three remaining nominees with smaller pieces of the pie. To get a hint at why, take a look at the whole piece.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

All Ashore from the S.S. Burris

It's just getting worse and worse for Roland Burris. His chief of staff (on loan from Harry Reid) resigned and returned to Reid's staff on Friday, a day after his press aide bailed. New Illinois governor Pat Quinn called on him to resign, as did state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (who's also understood to be interested for running for the position next year). Even the White House got into the act, with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggesting that Burris take advantage of the weekend to consider his future. He also relayed Obama's support of a Burris investigation.

So does this mean that we'll see Burris head back to private life in Chicago? Burris has never struck me as the type to give an inch that he doesn't have to. If he has any leeway at all, he's not going to give up his Senate seat. So where does that leave him (and us)? Is it possible for a voter recall of an appointed official?

Subtle Editorial Comment

Marketplace, the public radio business and financial show, doesn't list the bumper music it uses into and out of stories the way some NPR shows do. Every now and then, host Kai Ryssdal might mention the name of the performer, but for the most part, if you want to identify some snippet of music, you're on your own. Which gives the producers some pretty wide leeway for any juxtapositions they might want to feature. Earlier tonight, they ran a story on people who sell gold pieces at parties. At the end of the piece, the music sounded vaguely familiar, and then I placed the bass line: It was "Fool's Gold" by the Stone Roses.

Way back a number of years ago, when O.J. Simpson was just beginning to experience his troubles, Extra (or one of those early Entertainment Tonight imitation shows) had a piece on whatever legal developments had happened that day, and they ran Orange Juice's "Falling and Laughing" as background music. We didn't know the full extent of O.J.'s difficulties at the time, so that song was more appropriate than we realized. You've also got to remember that this was about a year before Edwyn Collins got his first American release with Gorgeous George and "A Girl Like You." In fact, his only American exposure at all had been a duet of "Consolation Prize" with Roddy Frame on the B-side of "Good Morning, Britain." Given that Edwyn himself was unknown in this country, his previous band would've needed to have a burst of popularity to achieve "little-known" status. A guy who was PA or some other staff position on Extra lived in our building, so I told him to thank the segment producer or whoever would've chosen the music and let them know that somebody out there in TV land had taken note of what they'd done. He assured me that this person wasn't that good, and it must've been a coincidence. I didn't believe him.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Nabau Lives (Maybe)

A picture is worth 1,000 words? Well, I guess it depends on the picture. There are a couple making the rounds today that may (or may not) provide evidence of a rumored but never proven giant snake in Borneo. The Nabau theoretically lives in the Baleh River, which is where both of the photos were ostensibly snapped. The better of the pics shows up in the Daily Mail. If you look at the size of the trees on the jungle shores, that's one massive snake! The second picture, from the Telegraph, isn't quite so impressive, but it's still a pretty large snake.

So are these photos real, with no shenanigans? Benjamin Radford, the "bad science" columnist for LiveScience throws cold water on the whole idea. He wonders how we even know that these photos are of the Baleh River at all? And, of course, we don't. These could be giant snakes in other rivers altogether. But these photos got him wondering:

Of course it's possible the photographer just got lucky, capturing the giant snake at its most photogenic both times, but that raises another question: If the huge beast spends its time in such high-visibility areas, why is this the first time it's been reported or photographed?

Unfortunately, these are photos, not an interview, so no one could ask the giant snake about the details. Perhaps it has a new movie coming out and its starting a new PR campaign. We just don't know. And unfortunately, unless the Nabau keeps up its recent high profile, we may never get proper answers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Ice Cream Shrinkage

A few months ago, I was complaining about ice cream containers shrinking without any change in price or acknowledgement that it had even happened. We're pretty much down to a quart and a half all the way around in ice cream by now. But I was back in the grocery store again tonight and I just happened to notice that the shrinkage isn't limited to just larger containers of ice cream. Häagen-Dazs has dropped the size of their quart-size containers by more than 10 percent, making them 14 ounces now. To their credit, though, they at least explain themselves on their Web site. Basically, the answer is that they had to, but at least they're not dropping the quality of their product (so they claim).

Even weirder was Dove ice cream, which has dropped from a pint down to 15.1 ounces. And, unlike Häagen-Dazs, they seem to be keeping a low profile on that nine-tenths of an ounce. If you click on any of the cartons of ice cream on the Web page, you'll get a list of ingredients and the nutritional information (but not the net weight). Nutritional information has to be based on a particular serving size, and in this case, it's half a cup. When noting how many servings are in the containter, however, they can only come up with "about 4." No, not about 4--we know that it's not slightly above 4. Therefore, it's slightly less than 4. Whatever happened to truth in packaging?

Fortunately, Ben & Jerry's was still sitting firmly at a pint, the full 16 ounces. We can't know how long that can last, but at least there are things we can count on for now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roland Burris Should Just Stop Talking

This just keeps getting better and better. Last night, we talked about Burris's new affidavit that recently came to light in which he "clarified" some of the statements he made last month to the Illinois legislature about the events leading up to his appointment to the U.S. Senate. Apparently he had talked about the Senate seat with representatives from Blagojevich. He continued to insist that he hadn't raised any money or participated in any other quid pro quo for the position, though. On Monday night, however, he peeled back another bit of the onion and revealed that, although he stood by his statement of not raising money for Blago, it wasn't for lack of trying. Even at that point, the then-governor was so toxic that no one was willing to respond to Burris's entreaties. I guess it was quite a relief when Blago, in looking for distractions from his own arrest for trying to sell Obama's Senate seat, decided to appoint Burris to the position despite Burris's inability to bring money into the governor's coffers. Of course, you've also got to wonder what Blagojevich might've been thinking. He was already being watched for trying to get something out of the appointment, and yet he brings someone in who tried and failed to provide the quid pro quo. Doesn't he know? That trick never works.

The Senate leadership, for their part, are taking a wait and see position. Reid said that he was glad Burris was willing to cooperate with a potential Senate ethics investigation. (Actually, the NY Times article reports that such an investigation had begun on Tuesday night but only refers to it as a possibility in the body of the article.) How many twists has Reid taken in this saga? First he wouldn't support seating Burris, then he was glad to do it, then it was provisionally dependent on Burris's testimony to the Illinois impeachment committee, then he welcomed Burris with open arms. In truth, Reid hasn't yet shifted to that last position. Better to keep his options open for a little while.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Always Good Times in Illinois

If you've been missing our recent scandals, you'll be glad to know they've never completely gone away. Roland Burris is now changing his story about the contact he had with Blago's people before he was appointed senator. Previously, he'd said that, although he'd made it known to some of his own friends about his interest in the position but didn't actually talk to anybody representing the governor. Now, it appears, that statement is only true as long as you don't count the conversations he had with representatives of Blago. One argument he made is that, although he provided the previous statements while under oath, he would've mentioned the other discussions he had if he'd only been asked about them specifically or if the Illinois House committee he was testifying to didn't keep changing the subject. Is this perjury? Could be, although there may be some way that he can technically avoid the charge. Did the Senate cave when it seated him too quickly? That would be a yes.

And what of Blago himself? He's still out making the media rounds gossiping about legislators (although so far keeping any actual names out of it). Apparently there are people in the Illinois legislature who drink too much and cheat on their wives--who would've thought? While I'm not indifferent to that kind of behavior, it seems pointless for Blago to be smearing anonymous lawmakers. If he's got evidence of actual criminal activity, he should share it (and if he's able to strike a deal with prosecutors, I don't have a problem with that, either). Otherwise, he should shut up.

All that raises the question of what kind of advice the former governor is getting. While looking for other links, I came across this profile of Glenn Selig, a Tampa PR guy who's representing Blago and suspected murderer Scott Drew Peterson. Blago's people, apparently, approached Selig after being impressed with his work representing R. Kelly in his recent travails. It always hard to tell what might be going on behind the scenes, but we get a glimpse of the relationship between the politician and the PR man in the opening paragraphs of the piece. Selig describes how he and Blago deconstructed the politician's winning appearance on Letterman. So it all makes sense. If you've got triumphs like that, why not stay in the national spotlight?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Barack Obama Is Not a Sap

Not that I ever thought he was, but it's nice for him to clarify the point every now and again.

Linger on My Pale Blue Eyes

Blue eyes were a mistake. Well, that might be a bit strong, but as I was rooting around Andrew Sullivan's blog earlier today, I noticed a post that linked to a National Geographic article about Darwin's birthday and new research about blue eyes. It was recently discovered that blue eyes are a fairly recent addition to the portfolio of human features. (And that discovery, first revealed just a year or so ago) seems to have been fairly well covered at the time, but I missed it. Blue eyes seem to have come into being only 6,000-10,000 years ago through a single genetic mutation in one person near the Black Sea. No one had blue eyes before that time. What caused blue eyes to flourish is unknown--do those of us with blue eyes (my immediate family all have the trait, so it's near and dear to my heart) have some other related traits or abilities that help us survive and thrive in some way? Could be, but when it comes right down to it, who knows? But then again, we didn't know when blue eyes emerged from brown eyes (or if brown eyes developed from blue) until last year. Maybe some scientists will figure out what, if any, added value blue eyes have supplied.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gregg Was Too Bipartisan (Postpartisan?)

I'm not sure that Judd Gregg's withdrawal from Commerce will really have legs to speak of, but the downside to that is the reality that his "I changed my mind" will not get any deep examination. The other night, I snarked about Gregg's words when he accepted the nomination, arguing that he apparently now felt it was a time for partisanship, for standing in our ideological corners and shouting at each other. What it was not a time for, if we follow his logic a little bit further, was governing, and governing well. I believed at the time that I was going a little over the top (but what are blogs for, after all), but that it was as good an explanation as I had. Andrew Sullivan had a handful of posts a few days ago that fleshed this idea, the most pointed being "The GOP Has Declared War On Obama." His fellow Republicans pressured Gregg to welsh on his offer to join the Obama administration, because there will be no cooperation. But fortunately, Gregg held on to his sense of humor about the whole thing. Thanks to the GOP leaning on him and making his decisions for him, Gregg claims he'll be able to remain his "own man."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines Day!

Bipartisanship Set Aside for Another Day

Just for the record, both houses passed the reconciled stimulus bill, and Obama should sign it into law next week. A few more Democrats came over in the House from the first time around, but the Senate was pretty much exactly the same. Appropriately, the Republicans wanted nothing to do with it, and that's fine with me. If the stimulus does anything like we all hope it will (except for the Republicans, of course), I'll be somewhat surprised if they pay much of a price. They certainly didn't after they held the line against Clinton's economic plan, which ended up bringing us extended expansion and turned deficit into surplus. In fact, they took over the House at the next election and didn't lose it until the surplus had long turned back into deficit.

But it seems like perhaps the Obama administration has learned a little something. They're not giving up on bipartisan outreach, but it won't be their primary focus. I'm not so draconian that I think Republicans should be cut off completely (OK, sometimes I am), but I certainly don't think that we should go out of our way to compromise and include them if they're not interested in any sort of reciprocal situation. Let's focus on getting things done rather than with whom we get them done.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Relax, It's the Weekend

As some blog regulars may know, we've got a bit of a soft spot for the Hullabaloo around Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk headquarters. But I don't think I've ever seen the clip below before (which I'm stealing shamelessly from Kevin Church). If the Jam covered the Batman theme on their first album, this is definitely the version the Style Council should've done.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Good Riddance

Last week I started writing a post called "No on Gregg for Commerce." Here was Judd Gregg, a guy in the Senate--a Republican from New Hampshire--who wanted to join Obama's economic team as secretary of commerce but who wasn't willing to vote for Obama's stimulus in Congress (apparently he thought that simply not voting against it was a strong enough stand to take). When his nomination was announced, Gregg said, "This is not a time for partisanship. This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other. This a time to govern, and govern well." It turns out, though, that upon reflection, Gregg has realized that that is exactly what this is time for. I couldn't be more pleased.

Today, making reference to "irresolvable conflicts" between Obama's policies and himself, Gregg pulled out. The question must be asked, though, what was resolvable last week that suddenly became irresolvable this week? Was Gregg hoping that, with the threat of a Republican filibuster (which, by not allowing his vote to become one of 60 necessary to overcome it, he was tacitly approving), he'd be able to help pick up the pieces and develop more Republican-friendly policies? The Commerce Department also has responsibility for the ten-year census, and Republicans certainly wanted to get their hands on that. The administration has said that the director of the census would report to the White House rather than the secretary of commerce, and that might have been a deal breaker. But surely Gregg would've clarified what was going on with the census before he agreed to join the team, wouldn't he?

Although there's some talk that this might be embarrassing for the administration (Gregg's the second potential commerce secretary who's pulled out, and the third potential cabinet member), I think that this might be the best thing for everybody. The White House said that Gregg had volunteered for the job. That means that Obama has had a chance to see what happens when he offers his own hand in bipartisanship only to see it slapped away, and now he's seen what happens when a Republican apparently offers his own hand, only to withdraw it after winning the president's confidence. If this is what bipartisanship looks like in the 21st century, then it's vastly overrated.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quote of the Day

Yesterday started off with Morning Edition playing an orchestral version of "Hong Kong Garden," which made me wonder if there was a new "Boston Pops Plays Siouxsie & the Banshees" CD or something (I'd forgotten that such an intro had been added for the song's inclusion in Marie Antoinette). That got me started on something of a Siouxsie Sioux jag for the last couple of days. In looking at various material, I came across this very intriguing quote from about a year and a half ago when she was promoting her most recent (and first) solo album.

"Without vulnerability, there is no daring."

That's really quite profound. I was going to end this by putting the "Hong Kong Garden" video in the bottom, but Universal has denied permission to embed that particular video from Youtube. So, you'll have to be satisfied with this link. It's worth clicking, though.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Credit Where Credit's Due

Not good news today with the Dow falling 382 points, almost 5 percent. I was giving Wall Street the benefit of the doubt, speculating that they could be reacting to Geithner's new plan or the Senate passing their version of the stimulus. It looks, though, that people who know more than I do, are laying it entirely at the feet of Geithner and his nonspecific plan.

Well, that wasn't the most auspicious political début ever. Fifteen minutes before Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner unveiled the Obama Administration's new plan for dealing with the ongoing financial crisis, the stock market was down a little less than one per cent. By the time he finished his speech, it was down more than three per cent, and it continued to tumble from there.


Monday, February 09, 2009

It'll All Work Out Somehow--Ben Nelson Promises

I've tried writing some nimble, cutting satire about the arguments for undercutting the stimulus, but I'm afraid I just don't have it in me tonight. The "centrist" senators are far too ham-handed in the points they're making for something clever to take hold. Take Ben Nelson, for instance, Democratic senator from Nebraska, who was responsible for working out the "compromise" that took money for education and state spending out of the bill. In response to Krugman's criticism that the Senate stimulus package takes out too much useful stimulus, Nelson told MSNBC that there's plenty of education spending in the bill. Well, we know that there's less than there was before the he and his Republican pals "fixed" it, but although Krugman touched on education funding in his column this morning, that wasn't his main point, and the quotes given to Nelson by Norah O'Donnell had no mention of education. But, because he seemed to be on a roll, he held to the education issue and said that it states wanted to spend more on education, then they had that ability.

Ah, yes. The states. The states whose funding was also cut in the "compromise." The states whose own budgets are being slashed because so many of them are forced to run balanced budgets and can't run a deficit to save their lives (which, for many people, is what it may come down to). The states described like this in Sunday's LA Times:

They have plundered reserves, enacted hiring freezes and engaged in all manner of budgetary voodoo to shield us from the pain.

But now state governments -- reeling from a historic free fall in tax revenue -- have run out of tricks. And Americans are about to feel it.

So don't worry. Ben Nelson says that if he cut out too much of the stimulus package, the states can just pick up the difference.

The only way to respond to people like Ben Nelson is by suffering. Not that he'll notice.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Better than Nothing?

Tomorrow appears to be stimulus day, when the Senate will vote, presumably, to pass it now that they've taken steps to undermine it. Paul Krugman calls it "really, really inadequate" and predicts that it will cost us 600,000 more jobs over the next two years, which essentially is the same thing as saying the people who lost their jobs in January won't be going back to work any time soon. I was rooting around the Gavel, the Speaker of the House blog, the other day and came upon this graphic (click it for a bigger version):

UPDATE--I didn't realize that shrinking the graphic to fit would take out so much of the detail, so here's a quick explanation of what the lines mean (in case you don't want to click through for full size). The Blue line tracks job loss in the 1990 recession. It peaked at just above a million and a half after a year of recession and leveled off for a while. The entire recession lasted 32 months. The Red line is job loss in the 2001 recession. After a year, job loss was over two million, and it kept dropping slowly until it bottomed out at about 2.7 million about a year and a half later. In all, jobs didn't come back to where they'd been for four years. The Green line is where we are now: more than 3.5 million jobs lost in a plunge after 14 months that shows no sign yet of bottoming out. Just taking a look at the graphic itself, you wouldn't be wrong in interpreting the Green line as falling off a cliff.

That's a lot of jobs being lost. It's important to realize that, despite the Obama administration's attempt to reach out in bipartisanship, there's not really anything in it for Republicans to go along. When a Democratic president governs with strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, an economy in shambles is Good for Republicans. Despite what the John McCain camp claimed about "Country First," the Republicans are trying to salvage a party that's been repudiated at the polls. You'd think that we'd all benefit from a strong economy, but if the Democrats do well, then they'll continue to have strong returns at the polls, and that comes at the expense of Republicans. Politics trumps all.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Never Too Much Knowledge

I don't know if it's because of the new feeling of community among some in the new age of Obama or just trying to help out those in need during trying times (I didn't ask, and he didn't tell), but Stu Shea, a good friend of the blog, has decided to enter public service. He started posting regular Youtube videos about Beatles history, because we all know, you can never have enough Beatles knowledge. He's taking a "This Day in Beatles History" approach, and so far he's got two videos up. In the first one, Stu talks a little bit about the development of "Across the Universe," and in the second, he fills us in on some of the Beatles' pre-fame activities in 1962 (so that means not very long before British fame hit). Stu's a musician himself, so he may also take the opportunity to strum his guitar to provide a little bit of the song he's talking about.

Here's Stu's channel at Youtube, so you can check for new posts (or, those of you who are members of Youtube can just subscribe). Good luck, Stu! We'll be watching.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Stimulus Package?

The New York Times is reporting that senators have struck a deal for the stimulus. It takes 100 billion dollars off the table (because, as Republicans keep telling us, "spending is not stimulus"), but at least it's something.

Did Obama get this going at long last? Maybe a little bit. He pointed out the obvious, "So then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? That's the whole point. No, seriously. That's the point." Based on that, though, he can't be pleased that "centrist" senators are insisting on stimulating less. Nancy Pelosi isn't pleased.

Asked about reported cuts in education spending and other matters like technology that may emerge from the Senate stimulus package as early as tonight, Ms. Pelosi said that those types of cuts were "very damaging" and that she was "very much opposed to them."

Will any of this be salvaged in reconciliation? Maybe a little, but maybe not. Senate leadership thinks it's got 60 votes, and it may be possible that a few more Republicans drift over, but for the most part it really does seem like we've got a Republican party that's joining Rush Limbaugh in hoping that Obama fails. They can feel however they want about Barack Obama, but you'd think that they'd have some recognition that if Obama goes down under these circumstances, we all go with him.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Do Votes for Change Still Resound?

I'm exhausted tonight and don't have much to offer. Fortunately, I could do much worse than falling back on Barack Obama's opinion piece in this morning's Washington Post. Listen to this.

Each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

That's why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will create or save more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, provide immediate tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, ignite spending by businesses and consumers alike, and take steps to strengthen our country for years to come.

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.

I'm fine for bringing everybody together in one common goal, setting aside difference for the greater good, and all that other stuff. But in the dregs of the Republican party that's still inhabiting Congress, "the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis" are all they've got. They're not just going to set them aside when they can use them to make their obstructionist soapbox just a little bit higher. Yes, we did reject those theories three months ago, so why are we still wasting our time to make reconciliation with them? Obama is right: The theories don't work. We've tried them too long. So when are we going to get on with it?

And just because I'm always a sucker for understatement, the author blurb at the bottom of the column is:

The writer is president of the United States.

You'd think that would count for something.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Taking Charge

Now that the Republicans seem to be taking over the economic debate, voting against the stimulus en masse in the House and gearing up to filibuster against it in the Senate, Obama raises his game. He called for salary caps of half a million dollars for executives whose companies take part in the taxpayer bailout. But more importantly, he called out Republican office holders.

Now, in the past few days I've heard criticisms of this plan that echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis –- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can ignore fundamental challenges like energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject that theory, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. So I urge members of Congress to act without delay. No plan is perfect, and we should work to make it stronger. But let's not make the perfect the enemy of the essential. Let's show people all over our country who are looking for leadership in this difficult time that we are equal to the task.

Yes, we did vote for change, didn't we? Can somebody somewhere please repudiate the 40-percenter Republicans and take charge of Congress? Anybody?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Good Help Is Hard to Find

I don't really have very much to say about the withdrawals of Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer today except to let out a long sigh. Obama to responsibility, which I suppose is good, but how did he (and we) get here in the first place? It's not just the question of why three (so far) of his nominees have had tax issues (and that couldn't have anything to so with the IRS's long-time policy of targeting regular people more than the wealthy, could it?). That's troubling, but it's not particularly news that the overclass has entitlement issues. Tom Daschle had a car and driver when he was Senate majority leader, so why shouldn't he have one when he's back in private life? Doesn't everybody? What I want to know is why Obama's vetting process has broken down? (Or has it? Maybe they knew all about these problems and didn't recognize them as problems.) Nancy Killefer had a tax lien on her house! How do you miss that, when you're doing a background check for a potential administration position?

David Corn wonders if this situation will affect Obama's choice of administration personnel. I'd hope so, but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Standing Up for Artistic Integrity

Here's something I found amusing. Chicago Trib rock critic Greg Kot called the Super Bowl halftime show "the best and worst of Bruce Springsteen." Although he had various complaints, the absolute worst moment for Kot was when the "ref" interrupted the performance to penalize Springsteen and his E Streeters.

It was an example of Springsteen’s humor at its cheesiest; perhaps entertaining to an audience who would just as soon be dipping into the guacamole, but a letdown for fans who expected a more convincing musical statement from one of the greatest live performers of the last three decades. This was Springsteen as song-and-dance man, an accomplished artist reduced to pandering.

Dude--it was the Super Bowl halftime show! Just agreeing to show up is pandering.

As for me, I thought the whole thing depended on context. Rated against other Super Bowl halftime shows? This is the best I've seen in a while (maybe ever, when you consider that it used to be filled with performances by Up with People and such). Against other Springsteen performances? I'll just say I've seen better.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunday Night Video

Probably for years now, I've been using an example from All in the Family to demonstrate how we've moved backwards in our political ideas. I'd explain how a sequence that was considered a joke thirty-some years ago is now accepted in some conservative circles as reasonable policy. I never bothered to actually go find the clip, though. Fortunately, over at Americablog, Chris in Paris did the heavy lifting and found it himself. Here's Archie Bunker, with 2009 Republican talking points: