Browsing the blog archives for October, 2013.

Did We Fail?


There’s a long conversation amongst leftie bloggers today over the failure of the progressive blog movement. My initial reaction was

1. There’s a progressive blog movement? (Well, yes, there was; see commentary below)
2. If we failed, precisely what did we fail at?

Much of this conversation was initiated by Ian Welsh, and let me say that Ian is a smart guy who, over the years, has been right about a few things that I misjudged. So I don’t want to be unnecessarily snarky here. If this topic interests you, here is the conversation thus far, by author, in sorta kinda chronological order:

Ian Welsh
Jerome Armstrong
John Cole (responding to Jerome Armstrong)
Booman (also responding to Jerome Armstrong)
Scott Lemieux (Responding to Ian Welsh and Jerome Armstrong)

With the caveat that I’m under big-time deadline pressure right now and don’t have time for the long and thoughtful post I’d like to write — A lot of good points are made by all authors, with the exception of Jerome Armstrong, who seems to think progressives should be joining forces with libertarians and Ron/Randbots. Um, no.

There was a time during the Bush Administration that progressive bloggers did seem to be a kind of movement, that we called Netroots, but this era of relative solidarity did not survive the 2008 primaries. Unlike others, I do not blame Barack Obama for that. It’s true that he did not cultivate the A-list bloggers as much as other candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, did, but he did speak at the Daily Kos convention in Chicago in 2007, so he didn’t ignore us entirely. I remember at the time there was a lot of buzz that the DK convention goers didn’t support him, but his break-out session was the first one to fill up. Lots of bullshit already was in the air, in other words.

What really killed the movement for me was the dismissive attitude of the kewl kids who were determined to make Hillary Clinton the nominee. Anyone who questioned their elite judgment was attacked as an “Obamabot.” I realize a lot of the Clinton supporters caught grief from the more rabid Obama supporters, but my impression was that the worst of the anti-Clinton snark was not coming from other bloggers. I found it impossible to have anything like a rational conversation with anyone, and even some actual fleshworld friendships did not survive the rancor. By the time the dust settled I considered myself out of the Netroots. I dropped out of the listservs and stopped cross-posting on other blogs. I also didn’t have the money after that to travel to conventions, anyway.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s what ended the “movement.” But anyone who thinks Hillary Clinton represented True Progressivism and would have listened to us after she became President was deluded, IMO.

Now, is it true that we accomplished nothing? We did not become kingmakers, that’s for sure. But some of the candidates supported by large chunks of the blogosophere — Howard Dean and John Warner come to mind — were in most ways even less progressive than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. So if the point was to elect more progressive candidates, even if we had succeeded, we would have failed.

I do think we helped make it possible to get a few progressive voices on national media. The biggest reason I started blogging in 2002 was that progressives were entirely absent from television and radio and mostly absent in print media as well. I was either going to yell at the television or blog, and I decided to blog. Now we have some presence in media, such as Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Perry, and I think in an indirect way the strength of the progressive blogs helped made that possible. If nothing else it demonstrated that there were lots of people out there who were hungry more a more progressive perspective. Of course, news media still mostly suck.

There were many conversations back in the day of how the Netroots should relate to the Democratic Party. There was a general consensus that we must not be captured by the Democrats, but instead support more progressive candidates and work to push the Dems in a more progressive direction. In many ways the party has moved left at least a tad. There is much more robust support among Dems for reproductive rights, marriage rights, and economic populism than there was a decade ago. And I think progressive bloggers played a part in bringing those issues into our national political discourse.

However, I don’t blame Dems for wanting to keep us at arm’s length. More than anything else I think stunts like Jane Hamsher’s very visible and very hysterical anti-ACA campaign in 2009 and 2010 demonstrated that we couldn’t be counted on to support realistic and incremental progressive reform. Instead, too many of the A-listers harbored a completely fantastical notion that if we attacked the Democrats enough they would be scared into becoming more progressive.

In short, that was insane. And I still find it unfathomable how anyone bright enough to tie his own shoes could think that if the ACA had failed to pass, Congress would have opened its arms to single payer. Not on this planet.

So here we are, talking to ourselves, not influencing much of anything. I keep this blog going because I find it therapeutic, and I think some of you do, too, but I’m not kidding myself that I’m part of a movement any more.

Well, I’ve already gone on longer than I intended. Of the comments linked above, I second Athenae most of all. So for all the stuff I’m thinking and leaving out, read her.

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Easy to Be Hard

Obama Administration

Apparently if you want to be one of the kewl kids in news media you must badmouth the Obamacare rollout and declare every stumble as proof of Doom. See Dear Journalists: Your privilege is clouding your perspective on Obamacare website glitches.

If I see one more journalist symbolically log on to the Obamacare website, I’m going to scream. If you’re making faux calls into the call center, only to complain about the lack of hold music, as if that is what’s critically important here, you’re severely missing the point.

And even when you defend your negative reporting about the Obamacare website glitches, as The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein did last night on MSNBC, having the privilege of analyzing the process from the perspective of someone who is already insured and not in need of coverage allows the core impact of the new program on the health and security of millions of Americans to be missed….

… And unless you are a journalist who has been chronically uninsured, your feigned frustration about website issues reeks of privilege. To me, a few website glitches are a lot less frustrating than having to use the same inhaler for over a year because I can’t afford to go the doctor. Perspective is everything.

See also John Cole, who wrote of the author of the post above,

That’s Zerlina Maxwell, one of the nicest people I have ever met, who has spent the last week being insulted by people for refusing to fall over into the vapors over the new website and actually explaining how important this new legislation was for her.

This reminds me a bit of those heady days back in 2009, when a certain prominent, upper-income and well-insured progressive blogger and breast cancer survivor was leading the drumbeat to kill the bill. I’m still disgusted.

See also How I became the poster girl for liberal agitprop, Florida Blue CEO Refuses to Play Along with David Gregory’s Concern Trolling and Depends on Where You’re Standing.

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Lou Reed, 1942-2013

entertainment and popular culture

A patriarch of rock.

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Live by the Grift; Die by the Grift

Karl Rove, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Richard Viguerie has declared civil war on the Republican establishment and has vowed to root out traitors to the conservative cause, such as Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Reince Priebus. Yes, we weep and we mourn, not so much. But Rod Dreher at The American Conservative is really upset about it.

RINO hunt! This is astonishing, and can only be driven by an ideological mindset so impervious to reality that it would rather destroy political conservatism’s chances of actually running the country than succumb to the least impurity in the ranks. The movement types really do believe that the GOP lost because it was stabbed in the back by its own people at Versailles on Capitol Hill. The GOP tribalism is devolving into a Lord’s Resistance Army conservatism, after the fanatical Ugandan cultists who believe that shea butter and their confidence in God makes them impervious to bullets.

The thing about this dynamic is that the purer the activists make the GOP, the weaker the party becomes, and thus the less likely to achieve policy goals. Which just drives the forces of purgation harder. Ted Cruz rules the Jacobin Republicans now, but he should remember what happened to Robespierre.

I do appreciate the reference to Jacobins. But I doubt very much that Richard Viguerie gives a rodent’s posterior for achieving policy goals. Viguerie is a direct mail tycoon who makes a living by stoking the fears and phobias of the rubes to market ideological snake oil. If Movement Conservatism were ever seen as successful, and the marks got complacent, checks might stop coming in.

Indeed, there is a whole class of grifters on the Right whose incomes depend on keeping the crazy well fed. I’m thinking of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Fox News et al. No doubt Michele Bachmann will become a full-time gifter as soon as she’s out of the House. But there are tons of second- and third-tier gifters, all cashing in nicely.

And why not? If bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is, grifters infest the Right because that’s where the gullibility is. People who can be made to believe in death panels can also be sold on dubious investment schemes, survivalist kits and quack arthritis cures. It’s too easy. See especially Rick Perlstein, “The Long Con.”

There are also subcategories of specialized grifters such as the NRA/firearm industry and climate change denialists/petroleum industry. But it’s all of a piece, really.

I wrote recently that the only substantive difference between the “extremists” and the “moderates/establishment” in the Republican Party is that “the ‘moderates’ realize elections have to be won, and the ‘extremists’ don’t know that, or don’t care.” When you look at someone like Ted Cruz, who unlike many others may not be crazy or stupid, one suspects his long game isn’t winning the White House. The long game is making a ton of money. In this country, once you become a reliable supplier of red meat for the Right, you are set for life. Whether you ever actually accomplish anything that’s good for anyone is irrelevant.

The Republican Party set itself up for this, of course, by being willing to sell out anything that might be an actual principle in order to win elections on the cheap (and dirty). I’m sure most of you are aware of the arc of demagoguery that ran from Spiro Agnew to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove. But Frankenstein’s Monster took over the laboratory, and now Karl Rove (who is still making a lot of money, apparently, in spite of his colossal failure in 2012) can’t understand why no one is listening to him.


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Let’s Audit Rand Paul’s Head, and Other News

Obama Administration

Sen. Rand “Aqua Buddha” Paul is threatening to put a hold on Janet Yellen’s confirmation for chair of the Federal Reserve. His intention is to hold the nomination hostage in exchange for allowing his “audit the fed” bill to come to a vote. Whether he has the support among other Republicans to pull this off is an open question.

Surprise! Texas taxpayers are funding charter schools teaching nonsense, like Darwin causing the Holocaust. No one could have imagined such a thing, huh?

Charles Pierce writes about a pregnant Wisconsi woman who was jailed on suspicion of taking drugs that would harm the fetus, even though drug tests showed no trace of those drugs. At one point she was denied access to a lawyer. However, the Court helpfully appointed a lawyer for the fetus. See also Pregnant? That Might Get You Arrested about similar cases.

See also In many states, “fetal rights” laws are putting pregnant women in jail.

Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told the Times her organization has documented hundreds of cases in which women like Beltran were arrested or detained in the name of “fetal rights.”

“This is what happens when laws give officials the authority to treat fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as if they are already completely separate from the pregnant woman,” she said.

In El Salvador, and elsewhere in Latin America, women are serving prison sentences for having miscarriages, because they can’t prove they hadn’t had abortions. Yes, it can happen here.

Jaclyn Friedman’s piece on the Men’s Rights Movement is a must read. Friedman thinks men have legitimate grievances, but the Men’s Rights Movement is actually making it harder to address those grievances. That’s because the MRA amounts to the new He-Man Women Haters Club, a bunch of misogynist weenies who think women are manipulative bitches who make up stories about being raped and abused to oppress innocent men.

See above about women being jailed for being pregnant.

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More on Technogate

Obama Administration

Via Richard Mayhew, there are some articles by tech experts at TPM discussing the federal insurance exchange website and why it is a mess. See “Misunderstanding the Problem,” which speculates — is basically just showing you your menu of insurance options, taking your order for insurnce, and bringing everything back to you when the order is complete. In tech terms, it’s just the front end. All the heavy lifting takes place on the back end, when the website passes your data to an extremely complex array of systems that span multiple agencies (like so many cooks in a kitchen). A central processing hub needs to get data from each of these systems to successfully serve a user and sign up for insurance. And if one of these systems — several of which are very old in IT terms– has a glitch and can’t complete the task, the entire operation fails for that user. Only if everything works perfectly, and the data gets passed back to the website, does the user have a good experience with

Basically, the biggest problem might be that the website needs various government legacy data systems to work together, and they aren’t. See also “Binders Full of Insurance Companies’ (Databases).”

Meanwhile, the contractor companies are blaming the mess on the Obama Administration. For example, one is blaming the Obama Administration for a last-minute decision (I don’t know how last minute it was) to make consumers create accounts on the federal site before they could start shopping. But based on what the tech guys at TPM are saying, that probably isn’t the problem.

And even if it was, did any of these execs advise the Obama Administration that the decision could cause glitches, and maybe that should wait? Or did they promise to deliver and then dump the mess on the programmers?

Republicans want Obama Administration officials to be fired, of course. That’s what they always want. I still say the most likely culprits are the executives from the contracting companies making promises their programmers couldn’t deliver.

It seems to me that if individual states have been able to get their exchanges up and running, which I understand to be the case, then the exchange thing is still do-able.

The Administration announced yesterday that people will get an additional six weeks to purchase insurance before the individual mandate penalty kicks in, which means they’ve got until the end of March. However, in the department of “when can we primary this turkey,” Dem Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has joined Republicans in calling for a one-year delay of the mandate. I wish someone would ask these clowns if they want a one-year delay for requiring insurance companies to take customers with pre-existing conditions, because that’s really what they’re asking for.

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From the Ministry of Truth

Obama Administration

The death of former Speaker Tom Foley has inspired all kinds of nostalgia for the good old days of Congress when legislators were gentle-persons and loved to reach out across the aisle, as opposed to what we have today, which is something like World Wrestling Entertainment but with flabby old men in suits.

Except Tom Foley’s day wasn’t that genteel, either. Steve M catches Brian Williams revising history, and comments,

Foley lost his speakership when an unknown named George Nethercutt beat him for his House seat in the Gingrich/Contract with America Republican wave election of 1994, which was not exactly a campaign full of sweetness and light.

Yes, every obituary of Tom Foley says that he worked extremely well across the aisle. But he did not “serve in a different era.” He served at the dawn of the godawful era we’re living in now.

Charles Pierce says,

Steve rightly points out that Foley’s career was demolished, possibly fatally, by some disgusting ratfking out of the office of N. Leroy Gingrich, Definer of civilization’s rules and Leader (perhaps) of the civilizing forces. Foley got fag-baited, and the fag-baiting ended only when Barney Frank, in one of the truly awesome examples of I-Don’t-Give-A-Fk congressional oratory, threatened to out a whole bunch of closeted gay Republican congresscritters unless Gingrich’s people knocked that shit off. Shit was forthwith knocked off, but the damage was done. Gingrich, of course, is now so respected a figure in our politics that CNN went out of its way to give him a gig. CNN is run by moral centipedes.

This kind of swill is reaching high tide these days.

Orwell imagined a totalitarian state rewriting history, but we don’t need a totalitarian state for that. Humans lie to themselves and each other all the time. But it would be really nice if news media at least made an effort to keep things straight, y’know?

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The Glorious Private Sector Screws Up Again

Obama Administration

More on the crashing federal ACA site — see The real story with Obamacare IT woes is out-of-control private contractors.

Of course, the Obama administration is to blame for the botched rollout, but there are other culprits getting less attention – namely, global tech conglomerate CGI, which was responsible for the bulk of the execution, and in general the ability of big corporations to get massive taxpayer-funded contracts without enough accountability.

Government outsourcing to private contractors has exploded in the past few decades. Taxpayers funnel hundreds of billions of dollars a year into the chosen companies’ pockets, about $80bn of which goes to tech companies. We’ve reached a stage of knee-jerk outsourcing of everything from intelligence and military work to burger flipping in federal building cafeterias, and it’s damaging in multiple levels. …

…To this end the experience should serve as a wake-up call to President Obama, who, after all, said early in his first term he wanted to rein in the contractor-industrial complex, and to the state governments doling out multi-million dollar contracts. The revelation here is that an overdependence on outsourcing isn’t just risky in terms of national security, extortionate at wartime, or harmful because it expands the ranks of low-wage workers; it’s also messing with our ability to carry out basic government functions at a reasonable cost.

I still say the Iraq War was mostly a money-laundering scheme. And I don’t think we’ve even begun to look at the money allocated for Hurricane Katrina repairs, and track how many pennies on the taxpayer dollar might have trickled down to the neighborhoods that needed repairing.

And one more time, anyone who believes that the private sector is always efficient and competent never saw corporations from the perspective of someone working in the production or engineering departments. Most of the time, the challenge isn’t doing the best job you can; it’s doing the job at all when upper management belongs in a clown car.

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Not Quite a Train Wreck

Obama Administration

The Right wants to spin the dysfunctions of the ACA federal website as the train wreck they predicted. But dread pirate mistermix writes,

I’d have to consult a psychiatrist or a circus owner to get an expert opinion, but I have a couple of unschooled guesses why the Obamacare rollout isn’t occupying banner headlines on Fox and shooting to the top of Memeorandum.

First, the right is dealing with an audience that’s been told that Obamacare will lead to an end of the American way of life as we know it, create panels that determine whether you live or die, and make you stand in line for hours to get even a band-aid from some doctor (not your own) toiling under the thumb of faceless bureaucrats. Compared to all that, a website that crashes or takes a long time to complete an enrollment is almost a good news story.

Second, if you start talking about exchanges having trouble signing people up, you must acknowledge the fact that people are signing up. If you acknowledge that, you acknowledge that a four year effort to kill off Obamacare has amounted to precisely nothing.

Garance Franke-Ruta writes,

Much of the debate about the Obamacare rollout has centered on whether or not its early troubles will turn people off the idea that government can do big things well. But people do not turn to government programs because they believe in them. They turn to them because they need them, and the market is not meeting their needs. When your alternative is not something excellent but nothing, you use whatever is there. A bad lunch is still lunch, an overrun city college is still a pathway to prosperity, and Medicaid is far better than six months of calls from debt collectors.

That’s going to save the Obamacare rollout.

Paul Krugman writes,

For now, the big news about Obamacare is the debacle of, the Web portal through which Americans are supposed to buy insurance on the new health care exchanges. For now, at least, isn’t working for many users.

It’s important to realize, however, that this botch has nothing to do with the law’s substance, and will get fixed. After all, a number of states have successfully opened their own exchanges, doing for their residents exactly what the federal system is supposed to do everywhere else. Connecticut’s exchange is working fine, as is Kentucky’s. New York, after some early problems, seems to be getting there. So, a bit more slowly, does California.

Professor Krugman also points out that the “rate shock” some experts were predicting isn’t happening, in spite of the bold-face lies on Fox News that it is.

The problems with the federal website are seriously bad, however, and may take weeks to straighten out. If it isn’t fixed by December 15, this could have an impact on the ACA rollout. So let’s hope it gets fixed.

See also Hey, Ted Cruz! These Texans Say Obamacare Is Helping Them.

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The Election Thing

Obama Administration

Yesterday, among other things, the President said,

So let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

Also yesterday, Daniel Larison of The American Conservative responded to Erick Erickson:

The fixation on punishing the Senate Republicans that “surrendered” is revealing. It shows that Erickson still doesn’t grasp that lack of control of the Senate doomed any effort to force significant concessions from the administration, and it shows how oblivious he remains to the greater political dangers that the GOP just escaped. Having a larger number of uncompromising Republicans in the Senate probably wouldn’t have prevented yesterday’s deal, since nearly two-thirds of the Senate GOP voted for it anyway. That’s a lot of “charlatans” to defeat.

People talk about “extremists” and “moderates” in the Republican Party. But what is the difference, really? They don’t disagree on issues, from what I can tell. On issue after issue — taxes, reproduction rights, health care — they’re all pretty much on the same page. The only substantial difference I can see is that the “moderates” realize elections have to be won, and the “extremists” don’t know that, or don’t care.

Conventional wisdom is saying that the GOP can kiss off any hope of re-taking the Senate in 2014, and they might also lose seats in the House. Obviously many Republicans in Congress saw their poll numbers diving and realized the hostage-taking amounted to the GOP shooting itself in the foot. And, as Larison says, there was never any realistic chance that all but the most inconsequential hostage demands would be approved by the Senate and accepted by the President. But the extremists couldn’t see that. Did the results of the 2012 elections not sink in? Well, no, I guess not.

It seems to me that the extremists are so intoxicated by their pathological certitude and entitled self-righteousness that elections are a mere technicality to them. Of course they like winning elections, because they see that as vindication. But when elections are lost, it doesn’t sink in that maybe their would-be constituents disagree with them. Rather, when elections are lost it is because the Will of Real Americans like them is being blocked by demonic forces. These demonic forces are served by the secret liberal elite cabal that runs the world and their lackeys in news media.

Obviously, God does not want them to accept the results of elections that go against them, because they are on God’s side. And to purify elections, they feel they must put bigger and tighter filters between voters and voting, so that only God’s People are allowed to vote. Only then will America be saved from the hell of multiculturalism and affordable health care for everyone.

Seriously; that’s how they think. In their minds, voter restrictions do not weaken republican representative government. Rather, by taking voting away from unclean riffraff they are restoring America to the pure and holy state the Founders intended. Or something.

And if they have to destroy the government and the economy and even get people killed to bring about their ends, so be it. “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” (Malachi 3:1-18)

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