The Technowizard Governor and the Hack

Have I mentioned that the governor of Missouri, Mike Parson, is utterly worthless? I believe I have.

In our latest episode, a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch discovered that what appeared to be the social security numbers of more than 100,000 of the state’s teachers were visible in the html code of a state online database. The Post-Dispatch then consulted with three educators and a cybersecurity expert to confirm that the nine-digit numbers in the code were in fact Social Security numbers. Yep, they were.

For the techie-challenged, the html code of any page can be viewed with any browser I know of. Right-click on this page and look at the menu that pops up. Click on “view (or show) page source” or “inspect.” There it is.

The Post-Dispatch notified the state agency hosting the database so the problem could be corrected, or at least taken offline, before the story became public. Yesterday, the newspaper published the story.

So then Gov. Idiot trots out and makes a complete ass of himself. It’s especially fun to hear Parson accuse the Post-Dispatch of trying to embarass his administration while Parson is standing there doing a bang-up job of embarassing his administration.

My favorite tweet about this, so far:

Here’s the front page of today’s Post-Dispatch:

Yeah, the Cardinals fired manager Mike Shildt after he took the team through a record-breaking winning streak and into a Wild Card game. This was the doing of president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. Mozeliak said the firing was over “philosophical differences,” which people are taking to mean Shildt did something to piss off Mozeliak. St. Louis is pissed. But let’s go on.

Parson is not backing down or yet acknowledging he had no idea what he was talking about when he accused a reporter of “hacking” the “HTN MLN” source code. Today the state’s news media are advising Parson to get over it and get serious about cybersecurity, as he’s been warned about before.

What a maroon.

Trump Tightens the Leash on the GOP

Yesterday’s bit of Trumpazoid Crazy was that Trump issued a statement calling on Republicans to not vote in 2022 and 2024.

Oddly, right-wing news sources have been quiet about this. All of the snarking commentary about it is coming from the left.

Ed Kilgore asks where Trump might go with this.

Will it be enough when every Republican from sea to shining sea is grinding out a Big Lie message like so many cicadas? Will he then stop saying things that might discourage the people listening to this inane noise from voting in 2022 and 2024? Or are his intentions more sinister? Is Trump making it plain that democratic elections are so hopeless that extra-constitutional measures are the only resort?

Trump is, of course, making an impossible demand about the Big Lie. His theories of how he was cheated of a second term are constantly shifting, not to mention ridiculous. He is not going to be “reinstated.” His claims will not be “solved.” So I’m going with “making it plain that democratic elections are so hopeless that extra-constitutional measures are the only resort.”

It’s widely believed that Trump’s whining about a stolen election suppressed Republican votes in the Georgia Senate elections and helped the two Democrats win. Maybe they would have won anyway. But the Republican Party expects to take Congress back in 2022, and encouraging Republicans to not vote to keep Trump happy is probably not part of their plans.

Greg Sargent has another explanation. He points out that, hours after releasing the “don’t vote” statement, Trump called in to a rally in Virginia with an endorsement of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Glenn Youngkin. If there’s an actual plan here — with Trump, one never knows — it may be that Trump just wants to tighten his leash on the Republican Party. Keep the Big Lie alive, or kiss off your next election. 

All I can say is — pass the popcorn.

In other news: At the risk of rupturing the time-space continuum, I must say that George Will has written a column that I can endorse. Seriously. He reviews a new biography of Robert E. Lee that completely shreds the the old Lee myths.

Princeton’s Allen C. Guelzo, an eminent Civil War historian, has now published exactly what the nation needs as it reappraises important historical figures who lived in challenging times with assumptions radically unlike today’s. “Robert E. Lee: A Life,” Guelzo’s scrupulously measured assessment, is mercifully free of the grandstanding by which many moralists nowadays celebrate themselves by indignantly deploring the shortcomings of those whose behavior offends current sensibilities. But by casting a cool eye on Lee, Guelzo allows facts to validate today’s removals of Lee’s name and statues from public buildings and places.

I have not read this book myself, but according to Will, Guelzo portrays Lee as less than a man of honor than one who was mostly concerned about losing his wife’s Arlington property if he didn’t fight for Confederate Virginia. He was also utterly, callously oblivious to the human suffering caused by slavery. Plus Lee appears to have been a bore with no intellectual interests.

The part about the Arlington property rings true to me. Years ago I read a book titled The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family by Paul Nagel. It traces the fortunes of the Lee family from the first Lee to set foot in North America to the life of the fabled Bobby Lee. As I remember it: Lee’s father, Henry Lee III, aka “Light-Horse Harry,” must have had some serious addictions. He inherited a fortune and burned through that, plus the fortunes of two wives. Whether he did this through financial speculation or plain old gambling wasn’t entirely clear.

As Harry’s first wife was dying, the family was living in the estate she had inherited from her wealthy family. Wife #1 (a second cousin and also a Lee) arranged for the estate to be held in trust for her children so that Harry couldn’t sell it. She was on to him, I take it. It got to a point he was so broke he began selling paintings and furniture and even wine in the wine cellar to keep up appearances. Then he started “borrowing” horses from his rich relatives; he would sell the horse and then report it had run away, or was stolen. Then he tried the same thing with his relatives’ slaves, but one got away and blabbed about what had happened to him. Wife #2, Robert E.’s mother, also was very wealthy, but by the time Robert E. was 2 years old her money was gone, and Harry spent a year in debtor’s prison. Mrs. Lee took Robert and an infant daughter and went to live with her parents, on a plantation near Arlington. Harry did not follow but spent much of the rest of his life in a kind of self-exile in the Caribbean.

So it was that little Bobby Lee grew up in the elite Virginia plantation class but not entirely of it, since he had no money of his own. He was a very privileged charity case. As I recall, he decided to go to West Point for his education because it was free; he didn’t have to ask anyone for money to pay for it. Then he married into the wealthy Custis family of Arlington; his wife was a great-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington. So through his wife’s fortune he finally had something of his own. It makes complete sense to me that keeping his property in Arlington was more important to him than defending his country. I got the impression from the book that being a respected member of the plantation class was the driving force in Robert E.’s life.

My Solution for Breaking the Logjam in Congress

I had a brilliant idea this morning while reading this bit in The American Prospect about our “centrist” problem, by Alexander Sammon:

It’s the same story in the Senate with Kyrsten Sinema, who is on the receiving end of generous ad buys from pharma groups one day, suddenly opposing drug pricing reform that she once ran on the next; taking money from Exxon one day, and opposing climate measures the next (as a former Green Party member no less). Ditto Joe Manchin, who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars from coal investments, and just so happens to oppose the climate provisions himself.

Has anyone considered raising boatloads of money and just paying Sinema and Manchin to vote as we need them to vote? Because trying to reason with them is going nowhere. Somebody call George Soros!

Alexander Sammon is writing about “The Undignified Demise of Centrism.” He recalls the congressional battles of 2009 and 2010 that gave us the Affordable Care Act. The centrists steamrolled over progressives, and the eventual ACA was nearly entirely the centrist version of the bill. Fast forward to the present:

The fight over BBB has been the opposite. No faction has revealed itself to be less intellectually rigorous or serious than the moderates. They are unwilling and seemingly unable to articulate a single positive concern, legislative vision, or priority for the Democratic agenda. They are allegedly worried about spending, but oppose tax hikes and hugely effective cost-saving in the way of drug pricing reform. They are worried about inflation but can’t even engage with the reality that the entire bill seeks to lower the most acutely inflationary costs—housing, education, health care, and child care—for American households. They can’t conjure a contrary vision, or even a counteroffer, other than making things smaller for smaller’s sake. They don’t even speak to the press to explain themselves. They do, however, oppose.

I quibble with Sammon in his assumption that the centrists of 2008-9 were any more “intellectually rigorous” or “serious” than they are now. It’s just that there were enough of them that they were able to get their way and eliminate the more progressive proposals for the ACA bill, just because they could. The only apparent reason for that I could see was conservatism for the sake of conservatism, and for not rocking the status quo boat too much and scaring off swing district voters with big, radical, lefty-ish change, even if those voters would benefit from that change.

But now that the “centrists” are in a minority, and they can’t just overrule everybody and pretend they are being “serious,” the vacuity of their “positions” is being exposed.

This really goes back to the late 1970s-early 1980s, when a bunch of young, well-educated hot shots became the rising stars of the Democratic Party. Calling themselves “neoliberals” and “New Democrats,” this crew drew big, fat lines between themselves and the old New Deal-Great Society coalition, which was on the wane, as well as the New Left, which also was flailing around rather badly at that point. They finessed the rising tide of Reaganism by taking watered-down Reaganistic positions — “big government” bad, capitalism and “free markets,” good. They proclaimed themselves to be pragmatists who looked for “solutions that work” without resorting to the knee-jerk ideologies of the past, not acknowledging that the New Deal worked pretty darn well back in the day. Please see my old post The “Neos”: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism for more background.

The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 resulted in the dominance of this faction over the Democratic Party for the next 25 years. It wasn’t just the Clintons, of course. Washington conventional wisdom decided that the members of this crew were the “serious” Democrats. By the 2000s pretty much anybody who was anybody in the Democratic Party had come up through the ranks with the Clintons. Anyone who pushed back against them was too “radical” to be taken seriously. This faction set the limits of what government was allowed to do and what “solutions” were to be considered “pragmatic” and which were not. Actual results were beside the point.

One of the side effects of the rise of the New Democrats, an unintended one no doubt, was that it lost touch with the working class voters who used to be the backbone of the party. The white working class bagan to move away from the Democrats in the late 1960s in a racist reaction against the Great Society, of course. But the New Democrats made that rift even worse. The New Democrats created a party that was favored by educated urban professionals — people doing very well in the status quo — but not so much other demographic groups, especially those whose jobs were moved to other countries. Both parties had a hand in that, but the Democrats paid a bigger price for it.

But if Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 marked the beginning of neoliberal dominance, Hillary Clinton’s defeat to that walking clown show/wrecking crew named “Donald Trump” appears to have marked the beginning of the end of it. The New Democrats are still around, but (as I’ve written recently) it is no longer presumed that theirs are the only voices in the party that matter. They are a minority. Much of the Beltway press still is deferential to them, probably out of habit, but much of it is moving on.

Unfortunately, what’s left of the New Democrats can still do a lot of damage.

And that brings us to the ongong negotiations over the Build Back Better bill. The neoliberal minority, still quivering with outrage that anyone dare suggest they are no longer the mainstream of the party, are busily trying to cut the bill down, because that’s what they do. It’s what they’ve always done. They don’t know how to be any other way. And I have no idea how this is going to resolve.

But maybe we should just pay money to the foot draggers to get their support for what needs to be done. That seems to be the only argument they understand.

Suggested reading:

Kate Riga, TPM, The Sausage Making: Progressives Jockey To Keep Their Beloved Programs Off The Chopping Block

Paul Waldman, Washington Post, Democrats negotiate over whether to shoot themselves in the foot

Whose Job Is It to Inform the People?

A couple of days ago, CBS News ran a story that said most Americans don’t know what’s in the Build Back Better bill. If they know anything at all about it, it’s that Democrats want to spend $3.5 trillion on something. But they have no idea what.

Call me crazy, CBS News, but maybe the real story here is the failure of television news to do its bleeping job and inform the viewers. Since what little professionally reported news most Americans consume comes from television, this is critical.

I caught the 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck on television a few days ago. If you don’t remember it, it’s a dramatization of the making of Edward R. Murrow’s 1953 exposé of Sen. Joe McCarthy. Murrow (played by David Strathairn) worked for CBS News, and one aspect of broadcast news that came out in the film was that, in those days, the news department was supposed to be separate from the entertainment divisions of the networks. In the film, CBS’s CEO William Paley (played by Frank Langella) is reminded he had promised to not interfere with news decisions.

I believe that was true in the 1950s; network executives mostly agreed to leave news content alone. Broadcast news actually operated at a loss in those days, but the loss was considered acceptable if the news department enhanced the prestige of the network.

In the 1980s, however, the bean counters took over. News divisions had their budgets cut and were pressured to drive up ratings, often at the cost of doing actual journalism. The half-hour evening network news shows today are, IMO, much less informative than they were in Walter Cronkite’s day. Of course, their audience share isn’t what they used to be, either, since people have many more viewing options than the three networks.

Weekly news “magazines” like 60 Minutes were supposed to be the answer to the lack of substance on the nightly news. 60 Minute still does some decent segments, but ABC’s 20/20 and NBC’s Dateline mostly focus on true crime stuff these days.

What about cable? Fox News is the ratings leader. Fox, of course, is to information what a black hole is to matter. A number of independent studies over the years have concluded that Fox News viewers are less informed than people who watch no news at all. CNN prefers news stories with compelling visuals, like natural disasters, to explaining what’s in bills.  PBS works so hard at being innocuous and inoffensive that it’s mostly worthless. Only on MSNBC are there still people who just sit in a chair, look at a camera, and provide researched information.

Speaking of MSNBC. last night Chris Hayes commented on polling about the child tax credit, the $300 payment per month for every child under the age of 7 and $250-per-month payment for every child under the age of 17. Although people receiving this benefit do tend to like it, fewer than half of those polled credited Democrats for the benefit, and only 38 percent credited President Biden. Chris Hayes continued,

“I think what we`re seeing there is a testament to what the American voter is saying. They simply do not know. And the Biden administration for better or for worse has not made that case specifically around these child tax credits and how they`re impacting the American people`s lives and making their lives better. We have seen just this overwhelming information zone of topics and issues whether it be COVID, Afghanistan, the battle over saving democracy. And it`s really hard for the average everyday voter to really zero in on these things.”

President Biden absolutely cannot count on news media to inform voters about what he is trying to accomplish. IMO the biggest mistake President Obama made was failing to communicate clearly to the American people about what he was trying to do. He may have assumed it was the job of news media to inform the public, but news media barely does that job any more. Major newspapers do try, but newspaper readers are slowly becoming extinct.

I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but I do know that the number one job of the Democratic Party right now must be figuring out a way to inform more voters about, for example, what is in the Build Back Better plan, and who is responsible for the checks going to parents.

Photo 141675000 © Oleksandr Lutsenko |

Is This the Darkness Before the Dawn?

Sorry for the absence. I needed a break.

There is a lot of doom and gloom in headlines today. President Biden’s poll numbers are tanking, the pandemic is still jerking people around; nothing is getting done in Washington. “President Biden has been in office for less than nine months, and suddenly everyone wants to declare his first term a failure,” writes Paul Waldman.

Let’s hope this is the dark before the dawn. A lot of what is going wrong is out of Joe Biden’s hands, of course. Even so, a lot of people are coming out of the wordwork to advise Democrats to give up on much of their desired policies and reforms and just pass something. And maybe that’s all they can do, given the deadly obstructionist duo of Manchin and Sinema blocking any means to successfully implement the President’s agenda.

Part of the problem may be that the old pecking order among Democrats has shifted. Marianna Sotomayor writes in the Washington Post that Liberal Democrats have become the mainstream of the party and less willing to compromise with dwindling moderates. Less willing than what? I’m sure we all remember that in times past, when “moderates” were the majority, they “compromised with the progressive caucus not at all. It was their way or the highway.

Moments after President Biden instructed House Democrats to make concessions or risk derailing passage of his economic agenda, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus hastily gathered in the depths of the Capitol on Oct. 1 to talk strategy about what policies they could sacrifice.

No one was ready to compromise.

According to several lawmakers who participated in the two-hour meeting, members stood up one by one to vouch for establishing universal pre-K, making the child tax credit permanent and guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid family leave. Others mentioned the need to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision, which would get them one step closer to the progressive goal of Medicare-for-all.

But with no set decision on what policies could be sacrificed, members of the almost 100 strong caucus left Friday’s meeting for a two-week recess with an agreement not to give an inch publicly while they continued to consider privately how to respond to the reality that some of their priorities would probably have to be jettisoned from Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic package.

“We’re at the table. Do not negotiate against ourselves,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the CPC’s chairwoman, told her caucus, according to two people in the room, in a statement that has since become a suggested talking point for members.

They shouldn’t have to compromise with themselves. The people who are in the way — Manchin, Sinema, and the small contingent of conservative House Democrats — need to be the ones meeting and making a counter offer. But they won’t.

Changing the subject — Over the weekend I saw a television news story about how police officers in many parts of the country are refusing to get vaccinated and may be fired. Note that in 2020, covid was the leading cause of death among police officers.  “The grim trend has continued in 2021, with COVID killing more officers than all other causes combined, including gun violence and car accidents,” it says in the San Francisco Examiner.

This is going to cause short-term understaffing in a lot of police departments. I wonder, though, if this might not be a good thing in the long run. The refusers are likely to be hard-right Trump supporters, I suspect. Quality of policing overall may improve with them gone.

Sen. Josh Hawley Is a Pathetic Weenie

Great bit of work from Chris Hayes’s show last night.

What makes Hawley even more pathetic is that back on January 4 — an auspicious date, come to think of it — Hawley had a meltdown over protesters outside his home. The Associated Press reported,

Protesters who gathered outside the Virginia home of Republican Sen. Josh Hawley Monday evening were peaceful and they left when police explained they were violating local picketing laws, police said Tuesday. The Missouri senator on Twitter accused the protesters of vandalism and threatening his family.

Officers were called to Hawley’s home in Vienna, a Washington suburb, around 7:45 p.m. after someone reported that there were “people protesting in front of the house.” Officers who responded to the scene found that the “people were peaceful,” said Master Police Officer Juan Vazquez, a spokesman for the Town of Vienna Police Department.

The demonstrators said they went to Hawley’s home because he said he would object when Congress convenes Wednesday to affirm Joe Biden’s election victory.

Vazquez said the protesters had been violating several laws, including a Virginia code about picketing in front of a house, a town ordinance about making noise in front of a home and a littering code. But he said the officers explained the violations and “everyone just left.”

“There were no issues, no arrests,” he said. “We didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”

Hawley accused the group of threatening his family.

“Tonight while I was in Missouri, Antifa scumbags came to our place in DC and threatened my wife and newborn daughter, who can’t travel,” Hawley wrote on Twitter. “They screamed threats, vandalized, and tried to pound open our door. Let me be clear: My family & I will not be intimidated by leftwing violence.”

In short, Hawley is a pathetic weenie in a tightly taylored weenie suit.

And, of course, we all remember this proud moment in the life of the Missouri freshman senator, just two days later:

Unlike some other senators — Rand Paul and Ron Johnson come to mind — Hawley isn’t stupid. He’s a moral and ethical vaccuum with the integrity of sawdust, but he’s not stupid. This is calculated. He thinks that acting like a right-wing jerkwad will make him president some day. If he destroys the United States in the process, that’s just collateral damage to him.

He’ll never be POTUS — I prayerfully hope — but he may be a senator from Missouri for a long time, alas. This sort of crap sells around here. I’m beginning to think Anheuser-Busch products are rotting people’s brains.

Back at the Debt Ceiling Dance …

Oh, yes, the debt ceiling. We keep having to do this dance. Republians snark that the Dems want to raise the debt ceiling so they can run up the nation’s debts even higher. Of course, the truth is that the debt ceiling has to be raised so that Treasury can pay the debts already incurred, often by Republicans. If the United States defaults on debts, there will be really nasty consequences and a lot of pain.  Recession, millions of jobs lost, stock market plunge, global instability, you name it. I understand it would cost us more money to borrow in the future. It would be very, very bad.

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell keeps saying that the Dems have the majority, so they can raise the debt ceiling by themselves. But then Republicans use the filibuster rule to keep Democrats from voting on it. None of this is being explained properly on the nightly network television news that I’ve noticed.

According to an article in The Hill, the Democrats could pass a debt ceiling raise through reconciliation, bypassing the filibuster. However, that would kill the big reconciliation Build Back Better bill for the year, because of Senate rules. There are limits to how often reconciliation can be used. I believe that’s what Mitch McConnell is trying to do. During the Obama administration he used the debt ceiling as a hostage to extract spending cuts the Dems didn’t want to make. Now, he’s not asking for anything. He’s just smirking at us.

Yesterday President Biden threw the mess back in Mitch’s lap. Greg Sargent:

On Monday, President Biden shocked the political world by refusing to promise that the battle over the debt limit will be resolved without the United States defaulting on its debts, which would unleash economic calamity.

“No, I can’t,” Biden said, when asked whether he could guarantee resolution. “That’s up to Mitch McConnell.” …

… Biden’s declaration sets up the possibility for an endgame to all this that Republicans might not have anticipated. If this continues, it will soon become overwhelmingly clear that Republicans face a stark choice: Either they drop their filibuster, or we default.

Chicken! We’re playing chicken!

McConnell has benefited overwhelmingly from the failure of media coverage to convey with real clarity precisely what Republicans are doing here. Oozing with bad faith, McConnell keeps insisting he just wants Democrats to raise the debt limit by themselves, offering this idea as though it’s the most reasonable notion in the world, packaged with his usual smarmy smirk.

There was a time when someone like Walter Cronkite would just look at a camera and explain this. If I didn’t watch the MSNBC evening lineup pretty regularly, I wouldn’t know this was happening either.

More to the point, Republicans are filibustering Democratic efforts to suspend the debt limit. They’re actively blocking Democrats from doing what McConnell himself says he wants — that is, for Democrats to deal with this alone. He’s doing this to force Democrats to avert catastrophe in the reconciliation process, to disrupt their push for a multitrillion-dollar social policy bill.

See? What I said. But if Democrats do use reconciliation, they are quickly running out of time to do it, and I haven’t heard they are moving in that direction (although Joe Manchin is for it). And if they don’t …

If so, at that point, the choice for Republicans will be incredibly stark: Either they stop filibustering, or we default. All the game-playing will fall by the wayside. No matter how many times McConnell disingenuously pretends he only wants Democrats to handle this themselves while Republicans block this from happening, and no matter how many times McConnell is credulously portrayed as a savvy operator for doing so, as the days tick down to Armageddon, that will be his choice.

I’m going to bet the Democrats are not going to toss out the beloved Build Back Better bill to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation. So we either play chicken, or …

… we mint a $1 trillion platinum coin. Seriously. Paul Krugman:

Well, there’s a strange provision in U.S. law that empowers the Treasury secretary to mint and issue platinum coins in any quantity and denomination she chooses. Presumably the purpose of this provision was to allow the creation of coins celebrating people or events. But the language doesn’t say that. So on the face of it, Janet Yellen could mint a platinum coin with a face value of $1 trillion — no, it needn’t include $1 trillion worth of platinum — deposit it at the Federal Reserve and draw on that account to keep paying the government’s bills without borrowing.

Alternatively, Biden could simply declare that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that the validity of federal debt may not be questioned, renders the debt ceiling moot.

And there may be other tricks I don’t know about.

Felix Salmon writes at Axios that the $1 trillion platinum coin thing could be accomplished very quickly. The coin could be struck “in minutes” at the West Point mint and then helicoptered to New York, to be deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank. End of problem.

I do wish that some deep pocket George Soros type would put up money for a television ad blitz explaining the debt ceiling issue and Mitch McConnells role in it, because most of news media will not report it correctly, and most citizens will decide that whatever awful thing happens is Joe Biden’s fault.

Occasionally, Someone Tells the Truth

You know times are changing when even Jonathan Chait is snarking at the “centrists” to suck it up and negotiate with the progressives.

Congress’s failure to hold a vote over the bipartisan infrastructure bill last week set off a wave of media hyperventilation and whining by Democratic centrists. “This far left faction is willing to put the President’s entire agenda, including this historic bipartisan infrastructure package, at risk. They’ve put civility and bipartisan governing at risk,” raged Representative Josh Gottheimer. “Canceling the infrastructure vote,” complained Senator Kyrsten Sinema, “betrays the trust the American people have put in their elected leaders.”

The delay does nothing of the sort. It saves Democrats — all of them, moderates included — from an embarrassing debacle. And it forces the whole party to hold a negotiation that one side, the centrists, was trying to prevent.

The “centrists” have some nerve claiming that progressives are opposed to President Biden’s agenda, when it’s plainly obvious the progressives are saving that agenda and the “centrists” are trying to kill it. Seriously, if the “centrists” were that good at lying and demagoguery, one wonders why they haven’t been using those skills against Republicans all these years.

The outpouring of emotions stems from the unusual circumstances of this negotiation. In most cases, a party’s centrists hold all the leverage, because walking away from the table with no bill is more acceptable to them than it is to more ideologically pure members. On this issue, however, the left has real leverage. Centrists care inordinately about the success of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, mainly because of its political symbolism: since their political brands are built around working with Republicans, they desperately need the infrastructure bill to be signed into law and be seen as a big deal. Progressives are fine with the bipartisan infrastructure deal, but its failure would hurt them much less than it would hurt the centrists.

Paul Waldman disagrees with Chait on this point and thinks most of the “centrists” would be okay with the failure of both bills. He wrote last week,

The centrists, on the other hand, might want to see the bills pass, but for them, failure is an option. They’re much less likely to have run for Congress because they were passionate about policy issues and social problems (not that ideologues don’t have ambition; every politician does). But if the end result is that the whole thing goes down in flames, they’ll be able to live with that.

I’m inclined to agree with Paul Waldman on this. Remember, once upon a time there was just one bill that included infrastructure and all the other stuff. Manchin and Sinema made noises about how they could craft a bill that would get some Republican votes and didn’t need to be done through reconciliation. The bill they came up with was mostly about roads-and-bridges infrastructure spending, plus some goodies for the fossil fuel industry. Progressive Democrats then went to work on a reconciliation bill that retained the stuff the “centrists” had cut. So now there are two bills, known for short as the BIP (for bipartisan) and the BBB (for Build Back Better).

Chait seems to take the speeches about the glories of bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle at face value. I do not. I think the whole point of splitting out the smaller and less objectionable (to conservatives) bill was to kill the big bill, which includes a lot of tax cuts and stuff that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and No Labels and a lot of industry groups and other deep-pocket donors want to drown in a bathtub. My suspicions are that the “centrists” would be happy if BIP passes, but they won’t lose any sleep if it doesn’t. They can always blame the progressives, after all.

There’s a whole lot of money and power pushing to kill the Build Back Better bill, and Democratic “centrists” work for that money, not for the people or the Democratic Party or President Biden’s agenda. That’s something not a lot of the media bobbleheads like Jonathan Chait are willing to say out loud, but there it is.

It’s also the case that there are still plenty of media bobbleheads who are reflexively siding with the “centrists.” David Atkins:

The framing of most mainstream news stories after the delay of the infrastructure vote in Congress has been remarkable. Supposedly “straight” news stories assume a reflexive editorial position that the Democrats on the more conservative edges of the caucus are wiser and more pragmatic on both policy and political grounds—and that the more progressive positions are intransigent, pie-in-the-sky, and electorally irresponsible.

The New York Times declares that “progressives flexed, but remain empty-handed” and “moderates feel betrayed.” The Politico Playbook lede begins with astonishment that President Joe Biden did not help the few centrist holdouts who were sabotaging his campaign promises. “‘The fact that the president came to the Hill and whipped against his own bill is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,’” a source told the news site. “The late-night observation was just one of many we heard from frustrated lawmakers and senior aides stunned by what happened in the House on Friday.” Dan Balz at TheWashington Post similarly portrays the impasse as a “revolt” by liberals taking advantage of a “gaffe” by Biden in suggesting that the bipartisan infrastructure and Build Back Better bills would move in tandem—as if the entire strategic purpose for the centrists delinking the two bills were not to hamstring or even scuttle the bulk of the Biden agenda entirely.

Perhaps most stunningly, another piece at the Times makes the remarkable editorial statement that “liberal lawmakers, who by and large come from safe Democratic districts, have the political luxury of holding firm, but they will now face the ire of Democrats in swing districts who gave their party its slender majorities in the House and Senate.” The bias betrayed here by coauthors Jonathan Weisman and Emily Cochrane is a disservice to readers and to the truth.

Whether political reporters are writing this way out of habit or to please their publishers or both, I cannot say. But it’s making me crazy. And it’s worth reading the David Atkins post all the way through.

See also Paul Krugman, who is done with the conformist thinking in media and politics.

A decade ago elite opinion was obsessed with the supposed need for immediate action on budget deficits. This consensus among what I used to call Very Serious People was so strong that as Ezra Klein, now a Times Opinion writer, wrote, deficits somehow became an issue to which “the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply.”

The news media more or less openly rooted not just for deficit reduction in general, but in particular for “entitlement reform,” a.k.a. cuts in future Medicare and Social Security benefits. Such cuts, everyone who mattered seemed to argue, were essential to secure the nation’s future.

They weren’t. But here’s my question: If elite opinion cares so much about the future, why isn’t there any comparable consensus now about the need for climate action and spending on children? These are two of the main components of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, and the case for both is much stronger than the case for entitlement cuts ever was.

This weekend there was a massive oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California. It used to be that a big ocean oil spill would dominate the news for days on end; now, not so much. It’s kind of like mass shootings. After a while they seem almost normal. But how can you look at that and not say, enough. A big part of BBB is dedicated to ending the dominance of fossil fuels.

And I see that Rolling Stone is running an article headlined The Koch Empire Goes All Out to Sink Joe Biden’s Agenda — and His Presidency, Too: The dark-money network is spending tens of millions to undermine Democrats’ effort to protect the climate and shore up the social safety net. However, I can’t get through the subscription firewall to tell you what it says.

Back to Paul Krugman:

But elite opinion — and much reporting — somehow fails to highlight the extreme irresponsibility of opposing clean energy plans and the immense waste of human potential that comes from failing to address child poverty. Instead it’s all “$3.5 trillion! $3.5 trillion!” — often without pointing out that this is proposed spending over a decade, not a single year, and that it would amount to only 1.2 percent of G.D.P.

OK, I don’t fully understand this double standard — why Very Serious People became obsessed with the supposedly urgent need to limit government debt yet are blasé about if not hostile to proposals to tackle the issues that really matter for our future.

What’s hard to understand? First, there is just too much damn money bribing people to not notice child poverty or the climate crisis. And second, America (and the world, frankly) is being run by a decadent aristocracy. We are no longer the new nation of scrappy settlers but an old nation with too many people at the top who are spoiled and insulated from real-world problems that don’t involve tax shelters and asset management. See Our Decadent Aristocracy from 2019 and The Virus vs. Our Ruling Fatuous Asses from 2020.

Facebook Loses Face

Facebook is offline. And when I noticed this, my first impulse was to post to Facebook about it. Hmm. I understand this is a global problem — although I can’t tell from news stories whether it’s offline for all users or some users — and it also affects other Facebook apps like WhatsApp and Instagram. The DNS management system Cloudflare says that FB’s Facebook’s border gateway protocol routes have been “withdrawn from the Internet,” whatever that means.

It possibly wasn’t a hack.

Two Facebook security team members, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said it was unlikely that a cyberattack caused the issues. That’s because the technology behind the apps was still different enough that one hack was not likely to affect all of them at once.

This happened the day after FB was featured on 60 Minutes in an interview with a former employee who left with boxes of documents she has shared with the Securities and Exchange Commission and which were leaked to a lot of news outlets. The former employee claims the platform’s ranking algorithm amplifies “angry” content, contrary to what FB claims to be doing with its content. She also said Facebook turned off safeguards designed to tamp down misinformation and inflammatory speech after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s US elections, and that this was done purely to ramp up traffic and make more money.

See also Kevin Roose, Facebook Is Weaker Than We Knew, at The New York Times.

Facebook is in trouble.

Not financial trouble, or legal trouble, or even senators-yelling-at-Mark-Zuckerberg trouble. What I’m talking about is a kind of slow, steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize. It’s a cloud of existential dread that hangs over an organization whose best days are behind it, influencing every managerial priority and product decision and leading to increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out. This kind of decline is not necessarily visible from the outside, but insiders see a hundred small, disquieting signs of it every day — user-hostile growth hacks, frenetic pivots, executive paranoia, the gradual attrition of talented colleagues.  …

… The documents, shared with The [Wall Street] Journal by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, reveal a company worried that it is losing power and influence, not gaining it, with its own research showing that many of its products aren’t thriving organically. Instead, it is going to increasingly extreme lengths to improve its toxic image, and to stop users from abandoning its apps in favor of more compelling alternatives.

Mark Zuckerberg might want to consider cashing out now, while the cashing out is good, rather than wait until the company’s value begins to deflate.

This whole thing with algorithms needs more examination, although not by me, as I am not a technogeeky sort of person. During my time writing for About dot com I learned how much Google algorithms can make or break web traffic and commerce, and Google is perpetually tweaking its algorithms to benefit itself at the expense of others. Maybe some kind of regulation is in order, although possibly by some independent commission and not the government itself.

The House Dem Centrists Hit a Wall

Apparently the Democratic “centrists” still haven’t read the memo. Rachael Bade and Rylan Lizza write at Politico,

— What senior Dems thought was going to happen: President JOE BIDEN was coming to the Hill to support Speaker NANCY PELOSI’s efforts to rally the party behind his historic $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan ahead of a Friday vote.

— What ended up happening instead: Biden told them he wanted to hold off on BIF until there was a reconciliation deal — even if that means delaying the vote for several more days or even weeks.

As I wrote last week, the Democratic House “centrists” seriously believed President Biden should bring the hammer down on progressives to force through a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Instead, the President is taking the progressive position, that the reconciliation bill is the important one and cannot be left behind.

By all accounts, some of the centrists are still stunned. That is not what they expected.

The House Democratic centrists are led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a Clinton acolyte from way back. I’ve written about him before; see House Moderate Democrats Are the Bad Guys on Infrastructure from August 16 and “Moderate” Troublemakers Still Threaten to Derail Biden Agenda from August 25. Gottheimer and his crew of eight other Dems are closely aligned with big money groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and No Labels (billionaires into capital management, equity firms, hedge funds, etc.). The Nine have worked hard to de-couple the bipartisan bill from the reconciliation Build Back Better bill. It’s possible they don’t really care if the bipartisan bill passes; they just want to use it to weaken if not stop the bigger bill.

Do read Ryan Grim at The Intercept, How Rep. Josh Gottheimer Got Outmatched by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Late yesterday Gottheimer released a statement complaining about how a “far-left faction” was trying to destroy the President’s agenda, never mind that the President’s agenda is wrapped up in the bill Gottheimer has been trying to destroy. It may be significant that Gottheimer was the only member of the Nine to sign the statement.

But come Friday, Gottheimer was the lone name on the statement after, according to Politico’s Heather Caygle, no one else from his “unbreakable nine” would sign on. Later that evening, a Republican representative said one angry Democrat called Pelosi a “fucking liar” for not putting the bill on the floor, and there was little question about the identity of that angry Democrat.

This was the plan:

The goal of Gottheimer’s group had been to pass the infrastructure bill and then train their fire on the bigger bill. Free the hostage, then blow up the insurgents. Their demand went against the grain of the Democrats’ two-track strategy, but Pelosi conceded by giving them a date for the infrastructure floor vote: September 27.

Gottheimer and some of his allies then huddled with the dark-money group No Labels, which finances their campaigns and was instrumental in organizing the opposition. “You should feel so proud, I can’t explain to you, this is the culmination of all your work. This would not have happened but for what you built,” Gottheimer told them, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Intercept. “It just wouldn’t have happened — hard stop. You should just feel so proud. This is your win as much as it is my win.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., former chair of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition, celebrated that the victory would let them focus next on fighting the reconciliation package, which he told the group he opposed. “Let’s deal with the reconciliation later. Let’s pass that infrastructure package right now, and don’t get your hopes up that we’re going to spend trillions more of our kids’ and grandkids’ money that we don’t really have at this point,” Schrader said.

Until very recently, like maybe this week, the pattern has been that Conventional Wisdom automatically sided with the centrists, and all of the pressure in Washington would have come down on the progressives to back off. Ryan Grim continues,

But House progressives quickly responded, vowing to block the bill — to hold the line — if it came to the floor without the broader spending bill. Gottheimer remained confident over the next several weeks, saying privately that he was sure the progressives would fold. On September 27, it was clear that there weren’t enough votes to pass the bill, and Pelosi pulled it from the floor, rescheduling it for a September 30 showdown.

On CNN Thursday, Gottheimer gave the bill a “1,000 percent” chance of being passed that day. He never got close, and the bill was pulled again, leaving Gottheimer to meekly argue that the House had not been technically adjourned. Friday would still be the same “legislative day,” he tweeted, and negotiations were ongoing and he was grabbing Red Bull and Gatorade and — hey, where’s everybody going?

The times, they are a-changin’. President Biden has made it clear he agrees with the progressives — if the bipartisan bill is allowed to pass by itself, the reconciliation bill will be destroyed. That’s been the entire purpose behind coupling the two bills; factions supporting one will have to support the other also.

The progressives have been clear that they have agreed to that plan, and that they will vote for the bipartisan bill to secure passage of the bigger bill. It’s the centrists who are trying to break the deal.

Greg Sargent:

In the through-the-looking-glass media coverage of the Democrats’ brutal slog to pass President Biden’s agenda, the story has often been that radicalized progressives are threatening to derail the whole thing, because they refuse to accept the “reality” that the final package must be in sync with what the conservative faction of Democrats says is “possible.”

But this gets the story wrong. In fact, the progressives’ stand on Thursday makes successful passage of Biden’s agenda more likely, not less. To be clear, it’s very plausible the whole thing could still implode. But if so, that lefty stand won’t be why.

By refusing to help pass the infrastructure bill, progressives helped secure more space for negotiations on the reconciliation framework. The reconciliation bill is the Biden and Democratic Party agenda: It’s made up of all the climate provisions, economic infrastructure and tax reforms designed to secure our decarbonized future and rebalance our political economy after decades of upward skew.

The centrists are the ones who oppose passing this agenda.

I’m still seeing news stories and commentary that make the progressives out to be radical bomb throwers who are trying to stop what’s practical and possible. But after President Biden’s visit to the House yesterday, perhaps there will be less of that. We’ll see.

Paul Waldman:

The savvy journalist’s view of politics is based in part on the assumption that ideologues are problematic — they’re inflexible, they’re impractical, they care more about purity than that most noble of objectives, Getting Things Done.

Centrists and moderates, on the other hand, supposedly understand the real world and are willing to work with others to solve problems. Which is why, for instance, a bipartisan group of House centrists named themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus.

But what if all those ideas are backward? What if it’s the ideologues who are able to get things done, and it’s the centrists who stand in the way of solving problems while they knuckle under to special interests who don’t have the welfare of the country at heart?

The current Democratic attempt to pass President Biden’s agenda is demonstrating just that.

A lot of us have been saying that for years; it’s the centrists holding us back, not the progressives.

Waldman goes on to say that while Joe Biden wasn’t their preferred candidate, progressives worked hard to elect him. And progressives are not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good; they are accepting compromises to get something from their agenda passed. Failure is not an option. But for the centrists, failure is an option. If both bills go down in flames, they can live with that. The centrists are centrists because they are comfortable with the status quo and aren’t on fire to make big changes.

That general lack of urgency about addressing issues may be one reason that the Problem Solvers Caucus, which was formed in 2017, can’t say it has actually solved any problems. On their website, these lawmakers tout a few areas of agreement among themselves, but they haven’t managed to use their alleged problem-solving prowess to push any legislation to passage.

And that, children, is why we can’t have nice things. But maybe something can be salvaged from this.

Josh Gottheimer, left, and some other guy.